Silent Witnesses: Writing About Medieval Women

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

– ‘Name Six English Queens.’ –

Faced with this question at a Pub Quiz Night, most teams would make a fairly accurate stab at it. Elizabeth I. Bloody Mary. Queen Victoria.  Elizabeth II. A guess at the wives of Henry VIII, beginning with Anne Boleyn.

Not one of them a medieval English queen.

Why is it that so many of these wives of our early English kings have remained almost invisible, while the sins or exploits of their husbands are legendary? King John is notorious but few would claim to know much about Isabelle of Angouleme. Richard II, brilliant, usurped, and tragic, yet Isabelle de Valois hardly makes a mark. Edward I, Hammer of the Scots, built castles and led his armies. Who can relate more than the basic facts about Eleanor of Castile other than the romantic tale of Eleanor Crosses erected by her grief-stricken husband, which probably says more about Edward than about Eleanor. 

Were these medieval women, and those of the aristocracy, so lacking in authority, in influence, or even in intelligence that they should become anonymous, a mere footnote on a page? Were they uneducated, fit for nothing but to be decorative witnesses to the daring or desperate ventures of their husbands? The impression is that medieval women of the aristocratic class remained solar-bound, waiting for their men-folk to return from war, plying a needle as they sang and prayed and gossiped in a feminine world. We are led to believe that they had nothing to say about what they and their regal husbands were doing. 

The answer is simple enough. They are rendered silent because they lived in a man’s world, written by men, about the feats of men. Women are rarely given a voice, not even royal women, except for the very few, such as the infamous Eleanor of Aquitaine whom it was difficult to silence, yet even she was incarcerated by an enraged Henry II for stirring rebellion amongst their sons. Women are recorded for us in their relationships with men: a daughter, a sister, a wife, a cousin. Thus our medieval women are skeletons without flesh, two dimensional in their lack of character, without even a physical description since medieval portraits are rare.  

As Virginia Wolfe once said: ‘For most of History, Anonymous was a woman.’ For this reason, I decided to shake the cobwebs from some of these medieval women of interest and allow them to take the stage, three-dimensional and with much to say.

Here they are:

Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker, a pawn in the game of marriage and power-brokering, but from a family not notable for its silence. Alice Perrers, ambitiously scheming mistress of King Edward III, but also a smart business-woman. Katherine de Valois, a naive political bride for Henry V who managed to snatch some happiness when she found the strength to take Owen Tudor into her tragic life.  Katherine Swynford whose liaison with John of Gaunt was not a light-hearted love affair, but a scandal of sinful proportions. Elizabeth of Lancaster, dragged into the depths of treason by her marriage to John Holland, thus her husband set in conflict against her brother the King.  Joan of Kent, notable for her clandestine marriages, but worthy of so much more in the manipulation of power.

Elizabeth Mortimer, forceful wife of the infamous Hotspur. Invisible Queen Joanna of England and treacherous Constance of York, both women of some reputation. Cecily Neville, doyenne of the Wars of the Roses, must of course take a bow upon the stage.  And now, in my present writing, the women of the Paston family who allowed us to see so much of their lives and their menfolk through their letters.

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

National Portrait Gallery, (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Darkly Humorous Books About Relationships

From Electric Lit:

Dark humor. Wry, mordant. Frame it however you want—yin and yang, chiaroscuro, tragedy and comedy—nothing is more life-affirming, nothing makes me feel more connected to humanity, more humbled by the resiliency of the human spirit, than a person’s ability to crack a joke at a low point. 

The women and girls in my collection, Love Like Thatare all screwing up: they’re in the wrong jobs, in the wrong dress, the wrong shoes. They’re on the wrong vacation. They’ve made the wrong plans, the wrong friends, the wrong move. They’ve said the wrong thing. They’re with the wrong men. But they possess, I think, the self-awareness to understand this, and it’s at this intersection of self-awareness and pain where a certain kind of humor is born. For me, there is nothing more generous than the gift of someone else’s messiness laid bare, of someone else’s vulnerability and frankness, especially about themselves. And what better terrain for rawness and honesty, for the simple admission that life can be really fucking absurd, than relationships? 

Here are a few books that break up the dark with some light, whose characters make me laugh and wince with recognition.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The book is essentially a novel in novellas, each dedicated to a member of the Lambert family—Alfred and Enid and their adult children, Chip, Gary, and Denise. While the whole thing is, I think, a masterpiece—darkly, darkly funny—the one that really kills me is about Gary. It’s the roller coaster of domesticity at its best:

“To feel nothing, not the feeblest pulse in the dead mouse from which his urine issued, for three weeks, to believe that she would never again need him and that he would never again want her, and then, on a moment’s notice, to become light-headed with lust: this was marriage as he knew it.”

. . . .

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is a master of the dark/light thing. The backdrop of this novel is deeply sad—Macon Leary’s young son has been killed in a robbery, and in the opening pages his wife asks for a divorce—but a warm, humorous quirkiness soon fills the pages of the book, whether it’s Macon’s adult siblings, who organize their pantry alphabetically, or Muriel Pritchett, the eccentric dog-trainer he falls in love with. One of my favorite scenes is early in the book when Macon, reeling from his recent separation, devises a ridiculous housework system:

“What he did was strip the mattress of all linens, replacing them with a giant sort of envelope made from one of the seven sheets he had folded and stitched together on the sewing machine…At moments—while he was skidding on the mangled clothes in the bathtub or struggling into his body bag on the naked, rust-stained mattress—he realized that he might be carrying things too far. He couldn’t explain why, either.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Blake Bailey Had Exclusive Access to Philip Roth’s Personal Papers. Roth’s Estate Plans on Destroying Them.

From The National Review:

Celebrated author Philip Roth made a startling admission while speaking to a French interviewer nine years ago: He had asked his executors, the uber-powerful literary agent Andrew Wylie and ex-girlfriend Julia Golier, to destroy many of his personal papers after the publication of the semi-authorized biography on which Blake Bailey had recently begun work. His manuscripts, after all, were already housed in the Library of Congress; the Newark Public Library had his books, as well as many personal possessions. A control freak about his legacy and just about everything else, Roth wanted to ensure that Bailey, who was producing exactly the type of biography he wanted, would be the only person outside a small circle of intimates permitted to access personal, sensitive manuscripts, including the unpublished Notes for My Biographer (a 295-page rebuttal to his ex-wife’s memoir) and Notes on a Slander-Monger (another rebuttal, this time to a biographical effort from Bailey’s predecessor). “I don’t want my personal papers dragged all over the place,” Roth said. 

At the time, Roth’s insistence that his executors destroy important biographical documents received little attention, and for good reason: In the same interview, Roth announced his retirement, ending one of the most important American literary careers of the postwar period. He died in 2018; Bailey’s biography, Philip Roth: The Biography was published last month. In the intervening period, few noted the Roth Estate’s plan to destroy these papers—it is mentioned in passing in a New York Times Magazine profile of Bailey and in a footnote in a Vulture interview, for example. 

Much has changed in recent weeks. Last month, Bailey’s publisher, W.W. Norton, announced that it was halting promotion and distribution of the book after Bailey was accused of grooming, and in one instance raping as an adult, middle-school students he taught while working as an eighth-grade teacher in New Orleans in the 1990s. Soon after a publishing executive accused him of raping her at the home of a New York Times book reviewer in 2015, Norton announced it was taking the book out of print.

. . . .

The fate of Roth’s personal papers took on new urgency in the wake of Norton’s decision. Last week, the Philip Roth Society published an open letter imploring Roth’s executors “to preserve these documents and make them readily available to researchers.” Efforts undertaken by Roth and his estate to control his legacy have backfired spectacularly. The best way to preserve his legacy, which has been damaged by the fallout from Bailey’s scandal, is to open up his papers to a wide variety of scholars. 

Roth, of course, had other plans: Bailey was to provide the final word on his life and legacy. Even in this, the results have been disastrous. Bailey’s efforts to settle scores on Roth’s behalf, as The New Republic’s Laura Marsh wrote in a definitive piece, failed. The resulting work portrayed the author as a “spiteful obsessive,” while Bailey’s focus on Roth’s personal life overwhelmed a slight discussion of his literary output and other work, such as his advocacy on behalf of Eastern European writers. (One Roth scholar I spoke to compared reading the book to “watching Bridgerton—it’s all love and sex and lust.”) The subsequent scandals, moreover, have permanently tarnished the book’s reputation and only bolstered Roth’s own reputation for misogyny. 

. . . .

With so little having gone to plan, many Roth scholars are hoping to save the writer’s papers that have been slated for destruction. As scholar Aimee Pozorski, who teaches English at Central Connecticut State University told The New Republic, the effort is “about intellectual inquiry and protecting and diversifying the legacy of one of the most important authors in America.” 

“In his fiction he writes about the complexity of human beings, of making mistakes, of getting people wrong,” Pozorski said. “In Exit Ghost he predicted this scenario—[in that book] Richard Kliman is a biographer who is not serving his subject well. One wishes that Roth could have seen into his work to understand that you need more voices, not fewer, as a result of the complexity.” 

Jacques Berlinerblau, the Rabbi Harold White Professor of Jewish Civilization in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, observed that Roth had spent his life creating a clique outside (and, in a few special cases, inside) the academy to control his legend. “Something very interesting happens with Philip Roth, and Philip Roth alone, wherein friends and fans with glorious perches in the media drive the narrative about him and the scholars—those pathetic figures—are completely sidelined,” Berlinerblau told me. “We’ve got to get control of this narrative because for three decades everything they know about Roth they know from his friends.” 

Link to the rest at The National Review

Inside The Facetune Epidemic

Not really to do with books, but PG could imagine a lot of stories arising from the OP.

From The Huffington Post:

Sky Lane scrolled through the pictures from an impromptu photo shoot she’d done with her friend and picked her favorite. It was cute — she was showing off her side profile in a black crop top, tight blue jeans, big silver hoops and smoky bronze eyeshadow. But the 21-year-old wouldn’t dare post it to Instagram for the world to see just yet. She opened Facetune, a photo-retouching app on her iPhone, and got to work.

Using the “Reshape” tool, she started pushing her tummy inward, little by little. She had to be careful not to noticeably warp the background in the process; the trick was to edit the photo without making it look like it had been edited. Skewed lines, blurry edges and inconsistencies in shadows and reflections were easy giveaways that Lane had learned how to avoid through years of practice — she’d been Facetuning since she was a teenager. She used the same tool to give herself a breast lift, slim her arm, cinch her waist and make her butt rounder, like the bodies flooding her Instagram feed.

Next she moved onto her face. Her friend had taken the photo using a Snapchat filter that had already plumped her lips, slimmed her nose and smoothed her skin so much her pores were no longer visible, but Lane applied Facetune’s complexion retouching effect for good measure. Her jawline was an easy fix with the jaw-slimming tool. Usually she’d whiten her teeth, but they were hardly showing. The more technical tweaks, like individually repositioning her eyebrows and narrowing the tip of her nose, required tools only available on the paid version of the app, which she’d upgraded to long ago.

She was done in under 20 minutes. The final product still looked like her, Lane decided, just a better, more acceptable version. She sent it to her mom, who didn’t seem to notice that anything had been altered, giving Lane the reassurance she needed that it was pretty and believable — polished but not overdone. She wouldn’t want her followers to accuse her of being a “catfish,” a term that has evolved in the Facetune era to describe someone who enhances their pictures beyond recognition.

Lane was finally ready to post the photo. It got 179 “likes,” which she thought was pretty good; without Facetune, she figured, she’d be lucky to get 40. Like the myriad other women who’ve been conditioned to pick apart their appearances, Lane has countless insecurities — including many that are invisible to everyone except her. The app makes them go away with a few simple finger strokes and ushers in the social validation she craves, which is at once addictively thrilling and utterly depressing.

Facetune makes it harder for her to love herself, but at least she can love her selfie.

“It can get super obsessive, because the second I take a photo I feel like I need to Facetune it,” Lane said. “Now I’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, I’m chubby, but I can fix that.’”

. . . .

We’ve been sinking deeper into this reality for a while now, but it has accelerated during the pandemic, when we’ve spent more time than ever on social media, and when our digital selves have for so long been the only version anyone has seen of us. The result is a body dysmorphia epidemic with increasingly unattainable beauty standards that — at the extremes — defy basic human physiology. 

. . . .

Cosmetic surgeons who spoke to HuffPost said they now regularly have patients come in with photos of themselves that have been so heavily Facetuned they would be anatomically impossible to replicate: jaws so slim teeth would need to be pulled, facial structures so warped eyeballs would need to be repositioned, legs so long femurs would need to be stretched; heads so narrow skulls would need to be reshaped; waists so cinched ribs and internal organs would need to be removed.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Here’s a Facetune before/after comparison from an article that shows several additional examples.

Would You Pay to Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

From Writer Unboxed:

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

Here’s the question:

Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.

So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page.

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for May 23, 2021. How strong are the opening pages—would they, all on their own, hook an agent if they came in from an unpublished writer?

. . . .

Prologue

Owen used to like to tease me about how I lose everything, about how, in my own way, I have raised losing things to an art form. Sunglasses, keys, mittens, baseball hats, stamps, cameras, cell phones, Coke bottles, pens, shoelaces. Socks. Lightbulbs. Ice trays. He isn’t exactly wrong. I did used to have a tendency to misplace things. To get distracted. To forget.

On our second date, I lost the ticket stub for the parking garage where we’d left the cars during dinner. We’d each taken our own car. Owen would later joke about this— would love joking about how I insisted on driving myself to that second date. Even on our wedding night he joked about it. And I joked about how he’d grilled me that night, asking endless questions about my past— about the men I’d left behind, the men who had left me.

He’d called them the could-have-been boys. He raised a glass to them and said, wherever they were, he was grateful to them for not being what I needed, so he got to be the one sitting across from me.

You barely know me, I’d said.

He smiled. It doesn’t feel that way, does it?

He wasn’t wrong. It was overwhelming, what seemed to live between us, right from the start. I like to think that’s why I was distracted. Why I lost the parking ticket.

We parked in the Ritz-Carlton parking garage in downtown San Francisco. And the (snip)

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

The Filing Cabinet

From Places:

I was researching the history of the U.S. passport, and had spent weeks at the National Archives, struggling through thousands of reels of unindexed microfilm records of 19th-century diplomatic correspondence; then I arrived at the records for 1906. That year, the State Department adopted a numerical filing system. Suddenly, every American diplomatic office began using the same number for passport correspondence, with decimal numbers subdividing issues and cases. Rather than scrolling through microfilm images of bound pages organized chronologically, I could go straight to passport-relevant information that had been gathered in one place.

. . . .

I soon discovered that I had Elihu Root to thank for making my research easier. A lawyer whose clients included Andrew Carnegie, Root became secretary of state in 1905. But not long after he arrived, the prominent corporate lawyer described himself as “a man trying to conduct the business of a large metropolitan law-firm in the office of a village squire.”  The department’s record-keeping practices contributed to his frustration. As was then common in American offices, clerks used press books or copybooks to store incoming and outgoing correspondence in chronologically ordered bound volumes with limited indexing. For Root, the breaking point came when a request for a handful of letters resulted in several bulky volumes appearing on his desk. His response was swift: he demanded that a vertical filing system be adopted; soon the department was using a numerical subject-based filing system housed in filing cabinets. 

The shift from bound volumes to filing systems is a milestone in the history of classification; the contemporaneous shift to vertical filing cabinets is a milestone in the history of storage.

. . . .

It is easy to dismiss the object: a rectilinear stack of four drawers, usually made of metal. With suitable understatement, one design historian has noted that “manufacturers did not address the subject of style with regard to filing units.”  The lack of style figures into the filing cabinet’s seeming banality. It is not considered inventive or original; it is simply there, especially in 20th-century office spaces; and this ubiquity, along with the absence of style, perhaps paradoxically contributes to the easy acceptance of its presence, which rarely causes comment. In countless movies and television shows, one or more filing cabinets line the walls of newsrooms and advertising agencies or the offices of doctors, attorneys, private eyes, police inspectors. Their appearance defines a space as an office but rarely draws attention to the work it does in that office. Occasionally, the neatness or disorder of a filing cabinet gives us an insight into the mental state and work habits of the office’s occupant. Sometimes, the filing cabinet plays a small but vital role in dystopian critiques of bureaucracy.

But if it appears to be banal and pervasive, it cannot be so easily ignored. The filing cabinet does not just store paper; it stores information; and because the modern world depends upon and is indeed defined by information, the filing cabinet must be recognized as critical to the expansion of modernity. In recent years scholars and critics have paid increasing attention to the filing systems used to store and retrieve information critical to government and capitalism, particularly information about people — case dossiers, identification photographs, credit reports, et al.  But the focus on filing systems ignores the places where files are stored.  Could capitalism, surveillance, and governance have developed in the 20th century without filing cabinets? Of course, but only if there had been another way to store and circulate paper efficiently. The filing cabinet was critical to the infrastructure of 20th-century nation states and financial systems; and, like most infrastructure, it is often overlooked or forgotten, and the labor associated with it minimized or ignored. 

. . . .

The vertical filing cabinet was invented in the United States in the 1890s, and quickly became a fixture throughout North America and around the world. It spread globally because it provided a way to store large amounts of paper so that individual sheets could be retrieved easily. The technique of using drawers for storing a sheet of paper on its long edge was significant because loose papers cannot stand upright on their own. Put another way, the filing cabinet technology enabled loose paper to stand on edge so that more sheets could be stored in less space but still be accessed with minimal difficulty. It allowed loose papers to do the work of paperwork.

From a brochure for Yawman and Erbe’s 800 Series. [Courtesy of the Smithsonian Libraries, Washington, D.C.]
Illustration from the 1919 catalogue of the Library Bureau. [Collection of Craig Robertson]

. . . .

How does a filing cabinet do this work? According to patents, the early manufacturers drew on techniques and practices from cabinetry and metalwork in new and useful ways. In a typical patent, a filing cabinet is a collection of steel plates, rollers, slides, walls, ball bearings, rods, flanges, corner posts, channels, grooves, locks, tops, bottoms, sides, arms, legs, and tongues. All these parts were variously combined to create a cabinet that would allow a drawer to open and close even when it was full of paper that might weigh upwards of 75 pounds. The thousands of sheets of paper that manufacturers claimed could fit in a file drawer were organized using guide cards and manila folders, both accented with tabs. Not only did these features help paper stand vertically on edge; more important, they also made visible the organization of the papers. Early user manuals quickly identified the key principle of vertical filing: “the filing of papers on edge, behind guides, bringing together all papers, to, from, or about one correspondent or subject.”  Papers stored this way were easy to locate and to access and, as such, essential to the functioning of a modern, healthy office. As the authors of a secretarial textbook from the mid 1920s put it: “The flat file permits the use of but one hand, while with the vertical file both hands are used, thus increasing speed. That is, papers filed vertically are accessible, compact, and sanitary.” 

Link to the rest at Places


Actual file cabinet from the Watergate Hotel, National Museum of American History, via Wikimedia. Author, Kenneth Lu. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
The World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet, Vermont, via Wikimedia. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version

Light Blogging

PG will be occupied in a pastime that will require time away from the TPV keyboard tomorrow, Monday, and the next day.

He doubts that the pastime will kill or maim him, so he expects to be back in fine fettle thereafter.

fettle

in American English
(ˈfɛtəl)
VERB TRANSITIVE
Word forms: ˈfettled or ˈfettling

Dialectal
to put in order or readiness; arrange

to line or cover (the hearth of a puddling furnace) with fettling

NOUN

condition of body and mind
in fine fettle

fettling

Word origin
ME fetlen, to make ready, prob. < OE fetel, belt (akin to feter, fetter), confused with fætel, container < fæt, vat

in British English

(ˈfɛtəl)
VERB (transitive)

  • to remove (excess moulding material and casting irregularities) from a cast component
  • to line or repair (the walls of a furnace)

British dialect

a. to prepare or arrange (a thing, oneself, etc), esp to put a finishing touch to
b. to repair or mend (something)

NOUN

state of health, spirits, etc (esp in the phrase in fine fettle)

Word origin
C14 (in the sense: to put in order): back formation from fetled girded up, from Old English fetel belt

Journey to the Edge of Reason

From The Wall Street Journal:

The genius logician Kurt Gödel gave his name to his famous Incompleteness Theorems, which in the 1930s helped define the limits of both logic and mathematics. It might be thought that the justification for another biography of Gödel is that previous biographies were in some ways incomplete—or, to put it another way, that a new work should add substantially to what we already know.

Does Stephen Budiansky’s “Journey to the Edge of Reason” pass this test? The author, whose most recent works include a biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and a history of the National Security Agency, writes vividly, and the book overflows with fascinating detail. Although it mostly steers clear of math and logic, it does a good enough job to convince general readers that they have understood some of the problems with which Gödel grappled. Plus, there is some fresh material to draw upon, including Gödel’s diary, which covers two years before the outbreak of World War II.

. . . .

Born in 1906, Gödel was raised in a German-speaking family in Brünn (now Brno), when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although Gödel was sometimes mistaken for being Jewish by his contemporaries, his family was, in fact, Lutheran. His father worked in the textile business, and the Gödels were comfortably off. Little Kurt was inquisitive and, because he wouldn’t stop asking questions, he acquired the nickname Herr Warum, “Mr. Why.”

Following the collapse of the polyglot Austro-Hungarian Empire and the rise of Czech nationalism, Gödel joined the throng of young, Czech Germans moving to Vienna—he arrived in 1924, becoming a student at the prestigious University of Vienna. Shortly afterward he was invited to attend the Vienna Circle, a discussion group made up of mathematically and scientifically literate philosophers, led by professor Moritz Schlick. For a decade or so, their philosophical approach, logical empiricism, became the most fashionable in the world.

Crudely put, the Circle maintained that for a statement to be meaningful it had to be either testable (“water boils at 100 degrees centigrade”) or true by virtue of the meaning of its terms (“all bachelors are unmarried” or other tautologies). Many statements about God, ethics and aesthetics were therefore meaningless. Math posed a problem for the Circle. Was 2+2=4 an empirical claim? Did we discover its truth by adding two apples to another two apples and counting four apples? This didn’t seem right. We could surely work out that 2+2=4 without the aid of fruit or any other material prop. Inspired in particular by Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Circle argued that we should treat mathematical truths as tautologies.

Gödel was mostly silent during Vienna Circle discussions, but he passionately disagreed. His instincts were Platonist; that is to say, he believed that mathematical truths weren’t invented but existed somewhere “out there,” independent of the human mind, and that it was the task of mathematicians to discover these truths.

Gödel’s reputation and fame rest principally on a proof that received its first public airing in September 1930, at a scientific gathering in Königsberg. Gödel—only 24 years old—demonstrated to the assembled delegates that there were limits to what could be proved in mathematics; that whatever axioms were postulated as the basic blocks of mathematics, there would inevitably be some truths within mathematics that could not be proved.

By all accounts, the delegates at the conference were a bit flummoxed; the significance of this discovery took a few days to sink in. Then news of Gödel’s first Incompleteness Theorem (it would be followed by a second), spread rapidly around the world. “A scientific achievement of the first order” was the rather understated verdict of Gödel’s supervisor, Hans Hahn, when Gödel submitted the proof for his thesis. The work is now widely accepted as a seminal development in the history of logic.

From 1933, Gödel began an on-off-on-off-on association with the recently formed Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J., of which Einstein was a founding member. After Vienna, Gödel found Princeton a little parochial, though he liked the scenery. “All in all the country looks much like a park; only the true Alpine forest is missing.”

Gödel had already started to show signs of mental instability. In 1934 he spent time at a sanatorium outside Vienna. He became obsessed with the stomachaches he suffered and began to develop paranoid delusions about being poisoned by his enemies. Schlick appealed to a Viennese psychiatrist, Otto Pötzl, for help: “If Dr. Gödel does not regain his health, it would be a loss of immeasurable consequence for our university and for science throughout the world.”

. . . .

Gödel had just been invited back to Princeton when German troops marched into Austria. The Viennese were top-division anti-Semites, and the Anschluss unleashed a wave of sickening violence and sadism. Nonetheless, and shockingly, Gödel (along with most of his compatriots) voted in the subsequent plebiscite in favor of his country’s absorption by the German state. He later claimed he had done so only to secure a passport, though according to Mr. Budiansky Gödel became “wracked with guilt.” He was always politically naive. Toward the end of 1938, when he was briefly in the U.S. before returning to Vienna, he met a Jewish-Austrian philosopher for lunch. “And what brings you to America?” Gödel asked.

Gödel faced various fraught struggles with the Nazi authorities before he was able to settle back in Princeton for good. 

. . . .

At Princeton, the serious and shy Gödel developed an unlikely friendship with the more genial and gregarious Albert Einstein. They would walk to and from the institute. “I go to my office just to have the privilege of being able to walk home with Kurt Gödel,” Einstein once joked.

No book on Gödel would be complete without one particular story that reads like something out of a Tom Stoppard play. Once the war was over, Gödel applied for U.S. citizenship and set about preparing for his citizenship test with more zeal than was warranted. He read books and books about U.S. history and laws—and during the course of his study discovered what he thought was an inner contradiction in the U.S. constitution. His two sponsors were Einstein and Morgenstern, and as they drove together to the court in Trenton, N.J., tried to convince him not to bring this up. But at some stage during the proceedings the judge claimed that the constitution in the U.S., unlike in Austria, would never permit a dictatorship. “Oh, yes,” said Gödel, and “I can prove it.” Fortunately, Einstein and the others soon managed to shut him up, and Kurt Gödel became an American. What contradiction he spotted is still a matter of debate.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Why I am deleting Goodreads and maybe you should, too

From The Guardian:

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading a book where my enjoyment wasn’t tied to the euphoric sense of achievement I got from finishing it. This is not because I don’t love reading, or would rather watch television. No, it’s because of a little app on my phone called Goodreads.

Home to about 90 million readers worldwide, Goodreads is a website that lets users track their reading and broadcast their tastes to the world – or, in my case, a few friends and vague acquaintances. At its core, it’s a harmless concept: an online community for bookworms, and an opportunity to discover new books your friends have loved.

It’s also extremely satisfying. Since joining Goodreads a few years ago, the annual roundup I receive tallying up the books I have finished that year has become the clinching point of my reading experience. I get a buzz from increasing my reading goal every 12 months, and from comparing how many pages I’ve turned or hours of audiobooks I’ve listened to with other people’s numbers. I feel a sense of accomplishment every time I update my “progress” with a book.

But that’s exactly what’s wrong with Goodreads: it turns reading into an achievement. Quantifying, dissecting and broadcasting our most-loved hobbies sucks the joy out of them. I find myself glancing towards the corner of the page to see how much I’ve read. I compare the thickness of the read pages I hold in my left hand to the unread ones in my right. Even when absorbed in the climax of a story, one eye is always on my proximity to the end, when I’ll be able to post it all to Goodreads.

. . . .

While some people’s qualms with Goodreads are rooted in its clunky interface, or the fact that it is owned by Amazon, mine lie in its very concept. Reading is something I do to relax, learn and enjoy. It’s not just that I don’t need a pie chart detailing my reading habits, the chart has poisoned the whole experience. Even if I were to switch to another book app without the social aspect, I know that I would remain obsessed with finishing books over enjoying them.

It’s human nature to get a sense of satisfaction from seeing something through to the end. But, without Goodreads, it won’t matter if I give up on a book I’m not bothered about halfway through, because no one will know or care – as if they did anyway. I won’t be self-conscious if I read yet another thriller bought in a supermarket deal, instead of something others would consider as smarter or better.

If Goodreads provides a sense of community, good recommendations and doesn’t make you obsess over what you’re reading or how much, then great. Maybe it’s just a few of us who aren’t compatible with it, and end up developing a toxic relationship that distracts from the magic of getting lost in a book. But right now I am reading my first book Goodreads-free since I installed the app. It feels just like it did when I was a child, with no awareness of what others think about what I’m reading, how quickly I’m reading it, or what I haven’t read. From now on, my reading habits are staying between me and my book.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG doesn’t have a TPV category for First-World Problems, but perhaps he should create one.

Irregular Posting

PG will be a bit irregular in his postings for the next couple of days.

All is well, but other activities and obligations will make it difficult to post as normal.

(This post was scheduled to appear last Friday, late in the afternoon. When PG pulled up TPV early on Saturday morning, he saw (or thought he saw) that this post had appeared. Today, he discovered he was wrong. He apologies to one and all for his unintentionally unannounced absence. All is well with Mrs. PG and her less-apt husband.)

Tech Firms Tweak Work Tools to Grapple with ‘Digital Exhaustion’

From The Wall Street Journal:

Big tech companies— Microsoft Corp. , Adobe Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google among them—are adding new twists to their work tools to fight Zoom fatigue and general burnout as working from home stretches into a second year for millions of people.

Microsoft, for example, has introduced a setting in its Outlook email and calendar to prevent back-to-back video meetings by automatically carving out breaks in between. The downtime can be programmed for 5, 10 or 15 minutes, for example, and can be set by an individual or organization.

A prototype tool in the Adobe Workfront platform uses artificial intelligence to help reorganize users’ days based on priorities they have set and any last-minute changes to their personal and business schedules.

. . . .

And in March, Google announced updates to its Workspace tools to demarcate working hours and create recurring “away” notifications to lessen digital interruptions.

Tweaks like these aim to address concerns on work-life balance from both employees and employers as remote work continues. With employees never leaving the “office,” work has seeped into all hours of the day, plus weekends; the lack of in-person time with colleagues has resulted in a glut of video meetings.

Employers have taken some steps on their own. Citigroup Inc., for instance, is experimenting with new policies like banning video meetings on Fridays. And software firm BetterCloud Inc. is using a bot on Slack to ask attendees of some virtual meetings whether the gatherings were worthwhile.

. . . .

“The acceleration that happened during Covid, where suddenly the only way to connect with others was through technology, it was clear that we needed to be better at using it and defining our own boundaries,” said Nellie Hayat, head of workplace transformation at VergeSense Inc., a workplace analytics platform. As well, that effort would have to be “synchronized with others,” she added.

Outlook’s new break setting dovetails with the virtual commute feature Microsoft added to its Teams tools to delineate the start and finish of employees’ workdays.

“This joins that set of things that’s meant to help them kind of develop the practices that we need to have to manage this digital exhaustion that they feel,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, which houses Outlook and Teams.

. . . .

In its March announcement, Google included a new calendar entry called Focus Time, which decreases the notifications it shows users during stretches designated for uninterrupted work and changes their status in chat to “Do not disturb.” The feature will be out this year.

Some of the new features seem more geared to what an organization wants for its employees than what employees might choose for themselves, user experience designers said.

Stopping all notifications from every workplace tool during a break, for example, would be more beneficial than creating rest moments between meetings, said Emma Greenwood, strategy director at I&CO Group LLC, a strategy and invention firm.

. . . .

Fewer video meetings and more breaks can help, but they don’t address the burnout and isolation of at-home workers in the pandemic.

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

PG suspects the consequences of extended periods of social isolation in its various garbs under a variety of shut-down, shelter-in-place, social-distancing, etc., etc., etc., have resulted in lower energy levels and decreased concentration, lower productivity, etc., to a greater extent than the increased pressure of remote work (which is a subset of the social isolation problem) has by itself.

See Languishing for more information.

Full-time authors may have suffered less disruption of their work routines than office workers, but the languishing effect of social isolation is, PG suspects, impacting the work of authors as well.

Spatial Abolition and Disability Justice

From Public Books:

In her new book, What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World, the artist and design researcher Sara Hendren describes an assignment her engineering students undertook to redesign a lectern. Hendren introduces us to Amanda Cachia, a curator with a form of dwarfism, who challenges the students to think beyond the simple engineering specifications of an imaginary ideal form and to design specifically for her needs. One can imagine the range of solutions that eager engineering students might have offered up: a robotic lectern, or one outfitted with a lift. Usually, Hendren writes, Cachia has to undergo the ritual of “bringing her body to the dimensions of a room at odds with her physicality,” typically involving a pedestal that she stands on to reach the height of an existing lectern.

Instead, Cachia wanted a lectern scaled to her dimensions, one that she could easily transport to her speaking engagements. Hendren’s students responded to this call; now, each time Cachia speaks at this new lectern, the audience must adapt to her. Changing that relationship—between speaker, stage, and audience—changes the possibilities of the room itself. The lectern no longer sits above the heads of those seated in a room. As a result of this spatial shift, an audience member would likely become very aware of all the other sensory details: how the seating is arranged, the height of doorknobs and tables, the various ambient sounds. This newly oriented space highlights how disability is not a lack, but a space of possibility for other ways of being and noticing. “Ability and disability may be in part about the physical state of the body,” Hendren writes, “but they are also produced by the relative flexibility or rigidity of the built world.”

The most famous political achievement of the disability justice movement in the United States has been the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark civil rights law that prohibited discrimination based on disability. It is, arguably, one of the most influential policy forces on the shape and form of the urban built environment, mandating things we now take for granted, such as curb cuts and pedestrian signals. According to the ADA framework, an adequate solution to Cachia’s predicament might have been to require the lecture hall to have a platform ready at all times, one that could be adjusted to enable speakers, regardless of their physical dimensions, to reach the microphone.

Yet, as scholars such as Aimi Hamraie and Jos Boys have shown, stories of curb cuts, ramps, and other design innovations are incomplete, and have spun into a popular narrative of universal or inclusive design. This narrative risks turning the politics of disability into simple matters of logistics and compliance. It erases real class, gendered, and racial differences in terms of access to space, and it ignores the different types of “physical, sensory, and mental access needs of different disabled users.” There are deep flaws in an accessibility framework; as the disability and transformative-justice scholar Mia Mingus says, “We don’t want to simply join the ranks of the privileged; we want to dismantle those ranks and the systems that maintain them.”

These are key themes that underpin Sara Hendren’s What Can a Body Do?, which explores and expands on the relationships between the built world, design, and disabilities. If Hendren is reframing design and how we approach the designed and built environment through the lens of disability justice, Liat Ben-Moshe extends that lens to our geographies—focusing more fully on spatial relationships—in her new book, Decarcerating Disability: Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition. A critical geographer and prison abolitionist, Ben-Moshe provides a groundbreaking connection between disability justice and prison abolition.

Disabled people—nuanced and complex individuals who are forced to both adapt to the world and make the world adapt to them—have a rich history of influencing the designed and built world. Yet there is a lack of nuance and complexity to how disability is understood and conceptualized in both academic and popular portrayals. Revealing the multiple histories of disability justice—as Hendren and Ben-Moshe do—can expand how we think of and design the places we build beyond the simple concepts of access and inclusion, to encompass questions of care, vulnerability, agency, maintenance, and difference.

The Social Model of Disability

As the noted disability studies theorist Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, author of Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (1997), has said, “I want to move disability from the realm of medicine into that of political minorities, to recast it from a form of pathology to a form of ethnicity.” Disability, as a human condition, is salient almost everywhere once you learn how to notice it.

. . . .

By analyzing case studies such as that of Amanda Cachia’s new lectern, Hendren illustrates a powerful idea that holds potential for the fields of urbanism, architecture, and design: the social model of disability, which holds that being disabled is not simply a medical diagnosis, but a social phenomenon. For some, this can be a radical perspective, one that has many implications—notably, that disability is a “misfitting” of bodies and minds to the world one encounters and confronts. When that world is inflexible to people’s diverse needs, Hendren says, this misfitting limits certain individuals’ abilities to do things. In order to ground us in the concept of misfitting and the social model of disability, Hendren must first explain the history of “normalcy,” as it relates to the body.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Let’s see, if disabled individuals are to be though of as a different ethnic group than those who are not disabled, how does that make things better?

For one thing, we know that different ethnic groups always respect the values and rights of each other. We know that places where those of different ethnicity live in close proximity with one another have always been models of comity and good will.

Serbs and Croatians? Best buddies whenever they encounter each other.

Turks and Armenians? – One big happy family.

Hutu and Tutsi? – Always behaving in accordance with the inherent sisterhood and brotherhood that exists among all Africans

The Austro-Hungarian Empire – 15 major languages plus an unknown number of minor languages and dialects – would still be the world’s leading multi-ethnic power if it hadn’t collapsed into chaos in 1918.

World War I – no ethnic groups fighting there

World War II – ditto

Suffice to say, PG is not impressed with the benefits of defining disability as an ethnicity or any remotely similar solution to the problems of the disabled or the problems the larger society imposes on the disabled.

An old saying from Abraham Maslow, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” applies to some (not all) people with a facility for language. Basically, such folk love to solve problems linguistically by doing things like creating ethnic groups and constructing solutions from concepts that work perfectly in word and logic form, but not necessarily in real life. More than a few academics fall into such groups.

PG readily confesses that, as an attorney, he is a member of a group known for its facility with language. Laws are created by legislatures as written documents. Attorneys argue on behalf of their clients using spoken and written words. When a judge makes an order, she/he often says what the order is and then reduces the order to a written document.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this sort of structure of information and mandates so long as one realizes that it may not always work as anticipated in real life.

Those who commit crimes are punished in large part to deter them and others who may be similarly inclined from violating the law in the future. A felon may be incarcerated until, presumably she/he understands the wrongness of the crime committed and the fact that such actions will be punished severely. Once they’ve finished their punishment as specified by the law and court order(s), they’re ready to return into society as a free person.

If the words of the law and the courts worked as intended, no criminal would commit another crime. The punishment would fit the crime and the punishment would effectively prevent such a crime from occurring again because one and all would understand that the nature of the punishment far outweighed any sort of benefit a wrong-doer might gain from violating the law.

This all works great on paper. The words are carefully crafted by legislators elected to do what the public wants them to do – prevent crimes from happening.

However, in a phrase used by semanticists, “The word is not the thing.”

What’s the solution to Ms. Cachia’s problem with standard podiums if she’s not to be classified as a member of a new ethnic group or protected by a better version or stricter enforcement of The Americans with Disabilities Act?

A bit of research by PG disclosed an actual solution to Ms. Cachia’s issues. He doesn’t think any of the word-spinners in the OP were involved in creating the solution.

The solution was not words, but rather a thing – a portable lectern made from apparently inexpensive materials that Ms. Cachia could bring with her to her speaking opportunities. The lecturn provides a platform of an appropriate height so she could speak and present comfortably while referring to notes or other materials she might wish to consult during her presentations.

From an appearance standpoint, the lectern would complement Ms. Cachia’s physical appearance in the same manner as a conventional lectern would complement an individual of more commonly-found dimensions.

To the best of PG’s knowledge, no new ethnic groups, laws or regulations were created during the design and construction of Ms. Cachia’s new lectern.

Here are a couple of images of her lectern and Ms. Cachia using it:

Why IQ Determines Everything in Your Life (the Sad Truth)

From Medium:

“People who boast about their IQ are losers.” — Stephen Hawking

Hawking has a point — nobody likes a sore winner. That being said, the intelligent quotient (IQ) test is one of the most valid and reliable psychometrics ever created.

According to the mental health website verywell Mind, “An IQ test is an assessment that measures a range of cognitive abilities and provides a score that is intended to serve as a measure of an individual’s intellectual abilities and potential.”

. . . .

High IQ = Better Life

Research has shown that high IQ leads to more money, increased success, and longer, healthier life in general. One historic study detailed the benefits of high IQ:

  • The average income of Terman’s subjects in 1955 was an impressive $33,000 compared to a national average of $5,000.
  • Two-thirds had earned college degrees, while a large number had gone on to attain post-graduate and professional degrees. Many of these had become doctors, lawyers, business executives, and scientists.

In case you were wondering, the average IQ score is 100. And anything above 140 is considered a high or genius-level IQ. Einstein’s IQ was 160. Jacob Barnett’s IQ is 170. Barnett was a child prodigy who graduated college at age 10.

He’s now an astrophysicist at age 22.

. . . .

The Truth About IQ

Studies show that most of our intelligence is genetic. However, IQ can be increased and there seems to be one surefire way to do it —

“Just do it.” — Nike

Yes, no jokes, nothing up my sleeves, this is the foolproof method to hacking your IQ — “just doing it.” Ok, more specifically, doing activities such as playing music, exercising, reading, learning, adventuring, exploring — all of it, JUST DO IT!

Exercise, for instance, boosts neuroplasticity, which is the process of your brain making connections and creating new neurons.

Want to learn a new language? Why not exercise. A 2017 study conducted by the University of Zurich in Switzerland revealed the process of learning a new language is expedited by physical exercise.

The study looked at college-aged Chinese men and women who were trying to learn English. Those who rode exercise bikes at a gentle pace outperformed those in vocabulary tests who did no exercise at all.

Musicians Also Have Higher IQs.

Vanderbilt University psychologists Crystal Gibson, Bradley Folley, and Sohee Park found that professionally trained musicians use both the left and the right sides of their frontal cortex more heavily than the average person.

“We studied musicians because creative thinking is part of their daily experience, said Folley in regards to the study. We found that there were qualitative differences in the types of answers they gave to problems and in their associated brain activity.”

Even your taste in music affects IQ.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG notes that the OP appears to suffer from more than a few correlation = causation issues.

If IQ is a characteristic that you are born with, how can what you do affect your IQ?

If a high IQ is, in fact, a reflection of your ability to score well on IQ and other standardized tests rather than something you were born with, is it an acquired ability.

Assume, as a thought experiment than someone born with an extremely high intelligence never received any sort of education and was not exposed to anyone who came from a background different than his/her own, would that person perform well on an IQ test? Would listening to classical music without doing anything else result in that person performing better on an IQ test?

PG has also known more than a few very bright idiots. One of the most intelligent people he ever worked with, a person who had developed patented technology that was regarded as a brilliant breakthrough in his well-compensated field of expertise, suffered from terrible business judgement and, despite his diligent efforts towards increasing his wealth, his financial circumstances reflected his stupid business decisions.

Related to his prior comment, PG also suggests that there is a difference between intelligence and aptitude for a wide variety of pursuits.

Plus, everybody knows an idiot who graduated with honors from a highly-prestigious university.

Lest anyone mistake PG’s attitude for envy or something similar, PG will reveal that he possesses a high IQ.

He was intrigued by the subject when he was in elementary and high school, but the standard belief of people who may have known his IQ at the time was that it was a bad idea for someone, at least someone of PG’s age and (lack of) maturity to know what their IQ was.

After he graduated from college and was working in Chicago, PG learned that he could pay a nominal sum, take an IQ test and learn what his IQ was. He did that very thing, then accepted the offer of the person who administered the test to join a group of people whose sole common trait was a high IQ.

PG never attended any meetings because he heard they were full of weird and boring people from others who had attended such meetings.

PG has known several people who he and others regarded as geniuses in particular fields – painting, musical performance, acting, film-making, public speaking, litigation and electronics – are examples.

There is no doubt that each of these people were/are intelligent in a conventional sense, but they also have a talent they have worked to develop and which allows them to surpass equally intelligent or more intelligent individuals who either lack that talent or have not put in the work necessary to magnify that talent to a high level.

For PG, the individuals he regards as geniuses in particular fields deserve the title far more than those he has known who simply possess a high IQ score.

The Long Road to Publication

From The Literary Hub:

Author Anjali Enjeti: When I’m doing the first draft of a book-length work, I try to write two pages a day, every single day until that first draft is done, no matter how terrible those pages are. I rarely use any of those pages later, but it feels good to fill up a blank page. And it gets me into the habit of thinking about the story every day, and figuring out who my characters are, and what they’re meant to do.

. . . .

Interviewer Devi S. Laskar: The road to publication is long and twisted—tell me about some of your hairpin turns and about your waiting game. Clearly something converged since you have two books coming out at once!

AE: I submitted multiple books for eleven years, and during that time I had two different agents, neither of whom sold my books. (One tried very hard and we parted on good terms. Another ghosted me a few months after I signed with him.) I have submitted to quite a few small presses over the years, too. I just couldn’t get anything to work out, and about ten years in, I decided to quit spending so much time submitting. So I cut down substantially. Then the following year, the book proposal I submitted earlier to UGA Press yielded a contract for Southbound. Once I had that in hand, I decided to enter the open submission period for Hub City Press with The Parted Earth. The fact that they’re coming out at the same time is merely coincidental. I sold Southbound on proposal so it took me some time to write the book. And it ended up coinciding with the release of The Parted Earth.

DSL: As an older debut author you must have developed communities who have supported you and lifted you up until this moment ? Or have you been a loner, trying to break into the literary scene? What has been the reaction in the Indian community (i.e. are the aunties aware and proud?) I read that your books have already received several mentions in “must read lists”—what does that feel like?

AE: I am very lucky in this regard. When I began taking writing seriously, especially after I moved to the Atlanta area, I was welcomed into a large, warm community of writers. (Shout out to the Atlanta Writers Club!) I could not have survived as a loner in the literary world. Pre-COVID, I was always attending readings or craft talks or book launches or just meeting other writers for meals. Writing communities have fueled me. I would have never lasted this long in the business without them. A subset of this writing community has been the South Asian writing community, and while there are fewer of us here in Atlanta, the greater South Asian writing community, whether in California or New York or Texas or India, has been crucial to my health and development as a writer.

. . . .

DSL: What does literary success look like to you?

AE: What constitutes literary success has evolved for me significantly over the years. For most of my life, it meant publishing a book. But when I couldn’t get a book deal, I knew I needed to reassess what success in this business looked like. And it became writing essays or articles that demand a more humane world. I’ve covered politics, voting, and elections for the past few years, and aside from enjoying this kind of writing, it holds value. I also teach in an MFA program. It’s some of the most rewarding work I do. My students inspire me to push my boundaries as a writer and I’m blown away by their talent.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG will let visitors to TPV discuss whether writing two pages per day is a good method for writing and finishing a book.

PG will comment that the OP certainly makes the lives of the author and interviewer seem hard from an emotional and guilt perspective.

Antiquities

From The Wall Street Journal:

The narrator of Cynthia Ozick’s seventh novel is neither Jewish nor intellectual—a significant departure from her usual characters. Nor is he worldly, witty, well-read or astute. But Ms. Ozick is of course all of the above, and this slim but by no means slight narrative is as cunning and rich as anything she’s written.

Antiquities” is about an excavation into the past by a man not insightful enough to fully understand what he has unearthed and revealed. Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie is a cultural relic, a stodgy retired lawyer who in 1949 resides, with the six other elderly surviving trustees of the Temple Academy for Boys, in converted apartments in their former Westchester County boarding school, which closed 34 years earlier.

“Antiquities” consists of Petrie’s attempt to write about a salient experience from his school days: his idolatrous relationship with a mysterious classmate, a boy whose foreign name, Ben-Zion Elefantin, strange accent, and skeletal appearance subjected him to ridicule from the other students. Petrie’s association with Elefantin, initially over chess, rendered him an outcast, too.

Petrie’s recollections of his schoolboy infatuation are deeply entangled with memories of his father, who died when he was 10—the same year Elefantin came to the Academy, though he doesn’t mention this confluence explicitly. Petrie discovers that his upstanding father, too, had suffered an infatuation—with “ancient times”—which caused him to briefly abandon his new wife and position at the family law firm for a fling with a different life: work on the excavation of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, run by renowned archaeologist (and historical figure) Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, whom he believed to be a cousin.

Sorting through the rubble of both infatuations is heavy labor for Petrie, even many decades later. He notes in a moment of rare self-awareness that “it is as if I must excavate, as in a desert, what lies far below and has no wish to emerge—to wit, my boyhood emotions.”

Ms. Ozick has created a character who, unlike herself, is unconscious of the reverberations of the words he chooses. The lonely, friendless widower writes of his “racking affections” for Elefantin and what, in a lonely childhood in which physical contact must have been a rarity, he considers their “intimacy.” He repeatedly mentions their bare knees touching on the climactic day when Elefantin mesmerized him with a tale of his family’s ancient origins, part of an outcast Jewish sect whose history on the Nile, he claims, was omitted from the Torah by “falsifying scholars.”

Even as an old man, Petrie doesn’t know what to make of these “frenzied murmurings of two agitated boys prone and under a spell.” Is it, he wonders, “a liar’s screed, an invention? An apparition’s fevered pedantry? And who knows such things, this garble of history and foreign babble? Not I. Nor am I a man of imagination,” he writes.

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

Time for a woman’s view with Miss Ann Powell

From The Niagara Gazette:

Moving along to 1789 and a trip involving a Miss Ann Powell. Her journal is a graphic description of the difficulties and inconvenience of travel in her day. I found it interesting enough to select some her writings, as they were found to be of great value historically, not only for the light which it throws upon the general state of the country, about Niagara and for the description of the Falls, but for the information which it contains relative to the Indians whom Miss Powell was so fortunate as to see in council assembled on the present site of Buffalo and for evidence as to conditions on the Niagara frontier just after the Revolution.

She states: “The Fort Niagara is by no means pleasantly situated. It is built close upon the Lake, which gains upon its foundations so fast, that in a few years they may be overflowed … Several gentlemen offered to escort us to the landing, which is eight miles from Fort Erie. There the Niagara River becomes impassable, and all the luggage was drawn up a steep hill in a cradle, a machine I never saw before. We walked up the hill, and were conducted to a good garden with an arbor in it, where we found a cloth laid for dinner, which was provided for us by the officers of the post. “

“After dinner we went on for seven miles to Fort Schlosher. (Her spelling) .The road was good, the weather charming, and this was the only opportunity we should have of seeing the fall. All of our party collected half a mile above the Falls and walked down to them. I was in raptures all the way. The Falls I had heard of forever, but no one had mentioned the Rapids! For half a mile the river comes foaming down immense rocks, some of them forming cascades 30 or 40 feet high! The banks are covered with woods, as are a number of islands, some of them very high out of the water. One in the centre of the river, runs into a point and seems to divide the Falls, which would otherwise be quite across the river , into the form of a crescent.

“I believe no mind can form an idea of the immensity of the body of water, or the rapidity with which it hurries down. The height is 180 feet, and long before it reaches the bottom, it loses all appearance of a liquid. The spray rises like light summer clouds, and when the rays of the sun are reflected through it , they form innumerable rainbows, but the sun was not in a situation to show this effect when we were there.

“One thing I could find nobody to explain to me, which is, the stillness of the water at the bottom of the Falls; it is as smooth as a lake, for half a mile, deep and narrow, the banks very high and steep, with trees hanging over them. I was never before sensible of the power of scenery, nor did I suppose the eye could carry to the mind such strange emotions of pleasure, wonder and solemnity.” For a time every other impression was erased from my memory! Had I been left to myself, I am convinced I should not have thought of moving whilst there was light to distinguish objects.”

Link to the rest at The Niagara Gazette

PG doesn’t believe he has ever posted anything from The Niagara Gazette before and definitely not something written by its columnist, Norma Higgs.

Along with many others (he presumes), PG and Mrs. PG have been discussing the short and long-term impacts of the extraordinary Covid shutdown and some of the weirdness which has accompanied it.

PG has found distraction and some perspective in reading historical fiction and non-fiction.

He is not quite certain how he stumbled across Ms. Higgs’ article transcribing what appears to be a 1789 journal entry by an unmarried woman, Ann Powell, recording her firsts impressions of Niagara Falls during her travels through the area.

For historical context, Ann was traveling six years after the end of the Revolutionary War and two years after the Constitutional Convention.

Fort Niagara, which Ann mentions in her account, was originally built under the direction of the Governor of New France in 1687 on Lake Ontario beside the source of the Niagara River. The fort underwent a series of reconstructions and expansions over the years thereafter.

The Fort fell into British hands during the French and Indian War in 1759. At the time Ann visited the fort, in 1789, although the area where the fort was constructed was ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War, the fort was still under British control.

During and after the Revolutionary War, this part of upstate New York was a stronghold and sanctuary for those who had been Loyalists, supporting the British during the Revolutionary War and a great many Loyalists fled the effective boundaries of the United States to settle in this area. Fort Niagara did not come under the control of the United States until after the signing of the Jay Treaty in 1796.

Following are a couple of illustrations of the fort.

Fort Niagara, 1728, via Wikimedia Commons
“The French Castle” a fortification at Fort Niagara State Park, photo via Wikimedia Commons, Attribution: Ad Meskens, use for any purpose permitted, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use, and all other use is permitted.

Jack and the Bean Counters: A Woke Children’s Story

From The Wall Street Journal:

One of my favorite childhood novels recounted the story of a boy separated from his family and caught behind Japanese lines in war-torn midcentury China. I felt I was with the boy, Tien Pao, when he woke terrified in a sampan sweeping downriver toward the smoldering ruins of his village. Alongside Tien Pao, I watched a doomed train back into a burning station and heard the screams of its passengers. Together we crouched in the broiling sun, scanning throngs of refugees for a familiar face. Later, we flew in a plane over an aerodrome and I felt his jolt of joy as if it were my own when, far below, he saw his mother.

That Tien Pao was a boy and I a girl, that his parents were married and mine divorced, that his skin was one hue and mine another—none of this impinged on the thrilling immediacy of Meindert DeJong’s “The House of Sixty Fathers,” illustrated by the young Maurice Sendak.

The teacher who gave me that book widened my horizons and enriched my life. Would she still do so today? I fear not. Schools and the world of children’s literature have been seized by the notion that the most important thing about a book is whether children can “see themselves” in it. This is understood in a narrow and reductive way: The race, ethnicity and sexual orientation of the young reader must be matched by those of the characters they meet in books.

What began as a laudable idea—that children’s literature should embrace a variety of stories and all manner of characters—has morphed into monomania. Identity is all. Professional journals that catalog and review new children’s titles now make a fetish of highlighting the pallor or pigmentation of fictional characters.

Publisher’s Weekly, for instance, in its review of “Faraway Things,” a forthcoming picture book by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Kelly Murphy, finds it necessary to report a young character is “pale-skinned” and an older one is “brown-skinned.” A reviewer for Kirkus notes: “The captain has dark skin; Lucian and the others have light skin.”

Researchers from Columbia and the University of Chicago have brought race-labeling to a new level by enlisting machines to sort literary characters by color. Led by Anjali Adukia, an assistant professor at Chicago University’s Harris School of Public Policy, the team used artificial intelligence to sift through the past century of prize-winning children’s books to identify characters by sex, age and color. Released April 12, their study, “What We Teach About Race and Gender: Representation in Images and Text of Children’s Books,” brings an antebellum ethic of race consciousness to American children’s literature.

The research team examined two sets of novels and picture books: “mainstream” ones, which won the American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott medals, and “diversity” ones, which have won ALA distinction because they satisfy criteria related to race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical ability.

The researchers taught the computer to detect faces in illustrations, classify skin colors and predict characters’ race, sex and age. The machine also combed through 1,133 prize-winning texts for gendered language, mentions of color and references to age. Books in the “diversity” group were found, over time, to depict more characters with darker skin, while “mainstream” books showed characters with either lighter or “chromatically ambiguous” features. There is, the study reports, “a persistent disproportionate representation of males, particularly White males, and lighter-skinned people relative to darker-skinned people.” The study includes charts and graphs depicting gradations of human skin color that would make John C. Calhoun proud.

The AI findings are both dispassionate and shockingly retrograde.

. . . .

And what of characters that can’t be classified as either light or dark? They are a product of a practice the study authors disdainfully call “butterscotching,” which “some may argue sends an assimilationist message regarding the representation of race.” Others may argue it’s an invitation to universality. A good book doesn’t cut readers off. It invites them in, and it doesn’t care what they look like.

“The House of Sixty Fathers” won a Newbery honor in 1957, which means my old friend Tien Pao is somewhere in the team’s “mainstream” color charts. To me he was a living boy, but in the study he’s been flattened and denatured and reduced to a few demographic data points. It’s ghastly.

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

From The Apartheid Museum:

From 1950 South Africans were classified on the basis of their ‘race’.

People were classified into one of four groups: ‘native’, ‘coloured’, ‘Asian’ or ‘white’.

By 1966, 11 million people had been classified under the Population Registration Act of 1950.

. . . .

Race Classification

Racial classification was the foundation of all apartheid laws. It placed individuals in one of four groups: ‘native’, ‘coloured’, ‘Asian’ or ‘white’.

In order to illustrate everyday reality under apartheid, visitors to the museum are arbitrarily classified as either white or non-white. Once classified, visitors are permitted entry to the museum only through the gate allocated to their race group. Identity documents were the main tool used to implement this racial divide, and many of these documents are on display in this exhibit.

Link to the rest at The Apartheid Museum

From Segregation in Action:

. . . .

. . . .

. . . .

. . . .

Link to the rest at Resources, The Apartheid Museum

PG is aware of the dangers of a slippery-slope argument.

However, slippery-slopes arguments gain their credibility because slippery slopes have existed on many more than one occasion in the past. They are not imaginary creations, but rather descriptions of what is possible, some would say probable, given human nature operating in a wide variety of different circumstances in many parts of the world.

PG suggests that no culture or nation is immune to the potential dangers of slippery slopes.

Novels and Novellas and Tomes

From Counter Craft:

We like to pretend that art is art. That an author writes what they are inspired to write, with no concern but the voice of the muse. This is a useful fiction. It is good for writers to focus on the art when writing and worry about the business side later. But it is a fiction. Writers are aware of market demands, what kinds of novels get buzz, and what subjects award judges gravitate towards. Even writers with high artistic aspirations are—consciously or unconsciously—warped by these pressures. Especially those of us hoping to make a living on our writing.

In my recent post on the literary fiction and SFF short story markets, I mentioned how the short story was the economically dominant length of fiction in the first half of the 20th century. Writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald bemoaned the fact they had to write short stories to subsidize their novel writing. In 2021—and really the last 50 years or more—the dynamic has been the opposite. Today, short story writers frequently (if mostly privately) grumble about how they have to write novels if they want any chance at earning money or even just getting an agent.

. . . .

This got me thinking about one of those rarely-spoken-about-but-interesting-to-me topics: what determines the lengths of novels?

The novel is an extremely flexible form. It can come out in countless shapes, include infinite content, and end up almost any length. Let’s call the lower limit of a novel 40,000 words. Long novels like Infinite Jest and The Stand are more than 10 times that length, and that’s not even getting into series or In Search of Lost Times type works that are published in dozens or more volumes. So why are most novels published in a relatively narrow range of 60k to 120k words?

Or to put it another way: why doesn’t anyone publish novellas in America? Novellas as a form thrive in many parts of the world. They’re very popular in Latin America and Korea, and hardly uncommon in Europe. Yet it’s almost impossible to find a book labeled “a novella” in America outside of small press translations or classics imprints.

. . . .

The length of books is one of those things that varies from genre to genre as well as era to era. Take high fantasy, a genre famous for its massive tomes ever since Tolkien. Even those tomes have grown longer as the decades have passed. The last individual volume of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has close to the same wordcount (422k) as all three volumes of Lord of the Rings combined (480k)! There’s been similar bloat in children’s fantasy. The Narnia books were all 39k to 64k in length, novellas to short novel range. Compare that to the volumes of His Dark Materials (109-168k per volume) and Harry Potter (74k-257k).

In general, popular genre fiction—thrillers, mysteries, etc.—and commercial fiction tends to be longer than so-called literary fiction these days, although all genres of novels became more bloated in the second half of the 20th century. Then again, pre-20th century novels were often quite long. Charles Dickens novels like Great Expectations (183k) and Bleak House (360k) or Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (126k) or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (183k) and other novels of that era were frequently tomes by even today’s standards.

So what explains these novel fluctuations? One obvious factor for the length of 19th century English novels is that they were typically serialized either in magazines or else as a series of pamphlets. The more you wrote, the more you were paid. Pretty simple. The economic pressure was to write long works. Serialization of course also changes the content of the novel, not just the length, as you need to have cliffhangers and hooks at the end of each installment that will keep the reader coming back. Art is never free of economics in capitalism.

. . . .

Americans expect bang for their buck. Yet the price of novels is unrelated to length. Trade paperbacks are around 16 bucks a piece whether they are a 100-page novella or a 400-page tome. Even among highbrow literary readers, I’ve heard people say they rather get a long book than a short one for the same money. Why pay the same for 2 hours of entertainment when you can get 10 hours of entertainment for the same price?

Link to the rest at Counter Craft

Back up and running smoothly

Casa PG has returned to the 21st century with all systems up and running well.

PG will take a moment to celebrate the people who fix things when they go wrong.

As mentioned previously, internet service at Casa PG was down for a couple of days following a new, improved update from PG’s internet service provider.

This morning a guy showed up with a baseball cap he had been wearing for awhile and a small bag containing a laptop and likely a few tools, meters, etc.

It took him about five minutes to determine what the problem was. He said, “These new boxes do this all the time,” explained what the problem was and told PG he’d fix it so it didn’t happen again.

A few keystrokes on the laptop which was connected to Casa PG’s main network box, a long wait while genius central downloaded updates and fixes and the electrons were flowing smoothly once again.

PG doubts that the repair guy has a four-year degree in anything, but he has used his native talents to develop an intuitive understanding about how electronic things work. Fifty years ago, he would have been an auto mechanic who could fix any car you brought in to his garage regardless of age and tell you what to do to avoid the same problem in the future.

PG opines that our contemporary society doesn’t value such people highly enough. Kudos and recognition go to those who create the electronics and the digital information that resides thereon and who are able use those organized electrons skillfully when they’re available, but not the guys (they tend to be mostly guys) who fix the basic pieces when they stop working.

Honor and glory to the people with well-worn baseball caps who are essential to keep us from regressing to the dark ages.

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing

From The New York Times:

At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021. A family member was staying up late to watch “National Treasure” again even though she knows the movie by heart. And instead of bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., I was lying there until 7, playing Words with Friends.

It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long-haul Covid, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic. It hit some of us unprepared as the intense fear and grief of last year faded.

In the early, uncertain days of the pandemic, it’s likely that your brain’s threat detection system — called the amygdala — was on high alert for fight-or-flight. As you learned that masks helped protect us — but package-scrubbing didn’t — you probably developed routines that eased your sense of dread. But the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

The term was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who was struck that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving. His research suggests that the people most likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade aren’t the ones with those symptoms today. They’re the people who are languishing right now. And new evidence from pandemic health care workers in Italy shows that those who were languishing in the spring of 2020 were three times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.

. . . .

Psychologists find that one of the best strategies for managing emotions is to name them. Last spring, during the acute anguish of the pandemic, the most viral post in the history of Harvard Business Review was an article describing our collective discomfort as grief. Along with the loss of loved ones, we were mourning the loss of normalcy. “Grief.” It gave us a familiar vocabulary to understand what had felt like an unfamiliar experience. Although we hadn’t faced a pandemic before, most of us had faced loss. It helped us crystallize lessons from our own past resilience — and gain confidence in our ability to face present adversity.

We still have a lot to learn about what causes languishing and how to cure it, but naming it might be a first step. It could help to defog our vision, giving us a clearer window into what had been a blurry experience. It could remind us that we aren’t alone: languishing is common and shared.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Reports of My Death or Dismemberment . . .

PG apologizes for his lack of online activity yesterday.

Casa PG suffered from an internet outage connected with an “upgrade” in internet service.

Suffice to say, PG spent a lot of frustrated time attempting to fix the outage until finally succumbing to the need to call tech support, which was no help. Evidently, PG may not be the only customer with problems because a physical tech support person can’t arrive at Casa PG until tomorrow morning.

Cellular internet access via PG’s phone requires a great deal more patience than PG is able to muster under the circumstances.

So, PG is writing this post from a small café where he and Mrs. PG frequently lunch. The café is a lovely place with good food and friendly staff. It also offers free internet access.

Since Mrs. PG uses a notebook computer for her writing and PG spends his working days at a maxed-out desktop hardwired into his home network and only uses a notebook computer when the PG’s take a trip, PG uses hand-me-down portable computers from Mrs. PG.

One of the consequences of PG’s intermittent use of his laptop is that, when he starts it up, lots of software updates require attention before he can use it. Many, many updates plus an adequate restaurant wireless connection means PG spends a lot of time waiting for things to happen and restarting the computer before he can do anything useful with his laptop.

Being without fast home internet service has made PG realize that, for him, in 2021, a computer without internet access is pretty much useless.

The GOP’s big bulk book-buying machine is boosting Republicans on the bestseller lists

From The Washington Post:

As it happens, Crenshaw and his publisher, Hachette Book Group, got a little help from the Texas Republican’s friends.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which works to elect GOP candidates to Congress, spent nearly $400,000 on bulk purchases of the book. The organization acquired 25,500 copies through two online booksellers, enough to fuel “Fortitude’s” ascent up the bestseller lists. The NRCC said it gave away copies as incentives to donors, raising $1.5 million in the process.

The NRCC wasn’t the only outfit providing a big-bucks boost to conservative authors. Four party-affiliated organizations, including the Republican National Committee, collectively spent more than $1 million during the past election cycle mass-purchasing books written by GOP candidates, elected officials and personalities, according to Federal Election Commission expenditure reports. The purchases helped turn several volumes into bestsellers.

. . . .

A big buy can launch a book to prominence, unleashing a stream of royalties for its author and potentially driving up cash advances for their next book.

And that can be a significant source of income for lawmakers. Brett Kappel, an attorney who specializes in federal election regulations, said members of Congress are forbidden from earning more than $29,595 in income beyond their federal salaries in 2021. But book advances and royalties are specifically exempted from these limits.

“You can see why writing books is one of the favorite ways for members to earn outside income,” Kappel said.

. . . .

In February, [another Republican organization] paid nearly $65,000 to Regnery Publishing, Cruz’s publisher, for advance copies of Hawley’s forthcoming book. Hawley’s book was supposed to have been published by Simon & Schuster, but the contract was canceled in January after Hawley came in for widespread criticism for challenging Joe Biden’s electoral victory, leading up to the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

. . . .

In a series of rulings since 2014, the FEC has advised campaigns to make bulk book buys only through the author’s publisher. This is designed to enable publishers to withhold royalty payments from the author for those purchases, as required by law. Cruz’s campaign followed the FEC guidance in 2015, when it spent nearly $300,000 in campaign funds to buy copies of his previous book directly from the publisher, HarperCollins.

But when it came time to buy thousands of copies of “One Vote Away” last year, the campaign bypassed Cruz’s publisher and went through online retailers Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Mindy for the tip.

PG notes that, in addition to politicians of all stripes, lots of other people goose initial sales of a book by purchasing a lot of copies during the first couple of days following a book’s release.

A Complete Expert Guide to the Amazon Self-Publishing Costs for New Publishers

From The Urban Writers:

Finishing your first book leaves you feeling like you’ve finally arrived at the center stage. The excitement alone can make your world spin around as you read it once more. It’s understandable when the authors want to rush into the next step.

However, they don’t realize there’s a bunch of sharks waiting out there, waiting to snatch them. New writers must take a step back and consider Amazon’s self-publishing cost and pricing before they allow these predators to grab hold of them.

I was in your position a few years back and I was impatient to get my book out there. I needed people to read my story and listen to my advice. I emailed publishers all over the world with a manuscript, hoping to get a response. 

It was only two weeks before the first shark came at me head-first. This publisher was prepared to take my book, but they wanted me to pay for publishing costs upfront. The quotes started pouring in and I was shocked with the requests!

Suddenly, I felt like I had to sell my soul and those of my kids, spouse, and even my dog just to cover the costs. Figures ranged madly but the average was well over $2,000 from publishers that didn’t even leave a stain on the map. 

This might not seem like Mount Kilimanjaro, but I assure you that this was only the cost to get started. I still had to pay ridiculous commissions on top of this. The sacrifice of my soul wasn’t enough and they only promised me 25% of future sales. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t use the easily accessible internet to find other options like a normal person would. I ended up giving my book to a company that would give me 15% royalties and owns the first 5,000 copies in lieu of printing costs. 

I sold my book to the devil, never mind a shark. They haven’t bothered to promote the book and it became lost in the vast world of available reads. The worst of all is that my book is sitting on Amazon at a price that even I wouldn’t pay. 

My heart breaks every time I see my book without reviews, simply wallowing in the black hole of nothingness. I signed my rights away and have no power to take it back or change the price. I don’t want you to experience the same thing I did. 

Link to the rest at The Urban Writers

PG isn’t familiar with The Urban Writers, which apparently sells various editing, formatting, cover design, etc., services to indie authors. They may provide good services at a fair price.

However, PG is inclined to be a bit suspicious of services that bundle various services that may benefit self-published authors. Invariably, not all the money an author pays is going to the people who are editing, formatting, designing covers, performing social media marketing (which can mean almost anything), writing reviews for hire, etc.

Some organizations farm out the actual work to inexpensive offshore labor, which may or may not provide very good quality.

PG suggests that indie authors keep their hands on the wheel of their career and spend some time understanding what’s involved in formatting an ebook or POD books (hint: not very much, although some people do a better job than others).

KDP provides a free tool called Kindle Create which will do a credible job of formatting a clean manuscript into an ebook. Draft2Digital offers more ebooks formatting options than Kindle Create (and, to PG’s eye, better-looking options). It very generously will allow you to use the formatted ebook file to
publish through D2D or anywhere else.

You’ll want to go through the resulting ebook file to check for any errors. Still, they’re not difficult to fix, either in the ebook file or by going back to your original MS and tweaking the format in your original word processing file, then running it back through the ebook formatting tool.

As far as cover design is concerned, an excellent cover will require someone with a good eye and some design talent, but you can find those sorts of people online or, depending upon where you live, among your circle of friends and acquaintances. You’re looking for someone who knows how to use digital design
tools like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop or an equivalent program and creates the sort of thing you think looks polished.

If a local community college offers classes or a major in design, they’ll almost certainly require students to use current digital design tools. Talented students are usually happy to take on projects for a bit of money to help build their design portfolios.

Cruise through Amazon’s book listings, particularly in your genre, and note covers that you think look good and are examples of the type of cover you’re looking for and share this information with your cover artist.

There’s nothing wrong with working with remote professionals to access the talent you need to provide the parts of a finished book you’re not able to create yourself. Still, PG thinks you’re more likely to get better quality at a better price than you will by sending your money to a website black box and hoping you’ll receive something you’ll like in return.

But, as with all other opinions he expresses, PG could be wrong and is happy to be educated concerning his lack of knowledge about a wide range of subjects in the comments.

 

 

What Walt Whitman Knew About Democracy

From The Wall Street Journal:

When Walt Whitman began conceiving his great volume of poetry, “Leaves of Grass,” in the 1850s, American democracy was in serious danger over the issue of slavery. As we celebrate National Poetry Month this month, the problems facing our democracy are different, but Whitman still has a great deal to teach us about democratic life, because he saw that we are perpetually in danger of succumbing to two antidemocratic forces. The first is hatred between Americans, which Whitman saw erupt into civil war in 1861.

The second danger lies in the hunger for kings. The European literature and culture that preceded Whitman and surrounded him when he wrote “Leaves of Grass” was largely what he called “feudal”: It revolved around the elect, the special, the few. Whitman understood human fascination with kings and aristocrats, and he sometimes tried to debunk it. But mostly he asked his readers to shift their interest away from feudalism to the beauties of democracy and the challenge of sustaining and expanding it.

This challenge is what inspired him to find his central poetic image for democracy, the grass: “A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands.” Whitman says that he can’t and won’t offer a literal answer to the question. Instead he spins into an astonishing array of “guesses.” The grass “is the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven”; it’s “the handkerchief of the Lord…Bearing the owner’s name somewhere in the corners, that we may see and remark and say Whose?”

To Whitman, “the grass is itself a child…the produced babe of the vegetation.” “Tenderly will I use you, curling grass,” he writes. “It may be that you are from old people and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps / And here you are the mothers’ laps.” He offers one metaphor for the grass after another, and one feels that he could go on forever.

But mainly Whitman’s grass signifies American equality: “I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,/And it means,/Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,/Growing among black folks as among white,/Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff,/I give them the same, I receive them the same.” Whatever our race and origin, whatever our station in life, we’re all blades of grass. But by joining together we become part of a resplendent field of green, stretching gloriously on every side.

Whitman found a magnificent metaphor for democratic America and its people. Like snowflakes, no two grass blades are alike. Each one has its own being, a certain kind of chlorophyll-based individuality. Yet step back and you’ll see that the blades are all more like each other than not. Americans, too, are at least as much alike as we are different, and probably more so. America is where we can be ourselves and yet share deep kinship with our neighbors.

And who are our neighbors? Kanuck, Congressman, Tuckahoe, Cuff—Canadian, legislator, Virginia planter, Black man, all of the teeming blades of grass that we see around us. When you stand back far enough, you can’t see any of the individual blades, but look closer and there they are—vibrant and unique, no two alike. We say “e pluribus unum,” from many one. But who could have envisioned what that would look like and how it would feel before Whitman came along?

The grass is Whitman’s answer to the problem that bedeviled his contemporary Ralph Waldo Emerson: how to resolve the tension between the individual and the group. Emerson is sometimes hopeful that the two can cohere. When you speak your deep and true thoughts, no matter how controversial, he believed that in time the mass of men and women will come around to you. Each will say, ‘this is my music, this is myself,” Emerson says in “The American Scholar.” But mostly he is skeptical, believing that society is almost inevitably the enemy of genius and individuality.

Whitman’s image of the grass suggests that the one and the many can merge, and that discovery allows him to imagine a world without significant hierarchy. Can any one blade of grass be all that much more important than any other? When you make the grass the national flag, as it were, you get to love and appreciate all the people who surround you. You become part of a community of equals. You can feel at home.

In “Leaves of Grass,” soon after he offers his master metaphor Whitman rises up to view American democracy from overhead. The poem’s famous catalogues of people doing what they do every day are quite simple: “On the piazza walk five friendly matrons with twined arms;/ The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold,/The Missourian crosses the plains, toting his wares and his cattle,/The fare-collector goes through the train—he gives notice by the jingling of loose change.”

This is your family, these are your sisters and brothers, Whitman effectively says. In general, we walk the streets with a sense of isolation. But if we can move away from our addictions to hierarchy and exclusive individuality, and embrace Whitman’s trope of the grass, our experience of day-to-day life can be different. We can look at those we pass and say not “That is another” but “That too is me. That too I am.” Or so Whitman hopes.

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

PG admits that it has been a very long time since he has read Leaves of Grass, but the OP stimulated a desire to reread it.

Interrobang

From Wikipedia:

The interrobang, also known as the interabang (often represented by ?!, !?, ?!? or !?!), is an unconventional punctuation mark used in various written languages and intended to combine the functions of the question mark, or interrogative point; and the exclamation mark, or exclamation point, known in the jargon of printers and programmers as a “bang”. The glyph is a superimposition of these two marks. The interrobang was first proposed in 1962 by Martin K. Speckter.

. . . .

A sentence ending with an interrobang asks a question in an excited manner, expresses excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asks a rhetorical question.

For example:

  • You call that a hat‽
  • You’re dying‽
  • What are those‽

Writers using informal language may use several alternating question marks and exclamation marks for even more emphasis; however, this is regarded as poor style in formal writing

. . . .

American Martin K. Speckter (1915 – February 14, 1988) conceptualized the interrobang in 1962. As the head of an advertising agency, Speckter believed that advertisements would look better if copywriters conveyed surprised rhetorical questions using a single mark. He proposed the concept of a single punctuation mark in an article in the magazine TYPEtalks. Speckter solicited possible names for the new character from readers. Contenders included exclamaquestQuizDingrhet, and exclarotive, but he settled on interrobang. He chose the name to reference the punctuation marks that inspired it: interrogatio is Latin for “rhetorical question” or “cross-examination”; bang is printers’ slang for the exclamation mark. Graphic treatments for the new mark were also submitted in response to the article.

. . . .

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

From The New York Times:

Martin K. Speckter, a retired advertising executive known to lexicographers as the creator of the interrobang, a punctuation mark used to convey disbelief, died of bone cancer Sunday at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 73 years old and lived in Manhattan.

From 1956 to 1969, Mr. Speckter was president of Martin K. Speckter Associates Inc., which handled promotion for The Wall Street Journal, The National Observer, Barron’s weekly and the Dow Jones News Service. In 1962, Mr. Speckter developed the interrobang, since recognized by several dictionaries and some type and typewriter companies.

. . . .

The [interrobang] mark is said to be the typographical equivalent of a grimace or a shrug of the shoulders. It applied solely to the rhetorical, Mr. Speckter said, when a writer wished to convey incredulity.

. . . .

He was editor of TYPEtalks magazine from 1959 to 1968 and wrote many articles. He was also the author of a book, ”Disquisition on the Composing Stick” published by Typophiles Inc. in 1971.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

From Dictionary.com:

disquisition

[ dis-kwuhzishuhn ]

a formal discourse or treatise in which a subject is examined and discussed; dissertation.

Link to the rest at Dictionary.com

From Type Talks:

To this day, we don’t know exactly what Columbus had in mind when he shouted ‘Land, ho.’ Most historians insist that he cried, ‘Land, ho!’ but there are others who claim it was really ‘Land ho?’ Chances are the intrepid Discoverer was both excited and doubtful, but neither at that time did we, nor even yet, do we, have a point which clearly combines and melds interrogation with exclamation.”

–”Making a New Point, or How About That . . ..” Martin K. Specter, Type Talks, March-April, 1962

Amplitude Wide Bold and Fritz Robusto, both designed by Christian Schwartz, contain different interpretations of the interrobang.

S&S removes distribution for cop’s book

From Nathan Bransford:

Simon & Schuster came under fire this week because one of the publishers it distributes, Post Hill Press, acquired a book by one of the cops who shot Breonna Taylor. After a major outcry (and some confusion among people who weren’t splitting hairs between publishing and distributing), Simon & Schuster announced that it wouldn’t be involved in the distribution of the book (no word as of this writing on whether that means they have severed their relationship with Post Hill Press entirely).

Just for the record since this is a publishing blog, a publisher is the entity that acquires, edits, and publishes a book. In this case Simon & Schuster was not the publisher, nor is Post Hill Press one of its imprints. Post Hill Press is its own separate entity. A publisher, particularly a mid-size or small one, will often engage a distributor, an entity (sometimes one that is also a publisher, hence the confusion) that provides sales infrastructure and sometimes printing/warehousing/shipping on behalf of the publisher. An analogy would be like if the New York Times rented out its spare sales, printing, and shipping capacity to other newspapers, but they’re not the ones writing and editing what’s in that other paper.

I’m not sure the distinction matters all that much to those who think publishers should be pressured to divest from amplifying and profiting from these types of books entirely, but just FYI. 

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Why do we still care about Ernest Hemingway?

From CNN:

The widespread yet varying attention drawn by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “Hemingway” documentary series — which ran its course on PBS last week — proves, if nothing else, that its subject still lingers in the world’s collective consciousness almost a century after his first books were first published.

While Ernest Hemingway may no longer dominate the literary scene as he had by the middle of the 20th century, the mystique of his public and private lives resonates into the 21st.
The most mysterious question to me is: Why do we still care about him?

. . . .

If one had to name American writers from the previous century with whom younger generations of readers are most fascinated today, the list wouldn’t start with Hemingway, but (at least off the top of my head) with James Baldwin, Joan Didion and Toni Morrison. Even Flannery O’Connor, also the subject of a recently aired PBS documentary, has come under greater scrutiny in recent years, if only to assess some of the racist sentiments found in both her letters and in her vivid, acerbically comic depictions of Southern life.

If there’s anything upon which literary critics and general readers can agree when it comes to Hemingway, it is this: his use of language is what endures and influences more than any other attribute of his work. The Hemingway style — clipped, allusive, laconic and hard-boiled — helped give American writing its rhythm and tone as much as blues and jazz helped give American music its global identity. Hemingway’s style, in language and in life, reads like a metaphor for what it means to be an American, for better and for worse. Our inability to let him go speaks less to what we encounter on the page and more to what lurks behind it — about Hemingway, and about us — that we alternate between reveling in and wanting to unsee.

Hemingway’s novels, notably “The Sun Also Rises” (1926) and “A Farewell to Arms” (1929), are still taught in schools, as are his short stories — many of which, like “The Killers,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” — are considered even greater in retrospect than his novels. Yet even those two classics haven’t been as durably read and analyzed in our own time as has, for example, “The Great Gatsby,” published in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald, once Hemingway’s good friend and, later, bitter rival.

. . . .

Though a best-seller in its time, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” now comes across as overly melodramatic and, somewhat surprising for a Hemingway novel, tin-eared and anachronistic in its dialogue, leaning heavily on “thee” and “thine” in its exchanges.

There is also the matter of Hemingway’s personal life, which some believe was his most audacious and eternally absorbing creation: His full engagement with what his hero Theodore Roosevelt called “the strenuous life” of hunting, fishing and physical risk enhanced the fame he’d first achieved as a writer. His public and private peccadillos were as much fodder for tabloids as any movie star of the early-to-mid-20th century as was his mercurial temperament.

The critic Wilfrid Sheed put it best when he wrote that Hemingway “was capable of kindness like several million others, and of cruelty at which he was a little special.” The PBS series is unsparing when it comes to depicting both the kindness and cruelty Hemingway directed toward his wives, lovers, children and friends.

Link to the rest at CNN

PG asks the question – Is the worth of an author’s books determined by how well the author fits into the contemporary standards of a critic at the time when the critic is writing a review or a story about the author?

PG contends that Hemingway’s world was a far different world than the one we inhabit in 2021. His first book was published in 1926, nearly 100 years ago. His blockbuster novels, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, To Have and Have Not and For Whom the Bell Tolls, were all written over 80 years ago. He died 60 years ago.

Do we judge Agatha Christie or Edith Wharton or P.G. Wodehouse or Edna Ferber or EM Forster by 21st century norms?

Forester, Ferber, Wodehouse, Wharton and Christie have each been branded a racist by today’s standards. So have John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pearl Buck, Daphne du Maurier and Somerset Maugham. If you conduct a Google search with the name of prominent 20th century author with the word, racism, you’ll find a long list of accused.

PG suggests that virtually all contemporary authors will write something that seems stupid and insensitive to those reading their books 100 years from now.

The Hollywood Murders

Mrs. PG has released a new book, The Hollywood Murders.

“What’s that about?” you ask.

Here’s PG’s take on the book.

You start with two people who teach literature in Oxford (England, not Mississippi, with no offense intended toward alumni of The University of Mississippi) in the mid 1930’s. Their names are Miss Catherine Tregowyn and and Dr. Harry Bascombe.

Some visitors to TPV will immediately claim that there is no village called Hollywood in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland.

Those visitors would be wrong and, most likely, living in America.

In fact, Hollywood is a large village in the Bromsgrove district of Worcestershire, England. It used to be part of Kings Norton, but, as they say in Hollywood, that’s so yesterday.

The Hollywood Golf Course ensures that Hollywood will never actually be in Birmingham (England, not Alabama, with no offense intended toward alumni of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Samford University, Birmingham-Southern College, Miles College or any of the three law schools in Birmingham).

PG has cleverly set his visitors asking, “Do Mrs. PG’s murders happen in England or in the United States? Thus residents of both England and the United States are already drawn into the mystery.

You don’t have to buy the book to get the answer (although you should buy the book for a great many other reasons).

The answer is . . . Hollywood, America!!!

Hollywood, England, will have to wait for a later book by Mrs. PG for its moment in the sun. But PG can make no promises.

Catherine and Harry are teaching summer English literature classes at The University of California, Los Angeles campus AKA UCLA.

But, wait! Did UCLA actually exist in 1935? This is the United States, after all, not England, and everything in California was built yesterday or the day before or, at most, last week!

Hah!

The Southern Branch of The University of California (the original tree was in Berkeley) was created by law in 1919. It was a sort-of successor to the California State Normal School (not an adjective that is always used by those referring to the Los Angeles area) which had existed for awhile before that.

After being scurrilously attacked as “The Twig” by its hated rival, The University of Southern California, the Southern Branch became The University of California, Los Angeles, and moved its campus to Westwood, a suburb of Los Angeles. Westwood is east of Beverley Hills which is east of Hollywood!

Alert observers will note that this location makes it easy for a student at UCLA to travel a short distance and murder someone in Hollywood. Not that it happens all the time, but it’s a possibility.

So, Catherine and Harry are in the vicinity of Hollywood in the 1930’s, which is in the heart of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Mrs. PG is writing Golden Age Mysteries, so it’s a perfect fit.

While Harry and Catherine are perfectly comfortable in Golden Age Mysteries, Golden Age Hollywood is another story. It is not at all like Oxford. A Yank at Oxford won’t appear until 1938 and, suffice to say, the Yank stands out a bit although the Brits apparently like his style.

But back to Mrs. PG’s book.

Catherine and Harry are teaching away and, wouldn’t you know it, a big shot in the movie business gets murdered.

A Parisian movie star who made the mistake of coming to the United States for her American debut is accused of murder. Evidently, Los Angeles is short on local murderers, so they decide to lock up a European.

You would think they could find somebody from Nevada to lock up, but no, Hollywood is getting fancy, so it’s only right to grab somebody with an accent and charge them. The European damsel is, of course, innocent, but try to prove that in a town full of phonies who all came from somewhere else.

The L.A. police are a bit different than the Oxford constabulary, but Catherine and Harry still manage to eventually persuade the police that they need to arrest the real murderer.

Mrs. PG includes a few Oxford/Hollywood disjunctions and drops her sleuths into deep terra incognita but the two Oxonians at UCLA manage to come back from their summer with distinction.

The PG’s would appreciate it if any who feel they might enjoy her book would give it a try.

What’s So Special About Venice?

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

What is so special about Venice?

One question writers are always asked is where we get our ideas from. Sometimes it isn’t possible to define this. A tiny germ of an idea turns into something bigger: an overheard snatch of conversation turns into a full-blown mystery. An afternoon trip to Ellis Island sparked my whole Molly Murphy series. But in the case of THE VENICE SKETCHBOOK I can tell you exactly what created the story for me.

The first thing is Venice itself. Who wouldn’t want to write about that magical city, where the marble palaces seem to float above the water, where a gondolier’s song echoes up from the canals. Spending a summer doing research in Venice was an absolute treat, rekindling all my memories of past vacations in that city.

I have a life-long love of Venice that started in my childhood. When I was a teenager my parents rented a little villa just outside the city of Venice. Every day we’d drive across the causeway, park and my parents would give us some money.

“See you at five o’clock,” they’d say and we were free to wander the city on our own. We’d explore back alleys, climb trees in the Giardini, swim at the Lido and check out every gelato stand in the city. We got to know our way around really well, in fact when I went back again for the first time, taking my daughter who had just graduated from high school, I’d stop and say, “If you go through this little tunnel, I think you’ll come out…”

“Mom,” she’d say. “That’s someone’s back yard. You can’t…:

But I went through and yes—we came out to exactly the place I was heading.

. . . .

A few years ago I was thinking about my aunt and wondered why it was always Venice at Easter, not Rome or another Italian city. And an improbable thought entered my head. What if it was not just the city and the Easter celebrations that attracted her. What if she met someone there? A sort of ‘same time, next year’. What if she had another life that none of us knew about?

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

Mrs. PG and PG were having a conversation at lunch the other day about some of their enjoyable vacation trips.

For the record, we are not great travelers, but have been able to take some very nice trips to various locales in past years.

If PG had to chose his most favorite city in the world, it would have to be Florence.

In part, his choice is influenced by a wonderful woman who operated an unpretentious bed and breakfast not far from the train station where PG and Mrs. PG enjoyed some wonderful visits. She was wonderfully friendly and kind and her breakfasts always tasted marvelous due in no small part to our conversations with her, her two sons and a daughter-in-law-to-be.

She was also very helpful for us when we wanted to go somewhere we hadn’t visited before, giving us detailed instructions from memory, including the bus numbers, stops for transfers (with what we should look for to know when the stop was near) and other things we might want to see in the vicinity of our destination, including restaurants. She would offer to pack us a lunch if we were traveling to a distant attraction where she couldn’t give us first-hand advice about the local restaurants.

Our hostess’s suggestions lead us to a great many Florentine destinations we would have been unlikely to discover using only a guidebook and warned us away from a couple which didn’t meet her standards.

Without going on for too long, Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and its history includes some of the most creative and amazing people ever to populate the planet. Plus, the Florentine trading families generated lots of money to fund artists, architects and workers and they built with marble and other stone that was durable and difficult to destroy.

So, Florence is #1, but Venice is #2.

All is Well at Casa PG

PG had a couple of pressing jobs to do yesterday and it took him a lot longer than he expected it would.

PG is not dead or ailing.

He tries to post here on a daily basis or warn visitors if he’s not going to be posting in advance. He does this, in part, because some visitors have expressed worries over the reasons for PG’s absent posts in the past.

He assures one and all that, shortly after his death, he’ll turn to a disembodied computer (He knows they’ll have Windows in Hell, but wonders if it can exist in Heaven. If not, all the Mac people will have the ultimate “I told you so” moment.) and log in to post farewell.

Yesterday’s last job was one that PG should have been able to finish in much less time than he ended up spending on it. PG will spare you the frustrating details, but, unlike the legal work PG does, some computer tasks require what (for PG) are idiotically detailed preparations that must be exactly right down to the very smallest detail.

PG can understand that. He tends to fall into detail-oriented (OCD, but functional) mode when he’s doing important tasks. That’s a good thing when he’s writing a contract or analyzing one.

However, unlike with some computer tasks, when PG makes a small change in one part of the contract, while the change may affect or be affected by one or more other provisions in the agreement, it doesn’t cause the entire document to refuse to open or to disappear or to insert smiley-face icons on every page.

For PG, the last half of yesterday was one filled with suddenly-appearing then disappearing haunted and devilish smiley-face icons (metaphorically speaking).

The 100 Best, Worst, and Strangest Sherlock Holmes Portrayals of All-Time, Ranked

From Crime Reads:

We’re ranking Sherlock Holmes performances. One hundred of them. Not Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but the representations within them of Sherlock Holmes himself. Now, you might think that you know the best Sherlock Holmes, but as the man himself has said, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” 

. . . .

What are the criteria we’re using to rank these portrayals? Fidelity to the source text? Creativeness of the interpretations? Resemblance to Sidney Paget’s illustrations? Quality of acting? Kind of. Simply put, portrayals are ranked in their ability to present a Holmes who makes sense as a derivation of the original character while exploring, interrogating, and expanding the character’s qualities in a thoughtful and meaningful way. And of course, yes, the quality of the performance itself matters.

. . . .

Please note that we’re ranking Sherlock Holmes portrayals (characters who are literally supposed to be Sherlock Holmes), not portrayals of characters who are based on or inspired by Sherlock Holmes. Gregory House is not on this list. Repeat. Gregory House is not on this list. Neither is Owen Wilson’s “Sherlock Holmes” in Shanghai Knights. And neither is Douglas Fairbanks’s spoofy Sherlock character “Coke Ennyday.”

. . . .

96. Hans Albers, Der Mann, Der Sherlock Holmes War (1937)

The Germans made a lot of Sherlock Holmes movies in 1937, and a bunch of them involve guys with stereotypically English names who turn out to be Sherlock Holmes in disguise. This film is no different; the German (and eventually kind of Nazi) movie star Hans Albers plays “Morris Flynn,” a guy who turns out to really be… Holmes. Albers has a very spooky, bright gaze, as if if his irises are somehow clear, and I don’t like it. The good news about the film, on the whole, is that Watson’s alter-ego is named “Macky McMacpherson” and I really enjoy that the Germans thought this would be a believable name for an Englishman. The bad news is, again, that Hans Albers was kind of a Nazi. Or, he didn’t not benefit from the rise of Nazis, let’s put it that way.

. . . .

86. Charlton Heston, The Crucifer of Blood (1991)

You know who’s a weird Sherlock Holmes? Charlton Heston. Maybe it’s just hard for me, personally, to reconcile the late NRA president with the most rational character in literary history, but Heston’s Holmes is squinty and gravely and his officious English accent makes him sound like he thinks he’s playing a Roman senator or a British general supervising a bridge construction in Colonial India in a Cecil B. DeMille movie, and I’m not having it.

. . . .

82. Joaquim de Almeida, O Xangô de Baker Street (2001)

Joaquim de Almeida plays a Holmes who suffers from lots of gastrointestinal distress while solving a string of gruesome murders in 1886 Rio de Janero in this bilingual film which is based on Jô Soares’ 1995 novel of the same name (published as A Samba for Sherlock in English). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Holmes portrayal that is so focused on the body of the great detective, as opposed to the mind. He gets high, has sex, eats a lot, and frequently has to run to the bathroom. And he also can’t solve the current case well! He’s distracted by the weather, women, and his frequent, panicked trips to the restroom. I’m stressing the bathroom thing because it’s just so nutty. De Almeida offers an incongruously dignified detective at the start, who has to retrograde in many ways over the course of the film. The movie isn’t amazing, but I appreciate something about de Almeida’s whole deal.

. . . .

66. Alex Vanderpor/Fan Ai Li, Sherlock Holmes in China (1994)

Please allow me to present the most complicated Sherlock Holmes performance on this list! Alex Vanderpor, also known as “Fan Ai Li”, is a young, white, and very operatic (he sings a lot) Sherlock Holmes in this Chinese film directed by Wang Chi, Liu Yun-Zhou, and Ma Yi, also called Sherlock Holmes and the Chinese Heroine. Holmes and Watson (the latter of whom is Chinese, unlike his partner) travel to Qing Dynasty China, and there is a mystery that eventually involves Holmes facing off in an epic Kung-Fu battle against a skilled martial artist, using his violin as a surprising but effective weapon. Although he speaks Chinese fluently (well, the actor is dubbed), Holmes is pretty out of his element in this new location, and there is a scene where he disguises himself as a Chinese man and this is kind of a disaster in many ways. There are so many things at work here that need to be teased out in a longer evaluation, especially Vanderpor’s playing a Sherlock Holmes who speaks Chinese but also literally doesn’t!

. . . .

61. David Mitchell, “Old Holmes,” That Mitchell and Webb Look (2010)

I’m only including one Sherlock performance per actor, even if that actor played Sherlock a few times in different productions, so, yes David Mitchell also played Holmes in the above sketch. But his Holmes performance that I’d rather spotlight in this ranking is a strange, heartbreaking representation of an elderly Holmes, with dementia and no longer in possession of his faculties. David Mitchell’s senile Holmes is kind of, maybe, possibly played for laughs, but this too is in service of the tragic thesis undergirding it: the sad irony of the deterioration of the greatest mind of the age. This isn’t the first “old Holmes” take I’ve seen, but it’s the one that kicks me in the tear ducts the hardest.

. . . .

47. John Barrymore, Sherlock Holmes (1922)

When we first see John Barrymore as Sherlock Holmes in this contemporary-set adaptation, he is sitting on the ground outdoors in a pastoral cobblestone alleyway, leaning up against a wall, smoking copiously and meditatively. From this vantage, he observes life around him and makes notes in his diary, writing down things such as “what is love?” Does all of this present a very surprising take on Sherlock Holmes? You bet. But it’s a fascinating concept… Sherlock Holmes’s positioned as a romantic Socrates of sorts, sitting on the ground, watching everybody, figuring them out. He’s also pretty awkward; he meets a beautiful woman and shyly follows her around until she hops in a cart and rides away. She is the sister of the woman due to marry Watson’s friend Prince Alexis (??), who has been framed for stealing money from the Athletic Club (??). And this tall, skinny, lovelorn Holmes is England’s (or some country’s, where is Prince Alexis from anyway) last hope.

. . . .

42. Valentīns Skulme, Šerloks Holms (1979-1982)

This Latvian Sherlock Holmes play (filmed, so it’s on this list) features a Sherlock performance that I can’t understand but also kind of enjoy. Valentīns Skulme’s Holmes has the affect of someone’s pissed-off but learned Eastern-European grandfather. I feel like if I saw him at a friend’s house for dinner, he’d tell me an anecdote from his career as a bookbinder or watchmaker and warn me about walking home alone at night and tell me it’s bad luck to whistle indoors.

. . . .

24. George C. Scott, They Might Be Giants (1971)

George C. Scott is powerful in this comedy? rom-com? about a psychiatrist, Dr. Mildred Watson (Joanne Woodward), who becomes fascinated by a man who believes he is Sherlock Holmes (complicating this further is that he is very *good* at being Sherlock Holmes). A bit like Larry Hagman’s performance in The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective, Scott’s version is something of a caricature, though in a movie in which someone thinks they are a famous fictional character, how can you really avoid this? Scott’s rendition owes much to the “harumph” conception of Britishness, but in such a way that we can tell that it is his real character, the non-actor Justin, who is interpreting Holmes in this manner.

. . . .

12. Ian Richardson, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983) etc.

One of the shorter Holmeses on our list (at 5’9″), the great Shakespearean actor Ian Richardson is the only man to ever play Sherlock Holmes AS WELL AS Dr. Joseph Bell, Arthur Conan Doyle’s medical school professor who provided the inspiration for the great detective. He’s a first-class Holmes: gentle, analytical, and maybe the tiny bit self-satisfied, but only when he gets the better of Dr. Watson, with whom he has a very genial friendship. But I’m especially impressed with how totally relaxed he is… there’s nothing frenetic, or even too excitable there. He actually is so chill that he veritably has gags and inside jokes with Dr. Watson… such as the time when Watson pulls out his pistol to assure Holmes that he’ll be careful out in Dartmoor, and Holmes throws his hands up, and they burst out laughing. And then he dons a French accent to say goodbye to him, and they crack up again. So chummy! So cute!

. . . .

7. Yūko Takeuchi, Miss Sherlock (2018)

HBO Asia’s Miss Sherlock, which is one of the best Holmesian adaptations I’ve ever seen, is a modern, female, Japanese reboot of the famous detective partnership. But those more obvious reasons don’t solely account for why the show is so vanguard and engaging. It’s star, Yûko Takeuchi, is riveting as “Sherlock,” an elegant, if aloof and snide, young woman who uses her brilliant observational powers to solve crimes, mostly for her own amusement. She is bossy, self-directed, cranky, and whiny. But she is also glamorous! She loves designer clothes and always looks eminently cool hiking over to a crime scene in her long dusters and stilettos. It’s nice to see a Holmes who clearly loves being the center of attention, so much. Her relationship with Shihori Kanjiya’s Wato (the Watson character) is also compelling; Sherlock acts like the spoiled, rich-girl roommate archetype we’ve seen so often, a catty older sister-figure to the shy and sensitive Wato. Though a friendship does grow out of their incidental situationship, Sherlock still gives Wato an extremely hard time. The whole vibe just totally works, and you’ll be thinking about Yūko Takeuchi’s performance long after you’re done with the eight episodes.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Amazon Won’t Sell Books Framing LGBTQ+ Identities as Mental Illnesses

The following is about a month old, but evidently PG was asleep at the wheel when it first appeared.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon. com Inc. said it recently removed a three-year-old book about transgender issues from its platforms because it decided not to sell books that frame transgender and other sexual identities as mental illnesses.

The company explained its decision in a letter Thursday to Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Mike Braun of Indiana and Josh Hawley of Missouri, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The senators had written last month to Chief Executive Jeff Bezos requesting an explanation of why “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” was no longer available on Amazon nor on its Kindle and Audible platforms.

“As to your specific question about When Harry Became Sally, we have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,” Amazon said in the letter, which was signed by Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, referring to sexual identities that include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, among others.

“When Harry Became Sally,” written by the conservative scholar Ryan T. Anderson, was published in February 2018. The book focuses on a variety of issues including gender identity.

“Everyone agrees that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that causes great suffering,” said Mr. Anderson and Roger Kimball, the publisher of Encounter Books, the New York-based nonprofit that published the book, in a statement Thursday in response to Amazon’s letter.

“There is a debate, however, which Amazon is seeking to shut down, about how best to treat patients who experience gender dysphoria,” they added, calling their book “an important contribution” to that conversation. “Amazon is using its massive power to distort the marketplace of ideas and is deceiving its own customers in the process,” they said.

Amazon’s decision comes as the nation’s largest tech platforms are under increased scrutiny regarding the decisions they make over which content is acceptable. The senators, in their letter dated Feb. 24, characterized Amazon’s decision to remove the book as a signal “to conservative Americans that their views are not welcome on its platforms.”

. . . .

The senators in their letter had also asked Mr. Bezos whether Amazon had changed its content guidelines since 2018. In Thursday’s response, the company said it had indeed changed its guidelines since that year, without providing further details.

Amazon said it provides its customers “with access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable.”

“That said, we reserve the right not to sell certain content,” Amazon’s Mr. Huseman wrote. “All retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer, as do we.”

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

PG doesn’t usually post items relating to current politics (Few other than historians and those who read history (like PG) cares much about past politics).

However, Amazon is such a dominant force in the book business that its decisions to remove a book or a class of books from the world’s largest bookstore due to what is, at least in the US, an author’s opinion concerning a political issue which is under continuing discussion and debate between reasonable people will certainly attract attention.

Again, for visitors from outside the US, the senators who sent Amazon the letter are Republicans, generally regarded as conservative. The state of Washington, where Amazon is headquartered, is presumably where those who made the decision concerning the book reside.

Washington is generally regarded as a relatively safe state for the Democratic party. The state has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 1984. Both senators have been Democrats for the last twenty years.

Politically, the state is divided by what some call “The Cascade Curtain” referring to the Cascade Mountain range, located east of Seattle and the most populated portions of the state. The Cascades divides largely Democratic western Washington from largely Republican and rural eastern Washington.

Prevailing social attitudes tend to mirror political attitudes in Washington as well.

The technology boom in the Seattle area, lead by Microsoft and Amazon, has generated some very large fortunes while eastern Washington is a lot less prosperous. Average levels of education vary between the two regions as well. The Seattle tech boom also tends to attract a lot of employees who formerly lived much farther east in the US and, as would be expected, the newcomers brought their political opinions with them.

The thing that bothered PG the most about the reported action by Amazon is that it reminded PG of a very disturbing trend, at least in the United States, to “deplatform” those with different political beliefs than those who seek to apply this tactic. Basically, for a college professor, deplatforming may mean being fired. For an author, it may mean being deprived of any way to sell books and, in some cases, earn a living. Another term for the same thing is canceling an individual, essentially making them a societal non-person and the environment that makes this possible is cancel culture.

PG has discussed this phenomenon/strategy here and here.

For PG, deplatforming by those who hold some degree of political, societal or business power is disturbingly similar to the concept of making someone an unperson as first described in George Orwell’s 1984. In that book, an unperson is someone who has been expunged by the state, someone of whom all trace has been erased.

While Amazon is not the state, it is much richer and, some would argue, more powerful than more than a few nation-states.

For example, in 2019, government revenue in The Netherlands totaled 355.96 billion euros, equal to about 423.66 billion US dollars. In 2020, Amazon’s total revenue was 386 billion dollars.

And Amazon doesn’t have to pay for an army, navy or air force.

PG cautions visitors to TPV that this is not a political blog and PG appreciates it when those who disagree with others who have commented do so with courtesy and respect.

The Case Against Shakespeare

From The Walrus:

WE’VE CANCELLED six Dr. Seuss titles. Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird appear to be on the block. But, if we’re on a bend to reform our approach to teaching the English language, there are bigger fish to fry. Shakespeare is the curriculum’s Moby Dick. We need a harpoon. More than any other experience, the yearly dissection of Shakespeare turns kids off literature.

I speak as a writer, teacher, and lifelong fan. My mom took me to see Twelfth Night when I was five. It was 1956, the last year that the Stratford Festival performed in a tent; Christopher Plummer played Sir Andrew Aguecheek. I went every year after that, my forehead tingling every time I heard the preshow trumpet fanfare. Before age twelve, I’d read and reread Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1807) a million times. And summer jobs variously included festival usher, dresser, and spear carrier.

So, no, I’m not saying Shakespeare should be beached in his entirety. But, at the moment, as Cassius says in Julius Caesar, “He doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus,” taking up a quarter to a third of each year’s high school English course. You’d think no other playwright existed—why, barely another author.

This has serious consequences for what ought to be the primary function of high school study: developing a love of reading that will last a lifetime. This is next to impossible when your major contact with literature is a guy from the 1500s who wrote with a quill in what might as well be a second language. And when your teachers aren’t theatre people who can bring the works from page to stage, for which they were intended and where they shine.

. . . .

Today’s students aren’t so much studying Shakespeare as learning to do linguistic and cultural archaeology. Or autopsies. Shakespeare is used for purposes of literary “dissection” and “analysis.” That means spotting metaphors and similes, like those kindergarten puzzle games where you find the bananas hiding in the picture. It’s like pulling the wings off flies to see how they work. Or studying a joke to understand why it’s funny.

. . . .

For purposes of analysis, it would be far better to teach one of his sonnets. For instance, “Sonnet 18”—“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”—is perfect for demonstrating metaphor, symbol, iambic pentameter, and a major, if now rarely used, poetic structure. For those of you with gauzy memories, read those fourteen lines and imagine you’re a teenager today. Bright students will be excited, which is terrific. For those who are lost, it’s an hour, not a month, in the dentist’s chair.

. . . .

I’d start with a film version to get students into the story and characters. After that, they can examine the text of a few major scenes, comparing the page to what they’ve seen. That will teach them how imagination can fill out dialogue, creating performances in their minds. Have them stage a few scenes for fun, living the words on their feet. Saying the words in their own voices will make them less strange. From there, it’s easy to discuss what matters—the people and their choices. That’s an experience they can remember in a good way.

Link to the rest at The Walrus

PG is of two minds about the OP.

He thinks the idea of starting with a film version of a Shakespeare play is a good idea. (A better idea would be for the class to attend a well-done stage production of a Shakespeare play, but those are pretty difficult to locate in wide swaths of the United States. PG hopes the situation is better in Britain.)

For PG, Shakespeare was one of the most skilled creators who has ever existed of characters who manifest timeless examples of human nature at its best and worst. That he did so in language that is now archaic is undoubtedly a hurdle, but one which can be dealt with.

PG is a fan of literary analysis, even detailed literary analysis. Since his high school was terrible, PG didn’t engage in any serious literary analysis until he entered college. It was great for him and excellent preparation for analyzing legal documents and other sorts of documents during his adulthood. It also helped him to integrate words and more structured thinking into the intuitive observations he was making about a wide range of people and topics.

Literary analysis helped PG to understand how written expression works, what the skeleton looks like in a body which is well-formed and one which is misshapen. It exercises the language part of the brain in the same way that algebra exercises another part of the brain.

When applied to the complex characters of Shakespeare, analysis can lead to understanding of types of people, good and evil, wise and foolish, who may be rare to non-existent for a high school student, but which show a range of humanity much broader than she or he has yet encountered.

While we can go through life without encountering a great many challenges soluble with algebraic reasoning, language use, undertanding and reasoning is important for almost anyone, at least to some extent.

But PG could be wrong. (Disclosure: PG and math parted ways as early as practicable.)

Great Sunday

PG had a great Sunday that consumed all his blogging time.

He’ll be back tomorrow with bells on.

‘Hemingway’ Is a Big Two-Hearted Reconsideration

From The New York Times:

One of the more unsettling moments in “Hemingway,” the latest documentary from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, finds Ernest Hemingway, big-game hunter, chronicler of violence and seeker of danger, doing one thing that terrified him: speaking on television.

It is 1954, and the author, who survived airplane crashes (plural) earlier that year in Africa, had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He agreed to an interview with NBC on the condition that he receive the questions in advance and read his answers from cue cards.

The rare video clip comes after we’ve spent nearly six hours seeing the author create an image of virile swagger and invent a style of clean, lucid prose. But here Hemingway, an always-anxious public speaker still recuperating from a cerebral injury, is halting and stiff. Asked what he is currently writing about — Africa — his answer includes the punctuation on the card: “the animals comma and the changes in Africa since I was there last period.”

It’s hard to watch. But it is one of many angles from which the expansive, thoughtful “Hemingway” shows us the man in full, contrasting the person and the persona, the triumphs and vulnerabilities, to help us see an old story with new eyes.

. . . .

Now “Hemingway,” airing over three nights starting Monday on PBS, comes along as American culture is reconsidering many of its lionized men, from figures on statues to Woody Allen. And there are few authors as associated with masculinity — literary, toxic or otherwise — than the writer who loved it when you called him Papa.

It’s tempting to say that Hemingway’s macho bluster doesn’t hold up well in the light of the 21st century, but it didn’t go unnoticed in the 20th either. He embraced manliness as a kind of celebrity performance. He fought with his strong-willed mother, who accused him of having “overdrawn” from the bank of her love. He married four times, finding his next wife before leaving the previous one, wanting each to give herself over to supporting him.

He clashed spectacularly with his third wife, the writer Martha Gellhorn (played in voice-over by Meryl Streep), who matched him well, maybe too well to last. A free spirit who resisted marriage at first, saying “I’d rather sin respectably,” Gellhorn would not sideline her ambitions for his. (You might find yourself wishing you were watching her documentary.)

. . . .

This is true whether we sit easily or not. “Can you separate the art from the artist?” is a heated and dogmatic argument these days. You must sever the two, in a spirit of see-no-evil, to preserve the precious product; or you must handcuff them together, so that any judgment of a life becomes the judgment on the work, and the work a forensic rap sheet against its creator.

“Hemingway” doesn’t separate art and artist. Hemingway didn’t either. He created a public “avatar” that sometimes overshadowed his work (and threatened to make him a self-caricature) and wrote his life into his art (sometimes with cruelty toward friends and peers). But the documentary also recognizes that life and art don’t always correlate neatly or simply.

The resulting biography is cleareyed about its subject but emotional about his legacy. It celebrates his gifts, catalogs his flaws (which included using racist language in his correspondence) and chronicles his decline with the tragic relentlessness its subject would give to the death of a bull in the ring.

The biggest compliment I can pay “Hemingway” is that it made me pull my “Collected Short Stories” off the shelf after years, to read his piercing, full-feeling work in a new light. This life story is not entirely a pretty picture. But to quote its subject, “If it is all beautiful you can’t believe it. Things aren’t that way.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Although it’s not fashionable these days, PG is inclined to separate the author from the books, especially if the author is dead.

Who or what the author was is a question that is subject to debate, post hoc analysis that says more about the analyst than the subject, the latest fashions in cultural heroes and villains, etc.

PG has known or met a few people about whom news reports or articles have been written and has never found the reality of the individual accurately reflected in the written descriptions of them. There’s nothing wrong with writing or reading or creating a story about a person’s life, but those who see that creation are not, in fact, seeing or experiencing the real thing.

One aspect of Hemingway, the man, is, however, concrete – the stories and books he wrote. Certainly an editor may have tweaked this and that, but here is something personally created by that individual. While it may not be an autobiography and may clearly be fiction, the creation did originate from the individual’s self.

For PG, Hemingway’s creations are quite excellent and enjoyable and he expects them to remain that way to others for a long time.

The man is dead and will be judged by God. (Or not, depending upon your personal beliefs.) In any case, while PG does not object to new assessments or insights (correct or not) of Hemingway, he still believes what Hemingway wrote is the closest PG can come to understanding who he was.

10 Stories about Self-Destructive Women

From Electric Lit:

One of the greatest thrills of reading a first-person story is in the tension between what the narrator understands about themself and what we, the readers, understand about the narrator. But in these first-person stories of self-destructive women, the lies are so thin, the self-delusion and denial so absurd, the jokes so dark or so dead-pan or so sarcastic, that we get the sense the narrators, at least on some level, know they’re wreaking havoc on their own lives. Perhaps the obfuscation isn’t about how they’re making messes of their lives, but why, what pain those messes hide.

Many of the narrators in my short story collection Girls of a Certain Age behave self-destructively as a means of coping with circumstances beyond their control. In “First Aid,” the main character makes a case for self-injury. In “Human Bonding,” a college student is thrilled to be punched in the face. In “None of These Will Bring Disaster,” an unemployed binge drinker purposefully picks up smoking and keeps finding herself in unfulfilling relationships. “If you keep stepping in the same ditch over and over,” she says, “people stop feeling sorry for you because you’re either an idiot or a masochist.”

Maybe I’m the idiot or the masochist, because no matter what the women in these stories and novels do—no matter how blatantly they lie, how many mind-altering substances they consume, how easily they turn on their loved ones—I find I am rooting for them, holding out hope that they might change.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

How to Give a Great Podcast Author Interview

From Writers Helping Writers:

As an author, one of the best ways you can reach new audiences is through podcasts.

According to Edison Research and Triton Digital, there are now 62 million Americans listening to podcasts each week, up from 19 million in 2013. We have about 800,000 active podcasts available to listen to, with a record 192,000 new ones launched in 2019.

. . . .

Once you’re invited to speak on a podcast, it may be tempting to just show up and chat. But for most authors, that would be a mistake for two reasons:

  • Your goal is to attract new readers/subscribers to your platform.
  • Those readers are going to be listening to your conversation!

To increase your odds that you’ll make a good impression on your listeners—and perhaps convince some of them to read your work—keep the following tips in mind.

5 Tips to Help You Win New Readers on a Podcast Interview

1. Remember your job is to help the listener.

This is the number-one mistake most authors make when appearing on a podcast. They arrive unprepared and spend their time chatting about whatever subject happens to come up. This is dangerous because:

  • You may fail to give the listeners anything of value, missing your opportunity to connect with them.
  • Listeners may get bored!

Of course, it’s important to have fun and enjoy the conversation, but remember that you’re there to help the host’s listeners however you can. Usually, that involves sharing some of your expertise or experiences that will benefit others.

2. Ask your host what their audience is looking for.

Speaking of listeners, it’s important to understand what your host’s listeners are looking for. Why do they come to this particular podcast? What problems do they need to be solved?

You can address this question in a couple of ways. First, check out the podcast and listen to a few episodes before your scheduled appearance. Familiarize yourself with the type of issues they address and then figure out how your message can help those listeners.

Second, simply ask your host: “What do most of your listeners need help with? What are they looking for on your podcast?” Most hosts will be happy to tell you about their audiences, and you can use that information to come up with a few key points that you know will help those people.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Tell McGraw-Hill to Stop Charging Freelancers for Processing Invoices

From The Authors Guild:

We are sharing with you a letter to McGraw-Hill’s CEO Simon Allen and General Counsel David Stafford to demand that the company immediately end its practice of charging freelance contractors a 2.2% fee for processing their invoices. McGraw-Hill claims that this so-called “Small Supplier Fee” is being applied to support the company’s compliance costs, including to minimize the company’s risks of misclassifying independent contractors. Imposing a 2.2% fee for processing invoices—a normal cost of doing business—is tantamount to wage theft. What’s more, McGraw-Hill unilaterally imposed this fee during a pandemic, when freelance creators are losing work opportunities and unable to access the full scope of unemployment benefits due to their independent contractor status. McGraw-Hill’s attempt to pass its operating costs off to hard-working, struggling freelance creators is shocking and unfair.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

Tacky, tacky, tacky.

PG suggests freelancers get together and suggest to one another to increase their fees to McGraw-Hill by 5%, with a little less than half to cover McGraw-Hill’s new fee and a new 2.8% McGraw-Hill invoice preparation and compliance fee.

The Man Behind the Hemingway Myth

From The Wall Street Journal:

Early next month, timed to the sixtieth anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s death, PBS will air Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s long-awaited three-part, six-hour look at this most iconic of iconic American writers. In a culture where screens have beat out paper and ink as the medium for gathering information and in so doing have turned us into scanners with atrophied attention spans, it’s something of an irony that it would take the visual experience of a documentary—full of stunning archival photos and deft commentary by the likes of Edna O’Brien and Tobias Wolff—to inspire a return to the page to experience the work of the writer who, as Mr. Wolff puts it, “changed all the furniture in the room.”

Some writers write; others alter the course of literature by the importance of the ideas they express or by the style of that expression. Hemingway did both, creating an original voice that remains one of the most influential in the English language. While still in his early 20s, as a newly married veteran of the Great War living in Paris among a group of expatriate American writers who would become known as the “Lost Generation,” he codified how to write what he called a “true” sentence—a grammatically simple shard of flint that, like the stories he told with them, distilled a potent essence.

His tone was designed as a match for the awful things he’d witnessed and that test human character—war, broken loyalty, death—and for the magnificent things that restore our souls and courage: a fine painting, true love, a winning ticket at the horse races, the smell of orange rinds in a fire. First with his short stories about growing up in the woods of northern Michigan and later with novels based on his life in Europe—“The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”—he became an international literary celebrity. In 1954, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

By then, he’d played the bearded macho-man armed with a gun and a typewriter—spoiling for danger, tough women and a stiff drink—for so long that the caricature stuck. The masculine stereotype continues to complicate our ability to see the person lost inside the testosterone legend, much less to extricate the writing from the writer. So numerous are the photographs of Hemingway on safari, at the corrida, charming his next wife, hooking a big one, behind the typewriter—almost always shirtless—that the visual lore has become intermingled with scenes from his novels and journalism in a way that makes it hard to recall what’s fact or fiction.

. . . .

But all you have to do to get past the legend is to read a little of his work. “If it is all beautiful you can’t believe in it,” Hemingway once wrote. “Things aren’t that way. It is only by showing both sides—three dimensions and if possible four—that you can write the way I want to.” In terms of complexity, he was essentially describing himself and his unusually eventful life.

Hemingway, a country boy from outside Chicago, was born in 1899, astride two centuries that were divided in custom and convention not by a year but an eon. In the pages of Life, Time, Look and Esquire, he took on as a reporter many of the same subjects he had already treated in fiction, inviting readers to wonder if the first-person narrator of his novels was the self-same journalist on assignment. If his characters were his alter-egos, you can imagine him thinking, why couldn’t he be an alter-ego of his characters?

Trying to figure out what’s not being said and why; slipping into the internal dialogue of a broken mind; asking who the I in the I really is—these are just a few of the techniques Hemingway developed that changed the boundaries of fiction and how it was written. Stripping his prose of all ornament, he wrote like a member of the Bauhaus following the dictum that “form follows function.” The material he took up—rape, abortion, impotence, cowardice, suicide, adultery—were unprettified realities that literature would no longer be able to skirt. Above all, as he codified in his “iceberg theory,” he recognized that what was omitted from a story outweighed in power what was left in.

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

All Four ‘Avengers’ Movies Are Getting Shakespeare Adaptations

From Collider:

Marvel Studios and Quirk Books have announced that they are collaborating to release Shakespearean parodies of all four Avengers movies. Yes, you read that right. The Avengers, Age of Ultron, Infinity War, and Endgame are being brought back to life in William Shakespeare’s Avengers: The Complete Works, iambic pentameter included. Avengers fans can expect entertaining easter eggs, dramatic soliloquies, and a witty yet faithful re-telling of their favorite superheroes.

. . . .

For anyone who is raising an eyebrow and expecting this crossover to flop, don’t let your skepticism fool you. This ain’t Doescher’s first rodeo when it comes to parody and major franchises, especially where Shakespeare is involved. He’s also known for writing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, as well as the Pop Shakespeare series (which includes such hits as Much Ado About Mean Girls and Get Thee…Back to the Future!)

This isn’t Quirk Books’ first attempt at parody, either (in case the company’s name didn’t already give that away). Not only were they responsible for publishing the aforementioned works by Doescher, but they’re also known for bringing other classic literature parodies to the world such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – a dystopian spin on Jane Austen’s famous novel where Victorian England socialites try to keep calm and carry on in a world ravaged by the undead. While some literature fans may regard the source material as an insomnia cure in written form, the zombie twist in the Quirk Books version enhances the story with tongue-in-cheek humor and makes it more palatable for a modern audience.

Link to the rest at Collider

Edith Wharton: Designing the Drawing Room

Note from PG – Following are brief excerpts and a few images from a much longer online exhibition from the Yale University Library. As usual, you’ll find a link to the exhibition at the end.

PG notes that, in his opinion, the Yale exhibition is better organized and constructed than most online art/design exhibition he has seen elsewhere and is definitely worth a visit if you have any interest in Ms. Wharton or the interior and exterior architecture in which she lived and where she set many of her books.

From at Yale University Library Online Exhibitions:

One century ago, Edith Wharton (1862–1937) published The Age of Innocence, a novel that has become one of her most beloved works. Less known is her first full-length publication, an 1897 interior design treatise titled The Decoration of Houses. Wharton’s keen interest in architecture and the design of interiors and gardens remained with her throughout her career. While she published novels, stories, poems, and nonfiction, she directed the design of her homes, from her country estate The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts, to her New York City residence on Park Avenue.

Edith Wharton in 1897, the year The Decoration of Houses was published

. . . .

This exhibit focuses on Wharton’s treatment of the drawing room, known to her as a female space during a period of limiting gendered customs. In the world she describes in much of her writing, the drawing room was a specific sort of sitting room to which women would traditionally “withdraw” following dinner. The drawing room was also a space in which women could spend their days and receive guests. As such, drawing rooms provide a particularly rich context for understanding Wharton’s elite New York City society at the turn of the twentieth century and the role of women within it.

. . . .

Though written in 1920, The Age of Innocence is set in the elite New York City society of the 1870s—the world in which Wharton grew up. The novel unfolds from the point of view of Newland Archer, who is engaged to May Welland but in love with Ellen Olenska, who has escaped an unhappy marriage to a Polish count and returns to the New York City community of her youth. In her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1934), Wharton describes the writing of The Age of Innocence in the context of the extreme sense of loss she felt following World War I and the 1916 death of her dear friend and fellow writer Henry James. “Meanwhile I found a momentary escape,” she writes, “in going back to my childhood memories of a long-vanished America.”

Wharton recalls showing a passage of the manuscript to a trusted friend, Walter Berry, who responded that he enjoyed the manuscript, but that he and Wharton were “the last people left who can remember New York and Newport as they were then, and nobody else will be interested.” As proven by the novel’s great success, Berry’s prediction did not come true.

Wharton is best known as a writer of fiction. But her entrance into the world of writing occurred with the publication of The Decoration of Houses in 1897. Together with Ogden Codman, Jr., Wharton composed this treatise on interior design—her first full-length book.

Wharton and Codman had become friends when she asked him to help her decorate and make alterations to the house that she and her husband had recently purchased. In her autobiography, Wharton notes the unconventionality of such a choice. She writes that “the architects of that day looked down on house-decoration as a branch of dress-making, and left the field to the upholsterers, who crammed every room with curtains, lambrequins, jardinières of artificial plants, wobbly velvet-covered tables littered with silver gew-gaws, and festoons of lace on mantelpieces and dressing-tables.”

Wharton and Codman sought a more straightforward aesthetic for their interiors. They believed that “interior decoration should be simple and architectural.” Simplicity was crucial, in response to rooms cluttered with objects like those they describe in the colorful list quoted above. Wharton and Codman also stressed the importance of a close relationship between architecture and interior design. Rather than remaining completely separate from architecture, interiors should reference the exteriors of buildings and the structures of spaces.

With the principle of simple and architecturally informed interior design, Wharton and Codman set off to write. The only problem: Wharton found that she “literally could not write in simple and precise English the ideas which seemed so clear in [her] mind.” She eventually overcame the challenge, and The Decoration of Houses met with great success—she later referred to this publication as “a touchstone of taste.”

After the publication of The Decoration of Houses, Wharton received a message from a friend complimenting her work. Wharton responded in the letter below:

“…I want to tell you how much pleasure it gives me to know that you have read [The Decoration of Houses] with interest. I feared that it would seem rather dry reading to those who were not especially occupied with the subject and I consider it a very gratifying evidence of success that you did not find it so.”

. . . .

The Drawing Room

Wharton and Codman discuss the drawing room in a chapter titled “The Drawing-Room, the Boudoir, and Morning-Room.” These spaces are related through their association with women in Wharton’s society, but differ in terms of the level of privacy allowed. The drawing room could be both public and private, whereas the other two rooms were more personal.

In The Decoration of Houses, Wharton establishes the foundation of her understanding of the drawing room. The chapter begins by mentioning “the ‘with-drawing-room’ of mediæval England, to which the lady and her maidens retired from the boisterous festivities of the hall.”

The aristocratic European origin that Wharton and Codman identify for the drawing room applies also to the examples, shown below, that they reference throughout the book. Following the discussion of the room’s origins, this chapter charts the development of the drawing room through later examples into two distinct forms: the salon de famille and the salon de compagnie. The former was a more private space for family members and close acquaintances to gather in, whereas the latter was a more public, ceremonial space. Regardless of the type of drawing room, Wharton and Codman emphasize that comfortable, timeless furniture best suits this frequently occupied space.

The drawing room is often discussed as a foil for the library: while the former was considered a women’s space in Wharton’s world, the latter was associated with men. The way that people in Wharton’s society used and moved through these spaces plays out in much of Wharton’s fiction, including The Age of Innocence.

Link to much more at Yale University Library Online Exhibitions

At 55, Debut Author Angeline Boulley Finds Stardom With ‘Firekeeper’s Daughter’

From The Wall Street Journal:

ast century: Angeline Boulley was a young mother of three.

Last decade: She was a bureaucrat wondering if she might also be a writer.

Last year: She was a novice finishing a title that had sold in a seven-figure two-book deal.

And last week, she was a debut author with the arrival of “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” her splashy young-adult thriller. Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company optioned the title for a Netflix series and Reese Witherspoon picked it for her book club. “Dear Aspiring Writer: My great idea came at 18,” Ms. Boulley recently tweeted. “I’m 55. #NeverGiveUp.”

It’s the kind of first-time stardom that is unlikely for most writers in midlife. “There is this idea that you have to publish when you’re in your 20s or 30s and beyond that, if it hasn’t happened for you, then it’s never going to,” said Tiffany Liao, Ms. Boulley’s editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

“I did not consider myself a writer,” said Ms. Boulley, whose book follows an 18-year-old Native American woman swept up in an investigation of a dangerous new drug threatening her community. “I would go through times where I wasn’t writing for a few months or even a year, but the story would keep coming back to me.”

. . . .

Now Ms. Boulley joins a small club of later-in-life literary ingénues.

Sue Monk Kidd was 53 when she launched her first novel “The Secret Life of Bees,” a bestseller and later a movie starring Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney was 55 for her hit debut “The Nest,” about grown siblings in a dysfunctional family. “Good Company,” her new novel about an upended marriage, comes out next month.

Nancy Pearl was 72 for the arrival of “George and Lizzie,” which includes a teenage character who sleeps with the whole high-school football team. Anne Youngson was 70 for “Meet Me at the Museum,” an epistolary love story between elderly strangers—and a left turn after her career running new vehicle development projects at Land Rover.

“My first book came out when I was a couple of months short of being able to enroll in Medicare,” said Ellen Meeropol, 75, describing her 2011 debut novel “House Arrest.”

Ms. Boulley, who is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, wanted to write an “indigenous Nancy Drew.” She found her fictional sleuth in the book’s heroine, Daunis Fontaine, a high-school valedictorian turned government informant searching for drug dealers plaguing her Ojibwe tribe—another term for the Chippewa—in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Enter Jamie, a young Native American undercover agent posing as a new recruit on an elite junior league hockey team. The two pretend to be a couple, then fall for each other for real as Daunis helps Jamie connect to his lost indigenous identity.

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

Picture Books for Older Readers

From Publishing Perspectives:

In the pandemic autumn of 2020, [Claudia Zoe] Bedrick and Enchanted Lion announced Unruly, which she says is “a new imprint dedicated to making space for picture books created with older readers in mind. Innovation and genre-bending, complexity and difficult themes, philosophical ponderings and poetry have been hallmarks of Enchanted Lion from the start, but all of its titles were written as children’s literature.”

While the press remains committed to children’s literature, she says, “it still doesn’t capture the picture book’s full potential as a medium.

“Unruly titles will stand apart as visually complex works of fiction and nonfiction created for older readers.” Asked how old is “old,” she says, “Some books for readers 10 and older, others for teen and adult readers.”

There’s some evidence of this interest—can we call this a crossover title?—in Enchanted Lion’s lists. Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring, for example. It’s written by Matthew Burgess and illustrated by Josh Cochran, and on awards both as a “book for kids” (New York Public Library and the Washington Post), simply as a “picture-book biography” (Kirkus) and a “best pick of 2020” (Chicago Public Library).

And Bedrick points to a Guardian editorial from Friday (March 19) about Nobel winner Olga Tokarczuk—with whose work Publishing Perspectives’ readers are very familiar—embarking on a picture book treatment of The Lost Soul with artist Joanna Concejo. Tokarczuk says she sees the form as “able to get through to anyone—regardless of age, cultural differences or level of education.”

What Bedrick says she sees happening in “reframing the readership’s age,” is a chance for Unruly to “open up space for a more complex exploration and instantiation of the relationship between text and image, while also inviting consideration of more mature topics. And these works will push the form through hybridization of picture book, graphic novel, artist’s journal, and art book conventions, while never relinquishing narrative, however experimental.”

The first Unruly title is to appear in June, The True Story of a Mouse Who Never Asked for It, a feminist retelling of a Spanish folktale written by Ana Cristina Herreros, illustrated by Violeta Lópiz, and translated from Spanish by Chloe Garcia Roberts.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Light Blogging

PG apologizes for failing to give notice that today would be a light blogging day.

All is well at Casa PG, just some things that took PG away from the power center of TPV.

The Freedom to Read Statement

From The American Library Association:

The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack. Private groups and public authorities in various parts of the country are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label “controversial” views, to distribute lists of “objectionable” books or authors, and to purge libraries. These actions apparently rise from a view that our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety or national security, as well as to avoid the subversion of politics and the corruption of morals. We, as individuals devoted to reading and as librarians and publishers responsible for disseminating ideas, wish to assert the public interest in the preservation of the freedom to read.

Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be “protected” against what others think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression.

These efforts at suppression are related to a larger pattern of pressures being brought against education, the press, art and images, films, broadcast media, and the Internet. The problem is not only one of actual censorship. The shadow of fear cast by these pressures leads, we suspect, to an even larger voluntary curtailment of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy or unwelcome scrutiny by government officials.

Such pressure toward conformity is perhaps natural to a time of accelerated change. And yet suppression is never more dangerous than in such a time of social tension. Freedom has given the United States the elasticity to endure strain. Freedom keeps open the path of novel and creative solutions, and enables change to come by choice. Every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of our society and leaves it the less able to deal with controversy and difference.

Now as always in our history, reading is among our greatest freedoms. The freedom to read and write is almost the only means for making generally available ideas or manners of expression that can initially command only a small audience. The written word is the natural medium for the new idea and the untried voice from which come the original contributions to social growth. It is essential to the extended discussion that serious thought requires, and to the accumulation of knowledge and ideas into organized collections.

We believe that free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture. We believe that these pressures toward conformity present the danger of limiting the range and variety of inquiry and expression on which our democracy and our culture depend. We believe that every American community must jealously guard the freedom to publish and to circulate, in order to preserve its own freedom to read. We believe that publishers and librarians have a profound responsibility to give validity to that freedom to read by making it possible for the readers to choose freely from a variety of offerings.

The freedom to read is guaranteed by the Constitution. Those with faith in free people will stand firm on these constitutional guarantees of essential rights and will exercise the responsibilities that accompany these rights.

We therefore affirm these propositions:

  1. It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority.Creative thought is by definition new, and what is new is different. The bearer of every new thought is a rebel until that idea is refined and tested. Totalitarian systems attempt to maintain themselves in power by the ruthless suppression of any concept that challenges the established orthodoxy. The power of a democratic system to adapt to change is vastly strengthened by the freedom of its citizens to choose widely from among conflicting opinions offered freely to them. To stifle every nonconformist idea at birth would mark the end of the democratic process. Furthermore, only through the constant activity of weighing and selecting can the democratic mind attain the strength demanded by times like these. We need to know not only what we believe but why we believe it.
  2. Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated.Publishers and librarians serve the educational process by helping to make available knowledge and ideas required for the growth of the mind and the increase of learning. They do not foster education by imposing as mentors the patterns of their own thought. The people should have the freedom to read and consider a broader range of ideas than those that may be held by any single librarian or publisher or government or church. It is wrong that what one can read should be confined to what another thinks proper.
  3. It is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to bar access to writings on the basis of the personal history or political affiliations of the author.No art or literature can flourish if it is to be measured by the political views or private lives of its creators. No society of free people can flourish that draws up lists of writers to whom it will not listen, whatever they may have to say.
  4. There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.To some, much of modern expression is shocking. But is not much of life itself shocking? We cut off literature at the source if we prevent writers from dealing with the stuff of life. Parents and teachers have a responsibility to prepare the young to meet the diversity of experiences in life to which they will be exposed, as they have a responsibility to help them learn to think critically for themselves. These are affirmative responsibilities, not to be discharged simply by preventing them from reading works for which they are not yet prepared. In these matters values differ, and values cannot be legislated; nor can machinery be devised that will suit the demands of one group without limiting the freedom of others.
  5. It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept the prejudgment of a label characterizing any expression or its author as subversive or dangerous.The ideal of labeling presupposes the existence of individuals or groups with wisdom to determine by authority what is good or bad for others. It presupposes that individuals must be directed in making up their minds about the ideas they examine. But Americans do not need others to do their thinking for them.
  6. It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians, as guardians of the people’s freedom to read, to contest encroachments upon that freedom by individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large; and by the government whenever it seeks to reduce or deny public access to public information.It is inevitable in the give and take of the democratic process that the political, the moral, or the aesthetic concepts of an individual or group will occasionally collide with those of another individual or group. In a free society individuals are free to determine for themselves what they wish to read, and each group is free to determine what it will recommend to its freely associated members. But no group has the right to take the law into its own hands, and to impose its own concept of politics or morality upon other members of a democratic society. Freedom is no freedom if it is accorded only to the accepted and the inoffensive. Further, democratic societies are more safe, free, and creative when the free flow of public information is not restricted by governmental prerogative or self-censorship.
  7. It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians to give full meaning to the freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality and diversity of thought and expression. By the exercise of this affirmative responsibility, they can demonstrate that the answer to a “bad” book is a good one, the answer to a “bad” idea is a good one.The freedom to read is of little consequence when the reader cannot obtain matter fit for that reader’s purpose. What is needed is not only the absence of restraint, but the positive provision of opportunity for the people to read the best that has been thought and said. Books are the major channel by which the intellectual inheritance is handed down, and the principal means of its testing and growth. The defense of the freedom to read requires of all publishers and librarians the utmost of their faculties, and deserves of all Americans the fullest of their support.

We state these propositions neither lightly nor as easy generalizations. We here stake out a lofty claim for the value of the written word. We do so because we believe that it is possessed of enormous variety and usefulness, worthy of cherishing and keeping free. We realize that the application of these propositions may mean the dissemination of ideas and manners of expression that are repugnant to many persons. We do not state these propositions in the comfortable belief that what people read is unimportant. We believe rather that what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society. Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.

Link to the rest at The American Library Association

TCM examines ‘problematic’ film classics in new series

From The New York Post:

Loving classic films can be a fraught pastime. Just consider the cultural firestorm over “Gone With the Wind” this past summer. No one knows this better than the film lovers at Turner Classic Movies who daily are confronted with the complicated reality that many of old Hollywood’s most celebrated films are also often a kitchen sink of stereotypes. This summer, amid the Black Lives Matter protests, the channel’s programmers and hosts decided to do something about it.

The result is a new series, “Reframed Classics,” which promises wide-ranging discussions about 18 culturally significant films from the 1920s through the 1960s that also have problematic aspects, from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and Mickey Rooney’s performance as Mr. Yunioshi to Fred Astaire’s blackface routine in “Swing Time.” It kicks off Thursday at 8 p.m. ET with none other than “Gone With the Wind.”

. . . .

“We know millions of people love these films,” said TCM host Jacqueline Stewart, who is participating in many of the conversations. “We’re not saying ‘This is how you should feel about “Pyscho”’ or ‘This is how you should feel about “Gone with the Wind.”’ We’re just trying to model ways of having longer and deeper conversations and not just cutting it off to ‘I love this movie.’ ‘I hate this movie.’ There’s so much space in between.”

. . . .

Stewart, a University of Chicago professor who in 2019 became the channel’s first African American host, has spent her career studying classic films, particularly those in the silent era, and black audiences. She knows firsthand the tension of loving films that also contain racial stereotypes.

“I grew up in a family of people who loved classic films. Now, how can you love these films if you know that there’s going to be a maid or mammy that shows up?” Stewart said. “Well, I grew up around people who could still love the movie. You appreciate some parts of it. You critique other parts of it. That’s something that one can do and it actually can enrich your experience of the film.”

. . . .

While TCM audiences will know her as the host of “Silent Sunday Nights,” this past summer she was given a bigger spotlight when she was selected to introduce “Gone With the Wind” on HBO Max to provide proper context after its controversial removal from the streaming service. She remembers drafting her remarks for that while also concocting this series.

“I continue to feel a sense of urgency around these topics,” she said. “We’re showing films that really shaped the ways that people continue to think about race and gender and sexuality and ability. It was really important for the group to come together to think about how we can work with each other and work with our fans to deepen the conversations about these films.”

TCM hosts Ben Mankiewicz, Dave Karger, Alicia Malone and Eddie Muller will also be part of many conversations. The films that they’ve selected aren’t under-the-radar novelties, either. As Stewart said, “They’re the classics of the classics.”

The series, which runs every Thursday through March 25, will also show “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “Gunga Din,” “The Searchers,” “My Fair Lady,” “Stagecoach,” “Woman of the Year” and “The Children’s Hour.”

Link to the rest at The New York Post and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Without getting into a long diatribe, PG feels quite uneasy about erasing history or portions of history about which we feel uncomfortable or ashamed.

The movies described in the OP depict an attitude that was considered quite ordinary when they were made. All the “right people” thought these movies were fine. They were mass entertainment designed to appeal to the mass market. Some were given the motion picture industry’s highest awards. Again, the “right people”, society’s tastemakers, believed they were excellent as art and entertainment.

Today, many will regard them as distasteful and offensive. As indicated in the OP, more than a few people, at least in the United States, want to effectively ban the showing of such motion pictures.

PG isn’t completely certain why there must be a ban on motion pictures, books, etc., etc. that were clearly mainstream media created to appeal to the tastes of large numbers of people in an earlier era.

To some extent, PG senses a feeling that such material must be kept from the masses lest their attitudes or actions be influenced by exposure to such media. Those who control the distribution of entertainment and information suspect that their audiences or some large portion of their audiences will believe that the behavior and stereotypes included in the mass entertainment of an earlier era will recreate such behavior and reignite such stereotypes in the unwashed masses who may consume them today.

PG believes that history is important to understand and learn from. To the extent history discloses errors, even serious errors, and imperfections in human behavior and attitudes, it is important to understand those errors so they are less likely to be repeated. Pretending they didn’t exist leaves current and future generations more susceptible to repeating such errors.

George Santayana is credited with the aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Yes, the evils of racism can be taught in the abstract, but PG suggests an understanding of how human beings as rational and intelligent as ourselves could accept racism as normal and perfectly consistent with admirable human values not only is a better warning about the true dangers of racism, but also an invitation to be quite humble about the certitudes of our day which may, after further consideration and study, be as offensive of those socially-accepted certitudes of an earlier age.

No rest days

From The Bookseller:

ecently during an event a publisher said, “We do a lot of our reading outside of work hours, most of it actually, there just isn’t time during the day.”

I was struck by her words, -the simple matter-of-fact nature of the delivery – because they were so true, and something that I myself have just accepted. It’s 8:14am as I write this, my daughter is banging her stacking cups around – having still not quite mastered the technique of building a tower with them – and there is a mug of hot chocolate beside me. Despite the picture I have just painted, I am not a morning person. Especially not after a late night spent reading, editing and doing the organising tasks that require quiet emails and a sleeping baby.

I realise that it’s become ingrained in me, this incessant need to be working, to be switched on. From my very first internship where I took manuscripts to my evening job to read, I learned that it was normal, accepted, and encouraged. Being an assistant meant being on before your boss was in the office and often hours after they left. How else would you be able to hand in a task set at 5pm and due at 10am the next morning?

Even with a small baby, and a pandemic to contend with, that little voice in the back of my head that tells me to make sure I haven’t missed any emails, despite it being Sunday afternoon, hasn’t quietened down. Historically I have seen colleagues turn up for work when not fully well, due to the general belief that productivity or level of commitment to the job was intrinsically linked to the amount of time you spent in the office. I’d taken to asking myself: “Yes but can I still send emails? Can I still type?” to test if I deserved to spare myself the commute and eight hours in the office. For many editors, internal meetings can take over much of their week, meaning that they have to condense their edits, reading, and other work into the time they have left around their Zoom calls.

. . . .

If someone is routinely unable to complete their work in work hours, that must be a sign that their workload is untenable. In an industry like ours, thinking time is also intensely important: whether mulling a book jacket, or unpicking a knotty editorial question. Being able to switch off in the evening and read for pleasure, go on a long walk, or catch up with friends gives us that valuable headspace to be able to come back fresh to our desks with a creative answer to solve a problem, or simply with the energy to attack the day’s to-do list.  

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG’s first thought when he read the OP was, “Sounds like a lousy job.”

His second thought was, “Other than being the owner or CEO, how many good jobs are there in traditional publishing?”

Copyright Is A Question of Control

From Publishers Weekly:

Writing is a strange career. You spend countless hours pouring your soul on the page for no promise of pay, no benefits, and no guarantee anyone will even publish you. Then you go online and find out people think you have it too damn good. That was the recent situation when—as part of the controversy over the Dr. Seuss estate’s decision to cease publication of six largely obscure titles with offensive content—former Vox writer Matthew Yglesias tweeted that “books that are 30 years old should be in the public domain.”

Many agreed with Yglesias and wanted to go further. The top reply suggested “even 15 or 20” years would be sufficient, while others said maybe that was too much. After all, they argued, it’s not like you pay dentists or bakers for work they did years ago!

The debate was a perfect internet storm, in that it made everyone mad, was filled with bad faith arguments, and was entirely pointless. Copyright is not about to drop to 30 years, much less five. Thanks to the 1886 Berne Convention and the author advocacy of Victor Hugo, the global standard is a minimum of life plus 50. (Contrary to popular belief, this standard was set long before Mickey Mouse, though Disney did successfully lobby for an extension in the ’90s.) Still, the kerfuffle highlighted some common misunderstandings about both how authors’ careers and copyright work.

Being a novelist or poet is not like being a baker, dentist, lawyer, or any job that pays wages for services rendered. We give up wages and security in order to get copyright: the right to control the art we create and—if we are very lucky—parlay that intellectual property into some (typically modest amount of) money.

If we must think in business terms, being an author is like being an entrepreneur. Writers have ideas and work for themselves to make those ideas a reality. We build a brand. We do countless hours of unpaid work in the hopes that one day, down the road, it will pay off… or at least get us on a few panels at AWP. It doesn’t work out for most of us, as internet commentators were happy to point out—but that’s true of many industries. The vast majority of restaurants fail within a few years, yet no one claims anyone should be able to walk into a successful restaurant and use the kitchen for free.

When it does work out, it takes time—lots of time: years to write, years to establish a readership, and often years to catch a lucky break. Success tends to come late for authors. If you don’t believe me, go turn on Netflix and watch its recent hits Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit, based on decades-old novels by Julia Quinn and the late Walter Tevis, respectively.

Let’s say an author doesn’t ever succeed and spends their life crying over their MacBook. Well, so what? Why shouldn’t they still control their creations? This is what copyright is really about: who gets control. It’s a question that goes beyond money. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG doesn’t agree with everything in the OP.

However, for argument’s sake, he didn’t see anything anything in the OP that justified copyright extending for 50-70 or more years after the author dies.

As a refresher for visitors from the US, in this country copyright is based upon what is generally referred to as the Patent and Copyright Clause of the US Constitution:

[The Congress shall have power] “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

Article I Section 8 | Clause 8

PG notes the “limited times” language in the clause.

Yes, 2,000 years is a “limited time” in that it is less than 10,000 years, but PG suggests that’s not what the authors of the language were thinking about.

In 1790, the First Congress, which included more than a few of those who had approved the Constitution, passed The Copyright Act of 1790, An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Securing the Copies of Maps, Charts, and Books to the Authors and Proprietors of Such Copies.

The Copyright Act of 1790 granted American authors the right to print, re-print, or publish their work for a period of 14 years and to renew for another fourteen. 

Major revisions of the act were passed in in 1831, 1870, 1909, and 1976.

The 1976 revision was the first time that the life of the author became a method of measuring the length of the copyright term. The 1909 revision’s term was of protection to 28 years with a possible renewal of 28 more years.

Yes, Podcast Listenership Is Still on the Rise

From The Vulture:

If you’re a longtime Hot Pod reader, you probably know that I hold Edison Research’s annual Infinite Dial study in high regard. The survey-based study of digital media usage has been the longest-running measure of podcast audiences going back to the medium’s earliest days, and as a result, the story they’re able to tell is the one I consider the most reliable.

. . . .

I don’t need to tell you that a lot has happened over the last twelve months. From a purely podcast standpoint, the wave of lockdowns that began last spring — then ebbed, then flowed, then splayed out into a messy patchwork system — resulted in some initial declines in listenership as the morning commute went away, along with a significant restructuring of work processes and mild consternation over whether there’ll still be a podcast business on the other side of the pandemic.

. . . .

Eventually, though, podcast consumption rebounded as its structural advantages within the context of pandemic conditions came into sharper view. The medium lent well to remote-production workflows, which in turn attracted more participation from creators and celebrity talent and media companies, which in turn led to the creation of more podcasts and greater recruitment of their respective followings into the medium. Listening behaviors as a whole ended up adapting, moving away from the morning commute and towards more afternoon consumption. The case began to be made that podcasting, more so than many other new media infrastructures, was uniquely suited to meeting the moment. But the question was: To what extent?

The 2021 edition of the Infinite Dial study, published last week, gave an answer: to a considerable extent.

Let’s break the report’s podcast-specific findings out. To begin with, the study recorded gains in the major audience sizing metrics:

➽ 41% of the total U.S. population over the age of twelve, or an estimated 116 million Americans, can now be considered monthly podcast listeners, up from 37% the year before.

➽ 28% of the total U.S. population, or an estimated 80 million Americans, can now be considered habitual weekly podcast listeners, up from 24% the year before.

➽ Meanwhile, podcast familiarity — that is, the extent to which Americans are aware of the medium — continued to grow, present among 78% of the total U.S. population, or an estimated 222 million Americans, up from 75% the year before.

The American podcast audience was also found to have grown more diverse from a gender and ethnicity standpoint, with the study arguing that it has drifted towards a composition that more closely reflects the American population. (One specific finding that leapt out: There were exceptional gains among Hispanic listeners over the past year in particular.)

The report also found that the American podcast audience has deepened their engagement with the medium more generally. This is represented in the finding that weekly U.S. podcast listeners now average eight podcasts per week — typically interpreted as “podcast episodes” — up from six podcasts per week.

A quick note on some methodological progression here: This year’s report also includes a new “average podcast shows in the last week” measure, made distinct from a “podcasts per week” metric. The specific finding on that front: Weekly U.S. podcast listeners averaged 5.1 podcast shows in the last week.

. . . .

It should be clear by now that the podcast ecosystem is being fundamentally stitched into other media systems, whether we’re talking about the medium’s competition for listening time against other audio formats (like audiobooks) or how it’s being increasingly absorbed by competition between the large audio streaming platforms.

. . . .

➽ The report argues that “Spotify has solidified its spot as the largest single-source for online audio, and has played a role in the growth of podcasting (especially with younger listeners).” The platform leads in all the important measures, with Pandora consistently coming in second place.

➽ Audiobook listening seems to be flattening back out. After a spike in the 2019 study (50% of the total U.S. population, up from 44% the year before), that measure now hovers at 45% and 46% of the total U.S. population over the past two studies.

➽ Some interesting findings within the context of in-car media consumption. Of course, the broader point to consider is the fact that folks are driving less during the pandemic, but it’s still interesting to see that AM/FM radio has dropped to 75% of population from 81% of population in the “audio sources currently ever used in the car” measure and that half of the total U.S. population engages in online audio listening in the car through a cell phone, up from 45% of the population the year before.

Link to the rest at The Vulture

PG has a long and spotty history as a podcast listener.

  • When podcasts first started to be a thing, PG checked out a couple and did not return. Amateur hour, crazy people, terrible sound and production quality.
  • Later, production quality improved, more intelligent people, still didn’t connect with PG’s wowzer button.
  • More recently, close to professional radio production quality, lots of different people discussing lots of different topics, PG subscribed to a couple of podcasts and listened to 1-2 of each, but then faded.

PG thinks that if he were commuting to work, he would quite likely be a regular podcast listener. Gazing out the window on the train, rumbling on a subway or sitting in traffic on a multi-lane highway would all seem to be good times for PG to enjoy hearing someone intelligent speak about topics of interest.

However, sitting in splendor in his cluttered office in the bowels of Casa PG or sitting in a less-cluttered room in a comfy chair, PG still doesn’t feel the urge to listen.

PG can read much faster than anyone can talk. If he closes his eyes to focus on a voice talking into his ears, he’s liable to doze off or daydream off.

With a good TV show, there are spoken words and pictures. (Mrs. PG got totally hooked on Virgin River after a binge watch. Her enthusiasm got PG interested and he enjoyed it so long as he could make an occasional comment to Mrs. PG during scene transitions. PG also liked the great nature shots and wants to travel to the location where the landscape film is show for photos. But how long do we have to wait for Season 3? Mrs. PG has, PG believes, either read all the VR books or has nearly read them all.)

PG can spend enjoyable time at his computer or iPad flitting around online reading/seeing interesting things.

So, for all the visitors to TPV who enjoy listening to podcasts, what is PG missing? He enjoys listening to music (almost always classical) to unwind, but that’s about the only ears-only media experience that he really connects with.

Are there best practices for listening to podcasts? Some podcast listening technique PG has missed? Feel free, as usual, to comment.