Tennessee Becomes Next State Seeking Public Library Oversight, Censorship

From BookRiot:

Following in the footsteps of Republican lawmakers in Missouri, a pair of bills aimed at public libraries are making their way through both the House and the Senate of Tennessee. Senate Bill 2896, sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), and House Bill 2721, sponsored by Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) seek to create parental oversight boards for public libraries. Those boards, one for each library, would make final determinations on whether or not sexual materials are age-appropriate.

. . . .

The boards would be made of five individuals, each appointed by the county for two-year terms. Members would be elected by local government officials, though onus falls upon library boards to notify their communities of said election.

. . . .

In other words, the parental oversight board would be appointed by local government, not anyone related to the library, though it’s the library’s responsibility to notify their patronage of said election.

Determination of sexual content inappropriate for minors is, according to the House Bill: “any description or representation, in any form, of nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse, that: (A) Taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors; (B) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is appropriate material for minors; and (C) Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”

When material is brought to the board for determination of appropriateness, “[T]he board shall convene public hearings at which members of the community may present concerns to the board. After receiving comments from the public, the board shall examine individual instances of the questioned sexual material to determine whether it is age-inappropriate sexual material under this section.”

Once a hearing convenes, the board can choose to remote the material, and their decision is final. It’s not subject to review from any library governing body, the state itself, or any division within the state government.

. . . .

Like the bill in Missouri, librarians would be subject to misdemeanor violations and fines in instances where they do not comply with board decisions. The state can also revoke funding for libraries not found in compliance.

Many believe this bill specifically targets Drag Queen Storytime events at libraries, though according to quotes from Representative Bailey for the Herald-Citizen, the decision to bring simultaneous bills came from concerns “to certain groups using public buildings for things that some may find age inappropriate.” He admits it “could” mean Drag Queen Storytime or other groups. A Drag Queen Storytime in 2019 in Putnam County, Tennessee, drew protests and criticism, and bills like these would empower communities to disallow such events. The Putnam County event did not violate any of the library’s policies, and the event itself was not sponsored by the library.

Vague language at this stage would allow for parental oversight of not just events, but also books available in public libraries. What that board determines as inappropriate would be moved or removed, and librarians would bear the brunt of legal repercussions for not uniformly following that directive.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG is inclined to regard local libraries as entities that should be governed by local boards drawn from the community as a whole. PG has no problem with the local boards reviewing the policies the librarians apply with respect to activities taking place in the libraries, books acquired and books placed in areas where they are not available to children and younger teenagers.

A local library remains a valuable community cultural asset even in an era in which access to the internet is widely available to individuals of most ages. It is a place where members of the community gather for face-to-face educational, conversational and community purposes. As such, it should represent and embody the sorts of compromises communities have been making for a very long time. Based in part upon PG’s personal experiences with libraries and the experiences of PG offspring with libraries, PG thinks the environment should reflect the cooperative consensus of those members of the community as to activities, acquisitions, etc., rather than battlegrounds for Social Justice Warriors, other sorts of would-be social and behavioral dictators, etc., to attempt to impose their standards on people who have beliefs unlike their own.

Compromise and consensus are, in general, positive values in any community that is functioning in an effective manner.

I Went to Hogwarts for Seven Years and Did Not Learn Math or Spelling, and Now I Can’t Get a Job

From The New Yorker:

Dear Headmaster McGonagall:

I am a recent Hogwarts graduate, and, although my time with you was a literal fantasy, I unfortunately did not learn a lot of basic skills, like math or spelling, at your skool.

You may say, “Why do you need arithmetic? You’re a wizard. You can do magic!” To which I reply, sure, for some wizard careers that’s great, but other wizards work in middle management and just want a normal nine-to-five gig. When I graduated, I thought that all I would need was my wand and a couple of choice incantations, but these days, without at least a little algebra, you’re not even qualified to work in Bertie Bott’s retail department.

It’s hard out here for a poorly rounded wizard. Recently, I went on magical LinkedIn and saw almost none of my Hogwarts class of 2007 represented at top-tier wizarding companies. It’s not difficult to speculate why—without the assistance of Hermione Granger, half of my fellow-Gryffindors couldn’t even conjugating most verbs, and I am not sure that the instruction we received from Hagrid the giant is technically certifiable. Additionally, I cannot sit still for more than four hours a day without embarking on spontaneous adventures, and my vocabulary is poop.

Thanks to the Hogwarts curriculum, I can withstand mind control and even limited torture, but I cannot write a compelling cover letter without humiliating grammatical error’s. Why is literature not a course at your skool? I can enchant my quill to write my thoughts, but I never learned how to make my thoughts enchanting. I heard that Durmstrang students have a skool newspaper. You know what Hogwarts has? A three-headed dog lurking in the castle, with permission to kill whoever it finds. Indeedly, my life was constantly endangered while at Hogwarts, which was an academic distracshun.

. . . .

Realistically, here is what I am qualified to be:

  • A troll hunter
  • An auror
  • An eccentric teacher at Hogwarts

As you can imagine, this does not make me an appealing prospect for interview season.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Fort McMurray is the Land of Lovers as Amazon Canada

PG missed this on Valentine’s Day.

From Amazon Media Relations:

Fort McMurray, Alberta – technically the largest unincorporated “city” in the province – has plenty to brag about heading into Valentine’s Day, because it snagged the top spot on Amazon Canada’s list of Most Romantic Cities. For the last seven years, Victoria, British Columbia held the top spot, but this year that all changed. Fort McMurray climbs to No. 1 from its previous No.3 standing to show that there’s some competition for its western neighbour.

The eleventh annual ranking was compiled by comparing sales data from January 1, 2019 to January 1, 2020 on a per capita basis in cities with more than 20,000 residents. The data looks at purchases of romance novels (both print and Kindle editions), romantic comedies, relationship books, jewellery and sexual wellness products.

This year, the Top 20 Most Romantic Cities in Canada are:  

  1. Fort McMurray, Alberta
  2. Toronto, Ontario (new)
  3. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (new)
  4. Bonnyville, Alberta (new)
  5. North York, Ontario (new)
  6. Ottawa, Ontario (new)
  7. Grande Prairie, Alberta
  8. Burlington, Ontario
  9. Kelowna, British Columbia 
  10. Victoria, British Columbia
  11. Whitehorse, Yukon
  12. Calgary, Alberta (new)
  13. Quesnel, British Columbia (new)
  14. Cranbrook, British Columbia (new)
  15. Edmonton, Alberta (new)
  16. Pembroke, Ontario (new)
  17. Campbell River, British Columbia (new)
  18. Prince George, British Columbia (new)
  19. Kingston, Ontario (new)
  20. Revelstoke, British Columbia (new)

Link to the rest at Amazon Media Relations

One of the many things for which PG is not qualified to opine is Romantic Cities in Canada or almost anywhere else.

The Legend of Limberlost

From Smithsonian Magazine:

My dear Girl:
In the first place will you allow me to suggest that you forget
hereafter to tack the “ess” on to “author”, because one who writes
a book or poem is an author and literature has no sex.
–Gene Stratton-Porter, letter to Miss Mabel Anderson, March 9, 1923

. . . .

Yellow sprays of prairie dock bob overhead in the September morning light. More than ten feet tall, with a central taproot reaching even deeper underground, this plant, with its elephant-ear leaves the texture of sandpaper, makes me feel tipsy and small, like Alice in Wonderland.

I am walking on a trail in a part of northeast Indiana that in the 19th century was impenetrable swamp and forest, a wilderness of some 13,000 acres called the Limberlost. Nobody knows the true origin of the name. Some say an agile man known as “Limber” Jim Corbus once got lost there. He either returned alive or died in the quicksand and quagmires, depending which version you hear.

Today, a piece of the old Limberlost survives in the Loblolly Marsh Nature Preserve, 465 acres of restored swampland in the midst of Indiana’s endless industrial corn and soybean fields. It’s not obvious to the naked eye, but life here is imitating art imitating life. The artist was Gene Stratton-Porter, an intrepid naturalist, novelist, photographer and movie producer who described and dramatized the Limberlost over and over, and so, even a century after her death, served as a catalyst for saving this portion of it.

As famous in the early 1900s as J.K. Rowling is now, Stratton-Porter published 26 books: novels, nature studies, poetry collections and children’s books. Only 55 books published between 1895 and 1945 sold upwards of one million copies. Gene Stratton-Porter wrote five of those books—far more than any other author of her time. Nine of her novels were made into films, five by Gene Stratton-Porter Productions, one of the first movie and production companies owned by a woman. “She did things wives of wealthy bankers just did not do,” says Katherine Gould, curator of cultural history at the Indiana State Museum.

Her natural settings, wholesome themes and strong lead characters fulfilled the public’s desires to connect with nature and give children positive role models. She wrote at a pivotal point in American history. The frontier was fading. Small agrarian communities were turning into industrial centers connected by railroads. By the time she moved to the area, in 1888, this unique watery wilderness was disappearing because of the Swamp Act of 1850, which had granted “worthless” government-owned wetlands to those who drained them. Settlers took the land for timber, farming and the rich deposits of oil and natural gas. Stratton-Porter spent her life capturing the landscape before, in her words, it was “shorn, branded and tamed.” Her impact on conservation was later compared to President Theodore Roosevelt’s.

. . . .

One of the movement’s leaders, Ken Brunswick, remembered reading Stratton-Porter’s What I Have Done With Birds when he was young—a vibrant 1907 nature study that reads like an adventure novel. At a time when most bird studies and illustrations were based on dead, stuffed specimens, Stratton-Porter mucked through the Limberlost in her swamp outfit in search of birds and nests to photograph:

A picture of a Dove that does not make that bird appear tender and loving, is a false reproduction. If a study of a Jay does not prove the fact that it is quarrelsome and obtrusive it is useless, no matter how fine the pose or portrayal of markings….A Dusky Falcon is beautiful and most intelligent, but who is going to believe it if you illustrate the statement with a sullen, sleepy bird?

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

We’re Multi-Platform Beings

From Publishing Perspectives:

Saying that the book is no longer a business model in itself, Roger Casas-Alatriste insists on a transmedial approach for publishers.

. . . .

In a keynote address at Tuesday’s (February 18) annual CONTEC México conference in Mexico city, issues of transmedia have been described as “the capacity to think how our stories can be transmitted through different platforms.”

. . . .

Casas-Alatriste told his audience at Centro Cultural de España, “We’re multi-platform beings, and our multiple devices are our platforms. We’re full of stories, and we’re what we tell and how we tell it.

“Technology empowers our narrative potential.”

El Cañonazo–as a phrase, it translates to a cannon blast–is a digital content strategy agency with clients that include airlines, insurance companies, media outlets, telecommunications companies and retail chains. As the pitch has it, the company helps them “make a bang.”

. . . .

“We have a diversified business model with audiovisual production, an agency for branded content, and a creative studio for transmedia. That allows us to focus on different sectors.”

. . . .

“The media have now realized that they can use creativity from other sources,” Casas-Alatriste says. “We can contribute with our content to all kinds of businesses and departments, because all companies need stories to connect to their customers, and those companies don’t always have the team to attend to their narrative needs.

. . . .

“Advertising is based on repetition that interrupts the content you’re trying to consume,” Casas-Alatriste says, “and that interruption is increasingly less effective because we’re using media such as Spotify and Netflix–impervious to such ads.

“We believe that branded content should be complementary to publicity. In order to sell you a product I have to make friends with you. As consumers, we need to like a brand in order to consume its products.”

Thanks to the Internet and smartphones, Casas-Alatriste says, we’re all compulsive consumers of content–as well as content creators.

“But we can no longer think of ourselves as just being creators of content,” he says, “we have to see content as liquid for use on multiple platforms. And if we don’t think like that, then our days are numbered.”

Casas-Alatriste says the book by itself should no longer be seen as a business model. And that, he says, is a “pain point” for publishing. New models–modes, formats, and iterations–must be found for publishing’s content, and adaptations to film, television, audiobooks, and more are part of that.

To illustrate his point, Casas-Alatriste highlights how many films and television series are adapted from books, rather than arriving as original content. This, he says, is definitional to transmedia.

. . . .

“It’s a question,” he says, “of producing more stories from the same story.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Why Web Scraping/Spinning is Back

From Plagiarism Today:

February 23, 2011, was a banner day for plagiarism and copyright infringement of blog/news content. It was the day that Google launched a major Panda/Farmer update that sought to reduce the presence of “low quality” content in search results.

Though the change was aimed at so-called “content farms”, sites that would pay human authors small amounts to churn out countless articles of questionable quality, it ultimately hit a variety of other unwanted content types including article spinning, article marketing and web scraping.

Prior to this update, many spammers found a great deal of success by simply taking content they found on other sites and simply uploading it elsewhere. This was done with or without attribution, with or without modification and almost always without permission.

However, after the update, there was a scramble to get away from all forms of questionable content marketing. Other equally questionable tactics rose up from the ashes, but the plague of web scraping was seemingly done as a major concern for sites.

Unfortunately, nine years later (almost to the day), that is seemingly much less true. Now it’s easy to find scraped, plagiarized and otherwise copied articles in search results. To make matters worse, they often rank higher than the original.

So what happened? There doesn’t appear to be a clear answer. What is obvious is that Google (and other search engines) have a serious problem in front of them and the time to address it is now.

. . . .

In August, Jesselyn Cook at HuffPost wrote an article about “Bizarre Ripoff ‘News’ Sites” that were ripping off her work. There she provided several examples of her articles appearing on spammy sites with strange alterations to the text.

The alterations often made no sense. For example, “Bill Nye the Science Guy Goes OFF About Climate Change” became “Invoice Nye the Science Man goes OFF About Local Weather Change.”

To those familiar with article spinning, this is a very familiar tale. These sites are clearly using an automated tool to replace words with synonyms. The goal is to create content that appears, to Google at least, to be unique. Whether it’s human-readable is none of the site’s concern as long as they get those Google clicks (and some ad revenue). It’s a tactic that’s been around since at least 2004 and had a heyday during the late 2000s.

. . . .

The big question is “What changed?” Why is it that, after nearly a decade, these antiquated approaches to web spamming are back?

The real answer is that web scraping never really went away. The nature of spamming is that, even after a technique is defeated, people will continue to try it. The reason is fairly simple: Spam is a numbers game and, if you stop a technique 99.9% of the time, a spammer just has to try 1,000 times to have one success (on average).

But that doesn’t explain why many people are noticing more of these sites in their search results, especially when looking for certain kinds of news.

Part of the answer may come from a September announcement by Richard Gingras, Google’s VP for News. There, he talked about efforts they were making to elevate “original reporting” in search results. According to the announcement, Google strongly favored the latest or most comprehensive reporting on a topic. They were going to try and change that algorithm to show more preference to original reporting, keeping those stories toward the top for longer.

Whether that change has materialized is up for debate. I, personally, regularly see duplicative articles rank well both in Google and Google News even today. That said, some of the sites I was monitoring last month when I started researching this topic have disappeared from Google News.

But, whether there’s been a significant change or not, it illustrates the problem. By increasingly favoring “new” content, Google opened a door for these spammers. After all, any scraped, copied or spun version of an original article will appear to be “new” when compared to the original.

Link to the rest at Plagiarism Today

Should the Harvey Weinstein jury really be forbidden to review books?

From The Guardian:

As the jury in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial begin their deliberations, his defence lawyers launched a last-minute bid to to get one juror discharged – by turning their attention to her reading material.

On Tuesday, Weinstein’s lawyer Damon Cheronis complained that juror No 11 was reading “books on predatory older men” and reviewing them online on Goodreads during the proceedings, reports Vulture. Cheronis argued that this was in violation of the court order not to consume media related to the trial, and sought to have her replaced on the jury.

. . . .

The allegations against Weinstein and the #MeToo movement they triggered did create a sensation in publishing, from the behind-the-scenes stories of reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (She Said) and Ronan Farrow (Catch and Kill), to fictional interpretations such as This Is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill and Kirsten Roupenian’s You Know You Want This.

In the case of Juror No 11, the book was My Dark Vanessa, the controversial debut by Kate Elizabeth Russell in which an adult woman reevaluates the sexual relationship she had with her teacher as a teenager. The Observer called it “an inversion of Lolita for the #MeToo generation … a book that asks what we have lost and gained in an era that has revolutionised the way we think about sex and power”. Juror No 11 wrote that she “liked a lot about this novel”, praising Russell’s handling of the difficult subject, but found flaws with characterisation in terms of how it related to the central theme.

In response to questioning from Justice James Burke, the juror confirmed she was currently reading Vanessa Springora’s memoir Le Consentement, about being preyed on by the writer Gabriel Matzneff at the age of 13 – but, she said, she had not reviewed it yet.

Justice Burke denied the motion to have the juror discharged, saying “she apparently is simply reading the book”. The same juror is an author herself, and had at the selection stage been questioned over a book she had written that Cheronis argued was about “predatory older men”. (It has elsewhere been praised as a striking debut.)

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Regarding Readership—My New Take

From Writer Unboxed:

I suppose I’d better start with a confession. It’s a big one.  Ready? Here goes…

Until fairly recently, I didn’t care about readers.

Wait, did I really say that? Reading it back, I can hardly believe it myself. My position was never really that straightforward. Or imprudent (impudent?). The more nuanced version might be something like:

When I began writing, I wrote only to please myself. I never wanted to compromise the passion I put into my stories by pandering to the marketplace.

. . . .

In my defense, I came upon my… shall we call it an attitude?, early in my writing journey. And coming to it was indeed defensive. How could I take on a project so ambitious and actually think that anyone would ever want to read what was fast becoming a massive first story? It seemed like hubris. My solution? I was writing it just for me!

Looking back, I feel compelled to add another element to my defense. When I started (‘04-‘05), epic fantasy seemed to me to be the opposite of marketable. I didn’t know anyone then who read it, the LOTR and Harry Potter movies were recent phenomena (and were considered “for the kids” by most folks in my orbit), and we were still years from the coming juggernaut of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

How could I justify spending hours that turned to days that turned to months and years laboring at something in which no one seemed interested, within a genre that many in my life considered a juvenile diversion?

Even years later, as the genre began to grow, and I began to interface with it online, I kept encountering reasons my work wouldn’t sell. I kept hearing things like, “You’ve got to have a really good system of magic,” and “Old tropes like ‘The Chosen One’ or ‘The Boy Who Becomes a King’ are passé,” or “The hottest books in adult fantasy deconstruct the old genre of high fantasy.” How was I supposed to try to sell a book with no real system of magic; one that largely embraced the old tropes?

My answer: The marketplace doesn’t matter. It can’t, because I can’t see my place in it.

. . . .

As much as I was loving the storytelling process—the discovery, the magic of immersion—I knew through rereading it that my writing stank. I was frustrated by my inability to deftly capture the story I was imagining so clearly.

Which led to my earliest forays into seeking feedback, at first only from those extremely close to me, like my sister and my wife. Then a few close friends. This tightknit group gave me the perfect combination of encouragement and criticism. Through these early-reading dear people, I first gleaned that I was onto something. They fed my suspicions not just that my storytelling could engage another human, but that—if I could just hold onto them long enough—I could even move them. That sort of human connection is an intoxicating drug.

. . . .

For a long time, the readership of my own genre seemed to me an impenetrable monolith. For years I had the vague but dread-inducing feeling that fantasy fandom would, as one, recognize me as an outsider, a pretender.  Here I was, an aspiring epic fantasist who’s not even a gamer. (In fact, I’ve never once completed an on-screen game of any sort—not even solitaire.) As a reader, I skipped right over YA fantasy. It didn’t seem to exist when I was “of the age.” Heck, I’m as old as many of the hottest SFF novelists’ dads.

. . . .

So I basically ignored the issue. And I kept going. But all the while I was getting closer and closer to that final hurdle of seeking publication. And, let’s face it, publishers are seeking sales—ergo readers.

Which brought me to the culmination of the dilemma. If I acknowledged that I crave the unique communion that occurs between storytellers and readers—and honestly, I’ve come to long for it—I was going to need readers. I could ignore it no longer.

. . . .

I first came across BookTube the way I imagine most people do: as a reader, looking for books to read. It didn’t take me long to find a few favorite vloggers. Or to recognize the value and breadth of what was being offered. Of course there are book reviews and new book previews, but there’s oh-so-much more. There are deep dives into genre, and series, and characters. And author interviews, and emotional reactions, and viewer prompts, and on and on.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

In PG’s experience, most successful authors have a strong connection with and a deep, nuanced understanding of their readers.

In some cases, the author is quite similar to her/his typical reader, in other cases, the author may be dissimilar, but possesses a nuanced grasp of the reader and what he/she is interested in.

That said, PG hasn’t met every successful author (yet) and he could be missing something.

I hate to hear you talk

I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.

~ Jane Austen, Persuasion

Social Sharing

So far, PG’s experiments with social sharing plugins with the new WordPress theme have not worked out particularly well.

He’s still looking/experimenting to find one that will do the basic job well without trying to take over the appearance of TPV.

The only difference

The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.

Will Rogers

Barnes & Noble Cancels Black History Month Covers After Backlash

From The Huffington Post:

Major bookseller Barnes & Noble canceled a Black History Month initiative at its flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York City after public backlash. 

The store planned to host an event Wednesday evening launching its new “Diverse Editions” project, which would showcase ”classic” books ― like “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and “Moby-Dick” ― with new covers illustrating the main characters as people of color. The store planned to feature the newly jacketed books in its window display all month.

But after significant outrage online, the company canceled the initiative midday Wednesday.

People on Twitter suggested Barnes & Noble promote diversity by featuring works by actual writers of color. Most of the books the bookseller created new covers for, including “Emma” by Jane Austen and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, were written by white authors and feature white protagonists.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

PG wondered if B&N’s brilliant marketing/virtue-signaling strategy included a black Moby Dick.

A Bit of Travel

PG and Mrs. PG have been on the road and PG has had fewer than anticipated opportunities to post on TPV. He apologizes to one and all for the lack of advance/contemporaneous posts to that effect.

Social Sharing

At the request of a visitor to TPV, PG has installed a social sharing plugin that permits any visitor to TPV to send a link to any post to a variety of online locations or email a link to any recipient.

This particular plugin is nice because it’s very lightweight and easy to install, configure and run.

However, the sharing plugin won’t show any sharing links unless you open a post. In other words, if you’re scrolling through one post after another on the blog, you won’t see any sharing links in the column of posts.

PG isn’t sure how he feels about this. Please share any thoughts in the comments.

The 10 Best English Writers

From No Sweat Shakespeare:

Here at No Sweat Shakespeare we have no doubt that William Shakespeare is by far the best (and probably most famous) writer in English literary history. And that’s no mean feat, given the many centuries of English history that have been adorned with authors who have placed England as the top literary country in the world.

We’ve had a go at defining the world’s most famous authors, and the best American writers elsewhere, but here we present the ten best English authors (excluding the Bard of Avon). It was no easy task as there have been so many English writers over the years, and the list ends up being very subjective. So, in no particular order, [PG nitpicky note: With the exception of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the order appears to be exceptionally alphabetical] here is our pick of the ten most famous English authors of all time:

Jane Austen 1775 – 1817

The Jane Austen Centre’s website states: ‘Jane Austen is perhaps the best known and best loved of Bath’s many famous residents and visitors.’ One wonders at the restraint in that, considering that Jane Austen is indisputably one of the greatest English writers – some say the greatest after Shakespeare – and certainly the greatest English novelist and one of the most famous English women who ever lived.

William Blake 1757-1827

Although not highly regarded either as a painter or poet by his contemporaries William Blake has the distinction of finding his place in the top ten of both English writers and English painters. The reason he was disregarded is because he was very much ahead of his time in his views and his poetic style, and also because he was regarded as being somewhat mad, due to behaviour that would be thought of as only slightly eccentric today– for example his naturistic habit of walking about his garden naked and sunbathing there.

. . . .

Charles Dickens 1812-1870

Charles Dickens was an extraordinary man. He is best known as a novelist but he was very much more than that. He was as prominent in his other pursuits but they were not areas of life where we can still see him today.  We see him as the author of such classics as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House and many others.

George Eliot 1819-1880

George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans, a novelist who produced some of the major classic novels of the Victorian era, including The Mill on the Floss, Adam Bede, Silas Marner, Romola, Felix Holt, Daniel Deronda and her masterpiece, Middlemarch. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of Eliot’s novels in the English culture: they went right to the heart of the small-town politics that made up the fabric of English society.

. . . .

John Milton 1608-1674

English is often referred to as ‘the language of Shakespeare and Milton.’ Milton’s poetry has been seen as the most perfect poetic expression in the English language for four centuries. His most famous poem, the epic Paradise Lost is a high point of English epic poetry. Its story has entered into English and European culture to such an extent that the details of our ideas of heaven and hell and paradise, Adam and Eve, Satan.

. . . .

Harold Pinter 1930-2008

Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, three years before his death from cancer. He had a career of more than half a century as a playwright, director, actor and writer of screenplays for television and film. He was without doubt the most influential English playwright of the twentieth century and so earns his place on this list

Link to the rest at No Sweat Shakespeare

Of course, any ten-best list for which there are many candidates will raise questions and objections from all directions.

The comments to the OP list Spenser, Wordsworth, Keats, the Brontës and Gibbon as more deserving than some of those listed. Several lobbied for James Joyce, but others point out he was Irish not English.

As far as influential twentieth-century English authors, PG contends that some of the more modern writers can certainly be considered candidates to bump others off the list. What about Dame Agatha, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Sayers, Dylan Thomas, J. K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien?

Secret Histories

From Crime Reads:

There must be people somewhere who lead charmed lives. They make no mistakes and have no regrets. Their days flow along pleasantly, each one better than the last. All their memories are good ones. There must be people like that, but if there are, I haven’t met them. I don’t think I’d like to read about them either. Their stories would grow stale awfully fast. And I know I wouldn’t want to write about them.

When I began to work on my latest novel, The Good Killer, I knew a handful of things about the protagonist, Sean Tennant. I knew he was haunted: haunted by what he’d seen during his military service in the Iraq war, and haunted by something he’d done after he returned home. By a burglary he had committed that had gone terribly wrong. I knew that he and his lover, Molly Winter, had fled from their old lives and gone into hiding, and that they had enemies who wanted them dead. I knew Sean and Molly had found a measure of peace living in a new city under new identities, and I knew it wouldn’t last. Because you can’t hide forever, and the past has a way of catching up.

I make no claim to originality here. Some of my favorite books are about the past catching up. 

. . . .

John Hart, Down River

This is the book that earned John Hart his first Edgar award, and it’s a rich, literary thriller. At the age of twenty-three, Adam Chase is put on trial for the murder of a high-school football player in his North Carolina hometown. The jury acquits him, unable to find a motive, but the damage is done. Even Adam’s family has doubts about his innocence. He leaves home, hoping to find a new life in New York. Five years later he’s back, drawn by a cryptic letter from an old friend. He’s not expecting a warm welcome, and he doesn’t get it. Some of the locals beat him up, and things go downhill from there. A young woman is violently assaulted and Adam comes under suspicion once again. The old friend he came back to see is missing, and soon turns up dead. Adam sets out to learn the truth about what happened, reconnecting with a lost love and uncovering his own family’s darkest secrets.

Karin Slaughter, Pretty Girls

Family history also lies at the heart of Karin Slaughter’s novel Pretty Girls, which revolves around a pair of sisters, Claire and Lydia. As teenagers growing up in Atlanta, the two girls experienced a heart-breaking tragedy: the disappearance of their older sister, Julia. From that point, their lives diverged. Lydia turned to drugs and petty crime; Claire married Paul Scott, a wealthy businessman, hoping he would take care of her. Years later, as the novel opens, Claire and Paul’s marriage seems to be a happy one. They meet for drinks at a bar and afterward duck into an alley for a playful make-out session. There they encounter a thief with a knife, and Paul, trying to protect Claire, is stabbed to death before her very eyes. After the funeral, as she’s looking through Paul’s effects, Claire discovers a cache of violent pornography on his computer: videos of young women being tortured and killed. The police are unhelpful, claiming that the videos look staged, but to Claire they seem real, and they lead her to doubt everything she thought she knew about her husband. She confides in her estranged sister Lydia, and the two of them set out to uncover Paul’s secrets, eventually coming to believe that he had a part in Julia’s long-ago disappearance. Slaughter builds the tension expertly, throwing in a series of twists and revelations that lead to an action-packed finale.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Even in Death, Charles Dickens Left Behind a Riveting Tale of Deceit

From Smithsonian Magazine:

When Charles Dickens died, he had spectacular fame, great wealth and an adoring public. But his personal life was complicated. Separated from his wife and living in a huge country mansion in Kent, the novelist was in the thrall of his young mistress, Ellen Ternan. This is the untold story of Charles Dickens’ final hours and the furor that followed, as the great writer’s family and friends fought over his final wishes.

. . . .

While details such as the presence of Ternan at the author’s funeral have already been discovered by Dickensian sleuths, what is new and fresh here is the degree of maneuvering and negotiations involved in establishing Dickens’ ultimate resting place.

Dickens’ death created an early predicament for his family. Where was he to be buried? Near his home (as he would have wished) or in that great public pantheon, Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey (which was clearly against his wishes)?

“The Inimitable” (as he sometimes referred to himself) was one of the most famous celebrities of his time. No other writer is as closely associated with the Victorian period. As the author of such immortal classics as Oliver TwistDavid Copperfield and A Christmas Carol, he was constantly in the public eye. Because of the vivid stories he told, and the causes he championed (including poverty, education, workers’ rights, and the plight of prostitutes), there was great demand for him to represent charities, and appear at public events and visit institutions up and down the country (as well as abroad—particularly in the United States). He moved in the best circles and counted among his friends the top writers, actors, artists and politicians of his day.

Dickens was proud of what he achieved as an author and valued his close association with his public. In 1858 he embarked on a career as a professional reader of his own work and thrilled audiences of thousands with his animated performances. This boost to his career occurred at a time when his marital problems came to a head: He fell in love with Ternan, an 18-year-old actress, and separated from his wife, Catherine, with whom he had ten children.

. . . .

Dickens was careful to keep his love affair private. Documentary evidence of his relationship with Ternan is very scarce indeed. He had wanted to take her with him on a reading tour to America in 1868, and even developed a telegraphic code to communicate to her whether or not she should come. She didn’t, because Dickens felt that he could not protect their privacy.

On Wednesday, June 8, 1870, the author was working on his novel Edwin Drood in the garden of his country home, Gad’s Hill Place, near Rochester, in Kent. He came inside to have dinner with his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth and suffered a stroke. The local doctor was summoned and remedies were applied without effect. A telegram was sent to London, to summon John Russell Reynolds, one of the top neurologists in the land. By the following day the author’s condition hadn’t changed, and he died at 6:10pm on June 9.

Accepted wisdom concerning Dickens’ death and burial is drawn from an authorized biography published by John Forster: The Life of Charles Dickens. Forster was the author’s closest friend and confidant. He was privy to the most intimate areas of his life, including the time he spent in a blacking (boot polish) warehouse as a young boy (which was a secret, until disclosed by Forster in his book), as well as details of his relationship with Ternan (which were not revealed by Forster, and which remained largely hidden well into the 20th century). Forster sought to protect Dickens’ reputation with the public at all costs.

. . . .

In his will (reproduced in Forster’s biography), Dickens had left instructions that he should be:

Buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner; that no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial; that at the utmost not more than three plain mourning coaches be employed; and that those who attend my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hat-band, or other such revolting absurdity.

Forster added that Dickens’ preferred place of burial—his Plan A—was “in the small graveyard under Rochester Castle wall, or in the little churches of Cobham or Shorne,” which were all near his country home. However, Forster added: “All these were found to be closed,” by which he meant unavailable.

. . . .

Forster claims in the biography that the media led the way in agitating for burial in the abbey. He singles out the Times, which, in an article of January 13, 1870, “took the lead in suggesting that the only fit resting place for the remains of a man so dear to England was the abbey in which the most illustrious Englishmen are laid.” He added that when the dean of Westminster, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, asked Forster and members of the Dickens family to initiate what was now Plan C, and bury him in the abbey, it became their “grateful duty to accept that offer.”

The private funeral occurred early in the morning of Tuesday, June 14, 1870, and was attended by 14 mourners. The grave was then left open for three days so that the public could pay their respects to one of the most famous figures of the age. Details of the authorized version of Dickens’ death and burial were carried by newspapers in the English-speaking world and beyond. Dickens’ estranged wife Catherine received a message of condolence from Queen Victoria, expressing “her deepest regret at the sad news of Charles Dickens’s death.”

The effect that Dickens’ death had on ordinary people may be appreciated from the reaction of a barrow girl who sold fruits and vegetables in Covent Garden Market. When she heard the news, she is reported to have said, “Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?”

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

The Creepiest Families in Fiction

From Crime Reads:

The contrast between what a family is supposed to be—comforting, supportive, affectionate, a place of safety and refuge—and the suffering that a warped family is capable of inflicting upon its members is the basis of many a successful and satisfying domestic thriller.  I’m fascinated by the thought that something malignant can be bubbling away under a perfectly ordinary façade. What could be more commonplace, or more potentially toxic, than family life?

As readers, we feel sharper sympathy for victims who suffer at the hands of a family member who is supposed to have their best interests at heart, and we feel heightened contempt for wrongdoers who, going against their structural roles as nurturers, defenders or allies, harm those closest to them. When they work, families are sanctuaries, but home can also be a place to hide behaviors that would not be tolerated in wider society; bullies can terrorize, and manipulators can control, coerce and constrain behind closed doors.

In my new psychological thriller Perfect Little Children (published in the UK as Haven’t They Grown), something is seriously wrong in the Braid Family. Here’s the blurb:

All Beth has to do is drive her son to his Under-16s away match, watch him play, and bring him home.

Just because she knows that her former best friend lives near the football ground, that doesn’t mean she has to drive past her house and try to catch a glimpse of her. Why would Beth do that, and risk dredging up painful memories? She hasn’t seen Flora Braid for twelve years. 

But she can’t resist. She parks outside Flora’s house and watches from across the road as Flora and her children, Thomas and Emily, step out of the car. Except…

There’s something terribly wrong. 

Flora looks the same, only older — just as Beth would have expected. It’s the children that are the problem. Twelve years ago, Thomas and Emily Braid were five and three years old. Today, they look precisely as they did then. They are still five and three. They are Thomas and Emily without a doubt — Beth hears Flora call them by their names — but they haven’t changed at all.

They are no taller, no older.

Why haven’t they grown?

. . . .

See Jane Run

The protagonist of this novel finds herself in a store, covered in blood, in possession of $10,000 and with no memory of who she is or how she came to be there. Her only chance of finding out the truth and getting her life back comes in the form of a stranger who says he’s her husband. There’s nothing scarier than a family that wants to claim you as its own when you have no way of knowing if you truly belong to it. This is a flawless and desperately gripping psychological thriller.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Fourth Estate stands by My Dark Vanessa over US author’s claims

From The Bookseller:

Fourth Estate has said claims that My Dark Vanessa is not all author Kate Elizabeth Russell’s own work are false, after a US writer said the book was “eerily similar” to her memoir of abuse.

Russell’s much-hyped début, which will be published in the UK on 31st March, tells the story of the relationship between a 15-year-old student and her high-school teacher who is later accused of sexual abuse.

But Latinx author Wendy C Ortiz, whose memoir Excavation (Future Tense) deals with her sexual relationship with her English teacher, tweeted the novel was “being marketed eerily similarly to my book, and has made many of my readers ask,‘ why does this sound familiar?’” Ortiz, who admitted she had not read the novel, claimed Russell had also contacted her to say she had read Excavation.

Fourth Estate, which pre-empted the book for six figures, has stood by the book and dismissed claims that the two titles are similar. It said: “We are very proud to publish Kate Elizabeth Russell’s nuanced and powerful novel My Dark Vanessa. Kate has been working on the book for nearly 20 years and any allegation that it’s not her original work is false.”

In a statement on her website, Russell said she had been working on the book for nearly 20 years and had now been forced to disclose it was inspired by her own teenage experiences.

She wrote: “I have previously discussed the relationships I’ve had with older men and how those relationships informed the writing of My Dark Vanessa. But I do not believe that we should compel victims to share the details of their personal trauma with the public. The decision whether or not to come forward should always be a personal choice. I have been afraid that opening up further about my past would invite inquiry that could be retraumatising, and my publisher tried to protect my boundaries by including a reminder to readers that the novel is fiction. 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Stephen King quits Facebook over false claims in political ads

From The Guardian:

Stephen King has quit Facebook, saying that he is not comfortable with the “flood of false information allowed in its political advertising”.

The bestselling horror novelist, a prolific user of social media, also said he was not “confident in [Facebook’s] ability to protect its users’ privacy”. King made the announcement on Twitter, where he has 5.6m followers. His Facebook page has been deleted.

The social network has faced backlash over its decision not to factcheck political ads, with chief executive Mark Zuckerberg arguing that “political speech is important” and should not be censored. Facebook said last month that while it had considered limiting the targeting of political ads, it felt that “people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinised and debated in public”.

. . . .

Twitter, where King made his announcement, has banned all political advertising. King has long used the site as a way to air his political opinions, most recently using it to announce his support for Elizabeth Warren. “I’ll support and work for any Democrat who wins the nomination, but I’m pulling for Elizabeth Warren,” he wrote. “I’d love to see her open a large can of whup-ass on Trump in the debates.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG suspects he is not the only citizen or resident of the United States who will be greatly relieved when this election season is over.

Unfortunately, election day is 273 days away.

If you would like time to seem to come to a standstill, you can obtain an app for your phone that will count down days, hours, minutes and seconds until election day (you can set it for when the polls open or the polls close if you like).

Publishing’s Moment of Reckoning Comes… Again

From Publishers Weekly:

In the wake of yet another publishing scandal with race at its center, I’ve received nervous emails from writers worried about their forthcoming novels. Could what happened to American Dirt author Jeanine Cummins happen to them? The answer is yes, maybe, but probably no.

The most reductive line of thinking emerging from the conversation around American Dirt is that white writers shouldn’t write about a culture that’s not theirs, but that’s not actually what the critics are saying. What they’re angry about is that writers of color get erased, that their stories don’t get elevated, and that white writers (and publishers) cash in on legacies of trauma.

Publishing’s whiteness problem has been extensively written about. It’s also something I have personal experience with. In 2007, I was involved in a race-related publishing kerfuffle. The story has echoes of the American Dirt saga. A writer of color pitched me an anthology at a conference. I responded that she needed famous writers attached to the project if she hoped to sell it to a publisher. When she asked for examples, I named some authors off the top of my head, all white women. The following week she posted about our exchange on her blog, suggesting that my answer showed a pattern at our house of ignoring voices of color, noting the dearth of writers of color on our list, and calling me out publicly.

I responded by saying that we didn’t get very many submissions from women of color—and in so doing promoted an old and tired narrative that I didn’t even know existed before I blundered my way into it in an effort to defend myself. From there, things escalated. The story was widely covered. There were calls to boycott our press.

We issued an apology, which was poorly received. Cries of too little, too late. Not having had bad intentions doesn’t matter when you’ve shown the depths of your ignorance, when you’ve exposed your shadowed internalized racism. I was embarrassed and hurt, and it would be a long while before I would see the positives of this experience.

The fallout that ensued might have been a wake-up call to the industry, but it was not. The only people who learned that hard lesson were those on our small staff. Since then, there have been innumerable race-related missteps in the publishing world. Accusations of racism are at the heart of the Romance Writers of America’s current implosion. J.K. Rowling’s rendering of the native wizards in her Fantastic Beasts series has widely been seen as disrespectful and drawing from racist stereotypes. Early last year, Amélie Wen Zhao, the would-be author of Blood Heir, announced that she was pulling her own book from her publisher after it was denounced by early readers as racist.

Based on my experience, I can’t offer a road map for successfully managing these crises or encouraging good discourse. Time passed and eventually people forgot.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Of course, traditional publishing is an elitist, classist, racist, sexist business and has been so for a very long time.

PG expects more publishing scandals to pop up from time to time.

Light Blogging

PG will be a bit less vociferous than usual today.

His reason will be understandable to a certain subset of visitors to TPV who have spent three years (in the US at least) learning about things such as the Statute of Frauds, the Rule in Shelley’s Case and Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins.

It may be summed up in three letters – CLE – and one word – deadline.

When fonts fight, Times New Roman conquers

From The Guardian:

When Times New Roman started trending on Twitter yesterday, the books world began to panic. Had Comic Sans escaped? Had the sans serifs risen up against their pointy overlords and Tipp-Exed them out?

No. The author Sean Richardson had asked the internet to “reveal the deepest part of yourself: Which font and which size do you write in?”, little realising he was about to open a Pandora’s box of preference and prejudice.

Arial 12 pt, replied Poirot novelist and bestselling crime author Sophie Hannah. For Hugo-winning American science fiction author John Scalzi, it’s Georgia, 12-point, single-spaced, and “when I’m done, I double-space the entire document and put it into Courier, again 12pt”. For the Canadian fantasy novelist Guy Gavriel Kay it’s “New Century Schoolbook 12 … because I am young and cool”.

But then the surge for Times New Roman began. “Surely anyone who doesn’t do Times New Roman 12 pt is a monster??” asked fantasy novelist Rebecca F Kuang. “Times New Roman, size 12 font, 1.5 spacing, like a human being,” agreed author Nicole Mello. For Star Wars author Chuck Wendig, it’s “14pt Times New Roman, which is the best answer and you all know it”.

. . . .

The Calibri crowd were slow to defend their sans-serif selection – perhaps wary after fantasy author Katie Khan’s attack on last year: “Let’s talk about fonts baby / Let’s talk about Century / Let’s talk about all the good fonts And the bad fonts / (Calibri) / Let’s TALK about fonts.”

. . . .

For Richardson, fonts are “always worth fighting over”.

“Since we spend so much time with fonts, it’s unsurprising they provoke such strong emotions,” he said. “The reaction to the tweet is fascinating because it goes beyond personal preference and into questions of identity, accessibility, place, accent and style.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG suspects most authors use the font that shows up automatically on their word processing program most of the time.

When TPV moved to a new theme recently, the default font the designer used for the body was PT Serif, not quite Times Roman but, to PG’s eye, attractive.

Various other parts of the blog template that use text were set to inherit the font used in the blog – PT Serif.

For the image of the old books that occupies the banner space at the top of the blog, PG decided to use something a bit more striking – Trajan. He chose a font that provides an option for an embossed look in various colors.

PG picked gold to contrast with the darker colors of the antique books in the background and provide a bit of aged flash. Careful observers of the banner will note that PG lightly shaded the background of the title and subtitle so the words were easier to read and the unshaded portions of the book spines, particularly the two in the middle, still look bright.

PG is still not satisfied with the look of the Primary Navigation Bar – “Home” “About”, etc. – but experienced blog appearance tweaking fatigue after he was finally satisfied with other parts of TPV and will go back to the Nav bar later when his tweaking brain cells regain their vigor.

Fonts in MS Word

If you want to change your default font in MS Word so you start every new document with something that expresses your hidden or not-so-hidden personality, it’s easy to do.

Here are instructions for Word for Windows:

If you don’t see detail below the Home button when you open Word, click on it.

Once you’re there, focus your attention on the Font section in your toolbar and click on the tiny arrow at the bottom right:

That will open up a font selection panel that looks something like this:

After you choose whatever font you would like to be your default, click the “Set as Default” button. MS Word will ask you if you want to change the default font for the single document template that’s open or for everything you do in Word thereafter. Unless you have different templates you use regularly and only want the default font for the document template you’re working with, change the default for all your Word files.

If you change your mind in the future and want a different default font, you can do it all over again. Note that you can also change your default font size (11 point and 12 point are probably the most common standard text sizes for Times New Roman) and default font effects (All Caps, Small Caps, etc) that you wish to use.

Computer font designs can be protected by copyright (as a species of computer program). While there are lots of online sources for free fonts, you’ll want to check for any copyright claims before you download.

Google Fonts includes a huge selection of open-source free-to-use fonts. While Google put the collection together anticipating websites, etc., they have also included TrueType versions of each font for installation in Windows or Mac systems.

For more on the installation and use of Google Fonts in your word processor, here’s a link.

Grammarly

PG took Mrs. PG out for lunch today. She’s working on edits of her next book and required a break.

Over lunch, we talked about Grammarly. Mrs. PG has used Grammarly for several of her books and finds the program very helpful with her edits. In the past, Grammarly has caught problems that her human editors have missed.

However, as anyone who has used Grammarly understands, it tends to be over-inclusive when flagging errors, highlighting grammar and spelling that is not erroneous.

The reason for Grammarly’s bias toward over-inclusion is obvious. The programmers assumed that users would prefer that Grammarly catch potential errors that weren’t necessarily mistaken rather than to have Grammarly miss an error to the detriment of an author.

However, when working through a book-length manuscript, Mrs. PG finds some of Grammarly’s most common overinclusions can become a bit annoying.

In PG’s day-to-day use, he hasn’t had any complaints about Grammarly, so he’s never looked under the hood to locate levers and configuration options beyond what he did when he installed the program.

So, PG invites one and all to share their Grammarly likes, dislikes, tweaks and workarounds. Perhaps PG can make some changes so the program writes posts for TPV all by itself.

Is the program something you use all the time? If you don’t use it all the time, for what sorts of writing is it helpful and for what sorts of writing do you find it unnecessary or more trouble than it’s worth?

Have you tweaked or modified the program or its settings in ways you’ve found helpful? Do you ever use Grammarly in a manner that you don’t think the designers/engineers of the program anticipated? If so, how have you used it and why?

Is there an alternate to Grammarly that you like better? If so, what is it and why?

Any and all Grammarly-related comments will be appreciated.

Are You Ready For The Next eBook Boom?

From The Digital Reader:

The legacy book publishing industry is fond of telling itself comforting myths.

For example, one myth that just crossed my desk was the idea that younger readers preferred print books over ebooks. This is comforting to the legacy industry because it reassures them that their bad business decisions (high ebook prices, to be exact) will not continue to haunt them.

Alas, like many myths, there is little to back it up.

I was reading that Vox retrospective on the ebook revolution (the one that Teleread commented on, and Good e-Reader plagiarized) when I came to this quote from Andrew Albanese of Publishers Weekly.

And in part, Albanese tells Vox in a phone interview, that’s because the digital natives of Gen Z and the millennial generation have very little interest in buying ebooks. “They’re glued to their phones, they love social media, but when it comes to reading a book, they want John Green in print,” he says. The people who are actually buying ebooks? Mostly boomers. “Older readers are glued to their e-readers,” says Albanese. “They don’t have to go to the bookstore. They can make the font bigger. It’s convenient.”

Yeah, that claim is not true at all.

. . . .

Younger age cohorts are not only more likely to have read an ebook, they are also buying more ebooks – and I have the data to back that up.

For starters, the most recent reading survey from Pew Research Center showed that the 18-29 age cohort, which includes the tail end of the millennial generation, was the most likely to have read an ebook in the past 12 months.

. . . .

eBooks.com has revealed that their best customers are still in college. and that “62% of ebook purchases are made by people aged between 18 and 45”.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Nate for pointing it out to me

Somehow, PG missed the Vox article that Nate mentions. Or perhaps he dismissed it like he does with almost anything Vox publishes. There’s a sense of born yesterday that often makes him think that nobody needs to know anything in order to write for Vox.

At any rate, assuming that Vox got the quote correctly from the Publishers Weekly writer, it makes absolutely no sense at all:

And in part, Albanese tells Vox in a phone interview, that’s because the digital natives of Gen Z and the millennial generation have very little interest in buying ebooks. “They’re glued to their phones, they love social media, but when it comes to reading a book, they want John Green in print,” he says. The people who are actually buying ebooks? Mostly boomers. “Older readers are glued to their e-readers,” says Albanese. “They don’t have to go to the bookstore. They can make the font bigger. It’s convenient.”

Let’s unpack this one component at a time:

  • Gen Z and the Millenials are packed with digital natives.
  • The natives are glued to their phones 24/7 to check on Instagram, TikTok, text messages from friends, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.
  • The natives are typing on their phones 24/7 to create Instagram, TikTok, text messages, etc., etc., etc. for their friends.
  • These sorts of behaviors occur everywhere, including at school, watching TV, at the movies (despite announcements telling them not to use their phones – the ushers in the theater never do anything about it because they’re texting all the time, too), on the street, at fast food restaurants, in the bathroom, at the prom, etc., etc.
  • The worst thing someone can do to a digital native is to take away their smartphone, limit their hours or otherwise interfere with 24/7.

However, when digital natives desire to read something longer than a text message, they want a physical book, a lump of dead wood that won’t fit into any pocket, something that is unlike anything else they encounter in their 24/7 lives (including the ebooks they use for their classes at school)

This is breaking news, a previously undiscovered trend for a Vox writer because s/he hasn’t touched a physical book in years. “People will be so excited to discover that books on paper are a new thing.”

And, of course, it’s a well-known fact that Gen Z has lots of extra cash sitting around with which to purchase hard-copy books (instead of new apps for their phones).

Plus, Barnes & Noble must be where Gen Z trend-setters have decided to congregate now. You’ll probably have trouble getting in without a reservation.

English’s Pronoun Problem Is Centuries Old

From The New York Times:

“Pronouns are suddenly sexy,” Dennis Baron declares at the start of “What’s Your Pronoun?” For “pronouns,” read one specific pronoun, or rather its long-lamented absence in English: the third-person singular gender-neutral pronoun. And for “sexy,” read thorny. Pronouns now come up in lawsuits, school regulations and company codes of conduct. Colleges ask students to provide their preferred pronouns; online dating sites offer pronoun options. “It used to be nerdy to discuss parts of speech outside of grammar class,” Baron, a professor emeritus of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois, writes. “Now it’s cool.”

After this slightly forced attempt at with-itness, “What’s Your Pronoun?” settles down into a scrupulous and absorbing survey. Its great virtue is to show that these issues are nothing new: Gender-neutral pronouns like “ze,” “thon” and “heer” have been circulating since the mid-19th century; others as far back as 1375.

Almost no one now defends the use of a generic “he” — but what to replace it with? Baron is surely right that no one cares for “his or her”: too unwieldy. As for the pronouns historically proposed to replace “he” or “she,” they failed to gain traction because “they look strange on the page.”

. . . .

Coiners of new pronouns might usefully counter that they want these words to look strange, so as to draw attention to the social construction of gender or the patriarchal roots of traditional pronouns. Fair enough, but the point about pronouns is that they replace nouns, and thus trade the specific for the generic — so they will probably catch on only when they are inconspicuous. In writing, a pronoun that draws attention to itself stops the reader’s eye and checks their pace at the wrong point in a sentence.

For Baron the solution is clear, and I used it (hopefully unobtrusively) in that last sentence: the singular “they.” He provides ample textual evidence, from Shakespeare on, that this is a perfectly respectable option — and so unconscious that even those who condemn it invoke it without noticing.

For the still unpersuaded, he points out that singular “they” is older than singular “you.” Only in the 1600s did singular “you” start pushing out “thou” and “thee.” Having the same pronoun for both singular and plural forms makes for potential ambiguity. So colloquial plural forms have sprung up, such as “y’all,” common in the American South, or the more recent “you guys” — an oddly gendered locution at a time when the generic “he” is becoming extinct. Still, we get by. No one considers ditching the singular “you.”

For Baron, the benefit of singular “they” is that it is often used by those in search of a nonbinary or gender-neutral pronoun, as well as those who give such issues little thought. While many language mavens are coming around reluctantly to singular “they” — in December Merriam-Webster anointed “they” its “word of the year” — some traditionalists still hold out against it. Their defense is convention. 

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Inside the Critics’ Circle

From The Guardian:

Although I’ve been reviewing books for half a century, this little treatise caused me to do some anxious head-scratching. Phillipa Chong, a tenure-hungry assistant professor at a Canadian university, here presents an earnest sociological analysis of an activity that for me has been sometimes a chore, always a test of punctuality and proficiency, on occasion a wickedly thrilling chance for retaliation, but mostly a source of pleasure. Reading the product of Chong’s jargon-clogged research, I found that I lacked all symptoms of the professional malaise that afflicts her informants, who suffer, she believes, from “epistemic uncertainty”.

I may be a shallow fellow, but I’ve never worried about what Chong clumsily describes as the “lack of groupness” among reviewers. Who cares that no certificates of “accreditation” enrol us in “the institution of literary criticism” or that we “inhabit nonprofessional spaces”? I also hadn’t realised that I was supposed to function as a “market intermediary” or – with luck – as a “cultural consecrator”.

And none of the eight successive Observer literary editors for whom I have worked ever ordered contributors to “enact their duties”, which would have sounded unusually bossy. When they patted me on the back, was I being commended for “satisficing in the face of practical constraints”? I hope so, because satisficing, I gather, is a “cognitive heuristic” that defines an “acceptability threshold”.

Editors are employers and I’ve always been reluctant to question their reasons for commissioning me. Now I learn from Chong that they exercise “homophilous logics” resembling the algorithms that connect strangers on hook-up websites. This prompts her to liken assigning reviews to “making a good match”: well, then, next time a Jiffy bag arrives, I’ll regard it as the invitation to go on a blind date.

. . . .

“Well, I first try to read the book,” says one critic she quizzes. Another interviewee, mindful that sociology aspires to be a science, carefully spells it out: “I get the book in the mail. And I spend time reading it from beginning to end.” Chong, impervious to irony, describes this as the critic’s “review process”.

She seems not to notice that a third reviewer shrugs off her inquiry about his or her “physiological and emotional, or otherwise embodied, reactions”. “When a book is good,” this person replies, “a book is good.” A fourth reviewer almost audibly yawns when asked about his tendency to be lenient. “I’m from the midwest,” he says, “and I’m sort of a naturally nice person.” So much for the “culture of evaluation” Chong says we live in, which she aligns with the “audit culture” of high finance. “I am both expanding and contracting the generalisability of the framework,” she declares, unaware that the rickety scaffolding of theory has collapsed around her.

Applying the criteria of identity politics, Chong finds that her subjects are reluctant to “identify” as reviewers. “I’m primarily a book writer,” one reviewer defensively snarls; others announce “I’m mostly a writer” or “I mostly write”. Their epistemic qualms have a bottom line: reviewing is ill paid and Chong is bemused by the “nonmonetary form of profit” – AKA enjoyment – that we dedicated toilers derive from it. “What it means to be a writer,” she sighs, “is unclear.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

MERCUTIO: I am hurt.
A plague o’ both your houses! I am sped.
Is he gone, and hath nothing?

William Shakespear, Romeo and Juliet

How ‘Big Law’ Makes Big Money

From The New York Review of Books:

“There is an estate in the realm more powerful than either your Lordship or the other House of Parliament,” one Lord Campbell proclaimed to the peers in the House of Lords, in 1851, “and that [is] the country solicitors.” It was the lawyers, in other words, who kept England’s landed elite so very, well, elite: who shielded and extended the wealth of the landowners, even granting them legal protection against their own creditors. How did they pull off this trick? Through a nimble tangle of contracts, carefully and complicatedly applied, as Katharina Pistor explains in her lucid new book, The Code of Capital: by mixing “modern notions of individual property rights with feudalist restrictions on alienability”; by employing trusts “to protect family estates, but then [turning] around and [using] the trust again to set aside assets for creditors so that they would roll over the debt of the life tenant one more time”; and by settling the rights to the estate among family members in line for inheritance. Solicitors maximized their clients’ profits and worth through strategic applications of the central institutions at their disposal: “contract, property, collateral, trust, corporate, and bankruptcy law,” what Pistor calls an “empire of law.”

The landowners themselves may not have understood this morass of legal relationships, this web, in Pistor’s words, of “claims and counterclaims, rights and restrictions on these rights.” No matter: by lawyers’ legal codifications, their wealth was increasing. The sort of legal logic applied in nineteenth-century England grows only more complicated, and more profit-generating, when the asset in question is not a hectare of country land but stocks and bonds and shares—when an entire organization is coded as a legal person (who can own assets and who can sue) through incorporation. The very form of a corporation, “by encouraging risk taking, by broadening the investor base and thereby mobilizing funding for investments, and by creating the conditions for deep and liquid markets for the shares and bonds that the corporation issues,” maximizes profit. And though today we live in a nominally democratic society, Pistor argues that a “feudal calculus” extends to our age: superior legal coding—that is, fancy private lawyers. Using the central institutions of private law, they make certain assets more valuable, and more likely to create value. “For centuries,” she writes,

private attorneys have molded and adapted these legal modules to a changing roster of assets and have thereby enhanced their clients’ wealth. And states have supported the coding of capital by offering their coercive law powers to enforce the legal rights that have been bestowed on capital.

Corporate law is “no longer primarily a legal vehicle for producing goods or offering services but has been transformed into a virtual capital mint.” Nowhere is this more true than in financial services corporations.

. . . .

Since the 1960s lawyers associated with the school of “law and economics,” developed at the University of Chicago by Aaron Director and Ronald Coase, among others, have been explaining how legal devices are invented to enable transactions to be conducted more efficiently. The basic line of argument is clever but monotonous. In case after case, the true function of a legal construction is shown to be that it aligns incentives of various economic actors—businesses, consumers, workers, and governments—in efficient and productive ways. For example, although granting property rights secures a kind of monopoly for owners, it encourages investment because legal owners can expect to reap the long-run benefit of up-front expenditures.

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

As far as the last paragraph about “granting property rights,” that’s what happens when you buy a house. Your “monopoly” on your house means you get to choose who lives in it. If a stranger walks into your house off the street and falls asleep on the couch and you don’t like him/her doing that, local law enforcement will come and arrest that person and remove them from your house because, as the owner, you have a monopoly right to exclude those who you don’t want sleeping on your couch.

For the record, PG is not now nor has he ever been a part of Big Law. The closest he has ever come to working with financial services corporations occurred a long time ago when he represented a small country bank in a single litigation matter (yes, he/they won), but that’s it.

On the other hand, a long time ago, he used to do a lot of consumer bankruptcies for indigent Legal Aid clients and financial services corporations were usually among the largest creditors who were stiffed in the bankruptcy court.

As far as the OP, Big Law and Big Clients, if you don’t want a complex economy and its accompanying benefits, there are a variety of places with much simpler economies and much greater poverty that may be available for you.

One more point – the various kinds of modern property rights established by law include copyrights, that allow you to prevent others from meddling with the invisible intellectual property that is represented by the books and stories you write.

Application of Financial Disclosure Laws to Art Purchases in Belgium

Note from PG – He found the following on Clancoo website at the link below. That link lead him to a PDF of a document created by Oliver Lenaerts that was in Clancoo website files. PG’s link is to the Clancoo website. The link to the document stored on the Clancoo website from which PG draws his excerpts is HERE.

PG’s interest in this matter concerned the role that many literary agents play as financial advisors for their authors with respect to contract provisions, the amount of advances, whether or not to accept an offer or not, etc.

PG acknowledges that the parallels are not perfect, but he does believe there may be similarities between the two groups with respect to hidden agendas, etc. Of course, in the United States, agents acting for authors are virtually unregulated even though they almost certainly have some implied fiduciary obligations when they receive large amounts of money from one or more publishers that should be passed on to an author.

As an example, there is no law or regulation of which PG is aware that prohibits a literary agent from commingling funds that belong to one or more authors together with the agent’s funds in a single bank account. An attorney would likely be subject to a disciplinary proceeding should s/he take the same action with client funds. More than one lawyer has been disbarred and prohibited from practicing law for such actions.

One final note – The OP includes many footnotes that PG has omitted (you’ll likely notice traces in the excerpt). If you are interested in deepening your understanding of this topic, it will be well worth your while to review the entire document.

From Clancoo:

The regard for art as a luxury acquisition with the sole purpose of enjoying it in your private home, has undergone some dramatic changes over the past fifteen years. Art is being regarded as an accessible investment. The ability to enjoy art is increasingly tangled up with the possibility of reselling it and making a profit. That rise has caused many art dealers, investors, auction houses and economists to regard art not as a luxury acquisition but rather to regard it as a financial asset.1 And so it can happen that etchings of Picasso are being traded over the counter like coffee futures for millions of euros. The vision of art as an asset has led to an enormous boost on the art market and an increasing financialisation. The manner in which certain artists are being promoted by the press and other media and how their prices are being monitored in indexes and databanks indicates the existence of a market.2 As a result, the chance that an art dealer turns into an investment consultant who defends the interests of the buyer, increases. The attitude, often unarticulated but persistent, that art is being bought in a context of appreciation for its intrinsic and aesthetic merit, may perpetuate reluctance to regulate the art market. Wrongly. If purchasing art is no longer caused by a spontaneous injection of aesthetics but becomes a calculated risk, then regulation becomes inevitable. Art transactions, certainly in the higher segment of the market, appear to be, in essence, investment contracts. In this article we shall, first and foremost, describe the predominant types of art transactions. Subsequently, we shall describe the most important preoccupations of an art investor and the existing protection rules. Thirdly, we shall analyse the criteria the Belgian legislator has put forward to determine whether an artwork qualifies as a financial asset and the consequences thereof on the art market.

I. Types of Art Transactions

A. Auction Houses

Public auction houses account for a substantial proportion of art transactions. They are the counterpart of trading platforms where stock is being traded, it being understood that art is less liquid: so, to resell you must wait for a suitable auction.3 As the agent of the owner, the auctioneer solicits offers and determines the final bid. The most obvious characteristic of this sale platform is the unpredictability of the knock-down price. Because the final sales price results from the open bidding, it is accepted as the fair market value.4 Knowledge of the reserve price would be helpful to the buyer in setting the value of an artwork. If this price is not met during the bidding, the piece will be withdrawn by the auctioneer.

B. Art Galleries

Purchases may be made privately through a gallery or an art dealer. A gallery manages a significantly lesser volume of works than an auction house. A transaction through a gallery is ordinarily in the nature of a purchase at a non-negotiable price. This is especially true for commercial galleries where the taste of the consumer determines whether a purchase shall take place. Rarely, such a dealer will disclose information on past sale prices in order to enable the buyer to determine whether the price is fair. The purchase is determined by the aesthetic reaction the buyer has with the artwork. A promotion gallery, however, represents artists who are selected on the basis of artistic expertise and market knowledge.

In many cases, a promotion gallery represents the artist exclusively and exercises control on the marketing and distribution of the works of that artist. Hence, in the world of contemporary art trading, it is difficult to use the name of promotion galleries without entertaining thoughts of a financial investment environment. An emphatic process for some dealers (thinking from the perspective of the artist), is a technical process for the others (thinking from the perspective of the market).5 Private art dealers operate on the secondary market and offer artworks with provenance. They invest only, at a given point in time, in the value of artworks and are less concerned by the value of an artist’s entire oeuvre on the long term.

C. Art Advisors

As investing in art gradually grows in popularity over the years, opportunities arise on the art market to address the concerns of investors. Logically, the importance of such advice increases in relation to the growth of the sums invested. In order to consider a transaction as an investment, the advice component must be part of the sales process. The bets on that are greater if advisors assist investors in getting the deal through. The advisory function of an art dealer cannot be qualified unambiguously. Certainly, one might expect that an art dealer makes certain (price) statements incidental to art purchases. Doing so, however, does not necessarily mean that he acts as an art advisor. A buyer may solicit certain advisory information regarding the investment value of particular artworks, but, if a buyer relies upon such representations and it can be ascertained that the art dealer’s representation induced the purchase, there is a potential conflict of interest.6

D. Art Funds

Since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been a tendency towards financialisation of the art market. In the wake of that tendency, art funds were rising fast. The art funds industry peaked in 2012 and since then has then slowed down. That decline is due to the fact that art funds have certain handicaps. The most important one is sustainability. It is difficult to create an industry around it because there simply isn’t the depth in the market. Investible art relates to a very small segment of the market and you can’t pour millions into it. Put another way, no significant profits can be made of it. Another burgeoning area is the art lending industry which emerged out of the fund business. Art lending allows the lender to leverage against art and taps into a new business model.

. . . .

III. Art as an Investment

The most obvious investments are shares and bonds. An investor buys shares in anticipation that the investment will offer a return on the sum paid as a result of the efforts of the management of the company whose shares are being sold. The Belgian legislator has taken the view that the subject-matter (shares or something else – e.g. art) of an investment contract is irrelevant and has, therefore, enlarged the scope of the financial rules intended to protect investors.16 The law no longer applies the notion of ‘share’ but the wider notion of ‘investment instrument’ and tackles “alternative investments in movable properties”.17 The legislator has introduced in article 3, §1, 4° of the law of 11 July 2018 relating to the offering of investment instruments to the public and the admission of investment instruments to trading on the regulated market (the ‘Prospectus Law’), certain criteria in order to determine whether an investment instrument is available or not:

If rights are acquired which make it possible to execute a financial investment and which relate to one or more movable goods that are part of a group and whose collective management is assigned to one or more persons acting in a professional capacity (unless those rights provide for unconditional, irrevocable and complete delivery in kind of the goods).

That’s what it all boils down to. The Financial Services and Markets Authority (‘FSMA’), which is the financial regulatory agency in Belgium, applies the notion of ‘alternative investment products’ for products which are offered to the public as an investment and which, directly or indirectly, relate to movable property and which do not take the form of traditional investments (e.g. shares) which are well-defined in Belgian financial law. Below is an analysis of the circumstances under which art could qualify as an ‘investment instrument’ in the meaning of the Prospectus Law.

Link to the rest at Clancoo

Happy ever after: why writers are falling out of love with marriage

From The Guardian:

Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 classic Little Women begins with an adult Jo March entering the smoke-filled, man-filled offices of a New York publisher in hopes of selling a story. “If the main character’s a girl make sure she’s married by the end,” the editor decrees. “Or dead, either way.”

Alcott herself never married and thought that Jo “should have remained a literary spinster”. But after publication of the first volume of the book, covering the March sisters’ childhood, Alcott was flooded with letters from fans demanding to know whom the little women had married. In rebellion, Alcott “made a funny match” for Jo, forgoing the obvious choice of Laurie in favour of Professor Bhaer, a middle-aged German, “neither rich nor great, young nor handsome, in no respect what is called fascinating, imposing, or brilliant”.

Gerwig reworks this disappointing ending by conflating Jo’s fate with Alcott’s. In the film, we see Jo negotiating the terms of a book deal. She agrees to marrying off her heroine to get the book published but won’t sell her off cheaply, negotiating the percentage of royalties and keeping the copyright, as Alcott did. Gerwig could be charged with cakeism: she simultaneously serves up a feminist outcome while feeding the audience a romantic resolution, and this time with a hunky husband.

Romance plots “are, evidently, some of the deep, shared structures of our culture”, wrote critic Rachel Blau DuPlessis in Writing Beyond the Ending (1985). The convention of “married or dead” female characters persisted in fiction well beyond the Victorian era. But if the romance fantasy was long doled out to women as a compensation for powerlessness elsewhere, contemporary writers are increasingly turning the marriage plot on its head.

In Such a Fun Age, one of this year’s hottest debuts, Kiley Reid pokes fun at wokeness and provides a nuanced consideration of race. She also subverts expectations of the young woman’s coming-of-age novel by giving her main character, Emira, different priorities. “Emira’s dealing with a very ‘humans in late capitalism’ period of her 20s, which leaves her questioning everything,” Reid told the New York Times. “Am I holding my friends back? Should I be living in a different apartment? How do I make more money? What do I want to do?” Boy problems – refreshingly – don’t even make the shortlist. Emira’s reaction to a racist incident at an upscale supermarket is self-inquiry rather than revenge: “More than the racial bias, the night at Market Depot came back to her with a nauseating surge and a resounding declaration that hissed, You don’t have a real job.” As the interracial love subplot plays out, it’s a job with benefits, rather than a good marriage, that proves to be the holy grail.

Reid joins other present-day novelists relegating romance to the back seat. In Writers & Lovers, to be published in May, Lily King addresses subjects including grief, the creative process, and the anxieties of student debt and short-term employment. There’s a love triangle as well, but here, too, the ultimate aim is financial freedom.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG’s admittedly inexpert observation of a variety of book covers he stumbles across during his near-daily online life does not indicate that publishing marketers (a cover is, after all, one of the chief marketing/advertising tools for indie and commercial publishers) have given up on female/male romance as an advertising message.

Does “a job with benefits” match romance in its ability to attract readers? Perhaps it does. PG doesn’t claim a great deal of insight into the world of fiction written by women for (presumably) mostly women. (He acknowledges and is firmly aware that many books written by women are intended for and avidly read by an audience comprised of men, women and whatever other genders may exist in the world. He has read and enjoyed many such books and expects to do so in the future.)

My favorite writer

My favorite writer is Jane Austen, and I’ve read all her books so many times I’ve lost count … I imagined being a famous writer would be like being like Jane Austen. Being able to sit at home at the parsonage and your books would be very famous and occasionally you would correspond with the Prince of Wales’s secretary.”

~ J. K. Rowling

The Fashion of Jane Austen’s Novels

From The Millions:


Dress in the Age of Jane Austen
 has been a long time coming. It started out as a chance comment in 2013 from Professor Aileen Ribeiro, author of foundational books on dress history such as The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750 to 1820We were standing chatting in the snowy grounds of Chawton House, once owned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward Knight, who was adopted by childless cousins and changed his surname. The gracious Elizabethan manor had become a center for studying women’s lives and writings, but we were there for the filming of the BBC documentary Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball, which sought to recreate the famous Netherfield ball scene from Jane Austen’s most beloved novel. I had made a hand-stitched replica gown for the production and appeared as the costume expert. During conversation, Professor Ribeiro mused on the fact that there was no good book on Regency dress. I agreed, but was taken by (flattered) surprise when she said she thought I would be the perfect person to write one. The conversation moved on. However, the idea’s seed started growing quietly in the back of my head. Six months later, I had decided to write what I privately thought of as The Big Book of Regency Dress.

My introduction to the clothes of Britain’s Regency period (c. 1795-1821) was through the body and life of Jane Austen, by recreating a silk pelisse coat, the only known garment connected with the author. Her incredibly observant writing, combined with the breadth of research existing on her and her family, made Austen the perfect starting point. Because I began with her physicality, I mused on the importance of the bodily self as the starting point for imagining and wearing fashion. From this center emerged the book’s structure, which moves outwards in concentric circles from Self, through the experiences of Home, Village, Country, City, Nation and finally, World. Locating seemingly English local fashions within their wider global contexts was important to me as an Australian historian. Without Britain’s world trade, none of the heaving bosoms dear to screen adaptations would have been clad in muslin gowns and Kashmir shawls.

. . . .

Regency fashion attracts a lot of myths, like that women stopped wearing stays or corsets, or damped their dresses to achieve a clinging fit. Did they really? And if not, what were Austen’s gentry peers actually wearing? The research involved scouring every kind of source I could think of, peering into people’s washing lists, their account books and recipes, taking advice from professionals of the time, and reading a lot of second-rate fiction. I also amassed thousands of images of clothed Regency people, only a comparative few of which appear in the book.

. . . .

Anglo-Irish author Maria Edgeworth’s letters are a font of information about dress and dressing practices. By comparison, only 161 of an estimated 3,000 of Austen’s letters survive. Edgeworth moved in more exalted social circles as a celebrated author, which Austen unfortunately never lived to experience. The Edgeworth letters share fashion details of the aristocracy as well as her tactics for dressing well in such company.

. . . .

Englishwomen wore bright red worsted or woolen cloaks throughout the 18th century and into the Regency period. Foreign visitors thought them a peculiar and charming local style. Visual sources show the ubiquitous scarlet garments worn in the country by everyone from local gentry girls through to peddlers and street sellers.

Link to the rest at The Millions

Cahoots

From The Wall Street Journal:

President Trump’s impeachment trial has brought an old American slang term to the fore: “cahoots.”

After Arizona Sen. Martha McSally rebuffed an impeachment-related question from CNN’s Manu Raju by calling him a “liberal hack,” she doubled down on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show last week by claiming that CNN reporters “are so in cahoots with the Democrats.”

Earlier this month, Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor for the House Democrats, accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of “working in cahoots with the president,” adding that Mr. McConnell “has made himself an active participant in the president’s coverup.” That theme continued among pro-impeachment protesters on Capitol Hill this week, one of whom told USA Today that Senate Republicans, instead of serving as an impartial jury, are “working in cahoots with the defendant.”

“Cahoots” only ever appears in the phrase “in cahoots,” to suggest a questionable collaboration or secret partnership. It’s a sketchy word with an even sketchier history, and etymologists continue to theorize about where it came from, nearly two centuries after it entered American English.

The earliest known example comes from an 1827 item in a Georgia newspaper, the Augusta Chronicle, about a fictional backwoods orator named Barney Blinn. In a homespun speech railing against John Quincy Adams overturning a treaty between the state of Georgia and the Creek Nation, Blinn complained that “Gin’ral Government and the ministration are going in cahoot to undermine and overrule the undertakings of the free People of Georgia.”

. . . .

John R. Bartlett entered “cahoot” in his 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms and offered an early stab at an etymology, saying that the word was “probably from ‘cohort,’ Spanish and French,” defined as “a company, a band.” That fit the usage that he noted in the American South and West, “to denote a company or union of men for a predatory excursion, and sometimes for a partnership in business.”

In the years since, scholars have suggested many competing conjectures. One theory, supported by the Oxford English Dictionary, traces the term to a different French root: “cahute,” meaning a cabin or temporary hut, which was taken up in Scottish usage. Much as “cabinet” (originally referring to a small cabin) got extended to a circle of confidential political advisers, “cahute” could have followed a similar route for labeling a band of conspirators.

Yet another theory relates “in cahoots” to “cahot” or “cahoo,” a New England regionalism borrowed from Canadian French that was used in the 19th century to refer to a pothole in a road or an obstacle more generally. Thus, perhaps, being “in cahoots” could have originally referred to compatriots facing difficulties together.

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

PG has always thought cahoots was a lovely word plus the younger members of the offspring of PG and Mrs. PG enjoy saying it.

The 9 Best Apps to Create Fast Graphic Designs

PG recently posted some links to discussions about online graphic design programs for authors. Here are some other possibilities

From Makeuseof:

In today’s world where selfies rule and videos are king among content, there’s no doubt killer visuals are important. But adding visual elements to your written content can feel like a major time-suck, especially when you don’t have any design skills to lean on.

Here are the best apps to create fast graphic designs.

1. Klex

klex editing app

Want to create beautiful graphics at warp speed? Well, Klex has got you covered. This application is best used to customize visual assets with stock photos, vectors, and illustrations, and add in text, fonts, and backgrounds that meet your needs.

Add your own photography or use the stock photos they provide. What I like about Klex is this platform gives you some space to mess around with a whole host of effects. It’s also not hard to use.

Klex uses the same technology behind Gravit Designer, but the aim here is to give users something much easier to work with. The app includes templates for everything from properly sized social graphics to posters, cards, and blog graphics.

. . . .

5. Desygner

Desygner Templates

Desygner is one of the best web-based apps for graphic design. The process is much more smooth than you’ll find with some of the other apps, such as Pixlr, which can feel a little clunky at times.

Where Desygner shines is in its mobile functionality. It’s perfect for social media users designing on the go, as Desygner has virtually eliminated the frustrating dragging and pinching process you’ll find in other tools.

We like that there’s a web app and a mobile version, as this potentially can save you a lot of time if you’re sick of wasting time on graphics when that’s not your main job, or it feels like a chore.

But as far as features go, this app is similar to Canva, but not as robust. Meaning, you do miss out on some features, but you also get a simplified experience where you can rearrange items, add layers, text, and customize photos with ease.

Desygner is free but offers a $6.95 monthly plan for access to more templates and features.

6. Google Drawings

Google Drawing interface

Want to create a customized PNG image with a transparent background? All you need to get started is a Google account, and who doesn’t have one of those?

Now, Drawings isn’t the most sophisticated tool; you’re essentially working in a Google Doc. However, it’s quite convenient. All you need to do to get started is install the extension. From there you can edit photos and create little graphics just as easily as a Google Doc.

Still, adding little labels or designs on top of a photo or plain backdrop can be a great way to incorporate humor or helpful instructions into your visuals. And once you get the hang of the “drawing” aspect, you’ll realize just how incredibly intuitive this tool is.

Link to the rest at Makeuseof

Design Tools for Authors

First, David Gaughran posted 12 Free Design Tools for Authors, then Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader posted Ten Free Online Image, Graphic, and Photo Manipulation Tools.

PG commends both items to indie authors who are interested in creating graphic designs for promotions, emails, covers, bookmarks (does anyone use those any more?) zippier-looking website posts, etc.

PG also has a few favorite and free/cheap tools of the same type that he enjoys using.

Adobe Spark is a freemium offering from the emperor/empress/queen/king of graphic arts software. PG likes and uses Canva from time to time, but Spark is his current favorite.

Spark offers an always-growing selection of pre-built templates that can provide anyone with a polished, sophisticated graphic design for printing, uploading to any social media service you can think of, dropping into an email, etc.

Lee Child letting go of his creation is a tale told by other bestsellers

From The Guardian:

“Not much surprises me these days but this news did,” said Ian Rankin of Lee Child’s revelation this weekend that his brother, Andrew Grant, would be continuing the Jack Reacher series. Child said: “For years I thought about different ways of killing Reacher off. First of all, I thought he would go out in a blaze of bullets, something like the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It would take an army to bring him down [but] Reacher had to have an afterlife after I was done.”

Not every crime writer thinks this way. Jo Nesbø recently told me there was no way his own super-tough detective Harry Hole would continue after his death – and that he had plans in place to bring about his demise. “He will not have eternal life. He probably won’t die from old age. But then again, who knows?” said Nesbø, adding that he wouldn’t be handing the franchise on to anyone else. “Definitely not. I’m telling you right now – if that should happen, if you see somebody trying, you can quote me on this.”

The late Italian detective novelist Andrea Camilleri always had an end in sight for Inspector Montalbano, writing the final novel in the series 14 years ago, and keeping it in his publisher’s offices in Palermo. “When I get fed up with him or am not able to write any more, I’ll tell the publisher: publish that book. Sherlock Holmes was recovered … but it will not be possible to recover Montalbano. In that last book, he’s really finished,” he said in 2012.

Others, though, have been more than happy to pass on the baton. In taking on a co-author role with his brother, Child follows in the large footsteps of writers such as James Patterson, who works with a handful of co-authors on bestselling lines including the Alex Cross books and Women’s Murder Club series. He’ll write a 50-page outline for his team, who will draft chapters that Patterson will read, revise, and rewrite where he needs to, paying them out of his own pocket.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Growing Old

Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven’t committed.

~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

New Scrolling Plugin

PG has installed a new plugin that should make it possible for visitors to TPV to keep on scrolling down through older posts rather than being stopped at the bottom of the page.

Let me know if you have any problems.

Comments and Other New Theme Issues

PG has been catching up on messages sent through the Contact Page on TPV following the departure of various members of the extended PG family.

Problems with the Comment function of the new theme were reported by a couple of visitors.

PG will look into a fix on that.

Feel free to post any problems you are having either in comments to this post or via the Comment page (some of the comments sent via the Comment page have been getting through).

While PG has been regularly updating various plugins when updates have become available, he suspects the new theme is surfacing plugin issues that the old theme had been living with.

UPDATE: If you have suggestions for alternates to misbehaving WP plugins, feel free to include them in your responses.

Cemetery Wine

(Yes, PG is more easily distracted than usual this morning.)

From Atlas Obscura:

Catholicism and wine cross paths throughout history and literature. Jesus turned water into wine. Some wineries survived Prohibition by producing still-legal sacramental wine. Mass-goers still drink wine as part of the sacred Communion ritual. And now, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, California, is turning grapes grown in their cemeteries into bottles of reds and whites fit for a graveyard picnic.

These cemetery vineyards got their start as a beautification project. In 2006, the diocese was faced with the task of landscaping unused portions of the grounds at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward. Grass would’ve cost $50,000 an acre, so they decided to plant grape vines at less than half the cost. The diocese liked the idea so much that they planted vines across three different graveyards, each offering unique growing conditions for particular varietals. Growers planted chardonnay, pinot noir, and primitivo at Holy Sepulchre; cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel at Holy Cross in Antioch; and pinot noir, merlot, and sangiovese at St. Joseph’s in San Pablo.

The diocese initially offered the resulting bottles of wine to parishes within the community and donated them to charities for fundraisers. But in 2013, they began a collaboration with Alameda’s Rock Wall Winery to take their products, labeled Bishop’s Vineyard, to the next level. Today, Bishop’s Vineyard produces around 600 cases annually, offers memberships to an exclusive wine club, and has won medals at local wine competitions and festivals.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

Crypto Week

Although visitors to TPV are an intelligent and widely-read group of individuals with many interests, it occurred to PG that some might not know that this is the beginning of Crypto Week, so declared by Cloudflare, a cloud services company.

Although this is not the standard fare on TPV and is not intended to become so, “Welcome to Crypto Week” in the subject line of an email PG received in the last couple of hours, did its intended job for an advertising/promotional email — PG clicked to open the email instead of deleting it.

Every day this week, Cloudflare will be announcing support for a new technology that uses cryptography to make the Internet better. Everything we are announcing this week is free to use and provides a meaningful step towards supporting a new capability or structural reinforcement.

This might not be an ideal message for those promoting a murder mystery, but given PG’s strange mélange of techno-legal interests, it captured a bit more of his fleeting attention. He clicked a link that lead to the Welcome to Crypto Week landing page. The third paragraph read:

Everything we do online depends on a relationship between users, services, and networks that is supported by some sort of trust mechanism. These relationships can be physical (I plug my router into yours), contractual (I paid a registrar for this domain name), or reliant on a trusted third party (I sent a message to my friend on iMessage via Apple). The simple act of visiting a website involves hundreds of trust relationships, some explicit and some implicit. The sheer size of the Internet and number of parties involved make trust online incredibly complex. Cryptography is a tool that can be used to encode and enforce, and most importantly scale these trust relationships.

PG found the lead-in paragraphs unusually well-written for a tech company (not a terribly high standard, but one rarely achieved). While some of PG’s best friends are tech entrepreneurs and engineers, he doesn’t always get a buzz from their writing styles.

The landing page becomes a bit more technical from there, but was not without the occasional metaphor – combining cryptographic processes was described as, “building a taller tower of turtles.”

If you’ve gotten this far, you might want to click on the link, but if you didn’t click, PG wouldn’t blame you.

For the record, PG has no pecuniary or other type of relationship with Cloudflare. His Lastpass password vault does reflect that he had some sort of login with Cloudflare that he last used four years ago, but four years reaches back into the 18th century for the internet.

Link to the rest at Welcome to Crypto Week – Cloudflare

 

Bill Whitaker

A good friend of mine passed away today.

Bill Whitaker was a superb artist who primarily painted portraits and earned his living from his art during most of his life.

In the last 20-25 years, most of his paintings were created on commission and are privately owned. Others he sold in art galleries throughout the American West. Several of Bill’s paintings are already in museums and I expect to see more in those surroundings in the future.

Bill lived less than five minutes away and welcomed visitors when he was painting. He worked in a studio with a very high ceiling and a tall glass north-facing wall so he enjoyed perfect light for his art.

Bill usually worked from photographs of his subject that he had taken previously in the same studio with professional-level photo and lighting equipment. Much of the time when  I walked into his studio the portrait looked great to me but Bill explained there was a lot more work to go. He worked with a small brush touching the canvas here and there with almost indiscernible strokes.

Bill usually had a photograph he had taken of the subject on a large computer monitor next to his canvas. Even after I thought the painting was a perfect reflection of the photo, he added more. When compared with his final painting, even a very good photo which was its basis looked flat and lifeless.

You can see examples of Bill’s work at his website. The paintings themselves look better when seen in person than the website photos do, but you can get an idea.

On the Portraits page, in the middle of the top row, you’ll see a portrait of a young woman with short hair. She was the daughter of a neighbor who lives even closer to me than Bill did.

Megan was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 17 years old and died from the disease when she was 18. It was a devastating experience for her family. Bill painted Megan’s portrait for the family and the original hangs in their home. Megan is shown as she looked between cancer treatments during her last illness.