Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

Looking back over the year.  Somewhat stunned by the extraordinary kindness and generosity so many people have shown -- many of them strangers known only through this blog.  I would especially like to thank those who gave me a place to stay this autumn in New York (Bernie Onken, Chris Glazek, Jenny Davidson, Elizabeth and Eileen Gumport) or offered to do so (Danielle Sucher, Sherally Munshi, Jeremy Glick, and Ezra Nielsen), and William Flesch and Laura Quinney, who put me up in Boston at (I can't help thinking) great inconvenience (and also let me walk off with William's copy of Erving Goffman's Forms of Talk). Also Keith Gessen, Mark Greif, Marco Roth and the whole team at n+1, who put so much energy into helping to launch Lightning Rods. Also, needless to say, Barbara Epler, Jeffrey Yang, Tom Roberge, Laurie Callahan, Declan Spring, and the rest of the staff at New Directions. And, er, Edward Orloff, who has the somewhat thankless task of explaining the biz to a skeptical client.

Oh and ALSO - after the dust had settled and publicity-hunting was over - Daniel Medin very kindly invited me to Paris to talk to the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University in Paris; and Léna Devos gave me the chance to stay on in Paris for several days, not only making available a room in her apartment but also taking me out on various excursions, sometimes à deux, sometimes with her family. 

I am very grateful. With so much encouragement, it may seem perverse to think of jumping ship, but . . .

Joey Comeau came down from Toronto! I had such a nice time - and I kept thinking, gosh, if I wrote a webcomic my whole life could be like this.

And now readers of the blog have offered so many helpful suggestions for getting into programming. (A line of work which might make it a lot easier to decamp to Toronto.)

Other things being equal, I could crowd an acknowledgements page or three in my next book with thanks to all the people who have been so unbelievably kind in 2011. Not sure what 2012 holds in store, but would like in the meantime to express my heartfelt thanks, and best wishes to all for a Very Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


It turns out that a portion of the talent required to survive in the trenches of the ATP Tour is emotional: Joyce is able to keep from getting upset about stuff that struck me as hard not to get upset about. When he points out that there's "no point" getting exercised about unfairnesses you can't control, I think what he's really saying is that you either learn how not to get upset about it or you disappear from the Tour.

David Foster Wallace, 'Tennis player Michael Joyce's professional artistry as a paradigm of certain stuff about choice...', in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

...The reverence with which he approached Frege's ideas, and the irritation and puzzlement with which he often approached the ideas of other philosophers, prompted one reviewer of the collection Frege and Other Philosophers to remark that Dummett seemed to regard the parallel between the title of that collection and the earlier collection Truth and Other Enigmas "as more than just a parallel".

Terrific obituary of Michael Dummett by A W Moore in the Guardian, the rest here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer has shown that if conditional probabilities are reinterpreted as frequencies, people have no problem in interpreting their meaning (see the discussion "Risk School" in Nature 461,29, October 2009). Gigerenzer has been promoting the idea that trigonometry be dropped from the high school math sequence (no one uses it except surveyors, physicists, and engineers) and probability theory be added. This sounds like a great idea to me.

Herbert Gingis reviewing Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow over at our very dear friends at Amazon (HT, as too often, MR) [We at pp are huge fans of GG, not that it helps: we feel that if our very dear friends in the biz had but read GG, and then immersed themselves in the oeuvre of ET, we could have been a contender.] [This is not necessarily the most insightful quote from HG wrt DK, but we at pp are, as we say, huge fans of GG.]

Stop press!!!!!! New Yorkers take note! 

On Saturday January 21 at 2.00pm Edward Tufte will conduct an open forum answering questions about analytical design, art, the creative process, and public service. Free event, ET Modern.
On Monday January 23, 2012, Edward Tufte will give his one-day course, "Presenting Data and Information," at ET Modern. The Monday course filled up quickly and is now closed, so we've now added another course day: Sunday, January 22, 2012. See below for course information and registration.

post hoc, ergo propter hoc (not)

... A lot of success stories we hear are despite the system, not because of it, and the sooner we recognize that, the better the chances that we’ll do something to fix the status quo. 

Editorial in LiveMint, HT Steve Sailer on education in India, HT MR, more SS here.  Mutatis mutandis . . .

below the cut

As I think I've said somewhere or other, I've given an awful lot of interviews recently.  Often by e-mail. And the editorial view -- even when the interview was to be published online -- was generally that less is more.  Ours not to reason why.  But I was thinking today about the pink-collar labour force, to which I am thinking of returning, and for one interview I had much to say about pink-collar labour which turned out to be superfluous to requirements. 

Which is interesting, because my position, at this point, is essentially that of a woman who took time off to stay home with children.   A position that would have been, to those coming up after, unimaginably less worrying in the day of the typewriter. (I now read ads that require, inter alia, a PowerPoint whiz; as an ET acolyte I naturally renounce Satan and all His works, sc. Powerpoint, but feel a job app would not be enhanced by reference to ET on the cognitive evils of PP or by Mark Gertz's ET Kitten Assassin wallpaper. In my young day applying for secretarial work did not involve these crises of conscience.) 

Can't see any point in identifying the interview for which I expanded on the theme at bloggish length, but these were the thoughts of the day:

Monday, December 26, 2011

The guiding principle of Graeber's sweeping global history is that debt must not remain the exclusive property of economic historians, and moreover, that anthropologists are better equipped to take on the issue. The foundational myth on which economics rests, and which Graeber relishes debunking, is the "touchingly utopian" idea that money emerged directly out of primitive barter systems and had only to do with interest-maximizing exchange. Arguing against this from an anthropological perspective, Graeber claims that debt is the basis of society, and as such is inherently ineliminable. He illustrates this point through the example of debt to one's parents: to seek to cancel that debt would be impossible. Graeber describes a system of gift-giving in traditional societies that takes place over time, and involves gifts of slightly more or less value than the ones that preceded them, thus ensuring that everyone is always slightly in debt or in credit to everyone else. This sort of debt, he says, is nothing less than the continual creation of society. It is not so much that we owe something to society, but that society "just is our debts."

Justin E H Smith on Debt, by David Graeber, at Bookforum, the rest here (courtesy Wood s Lot)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Carter: Well, first of all, my mother made her living writing memoirs and extremely autobiographical novels about her family, and there were major ramifications from that. But she always told me to write whatever I had to, and not to worry. Now, when she saw the piece that hurt and offended her, she was very hurt and offended. I didn’t write it to do that. My love for them and my gratitude, I felt, showed through in my work. I felt that I never attacked them in my work that way. I had to write about growing up with the family I grew up with or I would have been somehow dishonest. But it was not my agenda to expose and destroy, or to hurt or offend. But there was some hurt and some offense taken.
Rumpus: Which story was it?
Carter: “The Bride.” It was supposed to be published as fiction. But it was rejected as fiction and sold as memoir. At the time I was really, really, really strapped for money, and I had to say, I don’t care what you call it, just publish it and pay me for my piece so I can pay my rent. I really was in no position to argue about the niceties of autobiographical fiction at that point in my life.

Rumpus: I’ve got all these stories I’m so afraid to tell. Like about how I grew up adjacent to affluence, but not from an affluent family myself. I had these step-sisters who had trust funds, and they had this grandmother who would give them thousands of dollars every year, and then she’d give me and my sister each a card at Chanukah with one crisp dollar bill in it.

[I'm thinking of Jane Austen publishing her books under the sobriquet 'A Lady'. I'm thinking of Sir Walter Scott, whose manuscripts were copied out by a friend before being sent to a publisher lest the handwriting be recognised; whose later books were published as by 'the Author of Waverley'. Perhaps Literature needs its Bourbaki.]

Emily Carter, author of Glory Goes and Get Some (the rest here)

Feliz Navidad

Javier Moreno has translated That Obscure Object of Desire (published in a recent edition of Bullett Magazine) into Spanish - the language in which it should clearly have been written in the first place.

Exhibit A:

Incertidumbre e información son las mismas cantidades, la pérdida de incertidumbre es igual a la ganancia de información.
Códigos y Criptografía, Dominic Welsh

Exhibit B:

La rampa de concreto bifurca; él se dirige a la izquierda y sale a un mercado de verduras al aire libre.

[It's 'La rampa de concreto bifurca' that's so lovely.]

The point is, the piece is now saturated with the language of Borges. (Writing in a café, so do not have the oeuvre to hand, but a line that was a mere inert quotation from Codes and Cryptography now brings to mind La Lotería de Babylon : He conocido el incertidumbre.)

Moreno will be publishing the piece in HermanoCerdo in January.

Have been talking to my mother about Wallace Stevens; I might have been happier all these years if I had had a job in insurance and a briefcase with compartments.  If I had had the sense to get a job in insurance, or train as a programmer, or, or, or, years ago, I could write a piece in whichever language seemed best for the piece without worrying about - what shall we say - Acts of Copy-Editor, Typesetter, &c. All as comprehensively excluded from the protection offered by an Agent as are Acts of God from a cautious insurance policy, the difference being that Insurance favours small print rather than unwritten rules.

(16 lessons into Python The Hard Way. THANK you, Zed Shaw, this was exactly what I wanted for Christmas.)

(-- Well, I wouldn't mind also having my hobbyist's edition of Mathematica, which arrived just after I left DC to talk to Michael Miller in the Tik Tok Diner; I wouldn't mind having my SUDO MAKE ME A SANDWICH t-shirt, which also arrived too late, too late. Er, I wouldn't mind having an accountant with superhero powers to grapple with my UK tax return. But these are minor cavils. Merry Christmas, one and all.)

Spoiled by the power of your best tools, you tend to shy away from messy calculations or long, case-by-case arguments unless they are absolutely unavoidable. Mathematicians develop a powerful attachment to elegance and depth, which are in tension with, if not directly opposed to, mechanical calculation. Mathematicians will often spend days thinking of a clean argument that completely avoids numbers and strings of elementary deductions in favor of seeing why what they want to show follows easily from some very deep and general pattern that is already well-understood. Indeed, you tend to choose problems motivated by how likely it is that there will be some "clean" insight in them, as opposed to a detailed but ultimately unenlightening proof by exhaustively enumerating a bunch of possibilities.

What is it like to have understanding of very advanced mathematics, the rest here (ht Tyler Cowen at MR)

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I hope it was not bad form to clarify a few points that were not quite right in Michael Miller's piece; I am not convinced that I would have done a better job if I had had to grapple with a) a long, complicated saga and b) the place where language breaks down.

Also - if you have a long history of depression and worse you realise that most people, mental health professionals included, can't deal with it. The people who can tend to be people who have been through a bad time themselves. I remember meeting someone I had known in London, Sara Jenkins (now Valentine); she talked about a time when she had had what she called 'bad thoughts', and the mind responded to the voice like a hurt dog. I think I imagined that Bill Clegg, who had been through a bad time, might be like that; he wasn't, but I don't know that his behaviour was abnormal.

In any case, I just wanted to thank the reader who recommended Learn Python the Hard Way. This looks like exactly the sort of thing I need (and in fact, if I had been able to work my way through LPTHW during bad times, they would probably not have been so bad).


I posted a link yesterday to Michael Miller's profile in the Observer.  I'm not sure that it's not petty to correct details of chronology and such; the problem is, as you probably know, that Wikipedia treats accounts published in the press as sources.  If I understand the piece correctly, MM thought that, upon receiving Bill Clegg's resignation in January 2010, I went straight from my mother's bedside in Silver Spring to Eastbourne in the UK with the intention of committing suicide, and that I wrote to Bill from Eastbourne.  (I expect getting a verbal account at the Tik Tok diner, and then having to make sense of the material from a recorder, contributed to the misunderstanding.) This was not correct, and I think gives a false impression of the situation:

She could not see a way forward. “Fourteen years of publishing crap, no end in sight,” she said. She knew of a 600-foot cliff in Eastbourne. Back in England, she booked a one-way train ticket to Gatwick, an hour from the cliff by train, then checked into a hotel. On Feb. 10, 2010, she sent an email to Mr. Clegg that said, “I’m leaving tomorrow, sorting out a few last-minute things.” 

I had a flight booked back to Berlin on January 28.  I did not know what to do. I was exhausted after looking after my mother; Bill had resigned while she was in intensive care, saying the relationship was unproductive. I had $10,000 in credit card debt; I could not finish a new book fast from a state of exhaustion, and even if I could I did not know where to send it. I had tried desperately hard, as I had for the last 14 years, to get information leading to publishers who could cope with technically challenging work, and I had failed yet again. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Michael Miller has published a profile in the New York Observer, here. It's a curious thing.

If an industry is governed by a culture of secrecy, its public face looks very clean. If an agent sells a book for half a million dollars, it gets reported. If an agent kills a half-milion-dollar deal, it's not reported. If an agent sells the film rights to a high-profile director, it's reported.  If an agent kills a film deal with a high-profile director, it's not reported. If a publisher buys a book for a big advance, it's reported. If the publisher won't pay the author, breaks its contract, tries to change the book behind the author's back, it's not reported.

If someone breaks the code, that's rare. So the question isn't really what Helen DeWitt thinks of the write-up - it goes without saying that Helen DeWitt, the subject of the profile, thinks it has not done justice to the sheer unutterable brilliance of Helen DeWitt.  The question is, what do all the people think who have engaged in questionable business practice over the years? Because the thing is, every one of those people will read the piece looking for their name. Wondering what will come out. 

Same old, same old.

Miller has had to grapple with an immense mass of material into shape. He was working to a word count and a deadline. He managed to set up an interview, make calls, read e-mails, write the thing up and get it into print, all within three weeks.  This is very much to his credit.  But I think a lot of people will read the piece looking for their names and feel very good.


I've given a lot of interviews lately; this was the first where I made a serious attempt to get the interviewer to understand why there is a genuine risk of suicide if too much work is disrupted and destroyed. I can't say I was terribly successful.

Miller is like most people in discounting what he doesn't see. Assigning disproportionate value to what he can see. Which is actually the single worst problem for writers dealing with Rest of World. Because you better believe we believe in what we can't see.  We believe in what does not yet exist. We believe in it the way a parent believes in the miracle of birth. How can we possibly not? Time t, a room contains the following: man, table, paper, pen, ink. The man is Coleridge. Time t+n, the room contains the following: man, table, paper, pen, ink, Kubla Khan.

So say a contract includes a clause giving the author last word on usage: no changes to made without author's approval. Someone who doesn't believe in the unseen, someone who does not believe that what does not exist can exist, sees an author who is fanatical about every aspect of the text, right down to the typeface. The clause is there to protect the existing text.  As long as the text is right in the end, there's no problem. But no.

The clause is there to protect the author's time.  It is there to protect work that exists only in the mind, or that will come to the mind if there is a point when a line is drawn under the work that already exists. The copy-editor has made recommendations; the author has considered them, made decisions; now LOTTERYLAND, GIVE GOD A CHANCE, YOU CAN TELL ME and their brothers can advance from 61,000 words, 21,000 words, 65,000 words &c to a state of completion.

I see five tables in a room in Chesterfield, each with a separate project - drafts, notes, clippings.
And I see a woman in Brooklyn at a table with a typescript and a bottle of Wite-out. In her hand she holds the cap to which is attached a narrow tube to which is attached a tiny brush.  She dips the brush in the bottle, she moves the brush across marks on the page. She dips the brush in the bottle, moves the brush across marks on  the page.  She does this hundreds of times. She puts the pages in an envelope and sends them to the typesetter.  There is a sentence in a contract but it has no power. There are books waiting for their endings but they have no power.  What does it take to connect the sentence in the contract with the woman in Brooklyn?

I see myself in an office in Midtown, putting a CD in the hand of the production manager.  A CD with software with which Greek and Japanese can be professionally typeset.  I see a girl in an office putting the CD in a drawer, importing the text into Quark, where it will cause problems for many many texts. I see too many things.

If you don't see the dead books, turning down a $525,000 deal looks strange. Looking obsessively for the right editor, the right agent, the ones who protect the books to come, looks strange. And if you have an actual living author sitting across the table from you in the Tik Tok diner, the chance that the body might have been at the bottom of a cliff in 2010 looks negligible. And getting Lightning Rods into print looks like a happy ending.

But this is stupid.  This is the behaviour of an addict.  I should do a programming course and think of other things.

Monday, December 19, 2011

the Cassandra Sydrome

The Last Samurai is, for the time being, well and truly out of print. Not because sales of a paltry few hundred a year had caused its publisher to lose heart. No. How to gesture at the situation without aggravating?

Faithful readers of pp may remember that I did not want to publish the book as a first novel, because a debut novelist is in a weak position; I thought permissions would be a nightmare, copy-editing would be a nightmare, typesetting would be a nightmare, and in short I felt I could do a better job of defending the book if I were in the position of, say, Salman Rushdie. Jonathan Burnham (editor), Steve Hutensky (friend who showed the book to Jonathan) and Larry Shire (lawyer recommended by Steve) pooh-poohed these fears to a man.  Suffice it to say that it was the fate of Cassandra never to be believed.

It's at times like this that the old Secondhand Sales Donation comes into its own.  New copies, as new copies, very good and good copies are available on Amazon Marketplace.  A very good copy, for example, is available from Bacobooks for just $2.50 plus $3.99 p&p.  Easiest thing in the world to buy this very good copy for a friend, send the author a $1 royalty-equivalent, and make TWO people happy. (Acceptable copies start at $0.24, but these are probably not gift-standard editions.)

Even when the book was in print, readers who generously sent a donation after buying the book secondhand were doing as much to pay the author's rent, and so give time to finish new books, as those who equally generously stumped up for a new copy.  So thank you, thank you all.  New readers can try out the PayPal button in the sidebar if so inclined.

How Shape Influences Strength

Rereading Alex Martelli, How Shape Influences Strength, Bridge World Jan & Feb 2000.

NS Tricks // N has 7222 // N has 7321

6 // 4019 // 4455
7 // 10778 //11089
8 // 14016 // 12307
9 // 10811 // 9886
10 // 5371 // 6146
11 // 2344 // 2869
12 // 532 // 1033
13 // 178 // 215

It is clear from this table [cd not work out how to use tabs in Blogger] that the variation is higher for the slightly more shapely hand, which fits in well with our intuition: A 7-3-2-1 hand is more likely than a 7-2-2-2 to meet with either a particularly unsuitable hand for partner (with wasted values opposite the singleton, perhaps holding the partnership to six or seven tricks) or a particularly suitable one (with values opposite the tripleton, often allowing the partnership to take from 10 to 13 tricks.)

I used to think that anyone who had seen hundreds of books published would have a bridgeplayer's sense of fit; would see that writers rarely have balanced hands, so that a fit with an agent or editor is likely to be very good or very bad.

It seems not to work that way. There are disciplines, cultures that value intellectual elegance and economy. A serious bridgeplayer does not have to explain the value of elegance to his peers. A programmer does not have to explain the value of elegance to other programmers. A mathematician does not have to explain the value of elegance to mathematicians. Explanation comes into play only when one deals with what dance schools call beginners and improvers. Whereas.

Over the last 15 years I have had conversations with many, many people in the industry. Mainly agents and editors, but also accountants, lawyers, designers, production managers, publicists, marketers, booksellers - the number of people who have to get paid out of the cover price of a book is not small. These conversations have certain features in common.  Blank looks. Incomprehension. Disbelief. Comment: 'I've dealt with hundreds of authors, and no one has ever wanted this before.'

So I think it may be necessary to do something else.  I thought I might be happier in IT, but the programmers I know have not been very helpful in suggesting entry-level jobs.  It may be best to go back to London and work again as a legal secretary for a few years; if I had an evening job I might do a BSc. during the day. It's possible that a public blog will turn out to be incompatible with that sort of job, in which case pp may have to go offliine. We'll see.

(Martelli, by the way, is also a member of the Python Software Foundation, author of Python in a Nutshell and co-editor of The Python Cookbook. Wikipedia: 'According to Martelli's self-evaluation, his proudest achievement is the articles that appeared in The Bridge World (January/February 2000), which were hailed as giant steps towards solving issues that had haunted contract-bridge theoreticians for decades.' If you are a writer who is haunted by the kind of issue that bothers contract-bridge theoreticians, you are probably in the wrong line of work.)

How do we get back, from those average numbers of tricks taken by the partnership, call it P, to the "strength of North's hand," call it N? Well, if we knew N, we would estimate P through the forumla, P = N plus one-third (of 13 minus N), because, by symmetry, on average partner's hand can be taken as supplying one-third of the "remaining" tricks, 13 minus N.  From that equation, it follows that
N = (1.5 times P) minus 6.5

Applying this to the earlier values (7222 Average 8.26 and 7321 Average 8.33 yields hand-strength estimates of 5.90 for Hand 7222 and 6.00 for Hand 7321.

How can Hand 7222, that will surely take six tricks itself, be worth a bit less than six tricks in this scale?  Because the hand-strength values were computed under the assumption that the ratings of th North and South hands would be added to produce a partnership total.  When North holds 7=2=2=2, his shape will (on average) destroy some of the values that South will count on.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

nomina nuda tenemus

Went to Paris at the beginning of the month to give a talk at the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University in Paris.  Elena Devos, a Russian poet who has translated two of my stories, very kindly let me stay for several days after this engagement; we walked around one day with her husband Ludo and 7-year-old son Nico, and came upon the Librairie Polonaise/Ksiegarnia Polska at 123 boulevard Saint-Germain.

We went in and looked around. I thought that if I had an audiobook in Polish and the text to go with it this might help me get a feel for Polish.  They had a few audiobooks, including one of The Name of the Rose (Imię Róży), the text of which was also available in Polish translation.  In a less imperfect world I would have been able to get an audiobook of Bajki robotów, but I couldn't, and the Eco translation seemed a reasonable place to start.

Have just been playing CD1 on my laptop, and it is FABULOUS.  In the voice of the reader, Krzysztof Gosztyła, the language is like whisky and dark chocolate. The audiobook does exactly what I had hoped an audiobook would do: it gets me past the glamorous words on the page to the sound of the sentences (no less glamorous, it turns out, than the text). 

The audiobook is available from noir sur blanc ( A steal at 31.43 zlotys. The text is available in volume form or as ebook.

As so often, I see that life would be easier if I had moved over to WordPress years ago.  It may be possible to upload an mp3 file on Blogger, but if so I'm not sure how. Have therefore posted a brief extract on pp's WordPress sibling, here. (Hoping this will not outrage noir sur blanc, as the extract can only encourage listeners to buy the whole thing.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tyler Cowen at MR, linking here:

Coffee shops around the world have employed loyalty card schemes for many years, but now we’ve come across an interesting twist on the idea. In Singapore, a collaborate scheme aims to benefit eight of the city’s best independent cafés with the Be Disloyal disloyalty card.
The Be Disloyal disloyalty card — created by digital creative agency Antics, blogger and eight of Singapore’s independent coffee shops — was designed to encourage consumers to discover different coffee venues while bringing businesses together to grow as a vertical. From September until the end of this month customers can pick up a disloyalty card from one of the eight participating cafés. The card is stamped each time they purchase a coffee from one of the other seven cafés and, once the card is full, they return to the original café to receive their free coffee.
Competing with large chain brands can be difficult for small businesses, but teaming up with similar smaller companies can create stronger competition. Inspiration here for independent businesses in any industry!
 model, maybe, for indie bookstores . . .

xmas is coming

Have just been talking to my publicist.  Lightning Rods has had very good reviews, many interviews were given, but sales are a few significant figures short of a zillion.  Unsurprisingly, to my mind - I am always astounded that ANYBODY buys hardback books.  I never do if I can avoid it.  I pointed this out to Tom, who admitted that he too never bought books in hard cover.  The problem is, I gather, that if a book is not published as a hardback it is hard to get it reviewed at all. So reviews come out and readers, for the most part, do what any rational person would do in the circumstances - they wait for the paperback.

This IS rational insofar as it enables the buyer to read the book at a lower price in convenient portable form. Having said that, the readers who have bought the book early on are doing more than buying a book: they are sending a message, via our friends at Nielsen Bookscan, to publishers who might think of publishing the author's next book.  (The timing of this message is, obviously, not irrelevant to date of publication of author's next book. This is, in turn, not irrelevant to the sort of reader who does not want to read a book in PDF.) 

Lightning Rods is not necessarily a safe bet as a Christmas gift (if your mother is like my mother, she will hate the book). Still, if you have a friend or friends who love the books your mother hates, this could be the perfect choice.  If you are a cash-strapped undergraduate, you could club together with one or more cash-strapped friends, buy a copy, and laugh loudly in public places (while, obviously, reading the book) - preferably places frequented by people rich enough to buy a hardback copy for themselves.

Review in NY Times by Jennifer Szalai, here.
Review by Garth Risk Hallberg at the Millions, here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Think about it: Almost 40 percent of Amazon’s customers, according to this poll, have added a complicated step (the time-consuming and not-without-expense process of going to a bookstore) to the simplicity of Amazon’s buying process. Maybe it’s because they don’t want a book with a dinger on it, or they want to see the quality of the paper or art reproduction. Maybe they want to ask a clerk about it. Maybe they want to be sure they don’t get stuck with another print-on-demand copy that looks like a piece of shit when it arrives. Maybe it’s because “Look Inside the Book” just isn’t the same as flipping through a real book. Whatever. Almost 40 percent of Amazon’s book-buying customers have rejected something fundamental to Amazon, which is the concept of buying something sight unseen. And indeed, according to this poll 40 percent of Amazon’s business thus relies on brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Dennis Johnson of MobyLives, the rest here 

I remember meeting Dan Frank of Pantheon in the Random House lobby about a year ago; the lobby had floor-to-ceiling shelves displaying books published by RH imprints over the decades.  It seemed odd at the time that they were not using the space to sell current books in print; if they are not allowed to use the space for retail, presumably they could at least use it to facilitate the sort of thing DJ describes.  (But can it really be the case that they can't sell their own books?  Apple has an Apple Store. Prada has a Prada store. Strange.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

First rule of Fight Club

♦ Contract provisions

This one seems obvious, but many authors don’t realize how many things are covered in their contract and hence are subject to the contract’s confidentiality clause. Any of the following are typically off-limits for discussion (public or otherwise) unless you have your publisher’s permission to disclose.
  • Amount of your advance
  • Advance payout schedule
  • Royalty rates
  • Author buyback discount
  • Number of free author copies you receive
  • Anything else specifically covered in your contract!

Rachelle Gardner

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Odontogriphus omalus was an early slug-like mollusk, related to the more heavily armored Wiwaxia. 

Life Before Dinosaurs

Friday, December 9, 2011

Trying to answer some questions, including one about cuts in review sections in print media. I check in on some blogs and find this on Rajiv Sethi:

The very first book on economics that I remember reading was Robert Heilbroner's majesterial history of thought The Worldly Philosophers. I'm sure that I'm not the only person who was drawn to the study of economics by that wonderfully lucid work. Heilbroner managed to convey the complexity of the subject matter, the depth of the great ideas, and the enormous social value that the discipline at its best is capable of generating.

I was reminded of Heilbroner's book by Robert Solow's review of Sylvia Nasar's Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius. Solow begins by arguing that the book does not quite deliver on the promise of its subtitle, and then goes on to fill the gap by providing his own encapsulated history of ideas. Like Heilbroner before him, he manages to convey with great lucidity the essence of some pathbreaking contributions. I was especially struck by the following passages on Keynes: [the rest here]

Which illustrates one of the points I wanted to make - in the blogosphere reviewers are not constrained by word count, or by an editor's sense of the level of specialization readers can cope with.  And reviews can be reviewed, or recommended.

I've only written two reviews for print media, and each time I was told to write something under 500 words. Getting my thoughts on the book down from 1000+ words to 500- took 50% of the time.

J-P Sartre Cookbook

October 10

I find myself trying ever more radical interpretations of traditional dishes, in an effort to somehow express the void I feel so acutely. Today I tried this recipe:
Tuna Casserole

Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.
While a void is expressed in this recipe, I am struck by its inapplicability to the bourgeois lifestyle. How can the eater recognize that the food denied him is a tuna casserole and not some other dish? I am becoming more and more frustrated.

Woods lot
got it from
Nag on the Lake
who got it from

Saturday, December 3, 2011

one last interview . . .

with Brian Feinblum of Planned Television Arts, here

Thursday, December 1, 2011

chess à trois

There is a rule sheet (next page), but you can start playing without it and refer to it as needed.  Basically, three sets of pieces (the same sets as in conventional Chess) border each other on the outer two ranks of the round board.  Since the "rows" are now concentric circles, a Rook may rotate around the entire board - [!!!!! -- the perfect Xmas upgrade] or move straight across the board passing through the center.  There is no space to occupy in the center, you simply pass through it.  By the nature of the board, diagonal moves "bend" toward and may rotate through the center.  The "trajectory" lines on the board are only visual aids to help you see and plan possible diagonal moves.  Diagonal moves such as a Bishop, may rotate through the center but cannot rotate through (or bounce off) the outer rank in one move.  There are "Moats" between each team on the outer rank.  They are necessary to keep Rooks from capturing each other on the first move. These Moats may become bridged if the outer rank between two teams becomes vacant.  Also, there are Creeks that run two ranks toward the center off each Moat.  The Creeks only purpose is that a Pawn cannot diagonally capture across the Creek (it must first be past the Creek).

Hat Tip MR. Ordering and more information here.