Are Ebooks on the Decline Again?

From Book Riot:

It’s not news that ebook reading surged during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Library ebook borrowing, in particular, saw an increase in 2020 and 2021. Though ebooks have not eclipsed print for a long time, they still enjoyed an ounce of quiet popularity.

At the start of the year, however, it looks like that’s changing.

In 2020, ebook sales rose by 11%. But in 2021, sales declined by 3.7%. Ebook sales also plummeted from January to March this year, according to the Association of American Publishers. In January, it was a 10.1% fall from last year. In February, sales dropped by 6.9% as that trend continued. In March, it went down again as sales dipped by a whopping 12.2%.

Meanwhile, in the UK, ebook sales are down in 2021, the “lowest point since 2012,” according to The Bookseller. The UK magazine reported that 80 million ebooks were downloaded in 2021, which is a disappointment next to its 95 million in 2020.

. . . .

Ebook reading rose in the late 2010s when Amazon released its Kindle ereaders; ebooks back then were as low as $9.99. During that era, there were even predictions that ebooks would eventually kill print, shutter bookstores, and that ebooks would be the future of reading. But those forecasts missed the mark, obviously.

The interest in ebooks started to plateau when the drama between Amazon and the then Big 6 publishers happened in 2012. The publishers wrestled control of ebook pricing from Amazon, raising it so that people would have reasons to read in print. This led to a collusion with Apple, which got all of them sued by the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, the pricing scheme set by the publishers stayed on.

Since then, ebooks have enjoyed a decent popularity. Sales are down, and sometimes up. But they have never killed print. People moved on from the digital and went back to physical eventually, for the most part.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic froze everything, preventing people from easily buying physical books. This made many readers turned to ebooks once again. But as the world is opened up again in 2022, people are going out and dropping by the bookstores again. And so starts the dipping sales of ebooks.

. . . .

By the looks of it, the future of ebooks looks grim. However, one important thing unbeknown to many is that the AAP’s reports don’t include Kindle sales, “so the data might be skewed,” as Kozlowski put it. Amazon’s Kindle obviously has a larger market share than its competitors such as Kobo and Barnes & Noble, and so it leaves a lot of numbers on the table.

Mark Williams, the editor of the publication The New Publishing Standard that covers publishing news, said that AAP’s 2021 report fails to account for tens of millions of dollars in ebook revenue. “We simply don’t know the true scale of the impact ebooks have on the U.S. and global book markets, either in revenue terms or in consumer engagement, but we can say with absolute certainty that the AAP numbers only paint a partial picture,” he wrote in May 2021.

He also said that many of the uncounted participants do not report to the AAP, including Amazon Publishing, a slew of small presses, and thousands of self-published authors. That definitely leaves a lot of figures, and it suggests that ebooks may not be in a nosedive after all. AAP’s 2021 report, according to Williams, “warps the picture in favor of print.”

. . . .

So are ebooks losing their shine again? Are they in decline thanks to the “disappointing” sales, and maybe, because of the extreme dislike by many?

Data suggests that the ebook market may actually be a lot bigger.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG notes this is a near-perfect model of a clickbait title.

The traditional publishers who report ebook sales to the AAP (Association of American PUBLISHERS) say their ebook sales may be falling.

Traditional publishers have always held an irrational prejudice against ebooks even though ebook sales don’t entail a great many expenses that physical books require: printing costs (including set-up costs), warehousing expenses, shipping expenses, the fact the publishers need to sell pbooks at a wholesale price that allows physical bookstores to cover their expenses and persuade customers to pay a lot more than they would if they bought the very same content in ebook form from Amazon. (long sentence, PG acknowledges)

The cost of creating ebooks for traditional publishers includes overpriced real estate, starvation wages (by New York standards), but they don’t include the costs of a bunch of employees that deal with the complexities and inevitable inefficiencies and screw-ups of print publishing.

Once the ebook manuscript is received as a bunch of bits from an author, all that happens to it is digital – reviewing the digital manuscript to see if they want to publish it, editing it on computers, formatting it on computers and shipping those refined bits over the internet to Amazon and other e-tailers for publication. (PG understands that Ingram gets involved with distribution of ebooks and takes its percentage, which is Exhibit 2 demonstrating the overwhelming technology cluelessness of major publishing.)

Of course other publishers (located in much lower-cost locations without New York taxes, etc.) and self-publishers don’t have all those overhead and staff costs. They also don’t “have to” protect their relationships with traditional bookstores by selling at wholesale prices, etc., etc.

PG says the Association of American Publishers is reporting sales problems with overpriced ebooks, not ebooks that are priced intelligently. What does PG mean by overpriced?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, published by Simon & Schuster and a New York Times Bestseller is priced at $14.99 for the ebook.

Per Amazon, used copies of the hardcover can be purchased for less than the ebook.

PG suggests that Simon & Schuster could sell way more ebooks if they dropped the price to $4.99 instead of trying to help Barnes & Noble make money selling hardbacks. If Big Publishing priced ebooks for optimum sales and profits, there wouldn’t be any “decline” in ebook sales to write clickbait stores about.

A weird state law lets Virginians sue books. Politicians are using it to dictate what we can read.

From FIRE:

Book bans seek to enlist the power of the state to dictate what each of us and our families may or may not read — and thus are sharply at odds with the First Amendment and our pluralist democracy.

That’s the message delivered by FIRE and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation in an amici curiae brief filed today with a Virginia state court tasked with determining whether two award-winning books, Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” and Sarah J. Maas’ “A Court of Mist and Fury,” are legally obscene.

In May, two Virginia politicians filed a petition against the books in Virginia Beach Circuit Court, seeking declarations of obscenity that, pursuant to state law, would prohibit bookstores from selling either work. Their request invoked a rarely-used state law that allows Virginians to sue books and to compel their publishers and authors to defend them in court. After a retired state judge found “probable cause” that the works are “obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors,” the petitioners sought temporary restraining orders to bar commercial distribution of the book.

In today’s brief, FIRE and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation argue that neither book comes close to constituting obscenity as defined for minors under longstanding state and federal precedent. The books “will not appeal to or have value to every audience,” we recognize, but the First Amendment only requires that the books have “value to an audience” — and both plainly do.

Moreover, FIRE and Woodhull argue, book bans are antithetical to the First Amendment and the pluralist values it protects:

Some readers will choose not to purchase or read the books at issue in this case. Some retailers and some librarians will decline to place them on the shelves. Our Constitution reserves these choices for individuals and forbids them from the state. In our pluralist democracy, the First Amendment prescribes a remedy for audiences offended by protected speech: those who seek to avoid “bombardment of their sensibilities” may do so “simply by averting their eyes.” Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 21 (1971). Declaring books obscene because they include discussions or depictions of sex would reprise a discredited era of censorship repudiated by decades of Supreme Court precedent.

Drawing a link between the “current national push to ban books discussing sexuality, identity, and other controversial topics” and the “increasing comfort with censorship that amicus FIRE has fought against for over twenty years on campuses nationwide,” our brief makes the case for freedom of thought.

Link to the rest at FIRE and here’s a link to a page where you can read the FIRE Brief.

FIRE stands for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE summarizes its mission as follows:

FIRE’s mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought—the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them.

PG hasn’t agreed with 100% of FIRE’s positions, but he does agree with a great deal of what FIRE advocates and the causes it takes to court.

Writing Elusive Inner Moments

From Writer Unboxed:

Some of the most important moments in our lives could not have been captured on video.  They happened inside.  Those moments define us even more, perhaps, than life’s observable milestones: graduations, marriages, births, trophies, moving, funerals.

I’m talking about the moments that define who we are and whom we are becoming: realizations, revelations, decisions, turning points.  When we relish our triumphs or recognize our follies we, for a moment, pin ourselves to a cork board.  When for a split second we see ourselves objectively, as others must, our experience of our own being is stone solid.  We know at those moments exactly who we are.

When we affirm a conviction we become even more ourselves.  On the other hand, when we change our minds we become someone different.  The self is not static.  It’s dynamic, meaning changing.  Our inner shifts are steps in an journey without end: our search for meaning and purpose, our quest for ourselves.

Call it the human condition but whatever it is, we humans feel a strong need to capture, mark and name those critical moments in our experience.  We journal.  We think in questions and expect that there will be answers.  We hunt for words to express that for which there are no precise terms.

Moments of profound self-awareness are different for everyone, too.  That is as true for fictional characters as it is for our corporal selves.  To bring a character alive on the page, then, requires finding words to capture immaterial inner states.  When something big happens wholly inside, how do you get that across?

Approaches to the Invisible and Inchoate

Despite the difficulty, writers have for centuries found ways to pin down the wispy fog of self-realization.  That is especially evident when an effective story brings a character to what is often called the mirror moment, middle moment or dark moment.  It is not exactly the moment of all-is-lost—that’s a step late in a plot—but rather the time when a character is sunk in despair, hollow inside, lost in the dark with no lantern or map.

Rene Denfeld’s The Enchanted (2014) is a dreamy, magical novel set in a nowhere place in a nowhere time (although there are lightbulbs).  Denfeld’s protagonist is known only as “the lady”, who investigates prisoners on death row.  As the novel opens the lady visits a prisoner called York, who wants to die.  Finding the lady kind and non-judgmental, York opens up to her:

York talks and talks until his words sound like poetry even to him.  He tells her why he has volunteered to die.  “It isn’t just that it is torture,” he says, “being locked in a cage.  It’s never being allowed to touch anyone or go outside or breathe fresh air.  I’d like to feel the sun again just once.”

Her eyes show a sudden distance.  What he said is true, but it isn’t true enough.

“Okay.  I’m tired of being meaningless,” he admits.  “I’m done, okay?”

He talks about the confused mess inside of him.  He says everyone thinks sociopaths are super-smart criminals, but he is just a messed-up guy who doesn’t know why he does what he does.  Except there is like a switch in him, and when the switch flips, he cannot stop.

“If it made sense, I would tell you,” he says.  “When you kill people, it is supposed to make sense.  But it doesn’t.  It never does.”

The lady nods.  She understands.

With each secret that he tells her, her eyes get darker and more satisfied…The look in her eyes is of a person who drank from the end of a gun barrel and found it delicious.  Her eyes are filled with a strange sort of wondrous sadness, as if marveling at all the beauty and pain in the world.

A couple of things to note about York’s moment of bleak despair: First, it doesn’t come in the middle.  It’s only a few pages into the novel.  Second, he is given a mirror into which to look, which is the lady.  Third, what he sees in that mirror isn’t what’s squatting inside him, it’s what isn’t there.  No meaning.  No sense.  He doesn’t understand why he has killed.

The lady in Denfeld’s novel is, like the author, a death penalty investigator.  The lady delves into York’s life and, naturally, her own.  Over the course of the novel, the lady comes to understand York, learns the horror inflicted on him and his mother, and discovers meaning in what, for him, is his meaninglessness.

The mirror moment, in Denfeld’s novel serves as motivation.  The lady seeks to fill an empty void.  There is in that opening darkness a sense that there has to be light around somewhere, somehow.  The very fact that early on York can express his hopelessness—that he is conscious of his condition—allows us to hope that the lady can succeed.

Thus, the “dark” moment is not only about darkness but about knowing that there is nevertheless light, even if that light isn’t present right now.  A lost character isn’t completely lost, it’s just that such a character just doesn’t yet see a path forward and maybe despairs of ever finding one.  But knowing what should be there is, in a way, an affirmation that what’s lacking nevertheless is able to be found.

Empty isn’t empty, then, it’s rather just the feeling that comes with waiting—waiting when you don’t even know what you’re waiting for.

Another approach to the dark moment can be through analogy.  Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano’s Prix Goncourt-winning novel Missing Person (1978—translated Daniel Weissbort) is a detective-with-lost-memory novel about Guy Roland, who lost his past during the war.  He doesn’t know why.  Having inherited a detective agency from his retired boss, Hutte, Guy follows the few slender and ambiguous clues to his identity in the agency’s files.

At a certain point, for Guy, the contradictory hints about who he might be becomes overwhelming.  Maybe the truth about himself will never be known.  For some people, it never is:

Strange people.  The kind that leave the merest blur behind them, soon vanished.  Hutte and I often used to talk about these traceless beings.  They spring up out of nothing one fine day and return there, having sparked little.  Beauty queens.  Gigolos.  Butterflies.  Most of them, even when alive, had no more substance than steam which will never condense.  Hutte, for instance, used to quote the case of a fellow he called “the beach man.”  This man had spend forty years of his life on beaches or by the sides of swimming pools, chatting pleasantly with summer visitors and rich idlers.  He is to be seen, in his bathing costume, in the corners and backgrounds of thousands of holiday snaps, among groups of happy people, but no one knew his name and why he was there.  And no one noticed when one day he vanished from the photographs.  I did not dare tell Hutte, but I felt that “the beach man” was myself.  Though it would not have surprised him if I had confessed it.  Hutte was always saying that, in the end, we were all beach men” and that “the sand”—I am quoting his own words”—keeps the traces of our footsteps only a few moments.”

Modiano finds in the analogy of “the beach man” an apt expression of how his protagonist Guy Roland feels.  A man is present—the evidence is there in holiday photos—but is unknown.  He’s real but at the same time it’s as if he doesn’t exist.  If you’ve ever looked at old family photos, say of a wedding, and wondered who is that?—and who hasn’t wondered such a thing—then you have briefly felt the bewilderment of Modiano’s existential hero.

Writers of the pulp noir period were especially good at using atmosphere to evoke alienation, emptiness and despair.  Their method was to conjure a dread state by suggestion.  Everything in the environment points to the inner feeling but the inner feeling itself isn’t named.  In a black-and-white world full of silhouettes and shadows, we sense what’s there but not fully seen.  We feel bleak because, heck, the place we’re in is bleak.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

19 Best AI Writing Tools of 2022

From Renaissance Rachel:

We all write content online. Some of us only write social media posts, emails, or texts. Some of us write content for our websites, product descriptions, video content, ads, and even customer support.

AI writing software is a type of software that can generate content for you. An AI-powered writing assistant provides useful tools for writing articles, novels, blog posts, and more. Those are just some of the benefits of using ai writing tools.

AI writing is just another tool that you can add to your toolbelt.

You know they can be incredibly helpful if you’ve ever used an AI writing tool. But you also know that they’re not going to replace actual human intelligence soon.

No, AI is not going to steal your job. It’s a tool to optimize your work. Let AI technology make your life easier and more productive by including AI writing software in your content creation process. So if you’re thinking “Why should I use AI writing tool?” you’ve come to the right place.

. . . .

1. Rytr: Best for Beginners

Rytr is a content writing platform that uses AI to write content for you. Rytr’s algorithms are trained on historical data, so they can produce unique and compelling articles with the right tone and style, while also being grammatically correct.

Rytr’s AI writing assistant will have your article ready in less than an hour, without any need for human intervention.

In its current state, Rytr can produce text for a variety of topics and niches, including sports articles, business articles, reviews, blog posts, articles on technology, etc.


  • Content generation is made easy and quick with character count, word count, and tone checker.
  • Plagiarism check ensures you have the highest quality of content.
  • Grammar check for your writing to make it professional-level.
  • Discover what works best for your idea by generating content from our vast library of over 2,000 ideas.
  • Personalize your content with a professional touch using Form Generator.
  • login to save your work


Free Plan

Saver Plan: $9/month; $90/year (Get 2 months free!)

Unlimited Plan: $29/month; $290/year (Get 2 months free!)

Bottom Line

Rytr is an app that helps people write faster. It’s a great tool for bloggers and content writers who need to produce a lot of articles. Rytr also allows users to search for ideas for their articles or even write them in real-time.

The weak point is that Ryter doesn’t have “recipes” like Jasper has. Jasper allows to you have more custom control over the AI output. If you’re looking for a story writing ai, Ryter is great, but if you want more power, try Jasper.

2. Jasper: Best for Power Users

Formerly known as Jarvis, Jasper is among the AI writing software tools leaders. Jasper acquired tools such as Headlime and Shortly AI writing software. Both tools remain standalone products at the writing of this article; however, both plan to integrate fully with Jasper.

Create your blogs, articles, book, scripts, and any other content. Choose a subject area and form, fill in the details, and Jasper will write the content for you. It’s not always good content, but it helps me get past my writer’s block. Now that “content generation” the state of natural language generation in content marketing, Jasper.AI is an invaluable tool.


  • Long-form document editor – a powerful tool that allows you to write full documents with AI-assisted outputs.
  • Plagiarism detector – write without worrying about accusations of stealing someone else’s content
  • Speed writing – hit start, and the software will create a masterpiece for your blog post or article within minutes!
  • Integration with SEO Surfer – a tool that helps you analyze keywords and optimize your content to rank in search engines
  • Automated article writing software – if you give it enough parameters, content creator AI can almost write your articles for you
  • Facebook community that offers support, job opportunities, and more
  • Multiple languages
  • Write novels, blog/articles, video scripts, and more with Jasper!
  • AI wizard can produce over one million sentences


Jasper provides two pricing options: starter mode and boss mode. In my opinion, the main difference is that boss mode allows you to use the long-form document editor. In contrast, the starter mode provides writing frameworks for specific use cases.

Starter Mode: Starts at $29/mo for 20,000 words/mo.

Boss Mode: Starts at $59/mo for 50,000 words/mo.

SEO Surfer add-on: starts at $59/mo

While there’s no “official” free trial, you can get a 10,000-word credit using my referral link!

Bottom Line

I compared the quality of the output with Ryter, for instance, and it wasn’t any better for me. I’m paying $120/month for unlimited content generation in Jasper, but I can pay $29/month for the same thing in Ryter.

Note: Jasper no longer offers an unlimited mode, so while it’s excellent, you must limit yourself to a specific word limit per month.

HOWEVER. I keep using Jasper because of the recipes and commands that you can use. It makes for a very powerful workflow and I can do a lot with it. Jasper can do a lot of creative things including movie script writing, so if you want an AI script writer free from customization limitations, definitely check Jasper out. With the recipes and commands, Jasper is an AI writing software for better writing results.

I didn’t include Headlime and the Shortly AI writing apps as separate items in this article, because I researched their websites and didn’t see an indication of them continuing to enhance or build their product. There’s nothing worse than using outdated and buggy software!

Link to the rest at Renaissance Rachel

PG has been interested in AI for authors for a long time.

At first, the AI programs PG experimented with were pretty clunky. When he tried out a couple of the programs mentioned in the OP, he saw noticeable and relevant improvements. He expects to see similar increases in sophistication in the future. With 19 current contestants in the survival contest, some are almost certain to fail, but there will still be forward movement at an increasingly rapid pace.

Prolific romantic fiction writer exposed as a plagiarist

From The Guardian:

A prolific, self-published romantic fiction novelist has been exposed as a plagiarist after a reader spotted that she had switched the gender in a tale of romantic suspense to turn it into a gay love story.

Becky McGraw, a New York Times bestselling writer, was alerted by one of her readers about the similarities between her own novel My Kind of Trouble, in which Cassie Bellamy falls for bad boy Luke Matthews when she returns to her hometown of Bowie, Texas, and Laura Harner’s Coming Home Texas, in which Brandon Masters falls for bad boy Joe Martinez when he returns to his hometown of Goldview, Texas.

“She emailed to ask if I’d started writing gay romance under a pen name,” said McGraw, whose editor subsequently reviewed both books, and highlighted the similarities. These have also been extensively detailed online by novelist Jenny Trout; Trout has provided screenshots and extracts from both books, and writes that “Harner’s clever trick here was to pick a book that was not M/M [male/male], but M/F contemporary romance. As far as readers go, there isn’t a lot of overlap between the two genres.”

McGraw writes: “Since she’d gotten the call from Imelda, the closest thing to a mother that Cassie had known since her own mother died when she was ten, Cassie had been in that mode. Once she decided she needed to come back, the memories she thought she buried ten years ago would not leave her alone. Thoughts of Luke Matthews would not leave her alone.”

Harner, whose Amazon profile says she has written more than 50 novels and sold almost half a million books, writes: “Since he’d gotten the call from Isabella – the closest thing to a mother that he’d known since his own mom died when he was nine – Brandon seemed to be stuck on a never ending sentimental highway. Once he decided he needed to come back, the memories he thought he buried long ago wouldn’t leave him alone. Thoughts of Joe Martinez won’t leave me alone.”

“Her book was almost a word-for-word, scene-for-scene duplication of my book, except the characters’ names had been changed, and short M/M love scenes had been inserted,” said McGraw. “The only scene she didn’t include was the epilogue, which couldn’t be altered to an M/M scene. It involved the heroine in labour and the hero having sympathetic labour pains.”

McGraw is intending to take legal action against Harner, who has pulled the book from retailers since McGraw first posted about the situation on Facebook, along with her Deuce Coop series, which was revealed to be similar to Opal Carew’s Riding Steele novel, again a straight romance turned into a gay one. The similarities were laid out in a second blog post by Trout, who wrote that “it’s almost impressive how much Harner was still able to plagiarise from Carew here, given the fact that the characters are of mostly different physical and clothing descriptions”.

Responding to the Guardian in a statement, Harner said she realised she had “made mistakes”. “I own them, and I will deal with the consequences. In transforming two M/F romance stories into an M/M genre, it appears that I may have crossed the line and violated my own code of ethics,” she wrote.

“For those who know me best, you know that responsibility for my actions begins and ends with me. I will also add there are some personal and professional issues I’ve had to deal with in the last year that have stretched me in ways that haven’t always been good for me. I write about certain concerns related to military service for a reason; however, I am not offering that as an excuse. I just think whenever someone acts so out of character, it’s helpful to ask why.”

Harner added that she was “working to address concerns raised by two authors who have accused me of plagiarism”, saying that she would provide a more complete statement later this week. “Until then, please do not judge me too harshly.”

McGraw, however, urged other romantic fiction novelists to check Harner’s backlist to see if they recognise their work. “Considering that Laura Harner, AKA LE Harner, has ‘written’ in seven or eight genres in five years, started series in those genres, and published 75 books so far in that span of time, I’d say everyone in every genre needs to be concerned, both indie and traditionally published authors,” she said.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Female Quixote and Me

From Publishers Weekly:

Two days before the publication of my comic novel, The Seductive Lady Vanessa of Manhattanshire, I learned the setup driving the entire book had already been used by another writer—270 years ago. That meant my book, which recasts Don Quixote as a hoop-skirted, romance-novel-besotted woman questing for love in contemporary New York, was not quite as original an act of plagiarism as I had thought.

My delusion of literary innovation was shattered by Stefan Kutzenberger, an Austrian novelist and fellow Cervantes enthusiast visiting New York on a government-backed book tour. We were having a drink with a mutual friend when Stefan asked, “Did you ever read Charlotte Lennox?”

“No. Who is she?”

“She wrote a book called The Female Quixote.”

“Seriously?” I asked, breaking out my cellphone.

“Yes. Henry Fielding was a big fan.”

“1752!” I said, reading the pub date. “That’s amazing.”

I tried to remain calm. But the idea that Lennox had already deployed a similar Quixote clone left me rattled. Nobody wants to spend years on a book only to find out it has an ancient twin.

“Damn!” I said, laughing and complaining. “I can’t believe it.”

But really, it was easy to believe. Days earlier, when a friend asked how I’d hit on the idea for Lady Vanessa, I said, “I’m a big Don Quixote fan. Given romance fiction’s popularity, it just seemed like an obvious and interesting idea to explore. I’m surprised no one ever thought of it before.”

Famous last words.

I went home feeling curious and competitive. I read about my new but long-dead rival. Samuel Johnson was a friend and fan of Lennox. An essay on the web confirmed Henry Fielding “printed a very favourable review in the Covent Garden Journal, saying it was better than Don Quixote.”

Whoa. Quite a throw-down. I stopped reading about Lennox and downloaded The Female Quixote, or, The Adventures of Arabella.

After a cursory inspection of the novel, I can report it is funny but, unfortunately, very wordy. It is not “better” than the original. Most important to me, Arabella is very different from my Lady Vee. She is much younger: 17, not 48. She lives in a castle, not an Upper West Side co-op. She is paranoid about men ravishing her, whereas Lady Vanessa would like to be ravished. Arabella’s madness, at first blush, also lacks the over-the-top buffoonery of Don Quixote, which I hoped to emulate with Lady Vee.

Despite the differences, it was clear we were inspired by the same source material, 270 years apart. My mind raced. How had I missed The Female Quixote’s existence? Should I be more bruised or amused by my innocent ignorance, or by the fact that it took an Austrian novelist to enlighten me? And how had all the agents, editors, and blurbers who read Lady Vanessa failed to name-check The Female Quixote? The Cervantes scholar who’d raved about my book didn’t even mention it.

In the clear light of the next day, I realized I had it all wrong. It didn’t matter that I’d never heard of The Female Quixote. Charlotte Lennox wasn’t a rival; she was an ally! We loved the same book. Don Quixote inspired us to do the same thing in radically different time periods: recontextualize, reimagine, and reinvent.

I wrote Lady Vanessa because I love Don Quixote. I hoped to revisit the ideas Cervantes toyed with four centuries ago: censorship, the lines between fantasy and reality, literary clichés, and the power of books. I also hoped it would be entertaining.

I can’t speak for whatever drove Lennox, but we aren’t alone. The saints at Wikipedia have a list of Quixote-influenced books, amassing 27 entries. Some of literature’s greatest talents have spilled ink in tribute to the La Mancha madman: Flaubert, Dostoyevsky, Borges, and Rushdie. Lennox is the second entry.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that ideas (like a female Don Quixote) are not protected by copyright law. Only the expression of ideas is protected.

Plagiarism may or may not be a violation of copyright law, depending on the extent and manner in which another’s work is used by a subsequent author.

From The Copyright Alliance:

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

What is Plagiarism?

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Copyright Alliance

Is Decision Fatigue Standing Between You and Writing Success?

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

Steak or salmon?

Red or white?

Wash the car or mow the lawn?

Weights or barre class?

Do the laundry or empty the dishwasher?

Mustard or mayo?

Petunias or pansies?

Cheddar or Swiss?

So what?

What’s the big deal?

Why are you wasting my time with stupid questions?

I’ve got more important things to think about, you say, and then tell me to take a hike.

My polite response: Perhaps you might want to reconsider.

Decision fatigue.

Recent articles about the draining mental aftereffects of decision-making are, I think, relevant to some of the universal problems writers confront. Being, as former president, George W. Bush, once put it, “the decider,” takes brain power and has consequences.

You’re kidding me, right?

No. Not at all. Here are a few examples.

Doctors, brides, car buyers.

Judges, menu planners, college professors, and high school students.

According to recent studies, decision fatigue affects everyone from doctors who prescribed more unneeded antibiotics later in the day than earlier to car buyers who, after deciding on model, color, upholstery, and accessories, can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rust proof their new car.

Brides beware!

A clinical psych grad studying decision fatigue and ego depletion remembered how exhausted she felt planning her wedding. She recalled the evening she and her fiancé went through the ritual of registering for gifts.

What style appealed? Modern or traditional? Rustic or sophisticated? Feminine or tailored? Girly or grownup?

What kind of dinnerware? Matched sets or flea market eclectic? Corelle or stoneware? Plastic or china or melamine? Oh, and does it have to be dishwasher safe or are you willing to hand wash?

Plus flatware: What do you prefer? Stainless steel? Matte or mirror finish? Bistro ware? Your great aunt’s silver? Which needs to be polished.

Then: towels. What size? What color? How many sets? Hand and bath definitely, but what about washcloths? Do you use them? Or do you prefer sponges? Foam or natural? Matching tub mats? Or coordinating? And what about shower curtains? Not to mention soap dishes —plastic, wood, cork, silicone or ceramic?

Sheets. Fitted or flat? Cotton or linen or flannel? Plain or printed? Striped or floral? Plaid or perhaps something with a SuperMan or WonderWoman motif? Maybe an art deco vibe? Or an Andy Warhol pop art choice? Don’t forget Jackson Pollock!

“By the end, you could have talked me into anything,” she told her fiancé, “because I just didn’t care any more.”

. . . .

Shortcuts don’t cure decision fatigue

Decision fatigue routinely warps the judgment of everyone — doctors, judges, car buyers, brides — and, I wonder, writers? Few are even aware of decision fatigue, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.

Decision fatigue is different from ordinary physical fatigue. You’re not consciously aware of being tired, but you’re low on mental energy because the more choices you make throughout the day, the more difficult each one becomes.

Your brain, deprived of glucose, eventually looks for shortcuts, usually in either one of two ways, neither of them helpful.

One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?)

The other shortcut — the one that caused my friend to break into tears at a large toy store, is paralysis. It’s the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid making any choice at all.

Which leads to questions about the connection between writer’s block and procrastination.

Writers are the ultimate deciders.

Writers make choices from an almost infinite palette of possibilities. Basically, we spend our working lives making decisions about everything from what genre we want to write to the almost infinite number of choices about plot and characters.

The genre—

What, exactly, do you want to write? Mystery, thriller, superhero, romance, women’s fiction, historical fiction, cozy, sci fi, fantasy?

Gotta pick one.

Or maybe two if you have a mash-up in mind.

The title—

Too long? Too short? Or just right?

Anne’s post offering 5 tips for choosing a title points the way.

Plot, characters and POV—

Unreliable narrator, first person, second person, or omniscient third person?

Who’s the good guy/gal? How about the hero? Who’s the villain? And what about the side-kick? Or the incidental character who turns out to play an important role?

Not to mention the thousand (at least) details about what they’re wearing, where they work and what they eat.

Plus what they look like.

Blonde, brunette or redhead?

Touches of flattering silver or drab shades of grey? Dyed or natural? Highlighted? Straight or curly? Long, short or bobbed? Permed? Ironed? Bald? Comb-over? Fro? Mohawk? Pony tail? Pig tails? Dreads? Crew cut? D.A.? Elvis-style pompadour?

And that’s just hair!

What about everything else that brings a character to life and makes him/her memorable?

Blue eyes or brown?

But don’t forget green or hazel. Beady eyes? Almond shaped, wide-set, or small?  Near sighed, far sighted, color blind? And what about that squint? Suspicious? Untrustworthy? Or is that just the bright sun in his/her eyes? 20/20? Contacts or glasses? Goggles, a microscope, a telescope, or a jeweler’s loupe?

Fat or thin?

Tall or short? Bulging biceps or beer belly? Runner slim or linebacker bulky? Svelte and sexy or pleasingly plump? Stringbean skinny or XXL?

Big city, small town?

Mountains, beach or desert? House, mansion, apartment, penthouse, refuge camp, log cabin? Hotel, motel, tent, palace, homeless shelter, distant planet, undiscovered galaxy?

Jobs and careers?

Funeral director or Hollywood stylist? Cyborg or medieval knight?

Or? Or?

Need I continue?

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

The Neuroscience Behind Bad Decisions

From Quanta Magazine:

Humans often make bad decisions. If you like Snickers more than Milky Way, it seems obvious which candy bar you’d pick, given a choice of the two. Traditional economic models follow this logical intuition, suggesting that people assign a value to each choice — say, Snickers: 10, Milky Way: 5 — and select the top scorer. But our decision-making system is subject to glitches.

In one recent experiment, Paul Glimcher, a neuroscientist at New York University, and collaborators asked people to choose among a variety of candy bars, including their favorite — say, a Snickers. If offered a Snickers, a Milky Way and an Almond Joy, participants would always choose the Snickers. But if they were offered 20 candy bars, including a Snickers, the choice became less clear. They would sometimes pick something other than the Snickers, even though it was still their favorite. When Glimcher would remove all the choices except the Snickers and the selected candy, participants would wonder why they hadn’t chosen their favorite.

Economists have spent more than 50 years cataloging irrational choices like these. Nobel Prizes have been earned; millions of copies of Freakonomics have been sold. But economists still aren’t sure why they happen. “There had been a real cottage industry in how to explain them and lots of attempts to make them go away,” said Eric Johnson, a psychologist and co-director of the Center for Decision Sciences at Columbia University. But none of the half-dozen or so explanations are clear winners, he said.

In the last 15 to 20 years, neuroscientists have begun to peer directly into the brain in search of answers. “Knowing something about how information is represented in the brain and the computational principles of the brain helps you understand why people make decisions how they do,” said Angela Yu, a theoretical neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego.

Glimcher is using both the brain and behavior to try to explain our irrationality. He has combined results from studies like the candy bar experiment with neuroscience data — measurements of electrical activity in the brains of animals as they make decisions — to develop a theory of how we make decisions and why that can lead to mistakes.

Glimcher has been one of the driving forces in the still young field of neuroeconomics. His theory merges far-reaching research in brain activity, neuronal networks, fMRI and human behavior. “He’s famous for arguing that neuroscience and economics should be brought together,” said Nathaniel Daw, a neuroscientist at Princeton University. One of Glimcher’s most important contributions, Daw said, has been figuring out how to quantify abstract notions such as value and study them in the lab.

In a new working paper, Glimcher and his co-authors — Kenway Louie, also of NYU, and Ryan Webb of the University of Toronto — argue that their neuroscience-based model outperforms standard economic theory at explaining how people behave when faced with lots of choices. “The neural model, described in biology and tested in neurons, works well to describe something economists couldn’t explain,” Glimcher said.

At the core of the model lies the brain’s insatiable appetite. The brain is the most metabolically expensive tissue in the body. It consumes 20 percent of our energy despite taking up only 2 to 3 percent of our mass. Because neurons are so energy-hungry, the brain is a battleground where precision and efficiency are opponents. Glimcher argues that the costs of boosting our decision-making precision outweigh the benefits. Thus we’re left to be confounded by the choices of the modern American cereal aisle.

Glimcher’s proposal has attracted interest from both economists and neuroscientists, but not everyone is sold. “I think it’s exciting but at this point remains a hypothesis,” said Camillo Padoa-Schioppa, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis. Neuroeconomics is still a young field; scientists don’t even agree on what part of the brain makes decisions, let alone how.

So far, Glimcher has shown that his theory works under specific conditions, like those of the candy bar experiment. He aims to expand that range, searching for other Freakonomics-esque mistakes and using them to test his model. “We are aiming for a grand unified theory of choice,” he said.

. . . .

The brain is a power-hungry organ; neurons are constantly sending each other information in the form of electrical pulses, known as spikes or action potentials. Just as with an electrical burst, prepping and firing these signals take a lot of energy.

In the 1960s, scientists proposed that the brain dealt with this challenge by encoding information as efficiently as possible, a model called the efficient coding hypothesis. It predicts that neurons will encode data using the fewest possible spikes, just as communication networks strive to transmit information in the fewest bits.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, scientists showed that this principle is indeed at work in the visual system. The brain efficiently encodes the visual world by ignoring predictable information and focusing on the surprising stuff. If one part of a wall is yellow, chances are the rest is also yellow, and neurons can gloss over the details of that section. But a giant red splotch on the wall is unexpected, and neurons will pay special attention to it.

Glimcher proposes that the brain’s decision-making machinery works the same way. Imagine a simple decision-making scenario: a monkey choosing between two cups of juice. For simplicity’s sake, assume the monkey’s brain represents each choice with a single neuron. The more attractive the choice is, the faster the neuron fires. The monkey then compares neuron-firing rates to make his selection.

The first thing the experimenter does is present the monkey with an easy choice: a teaspoon of yummy juice versus an entire jug. The teaspoon neuron might fire one spike per second while the jug neuron fires 100 spikes per second. In that case, it’s easy to tell the difference between the two options; one neuron sounds like a ticking clock, the other the beating wings of a dragonfly.

The situation gets muddled when the monkey is then offered the choice between a full jug of juice and one that’s nearly full. A neuron might represent that newest offer with 80 spikes per second. It’s much more challenging for the monkey to distinguish between a neuron firing 80 spikes per second and 100 spikes per second. That’s like telling the difference between the dragonfly’s flutter and the hum of a locust.

Glimcher proposes that the brain avoids this problem by recalibrating the scale to best represent the new choice. The neuron representing the almost-full jug — now the worst of the two choices — scales down to a much lower firing rate. Once again it’s easy for the monkey to differentiate between the two choices.

Link to the rest at Quanta Magazine

PG recognized that this article is a bit dated, but he found the topic fascinating. Humanoid robots making complex decisions seem to be a bit more difficult than he would have thought.

The Face That Replicates

From The Paris Review:

Sylvia refused to wear her glasses, which is why she saw me everywhere on campus. It seemed like it was every day that she’d come to our dorm’s living room and tell me about the not-Katy. “I yelled at her again,” she sighed, flopping onto the worn couch. “It wasn’t you.” It never was.

There wasn’t only one not-me. There were several other girls on our small liberal arts campus who had dirty-blond hair and shaggy bangs, girls who wore knee-high boots and short skirts, low-rise jeans and V-neck sweaters and too many tangled necklaces. In 2005, I didn’t stand out. I still don’t. My face, I suspect, is rather forgettable. I’m neither pretty enough to be remarkable nor strange enough to be interesting. This is true for the majority of people, though I have wondered if I have “one of those faces” that is particularly prone to inducing déjà vu. Some people seem like permanent doppelgängers. I became hypervigilant, on the lookout for not-mes that were also, sort of, me.

Looking back, I’m not surprised that I became obsessed with these look-alikes during this particular time period, in those heady and exciting early days of social media. Although the idea of doubling and mimesis dates back to the ancient Greeks and flourished in the popular imagination in gothic horror, my experience with doppelgängers still feels distinctly contemporary to me, an anxiety that arose with the camera in the nineteenth century and was then compounded by social media and its endless catalogues of faces. Although Facebook back then was limited to college students, it was still a place where one could get lost. You could lose hours searching, as I did, for people with your exact same name and friend requesting each and every one of them. You could meander through the uncanny haze of “doppelgänger week,” a destabilizing moment in the early 2000s when my classmates’ pimpled, imperfect, earnest faces were suddenly replaced by thumbnails of Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, and Halle Berry. It was more than just embarrassing. It was a massive Freudian slip, a sudden reveal of latent desires and delusions. We wanted to replace our faces with better, more beautiful ones—but not completely. We wanted to represent ourselves with images that weren’t us, exactly, but that were close.

. . . .

One of my favorite doppelgänger stories is Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson,” which I read around the same time that my not-me began appearing in the edges of Sylvia’s blurry vision. This Poe tale is about a boy named William Wilson who meets another William Wilson and is dogged, throughout his life, by the disturbing presence of this other William Wilson. As the story progresses, we learn that this weird fellow is not actually our narrator’s evil twin, as we might have expected. He’s better than our narrator. He stops our narrator from doing a number of bad things before the original William succeeds in reasserting his uniqueness—by an act of murder, naturally.

William Wilson is not a funny story, exactly. But it’s full of little ironies that start to feel like jokes, from the name (William, son of Will, a pseudonym that’s also an echo) to the weird origins of the text itself. First of all, the story is a homage to a story that Washington Irving wrote called “An Unwritten Drama of Lord Byron.” Poe even wrote to Irving, sending him a copy of his tale, and asked him for a blurb to help sell the story. Later, in a review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, Poe wrote that one of them, “Howe’s Masquerade,” was very similar to “William Wilson,” so much so that “we observe something which resembles a plagiarism—but which may be a very flattering coincidence of thought.” A few years later, in 1846, Fyodor Dostoyevsky published his own similar novella, The Double: A Petersburg Poem, which he later rewrote and republished in 1866.

This type of doppelgänger story continued to multiply. Vladimir Nabokov called The Double a “perfect work of art” in his classroom lectures, though of course the story was ripe for rewritings—hence Nabokov’s own beleaguered and haunted narrators. The novels Despair and Lolita feature not quite doppelgängers but pairs of men behaving badly. In the twentieth century, we became adept at capturing, manipulating, and presenting precise visual copies of individuals through photography, film, and digital manipulation. Humans no longer had to use a hall of mirrors (or a skilled portrait artist) to see themselves doubled, tripled, quadrupled. We also became better at selective breeding and genetic manipulation. Dolly the sheep emerged from an adult cell in 1996, and attendant anxieties and sensational interest in the literal copies spiked Eventually, the concept of the double in art was superseded by the clone, as we slouched closer and closer to literal self-replication.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

The lasting anguish of moral injury

From Knowable:

On a Sunday evening in September 1994, David Peters drove to a church service in Beckley, West Virginia, as the sun set over the horizon. He was 19 years old, just back from Marine Corps boot camp. He hadn’t been behind the wheel of a car all summer.

The road curved, and Peters misjudged the turn. Rays from the dipping sun blinded him. The car hit the median and headed straight at an oncoming motorcycle. And then, Peters says, “Everything went crash.”

His friend, sitting in the passenger seat, seemed fine. Peters got out of the car. The driver of the motorcycle was alive, but the woman who’d been riding behind him was now laid out on the pavement. Peters quickly realized she was dead.

Now an Episcopal priest in Pflugerville, Texas, outside Austin, Peters says there have been periods during the last 28 years when he’s found the knowledge that he killed someone almost unbearable. “I felt like I wasn’t good anymore,” he says. At times, he even wished he were dead. Years after the accident, he purchased a motorcycle, thinking “that’d be sort of justice if I died on a motorcycle.” 

Peters may have experienced what some psychologists and researchers have begun to call “moral injury,” a concept introduced by a psychiatrist to describe the devastation he witnessed in Vietnam War veterans and others who believed they’d been ordered to act in ways that violated their personal moral code. The term encompasses a constellation of signs and symptoms that go beyond mere guilt and shame and can be so severe that people lose a sense of their own goodness and trustworthiness, leading to drastic impacts on daily functioning and quality of life. 

Moral injury results from “the way that humans make meaning out of the violence that they have either experienced or that they have inflicted,” says Janet McIntosh, an anthropologist at Brandeis University who wrote about the psychic wounds resulting from how we use language when talking about war in the 2021 Annual Review of Anthropology

Although research on moral injury began with the experiences of veterans and active-duty military, it has expanded in recent years to include civilians. The pandemic — with its heavy moral burdens on health care workers and its fraught decisions over gathering in groups, masking and vaccinating — intensified scientific interest in how widespread moral injury might be. “What’s innovative about moral injury is its recognition that our ethical foundations are essential to our sense of self, to our society, to others, to our professions,” says Daniel Rothenberg, who codirects the Center on the Future of War at Arizona State University.

. . . .

Moral injury was first described by Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist in Boston, who defined it as a sense of “betrayal of what’s right, by someone who holds legitimate authority (in the military — a leader), in a high-stakes situation.” In his 1994 book, Achilles in Vietnam, Shay quotes a soldier whose platoon fired on people at the beach one night, having been told by commanders that their targets were unloading weapons. But when daylight came, the soldiers realized they’d killed a bunch of fishermen and their children. “So it starts working on your head,” the soldier told Shay. “So you know in your heart it’s wrong, but at the time, here’s your superiors telling you that it was OK.” Incidents like this, Shay argued, are not just upsetting, but also damaging.

As the years passed, some researchers felt that Shay’s definition focused too narrowly on betrayal by leaders or country. In 2009, Litz and colleagues expanded the definition to include more personal types of moral injury, such as the lasting impact of “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” 

In a 2019 study, researchers devised a list of potentially morally injurious events to civilians by reviewing previous literature and research, as well as consulting experts and people who suffered from memories of morally distressing events. The researchers came up with 31 events that seemed to distress people enough to lead to moral injury, including a car accident while texting, sexual assault, working within a corrupt organization, witnessing abuse of power at work, cheating on a romantic partner and stopping providing for dependent children. But not everyone reacts to troubling events in the same way, and not everyone who experiences a particular event will suffer a moral injury, says study coauthor Matt Gray, a clinical psychologist at the University of Wyoming. What really makes a difference, he says, is “people’s moral framework and their appraisal of their actions or inactions.”

Because such actions and encounters can be traumatic, people with moral injury may appear to have post-traumatic stress disorder. But a diagnosis of PTSD does not capture the entirety of this kind of suffering, Shay and therapists who came after have found.

. . . .

Many researchers view PTSD and moral injury as distinct conditions, although they overlap in their symptoms and the types of events that trigger them. PTSD is characterized by anxiety that develops after a serious physical threat of injury, sexual violence or death. But that triggering event doesn’t necessarily have to be morally injurious — it could be a natural disaster, say. For moral injury, on the other hand, the triggering event is always morally injurious but it may or may not involve a physical threat; it could be something like causing financial distress to others due to a gambling addiction.

Both conditions can involve intrusive memories of the traumatic event, avoidance of reminders of the event, lack of interest in pleasurable activities and detachment from others, Litz and colleagues wrote recently in Frontiers in Psychiatry  (some researchers have categorized the overlapping symptoms differently). But moral injury is more likely to lead to other symptoms, Litz says, including alterations in self-perception, loss of meaning and loss of religious faith. 

The two conditions may have different effects on the brain. In a 2016 study, active-duty military personnel seeking trauma treatment were asked to lie in a darkened room with their eyes closed for 30 minutes, after which they underwent a brain scan. Those who had been traumatized by a physical threat exhibited elevated resting neuronal activity in their right amygdala, a part of the brain associated with emotional responses, particularly fear. But those who were haunted by something they did or witnessed had more activity in their left precuneus, a part of the brain that is related to sense of self.

. . . .

Over time, the moral injury research lens has expanded to include nonmilitary populations such as police officers, teachers, refugees and journalists. One 2019 study, for instance, surveyed teachers and other K-12 professionals in an urban Midwest school district, where some schools were white and affluent, some were racially and economically mixed, and others were largely made up of impoverished students of color. The less affluent and the more segregated the students, the more likely the teachers were to experience moral injury, writes the study’s author, Erin Sugrue, a social worker at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. “Professionals in these schools may experience moral injury as they come into close contact with the impact of racism and income inequality, two inherently immoral social forces, on the daily lives of their students.” 

During the pandemic, researchers have turned their focus to the medical front lines. One recent study led by Jason Nieuwsma, a clinical psychologist at Duke University School of Medicine, analyzed data from a March 2021 survey of health care workers. They reported potentially morally injurious experiences that included hospital policies that prohibited dying patients from receiving visitors, watching some people refuse to wear masks to protect those who were more vulnerable, and being too overworked to provide optimal care. One wrote: “My line in the sand was treating patients in wheelchairs outside in the ambulance bay in the cold fall night. I got blankets and food for people outside with IV fluid running. I was ashamed of the care we were providing.”

. . . .

Roughly half of the health care workers reported they were troubled by witnessing others’ immoral acts, and just under a fifth (18.2 percent) reported that they were troubled by having acted in ways that violated their own morals and values. “It begs the question of whether that experience will persist over time,” Nieuwsma says. “It’s something health care systems need to pay attention to.”

. . . .

To distinguish between normal moral stress and abnormal distress at levels that may require therapeutic intervention, Litz and Patricia Kerig, a clinical psychologist at the University of Utah, propose a moral continuum. At one end is the kind of moral frustration one might experience over an upcoming local or national election, events that are not immediately personal. Then there are more distressing events involving a personal, moral transgression (like if you behave hurtfully to someone you love or steal someone else’s idea). A person may lose sleep over such issues, but they are not disabling and do not define the person in question. At the far end of the spectrum is the type of debilitating moral injury that consumes a person with intense guilt or shame.

Link to the rest at Knowable

Not precisely what PG usually posts about, but he found this article fascinating. It also reminded him of some interesting characters in literature. Crime and Punishment and Heart of Darkness are two books which, for PG, include such characters.

Lowering my expectations

I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent — and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise.

Malcolm Gladwell

The whole thing about perfectionism

You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous. Because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in…it’s actually kind of tragic because you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is. And there were a couple of years where I really struggled with that.

David Foster Wallace

ProWritingAid vs. Grammarly

From Crunchhype:

ProWritingAid VS Grammarly: When it comes to English grammar, there are two Big Players that everyone knows of: the Grammarly and ProWritingAid. but you are wondering which one to choose so here we write a detail article which will help you to choose the best one for you so Let’s start

What is Grammarly?
Grammarly is a tool that checks for grammatical errors, spelling, and gives you comprehensive feedback on your writing. You can use this tool to proofread and edit articles, blog posts, emails, etc.

Grammarly also detects all types of mistakes, including sentence structure issues and misused words. It also gives you suggestions on style changes, punctuation, spelling, and grammar all are in real-time. The free version covers the basics like identifying grammar and spelling mistakes whereas the Premium version offers a lot more functionality, it detects plagiarism in your content, suggests word choice, or adds fluency to it.

Features of Grammarly

  • Spelling and Word Suggestion: Grammarly detects basic to advance grammatical errors and also help you why this is an error and suggest to you how you can improve it
  • Create a Personal Dictionary: The Grammarly app allows you to add words to your personal dictionary so that the same mistake isn’t highlighted every time you run Grammarly.
  • Different English Style: Check to spell for American, British, Canadian, and Australian English.
  • Plagiarism: This feature helps you detect if a text has been plagiarized by comparing it with over eight billion web pages.
  • Wordiness: This tool will help you check your writing for long and hard-to-read sentences. It also shows you how to shorten sentences so that they are more concise.
  • Passive Voice: The program also notifies users when passive voice is used too frequently in a document.
  • Punctuations: This feature flags all incorrect and missing punctuation.
  • Repetition: The tool provides recommendations for replacing the repeated word.
  • Proposition: Grammarly identifies misplaced and confused prepositions.
  • Plugins: It offers Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook, and Google Chrome plugins.

What is ProWritingAid?

ProWritingAid is a style and grammar checker for content creators and writers. It helps to optimize word choice, punctuation errors, and common grammar mistakes, providing detailed reports to help you improve your writing. 

ProWritingAid can be used as an add-on to WordPress, Gmail, and Google Docs. The software also offers helpful articles, videos, quizzes, and explanations to help improve your writing.

Features of ProWriting Aid

Here are some key features of ProWriting Aid:

  • Grammar checker and spell checker: This tool helps you to find all grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Find repeated words:  The tool also allows you to search for repeated words and phrases in your content.
  • Context-sensitive style suggestions:  You can find the exact style of writing you intend and suggest if it flows well in your writing.
  • Check the readability of your content: Pro Writing Aid helps you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your article by pointing out difficult sentences and paragraphs.
  • Sentence Length: It also indicates the length of your sentences.
  • Check Grammatical error: It also checks your work for any grammatical errors or typos, as well.
  • Overused words: As a writer, you might find yourself using the same word repeatedly. ProWritingAid’s overused words checker helps you avoid this lazy writing mistake.
  • Consistency: Check your work for inconsistent usage of open and closed quotation marks.
  • Echoes: Check your writing for uniformly repetitive words and phrases.

Link to the rest at Crunchhype

Diagnosing Writer’s Block

From Writer Unboxed:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever visited one of those well-known medical “information” websites, only to become convinced within minutes that you have a rare, incurable cancer. (Raises hand.)

There have been times when I’ve wished that there was a WebMD for writers, where I could type in symptoms like “this scene feels slow” or “I don’t know how to ratchet up the stakes” and be offered a list of possible diagnoses, followed by a step-by-step list of cures.

When I struggle to write, it usually feels less like a roadblock and more like a slow wade through a river of molasses. Delicious? Maybe. Good for you? Decidedly not. It feels like the opposite of the flow state, or that feeling of being fully and energetically immersed in the act of writing. Instead, each word starts to feel like a slog, each sentence like I’m painstakingly carving them out of stone.

But I’ve only recently realized that this feeling isn’t something that’s wrong with me, but rather that writing starts feeling agonizing when something isn’t working in the writing itself. Figuring out exactly what that is, of course, is a challenge that depends a lot on the author’s own style and quirks. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to get to where I can recognize the symptoms of “something isn’t working here.”

There are an endless number of reasons that writer’s block (“writer’s river of molasses” just doesn’t flow as well, pun intended) can crop up. This post only deals with one of those reasons: when you know something isn’t working, but you aren’t sure what.

There are a few tests that I’ve landed on as helpful tools for figuring out what that something is. They are geared toward fiction writing, but your tests will probably look different at any rate. While they’re in no particular order, I hope they can at least serve as a starting point.

Take a break.

How is “take a break” a test? Sometimes I look at a scene for so long that I lose the forest for the trees. Sometimes I’m just having a day of brain fog. I’ll take some time away from the story—sometimes just for a few hours, but often for a few days—and when I return, the words come easily.

But when I say “take a break,” I really mean take a break, not “work on something else,” not “write a different scene” or “do research” or “outline the rest of the book.” Stop, entirely, and give your brain a chance to recover. I know our society rewards constant work, but every time I’ve grumpily, reluctantly taken a few steps back from writing, I’ve returned with a clearer head, feeling better about everything. Sometimes I can see clearly what’s not working, and other times I don’t even remember what was bothering me, and other times I can at least think more clearly about what might not be working.

I know I said these tests were in no particular order, but I would recommend trying this one first because sometimes, as the IT team at one of my old jobs used to say, the problem is PICNIC: “problem in chair, not in computer.” If you feel stuck, sometimes what’s wrong is in our heads, not in our stories.

Revisit the purpose of the scene.

Once I’ve taken a break and returned to find that I’m still stuck, I’ll start the actual diagnostic tests. I start at the spot where I’ve gotten stuck with the smallest unit of space in a story—the scene—and I ask myself whether it is working as intended: What is the goal of this scene from a story perspective? Does it push the plot forward? Is at least one character being forced to grow or change? If I can’t provide a clear, tangible answer to any of these questions, then I know this is likely where the problem lies.

Most often, I’ve unintentionally slowed down the pace of the story by getting lost in the logistics of getting characters from Point A to Point B, or that I’ve simply started having too much fun watching the characters go off and do their own thing and I’ve forgotten who’s in charge here.

But with a tangible scene goal in mind, I can start to refocus my writing. I emphasize tangibility because I often found myself defining the “goal” as something like “introduce the protagonist’s strained relationship with her older brother.” This is not tangible. Tangible is “protagonist’s older brother bails on their plans again, and she decides she’s had enough of his irresponsibility.”

If I can’t come up with a tangible goal for the scene, that I take that as a sign that this scene can probably be chucked out or merged with another one.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

How I Use Scrivener For Fiction And Non-Fiction

PG notes that the OP is taken from the transcript of the audio portion of a video. For those who have never given a presentation which is later transcribed, it’s always a humbling experience to see the sorts of filler words you use and other things you say without thinking. Conversational information dispersal and a formal prepared speech are two entirely different ways of speaking.

Here’s a link to the Scrivener website where you can download a free trial version.

From The Creative Penn:

I have now written over 30 books with Scrivener over more than a decade. I did use MS Word for some of my early books back in 2008/2009. But with my first novel, I had such difficulty using Word, that I needed to find a solution. Once someone told me about Scrivener, I started to use it and I have used it for every single book since — fiction and nonfiction. In this tutorial, I’m going to talk a bit about how I use it.

There is so much functionality in Scrivener, so I’m only going to touch on what I use, which is definitely not everything, but it certainly gets me by.

. . . .

You can use Template Projects or a Blank Project

So for fiction, there are a couple examples, for nonfiction, there are even more. So let’s go into the fiction first.

So if you like a lot of help with writing a document, then [Scrivener] can really be useful.

For example, if you go into characters and use the little plus button , it will give you, a character sketch, and then you can fill it in. And if you like filling in all this type of thing, you can do that.

I’m a discovery writer . . . so I don’t use this, but this can be really useful if you enjoy having the different help things there.

. . . .

You can write your scenes and then gather them together in chapters. You can do what you like there. Let’s just look at a nonfiction template before I get into showing you some of my own.

. . . .

Drag and drop — so you can write out of order

Now, one of the things I love about Scrivener is the ability to drag and drop.

So whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you can essentially move them around. So you just click on it and drag it. And what that enables is for you to write out of order. So again, whether that’s fiction or non-fiction, you can just move things around.

. . . .

Keep your research and notes within the project, but not compiled into the book

The main thing to remember with the document is that this folder contains the book. And then anything you put into [00:05:00] research, for example, is not included when you compile the book.

And again, you can type your research in, you can pull in notes.

. . . .

The Inspector includes synopsis, notes, snapshots, and more

The other important thing is the Inspector.

. . . .

So, first of all, on the inspector tab, you can do an overview, a synopsis. [00:06:00] So here William de Tracy, and the Knights. This book is set in the present, but the prologue is set in 1183. So essentially this is the synopsis overview.

And the reason why this is useful, if you are a plotter, is if you click on the manuscript at the top, you can see an overview of the whole book. And so this is where you can move things around. You can write different things.

So you it’s like the digital corkboard. Some people use a physical corkboard. Some people use a digital one. So that’s super useful.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

PG was first introduced to Scrivener a long time ago and spent a lot of time playing with it. For PG’s needs at the time, Scrivener wasn’t a good fit, but he liked the way the program was constructed and the people who were running the company .

He may download the trial program again to see how it’s evolved into the present day.

A synopsis

A synopsis is a cold thing. You do it with the front of your mind. If you’re going to stay with it, you never get quite the same magic as when you’re going all out.

J. B. Priestley

The Dreaded Synopsis

From Writers Helping Writers:

Many authors would rather write a whole new novel than cram the one they’ve already written into a five-hundred-word summary. If I wanted to write a short story, I would have written one. Right?

The reason we hate writing synopses is because they’re hard. The reason they’re hard is because, more than any other tool available to us, they show us what’s wrong with the novel we’ve labored over for months, if not years.

The synopsis is the equivalent of a house inspector—that man or woman who walks around with a clipboard and goes through the house you thought you were ready to sell, pointing out all the structural issues you either didn’t know about or pretended weren’t a problem: roof damage, termites, a saggy bearing wall, you name it. You can do all the fancy writing in the world. If there’s something fundamentally wrong with your novel, it will come out in the synopsis.

            That’s why we hate them.

            That’s why most agents ask for one.

Reading a synopsis is the quickest way to know if a novel will work or not. It’s also the surest way to find out if the author knows what they’re doing when it comes to things like structure, causality, story arc and characterization—you know, those critical developmental issues you hoped wouldn’t matter.

Guess what? They do.

If your plot is anecdotal, it will show up in the synopsis. If your protagonist doesn’t have a goal that they’re actively pursuing throughout the story; if there are no stakes, a weak antagonist, a plot that’s bursting with too much superficial business and no depth—yup, the synopsis will reveal all of that.

If you, the author, are willing to see it, the synopsis will be that heart-sinking moment of truth where you can no longer deny that this house is not ready to sell, not by a long-shot. It needs help. It might even need to be razed to the ground.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Have people stopped reading books?

From KBoards:

I started publishing ebooks at Amazon in 2011. That was before Select and you weren’t allowed to give books away. You had to charge at least $.99. I started making money since I had a backlog of books that I had written. The golden years came, and everyone was happy and made money. A few writers found a way to give away books and that helped them. Then Select let everyone give books away and our sales went up.

A point was reached when sales started going down. So, lots of people starting advertising to help their sales. That helped the ones that advertised so many people started doing it. Then sales started dropping again.

Each year sales continued to drop regardless of what we did.

The number of book stores and publishing companies went out of business. We weren’t the only one’s suffering.

That makes me wonder if people have stopped reading books or reading less.

Link to the rest at KBoards

PG notes there is quite a discussion responding to this post on KBoards.

PG’s opinion is that traditional publishing is mostly flat while indie publishing, while much more competitive than it was ten-fifteen years ago, is growing.

In 2010, Amazon announced that it was selling more ebooks than printed books. PG sees no reason to suspect that the ebook/printed book sales ratio for Amazon has become more and more larger for the ebook side of the house. He would be interested in seeing any credible estimates of Amazon’s ebook vs. POD sales numbers, however.

Another source estimated that there were about 9 Million ebooks in the Kindle store in 2021. That same source estimated that there were 12 Million ebooks in the Kindle store in May of 2022.

Wikipedia estimates that the United States has issued a total of 3,485,322 ISBN numbers for books. The UK is in second place with 185,721 ISBN numbers issued. That said, it is PG’s understanding that few indie authors publishing on Amazon bother getting an ISBN number, especially for their ebooks since ISBN service is used primarily by physical bookstores and libraries for ordering traditionally-published books.

PG’s bottom line is that the number of authors on Amazon is growing rapidly. The number of authors who earn a significant sum of money from their books on Amazon is growing, but less rapidly.

Traditional publishing numbers are pretty flat. PG hasn’t seen any inflation-adjusted numbers showing year-by-year sales of traditional publishers, however.

When Arthur Conan Doyle showed up at his own memorial service. (Maybe.)

From The Literary Hub:

On July 13, 1930, some six thousand people crammed themselves into London’s Royal Albert Hall. They had come to hear a missive from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the spiritualist, physician, and creator of Sherlock Holmes—who had, as it happens, died six days previous.

The hall had been rented out by the Spiritualist Association to hold a seance for the writer, an event so enticing that hundreds of people had to be turned away at the door. On the stage, a row of chairs had been set out for the Conan Doyle family: Lady Conan Doyle, her sons Denis and Adrian, her daughter Jean, her stepdaughter Mary, and of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. His chair was marked with his name, presumably to avoid confusion.

The night began like any typical memorial service, with tributes from friends, passages from scripture read, and hymns sung. But soon it was time for 41-year-old Estelle Roberts—a well-known London medium, and one of Conan Doyle’s favorites—to take the stage.

“The mesmerizing presence that had so impressed Conan Doyle was not immediately apparent,” writes Daniel Stashower in Teller of Tales, his biography of the writer.

For some time, Mrs. Roberts did nothing more than rock back and forth on her heels, and soon the sounds of coughing and restless movement could be heard from the audience. At this, she appeared to gather her resolve. Shielding her eyes like a sailor on lookout, Mrs. Roberts swept her eyes over the gallery, tiers, and boxes. Her attention fixed not on the faces of the expectant crowd, but on the empty space above their heads. “There are vast numbers of spirits here with us,” she announced. “They are pushing me like anything.”

She communed with these spirits for about a half an hour before the audience became restless, and then, as people began to leave, she shouted out “He’s here!”

“The skeptics stopped in their tracks,” writes Stashower. “All eyes locked on the empty chair.” Time for the headliner, then.

“There could be no doubt who she meant,” writes Russell Miller in The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, his biography of the writer.

Everyone switched their attention to the empty chair and Lady Conan Doyle jumped to her feet, eyes sparkling. The medium appeared to be following with her eyes an invisible figure moving towards her. “He’s wearing evening clothes,” she said, inclining her head as if to listen to something being said very quietly. Only those sitting nearby overheard the exchange that followed. “Sir Arthur tells me that one of you went into the hut this morning. Is that correct?” Lady Conan Doyle, beaming, agreed it was so. “I have a message for you,” the medium said. At this point someone signaled for the organist to strike up. Estelle Roberts could be seen whispering urgently to Lady Conan Doyle, who was smiling and nodding, for several minutes. She was still smiling broadly as the service broke up with a closing hymn and benediction.

The medium told reporters after the service that she had seen Sir Arthur Conan Doyle walk across the stage and take a seat in the empty chair before giving her a message for his wife and family. “It was a perfectly happy message,” she said.

Whatever it was, it was good enough for his widow. “I am perfectly convinced that the message is from my husband,” she said. “I am as sure of the fact that he has been here with us as I am sure that I am speaking to you. It is a happy message, one that is cheering and encouraging. It is precious and sacred. You will understand that it was secret to me.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Less Credit, Longer Hours: Illustrators’ Roles in Graphic Novels

From Book Riot:

While there are many brilliant single-creator comics and graphic novels in the world — think Neill Cameron’s Mega Robo Bros, ND Stevenson’s Nimona, and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, among others — many graphic novels, both traditionally published and indie, have separate writers and illustrators. Sometimes, the writer and artist work as a long-collaborating team, like René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, the duo behind the Asterix comics. Some artists are approached directly by authors as the best fit for a planned work, as happened with The Adventure Zone comics, where illustrator Carey Pietch drew fanart of the series long before the McElroys began converting their popular podcast into graphic novels. In other cases, writers and artists are paired up by publishers for a specific project, something frequently seen in Marvel and DC comics, or sometimes in comics produced outside of the “Big Two’s” sphere, such as Frizzy, a new graphic novel written by middle grade author Claribel A. Ortega and illustrated by Rose Bousamra.

My own work in comics has followed the Goscinny-Uderzo model (although focused around metafictional faeries and anti-fascist magical girls instead of indomitable Gauls). I have three webcomics with my best friend and co-creator Emily Brady — I’m the writer, she’s the artist. We’ve been working on these comics since 2004, and one thing has been very clear to me since the beginning is that for all my procrastination, faffing around, and grappling with writer’s block, the writing side of comics takes no time at all compared to the huge number of hours required to produce the art. We have seven substantially-sized print volumes to show for our 18 years working on these comics, a very respectable number — but to people outside the visual medium of comics, used to working in the written-word-only side of publishing, seven books in nearly two decades looks like a small amount.

The number of hours it takes to produce a 200-page graphic novel is a point repeated by many comics illustrators who have spoken out about the unreasonable time expectations that artists often face when working for publishers, particularly those publishers who are primarily used to working on novels. In her article “Graphic Novel Production Schedules Are Too Short — and the Publishing Industry Should Care About It“, Nilah Magruder notes that “the average graphic novel is 200 pages, but it’s common for publishers to offer a year, sometimes even less’ — a huge ask which puts the illustrator in a perpetual state of crunch.

Magruder explains, “When I entered the children’s book industry, six months was the average timeline for illustrating a 32 page picture book. Let’s say I were to expand that 32 pages to 200 pages. The schedule to produce that gigantic book would be a little over three years,” which is a stark difference from the short timeline that so many publishers require.

Magruder’s article breaks down the amount of time and effort that it takes to produce a comic, something that many people without direct experience of working in this medium rarely consider. One comics professional I spoke to noted that “much like people who grimace when receiving a jumper Granny knitted for them for their birthday, [readers and publishers] never realise how much time and care has taken into making something.”

Rachael Smith (Wired Up WrongQuarantine Comix) said, “I think the time it takes to draw a page is often underestimated because of the relatively short time it takes to read one.”

“It’s hard to get rid of the idea that writing is skilled, ruminative hard work, but drawing is easy, messing about making pretty pictures, and therefore doesn’t need to be rewarded with any serious remuneration because you’re having fun all day.”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Will “work from hotel” catch on?

From The Economist

As summer descends with a vengeance on the northern hemisphere, you may be fantasising about the promise of “working from anywhere”. A colleague’s PowerPoint presentation would go down better by the poolside, washed down with a mojito. For most office grunts such fantasies remain just that—“anywhere” boils down to the discomfort of the sweaty kitchen table, a noisy café or the office hot desk.

That has not stopped venues offering to combine the liberty of the home office (minus the offspring and the dirty dishes) with the climate control of the corporate hq (minus the boss looking over your shoulder). “Third spaces”, neither office nor home, are not a new idea. Soho House, a chain of fashionable clubs, pioneered 30 years ago the concept of work while mingling with other professionals in an elegant setting. Now hotels are getting in on the action. Your columnist, a guest Bartleby, tried out two recent London offerings.

She first headed to Birch, a hotel in a Georgian manor on 55 acres of Hertfordshire just north of the city. The venue invites you to “come work miracles” at its Hub co-working area, “set strategies” in spaces “ready to fit 5 or 50” or “connect and create” with classes in pottery, sourdough baking, “foraging with our farmer” and other structured activities. Men, women and gender-fluid people in their 20s and early 30s hunch over laptops and glasses of red wine on the terrace. Some digital nomads pay a monthly membership fee and enjoy special discounts to stay in the property and work remotely, but you can, like Bartleby, come as an overnight guest.

Her second destination was the Shangri-La hotel in the Shard, which now offers stays from 10am to 6pm. The pass grants access to a room with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on central London, and to Western Europe’s highest infinity pool. It is aimed at those wishing to work and relax by offering a “change of scenery to inspire and invigorate”.

Both Birch and the Shangri-La have their virtues. Birch’s Wi-Fi was excellent and the workspaces had enough sockets to avoid undignified tussles for the last place to plug in your chargers. The “Gentle Flow” stretch class in which Bartleby enrolled, in the spirit of going native, was perfectly pleasant (notwithstanding the instructor’s insistence on starting with an astrological update and reciting a poem at the end). So were laps in the Shangri-La’s infinity pool and the view of St Paul’s Cathedral from her room on the 38th floor.

Yet problems soon became apparent. The first is price. An overnight stay at Birch sets you—or, if you are lucky like Bartleby, your employer—back £160 ($192). The Shangri-La charges £350 for a standard room. Cities have plenty of cheaper “third spaces” these days; a co-working space costs a fraction of that.

The second problem is: how productive can workers be with all the distractions that are designed to make work not feel like work? The spectacular view from the Shard is less conducive to dreaming up a sales pitch (or a column) than it is to daydreaming. At Birch, boardgames occupy every horizontal surface, ready to draw out the procrastinator in you. And once you are done stretching, that sourdough-baking class is a recipe to keep putting work on the back burner.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Here’s a photo of Birch. You can book your reservation Here. If you don’t wish to spend the night, they have a restaurant as well.

Definitely dissimilar to any B&B where PG has stayed in Britain, however.

One might think this means that imaginary numbers are just a mathematical game

One might think this means that imaginary numbers are just a mathematical game having nothing to do with the real world. From the viewpoint of positivist philosophy, however, one cannot determine what is real. All one can do is find which mathematical models describe the universe we live in. It turns out that a mathematical model involving imaginary time predicts not only effects we have already observed but also effects we have not been able to measure yet nevertheless believe in for other reasons. So what is real and what is imaginary? Is the distinction just in our minds?

Stephen Hawking

You Can’t Buy These Books

From The Nation:

In a remarkable brief filed on July 7 in their ongoing lawsuit, four titans of corporate publishing (Hachette, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Wiley) accused the Internet Archive of stealing, “mass-scale copyright infringement,” and “[distributing] full-text digital bootlegs for free.” Those are pretty wild allegations—especially considering that the Internet Archive’s Open Library operates on the traditional terms that libraries in this country have abided by for centuries. The Open Library loans books, which it owns, to one patron at a time, for a fixed period—just like any other library. Like any public library, the Open Library doesn’t charge money for this service. The main difference is that the Open Library loans e-books online. Each e-book is scanned from a paper copy, and the paper copy is stored away and doesn’t circulate; this practice is called Controlled Digital Lending, or CDL.

One book, lawfully bought or acquired, one scan, one patron at a time—no money changes hands. And yet the publishers’ brief does its best to cast the librarians of the Internet Archive as a gang of thieves and pirates.

In reality, the publishers’ attack on the Internet Archive is a Trojan horse for a very different, and radical, idea: that e-books are fundamentally—legally—different from paper books. If accepted, their argument would remove e-books from the many statutory protections upon which library rights positively depend. That outcome would leave libraries vulnerable to the draconian licensing deals under which e-books are increasingly offered. And libraries would have to pay and pay, in the absence of digital books that can be permanently bought and owned outright.

The publishers’ true goal appears right on page 6:

Controlled digital lending, as practiced by Internet Archive, collapses the boundaries between physical books and ebooks. CDL’s basic tenet is that a non-profit entity that owns a physical book can scan that book and distribute the resulting ebook as a proxy for the physical copy. But this ignores that ebooks are a fundamentally different product from physical books.

They may be a different product, but e-books are still books.

The real stakes in this lawsuit concern not digital piracy but the preservation of library rights; the real renegades here are not the librarians of the Internet Archive but the publishers, who are looking to take a machete to the Copyright Act in order to make their e-book products rental-only, so that libraries—along with you and me and everyone else—will have to keep paying for them forever. Libraries will no longer be independent entities, free to make their own decisions about what to lend; they’ll be limited to whatever publishers want to offer—or not offer.

“We need strong and independent publishers,” says Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, “and we need strong and independent libraries.”

Because the statutory protections for libraries were written decades ago, when technical constraints on copying and distribution were entirely different from what they are now, preserving traditional library rights has presented challenges in the digital age. These issues were always going to be revisited in the courts, one way or another. In fact, in 2011, in her seminal paper on the legal framework that came to be known as CDL, legal scholar Michelle Wu foresaw this very lawsuit:

[P]ublishers have used new technologies to exert control over works beyond the control they had over printed works. They are replacing ownership with licensing, where they can regulate not only the number of users but also the number of uses.… Given this trend toward greater control over material by publishers, it would be remarkable if the industry did not object to libraries’ digitizing printed materials.

Having anticipated the legal pushback from publishers, Wu observed that the spirit of the law is on the side of libraries: The Copyright Clause was adopted not only to protect authors but to promote the advancement of learning and public knowledge. “At the heart of copyright,” she wrote, “is the public good.”

In the years following the publication of Wu’s paper, a score of leading experts on copyright and libraries joined forces to create CDL, a whole legal toolkit for the traditional library lending of e-books developed with exactly these legal challenges in mind. The Internet Archive’s digital lending relies on CDL, and its reasoning is what is really being tested in the lawsuit.

Disingenuously, the publishers’ brief flatly misinterprets the long history and development of CDL: “Internet Archive…has searched for years to find a legal rationale for its radical infringements. Around 2018, it helped manufacture and market a theory called ‘controlled digital lending’ or ‘CDL.’”

“Publishers spend millions of dollars to make books available to the public,” according to their brief, and that is true. Publishers shepherd books into the world, providing a vitally important service for all. They have every right to profit fairly from their work. But they don’t have the right to change the laws protecting libraries.

Public-spiritedness, by the way, is a quality conspicuously missing from this document. Perhaps realizing they’d better choke out a statement of support for libraries in general, they were able to manage the following: “The Publishers deeply value libraries, recognizing that they foster public literacy, serve local communities, and increase the visibility of authors through book clubs, author talks, and other creative means of reader involvement. Libraries support authors by paying for print books and ebooks.”

They sure do! Libraries have become a huge cash cow for publishers, especially during the pandemic, when nobody could visit a physical library. They admit it themselves, in this very brief: “The publishers’ annual revenue from the library ebook market, which is shared with authors, has risen to hundreds of millions of dollars, simultaneously establishing an important market channel for many titles and serving a more digital public.”

I’m a writer, obviously, and I find it entirely startling that these powerful publishers have no discernible sense of responsibility to the public commons, nor of the symbiotic relationship that principled publishers in a free society should have with libraries. They’re supposed to be on the same side: the side of an educated, healthy and informed public. Publishers should be the champions of libraries, not their enemies.

Link to the rest at The Nation

PG says that, to the extent it ever existed, the ideal that publishers should consider the common good, encourage knowledge and art to be widely distributed within the general population, rich and poor, or cultivate new generations of readers has entirely disappeared with the consolidation of publishing into massive international conglomerates in which the managers of individual publishers are far down the hierarchy of corporate power.

Those up higher in these power structures understand messages in dollars, pounds and euros, not in airy-fairy ideals and principles of democratic concerns of the greatest good for the greatest number.

England’s National Centre for Writing: Emerging Translator Mentorships

From Publishers Weekly:

In the United Kingdom, the National Centre for Writing in Norwich has today announced (July 22) the available languages and mentors in its Emerging Translator Mentorships program for the 2022-2023 cycle.

In its 13th year, the program is intended to encourage “successive new cohorts of literary translators into English, particularly for languages the literature of which is under-represented in English translation.”

Languages and Mentors Named
  • Arabic – mentored by Sawad Hussain
  • Danish – mentored by Paul Russell Garrett
  • Hindi (The Saroj Lal Mentorship) – mentored by Daisy Rockwell
  • Indonesian (Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize) – mentored by Khairani Barokka
  • Italian – mentored by Howard Curtis
  • Japanese – mentored by Juliet Winters Carpenter
  • Korean – mentored by Anton Hur
  • Norwegian – mentored by Rosie Hedger
  • Polish – mentored by Sean Gasper Bye
  • Québec French or First Nations languages – mentored by Sarah Ardizzone
  • Swedish – mentored by Nichola Smalley
  • Ukrainian – mentored by Nina Murray
  • Visible communities – mentored by Meena Kandasamy

As to the reference to “visible communities,” it’s “a mentorship open to UK-based literary translators who are either Black, Asian and ethnically diverse, or working from heritage, diaspora, and community languages of the United Kingdom.”

The slot for mentoring in Québec French or First Nations languages is open to literary translators working from either one or more of the following languages: Québecois French, Algonquin, Atikamekw, Cree, Innu, Inuktitut, Micmac, Mohawk, or Naskapi.

In a prepared statement, the center’s program manager, Rebecca DeWald, is quoted, saying, “‘We’re looking forward to offering 13 promising literary translators the opportunity to work with an experienced translator to hone their skills and expertise and build their confidence as key players in international literature.

“The selection of languages we’re supporting this year spans many Asian, European, and Afro-Asian languages, as well as, for the first time, First Nations languages spoken in Québec. In addition, we’re pleased to be able to offer a dedicated Ukrainian mentorship this year, and to feature Hindi for the second time, thanks to the Saroj Lal mentorship. We’re also excited to continue our biannual partnership with publisher Harvill Secker for this year’s Young Translators’ Prize in Indonesian.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Imaginary numbers are real

From Aeon:

Many science students may imagine a ball rolling down a hill or a car skidding because of friction as prototypical examples of the systems physicists care about. But much of modern physics consists of searching for objects and phenomena that are virtually invisible: the tiny electrons of quantum physics and the particles hidden within strange metals of materials science along with their highly energetic counterparts that only exist briefly within giant particle colliders.

In their quest to grasp these hidden building blocks of reality scientists have looked to mathematical theories and formalism. Ideally, an unexpected experimental observation leads a physicist to a new mathematical theory, and then mathematical work on said theory leads them to new experiments and new observations. Some part of this process inevitably happens in the physicist’s mind, where symbols and numbers help make invisible theoretical ideas visible in the tangible, measurable physical world.

Sometimes, however, as in the case of imaginary numbers – that is, numbers with negative square values – mathematics manages to stay ahead of experiments for a long time. Though imaginary numbers have been integral to quantum theory since its very beginnings in the 1920s, scientists have only recently been able to find their physical signatures in experiments and empirically prove their necessity.

In December of 2021 and January of 2022, two teams of physicists, one an international collaboration including researchers from the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information in Vienna and the Southern University of Science and Technology in China, and the other led by scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), showed that a version of quantum mechanics devoid of imaginary numbers leads to a faulty description of nature. A month earlier, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara reconstructed a quantum wave function, another quantity that cannot be fully described by real numbers, from experimental data. In either case, physicists cajoled the very real world they study to reveal properties once so invisible as to be dubbed imaginary.

For most people the idea of a number has an association with counting. The number five may remind someone of fingers on their hand, which children often use as a counting aid, while 12 may make you think of buying eggs. For decades, scientists have held that some animals use numbers as well, exactly because many species, such as chimpanzees or dolphins, perform well in experiments that require them to count.

Counting has its limits: it only allows us to formulate so-called natural numbers. But, since ancient times, mathematicians have known that other types of numbers also exist. Rational numbers, for instance, are equivalent to fractions, familiar to us from cutting cakes at birthday parties or divvying up the cheque after dinner at a fancy restaurant. Irrational numbers are equivalent to decimal numbers with no periodically repeating digits. They are often obtained by taking the square root of some natural numbers. While writing down infinitely many digits of a decimal number or taking a square root of a natural number, such as five, seems less real than cutting a pizza pie into eighths or 12ths, some irrational numbers, such as pi, can still be matched to a concrete visual. Pi is equal to the ratio of a circle’s circumference and the diameter of the same circle. In other words, if you counted how many steps it takes you to walk in a circle and come back to where you started, then divided that by the number of steps you’d have to take to make it from one point on the circle to the opposite point in a straight line passing through the centre, you’d come up with the value of pi. This example may seem contrived, but measuring lengths or volumes of common objects also typically produces irrational numbers; nature rarely serves us up with perfect integers or exact fractions. Consequently, rational and irrational numbers are collectively referred to as ‘real numbers’.

Negative numbers can also seem tricky: for instance, there is no such thing as ‘negative three eggs’. At the same time, if we think of them as capturing the opposite or inverse of some quantity, the physical world once again offers up examples. Negative and positive electric charges correspond to unambiguous, measurable behaviour. In the centigrade scale, we can see the difference between negative and positive temperature since the former corresponds to ice rather than liquid water. Across the board then, with positive and negative real numbers, we are able to claim that numbers are symbols that simply help us keep track of well-defined, visible physical properties of nature. For hundreds of years, it was essentially impossible to make the same claim about imaginary numbers.

In their simplest mathematical formulation, imaginary numbers are square roots of negative numbers. This definition immediately leads to questioning their physical relevance: if it takes us an extra step to work out what negative numbers mean in the real world, how could we possibly visualise something that stays negative when multiplied by itself? 

Link to the rest at Aeon

Don’t Blame Dostoyevsky

From The Atlantic:

Culture, too, is a casualty of war. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, some Ukrainian writers called for a boycott of Russian music, films, and books. Others have all but accused Russian literature of complicity in the atrocities committed by Russian soldiers. The entire culture, they say, is imperialist, and this military aggression reveals the moral bankruptcy of Russia’s so-called civilization. The road to Bucha, they argue, runs through Russian literature.

Terrible crimes, I agree, are being committed in the name of my people, in the name of my country, in my name. I can see how this war has turned the language of Pushkin and Tolstoy into the language of war criminals and murderers. What does the world see of “Russian culture” today but bombs falling on maternity hospitals and mutilated corpses on the streets of Kyiv’s suburbs?

It hurts to be Russian right now. What can I say when I hear that a Pushkin monument is being dismantled in Ukraine? I just keep quiet and feel penitent. And hope that perhaps a Ukrainian poet will speak up for Pushkin.

The Putin regime has dealt Russian culture a crushing blow, just as the Russian state has done to its artists, musicians, and writers so many times before. People in the arts are forced to sing patriotic songs or emigrate. The regime has in effect “canceled” culture in my country. Recently a young protester faced arrest for holding a placard that bore a quote from Tolstoy.

Russian culture has always had reason to fear the Russian state. In the saying commonly attributed to the great 19th-century thinker and writer Alexander Herzen, who was sent into internal exile for his anti-czarist sentiments—and reading “forbidden books,” as he put it—“The state in Russia has set itself up like an occupying army.” The Russian system of political power has remained unchanged and unchanging down the centuries—a pyramid of slaves worshipping the supreme khan. That’s how it was during the Golden Horde, that’s how it was in Stalin’s time, that’s how it is today under Vladimir Putin.

The world is surprised at the quiescence of the Russian people, the lack of opposition to the war. But this has been their survival strategy for generations—as the last line of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov puts it, “The people are silent.” Silence is safer. Whoever is in power is always right, and you have to obey whatever order comes. And whoever disagrees ends up in jail or worse. And as Russians know only too well from bitter historical experience, never say, This is the worst. As the popular adage has it: “One should not wish death on a bad czar.” For who knows what the next one will be like?

Only words can undo this silence. This is why poetry was always more than poetry in Russia. Former Soviet prisoners are said to have attested that Russian classics saved their lives in the labor camps when they retold the novels of Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky to other inmates. Russian literature could not prevent the Gulags, but it did help prisoners survive them.

The Russian state has no use for Russian culture unless it can be made to serve the state. Soviet power wanted to give itself an air of humanity and righteousness, so it built monuments to Russian writers. “Pushkin, our be-all and end-all!” rang out from stages in 1937, during the Great Purge, when even the executioners trembled with fear. The regime needs culture as a human mask—or as combat camouflage. That’s why Stalin needed Dmitri Shostakovich and Putin needs Valery Gergiev.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

I am not going to lose Vietnam.

I am not going to lose Vietnam. I am not going to be the president who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1963

We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.

President Lyndon Johnson, 1964

We do this [escalating U.S. military involvement in Vietnam] in order to slow down aggression. We do this to increase the confidence of the brave people of South Vietnam who have bravely born this brutal battle for so many years with so many casualties. And we do this to convince the leaders of North Vietnam—and all who seek to share their conquest—of a simple fact: We will not be defeated. We will not grow tired. We will not withdraw either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreement.

President Lyndon Johnson, 1965

We seem bent upon saving the Vietnamese from Ho Chi Minh, even if we have to kill them and demolish their country to do it. I do not intend to remain silent in the face of what I regard as a policy of madness which, sooner or later, will envelop my son and American youth by the millions for years to come.

Senator George McGovern, 1967

Hey, Hey LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?

Anti-war protestors, late 1967.

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

AP correspondent Peter Arnett quoting a U.S. major on the decision to bomb and shell Ben Tre after Viet Cong forces overran the city in the Mekong Delta during the Tet Offensive, 1968

For it seems now more certain than ever, that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past.

Newscaster Walter Cronkite, 1968, reporting on what he had learned on a trip to Vietnam in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive.

I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President.

President Lyndon Johnson, 1968

I refuse to believe that a little fourth-rate power like North Vietnam doesn’t have a breaking point.

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 1969

This war has already stretched the generation gap so wide that it threatens to pull the country apart.

Senator Frank Church, 1970

I have asked for this radio and television time tonight for the purpose of announcing that we today have concluded an agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia.

President Richard Nixon, 1973

During the day on Monday, Washington time, the airport at Saigon came under persistent rocket as well as artillery fire and was effectively closed. The military situation in the area deteriorated rapidly. I therefore ordered the evacuation of all American personnel remaining in South Vietnam.

Gerald Ford, (who, as Vice-President, succeeded Richard Nixon when Nixon resigned 1974), in 1975

Until Fiction Do Us Apart

From Publishers Weekly:

Most novelists will tell you it’s okay—even encouraged—to mine your darkest thoughts and bring them to light in your fiction. But what about the dark thoughts that involve the people you love most? And is it better or worse if you do it with humor?

I’m not particularly proud of the moment that sparked the idea for my eighth novel, Take My Husband. It was in the thick of the pandemic, and I was living under the same roof with my beloved and three 20-something children. For someone with an almost pathological need for alone time, it was rough going.

But my messy little office with its desktop computer, two printers, overloaded bookshelves, piles of pages, and compact coffee pot was my haven. To keep from being disturbed while writing, I put a polite sign on the door that read “Please Knock.” When that didn’t work, I added a second sign—this one in bold purple—that simply read “Knock.” When that proved inadequate, I got testy enough to make a third sign reading “Knock Means Knock.”

It worked. Sort of. I was toiling away on a new project—deep in the zone of intense concentration as I tried to untangle a beast of a paragraph—when my husband knocked once, swung the door open, and announced something about a new shipment of toilet paper at Stop & Shop.

That was the moment it happened. My muse barged into the room right behind my husband—without knocking or even clearing its throat—to deliver the idea to write a book about a happily married woman who wants to throttle the man to whom she had pledged her undying love.

No, I thought. Absolutely not. It’s too… mean. But it’s a comedy, insisted my muse. Still, I resisted, as it felt dangerously close to ridicule, which has never amused me, either as giver or receiver. In fact, throughout my long marriage to a very funny man, our teasing has always been of the gentlest sort.

Take, for example, the quip he made years ago when our youngest was reading aloud from one of those corny joke books they publish for children.

“What do you call a woman with a big head?” she had asked.

“Honey,” my husband responded.

I’m still laughing at this joke. And yes, I understand you had to be there. If you were, you’d know I have an unusually enormous head, while my high-IQ husband has a child-size skull. It’s been a kind of running joke between us over the decades of our marriage. The fat-headed girl meets the pin-headed boy, they fall in love, marry, and have three normal-headed children who like bad puns.

Now, I know deconstructing a joke is a comedy crime even more egregious than withholding a punch line, so I’ll just say this: my husband could have responded “Ellen” and it would have been funny. His term of endearment was a better choice, though, thanks to the built-in domesticity. Also—and this is important—it wrapped the tease in tenderness. My husband, bless his heart, would never want to hurt my feelings.

I would never want to hurt his, either. So this book idea was not for me. Still, my muse nagged, and I knew why. There was truth in it, and as a novelist, it was my job to hold that truth up to the light.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Henry Kissinger explains what he thinks makes great leadership

From The Economist

Leadership by Henry Kissinger

Whatever you think of Henry Kissinger, the 99-year-old former national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations has an elephantine memory and experience that makes it an important historical resource. In his latest book, Mr Kissinger, an unofficial adviser and friend to many presidents and prime ministers, considers how six leaders from the second half of the 20th century reoriented their countries and made a lasting impact on the world.

Mr Kissinger’s six are an eclectic bunch. Konrad Adenauer was the first post-war chancellor of West Germany. Charles de Gaulle saved France twice, first during the second world war, then at the time of the Algerian crisis. The author’s old boss, Richard Nixon, shook geopolitics with his opening to China before scandal brought him down. Anwar Sadat paid with his life for forging a lasting peace with Israel as Egypt’s president. Lee Kuan Yew made tiny Singapore one of the most prosperous places on Earth. And Margaret Thatcher reversed decades of British decline—while widening social and economic divisions—before being defenestrated by her party.

A project of this kind might have amounted to a series of brief eulogistic biographies of famous people. Much of the book will indeed be familiar to many readers—and at times the author’s willingness to glide over inconvenient truths is distasteful. He justifies Nixon’s covert bombing of Cambodia by the need to force the Vietnamese to negotiate. One of its consequences, the rise of the Khmers Rouges, merits a single sentence, which blames Congress for cutting off military aid to the Cambodian government. (Watergate, too, is downplayed.) De Gaulle’s extraordinary refusal to give credit to allies fighting and dying to liberate France nearly earns admiration. The controversy in which Thatcher almost revelled escapes all criticism.

The book is redeemed, and more, by the analytical framework in which each leader is examined, and by the author’s personal knowledge of his subjects. Moreover, the writing is always crisp and lucid, even when conveying arcane theories of international relations, such as the notion of “equilibrium” that defined Nixon’s foreign policy (and, by extension, Mr Kissinger’s).

Having seen so many leaders at close hand, Mr Kissinger understands the constraints they must acknowledge and bypass. Among these are “scarcity”, or the limits of their societies in terms of demography and economic heft; “temporality”, or the prevailing values, habits and attitudes of their times; “competition” from other states that have their own goals; and the “fluidity” of events, the pace of which can force decisions to be made on the basis of intuition and hypothesis. Leaders must traverse a tightrope from which they fall if they are either too timid or too bold.

In Mr Kissinger’s view, there are essentially two types of leader, the statesman and the prophet. Statesmen manipulate circumstances to their advantage, temper vision with wariness and work with the grain of societies until existing institutions need to be changed or confronted. Prophets are prepared, if not eager, to break with the past no matter the risk.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG notes that when Nixon resigned in 1974, he was one of the most reviled individuals in the United States, primarily to his conduct of the War in Vietnam. Nixon’s predecessor, Lyndon Johnson would have run as a close second to Nixon on the scale of reviled presidents.

When one reviews the mediocrities who were elected to the presidency during the latter part of the 19th Century, it is interesting that none were as reviled during or after their terms of office than Nixon was.

A Roadmap for the Author’s Revision Process

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

Is there a better feeling in the world than finishing a manuscript? Typing The End, gazing lovingly at the overall word count, and recognizing you’ve accomplished something that not many people can do…you’re floating on cloud nine, and all is right with the world.

And then come the revisions.

Hear that sound? That’s you, crashing to the ground.

A Different Way to Look at the Revision Process

Revision isn’t typically super fun because it requires you to look at your story—your perfect, incredible, one-of-a-kind story—realistically. You’re going to find problems—BIG problems—that need fixing. You’ll have to take a scalpel, machete, or jackhammer to your baby and carve out some of those words you were so proud of coming up with. It’s hard. Writers aren’t typically excited about this part of the journey.

But I would encourage you to look at it differently. Revision is how your story goes from good (or garbage) to great. Characters become more authentic and well-rounded, plotlines are streamlined, settings become multi-dimensional, pace-killing fluff and filler are eradicated, and your voice begins to shine.

When you’re able to look at the revision process through this lens, it becomes a positive experience that results in something amazing, something that couldn’t have come about without it. So changing your mindset about revisions is a huge part of getting the most out of them.

But it’s not just our attitude about revision that limits us. Sometimes, it’s the process itself. There are so many story elements to examine and fix; it’s daunting to do all of this, especially for a full-length novel. This is why Angela Ackerman and I created the Revision Roadmap at One Stop for Writers. It takes authors through the revision stage for their story one step at a time, breaking the process into manageable rounds. There are a million ways to revise, but here’s how we suggest chunking the process to make it doable.

A Roadmap for the Revision Process

1)     Run a First Draft Health Assessment for the Revision Process.

After you’ve let your manuscript sit for a while to give you some much-needed objectivity, it’s time to read it again — but don’t make any changes. Not yet. At this point, just make notes of all the things you notice that need work. It can also help to use a checklist to make overall impressions about the major elements of the story, such as characters, plot, pacing, etc. Create your own resource or use our list of Final Draft Challenge Questions, which can be downloaded via the Revision Roadmap.

2)     Revision Round 1: Rough in the Big Changes.

Using the notes from your read-through, go back to your story and start working on the big-picture fixes: primary characters, character arc, plot, setting, theme, and pacing. Don’t try and make everything perfect; just get the changes framed in to shore up the weak spots.

. . . .

4)      Round 3: Incorporate feedback from critique partners.

Getting feedback from other authors is pivotal for improving your story. This can happen at any point in the process, but we like it after the second round. This ensures that you’ve already fixed the problems you’ve been able to identify and will be giving readers a pretty solid version of your story. While you’re making changes based on their feedback, keep an eye out for other issues, like places where you’ve told instead of shown, spots where the pace is flagging, and descriptions that can be updated to do double-duty.

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

The Wine-Dark Sea Within

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Greek physician Galen died in A.D. 216; his anatomic teachings went largely unopposed until the Renaissance. Even then, those who challenged them could be in for trouble. The brilliant anatomist Andreas Vesalius, to atone for crimes against orthodoxy, was forced to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and perished on the island of Zakynthos when his ship foundered. The Spanish physician Michael Servetus suffered a worse fate. A critic of both Galen’s anatomy and John Calvin’s theology, he was arrested in Geneva and burned alive, his books bound to his arms.

Today, every middle-schooler knows that blue blood in the veins travels to the right side of the heart and is pumped to the lungs, where it picks up oxygen and turns bright red. It then goes to the left side of the heart and is pumped into a series of progressively smaller arteries, finally traversing tiny capillaries, disgorging its oxygen and returning to the veins.

This account of the circulation of the blood took over two millennia to develop, and required demolishing dogmas that blocked the advance of science for centuries. In “The Wine-Dark Sea Within,” this process becomes a saga of heroism, villainy and high intellectual adventure, told with great eloquence and verve by Dhun Sethna, a practicing cardiologist.

Several Greeks before Galen had influential, if largely mistaken, notions regarding the circulation. Alcmaeon believed blood ebbed and flowed, instead of coursing in a circle. Praxagoras realized that the veins and arteries were separate systems, but thought the arteries carried air, not blood. This misconception may have arisen from dissections on animals that had been strangled, which led to engorged veins and underfilled arteries.

Aristotle famously blundered by asserting that the heart had three chambers, instead of four. He did, however, identify and name the aorta, the major artery that carries the outflow from the left side of the heart, and distinguished it from the vena cava. According to Aristotle, body heat was produced in the heart, which contained a sort of living fire. Aging resulted from the gradual running down of the body’s heat. Aristotle failed to see that the heart was a muscular pump. In his scheme, the motion of the heart was driven by the simmering of blood in its chambers, which made it expand.

In Galen’s model, there were two circulations. Veins arose from the liver and carried nutrition through the body, while arteries arose from the heart and carried air (pneuma), blood and heat. While these circulations were largely separate, a small amount of blood from the liver passed from the right side of the heart to the left through pores. During the Middle Ages, according to Dr. Sethna, “the proper study of the human body was a study of Galen and not the body itself . . . the tyranny of Galen, who enjoyed an almost divine authority, presented the most significant obstacle to progress in medicine.” It is unclear why Galen enjoyed such immense importance. Perhaps the durability of his dogmas was simply due to the chance survival of his voluminous writings.

The first blow to the hegemony of Galen came from Vesalius, a Flemish physician of vast energy. As a medical student, he was notorious for filching bones from cemeteries for study. As a professor, he raised eyebrows by performing dissections himself, instead of delegating the work to illiterate barber-surgeons, as was customary. Vesalius, to his dismay, found that much of Galen’s anatomy was based on animal, rather than human, dissections. He pointed out Galenic misconceptions about the anatomy of the skeleton, liver, bile ducts and uterus. Moreover, he found no trace of the pores that Galen had asserted were in the septum, the muscular wall separating the two sides of the heart.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Ten Best Selling British Authors

From IX Magazine:

1) Charles Dickens : The grandfather of British fiction Dickens has some of the most memorable titles to his name. ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Bleak House’, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ to name a few.

2) Roald Dahl: Famous for his amazing and imaginative books for kids, many of which are also adult-friendly, such as ‘Matilda’, ‘The BFG’, ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and, of course ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.

3) J.R.R. Tolkien: Tolkien is the incredible author that brought us ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings trilogy’. These books redefined the fantasy fiction genre and are still held in high esteem today.

4) J. K. Rowling: An author which everyone’s heard of these days, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the gripping ‘Harry Potter’ books you’re definitely missing out. A modern giant.

5) C.S. Lewis: Author of the amazing ‘Chronicles of Narnia’, Lewis’ other titles include ‘The Space Trilogy’, ‘The Great Divorce’, ‘The Problem of Pain’ and ‘The Four Loves’.

6) Sir Terry Pratchett: Famous for the ‘Discworld’ series, which are written in a parody-style of many of the fantasy genre’s great authors, such as J. R. R. Tolkien and H. P. Lovecraft.

7) Philip Pullman: Most famous for the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, Pullman also has other works under his belt, such as the ‘Sally Lockhart’ books and his stand alone novels ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ and ‘I Was a Rat! or The Scarlet Slippers’

8 ) Ian McEwan: One of Britain’s best-loved authors with titles such as ‘The Child in Time’, ‘Enduring Love’ and ‘Atonement’ to his name.

9) John Le Carré: Famed for his espionage novels with real-world experience of working in MI5 and MI6, adding to his air of mystery. Some of his most popular novels include ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’, ‘The Constant Gardener’ and ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’.

10) George Orwell: The acclaimed author of some of Britain’s best known works, including ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, as well as ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ and ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’, both of which are based on Orwell’s own life.

Link to the rest at IX Magazine

Top Ten Richest Authors of All Time

From Slice:

  1. MacKenzie Bezos net worth: $36 billion (includes the value of Amazon stock received upon her divorce from Jeff.)
  2. JK Rowling net worth: $1 billion
  3. James Patterson net worth: $800 million
  4. Jim Davis net worth: $800 million (cartoonist – Garfield)
  5. Candy Spelling net worth: $600 million
  6. Matt Groening net worth: $600 million (cartoonist, The Simpsons)
  7. Paolo Coelho net worth: $500 million
  8. Rose Kennedy net worth: $500 million (One of those Kennedy’s – did write one book)
  9. Stephen King net worth: $500 million
  10. Danielle Steel net worth: $400 million

Link to the rest at Slice

PG notes that methods of ranking best-sellers, authors or books, vary from compiler to compiler. He further notes that determining the net worth of individuals is a very imprecise process.

Best-selling Regularly Updated Books

From Wikipedia:

新华字典 (Xinhua Zidian / Xinhua Dictionary)Chief editor: Wei JiangongChinese1957567 million
Scouting for BoysRobert Baden-PowellEnglish1908100–150 million
The McGuffey ReadersWilliam Holmes McGuffeyEnglish1853125 million
Guinness World Records (published every year)Various authorsEnglish1955115 million
六星占術によるあなたの運命 (Rokusei Senjutsu (Six-Star Astrology) Tells Your Fortune)Kazuko Hosoki
Kaori Hosoki
Japanese1986101.2 million
American Spelling Book (Webster’s Dictionary)Noah WebsterEnglish1783100 million

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

Best-Selling Children’s Books of the 20th Century

From InfoPlease:

  1. The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943) 140 Million
  2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J. K. Rowling (1997) 120 Million
  3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1865) 100 Million
  4. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis (1950) 85 Million
  5. The Adventures of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi (1881) 80 Million
  6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling (1998) 77 Million
  7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling (1999) >60 Million
  8. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling (2000) >60 Million
  9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling (2003) >60 Million
  10. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling (2005) >60 Million
  11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J. K. Rowling (2007) >60 Million
  12. Heidi, Johanna Spyri (1880) ~50 Million
  13. Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908) ~50 Million
  14. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell (1877) ~50 Million
  15. Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White (1971) ~50 Million
  16. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter (1902) 45 Million
  17. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle (1969) 43 Million
  18. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame (1908) ~25 Million
  19. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak (1963) ~20 Million
  20. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl (1964) ~20 Million

Link to the rest at InfoPlease

PG notes that various compilers of best-selling book lists don’t always use the same sources, metrics (number of copies sold vs. number of dollars, euros, etc., earned) or ranking process.

Best-Selling English-Language Nonfiction Books of the 20th Century

From InfoPlease:

  1. The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams (1906)
  2. The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James (1902)
  3. Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington (1901)
  4. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf (1929)
  5. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson (1962)
  6. Selected Essays, 1917–1932, T. S. Eliot (1932)
  7. The Double Helix, James D. Watson (1968)
  8. Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov (1967)
  9. The American Language, H. L. Mencken (1919)
  10. The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, John Maynard Keynes (1935–1936)
  11. The Lives of a Cell, Lewis Thomas (1974)
  12. The Frontier in American History, Frederick Jackson Turner (1920)
  13. Black Boy, Richard Wright (1945)
  14. Aspects of the Novel, E. M. Forster (1927)
  15. The Civil War, Shelby Foote (1958–1974)
  16. The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman (1962)
  17. The Proper Study of Mankind, Isaiah Berlin (1997)
  18. The Nature and Destiny of Man, Reinhold Niebuhr (1941–1943)
  19. Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin (1955)
  20. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein (1933)

Link to the rest at InfoPlease

Best-Selling Fiction of the 20th Century


1 Lord of the Rings. Author: J. R. R. Tolkien. Published in 1954-1955. Earned about 150 million.

2 Le petit prince (The Little Prince). Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Published in 1943. Earned about 140 million.

4 The Hobbit. Author: J. R. R. Tolkien. Published in 1937. Earned about 100 million.

5 And then there were none. Author: Agatha Christie. Published in 1939. Earned about 100 million.

6 The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. Autor: C. S. Lewis. Published in 1950. Earned about 85 million.

7 Vardi Wala Gunda. Autor: Ved Prakash Sharma. Published in 1992. Earned about 80 million.

8 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1998. Earned about 77 million.

9 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1999. Earned about 65 million.

10 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 2000. Earned about 65 million.

11 O Alquimista (The Alquimist). Author: Paulo Coelho. Published in 1988. Earned about 65 million.

12 The Catcher in the Rye. Author: J. D. Salinger. Published in 1951. Earned about 65 million.

13 Think and Go Rich. Author: Napoleon Hill. Published in 1937. Earned about 60 million.

14 The Bridges of Madison County. Author: Robert James Waller. Published in 1992. Earned about 60 million.

15 You can Heal your life. Author: Louise Hay. Published in 1984. Earned about 50 million.

16 Cien años de soledad. (Hundred years of solitude). Author: Gabriel García Márquez. Published in 1967. Earned about 50 million.

17 Lolita. Author: Vladimir Nabokov. Published in 1955. Earned about 50 million.

18 The Common Sense Book of Babe and Child Care. Author: Dr Benjamin Spock. Published in 1946. Earned about 50 million.

19 Anne of Green Gables. Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery. Published in 1908. Earned about 50 million.

20 Il Nome Della Rosa (The name of the Rose). Author: Umberto Eco. Published in 1980. Earned about 50 million.

Link to the rest at

When did cheerfulness get so miserable?

From The Spectator:

We’ve all met the sort of facetious oaf who orders any non-giggling woman to ‘Cheer up, love, it might never happen’. As Timothy Hampton grasps, enforced cheeriness feels about as much fun as compulsory games. His invigorating book about the quest for true cheerfulness in literature and philosophy dismantles the various ‘prosthetic or counterfeit’ versions of the real thing that bullies, bosses, self-help gurus and household tyrants inflict on their victims. Jane Austen’s heroines, as he shows, chafe against the elevation of cheerfulness into a ‘social norm’. It suffocates them like stays: ‘Thou shalt be cheerful, at least if thou art woman.’

For sound reasons, the prospect of cheerfulness fails to gladden many modern hearts. When that epic grouch Theodor Adorno asked ‘Is Art Cheerful?’, his answer was no surprise. In Adorno’s stricken 20th century, ‘any gaiety in art’ implied ‘an avoidance of the pain of history’. Good cheer had withered into a fake fix peddled by self-improvement merchants, ‘an affective tool that can reconcile you to drudgery’ – or even a breakfast cereal with, aptly, a hole in the middle (General Mills launched Cheerios in 1941).

So Hampton, a professor of literature at Berkeley, has serious work to do when he sets out to rescue the legacy of cheerfulness from beaming charlatans and genial thugs. His study spans more than half a millennium of literary, philosophical and theological examples, from Julian of Norwich to Scott Fitzgerald, with a closing tribute to the genius who redeemed cheerfulness from kitsch: Louis Armstrong.

This isn’t a study of grander conditions such as hope, optimism or even happiness. Neither is it just a gloss on Stoic notions of equilibrium (euthymia and tranquillitas), though good cheer might stem from a well-balanced life. Hampton quotes Spinoza: ‘Cheerfulness cannot be excessive; it is always good.’ But the very fact that it ‘lives on the edge of… more intense emotions’ may make it invisible. Besides, the intellectual smart money has always invested in its perennially on-trend antitheses: melancholy, accidie, despair, ennuiWeltschmerz and their tribe of glum kin.

Metaphysicians and visionaries distrust cheerfulness as a transient, superficial quality – neither grounded in a stable state nor a key to transforming change. Exactly so: that’s what makes it valuable. It ‘bridges and mediates’ between interior and exterior selves. Its power works from the outside in. Forget your ‘essential’ nature or disposition. As Madame de Staël wrote: ‘What one does to please others ends up shaping what one feels oneself.’ This ‘performative’ aspect of cheerfulness Hampton reads not as a taint but a blessing. No one need be innately cheerful. Act it and you become it.

Its meaning, though, has evolved across time. Hampton tracks a conceptual journey from the outward demeanour of the Middle Ages – the face you showed the world – through Renaissance ‘rituals of hospitality’ to the cheerful philosophies of Montaigne, Hume and Nietzsche. By Calvin’s time, he explains, injunctions to good cheer could have a coercive edge; demands to see a happy face became a ‘policing tool’. In contrast, Montaigne in his Essays pursued ‘gay and social wisdom’ as a cautious sceptic who cultivated private freedom in a violent world: ‘He brings his own bridle to the paddock.’ David Hume praised its ‘contagious’ force: a cheerful guest will light up a roomful of grumps. But Hampton sees the clubbable cheer of the Enlightenment as a social glue for privileged groups, ‘clearly and firmly in their own element’ – or else a behavioural straitjacket for restive women in Austen’s age.

Link to the rest at The Spectator

Amazon might own your doctor’s office after latest acquisition

From Ars Technica:

When Amazon launched Amazon Care to its employees in 2019, the goal was to test the product before rolling it out nationwide. After that rollout happened earlier this year, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy told Insider that the expansion would “fundamentally” change the health care game by dramatically enhancing the medical-care process. He predicted that patients in the future would be so used to telehealth and other new conveniences that they’ll think that things like long wait times and delays between in-person visits commonly experienced today are actually “insane.”

Now, The Wall Street Journal reports, Amazon has gone one step closer to that future by agreeing to a $3.9 billion deal to purchase One Medical, a company that operates a network of health clinics. With this move, Amazon will expand the number of patients it serves by gaining access to “a practice that operates more than 180 medical offices in 25 US markets and works with more than 8,000 companies to provide health benefits to employees, including with in-person and virtual care.”

. . . .

Echoing Jassy’s enthusiasm, Neil Lindsay, Amazon Health Services’ senior vice president, told WSJ that the company thinks “health care is high on the list of experiences that need reinvention.” Purchasing One Medical is a way for Amazon to break further into the $4 trillion health care industry at a time when Amazon’s revenue is down and costs are up.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica

PG is waiting for Alexa to say, “I sense that you have a fever. I can make an appointment with your Amazon physician. She has an opening in 45 minutes.”

Software developers aspire to forecast who will win a battle

From The Economist

Warfare is complex—and, as those who start wars often discover to their chagrin, unpredictable. Anything which promises to reduce that unpredictability is thus likely to attract both interest and money. Add the ability of modern computers to absorb and crunch unprecedented amounts of data, and throw in a live, data-generating war in the form of the conflict now being slugged out between Ukraine and Russia, not to mention the high level of tension across the Taiwan Strait, and you might assume that the business of trying to forecast the outcomes of conflicts is going into overdrive. Which it is.

One piece of software dedicated to this end is the Major Combat Operations Statistical Model, MCOSM, developed by engineers at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California. MCOSM runs algorithms based on data about 96 battles and military campaigns fought between the closing year of the first world war and the present day. When fed information about Russia’s initial push to seize Kyiv and subjugate Ukraine, which began on February 24th, the model predicted, on a scale of one to seven, “operational success” scores for the attacker and defender, respectively, of two and five.

That pretty much nailed it. On March 25th Russia’s forces gave up the idea of taking Kyiv and narrowed their objectives to Ukraine’s east and south, marking the end of what has come to be seen as phase one of the war. Nor was MCOSM‘s forecast a fluke. In the hands of knowledgeable users, says Jon Czarnecki, who created it, it gets seven out of ten forecasts broadly right.

To run an mcosm forecast requires users to estimate 30 values. These cover things like the levels and expected importance, given the fight in question, of each belligerent’s training, firepower, mobility, logistics, reconnaissance, decision-making and ability to sequence and synchronise operations. Keen judgment is needed, for the value of such things is often unknown, or miscalculated, in advance.

The French army that collapsed in May 1940 was, for example, widely thought of beforehand as one of the finest in Europe, just as Russia’s armed forces were thought to have undergone thorough reform since 2008. Nevertheless, Dr Czarnecki, who was a colonel in America’s army before he joined NPS, assigned Russia a dismal value of “one” as its Decisions score. That turned out to reflect well the Kremlin’s overambitious attempt to imitate American shock-and-awe tactics by storming Kyiv rapidly from several directions.

Other models are available. Roger Smith of in[3], a consultancy in Orlando, Florida that advises developers of military forecasting models, was once chief technologist at the American army’s simulation office, also in Orlando. He reckons its team is currently developing or upgrading roughly 100 predictive models, small and large.

Some, like mcosm, are deterministic—meaning the same inputs always produce the same forecast. Others are probabilistic. Consider the matter of, say, a 600-metre rifle shot, taken at dusk against a target who is both walking and wearing a bulletproof vest, with the trigger being pulled by a fatigued, poorly trained sniper. To model an event like this, developers estimate the likelihoods, expressed as percentages, that the shot in question will miss, injure or kill. This typically involves things such as studying past battles, reviewing shooting-range data and taking into account the specifications of the kit involved.

A good example of a probabilistic model is brawler, a simulator of aerial combat produced by ManTech, a defence firm in Herndon, Virginia which is used by America’s navy and air force. brawler crunches hard engineering data on the performance of warplanes, including their numerous subsystems, and also the capabilities of things like ground radar and missile batteries. During a simulation, the virtual representations of this hardware can be controlled either by people or by the software itself. Running the software many times produces probabilities for all manner of outcomes. How much would certain evasive manoeuvres increase an F-16’s chances of dodging a Russian S-400 missile? What about the effects of altitude? Of rain? Of chaff or other countermeasures?

Bar-room brawl

Simulating the physics of all these things is daunting enough. But brawler also includes algorithms that claim to approximate mental and cultural factors. Karen Childers, a retired captain in America’s air force who now works at ManTech, where she is in charge of updating brawler, describes this part of the endeavour as “explicit modelling of the pilot’s brain”.

Take, for example, iff (identification, friend or foe) transponders on warplanes. brawler models both the propagation of iff signals and how their calls on a pilot’s attention distract or slow reaction times. In this, a pilot’s overall cognitive load at a given moment matters. So, Ms Childers says, does the level of skill attributed to each simulated pilot. Beyond that, brawler’s users enter values for each pilot’s sociopolitical background. This requires some leaps of analytical faith. Real pilots from democracies are assumed to be more creative that those from authoritarian regimes that discourage personal initiative.

brawler simulations are typically run with no more than 20 aircraft, but the model can handle thrice that number if needed. Distribution of the full version of the software is tightly restricted, with Britain’s defence ministry the only known foreign recipient. ManTech does, however, sell a version called cobra, from which classified algorithms have been removed. Both South Korea and Taiwan have acquired this.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG doesn’t recall reading any science fiction that included the types of calculation processes mentioned in the OP. Robot soldiers seem to be more popular in sci-fi.