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

Meet the writers who still sell millions of books. Actually, hundreds of millions.

From The Washington Post:

Reading, contrary to previous reports, is not dead. In fact, it’s very far from it.

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho has legions of readers. His best-known book, “The Alchemist,” the story of a young Andalusian shepherd on a personal quest, spent almost eight years — two presidential election cycles — on the bestseller lists. It was translated into 81 languages.
But “The Alchemist” is only one of Coelho’s more than 30 works. “The Spy”came out in November. All told, the writer has sold an estimated 350 million books.

Yes, books, those word-filled works that people were supposed to have long ago abandoned for videos, blogs and podcasts.

And Coelho has company.

Horror master Stephen King, with more than 50 titles, has also sold an estimated 350 million books. Dan Brown has millions of readers as well. “The Da Vinci Code” — possibly sitting on your bookshelf — alone sold 80 million copies.

Books like John Grisham’s “The Whistler,” now topping bestseller lists, and King’s “End of Watch” will no doubt be stacked under Christmas trees nationwide this year, or paperbacks of the writers’ earlier works stuffed in stockings.

There are best-selling authors, and then there are mega-best-selling authors — writers who have sold 100 million copies or more. Writers like Ken Follett, Nora Roberts, James Patterson and Stephenie Meyer. And there may be more of them now than ever.

We live in a time of disruption in entertainment, when many people no longer go to the movies or buy CDs or watch television on television, and younger generations seek amusement largely through their phones. Yet there are still people who buy countless books, often by authors who don’t so much visit the bestseller list as dwell there.

Mega-best-selling authors don’t just have readers. They have fans, the way rock stars have fans. Their readers are collectors, determined to own every title. They make pilgrimages to author events — often, as in the case of Nicholas Sparks, in tears.

. . . .

Their astonishing sales are, in part, due to improved technology — e-books and the speed of printing and distribution. Not so long ago, booksellers and readers often had to — gasp — wait for additional printings of a runaway hit novel. Today, if you want a copy of Patterson’s “Cross the Line” or Sparks’s “Two by Two” and the local bookstore is out of stock, you can download an e-book in minutes or order a hardcover from Amazon to grace your doorstep the next day. Or your neighborhood bookseller can generally get a copy by week’s end.

The success of these works can also be attributed to the cumulative power of the international marketplace, although because of multiple foreign imprints and varying publishing formats (hardcover, paperback, e-books) total worldwide sales can only be estimated.

The mega-sellers’ ranks include romance writers (Roberts, Danielle Steele, Debbie Macomber), a goosebumpy spinner of creepy stories for children (R.L. Stine), a laureate of love (Sparks, who eschews the romance label), a Muggle of British wizardry (J.K. Rowling, selling more than an estimated 450 million books), a provocateur of shades of kink (E.L. James) and, more than any other genre, practitioners of suspense and thrills (Grisham, King, Brown, Dean Koontz, Jeffrey Archer, David Baldacci and Mary Higgins Clark).

Elite readers may scoff at consistent best-selling writers, few of whom will ever win coveted awards or land on best-of-the-year lists. But tent-pole authors are the powerful engines that keep publishing houses profitable and able to float authors who win acclaim but not necessarily large sales.

. . . .

How do you get to be a blockbuster author? Typing is not enough, though some of these novels certainly read that way. The writing quality and storytelling vary tremendously, but there are some similarities among hit writers.

Chiefly, they’re extraordinarily productive. They publish with Swiss-clock regularity — once a year, twice a year, monthly if it’s Patterson, who’s an industry unto himself, with a stable of writers working for him. Or Robert Ludlum, who continues to publish his “Bourne” series and other books long after his death in 2001, thanks to multiple authors writing under his name.

. . . .

Most of all, though, the top sellers deliver a terrific story. In their novels, especially thrillers and science fiction, plot is paramount. The heroes tend to be relatable — shy, clumsy, anxious, myopic, in recovery, short-tempered, middle-class, broke — but their stories are fantastic, over-the-top, a wild ride and a welcome escape from a reader’s quotidian life. In romance, the love is for the ages, destined, the opposite of casual. The story does not bog down with the challenge of dirty dishes or tax audits.

“You can’t underestimate the value of entertainment that these guys are delivering,” says Suzanne Herz, executive vice president of Doubleday, which publishes Grisham and Brown. “There’s usually a David-versus-Goliath theme. You want the hero to come out on top.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

11 words whose meanings have completely changed over time

From The Week:

Occasionally you will encounter someone with an etymological axe to grind. They insist that a certain word has to mean just what it meant hundreds of years ago when it was first spoken: For example, that decimate has to mean “kill exactly one tenth.” This is what’s known as the etymological fallacy. If you don’t feel like arguing with the person, here are 11 reasons you can just respond with “Nice!”

1. Nice

These days, we often say “Nice!” sarcastically to mean “That’s really ignorant!” If we traced the word nice back to its source, though, it wouldn’t be sarcastic at all. Today’s bland sense of “good” comes from the meaning “precise, fastidious” (still sometimes used, as in “a nice distinction”), which in turn came from a use in the 1400s to mean “overrefined, excessively delicate,” which was a narrowing down of the broader sense “foolish,” which is the meaning it had when it came into English via French from Latin. But the Latin original was nescius, which literally means “unknowing, ignorant.” And here we’ve all been using it without knowing where it came from. Nice!

2. Silly

So okay, nice comes from “ignorant.” Well, ignorance is bliss, right? Sure, and so is silliness… historically, at least. Silly started out as Old English sælig, “happy, blissful, fortunate” and by the 1200s it had gained the sense “blessed, pious,” which expanded to “innocent,” and then shifted to “pitiable” and so also “insignificant, poor.” By the 1500s it was being used to mean “ignorant, foolish,” and from there we got our more innocuous modern senses of “inane” and “giddy.”

. . . .

4. Throw

So why didn’t they just use throw to mean “throw”? Because — wait for it! — throw originally meant “twist.” Yeah, that’s right. That twisting motion your body makes when throwing? It may have led to this word for “twist” coming to mean “toss” — trading places with warp. If you’re wondering how people clearly spoke of the throwing motion while throw and warp were twisting around each other, the answer is that they mainly used cast.

. . . .

6. Awful

If down is up, good is bad, right? Well, awesome is awful, anyway. The word awful originally meant something rather like “awesome.” Its Old English form, egefull, meant “causing dread”; as ege became awe and came to mean not just “dread” but “profound respect,” awful came to mean “commanding profound respect or fear.” In the 1600s, it could mean “sublimely majestic” and was uttered as high praise to such things as a great cathedral. But a slang usage of awful to mean “monstrous, frightful, very ugly” caught on in the 1800s, and now it’s the only way you can use the word. A shadow of the original sense can be seen in our use of awfully to mean “very.”

. . . .

9. Surly

Not everyone was always impressed with the manners of the nobility, though. We may retain a certain respect for the kingly and lordly, but if we expand “ly” to all those called “sir” we run into sirly, which was respelled surly. At first it meant “lordly, majestic,” but then it got resentful and went downhill into “haughty, arrogant” and from that to “ill-tempered.”

Link to the rest at The Week and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Why More Writers Should Talk About Money

From The Atlantic:

Money makes people anxious—perhaps even more so with writers. The relationship between commerce and writing is commonly sketched out in caricatures: the starving artist, the hapless student, the privileged few who “make it.” More often, it’s not addressed at all.

In the past few years, some writers have begun to more openly approach questions of class. The internet has seen a profusion of such pieces: A writer who is “sponsored” by her husband calls on other writers to be more transparent about where their money comes from. Another outlines the clear advantages that being born rich, connected, and able to attend expensive schools furnishes to becoming a successful writer. In another case, a woman who wrote a well-received debut novel details how she went broke after a single advance.

A new book of essays and interviews with writers on the topic of money, released earlier this month, aims to dig even deeper. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin, includes hard truths and thoughtful meditations on class and capitalism while also functioning as a survival guide. In one essay, Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist, Difficult Women) speaks frankly about her student debt, annual income, and past day jobs. In another, Martin herself explains the kind of code-switching by which writers conceal their class background in talking about their careers.

By turns comforting, depressing, and illuminating, Scratch paints a fuller, more personal picture of what it’s like to make a living from—or while—writing. I spoke with Martin about the intersection of writing, money, and class, as well as the process of making Scratch.

. . . .

Joseph Frankel : Some of the writers you spoke with for Scratch were very frank about their finances and their class backgrounds. Others were a little more reluctant. What accounts for these different levels of openness?

Manjula Martin: In my experience working with writers on this topic, it’s often the people who have more money who don’t want to talk about money. Transparency is a really scary thing for a lot of people in any profession, and I think there are good reasons for that. But people who are excited to talk about the topic, even if they’re nervous, inherently understand … that it takes transparency to change stuff. It’s the old saw of “knowledge is power,” and I think that extends to writers and money.

There are a lot of barriers to access for people who come from low-income backgrounds, or maybe less traditional educational backgrounds, or who have had to deal with other types of prejudices in their life. If we want that to change, we need to start being honest about how this business actually works.

Frankel: Essays in the collection call attention to the creative value of day jobs and, in the case of Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams), their impact on writers’ output. Others, particularly the piece by Alexander Chee (The Queen of the Night, Edinburgh), think that the discussion of day jobs helps to romanticize unfair pay for writers. How do you think about the relationship between other kinds of work and writing?

Martin: I think that some of the stuff Chee says in his essay is particularly valuable for younger writers who maybe haven’t been around in an era where folks were ever really compensated well. I’ve certainly written for free. I’d bet Chee has done it too, and I think he talks about that in his essay. But if you’re hiring me to do work, you need to pay me, is sort of his stance. And I agree with that 100 percent.

You mentioned romanticizing that relationship between work and craft. I think it’s very tricky because there is a lot of dangerous romanticization, and that can set writers up, particularly in the beginnings of their careers, to blunder in a business they know nothing about.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Bill for the tip.

My Conversion to Kindleism

From The Coffeelicious:

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. But one area I have been putting effort into improving is finishing things I start, especially Medium articles. I’m also not trying to rush into the new year. I’m not avoiding it per se, I’m just really content taking things one day at a time over here. Hence why I’m publishing a piece reflecting on last year, 11 days into this year.

. . . .

But without a doubt, the most life changing transition I made in my life in 2016 was converting to Kindleism. That’s right, I downloaded the Kindle app.*

For those of you thinking, “Welcome to the 21st century Victoria,” I would like to say, “Thank you, I’ve heard so much about this place. It’s great to finally be here!”

And for those of you thinking, “Traitor! How could you?!” Allow me to explain.

Not long ago, I too, used to be one of those over-my-dead-body people when it came to reading books off of a screen. I looked with disdain on people with their Kindles, Nooks, and Paperwhites. “So smug. They’re not real readers,” I thought. “They’re just wannabes!”

But then it hit me — if I wanted to follow through on my ambition to read more books, I needed to change something. Converting to Kindle meant that I was finally taking my desire to read, one I had had for pretty much my entire life, more seriously. It was time I put my goals in front of my pride. Because the truth was, I liked thinking I was better than Kindlers. It was a way to keep myself separate, which is something I do when I’m scared or not sure about something (or someone).

I was also clinging to this idea that books are only books if you can hold them. That books are only real books if they’re in physical form — sheets of paper bound together with a hard spine. And if I can’t display all the ones I’ve read on my bookshelf, in hopes that someone will ask if I’ve read all of those, to which I would reply with feigned modesty that I had, what was the point? If there’s no evidence or trophy, was the book even read? Better yet, if I received no recognition for it, did I even want to read in the first place? I’m partly joking when I ask these things but like, mostly not.

Finally, there was a part of me that felt like reading should be arduous (reading on my phone is just so easy!) I felt like I should struggle in my pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, and brilliant storytelling. This is what too many of us are taught growing up, that for something to have meaning or value, it has to always be difficult. One has to have struggled in achieving it for said achievement to count.

Link to the rest at The Coffeelicious via Medium

With a heavy heart that we have decided to close Wilde City Press

From Facebook:

To all our friends, readers, reviewers and fans of our authors,

Due to various personal reasons it is with a heavy heart that we have decided to close Wilde City Press. We have enjoyed every moment of our journey over the past four years, and want to thank everyone who has been a part of our adventure.

Over the next few months we will be ensuring that everyone who has worked with Wilde City will be paid in full and have their rights returned to them. We are very proud of the work our authors and editors have given to the world, and we hope these books will be published again to be enjoyed for many more years to come. For members of our book club, we will give you plenty of time to back-up any files you have purchased through our site so you don’t lose anything.

Link to the rest at Facebook (see also Wilde City Press)and thanks to A. for the tip.

When Writing Becomes Just Another Lifestyle Good

From Literary Hub:

The bookstore next to my apartment is one of the few places where a budding writer can go in New York to and feel nothing but optimism about their literary prospects. People don’t just go there to buy books: they go there to gape at books, to think about books, to read—or fondle—books. Among the shelves of essays, short stories and criticism, the store has also set aside a few rows for writing manuals penned by icons like Stephen King and Haruki Murakami, advising aspiring writers on everything from how to construct a sentence to the best time to go to bed. Those who have gathered the courage to actually put words on paper can move on to the store’s book printing machine; I’ve seen many MFA grads pay a few bucks to get their thesis printed in book form, just as I’ve seen many hopefuls pay some additional bucks to display their paperbacks on the store’s self-publishing shelves.

Having recently graduated from an MFA program with a price tag higher than the average annual household income myself, this store is a comforting place for a writer. Inside, it feels less outrageous to have spent all this money to study how to be a writer. If so many places and services exist just to cater for writers like me, then surely that means the industry is booming?

This daydream extends beyond my book store. After graduation, an informal system of readings, talks, and other events exists to fill up the time I would have otherwise spent in school. I can go to a panel on Elena Ferrante to mingle with other writers and feel part of a literary community. Instead of my neighborhood cafe, I can take my laptop to one of the many co-working spaces especially designated for writers that can offer me a desk, like-minded company, and a reason to get dressed in the morning. Even if I were to move away from New York entirely, the internet would still offer a wide enough net of writerly support: there are complete industries offering online seminars on pitching, or remote workers that provide an editor’s eye—as long as I’m willing to pay the fee.

What all of this seems to point to is the emergence of writing as a lifestyle good.  Grad programs and services catering for writers are growing while newspapers and magazines shrink from repeated rounds of lay-offs, and this demonstrates exactly how living like a writer is no longer necessarily correlated to actually working as one.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

Rumors of the Demise of Books Greatly Exaggerated

From Gallup:

Despite the abundance of digital diversions vying for their time and attention, most Americans are still reading books. In fact, they are consuming books at nearly the same rate that they were when Gallup last asked this question in 2002 — before smartphones, Facebook or Twitter became ubiquitous. More than one in three (35%) appear to be heavy readers, reading 11 or more books in the past year, while close to half (48%) read between one and 10 and just 16% read none.

. . . .

Although the survey did not track the types of books that Americans read by age group, book reading in general is fairly similar by age group among U.S. adults. It is a bit more prevalent among the oldest and youngest age groups than among those in the middle years. Roughly nine in 10 adults aged 18 to 29 (91%) report reading at least one book in the past year — possibly related to the required reading among college students within this age group. The percentage among those aged 65 and older is 85%. Nearly four in 10 respondents in both age groups say they read more than 10 books.

The most meaningful differences in reading behavior since 2002 are evident among Americans aged 65 and older. Collectively, they are reading more books than the same age group did in 2002.

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

How ‘Sherlock of the library’ cracked the case of Shakespeare’s identity

From The Guardian:

Deep in the Folger Library, in Washington DC, Heather Wolfe says that studying Shakespeare makes an ideal preparation for the onset of Trump’s America. You can see her point: Shakespeare would have revelled in the mad excesses, the sinister vanities and the pervasive stench of cronyism and corruption surrounding the president-elect as America makes the painful transition from Barack Obama.

Dr Wolfe is a willowy, bright-eyed manuscript scholar, a paleographer specialising in Elizabethan England who in certain moods of candour might put you in mind of Portia or perhaps Cordelia. She’s also a Shakespeare detective who, last year, made the career-defining discovery that is going to transform our understanding of Shakespeare’s biography. In the simplest terms, Wolfe delivered the coup de grace to the wild-eyed army of conspiracy theorists, including Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi, who contest the authenticity, even the existence, of the playwright known to contemporaries as Master Will Shakespeare.

Wolfe is an accidental sleuth. Her scholar’s passion is as much for old manuscripts as for the obscurities surrounding our national poet. Project Dustbunny, for example, one of her initiatives at the Folger Shakespeare Library, has made some extraordinary discoveries based on microscopic fragments of hair and skin accumulated in the crevices and gutters of 17th-century books.

. . . .

Before Wolfe arrived on the scene, all that scholars could be certain about was that a man named Shaxpere, Shaxberd or Shakespear was born in Stratford in 1564, and that he was an actor whose name is printed in the collected edition of his work published in 1623. We also know that he married Anne Hathaway, and died in 1616, according to legend, on his birthday, St George’s Day. The so-called “Stratfordian” case for Shakespeare rested on these, and a few other facts, but basically, that was it.

. . . .

Wolfe’s appetite for manuscript corroboration has led her into many dusty corners of the Elizabethan archives. It was this research instinct that first led her to reopen the file on the coat of arms granted to Shakespeare’s father, the small-town glover, in 1596.

John Shakespeare, from Stratford-upon-Avon, was ambitious to rise in the world. He was certainly not the first Englishman keen to put his origins as a provincial tradesman behind him. Among his contemporaries in Stratford, he was a figure of fun for his social climbing. English class snobbery has a long pedigree. His son, who would continue the quest for official recognition after his father’s death, also attracted metropolitan disdain as “an upstart crow beautified with our feathers”. In 1601, after his father’s death, Shakespeare the upstart returned to the college of arms to renew the family application for a coat of arms. He had made a small fortune in the theatre, and was buying property in and around Stratford. Now he set out to consolidate his reputation as a “Gentleman”. Under the rules that governed life at the court of Elizabeth I, only the Queen’s heralds could grant this wish.

A much-reproduced sketch for a coat of arms crystallised Shakespeare’s hopes for legitimacy in the antique jargon of heraldry: “On a Bend Sables, a Speare of the first steeled argent. And for his Crest, a falcon, his winges displayed Argent, supporting a Speare Gould …” The needy applicant also attached a motto: Non Sanz Droit (“Not Without Right”). All this, and much more, is buried in the archives of the college of arms in London.

Wolfe’s fascination with Shakespeare’s quest for a family crest grew out of her immersion in the manners and customs of late Elizabethan England, in particular the College of Heralds. These court officials were required to administer the complex rituals governing the lives of the knights, barons and earls surrounding Queen Elizabeth.

An adjunct to the court, the College of Heralds was not exempt from its own secret feuds. In 1602, the internecine rivalry between Sir William Dethick, the Garter King of Arms, and another herald, Ralph Brooke, burst into the open when Brooke released a list of 23 “mean persons” whose applications for crests (he claimed) had been wrongfully preferred by Dethick. When “Shakespeare the Player” found himself on this list, his campaign for social advancement seemed in jeopardy. A bitter row broke out at court between two factions. Shakespeare himself became an object of ridicule. Another rival, Ben Jonson, in his satire Every Man out of his Humour, poked fun at him as a rustic buffoon who pays £30 for a ridiculous coat of arms with the humiliating motto “Not Without Mustard”.

It’s at this point in the story that Wolfe discovered “the smoking gun”. In the Brooke-Dethick feud, it becomes clear that “Shakespeare, Gent. from Stratford” and “Shakespeare the Player” are the same man. In other words, “the man from Stratford” is indeed the playwright. Crucially, in the long-running “authorship” debate, this has been a fiercely contested point. But Wolfe’s research nails any lingering ambiguity in which the Shakespeare deniers can take refuge.

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

A Brief Survey of the Great American Novel(s)

From Literary Hub:

On this date in 1868, novelist John William DeForest coined the now inescapable term “the great American novel” in the title of an essay in The Nation. Now, don’t forget that in 1868, just a few years after the end of the Civil War, “America” was still an uncertain concept for many—though actually, in 2017 we might assert the same thing, which should give you a hint as to why the term “great American novel” is so problematic.

At the time of his writing, DeForest claimed that the Great American Novel, which he defined as “the picture of the ordinary emotions and manners of American existence,” had not yet been achieved, though he thought he could spot it on the horizon—he noted that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was “the nearest approach to the desired phenomenon.” (He also pooh-poohed both Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, which is why, though others have dubbed them GANs, they don’t appear below.)

In the nearly 150 years since the essay was written, the argument over the Great American Novel—what it is, what it should be, do we have one, do we need one, why so many white men—has gone on and on. As A.O. Scott memorably put it, “the Great American Novel, while also a hybrid (crossbred of romance and reportage, high philosophy and low gossip, wishful thinking and hard-nosed skepticism), may be more like the yeti or the Loch Ness monster—or Sasquatch, if we want to keep things homegrown. It is, in other words, a creature that quite a few people—not all of them certifiably crazy, some of them bearing impressive documentation—claim to have seen.”

. . . .

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Gatsby’s magic emanates not only from its powerhouse poetic style—in which ordinary American language becomes unearthly—but from the authority with which it nails who we want to be as Americans. Not who we are; who we want to be. It’s that wanting that runs through every page of Gatsby, making it our Greatest American Novel. But it’s also our easiest Great American Novel to underrate: too short; too tempting to misread as just a love story gone wrong; too mired in the Roaring Twenties and all that jazz.

–Maureen Corrigan, So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, 2014

. . . .

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

There was no sense [upon its publication] that a great American novel had landed on the literary world of 1885. The critical climate could hardly anticipate T. S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway’s encomiums 50 years later. In the preface to an English edition, Eliot would speak of “a master piece. … Twain’s genius is completely realized,” and Ernest went further. In “Green Hills of Africa,” after disposing of Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau, and paying off Henry James and Stephen Crane with a friendly nod, he proceeded to declare, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. … It’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” … What else is greatness but the indestructible wealth it leaves in the mind’s recollection after hope has soured and passions are spent? It is always the hope of democracy that our wealth will be there to spend again, and the ongoing treasure of Huckleberry Finn is that it frees us to think of democracy and its sublime, terrifying premise: let the passions and cupidities and dreams and kinks and ideals and greed and hopes and foul corruptions of all men and women have their day and the world will still be better off, for there is more good than bad in the sum of us and our workings. Mark Twain, whole embodiment of that democratic human, understood the premise in every turn of his pen, and how he tested it, how he twisted and tantalized and tested it until we are weak all over again with our love for the idea.

–Norman Mailer, The New York Times, 1984

. . . .

Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

The Adventures of Augie March is the Great American Novel. Search no further. All the trails went cold forty-two years ago. The quest did what quests very rarely do: it ended. … Augie March, finally, is the Great American Novel because of its fantastic inclusiveness, its pluralism, its qualmless promiscuity. In these pages the highest and lowest mingle and hobnob in the vast democracy of Bellow’s prose. Everything is in here, the crushed and the exalted, and all the notches in between, from the kitchen stiff… to the American eagle.

–Martin Amis, The Atlantic Monthly, 1995

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

A Peek Inside the Strange World of Fake Academia

From The New York Times:

The caller ID on my office telephone said the number was from Las Vegas, but when I picked up the receiver I heard what sounded like a busy overseas call center in the background. The operator, “John,” asked if I would be interested in attending the 15th World Cardiology and Angiology Conference in Philadelphia next month.

“Do I have to be a doctor?” I said, because I’m not one. I got the call because 20 minutes earlier I had entered my phone number into a website run by a Hyderabad, India, company called OMICS International.

“You can have the student rate,” the man replied. With a 20 percent discount, it would be $599. The conference was in just a few weeks, I pointed out — would that be enough time for the academic paper I would be submitting to be properly reviewed? (Again, I know nothing about cardiology.) It would be approved on an “expedited basis” within 24 hours, he replied, and he asked which credit card I would like to use.

If it seems that I was about to be taken, that’s because I was. OMICS International is a leader in the growing business of academic publication fraud. It has created scores of “journals” that mimic the look and feel of traditional scholarly publications, but without the integrity. This year the Federal Trade Commission formally charged OMICS with “deceiving academics and researchers about the nature of its publications and hiding publication fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.”

. . . .

OMICS is also in the less well-known business of what might be called conference fraud, which is what led to the call from John. Both schemes exploit a fundamental weakness of modern higher education: Academics need to publish in order to advance professionally, get better jobs or secure tenure. Even within the halls of respectable academia, the difference between legitimate and fake publications and conferences is far blurrier than scholars would like to admit.

. . . .

In October, a New Zealand college professor submitted a paper to the OMICS-sponsored “International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics,” which was held last month at the Hilton Atlanta Airport. It was written using the autocomplete feature on his iPhone, which produced an abstract that begins as follows: “Atomic Physics and I shall not have the same problem with a separate section for a very long long way. Nuclear weapons will not have to come out the same day after a long time of the year he added the two sides will have the two leaders to take the same way to bring up to their long ways of the same as they will have been a good place for a good time at home the united front and she is a great place for a good time.”

The paper was accepted within three hours.

An OMICS employee who identified himself as Sam Dsouza said conference papers are reviewed by its “experts” within 24 hours of submission. He couldn’t provide a list of its reviewers or their credentials.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Fridges and washing machines could be vital witnesses in murder plots

From The Telegraph:

High-tech washing machines and fridges will soon be used by detectives gathering evidence from crime scenes, experts have forecast.

The advent of ‘the internet of things’ in which more devices are connected together in a world of ‘smart working’ could in future provide important clues for the police.

Detectives are currently being trained to look for gadgets and white goods which could provide a ‘digital footprint’ of victims or criminals.

Mark Stokes, the head of the digital, cyber and communications forensics unit at the Metropolitan Police told The Times: “Wireless cameras within a device, such as fridge, may record the movement of owners and suspects.

. . . .

The new Samsung Family Hub Fridge has cameras that carry a live feed of its contents, so shoppers can tell what they need when they are out at the shop. The dates and times that people logon to the fridge, therefore could provide alibis or prove people were not were they said they were.

Mr Stokes said detectives of the future would carry a ‘digital forensics toolkit’ which would allow them to analyse microchips and download data at the scene, rather than removing devices for testing.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to Dan, who says, “Nothing to do with publishing, except new story ideas. Not only Alexa sits on the cutting edge of crime investigation.” for the tip.