The ebook at 50 — is the dream of a free, universal library fading?

From The Financial Times:

Fifty years ago, on July 4 1971, Michael S Hart typed the text of “The Declaration of Independence” into a Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the University of Illinois. He circulated a note to the roughly 100 users in that pre-internet age, explaining the document was free to share. And with that, the world’s first ebook was born. It would be downloaded by six users.

Hart, who died in September 2011 at the age of 64, spent 40 years of his life building the world’s first digital library, Project Gutenberg. He stubbornly argued against restrictive access and copyright practices, which went against his grand vision: “To bring as many books to as many people as possible.”

His vision has not wholly succeeded. Over the past two decades, the cut-throat commercialism of ebooks has become a problem for readers and libraries. In 2019, the American Library Association criticised Amazon, which has a huge slice of the ebooks market, for refusing to make its ebooks available to libraries “for lending at any price or any terms” and spoke against the delayed release of ebooks by other publishers to library markets.

But in the early 2000s, I stumbled across Hart’s Project Gutenberg as a paralegal researcher and then as a journalist looking for archives and databases online. It was a treasure house. Delhi and Kolkata were reader-friendly cities, with decent bookshops and historical archives, but public libraries were — and are — still scarce.

Readers who grew up in countries without extensive library networks will know how it feels to be handed the keys to this treasure trove of books that you could download and store for yourself, forever. I find messages in a Hotmail archive from 2003 between me and other bookish friends in Coimbatore and Mumbai. We were like astronauts, cast into space and dazzled by a universe of delights. A friend wrote to me after her first foray into Project Gutenberg’s catalogue, “More books than you can imagine! We are *rich*!”

Hart’s online library had a slow start — disk space in the 1970s and early 1980s was so limited that storing a complete book was almost impossible — but by May 1999, Project Gutenberg had a collection of 2,000 books. Five years later, that had grown to 10,000 public domain works online, including The King James Bible and Alice in Wonderland.

Today, the main Project Gutenberg site hosts more than 60,000 free books in languages from English to Finnish. But perhaps Hart’s greatest achievement was that Gutenberg inspired others to found their own free digital libraries, from the mammoth Internet Archive to the World Digital Library.

In much of the public imagination, ebooks are associated with Amazon, which pioneered the commercial sale of ebooks and Kindles. With Amazon, Kobo and the world’s biggest publishers all broadening their ebook readers and catalogues over the past 10 years, the average reader’s comfort with digital books has grown — despite obstacles such as screen fatigue or the delayed availability of many commercially successful books in digital formats for libraries. Even so, a recent industry report by Mordor Intelligence valued the global ebook market at $18bn in 2020.

. . . .

The pandemic has forced a massive change in reading habits, perhaps temporary but still significant. OverDrive, a US company that works with libraries as a digital distributor of ebooks and audiobooks, released data this January showing a global spike in digital borrowing by readers across global public library systems. Notably, children’s books and young adult fiction are being more widely read as ebooks or digital downloads as the pandemic kept families indoors

Link to the rest at The Financial Times (if you have problems with a paywall, you may want to try a browser you haven’t ever used to access the FT)

And here’s a link to Project Gutenberg (much friendlier destination than the FT)

Top 10 bookworms in fiction

From The Guardian:

Reading has always been everything to me, keeping me afloat when the sea of life gets choppy. Working in a bookshop added another dimension; not only was I was soothed in a near magical way by the physical presence of the books, but talking to strangers about them could always lift my mood. What joy, then, to explore all that in a bibliographic memoir. I imagined my dream customer, addressed them directly, and proffered anecdotes and themed booklists. Dear Reader was born.

My ulterior motive was that the novel I was writing was rather too full of characters who did little other than read. ‘“That’s no good,” I said to myself. “Fiction needs action!” 

. . . .

  1. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Orphan Anne Shirley felt as real to me as any of the flesh and blood little girls I knew, and I longed to be able to climb into the pages and join her story club. We have a lot in common. Anne is a ferocious bookworm who gets into trouble for reading Ben Hur in class because she just can’t stop until she knows how the chariot race will turn out. Such is the lure of reading, that she has to get her guardian, Matthew, to lock up tempting books in the jam closet until she has finished her homework.

  1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Cassandra Mortmain writes her diary while sitting in the kitchen sink, capturing her eccentric family. Her father, still famous for his experimental novel Jacob’s Ladder, is now stuck and does nothing but read as many detective novels as he can find. Cassandra’s beautiful sister, Rose, frets because she has no clothes and no opportunities. When they hear that rich Americans are about to move in next door, it reminds them of the scene in Pride and Prejudice where Mrs Bennet says that Netherfield Hall is let at last. Perhaps now something exciting will happen …

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I’ve been reading and rereading this novel since my teens. My favourite scene these days is near the beginning when Anna is returning from meeting Vronsky for the first time and scarcely wants to admit the attraction. On the train home she reads an English novel and it is her impatience and frustration that signal to us that she is about to transgress: “It was unpleasant to read, that is to say, to follow the reflections of other people’s lives. She was too eager to live herself.”

  1. The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

In the first of the Cazalet chronicles, Howard layers up satisfying details about what everyone is reading. Somerset Maugham, Margaret Irwin, Howard Spring and Angela Thirkell all get a mention and the characters are in and out of bookshops. When the brothers and their wives meet at the family home in the country, everyone chooses a book that reveals much about their character.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Heart of the Trouble

From The Paris Review:

In 2007 Gwendoline Riley, then age twenty-eight and already the author of three acclaimed novels, described her writing life as lacking “any tremendous triumph or romance—I feel like I’m just always trying to be accurate, to get everything in the correct proportion.”

As literary aspirations go, it sounds modest. And by superficial measures, Riley’s novels are unambitious: light on conventional plotting, narrow in scope, and told from the perspectives of women close to herself in age and background. Riley has tried using the third person, she said in 2012, but it “always sounds so false.” As for adopting a male point of view: “Ugh, men’s brains! That vipers’ nest? No.” Her protagonists are writers, too, encouraging the frequent assumption that she draws directly from life. But to regard Riley’s fiction as titivated memoir is to misperceive what beguiles her readers: not barely mediated personal experience but its sedulous transmutation by a strange, rare talent. As Vivian Gornick wrote after reading the letters of Jean Rhys, a novelist with whom Riley shares some kinship: “The letters are the life, and the novels—there’s no mistaking it—are the magic performed on the life.”

Nor does Riley write autofiction, if authors in that contentious category aim to replicate the texture of life by dispensing with, in Rachel Cusk’s now famous words, the “fake and embarrassing” architecture of novels. When Riley makes you squirm with recognition, it’s not because of any explicit overlap between author and protagonist or winking acknowledgment of the writing process. Her uncannily observed female character studies, with their bracing emotional clarity, ruthlessly crafted scenes, and consummate use of the telling detail, belong instead to a certain feminist-existentialist tradition of realism. Literary forerunners to Riley’s work include Rhys’s interwar novels of female alienation, as well as Margaret Drabble’s groundbreaking early novels, in which intellectual young women grapple with the hazards and potentials of their desires, thus dramatizing, as the writer Jennifer Schaffer aptly put it, “a fighting urge to disturb the mold of one’s life, as it sets.” Yet what sets Riley apart from even these noble antecedents is her unshrinking determination to contemplate the unseemly, the discordant, and the unsolvable, without ever straying into despair or the maudlin.

Riley, who was born in London and grew up in Merseyside, published her Betty Trask Award–winning debut, Cold Water, in 2002, when she was twenty-two. Given her age, not to mention the gorgeous nouvelle vague–ish author photo adorning advance copies, some preconceived skepticism about the novel’s merit might have been forgivable. Forgivable, but unwarranted, because Cold Water is an understated classic. Our heroine in holey All Stars and a dress over jeans is twenty-year-old Carmel McKisco, a barmaid of a “downbeat disposition” who works in a low-lit Manchester dive, dreams of moving to Cornwall, and nurses an obsession with a failed musician whose band she loved when she was fourteen. Charting Carmel’s poetic musings and alcohol-fueled gadding about, this wistful little ballad of a novel captures with great verve and originality the bittersweet exhilaration of youth, with its various diverting limerences that, in the big picture, shouldn’t matter. “But, you see,” Carmel explains,

the point is, I’m not in the big picture. I’m in Manchester, and I can’t afford to leave just yet … For now I walk around through the scraping wind, through puddles full of brick dust, often with my feet so cold and sodden; the flesh of my toes like soaked cotton wadding spun round the bones.

In Cold Water, rain-bleared Manchester is seen through an artist’s eye. The lights in Piccadilly Gardens cast “an eerie medical glow against the smudge-grey sky.” Some “ragged carnations the color of evaporated milk and tongue” remind Carmel “of the old recipe cards in the back of a kitchen draw at my mum’s.” This light-handed imbrication of visual and emotional detail to conjure atmosphere, a hallmark of Riley’s early novels, makes for the kind of immersive, effortless read that’s often underrated as easy to write. Here’s the short story writer Esther, in 2004’s Sick Notes, describing her roommate’s bedroom:

There’s a duvet cover, framed postcards on the wall, ornaments even: dried up sea urchins, a crouching child figurine, a tiny pair of painted wooden clogs, a ship in a bottle and a Russian doll flanked by the two rubber ducks I got her for her last birthday. Also a plain brass photo frame holding a picture of a small girl standing by a piano. The kid’s on tiptoe, reaching up to jab at the keys. The curtains behind her and the jumper underneath her dungarees are in sour seventies colors. Her facial expression is kind of sour too.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG is not familiar with Ms. Riley’s writing, but the OP doesn’t maker her sound like a person for whom he can generate much sympathy.

He admits the photo in the OP may have affected his judgement, but he is reminded of a short, but difficult, dating relationship he had with a woman in college (years before he met Mrs. PG). This individual was from a wealthy family and had lots of money to spend, but nothing would make her happy for more than ten minutes or so.

Perhaps she suffered from hidden traumas of which PG was unaware, but he headed for greener, sunnier pastures after 3-4 dates. Their last date was a formal dinner at her parents’ home to which PG and two of his male college buddies were invited.

The woman PG was dating became upset when neither PG nor anyone else responded to the invitations in writing and informed the guests that they would be expected to wear suits and ties during a college era when getting dressed up often meant putting on a clean shirt.

The dinner was predictably excruciating with abbreviated polite conversations all around for 90 minutes or so.

As PG thinks back to that occasion, he thinks one of his friends made him send a written thank-you note to their hostess. PG had to ask for a stamp in order to do so.

Fortunately, PG has done a lot of growing up since that time and hopes the woman involved went on to have a wonderful life.

Politics and the English Language – II

PG realizes he had a post about George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language yesterday, but still finds it so compelling for many events of the past year or so (at least in the US), he’s going to post more.

From The Orwell Foundation (PG apologizes for any formatting issues you may encounter. The OP is packed with the lack of spaces and other typographical conventions that don’t translate well to HTML):

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Communist pamphlet

. . . .

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

. . . .

Pretentious diction. Words like phenomenonelementindividual (as noun),  objectivecategoricaleffectivevirtual,  basicprimarypromoteconstitute,  exhibit,  exploitutilizeeliminateliquidate, are used to dress up simple statements and give an air of scientific impartiality to biassed judgements. Adjectives like epoch-makingepichistoricunforgettabletriumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid processes of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien régime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, Gleichschaltung, Weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in English. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, sub-aqueous and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon opposite numbers. The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use a Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the -ize  formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize,  impermissible,  extramarital, non-fragmentatory and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.  age-oldinevitableinexorableveritable, are used to dignify the sordid processes of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realmthronechariotmailed fisttridentswordshieldbucklerbanner,  jackboot,  clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac,  ancien régime,  deus ex machinamutatis mutandisstatus quoGleichschaltungWeltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in English. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite,  ameliorate,  predictextraneous,  deracinatedclandestinesub-aqueous and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon opposite numbers. The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyenahangmancannibalpetty bourgeoisthese gentrylackeyflunkeymad dogWhite Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use a Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the -ize  formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalizeimpermissibleextramarital, non-fragmentatory and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

. . . .

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. 

. . . .

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions, and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White Papers and the speeches of Under-Secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases – bestial atrocitiesiron heelblood-stained tyrannyfree peoples of the worldstand shoulder to shoulder – one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigours which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find – this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify – that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

Link to the rest at The Orwell Foundation

PG first learned about Politics and the English Language when he was in college and a couple of his friends read it for a Semantics class. He read it then and has come back to it from time to time ever since.

PG is currently readint an excellent history of the concentration camps in the Soviet Union during the reign of Joseph Stalin, Gulag, A History, written by Anne Applebaum. He picked up Gulag immediately after finishing another book by Ms. Applebaum titled Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956, about which PG has commented recently.

Will a Traditional Publisher Republish My Self-Published Book?

From Janey Burton, Publishing Consultant:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Janey Burton, Publishing Consultant

Politics and the English Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Orwell Foundation:

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

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

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

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

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression).

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

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia).

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

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York).

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

Communist pamphlet.

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

Letter in Tribune.

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Orwell Foundation

Should MFA Programs Teach the Business of Writing?

From Jane Friedman:

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

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

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

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

Writers should focus on craft first, business later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Inside Higher Ed:

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

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

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

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

Yikes.

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Yikes.

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

Can we charge tuition?

Should we charge tuition?

Must we charge tuition?

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed

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

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

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

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

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

Farming

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

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Publishing Review

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

The visitor, A, was absolutely right.

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

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

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

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

A Brief History of Summer Reading

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Problems with TPV Comments/Comment Editing

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

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

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

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

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worse Than a Dumpster Fire

From Smart Bitches/Trashy Books:

RWA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Smart Bitches/Trashy Books

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

PG is also pure Whitebread.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call me

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

First Paragraph of Moby Dick, but Herman Melville

Here’s a Quarter

For those visitors from outside of the United States, Country-Western music (CW) has a long tradition among US popular music genres.

Part of that tradition includes being looked down on by more than a few people who feel they have more refined musical tastes. While its popularity extends across the US, fans tend to be most concentrated in unfashionable mostly-rural states in the South and lower Midwest.

Yes, PG enjoys classical music and listens to it through most of his workday, but he’s also always enjoyed the gritty, in your face, I-don’t-care-what-anybody-thinks-I-like-it, working-class attitude that is present in a lot of CW songs.

Therefore, last night, PG decided to experiment by dropping a CW video into TPV from time to time. All of the songs PG will use are old ones because he has no knowledge of what’s been happening in this world for several years. For those who hate country music, PG isn’t going to be posting videos featuring it very often. He’ll try to make sure they don’t autoplay on your viewing device, but can’t guarantee anything.

The first is called Here’s A Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares).

The song was written and performed long before anybody but James Bond had cell phones and, if you were away from your home, you needed to use a pay phone to make a call to someone. At the time this song was created, a local call from a pay phone cost a quarter – 25 cents – in most places in the United States.

More than a few CW songs are about lost love, cheatin’ men and cheatin’ women (one famous CW song was titled, “Your Cheatin’ Heart”) and the human tendency to desire a little payback. So, here’s a little country from the point of view of a man who’s been betrayed.

The infantilization of Western culture

From MSN News:

If you regularly watch TV, you’ve probably seen a cartoon bear pitching you toilet paper, a gecko with a British accent selling you auto insurance and a bunny in sunglasses promoting batteries.

This has always struck me as a bit odd. Sure, it makes sense to use cartoon characters to sell products to kids – a phenomenon that’s been well-documented.

But why are advertisers using the same techniques on adults?

To me, it’s just one symptom of a broader trend of infantilization in Western culture. It began before the advent of smartphones and social media. But, as I argue in my book “The Terminal Self,” our everyday interactions with these computer technologies have accelerated and normalized our culture’s infantile tendencies.

Society-wide arrested development

The dictionary defines infantilizing as treating someone “as a child or in a way that denies their maturity in age or experience.”

What’s considered age-appropriate or mature is obviously quite relative. But most societies and cultures will deem behaviors appropriate for some stages of life, but not others.

. . . .

Some psychologists will be quick to note that not everyone puts their “childish ways” behind them. You can become fixated at a particular stage of development and fail to reach an age-appropriate level of maturity. When facing unmanageable stress or trauma, you can even regress to a previous stage of development. And psychologist Abraham Maslow has suggested that spontaneous childlike behaviors in adults aren’t inherently problematic.

But some cultural practices today routinely infantilize large swaths of the population.

We see it in our everyday speech, when we refer to grown women as “girls”; in how we treat senior citizens, when we place them in adult care centers where they’re forced to surrender their autonomy and privacy; and in the way school personnel and parents treat teenagers, refusing to acknowledge their intelligence and need for autonomy, restricting their freedom, and limiting their ability to enter the workforce.

Can entire societies succumb to infantilization?

Frankfurt School scholars such as Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm and other critical theorists suggest that – like individuals – a society can also suffer from arrested development.

In their view, adults’ failure to reach emotional, social or cognitive maturity is not due to individual shortcomings.

Rather, it is socially engineered

. . . .

Researchers on both sides of the Atlantic have observed how this ethos has now crept into a vast range of social spheres.

In many workplaces, managers can now electronically monitor their employees, many of whom work in open spaces with little personal privacy. As sociologist Gary T. Marx observed, it creates a situation in which workers feel that managers expect them “to behave irresponsibly, to take advantage, and to screw up unless they remove all temptation, prevent them from doing so or trick or force them to do otherwise.”

Much has been written about higher education’s tendency to infantilize its students, whether it’s through monitoring their social media accounts, guiding their every step, or promoting “safe spaces” on campus.

. . . .

Researchers in Russia and Spain have even identified infantilist trends in language, and French sociologist Jacqueline Barus-Michel observes that we now communicate in “flashes,” rather than via thoughtful discourse – “poorer, binary, similar to computer language, and aiming to shock.”

Others have noted similar trends in popular culture – in the shorter sentences in contemporary novels, in the lack of sophistication in political rhetoric and in sensationalist cable news coverage.

While scholars such as James Côté and Gary Cross remind us that infantilizing trends began well before our current moment, I believe our daily interactions with smartphones and social media are so pleasurable precisely because they normalize and gratify infantile dispositions.

They endorse self-centeredness and inflated exhibitionism. They promote an orientation towards the present, rewarding impulsivity and celebrating constant and instant gratification.

Link to the rest at MSN News and thanks to Felix for the tip.

PG routinely posts links to books that are discussed in posts, but will note that he noticed the price for the ebook being promoted by the author of the OP. The publisher is Routledge.

Writing Prompt Generator

A website for ServiceScape, “a global marketplace for service-related commerce. An expansion of the freelance directory systems of EditAvenue and LanguageScape.” includes an automated writing prompt generator.

PG gave it a couple of tries:

“Billionaires (Romance)” produced the following:

You’re a woman fleeing an abusive marriage and you meet your husband’s billionaire boss. You fall in love and your husband learns the hard way that abusers don’t win.

PG next pressed “Gothic (Romance) and received the following as his first option:

During the Victorian era, a man has been falsely accused of murdering his neighbor. His wife, desperate to prove his innocence, conducts her own investigation into the crime. Venturing into the castle ruins where the murder took place, she finds both clues and assistance from the long-dead residents of the castle.

PG then clicked through to additional options for “Gothic (Romance)” and received this one:

You’ve worked years to get to where you are as hairstylist to the stars. It’s good work that pays well and lets you help your family back home with their financial struggles. Plus, you love to the work. The only downside is that the patrons of your salon aren’t exactly easy to talk to. Their priorities are so different! Vanity plagues their every move, and their cavalier attitudes drive you crazy. No one is worse than your weekly customer: a billionaire obsessed with his aging appearance. He’s handsome and you know from overhearing a dozen phone calls that he’s pretty charming, so you can’t quite understand why he’s so insecure over a few wrinkles. You tell him as much, and he’s surprised to learn that you find him attractive. He asks you out and, despite the age difference, you find yourself saying yes. Over time, you help him find the confidence he needs. You discover that you share much in common, and love grows.

Obviously PG doesn’t have the technical chops to use the Writing Prompt Generator properly or he needs to update his knowledge of Gothic Romance.

However, PG didn’t give up. He tweaked the response and generated an entirely new genre – Gothic Billionaire Romance.

Here is PG’s Gothic Billionaire Romance writing prompt:

You’ve worked years to get to where you are as hairstylist to the stars in Victorian London. It’s good work that pays well and lets you help your family back home in Wales with their financial struggles and squalor. The only downside is that the patrons of your salon aren’t exactly easy to talk to because you only speak Welsh.

Vanity plagues their every move, and their cavalier attitudes drive you crazy. No one is worse than your weekly customer: a billionaire Duke obsessed with his aging appearance. (Besides, he sends an ox cart to pick you up and bring you to his mostly-ruined castle and then to take you home. His oxen pass gas during the entire journey.)

The Duke is handsome and you know from overhearing him give orders to his servants that he’s unusually charming toward the lower classes, so you can’t quite understand why he’s so insecure over a few wrinkles and a gray goatee. His belly barely shows under his perfectly-tailored velvet waistcoat.  You tell him as much, and he’s surprised to learn that you only speak Welsh.

Fortunately, one of his servants, a wrinkled old woman who looks like she might have been cast off by a billionaire a long time ago is from Wales. The Duke commands her presence and she waddles in, still dreaming of her long-lost billionaire Earl. You speak. The old woman speaks. The Earl speaks. The old woman speaks.

From the old woman, you learn that the Earl wants to ask you out and, despite the age difference and the way he occasionally passes gas, you find yourself saying yes.

Over time, you help him find the confidence he needs with the help of a perfumed handkerchief. You discover that you share much in common, and love grows.

Francesca

This morning, when I was in the train, I read the Fourth [sic] Canto of Hell and was seized with a burning desire to write a symphonic poem on Francesca.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

8 Manga About School Life

From Book Riot:

High school kids fill the pages of many manga series. In fact, it’s a common complaint from readers. Aren’t there any older protagonists? But it makes sense that teen characters dominate the format because this is such a pivotal time in life. This is never more apparent than in manga about school life. Discovering yourself. Remaking your personal image. Forging lifelong friendships. First loves. All these themes, and more, can be found in manga set in school.

But despite the seemingly limited setting, there’s still a lot of variety in the genre. To that end, here are some recommendations for manga about school life:

HORIMIYA BY HERO AND DAISUKE HAGIWARA

Anime fans have probably heard of this series, thanks to the adaptation that aired earlier this year. It introduces us to Kyoko Hori, a pretty and popular high school student, and Izumi Miyamura, her nerdy classmate. But that’s only in school! At home, Kyoko takes care of her little brother and kind of has a bossy and terrible personality. By contrast, despite his in-school reputation, Izumi has multiple tattoos and piercings. And one fateful day, their two paths cross outside of school.

BLUE PERIOD BY TSUBASA YAMAGUCHI

At first glance, Yatora has no reason to complain about his high school career. He’s well-liked by his classmates. He has good grades. What’s there to complain about? But he feels empty inside. That is, he does until a painting catches his eye and he joins the school art club. We’ve all had the experience of going through the motions to please other people at some point in our life, and this really hits that note—and how everything can change when you find your one true driving passion.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG knows nothing about Manga other than they are immensely popular in Japan. He will rely on those more knowledgeable than he is for further information.

If you click on the Amazon affiliate links above, you can use look inside on Amazon to see English-language versions of a lot of different Manga, but the Amazon WordPress embed app that allows PG to include look inside capability on TPV isn’t working.

This is a problem he’s encountering on a more frequent basis with a variety of different Amazon ebooks. He’s not certain whether the WordPress app needs an upgrade or if some publishers are doing something to prevent the app from working. He’s seen this problem even when the Look Inside function works fine on Amazon.

10 More Naming Words Ending in -nym

From Daily Writing Tips:

eponym
The person for whom something is named: chauvinism, Caesarian Section, boycott.

exonym
A name for a people used by outsiders and not by the people themselves. For example, English-speakers call the people of Wales the Welsh.

autonym
A name by which a people refers to itself. The name the Welsh people call call themselves is Cymry. They call their country Cymru. Switzerland, which has four official languages, each of which has a different word for Switzerland–Suisse, Schweiz, Svizzera, Svizra—uses the Latin word Helvetica for the country on its postage stamps and for other uses. Here are some more country autonyms with their English exonyms:

Austria—Österreich
Belgium—Belgique
Germany—Deutschland
Greece—Hellas
Israel—Yisra’el
Japan—Nippon
Poland—Polska
Spain—España
Sweden—Sverige

ethnonym
The name of an ethnic group, tribe, or people. The residents of the United States are called Americans. Other ethnonyms used by Americans include African-American, Black, Indian, Native American, and Asian-American. A similar term, demonym, is a term that refers to the inhabitants of a place. For example, Chicagoans, Londoners, Mancunians (inhabitants of Manchester, England).

toponym
The name of a place. Because the Romans occupied Britain for three and a half centuries, many British place names derive from Latin words. For example, the Romans called their camps castra, a word that developed into the suffix chester/cester, giving modern Manchester, Winchester, and Cirencester.

caconym
“An erroneous name.” The Greek word for badkako, gives us several English words. Cacophony is “bad sound,” for example from an untuned musical instrument, or harsh- sounding words. A cacodemon is an evil spirit. A caconym is a “bad name,” i.e., an incorrect or faulty term. A malapropism, for example, is a caconym.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

The Art of Fiction

From The Paris Review:

Kenzaburo Oe, The Art of Fiction No. 195
Issue no. 183 (Winter 2007)

INTERVIEWER

Many writers are obsessive about working in solitude, but the narrators in your books—who are writers—write and read while lying on the couch in the living room. Do you work amid your family?

OE

I don’t need to be solitary to work. When I am writing novels and reading, I do not need to separate myself or be away from my family. Usually I work in my living room while Hikari listens to music. I can work with Hikari and my wife present because I revise many times. The novel is always incomplete, and I know I will revise it completely. When I’m writing the first draft I don’t have to write it by myself. When I’m revising, I already have a relationship with the text so I don’t have to be alone.

I have a study on the second floor, but it’s rare that I work there. The only time I work in there is when I’m finishing up a novel and need to concentrate—which is a nuisance to others.

.

The Blind
By Sigrid Nunez
Issue no. 222 (Fall 2017)

There are things I’d like to know, too. For example, why, when these two girls want to talk, do they keep getting into their cars and driving to each other’s houses? Why do they never use their phones, not even to text to find out first if the other one is home? Why do they not know things about each other that they could easily have learned from Facebook?

It is one of the great bafflements of student fiction. I have read that college students can spend up to ten hours a day on social media. But for the people they write about, though also mostly college students, the Internet barely exists.

“Cell phones do not belong in fiction,” an editor once scolded in the margin of one of my manuscripts, and ever since—more than two decades now—I have wondered at the disconnect between tech-filled life and techless story.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

The political history of dubbing in films

Not exactly about books, but Felix suggested it and I usually agree with him.

From Salon:

English-speaking audiences rarely come across dubbed films and television programmes. This probably explains why they tend to find dubbing so, well, weird. Dubbed voices usually sound a bit flat and never quite sync up with the mouths we see onscreen. This can be off-putting and perhaps even a bit unsettling.

But since the birth of sound cinema in the late 1920s and 1930s, dubbing has been commonplace in many countries, including (looking just at Europe) Italy, Spain and Germany. Dubbing is still used in many of these countries as a way of translating foreign films and television. In Italy, the dubbing system became so developed in the 1930s that it was even used to add voices to Italian films, right up until the 1980s when the growth of TV (which used directly recorded sound) led to changes in standard industry practice.

So why did such a seemingly bizarre practice gain a foothold in these countries’ burgeoning film industries? After all, aren’t subtitles a better way to keep the original film intact and translate it at the same time? There are a few reasons.

. . . .

In the early 20th century, much of Europe’s film-going population had low literacy levels. Subtitles are useless if you can’t read them (or read them fast enough). There’s also the argument that subtitles ruin a film’s images and keep the viewer’s eyes glued to the bottom of the screen. However, perhaps the most important reason for dubbing’s favour was political.

Dubbing is a brilliant tool for film censorship. Sound films began to appear in the early 1930s, a time when many countries were falling under the sway of totalitarian regimes. In Europe, these included those of Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco and the Nazis. Censorship had been a feature of film production and distribution in Italy, Spain and Germany since before these dictatorships took power, but it increased markedly after they did so.

Italy and Spain, in particular, found dubbing ideologically useful. Mussolini’s Fascists, for example, manipulated foreign films during the dubbing process by changing dialogue to remove any unflattering reference to Italy or Italians. They also used dubbing to alter morally undesirable elements of film plots. For example, the Italian dub of the 1931 American film “Men in Her Life” was altered to remove a reference to Mussolini.

. . . .

Perhaps even more nefariously, they also insisted that films be dubbed into standardised national Italian (the official form of the language that was generally understood around the country). This was an effort to stop people in different regions from speaking local dialects and minority languages, and to prevent foreign words from entering Italian culture. Dubbing became a key nationalist tool that could unify and isolate Italy at a fundamental socio-cultural level.

The same story played out in Franco’s Spain where dubbing kept films ideologically acceptable and marginalised minority languages like Catalan, Basque and Galician. In post-Nazi Germany, dubbing was used to alter film dialogue to play down references to the country’s Nazi past and the atrocities it entailed. For example, the Nazis in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 “Notorious” were rebranded as generic drug smugglers.

. . . .

In the post-second world war period, western Europe (with the exception of Spain) broke free of totalitarianism and literacy began to increase, but dubbing remained. This was partly because it had become an established and familiar habit. But dubbing had also become vital to the system of co-production, which European cinema was increasingly reliant upon. Co-production basically involved two (or more) production companies in different countries teaming up and making a film together. It was popular with producers as it meant they could pool resources and access grants and tax relief from multiple governments.

. . . .

Dubbing meant that each actor could act in the language of their choosing on-set (if you watch an old dubbed film closely, you can often tell that actors are speaking different languages. Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a clear example of this practice). The films were shot without sound and a range of different dubs in different languages were produced in post-production, using various teams of voice actors.

. . . .

Dubbing is still used as a key method of audio-visual translation in many countries and it still attracts politicised debates. For example, the film market in French-speaking Canada has argued that dubs produced in European French are not appropriate for that territory. Dubbing frequently and unsurprisingly ends up at the centre of debates around the politics of language and cultural imperialism, the imposition of one country’s culture onto another country or people.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Pay the writer

From The Bookseller:

I’m currently reading Capitalism’s Toxic Assumptions (Bloomsbury, 2015) by the brilliant writer, Eve Poole. The book meticulously slays capitalism’s dragons in fairy dresses: the assumptions of competition, the invisible hand, ‘market pricing is just’, the supremacy of the shareholder, the legitimacy of the limited liability model and more. It is a very thorough and intellectually robust read. I strongly recommend it.

I did notice that the book doesn’t cover one key toxic assumption that capitalism appears to consider to be fact: writers neither want or need to get paid.

I cannot think of any other reason why anyone would consider it wise or fair to approach a professional writer to work for them for free. I also cannot think of any other realm of professionalism (outside of the creative sphere) in which mega profitable organisations expect to be able to extract labour and expertise for free.  

Don’t cry for me -I am to blame for my own woes. I struggle to resist Twitter and often put ideas out there, like many people. Perhaps I accidentally gave the impression that I like giving away my labour for free. So, it should probably come as no shock that the source of my current bewildered disdain permeates from a tweet I wrote.

I was approached by a blue-chip multinational corporation to write a piece for them on the governments’ seeming push to regulate social media organisations in light of the racist abuse faced by England footballers.

Noticing they hadn’t mentioned a fee, I asked what it was. Their response:

“Sadly there is no fee for opinion pieces ☹ I am told it’s because it is the ‘foundation’ so it’s all meant to be charitable.”

I’d have no problem contributing my time to a charity. But context is critical here: the ‘foundation’ arm of a corporation that made $5.98bn last year asked me to clear my diary, research, write, rewrite, battle with my self-doubts (and demons), rewrite again and then send them a professionally written piece. For free. Or, as they put it, ‘for charity’. I passed.

The representative of the organisation came back to me and said: “That’s fair enough. I am fighting internally for opeds [sic] to be paid so I’ll keep you in mind in case it changes. Have a lovely day!”

. . . .

“I hope that works out well internally. I am part of an organisation called the Black Writers’ Guild and we’re very strong on this. Being a Black writer is often a double whammy – our labour as Black people and then as writers is often not valued. I understand this is a ‘foundation’ but I’m assuming everyone in your hierarchy is getting paid for their labour. Writers have bills too. If the ‘foundation’ wishes to contribute their proceeds to charity – that is admirable. But it is an unfair assumption that writers can afford for the fruits of their labour to go to charity. Home is where charity starts after all. And we won’t have homes if we don’t get paid for our labour.”

. . . .

This is not the first or tenth time this has happened to me. I was once asked to come and spend half a day with another multi-billion-pound organisation. Upon enquiring about pay they offered me “five thousand dollars…”. ‘HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN THE SKIES ABOVE ARE CLEAR AGAIN!’ I thought… until I read the sentence in full: “…five thousand dollars… in Ad Credit… to a non-profit organization of interest to you”. Again, I passed.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG has a somewhat different take on the free work than the author of the OP. PG’s take is based on his experience of many years as a retail attorney in a low-income area.

One of the (many) things that malpractice insurance companies warn attorneys about is what is sometimes called, “street-corner advice” or “coffee-shop advice.”

Attorney bumps into an acquaintance who owns a factory that employs a couple of hundred people at a street corner. The factory owner is someone who would make a nice client. The two stop and chat briefly then the acquaintance says something like,

"I was thinking about you the other day after my kid, who just got his drivers' license, bumped into another car in the high school parking lot. 

It was a little thing that didn't do much damage and nobody got hurt. Since he's a new driver, my car insurance premiums will go through the roof if I tell my agent about it. 

There's nothing wrong with me keeping the whole thing quiet and just giving the other kid's family a couple of hundred dollars to fix the scratches is there?" 

The attorney wants to do this guy a favor because then when he needs help with something bigger, the factory owner might remember how nice the attorney was when his kid had a problem. He smiles and says, “Bob, you’re probably right. I do some work on accidents and know all about those crazy auto insurance bills. Sometimes handling little things like this off the books is best for everybody.”

Bob smiles and says, “Thanks a lot. I won’t forget how you helped me.” Attorney walks back to his office smiling even though there’s nobody sitting in his waiting room.

A couple of months later, the helpful attorney receives a letter from the largest law firm in town announcing that the firm has been retained by the factory owner to pursue a legal malpractice claim. That claim is based upon the incorrect legal advice their client received when the helpful attorney suggested that he not report the accident to his insurance carrier to avoid a premium increase.

The accident in the school parking lot resulted in $25,000 in damages to the other driver’s new Mercedes, a birthday present from her parents. The other driver has also been seeing an orthopedist for back pain and may require back surgery.

The factory owner’s auto insurance company has cancelled his policy and is refusing to pay damages because the factory owner failed to make a timely report of the accident to the company and admitted his child’s liability for the accident while offering the injured girl’s parents money in exchange for their signatures on an agreement to hush up the whole affair.

And the son totaled the family Rolls Royce the day after the policy was cancelled.

End of over-long hypothetical lawyer horror story.

Like nearly every other attorney who has practiced for very long, PG was sometimes asked for informal advice in a non-business setting. His response was usually something like, “I’m so sorry to hear you’re having trouble and I’m happy to help. I’ll have my assistant call you to schedule an appointment as soon as I get back to my office on Monday morning.”

The response accomplished a couple of things:

  1. It communicated that PG was a concerned acquaintance and was happy to help and
  2. PG was a professional and wanted to handle the problem in a professional manner.

PG did a lot of free legal work, but he wanted to choose who he did free work for and what types things he would do without charge instead of having free legal work choose him.

When PG was in his office, he was in friendly lawyer mode and did things like ask a lot of questions, take a lot of notes (which included a summary of what the client told him) and treat the matter in the same way he did other legal matters when he was asked to give legal advice.

With the help of his brilliant and hard-working assistant (No sarcasm whatsoever intended – she was both brilliant and hard-working. So was his other assistant who handled billing and bankruptcies.) he would set up a file for each client that included his notes, letters or emails he sent and a record of the things he did and what he said. In some cases when he gave verbal advice, he would send a follow-up letter to the client summarizing his advice so he was as certain as he could be that the client understood the advice.

There was some CYA in this process, but it also was a way to help PG make certain that he had done his best to clearly explain and communicate his advice to his client and could remember that advice and his basis for it if the client asked him a question about it two years later.

If he wanted to be an effective professional lawyer, acting like an amateur wouldn’t help him reach that goal.

So how does this apply to a professional author (or would-be professional author), like the creator of the OP?

A couple of things come to mind:

  1. If you would like to write for an individual or organization at no charge, you choose the recipient of your charity. There are many that would welcome the help of someone who is talented in written communications.
  2. If someone asks you to provide your professional expertise at no charge, think about how you will respond ahead of time. Your planned response might include something like, “I’m flattered by your offer, but I’m a professional author. Writing is what I do to help support myself, so, unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of extra time to provide my professional services without monetary compensation.”

(PG notes that the end of the hypothetical response included in item #2 above strayed into a bit of lawyer-speak, but sometimes he can’t help it.)

Perhaps PG was a little put-off by the OP author’s complaints about people who asked him to write for free. PG heartily agrees with the sentiment, “Pay the writer!” (and “Pay the attorney!”), but he doesn’t complain if people don’t understand everything about what he does to earn his money.

Covid Literature

One of PG’s offspring, eight years old, has been writing a series of stories about two imaginary characters, Fred and Joe.

PG just learned that the latest Fred and Joe story involved an unexpected side effect of Covid vaccinations that caused Fred and Joe to develop four arms.

During a text-message discussion of this literary work, this young author’s mother, PG was informed that Covid RomComs have shown up on BookBub.

This raised a question in PG’s mind – what will the long-term effect of Covid and all its related shutdowns, shelter-in-place, AntiVaxxers, etc., etc., have on literature of all sorts?

Feel free to opine.

(Brief update on PG’s water-in-the-basement adventures: Water no longer seems to be increasing. Wet places appear to be drying out. Another visit from the good plumber expected tomorrow morning.)

Water in the Basement

PG apologizes for light blogging yesterday.

A short time ago, PG noticed some dampness in the carpet in part of his basement. Since he had lost confidence in a previous service that sent out someone to check on heating, plumbing and air conditioning and provide preventive maintenance on a periodic basis for a flat monthly fee, PG contacted a friend who builds houses and asked for recommendations for a plumber.

The recommended plumber stopped by the next day. For PG, he had one thing to recommend him besides the referral from PG’s friend – he was a man of mature years. He was also very pleasant to deal with and happy to answer PG’s questions.

Within about five minutes, he pointed out to PG that a prior plumber had re-inserted a plug in an interior drainage access point improperly. Upon, close observation, PG could see how the prior plumber had made a dumb mistake – cross-threading the plug.

(Sorry if that’s too technical, but it’s the same thing that happens when you try to screw a lid on a jar and the lid won’t screw all the way on. You unscrew the lid, line it up properly on the jar and the lid closes as it should. The lid was cross-threaded the first time you tried.)

The earlier plumber appeared to have put a bunch of sealant on the plug which may have delayed the appearance of consequences of his error for a few months.

The new plug was properly installed and the mature plumber went on his way in a short period of time. In an act that will probably get him disinvited from the annual Plumbers’ Ball, the old guy declined to send PG a bill for his services.

All was dry for several days, but then the dampness returned. PG called the mature plumber again. After the plumber examined the situation and found the plug was still in place and working as it should, he said he would send his son to cut open the wall to see why the leak had returned.

It didn’t occur to PG that the dampness problem may have had more than one cause. Problems with more than one cause are regarded by PG (and many others) as more disturbing than problems with a single cause. They tend to be tougher to diagnose and fix.

The mature plumber’s son arrived yesterday as promised, examined the dampness and cut a hole in the wall with his saw. The hole didn’t disclose the type of problem the mature plumber thought might be easily fixable, so the son (who struck PG as a younger version of his father) began a more extensive investigation.

To shorten a long, damp story, one or more of the much younger representatives from the old plumbing service had screwed up in at least couple of different ways – after servicing PG’s central heating and air conditioning, a careless representative had left a pipe that should have been sending condensed water from the air conditioning system down the drain closed. Hence the condensed water was running toward the back of the floor in the furnace room, wetting the back wall, then draining downward to a point where it flowed back forward under the floor to soak PG’s carpet as well as a whole bunch of other things.

In defense of yesterday’s plumber’s father, the Mature Plumber, when he came to visit, PG’s air conditioning had not been running much, so there wasn’t much condensed water. In the last week or so, the weather has been very hot and the AC has been extremely active.

Yesterday’s plumber fixed the AC drainage problem by opening the drain pipe, but also discovered that, apparently due to some sort of improper installation (PG was out of the house on a mandatory task and got the explanation from Mrs. PG), one or both of PG’s two water heaters were also leaking and contributing to the dampness problem as well.

In addition to problems with more than one cause, problems with hidden consequences are also quite disturbing. PG has done some squirming around with a flashlight and confirmed the problems yesterday’s plumber discovered with the water heaters. He’s not sure where to look for the AC drain pipe.

The problem yesterday’s plumber discovered with the AC drainage valve reminded PG of a couple of reasons he quit using his prior preventative maintenance service:

  • After one of the last visits from the prior service, PG discovered that the young technician had turned off the natural gas valve that sent gas to PG’s furnace and neglected to turn it back on before he left. Casa PG became a bit chilly before PG discovered the problem.
  • After the last visit from the prior service, PG discovered that the young technician had turned off the electric switch that powered PG’s air conditioning compressor outside the house and neglected to turn it back on before he left. The fan was blowing inside Casa PG, but no cold air was appearing. PG found and fixed that problem as well.

Throw in a phone conversation with his homeowners insurance agent and with a claims representative and yesterday was chock full of things that PG enjoys less than making blog posts on TPV.

If anyone lives near PG, he has recommendations local plumbing/heating/AC people who are very good and those who are to be avoided at all costs.

Hotel California

PG is frustrated with what should be the most mundane of internet tasks – transferring a domain from one internet service provider to another.

As he ran the process a second time with a large, but shady ISP after the first one got lost somewhere in the bowels of their subnormally-automated systems, he was reminded of the following lyrics from an old song by the Eagles titled, “Hotel California.”

Relax,” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave.”

Only idiots

Only idiots are confident. It requires a great amount of wisdom and knowledge to be confused.

Abhishek Leela Pandey

Waterstones employees not expected to police mask wearing

From The Bookseller:

Waterstones employees will not be expected to intervene or attempt to police mask wearing in stores from 19th July, the retailer has confirmed, after announcing it would “encourage” customers to don face coverings and observe social distancing after restrictions are lifted across England.

On 13th July, Waterstones tweeted it had made the decision because of the “enclosed browsing environment” in stores.

However, the chain’s stance was met with some strong reactions on Twitter. Many praised the store for its measured policy, but some, including former actor and political activist Laurence Fox and Talk Radio’s Julia Hartley Brewer, criticised the move. Brewer said: “I make a point of buying books at my local Waterstones rather than ordering on Amazon because I want bookstores to thrive, but if I go into your store and a member of staff asks me to wear a mask, you will lose my business forever.”

A spokesperson for Waterstones told The Bookseller: “From Monday 19th July, the English government will remove the mandatory wearing of face coverings in public and the legislative requirement to adhere to one-metre social distancing. Whilst we will not enforce mask wearing in our English shops, we respectfully encourage our booksellers and our customers to follow the spirit of government guidance, continuing to observe the same safety measures of wearing face masks in crowded and enclosed spaces, and maintaining the social distancing that have helped to create a safe shopping environment. We also ask our staff to continue employing the three primary control measures (face masks, appropriate social distancing and cleanliness and hand hygiene) that have kept both our staff and our customers secure during the ongoing pandemic.”

Waterstones staff seemed positive about the retailer’s decision. One employee told The Bookseller: “We are glad to see a more sensible approach taken internally and that customers will be encouraged to continue exhibiting the correct behaviours. This will be done through the use of signage with much of our current point-of-sale suite remaining in place for the time being. However there is no expectation that staff intervene or attempt to police this policy themselves, indeed, we are actively discouraged from putting ourselves in a situation that may lead to confrontation.

“Staff are encouraged to put their own safety first, continue to distance from customers and one another, wear a mask where possible and continue with hygiene best practice. With a lack of clear government policy on the issue, staff have no legal backing to enforce any behaviours from our customers and as such mask wearing and distancing will be largely self-policing. Many staff would like to see a stiffening of the wording being used by the government and a U-turn on the current path, with masks and distancing in crowded spaces and public transport remaining a requirement.”

They said that the shift in rhetoric from the government had already seen an increase in the number of people opting not to wear a mask as well as visitors pushing back against the current rules and abusing and challenging staff. “Sadly we expect this trend to continue after the 19th,” they said.

“Some branches have enjoyed a busy past few days. With many customers commenting that they too are concerned about the shift in policy and are looking to get in to our stores and stock up on reading material before going into a self-imposed period of isolation and that they will look to avoid busy/crowded places such as shops and shopping centres until the effects of the changing policy become more apparent.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

As an observer of human behavior, PG is fascinated with the mask/no mask situations that cause a significant number of people to become upset.

A month before Covid appeared anywhere, had one interviewed a representative sample of Americans about a hypothetical pandemic that caused government and health officials to recommend that people in well-defined areas and situations wear a face mask mask as a public as a health safety measure, PG doubts very many interviewees would have had a problem with following those recommendations.

If one then asked interviewees to consider that, after public health officials felt the danger had subsided and informed the public that wearing masks in public areas was no longer necessary for their safety, he doubts that very many of those surveyed would have hypothesized any problem following those recommendations either.

PG doubts that significant numbers of people would have responded that they had serious reservations about following either of those pieces of advice and would not comply.

As reflected in the OP, it appears to PG that at least some residents of the British isles have been behaving in much the same way as some of their American cousins have with respect to masks/no masks health decisions.

In PG’s definitely unscientific observation of human behavior among those with whom he has had interactions during the Covid Episode and news accounts he has read about the behavior of other Americans, he has concluded that there is a great deal of social conflict and argument over the mask issue that he would never have predicted.

For the record, PG and Mrs. PG each were vaccinated at the earliest opportunity and wore masks, followed social-distancing guidelines, etc., when local and regional government authorities advised or ordered that such behavior should be followed when they were in public and observed signs in public and private spaces regarding mask wearing wherever they went outside Casa PG.

After the same government authorities said mask wearing was no longer necessary for people like them, the PG’s quit wearing masks. If a business or proprietor of a public place requested or demanded that masks be worn on its premises, the PG’s complied. PG doesn’t remember becoming upset at being required to put on a mask when he entered a location that was being more cautious than the government authorities said was necessary.

What PG doesn’t view as rational behavior is people becoming upset and abusive toward those who are being more or less cautious than they are with regard their decisions about masks/no masks if public health experts and governments have ceased to mandate masks in public places.

PG has strong opinions about a wide variety of matters, but he doesn’t get upset with someone who holds differing opinions. If he were to ask his friends a series of questions about a variety of subjects and they held different opinions than he did, that wouldn’t bother him or interfere with his friendship with them under virtually any condition PG can imagine.

He doubts that any of his acquaintances hold the opinion that everyone should work hard to run over puppies crossing the street and drive accordingly or routinely insult and attack anyone who is over the age of 30 and under the age of 50, but admits he would probably steer clear of them it they acted that way.

As mentioned here before, PG has worried about the impact of long periods of social isolation imposed on groups like school children or the elderly by efforts to minimize the risk of catching Covid. But, he didn’t think to worry about what would happen to the public interactions between people once the danger was past or mostly past.

Perhaps a genre of books involving Covid horror stories will spring into being and become its own permanent category on Amazon.

Tradition

To put it mildly, those who occupy the towering heights of American culture don’t look kindly on traditional religion … Why choose traditional religion in today’s culture?

You can get rid of tradition; you can scrap all the traditions you want. But traditions are the answers we have forgotten. Traditions are the answers to questions we have forgotten we even had to ask.

Rabbi Dr. Ari Lamm and Nellie Bowles, Choosing My Religion, Good Faith Effort Podcast

Should Authors Review Books?

From Writer Unboxed:

As I was preparing to write this month’s post, I took a quick spin through the posts on the site that talk about reviews. No surprise, most of them focus on what you as an author should do about reviews of your book. (Consensus: ignore them, mostly, and go about your business.) But I thought it might be interesting to look at things from a different angle.

Should you, as an author, review other authors’ books?

After all, major publications do it – many of the reviews in the New York Times are one author’s opinion on another author’s work. At its best, this yields insightful analysis from someone who knows a lot about how hard it is to succeed at the thing the author is trying to do; at its worst, when the author doesn’t know much about the genre or has a particular axe to grind, the results can be insulting, biased, or otherwise off-base. And of course if the review is negative, feelings can be hurt, though I would urge all authors to process those hurt feelings more professionally and appropriately than Richard Ford famously did.

But for most of us, the NYT isn’t knocking on our door or dropping into our inbox asking our opinion of the books we read. It’s far more likely that we need to think about whether to review other authors’ work publicly on review sites like Goodreads, BookBub or Amazon. And no one can make up your mind for you—different authors have different philosophies about whether to use these sites and in what way. 

So here are three things to think about as you’re making that decision for yourself.

Think about your goals. Of course you have a right to write reviews—we’re all readers! Readers get to have opinions!—but you should give some thought to what you want those reviews to accomplish. Do you want to boost other authors and recommend the books you loved? You can do that by writing positive reviews of the books you loved and just not writing about books that don’t fit into that category. If, on the other hand, you want the internet to reflect the complete record of everything you read and what you thought about it—positive or negative—go for it. But remember that some authors can’t help reading their reviews, and your name is going to be associated with that negative review. Which leads me to…

The internet is forever. Maybe you’re a reader today, but you have plans to publish at some point in the future, and if the name you publish under is the name you review under, those things are forever connected. And though I’d love to say that all authors understand that criticism is part of being published and that you’re fully entitled to write whatever you want about someone else’s book, I can’t promise that every author is going to take that criticism in stride. I know people who complain (in private, at least) about reviews on Goodreads from fellow authors who wrote positive things about the book but rated it four instead of five stars. (“If you liked it so much, why are you bringing down my average??”) You can’t control other people’s reactions. You can only control what you’re giving them to react to. And so, if you choose to review… 

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

For authors, PG’s general suggestion is that it may be the best business decision not to speak ill of other authors online.

The internet is a wonderful place for extended feuds and nasty disputes and PG doubts that being known as the author who got into an epic online battle with another author about one of that author’s books, particularly when such a dispute attracted additional participants and exploded into a huge brawl.

As argument for not fighting online, PG would ask,

  • “Is it your job to make sure that everything on the internet is true?”
  • “Does your muse ever become distracted when you’re in a nasty fight?”
  • “Has anyone contacted you and begged you to share your completely candid view about this book/author online?”

Reading Jane Eyre as a Sacred Text

From The Paris Review:

The summer that I did my chaplaincy internship was a wildly full twelve weeks. I was thirty-two years old and living in the haze of the end of an engagement as I walked the hospital corridors carrying around my Bible and visiting patients. “Hi, I’m Vanessa. I’m from the spiritual care department. How are you today?”

It was a surreal summer full of new experiences hitting like a tsunami: you saw them coming but that didn’t mean you could outrun them. But the thing that never felt weird was that the Bible I carried around with me as I went to visit patient after patient, that I turned to in the guest room at David and Suzanne’s or on my parents’ couch to sustain me, was a nineteenth-century gothic Romance novel. The Bible I carried around that busy summer was Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

I love the idea of sacredness. I want to be called to bigger things, outside of myself. I don’t want my life to be a matter of distractions from death and then death. I want to surprise myself and to honor the ways in which the world surprises me. I want to connect deeply to others, to the earth, and to myself. I want to help heal that which is broken in us. Which is why I went to divinity school at thirty years old.

But God, God-language, the Bible, the church—none of it is for me. And halfway through divinity school, I realized that my resistance to traditional religion was never going to change. I wanted to learn how to pray, how to reflect and be vulnerable. And I didn’t think that the fact that I didn’t believe in God or the Bible should hold me back.

I, like many of us, have such complicated feelings about the Bible that it’s distracting to even try to pray with it. Too many caveats feel necessary to even begin to try. So I asked my favorite professor, Stephanie Paulsell, if she would spend a semester teaching me how to pray with Jane Eyre. Throughout the semester, we homed in on what I was searching for, a way to treat things as sacred, things that were not usually considered to be divinely inspired. The plan was that each week I would pull out passages from the novel and reflect on them as prayers, preparing papers that explored the prayers in depth. Then, together, we would pray using the passages.

This proved more challenging than I’d expected. I so resisted praying. In Judaism, prayers are prewritten and always in Hebrew. It felt like too much of a betrayal to my Judaism and to my family to pray in English. I just couldn’t do it. Stephanie would invite me, gently, to pray every once in a while. But I always resisted, so instead she would hand me books. She gave me Guigo II, a Carthusian monk who developed a four-step reading practice to bring his fellow monks closer to God. She gave me James Wood, a fellow atheist who wrote How Fiction Works. She gave me Simone Weil, a Jewish woman who escaped to America from Vichy, France, only to go back to Europe and die of starvation because she would not eat more than the prisoners of Auschwitz ate, unable to handle her privilege of escaping.

Eventually, we decided that sacredness is an act, not a thing. If I can decide that Jane Eyre is sacred, that means it is the actions I take that will make it so. The decision to treat Jane as sacred is an important first step, surely, but that is all the decision was—one step. The ritual, the engagement with the thing, is what makes the thing sacred. Objects are sacred only because they are loved. The text did not determine the sacredness; the actions and actors did, the questions you asked of the text and the way you returned to it.

This premise is obviously quite different from traditional ideas of engaging with sacred texts. What makes the Bible sacred is a complex ecosystem of church legitimacy, power, canonization, time, ritual, and other contributing factors. When the sacredness of the Bible or the Koran is questioned, great bodies of people and institutions will rush to defend them. Regardless of how these sacred texts are treated by an individual, they are widely considered to be sacred texts. In how I was treating Jane Eyre, I was saying the opposite: if one treats Jane Eyre as a doorstop, it is a doorstop. If one treats it as sacred, then it can be sacred.

Over the months we worked together, Stephanie and I discerned that you need three things to treat a text as sacred: faith, rigor, and community.

Faith is what Simone Weil called “the indispensable condition.” And what I came to mean by faith was that you had to believe that the more time you spent with the text, the more gifts it would give you. Even on days when it felt as if you were taking huge steps backward with the text, because you realized it was racist and patriarchal in ways you hadn’t noticed when you were fifteen or twenty or twenty-five, you were still spending sacred time with the book. I solemnly promised that when I did not know what a passage was doing, or what Brontë was doing with her word choice, rather than write it off as antiquated, anachronistic, or imperfect, I would have faith that the fault was in my reading, not in the text. In Friday night services, rabbis do not talk about what year the book of Genesis was most likely written and how the version we have today was canonized. A good rabbi instead considers the metaphor of God separating light from dark instead. That was how I set about considering Jane Eyre.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG had never thought of identifying a candidate for the silliest post he had ever put up on TPV until he read the OP.

Per the author’s bio at the end of the OP, she has degrees from Washington University, The University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Divinity School. For those outside of the United States, that’s one highly-regarded liberal arts undergraduate university and two Ivy League institutions

During his years in the higher education system, PG met more than a few well-educated dumpkopfs, but he honestly struggles to recall a lighter-than-air mind to compare with the one revealed by the author’s article in TPR.

All of PG’s offspring are finished with their formal education, but he still remembers thinking about the cost/benefit ratio of some of the “parents’ share” of the financial aid statements and tuition bills from various universities. (To be fair, PG’s offspring were extremely hard-working students and also hard-working employees while they were in college and PG seldom had to pay anything close to the full amount of the “parents’ share” for the education of any of them.)

PG has no doubt what his thoughts would be had he contributed to a three-degree education at expensive educational institutions and saw the tangible evidence of a child’s learning included anything like the OP.

That said, PG realizes that he is being judgmental in the extreme, has never met the author of the OP and expects she has more than one redeeming characteristic. Besides, anybody can forget to take their meds.

If anyone feels PG has misjudged the OP and/or its author, feel free to set him straight in the comments.

PG doesn’t recall cutting any of his pills in half today, but, absent close medical supervision, one never knows for certain.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy is inheriting a behemoth that is under siege

From Yahoo Finance:

Jeff Bezos is out of a job. The former head of Amazon Web Services, Andy Jassy, has taken Bezos’ place as Amazon CEO, leaving the world’s richest human to his rocket company Blue Origin, the Bezos Earth Fund and, of course, his role as chairman of Amazon’s board.

Jassy, meanwhile, takes over at a time when Amazon faces its biggest existential challenges yet. There are ongoing antitrust investigations; battles with labor advocates; and increased competition in the lucrative cloud space from the likes of Microsoft and Google.

“Amazon has been under siege from different quarters,” Ari Ginsberg, professor of at the NYU Stern School of Business, told Yahoo Finance.

But Jassy, who’s worked for Amazon since 1997 and ran its most profitable business, may be the perfect person to guide Amazon through its most tumultuous era yet.

“You want somebody who has the confidence of the chairman and the board,” said Harvard Business School professor of business administration Rosabeth Moss Kanter. “You want somebody who understands the strategy, and was part of it, and knows where the bodies are buried, and the mistakes that have been made and how to move forward.”

Still, the road ahead for Jassy will be tough.

The antitrust suits are coming

While Amazon started out as an online bookseller, it’s now a gargantuan business with its tendrils in everything from cloud computing to groceries, entertainment, pharmaceuticals, and even physical stores. It now has a market capitalization of nearly $2 trillion.

And now the regulators are circling.

“Probably, the most important at this point is the antitrust regulation issue, because that threatens the continued stability and growth of Amazon as this huge corporation,” Ginsberg explained.

Amazon has already been sued by Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who accused Amazon of violating the District of Columbia Antitrust Act by forbidding third-party sellers from offering cheaper rates for their products on competing websites.

Federal regulators may be coming soon, too. It doesn’t help Amazon that the FTC’s newly appointed chair, Lina Khan, is a fierce critic of the e-commerce giant who made a name for herself by publishing an article for the Yale Law Journal titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” calling for changes in the current antitrust regulatory framework.

Then there are the six antitrust bills targeting Big Tech working their way through the House.

“The intensity of the spotlight on Amazon from an antitrust perspective is only going to increase,” said Christopher Krohn, adjunct associate professor of marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “So that’s an area for Andy as a CEO that he’s going to face, much more so than Bezos ever did in the past.”

Amazon’s labor relations problem

Amazon is one of the largest employers in the U.S., and after years of complaints from warehouse workers, labor unions are beginning to take action.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters recently announced it will begin working to organize Amazon workers, an effort that could succeed where an earlier campaign to unionize a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, failed.

“They’re going to have tons of political pressure, pressure from their customers, pressure from their employees, and I would not be surprised at all to see a continued drive toward unionization,” Krohn said.

Amazon has responded to criticism of its workplace practices by pointing out that it offers warehouse workers starting pay of $15 per hour plus benefits. But the pandemic saw increased calls for Amazon to treat its workers better, especially as they helped keep Americans’ cupboards full when the aisles of traditional brick and mortar stores were running bare.

. . . .

“[Jassy] needs to deal with this perception…that has been reported in the media that Amazon kind of dehumanizes or mistreats its workers in the warehouses,” Ginsberg said.

To cut off that criticism, Amazon recently made an addition to its famous Leadership Principles that guide the company, which calls on the e-commerce giant to “Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer.”

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance

PG points out that Amazon has been depicted as on the brink of destruction by various journalists over a period of many years.

Perhaps PG is wrong, but he doesn’t think the latest rounds of criticism are going to knock the Zon off its position.

He will mention a few items:

  1. The horrors of Amazon’s warehouses have been publicized for a long time. There is little doubt that the Teamsters Union and other unions that wish to unionize Amazon employees have been the source of a large number of these horror stories. In long-past lives, PG worked in more than one place doing heavy manual labor for low wages and a lot of people continue to do the same type of labor. Had he been able to grab a job as an Amazon warehouse worker during that time, he would have instantly accepted it. Unions dramatize working conditions that shock subscribers to The New York Times. The people who actually do this type of manual labor aren’t dumb and they can easily distinguish the difference between working under typical manual labor conditions and working in an Amazon warehouse.
  2. Speaking generally, labor unions have been on a long downhill slide for many years. The simple fact is that, other than employers that were unionized decades ago, unions have not had any big successes in expanding their membership into major new employers in a very long time. PG points out the long and unsuccessful effort to unionize Walmart employees which has gone effectively nowhere. Additionally, a great many Amazon warehouses are located in states which have very few unionized employers. Nothing prevents Amazon from closing down warehouses in places that are hostile to its anti-union stance.
  3. Antitrust cases take years and years and years to work their way through the US court system, including trials and appeals. If the Justice Department filed an antitrust case against Amazon tomorrow, Amazon would almost certainly be rolling along in about the same way it does today in 2031. Additionally, there is a lot more turnover among low-paid Justice Department attorneys and the premier law firms Amazon would likely hire to defend itself. For a great many low-level Justice Department litigators, experience at Justice often leads to transition into private practice.
  4. Significant changes in antitrust laws have been very rare and taken a great deal of time to work themselves through Congress. If, as many political observers are speculating, there is a good chance that control of the US Senate will revert to the Republicans in the 2022 election cycle, such a change is likely to kill antitrust legislation in its tracks. The idea that any sort of antitrust legislation which targets Amazon, Google and Facebook would not generate a lot of opposition from companies other than those three is fantasy. A great many different businesses, including competitors to those three companies, would worry about the potential impact of such legislation on them. Once they make their way through the legislative meatgrinder, major new antitrust laws are like unguided missiles which can go off in all sorts of directions and impact companies no one in Congress thought about during the process of drafting, revising and amending that any major legislation goes through before it becomes law.

PG isn’t saying that Amazon should take these threats lightly and PG doubts anyone at the company is doing so. PG does say that the author of OP seems to be pretty naïve about the realities of big-time antitrust litigation and way too accepting of labor union talking points and manufactured quotes.

The publishing industry experiences good news

From Nathan Bransford:

First up, there’s…. good news? In the publishing industry? What is this? Book sales are up a whopping 21.4% YOY, fueled by adult fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books. The rest of the year looks promising as well, though pandemic-related high costs and service disruption plague the print supply chain.

What was the year of the pandemic like for people within the publishing industry? Literary agent Jennifer Laughran has a great timeline of dealing with the adjustments, delays, and backlogs forced by the pandemic, on top of all of the stress everyone was separately experiencing. Worth a read to get a sense for why response times might be slower than normal in an already-slow industry.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

The Missing Men

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

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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

Link to the rest at Statista

Back in the Saddle

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

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

How Twitter can ruin a life

From Vox:

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

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

Isabel Fall is a ghost nonetheless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Vox

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

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

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

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

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

But PG is a naif about much of this.