The Missing Men

Not necessarily connected with the book business, but potentially impacting the economy and the book-buying public. Plus, educational levels and a lack of discretionary income will certainly impact the purchase of books and a great many other optional spending decisions.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

George Wilson knew remote learning was not for him. So when his classes went online because of the coronavirus pandemic, Wilson, a then-45-year-old furnace operator in Ohio, did what thousands of men nationwide did last year — he stopped out.

On campus, “I’m a machine,” said Wilson, who is pursuing an associate degree at Lakeland Community College, in Kirtland, Ohio. “I don’t have that same drive at home.”

Wilson is part of an exodus of men away from college that has been taking place for decades, but that accelerated during the pandemic. And it has enormous implications, for colleges and for society at large.

Last fall, male undergraduate enrollment fell by nearly 7 percent, nearly three times as much as female enrollment, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. The decline was the steepest — and the gender gap the largest — among students of color attending community colleges. Black and Hispanic male enrollment at public two-year colleges plummeted by 19.2 and 16.6 percent, respectively, about 10 percentage points more than the drops in Black and Hispanic female enrollment. Drops in enrollment of Asian men were smaller, but still about eight times as great as declines in Asian women.

. . . .

. . . .

In the late 1970s, men and women attended college in almost equal numbers. Today, women account for 57 percent of enrollment and an even greater share of degrees, especially at the level of master’s and above. The explanations for this growing gender imbalance vary from the academic to the social to the economic. Girls, on average, do better in primary and secondary school. Boys are less likely to seek help when they struggle. And they face more pressure to join the work force.

. . . .

In an effort to turn things around, colleges are adding sports teams and majors in fields that tend to attract more men than women, such as criminal justice and information science. They are creating mentoring and advising programs for men, particularly those who are Black and Hispanic. And at least one is hiring a director of Black and males of color‘s success.

But programs and positions catering to men remain relatively rare, said Adrian H. Huerta, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California who studies programs for men of color. Those that do exist tend to be untested and underfunded — “a person who is dedicating 25 percent of their time and asked to produce miracles with no money,” he said.

James Shelley, who founded one of the nation’s first men’s resource centers at Lakeland Community College, in 1996 — “the prehistoric period,” he calls it — said many college leaders still view men as a privileged class.

“One thing I often hear is that men still have most of the power, they still make more on the dollar than women, so why create a special program for them?” he said. “It’s not an easy sell.”

. . . .

In 2018, the female-male gap in enrollment among 18- to 24-year-olds stood at eight percentage points for Black and Hispanic students, and six percentage points for white students. Over all, nearly three million fewer men than women enrolled in college that year.

Some of this difference may be due to the belief among some young men that college “isn’t worth it” — that they’re better off going into the work force and avoiding the debt.

“In a lot of communities of color, there’s this mind-set that the man should work, the man should provide,” said Michael Rodriguez, director of the Men’s Resource Center at Kingsborough Community College, in Brooklyn, which is part of the City University of New York. “They think, ‘if I sit around and go to school, I may not be looked at as a functioning provider in my home.’”

. . . .

Though the decision to work after high school may make short-term economic sense, it deprives these men of thousands in lifetime earnings, and deprives colleges of the perspectives they would bring to the classroom — both as students and as future professors, Rodriguez said. “For colleges to really thrive, all voices need to be heard,” he said. “A gender gap creates unhealthy institutions.”

. . . .

But labor-market factors alone can’t fully explain the growing gulf in college completion between men and women. Academic preparation and gender norms play a role, too.

The differences between boys and girls emerge as early as elementary school, where boys lag in literacy skills and are overrepresented in special education. Boys are also more likely than girls to be punished for misbehaving — an experience that can sour them on school.

The disparities in discipline are the most pronounced among Black boys, who made up 15 percent of public-school students in the 2015-16 school year, but accounted for 31 percent of law-enforcement referrals and arrests.

Boys are also less likely than girls to seek or accept help for their academic and emotional struggles, having been socialized to be self-reliant. By the time they’re in middle school, some boys have disengaged from school entirely. Even if they manage to graduate from high school, these boys lack the skill — or the will — to succeed in college.

. . . .

At Lakeland, the decision to create a stand-alone center for men back in the mid-90s stemmed from the success of the college’s women’s resource center, Shelley recalled.

“It was thought that if we have a program that’s such a benefit to women, wouldn’t it make sense to have a similar program for men” who had fallen behind their female peers, he said. The premise was that “men have problems, too.”

But when Shelley began calling around to see what other colleges were doing to support men, he came away empty-handed. “Most of the people I talked to expressed the sentiment that men are the problem,” he said.

Twenty-five years later, Shelley sees this structural “anti-maleness” embedded in school-discipline policies that disproportionately net boys, and in sexual-assault prevention programs that sometimes treat incoming students as threats. “I had one young man tell me ‘I was welcomed to college by being told that I’m a potential rapist,” he said.

. . . .

Shelley, of Lakeland Community College’s resource center, is generally skeptical of efforts to “reprogram” males, believing it better to “channel” their deeply ingrained identities then to attempt to change them. Asking students to share their deepest feelings might work in a women’s group, “but if I ask men that, no will say anything.”

“But if I ask ‘what are your challenges? What do you need to surmount to become successful?’ then it becomes more about problem-solving,” and less about problem-confessing, he said.

. . . .

[H]ands-on fields favored by men were harder to transition to an online environment, said Douglas Shapiro, vice president for research and executive director of the Clearinghouse research center. During the pandemic, enrollment in male-dominated programs like construction, precision production, and firefighting declined two to three times as much as enrollment in nursing and education — fields dominated by women.

“We are losing a generation of men to Covid,” said Huerta. “We need to be really creative about how we get them back in the pipeline.”

That starts with convincing men that college is, indeed, “worth it,” said Rodriguez, particularly when the payoff isn’t immediately obvious.

“When you break down what they want, they really want a job,” he said. “Colleges have to tell a better story of what you can do with an English degree.”

Shelley would like to see colleges create more short-term programs, too, to get men into the work force more quickly. He said that when he tells prospective students a program will take two years, plus prerequisites, they often tell him “forget it.”

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Share of adults who have read a book in any format in the last 12 months in the United States in 2018 and 2019, by education level

Link to the rest at Statista

Back in the Saddle

PG and Mrs. PG took a short trip to visit family and are back again in one piece.

PG may have to spend some time reclaiming his mind after too much time in airports and on airplanes, but he expects the scattered bits and pieces will soon catch up with him.

How Twitter can ruin a life

From Vox:

“In a war zone, it is not safe to be unknown. Unknown travelers are shot on sight,” says Isabel Fall. “The fact that Isabel Fall was an unknown led to her death.”

Isabel Fall isn’t dead. There is a person who wrote under that name alive on the planet right now, someone who published a critically acclaimed, award-nominated short story. If she wanted to publish again, she surely could.

Isabel Fall is a ghost nonetheless.

In January 2020, not long after her short story “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” was published in the online science fiction magazine Clarkesworld, Fall asked her editor to take the story down, and then checked into a psychiatric ward for thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

The story — and especially its title, which co-opts a transphobic meme — had provoked days of contentious debate online within the science fiction community, the trans community, and the community of people who worry that cancel culture has run amok. Because there was little biographical information available about its author, the debate hinged on one question: Who was Isabel Fall? And that question ate her alive. When she emerged from the hospital a few weeks later, the world had moved on, but she was still scarred by what had happened. She decided on something drastic: She would no longer be Isabel Fall.

As a trans woman early in transition, Fall had the option of retreating to the relative safety of her legal, masculine identity. That’s what she did, staying out of the limelight and growing ever more frustrated by what had happened to her. She bristles when I ask her in an email if she’s stopped transitioning, but it’s the only phrase I can think of to describe how the situation appears.

Isabel Fall was on a path to becoming herself, and then she wasn’t — and all because she published a short story. And then her life fell apart.

In the 18 months since, what happened to her has become a case study for various people who want to talk about the Way We Live Today. It has been held up as an example of progressives eating their own, of the dangers of online anonymity, of the need for sensitivity readers or content warnings. But what this story really symbolizes is the fact that as we’ve grown more adept at using the internet, we’ve also grown more adept at destroying people’s lives, but from a distance, in an abstracted way.

Sometimes, the path to your personal hell is paved with other people’s best intentions.

Like most internet outrage cycles, the fracas over “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” was enormous news within the bubble of people who cared about it and made barely a blip outside of that bubble. The full tale is amorphous and weird, and recounting its ins and outs is nearly impossible to do here. Just trying to explain the motivations of all involved is a task in and of itself, and at any rate, that story has been told many times, quoting others extensively. Fall has never spoken publicly about the situation until now.

Link to the rest at Vox

PG wonders why outrage cycles exist and why, with so many intelligent people worried about the damage they cause and the mindless hate they include, we have not discovered a way of short-circuiting them and blunting their impact.

PG wonders why there isn’t an ad hoc anti-outrage group that can leap into action as soon as the beginning of an outrage cycle is detected.

PG doesn’t condone or encourage online bullying, but he can imagine a relatively simple computer script that could fill an outrage bully’s online accounts with so many objections to the wrongful outrage posts/messages that the bully would have more than a little difficulty digging through the incoming objections. Certainly, such action would seem to catch the notice of Twitter, Facebook, etc., etc., that something strange was happening.

An online bully storm seems to be ready to break towards all sorts of different political targets that a reverse anti-bully storm would seem to be equally easy to organize.

Again, PG doesn’t condone group attacks on anyone, but does think that an offender who receives internet-based blow-back for improper attacks on others might be somewhat deterred from conducting further vicious attacks on others.

But PG is a naif about much of this.

In and Out

PG has a time-consuming task to pursue, so he’s likely to be posting at odd hours during the next couple of days.

Nothing terrible has or is likely to happen, but, since PG has not been reliably posting on the hour every hour ever, some may not notice anything at all.

Science journal editor says he quit over China boycott article

From The Guardian:

The editor of a long-established academic journal has said he resigned after his publisher vetoed a call to boycott Chinese science in protest at Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

Prof David Curtis, from University College London’s Genetics Institute, says his resignation as editor-in-chief of the Annals of Human Genetics is an issue of freedom of speech in the face of the science community’s increasing dependence on China.

The Annals was one of five prestigious academic journals, including the Lancet, the BMJ and the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama), that refused to publish an article suggesting that academic journals should take a stance against China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang.

The journals involved have defended rejecting the piece and claimed that a boycott against China would be unfair and counterproductive. They have also denied being unduly deferential to China. But both the Annals publisher, Wiley, and the Lancet did suggest that publication of the letter could pose difficulties for their respective offices in China, the authors claim.

. . . .

Curtis co-authored the article but said he was prevented from publishing it in his own magazine. He handed in his notice last September in protest and then stood down with immediate effect after rejecting submissions from Chinese academics. Only now has he revealed his reasons for quitting.

. . . .

Curtis said: “I resigned because publication of the article was blocked by senior managers at Wiley who should have no say in the content of a scientific journal. I was told that Wiley has got an office in Beijing, the implication being that publication would make it difficult.”

He added: “The publisher has no business telling the editor what they can and can’t publish because of strong interests in China.”

Curtis said the alleged abuses against Uyghur families, including the mass collections of DNA samples without consent, was especially troubling in the field of genetics and for a magazine that was founded in 1925 as the Annals of Eugenics.

He accepted that his position became untenable when he began rejecting submissions from Chinese authors. He told them: “In view of the complicity of the Chinese medical and scientific establishment in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs I am not considering any submissions from China.”

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

PG notes that, in traditional publishing of nearly any type, you’re independent until you’re not.

Here’s a copy of the article that triggered Wiley.

UPDATE: If you don’t see the article embedded below, click here to go to the original.


Not Dead Yet

PG had an unexpectedly busy weekend and apologizes for the lack of postings.

He’s back now and ready to rock.

Full Spectrum

From The Wall Street Journal:

Color is to the eye what birdsong is to the ear: a primal communion between ourselves and nature. The elemental power of color radiates from van Gogh’s shimmering wheat fields; in celestial photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope; and in the Technicolor fantasyscape that bursts onto the screen in “The Wizard of Oz.” Color memories linger in my brain: the ruddy orange of a lunar eclipse; the electric pink of cotton candy; the sky blue of Venus Paradise pencil #27. As I write, a window prism casts a cheery rainbow-stripe that drifts with the hours across my ceiling.

Color perception, and our enjoyment of it, is part of our evolutionary legacy. The human retina is sensitive to wavelengths of light from about 400 to 700 nanometers. (A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.) That spectrum on my ceiling is sunlight deconstructed, with violet at the short-wavelength end, red at the long-wavelength end and other visual colors positioned in between.

The retina not only fixes the bounds of the eye’s sensitivity, it enables us to distinguish one wavelength of light from another. Lining the retina are pigment-containing cells—“cones”—which are stimulated by light of either short wavelength (blue), medium wavelength (green) or long wavelength (red). The relative intensities of light shining upon this trio of receptors trigger electrical impulses within the nervous system that the brain amalgamates into a particular color. This remarkable sight apparatus has figured into the rise of our species from the outset, making color and its perception fertile ground for examination. (Trichromacy is absent in people with red-green color blindness, who are born with two functional color receptors instead of three.)

Adam Rogers has spent several years interrogating the manifold aspects of color and its consequential relationship to human affairs. His book, “Full Spectrum: How the Science of Color Made us Modern,” is an informative and entertaining account of his findings. A deputy editor at Wired and author of “Proof: The Science of Booze,” Mr. Rogers is a seasoned raconteur, unreeling an eons-spanning tale with skill, mixing in didactic material, interviews with experts and whimsy. His admittedly idiosyncratic take on the topic of color ranges widely over art history, geochemistry, physics, neuroscience and global commerce.

. . . .

Until recent decades, there were too few natural or synthetic pigments to accurately and durably render what we see with our own eyes. For example, certain shades of blue and red are difficult to make; the newest blue was developed in 2009, two centuries after the previous blue-pigment discovery. This aesthetic imperative, Mr. Rogers asserts, was a major catalyst for centuries of technological innovation, manufacturing and trade.

The book opens with a chapter on earth tones—reds, yellows, oranges and browns—that, along with white from chalk or calcium carbonate and black from charcoal or manganese dioxide, formed the muted color palette of prehistory. We venture into Blombos Cave, along South Africa’s coast, which was first occupied at least 100,000 years ago and, according to Mr. Rogers, is “the oldest paint-making workshop ever found.” Here and at other Stone Age sites, our forebears converted at-hand natural materials into pigments for body ornamentation and cave art. No chemists these prehistoric artisans, they nonetheless utilized available resources with considerable skill; indeed, Mr. Rogers suggests, they might have supplemented earth tones with “delicate blues made from flower petals, greens from mushed-up grasses, river-mud grays”—all since effaced by time.

Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century, describes “florid” pigments, such as vermilion, Armenian blue, dragon’s blood red and Tyrian purple derived from sea snails. The sublime frescoes of Pompeii, although faded with age, testify to the role of color as a visual emblem of wealth and status in the ancient Roman world. Sourcing raw materials for the decorative arts became a significant driver of both international trade and imperial conquest: Rome established far-flung mining operations to satisfy its demand for pigments.

. . . .

The Middle Ages saw further expansion of available colors for artistic and decorative works. A handbook from the 1390s contained recipes for five different pigments of red, six of yellow, seven of green and a variety of blacks and whites. Another medieval writer described pigments with which to dye horses to increase their value. During the 15th century, painters began blending pigments with linseed or other oils, yielding glossier, more multitextured surfaces than their predecessors’ egg-tempera works.

Scientific research into the nature of light and color during this period, most famously by Isaac Newton in the 1660s and Thomas Young in the early 1800s, paralleled an increase in the use of color in the arts, textiles and cosmetics. Through chemistry and random, if purposeful, admixing, the 1800s proved to be a banner century for the development of new pigments, such as cadmium yellow, arsenic green and the first synthetic organic dye, mauve.

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

fresco recently unearthed in Pompeii
The goddess Victory from the Murecine complex, via Wikimedia

TPV Email Problem on Macs

PG just received the following email from a long-time TPV participant:

For some months now, I’ve had a weird problem with my Passive Voice subscription. Most (not quite all) of the emails are truncated in Apple Mail, a fraction of the way down the email. Fairly obvious when I see six item headings but only the first one or two corresponding posts. Truncation often seems to happen after (if not precisely at) a link, or before an illustration. Usually within a post, not between them.

Of course I can look at the website and see the complete set of posts. What’s really odd, though, if I either “Forward” or “Select All & Copy” the contents of the email, I get the entire thing, the whole set of posts including the otherwise invisible portion.

I don’t know if this is general among Macintosh users, but I’d be curious to know; and if it is specific to my current software versions.

MacOS 10.15.7
Apple Mail 13.4

PG is not a Mac guy, but would very much appreciate knowing if anybody else is having problems with the TPV emails that go out each day with the day’s posts included.

Feel free to reply with issues/solutions in the comments.

Introverted Authors in Public: 4 Tips For Overcoming Your Fear of Being Seen

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

With COVID-19 slowly becoming less of a pandemic, it looks like it might be safe to start gathering again in large groups. This means that it is time for introverted authors to start brushing off their people skills and get ready to meet readers at book fairs and public events.

After 18 months of mostly meeting people through a screen, putting yourself out there is going to be more stressful than ever. But at the same time, it is also crucially important. You need to step out of your comfort zone and go meet people where they are.

Because waiting for them to come to you will stifle your career.

Can Introverted Authors Have Successful Careers Staying Home?

My greatest mistake as a blogger was that I gave in to my fear of meeting people. I should have been actively pursuing every opportunity for publicity, but instead, I let my self-doubt stop me from getting on conference panels, I quietly ducked interviews, and I even let my dislike of noise keep me going to parties during conferences.

I did have a successful career as a blogger, but I also know I would have been bigger and much better well-known if I had overcome my fears (actually, gut-wrenching panic would be a more accurate description).

On the other hand, I have to admit that one of my best years as a web designer was during the lockdown, when I never met people in person and I didn’t even do that many webinars.

While it is possible to have a successful career while staying home, the truth is we need to go where our customers are. I for one plan to take advantage of every chance I have to meet new people and win them over., and authors should do the same.

Yes, you can have a career even though you are avoiding public events, but it would be a shame to pass up opportunities.

How Introverted Authors Can Overcome Their Fears

You will need to overcome your fears, and here are a few ways you can do that.

  1. Toastmasters

One of the easier ways to talk yourself out of promoting yourself in public is to focus on the fact you don’t know what to say or how to introduce yourself. Toastmasters will get you across that hurdle.

This is an organization dedicated to helping its members learn to become public speakers, and not only will they help you learn the basics, they will also help you overcome stage fright and teach you how to cope with unexpected situations.

There are Toastmaster chapters all over the world, including in your neck of the woods. Visit your local chapter, and see if it is right for you.

  1. Writing Clubs

Your local writing club presents an excellent opportunity for you to get used to meeting strangers and talking about your work. Join a club and commit to attending every meeting, and if you get a chance, stand up and talk about yourself.

The clubs I belong to still meet virtually, but they do give every attendee a chance to introduce themselves and talk briefly about what they are writing. This is your chance to practice what you will need to say when you go out in public again.

And once you are comfortable talking to members of the group, you can take things to the next level by either suggesting new activities or programs for the club or even by running for office.

For example, back in December 2020 I was elected president of the Riverside Writers Club in Fredericksburg. We’re still meeting virtually, but even so holding office has forced me to get used to being the center of attention. I run meetings, interface with other officers and the public, and generally have to talk to a lot more people than I was comfortable with.

If your writing club is like mine then it will always be in need of volunteers to help run things; based on my experiences, the clubs never fill all of the officer positions. Volunteer as a candidate, and you will be voted in easily (actually, I was drafted).

  1. Networking Groups

Another great opportunity for you to get used to meeting strangers would be a local networking group. (Some are meeting in person again, yes.)

Whether it’s Meetup or One Million Cups, these groups exist so business people can make new contacts with other business people, and while authors don’t quite fit the mold of the typical group member, a networking group can still be a great resource for authors.

Regularly attending a group’s meetings will get you comfortable talking to strangers, and it will also give you leads on local service providers including graphic designers, printers, computer techs, swag suppliers, and accountants.

If you want additional motivation, try this: These groups can also be a great place to conduct background research for your next book. For example, talking to local lawyers will help you work out the details of a courtroom drama, and there are a hundred other professions that you might want to use in your next book.

A local networking group will count as its members dozens of experts in diverse fields, and all you have to do is have the guts to introduce yourself and ask them questions.

You can find business networking groups through Meetup, Facebook, your local Chamber of Commerce, or through BNI (a networking group franchise organization).

. . . .

Good News and Bad News for Introverted Authors

I have good news and bad news for you about venturing out into public. The bad news is that you can’t stop promoting yourself because the growth of your career will start to slow down or even stall because you are no longer recruiting a new audience.

On the other hand, the good news is that this isn’t something you have to get right the first time around. Fumbling your intro at one meeting is not the end of the world because there is always another event where you can meet new people.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG had no idea that Toastmasters was still in existence, but Nate has always been a reliable guy so PG expects it must be.

PG has never had a problem with public speaking. Some might think that’s because he’s an attorney, but nothing about the standard law school curriculum in most places does much to teach students how to speak in public. And more than a handful of lawyers don’t do it at all in the course of their practices.

(For lawyers who are reading this, PG hasn’t forgotten moot court, but is not aware that participation is required in most (or any) law schools or that more than a small percentage of law students participate.)

PG will note that a lawyer friend of his once remarked that he could go into any first-grade class in the United States and pick out the kids who would grow up to become lawyers. They were the ones who were talking all the time and would never be quiet. (PG realizes he has shared this story more than once on TPV, but he has also shared it more than once in other venues, most often while speaking to groups of lawyers. It always gets a laugh with lawyers.)

PG does have a suggestion that Nate didn’t mention to overcome your fear of public speaking – Take a class on public speaking.

The first place you might check for a class is with a local community college.

PG did a quick search and found an online course in public speaking here

If PG didn’t know anything about public speaking and was nervous about doing so, he would probably try to get an in-person class where the audience for his speeches would typically be his fellow students.

He’s not sure if an online course would be quite the same without live people sitting and watching/listening to someone speak. Speculating, he wonders if the additional emotional and physical distance involved in making an online speech or presentation online would be as effective at overcoming insecurity as in-person speaking. But he’s happy to be persuaded otherwise.

For PG, who has appeared on local television a handful of times, the experience of appearing/speaking/performing in a TV studio is much different than facing a few faces or a lot of faces.

Videoconferences are not exactly the same as sitting in a TV studio, but there is still the lack of ability to really read faces in the audience and connect in (for PG) a more direct way.

(A very long time ago, Marshall McLuhan wrote, “The medium is the message.” The medium of speaking to a group of people in person is a different medium than speaking to a group of people via video.)

One of the advantages PG sees in taking a course in public speaking vs. trying to get speaking gigs at author’s conferences is that there is a teacher involved who can provide tips and suggestions for improving.

Also, in a classroom, students are seeing other students give speeches and, presumably, hearing the teacher give critiques and suggestions, which also contributes to learning by the audience.

An Imaginary (but not unlikely) Fathers’ Day Conversation with my Daughter

From J.P. Kenna:

SHE: Happy Fathers’ Day! And I see your new book is on a free promotion–for five days. On Kindle.

ME: A chance to save $2.99. People should be beating down Amazon’s door! Here I am, hoping people take the bait, read it, then give it a good review. But, myself, I wouldn’t buy it!

SHE: What do you mean? I liked it! And it got two First in Category awards from Chanticleer Reviews. And a 5-star review from Readers’ Favorite. You know what, Dad? You suck at self-promotion!

ME: Guilty as charged! But…I wouldn’t buy it in Kindle form, because I don’t read e-books. Now if people want to spend $14.99 for the “real book” version, something you can curl up with by a fire on a rainy evening, flip the pages, insert a bookmark…

SHE: I know you don’t read e-books. And you’re a Luddite at heart. You hate Social Media. And smart phones. You refuse to text. Not only that, but…

ME: I know what’s coming. That I don’t even like talking on a regular telephone–an 1870’s invention, at that! But I’m not completely hopeless. I have a flip-phone. And I write on a laptop. Oh, and I use email.

SHE: Dad, e-mail is old hat! But I look forward to yours. They’re more like letters than what people send today.

ME: And that explains why you’re one of the select group of people who actually responds to them. E-mail started out as a good thing. Then came so-called smart phones and free texting. Texting is the ruination of written language! The proliferation of I-phones have destroyed the beauty and benefits of solitude! Shoot, now I’m off on a rant. I know you’ve heard all this before.

SHE: And I’ll hear it again–and more! That smart phones have altered the brains of us Gen Y’s and Millennials. Just as TV did for yours. You told me that!

ME: And I stand by it. Digitalization is sending the written word down the tube, just as TV has ruined spoken conversation–and human interaction in general! That’s why we raised you and your sister without television. And always had lots of books around.

SHE: And raised us on a small farm. And we always had plenty of healthy food. And you had a working team of horses. You once told me that Mom was being Adele Davis and you were aping Wendell Berry.

Link to the rest at J.P. Kenna

‘It has saved countless lives’: readers’ picks of the best books this century

From The Guardian:

After we published our list of the greatest books since 2000, you sent in your own suggestions – from Chinese sci-fi to a history of music.

. . . .

London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd (2000) made me fall in love with London all over again. The blood of the city’s history soaked into the clay. Quiet hidden corners, conspiratorial whispers in coffee houses, the dirty Thames and the Great Stink. Invasions, bridges, fires and fog. It’s a very human tale told with the verve of a novelist, the detail of a diarist and the grace of a poet.” – dylan37

“The one novel I’ve read from the century to date that I am sure will stay with me for the rest of my life, for personal as well as for general reasons, is The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller (translated by Philip Boehm in 2012). It was published in German as Atemschaukel in 2009, just before she (deservedly) won the Nobel prize for literature. It’s an extraordinarily dense and poetic work and one that seems to transcend language – so perfectly written that text and idea are fused, yet still overflowing with humanity.” – nilpferd

. . . .

“Very surprised not to see any of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy (2008-2015). Historical writing very much for our time, set in the 1830s when drugs, capital, indentured labour and languages themselves were moving across the seas between Britain, India and China. Ghosh juggles the fates of multiple and memorable British, Indian and Chinese characters with some glorious writing, especially about ships and the sea.” – bertilek

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003) is one of the most disturbing, unstoppable and unforgettable books I’ve ever read. Incredibly well written and a sucker punch twist at the end.” – MajorJackCelliers

. . . .

“Was waiting and waiting for Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (2015) to appear. Very intelligently written, beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming and SO important – it has saved countless lives. Can’t imagine a more important book.” – gadget

Link to the rest at The Guardian

How Stories Change When They Move From Page to Voice

From LitHub:

To all intents and purposes, a psychoanalyst’s couch is in fact a bed—after all, it lacks a back and armrests. And yet, this item of furniture must be called a couch. Nobody would offload their traumas on a psychoanalyst’s bed unless, that is, they were in a relationship with said psychoanalyst.

In October 2019, I found myself sitting in the Silencio recording studios, headphones over my ears, reading aloud my novel My Friend Natalia, which had been published in Finland six months earlier.

“‘Natalia’ was one of my first clients to lie on her back without prompting,” I read and continued: “When I showed her round my office, which I had rented in an apartment next to my house, I told her about the couch.”

These two consecutive sentences are from the opening chapter of the novel. Reading these sentences aloud irrevocably sprained something in my brain.

When one reads a book aloud as an audiobook, the visual aspects of the text all disappear. Of course, one could read the word couch, which appears in italics, in a slightly different way, perhaps by holding a short, artistic pause before the word. But this is not the same thing. Italics are not the same as a short pause.

The therapist, the book’s narrator, gives the patient the code-name “Natalia.” Under the cover of this anonymity, the therapist then proceeds to divulge intimate details of Natalia’s life to the reader, then at one point removes the inverted commas from Natalia’s name “as I might remove the safety catch from a gun”. When read aloud, this sentence is absurd: the listener cannot hear the inverted commas around Natalia’s name.


Let’s be clear: I am very skeptical about the practice of turning works of literature into audio recordings.

If audiobooks become the primary way in which we interact with books, it would be strange if at some point this did not have a direct impact on how people write literary works.

Will writers—either consciously or subconsciously—start writing books so that they sound good when read aloud? The succinct speech between Me (the writer) and You (the reader) works well when spoken aloud, so the current appetite for autofiction is unlikely to dwindle any time soon. A linear narrative, in which we already know (or think we know) something about the end point, is also easy to listen to. For this reason, celebrity autobiographies and so-called true stories make for successful audiobooks.

However, complex narrative structures, shifting perspectives, narrative polyphony, long, meandering sentences and the visual aspects of a text find themselves increasingly under threat from a medium that relies solely on hearing. If linear narrative becomes the only acceptable form of complex literary expression, our thoughts will be the poorer for it. Imaginary worlds and possibilities will shrink because such worlds and possibilities are not “content” that can be detached from “form,” they are not statements, suggestions or questions isolated from their rhetorical devices.


That being said, I’m not a militant opponent of audiobooks. To my mind, it is simply important to recognize that there is a significant difference between the printed book and the audiobook. Written material turns into vibration, letters become sound waves. They always come from a concrete source that guides our interpretation, a source that is completely different from the reading process heard through our “inner voice.”

A new element appears between the book and its recipient: a voice that shapes how we receive the text. It is a sound born of a human body in a unique way and that is (generally) readily identifiable as the voice of a man or a woman.

In the audiobook of My Friend Natalia, this unavoidable fact becomes a poetic problem in its own right. Throughout the text, I have scattered conflicting clues as to the sex of the therapist, the novel’s first-person narrator, but I was careful never to define the therapist as either a man or a woman. With certain exceptions, in many languages a writer and a translator can easily disguise or at least avoid the matter of the narrator’s sex. A writer can also play with this ambiguity, as is the case in my novel My Friend Natalia.

. . . .

Some readers have been convinced that the narrator is a man, others have considered the therapist a woman. Several readers have told me that their perception of the matter changed as they were reading. Readers always read a text through the prism of their own experiences, preconceptions and cultural stereotypes.

For this reason, I wanted to read the Finnish audiobook of My Friend Natalia myself. I am a woman, but because I am the book’s author my voice is above all an authorial voice, and in this way I feel I managed to resolve the dilemma described above.

Link to the rest at LitHub

Perhaps PG is a bit cranky today, but this all sounds like mountain/molehill anguish to him.

In the first place, women have done a perfectly good job of performing men in audiobooks (and on stage) for a good long time. Ditto for men performing women.

Strictly speaking, when a person reads a book, the story takes place in the reader’s head regardless of what the author intended while he/she was creating it.

Finally, the word is not the thing. The author uses words to describe things, people, exterior and interior behavior, etc., etc. If the author does a good job, readers will enjoy reading the author’s words and the images, thoughts and emotions that the process of reading those words causes to come into a reader’s mind.

One reason that love in its various manifestations is so popular in stories people write is that a great many readers enjoy the experience and emotions that are engendered by such stories when they are well-written.

That said, the words on the page (or screen) are just words on the page.

An author can have complete control over the words on the page so long as she/he keeps those words for him/herself.

Once the author turns those words loose on the world, it’s foolish and egotistical for the author to feel she can control how others understand her words, how they feel about them and what experiences they have with those words and conclusions they draw concerning the imaginary people who are depicted in the words of the story.

As for PG (and he suspects for other readers as well) unless clear from the words, he doesn’t care whether the characters in the story are one gender or another. In most cases not explicitly involving men and women in the story, he doesn’t think in terms of gender. This is especially the case with a narrator.

With respect to audiobooks, PG finds the idea that a woman cannot effectively perform male figures as well as female figures to be ludicrous. Ditto for men performing female characters.

People have been effectively performing the roles of another gender for centuries. Boys or small men almost always performed the women’s parts in the performance of Shakespeare’s plays while he was alive. In ancient Greek theater, the actors had masks that allowed one actor to effectively play the roles of several characters.

The word “theater” comes from the Greek word theatron, which means “seeing place.” The theater is a place where we see what the actors and author of the script want us to see.

The entire assumption behind plays and movies is that the viewer/reader will willingly suspends disbelief to become involved in the story.

In that respect a theatrical performance is no different than reading a book. We lapse into suspended disbelief the moment we read, “It was a dark and stormy night” on a sunny afternoon.

PG has concluded that he is, in fact, a bit cranky. MS Word has been behaving badly on a client project and that has put PG off his usual jolly stride.

See, there PG goes again, personifying a computer program that has no concept of behaving well or poorly. He hasn’t decide if MS Word is male/female/trans, etc., etc., etc.

What We Can—and Can’t—Learn About Louisa May Alcott from Her Teenage Fiction

From The Literary Hub:

Last summer, an unfinished and previously unknown work by American writer Louisa May Alcott was published in The Strand Magazine, a small literary quarterly based in Birmingham, Michigan. 

“Aunt Nellie’s Diary” is not a lost tale about the March sisters, Alcott’s best-known creations. In fact, the unfinished story published in The Strand dates from the very beginning of Alcott’s career, before Little Women or any of its sequels. Discovered in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” was handwritten by Alcott in an 1848 journal, when she was just 17 years old. The story comes in at 9400 words, which is quite long compared to the stories published in the magazines Alcott admired like Godey’s Lady’s Book. (Among the poetry, gossip, advice columns, and essays on fashion, one issue I examined contained several short stories, all well under 7000 words). 

But “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” is still an incomplete fragment, not because the ending was lost or damaged, but because Alcott never finished it. She just stopped writing partway through a sentence: “I begged and prayed she would…” 

Did she get stuck? Bored? Distracted? We have no way to know.

What we do know is that at 17, Alcott was already an ambitious writer. According to biographer Katharine Anthony, at this point Louisa “could write melodramatic fiction with extreme fluency and prolificness.” She’d grown up writing plays with her siblings, which were often performed at family events. By the end of the following year, she’d finish her first novel, The Inheritance—though her first publication, in 1852 would come with a poem called “Sunlight” (under pseudonym “Flora Fairfield”) in Peterson’s Magazine, for which Alcott was paid $5. 

Scholars would class “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” as a piece of “juvenilia,” meaning that it comes from a writer’s youthful period, before finding publication or achieving wider recognition. Arguably, these early pieces can shine a light on crucial moments in a writer’s development, showing their interest in certain themes and highlighting supposed talents as well as deficits not yet overcome.

In The Strand’s introduction to the story, Dr. Daniel Shealy, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, claims that “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” has this kind of appeal, showing readers “an emerging talent on the cusp of a promising career.” 

Alcott’s diaries show that she modeled her early work on the stories that dominated popular magazines at the time. She hoped that commercial success would allow her to make an independent living as a writer. So she closely studied the wildly beloved Sketches of Everyday Life written by Fredrika Bremer. Bremer published stories of independent women travelling through Europe and the Americas, and describing the tangled marriage plots of others. Though called “sketches,” these were not insubstantial works at all—Bremer, sometimes called the “Swedish Jane Austen,” is regarded as an early activist for gender equality and radical for her view that fiction should center less on male characters. Alcott thought her stories were important, and in a memorable scene in Little Women, Alcott depicts Mrs. March reading Bremer’s book to her four daughters. 

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG found a book by the “Swedish Jane Austen” on Amazon.

Be warned, however that it’s one of those scanned-to-kindle out-of-copyright books that, in PG’s limited experience, are terrible reading experiences on a tablet or Kindle device.

When You’re Always Going to Be the Second-Most Famous Writer in Your Marriage

From LitHub:

My wife and I are duking it out for places eight to fifteen within Amazon’s “Spiritual Self Help” category. First she’s number twelve, then nine, while I fall from eight to fifteen, and then we reverse again as the list updates once an hour. You need to sell about fifteen books a day on Amazon to make it onto the Spiritual Self Help list, though neither of us is comfortable with that label. We’re old enough to remember Norman Vincent Peale. But who cares? We’re both Top 10, sort of, in something.

Of course, my wife’s book came out twelve weeks before mine, in early March, and spent its first six weeks on the best seller list—not in Spiritual Self Help, but the somewhat broader category of Hardback Non-Fiction. And not as measured by Amazon, but by the LA Times and the Washington Post. (The New York Times annoyingly shoved her onto their separate Advice, Health, and Self Help list—you can’t be on that and General Non-Fiction—but Annie’s beautiful book on revival and courage, Dusk Night Dawn, entered at number four.) Those lists also happen to include sales in the brick-and-mortar bookstores that her adoring fans prefer.

As an unknown about to self-publish my first book, I’m at quite a disadvantage. She’s Anne Lamott! Legions of fans love her work. Selfies in the airports. M&Ms in the green rooms like a rock star. I’m an ordinary guy no one’s heard of (except as Mr. Anne Lamott) hanging along for the ride, and getting my life stuff done in my own shambly way—her term for me, which I learned on reading her latest book. As an ordinary guy I spend my days on Zoom with clients interested in taming their inner critic, and I garden, take walks, and write a little. That’s about it.

People most often focus on the problem of envy in writing couples, but to a know-it-all (another of Annie’s terms of endearment for me), pity is equally destructive. Especially when I’m the target for pity’s arrow. “Oh, [poor thing] you’re self-publishing? My uncle’s best friend [blowhard] self-published a wonderful [unreadable] book about his life in retail [bo-ring]. We had a little party [his family and mine] to celebrate. Will you have a little party?” What they mean is, “I’m so sorry it’s not good enough for a real publisher.” They are always so sweet and affirming, and I want to hurt them. At times like these I have come to admire my oldest who, when she was two, on greeting her brand-new-from-the-hospital sibling, said innocently, “Mommy, I won’t poke his eyes out.”

. . . .

So if those are our two likely pitfalls, envy and pity, how do Annie and I contain them in our free-flowing dance as Covid newlyweds? Are we Astaire and Rogers, sweeping aside the pains of comparative mind with flow and grace? Not exactly. As it happens, envy and pity just don’t show up so much. Annie mostly denies the existence of her fame, and she’s right. It isn’t around us most of the time, especially when we’re clunkily nested in our sofa watching Swedish noirs. And it isn’t lurking, either. When the Annie I know and love is squinting, reaching around and patting cushions trying to find her glasses again she’s not famous in any way. And why would she pity someone like me who pops up in that annoying way all the time, interrupting her to get her to retweet my last bon mot or join me on a walk during her regularly scheduled daily nap time?

. . . .

It’s not that we’re actually good at avoiding this sort of emotional stuff. It still comes our way regularly, like the moles in my garden. We’re just too old to attend to it; we lack the energy it takes to keep after envy and pity. Getting rid of moles demands a lot of discipline and persistence, and we’ve gotten lazy with age. Let the damn things destroy a little grass again. So if you thought this was going to be about how we handle each other’s place in the book-selling pecking order, as if we were tender and caring about hurt feelings, well, sorry to disappoint you. I know suffering is more fun to read about than couples gloating about how well their marriage works. (Annie asked me to add to that last sentence: “except when one of us is a know-it-all.”) As writers, the deprivation of material in our marriage is our cross to bear. But just to show I can dwell with the best in the land of suffering, let me deliver you a sample. Fortunately for me, it’s my wife’s pain, not my own.

Annie describes it as sheet metal competitiveness. She would welcome obscurity—no more selfies in the lobby of the movie theater, please—just about every single week, with one exception. A new book of hers hitting the market. When launch date arrives, it isn’t just her book that’s released, but also her inner Kardashian. For two months or more, she tracks its progress on the New York Times list and others with the determination of a grim FBI agent on the heels of a serial killer. From her fragmented comments muttered into the air I can piece together complete thoughts: “Entered at No. 3, but second week drifted down to No. 8. OK, but four new entries showed up, of which two won’t have staying power. Maybe there’s hope. Where am I on the LA Times list?”

Link to the rest at LitHub

PG will put Annie’s husband’s book on top and Annie’s latest book on the bottom because Solidarity or something.

It’s All in the Angles

From The Nation:

Nancy Reagan once claimed that she couldn’t get fair press coverage from the women sent to write about her. Perhaps, she speculated, these journalists were jealous of her, “a woman who wears size four” and who has “no trouble staying slim.” Her theory was put to the test when The Saturday Evening Post sent Joan Didion to profile her in 1968, the year that Ronald Reagan, then the governor of California, would lose the Republican presidential primary to Richard Nixon. If not a competition of looks or a comparison of waistbands, then what could have accounted for the resulting article? “Pretty Nancy” followed the style that was then becoming distinctive of Didion’s journalistic prose: a blunt, self-assured series of descriptions and observations that lead the reader to believe she was just writing down what she saw. Here is Nancy pretending to pluck a rhododendron blossom. Here is Nancy finding her light. Here is Nancy wearing “the smile of a woman who seems to be playing out some middle-class American woman’s daydream, circa 1948.”

Nancy, of course, did not like Didion’s profile. She found it sardonic and judgmental and accused Didion of having written the piece before they even met. She couldn’t understand it, she said later. She thought they were having a nice time.

What is it about Joan Didion that seduces and then betrays? In her writing she promises little, and in her public life she offers even less. The title of Didion’s new essay collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, almost seems like the kind of cruel joke one might find in one of her pieces. Has a writer ever been less likely to say just what she means? Across the 12 works included—which span Didion’s entire career from her column in The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1960s and ’70s to one-off essays and reports for The New Yorker to speeches given at her alma mater, as well as introductions to other people’s books—the impression one gets is that of reading a magazine made up of all ledes and kickers. This is the case with “Pretty Nancy,” too. It contains many of Didion’s trademarks. Her sentences often exist as aphorisms, all the more brutal for being brief; her choice of weapon tends to be the direct quote. These tendencies capture something true about her writing in general: Her essays show a writer who attempts a close reading of the powerful people and strange circumstances she encounters but then, when understanding proves difficult, draws back to look at them from a great, flat distance.

. . . .

In Blue Nights, her 2011 memoir about grief, family, and work, Didion said that when she and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, worked on dialogue for their screenplays, they would mark the time a character spent speaking before coming up with the words themselves: What was said was not as important as the rhythm and length of the speech. Her essays also have this novelistic approach. As Hilton Als notes in his foreword to Let Me Tell You What I Mean, “a peculiar aspect of Joan Didion’s nonfiction is that a significant portion of it reads like fiction.” This appears to be the case, however, not because Didion is too imaginative in her journalistic renderings but rather because of her sense of control over the material and her certainty of its meaning, as though nothing happens without her permission.

One finds echoes of this approach in the way Didion circles around the California governor’s wife, the tension hovering in the sharp point she holds back from making. There are inferences into what kind of person Nancy is, what kind of mother her teenage son might see her as, what kind of sycophantic circle a political family might live within. In many ways, Didion casts Nancy in a film of her own making. The writing could serve as cues for a character in a screenplay rather than as descriptions of a real-life woman in a magazine profile.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean includes a kind of corollary to “Pretty Nancy,” Didion’s 2000 profile of Martha Stewart (or, more to the point, of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia LLC), another story of a woman in the business of promising domestic harmony. “This is getting out of the house with a vengeance, and on your own terms,” Didion writes, “the secret dream of any woman who has ever made a success of a PTA cake sale.” Didion’s sentences have a way of taking a person at face value and seeing the way subtle truths lie under glossy surfaces.

Link to the rest at The Nation

Top 10 novels told in a single day

From The Guardian:

Recently I had the good fortune to publish a novel based, in part, on the years I spent working as a plumber. After reading it, some of my new literary friends commented, “Ah, so you’re writing in the circadian tradition, then?” I nodded my head – and dived for a dictionary to discover the meaning of “circadian”. It turns out the word describes the process of going around, of returning. Books set within the confines of 24 hours. A day in the life.

I can’t claim that writing such a work had been my intention. In seeking to bring to life the world of manual labour – a world not over-represented in modern fiction – I’d found it necessary to focus on the minute and the granular. If we can have police procedurals, why can’t we also have plumbing procedurals? And quite quickly this technique of the tight focus, the super closeup, found itself being played out within the characters themselves, and their stories. There’s a freedom, after all, to working within limits, and perhaps the most important limit is time itself. New possibilities for compression open up; opportunities for strange amplifications. Lo and behold, and without quite realising it, I’d created a work of circadian fiction.

Why don’t more writers do it? It sounds common but, in fact, it isn’t. Here I’ve gathered together 10 examples deserving of measurement against the finest atomic clock.

1. Ulysses by James Joyce
You can play Cluedo with Ulysses. If it’s 11am we must be on the strand with Stephen Dedalus, the colour is green and the technique is monologue. If it’s 10pm, we must be in the hospital with Leopold Bloom, the colour is white, and the technique “embryonic development”. And so on. Joyce himself said, “I may have oversystematised Ulysses”. But it’s worth remembering that this book, the numero uno of circadian novels, possibly of all novels, happens also to contain some of the most beautiful descriptive passages written in the English language.

2. The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
Tightening the circadian focus even further, this story is packed, crammed, shoehorned within a single lunch break. Here the ingenious device of the extended footnote animates the internal life of young office worker Howie. Between bouts of “escalatorial happiness” ascending to his workplace, he ruminates on fraying shoelaces, the wonders of perforated paper, ice cubes, Marcus Aurelius and many other micro-matters. A treasure chest of the quotidian.

3. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
Tommy Wilhelm, failed actor with a wife and children to support, has decided to invest his last $700 in lard. His commodities broker is a shady psychiatrist-cum-speculator, Dr Tamkin, who wastes no time in undermining Tommy with his own brand of wild psychoanalytical theory. It’s one more mistake in a long line for Tommy, but like Sisyphus he’s cursed to repeat his errors over and over again.

4. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Mrs Dalloway is throwing a party; it’s over and done during a day and a night in June. There’s an effortless flux between past, present and future here, a sharp clarity, even the occasional moment of playfulness, which is rare in Woolf’s work. Bird’s-eye perspectives of London become intimate views. Eavesdropping abounds – not such a rarity. Mrs Dalloway is the creation of a prose master in top gear; it’s a privilege to be caught in her slipstream.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Apologies for Scanty Posting

PG apologizes for not getting many posts up, but was occupied on some other pressing matters for much of the day and into the evening.

He’ll do better on Thursday.

Can Writers Still Be Readers?

From Writer Unboxed:

All writers begin as readers, right? We fell in love with other people’s stories—where they could take us, what they could do—and then, one day, decided to make a story ourselves. The love of words begins young in some of us, takes longer for others, but has stayed lifelong for nearly every writer I know.

Yet becoming a writer changes our relationship with reading. In my case, since I’m a novelist, it has changed my relationship with novels. I read as much as I ever did, plus some more—reading upcoming novels for potential blurbs, reading other work in my genre, reading my friends’ books, reading for research, reading books to review, and of course, when there’s time, reading for pure pleasure.

But unfortunately, as its position at the end of that list shows, reading for pleasure sometimes has to wait until the other reading is done. The thing we do just for fun becomes something else entirely. That’s one reason I asked the question in the headline—can writers still be readers? Can we still fling ourselves into books, get swept away by them? Can we still disappear entirely into a story someone else has created?

In my case, I find it a challenge. Especially if a book is very successful, I keep slipping out of the story to analyze it from the outside. For example, I read Gone Girl about a year after it came out, and I couldn’t experience the characters as people at all. I wasn’t thinking about why Amy did or said something, but why Gillian Flynn chose to have Amy do or say that thing, which is a very different angle and therefore a very different reading experience. My writer brain was there the entire time, like a lens imposed between me and the writing that I couldn’t set aside.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Readers Angered over Anne Frank Reference in New Hilderbrand Novel

From Publishers Weekly:

Author Elin Hilderbrand has come under fire for a passage in her new book that some readers on social media are calling anti-Semitic. The bestselling writer’s new book Golden Girls was published by Little, Brown on June 1. In it, character Vivian “Vivi” Howe plans to stay in the attic of her friend Savannah’s parents’ home on Nantucket.

As they debate whether or not to ask the parents for approval, Vivi makes reference to Holocaust victim Anne Frank, after which both characters laugh off the comment.

The passage reads: “’You’re suggesting I hide here all summer?” Vivi asks. “Like…like Anne Frank?

The narrator continues, “This makes them both laugh—but is it really funny, and is Vivi so far off base?”

On Instagram, readers criticized Hilderbrand and Little, Brown, calling the scene an example of “casual antisemitism” and demanding action from the publisher. “As a Jewish woman, one who lost 18 members of her family in the holocaust I’m disgusted in you as a publisher that you allowed that line to be published. It’s inexcusable,” Instagram user Cecile Leana wrote.

Hilderbrand responded to numerous complaints by telling readers she had sent them private messages, but also responded openly to at least one reader. “If you read my novel SUMMER OF ’69, you know that I absolutely REVERE the story of Anne Frank,” Hilderbrand wrote. “The line was not a throwaway quip. It was an expression of angst from someone who felt marginalized socioeconomically. But nonetheless if I offended you and/or anyone else, I owe you a huge apology.”

The author wrote that she had a sensitivity reader for the book who had not called attention to the passage. She added that she planned to ask her publisher to excise the passage from the e-book and future print editions.

After initial publication of this article, Hilderbrand posted a formal apology on Instagram. “I want to wholeheartedly apologize for this,” she wrote. “It was meant as hyperbole but was a poor choice, that was offensive and tasteless. I have asked my publisher to remove the passage from digital versions of the book immediately and from all future printings.” Hilderbrand added that she wrote the book for her children. “I want them to be proud of every word,” she wrote.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to W. for the tip.


Participants honored Britain’s long and loud tradition without a single shout

From Atlas Obscura:

“IT’S AN EXTREME SPORT,” SAYS Alistair Chisholm. “The secret is to read the weather forecast, and to wait for that moment when the wind is behind you and your lungs are filled with air, and then off you go!”

The extreme sport is competitive town crying, and Chisholm knows a thing or two about winning: A town crier for a quarter-century in Dorchester, in the southern English county of Dorset, he’s shouted his way to victory at national championships on 10 occasions. But this year, things are very different.

. . . .

“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” The ancient call to attention that starts every cry—derived from the Norman-French word ‘to listen’—was imported during Norman rule, beginning in the 11th century, though town crying likely has much older roots. But the competitive side of the tradition fell silent in 2020. For the first time since the Loyal Company of Town Criers began holding competitions in 1995, all contests were cancelled thanks to the pandemic. This May, the members of the group—one of the largest and most prestigious crier organizations—decided to shout the only way they could: in silence.

Putting pen to paper at the world’s first-ever silent town crier competition, Britain’s loudest citizens would be judged not on the volume and clarity of their shouted cries, but on the content of their written words. And it was anyone’s game to win.

. . . .

Town crying is obviously no longer the most efficient way for authorities to broadcast news to the masses. The historic tradition has evolved into marching at the head of parades and greeting guests at civic functions, dressed in regalia evocative of times past. But as “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” continued to be heard in town squares across the country, criers became curiously competitive. What Chisholm calls an “extreme sport” now sees international events taking place as far afield as Belgium and Bermuda.

Carole Williams, who since 1996 has been town crier for Bishop’s Stortford, a historic market town northeast of London, says that, ordinarily, participants in the competitions are scored on “sustained volume and clarity, and diction and inflection.” Entrants write a cry on a theme that’s provided in advance, then perform it in front of a large crowd (usually made up of other competitors and bemused locals). The cries are generally limited to a count of 140 words, which must include three “Oyez!” at the beginning and “God Save the Queen!” at the end. Some competitions might award marks for accuracy—does the spoken cry match the written submission or has the crier gone freestyle?—and there’s always a prize for best-dressed town crier up for grabs.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

How to troll book people and other gullible romantics

From BookForum:

IN FEBRUARY OF THIS YEAR, the Twitter user @LouiseGluckPoet announced some sad news. “A great loss. Thomas Pynchon dies. He was one of my favorite authors. I have now received the news from my publisher. They want the news to remain secret for a few hours, I don’t know why. However Pynchon has left us and the mystery is useless. Bye my dearest!” The syntax was strange, and the purported impropriety even more so, but nevertheless the author’s bio was definitive: “Poet. Official account.” Her profile said she had joined in November 2020, shortly after Louise Glück had won the Nobel Prize. Perhaps as good a time as any to finally kick back and see what’s up on the World Wide Web. Besides, members of older generations are known for being a little weird online, as anyone who saw the August 2020 photo of Joyce Carol Oates’s blistered, purple foot can attest.

@LouiseGluckPoet’s tweet circulated immediately among the insular communities of people who would care about such a thing, many of whom were so eager to offer their 280-character musings on Pynchon’s top 280 characters that they didn’t seem to notice the announcement was obviously fake. Soon enough @LouiseGluckPoet was chastened by the minor calamity she had caused and followed up with, “Someone deceived me. Thomas Pynchon is alive and well. I apologize.” Many of the premature eulogizers deleted their tweets and quietly moved on. But the credulity of writers online has been measured many times before, most frequently by the Italian journalist Tommaso Debenedetti, who first came to the attention of Americans around 2010, when it became apparent that he’d fabricated interviews with luminaries—among them Philip Roth and John Grisham—in which they seem to criticize Barack Obama. (The interviews were published in Italian in conservative newspapers, so it’s conceivable that the injured parties might never have noticed.) For the past decade, he’s taken to making fake Twitter accounts, often in the names of writers and politicians as well as of entities that might have access to early information about such persons’ deaths; his projects are usually characterized by a “Welcome to my account! Twitter is good!” sort of thing followed by some big-deal breaking news, and the lies are eventually appended with an explanation I imagine spoken in a measured, slightly somber tone: “This account is hoax created by Italian journalist Tommaso Debenedetti.” (The absence of this disclaimer, both self-aggrandizing and somehow fair-minded, is the reason we don’t know whether @LouiseGluckPoet belongs to him, but it probably does.) During the pandemic, he aggravated German speakers with his announcement of the death of Hans Magnus Enzensberger, which was picked up by a Swiss newspaper that sent out a push notification to its followers.

What’s important to note about these hoaxes is that they are absolutely terrible—totally artless, not believable at all, only really a “fool me once” situation if you were born or signed up for a Twitter account yesterday. Their relative success is even more embarrassing when you consider that the targets are supposed to be readers, people who approach language actively, if not critically. We live in a world in which people are constantly lying and cheating for no reward beyond fleeting attention, and in which Louise Glück does not write in ESL. You know this, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The literary world—full of gullible romantics, blinkered narcissists, and people who understand their preferences as inseparable from their souls and therefore never to be insulted—is easy to troll.

UNLIKE INTERNET TERMS that function as metaphors for the physical realm—“link,” “post”—“trolling” defines something that had previously not really had a name but has long been a feature of culture. (“Subtweet,” which refers to the passive-aggressive disparagement of someone without using their name, might also make a useful transition to broader application, so that in two hundred years someone can look up from their phone and say, “Did you know the word ‘subtweet’ originally came from a website? Yeah, it was called ‘Twitter’ . . . ”) A troll is not quite a schemer, or a scammer, or a prankster, or a performance artist; he is a creator of chaos and dissension. If we ignore the trolls who just scream at private citizens for tenuous reasons—and we should just ignore them, because the others are actually interesting—we can say a good troll often performs a critique; his work can be a satire, or merely an “intervention.” The closest preexisting term we had might be “provocateur”—what you become when you age out of “enfant terrible”—but that doesn’t necessarily convey the mischievousness of a troll; provocation is too distant and pretentious for what the troll is after, and indeed the troll seeks to collapse distance and puncture pretentiousness in particular. You might be wondering, “Collapse distance? But trolls are ironic, and irony is distancing. . . . That’s why it’s a scourge in our culture!” This is totally wrong, but I don’t have the space to explain why.

For a troll to work, a portion of the audience must not be in on the joke; trolling is almost always a form of mockery. This can happen directly—most commonly, an anonymous person says you suck in some creative way—or indirectly, by encouraging the trolled to engage in stupid behavior. Stupid behavior may take the form of public outrage or any strong feeling, eventually followed by private embarrassment masked by sputtering justifications. (Death is serious, and shouldn’t be faked!) The cycle repeats. A troll deplores nitpickers, point-missers, hand-raisers, pearl-clutchers, hypocrites, and denialists. He’s also completely willing to engage recklessly in precisely those tactics to get across his message: people are stupid, and they deserve to be mocked. A gross generalization, possibly even despicable—but there is some truth in it. If you don’t agree, you haven’t gotten out enough, and that deserves to be mocked, too.

Link to the rest at BookForum

An Incomplete Survey of Fictional Knitters

From Believer Magazine:

The craft of knitting is such a prominent literary act that a subgenre of literature—called “knit-lit”—has formed. Within this subgenre, there are several motifs, including what is colloquially referred to as “the sweater curse”: the idea that when someone knits a garment for their love interest, the act will seal the demise of their relationship. Knitting a garment by hand is a deeply intimate act, which perhaps explains why authors are attracted to its symbolic potential. Knitting also has an unassuming quality. The act evokes peace and domestic tranquility, and it is often employed to convey these sentiments. A knitter can become a vehicle for change, too, propelling a story forward through their handicraft. A character may weave intricate narrative webs, sometimes suggesting warmth or safety, and other times disguising the places where heartbreak, deceit, and evil may lie. If you look for them, you’ll find them—somebody in the corner, knitting a hat or a scarf, quite possibly something containing the depths of their affections or, just as probable, the names of the people they wish dead.

. . . .

Dr. Seuss, The Lorax:

The Once-ler goes against the Lorax’s wishes and deliberately cuts down every last Truffula tree, decimating the environment in the process, in order to knit and sell Thneeds, in-demand and versatile garments.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield:

Affectionately referred to simply as “Peggotty” (which is another word for a knitting loom, or a “knitting Nancy”), Clara is the warm and caring housekeeper frequently found knitting in her idle time.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women:

The March sisters knit as part of their household duties, which is a point of contention for Jo March: “I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy… and I can only stay at home and knit, like a poky old woman!”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities:

Madame Defarge knits her revenge by encoding in her creations the names of those she wishes to die by guillotine. She is reminiscent of the Greek Fates, who measured man’s lifespan by a length of yarn, the cutting of which symbolized death.

. . . .

Jane Austen, Persuasion:

Mrs. Smith is taught to knit by her nurse, and it becomes a source of joy for the unlucky woman: “As soon as I could use my hands, she taught me to knit, which has been a great amusement; and she put me in the way of making these little thread-cases, pin-cushions, and card-racks…”

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter:

Molly, mother to all, knits Weasley sweaters as annual gifts for friends and family—usually with their initials knit onto the front.

Link to the rest at Believers Magazine

Tennis Is the Opposite of Death: A Proof

From The Paris Review:

Tennis is not the only sport with skew angles. Pool has skew angles and spin and backspin. But pool is murk, pool is cramped in the dark. Soccer has geom­etry and passing shots, but teams, not individual players like tennis. Soccer has sun, like tennis, but also many violences. Football has an ugly sound on TV in the afternoon in a care home. Football is crippling and chunky, as is rugby. Basketball has leaps, suavity, fingertips on pebbled rubber and rubber through a net. But mainly interiors again, mainly night. Cricket has too many points and a bat like a headstone. Baseball has a prospect: all that land. And baseball has apartness, like tennis, but long periods of time where nothing happens, and also that situation of so many players and the sitting and the spitting. Tennis has brutal match lengths and returns and apartness and ongoingness and sunshine. It has one player as an intelligence moving around in space. It has elegance and wreckage and bad manners.

When you were grocery shopping on any Tuesday last winter, the tennis tour was going on. When you were throwing jacks as a child. Years before your player—the player you follow—was born, the tour was going on. The tour was on while you were getting married, dissecting a pig, learning to drive. While you were losing your virginity, the tour was going on, well lit, with player check-ins, catering, ticketing. Workers were misting the clay on the clay courts. Grass courts were seeded, grew, withered, grew again, were watered, were clipped. Stadiums razed, built anew. Roofs that close over stadiums, allowing play to continue if it rains, engineered and installed. The tour was never not going on. Even as you stood in the office supply choosing a lamp bright enough for your father to read his newspaper in the care home.

The served ball comes at your player with rageful intent: its m.p.h. could burn a hole in a racket head. And your player steps up and takes all the rate off it. Your player is your player because no other player reshapes force in quite this way, linking racket tilt and footwork, calibrating wrist swivel by intuitive degree, coordinating approach and angle. It is as if with bare hands your player has stopped a meteor, changing certain destruction into: Here we are sailing on a summer afternoon.

Suddenly you are in an alternate present. The ball is tracing a graceful arc back over the net. It is a kind of communication, your player’s return: a flirting. I’ve ignored that you tried to kill me, says your player’s impossibly gentle slice, and I like you. Tennis is not only sport but spell. By changing force, your player reshapes time.

. . . .

The expressionless ball kid runs expressionlessly crosscourt between points, retrieving balls then kneeling, still. So still as to never have drawn breath: an ancient icon, a carving. Neither lighting up at nor regarding with enmity or appreciation or excitement or admiration or intimidatedness, or any other lifelike aspect, your player.

When ball kids move, they move obviously, to prove, in peripheral vision, that they are not birds or food wrappers or a hat in wind. They toss balls without opinion. They ask their single question with the position of their arms, straight out, semaphores.

Ball kids exist not only to supply your player with balls but also to shade (with umbrella) and guard (insofar as a child can guard) your player, who may ask for another water and another, more bananas, more ice. The inscrutable ball kids can deliver, should you wish, and your player does sometimes, an espresso on court. It will be hot.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

This isn’t the most interesting post PG has made on TPV, but this is the day after a long holiday weekend, the first one during which much of the United States looks almost completely normal after what feels like centuries in Covid-World being ruled by the decrees of Covid Experts, so there’s not a lot going on in the book biz.

Why We Remember Memorial Day

For visitors from outside the United States, the US celebrates today as Memorial Day.

The following is a re-post of 2017 post of the same title.

From historian Victor Davis Hanson via The Wall Street Journal:

A few years ago I was honored to serve briefly on the American Battle Monuments Commission, whose chief duty is the custodianship of American military cemeteries abroad. Over 125,000 American dead now rest in these serene parks, some 26 in 16 countries. Another 94,000 of the missing are commemorated by name only. The graves (mostly fatalities of World Wars I and II) are as perfectly maintained all over the world, from Tunisia to the Philippines, as those of the war dead who rest in the well-manicured acres of the U.S. military cemetery in Arlington, Va.

A world away from the white marble statuary, crosses, Stars of David, noble inscriptions and manicured greenery of these cemeteries is the stark 246-foot wall of polished igneous rock of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the mall in Washington. On its black surfaces are etched 58,307 names of American dead in Vietnam. They are listed in the chronological order of their deaths. The melancholy wall, birthed in bitter controversy at its inception in 1982, emphasizes tragedy more than American confidence in its transcendent values—as if to warn the nation that the agenda of Vietnam was not quite that of 1917 and 1941.

The Vietnam War may have reopened with special starkness the question of how to honor our fallen dead, but it is hardly a new problem in our history. As today’s disputes over the legacy of the Civil War and the Confederacy suggest, it has never been enough just to lament the sacrifice and carnage of our wars, whether successful or failed. We feel the need to honor the war dead but also to make distinctions among them, elevating those who served noble causes while passing judgment on their foes. This is not an exclusively American impulse. It has deep roots in the larger Western tradition of commemoration, and no era—certainly not our own—has managed to escape its complexities and paradoxes.

Our own idea of Memorial Day originated as “Decoration Day,” the post-Civil War tradition, in both the North and the South, of decorating the graves of the war dead. That rite grew out of the shock and trauma of the Civil War. In the conflict’s first major battle at Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) there were likely more American casualties (about 24,000 dead, wounded and missing on both sides) than in all the nation’s prior wars combined since its founding.

The shared ordeal of the Civil War, with some 650,000 fatalities, would eventually demand a unified national day of remembrance. Memorial Day began as an effort to square the circle in honoring America’s dead—without privileging the victors or their cause. The approach of the summer holidays seemed the most appropriate moment to heal our civic wounds. The timing suggested renewal and continuity, whereas an autumn or winter date might add unduly to the grim lamentation of the day.

. . . .

The Western tradition of commemoration also includes a unique idea of individual moral exemption. As first articulated by Pericles, we overlook any defects of character of the war dead, attributing to one brief moment of ultimate sacrifice the power to wash away all prior moral faults.

A noble death serves, in the words of Pericles, as “a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; since the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual.” The great playwright Aeschylus wanted his epitaph to read only that he was a veteran of the Athenian victory at Marathon—a battle where his brother fell.

These themes still resonate in our own habits and rites. This Memorial Day the flags on graves in American cemeteries set the dead apart, in a special moral category that discourages any discussion of the bothersome details of their short lives.

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

Skip the business books this summer, says leadership expert: These 7 works of fiction will offer fresh perspectives

From CNBC:

Business books may be able to explain why it’s important to leverage diverse perspectives, but they tend to be too model-driven to adequately reflect the complexities of the real world. For those insights, especially if you’re in a management position, reach for works of fiction.

I read and recommend fiction when challenging issues arise. Great fiction challenges me with its multifaceted characters in the context of different cultures, identities, conflicts and time periods; this complexity is what many leaders need most to alter their point of view in positive ways.

As a professor of leadership, here are seven literary gems from a diverse set of authors that I’ve read and enjoyed. They make for compelling summer reading and offer some surprising leadership lessons:

1. ‘The Moor’s Account

By Laila Lalami

This historical novel recounts the experiences of the first Black explorer of America, a Moroccan slave renamed Estebanico.

The imagined memoir presents European imperialism from the viewpoint of an unlikely narrator, and reminds me of a critical lesson: All leaders must seek a broad array of perspectives, especially those which society traditionally has devalued, to achieve a more complete picture of reality for their decision-making.

2. ‘To Live

By Yu Hua and Michael Berry

Originally banned in China but later named one of that nation’s most influential books, “To Live” tells the life journey of Fugui, who squanders his fortune and becomes a humble peasant farmer, while being swept up into the arc of China’s history — from civil war to the Cultural Revolution.

The power of this story stopped me in my tracks, and I immediately suggested it to friends and family. It offers a universal lesson that wealth and status can be easily lost.

It’s also a reminder to always consider what others, including colleagues, may have gone (or are going) through — and how it’s probably more than they let on.

3. ‘Moth Smoke

By Mohsin Hamid

This is the debut novel from Mohsin Hamid of Pakistan, who went on to write the internationally acclaimed bestsellers “Exit West” and “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” The action-packed talefollows the misfortunes of Daru, whose life plummets after he’s fired from his banking job.

I make a habit of reading novels that offer an intimate sense of place. I savored how this one delivered a glimpse of modern-day Pakistan through a sharp, at times witty, cautionary tale with a protagonist who specialized in poor decisions and rationalizations.

Link to the rest at CNBC

What the pandemic has done to the arts

From Harper’s:

It doesn’t take a Leonardo-level intellect to figure out that the pandemic has been devastating for the arts economy. Live events were the first things to stop, and they will be the last to return. That means musicians, actors, and dancers, plus all the people who enable them to take the stage—playwrights and choreographers, directors and conductors, lighting designers and makeup artists, roadies, ushers, ticket takers, theater managers—have no way to make a living from their work, and haven’t for more than a year.

Still, I don’t think most of us appreciate just how bad things are. The crisis goes well beyond the performing arts. Surveys published last summer found that 90 percent of independent music venues were in danger of closing for good, but so were a third of museums. In a survey by the Music Workers Alliance, 71 percent of musicians and DJs reported a loss of income of at least 75 percent, and in another, by the Authors Guild, 60 percent of respondents reported losing income, with an average drop of 43 percent. During the third quarter of 2020, unemployment averaged 27 percent among musicians, 52 percent among actors, and 55 percent among dancers. In the first two months of the pandemic, unemployment in the film and sound-recording industries reached 31 percent. Meanwhile, as of September, gallery sales of modern and contemporary art were down by 36 percent. What has been happening across the arts is not a recession. It is not even a depression. It is a catastrophe.

There is another thing the rest of us, the audience, do not fully appreciate: the crisis is rooted in the destruction that was visited upon the arts even before the pandemic—that is, in the scandal of free content, which has been going on for more than twenty years and which implicates us all. The trouble began in 1999 when Napster came along, creating not only the possibility that music could be free, but the belief that it should be. First the price of music was driven to zero or near zero, then so was the price of work in nearly every other medium: text, images, video. Revenues plummeted across the arts. By 2010, sales of recorded music were down by 69 percent.

Artists adapted, because we left them no choice. They learned to make their money from things that can’t be digitized. That meant physical objects and events—especially events. Musicians tour until they drop; two hundred dates a year is typical for an emerging band. With book advances pulverized by Amazon and freelance rates decimated by Google and Facebook (not to mention non-subscribing web readers), authors hit the lecture circuit. Like a lot of visual artists, many writers also teach classes, give workshops, and do residencies. Musicians and comics play cruises and corporate gigs. In an age when everything is mediated, audiences crave events, too. Festivals have multiplied, and so have fan conventions.

As for physical objects, they are often not distinct from events as a revenue stream so much as ancillary to them. Merchandise—posters, T-shirts, stickers, CDs—is a high-margin category for musicians and other performers, but most of it is sold at shows. For authors, talks and workshops juice the sales of books; for visual artists, appearances boost sales of calendars, cards, mugs, and anything else that’s big enough to put an image on. Events are also key to building a base of superfans, people who love your work enough to purchase anything you can sell them. Harness that audience through crowdfunding platforms or other means, and you can garner enough support to stay afloat.

Artists have adapted, yes—the way you adapt to losing a limb. The growth in ticket sales, for example, is still billions of dollars less than the decline in sales of recorded music. There is also the blockbuster phenomenon to consider. Internet traffic is driven by network effects, which means, to put it simply, that the big get bigger and the small get smaller. In 1982, the top 1 percent of musicians earned 26 percent of concert revenue. By 2017, the top 1 percent earned 60 percent. And so it is across the arts: the bestseller lists are dominated by a shrinking number of authors and books; the box office, by an endless procession of big-budget, mega-grossing franchises. And in the visual-art world, as of 2018, just twenty individuals accounted for 64 percent of global sales by living artists. Aside from stars and superstars, nearly everyone is making do with less.

. . . .

There is a belief at large, spread by Silicon Valley and its useful idiots in the media, that there has in fact never been a better time to be an artist. Thanks to faster computers, better software, ubiquitous phones, and the internet itself, production and distribution—of your self-recorded album, self-published novel, independent movie, digital art—are now, respectively, cheap and free. But as any artist can tell you, the biggest expenses involved in making art are not production and distribution—they are staying alive while you do your work and becoming an artist in the first place. In other words, rent and tuition. And those costs, of course, have been soaring for years. Since 2000, median rent has gone up 62 percent in real dollars and student debt has roughly quintupled.

Not only do artists earn less and have to spend more than they did before the platforms came along, they work even harder. Because it’s not enough anymore just to make your art—already a difficult task if you’re going to do it well enough to have a career. The same forces that have bled the incomes of artists have also shrunk the profits of the companies—publishers, record labels, and so forth—through which they earn, or used to earn, their living. As the culture industry contracts, artists are left to replicate its functions on their own. Artists are now single-person small businesses, complete with marketing, accounting, and logistics departments. They not only create and perform, they produce, design, manage, distribute, and publicize incessantly. The idea persists that artists are lazy. In fact, the ones I’ve talked to work as hard as anyone I’ve ever met, often all day, every day, for years on end. Their life is a constant hustle and—thanks in great measure to Silicon Valley and to an audience accustomed to free art—often a constant struggle, too.

. . . .

You can’t just pick up your art career, eighteen months later, from the place you dropped it. There’s no job to go back to; the job is you. Momentum, once lost, must be laboriously regained. You’re the only one pulling the cart, and the cart starts rolling backward the instant you stop. After hustling nonstop for fifteen years, Maldonado was close to making it to Broadway, where the pay is many times better than what he had been earning. Turkuaz toured relentlessly when they were starting out, logging as many as 260 days a year on the road. They started getting real traction around 2015, selling out thousand-seat theaters and receiving prominent billing at festivals such as Red Rocks, near Denver, and Jazz Fest, in New Orleans. In 2019, Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads chose Turkuaz to collaborate on a fortieth-anniversary tour of Remain in Light, the band’s landmark 1980 album. Like scores of other dates the band had planned for 2020, that breakout opportunity, of course, was postponed.

Mamie Tinkler, a painter living in New York, grew up in Tennessee without a lot of money. She has always had a full-time job—in a gallery, as the coordinator of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, and now as the studio manager for the artist Matthew Barney—which means that she has never had as much time as wealthier peers to develop her work. At forty-two, Tinkler opened her first solo show in New York, a milestone in the career of any artist, on March 14, 2020. The next day, the gallery closed to the general public.

The paintings were “by far the best work I had ever made,” Tinkler said. Not that she had been hoping for miracles; she’d been around the art world long enough to temper her expectations about what the show would accomplish. There’s always a voice inside, she acknowledged, that says, “Oh my God, everybody’s going to finally realize what a great artist I am,” but realistically, “it’s more a feeling that you want the work to start working for you instead of you having to constantly be out in the world pushing your work forward.” It was “profoundly disappointing,” she said, to have the show “just disappear like that.”

Link to the rest at Harper’s

Should we censor art?

From Aeon:

In 1970, Allen Jones exhibited Hatstand, Table, and Chair: three sculptures of women wearing fetish clothing, posed as pieces of furniture. The sculptures were met with protests and stink-bomb attacks, particularly from feminists, who argued that the works objectified women. Despite the artist’s intentions for this piece – he has since identified as a feminist – the installation became part of an artistic narrative that has, historically, reduced women to passive objects in painting and sculpture.

In 2014, Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B (2012) was shut down at the Barbican in London after protests caused ‘security concerns’. The installation, based on 19th- and early 20th-century ‘human zoos’, showed Black people on display, chained and restrained. Even though the artist – a white South African man – intended the work to expose historic racist and imperialist violence, protesters implored the gallery to censor it: ‘Caged Black People Is Not Art’ read one banner.

And in 2019, an exhibition of Gauguin’s portraits opened at the National Gallery in London with a public debate to address ethical concerns about the artist and his work. Paul Gauguin was a sexual predator, and when in the South Pacific – where he created some of his best-known paintings – he used his colonial and patriarchal privilege to sexually abuse girls as young as 13, knowingly infecting them with syphilis. Indeed, many of us struggle to reconcile an artist’s appalling behaviour with their art: Pablo Picasso was, like Gaugin, a sexual predator, and a misogynist; Leni Riefenstahl was a Nazi and exploited Romani people in her filmmaking; and the sculptor Eric Gill was a paedophile. Often, we can sense the artist’s moral character in their works: Picasso’s views about women, for example, can be detected in many of his late portraits due to his manner of depiction.

These cases, among many more, show that, far from being innocuous objects hidden away in museums and white cubes, artworks are historically informed objects that do things and say things. Artworks are created by people in particular times, responding to specific events and ideals. In The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (1981), the philosopher Arthur Danto observed this with his thought experiment: a series of indiscernible red canvases could conceivably constitute completely different artworks, depending on their title, context of presentation, and so on. There is more to a painting or sculpture than its aesthetic forms of colour, line and shape. External properties, such as the artist’s identity and relevant events during the work’s creation, must be considered to fully understand the work. Just how much the artist’s intentions for their art determine that artwork’s meaning is a deep question – one that I can’t answer here. But, in general, most philosophers agree that an artwork can admit of many interpretations, and its meaning often diverges from what the artist intended. Crucially, artworks are communicative objects, the messages of which are partly determined by the surrounding context and are sometimes different to what the artist had in mind.

. . . .

In particular, artworks can express sentiments, including moral ones, through their contextual and visual handling of subject matter. Note how the composition of Titian’s Rape of Europa (1559-62) – painted in a time when sexual violence was often eroticised in art – blurs the lines between refusal and consent. The depicted abduction before the impending sex shows Europa in a precarious – non-consensual – posture. Her erogenous zones are foregrounded, and the event is surrounded with sensuous textures: soft flesh, wet clothing, frothing foam. As the philosopher A W Eaton argues, this painting eroticises the rape it depicts, glamorising an uneven power dynamic that peddles the myth that rape is erotically charged. Indeed, Titian intended his painting to be erotic, outlining in a letter his goal for it to have erotic appeal for the male viewer.

The Rape of Europa (c1559-62) by Titian. Courtesy the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Relatedly, it’s been argued that artworks – particularly pictorial ones – can be the equivalent of ‘speech acts’ – that is, they can be used to do things, such as protest or endorse something. Picasso’s Guernica (1937), which depicts the Luftwaffe air raid that destroyed the town in the Spanish Civil War, has been described as a desolate ‘protest-painting’ and a ‘powerful antiwar statement’. Such actions – protesting, stating – are things we normally do with words. When we speak, we don’t merely express meanings; our words also have what J L Austin in 1955 called ‘illocutionary force’. When an officer shouts to her troops: ‘Open fire!’, she’s ordering them to shoot. But for an utterance to have a particular force, it needs to satisfy certain conditions. To order her troops to fire, the officer must have authority, and she must use words her troops can understand.

While Austin was mainly concerned with linguistic speech acts, he noted how they can also be nonverbally performed: consider silent protests or greeting another person by smiling. Such gestures must still be understood and recognised – what Austin called ‘conventional’. There are conventional gestures within artmaking and curatorial display, too. Recognisable methods of depiction with particular use of perspective and light, visual metaphors, iconographic symbols and curatorial conventions governing display will facilitate a work’s performance of speech acts.

If artworks can be speech acts or, at least, can express meanings with certain forces such as assertion and protest (a claim that requires further defence than I can give here), then presumably they can be harmful acts too, such as in straightforward hate speech – in racist, misogynistic or homophobic language. Hate speech constitutes and sometimes incites violence towards its target group. The utterance of ‘Blacks are not permitted to vote’ by a legislator during apartheid subordinates Black people; it ranks them as inferior, legitimates discrimination, and deprives them of important powers.

In parallel to this are the statues of slave traders and white supremacists. These public memorials don’t just represent a particular person – they literally put them on a pedestal. Through various aesthetic conventions, statues commemorate and glamorise the person and their actions and, in doing this, they rank people of colour as inferior, legitimising racial hatred. As the mayor of London Sadiq Khan said after a monument to the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was torn down in Bristol in June 2020: ‘Imagine what it’s like as a Black person to walk past a statue of somebody who enslaved your ancestors. And we are commemorating them – celebrating them – as icons…’ And look again at Jones’s sculptures. The male artist depicted women as furniture within a society where women are still treated as secondary citizens. Regardless of the artist’s intentions, it’s thus plausible to interpret the work as amounting to a kind of sexist speech: it subordinates women by depicting us as household objects, ranking us as inferior and legitimising misogynistic attitudes.

Artworks speak, act and have concrete consequences for people’s lives. Recognising artistic speech or expression reveals a distinctive potential harm towards marginalised groups. So how should we manage it?

Link to the rest at Aeon

PG notes that nobody was raped to create Titian’s painting. Nobody was enslaved to create the statues of slave traders and white supremacists.

“Speech acts” are a contradiction in terms. Speech is speech and acts are acts. Anyone can speak without acting or act without speaking about it first.

Under English Common Law (and that Common Law as incorporated in the legal systems of many states in the US), very few types of speech are inherently punishable. One of the main exceptions is speech that incites, or is likely to lead to, violence or illegal actions. There has to be a close relationship between such speech and the harmful actions it incites.

In a hundred-year-old US Supreme Court case, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote: “The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” Holmes cited the example of a person who falsely shouts “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, causing a panic.

The fire-in-a-crowded-theater statement of Justice Holmes was not particularly on point for most types of disagreeable speech that some authorities attempted to ban. In Hess v. Indiana (1973), the Court provided a more useful test in holding that before an individual’s speech could fall under the unprotected category of incitement to imminent lawless action, the speech must lead to “imminent disorder.”

To be frank, PG must admit that (in his loudly humble opinion) the courts still have some work to do to perfect a clear standard between speech that a government entity can prohibit and speech which it cannot.

However, PG is quite comfortable that speech which does not have a clear causal connection to some sort of illegal action on the part of those to perceive the speech is not something that anyone should try to prevent on a general basis, with or without government assistance.

Bringing this back to Titian, PG is not aware of anyone who has seriously argued that his painting was ever an incitement to an actual sexual assault. He is also not aware of any serious argument that a statue of a slave trader ever caused someone to enslave someone else.

PG suggests that the argument that an artistic expression in whatever form should be officially suppressed because it might make someone feel bad is the slipperiest of slippery slopes.

In order to justify any sort of public action to remove the art object, the relevant government authorities have to assign a higher value to one person’s or one group’s reaction to the object than is assigned to the value of the responses of others who aren’t bothered by the object or simply ignore it because it’s unimportant to them.

PG is not necessarily opposed to a referendum in which the majority of the relevant residents of a community vote to remove a statue which is in general public view in the community and which is owned by the community.

He is concerned when a small group of people with sensibilities that are not shared by the larger mass of those who view an object create some artificial and abstract construct like a “speech act” as a basis for destroying or removing an object that is enjoyed or regarded as harmless by a much larger group of people. For him, there is always a whiff of dictatorship floating around the activities of such groups that is profoundly disturbing.

For authors, is to write about a slaver the equivalent of promoting slavery or to depict powerful sexual arousal on the part of a woman when she encounters a highly-attractive man (or woman) the equivalent of illegal or punishable actions on the part of the individual who writes such descriptions?

As usual, PG is happy to have any shortcomings in his blathering pointed out. He does hope that his blathering is not regarded as the equivalent of any sort of act on his part.

Recalling a Free Speech Landmark

From Publishers Weekly:

In May 1953, 25 publishers and librarians met at a country club in Westchester County, N.Y., to create the “Freedom to Read Statement.” The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its peak. Americans who were considered disloyal were being fired based on the books they read, the music they liked, and the art that hung on their walls. In Oklahoma, librarian Ruth Brown was dismissed for subscribing to the Nation, the New Republic, Soviet Russia Today, the Negro Digest, and Consumer Reports.

The authors of the “Freedom to Read Statement” explained that they were responding to the growing popular sentiment “that our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety and national security.” Librarians at the American Library Association convention in June adopted the statement overwhelmingly. The New York Times called it one of “America’s outstanding state papers” and joined the Washington Post in publishing the full text.

We are living through another age of deep ideological division. Many people sincerely believe that the best way to fight ideas they consider dangerous is to deny them an airing—or as we now say, “a platform.”

Book publishers are once again under intense pressure to engage in censorship. And I don’t use that word carelessly. Censorship involves more than the government suppression that is banned by the First Amendment. Private companies play a critical role in protecting free speech.

Many people in publishing are unhappy with their employers and rightly complain about the lack of diversity at all levels of the industry. They also strongly object to their companies publishing books that they believe are harmful, even dangerous. Amplified by vocal support on social media, these critics are having an impact. Contracts have been canceled. Books have been withdrawn from publication.

At a time when a new civil rights movement is demanding an end to centuries of injustice, it is easy to lose sight of the importance—and fragility—of the freedom to read. This freedom is actually a recent development in American history. The battle to read what we want began in the 1920s and won its major legal victories in the ’50s and ’60s.

If we are to preserve this crucial liberty, we must continue to defend the principles set forth in the “Freedom to Read Statement”:

1. “It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous.”

2. “Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated.”

3. “It is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to bar access to writings on the basis of personal history or political affiliations of the author.”

4. “It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians, as guardians of the people’s freedom to read, to contest encroachments upon that freedom by individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large.”

5. “It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians to give full meaning to the freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality and diversity of thought and expression. By the exercise of this affirmative responsibility, they can demonstrate that the answer to a ‘bad’ book is a good one, the answer to a ‘bad’ idea is a good one.”

The claim that the best answer to bad speech is more speech seems naive to many of us who have seen the power of social media to spread misinformation and outright lies. But the publishers and librarians who gathered in Westchester readily acknowledged the perils of free speech: “We do not state these propositions in the comfortable belief that what people read is unimportant,” they wrote. “We believe that what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society.”

As the statement concludes: “Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Something Is Wrong with the Way I Look

From The Offing:

I have always felt a certain affinity with Polyphemus, the cyclops that Odysseus meets on his journey home to Ithaca. This creature, this one-eyed shepherd, this son of Poseidon, is made to be a monster in Odysseus’ account of his travels. In The Odyssey, we hear the story of Polyphemus and his single eye only through Odysseus’ own words, as he recounts his journey to Alcinous. Odysseus tells us about this thing, who not only flouts social custom, but whose body, whose single eye, marks him as different, but whose body, whose single eye, marks him as different.

. . . .

A group of us gathered at the lake, the sun barely starting to dip down below the horizon. I showed up late; everyone else was already drunk. I had moved to this town, to this graduate writing program in the South, a handful of weeks earlier and still did not know how to speak in these groups. The town was so small, the program so small, that when one person said or did something, it got out, got to everyone.

One of the other people new to the town was sitting on a small wooden pier, their legs dangling in the water, facing the swimmers, their back to those of us still on land. “Ryan Gosling isn’t even that attractive,” they were saying. “Have you looked at his face? His eyes are crossed. It’s so ugly.” Someone laughed. I did not say anything, and no one else did either.

It’s easy sometimes, to forget. That my eyes have a name. That people might look at me and assume something. That people look at me and get uncomfortable, look away. Ugly, they might think to themselves, ugly.

The technical term for it is strabismus. What it is, really, is that my eyes are out of balance, out of sync. A message from my brain to the muscles around my eyeballs is disrupted, ill received. My eyes don’t work together. I can only look out of one eye at a time, and whichever eye I am not using can drift, can float, can point in another direction.

. . . .

When I was four or five years old, my mother dropped me off at a hair salon at the mall while she went to return something at another store. They cut and cut, while I sat and watched, too shy to say anything, trusting that these adults knew what they were doing. When my mother returned, my hair was sheared down to a soft, light fuzz.

“She looks like a cancer patient,” my father said when we got home. I did not know what that meant, but I knew it was bad.

At the open house the kindergarten hosted for children and families to explore the rooms and meet the staff, I wore my favorite hat, bright pink and covered in drawings of butterflies.

“Remember,” the teacher said, “no hats allowed in school.” I looked up at my mother, to ask confirmation. I did not want to be the girl who looked like a cancer patient, whose eyes made everyone uncomfortable. I did not want to be seen as abnormal. I wanted to blend in, to be unnoticed.

Most of the time, people don’t mention it unless I bring it up first. “Have you noticed my eyes?” I’ll ask, and it comes pouring out, what they thought it might have been, what they think about it. More than one partner has said it’s endearing, it’s cute. We are always in bed when it happens, and they tell me it was hard, at first, talking to me, knowing which eye to look in. I never know what to say to that.

“You know how, if you line up your finger with something, and close one eye, the perspective shifts?” I ask. I demonstrate, holding up a finger, lining it up with the edge of a window. “And depending on which eye you have open, it looks like your finger lines up to a different place? I can do that without closing my eyes.” They hold up a finger to try, and then turn to watch my eyes. I do it, to check, to make sure. I am so used to the way my eyes are, I start to doubt that how I see the world is really that different, that there is something strange in the way I look.

One summer in high school, I got a job at the only coffee shop in our small Iowa town. I was behind the counter when a child looked up at me and said, “Mom, what’s wrong with her face?” I blinked down at them and wanted to believe they were talking about my eyes.

In college, I was working the late shift at the bookstore-slash-late-night-snack-shop. A boy came in who I had met, once, years before. “Hey,” he said, paying for his snacks, “I can do that too.” His facial muscles strained, and his eyes pointed inwards towards each other.

“Oh,” I said. “Okay.” When he left, I was alone in the store. I put my head down on the counter. Was that how people saw me?

. . . .

Theocritus is called the father of pastoral poetry. Born sometime around 300 B.C., he wrote bucolic poems, tranquil verses set in the Greek countryside. One of these poems is from the perspective of Polyphemus, set before Odysseus lands on the cyclops’ island. Polyphemus serenades a water nymph with whom he has fallen in love, saying:

I know, my beautiful girl, why you run from me: / A shaggy brow spreads right across my face / From ear to ear in one unbroken line. Below is a / single eye, and above my lips is set a broad flat nose. / Such may be my looks, but I pasture a thousand beasts, / And I drink the best of the milk I get from them. / Cheese too I have in abundance, in summer and autumn / And even at winter’s end; my racks are always laden.…

Polyphemus knows he is ugly, that his single eye is his defining physical characteristic. But here, in Theocritus’ poem, he is a sweet, almost silly creature, telling his love that she could eat his very own homemade cheese in every season, if only she would come be with him.

Though Polyphemus acknowledges his physical difference, it is only when Odysseus arrives, when we hear the story through Odysseus’ perspective that we understand the cyclops to be a monster.

The things that make some people grimace, look away, and use words like “ugly,” like “monster,” are often things that are just different from a perceived norm. As Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock writes, “…monstrosity is a socially constructed category reflecting culturally specific anxieties and desires…” We name things monster, ugly, to let the world know that these things are not us.

It is only in Odysseus’ perception that Polyphemus is made monster. Shift the perspective, and he is just a creature with eyes that look different, a self-conscious shepherd, a besotted cheesemaker.

On my face, sometimes, it is small. A facial tick. It is there, needling. The question, the suspicion. Is that pity in a person’s eyes when they look at me? Do they wonder to themselves what is wrong with my face? Do they talk about it when I’m not in the room? Do they bite their tongues on the knowledge that I am ugly in a way that is permanent, unfixable?

Link to the rest at The Offing

Like Sands Through the Hourglass

From Public Books:

My nine-year-old, S, spends substantially more time online these days, because that is where he sees his friends, and he is at the age where play is his primary form of friendship. They are usually meeting up in Minecraft—the ubiquitous blocky building environment—running on a shared private server, which is to say that they play in the digital playground they have built for themselves. S moved with us to a new state and started at a new school during the pandemic, so he plays with a combination of kids from his old school and his new classmates, whom he’s never met in person. It works.

But lately I am noticing how much less they are building together. Now they mainly run. Run and run from mission to mission, making it up as they go along. It’s like the tag I remember from my own youth, last tastes of wild before the streetlights came on, just a reason to run and yell and leap toward even the smallest horizon.

This, I suppose, has been the grand transposition. For many of us, daily life is now even more heavily delivered through screens. The computer world is the place of the daily grind, and now we struggle to moderate and manage our time out in the flesh world. During their game time, the kids use videoconferencing like Zoom to talk and to sort of feel each other’s presence, but they seldom use their faces. When I peek in on my older child’s classes, I see rows of partly obscured teenage faces. My own child is mainly a forehead with a shock of fluff atop.

The kids are there. But they also seem to have entered a generational compact regarding what that presence should look like. They are trying to force Zoom life back into alignment with their other experiences of digital self-representation, with all the complexities of control, capture, and release pertaining. They have mastered the art of sending forth their appropriate representatives into Zoom space, and I admire them.

But they also suffer. What day is it? What time is it? We are a household of students and teachers, so of course we actually know; our schedules are as full as on any prepandemic day. But then why does it always feel like time has become unknowable? My guess is that if we were to experience time, we would also have to compute many other scales and quantities, and such a deepening of life’s map would be unbearable.

It’s like an amplified version of when you have a job that requires radically different hours from the people around you. The rhythms are all off, and it’s difficult to communicate the nature of the difference—the different nature, the nature you now inhabit—because even the patterns of your when and how and why are so much at a distance from everyone else. Sunrise becomes your bedtime, and you work hard never to think about what you are missing, because it is seldom that you get to be there when.

This is our place. This digitized where is who we are in this moment. I wonder what my children will remember, the deep sea of their experience spanned across the common space of their screens, spatially edged, temporally edgeless.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Silent Witnesses: Writing About Medieval Women

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

– ‘Name Six English Queens.’ –

Faced with this question at a Pub Quiz Night, most teams would make a fairly accurate stab at it. Elizabeth I. Bloody Mary. Queen Victoria.  Elizabeth II. A guess at the wives of Henry VIII, beginning with Anne Boleyn.

Not one of them a medieval English queen.

Why is it that so many of these wives of our early English kings have remained almost invisible, while the sins or exploits of their husbands are legendary? King John is notorious but few would claim to know much about Isabelle of Angouleme. Richard II, brilliant, usurped, and tragic, yet Isabelle de Valois hardly makes a mark. Edward I, Hammer of the Scots, built castles and led his armies. Who can relate more than the basic facts about Eleanor of Castile other than the romantic tale of Eleanor Crosses erected by her grief-stricken husband, which probably says more about Edward than about Eleanor. 

Were these medieval women, and those of the aristocracy, so lacking in authority, in influence, or even in intelligence that they should become anonymous, a mere footnote on a page? Were they uneducated, fit for nothing but to be decorative witnesses to the daring or desperate ventures of their husbands? The impression is that medieval women of the aristocratic class remained solar-bound, waiting for their men-folk to return from war, plying a needle as they sang and prayed and gossiped in a feminine world. We are led to believe that they had nothing to say about what they and their regal husbands were doing. 

The answer is simple enough. They are rendered silent because they lived in a man’s world, written by men, about the feats of men. Women are rarely given a voice, not even royal women, except for the very few, such as the infamous Eleanor of Aquitaine whom it was difficult to silence, yet even she was incarcerated by an enraged Henry II for stirring rebellion amongst their sons. Women are recorded for us in their relationships with men: a daughter, a sister, a wife, a cousin. Thus our medieval women are skeletons without flesh, two dimensional in their lack of character, without even a physical description since medieval portraits are rare.  

As Virginia Wolfe once said: ‘For most of History, Anonymous was a woman.’ For this reason, I decided to shake the cobwebs from some of these medieval women of interest and allow them to take the stage, three-dimensional and with much to say.

Here they are:

Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker, a pawn in the game of marriage and power-brokering, but from a family not notable for its silence. Alice Perrers, ambitiously scheming mistress of King Edward III, but also a smart business-woman. Katherine de Valois, a naive political bride for Henry V who managed to snatch some happiness when she found the strength to take Owen Tudor into her tragic life.  Katherine Swynford whose liaison with John of Gaunt was not a light-hearted love affair, but a scandal of sinful proportions. Elizabeth of Lancaster, dragged into the depths of treason by her marriage to John Holland, thus her husband set in conflict against her brother the King.  Joan of Kent, notable for her clandestine marriages, but worthy of so much more in the manipulation of power.

Elizabeth Mortimer, forceful wife of the infamous Hotspur. Invisible Queen Joanna of England and treacherous Constance of York, both women of some reputation. Cecily Neville, doyenne of the Wars of the Roses, must of course take a bow upon the stage.  And now, in my present writing, the women of the Paston family who allowed us to see so much of their lives and their menfolk through their letters.

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

National Portrait Gallery, (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Darkly Humorous Books About Relationships

From Electric Lit:

Dark humor. Wry, mordant. Frame it however you want—yin and yang, chiaroscuro, tragedy and comedy—nothing is more life-affirming, nothing makes me feel more connected to humanity, more humbled by the resiliency of the human spirit, than a person’s ability to crack a joke at a low point. 

The women and girls in my collection, Love Like Thatare all screwing up: they’re in the wrong jobs, in the wrong dress, the wrong shoes. They’re on the wrong vacation. They’ve made the wrong plans, the wrong friends, the wrong move. They’ve said the wrong thing. They’re with the wrong men. But they possess, I think, the self-awareness to understand this, and it’s at this intersection of self-awareness and pain where a certain kind of humor is born. For me, there is nothing more generous than the gift of someone else’s messiness laid bare, of someone else’s vulnerability and frankness, especially about themselves. And what better terrain for rawness and honesty, for the simple admission that life can be really fucking absurd, than relationships? 

Here are a few books that break up the dark with some light, whose characters make me laugh and wince with recognition.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The book is essentially a novel in novellas, each dedicated to a member of the Lambert family—Alfred and Enid and their adult children, Chip, Gary, and Denise. While the whole thing is, I think, a masterpiece—darkly, darkly funny—the one that really kills me is about Gary. It’s the roller coaster of domesticity at its best:

“To feel nothing, not the feeblest pulse in the dead mouse from which his urine issued, for three weeks, to believe that she would never again need him and that he would never again want her, and then, on a moment’s notice, to become light-headed with lust: this was marriage as he knew it.”

. . . .

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is a master of the dark/light thing. The backdrop of this novel is deeply sad—Macon Leary’s young son has been killed in a robbery, and in the opening pages his wife asks for a divorce—but a warm, humorous quirkiness soon fills the pages of the book, whether it’s Macon’s adult siblings, who organize their pantry alphabetically, or Muriel Pritchett, the eccentric dog-trainer he falls in love with. One of my favorite scenes is early in the book when Macon, reeling from his recent separation, devises a ridiculous housework system:

“What he did was strip the mattress of all linens, replacing them with a giant sort of envelope made from one of the seven sheets he had folded and stitched together on the sewing machine…At moments—while he was skidding on the mangled clothes in the bathtub or struggling into his body bag on the naked, rust-stained mattress—he realized that he might be carrying things too far. He couldn’t explain why, either.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Blake Bailey Had Exclusive Access to Philip Roth’s Personal Papers. Roth’s Estate Plans on Destroying Them.

From The National Review:

Celebrated author Philip Roth made a startling admission while speaking to a French interviewer nine years ago: He had asked his executors, the uber-powerful literary agent Andrew Wylie and ex-girlfriend Julia Golier, to destroy many of his personal papers after the publication of the semi-authorized biography on which Blake Bailey had recently begun work. His manuscripts, after all, were already housed in the Library of Congress; the Newark Public Library had his books, as well as many personal possessions. A control freak about his legacy and just about everything else, Roth wanted to ensure that Bailey, who was producing exactly the type of biography he wanted, would be the only person outside a small circle of intimates permitted to access personal, sensitive manuscripts, including the unpublished Notes for My Biographer (a 295-page rebuttal to his ex-wife’s memoir) and Notes on a Slander-Monger (another rebuttal, this time to a biographical effort from Bailey’s predecessor). “I don’t want my personal papers dragged all over the place,” Roth said. 

At the time, Roth’s insistence that his executors destroy important biographical documents received little attention, and for good reason: In the same interview, Roth announced his retirement, ending one of the most important American literary careers of the postwar period. He died in 2018; Bailey’s biography, Philip Roth: The Biography was published last month. In the intervening period, few noted the Roth Estate’s plan to destroy these papers—it is mentioned in passing in a New York Times Magazine profile of Bailey and in a footnote in a Vulture interview, for example. 

Much has changed in recent weeks. Last month, Bailey’s publisher, W.W. Norton, announced that it was halting promotion and distribution of the book after Bailey was accused of grooming, and in one instance raping as an adult, middle-school students he taught while working as an eighth-grade teacher in New Orleans in the 1990s. Soon after a publishing executive accused him of raping her at the home of a New York Times book reviewer in 2015, Norton announced it was taking the book out of print.

. . . .

The fate of Roth’s personal papers took on new urgency in the wake of Norton’s decision. Last week, the Philip Roth Society published an open letter imploring Roth’s executors “to preserve these documents and make them readily available to researchers.” Efforts undertaken by Roth and his estate to control his legacy have backfired spectacularly. The best way to preserve his legacy, which has been damaged by the fallout from Bailey’s scandal, is to open up his papers to a wide variety of scholars. 

Roth, of course, had other plans: Bailey was to provide the final word on his life and legacy. Even in this, the results have been disastrous. Bailey’s efforts to settle scores on Roth’s behalf, as The New Republic’s Laura Marsh wrote in a definitive piece, failed. The resulting work portrayed the author as a “spiteful obsessive,” while Bailey’s focus on Roth’s personal life overwhelmed a slight discussion of his literary output and other work, such as his advocacy on behalf of Eastern European writers. (One Roth scholar I spoke to compared reading the book to “watching Bridgerton—it’s all love and sex and lust.”) The subsequent scandals, moreover, have permanently tarnished the book’s reputation and only bolstered Roth’s own reputation for misogyny. 

. . . .

With so little having gone to plan, many Roth scholars are hoping to save the writer’s papers that have been slated for destruction. As scholar Aimee Pozorski, who teaches English at Central Connecticut State University told The New Republic, the effort is “about intellectual inquiry and protecting and diversifying the legacy of one of the most important authors in America.” 

“In his fiction he writes about the complexity of human beings, of making mistakes, of getting people wrong,” Pozorski said. “In Exit Ghost he predicted this scenario—[in that book] Richard Kliman is a biographer who is not serving his subject well. One wishes that Roth could have seen into his work to understand that you need more voices, not fewer, as a result of the complexity.” 

Jacques Berlinerblau, the Rabbi Harold White Professor of Jewish Civilization in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, observed that Roth had spent his life creating a clique outside (and, in a few special cases, inside) the academy to control his legend. “Something very interesting happens with Philip Roth, and Philip Roth alone, wherein friends and fans with glorious perches in the media drive the narrative about him and the scholars—those pathetic figures—are completely sidelined,” Berlinerblau told me. “We’ve got to get control of this narrative because for three decades everything they know about Roth they know from his friends.” 

Link to the rest at The National Review

Inside The Facetune Epidemic

Not really to do with books, but PG could imagine a lot of stories arising from the OP.

From The Huffington Post:

Sky Lane scrolled through the pictures from an impromptu photo shoot she’d done with her friend and picked her favorite. It was cute — she was showing off her side profile in a black crop top, tight blue jeans, big silver hoops and smoky bronze eyeshadow. But the 21-year-old wouldn’t dare post it to Instagram for the world to see just yet. She opened Facetune, a photo-retouching app on her iPhone, and got to work.

Using the “Reshape” tool, she started pushing her tummy inward, little by little. She had to be careful not to noticeably warp the background in the process; the trick was to edit the photo without making it look like it had been edited. Skewed lines, blurry edges and inconsistencies in shadows and reflections were easy giveaways that Lane had learned how to avoid through years of practice — she’d been Facetuning since she was a teenager. She used the same tool to give herself a breast lift, slim her arm, cinch her waist and make her butt rounder, like the bodies flooding her Instagram feed.

Next she moved onto her face. Her friend had taken the photo using a Snapchat filter that had already plumped her lips, slimmed her nose and smoothed her skin so much her pores were no longer visible, but Lane applied Facetune’s complexion retouching effect for good measure. Her jawline was an easy fix with the jaw-slimming tool. Usually she’d whiten her teeth, but they were hardly showing. The more technical tweaks, like individually repositioning her eyebrows and narrowing the tip of her nose, required tools only available on the paid version of the app, which she’d upgraded to long ago.

She was done in under 20 minutes. The final product still looked like her, Lane decided, just a better, more acceptable version. She sent it to her mom, who didn’t seem to notice that anything had been altered, giving Lane the reassurance she needed that it was pretty and believable — polished but not overdone. She wouldn’t want her followers to accuse her of being a “catfish,” a term that has evolved in the Facetune era to describe someone who enhances their pictures beyond recognition.

Lane was finally ready to post the photo. It got 179 “likes,” which she thought was pretty good; without Facetune, she figured, she’d be lucky to get 40. Like the myriad other women who’ve been conditioned to pick apart their appearances, Lane has countless insecurities — including many that are invisible to everyone except her. The app makes them go away with a few simple finger strokes and ushers in the social validation she craves, which is at once addictively thrilling and utterly depressing.

Facetune makes it harder for her to love herself, but at least she can love her selfie.

“It can get super obsessive, because the second I take a photo I feel like I need to Facetune it,” Lane said. “Now I’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, I’m chubby, but I can fix that.’”

. . . .

We’ve been sinking deeper into this reality for a while now, but it has accelerated during the pandemic, when we’ve spent more time than ever on social media, and when our digital selves have for so long been the only version anyone has seen of us. The result is a body dysmorphia epidemic with increasingly unattainable beauty standards that — at the extremes — defy basic human physiology. 

. . . .

Cosmetic surgeons who spoke to HuffPost said they now regularly have patients come in with photos of themselves that have been so heavily Facetuned they would be anatomically impossible to replicate: jaws so slim teeth would need to be pulled, facial structures so warped eyeballs would need to be repositioned, legs so long femurs would need to be stretched; heads so narrow skulls would need to be reshaped; waists so cinched ribs and internal organs would need to be removed.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Here’s a Facetune before/after comparison from an article that shows several additional examples.

Would You Pay to Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

From Writer Unboxed:

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

Here’s the question:

Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.

So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page.

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for May 23, 2021. How strong are the opening pages—would they, all on their own, hook an agent if they came in from an unpublished writer?

. . . .


Owen used to like to tease me about how I lose everything, about how, in my own way, I have raised losing things to an art form. Sunglasses, keys, mittens, baseball hats, stamps, cameras, cell phones, Coke bottles, pens, shoelaces. Socks. Lightbulbs. Ice trays. He isn’t exactly wrong. I did used to have a tendency to misplace things. To get distracted. To forget.

On our second date, I lost the ticket stub for the parking garage where we’d left the cars during dinner. We’d each taken our own car. Owen would later joke about this— would love joking about how I insisted on driving myself to that second date. Even on our wedding night he joked about it. And I joked about how he’d grilled me that night, asking endless questions about my past— about the men I’d left behind, the men who had left me.

He’d called them the could-have-been boys. He raised a glass to them and said, wherever they were, he was grateful to them for not being what I needed, so he got to be the one sitting across from me.

You barely know me, I’d said.

He smiled. It doesn’t feel that way, does it?

He wasn’t wrong. It was overwhelming, what seemed to live between us, right from the start. I like to think that’s why I was distracted. Why I lost the parking ticket.

We parked in the Ritz-Carlton parking garage in downtown San Francisco. And the (snip)

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

The Filing Cabinet

From Places:

I was researching the history of the U.S. passport, and had spent weeks at the National Archives, struggling through thousands of reels of unindexed microfilm records of 19th-century diplomatic correspondence; then I arrived at the records for 1906. That year, the State Department adopted a numerical filing system. Suddenly, every American diplomatic office began using the same number for passport correspondence, with decimal numbers subdividing issues and cases. Rather than scrolling through microfilm images of bound pages organized chronologically, I could go straight to passport-relevant information that had been gathered in one place.

. . . .

I soon discovered that I had Elihu Root to thank for making my research easier. A lawyer whose clients included Andrew Carnegie, Root became secretary of state in 1905. But not long after he arrived, the prominent corporate lawyer described himself as “a man trying to conduct the business of a large metropolitan law-firm in the office of a village squire.”  The department’s record-keeping practices contributed to his frustration. As was then common in American offices, clerks used press books or copybooks to store incoming and outgoing correspondence in chronologically ordered bound volumes with limited indexing. For Root, the breaking point came when a request for a handful of letters resulted in several bulky volumes appearing on his desk. His response was swift: he demanded that a vertical filing system be adopted; soon the department was using a numerical subject-based filing system housed in filing cabinets. 

The shift from bound volumes to filing systems is a milestone in the history of classification; the contemporaneous shift to vertical filing cabinets is a milestone in the history of storage.

. . . .

It is easy to dismiss the object: a rectilinear stack of four drawers, usually made of metal. With suitable understatement, one design historian has noted that “manufacturers did not address the subject of style with regard to filing units.”  The lack of style figures into the filing cabinet’s seeming banality. It is not considered inventive or original; it is simply there, especially in 20th-century office spaces; and this ubiquity, along with the absence of style, perhaps paradoxically contributes to the easy acceptance of its presence, which rarely causes comment. In countless movies and television shows, one or more filing cabinets line the walls of newsrooms and advertising agencies or the offices of doctors, attorneys, private eyes, police inspectors. Their appearance defines a space as an office but rarely draws attention to the work it does in that office. Occasionally, the neatness or disorder of a filing cabinet gives us an insight into the mental state and work habits of the office’s occupant. Sometimes, the filing cabinet plays a small but vital role in dystopian critiques of bureaucracy.

But if it appears to be banal and pervasive, it cannot be so easily ignored. The filing cabinet does not just store paper; it stores information; and because the modern world depends upon and is indeed defined by information, the filing cabinet must be recognized as critical to the expansion of modernity. In recent years scholars and critics have paid increasing attention to the filing systems used to store and retrieve information critical to government and capitalism, particularly information about people — case dossiers, identification photographs, credit reports, et al.  But the focus on filing systems ignores the places where files are stored.  Could capitalism, surveillance, and governance have developed in the 20th century without filing cabinets? Of course, but only if there had been another way to store and circulate paper efficiently. The filing cabinet was critical to the infrastructure of 20th-century nation states and financial systems; and, like most infrastructure, it is often overlooked or forgotten, and the labor associated with it minimized or ignored. 

. . . .

The vertical filing cabinet was invented in the United States in the 1890s, and quickly became a fixture throughout North America and around the world. It spread globally because it provided a way to store large amounts of paper so that individual sheets could be retrieved easily. The technique of using drawers for storing a sheet of paper on its long edge was significant because loose papers cannot stand upright on their own. Put another way, the filing cabinet technology enabled loose paper to stand on edge so that more sheets could be stored in less space but still be accessed with minimal difficulty. It allowed loose papers to do the work of paperwork.

From a brochure for Yawman and Erbe’s 800 Series. [Courtesy of the Smithsonian Libraries, Washington, D.C.]
Illustration from the 1919 catalogue of the Library Bureau. [Collection of Craig Robertson]

. . . .

How does a filing cabinet do this work? According to patents, the early manufacturers drew on techniques and practices from cabinetry and metalwork in new and useful ways. In a typical patent, a filing cabinet is a collection of steel plates, rollers, slides, walls, ball bearings, rods, flanges, corner posts, channels, grooves, locks, tops, bottoms, sides, arms, legs, and tongues. All these parts were variously combined to create a cabinet that would allow a drawer to open and close even when it was full of paper that might weigh upwards of 75 pounds. The thousands of sheets of paper that manufacturers claimed could fit in a file drawer were organized using guide cards and manila folders, both accented with tabs. Not only did these features help paper stand vertically on edge; more important, they also made visible the organization of the papers. Early user manuals quickly identified the key principle of vertical filing: “the filing of papers on edge, behind guides, bringing together all papers, to, from, or about one correspondent or subject.”  Papers stored this way were easy to locate and to access and, as such, essential to the functioning of a modern, healthy office. As the authors of a secretarial textbook from the mid 1920s put it: “The flat file permits the use of but one hand, while with the vertical file both hands are used, thus increasing speed. That is, papers filed vertically are accessible, compact, and sanitary.” 

Link to the rest at Places

Actual file cabinet from the Watergate Hotel, National Museum of American History, via Wikimedia. Author, Kenneth Lu. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
The World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet, Vermont, via Wikimedia. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version

Light Blogging

PG will be occupied in a pastime that will require time away from the TPV keyboard tomorrow, Monday, and the next day.

He doubts that the pastime will kill or maim him, so he expects to be back in fine fettle thereafter.


in American English
Word forms: ˈfettled or ˈfettling

to put in order or readiness; arrange

to line or cover (the hearth of a puddling furnace) with fettling


condition of body and mind
in fine fettle


Word origin
ME fetlen, to make ready, prob. < OE fetel, belt (akin to feter, fetter), confused with fætel, container < fæt, vat

in British English

VERB (transitive)

  • to remove (excess moulding material and casting irregularities) from a cast component
  • to line or repair (the walls of a furnace)

British dialect

a. to prepare or arrange (a thing, oneself, etc), esp to put a finishing touch to
b. to repair or mend (something)


state of health, spirits, etc (esp in the phrase in fine fettle)

Word origin
C14 (in the sense: to put in order): back formation from fetled girded up, from Old English fetel belt

Journey to the Edge of Reason

From The Wall Street Journal:

The genius logician Kurt Gödel gave his name to his famous Incompleteness Theorems, which in the 1930s helped define the limits of both logic and mathematics. It might be thought that the justification for another biography of Gödel is that previous biographies were in some ways incomplete—or, to put it another way, that a new work should add substantially to what we already know.

Does Stephen Budiansky’s “Journey to the Edge of Reason” pass this test? The author, whose most recent works include a biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and a history of the National Security Agency, writes vividly, and the book overflows with fascinating detail. Although it mostly steers clear of math and logic, it does a good enough job to convince general readers that they have understood some of the problems with which Gödel grappled. Plus, there is some fresh material to draw upon, including Gödel’s diary, which covers two years before the outbreak of World War II.

. . . .

Born in 1906, Gödel was raised in a German-speaking family in Brünn (now Brno), when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although Gödel was sometimes mistaken for being Jewish by his contemporaries, his family was, in fact, Lutheran. His father worked in the textile business, and the Gödels were comfortably off. Little Kurt was inquisitive and, because he wouldn’t stop asking questions, he acquired the nickname Herr Warum, “Mr. Why.”

Following the collapse of the polyglot Austro-Hungarian Empire and the rise of Czech nationalism, Gödel joined the throng of young, Czech Germans moving to Vienna—he arrived in 1924, becoming a student at the prestigious University of Vienna. Shortly afterward he was invited to attend the Vienna Circle, a discussion group made up of mathematically and scientifically literate philosophers, led by professor Moritz Schlick. For a decade or so, their philosophical approach, logical empiricism, became the most fashionable in the world.

Crudely put, the Circle maintained that for a statement to be meaningful it had to be either testable (“water boils at 100 degrees centigrade”) or true by virtue of the meaning of its terms (“all bachelors are unmarried” or other tautologies). Many statements about God, ethics and aesthetics were therefore meaningless. Math posed a problem for the Circle. Was 2+2=4 an empirical claim? Did we discover its truth by adding two apples to another two apples and counting four apples? This didn’t seem right. We could surely work out that 2+2=4 without the aid of fruit or any other material prop. Inspired in particular by Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Circle argued that we should treat mathematical truths as tautologies.

Gödel was mostly silent during Vienna Circle discussions, but he passionately disagreed. His instincts were Platonist; that is to say, he believed that mathematical truths weren’t invented but existed somewhere “out there,” independent of the human mind, and that it was the task of mathematicians to discover these truths.

Gödel’s reputation and fame rest principally on a proof that received its first public airing in September 1930, at a scientific gathering in Königsberg. Gödel—only 24 years old—demonstrated to the assembled delegates that there were limits to what could be proved in mathematics; that whatever axioms were postulated as the basic blocks of mathematics, there would inevitably be some truths within mathematics that could not be proved.

By all accounts, the delegates at the conference were a bit flummoxed; the significance of this discovery took a few days to sink in. Then news of Gödel’s first Incompleteness Theorem (it would be followed by a second), spread rapidly around the world. “A scientific achievement of the first order” was the rather understated verdict of Gödel’s supervisor, Hans Hahn, when Gödel submitted the proof for his thesis. The work is now widely accepted as a seminal development in the history of logic.

From 1933, Gödel began an on-off-on-off-on association with the recently formed Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J., of which Einstein was a founding member. After Vienna, Gödel found Princeton a little parochial, though he liked the scenery. “All in all the country looks much like a park; only the true Alpine forest is missing.”

Gödel had already started to show signs of mental instability. In 1934 he spent time at a sanatorium outside Vienna. He became obsessed with the stomachaches he suffered and began to develop paranoid delusions about being poisoned by his enemies. Schlick appealed to a Viennese psychiatrist, Otto Pötzl, for help: “If Dr. Gödel does not regain his health, it would be a loss of immeasurable consequence for our university and for science throughout the world.”

. . . .

Gödel had just been invited back to Princeton when German troops marched into Austria. The Viennese were top-division anti-Semites, and the Anschluss unleashed a wave of sickening violence and sadism. Nonetheless, and shockingly, Gödel (along with most of his compatriots) voted in the subsequent plebiscite in favor of his country’s absorption by the German state. He later claimed he had done so only to secure a passport, though according to Mr. Budiansky Gödel became “wracked with guilt.” He was always politically naive. Toward the end of 1938, when he was briefly in the U.S. before returning to Vienna, he met a Jewish-Austrian philosopher for lunch. “And what brings you to America?” Gödel asked.

Gödel faced various fraught struggles with the Nazi authorities before he was able to settle back in Princeton for good. 

. . . .

At Princeton, the serious and shy Gödel developed an unlikely friendship with the more genial and gregarious Albert Einstein. They would walk to and from the institute. “I go to my office just to have the privilege of being able to walk home with Kurt Gödel,” Einstein once joked.

No book on Gödel would be complete without one particular story that reads like something out of a Tom Stoppard play. Once the war was over, Gödel applied for U.S. citizenship and set about preparing for his citizenship test with more zeal than was warranted. He read books and books about U.S. history and laws—and during the course of his study discovered what he thought was an inner contradiction in the U.S. constitution. His two sponsors were Einstein and Morgenstern, and as they drove together to the court in Trenton, N.J., tried to convince him not to bring this up. But at some stage during the proceedings the judge claimed that the constitution in the U.S., unlike in Austria, would never permit a dictatorship. “Oh, yes,” said Gödel, and “I can prove it.” Fortunately, Einstein and the others soon managed to shut him up, and Kurt Gödel became an American. What contradiction he spotted is still a matter of debate.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Why I am deleting Goodreads and maybe you should, too

From The Guardian:

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading a book where my enjoyment wasn’t tied to the euphoric sense of achievement I got from finishing it. This is not because I don’t love reading, or would rather watch television. No, it’s because of a little app on my phone called Goodreads.

Home to about 90 million readers worldwide, Goodreads is a website that lets users track their reading and broadcast their tastes to the world – or, in my case, a few friends and vague acquaintances. At its core, it’s a harmless concept: an online community for bookworms, and an opportunity to discover new books your friends have loved.

It’s also extremely satisfying. Since joining Goodreads a few years ago, the annual roundup I receive tallying up the books I have finished that year has become the clinching point of my reading experience. I get a buzz from increasing my reading goal every 12 months, and from comparing how many pages I’ve turned or hours of audiobooks I’ve listened to with other people’s numbers. I feel a sense of accomplishment every time I update my “progress” with a book.

But that’s exactly what’s wrong with Goodreads: it turns reading into an achievement. Quantifying, dissecting and broadcasting our most-loved hobbies sucks the joy out of them. I find myself glancing towards the corner of the page to see how much I’ve read. I compare the thickness of the read pages I hold in my left hand to the unread ones in my right. Even when absorbed in the climax of a story, one eye is always on my proximity to the end, when I’ll be able to post it all to Goodreads.

. . . .

While some people’s qualms with Goodreads are rooted in its clunky interface, or the fact that it is owned by Amazon, mine lie in its very concept. Reading is something I do to relax, learn and enjoy. It’s not just that I don’t need a pie chart detailing my reading habits, the chart has poisoned the whole experience. Even if I were to switch to another book app without the social aspect, I know that I would remain obsessed with finishing books over enjoying them.

It’s human nature to get a sense of satisfaction from seeing something through to the end. But, without Goodreads, it won’t matter if I give up on a book I’m not bothered about halfway through, because no one will know or care – as if they did anyway. I won’t be self-conscious if I read yet another thriller bought in a supermarket deal, instead of something others would consider as smarter or better.

If Goodreads provides a sense of community, good recommendations and doesn’t make you obsess over what you’re reading or how much, then great. Maybe it’s just a few of us who aren’t compatible with it, and end up developing a toxic relationship that distracts from the magic of getting lost in a book. But right now I am reading my first book Goodreads-free since I installed the app. It feels just like it did when I was a child, with no awareness of what others think about what I’m reading, how quickly I’m reading it, or what I haven’t read. From now on, my reading habits are staying between me and my book.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG doesn’t have a TPV category for First-World Problems, but perhaps he should create one.

Irregular Posting

PG will be a bit irregular in his postings for the next couple of days.

All is well, but other activities and obligations will make it difficult to post as normal.

(This post was scheduled to appear last Friday, late in the afternoon. When PG pulled up TPV early on Saturday morning, he saw (or thought he saw) that this post had appeared. Today, he discovered he was wrong. He apologies to one and all for his unintentionally unannounced absence. All is well with Mrs. PG and her less-apt husband.)

Tech Firms Tweak Work Tools to Grapple with ‘Digital Exhaustion’

From The Wall Street Journal:

Big tech companies— Microsoft Corp. , Adobe Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google among them—are adding new twists to their work tools to fight Zoom fatigue and general burnout as working from home stretches into a second year for millions of people.

Microsoft, for example, has introduced a setting in its Outlook email and calendar to prevent back-to-back video meetings by automatically carving out breaks in between. The downtime can be programmed for 5, 10 or 15 minutes, for example, and can be set by an individual or organization.

A prototype tool in the Adobe Workfront platform uses artificial intelligence to help reorganize users’ days based on priorities they have set and any last-minute changes to their personal and business schedules.

. . . .

And in March, Google announced updates to its Workspace tools to demarcate working hours and create recurring “away” notifications to lessen digital interruptions.

Tweaks like these aim to address concerns on work-life balance from both employees and employers as remote work continues. With employees never leaving the “office,” work has seeped into all hours of the day, plus weekends; the lack of in-person time with colleagues has resulted in a glut of video meetings.

Employers have taken some steps on their own. Citigroup Inc., for instance, is experimenting with new policies like banning video meetings on Fridays. And software firm BetterCloud Inc. is using a bot on Slack to ask attendees of some virtual meetings whether the gatherings were worthwhile.

. . . .

“The acceleration that happened during Covid, where suddenly the only way to connect with others was through technology, it was clear that we needed to be better at using it and defining our own boundaries,” said Nellie Hayat, head of workplace transformation at VergeSense Inc., a workplace analytics platform. As well, that effort would have to be “synchronized with others,” she added.

Outlook’s new break setting dovetails with the virtual commute feature Microsoft added to its Teams tools to delineate the start and finish of employees’ workdays.

“This joins that set of things that’s meant to help them kind of develop the practices that we need to have to manage this digital exhaustion that they feel,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, which houses Outlook and Teams.

. . . .

In its March announcement, Google included a new calendar entry called Focus Time, which decreases the notifications it shows users during stretches designated for uninterrupted work and changes their status in chat to “Do not disturb.” The feature will be out this year.

Some of the new features seem more geared to what an organization wants for its employees than what employees might choose for themselves, user experience designers said.

Stopping all notifications from every workplace tool during a break, for example, would be more beneficial than creating rest moments between meetings, said Emma Greenwood, strategy director at I&CO Group LLC, a strategy and invention firm.

. . . .

Fewer video meetings and more breaks can help, but they don’t address the burnout and isolation of at-home workers in the pandemic.

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

PG suspects the consequences of extended periods of social isolation in its various garbs under a variety of shut-down, shelter-in-place, social-distancing, etc., etc., etc., have resulted in lower energy levels and decreased concentration, lower productivity, etc., to a greater extent than the increased pressure of remote work (which is a subset of the social isolation problem) has by itself.

See Languishing for more information.

Full-time authors may have suffered less disruption of their work routines than office workers, but the languishing effect of social isolation is, PG suspects, impacting the work of authors as well.

Spatial Abolition and Disability Justice

From Public Books:

In her new book, What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World, the artist and design researcher Sara Hendren describes an assignment her engineering students undertook to redesign a lectern. Hendren introduces us to Amanda Cachia, a curator with a form of dwarfism, who challenges the students to think beyond the simple engineering specifications of an imaginary ideal form and to design specifically for her needs. One can imagine the range of solutions that eager engineering students might have offered up: a robotic lectern, or one outfitted with a lift. Usually, Hendren writes, Cachia has to undergo the ritual of “bringing her body to the dimensions of a room at odds with her physicality,” typically involving a pedestal that she stands on to reach the height of an existing lectern.

Instead, Cachia wanted a lectern scaled to her dimensions, one that she could easily transport to her speaking engagements. Hendren’s students responded to this call; now, each time Cachia speaks at this new lectern, the audience must adapt to her. Changing that relationship—between speaker, stage, and audience—changes the possibilities of the room itself. The lectern no longer sits above the heads of those seated in a room. As a result of this spatial shift, an audience member would likely become very aware of all the other sensory details: how the seating is arranged, the height of doorknobs and tables, the various ambient sounds. This newly oriented space highlights how disability is not a lack, but a space of possibility for other ways of being and noticing. “Ability and disability may be in part about the physical state of the body,” Hendren writes, “but they are also produced by the relative flexibility or rigidity of the built world.”

The most famous political achievement of the disability justice movement in the United States has been the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark civil rights law that prohibited discrimination based on disability. It is, arguably, one of the most influential policy forces on the shape and form of the urban built environment, mandating things we now take for granted, such as curb cuts and pedestrian signals. According to the ADA framework, an adequate solution to Cachia’s predicament might have been to require the lecture hall to have a platform ready at all times, one that could be adjusted to enable speakers, regardless of their physical dimensions, to reach the microphone.

Yet, as scholars such as Aimi Hamraie and Jos Boys have shown, stories of curb cuts, ramps, and other design innovations are incomplete, and have spun into a popular narrative of universal or inclusive design. This narrative risks turning the politics of disability into simple matters of logistics and compliance. It erases real class, gendered, and racial differences in terms of access to space, and it ignores the different types of “physical, sensory, and mental access needs of different disabled users.” There are deep flaws in an accessibility framework; as the disability and transformative-justice scholar Mia Mingus says, “We don’t want to simply join the ranks of the privileged; we want to dismantle those ranks and the systems that maintain them.”

These are key themes that underpin Sara Hendren’s What Can a Body Do?, which explores and expands on the relationships between the built world, design, and disabilities. If Hendren is reframing design and how we approach the designed and built environment through the lens of disability justice, Liat Ben-Moshe extends that lens to our geographies—focusing more fully on spatial relationships—in her new book, Decarcerating Disability: Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition. A critical geographer and prison abolitionist, Ben-Moshe provides a groundbreaking connection between disability justice and prison abolition.

Disabled people—nuanced and complex individuals who are forced to both adapt to the world and make the world adapt to them—have a rich history of influencing the designed and built world. Yet there is a lack of nuance and complexity to how disability is understood and conceptualized in both academic and popular portrayals. Revealing the multiple histories of disability justice—as Hendren and Ben-Moshe do—can expand how we think of and design the places we build beyond the simple concepts of access and inclusion, to encompass questions of care, vulnerability, agency, maintenance, and difference.

The Social Model of Disability

As the noted disability studies theorist Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, author of Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (1997), has said, “I want to move disability from the realm of medicine into that of political minorities, to recast it from a form of pathology to a form of ethnicity.” Disability, as a human condition, is salient almost everywhere once you learn how to notice it.

. . . .

By analyzing case studies such as that of Amanda Cachia’s new lectern, Hendren illustrates a powerful idea that holds potential for the fields of urbanism, architecture, and design: the social model of disability, which holds that being disabled is not simply a medical diagnosis, but a social phenomenon. For some, this can be a radical perspective, one that has many implications—notably, that disability is a “misfitting” of bodies and minds to the world one encounters and confronts. When that world is inflexible to people’s diverse needs, Hendren says, this misfitting limits certain individuals’ abilities to do things. In order to ground us in the concept of misfitting and the social model of disability, Hendren must first explain the history of “normalcy,” as it relates to the body.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Let’s see, if disabled individuals are to be though of as a different ethnic group than those who are not disabled, how does that make things better?

For one thing, we know that different ethnic groups always respect the values and rights of each other. We know that places where those of different ethnicity live in close proximity with one another have always been models of comity and good will.

Serbs and Croatians? Best buddies whenever they encounter each other.

Turks and Armenians? – One big happy family.

Hutu and Tutsi? – Always behaving in accordance with the inherent sisterhood and brotherhood that exists among all Africans

The Austro-Hungarian Empire – 15 major languages plus an unknown number of minor languages and dialects – would still be the world’s leading multi-ethnic power if it hadn’t collapsed into chaos in 1918.

World War I – no ethnic groups fighting there

World War II – ditto

Suffice to say, PG is not impressed with the benefits of defining disability as an ethnicity or any remotely similar solution to the problems of the disabled or the problems the larger society imposes on the disabled.

An old saying from Abraham Maslow, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” applies to some (not all) people with a facility for language. Basically, such folk love to solve problems linguistically by doing things like creating ethnic groups and constructing solutions from concepts that work perfectly in word and logic form, but not necessarily in real life. More than a few academics fall into such groups.

PG readily confesses that, as an attorney, he is a member of a group known for its facility with language. Laws are created by legislatures as written documents. Attorneys argue on behalf of their clients using spoken and written words. When a judge makes an order, she/he often says what the order is and then reduces the order to a written document.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this sort of structure of information and mandates so long as one realizes that it may not always work as anticipated in real life.

Those who commit crimes are punished in large part to deter them and others who may be similarly inclined from violating the law in the future. A felon may be incarcerated until, presumably she/he understands the wrongness of the crime committed and the fact that such actions will be punished severely. Once they’ve finished their punishment as specified by the law and court order(s), they’re ready to return into society as a free person.

If the words of the law and the courts worked as intended, no criminal would commit another crime. The punishment would fit the crime and the punishment would effectively prevent such a crime from occurring again because one and all would understand that the nature of the punishment far outweighed any sort of benefit a wrong-doer might gain from violating the law.

This all works great on paper. The words are carefully crafted by legislators elected to do what the public wants them to do – prevent crimes from happening.

However, in a phrase used by semanticists, “The word is not the thing.”

What’s the solution to Ms. Cachia’s problem with standard podiums if she’s not to be classified as a member of a new ethnic group or protected by a better version or stricter enforcement of The Americans with Disabilities Act?

A bit of research by PG disclosed an actual solution to Ms. Cachia’s issues. He doesn’t think any of the word-spinners in the OP were involved in creating the solution.

The solution was not words, but rather a thing – a portable lectern made from apparently inexpensive materials that Ms. Cachia could bring with her to her speaking opportunities. The lecturn provides a platform of an appropriate height so she could speak and present comfortably while referring to notes or other materials she might wish to consult during her presentations.

From an appearance standpoint, the lectern would complement Ms. Cachia’s physical appearance in the same manner as a conventional lectern would complement an individual of more commonly-found dimensions.

To the best of PG’s knowledge, no new ethnic groups, laws or regulations were created during the design and construction of Ms. Cachia’s new lectern.

Here are a couple of images of her lectern and Ms. Cachia using it:

Why IQ Determines Everything in Your Life (the Sad Truth)

From Medium:

“People who boast about their IQ are losers.” — Stephen Hawking

Hawking has a point — nobody likes a sore winner. That being said, the intelligent quotient (IQ) test is one of the most valid and reliable psychometrics ever created.

According to the mental health website verywell Mind, “An IQ test is an assessment that measures a range of cognitive abilities and provides a score that is intended to serve as a measure of an individual’s intellectual abilities and potential.”

. . . .

High IQ = Better Life

Research has shown that high IQ leads to more money, increased success, and longer, healthier life in general. One historic study detailed the benefits of high IQ:

  • The average income of Terman’s subjects in 1955 was an impressive $33,000 compared to a national average of $5,000.
  • Two-thirds had earned college degrees, while a large number had gone on to attain post-graduate and professional degrees. Many of these had become doctors, lawyers, business executives, and scientists.

In case you were wondering, the average IQ score is 100. And anything above 140 is considered a high or genius-level IQ. Einstein’s IQ was 160. Jacob Barnett’s IQ is 170. Barnett was a child prodigy who graduated college at age 10.

He’s now an astrophysicist at age 22.

. . . .

The Truth About IQ

Studies show that most of our intelligence is genetic. However, IQ can be increased and there seems to be one surefire way to do it —

“Just do it.” — Nike

Yes, no jokes, nothing up my sleeves, this is the foolproof method to hacking your IQ — “just doing it.” Ok, more specifically, doing activities such as playing music, exercising, reading, learning, adventuring, exploring — all of it, JUST DO IT!

Exercise, for instance, boosts neuroplasticity, which is the process of your brain making connections and creating new neurons.

Want to learn a new language? Why not exercise. A 2017 study conducted by the University of Zurich in Switzerland revealed the process of learning a new language is expedited by physical exercise.

The study looked at college-aged Chinese men and women who were trying to learn English. Those who rode exercise bikes at a gentle pace outperformed those in vocabulary tests who did no exercise at all.

Musicians Also Have Higher IQs.

Vanderbilt University psychologists Crystal Gibson, Bradley Folley, and Sohee Park found that professionally trained musicians use both the left and the right sides of their frontal cortex more heavily than the average person.

“We studied musicians because creative thinking is part of their daily experience, said Folley in regards to the study. We found that there were qualitative differences in the types of answers they gave to problems and in their associated brain activity.”

Even your taste in music affects IQ.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG notes that the OP appears to suffer from more than a few correlation = causation issues.

If IQ is a characteristic that you are born with, how can what you do affect your IQ?

If a high IQ is, in fact, a reflection of your ability to score well on IQ and other standardized tests rather than something you were born with, is it an acquired ability.

Assume, as a thought experiment than someone born with an extremely high intelligence never received any sort of education and was not exposed to anyone who came from a background different than his/her own, would that person perform well on an IQ test? Would listening to classical music without doing anything else result in that person performing better on an IQ test?

PG has also known more than a few very bright idiots. One of the most intelligent people he ever worked with, a person who had developed patented technology that was regarded as a brilliant breakthrough in his well-compensated field of expertise, suffered from terrible business judgement and, despite his diligent efforts towards increasing his wealth, his financial circumstances reflected his stupid business decisions.

Related to his prior comment, PG also suggests that there is a difference between intelligence and aptitude for a wide variety of pursuits.

Plus, everybody knows an idiot who graduated with honors from a highly-prestigious university.

Lest anyone mistake PG’s attitude for envy or something similar, PG will reveal that he possesses a high IQ.

He was intrigued by the subject when he was in elementary and high school, but the standard belief of people who may have known his IQ at the time was that it was a bad idea for someone, at least someone of PG’s age and (lack of) maturity to know what their IQ was.

After he graduated from college and was working in Chicago, PG learned that he could pay a nominal sum, take an IQ test and learn what his IQ was. He did that very thing, then accepted the offer of the person who administered the test to join a group of people whose sole common trait was a high IQ.

PG never attended any meetings because he heard they were full of weird and boring people from others who had attended such meetings.

PG has known several people who he and others regarded as geniuses in particular fields – painting, musical performance, acting, film-making, public speaking, litigation and electronics – are examples.

There is no doubt that each of these people were/are intelligent in a conventional sense, but they also have a talent they have worked to develop and which allows them to surpass equally intelligent or more intelligent individuals who either lack that talent or have not put in the work necessary to magnify that talent to a high level.

For PG, the individuals he regards as geniuses in particular fields deserve the title far more than those he has known who simply possess a high IQ score.

The Long Road to Publication

From The Literary Hub:

Author Anjali Enjeti: When I’m doing the first draft of a book-length work, I try to write two pages a day, every single day until that first draft is done, no matter how terrible those pages are. I rarely use any of those pages later, but it feels good to fill up a blank page. And it gets me into the habit of thinking about the story every day, and figuring out who my characters are, and what they’re meant to do.

. . . .

Interviewer Devi S. Laskar: The road to publication is long and twisted—tell me about some of your hairpin turns and about your waiting game. Clearly something converged since you have two books coming out at once!

AE: I submitted multiple books for eleven years, and during that time I had two different agents, neither of whom sold my books. (One tried very hard and we parted on good terms. Another ghosted me a few months after I signed with him.) I have submitted to quite a few small presses over the years, too. I just couldn’t get anything to work out, and about ten years in, I decided to quit spending so much time submitting. So I cut down substantially. Then the following year, the book proposal I submitted earlier to UGA Press yielded a contract for Southbound. Once I had that in hand, I decided to enter the open submission period for Hub City Press with The Parted Earth. The fact that they’re coming out at the same time is merely coincidental. I sold Southbound on proposal so it took me some time to write the book. And it ended up coinciding with the release of The Parted Earth.

DSL: As an older debut author you must have developed communities who have supported you and lifted you up until this moment ? Or have you been a loner, trying to break into the literary scene? What has been the reaction in the Indian community (i.e. are the aunties aware and proud?) I read that your books have already received several mentions in “must read lists”—what does that feel like?

AE: I am very lucky in this regard. When I began taking writing seriously, especially after I moved to the Atlanta area, I was welcomed into a large, warm community of writers. (Shout out to the Atlanta Writers Club!) I could not have survived as a loner in the literary world. Pre-COVID, I was always attending readings or craft talks or book launches or just meeting other writers for meals. Writing communities have fueled me. I would have never lasted this long in the business without them. A subset of this writing community has been the South Asian writing community, and while there are fewer of us here in Atlanta, the greater South Asian writing community, whether in California or New York or Texas or India, has been crucial to my health and development as a writer.

. . . .

DSL: What does literary success look like to you?

AE: What constitutes literary success has evolved for me significantly over the years. For most of my life, it meant publishing a book. But when I couldn’t get a book deal, I knew I needed to reassess what success in this business looked like. And it became writing essays or articles that demand a more humane world. I’ve covered politics, voting, and elections for the past few years, and aside from enjoying this kind of writing, it holds value. I also teach in an MFA program. It’s some of the most rewarding work I do. My students inspire me to push my boundaries as a writer and I’m blown away by their talent.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG will let visitors to TPV discuss whether writing two pages per day is a good method for writing and finishing a book.

PG will comment that the OP certainly makes the lives of the author and interviewer seem hard from an emotional and guilt perspective.


From The Wall Street Journal:

The narrator of Cynthia Ozick’s seventh novel is neither Jewish nor intellectual—a significant departure from her usual characters. Nor is he worldly, witty, well-read or astute. But Ms. Ozick is of course all of the above, and this slim but by no means slight narrative is as cunning and rich as anything she’s written.

Antiquities” is about an excavation into the past by a man not insightful enough to fully understand what he has unearthed and revealed. Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie is a cultural relic, a stodgy retired lawyer who in 1949 resides, with the six other elderly surviving trustees of the Temple Academy for Boys, in converted apartments in their former Westchester County boarding school, which closed 34 years earlier.

“Antiquities” consists of Petrie’s attempt to write about a salient experience from his school days: his idolatrous relationship with a mysterious classmate, a boy whose foreign name, Ben-Zion Elefantin, strange accent, and skeletal appearance subjected him to ridicule from the other students. Petrie’s association with Elefantin, initially over chess, rendered him an outcast, too.

Petrie’s recollections of his schoolboy infatuation are deeply entangled with memories of his father, who died when he was 10—the same year Elefantin came to the Academy, though he doesn’t mention this confluence explicitly. Petrie discovers that his upstanding father, too, had suffered an infatuation—with “ancient times”—which caused him to briefly abandon his new wife and position at the family law firm for a fling with a different life: work on the excavation of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, run by renowned archaeologist (and historical figure) Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, whom he believed to be a cousin.

Sorting through the rubble of both infatuations is heavy labor for Petrie, even many decades later. He notes in a moment of rare self-awareness that “it is as if I must excavate, as in a desert, what lies far below and has no wish to emerge—to wit, my boyhood emotions.”

Ms. Ozick has created a character who, unlike herself, is unconscious of the reverberations of the words he chooses. The lonely, friendless widower writes of his “racking affections” for Elefantin and what, in a lonely childhood in which physical contact must have been a rarity, he considers their “intimacy.” He repeatedly mentions their bare knees touching on the climactic day when Elefantin mesmerized him with a tale of his family’s ancient origins, part of an outcast Jewish sect whose history on the Nile, he claims, was omitted from the Torah by “falsifying scholars.”

Even as an old man, Petrie doesn’t know what to make of these “frenzied murmurings of two agitated boys prone and under a spell.” Is it, he wonders, “a liar’s screed, an invention? An apparition’s fevered pedantry? And who knows such things, this garble of history and foreign babble? Not I. Nor am I a man of imagination,” he writes.

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

Time for a woman’s view with Miss Ann Powell

From The Niagara Gazette:

Moving along to 1789 and a trip involving a Miss Ann Powell. Her journal is a graphic description of the difficulties and inconvenience of travel in her day. I found it interesting enough to select some her writings, as they were found to be of great value historically, not only for the light which it throws upon the general state of the country, about Niagara and for the description of the Falls, but for the information which it contains relative to the Indians whom Miss Powell was so fortunate as to see in council assembled on the present site of Buffalo and for evidence as to conditions on the Niagara frontier just after the Revolution.

She states: “The Fort Niagara is by no means pleasantly situated. It is built close upon the Lake, which gains upon its foundations so fast, that in a few years they may be overflowed … Several gentlemen offered to escort us to the landing, which is eight miles from Fort Erie. There the Niagara River becomes impassable, and all the luggage was drawn up a steep hill in a cradle, a machine I never saw before. We walked up the hill, and were conducted to a good garden with an arbor in it, where we found a cloth laid for dinner, which was provided for us by the officers of the post. “

“After dinner we went on for seven miles to Fort Schlosher. (Her spelling) .The road was good, the weather charming, and this was the only opportunity we should have of seeing the fall. All of our party collected half a mile above the Falls and walked down to them. I was in raptures all the way. The Falls I had heard of forever, but no one had mentioned the Rapids! For half a mile the river comes foaming down immense rocks, some of them forming cascades 30 or 40 feet high! The banks are covered with woods, as are a number of islands, some of them very high out of the water. One in the centre of the river, runs into a point and seems to divide the Falls, which would otherwise be quite across the river , into the form of a crescent.

“I believe no mind can form an idea of the immensity of the body of water, or the rapidity with which it hurries down. The height is 180 feet, and long before it reaches the bottom, it loses all appearance of a liquid. The spray rises like light summer clouds, and when the rays of the sun are reflected through it , they form innumerable rainbows, but the sun was not in a situation to show this effect when we were there.

“One thing I could find nobody to explain to me, which is, the stillness of the water at the bottom of the Falls; it is as smooth as a lake, for half a mile, deep and narrow, the banks very high and steep, with trees hanging over them. I was never before sensible of the power of scenery, nor did I suppose the eye could carry to the mind such strange emotions of pleasure, wonder and solemnity.” For a time every other impression was erased from my memory! Had I been left to myself, I am convinced I should not have thought of moving whilst there was light to distinguish objects.”

Link to the rest at The Niagara Gazette

PG doesn’t believe he has ever posted anything from The Niagara Gazette before and definitely not something written by its columnist, Norma Higgs.

Along with many others (he presumes), PG and Mrs. PG have been discussing the short and long-term impacts of the extraordinary Covid shutdown and some of the weirdness which has accompanied it.

PG has found distraction and some perspective in reading historical fiction and non-fiction.

He is not quite certain how he stumbled across Ms. Higgs’ article transcribing what appears to be a 1789 journal entry by an unmarried woman, Ann Powell, recording her firsts impressions of Niagara Falls during her travels through the area.

For historical context, Ann was traveling six years after the end of the Revolutionary War and two years after the Constitutional Convention.

Fort Niagara, which Ann mentions in her account, was originally built under the direction of the Governor of New France in 1687 on Lake Ontario beside the source of the Niagara River. The fort underwent a series of reconstructions and expansions over the years thereafter.

The Fort fell into British hands during the French and Indian War in 1759. At the time Ann visited the fort, in 1789, although the area where the fort was constructed was ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War, the fort was still under British control.

During and after the Revolutionary War, this part of upstate New York was a stronghold and sanctuary for those who had been Loyalists, supporting the British during the Revolutionary War and a great many Loyalists fled the effective boundaries of the United States to settle in this area. Fort Niagara did not come under the control of the United States until after the signing of the Jay Treaty in 1796.

Following are a couple of illustrations of the fort.

Fort Niagara, 1728, via Wikimedia Commons
“The French Castle” a fortification at Fort Niagara State Park, photo via Wikimedia Commons, Attribution: Ad Meskens, use for any purpose permitted, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use, and all other use is permitted.

Jack and the Bean Counters: A Woke Children’s Story

From The Wall Street Journal:

One of my favorite childhood novels recounted the story of a boy separated from his family and caught behind Japanese lines in war-torn midcentury China. I felt I was with the boy, Tien Pao, when he woke terrified in a sampan sweeping downriver toward the smoldering ruins of his village. Alongside Tien Pao, I watched a doomed train back into a burning station and heard the screams of its passengers. Together we crouched in the broiling sun, scanning throngs of refugees for a familiar face. Later, we flew in a plane over an aerodrome and I felt his jolt of joy as if it were my own when, far below, he saw his mother.

That Tien Pao was a boy and I a girl, that his parents were married and mine divorced, that his skin was one hue and mine another—none of this impinged on the thrilling immediacy of Meindert DeJong’s “The House of Sixty Fathers,” illustrated by the young Maurice Sendak.

The teacher who gave me that book widened my horizons and enriched my life. Would she still do so today? I fear not. Schools and the world of children’s literature have been seized by the notion that the most important thing about a book is whether children can “see themselves” in it. This is understood in a narrow and reductive way: The race, ethnicity and sexual orientation of the young reader must be matched by those of the characters they meet in books.

What began as a laudable idea—that children’s literature should embrace a variety of stories and all manner of characters—has morphed into monomania. Identity is all. Professional journals that catalog and review new children’s titles now make a fetish of highlighting the pallor or pigmentation of fictional characters.

Publisher’s Weekly, for instance, in its review of “Faraway Things,” a forthcoming picture book by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Kelly Murphy, finds it necessary to report a young character is “pale-skinned” and an older one is “brown-skinned.” A reviewer for Kirkus notes: “The captain has dark skin; Lucian and the others have light skin.”

Researchers from Columbia and the University of Chicago have brought race-labeling to a new level by enlisting machines to sort literary characters by color. Led by Anjali Adukia, an assistant professor at Chicago University’s Harris School of Public Policy, the team used artificial intelligence to sift through the past century of prize-winning children’s books to identify characters by sex, age and color. Released April 12, their study, “What We Teach About Race and Gender: Representation in Images and Text of Children’s Books,” brings an antebellum ethic of race consciousness to American children’s literature.

The research team examined two sets of novels and picture books: “mainstream” ones, which won the American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott medals, and “diversity” ones, which have won ALA distinction because they satisfy criteria related to race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical ability.

The researchers taught the computer to detect faces in illustrations, classify skin colors and predict characters’ race, sex and age. The machine also combed through 1,133 prize-winning texts for gendered language, mentions of color and references to age. Books in the “diversity” group were found, over time, to depict more characters with darker skin, while “mainstream” books showed characters with either lighter or “chromatically ambiguous” features. There is, the study reports, “a persistent disproportionate representation of males, particularly White males, and lighter-skinned people relative to darker-skinned people.” The study includes charts and graphs depicting gradations of human skin color that would make John C. Calhoun proud.

The AI findings are both dispassionate and shockingly retrograde.

. . . .

And what of characters that can’t be classified as either light or dark? They are a product of a practice the study authors disdainfully call “butterscotching,” which “some may argue sends an assimilationist message regarding the representation of race.” Others may argue it’s an invitation to universality. A good book doesn’t cut readers off. It invites them in, and it doesn’t care what they look like.

“The House of Sixty Fathers” won a Newbery honor in 1957, which means my old friend Tien Pao is somewhere in the team’s “mainstream” color charts. To me he was a living boy, but in the study he’s been flattened and denatured and reduced to a few demographic data points. It’s ghastly.

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

From The Apartheid Museum:

From 1950 South Africans were classified on the basis of their ‘race’.

People were classified into one of four groups: ‘native’, ‘coloured’, ‘Asian’ or ‘white’.

By 1966, 11 million people had been classified under the Population Registration Act of 1950.

. . . .

Race Classification

Racial classification was the foundation of all apartheid laws. It placed individuals in one of four groups: ‘native’, ‘coloured’, ‘Asian’ or ‘white’.

In order to illustrate everyday reality under apartheid, visitors to the museum are arbitrarily classified as either white or non-white. Once classified, visitors are permitted entry to the museum only through the gate allocated to their race group. Identity documents were the main tool used to implement this racial divide, and many of these documents are on display in this exhibit.

Link to the rest at The Apartheid Museum

From Segregation in Action:

. . . .

. . . .

. . . .

. . . .

Link to the rest at Resources, The Apartheid Museum

PG is aware of the dangers of a slippery-slope argument.

However, slippery-slopes arguments gain their credibility because slippery slopes have existed on many more than one occasion in the past. They are not imaginary creations, but rather descriptions of what is possible, some would say probable, given human nature operating in a wide variety of different circumstances in many parts of the world.

PG suggests that no culture or nation is immune to the potential dangers of slippery slopes.