Why Are Regency-Era Shows Like ‘Bridgerton’ So Popular?

From Smithsonian Magazine:

The opening of “The Courtship,” USA Network’s newest foray into the canon of high-concept reality dating shows, ends with a cheekily revised quote from a beloved author: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in search of a husband must go to Regency-era England and live in a castle with sixteen eligible suitors. –Jane Austen, probably,” the words on the screen read. The “probably” appears a moment later, as a glib afterthought.

In “The Courtship,” Nicole Rémy, a Black cheerleader–turned­–software engineer from Seattle, seeks love in a format best described as “The Bachelorette” meets casual Regency cosplay. The show frequently references Austen and the time period she chronicled: the turn of the 19th century. The author lived and wrote during the reign of George III (1760 to 1820), also known as the Georgian Period. Her novels were published during the Regency, an 1811 to 1820 window in which George, Prince of Wales, ruled as regent in lieu of his father, whom Parliament had deemed mentally unfit to rule.

“The Courtship” takes its cue from the Regency period—“the most romantic era of history,” as the host informs the audience in a crisp British accent. Another spun-sugar springtime television release clearly shares the belief: season two of “Bridgerton,” Netflix’s pastel-hued, racy adaptation of contemporary author Julia Quinn’s romance novels. The Regency-set series broke Netflix viewership records and made representational strides by imagining protagonists of color as British royalty and aristocrats. Similarly, the second season of “Sanditon,” a lower-profile import from the United Kingdom that uses Austen’s unfinished novel of the same name as a point of departure, features the writer’s only prominent Black character, an heiress from the West Indies. The season premiered March 20 on Masterpiece PBS.

All three series revel in the trappings audiences associate with Austen novels: soirees where eligible singles swan about, horse-drawn carriages, the watchful eyes of rivals and family on a couple as they twirl around a ballroom, conversations over tea, ample opportunities for dramatic speeches about undying love. On “The Courtship,” where everyone is formally referred to by title and last name, would-be-husbands write “Miss Rémy” handwritten letters, and episodes end with choreographed dances that double as dismissal ceremonies. (“Farewell. Your carriage awaits,” Rémy proclaims to spurned men dressed like they’re Cinderella’s footmen.) “Bridgerton” and “The Courtship” even share a set; the same estate that serves as the site of a long montage of Daphne Bridgerton and her new husband, the Duke of Hastings, in, ahem, marital bliss, is the location where Rémy’s suitors woo her.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

10 Unforgettable Dreams in Literature

From Dreams:

1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll really took full advantage of the limitless possibilities of writing within a dream setting. The 19th-Century author used Alice’s ability to get lost in the dream state and make connections and observations in her real life – much like we all actually do when dreaming.

2. The Iliad

In Homer’s epic poem, which has inspired many films and books, a false dream is used by Zeus, persuading Agamemnon to attack Troy. Agamemnon is convinced by the event, which is evidence that Homer recognised the influence of dreams in our waking lives. This is not the only example in our list of false dreams being used for mischievous ends.

. . . .

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

As with Agamemnon’s dreams, courtesy of Zeus, the hero of Hogwarts is also led astray by subconscious thoughts implanted by a dastardly villain. This link was revealed to the pair after Lord Voldemort inadvertently led Harry to the prison of Ron Weasley’s father, after their psychic connection alerted The Boy Who Lived to the entrapment.

And, as if you ever needed an affirmation of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore’s wisdom, he also has something to say about dreams:

  • It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Link to the rest at Dreams

On the origin of languages

From The Economist:

In a church hewn out of a mountainside, just over a thousand years or so ago, a monk was struggling with a passage in Latin. He did what others like him have done, writing the tricky bits in his own language between the lines of text and at the edges. What makes these marginalia more than marginal is that they are considered the first words ever written in Spanish.

The “Emilian glosses” were written at the monastery of Suso, which was founded by St Aemilianus (Millán, in Spanish) in the La Rioja region of Spain. Known as la cuna del castellano, “the cradle of Castilian”, it is a unesco world heritage site and a great tourist draw. In 1977 Spain celebrated 1,000 years of the Spanish language there.

Everyone loves a superhero origin story. Spanish is now the world’s third-biggest language, with over 500m speakers, and it all began with a monk scrawling on his homework. But as with the radioactive bite that put the Spider into Spider-Man, there is more than a little mythmaking going on here.

First, while “Castilian” and “Spanish” are synonymous for most Spanish-speakers, philologists argue that what the anonymous monk wrote is closer to the Aragonese than to the Castilian variety of Romance (the name for the range of dialects that continued their wayward development when Rome retreated from most of Europe after the fifth century ad). In any case, the Suso monk’s scribblings have been pipped by the discovery in nearby Burgos province of writings that may be two centuries older.

Even those are not the origin of Spanish. The very idea treats languages like a person, with a name, birth date and birthplace. But languages are not like an individual. They are much more like a species, gradually diverging from another over many years. It would be as accurate to describe such jottings as degenerate Latin as it is to call them early Spanish—but that would probably not draw as many tourists.

Most accurate would be to call the monk’s prose an intermediate form: words like sieculos (centuries) in the text are almost perfectly halfway between Latin’s saecula and modern Spanish’s siglos. In its way, the church in which the glosses were written is a mirror of such evolution. It includes arches in Visigothic, Mozarabic (Moorish-influenced) and more recent styles, added as it was expanded. As many visitors to an ancient site find, it can be hard to date buildings in use for centuries. Little of the original remains; all is layers upon layers.

The desire to create heroic origins of languages is an urge to impose order on chaos. Students of other European languages are offered “Beowulf” or “La Chanson de Roland” as the earliest exemplars of English or French, which gives the grand story a comprehensible beginning. But literature, by its nature, requires the language to exist before poems and epics could be written. Imagining that a piece of writing represents the beginning of a language is like thinking the first picture of a baby is the beginning of its life.

A better analogy is that the first written records of a language are like the first fossil traces of a distinct species. But even this should not be mistaken for the moment at which the species emerged. After all, the neat nodes on a palaeobiologist’s tree of life are just simplifications of a messy continuum.

The urge to put dates on the founding of languages seems universal. Google “Basque Europe’s oldest language” to see how many people think this language (which evolved gradually from some now-unknown ancestor) is somehow older than Spanish, though Basque has no clear birthday, either. By quite a coincidence, the first known words written in Old Basque—just six of them—also appear in the Emilian glosses, though the site makes much less of this fact. Or to take a more modern example, a book on American English called “The Forgotten Founding Father” aims to give Noah Webster’s modest early-19th-century reforms, such as respelling “center”, the heroic role humans seem destined to seek in the birth of their cultures.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Philologists are everywhere on TPV today.


From Wikipedia:

The praenomen (Classical Latin: [prae̯ˈnoːmɛn]; plural: praenomina) was a personal name chosen by the parents of a Roman child. It was first bestowed on the dies lustricus (day of lustration), the eighth day after the birth of a girl, or the ninth day after the birth of a boy. The praenomen would then be formally conferred a second time when girls married, or when boys assumed the toga virilis upon reaching manhood. Although it was the oldest of the tria nomina commonly used in Roman naming conventions, by the late republic, most praenomina were so common that most people were called by their praenomina only by family or close friends. For this reason, although they continued to be used, praenomina gradually disappeared from public records during imperial times. Although both men and women received praenomina, women’s praenomina were frequently ignored, and they were gradually abandoned by many Roman families, though they continued to be used in some families and in the countryside.

. . . .

The tria nomina, consisting of praenomen, nomen and cognomen, which are today regarded as a distinguishing feature of Roman culture, first developed and spread throughout Italy in pre-Roman times. Most of the people of Italy spoke languages belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family; the three major groups within the Italian Peninsula were the Latino-Faliscan languages, including the tribes of the Latini, or Latins, who formed the core of the early Roman populace, and their neighbors, the Falisci and Hernici; the Oscan languages, including the Sabines, who also contributed to early Roman culture, as well as the Samnites, and many other peoples of central and southern Italy; and the Umbrian languages, spoken by the Umbri of the Central Apennines, the rustic Picentes of the Adriatic coast, and the Volsci.

In addition to the Italic peoples was the Etruscan civilization, whose language was unrelated to Indo-European, but who exerted a strong cultural influence throughout much of Italy, including early Rome.

. . . .

Each of the Italic peoples had its own distinctive group of praenomina. A few names were shared between cultures, and the Etruscans in particular borrowed many praenomina from Latin and Oscan. It is disputed whether some of the praenomina used by the Romans themselves were of distinctly Etruscan or Oscan origin. However, these names were in general use at Rome and other Latin towns, and were used by families that were certainly of Latin origin. Thus, irrespective of their actual etymology, these names may be regarded as Latin.

. . . .

Philologists have debated the origin and meaning of these names since classical antiquity. However, many of the meanings popularly assigned to various praenomina appear to have been no more than “folk etymology”. The names derived from numbers are the most certain. The masculine names Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, Octavius and Decimus, and the feminine names Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, Quinta, Sexta, Septima, Octavia, Nona and Decima are all based on ordinal numbers. There may also have been a praenomen Nonus, as there was a gens with the apparently patronymic name of Nonius, although no examples of its use as a praenomen have survived.

It is generally held that these names originally referred to the order of a child’s birth, although some scholars believe that they might also have referred to the month of the Roman calendar in which a child was born. Like the masculine praenomina, the months of the old Roman Calendar had names based on the numbers five through ten: Quintilis (July), Sextilis (August), September, October, November, and December. However, this hypothesis does not account for the feminine praenomina Prima, Secunda, Tertia, and Quarta, nor does it explain why Septimus, Octavius, and perhaps Nonus were rarely used.

Philologists have debated the origin and meaning of these names since classical antiquity. However, many of the meanings popularly assigned to various praenomina appear to have been no more than “folk etymology”. The names derived from numbers are the most certain. The masculine names Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, Octavius and Decimus, and the feminine names Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, Quinta, Sexta, Septima, Octavia, Nona and Decima are all based on ordinal numbers. There may also have been a praenomen Nonus, as there was a gens with the apparently patronymic name of Nonius, although no examples of its use as a praenomen have survived.

It is generally held that these names originally referred to the order of a child’s birth, although some scholars believe that they might also have referred to the month of the Roman calendar in which a child was born. Like the masculine praenomina, the months of the old Roman Calendar had names based on the numbers five through ten: Quintilis (July), Sextilis (August), September, October, November, and December. However, this hypothesis does not account for the feminine praenomina Prima, Secunda, Tertia, and Quarta, nor does it explain why Septimus, Octavius, and perhaps Nonus were rarely used.

. . . .

The Etruscan language was unrelated to the other languages spoken in Italy, and accordingly it contains many names which have no equivalents in the Latin or Oscan languages. The Etruscan civilization, the most advanced of its time in that region, was a strong influence on the other peoples of Italy. The Etruscan alphabet (itself based on an early version of the Western or “Red” Greek alphabet) was the source for later Italian alphabets, including the modern Latin alphabet.

However, the cultural interchange was not all one-way. With respect to personal names, the Etruscans borrowed a large number of praenomina from Latin and Oscan, adding them to their own unique names. The Etruscan language is still imperfectly known, and the number of inscriptions are limited, so this list of Etruscan praenomina encompasses what has been discovered to this point. Included are names that are certainly praenomina, no matter their linguistic origin. Names that might be nomina or cognomina have not been included.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

Sometimes, PG simply must go off on a frolic of his own.

The sentence that really captured PG’s frolic-prone mind was:

Philologists have debated the origin and meaning of these names since classical antiquity.

How could PG be expected to resist debates among philologists that have continued for well over two thousand years?

During the course of his long and illustrious legal career, PG has represented a handful of pig-headed clients who simply could not be persuaded to compromise over matters such as who should start the fire intended to burn down a long-abandoned house so the owner could collect an insurance settlement.

The house did burn to the ground. Before it reached that state, the two arsonists, who had encountered difficulties in actually getting the house to catch fire until they went to town, bought five gallons of gasoline, climbed up to the attic, emptied the gas can, then dropped a match. As a result of quite a grand attic fire, they couldn’t get to the attic stairs to leave. They escaped the attic by accidentally by falling through the attic floor and second-story ceiling by mistake. Thereafter, they descending the sort-of-intact stairway from the second floor to the first floor of the burning house and ran outside. The two partners in crime inhaled so much smoke, they were still sitting on the ground coughing heartily when the rural fire department and a deputy sheriff arrived on the scene. Their smoke-stained visages and shirts and pants featured burned holes where embers, etc., had landed, causing a lot of burns not severe enough to require more than on-the-scene application of ointment from an ambulance attendant who showed up shortly after the deputy sheriff arrived. The quick-witted deputy concluded that the two arsonists had been up to no good and slapped some cuffs on them before the ambulance took them to the jail instead of the hospital.

Prior to the trial, one of the arsonists decided he would blame his partner for starting the fire and the partner counter-blamed the other for actually dropping the match. For the benefit of the continuing legal education of visitors to TPV, you don’t have to actually drop the match to be guilty of arson. Carrying the gas can into the house that burned shortly thereafter is quite enough to earn you a stretch in the state penitentiary.

No, actually, book bans don’t sell books

From AZ Mirror:

“Bans sell books.”

You don’t have to go far online to find that bit of conventional wisdom. For example, today my delightfully bookish Twitter feed showed me Upton Sinclair’s thoughts on the matter from 1927. And in my two decades in book publishing, I’ve repeated variations on the theme many times. “Bans lead to publicity. Publicity leads to sales. LOL, banners. Thanks for the money.”

The problem is that the actual experience of book bans at national scale is not so simple, and it’s rarely positive. The present national wave of book banning — where hundreds of titles are challenged en masse in schools — is by some measures unprecedented. I suspect it has given many of us who work in the book industry a crash course in the realities of book bans. I know I’ll never again shrug and say “bans sell books.”

It is true that bans can lead to spikes in sales, especially when the book is already a bestseller or when it’s an established classic (“The Hate U Give” or “Maus”). In other words, bans sell books you’ve probably already heard of.

But what happens when the book is not a bestseller or a classic? What happens if it’s a modest-but-steady-selling title? The evidence says bans are no golden ticket. The American Library Association (ALA) announced its ten most banned books of 2021 a few weeks ago and none has been on the New York Times Best Seller List since. Of the titles on the banned list, I see only one that became a bestseller after it was widely banned. And industry sales tracking numbers show very modest sales lifts at best for most of the books on that list.

But sales aren’t the only things that can happen after bans. For many of these titles, the bans are how people first hear about the book. Ashley Hope Pérez’s 2015 novel “Out of Darkness” is an award-winning work of historical fiction and one of the fifty best young adult novels of all time if you happen to have picked up Booklist magazine in June of 2017. Or it’s about “anal sex” if you watched Jimmy Kimmel’s jokes about a Texas ban of the book last September. [Full disclosure: I edited “Out of Darkness” at a previous job.]

A book ban is always proxy for attacking something else — an idea or a movement — or, as is the case with these memoirs, a proxy for someone.

The 2019 title “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe (e/eir/em) is an acclaimed graphic memoir of a nonbinary and asexual artist coming out to eir family. Or it’s “child pornography” and “grooming” if you heard about it from one of the dozens news stories about the bans that repeated the banners’ objections to the book. For most banned books, a viral ban introduces the book, and book banners don’t hesitate to lie. Whatever number of sales would make this awful first impression worthwhile, neither of these books has hit it. I suspect no book ever has.

“Gender Queer” was the most banned book in 2021 according to the ALA. It’s not the book on that list that was a New York Times Best Seller, though; that was George M. Johnson’s 2020 memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” which flashed onto the Times’s list for a week last February before settling back to modest but solid sales.

Link to the rest at AZ Mirror

PG likely doesn’t qualify as a free speech absolutist, but does lean in that direction.

What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

(Minor digression: John Ray , who was the first to record this saying in English Proverbs, 1670, remarked “This is a woman’s Proverb.”)

If an author has a right to create and publish a book, another person or groups of people, have the right to criticize that book on any basis, valid or invalid, by saying, writing, etc., that they don’t like the book and think it’s a bad idea for those of a certain age or those of any age to read that book. Or that they think the book is terribly boring. Or that the book costs too much. They also have the right to advocate that their taxes or anyone’s taxes shouldn’t be used to purchase the book.

In PG’s observation, actions and movements to silence or ban speech some people find objectionable are not limited to the left or right or any particular religion, political party or other group of like-minded individuals.

Let Fiction Be Fiction

From Publishers Weekly:

Since my debut novel, Other People’s Children, was published last April, I’ve been thinking a lot about who gets to tell which stories. Some of my readers don’t seem to think that I should have been allowed to write the book that I wrote.

I’m probably not the first new writer to obsessively read their Goodreads reviews. I know that it’s not good for me, but, well, we’ve all done plenty these past few years that isn’t good for us. My publisher’s sales force preferred to use initials on the hardcover. Many reviewers wrote that they didn’t realize RJ Hoffmann was male until after they finished the book and read the bio or noticed the picture on the jacket. That pleased me. Some of the most impactful characters in the book are women, and the assumption that I was also a woman suggested that I had succeeded, at some level, in writing those characters well. My favorite reviews remain those that refer to me with female pronouns. I was troubled, though, by the reviewers who found it problematic that a man wrote the book.

Other People’s Children tells the story of a couple who, after struggling with infertility, adopt a baby girl. The birth mother decides to reclaim her child after four days, and the adoptive parents choose to run rather than return the baby.

Was it my story to tell? I could tell you about the moment I first laid eyes on my own adopted children. I could tell you about the fierce love that hit me like waking from a deep sleep into a bright light. I could tell you that the book, for me, is about shattered expectations and the pain of separation from a child. I could tell you that my daughter was living in a residential treatment center while I wrote it, struggling with mood disorders layered atop autism, and I could tell you about all the expectations that experience shattered for me. I could tell you that, although Other People’s Children is not my family’s story, our story litters the margins of the book.

But what if I suggested that none of that matters? What if I let the story speak for itself? What if I asked you to judge my characters based upon their depth, their voices, their strengths, and their weaknesses, rather than upon the alignment of their experience with my own? My characters tend to be more interesting than me, stronger in so many ways. Strong characters facing down a difficult problem tend to demand the story that seems right to them, and I’ve learned not to force my own voice into their throats.

I’ve read many #OwnVoices novels in the past few years, and count some of them among my favorites. The movement applies a much-needed balm to the many decades of appropriation of marginalized cultures. But I chafe at the idea that those are the only stories worth reading, or, for that matter, writing. I would argue that many acres of fertile ground lie between cultural appropriation and direct experience. I would suggest that fencing writers into the back 40 of their own experience limits the imagination, tames the tales, and rations the portions of truth that nourish us.

For me, those vast acres are fertilized with empathy. I’ve read several thousand novels written from the subjectivity of people who are nothing like me (or like the writers who crafted them, for that matter), and I believe that experience has made me more empathetic. Considering life through eyes that aren’t mine seems the whole point of fiction. And as I learned to build a novel, I found that writing also centers on empathy. Empathy is the window to the core of every character. Writing Other People’s Children demanded that I inhabit every character fully, regardless of our similarities and differences. Nurturing empathy for my characters led me to respect them, to listen to them.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that the question should be, “Did the author write a good book? Did it draw me in and engage my intellect and emotions?” instead of, “Was the author someone who has actually experienced everything that appears in the book?”

As PG has said before, stories don’t belong to the type of people depicted in the stories, they belong to the author, the person who created the story.

Nobody would expect an individual who wrote a history about the Roman Empire to be someone who actually lived then and there or whose great-great-great, etc., ancestor lived in Rome during the empire.

Madame Bovary was written by Gustave Flaubert and the book is now regarded as one of the most influential literary works in history, a seminal work of literary realism.

On the other hand, you have The Professor by Charlotte Brontë, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, in which the narrator, Dr James Sheppard, helps the famous male Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Abandonment

From Writers Helping Writers:

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental illness, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

Fear of Abandonment

While death and loss are a part of life, they’re incredibly difficult to deal with. Being left behind (whether the leaving is voluntary or a choice) by someone important is something that many people and characters can worry about, even to the point of it becoming a fear that takes over their life.

This is one of the worst feelings to experience and it can be inflicted by anyone close to the character—a family member (parent, spouse, sibling, child), lover or romantic interest, best friend, mentor, etc. Someone who has experienced abandonment may develop a debilitating fear of it occurring again, but so can people who have never gone through it because they know the anguish it causes and don’t want it to happen to them.

Whether it looks like guardedness or holding on too tightly, a fear of abandonment can manifest in a number of ways.

What It Looks Like

  • Maintaining shallow relationships (so the character never grows close to someone who could leave them)
  • Reluctance to fully commit to a relationship
  • Sabotaging promising relationships by pushing the other person away, treating them badly, cheating on them, abandoning them first, etc.
  • Believing that people are going to leave (due to insecurity, feeling unworthy of love, etc.)
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Becoming possessive or manipulative as a way of controlling the other person and keeping them from close
  • Staying in an unhealthy relationship because the character believes it’s better than being alone
  • Attaching too quickly to a partner, friend, etc.
  • Seeking frequent reassurance of the other person’s loyalty or love
  • Making demands of the other party that will “prove” their love or loyalty
  • Separation anxiety
  • Being extremely sensitive to criticism
  • Seeking to please and appease
  • Struggling with emotional intimacy
  • Reading too much into the other person’s words or actions
  • Common Internal Struggles
  • The character blaming themselves for things that aren’t their fault
  • Struggling with anxiety or depression
  • Being tempted to do something they don’t want to to keep the other party happy
  • Feeling worthless or unlovable
  • The character wondering what’s wrong with them (that causes people to leave)
  • Wanting reassurance from the other person but not wanting to come off as clingy or desperate
  • Feeling defective and unfixable
  • Worrying that they will never be happy

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

A Statue Gives Romans a Voice

From Public Books:

When I arrived in Rome, a little more than a year ago, the streets of the Eternal City had emptied. Previously busy thoroughfares looked like metaphysical paintings by De Chirico: unobstructed views down vacant streets were only punctuated by the passing of a single masked pedestrian, the green flash of a pharmacy sign, or the flutter of the plastic walls of a small white tent used for COVID testing in the winter wind. The famous palatial museums and domed churches of the city were all closed. When I had previously visited Rome, in the summers to work as an archaeologist on excavations, I was always amazed by the auditory volume: how animated conversations, the clanking of bottles, and the sound of wheels over cobblestones echoed off tall apartment buildings. But in January 2021, it was possible to hear a siren from an out-of-sight ambulance or the sound of a newscaster filtering out of a window, announcing the most recent totals: 80,000 dead.

And the numbers were rising again. The plateau of deaths achieved by the first strict lockdown had more than doubled. On December 3, 2020, 993 patients died in one day, the highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic. As I walked through the Trastevere neighborhood—normally full of tourists and those catering to them—I saw a bar famous for its normally raucous crowds and cheap beers, now shuttered. Above it hung a large paper sign, posted during the strict lockdown months before. It read “Ci vorrebbe un miracolo” (we need a miracle). The paper was tattered and starting to sag.

Nearby, but on the other side of the river, was the reason I’d come. I was in Rome to work on my dissertation project about ancient sculpture, and in particular one ancient Roman statue now known as “Pasquino.” Unlike most of the very old statues I study, this fragmentary monument still stands outside at nearly the spot where it was excavated 521 years ago. But in a city full of ruins, this one meant something special.

The first time I saw the Pasquino on the 2021 trip, I found that I was alone with the sculpture. Several small pieces of paper were taped to its plinth. Like the “We need a miracle” sign, these notes were torn and hard to read, evidently posted days or weeks before.

Rome is covered in graffiti to such an extent that posted and scrawled words on buildings in the city center seem to be simply part of the city’s carefully maintained patina, like the peeling orange and yellow plaster facades of Baroque buildings or the characteristic black cobblestones known as pietrini. Most of the posted notes were written in Italian. 

. . . .

I knew from my interest in the Pasquino statue that the practice of posting such notes on it was not new. In fact, the people of Rome have been leaving notes on the monument for over half a millennium.

. . . .

The next time I saw the Pasquino, this centuries-old tradition was in full effect. The night before, an Italian American artist had covered the statue’s entire plinth in strips of butcher paper as part of a guerilla installation. The brown paper was punctuated by anonymous quotes written in black marker, mostly in English, which the artist had collected online. This work was inspired by the same tradition that I had come to Rome to study: centuries of posting certain kinds of messages, known as pasquinades, on the Pasquino statue.

Still, most passersby kept moving.

However, by that afternoon, something curious had begun to happen: Romans were writing their own thoughts on the large butcher paper, or even attaching their own notes on small pieces of paper beside the artist’s. These began as small additions: a pair of initials, an “I love you,” or a crude drawing. However, the notes did not stop there.

When I returned the next day, there were more, including lines about politics written in the Roman dialect. Although the intervention had been initiated by a visitor, the relative lack of tourists in Rome created a unique situation: the Pasquino had reverted to a venue largely for Romans by Romans. The artist’s installation and the further contributions had a sort of magnetic effect, drawing in pedestrians and spurring the addition of more and more notes. Many were clearly by children: “I want everyone to be happy.” Many focused on the pandemic: “Go away COVID!”

Not all of the lines were appropriate or even legible. But I thought of how, even back in the 16th century, the people of Rome—whether born there, living there, or just visiting—had decided for centuries to document such writing. I felt that these should be similarly documented. I returned to the monument each day to photograph the notes and meet the locals who would gather to read them.

. . . .

The Pasquino monument witnessed the vicissitudes of empire, including a plague and multiple waves of religious persecution. When comparing ancient and modern events, there is always a danger of drawing false or simplistic parallels. But it is easy to see how history can repeat itself in the Eternal City.

The statue is likely about 1,900 years old. And, although broken, the original composition is still known: the statue represents the recovery of a fallen Homeric hero from behind enemy lines during the Trojan War. In the sculpture, the living warrior’s head twists dramatically to look behind him as he drags the corpse of his dead comrade: he is not yet safe.

Perhaps the dead warrior lifted from the ground was Achilles, or his ill-fated companion Patroclus. Either way, the image would have spurred an ancient Roman viewer to do the “right” thing: to be brave against all odds, to be dutiful to their country and comrades, and to recover and respectfully bury the bodies of the dead.

The marble copy of the statue from the Parione district in Rome was originally displayed near the Stadium of Domitian. This was a huge boat-shaped building, built around the year 80 CE, that was used to entertain the Roman masses with Greek-style footraces and other athletic events.

Some hundred years after the stadium was built, in the second century CE, Roman soldiers returning from campaigns in the east brought a new illness home with them, likely smallpox. As many as two thousand people died in the city of Rome each day in the year 189 CE. Some historians estimate that up to 10 percent of the empire’s total population was felled, including the co-emperor Lucius Verus. Spurred by this catastrophe and a series of other political and economic crises late in the Roman Empire, the demographics of Rome began to shift. Christians were publicly executed in stadiums like Domitian’s; their deaths served as entertainment alongside games.

Link to the rest at Public Books

via Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons

Exit Strategies for Alaskan Wine Bars

From Electric Lit:

Leigh Newman is a queen of detail. Not motes-in-the-air kind of details (though I’m sure she could describe a dust cloud and make it sparkle like rubies and emeralds), but the assemblage-of-particularities-and-peculiarities sorts of details that jump off the page and burrow into your brain. The first we encounter in “Valley of the Moon” is on the city bus, the delightfully (and truly) named People Mover of Anchorage. The narrator’s erstwhile neighbor “smells of poop and woodsmoke and sticky raspberry brandy.” Not a great list of smells, I’ll admit, but evocative, both of the smeller and the smelled—and important for our purposes. When we learn the smeller, our viscerally self-aware and self-deprecating narrator, Becca, is an experienced drinker (riding the bus because of her revoked license, owing to a “wet and reckless” the previous year), who’s had to clean up quite a few messes made by herself and her mother, suddenly the more subtle corners of that description billow out from a one-liner into something with a second and third dimension.

That variety of slight and slanted character development, her elegant and unsettling world-building, shows up again and again across “Valley of the Moon.” The next scene opens in Anchorage’s version of a schmancy wine bar, which was in a former life a dentist’s office and still has that vibe; the entry hall is lined in rent-a-plants and the bar shares a bathroom (the key tethered by a piece of forget-me-not driftwood) with a podiatrist’s office. Not the most ambiance, but perhaps the most this corner of the world, known for many things but not its French bistros, can offer. Here two sisters—one with a do-not-serve on her ID, one with a hugely pregnant belly—order a bottle of very expensive wine from the world’s most (rightly) skeptical waitress. From there, decades of lived experience, resentment and disaster and love, pour out of Becca, the glass of red and dozen raw oysters (“hunks of dead lung on a shell,” for the record) and the waitress’s scar all acting a bit madeleine-ish.

It’s a creeping suspicion at first, that there’s some architecture and intention to these wild, wily details, the weave of present and past, but as time and the story march on, you come to realize that while Newman’s descriptions may be presented casually, often seeming to be off-handed oh-by-the-ways, they are the opposite of chockablock. You’ll have to get to the end of “Valley of the Moon” to understand why it’s absolutely elegant, and a bit heartbreaking, that the story starts on public transit and that these sisters reunite in a French-ish bar, but Newman’s route through strange smells and vivid memories and delicately rendered disaster is worth every turn.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

As the scale of science expands, so does the language of prefixes

From The Economist

Nowadays every factory seems to be a “gigafactory”. Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla, recently cut the ribbon on a fourth facility by that name, in Berlin. Tesla’s Shanghai Gigafactory has been in the news for a covid-related halt in production. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (tsmc), one of the world’s most important chipmakers, has begun touting its “gigafabs”. Nissan has announced a gigafactory in Sunderland, in the north-east of England.

Giga- is a prefix meaning “a billion” of something. The Oxford English Dictionary drily describes it as an “arbitrary derivative” of the Greek gigas, “giant”. (The ancient Greeks apparently had no need for a specific word for “billions”.) But the various gigafactories don’t always produce billions of anything: each month the tsmc gigafab can start about 100,000 silicon wafers used for making microchips, making it more of a hectokilofactory. (Hekaton and khilioi really are Greek for 100 and 1,000.) Tesla, at least, can claim that its original Gigafactory in Nevada supplies billions of watt-hours of battery-cell output per year.

As science has expanded to the huge and the tiny, the need for new metric-system prefixes has grown accordingly. These have made their way into common parlance mostly through computing. In the 1980s a good computer might have had 256 kilobytes of memory. The first hard drives with a million bytes’ worth of storage introduced the world to the megabyte, a jaw-dropping notion at the time. (Megas, too, was generic in Greek, meaning “great”. A megalomaniac has delusions of greatness, not millionaire status.) But at least many people had heard of the mega- prefix before. When the billion-byte mark was crossed, many began encountering “giga-” for the first time, strange new linguistic territory opened up by Moore’s Law.

It can be only a matter of time before giga- feels ho-hum; after all, a memory card with 128 gigabytes of storage is today the size of a thumbnail and costs around $20. Affordable hard drives now have terabyte—that is, trillion-byte—storage. Having run out of terms for “big”, the borrowers from Greek got creative: teras means “monster”. As billions become workaday, tera- will become the new giga-.

For a while, anyway. Whether or not computing power continues to grow at the rate it has in the past—a matter of some debate—it is inevitable that peta- and exa- will make their debut in the popular consciousness. Already selected by the International Committee for Weights and Measures (icwm), peta- and exa- come from Greek penta (five) and hexa (six), representing 1,0005 and 1,0006. After that, the icwm’s prefix-mongers have decided to go for Latin rather than Greek. They considered septa- and octo- for 1,0007 and 1,0008. But the proposed s- shortening of septa- could have been confused with an abbreviation for a second, and the o- for a zero. So septa- and octo- were deformed to zetta- (1,0007) and yotta- (1,0008).

. . . .

Small is cool too. The fractional equivalent of giga- is nano-, the prefix denoting a billionth. Nanotechnology is big, so to speak: nanoparticles making up nanobeads are hot topics in science and technology. The hip feel conveyed by the prefix was borrowed by Apple, which named its tiny music player the Nano. (Again, the etymology is classical: nanos is the Greek word for “dwarf”.) If nano-, too, eventually becomes humdrum, look out for pico- (a trillionth, from Spanish pico for “a little bit”), femto- and atto-, from the Danish for 15 and 18, referring to 1015 and 1018.

Link to the rest at The Economist (PG doesn’t know if you’ll hit a paywall or not. He didn’t when he clicked, but he may be a special snowflake in the eyes of the editors of The Economist.)

Lost Charlotte Brontë Poems to Go on Sale on Author’s Birthday for $1.25 Million

From Book Riot:

Charlotte Brontë is best known for writing Jane Eyre, but before that, she wrote poetry for her and her sisters’ toy soldiers in a remote English village.

One of these poetry collections, written by the author when she was thirteen, has resurfaced after its last sighting in 1916.

The miniature book is 15 pages long, dated December 1829, and is in its original brown cover. The collection within is titled “A Book of Ryhmes by Charlotte Bronte, Sold by Nobody, and Printed by Herself,” and features ten poems.

It will be exhibited and offered for sale by James Cummins Bookseller of New York and Maggs Bros of London on Brontë’s birthday, April 21st, during the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair. The asking price is $1.25 million.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

What America can learn from Florida’s boom

From The Economist:

As the southernmost state in continental America, Florida is often pooh-poohed as peripheral. Headlines about crimes committed by Floridians, sometimes involving alligators, alcohol, or a combination of the two, have contributed to a wacky “Florida man” stereotype. Many associate Florida with retirement, rednecks and a world-famous rodent, Mickey Mouse.

In fact, Florida has become emblematic of much of America and central to all of it. The state is on the rise, as our special report this week explains. Between 2010 and 2020 its population grew at double the national rate. Florida has overtaken New York to become America’s third-most-populous state after California and Texas, with a dynamic and diverse demography, including fast-rising numbers of Hispanics. It is now the number-one destination for American and foreign movers. In the year to July 31st 2021, 260,000 more people arrived in Florida than left—equivalent to adding a city the size of Buffalo, New York.

Its economic and political heft is growing, too. Florida’s gdp has doubled since 2002. Were it a country, it would rank as the 15th-largest economy in the world, ahead of Mexico and Indonesia. Having recently gained a 30th electoral-college vote, it has more than a tenth of those required to win the presidency. The largest swing state, in the past 12 presidential elections Florida has voted all but twice for the winner. And as home to musicians, athletes and a recent former president, Florida is a cultural trendsetter, for better or worse, as well as ground zero for the fight over government restrictions related to covid-19.

Americans ignore this powerhouse at their peril—and should heed the lessons it holds. For a start, Florida points to the wider looming battle between generations. Its residents include millions of retired Americans who want to limit government spending, even while they use government programmes, such as Medicare, a health-care scheme for the elderly. Younger Floridians, meanwhile, want to see investment in their own future, and are finding cities like Miami increasingly unaffordable.

. . . .

Politically, Florida has come to embody the Republican Party and its rightward tilt. If the Florida-based Donald Trump decides not to run again in 2024, Mr DeSantis is the likeliest Republican nominee for president. The rising number of independents in Florida suggests that people are fed up with both parties. But Democrats look especially vulnerable. A decade ago they claimed 558,000 more registered voters than Republicans; today they trail Republicans by 43,000. Nationally, Democrats need to run more optimistic, centrist candidates who can appeal to independent voters like those in Florida. As it is, they are struggling to shake off the “socialist” label that Republicans have given them, turning off many voters, notably Hispanics.

Lastly, Florida offers a case study in economic policy. It charges no income tax, which enhances its appeal, as do the pro-business attitudes of the state’s leaders. The pandemic has prompted people and firms to reconsider where they want to be based, leading many to move out of high-tax, high-regulation states (such as New York and California) to Florida and Texas, which are pro-business and tax-light. Silicon Valley and Wall Street types are attracted to a place where politicians welcome them and never condemn their success.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG suggests that, for many western Europeans, Florida is a place which is quite puzzling. Massachusetts is much easier for them to understand.

California and Texas also seem more than a bit bizarre as well.

The vast majority of Americans speak English as their first language, but, while English has certainly had an impact, the diverse set of Hispanic-origin cultures that sprang up in various parts of the country has, for PG, a more interesting influence.

California and Texas border on Mexico and each contains a lot of Mexicano in its culture.

You’ll also hear a lot of Spanish in some parts of Florida, but the Latino influence is different, more affected by the many islands of the Caribbean where Spanish was planted long before English was heard.

From The Tampa Bay Times:

“Literary” is probably not the first adjective that comes to mind when you think of Florida.

Time to reconsider. The Sunshine State has attracted dozens of notable writers, as a place to live and a place to write about, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Whether it’s hurricanes (deployed to great effect by such writers as Zora Neale Hurston, John D. MacDonald and Peter Matthiessen), alligators (Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, Karen Russell et al.) or bizarre criminals (Hiaasen, Dorsey, Jeff Lindsay, Randy Wayne White and many more), Florida offers plenty of material.

We have bustling cities and vast expanses of wilderness, pristine beaches and gaudy tourist traps, not to mention plenty of universities with writing programs. It’s no wonder that well-known authors can be found in almost every corner of the state — and that their work has depicted Florida as everything from paradise to hell on earth.

. . . .

To compile this map of literary Florida, I first chose to limit it to fiction writers, living and dead. Florida can claim plenty of great nonfiction writers, poets and playwrights as well, of course, but I was aiming for a manageable number. Here are my criteria for this selection of novelists and short story writers: They have lived in the state at some point and have used Florida as a setting for their fiction.

Since it’s a selection, I have also chosen to grandfather in one writer who doesn’t meet both criteria. Jack Kerouac is one of the most famous literary figures associated with St. Petersburg and Orlando, having lived for a time in both cities in the 1960s. But he never, as far as I know, wrote about Florida in his fiction.

However, a letter by Kerouac that recently came up for auction reveals that he planned to do so. Dated Sept. 27, 1968, a time when he was living in St. Petersburg, the typed one-page letter to New York literary agent Sterling Lord outlines Kerouac’s plans for his never-completed final book, the working title of which was Spotlight.

He begins, “Here’s what I’ll do with SPOTLIGHT. I’ll use my public appearances on TV and lectures as rungs in the ladder of the narrative. In betwixt, I can throw in more private matters, such as my two physical beatings in bars (‘Spotlight’ indeed), and other things, but the main tale will be. I’ll start with when I’m living on that back porch in Florida with my Maw in 1957, broke, arguing about what to buy for dessert because we have no money for meat, and suddenly Time Magazine comes in to interview me about the upcoming publication of ON THE ROAD.”

The letter goes on to describe a wild, globe-trotting plot for a book Kerouac never finished. He died in St. Petersburg in October of 1969 while still living with his “Maw,” Gabrielle, and his third wife, Stella.

. . . .


Brad Meltzer, 45, thrillers, Book of Lies

Cape Coral

Jeff Lindsay, 62, mysteries, Darkly Dreaming Dexter


Lisa Unger, 45, mysteries, Black Out


Kate DiCamillo, 51, children’s books, Because of Winn-Dixie

Cross Creek

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1896-1953, literary fiction, The Yearling


Zora Neale Hurston, 1891-1960, literary fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God

. . . .


Hugh Howey, 40, science fiction, The End Is Nigh

Key West

Ann Beattie, 67, literary fiction, The New Yorker Stories

Judy Blume, 77, children’s and adult fiction, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself

Jimmy Buffett, 68, mysteries, Where Is Joe Merchant?

Meg Cabot, 48, YA novels, Abandon

Jim Harrison, 77, literary fiction, Julip

Ernest Hemingway, 1899-1961, literary fiction, To Have and Have Not

John Hersey, 1914-1993, literary fiction, Key West Tales

Thomas McGuane, 75, literary fiction, Ninety-two in the Shade

Thomas Sanchez, 71, literary fiction, Mile Zero

Joy Williams, 71, literary fiction, Breaking and Entering

Stuart Woods, 77, mysteries, Blood Orchid

. . . .


Suzanne Brockmann, 55, thrillers and romance, Nowhere to Run

Tony D’Souza, 41, literary fiction, Mule

Stuart Kaminsky, 1934-2009, mysteries, Midnight Pass

Stephen King, 67, horror, Duma Key

John D. MacDonald, 1916-86, mysteries, The Deep Blue Good-by

Link to the rest at The Tampa Bay Times

7 Contemporary Horror Novels that Push Boundaries

From Electric Lit:

The grocery store of all places was my initial indoctrination into the world of horror. As my father shuffled up and down the aisles, dutifully stacking groceries in the cart for our family, I would sneak away to the magazine section and my eye was always drawn to the shiny paperback display brimming with such creepy covers as Salem’s LotThe Legacy, and Flowers in the Attic

At first, I was too frightened to even touch the books. My young mind was convinced whatever horrors lurked behind those monolithic and terrifying covers would surely emerge from the pages and follow me home to stalk me at night. But as I grew older, just as Lucky Charms were a staple of my grocery booty as a kid, mass market horror novels found their way into my diet as an early teen.

My love for the genre has only grown in time, and my tastes in horror have become vast. Lately, I have been craving new voices and favoring authors who are not afraid to take risks, push boundaries, and speak bravely from their own unique perspective. 

More importantly, I enjoy reading from voices that have a unique or daring tone that breaks the mold and pushes the horror genre into interesting and new paradigms—everything from classic monster scares, to psychological horror, to shivering Gothic tales. These are my seven favorite horror novels from boundary pushing authors with bold and unique voices. 

Blanky by Kealan Patrick Burke

A quick and biting read from one of my favorite contemporary horror authors. The amount of grief, despair, and dread Burke manages to cram into 79 pages is a feat in its own right as we follow the tale of a father coping with his recently deceased infant daughter. The revelations are beyond disturbing and if you’d ever told me that someone could make a baby blanket frightening, well, then welcome to the world of Kealan Patrick Burke.

The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza

A powerful Gothic tale that strikes at the heart of male-female binary issues. An unnamed narrator’s home is invaded in the middle of a storm as two mysterious intruders proceed to question the host’s identity. Our protagonist grows increasingly frantic as he fails to satisfy the strange intruders’ harassment to the point where his own sanity begins to crack. A stand out and original tale on the horrors of gendered violence. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Save the Scribe

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

In his Institutiones, Cassiodorus (c. 485–c. 585) wrote that the work of scribes and illuminators is

a blessed purpose, a praiseworthy zeal, to preach to men with the hand, to set tongues free with one’s fingers and in silence to give mankind salvation and to fight with pen and ink against the unlawful snares of the devil. For Satan receives as many wounds as the scribe writes words of the Lord.

He thinks of the work of the scribe and the illuminator as sacred work but in a martial vein. Each of the scribe’s words harms the flesh of the devil. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a wry injunction to his own scribe, Adam (sometimes identified as Adam Pinkhurst), some nine hundred years later. Chaucer—whose works include translations of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and his own Troilus and Criseyde—berates Adam, threatening the curse of scabs on his head, should he not copy the work more correctly:

Adam scribe, if ever it falls to you
Boethius or Troilus to write anew
Under your long locks you must have the scale
Unless you make my words more true
So many a day I must your work renew
Correct it and also rub and scrape
And all that is from your negligence and haste.

What we have here are two contrasting visions of the work of the scribe. Cassiodorus was a Roman Christian. He wrote his Institutiones from the monastery he founded at Vivarium in the sixth century, and his texts were likely copied by fellow monks who saw their work as in the service of God. Chaucer was a fourteenth-century London-based bureaucrat and poet, and his texts were largely copied by professional scribes working in commercial workshops in and around Chancery (in London).

In whatever context they worked, when we—as readers, centuries later—encounter the works of these scribes, we have an intimate connection with the figures who shaped the words on the folios we see.

Many people assume that it was only men—particularly monks—who worked as scribes in the medieval period. But this popular assumption is wrong, on two levels: first, many manuscripts were written by secular figures, not monks, and second, many were written by women (and this always seems to surprise people). In around 732 Saint Boniface (c. 675–754), a Christian missionary in Germany, received a letter from a nun named Leoba. It was a kind of eighth-century cover letter. She requested that he pray for her parents, to whom he was related, and included a poem which she excused as “exercising little talents and needing your assistance.” Leoba added that she had learnt to write poetry “under the guidance of Eadburga,” likely the abbess of Thanet.

This makes Leoba the first named English female poet. Her letter is just one of a number of indications that early medieval English nuns could be highly learned—not just literate, and not just writing letters, but also composing poetry. Leoba’s letter was successful: later she joined Boniface in his missionary work in Germany and became abbess of Tauberbischofsheim. When she wrote the letter, however, she was part of the Benedictine double-monastery of Wimborne, in Dorset. Such an institution would probably have had a bustling scriptorium, perhaps even two of them—one for the male house and one for the female.

It’s likely that Leoba copied manuscripts there. Her work may have been prized both inside and outside the institution. The abbess Eadburga, whom Leoba mentions in her letter, was a scribe so skilled that Boniface wrote to her in about 735 to ask for a particular text: “I beg you further to add what you have done already by making a copy written in gold of the Epistles of my master, Saint Peter the Apostle, to impress honor and reverence for the sacred scriptures visibly upon the carnally minded to whom I preach.”

As Boniface’s request makes clear, the value of a manuscript was not only in the text it contained but also in the visual beauty of its folios. (Later, Eadburga received a gift of a silver stylus from Boniface’s successor, Lul, perhaps in recognition of her skill as a scribe.) It is striking that Boniface does not want just any copy of the Petrine Epistles but specifically requests Eadburga’s penwomanship. A manuscript was not simply a repository of text but an embodiment, in visual and physical form, of the sacral power of Scripture. Such an artifact could not be created by just anyone.

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

Books on Exiles

From The Wall Street Journal:

Three Rings

By Daniel Mendelsohn (2020)

Among the riches of this stunning work is its portrait of the exile of Erich Auerbach. An extraordinarily gifted German-Jewish scholar, Auerbach fled the Nazis for Istanbul, where, chiefly from memory, he wrote “Mimesis,” a major work of literary criticism. “Three Rings” begins with Daniel Mendelsohn’s own voluntary exile from America in the early 2000s. In search of witnesses to the Nazis’ slaughter of his family in Polish Bolechów, he traveled to Uzbekistan, Sweden, Ukraine, Belarus and Australia. On returning home to New York, he suffers an involuntary exile from his accustomed desires and preoccupations—a posttraumatic internal exile. A “vacant wanderer,” he becomes a virtual prisoner of his own rooms. In “Three Rings,” Mr. Mendelsohn recovers his authorial presence, where it flourishes and glides effortlessly into the stories of other wanderers and émigrés, among them W.G. Sebald.


By W.G. Sebald (1990)

W.G. Sebald is the German-born author of some dozen enrapturing books. The most engaging are not novels, although they are novel-like; nor are they travelogues, although they function that way. They are “traveling” works of sensation and meditation, framed by uncanny photographs that have only peripheral relevance to the matter at hand. This book’s German title—“Schwindel. Gefühle.”—also means the feeling of a swindle, a cheat, which in this case refers to the unreliability of memory and perception. At the time of his death in 2001, Sebald was a professor of German literature in England, where he had exiled himself in protest against his country’s hideous crimes. His books report the ruminations of a wandering observer in conversation with others like him—almost all of them distraught, all exiles in one sense or another. In “Vertigo,” Sebald speaks through the masks of Stendhal and Franz Kafka: Stendhal, as he revisits the bloodied battlefield of Marengo, Italy, the scene of one of Napoleon’s victories, which no longer accords with his memories of fighting there; and Kafka, as he vacations at the lakeside resort of Riva, Italy, the setting for part of Kafka’s great story “The Hunter Gracchus”—its protagonist, though dead, travels the world on a barge that cannot find its way to the afterlife. Sebald’s work reflects the extraordinary suffering that humans have inflicted on one another, as well as the suffering of the observer who would give a truthful account of this horror but cannot be sure it is true.

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

Secluded in his library, Montaigne looked inwards for inspiration

From The Economist

Like many people, as he grew older Michel de Montaigne paid close attention to the workings of his body. He began to feel the cold in his bones; his servants brought him clothes at night “to warm my feet and stomach”. He liked to sleep for eight or nine hours, he tells his readers, and avoided “violent activities” that “bring on sweat”. He could not eat even two meals a day without vomiting—but if he skipped one, flatulence and a dry mouth ensued.

These are not the typical musings of a renowned thinker, but Montaigne’s Essays are not typical works of philosophy. In 1570, after sitting in Bordeaux’s parliament for 15 years, Montaigne retired to his chateau (pictured). This self-imposed solitude proved productive. He published two volumes of the “Essays” in 1580 and a third in 1588. In their pages he explores topics ranging from friendship to architecture to child-rearing. His prose weaves together history, personal experience and arguments from his favourite philosophers; anecdotes about his napping schedule are juxtaposed with maxims.

It was Montaigne who popularised the essay genre. The name derives from the French verb essayer, “to try”, and Montaigne viewed his chapters as attempts to understand a topic. In “Of Drunkenness”, for instance, he examines philosophers’ views on booze (Socrates and Cato both enjoyed a tipple). German drinking habits of the 16th century are mentioned several times, as are the author’s own tastes. But he never rules on whether drunkenness is right or wrong. Rather, he lays out a range of opinions and lets the reader decide.

Montaigne strove to see the world from other perspectives. In one chapter he recounts various South American customs, such as an unfamiliar drink (“it tastes a bit sharp”) and faith in soothsayers.

. . . .

The writer admits that his “Essays” are a personal undertaking rather than an authoritative, objective study. “Reader,” he confides, “I myself am the subject of my book.” The immediate context included the Wars of Religion that had engulfed France. Conflict between Protestants and Catholics ravaged Bordeaux—the philosopher’s siblings were on opposing sides—yet he resisted polarisation. For his time, Montaigne’s determination to consider other viewpoints was unusual. It still is.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The Dress

From The Paris Review:

I bought the dress known in inner circles—that is, in the echo chamber of my closet—as the Dress in 1987, for a rehearsal dinner in New York for a couple I’ll call Peter and Sally. I found it on sale at Barney’s on Seventeenth Street. On the hanger, it looked like a long, black cigarette holder. It was February, and outside on the street, the wind was coming up Seventh Avenue. I had been married for exactly one month. That year, all my college friends were getting married. We barged from one wedding to another, carrying shoes that hurt our feet. In some cases, we knew each other all too well; sometimes the marriage was the direct result of another marriage, on the rebound: someone’s beloved had married someone else, chips were cashed. In this instance, I had hung around with the groom on and off through college, and the bride had once been the girlfriend of the man I left when I met my husband. The Dress was a sleeveless crepe de chine sheath, with a vaguely Grecian scooped neckline composed of interlocking openwork squares, which sounds dreadful but was not. It was sublime. Cut on the bias, it skimmed the body—and, it turns out, it skims everyone’s body: the Dress has been worn to the Oscars three times—in 2001, 2009, and in 2018—though not by me.

In 1987, the nominees for Best Picture were PlatoonChildren of a Lesser God, The MissionHannah and Her Sisters, and A Room with a View. That year, my husband and I had spent our winter honeymoon in Italy, at the pensione in which Lucy Honeychurch feels so fettered in A Room with a View; we’d eaten our tiny breakfasts from pink plates. Hannah and Her Sisters was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three, including Best Original Screenplay. In those days, I lived in a tiny apartment on West End Avenue with a window that looked out onto the brick wall opposite. In the spring, the wall was covered with morning glories. During those years, my friends and I were eating ramen dry out of the packet and still scrounging, late at night, through the refrigerators of our parents’ apartments—which looked like the apartment in Hannah and Her Sisters—on Central Park West and Riverside Drive, at after-parties that went on long after they should have ended. The movie seemed to us about people inconceivably older than we were, making bad decisions of the kind we would never make. When we thought about our futures it was as if we were looking through the wrong end of a telescope. The week I bought the Dress, a friend of mine saw a man jump from an upstairs window and hurtle into the courtyard of her parents’ Riverside Drive apartment below. She was sitting next to her parents, and her brother, with a girl from Ohio whom he planned to marry. No one said a word.

Of the evening of Peter and Sally’s rehearsal dinner I remember little, except that the heel of my shoe detached when I stepped out of the subway on Seventy-Seventh Street, and that the Dress made me feel like Anjelica Huston in Prizzi’s Honor, a film that had been nominated for Best Picture the year before. Or, at least, that was the idea. ( “Do I marry her? Do I ice her?” asks Jack Nicholson, as Charley Partanna, in the film’s best lines. “Marry her, Charley,” says Huston, as Maerose Prizzi. “Just because she’s a thief and a hitter doesn’t mean she’s not a good woman in all the other departments.”) For the wedding the next day I wore a sleeveless blue-plaid silk dress of my mother’s, made by Jacques Fath in 1952, which was tight in the waist. I was too hot and the zipper broke. The next year my husband and I had a child, and that spring we took her to Florence, where she fell in love with the pigeons in the piazza by Santa Maria del Fiore, and we discovered that at least four pensiones near the Uffizi claimed to be the one where A Room with a View had been filmed.

But the Dress? Like many things we think belong to us, it’s had a life of its own, like an old lover who resurfaces, now a fish wearing a waistcoat, in dreams. In 2001, extracted from behind a pile of snowsuits and maternity clothes, it went to the Oscars, for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, written by Kuo Jung Hsai, Hui-Ling Wang, and James Schamus, which had been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. “What am I going to wear?” Schamus’s wife, Nancy, had asked me as we sat in the Riverside Park playground six months before 9/11, watching two little girls pour cold sand on each other’s head.  A decade later, in the second year of the Obama administration, the Dress walked the red carpet, worn by my friend Margaret, when her husband, the cinematographer Tom Hurwitz, was nominated in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category, for Killing in the Name, a film about Islamist terrorism. In 2018, my friend Susan, whose husband, André Aciman, wrote the book Call Me by Your Name, came over one afternoon a few weeks before the Oscars to show me and my youngest daughter her outfit: a silk skirt printed with roses, and a shirred black V-neck top. Susan and I pulled a black beaded jacket I had bought at Housing Works out from my closet, and substituted a black silk shell for her top. She wore her own shoes and looked ravishing. From where she was sprawled on my bed, my daughter called, “You should feel like you, not like you’re wearing someone else’s clothes!” Susan looked grim. “I am wearing someone else’s clothes!” she replied. She gave the beaded jacket a gimlet eye. “I think it’s too much.”

“Show her the Dress,” my daughter called back. By now, Susan, who has raised three boys but no girls, was back in her jeans and sweater, ready to go. “I have to get undressed again?” she said, rolling her eyes. The Dress was in a garment bag in the back of the closet, stowed away with a navy-blue evening gown that had been worn only once. “Really?” said Susan. In a moment, the Dress was slipped over her head. “I like it,” she said. “Whose is it?” “Yours,” my daughter said.

When I bought the Dress, I was taking the first steps into the life that would turn out to be my own. By the time it went to the Academy Awards the first time, I’d had a child, gotten divorced, married again, acquired stepchildren, and had another child. In my closet now is a row of dresses I can’t bear to give away: three prom dresses, worn by my three girls; my second wedding dress, a floor-length Edwardian gown made of burgundy velvet, with a jeweled bodice; a fern-green dress embroidered with holly berries, which all of my daughters loathed and called the Christmas Dress; my first Alaïa, impossible to walk in; an apricot dress with a row of twenty-five covered buttons, by Jean Muir, that I wore to my own first rehearsal dinner. The Dress hangs among them.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

National Introverts Week

From Days of the Year:

For those who are introverts, it can always seem like a hassle to fit into a society that thrives on the ability to be outgoing and active. Introverts, however, have a huge value in business and can greatly benefit the workplace.

Introverts can provide perspectives that others may not see, and many times, those who identify with introversion may feel pressured to fit into society by acting extroverted.

National Introverts Week aims to change the stereotypes that people believe when it comes to introverts and help those see the benefits introversion has to offer.

. . . .

National Introverts Week was founded by Matthew Pollard, author of the Introvert’s Edge and the Introvert’s Edge podcast. He founded National Introverts Week to encourage introverts not to be ashamed of who they are and give them the opportunity to teach them how they can be successful in business and life.

National Introverts Week is about celebrating introversion, seeing the benefits it can have in life, and teach people who don’t understand introversion that it just as valid as extroversion and in many ways, can be successful in any aspect of life.

The terms introversion and extroversion have been popularized by the psychologist Carl Jung, who was famous for his new science of analytical psychology that still is used today. These term are used to differentiate the self using the consious and subconcious elements of a person’s mind, such as personality traits.

Many argue about how extroverts, the outgoing, energetic behavior, are valued in society as a trait that breeds success, while those who are considered more introverted show off the more negative consequences of their traits, which include their solidary, secluded behavior. National Introverts Week is about changing those perspectives, stating how ambition is not excluded to extroverts, and how introverts don’t have to adhere to a standard to be successful.

Link to the rest at Days of the Year

Not exactly about books, but more than a few authors and readers would likely qualify as introverts.

It was not clear to PG during his quick scan of the site exactly which nation is celebrating National Introverts Week at the moment.

The Scandinavian nations with their long winters are believed by some to generate more than their share of introverts, so perhaps everyone in Finland is staying home and reading this week.

What Can Animals Tell Us About Emotions?

From The Wall Street Journal:

To a neuroscientist like me, the inner workings of our emotional brains seem as mysterious as the inner workings of a black hole must have seemed to an astrophysicist like my late father. Yet everyone seems to think they understand emotions because, unlike black holes, we experience them in our everyday lives. This disconnect between what we actually know, and what we think we know, about emotions has led to considerable confusion and heated debate.

Some prominent brain researchers have argued that “emotions” are something that can only be studied in humans, and not in animals. To those of us who are pet owners, this position seems absurd. Isn’t it obvious that our dogs and cats, including my cat, have emotions? Maybe, but intuition is not enough. We must seek evidence, because animals are not little people in furry costumes and we can be fooled.

We typically attribute emotions to an animal species we can identify with. If a squirrel in Central Park freezes or runs away from me, it must be afraid—because I would feel afraid if I encountered an animal 12 times taller than me. Yet without access to the animal’s inner life, how can we be sure that it’s not simply exhibiting an automatic reflex? If a fruit fly freezes or jumps away from us, is it also “afraid?” If it’s just a reflex, why wouldn’t that also be true of the squirrel?

The temptation to project our own feelings onto other species is strong, especially other mammals. Monkeys frolicking with each other must be enjoying themselves. An elephant’s eyes leak fluid when a relative dies; we infer it is sad. Our dogs roll on their backs with their paws in the air; we conclude they are happy to see us. Whales singing in the ocean’s depths sound lonely and lions roaring after a kill must feel “triumphant.”

But we are even willing to attribute emotions to animals that are nothing like us. A captive octopus floridly changing color as children tap on its tank invites us to believe it is expressing irritation. But it may simply be trying reflexively to match its skin coloration to the flashing reflections of its human visitors. Moreover, if we insist that the octopus has emotions, then why not the same for its molluscan cousins? When a sea scallop encounters a predatory starfish, it rapidly snaps its shells open and shut as it somersaults to safety; is that panic? We often refer to bees swarming from their hive to attack an intruder as “angry.” If so, are fighting fruit flies (yes, even male fruit flies fight over females) also “angry?” Or are all of these diverse creatures just performing automatic survival behaviors, hard-wired into their brains by eons of evolution?This is more than just an academic issue. Answers about animals could provide much-needed aid to research into human mental health. Because of our lack of understanding of how the brain controls emotions, there has hardly been a fundamentally new drug for treating mental illness in the last 50 years. Indeed, most pharmaceutical and biotech companies have given up the search after costly failures.

Current treatments for serious psychiatric illnesses like depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder remain inadequate —and those that work often have damaging side effects, likely because most such drugs just flood the brain with chemicals like serotonin or dopamine. That’s like changing the oil in your car by opening up the hood and pouring a can of lubricant all over the engine, in the hope that some of it will dribble into the right place. Maybe so, but a lot of it will seep into places where it does more harm than good.

Human research into mental health and emotion typically relies on brain scans. But such studies alone can only identify correlations, not cause and effect. For that we need to enter and perturb the brain, its neurons and circuits. For ethical reasons, this cannot be done in human subjects; we need well-controlled neuroscience studies of emotions in laboratory animals. That means we need to determine whether a given animal’s behavior expresses an emotion or is just an adaptive reflex.

My Caltech colleague Ralph Adolphs and I have argued that to study emotions in animals, we should go beyond “feelings,” since animals can’t communicate those to us. Conscious feelings in humans are just the exposed tip of the brain’s emotional iceberg; there is a huge unconscious part below the surface that we share with many other creatures. The part below the surface involves internal brain states, or characteristic patterns of electrical and chemical activity. These brain states, the building blocks of emotion, are manifested by behaviors that have telltale signs that distinguish them from reflexes.

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

The author of the OP is also the author of The Nature of the Beast: How Emotions Guide Us.

10 Animated Movies You Didn’t Know Were Based on Children’s Books

From ScreenRant:

The Secret Of Nihm (1982)

Many fans of this Don Bluth classic might be shocked to know that the movie was very loosely based on an old novel from the 1970s by Robert C. O’Brien. The story is about a family of mice who live near a farm and struggle to survive. One day, Timothy, one of the children, becomes sick and delays their plans. On the advice of a mysterious owl, the family asks for help from escaped lab rats from “NIMH.”

This movie was Don Bluth’s first-ever feature film and is a cult classic amongst old school animation fans. The Secret of NIMH sets the tone for Don Bluth’s solo projects going forward. Audiences knew they could expect amazingly high-quality animation as well as darker story elements within Don Bluth’s movies. They were beautifully made dark fantasy movies and could be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs

Considered by many to be one of the best animated movies produced by Sony, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was based on a 1978 novel by Judi Barret, with illustrations by her then-husband, Ron Barrett. Of course, the only thing the movie really adapts from the book is the part about food falling from the sky. Otherwise, they go completely off the rails with the premise.

The story is set in a town called Swallow Falls, where Flint Lockwood, a mad scientist, invents a machine that converts water into any type of food.  When Sam Sparks covers this story, he finally gets the respect he had never had before. However, the machine soon grows unstable, and it’s a race against time (not thyme, please) to fix everything. The movie is remembered very fondly thanks to its incredibly zany visuals as well as absurd and over-the-top humor, totally deserving of its Certified Fresh on RottenTomatoes.

Link to the rest at ScreenRant

J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Releases Rarely-Seen Illustrations From the Author

From Book Riot:

The estate for J.R.R. Tolkien has released a new website that includes paintings and illustrations from Tolkien not previously available to the public. They can be browsed for free, including paintings, maps, and calligraphy. The website also includes letters, video clips, photographs, and more.

The estate explains that maps were an “integral part of Tolkien’s world-building” and that he drew them as he wrote his novels. The maps included range from broad maps of the world to ones with a more narrow focus, like the Shire.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Contemporary novels from the past

From Hollow Lands:

Unless they are set in an exotic location or exotic demographic, [writers of contemporary fiction] expect their audience to understand the culture that they share with the author. And, so, they often waste no breath on explaining the things that everyone knows. They just get on with the story.

Still, time does pass, and the settings of such books do grow distant and unknown from their latest readers. Part of the appeal of these works for modern readers lies in their matter-of-fact portrayal of a different time in the ancestry of the current culture.

The picture above shows a camping trip in 1920. There was quite a fashion for these in the early years of the family automobile. Farmers from the mid-West could now take their families safely and conveniently on a multi-week vacation, participating in one of the luxuries that was previously unaffordable for them, educating the mind by seeing other places, and glorying in the exercise and fresh air that are everyone’s right.

How do I, specifically, know this? Why, I read about it, in Gene Stratton-Porter’s 1925 novel: The Keeper of the Bees.

The same exact vehicle is featured in some of the early scenes (our desperate hero is given a ride by a kind family on vacation). She describes its numerous conveniences as we would the latest high-tech camping gear. Even the fashionable pageboy haircut sported by the young girl on the left is part of the persona of another major character who could be the very same child.

Stratton-Porter‘s best known work is Freckles (ignore the execrable & worthless movies), and she has several others. They were aimed at an adult audience, of course, but have survived in popularity as part of that cultural-core of wholesome books suitable for an adolescent readership in my own childhood, like the dog-focused novels of Albert Payson Terhune.

What you may not know is that she was as popular in her day as J. K. Rowling is today.

Only 55 books published between 1895 and 1945 sold upwards of one million copies. Gene Stratton-Porter wrote five of those books—far more than any other author of her time.

Link to the rest with more information at Hollow Lands. If you have problems with this link to the post, go to the Main Page and work your way through the blog section to November, 2021.


From The Wall Street Journal:

When it comes to motion-picture exposés, who wouldn’t want to read about a secretive place “where famous directors are reduced to tears and multimillionaire actors reduced to fits of rage”? This image may evoke a Hollywood Babylon, but Kevin Goetz is describing ordinary movie theaters where audience test-screenings are conducted. In “Audience-ology: How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love,” Mr. Goetz lays bare the ins and outs of survey questionnaires, demographics and psychographics, biometric wristbands, and night-vision cameras.

“Audience-ology” is an informal, entertaining brief for movie testing as an expression of effective audience empowerment. Mr. Goetz has been involved in audience-survey research for more than 30 years; in 2010 he formed Screen Engine/ASI, which currently conducts most of Hollywood’s test screenings. His experience leads him to embrace the wisdom of crowds, at least when it comes to films: “Not only do audiences know what a good movie is,” he tells us; “sometimes, they know better than the filmmakers themselves and the executives charged with shepherding the films to the screen.”

One might reasonably assume that Mr. Goetz has a vested interest in defending audience research, and he is certainly not shy about promoting his services. (“I’m lucky to have a company filled with experienced and dedicated professionals who can handle these complex projects,” etc.) Yet he supports his populist faith with numerous examples, spanning from the silent era to the present. He includes interviews with notable producers, directors and actors—among them, Ron Howard, Drew Barrymore and Richard Zanuck—who relate their experiences and insights. (There are limits to what the author can discuss about his own work, however, due to nondisclosure agreements.)

The practice of movie testing originated, we are told, around 1919, when the slapstick comedian Harold Lloyd honed his pratfalls based on audience reactions. By the 1930s, test screenings were extended to other genres, but the research process was still more intuitive than analytic, focusing on ad hoc questions and audience monitoring. During the 1970s, in-depth research methods became desirable as the costs and profits of movies grew. It was not until the new century, however, that Hollywood adopted the popular mantra of data-driven decisions: Testing now became “a protocol.”

This mandate amplified the significance of survey results. A film’s potential profitability is forecast by two scores: the rankings of overall quality (from “excellent” to “poor”) and the likelihood that viewers would recommend the movie to others. Studio suits and film creatives alike are understandably anxious as they huddle in the back rows during a screening, scrutinizing an audience’s spontaneous reactions, and later as they watch the focus-group interviews. Money, art and careers depend on the discernment, if not the kindness, of strangers.

Mr. Goetz demonstrates that testing often improves films in ways large and small. Audiences are adept at evaluating a movie in terms of its core elements, such as plot cohesion, character plausibility and thematic focus. Filmmakers sometimes lose sight of these while laboring on a detailed and lengthy production; audience feedback redirects them to the flaws that become obvious in retrospect.

In the case of “Thelma & Louise” (1991), for example, screeners loved everything about the movie except the original ending, which briefly showed the couple cruising down a road after they had driven off a cliff. Ridley Scott, the film’s director, intended the coda to be a visual metaphor for the pair’s spiritual partnership. Viewers considered it inauthentic and downgraded their scores. The coda was excised, the test scores rose and the ending has since become iconic.

Beginnings matter as well. An early version of “La La Land” (2016) lacked any songs during its first 12 minutes. Audiences settled in for what they assumed was a romantic comedy and found it jarring when the film unexpectedly became a musical. Fortunately the filmmakers had already shot a bravura song-and-dance sequence set on a Los Angeles freeway, which had been cut because it didn’t advance the plot. “Another Day of Sun” now starts the film, sounding the necessary keynote.

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

PG wonders if anyone has ever heard about a publisher conducting this sort of research.

The Poison Book Project

From The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works:

In early spring 2019, I started treatment on a Victorian-era publisher’s case binding bound in bright green bookcloth, never anticipating that this mass-produced binding would set into motion an engrossing exploration of a hidden hazard in library collections.

Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste (1857) had been requested for exhibit in the Winterthur galleries, and while working under the microscope to remove a waxy accretion, I was surprised to see the bright green colorant flake readily from the bookcloth with even the gentlest touch of my porcupine quill. I began to wonder whether this bright green hue came from a pigment rather than a dye, and if that might account for the lack of cohesion in the bookcloth’s colored starch coating. Aware of recent literature about Victorian wallpapers, apparel, and other household goods colored with toxic emerald green pigment, a dubious concern grew in my mind: could this same toxic pigment have been used to color nineteenth-century bookcloth?

In Winterthur’s Scientific Research and Analysis Lab, Dr. Rosie Grayburn conducted X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) on Rustic Adornments and identified the strong presence of arsenic and copper in the bookcloth. She followed the elemental analysis with Raman spectroscopy, confirming the compound copper acetoarsenite, or emerald green pigment. This revelation halted my treatment efforts and spurred us to create the Poison Book Project, an investigation of potentially toxic pigments used to color Victorian-era bookcloth. Working with library staff and conservation interns, we analyzed over 400 cloth-case publisher’s bindings in both the circulating and rare book collections at Winterthur Library. After an initial test batch in a range of colors, we decided to focus exclusively on green bookcloth for the initial phase of the project. We identified nine books bound in arsenical emerald green cloth, four of which had been housed in the circulating collection. We found a tenth emerald green binding on the shelf of a local used book store (and purchased it for $15). After scanning the Winterthur Library collection for emerald green, we reached out to The Library Company of Philadelphia. Their unique shelving practice of arranging the Americana collection chronologically allowed us to complete in a single day what had taken months to accomplish at Winterthur Library. Using Winterthur’s hand-held XRF device, we found 28 volumes among The Library Company’s nineteenth-century American and British publisher’s bindings that tested positive for arsenic. We will be expanding our data set even further in cooperation with the University of Delaware Library Special Collections.

Once we knew emerald green book cloth is not uncommon, we needed to understand what sort of risk it actually poses for library staff, researchers, and book collectors. We reached out to the University of Delaware Soil Testing Lab for quantitative analysis of a destructive sample of bookcloth. The results were higher than any of us had anticipated. A toxic dose of emerald green, when ingested or inhaled, can be as low as 5 mg/kg of body weight, and much lower, chronic doses have been linked to non-lethal health complications. The amount of emerald green colorant in the tested bookcloth averaged 2.5 mg/cm2. Pick-up tests conducted by rolling a dry cotton swab across the surface of the bookcloth also showed a significant degree of arsenic in the pigment offset. These tests were performed on a single binding, so further research is needed to understand whether all or most emerald green bookcloth exhibits this level of friability.

The director of environmental health and safety at the University of Delaware, Michael Gladle, provided us with context from an industrial hygiene perspective. Without a U.S. safety standard for arsenic exposure, as there is for lead, he cautioned us to consider any direct exposure unacceptable. Based on his recommendations, Winterthur Library will encourage patrons to turn first to digitized versions of books bound in emerald green cloth. However, given the nature of our researchers, who are attracted to our collections in American material culture primarily in their tangible form, we are also working to develop a safe handling protocol and training procedure. This conversation must involve multiple stakeholders including library staff, conservation staff, division leaders, industrial hygiene consultants, and legal counsel. For staff who must handle these books, wearing nitrile gloves followed by hand-washing is our current best practice. Winterthur Library has relocated all emerald green books into the rare book collection, where they will be stored in a single location. Storing the books together will make cautionary labeling easier and more effective and will also facilitate safer salvage response in case of a collections emergency. Emerald green books are individually sealed in zip-top, polyethylene baggies to isolate the friable pigment and to prevent offset from the bookcloth rubbing against neighboring books on the shelf. For conservators who must treat a book bound in emerald green bookcloth, Michael Gladle strongly recommends wearing nitrile gloves and working under a certified chemical fume hood, because the use of liquid adhesives or heat can increase the risk of arsenic exposure.

. . . .

Currently, project interns are working on scanning the Winterthur Library collections for chromium-based pigments, which are significantly less toxic than arsenic but are still cause for concern when found in library collections. Next steps for the project will involve scanning for additional pigments; deeper archival research into the manufacture of nineteenth-century English bookcloth; partnering with other institutions to expand our data set of arsenical bindings; and creating a publicly-accessible, searchable database of bindings which have been analyzed at Winterthur and other institutions.

Link to the rest at The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

Agatha Christie, the queen of crime chemistry

From Chemistry World:

A little old lady knits while she talks about the dangers of prescription drugs. Elsewhere, a book is carelessly left open on the page that describes the extraction of ricin. In another house, small colourless crystals are found scattered over a tea tray – they look like sugar but they could be something else. Hidden away from prying eyes, a flask of insecticide boils and a lethal quantity of nicotine slowly drips from a condenser. In a laboratory, a chemist looks over his stocks and wonders whether that bottle of hemlock extract was full yesterday. And at an English country house, a funny little man with magnificent moustaches carefully drains the contents of a coffee cup into a test tube. We can only be in the world of Agatha Christie.

There are millions of Christie fans around the world and I count myself as one of them. As a teenager reading her novels I loved Hercule Poirot’s persnickity ways, as well as the gentle humour and brilliant puzzles Christie presented. Now, reading Christie as an adult with a degree and PhD in chemistry, it is her use of poisons that fascinates me.

Christie is not unique among crime fiction writers in using poisons in her plots, but what marks her out from the rest is how often and accurately she used them, as well as the extraordinary range of compounds her villains employed.

. . . .

When Christie began her training, the metric system of measurement was starting to overtake the imperial system of grains and drams. This change occasionally led to miscalculations and potentially dangerous quantities of drugs being dispensed, as Christie knew from personal experience. Her writing career also spanned a time of huge change in the drugs available to medicine. In the early 20th century, compounds such as strychnine and arsenic were falling out of medical use and barbiturate prescriptions steadily increased, both in number and variety, as the century progressed.

It was when Christie was working as a dispenser that she first had the idea to write a detective novel. Surrounded by bottles of poison it is little wonder that she chose poisons for her method of murder. In fact, her first novel, The mysterious affair at Styles, uses not one but a conjunction of three compounds and a degree of chemical knowledge to dispatch her victim.

The Chemistry of Crime

In the early hours of the morning, Mrs Inglethorp is found in her bed in the throes of agonising convulsions. Even the slightly obtuse Captain Hastings recognises the dramatic arching of the back, leaving only the head and feet resting on the bed, as a sign that strychnine has been administered to the unfortunate woman.

Strychnine is an extremely bitter-tasting alkaloid found in the seeds of the shrub Strychnos nux-vomica. The compound disrupts nerve function by blocking glycine receptors on motor neurones. Glycine is used to moderate the activity of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. When glycine binds to its receptor it deactivates the nerve, whereas acetylcholine activates the same cell. Strychnine disrupts the effects of glycine and the result is that acetylcholine has a more pronounced effect on the nerve cell.

Strychnine was once used in low doses in tonics because it was believed to have a beneficial stimulating effect on nerves. In addition, the bitter taste was thought to have the benefit of increasing appetite. Neither of the claims is true and strychnine was eventually removed from the pharmacopoeia.

Aside from the lack of benefit to the body, the real problem with strychnine is the relatively narrow gap between the supposedly therapeutic dose and the lethal dose. A mere 100mg is enough to overwhelm the glycine receptors and send the nerves firing out of control. Symptoms start approximately 15 minutes after ingestion with twitching, but progresses to horrific convulsions of the whole body as the nervous system careers out of control. Death eventually occurs because the muscles used for breathing are paralysed. The lethal potential of strychnine also led to its use as a pesticide, although its use is now banned in Europe because it causes unnecessary suffering.

In the Styles household, there is plenty of strychnine available to any would-be poisoner. There are packets and bottles of strychnine in the form of pesticides and tonics. And, if that wasn’t enough, one member of the household works in a hospital dispensary with access to stores of ‘medicinal’ strychnine. The mystery is which source the murderer made use of and how the drug was administered to Mrs Inglethorp.

Thankfully, a legendary Belgian detective is on hand to sort through the red herrings and arrive at the truth. Poirot deduces that the strychnine that killed Mrs Inglethorp came from her own tonic. This prescription contained a lethal dose of strychnine sulfate but highly diluted and taken in doses of one spoonful at a time. There was no miscalculation when the prescription was made and unless the lady swallowed the whole bottle in one, no harm should have come to her. However, the murderer had added a second compound to the tonic, bromide powders (commonly prescribed as a sedative in the early 20th century). The bromide ions displace the sulfate counterions, causing insoluble strychnine bromide to precipitate. Therefore, when she takes the final dose from the bottle, Mrs Inglethorp swallows almost the entire quantity of strychnine.

The third compound in Christie’s equation is morphine, or a similar narcotic. This was added to Mrs Inglethorp’s evening cocoa to delay the action of the strychnine and divert attention from the tonic. Morphine and other opiates slow the muscles that move food through the gut and can delay the stomach emptying by several hours. Strychnine salts cannot be absorbed into the body from the acidic environment of the stomach but they are readily absorbed from the slightly alkali conditions of the small intestines.

The accuracy of Christie’s chosen method is in no doubt. An almost identical real life case of strychnine poisoning is cited in The art of dispensing, a book Christie would have studied for her apothecaries’s assistant examinations. A review of The mysterious affair at Styles from the Pharmaceutical Journal, one that Christie prized above all others, stated ‘This novel has the rare merit of being correctly written’ and went on to speculate that the author had pharmaceutical training or had called in an expert. The novel has even been suggested as a suitable text for chemistry students.

. . . .

Emily Arundell, a wealthy spinster with quite a few avaricious relatives, dies after taking part in a sõance. A strange glowing halo of light is seen to issue from her mouth. Is it an aura? Ectoplasm? A premonition of death? Or chemiluminescence from the white phosphorus she has ingested?

White phosphorus (P4) is highly reactive, with a particularly strong affinity for oxygen. When exposed to air, it will react with oxygen producing an eerie green glow in the process. If the slightest source of ignition is present, however, the phosphorus will burn vigorously producing an intense heat and thick clouds of white smoke. Hence white phosphorus has been used for tracer bullets, smoke screens and incendiary bombs in warfare. Contact with the skin can cause serious damage because of white phosphorus’s reactive nature. Furthermore, inhaling white phosphorus vapour over a long period can lead to the highly distressing, disfiguring and sometimes fatal condition of ‘phossy jaw’, which first appeared in match workers in the 19th century. In short, there are many ways that white phosphorus can harm you.

It is the toxic effects of white phosphorus that concern Christie in Dumb witness. From a murderer’s point of view, ingestion is the most reliable method of causing death, and less likely to be detected than those mentioned above. As little as 100mg of white phosphorus can kill an adult by ingestion and the symptoms can appear similar to natural causes, such as a ruptured ulcer. There will be vomiting, often bloody from tissue corrosion, and intense pain in the abdomen. The key differences to a natural disease is that the vomit may smoke as the white phosphorus reacts with the air, and there will be an unpleasant smell, often described as ‘garlicy’ by those unaccustomed to sniffing phosphorus-based compounds. The initial symptoms may subside and the victim may believe they are recovering. But if enough phosphorus has been absorbed, this is not the case and worse is to come. After a short respite the symptoms return, but more severely and accompanied by a raging thirst. Death follows approximately three days after ingestion.

Phosphorus is lipophilic and easily crosses the lipid bilayer of cell membranes in the gastrointestinal tract to enter the bloodstream, especially if it is accompanied by a fatty or greasy meal. It will accumulate in the liver, where it causes the real damage. Although the exact mechanism has not been elucidated, phosphorus is thought to damage cells through a free radical process. Once the liver is damaged beyond repair, the rest of the body is exposed to toxins normally eliminated by the organ, and death from liver failure ensues within days.

At post-mortem, the damage done to the liver by the phosphorus can look very similar to the damage normally caused by liver disease or alcohol. But there are other tell-tale signs that a pathologist can look for. The distinct odour of phosphorus compounds might be detected in the viscera. If large amounts of phosphorus have been ingested, then the characteristic glow may be visible in the gastrointestinal tract if the pathologist turns out the lights. Also, phosphorus can be easily isolated from human tissue by heating the liquidised remains over a water bath. The volatile phosphorus fumes condense in the apparatus and can be seen to glow in the dark.

Emily, the victim in Dumb witness, suffered from liver disease, a fact the murderer used to great advantage. Emily was in the habit of taking liver capsules after her evening meal and the murderer added white phosphorus to one of the capsules assuming any illness and damage to the liver would be attributed to her existing liver condition. But the glowing vapour seen to emerge from her mouth during the sõance gave Poirot the clue he needed. Poirot describes the phenomenon as phosphorescence, not chemiluminescence – a slight but understandable mistake given that the novel was written before the mechanism of phosphorus’s glow had been determined. In all other respects, Christie is as accurate as she always is. She even helpfully describes how the poisoner could obtain phosphorus, from rat poison or match heads.

. . . .

There are many reasons to love Agatha Christie’s work, but reading her stories from a chemistry perspective has given me a whole new appreciation of her creativity, cunning plots and attention to detail. Enjoy her books, look out for the chemistry clues – but don’t expect it to make it any easier to work out whodunnit.

Link to the rest at Chemistry World

Murder By Poison

From The New Yorker:

In early-nineteenth-century England, a good way to get rid of your husband was arsenic. A medical examiner usually couldn’t tell whether the poison was involved, because the symptoms—diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain—are much like those of other disorders. Nor could he necessarily place you at the murder scene. The dying typically took hours. Also, you could administer the poison gradually, a little bit every day. In the mid-century, arsenic poisoning was commonly the resort of women. (In 1851, the House of Lords tried to pass a law forbidding women to buy arsenic.) But unpleasant husbands were not the only people you might want to eliminate. During this period of feverish social mobility, a young person might be waiting impatiently for an inheritance, and there was Uncle Ted, sitting on all that money and meanwhile bossing you around, toying with your hopes. In such cases, male poisoners presumably outnumbered females.

Marie Lafarge

A notorious arsenic case, of 1840, involved an aristocrat named Marie Lafarge.

These problems and their contribution to the role of medicine in the law are the subject of Sandra Hempel’s new book, “The Inheritor’s Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science” (Norton). Hempel, an English medical journalist, hangs her discussion on a specific case.

One November morning in 1833, George Bodle, seventy-nine years old and the owner of a prosperous farm near the Kentish village of Plumstead, came down to his kitchen for breakfast. The maid prepared the coffee. George drank a half-pint bowl, and a small cup was taken to his wife, upstairs. Then the grounds were reboiled, and three women of the household—two relatives and a maid—got to have some diluted coffee. After that, the charwoman came to the back door, collected the grounds, as she did every morning, and took them to her daughter, Mary, to boil for a third time, so that Mary’s seven children could have a hot drink. (They didn’t have coffee that morning; the eldest daughter thought the brew looked peculiar.) Within minutes, everyone in the Bodle household who had drunk the coffee fell violently ill. Soon afterward, they began to recover, except for George. He died three days later.

From the moment the doctor first examined George, he suspected poisoning. This raised some questions, however. Was the poisoner trying to kill George alone? If so, why did he poison four other people? The motive was more easily guessed at. George was an uningratiating man. His son, known to everyone as Middle John, worked for him as an ordinary laborer, and was treated by him as such. Middle John’s son Young John had also worked in his grandfather’s fields until George fired him. Unbeknownst to the Johns, Samuel Baxter, George’s son-in-law, had just witnessed a new will for George that was very much in Baxter’s favor. Who wouldn’t have wanted to get rid of the old man?

Through much of the nineteenth century, a third of all criminal cases of poisoning involved arsenic. One reason for its popularity was simply its availability. All you had to do was go into a chemist’s shop and say that you needed to kill rats. A child could practically obtain arsenic. The going price for half an ounce was tuppence.

Hempel points to another probable cause, an interesting one: the press. In 1836, right before the poisoning craze peaked, the government decreased the tax on newspapers from fourpence to a penny. This development coincided with another important change: a rapid rise in literacy among the working class. Working-class people liked murder stories. (So, no doubt, did readers of higher rank.)

Consequently, the number of newspapers shot up, as did the sales of any paper willing to report vividly and at length on poisoning cases. Hempel writes, “In 1856, when the Illustrated Times published a special edition on the trial of the ‘Rugeley poisoner,’ Dr. William Palmer—whose victims were said to include his wife and several of his children as well as a gambling friend, John Parsons Cook—circulation was said to have doubled to 400,000.”

The articles probably inspired a few poisonings. Indeed, they more or less provided instructions. To make things more exciting, the papers issued sinister warnings. “If your hands tingle, do you not fancy it is arsenic?,” a writer in the Leader asked. “Your friends and relations all smile kindly upon you: the meal . . . looks correct, but how can you possibly tell there is not arsenic in the curry?”

People accustomed to believe that poisoning was something done by foreigners now saw it at their own front door, and, in some cases, as a product of their own social ills. A trial that riveted the public in 1849 was that of Rebecca Smith, aged forty-three, married to an alcoholic and “suffering great deprivations.” In eighteen years of marriage, she had given birth to eleven children, most of whom, she confessed, she had put to death with arsenic, rubbing it onto her nipples before she nursed them. Her explanation was that she was afraid they “might come to want.” She wouldn’t mind being executed, she said, if it weren’t for her worry that her husband would neglect her one surviving child: her first, a girl, whom, apparently, she couldn’t bear to kill. Rebecca was hanged.

Arsenic is a chemical element that occurs naturally in the earth, and in its raw state it is not harmful. Because it can produce a brilliant green pigment, nineteenth-century manufacturers used it in wallpaper, paints, fabrics, and many other items. It becomes poisonous only when it is converted into arsenic trioxide, popularly known as “white arsenic.” Even white arsenic, however, is benign in low doses. Doctors prescribed it for asthma, typhus, malaria, worms, menstrual cramps, and other disorders. In high doses, though, it causes not just death but a horrible death. Madame Bovary killed herself with arsenic, and Flaubert described the process in detail: the retching, the convulsions, the brown blotches breaking out on the body, the hands plucking at the bedsheets. He is said to have vomited at the dinner table two nights in a row after writing this scene.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Book Bans and Antisemitism Go Hand in Hand

From Publishers Weekly:

“As a publisher, I am here to safeguard the historical record.”

Last September, we at The Collective Book Studio commemorated Banned Books Week by sharing a list of our favorite banned books. But we need to think beyond that tongue-in-cheek reaction. The recent banning of Maus in a Tennessee school district is an alarming example of how banning books is rooted in the suppression and distortion of history.

As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, this issue is particularly relevant for me. My roots in publishing and in the Jewish community mean that this is not just a controversy, it is a devastating setback. Holocaust commemoration and education is a global imperative, and books are a way to preserve memories and histories.

I am a daughter of an immigrant. My Palestinian-born mother came here in the 1950s. Her mom, my grandmother, had fled Germany for Palestine, where she met my grandfather, who had arrived there in the early 1930s after stabbing an SS officer in self-defense. Grandpa Rudy lost almost his entire family in concentration camps, with only my great-grandmother surviving.

During a recent conversation about banned books on The View, Whoopi Goldberg said, “Let’s be truthful about this, because the Holocaust isn’t about race…. It’s not about race… it’s about man’s inhumanity to man.”

Antisemitism is insidious. People like Goldberg may think they are still respectfully acknowledging the “truth,” but they are in fact dismissing it. While she acknowledged the brutality of the Holocaust, her sweeping comment about “man’s inhumanity to man” ignores the systematic and systemic marginalization of Jews on the basis of race. With only a quick search on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website, readers will find that in September 1935, the German parliament passed the Nuremberg Race Laws, effectively institutionalizing the persecution of Jews on the basis of inherited race. In fact, Nazi ideology specifically hinged on the racialization of Jews, and the Nazi’s tyranny was orchestrated through these laws and widespread propaganda, such as Aryan eugenics posters.

How does this all tie back to banning books? Reading is education, and access to books and source material allows us to crystallize our histories in our consciousness, and in our children’s, so that we do not repeat the past. In May 1933, Nazis burned books, largely those by Jewish intellectuals, that contained “un-German spirit.” This burning took place at universities—similar to how current U.S. book bannings are taking place at schools. As literature about the Holocaust continues to be challenged, people lose access to the voices of the oppressed, allowing misrepresentations to seep into popular culture.

I often speak about being the publisher of a woman-owned independent press, but the bigger picture is that my business is not just woman owned, it is Jewish woman owned. I never thought I would be intimidated to identify this way, but to step into my own power and family history means that I also need to be aware of the stereotypes associated with Jews.

It is a risk to broadcast the fact that one operates a Jewish business, and a risk that I am keenly aware of based on my family’s history of being targeted, and having businesses burned down, for this reason. That said, I am willing to accept the risk when it means I can create a safe space for Jewish voices. Many of my authors are Jewish, and several of them address Jewish issues and themes in their books; 52 Shabbats, for instance, uses food as a lens to examine diversity in the Jewish community.

No suffering happens in isolation; when one community suffers, there are ripple effects for other communities. The environment that allows one community to be disenfranchised, or oppressed, is the infrastructure that will allow other communities to be disenfranchised and oppressed. It is so crucial that our communities unite to uplift our voices in spaces like book publishing, for the good of all oppressed groups.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

While antisemitism is a persistant and terrible problem in the world’s history, a great many other minority religions, ethnic groups, etc., have also suffered substantial discrimination during the Twentieth Century and earlier. The Twenty-First Century hasn’t gotten off to a pristine start in this respect, but PG hopes it will improve substantially and stay improved for good.

Jack Kerouac Found Rapture Off the Road

From The Wall Street Journal:

Jack Kerouac lives in pop culture memory as a writer on a perpetual road trip, a shooting star riding the highways and rails of postwar America alight with Catholic mysticism, booze, bebop and outlaw liberation. That’s the milieu of his breakout novel “On the Road,” a masterpiece of widescreen travel writing populated by eccentrics “who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time…who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles.”

But when “On the Road” was published in 1957, the road trips it chronicled were already 10 years in the past. By then Kerouac had already emerged as a different kind of writer, one who found rapture off the road, prowling in thick forests “to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars.” As we celebrate his centenary on March 12, it’s Kerouac the nature writer who glows most brightly.

Born in 1922 to French Canadian parents in Lowell, Mass., Kerouac grew up captivated by the mighty Merrimack River, which Henry David Thoreau had written about in the 1840s. His first novel, “The Town and the City” (1950), begins with a loving description of the Merrimack, and the fascination cast a lifelong spell. In his travel journals of the 1940s, he made a literary breakthrough by applying a jazzy, stream-of-consciousness style to his descriptions of America’s wild lands and waterways, including the Hudson, the Delaware, the Susquehanna, the Ohio and the Mississippi. “On the Road” was originally going to be titled “Rain and Rivers.”

Kerouac’s feeling for nature took a religious turn after he met the poet Gary Snyder in 1955. A first-rate mountaineer, Snyder was a practicing Buddhist who wrote haiku-inspired verse about the Pacific Northwest’s flora and fauna. Influenced by Native American cultures, Snyder envisioned preserving the entire Pacific Coast as a zone where people could live in harmony with nature. As “Japhy Ryder,” he became a main character in Kerouac’s ecstatic 1958 novel “The Dharma Bums,” whose early pages detail their meeting in San Francisco.

Soon after, Kerouac and Snyder climbed the 12,285-foot Matterhorn Peak near Yosemite National Park, with the novelist shod only in tennis sneakers for what he likened to a “terrifying elevator” ride going higher and higher. “I gulped,” he wrote, “when I turned around to look back and see all of the state of California it would seem stretching out in three directions under huge blue skies with frightening planetary space clouds of immense vistas of distant valleys.” The descent was easier. “Running down the mountain in huge twenty-foot leaps…bouncing five feet or so, running, then taking another long crazy yelling yodelaying sail down the sides of the world,” Kerouac made his classic observation: “You can’t fall off a mountain.”

The next summer, he headed to Washington’s ethereal North Cascades to begin a two-month stint as a U.S. Forest Service firewatcher, a job that Snyder had once held. At Marblemount on the fast-flowing Skagit River he received a week of fire training before beginning the three-day trek to his station atop 6,102-foot Desolation Peak. While Kerouac’s job was to scan the horizon for wildfires, his goal was to write and meditate, take botanical hikes, gaze at the Northern Lights and cleanse himself of anxiety and alcohol.

His lookout tower had no electricity or indoor plumbing, just a two-way radio to call in fires. The only book he’d brought along was “A Buddhist Bible,” an anthology of readings from classical Buddhist sources. Off the grid, surrounded by glorious glaciers and blue mountains, he felt liberated from what Henry Miller called “the air-conditioned nightmare” of postwar American society.

Kerouac kept detailed notes about the shifting weather, circling hawks, friendly chipmunks, deep glacial valleys and swift-running creeks, about “looming Mount Hozomeen on my north, vast snowy Jack to the south, the encharmed picture of the lake below to the west and the snowy hump of Mt. Baker beyond, and to the east the rilled and ridged monstrosities humping to the Cascade Ridge.” For 63 days the twin-peaked Hozomeen was his mystical muse, its “untouchable towers” and “inaccessible horns” transmuted into Buddhist symbols of Dharmakaya, “the body of the great order.” “And it was all mine,” he wrote, “not another human pair of eyes in the world were looking at this.”

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

A Letter of Romantic Recommendation

From The New Yorker:

Dear Ms. Carter,

I know firsthand that the admissions process can be exhausting. It’s hard to separate the valedictorians from the catfish. Nevertheless, I hope that you can recognize Alan Worth as a special applicant. Dating him—like an earthquake—is impossible to forget.

I’ll admit, Alan’s recommendation request surprised me. As a generally laid-back designer, I worried that I might not sufficiently represent his record of caustic lawyers. That said, it’s an honor to recommend someone with Alan’s enthusiasm for life and fitness. Although that’s all that I, personally, sought in an applicant, I suspect that you’ll want more detail.

Alan’s the hardest worker I’ve ever met. He balances freelancing, a Twitter account that speaks truth to power (thirty followers), and one of the final active Last.fm pages. He understands that, today, digital spaces are more powerful than any corner office. Eventually, one of his blockchain ventures could produce life-changing revenue. I suggest getting in early.

Your values are a perfect match. For instance, Alan has pursued a family for some time. This fact might not come out during your first weeks or months together. You might even get the opposite impression on multiple occasions. But, let me assure you, it’s very important to him. I learned that in a text message.

Alan appreciates diversity, and makes sure you know it. I was impressed by his ability to bring up my demographic during conversations about traffic and the weather. He also emphasized his role in the George Floyd protests whenever a movie got slow. I’m certain that Alan loves and respects Black culture because I never went a day without hearing it.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Application Process for New York’s Guaranteed Income for Artists Program

From The Authors Guild:

As we advised you in February, Creatives Rebuild New York (CRNY) has instituted a program that will provide $1,000 per month for 18 consecutive months to 2,400 New York State artists—defined broadly to include writers—who have demonstrated financial need. The deadline for applications is March 25, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

This program is intended to provide a safety net for artists, who as a group have undergone great financial suffering over recent years. We encourage you to take advantage of this long-awaited opportunity, which can allow authors not only the time, but the financial support which they so desperately need to write. If selected, you will have the chance to submit a written description of your commitment to your writing, as well a link to your website, social media, press links, or other digital presence demonstrating your work.

We have put together these guidelines for you to review and reference while filling out the application.

To be eligible to take part, you must:

  • Be 18 years of age or older as of January 1, 2022.
  • Have primary residence in New York State at the time of application.
  • Demonstrate financial need, meaning your household income must be below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. Click here to use the Self-Sufficiency Standard Calculator.
  • Identify as an “artist, culture bearer, or culture maker,” which they define as “someone who regularly engages in artistic or cultural practice to: express themselves with the intention of communicating richly to or sharing with others; pass on traditional knowledge and cultural practices; offer cultural resources to their communities; and/or co-organize and co-create within communities toward social impacts. Artists aspire to sustain themselves through their practice and maintain a commitment to continuing their practice. Artists can work both individually and collaboratively, or as educators within their field of practice.” This includes artists in the literary arts.

Grant recipients will not be selected based on the quality of their art. Rather, they will be selected randomly through a process that prioritizes people who hold the following identities or community conditions (in no particular order):

  • Black, Indigenous, and People of Color
  • Deaf/Disabled
  • LGBTQIAP+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Aromantic, Pansexual+)
  • Caregivers
  • Immigrants
  • Criminal Legal System Involvement
  • Lack of Financial Safety Net
  • Rural

. . . .

In addition to such basic information as your name, address, and other contact information, you will be asked to provide:

  • Demographic information, including your racial/ethnic background, gender identity, whether you identify as deaf or disabled, or if you have any involvement with the criminal legal system, as mentioned above.
  • Household and Community Conditions. Examples might include being a caregiver for someone else or whether you have a “financial safety net,” which includes factors such as whether you are financially vulnerable to a medical emergency.
  • Information about your Artistic Practice, including your approach as an artist, whether your work is solo or with other artists, or if it requires public or community involvement.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

PG hasn’t visited New York City in a few years, but he’s quite skeptical that $1,000 per month will keep an artist from starving, regardless of racial/ethnic background, gender identity, etc., etc.

That said, upon walking up on some mornings, PG does identify as disabled and, on such occasions, PG also might be uncertain as to whether he has a gender identity or not, all before his meds kick in.

7 Literary Characters Who Famously Refused to Get a Smartphone

From Electric Lit:

I don’t own a smartphone, and never have. While this life choice has made me a happier, more productive person—I don’t know if I could have written my novel Last Resort with another distraction—it has also made me quite “out of the loop.”

Thankfully, like all losers and loners past, I’ve found solace—and some kindred souls—in literature. In fact, while rereading the classics, I was shocked to discover how many of my heroes have been courageous enough to make the same choice I have—and what good it did them. (You don’t have to be an 11th grade English teacher to know a motif when you see one.)

Here I count seven brothers and sisters in arms, my T9 trueloves, my prepaid partners, my flip-phone “fam.”

1. Ishmael

Mental health much? While I’ve never read Moby-Dick, I am very happy that Ishmael put himself first and unplugged—not a small thing for a guy who starts his whole spiel, “Call me.” According to SparkNotes, the only thing #trending in his life was “The Limits of Knowledge,” “The Deceptiveness of Fate” and “The Exploitative Nature of Whaling.” This guy spent some time on himself and it shows!

2. Frankenstein

I know, I know—Frankenstein’s the scientist, not the Monster. But did you know that neither had a smartphone? Pretty telling choice for a book about technology, huh? Even true Shelley stans forget that this wasn’t so in the first draft; in fact, in that version the Monster makes a cringe vlog series while hunting Victor in Geneva—and only asks for a companion to “cross-promote.” Not a bad idea!

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Light Posting

PG apologizes for light posting yesterday and this morning. All is well at Casa PG. He was just busy with a variety of tasks.

Researchers Figure Out How to Interpret Pig Grunts as Pig Emotions

Tangentially relating to writing, but don’t forget Wilbur.

From c|net:

If you’ve heard one porcine grunt, you haven’t heard them all. There’s a lot of communication happening through pig sounds, if you know what to listen for. A team of researchers has come up with a translator of sorts for pigs. It’s a computer algorithm that interprets all those different pig grunts as emotions.

Understanding animal emotions can help with improving animal welfare and care. Animal behavior researcher Elodie Briefer of the University of Copenhagen is the lead author of a study on the classification of pig calls published in the journal Scientific Reports on Monday.

To build the equivalent of a grunts-emotions dictionary, the researchers recorded over 7,400 sounds from 411 pigs, tracing their life experiences from birth through death. The team correlated the different calls with the pigs’ activities and body language.

. . . .

“There are clear differences in pig calls when we look at positive and negative situations. In the positive situations, the calls are far shorter, with minor fluctuations in amplitude. Grunts, more specifically, begin high and gradually go lower in frequency,” Briefer said in a statement. “By training an algorithm to recognize these sounds, we can classify 92% of the calls to the correct emotion.”

The study is part of the SoundWel project, which aims to help professionals “monitor and improve pig welfare by minimizing stress and encouraging positive emotions.” Briefer said the next step could involve developing the algorithm into an app for farmers. Perhaps it could be called Instagrunt…

Link to the rest at c|net

Based on his experiences growing up with a variety of farm animals, PG can assure one and all that pigs are the most intelligent.

‘Nothing to See Here’: the Evolution of a Catchphrase

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

These quotes all appeared in the last week:

“Nothing to see here: Man casually puts on deodorant; officers find meth in deodorant.” –Headline in Northwest Florida Daily News.

“A U.S. Steel spokeswoman said the discharge wasn’t serious enough to report to the feds and did not pose a threat to public health. In other words, move along. Nothing to see here.” –Chicago Tribune, on a chromium spill in Lake Michigan.

“This time around, Mayak [nuclear plant] authorities have similarly denied being responsible for the leak, and Rosatom, the state-run body that oversees Russia’s nuclear industry, also says there’s nothing to see here.” –Science Alert, on a mysterious radiation cloud over Russia.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Skeletons in the Closet

From The American Scholar:

As autumn ushers in longer, cooler nights and the sound of crunching leaves, it also calls forth stories of ghosts and haunted houses. Especially this year, as increased time at home makes these earlier sunsets and colder days feel particularly dispiriting, the escapism of a fictional house rattling and creaking with secrets feels strangely welcome. There are, of course, classics like Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw or Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, but the following literary haunted houses are ghostly in less straightforward—but equally uncanny—ways.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Woolf’s novel is best known for its meditations on truth and beauty, along with her portrayal of Mrs. and Mrs. Ramsay’s internal lives as a means of exploring gender and marriage. But the novel is as much about the disappointments of midlife, legacy, and loss. Its middle section, “Time Passes,” depicts the Ramsays’ summer home on the Isle of Skye as ravaged by year after year of summer storms, neglect, and decay. We learn of World War I, and the deaths of Mrs. Ramsay and two of her children, each in a single sentence. Abstract concepts like “loveliness” and “stillness” move actively through the empty house. When the family returns to it years later, these deaths and the war’s enormous destruction haunt the house and the surviving Ramsays.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

The house in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is just as haunted—at least metaphorically speaking—as her more famous Hill House. Here, main character Merricat lives with her sister Constance and their uncle Julian in their family’s once-grand estate. Readers gradually come to understand that Constance was accused and acquitted of murdering her parents, brother, and aunt with arsenic-laced blueberries, and also that while she delights in long taxonomies of the many poisonous plants in her garden, she is not the one responsible for the family’s death.

Link to the rest at The American Scholar

The Sci-Fi Crime Novel That’s a Parable of American Society

From The Atlantic:

A few weeks ago, a long-ago conversation with a friend came to mind as I tried to bring some order to my bookshelves. My friend was not yet of a certain age, but he had, he confessed, crossed a line: He had made a transition from the curating stage of life to the editing stage. He was no longer collecting; he was deaccessioning. I lack his wisdom and maturity, and rather than editing as I sorted, I instead paused to thumb through and scan. And then I came across a book that made me stop and reread: The City & the City (2009), by the British writer China Miéville. It is a police procedural novel with a background environment that recalls Philip K. Dick. A crime needs to be solved in a society where two different cities—two separate polities, with separate populations, customs, alphabets, religions, and outlooks—coexist within the same small patch of geography. The names of the overlapping cities are Besźel and Ul Qoma.

When you engage with a book, personal circumstance is always your companion. John Gunther’s Death Be Not Proud is a knife to the heart of any parent. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man might as well be scripture if you’re 18. And not just with a book. My mother took me to see Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead when it opened in New York in the late 1960s—her idea. Part of the thrill was realizing that she knew me and understood I would like it.

I first read The City & the City during the time of Obama. The novel was always a parable, but it could be enjoyed simply as a clever, at times mind-bending fantasy, and as a fantasy it earned many awards. When I reread the book a few weeks ago, the fun was gone. The moment—my zeitgeist companion—was one of deepening and well-founded worry over the cohesion of American society. “America Is Falling Apart at the Seams” (The New York Times). “2022 Is the Year America Falls Off a Cliff” (Globe and Mail  ). “79 Percent of Americans Say U.S. Is Falling Apart” (Futurism). If the traditional life cycle of commentary holds, the next stage will urge a long view of history. And it is true that perspective can provide a dulling comfort. There is a moment in Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending when Marshall, an apparently dimwitted student, is asked by his history teacher, “How would you describe Henry the Eighth’s reign?” Marshall, Barnes writes, “searched for possible hidden complexities in the question before eventually locating a response.

“‘There was unrest, sir.’”

Pressed to elaborate, Marshall summons his powers to the maximum: “I’d say there was great unrest, sir.”

But societies do fall apart, and there is no single reason why. One historian, years ago, decided to collect and enumerate all the scholarly explanations for the fall of Rome. He counted upward of 210 specific theories. Sometimes the dissolution of a society is rapid and startling—think of Yugoslavia after Tito. Sometimes it is so slow—as with imperial Rome—that entire lifetimes go by without anyone’s being aware. Centuries may elapse before someone gives dissolution a name and a date.

To turn the lens around, one can ask how cohesive some societies really were before they were seen to fail. The “United” Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland today shows signs of unraveling, but many Scots, Welsh, and Irish have opinions about how raveled it ever was. As for the United States, all the talk about exceptionalism doesn’t in itself make us exceptional. The colonies that formed the original union were protective of their autonomy and suspicious of federal power; in the 21st century, some of these states might as well be thought of as nations and are charting their own distinct directions. But separation isn’t only about lines on a map. Michael Harrington called his 1962 book about rural and urban poverty The Other America, implicitly acknowledging that it wasn’t about the America occupied by most of those who would buy and read his book. The Texas hill country known to Lyndon Johnson in the 1930s, as described in Robert Caro’s The Path to Power, has almost nothing in common with the urbane, martini-swilling world of The Thin Man, but they are exactly contemporaneous. A rhetorical question: Do most Black Americans and white Americans think of American history and experience in the same way? Do both feel they walk an equal distance toward one another to achieve a shared sense of ownership? Cohesion is easier to assert when questions like these are not asked, or even thought of.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

When Science Fiction and Fantasy Envisions Life Beyond Capitalism

From Counter Craft:

In 2014, the legend Ursula K. Le Guin was given a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation and delivered what I’ve heard (accurately) described as a barn burner of a speech. Perhaps the most memorable part was her call for imaginative literature that envisions other ways of living:

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.


We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

I know I’m not the only writer who has had these lines stuck in their head ever since. How can we create new ways of living in this world if we can’t imagine them on the page? Literature has many goals, of course, but one of them—especially in science fiction—has always been imagining new possibilities. Le Guin devoted her work to this, perhaps most notably in the 1974 novel The Dispossessed that imagines an anarcho-syndicalist society on the moon. But it is a theme throughout her oeuvre.

And a theme throughout all of science fiction. Star Trek is an obvious model, a show that pushed boundaries in progressive ways while imagining a more noble future. Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels famously take place in a post-scarcity anarchist utopia. The examples are really limitless.

And I think it is fair to combine the utopian impulse with the dystopian one. The writer of dystopias (which Le Guin was as well) is looking to display the cracks in the system. Certainly this was a goal of my novel The Body Scout, which imagines our current system running full steam ahead until the whole machine is at the point of bursting with steam shooting out of the seams and the gears beginning to break.

Utopia and dystopia are two sides of the same coin in this way. The flaws in the system and the possible ways forward. They are complimentary impulses that are often combined in the same work. See Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven for example. Of course, a novel is never going to bring down a system. Fiction is not activism really. Or at least not only that. Still, a first step to creating new society is being able to imagine it. “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings,” as Le Guin said.

Link to the rest at Counter Craft

PG has always been a big fan of capitalism, mostly because it seems to work and continues to work over a long period of time. He would argue that this economic system has generated more material well-being for more people than any alternate system he is aware of.

When a good friend told PG a long time ago that “Socialism always fails,” he didn’t believe it but has come to regard that statement as accurate.

Some point to Sweden as an exception, but Sweden is a relatively small, culturally cohesive society. Yes, it has had socialized medicine for a long time, but it also has capitalist wealth-producing businesses like Volvo, Ericsson, and Skanska. According to Wikipedia, Sweden has 41 billionaires.

Out of a population of 10.5 million, that doesn’t sound a lot like, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” the slogan Karl Marx was so please with.

PG also suggests that during the 20th Century, socialism had a certain habit of turning into communism, which has not only generated great income inequality, but also widespread poverty in a great many segments of its populations.

For PG, the biggest problem with socialism is that somebody has to enforce it, impose it on people who don’t necessarily like the idea. Suppose everybody is given the same amount of land. In that case, somebody will get the idea of planting tomatoes instead of potatoes and swapping them for some of his neighbors’ potatoes. Given enough plots of land, someone will discover gold, either actually or metaphorically.

Absent strict political or social controls, somebody will start hiring others to do things or purchase his neighbor’s potatoes and sell them for a profit before the next crop ripens. Then somebody else will figure out how to make vodka from potatoes and refuse to tell his neighbors how he did it but offer to sell them vodka for their celebrations.

Human beings are just so non-standard in their propensities, abilities, behavior and desires that treating them like machines is pretty dumb. It’s way easier to create identical machines, using some individual’s unique mechanical ability and rewarding them for their ingenuity.

Some Practical Notes for Publishers on Readers with ALS

From The Literary Hub:

I’m an avid reader with ALS—a bad combination. My reading was turned upside-down in 2008 by a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Without cure, its symptoms vary among patients, often including loss of finger dexterity. My symptoms began primarily as unexplained falls and growing inability to button shirts and coats. Only later did my wife, Deirdre, and I appreciate Lear’s deathbed plea: “Pray Sir, undo the button.” It’s now one of our favorite Shakespearian lines.

Much has happened since then. I’ve been writing all my life, but for half of my 86-year life, formal writing took a back seat to my 40-year library career, which included higher degrees in English (Wheaton College, Illinois); Library Science from Rutgers University; and a Ph.D. in History from Northwestern University. Along this journey I was fortunate to be appointed to increasingly responsible posts at The New York Public Library (clerk-typist to Assistant Editor of Library Publications); Librarian of Marlboro College (Vermont); Associate Librarian of the Newberry Library (Chicago); Milton S. Eisenhower Librarian, Johns Hopkins (Baltimore); a return to New York Public Library as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries of NYPL (1978-86), and finally before retirement, University Librarian of Syracuse University from 1986-98.

Significant before that time was two years’ service in the US Navy as a journalist, including many voyages in and about the Atlantic, a compelling visit to Antarctica, and a final assignment as librarian of the USS Galveston ashore in Philadelphia. The result was a lifetime obsession with the history of polar exploration, often in remission but seldom far from the surface. Retirement in 1998 brought liberation to read and write about what most mattered to me. With Deirdre’s collaboration, our work on reading in polar settings, Adventures in Polar Reading, was published by the Grolier Club in 2019, following our 2005 exhibition and catalog, Books on Ice. With many polar centennials occurring early this century, interest in the “Heroic Age” of Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, and others mushroomed among the public and specialists in all aspects of polar history.

My passion for reading such books remains, but reading them has become increasingly difficult. ALS is an auto-immune disease which interrupts the nerve commands that flow through the spinal cord to the appropriate muscles. My case has primarily involved the upper body—the pervasive atrophy of the arm muscles and the loss of strength in muscle activity, especially in the fingers and arms. I can’t lift heavy books and I have difficulty turning pages, lifting my arms to turn off reading lamps, and shifting to more comfortable positions.

. . . .

Almost everything with ALS takes more time, often twice as much as before: bathing, drying, dressing, eating, walking, exercising, writing, typing, sleeping itself, even reading. The assault on our reading ability is insidious: it distracts our attention, harms our concentration, destroys the rhythm of the prose and poetry, and the frequent involuntary nap requires re-reading to find the place to resume after falling asleep. There are a number of other factors that affect my reading of words in physical form. It’s a personal list, though I suspect several factors are widely shared.

Weight: In this era of mega-tomes, weight is an obvious problem. I need help positioning some books, usually with a homecare aide resting the book on a pillow. My four devices for holding books open don’t work with heavy books. Contributing to the problem is glossy calendared paper, often used for lustrous illustrated books. Reflections on the page require constant adjustment of the head, the page, and often the book itself, depending on weight, binding, and openability. None of this makes any kind of note taking easy or possible. I am currently being introduced to the technology of eye control to compose both written and spoken speech. After two training sessions I confess to feeling overwhelmed but hopeful of speeding up a slow process.

Openability: I divide books into three categories: one-, two-, and three-fisted. The first can lie flat, or open on a reading device, with easy page turning. The pages remain open while taking notes by hand (if possible) or a computer, on which I can still type. The second requires two hands to hold the work open, and turning pages is harder. The third, and most typical book format, is impossible for people with my kind of physical disability: a tightly bound perfect binding. “Perfect” is a euphemism for books whose sections (signatures) are evenly cut at the inner margins by guillotine. Then the pages are reattached by adhesives at the reduced inner margins, creating a strong but unreadable volume.

Notes: Endnotes in two- and three-fisted books go unread. Footnotes are preferable and needn’t always follow the convention of smaller font.

Margins: For disabled readers who retain handwriting ability, wider inner margins are a boon.

Type size: For people with visual disabilities and older readers, type size affects readability. Presses increasingly want more words per page, using smaller typefaces with tight line spacing.

Technology: In this case, the eBook is no salvation. Having spent much of my life reading in bed, I now find my arms too weak to hold a Kindle for more than a few seconds. More important is that digitized works don’t facilitate citations for retrieval purposes, lacking pagination amidst their changeable fonts and type sizes. The exception is the immense data bases of the HathiTrust and similar collections with page images and digitized equivalents of millions of books, easily read and copied on the desktop. They have enabled me to continue work long after my personal “Use By date.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG went through the long decline associated with ALS a number of years ago. It’s a terrible disease that slowly removes muscle control and strength from a sufferer’s body. When PG’s friend was in the hospital, he required help to do everything. He couldn’t adjust his pillow or move his hand where he wanted it to be.

The ALS Association is an excellent charity focused on finding a cure for this disease.

Out of the Blue, Too Good to Be True: Beware Soliciation Scams

From Writer Unboxed:

When I do presentations and Q&As, I’m often asked to name the most common scheme or scam writers need to watch out for.

Usually, I have to think a moment before I answer—not just because the universe of writer-focused predation is constantly evolving (for instance, there are far fewer fee-charging literary agents now than there were when Writer Beware was founded), but because the ways in which writers can be tricked and exploited are so many and various that it’s hard to choose.

These days, though, I can respond without hesitation. By far the most prevalent writer-focused scams are solicitation scams.

Solicitation scammers contact writers out of the blue with publishing-related offers that seem too good to be true. A literary agency is interested in your work! A prestigious publisher wants to acquire your book! A film producer wants to turn your novel into a movie! A marketing company can expose you to millions of potential fans!

You know the old adage, though: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In reality, these offers are not about boosting your career or raising your profile. Whatever enticing carrot a solicitation scammer may dangle before you, the real aim is to get your money.

Solicitation scams and schemes are not new. Back in the days of snail mail, costly print vanity publisher Dorrance Publishing was notorious for soliciting submissions from copyright registration and magazine subscription lists. (Dorrance has re-tooled itself for the digital age, so its solicitations now come via email.)

Profiteering contest and awards programs have also long been prolific solicitors (for instance, J.M. Northern Media, which runs multiple high-entry-fee “festivals”), as have bogus Who’s Who registries. Predatory author mill Omniscriptum regularly solicits submissions to its many imprints, and if you write nonfiction, you may have been contacted by Close-up TV News, a pay-to-play “news” program that has been chasing customers for nearly two decades.

Over the past three years, though, the volume of solicitations has exploded, driven by a huge rise in publishing-related scams from overseas, and also by the pandemic, as in-person networking and marketing opportunities for writers have dwindled and online activity has increased. Self-published and small press authors are the solicitors’ favorite marks. But any writer can be a target.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG says, in the era of the internet, if you don’t write a solicitation similar to ones mentioned in the OP, search for the publisher/author/festival/etc. online. If they don’t show up anywhere, you have your answer.

If you want to go further search on the name of the enterprise+scam or +beware or +warning, etc.

If you’re self-published and your book has a Best Sellers Rank on Amazon in seven digits, you especially need to hold on to your money.

Only 27% Of Texans Trust Politicians’ Judgement of School Books

From Book Riot:

Following Texas lawmaker Matt Krause’s circulation of a list of 850 books he would like to see removed from schools, the Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler conducted a February 2022 survey of 1,188 registered voters (33% Democrat, 41% Republican, 26% neither) about various topics of Texas politics, including book bans.

In response to the question “How much do you trust the judgement of elected state leaders in reviewing what books are controversial and should be removed from K-12 schools?”, 27% replied that they either had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust. 27% said they had “not too much,” 38% had “no confidence,” and 8% said they didn’t have enough information.

In contrast, 45% had either a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in librarians and school officials in this same review process. 24% said “not too much,” 23% said “no confidence,” and 7% said they didn’t know enough to answer.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

For visitors from outside the United States, there is more than a little turmoil in some US schools about new curricula that teach American history in ways substantially different than has been customary in the past. The primary motivation for the changes in curriculum materials in many cases is to teach about slavery in a different way than it has been taught before.

Traditionally, American history traditionally acknowledged that the principal cause of the American Civil War (1861-1865) was the attempt by the elected national representatives of states that prohibited slavery (Maine, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, California, Nevada, and Oregon, collectively, the “Union”) to force the states that permitted slavery (Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, collectively, the “Confederacy”) to abolish this practice.

In addition to the Northern States and the Southern States, there were also Border States (Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri). The Border states were located between the Northern and the Southern States and included some slaveholders, but also many residents who opposed slavery. None of the border states supported President Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election, but none seceded from the Union as did the Confederate States.

Many of the battles between the North and the South were fought in the Border States, particularly early in the war. In some of the border states that did not have North/South battles between the armies of the two combatants, there were extensive and destructive armed clashes between those who supported one side or the other. At times, these clashes were effectively a guerilla war that made little distinction between combatants and non-combatants.

The Northern states had a combined population of 22 million people. The Southern states had a combined population of about 9 million. The Northern states also included most of the industry in the country at the time while the Southern states were generally agrarian.

The disparity of wealth between the North and South was substantial. Farming which utilized slaves generated a great deal of wealth for the relatively small percentage who were slave-owners, but whites and former slaves who had been freed by their owners. While the Northern states had plenty of farmers, they were well along a path to employing a great many people in industrial companies.

The average per capita income in the North was about double the average per capita income in the South.

In short, if a non-involved individual from another country clearly understood the relative strengths of the Union and Confederacy prior to the war, there would have been little doubt about the military outcome.

As PG has mentioned before, the disproportionate cost in wealth and both military and civilian casualties resulted in the impoverishment of the Southern states and a significant share of their residents. This impoverishment continued for over one hundred years after the war and still remains in significant parts of the Southern and Border states.

Out of the 15 poorest states (ranked by the percentage of the population living in poverty) in 1999, 13 were former members of the Confederacy. Out of the 15 wealthiest states, 14 were former members of the Union and one, Maryland, was a deeply-divided border state which did not secede from the Union but did permit slavery.

While the definition of “racism” has become much more fluid during the past several years, PG suggests that the Civil War, which resulted in far, far more deaths and non-death causalities than the US suffered during the great wars of the Twentieth Century, is, ultimately, a definitive statement that the roots of the nation are built upon the idea than no persons, by virtue of their race, should be discriminated against or oppressed.

Artificial intelligence challenges what it means to be creative

From Science News:

When British artist Harold Cohen met his first computer in 1968, he wondered if the machine might help solve a mystery that had long puzzled him: How can we look at a drawing, a few little scribbles, and see a face? Five years later, he devised a robotic artist called AARON to explore this idea. He equipped it with basic rules for painting and for how body parts are represented in portraiture — and then set it loose making art.

Not far behind was the composer David Cope, who coined the phrase “musical intelligence” to describe his experiments with artificial intelligence–powered composition. Cope once told me that as early as the 1960s, it seemed to him “perfectly logical to do creative things with algorithms” rather than to painstakingly draw by hand every word of a story, note of a musical composition or brush stroke of a painting. He initially tinkered with algorithms on paper, then in 1981 moved to computers to help solve a case of composer’s block.

Cohen and Cope were among a handful of eccentrics pushing computers to go against their nature as cold, calculating things. The still-nascent field of AI had its focus set squarely on solid concepts like reasoning and planning, or on tasks like playing chess and checkers or solving mathematical problems. Most AI researchers balked at the notion of creative machines.

Slowly, however, as Cohen and Cope cranked out a stream of academic papers and books about their work, a field emerged around them: computational creativity. It included the study and development of autonomous creative systems, interactive tools that support human creativity and mathematical approaches to modeling human creativity. In the late 1990s, computational creativity became a formalized area of study with a growing cohort of researchers and eventually its own journal and annual event.

. . . .

Soon enough — thanks to new techniques rooted in machine learning and artificial neural networks, in which connected computing nodes attempt to mirror the workings of the brain — creative AIs could absorb and internalize real-world data and identify patterns and rules that they could apply to their creations.

Computer scientist Simon Colton, then at Imperial College London and now at Queen Mary University of London and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, spent much of the 2000s building the Painting Fool. The computer program analyzed the text of news articles and other written works to determine the sentiment and extract keywords. It then combined that analysis with an automated search of the photography website Flickr to help it generate painterly collages in the mood of the original article. Later the Painting Fool learned to paint portraits in real time of people it met through an attached camera, again applying its “mood” to the style of the portrait (or in some cases refusing to paint anything because it was in a bad mood).

. . . .

During this era, Colton says, AIs began to look like creative artists in their own right — incorporating elements of creativity such as intentionality, skill, appreciation and imagination. But what followed was a focus on mimicry, along with controversy over what it means to be creative.

New techniques that excelled at classifying data to high degrees of precision through repeated analysis helped AI master existing creative styles. AI could now create works like those of classical composers, famous painters, novelists and more.

One AI-authored painting modeled on thousands of portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries sold for $432,500 at auction. In another case, study participants struggled to differentiate the musical phrases of Johann Sebastian Bach from those created by a computer program called Kulitta that had been trained on Bach’s compositions. Even IBM got in on the fun, tasking its Watson AI system with analyzing 9,000 recipes to devise its own cuisine ideas.

But many in the field, as well as onlookers, wondered if these AIs really showed creativity. Though sophisticated in their mimicry, these creative AIs seemed incapable of true innovation because they lacked the capacity to incorporate new influences from their environment. Colton and a colleague described them as requiring “much human intervention, supervision, and highly technical knowledge” in producing creative results. Overall, as composer and computer music researcher Palle Dahlstedt puts it, these AIs converged toward the mean, creating something typical of what is already out there, whereas creativity is supposed to diverge away from the typical.

. . . .

True creativity is a quest for originality. It is a recombination of disparate ideas in new ways. It is unexpected solutions. It might be music or painting or dance, but also the flash of inspiration that helps lead to advances on the order of light bulbs and airplanes and the periodic table. In the view of many in the computational creativity field, it is not yet attainable by machines.

In just the past few years, creative AIs have expanded into style invention — into authorship that is individualized rather than imitative and that projects meaning and intentionality, even if none exists. For Colton, this element of intentionality — a focus on the process, more so than the final output — is key to achieving creativity. But he wonders whether meaning and authenticity are also essential, as the same poem could lead to vastly different interpretations if the reader knows it was written by a man versus a woman versus a machine.

Link to the rest at Science News and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG suggests that it may be difficult for many individuals to distinguish between “true creativity” and derivative works based on prior creative projects.

7 Unlikely Love Stories in Literature

From Electric Lit:

In the early stages of writing Castaway Mountain, I recall the narrative taking shape very slowly. My book is set in a world made of Mumbai’s garbage, one that may seem unreal, but is very much rooted in reality. I had written up to the moment when fires burned on the vast Deonar garbage mountains at the edge of Mumbai in 2016. At the center of this story was Farzana Shaikh, a spirited waste picker who was born at the feet of the towering mountains. She grew up on their slopes, getting singed, her life ravaged in the aftermath of the epic fires, months before she turned 18. I wondered if anyone would read ahead, past the fires. Partway into writing my book, I worried about whether I should stop.

But then, I remembered the young man who had entered Farzana’s life like the shimmering pompadour he styled with his hair—filled with style, light and life. The two had met on the mountain tops, as she sorted through the city’s waste that tumbled out of the garbage truck he rode in. The two had fallen in love, keeping their affair secret, shrouded by the smoke from the fires. Even in the absurd landscape of this vast graveyard of belongings, love found a way.

I wondered if it was the darkness and blight of the garbage mountains that made their love appear to shine particularly bright. It was as if the fires, the opposition of their families, and other hurdles had made their love more unforgettable—like so many love stories I had read and treasured.

. . . .

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Informed by his experience as a journalist, Marquez writes of a teenage girl bitten by a dog and is said to be possessed by African slave spirits. Hearing the dire prognosis, her wealthy father offers her up for an exorcism at an abbey. The young priest set to perform the exorcism falls in love with her. We see the battle between colonial Catholicism and Latin American folkloric tradition waged on her body, and then the immensely healing power of love.

. . . .

Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Atwood unravels a story about the interweaving and interchanging lives of two Canadian sisters, Laura and Iris Chase. The novel begins with Laura dying in a car accident and Iris revisiting their lives through Laura’s autobiographical novel, Blind Assassin. Their father, an industrialist, married Laura off to save the family fortune. The marriage was predictably an unhappy one and Laura yearned for Alex Thomas, an old flame and a communist sympathizer who was involved in their father’s factory. Amidst the stories of the Chase sisters’ catering to the needs and whims of the men in their lives, are the memories of Alex recounting science fiction tales about a planet called Zyrcon where anything at all can happen.

. . . .

The Remains of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

A love so unlikely it may not have existed at all and yet so undying that the main character sets out to find it, and himself, decades later. Working as a butler, Mr. Stevens dutifully spent years holding up the vestiges of a mansion and with it, Britain’s declining post-war power and nobility. Miss Kanton, the housekeeper, waited for Mr. Stevens to tire of his efforts of keeping up with this slipping world and to turn to building a life of his own with her. Was the unarticulated and unexamined self even there? Years later, Stevens leaves on a road trip, in a rapidly transforming Britain, to reclaim himself and a love that had stayed unspoken and nearly unfelt.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Book Editor Strove to Bring Literature to the Masses

From The Wall Street Journal:

Jason Epstein spent a career in publishing trying to make great books readily available to the masses—and never lost his hope that more of them would share his enthusiasm.

As a young editor at Doubleday & Co. in the early 1950s, he launched Anchor Books, a line of paperbacks devoted to literature and serious nonfiction rather than the usual romances and crime stories lurking between soft covers.

In 1963, he helped found the New York Review of Books. Mr. Epstein later was a founder of the Library of America, a nonprofit that publishes new editions of books deemed classics.

He edited books by writers including V.S. Pritchett, Jane Jacobs, W.H. Auden and Norman Mailer. “I wasn’t used to working with someone who might be a lot brighter than I am,” Mr. Mailer once said of his experience with Mr. Epstein.

In the mid-2000s, Mr. Epstein co-founded On Demand Books to supply Espresso Book Machine printers that can produce paperbacks in minutes at the point of sale. He predicted the service would transform publishing by cutting out middlemen. Usage of the machines has been meager, partly due to resistance from publishers.

Mr. Epstein, who died Feb. 4 at age 93, remained optimistic. “I’ve never been wrong about the future of the business,” he told the New York Times in 2001. “It sounds boastful. But it’s not boastful to tell the truth.”

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

Men going their own way: the rise of a toxic male separatist movement

From The Guardian:

The men of the MGTOW movement aim to live their lives with no female contact. The idea began on the fringes of the internet – so how has it made it all the way to the White House?

here has been an awakening … changing the world … one man at a time.” These are the dramatic words that appear when you visit mgtow.com. In a video that looks a lot like an action-movie trailer, the words are soon followed by five more that appear to smash through the screen, smouldering fiery red: “Men … going … their … own way.”

If you stumbled across this website and had never heard of “men going their own way” (MGTOW) before, you would probably assume this was a tiny, extreme movement. But you would be only half right.

The views of MGTOW are indeed unorthodox, even within the sprawling web of groups, lifestyles and cults known as the “manosphere”, where women-haters mobilise against a supposed gynocratic conspiracy. While incels plot violent revenge on women, and pickup artists (PUAs) deploy predatory tactics to “game” women into having sex with them, the men of the MGTOW attempt to eschew relationships with women altogether. They are, literally, going their own way. Far, far away from any women. At all.

Although some MGTOW maintain platonic relationships with women and others have one-night stands or visit sex workers, many prefer to abstain from sex, a process referred to as “going monk”. This is too much for some members of the wider manosphere. The blogger Matt Forney, notorious for posts such as “Why fat girls don’t deserve to be loved” and “The necessity of domestic violence”, wrote that “men going their own way is no way for men to go” and mocked MGTOW as “a cult for lonely virgins”.

But this isn’t an obscure internet cul-de-sac; mgtow.com alone has almost 33,000 members. Its forums (“for men only”) contain conversations on more than 50,000 topics, with more than 790,000 replies, which range from advice on divorcing as cheaply as possible to lurid stories about women who have found particularly inventive ways to murder their husbands. The site also lists 25 video channels; between them, these have more than 730,000 followers, and their videos have been viewed a total of 130m times.

Over on YouTube, one of the best-known MGTOW vloggers, who goes by the name of Sandman, has racked up more 90m views for videos with titles ranging from “Smart men don’t get married” to “Criticise her and she will destroy your career”.

The MGTOW philosophy is elaborately laid out on the mgtow.com website, which summarises it as “a statement of self-ownership, where the modern man preserves and protects his own sovereignty above all else”. Drawing on snippets of quotes and newspaper clippings, the site claims that MGTOW dates back to great men, including Schopenhauer, Beethoven, Galileo and “even Jesus Christ”.

Women are essentially portrayed as parasites riding on the coattails of men, who have, throughout history, been responsible for “far greater miracles of science, discovery and human endeavour”. By shaking women off, it is explained, men will be free to pursue ever higher achievements.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

7 Novels About All-Women Households and Communities

From Electric Lit:

Depictions of women living without men can be found in literature since the advent of the novel. From Sense and Sensibility to The Golden Notebook to Bridget Jones’ Diary, such women are often unconventional, either unwilling or unable to fit the mould prescribed to them by society. They’re threats, failures, outcasts, but they can also be trailblazers—women who want to determine their own paths.

. . . .

The following books are all about women who are, in different ways, living without men—either out of choice, or because they’ve been compelled to, or simply because, unintentionally, that’s how their lives have turned out. Their situations are used contrastingly by each writer to explore women’s position in the world, their relationship to men and to society.

. . . .

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

In Sophie Mackintosh’s fairy-tale-like dystopia, three girls—Grace, Lia and Sky—live alone on an island with their parents, Mother and King. The girls were too young when they moved to now remember the outside world, but they know that it’s filled with toxins, and that the main source of these toxins are men. The girls have always relied on King for survival, but one day he leaves to get supplies and doesn’t come back, and the women are left alone. An exploration of toxic masculinity and patriarchy, Mackintosh creates a closed world which is meant to prioritize the safety of women, but where a sadistic man—King —remains entirely in charge. Only when he disappears, and three young men unexpectedly arrive on the island, do the girls start acting with autonomy and questioning what they’ve been told.

. . . .

To the North by Elizabeth Bowen

To the North, Bowen’s 1932 novel, tells the story of two young women who live together—Cecilia, recently widowed after less than a year of marriage, and Emmeline, the sister of Cecilia’s late husband. The novel follows Cecilia’s reluctant move towards a second marriage, and Emmeline’s destructive love affair with the selfish and predatory Markie. Set during the interwar period, a time of much debate about the position of the single or “surplus” woman after the deaths of so many men in World War I, Bowen’s novel explores the predicament of unconventional women pursuing independent lives. The cohabitation of Emmeline and Cecilia is treated with great suspicion by the other characters in the novel, a sign of the women’s dislocation from society, in a world where “home” for a woman means the home you find with your husband. As Emmeline reflects, when she discovers that Cecilia will remarry, “houses shared with women are built on sand.”

. . . .

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Set in a 12th-century English convent, Matrix is a reimagining of the life of Marie de France, a visionary poet about whom not much is known. Groff has creatively filled in the gaps, opening the novel with the 17-year-old Marie arriving at an English nunnery. She’s been thrown out of her beloved Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court because she’s too unattractive to be married, and has been sent to an impoverished royal abbey to become prioress. Initially, Marie is lonely and depressed, but then she decides to take charge of the nunnery, becoming prioress and then abbess. In the creation of an all-women utopia, men are expelled from the lands surrounding the convent, and a labyrinth is constructed to protect the nuns from attack. Matrix is a beautiful and profound novel about visionary leadership and the addictive nature of power.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Pottermore heralds ‘exceptional’ year as profits soar by 150%

From The Bookseller:

Pottermore Publishing, the digital content company for J K Rowling’s Wizarding World, saw revenues rise by around a quarter to £40.4m while pretax profits rocketed 150% to £9.5m.

The company reported details of its financial results on 31st January covering the period for the 12 months to 31st March 2021. It has not yet made its accounts public at Companies House.

Revenues saw an uplift of 23% from £32.5m in 2020 to £40.4m while pretax profits soared from £3.8m to £9.5m.

The company said: “Pottermore Ltd had an exceptional year benefitting from a significantly increased appetite for digital reading during the pandemic, strong sales performance of the Harry Potter e-books and digital audiobooks and continued investment in franchise planning in partnership with Warner Bros.

“The Harry Potter At Home campaign, delivered by Wizarding World Digital LLC, further supported reading during the lockdown of 2020. This saw celebrities from the Wizarding World and beyond read from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Bloomsbury Children’s). The chapter reads were made available free of charge on www.wizardingworld.com. Pottermore Publishing also worked with partners such as Audible and Overdrive during this time to allow free access to the audio book and e-book of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in multiple languages.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

‘Maus’ Tops Amazon Bestseller List After Tennessee School Board Pulls Graphic Novel

From The Wall Street Journal:

Maus,” a graphic novel about the Holocaust published decades ago, reached the top of Amazon.com Inc.’s bestsellers list after a Tennessee school board’s decision to remove the book spurred criticism nationwide.

“The Complete Maus,” which includes the first and second installments of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel, sat at the top of Amazon’s bestseller list Monday morningIt later moved to the No. 2 spot. Separate copies of the installments, published in 1986 and 1991, respectively, were also among the top 10 bestselling books on the retail giant’s website.

Attention to the graphic novel was renewed this month when the McMinn County Board of Education in Athens, Tenn., voted unanimously to remove “Maus” from its eighth-grade curriculum. The 10-member board cited “vulgar” words that appeared in the book as well as subjects they deemed inappropriate for eighth-graders.  

The school board’s Jan. 10 decision sparked widespread criticism. In an interview with CNBC last week, Mr. Spiegelman said he was baffled by the move, calling it “Orwellian.” A representative for Mr. Spiegelman said he wasn’t available for further comment Monday.

. . . .

In “Maus,” Mr. Spiegelman examines the horrors of the Holocaust and his parents’ journey of survival, depicting Nazis as cats and Jewish people as mice. The nearly 300-page graphic novel received a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

The McMinn County Board of Education said the graphic novel “was simply too adult-oriented” and cited the use of profanity, nudity, and depictions of violence and suicide. In a statement last week, the board said it doesn’t dispute the importance of teaching students about the Holocaust and said it asked administrators to find more age-appropriate texts to “accomplish the same educational goal.”

“The atrocities of the Holocaust were shameful beyond description, and we all have an obligation to ensure that younger generations learn from its horrors to ensure that such an event is never repeated,” the board said in a statement last week. “We simply do not believe that this work is an appropriate text for our students to study.”

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

Subscriber List Cleaning

PG did a bit of cleaning of the subscriber list for TPV after filtering through a bunch of comments that were clearly spam that sneaked past the TPV spam plugin.

This included consulting a list of internet country codes known for generating lots of spam.

He noted one domain on the list – bunkbedsforsale.com and a lot of Gmail addresses that looked something like girls.x.4.d.g.

If you’ve been improperly cleaned, sign up to subscribe to the daily TPV email again.

China isn’t our only intellectual piracy problem

From The Deseret News:

The U.S. economy runs on startups. For all of America’s brand-name mega-corporations, it’s young firms that create most of our new jobs during periods of economic growth.

Those startups, in turn, depend on America’s famously strong laws protecting their patented inventions and other intellectual property. The only way someone with a big idea but minimal resources can outcompete established firms is through proper government protection of their innovations.

Today, we are failing in that responsibility. Instead, our laxity is empowering predators foreign and domestic — endangering not only the next Apple, Microsoft, or Facebook, but our entire economy.

For years, the greatest threat to American intellectual property has been China. As our economy became more globalized and digitized, Chinese IP piracy became endemic — totaling an estimated $600 billion in costs to the U.S. economy per year. In 2019, a CNBC survey of American corporations found that nearly one-third of respondents had experienced IP theft by Chinese pirates in the past decade. Testifying before Congress in 2020, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “I think it’s well documented that the Chinese government steals technology from American companies.”

More telling than Zuckerberg’s acknowledgment, however, was the strange but unmistakable equivocation by the other Big Tech executives at the hearing. When asked the same question, the CEOs of Apple, Amazon and Google — individuals famous for their breadth of knowledge and laser focus on their businesses — all shrugged and testified only that they hadn’t personally seen any Chinese IP piracy.

While many, including the U.S. Attorney General, slammed them for “kowtowing” to Beijing, there is another reason those firms might not want to shine too bright a light on IP theft: it’s become a valuable part of their own business models.

. . . .

Early this month, the U.S. International Trade Commission issued a final ruling finding that Google infringed on five patents belonging to Sonos, a company that makes smart speakers. The story is a worst-case scenario for a startup innovator. Over a decade ago, Sonos developed one of the most advanced wireless audio systems in the market — a product so impressive that Google wanted to partner with the company on it. Sonos alleges that early in the partnership, Google lifted Sonos-patented technology for Google’s own audio equipment — and continued doing so for future products despite Sonos calling the tech giant out for infringement.

Sonos’s experience was no fluke. Google faced 48 patent infringement lawsuits in 2021.

That’s more than any other company, but Google is certainly not the only alleged perpetrator.

Sonos has accused Amazon of stealing the same technologies for use in its Echo audio systems. Additionally, in 2020, a federal jury ordered Amazon to pay $5 million to Texas-based Vocalife for infringing on its patents to make Echo. Meanwhile, Apple was recently ordered to pay $300 million in damages to Optis Wireless Technology for patent infringement.

It’s no accident, then, that the number of IP lawsuits rose in 2020 for the first time since 2015, and court awards rose to $4.67 billion from just $1.5 billion in 2019.

It also makes holding China to account much harder. After all, if the richest and most powerful businesses in America are ignoring our intellectual property laws — supposedly some of the strongest in the world — why shouldn’t our global adversaries?

The real issue here isn’t complicated: When laws against theft aren’t vigorously enforced, thieves are going to steal. That’s true as much for sophisticated IP infringement as it is for the wave of organized shoplifting in California today. With billions of dollars at stake, slaps on the wrist or gentle nudges aren’t going to deter highly motivated pickpockets in Beijing, Silicon Valley, or anywhere else. Congress has to tighten up our IP laws and stiffen penalties, and the Justice Department needs to ramp up enforcement while there are still innovative American startups left to save.

Link to the rest at The Deseret News

PG says authors shouldn’t rest easy because the OP talks about patents instead of copyrights. Ebook piracy is at a significant level. Overpricing of ebooks by traditional publishing is certainly a motivation, but pirates aren’t known for staying away from indie authors as well.

When a friend talks about a great new website where all sorts of ebooks are marked way down from the prices Amazon charges, don’t hesitate to explain that it’s likely a pirate site. In addition to preventing authors from being paid for their works, piracy destinations are also known as great places to get your computer or tablet infected with malware. Then, it’s possible your friend will share the malware with all of her friends as well.

If you have to trash a computer or even a hard drive due to malware, a new one will cost you much more than any number of ebooks would have on Amazon. If you have to hire someone to come in to remove the malware, that’s also going to cost a lot of money. If you lose all your tax information or your manuscripts, that’s another potentially expensive consequence. If your friends get infected from your computer and have to spend money cleaning up their problems, you may not get invited out to lunch in the future.

And if you find a copy of a NYT bestseller that usually costs $19.95 that only costs 99 cents, conveniently payable by credit card, you may find your life gets a lot more complicated as well. Think of how your significant other will respond to $5,000 in new charges on your joint credit card.

Yes, you may be able to get some or all charges reversed, but, depending on the circumstances, you may not. At a minimum, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time explaining to some suspicious credit card employees how you were so stupid as to fall for a well-known scam.

To be clear, PG isn’t saying that every pirate site for free ebooks is infected with malware, but enough are that it’s a good idea to stay away from all of them because the potential for an expensive loss is greater than any money you might save in the short run. Besides, cheating authors whose books you like is really low.

Pulling back to a longer philosophic perspective, PG has learned that life will be more pleasant and easier for a person who doesn’t act like a jerk.

Artists use frauds

Artists use frauds to make human beings seem more wonderful than they really are. Dancers show us human beings who move much more gracefully than human beings really move. Films and books and plays show us people talking much more entertainingly than people really talk, make paltry human enterprises seem important. Singers and musicians show us human beings making sounds far more lovely than human beings really make. Architects give us temples in which something marvelous is obviously going on. Actually, practically nothing is going on

Kurt Vonnegut