The Ancient History of Intelligent Machines

From The MIT Press Reader:

Robots have histories that extend far back into the past. Artificial servants, autonomous killing machines, surveillance systems, and sex robots all find expression from the human imagination in works and contexts beyond Ovid (43 BCE to 17 CE) and the story of Pygmalion in cultures across Eurasia and North Africa. This long history of our human-machine relationships also reminds us that our aspirations, fears, and fantasies about emergent technologies are not new, even as the circumstances in which they appear differ widely. Situating these objects, and the desires that create them, within deeper and broader contexts of time and space reveals continuities and divergences that, in turn, provide opportunities to critique and question contemporary ideas and desires about robots and artificial intelligence (AI).

As early as 3,000 years ago we encounter interest in intelligent machines and AI that perform different servile functions. In the works of Homer (c. eighth century BCE) we find Hephaestus, the Greek god of smithing and craft, using automatic bellows to execute simple, repetitive labor. Golden handmaidens, endowed with characteristics of movement, perception, judgment, and speech, assist him in his work. In his “Odyssey,” Homer recounts how the ships of the Phaeacians perfectly obey their human captains, detecting and avoiding obstacles or threats, and moving “at the speed of thought.” Several centuries later, around 400 BCE, we meet Talos, the giant bronze sentry, created by Hephaestus, that patrolled the shores of Crete. These examples from the ancient world all have in common their subservient role; they exist to serve the desires of other, more powerful beings — either gods or humans — and even if they have sentience, they lack autonomy. Thousands of years before Karel Čapek introduced the term “robot” to refer to artificial slaves, we find them in Homer.

Given the prevalence of intelligent artificial objects in Hellenic culture, it is no surprise that engineers in the later Hellenistic period turned to designing and building these machines. Mathematicians and engineers based in Alexandria began writing treatises on automaton-making and engineering around the third century BCE. These included instructions for how to make elaborate dioramas with moving figures, musical automata, mechanical servants, and automata powered by steam, water, air, and mechanics. Some of these devices were intended to illustrate the physical principles animating them, and others were scaled up and incorporated into public spectacle. Regardless of size, they were intended to evoke a network of emotional responses, including wonder and awe.

Robots were so prevalent in the imaginative and material culture of the Greek-speaking world that they were seen as emblematic of Hellenistic culture by others. Buddhist legends focused on north-eastern India from the fourth and third centuries BCE recount the army of automata that guarded Buddha’s relics, built with knowledge smuggled from the Graecophone world. In one version, which features both killer robot-assassins and robot-guardians, a young man travels in disguise to the land of the Yavanas (Greek speakers) to learn the art of automaton-making, a secret closely guarded by the yantakaras (automaton makers) there, knowledge that he then steals to make the artificial guards. We find stories of automatic warriors guarding the Buddha’s relics in Chinese, Sanskrit, Hindu, and Tibetan texts. Additionally, mechanical automata also appear elsewhere in the Chinese historical record: for example, at the court of Tang ruler Empress Wu Zhou (c.624–705 CE).

The trope of the guardian/killer automaton also appears linked to stories about the ancient world from medieval Latin Christendom — where, unlike much of the rest of Eurasia, people lacked the knowledge of how to make complex machines. In an Old French version of the Aeneid (c.1160 CE), a golden robot-archer stands sentry over the tomb of a fallen warrior queen, and in the history of Alexander the Great (c.1180 CE), the ruler encounters golden killer robots guarding a bridge in India and armed copper robots protecting the tomb of “the emir of Babylon.” Hellenistic handbooks on automaton-making, translated into Arabic in the ninth century CE at the Abbasid court in Baghdad, also influenced the design and construction of automata in Islamdom that were usually placed in palaces and mosques, and included musician-automata, programmable clocks and fountains, and mechanical animals. These makers in Islamdom innovated on the designs of the Alexandrian School and created increasingly complex machines; although some of the objects hearken back to much older forms. In the work of courtier and engineer al-Jazari (1136–1206 CE), for example, we find designs for wheeled cupbearers and servants, an echo of the wheeled servants attending to the gods on Mount Olympus.

Al-Jazari’s courtly mechanical servants and the killer sentries in imaginative literature share a link to surveillance, foreshadowing another purpose to which AI and robots have often been turned. Sentries and guards keep watch and discern friend from foe, while courtly servants operate in ritualized, hierarchical environments where people are under constant scrutiny. Objects like those of al-Jazari’s designs were found throughout Islamdom and the eastern Roman Empire, but were unable to be built or reproduced in the Latin Christian West until the late 13th century. However, they appear earlier in imaginative texts as luxury objects, in elite settings, as fantasies of perfect surveillance and perfectly obedient servants.

. . . .

Robots and AI have long been used both to foreground and to trouble the conceptual boundary between born and made, and the related boundary between life and not-life. Yet the contexts in which these stories appear supply different meanings to the same story. In the early Taoist text “The Book of Liezi”(compiled circa fourth century), the skill of the artificer is appreciated by the king and his court, but in other stories about learned men and their automaton-children, such as those attached to Albertus Magnus in the 14th and 15th centuries, and to René Descartes in the 18th and 19th centuries, the robot is destroyed by ignorant people out of fear. In E. T. A. Hoffman’s version of this tale, “The Sandman” (1816), the inability to distinguish made from born drives the protagonist, Nathanael, insane and, eventually, to his death.

Link to the rest at The MIT Press Reader

The MIT Press article is excerpted from The Lovemakers, edited by Aifric Campbell

The Collected Prose of T.S. Eliot

From The Wall Street Journal:

If fame is the name of your desire, writing about literature is among the least likely ways to find it. From the 17th century until today, only four literary critics, John Dryden (1631-1700), Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Matthew Arnold (1828-1888) and T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)—five if one includes that one-man Tower of Babel, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)—have attained enduring reputations. All five also wrote poetry, but, apart from Eliot, it is doubtful if today any would be remembered for his poetry alone.

What these men have in common is that all were, in the old-fashioned phrase, men of letters. T.S. Eliot, who may have been the last of the breed, defined the man of letters as “the writer for whom his writing is primarily an art, who is as much concerned with style as with content; the understanding of whose writings, therefore, depends as much upon appreciation of style as upon comprehension of content.” Literature, for the man of letters, who not only writes about it but practices it by himself writing poetry, fiction or drama, provides wisdom beyond all other wisdoms, surpassing science, social science, history and philosophy, while incorporating them all.

The man of letters, like the poet, has a responsibility to the language, for, to quote Eliot, “unless we have those few men who combine an exceptional sensibility with an exceptional power over words, our own ability, not merely to express, but even to feel any but the crudest emotions, will degenerate.” He is also responsible, as Eliot wrote in his essay “The Function of Criticism” (1923), for “the reorientation of tradition” in the arts, and, like the artist, is “the perpetual upsetter of conventional values, the restorer of the real.”

The responsibility of the man of letters is finally for the culture at large. His duty, as Eliot wrote in the 1944 essay “The Responsibility of the Man of Letters in the Cultural Restoration of Europe,” is “neither to ignore politics and economics, nor, certainly, to desert literature,” but to “be vigilantly watching the conduct of politicians and economists, for the purpose of criticising and warning, when the decisions and actions of politicians and economists are likely to have cultural consequences,” for “of these consequences . . . the man of letters is better qualified to foresee them, and to perceive their seriousness.” As he views politics as being too serious to be left to the politicians, the man of letters feels education is hopeless without a clear ideal of the educated individual. “I hope,” Eliot wrote in “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture,” “that we shall not consciously or unconsciously drift towards the view that it is better for everyone to have a second-rate education than for only a small minority to have the best.” Which is, of course, where we are today.

. . . .

In his late 20s Eliot would write of Henry James, whom he much admired, that “it is the final perfection, the consummation of an American to become, not an Englishman, but a European—something which no born European, no person of any European nationality, can become.” Cosmopolitan in interest and outlook though he was, Eliot went on to become an Englishman to the highest power: He applied for British citizenship, at the age of 39, in 1927, the same year he was confirmed in the Church of England. So rigidly English did he seem that Virginia Woolf called him “the man in the four-piece suit.”

The young T.S. Eliot was also a careerist, fully aware what would bring him the prominence and ultimately the fame he craved. Eliot wrote to J.H. Woods, one of his teachers at Harvard, that there were two ways to succeed in the literary life in England: one being to appear in print everywhere, the other to appear less frequently but always to dazzle. Eliot arranged to do both, publishing his dazzling poems at lengthy intervals, propelling himself to prominence with the prolificacy of his brilliant criticism and commentary.

. . . .

How prolific, and to what impressive effect, is now revealed in “The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot,” a handsome trans-Atlantic co-publication of Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber, London. An eight-volume hardcover collection, “The Complete Prose”—edited by many hands under the guidance of Ronald Schuchard, a professor of English emeritus at Emory University—is elaborately but relevantly footnoted, a work of learning and scholarship. The separate introductions to its eight volumes, running to roughly 250 pages, constitute a splendid biography in themselves. This edition of the prose makes plain, as nothing before it quite has, that T.S. Eliot, as the introduction to the seventh volume has it, “lived life large—larger than we have known.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Should be a free link, but if it doesn’t work, PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Iconic downtown Ann Arbor bookstore will close early next year

From Michigan Live:

Crazy Wisdom Bookstore is closing permanently early next year due to the “relentlessness” of running a retail business, its owners said.

“Our own family has grown up, and we’re in our 60s, and we’re ready to look out upon a new and different horizon,” Bill Zirinsky and Ruth Schekter, bookstore owners, wrote on Facebook. “The bookstore had a very profitable year (due to having closed the tea room at the onset of the pandemic), and that’s not a bad way to go out.”

. . . .

“We know that Crazy Wisdom has been a unique destination and special bookstore in our region, and treasured by its friends and customers,” the owners wrote. “We and our longtime managers and staff, past and present, have so much gratitude for having had the privilege over these decades to serve people in our region who are searching in their lives – spiritually, psychologically, holistically, and in terms of sustainable and conscious living.”

The building itself, which Zirinsky and Schekter own, is not for sale, they said, adding that they are, however, open to selling the bookstore or renting the space.

Although they have no “preconceived ideas” about who a potential buyer might be, they do want someone with “financial werewithal,” Zirinksy said.

“That allowed us to sustain the store for over three decades, and to create a physically appealing environment in a historic building downtown, and to expand into having live music, poetry readings, fairy teas, storytelling nights, and so on,” Zirinsky wrote in an email to MLive. “But one would also want that buyer to be a reader, a lover of the written word, a wordsmith. And to appreciate the fine aesthetics of the store’s jewelry and craft items, and its non-linear loveliness.”

Link to the rest at Michigan Live

For visitors from outside the United States, Ann Arbor is the home of the 200+ year-old University of Michigan, a selective public university with over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students and a faculty and staff of about the same size, including 20,000 employees at the University’s hospital.

Per the 2020 US Census, Ann Arbor had a population of about 124,000 people. (PG has no idea how many students were or were not included in this count.)

Suffice to say, the University and those associated with it are most of what’s going on in Ann Arbor on a daily basis.

PG includes this information because college and university towns are generally known as places where people purchase a lot of books. Traditionally, these have been wonderful places to operate a bookstore.

Heavy Lifting

From The Offing:

My mother said we have to wait until it’s late outside, and her sister Gina agreed. I knew they wouldn’t do anything until people dragged themselves off their porches and closed their doors, but I wondered if there ever came a time when no one in the projects was peering out a window or rushing back from a graveyard shift. Gina prayed out loud that my brother wouldn’t come home anytime soon. Just in case, Mom decided to keep the gun downstairs.

I figured he’d say it didn’t belong to him. Bernard was seventeen and seemed to do everything for his friends, and not the ones he’d known all his life, but this new bunch he hung out with all hours of the night. I pictured my brother pacing the living room and trying to buy some time with an apology or a pitiful excuse. Mom said if he came home soon or not, it didn’t matter. “One way or other, that thing is out of my house tonight.”

An hour earlier, she’d gone upstairs and into Bernard’s bedroom. She picked up a plate of old fries and a sticky mug and left, then changed her mind and went back. She dumped a pile of crumpled sweatshirts and jeans from the corner into the hamper. After she hung up his bomber jacket, she started in on the sweat socks littering the bottom of his closet. She spotted the corner of a towel and tugged on it, but it was stuck on something. She went in further and pulled. The towel fell away. Her hand trembled as it moved down the length of a double-barreled shotgun.

Mom tried her best to keep Bernard out of trouble. When she grounded him, he had to hunker down in his room or on the porch. Sometimes, she let him go next door and hang with his best friend. But lately, he found every excuse not to be home, and she missed him. At night they had watched movies like Boyz in the Hood and Total Recall and talked long after the credits rolled. But now Gina drove her through our neighborhood after dark sometimes, and they searched the streets for him. They had no idea that if he saw the red Subaru first, he’d duck behind his boys. Of course, I didn’t know either, but years later, my brother told me he’d become good at hiding. Bernard tucked his hard-earned money into an old pair of Nikes, stashed his new clothes and sneakers at his friends’ houses, and kept his beeper deep in his jacket pocket.

I stood downstairs in front of the coat closet with my mother and aunt on either side of me. We were close to the kitchen, and I heard my clothes spinning in the washing machine; they were almost done. I’d come over for a short visit, but now I’d sit tight. My mother needed me, even if I could do little to help. I opened the closet door. Mom picked up the gun and looked at us. “This damn thing feels heavier than the whole world.”

Link to the rest at The Offing

Ghostwriters Come Out of the Shadows

From Publishers Weekly:

When Penguin Random House announced in July that it would be publishing a memoir by Prince Harry, there was one name that was, conspicuously and appropriately, left off the press release. The man channeling the Duke of Sussex’s voice for the book, J.R. Moehringer, was nowhere to be found among the details the publisher released. But those in the industry know that Moehringer, one of the highest-profile ghostwriters working, will be an essential component in the royal’s book—even if his name never appears on the final product.

Ghostwriting, or “collaborating” as it’s now called, is nothing new. For as long as celebrities have been writing books, others have quietly helped them do it. It’s highly specialized work that requires a blend of skills; industry sources say the best collaborators are equal parts editor, reporter, writer, mimic, and shrink. And in today’s industry, where publishers are more and more reliant on nonfiction projects by authors with significant platforms, good collaborators are in higher demand than ever. It’s also the kind of work, very handsomely paid at the high end, which is appealing to a growing population: writers, journalists, and editors.

Madeleine Morel, a literary agent who’s spent her career representing ghostwriters (they’re the only clients at her company 2M Communications Ltd., which is over 20 years old), said that, in the past, “talking about ghostwriting was a bit like sheepishly admitting you’d done internet dating.” No longer.

The growing demand for celebrity books (coupled with the increasing presence in publishing of Hollywood-backed talent firms like Creative Artists Agency, William Morris Endeavor, and United Talent Agency), has created a greater need for high-level ghostwriters. Morel believes this has led to a turning point: “I always say it’s the best of times and the worst of times. It’s the best because there’s more collaborative work out there than ever, and it’s the worst because there are more collaborators out there than ever.” She cited a number of writers who have, in the past five to 10 years, turned to ghostwriting as other avenues have dried up—former midlist authors, former long-form journalists whose newspapers or magazines have closed, and former editors who’ve lost jobs to consolidation.

So how many high-level ghostwriters are there? When asked about collaborators like Moehringer, who’s rumored to command seven figures per project (and who’s written two critically acclaimed nonfiction books of his own and has a couple of Pulitzers for reporting), Morel noted they are “few and far between.” Insiders cited a handful of other authors with well-established literary pedigrees like Moehringer who occasionally moonlight as ghostwriters.

. . . .

Below the top tier of collaborators, there are a handful of well-regarded writers who make a very handsome living as ghosts. Morel estimated that the “best of the best”—meaning ghostwriters with a number of bestselling books by high-profile figures on their résumés—includes 20–30 people, “maybe up to 50.” One high-level industry professional, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that good ghosts can make anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000 per year. Morel said the average ghostwriting project for her clients pays $75,000–$100,000 and usually takes about six months. While projects differ, most ghostwriters tend to get paid a flat fee. (Some can, and do, demand a percentage of the advance, and/or books sales, but sources said this is less common.)

Gail Ross, a veteran literary agent at the Washington, D.C.–based Ross Yoon Agency, who estimated that half of the books she sells require a collaborator, wouldn’t endorse the notion that ghostwriters have necessarily grown in influence or stature in recent years. She claimed they’ve always been “very, very important.” But it is true, she went on, “that back in the day no one wanted to say they used a collaborator or ghostwriter, and now it’s totally respected. It’s also acknowledged by most people [who use collaborators] that it’s the only way they could get their book done.”

Will Lippincott, a senior agent at Aevitas Creative Management, said that in the past three years he’s done more business with “collaborative agents and their writers than in the prior 10.” Estimating that 25%–30% of his projects have “a collaborator attached at some point,” Lippincott said these specialists are either brought in at the proposal stage (and help the author craft that) or after the book is sold. He believes the work they do is “being valued at a higher level” than ever.

The rise of the term collaborator within publishing speaks to the respect ghostwriters command from others working behind the scenes. As one industry insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, put it, the term ghostwriter “implies subterfuge,” which they called “problematic.” The work is, they went on, totally “above board” and there’s “no reason to hide it.”

“I love ghostwriters,” said Anthony Mattero, an agent at CAA. Estimating that there are 50–100 top ghostwriters who do two-to-three books per year and “always work with the biggest names,” he said he believes the change in nomenclature speaks to a shift in understanding about what ghostwriters actually do. “In the past it was, ‘You talk and I’ll write.’ Now I think [collaborators] have more engagement with the process.” He added that, as an agent, he knows he needs great collaborators who are fully invested in order for projects to work. “We want them to like the idea and be invested in the creative process.”

. . . .

Morel said she often has to insist on a clause that allows her ghostwriters to be able to put their projects on their résumés. Because ghostwriters are often privy to private details about the lives of their famous subjects, NDA-style agreements are standard parts of their contracts. In short, it’s a bit like Fight Club—ghostwriters can rarely say whom they’ve worked with, much less what they’ve discussed with those people.

For many, though not all, ghostwriters, this is as it should be. One who spoke on the condition of anonymity expressed a desire to have their work more out in the open. “I’ll generally ask for a ‘with’ credit and often get turned down,” they said. “I’d love to be on the cover of all of them. It would be easier for me to talk about the books and be out there promoting them.”

Hilary Liftin, a long-time ghostwriter who has 13 bestsellers to her name, said that when she started, it was assumed things written by ghostwriters “were somehow subpar or hackey.” While this has unquestionably changed within the industry, it may not be true for the general public.

Liftin prefers not to be mentioned on her book covers, but would like to see any negative perceptions about collaboration dispelled. “I don’t want to be on the jacket for aesthetic reasons and because I’m not trying to be a famous ghostwriter,” she said. “I say ghost because I like the word, but I do think as a professional you want to be visible, so I’m usually, but not always, on the title page.”

Another bestselling ghostwriter, Joni Rodgers, said she sometimes feels that everyone knows about her career but no one wants to talk about it. Her comparison? “You know your parents are having sex,” she said, “but you don’t want to hear about it.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Censorship Has Been Alive Forever. It’s at Fever Pitch Today.

From BookRiot:

There are a lot of bad takes this week on the whys and hows of the growing firestorm of book challenges. I’m not going to link to them, but the reality is this isn’t new, media that’s reporting on “firsts” for any area are behind the curve by months (thanks, death of local journalism), and no, it’s not school boards who are willy nilly banning books. These complaints are coming from grown adults who may or may not live in a community and more often than not, they’re aligned with right-wing groups funded by a lot of dark money. Moms of Liberty — currently putting a bounty on teachers who talk about systemic racism — is but one of many of such groups across the United States, typically spearheaded by a failed or hopeful politician. They share information across public and private social media tools (here’s a great example of an extremist group gearing up their followers to at protest one school board meeting this week). These groups put board members in a position of being on the defense, and in many cases board members need to be escorted to their vehicles after a meeting because their literal safety is at risk.

Are there folks on the inside starting these censorship calls? Sure. But the vast majority are not, and in a not-insignificant number of cases lately, the adults who are complaining aren’t parents of students in the district.

. . . .

Something else to be aware of: the same groups that are pushing anti-antiracism with their anti-“CRT” movement that conveniently includes anyone who isn’t straight, too, is going to start coming hard for mental health. They’re already protesting social emotional learning, and the next logical step is the books that talk about mental health. (This is, of course, the same groups that complain students are miserable and why won’t anyone help them. The fault lies, conveniently, in mask mandates or virtual learning or any other anti-science scapegoat).

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Per his usual practice, PG will remind one and all that he doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts on TPV.

With respect to the OP, PG is of the opinion that not every decision that school boards, private schools, teachers, etc., regarding books they select for students to read is automatically a correct decision because of the power or authority that such groups and individuals possess or the role they play in a school or community. PG speaks as the son of one public school teacher, the brother of another and the husband of a former college instructor.

While civilized societies can reasonably place limits on some decisions parents may make that affect their children, the history of harmful use of force, physical or otherwise, by state state actors regulating what may be said or read or what may not be said or read is not read is a dark one.

At least during the past few years in the United States, more than a few groups of people who disagree with others have adopted a pattern of personal attacks on those who don’t think as they think. This same pattern of behavior has included over-the-top characterizations of social or political opponents.

Historically, true Censorship was imposed by government agencies on a population or group. In our time, censorship has involved prohibitions that limited the ability for social dissidents to express opposition or disagreement with the powers that exercised control over them.

As such, PG suggests that groups of individuals who object to books they find harmful or offensive being used by a government-sponsored entity for the education of the children of the dissenters doesn’t qualify as censorship.

Instead, such objections are a protest against the imposition of ideas and values to which the protesters strongly object being imposed on their children by an organization and individuals who possess and exercise a great deal of power over the children of the protesters. If a state requires mandatory or quasi-mandatory attendance of children in specified types of educational institutions, that qualifies as state action.

For the record, PG thinks mandatory attendance of children at public schools is a generally good idea, assuming that parents who feel strongly enough about the topic to take on the responsibility of educating their children outside of the public school system.

While education outside of formal public or private schools can go badly wrong, so can education of at least some children in formal schools can also contribute to the same end for a child.

As only a slight diversion, PG is not aware of whether this is happening elsewhere or not, but over the past ten or fifteen years, homeschooling of children has been a growing phenomenon in the United States. A bit of quick online research indicates that an estimated 3-4% of school-age children were being homeschooled.

It interests PG that an outsized percentage of homeschooled contestant have advanced to the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee over the past several years. The 2021 Spelling Bee winner was a 14-year-old homeschooled African-American girl from New Orleans.

The Book of Mother

From Vogue:

Violaine Huisman’s debut novel, The Book of Mother, tells the story of a 20th- and 21st-century Parisian woman’s life and legacy. Part One is told from the perspective of Violaine, the younger of her two daughters, who is ten when Maman—her beautiful, charismatic, and wildly excessive mother—suffers a breakdown and is hospitalized. Part Two traces the arc of Maman’s, aka Catherine’s, life—from the emotional penury of her hardscrabble, working-class childhood; through her early success (earned through the harshest discipline) as a dancer; to a second marriage that finds her navigating a high-wire act between her life as a woman and the demands of motherhood, while feeling entirely out-of-place amidst the gauche caviar of upper-class Parisian intellectuals; to the betrayals of her third husband, which lead to her undoing. In Part Three, her daughters, now grown women, deal with Maman’s complex legacy.

I lived with the novel’s larger-than-life characters for months while translating Huisman’s winding, revved-up (and at times, improbably comic) Proustian sentences. I heard their voices and felt the shadow of history and the Shoah hanging over them as they breathed the heady air of Paris in the ‘70s and ‘80s, with its boutiques, salons, and swinging night clubs. More recently, I sat down with Violaine, who had returned briefly to New York—her home for the past 20-years—in the midst of an extended sojourn in France, to talk about The Book of Mother. The conversation that follows, over lunch at Café Sabarsky, has been edited and condensed.

In all our discussions about the book while I was translating it, I never asked you, how did you come to write The Book of Mother?

There were two moments of genesis. Ten years before the book’s publication in France [in 2018], I wrote my mother’s life story, but as a monologue, using only her voice. It was similar to the voice that I use in the novel for her tirades and harangues—that long, digressive, angry, wild tone.

I showed that manuscript to a publisher who admired it and gave me some suggestions, but I couldn’t find a way to revise it. Then, one year later, my mother died, and it became impossible to revise it. And then, two years after my mother died, I had my first child, and two years later, the second one.

So there was all this time of, literally, gestation. I realized that becoming a mother gave me a completely different perspective on who my mother was. I started understanding the conflict that she had faced, between her womanhood and her motherhood. So that was a huge turning point for me.

And then, days after coming home from the hospital after giving birth to my younger child, with the baby on my lap, I read 10:04, Ben Lerner’s second novel, and I had this epiphany, which was that in fiction—whether you are writing about your own stories or those of others—facts don’t matter. Facts are only relevant when it comes to history. I realized then that I had to distance myself from facts in order to give shape to my mother’s story, to create a coherent narrative. That’s something that Ben Lerner writes and talks about very beautifully, that fiction is the imaginative power to give form to the real, to make sense of the chaotic nature of living.

Because life makes no sense.

Life makes no sense. And the truth is, my mother didn’t know, my father didn’t know, why things happened that way. But fiction has the ability to create logic where there is none, to give coherence and stability to the story in a way that feels very powerful and personal.

And then, when the structure of the novel came to me—its organization in three parts—I knew even before I started writing exactly how it would be laid out. And that’s how I was able to write it.

Link to the rest at Vogue

Mapping Utopia in the Dark

From Public Books:

Dismantlings: Words Against Machines in the American Long Seventies is an exploration of what author Matt Tierney calls the “emancipatory critique[s] of technology” from Long Seventies authors like Audre Lorde, Paul Metcalf, Toni Morrison, Huey P. Newton, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Alice Mary Hilton. The Long Seventies is a historical period familiar to scholars of labor studies that begins with the radical political changes brought about by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and stretches until the early 1980s. During this period, Black, Brown, and Indigenous women and men were able to participate in union organization in unprecedented numbers. Matt uses this moment of increased labor activism and organization as the backdrop to investigate poetic, literary, and philosophical critiques of technology and capitalism. In Dismantlings, he looks to a broad range of literary and political writings to find a counterlexicon that shows how Long Seventies writers opposed the idealism embedded in the language of technocapitalism.

The title of Dismantlings is a direct reference to Audre Lorde, and each chapter considers one of this term’s seven forms of appearance: Luddism, the smashing or gradual relinquishing of the worst machines; communion, a planetary togetherness irreducible to networks of telecommunication; cyberculture, a word that, in its coinage, named the historical and material foundation that automation shares with racist and militarist machines; distortion, a way to read and write against the present; revolutionary suicide, a deliberate submission to the dangers of political engagement; liberation technology, a point of contact between appropriate technology and liberation theology; and thanatopography, a mapping of planetary technological ethics in terms of technologically enabled mass confinement and death. All of these ideas, some that have been obscured over time and others that only seem familiar, lay bare to the reader a genealogy of current fears and concerns with the hegemonic role the discourse of technological innovations plays in the organization of social and political life.

It was particularly timely to talk to Matt about Dismantlings in the wake of last summer’s racial justice uprisings in response to the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Across the United States this year, there was a rapid adoption of progressive, activist language by university administrators. Embedded within this language of “antiracism” were the buzzwords of the STEM-ification of social change and political analysis that has come to dominate US universities since the mid-2000s. The issues of anti-Blackness, gender-based violence, underemployment, authoritarianism, and our climate catastrophe are framed within the discourse of STEM fields and require the intervention of “moonshots,” “grand challenges,” and “toolkits.” In Dismantlings, Matt reminds us that it is important to use other words to name political possibility, and that the Long Seventies was a moment, like our own, when writers and activists were concerned with a similar technocratic idealism.

. . . .

RP: The book is an archive of Long Seventies literary works from Lorde to Le Guin and Morrison to Samuel Delany. Together, these works show us how to dismantle as well as how to reassemble a version of life that can confront and overcome the logics of technocapitalism; how to refuse the pseudoconcretization of human life and the ideologies that come with it; and, perhaps cautiously, how to imagine an alternative version of our world.

MT: To me this boils down to a critical form of utopianism. This is a strange thing to say as a person who has written one book on the void and another book on dismantling. But pessimism is kind of a problem in left scholarship.

This is not to say that I’m not full of disappointment, sadness, and anger, which of course I am, and of course we all are. We live in a pandemic, an ecological crisis, a housing crisis, an incarceration and policing crisis, an employment crisis, and a crisis of economy in which many people are not permitted to live at all.

Now I think a lot of people are returning to utopian thought through long-established paths. But there’s another tradition of utopian thinking that would look toward, not another world than this one, but instead this world lived otherwise. Avery Gordon, for example, sees the utopian as “a way of conceiving and living in the here and now” where “revolutionary time doesn’t stop the world, but is rather a daily part of it.”

Gordon’s “here and now” echoes for me with a talk that Toni Morrison gave in 2000 called “How Can Values Be Taught in the University?” Morrison there asks listeners to separate themselves from worn-out ideals of freedom and civic responsibility, whose defense has produced so much pain and death. She wants them instead to “speculate,” which after all just means to look, at getting to “a future where the poor are not yet, not quite, all dead; where the under-represented minorities are not quite all imprisoned.”

This might seem like a pessimistic response, but again I don’t think it is. I think rather that she’s observing historical tendencies that led up to the start of this century and still aren’t alleviated. Twenty years on, we can now add that these tendencies not only have been exacerbated by despotic bad actors and by ecological and health disasters but also extend clearly through the duration of living memory. Morrison wants us, then, to imagine a life where survival and freedom, if that word is to have any meaning at all, do not require wealth. Wealth, moreover, wouldn’t be granted, as now, primarily to those who own and program the computational tools of our supposed freedom.

This is a version of openness to change in the here and now, in the daily revolutionary time of the world. To think in terms of technology, it might imagine a way that the device in everybody’s pocket isn’t manufactured by the hands of dispossessed workers, nor relies on a battery whose operational mineral has maimed and killed scores of workers, including children. Morrison’s deeply utopian vision, which should affect our cultures of technological use, is to imagine which ways of living otherwise are required to get to where the poor are not all dead.

This is not lowered expectations. It’s a wish for a mass normalization of resistance to deadly ways of looking at the world. Some language for this normalized resistance is what I’m trying to recover with Dismantlings.

Link to the rest at Public Books

For the record, PG is not full of disappointment, sadness, and anger and doesn’t envy those who are.

A Love Letter to Tackiness and Bad Taste

From Electric Lit:

I met Rax King outside of a bar on the first truly cold autumn night of the year, for which we both underdressed. We were wearing identical faux-fur lined denim jackets—albeit in different colors—and, weirder still, had both accidentally inflicted minor-but-nagging injuries to the thumbs on our left hands. From there we wound up on the topic of interior decor and affirmed that, although we do both have animal print duvets, they are at least different animal prints.

From there we landed on a new decision/dictum/lifestyle change that Rax recently committed to. 

“I’m only going to wear outfits where at least one thing is an animal print, and preferably more than one, and preferably two different animal prints from different animals.”

She continued, “And the night that I made that decision, I spent $200 on used animal print clothing on eBay. And then the next day, I woke up just like, ‘What did I do?’ And then I had like 10 emails, congratulations on your animal print purchase. And then I was kind of regretting it and then everything arrived and I was like, ‘No, this was right. This feels right.’”

To say Rax demonstrates commitment to the bit here would be to imply that anything Rax does is ever less than completely sincere. As we discuss in our interview below, and as Rax lays out in her remarkable debut essay collection Tacky, the bedrock of tackiness is utter un-selfconscious sincerity. That sincerity might garner ridicule—including, obviously, being labeled “tacky”—but it also leads to a sense of, this feels right. And, sometimes, it also leads to a cool leopard print bedspread.

. . . .

Calvin Kasulke: So the subhead of your book is “Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer.” But a lot of the culture you discuss is from your adolescence and coming of age. Why that section of culture?

Rax King: Primarily because it’s personally important to me. I grew up with Creed, I grew up shoplifting from Bath & Body Works, these were formative experiences for me.

As I got a little older, it became obvious that these things I liked so much were not cool at all. Other people, who seemed smarter and more worldly than me, who I really wanted to impress, they did not like any of the same stuff as me. And it was a moment of forced reeducation, like I needed to get on board if I wanted to make friends with the cool smart people—which I did, because I was 16 and shallow.

And after long enough time passed and I was no longer in high school, I felt comfortable revisiting all this stuff I used to like, and it turns out all of it is still awesome. So I was right, everyone else was wrong. You can quote me on that.

CK: What were your shoplifting techniques?

RK: I wasn’t super brave with it most of the time, like—nothing with a security tag. I liked anything I could slip into my purse. I really liked the sample makeups from Sephora and whatnot because it was not only easy to steal them but I also felt pretty virtuous about it, like “This is something nobody else is going to want. It’s got 500 people’s other mouths all over it already, I might as well.”

. . . .

CK: Your essay about a date you had at the Cheesecake Factory achieves something that’s similarly difficult to convey, because you’re telling a story about an event that was ultimately disappointing and kind of boring. Which, by the way, what is your go-to order at the Cheesecake Factory?

RK: All right, settle in. Gotta get the avocado spring rolls to start—and a mojito, because not everybody has them and the ones at the Cheesecake Factory are huge.

Avocado spring rolls as the starter, the Louisiana chicken pasta as the main, and then at that point, you’re going to want to tap out early and get a box for leftovers. They give you two chicken breast patties and you want to save one, plus a bunch of pasta, because you don’t want to fuck up dessert. Then for dessert, peanut butter fudge ripple cheesecake, usually to go, and then I eat dinner all over again when I get home.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG notes that more than a few of the subjects of his posts are not about ideas or people he thinks are cool, smart, etc., etc.

Sometimes he posts items that strike him as signs of the times.

That said, PG did a bunch of dumb things himself when he was much younger than he is now.

Death of an Earl

As some regular visitors know, PG enjoys reading history, 20th Century by and large, but other centuries are also of interest to him as well.

As an expert historian, PG can assure to one and all that every single Earl is going to die at some time or another. No 14th century Earl has ever been located except in a creepy crypt somewhere.

PG thinks the Queen can make new Earls, but his preferred way to become an Earl would be to inherit the title and receive a bunch of valuable Earlish things in the process. That way, he’d have the crumbling mansion, suits of armor, colorful local staff, a fortune, etc., to complement his Earliness so nobody could say he just made up the Earl story.

The catch to this path to prominence is that you need to have an ancestor who was an Earl somewhere.

PG hasn’t found any Earls among all the peasants in his family tree.

Many years ago, PG was poking around among his forebearers and found one who was a Count of the Holy Roman Empire, which, according to the microfilm of an old, old piece of paper, would have made PG an hereditary Count. He got excited because everybody would have to call him Count PG.

However, about 15 minutes later, he discovered that he wasn’t descended from the old Count after all, and as of today, he’s still officially disCounted.

“Why,” one might ask, “absent the possibility of receiving vast treasures and great public distinction, are we concerned by the death of an earl?”

That’s a good question in 21st Century life for 99.999% of the world’s population.

However, if the earl is closely related to you, your view might change.

Today, Mrs. PG released her latest murder mystery, titled Death of an Earl.

1930’s Oxford types, Catherine Tregowyn and Harry Bascombe are tootling along, teaching students and minding their own business when one of Harry’s relatives (who is an Earl) turns out to be dead. Harry’s Earl hasn’t always been dead, it’s a recently-acquired trait.

So, like all good Oxonians, Catherine and Harry want to see that justice is done and start an investigation.

Italians and fishermen are involved.

Today is the release day for Death of an Earl on Amazon and the PG’s would be happy if a lot of people purchased copies of her book.

Outcasts and Desperados

From The London Review of Books:

The Man Who Lived Underground 
by Richard Wright.

When​ Richard Wright sailed to France in 1946, he was 38 years old and already a legend. He was America’s most famous black writer, the author of two books hailed as classics the moment they were published: the 1940 novel Native Son and the 1945 memoir Black Boy. By ‘choosing exile’, as he put it, he hoped both to free himself from American racism and to put an ocean between himself and the Communist Party of the United States, in which he’d first come to prominence as a writer of proletarian fiction only to find himself accused of subversive, Trotskyist tendencies. In Paris he was a celebrity. French writers and American expatriates flocked to the Café Monaco, where he held court a short walk from his Left Bank flat. ‘Dick greeted everyone with boisterous condescension,’ Chester Himes remembered. ‘It was obvious he was the king thereabouts.’

His place on the throne was shakier than he imagined. The novels he wrote in Paris, where he would spend the rest of his life, failed to deliver on the promise of Native Son, the incendiary tale of a poor black chauffeur in Chicago, Bigger Thomas, who achieves a grisly sense of selfhood after killing two women: his black girlfriend and the daughter of his wealthy white employer. But even that novel’s reputation declined, thanks in large part to another black American in Paris. In 1949 James Baldwin described Native Son as a modern-day Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ‘a continuation, a complement of that monstrous legend it was written to destroy’, arguing that Bigger Thomas ‘admits the possibility of his being subhuman’ and that Wright was no less guilty than Harriet Beecher Stowe of insisting that a person’s ‘categorisation … cannot be transcended.’ Baldwin, whose success Wright had done much to promote, wasn’t the only protégé to turn against him. In 1963 Ralph Ellison wrote that, in Bigger Thomas, Wright had created not a black character other black people would recognise, but ‘a near subhuman indictment of white oppression’ crudely ‘designed to shock whites out of their apathy’. Ellison’s hyper-cerebral protagonist in Invisible Man, who is able to see far beyond his own condition, was a pointed rejoinder to Bigger’s inarticulate and explosive rage.

That rage had once been important to Ellison too. During their days in the CPUSA, he had sent a letter to Wright commending Bigger’s ‘revolutionary significance’. Readers horrified by Bigger’s violence, Ellison insisted, ‘fail to see that what’s bad in Bigger from the point of view of bourgeois society is good from our point of view … Would that all Negroes were as psychologically free as Bigger and as capable of positive action!’ This argument was echoed in 1966 by the Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver, who called Bigger ‘the black rebel of the ghetto’, with ‘no trace … of the Martin Luther King-type self-effacing love for his oppressors’. For Cleaver, who wrote in his memoir that he had practised raping black women before graduating to white women, Bigger embodied an authentic, revolutionary black masculinity that Baldwin, a gay man, naturally despised.

The Black Power movement’s patriarchal and homophobic embrace of Wright did little to salvage his reputation, especially after the rise of black feminism in the 1970s. In Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (1978), Michele Wallace traced the movement’s ‘love affair with Black Macho’ back to Native Son. Black women writers never forgave Wright for having once accused Zora Neale Hurston of writing ‘in the safe and narrow orbit in which America likes to see the Negro live’. It didn’t matter that he had denounced the absence of female speakers at the 1956 Conference of Black Writers and Artists in Paris, insisting that black men could only be free if black women were too. Or that in a 1957 book of reportage he had catalogued the forms of oppression suffered by women in contemporary Spain, comparing the Catholic cult of ‘female purity’ to the Ku Klux Klan’s defence of white womanhood. Thanks to Native Son, he continued to be associated with the idea that, in Darryl Pinckney’s words, ‘the black man can only come to life as the white man’s nightmare, the defiler of white women.’

Black feminists weren’t the only ones to take offence. In 1986 the novelist David Bradley confessed that the first time he read Native Son,

I shed no tears for Bigger. I wanted him dead; by legal means if possible, by lynching if necessary … I did not see Bigger Thomas as a symbol of any kind of black man. To me he was a sociopath, pure and simple … If the price of becoming a black writer was following the model of Native Son, I would just have to write like a honky.

Novelists never completely shake off an association with the murderers they invent: Dostoevsky is still remembered for Raskolnikov, Camus for Meursault. The difference in Wright’s case is that Bigger Thomas is practically all he is remembered for. Wright is not just blamed for Bigger but almost mistaken for him.

On the surface, Wright’s life bore little resemblance to Bigger’s: he was a child of the rural South not the northern ghetto, a self-made intellectual and writer. But as a young man in Chicago he had had a series of menial jobs in hospitals and the postal service and could identify all too easily with Bigger’s anger at the white world. He had known Bigger’s fear of white people’s arbitrary power – in his view, this was the ‘fundamental emotion guiding black personality and behaviour’, even if it sometimes appeared in the ‘disguise that is called Negro laughter’. It wasn’t only whites he wanted to provoke with Native Son, but members of the decorous black middle class, who felt that a figure like Bigger Thomas was a threat to their precarious status on the margins of white America.

Native Son was a work of shocking intransigence in its portrayal of black rage, in its treatment of liberal whites and, above all, in its violence. After suffocating his employer’s daughter, Mary Dalton, with a pillow – he’s terrified that she might alert her blind mother to his presence in her bedroom, and that he might be accused of rape – Bigger slices up her corpse and burns it in a furnace. His violence is recounted as if it were the concentrated payback for hundreds of years of anti-black violence and humiliation, and described with graphic relish. When he murders his girlfriend, Bess, to prevent her from revealing his crime, he feels a rush of exhilaration: at last he has accomplished ‘something that was all his own’, an act no one would have imagined him daring enough to execute. ‘Elation filled him.’ No longer emasculated by fear, no longer ‘a black timid Negro boy’ in a white man’s world, he has ‘a sense of wholeness’, of power over his oppressors. He is a man who has ‘evened the score’.

Link to the rest at The London Review of Books

Who doesn’t read books in America?

From The Pew Research Center:

Roughly a quarter of American adults (23%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted Jan. 25-Feb. 8, 2021. Who are these non-book readers?

Several demographic traits are linked with not reading books, according to the survey. For instance, adults with a high school diploma or less are far more likely than those with a bachelor’s or advanced degree to report not reading books in any format in the past year (39% vs. 11%). Adults with lower levels of educational attainment are also among the least likely to own smartphones, an increasingly common way for adults to read e-books.

In addition, adults whose annual household income is less than $30,000 are more likely than those living in households earning $75,000 or more a year to be non-book readers (31% vs. 15%). Hispanic adults (38%) are more likely than Black (25%) or White adults (20%) to report not having read a book in the past 12 months. (The survey included Asian Americans but did not have sufficient sample size to do statistical analysis of this group.)

Although the differences are less pronounced, non-book readers also vary by age and community type. Americans ages 50 and older, for example, are more likely than their younger counterparts to be non-book readers. There is not a statistically significant difference by gender.

The share of Americans who report not reading any books in the past 12 months has fluctuated over the years the Center has studied it. The 23% of adults who currently say they have not read any books in the past year is identical to the share who said this in 2014.

Link to the rest at The Pew Research Center

How a book goes from acquisitions to bookstore shelves

From Nathan Bransford:

[Let’s discuss] the journey from the contract to bookstore shelves.

It’s a longer journey than you might think! One common misconception about publishing is how fast books come to market or go on-sale. People are often surprised that this process typically takes a year or more. (There are exceptions for books that may be newsworthy and have to be rushed out, which is called a “crash” schedule.) 

Why does it take so much time? Well, a lot is happening behind the scenes over the course of many months to set up the book to give it its best shot to attract a readership. 

The editor’s job is to oversee and coordinate all the facets of that process. In this post, I’ll walk through those steps: 

  • Determining the publication date
  • Editing
  • Launch meeting
  • Production
  • Marketing, publicity and sales
  • Book promotions and publication

For ease, let’s give the book that’s winding its way to readers’ hands a title. How about HOT NEW BOOK?  

Determining the publication date

As soon as HOT NEW BOOK is under contract, one of the first things the editor and his/her colleagues must do is to determine the optimal time to publish it. (Fun fact: all books go on sale on Tuesdays). 

Publishers work in spans or seasons, typically three of them: Summer (books that go on-sale between May and August), Fall (books that go on sale between September and December) and Spring (books that go on sale between January and April.) 

So the editor looks into the future and decides the right season/timing for the book. Different types of books come out at different times. For example, in the Fall, you often have your big franchise writers like John Grisham, or big new cookbooks–offerings that might be good for the holiday gift giving season. In the Spring, you might have prescriptive books that go along with our desire to be better, thinner, more productive people at the start of every year (with mixed results. Just me?). Summer you have your beach reads or escapist thrills. 

There are always exceptions, but that’s a rough idea of how publishers think about the publishing calendar and then look very far ahead to slot books in. Right now (late summer 2021), publishers are gearing up to start planning for books being published next summer (2022). 

Let’s say HOT NEW BOOK is an exciting debut, commercial suspense. A lot of those books have been coming out in Spring, so the editor might tentatively schedule the book for Spring 2023.

Editing

First priority, of course, is making sure HOT NEW BOOK is the best book it can be. This may involve months of editorial work. The editor will do a very, very close and comprehensive read of the manuscript and offer detailed edits on the page: line edits of individual sentences and also bigger picture suggestions about characters, plot points, scenes, etc. that will be outlined in an editorial letter. 

The author of HOT NEW BOOK will digest that feedback (after lots of deep breaths and maybe a stiff drink) and then embark on a revision. The editor will read that revision, offer more notes and suggestions to the author, who will revise again and so on until both the author and the editor are happy that the book has reached its fullest possible potential.

Here’s another related question I get a lot: Do editors *really* edit?  The answer is an unequivocal: depends!  

It’s true that some editors are less “on the page” than others. Because of their workload, they might not find it feasible to do rounds and rounds of intensive edits. But the majority of editors do want to have a strong hand in shaping a book. 

. . . .

Launch meeting

And now the work to set up the book begins. First up: publishers have a launch meeting. These happen three times a year to correspond with the seasons.  

At this meeting, the editor gives a presentation about HOT NEW BOOK to the whole publishing team (sales, marketing, publicity, etc.)–what it’s about, what’s special about it, about the author, and why it’s guaranteed to be a success. 

The editor’s job here is to get people in the company excited about that book and eager to read it.  After the meeting, the teams responsible for producing and marketing  need some time to read HOT NEW BOOK (along with all the other books being published by the imprint–another reason it takes time).

. . . .

Production

The art department designs an arresting jacket for HOT NEW BOOK. The first step here is for the editor and art designer to brainstorm about the vision for the cover. The editor will supply examples of comparative jackets that he/she and the author like and then the designer goes off to create.  

The designer will create about 8-12 different options and the whole team (publisher, associate publisher, department heads, editor, etc) will gather in a cover/jacket meeting (usually held weekly) to discuss reactions. Sometimes there’s a clear winner, sometimes none of the options work. Most often some people like some jackets, some people hate some jackets and that’s where it gets fraught. Because everyone has strong opinions about jacket designs/visuals and it’s so subjective. 

After some discussions, usually the team will agree on 1-2 options to show the author.  Whatever the editor’s feelings about the jacket that emerges as the “winner” from this meeting, his/her job is to “sell” it to the author. The message: this is the jacket that the publisher loves, so you should love it too. Alas, that persuasion doesn’t always work and the author and agent may not like the jacket, in which case the whole process starts again.

. . . .

And yet, the jacket is so important to get right, with the whole judging a book by its cover thing!  So it’s worth taking the time. And the deep breaths. 

While that’s happening, the hard-working (and too often unsung) production department is seeing the manuscript through the nitty gritty of copy-editing, proofreading (the book will be proofed about three times), and designing what the interior of the book (the font and page layouts).  

Here’s another fun fact.  Did you know that all books have a page count that is a multiple of 16, 304, 320, etc.? It’s because of the way they cut, bind and print paper at the printer. 

Publicity, marketing, and sales

The publicity team starts strategizing about how to drum up excitement in the media and with events. This involves pitching the book to talk shows, magazines, podcasts and reviewers to get them to cover HOT NEW BOOK. That’s how readers are going to know it even exists!  One of the tools they use is called an ARC (Advance Readers Copy) or galley. These are early versions of the book that look like paperbacks. Months before the hardcover is printed, these are shared with media folks and others to drum up excitement.  

Meanwhile, the marketing team is at work, too. Their job is to promote the book on social media, via advertising, and to drum up excitement with booksellers and librarians. (There is a whole team dedicated to academic marketing too targeting schools, libraries, etc.). Marketing people also send out ARCs/galleys and sometimes they send along little gifts to help HOT NEW BOOK stand out. So if the novel is about a murder at a winery, they might send a mini bottle of wine or a fancy corkscrew along with the galleys. Yes, bribery.  

And now, enter the all important Sales team. There are individuals assigned to work with each of the major retail accounts, i.e. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Target, Hudson, etc. These reps go to these accounts and tell them all about the books the publisher has forthcoming, like HOT NEW BOOK, and urges the retailers to buy a lot of copies (called stock) because the book is sure to be a hit with their customers. The goal for publishers here is to drive up the print run, that’s the initial amount of copies that will be printed and shipped to stores across the country. The higher that number, the more money the publisher makes. 

These accounts buy stock months ahead of time, which requires planning far ahead. And remember bookstores have finite space, so it can be competitive to get them to buy a book and then promote it.

Book promotions and publication


What does promoting mean? That means putting HOT NEW BOOK in front of stores, or featuring it in a newsletter blast, or singling it out as special (remember Borders Discover Picks?  RIP Borders sigh.) All of those promos help customers find HOT NEW BOOK, so the publisher is very keen to get retailers on board. 

The publisher might send the author of HOT NEW BOOK on a tour too, though publishers have become more conservative about book tours.

. . . .

It doesn’t make sense to fly an author from New York to LA, and put him or her up in a hotel only to have four people show up to hear the author read. So publishers are strategic about what events will get a good turnout, via the store’s or the author’s own personal network.  

Of course, most events have been virtual since the pandemic began, which is a very cost effective and convenient way to have events, and will likely continue into the future for that reason.

The goal is that people fall in love with HOT NEW BOOK every step of the way so word of mouth and excitement spreads, with the editor cheering the loudest of all.  

All of this involves an enormous amount of manpower and resources. There are so many books being published and it takes ingenuity, passion, relationships (and a little luck doesn’t hurt) to break through the clutter.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

And then they load cases of HOT NEW BOOK in boxcars and a steam engine takes them to the end of the rail line where they’re taken out of the boxcars and put on wagons pulled by oxen for delivery to the bookstores, hopefully before the winter snows close all the wagon trails.

PG didn’t notice much of anything 21st century about the process described in the OP. It was industrial-age from one end to the other, little changed from the way that Ernie Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald’s books were produced and launched.

In earlier lives, PG was involved in the creation, promotion and release of commercial software and electronic products delivered online. (PG notes that ebooks are pure software products and POD books can be printed at a variety of locations, including locations close to where they will be sold.)

If PG had ever proposed a product launch structured in the manner described in the OP, he would have justifiably been fired on the spot.

Long ago in the octagonal gloom

Long ago in the octagonal gloom of the Battistero di San Giovanni he had been baptized twice, as was customary, once as a Christian and again as a Florentine, and to an irreligious bastard like Ago it was the second baptism that counted. The city was his religion, a world as perfect as any heaven. The great Buonarroti had called the Baptistery doors the gates of Paradise and when the little baby Ago emerged from that place with a wet head he had understood at once that he had entered a walled and gated Eden. The city of Florence had fifteen gates and on their inner faces were pictures of the Virgin and various saints. Voyagers touched the gates for good luck, and nobody starting on a journey through those gates did so without consulting astrologers.

Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence 2008

Ponte Vecchio

Strafforello Gustavo, La patria, geografia dell’Italia. Provincia di Firenze. Torino Unione Tipografico-Editrice, 1894, via Wikimedia

Active Protagonists are a Tool of the Patriarchy

From Writer Unboxed:

I feel like I’m committing a grievous writerly sin by even typing these words, but I must speak my truth:

I would like to see more passive protagonists in fiction.

While the title of this post is tongue-in-cheek, I do think that passive protagonists are unfairly maligned in part because of the unspoken association between passivity and femininity. I’ll get into why I think so a little later, but let’s discuss what “passive protagonist” means first.

The importance of intent

Passive protagonists are the antithesis of what we’re told makes a good story. A good story, says common wisdom, is driven by the choices and desires of the main character. Passive protagonists, on the other hand, do not drive the plot through their choices and actions, but rather have the plot inflicted upon them. Without goals and desires, and without challenges to overcome toward those goals and desires, what are the stakes? Where is the tension?

Such a story can absolutely be boring and frustrating to read.

But common wisdom also tells us that the choices made by an active protagonist must build toward a climax. In her craft book Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative, Jane Alison argues that the traditional path through fiction in the Western world has been the dramatic arc: the wave that rises to a climax, then falls. There are variations on that wave or triangle pattern, of course, but by and large, storytellers are told that things must build and build until they come to a head, then be resolved in a way that denotes to the reader that the story is complete.

As Alison says, “Bit masculo-sexual, no?”

If written compellingly, passive characters have a lot to teach us. That’s easier said than done, of course. Getting a reader to bother caring about someone who doesn’t seem to want anything is difficult, which is why passive characters are hard to write well. It’s much easier to tell a compelling story about a character striving to get what they want. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Active characters make for great stories. I don’t want to knock active characters, or argue that everyone should only write passive ones. This is more of a plea for more diversity—of all kinds—in fiction. Passive protagonists have as much to teach us as active protagonists, and can make for stories that are just as interesting.

The difference between a “good” passive protagonist and a “bad” one boils down to what causes many writing problems: purpose. Not the character’s purpose. I’m talking about whether the author has written a passive protagonist intentionally or not. As Matthew Salesses says in Craft in the Real World, “Everything is a decision.”

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG is reminded of his problems with masculine and feminine genders in long-ago language classes during the height of the Roman Empire.

Just as it was difficult for him to recall the masculine/feminine characteristics of different groups of words and he thought they were more than a bit foolish, he doesn’t think that active or passive protagonists have any connection with women and men in real life.

Anyone who thinks that females are in any way inherently passive due to societal pressures or otherwisee hasn’t met PG’s wife, mother or a long list of female friends PG has had in his life.

He is reminded of a group conversation involving females and males of many years ago when one of the females addressed one of the males (not PG) by calling his name, then said most emphatically, “Be a man! Just be a man!”

The recipient of this strongly-worded advice blinked, bucked himself up, and, at least in the short term, acted in a manner more consistent with this strongly-worded advice.

Sorry for the gap in posting

PG and Mrs. PG have been busy with uplifting family activities and PG has been ensorceled by charming grandchildren.

He’ll be a bit more prolific in the future.

7 Novels For Living Out Your Cottagecore Fantasies

From The Literary Hub:

Growing up, I fell in love with the cottagecore coziness of Bilbo Baggins’ Bag End, the Weasley’s ramshackle and magical Burrow, and the eclectic Victorian ephemera in Sherlock Holmes’ 221B Baker Street. I agonized endlessly over design choices in The Sims, using cheat codes to get the much-needed Simoleons for my champagne tastes. But in the last couple of years I’ve seen more of my own four walls than I ever thought I would. And like many of us, I’ve found myself reaching for refuge in joyful, light-hearted books more than ever before.

Maybe it’s counterintuitive that I’m still so drawn to cozy (and not so cozy) houses in fiction, but it’s hard to not recognize the power that “home” has over us. I take comfort in the solace (and, sometimes, menace) they represent for the main character. In my new novel, The Shaadi Set-Up, it should be no surprise that a house plays a pivotal role: two exes have to work together to flip a gorgeous, if slightly tumbledown, beach house on a little island off the North Carolina coast. The renovated house, just like their relationship, is built stronger the second time around.

No matter which is your cup of tea, I hope you’ll find at least one fictional abode here that makes you want to kick up your feet and linger for a while.

Sarah Hogle, Twice Shy

The main character inherits a once-grand house in the Smokies that she must share with a co-beneficiary. Even amidst all the clutter, the house represents their hopes and dreams for the future in an utterly charming, totally wholesome way. Secret rooms, treasure maps, and a vast property to explore: a property like this would be a dream for weathering the pandemic.

Talia Hibbert, Act Your Age, Eve Brown

A woman reluctantly accepts a job as a chef at a storybook-charming bed and breakfast in the picturesque Lake District after accidentally injuring the B&B’s grumpy owner… and then falls in love with him. This book is a perfect staycation read, set in a house you’ll never want to leave. 

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

The Top 10 Party Girls in Literature

From Electric Lit:

From an age that was often too young to be anywhere, I found myself in closed-off rooms. They ranged from green rooms at concert halls to back rooms at parties. By the time I was 21, I had known my purpose in those spaces, how and why I was invited into them, and what was expected of me. I was a seasoned party girl who flitted in and out of metropolitan cities with seemingly few resources. People had seen me around. They would say, “Oh her, I’ve known her forever!”

The politics of the Party Girl have always been of interest to me, simply because of the way she moves within a world that warns her to be careful. To watch her behavior, her tone, her drink. She exists on a precipice of seeking out fun, when also too much fun, she’s warned, is dangerous. The prevailing image of the Party Girl has historically been white—of course, non-white Party Girls have existed, but how much space do we lend them in its canon? How much fun are they allowed to have? My characters come from a lineage of flappers, demimondaines, and society girls, where what unifies these archetypes is how they attempt to rise ranks with charm as their only currency.

. . . .

Mr. Right is Dead by Rona Jaffe

The titular novella in this collection follows a playgirl named Melba Toast who gathers men and gifts without a touch of malice, “She takes quick flights of fancy and quick flights across the country in quest of someone she had two dates with a month before.” The narrator is a willing accomplice to Melba’s schemes and comes to the realization that though she makes it look easy, a playgirl’s life is often hard work. 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

This list would be amiss without Holly Golightly. The glamorous call girl who left men wanting more. She has some of the best Party Girl pedigree—a secret marriage, a mob connection, and a casual grasp of French. I often find myself repeating her aperçus—“Certain shades of limelight wreck a girl’s complexion.” 

. . . .

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

After a long-term relationship detonates, Queenie Jenkins careens around London in a never-ending spiral of bad decisions and sexual foibles. Wrestling her mental health, heartbreak, and a prudent Jamaican British family, Queenie attempts the clumsy journey of trying to achieve independence through sexual encounters.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Zorba

Not much to do with writing and PG isn’t going on another video binge, but he learned that Greek composer and politician Mikis Theodorakis died last Thursday at 96. Theodorakis composed the music for the 1964 film, Zorba the Greek.

Will a Traditional Publisher Republish My Self-Published Book?

From Janey Burton, Publishing Consultant:

One of the most common questions I’m asked is about whether it’s possible to get a traditional publishing deal for a book that has been previously self-published.

In general, traditional publishers want to buy first publishing rights. They don’t want to republish material that’s already been published, as quite often it is thought the market for the work has already been served.

Historically, there are exceptions, usually for work that has fallen out of print but is thought to have the potential for a new life if put in front of a new audience. Persephone Books would be an example of the kind of publisher that works this way.

These days there are also some agents and publishers who will consider previously self-published work, although in limited circumstances. Carina Press, a digital-first imprint of Harlequin, is an example.

. . . .

You can’t sell your rights to a traditional publisher if they are still controlled by a hybrid publisher. You will need to have the rights reverted to you if you have not retained them. Getting your rights back may not be completely straightforward . . . .

. . . .

The difficulty with previously self-published work, for a traditional publisher, is that very rarely is there an untapped market for it. It isn’t like publishing a debut author, who is brand new to the market.

When an author whose work has sold poorly asks whether they would do better with a traditional publisher, the answer is ‘No’. The poor sales show that the buying public has had the opportunity to buy and read the book, but not taken it up. That suggests it has a limited market, which has already been served.

. . . .

Let’s assume the reason for low sales is the marketing of the book, and not the quality of the book. In the event this is true, it may be that the wider reach of a traditional publisher would result in good enough sales to make republishing the book worthwhile. But then again it may not, and why should they risk it?

Traditionally published authors still need to do a lot of the marketing of their books, they can’t sit back and rely on the publisher to do it all. If an author is unable to achieve sales with their own marketing efforts, the problem might well be that the book is not good enough to attract an audience, and in which case a traditional publisher who takes it on will merely be throwing good money after bad.

BUT 50 SHADES OF GREY WAS SELF-PUBLISHED AND THEN REPUBLISHED, AND IT WASN’T GOOD!
Some books are outliers, and their success becomes a talking point because it’s unusual, not because it’s usual. That means they’re not a great basis for comparison. Don’t pin your hopes on replicating one of these rarities.

In fact, there was a clear case for Vintage Books to republish that previously self-published work. They saw the potential for sales to many more readers, and so were able to take the books from a minor hit, which relied almost entirely on word-of-mouth recommendations, to a worldwide phenomenon.

Link to the rest at Janey Burton, Publishing Consultant

Politics and the English Language

PG usually places his comments after whatever he excerpts, but he’s making an exception in this case.

Politics and the English Language, an essay written by George Orwell, was first published in 1946, largely in response to what he saw happening both before World War II and during a post-war period in which Russian-backed Communism appeared to be gaining power and influence and a rapid pace. After all, the end of the war left Central and Eastern Europe under Russian control, so from the viewpoint of someone wishing to build an empire, the peace deal was a big gain for the Soviet Union.

One of the common practices of Communist governments and their supporters during this period was to manipulate language in a manner which was, unfortunately, quite effective in influencing large numbers of people.

Here’s a quote that encapsulates much of Orwell’s assessment:

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Animal Farm was published shortly after the war ended. 1984 was published in 1949.

To be clear, Orwell doesn’t limit his cautions to Russians or Communists. He points out all sorts of different groups and individuals who distort language for political purposes in order to gain and keep power over others.

In the TPV post immediately before this one chronologically, the CEO of The American Booksellers Association described the shipment of a book to a large numbers of bookstores as a “serious, violent incident.”

Quite an accomplishment for a small stack of dried pulp from a dead tree.

Since PG has dozens of such dangerously violent objects just outside his office door, he will have to tread very carefully the next time he goes to refill his glass with Diet Coke.

From The Orwell Foundation:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language – so the argument runs – must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad – I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen – but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression).

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia).

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York).

4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic Fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet.

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune.

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes ontake up the cudgels fortoe the lineride roughshod overstand shoulder to shoulder withplay into the hands ofno axe to grindgrist to the millfishing in troubled waterson the order of the dayAchilles’ heelswan songhotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators, or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are: render inoperativemilitate againstprove unacceptablemake contact withbe subject togive rise togive grounds forhave the effect ofplay a leading part (roleinmake itself felttake effectexhibit a tendency toserve the purpose of, etc. etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as breakstopspoilmendkill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purposes verb such as proveserveformplayrender. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard tothe fact thatby dint ofin view ofin the interests ofon the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved from anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desiredcannot be left out of accounta development to be expected in the near futuredeserving of serious considerationbrought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

Link to the rest at The Orwell Foundation

Should MFA Programs Teach the Business of Writing?

From Jane Friedman:

Anyone who knows me even a little can guess my answer to this question. I even wrote a book, The Business of Being a Writer, that’s meant to be used in university writing programs to help students understand the publishing industry and what it means to earn a living from writing. My perspective is informed by my work in the publishing industry, as well as being someone who has a degree in writing. A few background details:

  • I earned a BFA in creative writing and an MA in English. My undergrad education led to some school loans; my graduate degree was funded entirely through an assistantship.
  • I was employed at a mid-size publisher while I earned my master’s. I really had no choice—I needed the money. I decided not to pursue an MFA in creative writing for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I couldn’t afford to take time off work or enroll in a low-residency program. Neither was I eager to step away from my publishing career, which was teaching me far more about writing than I ever learned in school.
  • I was an AWP member for many years and attended AWP’s annual conference first in 1998, then every year between 2004 and 2018. Often I was a panelist or speaker. (More on this later.)
  • I’m a regular speaker at MFA programs around the country, both in person and virtually, and moreover I hear the concerns of early-career writers daily via email and social media.
  • Several years ago, I was hired by Southern New Hampshire University to help develop the curriculum for their online MFA program, which includes a strong professional development and publishing education component. Their goal: to graduate writers who learn the fundamentals of craft while also understanding what it takes to publish professionally and successfully.

Despite the books I’ve written, the keynotes I’ve delivered, and the courses I’ve taught, I’ve never laid out, in a public forum like this, why I think it’s problematic when MFA programs or professors argue that the business of writing lies outside their purview. Why? Well, the type of person often attracted to the MFA likely believes the same and I don’t see my role as persuading the unconvinced or barging in where I’m unwanted. Rather, I am here if people see the need, as I do, for writers to understand the business they’re entering.

However, I think times are changing, for many reasons which I won’t delve into here, but part of it has to do with the gig economy and/or creator economy and the greater variety of writerly business models we now have than we did twenty years ago. More writers are ending up in undergraduate and graduate writing programs who need and want this information. I also believe writers should leave degree-granting programs prepared for the pragmatic and professional issues they will face as a writer. They’re often working alone, with limited or bad business guidance, confused about what’s “normal.” The anxiety and confusion is apparent at every AWP conference I attend. 

Writers should focus on craft first, business later.

It can appear boorish or second rate to suggest that business could or would ever be as important as art, craft, or technique. Because art is everything, right? Without quality work, there is no business—right?

(Let’s put aside the fact “quality” is subjective and MFA programs tend to be concerned with the kind of quality that’s of less interest to publishers than you might think.)

This “craft first” argument has a big assumption behind it: that art and business are antithetical to each other or can’t be in conversation. This belief is so ingrained in the literary writing community that few even question it.

Just look at the stories we tell about great writers, which all generally sound the same: we focus on the development and discovery of their literary genius. Business conditions rarely enter into it, much less business acumen. George Eliot is celebrated as a great moral novelist, but she also left her loyal publisher for another house that offered her a bigger advance. The bestselling work of Mark Twain—a novel that funded his career—was sold door-to-door in a very low fashion instead of properly, in a bookstore. (Today’s equivalent might be selling your ebook through Amazon rather than the print edition through your local independent bookshop.)

Why don’t we share these business stories? Because it is typically taboo to produce for the market or to be too good at business, lest you get pilloried by your peers and accused of selling out. Amy Lowell met this fate: she was criticized by T.S. Eliot for being a “demon saleswoman” of poetry. Even one of the earliest successful authors, Erasmus, was pitied by his peers for taking money from his publisher. (No self-respecting author at the time took money for their work; you were supposed to be above that.)

What a bind: writers get shamed if they’re not successful but also get shamed if they are too successful or overly concerned with success. How to Reform Capitalism wisely notes, “There remain strict social taboos hemming in the idea of what a ‘real’ artist could be allowed to get up to. They can be as experimental and surprising as they like—unless they want to run a food shop or an airline or an energy corporation, at which point they cross a decisive boundary, fall from grace, lose their special status as artists and become the supposed polar opposites: mere business people.”

The prevalent belief, at least in the literary community, is that “real writers” don’t worry themselves with commercial success or with how the sausage gets made. That’s someone else’s job, that’s for the agent or publisher to worry about. In fact, if one is good at art, then good business will follow or take care of itself.(won’t it?). Quality will make it or cream will rise to the top (right?).

. . . .

Business and art are often portrayed as antithetical because we think of business in terms of cartoon caricatures. But business is just as a complex and creative as any “pure” art form. Just ask a book publisher.

. . . .

This brings us to the next argument often trotted out by MFA programs: that it’s a time and place to focus on one’s writing and not be distracted by the outside world/real world or commercial concerns.

. . . .

It’s true that writers can potentially get distracted by submissions protocol and agent etiquette and all the secret handshake stuff they think exists, but that’s another reason the business needs to be taught. There is no secret handshake and a lot of what the business of writing is—well, frankly, it’s boring. The more quickly that writers can start seeing agents and editors not as mystical beings who anoint them and make their careers, but as average and flawed business people, the better.

Also, we’re not talking about MFA programs switching over to half-craft, half-business curriculum. (Or I’m certainly not.) The basics could be covered in a single required course. There might be a series of optional business-related courses for those who are interested.

I don’t think there is a downside to teaching business if we assume (and we must) that MFA students can be treated as mature adults. Safeguarding them from business talk is infantilizing them and making them vulnerable to bad actors and bad deals if they don’t know what standard business practices are.

And might I suggest that the only students who can afford to not consider the business side of the writing life are those who already have money or a safety net.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG notes that Jane has produced an epic discussion of the huge number of people who claim to teach students about writing, but don’t really deliver on their promises.

If graduate programs were required to abide by the same truth-in-advertising that applies to people who make and sell laundry detergent, there would be a vast change in how they’re presented and pitched.

In the United States, we have a seemingly endless number of federal and state agencies devoted to protecting consumers from being defrauded by unscrupulous businesses.

We have The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to name just two federal agencies. We have a large U.S. Department of Education, presided over by a cabinet secretary, with an Office of the Inspector General tasked with investigating violations of Federal laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to ED programs and funding, including complaints involving ED employees, recipients of ED funds, schools, school officials, other educational institutions, contractors, lending institutions, collections agencies, or public officials.

Absent a very large trust fund, it is almost certain that students pursuing an MFA will borrow substantial amounts of money in the form of government-insured student loans.

MFA and similar graduate programs have a very poor record of graduating students who are able to find jobs that allow them to repay their student loans (and PG guarantees one and all that MFA programs, particularly at “elite” institutions, pile on the student loans).

From Inside Higher Ed:

[T]he A.R.T. (American Repertory Theater) Institute at Harvard was placed on the Department of Education’s naughty list for running afoul of the department’s gainful employment metrics for its “debt to earnings” ratio.

As compiled by Kevin Carey at The New York Times, those ratios are indeed grim. 

  • Two year tuition is $63,000
  • Average borrowing is “over $78,0000
  • Average graduates earn $36,000/year

As Carey says, “After accounting for basic living expenses, the average Harvard A.R.T. Institute graduate has to pay 44 percent of discretionary income just to make the minimum loan payment.”

Yikes.

The news is particularly embarrassing given that Harvard’s endowment is over $35 billion, and the American Repertory Theater is a nonprofit with a board that includes a Who’s Who of American music and theater music mixed with some really rich folks.

. . . .

Some desire a career in academia with the MFA as a terminal degree. Some are already planning for a PhD. Some want to make connections to help get a book deal. Some are just looking for time and space to pursue their passion with little care or concern about future publication or employment. Some just want the opportunity to work closely with a particular mentor or even live in a particular place.

Some feel like they’re not sure about their prospects as a writer, but they’re definitely writing-curious, and graduate school sure beats your soul-killing job.

. . . .

There are approximately 3,000 newly minted MFA holders each year. It is a good thing that many are not interested in academic positions because the Academic Jobs Wiki for creative writing this year listed a sum total of 102 tenure-track jobs across fiction, poetry, non-fiction, open, and mixed categories. Even presuming equal chances (which would be silly), the odds of landing a tenure track job are vanishingly small. The vast majority of those positions will go to people who are many years post-MFA with significant publications.

. . . .

At a place like Columbia, which boasts a faculty that includes Paul Beatty, Richard Ford, Leslie Jamison, Hedi Julavits, and Ben Marcus, among many other luminaries, the full-cost tuition for the two-year program is $120,000. Those students are also living in New York City.

Yikes.

When it comes to tuition and funding and student outcomes and what all that means, I think it’s worth programs asking some questions and seeing what kind of answers emerge:

Can we charge tuition?

Should we charge tuition?

Must we charge tuition?

In the case of, “Can we charge tuition?” the answer for the vast majority is “yes.” Even with so many programs, the demand for slots exceeds supply. According to AWP, the average number of applicants to full-residency programs is 56 while acceptances are 18.5.

But just because you can charge tuition doesn’t mean you should, at least if we’re looking at doing right by students.

The A.R.T. Institute at Harvard is a great example of where we may draw this distinction. The gateway to success that its students are trying to squeeze through is so narrow, I’m betting they could charge even more in tuition and still find plenty of qualified and willing applicants. When it comes to people pursuing a career on Broadway, the heart wants what it wants.

. . . .

The questions are more complicated for creative writing fine arts programs, however, as they are not strictly pre-professional. Using a heavy bureaucratic hand to police programs would likely do far more harm than good.

. . . .

What’s happening to those students post graduation? Here’s some of the questions I think programs could answer:

  • % of students in stable, full-time academic positions
  • % of students who have published with commercial, independent, or university press
  • % of students who work in writing or publishing-related field
  • Debt at graduation/Debt at 5 years/Debt at 10 years/Debt at 20 years/Average time to debt free

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed

What would a clear warning statement concerning an MFA program in creative writing look like?

  1. Do you understand that this course of study will not prepare you to become a professional writer? Y/N
  2. Do you understand that none of your professors or instructors are or ever have supported themselves exclusively from their earnings as professional writers? Y/N
  3. Do you understand that, for the last three years, the average graduate of the MFA creative writing program has graduated with a total student loan debt of $200,000?Y/N
  4. Do you understand that the MFA student loan debt described is in addition to any student loan debts you incurred prior to applying to enter the program? Y/N
  5. Do you understand that the average salary of an MFA graduate from our school is $44,000 per year, provided that the graduate lives in New York City? Y/N
  6. Do you understand that the cost of living in Manhattan is over 250% of the average cost of living in the United States? And that the median price of a home is $1.2 million? Y/N

Just so visitors don’t think PG is piling onto MFA students, he will reveal that virtually every law student of his generation (and quite possibly, subsequent generations) had a professor/dean, etc., tell her/him that law school was going to teach him/her to “think like a lawyer.”

This lazy/hazy description made lawyers seem like some sort of leisure class who sat around and focused on thinking about various and sundry legal theories.

PG would have suggested, “Work like a lawyer” or “become a successful lawyer.”

Farming

Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy

PG expects Freudian practitioners could make something of the comparison between a tractor and male sexuality in all of its cruder forms.

Having actually driven tractors a very long time ago, PG can attest that driving a tractor all day in the summer as in the following video results in the driver being covered with sweat everywhere.

Sweating on a tractor with a bare chest means that lots and lots of dust and grit will have collected on the upper half of your body and worked its way down well past the beltline as well. If you used the tractor to pull a manure spreader, it’s even nastier. Boots and socks will be black, brown or red, depending on the color of the soil.

Since the sweat and grit have been collecting from early that morning, the smell will not be that of someone who spent 30 minutes on a treadmill before taking a shower. It’s going to be rank, which won’t bother the rest of the farm/ranch hands because they’ll smell just as bad.

More than a few farm and ranch houses have a shower room close to a side entrance. Walk in that door and you’re likely to encounter a mud room well-stocked with dirty boots that Momma will never allow in the house under any circumstance.

You take off your boots in the mud room and walk into the shower room. (No fancy fixtures, some of the showers are home-made from tin, just like the bin that holds cattle feed.)

You get completely naked, dropping all your clothes into a separate laundry bag. If Mamma has complained about having to do too many loads of laundry, you might hang your jeans on a hook to put on the next day.

Your cap, of course, will never be washed so the caps all have their own hooks, probably in the mud room. If you went to the feed store or the grain elevator with a clean hat, people would think you were from Chicago or Denver and immediately know you weren’t the right kind of person. You do get a new hat from the elevator and feed store 2-3 times per year, but you don’t stand out because everybody else in the place just got their own new hat. The tractor dealer is also good for a new hat once in awhile.

Back to the shower room. You wash everything, maybe twice, to get all the dirt off, then stand under cold water straight from the well for awhile to cool off.

When you get out and dry off, you notice your farmer tan. (white wherever the feed store t-shirt covers your body and really brown everywhere else except for your legs which are also fish-belly white – yes, you look really dumb when you to to the swimming pool in town) The farmer tan has gotten a few shades browner and you have some new scrapes and scabs on your hands and forearms from trying to fix whatever broke on the tractor or what you were pulling that day.

At this point, you realize that you have no clean clothes anywhere near the shower room. If you haven’t aggravated Momma too badly in the last couple of days and if you shout politely, she might bring you something to wear. If not, you wrap the towel around your waist, watch out for your younger brother who likes to sneak up and snatch it away, and go into your room.

During that entire day and through the night, no girl acts like she loves your tractor. And if you do happen to spend some time with a girl, she may complain that the callouses on your hands are rough and holding hands isn’t nearly as nice as when you’re in school and the callouses have retreated to wherever they go when you’re using your hands for holding pencils and typing.

Self-Publishing Review

PG received an email from a long-time visitor to TPV after he published a review of Tokyo Zango yesterday that appeared in Self-Publishing Review.

The visitor, A, was absolutely right.

The email questioned PG’s judgement in linking to a pay-for-play site that sells reviews, Amazon best-seller rankings, etc. Suffice to say, if Amazon finds out what’s going on, an author and his/her books will face some difficult experiences.

Self-Publishing Review claims that what it’s doing is permitted by Amazon’s T’s & C’s, but PG would like to hear that directly from Amazon.

PG pleads guilty to moving fast, breaking things and making an unconsidered post. He’s pulled the post down.

He always appreciates suggestions from visitors to TPV. You can email him directly with the Contact PG link in the menu bar at the top of the blog.

A Brief History of Summer Reading

From The New York Times:

When the days get longer and the mercury begins to rise, the books appear. Sunscreen-dappled paperbacks are tucked into beach bags and backpacks, sprinkled across picnic tables and dropped into the crooks of hammocks. Like their siblings the summer blockbuster and the song of the summer, they come: The season of summer reading has arrived.

Something about these dog days, more than any other time of year, invites readers to bury themselves in a book — and not just any book, but one that is lighter, more fun and more transporting than their usual fare. “Why summer reading? One doesn’t have winter reading, or fall reading (that I suppose would have too autumnal an echo) or even … spring reading,” the critic Clive Barnes wondered in The New York Times Book Review in 1968. “But summer reading — like the Statue of Liberty and motherhood — is always with us.”

This has been true since the earliest days of the Book Review, which published its first special issue featuring “books suitable for summer reading” on June 5, 1897, and has continued to put out an annual guide almost every year since. The recommendations in that first issue ran the gamut from memoirs, history and biography, to poetry and essays, to books on “Travel and Adventure” or “Gardens, Flowers and Birds.” There were offerings from “A Group of Female Novelists,” “Fiction by Famous Hands” and “Novels by Some Newer Men,” as well as “Noteworthy Long Stories” and “Books on Many Themes.” And, just for good measure, the editors also threw in the 50 best books of 1896.

What seems commonplace now was then a fairly new phenomenon. The idea of reading different kinds of literature at different times of year dates back centuries — for an early example, see William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” — but summer reading as we now know it emerged in the United States in the mid-1800s, buoyed by an emerging middle class, innovations in book publishing and a growing population of avid readers, many of them women. And this rise of summer reading coincided with the birth of another cultural tradition: the summer vacation.

“The novel appointed to be read on the piazzas of mountain and seaside hotels and on the shade side of farmhouses that take ‘city boarders’ is the direct product of the Summer habits of the American people,” the Book Review reported in 1900. “Half a century ago going to the country or changing the family abode during the torrid months was hardly thought of except by the rich and fashionable folk.”

Growing numbers of middle-class Americans flocked to resorts and grand hotels that popped up across the United States, connected to urban centers by an expanding network of train lines. “Any place the railroad went, chances were that there was going to be a summer resort at the end of whatever railroad line was there,” Donna Harrington-Lueker, a professor of English at Salve Regina University and the author of “Books for Idle Hours: Nineteenth-Century Publishing and the Rise of Summer Reading,” said in a phone interview.

But in the mid-1800s, things started to shift. What had been a privilege reserved for the wealthy became a possibility for a growing group of upper-middle-class and middle-class Americans. While they didn’t have palatial summer estates or the funds for a monthslong European tour, they could afford to take a brief respite from paid work. And they were eager to exercise this ability as a marker of their rising social standing.

Publishers saw an opportunity in this new wave of summer travel to bolster what had traditionally been a lackluster season for book sales, and to promote novels, which up until that point had largely been seen as an inferior literary subgenre and a dangerous corrupting influence, particularly for young women.

“Reading novels was something that was highly suspect,” said Dr. Harrington-Lueker. “But slowly, from the 1870s into the 1880s and ’90s, they manage to reposition it as a genteel, middle-class pleasure. Light novels, paperback novels, novels that were easily portable or could be read while lying under a tree: All of these became embraced by the tastemakers of the industry.”

The publishers’ goals were helped along by two other important developments, Wendy Griswold, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University, explained in a phone interview. The invention in the mid-1800s of wood pulp paper, which was much cheaper to produce than paper made from linen rags, significantly reduced the price of books. And literacy rates among American women — who were more likely to spend long chunks of the summer at resorts than their husbands, who often had to commute back and forth from their city jobs — skyrocketed.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Problems with TPV Comments/Comment Editing

PG saw a comment by a regular TPV visitor saying he had been having problems editing his comments.

PG uses (and has used for a long time) a WordPress plugin called Simple Comment Editing. Perhaps he’s missed reports of prior problems editing comments, but this is the first one he can recall.

  1. If anyone is having problems leaving comments or editing their comments, please share those problems in the comments to this post or, if you’re having problems with posting comments, send an email to PG through the Contact PG link in the top menu of the home page of TPV.
  2. If anybody has ideas about what may be causing problems for some visitors leaving comments, PG would appreciate them sharing that information, either in the comments to this post or the Contact PG link at the top of the page.

As PG has said on multiple prior occasions, he thinks the comments are the best part of TPV and he wants to hear from any and everyone who wants to share thoughts here.

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days

From The Wall Street Journal:

On Feb. 16, 1943, by special order of Adolf Hitler, Mildred Harnack, a 40-year-old American academic, was executed at Plötzensee prison in Berlin. She had been accused of treason for her role in an underground German resistance group that had put up anti-Nazi posters, distributed seditious leaflets, and helped Jews and dissidents to escape the country.

The Nazis called the group the Red Orchestra. Radio transmitters were known by German intelligence as “pianos,” their operators as “pianists.” In 1941, when the Nazis discovered that German “pianists” were sending messages to Communist agents in Moscow, they dubbed the orchestra “Red.”

Until now, not much has been known about Harnack. “Her aim was self-erasure,” writes her biographer Rebecca Donner. But as Harnack’s great-great-niece, Ms. Donner, in “All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days” , comes to the story with an advantage. When she was a teenager her grandmother gave her a pile of letters Harnack had written to her family between 1929 and her arrest in 1942. Ms. Donner, an accomplished researcher and reporter, was also able to gain access to documents discovered in an East German archive after the fall of the Berlin Wall. A few years later the Russians opened foreign-intelligence files to historians, and in 1998, under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, the CIA, FBI and U.S. Army also began to release top-secret records.

Harnack was born Mildred Fish in 1902 into an impoverished Milwaukee family. She attended the University of Wisconsin, graduating with a master’s degree in English literature. She met her future husband, Arvid Harnack, a German economist, when he wandered into the wrong lecture hall.

In 1929 the Harnacks moved to Germany, where Mildred earned a doctorate at Geissen and later taught American history and literature at the University of Berlin. Her classes were popular but eccentric; sometimes she would sing a folk ballad, “John Brown’s Body” or “Clementine,” and unpack its sad meaning. She lectured about American farmers, factory workers and immigrants, and the writers William Faulkner, John Dos Passos and Theodore Dreiser. She made no secret of her loathing of Hitler. In 1932 she held her first clandestine meeting in her apartment, bringing together political activists of all backgrounds and faiths.

A job as literary scout for a Berlin publishing company allowed Mildred to travel and to seek recruits abroad. Arvid passed as a Nazi in the Ministry of Economics, pretending allegiance to Hitler’s administration while supplying military secrets to the Soviets and the Allies. The Allies, however, weren’t convinced there was a serious German resistance. Ms. Donner reports that those who tried to warn them about Hitler’s threat to the world were ignored. An official in the British Foreign Office asked “Are the stories which reach us of dissident groups genuine?” Stalin angrily dismissed Arvid’s report that the Germans were about to invade Russia, scrawling it with obscenities. Five days later, on June 22, 1941, the Nazi invasion began.

Ms. Donner’s use of the present tense increases the feeling of inevitability as she unfolds her story to its horrific conclusion. This is a powerful book. A nonfiction narrative with the pace of a political thriller, it’s imbued with suspense and dread.

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

Worse Than a Dumpster Fire

From Smart Bitches/Trashy Books:

RWA.

When I quit the organization 47 years ago back in February 2020 (remember then? Sure was different!), it felt like a relief. I wouldn’t have to harbor that knot in my stomach or go get my mouth guard before writing about the latest technicolor f***** (PG prudery edit) from an organization that makes regular and complicated superficial changes but can’t control the 300 foot deep racism fire burning within its membership. Despite the efforts of people who I admire and people with whom I’d worked for over 15 years, I didn’t think it was fixable.

When the finalists for the newly-renamed award, the Vivian, were announced this year, one book in the Religious or Spiritual Elements category (which really means evangelical Christian, let’s be real) featured a hero who participated in the genocide against the Lakota at Wounded Knee. So all the changes and the renaming and the rewriting of the structure and the rubric and all the significant work that goes into hosting and managing an award yielded the same result as in prior years: racist, White supremacist narratives are lauded, whether the hero is a Nazi or a murderer of Indigenous Americans.

Then, this weekend, that same book won the Vivian. No, I’m not naming it. This small bit of ignominy is all I can provide here.

Same racism, different year. It’s not a surprise, but it is remarkable. And my thought was, good grief. If RWA wants to demonstrate its irrelevance to the rest of the romance reading community by rewarding White supremacist plots and characters, well, fine. If the organization insists on demonstrating its own irrelevance, okay. I shall oblige. I didn’t want to write about it because there isn’t a thing I can do about it except say, Yup, that is Indeed Terrible and also Not Surprising because the ground is still smoking from the racist mine fire below.

Then the president of RWA released a statement that romance with religious or spiritual elements:

requires a redemptive arc as a genre convention. Essentially, the character can’t be redeemed by human means; only through their spiritual/religious awakening can they find redemption for their moral failings and or crimes against humanity. According to its subgenre conventions, the book in question finaled and won for this category. (emphasis mine)

I’ll be honest: I nearly broke something laughing. I thought it was a joke. There was no way that was real. It had to be satire. I don’t know what month it is any more; is it April 1?

But it was not a joke. The response was, effectively, “Look, sometimes there’s crimes against humanity in the romance and we have to be okay with that.” Bonus head tilt for “RWA staff did not receive any complaints from the thirteen judges who read and scored the entry.”

GOSH I WONDER WHY. How could it be that the judges didn’t see genocide as a problem? Also the ground is really hot; it smells a little toasty. Is something on fire?

Link to the rest at Smart Bitches/Trashy Books

While PG will let others do more commenting on the OP (or not), he is pretty much a free speech absolutist.

PG is also pure Whitebread.

That said, PG doesn’t believe his ancestry prevents him from understanding those who have a different ancestry. He further doesn’t believe that his ancestry should preclude him from writing about those with ancestries different than his.

PG doesn’t have any problem with someone creating a fictional character in a work of fiction in 2021 that fictionally participated in a horrible event that took place in distant history. He doesn’t have any problem with someone buying such a book. He doesn’t care whether the author of such a work of fiction is Lakota or Irish or Chinese. He doesn’t believe than anyone reading such a book will decide that treating Native Americans badly in 2021 is perfectly fine.

As background, PG’s best friend in elementary school was Japanese. Only much later did PG learn that his best friend’s parents had almost certainly been interned as potentially dangerous aliens during World War II. That knowledge didn’t interfere with PG’s fond memories of his best friend and his hope that their paths would cross at some time so he could enjoy that friend again.

As further background, PG attended high school with several Native Americans with whom he associated and interacted every day school was in session. Within a ten-minute drive from his small-town high school, there was a battlefield where the ancestors of PG’s Native American friends had thoroughly outwitted and slaughtered a bunch of Whitebread soldiers in the 1800’s.

PG believes in knowing history, but not being trapped or limited by it. He also believes that putting difficult experiences behind us is a pretty good rule of life.

(PG is not suggesting that those who have personally experienced severe trauma should be expected to pretend nothing bad ever happened to them. He is suggesting that being emotionally sensitive or triggered about something that happened to one’s great, great grandmother is an indication that such a person might enjoy a better life with some good counseling.)

PG didn’t intern his Japanese friend’s parents. He likes to believe he would never have done such a thing, but won’t be a virtue poser.

None of PG’s Native American friends ever did anything to hurt PG so he didn’t blame them for anything their ancestors did to other Whitebreads just like PG.

PG believes that inherited grievances are a bad idea under any circumstance he can imagine.

He will point to the problems that have plagued the nations and ethnic groups of Central and Eastern Europe for centuries and resulted in the killing of unknown numbers of people as only one example of why inherited grievances are a bad idea.

Call me

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

First Paragraph of Moby Dick, but Herman Melville

What Will AI Do to Your Job? Take a Look at What It’s Already Doing to Coders

From The Wall Street Journal:

Want to know if artificial intelligence is going to eliminate millions of jobs? The first place to look is the industry that birthed the technology.

AI seems set to do to computer programming—and possibly other kinds of so-called knowledge work—what automation has done to other jobs, from the factory floor and the warehouse, to the checkout aisle and the call center. In those industries, the end result of widespread automation has been the elimination of countless roles—and their replacement with ones that require either relatively little skill and knowledge, or a great deal more, with workers at either end of this spectrum being rewarded accordingly.

In other words, software is eating the software industry.

Economists call this “skills-biased technological change.” It’s what happens when technology makes skilled workers more productive, while taking over the complex and difficult parts of more repetitive jobs, making workers who do them easier to train and more interchangeable.

Now, AI is automating knowledge work, and the implications for the half of the U.S. workforce who are employed in such jobs are profound. It’s true that these white-collar jobs have been evolving for decades as technology has improved, but the elimination of middle-skilled jobs seems set to accelerate as AI is institutionalized in the workplace. This new technology has the potential to reshuffle the deck of winners and losers in America’s increasingly economically polarized economy.

Coding was early to the generative AI boom that has captured the world’s attention since the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November. While generative AI is typically thought of as a tool for creating text, images and even video that look as though humans created them, it’s also being used by programmers to generate code, and to automatically test it. Microsoft made GitHub Copilot—a programming tool that uses technology from OpenAI—widely available in June 2022, five months before OpenAI made public its ChatGPT bot.

Tech layoffs over the past year, driven by macroeconomic trends, happen to have come just as genuinely useful AI for coding has arrived. For many young coders, the timing is unfortunate. Data from workforce-analytics company Revelio Labs indicate that companies have tended to fire their newest employees, and that in 2023, software engineers represent the largest share of people laid off by tech companies. The few tech job openings that remain, meanwhile, are being snapped up by still-in-demand, more-experienced software engineers.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal