I Buy Books Without Reading Them

From BookRiot:

I couldn’t help myself. I had to get the new George Saunders book. There’s no way I would let Lincoln in the Bardo slip past me. Simultaneously, it was important to note a recent collection of short stories by Clare Beams (We Show What We Have Learned and Other Stories) that Joyce Carol Oates really approved of. “Literary, historic and fantastic collide”? Yes. Or how about Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. A Murakami memoir? I’m there. The book arrived in the mail and I had forgotten that I had ordered it. This is Out-of-Season Adult Christmas.

I know that right now we are drenched in a downtime of book buying. As summer sales slowly advance toward us and the holiday purchases recede farther away, we will follow the patterns that publishers expect. But, this is also the season during which I need to catch up. As I purchase new books, there is this faint voice calling to me from the back of my mind: “You may never read these. You didn’t get to the last ones your ordered. You will never read these.”

. . . .

As I purchase new books, there is this faint voice calling to me from the back of my mind: “You may never read these. You didn’t get to the last ones your ordered. You will never read these.”

I’m worried that the voice is right. I don’t want to be what the Telegraph noted as someone who buys a book to show their personality rather than to actually read. That’s the worst. I don’t want to fulfill that Japanese word, Tsundoku— the act of purchasing books and then letting them collect without reading them. I REALLY don’t want to be the person who says, “I’m collecting books to read when I retire.”

Link to the rest at BookRiot and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Claddagh

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

 Claddagh, n.

. . . .

A symbol consisting of two hands holding a crowned heart, which represents friendship, love, and loyalty. Chiefly attrib.: designating jewellery bearing this symbol.

Claddagh ring n. a ring given traditionally in Ireland as a token of love, freq. worn (with the symbol pointing inwards) to indicate that the wearer is married or engaged.

. . . .

1922 J. Joyce Ulysses iii. xviii. [Penelope] 713 He gave me that clumsy Claddagh ring for luck.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

The Lost Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald

PG says this has been a big week for Fitzgerald and The New Yorker.

From The New Yorker:

I was invited to edit a collection of fifteen stories by the Trustees of the Fitzgerald Estate. There weren’t enough unpublished stories to constitute a collection until very recently. Fitzgerald scholars had known of the existence of some of these stories, like “Thank You for the Light,” for decades, but others were rediscovered by Fitzgerald’s family only a few years ago. To these fifteen, I added three more that I uncovered as I worked on the edition, including a fragment that allows an intimate look at Fitzgerald’s creative process.

“The I.O.U.” was written in 1920, when Fitzgerald was twenty-three. He’d just published “This Side of Paradise,” which was a huge success, but had he written many short stories?

He had. Fitzgerald is the best source for anyone writing about his professional life. He kept a ledger of everything he published from 1919 until 1938. You can page through this ledger online, thanks to the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of South Carolina Library; they have digitized it. Fitzgerald’s “Record of Published Fiction” lists dates and places of publication, what he was paid for stories, and whether or not he mined the stories later for use in his novels. (If he did, he often noted that such a story had been “Stripped and Permanently Buried.”) The songs he wrote for Triangle Club plays at Princeton from 1914 to 1917 were printed and sold by the John Church Company, but Fitzgerald’s first commercial sale of a short story was “Babes in the Woods,” sold to The Smart Set in 1919. The Smart Set was a major literary magazine, edited by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, both of whom continued to be champions of Fitzgerald’s writing; and surely Fitzgerald knew that they had published an idol of his, James Joyce, in 1915. While he was struggling to make a living in advertising in New York the year before, Fitzgerald had received his much-mentioned one hundred and twenty-two rejection slips for stories. But when “Babes in the Woods” ran, in the fall of 1919, he had arrived. The Smart Set and the Saturday Evening Post began buying his stories—“Head and Shoulders” and “Benediction” were two more he finished that fall—as fast as he could write them. By the summer of 1920, when he wrote “The I.O.U.,” he was a celebrity.

“The I.O.U.” is a kind of spoof on the cravenness of the publishing industry. Was Fitzgerald writing from personal experience?

Remember those hundred and twenty-two rejection slips! Fitzgerald’s initial experiences with the publishing industry were not sanguine. However, he had a friend in the Irish writer and Scribner author Shane Leslie. Leslie had met him when Fitzgerald was a student at the Newman School, a Catholic prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey. He read Fitzgerald’s poetry, and when Fitzgerald was in officer-training camp in 1918 he sent Leslie drafts of the novel he was working on, which would become “This Side of Paradise.” From Fort Leavenworth, Fitzgerald wrote to Leslie, “Think of a romantic egoist writing about himself in a cold barracks on Sunday afternoons . . . that is the way this novel has been scattered into shape—for it has no form to speak of.” Leslie showed a final draft to Charles Scribner II, who rejected it and sent it back to Fitzgerald to be rewritten. Scribner’s legendary editor Maxwell Perkins accepted “This Side of Paradise” after that revision—and became one of Fitzgerald’s best and most trusted friends for the rest of his life.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

They Could Be Heroes

From The New Republic:

Imagine a conversation stitched together across time. On one side of the table, it’s 1993 and David Foster Wallace is hunched, do-ragged, gesticulating: “I probably didn’t watch quite as much TV as my friends, but I still got my daily megadose, believe me. And I think it’s impossible to spend that many slack-jawed, spittle-chinned, formative hours in front of commercial art without internalizing the idea that one of the main goals of art is simply to entertain, give people sheer pleasure. Except to what end, this pleasure-giving?”

Across from him is Michael Chabon in 2005, natty, boyish, and smiling: “I read for entertainment, and I write to entertain. Period. Oh, I could decoct a brew of other, more impressive motivations and explanations.… But in the end—here’s my point—it would still all boil down to entertainment, and its suave henchman, pleasure.”

In both these proclamations, Chabon and Wallace were confronting the state of art in a period when commercial entertainment enjoyed unparalleled dominance over American culture. Through the 1990s, cable television exploded, with subscriptions hitting their peak at the millennium. Oprah Winfrey’s book club, launched in 1996, wielded the power to boost the sales of a book by a factor of 40. There was more television than ever, and television helped choose the stories Americans would read. In the economic prosperity and relative calm of the Nineties, pop culture felt like not just a pleasant accompaniment to reality, but like reality itself.

. . . .

By the end of the decade, Chabon’s view had mostly won out. Consider the breakout titles of 1999 and 2000: a reality television–inspired memoir (Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), a Chandleresque noir story (Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn), a tongue-in-cheek riff on Philip K. Dick and Samuel R. Delany (Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist), a collection of Westworld-like short stories (George Saunders’s Pastoralia), and a novel that wanted to be a comic book (Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay). Galvanized by the enthusiasms of their youth, these five writers ushered in a literary aesthetic that was loose and unwieldy, gleefully looting popular genres and mixing the highbrow with the low. To be the proverbial writer on whom nothing is lost, one suddenly needed to be knowledgeable about horror movies, Robert A. Heinlein, and the differences between DC and Marvel comics.

. . . .

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the Nineties writers’ aesthetic was their sincerity, their openheartedness. Whereas today’s cult authors, like Ben Lerner or Sheila Heti, are inward-turned and intellectual, Dave Eggers believed that books and journals should create welcoming, affable communities.

. . . .

It’s no small thing to tell a familiar story well, and it’s no small thing to make the familiar entertaining and exciting again. Today’s crop of leading novelists looked to fiction for a miraculous escape from the boredom and disillusion of everyday existence, and their success in part reflects the fact that readers share their sentiment. Most of the escapists have stayed faithful to their pledge to provide enjoyment even as they’ve grown better, in middle age, at facing tragedy and loss. The best of the books achieve an emotional immediacy that makes up for the fact that they almost never take place in the present, and they rarely present a particularly demanding or critical view of the past.

Link to the rest at New Republic

To PG, this feels like something written by New York and for New York. Or perhaps by Manhattan and for Manhattan.

‘Homo Deus’ Author Yuval Noah Harari Says Authority Shifting from People to AI

Not exactly about the writing business, but certainly about a couple of interesting, albeit overpriced, books.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” became a best-selling book after it was first published in 2011. He argued that people dominate life on earth because they are the only animals that can cooperate in very large groups. Such mass cooperation only became possible, he says, with the emergence of myth, in which many people believe in the same thing, regardless of whether it is a religion, a nation or an economic system or corporation.

His latest work, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,” published in 2017, dwells on what he believes to be the next stage of human development. Having learned to manage famine and war, he says people need a new challenge. He foresees an era in which authority shifts from humans and their myths to data and algorithms. In the foreseeable future, he argues, algorithms well may become so powerful that we will be able to program people just as we program computers, creating a superhuman species, “Homo Deus.” People might use this power to use in any number of ways, he argues. He says he wrote “Homo Deus” to spark a productive conversation about those choices.

. . . .

How much of the disorder that you see stems from technology?

For example if millions of people, especially in developing countries, lose their low-skill jobs in areas like the textile industry, because of the rise of new technologies, then we will see much more impact on political developments and also more and more influence on the ways the conflicts actually are managed.

. . . .

I imagine AI makes it easier for a smaller entity with few people to exert control and that masses of people become obsolete in a way? Does this prefigure where the rest of us are headed?

Yes. For all the talk of job loss and the impact of technology, one of the best places to look today is the military. It is a few steps ahead of the civilian economy. And what people are predicting for the civilian economy in 30 years is actually happening in the armed forces today. The armies rely on small numbers of highly professional super warriors and on sophisticated and autonomous technologies. I am not saying the civilian economy will happen in exactly the same way, but it is good testing ground for what might happen in the civilian economy.

You think people and technology will merge in a way, create literally or figuratively a new species, and that this new species, Homo Deus, is superhuman. We won’t all have super human powers but some of us will and the rest of us may become less and les relevant?

The basic insight is that nothing is deterministic. Technology is going to evolve. But the social and political outcomes are not deterministic. Just as in the 20th Century you could use electricity to build a communist dictatorship or a democracy, so in the 21st Century we have choices.

…Now one of the most important questions in the world, is who owns the data of humankind. Maybe the most important asset in the 21st Century is not land, and it’s not money, it’s really data. This is the basis for everything. And we are now accumulating the data to decipher humanity, and to change humanity, data about human behavior and even more importantly the human body.

When it comes to questions of mind, we are far less certain. Our understanding of mind is very limited and very poor.

AI will outperform humans in more and more tasks. This I think is almost a certainty. And it will not take a long time. When it comes to questions of mind, there we are far less certain where we are heading because our understanding of mind is very limited and very poor. One school of thought says that essentially minds work on the basis of electrochemical reactions in the brain, and that if we accumulate enough data on the brain, and enough computing power, we can hack humans in the same way as we hack computers. And once this happens you can start creating direct brain-computer interfaces and once you do that, you can connect several brains together into an inter-brain net, so I can access your memories … Now, personally I am skeptical about this particular idea because I think we are far from understanding the mind. But I know there are a lot of very serious people in places like Silicon Valley that think this can happen in 20, 40, 60 years. They even talk about uploading human minds into computers and so forth. As a historian, I say okay. I am just reporting that there are people who think this. But they are very serious people and they have billions of dollars invested in this.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Imperfect Romance with The New Yorker

From The New Yorker:

There’s a doomed, romantic quality to the relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and The New Yorker; they were perfect for each other but never quite got together. By the time The New Yorker’s first issue hit newsstands, in February, 1925, Fitzgerald—who had published “This Side of Paradise” in 1920, and “The Beautiful and the Damned” in 1922—was a little too famous to appear often in its upstart pages. (Collier’s and The Smart Set were more appealing.)

. . . .

Like Fitzgerald, the magazine was determined to capture the fretful, sad-sack glamour of the nineteen-twenties; it also wrote about the rich young men who drove their naiadic girlfriends to speakeasies in long, low cars. The New Yorker wasn’t sure whether to treat Fitzgerald as a creation of the period or a chronicler of it. (He was, of course, both.)

. . . .

Fitzgerald died in 1940, at the age of forty-four. Five years later, the New Yorker book critic Edmund Wilson published “The Crack-Up,” a collection of Fitzgerald’s nonfiction, which created renewed interest in the novelist’s work.

. . . .

On Monday, we’ll be publishing a long lost and darkly hilarious short story by Fitzgerald, “The I.O.U.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to Lucy for the tip.

Hemingway revealed as failed KGB spy

From The Guardian:

Up till now, this has been a notably cheerful year for admirers of Ernest Hemingway – a surprisingly diverse set of people who range from Michael Palin to Elmore Leonard. Almost every month has brought good news: a planned Hemingway biopic; a new, improved version of his memoir, A Moveable Feast; the opening of a digital archive of papers found in his Cuban home; progress on a movie of Islands in the Stream.

Last week, however, saw the publication of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press), which reveals the Nobel prize-winning novelist was for a while on the KGB’s list of its agents in America. Co-written by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, the book is based on notes that Vassiliev, a former KGB officer, made when he was given access in the 90s to Stalin-era intelligence archives in Moscow.

Its section on the author’s secret life as a “dilettante spy” draws on his KGB file in saying he was recruited in 1941 before making a trip to China, given the cover name “Argo”, and “repeatedly expressed his desire and willingness to help us” when he met Soviet agents in Havana and London in the 40s. However, he failed to “give us any political information” and was never “verified in practical work”, so contacts with Argo had ceased by the end of the decade. Was he only ever a pseudo-spook, possibly seeing his clandestine dealings as potential literary material, or a genuine but hopelessly ineffective one?

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Lucy for the tip.

It’s National Proofreading Day! Here are 4 typos that changed history

From WQAD:

March 8th is National Proofreading Day! In 2011, Judy Beaver created the day in remembrance of her mom, who she says loved to correct people. She created the day on her mom’s birthday, as a fun way to remember her and help people take more time to proofread their work!

In the spirit of “Proofreading Day,” we thought it would be fun to take a look at what the world would be like if we didn’t proofread. With a little help from “Business Insider,” here are four typos that would’ve made the things we know and love… a lot different:

1. “Googol.com” was almost a thing!

In 1997, Larry Page and Sean Anderson were brainstorming names for a website with some fellow graduate students at Stanford University. Anderson threw out the term “googolplex,” which was later shortened to “googol.” But when he went to check the availability of the domain name, he mistakenly typed “google.” Fortunately, he liked his typo, and the rest is history! “Google.com” was born.

Link to the rest at WQAD and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Snap Makes a Bet on the Cultural Supremacy of the Camera

From The New York Times:

If you’re watching Snap’s stock ticker, stop. The company that makes Snapchat, the popular photo-messaging app, has been having a volatile few days after its rocket-fueled initial public offering last week.

But Snap’s success or failure isn’t going to be determined this week or even this year. This is a company that’s betting on a long-term trend: the rise and eventual global dominance of visual culture.

Snap calls itself a camera company. That’s a bit cute, considering that it only just released an actual camera, the Spectacles sunglasses, late last year. Snap will probably build other kinds of cameras, including potentially a drone.

But it’s best to take Snap’s camera company claim seriously, not literally. Snap does not necessarily mean that its primary business will be selling a bunch of camera hardware. It’s not going to turn into Nikon, Polaroid or GoPro. Instead it’s hit on something deeper and more important. Through both its hardware and software, Snap wants to enable the cultural supremacy of the camera, to make it at least as important to our daily lives as the keyboard.

. . . .

Since even before the invention of the printing press, text has been the central way that humans communicate over long distances and across time. Computers only entrenched the primacy of text. The rise of desktop publishing in the 1980s turned all of us into composers of beautiful, printed documents.

. . . .

The growing importance of cameras — of images rather than just text — is altering much about culture. It’s transforming many people’s personal relationships. It’s changing the kind of art and entertainment we produce.

. . . .

Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist who is writing a book about how the internet is changing language, said Snapchat lenses and filters were a form of what linguists call “phatic communication,” which is communication that is meant to ease social interactions instead of to convey information. (For example, saying “hello” and “you’re welcome.”)

“That’s the purpose of the face filters or the geofilters in Snapchat — they provide a fun way to communicate these same kinds of phatic messages with pictures,” Ms. McCulloch said.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

And for those who, like PG, didn’t know what phatic communication is, here’s a link.

Bookstore Turns Books By Men Backward To Put Women Authors At The Forefront

From The Huffington Post:

Forget a year of reading women: What about straight-up hiding men’s words from view?
OK, that’s not exactly what Cleveland’s Loganberry Books has done to celebrate Women’s History Month, but it’s close. For two weeks in March, the store has flipped male-authored books around, filing them spine-in on their bookshelves to hide their titles from view.

The experiment, called “Illustrating the Gender Gap in Fiction,” kicked off on March 1, when the store hosted “a live performance art project where we will shelve the works by men in our LitArts room backwards.”

”I was truly shocked by the effects of this exercise, and it does make me curious about other genres in the store,” owner Harriett Logan told The Huffington Post via email. “I have been ― or thought I have been ― a conscientious book buyer and a supporter of women’s works. It’s hard to tell that from the shelves.”

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Felix, who says, “That should really help sales, right?”, for the tip.

PG notes J.K. Rowling’s sales when she wrote as Robert Galbraith. He also has personal knowledge of a number of men who write romances under female pen names to avoid being ignored by female acquiring editors at major publishers.

Finally, KDP’s computers don’t care about your gender.

Peter Steiner’s cartoon, as published in The New Yorker. Cartoon obtained from Wikipedia.

For copyright geeks, here’s a link to Wikipedia’s discussion of the fair use of this copyrighted cartoon.

The Cloistered Books of Peru

From The American Scholar:

In our digital age of e-readers and same-day delivery, it’s worth remembering how much blood and sweat used to go into the distribution of the written word. Consider the journey of a book I’ve had the rare privilege to examine, a Catholic breviary published in 1697. A call-and-response worship device, bound with wooden boards and covered in tooled leather, it is printed in bold blacks and reds and features lush illustrations throughout. The massive tome measures 18 inches high, 12 inches wide, and six inches thick, and weighs in excess of 22 pounds. Not an easy book to carry around. Yet, not long after its publication, someone did carry it—all the way from its publishing house in Antwerp, down the thousand miles through Europe and the Iberian Peninsula to the city of Seville. There it was loaded onto a boat and transported down the River Guadalquivir to the Atlantic loading port of Sanlúcar, where, along with thousands of other books, it began a month-long journey to the Caribbean Sea. Arriving at one of the islands of the Lesser Antilles, it was offloaded and placed aboard a smaller vessel for transit through pirate-infested waters to the port of Nombre de Dios (later Portobelo), which lay on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama.

The next leg of the journey, crossing the Isthmus itself, a mere 30 miles at its narrowest point, was a cursed ordeal. The shorter of the two possible routes took only four days but wended up into the mountains and along the Isthmus’s spine on a perilously rugged and narrow path. The longer route, known as the Gorgona Trail, was safer but required two weeks of hard travel down the Atlantic coast to the Chagres River, a muddy mess harboring dangerous reptiles and malarial mosquitoes. Adding to the difficulties of either itinerary was the presence of pirates and fugitive slaves whose livelihood depended on plunder. Both routes led to the city of Panama, on the Pacific side of the Isthmus. From there, the breviary and its companion books were loaded onto galleons for the 1,400-mile voyage down the Pacific coastline to Lima—the City of Kings and, for the legions of Spaniards seeking their fortunes, the major port of arrival in South America.

Once in Lima, where they often spent some time in the collections of private owners, the books eventually made their way south some 630 miles, probably carried by mules through the mountains, to the southern city of Arequipa. Some of them may also have been shipped down the coast to the port of Islay, then hauled uphill another 70 miles by mule or oxcart to reach the city. In all, the breviary, which I could barely lug from one room to another, and whose precise route to the New World we can, of course, never truly know, traveled about 9,000 miles to reach its destination.

It resides there still, in the Convent of the Recoleta, perched high above the Chili River in Arequipa. The city was founded in 1540 by the Spanish conquistadors, though found is perhaps the better word. When the armored and sturdily mounted Spaniards first clattered onto the site, they encountered a series of riverside villages set among the Andean foothills. In due course, they created a prominent colonial center of civic buildings, churches, and mansions, all in the heavy stone architecture of Old Spain that nonetheless incorporated an exotic mix of New World décor. Carved depictions of Indian warriors and maidens mingling with cowled European saints bedeck white-stone façades and pillars throughout the city, somewhat to the confusion of modern-day tourists. The days are mostly sun-filled and, at an elevation of 8,000 feet, Arequipa—known in Peru as the White City—shimmers in the clean mountain air.

Link to the rest at The American Scholar

Reading Jane Austen’s Final, Unfinished Novel

From The New Yorker:

On  March 18, 1817, Jane Austen stopped writing a book. We know the date because she wrote it at the end of the manuscript, in her slanting hand. She had done the same at the beginning of the manuscript, on January 27th of that year. In the seven weeks in between, she had completed eleven chapters and slightly more than nine pages of a twelfth—some twenty-three thousand five hundred words. The final sentence in the manuscript runs as follows: “Poor Mr. Hollis!—It was impossible not to feel him hardly used; to be obliged to stand back in his own House and see the best place by the fire constantly occupied by Sir H. D.” This is a joke. Mr. Hollis and Sir Harry Denham are dead, and it is their respective portraits that contend for social eminence in the sitting room of Lady Denham, the woman who married and buried them both. Exactly four months after writing that line, Jane Austen died, unmarried, at the age of forty-one. Her position, unlike theirs, remains secure.

Austen was the seventh child of a country rector. The family was well connected but not wealthy. Of her six mature novels, four were published in her lifetime, and none bore her name on the title page. The one she left dangling is known as “Sanditon,” although she assigned it no title. Nor did her beloved sister Cassandra, when she copied the manuscript, long after Jane’s demise. A nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, refers to it simply as “the last Work,” in “A Memoir of Jane Austen” (1871)—still the first port of call for biographers, despite its erasure of anything that might evoke the impious, the unsavory, or the quarrelsome. “Her sweetness of temper never failed,” he writes. Never? A week after “Sanditon” came to a halt, Austen wrote, in a letter, “Pictures of perfection as you know make me sick & wicked.” That note of exasperation is worth attending to, as we approach the bicentenary of Austen’s death, this summer. The hoopla will be fervent, among the faithful, and both the life and the works will doubtless be aired afresh on our behalf. In part, however, the shape of that life is defined by its winding down, and by the book—an unsweet and unlikely one, still too little known—that sprang from her final efforts.

. . . .

Something new is afoot at the start of “Sanditon.” Austen is matchless in her openings, but none of them sound quite as eventful as this:

A gentleman and lady travelling from Tunbridge towards that part of the Sussex coast which lies between Hastings and East Bourne, being induced by business to quit the high road, and attempt a very rough lane, were overturned in toiling up its long ascent—half rock, half sand.
Overturned! Not until Chapter 12 of “Persuasion,” the last novel that Austen completed, do we come upon any such impact—Louisa Musgrove, tumbling and hitting her head. Here we are, however, greeted at once by a toil and a smash. In the manuscript, the phrase “half rock, half sand” has been added as an afterthought, and, as we read on, that geological blend—the reliably hard and secure compounded with the dangerously shifting—takes on the texture of a premonition.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

When You Bomb at the Book Club

From The Wall Street Journal:

Bronwen Fitzsimons felt a lot of pressure making her first selection for the small book club of smart and well-read Brooklyn, N.Y., women she’d been asked to join. It was last summer, so looking for something light, she selected Liane Moriarty’s best-selling “Big Little Lies.” Ms. Fitzsimons cringed a bit as she read it herself, she says, realizing the page-turner about privileged Australian mothers might not meet their literary standards. She was right.

“It was a giant flop,” says Ms. Fitzsimons, a grants manager at the Rockefeller Foundation. “Everyone just rolled their eyes and then we just moved on to brunching.”

The ideal book club experience usually involves getting together with friends each month to enjoy a glass of wine and lively conversation, while feeling satisfied that you read a book that stretched the imagination or intellect.

Even with the best of intentions, readers sometimes make unpopular selections. The result: awkward conversations and accusations of bad taste. Selecting the wrong book feels like you’ve wasted your friends’ time. Something that’s supposed to be relaxing becomes a chore for those who hate the book. In the worst-case scenario, the entire club could be in jeopardy.

. . . .

Author Gretchen Rubin is a member of four New York City-based book clubs. She suggests monthly reads for 65,000 subscribers to her online “book club.” But the selection of Sylvia Engdahl’s futuristic 1970s novel “This Star Shall Abide” for her personal children’s literature book club baffled fellow members.

“They didn’t like the writing, they didn’t like the twist,” Ms. Rubin says.

. . . .

Even long-running book clubs can run into unfortunate selections, like that made by fifth-grade teacher Libby Ester’s more than 30-year-old book club, based outside Chicago. Wanting to expand their cultural horizons, last fall they agreed to read Hungarian author Magda Szabó’s “The Door,” first published in the U.S. in the 1980s but reissued to great acclaim in 2015.

The group meets at a different member’s home every six weeks or so. That night the host had even prepared Hungarian chicken paprikash for dinner. While the food was great, Ms. Ester says, everyone but the host disliked the book. “We all felt that the [narrator] was too self-centered and the writing was sort of clunky.” Her fellow members were “thumbing through the book, tapping their fingers on the page—‘See there! She’s doing it again, talking about herself one more time.’ ” The host, meanwhile, “would just occasionally pipe in with, ‘I kind of enjoyed it.’ ”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

PG notes that all three books have quite positive reviews on Amazon.

How to Print Dyslexia Friendly Books – and Why

From The Alliance of Independent Authors:

As a young child, I learned to read and write in what seemed like the blink of an eye. The world of books unfolded, bringing knowledge and adventure.

Not all of my relatives have been so lucky. Parallel threads run through my family: each of the last three generations has included at least one writer, one engineer and one dyslexic. My grandfather, a dyslexic engineer, achieved great things in his profession but wouldn’t pick up a book for pleasure.

It’s a common story.

10% of the British population is estimated to have dyslexia, including celebrities like Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver and Keira Knightley.

. . . .

Alistair Sims, who owns the bricks-and-mortar bookstore Books On The Hill in the gracious Somerset seaside town of Clevedon, is himself dyslexic. He makes sure to stock an excellent range of books for dyslexic children and young adults, attracting customers from miles around.

It’s a source of frustration to him that mainstream publishers ignore dyslexic adults completely, choosing only to service younger age groups.

We both agreed that indie authors were uniquely placed to fill that gap.

To borrow from corporate-speak, indies are focused on solutions.

We’re not afraid to try something new, and we can get books published quickly. Within two months of meeting Alistair, he was stocking my dyslexia-friendly paperbacks in his shop.

. . . .

So what makes a paperback dyslexia-friendly? Alistair suggested I read the British Dyslexia Association Style Guide, which recommends:

  • a large sans serif font
  • wide line spacing
  • black text on a cream background

I also investigated specialised fonts, such as Dyslexie, road-testing them on dyslexic relatives. However, they found conventional sans serif fonts just as easy to read provided the text was made large enough. It seemed the special fonts didn’t perform any better than Verdana, which came out well in comparison tests by the BDA New Technologies Committee. I therefore chose 14 point Verdana with 1.5 line spacing, and, of course, cream paper.

Link to the rest at the Alliance of Independent Authors and thanks to Felix for the tip.

How P.D. James and Detective Fiction Healed My Broken Heart

From The Millions:

My beloved father died suddenly almost five years ago. As it is for everyone who loses someone they love, my family and I found ourselves devastated. Adding to the shock of our loss was the guilt-ridden fact that my mother had not been there with my father during his final days to potentially catch the signs of his rapidly declining heart — she’d been with me, helping to manage my three young children while my husband was on a business trip.

Afterwards, the balanced weights of grief and regret settled on my shoulders, refusing to let go. Breathing was difficult. Prayer left me more drained as I grappled with my anger at losing our family patriarch so early in his life, at the age of 59 and only the beginning of his grandfatherhood, and my shame at the role my own selfishness played. Mothering and remaining a partner to my husband felt like playacting, as I tried to be brave in the face of my shattered grasp on what my life now was. To state perhaps the obvious, I’d never known life without my father.

. . . .

I discovered P.D. James at my local library, her series of mysteries impressively commanding an entire shelf all for themselves. I had planned to search the library’s database, quite literally, for “Widow Stories.” Despite the fact that I was not a widow, these were the primary books that seemed available to me as I grieved. It was as I wandered the aisles looking for an open kiosk to conduct my search that I noticed James’s work. I’d never read detective fiction before — it being a genre I had often (although I’m ashamed to admit it now) maligned as kitschy or formulaic. Despite this bias, I skeptically selected The Lighthouse from the shelf of offerings, as much out of desperation as curiosity.

I’ve always been an evening reader, and this pattern was set even more strictly during the months after my father’s death. The waning hours of winter daylight were when my anxious bereavement became the most acute, but as I pored through The Lighthouse over the next several nights, Commander Adam Dalgliesh’s controlled approach to the passions of life became a beacon to me. I found comfort in his cool-headedness as he faced the greatest cruelties human connection could muster. Here was a character who clearly felt deeply, penning acclaimed poetry in his spare time, but who also managed to subvert his ardency into a more functional rationality. Dalgliesh became a model for me of how to manage the pain of life’s losses without losing myself.

. . . .

Following those observations of Dalgliesh’s in The Lighthouse, the reader sees him immediately shift back into a state of practiced analysis and get on with his job of solving the murder. It is made clear to the reader that Dalgliesh feels a great deal — he simply refuses to allow those feelings to inhibit his capacity to do his duty. If ever there was a lesson for the recently bereaved, I felt that was it: You can feel everything, but life must move forward. You are needed.

. . . .

In The Murder Room, James describes Dalgliesh’s encounter with a victim burned alive in his own car:

Through the half-closed door he could see the ulna, and a few burnt fragments of cloth adhered to a thread of muscle. All that could burn on the head had been destroyed and the fire had extended to just above the knees. The charred face, the features obliterated, was turned towards him and the whole head, black as a spent match, looked unnaturally small. The mouth gaped in a grimace, seeming to mock the head’s grotesquerie. Only the teeth, gleaming white against the charred flesh, and a small patch of cracked skull proclaimed the corpse’s humanity.

She offers no screens for the reader. This death was full of horror and malice. In all of James’s murder mysteries, the brutal facts of death are on full display for the reader.

It is this transparency, I believe, that put Dalgliesh’s emotional balance into stark relief for me. A detective who had seen the worst in humanity, and yet kept his own in the process. Towards the end of The Murder Room, the murderer safely imprisoned and justice achieved in the only way possible for the victims, Dalgliesh reflects:

He felt both sad and exhausted but the emotion was not strange to him; this was often what he felt at the end of a case. He thought of the lives which his life had so briefly touched, of the secrets he had learned, the lies and the truths, the horror and the pain. Those lives so intimately touched would go on, as would his. Walking back… he turned his mind to the weekend ahead and was filled with a precarious joy.

If Adam Dalgliesh could encounter the worst of mankind and yet still perceive joy in life, I began to believe that I could figure out a way to feel joy again without my father.

Link to the rest at The Millions

Dying author writes dating profile for husband

From the BBC:

An author dying of ovarian cancer has written a dating profile of her husband so he can find “another love story”.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal lists his best qualities and says she hopes “the right person reads this [and] finds Jason”.

“I have never been on Tinder, Bumble or eHarmony,” she writes in the New York Times.

“But I’m going to create a general profile for Jason right here, based on my experience of co-existing in the same house with him for, like, 9,490 days.”

Amy is known for writing books for children, as well as memoirs about her own family and life.

She and Jason have been together for almost three decades and have grown-up children.

. . . .

Towards the end of her essay, called You May Want to Marry My Husband, Amy writes: “I am wrapping this up on Valentine’s Day, and the most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.”

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Book up for a longer life: readers die later, study finds

From The Guardian:

Flaubert had it that “the one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy”. It turns out that reading doesn’t only help us to tolerate existence, but actually prolongs it, after a new study found that people who read books for 30 minutes a day lived longer than those who didn’t read at all.

The study, which is published in the September issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine, looked at the reading patterns of 3,635 people who were 50 or older. On average, book readers were found to live for almost two years longer than non-readers.

Respondents were separated into those who read for 3.5 hours or more a week, those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week, and those who didn’t read at all, controlling for factors such as gender, race and education. The researchers discovered that up to 12 years on, those who read for more than 3.5 hours a week were 23% less likely to die, while those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week were 17% less likely to die.

. . . .

The paper also specifically links the reading of books, rather than periodicals, to a longer life. “We found that reading books provided a greater benefit than reading newspapers or magazines. We uncovered that this effect is likely because books engage the reader’s mind more – providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the lifespan,” Bavishi said.

In the paper, the academics write that there are two cognitive processes involved in reading books that could create a “survival advantage”. First, reading books promote the “slow, immersive process” of “deep reading”, a cognitive engagement that “occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content presented”.

“Cognitive engagement may explain why vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills are improved by exposure to books,” they write. Second, books “can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival”, they say.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Valerie for the tip.

Unemployed, Living In A Caravan — And Now, Winner Of A $165,000 Literary Prize

From National Public Radio:

When Ali Cobby Eckermann received the email announcing she’d won one of the world’s richest literary prizes, the unemployed Aboriginal poet says she had no idea what to think — though two thoughts weren’t long in coming.

After she wrapped her head around the fact she’d just won a $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prize, Eckermann told The Guardian that she “pretty much just cried.” The poet, who now lives in a caravan in South Australia with her elderly adoptive mother, added: “It’s going to change my life completely.”

And the other thought?

“I’m fascinated that they even knew about me,” Eckermann remarked to The Sydney Morning Herald.

. . . .

“The call that recipients receive from program director Michael Kelleher is the first time that they learn of their consideration,” Mike Cummings writes for Yale News.

That process can lead to quite a shock — and occasionally, a case of mistaken identity. As the Guardian noted, 2016 winner Helen Garner found out about her prize by checking her junk mail folder, and even then suspected she was getting scammed.

There is no mistaking the esteem Windham-Campbell judges have for Eckermann, however.

“Through song and story,” the judges write in their citation, “Ali Cobby Eckermann confronts the violent history of Australia’s Stolen Generations and gives language to unspoken lineages of trauma and loss.”

. . . .

A woman of Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha heritage, Eckermann knows that trauma and loss personally as a member of the Stolen Generations, Aboriginal children who for decades were forcibly taken from their mothers by Australian governments and missionaries in order to assimilate them. As she wrote in her 2013 memoir Too Afraid to Cry, Eckermann was taken from her mother as a baby, just as her mother was taken from her own family.

Eckermann did not find her biological mother until she was in her 30s.

Link to the rest at NPR and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

The Writer as Public Figure vs. the Writer Who Actually Writes

From LitHub:

I’m supposed to be writing a speech about my new novel, The White City. It’s a March morning, no sun. I’m standing by my secretary desk. I’ve shut the doors to the rest of the apartment and have been on the verge of sitting down to begin, but each time I tried someone called for me: my husband, my son, or one of my daughters. I can still hear them out in the hall.

It’s impossible to speak to someone about a book one has written. I’m supposed to be writing, but this is the only sentence inside me. There are mere days before the book comes out. A number of so-called “author appearances” have been scheduled at bookstores and libraries around the country. I have to figure out what to say—draft a talk about this novel that I can give not once but repeatedly. It’s paralyzing. I can barely bring myself to make even this tiny movement: my fingers tapping the keys as I write this text.

The kids are making noise in the hall again; the front door slams behind them. Silence. I breathe through my nose and think of the meditation techniques I should be practicing. I think about what Virginia Woolf said in her speech before the National Society for Women’s Service in London in January 1931: that all the great women novelists in England in the 1800s did not have children. Those words strike me occasionally.

. . . .

When a book has just been published, the author is asked many questions. It’s usually difficult to respond, and there might not be any answers. One of the most common questions—and yet it always blindsides me—is “Why do you write?” When I was young I spent a lot of time trying to answer that question, but however I tried I couldn’t come up with an answer that I knew to be true. It made me feel lousy, like someone who’d never be a writer because I didn’t even know why I wanted to be one.

. . . .

An author appearance is a meeting between the author and the readers who share time and a space and in this way it differs from our usual meeting, the one in which the reader sits alone with the text and completes it by reading. I like our in-person meeting best when it reminds me of the latter. But this latter meeting can occur when we’re in the same room, too, for instance during a Q&A in an auditorium when a member of the audience shares his reading of the novel in a way that allows us to glimpse our usual space of encounter: the true space of reading. I like when this happens; experiencing the closeness between strangers that arises when we recall the fellowship to which we are accustomed, but can’t achieve as long as we are in the same room speaking to each other.

Link to the rest at LitHub

On the Many Film Adaptations of the “Unfilmable” Wuthering Heights

From The Literary Hub:

 That books change over time is obvious. But how exactly do they change? Of course, there is context and experience, the first lost and the latter gained. The time in which a book was written is naturally in the past, and the cultural and personal understanding acquired, for better or worse, alters how we read. However, what isn’t usually acknowledged is the process by which film adaptations can shift the meanings of an original text. Images become attached to words where none existed before, and that can change how we absorb certain narratives or reshape how they exist in the popular imagination. And when a book has been adapted for the screen multiple times, a strange layering occurs: each successive transformation is influenced both by the previous cinematic treatments as well as the original text. Every new adaptation now carries a heavier burden than before, and has to contend with a growing network of narrative and visual associations.

This can be seen in how we think about Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, a novel which many consider to be unfilmable. And that conclusion is understandable—Brontë’s sprawling book about the destructive bond between the orphan Heathcliff and the object of his desire, Catherine Earnshaw, is split up into two lengthy sections, spans three generations of characters, and is told through a seemingly complex narrative structure using multiple (unreliable) narrators and unfolding mostly in flashback. Translating this accurately into a film is a head-scratcher. But this hasn’t stopped people from trying: at least 14 different film and television versions of the novel exist, the first being made in 1920 and the latest in 2011. While these attempts are often wildly different and vary in their success (the less said about the California-set MTV adaptation produced in 2003, the better), they contribute to our understanding of Wuthering Heights almost as much as the original text.

. . . .

Take, for example, the moors. Their presence in Wuthering Heights represents both freedom and danger, a symbol of Heathcliff and Catherine’s love that is trampled by the forces of order. Brontë describes the moors as being covered in the “silvery vapour” of the “misty darkness,” which paints an evocative picture. But the dominance of the moors in our thinking about Wuthering Heights owes just as much the William Wyler’s 1939 film adaptation, starring Laurence Olivier as a brooding Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Catherine. Scripted by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, this version is the most overtly romantic, due in large part to its omissions—like most of the other adaptations that followed, Wyler’s film ignores the second half of the book, and highlights the love story between Heathcliff and Catherine by removing, for the most part, the difficult cruelty of their characterizations.

Wyler’s version of Wuthering Heights remains the best known partly because it softens the story. But what makes the film unique, and not just another romantic drama, is the way cinematographer Gregg Toland portrays the moors as a fantastic spectacle of swirling fog, billowing wind, and hovering shadows. His expressionist rendering of the world of Wuthering Heights would have a profound influence on all the film adaptations that would come after it, and remains the dominant pictorial representation of the story.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Fictional characters make ‘experiential crossings’ into real life, study finds

From The Guardian:

It’s a cliche to claim that a novel can change your life, but a recent study suggests almost a fifth of readers report that fiction seeps into their daily existence.

Researchers at Durham University conducted a survey of more than 1,500 readers, with about 400 providing detailed descriptions of their experiences with book. Nineteen per cent of those respondents said the voices of fictional characters stayed with them even when they weren’t reading, influencing the style and tone of their thoughts – or even speaking to them directly. For some participants it was as if a character “had started to narrate my world”, while others heard characters talking, or imagined them reacting to things going on in everyday life.

. . . .

According to one of the paper’s authors, the writer and psychologist Charles Fernyhough, the survey illustrates how readers of fiction are doing more than just processing words for meaning – they are actively recreating the worlds and characters being described.

“For many of us, this can involve experiencing the characters in a novel as people we can interact with,” Fernyhough said. “One in seven of our respondents, for example, said they heard the voices of fictional characters as clearly as if there was someone in the room with them.”

. . . .

“One respondent, for example, described ‘feeling enveloped’ by [Virginia Woolf’s] character Clarissa Dalloway – hearing her voice and imagining her response to particular situations, such as walking into a Starbucks. Sometimes the experience seemed to be triggered by entering a real-world setting similar to one in the novel; in other situations, it felt like seeing the world through a particular character’s eyes, and judging events as the character would.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Against Readability

From The Millions:

In 2008, Anheuser-Busch ran a series of perplexing ads extolling Bud Light’s “drinkability.” What could it mean to say that a beer is able to be drunk? That it won’t kill you? That it does not taste completely terrible? That it is liquid, and so will run down your throat so long as you remain at least vaguely upright? “Bud Light keeps it coming.” Under most conceivable interpretations, “drinkable” seems insulting: this beer is not good, merely drinkable.

. . . .

I have been reminded of these Bud Light ads repeatedly since when perusing, of all things, book reviews, where “readable” has risen to become the preeminent adjective of praise. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch: “brilliantly readable.” Jonathan Franzen’s Purity: “Superbly readable.” The Girl on the Train, Room, The Martian, Gone Girl: “compulsively readable”

. . . .

A micro-history of cultural gatekeeping: once told by the censors what we may read, then by critics what we should, we are now told merely what we can read. What could it mean to say that a novel is able to be read? Composed of words that you can pass your eyes over one after another and comprehend? “Readable,” like “drinkable,” seems almost an insult: this book isn’t good, but you’ll be able to finish it. Readable books are full of familiar characters, familiar plots, and most especially familiar sentences. They are built up out of constituent commonplaces and clichés that one only has to skim in order to process.

. . . .

“Readable” has become the chosen term of praise in our times precisely because so many of us find ourselves unable to concentrate as we once could or still aspire to. But to praise readability is to embrace the vicious feedback loop that our culture now finds itself in. Short on concentration, we give ourselves over to streams of content that further atrophy our reserves of attention. Soon a 1,000-word polemic seems too long to drag oneself through, and we resort to skimming. So websites post yet shorter articles, even warn you how many minutes they will take to read (rarely double digits; will they soon warn us how long one takes to skim?).

. . . .

Readable fiction is not the problem; rather, “readable” as a — especially as our highest — term of praise is. Readability tells one precisely nothing about the quality of a novel. There are good and bad readable books; high, low, and most definitely middlebrow ones.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG finds books about the Ottoman Empire readable. YMMV.

University of Washington Writing Guru Declares American Grammar ‘Racist,’ Wants New Rules

From Heatstreet:

The chief writing instructor at the University of Washington, Tacoma, is trying to dismantle the rules of grammar because he believes they are racist—and the college has given its endorsement to his campaign.

Posters that appeared this week in the college’s writing center are part of a new effort to teach students that the conventional rules on how to structure sentences and form ideas in written language are perpetuating inequality and “white supremacy.”

“Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society,” the poster claims. It goes on to say that critiquing a student’s use of language, or implying that there is any one grammatical standard within the English language, is inherently discriminatory.

. . . .

Grammar, according to the posters in the writing center, can “justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”

To solve the problem, the program intends to help students become aware of “social justice” issues in their everyday life, and to help them “check their privileges”—particularly those that result in unconscious racism.

They also appear to say that they will not deduct from grades—even in English classes in an English department—for failing to use proper grammar. “We promise to emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical ‘correctness’ in the production of texts,” a “commitment” on the poster reads. “We promise to challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations.”

Link to the rest at Heatstreet and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Here’s the Statement in full:

Writing Center

 About Writing Center

Following is a statement that Writing Center professional staff, tutors, and the Director worked on extensively. It informs our center’s practices and on-going assessment efforts to improve our practices.

STATEMENT ON ANTIRACIST AND SOCIAL JUSTICE WORK IN THE WRITING CENTER

Our Beliefs

The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.

Because we all live, work, learn, and communicate within such racist systems, the consultants in the writing center assume that a big part of our job is to help students become more critical of these unjust language structures as they affect students’ writing and the judgment of that writing. In particular, being aware of racism as structural offers students the best chances to develop as writers and succeed on their own terms in an inherently racist society.

Furthermore, by acknowledging and critiquing the systemic racism that forms parts of UWT and the languages and literacies expected in it, students and writing center consultants can cultivate a more socially just future for everyone. Just avoiding racism is not enough because it means we are doing nothing to stop racism at large, and it amounts to allowing racism to continue.

Our Commitment

The writing center consultants and staff promise to listen and look carefully and compassionately for ways that we may unintentionally perpetuate racism or social injustice, actively engaging in antiracist practices. For instance, we promise to:

  • be sensitive to our language practices (what we say or allow to be said) and other microaggressions that may make some people feel uncomfortable or feel in some way inferior;
  • openly discuss social justice issues as they pertain to the writing at hand;
  • emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical “correctness” in the production of texts;
  • be reflective and critical of the practices we engage in;
  • provide students ways to be more aware of grammar as a rhetorical set of choices with various consequences;
  • discuss racism and social justice issues openly in productive ways;
  • advocate for the things that will make our Center safe, welcoming, productive, proactive;
  • challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations;
  • conduct on-going assessments of the work of the writing center, looking specifically for patterns or potential inequalities or oppressive practices that may be occurring in the Center.

We also realize that racism is connected to other forms of social injustice, such as classism, sexism, heteronormative assumptions, etc., in similar ways. We promise further to do our best to compassionately address these issues as they pertain to student writing as well.

The Writing Center at the University of Washington Tacoma is a part of the Teaching and Learning Center located in Snoqualmie 260, and is closely affiliated with the University Writing Program.  All students can make an appointment to see a Writing Consultant in person or online.  There are four ways the Center offers expert feedback on student writing.  The Center also offers electronic resources for academic writing.

PG says this manifesto appears to him to be written in standard American English and, thus, packed with microaggressions.

PG observes not the slightest sensitivity to the way those not trained to this standard might react to such a racist tone. Clearly, those at the top of  this hierarchy are determined to bend others less privileged to their will.

How such people can purport to teach English without continuing to perpetrate an inherently hostile environment by repeatedly othering those who differ from them cannot be imagined.

You could be ‘writer in residence’ for the Mall of America

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Universities have writers-in-residence. As do libraries. As does Amtrak. So why not a shopping mall?

In honor of its 25th anniversary, the Mall of America is looking for a writer to be in residence for five days, to write about a week in the life of the nation’s largest mall.

Before you scoff, think of the possibilities: the workers, the shoppers, the diners, the strollers, the teenagers, the visitors from abroad. The possibilities are rich indeed.

The chosen writer will be flown in (if not local) and housed for four nights at a nearby hotel and given a $400 gift card for food and drink. He or she will also receive a $2,500 honorarium.

Link to the rest at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Finding books in the least expected places around L.A.

From The Los Angeles Times:

The back wall at the Blue Bottle Coffee in downtown Los Angeles is lined from top to bottom with books.

The airy coffee destination fills the corner of the historic Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles. Behind plate-glass windows, patrons can be seen drifting to the counter for personalized service at the newest Los Angeles outpost of the Oakland-based chain. Some settle down at shared tables; others sit on high stools. A few are drawn to the tall, book-filled wall.

. . . .

“If you can reach it, you can have it,” says Rose Bridges, the company’s local spokesperson.

This literary wall is Blue Bottle’s first “library” — a partnership with the nearby Library Foundation of Los Angeles, whose used books line the majority of the cafe’s reachable shelves. Titles range from “The Hunger Games” to “Hamlet” and are free for reading in-store or available for purchase at $7 each, with proceeds benefiting the foundation.

. . . .

In cafes and bars, skate shops and co-working spaces, books are popping up everywhere in Los Angeles — and as more than just decor.

“Instead of going to a coffee shop and reading, I could just come here,”  says Kat Bronstroup, a film production manager, admiring a copy of the literary vampire thriller “The Passage” by Justin Cronin at Catcher in the Rye, a bar in Toluca Lake.

When Eric Hodgkins opened Catcher in 2014, he bought a couple hundred used books to complement his literary-themed craft cocktails (the bar’s namesake is made with rye whiskey, his favorite spirit; other drinks include the Big Bukowski and Tequila Mockingbird). Stacked in a back corner next to a couch, the colorful texts give the space a “Friends” meets “How I Met Your Mother” vibe.

. . . .

Babylon is another fixture of the local skate scene. An unassuming white house on Highland Avenue, the space is a storefront for skater apparel and gear with a backyard bowl.

Inside, a small bookshelf shares the side wall with three skateboards carrying the Babylon logo. Flipping through dozens of zines and picture books, I came across “Legal Issues” by Adam Rossiter, 17 printed pages of the legal troubles of various pop culture icons, sourced from Wikipedia.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Presidents Day

Today is Presidents Day, a national holiday in the United States.

Generally, the traditional publishing world shuts down on major holidays, so PG isn’t certain what he’s going to find to post about today. However, he’s happy to receive tips and will keep his eyes open for items originating elsewhere in the Anglosphere.

The Radical Argument of the New Oxford Shakespeare

From The New Yorker:

In 1989, a young professor named Gary Taylor published “Reinventing Shakespeare,” in which he argued that Shakespeare’s unrivalled literary status derives less from the sheer greatness of his plays than from the cultural institutions that have mythologized the Bard, elevating him above equally talented Renaissance playwrights. “Shakespeare was a star, but never the only one in our galaxy,” Taylor wrote. The book was his second major attempt to counter the view of Shakespeare as a singular genius; a few years earlier, he had served as one of two general editors of the Oxford Shakespeare, which credited co-authors for five of Shakespeare’s plays. In “Reinventing Shakespeare,” Taylor wrote that the Oxford Shakespeare “repeatedly shocks its readers, and knows that it will.”

Late last year, Taylor shocked readers once again. The New Oxford Shakespeare, for which Taylor serves as lead general editor, is the first edition of the plays to credit Christopher Marlowe as a co-author of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI,” Parts 1, 2, and 3. It lists co-authors for fourteen other plays as well, ushering a host of playwrights—Thomas Nashe, George Peele, Thomas Heywood, Ben Jonson, George Wilkins, Thomas Middleton, and John Fletcher, along with Marlowe—into the big tent of the complete works. This past fall, headlines around the world trumpeted the Marlowe-Shakespeare connection, and spotlighted the editors’ methodology: computer-aided analysis of linguistic patterns across databases of early modern plays. “Shakespeare has now fully entered the era of Big Data,” Taylor announced in a press release.

It’s no longer controversial to give other authors a share in Shakespeare’s plays—not because he was a front for an aristocrat, as conspiracy theorists since the Victorian era have proposed, but because scholars have come to recognize that writing a play in the sixteenth century was a bit like writing a screenplay today, with many hands revising a company’s product. The New Oxford Shakespeare claims that its algorithms can tease out the work of individual hands—a possibility, although there are reasons to challenge its computational methods. But there is a deeper argument made by the edition that is both less definitive and more interesting. It’s not just that Shakespeare collaborated with other playwrights, and it’s not just that Shakespeare was one of a number of great Renaissance writers whose fame he outstripped in the ensuing centuries. It’s that the canonization of Shakespeare has made his way of telling stories—especially his monarch-centered view of history—seem like the norm to us, when there are other ways of telling stories, and other ways of staging history, that other playwrights did better. If Shakespeare worshippers have told one story in order to discredit his contemporary rivals, the New Oxford is telling a story that aims to give the credit back.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Against Fame: On Publishing, Popularity, and Ambition

From Catapult:

Scratch

fame

“I want be recognized for beautiful work, for good work, for real work . . . Which is different than saying I want to be famous. If you want to be famous, don’t be a writer.”

. . . .

Babette’s Feast

Link to the rest at Catapult

Can Serialized Fiction Convert Binge Watchers Into Binge Readers?

From National Public Radio:

As TV dramas get better and better, book publishers are hoping to convert binge TV watchers into binge readers.

Serialized books have a long history in publishing — Charles Dickens famously released many his novels in serial form. Sean McDonald, a publisher and editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, says, “We love to think about hearkening back to the way Dickens was published and people waiting anxiously at the dock for the new installments to arrive.”

FSG is known for its serious, award winning novels, not so much for serialized fiction, but McDonald says that not long ago, they tried an experiment. They published three books, the Southern Reach Trilogy, on a much faster timetable than usual. All three were released in less than a year — a year that coincided with another cultural phenomenon.

Television, McDonald says, was “getting taken much more seriously as an art form.” There was a renewed focus on episodic storytelling and “it felt like this was a way for us to engage with that and not to have books be left out,” he explains.

. . . .

“I don’t think that people really consume books in the same way that they consume TV shows,” says Jane Friedman, who teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Friedman agrees that people’s reading habits are changing, but she doesn’t think binge reading is anything like binge watching.

“We always have a mobile device with us and so we are reading in short bursts of five to ten minutes …” she says, “but that’s a very different dynamic than say, the binge watching a TV series. In fact, reading in five to ten minute bursts is distinctly not binge reading.”

Link to the rest at NPR

Binge reading is pretty much what PG and Mrs. PG have always done when they discover an author they like and haven’t read before.

Initially, binge reading involved the library or a physical bookstore, but, as with many things bookish, Amazon has made the process wonderfully easy, particularly when PG finishes a great book at 10:00 PM and isn’t the least bit sleepy.

And long before Farrar, Straus and Giroux figured out its “much faster timetable,” lots of indie authors published multiple books each year.

How Has Streaming Affected our Identities as Music Collectors?

From Medium:

Music rarely exists in a vacuum. From classical concert programs and 12-track albums to DIY mixtapes and personal record shelves, we imbue songs with new meaning by connecting them to each other, by treating them as elements of a wider, self-constructed narrative.

We are music collectors by design and by necessity—an identity threatened by the rise of streaming.

In previous decades, physical formats like CDs, vinyl, cassettes and 8-tracks required us to limit our music consumption, if only to keep our wallets in shape. We didn’t just throw money and time at music left and right, but rather invested more wisely in a handful of albums and artists, with whom we developed intimate relationships through repeated listens and colorful liner notes. Filling our binders and shelves with these records also facilitated a more positive, aspirational side of our aesthetic identities: we set tangible, attainable goals for our collections, and could show off these works in progress to our friends and family whenever they visited for dinner.

The three recent stages of digital disruption in music — which can be bookmarked by Napster, iTunes and Spotify — have made our collections more public, more granular and more abstract, respectively.

. . . .

iTunes unbundled the standard album into its individual tracks, enabling users to handpick their favorite songs and assemble a wider-reaching collection with a higher concentration of artists over the same amount of [virtual] surface area. Spotify not only has made musical shelf space infinite, but has also made the term “shelf space” irrelevant: its users own nothing. Instead, they pay for access, shelling out the rough cost equivalent of 12 CDs per year ($9.99 a month) to peruse millions of songs at their fingertips.

. . . .

Any effort on our part to seize control of our music collecting habits away from these streaming services ultimately feels burdensome and futile.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG was interested the the similarities and differences between streaming services and ebooks. He notes that music embodied in some physical form that is sold to listeners has become mostly irrelevant to the music business.

Thieves steal £2m of rare books by abseiling into warehouse

From The Guardian:

Antiquarian books worth more than £2m have been stolen by a gang who avoided a security system by abseiling into a west London warehouse.

The three thieves made off with more than 160 publications after raiding the storage facility near Heathrow in what has been labelled a Mission: Impossible-style break-in.

The gang are reported to have climbed on to the building’s roof and bored holes through the reinforced glass-fibre skylights before rappelling down 40ft of rope while avoiding motion-sensor alarms.

Scotland Yard confirmed that “a number of valuable books”, many from the 15th and 16th centuries, were stolen during the burglary in Feltham between 29 and 30 January.

. . . .

One source familiar with the case said: “They would be impossible to sell to any reputable dealer or auction house. We’re not talking Picassos or Rembrandts or even gold bars – these books would be impossible to fence. It must be for some one specialist. There must be a collector behind it. The books belong to three different dealers working at the very top of the market and altogether they form a fantastic collection.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to MKS for the tip.

PG learned that abseil is another word for rappel.

The 7 Habits that Books and Reading Help You Build

From Medium:

The most useful definition of technology I’ve heard is simply, “the ability to do more with less.”

I think of books and reading as technologies.

We only live one life, but through books, we can gain the wisdom from thousands. When an author writes, re-writes, and edits, they are turning their words into a more perfect version of themselves. When you read, you get to spend time in a meditative state with a wise person’s more perfect self.

Books are the most under-valued and under-appreciated technology in the world.

How do we know they’re so valuable? We need only to examine how the best and the worst people throughout history have viewed books.

The worst seek to downplay, ban, or burn them. The fact that books have haters who are willing to destroy them confirms their power.

The best adore books… and aren’t afraid to celebrate them.

. . . .

2. Books and reading upgrade your mental operating system.

The best books are written when the author is in a flow state. The author transmits their wisdom, muse, or insights with minimal ego. When a reader seeking wisdom moves through these words and enters their own flow state… magic happens.

I don’t know how it works, but after enough time of reading, my mind always feels upgraded. Programming our minds by moving consciously into the flow state of another wise person is powerful. When we upgrade our mental OS, our main apps (speaking, writing, and communicating) all begin to run faster and more smoothly.

. . . .

5. Books and reading force a meditative practice where you’re forced to listen to the thoughts of a wise person.

The more we read and spend time with books, the more we practice mindfulness and meditation. Reading helps teach us patience, calmness, and builds our ability to focus deeply on a single thing for an extended period of time.

Link to the rest at Medium

When Your Hometown is Crammed with Aspiring Writers

From The Literary Hub:

 In most family pictures, I am standing with my two sisters, the middle daughter, the dark-haired one between two blondes. But in the Polaroid taken on my eighth birthday, October 27, 1980, I’m alone on the front porch of our house on Avenue J and East 32nd Street in Brooklyn, New York. In the picture, I’m wearing my new striped sweater and corduroy pants and my bangs are in my eyes. A crooked construction paper pumpkin is scotch-taped to the window. It’s the last photo taken of me before I became a writer.

Two weeks later, on a gold and blue November afternoon, I stood in our kitchen reaching for an apple and wondering what I should be when I grew up because my third-grade teacher at Our Lady Help of Christians had recently posed the question. She’d gotten angry when nobody said priest or nun.

Nurse, I’d lied. My mother worked in the ICU of the fortress-like Kings County Hospital, but I could not imagine doing so. Though my father and four uncles were firefighters, I could not have considered this, even if I’d been so inclined. Girls were not allowed in the FDNY (yet).

Then I thought, I’ll be an author. I’d always loved books. I would write them.

For a long time, I’d had a story in my head with a title and characters and a plot in perpetual revision. I could not believe I had never before thought of writing it down.

I dashed upstairs and found the Muppet stationery that I’d gotten for my birthday and had tossed aside as though it were a pair of socks. I took up a fresh pencil and began. A week later, I nearly quit in confusion because I could not translate the images in my head onto the page. But somehow, it did not matter that it had proved difficult. I’d already made up my mind: I would be a writer.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

How To Get Published

From The Writing Cooperative:

“Sorry we don’t publish unpublished authors.”

This is the conundrum I found myself in when I finished writing Hellbound. I had sent submission letters to as many agents and publishers as I could find on the Internet. Their responses were largely saying the same thing; unless you have a successful body of recognised work behind you, we won’t even read your manuscript.

Somewhat disheartened, I turned to my contacts to see what I could do, or whom I could approach to at least get an unbiased opinion on the story. My search led me to Michael Williams, a man connected with a radio station I was doing the weekly surf report on Friday mornings. Michael had previously worked for one of Australia’s largest independent publishing houses, Text Publishing. He ever so kindly accepted my request to take a look, and offer some advice.

 We met for a beer one night in Melbourne near his home, I having emailed him the manuscript a month prior. I’ll never forget what he said. “I’m glad I don’t have to give you the ‘stick to your day-job’ talk. But, you need to know, getting any kind of novel published is incredibly tough and this one will be near impossible. The genre isn’t huge in Australia. It has big, and maybe too many, original ideas. It is the kind of manuscript every publisher dreams of taking a chance on but never, ever does.” So what do I do? I asked. “Firstly you need to edit it. It’s really only about fifty percent complete, there are some plot holes you need to fill, and you need to build the main character more. But more importantly you need to get the right people to read it, without them thinking they need to make a yes or no decision on it.”

Link to the rest at The Writing Cooperative

8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year

From the Harvard Business Review:

How much do you read?

For most of my adult life I read maybe five books a year — if I was lucky. I’d read a couple on vacation and I’d always have a few slow burners hanging around the bedside table for months.

And then last year I surprised myself by reading 50 books. This year I’m on pace for 100. I’ve never felt more creatively alive in all areas of my life. I feel more interesting, I feel like a better father, and my writing output has dramatically increased. Amplifying my reading rate has been the domino that’s tipped over a slew of others.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t do it sooner.

Why did I wait 20 years?

Well, our world today is designed for shallow skimming rather than deep diving, so it took me some time to identify the specific changes that skyrocketed my reading rate. None of them had to do with how fast I read. I’m actually a pretty slow reader.

. . . .

Centralize reading in your home. Back in 1998, psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues performed their famous “chocolate chip cookie and radish” experiment. They split test subjects into three groups and asked them not to eat anything for three hours before the experiment. Group 1 was given chocolate chip cookies and radishes, and were told they could eat only the radishes. Group 2 was given chocolate chip cookies and radishes, and were told they could eat anything they liked. Group 3 was given no food at all. Afterward, the researchers had all three groups attempt to solve an impossible puzzle, to see how long they would last. It’s not surprising that group 1, those who had spent all their willpower staying away from the cookies, caved the soonest.

What does this have to do with reading? I think of having a TV in your main living area as a plate of chocolate chip cookies. So many delicious TV shows tempt us, reducing our willpower to tackle the books.

Roald Dahl’s poem “Television” says it all: “So please, oh please, we beg, we pray / go throw your TV set away / and in its place, you can install / a lovely bookshelf on the wall.”

Last year my wife and I moved our sole TV into our dark, unfinished basement and got a bookshelf installed on the wall beside our front door. Now we see it, walk by it, and touch it dozens of times a day. And the TV sits dormant unless the Toronto Blue Jays are in the playoffs or Netflix drops a new season of House of Cards.

. . . .

Change your mindset about quitting. It’s one thing to quit reading a book and feel bad about it. It’s another to quit a book and feel proud of it. All you have to do is change your mindset. Just say, “Phew! Now I’ve finally ditched this brick to make room for that gem I’m about to read next.” An article that can help enable this mindset is “The Tail End,” by Tim Urban, which paints a striking picture of how many books you have left to read in your lifetime. Once you fully digest that number, you’ll want to hack the vines away to reveal the oases ahead.

I quit three or four books for every book I read to the end. I do the “first five pages test” before I buy any book (checking for tone, pace, and language) and then let myself off the hook if I need to stop halfway through.

Take a “news fast” and channel your reading dollars. I subscribed to the New York Times and five magazines for years. I rotated subscriptions to keep them fresh, and always loved getting a crisp new issue in the mail. After returning from a long vacation where I finally had some time to lose myself in books, I started realizing that this shorter, choppier nature of reading was preventing me from going deeper. So I canceled all my subscriptions.

Besides freeing up mindshare, what does canceling all news inputs do? For me, it saved more than $500 per year. That can pay for about 50 books per year. What would I rather have 10 or 20 years later — a prized book collection which I’ve read and learned from over the years…or a pile of old newspapers? And let’s not forget your local library. If you download Library Extension for your browser, you can see what books and e-books are available for free right around the corner.

. . . .

Read physical books. You may be wondering why I don’t just read e-books on a mobile device, saving myself all the time and effort required to bring books in and out of the house. In an era when our movie, film, and photography collections are all going digital, there is something grounding about having an organically growing collection of books in the home. If you want to get deep, perhaps it’s a nice physical representation of the evolution and changes in your mind while you’re reading. (Maybe this is why my wife refuses to allow my Far Side collections on her shelf.) And since many of us look at screens all day, it can be a welcome change of pace to hold an actual book in your hands.

Link to the rest at Harvard Business Review

Scrimption

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

scrimption, n.

. . . .

A very small amount or degree, a bit. Cf. smidgen n.

. . . .

1867 P. Kennedy Banks of Boro xxvi. 208 You won’t get the least scrimshin of the nice hot cake.

1885 Arthur’s Home Mag. Dec. 759/2 He’s a scrimption better to-day.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Cash for Words: A Brief History of Writing for Money

From The New Republic:

Charles Dickens was paid by the word. This was junior high, we were reading A Tale of Two Cities, and this fact, when it was first uttered, raced like a rumor through the classroom, overtaking everything. Suddenly, every other word in Dickens’s novel seemed like unnecessary padding, every sentence overstuffed, wasteful, filled with excessive detail. It didn’t matter that A Tale of Two Cities is among Dickens’s shorter novels; once we’d been introduced to the economy of writing, everything was tainted.

How to trust each word from that point on? “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” How to tell what of this was necessary, and what was extraneous? At the same time that we young students were being taught to cut padding from our own writing, here we were forced to read the work of someone rewarded for piling it on. Once I’d formed this picture of Dickens in my mind, it became an easy way to discount his novels as superfluous. (In fact, Dickens was paid by the installment, not the word; serializing his novels in periodicals allowed for a more sustained, steady income than waiting for book royalties.)

. . . .

The first writer to charge by the word is thought to be the Greek poet Simonides, who became legendary for his stinginess. Prior to Simonides, poets relied on a patronage system. In exchange for food, lodging, and prestige, poets would provide wealthy benefactors with writing that extolled their virtues, as well as act as general companions and creative writing coaches for the patron’s own work. Amorphous and difficult to pin down, it was a system that allowed at least some poets to make a living without overly quantifying their art.

Simonides changed this. He wrote for money, and he kept precise books. Despite his undisputed literary excellence, this quality came to define him above all else: Simonides was thought to be parsimonious, a miser, putting money above all else. Ailian, his biographer, commented simply that “No one would deny that Simonides loved money.” In Aristophanes’s Peace, Simonides is described as one who would “put to sea upon a sieve for money.” It is to Simonides, agree most classical commentators, that we owe our current estrangement from our words. As Anne Carson puts it in the Economy of the Unlost, her study of Simonides and Paul Celan: “I like to think Simonides represents an early, severe form of economic alienation and the ‘doubleness’ that attends it.”

. . . .

As Carson herself notes, the tension between a patronage economy and a money economy had been building for some time, and during Simonides’s lifetime these two systems overlapped, despite being often described as diametric opposites. The distrust and distaste that Simonides garnered may have been due, in part, to his refusal to live in an ambiguous status afforded by these two contradictory structures, to play the game. Whereas previous writers and artists had negotiated the contradictions of a system that was intentionally not fully articulated, Simonides cut through the Gordian knot of such confusion, demanding a simple and straightforward equation of words and money. As a result, he appeared to all as avaricious—his love of money more central than his love of poetry.

The system Simonides spurned was one of patronage and gift. Goods and services were exchanged based not on their value but on the value of the relationship between giver and receiver. For Carson, the essence of Simonides’s perceived greed “was the commodification of a previously reciprocal and ritual activity, the exchange of gifts between friends.” In such an economy, one’s obligation to one’s community and to one’s writing trumps any obligation to cash.

. . . .

It would seem, perhaps, easy enough to go back, to separate writing from commerce.

Link to the rest at The New Republic and thanks to Dave for the tip.

For the record, PG sees no taint in honest commerce and art. Both commerce and patronage may produce excellent artistic results. Or may fail to produce excellent artistic results.

The richest families in Florence in 1427 are still the richest families in Florence

Not really about books, but PG found this interesting.

From Quartz:

The richest families in Florence, Italy have had it good for a while—600 years to be precise.

That’s according to a recent study by two Italian economists, Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti, who after analyzing compared Florentine taxpayers way back in 1427 to those in 2011. Comparing the family wealth to those with the same surname today, they suggest the richest families in Florence 600 years ago remain the same now.

“The top earners among the current taxpayers were found to have already been at the top of the socioeconomic ladder six centuries ago,” Barone and Mocetti note on VoxEU. The study was able to exploit a unique data set—taxpayers data in 1427 was digitized and made available online—to show long-term trends of economic mobility.

Link to the rest at Quartz and thanks to Morgan for the tip.

Writing in Difficult Times

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This morning, a tweet from a British comic book writer floated across my Twitter feed. He wrote (and I’m paraphrasing here):

Sorry about the flurry of political tweets. I’ll get back to light stuff—comics, games, graphic novels—when the world is no longer on fire.

Oh, boy, do I understand how he feels. I’ve been there. I am there for a variety of reasons.

But I’m going to disagree with him—on a couple of things.

First, the apology for the political tweets. If you feel the need to speak out on social media, it will impact your brand (both negatively and positively). Accept that. Then speak out and don’t apologize.

Second, the phrase “light stuff” concerning his art. Implying that what he does—what all of us do—is unimportant.

Or as another writer, an American this time, put it on Facebook a few days ago, (again, paraphrasing) sure is hard to write when the house you live in is tearing up its own foundation.

Yes, it is.

And still, you must write.

People need your art, now more than ever.

. . . .

I learned this lesson about art during 9/11. I was writing Thin Walls, a Smokey Dalton novel, set in Chicago in 1968—one of the most terrible years of the latter half of the 20th century. The novel deals with racism, and murder, and hatred, and love and family, all tied into one package in a Chicago neighborhood during that bleak December.

I had just hit the climax of the novel—my hero, about to confront the villain—when terrorists flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Another flight went down in a Pennsylvania field because the passengers rose up and prevented more deaths than their own.

Evidence of real heroism, more as the news continued to unfold.

And more horrors too. For a while, it truly felt like the world was on fire, at least from a perspective inside this country.

(And, frankly, I never again want to wake up to these words coming out of my radio: …the fires at the Pentagon are still burning out of control…)

I have a vivid memory of standing in my kitchen, looking at the television, and stepping outside of myself, realizing that the government we have—the world we all have—is a consensus, something we all agree to. That it is as fine and as thin as paper, and it’s only as good as the people who are willing to uphold its ideals, laws, and values.

That realization terrified me as much as the events of the day. Because it became clear to me what shaky ground we were all on, we had always been on. Until that moment in September, 2001, I had been immersed in 1968, another time when it felt like the world was becoming unmoored, and I knew that these moments came about—for the world, for individual countries, for states, for neighborhoods, and for us individually.

I couldn’t get back to my novel. I felt it unimportant—light stuff. It didn’t matter, not like running into a burning building mattered to save people covered in dust and ash, not like jumping terrorists on a plane and sacrificing your life to save others.

. . . .

The night of September 11, when I knew that friends and family had survived, I turned off the news. Dean and I watched some fluffy crap on cable TV. Later that week, after trying to go back to the books I had been reading, I started the Harry Potter series—and allowed myself time to go somewhere else, because I couldn’t stay here. I would break if I stayed here.

And that was when I had my epiphany. I realized that escape is rest. It’s important. It gets us away from the horrors, the terrible things, the stresses and upsetting moments of every day life.

Sometimes, art provides a different perspective, a new way of thinking about important things. And sometimes, we just hang out with a little boy wizard fighting a big powerful evil because it entertains us.

This is not light stuff. It is not unimportant. It is extremely important.

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.

UPDATE: PG is sorry to remove/shut off comments, but he has tried to keep TPV separated from the politics surrounding the recent election, an island of comity in the midst of the storm if you will.

Authors fear accusations of cultural appropriation

From The Bookseller:

Cries of cultural appropriation could be dissuading authors from publishing books that reflect black, Asian, ethnic minority (BAME) audiences, the Westminster Media Forum has heard.

The issue, which emerged at the discussion forum yesterday, (24th January), was raised by Nicola Solomon, chief executive for the Society of Authors, who pleaded with publishers “please don’t troll our authors for cultural appropriation”.

“We need to have as many diverse voices as we can,” she said. “This is often hard to hear for publishers and others, but for our authors who maybe are trying to include other voices in their books – because after all, writing fiction is about imagination, and you ought to be able to imagine other worlds to your own and other faces than your own – please don’t troll writers for cultural appropriation every time they put a black face in their book if they are not black. We absolutely need as many authors as possible but we also need authors to write about a range of people and to imagine people they are not.

“It’s a terribly important thing and our authors are finding they are very, very caught between two stalls here,” she said.

Author and illustrator Shoo Raynor, who is on the committee of the writers and illustrators’ group at the SoA, said the issue of cultural appropriation was coming up in “every meeting”.

“Certainly at the moment, the thing that comes up every meeting is cultural appropriation and how we are often stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Raynor said. “Publishers will often ask to have ethnic characters removed from stories. I’ve not had that problem myself but various people have, purely because they’re not going to sell the book. We hear lots and lots of stories, horror stories.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

If you want to get smarter, speed-reading is worse than not reading at all

From Quartz:

We all know that reading is important. But we’re also busy. So we try to optimize by reading more quickly. And in this way, we miss the point of reading entirely.

I’ve noticed this tendency since I began posting about what I learn from reading over 100 books a year. One of the most frequent questions I get is about how to read faster. Inevitably this request includes a link to a book, “scientific article,” or random blog post declaring that there’s a way to read 10 times faster. But if you care about more than bragging rights, the point of books isn’t how fast you read, or even how much you read. It’s reading for deep understanding.

. . . .

Moreover, while reading is the key to getting smarter, speed-reading is really just a fancy way of fooling yourself into thinking you’re learning something. In reality, you’re just turning pages quickly. A May 2016 review of studies on speed-reading, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, reported, “there is a trade-off between speed and accuracy. It is unlikely that readers will be able to double or triple their reading speeds (e.g., from around 250 to 500–750 words per minute) while still being able to understand the text as well as if they read at normal speed.”

Link to the rest at Quartz

These Buses Have Bookshelves With Free Books

From BuzzFeed Books:

VHH, a bus company in Hamburg, Germany, decided to install shelves in some of their buses so that passengers can easily borrow books during their ride.

. . . .

All passengers have to do is pick a book they like, and start reading. If they don’t finish their book during their bus ride, they can take it home and either bring it back to the bus or mail it to the store that provides the books.

VHH started “Buchhaltestellen,” which means “book stop” in 2010 as a collaboration with second-hand department store Stilbruch. Over the past seven years, Stilbruch has provided almost one million books for the 150 buses that feature the shelves.

Link to the rest at BuzzFeed

Confessions of a Book Adopter

From BookRiot:

I need to make a confession.

I have an acute addiction, and it’s one that I’m sure afflicts many of you as well. I’m reaching out for help because I need to know I’m not alone in this.

Okay, here it is: I can’t stop adopting books. Dog-eared, mint condition, sample publications or Advance Reading Copies, it doesn’t matter. I bring them all home, often with a guilty look on my face as my wife asks what I’m hiding behind my back.

All people with addictions have triggers, and mine is my Brooklyn neighborhood. Brooklyn is full of similar literary types who would rather give up their rent-controlled apartments than throw a good book in the trash. Stoops and steps are often filled with gently used copies of books that I never knew existed but now desperately need to read.

Often, on the way home from doing the laundry or visiting friends, I’ll intentionally make detours down side streets, especially if I know I’ve scored there before. It may add an extra few minutes to my commute, but I know it will be worth it if I hit the jackpot. The excitement I get when I see a brown paper Trader Joe’s bag, and the disappointment I feel if it’s empty or filled with dishes, makes the hunt that much more intoxicating.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying

From The Guardian:

When I was a young woman, I drew a sort of perverse pride from my willingness to skip a meal or two in order to afford books. Soon enough, with the ubiquity of credit card touts on campus, I could buy both books and meals. I justified my increasing debt as necessary for my education, and joked with friends that while others spent their money on cars and expensive clothes, anything of value that I owned was on my bookcases.

I realise now that my “jokes” were, in fact, humblebrags. I did love books, always had, but I also took a certain arrogant pleasure from owning so many. It was also when my first “To Be Read” (TBR) pile started – all those volumes I had bought with the intention of reading them. And while years later, adult economics has forced me to stop shopping every time I step into a bookstore, my work as a reviewer now means that an average of five new titles arrive on my doorstep each week. My TBR pile is ceiling-high, and while I’m not going into debt, the visceral pleasure that I get from being surrounded by books remains the same.

In the 19th century, book collecting became common among gentlemen, mostly in Britain, and grew into an obsession that one of its participants called “bibliomania”. Thomas Frognall Dibdin, an English cleric and bibliographer, wrote Bibliomania, or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance, which was a gentle satire of those he saw as afflicted with this “neurosis”. Dibdin medicalised the condition, going so far as to provide a list of symptoms manifested in the particular types of books that they obsessively sought: “First editions, true editions, black letter-printed books, large paper copies; uncut books with edges that are not sheared by binder’s tools; illustrated copies; unique copies with morocco binding or silk lining; and copies printed on vellum.”

. . . .

One of the concerns in the early 19th century regarding book collecting was the fear that by hoarding books, buyers were denying their fellow countrymen their patrimony. The image of the rich dilettante was one of the conspicuous consumer of books that would never be read – the old TBR pile – therefore keeping books out of an intellectual commons. The collector was often portrayed as having a kind of antisocial disease that kept him from contributing to the greater good by sharing his printed riches. But the origin for many literary anthologies lay in the libraries of these private collectors – who were, in their own way, establishing a national literary inheritance.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to DM for the tip.

Nimble-chops

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

nimble-chops, n.

. . . .

A talkative person. Used chiefly as a form of address.

. . . .

1763 I. Bickerstaff Love in Village ii. ii. 30 Who bid you speak Mrs. Nimble Chops, I suppose the man has a tongue in his head to answer for himself.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

In the Face of Constant Censorship, Bulgakov Kept Writing

From The Literary Hub:

Before his death at a Siberian transit camp in 1938, Osip Mandelstam famously uttered, “Only in Russia is poetry respected—it gets people killed.” Today, Mikhail Bulgakov is one of the most iconic Russian authors. But his life as a writer in Moscow from the early 1920s until 1940 was replete with informants and searches, censorship and secrecy, until it ended suddenly and tragically at the age of 49. He’d spent his last 12 years working on a novel in secret—The Master and Margarita. He considered it his masterpiece. His widow, who was the inspiration for his Margarita, recognized the inherent danger of his satirical portrayal of Soviet bureaucracy and hid the manuscript until after the death of Stalin. Heavily censored, The Master and Margarita first appeared in serialized form in 1966 and 1967. Only in 1973 was it published in its entirety. It has been translated into every major world language and rendered in countless film and television and stage productions. It has been cited as the inspiration for The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.”

And while many focus on Bulgakov’s posthumous triumph, the examination of his entire career raises another pressing question: Faced with constant censorship and artistic oppression, why did he continue to write? Over the span of two decades, he wrote dozens of short stories, four novels, and ten plays. Yet after his first success, the play The Day of the Turbins, he published or produced little else, and from his letters, his notes, and his wife’s diary, we can witness the heartbreak this silence engendered. He received commissions for and wrote plays—and directors like Konstantin Stanislawski and Vsevolod Meyerhold begged to work on them—only to be barred from performance. Some of his work was smuggled abroad and gained popularity, but Bulgakov was repeatedly denied permission to emigrate. In a letter to the Soviet government, he wrote, “not being allowed to write is tantamount to being buried alive.” Perhaps the government thought they could silence him. Perhaps they thought they’d succeeded.

. . . .

In a letter to the Soviet government in 1930, Bulgakov described Crimson Island as a call for creative freedom. “I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn’t need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn’t need water.” He further pointed out that of the 301 references to him in the Soviet press, 298 of them were “hostile and abusive.” He quotes the Komsomol Pravda in particular, “Bulgakov, ONE OF THE NOUVEAU BOURGEOIS BREED, spraying vitriolic but impotent spittle over the working class and its Communist ideals.” Bulgakov himself had typed the clause in all capitals.

Like any modern political group, Stalin’s regime was predominantly interested in propagating their own version of truth. It’s unclear if it was Gorky or Stalin himself who coined the term Socialist Realism, but they called upon writers to craft stories imbued with it, portraying the heroism and splendor of the proletariat. The artist should depict Soviet life not realistically but aspirationally, with the larger goal of engineering a new culture. Stalin recognized the power of ideas—to influence and to promulgate lies, to maintain one’s power and to topple others.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Here’s a link to The Master and Margarita and to Amazon’s Mikhail Bulgakov page.

Husband of best-selling Benton City author dies

From the Tri-City Herald:

The husband of best-selling author Patricia Briggs died unexpectedly early Monday morning, according to posts to her website and Facebook page.

The couple lived in Benton City, and Mike Briggs acted as a research assistant for his wife’s books. Patricia Briggs writes the Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series.

“It is with a very heavy heart that I write of the passing of one of the finest men I have ever known,” Patricia Briggs’ assistant posted to Facebook Monday.

Mike Briggs ran the couple’s horse farm and kept the Patricia Briggs website up to date, in addition to acting as a research assistant. He previously worked as a chemist, biologist and “computer nerd,” according to the Patricia Briggs website.

Link to the rest at Tri-City Herald and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Matthew writes:

I met Mike Briggs at one of his wife’s readings/book events a few years ago. He struck up a conversation with me before it started and after a little while he mentioned casually he was her husband. We probably chatted almost an hour. A truly interesting guy with many great life experiences and a funny storyteller in his own right. He did most of the blog posts on Patricia Briggs’s website as well.

A Rediscovered Mark Twain Fairy Tale Is Coming Soon

From The New York Times:

 One night nearly 140 years ago, Samuel Clemens told his young daughters Clara and Susie a bedtime story about a poor boy who eats a magic flower that gives him the ability to talk to animals.

Storytelling was a nightly ritual in the Clemens home. But something about this particular tale must have stuck with Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, because he decided to jot down some notes about it.

The story might have ended there, lost to history. But decades later, the scholar John Bird was searching the Twain archives at the University of California, Berkeley, when he came across the notes for the story, which Twain titled “Oleomargarine.” Mr. Bird was astonished to find a richly imagined fable, in Twain’s inimitable voice. He and other scholars believe it may be the only written remnant of a children’s fairy tale from Twain, though he told his daughters stories constantly.

It’s impossible to know why Twain did not finish the tale, or if he ever intended it for a wider audience. Now, more than a century after Twain dreamed it up, “Oleomargarine” has taken on a strange new afterlife.

. . . .

After consulting a few other scholars, Mr. Bird brought the text to the attention of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, which sold it to Doubleday Books for Young Readers. This fall, Doubleday will release “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine,” an expanded version of the story that was fleshed out and reimagined by the children’s book author-and-illustrator team of Philip and Erin Stead.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Nielsen Sells BookScan, Other U.S. Book Industry Services to NPD Group

From the American Booksellers Association:

Nielsen has sold its U.S. market information and research services for the book industry to the NPD Group. The sale, announced on January 20, includes U.S.-based BookScan, PubTrack™ Digital, PubTrack™ Higher Education, PubTrack™ Christian, Books & Consumers™, PubEasy®, and PubNet®, all of which will become NPD-branded services in the U.S.

Nielsen will provide operations support for NPD BookScan and related U.S. services during a transition period, and no immediate changes are expected in the way American Booksellers Association member stores report to the Indie Bestseller Lists via BookScan.

NPD,  which has been in business for more than 50 years, provides market information and analytic solutions for over 20 industries and partners with more than 1,200 retailers, representing over 165,000 stores worldwide.

Link to the rest at American Booksellers Association