Tuesday, June 26, 2018

READ Carefully, Book Lovers by Joan Baum

Joan Baum is a recovering academic from the City University of New York, who spent 25 years teaching literature and writing. Joan has a long career as a critic and reviewer, writing for, among others, WNYC, Newsday, The Christian Science Monitor, MIT's Technology Review, Hadassah Magazine and writing on subjects in her dissertation field, the major English Romantic poets. She covers all areas of cultural history but particularly enjoys books at the nexus of the humanities and the sciences.

With an eye on reviewing fiction and nonfiction that has regional resonance for Connecticut or Long Island – books written by local authors or books set in the area – Joan considers the timeliness and significance of recently published work: what these books have to say to a broad group of readers today and how they say it in a distinctive or unique manner, taking into account style and structure as well as subject matter.

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It was a front-page article in The New York Times on Sunday, June 3rd: "Listen Carefully, Book Lovers: Top Authors Are Skipping Print." Listen, indeed. The theme of the piece is that audiobooks are such a fast-growing phenomenon that authors are by-passing their own publishers who have audiobook divisions to deal directly with companies such as Audible, owned by Amazon, because the money's too good. Yeah, but they love literature, the authors say. And yeah, audiobooks are democratic and humane, considering the number of folks who for various physical reasons cannot read easily, and the number of people who enjoy listening to books in cars, in gyms and on trips.

The article noted the financial and psychological rewards for authors going straight to audio ‒ a greater number of readers immediately and a greater pay back in making multi-book deals, though for sure the reputed $15-$45 cost of buying an audiobook is certain to go up, given the likelihood of forced subscriptions. (A side note not pursued is the article's report of a diminution of sales of ebooks!)

The article also noted the kinds of books lending themselves to audio success: nonfiction, popular novels, science fiction and self-help guides. But …

What about those who love serious fiction? Well, yes, there are those short stories that get read by actors on public radio, but those are classics or standards, and the dramatic readings are broadcasts from literary events, not new publications. What about "book lovers" of serious new novels? What’s in audiobooks for them?

Not much.

I can think of nothing more insulting to a reader ‒ or listener – or literary author! – of having a recorded voice determine how to respond to sustained complexity in a novel – to irony, paradox, ambiguity, pacing, tone. When interpretation is kidnapped by an actor who has decided how to present dialogue, monologue, point of view, taking away a reader's imaginative response and engagement, that is the end of one of the most intimate relationships in the civilized world. Audiobooks of serious fiction are an affront to the cognitive values already under threat from an ever-extending quick-fix electronic world – reflection, analysis, reconsideration.

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You can catch Joan's most recent book reviews on WSHU, an NPR member station, where she recently covered The Permanent Press's new African thriller The Uttermost Parts of the Earth by Frederic Hunter. Do pass this piece on to other book lovers you know, and feel free to comment on this post and our others. Also feel free to share your thoughts with us by contacting our co-publisher Marty at shepard@thepermanentpress.com, and Joan herself at joanbaum29@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

HOW MOLDY PAPERBACKS DEFINED MY MIND by Chris Knopf


My reading habit was mostly self-inflicted, though heavily influenced by my father's collection of boyhood books, notably the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Zane Grey, Tom Swift and lots of other popular action writers of the early 20th century now lost in obscurity. 

        But the mystery addiction is all my mother's fault. She didn't know the term, but she was an avid Cozy freak, in love with Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James, Martha Grimes (not technically a Brit) and any other female British writer she could find in the local library. And male, for that matter, especially John Creasy. While stretching the definition, she also dug Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and Ian Fleming. And she had a serious thing for Earl Stanley Gardner, creator of the Perry Mason series, who's all but forgotten these days, even though he was one of the most successful (and prolific) crime writers of all time. I think a mild crush on Raymond Burr (not knowing and likely not caring that he was gay) helped that along.

         Hundreds of these books flowed through my house when I was growing up, usually tattered mass paperbacks that got passed around my extended family of mystery-loving grandmothers, aunts and great uncles. The production quality of those books was minimal, as they were considered essentially pulp trash, so to this day I tend to associate the smell of moldy paper with action and suspense. 

        I was allowed to read anyone but Mickey Spillane, who my mother rightly determined was gratuitously violent. I thought it was also too much sex, suggested by the cover art, which I was disappointed to learn to be a flagrant bait and switch when finally getting my hands on a copy of I, The Jury.

        When I was getting my masters in creative writing at Antioch in London, we had an exhausting reading list of  20th century literary heroes, which I loved, though it got a bit weighty. So I took The Maltese Falcon out of the local library, hoping for some light reading. Instead, I realized I’d just read one of the greatest heroes of Western literature. Scheme foiled, life-long addiction to mysteries entrenched. 

We know that Hammett read Hemingway, since every one did at the time, and you can see plenty of Hemingway’s muscular minimalism in Hammett’s prose. I suspect, however, that Hemingway also read Hammett. Maybe someone out there knows for certain, but the great early 20th century American anti-hero, the tough, cynical, but ultimately moral, even idealistic, Sam Spade bears more than a faint resemblance to Hemingway’s protagonists, more so as the author matured. 

Humphrey Bogart bridges it all. His Harry Morgan in To Have and Have Not was an easy transition from his Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe roles. The debate over what constitutes literature and genre fiction rages on, but to me, at the very top of the work, it’s all of a piece.

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This is the latest blog from Chris discussing the literary world, be it reading, writing, or publishing. He’s had a successful career as a wordsmith, starting with a career in advertising and moving on to write a string of highly successful mysteries. His most recent Sam Acquillo mystery Tango Down is available on Amazon. Chris has won innumerable awards and has had dozens of rights sales around the world, including audio sales to Blackstone Audiobooks. Do pass this on to others you know, post comments on the Cockeyed Pessimist website, and feel free to share your thoughts with Chris via View my Blog The Cockeyed Pessimist, or email Chris directly cknopf@thepermanentpress.com or Martin Shepard at shepard@thepermanentpress.com.



Friday, April 6, 2018

THOUGHTS ON COPY EDITING by Chris Knopf


Every published author will tell you that a great copy editor is a gift from God, and have horror stories about those more in Satan’s camp. I’ve had both. Now that I’m busy with the editorial process, the importance of great copy editing has become even more apparent.

There’s a big range of capabilities different copy editors bring to their roles. Some are basically proofreaders, who concentrate on typos, spelling, punctuation, format screw-ups, like a bad break in the middle of a sentence, things that are objectively incorrect. But beyond that, there’s a lot of room for thoughtful interpretation. Especially for things like commas, colons, semi-colons, quote marks, dashes, and so on. These can have a big impact on style and meaning. The copy editor has to understand the author’s intent, their distinctive voice, to know how to properly suggest how these guideposts should be arranged.

Great copy editors also delve into grammar, usage, syntax, continuity, fact checking, historical accuracy, repetitive or poor word choice, character consistency, even unintended pejoratives  – many of the things developmental editors also attend to. This means they have to have a good understanding of the author’s voice and style, not only to catch and correct tiny errors, but to maintain a clear understanding of the storyline itself. A gestalt on the work as a whole. 

This is where copy editing is a fine art. It’s not their job to rewrite an author’s work. In fact, rewriting a sentence usually guarantees it’s in the copy editor’s style, not that of the author’s. Though sometimes the author doesn’t hear her own voice. She knows what she wants to say, and might think she is saying it, but it doesn’t always come out that way. The copy editor can help by questioning the author’s intent. “Did you mean for the reader to think x or y?”

A not-so-good copy editor is either someone who just misses too many goof-ups, or worse, one who conforms to strict definitions of formal rules. When I was in advertising, I sent some copy to a bigwig for approval. After checking for technical accuracy, he turned it over to his admin, who was a former English teacher. I got it back all marked up with a red pen. She took out all my contractions, re-attached the split infinitives, and after making sure there were no incomplete sentences, ganged them up into long paragraphs. Thus taking all the life out of the prose. 

I thanked her for her help, and sent her a huge stack of long-form brochures asking her to apply her magic, and never heard from her again.      

My favorite copy editors either come from journalism or advertising. Those professions teach you how to keep the writing from straying too far from acceptable standards, but also that style must be a flexible thing, who appreciate the whole and do not distort the author’s voice by fussing over irrelevant particulars, or imposing rules that were first established in the eighteenth century. 

I work with a lot of beta readers who I ask to ignore typos and misspellings, hoping to keep their attention on the greater work.  This is easy for me, since I’m the world’s worst proofreader. And utterly dependent on great copy editors, who are the lifeguards in the narrative stream. 

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This is the newest of the blogs Chris has been posting sharing his thoughts about the art of writing with other writers—be they published or unpublished—that might be helpful. He’s had a successful career as a wordsmith, starting with a career in advertising and moving on to write a string of highly successful mysteries. His most recent Sam Acquillo mystery Tango Down is available on Amazon. Chris has won innumerable awards and has had dozens of rights sales around the world, including audio sales to Blackstone Audiobooks. Do pass this on to others you know, post comments on the Cockeyed Pessimist website, and feel free to share your thoughts with Chris via View my Blog The Cockeyed Pessimist, or email Chris directly cknopf@thepermanentpress.com or Martin Shepard at shepard@thepermanentpress.com

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

NO OBITS NECESSARY FOR THE LIFE OF THE MIND by Chris Knopf

These are times when optimism is about as easy to sustain as the suspension of disbelief watching a superhero movie. I consume way too much of the media fury, so I won't add to it here. Rather, I’d like to address one small slice of the public debate, at least among those who are literate enough to ask: Are we moving into a post-literate society?
No. And here's why.
Just as there's a natural distribution of good looks, intelligence and athletic grace across the population, there's a percentage of people who like to read, absorb information and artistic expression, and formulate their own opinions from the swelter of competing views. Let's assume that the qualities described above are encouraged, for some, by spending four years in college. This means the percentage of the thoughtful and inquisitive is larger than ever: In 1940, only about five percent of the country had graduated from college. Now it’s over a third.
  You’ll hear people say "Kids don’t read anymore." Tell them that books sales, in particular physical books, are growing, and much of that growth is being driven by young readers. It's true that the number of brick and mortar bookstores has declined, but that's because of Amazon and other online sources. It's a matter of distribution, not consumption, and for the purpose of my thesis here, somewhat misleading. 
Journalism is another institution that is supposedly dying on the vine, and for sure, the print media is under huge duress. Though for every daily newspaper that goes under there are hundreds, if not thousands, of fresh news outlets appearing online. You may rightly assert that many, or most, are poorly managed and edited, and filled with uncurated dreck. That still leaves so much worthy and enriching information, and commentary, that you'd never be able to absorb it all.
You can make a strong case that the cretin in the White House has caused an upsurge in media consumption, however polarized individual outlets have become. Trust in the media favored by Democrats has actually improved in recent times. I submit that this is because people are paying more attention, that they're reading more. I also believe that responsible journalism, in an era of propaganda and phony news, is trying harder to keep their facts straight and their commentary thoughtfully nuanced. 
A good friend of mine has a theory of the human mind:  "People have a tendency to extrapolate current circumstances indefinitely into the future." Even the scantest understanding of the past ought to unburden you of this fallacy. We are, no doubt, going through some monumental changes, occurring at an unprecedented pace. This is much of the problem, since rapid change makes it feel like everything is going to hell in a handbasket. The originators of Chaos Theory, a scientific paradigm that explains the behavior of complex systems, say that nature moves from order to disorder in irregular, but relentless, cycles. They call the state between these cycles "phase transition," when things become the most chaotic. 
This is where we're living today. It’s not a post-literate society, it's a society making a painful adjustment to the Information Age, finding their way through the torrent of books, articles and essays, along with posts, Tweets, online rants and blogs, just like this.
If you believe civilization is worth preserving, you have to believe that wisdom and critical thinking are essential ingredients in that preservation. Thought in isolation from information is valuable, but closed-ended. You can only go so far on your own. I maintain that the richest source of revelation and enrichment are books. Whatever form they take, physical or electronic, books will save us from annihilation, from the foolishness – economic, military, environmental, cultural – that is also an irredeemable component of the human experience. 
Don't despair. Publishers are publishing, readers are reading. Thus, thinkers keep thinking. 

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I encourage you to share this blog with others who may enjoy it. I particularly welcome your comments on this cockeyed pessimist site. Chris Knopf's eighth Sam Acquillo mystery, Tango Down, is now available for purchase. You can also reach Chris by email at cknopf@thepermanentpress.com, and follow The Permanent Press on Facebook and Twitter for updates on all our titles!