What the ‘Times’ Missed About Cormac McCarthy

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In his essay “Cormac McCarthy Had a Remarkable Literary Career. It Could Never Happen Now,” which ran in the June 19 New York Times, professor Dan Sinykin recognized the role that editor Albert Erskine played in McCarthy’s life, and raised valid issues about publishing past and present. However, McCarthy’s publishing story was more complicated and nuanced than Sinykin indicated; simply contrasting the days of personal ownership by entrepreneur-publishers with the conglomerates controlling the largest houses today leaves out significant points and people.

In March 2008, I interviewed McCarthy for a biography I was researching about Bennett Cerf, cofounder of Random House, which published his first five novels. (Cerf and McCarthy had met, introduced by Erskine, who by then was Cerf’s favorite editor.) Cerf and his business partner, Donald Klopfer, had hired Erskine in 1947; at RH he’d already edited Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, James A. Michener, and Robert Penn Warren, before adding McCarthy in 1963. They worked together even after Erskine retired, and stayed close until Erskine’s death in 1993.

During my hour-long phone conversation with McCarthy, he said not once, but twice: “Other than my brother, Albert was the best human being I’ve ever known.” He was “a person of honesty and rectitude… warmth and decency,” who “saw humor in the absurdity of things.” McCarthy wanted Erskine to get the credit he deserved, credit that the equally private Erskine, like many fine editors, never sought. But deserving as Erskine was, others deserved recognition for their contributions, too.

McCarthy’s publishing story began with a young woman, not a seasoned editor. Maxine Groffsky’s job was at the bottom of the heap: reading “slush.” It was mostly a thankless task, but that day in May 1962 when she opened the package addressed to “Fiction Editor, Random House,” containing the manuscript of what would become The Orchard Keeper, she began to read, later scrawling a note to a colleague further up the totem pole to let them know it was worth a look. That colleague, Larry Bensky, was about the same age, but in the boys’ club of those days, already a junior editor. Bensky agreed about the writing and began to send encouragement, praise, and comments to McCarthy. On Aug. 22, 1963, he offered McCarthy a contract. By then, Erskine and either Cerf or Klopfer (Bensky didn’t say which) had read, and liked, the manuscript. But both Groffsky and Bensky soon left RH for Europe (she’d later work with the Paris Review, then become an agent; he’d go into radio). Bensky was one of Erskine’s fledglings, and the file passed to him.

“Albert’s style was to go through word by word,” McCarthy recalled. “He’d look up everything. If there were typos or questionable facts, or if he thought something was improbable, he’d comment. His editing was trying to fix mistakes, not fix what you’d written.”

Erskine’s first letter to McCarthy was delicate, cordial, and understanding, discussing how the novel began and its use of punctuation (or lack thereof, since it was clear McCarthy had modeled his on Faulkner’s). Letters gave way to phone calls, and eventually “a week at a time at Albert’s home, working together page by page.” Erskine’s wife, Marisa, an Italian contessa, would cook gourmet meals and charm the resident author. McCarthy also lauded a copy editor named Bert Krantz, whom Erskine “revered.” She read manuscripts “three times, and you couldn’t get anything past her.” Through five novels that did not make money, the three worked together. Erskine helped McCarthy get fellowships and foundation money. Cerf, who had absolute faith in Erskine, died after the second book; legend has it that by the fifth, Erskine had made clear to the powers above that he’d resign if told he could no longer publish this writer.

Erskine was retired and ill when the sixth novel was ready; McCarthy got an agent, Amanda Urban, who moved him to Knopf. He’d sent his first book to RH because he’d thought “they were the foremost literary publisher in America.” But at that point, McCarthy said, Urban told him that “Knopf was going to be the Random of the next foreseeable future.” It was “a very different time,” but it wasn’t simply the conglomeratized world of 1992 that made the difference in what happened next.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

AI’s Teachable Moment: How ChatGPT Is Transforming the Classroom

From CNet:

My 12-year-old nephew’s bedroom is a shrine to monsters. Intricate Lego dragons loom ominously atop bookshelves jam-packed with reference works for the handmade creatures he painstakingly crafts out of clay. Then there are the paintings. Dozens of them. Plastered over the walls. Giant squid, kaiju, dinosaurs, hulking tentacled beasts of his own invention.

His parents have gone to great lengths to nurture this burgeoning creative spirit. They make stop-motion movies as a family. His dad is teaching him 3D art on the computer. Together they’re learning to use Unity, the design tool behind video games like Hollow Knight, Cuphead and Pokemon Go.

But lately his dad’s been second-guessing those decisions. The reason? AI.

Thanks to the rapid development of artificial intelligence tools like Dall-E and ChatGPT, my brother-in-law has been wrestling with low-level anxiety: Is it a good idea to steer his son down this path when AI threatens to devalue the work of creatives? Will there be a job for someone with that skill set in 10 years? He’s unsure. But instead of burying his head in the sand, he’s doing what any tech-savvy parent would do: He’s teaching his son how to use AI.

In recent months the family has picked up subscriptions to AI services. Now, in addition to drawing and sculpting and making movies and video games, my nephew is creating the monsters of his dreams with Midjourney, a generative AI tool that uses language prompts to produce images.

The whole family is wrestling with the impacts of AI. His mother, my sister-in-law, is a high school science teacher. She’s tackling even bigger issues. She’s in the process of teaching an entire generation of children to interact with technology that could transform the workplace over the coming years.

The questions are many. How do we deal with the immediate issues of cheating and plagiarism? How do educators prepare children for a future working alongside AI?

And how do teachers, institutions and governments find room to plan for the future?

Reading, writing and AI
ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI, has been immediately transformative. And terrifying. Trained on almost incalculable swaths of existing text, ChatGPT takes prompts from users and generates surprisingly sophisticated answers. If, for instance, you ask for a chocolate cake recipe, it provides all the steps. Using ChatGPT can feel like conversing online with a human being who has access to endless repositories of knowledge.

Link to the rest at CNet and thanks to F. for the tip.

Experiment with AI to understand it, marketers and publicists encouraged 

From The Bookseller:

Marketers and publicists have been encouraged to “experiment” with AI at The Bookseller’s Marketing and Publicity Conference, after hearing from Jon Plackett, senior creative technologist at Wieden + Kennedy, in a talk entitled “The Robots Are Coming: What Does AI Mean For Comms Roles?”, that one “needs to try it to understand it”.

Speaking about technologies such as ChatGPT, and their potential to spark “idea generation”, he told delegates: “In order to have any idea with new technology, you need to really understand it, you need to try it out. Try these things that are really fun to play with. And by trying them, you’ll have ideas for what they could do. I don’t know all of your use cases, but you will have ideas yourself by trying.”

Plackett added that the technology had the potential to replace “headache” tasks, and also discussed potential uses such as, with ChatGPT, the production of book recommendations, or creating a fake Twitter feed of a fictional character.

“What’s quite fun with ChatGPT is to get it to act as, for example, a historical figure. So you can say: act as Steven Spielberg giving feedback on this idea,” he said. “[So] what if you took a character from a book, and you gave it [ChatGPT] the entire book and said, I want to just talk to this character, and you do that as an advertising campaign. And it could read the book and act as the character.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Writing, Until Death Do Us Part

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It’s the first thing we’re often asked: “Did you plan this?” Crowds at our joint book signings want to know if it was simply a lucky coincidence that our newest novels, The Celebrants and Big Gay Wedding, were both released on the same day.

It’s a fair question. We’re married, we’re both authors, and we’re conducting a book tour together.

The answer is no. We wrote the books at different times. We have different agents. We have different publishers. It’s not planned—but it’s also not surprising. We do a lot together. We live together, work under the same roof, and share in the care for our two rescue dogs. And when it comes to our careers, we found success together, too. It all started shortly after we met. And we met because of writing.

We found each other on the dating site OkCupid 10 years ago, before swipe left and swipe right, when you had to write a long profile. Steven wrote that he was a writerly type, “hoping for the day when I can write full-time.” His profile was filled with so much heart and hope and humor, Byron’s first message to him exclaimed, “I can tell you’re a writer!”

Many dates followed and it wasn’t long before Steven wrote a short story about his recently deceased dog, handing it over to Byron in an effort to impress him. Byron was so moved, he insisted it should be a book. It would eventually become the foundation of Steven’s first novel, Lily and the Octopus, an international bestseller. It launched Steven’s writing career.

At the time Byron was assistant to actor and writer Carrie Fisher. It was a job—and she was a boss—that he adored. Then the new Star Wars trilogy took shape and Carrie relocated to London for a long stretch to film the movies. Byron made the hard decision to step aside, as he didn’t want his new relationship with Steven to turn long-distance.

When Carrie passed two years later, Byron found comfort in advice she had often given him: “Take your broken heart and go make art.” He then wrote a novel inspired by their experiences together titled A Star Is Bored. As release day approached, rave reviews poured in, booksellers stacked their shelves, airport bookstores placed their orders—and then Covid shut everything down.

And there was more bad news. Byron’s first diagnosis of testicular cancer was in 2015 and was resolved with surgery. But in 2020, as the pandemic began, tests showed the cancer came back and had spread to his lymph nodes. It required chemotherapy and solidified Steven as such a loving caretaker, Byron decided to covertly add a marriage proposal to the acknowledgments of A Star Is Bored. Near publication day in summer 2020, the first batch of advanced copies arrived, and Byron, bald and sick from chemo, showed Steven the closing words in the acknowledgments: “Will you marry me?”

Steven immediately responded, “Wait, is this in all the copies?”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

From PG’s Inbox

PG just received the following email:

I’d love to create an article for your website that offers tips and information for owners of construction companies (and other home services providers) on how to safeguard their operations from a downturn in the economy.

In Crime Fiction, Who Gets to Tell the Story?

From The Wall Street Journal:

“When we see serial killers as nebulous killing machines,” author Clémence Michallon says, “we almost give them more power.” 

In her debut English novel, The Quiet Tenant, Michallon examines a murderer’s double life through the eyes of his daughter, girlfriend, victims and longtime prisoner (who’s plotting her escape). The genre-bending thriller, out today, is set to be published in over 30 territories. 

Michallon, 31, decided to invert the novel’s point of view, in part, after feeling uneasy about the genre’s glorification of violence. True-crime dramas, such as Ryan Murphy’s 2022 Netflix series about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and the 2019 Ted Bundy biopic starring Zac Efron, often portray perpetrators as criminal masterminds. Both fueled backlashes, with the families of the victims speaking out against how Dahmer and Bundy were romanticized.

“In a lot of older serial killer novels, the killer is made out to be this cunning genius,” says Alex Segura, an author of mystery books including Secret Identity; whereas in real life, “serial killers aren’t these strategic masterminds. They’re mentally ill.”

In recent years, there’s been a wider movement in crime fiction to sideline perpetrators and focus on victims. This includes Ivy Pochoda’s These Women (2020), a similarly polyphonic thriller set in Los Angeles; Stacy Willingham’s A Flicker in the Dark (2022), which is narrated by the daughter of a serial killer; and Jennifer Hillier’s Jar of Hearts (2018), which follows a murder victim, a woman convicted as an accomplice and a detective. 

Around the time she was quarantining with her family in New York’s Hudson Valley in spring 2020, Michallon watched Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer (2020), a docuseries inspired in part by the memoir of Bundy’s girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall, in which the survivors speak directly to the camera about their experiences. “Who were these people? What were they on their way to do? What lives were lost?” Michallon wondered. “We don’t really think about the people who are around them, and what happens to them afterwards and the ways in which they themselves were probably traumatized.” 

In many thrillers, violence tends to be the narrative engine. “Even if the writer is making it clear that they disapprove, or this is a bad and horrific thing that’s happening, it still functions in a sort of plot-architecture way as a moment of excitement,” says Rachel Monroe, author of Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Two literary legends pass away

From Nathan Bransford:

The publishing world lost two luminaries this week. Cormac McCarthy, author of All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, and The Road passed away at age 89. Lincoln Michel looks back at McCarthy’s mesmerizing, precise style.

And one of the most legendary editors of all time, Robert Gottlieb, who worked with the likes of Toni Morrison, John le Carré, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Caro, in addition to editing The New Yorker for a time, and lent Catch-22 its title, passed away at 92. Current New Yorker editor David Remnick examines his legacy.

. . . .

Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert announced on Twitter that she has preemptively paused publication of her forthcoming novel The Snow Forest, set in the Soviet Union (note: not even modern Russia), due to “an enormous massive outpouring of reactions and responses from my Ukrainian readers.” No Nathan do not say what you are really thinking about this don’t do it have we reached the cancellation for publicity era I’m just asking questions here oh dear you said it.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Why You Should Read Dante Now

From Tertulia:

Why should we read Dante? The question is one I often think about, and not just because Dante has been my intellectual and creative “go-to guy” for thirty years now. To me, Dante is much more than an “academic” author for scholars – I think his work can be a meaningful part of all readers’ lives. In my book In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love, I described how reading Dante helped me get through an especially difficult period of personal loss that I first discussed in an essay for the New York Times.

As I tried to show in my writings, Dante invites us into the essence of his “life’s journey” in the three remarkably suggestive opening lines of Inferno, “Hell,” the first of the three canticles of The Divine Comedy, a 14,233-line poem on the state of the soul. We will all find ourselves in a dark wood one day, these lines tell us, all reach our crisis point.

It could be the death of a loved one, a crushing career disappointment, an illness—misfortune is unfortunately democratic, opportunistic, and ruthless. But, if we read ahead in Dante’s magnificent epic, we will also learn that it’s not what lands you in the “dark wood” that defines you, but rather how you find your way out of it.

Dante wrote those opening words a few years after his ultimate “dark wood” moment: exile from his beloved hometown of Florence in 1302. His city was involved in a civil war, and Dante ended up on the wrong side, making a very powerful enemy, Pope Boniface VIII. Because of a split within his own Guelph party, he was exiled, forced to spend the next and last two decades of his life wandering the Italian peninsula, always longing to return to Florence, never feeling quite at home. But what a gift he left us with. 

In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the protagonist Ishmael says that a whaleboat was “my Yale College and my Harvard”; I would say the same for Dante’s Comedy. I’ve learned from it endlessly, unceasingly for three decades now, ever since I first read it as an undergraduate, and even now when I find myself teaching it to undergraduates as well as other groups of all kinds. Reading Dante can be a humbling experience because he references everything from the Bible and medieval philosophy to the Latin poets and the tortured political history of the Italian city-states. 

Link to the rest at Tertulia

The Bible Officially Banned in Utah School District

From Book Riot:

Davis School District in Utah–a 70,000+ district north of Salt Lake City–has officially removed the Bible from elementary and middle schools. This may be the first official removal of the religious text from schools in the country following a district’s review process. The decision comes after a parent complained about its vulgarity and violence. That parent was angry about the district’s previous decisions to remove books like Looking for Alaska and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in accordance to Utah’s new sensitive materials law.

In their complaint, they noted the right-wing “parental rights” group Utah Parents United as prompting the creation of the law and the moral panic around books across the state, stating that the group’s pressure was undermining student education and their First Amendment Rights. The parent noted that the Bible was conveniently left off Utah Parents United’s naughty books likes, despite being “one of the most sex-ridden books around.”

The Bible will remain on shelves at district high schools, and an appeal has already been filed over the decision.

Although Utah’s 2022 sensitive materials law (House Bill 372) applied to the novels removed from the district, that was not cited as the reason for the Bible’s removal. Instead, the review committee found passages too vulgar and violent for those younger than high school age. The law allows committees to apply the standards as they see fit, and Davis District has exercised this flexibility several times. This is one of the reasons why such laws remain a concern: the latitude they offer districts means that a committee can make any decision they would like to, however they would like to, without consideration for the value of a text–nor how such decisions infringe on First Amendment Rights of students.

Whether or not the formal complaint filed against the Bible in December was satirical does not matter to the district. They followed the procedure set forth in their policy and treated it as real; the outcome was perhaps not expected.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Talk about unintended consequences,


Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another.

Immanuel Kant

Memorial Day

PG notes that today, May 29, is celebrated as Memorial Day for all those who have died, but, especially those who died in service to their nation as soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

In most places in the United States, if you visit a cemetery on Memorial Day, you will see lots of flowers and other tokens of respect and memory for deceased family members.

Vin de Noix, the Drunken Poetry of Walnuts

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

….It was 1995. France beckoned, and a home I had long forgotten was found again. It was the beginning of how I thought of bread as a character. And the beginning of writing Tales of the Mistress…

“When I said I’d like to drive past the Eiffel Tower I didn’t mean through the belly of Paris.” My husband, Rich, glared at me. He clearly objected to the route I had chosen for us as he careened our summer-sky blue Peugeot down a long narrow street full of fromage store fronts, boulangeries, and chocolateries that had barely seen the light of day, yet alone the headlights of a car, for four hundred years. Nor had they cared to. 

“But everything begins with the appetite in France.” It was my first time as an auto passenger in Paris. During November’s International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference I was a rider of Le Metro. And a Rue walker. The pile of maps under my feet shifted when we rounded a tight turn and I rolled the window down to hear June bustin’ out all over the Place de la Concorde. In the back seat were our two sons, Erick and Jaryd, aged ten and seven. They were not happy about the long ride ahead. But they would be happy about the two bottles of Orangina rolling around at my feet. I handed them back to our sons. 

Also at my feet were our precious Auto Europe rental papers, and a book. I picked up the Food Lover’s Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells which was stuffed with maps I had torn out of an Atlas to guide us. 

The lover’s guide to food and Paris had hypnotized me and put me in possible eternal denial of anything more pressing needing my attention. On page two-forty-six I read that Lionel Poilane had a brother named Max who also baked bread and worked with the same ingredients as he, flour and yeast and water and love, (okay they didn’t say love but I knew that’s what he was thinking) and they had five huge wood-fired ovens running for twenty-four hours a day but that he was stuck on a bread that was less acidic than his famous brother and he took a bag of it with him whenever he went out to eat and in fact ate bread with bread and bread with everything even sorbet and prided himself on the fact that he baked breads like pain au levain and petits pain aux noix and that he was lean and intense. And poetic.

The word poetic rang through me like a church bell from Notre Dame as we drove past trucks and stocky French men, singing to their crates of lettuce and cauliflower. And parsley. They smelled like salad. Or maybe was it oysters and anchovies? I couldn’t ask my husband to turn the car around to confirm. From their voices the men seemed as though they could care less about our being lost, and perhaps Paris had been planned this way. To get you lost in a dream of love, and song and food. Soon, I too forgot about being lost. I found myself waving and dreaming of poems to lettuce.

We sailed by the unloading truck as if in slow motion and I imagined spending the afternoon deciding who and what would dress the lettuce. Just as we turned the corner the heads of a feathery French laitue, lettuce, looked like, well, an exotically plumed bird. This was France. This was love. Or maybe was the sun blinding me? 

Was there more Orangina? No, but we’d stop soon, I said. 

Just as Max and Lionel Poilane were obsessed with bread, so I would measure the path of June against my memory of the first vin de noix, walnut wine that I had tasted in November on a post conference tour to Gascony after the Paris meeting with IACP. 

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

As it spreads across the world, who owns English?

From The Economist:

What country does French belong to? The answer seems obvious: France, as it says on the label. But there are roughly four times as many speakers of French outside France as there are within it. Who does Portuguese belong to? You might now hesitate to blurt out “Portugal”, remembering that Brazil’s population is about 20 times bigger than Portugal’s. Maybe Portuguese belongs jointly to them both. But then 70m people live in African countries in which Portuguese is an official language. Perhaps it belongs to them, too.

The English can be under no illusion that the language of the same name is exclusively theirs. The small matters of the other nations in the British Isles, and of the superpower across the Atlantic, make clear that it is joint property. But these countries—along with Canada, Australia and other Anglophone peoples—must at some point come to terms with the fact that, even collectively, their language no longer belongs to them. Of the estimated billion people who speak English, less than half live in those core English-speaking countries.

Every day, the proportion of English-speakers born outside the traditional Anglosphere grows. Perhaps 40% of people in the European Union speak English, or about 180m—vastly more than the combined population of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In India, calculations range from 60m to 200m. Most such estimates make it the second-biggest Anglophone country in the world.

English-speakers pride themselves on the spread of the language, and often attribute that to an open, liberal-minded attitude whereby it has happily soaked up words from around the world. In the coming century, though, English will do more than borrow words. In these non-Anglophone countries, it is becoming not just a useful second language, but a native one. Already it is easy to find children in northern Europe who speak as though they come from Kansas, the product of childhoods immersed in subtitled films and television in English, along with music, gaming and YouTube.

Today, many learners still aim for an American or British standard. Textbooks instruct Indian English-speakers to avoid Indianisms such as “What is your good name?” for “What is your first name?”, or “I am working here for years” instead of “I have been working here for years.” A guide to avoiding Europeanisms has long circulated in European Union institutions, to keep French- or German-speakers from (for example) using “actual” to mean “current”, as it does in their languages.

Yet as hundreds of millions of new speakers make English their own, they are going to be less keen to sound British or American. A generation of post-colonial novelists has been mixing native words and phrasings into their English prose, without translation, italics or explanation. Academic movements such as “English as a lingua franca” (elf) have been developing the ideology that speakers—no longer referred to as “non-native” but rather “multilingual”—should feel free to ignore British or American norms. Karen Bennett of Nova University in Lisbon says the university website has been translated using words common in southern European English—like “scientific” for “academic”, or “rector” for “vice-chancellor”. The appropriate local dialect is not British or American but elf.

Given enough time, new generations of native speakers contribute not just words but their own grammar to the language they learn—from older speakers’ point of view, distorting it in the process. “I am working here for years” is a mistake today, but it is not hard to imagine it becoming standard in the future in culturally confident Anglophone Indian circles.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Crazy-Busy Around Casa PG

PG apologizes for the lack of posts.

There have been a great many things voraciously consuming his time this week.

He anticipates/hopes that tomorrow will be a bit quieter and he’ll have some time to post.

A Publishing House Is a Field

From Publishing Perspectives:

‘To Scatter the Good Seed on the Land’

We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.

—From the 1782 text by Matthais Claudius, which was translated to English from German in 1862 by Jane Montgomery Campbell

I have been very busy the last few months. You may have seen the five extracts from a book I’ve written serialized here in Publishing Perspectives.

Becoming an author, albeit briefly and part-time, has given me a slightly different perspective on our industry.

The god of publishing may not be the creator of the universe, the worshiped and revered of the world’s religions, but there can be little doubt that God or fate or luck play a significant part in the success or otherwise of any publishing endeavor.

But first we must plough the fields.

A publishing house is a field. It needs to be made ready for its authors (the good seed). It needs to have leadership to establish what crops it is going to grow. Should the farm be mono-cultural—pure science or academic, or poetry, or children’s books, or commercial or literary fiction? (An aside: I was delighted to see that Spare by Prince Harry was classified in Amazon UK as literary fiction, not an obvious description.). Or should the farm be business books, or biography or history or ice?

Or should it spread risk by having a mixture of genres, markets, and opportunities? And does the farm need to be prepared for all forms of media to grow?

The farm and its fields need to have the best editors to ensure that authors’ books are as good as they can be; the best accountants to ensure rapid and accurate collection and disbursement of money for authors; the slickest and quickest production team fully abreast of the latest technologies for manufacture; the best legal advice and support for authors; an infrastructure whose primary function is to enable writers to reach their audience as effectively as possible.

And then clearly we need to scatter the good seed on the land.

‘In the Hands of an Outside Force’

The fruit of the seeds is the book in all its forms. The farm must provide sensitive, imaginative, and effective design in order to inform and attract potential readers. The book must be a desirable object whether in print or in digital form, something its author can be proud of. It must be supported by the highest level of publicity and marketing affordable and this requires intelligence as much as money: the intelligence is to see the angles in the book that will attract media coverage; the intelligence not to follow the traditional route—proofs, review copies, literary editors, launch parties—but to read and understand the author’s aims and his or her readers’ interests.

Marketing must be supported by a motivated and creative sales force, whether through merchandising retailer platforms, finding new outlets, negotiating better terms, or simply supporting traditional bookshops with high-quality customer service. The concept of the sales representative has changed and is changing. What matters is that they represent not just the publishing house, the farm, but also the author, the seed.

And of course this farm needs to enjoy the best distribution so that the would-be purchaser anywhere in the world at any time can pay some money to acquire the book. This sounds easy. It is not. Our industry has made enormous strides in improving the logistics of distribution in many countries but we’re still hindered by over-complicated and inefficient supply chains, government-erected barriers to trade, and an overdependence on CO2-generating transport systems.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes the OP includes the following statement:

A publishing house is a field. It needs to be made ready for its authors (the good seed). It needs to have leadership to establish what crops it is going to grow. 

PG would amend that metaphor just a bit:

A publishing house is like a casino floor. It has lights flashing and the sounds of slot machines. On occasion, an author may win big, accompanied by cheers, bells and the author jumping up and down with delight. However, if you look across the floor, you see far more authors mindlessly feeding tokens into slot machines and pulling a lever or pushing a button to see whether this will be a win or just another in a long line of losses.

One thing is certain, however, the house always wins in the long term.

Book Banning in America Has Never Been Worse

From Publisher’s Weekly:

I’m here today to preach to the choir, but sometimes a guy just needs to vent. In 1973, I was hired by the book division of R.R. Bowker (at the time also the home of Publishers Weekly) to publicize such sexy volumes as Books in Print and erudite tomes on librarianship. However, my first task was to work with Jean Peters, Bowker’s librarian, to set up a reception room display of banned books.

I don’t recall which we chose. UlyssesThe Well of LonelinessThe Grapes of Wrath? The project was both dismaying and rewarding. I had previously been only slightly aware of the movement to censor books.

Fifty years have past passed since Jean and I created that exhibition. If it were duplicated today, lamentably, it would be as germane now as it was then, and we would have many, many more titles to choose from. And let’s be clear: banning books is the moral equivalent of burning them. A few weeks ago, I remarked to my husband, a writer, “If your books were published in today’s environment, they would disappear.”

Permit me a short walk down memory lane. A couple of years after researching the history of book banning for that project, I left Bowker’s book side and slid into my dream job: reporting for the pages of PW. A few years after that, in 1977, Charles Hix, my partner of 15 years (and now husband), was approached by Hawthorn Books, a small indie house, to write a book on men’s grooming. He chose Looking Good for its title, named after the monthly column he wrote for Gentlemen’s Quarterly. He enlisted the then-little-known photographer Bruce Weber to supply scores of images of great-looking men. I cautioned Chuck that the book would likely follow the path of most: after publication, it would vanish, shortly to reappear on the remainder tables at Brentano’s.

Wrong. Looking Good found its place on bestseller lists at both the New York Times and PW, where it remained for weeks. Ten printings! Weber’s sensual photography contributed hugely to the success.

Several years later, Dan Green, then president of Simon & Schuster, convinced Chuck to tackle a male counterpart to the phenomenally successful Jane Fonda’s Workout Book. Chuck chose the title Working Out: The Total Shape-Up Guide for Men and brought aboard Ken Haak to supply scores of images of well-built men. Working Out was published in 1983 and stayed on the Times’ hardcover bestseller list for 21 weeks. Like Looking Good, it was a bestseller in trade paper as well.

. . . .

To return to my original point: if today those two bestselling books found themselves in, say, a Southern state where the governor is apparently about to declare his presidential candidacy, they would not linger long. The contrived outrage of certain citizens would surely demand that they be banned in a nanosecond. Anger, whether real or feigned, is being amplified everywhere, and I am merely one of millions who is deeply concerned about this latest round of censorship.

So, I wish to send large bouquets of thanks to librarians and booksellers across the country for resisting the current groundswell of those believing that only books that adhere to their pinched ideas of truth and morality deserve to be available to all.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG says that those on the right and those on the left are way too ready to take offense of opinions that differ from their own. As far as banning the sale of books of the wrong sort, the New York publishing industry is a political and social monoculture, so the governor of New York never needs to threaten to ban a book.

Bookstores that survive pay close attention to the tastes of their clientele. Even in the chain bookstores (BN mumbles, “Not dead yet.”) the books on offer in New York City will differ substantially from those on the shelves in Charleston (South Carolina for visitors from outside the United States. Charleston is very unlike New York City).

Successful booksellers know the best sort of virtue-signalling is to feature books that lots of customers like enough to buy.

The OP also drops a few more names to establish the author’s bonafides with the right sort of people. (Attentive readers will also note the gender-dropping, which must be the brave thing to do in New York.)

Turin is the latest book fair to blur the line between trade and public-facing publishing events

From The New Publishing Standard:

The Turin International Book Fair is expected to clock more than 2022’s 169,000 visitors by the time it concludes this weekend, reports Publishing Perspectives.

Writes Jaroslaw Adamowski (“with Porter Anderson”): “Piero Crocenzi, the public-facing fair’s CEO, tells Publishing Perspectives that since 2019 when the event’s organization was taken over by a new company, the show has bloomed.”

Lessons there for Gareth Rapley, but let’s stay on topic and try make sense of what define a public-facing book fair in the 2020s.

Over at Publishing Perspectives just the previous day, Adamowski told us of the Turin Rights Centre attracting 560 professional from 46 countries, with 5,200 meetings scheduled.

Can we still call Turin a “public-facing” book fair with that level of professional engagement? Repeat for the many, many other international book fairs and festivals that are increasingly simultaneously managing public and and trade interests. Sharjah, the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, Bangkok, Buenos Aries…the list is endless.

Increasingly, the terms “public-facing” and “trade” book fairs have no real meaning. Consider the mighty Buchmesse itself, which last year was pretty much a 50-50 trade and public event, with 93,000 trade visitors and 87,000 public visitors. Meaning Frankfurt trade visitors missed being eclipsed by public visitors by a paltry 6,000. This year maybe it will go the other way and public visitors will outnumber trade.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

In prior lives, PG attended a great many conventions for lawyers where various legal vendors spent a lot of money for booth space, sponsorships of dinners, etc.

The simple fact is that trade vendors are looking for people who can make them money and the targeted group of attendees are the people who are in the business that the vendors serve. The general public wandering the large vendors floor decreases the likelihood of finding more customers or current customers who may be interested in buying more widgets crafted to the needs of those customers.

If the organizer wants to make more money by selling admission to the general public, the organizer is lowering the value of its trade show for specialized vendors.

Cooking, Monasteries, Arithmetic: Lorraine Daston on the History of Rules

From Public Books:

Historian of science Lorraine Daston’s many pathbreaking works include Against Nature and Classical Probability in the Enlightenment. Among her many coauthored works is Objectivity (with Peter Galison), which developed an influential account of historically changeable “epistemic virtues.” Now she is back in the same conceptual domain with Rules: A Short History of What We Live By (Princeton University Press, 2022).

. . . .

John Plotz (JP): I’d like to start by asking you to lay out the key questions or claims of your new book.

Lorraine Daston (LD): The rules book began with an everyday observation of the dazzling variety and ubiquity of rules. Every culture has rules, but they’re all different.

I eventually settled on three major meanings of rules: rules as laws, rules as algorithms, and finally, rules as models. The latter meaning was predominant in the Western tradition until the end of the 18th century, and I set out to trace what happened to rules as models, but also the rise of algorithmic rules. It’s hard to imagine now, but the word algorithm didn’t even have an entry in the most comprehensive mathematical encyclopedias of the late 19th century.

To get at these changes over time, I cast my nets very wide. I looked at cookbooks, I looked at the rules of warfare. I looked at rules of games. I looked at rules of monastic orders and traffic regulations, sumptuary regulations, spelling rules, and of course algorithms for how to calculate. And if there’s one take-home message from the book, it is a distinction between thick and thin rules.

Thick rules are rules that come upholstered with all manner of qualifications, examples, caveats, and exceptions. They are rules that are braced to confront a world in which recalcitrant particulars refuse to conform to universals—as opposed to thin rules, of which algorithms are perhaps the best prototype: thin rules are formulated without attention to circumstances. Thin rules brook no quarter, they offer no sense of a variable world. Many bureaucratic rules, especially bureaucratic rules in their Kafkaesque exaggeration, also fit this description.

The arc of the book is not to describe how thick rules became thin rules (because we still have thick and thin rules around us all the time), but rather to determine the point at which thick rules become necessary—when you must anticipate high variability and therefore must tweak your rule to fit circumstances—as opposed to the stable, predictable settings in which we turn to thin rules.

In some historically exceptional cases, thin rules can actually get a job done because the context can be standardized and stabilized.

JP: At one point in the book you say, “Behind every thin rule is a thick rule, cleaning up after it.”

LD: Yes. I had a very vivid mental image when I was writing that sentence of the poor moderators at Facebook having to undo the damage done by the site’s algorithms. But it’s a much more general problem: thin rules have a bad conscience; they’re never as thin as they pretend to be. We are always applying them mauvaise foi (in bad faith) because we must so often adjust and bend and even break them. For example, anyone who teaches is constantly confronted with students who have special circumstances, special needs, who ask whether the rules can be, if not be bent or broken, then adjusted. That is, we’re all casuists at heart, and we’re casuists at heart pretending to administer unequivocal, unbending thin rules.

JP: What is the relationship of this book to the argument that you put forth in Objectivity about the rise of epistemic virtues?

LD: It’s certainly very much shaped by the many, many, many discussions that Peter Galison and I had about mechanical objectivity. The root of the word arbitrary refers to “an act of will,” and its associations are quite positive up until about the 16th and 17th century, when it starts to take on a distinct odor of whim and caprice—often cruel whim and caprice—in the political theory of the era. John Locke, writing in the Second Treatise on Government, can think of nothing, absolutely nothing more intolerable than to be subject to the arbitrary will of another. “Arbitrary will” is somewhat redundant (because arbitrary is always about the exercise of will), but the ipso facto assumption is that all exercises of will as only an act of will are somehow unjustified, excessive, and a form of the unacceptable exercise of power that in the most extreme cases is that of master over slave.

JP: What about the rise of discourses that prized subjectivity in the 19th century? Romanticism would be the most straightforward example. I take the point about the denigration of the arbitrary or the capricious, but what about the concomitant prizing of the space of the interior? How does that fit into this? Is it an anomaly?

LD: I don’t think it’s an anomaly. Rather, it’s the yin/yang of objectivity and subjectivity. You see this explicitly among the scientists. Someone like Claude Bernard, the great 19th-century French experimental physiologist, says art is subjective and science is objective; “l’art, c’est moi; la science, c’est nous.” There is a division of the territory between subjective, individualistic art and objective, collective science. In the context of literature, especially Romantic literature, the arbitrary is never really judgment. Instead, the arbitrary blurs into the spontaneous, the inexplicable. Indeed, the exercise of free will complements its counterpart, scientific naturalist doctrines of determinism. Within this framework, the only way to actually exercise free will is for it to erupt like a volcano, outside the chain of causation.

Link to the rest at Public Books

More Posts Tomorrow

PG just helped a family moves a bunch of oak bookshelves out of Casa PG and he’s more than a bit tired.

As PG has mentioned, he and Mrs. PG are in the process of downsizing, which means getting rid of more than a little “stuff” that has accumulated in Casa PG over the years.

Here were these men from the town

Here were these men from the town, having eaten and drunk, standing beside him whose children were starving and eating the very earth of the fields; here they were, come to squeeze his land from him in his extremity.

Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth

Lessons From The WGA Writers Strike

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

For most of you, the main issue in this year’s Writers Guild of America writers strike is whether or not your favorite TV programs will be affected. Already, some of the streaming shows, such as Stranger Things and Cobra Kai have shut down due to strike issues. The broadcast shows haven’t started next fall’s season (except maybe premiere episodes) and won’t until the strike is over.

Some shows, like late night talk shows and Saturday Night Live! have already gone dark.  Others may soon follow, depending on what happens with different unions, acting in solidarity with the writers.

For some of us, this strike has already had an impact. I know that my deals, which were humming along just fine thank you, are now going to take a hit that I can’t predict. Will there be more opportunity after the strike ends? Less? How involved are my deal partners in the WGA? (One is in Spain. Will that matter?)

I’m not the only person licensing derivative work who is wondering these things. I know of half a dozen book writers who just had projects paused or set aside for now. None of us know what will happen next.

And that goes double for my screenwriter friends. Those in L.A. have their picket line schedule. The others in various places, like Portland, are doing their bit on social media. They’re taking a risk, but they understand why this strike is happening.

In April, nearly 98% of the WGA membership authorized a strike if both sides couldn’t come to terms. The negotiations went late into the deadline night, May 1, with the strike being called when talks broke down.

For those of you who aren’t really following this, here’s the one paragraph shorthand. Every three years, the Writers Guild of America, which represents thousands of movie and TV writers, negotiates the terms of a Minimum Basic Agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. This is a collective bargaining agreement, which all members of the WGA and AMPTP must adhere to. A lot of work goes into the agreement, and it really does protect the writers as best as possible.

If you want to understand how this all works, take a look at the FAQ the WGA provided on this particular campaign.

I’m not going to rehash the details of the campaign, the strike or even the potential impact. Instead, I’m going to focus on the thinking behind this particular impasse (and the 2007-2008 one as well).

For years now, I have written post after post about contract negotiations and understanding your rights as writers. This is important for traditional writers with book publishers, yes indeed, but also for indies. Indies, if they are successful, need to understand the Terms of Service they’re agreeing to, as well as the contracts that they might sign if they license derivative works (like audio or merchandising or (ahem) movies) for their book (or, more accurately, their intellectual property).

Contracts (which is what terms of service are) dictate everything about our intellectual property once we put it out into the world. Signing the wrong contract, even missing a word, can cause problems.

Let me give you a really clear example that a writer linked to in one of my blog comments last week. Mark Sumner wrote on Mastodon that in 1999, a series he worked on went from NBC to the SyFy Channel. His income for that series went from $240,000 to zero. “Because,” he writes, “my contract paid ‘per broadcast episode’ instead of just ‘per episode.’”

One tiny word. Broadcast. That’s what the contract said, and that’s how payments were triggered.

I’m sure that when the contract was negotiated, it was not common practice to move an active show from broadcast to cable. In other words, the contract language in Sumner’s contract was probably standard, and the change was unexpected.

It is the job of lawyers on both sides to anticipate problems. It’s also the job of lawyers that work for big corporations to find loopholes in contracts and exploit them so that the corporation can reduce costs.

I have no idea how many writers, actors, and other creatives got slammed with that one little contractual word in 1999, but I’ll wager it was quite a few. If you look at the history of residual payments from the late 1960s, you’ll see a similar pattern of behavior.

(For those of you who don’t know, residuals are financial compensation paid to creatives in the film/tv industry “for the use of a theatrical motion picture or television program beyond the use covered by initial compensation.”)

Early on, there were no residuals for TV. Then residual payments were capped at six rerun performances. It took years for residuals to be uncapped and to apply to things like DVDs and foreign markets.

It’s not just writers who must fight the industry to get proper compensation. Other guilds (like the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild) have done the same.

Sometimes the Minimum Basic Agreement for all of these guilds strives to right past wrongs. As Patric Verrone, the president of the WGA West during the previous strike, told The Los Angeles Times in April:

We know from other work areas — like in reality television — that if you don’t get jurisdiction from the jump, you’re never going to get it. It becomes a really high hill to climb.

Jurisdiction. He’s speaking legally. The WGA tried to retroactively organize reality TV writers, with limited success. Reality TV became the go-to medium for the networks in previous strikes, because those writers were not even affiliated with the WGA at that point.

Gradually, the WGA has chipped away at the disparity, but it is a chipping away process, not an actual victory.

Because of that, and because of other issues that were not foreseen until they bit writers (and other creatives) in the butt, the WGA has spent this century trying to harness the future for years. The big win in 2007-2008 received a lot of criticism at the time. It was over “new media” which was barely defined.

At the time, everyone knew that the internet was going to be a major part of film and television viewing, but it was assumed that only a small number of people would want to watch their favorite shows on a computer screen. Streaming as we know it didn’t really exist. Netflix was a DVD-by-mail company.

Everyone thought that streaming would be an ad-supported business rather than getting consumers to pay directly for the service.

And yet…the WGA, the DGA and other groups held out for residuals from new media. At that point, the offer on the table from the AMPTP was zero. No money paid at all to writers if anyone watched a show streamed over the internet.

Getting the right to negotiate over a writer’s contribution to “new media” as well as an outline for residuals was a huge victory in the 2007-2008 strike. At the time, though, no one knew how big that victory would be. In fact, I remember a lot of grousing from my screenwriter friends (because another issue, which had to do with DVDs, did not get settled).

Now, though, everyone understands how big that victory was. Meredith Stiehm, the current president of WGA West, told The Washington Post,

If we hadn’t won that — 50 percent of our work right now is on streaming services and platforms. We wouldn’t have been covered for that.

It was a near miss. And studios are still mucking with the details.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG notes that contract negotiations that involve big stakes for each side of the negotiation require that the lawyers think beyond what they believe they are negotiating, using a little imagination.

OTOH, labor contracts that are too expensive for the employers can mean they’ll be willing to go farther out of their way than they would otherwise.

10 Novels About the Drama of Working for the Family Business

From Electric Lit:

When we think of a family business, what springs to mind first is probably a straightforward, even heteronormative, structure: a commercial concern (hardware store; funeral home; shipping firm) passing from parent to child (usually meaning, under patriarchal and capitalist tradition, from father to son). And there are plenty of opportunities for conflict in this simple structure—after all, it depends on children behaving as employees; parents acting as managers; siblings jockeying for promotion. (How does one give one’s daughter a lukewarm performance review? Is it possible to rage-quit one’s family?)

But there is also an infinite world of messiness to tap in stories of family business, beyond this relatively straightforward drama of the play of power between (literal) corporate families. One way to describe my novel Glassworks is as a story of a family business that doesn’t know it’s a family business: each generation of the Novak family thinks they’re striking out on their own, choosing independence, rejecting their predecessors’ legacies; but again and again they end up drawn to the same patterns, the same foundational elements—in their occupations, in their relationships, and in the muddy spaces between the two.

For better and for worse, what we do for a living often has a controlling stake in our waking hours, our mental health, and our identity. Wherever this also gets mixed up with the drama of family—duty and rebellion, guilt and pride, love and resentment—there’s bound to be a fascinating story ahead.

. . . .

Trust by Hernan Diaz

Without revealing too much about a novel that relies on its unexpected turns, I can say that each of Trust’s four sections is concerned with families in business together—chief among those “businesses” being the purest distillation of American capitalism itself, in the robber-baron age of pince-nez and unregulated markets. Partners become collaborators become accomplices; parents and children betray one another and their own ideals for the sake of their next project. The tension at the heart of many of the novels on this list is that between duty and transaction on one side, and love (or rebellion) on the other—there’s one painfully beautiful version of this in Trust, with the character Ida’s father refusing to accept a gift from her without offering her a penny as “payment”—narrating as an old woman, Ida says, “I still have the penny that saved us.”  

. . . .

Geek Love  by Katherine Dunn

This cult classic takes the notion of a “family business” to grotesque extremes, with carnival barkers Aloysius and Crystal Lil Binewski experimenting with radioisotopes, arsenic, and toxic potions of all descriptions to ensure their children can double as their sideshow exhibits. Sibling rivalry thrives, to say the least, among the Binewski clan (Arturo the Aquaboy; Iphy and Elly the Siamese twins; Olympia, our hunchback narrator; and telekinetic Chick). The small-town America carnival circuit bears witness to their Machiavellian power struggles and the sometimes equally disturbing displays of love that tumble headlong into obsession, with the whole plot literally powered by the ashes of the carnival’s founder and Binewski patriarch—Grandpa’s urn is bolted to the hood of the midway’s generator truck. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

The Party Is Cancelled

From The New Yorker:

Every month, more than two hundred people from the media, academia, and other intellectual circles are invited to a private hangout in New York City, which is known as the Gathering of Thought Criminals. There are two rules. The first is that you have to be willing to break bread with people who have been socially ostracized, or, as the attendees would say, “cancelled”—whether they’ve lost a job, lost friends, or simply feel persecuted for holding unpopular opinions. Some people on the guest list are notorious: élite professors who have deviated from campus consensus or who have broken university rules, and journalists who have made a name for themselves amid public backlash (or who have weathered it quietly). Others are relative nobodies, people who for one reason or another have become exasperated with what they see as rampant censorious thinking in our culture.

The second rule of the gatherings is that Pamela has to like you. Pamela is Pamela Paresky, the gathering’s organizer, a fifty-six-year-old psychologist who lives in Chelsea. She has spent her life among the intelligentsia; she attended Andover and Barnard before going to the University of Chicago for her Ph.D., and spent years living near the tony ski town of Aspen, Colorado. In early 2019, while Paresky was visiting New York, a friend forwarded her a dinner invitation from the journalist Bari Weiss. “Dear Thought Criminals,” Weiss’s note began. Paresky found the greeting funny and decided to copy it when, during the first fall of the pandemic, she invited a few people to a dinner of her own. She began holding her gatherings on a monthly basis and eventually moved to the city. Now anywhere from a dozen to sixty people might show up at each event. (Some of the attendees I spoke with refer to themselves as Thought Criminals, embracing Paresky’s tongue-in-cheek nickname. Others find the moniker cringey and avoid using it.)

“In a place like New York, you feel surrounded by people who are so far removed from where you are,” Nick Gillespie, an editor-at-large at the libertarian magazine Reason and a regular at the gatherings, told me. “Every conversation is about how capitalism is evil or how America is the most racist, sexist, homophobic country in the world.” As a result, he said, “There’s a lot of political homelessness.” On average, the group probably leans to the right, at least when compared with the rest of the city. But a few socialists go, along with a contingent of libertarians, such as Gillespie, who come ready for debate. “And you bring drugs,” he added.

Many of the attendees aren’t interested in advertising their participation. Others, including Michael Thad Allen and Samantha Harris, co-owners of a law firm who jokingly refer to themselves as the Lawyers to the Cancelled, are more open. “We’re not at Thought Criminals soliciting business,” Harris told me, although she has sent several clients toward the group—including Joshua Katz, a former Princeton professor who wrote a controversial essay in 2020 calling an anti-racist protest group, the Black Justice League, “a small local terrorist organization.” In 2021, Katz and his wife, Solveig Gold, a former student of his who finished her undergrad at Princeton a few years ago, started commuting into the city to attend Paresky’s gatherings. In 2022, Katz was fired from Princeton after the university said that, among other things, he had not been fully honest and coöperative during an investigation into a consensual sexual relationship that he had with another student in 2006 and 2007. Paresky was texting him and his wife every day to check in on them. “I doubt we’re the only people she’s doing that for,” Gold told me. Katz has taken to calling Paresky the Mother Hen of the Cancelled.

. . . .

It’s a commonly held belief on the left that concerns about cancel culture are overblown, if cancel culture even exists at all. Paresky considers it a genuine threat. In our conversations, however, her definition of “cancelled” was somewhat elusive; it encompassed people who suffered professional consequences, sure, but she also referred to instances of social-media pushback as “attempted cancellations.” However she defines it, she’s clearly preoccupied with the idea. Her writing, primarily featured in Psychology Today, focusses in part on the social dynamics of ostracization. She was the lead researcher and an editor for “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s 2018 book about campus safe spaces and trigger warnings. As part of that project, Paresky coined the term “safetyism” to refer to a culture that elevates perceived physical and emotional safety above other practical and moral needs. She worked for four years with Lukianoff at the organization he leads, the advocacy group fire, which is primarily known for promoting free speech on college campuses.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Google’s new Magic Editor pushes us toward AI-perfected fakery

From The Verge:

One of the most impressive demos at Google I/O started with a photo of a woman in front of a waterfall. A presenter onstage tapped on the woman, picked her up, and moved her to the other side of the image, with the app automatically filling in the space where she once stood. They then tapped on the overcast sky, and it instantly bloomed into a brighter cloudless blue. In just a matter of seconds, the image had been transformed.

The AI-powered tool, dubbed the Magic Editor, certainly lived up to its name during the demo. It’s the kind of tool that Google has been building toward for years. It already has a couple of AI-powered image editing features in its arsenal, including the Magic Eraser, which lets you quickly remove people or objects from the background of an image. But this type of tool takes things up a notch by letting you alter the contents — and potentially, the meaning — of a photo in much more significant ways.

While it’s clear that this tool isn’t flawless — and there remains no firm release date for it — Google’s end goal is clear: to make perfecting photos as easy as just tapping or dragging something on your screen. The company markets the tool as a way to “make complex edits without pro-level editing tools,” allowing you to leverage the power of AI to single out and transform a portion of your photo. That includes the ability to enhance the sky, move and scale subjects, as well as remove parts of an image with just a few taps.

Google’s Magic Editor attempts to package all the steps that it would take to make similar edits in a program like Photoshop into a single tap — or, at least, that’s what it looks like from the demo. In Photoshop, for example, you’re stuck using the Content-Aware Move tool (or any of the other methods of your choice) to pick up and move a subject inside of an image. Even then, the photo still might not look quite right, which means you’ll have to pick up other tools, like the Clone Stamp tool or maybe even the Spot Healing Brush, to fix any leftover artifacts or a mismatched background. It’s not the most complicated process ever, but as with most professional creative tools, there’s a definite learning curve for people who are new to the program.

I’m all for Google making photo editing tools free and more accessible, given that Photoshop and some of the other image editing apps out there are expensive and pretty unintuitive. But putting powerful and incredibly easy-to-use image editing tools into the hands of, well, just about everyone who downloads Google Photos could transform the way we edit — and look at — photos. There have long been discussions about how far a photo can be edited before it’s no longer a photo, and Google’s tools push us closer to a world where we tap on every image to perfect it, reality or not.

. . . .

To be fair, there are a ton of similar photography-enhancing features that are built in to smartphone cameras. As my colleague Allison Johnson points out, mobile photography already fakes a lot of things, whether it’s by applying filters or unblurring a photo, and doctored images are nothing new. But Google’s Magic Editor could make a more substantial form of fakery easier and more attractive. In its blog post explaining the tool, Google makes it seem like we’re all in search of perfection, noting that the Magic Editor will provide “more control over the final look and feel of your photo” while getting the chance to fix a missed opportunity that would make a photo look its best.

Call me some type of weird photo purist, but I’m not a fan of editing a photo in a way that would alter my memory of an event. If I was taking a picture of a wedding and the sky was cloudy, I wouldn’t think about swapping it for something better. Maybe — just maybe — I might consider moving things around or amping up the sky on a picture I’m posting to social media, but even that seems a little disingenuous. But, again, that’s just me. I could still see plenty of people using the Magic Editor to perfect their photos for social media, which adds to the larger conversation of what exactly we should consider a photo and whether or not that’s something people should be obligated to disclose.

Link to the rest at The Verge

At the risk of seeming semantic, an unedited photo is most definitely not the same as the object/person/scene photographed. The negative image created by a film-based camera is much different than the electronic file created by a digital camera.

When the first high-end digital cameras appeared (think Nikon, Canon, etc.), many photographers, including some superb artists, thought digital images could never match the subtle changes in tone and smoothness. At first, they were correct. The first digital cameras PG used produced pretty crude images.

However, as with a great many things technical, the engineers got smarter, the digital cameras got much, much, much better, then Apple put quite a nice digital camera into every iPhone.

The last time PG checked, some time ago, 35 mm film was very hard to find. He expects that, in the hands of serious experts with decades of experience, some large-format film cameras still provide some benefits that digital cameras cannot match, but that was and is the smallest, albeit important, part of the camera universe.

Busy Day

Light blogging. More blogging tomorrow.

Tips on Hiring and Working with a Book Cover Designer

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

As writers, we know an eye-catching book cover is vital for captivating potential readers. Recently, I got to work with the talented team at Ebook Launch to update the cover of my portal fantasy Dreamlander. Today, I’m excited to share my experience and insights to help you find and collaborate with the right book cover designer.

First, a little background on this project. As many of you know, Dreamlander was published in December 2012 and has been easily the most popular of all my novels. So it seemed appropriate that for its 10-year anniversary, the book should get a little refresh! I’m incredibly happy with the results, and I hope you’ll love it too!

. . . .

Today, using my recent collaboration with Ebook Launch on Dreamlander as a case study, I’m going to walk you through the step-by-step process of hiring and working with a book cover designer. We’ll explore the process of finding the right designer, budgeting and pricing, preparing for the design process, and achieving an effective collaboration.

(Please note that the links throughout this post are affiliate links. I only participate in affiliations with products or services I personally use and love.)

Finding the Right Book Cover Designer

Finding the perfect book cover designer may seem daunting, which is why thorough research is essential to ensuring a successful match. Consider these key factors as you explore your options:

1. Review the Designer’s Portfolio

Reviewing a designer’s portfolio will give you insight into their range and versatility, as well as their style preferences. When I was searching for a designer for Dreamlander, Ebook Launch’s book cover portfolio immediately stood out, showcasing a variety of styles and genres that aligned with my vision.

You’ll want to find a designer whose style preferences match your own, ensuring a smoother collaboration and a cover design that reflects your story. Make sure the designer you choose offers examples of work in your genre and preferred style in their portfolio, and ask yourself whether their style complements your book’s genre and tone. If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track.

2. Examine Testimonials and Reviews

Check the designer’s testimonials and reviews from other authors. These provide valuable insights into the designer’s work ethic, communication style, and ability to deliver on time and within budget. Look for credible sources of reviews and affiliations with industry associations (e.g. like the Alliance of Independent Authors).

3. Evaluate Availability and Responsiveness

It’s vital to collaborate with a designer who is available to accommodate your book’s timeline and will promptly respond to your inquiries, revision requests, and other concerns. Before beginning the design process, confirm that your chosen designer can deliver both the cover design and any additional marketing materials in time for your book’s launch. When working on the cover for Dreamlander, the team  at Ebook Launch communicated with me solely via email which may not work for everyone; however, they offered timely updates and always addressed my questions and concerns, which made the entire process smooth and enjoyable.

4. Consider Pricing

When searching for the right book cover designer, one of the top factors is finding one that fits your allocated budget while still providing value. Amounts can vary significantly, so carefully compare costs and the value each designer offers, keeping in mind that pricing doesn’t always correlate with quality. Reedsy has quoted under $750 USD on average as the cost from the designers on their website.  Look for clear pricing on the designer’s website to avoid misunderstandings down the line. Don’t forget to budget for additional marketing materials (such as social media graphics or promotional banners) or paperback or audio book versions.

Working With Your Book Cover Designer

Once you’ve found the right designer, you will typically need to navigate a couple of stages of the book cover design process. These include submitting a detailed design brief, receiving and reviewing initial concepts, collaborating on revisions, and approving the final design. In this section, I’ll delve into each stage in more detail, using my personal experience working on the redesigned cover for Dreamlander. I’ve also provided a couple of tips for a successful collaboration at the end.

1. Submit a Detailed Design Brief

The first step in the book cover design process is providing a clear and detailed design brief, which will ensure your designer understands your vision and can create a cover that captures the essence of your book. Most of the book designers I’ve worked with ask you to fill out detailed forms, guiding you to share the information they’ll need from you. Below is some of what I submitted to Ebook Launch for them to work with:

Book Title: Dreamlander

Book Subtitle (optional): What if one day you woke up in the wrong world?

Author Name: K.M. Weiland

Genre: Portal Fantasy

Description of your book:

What if it were possible to live two very different lives in two separate worlds? What if the dreams we awaken from are the fading memories of that second life? What if one day we woke up in the wrong world?

Every night, a woman on a black warhorse gallops through the mist in Chris Redston’s dreams. Every night, she begs him not to come to her. Every night, she aims her rifle at his head and fires. The last thing Chris expects—or wants—is for this nightmare to be real. But when he wakes up in the world of his dreams, he has to choose between the likelihood that he’s gone insane or the possibility that he’s just been let in on the secret of the ages.

Only one person in a generation may cross the worlds. These chosen few are the Gifted, called from Earth into Lael to shape the epochs of history—and Chris is one of them. But before he figures that out, he accidentally endangers both worlds by resurrecting a vengeful prince intent on claiming the powers of the Gifted for himself. Together with a suspicious princess and a guilt-ridden Cherazii warrior, Chris must hurl himself into a battle to save a country from war, two worlds from annihilation, and himself from a dream come way too true.

Describe the key elements you want on your cover:

This is to be a redo for the cover of an already published book.

I’m wanting to update the cover into more a current style. Particularly, I’m interested in styles that evoke mood more than character. Rather than featuring a person on the cover, I would rather something more stylistic and artistic.

The book is a portal fantasy, in which the main character is someone from our world who enters a parallel medieval land that is the “world of dreams.” It’s epic fantasy, with lots of battles and swordplay, but also romance. The cover examples below show more of the style I’m wanting this time around.

I do really like the teal green color palette the existing cover has. I wouldn’t mind keeping it, but don’t want to limit creative options either.

Link to the rest at Helping Writers Become Authors

Poem about the Loss of Love by Copymatic

In the quiet of the night,
The pain of loss seeps in.
Memories of what once was,
Now twisted with chagrin.

The laughter, the love,
All now distant dreams.
The emptiness surrounds me,
As I try to hold back screams.

The hurt is all-consuming,
A fire that won’t subside.
No amount of tears or time,
Can bring back what’s died.

The way your touch felt,
The magic of your kiss.
All of it now a memory,
Lost in the abyss.

I know I must move forward,
Though it seems impossible now.
Through the pain and the heartache,
I’ll somehow find my way out.

I’ll cherish what we had,
And hold onto the good.
But in this moment of loss,
My heart feels misunderstood.

So I’ll mourn what once was,
And slowly find a new way.
Hoping that someday, somehow,
Love will come back to stay.

PG says William Wordsworth and Dylan Thomas are secure in their reputations. Ditto for Dickenson, Keats, Wordsworth, Whitman and Hughes.

Setting Research: When You Didn’t Write What You Know

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

A woman floats peacefully in a swimming pool at night, a spangled view of the city behind her.

The image wouldn’t leave my head, and over time turned into a central scene in my debut romance novel, PAINTING CELIA.

Naturally, my character needed a house with a pool and a view. We don’t have those where I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I decided she would live in Los Angeles.

After my first draft, I realized I was making up an awful lot about LA. My armchair research in Google Street View might not be enough.A recent promotion had left me feeling rich. What if I went to LA and just looked around? Got a feel for places like the ones in my book? That’s what real authors do, right? What does one do on a research trip, though? How does one define “local color” and where do you get it?

I decided to “visit my characters” as though they were friends who would entertain me in their homes, show me where they worked, and tell me how the pressures and benefits of living in LA had shaped them.

I meticulously planned an itinerary, researching businesses and neighborhoods that were similar to those in my novel. One character—she of the swimming pool—lived up in the Hollywood Hills, another in Koreatown, and one ran a business in Boyle Heights. 

Giddy, I booked a weekend flight, a hotel, and a far-too-expensive car. I nearly expected my characters to pick me up at the airport, so immersed was I in the idea that I was flying to their home.

And suddenly I was there, driving along a straight boulevard underneath palm trees. I used a hands-free voice recorder to save notes about the way the sun hit terra cotta apartment buildings, the vivid murals that flowed around windows to third floor balconies, and how the dust collecting on my dashboard was golden.

I didn’t even hit up my hotel first. Instead, I drove straight to a community art gallery I’d found which seemed similar to one in my book. Parking was as hard as I’d heard, but I found a space and hoped I’d find my way back after. I walked in, wearing a long-sleeved sweater that had been appropriate for my flight but now marked me as a sweaty outsider. I asked the woman at the front desk if I could ask questions about their operations, for my novel. 

Within minutes, I was speaking to three bemused but flattered employees, all incredulous that anyone would write fiction about what they do. I walked out with far more detail than I could use and a glow I can still feel today. I did the same at two other businesses that weekend, receiving each time the same generosity.

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

Yuval Noah Harari argues that AI has hacked the operating system of human civilisation

From The Economist:

Fears of artificial intelligence (ai) have haunted humanity since the very beginning of the computer age. Hitherto these fears focused on machines using physical means to kill, enslave or replace people. But over the past couple of years new ai tools have emerged that threaten the survival of human civilisation from an unexpected direction. ai has gained some remarkable abilities to manipulate and generate language, whether with words, sounds or images. ai has thereby hacked the operating system of our civilisation.

Language is the stuff almost all human culture is made of. Human rights, for example, aren’t inscribed in our dna. Rather, they are cultural artefacts we created by telling stories and writing laws. Gods aren’t physical realities. Rather, they are cultural artefacts we created by inventing myths and writing scriptures.

Money, too, is a cultural artefact. Banknotes are just colourful pieces of paper, and at present more than 90% of money is not even banknotes—it is just digital information in computers. What gives money value is the stories that bankers, finance ministers and cryptocurrency gurus tell us about it. Sam Bankman-Fried, Elizabeth Holmes and Bernie Madoff were not particularly good at creating real value, but they were all extremely capable storytellers.

What would happen once a non-human intelligence becomes better than the average human at telling stories, composing melodies, drawing images, and writing laws and scriptures? When people think about Chatgpt and other new ai tools, they are often drawn to examples like school children using ai to write their essays. What will happen to the school system when kids do that? But this kind of question misses the big picture. Forget about school essays. Think of the next American presidential race in 2024, and try to imagine the impact of ai tools that can be made to mass-produce political content, fake-news stories and scriptures for new cults.

In recent years the qAnon cult has coalesced around anonymous online messages, known as “q drops”. Followers collected, revered and interpreted these q drops as a sacred text. While to the best of our knowledge all previous q drops were composed by humans, and bots merely helped disseminate them, in future we might see the first cults in history whose revered texts were written by a non-human intelligence. Religions throughout history have claimed a non-human source for their holy books. Soon that might be a reality.

On a more prosaic level, we might soon find ourselves conducting lengthy online discussions about abortion, climate change or the Russian invasion of Ukraine with entities that we think are humans—but are actually ai. The catch is that it is utterly pointless for us to spend time trying to change the declared opinions of an ai bot, while the ai could hone its messages so precisely that it stands a good chance of influencing us.

Through its mastery of language, ai could even form intimate relationships with people, and use the power of intimacy to change our opinions and worldviews. Although there is no indication that ai has any consciousness or feelings of its own, to foster fake intimacy with humans it is enough if the ai can make them feel emotionally attached to it. In June 2022 Blake Lemoine, a Google engineer, publicly claimed that the ai chatbot Lamda, on which he was working, had become sentient. The controversial claim cost him his job. The most interesting thing about this episode was not Mr Lemoine’s claim, which was probably false. Rather, it was his willingness to risk his lucrative job for the sake of the ai chatbot. If ai can influence people to risk their jobs for it, what else could it induce them to do?

In a political battle for minds and hearts, intimacy is the most efficient weapon, and ai has just gained the ability to mass-produce intimate relationships with millions of people. We all know that over the past decade social media has become a battleground for controlling human attention. With the new generation of ai, the battlefront is shifting from attention to intimacy. What will happen to human society and human psychology as ai fights ai in a battle to fake intimate relationships with us, which can then be used to convince us to vote for particular politicians or buy particular products?

Even without creating “fake intimacy”, the new ai tools would have an immense influence on our opinions and worldviews. People may come to use a single ai adviser as a one-stop, all-knowing oracle. No wonder Google is terrified. Why bother searching, when I can just ask the oracle? The news and advertising industries should also be terrified. Why read a newspaper when I can just ask the oracle to tell me the latest news? And what’s the purpose of advertisements, when I can just ask the oracle to tell me what to buy?

And even these scenarios don’t really capture the big picture. What we are talking about is potentially the end of human history. Not the end of history, just the end of its human-dominated part. History is the interaction between biology and culture; between our biological needs and desires for things like food and sex, and our cultural creations like religions and laws. History is the process through which laws and religions shape food and sex.

What will happen to the course of history when ai takes over culture, and begins producing stories, melodies, laws and religions? Previous tools like the printing press and radio helped spread the cultural ideas of humans, but they never created new cultural ideas of their own. ai is fundamentally different. ai can create completely new ideas, completely new culture.

At first, ai will probably imitate the human prototypes that it was trained on in its infancy. But with each passing year, ai culture will boldly go where no human has gone before. For millennia human beings have lived inside the dreams of other humans. In the coming decades we might find ourselves living inside the dreams of an alien intelligence.

Fear of ai has haunted humankind for only the past few decades. But for thousands of years humans have been haunted by a much deeper fear. We have always appreciated the power of stories and images to manipulate our minds and to create illusions. Consequently, since ancient times humans have feared being trapped in a world of illusions.

In the 17th century René Descartes feared that perhaps a malicious demon was trapping him inside a world of illusions, creating everything he saw and heard. In ancient Greece Plato told the famous Allegory of the Cave, in which a group of people are chained inside a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. A screen. On that screen they see projected various shadows. The prisoners mistake the illusions they see there for reality.

In ancient India Buddhist and Hindu sages pointed out that all humans lived trapped inside Maya—the world of illusions. What we normally take to be reality is often just fictions in our own minds. People may wage entire wars, killing others and willing to be killed themselves, because of their belief in this or that illusion.

The AI revolution is bringing us face to face with Descartes’ demon, with Plato’s cave, with the Maya. If we are not careful, we might be trapped behind a curtain of illusions, which we could not tear away—or even realise is there.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Shakespeare’s First Folio assembled the world’s greatest literature

From The Economist:

Not much in European trade runs the same way now as it did four centuries ago. However, English-language publishers still advertise future titles at the Frankfurt Book Fair—just as they did in 1622. In that year, a catalogue of forthcoming English works featured an intriguing volume, announced between blurbs for a biblical commentary and a genealogical tome. It alerted potential buyers to the imminent appearance of “Plays, written by M. William Shakespeare, all in one volume, printed by Isaack Jaggard, in fol[io].”

The Frankfurt punters had to wait. That bumper book of playscripts by an author who had died in April 1616 proved a tricky, arduous job. The printers completed it in 1623. By 1624, the chunky compilation was pitched at the fair as “Master Shakespeare’s Works”. According to Chris Laoutaris, a historian of the volume, this upgrade in terminology implied the “intellectual gravitas” of an author with “grand achievement” to his name. Among dramatists, only Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s friend and rival, had presumed to publish a swanky folio of “Works” before. In 1612 the founder of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library had even warned against collecting play-texts: worthless “baggage books”.

Sir Thomas Bodley lost that battle. The so-called First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays soon entered the Bodleian’s collection. This large-format volume, around 950 pages long, not only gathered 36 out of Shakespeare’s 38 surviving plays, it was also the cornerstone of his subsequent renown, which 400 years later extends to parts of the world he never knew existed. Fifty small “quarto” editions of individual Shakespeare plays appeared between 1594 and 1623, and “Henry IV” and “Richard III” proved particularly popular. But 18 Folio items had never seen print before—including “Julius Caesar”, “Macbeth”, “The Tempest” and “Twelfth Night”. The First Folio fixed the Shakespeare canon for posterity (it lacks only “Pericles” and “The Two Noble Kinsmen”) and even—via Martin Droeshout’s frontispiece of the balding playwright—his physical image.

Readers can now access a digital reproduction of the Bodleian’s “Arch.G c.7” at any time, for nothing: one of several Folios online. If you crave an original copy, the bill will prove steeper. In 2020 Mills College in California sold a high-quality First Folio at Christie’s in New York to a rare-book dealer, Stephan Loewentheil, for $9.98m. Modern celebrity buyers include Sir Paul Getty (who paid £3.5m, or $5.7m, in 2003) and Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder ($6.1m in 2001). In 2021 the University of British Columbia paid $5.9m for a Folio.

Now, to coincide with the First Folio’s 400th anniversary, Peter Harrington, an antiquarian bookseller in London, is selling a fine copy, previously in private hands, for $7.5m. The firm had the full set of all four 17th-century Folio editions of Shakespeare, plus a scarce edition of his poems from 1640, on offer for $10.5m. Pom Harrington, the proprietor, called that a “once-in-a-generation chance”. The poems, and the Fourth Folio of 1685, have just been sold. (The First remains available.)

Thanks, in part, to his friends’ push to celebrate the playwright’s legacy, Shakespeare’s First Folio is not especially rare compared with other early 17th-century books. From the original print run of around 750 copies, 235 are known to exist. Most, however, lie in hushed, low-lit state in libraries and museums. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, dc, has 82 copies, gems of the literary treasure trove amassed by Henry Folger, the president of Standard Oil, and his wife, Emily. America hosts 149, Britain 50, with the others scattered around the world. Perhaps 27 remain in private hands, and few are likely to enter the open market.

Your correspondent inspected the First Folio now on sale in London. Inside its handsome calfskin binding—not contemporary, but dating from around 1700—the large pages look, and feel, crisp, clean and strong. Although four of the eight preliminary pages, including poems, dedications and Droeshout’s famous engraving, are marked as facsimiles on this copy, the pages containing the plays’ texts remain intact and unrestored.

Sold in 1950 for £5,000 (then a steep price tag), this Folio had perhaps rested in the library of some proud but not-too-bookish hunting squire in northern England. Its bright and legible leaves of imported French paper showcase the array of crafts that blended to make the volume. Professor Emma Smith of Oxford University, whose study of the Folio’s creation has been revised for the quatercentenary, writes that it was “the product of many different people with different amounts of agency and investment—personal, intellectual and economic—in the project.”

Link to the rest at The Economist

Shakespeare’s Book. By Chris Laoutaris. Pegasus Books; 560 pages; $35. William Collins; £25

The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio. By Emma Smith. Bodleian Library Publishing; 258 pages; $40 and £30

Anatomy of a Parlor Room Murder Scene

From Book Riot:

I’m so glad you could join us here in the parlor! Please have a seat, right next to the crackling fire. A lesser detective may have been surprised that you accepted my invitation to this little gathering. After all, it was only yesterday that I implied you had a motive to kill the poor victim, which would be a very awkward conversation for anyone. But I happen to be a stellar detective who has read all Agatha Christie’s novels, so I knew you’d be too curious to stay away.

Now that you’re here, take a good look at everyone gathered in this room. You all have something in common! Everyone in this room had good reason to want the victim dead. And most of you are keeping a secret that ranges from embarrassing to tragic that makes you look very guilty indeed. Yes, I suppose it is nerve wracking to be in the presence of so many potential murderers. But don’t worry! As I am about to explain at great length, only one of you actually killed someone.


Now, I am a very literary detective, so I’d like to do this by the book. No laughs at that pun? Tough crowd. Anyway, the first step is getting all the suspects together in one room. Agatha Christie is the godmother of the parlor room mystery, with her most famous sleuths almost always saving the big reveal for when they have an audience. In the 1920s “Golden Age” of Detective fiction, mystery writers usually presented the murder as a mental game for the reader to solve. To keep the game going as long as possible, writers like Christie saved the detective’s brilliant summation for the last possible moment.

Usually, in Ms. Christie’s books, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple prefer a parlor like this, but Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe often used his office and sometimes a hotel. Parlor room-style scenes are still popular, even outside of the manor house Antony Horowitz recently used as a theater stage in The Twist of a Knife, and of course Rian Johnson inverted the trope in Knives Out. Whatever the venue, what matters is that there’s enough space for about four to six people. That’s about as many suspects as a dedicated reader can keep up with.

The fact that we’re all gathered here today means that, to a less brilliant mind than mine, you all are still equal suspects. We’ve really built up the suspense now! I’ve diligently interviewed each of you about your whereabouts, and asked you all about each other. Means, motive, and opportunity are all still on the table. Some of you hated the victim. Some of you loved the victim, even when you shouldn’t have. They say Mrs. Christie didn’t know who did it until she got to the end either, so you’re in good company.

I, however, as the detective, know better.

The fact that we’re all gathered here today means that, to a less brilliant mind than mine, you all are still equal suspects. We’ve really built up the suspense now! I’ve diligently interviewed each of you about your whereabouts, and asked you all about each other. Means, motive, and opportunity are all still on the table. Some of you hated the victim. Some of you loved the victim, even when you shouldn’t have. They say Mrs. Christie didn’t know who did it until she got to the end either, so you’re in good company.

I, however, as the detective, know better.


This next part will be a little awkward for some of you. Up until now, I’ve kept my thoughts mostly to myself, nodding and frowning at certain clues just like Hercule Poirot, and maybe made a charming quip or two. But now I’m going to go step-by-step through my investigation, starting with the discovery of the body. Readers love this because it’s usually the first time they get to see the investigation through the brilliant detective’s eyes. That green fabric caught in the door jam at the crime scene? That was a huge clue. You can write off the muddy shoe print on the carpet, though. That was just shoddy housekeeping and a red herring.

Let’s go around the room now. I’ll start with the most boring suspect first. Sorry, but no one really thinks you did it, Mr. Milquetoast. I kept you in the mix because you were cagey about your whereabouts the night of the murder, but that’s only because you were passed out drunk.

Moving on, we’ll get a little spicier. Two of you were having an affair and the victim found out about it. That’s a juicy secret and explains why you lied about your alibis.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

No one is discontented at not being a king

No one is discontented at not being a king except a discrowned king … unhappiness almost invariably indicates the existence of a road not taken, a talent undeveloped, a self not recognized.

Blaise Pascal

The Peking Express

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the November 1923 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Lucy Truman Aldrich published an account of an unusual experience she had in China earlier in the year. “For the rest of my life,” Aldrich began her tale, “when I am ‘stalled’ conversationally, it will be a wonderful thing to fall back on: ‘Oh, I must tell you about the time I was captured by Chinese bandits.’ ”

On May 6, 1923, Aldrich, the sister-in-law of American financier John D. Rockefeller Jr., was among 300 travelers on board the Peking Express, an overnight train bound north to the capital (now Beijing). Beginning service in late 1922, the Peking Express was China’s entry into the world of luxury train travel, the equal of anything found in Europe or America. For first-class passengers like Aldrich, who departed from Shanghai, the train promised silk sheets in the sleeping compartments, silver and linen on the dining tables, and a Victorian-style drawing room.

China’s weak central government had enabled the proliferation of warlords who commanded personal armies, and travelers in the countryside frequently found themselves at the mercy of bandits and highwaymen. The Peking Express, with its steel carriages and sizable force of private security guards, offered its passengers immunity from the chaotic world outside its sturdy compartments.

“Or so everyone thought,”writes China-based lawyer James M. Zimmerman in “The Peking Express: The Bandits Who Stole a Train, Stunned the West, and Broke the Republic of China.” In the early hours of May 6, as Aldrich and her fellow travelers slept, a bandit crew of demobilized and unpaid soldiers, led by 25-year-old Sun Mei-yao, removed bolts from a section of track just south of the town of Lincheng, in Shantung Province, and caused the train to derail. Sun’s contingent of a thousand men swarmed the carriages, looting what they could and kidnapping more than 100 passengers, including 28 foreigners—most of them wearing little more than their nightclothes as they were led on a forced march into the darkness.

Mr. Zimmerman peppers his fast-moving narrative with colorful details and memorable characters among both the hostages and their captors. Aldrich was quick to scold the young outlaws as they steered her through the countryside, treasured family jewelry secreted in the toe of her slipper. Shanghai journalist John B. Powell soon emerged as a leader among the captives, negotiating with Sun’s ragtag followers and seeking to understand the impetus for their daring actions. Sun, charismatic and idealistic, is sympathetic in his frustration with the weak Peking leadership and the corrupt Shantung military governor, Gen. Tien Chung-yu, who had earlier had Sun’s brother killed to assert his control over the province.

The bandits led the captured passengers on a circuitous path eastward across southern Shantung. They stopped at a compound where they set up camp for nearly a week before proceeding to Sun’s stronghold at Paotzuku Mountain. News of the “Lincheng Incident” spread quickly around the world, setting in motion a flurry of diplomatic exchanges and attempts to parley with the kidnappers. As the days passed, Sun made clear his demands: the withdrawal of troops from Shantung and re-enlistment into the armed forces for his men.

Aldrich was among the hostages who managed to break off from the procession amid the haphazard trek. Sun and his main co-conspirator, Po-Po Liu, released other captives with messages conveying the terms under which the outlaws would settle. The Peking government refused Tien’s offer to resign from the province’s governorship, which only emboldened him. Tien’s armed forces continued to pursue the outlaw gang. Various foreign interlocutors attempted to intervene, including the American “fixer” Roy Anderson, who had grown up in China as the son of missionaries and served in the revolutionary army that had brought down the Qing Dynasty a decade earlier. Neither side showed any inclination to concede ground, and the hostage situation turned into a protracted standoff.

. . . .

On May 22, 1923, the government in Peking finally ordered Tien to stand down, making it possible to break the impasse. Sun eventually agreed to enter discussions, with Roy Anderson acting as intermediary. Slowly, haltingly, the negotiations progressed, until the final eight foreigners were freed after 37 days of captivity.

The foreign hostages, however, were small in number compared with the Chinese passengers taken prisoner and held until their release was negotiated a month later. Presumably due to limitations in source materials available to Mr. Zimmerman, “The Peking Express” focuses on the most notable foreigners, while the Chinese hostages are less distinguishable. The episode was of great import within China. “The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back,” it precipitated the resignation of the government in Peking and marked the full-scale collapse of the country into feuding warlord factions for the remainder of the decade.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Here is the beginning of the original Atlantic article, published in November, 1923:

May 20. 1923

I suppose if I am ever going to write you about our adventure I’d better begin at once, as I am getting to the place where I want to put the whole thing out of my mind, for a while at least. Of course, for the rest of my life, when I am ‘ stalled ‘ conversationally, it will be a wonderful thing to fall back on: ‘Oh, I must tell you about the time I was captured by Chinese bandits.’ That remark, from a fat, domesticlooking old lady in a Worth gown, ought to wake up the dullest dinner party. I think I shall begin at the beginning and try to tell you everything as it happened.

We left Shanghai early Saturday morning, taking a Chinese guide with us as far as Nanking, where we changed for the Peking train. We had so much hand luggage with us, we were afraid of losing it on the ferry. With a good deal of bustle and rushing around, we finallysettled down in two compartments on the Peking-Pukow express — Mathilde and I in one and Miss MacFadden in the other. The car was much the most luxurious I have ever seen in the East, quite the last thing in modern sleepingcars, more like the Twentieth Century Limited than Chinese.

IP rights at top of mind as U.S. Copyright Office offers guidance on AI-generated works

From JDSupra:

On March 16, 2023, the U.S. Copyright Office (the Office) published a statement of policy in the Federal Register offering guidance on who is entitled to protection for works generated with the aid of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. AI tools allow users to generate images, audio, and textual works in response to textual prompts. These tools “learn” how to generate this content by ingesting massive sets of preexisting, human-authored works. Although there are a bevy of potential copyright issues implicated in the use of these tools, the Office’s guidance was limited to its policies with respect to examining and registering material generated by the use of AI technology, referred to as “generative AI.”

How and to what extent the use of AI impacts the ability to secure intellectual property (IP) rights are evolving questions in IP law. Recently, in Thaler v. Vidal, the U.S. Federal Circuit Court analyzed AI inventorship in view of the U.S. Patent Act – ultimately concluding that the Patent Act unambiguously “requires that inventors must be natural persons; that is, human beings.” In Thaler, the AI technology known as “DABUS” used general background knowledge of a technical field to conceive and recognize the utility of inventions without specific guidance from a human being. Thaler has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review this decision arguing that an “individual” inventor may refer to a single entity as opposed to a collective such as a corporation or government.

Relatedly, the Copyright Office confirmed in its March 16 statement that AI cannot be the author of a creative work, noting that it is long settled that copyright protections are limited to the product of human creativity. However, the Office also recognized that AI is a tool that may be used, with sufficient human contribution, to create copyrightable works. In making this point, the Office compared an artist leveraging AI to a photographer using a camera.

While acknowledging that determining what level of human contribution is required to reach registrable status will often require a case-by-case analysis, the Copyright Office provided the following guidance to authors seeking copyright protection for works produced with the assistance of AI:

  • Merely providing an AI tool with a prompt, without extending creative control over how the tool interprets the prompt and generates expressive material, will fail to meet the standard for copyright registration.
  • The registrant must identify the “traditional elements of authorship” that were executed by a human author and explicitly disclaim the AI-generated content in the application.
  • Applicants with existing applications for works that contain AI-generated content who do not disclaim the AI-generated content should correct the application with the Copyright Office’s Public Information Office.
  • Authors with existing registrations for works that contain AI-generated content should submit a supplementary registration that disclaims the AI-generated content or risk losing their registration.

Link to the rest at JDSupra

PG note: JDSupra publishes news about various legal issues and large law firms. This particular article is written by two attorneys who work for a large law firm that, among other services, has a large group of attorneys that focus on intellectual property and related issues.

Book Formatting

PG apologizes for no posts yesterday.

He was frustrated while attempting to use his former book formatting system to prepare Mrs. PG’s latest book for publication.

He thinks he may have found a better solution during his reading last night. If it works as anticipated, he’ll put up a post about it later today.

The age of average

From Alex Murrell:

In the early 1990s, two Russian artists named Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid took the unusual step of hiring a market research firm. Their brief was simple. Understand what Americans desire most in a work of art.

Over 11 days the researchers at Marttila & Kiley Inc. asked 1,001 US citizens a series of survey questions.

What’s your favourite colour? Do you prefer sharp angles or soft curves? Do you like smooth canvases or thick brushstrokes? Would you rather figures that are nude or clothed? Should they be at leisure or working? Indoors or outside? In what kind of landscape? 

Komar and Melamid then set about painting a piece that reflected the results. The pair repeated this process in a number of countries including Russia, China, France and Kenya.

Each piece in the series, titled “People’s Choice”, was intended to be a unique a collaboration with the people of a different country and culture.

But it didn’t quite go to plan.

Describing the work in his book Playing to the Gallery, the artist Grayson Perry said:

“In nearly every country all people really wanted was a landscape with a few figures around, animals in the foreground, mainly blue.”

Despite soliciting the opinions of over 11,000 people, from 11 different countries, each of the paintings looked almost exactly the same.

. . . .

After completing the work, Komar quipped:

“We have been travelling to different countries, engaging in dull negotiations with representatives of polling companies, raising money for further polls, receiving more or less the same results, and painting more or less the same blue landscapes. Looking for freedom, we found slavery.” 

This, however, was the point. The art was not the paintings themselves, but the comment they made. We like to think that we are individuals, but we are much more alike that we wish to admit.

30 years after People’s Choice, it seems the landscapes which Komar and Melamid painted have become the landscapes in which we live.

This article argues that from film to fashion and architecture to advertising, creative fields have become dominated and defined by convention and cliché. Distinctiveness has died. In every field we look at, we find that everything looks the same.

Welcome to the age of average.

. . . .

In 2011, Laurel Schwulst was planning to redecorate her New York apartment when she began searching the internet for interior design inspiration.

Before long, the designer had stumbled on the perfect research tool: AirBnB. From the comfort of her home the app gave her a window into thousands of others. She could travel the world, and view hundreds of rooms, without leaving her chair.

Schwulst began sharing images to her Tumblr, “Modern Life Space”. The blog became an ever-expanding gallery of interior design inspiration. But something wasn’t right.

Laurel Schwulst:

“The Airbnb experience is supposed to be about real people and authenticity. But so many of them were similar, whether in Brooklyn, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, or Santiago.”

Schwulst had identified an AirBnB design aesthetic that had organically emerged and was quickly spreading through the platform’s properties. White walls. Raw wood. Nespresso machines. Eames chairs. Bare brick. Open shelving. Edison bulbs. The style combines the rough-hewn rawness of industrialism with the elegant minimalism of mid-century design.

. . . .

But Schwulst wasn’t the only one to identify the trend. Aaron Taylor Harvey, the Executive Creative Director of Environments at Airbnb had spotted something similar:

“You can feel a kind of trend in certain listings. There’s an International Airbnb Style that’s starting to happen. I think that some of it is really a wonderful thing that gives people a sense of comfort and immediate belonging when they travel, and some of it is a little generic. It can go either way.”

This “Modern Life Space” or “International AirBnB Style” goes by a number of other names. It’s known as the Brooklyn Look, or according to the journalist Kyle Chayka, AirSpace:

“I called this style “AirSpace”. It’s marked by an easily recognisable mix of symbols – like reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs, and refurbished industrial lighting – that’s meant to provide familiar, comforting surroundings for a wealthy, mobile elite, who want to feel like they’re visiting somewhere “authentic” while they travel, but who actually just crave more of the same: more rustic interiors and sans-serif logos and splashes of cliche accent colours on rugs and walls.”

Perhaps this seems inevitable. Isn’t it obvious that a global group of hosts all trying to present their properties to a global group of travellers would converge on a single, optimal, appealing yet inoffensive style?

AirSpace, however, isn’t just limited to residential interiors. The same tired tropes have spread beyond the spaces where we live, and taken over the spaces where we work, eat, drink and relax.

In an in-depth investigation for The Guardian, Chayka documents how the AirSpace style of interior decor has become the dominant design style of coffee shops:

“Go to Shoreditch Grind, near a roundabout in the middle of London’s hipster district. It’s a coffee shop with rough-hewn wooden tables, plentiful sunlight from wide windows, and austere pendant lighting. Then head to Takk in Manchester. It’s a coffee shop with a big glass storefront, reclaimed wood furniture, and hanging Edison bulbs. Compare the two: You might not even know you’re in different spaces. It’s no accident that these places look similar. Though they’re not part of a chain and don’t have their interior design directed by a single corporate overlord, these coffee shops have a way of mimicking the same tired style, a hipster reduction obsessed with a superficial sense of history and the remnants of industrial machinery that once occupied the neighbourhoods they take over.”

And this isn’t just a trend that we can see in British coffee culture. The same trend has been identified in cities from Bangkok to Beijing and from Seoul to San Francisco.

Link to the rest at Alex Murrell and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG notes there are lots of images and links at the OP.

Book Publishing’s Bilingual Boom

From Publisher’s Weekly:

With more than 40 million Spanish-speaking readers and language learners, according to the Census Bureau, the U.S. has the fourth-largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, after Mexico, Spain, and Argentina. What’s more, if demographic trends continue, the Instituto Cervantes estimates that by 2060, 27.5% of the U.S. population will speak Spanish, which would make it the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, after Mexico. It therefore comes as no surprise that the U.S. market for Spanish-language books is growing. Accordingly, PW is now offering a quarterly spotlight on developments in that market. This will include discussions with authors, booksellers, librarians, publishers, and others in the value chain.

The U.S. market for Spanish-language titles is largely being driven by bilingual families, schools that offer dual-language classes, and libraries that service communities with large numbers of Spanish speakers. In addition, there are heritage-language customers who want to practice their Spanish, and language learners seeking cultural immersion.

Bilingual books have proven popular with children, parents, and students alike. In 2022, two new services, Enlingos and Curio, launched to cater to this audience, offering subscription boxes for bilingual and Spanish-language children’s books.

Historically, one of the most prolific and inclusive publishers of bilingual books is Star Bright Books in Cambridge, Mass. Founded in 1994 by Deborah Shine, a former bookseller and publisher from South Africa, the company offers more than 200 board and picture books in monolingual and bilingual editions covering 33 languages. After English, Spanish is most widely represented on the list, which includes 27 monolingual Spanish titles and 68 bilingual books.

“There are some immigrant families that want books in their native language, while others want books they can read in their native language, while their child may only speak English, so they will also read to them in English,” Shine says. “It varies.”

Accordingly, Star Bright often offers multiple editions of the same title, including English, Spanish, and bilingual versions. “In our bilingual books, we always put the foreign text above the English translation, which is often different from how other publishers do it,” says Shine, who is in her 90s and continues to run the company. “English is always secondary to the foreign language in our books.” Star Bright’s latest release is Arletis, Abuelo y el mensaje en la botella by Lea Aschkenas, illustrated Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. The picture book, which tells the true story of a young Cuban girl who strikes up an unlikely pen pal friendship with a Californian, is offered in English and in a Spanish translation by Lawrence Schimel, senior editor of Swiss publishing house NorthSouth Books. “The book was written in English and then we had it translated,” Shine says. “It was a natural decision to publish it in Spanish, for the story’s main character is Cuban and it is set in Cuba. Our Spanish titles are typically bilingual, but for this book, we decided to do a Spanish-only edition.” The book has a print run of 4,000 copies for each edition and has been chosen as a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Google accused of ripping off OpenAI’s ChatGPT

From Android Authority:

Google has been accused of training its AI chatbot Bard on data from OpenAI’s ChatGPT without authorization. According to The Information, Jacob Devlin, a Google AI researcher, resigned because the company scraped ChatGPT data from a website called ShareGPT.

“Devlin quit after sharing concerns with Pichai, Dean, and other senior managers that the Bard team, which received assistance from Brain employees, was training its machine learning model using data from OpenAI’s ChatGPT,” the report states. Devlin has since joined OpenAI to work on ChatGPT.

OpenAI and Google are in direct competition in the generative AI space. Microsoft’s heavy investment in OpenAI and the quick succession with which it integrated GPT into its products has left Google scrambling to bring its own AI-powered chatbot Bard to market. An accusation that Google lifted ChatGPT data could damage the company’s reputation, given that it has spent years fostering AI research.

. . . .

Unrelated to the report, Android Authority was recently approached by an SEO agency called Loopex Digital, which claimed it had a chat with Bard wherein the AI helper said it was based on OpenAI’s GPT-3 language model. However, in a later exchange, Bard changed its tune and claimed to be based on Google AI’s LaMDA model. For all we know, it could have been a case of Bard giving out incorrect information, a common flaw in generative AI models. However, the opposite would mean there’s some truth to the latest allegations.

Link to the rest at Android Authority and thanks to F. for the tip.

Copyright irony abounds.

An Unstandardized, Decentralized Carnival Fire: How Rare Books Are Cataloged

From The Literary Hub:

“Extra-​­illustrated, my friend, that’s what you want to call it.” James is picking through a set of books he’s left with me for cataloguing. He picks one up and flicks through the pages. “A tad faded… no, not faded… mellowed. A little mellowed on the spine.” I’m busy making notes so he keeps going. “Attractively so, I’d wager.” He looks over my shoulder at what I’ve written so far. “No, see, you can’t say all the books are different colors, that won’t sell them. How about…” He mulls it over. “Perhaps a ‘harlequin set’?” He winks. “Scarce thus.”

He heads back to his desk, pleased with a job well done. “Now you see, young Oliver, that’s, uh… what do they call it, Georg? Entrepreneurial spirit?”

. . . .

Running the Travel and Exploration department, a blighted role which before his arrival had chewed up and spat out three or four booksellers in short order, Georg has proven utterly immovable by the unholy forces which drove out his predecessors. He can often be found wandering outside the shop, smoking and drinking coffee on the curb of Sackville Street in his favorite leather waistcoat.

Most rare books come with some minor defects, but that doesn’t mean one has to be rude about it.

If you’ve ever seen one of those nature documentaries where the tiny birds eat flies off a larger animal, then you’ll already have a good grasp of my symbiotic relationship with Georg. He can destroy a computer simply by proximity, which means I spend a fair chunk of time at his desk figuring out the precise way in which it has melted down this time. In return for my ambiguously proficient computer expertise, Georg provides wisdom and advice, which for a beleaguered apprentice sounded like a rather wonderful arrangement.

As part of his role running the Travel and Exploration department, Georg trades in books on just about every place on the globe. I highly suspect he has read all of them, too, because his vast well of peculiar stories never seems to run dry. He tells them in such a spellbinding manner that you always believe them, though I suppose that when it comes to memoirs and histories the truth must be a relative thing. Travelogues, diaries, entertainingly incorrect antique maps… he knows them all. In the truest sense of the word, he’s a savant.

Learning how to catalogue properly is an essential part of bookselling, though exactly what constitutes “properly” will change depending on who you ask. As an apprentice bookseller, it was learning the intricacies of the cataloguing process from my colleagues which consumed any spare time I had when not hauling boxes or fixing Georg’s desktop.

In days gone by, when dinosaurs and Mrs. Hawthornes ruled the earth, booksellers didn’t have the advantage of color photography, or the luxury of printing out reams of pictures to send to book collectors. The majority of selling was performed (and to a certain extent still is) using gigantic sales brochures crammed with information on the newest books in stock, printed in tiny type and shipped off to the homes of book collectors around the country, who would eagerly flip through them, scanning the rows and rows of text for juicy treasures.

Collectors being as fastidious as they are, booksellers were faced with a unique ​­challenge—to describe as accurately as possible a specimen of a particular book, communicating all the flaws and merits of that very specific copy, while using as little ink and space as possible. Thus the art of cataloguing, which invokes an entire dialect of terms, abbreviations and insinuations to paint a picture of a book without leaning too heavily on images. On any given day, it’s very likely this is what the booksellers are doing, lurking with their heads in a pile of books, brows furrowed as they try to work out if their copy is supposed to have nineteen pictures.

The actual ​­day-​­to-​­day minutiae of cataloguing encompasses a vast array of tasks that take a book from “I bought this” to “This is now on the shelves.” It involves identifying the edition, checking for damage, writing some advertising copy and logging this all into the archaic computer system so it can be referenced later. The hardest part, though, lies in recording precisely in what ways a book has survived the ravages of time.

An entire lexicon of ​­book-​­related terminology has evolved over hundreds of years for exactly this ​­purpose—terminology that means absolutely nothing to the average observer. It’s traditional to adopt this baroque language when describing your books, for two reasons. The first is that the specific language of the book trade allows you to be exceedingly accurate and precise without using hundreds of words, and the second is that the elegance of it serves to dull the blow a little. Most rare books come with some minor defects, but that doesn’t mean one has to be rude about it. It’s much more charming to describe a book as “foxed” than to tell someone that the pages have developed an unsightly mottling, and that if this were a zombie movie we’d already have taken it out back and put it out of its misery.

It’s convention to call a sheepskin binding “roan,” and parchment made from calfskin is oft baptized “vellum.” If we call a book “sophisticated,” we’re saying that we know the book was tampered with, faked or “someone tried very hard to make this look like a first edition,” but that we also feel this perhaps adds to its historical value rather than subtracts. It’s a feature, we argue, not a bug. Using the correct terminology is part of a performance, an elaborate ritual, a secret handshake performed on the part of the bookseller to entice discerning clients.

As I learned how the trade worked, James would bring over piles of books to my desk, and armed with a copy of Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors, I would set to work trying to identify each item one after another. Not expensive books, not for an apprentice—anything with a spine and pages would do. Whenever I looked confused, someone would wander over and holler at me a term I didn’t understand, which I would dutifully note down time after time until the associations began to stick.

It took a while to get to grips with the basics, because there is so much to learn before you can even engage with the fundamentals. Is it a red book? Well, you can’t say that. It’s actually maroon. Or burgundy. And the binding? Leather. But what kind? No, that’s not cow, it’s roan. It’s not speckled, it’s lightly becankered. It’s not half morocco, it’s quarter morocco, which has nothing to do with the country and something to do with goats.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Not Dead Yet

PG apologizes for not posting yesterday.

All is well at Casa PG, including all of its inhabitants.

Yesterday was a bit crazy, but nothing to regard as harmful, bad, evil, etc., just different.

Writer’s Block is a misnomer

Writer’s block is a misnomer and can be compared with turning off a faucet. Like the ability to write, faucets can develop problems when they’re seldom used. You get all this rust in the pipes. When you turn on the faucet, a lot of rust comes out.

Susan Neville

The Ancient Greek Myths Retold

From The Wall Street Journal:

Whatever the ferment of contemporary literary culture, the myths and legends of ancient Greece continue to be a rich source of story and reference. In our censorious era, there is something wonderfully unkillable about the old gods and heroes. If anything, our attachment to the Greeks is becoming more intense, judging from the appearance of a tranche of fine new (and new-ish) retellings of old, old stories.

This rewriting business is almost as old a tale as those of Orpheus and Eurydice, Echo and Narcissus, and the doomed men and women of the grisly House of Atreus. The poets and playwrights and artisans of antiquity used and reshaped elements of these thrilling narratives, along with other stories of creation, transformation and divine retribution—and thank goodness for it. Without all their riffing, some of which has survived only in fragmentary form, we wouldn’t know as much as we do about, say, Hercules (aka Heracles or Herakles), the demigod whose strength and feats come to us from, among others, Homer, Hesiod, Apollodorus and Euripides. We also owe a debt of gratitude to 20th-century classicists who kept the connection alive, not least Edith Hamilton, whose magisterial “Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes” recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

And here we are, with the cornucopia tipping out again! Sarah Iles Johnston brings exceptional verve and scholarship to “Gods and Mortals: Ancient Greek Myths for Modern Readers,” a comprehensive volume that is illustrated with harsh and jagged pictures by the author’s son, Tristan Johnston. Ms. Johnston, a professor of classics at Ohio State University, restores the lustiness of tales that other writers have made bloodless. Readers acquainted with the Big Bang theory, for instance, may be a little startled by how literal that concept was to the Greeks. Their cosmos emerges, in this reading, from vigorous sex between Earth and Sky that ends when Earth conspires with her son Kronos to castrate the priapic father in flagrante delicto.

Indeed, sexual desire drives the action throughout Greek mythology. Zeus is forever seducing mortal women (Io, Europa, Semele), and his wife Hera is forever persecuting these unfortunates. But sexual frigidity exacts costs too, as when the chaste goddess Artemis punishes poor Actaeon when he sees her bathing. Transformed into a stag, the young man is run down and torn to pieces by his own faithful hunting dogs. “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods,” Shakespeare writes. “They kill us for their sport.” There is little in these stories to contradict him.

The textual fidelity of “Gods and Mortals” means that armchair enthusiasts may find some surprises. In Ms. Johnston’s description of Midas, for instance, there is no little daughter whom the greedy king turns to gold; that detail, we learn from the author’s fascinating source notes, comes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s version of the myth in his 1851 “Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys.” Ms. Johnston has shaped her stories in obedience to the oldest narratives, but she does take the welcome liberty of slipping in descriptions of cultural norms and domestic practices to enrich the reader’s knowledge. We read that, in keeping house, one ill-starred woman “used jars made of clay to stockpile grain, olive oil and other food. By sinking the jars partway into the cool earth of her pantry floor, she was able to keep their contents fresh for a long time.”

In “Arcadian Days: Gods, Women, and Men From Greek Myths,” John Spurling retells the single and shared stories of five pairs of males and females: the titan Prometheus and the god-fashioned Pandora; the hero Jason and the sorceress Medea; the doomed king Oedipus and his daughter Antigone; the warrior Achilles and his mother, the sea nymph Thetis; and the wily Odysseus and his clever wife Penelope.

Mr. Spurling, an octogenarian English author and playwright, has adjusted certain things to his taste (presenting the baddie Creon, he concedes, “in a somewhat kinder light than Sophocles”). He has also introduced substantial passages of dialogue, a narrative choice that robs some moments of grandeur (Zeus at one point complains that people are “getting up my nose”) but that has the effect, in others, of adding slow-building dread and pathos.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Easter Visit From Relationship Hell

From Electric Lit:

A story walks into the bar and says, “I’d like you to meet this mother and this daughter,” and right away the whole room turns to see how similar or different they will be. Is the young woman a carbon copy of the older woman? Is she a physical opposite? Inside the young woman, is it all fight and wrestling to be different, to redefine? Can we sense the mother reaching to stay close?

Then the story says, “And here is this son and his mother,” and we all turn again because now we’re not so much looking to see if they are an exact match but to see if he’s grown up enough or if his mother has somehow ruined him with her careful love, if he has ruined her with his wild boyhood.  

But the story is not finished. Now it tells us that the young man and the young woman have fallen in love even though he came from wealth and she came from the opposite, and it’s Easter, and he is taking her to his mother’s grand home for an egg hunt and brunch. Now we have the boy’s mother and a potential daughter-in-law (plus pristine white carpet and long-standing family traditions and the shadow of the last girlfriend whom everyone wanted the boy to marry). The daughter’s own mother is far away, barely reachable on the phone, and though they have caused each other so much damage, the mother now feels suddenly like the only safe place.

This is the stage for Mary Otis’s Burst. The genius is the way Otis fills the room with the cloud of social expectations—gender and inheritance and the patriarchal chain of command and money and poverty and all that tired but persistent cruel-ladies-who-gobble-each-other-up and boys-who-would-rather-be-cared-for-and-then-let-outside. Emerging through the fog is Viva, particular and real, trying to find her own sharp, exact edges, her own actual needs, her own self in relationship to her boyfriend, her mother, and his.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Income Taxes

PG burned a lot of time today getting information for 2022 taxes organized shipped off to his accountant.

He’s numbered out for today. He’ll be back tomorrow.

Quotations That Include Errors

From The American Psychological Association:

A quotation that includes an error may be distracting, so consider paraphrasing instead. When quoting, always check your paper against the source to ensure that there are no discrepancies.

Except as noted under changes made to direct quotations, the quotation must match the wording, spelling, and interior punctuation of the original source, even if the source is incorrect.

If any incorrect spelling, punctuation, or grammar in the source might confuse readers, insert the word “[sic],” italicized and in brackets, immediately after the error in the quotation.

Nowak (2019) wrote that “people have an obligation to care for there [sic] pets” (p. 52).

Link to the rest at The American Psychological Association

Back Stuff

PG aggravated a long-standing back problem that pretty well knocked him of commission for most of the day today.

With hot packs, he anticipates being much more like himself tomorrow.