Rereading books

I often reread books. Some of them fair better the second time around, some not so well, and others, simply put, never fade. What happens when we reread books?

"To be sure, it’s possible to reread because you remain puzzled by a text and obliged to tackle it again in order to figure it out. Most rereading, though, is undertaken for reasons other than exegesis, and it doesn’t involve conscious, purposeful work.”

"Willingness to yield oneself to the text in a way impossible the first time through is, I think, the crucial element in rereading.… The rereader customarily feels less pressure. She can allow herself a state of suspended attention comparable to Keats’s ‘negative capability,’ a condition of receptivity devoid, as the poet says, of irritable reaching after fact and reason — of irritable reaching after anything at all.”

"A book remains the same through time, but the context and personality of the reader don’t. Whether the consequence is nostalgia or embarrassment can be the luck of the draw."

Reader finds "the bewilderment that can occur upon revisiting a once-beloved work and ... the thrill is gone ...  trying to understand the changes in the world and in herself that made them disappointing, or worse, after the passage of decades."

"With frequent rereading, a work “comes to inhabit the deep reaches of the brain.” This seems allied to something that the late John Leonard said: “The books we love, love us back.”

More: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/12/21/essay-rereading-patricia-meyer-spacks

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A Digital Book is never finished

"Once digitized, a page of words loses its fixity. It can change every time it's refreshed on a screen. A book page turns into something like a Web page, able to be revised endlessly after its initial uploading. There's no technological constraint on perpetual editing, and the cost of altering digital text is basically zero. As electronic books push paper ones aside, movable type seems fated to be replaced by movable text. 

But as is often the case with digitization, the boon carries a bane. The ability to alter the contents of a book will be easy to abuse. School boards may come to exert even greater influence over what students read. They'll be able to edit textbooks that don't fit with local biases. Authoritarian governments will be able to tweak books to suit their political interests. And the edits can ripple backward. Because e-readers connect to the Internet, the works they contain can be revised remotely, just as software programs are updated today."

More: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203893404577098343417771160.html

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Authors battle the publishing industry

"For most of the 20th century, a fairly stable pattern developed in the publishing industry. The system was a sequence of barriers prospective authors had to surmount before their books could ever see the light of day. The author did the hardest part first: writing the actual book, taking months and sometimes years of blood, sweat and toil in the unswerving belief that they were doing something worthwhile. Once that part was finally finished, these writers had to get the attention of an agent willing to work on their behalf. This too was an arduous task necessitating mind-boggling persistence and a blizzard of rejections. In a tiny minority of cases, an agent would be found and the manuscript would later get shopped around to publishers. And a tiny fraction of those manuscripts would then get bought - usually on minimal terms, because each of those publishing houses doing the buying was groaning under the burden of paying disproportionately enormous advances to their big-name stars. Those lucky debut authors would have a modest payday and the thrill of seeing their work in print, but would face the prospect of slowly building a following through bookseller and reader word of mouth."

From: http://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/books/authors-take-control-of-the-publishing-process

No wonder that so many writers give up their pursuit of publication when faced with the barrier that is built by the publishing industry. They ought to read this first:

Ditch the Agent

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Cancerous Weaponry

"Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hinted that the U.S. may be behind a “very strange” bout of cancer affecting several leaders aligned with him in South America.

Chavez, speaking a day after Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, said the Central Intelligence Agency was behind chemical experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s and that it’s possible that in years to come a plot will be uncovered that shows the U.S. spread cancer as a political weapon against its critics.

“It’s very difficult to explain, even with the law of probabilities, what has been happening to some of us in Latin America,” Chavez said in a nationally televised speech to the military. “Would it be so strange that they’ve invented technology to spread cancer and we won’t know about it for 50 years?”

“I’m just sharing my thoughts, but it’s very, very, very strange,” Chavez said. “Evo take care of yourself, Correa, be careful, we just don’t know,” he said, referring to Evo Morales and Rafael Correa, the leaders of Bolivia and Ecuador."

More: http://mobile.businessweek.com/news/2011-12-28/chavez-says-u-s-may-be-behind-south-america-leaders-cancer.html

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Britain’s "first" double agent


"To his handlers in the Security Service, MI5, he was code-named Snow, while to his masters in German intelligence he was Johnny. Arthur Owens, Welsh nationalist, frustrated inventor, father of a future Hollywood starlet, was an unlikely spy, yet became one of the most important double agents of the Second World War.

The first German agent to be “turned” by British intelligence during the conflict, he was used to entrap other Nazi spies as part of the Double Cross system, possibly the most successful counter-espionage operation ever undertaken.

Run by the Twenty Committee – the Roman numeral XX a play on Double Cross – it resulted in the detection of every German agent in Britain and the feeding of false information, including the bogus location of the D-Day landings, to their masters in Berlin.

Yet, despite Owens’s prominent role in the secret war, he is to this day an enigma, his motives as unclear on the day of his death as they were when he decided to offer his services as a spy. Now, a new book seeks to illuminate corners of that shadowy life and fill in some the gaps in the strange career of Agent Snow."

More: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/britainatwar/8980777/Britains-first-double-agent-the-spy-who-tricked-us-all.html

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The book publishing pyramid

It appears that writers form the lowest paid part of the book publishing industry. Below charts illustrate average earnings of literary translators in Europe, who, at 16 - 31 Euros (20$ - 40$) per page, receive higher remuneration than the authors of the original work. Thus the publishing pyramid looks as follows:




Source (pdf): Comparative Income of Literary Translators in Europe www.ceatl.eu/docs/surveyuk.pdf

Authors - the Great Unknown

"Anonymity and pseudonymity have a long history. We think of medieval authors laboring anonymously, but even the first age of literary celebrities, the 18th century, was also paradoxically an age of anonymity. Book historian James Raven estimates that "over 80% of all novels published in Britain between 1750 and 1790 were published anonymously."

Among the Romantics, Sir Walter Scott as novelist was called the Great Unknown in reviews. In fact, assigning a range of his copyrights to Archibald Constable in 1820, Scott insisted on a clause stipulating that if his publisher divulged his name as the author of the Waverley novels, he would pay Scott £2,000.

Scott said: "Many things would please people well enough anonymously, which, if they bore me on the title-page, would just give me that sort of ill-name which precedes hanging, and that would be in many respects inconvenient if I thought of again trying a grande opus." When he officially revealed himself in 1827 he called anonymity "the humour or caprice of the time."

More: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-1227-folkenflik-anonymous-20111227,0,7045611.story


Shelf life


Shelf life, from a clay tablet, to junk email.

Graph Source: Lapham' Quarterly

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Writers and dogs

"Advice to would-be writers: Do not own a dog. John Steinbeck's setter cost him two months' labor on "Of Mice and Men" in the mid 1930s when one night the pup tore apart the half-finished manuscript. The text on the savaged pages, as we learn in Celia Blue Johnson's "Dancing With Mrs. Dalloway," was so badly mauled that Steinbeck was forced to rewrite a large portion of the book. Jack Kerouac was doing equally well with "On the Road" (which he was typing on sheets of paper taped together to avoid having to reload his typewriter) until his housemate's cocker spaniel chewed up a few feet of the scroll. One almost expects to discover that Joseph Conrad's Chihuahua was responsible for the extensive revisions to "Heart of Darkness." As abetters of literary inspiration, dogs clearly rank very low—unless you happen to be John Steinbeck, who took along a canine companion for "Travels With Charley" in 1960. By then the setter had perhaps wisely been replaced by a poodle." More: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904194604576583201758478310.html

One might wonder whether the above literary works would've turned out the way they did if not for the necesity to re-write. Good dogs!

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Evolution and the pursuit of fiction

Evolutionary psychology explains the root of our pursuit of artistic expression, and the intense desire to consume it, according to Denis Dutton:

"Human beings expend staggering amounts of time and resources on creating and experiencing art and entertainment — music, dancing, and static visual arts. Of all of the arts, however, it is the category of fictional story-telling that across the globe today is the most intense focus of what amounts to a virtual human addiction. A recent government study in Britain showed that if you add together annual attendances in plays and cinema with hours watching television drama, the average Briton spends roughly 6% of all waking life watching dramatic performances. And that figure does not even include books and magazines: further vast numbers of hours spent reading short stories, bodice-rippers, mysteries, and thrillers, as well as so-called serious fictions, old and new. The origins of this obsession with comic and dramatic fictions are lost in remote prehistory, as lost as the origins of language itself. But like language, we know the obsession with fiction is universal: stories told, read, and dramatically or poetically performed are independently invented in all known cultures, literate or not, having advanced technologies or not. Wherever printing arrives, it is used to reproduce fictions. [...]

The universal fascination with fictions is a curious thing. If human beings were attracted only to true narratives, factual reports that describe the real world, the attraction could be attributed to utility. We might imagine that just as early homo sapiens needed to hew sharp adzes and know the ways of game animals, so they needed to employ language accurately to describe themselves and their environment and to communicate truths to each other. Were that the case, there would be no “problem of fiction,” because there would be no fiction: the only alternatives to desirable truth would be unintentional mistakes or intentional lies. Such Pleistocene Gradgrinds would be about as eager to waste linguistic effort creating fables and fictions as they would be to waste their manual skills laboring to produce dull adzes. We can speculate even that the enjoyment of fictions might have put them at an adaptive disadvantage against more Gradgrindish neighboring tribes: homo sapiens would in such a circumstance have evolved to react to untrue, made-up stories much as it reacts to the smell of rotting meat. Now as it happens, this speculation does not accord with facts: the human reaction to fictions, at least when they are properly understood to be fictions, is not aversion, but runs anywhere from boredom to amusement to intense pleasure."

Good news for readers and writers, regardless of what happens to the publishing industry: humans will always pursue the creative expressions, as well as be driven to it!



WikiJustice: WikiLeaks meets The Assassination Bureau, Ltd.

A friend of mine once asked, "What would Jack London do with his thriller, The Assassination Bureau. Ltd., had he lived in the beginning of the 21st century?"

Jack London wrote a thriller? I was stumped. So I rushed to my local library to read it. "The Assassination Bureau, Ltd.", is an unfinished novel by Jack London, later completed by Robert L. Fish. The idea of an agency devoted to "extirpating" socially detrimental characters was fascinating, alas, the novel left an unsatisfactory feeling in my reading taste.

My friend's question has haunted me for over a year, when at last world events set a spark in my writerly imagination. What, indeed, if a novelist set out to write a thriller in a similar vein, in the age of WikiLeaks, the Occupy Movement, and the general discontent with the World Order, that we witness today?

In the age of crowdsourcing - a collaboration of countless minds from across boundaries - the idea of a single person (Ivan Dragomiloff in London's novel) deciding arbitrarily who ought to be assassinated ("extirpated"), seemed incompatible. A collaborative effort, on the other hand, was much more alluring.

It was, thus, natural that in the time of social networking the people should decide who is detrimental for the wellbeing of society.

WikiJustice was born.


Join the most inclusive club


Full-length book readership is dropping, becoming an activity of an ever-narrowing group.

"While virtually anyone who wants to do so can train his or her brain to the habits of long-form reading, in any given culture, few people will want to. And that's to be expected. Serious "deep attention" reading has always been and will always be a minority pursuit.

[...] while there was a period in which extraordinarily many Americans practiced long-form reading, whether they liked it or not, that period was indeed extraordinary and not sustainable in the long run. "We are now seeing such reading return to its former social base: a self-perpetuating minority that we shall call the reading class."

[...] It is more common to come across the person who has known the joys of reading but who can be distracted from them. But even those folks are a small percentage of the population."

More: http://chronicle.com/article/We-Cant-Teach-Students-to/128400/

"Small percentage of the population." Yet it isn't an exlusive club. The doors are open and everyone's welcome!

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Last minute gift ideas | LitBash 52

Looking for last-minute gift ideas? What better than something so intrinsically connected to the holiday season as writers who were...

Born this week:

Gustave Flaubert, France
"An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere."

Heinrich Heine, Germany
"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings."

Jane Austen, UK
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

Arthur C. Clarke, UK
"I can never look now at the Milky Way without wondering from which of those banked clouds of stars the emissaries are coming."

Philip K. Dick, USA
"Don't try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night."

Died this week:

Jose Martiniano de Alencar, Brasil
"Opportunity makes the man."

Jean Richepin, France
"One may live without bread, not without roses."

Max Mell, Austria

Joseph Heller, USA

"When I read something saying I've not done anything as good as Catch-22 I'm tempted to reply, "Who has?""

This concludes the LitBash series - a full year of literary celebrations. Search this blog for LitBash to find additional reading suggestions.


The double agent spy who came back from the dead


Juan Pujol "Garcia, code-named "Garbo" by his MI5 handlers because he was "the world’s best actor," was the man who more than anyone else convinced Hitler that the Normandy landings were a mere diversionary attack, a feint to distract the Wehrmacht from the real assault that was about to take place 150 miles to the north in the Pas de Calais. So successful was Garbo that the Germans were continuing to reinforce the Pas de Calais even after D-Day, and not committing their full resources to countering the Normandy landings. Although the story of the success of the Operation Overlord deception plans are well known, and Garbo’s vital role well established in history, what is not much known about is what Garbo did after the war".

[...] the story of Garcia’s life of deception did not end with VE Day. After visiting his Abwehr case officer in Spain—who apologized that the Nazis had lost the war and gave him a huge golden handshake in cash, the Iron Cross, and the thanks of the now-defunct Reich—MI5 unsuccessfully tried to recruit Garcia for service against the Russians in the Cold War. The next that anyone ever heard of him was that he had tragically died of a snake bite in Angola in 1949."

Or, did he?

Read More: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/11/27/garbo-the-spy-documentary-on-the-double-agent-who-helped-defeat-hitler.html

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What is better than sex, according to the CIA

"The first honeytrap in recorded history come in the Bible where the two honeypots in chief were Delilah and Judith. The latter seduced the enemy commander Holofernes and assassinated him, and famously Delilah seduced Samson and got him to reveal the secret of his enormous strength (his hair), before she went on to be immortalised in song by Tom Jones.

In the modern era honeypots (of both sexes) were used by both sides in the Cold War but perhaps because they were ultimately defeated, we know a lot more about the honeypot techniques of the KGB and Stasi (the East German secret police) than we do of the techniques employed by the Americans and British. In the Soviet Union, for instance, “swallow” was the KGB codename for women honeypots, and “raven” the term for men. An ex-CIA officer has claimed that the West “found that offers of money and freedom worked better.”

More: http://www.sabotagetimes.com/people/katia-zatuliveter-and-the-art-of-the-spy-honey-trap/

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This ain't no James Bond - Real Spy Stories

"Although the Cold War saw some cool spy shenanigans, nothing beats the insanity of World War II. Eddie Chapman was a British criminal who was in prison on the Channel Islands when the Axis powers took them. They let him out when he promised to go back to England and spy for them, but what Hitler and his cronies didn't think about was that criminals tend to lie. When he got back home, Chapman went immediately to MI5 and turned himself in, offering to work as a triple agent. The whole time he was feeding false info to the Nazis (who rewarded him with a huge salary and his own yacht), he was still engaging in scummy deeds like doping greyhounds to fix dog races."

See more: http://www.ugo.com/web-culture/real-spy-stories

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Kim Philby and the woman who made him happy


"Historians still argue why [ Kim] Philby, a British aristocrat and a graduate of the Cambridge University, suddenly chose to work for Soviet intelligence services. Was he a man of no principles who was ready to work for anyone who would pay him well – or did he really believe in the ideas of communism? Well, it looks like the second answer is closer to the truth, for it is known that Philby had a fancy for Marxism when he was a student.

[...] in 1933, Kim Philby started to work for Soviet intelligence services. It is by an order of the Soviet intelligence services that he integrated into the UK secret service in 1940.

Famous writer Graham Greene, known for his pro-Soviet sympathies, who himself used to work for the UK intelligence for some time, said that when Kim Philby was at the top of his career, practically every step and every plan of Western secret services immediately became known to the Soviet services.

“For the last 25 years of his life, Kim Philby lived in Moscow – but, at first, his life here was not simple. The Soviet authorities and Philby himself were afraid that he might be assassinated – and he had to live a very secluded life, until a fair woman appeared"...

More: http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/12/07/61745969.html

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The Tunnel-digging Spy

Peter Lunn, "as a gentleman spy in the early Cold War years, he pioneered the idea of digging tunnels under Soviet-controlled zones to facilitate telephone tapping

After the war Lunn was posted as head of the MI6 station in the divided city of Vienna, with the official title of Second Secretary at the British embassy. Though he was once described by the espionage writer Richard CS Trahair as having a “slight build and blue eyes” and speaking “in a soft voice with a lisp”, every inch the gentleman spy, he also had a razor-sharp mind.

In 1948 Graham Greene, who had also worked for SIS, went to Vienna to research material for the screenplay of The Third Man (1949). He discovered the existence of a force policing a vast network of sewers under the city which allowed agents to pass from one zone of occupation to another.

Lunn too was interested in the city’s subterranean world. According to David Stafford, in his book Spies Beneath Berlin, Lunn realised that “cables linking the Red Army to Soviet units in Austria ran through the British and French sectors [of Vienna]”. If he could tap these communications, “he would be the first to know if Stalin gave the order to invade Western Europe”.

Operation Conflict, as Lunn’s eavesdropping scheme was known, yielded a wealth of intelligence about Soviet operations in Eastern Europe between 1948 and 1951."

More: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/military-obituaries/special-forces-obituaries/8939098/Peter-Lunn.html

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Christmas party like no other | LitBash 51

This year's Christmas parties not so exciting? You're invited to join company like no other - writers who were...

Born this week:

Hans Hellmut Kirst, Germany
"All you have to do is anesthetize the masses by telling them they're an elite, that they've got a mission, that they're making history, that they're fulfilling their destiny and fighting for a better world — and they swallow it like lambs — even when a guttersnipe says it."

Carmen Martin Gaite, Spain
"There's no way of calculating how many ramifications a story will take on once one spies a gleam of attention in another's eyes."

Eugene Sue, France
"Virtue often trips and falls on the sharp-edged rock of poverty."

Albert Steffen, Switzerland

Alfred de Musset, France

"Great artists have no country."

Maurice Leblanc, France

Died this week:

Alexandre Dumas, France
"It is sometimes essential to government to cause a man’s disappearance without leaving any traces, so that no written forms or documents may defeat their wishes."

Anthony Trollope, UK

"I hold that gentleman to be the best dressed whose dress no one observes. I am not sure but that the same may be said of an author's written language."

Marin Sorescu, Romania

Thornton Wilder, USA

"Literature is the orchestration of platitudes."

Jose Donoso, Chile
"I once asked the servants why none of them had blue eyes like my aunts. They replied that only the ladies could afford to buy the blue glass cups in which they kept their eyes at night to make them more blue and beautiful, and furthermore, if we went on asking silly questions, the rats that steal the faces of inquisitive children in order to wear them as masks would come to take us to live in the twilit world between the ceiling and the roof where no one ever dared to go."

Luigi Pirandello, Italy
"Woe to him who doesn't know how to wear his mask, be he king or pope!"

Artur Nils Lundkvist, Sweden


The Spy Files

"Mass interception of entire populations is not only a reality, it is a secret new industry spanning 25 countries

It sounds like something out of Hollywood, but as of today, mass interception systems, built by Western intelligence contractors, including for ’political opponents’ are a reality.

International surveillance companies are based in the more technologically sophisticated countries, and they sell their technology on to every country of the world. This industry is, in practice, unregulated. Intelligence agencies, military forces and police authorities are able to silently, and on mass, and secretly intercept calls and take over computers without the help or knowledge of the telecommunication providers. Users’ physical location can be tracked if they are carrying a mobile phone, even if it is only on stand by.

Intelligence companies such as VASTech secretly sell equipment to permanently record the phone calls of entire nations."
MORE: http://wikileaks.org/the-spyfiles.html


Ian Fleming and American intelligence

"On 27th June 1941, in Washington D.C., Lt-Commander Ian Fleming RNVR drafted a short ‘Memorandum to Colonel Donovan’ on how to structure and staff the headquarters of his new American intelligence agency, COI, to be set up by Christmas 1941.

Fleming commented that President Roosevelt was ‘very enthusiastic’ and supportive of Wild Bill, but warned: ‘the rumour that Donovan is a British nominee and a hireling of British S.I.S. is spreading and should be carefully watched.’"

More: http://blog.oup.com/2011/12/fleming-3/

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Spies you don't hear about


"Born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1894, Eugene Jacques Bullard stowed away to Europe as a teenager, earning money as a prizefighter and interpreter. When World War I erupted he joined the French army and ultimately became the world’s first black fighter pilot. He later married the daughter of a French countess, opened a nightclub in Paris and hobnobbed with the likes of Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong and Ernest Hemingway.

Bullard served France once again during World War II, joining the resistance movement and using his fluency in German to spy on Nazi troops who frequented his establishment. (His German clients apparently spoke freely in front of him, believing that nonwhites were incapable of understanding their language.)

Bullard later helped defend the city of Orléans, sustained debilitating injuries and was medically evacuated along with his two daughters to the United States. A hero in his adoptive country, Bullard had to rebuild his life in his homeland, where he worked for many years as an elevator operator in New York City. He died at age 67 in 1961, two years after France named him a Knight of the Legion of Honor."

More spies: http://www.history.com/news/2011/12/01/10-spies-who-arent-household-names/

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