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.