I finished my first book seventy-six years ago

I finished my first book seventy-six years ago. I offered it to every publisher on the English-speaking earth I had ever heard of. Their refusals were unanimous: and it did not get into print until, fifty years later; publishers would publish anything that had my name on it.

George Bernard Shaw

Alice Elliott Dark Writes Women in Their 80s Like Men in Their 30s

From Electric Lit:

Alice Elliott Dark’s Fellowship Point is an abundantly generous novel, rich in the love of a lifelong friendship and the beauty of Maine in the summer. It opens with a map of its titular location—a small peninsula where five wealthy Philadelphia Quaker families established summer homes decades ago. Fellowship Point is private property, a fact which drives one of the novel’s main conflicts. What will happen to this sanctuary after the point’s primary caretakers, Agnes Lee and Polly Garner—both in their 80s—die? 

I always relish a map at the start of a book, as I did this one, studying it closely, even though the word it depicts meant nothing to me—yet. But as I read each marked location grew in significance, and by the final chapter I felt as connected to this place as I do to its inhabitants.

Agnes and Polly are old women by any definition, set in their ways formed by their families, by Philadelphia society, by living through most of the 20th century, by leveraging their strengths and coping with their weaknesses. Agnes is a successful author and Polly is a homemaker—each leads a life their friend has not lived. And yet the differences in their world views and personalities spur them both to grow and to change, undergoing personal evolutions that provide the novel’s most poignant revelations.

Fellowship Point may be private property, but as a setting for a novel, it’s open to all. To be invited there, and be welcomed into this deep and lasting friendship—the likes of which many of us will never have—is a gift Alice Elliot Dark gives to her readers. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Light Blogging for a Couple of Days

PG is working on a big project, so tomorrow, July 6, and the next day, July 7, TPV will have fewer posts than normal.

Nobody is sick or dying/has died. All is well. Just some tasks that require that PG be heads-down and cogent for a few more (cogent) hours than there are in one day.

Independence Day, 1941

For visitors from outside the United States, today, the Fourth of July, is celebrated as Independence Day.

The clip below, Indepence Day in 1941, reflects the fact that, although World War II was already raging in Europe, the United States had not yet entered directly into that conflict.

However, in March of 1941, Congress had passed what was generally called the Lend-Lease Act, which permitted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to send both military and non-military aid to support Great Britain in the war in Europe.

When Roosevelt gave this speech, France had already fallen to the military of Nazy Germany four months earlier.

The Battle of Britain, which was fought in the skies over Britain, would begin six days later, on July 10, 1941. At first, the German air attacks were primarily focused on shipping in the English Channel separating Britain from continental Europe. Attacks were focused on ships and Channel ports.

Shortly thereafter, the focus of the Luftwaffe was changed to destroying British military aircraft to pave the way for the invasion of Britain. This involved attacks on military airfields and continuing to destroy planes used by the Royal Air Force. British radar stations on the South Coast were also heavily bombed..

August 13 was declared, ‘Eagle Day’ (Adlertag): The Luftwaffe launched intense raids on RAF airfields, focusing their attacks in the south east of England.

August 18 would be called The Hardest Day by contemporary British historians and featured fierce air battles between the Luftwaffe and the RAF, with severe loss of RAF aircraft on the ground.

August 19 – September 6, 1940 – The Luftwaffe continued to bomb towns, cities and airfields across the south coast of England, the Midlands and the north east.

On August 20, British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, spoke in the House of Commons to acknowledge the enormous gratitude the nation owed to British & Allied aircrew: ”Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”

24 August: During night bombing of Britain, a lost German bomber formation dropped bombs on London by mistake.

August 25: In retaliation of the bombing of London, the RAF launched their first bombing raid on Berlin.

August 31 : Fighter Command suffered its heaviest losses to date. 303 Squadron (Polish Squadron) – based at RAF Northolt – became operational.

September 7, 1940 – 31 October 31, 1940
Mass bombing raids were launched against London, and continued against other major British cities.

September15: Battle of Britain day. The Luftwaffe launched its heaviest bombing raids on London. Fighter Command successfully fought the attacking aircraft, resulting in heavy Luftwaffe losses.

September 17: Hitler postponed the invasion of Britain (Operation Sealion) It was not known then, but following this decision, Hitler turned his attention towards Russia and, while the air raids continued, their frequency and intensity began to decline as Luftwaffe planes and crews began to be transferred to the Eastern Front to attack Russia.

Here’s a link to the video above so you can view it on YouTube if the embedded version does now work for you.

Here’s a link that will take you to YouTube if this embed doesn’t work well for you.

How Does Goodreads Make Money?

From Book Riot:

Much of the book industry relies on Goodreads for a lot of things. From readers and authors, to publishing professionals and journalists, the book-focused platform is all-around functional to anyone who loves books. But looking at its website’s design, it feels stuck in the decade’s past. From when Amazon acquired Goodreads for $150 million in 2013 up to the present, the UX hasn’t seen major style changes. Amazon is probably aware that Goodreads desperately needs a facelift, but it’s not doing anything about it. Does that mean that its subsidiary is not profitable enough to warrant precious resources and funding? How does Goodreads make money anyway?

I reached out to Goodreads to specifically ask them that, even going to their website to do a lot of digging and asking some tech experts to weigh in on the subject.

The bookish social media site doesn’t have an official media kit at the moment, according to a representative. But a media kit dated 2017 reveals that its business model revolves around offering “book discovery packages” that consist of “owned, earned, and paid media.”

. . . .

For a social media platform that garners millions of views per month and holds a ton of user data, Goodreads struck gold with advertising. According to Chris Muller, Director of Audience Growth for DoughRoller, Goodreads’s business model is based on the concept of social commerce. “People share book recommendations, reviews, and discuss any books they are reading or want to read in the future, which contributes to the website’s success. This website’s Holy Grail appears to be recommendations from like-minded readers,” he said.

. . . .

Among the top revenue streams mentioned are sponsored newsletters and new releases mailers, which Goodreads sends to millions of users every month; advertorial placements, which is also called the author spotlight; personal selection emails, which can target an author’s fans showing a new release; and sponsored homepage polls.

. . . .

Goodreads’s Giveaways is definitely one of the popular features of the platform. Although international readers can almost always enter a giveaway, the service itself is only available for U.S. and Canadian authors who want to run print book giveaways. For the Kindle book giveaway, however, those who use Amazon’s self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing can take advantage of the service.

. . . .

Whenever a user clicks on the Buy buttons on a Goodreads book page, they would notice that there are affiliate codes attached.

“Goodreads receives a cut of any book sold through partners like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books. But, this revenue is likely not important given the strategic value of Goodreads to Amazon. I think this is shown by the fact that Goodreads has killed off its advertising programs aimed at individual authors and smaller publishers,” said Ben Fox, a tech entrepreneur and currently the founder of Shepherd.com, a Goodreads competitor.

Fox was referring to Goodreads’s self-serve advertising — not its direct advertising service — which it shut down in February 2020. Now, Goodreads promotes Amazon’s self-serve ad product instead, which is obviously on a different site.

“They still sell advertising to large publishers, but it seems likely Amazon is subsidizing Goodreads or giving them a custom affiliate deal that gives them a much larger share of any book sold,” Fox said.

. . . .

Goodreads says that it shows interest-based ads on its website. “Interest-based ads are sometimes referred to as personalized or targeted ads. We show interest-based ads to display features, products, and services that might be of interest to you,” it reads on a disclaimer page.

But what do these interest-based ads really look like for a casual user of the platform? According to Goodreads, personal recommendations and other similar features are considered ads. This brings into question the endgame of its recommendations tool — is it really out there to genuinely help a reader find books they might love, or is it just another way to profit off of the user’s activity?

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Infamous Fictional Psychiatrists

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Dice Man

By George Cockcroft, writing as Luke Rhinehart (1971)

1. In this novel, a character named Luke Rhinehart is a middle-aged Manhattan psychiatrist suffering from depression. Disillusioned with medicine and with life, he finds freedom in the roll of the dice. One roll dictates that he carry out his deeply disturbing fantasy of raping the wife of his close colleague. When he knocks on her door and tells her what he plans to do, he’s taken aback by her compliance. He’s disturbed further when, after two agreeable hours, he realizes that he has changed in some indefinable but significant way. He extends the laws of chance to his clinical decision-making, which alleviates his deep-seated fear of failure and allows him to begin viewing his work as something of a game. He advises a female patient diagnosed with nymphomania to find work in a busy Brooklyn brothel. To a slender young woman from Greenwich Village who likes talking about herself he says, “as human beings go you are mediocre in all respects except in the quantity of your fortune.”

. . . .


By J.G. Ballard (2000)

3. Lured by tax concessions, a Mediterranean climate and a Euro-corporate lifestyle, dozens of multinational companies have moved their business into Eden-Olympia, a business park populated by a highly paid elite of senior managers, administrators and entrepreneurs. The flawed and dangerous antihero of this dystopia of technology is the staff psychiatrist Wilder Penrose, an “amiable Prospero” with evasive eyes and an eager smile, who steers his clients’ darkest dreams toward the daylight. Wilder’s vision is to create an intelligent modern city that promotes advanced health screening, up-to-the-minute gadgetry and the replacement of the civic with the commercial. But as the novel proceeds, it becomes clear that Wilder is more concerned with exciting the base instincts of those in charge. He explains to the book’s protagonist, Paul, that ever since he organized the drug and vice rings and a leather-jacketed “bowling club” whose sorties into the outside world leave Arab pimps and Senegalese trinket merchants bleeding in the gutters, the park’s chief executives no longer complain of stress and burnout and profits have soared.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Mojo’s Smart Contact Lenses Begin In-Eye Testing

The connection with books may seem wispy, but PG suspects that the majority of adult readers use some sort of corrective lenses.

From Cnet:

I’ve brought a tiny, chip-studded, display-enabled contact lens made up to my eye, but I never was actually able to wear it. But by the end of 2022, I might get a chance. Mojo Vision’s smart contact lenses, which have been in development for years, are finally being worn internally, starting with the company’s CEO Drew Perkins.

Perkins, who I spoke to over Zoom, has only worn the lens for an hour at a time so far. He likens the first tests to a baby learning to walk: “We’ve now taken that first step. And it’s very exciting.”

Perkins tested a few of the Mojo Lens app demos I tried with the lens on a stick earlier this year, reading text off a teleprompter app that put tiny text floating in a display in front of his eye, and looking at an image of Albert Einstein in green monochrome, which Perkins said “looked great.” He also demoed the lens’ compass app that I tried, which used a built-in magnetometer to show compass readouts in real time. “I was able to spin around 360 degrees and see it [go] from north, to northeast, to east, to southeast,” he said. “It was very cool.”

Mojo Vision’s hardware for the lens requires a neck-worn processor that wirelessly relays information to the lens and back to computers that track the eye movement data for research. For the moment, the setup also requires a special cap with an antenna built in that Perkins is wearing to ensure a smooth connection for early testing.

The lenses have a tiny MicroLED display onboard, a short-range custom wireless radio, a tiny ARM processor and motion tracking in the form of an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer. It’s the same lens hardware I looked at off-eye back in the spring of this year. The lenses enable eye-controlled head-up displays to appear to hover in-air, approaching a type of monochromatic Google Glass-like AR interface without glasses.

Link to the rest at Cnet and thanks to F. for the tip.

How to Use Gender-Neutral Language at Work and in Life

From Grammarly Blog:

Every day, we make thousands of decisions, including what to wear and eat and how to handle little problems or unexpected moments that pop up. The way we speak introduces more of those choices.

But, unlike many of the other decisions we make, the way we use language can significantly affect those around us. Language can make people feel respected, or it can make them feel excluded, and it’s all in the way we choose to use it.

That’s where gender-neutral language comes into play. Here’s what you should know about it, and how to work it into your daily life.

. . . .

What is gender-neutral language?

Gender-neutral language is simply a way of talking about people without assuming their gender. For example, it’s referring to someone you don’t know as “they” rather than using the pronoun “he” or “she,” or addressing a group as “everyone” rather than saying, “Hey, guys.”

Luckily, the English language is relatively gender-neutral in many respects. For instance, many nouns (think: “writer,” “president,” or “acrobat”) are gender-neutral. However, that doesn’t mean that gendered language is uncommon. In fact, gendered language has been a part of our lexicon for a long time. (The United States’ Declaration of Independence even proclaims that “all men are created equal.”) So you may not realize when you’re using gendered language, even as it shapes how you see the world.

Using gender-neutral language is an important habit because it demonstrates respect for people of all backgrounds, genders, and beliefs, and it includes everyone in the conversation. This is an especially helpful way to show support for members of LGBTQIA+ communities. And while not everyone finds the language people use about them important, it’s best to land on the side of using inclusive and empathetic language.

How to use gender-neutral language in the workplace

One of the common areas where gendered language may appear is in an office or a workspace. For example, a professional email may start with a form of address, like “Mr.” or “Mrs./Ms.” However, if you don’t know the recipient’s preferred pronouns, the one you select may not align with their gender identity. So when in doubt, choose a gender-neutral alternative, like “Mx.,” or use the person’s full name without a title. If you’re not familiar with the person you’re addressing, you can address their profession or group without noting their gender, such as “Dear Professor,” “Dear Members of the Board,” or “Dear Hiring Committee.”

Gender-neutral alternatives to gendered words

While many English words are naturally gender-neutral, some still carry gendered connotations. So it’s also important to pay attention to your language in less formal conversations, like those with coworkers over Slack. Here are a few examples of the types of words that may be common in the workplace, as well as alternatives to use instead:

  • Businessman → Businessperson, business representative
  • Chairman/chairwoman → Chairperson, chair
  • Foreman → Foreperson
  • Salesman → Salesperson
  • Manpower → Workforce, workers 
  • Mailman → Letter carrier, postal worker
  • Manned → Crewed

Link to the rest at Grammarly Blog

PG was born and raised several years ago. He is thankful that his parents taught him to be polite to everyone he encountered and modeled that behavior for him.

At a time when many fathers had served in the armed forces during World War II and brought home racial nicknames for certain nationalities, PG’s father never manifested that behavior.

PG’s closest friends when he was a young sprout was Japanese. Only much later did PG conclude that his parents had likely been held in detention camps for Japanese, including American citizens, during the war because of their race.

One day, someone stopped by the farmhouse where PG and his family were living and asked for directions to someplace several miles away. The man seeking help said that he had asked at the neighboring farm, but didn’t think that the [racial epithet omitted] had given him correct directions.

PG was an upset little boy after hearing that and his father spoke with him about treating everyone with respect and kindness and never using the epithet he had just heard to describe anyone else.

With that rambling background, PG will say that he is happy to use preferred terms to describe others, but isn’t happy when some who prefer a particular form of address or manner of referencing people like themselves become abusive and aggressive towards those who may not have understood that they had not referenced the person by the “correct” term for members of the LGBTQIA+ (which not long ago was commonly understood to be LGBT).

In PG’s experience, too many people assume that others are purposely demeaning them by using general terms that caused no offense five, ten or twenty years ago.

Digging Deeper into Hemingway

From Publishers Weekly:

Battles over books are being waged from all sides of the political spectrum. Booksellers, teachers, and students worry that books potentially alienate or harm readers because they contain racial epithets or demeaning depictions. Politicians seek to ban books from curricula out of fear that certain books offend the sensibilities of children, distort the historical record, or present the human experience in ways they don’t like. Although liberals and conservatives often clash in these debates, they attribute great power to the written word.

With tempers high on all sides, it sometimes seems easier to drop some books altogether rather than incite another battle in the polarizing culture wars. But there is a path beyond the apparent impasse of canceling or defending works at odds with today’s sensibilities. It requires recognizing that artistic masterpieces are not defined by perfection but, in Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s useful definition, are “endlessly compelling [works] speaking to the human condition beyond time and place.” Canonical works reframe essential questions rather than settle debates; by definition they do not comfort but confound. Such works touch on universal issues in terms partly handed down by tradition and partly invented anew. Honoring the canon does not mean reflexive reverence but putting works to the test of time.

An honest appraisal of Ernest Hemingway’s landmark 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, illustrates how to engage with a work partly at odds with today’s sensibilities. A staple in high school English classes, Hemingway’s first novel introduced countless readers to the post–World War I “lost generation’s” search for a livable code of conduct while drinking, flirting, and watching the bullfights in Spain. But in the space of little more than a single page, consistently overlooked by most critics, Hemingway uses the n-word 16 times. I have been teaching literature to college students for 26 years and know that in a 21st-century classroom, awkward silence or evasive apologies about this conspicuous use of a racial epithet by such an intentional author will not cut it. Failing to analyze this scene is not only a missed opportunity that can easily lead to the book being dropped from the curriculum altogether, it is also an injustice to Hemingway as the progenitor of modern American fiction. Ignoring Hemingway’s obsessive use of the n-word shortchanges his art and fails to grasp that a work becomes canonical not because of shimmering perfection but because successive readings reveal additional significance.

Instead of making apologies for The Sun Also Rises or “canceling” the book, students can be shown how to hold Hemingway accountable to his self-defined standard of writing “the truest sentence” possible. Hemingway’s unsparing use of the n-word serves a complicated function in his book. It acknowledges the pivotal role played by race in the project of establishing American identity without authentically representing the African American characters. In this respect Hemingway’s use of the n-word betrays his own credo of writing the “truest sentence” possible.

In a seminal study of the role of race in American fiction, Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison shows that Hemingway needs African American characters for his project of authentic writing, but also that his use of verbal stereotypes reveals problems in his art. Today’s readers know that race is integral rather than peripheral to the project of collective self-understanding to which Hemingway gave such a resonant voice.

New generations bring new questions, which, in Morrison’s words, “give the text a deeper, richer, more complex life than the sanitized one commonly presented to us.” The question is not whether Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Hemingway, or Willa Cather offend or confirm our sensibilities. Today’s question is whether these classics remain sufficiently rewarding once we notice their often maladroit handling of racial identity. Avoiding the issue is no longer an option.

By examining how such moments shape great works in both content and form, Morrison emphasized, we gain a deeper understanding of the centrality of race in creating an American identity. A clear-eyed analysis of Hemingway’s use of the n-word in The Sun Also Rises shows how to read works that are culturally significant yet out of sync with today’s sensibilities.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

One of the first things students learn (or formerly learned) in any semantics course is “The word is not the thing.”

A corollary is “The map is not the territory.”

A map of the United States is a much different thing than the United States is. There are millions of places in the United States where you can take a step and not have the slightest idea that you have just moved from one state to another. Before the step, you were subject to one set of state laws and after the step, you are subject to a different set of state laws.

PG regularly reads news items that make him think that people are giving words too much power.

One may certainly find a word distasteful or objectionable or obscene, and prefer to not hear that word under any circumstances, but hearing the word does not, in fact change the person who does not like it. Words can have a personal impact on us only if we permit them to do so.

PG certainly knows a number of words he would never use and would prefer not to hear, but if he’s walking along a street and hears one of those words, he’s not changed by that hearing and hearing the word does not change his preference not to hear it.

PG could meander for a long time down this path, but will stop . . . after saying one more thing: Not reading anything Hemingway wrote would have resulted in a slightly less complete and educated PG. Reading Heming way did not convert PG to Hemingway’s manner of speaking, writing or living, but was still a very valuable experience for PG.

How Astonishing Women from Romania’s Past Inspired Me as a Woman Writer

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books:

When I started writing Dreamland, my second book of short stories about Romania’s history and folklore, I imagined I’ll write about what I know best, my native country. As I started my research, I discovered surprising legends and inspirational tales about women from Romania’s past that inspired me not only in writing, but in my life too.

A story was born from a legend that sits at the core of Maramures, this land in northern Romania: “Call of the Heart in Maramures, at Its Birth.” Its folk still share it by the hearth during long winter nights steeped in snow. It explains how the people of Maramures would not have existed if it wasn’t for the love and the self-sacrifice of one woman. She gave up her status just so that she can be with the man she loved. Never mind that she was a giant. Never mind this is a legend. 

More reality than legend, “A wave frozen in stone” was inspired by the oldest cave paintings of Central Europe, located in Coliboaia Cave, Bihor, Romania. Carbon dating placed them at over 30,000 years old; the Palaeolithic period.

Let’s pause for a moment. When we think of cave paintings and the artists who created them, who do we imagine? A man or a woman? Why do we give men priority?

I tried to imagine a woman. Her hands were raw from work and the freezing temperatures of the Ice Age. In brief moments of respite, when she hugged her babe and counted his tiny fingers, basking in their velvety touch, their sweet scent, and unconditional love… had she noticed the transformation her hands would have gone through? When she cured animal hides, had she noticed the snakes coming alive on the back of her hands? We call them tendons and veins. What word she used? Were they a mark of pride, proof of a life of hard labour? The only life she could have known. I like to imagine that she noticed. That she paused to draw breath. And that’s why she could render such anatomically detailed rock paintings. Bone and tendon and muscle. So distinctive that hand, the human hand. And a key anatomical feature by which individuals were, still are, defined.

Creating art, in its many forms.

I gazed at bas reliefs on Trajan’s Column countless times. Discerning the Roman army crossing the Danube River ahead of the first Dacian-Roman war; then battle scenes. I noticed Roman soldiers torching Dacian villages, but also Roman skulls stuck on poles around a Dacian fortress. And then, suddenly, I spotted Dacian women dressed in their beautiful attire, the Romanian blouse, “ia”, today a Romanian national symbol. An entire scene on Trajan’s column was dedicated to them.  I drew breath. What if the Dacian women were depicted on Trajan’s Column for another reason? Imagine the Roman soldiers’ surprise at having to fight against Dacian men… and women! The Roman soldiers were sourced from all the corners of the empire, fighting someone else’s war. But the Dacians, men and women, were defending their land. I imagined Roman soldiers, their arms lifting heavy swords, gladii, about to strike, then frozen in mid-air realising that among their opponents, handling the curved and feared Dacian sword, the falx, were women too. Thus, the story “Girl Warrior” came alive.

But could all women fight in battles to their hearts’ content?

In medieval times the Bistrita fortress was saved by the wealth of a woman. The stories I came across made me question if it was her material wealth that saved the town or her bravery. Ursula is depicted on her tombstone wearing a knit’s attire complete with a sword and a shield. The stone slab is known today as The Knight’s Slab. 

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

PG had never heard of Maramures prior to reading the OP. He did a bit of online research and found it looked like and interesting place.

For example Maramures has a Happy Cemetery.

From Üdvözlünk a Wikipédiában!, Creative Commons, share and share alike

The author of the OP is Patricia Furstenberg, a Romanian author now living in South Africa.

Here’s a link to her Author Page on Amazon.

7 of the Most Memorable Bartenders in Literature

From Electric Lit:

I have thought a lot, over my decade-plus of drinking and working in bars, about what makes any one establishment stand out over another. Why are there places we love and return to, and others we leave with indifference, ambivalence, even disappointment? On the one hand, if there was an easy answer, opening a bar wouldn’t be such a risky venture. There are so many factors at play—location is a big one, and design, and menu offerings—and there are so many different types of bars, so many success stories and failures. In some ways, defining a “good bar” is an impossible task. On the other hand, ask any barfly and they’ll give you the same answer. It always, in the end, comes down to the bartender.

And yet, there is a strange dearth of memorable bartenders in popular culture. Bars appear, generally, as settings divorced from the people that run them; with the occasional, notable exception (Cheers leaps to mind), bartenders are generally anonymous, interchangeable, forgotten. This is part of what I see as a more general lack of service industry stories, a lack that I felt as I worked on my debut novel, The Bartender’s Cure.

In The Bartender’s Cure, the bars are literally defined by their staff: the protagonist’s place of work is called Joe’s Apothecary, but every other establishment remains nameless—Gina’s bar, Casey’s bar, Timothy’s bar. I don’t think I even noticed myself naming them this way, not at first, but it felt right. The bartender defines your experience, as a guest: they shepherd you through your night, they feed and water you, they look out for your comfort, your safety, and your joy. If you’re very lucky, you get to know them a little bit too.

The novels below understand this, and have created compelling, magnetic bar personalities. At the top of the list are the bartenders we know best—protagonists, followed by love interests, followed by memorable minor characters. I would visit any one of them at work in a heartbeat.

. . . .

The Night Shift by Natalka Burian

The protagonist of Natalka Burian’s upcoming novel is a sort of classic accidental bartender. After leaving her more traditional job working for a successful psychotherapist, Jean Smith takes a job at Red and Gold, a divey bar in early-aughts Manhattan where the nights consist of drunk hipsters and hundreds (maybe thousands) of vodka-sodas. Jean is a newbie, and we see her struggle behind the bar as all newbies do, but she’s hardworking and stubborn, which I respect. And at any rate, The Night Shift isn’t really about the bar—it’s about the nighttime world that bar work introduces Jean to, with its colorful characters and mysterious shortcuts: strange passageways through space and time that are much more sinister than they seem. Jean is a classic reluctant hero type, and Burian weaves together her painful past and troubled coming-of-age with a riveting, high-stakes mystery.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

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.

The same demographic traits that characterize non-book readers also often apply to those who have never been to a library. 

Link to the rest at The Pew Research Center and thanks to F. for the tip.

Friends smell like one another

PG isn’t exactly certain how, but there has to be a book in this.

From The Economist

Dogs greet other dogs nose-first, as it were—sniffing each other from fore to (especially) aft. People are not quite so open about the process of sniffing each other out. But the size of the perfume industry suggests scent is important in human relations, too. There is also evidence that human beings can infer kinship, deduce emotional states and even detect disease via the sense of smell. Now, Inbal Ravreby, Kobi Snitz and Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel, have gone a step further. They think they have shown, admittedly in a fairly small sample of individuals, that friends actually smell alike. They have also shown that this is probably the case from the get-go, with people picking friends at least partly on the basis of body odour, rather than the body odours of people who become friends subsequently converging.

As they report in Science Advances, Dr Ravreby, Dr Snitz and Dr Sobel started their research by testing the odours of 20 pairs of established, non-romantic, same-sex friends. They did this using an electronic nose (e-nose) and also two groups of specially recruited human “smellers”.

The e-nose employed a set of metal-oxide gas sensors to assess t-shirts worn by participants. One group of human smellers were given pairs of these shirts and asked to rate how similar they smelt. Those in the other group were asked to rate the odours of individual t-shirts on five subjective dimensions: pleasantness, intensity, sexual attractiveness, competence and warmth. The e-nose results and the opinions of the second group of smellers were then subjected to a bit of multidimensional mathematical jiggery-pokery (think plotting the results on a graph, except that the graph paper has five dimensions), and they, too, emerged as simple, comparable numbers.

All three approaches yielded the same result. The t-shirts of friends smelt more similar to each other than the t-shirts of strangers. Friends, in other words, do indeed smell alike. But why?

To cast light on whether friendship causes similarity of scent, or similarity of scent causes friendship, Dr Ravreby, Dr Snitz and Dr Sobel then investigated whether e-nose measurements could be used to predict positive interactions between strangers—the sort of “clicking” that is often the basis of a new friendship. To this end they gathered another 17 volunteers, gave them t-shirts to wear to collect their body odours, ran those odours past the e-nose, and then asked the participants to play a game.

This game involved silently mirroring another individual’s hand movements. Participants were paired up at random and their reactions recorded. After each interaction, participants demonstrated how close they felt to their fellow gamer by overlapping two circles (one representing themselves, the other their partner) on a screen. The more similar the two electronic smell signatures were, the greater the overlap. Participants also rated the quality of their interaction in the game along 12 subjective dimensions of feelings that define friendship. Similar odours corresponded to positive ratings for nine of these dimensions. Intriguingly, however, two participants smelling alike did not mean they were any more accurate at the mirroring game than others, as measured by a hidden camera.

Why scent might play a role in forming friendships remains obscure. Other qualities correlated with being friends, including age, appearance, education, religion and race, are either immediately obvious or rapidly become so. But while some individuals have strong and noticeable body odour, many—at least since the use of soap has become widespread—do not. It is present. But it is subliminal. Dr Ravreby speculates that there may be “an evolutionary advantage in having friends that are genetically similar to us”. 

Link to the rest at The Economist

I did not become

I did not become a vegetarian for my health, I did it for the health of the chickens.

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Writing Fiction for US Adults

From Daily Writing Tips:

Writers of children’s fiction are constantly aware of the need to write with their readers’ reading level in mind. Writers of adult fiction—perhaps not so much.

Technical writers agonize over the need to simplify product information and guidelines, but I suspect that novelists generally tend to assume that adult readers read at “the adult level.”

In fact, when it comes to fluency in reading, US adults present a mixed bag of ability. The frequent assertion that the average US adult reads at “eighth grade reading level” is belied by US and international statistics.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 54% of U.S. adults 16-74 years old—about 130 million people—lack proficiency in literacy, reading below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level. Of that 54%, about 18% read at fourth-grade level or below.

The most recent PIAAC results indicate that about half of US adults do read at eighth-grade level or above, i.e., they have the ability to read and navigate dense, lengthy or complex texts.

The inability of millions of Americans to comprehend texts written at or above the eighth-grade level is one of the nation’s preventable failings, but that’s a different post. When it comes to fiction, US adults reading below eighth-grade level are in luck. Plenty of fiction has a readability factor of sixth-grade or below.

Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens) 6.1
The Great Gatsby (Scott Fitzgerald) 5.5
The Secret Adversary (Agatha Christie) 4.8
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) 4.6
The Old Man and the Sea 4

NOTE: The figures are derived from the Flesch-Kincaid readability formula. This is the tool available to users of Microsoft Word.

Determining readability
So, should writers run a readability check on everything they write?

Not necessarily.

Like most easily accessible reading formulas, Flesch-Kincaid reaches a score by counting syllables and sentences. Words of more than two syllables are identified as “hard” words. Long sentences are identified as less readable than short sentences.

Counting syllables and sentence length is an extremely inefficient and soulless way to determine readability.

Many extremely common words have more than two syllables. The following, for example, are among the 300 most frequently used English words:


. . . .

Writers aiming for maximum readability need to exercise caution when using Word’s built-in assessment feature or others like it. There is more to readability than word- and sentence-length.

Content, style, and organization also contribute to the readability of a text. Writers can achieve maximum readability by first mastering and then observing ordinary writing conventions. And we can all benefit by reviewing George Orwell’s six rules of writing well:

1.Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2.Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3.If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4.Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5.Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6.Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

Do book consumers discriminate against Black, female, or young authors?

From PLOS1:

The Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 called attention to systemic racism in American society. In the #PublishingPaidMe protest on Twitter, authors shared the amount of their advances and in so doing revealed the pay discrimination for Black authors, who tend to receive lower advances on their books than their White counterparts. Close scrutiny of the industry highlighted its whiteness, not only in terms of authors and who receives recognition but also in terms of editors and decision-makers . These trends have deep historical roots, but little if anything had previously been accomplished in addressing these trends in recent years . However, following the BLM protests and #PublishingPaidMe, over a thousand people in the publishing industry signed up for a day of action to support Black authors, and publishers made statements of support for racial justice, announced antiracism workforce training, and pledged to publish more books by writers of color . These conversations in publishing echo ongoing discussions about gender inequality in the industry, which similarly point to disparities in who gets published, who gets reviewed in prestigious outlets, and how much authors are paid for their work (see for example the annual VIDA counts and their publications ). Despite the attention these conversations got alongside #MeToo, particularly in 2018, it is unclear that these conversations have spurred any meaningful or lasting change.

An historic cultural gatekeeper, publishing has become increasingly profit-focused . While editors purportedly used to call the shots based on taste and cultural importance, acquisition decisions and investments in particular book projects have increasingly become the purview of marketing departments. Decisions about advances, advertising budgets, and other decisions about book production and distribution are based on expectations of a book’s or an author’s performance in the market. Such organizational logics have historically been used to justify the lower pay and book prices for women compared to men. However, publishers have also played an active role in creating and cultivating markets and crafting their expectations about book pricing, as in the structure of the female dominated romance market which focuses on mass market production of inexpensive books by women for women. In attempts to diversify the racial and ethnic diversity of their offerings, publishers have tended to create specific and typically niche imprints for these works. Perhaps publishers have thus created their own self-fulfilling prophecies about anticipated performance and market behavior by marketing to specific and limited audiences and by making investment choices that both signal a lower investment in these works and give them less opportunity for discovery by a broader public.

However, publishers, for all of their shortcomings, are not the only potential source of discrimination in the book industry. With the closing of brick-and-mortar chains and independent bookstores as well as the shift in the product offerings within these venues, traditional publishing has become increasingly platform-based in its sales. Etailers like Amazon dominate the sales market both for digital and physical books. Unlike brick and mortar stores which have limited shelf space, online retailers can carry an almost unlimited number of titles. Whether those titles come from traditional publishers or from self-published authors, also known as “indie authors”, the etailers’ platform algorithms play a dominant role in product visibility. To the extent that these ranking and visibility algorithms incorporate consumer ratings and purchases, these algorithms may also be influenced by consumers’ discriminatory behavior and preferences. Yet consumer ratings are currently exempt from regulation and protection against discrimination [89] and immune to publishers’ antiracist institutional practices. Moreover, to the extent that publishers use these ratings and algorithmic visibility in decision-making about which authors to publish in the future and how much to invest in their titles, such external evaluations provide a ready way to “launder” discrimination.

We further see the potential for discrimination from sources other than publishers when we consider the case of indie (self) publishing. Indie publishing has removed the gatekeeping and curation function played by publishers. An example of the gig economy or platform-based economy, indie publishing enables authors to market directly to consumers without the mediation of a publisher. On the one hand, this arrangement has the potential to remove the unconscious biases and prejudices of publishers that contribute to systemic racism or sexism in their acquisitions, production, distribution, and promotion of their catalogs. On the other hand, the consumer-facing gig economy offers no protections to authors from the potential discrimination by consumers and the potential ripple effect of that discrimination in the rating and visibility of their titles. Thus, the gig economy may prove more egalitarian given the removal of barriers to entering the market, but it may also heighten discrimination in ways that exacerbate inequality.

In short, in order to understand discrimination in the book industry, we must consider not only the behavior of publishers but also the behavior and preferences of consumers. This study uses a large-scale, randomized field experiment of over nine thousand subjects to examine the effects of author race, alongside gender and age, on consumers’ stated interest in a given book, their evaluation of an author’s credentials, and the prices consumers report they are willing to pay for books in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres.

Link to the rest at PLOS1 and thanks to P. for the tip.

PG says if lots of book sales are important to you (nothing wrong with that), but you think your race/gender/age may impair your book sales, pen names and massaged or manufactured biographies have a long history of use in the book world.

Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Dr. Seuss, George Orwell, George Eliot, Richard Bachman, J.K. Rowling, Robert Galbraith, J.D. Robb, E L James, Lemony Snicket, Victoria Lucas, Flora Fairfield and A.M. Barnard were/are pen names used by very successful authors for one reason or another.

An accompanying author’s bio can also be sufficiently vague to not disclose race/gender/age:

“Pen Name attended Princeton University and currently lives and writes in South Florida with a dog and two neurotic parakeets.”

As to the question about the biases of traditional publishers, PG says if you decide to run with a bad crowd, you’ll just have to deal with the consequences.

The Book Business Ecosystem Is Under Attack

From Publishers Weekly:

We live in unprecedented times. We read and hear that slogan incessantly. It is often wrong—but with respect to the implications in general and the active threats of today’s book banning campaigns, it is chillingly correct for publishers, authors, readers, young people, free speech, democracy, and humanity. We urgently need to connect the major threads of today’s assaults, which threaten not only constitutional rights and children’s opportunities but also democracy, humanity, and the future of our polity and civilization themselves.

Viewed historically and comparatively, today’s banners are unique. Never before in the past millennia or more have the forces of censorship and claims for minority, extralegal power—rooted in fear—systematically fought to ban texts that they have not read or perhaps can’t read, which I call the new illiteracy. . . . Never before have children and young readers been so deliberately targeted. In all previous campaigns, adult readers have been the focus of the censors’ efforts. In all previous episodes, central targets have been white male authors, from Martin Luther to Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, J.R.R. Tolkien, Phillip Roth, and J.D. Salinger, with books by the occasional woman like Harper Lee or by people of color like Alice Walker or Toni Morrison also drawing scrutiny. In contrast to today’s “anti–affirmative action,” this was equal-opportunity banning.

Now, not only do banners focus almost exclusively on the young but—with great implications for publishers, booksellers, and authors—they go after nonwhite and nonheterosexual authors and leading characters. The rare white male author under attack has a protagonist of color who is differently gendered. A white male author’s much more obscene, profane, and offensive text is not censured. Research by the American Library Association, Freedom to Read Foundation, and BookRiot confirms the almost complete racist, sexist, transphobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and ageist obsession of the new banners.

This is not accidental. The banners—and the nationally organized dark-money-funded websites and social media campaigns that mislead uninformed, fearful right-leaning (sometimes) parents—never show awareness of this. Nor do they grasp that their unconstitutional efforts are fundamentally in opposition to everything we know about child development; children’s desire to read, be challenged, learn, grow, and mature as a result of reading and teaching; humanity; and democracy. Multiple surveys found that at least 80% of those polled support so-called divisive and uncomfortable reading and learning. Not at all surprising but critical is the fact that book banners strive to ban countless other well-established legal rights of “free society.”

For publishers, booksellers, and authors, the challenges and the stakes of the book banners’ approach are huge, if insufficiently discussed. Some authors and their publishers benefit from the public attention and sales stimulated in the short-term by being banned. This is true, for example, of award-winning and bestselling Art Spiegelman (Maus); Toni Morrison (various titles); my friend, colleague, and coauthor Ashley Hope Perez (Out of Darkness); Nikole Hannah-Jones (The 1619 Project); Isabel Quintero (Gabi: A Girl in Pieces); Nic Stone (Deep Martin); and Jerry Craft (New Kid). Some benefit from creative services like Banned Books Box, which sends two banned books with associated materials to its subscribers each month.

But a temporary boost in sales doesn’t occur for every banned author. Classroom adoptions and sales are sensitive to political pressures. Unconstitutional laws are proposed in Republican-dominated states, and even if these laws turnout to be unenforceable, authors and agents, publishers and publicists, distributors and sellers are all influenced, to one degree or another, by these assaults. This can prompt those under attack to search for security and self-protection, which can cause ripples through the entire supply chain. Library and bookstore orders can lag. Decisions about reprints and new editions, sensitive to cultural, political, and economic forces, can be deferred or delayed indefinitely.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Publishers defend sensitivity readers as vital tool following author criticism

From The Bookseller:

UK children’s publishers have defended the use of sensitivity readers following criticism from some quarters about supposed interference in the creative process, arguing the intention is to make books more inclusive and this should be “applauded”.

Speaking at Hay Festival last month, author Anthony Horowitz hit the headlines for claiming “children’s publishers are more scared than anybody” when it comes to so-called “cancel culture”, saying he was shocked when receiving the notes for his new work.

The author of the Alex Rider series said he “suffered” through the edits on his latest book for younger people, Where Seagulls Dare: A Diamond Brothers Case, due to be published next month by Walker Books, and claimed “what is happening to writers is extremely dangerous”.

Horowitz did not single out sensitivity readers, but the author seemed to echo concerns in the national press about their use. “I believe that writers should not be cowed, we should not be made to do things because we’re so scared of starting a storm on Twitter,” he said, although he declined to specify the publisher’s qualms.

Bloomsbury, Bonnier and Quarto all told The Bookseller they had employed sensitivity readers, saying the move was “important in inclusive, forward-thinking publishing” while rejecting any suggestion authors were being forced to make changes they did not want to make. None of the Big Four publishers responded to requests to comment.

Helen Wicks, managing director for children’s trade at Bonnier, said: “We recognise that this is a delicate balance, and that the authorial voice should be respected. However, we believe sensitivity reads can play an important role in inclusive, forward-thinking publishing. We have used them for many years, picking our partners very carefully and positioning them as peer reviews. Importantly, we believe our teams have both the knowledge and skill required to work with our authors and advisers to bring the best possible stories to the widest possible audience.”

Rebecca McNally, publishing director for Bloomsbury Children’s Books, agreed: “We think they are very helpful on some projects as many authors really do appreciate the insight of a specialist editorial perspective as part of the process. We view it as another kind of expert read that raises questions a general editor, however rigorous, may not think or know to ask. Mostly they give the author an opportunity to review their text through a particular (relevant) lens and make subtle changes, or not. We don’t expect them to make books bulletproof and don’t expect authors to implement all the sensitivity reader’s recommendations—it’s an intelligent, informed dialogue.”

Shannon Cullen, group publishing director for Quarto Kids, also confirmed the publisher used “a variety of editorial consultants” for some of its books “to ensure they are naturally inclusive and accurate in their representation, particularly when exploring topics such as history or geography, or in books that represent multiple experiences”.  

She added: “We encourage our creative partners to consider the potential impact of their work on children and families—regardless of their own intent in producing it—when considering any editorial or illustration feedback. We do not believe that you can make children’s books ’too inclusive’ if the result is also making every child feel seen or safe in their pages, or to build their empathy through reading.”

Silvia Molteni, head of the children’s and YA books department at PFD, said the agency had seen “an increasing number of UK publishers employing sensitivity readers recently, while in the past it was something much more common with US publishers”.  

“It is a process that we, as agent, are removed from as we work with our writers and it’s the publisher who decides whether or not and how to conduct a sensitivity read. Generally speaking, the intention of making children’s books more inclusive—without affecting creativity in the process—is certainly one to be applauded,” she said.

However, reporting in national media on sensitivity readers tends to focus on authors who are less receptive to the idea.

. . . .

Clanchy noted sensitivity reading’s origins in children’s and young adult fiction, and said “there are good reasons for regulating children’s reading: it is foundational and formational and may be enforced by school choice or being read aloud to”, adding “it is genuinely important, there, to avoid oppressive stereotypes”. Nevertheless, she argued Some Kids was not written for children. “Adults are able to put books down if they upset them, so their books may safely contain difficult ideas,” she said. “I thought carefully about all the notes I had been given and, in the end, adopted none of the suggestions proffered by the readers.”

Sensitivity readers, such as author Eva Wong Nava, are keen to explain what their role actually involves. Wong Nava says the term “sensitivity reader” is a “misnomer”. She told The Bookseller: “What a sensitivity reader does is really editorial. It’s not to cancel anyone, it’s really to add a recommendation or suggestion.” She explained how sensitivity readers read through the lens of their own lived experience, or professional and research experience, to provide feedback on authenticity. Wong Nava reads for the portrayal of South East Asian and Chinese experience, identity and culture, for example, as she is from Singapore and Malaysia. She also reads for British Chinese lived experience as she lives in Britain.

She stressed: “I understand writers feeling defensive, but the thing to note about sensitivity editing, is it is not to cancel, it’s to make your manuscript better, like any editor would want to do.”

Responding to Horowitz’s comments, she emphasised the “consultative” nature of sensitivity reading, where the author has the right to accept or reject suggestions, but also the need for children to feel safe.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

During World War II, a large number of ships were utilized to move soldiers, military vehicles and supplies from the United States and other locations to war zones. For the safety of those ships, a number of them were traveled as a group, a convoy. The convoy was guarded from attacks by enemy air and sea forces by armed naval vessels.

For the convoy to be an effective safety measure, the ships had to travel together at the same speed. That speed was governed by how fast the slowest ship in the convoy could travel. If the remainder of the convoy went faster than the slowest ship, that ship would be left behind and be a much easier target for enemy forces to attack and sink.

PG was reminded of the slowest ship in the convoy when he considered sensitivity readers. The most “sensitive” of the sensitivity readers would seem to set the standard for a publisher. If the editors or other sensitivity readers thought one of their staff was going too far, that would open them up to attack for not being sensitive enough to the fears, needs, traumas, lived experiences, etc., etc. of that sensitivity reader and others who shared those sensitivities.

PG was a trial lawyer for many years and anyone who spends much time in that field ends up representing people who have made decisions the lawyer wouldn’t have personally made. For example, marrying someone who was, in PG’s eyes, entirely unsuitable to be anyone’s spouse, life partner, drinking buddy, companion, friend, friendly acquaintance, auto mechanic, etc.

PG tried to screen out crazy people before they became his clients. But on some occasions, PG ended up representing crazy people because he/she didn’t present as crazy when PG first met with them (crazy people are sometimes quite ingenious in disguising their true nature) or a judge assigned him to represent a crazy person because even a crazy person is entitled to legal representation under many circumstances.

When PG considers sensitivity editors/readers/reviewers, he wonders how many crazy people slip into those roles. This question arises in PG’s fevered brain because some of the identified sensitivities are so abstruse and hypothetical he suspects that psychiatric treatment would be more effective than sensitivity editing for the exquisitely sensitive among us.

James Patterson is big-mad. He’s also dead wrong.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

I develop diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies for one of the biggest book publishers in the world, and I teach creative writing and publishing courses at area colleges, so I know why James Patterson is big-mad.

I found out about his comments Monday, on a group chat with my diversity, equity, and inclusion colleagues. We routinely share articles that help us recontextualize and embolden our work, and at some point, someone posted the article in the Sunday Times in which Patterson laments that white men are having trouble getting hired as writers, calling it “racism.”

Let’s just say that Patterson’s comments did not help us recontextualize or embolden our work. Because he’s flat-out wrong.

“Doofus” was all one colleague could muster. And really, what more is there to say about a white man who is reckoning with the end of his time. Gone are the days when white men are prioritized only because of their identity rather than, let’s say, actual talent and intellect. That must be painful.

When Donald Trump says, “Make America Great Again,” and when James Patterson says, white men face “another form of racism,” please understand that these white men are saying the same thing. Trump and Patterson were born a year apart and grew up during America’s Golden Era. After galvanizing all its resources toward the war effort, America was able to redirect those post-war resources to meet growing consumer demand for goods and real estate, employing millions of Americans and boosting the middle class.

However, while there were many more jobs available during this period, they weren’t available to all. Only 2% of women and Black men worked in highly skilled jobs that pay better (like engineering), whereas 94% of doctors were white men. Generations of Trumps and Pattersons enjoyed unfettered access to the spoils of being born cis-het and white, while discrimination, unequal education, social norms, and bad laws tripped Black and brown people as they tried to sprint ahead.

. . . .

Book publishing, as we now know, has been an allegory for the rest of America. During the Golden Era, book publishing faced pressure to create new content as literacy rates climbed and more people went to college. Publishing was forced to expand and corporatize its operations, thus the literary star was born. Publishers realized they couldn’t possibly put an equal amount of effort behind each individual book, so they chose a select few to pour resources, ensuring the success of writers like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Henry Miller, and Jack Kerouac. (There were famous Black writers of this era — James Baldwin, of course — but they were always exceptions. Toni Morrison famously championed Black writers when she worked at Random House starting in the 1960s, but after leaving her post, the publisher went back to its old ways.)

Half a century later and the world has dramatically changed: The internet, cell phones, and social media created an interconnected society where one can quickly and easily expose injustices, from #BlackLivesMatter to #PublishingPaidMe. A Black man and Black woman ascended to the offices of president and vice president, respectively.

. . . .

So yes, the country is changing, and publishing will continue to add more diverse authors and perspectives to reflect our new society. I am sure that for the Trumps and Pattersons of the world, who have only ever enjoyed their privilege, this change feels unbearable.

But things haven’t changed that much. A diversity audit by Random House (now Penguin Random House) found that three-quarters of authors from 2019 to 2021 were white, and only 6% were Black. A 2020 analysis by the New York Times of English language fiction from 2018 showed that 89% of authors were white, even though white people made up only 60% of the population.

And #PublishingPaidMe, in which authors revealed the advances they received on their books, showed that Black authors still often get paid significantly less than their white peers.

Link to the rest at The Philadelphia Inquirer

PG notes that, unless an author lives in or near New York City, that author is unlikely to ever meet with a publisher face-to-face. Ditto for an author’s agent, who is also likely located in New York City.

There is also the time-honored practice of using a pen name that suggests an ethnicity or provides no clue to ethnicity.

There have been more than a handful of men who have written under female pen names and women writing under male pen names.

Search on Google for Pen Name Generator and you’ll find lots of help and most of them allow you to choose your gender.

PG asked one pen name generator for a female romance writer pen name and it immediately spit out Trixie Selene Bolton.

PG tried out a UK pen name generator and was given MaryAnn Bethlake and Janette Beverly.

The UK site will also provide you with a selection of rapper names if that’s your side hustle to your writing career.

Selections for Rapper PG included Strawberry Harold, Tots-Shipman and Inspectah Sticky.

Who knows, maybe PG AKA Inspectah Sticky will turn TPV into a Rap Blog.

When Will Novels Fix Society Already?

From Counter Craft:

In the 18th-century, a specter was haunting Europe—the specter of “Werther Fever.” Goethe’s 1774 epistolary novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, was so popular that it catapulted the young Goethe into international fame and set off a trend of young men wearing yellow trousers and electric blue jackets… and also, allegedly, thousands of imitation suicides.

Goethe was an unknown 24 year old when he wrote the book, and he certainly didn’t set out to popularize garish fashion or suicide. The novel is an example of both art’s cultural power and also the unpredictability of its influence. There’s no better example of that than overtly political works. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was written to expose the poor working conditions of meat packers and inspire a socialist movement, but readers focused on gross meat industry health violations so instead of socialism we got the 1906 Meat Inspection Act. Even works as blatantly left wing and anti-capitalist as Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels and Star Trek can be turned into inspiration for rabid capitalists like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Etc.

You simply cannot choose what people will take from art. Nor can you overestimate the recuperative powers of modern capitalism, where even the most pointed artistic critique can be turned into just another product. Just yesterday Netflix announced it is creating a game show based on Squid Game, the anti-capitalist Korean series about a fictional dystopian game show that became an unexpected Netflix hit.

All this brings me to the latest discourse about The State of Literary Fiction, which was kicked off by British Journalist Ben Judah declaring that “we live in an extremely sick society”—hard to argue—and that what this sick society needs to address its massive, systemic, and global problems is… better literary fiction?

. . . .

[I]s Jane Austen not a novelist of interiority? But mostly what’s notable is how commonplace the central claim is. Sometimes it feels like every week someone argues political literature is dead or decries the failure of fiction, especially literary fiction, to cure our ailing society by… well it’s not exactly clear. Helping to “rock the vote”? Inspiring a resurgence of left wing politics? Igniting an armed revolution?

. . . .

Another issue is, well, look. How did that work out before? When was the point in which novelists, bourgeois mimetic or otherwise, saved society? As much as, say, Tolstoy was a genius—and he was—did his novels fix the ills of Tsarist Russia?

Link to the rest at Counter Craft

PG realized that he is including too many OPs about nothing today. He’ll be better tomorrow.

The Organization of Your Bookshelves Tells Its Own Story

From The Atlantic:

My father loved books more than anything else in the world. He owned about 11,000 of them at the time of his death, in March of 2021, at 83 years old. There were books in his living room and bedroom, books in the hallways and closets and kitchen.

Sometimes I stop in the center of my own home like a bird arrested in flight, entranced by the books that line my walls. I live in a small Manhattan apartment, and I, too, have books in the living room, the bedroom, the hallway, the closets. Often, I stare at them because I’m puzzling over their geography. I wonder if I’ve placed any book in the wrong spot, according to an emotional map I’ve made of my bookshelves. As I gaze at the titles, the associations come tumbling out. Tennessee Williams’s Memoirs is next to a biography of Patrick Dennis called Uncle Mame, because Williams and Dennis had many things in common: Pathos. Cruel fathers. Spectacular female characters. A Dictionary of Yiddish Slang & Idioms is next to Heartburn because, however secular Nora Ephron was, her humor comes from deep within her Jewishness. The Lord of the Rings is between Time and Again and Rosemary’s Baby because I like how they form a triumvirate of fantasy stories that have nothing in common save my personal opinion that they are the finest of their genre. (Many would argue that Rosemary’s Baby belongs in horror, not fantasy, but my system allows for the blurring of these lines.)

And then there’s the shelf above my desk. It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that it’s where I keep my favorite books. A more esoteric logic is at work. In About Alice, Calvin Trillin wrote that his wife had a large envelope marked important stuff, in which she collected letters the children had written her, records of their accomplishments, and other ephemera. She seemed to know what belonged in that envelope on raw instinct. So it is with the shelf above my desk. Here are the books that speak to some part of my sensibility—my youthful daydreams, the worlds I once imagined for myself. The Princess Bride is up there—I read it in a single day when I was 12 years old. “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” Who could put it down after an opening line like that? Also on this shelf: Birds of New York Field Guide, because I used to fantasize that my newborn would one day be a junior member of the National Audubon Society. Next to that: Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers, a long-ago gift from my mother that embodied her high standards of kindness and etiquette.

My books about writing are in the center of the shelf, because writing is what I do at my desk. They make me less afraid to be alone with my keyboard. Among them is On Writing, by Jorge Luis Borges. Yet this book is not there because it is about writing. It is there because of my father.

My father loved Borges. I remember him reading aloud a passage in which Borges expressed his admiration for how “physical” English is. It had ways to describe motions through space, he said, that were more keenly expressive than those he could find in his native language, Spanish. My father read the passage with sensual care, the way a gourmand enjoys a bowl of freshly harvested peas (M. F. K. Fisher, An Alphabet for Gourmets) or the way James Beard uses brisk rhythm and precise timing to achieve the optimal texture for scrambled eggs (James Beard, Beard on Food). My father’s joy in Borges’s words spread gently across his face in a smile that tugged at his lips and lit up his eyes. When he read aloud, you knew, deep in your bones, that you were learning a kind of catechism.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Is PG the only one who wondered how this was chosen for the magazine?

The Fair Use Sermon: When Verbal And Visual Borrowing Cross The Line

Preliminary note from PG: He was not familiar with the term, “Homiletic” prior to reading this article from a publication called Homiletic . After a short bit of online research, he discovered the definition:

”of, relating to, or resembling a homily.”

PG thought he knew what a homily was, but again checked to make certain.

Definition of homily
1: a usually short sermon – a priest delivering his homily
2: a lecture or discourse on or of a moral theme
3: an inspirational catchphrase

Fully educated, PG pressed forward with the OP which appeared in Homoletic. He will note that the original was downloaded as a PDF and was a bit more difficult to handle than other PDF documents PG has encountered, so if the formatting is hinkey here and there, he apologizes.

From Homiletic Vol. 47, No. 1 (2022):

In April 2021, Religion News Service ran a series of articles related to the topic of plagiarism. The most notable of the articles, authored by editor Bob Smietana, was also the most ironic. The article opens by focusing on a woman attending virtual services with her congregation in Franklin, Tennessee. It chronicles her growing frustration with her minister’s  preaching, culminating in a “really not Jesus-like” tirade when she discovered the minister’s  sermon had been preached by another minister in Kentucky three years earlier. To add to her  minister’s pastoral and homiletic misconduct, this deeply troubled woman discovered that the  minister’s next sermon was a near word-for-word lifting—including a visual demonstration—of a sermon preached by none other than Mark Driscoll when Driscoll was still with his Mars Hill  Church in Seattle. The 2013 sermon was titled, “Do Not Steal.” Knowing Driscoll’s own history  with plagiarism, irony abounds. The woman’s minister resigned in 2017, only to be caught  committing the same pastoral crime in April 2021 at his new congregation in Woodhaven,  Michigan, again preaching old sermons from Driscoll. When asked by RNS about his use of  sermons from other preachers, the minister simply said that he had studied hard for his sermons  and had been run out of the congregation in Franklin due to a coup, leaving Smietana to conclude  that “the truth of the Bible can still come through, even with a pastor who plagiarized. But that  does not make it right.”

But what about the use of images in sermons? One of the issues that drew RNS attention  was that the minister in question, Zach Stewart, had not only used Driscoll’s sermons word-for- word, but had also plagiarized visual imagery such as gesturing how to shoot a bow and arrow and the use of Driscoll’s graphics. Preachers may search through sermons on Paul’s letters to the  Romans and come across an intriguing series by another preacher who has prepared excellent  graphics. Then a preacher’s next sermon collection on YouTube includes the exact same graphics, without credit given online to the originator of the material or in the accompanying printed or digital materials. We may chase the rabbit down the hole far enough to discover the congregational worship arts team that designed those eye-catching visuals in the first place. Or, in reviewing a student sermon, you find her selection of a visual image (one you seem to remember seeing years ago in your college art appreciation class) compelling. But when you search her notes to find any information regarding the image, you discover that there is no reference to any kind of source material. Is this simply bad research, or does it constitute plagiarism?

The issue of plagiarism, both verbal and visual, is not new to the preaching profession. As far back as 1952, Webb Garrison, then professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology, stated that, “Any minister can consistently produce original sermons. Yet there is a steady stream of instances in which plagiarism is detected in published works.”5 The Internet has made this practice of “borrowing” immensely easy. To be honest, this author has frequently been guilty of visual borrowing in the past. The pressure to preach stimulating insights accompanied by evocative visuals has increased in the pastoral marketplace due to the increasing expectation of those who hear and see our sermons.6 We have wrestled with this issue so much that “to cite or not to cite” is more than just an adaptation of Shakespeare’s immortal line from Hamlet.

Like it or not, preachers and worship leaders are bound by what is called “fair use” law for proprietary material. The desire to use others’ creative materials does have some limits, and when those limits are exceeded, the consequences can be serious. Ultimately, this essay is not about verbal plagiarism (i.e., the borrowing of another’s sermon), although it will touch on this concern. Instead, this essay seeks to broach a different discussion, one concerning the visual side of plagiarism—a topic of which there is a dearth of material, especially in homiletic literature. Looking first at the problem of both verbal and visual borrowing, this essay provides an explanation of fair use codes and concludes with a discussion of existing and creative solutions for crediting sources, especially as they relate to visual borrowing. The hope is to initiate a generative conversation regarding the topic of “fair use” in homiletical and liturgical discussions.

The Problem of Verbal and Visual Borrowing 

In a day when learning management systems arrive to campus with plagiarism detection software built into their coding, one would think that the issue of verbal and visual borrowing  would be on the decline. However, it seems that the problem is getting worse rather than better.   On one end of the spectrum is Rick Warren, who is famous for quoting Adrian Rogers: “If my  bullet fits your gun, then shoot it,” meaning he has no problem with other preachers using his material verbatim in their own preaching, teaching, and even writing. On the other end of the  spectrum are preachers like author (and former attorney) Carey Nieuwhof of Connexus Church in Ontario, who has argued that preachers should not provide sermons to a wider audience because the temptation to steal a sermon is great when the pressure is high. Both of these views  are adventures in missing the point. 

First, we need to ask what is the nature of the current problem with verbal borrowing in  sermons? There was a time when, in order to borrow a homiletical insight—or an entire homily—one had to consult books; in particular, sermon collections. Sermons have been  published for decades, with some modern major publishers running entire sermon series. For  example, one popular preacher in my denomination from a generation or two ago published a  handful of textbooks on preaching and pastoral ministry, even publishing a couple of collections  of sermons. This was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He continued to do so, even as he moved  back and forth between the church and the academy. That is, until he visited a former student of  his—without advanced warning—only to hear one of his own sermons preached word-for-word.  Then there were sermon tapes, and later CDs. Lynn Anderson is a popular preacher within my  denomination whose “tape ministry” was quite successful. That is, until the week the tape did not  record. Blank tapes were sent across the United States, much to the dismay of many preachers.  Anderson said that he decided to discontinue the taping of his sermons when he received a call  from one flustered preacher who asked what he would preach in a couple of weeks because he  only preached what Anderson had preached.

It is one thing to quote an insight from a popular preacher like Barbara Brown Taylor or Andy Stanley in a sermon. Neither is it unusual to cite a passage from the preacher’s favorite  biblical commentary. In doing so, the preacher develops a “discipline of invitation” which allows  other voices to be heard in the sermon, deflating the preacher’s own position of power and  conflating various streams of insight into one united voice. However, it is wholly another thing  to borrow these insights—or entire sermons—without attribution simply to create an Aha!  moment for the listeners. Recent statements from William Willimon such as “Stealing really isn’t  stealing if it’s done unselfishly for the good of my neighbor” and “My sermonic borrowing is an  indication of how much I love my people,” even if offered in jest, are ethically incompatible  with the preaching ministry. This is what Michael Knowles has referred to as the “stealing of  power” from another which perverts the sermon into a weapon of violence rather than an  instrument of peace. Reid and Hogan refer to this as a problem of inauthenticity. They note, “In reality, there is a lot of borrowing and influence that goes on in the production of anything  worth reading or hearing. That is a good thing. Once the term plagiarism is applied to borrowing  however, it suggests a large amount of uncited, verbatim usage rather than just influence. It also reframes the activity as a form of cheating.” The issue that is at play here is not ingenuity but integrity. As Tom Long has noted, “There is a difference between being a debtor and being a thief… Preachers who strive to tell the truth, who seek to honor the communion of saints, who desire to maintain the trust of the faithful community—that is to say, preachers with ethical integrity—will wrestle with these questions and make the best decision they can.”

On one hand, “intellectual property” is a thing that should be respected. While one preacher may be okay with anyone using his or her material, this is not and cannot be seen as a blanket view of those in the pastorate. On the other hand, any sermon, just like any book, can have value to a wider audience when used appropriately. As Bradley Munroe once humorously mused,

“Perhaps I am being much too negative about the possibilities for good and way too cautious about petty moral hindrances to good preaching. Imagine the possibilities: through the Internet good sermons could be universally available to every minister in the technologically advanced world. The ‘demise’ in modern preaching could be ‘cured’ overnight. My limited vocabulary and lack of theological insight would no longer hinder my congregation from growing into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Bible reading would return! Mission would explode! Maybe even evangelism would happen! Oh, it is too wondrous to think. I am giddy.”

The former view is confronting plagiarism head-on by embracing it as an option, while this latter view is preventing plagiarism at any cost.

It is hard to believe that Chris Stinnett’s article on citing our sources was written over twenty years ago. However it is still as timely as ever. There have been back-and-forth conversations as well as entire issues of academic journals dedicated to the topic. Yet the present essay is not about borrowing another preacher’s sermon. In 2022, if you still think borrowing another’s sermon (or sermon illustration or other portions of a sermon) without giving that preacher some form of credit is acceptable, then you need to seriously consider the unethical example that you are displaying to your congregation. As Jeffrey Peterson argued twenty years ago, we live in a “wired world,” meaning that we who speak for God must practice integrity in all aspects of our teaching ministry—including our use of creative sources such as audio, video, and visual imagery.

Link to the rest at Homiletic Vol. 47, No. 1 (2022) 

PG hesitates to make this post longer, but the OP generally used the term, “plagiarism” as equivalent to copyright infringement.

The Difference Between Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement

From Copyright Alliance:

There are many differences between plagiarism and copyright infringement, yet it can be easy to confuse these concepts. While both plagiarism and copyright infringement can be characterized as the improper use of someone else’s work, they are distinctly different improper uses of someone else’s work. The biggest difference is that copyright infringement is illegal, while plagiarism is not. This blog post discusses additional differences between the two and provides examples of each type of improper use.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism occurs when a party attempts to pass someone else’s work or ideas off as their own, without properly giving credit to the original source. Plagiarism, while not against the law, is an ethical construct most commonly enforced by academic intuitions. Consequences of academic plagiarism may range from receiving a failing grade all the way to the revocation of a degree.

Plagiarism is not just limited to the academic setting. In the professional world, plagiarism has its own set of consequences, which may include sullying the plagiarizer’s reputation and in some instances termination and difficulty finding new employment. For example, in 2014 CNN fired a London-based news editor for repeated plagiarism offenses over a six month period, involving a total of 128 separate instances of plagiarism, mostly taken from Reuters.

Copyright, at its core, is the set of rights belonging to the creator or owner of a work of authorship that is original and fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This set of rights automatically vests to someone who creates an original work of authorship like a song, literary work, movie, or photograph. These rights allow a copyright owner to control who, when, where, and how their work is used, such as through the right to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies, and to perform and display the work publicly.

Copyright infringement occurs when a party takes an action that implicates one or more of the rights listed above without authorization from the copyright owner or an applicable exception or limitation in the copyright law, such as fair use. There can be significant legal consequences for copyright infringement, including injunctions, monetary damages, and in extreme instances criminal penalties.

The examples below illustrate some of the differences between plagiarism and copyright infringement.

Plagiarism But Not Copyright Infringement: A student copies a few sentences of a 20-page book illustrating and describing species of birds to use in article on evolution submitted for her high school newspaper but fails to provide a citation or footnote explaining that the information came from the book. This student may have committed plagiarism by not properly attributing the information and making it seem like the information originated from the student. However, the student will most likely not be found to have committed copyright infringement because such an inconsequential amount was used in an educational setting in a manner that is unlikely to harm the authors market for the work that the use is likely a fair use.

Copyright Infringement but Not Plagiarism: This time, the high school student copies the entire bird species book that she includes in several article published in the paper, but she puts a citation at the bottom of each article that includes the author’s name, the title of the book, and how the entire article is taken directly from the book. While the student properly attributed the author and did not try to pass the article off as her own work, she copied the entire work without permission, which likely infringes the author’s rights under copyright law.

Both Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement: A young writer, hoping to be published, copies line for line a popular wizard book series. The young writer sends the work to her publisher and says she wrote it. This author has committed plagiarism by submitting someone else’s work as her own and, in addition, has committed copyright infringement by copying someone else’s protected work without permission.

Link to the rest at Copyright Alliance

The book that tore publishing apart: ‘Harm has been done, and now everyone’s afraid’

From The Guardian:

At the end of March, a book that had been condemned to die came back to life. There was no star-studded launch, and no great fanfare, although this book is now somewhat famous. The new publisher of the poet Kate Clanchy’s memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me felt it wrong to cash in on the controversy that has engulfed it. So the new editions – with some intriguing changes to the original text – were quietly resupplied to bookshops willing to stock them.

What follows is a tale that reverberates well beyond publishing. It’s about whose voice is heard, which stories are told, and by whom. But it has broader implications for working life, too, particularly in industries where so-called culture wars raging through the outside world can no longer be left at the office door.

When Some Kids first emerged in 2019, Clanchy was much admired for her work at an Oxford comprehensive, teaching children from diverse backgrounds to write poetry, with sometimes luminous results. A celebration of multicultural school life, coupled with candid reflections on her own flaws, Some Kids was lauded by reviewers and won the Orwell prize for political writing, with judges praising a “brilliantly honest writer” whose reflections were “moving, funny and full of love”. But then things began to unravel.

In November 2020, a teacher posted on the amateur reviewers’ website Goodreads that the book was “centred on this white middle-class woman’s harmful, judgmental and bigoted views on race, class and body image”, using “racist stereotypes” to describe pupils. The author, she said, wrote of their “chocolate skin” and “almond eyes”.

Clanchy hit back, initially on Goodreads and then in July 2021 on Twitter, claiming “someone made up a racist quote and said it was in my book” and urging her followers to challenge reviews she said had caused threats against her. Literary giants, including the 75-year-old children’s author (and president of the Society of Authors) Philip Pullman, rose to her defence. Yet it quickly emerged that those phrases (although not, as we will later hear from Clanchy, everything attributed to her) were in the book. Her prickly response not only sat awkwardly with Some Kids’ theme of a narrator open to learning about herself – one who believed, she wrote, that deep down “most people are prejudiced; that I am, that prejudice happens in the reading of poetry as well as everything else” – but had unintended consequences for her critics, too.

Three writers of colour, Monisha Rajesh, Prof Sunny Singh and Chimene Suleyman, who had challenged Clanchy on Twitter, endured months of racist abuse and sometimes violent threats, despite Clanchy’s own publisher, Picador, describing their criticisms as “instructive and clear-sighted”. An 18-year-old autistic writer named Dara McAnulty, who had questioned Clanchy’s description of two autistic pupils as “jarring company”, was forced off social media by abusive messages. Picador, having initially apologised, saying Clanchy would rewrite the book, then announced this January that it was parting company with her by mutual consent. (She has suggested Some Kids would have been pulped had Mark Richards, co-founder of the new publishing house Swift, not bought the rights.) Clanchy, who lost both her parents and got divorced in the same year her career imploded, meanwhile disclosed in December that she had, at times, felt suicidal.

The row erupted at an anxious time for publishing, following similar pushback at novels ranging from Jeanine Cummins’s 2020 book American Dirt – whose portrayal of a migrant Mexican family was critically acclaimed, until Latin American writers accused its author (who is of Irish and Puerto Rican heritage) of peddling stereotypes and inaccuracies – to the queer black author Kosoko Jackson’s A Place for Wolves, a gay love story set during the Kosovo war that was withdrawn in 2019 at the writer’s request after Goodreads reviewers attacked his representation of Muslim characters.

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

PG has had a million thoughts about the OP and several other similar stories. However, he will try to be brief.

  1. Nobody owns stories, settings and characters except the author.
  2. Nobody has any legal rights to stories, settings and characters except the author.
  3. Nobody has inherited exclusive rights to stories, settings and characters.

PG has never traveled to Austria and can say with confidence that he has no Austrian ancestors. If PG writes a novel set in Austria, is he stealing anything from Austrians?

Copyright law protects the creator’s expression of people, places and things real and imagined that a writer, painter, photographer, etc.

Just because an Austrian author writes a novel set in Vienna from the 1890s until the outbreak of World War I — a period when Freud and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, musicians Schoenberg, Mahler and Alton Berg, and writers Robert Musil and Arthur Schnitzler, artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka and architects Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos were living in the city and hard at work — doesn’t mean that another author or many other authors born and living all over the world can’t write about Vienna during its golden age of extraordinary creative and artistic activity.

To take a more concrete example, a woman named Harriet Beecher Stowe, a member of an old, distinguished and lily-white New England family and the wife of a white college professor, wrote a book, published in 1852, titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly.

Ms. Stowe’s express purpose in writing the book was to educate Northerners on the realistic horrors of the things that were happening in the South. The other purpose was to try to make people in the South feel more empathetic towards the people they were forcing into slavery.

This book is filled with material and written in a style that would never be accepted for publication had it been submitted to any American publisher in 2022. To say that the contents are politically incorrect would be an understatement.

However, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a huge best-seller in a much smaller United States, appearing in a 40-week serial in a major anti-slavery periodical

When it was published as a book, it sold out its first printing in a few weeks. The publisher kept eight printing presses running constantly to try to keep up with demand.

After the start of the Civil War, Stowe traveled to the capital, Washington, D.C., where she met with President Abraham Lincoln. Her son later reported that Lincoln greeted her by saying, “so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the second best-selling book in 19th century America, with the Bible ranking first.

8 Books about the Delights of Delusion

From Electric Lit:

Delusion, when used as a literary device, is just another word for truth-seeking. Facts are not truth. Characters with irrational thinking have usually given the facts a try, and are frankly unimpressed. Instead, they develop an extreme conviction that, held up against the traditionally accepted facts or reality, seems ludicrous. Even dangerous.

Yet I would argue that most of us, in real life, labor under one delusion or another. The belief that hard work leads to success. The faith that so-and-so loves us. Even when proven wrong—even when we are ruined by such things—we stubbornly believe. We want to believe. Nursing a myth can keep us alive.

Delusion, especially the obsessive variety, may lead one to certain doom, but often a delicious doom, full of discovery. My list concerns books with characters who, for better or worse, sink into their own world to find something beyond the narrow existential experience society has deemed acceptable. Bonnie, the main character of my book, One’s Companyattempts the same by submerging herself into the alternate reality of a vintage sitcom to escape her own past. She wants to be other people, live other lives. Whether she knows it or not, she is trying to heal herself. For her, delusion is necessary. Maybe it is for all of us. Perhaps it is only through transcendence, or escape from this human trap, that we will ever approach happiness.  

. . . .

Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine

The main character of this book is obsessed with the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, Treasure Island, and when she ends up living back with her parents after some parrot-related hijinx, her obsession ripens into delusion. Her voice is strong and relentless, and she is very! Serious! About it! Some people find this book funny, which it is, but it’s also a risky book that’s full of domestic minutiae amid the madness, which I wholeheartedly admire.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori 

Like many breezy-sounding songs from the 1970s that are actually about suicide and societal unrest, Earthlings has a very conversational tone that belies the out-there plot. Two children are convicted in their belief that they are literal aliens not of this earth. It gets weird.

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
“You’re not my type!” Lise, the main character, screams this phrase at other people as she hunts for someone to assist in her own annihilation. The plot of this book unfolds over the span of a couple days in an unnamed European country, and follows erratic Lise as she searches for The One.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Fat Fingers

A few minutes ago, PG was doing some housekeeping behind the scenes at TPV on a group of posts from 2020.

Evidently, he somehow managed to archive all his recent posts. All should be as it should be now.

Thanks to C. for letting PG know about his electronic screwup.

A New Book Expo? Not By a Long Shot

From Publishers Weekly:

Another May has come and gone without BookExpo or any other in-person, industrywide spring show taking its place. As the pandemic eases, more and more publishing and publishing-related conferences, meetings, and fairs are moving from online-only events to either in-person or hybrid affairs. That has raised the question of whether there’s any interest in seeing a new national in-person trade show emerge that could gather the various segments of the book industry together in 2023. Interviews with a myriad of publishers, booksellers, and other publishing players yielded only one consensus: if a new show is to be developed, it should not look like the retired BookExpo. Indeed, no one wants a new show whose business model would rely on exhibitors taking out large, expensive booths.

In the absence of in-person shows, publishers have turned to various digital initiatives to reach their trade partners—particularly independent booksellers. Macmillan said that from June 13 to 17 it will be holding the Macmillan Fall into Summer Reading campaign, a weeklong virtual preview of upcoming titles being published in June through December. A handful of online conferences also sprung up to fill the void left by BookExpo’s demise, including the PW-produced U.S. Book Show.

. . . .

The success of their virtual ventures—augmented by their attendance at smaller in-person events, especially those held by the regional bookseller associations plus ABA’s Winter Institute—seems to have convinced the biggest companies that they can efficiently reach the audiences they need via Zoom and other online services. As one major publisher observed, “The opportunities for account-facing engagements is just not as urgent or productive as pre-Zoom times.” All the biggest companies made it clear that their participation in a national in-person conference would be limited.

Smaller and independent publishers were more interested in a national event, but only if the show underwent a complete makeover from BookExpo in its final years.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

If the traditional publishers themselves have concluded that fact-to-face bookselling to buyers for physical bookstores is not a profitable use of the publishers’ time, PG suggests that may say something about where publishers how they see their futures lie and, perhaps, how they regard the future of bookselling in physical bookstores.

Harvard-led Citation Cartel Rakes in Millions from Bluebook Manual Monopoly, Masks Profits

From Dan Stone:

  • The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, an intricate legal style manual, sometimes called the “Kama Sutra of legal citation,” netted some of the nation’s most-elite, student-led law journals $16.0 million in net profits between 2011 and 2020
  • The Ivy League Columbia Law Review, Harvard Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and Yale Law Journal hold sole rights to publish the Bluebook, which is required reading for U.S. law students and lawyers
  • The law reviews cloak the profits they collect from the enterprise in their public non-profit filings and guard the Bluebook’s intellectual property to maintain profits
  • In FY 2020, The Bluebook made $1.2 million in net profits, a third of which went to the Harvard Law Review, which manages the distribution of The Bluebook
  • The law reviews collectively hold $40 million in endowment funds, and the Harvard Law Review is known for its comfortable living

A style manual called The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation dominates American legal writing. Nearly every law student must buy a copy and become versed in its intricate rules for references. The pervasion of its standards also compels a large number of legal professionals to own the latest version of the manual. 

The Bluebook is published jointly by the Columbia Law Review, Harvard Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and Yale Law Journal. A spiral-bound copy of the 21st edition costs $45 and is 365 pages long. There is also a digital version.

Between 2011 and 2020 the Bluebook earned the law reviews that publish it $16.0 million in profits. In FY 2020, the most recent period for which records are available, the Bluebook made $1.2 million.

The current profits of the Bluebook have not been previously reported. While three of the four law reviews are registered non-profits, all of them obscure the Bluebook’s revenues in their mandated federal public filings. More generally, the law reviews refuse to share information about the operation’s profitability. It is as much the seeming obfuscation as the Bluebook’s profits themselves that makes these numbers notable. 


The Bluebook is known for the intricacy of its rules, mastery of which is an educational rite of passage. Learning how to write citations is a key facet of legal writing courses. Joining law reviews often involves passing a bluebooking test. 

The Bluebook’s rules govern the forms of citations of materials ranging from cases to statutes to Shakespeare plays. They ostensibly serve to make it easy for readers to understand and locate sources, especially because U.S. legal materials are often confusingly labeled. Many courts require that citations conform to the Bluebook’s standards.

A long-running interesting and sometimes amusing critical commentary has surrounded the Bluebook’s near-monopoly on formal legal citation forms and stylistic decisions. Most notably Judge Richard Posner has repeatedly lambasted the Bluebook for being irrationally complex and inconsistent.

In recent years, the efforts of Carl Malamud to make parts of the Bluebook standards public have run afoul of the manual’s publishers.  When Malamud posted elements of the Bluebook online and proposed publishing a new digital edition of the Bluebook, he received a letter from the Bluebook’s lawyers cautioning him that moving forward with the project might “imperil the economic viability of the Bluebook” and requesting that he take down what he already posted.

Later Malamud and Christopher Sprigman of NYU Law School received warning letters from the Bluebook’s lawyers, when they attempted to launch a competing free citation guide under the title the Baby Blue’s Manual of Citation, which led to it being renamed the Indigo Book. At issue mainly was the extent to which the word “Blue” was the intellectual property of the law reviews.

Link to the rest at Dan Stone and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG is aware that the OP threatens to fall into the file named Arcane, but it is an interesting copyright issue related to who owns the law and the methods for citing the law.

PG will confirm that The Blue Book is a publication that virtually every law student picks up at some point in his/her/their time in law school. He will also confirm that, especially given its spiral binding, it is likely the most common illegally copied book in law schools.

Although PG attended law school before the ascension of the personal computer and the World-Wide Web, he easily discovered that there are a number of free Blue Book citation generators available online.

Legal citations typically appear in law review articles, briefs filed by attorneys in trial and appellate courts and formal written court opinions.

While The Blue Book tends to dominate the citation world in most (maybe all) US law schools, in some state and federal courts, Blue Book citations are not necessarily or commonly used.

The purpose of a citation is to direct a legally trained reader to the Title, Volume and Page from which a quote, statute or a legal basis for an argument may be found. Undoubtedly, there are some judges that require a citation format that comports with The BlueBook or some other standard, but most judges just want a pointer they understand to what is being cited.

Two of the most lawyer-dense states – California (roughly 170,000 lawyers) and New York (roughly 185,000 lawyers) have their own citation guides available online at no charge.

There are also free online citation checkers that claim to check and correct citations. One of the more interesting ones is Citeus Legalus, the Legal Citation Generator for Lazy Law Students.

Here’s a wonderful quote from Citeus Legalus that PG applauds:

Because there is absolutely no justification for the current Bluebook as it exists today. Law students have much better things to do than obsess over arbitrary abbreviations, rules, parenthetical orderings, and the like.

The original goal of the Bluebook; namely, to create a uniform citation system to make writing/reading legal materials easier, was admirable. With that being said, through various revisions and updates, the Bluebook has become a veritable leviathan of unnecessary rules and styling requirements. Today, the Bluebook has spiraled into an absolute mess such that I’m not entirely sure that most (normal) people reading current law journals and reviews actually recognize bad Bluebook formatting or are actually harmed by it. In my opinion, the extreme focus that most law journals and reviews place on memorizing and understanding the Bluebook is indefensible given the fact that good citations do not make good argumentation or good writing.

This website modernizes the legal citation process by automating it. Gone are confusing Bluebook page numbers, rule numbers, and the like. The system deals with that for you. Thus, the original goal of the Bluebook – uniform citations – is preserved while the main side effect of the Bluebook – endless page-flipping headaches – is removed.

Jammed-Up Day

PG apologizes for the lack of posts.

His excuse can be summarized in two words: Water Problems

Casa PG needs some help with its water system.

PG tried to be that help, but to no avail. He can get only so far with innovative problem-solving approaches. There are times he needs to contact someone who actually knows what she/he is doing.

Apple Just Killed the Password—for Real This Time

Not necessarily to do with books and writing, but PG has grown to hate passwords because he has such a huge collection of them. He uses a password manager to keep track of his many long randomly-generated passwords.

However, if PG is trying to access a website from a machine that doesn’t have his password manager installed (for example when he is not signing in from a computer located at Casa PG), he hates the hassles that arise all too frequently because he has to look up a 34-character random password on his phone, they try to type the password into an alien machine without getting a single character wrong.

From Wired:

YOUR PASSWORDS ARE terrible. Year after year, the most popular passwords leaked in data breaches are 123456, 123456789, and 12345—‘qwerty’ and ‘password’ come close behind—and using these weak passwords leaves you vulnerable to all sorts of hacking. Weak and repeated passwords are one of the most significant risks to your online life.

For years, we’ve been promised a more secure, password-free future, but it seems like 2022 will actually be the year that millions of people start to move away from passwords. At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference yesterday, the company announced it will launch passwordless logins across Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs around September of this year. Instead of using passwords, you will be able to log in to websites and apps using “Passkeys” with iOS 16 and macOS Ventura. It’s the first major real-world shift to password elimination.

So how does it work? Passkeys replace your tired old passwords by creating new digital keys using Touch ID or Face ID, Apple’s vice president of internet technologies, Darin Adler, explained at WWDC. When you are creating an online account with a website, you can use a Passkey instead of a password. “To create a Passkey, just use Touch ID or Face ID to authenticate, and you’re done,” Adler said.

When you go to log in to that website again, Passkeys allow you to prove who you are by using your biometrics rather than typing in a passphrase (or having your password manager enter it for you). When signing in to a website on a Mac, a prompt will appear on your iPhone or iPad to verify your identity. Apple says its Passkeys will sync across your devices using iCloud’s Keychain, and the Passkeys are stored on your devices rather than on servers. (The use of iCloud Keychain should also solve the problem of losing or breaking your linked devices.) Under the hood, Apple’s Passkeys are based on the Web Authentication API (WebAuthn) and are end-to-end encrypted so nobody can read them, including Apple. The system for creating Passkeys uses public-private key authentication to prove you are who you say you are.

A passwordless system would be a significant step forward for most people’s online security. As well as eliminating guessable passwords, removing passwords reduces the likelihood of successful phishing attacks. And passwords can’t be stolen in data breaches if they don’t exist in the first place. (Some apps and websites already allow people to log in using their fingerprints or using face recognition, but these usually require you to first create an account with a password.)

Apple’s Passkeys aren’t entirely new—the company first detailed them at 2021’s WWDC and started testing them shortly after—and Apple isn’t the only one that wants to eliminate passwords. The FIDO Alliance, a tech industry group, has been working on the underlying standards needed to ditch passwords for almost a decade, and Apple’s Passkeys are the company’s implementation of these standards.

Link to the rest at Wired

Traveling this summer? Here are book picks for all 50 states (and then some)

From NPR:

As the summer travel season kicks off, many of us look forward to exploring new places on trips away from home. To help with this, NPR asked poets laureate, state librarians, bookstore owners and other literary luminaries from all 50 states — plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico — to recommend quintessential reads that illuminate where they live.

Here are more than 100 recommendations for you — whether you want to read about somewhere you’re heading, a place you hope to go someday, or somewhere you live and want to get to know better.

. . . .


Nominated by McCall Hardison, marketing director of the Little Professor bookshop in Homewood, Ala.

Where I Come From: Stories from the Deep South by Rick Bragg: This book is a series of personal stories about the South that provide a sense of place and knowing that will make Southern readers grin and that will disclose a profound picture of the South to all others. Rick Bragg covers lots of ground regarding what it means to live in the South: caring about your mama, the importance of being for the right sports team (hint: choose an SEC team), what foods makes you a true Southerner and why the chariot of his people, the pickup truck, no longer represents what it used to stand for.

The Edna Lewis Cookbook by Edna Lewis and Evangeline Peterson: Once a dear friend of Alabama’s Scott Peacock, the late Edna Lewis has been called “the South’s answer to Julia Child.” Her background reflects Southern truths of slavery and inequity, and her success is a reminder of the unsung heroes who make an outsize impact on our culture and, in the case of Lewis, what we eat. In Alabama, we take our meat and threes and and Southern fare seriously and owe a great debt to Lewis.

. . . .


Nominated by Greg Lucas, state librarian of California

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver: The plot of this lyrical and evocative novel begins with Walker Dodge, a city-living son, returning home after the death of his father to pack up his family’s Central Valley farmhouse. Sifting through his father’s past, he comes across a mystery that has at its center a fictional version of the woman portrayed in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother photograph. Weaving in numerous strands of California’s past and present, the novel cuts back and forth across the years from the hardscrabble life of Mary Coin to Dodge’s tenacious present-day effort to find where she fits into his history.

. . . .


Nominated by Heather Halak, owner of Third House Books in Gainesville, Fla.

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett: This novel captures aspects of Florida that most Sunshine State novels gloss over. As Jessa struggles to make sense of her grief in the aftermath of her father’s death, sand and sea are replaced with storefronts along rural state roads, irreverent roadkill taxidermy, and the Florida Man kind of delirium that is surely the result of the heat and humidity. Like The Florida Project, Mostly Dead Things is a sober look at the state’s diverse landscape — socially and regionally.

Florida by Lauren Groff: As a Gainesville resident of 10 years, I’m obligated to mention Lauren Groff’s story collection as a fresh take on the state. While Groff is not from Florida originally, she harnesses the state’s distinct unruliness with ease. The first story, “Ghosts and Empties,” is set in a historic Gainesville neighborhood. Despite the idyllic Victorian and Cracker houses that line the streets, there’s a restlessness that permeates the air. Groff’s understanding that even in the sunshine, there can be darkness makes this collection a must-read.

. . . .


Nominated by Debra Marquart, poet laureate of Iowa

We Heard It When We Were Young by Chuy Renteria: In this poignant and unflinching memoir about growing up Hispanic in West Liberty, Iowa, Chuy Renteria chronicles not only celebratory moments such as quinceañeras and childhood high jinks, but also the violence, trauma and difficulties of being a first-generation Mexican American growing up in the cultural space between his parents’ homeland and his own home, the state’s first majority-Hispanic town.

Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa by Rachelle Chase: In this remarkable book about a little-remembered chapter of Iowa history, author Rachelle Chase researches the events that led to the creation in 1900 of Buxton, a thriving coal-mining town populated largely by African American residents but where white and Black people lived and worked together. Chase documents the community’s many accomplishments, its notable residents and its ultimate demise.

The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa by Cornelia F. Mutel: In this natural and cultural history, ecologist Cornelia Mutel blends lyricism and scientific knowledge to tell the story of succession on the Iowa landscape: first, the tallgrass prairie that once dominated, then the emergence of agriculture, which dramatically transformed life in Iowa. Mutel’s unique lens allows her to narrate the past and present of the state as well as project visions of an intentional future for Iowa, the land between two rivers.

. . . .


Nominated by Maryfrances Wagner, poet laureate of Missouri

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: Considered one of the greatest works of American fiction, Mark Twain’s classic expertly represents rural Missouri in the late 1800s – its river towns and backwoods along the Mississippi River and its people. It captures dialects of the time, some of which are preserved nowhere else in literature. And it provides a vivid picture of the dark side of human nature and offers one of the first Black heroes in American literature. Some find the book problematic, with its use of racist language and stereotypes. But Twain meant it as a satire, critical of the very things people accuse it of: racism, hypocrisy and ignorance.

Winter’s Bone and Ride With the Devil by Daniel Woodrell: I recommend two books by author Daniel Woodrell. Ride With the Devil (published originally as Woe to Live on) is a Civil War novel that shows a Southern-leaning state siding with the Union. It’s a layered and complex portrayal of the border war between Missouri and Kansas. Winter’s Bone examines the dark side of human nature in the southern part of the state where drugs and moonshine are a way of life. In this novel, Woodrell expertly captures the lives of the poor and desperate of the Ozarks.

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles: Also set during the Civil War, Enemy Women portrays a brutal time of pillage, house burnings and murder of innocent children, women and men. The main character, Adair Collins, lives in the Ozarks with her family, which has remained neutral in the war. After Adair is falsely accused of being a spy and put in a filthy prison, it takes courage and endurance to survive. Although the book is fiction, extracts from relevant records, letters, memoirs and war documents precede each chapter.

The King of Kings County by Whitney Terrell: A vital novel about racism in Kansas City, The King of Kings County is inspired by the story of land developer J.C. Nichols, whose real estate deals divided and intentionally segregated Kansas City, and the creation of the suburban empire of Johnson County, Kansas. It, along with another of author Whitney Terrell’s books, The Huntsman, brings to life racial issues in the greater Kansas City area.

. . . .

New Hampshire

Nominated by Alexandria Peary, poet laureate of New Hampshire

Our Nig: Or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black by Harriet E. Wilson: It’s a novel that powerfully illustrates the injustices of racism and indentured servitude likely based on the author’s similar experiences in Milford, N.H. The book is the first novel published in North America by an African American woman (a statue commemorating Harriet E. Wilson can be seen in Milford). The book asks visitors to New Hampshire to remember that the reach of racism and slavery didn’t just stay in the American South but was found in those all-white 19th century farmhouses still standing, the ones beside historic town ovals and graveyards.

Seeking Parmenter: A Memoir of Place by Charles Butterfield: A lyrical and personal investigation of the landscape of New Hampshire, infused with the author’s keen insights about the nature of change. Wilderness takes on a new context and that classic New Hampshire farmhouse seen in a passing vehicle becomes the center of a powerful and personal saga. The book speaks powerfully to what it means to know a place — to stand between the seismic shifts of history and environment, between the past and the future.

. . . .


Nominated by Anis Mojgani, poet laureate of Oregon

So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan: While I would offer up William Stafford as the poet who best presents Oregon overall, Richard Brautigan is the Pacific Northwest poet I found first. He’s generally more associated with San Francisco, but this novel takes place squarely in Oregon and is connected to his childhood in Eugene. While it has been many years since I have read it, it is a book I loved, and I think it captures the melancholic sweetness that can run through much of what it means to be in Oregon — how this place’s grayness is drenched in a wet beauty and carries with it an often deep sadness, something So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away tenderly hands out to its reader.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: Ursula K. Le Guin is probably Oregon’s most celebrated author. The Left Hand of Darkness, while not very Oregonian in itself, was a very important book for me to read, and I think one that everyone should. I read this book while I was living here in Portland, Ore., and at a time when my relationship to this place was both cementing itself further and blossoming in different ways than it had previously. So for me it is always tied to this state I live in.

. . . .

South Carolina

Nominated by Marjory Wentworth, former poet laureate of South Carolina

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd: Based on real people, the abolitionist Grimke sisters from South Carolina, it tells the story of courageous women who fought the established slave-holding society they were born into to make the world a better place. It’s a book that will inspire readers to follow their better angels. Exquisite writing, as always, by Sue Monk Kidd.

Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball: This book is so powerful that after Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley read it, he decided we needed an African American Museum here. He is about to see that dream come true. It’s a book that reminds all of us of our interconnected histories. It’s also a fascinating historical account of the state.

Ukweli: Searching for Healing Truth, South Carolina Writers and Poets Explore American Racism edited by Horace Mungin and Herb Frazier: The deep, unhealed wounds created by the trans-Atlantic slave trade remain today. Charleston, the busiest and most lucrative slave port in the country, is now a major tourist destination. This book tells the truth about the legacy of racism that permeates our history. By telling the truth through multiple voices and perspectives, Ukweli can help all Americans heal.

. . . .


Nominated by Athena N. Jackson, University of Houston Libraries dean

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke: This enjoyable crime fiction by native Houstonian Attica Locke does a good job of grappling with racial politics in east Texas. Darren Mathews is a Black Texas Ranger who returns to his hometown to investigate the murders of a Black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman. The area’s history of racism is subtly depicted through Locke’s thorough rendering. Themes of conspiracy, lies and denial are smartly woven throughout the story, and the lush and eerie Piney Woods setting heightens the tension. Bluebird, Bluebird won the 2018 Edgar Award for best novel.

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry: A novel about a movie house and the starry-eyed yet down-to-earth residents who are trying to save it, The Last Picture Show is pure Larry McMurtry. More than that, the novel represents the quintessential 1960s small town of north-central Texas, McMurtry country, and the clash between old and new, past and future, the familiar and the unknown. Read the book, then watch the movie.

Nominated by Laurie Covington, librarian and member of the Houston Public Library’s executive leadership team

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger: Nothing is more quintessentially Texas than the dreams and community involvement surrounding high school football. This epic tale, set in the West Texas town of Odessa, captures the experiences of the Permian Panthers, the winningest high school football team in Texas history. This book inspired both a hit TV show and a movie.

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed: On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in Galveston, Texas. One hundred and fifty-six years later, Juneteenth became an official federal holiday celebrated throughout the United States. Native Texan Annette Gordon-Reed explores the origins of Juneteenth, the narrative of African Americans — including her own experiences attending a desegregated school — and complex public significance of Juneteenth as a national holiday.

Link to the rest at NPR

PG won’t be the only person who thinks some of those called upon to name books for their state missed the most truly representative books.

He’ll pick one state – California. East of Eden, The Joy Luck Club, The Big Sleep, The Lincoln Lawyer, A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius,and The Maltese Falcon all popped into PG’s mind and he hasn’t lived in California for a very long time.

What book best represents your state? We want to know

From NPR:

It’s June, which means that summer plans are starting to kick into high gear. And for some of us, those plans might include travel — like a classic cross-country road trip, a jaunt to another state to see loved ones, or sightseeing at historic locales. With that in mind, the NPR Books team put together the ultimate reading list to learn more about your destinations: 50+ books for 50 states (and beyond).

We asked book-lovers — librarians, bookstore owners, poets laureate — from across the country to tell us the book that best represents their state or territory. And boy, did they deliver: the final list includes over 100 recommendations, ranging from poetry, to memoirs, to short story collections.

But, of course, no list is perfect. So NPR’s Books team wants to know which book you would pick to represent your state (or Washington, DC. or Puerto Rico), and why. It can be any genre: fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose, novel or short story collection. Tell us: Why would you recommend this book to folks who want to learn more about your state?

Link to the rest at NPR

The OP has a form you can use to nominate the best book to represent your state.

Location of Visitors

PG was checking the statistics from TPV this morning and thought visitors might be interested in where they (or their internet service providers) are collectively located.

Here’s a graph showing the geographical origin of those who have visited TPV during the last 30 days.

It’s not obvious to him if there is a way he can get Others subdivided to provide more information, but he’ll fiddle a bit to see what he can discover.


Yesterday whizzed by so quickly that PG neglected his self-imposed obligation to post something every day.

Nothing terrible has occurred, just a packed schedule.

The Grass

A poem written in 1918 by American poet Carl Sandburg.

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work—

                                          I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

                                          What place is this?

                                          Where are we now?

                                          I am the grass.

                                          Let me work.

The General

Soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon was twice decorated for heroism and earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his suicidal courage on the battlefield, but he was also one of the most impassioned critics of the savagery and waste of World War I.

Sassoon became very critical about the way the war was being conducted. The following is titled “The General.”

“Good-morning, good-morning!” the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.


You told me, in your drunken-boasting mood,
How once you butchered prisoners. That was good!
I’m sure you felt no pity while they stood
Patient and cowed and scared, as prisoners should.

How did you do them in? Come, don’t be shy:
You know I love to hear how Germans die,
Downstairs in dug-outs. “Camerad!” they cry;
Then squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.

And you? I know your record. You went sick
When orders looked unwholesome: then, with trick
And lie, you wangled home. And here you are,
Still talking big and boozing in a bar.

On Being Asked for a War Poem

Well-known poet William Butler Yeats was asked for his response to the war and he wrote the following in 1915:

I think it better that in times like these
We poets keep our mouths shut, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

Slow News Weekend

For visitors from outside the United States, next Monday is Memorial Day, which makes this weekend one in which the publishing industry and lots of other businesses temporarily shutter their operations to give employees time off.

Thus, PG expects to find thin pickings for potential articles to excerpt on TPV. He still plans to put up a few posts, but normalcy won’t recommence until next Tuesday.

Russian parliament scraps age limit for army recruits

Not actually to do with books and TPV isn’t going to turn into a blog about politics, but interesting for PG at least.

From Reuters:

Russia’s parliament approved a law on Wednesday in double-quick time removing the upper age limit for contractual service in the military, amid heavy casualties in Ukraine.

Lawmakers in the State Duma lower house approved the bill in three readings in a single session, with the upper house, the Federation Council, giving its assent shortly after. The bill now needs only the signature of President Vladimir Putin to become law.

State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said: “Today, especially, we need to strengthen the armed forces and help the Ministry of Defence. Our Supreme Commander is doing everything to ensure that our armed forces win, and we need to help.”

Currently, only Russians aged 18-40 and foreigners aged 18-30 can enlist as professional soldiers in the Russian military.

Russian forces have suffered significant losses fighting in Ukraine.

The defence ministry said on March 25 that 1,351 Russian service personnel had been killed and 3,825 wounded since Moscow sent its armed forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24. It has not updated its casualty figures since.

Both Ukrainian and Western intelligence officials have said Russia’s losses in Ukraine were significantly higher at the time, and have risen sharply since March.

Link to the rest at Reuters

Computer Probs

PG is having some problems with his principal email program, which has started eating all of his stored emails.

It looks like he’ll need some time to get this mess straightened up, so further posting will have to wait for a bit.

The Commodification of Jean-Michel Basquiat

From Jacobin:

In April, Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure opened at the Starrett-Lehigh Building in Manhattan. Organized by the late artist’s family, the exhibition includes over two hundred Basquiat pieces, many previously unexhibited. As Lisane Basquiat, the artist’s sister and comanager of his estate, told Rolling Stone, the show is meant to offer “insight into Jean-Michel’s journey and the context within which [he] was raised and the way that he entered into his adulthood.” Indeed, the lengths to which the exhibit goes to broker an intimate encounter — the space designed by architect David Adjaye includes a reproduction of the artist’s childhood home and his studio — are indicative of Basquiat’s immense cultural standing. Try to imagine anyone taking the trouble to recreate the childhood home of Joseph Beuys or Louise Bourgeois.

That Basquiat holds such lingering distinction while many other artists of his generation have receded is certainly understandable. His art is kinetic, politically trenchant, and deeply iconic. As Dick Hebdige wrote in 1992, “Basquiat’s work is as complexly coded and oblique, as passionate, as technically sophisticated, as intellectually daring as a saxophone solo by Bird or Coltrane.” Even for the uninitiated, such elements are readily apparent.

Basquiat’s celebrity was, of course, significant in his own brief lifetime. Easily surpassing the standing of both Julian Schnabel and Keith Haring, he was one of the brightest stars of the 1980s art world at a time when contemporary art was gaining marquee status. He dated Madonna (apparently repossessing and painting over works he had given her after she broke up with him). And he was on the cover of the New York Times Magazine.

But in recent years, his fame has become stratospheric. He has been name-checked by Jay-Z and Nas, and at auction his paintings have fetched some of the highest prices ever commanded. In 2017, Untitled (1982) was sold for $110.5 million, at the time the highest price ever paid for a work by an American artist and still the highest price ever paid for the work of a black artist. Yet it has been ultimately through merchandizing where Basquiat’s stardom has been the most evident.

Gap, Amazon, Urban Outfitters, Uniqlo, and Old Navy sell clothing featuring his artwork. Three different footwear companies have offered Basquiat additions in recent years. There are keychains, throw pillows, iPhone cases, scented candles, and a Basquiat edition of Uno.

For deep-pocketed consumers, WACKO MARIA, Valentino, and Coach have released Basquiat-branded items. As Coach’s creative director Stuart Vevers told Essence in 2020, the artist “embodied the creative, inclusive spirit of New York and was a force for change in his community. I am proud to celebrate his work and values and help bring them to a new generation.”

And herein lies the problem. Sanitized and caricatured by corporate marketing schemes, Basquiat’s work has been defanged. Today, Basquiat the artist has become Basquiat the brand.

. . . .

In 1982, he held his first solo show at Nosei’s gallery, notoriously selling out the first night. Art dealer Bruno Bischofberger introduced Basquiat to Andy Warhol that same year, a collaborative relationship that would further propel Basquiat’s stardom. When Warhol died in 1987, it reportedly affected him considerably and he began using drugs more heavily. He died of an overdose in 1988.

While Hebdige certainly isn’t wrong to assert that Basquiat’s formally complex work resists facile interpretation, the themes of exploitation, racism, and imperialism are nevertheless explicit in many of the pieces. Numerous paintings — though typically not the ones licensed by Walmart — evocatively explore race, framing contemporary racial inequality through the longue durée of racial violence. Untitled (History of the Black People) (1983) references both the Egyptian and Atlantic slave trades. Taxi, 45th/Broadway (1984–85), dramatizing Basquiat’s own experience of being unable to hail a cab, depicts contemporary conditions of racial inequality.

. . . .

The contemporary branding regime not only largely obscures these critical aspects of Basquiat’s paintings, it also occludes the contested nature of his work in the context of the art world. Indeed, many of the things Basquiat’s art is now seen to epitomize — originality, authenticity, iconoclasm, and the vibrant, bohemian world of 1980s New York — are aspects that many of his early critics were eager to dismiss as affectations. That Basquiat holds immense critical standing today largely follows from critics’ efforts to oppose the racialized dismissals of his work and his legitimacy as an artist.

In a 1988 article, Robert Hughes saw the artist as nothing more than a dilettante. Basquiat, he argued, was “a small, untrained talent caught in the buzz saw of art world promotion, absurdly overrated by dealers, collectors, and, no doubt to their future embarrassment, by critics.” For Hughes, Basquiat’s success was a product of critics’ search for “a wild child, a curiosity, an urban noble savage.” As for the art itself, Hughes merrily cast it as “a run of slapdash pictorial formulas” with “mostly feigned” brio. In his acid New Yorker article from four years later, “Madison Avenue Primitive,” Adam Gopnik similarly portrayed Basquiat as a poser, a “corny” and “derivative” artist who gets by on an “ersatz primitivism.”

Yet, just as there were critics ready to dismiss Basquiat and accuse their colleagues of reverse racism, there were others who recognized the significant critical work being done. In 1993, bell hooks, writing on a Basquiat exhibition held at the Whitney, observed that he “takes the Eurocentric valuation of the great and beautiful and demands that we acknowledge the brutal reality it masks.” Moreover, instead of seeing pure egoism and braggadocio in his work, as he is often understood today, hooks identified the layered meaning of his depictions of wealth and status: “Fame, symbolized by the crown, is offered as the only possible path to subjectivity for the black male artist.”

Link to the rest at Jacobin

Jean Michel-Basquiat, Untitled (1982).

PG has always been intrigued by the style of a great deal of written art criticism and reviews. Here’s an excerpt from a review of a 2005 retrospective exhibition of Basquiat pieces at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s not clear whether the author had ever actually met the artist who had died almost twenty years earlier.

Of course, Basquiat saw plenty of stories as well, especially in modern art. And they, too, have a way of shifting into the present tense. Word painting derives from collage, and any combination of ego and facility recalls Pablo Picasso. However, Cubism dismantles vision, along with the distinction between painting and citation from the past. Basquiat imports words and images into a single field of paint.

A confrontation of word and male image also makes me think of Pollock before drips, as in the pretend arithmetic of Man and Woman. However, Pollock in his thirties was still seeking the Jungian unconscious. Basquiat is daring the conscious viewer to deal with the facts.

His performance was far too much a one-man show, but his present tense lives on. His reputation did fall for a while after his death, which may explain why the retrospective draws most often on private collections built, no doubt, in a headier climate. The show can afford to pick and choose where Basquiat would not, but far too much appears thoughtless and repetitive nonetheless. It does not, however, look irrelevant. The dead ends of a short life and a short-lived East Village scene have acquired new meanings.

The same black serves for text and drawing, like the mix of words and images so prevalent in painting now. The focus on “attitude” extends to photography now—and not only in the inner city. Women today portray themselves as conscious, proud, dangerous, or hurt. Cecily Brown or Chloe Piene could well be using Basquiat’s scratchy line, fierce color, and assumption of a white, male audience. One can see him as the missing link between Cy Twombly’s classical repose and a woman flat on her back. One can see him as the bridge between the eras of Jungian and drug therapy, with all the attendant gratifications and side effects.


PG is feeling more than a bit Jungian himself at the moment. He’s decided that it’s a good time for him to reconnect with his deep feelings, thoughts, and beliefs in this very moment so he can to get back in touch with his unconscious mind to see how it’s doing.

He will note that such intense Jungian exercises frequently lead to him falling asleep for awhile.

So he’ll make a couple of additional posts and let his unconscious mind hang out by itself for a bit.

Why men need to read more novels

From GQ:

It’s bedtime, and me and my boyfriend are comparing notes on what we’re reading. I flick through the tomes on his e-reader; it’s science fiction, politics, or politics in space. He’s halfway through Kim Stanley Robinson, following hot on the heels of China Mieville, Vincent Bevins, and Ursula K. Le Guin. He peers over at the pages of my Jane Austen, and wrinkles his nose. “It’s all chitter-chatter.” I ask him to explain what he means. “Well, there’s just a lot of talking.” He hunkers back down with the expanse of Red Mars and leaves me in the drawing rooms of Mansfield Park.

It’s not that he’s a protein-powder-where-a-brain-should-be bro. Indeed, he bears all the hallmarks of a fully reconstructed man: NTS on the radio, bell hooks on the shelf, a yoga membership used at least thrice-weekly. But literary fiction, as opposed to non-fiction, history, or sci-fi, just doesn’t interest him. Why prod the nooks and crannies of the human heart, when you can terraform planets, or dig into the CIA’s murky psy-ops in Indonesia? And he’s not alone. According to Nielsen, despite men famously making up half the population, they only account for 20% of the audience for literary fiction.

Part of this may be down to the changing landscape of authors themselves. In 2000, men made up 61% of the UK’s top selling hardbacks. By 2020, this number fell to 43%. Where straight white men used to dominate bestseller charts and prize shortlists, now it is people of colour, LGBT people and women who are both at the avant-garde of writing and driving sales in stores. Bernardine Evaristo, Paul Beatty, and Anna Burns have been lauded by the Booker committee for their narrative experimentation; meanwhile publishing houses across the country scour the internet for the next Sally Rooney. Commercially successful writing by women is, mercifully, no longer automatically designated as ‘chick-lit’. In recent years, the work of Marian Keyes has been critically reappraised; meanwhile Torrey Peters, and Candice Carty-Williams have garnered both plaudits and decent sales figures. Celebrity authors and those with big fan bases, like Richard Osman and Lee Child, may shift product, but creatively, straight white men haven’t kept up with those who’ve previously been consigned to the margins.


Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t another article bemoaning the dearth of straight white men in contemporary literature. Culture changes faster than politics. Elected leaders look at Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and LGBT rights with hostility and/or befuddlement, but publishers and editors have seized the identitarian moment – also known as identity politics – with all the zeal of the recently converted. Elite tastemakers can’t deliver social equality, but they are attempting to commission a diverse cultural landscape into existence. And I reckon the literary canon will survive having to hear more from ethnic minorities, women, and queer people, and a bit less from middle-aged uni professors lamenting their employer’s updated guidance on sexual harassment.

While the material privileges of race, class, and gender remain stubbornly intact in society, the distribution of visibility has shifted meaning the caucasian Big Dogs of prestige literature can’t present themselves as the universal perspective anymore. Now that minorities and the historically marginalised have a voice in publishing, no one really needs Jonathan Franzen or Martin Amis to speak on behalf of humanity. Who are men when they don’t get to simply claim the status of godlike narrator? Aside from some notable exceptions – Sean Thor Conroe’s Fuccboi being one – male writers who aren’t otherwise talking from a marginalised perspective have largely abandoned the novel as a means to make sense of cultural change. Faced with the challenge of articulating themselves as themselves, it’s like straight white men have given up on the subtleties of literary fiction and said: “Fuck it – I’m doing stand up about cancel culture instead.”


Rather than bemoan the loss of the male novelist, as other commentators have done, it might be useful to ask where exactly the male reader of novels has gone – if he even ever existed. Even the male literary titans still clinging on, such as Booker winners Julian Barnes and Yann Martel, have audiences which are 60% female. In truth, despite the historic dominance of men writing literary fiction, the idea of a male reader has been consistently derided throughout history. Even in the novel’s 19th Century heyday, reading fiction was a feminised activity – there was something a bit sexy about women who allowed books to activate their passions (Henry James wrote that one lady’s reputation for reading a lot “hung about her like the cloudy envelope of a goddess in an epic.”)

But men who spend too much time indoors, reading novels and living their lives vicariously through the trials and tribulations of others, were widely considered cucks. A man’s literary interest had to be justified by ambition, linked to his masculine capacity for action, or contextualised in real-world exploration. They wander lonely as clouds, touch the heart of darkness, seek adventure on the road and end up getting dysentery. This gendered division of the imagination endured even through the social and political revolutions of the 20th Century. Karl Ove Knausgaard has spoken of the suffocating weight of gender expectations on his own experience of writing: “It put such doubt in me that I’ve never really recovered from it,” he said to The Observer. “I don’t talk about feelings but I write a lot about feelings. Reading, that’s feminine, writing, that’s feminine. It is insane, it’s really insane but it still is in me.”

Link to the rest at GQ and thanks to T. for the tip.

PG is definitely out of touch with the currents of contemporary society, at least as it exists in London or New York.

And that fact doesn’t bother him one whit.

He doesn’t know whether that sentiment has established itself in his psyche because of not ever caring about what or how they do things in London or New York and he’ll throw in Paris as well, or if there is some deeply-buried part of his brain that’s been adversely wired from birth.

Not everybody has to like serious books. PG likes some very serious books and is less-enamored with others. He read all the classic fiction in high school (not as assigned reading) college (50/50 assigned reading and non-assigned reading plus a dash of Cliff’s Notes) and enjoyed most while feeling so-so about some. He’s read some excellent fiction during the centuries since graduation, some serious, other not so much.

Although he has come to know a lot of authors, PG admits to not remembering the names of the authors for a great deal of the reading he currently does, fiction or non-fiction. He can always look the authors/books up either among his Amazon acquisitions or in his file at the local public library, available online, should he want to read more books they’ve written.

PG has a lot of very intelligent personal friends of various genders, but he doesn’t tend to talk about fiction with them. He’s happy to do so if they want to talk about fiction, but mostly they want to talk about other things.

And finally, PG has never read a book because he wants to impress anyone either positively or negatively and doesn’t think he would enjoy associating with someone who does.

PS: PG and Mrs. PG do talk about books quite a lot, but Mrs. PG is long-past judging PG by what he reads or doesn’t.

Orwell’s Humor

From City Journal:

We don’t easily think of George Orwell as a comic writer. We also don’t think of him principally as a writer of novels, though he wrote six, including Animal Farm and 1984, the books that earned him enduring fame. The novel as a form claims a degree of irresponsibility or disinterestedness inconsistent with our idea of the man who created Room 101.

Orwell’s two comic novels of the 1930s, Keep The Aspidistra Flying (1936) and Coming Up For Air (1939), remind us of how essential the satiric impulse was to his anti-totalitarianism. And though they were published only three years apart, they show his progression, as England prepared for war with Germany, toward the dire seer of 1984.

Maybe our trouble accepting Orwell as a humorist begins with his face. The George Orwell that looks back at us from book jackets is dour and serious, wearing sturdy gray and brown wools under a face long and grave, ascetically thin, and burdened by unwelcome knowledge. This is the iconic, global Orwell, the one read by dissidents in Burma and Iran. Of course, Orwell was serious, in the ultimate sense of preferring grim reality to comforting illusion. He credited himself with a crucial “power of facing unpleasant facts.”

Orwell was suspicious of pleasure and especially of ease. The pivotal decision of his life was to decline the scholarship to Oxford that would have gained him admission to England’s elite in favor of an especially unpromising post as a colonial police officer in Burma. The choices he made after that—to live a tramp’s life, “down and out” on the streets of Paris and London; to fight for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War; and ultimately to turn against his former comrades on the Stalinist left—all seem like a coda to the first.

As a counterweight to this flinty integrity, humor was essential to Orwell, not merely as a form of relief but as an aspect of his realism. His writings on tea are a comic compendium in themselves. He was terribly serious about tea (“tea is one of the mainstays of civilization in this country”), which he understood was funny, in the manner of any trivial obsession. He was perfectly willing to die for the Spanish Republic and nearly did, but he took great pains (or caused his wife to take them) to see that he got decent tea sent to the front. Fifteen years later, as he lay dying of tuberculosis in a London hospital, his final gift from his friend, Paul Potts, was a single packet that Orwell didn’t live to consume. In “A Nice Cup of Tea,” he affects a schoolmasterly rigidity about its proper preparation, writing with an irony so light that it is easily missed. (“These are not the only controversial points to arise in connection with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become.”) It’s a complex kind of humor, both alert to and tolerant of human eccentricity—what one is tempted to call the humor of democratic liberalism, except that it is abundant in Russian literature, too. It is the humor that celebrates the part of us the state can never reach.

Fittingly, Gordon Comstock’s inability, without Philbyish deceptions, to serve himself a cup of tea in his room, a practice forbidden by his landlady, is the most striking of his humiliations in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Orwell’s semi-autobiographical novel of genteel literary poverty:

Gordon went to the door, pushed it ajar, and listened. No sound of Mrs. Wisbeach. You had to be very careful; she was quite capable of sneaking upstairs and catching you in the act. This tea-making was the major household offense, next to bringing a woman in.

 “Don’t you see that a man’s whole personality is bound up with his income?” he asks her. “His personality is his income. How can you be attractive to a girl when you’ve got no money?”

Gordon hates the well-turned-out young men who come into the bookshop, “Those moneyed young beasts who glide so gracefully from Cambridge to the literary reviews.” Poverty insinuates itself into every aspect of his life, partly because Gordon, with his poet’s sensitivity, is so permeable. He is that type of tireless complainer who takes everything personally. “In a country like England,” he acidly observes, “you can no more be cultured without money than you can join the Cavalry Club.”

Link to the rest at City Journal

God Has a Beautiful Mansion for Me Elsewhere

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

On December 10, 1825, the fifty-year-old English lawyer Henry Crabb Robinson attended a dinner at the home of his friend Charles Aders, a London businessman. Eliza, Aders’ wife, was a painter and printmaker, and she had invited a few artist and engraver friends to the party. Over the course of the evening Robinson became increasingly fascinated by one of the guests—an elderly, relatively unknown poet and painter by the name of William Blake, whose conversation casually roamed from the polite and mundane to the beatific and fantastic.

Blake was short, pale, and a little overweight, with the accent of a lifelong Londoner. He was dressed in old-fashioned, threadbare clothes and his gray trousers were shiny at the front through wear. His large, strong eyes didn’t seem to fit with his soft, round face. Robinson noted in his diary that he had “an expression of great sweetness, but bordering on weakness—except when his features are animated by expression, and then he has an air of inspiration about him.”

For all his wild notions and heretical statements, Blake was pleasant company and easy to like. The aggressive and hectoring voice of his writings was not the Blake those who met him recall. Many years later, another guest at that party, Maria Denman, remarked, “One remembers even in age the kindness of such a man.”

What made Blake so fascinating was the casual way in which he talked about his relationship with the spirit world. Blake, Robinson wrote, “spoke of his paintings as being what he had seen in his visions—and when he said ‘my visions’ it was in the ordinary unemphatic tone in which we speak of trivial matters that everyone understands and cares nothing about.” Blake peppered his conversation with remarks about his relationship with various angels, the nature of the devil, and his visionary meetings with historical figures such as Socrates, Milton, and Jesus Christ. Somehow, he did this in a way that people found endearing rather than disturbing. As Robinson wrote, “There is a natural sweetness and gentility about Blake which are delightful. And when he is not referring to his visions he talks sensibly and acutely.”

Robinson walked home with Blake that night and was so struck by the conversation that he spent the evening transcribing as much of it as he could remember. The two men became friends, and Robinson’s diary is an invaluable record of how Blake acted and thought during the last two years of his life. “Shall I call him Artist or Genius—or Mystic—or Madman?” Robinson mused that first night. He spent the rest of their relationship attempting to come up with a definite answer. “Probably he is all” was the best he could find.

. . . .

A week after the party, Robinson made his first visit to Blake’s home at Fountain Court in the Strand, where he lived with his wife, Catherine. The building itself has long since gone, but it was roughly where the Savoy Hotel now stands. Robinson was unprepared for the level of poverty in which the couple were living. “I found him in a small room, which seems to be both a working room and a bedroom,” he wrote. “Nothing could exceed the squalid air both of the apartment and his dress, but in spite of dirt—I might say filth—an air of natural gentility is diffused over him.”

This was the second of the two rooms that the Blakes rented on the first floor of the building. The first was a wood-paneled reception room, which doubled as an unofficial gallery for Blake’s drawings and paintings. The second, at the rear, was reserved for everything else. In one corner was the bed, and in the other was the fire on which Catherine Blake cooked. There was one table for meals, and another on which Blake worked. From here he looked out of the southern-facing window, where a glimpse of the Thames could be seen between the buildings and streets that ran down to the river. This sliver of water would often catch the sun and appear golden. Behind it, the Surrey Hills stretched into the distance. For all the evident poverty, visitors spoke of the rooms as enchanted. As one later recalled, “There was a strange expansion and sensation of freedom in those two rooms very seldom felt elsewhere.”

Blake, Robinson remembered, was “quite unembarrassed when he begged me to sit down, as if he were in a palace. There was but one chair in the room besides that on which he sat. On my putting my hand to it, I found that it would have fallen to pieces if I had lifted it, so, as if I had been a sybarite, I said with a smile, ‘Will you let me indulge myself?’ and I sat on the bed, and near him, and during my short stay there was nothing in him that betrayed that he was aware of what to other persons might have been even offensive, not in his person, but in all about him.”

“I live in a hole here, but God has a beautiful mansion for me elsewhere,” Blake once said. He knew that he was pitied by the occasional prosperous artist who visited, but he thought that it was he who should be pitying them. “I possess my visions and peace,” he argued. “They have bartered their birthright for a mess of pottage.” Robinson was struck on that first visit by how at ease the Blakes seemed with their poverty. “I should be sorry if I had any earthly fame, for whatever natural glory a man has is so much detracted from his spiritual glory,” Blake told him. Despite how the world had treated him he was quite happy, he insisted, because he wanted nothing other than to live for art and had no desire to do anything for profit. But as Robinson also noted, “Though he spoke of his happiness, he spoke of past sufferings, and of sufferings as necessary. ‘There is suffering in heaven, for where there is the capacity of enjoyment, there is the capacity of pain.’ ”

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake, The Tyger, 1794
Blake’s Ancient of Days, 1794

One Writer’s Beginnings: The Bitter Gift of Trauma

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

I grew up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and ‘60s. My father was an extremely sensitive, artistic, and intelligent man who, from, the get-go in his marriage with my mother, became an abuser. His violence was mostly directed at my mother, occasionally at my brother. All of us were terrorized by my father’s displays of frustration and rage, which involved a crescendo of yelling and crashing about that led to a violent act, followed by our withdrawal to safety and, eventually, his remorse.

My father always seemed to love and admire me as much as he attacked and belittled my mother. It made for a really toxic triangulation situation between my mother, my father, and me: the more he showed me behavior she saw as belonging, by rights, to her, the less she could co-opt and feel good about the milestones of my childhood.

Summer theater, and theater arts classes throughout high school, provided an escape from the sturm und drang of my family life—and gave me, every season, a new pretend-family with whom I could interact and work at being loved.

It was only after the publication of my second novel, Vivaldi’s Virgins—the story of a girl growing up in a foundling home in 18th century Venice—that I came to recognize my own orphan scenario: the well-spring of mother-love that was taken away from me; the resulting self-doubt and psychic pain. Once I’d done the bulk of my research for the novel and began writing, it felt as if the inner world of my orphan protagonist, Anna Maria dal Violin, was fully accessible to me—because I could remember precisely what it feels like to be without the protection of a mother or father, afraid, uncertain and abandoned; dependent on one’s own determination, ambition, and grit.

Writing literary fiction requires a highly tuned degree of empathy of the sort that’s typical of the best therapists, an ability and willingness to look inside people’s words and behavior, and explore the buried trash and treasures of their past: all that makes them who they are; all that makes them conceal who they are, from themselves and others; shining a light to try to find all the gleaming little keys that might fit the locks of their most hidden places.

For any novel—or any poem, for that matter—to really speak to readers, there has to be emotional juice there for the writer.

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

7 Novels About Women Who Refuse to Fit In

From Electric Lit:

I had a friend—we’ll call her Kinsley—who was as close to me as a sister for nearly 20 years. As we grew older, our values began to differ, but we both agreed that no difference was profound enough to break our friendship. Kinsley married a man she met on a religious website, sending me a text after one month of long-distance dating that read, “This is Christian [not his real name]! We have decided we are in love and getting married!” The following year she began expressing frustration over their inability to conceive naturally; she was ethically opposed to IVF. I was casually dating in New York and contemplating freezing my eggs. 

Then, after 17 years of friendship, Kinsley abruptly ghosted me. The experience left me thinking about relationships that break under the strain of womanhood in all its conflicting forms. I have no doubt that for Kinsley and me, the looming pressures surrounding fertility (and our differing perspectives on motherhood, sex, and reproduction) accelerated our falling out. In her eyes, I was misguided (her word)—a black sheep among women. The last time I felt close to Kinsley was roughly seven years ago at a music festival. There was a torrential downpour and we huddled under a tarp, sharing poutine and drinking beer. When we were in line for poutine round two, we playfully debated the morality of birth control (insofar as that conversation can be playful). Even then, the chasm was widening.

. . . .

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Keiko, a woman working at a convenience store in Tokyo, best understands how to function “normally” within the framework of her job at Smile Mart, where social interactions can be learned by studying a manual. Keiko flourishes at the store and achieves a level of contentment she hasn’t experienced elsewhere; but as she approaches middle age, her lack of ambition and marital status (single, uncoupled) become an increasing affront to her meddling family and coworkers. Keiko contorts herself into a desperate emotional pretzel in an effort to appease her loved ones. The resulting decision is comically aligned with her personality—an unusual arrangement that makes her even more of an aberration, at least by the standards of people who care about such things. 

. . . .

Chemistry by Weike Wang

In Chemistry, we meet another woman with a life that is by all accounts rewarding, yet fails to deliver happiness. The novel’s narrator is working toward her PhD in chemistry—a goal foisted on her by her parents—and her perfectly lovely boyfriend has proposed. But she’s mired in ambivalence about her career and relationship and struggles to untangle her own wants from the wants foisted on her. As the story develops, the narrator reveals aspects of her childhood that led to her present state of indecision. This is a moving, character-driven illustration of what happens when the presence of others looms so large that there’s no room left to develop your own identity. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

On Watery Artworks and Writing-Retreat Novels

From The Paris Review:

“Empire of Water,” on view until May 30 at The Church in Sag Harbor, New York, is well worth a wander out east. The exhibition, cocurated by the Church cofounder and artist Eric Fischl and the chief curator, Sara Cochran, features watery works from forty-two artists including Warhol, Ofili, Lichtenstein, Longo, and Kiefer, and an Aitken that delights. But the cake stealer is hiding in the back corner of the first floor: Topographic Wave II, by Jim Campbell. Tucked behind a partial gallery wall are 2,400 custom-built LEDs of various lengths mounted on a roughly four-by-six-inch black panel and arranged neatly in a tight grid, like a Lite-Brite for grown-ups or a work of Pointillism by robots with OCD. From a small distance, images appear as shimmering figures swimming through Pixelvision water. Walk closer and the picture dissolves into fragmented dots blinking some unrecognizable pattern. For a short time I paced in front of it, goofily leaning in close then stepping back. Distantly, I recalled an instruction to squint when viewing Seurat, so I did that, too.

. . . .

This past week I’ve been reading Shola von Reinhold’s debut, Lote, a heady novel that explores, in multiple genres and forms—comedy of errors, writing-retreat novel, book within a book—the erasure of Black art from gallery walls, history books, and archives. The novel’s narrator, Mathilda Adamarola, is fascinated by the London-based artists and socialites of the twenties known as the Bright Young Things. She’s itinerant, in thrall to decadence, possessed of multiple names, a researcher dilettante. With a little deception and luck, she is admitted to a writing residency honoring the work of John Garreaux, a fictional theorist whose work emphasizes a kind of aesthetic rigidity and blankness our hero despises. She revolts against the residency’s conspicuous rules, but falls prey to some of its subtler machinations, and Von Reinhold’s sensual sentences unfurl like ethereal greenery as you read.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

TPV Comments

Some visitors to TPVx have reported having problems with comments and subscriptions to comments.

PG has just gone through the settings on the WordPress plugin that manages comments and subscription to comments and tweaked them.

Feel free to let him know if you’re still having any problems.

Age Problems with The Passive Voice

PG has received a few emails concerning various parts of The Passive Voice not working as they did in days gone by.

For example, he just received an email about the Subscribe without Commenting function.

Feel free to let PG know about those types of problems, either in comments to this post or via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog.

Some of the visitors to TPV know more about WordPress, WordPress Plugins and the vagaries thereof than PG does, so feel free to point out likely suspects causing any sort of misbehavior.

I Believe the Man in the Attic Has a Gun

From Electric Lit:

“The Old Man with No Name” is the opening tale of Budi Darma’s short story collection People from Bloomington. He penned the set of seven stories in the 1970s, during the years he spent as a master’s and doctoral student in the English department at Indiana University, Bloomington. Except for a fleeting mention that one narrator is a “foreign student,” the stories are about Bloomingtonians and feature an all-American cast.

. . . .

Fess Avenue wasn’t a long street. There were only three houses on it, all with attics and fairly large yards. Drawn there by an ad in the classifieds, I moved into the attic room of the middle house, which belonged to a Mrs. MacMillan. She herself occupied the lower floors. Such being the case, I had an excellent view—not only of Mrs. Nolan’s house, but Mrs. Casper’s as well. 

Like Mrs. MacMillan, these two neighbors had been without husbands for a long time. Since Mrs. MacMillan never spoke about her own situation, I never found out what happened to Mr. MacMillan. But she told me that Mrs. Nolan lived alone due to her ornery disposition. As a young newlywed, she would often beat her husband. And one day, she’d arbitrarily ordered him to scram, threatening him with further beatings if he made any attempt to return. Since kicking him out, Mrs. Nolan had shown no desire to live with anyone else at all. 

Mrs. Casper’s was a different story. She hadn’t cared much about her husband, a traveling salesman who’d rarely been at home. Whether he was in the house or elsewhere, it appeared to make no difference to her. It was the same when he died in a car accident in Cincinnati. She had betrayed no sign of either sorrow or joy. 

That was the extent of my knowledge, for that was all that Mrs. MacMillan told me. Don’t try to manage the affairs of others and don’t take an interest in other people’s business. This was what Mrs. MacMillan advised by way of conclusion once she was done telling me about her neighbors. It was the only way, she said, that anyone could ever hope to live in peace. 

Furthermore, she continued, for the purpose of maintaining good relations between her and myself, I was only allowed to speak to her when necessary, and only ever on the phone. Therefore, I should get a telephone right away, she told me. And until the phone company came to install my line, I was forbidden from using hers. After all, she said, there was a public phone booth a mere three blocks away. She went on to say that the key she’d lent me could only be used for the side door. Her key was for the front entrance. This way, we could each come and go without bothering the other. Also, she continued, I should leave my monthly rent check in her mailbox—for I had a separate mailbox from hers, located on the side of the house. I must say, initially, I found these terms extremely agreeable, for it wasn’t as if I liked to be bothered by other people myself. 

The whole summer passed without any problems. I used my time to attend lectures, visit the library, take walks, and cook. And every now and then I would sit contemplatively in Dunn Meadow, a grassy area where there were always lots of people. I bumped into Mrs. Nolan and Mrs. Casper a few times, but as neither of them showed any desire to become acquainted when I tried to approach, I too became reluctant about speaking to them. 

But as summer started to give way to fall, the situation changed. As autumn approached, the town of Bloomington was flooded by thirty-five thousand incoming students—new ones, as well as those who had spent the summer months out of town. But as far as I knew, not a single one of them lived on or in the vicinity of Fess. Bloomington bustled with activity, but Fess Avenue remained deserted. Besides this, as time went on, the days grew shorter, with the sun rising ever later and setting ever sooner. And then the leaves turned yellow and, by and by, began to shed. Not only that—it rained more often, some times to the accompaniment of lightning and thunder. Opportunities to go outdoors became few and far between. Only now, under such conditions, did I pay more attention to life on Fess. All three of them—Mrs. MacMillan, Mrs. Nolan, and Mrs. Casper—spent a lot of time in their yards raking leaves. The leaves would then be put into enormous plastic bags, placed in their cars, and driven to the garbage dump about seven blocks away. 

. . . .

Mrs. Casper didn’t possess exceptional qualities like Mrs. Nolan, but it was hard to ignore her all the same. She was old and sometimes looked unwell, and when she looked unwell, she was unsteady on her feet. When she was in good health, she was capable of a brisk stride. I often thought to myself that if she ever had cause to run, she would manage a good sprint. 

All three women shopped at the local Marsh Supermarket from time to time. It was a small branch, which sold both regular goods and ready-made foods, not far from the nearby phone booth. Naturally, since it was such a quiet area, the store didn’t have many regular customers. The owner himself didn’t seem to expect much business. The main thing was that the store could keep trundling along, and he seemed satisfied on this front. In keeping with the general atmosphere of the neighborhood, he wasn’t friendly, speaking only when required. Personally, I only shopped there if I couldn’t get to College Mall with its many affordable stores, some distance away. 

To combat my loneliness, I’d sometimes flip through the phone book. In its pages, I discovered the numbers for Mrs. Nolan, Mrs. Casper, and the nearby Marsh. Over time, once we were well into autumn and the days had grown even shorter, and strong winds had become a regular occurrence, as had lightning and thunder storms, I set about killing the lonely hours by playing telephone. At first, I’d dial the recorded voice that would give me the time, temperature, and weather forecast. That sufficed initially, but over time, grew less effective. I began calling various classmates. They responded in the same way they did when I met them on campus, in as few words as possible, until I exhausted all possible topics of conversation. I began ringing up Marsh, asking if they stocked bananas, or apples, or spaghetti—anything really—which ended up annoying the owner. Mrs. MacMillan didn’t seem too happy either whenever I called her with some made-up excuse. Like the store owner, she seemed to know full well that I had no real reason to talk. 

At last, one rainy night, I phoned Mrs. Nolan to ask if I could help clean up her yard. This seemed not only to surprise her, but enrage her as well. Was her yard that filthy, that disgusting, she inquired. When I answered, “No,” she asked what my ulterior motive was. I just thought she might need some help, I said, upon which she asked whether she looked so sickly, so feeble, that I felt compelled to offer my services. Naturally, I replied that she looked perfectly healthy. She promptly told me, “If I need anyone’s help, I’ll place an ad.” 

After this conversation, I didn’t dare to phone Mrs. Casper.

One night, as the rain fell outside in a steady drizzle, something changed. There was a light on in Mrs. Casper’s attic. And it remained on every night. I soon found out that someone was living there—an old man who looked about sixty-five years old. Every morning he would poke his head out the window and take aim at the ground below with a pistol, like a child playing with a toy. But I was certain that what he was holding was a real gun. And if I was right, something terrible might happen. So I immediately called Mrs. MacMillan. She thanked me for informing her, but then tried to bring the matter to a close: “If Mrs. Casper really does have a boarder in her attic, then that’s her business. Just like you living here is mine. If he really does have a gun, he obviously has a permit for it. And if he doesn’t have a permit, then they’ll arrest him at some point.” 

I made a hasty attempt at protest before she could hang up. “If anything happens, won’t it be bad for us?” 

“As long as we don’t bother him, what could happen?” she replied. 

And that was the end of the conversation. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit