Tea Leaves: Year in Review 2022

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

I started this year’s Year in Review blogs with traditional publishing partly because that Department of Justice anti-trust case produced such juicy tidbits that I couldn’t ignore them, and partly because I have always started with traditional publishing. Back in the day, I saw all of us (writers, readers, and publishers) as creatures that emerged from traditional publishing.

Now, I see a lot of writers who didn’t start in traditional and have no desire to go there. I’ve met a lot of young readers who really don’t care what the newest hottest book is. Heck, I’ve met a lot of young people who have no sense of the latest music (something that was a big deal when I was young) because they have access to all music. They can easily find their niche, and go back to Patsy Cline if that niche is country or maybe find a song by Maren Morris and have them on the same playlist.

Reading the opinion in the attempted merger of Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House, a merger that the courts ultimately blocked, giving a big (if twenty years too late) win to the Department of Justice, made me realize just how different the various areas of publishing are now.

It also gave me a glimpse into the future, with more clarity than I think I’ve had on the entire industry maybe ever.

Last year I wrote a post in the Year in Review called “The Split.” I finally had numbers that showed just how different the traditional publishing industry was from what most places call the self-publishing industry. Self-publishing is no longer accurate, as we’ll see below, and I’m not sure it’s ever been accurate. It’s more of an indie publishing industry. Some writers do publish their own work, but others have created large businesses that publish the work of many writers.

I wrote a second Year in Review post in 2021 about the splits in indie publishing, and I still stand by that analysis. In that post, I identified five different areas of the part of publishing I’m calling indie. (I still haven’t found a good name for it all. Neither, it seems, has anyone else.)

While I separated them into five areas last year, I’m only going to explore four areas this year. They are:

  • Actual self-publishing. It’s a one-person operation, with the occasional contract labor to help with things like covers (although we’ll see in a future post how that has gotten even easier) or copy edits or anything else the author wants to farm out.
  • The Individual Data Managers. People who like playing with algorithms and use the amazing amount of data that’s at our fingertips now to enhance book sales. Sometimes those sales are for the writer’s individual work and sometimes those sales are for books the writer/manager owns a percentage of. I love many things about these folks, but my favorite part—at least for the purpose of this post—is that traditional publishing could’ve used someone like this for decades…and never bothered to hire them. Right now, given the changes at Amazon and elsewhere, this isn’t as successful a route as it was even a year ago, but the more things change….
  • Small Publishers. This is a catch-all category, but suffice to say that these are publishers who started as writers but have a full-fledged somewhat traditional publishing business. Traditional in the sense that they license rights from other writers, publish the books or stories on all platforms, and pay the writer for that privilege. The payments are not standardized in this category as they are in true traditional publishing (New York based) but that’s irrelevant. These publishers exist and will become more important as the years go by.
  • Small Entertainment Companies. Last year, I described them as companies that “started out as something reading- or writer-oriented.” Then they became something that was not like anything we’d seen before, and eventually sold for millions to larger corporations. I’m not describing them further, because the more I see what’s been going on in 2022, the more I think this category is growing and changing and becoming something that’s about story in all of its forms. We might discuss this in a later Year in Review post as I discuss the influence AI products are making on creativity in general.

Last year, this analysis of the publishing industry seemed pretty thorough to me, although I knew I was missing something. Then, throughout the year, I looked at writer after writer after writer who refused to believe the information coming out at the S&S/PRH/DOJ trial, and continued to move forward into traditional publishing, no matter what. I couldn’t see what drove the writers there, except for old-fashioned beliefs.

I think those old-fashioned and engrained beliefs are there. But those writers were seeing something that I had missed.

They were seeing the “top-selling books” market. I analyzed that a bit in the previous year-in-review post, the one about bestsellers. The DOJ, in making its case against the merger, isolated this market for me, and made me understand that it will always be with us.

Writers, particularly writers without any business acumen or future vision, will always try to get into this market. I hate calling it “top-selling books” because that’s not accurate at all. (See that bestseller post.) I’m not even sure there’s a good label for this category.

Books That Get A Big Traditional Advance? Books That Get Special Traditional Treatment? Books Traditional Publishing Has High Hopes For?

Let’s skip the label, since it’s so hard to make an accurate one, and go with the definition from the opinion in the S&S/PRH/DOJ case.

These are books that get advances of $250,000 and above. From pages 34-35, those books “are expected to sell well, are more likely to include favorable terms like higher royalty rates, higher levels of marketing support, ‘glam’ packages (e.g., for hair, makeup, and wardrobe services), and airfare for authors.”


Publishers print more of the books they think will do well; circulate more advance copies of such books to reviewers or influencers to create excitement; push for interviews with more media outlets; and schedule book-tour appearances in more locations….Anticipated top-selling books get more attention from marketing and sales teams.

All of this I knew, of course. I’d seen it. I’d benefitted from some of it (although not a glam package, thank heavens). I also know how worthless most of this is in 2022. The “top-selling” market isn’t top-selling anymore. The numbers have gone way down.

But if a writer consumes a lot of traditional media and looks at the traditional promotions in brick-and-mortar bookstores as well as those rotating ads on the online book retailers, then they’ll see certain books get promoted time and time again.

I always assumed that those writers didn’t know that there were other better ways to get their books to readers. I thought those writers were ignorant. I still think many writers who go into traditional publishing are ignorant, willfully so.

But there’s another category of writer that I was having trouble accepting. I missed the writers who have different goals than I do. The DOJ defines these writers as “distinct sellers.” There are three points to that definition and two are more or less irrelevant to our examination here. (Those points are based on the idea that self-publishing is ineffective because writers can’t pay themselves an advance or market their books properly. Not kidding. See this post.)

I had missed that these writers have different goals than I do. The goal that caught me was the one described on page 33 of the opinion.

…authors of anticipated top-selling books…(1) care more about their publishers’ reputation and services, which ensure wider distribution of their books…

To which we can add “in the old-fashioned traditional media and marketplace.”

If it’s really important for a writer to get the full 1970s star author treatment, however reduced it is in 2022, then that writer will always go to traditional publishing, or more specifically here in the U.S., to the Big 5.

Think of it this way: The Big 5 have become network television. Once upon a time in the U.S., we had three TV networks. In the 1970s, top shows on one of those three networks could get an average of 20 million households watching every single week. (A household was generally considered to be four people, which meant that the viewership was around 80 million people at a time when the U.S. population was around 203 million people.)

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

7 Books That Celebrate Underappreciated Crafts

From Electric Lit:

In 1937, on the bank of the river Ravi in Lahore, the 10-year-old protagonist of my novel realizes that he is affected by smell in a way that others are not. On that day, he is inducted as an apprentice to his uncle at the family’s perfume shop, and so begins the formal education of Samir Vij. Set against the backdrop of the 1947 Partition, he falls in love with Firdaus Khan, an illuminator of manuscripts; their days filled with perfume and paper, olfactory and amorous impulses. 

The Book of Everlasting Things is at its heart a love story, but it’s also very much about characters who continue to practice traditional crafts—perfumery, distillation, calligraphy and illumination, paper-making, Ayurvedic medicine, carpet weaving, leatherwork and tanning—in a changing world. Perhaps it is my own training as a traditional printmaker that inevitably directs my attention to these now-rare, highly intricate, labor-intensive disciplines that have sadly been swallowed by the modern and automated. And so, in an effort to celebrate underappreciated art forms, ancient traditions, and unique occupations, I present a list of books that have informed the texture of my writing.

The Earthspinner by Anuradha Roy

The Earthspinner deftly revisits the themes that Roy’s novels are well known for—history, memory, myth, and love. Elango is a Hindu rickshaw driver and potter whose dream is to create a terracotta horse, and whose crime is falling in love with Zohra, the granddaughter of a blind, Muslim calligrapher. A neighbor, Sara, becomes both witness and chronicler of his days, as she entwines herself into his life as his apprentice. One day, a lost dog, Chinna, appears, adopting the potter. With the completion of the terracotta horse, a community is enraged, and the pair of lovers flee into exile. Told in alternating first and third person, moving between India and England, the novel harnesses the elemental power of rain and fire, the strength of the earth, and the bodily nature of craftsmanship.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

New Year’s Eve, as described in fiction, is a grim affair

From The Economist:

New year’s eve is a moment of release, when the dry husk of the old year is discarded. Coming so soon after the expensive rituals of Christmas, it can provoke tired cynicism, but people of all ages still embrace the excuse to drown in sentimentality (or alcohol). It is an opportunity for fireworks, countdowns, bad dancing, claustrophobic parties and ropey television, or simply to pass out under a giant pile of coats.

In fiction, New Year’s Eve almost invariably proves a fiasco. Often it is tainted by doom or despair. In George Eliot’s novel “Silas Marner”, it prompts Squire Cass, a minor aristocrat, to host an opulent dance. His son Godfrey’s estranged wife, Molly, travels there, intending to expose his shabby behaviour, only to collapse en route and die in the snow. It is the date when Hans Christian Andersen’s little match girl freezes to death in the street, ignored by revellers, and when the title character in Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” weds the dogmatic hypocrite Angel Clare. In Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Looking Glass”, a young woman falls asleep on New Year’s Eve and perceives a future so haunted by death that, when she wakes, the dream seems to have cast a pall over her whole existence.

Less morbid, though still bleak, is the subgenre of modern novel in which a New Year’s Eve party exposes the fault lines in a marriage or in society at large. Margaret Drabble’s “The Radiant Way” features a couple for whom such a celebration becomes an unbearable chapter of “hints, glances, sliding words, oblique smiles, incomprehensible references”. In Brigid Brophy’s glistening, neglected book “The Snow Ball”, the hedonism of an end-of-year costume party amplifies the characters’ duplicity as well as their anxiety about it. Amor Towles’s “Rules of Civility” portrays Katey Kontent, a socialite, making merry at a jazz bar in Greenwich Village, where the prospect of New Year dangles “brightly coloured possibilities”—but also the sour truth that the race to grasp them is a ruthless competition.

Nick McDonell gives the occasion a sharply contemporary spin in “Twelve”, a portrait of Manhattanites cramped by privilege—one of whom, a drug addict, guns down half his social circle at a New Year’s Eve shindig. It is at a rather less edgy gathering to mark the same holiday that Lila, the bright star of Elena Ferrante’s passionate Neapolitan novels, looks at her neighbours and realises with disgust “how poorly made we are”. And there is surely no more hapless New Year’s Eve reveller in modern literature than the one Karl Ove Knausgaard pictures in his autobiographical novel “A Death in the Family”: a teenage plot to hide some cans of beer ahead of the night’s festivities turns into a roiling psychodrama about deceit, failure, rejection and David Bowie.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ Review: The Soul’s Rebirth

From The Wall Street Journal:

Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” is an evergreen delight for a host of reasons, not least for its length. It’s the ideal, modest size. The book’s events—which track the elderly, prosperous, stingy Ebenezer Scrooge’s psychic transformation from grouchy bear to purring pussycat—unfold in the course of one night. And, likewise, the book can, and should, be consumed in a single night, preferably Christmas Eve. Scrooge’s clock and the reader’s were meant to align.

In the book’s fictional world, Scrooge’s stunted soul is redeemed after serial visits from four ghosts, each conveying messages of fear and censure. In another, factual world (the one you the reader inhabit), Scrooge’s night is best devoted to marveling at how compactly, how richly and deftly, Dickens lays out his tale of a pitiable man’s salvation. If everything goes well, the evening’s two prime participants, Scrooge and you, wind up at the same juncture: releasing tears of joy.

Scrooge is described as rocklike—a skinflint—but there is abundant water within this stone; tears flow generously in “A Christmas Carol.” The book might be subtitled “The Man Who Learned to Cry.” Scrooge’s first visitor is the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former business partner, buried seven long years before. In clangorous fashion, dragging his chains, Marley’s ghost outlines Scrooge’s upcoming evening, in which he will suffer visits from the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

The book’s first sentences are: “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” Categorical as this sounds, the reader in due course comes to grasp a startling, contrary truth: Marley is more alive than Scrooge. To lie eternally in a graveyard is to be less dead than to harbor a buried, unresponsive soul while yet breathing—embittered Scrooge’s fate.

Though “A Christmas Carol” is Dickens’s most celebrated creation, it was but one of five such novellas prepared for the holiday season, eventually assembled as the “Christmas Books.” It would be satisfying to report that “A Christmas Carol,” the majestic pinnacle of the five, culminated the series. But it was the first to arrive, and to read the set chronologically is to experience a gradual depletion.

Even so, today they compose a charming quintet, bristling with Victorian bustle, and in their gladsome heyday they were an exploding, near-annual phenomenon. Beginning in 1843, ending in 1848, each book arrived for Christmas. They were the new Netflix series of their time, a platinum LP, a YouTube viral sensation—they were precocious blockbusters, even if the term wouldn’t emerge until almost exactly a century later. The books were keenly awaited, speedily purchased, tirelessly discussed, variously performed. “The Chimes,” second in the series, generated five different stage adaptations within weeks of publication. “The Cricket on the Hearth,” the third, spawned an astonishing 17.

Unseen spirits abound in Dickens’s Christmas books. These are not disembodied feelings but determinate creatures, gesticulating at the rim of consciousness. While four ghosts are introduced to Scrooge by name, he is also granted a vaster vision, of an airborne world more frenzied and teeming than our own:

Scrooge followed to the window, desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.

The air was filled with phantoms,

wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. . . . The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever.

Similarly thronged is the atmosphere of “The Chimes”:

He saw the tower, whither his charmed footsteps had brought him, swarming with dwarf phantoms, spirits, elfin creatures of the Bells . . . He saw them ugly, handsome, crippled, exquisitely formed.

Hence, in both novellas solitude means company; nobody’s truly alone. Naturally, it’s tempting to regard such spirits as the native companions of the born novelist, who with each breath imbibes invisible, poignant stories.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Artificial intelligence will reach human levels

Artificial intelligence will reach human levels by around 2029. Follow that out further to, say, 2045, and we will have multiplied the intelligence – the human biological machine intelligence of our civilization – a billion-fold.

Ray Kurzweil

The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race….It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.

Stephen Hawking

It seems probable that once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers… They would be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits. At some stage, therefore, we should have to expect the machines to take control.

Alan Turing

We’re drowning in old books. But getting rid of them is heartbreaking.

From The Washington Post:

On a recent weekday afternoon, Bruce Albright arrives in the Wonder Book parking lot, pops the trunk of his Camry and unloads two boxes of well-worn books. “It’s sad. Some of these I’ve read numerous times,” he says.

Albright, 70, has been at this for six months, shedding 750 books at his local library and at this Frederick, Md., store. The rub: More than 1,700 volumes remain shelved in the retired government lawyer’s nearby home, his collection lovingly amassed over a half-century.

But Albright is on a mission. “I cleaned out my parents’ home,” he says. “I don’t want to do to my kids what my parents did to me.”

He’s far from alone. Books are precious to their owners. Their worth, emotional and monetary, is comparably less to anyone else.

Humorist and social critic Fran Lebowitz owns 12,000 books, mostly fiction, kept in 19th-century wooden cases with glass door sin her New York apartment. “Constitutionally, I am unable to throw a book away. To me, it’s like seeing a baby thrown in a trash can,” she says. “I am a glutton for print. I love books in every way. I love them more than most human beings.” If there’s a book she doesn’t want, Lebowitz, 72, will spend months deciding whom to give it to.

“I kept accumulating books. My life was overflowing with books. I’d have to live to 150 to reread these books,” says Martha Frankel, a writer and director of the Woodstock Bookfest. She amassed 3,600 — and that was just in the office that she closed in 2018 — “but the idea of getting rid of these books made me nauseous.”

America is saturated with old books, congesting Ikea Billy cases, Jengaing atop floors, Babeling bedside tables. During months of quarantine, book lovers faced all those spines and opportunities for multiple seasons of spring cleaning. They adore these books, irrationally, unconditionally, but know that, ultimately, if they don’t decide which to keep, it will be left to others to unceremoniously dump them.

So, despite denial, grief, bargaining, anguish and even nausea, the Great Deaccession commenced.

. . . .

“This is the most material flooding onto the market that I’ve ever seen,” says veteran Vancouver, Wash., dealer KolShaver, a sentiment shared by sellers across the country. For dealers who survived the pandemic, “the used-book business has never been healthier,” says Wonder Book owner Chuck Roberts, a 42-year veteran in the trade, strolling through his three-acre warehouse, a veritable biblio wonderland, jammed with volumes ranging from never-been-cracked publishers’ overstock to centuries-old classics bound in leather.

“We take everything and pretty much what no one else is going to take,” Roberts says, which is how his business accumulated an inventory of 6 million, with 300,000 more new used books arriving every month. Wonder Book practices “nose-to-tail bookselling,” meaning a home or use is found for each item one way or the other through multiple websites (national and international), three bricks-and-mortar stores, and school and charitable donations. Wonder Book’s damaged items on life support are pulped to produce 100,000 pounds monthly of recycled paper.

Despite the advent of the digerati and eBooks, hardcovers and paperbacks continue to flood the market for readers who prefer the look and feel of physical books, the weight in their hands, the pleasure of turning a page. Three-quarters of trade book revenue last year derived from hardcover and paperback sales, according to the Association of American Publishers. A boom in self- and hybrid publishing has allowed more people to call themselves an “author,” with a juggernaut of titles published annually in print, around 395,000 in 2021, a 15 percent increase in a decade, according to Bowker, which assigns ISBN numbers and bar codes to books.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

Can AI Write Authentic Poetry?

From The MIT Press:

Time — a few centuries here or there — means very little in the world of poems.” There is something reassuring about Mary Oliver’s words. Especially in an era of rapid change, there is comfort to be had in those things that move slowly. But oceans rise and mountains fall; nothing stays the same. Not even the way poetry is made.

The disappearance of the author in 20th-century literary criticism can perhaps be traced back to the surrealist movement and its game of “exquisite corpse.” The surrealists believed that a poem can emerge not only from the unconscious mind of an individual, but from the collective mind of many individuals working in consort — even, or perhaps especially, if each individual has minimal knowledge of what the others are doing. Soon the idea of making art from recycled objects emerged. In the realm of literature, this approach took the form of found poetry.

To create a found poem, one or more people collect bits of text encountered anywhere at all, and with a little editing stitch the pieces together to form a collagelike poem. Examining this generative activity, it may be difficult to identify who if anyone is the “poet” who writes the found poem (or for that matter, to be confident that “writing” is an apt name for the process). Still, even if no one’s consciousness guided the initial creation of the constituent phrases, one or more humans will have exercised their sensitivity and discrimination in selecting the bits to include, and the way these pieces are ordered and linked to form a new whole. The author (or authors) at a minimum must do the work of a careful reader. Can the human be pushed still further into the background, or even out of the picture?

The most radical technological advance of the 20th century might seem to have nothing at all to do with the writing of poetry. If we make a list of the great leaps that led to modern civilization — control of fire, agriculture, the wheel, electricity, and perhaps a few more — the most recent addition is a machine that uses electrons to do computation. The first functioning digital computers were constructed midcentury by Alan Turing and a few others. Over the next not-quite-a-century-yet, computers became enormously faster and more powerful, began to process information in parallel rather than just sequentially, and were linked together into a vast worldwide network known as the internet. Along the way, these devices enabled the creation of artificial versions of a trait previously found only in biological life forms, most notably humans — intelligence.

In a certain sense, poetry may serve as a kind of canary in the coal mine — an early indicator of the extent to which AI promises to challenge humans as artistic creators.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is in the process of changing the world and its societies in ways no one can fully predict. On the hazier side of the present horizon, there may come a tipping point at which AI surpasses the general intelligence of humans. (In various specific domains, notably mathematical calculation, the intersection point was passed decades ago.) Many people anticipate this technological moment, dubbed the Singularity, as a kind of Second Coming — though whether of a savior or of Yeats’s rough beast is less clear. Perhaps by constructing an artificial human, computer scientists will finally realize Mary Shelley’s vision.

Of all the actual and potential consequences of AI, surely the least significant is that AI programs are beginning to write poetry. But that effort happens to be the AI application most relevant to our theme. And in a certain sense, poetry may serve as a kind of canary in the coal mine — an early indicator of the extent to which AI promises (threatens?) to challenge humans as artistic creators. If AI can be a poet, what other previously human-only roles will it slip into?

So, what is the current state of AI and computer-generated poetry? This is a less central question than might be supposed. Especially in this time of rapid AI advances, the current state of the artificial poetic arts is merely a transitory benchmark. We need to set aside the old stereotype that computer programs simply follow fixed rules and do what humans have programmed them to do, and so lack any capacity for creativity. Computer programs can now learn from enormous sets of data using methods called deep learning. What the programs learn, and how they will behave after learning, is very difficult (perhaps impossible) to predict in advance. The question has arisen (semiseriously) whether computer programs ought to be listed as coauthors of scientific papers reporting discoveries to which they contributed. There is no doubt that some forms of creativity are within the reach, and indeed the grasp, of computer programs.

But what about poetry? To evaluate computer-generated poetry, let’s pause to remind ourselves what makes a text work as a poem. A successful poem combines compelling content (what Coleridge called “good sense”) with aesthetically pleasing wordplay (metaphor and other varieties of symbolism), coupled with the various types of sound similarities and constraints of form.

In broad strokes, an automated approach to constructing poems can operate using a generate-then-select method. First, lots of candidate texts are produced, out of which some (a very few, or just one) are then selected as winners worth keeping. Roughly, computer programs can be very prolific in generating, but (to date) have proved less capable at selecting. At the risk of caricature, the computer poet can be likened to the proverbial monkey at the typewriter, pounding out reams of garbage within which the occasional Shakespearean sonnet might be found — with the key difference that the computer operates far more rapidly than any monkey (or human) could. To be fair, the program’s search can be made much less random than the monkey’s typing. Current computer poetry programs usually bring in one or more humans to help in selecting poetic gems embedded in vast quantities of computer-generated ore. An important question, of course, is whether an authentic creator requires some ability to evaluate their own creations. Perhaps, as Oscar Wilde argued, there is a sense in which an artist must act as their own critic — or not be a true artist at all.

One use of computers is simply to provide a platform for human generation and selection. The internet makes it easy for large groups of people to collaborate on projects. The kind of collective poetry writing encouraged by the surrealists has evolved into crowdsourcing websites that allow anyone to edit an emerging collective poem. Each contributor gets to play a bit part as author/editor. No doubt some people enjoy participating in the creation of poems by crowdsourcing. It’s less clear whether Sylvia Plath would have associated this activity with “the most ingrown and intense of the creative arts.”

But can computers write poetry on their own, or even make substantial contributions as partners with humans? Not surprisingly, computers are better able to generate and select poems that impose minimal constraints — the less sense and the less form the text requires, the easier for a machine to generate it. A cynic might suggest that the extremes of 20th-century free verse set the stage for AI poets by lowering the bar. (I’m reminded of an old Chinese saying, “A blind cat can catch a dead mouse.”) If that classic line of surrealism, “The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine,” strikes you as a fine contribution to poetry, then AI is ready to get to work — there are plenty more quasi-random associations to be found by brute search.

As another example, since the 1960s computers have been creating poems in the form of haiku in English. Defined in the crudest possible way, an English haiku consists of words that total 17 syllables. Rather than actually composing haiku, some computer programs simply look for found poems of seventeen syllables. One program retrieved this haunting gem from the electronic pages of the New York Times:

We’re going to start

winning again, believe me.

We’re going to win.

The current state-of-the-art AI poets can actually generate text, rather than just retrieve it. The techniques vary, but most are founded on a mathematical discipline not typically viewed as poetic — statistics. The “big data” available to current AI systems includes massive electronic text corpora, such as Google News (which at the moment contains upward of 100 billion word tokens, ever-growing). Recall those constraints that govern language — the rules of syntax, the semantics of word meanings, the sounds described by phonology, the knowledge about context and social situations that constitutes pragmatics. All of those constraints, plus the linguistic choices and styles of individual writers, collectively yield the actual text produced by human writers — which accumulates as electronic data available for AI systems.

Link to the rest at The MIT Press

48 million adult Americans struggle to read. Publishers must share the blame

From The New Publishing Standard:

In his 1962 State of the Union address, President John F. Kennedy talked about millions of “functionally illiterate” adult Americans.

Fast forward 2022, sixty tears on, and the number is 48 million, or 23% of the adult US population.

Publishers must share the blame.

The books publishers churn out can help or hinder literacy. But there are worryingly few books printed for literacy-challenged adults to catch up on their failed school years, and the prices are invariably the same as for books aimed at competent readers who likely have higher earning power.

Likewise there are far too few books aimed at the less-confident teen readers offering appropriately mature teen-adult storylines with English suited to a lower grade reader.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

It did occur to PG that publishers might not see an anxious audience ready to purchase books to help them become literate. They may be perfectly happy with cable television.

PG categorizes this as, “Something terrible is happening, someone else must help to resolve the problem.”

Of course, the author of the OP didn’t mention volunteering for a local organization that helps people learn to read.

David Copperfield

From Bookbrowse:

Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Demon Copperhead is largely based on Charles Dickens’ novel David Copperfield.

Charles Dickens (1812–1870) wrote 15 novels during his career, the eighth of which he ponderously dubbed The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account). Known familiarly as David Copperfield, the novel actually began with Dickens’ attempts, between 1845 and 1848, to write an autobiography. His friend and biographer, John Forster, recalled that Dickens ultimately abandoned the nonfiction account because writing it was simply too painful. Dickens, in fact, kept the story of his impoverished youth so private that most didn’t realize David Copperfield was autobiographical until Forster’s Life of Charles Dickens was published in 1872. Regardless of the emotional toll it took, Dickens considered it his “favourite child,” and it’s the first of his major novels written entirely in the first person.

The story is narrated by Copperfield as a successful adult, looking back at his life from birth to the current day. The novel’s plot divides broadly into two sections. The first concentrates on the privations of the main character’s childhood as his single mother marries a brutal man. Her death soon follows, leaving young David an orphan at his stepfather’s mercy. He is shipped off to a harsh boarding school before being forced to work at a warehouse, enduring hardship at all stages of his journey. He ultimately escapes to an eccentric aunt, who sets his feet on a more stable path.

The book’s second part follows David’s professional growth from legal clerk to reporter to, finally, successful author. More important to the plot, however, is the protagonist’s relationships with his contemporaries, particularly with his first love and, later, with a friend whom he idolizes. As the tale concludes, evil is punished and virtue rewarded, resulting in what some would call a fairytale ending. (It’s interesting to note that this is Dickens’ last book with a conventionally happy ending.)

Link to the rest at Bookbrowse

How Do We Know Ourselves?

From The Wall Street Journal:

The title of “How Do We Know Ourselves? Curiosities and Marvels of the Human Mind” suggests that Hope College psychologist David Myers will, in this brief book, focus primarily on the process of self-discovery. But a better title might have been “How Well Do We Know Ourselves?” The answer that emerges, over 40 charming and clear-eyed chapters that cover disparate areas of psychology including memory, relationships and personality, is: not very.

Consider a study on dissent. A huge majority of the participants—95%—predicted that they would immediately protest sexist comments in a hypothetical group scenario. In a second phase of the experiment, only 45% of the participants actually spoke up when they encountered the comments. In another study, participants were told to write blog posts as if they had a few months to live. The posts were significantly more negative than those of actual terminal patients. And those with the least self-knowledge are also the most sure of themselves. Lower scores on tests of humor, logic and grammar have been associated with greater overconfidence in those domains; in what’s now called the Dunning-Kruger effect (after its discoverers), Mr. Myers writes, “incompetence doesn’t recognize itself.”

We misjudge not only our individual selves but others of the species. People presume that small talk with strangers will be awkward, but research shows it psychologically benefits both parties. Passive Facebook use can erode our sense of well-being because we see positive posts as representative of peers’ seemingly superior lives. And when asked to enter and exit a room wearing a possibly embarrassing Barry Manilow T-shirt, students later estimated that nearly half their peers noticed Barry, whereas the actual number was far lower. (In all cases, it’s worth noting, reality was brighter than expectations.)

Mr. Myers, the book’s bio reports, is the author of a widely adopted psychology textbook. This volume draws on the breadth and depth of such knowledge but remains light on its feet. Mr. Myers has a deft touch, dropping mentions of studies here and there to get the main point across, and mixing them with everyday observations and quotes from philosophers. The chapters are lessons but also essays. The acknowledgments thank his “poet-colleague and writing coach,” and the influence shows, with lines like “we have dignity but not deity” (on overconfidence) and “disparity dispirits” (on inequality).

Some chapters provoke mirth. The first, on implicit egotism, describes the “name-residence effect.” In one study, a disproportionate number of people nicknamed Tex moved to Texas, and Virginias moved to Virginia. Also, people with the last name Baker, Barber, Butcher or Butler were more likely to enter those professions than mere chance would explain. Another chapter covers “mondegreens,” misheard phrases or words. They’re common in hazily grasped song lyrics: “There’s a bad moon on the rise” becomes “There’s a bathroom on the right.”

Other times, Mr. Myers directly addresses weighty issues, such as politics. He describes the rise in political polarization, a result both of evergreen factors like confirmation bias and modern phenomena like cable TV. (“Our challenge is to affirm both our diversity and our unifying ideals,” he writes.) He notes that many people who protest immigration are likely to be least affected by it; places with greater immigration show greater acceptance, perhaps because interaction reduces prejudice. But even when discussing narcissism among the powerful, his tone is never polemical.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

All Writers Are Spies

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

I didn’t read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh until I was trying to land a job as an editorial assistant in the children’s book department at Harper and Row Publishers. I read my way through every novel they’d published in the previous twenty years. Harriet was at the top of the list.

I recognized my kinship to Harriet the moment she told Sport in the first chapter that she has to take notes on the people in the subway because she’s seen them, and she wants to remember them. How did Louise Fitzhugh know me so well? The answer, of course, is simple: she was a writer. All writers are spies, going about the very important task of gathering their material, and when they’re on the job, they’re unsentimental, focused, indefatigable. “Spies don’t go with friends,” Harriet tells Sport. The life of a spy is a lonely one. I was the only girl in a family of six. I knew about being different, being on the outside looking in. Writing things down in my journal was my way of making sense of the world, from the confusing behavior of my parents to the cruelty of certain people who called themselves my friends to the irritating torments of my brothers. My journal was the one place where I could be completely honest about my feelings.

I was more careful than Harriet. I never took my spy books out of their secret, locked place in my bedroom, so fortunately, I didn’t lose any friends over what I wrote there. However, as my notes grew into published stories, a few family members began to have their misgivings. Soon after my second novel was published, one uncle warned that “every time Elizabeth writes a book, it’s like dodging a bullet.”

But I connected with Harriet in other ways. I realize now that when I came to write my fantasy novel, The Castle in the Attic, fourteen years after I’d read Harriet the Spy, I was channeling a version of Harriet’s nanny, Ole Golly. Harriet is devastated by Ole Golly’s departure. My character, William, feels equally desperate when he learns that his nanny, Mrs. Phillips, is moving back to England. Harriet works through her feelings in her notebook. William resorts to magic, but their motivation is the same: hang on to the one person who loves you despite all your faults. Do anything to keep her, and if she leaves you, do anything to bring her back, no matter the consequences.

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

The Bookish Internet Killed My Reading Life

From Book Riot:

Yesterday, I was standing in front of my desk, piled high with books I had checked out from the library or received for review, trying to decide what to read next. I shifted from foot to foot and gave myself a pep talk. “Pretend you are a normal reader. You’re just picking whatever book looks interesting. You can read whatever you want.”

-record scratch-

You’re probably wondering how I got here. Why am I not a normal reader? What does picking out something to read feel like such an intimidating task that I need to psych myself up and put myself in the right headspace? Well, we start with a kid who loves reading, and we end with an adult who has built their life around books to the extent that reading has become a minefield of expectations and guilt.

It all started with a book blog, which was supposed to just be fun. I was going to record everything I read and share it with people. But then I had a much better idea: I could create a book blog just for bi and lesbian books, since that’s what I wanted to read more of. I could talk about queer women books with people! How fun.

And when I started the blog, something miraculous happened: people started giving me free books. They were self-published ebooks sent from the author, but free books are free books! And well, if someone is going to write a sapphic book (still a rarity back then) and send it to me, the least I could do was read and review it. Besides, now I had a blog to maintain, which meant new content, which meant I needed to be reading more (bi and lesbian) books.

That’s when things started to go off the rails. Because suddenly, there was stress and guilt involved. When you have to read a book, it starts to lose its shine, and those ebooks started to pile up. I could no longer read every book I was sent, so I stopped promising that. Eventually, I started adding more reviewers to my team: they got access to these books for review, and I got additional content for the blog.

Somehow, though, I had managed to pile up more obligations while getting rid of those old ones. I was starting to get more books for review that I was really excited about, and even the occasional ARC (advanced reader copy) in the mail. I was reading more than ever, but my TBR pile grew even faster. And then, of course, I had to start a BookTube channel, because that looked like fun, which meant more content, which meant I needed to read more books. And then Book Riot was looking for more contributors, so I had to apply, and then I had to be producing enough bookish content for three platforms, and it’s hard to do that without reading more…

Meanwhile, my interest in reading — despite being surrounded by books I was excited about all the time — was beginning to wane. No matter how much I read, I was always behind. I didn’t want to read sapphic books, even though that’s what I most enjoyed reading, because that meant I had to write a review for it. But I didn’t want to read non-sapphic books, because what was the point?

That’s also about the time I realized that my reading was far too white, and I should really diversify it more, which led me down spreadsheet rabbit holes of planning the ideal TBR. Diversifying my reading also introduced me to so many incredible new-to-me authors, adding even more to my TBR list.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

“A Spy Among Friends” dramatises the treachery of Kim Philby

From The Economist:

“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friends,” E.M. Forster wrote in 1938, “I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” The English author’s words are used as an epigraph to “A Spy Among Friends”, Ben Macintyre’s bestselling book of 2014 about Harold “Kim” Philby, as well as for a new television adaptation. Yet the British intelligence officer and double-agent made no such choice: he betrayed his country, his friends and his family for decades and without remorse.

Philby’s name is synonymous with treachery on a colossal scale. Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, John Cairncross and Donald Maclean—the other members of the Cambridge Five, a spy ring—committed many duplicitous deeds for their Soviet masters, but none can claim the title of Britain’s most notorious spy. Philby played his high-stakes game of double-cross so ruthlessly, so successfully and for so long that he acquired a different level of infamy after he was unmasked.

During the second world war, Philby worked in Section V of the Secret Intelligence Service, where he analysed intercepted German wireless messages alongside Graham Greene (who was already a celebrated novelist). Rising through the ranks, Philby was posted to Istanbul in 1947 and two years later secured the plum post of mi6 chief in Washington. For the best part of his career, he could do no wrong. Some of his colleagues believed he would come to lead the service. He was admired, respected and, above all, trusted.

The whole time Philby was working for his country, he was also jeopardising it. He was recruited by the Soviet Union in the early 1930s and remained fully committed to the communist cause for the rest of his life. The extent of his betrayal only became apparent after his defection in 1963. It is estimated that he passed on tens of thousands of classified documents to his Soviet controllers, information which resulted in sabotaged operations, nationwide scandal and the loss of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives.

Much has been written about the Cambridge Five in general and Philby in particular. Yet in “A Spy Among Friends” Mr Macintyre found fertile new ground to explore by focusing on the relationship between Philby and Nicholas Elliott, a longtime friend and fellow spy. For years, John le Carré contemplated writing a play about the pair; instead, he suggested that Mr Macintyre, who had published several books about double-agents and criminals, offer an account. The book draws on mi5 files and hitherto unseen papers and shines a valuable light on what Mr Macintyre considers “one of the most important conversations in the history of the cold war”—an exchange in Beirut during which Elliott obtained a confession from his old friend and arch-deceiver.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Happy Holidays

Mrs. PG has PG hard at work preparing for out-of-town guests and other accoutrements of the Christmas season.

PG seldom feels old, but hauling a variety of Christmas cheer burdens upstairs from their normal abodes can cause him to feel that way, especially in the spinal region, a carry-over from a motorcycle accident that occurred during his freshman year in college. He doesn’t think about college very much, except when his back gets sore.

PG just realized that the mental connection he has between the hallowed halls of ivy and a sore back may be a cause of his resistance to the many solicitations for donations that have issued from those halls over the centuries since he graduated.

Alma mater did nothing to cause PG’s accident, but it did occur on a street that bisected the campus, so PG thinks that Freud would have a good explanation for what happens when he receives yet another suggestion to send money.

And, of course, there were those student loan payments that followed him for a period of time after he graduated.

Reading After the University

From Public Books:

It’s no news that the university is in crisis. Foreign-language departments have perhaps been the most affected, but few humanities programs have gone unscathed. English departments form the subject of two new attempts to provide a backstory to our present disorder: Outside Literary Studies: Black Criticism and the University by Andy Hines and Professing CriticismEssays on the Organization of Literary Studies by John Guillory. Both depict literary study within universities as something strange and recent. And both situate the university in longer stories of racial capitalism and class distinction. Taken together, they provide a sobering analysis of the limited political potential of today’s English departments.

At the same time, amid this morass of dysfunction, both books soothe themselves with the fact that the university has no monopoly on reading. Students are never confined to the official syllabus. Some part of literature and literary study has always been eccentric to the university curriculum, and accounts of the “outside” of university-based practices, like the one Hines finds in a Black radical tradition that emphasized literature’s political potentials, could proliferate in many directions. Disciplinary outsides and eccentricities have tended to negatively inform professional literature scholars’ assertions that study of “their” objects requires specialist training in unique methods, or that university-based study of literature is the most inherently humanizing or importantly political reading practice. Guillory and Hines flip the script. By treating the professional literary academic as only one kind of reader, they suggest that attention to the varieties of reading practice ongoing outside the university may be an optimism appropriate to our contemporary moment.

Both books part ways with what Abigail Boggs and Nick Mitchell describe as a liberal “crisis consensus” that envisions universities as inherently progressive institutions that need only be saved from the recent ravages of neoliberal privatization. Hines depicts the English department as having been an “institutionalized cultural space governed by whiteness and anticommunism.” In his telling, the postwar establishment of the new criticism, which foregrounded close reading of the text as a self-contained aesthetic object, helped ground the emerging postwar hegemony of US liberal capitalism, which imagined itself as an apolitical unity-amid-diversity in opposition to mandated Soviet conformity. None of this could have happened without demonizing left and communist Black intellectuals who treated culture as an engine of revolutionary transformation.

In turn, Guillory’s historical breadth—encompassing the rise and fall of rhetoric, belle lettres, philology, and more—supplements some of Hines’s archival work on the late 1940s and 1950s. Guillory understands the new criticism as just one piece of a massive sociological and methodological shift that made the literary object a “verbal work of art” and, built around it, the English department as a site of disciplinary expertise. By subordinating documentary or political aspects of the text to “an aesthetic ontology,” English professors granted themselves jurisdiction over literary inquiry, and thus a role within the university in servicing the expanding professional-managerial class.

In Hines’s account, the new criticism enabled the racialized exploitation and exclusion of some people to secure the freedom of others within the “state-academic apparatus.” “Black writers, Black leftists, and communist affiliates who sought to build institutions around the critical study of Black literature,” among them Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Melvin B. Tolson, fought the new criticism’s consolidation with US institutions, seeking instead an interracial coalition that would challenge American capitalism and “the ills of racial liberalism.” Their radical vision of future possibility was undermined by a “racist interpretation complex” that made “the imagining of such efforts, and the efforts themselves, appear improbable.” The causal claim is important here: it is the racist interpretation complex, backed by and embodied within the new criticism, that undermined the work of those committed to using the study of literature and culture in service of radical social transformation.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Items like the OP make PG very happy that he’s not in college today.

The ivory tower appears to have been taken over by crazy people in more than a few instances.

In past lives, PG has interviewed recent college graduates who had submitted applications to the Personnel Department at a large company (Human Resources hadn’t been invented yet.). He mostly looked for a reasonable level of general intelligence and looked for signs that the individual was not a crazy person.

As a youth, PG had learned that it’s a bad idea to have any commercial or personal relationship with a crazy person. Regardless of any other redeeming personality traits, it was best to steer very clear of crazy people.

The problem is that crazy people can be quite ingenious about a variety of things, including cloaking their craziness behind a non-threatening façade.

Of course, PG is not a crazy person, just someone with a few charming quirks.

Notoriously Long & Difficult Books

From The Daniel Boone Regional Library:

Moby-Dick, Or, The Whale by Melville, Herman

Les Misérables by Hugo, Victor

Ulysses by Joyce, James

Finnegans Wake by Joyce, James

Infinite Jest, A Novel by Wallace, David Foster

How To Read Infinite Jest, web resource

Mark Z. Danielwski’s House of Leaves by Danielewski, Mark Z.

War And Peace by Tolstoy, Leo

The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky, Fyodor

Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky, Fyodor

Atlas Shrugged by Rand, Ayn

Link to the rest at The Daniel Boone Regional Library

The Most Thought-Provoking Books of the Year, According to The Atlantic

From Book Riot:

‘Tis the season for “best of” book lists, and we’ve rounded up quite a few on Book Riot. The newest addition is the first “The Atlantic 10,” which the magazine defines not quite as the best books of the year, but the books that “impressed us with their force of ideas, that drew us in not because of some platonic ideal of greatness, but because they got our brains working and presented fresh angles on the world. In a phrase, they were good to think with.”

The editors introduce their picks as,

“Between the covers of these books, readers will find an enormously diverse set of subjects and an array of writerly moods, from the whimsical to the deadly serious. These are stories that plunge into the intimate world of farmworkers in Central California, the unlikely friendship between two Asian American college students, and the machinations of modern-day authoritarians. The questions these titles pose are varied and generative. How has Ireland evolved over the past several decades? What kind of art form is the video game? What role does racism have in the health and wellness of Black people? But what binds these books to one another is that, in 2022, they were the ones that gave us a new way of looking, that forced us to stop and consider—that, once the last page was turned, dropped us back into our lives as smarter people.”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG nominates:

Books that ‘impressed us with their force of ideas, that drew us in not because of some platonic ideal of greatness, but because they got our brains working and presented fresh angles on the world. In a phrase, they were good to think with.

as the most-pretentious description of the time-hackneyed end of year “Best Books of 18xx/19xx/20xx” clichéd genre magazine article better described as the because-not-much-is-actually-happening-and-we’re-all-going-to-be-on-vacation-during-the-holidays filler article AKA “How are we going to publish a magazine in December that isn’t all advertisements?”

As for PG, he’s experiencing an array of writerly moods at the moment. He’s not certain how long this condition will last or whether he should contact his doctor and get some sort of anti-writerlymoods prescription called into the local pharmacy.

10 of History’s Most Successful Pirates (and What They Teach Us About Work)

From Lifehacker:

Pirate ships were the start-ups of their day. During the “golden age of piracy” (approximately 1650-1720), countless thousands of sailors and underground entrepreneurs tried their luck at high-seas robbery, launching criminal operations with very little capital and a massive potential for profit, just like that app you want to make. But like modern start-ups, buccaneering was risky—most pirates failed, and failure as a pirate didn’t mean going back to grad school; it meant a noose around your neck and a short drop. The few who found some success in this difficult, competitive field can teach us all something about how to run a better business or best the scurvy scalawags on your company’s Slack. Read on to learn from these real-life successful pirates.

Any list of pirate lessons has to start with the negative example of Stede Bonnet, the most ridiculous (but kind of amazing) pirate in history. Most “golden age” pirates got into their line of work because they didn’t have many other options, but not Stede Bonnet. The Gentleman Pirate was from a rich family, and lived the settled, comfortable life of a family man in Jamaica. But one day around 1716, for reasons lost to history, Bonnet left it all behind for the dangerous, violent life of piracy. He bought a ship, named it The Revenge, hired 70 experienced men to run it, and set out to sea.

It did not go well.

After a few small victories mostly thanks to his experienced crew, Bonnet was severely injured after attacking a Spanish Man-o-War. He then entered into a “partnership” with Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, a terrifying actual pirate. The team-up ended with Teach double-crossing Bonnet and stealing The Revenge and all the sweet, sweet booty they’d stolen together. Rather than returning home to lick his wounds, Bonnet vowed revenge against his former friend, got a new ship, and started doing more pirating. He seemed to be getting the hang of it too, until he was captured by pirate hunters, tried, convicted, and executed in 1718.

What we can learn: Your work friends aren’t really your friends.

If nothing else, Calico Jack was a progressive pirate. He’s not known for his huge hauls—Jack was a bit of a small-timer—but he’s remembered for two of his crew members: his lover Anne Bonny and her lover, Mary Read. Bonny joined Captain Jack’s crew after fleeing from her husband. Read was a pirate already, who disguised herself as a man in order to sail. Everything was pirate-y cool until 1720, when pirate-hunter Jonathan Barnet surprised the crew of Captain Jack’s sloop in Bry Harbour Bay in Jamaica. Rackham’s pirates were mostly drunk, but those who were sober enough to fight were led by Bonny and Read. They all got captured anyway. Calico Jack was tried and hanged, but Bonny and Read each pleaded “pregnancy” and were spared the noose. When asked about Rackham, Bonny famously replied: “If he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang’d like a Dog.” Cold-blooded.

What we can learn: There’s a reason HR says managers can’t date their employees.

Link to the rest at Lifehacker

The Word of the Year goes Goblin Mode

From Book Browse:

A year ago, the lexicographic grandees at Oxford Languages dutifully stuck out their arms and chose “vax” as the 2021 Word of the Year.

But this year, the venerable publisher behind the Oxford English Dictionary has — like the rest of us, apparently — gone full goblin mode.

“Goblin mode” — a slang term referring to “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations” — has been named Oxford’s 2022 Word of the Year.

Link to the rest at Book Browse


All is well at Casa PG. Yesterday was just a very busy one and PG couldn’t slide in any posts.

Comment Spam

PG has been receiving quite a lot of comment spam attempts lately. His back-end collects most, but more than a few have been getting through and have to be manually moderated by PG in the past several weeks.

PG tweaked his comment spam blocker earlier today, but may have made it too difficult according to one visitor. After reading the visitor’s concerns, PG just dialed the settings back a bit.

If anyone has comments on PG’s comment spam blocker (Akismet), please feel free to leave them in the comments or send PG a private message via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog.

Forbidden Notebooks: A Woman’s Right to Write

From The Paris Review:

Forbidden evokes, to my English-speaking ear, the biblical fruit whose consumption leads to shame and expulsion from Paradise. Eve’s story is not irrelevant to a novel like Alba de Céspedes’s Forbidden Notebook, in which a woman succumbs to a temptation: to record her thoughts and observations. Valeria Cossati’s impulse to keep a diary leads not so much to the knowledge of good and evil as it does to the self-knowledge advocated by Socrates and serving as a cornerstone of philosophical inquiry ever since. In Valeria’s case, it also leads to solitude, alienation, guilt, and painful lucidity.

The Italian title of Forbidden Notebook is Quaderno proibito—literally translated, “prohibited notebook.” Forbidden and prohibited may be interchangeable in English, but the latter lacks the romance that might soften the former (as in “forbidden love”), and connotes instead legal restrictions, interdictions, and punishment. The word prohibited comes from the Latin verb prohibere (its roots mean, essentially, “to hold away”), which was fundamental to legal terminology in Ancient Rome. It is the word de Céspedes chooses to describe Valeria’s notebook, and to interrogate, more broadly, a woman’s right, in postwar Italy, to express herself in writing, to have a voice, and to hold opinions and secrets that distinguish herself from her family.

The act of purchasing the eponymous notebook, along with the ongoing dilemma of how to conceal it, drives the tension as the novel opens. Having purchased it illegally and smuggled it home, Valeria hides it in various locations—in a sack of rags, an old trunk, an empty biscuit tin. But she always runs the risk of it being discovered by her husband and grown children, all of whom laugh at the mere idea that she might want to keep a diary.

As soon as she buys the notebook, Valeria is anxious and afraid, but she is also armed—for although acquiring a diary throws her into crisis, the quaderno is both an object and a place, both a literary practice and a room of one’s own. In lieu of walls and a door, pen and paper suffice to allow Valeria, albeit furtively, to speak her mind. Thematically, I would call this book a direct descendant of Virginia Woolf’s groundbreaking treatise and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It’s just that Valeria does not consider herself an author but rather a traditional homemaker. Her writing is surreptitious, and she must lie to tell the truth.

De Céspedes was herself a writer and a diarist; Forbidden Notebook fuses these forms and disciplines. The diary was for her (as it is for so many writers) preparatory ground not only for her artistry in general but for a series of searing first-person female protagonists who are at once invented and real. Melania Mazzucco quotes from de Céspedes’s diaries in her introduction to the 2021 reissue of Dalla parte di lei (From her side). Already in that novel published in 1949—which is also concerned with women’s rights and roles—de Céspedes is experimenting (as the title clearly suggests) with an intimate first-person female narrative. Three years later, in Quaderno proibito, the diary commands center stage.

The private becoming public, the individual subject dividing, and the writer becoming her own reader and vice versa—the diary, an elusive, elastic container, straddles all this and more. Diary writing may be the most private of forms, but when placed within the context of a novel or when it serves, as it does here, as the structure of the novel itself, this form of confession—dating back, at least in the Western tradition, to Augustine—contradicts its very nature.

From Petrarch to Gramsci to Woolf to Lessing, all diaries and notebooks, whether intended for publication or not, whether invented by their authors or not, whether framed as (or within) novels or not, are dialogues with the self. They are instances of self-doubling and self-fashioning. They are declarations of autonomy, counternarratives that contrast with and contradict reality. The form of the fictionalized diary has always been especially appealing in that we get to know the character not only as a person but also as a writer. This additional authorial persona is especially provocative in light of the fact that female consciousness has struggled to find its place in history and in the literary tradition.

In her diary de Céspedes confides, “I will never be a great writer.” Here I take her to task for not knowing something about herself—for she was a great writer, a subversive writer, a writer censored by fascists, a writer who refused to take part in literary prizes, a writer ahead of her time. In my view, she is one of Italy’s most cosmopolitan, incendiary, insightful, and overlooked.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

On the Gift of Longhand

From The Millions:

My 99-year-old great-aunt Nina gave me her husband’s fountain pen when I was visiting her in Greece this summer. A widow for 20 years, and despairing with what feels to her like a punishing longevity, she is divesting herself of important keepsakes, as if to expedite her reunion with her dead husband Kostakis. Nina wanted to give Kostakis’s pen to me because I am, as she puts it, the only Lazaridis left.

I told Nina that, beyond the honor of being entrusted with the pen, I would take pride in using it in my work. What mattered most to her was that I accept it as an emblem. Together with his pocket watch, which she also gave me, it was my uncle’s trademark, as much symbols for him as the orb and scepter of a monarch.

I’m a longtime longhand writer. I’m old enough to remember writing by hand when it was the only choice. Then I fell to the seductions of these newfangled things called laptops, like so many others. I was delighted by the convenience and by the final-draft look of even the messiest prose. But I switched back to longhand several years ago, and now it’s the only way I write my drafts. When I returned to pen and paper, I did so with the zeal of a convert. Not content to have just one or two good pens, I’ve amassed a small collection of mostly fountain pens. I’m catholic in my tastes, and cherish my Paper Mate Ink Joy, Pilot G-1, and Pilot Varsity, along with two ‘40s-era Parker 51s, one of which belonged to my father. But it’s the fountain pens I really prefer to use when writing first drafts.

Writing with a fountain pen is longhand taken to the next level. You can’t just pluck off the cap and go. Before you can write even the first letter, you have to unscrew the top of your ink bottle, unscrew the end of the barrel on the pen, fiddle with each pen’s particular filling mechanism, blot the ink on the blotting paper. And once you actually begin to write, you have to pay attention to the wet ink—especially if you’re a lefty like me—and take note of its gradually fading color as a signal that you are about to run completely dry and need to start the filling process all over again.

When you write with a fountain pen, you experience writing as a truly physical activity, one that affects all your senses. There’s the sort of chalky, silty smell of the ink; the scratch of the pen dragging across the page; the feel of the barrel and the cap you screw on at every pause in writing lest the ink dry faster; the glint of the wet ink that goes to matte while you examine your words. The only sense you don’t experience with a fountain pen is taste—at least I’d hope not. Having to attend to all these sensations, I think you can come close to the sort of improved mental processing neurologists ascribe to walking. And you can do it without even leaving your desk.

The pen Nina gave me is a Sheaffer Snorkel pen. Kostakis kept it on his desk in its original case, which announces it as “Sheaffer’s new Snorkel pen.” New in 1952. I’m used to the various filling mechanisms of a range of fountain pens, from eyedropper to squeeze chamber to disposable cartridge. But I’d never seen anything like the Snorkel, whose mechanism works like a miniature version of its name that pushes out from beneath the nib as you turn the knob built into the pen’s back end. You dip only the snorkel into the ink, let it suck up the liquid for a few seconds, and then retract it. The theory is that the nib itself stays dry and your fingers never risk the ink stains that I, for one, regularly accumulate during a day of longhand writing. Apparently, when the pens were first introduced, school children discovered how to use the Snorkel in reverse and shoot jets of ink out at each other. The mechanism was quickly redesigned. I know from the graffiti carved into door jambs of my family’s ancestral home that my uncle Kostakis was unruly as a child. But I’m pretty sure he didn’t try to shoot ink from his pen in 1952 as a 40-year-old man.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG has found that he is increasingly more clumsy writing with any sort of pen in longhand.

He’ll take the random note now and then, but he had to hand-write a check a couple of weeks ago, a task he wanted to do correctly, and it was a real chore. The result looked like it had been written by a ten-year-old.

Generally, he deposits any checks he receives electronically and pays all his bills the same way.

PG thinks he has mentioned this before, but one of the wisest things his mother did when he was in what would today be called middle school was to make him take a typing class. For reasons unknown, he took to typing right away and was the fastest typist in his (small) class.

Thereafter, when everyone else was turning in hand-written assignments, PG’s were typewritten. This fact alone probably improved his grades.

Of course in the prehistoric age of typewriters, if you made a mistake, it was a pain to correct it. For those youthful visitors to TPV, PG will describe the process.

  1. Ideally, you would catch your mistake pretty quickly, which wasn’t that difficult if your eyes were on the paper you were typing because your fingers already knew where every key was. (Hunting and pecking has always been low-tech.)
  2. In that case, when you made an error, you stopped typing, rolled the paper up a bit in the typewriter, then painted over the mistake with a long-forgotten liquid called White-Out, blow on the liquid until it dried out, then rolled your paper down to the line you had erred on, used the backspace key so the typewriter carriage was in the proper position for you to type the correction, then went on your merry typing way.
  3. Yes, anyone reading the paper could see the White-Out, but teachers wouldn’t reduce your grade for the project because a typed paper was a zillion times easier to read than a handwritten one, even if the girl who had the best handwriting in the class had written it. (In PG’s youthful world, girls always had better handwriting than boys. Sexism had not yet been invented.)

The next step forward with typewriters was the IBM Selectric with which you couldn’t jam up the keys like was easy to do with all previous typewriters, manual or electric. The Selectric was nice, but you still had to do the White-Out thing if you made a typo.

Then came the Correcting Selectric. This sped up the correction process substantially because you didn’t have to wait for White-Out to dry. The Correcting Selectric had two ribbons instead of one. The first ribbon was the black one which had always done the typing since dinosaurs roamed the earth. The second ribbon was a white one which you could use to correct a typo.

The way the white ribbon worked is that you would back up to the place where you had made the typo, then you pressed a key that engaged the white ribbon and retyped your typo. The result was that you had a white-colored typo instead of a black typo. Then, you backed up to the beginning of your covered-up typo and typed over the error with your correction. No White-Out or blowing the White-Out dry was necessary.

One final digression.

Legal secretaries were one or more steps above all sorts of other secretaries. (Secretaries did the typing, except for PG who often did his own typing for anything more than an easy-to-dictate letter.)

The reason that legal secretaries were super-human was because most attorneys would not allow any corrections on a will and, sometimes, on other sorts of documents as well. If a secretary was typing a will and made an error in the last paragraph on a page, the entire page would need to be re-typed.

The reason for this ancient imperative was that a typed correction to a will might give rise to a question in the mind of one or more of the heirs that someone with evil intent had changed Uncle Harry’s will after he signed it, most likely after the old bachelor had died.

As the result of such this evil act, Uncle Harry’s twenty-acre parcel of land, filled with rocks and copperheads and unlikely every to grow anything useful was bequeathed to evil cousin Lukas instead of virtuous cousin Lucille.

Hence, the no-corrections-of-wills rule was applied in a great many law offices.

One day, a dedicated word processor appeared, followed a couple of years later by a personal computer and the market for White-Out shrank into a faint shadow of its former self (although you can still purchase it on Amazon.)

What is crowdworking & crowdsourcing?

From CrowdWorker.com

2005 [was] the year that the term crowdsourcing was used for the first time. The editors Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson created the word as a combination from outsourcing and crowd when they were writing an article for Wired Magazine.

Although the term is rather new, the idea behind it isn’t. As early as in the 18th century an unknown amount of people has been used to solve a problem: In 1714 the British government wanted to find a way to measure a ship’s longitude. They used the easiest way to raise public interest: They offered money for the best solution from the crowd.

The wisdom of the crowd

Nowadays crowdsourcing is an accepted way to reach economical goals, but the methods have changed since the rise of the internet. The most famous example for crowdsourcing is Wikipedia. The platform is fed by the work of writers and editors who collect, update, and care for the articles that are available on the knowledge platform.

The principle is easy: More minds know more than a single one. So a mass of people combines their wisdom and experience to boost a project. It doesn’t matter if you are an individual, a public institution, a non-profit organisation, or a company – everyone can benefit from the crowd.

The benefits of crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing can help you with a lot of different work. You are looking for a new logo? Start a contest. You want to have software tested? Set up the conditions the crowd has to apply to and you can start. That’s the idea behind it.

If you draw a line from left to right that represents the crowdsourcing process, the requester or crowdsourcer is on the left side. The contributor or crowdsourcee is on the right side. He represents the crowd that takes over the request.

Crowdsourcing goes together with crowdworking

The Internet made collaborative work very easy. A lot of platforms showed up where crowdsourcer and crowdsourcee can meet. At this point the term crowdworking is often used to name all the people who work as crowdsourcees. People who contribute to certain crowdsourcing projects are called crowdworkers to specify the type of tasks they are executing.

Crowdsourcing can be started and executed everywhere, next to you or in another country or on the other side of the globe. Crowdworkers have in common that they use their free time to complete your work. Therefore crowdsourcing and crowdworking are two terms that go together very often when describing such a process.

Motivation for Crowdworking

The motivation to start crowdworking depends on a lot of different reasons: Some people do it for money, some out of altruism or fun, others want to gain reputation or attention. And some of them want to have insider information about new ideas, products and learn something new when working on the crowdsourcing tasks.

It is beyond dispute that crowdsourcing has started to change our working environment. It’s biggest benefit is the possibility to increase quality because you reach more different people than with traditional working methods. Be aware of the fact that detailed preparations have to be made. Crowdworking is only going to be a success if clear instructions to all participants are given. If there aren’t any, the quality of the work can’t be judged properly.

Link to the rest at CrowdWorker.com

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is ‘gaslighting’

From CNN:

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year – and this you can believe – is “gaslighting.”

The online dictionary chose “gaslighting,” which it defines as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage,” as its top word of 2022 because it has become the “favored word for the perception of deception.”

Gaslighting is usually more complex than an off-the-cuff lie and more nefarious, too: Gaslighting someone into believing they’re wrong is often part of a “larger plan,” said Merriam-Webster.

The term “gaslighting” encapsulates some of the other common terms we associate with misinformation – “deepfakes” and “fake news” among them, per Merriam-Webster.

. . . .

We owe the term “gaslighting” to the 1938 play and 1944 film “Gaslight” (itself a remake of a film from 1940). In both, a nefarious man attempts to trick his new wife into thinking she’s losing her mind, in part by telling her that the gaslights in their home, which dim when he’s in the attic doing dastardly deeds, are not fading at all.

Both the play and film were wildly popular, with a renamed version of the play running for more than 1,000 performances on Broadway, and the 1944 film earning a best picture nomination and an Oscar for Ingrid Bergman. Partly due to the film’s popularity, the noun “gaslight” became a verb, too.

In the context of the film, “gaslighting” refers to the “psychological manipulation of a person over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question” their reality, according to Merriam-Webster.

. . . .

“Gaslighting” has in the last few years become a ubiquitous term, particularly in the “age of misinformation,” Merriam-Webster said. In 2017, a CNN opinion writer said President Donald Trump was “‘gaslighting’ all of us” after he denied making several statements he’d made in public. CNN’s Chris Cillizza used the word again in 2021 to describe the way Trump downplayed the severity of the January 6 insurrection.

It’s also a legitimate and “extremely effective form of emotional abuse,” according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has resources for survivors on recognizing gaslighting. The New York Times also this year wrote about “medical gaslighting,” when patients, especially women and people of color, are dismissed by physicians who downplay the severity of their symptoms.

Link to the rest at CNN

Another game falls to an AI player

From The Economist:

Backgammon was an easy win. Chess, harder. Go, harder still. But for some aficionados it is only now that artificial intelligence (ai) can truly say it has joined the game-playing club—for it has proved it can routinely beat humans at Diplomacy.

For those unfamiliar with the game, its board is a map of Europe just before the first world war (except that, for no readily apparent reason, Montenegro is missing). Participants, seven ideally, each take on the role of one of the Great Powers: Austria, England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Turkey. Each has armies and navies, and geographically based resources to support them, and can use its forces to capture the territory of neighbours, thus gaining the means to raise more forces while depriving others of the same.

The trick is that, at least at the beginning, players will get nowhere without making agreements to collaborate—yet they are not bound by the game’s rules to keep to these agreements. Only when orders for the movement of troops and vessels, which have to be written down, are revealed, does a player discover who really is a friend, or an enemy.

Cicero, a program devised by a group of Mark Zuckerberg’s employees who dub themselves the Meta Fundamental ai Research Diplomacy Team, proved an adept pupil. As the team describe in Science, when they entered their creation into an online Diplomacy league, in which it played 40 games, it emerged as one of the top 10% of players—and no one rumbled that it was not human.

In all past ai game-playing projects the program has learned by reinforcement. Playing repeatedly against itself or another version of itself, it acts first at random, then more selectively. Eventually, it learns how to achieve the desired goal. Cicero was taught this way, too. But that was only part of its training. Besides having the reasoning to plan a winning strategy, a successful Diplomacy player must also possess the communicative ability to implement it.

The Meta team’s crucial contribution was therefore to augment reinforcement learning with natural-language processing. Large language models, trained on vast amounts of data to predict deleted words, have an uncanny ability to mimic the patterns of real language and say things that humans might. For Cicero, the team started with a pre-trained model with a baseline understanding of language, and fine-tuned this on dialogues from more than 40,000 past games, to teach it Diplomacy-specific patterns of speech.

To play the game, Cicero looks at the board, remembers past moves and makes an educated guess as to what everyone else will want to do next. Then it tries to work out what makes sense for its own move, by choosing different goals, simulating what might happen, and also simulating how all the other players will react to that.

Once it has come up with a move, it must work out what words to say to the others. To that end, the language model spits out possible messages, throws away the bad ideas and anything that is actual gobbledygook, and chooses the ones, appropriate to the recipients concerned, that its experience and algorithms suggest will most persuasively further its agenda.

Cicero, then, can negotiate, convince, co-operate and compete.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG notes that lawyers frequently negotiate, convince, co-operate and compete. He will also note that the market for legal AI software is booming now.

He understands the state of the legal art hasn’t reached the point where one can buy a software program instead of hiring a lawyer to go to court, but he suspects it’s only a matter of time.

The Spectacular Life of Octavia Butler

From Vulture:

Octavia Estelle Butler was named after two of the most important people in her life: her mother, Octavia Margaret Guy, and her grandmother, Estella. Her grandmother was an astonishing woman. She raised seven children on a plantation in Louisiana, chopping sugarcane, boiling laundry in hot cauldrons, and cooking and cleaning, not only for her family but for the white family that owned the land. There was no school for Black children, but Estella taught Octavia Margaret enough to read and write. As far as Butler could tell, her grandmother’s life wasn’t far removed from slavery — the only difference was she had worked hard enough and saved enough money to move everyone out west during the Great Migration, to Pasadena, California, in the early 1920s.

Octavia Margaret worked from an early age; she attended school in California but was pulled out after a few years to help earn money. When Butler was very young, her family used to “stay on the place,” meaning they lived on the property of the family they worked for. Her father, Laurice James Butler, worked as a shoeshiner and died when she was 3 years old. Later, her mother would rent a spot for the two of them in Pasadena and work as a day laborer for wealthy white women. Octavia Margaret’s dream was to have her own place where she could tend her garden. She was quiet and deeply religious, and she read Butler bedtime stories until she was 6, at which point she said, “Here’s the book. Now you read.”

In her family, Butler went by Junie, short for Junior, and in the world, she went by Estelle or Estella to avoid confusion for people looking for her mother. As a girl, she was shy. She broke down in tears when she had to speak in front of the class. Her youth was filled with drudgery and torment. The first time she remembered someone calling her “ugly” was in the first grade — bullying that continued through her adolescence. “I wanted to disappear,” she said. “Instead, I grew six feet tall.” The boys resented her growth spurt, and sometimes she would get mistaken for a friend’s mother or chased out of the women’s bathroom. She was called slurs. It was the only time in her life she really considered suicide.

She kept her own company. In her elementary-school progress reports, one teacher wrote that “she dreams a lot and has poor concentration.” That was true. She did dream a lot, and she began to write her dreams down in a large pink notebook she carried around with her. “I usually had very few friends, and I was lonely,” Butler said. “But when I wrote, I wasn’t.” By the time she was 10, she was writing her own worlds. At first, they were inspired by animals. She loved horses like those in The Black Stallion. When she saw an old pony at a carnival with festering sores swarmed by flies, she realized the sores had come from the other kids kicking the animal to make it go faster. Children’s capacity for cruelty stayed with her. She went home and wrote stories of wild horses that could shape-shift and that “made fools of the men who came to catch them.”

She found a refuge at the Pasadena Public Library, where she leaped into science fiction. She especially liked Theodore Sturgeon, Ursula K. Le Guin, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Zenna Henderson, whose book Pilgrimage she would buy for her friends to read. She was a comic-book nerd: first DC and then Marvel. When she was 12 years old, she watched Devil Girl From Mars, a black-and-white British science-fiction movie about a female alien commander named Nyah who has mind-control powers, a vaporizing ray gun, and a tight leather outfit with a cape that touches the floor. Butler thought she could come up with a better story than that, so she began to write her own: temporary escape hatches from a life of “boredom, calluses, humiliation, and not enough money,” as she saw it. “I needed my fantasies to shield me from the world.”

When she learned she could make a living doing this, she never let the thought go. Later, she would call it her “positive obsession” and would put it all on the line. Her mother’s youngest sister, who was the first in the family to go to college, became a nurse. Despite her family’s warnings, she did exactly what she wanted to do. That same aunt would tell Butler, “Negroes can’t be writers,” and advise her to get a sensible job as a teacher or civil servant. She could have stability and a nice pension, and if she really wanted to, she could write on the side. “My aunt was too late with it, though,” Butler said. “She had already taught me the only lesson I was willing to learn from her. I did as she had done and ignored what she said.”

Butler would grow up to write and publish a dozen novels and a collection of short stories. She did not believe in talent as much as hard work. She never told an aspiring writer they should give up, rather that they should learn, study, observe, and persist. Persistence was the lesson she received from her mother, her grandmother, and her aunt. In her lifetime, she would become the first published Black female science-fiction writer and be considered one of the forebears of Afrofuturism. “I may never get the chance to do all the things I want to do,” a 17-year-old Butler wrote in her journals, now archived at the Huntington Library in Pasadena. “To write 1 (or more) best sellers, to initiate a new type of writing, to win both the Nobel and the Pulitzer prizes (in reverse order), and to sit my mother down in her own house before she is too old and tired to enjoy it.” The world would catch up to her dreams. In 2020, Parable of the Sower would hit the best-seller list 27 years after its initial publication and 14 years after Butler’s death. After years of imitation, Hollywood has put adaptations of nearly all of her novels into development, beginning with a Kindred show coming to Hulu in December. She is now experiencing a canonization that had only just begun in the last decade of her life.

“I never bought into my invisibility or non-existence as a Black person,” Butler wrote in a journal entry in 1999. “As a female and as an African-American, I wrote myself into the world. I wrote myself into the present, the future, and the past.” For Butler, writing was a way to manifest a person powerful enough to overcome the circumstances of her birth and what she saw as her own personal failings. Her characters were brazen when she felt timid, leaders when she felt she lacked charisma. They were blueprints for her own existence. “I can write about ideal me’s,” she wrote on the cusp of turning 29. “I can write about the women I wish I was or the women I sometimes feel like. I don’t think I’ve ever written about the woman I am though. That is the woman I read and write to get away from. She has become a victim. A victim of her upbringing, a victim of her fears, a victim of her poverty — spiritual and financial. She is a victim of herself. She must climb out of herself and make her fate. How can she do this?”

. . . .

Butler was on the 6 p.m. Greyhound bus in Pittsburgh heading home from the Clarion Workshop for science-fiction writers. She felt proud of the past six weeks. She had just turned 23, and Clarion was the first time she was taken seriously as a writer. After graduating from high school, she had continued to live at home while attending Pasadena City College. She exhausted the creative-writing classes there and the extension classes at UCLA, where a teacher had once asked her, “Can’t you write anything normal?” She got into a screenwriting class at the Open Door Workshop through the Writer’s Guild of America, where she met the writer Harlan Ellison. She knew his work well, particularly his anthology Dangerous Visions, which was part of a literary, more socially minded turn in the genre. He later said she “couldn’t write screenplays for shit” but knew she was talented and encouraged her to go to Clarion, even giving her some money.

Clarion was the farthest Butler had ever been from home and required a three-day cross-country trip to get there. Adjusting was difficult at first. Western Pennsylvania was hot, humid, and lonely. The radio stations stopped playing at eight. When the other students socialized, she wrote letters to her friends and mother — six in the first week. Epistolary writing was a way to unload and unblock herself and, at least at Clarion, to feel less isolated. “Write me and prove that there are still some Negroes somewhere in the world,” she wrote to her mother early on. Ellison did tell her there would be one Black teacher there: Samuel Delany, who at 28 was a literary wunderkind. He’d published nine novels by then, winning the Nebula Award — the field’s highest honor — for Best Novel two years in a row. When Butler saw him for the first time, she told him he looked like a wild man from Borneo. (She probably shouldn’t have said that, she thought later.) When she felt particularly hard on herself, she would write letters to her mother she never sent. “I’m not doing anything,” she wrote. “I’m hiding in this blasted room crying to you. Which is disgusting.” Her mother had forgone dental work so Butler could attend. She wouldn’t complain like that.

Yes, she was still shy. She rarely spoke in class, and when she did, she put her hand over her mouth. (“She would never volunteer an answer,” Delany recalled, “but whenever I called on her, she always had an answer and it was always very smart.”) But Ellison’s session was a shot in the arm. Butler hadn’t turned in anything all workshop, and his one-story-a-day gauntlet invigorated her. She finished “Childfinder” at 4 a.m. — a story about a Black woman named Barbara who has the ability to locate children with latent psionic abilities and to nurture them. She sold the story to Ellison for his next anthology, The Last Dangerous Visions, and an editor at Doubleday encouraged her to send along her book manuscript for Psychogenesis, a world she had been building out since her teens.

Ellison was a social force: vexing and impossible to feel neutral toward. He would tell Butler to “Write Black!” and “Write the ghetto the way you see it!” — advice that annoyed her. She also had a crush on him. In her journals, she gave him a code name, El Llano, something she did for all of her crushes (William Shatner was “Gelly”). She wanted someone who could help guide her career, and she had hoped Ellison could be her mentor, champion, and lover. “Llano could easily be that master,” she wrote. But she was wary of losing herself. “If I am not careful, he will take over without even realizing it. A master must teach me to use my own talent, not to lean on his. I love him, but this is not what he teaches. So I will continue to love him and teach myself.”

. . . .

The high of Clarion wore off quickly. Ellison had promised “Childfinder” would make Butler a star, but the publication of The Last Dangerous Visions kept getting delayed. She sent fragments of Psychogenesis to Diane Cleaver, the Doubleday editor she met at the workshop. Cleaver said it was promising but she would need the complete manuscript. Over the next five years, Butler didn’t sell any writing but wrote constantly. She had moved into her own place in Los Angeles, one side of a single-story duplex in Mid City. On Saturdays, she packed a draft of Psychogenesis into her briefcase and went to the library to do research. One day, she lost the briefcase in a department store; from this point on, she always made a backup copy of her work.

She tried to stick to a tight schedule. Every morning at 2 a.m., she woke up to write. This was the best time, before the day was filled with other people, when her mind could roam freely. Sunrise brought the life she did not ask for: menial jobs at factories, offices, and warehouses. She subsisted on work from a blue-collar temp agency she called “the Slave Market.” Her mother wished she would get a full-time job as a secretary, but Butler preferred manual labor because she didn’t have to “smile and pretend I was having a good time.” Her body hurt; she needed to go to the dentist. She took NoDoz to stay awake during the day. She was always crunching numbers: the price of paper, how far she could stretch a $99.07 biweekly paycheck. “Poverty is a constant, convenient, and unfortunately valid excuse for inaction,” she wrote in one journal entry.

The world of Psychogenesis had to do with psionics — telepathy, telekinesis, mind control — which was popular in the science fiction she was reading. The possibility that you could control the circumstances of your life with your mind held a strong appeal for Butler. She believed in its real-world application, too. She had begun taking self-hypnosis classes back in high school and devoured self-help books like The Magic of Thinking Big and 10 Days to a Great New Life. She particularly loved Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, a book of motivational practices cribbed from the French psychologist Émile Coué’s concept of optimistic auto-suggestion, which originated the mantra “In every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” She would learn to manifest.

One of Hill’s exercises was to go to a quiet spot and write down a sum of money you want to earn and how you would get it. You had to do it with “faith.” For a stretch of months in 1970, Butler would follow these instructions in the morning and at night. “Goal: To own, free and clear, $100,000 in cash savings,” she wrote. These mantras sounded a drumbeat throughout her early journals. She drew up contracts for herself with writing benchmarks — I will put together an outline; I will complete a short story — and signed them “OEB.” She copied out Frank Herbert’s quote “Fear is the mind killer” and wrote it again, breaking it up into stanzas. Writing was an incantation, a spell she could cast upon herself and the reader. “The goal right now is to achieve a scene of pure emotion,” she wrote. “I want the feeling to spark in the first sentence and I want my reader, my captive to read on helplessly hating with vehemence any interruption strong enough to break through to them. I shall succeed.”

Then, in December 1975, at 28, she sold her first book. After losing the Psychogenesis draft, she began writing another novel, Patternmaster, that takes place in the same universe. It was about a struggle for succession between two psionics, a young upstart named Teray and a seemingly unbeatable being named Coransee, both vying to become the next “Patternmaster” — that is, the leader of the telepathic race known as the Patternists. Butler sent the manuscript to Doubleday. By then, Cleaver had left, and Sharon Jarvis, the science-fiction editor, accepted the submission.

Link to the rest at Vulture

Alternative Book Review: Letter To A Protagonist

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

After reading Priya Malhotra’s gorgeous WOMAN OF AN UNCERTAIN AGE I felt compelled, rather than writing a review, to write a letter to the protagonist, Naina.

. . . .

When fifty-something Naina Mehta’s husband dies of a heart attack, she transforms herself from a suburban wife into a bold woman thirsty for new experiences. A far cry from the classic image of the aging Indian widow who dresses in subdued colors and focuses solely on her children and God.

Naina moves to New York City, takes up a low-paying job in a contemporary art gallery, and becomes besotted by Jai, her daughter’s boyfriend. But that’s only the beginning of her journey into this new world that allows her to explore the possibilities of being who she wants to be.

As Naina becomes more empowered, she dips her toes into the world of dating for the first time in her life. Maybe the possibility of love still exists for a woman of her age. But what happens if the man in question is Muslim and stirs generational wounds and the wrath of her conservative son?

Woman of an Uncertain Age explores the rocky, uncertain terrain of a middle-aged widow during a time when the parameters and ideas of midlife are being challenged. What does it mean to be a fifty-plus woman with grown children in such an environment? Especially for Naina, who comes from a culture where life is expected to follow a strict traditional course.


Dear Naina,

First of all, I’m sorry for your loss. I know it’s been quite a while since you lost your husband, but I think one can never just “move on” from such immense tragedy. It becomes part of you.

You’d be pleased to know that Priya did a remarkable job retelling your journey, her lush descriptions of your life, how you arrived in America from India, your arranged marriage, your life in New Jersey first of all, and your (brave!) move to Manhattan after the unthinkable happened, rather than doing the “expected” thing of resigning to being the dutiful widow, blending into the background, demure.

You might be less pleased to hear that Priya wrote your story candidly, unflinching, pulling no punches, and revealing far more about yourself than you would have wanted, considering you’re quite a private person.

The guilt you felt when you fell for your daughter’s boyfriend for instance.

The horror upon your daughter’s discovery, the heartwrenching months that followed.

But they were necessary revelations.

If we were to meet in real life, I assume you’d only tell me what I might want to hear, hiding the painful and embarrassing aspects of your journey (don’t we all do that, giving people the version we’d like them to hear?).

What kind of mother are you, Naina?

I must admit, I did question this, and it was tricky at times to refrain from judging you, but the fact that you could barely live with yourself because of what had unfolded, and the remorse which seeped from the pages made me want to climb in between the sentences to comfort you.

You are a flawed human being, a beautiful, wise, and inspiring one.

It was no surprise that you turned to online dating eventually, even though you never thought you’d do so. It was entertaining to read, some of the emails you received actually made me laugh out loud.

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

And the Fair Land

For all our social discord we remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators.

Any one whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful.

This is indeed a big country, a rich country, in a way no array of figures can measure and so in a way past belief of those who have not seen it. Even those who journey through its Northeastern complex, into the Southern lands, across the central plains and to its Western slopes can only glimpse a measure of the bounty of America.

And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped.

So the visitor returns thankful for much of what he has seen, and, in spite of everything, an optimist about what his country might be. Yet the visitor, if he is to make an honest report, must also note the air of unease that hangs everywhere.

For the traveler, as travelers have been always, is as much questioned as questioning. And for all the abundance he sees, he finds the questions put to him ask where men may repair for succor from the troubles that beset them.

His countrymen cannot forget the savage face of war. Too often they have been asked to fight in strange and distant places, for no clear purpose they could see and for no accomplishment they can measure. Their spirits are not quieted by the thought that the good and pleasant bounty that surrounds them can be destroyed in an instant by a single bomb. Yet they find no escape, for their survival and comfort now depend on unpredictable strangers in far-off corners of the globe.

How can they turn from melancholy when at home they see young arrayed against old, black against white, neighbor against neighbor, so that they stand in peril of social discord. Or not despair when they see that the cities and countryside are in need of repair, yet find themselves threatened by scarcities of the resources that sustain their way of life. Or when, in the face of these challenges, they turn for leadership to men in high places—only to find those men as frail as any others.

So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within?

Of course the stranger cannot quiet their spirits. For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere—in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.

And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

This editorial has run annually on Thanksgiving since 1961.

Reading After the University

From Public Books:

It’s no news that the university is in crisis. Foreign-language departments have perhaps been the most affected, but few humanities programs have gone unscathed. English departments form the subject of two new attempts to provide a backstory to our present disorder: Outside Literary Studies: Black Criticism and the University by Andy Hines and Professing CriticismEssays on the Organization of Literary Studies by John Guillory. Both depict literary study within universities as something strange and recent. And both situate the university in longer stories of racial capitalism and class distinction. Taken together, they provide a sobering analysis of the limited political potential of today’s English departments.

At the same time, amid this morass of dysfunction, both books soothe themselves with the fact that the university has no monopoly on reading. Students are never confined to the official syllabus. Some part of literature and literary study has always been eccentric to the university curriculum, and accounts of the “outside” of university-based practices, like the one Hines finds in a Black radical tradition that emphasized literature’s political potentials, could proliferate in many directions. Disciplinary outsides and eccentricities have tended to negatively inform professional literature scholars’ assertions that study of “their” objects requires specialist training in unique methods, or that university-based study of literature is the most inherently humanizing or importantly political reading practice. Guillory and Hines flip the script. By treating the professional literary academic as only one kind of reader, they suggest that attention to the varieties of reading practice ongoing outside the university may be an optimism appropriate to our contemporary moment.

Both books part ways with what Abigail Boggs and Nick Mitchell describe as a liberal “crisis consensus” that envisions universities as inherently progressive institutions that need only be saved from the recent ravages of neoliberal privatization.1 Hines depicts the English department as having been an “institutionalized cultural space governed by whiteness and anticommunism.” In his telling, the postwar establishment of the new criticism, which foregrounded close reading of the text as a self-contained aesthetic object, helped ground the emerging postwar hegemony of US liberal capitalism, which imagined itself as an apolitical unity-amid-diversity in opposition to mandated Soviet conformity. None of this could have happened without demonizing left and communist Black intellectuals who treated culture as an engine of revolutionary transformation.

In turn, Guillory’s historical breadth—encompassing the rise and fall of rhetoric, belle lettres, philology, and more—supplements some of Hines’s archival work on the late 1940s and 1950s. Guillory understands the new criticism as just one piece of a massive sociological and methodological shift that made the literary object a “verbal work of art” and, built around it, the English department as a site of disciplinary expertise. By subordinating documentary or political aspects of the text to “an aesthetic ontology,” English professors granted themselves jurisdiction over literary inquiry, and thus a role within the university in servicing the expanding professional-managerial class.

In Hines’s account, the new criticism enabled the racialized exploitation and exclusion of some people to secure the freedom of others within the “state-academic apparatus.” “Black writers, Black leftists, and communist affiliates who sought to build institutions around the critical study of Black literature,” among them Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Melvin B. Tolson, fought the new criticism’s consolidation with US institutions, seeking instead an interracial coalition that would challenge American capitalism and “the ills of racial liberalism.” Their radical vision of future possibility was undermined by a “racist interpretation complex” that made “the imagining of such efforts, and the efforts themselves, appear improbable.” The causal claim is important here: it is the racist interpretation complex, backed by and embodied within the new criticism, that undermined the work of those committed to using the study of literature and culture in service of radical social transformation.

Hines’s interest lies in the political and economic circumstances that have shaped methodologies for literary study. His is a form of attention that has itself been denigrated by the new critical formalisms that interest him, which would insist that one “focus on the text” or “look at the literature itself.” You may object that these kinds of new critical approaches in their purest expression are not especially resonant anymore in the contemporary English department. You may even say that approaches indicting new critical work as apolitical formalism—a tradition of critique to which Hines adds—have been more characteristic of the discipline since the late 1960s.

This is where Guillory’s account comes in. His sociology of the institution explains why, long after new criticism’s fall from grace, the English department continues to be relatively homogenous. For despite Hines’s materialist interest in the political-economic backgrounds framing literary inquiry, he attributes more agency than does Guillory to the new criticism as an intellectual formation, describing it variously as a “crucial instrument,” an “integral part,” and as having “played an important role” in the establishment of English as a discipline of whiteness and anticommunism that rejects political approaches to literature as a betrayal of its true import. Unlike the revolutionary conceptions of culture that flourished in the people’s schools, in which writing could express and shape radical consciousness of the need for social transformation, “new Critical methods denied the possibility of criticism garnering any material force,” Hines argues. Does a critical tendency’s own self-conception undermine its material force, or do the material forces shaping study already relegate criticism to a particular role, at best a handmaiden or a message force multiplier?

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG was tempted to go on a rant, but posted the adjacent Henry Kissinger quote instead.


PG apologizes for the break in posting.

Nothing bad happened. Meatspace obligations intruded into PG’s digital activities.

Sometimes, he wonders if meatspace macros might be an interesting idea.


Let’s see. Experts say everyone should have a unique password for every website.

Which you should change on a regular basis.

PG just counted the number of passwords he has for websites beginning with the letter “A”.

There were 104 Letter A sites.

No, PG is not going to count the number of passwords for sites beginning with something other than the letter “A”.

Why not just memorize a unique password (and sometimes a unique user ID as well) for each site PG visits?

Of course, there are 26 letters in the alphabet. If website names began with the other letters of the alphabet were also that numerous (they’re not, but this is PG’s hypothetical), that would mean that PG had to remember 2,704 different passwords, containing both letters and numbers, with various minimum character counts required by more than one site.

Mrs. PG asks him to go to the grocery store to pick up a few things, she usually provides PG with a written shopping list.

PG is almost always happy to help, but if Mrs. PG gave him a grocery list that contained 2,704 different items to pick up, even if she gave him a list, he might have to draw a line. Or put his foot down. Or something else.

If Mrs. PG asked PG to memorize a grocery list containing 2,704 items to pick up (including every flavor of yogurt and every type of soup), PG’s mind would turn to mush.

Fortunately for PG, although he’s not aware of any grocery list software, he has used a password manager for a very long time.

The Best Password Managers to Secure Your Digital Life

From Wired:

PASSWORD MANAGERS ARE the vegetables of the internet. We know they’re good for us, but most of us are happier snacking on the password equivalent of junk food. For seven years running, that’s been “123456” and “password”—the two most commonly used passwords on the web. The problem is, most of us don’t know what makes a good password and aren’t able to remember hundreds of them anyway.

The safest (if craziest) way to store your passwords is to memorize them all. (Make sure they are long, strong, and secure!) Just kidding. That might work for Memory Grand Master Ed Cooke, but most of us are not capable of such fantastic feats. We need to offload that work to password managers, which offer secure vaults that can stand in for our memory.

A password manager offers convenience and, more importantly, helps you create better passwords, which makes your online existence less vulnerable to password-based attacks. 

. . . .

Why Not Use Your Browser?

Most web browsers offer at least a rudimentary password manager. (This is where your passwords are stored when Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox ask if you’d like to save a password.) This is better than reusing the same password everywhere, but browser-based password managers are limited. In recent years Google has improved the password manager built into Chrome, and it’s better than the rest, but it’s still not as full-featured, or widely-supported as a dedicated password manager like those below.

The reason security experts recommend you use a dedicated password manager comes down to focus. Web browsers have other priorities that haven’t left much time for improving their password manager. For instance, most of them won’t generate strong passwords for you, leaving you right back at “123456.” Dedicated password managers have a singular goal and have been adding helpful features for years. Ideally, this leads to better security.

WIRED readers have also asked about Apple’s MacOS password manager, which syncs through iCloud and has some nice integrations with Apple’s Safari web browser. There’s nothing wrong with Apple’s system. In fact, I have used Keychain Access on Macs in the past, and it works great. It doesn’t have some of the nice extras you get with dedicated services, but it handles securing your passwords and syncing them between Apple devices. The main problem is that if you have any non-Apple devices, you won’t be able to sync your passwords to them, since Apple doesn’t make apps for other platforms. All in on Apple? Then this is a viable, free, built-in option worth considering.

Apple Passkeys and the “Death of the Password”

A concerted effort to get rid of the password began roughly two days after the password was invented. Passwords are a pain—you’ll get no argument here—but we don’t see them going away in the foreseeable future. The latest effort to get rid of the password comes from the FIDO Alliance, an industry group aimed at standardizing authentication methods online. 

It’s still early days, but Apple has implemented the FIDO protocols in what the company calls passkeys. Passkeys are a lot like passwords but are generated and managed by your device. You don’t need to do anything. Apple will store them in iCloud’s Keychain so they’re synced across devices, and they work in Apple’s Safari web browser. Passkeys are now available in iOS 16 and macOS Ventura, but there are some limitations. Websites and services need to support the FIDO Alliance’s protocols, which, at the moment, most don’t. We expect that to change rapidly though. Since Apple is using the work of the FIDO Alliance behind the scenes, passkeys will eventually also function with Google, Microsoft, Meta, and Amazon’s systems.

You might be wondering if passkeys are different from passwords. They really aren’t. They’re generated key pairs instead of passwords. If you are familiar with GPG keys, they’re somewhat similar in that there’s a public and private key; the site has a public key and verifies your identity by requesting the private key from your device. While passkeys aren’t a radical departure, they’re still an improvement by virtue of being pre-installed for people who aren’t going to read this article and immediately sign up to use one of the services below. If millions of people suddenly stop using 12345678 as a password, that’s a win for security. 

Should you use them? If you’re all in on Apple devices, then jump in wherever they’re supported. Support outside the Apple ecosystem will come with time. Dashlane, one of our picks below, has already announced it will support passkeys so you can manage both legacy passwords and passkeys in a single service. Expect other existing services to follow suit. 

If you use a variety of devices, you might want to hold off on adopting passkeys. While there is a workaround for other devices, it involves QR codes and looks a bit cumbersome. We expect Android, Windows, and other platforms to begin rolling out their own support for FIDO Alliance protocols in the future, at which point we’ll start testing and figure out the best way to navigate the passwordless future.

Link to the rest at Wired

The OP continues by discussing a variety of different password managers (some free) that you can utilize to store (and usually create) a password that nobody else is likely to guess or use. You’re a unique human, you need several thousand unique passwords. Get used to it.

(Digression: PG wants to get a t-shirt that says FIDO Alliance.)


From The Wall Street Journal:

Since Gilgamesh, apocalyptic prophecies have been a staple of human culture. These stories follow a familiar pattern: God will punish man for his sins by ending the world. But as faith has waned, the genre has taken a scientific turn, from Elizabeth Kolbert predicting mass extinction as a result of our burning fossil fuel to Nick Bostrom theorizing that our work in artificial intelligence could lead to being ruled by robots. Nouriel Roubini, with his book “MegaThreats,” makes those Cassandras look like Pollyannas.

“Will a deadly pandemic finish us before the transition to machines is complete?” asks Mr. Roubini, an economist and consultant who earned the sobriquet “Dr. Doom” for his congenital pessimism. “Will climate change destroy the planet before rational machines come to the rescue? Will we suffocate under a mountain of debt? Or will the U.S. and China destroy the world in a military conflict as competition to control the industries of the future becomes extreme?” In fields from economics to epidemiology to foreign policy to technology, the author finds reasons for fear and even panic.

But the reason he has chosen to survey 10 different megathreats, rather than emphasize just one, is that he believes a common thread unites these challenges facing humanity: They are all slow-moving, and therefore those who warn about them can for a long time look like the boy who cried wolf.

Pandemics had worried public health experts for years—the George W. Bush administration drew up detailed plans to fight them—before Covid-19 took the world by surprise. Milton Friedman warned in the 1980s that an aging population would make entitlement programs insolvent, while Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan lost an election in part because of their support for reform in 2012. China has wanted to take over Taiwan since the days of Chiang Kai-shek.

Mr. Roubini writes to urge us to confront the looming dangers of climate change, pandemics, inflation, artificial intelligence, war with China, the fall of the U.S. dollar, and several other worrisome trends that earn paragraphs instead of chapters in the book. The author warns that we are lurching from a “period of relative stability to an era of severe instability, conflict, and chaos.” Our return to the dark ages may be the result of the convergence of megathreats: climate change causing pandemics, China and the U.S. fighting over control of AI technology, a declining population exacerbating a debt crisis.

Mr. Roubini halfheartedly suggests potential solutions. Maybe the U.S. could import young immigrant workers to help solve its demographic challenge, or perhaps nations could offer universal basic income to those unfortunates put out of work by robots. But he fears that most of the problems he raises are essentially unsolvable. “Spoiler alert,” he writes in the prologue. “We are in way too deep.”

At times, Mr. Roubini gets so caught up in pessimism that he seems only cursorily interested in making coherent arguments for action. For example, he approvingly cites a Natural Resources Defense Council study that estimates the potential economic effects of climate change by the end of this century: $1.9 trillion a year. Pages later, he advocates taking drastic action to mitigate climate change, citing those immediate costs at between $2 trillion and $6 trillion annually. If this is the type of math used to justify climate action, an economic argument is hard to make.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG notes that there have been innumerable business booms and busts around the world. There have also been pandemics that killed millions in their day, a far higher percentage of the population then than a similar number of deaths would be in the contemporary world.

Athens v. Sparta is the earliest state-sponsored war PG knows much about, but wars and rumors of wars are a relatively consistent fact of life. Today, modern communications bring us news about wars of any meaningful size starting anyplace in the world almost immediately.

Wikipedia has a page titled List of ongoing armed conflicts with a map which helpfully shows the location where armed conflicts all over the world. One sub-part of that page lists 6 conflicts that have caused at least 10,000 direct, violent deaths per year in battles between identified groups. And this is a list of wars with a significant number of organized fighters fighting on each side. It doesn’t include deaths from criminal acts or gang violence.

PG is not certain how many times a war has been described as, “a war to end all wars.” Such is a wonderful goal and a thing of beauty to contemplate, but wars have continued, regardless.

Ditto for crop failures, pandemics, etc. In 1918-20, The Spanish Flu appeared. About 500 million people, or one-third of the global population at the time, fell ill. At least 50 million died, with 675,000 deaths occurring in the U.S. The population of the United States in 1919 was an estimated 104,514,000, so 0.646% of the US population died from the Spanish Flu. Two other world-wide influenza pandemics occurred in 1957 (the Asian Flu) and 1968 (the Hong Kong Flu).

The Asian Flu killed 1.1 million worldwide and 116,000 in the United States. The Hong Kong Flu killed 1 million worldwide and about 100,000 in the United States. Covid has infected 636 million worldwide and caused 6.61 million deaths worldwide.

PG remembers hearing a quip a long time ago, “Everybody has to die from something.”

With every major outbreak of an infectious disease or virus, experts appear to warn us that the apocalypse is right around the corner. PG is not dismissing threats of various sorts, but is very optimistic about the ability of humanity to overcome and bounce back.

PG is reminded of the old adage about the news business, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

PG’s general optimism is likely to prevent him from being quoted in the Wall Street Journal any time in the future.

In Written Opinion, Judge Florence Pan Delivers Knockout Blow to PRH, S&S Merger

From Publisher’s Weekly:

On November 7, Judge Florence Pan released her memorandum opinion blocking Penguin Random House from acquiring rival Big Five publisher Simon & Schuster—and in the final analysis, after a year of legal wrangling and a three-week trial that captivated the publishing industry, it wasn’t a close case for her at all. In an economical 80-page decision, Pan found the U.S. Department of Justice showed the proposed merger would likely “lessen competition” in the market for book rights in violation of Section 7 of the Clayton Act.

“The government has presented a compelling case that predicts substantial harm to competition as a result of the proposed merger of PRH and S&S,” Pan concluded. DoJ attorneys properly defined a relevant market—“anticipated top selling books” with advances over $250,000—which, she noted, accounts for 70% of the advance monies paid to authors. The post-merger entity would have had a “concerningly high” 49% market share, more than twice that of its closest competitor in an already concentrated market in which “the two top competitors would hold 74% of the market and the top four market participants would control 91%.” And, citing the publishers’ previous actions a decade ago in the Apple price-fixing case, Pan found “strong evidence” of “likely unilateral and coordinated” effects that would further harm competition.

At the same time, Pan shredded each of PRH/S&S’s defenses. In a key blow, she swiftly dispatched with the defense’s central argument that the government’s focus on books with advances over $250,000 was incorrect on both the facts and the law. She was “unpersuaded” by PRH/S&S arguments that new and existing competitors (including smaller indie publishers and upstarts like Zando and Astra) would preserve competition. She rejected the idea that literary agents would keep the merged firm in check. And she dismissed the argument that “internal competition” among PRH and S&S editors would keep competition robust, finding that PRH CEO’s Markus Dohle’s “extraordinary pledge” to allow internal bidding reflected his “awareness of how threatening the combined entity would be to authors and agents.”

The full opinion comes a week after Pan released her final order blocking the merger, delaying the release of the opinion to allow for a few minor redactions of confidential information.

Few were surprised by the court’s decision last week, given that Pan appeared clearly skeptical of the proposed merger at trial. But before trial, the unfamiliar “monopsony” claims at the heart of the case had left observers unsure of how the case might play out. In the end, however, Pan found the DoJ’s approach to be highly effective, and, in a crucial blow to the defense, found the government’s “use of high advances as a proxy for anticipated book sales” to be “logical and supported by market realities.”

On the other hand, the judge was not persuaded by the publisher defendants’ efforts to portray the $250,000 advance market as an invented, arbitrary “price segment” rather than a legally cognizable submarket. And after displaying a firm grasp of publishing industry practices in the opening 22 pages of the opinion, Pan rejected the publishers’ attempts at trial to “insist that all books are the same in the market” or that it is impossible to predict which books would be “top sellers,” calling those arguments “unsupportable”

“The court has no trouble recognizing that anticipated top-selling books are distinct from the vast majority of books that do not carry the same expectations for success,” Pan wrote. “The fact that the Big Five publish 91% of anticipated top sellers supports a finding that authors of such books have unique needs and preferences. Although smaller publishers can sometimes put out an anticipated top selling book, it is the Big Five who have the backlists and the marketing, publicity, and sales advantages necessary to consistently provide the high advances and unique services that top selling authors need. It is precisely those specialized needs that make the authors of anticipated top selling books vulnerable to targeting for price reductions. Publishers of anticipated top selling books know that such authors are not able to find adequate substitutes for publishing their books because of their unique needs and preferences.”

With the submarket established, Pan easily found a prima facie case existed to block the deal, citing the dominant position of a merged PRH/S&S in an already heavily concentrated publishing industry (as calculated by the government’s expert witness, Dr. Nicholas Hill, and using a prime antitrust metric called the Herfindahl Hirschman Index).

“The 49% share that the post-merger PRH would hold is far above the levels deemed too high in other cases,” Pan held. “Moreover, the high concentration must be considered in the high context of an undeniable trend in consolidation in the publishing industry.”

And in a strong rebuke, Pan, citing the recent history of collusion and price-fixing in the 2012 Apple e-book case, cited the risk of “coordinated effects” should the merger be approved.

“As an initial matter, a history of collusion or attempted collusion is highly probative of likely harm from a merger,” Pan wrote, calling the Apple case “significant” and “a backdrop for trends in the industry that appear to demonstrate that the Big Five are already engaging in tacit collusion or parallel accommodating conduct.”

“Recent years have seen the industry-wide standardization of certain contract terms—involving payment structure, audio rights, and e-book royalties—in ways that favor publishers over authors, suggesting that the top publishers have engaged in coordinated conduct,” Pan wrote, in a particularly blistering section of the opinion. “Advances used to be paid in two installments before publishers uniformly moved to paying them in three installments and then four installments, thereby delaying authors compensation. After audiobooks became a significant source of revenue in the industry, publishers uniformly refused to acquire books without audio rights included thereby limiting authors’ ability to maximize their compensation and preventing authors from diversifying their sources of income.”

Pan cited an “illustrative” example from the evidence, in which S&S refused to bid on a highly sought after book because the agent attempted to withhold audio rights. An S&S editor noted that the other Big Five publishers also had “no audio, no deal” rules, and questioned whether one of the other Big Five houses would join the auction. Ultimately, Pan noted, the agent was forced to restart the auction with audio rights included.

“It is significant that in a market already prone to collusion, where coordinated conduct already appears to be rampant, PRH’s acquisition of S&S would reinforce the market’s oligopsonistic structure,” Pan concluded, “and create a behemoth industry leader that other market participants could easily follow.”

Meanwhile, Pan devoted less than 19 pages to the Defendants’ rebuttal, quickly dispatching with PRH/S&S’s arguments that indie publishers, new entrants, strong literary agents, and “internal” competition would keep competition for book rights robust. And in a final passage, she rejected as “not relevant to the court’s analysis” the idea that (as some industry observers have suggested) PRH would be the best home for S&S vs. a potential private-equity acquisition.

“The focus of the court’s inquiry is harm to competition in the relevant market,” Pan wrote, calling concerns about a private equity acquisition highly speculative. “Other potential buyers in the publishing industry have shown interest in acquiring S&S and it is just as likely that another publishing company will prevail in a future sale. Nor is the court moved by the desire of S&S and its employees to be acquired by PRH. It comes as no surprise that S&S would like to benefit from the extraordinary market power and other advantages that the combined entity would enjoy. The court however must focus on harm to competition in the relevant market.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Without having read Judge Pan’s entire opinion, PG cannot comment on all her findings, but the excerpts he’s seen at various locations online show her to be a smart jurist who couldn’t be bamboozled by industry drivel to the effect that they’re nurturers of authors or otherwise fragile flowers that must be protected in their lock-step collusion on all sorts of things that harm a great many authors.

Why media investors are saying publishing company VC funding slowdown is a good thing

From DigiDay:

The venture capital market is slowing, but some investors are saying that’s a good thing — for them.

During the pandemic, VC money was getting thrown into the market and competing for opportunities for investment. Now, the VC market is correcting itself: company valuations are down, and less competition means smaller VC firms can be more deliberate with their investments. However, this also means it’ll be more difficult for media companies looking to raise capital to do so.

According to data from capital market research firm PitchBook, U.S. venture capital deal activity in “publishing” companies (defined as providers of print and internet publishing services, such as newspapers, magazines and books), was $25.2 million in Q3 2022, down from $84.4 million in Q3 2021 and $85.4 million in Q3 2020.

However, that’s up slightly from Q3 2019 at $25 million, but down from Q3 2018 at $85.3 million.

As for deal count, that’s also dipped in Q3 2022 to five deals in the quarter. In Q3 2021, there were 16 deals, and in 2020 there were 13 – the same number as in Q3 2019. It was 15 in 2018.

As of Nov. 1, 2022, the total value of VC deals for publishing companies this year was $117.4 million. While it’s not a complete comparison since there’s another quarter to go, total deal value was $484.5 million in 2021; $241.8 million in 2020; $511.6 million in 2019; and $208 million in 2018. Total deal count ranged from 51 in 2018 to 65 in 2021; it’s 35 so far in 2022.

The biggest U.S. VC deal among publishing companies in 2022 was a tie between news aggregator Flipboard’s $25 million Series A funding round led by K2 Global in July and Semafor’s $25 million seed round in June. Crypto publisher Decrypt raised $10 million in a Series A funding round in May. Lava Labs and Grid also raised $10 million this year.

Link to the rest at DigiDay

HarperCollins workers go on strike

From National Public Radio:

Union members at HarperCollins, one of the largest publishers in the country, started an indefinite strike today. Workers and supporters gathered outside the company’s New York City offices this morning to make their demands.

The action comes after a drawn out negotiation process, with workers asking for higher wages, stronger commitments to diversifying staff and better family leave. The approximately 250 unionized workers are represented by UAW 2110, and include people in design, marketing, publicity and sales. These employees have been working without a contract since April.

“What we’re asking for is a fair wage,” said Stephanie Guerdan, associate editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books and shop steward at the HarperCollins Union.

In the months leading up to the strike, the messaging from the workers has centered on meager pay while the company reported record profits in 2021. According to a recent statement, the average salary for HarperCollins employees is $55,000. The minimum salary is $45,000.

“None of that is an amount you can live on in New York City,” said Guerdan who added that the company is insisting that employees should be able to commute into the Manhattan offices at least one day a week.

A spokesperson for HarperCollins, which is owned by News Corp, sent a statement that read “HarperCollins has agreed to a number of proposals that the United Auto Workers Union is seeking to include in a new contract. We are disappointed an agreement has not been reached and will continue to negotiate in good faith.”

The striking workers are asking authors, agents and freelancers to withhold any new business with the company – but to continue to work on any existing agreements or contracts.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

For those not familiar with News Corp, it’s a very large worldwide media conglomerate run by Rupert Murdoch.

News Corp publications include The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, Barrons, The Australian, The Times of London, The Sun, The New York Post and a boatload of other Australian media companies.

Suffice to say, dead tree publications have had a rough ride over the past couple of decades, but, at least some News Corp pubs have aggressively moved online.

The example that immediately comes to PG’s mind is the Wall Street Journal, which has an excellent and large online edition. WSJ passed The New York Times as the largest circulation paper in the US several years ago.

Failure’s Gifts

From Public Books:

Phillis Wheatley was a failure. It’s not a polite way to remember the first Black woman to publish a book of poetry in the American colonies in 1773. Still, it’s true: nearly 250 years ago, Boston’s celebrated poet tried to publish a second book of poetry, A Volume of Poems and Letters, On Various Subjects, Dedicated to the Right Honorable Benjamin Franklin, Esq.: One of the Ambassadors of the United States, at the Court of France. And, she never did even though she compiled a list of titles, searched for funding, and advertised her forthcoming work in local newspapers. Despite Wheatley’s best efforts, there is neither a printed book nor an extant manuscript of it. There is only an aspirational proposal and a series of lists of letters and poems.

Wheatley’s failure isn’t what we talk about. It’s certainly not how we remember the “first” enslaved, Black, or woman writer to publish a book of poetry in what would soon be the United States of America. What’s celebrated is what we can read in print, Wheatley’s collection Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. June Jordan remembers Wheatley’s poetry as miraculous, evidence of what today is called “Black excellence.” Her volume of poetry is, without a doubt, a feat worth noting for a formerly enslaved woman who journeyed the Middle Passage as a child and learned to read and write well in English shortly thereafter. And her published occasional poems and elegies are the reason she is memorialized as the beginning of the African American literary tradition. I see why, then, it might not seem worthwhile to think about her failure because it’s not as much fun to talk about as her success.

But what if Wheatley’s failure matters just as much as her excellence and genius? What if there is information in the book that never was, or at least in Wheatley’s desire to publish it? Does her failure to publish it reveal something about how culture or literature is made, imagined, or revised into being? What if the origin story of African American literature is not just a celebration of Wheatley’s success but also an acknowledgment of her failure?

I owe my curiosity about Wheatley’s failure to Elizabeth McHenry, author of To Make Negro Literature (2021). Wheatley is my example, not hers. I’ve learned from McHenry’s newest book to think of an author’s failure as a generative site of inquiry. I didn’t expect to read about achievement’s antonym today, when “Black excellence,” “Black joy,” and “Black girl magic” are celebrated, hashtagged, cited, and memorialized on T-shirts, postcards, and murals. McHenry teaches a kind of reading practice that applies to Wheatley as easily as anyone else. It’s a way of reading that listens closely to what’s said whenever an author is willing to admit (or sometimes, not) their failure. Consider, as McHenry does: W. E. B. DuBois’s printing business is a bust. Mary Church Terrell is never able to publish her fiction. Does Booker T. Washington count as a writer if T. Thomas Fortune writes for him? Or the Library of Congress bibliographer who painstakingly gathers book titles for a comprehensive bibliography of African American writers, but it’s never published.

McHenry teaches how to read the past in order to glean the lessons to be learned from defeat. If we study failure, we can learn about process, creativity, and the makings of literary culture in the US alongside the country’s history of racialized and gendered violence. The lesson of these authors’ failed work is that they organized what counts as African American literature as they reworked and revised their plans, their words, or their pursuits.

Link to the rest at Public Books

The South Asian monsoon, past, present and future

From The Economist:

1. A gamble on the rains

With rheumy eyes and a face wizened by the sun, Narayanappa looks down to the ground and then, slowly, up to the skies. After weeks of harsh heat his land, one and a half hectares (four acres) of peanuts, chillies and mulberry bushes, has turned to dust. At the beginning of June, a dozen families local to Kuppam, a village in the Chittoor district of the south-eastern state of Andhra Pradesh, came together, as they do every year, to sacrifice a goat as a divine downpayment on a good monsoon. By mid-June the monsoon rains should be quenching the parched ground. Yet there is no sign of the livid clouds running up from the south-eastern horizon which serve as its evening harbingers, rising and roiling, filling the sky with their rumbling and the night with veiled lightning. The sky is as blank as the ground is dry. Narayanappa has his sacks of nuts ready to sow. But time is running out.

In his office at the India Meteorological Department in New Delhi, Madhavan Nair Rajeevan, the department’s boss, looks at portents which are dry in a different way—figures and lines on paper and screens. Where once the oncoming monsoon was spotted through telescopes on the veranda of the observatory built by the Maharajah of Travancore on a hill above Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum) in Kerala, now the signs of its coming are looked for through tracked radar and satellites. But they are still of intense interest to the country’s rulers, and its people. The monsoon’s arrival in Thiruvananthapuram at the beginning of June marks the official beginning of India’s rainy season. The rains’ subsequent movement is tracked on a daily basis by national television stations, rather like the advance of the spring cherry blossom in Japan but with far greater human consequence.

A century of meteorological progress means that Mr Rajeevan can say with much more confidence than his predecessors how fast the summer monsoon will sweep up the nation and how much rain, overall, it will bring. When the monsoon started late this year he could give a convincing non-goat-related reason; Cyclone Vayu, in the Arabian Sea, upset the flows on which the monsoon depends. But though meteorology has improved, it has a long way to go. On average the monsoon is a regular wave of rain, rising and falling over the months from June to September. In any given year, though, the smooth wave is overwritten by spikes and troughs, bursts of intense precipitation and weeks of odd dryness, variations known as “vagaries” which science still struggles to grasp.

There is a complex structure in space, as well as time. Some places may be almost completely skirted by the rains. Others see deluges violent enough to destroy crops and carry away soil, the water running off the land before it can be caught and stored. The flooding that goes with such rains is expected to become worse and wider-spread as the global climate warms. Agriculture remains the Indian economy’s largest source of jobs, directly accounting for a sixth of its GDP and employing almost half of its working people. A bad monsoon can knock Indian economic growth by a third. The effects in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are on a similar scale. Almost a quarter of the world—1.76bn souls—lives with the South Asian monsoon.

As Guy Fleetwood Wilson, a finance minister, put it in 1909, the “budget of India is a gamble in rain.” Thanks to Mr Rajeevan and his colleagues, the odds of each year’s gamble are now better known. But obvious steps that might lower the stakes being played for are still not taken. Storage systems in cities have fallen into disuse; aquifers under farmland are depleted year by year faster than the monsoons can refill them. In a country where more people will face the risks of climate change in the decades to come than any other, the problems of the current climate are being ducked.

The metamorphosis brought by the burst of the monsoon is profound. Brown landscapes turn green, dusts become muds, cracks turn into mouths through which the earth slakes its thirst. The Ganges and the other great rivers fill then overflow, spreading silt-rich fertility across their floodplains. In the countryside the air takes up the petrichor aroma of fresh earth. In gardens, the scent of frangipani carries on the damp breeze; in cities, that unmistakably Indian blend of ordure, asphalt and spice.

It’s a sea breeze

The people respond. The rains bring a sense of relief and a new sensuality. In “The Cloud Messenger” by Kalidasa, one of the greatest Sanskrit poets of north India, the meeting of earth and clouds is nothing less than a kind of lovemaking. In the Sangam literature of the deep south, the heroine waits for her lover, who is away seeking war, wealth and adventure, to return with the rains. People still tell stories of inhibitions cast aside and new lovers taken. The heart takes on the driving, unpredictable rhythms of the rain.

For all its complexity and importance, on every scale from that of smallholders to empires, at its heart the monsoon is something fairly simple: a season-long version of the sea breezes familiar to all those who live by coasts. Because land absorbs heat faster than water does, on a sunny day the land, and the air above it, warm faster than adjoining seas. The hot air rises; the cooler air from above the sea blows in to take its place.

A monsoon is the same sort of phenomenon on a continental scale. As winter turns to summer, the Indian subcontinent warms faster than the waters around it. Rising hot air means low pressure; moist maritime water is drawn in to fill the partial void. This moist water, too, rises, and as it does, its water vapour condenses, releasing both water, to fall as rain, and energy to drive further convection, pulling up yet more moist air from below.

The heroine waits for her lover, who is away seeking war, wealth and adventure, to return with the monsoon rains

There are other monsoonal circulations around the world—in Mexico and the American south-west and in west Africa, as well as in East Asia, to the circulation of which the South Asian monsoon is conjoined. But geography makes the South Asian monsoon particular in a number of ways. The Indian Ocean, unlike the Pacific and the Atlantic, does not stretch up into the Arctic. This means that water warmed in the tropical regions cannot just flow north, taking its heat with it. It stays in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, lapping at India from the west and the east. And to the subcontinent’s north sits the Tibetan plateau, the highest on the planet. The summer heat there draws the monsoon’s moisture far higher into the atmosphere than it would otherwise be able to go, adding mountains of cloud to the Himalayan peaks.

The monsoon is thus a mixture of necessity and chance. Given the arrangement of sea and land and the flow of heat from equator to pole, such a season has to exist; given the vagaries of weather from year to year, and within the seasons themselves, it springs surprises for good and ill. It is also, and increasingly, a mixture of the natural and the human—as ever more humans depend on it, as humans learn new ways of anticipating it, and as humans face up to the climate change which will reshape it.

2. The winds that made Asia

The rains for which Narayanappa waits are not the whole story. The word “monsoon” blew into English from Portuguese in the late 16th century not because European sailors cared about the rain on alien plains, but because when they followed Vasco da Gama around the tip of Africa they came across a type of wind they had never encountered, and for which they had no name.

The Portuguese monção comes in its turn from the Arabic, mawsim, which means “season”. In the Atlantic Ocean, the only one to which the Portuguese were accustomed, winds in any given place tend to blow in pretty much the same direction throughout the year, though their intensities change with the season and their prevailing direction changes with the latitude. In the Indian Ocean, the prevailing winds flip back and forth.

This is because of the role played in the monsoon by the “intertropical convergence zone” (ITCZ) which encircles the world close to the equator. The ITCZ is a zone of low pressure over the warmest water. In all the oceans, this low pressure draws in steady winds from the south-east known as the southern trade winds.

During the northern hemisphere’s winter, the ITCZ sits south of the equator in the Indian Ocean. As warmth creeps north, so does the ITCZ, becoming a dynamic part of the monsoon. It ends up nestled against the Himalayas, bringing the southern trades with it. But their move from the southern hemisphere to the northern, and the constraining effect of high pressure over Africa, sees them twisted from south-easterlies to south-westerlies. When these south-westerly trades pick up in late spring—wind speeds in the Arabian Sea can double over a few weeks—the rains are on their way to Thiruvananthapuram.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Not about books, but PG was taken by the quality of the writing in the OP.

Want to Crack the Case? These Are The 101 Best Mystery Books of All Time

From Parade:

To craft a list of the 101 best mysteries of all time, the first thing you must do is define “mystery,” a genre we believe puts its emphasis on solving a puzzling event—often a crime or murder but not always. If it’s set in London and there’s fog and a man named Sherlock, you’re on solid ground. Otherwise, the line between the best mystery book and the best thriller, suspense or spy novel is a murky one indeed.

You’ll find classic locked-room mysteries, amateur detectives, cops on the beat and a few curve balls to keep you on your toes. Oh, and we’re sticking to one title per author, so you won’t find five Agatha Christies or Ruth Rendells here—just one legendary book that stands in for their body of work.

To help us narrow down the list to the absolute best mystery novels, we reached out to acclaimed and bestselling authors, bookstores around the country that love murder mystery, critics who review detective novels and the like. We’ve even scoured crowd-sourcing sites like Goodreads to see what you’ve loved the most.

Whether you’re looking for the perfect murder mystery set in your vacation destination, a classic to recommend to a book club or a great spooky series to dive into, it’s all here. Grab your magnifying glass, your library card and a pen and paper—you’ll want to take notes! Leave a comment telling us which books on here you love, which you’re dying to read and which ones you are astonished to find missing.

. . . .

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Of course, the Queen of Crime would top the list. (Not that it’s in any particular order!) But which Christie to choose? On Goodreads, the various rankings of best mystery books feature more of her titles than the body of a gangster-turned-rat has bullet holes. Should we choose The Murder At The Vicarage, her amusing introduction of Miss Marple? Christie’s groundbreaking The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd? Heck, her stand-alone puzzler And Then There Were None is probably the bestselling mystery of all time, with more than 100 million copies sold. But we chose Hercule Poirot’s Murder On The Orient Express. The solution to the crime is so elegant, so simple and so audacious we imagine every other mystery writer alive that read it smacked their foreheads and said, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

When it comes to a series, we gravitate to the first title because, well, if a series is great, that’s where you want to start. No series is greater than the Easy Rawlins books, launched in 1990 about an African-American private investigator and WWII vet. The series has it all: great mysteries, a great and complex hero and—as the books unfold and document decades in L.A.—a great history of life in America as rich and ambitious as the U.S.A. trilogy by John Dos Passos or August Wilson’s Century Cycle. At its core is this mystery: How does a Black man survive in America with his dignity intact?

The Bat by Jo Nesbø

Nordic noir, where have you been all our lives? The flood of marvelous mystery and suspense books from chilly Oslo and its sister cities is one of the great joys for fans of the best mystery books around, whatever their accent. Nesbø’s Harry Hole is the latest in a long line of sleuths who are train wrecks in their personal (and often professional) lives. Ironically, in this first Hole story, the Oslo inspector is consulting in Sydney, Australia. Not to fear: Australia has its fair share of serial killers and deep-dark secrets. Yes, this could just as easily be in thrillers, but watching Hole track down his prey by worrying about every stray clue like a dog with a bone is very satisfying.

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley

“Possibly the most influential crime novel of the past half-century, and probably the best private eye novel ever written—in a world blessed with Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett,” says Otto Penzler, proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop. The poetry of the prose, he says, transcends the complex plot in which C.W. Sughrue (pronounced ’Shug’ as in sugar, honey, and ‘rue’ as in rue the goddamned day”), is hired to find a missing author but winds up searching for a girl who’s been missing from Haight-Ashbury for a decade. “Best line? There are a dozen, including the best opening line since Rebecca. But my favorite is ‘Nobody lives forever, nobody stays young long enough.’”

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon

Down below on this list, author Leon offers pithy praise for the legendary Ruth Rendell’s classic Judgement In Stone. She needn’t toot her own horn because so many others will do it for her. Leon’s bestselling Commissario Brunetti books will have you falling in love with the city of Venice and her decent, redoubtable hero. The 31st book came out in 2022, but Leon nailed her cultured, thoughtful and usually successful protagonist right at the start: “His clothing marked him as Italian. The cadence of his speech announced he was Venetian. His eyes were all policeman.” Grab an espresso, sit down and savor.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by John H. Watson M.D. (as edited by Nicholas Meyer)

We could make a list of the 100 best mystery novels about Sherlock Holmes not written by Arthur Conan Doyle and it would be shockingly good. Indeed, you’ll find a few of them on here, including this one, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. It’s the granddaddy of them all. There’s the frank treatment of drug addiction alluded to in the canon and the clever weaving of real-world figures like Sigmund Freud. Pure joy for fans who never imagined they would learn more about the world’s most famous private investigator.

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell

Do you love TV shows like C.S.I.? You can thank Cornwell and her greatest creation: Medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, who’s a bit like Jack Klugman’s Dr. Quincy of TV fame, just turbocharged with the latest tech. Twenty-five books and counting feature Scarpetta tracking down killers, cutting through office politics and dealing with a cranky but brilliant niece, not always in that order. On the side, Cornwell also spent years researching Jack the Ripper and delivered her own solution to the coldest case of them all. Scarpetta means “little shoe,” but Cornwell is leaving a big imprint on the genre.

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Why not The Maltese Falcon or Red Harvest or a number of other Hammett classics? Because none of his other books spawned a cottage industry quite like the irresistible husband-and-wife team of Nick and Nora Charles. They drink, they banter, they drink, they outwit criminals and the police, they drink some more and when the bottle runs dry, they reluctantly get around to solving the murder. The book led to the classic films starring WilliamPowell and Myrna Loy and that led to everything from the TV shows Hart To Hart and Moonlighting to charming copycat mysteries featuring Mr. and Mrs. North and far too many more to mention.

Link to the rest at Parade

PG notes that the author of the OP was careful to say that she was not attempting to rank the best mysteries from 1 to 101.

15 Cozy Books To Get Wrapped up in This Fall

From TheEveryGirl:

In my humble opinion, as soon as the clock strikes midnight on September 1, it’s officially fall. Is it still blazing hot out? Yes. Does fall not technically start until September 22? Yes. But, as someone who waits all year long for fall to roll back around, I could never let mere technicalities delay me from enjoying my favorite season. It’s the season of changing leaves, crisp weather, Halloween, and diving headfirst into cozy books from the comfort of my reading nook. Can you blame me for wanting to kick things off a little early?

While fall is the spookiest season of them all—and the perfect time to indulge in everything that goes bump in the night—sometimes a thriller book or horror movie simply isn’t what we’re looking for. These cozy books will give you all of the fall vibes you know and love—and even a hint of spookiness, minus the nightmares. Heat a cup of your favorite tea, find the comfiest spot in your home, and get lost in one of these cozy low-stakes stories that will give you your fall fix and leave you able to sleep at night.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

Linus Baker finds comfort in his mundane, routine life. He works at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, overseeing the care of children in gover`nment-run orphanages. He goes about his life without much incident, until one day he’s summoned by Extremely Upper Management with an assignment far more exciting and dangerous than any he’s been given before. He’s to travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage to see if the six children residing there, one of whom is the literal Antichrist, will actually bring about the end of the world. Linus accepts the assignment, thinking of it as any other job and not realizing just how special the Marsyas Island Orphanage and its residents are.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

Mika Moon is one of the few remaining witches in Britain. In order to keep her identity a secret, she keeps her head down and stays away from other witches so as not to draw attention. She does a pretty good job of this, save for the silly little online account she uses to post videos of herself pretending to be a witch. It’s a harmless joke, right? Wrong. Mika receives a mysterious message asking her to come to the Nowhere House to take over the teaching of three young witches. Despite this being a bad idea and going against the rules she (mostly) followed, Mika decides to go. Once there, Mika begins to view her new charges and the other residents of Nowhere House as a family of sorts, save for the librarian, Jamie, who can’t find it in himself to trust the newcomer.

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy

As an undertaker, there isn’t anyone in Tanria who gets under Mercy’s skin quite like the marshal Hart. The two have exasperating run-in after exasperating run-in, and after one such incident, Hart finds himself writing a letter to no one in particular. When he gets a surprise response, he finds he has a new pen pal and a friendship is born. Unfortunately, the person Hart has been sharing his deepest darkest secrets to is none other than the person he loathes most in the world: Mercy. What will happen to their budding romance when their identities are finally revealed?

Link to the rest at TheEveryGirl

On Hope and Holy Fools

From The Hedgehog Review:

When I was a teenager, I used to believe—fanatically—that the greatest thing you could do with your life was live it as art. I’d read a lot of Oscar Wilde, and I was easily moved by novels and easily seduced by beauty. A life that was not ordinary or domestic, but poetic, felt like the only enchanted way to be. I wanted a life that was a novel, with a clear narrative line—a bildungsroman, probably, not exactly tragic (I had my limits), but at least indulgently melodramatic. I wanted a life with rising actions and satisfying denouements, with outcomes thematically, if not always morally, justified. I could not divorce my inchoate belief in a God of some kind and my belief in life as art. (Hadn’t Oscar Wilde become a Catholic on his deathbed?) Both seemed, then, to spring from the same source. There was ordinary, unexamined life, in which nothing meant everything, and then there was the charged life of the novel: the life in which everything mattered, everything was a kind of poetry.

The irony was that, by my early twenties, my favorite novel—and by far the most formative in my ultimate conversion to Christianity—was wonderfully, vexingly, narratively unsatisfying when it counted. And my favorite scene in that favorite novel was the most unsatisfying of all.

That scene comes in “Pro and Contra,” Book V of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, in a chapter called “The Grand Inquisitor”: a story within a story—often published, rather reductively, as a standalone book—told by the neurotic, intellectually inclined second Karamazov brother, Ivan, to his saintly younger sibling, Alyosha. Ivan has spent most of the chapter trying to explain to Alyosha why he does not, cannot, believe in God.

Ivan’s doubts are twofold. There is the problem that belief in God seems impossible and irrational according to the structures of earthly reality. “If God exists and if He really did create the world,” Ivan ruminates, “He created it according to the geometry of Euclid and the human mind.… Yet [some]…even dare to dream that two parallel lines, which according to Euclid can never meet on earth, may meet somewhere in infinity. I have come to the conclusion that, since I can’t understand even that, I can’t expect to understand about God.” Then, too, there is the problem of human evil. How, Ivan asks Alyosha, can a good God allow the horrors of the world—murder, rape, the abuse of children? Even if Ivan could conceive of the existence of a divine creator, he could not bring himself to morally accept Him. He would have to, in his own words, “return the ticket.”

. . . .

There is a tragic grandeur to so many of these characters’ stories: a grandeur intensified by the sense that Dostoevsky’s characters tend to live life as stories, overwhelmed by the weight of their self-referential self-understanding. Yet the moments of greatest grace in the novel are the moments when these stories collapse in on themselves, when the unexpected and the miraculous deprive us of the pleasure of narrative consummation. The act of love—a kiss in place of a riposte—stops tragedy in its tracks.

Link to the rest at The Hedgehog Review

The Politics of Fiction

From Writer Unboxed:

I’ll start this post with a disclaimer. As a fiction writer, I am drawn to writing stories that work within the realities we exist in. I’ve rarely worked with magic, fantasy, alternate world histories, or creating imaginary worlds.

Primarily, I enjoy stories of humans living in contemporary urban realities. I wanted to expand the way I wrote, but it always seemed like a struggle. Over time I made peace with it and plunged further into the kind of writer I wanted to be. I wondered why I related to books that told stories about our times, struggles, pop culture, gender roles, and other political realities.

My upbringing between two countries (U.S and India) possibly shaped how I read. The sense of displacement and mixed ideas of identity had imprinted a curiosity for people and how they could adapt to very different realities depending on circumstances. The idea that the world we relate to can be so stunningly different for another person in another country or even another city or village in the same world compelled me.

Writing in real life meant a lot of my work started to blend into prominent political stories that pointed to the limitations of colonized worldviews. The most important revelation in my writing was the understanding that all writing (whether you mean to or not) is political.

Our writing points to our worldview; who published what, and what gets published? It demonstrates our cultural imaginations, both in their glory and limitations. When I talk about this, a lot of people get uncomfortable. The idea that one is bringing ‘politics’ into writing is something only some types of writers desire. I think this discomfort exists because the concept of politics has been largely misconstrued. We believe ‘political writing’ takes a particular stance and label. It is motivated by fear that certain writing will offend some people.

To me, politics means growing awareness of how humans experience and construct cyclical systems of oppression. Why are some stories boring to us and others amazing? For example, in a western mainstream imagination of books, main characters living in a country we know little about can be boring or not relatable unless it caters to a sense of exoticness that satisfies the way we imagine alien life to be. Indian diasporic writing was limited to only first-generation struggles for a long time. In contrast, stories set in India were limited to exotic ideas of clothing and food.

Books written from a non-first-world perspective have only a few readers who praise them for their international qualities.

Most of the world has set American pop culture and markers of the ‘good life’ as the gold standard. Most of the world is familiar with American books, movies, and music, and many know more about American politics than their own countries (and in many cases, more than Americans). Globally, there is already a pre-existing bias for us to relate to the features and realities of this culture. This isn’t so much a problem; it is a loss for us to examine the world from perspectives and storytelling styles that might take more adjustment to enjoy. I believe that reading and writing things that might seem unfamiliar to us can broaden the way we understand humanity.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

who published what, and what gets published

PG’s first reaction to this portion of the OP was something like this: “How quaint. The Author trapped in the Twentieth Century.”

PG has mentioned before that he virtually never pays attention to who the publisher is when choosing a book to read. Harper Collins or Uncle Rufus Press makes no difference to PG.

This habit/fault/folly may be related to his absence of interest concerning who wrote a review of a book for a publication. A New York Times book review holds no special meaning to him because it’s been centuries since PG bothered to read The New York Times.

He suspects these personal practices originated from PG’s early adoption of the internet. He was the first lawyer he knew to start using the internet. Because of that, without any intention of doing so, he became an “expert” on using the internet in a law office.

As the one-eyed man in a profession where nobody bothered to learn to use a typewriter, PG became an expert on computers in law offices. Groups of lawyers who get together, swap stories and occasionally learn something about the law, AKA Bar Associations, asked him to come and show them how to use a computer in a law office.

PG was the first lawyer he knew to access the internet. (There were undoubtedly other lawyers who preceded PG, but he has never, to his knowledge, spoken with them.) He remembers utilizing software to sign onto the internet, suck up a lot of information, then automatically sign off to keep long-distance charges lower than they would be if he actually read information on his screen while online.

As long-time visitors to TPV will know, PG was an early unpaid proponent of self-publishing through Amazon when a lot of people didn’t know who or what Amazon was. Later, over the course of several years, PG represented traditionally-published authors who wanted to break out of their contracts with major publishers so they could self-publish. PG’s name was mud in more than one high-rise New York City office.

PG has spent too long explaining the complicated background of why he doesn’t care who published something and what “gets published.”

Happy Birthday, Well-Tempered Clavier

Not about books, but certainly about creative genius. Plus, an incalculable number of books have been written and read with Bach playing quietly in the background.


This year marks the 300th anniversary of J. S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, the most audacious and influential volume of music ever written for keyboard. Even if you’re not a diehard baroque fan, you’ve no doubt heard selections from The Well-Tempered Clavier in the background of your life—in movies scores, at Starbucks, and choppy iterations through the wall as the neighbor kid practices her piano lesson. You’ve also heard it remixed by other composers. The famous “Ave Maria,” a meditation on The Well-Tempered Clavier’s opening piece, the Prelude in C Major, was penned by French composer Charles Gounod a hundred years after Bach’s death. The theme was repurposed yet again by Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin in the 1992 album Hush. Or maybe­­ you’ve heard the opening of Lady Gaga’s 2009 hit “Bad Romance,” which quotes the final piece in the book, the Fugue in B minor.

The Well-Tempered Clavier is a set of preludes and fugues, that is, forty-eight short pieces in all twenty-four keys, major and minor. Although these pieces are regularly performed in professional settings, Bach originally presented his collection as a pedagogical work for advanced students, “for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study,” as he wrote on the title page for Book One, which he completed in 1722. Twenty years later, he wrote a second complete set of preludes and fugues in all keys, Book Two. Both volumes were hand-written, hand-copied, and widely circulated during Bach’s lifetime, but they weren’t published in printed form until fifty years after his death.

What’s so “well-tempered” about this clavier? And, what’s a “clavier,” in the first place? Is it a sort of old-fashioned piano on Prozac? If you’ve been wondering, you’re in good company. For more than a century, early music specialists have been sparring over these very questions. The second is easier to answer than the first: Over the years, partisans for various ancient keyboard instruments have tried to claim The Well-Tempered Clavier for themselves, including the Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni, who misnamed the collection “’Das Wohltemperierte Clavichord,” and the famous twentieth-century Polish harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, who insisted the pieces were meant for her instrument, only. There’s now consensus that when Bach wrote “Das Wohltemperirte Clavier,” he meant “clavier” to signify any musical keyboard—harpsichord, clavichord, organ. He did not mean the modern piano as we know it, the very instrument upon which The Well-Tempered Clavier is played most often now, because modern pianos had yet to evolve. (More on that later.)

As for what Bach meant by “well-tempered”— a clue is in the structure of the volume. To modern sensibilities, a systematic book for aspiring keyboard students seems like a sensible pedagogical project sprung from an orderly mind: start in C major with prelude and fugue. Next, a prelude and fugue in the parallel key, C minor. Then C# major and minor, then D and so forth, all the way through B minor. As they work their way through the book, students practice all the key signatures sequentially. Indeed, that’s how the book functions today for contemporary concert pianists and students of piano. But the simplicity of the concept belies the audacity of its origin. While completely playable on modern pianos, The Well-Tempered Clavier would have been impossible to perform on keyboards of Bach’s time—not without a radical new approach to tuning the very instruments it was written for.

To understand why the manuscript was so revolutionary back in 1722, and why 300 years later it continues to foment controversy among baroque music aficionados, we need to keep in mind that the baroque keyboards were tuned differently than today’s pianos. If you fancy a deep dive into the physics of music, check out the links below; you will not be disappointed. For the rest of us, in simple terms, the drama comes down to an unsolvable problem of math. Imagine the twelve tones of a true chromatic scale as clock, or maybe an oozy pizza, in which twelve slices almost, but don’t quite fit.

Link to the rest at JSTOR

18 Cringeworthy Books By Celebrities Who Should Keep Their Day Jobs

From The Huffington Post:

For any struggling author who can’t get a book deal, there’s something particularly galling about self-admitted semi-literate celebrities scoring huge advances for ghostwritten novels and memoirs. Sure, some turn out to be good; others, while not particularly literary, at least offer a compelling glimpse into the mind and life of a popular personality.

Often, however, even the celebs themselves seem aware of their shortcomings. Many of them reportedly kept their works under wraps until numerous friends and associates urged them to publish (I’m sure an entirely unbiased wave of support for artistic genius). Macaulay Culkin published a memoir/poetry/comic book hodgepodge for which he makes repeated apologies in the introduction, saying, “I am not a writer. I couldn’t possibly be a writer”; “Writing could not be my calling after the mess I’ve made of all this”; “I’m no writer. This is not my calling.”

. . . .

In celebration of highly questionable celebrity books, and their courage in publishing them, here are 18 of the most side-eyeable books authored by the famous, including an eminently painful passage from each:

Rebels: City of Indra by Kylie and Kendall Jenner

Kylie and Kendall totally wrote this sci-fi book. (Let’s just say they did, because otherwise their poor ghostwriter will be saddled with the blame for this dud.) A tale of haves and have-nots, it’s a dystopia set in a bifurcated society — half a shining city above, the other half a desolate underworld. Maybe not the young Jenners’ savviest move to draw attention to a world in which some are undeservedly given far more than others.

Holy Cow by David Duchovny

Duchovny studied English at Princeton and Yale before he was ever on “The X-Files,” so his debut novel didn’t lack for ambition and complexity. Still, a convoluted parable of talking farm animals, industrial meat farming and Israeli-Palestinian politics might not have been the best idea.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Pen America Rejects Calls to Cancel New Book by Justice Amy Coney Barrett

From Pen America:

PEN America issued the following statement in response to calls for Penguin Random House to cancel a book by Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett:

“PEN America rejects calls for the cancellation of a planned book by Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett. We have serious concerns regarding the increasingly ideological orientation of the Supreme Court and the risk it poses to the rule of law and the sanctity of the American legal system, bedrocks that underpin the protection of free expression and human rights. But if editors have concluded that a book by Coney Barrett— who is by definition a highly influential figure as a justice of the nation’s highest court—is of value to audiences, that decision should not be overturned at the behest of protesters who reject Coney Barrett’s views. It is the role of major publishers to make available a wide array of ideas and perspectives. In so doing, they afford readers, critics, historians, and journalists insight that can help elucidate truths, expose falsehoods, and deepen our understanding of consequential individuals and events. The decision to publish a book should not be construed as an endorsement of the views of the author or subject. Editors should play a role in raising tough questions in preparing a book for publication to ensure that work serves the public interest in terms of thoroughness and veracity.”

Link to the rest at Pen America

PG says for once, cancel culture gets slapped across the wrist. It’s nice to see some adults in the room for a change.

Mrs. PG

Mrs. PG came home from the hospital today.

It was a pre-scheduled spinal surgery and all went well. If the results are as anticipated, she will have a lot less back pain than she has experienced during the last several years.

A longtime friend brought over a lovely dinner this evening, which was good for everyone’s morale.

There are some post-op treatments for which PG will be her driver and personal assistant, but he thinks he’ll have time for the odd blog post while Mrs. PG naps.

He will mention that she’s anxious to get back to work on her next murder mystery. She calculates that the first draft is about 30% complete and she will keep PG occupied with some plotting sessions even if she’s not able to go out to lunch for a few days.

She is definitely a fully-committed author.

Mind the Gap

PG apologizes for the break in posting yesterday without explanation.

Mrs. PG was preparing for a surgical procedure on her spine this morning and PG was preoccupied with providing assistance to her to complete various preparatory tasks.

She underwent surgery early this morning and the surgeon told PG that everything went very well and according to plan. She will be spending tonight in the hospital and, if everything continues to progress as intended, will be coming back to Casa PG tomorrow.

As might be expected of an anxious husband, PG was a bit preoccupied yesterday and early this morning. He apologizes for the unworn gap in posting.

Writing Horror vs. Writing Terror

From Writers in the Storm:

By Eldred Bird

If you’re like me, trying to figure out what genre you’re writing can be a bit of a mystery (no pun intended). I often hear the terms terror and horror used interchangeably. While both are close relatives and seek to create emotional responses, they are in fact quite different.

Terror is a feeling of intense fear or dread, whereas Horror is defined as an overwhelming feeling caused by a scary, shocking, or revolting event. To truly understand the differences, let’s take a closer look at how the two are related and what sets them apart.


Terror is all about emotions like fear and dread. It’s an intellectual thing. It deals with what’s going on inside the character’s head as they anticipate what may be coming as they move deeper into a dangerous situation.

I like to think of it in terms of the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. As your character approaches a potentially haunted house, they don’t know what they’re going to find when they open the door. Do evil spirits await them, or just dust and cobwebs? Is the scratching sound coming from upstairs a monster lurking in the attic, or a windblown branch scraping against a window. It’s all about building that heightened emotional state.

Some of the best examples come from Edgar Allen Poe. While stories like The Tell Tale Heart are often referred to as great works of horror, terror is the engine that drives them. The anticipation of the narrator’s heinous act, followed by the constant beating of the heart inside his head, drives the pace until the anxiety level reaches a breaking point.


If terror is an intellectual concept, then horror is the opposite. It’s about the gut reaction. It’s the no-thinking, fight-or-flight response. If terror is the anticipation of what’s behind the door, horror is opening it and seeing the monster on the other side, be it human or otherwise.

When I think horror, the first authors that pop into my head are people like Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, and Anne Rice. The blood, gore, and evil beings are placed front and center for all the world to see. While there are elements of terror as well, the overwhelming emotional driver is the visceral reaction the reader gets from what they see, rather than what they don’t see.

Blurred Lines

The truth is the line between horror and terror is a bit fuzzy.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

What You Should Know About Writing a Co-Authored Book

From Jane Friedman:

When people hear about my feminist, humor book, Jokes to Offend Men, first they ask: Do you actually hate men? (The answer of course is no, only on Thursdays).

And then they say: Wait there’s four authors? How does that work? A four-person book is an outlier, but what’s even stranger to me is that I am one of those authors.

Prior to writing this book I had none of the qualities it requires to write collaboratively. In fact I rejected the premise. But now, two plus years after I started, I am a convert. If you are also a type-A, control seeker that’s been scarred by having to work on group projects in school, I see you. I am you. But done right, group writing has some surprising benefits I hope you’ll consider.

When it comes to writing, I have always been wary of sharing the spotlight. In college, I took comedy writing classes in male-dominated spaces where I had to fight to have my voice heard. And on those rare occasions when I finally got people to listen to what I had to say, I held on for dear life.

I internalized those experiences throughout my twenties. I was always deeply protective of my writing and highly suspicious of anyone who was trying to “change my words.” I took all feedback extremely personally and didn’t know how to accept it without compromising my vision.

When people critiqued my work, all I heard in my warped brain was: You are not cut out to be a writer and you should give up now. What I didn’t realize until years later, was that (1) writers are not judged on the quality of their first draft, and (2) my self-preservation method was holding me back.

If you want to write collaboratively, you can’t be afraid to show the ugly stuff.

In my thirties, everything changed. I managed to get a few clips under my belt, writing humorous personal essays about my holy trifecta: 1990s pop culture, teen angst, and the suburbs. I also started writing satire for sites like McSweeney’s. This boosted my confidence and then, critically, I joined an online community of writers who I grew to respect and trust. Eventually that led me to achieve the very thing I was terrified of in my twenties: Being vulnerable.

We swapped pieces and gave each other feedback and for the first time I had some measure of what other people’s early drafts looked like. I was relieved and genuinely shocked to find out other people worked through multiple revisions. With the assurance that I would not be laughed out of the group, I began to solicit feedback, and then I watched as my writing *miraculously* became so much better.

You have to trust each other.

Over time, I developed a rapport with a few particular writers who both shared my sensibilities and were incredible editors. Then, a few years after I joined the group, the stars aligned. I finally had an idea and had the people who could help me write it.

The viral McSweeney’s piece, which served as the inspiration for Jokes to Offend Men, started out as a single joke. I knew it had potential, but on my own I had no clue where to go with it.

For 25-year-old Ali, the story would have ended there. I would have abandoned the idea, too afraid to show anyone my half-baked thinking and the judgment I was sure would follow. But 35-year-old Ali was learning to trust the people around her.

I emailed the other writers the joke: “A man walks into a bar. It’s a low one, so he gets a promotion within his first 6 months on the job.”

And then I asked, “Is this anything?,” knowing that at worst they too wouldn’t know what to do with it, but at best, it might inspire them and together we could make it “a thing.”

Through some mix of right time, right place, right painful lived experiences, the four of us were able to co-write and publish Jokes I’ve Told That My Male Colleagues Didn’t Like in a whirlwind 24 hours.

. . . .

Writing collaboratively means taking the time to hear each other out, consider other perspectives, allow someone to talk through their idea even if it’s not fully there. While our book is funny, we’re pulling from heavy source material re: sexual harassment, reproductive rights, the gender equity gap. I had to learn to give my co-writers the space to express what was important to them and what was frustrating them.

There were many times throughout the process of writing our book where I so desperately wanted to skip ahead to the pretty, finished end. I am nothing if not a conflict avoidant child of divorce and I hate the murky middle of things. But that is life and as it turns out, it was those lively discussions where we hashed it out and dissected the validity of every single joke, that made the material stronger.

You have to be committed to the idea and each other.

Another rule that applies to all authors: you better love your idea because you’re going to be spending a long time with it. But the particular nuance of co-writing comes from the commitment to each other. I think one of the scariest parts of writing on a team is that you are relying on others to get the job done. You have to be accountable to yourselves, and I’m talking about even before you sign any contracts holding you legally responsible.

Our original piece was published in February 2020 and shortly after we began meeting virtually on a weekly basis to write and talk. We were buoyed by the success of our one piece, but we knew writing a book-length volume of jokes was a totally different beast. It was awkward at first. We had to find our rhythm, not just in the writing, but as partners.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Yes, PG is a man. PG is also an attorney to boot.

With two strikes against him in the eyes of some, he will comment.

Perhaps the author of the OP didn’t think it would further the stylish flow of the OP to mention anything about an agreement between the authors. Perhaps the author thought it would be obvious to the reader that the four intelligent women who likely wrote or reviewed the OP would have such an agreement. Perhaps PG missed the mention of an agreement when he skimmed through the OP.

(Note, PG skims through a great many items he posts on TPV. He does have a life away from the blog and would like to keep it that way. To further clarify, he mostly doesn’t notice the author’s name(s) or gender(s) until he’s done with the post and it’s not unusual for PG not to notice an author’s gender at all on or off TPV. For example, he didn’t know George Sand or George Eliot were female until he was mostly done with college and didn’t realize that Isak Dinesen was female until he watched the movie version of Out of Africa and, even then, he first thought Isak was a male name used in one or more Scandinavian countries.)

Back to PG’s attorney thing: Regardless of the gender or genders of the authors of a multi-author creative work, it’s a good idea to have an agreement about how the distribution of money is decided, how disputes between one or more authors are resolved, hopefully without litigation, who’s on the copyright and who isn’t and whether anything is different about how subsidiary rights to the joint creation are handled.

Dispute resolution is, to PG’s way of thinking, the most important element, especially when one considers that the copyright to the work will continue for many years after the four authors are all dead. Perhaps the book will be a bright star that flames out in a couple of years, but one of the things attorneys think about is future events that have a small probability of occurring, but could have significant financial or personal consequences for the parties and their heirs should they occur. Collections of legal case opinions are rife with this sort of thing.

PG thinks he may have previously mentioned a case on TPV with which he was involved during ancient times where 13 attorneys were representing different groups of heirs and would-be heirs of a wealthy woman who had a will drawn by a competent attorney. The woman then crossed out some parts of it and added other parts, all in pencil. Then, as we all must, she died.

If his recollection is correct the deceased woman was named Lodima Long.

(PG just checked on Google and it didn’t show anyone named Lodima Long. Under under US law, as a general proposition, you can’t defame the dead, so go ahead and defame Millard Fillmore to your heart’s content.)

In PG’s recollection, Lodima Long’s estate litigation had continued for over thirteen years with the executor having deposited all the money into a bank savings account before PG strode into the fray. His clients, who were named in the will, mostly wanted to get the whole thing finished and done with.

PG asked for a trial, a bunch of local judges disqualified themselves from hearing the case because they knew what a mess it was. A visiting judge from a distant place was appointed to hear the case and set a trial date. We tried the case over a couple of days. So far, so good.

Then the jury came back, having failed to agree on a verdict but did unanimously agree that the parties should settle the matter on their own and not bother any more jurors with it.

The judge ordered all the attorneys and their clients to return a week or two later. At the appointed hour, the judge gathered all the attorneys without their clients and effectively ordered them to come to a settlement.

It took 4-5 hours with some breaks during which the attorneys asked the judge how he was likely to rule on this or that. He would give us his non-final thoughts on the question and send us back for more negotiations, exhorting us to settle the (bleep) case. The judge didn’t allow the attorneys to break for lunch to encourage them to move it along.

In the end, all the attorneys and their clients agreed on how the proceeds were to be divided and who would draft a decision and opinion for the judge to sign. The judge went home and signed the decision a couple of weeks later. After a wait to make certain nobody would appeal the judge’s decision, the executor of Lodima’s will sent out checks to everyone.

PG notes that this is an example from a day, place and age that doesn’t exist anymore (well the town is still there, but it’s changed a lot, the judge, many of the attorneys and clients are dead and the law has likely changed as well).

He recounts this experience as a cautionary tale about how things can sometimes go sideways and the absence of a competently drafted document signed by the collaborators (which hasn’t been amended with a pencil) can cause a huge amount of trouble.

A contract is always cheaper than a lawsuit.

So, PG advises co-authors to have a written contract prepared by competent counsel.

This contract will set out the terms of their agreement to cooperate with each other in a joint project involving the creation of a book, article or other work that may be published or self-published and is expected to generate a financial return. It will clearly state what happens to the money and how decisions are made.

To avoid the backlog that often plagues trial courts in the United States, it will include a competently-drafted arbitration clause which will govern any disputes between the parties. PG will resist going into detail about arbitration and arbiters, but it’s generally a better way and virtually always a much faster way of resolving business disputes than the civil court system.

For one thing, most judges have never had dealings with publishing disputes. You are likely to be able to locate an experienced literary attorney to act as an arbiter (for a fee) and you won’t have to educate the arbiter about publishing law.

You can find knowledgeable arbitrators in a variety of different ways. The American Arbitration Association is designated to choose an arbitrator and set the arbitration rules in the large majority of business contracts PG has viewed that include arbitration provisions.

The AAA website even provides a variety of arbitration clauses you can cut and paste into your contract. Here’s an example:

Any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this contract, or the breach thereof, shall be settled by arbitration administered by the American Arbitration Association in accordance with its Commercial [or other] Arbitration Rules, and judgment on the award rendered by the arbitrator(s) may be entered in any court having jurisdiction thereof.

Since PG stopped practicing law a few months ago, none of what he’s written here is legal advice, just an old guy opining.