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A Swede in Germany

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Further reading tips: Facing Reality

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Since beginning my series of further reading tips a few months ago, I have not managed to add one single entry. (Also see excursion.) Time for a change:

Yesterday, I discovered a 2021 book by Charles Murray, “Facing Reality”, which had flown under my radar and which I highly recommend to those naive* on topics like “systemic racism” and U.S. demographics, or, more generally, naive on how much of the various “narratives” is out of touch with reality, with the actual facts and statistics at hand, with what actual science says, etc.

*My recurring readers are unlikely to find much new in terms of the big picture and the main ideas, but might find something new in detail. They might certainly still benefit from the data sets and additional references. (Points where I tend to be very weak for reasons of time and motivation.) Similarly, those familiar with Murray’s other works and/or works by similar authors might recognize the big picture and the main ideas.

It is a short but valuable read, gives considerable data (e.g. on crime) and analysis of data showing that claims about e.g. (pro-White/anti-Black) “systemic racism” are quite incorrect, and contains discussions about e.g. why “identity politics” and “intersectionality” are fundamentally flawed ideas (view individuals as individuals—do not define them by what groups they belong to). A key observation is that disparities in treatment and outcomes arise mainly from differences in behavior—not racism or racial discrimination. (No, you were not arrested because that cop was a racist pig. You were arrested because you robbed someone.) Often, the disparities arise despite pro-Black racial discrimination, notably with regard to college admissions.

The data is repeatedly combined with information on incorrect perceptions, e.g. that many overestimate the proportion of Blacks and Latinos* in the population very considerably, which gives a flawed baseline for any further thought on the matter. (Also note e.g. parts of [1], where I discuss some potential consequences of such incorrect perceptions, and an analogous situation for exaggerated COVID beliefs.) Generally, the issue of comparing against the right baseline is important, not just in the sense of knowing the right values but of actually picking the right one, for example, in that local rates must be measured against local circumstances, like local demographics, not the national ones. (My own go-to example is to compare e.g. arrest rates with what proportions of criminals belong to what group, not what proportions of the overall population.)

*Presumably, used in the same or almost the same sense as “Hispanics” in e.g. “The Bell Curve”. Note that he later switches to non-standard labels for various groups, including a plain “Latin” for Latinos/Hispanics.

Other contents include discussions of IQ, differences in IQ distributions between groups,* and disparities between common prejudice about IQ and what science says on the topic; how Blacks are admitted to college based on laxer criteria than Whites and Asians, and the negative consequences thereof; how job performance can differ between groups and must be factored in when we look at e.g. career success; the damage done to science and journalism by the restrictions that the current anti-intellectual far-Left climate imposes; and the potential harm from the many blanket accusations of racism. The latter includes a “Damned if you do; damned if you don’t” situation for retailers, who might have the choice between not servicing some neighborhoods (“Racist!”), hiking up prices to compensate for the greater rate of shop-lifting (“Racist!”), and taking a loss.

*As usual, any such references to groups refer to distributions, averages, and whatnot—not individuals.

The extensive notes include some interesting things too, apart from significant data and references, e.g. that “stereotype threat” would be more-or-less debunked by now. (Entirely unsurprising to me, seeing that this is how it tends to go with Leftist and/or social-science miracle explanations, but I had not hitherto heard of the debunking.)

A few important big-picture quotes:*

*Note that an ePub-to-text translation and later integration in my text might have led to e.g. formatting changes.

I DECIDED TO WRITE this book in the summer of 2020 because of my dismay at the disconnect between the rhetoric about “systemic racism” and the facts. The uncritical acceptance of that narrative by the nation’s elite news media amounted to an unwillingness to face reality.

By facts, I mean what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan meant: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.” By reality, I mean what the science fiction novelist Philip Dick meant: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

At the heart of identity politics is the truth that “who we are” as individuals is importantly shaped by our race and sex. I’ve been aware of that truth as I wrote this book — my perspective as a straight White male has affected the text, sometimes consciously and sometimes inadvertently. But identity politics does not limit itself to acknowledging the importance of race and sex to our personae. The core premise of identity politics is that individuals are inescapably defined by the groups into which they were born — principally (but not exclusively) by race and sex — and that this understanding must shape our politics.

I am also aware of a paradox: I want America to return to the ideal of treating people as individuals, so I have to write a book that treats Americans as groups. But there’s no way around it. Those of us who want to defend the American creed have been unwilling to say openly that races have significant group differences. Since we have been unwilling to say that, we have been defenseless against claims that racism is to blame for unequal outcomes. What else could it be? We have been afraid to answer candidly.

Over the last decade, on many campuses, the idea that a scholar’s obligation is to search for the truth has become disreputable — seen as only a cover for scholarship that is racist, sexist, or heteronormative. Scholars are criticized not for the quality of their work but for its failure to advance the cause of social justice. Work seen as hostile to that cause is met with calls for the scholar’s dismissal.

On the downside, Murray is still either too cowardly, too naive, or too conciliatory towards Leftist readers to get the full point out. For instance, he repeatedly writes as if there were a problem with extremism on the “Right”* of a similar size to that on the Left, which is utter bullshit. In as far as there are problems on the “Right”, they (a) are far smaller than the problems on the Left, (b) are often caused by the behavior of the Left (note a number of earlier texts, e.g. [2]), (c) tendentially concern groups with very little in common with the rest of the “Right” (cf. footnote*). Similarly, he repeatedly mentions existing (but non-systemic) racism, without proof of a non-trivial presence and without acknowledging that any such racism in today’s U.S. seems to tilt strongly anti-White, anti-Asian (by Blacks—not Whites), and/or pro-Black. Similarly, he takes an attitude that amounts to “it is a problem that people jump to conclusions about individuals based on crime rates”, where the far better attitude would be “it is a problem that people deny differences between groups in light of non-negative experiences with individuals”—or, for that matter, “it is a problem that those who are aware of crime rates are maligned for taking sensible precautions”.** Then there is his old and ignorant chestnut that “If Whites Adopt Identity Politics, Disaster Follows” (actual heading), for which he has yet to deliver any good arguments, where he fails to recognize that this, or rather a pro-White attitude,*** might become a necessity of self-defense if current trends continue, and where he ignores the importance of Whites to carry current U.S. society. Moreover, it repeats the Leftist fallacy that the kid who does get mad after being exposed to “Not touching! Can’t get mad!” would be at fault. Generally, he seems to be extremely naive and/or ignorant of the actual “Right” and, in parts, seems hooked on a Leftist narrative about the “Right” in a manner that he has warned others against in other areas.

*I re-iterate my observations that (a) the “Right”, unlike the Left, is too heterogeneous to be a meaningful grouping, (b) the “far Right” is not a more extreme version of the rest of the “Right”, unlike the far Left relative the Left.

**He partially re-addresses this theme in a more intelligent manner later in the book, and makes up for some of this misstep.

***The phrase “identity politics” has much farther-going connotations and involves other aspects than race, e.g. sex and sexual orientation.

Excursion on other reading tips:
As a part of my general backlog problem, I never seem to get around to the reading tips, and the problem is made the worse by a fading memory that would often necessitate a re-read before the actual writing. I will attempt a policy of making write-ups of “new” books immediately, and will address “old” books, even if more valuable, only if and when I have sufficient time and energy.

Excursion on Wikipedia:
To my surprise, I did not find any link to this book on Wikipedia.* However, I did visit the article about Murray, and found it in an inexcusable state, giving further support to my wish to avoid (English) Wikipedia. Most notably, right in the lede, it has the audacity to claim, in the context of “The Bell Curve”, that belief in genetic influence on group difference in IQ is “a view that is now considered discredited by mainstream science.”—which is extremely contrafactual. Among the sparse sources for this claim we find e.g. an article in the Guardian… This claim is the more problematic as (a) it is irrelevant to the main points of “The Bell Curve”, (b) its otherwise pointless inclusion in the lede indicates an attempt to discredit/defame Murray and/or “The Bell Curve” at an early stage,** (c) it could be interpreted by many readers to imply that IQ is not heritable (in general), which would be outrageously wrong. Wikipedia, plainly and simply, has turned into a hell-hole of far-Left reality distortion and propaganda—paralleling the issues with academia.

*Nor my current replacement, Infogalactic, which would follow naturally from its datedness problem. I have yet to make a thorough search for other potential Wikipedia replacements.

**Of which the Left has a long history, making book and author, themselves, an area where the uninformed masses have a radically wrong impression, in a manner similar to how the masses often have a radically wrong impression of “systemic racism”.


Written by michaeleriksson

January 31, 2023 at 10:54 pm

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Writing as stimulation of thought

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As a meta-reflection, one of the greatest reasons that I* write is how it can stimulate my thoughts and, notably, in a manner that does not end with the writing of the text. (But, on the contrary, can lead to new texts that are follow-ups or spin-offs of a first text, or, while not formally connected, arose as a consequence of it.) This applies in particular to topics where I have a comparatively undeveloped point of view, as there can be much to reflect upon that never occurred to me prior to writing a text. As a related benefit, I also find myself paying more attention to portions of new information that relate to the topics of recent texts, which can give me a more nuanced perspective on the areas and issues at hand.**

*The general idea is likely to apply to very many others too, but I can only speak for myself.

**The difference in take-away when e.g. reading a newspaper article can be large depending on what details seem important and unimportant, what aspects draw the eye, etc.

A good example is the development of music. While I have, of course, spent time thinking about music in the past, it has usually related to music-as-such. In November, however, I wrote a text ([1]; incidentally, it self a spin-off of [2]) partially dealing with the development of music in the 20th century. In the week or so following, I was struck by a number of other ideas in the same area that had always been there for the grasping, but which had gone ungrasped. Consider e.g. the increased tendency to put in a beat by explicit percussion instead of emphasis through the “regular” instruments,* the lessening importance of solo performances relative group performance and how this might change musical choices,** and the move from performance of “standards”, including how a good new song could soon see covers by everyone and his uncle, to predominantly music written to be performed by a single act. The last, maybe, with an additional move from early songwriting-by-the-performers to later songwriting-by-specialists, which to some degree goes in the other direction, but also, and more importantly, points to a very important overall trend—that the “faces” are often interchangeable marionettes, while the true creative control lies elsewhere.***/**** For a completely different angle, I found myself questioning the degree to which more “sophisticated” types of music were representative of the music of old: Is, say, a young woman playing classical music on a piano to entertain her family the better image—or a rural square dance? Or something else altogether? If we go with something more “folksy”, might I then have underestimated the influence of the beat in [1] or overestimated the change in how beat is kept mentioned above? (To the last, I note that movie scenes depicting older “folksy” music often have a strong explicit beat, if need be kept by tapping or stomping with feet.)

*To the point that some genres might use percussion in a manner semi-detached from the overall music.

**Relating largely to the move from “make your own kind of music” to passively listening to music. Note that there are plenty of nominal solo acts in today’s commercial music, but that these rarely engage in solo performances.

***Yes, the big stars of today often have control, but mostly because of their brand value. That they originally achieved stardom was often dependent on being fed the right hits early in their careers—and I suspect that many a one-hit wonder arose from recording a designated hit as a first single, failing to be cooperative enough with the record company, and not receiving any further designated hits. Equally, there is a long history of bands being created by someone (note e.g. the Monkees and Boney M.) and of individual artists becoming stars through promotion, but the sheer proportion today is ridiculous (albeit, partially hidden through alibi mechanisms like “American Idol”).

****This could include some more subtle differences. For instance, I suspect that some who would have been big-band leaders in the 1930s might have sought careers as record producers today (and vice versa).

(Note the “for the grasping” aspect in the examples: These are not revolutionary insights, nor insights that necessarily require much thought, nor insights that are beyond extensive revision—they are simply some of what I found through walking down a sideroad that I had never walked down before.)

More generally, I often find that just spending some time thinking about a topic/subject/field/problem/whatnot can make an enormous difference in understanding, in seeing new perspectives, in finding possible improvements, etc. This thinking need not even be an intense mental exercise—it can be a casual thought here and a casual thought there, spread out over days or weeks.

In particular, I reiterate my observation that what we read, hear, whatnot, is just food for thought—we still have to do the thinking/digesting ourselves to benefit from the food. (With corollaries like the risk that someone well-read lacks a commensurate understanding through not having spent enough time thinking. This particular problem appears to be extremely common…) However, having such food for thought is important and writing, at least to me, is indirectly a source: when I write, I constantly look things up, ranging from the etymology and exact meaning of some word, over a fact-check, to various readings on related topics, often based on Internet searches—and because I, on average, read with more of a purpose* when writing than I ordinarily do, the effect in terms of thought is the greater. Unfortunately, this benefit has been lessened over time, in part through the disappearance of a phase that used to come after the actual writing: once upon a time, the “tag” links of W-rdpr-ss lead to global listings of texts with the same tag, which gave an excellent opportunity to read what others had thought on the same or related topics (and which was a decent source of traffic). Unfortunately, years ago, W-rdpr-ss changed these links to just go to a blog-specific page.**

*A good trick in general is to find some more specific purpose to read, e.g. to replace a “I am interested in field X” with “I am looking for answers to the questions A, B, and C”. However, this should be used with some caution, as a negative side-effect can be a too narrow focus and that too much outside A, B, and C is missed.

**As part of a recurring issue in the world of software and the Internet over the last one or two decades: What is good is killed off, what is bad is kept, and what is added is skewed heavily towards the bad to begin with.

Nevertheless, writing usually provides a greater stimulation and a greater need to think than does reading, be it reading in general or reading-for-the-purpose-of-writing. Reasons include that holes and contradictions in own prior thought become more obvious, that there is a greater need to consider details, that thoughts are pursued for longer, that thoughts on different aspects of a topic and different perspectives of an issue are considered together with a higher likelihood, etc. Describing something can also make vaguer and more abstract parts become clearer and more concrete—as just happened with the thoughts of the previous sentence. (To continue the digestion analogy, writing could be seen as better way to ensure digestion than merely reading.)

Excursion on writing and “undeveloped point of view”:
To expand on “undeveloped point of view”, these are strongly contributing reasons for why I have no qualms about writing about such a wide range of topics. Mostly, I turn out to be at least approximately right,* but even when my understanding happens to be outright wrong, not just incomplete or simplistic, when I begin to write, it might be correct when I stop—and if it is still wrong when I stop, it might be correct the next time around. Without the writing, my error might not be in print, but it would be likely to survive for much longer. By analogy, should a gym-goer go in order to show off what muscles and strength he already has—or in order to improve them? (However, in all fairness, the same does not seem to apply to a great many others: they begin wrong and they remain wrong, whether they write or not. They form an opinion once and then stick with that opinion no matter what new data and arguments are presented.)

*I also depressingly often find that when I was wrong, it was because I made too kind assumptions about others, e.g. in terms of intelligence, professionalism, fairness, whatnot. An important special case is being too uncritical of news reporting and claims by politicians—and that this can happen even to someone like me shows how large the problems in that area are.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 17, 2023 at 1:21 pm

Reading and thinking / Follow-up: Profound vs. trite

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In an excursion to a recent text, I wrote that:

A reason for my scepticism towards e.g. business studies and social sciences is that I, when reading such materials, often find myself raising issues like “this cannot be true—consider X”, “but what about special case Y?”, “important observation Z immediately follows—why is there no mention of this?” only to see the book address X, Y, and Z a few pages later on—and in a manner that makes it clear that the author is now teaching the reader something that he could not expect to figure out on his own.

(Footnote removed.)

Looking at harder sciences, the situation is usually better (if less so today than in the past, cf. below). I have, for instance, always tended to think ahead, put claims to scrutiny, whatnot with math books too—but with math this seems to be not just allowed or welcomed but outright expected by the authors.* Indeed, most math books relegate pieces of reasoning entirely to exercises and/or add exercises to make the reader expand on his knowledge and understanding on his own. In math, we are supposed to think for ourselves; in business (to some degree) and social sciences (to a high degree), we are all too often supposed to just accept the Revealed Wisdom.

*Beyond a certain border, maybe somewhere during high school. (To specify the border would require considerable research; it might vary from time to time, country to country, and field to field; and it must be seen as an average over many authors.) There might or might not be a similar border in any other given field, but, with reservation for math adjacent fields, it is then far further up the years.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a general trend for the worse in most fields, math included, likely as a result of continual dumbing down and the acceptance of evermore students into college or specific college programs who are not actually college material resp. sufficiently strong for the specific program. An increasing assumption seems to be that the reader/student/whatnot simply does not have the brains to master something without being led by the hand.* In particular, the obsession with lectures and teachers is depressing—two tools to reach education, knowledge, and understanding that are highly inefficient, yet remain ubiquitous.**

*Leaving the question aside, whether this type of “mastery” truly deserves the name, as the ability to create new knowledge, to apply old knowledge to new problems, to understand unaided a book on the topic, and similar is likely to be far more developed in those who have proved themselves on a harder road.

**The claim “there are no bad students—there are only bad teachers” is pretty much the reverse of the truth. A bright and motivated student with a good book can learn despite the teacher, barring the possibility that the teacher kills his motivation or otherwise outright sabotages him; a dull one can hardly be taught much beyond rote learning, even should he be motivated.

It might be argued that many books of yore* took the issue of understandability too lightly, put a burden of thought on the reader that excluded too many, and made the journey unnecessarily hard for the included.** However, today’s books err on the other side, and are often “premasticated” to such a degree that little thinking is needed, which hampers the development of a deeper understanding. Worse, those who do enjoy to think can see the opportunity to do so diminished. There is also often a shift from time spent thinking to time spent reading, which removes much of the time that could have been saved (at the cost of inferior understanding), e.g. in that a book of old might require one minute of reading and two minutes of thinking (for some amount of content), while a newer book might require two minutes of reading and one of thinking—or, worse, three minutes of reading and none of thinking. Then there is the issue of half-truths, “lying to students”, etc.

*Here, too, I cannot give a specific border, but in a very rough guestimate, the 19th century and earlier might have been too low on understandability, most of the 20th was “just right”, while the latter parts of the 20th century and onwards have been too dumbed down and simplistic.

**Note that this often included a shift of brainpower from understanding the underlying matter to deciphering the text qua text. (I realize that I am not the ideal thrower of the first stone, but sometimes stones still should be thrown.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 15, 2022 at 10:42 pm

Done with Stephen King

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As the recurring reader might have noticed, I have a complicated reader’s relationship to Stephen King. He was, for a few years,* my favorite author and, even after I grew out of his type of writing, I occasionally revisited one of his books or, even, read something new.** Indeed, his effect on me during those years was so large that I was left with an almost morbid fascination that lasts till this day.

*To say exactly what years is tricky, after so long a time, but something like 11–17 or 10–16 seems approximately right.

**For some discussion of my 2018 re-readings of “Carrie” and “Rage”, see Stephen King and school shootings. Going by King’s bibliography on Wikipedia, the previously newest novel that I read was likely “From a Buick 8” (2002), with at least one later short-story collection, “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams” (2015). (Note that my actual reading might not have been in the year of publication, however.)

Recently, I became aware that “Doctor Sleep” (2013) was a sequel to “The Shining” (1977) and decided to first re-read the latter and then read the former.

With my more adult eye, “The Shining” proved weirdly encouraging and disappointing at the same time. I particularly re-iterate my observation that King’s works are often better when they do not dabble with the supernatural. Take “The Shining”, cut out the actual shining, cut out the ghosts,* the evilness of the hotel, and the whatnot, and focus on an alcoholic and, maybe, schizophrenic caretaker, Jack Torrance, isolated in the deepest Colorado winter with his wife and son (Dan), as he slowly descends into madness—and there is a book. With King’s talent, had he truly tried to write that book, he could have achieved something great, something notable for more than entertainment value and sales numbers, something in competition for serious book prices. He chose not to.

*In the sense of actual manifestations. A presence as some type of hallucination, limited to Jack, might have worked well.

On with “Doctor Sleep”: As far as entertainment goes it was not bad, being more exiting than and quite different from “The Shining”. However, there were very few traces of something “literary”, the book felt much more mechanical, and I found myself disappointed in the near-absence of the hotel and the underlying evil.* The AA theme and the alcoholic** experiences of Dan Torrance were an interesting contrast to Jack in “The Shining”, but simultaneously a little depressing. To boot, I have read sufficiently much negative about AA over the years that I cannot deny a considerable scepticism. Even as it is written (as opposed to how I would have liked it written), “The Shining” might be remembered down the years for its (pop-)cultural importance. I doubt that the same will apply to “Doctor Sleep”.

*The hotel had been blown up at the end of “The Shining”, but the evil behind might have survived, a new hotel might have been built on the same spot, or similar. The low presence of the hotel and the previous characters, barring Dan, even raises some doubts as to whether “sequel” is a good description, or whether e.g. “spin-off” might be closer to the truth.

**King, himself, had a massive drinking problem in his younger years, and alcoholism is a common theme in his books. The alcoholic writer of Jack Torrance was also more interesting to me as a reader, with an eye on King, than the AA-going hospice worker Dan Torrance.

I thought to maybe give a few other books a chance, notably “It” (1986), which I had read twice in my youth and remembered for its complex overall story and the telling of events in both the adult and pre- or early teen lives of the heroes. After some hundred pages (I did not note the exact position), I gave up. On the upside, it was a good example of how adding detail can add life to a story and make it easier to connect with characters. On the downside, there was an enormous amount of dead weight resulting from this addition. This includes pages spent introducing the adult Stan Uris and his wife—only to have him commit suicide and the two (presumably) leave the story.* Much of the rest of the book (up to where I stopped) could have been compressed very considerably without losing anything.

*The child version of Stan was not yet, or only very cursorily, introduced. Of course, the timeline of the child versions of the heroes would contain more of Stan, but I doubt that the pages spent on the adult Stan brought much to that. (The suicide, as such, can be justified as a demonstration of the horror of It, and as a foreboding of things to come, but why spend so many words leading up to the suicide?)

What really depressed me, however, was the constant harping on various themes like “evil heteros harass gays”, “evil Whites are mean to Jews”, “evil husbands beat up their wives”, and whatnot.* This matches exactly the type of hateful and reality distorting propaganda that the Left pushes so hard today, to give e.g. ignorant voters a worldview that does not match reality to make them vote for the Left to combat all those “evil [whatnot]”, while they are just fighting fake spectres. (This is a common approach by, above all, Leftist TV makers. Also note a recent text on, among other things, false threats.)

*Of course there are evil heteros who harass gays (etc.)—the point is the proportions found in real life versus fiction and here King went from one group of evil whatnots to the next, again and again. The greatest benefit of a doubt that I can extend is that he tried to somehow relate or compare-and-contrast real-life evils with the fictional supernatural evil of It, but (a) he could have chosen better and less stereotypical targets (notably, relating to the great amounts of violence, hate mongering, and whatnot which has come from portions of the U.S. Left since no later than the 1960s), (b) he was not very successful, (c) cheap agenda-pushing is a more economical and “Occam’s Razor-y” explanation. In a twist, much of the evil in the real world arises from exactly this type of portrayal and the, usually, artificial division of the world into evil oppressors and innocent victims, “us vs. them” thinking, etc.

Indeed, it was around half-way through the much, much too long introduction of the adult Beverly and her husband Tom (who is likely not seen in the remainder of the book), which consisted mostly of him manipulating and beating her, that I first skipped ahead to the next character/chapter, and then, a few pages later, thought better of it and simply stopped reading. I have better things to do with my time.

This sentiment, “I have better things to do with my time” likely applies to most of his other works too, and will be my policy for the foreseeable future.

As much as I loved his books during that time of, maybe, 11–17, and as much as the decision to prioritize money-making is his to make, I cannot but regret the waste of talent. I genuinely believe that King could have been one of the greatest “serious” authors of our time, had he focused on that, with less supernatural components, shorter books with less dead weight, and, maybe,* more short stories.

*Just like I see his non-supernatural writing as better than his supernatural, I consider him stronger as a short-story writer than as a novelist. The “maybe” arises because his output of short stories is already quite considerable relative most other authors.

Excursion on my youth as a King reader:
A great sign of how young I was when I first read King, is that I, already a fan, was greatly puzzled by the librarian who spoke of (pronunciation-wise) “Steven King” where I had assumed a “Steppen King” or, maybe, “Step-hen King”. There I was, holding one of King’s books, and having read several more in the past—and replying with “Who?” when asked whether I liked “Steven” King’s works. (Teaching of English as a second language begins in 4th grade in Sweden. The pronunciation of “ph” might not have been the top priority, but it is bound to have shown up at a somewhat early stage. Ditto variations of how “e” is pronounced.)

Written by michaeleriksson

November 18, 2022 at 6:24 pm

Further reading tips: Introduction

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A while back, I wrote a text titled Reading tips for the prospective voter ([1]) (with self-explanatory contents). I will complement [1] with a text series of further tips, usually dealing with one work or author at a time.

For this text series, I will (at least to begin with!) be guided by some principles discussed in [1]:*

*[1] also contains more information of my intents with that text. Note that those intents do not necessarily extend to later reading tips.

[…]it is my intention to give books sufficiently short and sufficiently easy to read that they can be considered conscionable in terms of effort even for weaker readers and thinkers, but simultaneously sufficiently interesting and informative as to bring value even to the stronger.

In addition, I re-iterate that:

I do not ask that the reader/voter agree with these books. (Indeed, while I am, myself, mostly in agreement with my own recommendations,* I do not necessarily agree with them on any given individual point.) The important part is to think and to think hard, to understand the books, and to gain new or more nuanced insights, even should these insights not match what the author and/or I might have intended.

*This held for the recommendations given at the time. While it will likely hold for most future recommendations too, exceptions may well occur. It might even be that I, at some point, recommend some work that I strongly disagree with, if there is enough food for thought, a sufficient know-your-enemy aspect, or similar.

Generally, it does not matter how many books we read, but how much thinking we put in. Reading more is ultimately just a way to get more food-for-thought into the mental digestive system, and those who just spew back out, undigested, what they have read, may well remain as mentally undernourished as the bulimic, who does the same with food, is physically undernourished. Similarly, reading more “intellectual” material brings no improvement unless accompanied by actual thought in the reader. (It is amazing how many get this wrong, even among those nominally highly educated and those having intellectual aspirations.)

Note on background:
Between the publishing of [1] and of the current text, I sought out or accidentally encountered a number of other books that were worthy candidates, which I intended to include in a single second text with reading tips.

However: (a) my large backlog has delayed the writing of this second text; (b) I always seem to have some new book that I would like to include (implying that I might already need a third or even a fourth text to cover them all); and (c) I have by now forgotten so much of the details* of the early books that I might need to at least skim them again in order to write something sensible.

*Note again the importance of thinking: read to understand the ideas and the argumentation around them, to form your own opinion of them, to remember them, to have inspiration for own thought, and to improve your overall understanding of the topic of hand—not to memorize what idea or argument originated where. Once you understand something, it rarely matters when and where you read it. (Unfortunately, giving reading tips is one of the exceptions.)

Correspondingly, I decided to take a different approach by writing an individual text for each individual “worthy” entry (not necessarily book) that I encounter from here on out, as well as trying to, over time, work through the backlog of already encountered books. (And maybe to include some further books from past knowledge, if time and motivation allows it.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 2, 2022 at 9:54 pm

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Issues with downloading and publishing books / Follow-up: Problems with books in the public domain

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As I noted a few years ago ([1]):

We live in a world where great amounts of text, including by many great past authors, are in the public domain and also actually available on the Internet.

I still find myself constantly frustrated. Part of the benefit is removed by (often entirely unnecessary or arbitrary) artificial restrictions. Sometimes, all of it is removed.

A few additional words, both as a reader and as an author:

  1. When possible, I strongly prefer to read e-books on my computer—not on e.g. a separate e-book reader or on a smartphone. For these purposes, I prefer PDF, as PDF (when done correctly!) preserves the original formatting of a printed book better than other formats and gives a more pleasant reading experience (less strain on the eyes, better readability, whatnot) than other popular formats.*

    *A secondary reason is that Linux is weak in support of other formats, which can lead to suboptimal display, the need to convert between formats, or, in extreme cases, files that are not readable at all. To avoid such issues, I stick to PDF, ePub, HTML, plain text, and, in rare exceptions, DjVu. (With reservations for the correct capitalization, here and elsewhere.)

    However, ever and ever again, I find that I have downloaded a PDF file that has none of the advantages of PDF through some crude conversion, effectively combining the disadvantages of two formats with the advantages of neither.* This typically in that someone has taken a plain-text file and run it through enscript (or some similar tool) to create something that looks like the original text file, fixed-width font included, or that someone has converted a web page into PDF through a print command (or some similar approach)—often with artificial headers indicating the file name, date of printing, or similar on each and every page.

    *All formats have advantages and disadvantages. For instance, plain text has (among others) the advantages of small files and of extreme flexibility, including that it can be viewed in, investigated with, and/or manipulated by tools such as less, grep, and vim. PDF, in contrast, shines with great formatting and the ability to print a hard-copy in a true-to-the-original manner.

    In both cases, I would have been much better off with the original file, keeping the advantages of the respective formats and foregoing the disadvantages of PDF. If, for some perverse reason, I needed a PDF, I could create it myself from the original file—and typically with a better result.

    To boot, despite a wide variety of free (both senses) software being available for local use, the conversion or editing has often been done with some type of online tool—which promptly adds further disadvantages through branding or advertising messages. In an extreme example, I once downloaded a PDF file where each and every page had a large and intrusive sun-like image in both margins. This rendered the file so unreadable, through the sheer annoyance, that I actually converted the PDF into plain text…

  2. Many books in both PDF and ePub follow “bad practices” that are intended for a strict optimization for standalone e-readers, especially those sold by Amazon—and that, frankly, often are dubious even there. This includes artificial removal of margins, leaving the text immediately adjacent to the “physical” page borders (does not just look ugly, but hurts the eyes); artificial changes to interline distances, font size, or similar (ditto);* artificial removal of page numbers (due to front/back matter and similar, the indicator in the reader is not always enough); artificial removal of an original table of contents in favor of an automatically generated one (especially for non-fiction, the authors or editors have typically put in a lot of thought in the TOCs, which is now wasted—to the detriment of the readers); artificial removal of page numbers/references in TOCs (I often visit the TOC for purposes like finding out how long the current or the following chapter is, which is easy with page numbers, but not without them).

    *The exact manipulations vary, because different manipulators appear to have different goals. Notably, some appear to want to cram as much text as physically possible onto a single page, while some appear to want very large letters. In both cases, this likely reflects their personal habits, eye strength, whatnot on a standalone e-reader (maybe even the single, specific one that the individual manipulator uses)—and this is now forced onto the rest of the world, even on those who use computers.

    Note that, in doubt, content/formatting left in can always be removed later; content/formatting removed is usually gone for good. This is not the difference between, say, drinkers of red and white wine in a restaurant—it is the difference between drinkers of red wine and those who smash all the red-wine bottles to make room for more white wine.

  3. Many books in both PDF and ePub have been shorn of images—without any warning to the prospective downloader. Now, sometimes the removal of images as an option is justifiable through the resulting size reduction; however, especially for non-fiction, the result can be highly detrimental and the choice should be left to the reader/downloader.
  4. Some sites, notably Amazon, outright recommend or even demand “bad practices” like those mentioned above, with no consideration for other reading habits than standalone e-readers—not even with different versions for different formats, e.g. PDF for computers and ePub for standalone e-readers.
  5. Format requirements for sale/upload are often too restrictive. For instance, a reason why my own first books are yet unpublished is that I went through the effort of giving them a nice formatting in LaTeX (from which PDF was generated), even doing some reading on topics like typography and book design in the process—only to find that sites likes Amazon screech like harpies when someone tries to deliver quality. At the time of my research,* Amazon did not even allow the upload of PDF, and instead presumed to take some other uploaded format** and convert that into PDF, should a customer wish to buy in PDF. Not only does the author lose in creative control, but he also has to take the potential hit from a poor conversion…

    *I have honestly lost track, but it was likely more than a year ago. I make no guarantees for the current situation (August 2022).

    **Likely, AZW; maybe, ePub or some other format, too.

    Worse, to my recollection, Amazon even presumes to include data like information about the author automatically and based on data stored with Amazon, reducing the author’s control further.

    Of course, all this fiddling, and the great risk that different sites use different rules, implies that the author will either be stuck on a single platform or be forced to adapt his book repeatedly for different platforms. (And woe to those who use a meta-platform, which distributes the same book, in the same version, to several different sales platforms.)

  6. Of course, some sites have lost all contact with reality and demand, as sole upload, a Word-document… In other words, either the author has to write his books in Word to begin with, or he has to spend a horrendous amount of time (almost necessarily) manually converting from a more sensible format to Word.

    I am* a professional author. Products like Word should not be an option for a professional author.** I have more respect for someone who uses a pen, pencil, or typewriter, than for a Word user—pens and the like have a different set of advantages and disadvantages (a recurring theme) than LaTeX. Word is just bullshit.

    *Or was. Considering how little I have written since last summer, between construction noise, frustration with COVID countermeasures, demotivation from restrictive publishing options, and whatnot, my status might be under dispute.

    **That so many still limit themselves is scary. It is as if a professional carpenter would go to work using a kid’s toolbox. A central part of being a professional is to find and learn how to use a sufficiently powerful set of tools for the profession at hand. Those who do not, even should they earn a living in the field, scarcely deserve the title “professional”.

Excursion on how to do uploads better:
If Amazon was serious about both quality and genericness, it could and should provide a simple LaTeX template and/or LaTeX package (or some equivalent technology) with which the author could set up his book with a known-in-advance set of abilities and limitations. Afterwards, Amazon could simply generate the right formats from the corresponding LaTeX document.

Barring that, the best option would be to allow the authors to upload the formats that they want to support in the form that they want to support them, while the customers may either choose between the formats as uploaded or accept an automatic conversion with the explicit warning that the result might be poor.

Excursion on who-does-what:
A particular annoyance is that authors, both in modern “conventional” publishing* and in self-publishing are increasingly forced to do tasks that are unnatural matches with their likely skill profiles and interests, notably marketing, while those tasks that are more creative, short of the actual writing, are removed, including matters of book design and typography. If (!) the argument was that “authors know writing; we, the publishers, know typography, design, and marketing”, this might be acceptable.** In reality, the argument is “we, the publishers, make the creative decisions; you, the authors, do the boring leg-work”.

*One of several reasons why I ended up not even attempting the conventional route. (Other reasons include an apparently increasing shift in who earns what portion of the money, similar to the record industry, the need to be more “commercial” than I am, and the strong PC angle of the industry.)

**And, in my impression, this is how it used to be.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 6, 2022 at 1:57 pm

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A few thoughts on Nabokov’s “Laughter in the Dark”

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During my recent escape to Düsseldorf, I picked up a copy of Nabokov’s “Laughter in the Dark”.* While I enjoyed reading it and saw a few points to improve my own writing, I found it interesting primarily as a counterpart to “Lolita”, with strong parallels in behavior and situation between the respective male protagonist (Albert** Albinus resp. Humbert Humbert) and female temptation (Margot resp. the eponymous Lolita): in both books, an older man falls for a younger woman, makes himself a fool and ruins himself as a result, with an end involving a confrontation with a gun and death*** for the protagonist. Indeed, the similarities are large enough that the one might amount to a reworking of the other by a more mature author, as “Lolita” is considerably longer and later.

*Apparently, originally published in Russian as “Kamera Obscura”, and subsequently translated by the author into English. Even with a translation by the author, it cannot be ruled out that the original differed in some respects, e.g. prose quality. Oddly, the two main characters are from Berlin, where much of the book plays.

**This name is used, but sufficiently rarely that I am not certain whether it is his actual given name or some type of joke/pet/whatnot name or even an error. I cannot (without re-reading) rule out that the given name, too, is “Albinus” (paralleling “Humbert Humbert”), or that the given name is “Albinus” and that the family name goes unmentioned.

***Albeit postponed and, possibly, unrelated in “Lolita”, as Humbert died of natural causes while awaiting trial. (I.e. it is not a given that he would have lived if not imprisoned.)

In particular, in a footnote to an older text, I once wrote:

As an aside, one of the other books that I picked up was Nabokov’s “Lolita”, which I am currently reading. While a very different type of book, it does take the daughter–father version of wife–husband to an extreme. Still, the eponymous Lolita appears to have a stronger will and more to say in the relationship, while barely straddling the border between childhood and womanhood, than the thirty-something heroine of [“A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness]. I might also consider Lolita and Rebecca [of the book “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier] something of kindred spirits.

This goes together with larger doubts as to who predated on whom in “Lolita”, which fits the stereotypical adult-male-abusing-an-innocent-child poorly, with manipulations and machinations by Lolita that often leave Humbert the lesser villain and the more sympathetic character. When we turn to “Laughter in the Dark”, the situation is crystal clear: Margot (young, but adult) is the predator from the first step to the end of the book. Examples include deliberate attempts to sabotage Albinus’s marriage, the (secret) intent to marry him unless her paid-by-him movie career takes off, and outright defrauding in favor of a secret lover (Axel Rex) after Albinus goes blind (literally—not “with love”; although, a deliberate symbolism might be intended).

While an interpretation from one book to another is risky, I do see my impressions of Lolita and Humbert strengthened. (But Lolita comes of as a better person than Margot and Humbert as a worse one than Albinus.)

However, there were two other works that popped up in my mind again and again while reading: Kipling’s “The Light that Failed” and the movie* “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. In the first case, the protagonist sees an unending stream of misfortunes, including the loss of his sight, his love interest, and his life. In the second, a perfidious wife and her lover take advantage of an older husband with car crashes** playing a key role.

*The original 1940s movie. I have not seen the remake or read the original novel.

**Albinus loses his sight in one, while there likely are two in “The Postman Always Rings Twice”: one staged to murder the husband, one truly accidental to kill the wife and send the lover to prison (the respective second “ring” for them). Unfortunately, Margot was still alive and at large at the end of “Laughter in the Dark”. (But I have some hopes that the overall circumstances will lead to her demise at some point after the end.)

The first two paragraphs of the book are interesting with an eye on my own doubts as to when more and when less detail is appropriate: the first summarizes the book in a very bare-bones manner; the second gives a motivation for why the book, beyond that first paragraph, might still have a value as a (much) more detailed way of saying the same. From another point of view, comparing that first paragraph with the overall book gives quite a few pointers as to why and when detail is important, e.g. what motivations different characters had and why events played out as they did. (This, in turn, but off topic, shows why it is risky to take even factually-true journalists at face value—let alone those who distort events and interpretations to their own preference. Cf. a number of earlier texts.)

The blurb at the back of the book is worthy of some remarks of its own:

An aspiring young Berlin actress turns the tables on her lustful middle-aged admirer, in Nabokov’s deadpan, deliciously cruel story of hopeless infatuation and horribly inventive revenge.

(With reservations for transcription errors.)

Apart from the extremely poor writing, this matches the contents of the book very poorly. I strongly suspect that the writer of this blurb either fell for prejudice about typical male and female behavior* or that a catering to a certain type of female reader (think “dragon tattoo”) was intended. From this blurb, the impression arises that he used and/or abused her, and that she took revenge on him, which turns the story on its head in an inexcusable manner. The only instance of “table turning” (that I can recall) is when Margot, at the end of the book, literally manages to turn Albinus’s gun at him, when his (justified) feelings of betrayal and atrocious mistreatment cause him to try to take revenge—despite being blind. Any revenge involved was neither horrible nor inventive—and certainly not successful. There were many horribly and inventive acts, by Margot, but the only way to consider them revenge were if she took out her feelings for others on Albinus.

*E.g. typical Feminist propaganda that men use women for their own ends.

Indeed, if Albinus did someone wrong, it was his wife (and, possibly, daughter), and much of that damage was only partially* his fault. Despite this, the wife took care of Albinus in the later stages of the book, while Margot only used and abused him. Similarly, if anyone did Margot wrong, it was not Albinus. A much better case can be made for Axel Miller, who briefly “kept” and then abandoned her when she was sixteen—and who resurfaced in her life as the aforementioned Axel Rex. But Axel Rex she treated well …

*Yes, he did have an affair and he did spend considerable money on his mistress (i.e. Margot), which should not be excused, but she only found out through Margot’s malicious intervention, and the marriage, based on later events, might very well have been salvageable, had the wife taken the fight instead of running away. (To avoid misunderstandings, I do not blame her from an ethical perspective for doing so, but my impression is that she wanted a continuation, which makes her actions pragmatically ill-advised.) He also seemed to have had enough money that the practical impact on the wife, pre-flight, would have been limited. To boot, the affair might never have gone beyond an unrequited infatuation or a guilty flirt, had not Margot pushed very hard for things to happen and move forward.

The aforementioned first (alone) or first two (together) paragraphs would have made a much better blurb, giving the serious reader both a better idea of the contents and a greater wish to read the book. (In my case, I bought it based on my very positive impression of “Lolita” and Nabokov’s generally high reputation. If I read the blurb pre-purchase, I do not even remember it, and if it would have had any effect, at all, then a deterring one.)

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July 23, 2020 at 5:55 pm

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A few thoughts on “The Dark is Rising”

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Among my many recent re-readings we have Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” series—which was a great favorite of mine as a child*. This especially the eponymous second book, which introduced Will Stanton, who to me was (what I imagine that) Harry Potter became to a later generation.**

*I do not remember the exact ages when I read this series in the past, but my first reading was well before I turned 11 (cf. **) myself and, excepting a nostalgia reading some ten years ago, I doubt that I read them past “Mellanstadiet” (years 4–6 in the Swedish school system). The childhood readings were, obviously, of a Swedish translation; the adult in English.

**Indeed, I strongly suspect that Rowling borrowed a fair bit from Cooper, including a British boy whose magic powers are revealed when he turns 11. Generally, Rowling used a great many ideas from the works of others for the “Harry Potter” series (unless she independently came up with the same ideas).

By and large, at age 44, I find the books disappointing. “Over Sea, Under Stone” was boring to me even as a child; and the too long, too haphazard, too pointless, too nightmarish* “The Lost Land” sequence in “Silver on the Tree” leaves me with just the same feeling as back then (as, to a lesser degree, do some other sequences from that book). However, the stronger books (in my recollection) now leave me a lot colder, and I see some outright deficiencies. The most notable among these is the very black-and-white approach to good and evil, including the apparent evil-for-the-sake-of-evil, which poorly matches real evil, and the common description of sensing almost tangible evil, malice, whatnot, again much unlike real evil.** This is possibly not that unusual in literature for children, but others have done it better—even Voldemort was more nuanced, including an unhappy childhood and a wish for power; and he was a real person, not some abstract force of evil. Other deficiencies include how Will jumps into the camp of the good guys more-or-less based on their own word that they are the good guys (well, apart from that almost tangible feeling of evil emanating from the other camp …), how problems often come close to solving themselves (instead of being solved by the heroes) or how just following a near-trivial instruction resolves the problem, how confrontations between the camps often amount to nothing but abstract forces clashing like two weather fronts, and how the behavior of the camps often does not make sense***.

*As in having that weird, distorted, “wrong” quality that nightmares often have—not in the “is scary” sense.

**This deficiency is what tipped the scales when I contemplated whether this text was worth the trouble. Note a few earlier texts dealing with the nature of evil, including the quite recent [1] and [2].

***Possibly, there are hidden rules, the revelation of which would change this impression. If so, however, too much of the rules are hidden, leaving the reader in a sea of arbitrariness. How, by analogy, is someone supposed to truly appreciate a football game without understanding the rules and without being able to interpret what happens (or does not happen) why? Similarly, would he not enjoy a game with rules that make more sense, e.g a game of Quidditch that does not boil down to just catching the golden snitch?

Two of the greatest strengths of “The Dark is Rising” (the book) in my child’s eye were the atmosphere and situations created (a) around the family of Will and in the family house, and (b) the scenes in the snowed-in mansion. These had a much smaller effect on me today, which could give me some pointers on how different people might experience the same scenes differently.

Looking at (a), Will was the opposite of Harry Potter, having an unusually large*, loving, and (relatively speaking) harmonious family. My own family, at the time, had been cut by divorce and was anything but harmonious—me, my mother, and a sister that I could not stand. Brothers there were none and the family dog was dead. Despite my introversion and comparatively low interest in socializing, his situation seemed so much better. Today, my interest is even lower and I suspect that I would have gone bonkers had I had his family—“Too many [children]!”, to quote the very first words of the book. Here there was, I suspect, a strong “the grass is always greener” effect in play.

*I could not find the exact number during a quick look at the book, but Will was a seventh (and youngest) son and there were sisters, two parents, and a few animals to boot.

Looking a (b), I have long held a fascination with being snowed in, fighting the cold and dark, and similar, likely partially as a side-effect of my life in Sweden, but somehow the scenes did not click this time around. This possibly partially because there were, again, very many people involved, both as a plus back then and a minus now; however, too haphazard writing and a too short duration might also have something to do with it.*

*Generally, thinking back on my recent re-reading, I have the feeling that there were quite a few crises and periods of suspense that loomed large for a short time and then were gone, almost anticlimactically, where a longer duration might have been more realistic and/or more captivating. What if they had jumped straight to the duel in “High Noon”?

Compared to works by some other authors, there is also quite little going on under the surface. The Narnia books definitely had more depth, as (going by vague memory) did the Prydain books.* To some degree, Cooper’s books are quite simplistic, as with the treatment of evil (cf. above) or the caricatured or cartoony bad guys—more Blyton than C. S. Lewis. Even Rowling, against whom I would raise a similar criticism, is ahead of Cooper.** Off the top of my head, there is only one major exception (and a few minor): the sub-story of Hawkin in “The Dark is Rising” (book), which is thought-worthy, tragic, and almost paradoxical—and the largest reason why I still rank “The Dark is Rising” as number one among the books (cf. excursion).

*These were, together with the-for-an-older-audience Tolkien and “The Dark is Rising”, the big book series of that period of my life, all with multiple readings.

**In some earlier text, I noted that books for women often had similar problems, while books by women gave me no reason to complain. “The Dark is Rising” series is written by a woman for, likely, mostly boys; while “Harry Potter” is by a woman and at least slightly tilted towards boys. With a few similar examples, I might have been too optimistic with the “books by women” part, and I begin to suspect that male authors are more likely to produce “depth” than female ones. (But my sample might be too small. Certainly, there are individual women, even in fantasy, e.g. Le Guin, who do better, and plenty of men who are as bad.)

The question of length is interesting with an eye on child-me vs. adult-me (also note an earlier footnote): children tend to read slower and have a shorter attention span, and what might seem short or too short to an adult might not be so for a child. (Generally, I do realize that viewing a children’s book from an adult’s perspective might not be entirely fair.) However, Cooper can be quite long-winded in other regards, and I had repeated occasions when I found my self skipping half a paragraph just to avoid boring dead-weight, often of a descriptive kind. If she had cut material where it served little purpose and inserted more material where it would have, then the books could have been improved.

On the upside, Cooper has a quality of language that is considerably higher than some modern authors, including Rowling (which seems to be part of a more general trend of less and less attention being paid to grammar and style as time passes).

Excursion on ranking:
My personal ranking of the books, now as then, would be “The Dark is Rising” (chronologically 2), “The Grey King” (c. 4), “Silver on the Tree” (c. 5), “Green-Witch” (c. 3), and “Over Sea, Under Stone” (c. 1). This is interesting in two regards: (a) The books with the Drew children do not fare well, and the fact that I clicked less with them as characters than with Will (and Bran) might play in.* (b) “Silver on the Tree” appears to be the most lauded by others, but is in the middle of the pack for me. I grant that this is the most ambitious of the books and likely (at least attempted as) a bit deeper than the others, but there is too much in it that does not work well as written, including (cf. above) the “The Lost Land” scenes (good ideas, poor execution). As a child, I also reacted very negatively to the revelation of Blodwen as a “double agent”; today, however, I see it as one of the few points where something thought-worthy is introduced, and evil actually has the guise of good, instead of being too obviously evil.

*But it should be noted that the order might be distorted by “Over Sea, Under Stone” being written considerably earlier than the other books, implying that Cooper might simply have been a less accomplished author at the time and that the other books might have benefited from ideas for the series gathered over the years. Moreover, “Green-Witch” is quite short, which might have had a negative effect on its ranking.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 17, 2019 at 2:03 am

Follow-up: Trying to buy Peter Handke / German bookstores

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As a brief follow-up to an earlier text on treatment of Peter Handke:

I just stumbled on a much longer text on UNZ, which gives a very good overview of the situation and also goes into some other writers who might not have received the Nobel Prize for political reasons.

(I will likely write more on UNZ in the near future.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 30, 2019 at 12:36 am

Trying to buy Peter Handke / German bookstores

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I have previously written about problems with German bookstores ([1]) and mentioned the criticism against recent Nobel Literature winner Peter Handke ([2], excursion).

Today, I dropped by the local Mayersche to pick up at least one of his books, to widen my own perspectives on writing. I did not see a single one …

Normally, even entirely non-German winners are given prominent display. This was certainly the case when Herta Müller (Romanian born German), Günter Grass (German), or even* Elfriede Jelinek (Austrian) won.

*Of the three (four, including Handke), she is by far the one with most disputable literary reputation.

Peter Handke is Austrian with a German father, is indisputably one of the most influential and lauded German-language writers of the last fifty-or-so years, and belongs to those who has had at least some impact outside the German-language area. (If in doubt, through the screenplay to “Der Himmel über Berlin”, often oddly rendered as “Wings of Desire” in English.) He was even on my reading list for the somewhat nearby future before he won his Nobel Prize.

Handke had not received such a display … (Note that the timing prohibits reasons/excuses like “It’s been two days—we haven’t had the time.” and “We had a display, but only for the first few weeks.”.)

I went to the most likely* alphabetized shelf, where I would have expected to find a few of his books even without a recent Noble Prize. There were none …

*Because the alphabetization is not pure, but repeated within different sections (think “Crime”, “Fantasy”, “Chick-lit”, …), it is conceivable that he was in some other section. Here I picked the generic “Romane” (“Novels”). Possibly, he was sold out, but the books looked too packed.

Has Handke been censored for having the “wrong” opinions (not unheard of, unfortunately) or has the intellectual standards of Mayersche dropped so disastrously that they do not want to touch him for commercial reasons? Either way, it is very unfortunate.

I also went by the area where I knew that there was a small section with cross-word/sudoku/whatnot books to be found, specifically looking for something in the “Eckstein”* series. This section had shrunk from small to virtually non-existent. There were three or four books there, none “Eckstein”. (The presence of some books is important, because a complete lack would have been a sign that the section had been moved.)

*One of the more challenging and handmade word-based cross-words, often requiring decoding puns and finding double meanings to get the right solution.

Seeing that I have bought all of three books from this particular bookstore in roughly two years and possibly two dozen visits, I will now forego it permanently. I note that with a larger selection, the count of bought books would have roughly doubled today.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 17, 2019 at 3:08 pm