A New Book Expo? Not By a Long Shot

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

From Dan Stone:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jammed-Up Day

PG apologizes for the lack of posts.

His excuse can be summarized in two words: Water Problems

Casa PG needs some help with its water system.

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

Apple Just Killed the Password—for Real This Time

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

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

From Wired:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Wired

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

From NPR:

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

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

. . . .


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

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

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

. . . .


Nominated by Greg Lucas, state librarian of California

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

. . . .


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

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

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

. . . .


Nominated by Debra Marquart, poet laureate of Iowa

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

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

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

. . . .


Nominated by Maryfrances Wagner, poet laureate of Missouri

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

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

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

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

. . . .

New Hampshire

Nominated by Alexandria Peary, poet laureate of New Hampshire

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

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

. . . .


Nominated by Anis Mojgani, poet laureate of Oregon

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

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

. . . .

South Carolina

Nominated by Marjory Wentworth, former poet laureate of South Carolina

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

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

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

. . . .


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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at NPR

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

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

What book best represents your state? We want to know

From NPR:

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

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

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

Link to the rest at NPR

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

Location of Visitors

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

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

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


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

Nothing terrible has occurred, just a packed schedule.

The Grass

A poem written in 1918 by American poet Carl Sandburg.

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work—

                                          I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

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

                                          What place is this?

                                          Where are we now?

                                          I am the grass.

                                          Let me work.

The General

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

On Being Asked for a War Poem

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

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

Slow News Weekend

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

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

Russian parliament scraps age limit for army recruits

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

From Reuters:

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

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

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

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

Russian forces have suffered significant losses fighting in Ukraine.

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

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

Link to the rest at Reuters

Computer Probs

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

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

The Commodification of Jean-Michel Basquiat

From Jacobin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Jacobin

Jean Michel-Basquiat, Untitled (1982).

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Why men need to read more novels

From GQ:

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

And that fact doesn’t bother him one whit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orwell’s Humor

From City Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at City Journal

God Has a Beautiful Mansion for Me Elsewhere

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

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

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

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

One Writer’s Beginnings: The Bitter Gift of Trauma

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Novels About Women Who Refuse to Fit In

From Electric Lit:

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

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

. . . .

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

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

. . . .

Chemistry by Weike Wang

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

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

On Watery Artworks and Writing-Retreat Novels

From The Paris Review:

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

TPV Comments

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

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

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

Age Problems with The Passive Voice

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

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

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

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

I Believe the Man in the Attic Has a Gun

From Electric Lit:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was the end of the conversation. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

We All Need to Be Defended Against Predatory Publishing Practices

From Jane Friedman:

I’ve written and spoken about hybrid publishing for years now, and it’s a nuanced and complicated issue. Some of you may know I’m not a huge fan of the term “hybrid publisher,” because sometimes it’s little more than a marketing ploy by paid publishing services, meant to make authors feel good about their choice of paying to publish. (More on that here.) But there are excellent hybrid publishers who deserve to be categorized differently than your average paid publishing service. She Writes Press is one of them.

The barriers to getting a book published have never been lower, and the consequence of this reality—that anyone can publish a book—is that predatory bad actors come out of the woodwork, and would-be authors must be on guard.

A prerequisite to becoming an author these days is self-education about the industry. The pay-to-publish space has been on a steep growth trajectory, evermore so in the past decade. There’s been a proliferation of self-publishing, but also of other non-traditional models—which, lacking any clear identifying label, have had to define themselves. Non-traditional by design, these author-subsidized publishing models have adopted labels that include hybrid (the one that’s been mostly widely embraced by the industry), partnership, subsidy, entrepreneurial, cooperative, and others.

I’m the publisher of two hybrid imprints, She Writes Press and SparkPress, and when I first launched She Writes Press in 2012, there was no right label for what we were doing. The only other presses I knew with this kind of “in-between” publishing model, where authors paid for various aspects of production, printing, and warehousing in exchange for higher royalties, were traditional publishers who cut hybrid deals with authors (often at the authors’ request because these models can in fact be in the authors’ best interest), and Greenleaf Book Group, who didn’t call itself hybrid at the time.

It was my early authors who pushed me to call what we were doing something—anything. They wanted a label because they wanted to distinguish themselves, and to explain to the outside world that their publisher was neither traditional publishing nor self-publishing. But being neither, we were in a gray zone. Many of my authors advocated for partnership, but in the end I settled on hybrid because that’s what it felt like to me—a hybrid between traditional and self-publishing, and I first wrote about this “third way” space in a Publishers Weekly Soapbox piece in March 2014.

Since 2014, hybrid publishing has exploded, but with the model’s elevated attention and reputation, the sharks started to swarm. One of the most complicated and disappointing results of naming this third-way publishing something concrete—hybrid—was how it started to be exploited and coopted. As She Writes Press and SparkPress began seeing true results, and therefore legitimacy, in traditional spaces (reviews, awards, sales), we also started seeing all kinds of entities, most of them providing services to authors to varying degrees of professionalism, who were calling themselves hybrid publishers. In the absence of any true definition for what this middle-ground was (in fact, I myself didn’t really know what it was and wrote a definition of hybrid in the first edition of my book, Green-Light Your Book, that I wouldn’t stand behind today), the floodgates opened, and all kinds of businesses were suddenly calling themselves “publishers” even when they were not true publishing companies (which involves vetting manuscripts or being selective about what you publish) and having a marketing, distribution, and sales strategy for all books.

One early response to this coopting came from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), who released its Hybrid Publisher Criteria in early 2018. It offers nine criteria for the industry and authors alike to use as a measurement of a hybrid publisher’s integrity. The problem is that human beings run companies, and human beings fudge the rules, and in the aftermath of making public those criteria, I talked to more than a few heads of “hybrid publishers” who said to me with all sincerity, Yes, we’re hybrid; we meet all but two of the criteria.

The failure to force well-intentioned would-be hybrids and bad actors alike to comply to true standards met a new point of resistance last week with the release of a report called Is It a Steal?: An Investigation into ‘Hybrid’/Paid-for Publishing Services, put out by The Society of Authors and The Writers Union. It was clearly initiated to draw attention to the degree to which authors are exploited by “pay-for” publishing services, but the underlying and wrong assumption the report makes is that all hybrid publishing is vanity publishing, and that no existing hybrids have standards they adhere to—which would include things like vetting, traditional distribution, and proven sales records. Nor does it acknowledge IBPA’s criteria, which has been around for more than five years. The report, instead, is an attack on the whole of hybrid publishing, without any nuance or acknowledgment from its authors that perhaps hybrid publishing needs also to be on the offensive because our label is being misused, and therefore hybrid publishing is being exploited too. It’s important to note that the Society of Authors and The Writers Union are UK-based, and as the US-based Authors Guild rightly notes in a statement it released in response to “Is It a Steal?”, “The hybrid publishing space is larger and more nuanced in the United States. There are some highly reputable hybrid publishers in the U.S.”

. . . .

“Is It a Steal?” attempts to address a known problem: predatory publishing practices. There are many bad actors out there, and we do need strategies to address this problem. We need to protect and educate writers. However, “Is It a Steal?” wants to strongarm bad actors by insisting that they follow a set of “recommendations.” But the bad actors won’t give a lick about recommendations; they will not be moved by a report telling them to be transparent and to produce a viable marketing plan if that’s not what they do or intend to do.

The better—and only—way to address the problem of bad actors in the publishing space, especially those who are coopting the good name of “hybrid” for their own reputational and financial gains, is to educate would-be authors. We must equip authors with the tools they need to see past flattery and compliments, to support them to think clearly when someone tells them they’ll make them a bestseller, to empower them ask critical questions about contracts and rights and finances.

. . . .

I started She Writes Press specifically because the barriers to traditional publishing are so high (too high) for most authors, and because there are many authors who do not want to self-publish, and for whom distribution and sales, reviews, and a team that supports them through the publishing process is the right combination of elements they’re looking for in a publishing experience. My own efforts as a hybrid publisher have focused from Day One on leveling the playing field for authors, to give them a fighting chance against their traditionally published counterparts and to sell more books that the average self-published author can on their own without infrastructure and publisher support.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG checked out SheWrites Press and quickly discovered that they offer one package for $8500.00. On their submissions page, they are upfront about their $35.00 Submission Fee.

As the OP states, they offer a single package which you can find in bullet-point form here. The same page notes that the press is acquiring titles for its Spring, 2024, book list.

The Our Process page provides more details about what they’ll do. Near the bottom of the page, the following information is provided in bold type:

The cost of printing your ARCs and final books is not included in the She Writes Press publishing package.

In looking through the About Us page, PG learned that in 2014, SheWrites Press was acquired by SparkPoint Studio, LLC and got a new CEO. SparkPoint Studio has its own brand of hybrid publishing called SparkPoint Press. A quick run through the website of SparkPoint Press made it appear that it had adopted the same type of hybrid publishing model that SheWrites uses.

It was not clear to PG whether there is any distinction between the SheWrites plans and operations and those of SparkPoint.

SparkPoint Press also has a couple of additional links to more related and She-prefix sites that the company appears to own, BookSparks, SheReads and SheBooks. All the About Us pages (or their equivalents) PG reviewed featured women with the exception of one guy in what looked like it might have a peon job on one of the sites, so these are definitely women-run businesses. PG didn’t notice any information about ownership, but lots of businesses don’t talk about that unless they’re a subsidiary of a large parent company that doesn’t show information about ownership.

What PG didn’t find in all the She’s and Spark’s was a copy of the publishing contract any of these organizations ask authors to sign and return with an $8500 check.

PG would be very interesting in seeing a publishing contract for the She’s or the Spark’s.

He wonders why, with all the non-predatory practices of She Writes Press and SparkPress, the publisher of those two organizations who wrote the OP didn’t include a lot more information about the contract terms of those two organizations.

If anyone says, “We don’t want others to copy our contract!”, PG’s skepticism meter would jump to Stun immediately.

Contracts cannot be copyrighted. Anyone can copy some or all of the contract terms s/he finds in a contract used by another company. Since time immemorial, attorneys have kept copies of contracts they have drafted, contracts others have drafted and contracts they may stumble across anywhere else.

This hoarding practice allows attorneys to avoid re-inventing the wheel while drafting a new contract when they already have a perfectly good wheel-invention contract in their form files AKA copies of contracts they’ve collected over the years.

One of the things that first impressed PG about Kindle Direct Publishing is that they had their Terms and Conditions (internet-speak for publishing contract) available on their website. You can see the latest version here.

Reading it won’t keep you up past your bedtime, but everything that indie authors (and more than a few publishers who distribute ebooks via Zon) are asked to digitally “sign” is right out there for all to see.

The right of the author or Amazon to terminate the publishing agreement at any time is described in Section 3. The royalty provisions for KDP as referenced in Section 5.4.1 of Amazon’s online agreement are available here. Details concerning payments from Amazon Serviços de Varejo do Brasil Ltda are found in Section 5.4.5 of the online agreement.

End of Amazon minutiae.

If anyone can provide PG with a copy of an $8500 contract from the She’s or the Spark’s, he would appreciate reviewing it and, possibly, doing a blog post about the contract. Use the Contact PG link at the top of the blog to commence that process.

Four times more male characters in literature than female, research suggests

From The Guardian:

Researchers using AI technologies have discovered that male characters are four times more prevalent in literature than female characters.

Mayank Kejriwal at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering was inspired by work on gender biases and his own work on natural language processing to carry out the experiment.

Kejriwal and fellow researcher Akarsh Nagaraj used data from 3,000 books that are part of the Gutenberg Project, across genres including adventure, science fiction, mystery and romance.

The study used Named Entity Recognition (NER) to identify gender-specific characters by looking at things including female and male pronouns. The researchers also examined how many female characters were main characters.

“Gender bias is very real, and when we see females four times less in literature, it has a subliminal impact on people consuming the culture,” said Kejriwal. “We quantitatively revealed an indirect way in which bias persists in culture.”

But the researchers did face difficulties with those who didn’t fit into a gender binary. The AI was unable to figure out if “they” referred to a plural or a “non-dichotomous individual”.

Kejriwal said: “When we published the dataset paper, reviewers had this criticism that we were ignoring non-dichotomous genders. But we agreed with them, in a way. We think it’s completely suppressed, and we won’t be able to find many [transgender individuals or non-dichotomous individuals].”

As well as the statistics on male and female characters, the researchers also looked at the language associated with gender-specific characters. Nagaraj said: “Even with misattributions, the words associated with women were adjectives like ‘weak’, ‘amiable’, ‘pretty’ and sometimes ‘stupid’. For male characters, the words describing them included ‘leadership’, ‘power’, ‘strength’ and ‘politics’.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Why Are Regency-Era Shows Like ‘Bridgerton’ So Popular?

From Smithsonian Magazine:

The opening of “The Courtship,” USA Network’s newest foray into the canon of high-concept reality dating shows, ends with a cheekily revised quote from a beloved author: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in search of a husband must go to Regency-era England and live in a castle with sixteen eligible suitors. –Jane Austen, probably,” the words on the screen read. The “probably” appears a moment later, as a glib afterthought.

In “The Courtship,” Nicole Rémy, a Black cheerleader–turned­–software engineer from Seattle, seeks love in a format best described as “The Bachelorette” meets casual Regency cosplay. The show frequently references Austen and the time period she chronicled: the turn of the 19th century. The author lived and wrote during the reign of George III (1760 to 1820), also known as the Georgian Period. Her novels were published during the Regency, an 1811 to 1820 window in which George, Prince of Wales, ruled as regent in lieu of his father, whom Parliament had deemed mentally unfit to rule.

“The Courtship” takes its cue from the Regency period—“the most romantic era of history,” as the host informs the audience in a crisp British accent. Another spun-sugar springtime television release clearly shares the belief: season two of “Bridgerton,” Netflix’s pastel-hued, racy adaptation of contemporary author Julia Quinn’s romance novels. The Regency-set series broke Netflix viewership records and made representational strides by imagining protagonists of color as British royalty and aristocrats. Similarly, the second season of “Sanditon,” a lower-profile import from the United Kingdom that uses Austen’s unfinished novel of the same name as a point of departure, features the writer’s only prominent Black character, an heiress from the West Indies. The season premiered March 20 on Masterpiece PBS.

All three series revel in the trappings audiences associate with Austen novels: soirees where eligible singles swan about, horse-drawn carriages, the watchful eyes of rivals and family on a couple as they twirl around a ballroom, conversations over tea, ample opportunities for dramatic speeches about undying love. On “The Courtship,” where everyone is formally referred to by title and last name, would-be-husbands write “Miss Rémy” handwritten letters, and episodes end with choreographed dances that double as dismissal ceremonies. (“Farewell. Your carriage awaits,” Rémy proclaims to spurned men dressed like they’re Cinderella’s footmen.) “Bridgerton” and “The Courtship” even share a set; the same estate that serves as the site of a long montage of Daphne Bridgerton and her new husband, the Duke of Hastings, in, ahem, marital bliss, is the location where Rémy’s suitors woo her.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

10 Unforgettable Dreams in Literature

From Dreams:

1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll really took full advantage of the limitless possibilities of writing within a dream setting. The 19th-Century author used Alice’s ability to get lost in the dream state and make connections and observations in her real life – much like we all actually do when dreaming.

2. The Iliad

In Homer’s epic poem, which has inspired many films and books, a false dream is used by Zeus, persuading Agamemnon to attack Troy. Agamemnon is convinced by the event, which is evidence that Homer recognised the influence of dreams in our waking lives. This is not the only example in our list of false dreams being used for mischievous ends.

. . . .

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

As with Agamemnon’s dreams, courtesy of Zeus, the hero of Hogwarts is also led astray by subconscious thoughts implanted by a dastardly villain. This link was revealed to the pair after Lord Voldemort inadvertently led Harry to the prison of Ron Weasley’s father, after their psychic connection alerted The Boy Who Lived to the entrapment.

And, as if you ever needed an affirmation of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore’s wisdom, he also has something to say about dreams:

  • It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Link to the rest at Dreams

On the origin of languages

From The Economist:

In a church hewn out of a mountainside, just over a thousand years or so ago, a monk was struggling with a passage in Latin. He did what others like him have done, writing the tricky bits in his own language between the lines of text and at the edges. What makes these marginalia more than marginal is that they are considered the first words ever written in Spanish.

The “Emilian glosses” were written at the monastery of Suso, which was founded by St Aemilianus (Millán, in Spanish) in the La Rioja region of Spain. Known as la cuna del castellano, “the cradle of Castilian”, it is a unesco world heritage site and a great tourist draw. In 1977 Spain celebrated 1,000 years of the Spanish language there.

Everyone loves a superhero origin story. Spanish is now the world’s third-biggest language, with over 500m speakers, and it all began with a monk scrawling on his homework. But as with the radioactive bite that put the Spider into Spider-Man, there is more than a little mythmaking going on here.

First, while “Castilian” and “Spanish” are synonymous for most Spanish-speakers, philologists argue that what the anonymous monk wrote is closer to the Aragonese than to the Castilian variety of Romance (the name for the range of dialects that continued their wayward development when Rome retreated from most of Europe after the fifth century ad). In any case, the Suso monk’s scribblings have been pipped by the discovery in nearby Burgos province of writings that may be two centuries older.

Even those are not the origin of Spanish. The very idea treats languages like a person, with a name, birth date and birthplace. But languages are not like an individual. They are much more like a species, gradually diverging from another over many years. It would be as accurate to describe such jottings as degenerate Latin as it is to call them early Spanish—but that would probably not draw as many tourists.

Most accurate would be to call the monk’s prose an intermediate form: words like sieculos (centuries) in the text are almost perfectly halfway between Latin’s saecula and modern Spanish’s siglos. In its way, the church in which the glosses were written is a mirror of such evolution. It includes arches in Visigothic, Mozarabic (Moorish-influenced) and more recent styles, added as it was expanded. As many visitors to an ancient site find, it can be hard to date buildings in use for centuries. Little of the original remains; all is layers upon layers.

The desire to create heroic origins of languages is an urge to impose order on chaos. Students of other European languages are offered “Beowulf” or “La Chanson de Roland” as the earliest exemplars of English or French, which gives the grand story a comprehensible beginning. But literature, by its nature, requires the language to exist before poems and epics could be written. Imagining that a piece of writing represents the beginning of a language is like thinking the first picture of a baby is the beginning of its life.

A better analogy is that the first written records of a language are like the first fossil traces of a distinct species. But even this should not be mistaken for the moment at which the species emerged. After all, the neat nodes on a palaeobiologist’s tree of life are just simplifications of a messy continuum.

The urge to put dates on the founding of languages seems universal. Google “Basque Europe’s oldest language” to see how many people think this language (which evolved gradually from some now-unknown ancestor) is somehow older than Spanish, though Basque has no clear birthday, either. By quite a coincidence, the first known words written in Old Basque—just six of them—also appear in the Emilian glosses, though the site makes much less of this fact. Or to take a more modern example, a book on American English called “The Forgotten Founding Father” aims to give Noah Webster’s modest early-19th-century reforms, such as respelling “center”, the heroic role humans seem destined to seek in the birth of their cultures.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Philologists are everywhere on TPV today.


From Wikipedia:

The praenomen (Classical Latin: [prae̯ˈnoːmɛn]; plural: praenomina) was a personal name chosen by the parents of a Roman child. It was first bestowed on the dies lustricus (day of lustration), the eighth day after the birth of a girl, or the ninth day after the birth of a boy. The praenomen would then be formally conferred a second time when girls married, or when boys assumed the toga virilis upon reaching manhood. Although it was the oldest of the tria nomina commonly used in Roman naming conventions, by the late republic, most praenomina were so common that most people were called by their praenomina only by family or close friends. For this reason, although they continued to be used, praenomina gradually disappeared from public records during imperial times. Although both men and women received praenomina, women’s praenomina were frequently ignored, and they were gradually abandoned by many Roman families, though they continued to be used in some families and in the countryside.

. . . .

The tria nomina, consisting of praenomen, nomen and cognomen, which are today regarded as a distinguishing feature of Roman culture, first developed and spread throughout Italy in pre-Roman times. Most of the people of Italy spoke languages belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family; the three major groups within the Italian Peninsula were the Latino-Faliscan languages, including the tribes of the Latini, or Latins, who formed the core of the early Roman populace, and their neighbors, the Falisci and Hernici; the Oscan languages, including the Sabines, who also contributed to early Roman culture, as well as the Samnites, and many other peoples of central and southern Italy; and the Umbrian languages, spoken by the Umbri of the Central Apennines, the rustic Picentes of the Adriatic coast, and the Volsci.

In addition to the Italic peoples was the Etruscan civilization, whose language was unrelated to Indo-European, but who exerted a strong cultural influence throughout much of Italy, including early Rome.

. . . .

Each of the Italic peoples had its own distinctive group of praenomina. A few names were shared between cultures, and the Etruscans in particular borrowed many praenomina from Latin and Oscan. It is disputed whether some of the praenomina used by the Romans themselves were of distinctly Etruscan or Oscan origin. However, these names were in general use at Rome and other Latin towns, and were used by families that were certainly of Latin origin. Thus, irrespective of their actual etymology, these names may be regarded as Latin.

. . . .

Philologists have debated the origin and meaning of these names since classical antiquity. However, many of the meanings popularly assigned to various praenomina appear to have been no more than “folk etymology”. The names derived from numbers are the most certain. The masculine names Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, Octavius and Decimus, and the feminine names Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, Quinta, Sexta, Septima, Octavia, Nona and Decima are all based on ordinal numbers. There may also have been a praenomen Nonus, as there was a gens with the apparently patronymic name of Nonius, although no examples of its use as a praenomen have survived.

It is generally held that these names originally referred to the order of a child’s birth, although some scholars believe that they might also have referred to the month of the Roman calendar in which a child was born. Like the masculine praenomina, the months of the old Roman Calendar had names based on the numbers five through ten: Quintilis (July), Sextilis (August), September, October, November, and December. However, this hypothesis does not account for the feminine praenomina Prima, Secunda, Tertia, and Quarta, nor does it explain why Septimus, Octavius, and perhaps Nonus were rarely used.

Philologists have debated the origin and meaning of these names since classical antiquity. However, many of the meanings popularly assigned to various praenomina appear to have been no more than “folk etymology”. The names derived from numbers are the most certain. The masculine names Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, Octavius and Decimus, and the feminine names Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, Quinta, Sexta, Septima, Octavia, Nona and Decima are all based on ordinal numbers. There may also have been a praenomen Nonus, as there was a gens with the apparently patronymic name of Nonius, although no examples of its use as a praenomen have survived.

It is generally held that these names originally referred to the order of a child’s birth, although some scholars believe that they might also have referred to the month of the Roman calendar in which a child was born. Like the masculine praenomina, the months of the old Roman Calendar had names based on the numbers five through ten: Quintilis (July), Sextilis (August), September, October, November, and December. However, this hypothesis does not account for the feminine praenomina Prima, Secunda, Tertia, and Quarta, nor does it explain why Septimus, Octavius, and perhaps Nonus were rarely used.

. . . .

The Etruscan language was unrelated to the other languages spoken in Italy, and accordingly it contains many names which have no equivalents in the Latin or Oscan languages. The Etruscan civilization, the most advanced of its time in that region, was a strong influence on the other peoples of Italy. The Etruscan alphabet (itself based on an early version of the Western or “Red” Greek alphabet) was the source for later Italian alphabets, including the modern Latin alphabet.

However, the cultural interchange was not all one-way. With respect to personal names, the Etruscans borrowed a large number of praenomina from Latin and Oscan, adding them to their own unique names. The Etruscan language is still imperfectly known, and the number of inscriptions are limited, so this list of Etruscan praenomina encompasses what has been discovered to this point. Included are names that are certainly praenomina, no matter their linguistic origin. Names that might be nomina or cognomina have not been included.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

Sometimes, PG simply must go off on a frolic of his own.

The sentence that really captured PG’s frolic-prone mind was:

Philologists have debated the origin and meaning of these names since classical antiquity.

How could PG be expected to resist debates among philologists that have continued for well over two thousand years?

During the course of his long and illustrious legal career, PG has represented a handful of pig-headed clients who simply could not be persuaded to compromise over matters such as who should start the fire intended to burn down a long-abandoned house so the owner could collect an insurance settlement.

The house did burn to the ground. Before it reached that state, the two arsonists, who had encountered difficulties in actually getting the house to catch fire until they went to town, bought five gallons of gasoline, climbed up to the attic, emptied the gas can, then dropped a match. As a result of quite a grand attic fire, they couldn’t get to the attic stairs to leave. They escaped the attic by accidentally by falling through the attic floor and second-story ceiling by mistake. Thereafter, they descending the sort-of-intact stairway from the second floor to the first floor of the burning house and ran outside. The two partners in crime inhaled so much smoke, they were still sitting on the ground coughing heartily when the rural fire department and a deputy sheriff arrived on the scene. Their smoke-stained visages and shirts and pants featured burned holes where embers, etc., had landed, causing a lot of burns not severe enough to require more than on-the-scene application of ointment from an ambulance attendant who showed up shortly after the deputy sheriff arrived. The quick-witted deputy concluded that the two arsonists had been up to no good and slapped some cuffs on them before the ambulance took them to the jail instead of the hospital.

Prior to the trial, one of the arsonists decided he would blame his partner for starting the fire and the partner counter-blamed the other for actually dropping the match. For the benefit of the continuing legal education of visitors to TPV, you don’t have to actually drop the match to be guilty of arson. Carrying the gas can into the house that burned shortly thereafter is quite enough to earn you a stretch in the state penitentiary.

No, actually, book bans don’t sell books

From AZ Mirror:

“Bans sell books.”

You don’t have to go far online to find that bit of conventional wisdom. For example, today my delightfully bookish Twitter feed showed me Upton Sinclair’s thoughts on the matter from 1927. And in my two decades in book publishing, I’ve repeated variations on the theme many times. “Bans lead to publicity. Publicity leads to sales. LOL, banners. Thanks for the money.”

The problem is that the actual experience of book bans at national scale is not so simple, and it’s rarely positive. The present national wave of book banning — where hundreds of titles are challenged en masse in schools — is by some measures unprecedented. I suspect it has given many of us who work in the book industry a crash course in the realities of book bans. I know I’ll never again shrug and say “bans sell books.”

It is true that bans can lead to spikes in sales, especially when the book is already a bestseller or when it’s an established classic (“The Hate U Give” or “Maus”). In other words, bans sell books you’ve probably already heard of.

But what happens when the book is not a bestseller or a classic? What happens if it’s a modest-but-steady-selling title? The evidence says bans are no golden ticket. The American Library Association (ALA) announced its ten most banned books of 2021 a few weeks ago and none has been on the New York Times Best Seller List since. Of the titles on the banned list, I see only one that became a bestseller after it was widely banned. And industry sales tracking numbers show very modest sales lifts at best for most of the books on that list.

But sales aren’t the only things that can happen after bans. For many of these titles, the bans are how people first hear about the book. Ashley Hope Pérez’s 2015 novel “Out of Darkness” is an award-winning work of historical fiction and one of the fifty best young adult novels of all time if you happen to have picked up Booklist magazine in June of 2017. Or it’s about “anal sex” if you watched Jimmy Kimmel’s jokes about a Texas ban of the book last September. [Full disclosure: I edited “Out of Darkness” at a previous job.]

A book ban is always proxy for attacking something else — an idea or a movement — or, as is the case with these memoirs, a proxy for someone.

The 2019 title “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe (e/eir/em) is an acclaimed graphic memoir of a nonbinary and asexual artist coming out to eir family. Or it’s “child pornography” and “grooming” if you heard about it from one of the dozens news stories about the bans that repeated the banners’ objections to the book. For most banned books, a viral ban introduces the book, and book banners don’t hesitate to lie. Whatever number of sales would make this awful first impression worthwhile, neither of these books has hit it. I suspect no book ever has.

“Gender Queer” was the most banned book in 2021 according to the ALA. It’s not the book on that list that was a New York Times Best Seller, though; that was George M. Johnson’s 2020 memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” which flashed onto the Times’s list for a week last February before settling back to modest but solid sales.

Link to the rest at AZ Mirror

PG likely doesn’t qualify as a free speech absolutist, but does lean in that direction.

What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

(Minor digression: John Ray , who was the first to record this saying in English Proverbs, 1670, remarked “This is a woman’s Proverb.”)

If an author has a right to create and publish a book, another person or groups of people, have the right to criticize that book on any basis, valid or invalid, by saying, writing, etc., that they don’t like the book and think it’s a bad idea for those of a certain age or those of any age to read that book. Or that they think the book is terribly boring. Or that the book costs too much. They also have the right to advocate that their taxes or anyone’s taxes shouldn’t be used to purchase the book.

In PG’s observation, actions and movements to silence or ban speech some people find objectionable are not limited to the left or right or any particular religion, political party or other group of like-minded individuals.

Let Fiction Be Fiction

From Publishers Weekly:

Since my debut novel, Other People’s Children, was published last April, I’ve been thinking a lot about who gets to tell which stories. Some of my readers don’t seem to think that I should have been allowed to write the book that I wrote.

I’m probably not the first new writer to obsessively read their Goodreads reviews. I know that it’s not good for me, but, well, we’ve all done plenty these past few years that isn’t good for us. My publisher’s sales force preferred to use initials on the hardcover. Many reviewers wrote that they didn’t realize RJ Hoffmann was male until after they finished the book and read the bio or noticed the picture on the jacket. That pleased me. Some of the most impactful characters in the book are women, and the assumption that I was also a woman suggested that I had succeeded, at some level, in writing those characters well. My favorite reviews remain those that refer to me with female pronouns. I was troubled, though, by the reviewers who found it problematic that a man wrote the book.

Other People’s Children tells the story of a couple who, after struggling with infertility, adopt a baby girl. The birth mother decides to reclaim her child after four days, and the adoptive parents choose to run rather than return the baby.

Was it my story to tell? I could tell you about the moment I first laid eyes on my own adopted children. I could tell you about the fierce love that hit me like waking from a deep sleep into a bright light. I could tell you that the book, for me, is about shattered expectations and the pain of separation from a child. I could tell you that my daughter was living in a residential treatment center while I wrote it, struggling with mood disorders layered atop autism, and I could tell you about all the expectations that experience shattered for me. I could tell you that, although Other People’s Children is not my family’s story, our story litters the margins of the book.

But what if I suggested that none of that matters? What if I let the story speak for itself? What if I asked you to judge my characters based upon their depth, their voices, their strengths, and their weaknesses, rather than upon the alignment of their experience with my own? My characters tend to be more interesting than me, stronger in so many ways. Strong characters facing down a difficult problem tend to demand the story that seems right to them, and I’ve learned not to force my own voice into their throats.

I’ve read many #OwnVoices novels in the past few years, and count some of them among my favorites. The movement applies a much-needed balm to the many decades of appropriation of marginalized cultures. But I chafe at the idea that those are the only stories worth reading, or, for that matter, writing. I would argue that many acres of fertile ground lie between cultural appropriation and direct experience. I would suggest that fencing writers into the back 40 of their own experience limits the imagination, tames the tales, and rations the portions of truth that nourish us.

For me, those vast acres are fertilized with empathy. I’ve read several thousand novels written from the subjectivity of people who are nothing like me (or like the writers who crafted them, for that matter), and I believe that experience has made me more empathetic. Considering life through eyes that aren’t mine seems the whole point of fiction. And as I learned to build a novel, I found that writing also centers on empathy. Empathy is the window to the core of every character. Writing Other People’s Children demanded that I inhabit every character fully, regardless of our similarities and differences. Nurturing empathy for my characters led me to respect them, to listen to them.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that the question should be, “Did the author write a good book? Did it draw me in and engage my intellect and emotions?” instead of, “Was the author someone who has actually experienced everything that appears in the book?”

As PG has said before, stories don’t belong to the type of people depicted in the stories, they belong to the author, the person who created the story.

Nobody would expect an individual who wrote a history about the Roman Empire to be someone who actually lived then and there or whose great-great-great, etc., ancestor lived in Rome during the empire.

Madame Bovary was written by Gustave Flaubert and the book is now regarded as one of the most influential literary works in history, a seminal work of literary realism.

On the other hand, you have The Professor by Charlotte Brontë, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, in which the narrator, Dr James Sheppard, helps the famous male Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Abandonment

From Writers Helping Writers:

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental illness, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

Fear of Abandonment

While death and loss are a part of life, they’re incredibly difficult to deal with. Being left behind (whether the leaving is voluntary or a choice) by someone important is something that many people and characters can worry about, even to the point of it becoming a fear that takes over their life.

This is one of the worst feelings to experience and it can be inflicted by anyone close to the character—a family member (parent, spouse, sibling, child), lover or romantic interest, best friend, mentor, etc. Someone who has experienced abandonment may develop a debilitating fear of it occurring again, but so can people who have never gone through it because they know the anguish it causes and don’t want it to happen to them.

Whether it looks like guardedness or holding on too tightly, a fear of abandonment can manifest in a number of ways.

What It Looks Like

  • Maintaining shallow relationships (so the character never grows close to someone who could leave them)
  • Reluctance to fully commit to a relationship
  • Sabotaging promising relationships by pushing the other person away, treating them badly, cheating on them, abandoning them first, etc.
  • Believing that people are going to leave (due to insecurity, feeling unworthy of love, etc.)
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Becoming possessive or manipulative as a way of controlling the other person and keeping them from close
  • Staying in an unhealthy relationship because the character believes it’s better than being alone
  • Attaching too quickly to a partner, friend, etc.
  • Seeking frequent reassurance of the other person’s loyalty or love
  • Making demands of the other party that will “prove” their love or loyalty
  • Separation anxiety
  • Being extremely sensitive to criticism
  • Seeking to please and appease
  • Struggling with emotional intimacy
  • Reading too much into the other person’s words or actions
  • Common Internal Struggles
  • The character blaming themselves for things that aren’t their fault
  • Struggling with anxiety or depression
  • Being tempted to do something they don’t want to to keep the other party happy
  • Feeling worthless or unlovable
  • The character wondering what’s wrong with them (that causes people to leave)
  • Wanting reassurance from the other person but not wanting to come off as clingy or desperate
  • Feeling defective and unfixable
  • Worrying that they will never be happy

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

A Statue Gives Romans a Voice

From Public Books:

When I arrived in Rome, a little more than a year ago, the streets of the Eternal City had emptied. Previously busy thoroughfares looked like metaphysical paintings by De Chirico: unobstructed views down vacant streets were only punctuated by the passing of a single masked pedestrian, the green flash of a pharmacy sign, or the flutter of the plastic walls of a small white tent used for COVID testing in the winter wind. The famous palatial museums and domed churches of the city were all closed. When I had previously visited Rome, in the summers to work as an archaeologist on excavations, I was always amazed by the auditory volume: how animated conversations, the clanking of bottles, and the sound of wheels over cobblestones echoed off tall apartment buildings. But in January 2021, it was possible to hear a siren from an out-of-sight ambulance or the sound of a newscaster filtering out of a window, announcing the most recent totals: 80,000 dead.

And the numbers were rising again. The plateau of deaths achieved by the first strict lockdown had more than doubled. On December 3, 2020, 993 patients died in one day, the highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic. As I walked through the Trastevere neighborhood—normally full of tourists and those catering to them—I saw a bar famous for its normally raucous crowds and cheap beers, now shuttered. Above it hung a large paper sign, posted during the strict lockdown months before. It read “Ci vorrebbe un miracolo” (we need a miracle). The paper was tattered and starting to sag.

Nearby, but on the other side of the river, was the reason I’d come. I was in Rome to work on my dissertation project about ancient sculpture, and in particular one ancient Roman statue now known as “Pasquino.” Unlike most of the very old statues I study, this fragmentary monument still stands outside at nearly the spot where it was excavated 521 years ago. But in a city full of ruins, this one meant something special.

The first time I saw the Pasquino on the 2021 trip, I found that I was alone with the sculpture. Several small pieces of paper were taped to its plinth. Like the “We need a miracle” sign, these notes were torn and hard to read, evidently posted days or weeks before.

Rome is covered in graffiti to such an extent that posted and scrawled words on buildings in the city center seem to be simply part of the city’s carefully maintained patina, like the peeling orange and yellow plaster facades of Baroque buildings or the characteristic black cobblestones known as pietrini. Most of the posted notes were written in Italian. 

. . . .

I knew from my interest in the Pasquino statue that the practice of posting such notes on it was not new. In fact, the people of Rome have been leaving notes on the monument for over half a millennium.

. . . .

The next time I saw the Pasquino, this centuries-old tradition was in full effect. The night before, an Italian American artist had covered the statue’s entire plinth in strips of butcher paper as part of a guerilla installation. The brown paper was punctuated by anonymous quotes written in black marker, mostly in English, which the artist had collected online. This work was inspired by the same tradition that I had come to Rome to study: centuries of posting certain kinds of messages, known as pasquinades, on the Pasquino statue.

Still, most passersby kept moving.

However, by that afternoon, something curious had begun to happen: Romans were writing their own thoughts on the large butcher paper, or even attaching their own notes on small pieces of paper beside the artist’s. These began as small additions: a pair of initials, an “I love you,” or a crude drawing. However, the notes did not stop there.

When I returned the next day, there were more, including lines about politics written in the Roman dialect. Although the intervention had been initiated by a visitor, the relative lack of tourists in Rome created a unique situation: the Pasquino had reverted to a venue largely for Romans by Romans. The artist’s installation and the further contributions had a sort of magnetic effect, drawing in pedestrians and spurring the addition of more and more notes. Many were clearly by children: “I want everyone to be happy.” Many focused on the pandemic: “Go away COVID!”

Not all of the lines were appropriate or even legible. But I thought of how, even back in the 16th century, the people of Rome—whether born there, living there, or just visiting—had decided for centuries to document such writing. I felt that these should be similarly documented. I returned to the monument each day to photograph the notes and meet the locals who would gather to read them.

. . . .

The Pasquino monument witnessed the vicissitudes of empire, including a plague and multiple waves of religious persecution. When comparing ancient and modern events, there is always a danger of drawing false or simplistic parallels. But it is easy to see how history can repeat itself in the Eternal City.

The statue is likely about 1,900 years old. And, although broken, the original composition is still known: the statue represents the recovery of a fallen Homeric hero from behind enemy lines during the Trojan War. In the sculpture, the living warrior’s head twists dramatically to look behind him as he drags the corpse of his dead comrade: he is not yet safe.

Perhaps the dead warrior lifted from the ground was Achilles, or his ill-fated companion Patroclus. Either way, the image would have spurred an ancient Roman viewer to do the “right” thing: to be brave against all odds, to be dutiful to their country and comrades, and to recover and respectfully bury the bodies of the dead.

The marble copy of the statue from the Parione district in Rome was originally displayed near the Stadium of Domitian. This was a huge boat-shaped building, built around the year 80 CE, that was used to entertain the Roman masses with Greek-style footraces and other athletic events.

Some hundred years after the stadium was built, in the second century CE, Roman soldiers returning from campaigns in the east brought a new illness home with them, likely smallpox. As many as two thousand people died in the city of Rome each day in the year 189 CE. Some historians estimate that up to 10 percent of the empire’s total population was felled, including the co-emperor Lucius Verus. Spurred by this catastrophe and a series of other political and economic crises late in the Roman Empire, the demographics of Rome began to shift. Christians were publicly executed in stadiums like Domitian’s; their deaths served as entertainment alongside games.

Link to the rest at Public Books

via Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons

Exit Strategies for Alaskan Wine Bars

From Electric Lit:

Leigh Newman is a queen of detail. Not motes-in-the-air kind of details (though I’m sure she could describe a dust cloud and make it sparkle like rubies and emeralds), but the assemblage-of-particularities-and-peculiarities sorts of details that jump off the page and burrow into your brain. The first we encounter in “Valley of the Moon” is on the city bus, the delightfully (and truly) named People Mover of Anchorage. The narrator’s erstwhile neighbor “smells of poop and woodsmoke and sticky raspberry brandy.” Not a great list of smells, I’ll admit, but evocative, both of the smeller and the smelled—and important for our purposes. When we learn the smeller, our viscerally self-aware and self-deprecating narrator, Becca, is an experienced drinker (riding the bus because of her revoked license, owing to a “wet and reckless” the previous year), who’s had to clean up quite a few messes made by herself and her mother, suddenly the more subtle corners of that description billow out from a one-liner into something with a second and third dimension.

That variety of slight and slanted character development, her elegant and unsettling world-building, shows up again and again across “Valley of the Moon.” The next scene opens in Anchorage’s version of a schmancy wine bar, which was in a former life a dentist’s office and still has that vibe; the entry hall is lined in rent-a-plants and the bar shares a bathroom (the key tethered by a piece of forget-me-not driftwood) with a podiatrist’s office. Not the most ambiance, but perhaps the most this corner of the world, known for many things but not its French bistros, can offer. Here two sisters—one with a do-not-serve on her ID, one with a hugely pregnant belly—order a bottle of very expensive wine from the world’s most (rightly) skeptical waitress. From there, decades of lived experience, resentment and disaster and love, pour out of Becca, the glass of red and dozen raw oysters (“hunks of dead lung on a shell,” for the record) and the waitress’s scar all acting a bit madeleine-ish.

It’s a creeping suspicion at first, that there’s some architecture and intention to these wild, wily details, the weave of present and past, but as time and the story march on, you come to realize that while Newman’s descriptions may be presented casually, often seeming to be off-handed oh-by-the-ways, they are the opposite of chockablock. You’ll have to get to the end of “Valley of the Moon” to understand why it’s absolutely elegant, and a bit heartbreaking, that the story starts on public transit and that these sisters reunite in a French-ish bar, but Newman’s route through strange smells and vivid memories and delicately rendered disaster is worth every turn.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

As the scale of science expands, so does the language of prefixes

From The Economist

Nowadays every factory seems to be a “gigafactory”. Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla, recently cut the ribbon on a fourth facility by that name, in Berlin. Tesla’s Shanghai Gigafactory has been in the news for a covid-related halt in production. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (tsmc), one of the world’s most important chipmakers, has begun touting its “gigafabs”. Nissan has announced a gigafactory in Sunderland, in the north-east of England.

Giga- is a prefix meaning “a billion” of something. The Oxford English Dictionary drily describes it as an “arbitrary derivative” of the Greek gigas, “giant”. (The ancient Greeks apparently had no need for a specific word for “billions”.) But the various gigafactories don’t always produce billions of anything: each month the tsmc gigafab can start about 100,000 silicon wafers used for making microchips, making it more of a hectokilofactory. (Hekaton and khilioi really are Greek for 100 and 1,000.) Tesla, at least, can claim that its original Gigafactory in Nevada supplies billions of watt-hours of battery-cell output per year.

As science has expanded to the huge and the tiny, the need for new metric-system prefixes has grown accordingly. These have made their way into common parlance mostly through computing. In the 1980s a good computer might have had 256 kilobytes of memory. The first hard drives with a million bytes’ worth of storage introduced the world to the megabyte, a jaw-dropping notion at the time. (Megas, too, was generic in Greek, meaning “great”. A megalomaniac has delusions of greatness, not millionaire status.) But at least many people had heard of the mega- prefix before. When the billion-byte mark was crossed, many began encountering “giga-” for the first time, strange new linguistic territory opened up by Moore’s Law.

It can be only a matter of time before giga- feels ho-hum; after all, a memory card with 128 gigabytes of storage is today the size of a thumbnail and costs around $20. Affordable hard drives now have terabyte—that is, trillion-byte—storage. Having run out of terms for “big”, the borrowers from Greek got creative: teras means “monster”. As billions become workaday, tera- will become the new giga-.

For a while, anyway. Whether or not computing power continues to grow at the rate it has in the past—a matter of some debate—it is inevitable that peta- and exa- will make their debut in the popular consciousness. Already selected by the International Committee for Weights and Measures (icwm), peta- and exa- come from Greek penta (five) and hexa (six), representing 1,0005 and 1,0006. After that, the icwm’s prefix-mongers have decided to go for Latin rather than Greek. They considered septa- and octo- for 1,0007 and 1,0008. But the proposed s- shortening of septa- could have been confused with an abbreviation for a second, and the o- for a zero. So septa- and octo- were deformed to zetta- (1,0007) and yotta- (1,0008).

. . . .

Small is cool too. The fractional equivalent of giga- is nano-, the prefix denoting a billionth. Nanotechnology is big, so to speak: nanoparticles making up nanobeads are hot topics in science and technology. The hip feel conveyed by the prefix was borrowed by Apple, which named its tiny music player the Nano. (Again, the etymology is classical: nanos is the Greek word for “dwarf”.) If nano-, too, eventually becomes humdrum, look out for pico- (a trillionth, from Spanish pico for “a little bit”), femto- and atto-, from the Danish for 15 and 18, referring to 1015 and 1018.

Link to the rest at The Economist (PG doesn’t know if you’ll hit a paywall or not. He didn’t when he clicked, but he may be a special snowflake in the eyes of the editors of The Economist.)

Lost Charlotte Brontë Poems to Go on Sale on Author’s Birthday for $1.25 Million

From Book Riot:

Charlotte Brontë is best known for writing Jane Eyre, but before that, she wrote poetry for her and her sisters’ toy soldiers in a remote English village.

One of these poetry collections, written by the author when she was thirteen, has resurfaced after its last sighting in 1916.

The miniature book is 15 pages long, dated December 1829, and is in its original brown cover. The collection within is titled “A Book of Ryhmes by Charlotte Bronte, Sold by Nobody, and Printed by Herself,” and features ten poems.

It will be exhibited and offered for sale by James Cummins Bookseller of New York and Maggs Bros of London on Brontë’s birthday, April 21st, during the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair. The asking price is $1.25 million.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

What America can learn from Florida’s boom

From The Economist:

As the southernmost state in continental America, Florida is often pooh-poohed as peripheral. Headlines about crimes committed by Floridians, sometimes involving alligators, alcohol, or a combination of the two, have contributed to a wacky “Florida man” stereotype. Many associate Florida with retirement, rednecks and a world-famous rodent, Mickey Mouse.

In fact, Florida has become emblematic of much of America and central to all of it. The state is on the rise, as our special report this week explains. Between 2010 and 2020 its population grew at double the national rate. Florida has overtaken New York to become America’s third-most-populous state after California and Texas, with a dynamic and diverse demography, including fast-rising numbers of Hispanics. It is now the number-one destination for American and foreign movers. In the year to July 31st 2021, 260,000 more people arrived in Florida than left—equivalent to adding a city the size of Buffalo, New York.

Its economic and political heft is growing, too. Florida’s gdp has doubled since 2002. Were it a country, it would rank as the 15th-largest economy in the world, ahead of Mexico and Indonesia. Having recently gained a 30th electoral-college vote, it has more than a tenth of those required to win the presidency. The largest swing state, in the past 12 presidential elections Florida has voted all but twice for the winner. And as home to musicians, athletes and a recent former president, Florida is a cultural trendsetter, for better or worse, as well as ground zero for the fight over government restrictions related to covid-19.

Americans ignore this powerhouse at their peril—and should heed the lessons it holds. For a start, Florida points to the wider looming battle between generations. Its residents include millions of retired Americans who want to limit government spending, even while they use government programmes, such as Medicare, a health-care scheme for the elderly. Younger Floridians, meanwhile, want to see investment in their own future, and are finding cities like Miami increasingly unaffordable.

. . . .

Politically, Florida has come to embody the Republican Party and its rightward tilt. If the Florida-based Donald Trump decides not to run again in 2024, Mr DeSantis is the likeliest Republican nominee for president. The rising number of independents in Florida suggests that people are fed up with both parties. But Democrats look especially vulnerable. A decade ago they claimed 558,000 more registered voters than Republicans; today they trail Republicans by 43,000. Nationally, Democrats need to run more optimistic, centrist candidates who can appeal to independent voters like those in Florida. As it is, they are struggling to shake off the “socialist” label that Republicans have given them, turning off many voters, notably Hispanics.

Lastly, Florida offers a case study in economic policy. It charges no income tax, which enhances its appeal, as do the pro-business attitudes of the state’s leaders. The pandemic has prompted people and firms to reconsider where they want to be based, leading many to move out of high-tax, high-regulation states (such as New York and California) to Florida and Texas, which are pro-business and tax-light. Silicon Valley and Wall Street types are attracted to a place where politicians welcome them and never condemn their success.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG suggests that, for many western Europeans, Florida is a place which is quite puzzling. Massachusetts is much easier for them to understand.

California and Texas also seem more than a bit bizarre as well.

The vast majority of Americans speak English as their first language, but, while English has certainly had an impact, the diverse set of Hispanic-origin cultures that sprang up in various parts of the country has, for PG, a more interesting influence.

California and Texas border on Mexico and each contains a lot of Mexicano in its culture.

You’ll also hear a lot of Spanish in some parts of Florida, but the Latino influence is different, more affected by the many islands of the Caribbean where Spanish was planted long before English was heard.

From The Tampa Bay Times:

“Literary” is probably not the first adjective that comes to mind when you think of Florida.

Time to reconsider. The Sunshine State has attracted dozens of notable writers, as a place to live and a place to write about, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Whether it’s hurricanes (deployed to great effect by such writers as Zora Neale Hurston, John D. MacDonald and Peter Matthiessen), alligators (Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, Karen Russell et al.) or bizarre criminals (Hiaasen, Dorsey, Jeff Lindsay, Randy Wayne White and many more), Florida offers plenty of material.

We have bustling cities and vast expanses of wilderness, pristine beaches and gaudy tourist traps, not to mention plenty of universities with writing programs. It’s no wonder that well-known authors can be found in almost every corner of the state — and that their work has depicted Florida as everything from paradise to hell on earth.

. . . .

To compile this map of literary Florida, I first chose to limit it to fiction writers, living and dead. Florida can claim plenty of great nonfiction writers, poets and playwrights as well, of course, but I was aiming for a manageable number. Here are my criteria for this selection of novelists and short story writers: They have lived in the state at some point and have used Florida as a setting for their fiction.

Since it’s a selection, I have also chosen to grandfather in one writer who doesn’t meet both criteria. Jack Kerouac is one of the most famous literary figures associated with St. Petersburg and Orlando, having lived for a time in both cities in the 1960s. But he never, as far as I know, wrote about Florida in his fiction.

However, a letter by Kerouac that recently came up for auction reveals that he planned to do so. Dated Sept. 27, 1968, a time when he was living in St. Petersburg, the typed one-page letter to New York literary agent Sterling Lord outlines Kerouac’s plans for his never-completed final book, the working title of which was Spotlight.

He begins, “Here’s what I’ll do with SPOTLIGHT. I’ll use my public appearances on TV and lectures as rungs in the ladder of the narrative. In betwixt, I can throw in more private matters, such as my two physical beatings in bars (‘Spotlight’ indeed), and other things, but the main tale will be. I’ll start with when I’m living on that back porch in Florida with my Maw in 1957, broke, arguing about what to buy for dessert because we have no money for meat, and suddenly Time Magazine comes in to interview me about the upcoming publication of ON THE ROAD.”

The letter goes on to describe a wild, globe-trotting plot for a book Kerouac never finished. He died in St. Petersburg in October of 1969 while still living with his “Maw,” Gabrielle, and his third wife, Stella.

. . . .


Brad Meltzer, 45, thrillers, Book of Lies

Cape Coral

Jeff Lindsay, 62, mysteries, Darkly Dreaming Dexter


Lisa Unger, 45, mysteries, Black Out


Kate DiCamillo, 51, children’s books, Because of Winn-Dixie

Cross Creek

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1896-1953, literary fiction, The Yearling


Zora Neale Hurston, 1891-1960, literary fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God

. . . .


Hugh Howey, 40, science fiction, The End Is Nigh

Key West

Ann Beattie, 67, literary fiction, The New Yorker Stories

Judy Blume, 77, children’s and adult fiction, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself

Jimmy Buffett, 68, mysteries, Where Is Joe Merchant?

Meg Cabot, 48, YA novels, Abandon

Jim Harrison, 77, literary fiction, Julip

Ernest Hemingway, 1899-1961, literary fiction, To Have and Have Not

John Hersey, 1914-1993, literary fiction, Key West Tales

Thomas McGuane, 75, literary fiction, Ninety-two in the Shade

Thomas Sanchez, 71, literary fiction, Mile Zero

Joy Williams, 71, literary fiction, Breaking and Entering

Stuart Woods, 77, mysteries, Blood Orchid

. . . .


Suzanne Brockmann, 55, thrillers and romance, Nowhere to Run

Tony D’Souza, 41, literary fiction, Mule

Stuart Kaminsky, 1934-2009, mysteries, Midnight Pass

Stephen King, 67, horror, Duma Key

John D. MacDonald, 1916-86, mysteries, The Deep Blue Good-by

Link to the rest at The Tampa Bay Times

7 Contemporary Horror Novels that Push Boundaries

From Electric Lit:

The grocery store of all places was my initial indoctrination into the world of horror. As my father shuffled up and down the aisles, dutifully stacking groceries in the cart for our family, I would sneak away to the magazine section and my eye was always drawn to the shiny paperback display brimming with such creepy covers as Salem’s LotThe Legacy, and Flowers in the Attic

At first, I was too frightened to even touch the books. My young mind was convinced whatever horrors lurked behind those monolithic and terrifying covers would surely emerge from the pages and follow me home to stalk me at night. But as I grew older, just as Lucky Charms were a staple of my grocery booty as a kid, mass market horror novels found their way into my diet as an early teen.

My love for the genre has only grown in time, and my tastes in horror have become vast. Lately, I have been craving new voices and favoring authors who are not afraid to take risks, push boundaries, and speak bravely from their own unique perspective. 

More importantly, I enjoy reading from voices that have a unique or daring tone that breaks the mold and pushes the horror genre into interesting and new paradigms—everything from classic monster scares, to psychological horror, to shivering Gothic tales. These are my seven favorite horror novels from boundary pushing authors with bold and unique voices. 

Blanky by Kealan Patrick Burke

A quick and biting read from one of my favorite contemporary horror authors. The amount of grief, despair, and dread Burke manages to cram into 79 pages is a feat in its own right as we follow the tale of a father coping with his recently deceased infant daughter. The revelations are beyond disturbing and if you’d ever told me that someone could make a baby blanket frightening, well, then welcome to the world of Kealan Patrick Burke.

The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza

A powerful Gothic tale that strikes at the heart of male-female binary issues. An unnamed narrator’s home is invaded in the middle of a storm as two mysterious intruders proceed to question the host’s identity. Our protagonist grows increasingly frantic as he fails to satisfy the strange intruders’ harassment to the point where his own sanity begins to crack. A stand out and original tale on the horrors of gendered violence. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Save the Scribe

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

In his Institutiones, Cassiodorus (c. 485–c. 585) wrote that the work of scribes and illuminators is

a blessed purpose, a praiseworthy zeal, to preach to men with the hand, to set tongues free with one’s fingers and in silence to give mankind salvation and to fight with pen and ink against the unlawful snares of the devil. For Satan receives as many wounds as the scribe writes words of the Lord.

He thinks of the work of the scribe and the illuminator as sacred work but in a martial vein. Each of the scribe’s words harms the flesh of the devil. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a wry injunction to his own scribe, Adam (sometimes identified as Adam Pinkhurst), some nine hundred years later. Chaucer—whose works include translations of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and his own Troilus and Criseyde—berates Adam, threatening the curse of scabs on his head, should he not copy the work more correctly:

Adam scribe, if ever it falls to you
Boethius or Troilus to write anew
Under your long locks you must have the scale
Unless you make my words more true
So many a day I must your work renew
Correct it and also rub and scrape
And all that is from your negligence and haste.

What we have here are two contrasting visions of the work of the scribe. Cassiodorus was a Roman Christian. He wrote his Institutiones from the monastery he founded at Vivarium in the sixth century, and his texts were likely copied by fellow monks who saw their work as in the service of God. Chaucer was a fourteenth-century London-based bureaucrat and poet, and his texts were largely copied by professional scribes working in commercial workshops in and around Chancery (in London).

In whatever context they worked, when we—as readers, centuries later—encounter the works of these scribes, we have an intimate connection with the figures who shaped the words on the folios we see.

Many people assume that it was only men—particularly monks—who worked as scribes in the medieval period. But this popular assumption is wrong, on two levels: first, many manuscripts were written by secular figures, not monks, and second, many were written by women (and this always seems to surprise people). In around 732 Saint Boniface (c. 675–754), a Christian missionary in Germany, received a letter from a nun named Leoba. It was a kind of eighth-century cover letter. She requested that he pray for her parents, to whom he was related, and included a poem which she excused as “exercising little talents and needing your assistance.” Leoba added that she had learnt to write poetry “under the guidance of Eadburga,” likely the abbess of Thanet.

This makes Leoba the first named English female poet. Her letter is just one of a number of indications that early medieval English nuns could be highly learned—not just literate, and not just writing letters, but also composing poetry. Leoba’s letter was successful: later she joined Boniface in his missionary work in Germany and became abbess of Tauberbischofsheim. When she wrote the letter, however, she was part of the Benedictine double-monastery of Wimborne, in Dorset. Such an institution would probably have had a bustling scriptorium, perhaps even two of them—one for the male house and one for the female.

It’s likely that Leoba copied manuscripts there. Her work may have been prized both inside and outside the institution. The abbess Eadburga, whom Leoba mentions in her letter, was a scribe so skilled that Boniface wrote to her in about 735 to ask for a particular text: “I beg you further to add what you have done already by making a copy written in gold of the Epistles of my master, Saint Peter the Apostle, to impress honor and reverence for the sacred scriptures visibly upon the carnally minded to whom I preach.”

As Boniface’s request makes clear, the value of a manuscript was not only in the text it contained but also in the visual beauty of its folios. (Later, Eadburga received a gift of a silver stylus from Boniface’s successor, Lul, perhaps in recognition of her skill as a scribe.) It is striking that Boniface does not want just any copy of the Petrine Epistles but specifically requests Eadburga’s penwomanship. A manuscript was not simply a repository of text but an embodiment, in visual and physical form, of the sacral power of Scripture. Such an artifact could not be created by just anyone.

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

Books on Exiles

From The Wall Street Journal:

Three Rings

By Daniel Mendelsohn (2020)

Among the riches of this stunning work is its portrait of the exile of Erich Auerbach. An extraordinarily gifted German-Jewish scholar, Auerbach fled the Nazis for Istanbul, where, chiefly from memory, he wrote “Mimesis,” a major work of literary criticism. “Three Rings” begins with Daniel Mendelsohn’s own voluntary exile from America in the early 2000s. In search of witnesses to the Nazis’ slaughter of his family in Polish Bolechów, he traveled to Uzbekistan, Sweden, Ukraine, Belarus and Australia. On returning home to New York, he suffers an involuntary exile from his accustomed desires and preoccupations—a posttraumatic internal exile. A “vacant wanderer,” he becomes a virtual prisoner of his own rooms. In “Three Rings,” Mr. Mendelsohn recovers his authorial presence, where it flourishes and glides effortlessly into the stories of other wanderers and émigrés, among them W.G. Sebald.


By W.G. Sebald (1990)

W.G. Sebald is the German-born author of some dozen enrapturing books. The most engaging are not novels, although they are novel-like; nor are they travelogues, although they function that way. They are “traveling” works of sensation and meditation, framed by uncanny photographs that have only peripheral relevance to the matter at hand. This book’s German title—“Schwindel. Gefühle.”—also means the feeling of a swindle, a cheat, which in this case refers to the unreliability of memory and perception. At the time of his death in 2001, Sebald was a professor of German literature in England, where he had exiled himself in protest against his country’s hideous crimes. His books report the ruminations of a wandering observer in conversation with others like him—almost all of them distraught, all exiles in one sense or another. In “Vertigo,” Sebald speaks through the masks of Stendhal and Franz Kafka: Stendhal, as he revisits the bloodied battlefield of Marengo, Italy, the scene of one of Napoleon’s victories, which no longer accords with his memories of fighting there; and Kafka, as he vacations at the lakeside resort of Riva, Italy, the setting for part of Kafka’s great story “The Hunter Gracchus”—its protagonist, though dead, travels the world on a barge that cannot find its way to the afterlife. Sebald’s work reflects the extraordinary suffering that humans have inflicted on one another, as well as the suffering of the observer who would give a truthful account of this horror but cannot be sure it is true.

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

Secluded in his library, Montaigne looked inwards for inspiration

From The Economist

Like many people, as he grew older Michel de Montaigne paid close attention to the workings of his body. He began to feel the cold in his bones; his servants brought him clothes at night “to warm my feet and stomach”. He liked to sleep for eight or nine hours, he tells his readers, and avoided “violent activities” that “bring on sweat”. He could not eat even two meals a day without vomiting—but if he skipped one, flatulence and a dry mouth ensued.

These are not the typical musings of a renowned thinker, but Montaigne’s Essays are not typical works of philosophy. In 1570, after sitting in Bordeaux’s parliament for 15 years, Montaigne retired to his chateau (pictured). This self-imposed solitude proved productive. He published two volumes of the “Essays” in 1580 and a third in 1588. In their pages he explores topics ranging from friendship to architecture to child-rearing. His prose weaves together history, personal experience and arguments from his favourite philosophers; anecdotes about his napping schedule are juxtaposed with maxims.

It was Montaigne who popularised the essay genre. The name derives from the French verb essayer, “to try”, and Montaigne viewed his chapters as attempts to understand a topic. In “Of Drunkenness”, for instance, he examines philosophers’ views on booze (Socrates and Cato both enjoyed a tipple). German drinking habits of the 16th century are mentioned several times, as are the author’s own tastes. But he never rules on whether drunkenness is right or wrong. Rather, he lays out a range of opinions and lets the reader decide.

Montaigne strove to see the world from other perspectives. In one chapter he recounts various South American customs, such as an unfamiliar drink (“it tastes a bit sharp”) and faith in soothsayers.

. . . .

The writer admits that his “Essays” are a personal undertaking rather than an authoritative, objective study. “Reader,” he confides, “I myself am the subject of my book.” The immediate context included the Wars of Religion that had engulfed France. Conflict between Protestants and Catholics ravaged Bordeaux—the philosopher’s siblings were on opposing sides—yet he resisted polarisation. For his time, Montaigne’s determination to consider other viewpoints was unusual. It still is.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The Dress

From The Paris Review:

I bought the dress known in inner circles—that is, in the echo chamber of my closet—as the Dress in 1987, for a rehearsal dinner in New York for a couple I’ll call Peter and Sally. I found it on sale at Barney’s on Seventeenth Street. On the hanger, it looked like a long, black cigarette holder. It was February, and outside on the street, the wind was coming up Seventh Avenue. I had been married for exactly one month. That year, all my college friends were getting married. We barged from one wedding to another, carrying shoes that hurt our feet. In some cases, we knew each other all too well; sometimes the marriage was the direct result of another marriage, on the rebound: someone’s beloved had married someone else, chips were cashed. In this instance, I had hung around with the groom on and off through college, and the bride had once been the girlfriend of the man I left when I met my husband. The Dress was a sleeveless crepe de chine sheath, with a vaguely Grecian scooped neckline composed of interlocking openwork squares, which sounds dreadful but was not. It was sublime. Cut on the bias, it skimmed the body—and, it turns out, it skims everyone’s body: the Dress has been worn to the Oscars three times—in 2001, 2009, and in 2018—though not by me.

In 1987, the nominees for Best Picture were PlatoonChildren of a Lesser God, The MissionHannah and Her Sisters, and A Room with a View. That year, my husband and I had spent our winter honeymoon in Italy, at the pensione in which Lucy Honeychurch feels so fettered in A Room with a View; we’d eaten our tiny breakfasts from pink plates. Hannah and Her Sisters was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three, including Best Original Screenplay. In those days, I lived in a tiny apartment on West End Avenue with a window that looked out onto the brick wall opposite. In the spring, the wall was covered with morning glories. During those years, my friends and I were eating ramen dry out of the packet and still scrounging, late at night, through the refrigerators of our parents’ apartments—which looked like the apartment in Hannah and Her Sisters—on Central Park West and Riverside Drive, at after-parties that went on long after they should have ended. The movie seemed to us about people inconceivably older than we were, making bad decisions of the kind we would never make. When we thought about our futures it was as if we were looking through the wrong end of a telescope. The week I bought the Dress, a friend of mine saw a man jump from an upstairs window and hurtle into the courtyard of her parents’ Riverside Drive apartment below. She was sitting next to her parents, and her brother, with a girl from Ohio whom he planned to marry. No one said a word.

Of the evening of Peter and Sally’s rehearsal dinner I remember little, except that the heel of my shoe detached when I stepped out of the subway on Seventy-Seventh Street, and that the Dress made me feel like Anjelica Huston in Prizzi’s Honor, a film that had been nominated for Best Picture the year before. Or, at least, that was the idea. ( “Do I marry her? Do I ice her?” asks Jack Nicholson, as Charley Partanna, in the film’s best lines. “Marry her, Charley,” says Huston, as Maerose Prizzi. “Just because she’s a thief and a hitter doesn’t mean she’s not a good woman in all the other departments.”) For the wedding the next day I wore a sleeveless blue-plaid silk dress of my mother’s, made by Jacques Fath in 1952, which was tight in the waist. I was too hot and the zipper broke. The next year my husband and I had a child, and that spring we took her to Florence, where she fell in love with the pigeons in the piazza by Santa Maria del Fiore, and we discovered that at least four pensiones near the Uffizi claimed to be the one where A Room with a View had been filmed.

But the Dress? Like many things we think belong to us, it’s had a life of its own, like an old lover who resurfaces, now a fish wearing a waistcoat, in dreams. In 2001, extracted from behind a pile of snowsuits and maternity clothes, it went to the Oscars, for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, written by Kuo Jung Hsai, Hui-Ling Wang, and James Schamus, which had been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. “What am I going to wear?” Schamus’s wife, Nancy, had asked me as we sat in the Riverside Park playground six months before 9/11, watching two little girls pour cold sand on each other’s head.  A decade later, in the second year of the Obama administration, the Dress walked the red carpet, worn by my friend Margaret, when her husband, the cinematographer Tom Hurwitz, was nominated in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category, for Killing in the Name, a film about Islamist terrorism. In 2018, my friend Susan, whose husband, André Aciman, wrote the book Call Me by Your Name, came over one afternoon a few weeks before the Oscars to show me and my youngest daughter her outfit: a silk skirt printed with roses, and a shirred black V-neck top. Susan and I pulled a black beaded jacket I had bought at Housing Works out from my closet, and substituted a black silk shell for her top. She wore her own shoes and looked ravishing. From where she was sprawled on my bed, my daughter called, “You should feel like you, not like you’re wearing someone else’s clothes!” Susan looked grim. “I am wearing someone else’s clothes!” she replied. She gave the beaded jacket a gimlet eye. “I think it’s too much.”

“Show her the Dress,” my daughter called back. By now, Susan, who has raised three boys but no girls, was back in her jeans and sweater, ready to go. “I have to get undressed again?” she said, rolling her eyes. The Dress was in a garment bag in the back of the closet, stowed away with a navy-blue evening gown that had been worn only once. “Really?” said Susan. In a moment, the Dress was slipped over her head. “I like it,” she said. “Whose is it?” “Yours,” my daughter said.

When I bought the Dress, I was taking the first steps into the life that would turn out to be my own. By the time it went to the Academy Awards the first time, I’d had a child, gotten divorced, married again, acquired stepchildren, and had another child. In my closet now is a row of dresses I can’t bear to give away: three prom dresses, worn by my three girls; my second wedding dress, a floor-length Edwardian gown made of burgundy velvet, with a jeweled bodice; a fern-green dress embroidered with holly berries, which all of my daughters loathed and called the Christmas Dress; my first Alaïa, impossible to walk in; an apricot dress with a row of twenty-five covered buttons, by Jean Muir, that I wore to my own first rehearsal dinner. The Dress hangs among them.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

National Introverts Week

From Days of the Year:

For those who are introverts, it can always seem like a hassle to fit into a society that thrives on the ability to be outgoing and active. Introverts, however, have a huge value in business and can greatly benefit the workplace.

Introverts can provide perspectives that others may not see, and many times, those who identify with introversion may feel pressured to fit into society by acting extroverted.

National Introverts Week aims to change the stereotypes that people believe when it comes to introverts and help those see the benefits introversion has to offer.

. . . .

National Introverts Week was founded by Matthew Pollard, author of the Introvert’s Edge and the Introvert’s Edge podcast. He founded National Introverts Week to encourage introverts not to be ashamed of who they are and give them the opportunity to teach them how they can be successful in business and life.

National Introverts Week is about celebrating introversion, seeing the benefits it can have in life, and teach people who don’t understand introversion that it just as valid as extroversion and in many ways, can be successful in any aspect of life.

The terms introversion and extroversion have been popularized by the psychologist Carl Jung, who was famous for his new science of analytical psychology that still is used today. These term are used to differentiate the self using the consious and subconcious elements of a person’s mind, such as personality traits.

Many argue about how extroverts, the outgoing, energetic behavior, are valued in society as a trait that breeds success, while those who are considered more introverted show off the more negative consequences of their traits, which include their solidary, secluded behavior. National Introverts Week is about changing those perspectives, stating how ambition is not excluded to extroverts, and how introverts don’t have to adhere to a standard to be successful.

Link to the rest at Days of the Year

Not exactly about books, but more than a few authors and readers would likely qualify as introverts.

It was not clear to PG during his quick scan of the site exactly which nation is celebrating National Introverts Week at the moment.

The Scandinavian nations with their long winters are believed by some to generate more than their share of introverts, so perhaps everyone in Finland is staying home and reading this week.

What Can Animals Tell Us About Emotions?

From The Wall Street Journal:

To a neuroscientist like me, the inner workings of our emotional brains seem as mysterious as the inner workings of a black hole must have seemed to an astrophysicist like my late father. Yet everyone seems to think they understand emotions because, unlike black holes, we experience them in our everyday lives. This disconnect between what we actually know, and what we think we know, about emotions has led to considerable confusion and heated debate.

Some prominent brain researchers have argued that “emotions” are something that can only be studied in humans, and not in animals. To those of us who are pet owners, this position seems absurd. Isn’t it obvious that our dogs and cats, including my cat, have emotions? Maybe, but intuition is not enough. We must seek evidence, because animals are not little people in furry costumes and we can be fooled.

We typically attribute emotions to an animal species we can identify with. If a squirrel in Central Park freezes or runs away from me, it must be afraid—because I would feel afraid if I encountered an animal 12 times taller than me. Yet without access to the animal’s inner life, how can we be sure that it’s not simply exhibiting an automatic reflex? If a fruit fly freezes or jumps away from us, is it also “afraid?” If it’s just a reflex, why wouldn’t that also be true of the squirrel?

The temptation to project our own feelings onto other species is strong, especially other mammals. Monkeys frolicking with each other must be enjoying themselves. An elephant’s eyes leak fluid when a relative dies; we infer it is sad. Our dogs roll on their backs with their paws in the air; we conclude they are happy to see us. Whales singing in the ocean’s depths sound lonely and lions roaring after a kill must feel “triumphant.”

But we are even willing to attribute emotions to animals that are nothing like us. A captive octopus floridly changing color as children tap on its tank invites us to believe it is expressing irritation. But it may simply be trying reflexively to match its skin coloration to the flashing reflections of its human visitors. Moreover, if we insist that the octopus has emotions, then why not the same for its molluscan cousins? When a sea scallop encounters a predatory starfish, it rapidly snaps its shells open and shut as it somersaults to safety; is that panic? We often refer to bees swarming from their hive to attack an intruder as “angry.” If so, are fighting fruit flies (yes, even male fruit flies fight over females) also “angry?” Or are all of these diverse creatures just performing automatic survival behaviors, hard-wired into their brains by eons of evolution?This is more than just an academic issue. Answers about animals could provide much-needed aid to research into human mental health. Because of our lack of understanding of how the brain controls emotions, there has hardly been a fundamentally new drug for treating mental illness in the last 50 years. Indeed, most pharmaceutical and biotech companies have given up the search after costly failures.

Current treatments for serious psychiatric illnesses like depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder remain inadequate —and those that work often have damaging side effects, likely because most such drugs just flood the brain with chemicals like serotonin or dopamine. That’s like changing the oil in your car by opening up the hood and pouring a can of lubricant all over the engine, in the hope that some of it will dribble into the right place. Maybe so, but a lot of it will seep into places where it does more harm than good.

Human research into mental health and emotion typically relies on brain scans. But such studies alone can only identify correlations, not cause and effect. For that we need to enter and perturb the brain, its neurons and circuits. For ethical reasons, this cannot be done in human subjects; we need well-controlled neuroscience studies of emotions in laboratory animals. That means we need to determine whether a given animal’s behavior expresses an emotion or is just an adaptive reflex.

My Caltech colleague Ralph Adolphs and I have argued that to study emotions in animals, we should go beyond “feelings,” since animals can’t communicate those to us. Conscious feelings in humans are just the exposed tip of the brain’s emotional iceberg; there is a huge unconscious part below the surface that we share with many other creatures. The part below the surface involves internal brain states, or characteristic patterns of electrical and chemical activity. These brain states, the building blocks of emotion, are manifested by behaviors that have telltale signs that distinguish them from reflexes.

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

The author of the OP is also the author of The Nature of the Beast: How Emotions Guide Us.

10 Animated Movies You Didn’t Know Were Based on Children’s Books

From ScreenRant:

The Secret Of Nihm (1982)

Many fans of this Don Bluth classic might be shocked to know that the movie was very loosely based on an old novel from the 1970s by Robert C. O’Brien. The story is about a family of mice who live near a farm and struggle to survive. One day, Timothy, one of the children, becomes sick and delays their plans. On the advice of a mysterious owl, the family asks for help from escaped lab rats from “NIMH.”

This movie was Don Bluth’s first-ever feature film and is a cult classic amongst old school animation fans. The Secret of NIMH sets the tone for Don Bluth’s solo projects going forward. Audiences knew they could expect amazingly high-quality animation as well as darker story elements within Don Bluth’s movies. They were beautifully made dark fantasy movies and could be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs

Considered by many to be one of the best animated movies produced by Sony, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was based on a 1978 novel by Judi Barret, with illustrations by her then-husband, Ron Barrett. Of course, the only thing the movie really adapts from the book is the part about food falling from the sky. Otherwise, they go completely off the rails with the premise.

The story is set in a town called Swallow Falls, where Flint Lockwood, a mad scientist, invents a machine that converts water into any type of food.  When Sam Sparks covers this story, he finally gets the respect he had never had before. However, the machine soon grows unstable, and it’s a race against time (not thyme, please) to fix everything. The movie is remembered very fondly thanks to its incredibly zany visuals as well as absurd and over-the-top humor, totally deserving of its Certified Fresh on RottenTomatoes.

Link to the rest at ScreenRant

J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Releases Rarely-Seen Illustrations From the Author

From Book Riot:

The estate for J.R.R. Tolkien has released a new website that includes paintings and illustrations from Tolkien not previously available to the public. They can be browsed for free, including paintings, maps, and calligraphy. The website also includes letters, video clips, photographs, and more.

The estate explains that maps were an “integral part of Tolkien’s world-building” and that he drew them as he wrote his novels. The maps included range from broad maps of the world to ones with a more narrow focus, like the Shire.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Contemporary novels from the past

From Hollow Lands:

Unless they are set in an exotic location or exotic demographic, [writers of contemporary fiction] expect their audience to understand the culture that they share with the author. And, so, they often waste no breath on explaining the things that everyone knows. They just get on with the story.

Still, time does pass, and the settings of such books do grow distant and unknown from their latest readers. Part of the appeal of these works for modern readers lies in their matter-of-fact portrayal of a different time in the ancestry of the current culture.

The picture above shows a camping trip in 1920. There was quite a fashion for these in the early years of the family automobile. Farmers from the mid-West could now take their families safely and conveniently on a multi-week vacation, participating in one of the luxuries that was previously unaffordable for them, educating the mind by seeing other places, and glorying in the exercise and fresh air that are everyone’s right.

How do I, specifically, know this? Why, I read about it, in Gene Stratton-Porter’s 1925 novel: The Keeper of the Bees.

The same exact vehicle is featured in some of the early scenes (our desperate hero is given a ride by a kind family on vacation). She describes its numerous conveniences as we would the latest high-tech camping gear. Even the fashionable pageboy haircut sported by the young girl on the left is part of the persona of another major character who could be the very same child.

Stratton-Porter‘s best known work is Freckles (ignore the execrable & worthless movies), and she has several others. They were aimed at an adult audience, of course, but have survived in popularity as part of that cultural-core of wholesome books suitable for an adolescent readership in my own childhood, like the dog-focused novels of Albert Payson Terhune.

What you may not know is that she was as popular in her day as J. K. Rowling is today.

Only 55 books published between 1895 and 1945 sold upwards of one million copies. Gene Stratton-Porter wrote five of those books—far more than any other author of her time.

Link to the rest with more information at Hollow Lands. If you have problems with this link to the post, go to the Main Page and work your way through the blog section to November, 2021.


From The Wall Street Journal:

When it comes to motion-picture exposés, who wouldn’t want to read about a secretive place “where famous directors are reduced to tears and multimillionaire actors reduced to fits of rage”? This image may evoke a Hollywood Babylon, but Kevin Goetz is describing ordinary movie theaters where audience test-screenings are conducted. In “Audience-ology: How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love,” Mr. Goetz lays bare the ins and outs of survey questionnaires, demographics and psychographics, biometric wristbands, and night-vision cameras.

“Audience-ology” is an informal, entertaining brief for movie testing as an expression of effective audience empowerment. Mr. Goetz has been involved in audience-survey research for more than 30 years; in 2010 he formed Screen Engine/ASI, which currently conducts most of Hollywood’s test screenings. His experience leads him to embrace the wisdom of crowds, at least when it comes to films: “Not only do audiences know what a good movie is,” he tells us; “sometimes, they know better than the filmmakers themselves and the executives charged with shepherding the films to the screen.”

One might reasonably assume that Mr. Goetz has a vested interest in defending audience research, and he is certainly not shy about promoting his services. (“I’m lucky to have a company filled with experienced and dedicated professionals who can handle these complex projects,” etc.) Yet he supports his populist faith with numerous examples, spanning from the silent era to the present. He includes interviews with notable producers, directors and actors—among them, Ron Howard, Drew Barrymore and Richard Zanuck—who relate their experiences and insights. (There are limits to what the author can discuss about his own work, however, due to nondisclosure agreements.)

The practice of movie testing originated, we are told, around 1919, when the slapstick comedian Harold Lloyd honed his pratfalls based on audience reactions. By the 1930s, test screenings were extended to other genres, but the research process was still more intuitive than analytic, focusing on ad hoc questions and audience monitoring. During the 1970s, in-depth research methods became desirable as the costs and profits of movies grew. It was not until the new century, however, that Hollywood adopted the popular mantra of data-driven decisions: Testing now became “a protocol.”

This mandate amplified the significance of survey results. A film’s potential profitability is forecast by two scores: the rankings of overall quality (from “excellent” to “poor”) and the likelihood that viewers would recommend the movie to others. Studio suits and film creatives alike are understandably anxious as they huddle in the back rows during a screening, scrutinizing an audience’s spontaneous reactions, and later as they watch the focus-group interviews. Money, art and careers depend on the discernment, if not the kindness, of strangers.

Mr. Goetz demonstrates that testing often improves films in ways large and small. Audiences are adept at evaluating a movie in terms of its core elements, such as plot cohesion, character plausibility and thematic focus. Filmmakers sometimes lose sight of these while laboring on a detailed and lengthy production; audience feedback redirects them to the flaws that become obvious in retrospect.

In the case of “Thelma & Louise” (1991), for example, screeners loved everything about the movie except the original ending, which briefly showed the couple cruising down a road after they had driven off a cliff. Ridley Scott, the film’s director, intended the coda to be a visual metaphor for the pair’s spiritual partnership. Viewers considered it inauthentic and downgraded their scores. The coda was excised, the test scores rose and the ending has since become iconic.

Beginnings matter as well. An early version of “La La Land” (2016) lacked any songs during its first 12 minutes. Audiences settled in for what they assumed was a romantic comedy and found it jarring when the film unexpectedly became a musical. Fortunately the filmmakers had already shot a bravura song-and-dance sequence set on a Los Angeles freeway, which had been cut because it didn’t advance the plot. “Another Day of Sun” now starts the film, sounding the necessary keynote.

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

PG wonders if anyone has ever heard about a publisher conducting this sort of research.