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Author: xensen (Page 3 of 8)

Outlook grim for writers

According to a story in the Independent, authors’ income has fallen in recent years. In the UK the top 10 percent of authors take home more than half the pay. Take away that ten percent and the remaining 90 percent have an average annual income of just £4,000 (about US $7,715).

From the story: “The best advice if you want to eat is: ‘Do something else.'”

Helvetica, the Poster

helvetic poster

The official Helvetica movie poster.

How to Read a Book

Reading, says Susan Elderkin, in the Financial Times, has become “a highly stressful business.” The main trouble, it seems, is that there are just too many books. How is one to choose? Elderkin, a novelist and fellow in creative writing says that “the number of books in the world is growing at five times the rate of the human population.”

Apparently the best way to solve this problem is … to read another book. Like one of these:

  • Gabriel Zaid, So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance
  • John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel: A User’s Guide
  • John Mullan, How Novels Work
  • Nick Hornby, The Complete Polysyllabic Spree
  • Nick Rennison, ed., Good Reading Guide

In brief, Mexican critic Zaid psoesthe problem: “Books are published at such a rapid rate that they make us exponentially more ignorant. If a person read a book a day, he would be neglecting to read four thousand others, published the same day. In other words, the books he didn’t read would pile up four thousand times faster than the books he did read, and his ignorance would grow four thousand times faster than his knowledge.”

Sutherland talks about judging books by ther covers, margins, and other design elements. He also proposes applying “the McLuhan test,” which is to read page 69, and buy the book if you like that page. Mullan seems to be a lit crit type, who breaks books down into how they use everything from parenthesis to paragraphs. His book is assembled from newspaper columns, as is Hornby’s, which amounts to a kind of reader’s journal. Hornby writes, “I am not particularly interested in language”; he prefers light books that can be read in one sitting. The Good Reading Guide is “great books” list of 400 titles.

Regrettably, Elderkin’s review doesn’t give a much of a sense of the nature and content of the titles in her roundup, and it doesn’t come close of realizing its premise of addressing the problem of proliferating books proposed by Zaid. If you’ve read any of these books let me know what you think about them.

Why we need music

Nerve impulses are based on sound not electricity.

Mayas Perform Critical Purification Ritual

juan tineyI returned recently from el mundo maya, where I visited several sacred sites. As far as I am aware, no purification ritual was required after my visits.

The same is not true of President Bush, who is visiting the ancient site of Iximche near my old home town of Mixco. Following Bush’s visit, Maya priests will perform rites (involving chanting and burning incense, herbs, and candles) to eliminate “bad spirits.”

“That a person like him, with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people and their culture,” said Juan Tiney, director of a Maya NGO.

Juan Tiney photo by Antonio Jiménez, from Prensa Libre


related post: The Indonesian Curse Is Working


read more at Salon
this item via Exploding Aardvark

The Dead and the Unknown

Recently I was doing a loooong overdo update of my rolodex (actually a filemaker pro database these days). The file began, as I recall, as an Alpha4 database back in the day, and I’ve been porting it over into new programs as I’ve upgraded over the years. (I needed it as a database because I used to do a lot of mail merges.)

I never really thinned the list out the way I should, and as I worked on it I discovered that it still contains the directions of a lot of people who have passed on. There’s something poignant about deleting these names, such people as Marlon Brando, William Burroughs, John Cage, Guy Davenport, Allen Ginsberg, Thom Gunn, Joseph Heller, Pauline Kael, Hugh Kenner, Ken Kesey, Arthur Miller, Frank Zappa, and many more – not necessarily people I knew well, or even at all: often they got into my rolodex when I was requesting blurbs for a book or some similar reason.

Another disturbing feature of the rolodex pruning was encountering names for which I drew a blank. Who, for example, are Jacklyn Green, Stephen Bankier, Anne Dorsey, Janet Fries, Ken Frith, Cecile Kaufman, Jack McClosky, Ben Ragner, Julian Monsarrat, Tony Reveaux, and Anne Roipe? In some cases the names sound familiar, and I feel I should be able to remember these people, but in others it’s as if I had never heard the name
before. In either case I tried to be ruthless and take them out.

How do you keep your rolodex lean and up to date?


Over at Frisco Vista I’ve posted a photo of a windmill in Golden Gate Park and, for comparison, one in Bruges, Belgium.

Well, I guess I’m on a windmill kick. (After all Cervantes and I share a birthday . . . the day, not the year, smart ass!) So here’s a picture of the inside of one of the Bruges windmills:

bruge windmill workings

Another Book Review Folding

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the L.A. Times will cease to publish its book review as a separate section. That would mean that the only stand-alone newspaper book reviews remaining are the NYTBR, the Washington Post Book World, The Chicago Tribune Sunday Book Review, the San Diego Union-Tribune Sunday Book Review, and the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review — I’m a bit astonished tha the Chronicle Book Review is still among that list, as I’ve been hearing rumors about plans to eliminate it from time to time for at least twenty years. (“‘You constantly have to justify your existence,’ says Oscar Villalon, who edits the book section at the San Francisco Chronicle. ‘Why? We don’t bring in ads.'”)

The problem is that book publishers are no longer advertising in the book review supplements (except for the NYTBR, which is still pulling ads, probably mainly because it has national distribution at actual points of purchase). Newspaper ads are expensive and rather ineffective, since you are paying to reach a broad readership rather than a focused demographic of people who actually buy books. Instead, publishers are using most of their money to pay for favorable placement in book stores. This system of paid store placement is just another way that the industry favors the big players and works against such traditional staples of publishing as word of mouth.

I know from my experience as a publisher that most book reviews are really recycled press releases. For years the newspapers’ book review departments and advertising departments operated much too closely together to produce a product that could attract readers on its own right — most book reviews aren’t worth reading.

Still, I’m sorry to see the book reviews go. It’s just another example of the shift from content-based publishing to the current system, which consists of filling books with words in order to sell covers, author photos, and marketing bullets. Maybe the blogosphere offers a ray of hope, a chance to replace the old book reviews and revitalize the publishing industry.

In any case, books will survive. Recently a publisher told me it wants to reissue a book I had done some 17 or 18 years ago. Did I still have the word processing files? I did — but they can no longer be read without special software. That speaks volumes (so to speak) about the world of electronic publishing. Compare that record of obsolescence within decades to a Gutenberg bible or one of the early Asian books — printed books are a perfected technology, one that still works, after hundreds and hundreds of years.

Absurd Headline of the Day

Bush Heads for Latin America to Counter Appeal of Chávez

The headline appeared in the Guardian (where they actually put the diacritic in Chávez’s name). I mean, Bush currently has a record low approval rating here in the U.S. Imagine what his approval rating is in Latin America. How many hearts is this guy going to win us with this trip?

What he really wants, I suppose, is to skip town, since the heat is on. No doubt he’ll be traveling in an airtight circle of security and just meeting a few carefully chosen leaders for minutely scripted photo ops.

If we were serious about countering the appeal of Chávez we would send Los Lobos on a good will tour, not some rich oil guy who has spent his entire career transfering the world’s wealth to his little coterie of buddies.

brazil protest

Protesting Bush’s visit in Brazil

Adjectives banned in Baltimore

What is there to say about this curious story?

We’re in Trouble

Eric and Kristen are in unfamiliar territory. They have only known one another a few weeks, but they have decided they are already deeply, madly in love.

Tha’s the way Christopher Coake’s collection of stories entitled We’re in Trouble begins. The collection has won Coake a deal of praise, and Granta seems to share this enthusiasm. It has named Coake one of the “best young U.S. novelists.”

What’s odd about this is that Coake — like six other of the young writers on the list — has never published a novel.


Granta nominates best young U.S. novelists, from the Guardian

Christopher Coates’s blog

Puerto Morelos

puerto morelosMuch of the Maya Riviera, stretching from Cancun south beyond Playa del Carmen, is a bit of a horror show, full of giant resorts and traffic jams, and crawling with loud, lobster-red gringos. Puerto Morelos (“la joya del Caribe” — the jewel of the Caribbean), however, though just 25 kilometers or so south of Cancun, still retains — for the moment — much of its flavor as a sleepy fishing village. I’ve posted a few lazy photos on my flickr site.

Hell no, she won’t go!

Eighty-eight-year-old Sally Heriot lives in this one-bedroom apartment in a retirement community in Palo Alto. To live here she paid a nonrefundable entrance fee of $180,000 in 1991, and she has paid monthly fees of $2500 to $3500 since. In addition she pays for 24-hour private aides to assist her with tasks that have become difficult for her to manage. (San Francisco Chronicle photo by Christina Koci Hernandez)

sally heriot's apartment

Administrators at the facility, however, want to move Sally into a “room” like this one (Photo by Robert Herriot, appeared in the SF Chronicle):

chronicle photo

The administration says Sally will get better care in the “assisted-living unit.” She and her son dispute that, and they have hired lawyers to fight the move.

Good luck to you, Sally Heriot!

(via the San Francisco Chronicle)

Invading Liechtenstein

On March 2 170 lost Swiss soldiers accidentally invaded neighboring Liechtenstein. But instead of claiming the principality for the Swiss empire, once they realized their mistake they simply marched back home. A spokesman for Liechtenstein said the soldiers had gone unnoticed, adding “It’s not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something.”

Could this be the beginning of a new Swiss imperialism intent on converting the whole world’s signage to Helvetica?

Too bad Peter Sellers isn’t around to make a movie version.


Since getting back from the Yucatan I’ve been trying to catch up on my feeds. While I was gone a lot of SEO types were posting about nofollow again. The new twist is they’re trying all sorts of plugins and gadgets to selectively pass or bar following links from their blogs for PR.

People, this is getting really old. And really stupid. Just turn the damn thing off already.

The Cult of the Talking Cross

the spring of the talking crossI’m starting to put up some images from my recent trip to the Yucatan. As part of the project I’m revamping the Maya World section of my site (making it a little more autonomous, on the theory that people who are interested in the Maya aren’t necessarily equally interested in typography or publishing or gardening in the Bay Area or others of my hobby horses). Anyway, the image at left is a picture of the little spring that sustained the rebel community of the Talking Cross, the Maya band that nearly drove the non-Maya from the peninsula during the Caste War in the second half of the 19th century. (The spring is located in present-day Felipe Carrillo Puerto.) The image is part of a page I’ve put up on the Cult of the Talking Cross (the Talking Cross revolt figures in the novel that I’m currently completing).

Cenote X’Keken near Valladolid

cenote x'keken I’m just back from a trip to el mundo Maya.

This photo (click the photo — or here — for a larger view, via Flickr) was taken in very dark conditions at Cenote X’Keken near Valladolid in the Yucatan. Travelers to the Yucatan know that cenotes are sinkholes formed by water erosion through acidification of the limestone of which the peninsula is composed. Historically, cenotes were the main water source for the Yucatan Maya. Some cenotes are open like ponds, others are covered caves, like this one. This cave is entered through a tunnel. Above the water is an opening through which a small amount of light enters.

On the left is the original photo, which approaches being completely black. On the right is a fix that at least gives some sense of the cave atmosphere and the turquoise color of the water (which is cool and is used as a swimming hole; in the fix I removed some ropes that were installed as aids to swimmers).

For an explanation of this photo technique, see this post on restoring dark images.

How to Disable Snap Link Previews

You’ve seen them — the annoying little bits of bling, as Nick Wilson aptly characterized them — that pop up a little thumbnail of the page a link points to. How can you get rid of these bothersome gnats that flutter up all over blog and web pages these days? Well, you could go to the snap site and download a cookie, but if you don’t want to do that, follow these simple steps:

1. Use Firefox as your browser and download and install the adblock extension.

2. Go to adblock preferences (under the tools menu) and add as a new filter: spa.snap.com/snap_preview_anywhere.js.


Dicussion at download squad.

Another Stupid Quiz

You paid attention during 100% of high school!


85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don’t get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Create a Quiz

New World / New Words Finally Being Published?

This project (which I did as a volunteer, to support the mission of the Center for the Art of Translation) has really been moving at a snail’s pace. The publisher was in a big hurry for me to review edits back in September, but the first design pages have only just appeared. I have no idea what was going on in the four intervening months, or when I’ll see proofs. Oh well, at least I’m finally seeing the book announced.


Related post: “From Manuscript to Finished Art Book in Four Weeks.”

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