The Cure For Loneliness Is A Good Murder

From HuffPost:

Ottessa Moshfegh’s new novel, “Death in Her Hands,” opens with a note written in “neat, impersonal printing” on ruled notebook paper. 

“Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.”

When Vesta Gul, an elderly woman out for a morning walk with her dog Charlie, finds the note on the ground in the birch woods near her lonely cabin, she looks for Magda nearby but finds nothing, not even a “tangle of hair caught on the coarse fallen branches.” Is there really a body? Is it a prank, a trick, the first line of a short story?

Vesta soon becomes convinced that the murder is real, despite the absence of a body, and begins to investigate haphazardly. It’s impossible to ignore, reading “Death in Her Hands,” how much detective work resembles writing a story. In fact, Vesta lingers over it, looking up “top tips for mystery writers” to aid her investigation and deeming the task “a creative endeavor, not some calculated procedure.”

The gumshoe reaches for stock characters to populate a suspect list; dreams up possible motives, behavioral patterns, hidden veins of rage or perversity; tries out narrative after narrative of the fateful event to find an order of events that rings true. If Vesta’s array of suspects is suspiciously untethered to reality — one, she decides with some sense of portent, should be a ghoul named “Ghod” — and her theories of the murder arise from nothing more than her own lurid imagination, well, she’s only a bit further down the continuum toward pure storytelling. 

. . . .

In a New York Times interview this spring, Moshfegh called “Death in Her Hands” a “loneliness story.” Widowed and friendless in her twilight years, Vesta lives in an isolated cabin, in an area she just moved to, with only her big, lumbering, loyal dog for company. She despises the locals, who she sees as uncultured, impoverished, unhealthy. Her daily schedule revolves around walks with Charlie and a weekly grocery trip for rubbery bagels and rotisserie chicken. It would be mind-numbing — the loneliness, the boredom — were it not for the urgent task that falls into her lap: solving a murder.

Link to the rest at HuffPost

The Lockdown Lessons of “Crime and Punishment”

From The New Yorker:

At the end of “Crime and Punishment,” which was completed in 1866, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s hero, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, has a dream that so closely reflects the roilings of our own pandemic one almost shrinks from its power. Here’s part of it, in Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s rendering:

He had dreamed that the whole world was doomed to fall victim to some terrible, as yet unknown and unseen pestilence spreading to Europe from the depths of Asia. Everyone was to perish, except for certain, very few, chosen ones. Some new trichinae had appeared, microscopic creatures that lodged themselves in men’s bodies. But these creatures were spirits, endowed with reason and will. Those who received them into themselves immediately became possessed and mad. But never, never had people considered themselves so intelligent and unshakeable in the truth as did these infected ones. Never had they thought their judgments, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions and beliefs more unshakeable. Entire settlements, entire cities and nations would be infected and go mad. Everyone became anxious, and no one understood anyone else; each thought the truth was contained in himself alone, and suffered looking at others, beat his breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know whom or how to judge, could not agree on what to regard as evil, what as good. They did not know whom to accuse, whom to vindicate.

What is this passage doing there, a few pages before the novel concludes? Recall what leads up to the dream. Raskolnikov, a twenty-three-year-old law-school dropout, tall, blond, and “remarkably good-looking,” lives in a “cupboard” in St. Petersburg and depends on handouts from his mother and sister. Looking for money, he plans and executes the murder of an old pawnbroker, a “useless, nasty, pernicious louse,” as he calls her; and then kills her half sister, who stumbles onto the murder scene. He makes off with the pawnbroker’s purse, but then, mysteriously, buries it in an empty courtyard.

. . . .

Is it really money that he wants? His motives are less mercenary than, one might say, experimental. He has apparently been reading Hegel on “world-historical” figures. Great men like Napoleon, he believes, commit all sorts of crimes in their ascent to power; once they have attained eminence, they are hailed as benefactors to mankind, and no one holds them responsible for their early deeds. Could he be such a man?

In the days after the crime, Raskolnikov vacillates between exhilaration and fits of guilty behavior, spilling his soul in dreams and hallucinations. Under the guidance of an eighteen-year-old prostitute, Sonya, who embodies what Raskolnikov sees as “insatiable compassion,” he eventually confesses the crime, and is sent to a prison in Siberia. As she waits for him in a nearby village, he falls ill and has that feverish dream.

For us, the dream poses a teasing question: Is it just a morbidly eccentric summation of the novel, or is it also an unwitting prediction of where we are going? Dostoyevsky was a genius obsessed with social disintegration in his own time. He wrote so forcefully that Raskolnikov’s dream, encountered now, expresses what we are, and what we fear we might become.

. . . .

I first read “Crime and Punishment” in 1961, when I was a freshman at Columbia University, as part of Literature Humanities, or Lit Hum, as everyone calls it, a required yearlong course for entering students. In small classes, the freshmen traverse such formidable peaks as Homer’s and Virgil’s epics, Greek tragedies, scriptural texts, Augustine and Dante, Montaigne and Shakespeare; Jane Austen entered the list in 1985, and Sappho, Virginia Woolf, and Toni Morrison followed. I took the course again in 1991, writing a long report on the experience. In the fall of 2019, at the border of old age—I was seventy-six—I began taking it for the third time, and for entirely selfish reasons. In your mid-seventies, you need a jolt now and then, and works like “Oedipus Rex” give you a jolt. What I hadn’t expected, however, was to encounter catastrophe not just in the pages of our reading assignments but far beyond them.

. . . .

In April, when the class began eight hours of discussion about “Crime and Punishment,” the campus had been shut down for four weeks. The students had arrived in New York the previous fall from a wide range of places and backgrounds, and now they had returned to them, scattering across the country, and the globe—to the Bronx, to Charlottesville, to southern Florida, to Sacramento, to Shanghai. My wife and I stayed where we were, in our apartment, a couple of subway stops south of the university, sequestered, empty of purpose, waiting for something to happen. I trailed listlessly around the apartment, and found it hard to sleep after a long day’s inactivity. I loitered in the kitchen in front of a small TV screen, like a supplicant awaiting favor from his sovereign. Ritual, the religious say, expresses spiritual necessity. At 7 p.m., I stood at the window, just past the TV, and banged on a pot with a wooden spoon, in the city’s salute to front-line workers in the pandemic. Raskolnikov has been holed up in his room for a month at the beginning of “Crime and Punishment.” Thirty days, give or take, was how long I had been cut off from life when I began reading the book again.

. . . .

Nick Dames led the students through close readings of individual passages, linking them back, by the end of class, to the structure of the entire book. He is also a historicist, and has done extensive work on the social background of literature. He wanted us to know that nineteenth-century Petersburg—which Dostoyevsky miraculously rendered both as a real city and as a malevolent fantasy—was an impressive disaster. In the early eighteenth century, Peter the Great had commanded an army of architects and disposable serfs to build the place as a “rational” enterprise, intended to rival the great capitals of Western Europe. But, Professor Dames said, “ecologically, it was a failure.” Prone to flooding, the city had trouble disposing of sewage, which often found its way into the drinking water; in 1831, Petersburg was devastated by a cholera epidemic, and ordinary citizens, battered by quarantines and cordons, gathered in protests that turned into riots. After 1861, when Alexander II abolished serfdom, Professor Dames said, peasants came pouring in, looking for work. It was an unhealthy place, and it “wasn’t built for the population it was starting to have.” He put a slide on the screen, with a quotation from “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903), by the German sociologist Georg Simmel:

The psychological basis of the metropolitan type of individuality consists in the intensification of nervous stimulation which results from the swift and uninterrupted change of outer and inner stimuli . . . the rapid crowding of changing images, the sharp discontinuity in the grasp of a single glance, the unexpectedness of onrushing impressions.

“The rootlessness that Simmel writes about comes from detachment and debt,” Professor Dames said. “And it produces a constant paranoia—a texture of the illogical. And dreams become very important.”

Dostoyevsky ignores the magnificent imperial buildings, the huge public squares. He writes about street life—the voluble drunks, the lost girls, and the hungry children entertaining for kopecks. His Petersburg comes off as a carnival world without gaiety, a society that is neither capitalist nor communist but stuck in some inchoate transitional situation—an imperial city without much of a middle class. It seems to be missing the one aspect of life that insures survival: work. “With very few exceptions, everybody in the novel rents,” Professor Dames observed. “They are constantly moving among apartments that they can’t afford.” 

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Place In A Book – Do You Need To Go There?

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Place in a book – do you need to go there?

Some years ago I went to a talk by the award-winning Irish writer Colm Tóibín. It was after the launch of his much acclaimed novel, Brooklyn, and I remember him telling the audience that when he wrote Brooklyn he had never been to the city himself. For his research he had relied on maps, read books and talked to people who lived there. I found this startling, as I’d recently read the book myself and the sense of place was profoundly believable and authentic. It went against that old adage ‘write what you know’ and made me rethink my ideas on how to write a book, on developing the setting for a story. 

As it happens I was working on my first novel at the time. Elastic Girl is an emotional story about a young girl called Muthu who is sold into the Indian circus. The idea had come to me after hearing about this horrific problem on the radio, and it was a story that I felt compelled to write.

However, I wasn’t sure if I was best placed to write it. I wasn’t from India, I knew little or nothing of children being sold into the circus, and I had only been to India a couple of times, and not extensively to the locations where I had intended to take my main character. But, after Colm Tóibín’s talk I felt bolstered. I began to look at all the ways I could make my setting as evocative and believable as he did.

My in-laws are from India, so I did have some understanding of India’s culture, and when I had travelled to India I had kept detailed diaries that were full of information on places, sounds and smells that served to remind me of what it was like. I began to do extensive research on locations in India, the layout of cities, the food, the traditions, and then of course on the subject of children being sold into the circus.

I connected with a charity who helped to rescue children from circuses in India and I absorbed the photographic work of Mary Ellen Mark, an American photographer who spent a lot of time in the circuses in India, capturing images of child performers and acrobats. It’s amazing how much you can learn from an image, how it evokes such visceral emotions, and some of her photography was fundamental in helping to form my central characters.

. . . .

“As outsiders looking in, we see the physical landscape, colours and experience the odors of India and the heartbeat of Indian culture through her (Muthu’s) eyes. You listen to the throb and vibrations of living households and the circus in this case. The reader moves with the moods, noises and visions as if experiencing it first hand.” (Amazon review)

The approach to my second book was different, because I did travel to the setting of my story for research purposes. Black Beach is set in Iceland and I had initially come upon the idea for my book following a conversation with one of my close friends, who is from Iceland. She intrigued me with stories of the Hidden People in Iceland, known as Huldufólk.

These creatures are believed to live inside the rocks in Iceland and there are still many superstitions surrounding their existence. It reminded me of the stories I grew up with in rural Ireland around the existence of fairies, and perhaps that’s why it sparked my interest, this common cultural belief. In contrast to my first book, I had never been to Iceland, but it was definitely on my list of places I wanted to visit.

I was very fortunate to receive an award from the Arts Council in Northern Ireland, and I used that money to go to Iceland to do research. My friend came with me and she was able to help me make contact with some people who were instrumental to my writing of Black Beach. I spent time with the renowned psychic and friend of the Huldufólk, Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir. She was a great source of help in informing my central character, a girl called Fríða who also has the gift of seeing. Ragnihildur continued to help with my many questions in the years after I’d been to Iceland, and was one of the first people to read a draft of my book. 

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

For (perhaps simple-minded) PG, the answer is simple: Fiction is fictional, it describes people, places and things that probably don’t exist in the real world in precisely the same form and nature they do in the fictional world.

Likely in the first lecture of a semantics class in college, students learn a mantra, “The word is not the thing.”

A character in a book that commits a murder is not a real murder and vice versa. Mount Everest in a book is not the actual Mount Everest. A character in a book who is Pentecostal is not a real Pentecostal man or woman.

William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County is not a real county in Mississippi. Many who study Faulkner believe it was modeled on Jefferson County, Mississippi, but if you were to travel to Jefferson County, you would find a university town, built around University of Mississippi.

PG has not read all of Faulkner’s works set in Yoknapatawpha County, but he does not recall any of Faulkner’s writings set in a university town. PG is 99% certain Faulkner never wrote about a fictional version of Vaught–Hemingway Stadium, the home of the University of Mississippi Rebels football team, seating about 65,000 people. Since construction of the stadium was begun in 1915, when Faulkner was about 18 years of age, he would certainly have been intimately familiar with it.

PG’s mental image of Yoknapatawpha County does not include a football team.

PG has read that Faulkner’s writings include over 1,000 named persons in his 19 novels and 94 short stories. None of those is an actual person. None ever lived in Jefferson County.

BONUS FEATURE!!

William Faulkner provides the proper pronunciation of Yoknapatawpha

END OF BONUS Feature

A standard disclaimer at the beginning of a novel often reads something like:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

As perceptive readers will have concluded, PG dislikes the idea that people, places and things included in a work of fiction have to have any connection with reality at all, let alone be a faithful rendition of an actual person, group of people, town, city, state, country, planet or universe that actually exists.

PG knows next to nothing about the nation of India. However that lack of knowledge does not prevent him from writing a good work of fiction set in India, perhaps relying on National Geographic magazine for local color.

If a person mistakes the contents of PG’s fictional creation for the actual nation, such a person is probably not able to understand much about what PG has written at all (PG is, after all, an attorney, a member of a group not known to consistently produce prose easily grasped by a normal, sane person).

PG has read fiction set in places where he has actually lived. None has reproduced what those places are actually like. A faithful reproduction would not be fiction and would probably be boring as well.

End of Rant. PG feels much better now. He should probably lie down and take a nice nap.

The Rescue Will Begin in Its Own Time

By Franz Kafka.

A large loaf of bread lay on the table. Father came in with a knife to cut it in half. But even though the knife was big and sharp, and the bread neither too soft nor too hard, the knife could not cut into it. We children looked up at Father in surprise. He said, “Why should you be surprised? Isn’t it more surprising if something succeeds than if it fails? Go to bed, perhaps I’ll manage it later.”

. . . .

Perhaps I could help — he’d had a falling out with his wife, and their argument was wrecking his life. He also had some simple-minded children who hadn’t turned out well; they just stood around or got up to mischief.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker, excerpts from The Mookse and the Gripes

OverDrive to Acquire RBdigital from RBmedia

From PR Newswire:

OverDrive, the leading digital reading platform for libraries and schools, announced today that it is acquiring the assets of RBmedia’s library business, including the RBdigital platform in North America, the United Kingdom and Australia.  

The acquisition of RBdigital will bring enhanced content and features to the OverDrive platform, enabling it to better serve the needs of libraries around the world, including access to new release Recorded Books audiobooks. Moreover, OverDrive will be exploring the addition of popular RBdigital services like digital magazines from ZINIO to the OverDrive platform. As the owner of both RBmedia and OverDrive, KKR is uniquely positioned to facilitate this transaction and help bring libraries the best solutions possible.

“Combining the RBdigital library business with OverDrive’s industry-leading technologies will greatly benefit libraries and their readers worldwide,” said Steve Potash, founder and CEO of OverDrive. “We’re proud to enhance our value proposition for libraries by delighting readers with this new content on the award-winning Libby and Sora reading apps.”

. . . .

The terms of the acquisition were not announced.

Link to the rest at PR Newswire and thanks to DaveMich for the tip.

PG notes the typical/classic PR release style and format of the OP which may or may not indicate that it was drafted quickly. Or simply designed not to make a big splash.

PG doesn’t know if this was a good price for the sellers or a good price for the buyers. He doubts it can be both.

This announcement has certainly attracted immediate attention from Amazon executives, whether they are sheltering in place or not.

Is the acquisition calculated to combine the capabilities of the two companies so they can squeeze more money out of public libraries? PG doubts this could be a strategy because libraries are not sitting on any sorts of cash troves that can be plundered. Indeed, he understands that many libraries have laid off staff during the last few months.

Particularly during the extended period of time following COVID when average personal incomes are dropping from coast-to-coast, PG suspects only a politician with a death-wish would support taking money out of a much-reduced municipal or state budget to allow libraries to pay higher fees to KKR.

Sometimes, venture capital/private equity, etc., organizations acquire an asset with a view to fluffing it up financially, then selling it to a willing buyer. On occasion, such organizations make long-term investments (or act on behalf of a shy long-term investor that/who desires to remain behind the scenes) with the idea of increasing the value of the acquired business over several years by providing needed capital, installing better management, etc., then selling pieces of the company to others, sometimes privately or sometimes via a program of either taking a private company public or adding substantial value to an already public company, then issuing and selling more shares.

PG doesn’t think Amazon is in this particular business – providing ebooks and digital audio books to libraries – or contemplating getting into this business. He suspects Amazon has reached a position where any major acquisition or other move into a market segment related to its current book business would attract a lot of undesired attention from antitrust agencies.

Besides, even if it dominate the business of selling/licensing ebooks to readers, PG doubts major commercial publishers would willingly cooperate in permitting Amazon to take over the library market for ebooks.

One prediction PG is confident in making is that the combined businesses that will likely result from this acquisition will not need two Vice Presidents of Information Systems, Marketing, Human Resources, etc. On top of COVID, PG suspects, employees of Overdrive and RBmedia are extremely nervous these days.

Three-Step Crisis Management for the High-End Karen

From The New Yorker:

A 30-ish white woman calls the police on an 8-year-old black child selling water “illegally” on the sidewalk. Pure Karen. You’ve probably seen the name “Karen” bandied about a lot lately. She is a meme popularized over the past few years.—The Los Angeles Times.

So someone caught you on camera, aggressively not minding your own business. What now? Our crisis-management firm will walk top-drawer Karens like you through these three simple action items in response to this unforeseen incident.

Step One: Erase

Immediately scrub the crap out of your social-media accounts. Delete your Twitter, your Instagram, your LinkedIn, your Facebook. That way, your enemies and/or the media cannot find more incriminating evidence of your Karenness. Also, they will not have a ready-made Venn diagram of your affiliates to badger into making your life even more miserable than it currently (clearly) is.

Step Two: Apologize

Immediately issue our patented Karen Redemption Script: “I sincerely and humbly apologize to everyone, and especially to [_________], for my shameful behavior, which was caught on camera. The video was unacceptable. I humbly and fully apologize to everyone who’s seen the video and been offended. I also apologize deeply and humbly to everyone who now sees me in a lesser light. I understand why they do. When I think about law enforcement in America, I realize that I am such a blessed, privileged white person. I’ve come to understand, especially after the uproar over the video, that the police are not my personal protection agency. With great sadness, I have come to comprehend that there are so many people in this country who don’t have the luxury that I had of calling the police. I am not a racist. I do not foster any ill will in my heart toward [_________]; I was just scared because of where I was. When you’re alone in [_________], you don’t know what’s happening. My behavior is not excusable. It’s not defensible. I reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about [_________] and his/her intentions. I should have minded my own business. The last forty-eight hours have made me a better person, and definitely not a racist. This incident has taught me that my actions were those of someone who was not aware of the damage caused by being uninformed and naïve to racial bias.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker (you’ll probably hit a paywall)

Don’t Do Business with Crazy People

From Publishers Weekly:

For many writers without platforms or a field of expertise, collaborations can help keep those book contracts and, if they’re lucky, royalties coming in. Unlike with ghostwriting, having an and or with before one’s name on a book jacket is also a way to get credit for doing the heavy word lifting, even if the coauthor gets the glory. And while many writing collaborations can be like happy marriages, some end up in holy acrimony.

Although nearly all my book collaborations have garnered heartfelt acknowledgments, I’ve had a few less-than-perfect unions. One particularly egregious partnership was with a coauthor, “Cindy,” who, during a celebratory lunch with our publisher and literary agent, asked the agent if she could borrow money against her advance to fix her mother’s furnace. I later discovered, as we began working together on her relationship book, that she was functionally illiterate. Even with spell check, she could not string a proper sentence together. Nevertheless, I persevered, turning a booklet of bromides she had stapled together into a bestselling book that still earns royalties after 20 years.

Then, when the time came to promote the book, I learned to my horror that Cindy hadn’t bothered to read it. She’d done a lot of TV appearances in the past to promote her business and was arrogant enough to think she could wing it. But when asked about a tip from the book during a segment on a major network, Cindy stared blankly at the show’s host, like a deer in klieg lights. The interviewer kindly prompted her with the answer so she could regain her footing. After this incident, I demanded that she read the book three times and commit its contents to memory, so neither one of us would be humiliated in the future.

Having finally read the book, Cindy continued the publicity tour, using the publisher’s credit card to send me a bouquet of flowers (how thoughtful) and charge other personal items, including numerous lattes from Starbucks, long after the tour had ended. The editor sent our agent the bill requesting that Cindy reimburse the publisher. Fortunately, she did.

With book sales climbing, our publisher offered us another book deal that Cindy turned down, saying her “Hollywood people” told her the advance was insultingly low (it was substantial) and that she was the next Kelly Ripa, destined to become a TV star. The media attention had gone to her inflated head. The TV offers never came, but she was outraged that books were being published with similar titles. After I explained that a book title can’t be copyrighted, she hired a lawyer to send cease and desist letters to the book title thieves, who included a celebrity comedian whose book sold in the millions. “Why is he allowed to profit off of our ideas?” Cindy whined in a flood of emails. “We were first!”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The title of the OP was When Book Collaborations Go Bad, however, since continuity on TPV is something that crosses PG’s mind once in awhile and since PG had previously written classic posts entitled, Don’t do Business with Jerks and Don’t Do Business with Crooks, Don’t Do Business with Crazy People seemed to knit together three scattered parts of PG’s mind into a facsimile of intellectual continuity.

Most of PG’s Don’t Do advice arises from many years of helping sane but exasperated clients extricate themselves from various types of binding relationships.

Of course, divorces immediately come to mind.

While Don’t Get Married to the Wrong Person is broadly correct, it provides only general guidance that may not be useful to someone nearing the heated throes of a serious relationship. While PG could speak/write on this topic for hours (while increasing his appreciation for Mrs. PG and her extended willingness to tolerate him around the house), following are a few divorce-minimization categories preceded (of course) by disclaimers.

Like all general categories, these will inevitably be over-broad, so PG apologizes in advance to those who may posses one or more of the following characteristics or are in long-standing and joyful marriages in which one or both parties possess one or more of the following characteristics. In the interests of the aforementioned Continuity, PG will use the familiar advice structure, but feel free to substitute terms like “Think twice before marrying” or “You can have a happy marriage even if your husband/wife is”.

One more preliminary technical note: PG will use the term “mostly” because perfectly wonderful spouses have in the past and will in the future manifest the potential warning signs.

  • Don’t get married to someone mostly because of his/her present appearance.
  • Don’t get married to someone mostly because of his/her current or future financial circumstances.
  • Don’t get married to someone mostly because you had a fabulous weekend/vacation/trip with them.
  • Don’t get married to someone mostly because they come from a family containing many members who display one or more admirable virtues.
  • Don’t get married to someone mostly because of what happened last night.

Since PG’s last Diet Coke is wearing off, he will stop now. Feel free to add more wisdom born of experience (good or bad) in the comments. The contributions of visitors to TPV just might boost this post into the Blogging Hall of Fame (not, of course, located in any old-fashioned city like Cleveland, but forever existing as a shining star in the online firmament).

(Apologies to residents of greater metropolitan Cleveland. Take comfort from the fact that PG could have substituted the names of many, many other cities. You are not alone.)

Diversity: Macmillan USA Makes Major Changes in Management Approach

From Publishing Perspectives:

In two memos to staffers, the Big Five publisher Macmillan in New York City has signaled a substantial change in its management arrangement.

The effort is described by CEO John Sargent as “an exercise in changing power dynamics, and in making sure we have diverse perspectives in the decision-making process.

“We will make better decisions,” Sargent says, “if our company structure is more representative of the world around us, and we can only do that if we align recruitment, training, and retention with our day-to-day business decisions.”

And with that, Sargent is unveiling an approach that could resonate with other companies, establishing one model of how to start making the American publishing industry something that more accurately reflects the multicultural range of the United States’ market itself.

. . . .

In his introductory memo, Sargent is announcing that he is stepping back “from day to day management to make room for new voices.”

And to that end, he–with Don Weisberg, president, and COO Andrew Weber–have put together a 13-person group of leadership players “who will meet regularly to decide on the key issues for Macmillan Publishers.”

Sargent writes, “The committee will form a different and more inclusive management team, representing a wider range of experiences.”

He goes on to say, “This level of change is difficult, but I believe it is necessary. For some in the company this will be challenging, while others will see tremendous new opportunities. For the company as a whole I am confident that this will make us better and more capable in the years ahead.”

. . . .

“We need to change as a company. We need more diversity in the titles we publish, more committed positioning and marketing of these titles, more hiring and promotion of diverse staff, more inclusivity in the decision-making process, and more open dialogue throughout the organization.

“As John [Sargent] mentioned [in his memo], we have been planning a new leadership structure, one that fundamentally changes the group of people at the table where key decisions are made concerning our company strategy and priorities.

“An organization that is more representative of the company we need to be for our employees, our authors, and our readers.

“Today we are announcing the creation of the Trade Management Committee. This committee will set the goals and objectives for the publishers, divisions, and departments that comprise US trade and shared services. In order to ensure accountability, the committee will track the progress of key initiatives, including diversity and inclusion across the company and in our publishing programs, and report on results.”

As they’ve put the trade committee together, the two write that they’ve worked for “a mix of publishing, operational, and human resources representatives, which will allow us to tackle the management of the company while ensuring increased diversity across functions. The group will include others on a project-by-project basis and will regularly solicit feedback and support from a broad cross-section of staff from throughout the organization.”

One technical point that Sargent has made in his own memo: “This new management group will focus on running the overall company. The publishing houses will remain as independent companies, and the publishers will continue to report to Don directly.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Color PG skeptical10

Here is PG’s stereotypical profile of the ideal minority hire for Macmillan or any other large NYC publisher.

  1. Appropriate skin color or surname
  2. Mother is a Wall Street lawyer and father is a heart surgeon
  3. Attended one of a short list of academic institutions located in the Eastern United States
  4. Achieved a B average (At these institutions, that would place the hire in the bottom 20% of the class, but every graduate with better grades can easily locate a job that pays much more than a traditional publisher will. Besides, it’s the name of the institution on the diploma that counts, not what the applicant did or didn’t do (or smoked) while hanging around campus. Any major will do, although it’s a plus if the major was an ethnically-trendy term followed by the word, “Studies”)
  5. Either shows or cleans up nicely
  6. Doesn’t mind being placed in any photo of a group of employees intended for the publisher’s website. Willing to spend time (with pay) being photographed sitting at a conference table making a profound gesture or standing at a whiteboard pointing to a pie chart.
  7. Is willing to have the PR department write a quote attributed to them for inclusion in the publisher’s annual diversity report, for example, “Working at Macmillan has allowed me to reach my full potential without abandoning my ethnic and cultural roots.”

Four authors leave Blair Partnership over Rowling controversy

From The Bookseller:

J K Rowling’s agency The Blair Partnership has lost four of its author clients over the controversy surrounding the Harry Potter author’s views on transgender law reform. 

Fox Fisher, Drew Davies and Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir–all of whom identify as LGBTQIA authors–quit the agency saying they were unconvinced it “supports our rights at all avenues”. One further author, who opted to remain anonymous, has also departed.

According to the Guardian, Jónsdóttir–who is also known as Owl Fisher and is the co-author of the Trans Teen Survival Guide (from the Hachette-owned publishing company Jessica Kingsley Publishers)–suggested the literary agency should conduct staff training with the group All About Trans but “these requests weren’t met positively by the management”. The Blair Partnership declined to comment to The Bookseller on whether such a suggestion for staff training was rebuffed but as part of a broader statement said it would not “meet [the authors’] demands to be re-educated to their point of view”.

The authors leaving the agency wrote in a joint statement: “This decision is not made lightly, and we are saddened and disappointed it has come to this. After J K Rowling’s — who is also signed to the agency — public comments on transgender issues, we reached out to the agency with an invitation to reaffirm their stance to transgender rights and equality. After our talks with them, we felt that they were unable to commit to any action that we thought was appropriate and meaningful. Freedom of speech can only be upheld if the structural inequalities that hinder equal opportunities for underrepresented groups are challenged and changed.

“Affirmations to support LGBTQIA people as a whole need to be followed up by meaningful and impactful action, both internally and publicly. As LGBTQIA writers ourselves we feel strongly about having an agency that supports our rights at all avenues, and does not endorse views that go against our values and principles.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG wonders if Ms. Rowling is inclined to shelter in place somewhere with no newspapers and no internet service. There must be a placid island for sale in the South Atlantic that would serve.

Jargon Alert

PG receives a number of technology-focused epublications. Here’s an excerpt from one that just arrived:

The thing I’ve tried to do the last few years is really barbell the inputs.

Any thoughts on the meaning of this sentence?

Day Off

PG will not be making any blog posts today.

Nothing bad has happened.

He’ll be back here tomorrow with even more vim (is that still a word?), vigor, vitality and vitriol than usual.

What seemed delicacy

What seemed delicacy in him was usually a way of avoiding trouble; what seemed like sympathy was the instinct to prevent trouble before it started. It was hard to see what growing older would mean to such a person. His emotions, from lack of exercise, had disappeared almost altogether. Adaptability and curiosity, he had found, did just as well.

Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop

Hong Kong Publishers

PG realizes he went on a rant titled, “Don’t Do Business with Crooks” yesterday.

He’s going to post another rant today, but promises not to become a Serial Ranter.

For one thing, the internet already has more Serial Ranters than any one person, even if she/he were very, very, very angry or the hugest giganticast Ranter Fan ever, could read in a hundred lifetimes.

(Incidentally, rant.com is for sale.)

PG has had several people ask him to review an unsolicited publishing contract the have received from a “Hong Kong publisher” with a name that doesn’t seem to appear anywhere online.

At least some of the Hong Kong contracts PG has scanned are pretty close to identical in their wording and others are a bit different.

However, all of these contracts share some similar features, including:

  1. The author hadn’t pitched a book to any publisher in Hong Kong.
  2. From front to back, each contract was terrible.
  3. There were no audit rights (PG isn’t certain, but there might have been one contract that included an audit clause, but the audit had to take place in Hong Kong and only what appeared to be Hong Kong’s version of a Certified Public Accountant could conduct such an audit.
  4. When PG did a short bit of online searching, he couldn’t find a website for the Hong Kong publisher.
  5. Ditto for a publisher search on Amazon (US).
  6. The contract granted the publisher rights to the book for the full term of the copyright (sometimes in Hong Kong and sometimes everywhere) and for all languages.
  7. If the author got mad and hired a (Hong Kong) lawyer, the dispute would be heard in Hong Kong pursuant to the laws of Hong Kong in front of a Hong Kong judge.

How could anything go wrong?

The reason the indie authors (they were all indie) gave was that they didn’t have anything going in Hong Kong and probably wouldn’t, so, what the heck?

Yes, some people will just pirate your book outright. You send notices to Amazon (does anyone bother to send notices to Nook?) and Amazon pulls the book down.

Such actions may not stop a dedicated thief, but they may deter a thief with an IQ above room temperature.

The thief wants to stay below Amazon’s radar. If the thief is posting copies of dozens of books online, it’s safer for the thief to put up books that don’t generate an objection than to face Amazon freezing the thief’s account (which may have some royalties on sales of other counterfeit books that haven’t been paid yet the thief may forfeit) so the thief has to open another account and start again.

(PG has heard unconfirmed rumors that if a book is pirated on more than a few occasions, Amazon may require a more complex process for anyone who wants to post the same or similar book again. If Amazon wanted to do so, since it owns owns the largest cloud computing platform in the world, PG speculates that the company could set up a system that would do a quick textual analysis of every book uploaded and compare the analysis against those already uploaded (PG suspects a unique digital fingerprint for each book might be involved if Amazon were to do something like this) to help identify book thieves.)

PG apologizes for his digression, but his bottom line is, if an indie author receives an unsolicited proposal or publishing contract from Hong Kong, that author should:

  • Stop.
  • Think.
  • Don’t feel flattered that someone noticed your book.
  • If you want to waste the scammer’s time, ask for an advance payment from the “publisher” to demonstrate that the publisher is operating in good faith and is really interested in your book. PG might call such a payment an Advanced Advance.

Same advice for a publishing contract from Moscow.

The Correctors

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

pecters haunt the history of publishing and of humanistic scholarship in early modern Europe: lean, shabby ghosts. Correctors, as they were usually called, prepared manuscripts for the press, read proofs, and often added original material of their own. They were everywhere in the world of print, and many early modern humanists—including those whose names remain familiar—either praised or denigrated them and their work.

What, then, did correctors and readers do? The account books of some of the great firms survive, and they provide firsthand evidence. The surviving ledger of the Froben and Episcopius firms, for example, records the wages paid to employees from 1557 to 1564. Each list of employees begins with a corrector or castigator: clear evidence that these learned employees, whose names appeared before those of the compositors and pressmen, enjoyed a certain status, which was higher than that of those who worked with their hands. Each list also includes a lector, whose pay is usually half that of the corrector or less. Sometimes the document states that a given corrector or reader received payment for other activities as well. In March 1560, for example, the lector Leodegarius Grymaldus received payment both for reading and for two other named tasks: making an index and correcting a French translation of Agricola’s work on metals. In March 1563 Bartholomaeus Varolle was paid for correcting but also for preparing the exemplar, or copy, of a thirteenth-century legal text, Guillaume Durand’s Speculum iuris, and for drawing up an index for the work.

Correctors did many other things as well. They corrected authors’ copy as well as proofs. They identified and mended typographical and other errors, to the best of their ability. They divided texts into sections and drew up aids to readers: title pages, tables of contents, chapter headings, and indexes. Some correctors composed texts as well as paratexts, serving as what might now be called content providers.

At times, correctors acted as expert intermediaries between an author and his publisher. The corrector seems to represent a new social type: a phenomenon brought into the world by printing and a native-born son of the new city of books that printing created. It seems obvious that the new art created new tasks. The printer confronted many rivals in the marketplace. He or she had to show that a particular product was superior to those of rivals. One way to do so—as printers rapidly decided—was to emphasize, in the colophon or, later, on the title page, that learned men had corrected the text. In Italy and Germany alike, books printed in the fifteenth century promised their readers not just texts but texts “diligently emended,” “vigilantly emended and revised,” or “most diligently and accurately revised” by particular scholars. Hiring someone to correct a text—or claiming to have done so, as many printers did even though they had not—represented a rational and effective way to claim a larger market share.

. . . .

One of the most striking facts about correctors was, and is, depressing: for all the utility of what they did, they usually found themselves the objects less of gratitude than of anger, pity, or derision. As early as 1534, when Viglius Zuichemus described Hieronymus Froben’s printing shop, he mentioned the chief corrector there, Sigismund Gelenius, only to say how much he regretted seeing him employed in this capacity. Gelenius, he explained, was “an extraordinarily learned man, and worthy of far better things.” Pretty much everyone agreed. Jeremiah Hornschuch, the proud corrector and author of a textbook on the craft of correcting, admitted that he himself had taken up the trade to avoid the worse one of a tutor, and that most of his colleagues, if they could, “would be off like a shot from this sweatshop, to earn their living by their intelligence and learning, not their hands.”

Correctors had every reason to feel ill used. Their pay was modest: lower than that of the best-paid compositors and pressmen.

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

I Am the Faceless Woman on the Cover of Your Novel

From Electric Lit:

I feel the most brown facing
a solid, bright background
that seduces preteens
at the Scholastic fair. My long
black-as-licorice braids with their
sweet virginal shine beg for
pity, are maybe a metaphor
for tradition, repression, machismo,
all the miserable Mexican girls that need
to be saved from Mexican men.

I’ve portrayed all kinds
of Mexicans: Puerto Ricans,
Guatemalans, Peruvians, and even
a few Chinese. It’s easy when you’re
faceless: all smooth, tan skin
and thick hair, for a few blue
moon romance novels,
a wide set of hips.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG notes that these are the first two stanzas of a longer poem. You can read the conclusion and another poem by the same author at the link.

The Sounds of Silence

PG apologizes for no posts yesterday.

He understands the omission would not be regarded as evil or careless by most visitors to TPV, but PG does try to put up a few items every day. When he has missed posting for a day or two on prior occasions without advance notice, he has received a handful of messages expressing concern for his welfare and regrets that his inaction has caused any concern among regular visitors.

Perhaps he can blame the bizarre lifestyle and physical/mental torpor that accompanies social distancing, sheltering in place, and not having the regular regular face-to-face interaction with friends he enjoys, but PG just sort of checked out on Sunday.

He was kind to Mrs. PG and sent an email to his daughter, but his fingers didn’t manifest their usual itch to tickle a keyboard.

However, PG is happy to announce today that he’s back again and better than ever.

High-Speed History

From The Wall Street Journal:

On Dec. 14, 1932,Germany’s head of state, President Paul von Hindenburg, a former general, a Prussian’s Prussian, hosted a party in honor of Ernst Lubitsch, a German Jew who had emerged as one of Hollywood’s finest directors. As two German writers, Rüdiger Barth and Hauke Friederichs, relate in “The Last Winter of the Weimar Republic,” another guest asked Lubitsch why he no longer worked in Germany. “That’s finished,” he replied, “nothing good is going to happen here for a long time.” Less than two months later, von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Germany’s chancellor.

The Last Winter” is a day-by-day retelling of Weimar’s final collapse. After a brief introduction, its authors turn their attention to Berlin on Nov. 17, 1932, a day dominated politically by the question of who should become Germany’s new chancellor. According to custom, the job should have been offered to Hitler, leader of the largest party in the Reichstag, but the Nazis had lost ground in elections held earlier in the month, and those who still controlled Germany were not ready for Hitler, not quite yet. “The Last Winter” concludes on Jan. 30, 1933, when, after weeks of intricate maneuvering deftly sketched by Messrs. Barth and Friederichs, von Hindenburg hands the chancellorship to Hitler.

. . . .

[T]he pointillism that comes with being written diary-style is effective, and even when the detail is trivial, it can be startling: Goebbels played the accordion? We are told that the outgoing chancellor, the clever and devious Kurt von Schleicher, displayed little emotion as he said farewell to his cabinet, although one colleague observed that “this experience has been a matter of life or death to him.” A little over a year later, von Schleicher was murdered by the SS during the Night of the Long Knives; the dangerous game, well described in this book, that he had been playing had come to an end.

What comes clear in the authors’ account is how few understood the extent of the abyss that lay ahead. Normal life went on: Department stores held linen sales in the week that Hitler took over. Well, why would they not? And then there were the politicians who thought that, by bringing Hitler into what they imagined was a coalition, they could use and control him—a view initially shared by many, if not the Swiss journalist, quoted by the authors, who wrote that “a bear is still a bear, even if you stick a ring through his nose . . . .”

The authors’ account of the January day Hitler was named chancellor is understandably focused on the Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin’s government quarter, but they keep to the mosaic approach that serves their narrative so well. As expected, there are torchlight parades and a brawl between communists and Nazis. But we also read of an American labor organizer discovering that there are no tickets left for the play he planned on seeing, and of a group of German writers deciding their best option is to wait things out. One, Carl von Ossietzky, warns that the nightmare will last longer than they think: In an epilogue, it’s revealed that he will be in a concentration camp within months. The more the reader knows about the horrors to come, the darker “The Last Winter” seems.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

Why I’m Leaving Facebook

From Patreon:

I’m getting ready to quit Facebook and generally pull back from social media.

. . . .

My reasons for this are complicated and are expanded on below, but I know that most people (and this is part of the problem) only like to read a tiny bit of text before forming strong opinions. It’s almost as if they already had their opinions are just using the posts on social media to rage-surf. 

So, for those who love brevity, here are the TLDR reasons I’m leaving Facebook (and most of Social Media):

  • It is addictive without substantive reward
  • The application interfaces are terrible and only serve the platform, not the user
  • The concentrated engagement of attention and time on social media are destructive to cooperation and unity
  • The platforms are rife with bots and agents that seek to divide us
  • The platforms create the illusion of accomplishment

[PG comment – The list continues]

. . . .

The main reason I joined Facebook was to chat and “play” with my friends. Facebook has an algorithm, an invisible agent that works to decide what you see and who sees you. I have more than a hundred real-life friends on Facebook. Because of this stupid algorithm, I only see 10 to 15 people’s posts.

There is a button that lets you change from “Top Stories” (the Facebook bot-controlled fascist view) to the “Most Recent” (theoretically, the “real-time” look at your friend’s feed). Nearly all of my friends want the Most Recent, but we all get reset to Top Stories. Why? It doesn’t really matter why. I assume it’s because it’s easier to control the ad flow if the algorithm dictates your view, but from a user-experience perspective, this is the same as having a Word Processor that intermittently changes your fonts to COMIC SANS throughout the day no matter what setting you pick.

Facebook encourages creative people to build Facebook Groups. Recently I started one for my podcast In reSearch Of… and immediately began to get spammed with notices that “more people could see your post if you ran an ad.”

Link to the rest at Patreon and thanks to R. for the tip.

PG closed his personal FB account a few years ago because of concerns about Facebook’s attitude towards user content and significant privacy concerns.

He’s set up one or two dummy accounts with phony names, minimal phony demographics, etc., that he uses solely for looking at posted information that is supposedly ”really great” or of otherwise of potential interest to him. If/when he goes, he is most likely to be somewhat disappointed.

He also uses FB on occasion solely as an anonymous outbound channel for spreading little creations (no, they’re not good, have nothing to do with the law and/or indie/traditional publishing, are not in the least racy or pornographic, tap into the back side or underside of PG’s brain, the right and left sides of which are otherwise occupied) and PG would be embarrassed to be associated with them except by a very small group of years-long friends who are highly understanding of PG’s numerous shortcomings and inadequacies.

If someone wants to be PG’s Facebook friend, he/she/it must have known PG extremely well for at least twenty years. Longer is preferable.

How low pay and low pay transparency undermine the publishing business

From The Bookseller:

Last Sunday, I shared an article from my personal website about the difficulties of progressing in the publishing industry. Since then, I have been inundated with messages from people in the business sharing similar experiences with me. I’ve spent the past week reading these messages and speaking to chief executives, union organisers, HR people and many, many, many publishing workers to try and understand what is going on in our business, and I have come to the following conclusion: it is impossible for publishing to fulfil its own diversity agenda while continuing to pay low wages to most workers and to maintain its decades-long secrecy over pay and progression.

. . . .

According to a survey by bookcareers.com, the average overall salary in publishing in 2017 was £32,228. The average starting salary was £20,740. This data is partial—it relies on participants in a survey, rather than data from the industry itself and the participants were younger than average—so it’s likely the actual average salary is a little higher than this.

So, let’s be generous to the industry and assume that the average worker in publishing might be earning around £38,000. In my experience, unless you are an exception, it can take about ten years of work to get to that level—which is the age at which many people start to have children, so I am including childcare costs in the below calculations.

£38,000 p.a. is around £2,456 take home pay per month according to the jobs website reed.co.uk

Costs (all are per calendar month, approximate and arguably on the low side)

Rent for a one-bed flat: £1,200

Fulltime childcare costs for one child: £1,000

Transport from Zone 3: £140

Bills, including phone, council tax, gas & electric: £300

Total £2,640

This worker would be in the red before they had even bought food.

For a new starter on £24,000 (probably the highest starting salary in the business) with no children, their monthly take-home pay is around £1,600. This person’s costs might look something like this:

Rent for a room in a shared house: £700

Bills including council tax, gas and electric, phone: £200

Travel from Zone 2: £120

Total £1,020

This leaves around £500 or £125 per week for food, socialising, loan repayments, saving for a deposit, taking a holiday, whatever. Many new starters earn less than this (anecdotally, it can still be as low as £18,000).

. . . .

As you can see, for the average publishing worker, it is quite simply impossible to build a financially independent life around this business. It works for those who are in it because they are in relationships (often with people who earn a lot more) or they have family living in London, or family money, or they do not have children.

. . . .

While getting the facts straight about money is important, let us avoid recriminations of any sort because it just distracts us all from the fundamental fact, which is: for most of us, publishing does not pay. Another argument is that plenty of jobs pay around £38,000, even after ten years. That is true, but it is more likely you can do those jobs outside the capital, where rent, childcare and transport are much cheaper. Also the fierce competition for entry-level jobs in publishing means that new starters are often highly qualified graduates who could expect to earn a lot more after ten years in other industries.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The author of the OP described the pay problem at traditional publishers, small and large, more eloquently and in more detail than PG could.

His only added observation is that, given what PG suspects will occur in the traditional publishing and physical bookstore businesses until well after the onset of a vigorous financial recovery, he suspects that things will become significantly worse in those businesses before they become better, if they ever do.

He will also add that the Wall Street hedge fund that owns controlling interest in Barnes & Noble, Elliot Management, is unlikely to have the slightest emotional connection to the bookstore business and will be willing to cut expenses by huge margins, close stores and lay off headquarters staff or even take BN through bankruptcy court if the fund believes that is the best way to generate the most money from an investment that, in retrospect, may appear to have been poorly-timed.

Requiem for the Printing Press

From The Wall Street Journal:

The finest moment in the finest movie about newspapers ever made—“Deadline—U.S.A.” (1952)—comes in the final scene.

The editor of a dying newspaper, played by Humphrey Bogart, is down in the pressroom. The paper is planning to print a story accusing a crime-syndicate boss of murder. The mobster manages to reach Bogart on the phone and threatens to kill him if the story appears.

In response, Bogart signals to the pressroom foreman to start the run. Bogart holds the phone up toward the presses as they roar to life.

The mobster, in his apartment, recoils. He yells into his phone: “That noise—what’s that racket?”

And Bogart says: “That’s the press, baby. The press. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing.”

. . . .

That scene comes to mind as local newspapers try to deal with the industry’s widely reported woes. While many papers are struggling to remain solvent, one media trend has attracted surprisingly little attention: More papers are shutting down their presses and, to save money for distant corporate owners, printing their daily editions at other newspaper headquarters hours away. The papers still bear the names of the cities where they’re read, but they roll off presses elsewhere, sometimes in different states.

This week the Miami Herald announced that it is officially moving out of its offices. Because of Covid-19, its reporters and editors have been working from home, and without a newsroom they’ll do that until at least the end of the year. Since April, the Herald has been outsourcing its printing to the presses of its major rival, Fort Lauderdale’s South Florida Sun Sentinel. Ohio’s Cincinnati Enquirer is now printed in Louisville, Ky. Indiana’s South Bend Tribune is printed in Walker, Mich.

When this happens, trucks have to make intercity deliveries, pushing deadlines earlier. Late-breaking stories and nighttime sports events may not make the morning paper. Another casualty: No longer seeing the guys who ran the giant presses downstairs donning their squared-off paper hats, which they made each day from the latest edition.

And forever, when those presses in a newspaper building would start up late at night, the reporters and editors upstairs could feel it in their feet. The vibration from the presses would shoot up through their shoes. It was glorious, part of the romance of newspapering. The shorthand for “reporters”—the press—derives from those printing presses.

The loss has a powerful, bittersweet symbolism. As Brent Batten of Florida’s Naples Daily News, whose presses have been silenced and printing operations sent to Sarasota, about 100 miles away, put it: “We’re an office building attached to the most amazing piece of machinery any of us are ever likely to behold. Without it, we may as well be in a strip mall.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

On PG’s second job out of college in Chicago, working at a large advertising agency, he went on a couple of tours, one included a major newspaper’s printing presses and the other was of a large press used for printing high-end, slick-paper four-color magazine advertisements.

This was long before computerized printing and color photos were printed by four separate presses, one for cyan, another for magenta, the third for yellow and, finally, black. Color separations were performed with the original photograph and four separate curved pieces of metal were made, one for each of the colors.

There were always dots that made up the images. Newspaper photos had relatively large dots on one curved plate that printed black and various shades of gray. High-end presses for slick paper illustrations had very small dots on four curved plates, one printing cyan, another magenta, then yellow and finally, black if PG’s recollection is correct.

For the first run of a slick-paper color advertisement, someone from the advertising agency, usually a creative director or art director would be there to examine the first few prints off the press to make certain everything looked the way it should. Rerunning hundreds of thousands of advertisements was an expensive proposition that the agency hesitated to charge to its client.

During a visit when PG tagged along, the art director responsible for the the advertisement design and appearance saw a problem with one of the food photographs during a test run, the color of the cheese to be specific. It was not the right shade of yellow-gold. It looked fine to PG, but he wasn’t the art director.

The printing technician pulled some very fine sandpaper from his pocket and, using the test run prints for reference, did about five minutes of lightly sanding small parts of two or three of the curved metal plates while they were still mounted on the press.

After the sanding was complete, the press ran another few test copies, the color of the cheese was perfect (even PG could see a slight difference when the before and after proof copies were laid side-by-side) and nothing else had changed in the image.

The art director approved and the giant press cranked up and hundreds of gears were rapidly turning. The whole apparatus made a wonderful mechanical collection of sounds, more complex than the movie clip captures.

When PG uses Photoshop or another image-manipulation program on his computer to tweak various of his photos, he occasionally thinks of the guy with the sandpaper and the many years of experience required to know exactly where and how much to sand.

Doctors’ Money

While responding to a comment to another post from a couple of days ago, PG was reminded of a term, “Doctors’ Money.”

This is an example of a cognitive error often called, “transference of expertise.”

From Perceptual Edge:

People sometimes claim expertise in one field based on experience in another. This is a fallacious and deceitful claim. I have extensive experience in visual design, but I cannot claim expertise in architecture. Any building that I designed would most certainly crumble around me. I’m a skilled teacher, but this does not qualify me as a psychotherapist. That hasn’t stopped me from occasionally giving advice to friends, but without charge, which probably matches its worth. Although these fields of endeavor overlap in some ways, expertise in one does not convey expertise in another. No concert violinist would claim the transfer of that virtuosity to the saxophone, but IT professionals sometimes make claims that are every bit as audacious.

Link to the rest at Perceptual Edge

Basically, as stated at greater length above, the error is that someone who is an expert in one field of endeavor believes she/he is also an expert in another field.

As a baby lawyer working in a securities law firm a long time ago, PG learned that the term, “doctors’ money”, when applied to a stock or a company meant the equivalent of “dumb money”.

Because of a doctor’s extensive education and intellectual abilities in the medical field, many doctors felt their innate intelligence was such that they could listen to a description of a newly-public company or one that was planning a public offering of its stock in a year or so and discern which companies’ stock prices were certain to appreciate. If a startup company was backed by a lot of investments by physicians, this constituted a warning flag for more savvy investors.

There was also a herd phenomenon that sometimes occurred when one doctor found what he/she believed was an excellent investment and told professional associates and friends about it and those people bought the same stock.

Unpacking Wharton’s Library

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

IN 1984, George Ramsden, a 30-year-old British bookseller who had never read anything by Edith Wharton, bought her personal library for $80,000. He kept the books in a room above his bookshop where he would invite select visitors to view them by asking if they wanted to come up and see “Edith.” When he finally sold the library (for $2.5 million) to The Mount — the Wharton museum in Massachusetts — he negotiated the right to accompany it across the Atlantic to set up the display himself. He wept as he unpacked the books, demanded solitude as he arranged them, and took a long time to finish the job.

People get weird about libraries, or, to put it another way, libraries seem to accrue values beyond use and exchange. So what does a library mean?

This is the question at the heart of Sheila Liming’s new book, What a Library Means to a Woman. She strives to answer by analyzing the specific library collected by Edith Wharton and what it meant to Wharton herself, her contemporaries, her heirs, and even to the odd custodians and passionate scholars who have guarded and exploited it.

To look for the meaning, in the fullest sense, of a specific material object or set of objects is an inquiry that escapes the purview of any one academic discipline. Accordingly, Liming relies on a dizzying number of research methods and information sources: personal memoir and biographical detail, close readings of Wharton’s fiction and analyses of the annotations she made in the books she read, the history of interior design and the economic data of the book trade, literary theory and the sociology of culture, personal interviews and institutional history. But “multidisciplinary” is a pallid word for this book. It is thinking guided by the object of inquiry itself. It is literary scholarship keyed to a question so specific that it takes on at times the aura of a novel — the concluding chapter about George Ramsden felt like a chapter from a detective story, for example — and, for the same reason, it achieves at other times the general significance of a philosophical meditation.

Over the last seven years, Liming conducted research at The Mount, and while there, she had a chance to observe the reaction of visitors to the sight of Wharton’s books:

Sometimes an allusive remark would serve to express a visitor’s disdain about the library “not being worth” the money that had been reportedly spent on it; others, meanwhile, would bombard their guide (or me) with questions that circled back to discussions of cost and worth: How much does a first-edition Ulysses cost, anyway? Did Wharton have all of her books custom bound or just the expensive ones? I came to see these forms of scrutiny as inspired by the space of the library itself, with its railings and its climate control and its overt physical enforcements. At the same time, I also came to see them as tied to a very specific kind of contemporary illiteracy: most of us in the twenty-first century no longer live with and among books, so we struggle when faced with estimations of their worth. […] [V]isitors to The Mount sense that Wharton’s library has value, but are hard pressed when asked to conceive of its value in terms that defy the logic of monetary worth or simple cost.

What this “illiteracy” blocks, Liming suggests, is the recognition that a personal library is not just a collection of commodities that happen to be books, but a kind of intellectual casing, shell, or home.

. . . .

Liming shows that Wharton’s book-buying choices reveal predilections unusual in a woman of her time: “[U]pper-class women during Wharton’s time (and throughout subsequent generations) were primed for success in social intercourse and received training in subjects that might prove beneficial to their social, rather than their intellectual, development,” but Wharton purchased and read an unusual number of foreign-language books, as well as an unusual number of histories. (Liming cleverly determines this by comparing the ratio of genres on Wharton’s shelves to the ratio of genres published in her day.) Wharton’s development of her book collection gave her the training needed to make a significant contribution to literature, and to be well read in a way atypical of the gendered expectations of her day.

She also used her personal library to establish the social networks that demonstrated her literary eminence and that continue to be associated with her fame ever since. Perhaps her most notable friendship was with the novelist Henry James. And it began as a friendship between readers rather than writers. As Liming recounts:

[Wharton and James] who had nothing to say to each other fifteen years earlier went on to describe themselves as being inseparable, spurred by conversations that centered mostly on the reading of books. Reading, in fact, figured more prominently in their conversations than writing: “I always tried to keep my own work out of his way, and once accused him of ferreting it out and reading it just to annoy me,” Wharton explains.

A library can establish — as it did for Wharton — the possibility of relationship with other people. Like a home, it can be both a shelter and a meeting place. And not just for the one who collected it.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Given their digital nature, one can only imagine what what a future author with the appropriate level of savoir faire will be able to do with a rudimentary understanding of statistical analysis.

Add such knowledge to the ability to persuade Amazon to part the digital curtains just a bit in the interest of understanding the reading habits and patterns of a now-deceased great woman/man. (Perhaps the consent of the heirs might be required to help Amazon feel a bit more at ease.)

Which books did the deceased finish and which were abandoned before reaching the end? What does an analysis of the last ten pages before the deceased electronically closed it reveal about the nature of the decedent?

On a word-per-reading-minute basis, which books were read the fastest? The slowest? Did certain combinations of words cause the reader to stop, then go back to reread the language just preceding those combination? If so, what does that behavior reveal about the decedent’s state of mind at that point in his/her life?

If the will of the deceased requires the executor of the estate to cause all electronic reading records of the deceased to be destroyed, will Amazon comply?

Local Politics and Global Espionage

From The Wall Street Journal:

Investigative journalist Jack Sharpe, protagonist in David Pepper’s intrigue-filled third novel, The Voter File(Putnam, 423 pages, $27), has some major achievements on his resume: “I’d taken down a presidential front-runner . . . and inspired a year of bipartisan reform on Capitol Hill.” But Sharpe is on a slide after being fired from his high-profile job as a TV talking head. He’s desperate for a career-reviving scoop when he answers a message from Victoria (Tori) Justice, a rugby-playing Wisconsin college student and part-time political campaign worker who claims that she has a sensational story: She’s certain that the recent special election for a vacancy on her state’s Supreme Court was rigged (in favor of her candidate) through interference with carefully guarded voter files.

The story might seem of limited interest, but after some digging, Jack begins to perceive a much bigger picture. This local race, it seems, was a test run for a larger conspiracy aimed at affecting off-year elections around the country—a scheme with international origins.

The reader is privy to the action of the conspirators, specifically the Eastern European mastermind of the elaborate operation and his chief U.S. operative: a young woman with fashion-model looks and the heart of a killer. When Jack and Tori’s snooping comes to the attention of these manipulators, the villains don’t hesitate to contract for their elimination by “one of the world’s most high-priced assassins”: a man nicknamed “the Butcher.”

Jack enlists a cable-news reporter whom he had mentored and some police officers whose trust he has earned to help balance the scales in his uneven contest with a group looking to bring about “a sea change to the entire U.S. economy.” Mr. Pepper, who has quickly established himself as one of the best political-thriller writers on the scene, keeps surprising us to the final page.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Wallace Stegner and the Conflicted Soul of the West

From The New York Times:

I found my way to Wallace Stegner by accident. Really through three identical accidents, lightning strikes that I’m only now beginning to suspect were signs.

Given Stegner’s lifelong fascination with the American West, a landscape simile seems appropriate. His writing, which includes memoir, history, biography and reportage as well as more than a dozen works of fiction, is like a vast prairie, its fertile valleys and desert patches shadowed by three mighty peaks.

I stumbled on them in reverse order. Sometime in the late 1990s I pulled “Crossing to Safety” (1987), his affectionate, elegiac chronicle of the decades-long friendship between two literary couples, from the jumbled shelf of a vacation-rental cottage during a spell of gloomy summer weather. The same thing happened with the sprawling, multigenerational “Angle of Repose” (1971) in a different cabin a decade later, and with Stegner’s career-making, semi-autobiographical fifth novel, “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” (1943), earlier this year. It was waiting for me in a temporary apartment in a faraway city.

The paperbacks I picked up had creased spines and dog-eared pages, coffee stains and smudges — hard evidence of committed reading. But no reader had bothered to bring them home to be displayed on the living-room bookcase. Instead they were consigned to hand-me-down transience, along with the murder mysteries, nautical adventure stories and outdated travel guides.

. . . .

“The dean of Western writers” is the epithet most often attached to that name, but it’s a description that obscures as much as it reveals, and that corrals a large and protean imagination into a parochial, regional identity. Stegner’s books abide in an undervisited stretch of the American canon, like a national park you might drive past on the way to a theme park or ski resort. If you do visit, you find a topography that looks familiar at first glance — as if from an old postcard — but becomes stranger and more deeply shadowed the longer you stay. A tale of frontier adventure turns out to be the portrait of a marriage; a story of courtship and marriage evolves into a tableau of social and technological transformation; a nostalgic rumination on friendship slides toward generational tragedy.

“Western” inevitably carries genre overtones — cowboys and Indians, outlaws and railroad bosses, Zane Grey and Clint Eastwood — as well as political implications. But Stegner trafficked neither in the tall tales of popular culture nor in the mythologies of Manifest Destiny, and was a lifelong and outspoken critic of the ways the West, as an abstract notion and a living environment, had been distorted, misunderstood and abused. 

. . . .

Time is marked by the milestones of family life, rather than the signposted public happenings that festoon historical and self-consciously topical novels. Wars and presidential administrations pass almost without mention, perhaps because, even in the post-frontier West, local matters of settlement and subsistence were likely to feel more pressing. More than that, political and even artistic concerns could seem abstract and insubstantial compared with the warmth and gravity of human relationships.

In “Crossing to Safety,” Stegner (in the persona of Larry Morgan) turns this feeling into something close to a principle: “We weren’t indifferent. We lived in our times, which were hard times. We had our interests, which were mainly literary and intellectual and only occasionally, inescapably, political. But what memory brings back from there is not politics, or the meagerness of living on $150 a month, or even the writing I was doing, but the details of friendship — parties, picnics, walks, midnight conversations, glimpses from the occasional unencumbered hours. Amicitia lasts better than res publica, and at least as well as ars poetica.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

The Best Crime, Thriller, and Horror Books for Your Quarantine Situation

From Crime Reads:

Over two months ago, I commuted to work for the last time. On the way home, I stopped for gas and groceries. That night, I cancelled a vacation planned for the next week and watched the Project Runway finale with my mom. Since then, I’ve been hunkered down with Mom and three dogs, making only essential trips to the grocery store and the vet. It feels like two years have passed. When the publication date for They Did Bad Things was set last year (which is about a decade in pandemic-time), I didn’t think my book about old college frenemies trapped in an isolated house trying to not to die (or kill each other), would be as fitting for the times as it is. As I prep to launch a book while most of the nationwide shutdowns and restrictions remain in place, I started thinking about the best crime/thriller/horror books to read in quarantine. If you’re stuck with your college roommates, They Did Bad Things might be for you.

Have a different quarantine situation? Want to lift your spirits by reading about someone whose situation is worse than yours? There’s a book here for you.

. . . .

Books for About-to-be-Divorced Quarantining Couples

Ready to set your partner’s belongings on fire if they won’t stop videobombing your Zoom calls in their underwear? Read Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It instead. Forget your partner’s irritating habits by losing yourself in the story of Julie and James, who suffer from nervous breakdowns as a result of the creepy child-like drawings that appear on the walls and the secret passages that keep manifesting themselves inside their newly bought house. You’ll forget all about the dirty underwear on the floor when you start checking out your own window to see if the shouting of the never-seen children outside really are getting closer.

Planning on some couples therapy in the near future? In SJI Holliday’s The Lingering, Jack and Ali Gardiner thought leaving London for a commune in the English countryside would help solve their marital problems. But they probably shouldn’t have chosen a commune housed in a former Victorian mental asylum on land once used for a witch-burning.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

BookExpo, BookCon Online Drew Strong Numbers

From Publishers Weekly:

ReedPop has released figures on the number of views its online editions of BookExpo and BookCon generated when they were held from May 26-31. ReedPop created the online forum when it was forced to cancel the in-person BookExpo and BookCon events because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

BookConline (the name for BookCon’s virtual show) proved especially popular in the online world, with its Sunday panels generating nearly 240,000 views on ReedPop’s Facebook page. The Saturday panels were viewed 134,500 times.

The most popular BookExpo event was on the first day, when the library morning sessions had 14,000 views. Sessions 5-6 were viewed 6,800 times.

The Children’s Book & Author Dinner, held last Thursday, generated 11,000 views, and the Adult Book & Author Dinner was viewed 5,800 times. The dinners featured the same lineup of speakers who were set to appear at the canceled author breakfasts; those in-person breakfasts typically attracted no more than 1,000 people.

The adult and young adult buzz panels held last Friday morning had a total of 8,100 views, ReedPop reported. The middle grade buzz panel and the New Picture Book Showcase and the Graphic Novels Showcase combined for 6,000 views.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here’s a summary of attendance from BookExpo 2019:

the 2019 show featured 8,260 attendees, including 1,954 bookstore personnel–145 of whom were paid to come under a new initiative–and 1,562 librarians. Other retailers comprised 636 people, boosted by non-book stores interested in the “UnBound” area of merchandise added to the show. Media attendance was about flat at 1,245 people on top of that. And over 1,150 of those attendees were actually categorized as guests and speakers.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

21 Excellent Books with Happy Endings

From BookRiot:

If there’s ever been a time to escape into book with happy endings, it’s now. 2020 is not the time for novels that ambush us with anything less than that. Romance novels are a good bet – a happy ending being the defining attribute of the genre – and so, in a way, are murder mysteries, where we know the killer will be caught and justice will be done. At Book Riot, we’ve put together a list of books with happy endings for a heartwarming read. No spoilers here, so I won’t tell you why the ending is happy – though in some cases, like those romance novels, it’s more obvious than others.

. . . .

THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER BY EMILY X. R. PAN

Although the theme of this book is grief, the ending is redemptive – after losing her mother to suicide, Leigh Chen Sanders finds herself through family history, art, and love.

THE BOOKISH LIFE OF NINA HILL BY ABBI WAXMAN

This book made me feel like I’d been hugged when I finished it. It’s the perfect tonic for these times – the story of a young, introverted bookworm whose life is turned upside down when she discovers a whole family she never knew she had. She also meets a boy at her trivia night and has to help her bookstore fight closure, but beyond all the adventures it’s the warm and witty voice that really does it for me.

. . . .

THE COLOR OF BEE LARKHAM’S MURDER BY SARAH J. HARRIS

Jasper is face blind. He also has synaesthesia, which means he sees the world in more colour than neurotypical people: feelings can be red, and voices can be cobalt blue, like his mother’s, whom he deeply misses. This one is a mystery with a happy ending – it’s not just about solving the mystery of Bee Larkham’s murder, but also about Jasper growing, and his dad learning to

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Comments vs. Spam Filter

PG found some comments by long-time visitors to TPV that for some reason, became enmeshed in the TPV spam folder.

TPV has been receiving particularly large amounts of spam lately (as well increased numbers of hack attacks from various parts of the world), so, perhaps the guardians of the blog have become exhausted and a bit inaccurate.

All is fixed and the wrongly-accused comments have been approved. PG apologizes on behalf of his system, including its various servers and each of its guardians.

In Pandemic, Dystopian Fiction Loses Its Luster for Editors

From Publishers Weekly:

The big adult fiction title of this past fall was Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. The sequel to the author’s 1985 bestseller The Handmaid’s Tale was unveiled with a 500,000-copy first printing. At the time, The Handmaid’s Tale was benefitting from a surge of interest in its wildly popular TV adaptation on Hulu, and from a renewed interest in dystopian tales following the election of Donald Trump. Now, with the globe seized by a pandemic and millions of Americans hunkered down because of shelter-at-home orders, editors say they are interested in lighter fare—mostly.

So what are publishers interested in buying during a pandemic? According to a number of editors and agents who specialize in adult commercial fiction, escapism is on the rise, to an extent.

“This is the question I think we’re all dealing with right now,” said Harper editor Sara Nelson, when asked if she’s looking for different kinds of books since the Covid-19 outbreak. “On the one hand, we’re so obsessed with our current moment that it’s hard to know what we, let alone most readers, will want to read a year, or a year and a half, from now. I don’t generally buy dystopian fiction anyway, but I am pretty sure I won’t find dystopian novels appealing for the near future.”

Nelson, who has always loved historical fiction (among her notable acquisitions in the genre is Heather Morris’s bestseller The Tattooist of Auschwitz), added that she is taking even more comfort in these types of books now as “reading about the past becomes even more appealing as we slide into the murky future.”

Peter Steinberg, an agent at Foundry Literary + Media, said, “When there’s an unexpected shift in society, I think it has an almost real-time effect on editors’ buying habits. Because of the overwhelming nature of Covid-19, escapism is one of the better ways to elicit those intense emotions.”

But many agents and editors warned that escapism is an incredibly broad term—one that makes room for everything from romantic comedies to dark thrillers.

. . . .

When asked what she’s looking to buy right now, Jennifer Enderlin, executive v-p and publisher of St. Martin’s Press, said, “In terms of fiction, I wouldn’t say editors want more uplifting books over thrillers or tear-jerkers.” But, she added, “bad-news books, not so much.”

For Enderlin, the term escapism is problematic, insofar as it confers a certain levity. That, she explained, is not necessarily what she wants now. “Escapism doesn’t have to mean fluffy or light. It can be searing, devastating, romantic, suspenseful, hilarious, or transporting.” She noted that she is seeing a huge uptick in sales of her author Kristin Hannah’s 2015 bestseller The Nightingale, which Enderlin described as a “box-of-tissues read.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

From “A Way with Words“:

The job of a network executive has never been easy. Picking a hit is a tall order even for someone with what the industry likes to call a “golden gut”—a knack for sniffing out what’s likely to sell.» —“NBC Seeks Vision of TV’s Future” by Ronald Grover BusinessWeek May 1, 2009.

PG suggests that the golden gut approach to product design and selection is one that is fraught with the potential for serious mistakes. Particularly when acquisition editors at traditional publishers are making decisions about books that are unlikely to appear before a couple of years from now, the view of someone living in a relatively-fashionable part of New York City about what readers will want may be wrong.

Given the social and educational uniformity among New York City publishing executives and editors, their ignorance of serious readers more than 50 miles west of NYC is often profound. For example, what do the editors quoted in the OP know about the tastes of readers in:

  • Ithaca, New York
  • Pittsfield, Massachusetts
  • Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
  • Ames, Iowa
  • Watertown-Fort Drum, New York

These were The Five Most Well-Read Cities in the United States according to a 24/7 Wall Street study published in 2018. (For the benefit of visitors to TPV who are a little vague about Ithaca and Watertown-Fort Drum, Ithaca is about 230 miles from NYC and Watertown-Fort Drum is about 310 miles from NYC. Both cities are closer to Canada than they are to NYC. (Since PG has never visited either Ithaca or Watertown-Ford Drum, he can’t say for certain, but he would bet good money that each place is very unlike NYC.)

A few quotes from the study:

According to the Pew Research Center, only about 1 in 4 Americans read a book in the last year. That statistic includes e-books and audiobooks, not just the printed word.

. . . .

24/7 Wall St. reviewed a number of measures associated with literacy to determine which American metropolitan areas are most likely to read books on a regular basis. These include the presence of public libraries in a city, residents’ education level, and the presence of higher learning institutions. The best-read cities range from small cities like Ithaca, New York to major metropolitan centers like New York CIty and Boston.

According to Pew’s research, households with higher incomes are significantly more likely to read books on a regular basis. In most of the metropolitan areas to make this list, the typical household income well exceeds the national median household income.

According to the same Pew study, approximately 1 in 5 Americans have never visited a library. And slightly less than half of all Americans have been to one in the past year.

Educational attainment has a significant impact on how likely Americans are to read on a regular basis. Almost 60% of those with a college education visited a library within the last 12 months, but that figure drops to less than 40% for those with no more than a high school diploma.

To determine the most well-read cities in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a number of measures associated with literacy to determine which American metropolitan areas are most likely to read on a regular basis. Our estimate for the number of public libraries per 100,000 people is based on library listings in the American Library Directory, population estimates are the most recent available, and are from the U.S. Census Bureau. We also looked at education levels and income figures, from the Census Bureau’s 2016 one-year American Community Survey. The number of college and universities in the surrounding county of each city came from the U.S. Department of Education. All age estimates are just that — estimates.

So, where did New York City, center of American trade publishing rank as a well-read city?

#17

Manhattan (Kansas) ranked #6. (The better-read Manhattan is over 1,300 miles from the laggard.)

Once again, PG has ranted for longer than he should have, so he will conclude with his contention that indie authors as a group understand the tastes of readers in the United States far better than Manhattan editors do.

From a his dealings with several of them, PG believes that top-selling indie authors understand their genres and what readers of their genre will look for in a book far, far better than anyone sitting in a tall building in New York City does.