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Social Media Dump 2021: March 1-16

See also: Feb 15-28, March 17-31

Outrageous! Emily Holden reports that gas companies in Texas have steered municipal power companies in San Antonio and Austin towards more reliance on natural gas and slower implementation of decarbonization plans. Climate change Emily Atkins wrote a column praising Holden’s articles, and I agree.

Thejuicemedia is an Australian-based video agitprop company which make “Honest Government Ads” — videos resembling corporate or official announcements. In fact these “press people” are in fact delivering cynical/condescending/paternalistic messages that make clear that the office is in fact pure evil. Everything is supposed to be satire, and this anti-Trump video . Also, you have why conservatives are incompetent at managing the economy. (Hint: it has to do with spending cuts, tax cuts and more subsidies for fossil fuel development).

There are a lot of Australian-themed ads (which is only logical and occasionally interesting to Americans — see this takedown of Kyoto carbon credits — wow! Recently they have been making revisionist history disguised as satirical tourist ads — See the ones for Puerto Rico, Hawaii and E. Timor.

Actually alongside these satirical ads are interview podcasts on Youtube with well-known liberals.

A GREAT REPUBLICAN! Sen. Bob Dole announced his presidential campaign on Letterman. David Letterman invited him back to the show a few days after he lost. Here he was relaxed, gracious, self-deprecating and very respectful both to Clinton and the institution of the presidency. Here is a man with class. He also is extremely funny too!) About a decade later, I happened upon a humor book edited and written by Bob Dole. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to.

COMING 2 AMERICA — FRIDAY ON PRIME! I am genuinely excited that the sequel to Coming to America will go on Amazon Prime this Friday…. It’s a nice and silly fairy tale with lots of great lines and comic performances. This sequel should be great as well.

Hadley Freeman writes a much-needed defense of Woody Allen after the release of the “true crime” style documentary of his alleged child abuse. I kept an open mind about the subject until the last time the scandal eeked out again 5-10 years ago. Then I read all the related documents in a single day. The investigation in the 1990s established that there was no evidence of child abuse, that at worst, Allen was a strange/neurotic (but loving) father, and that there was a good chance that Farrow was “poisoning the well” in her children’s minds. I’m sure Dylan believes that she was abused (and chivalrously, Ronan Farrow has come to her defense), but the film presents no new evidence, and I’m more inclined to trust the doctors and judges and investigators closer to the time of the event. What is true is that Mia’s charges have already wrecked a director’s movie career even if they were poppycock. I’m not that much of a fan of Woody Allen’s films (so I am not personally invested in whether he did it). But his account of events remains highly plausible to me — while Dylan as an adult seems to have adopted an unprovable claim which only hurts herself and her adoptive father in the long run. Ultimately to me the case doesn’t seem to be about sexual molestation than the use of an inflammatory accusation to pressure the court to refuse child custody to Allen. (Lawyer Alan Dershowitz was probably responsible for such scorched earth tactics).

Here is a long interview from Sun Yi Previn in 2018 . It criticizes many things about Mia Farrow’s parenting skills; and even if Sun Yi’s version of events includes a degree of self-interest, it’s hard to read it without concluding that Mia Farrow was a bit of a nut job herself and a bit too obsessed with children and adoption.

MOVIE RECOMMENDATION: Totally loved the COMING 2 AMERICA sequel (which premiered on AMAZON PRIME yesterday). It was exactly what I expected; a big Hollywood film with most of the original cast and lots of celebrity cameos. Jokes and snide references to the original movie were everywhere. The pagaentry was a feast for the eyes: great costumes and choreography and extravagant silliness. The soundtrack also could not be beat — a mixture of 80s classics and recent funk and comic songs. (like this song).

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Musical Discoveries March 2021 #3

See also: Feb 2021 and April 2021

hello

Capsule Reviews of my Collection

none yet

Musical Mystery Meat

Last month I mentioned how I regularly download this gigantic stash of audio tracks by all sorts of musicians who perform for South by Southwest. I was bowled over by Nigerian Afropop sensation Yemi Alade; here’s an infectious song bumbum (she also sings in English and Nigerian language), and almost all her songs have well-made vids. These songs are just about dancing as they are about the melodies. All the songs have a joyous — get off your feet quality.

Emusic Purchases

Notes

  1. First purchase
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Robert’s Roundup #17 (March 2021 Edition)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup.

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.

Preface

None yet

Indie Author Spotlight

None yet

(Read about indie authors profiled in previous months).

Smashwords Sales

None yet

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints.

Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb — and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month.  (check previous columns herehere and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).

Under the Radar

Sorrows of Young Mike (KU, LE, 0.99 ), by John Zelazny (FB Page) Several years ago Zelazny wrote a modern retelling of Goethe’s Werther, using instead a horny college student travelling around the world. Intriguing premise — hopefully with a different ending the original Goethe! He’s a music journalist who also published Past Deadline, his reporting one year from the Aspen Music Beat festival.

Blink and It’s Gone Sales

(books which go temporarily on sale for a day and then jump back to regular price; to hear about them, you generally need to set up price alerts on ereaderiq).

Creative Commons — Academic — Public Domain

Nothing here yet

Once in a Lifetime Deals

None this time

Indie Titles/Other ebook distributors

None this time

Review Copies Received

None this time

Library Books & Printed books bought (Better World Books, Amazon, etc)

None this time

Ebook Reviews

None so far

Literary Articles and Essays

None so far

Literary Audio/Multimedia

Hillyer Audio

Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from Google, Amazon, BN, Apple and Kobo. In May 2021 you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.

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Social Media Dump 2021: Feb 15-28

See also: Feb 1-14 March 1-15, 2021

Glad to be with power again — whew! Out for 2 1/2 days. I know the snow and low temperature is not that unusual, but I was surprised at how long it took to get online. I spent most of the time reading, checking twitter, napping and counting the minutes (and the charge on my cell phone)……

“If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be antifa pretending to be a duck to make ducks look bad.” (random sarcastic political tweet found on Twitter)

I watched the nice documentary, FRAMING BRITNEY SPEARS (which I recommend). Spears had some great moments doing SNL comedy sketches such as this one. She was referenced in the most recent Saturday’s SNL sketch (played by Chloe Fineman here ).

Speaking of which, I was truly moved by Craig Ferguson’s 2007 defense of Britney Spears and reflection on the nature of “mean jokes.” Ferguson is really one of the funniest, smartest and flirtiest talk show hosts. He has his schtick and apparently all the leading ladies enjoy him.

Kids tell jokes on the David Letterman Show. “Is Mom tired all the time?” Here’s Dave with a 4 year old toothpaste “expert.” Here’s a hilarious Letterman sketch where he visits a letter writer to be weird.

PILE ON TIME? I’m no fan of Ted Cruz (in fact I disagree with him about on just about everything), but it’s crazy and humorous that people from all sides are getting on Cruz’s case about flying to Mexico during the subfreezing power outage. Don’t we have more important things to worry about?

I’ll go into detail later, but I am totally obsessed with the TV show Community which is on Netflix. More lately.

5 Trump Amendments has made to the constitution.

NETFLIX RECOMMENDATION: I’m not usually a fan of Judd Apatow’s movies or TV shows, but I’ve been loving the Netflix show called “LOVE” starring Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust. Both as a dramedy and a look into the underclass in Los Angeles. (Gilian Jacobs was a hilarious cast member in Community, but in this role she plays a toxic/addictive and sad personality).Apparently it was not renewed for a 4th season, but the first 2 seasons seem interesting, light-hearted and occasionally profound.

HILARIOUS SKETCH ABOUT AUTHORS (5 minutes): Here’s a brilliant sketch written and performed by Merrill Markoe — former head writer for the David Letterman Show (also an author herself). Here’s another live performance of a dog sketch which is one of my favorites.

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Robert’s Roundup #16 (Feb 2021 Edition)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup.

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.

Preface

I am creating this post at the start of the month and add to it over time. So for the first half of the month at least, this post seems fairly empty. By month’s end, there’s a lot more there. When I list a price, that means that I was able to buy it at that price, but if you are reading it days or weeks later, there’s a good chance that the price is no longer valid on Amazon or other places. But sale prices do return periodically; that’s why I set up Amazon price alerts on ereaderiq. They will email you when the price on a book reaches a certain price.

Indie Author Spotlight

(Read about indie authors profiled in previous months).

This month’s spotlight is on translator Chris Wen Chao Li (author website) who wrote an entertaining, scholarly and irreverent translation of the Analects of Confucius (1.99). I do a brief book review at the bottom of this blogpost. I provide a link to Smashwords, but actually What Confucius Really Said is available everywhere for the same price.

Sales on Smashwords

Wow, just noticed that Don Q Public by John Opsand Sutherland (author website) is now free. I blogged about this before — recommended!

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints

Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb — and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month.  (check previous columns herehere and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).

Halsey Street (0.99, APUB, KU) by Naima Coster (author website) is a

Under the Radar

Kapka Kassabova (author website) is a Bulgarian-born poet and travel writer who has written a lot about the Balkans (even though she writes in English and has traveled to many countries around the world. Bulgaria was always one of my favorite countries to visit (it was close to Albania where I lived, and I traveled there several times). I’m sure it’s gotten commercialized by now, but the vacation resort of Nesebar was very scenic and beautiful. I bought Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria at 1.99, but the other creative books also look interesting (alas, no discount)

Back at Poetry Parnassus, I discovered that the poet from Turkmenistan Ak Welsapar
lives in Sweden, and Nikola Madzirov, the poet from Macedonia lives, in his own
words, out of a suitcase. The poet from Australia, John Kinsella, is so opposed to
nationhood that he once asked for a Red Cross passport (he was denied it). When I
asked Christodoulos Makris, the poet from Cyprus who lives in Ireland, how he felt
about the Olympic thing, he said: Well, I could equally be representing Ireland, or
Britain. Many poets of course lived in their original homelands and wrote in their first
language. The point is, this Parnassian gathering was a mini-nation in itself: a nation
of Poetry. I was among my people – those for whom poetry is more important than
other things. I felt at home, because home, as the poet Christian Morgenstern said, is
where they understand you.

On the question of home, here is a haiku by the 17th century poet Basho:

‘Even when I am in Kyoto
When I hear the call of the cuckoo
I miss Kyoto.’

I’ve never been to Kyoto, but I miss Kyoto too, because this haiku is not a patriot’s
song, it’s a spiritual incantation. A yearning for the union of the material – which is
not enough – with the imagined. Kyoto chiming with the idea of Kyoto.

Paradise High by William Henning (99 cents)

War of the Roses by Warren Adler (Author Website) (99 cents) This novel was later adapted into a comedy film.

Rainbow like You by Andréa Fehsenfeld (author website and blog)

Blood and Wine by Katie O’Rourke. (author website and blog) 99 cents, LE, Arizona-based author whose books are about family melodramas, sagas, etc. 5 books so far, this one is about a runaway (good first chapter).

Blink and it’s Gone Sales

(books which go temporarily on sale for a day and then jump back to regular price; to hear about them, you generally need to set up price alerts on ereaderiq).

If you follow the literary world, you certainly know who Bradford Morrow (website) is. He’s a Bard professor who edits the long running litmag Conjunctions. He’s also a pretty good fiction writer — I’ve read things here and there and have a few BM novels on my tablet. I subscribed to Conjunctions about 20 years ago — used to love reading it. (Update: I think I might have subscribed to it in 1990 or 1991 when the mag was first coming out) The issues were not chronological, but just fat issues released 2x a year around a theme. The art was beautiful, and it was chock full of poetry too. Occasionally it published lots of theme issues (fiction around a certain theme — Exile, Other Aliens, Radical Shadows, New Wave Fabulists). Then the Internet happened and everything changed.

A few years ago Conjunctions started digitizing their issues and selling them as ebooks on Amazon. Price was typically 7.99, but 1)most of their issues are also on Kindle Unlimited and 2)they regularly are discounted to 1.99. (Conjunctions has been using Open Road Media to promote their issues). I basically set an author alert on Amazon and everytime something reaches $2 I buy it. This issues are gigantic (500 pages) and contain a nice mixture of contributions of grad students and well known names who were presumably solicited or offered by agents or publishers. In terms of value, I also recommend buying these — and really who cares when they were originally published? Most of the time, litmags are fascinating time capsules into the imagination of a certain generation.

Allison Lurie (who died last year at the age of 94) has written many fine books, and I’ve read two of them so far. Many of her ebooks are discounted often, and I just chose Imaginary Friends (2.99), which is about sociologists who infiltrate a cult for the purpose of research. Here’s the author website.

Creative Commons — Academic — Public Domain

None this time?

Once in a Lifetime Deals

None this time?

Indie Titles/Other Ebook Distributors

HUMBLE BUNDLE: I’m not entirely comfortable with comic books, but this $25 bundle of comics from indie artists sounds amazing. Some are sci fi, some are fantasy, some are adaptations of classic literature. Here’s how to view these things on your devices. Apparently the CBZ files are about 1/3 of file size of epub/PDF, and all the CBZ files are between 25-30 MB. For that reason Humble Bundle recommends adding them to your SD card on your tablet instead of uploading them. (Either you use Moon+ or Adobe Digital Editions to read).

Review Copies Received

Two Books by Clay Reynolds

Library Books & Printed books bought (Better World Books, Amazon, etc)

Tune In

EBook Review: What Confucius Really Said

What Confucius Really Said, Translated by Chris Wen Chao Li, 1.99 ebook, 2019, (Available on Smashwords, GPB, Amazon, etc).

Summary: A brilliant, inventive and original translation using contemporary idioms

I’d read bits and pieces of Analects in college, but found it dry and not as provocative as other classic texts like Chuang Tzu (for example). Then I encountered this wonderful and clever translation. It’s one of the most original and delightful translations of a literary work I have ever encountered. Here’s the conceit. Chris Wen-chao Li, recognizing that English-speaking readers might not understand the historical context of Analects, decides to translates all the aphorisms using U.S. slang and American pop culture references — as though Confucius were some hip comedian making snarky remarks about Obama or California on his Twitter feed. At first it sounds strange and almost irreverent, but after a while you get used to it and even enjoy it. After all, if Confucius were alive today, why WOULDN’T he be all over Twitter? I read a large chunk of this book on an airline trip and chuckled aloud multiple times. It’s hilarious! I’m sure Chris Wen-chao Li took tremendous liberties here, but the book provides ample footnotes about what the original text was like and what the original cultural references were. I cannot comment on the textual accuracy of the translations (though I did compare certain passages with David Hinton and others and saw nothing seriously amiss). But the English phrases are elegant, compact and always fun.

This was easily one of my favorite reads of 2019. It brings Confucius to life in unexpected and readable ways; it combines the best of both worlds: solid scholarship with a highly readable (and entertaining) text. The Confucius in this translation jumps off the page and seems more relevant than ever to adventurous readers.

Literary Articles and Essays

Must read books set in Los Angeles. If you haven’t seen it, Andrew Dansby wrote a great Best of Texas fiction column a few months ago (More titled toward recent titles, but still a good list).

Interview with Valerie Trueblood by Roxanne Gay. (Maybe I blogged about her before, one of my fave authors). Trueblood’s books are all at Counterpoint.

John Barth is 90; a former student reflects on his fiction and laments that his later novels have been ignored. (FYI, I studied under Barth at the JHU Writing workshop. I had a picture taken of me at a picnic with Stephen Dixon and John Barth. I remember I was wearing an extremely tacky shirt, but alas, I lost the photograph. I confess I haven’t read enough about Barth. Here’s a Lannon interview video with Barth.

Kafka Translator Stanley Corngold on Kafka:

Seven years later he died a terrible death from tuberculosis of the larynx. But he is a man of many contrarieties. For many years he visited brothels, swam robustly, climbed steep hills, and rode around the countryside on a motorcycle. He spent his mature days as a competent, highly valued in-house lawyer at a partly state-run institute for workmen’s compensation. There, he innovated safety devices for Bohemian factories and advocated the founding of a hospital for shell-shocked war veterans, which was a novelty. He had many interests, including gardening and reading Platonic dialogues with friends, but also social work, especially on behalf of war refugees from Eastern Europe.

Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. All the titles are discounted on Smashwords for less that price — and usually under $1.50. Pay attention to any 100% coupon codes which I occasionally list below — they can be redeemed only a small number of times, so first come, first serve. Smashwords only sells epub versions of these titles, but you can easily convert them to Amazon’s mobi format by using Kindle Previewer or Calibre.

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Musical Discoveries Feb 2021 #2

See also: Jan 2021 and March 2021

One of the funniest scenes from Schitt’s Creek was Alexis’ Rose wacky audition for a musical with her “hit song.” Here’s a live performance of her hit song with another Texas singer named Kelley. Even better is a folk-acoustic duet version starring Noah Reid (who also is an actor from the show).

Recently I’ve fallen in love with Brandi Carlile, especially the song Stranger at my Door. How about these lyrics!

I have seen the fire watcher’s daughter
Watching fires burn from smoke to black
There’s nothing she won’t burn
From Styrofoam to urns, to someone else’s ashes in a sack
You can scorch the metal, you can even melt the glass
You can pass the time here, fire lives into the past
An all-consuming flame, that refines and new begins
It’ll take your family heirlooms,
But it can take your darkest sins
It’s a good ol’ bedtime story, give you nightmares ’til you die
And the ones that love to tell it, hide the mischief in their eyes
Condemn their sons to Hades
And Gehenna is full of guys, alive and well
But there ain’t no hell for a fire-watchers daughter
We exercise the demons of the things we used to know
The gnashing of the teeth become the remnants of our homes
We think we’re moving on, from materials we long
To forget we ever sold our souls to own
There’s a chilling absolution that we’re given from our birth
A powerful delusion and a plague upon the earth
But nothing scares me more
Then the stranger at my door
Who I fail to give shelter, time, and worth
Let the good ol’ bedtime story, give you nightmares ’til you die
And the ones that love to tell it, hide the mischief in their eyes
Condemn their sons to Hades
And Gehenna is full of guys, alive and well
But there ain’t no hell for a fire-watchers daughter..

I don’t pay much attention to lyrics, but sometimes it’s fun to look up an English translation of lyrics to see what the hell the song is about. There’s an amazing Ukrainian song by a Ukrainian group Время и Стекло (Time and Glass). I looked up the lyrics online to find that the song was called Love.net (pronounced Love.nyet!)

No love dot net, no love and it is our final point
The curtains are drawn and light is switched off
no love dot net, I am not waiting for a call
I do not believe in love, no love dot net

For Franco’s song, sometimes the song has a very specific meaning: the outstanding song Azda is simply the music to a car commercial. Another song — the moving Kinshasa Mboka Ya Makambo (Kinshasa Town of Problems) is about friends who betray him. A rough translation online:

The same friends i used to work with want hurt me because they’ve lost their medals.
Please, authorities , grant them a medal so they won’t try to hurt me anymore .

(Musicians had been spreading lies about Franco’s life and career after his success). Franco’s guitar solos in both of these songs are just incredible!

Good live acoustic version of Sheryl Crow singing Love is a Good Thing. The yell isn’t as piercing, but it’s still cool and that song is just so dazzling — love that harmonica solo! Her voice is so versatile and expressive! Other Crow live versions: Gasoline/Gimme Shelter

Here’s a song by Japanese punk group Otoboke Beaver which can’t be unseen. Here’s another from these scream queens.

I’ve been listening to songs from a gigantic stash of songs from the South By Southwest bit torrent — the heroic collection and distribution of 1000s of songs by musicians who perform at that Austin festival. But 2020 was an anomaly. We had the torrent, but none of the musicians showed up! I’ve been collecting all 15 years, and I generally try to rank songs on a 1-5 scale. I delete the 1s immediately, but I keep the rest. After I finish rating all the tracks, I relisten to the 3s to decide if I want to increase their rating. The reason I do this is when I create playlists, I use only 4s and 5s — sometimes only 5s!

By far the hardest part about rating everything is listening to every single rap/hip hop song. That’s not my genre admittedly, but the average rating for the rap tracks is pretty low; it is painful to listen to all 150-200 rap songs every year. Some styles (the so called “Trap rap”) is choppy and more playing on sounds than the meaning of words. Sometimes the bass is really heavy and sometimes these rappers rely too much on autotuneAlso, some songs are laced with obscenities, expressions of violence or anger. I mean, a little of that is okay — especially if there’s a social message here, but sometimes it seems gratuitous or just hammy. That said, I do identify some rap songs deserving of a 5; I end up becoming a superfan of these artists. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

Musical Spreadsheet

In 2014 I decided to start a simple spreadsheet of albums I liked. I created a simple Google form which allowed space for a short review. I ripped/downloaded and listened to so much music that I needed to keep track. I haven’t been super-conscientious about filling it in or even writing trenchant criticism, but so far I have 416 reviews. This is just a small fraction of music I have listened to (and even loved), but generally I’ve hit the main discoveries since that time. The simple fact is that it’s hard to keep names and albums in my head — especially for indie albums or instrumentals.

Filling out the form has been useful. It has forced me to try to assign categories to music and to look up basic information (such as when I downloaded it and reviewed it). Actually, the biggest challenge has been to describe the music in a memorable way. For a classroom exercise for English learners, I would play mysterious pieces for students and ask them to describe it metaphorically – using familiar language. I provided helpful vocabulary, but I realized at the time how hard it was to do this. For a nonmusical type who hasn’t studied music in any way, you can’t throw in musical terms (and maybe you don’t recognize what a chord progression is or even what instrument is even playing). Even lyrics can be hard to decipher or understand the meaning of (Luckily there are multiple lyric songs and lyric translation sites…not to mention Google Translate). But I’ll be honest; I don’t pay all that much attention to lyrics whose language I actually understand. While living overseas, I realized that the best thing about country music was that you actually could understand and appreciate the lyrics. That’s not nothing.

Reviewing albums is hard, and frankly I don’t see how Robert Christgau or the writers at Pitchfork do it.

Brief Reviews of my Collection

Morskaya (Nautical) by Mummiy Troll (1997): Quirky, fun and Russian rock album by a goofy singer who looks like Mick Jagger but sings strange/nonsense lyrics in a relaxed /sarcastic way like David Byrne. Mummiy Troll has survived the Russian music scene for 20+ years, but this album has staying power — esp with Utekay and Zabavy. The rock band’s arrangements keep it lively and rocking — with certain effects — like the guitar reverb for the refrain of Zabavy. This album doesn’t impress at first, but I’ve keep coming back to this 1997 album.

Laurie Anderson’s Homeland (2010): Another series of great fine poetic songs for a hybrid-avantepop album. Melodies still have occasional pop resonances (Bodies in Motion), albeit with subversive political messages (Only an expert) and Eastern spirituality. There’s a lot of stillness, long pauses, subdued violins and slow-motion chanting — with occasional gongs to mark time. Despite the vocals, the energy comes from the violins and eerie reverberations from god-knows-what. Songs are soothing, but troubled and dissonant. The only song my ears couldn’t tolerate was a slow-moving 11 minute chant-story with sound effects (and sung with a deeper voice). The songs keep returning to the decline of America and civilization(Dark Time in Revolution). Novices to Anderson’s ouvre might find the songs plodding, but I find them intense and all-enveloping. I don’t think anyone is doing this kind of thing in the pop world (maybe Suzanne Vega or Yo Lo Tengo), but I am finding echoes of Brian Eno, Philip Glass and John Cage.

Law of the Playground by Boy Least Likely To. These upbeat lyrical songs seem lovely, deliberately insubstantial, with the simple hummable melodies you’d find on a kid’s show. Underneath that are sophisticated arrangements with banjos, electronic toots, , an emphasis on concrete images from childhood (balloon, butterflies, worm, lemonade). The vocals seem a little too airy and muttering (and possibly monotonous?). Group with Mike Viola or Eliot Smith.

Firewatcher’s Daughter by Brandi Carlile (2015). Lovely mix of upbeat country rock and lilting ballads. It’s melancholy and wistful. That pounding energy reminds one of Johnny Cash (especially STRANGER AT MY DOOR which is chilling and very poetic — also BEGINNING TO FEEL THE YEARS). The band knows how to belt out some tunes, and the singer feels country at times (Allison Moorer) and at other times more contemporary (like Sheryl Crow or Bonnie Raitt). As a song lyricist, Carlile’s talent is unsurpassed (somewhat introspective, but more cautionary and story-oriented), and all of the tracks are unadorned enough that they’d probably sound even better as live performances.

How Can We Be Silent by BarlowGirl (2007). BarlowGirl sing epic Christian progrock with soaring electric guitars and heavy metal drums. It has the full symphonic sound of a Boston or Metallica, feisty chick energy (Heart) and generally upbeat song lyrics. The vocal harmonies emphasize the power and unity of the message, and there’s enough slow lyrical parts to showcase the great singing chops of Alyssa and Lauren Barlow. Despite the limitations of Christian message music, these songs are refreshingly original, would definitely appeal to teens of all persuasions and the studio arrangements are divine. I have to wonder how these would sound in a pared down performance. Update: It needs to be said that I love almost every BarlowGirl album — but that group has long since disbanded.

***

Sorry to hear that jazz great Chick Corea has passed away. Unfortunately it reminds me of the time in the early 1990s when I won free concert tickets from a radio station. After I picked up the Chick Corea tickets, I asked a girl I had recently met at a college mixer to come along. She said yes and we agreed to meet at a cafe so we could drive together to the concert. As it happens, on the evening of the concert, the girl “forgot” and wasn’t home to hear my phone message asking where the hell she was. So no Chick Corea concert for me. That night I learned a valuable dating lesson: if you are asking someone on a date to a concert, you should ALWAYS meet them at the concert venue so if the woman ends up flaking, you can still enjoy the concert! Here’s a Tiny Desk concert from 2016.

Emusic Purchases

Okay, even though I know that browsing through emusic is a pain in the neck, I’ve decided to pay for another $200 credit (costing $75) to keep downloading away. I rationalize it by saying that there are a few quality labels still there that if worse comes to worse, I can just buy out their inventory.

  1. Journey into the Sun Within by Travellers. 5.49, 6 tracks, 52 minutes. (review) Outstanding prog-rock from the Polish Metal Mind label. Wojtek Szadkowski from Satellite formed this amazing one-time band.
  2. Nostalgia by Satellite. 7 tracks, 57 minutes, 2.99. More from Wojtek’s original band.
  3. Live by Alpes, 4 tracks, 20 minutes 99 cents.
  4. Whoop Dee Do by Muffs, 6.49, 37 minutes, 12 tracks. Muffs are a great punk bad led by Kim Shattuck (who died in late 2019). Released in 2014 (after they had their moment in the sun and also after Shattuck finished her 6 month stint with the Pixies), this well-received album stays lively and silly — and yes, there’s a lot of screaming. This was their last album, but it feels as fresh as what they were pumping out in the 1990s

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Social Media Dump 2021: Feb 1-Feb 14

See also: Jan 15-31, 2021 Feb 15-28, 2021

A longish profile of author Water Tevis who wrote Queen’s Gambit. I have all his books, but have only read Man who Fell to Earth which Michael Dirda described as a “brilliant tale of loneliness, alcohol dependency and despair.” I’m sure his other books were excellent. Curiously, the main author I publish — Jack Matthews taught at the same creative writing program along with author Daniel Keyes. (I talked briefly with Matthews about that fact, but didn’t mention anything else because I felt that both were less interesting authors than Matthews.

Here’s a fun game to guess the language. I got 3 out of 4 right on this one. They include subtitles — but don’t reveal the language spoken until the end… The next three videos are a LOT harder (and more interesting), and all the guessers are language teachers or multilingual. For these three I only averaged 1 per video (if I were lucky!) 

Here’s a fascinating video essay by Vox about the history of the peacock wicker chair.

AMAZON PRIME TV Recommendation: UPLOAD (trailer) is a futuristic TV comedy series about a young man who dies and whose uploaded consciousness is uploaded to a massively multiplayer HEAVEN which (for a hefty fee) he is allowed to keep playing and keep in touch with people in meatspace (who may or may not want to keep in touch). As it happens, the avatar falls in love with his “angel” (actually a young overworked & underpaid woman in the real world assigned to resolve customer service issues with avatar inhabitants). The story is great fun (in the spirit of THE GOOD PLACE), loaded with special effects and fun interactions between the living one and virtual one. A few years ago, the San Junipero episode in Black Mirror used this basic plot as a profound meditation about the afterlife and the preservation of loved ones in virtual worlds. Eventually this plot will grow tiresome, but UPLOAD provides ample opportunity to bathe the story in semi-realistic computer special effects while confronting social issues (there are several tiers of heaven, depending on ability of survivors to pay). What is revolutionary here is that a Non-player character (NPC) is allowed to have feelings and goals, providing to viewers a pleasant deception of free will. Contrary to a metaphysical fairy tale like the GOOD PLACE, this theoretical world is both plausible and cynical. Philosophers have argued about whether the universe is actually a gigantic simulation. What no one seems to have thought about is whether the “real” universe could eventually turn into a simulation once the population of videogame avatars outnumber the world of the living. UPLOAD is just a smart silly show, but it’s all the more disturbing because it tries to imagine a virtual world which disappears once the survivors stop paying or an upgrade fails and no one knows how to reboot it.

Dem Impeachment manager Jamie Raskin:

FIRE DAMAGE: “The incitement to violence is of course not protected by the First Amendment. That’s why most Americans have dismissed Donald Trump’s First Amendment rhetoric simply by referring to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ handy phrase, “You can’t shout fire in a crowded theater.” But even that time honored principle doesn’t begin to capture how off base the argument is. This case is much worse than someone who falsely shouts fire in a crowded theater. It’s more like a case where the town fire chief who’s paid to put out fires sends a mob. Not to yell fire in a crowded theater, but to actually set the theater on fire. And who then, when the fire alarms go off and the calls start flooding into the fire department asking for help, does nothing, but sit back, encourage the mob to continue its rampage, and watch the fire spread on TV with glee and delight. So then we say this fire chief should never be allowed to hold this public job again. And you’re fired and you’re permanently disqualified. And he objects. And he says we’re violating his free speech rights just because he’s pro-mob or pro-fire or whatever it might be. Come on. I mean, you really don’t need to go to law school to figure out what’s wrong with that argument. Here’s the key. Undoubtedly, a private person can run around on the street expressing his or her support for the enemies of the United States and advocating the overthrow of the United States government. You’ve got a right to do that under the First Amendment. But if the president spent all of his days doing that, uttering the exact same words, expressing support for the enemies of the United States and for overthrowing the government, is there anyone here who doubts that this would be a violation of his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and that he or she could be impeached for doing that? Look, if you’re President of the United States, you’ve chosen a side with your oath of office. And if you break it, we can impeach, convict, remove, and disqualify you permanently from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States. As Justice Scalia once said, memorably, “You can’t ride with the cops and root for the robbers.” And if you become inciter in chief to the insurrection, you can’t expect to be on the payroll as commander chief for the union.”

MY TAKE: Probably the most interesting and revealing about this impeachment is that despite the overwhelming evidence of guilt, Republican senators seem unlikely to vote for impeachment. This failure will sound a LOUD and CLEAR message to Americans and the rest of the world that Republicans lack political courage to stand up to demagogues.

“Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” (Voltaire, quoted during the impeachment trial).

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Musical Discoveries January 2021 #1

See also: Feb 2021

Why didn’t I think of doing posts about music before? I’ll try doing it once per month — see how that goes. This will be an ongoing post, which means that I’ll post it immediately and keep adding to it until the month is over. That means I’ll no longer be including them in my social media dump. At the bottom I’ll include a list of music acquisitions/purchases from Bandcamp, emusic and For completeness I’ll reproduce what I’ve already posted.

Some jazz from Ecuador: Here are 2 nice numbers by a Tropical band Alleguez Son.

Here’s a nice uplifting religious song by two African-American women. Here’s a video of the two actually singing at church (WIllie Mae is the singer, and Sister Fleeta Mitchell is playing piano and also blind ) (The SATAN recording comes from ART OF FIELD RECORDING VOLUME 1 which you can hear in its entirety on bandcamp.

4 fave albums when I was 14: Close Encounters, Are We Not Men?, Tusk, Breakfast in America

4 ALBUM CHALLENGE (faves when I was 14 years old) I always loved Supertramp’s masterpiece Breakfast in America (and not just “Logical Song” — which contained a sampled sound from a handheld football game every boy my age played). DEVO’s Are We Not Men? was the first album to completely blow my mind in the early 1980s — dadaistic, nihilistic, stupid rock (my god, “jocko homo!”). Fleetwood Mac’s TUSK was a very IMPERFECT album by a band I already knew and loved. It had Buckingham’s rowdy rock (What makes you think you’re the one?) and Stevie Nick’s mysticism (Sara, Beautiful Child). Like WHITE ALBUM, it was stylistically all over the map — an amalgam of personal styles that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. Finally, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND soundtrack was an amazing soundtrack I first listened to in its entirety in the 2000s — I knew the music already well, but I had never listened to it start to finish before. Strangely this John Williams soundtrack was nominated for (but did not win) the 1978 Oscar for “Best original score” — losing instead to the soundtrack of Star Wars by — you guessed it, John Williams.

Other albums high on my list: Blondie’s Parallel Lines, Billy Joel’s 52nd Street (It was no “Stranger” but still excellent), Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack (loved Yvonne Ellman and those supercool instrumentals by David Shire), Soundtrack to FM Movie (this 2 record set of pop songs was perfect — and I listened to it 1000s of times). Also, the comedy album, WILD AND CRAZY GUY by Steve Martin, which all jokesters at my age could recite verbatim. I actually started buying albums in 1977 or so; I could only afford TUSK, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and FM and (unfortunately) Bee Gee’s SPIRITS HAVE FLOWN and the Bee Gee’s soundtrack of Sergeant Pepper Lonely Heart’s Club Band movie (will defend it to the death!). Later in 1980-3 high school friends lent me heavy metal albums, Led Zeppelin, Blondie, Police.. **

BLONDIE LIVE! While diving into musical nostalgia, I found a great live 1979 performance of Blondie singing this milestone song Atomic. . Sound quality is not great, but you can hear her vocals very well. “Atomic” seems to be one of those songs that sounds great in the studio, but it is a challenge to sing well in a live performance — indeed, when when she tried singing it live in the 1990s and 2000s, the performance was less than adequate — and sometimes even terrible. But she absolutely nails it here.. Enjoy!

Here’s another very good live performance from 1980 (with excellent sound quality, good vocals, and some amazing embellishments by the band… **

Still catching up on fave music links. First, I highly recommend this Out of Obscurity podcast managed by two US music fans — one of whom lives in Thailand. (Here’s a subreddit devoted to it). The Thailand dweller (Julian Lee) is all over several music forums — especially emusic — and speaks Mandarin, so has a special expertise in Asian music. It’s more chatty than previewing music, and by the way, I might be a guest on this show! (see my one page blog about unusual finds on emusic, bandcamp and freegal). Hmm, now that I think of it, I should start doing posts exclusively about my music discoveries. (I’ve spent years cramming my music discoveries I may start doing that in a month or so (stay tuned).

From this podcast, Dekalb Fucking City by Demons. (free download)

Readers may find this hard to believe, but I’m a huge fan of country music — especially stuff that has a more folk sound. Here’s a great live performance by Leona Williams. (website) from a decade ago.

Here’s a great live performance of British electronic pop band Fenech-Soler singing “Somebody.” (hey, they gotta work on that name!)

Music & Compensation (Chart):

Source: 2019 IFPI Global Music Report Annual Report (PDF)

Also, according to a 2018 Citi analysis summarized by Rolling Stone, total music revenues in the USA are $43 per year, and artists take home $5 billion (i.e., 12%)

To my amazement, video footage of a live performance of the Shaggs is now on youtube. A music critic on youtube has done a video about the “worst album of the world” . Ultimately you should read the original Susan Orleans profile in the New Yorker about the band. (more about Susan Orlean). I could have sworn that I had at least one essay collection by her, but alas, no.

It’s done — a text file listing every single album folder in my Music folder (15,500+ albums worth, 277,660 audio files, 1.42 TB). Here’s the magic Windows command:

C:\Users\idiot>dir /AD /B /ON /S Music* >> robert-music.txt

Here’s a gorgeous song by one of my favorite bands, Many Birthdays (whom I once called the “New Asparagus.” ). You can even download it for pay what you want on bandcamp. John Dixon and Sarah Luce are the duo that creates this lovely ethereal music:

Sun coming up over the mountain
not gonna lie, it’s been a tough year
been a long night, been a long season
sun coming up over the mountain

Bandcamp, Sun Coming Up by Many Birthdays.

I came across Dixon randomly on the Internet and have been following this band since 2003(!). (I tracked Dixon down and had lunch with him and caught him at a Houston concert. I check in every year or few months to see what’s going on with them. Every time I do, I’m happily surprised. John has been writing compositions for movies under the name Bass Earth Sun. I would put this music in the category of Avante-pop with some Japanese mischievousness thrown in (John and his girlfriend lived in Japan for a while). You could put them in the same category as Black Moth Super Rainbow or another British Triphop group I love, Haelos.

I really should posting my Youtube playlists. I don’t belong to a streaming service anymore, so most of my playlists are on Youtube:

  • Dreamy Chillout & Trip Hop from 90s and Beyond
  • Latest Hot Stuff for the World — random non-US recent vids with a power pop/Dance vibe. The more insanely visual, the better! (also, lots of Eurovision songs)
  • Dora’s Love-Disco Rollercoaster — really fun and dance-disco stuff from the 70s or so.
  • KPM Music Gems — KPM was a mysterious treasure trove of “library music” (background tracks owned by labels and lent to TV, radio, film projects and porn), but generally unavailable to the public. KPM has started to be distributed on streaming music channels, so now is the time to discover these things. Generally they sound funky and jazzy, but they are divided by mood and intended use. Look for the Keith Mansfield stuff, which is incredible. BTW, if you have Freegal, they carry almost all the albums for download.
  • Star Band de Dakar. — I found this incredible Senegal band from the 1970s and 1980s. Ostinato Records put out an incredible compilation album called Psicodelia Afro-Cubana de Senegal, but apparently this group has released other albums (great, but not as incredible as the one I just mentioned). Every time I find a new track from this band, I include it here.
  • Intro to Philip Glass. I made this playlist for an immigrant friend who had never heard of this composer
  • Zany/offbeat Eurovision songs. I love everything about Eurovision and the music is even great too. I’ve been collecting lots of favorite songs and performances from previous years.
  • Big Short Soundtrack. Big Short is one of my alltime fave movies, and the music is great too.
  • 1965 was a very good year. I’ve been collecting songs from my birthyear.
  • Pure Poetry in Music Vids. This is more about the music vids than the music itself, but the songs are pretty awesome too.
  • Songs with “Robert” or “Bobby” in the title.
  • CMJ Compilations. In the 1990s my musical tastes emerged from the complimentary CD included with issues of CMJ. Here’s #38 October 1996, #44 April 1997, #46 June 1997. All of these are great compilations.

I actually have posted a lot of things about music on my Emusic purchase page and I keep a Google Docs spreadsheet of occasional reviews I write of albums. Also, I maintain — (seriously!) a text file containing every single text file I have a copy of (coming soon).

Emusic/Bandcamp/etc Acquisitions

  1. Nahoko by Andrew Abboushi. 5 tracks, 99 cents, 17 minutes.
  2. Capim-Cidreira by Rael, 10 tracks. 10 tracks, 34 minutes, 99 cents,
  3. Gloria by Indee , 9 tracks. 99 cents, 29 minutes.
  4. s/t by Drik Barbosa. 11 tracks. 99 cents, 39 minutes
  5. 50 Best Hits by Charlie Rich, 50 tracks, 7 dollars, 124 minutes.
  6. Estado de Poesia by Chico Cesar. 14 tracks, 67 minutes, 99 cents.
  7. Doozicabraba e a Revolução Silenciosa by Emcida featuring Rael, 10 tracks, 99 cents, 33 minutes.
  8. Gente Bonita by Fióti feat. Anelis Assumpção. 6 tracks. 99 cents, 22 minutes
  9. MM3 by Metá Metá. 9 tracks. 99 cents, 40 minutes.
  10. MetaL MetaL by Metá Metá. 9 tracks. 99 cents, 40 minutes.
  11. s/t by Metá Metá, 10 tracks. 99 cents, 43 minutes.
  12. Encarnado by Juçara Marçal. 99 cents, 40 minutes, 12 tracks.
  13. Przypływ by Jazzpospolita 3.49, 50 minutes, 8 tracks.
  14. Mobius Omega by Spice, 8 tracks, 3.49, 37 minutes
  15. X by Merchan, 16 tracks, 113 minutes, 99 minutes
  16. s/t by Nichole Rubira, 5 tracks, 99 cents, 17 minutes.
  17. Matavitela by Juanze, 10 tracks. 4.49, 42 minutes
  18. Narcotic Boys by Winter Boys, 6 tracks, 99 cents, 31 minutes

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Social Media Dump 2021: Jan 16 to Jan 31

See also: 2021 Jan 1-15 and 2021 Feb 1-14

Still catching up on fave music links. First, I highly recommend this Out of Obscurity podcast managed by two US music fans — one of whom lives in Thailand. (Here’s a subreddit devoted to it). The Thailand dweller (Julian Lee) is all over several music forums — especially emusic — and speaks Mandarin, so has a special expertise in Asian music. It’s more chatty than previewing music, and by the way, I might be a guest on this show! (see my one page blog about unusual finds on emusic, bandcamp and freegal). Hmm, now that I think of it, I should start doing posts exclusively about my music discoveries. (I’ve spent years cramming my music discoveries I may start doing that in a month or so (stay tuned).

Great article about why the natural gas industry is pushing hydrogen fuel.

The concept of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a point in the future when renewable energy is economically viable is over; renewable energy is already often cheaper than natural gas. Research and analyses continue to reveal natural gas as a dirty fuel, raising pressure on the industry. Now, the European gas lobby Eurogas has begun talking up blue hydrogen — derived from methane and relying on pricey and largely undeveloped carbon capture technology — as the new bridge fuel.

The natural gas industry has been a victim of its own success, producing record amounts of gas but losing massive amounts of money in the process. Fracking has helped unleash huge amounts of methane, and oil and gas companies continue to discover more natural gas that they need to sell — because their continued existence is based on discovering and selling more oil and gas. But the reality is that much of that natural gas will remain in the ground as stranded assets because there won’t be willing buyers unless the industry can convert its current infrastructure to use methane-derived hydrogen to create a new market for methane.

On the generations page for Wikipedia, there is a great graphic differentiating each US generation by nickname (Baby Boomer, Generation X, etc). The graphic is here. The article itself very interestingly describe how other countries refer to generations. The “Strawberry Generation” refers to Taiwanese people born in the 1980s who are “easily bruised.” has the “Post-80s” The Children of Perestroika generation refers to children born with no memories of communist control. I like the “MTV Generation” which — despite behind a commercial tagline — accurately groups the people who grew up with MTV.

Wow, here’s an even more interesting graphic: a comparison of relative population size. Strangely, for Generation X, the number of people born in that cohort is less than the number who live in USA who belong in that cohort (I’m assuming immigration is responsible for that — or maybe someone has invented a cloning machine without telling anybody!).

Source: Wikipedia

Here’s a fascinating media criticism of the host entrance scenes in the Price is Right. It’s 25 minutes long (!) but is a fascinating analysis about the subtle ways game shows and talk shows manipulate you with clever sets and camera shots. Related: Here’s a short film (Perfect Bid: The Contestant who knew too much) about the best contestant ever for the Price is Right. It’s an amazing story and really fun to watch. **

Here’s a fun Southern dude wax poetic about bidets. Here’s a sequel where he praises to the heavens the “rolls-royce of bidets”. **

“Narcissism begets narcissism. Trump’s narcissism will create more narcissism in American society. Trump is not the end. Trump is the manifestation of problems that have been brewing for years. With respect to the impact that narcissism has had on America and is going to have, Trump is just the beginning. We have to be concerned about this. Narcissism is an epidemic, and we cannot let it dictate the course of history. The problem that we have now is that all the people who really believe that the election was stolen and that it is time for an insurrection — they really believe that — they are ready to kill people; they are ready to invade the capitol and foster a coup — because they believe they are right. That is the thing that a lot of people who are normal — whose perceptions of the world is based in reality and facts and things which can be tested — we can barely comprehend how delusional these people are and we underestimate them for that reason. The problem that we have in America now — that we have been fostering for 30-40 years in the name of profit — is that the delusional people are FUCKING ARMED. ” (New Yorker reporter & videographer Luke Mogelson — who personally videotaped the Trump extremists as they stormed around the Senate floor). Here’s another commentary by Mogelson. **

Classic comedy improvisation sketch from 13 years ago — and wait for the surprise near the end.

I SMELL A NEW OBSESSION: Watching reruns of Love Connection (a very cheesy dating show from the 80s and 90s). I’ve been watching old Dating Game episodes for a while now. The show itself isn’t that interesting (the question time is really short, and it seems very staged), but for a while every major celebrity and potential celebrity ran through it including Michael Jackson, the Carpenter siblings, Farah Fawcett, Andy Kaufman, Maureen McCormick (aka Marcia Brady) and lots more (including a serial killer). My faves have to be Don Rickles (asking questions on behalf of a young woman) and John Ritter (at the tender age of 19). **

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’ve been moonlighting as a stunt car driver for several Hollywood studios. Here’s me as a fanatic of extreme sports and running software teams. **

Tom Tomorrow 1/25/2021


I cannot tell you how much I look forward to the weekly Tom Tomorrow cartoon every Monday morning. Love the Ted Cruz/Monty Python reference: “Indeed, let us not bicker about who did or did not incite a murderous mob.” Ok, I shouldn’t have swiped the comic, but I’m finally going to subscribe (and pay for) Sparky’s List newsletter. A few observations about Tom Tomorrow’s comics:

  • Try to grab one of the printed collection of strips. You really get to appreciate the color and shapes of everything.
  • Believe it or not, though the topical references seem to fade, it’s still delightful to read these strip decades later.
  • It’s a dense comic, and you need to unpack it — and often subtleties can be missed the first time.
  • It’s hard to capture political absurdities with an image, but Tom Tomorrow sometimes hit the bull’s eye (such as the Invisible Hand — it gives me joy every time he makes another appearance).
  • Apart from the visual style and humor, you could view his comics as a lesson in bad logic and actually bad-faith logic

BEST PICTURE: Every year before nominations are announced and without having seen any of the movies, I predict which movie will win the Oscar for Best Picture. This year my pick is NOMADLAND. (My guesses are based on superficial criteria, film buzz and awards, the trailer and that indescribable wholesomeness + “indie-ness.” I’ve also heard wonderful things about Minari — and have actually seen “Trial of the Chicago 7” at home…)

RIP Jessica Campbell who died of indeterminate causes a week ago. Campbell had a supporting role in the 1999 Election film. She played a gay sister of the class jock who ran for class president just as a prank. But she stole the show with a speech she gave before the assembly. The actress later became a doctor, but this scene ensures her place in cinematic history.

I’m a big fan of Daily Show with Trevor Noah, which does a comic and informative perspective on politics and social policy. Here’s a light-hearted look at Cahoots, a first responder organization based in Eugene Oregon that handles nonemergency phone calls. Apparently the nonconfrontational strategy of deescalation is more effective and saves the city money as well. (It’s a 2 million dollar program in a city with a police budget of 70 million; the the clinical administrator says that program is estimated to save the taxpayer about $20 million per year.

TRUMP COURT BLESSES TRUMP…. AGAIN! I am depressed that the Supreme Court struck down the lawsuits about Trump’s emoluments by claiming it’s moot for an ex-president. The Supreme Court has a nasty habit of letting bad actors keep filing unending motions of appeal to delay the making and enforcing of a judgment. Meanwhile aggrieved parties wait for the court system actually to do its job. The emoluments lawsuits involved complex questions of standing and probably deserved at least one appeal. But it’s beginning to seem like the Supreme Court is employing a tactic of continuous delay. Similarly the matter of releasing tax returns to investigations has been delayed so long that it has basically made it impossible for the voter to make an informed decision about Trump. I don’t consider this judicial restraint; it seems like the judicial system is giving free reign to tyrants (and to the destructive force of global warming). By failing to take action against gerrymandering, the court is basically destroying the concept of one man, one vote — instead letting legislatures to manipulate voting all it wants. It is setting the stage for US democracy to transform into a tyranny (and making itself irrelevant in the process).

Many court decisions have left me disillusioned. Perhaps it started at Citizens United, but I couldn’t believe that it rejected intervening in the Chevron vs. Ecuador lawsuit

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Social Media Dump 2021: Jan 1 to Jan 15

View other Social Media Dumps: 2020 Jan 16-31

“Like looking both ways before crossing the street and then getting hit by a submarine.” (said by 9 year old Clark Smith, when asked for a word or phrase to describe the year 2020).

Here’s a new Robert’s Roundup for Smashwords’ December ebook sale. (Still cleaning it up).

SNL Playlist: I’ve put together 55 of my favorite SNL sketches — with some Christmas ones thrown in for good measure. (ONLY VIEWABLE BY USA AUDIENCES)

MY RESOLUTIONS FOR THE YEAR 2021: 1. Don’t get covid. 2. Get the #$#$#$ vaccine. (32,000 new positive COVID cases in Texas yesterday — a new record. Sure, it’s just catching up with Christmas cases, but wow! — California set a one day record of 50,000 two days ago as well).) **

Fun facts about Edge Browser. Did you know that Edge was based on the Chromium code? Me neither. **

Historians on reddit discuss the problem of heteronormativity/handling the “was he/she gay?” about historical figures.

I binge-watched the Community TV show on Netflix — wait for my post about that. Am thrilled that there are some “webisodes” about the show. **

To my amazement, there was a 1977 TV special of the Adams Family TV show. It was called Halloween with the New Adams Family featured ALL of the original actors, was 90 minutes long and was in color. Also, a laugh track (ugh!). Fun Fact: Uncle Fester (aka Jackie Coogan) when he was a kid, starred in a movie with Charlie Chaplin. Here’s a outtake of Coogan dancing with Chaplin

Something also sweet: Comic actress Melissa Hunter does a web-miniseries called Adult Wednesday Addams. Lots of fun with Ashley Addams encountering the vagaries of modern life. **

Watching the TV, I’m seeing a lot of Texas flags on the protesters who have forcibly entered (and sometimes even gone inside) the Capitol building…. (UPDATE: and a number of Confederate flags, and a cap for University of Texas — gotta show team spirit!). **

I know many things are shocking about today, but I’m particularly incensed that it took Trump over an hour to activate the National Guard to protect the Capitol. As a CNN reporter described it, Trump was elected to be the commander-in-chief; now he is merely the TV watcher in chief (ME: and also the instigator in chief).

PROPAGANDA IS EVERYWHERE! PROPAGANDA IS EVERYWHERE! Probably the most remarkable thing about yesterday’s insurrection is how easily Americans can be misled and emotionally manipulated about political events — by media, politicians, social media & political ads. I blame many things: money in politics, polarization inspired by gerrymandering, the gutting of the journalistic profession and the weakening of voting rights. I also blame the increasing adoration of gun rights, dehumanization of certain categories of people and — frankly the tendency to demonize normal government functions (apparently calling something “socialist” is sufficient reason to condemn anything you want). We need to call out politicians and media figures who use specious circular arguments to amplify controversy. We also need to be more careful not to dismiss so easily the dangers of demagoguery. **

Since Texas has played such an oversized role in facilitating Trumpist extremism, it’s probably fair to cite Patricia Roberts Miller on demagoguery (she’s a Texas-based expert on political rhetoric. I’ve read her book, Rhetoric and Demagoguery.

What people call “right-wing” politics should be called reactionary toxic populist nationalism. It isn’t conservative. Conservativism is a political ideology that, although I disagree with it, even I will say is generally internally coherent and principled. Pro-Trump politics isn’t internally coherent or principled—it’s irrational factionalism. Using a private server is terrible, unless it’s a Trump family member. Pornography is terrible, unless it’s a Trump family member. A problematic charity is terrible, unless it’s Trump’s. There are no principles that are applied consistently across groups.

A puzzling/absurdist 3 minute comedy sketch by Julie Nolke (who is most famous for doing comedy sketches such as Explaining the Pandemic to my Past Self. If Samuel Becket were alive today, imagine the Youtube videos he would be making! (Related: Charlie Rose by Samuel Beckett on youtube)

Sad to read about director Michael Apted’s death. He directed the magnificent documentary series, called UP SERIES. Seeing 63 UP at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts was one the highlights of my year (Never available for DVD or streaming, it showed for exactly one day in March, and the Museum shut down because of COVID). Apted has directed a lot of quality movies, but my favorite has to be a 1993 thriller called BLINK. ** (Obits also in NYT, Washington Post).

Director Michael Apted, with 3 of his documentary participants for 21 Up. (Source: Granada TV via NYT).

SHOULD TRUMP RESIGN? “Hey, Vladimir, this is your good friend Don. I got a deal for you. I got tons of valuable information about Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi and White House IT security protocols to help you do what want to that fake president, Joe Biden. All I ask in return is 50 million dollars to pay off my Russian debt, licenses to let me open a Trump Tower in Moscow and St. Petersburg and a written guarantee never to extradite me and my family back to USA. Need more? Don’t worry. I got amazing intelligence about Ukraine and EU and all kinds of military secrets — I’m still the president! –I got the best people who could get me anything I ask for in minutes. Do we have a deal?” **

POLITICAL RHETORIC: I hate it when anyone — politicians, pundits, officials, friends, family — uses the word “strongly.” It is a pretentious way of asserting you are are powerful and must be listened to. Whenever I hear someone use the word “STRONGLY” I ALWAYS substitute it in my head with “STUPIDLY.” **

Timothy Snyder on American Abyss (NYT) (Snyder is the brilliant historian whose massive book about WW2, Bloodlands, is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read):

Informed observers inside and outside government agree that right-wing white supremacism is the greatest terrorist threat to the United States. Gun sales in 2020 hit an astonishing high. History shows that political violence follows when prominent leaders of major political parties openly embrace paranoia.

Our big lie is typically American, wrapped in our odd electoral system, depending upon our particular traditions of racism. Yet our big lie is also structurally fascist, with its extreme mendacity, its conspiratorial thinking, its reversal of perpetrators and victims and its implication that the world is divided into us and them. To keep it going for four years courts terrorism and assassination.

In the Atlantic , Caitlan Flanagan wrote a caustic review of the Trump insurrectionists:

It seems as though they hadn’t expected to gain entrance with such ease—an ease that becomes more suspicious as the hours pass—and once there they didn’t know what to do, exactly. One patriot made it all the way to Nancy Pelosi’s office, where (per his own gleefully repeated description) he sat at her desk, scratched his balls, left a note—“Nancy, Bigo was here, you bitch”—and grabbed a trophy: an envelope stamped with her name. Soon enough he’d trotted back outside to show it off, the victor in a one-man panty raid. He was an envelope guy in an email world, but suddenly he was taking control of his destiny.

A man in a Viking helmet and the kind of face paint not often seen outside sporting venues held a sign reading Hold the Line Patriots, which made you wonder if he was just a misguided New England fan. Who can make sense of the new football schedule? Inside, he ran around issuing guttural cries and climbing the furniture, like someone who had been thawed out from a 1995 Robert Bly retreat. (Bly was part of the movement that coined the term toxic manhood, the toxicity being office work and too much time around bossy women, and the antidote being a return to the original state of dude nature: roaring, beating drums.) This was not a low-T group. This was not a group that had been robbed and diminished by radical feminism. And they proved it by defecating on the floors and tracking their own filth through the hallways. They were dazed by power and limited in their conception of what to do with it. Some rioters left the building in the charged, happy way people exit the Dive Devil ride at Magic Mountain: single file, grinning, and not really sure what just happened. They cried out for beer, they pumped their fists in triumph, they went looking for Mom and money for curly fries. **

Pre-insurrection, here’s a piece by Ben Collins , We Need to Learn How to talk to and about accidental conspiracists.

Because at some point in these next few months, you’re going to return to the honest-to-goodness, real-life social world. You’re going to be standing next to another parent at soccer practice, watching your kid fail to kick a ball for the first time in 14 months, and that dad is going to lean over to you and, in the most clarion, measured tone, he is going to say the most insane thing you have ever heard. It won’t even be that you’ll disagree with him. You will simply have no idea who or what he’s talking about.

This guy will look normal. You probably knew him and talked about the NBA salary cap with him before COVID. But now he’ll be speaking about scary political actors and evil companies and probably some private citizens like Ruby Freeman as if you’re both living in the same YouTube morass only he had accidentally slipped into. He’ll be talking with the same voice that might otherwise talk about James Harden trade rumors, which will be the spookiest part.

I have encountered quite a few of these types — mostly retired people who are decent enough on the outside, but stubbornly cling to myths about Antifa, Soros, Hunter Biden and China they picked up from Fox. My strategy has been simply to point out that relying on one source for your political news is dangerous and even poisonous. **

WORD OF THE DAY: Retrumplican.

(More to come)

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New — Social Media Posts

Happy 2021! Starting this year I’ll try to repost my social media posts from social media here on my blog. I’ve tried doing this before, but somehow I always forget to update things, or it’s too much of a bother. I’m going to try something different this time.

  1. Make a post for every 2 week period.
  2. I’ll make the post at the beginning of the period, and then add new social media posts from then until the end of the two week period. In other words, I’ll publish immediately and add new things over time until the two week period is over.
  3. When I want to indicate that the post is still open-ended (i.e., possibly to add more things), I’ll put two asterisks at the end — like this **.

In the past I’ve tried to collect posts every 2 or 3 months or whenever I think of it. Never kept with it. I’ve played around with the idea of using plugins to grab posts from Facebook or Google Plus, but then never seemed to work well enough to justify the effort.

Let’s face it though: some of my posted content is not particularly topical — though interesting to me. I’m actually a news junkie and have strong opinions, but posting topical things on FB is fraught with dangers. First, most people don’t give a shit about my opinions (or anybody’s opinions for that matter). Second, I’m almost toning down my thoughts and rhetoric in order not to sound too pissy. Also — and I don’t do often — I occasionally like to use cuss words or vulgarities in some of my obiter dicta and sometimes worry about what former teachers and elderly relatives on FB might think of me. Here on my blog, I’m less reticent.

When I first started blogging, I didn’t worry about writing profound thoughts or finding obscure knowledge. I just wanted a place to record/store my favorite discoveries so I could reference it later on. Later, whenever I had an itch to scratch, I turned it into a blogpost — sometimes a very long one. I never have blogged regularly even though I’ve always finding things to report or say. Posting on facebook saps that momentum. I don’t go out of my way to blog, but occasionally throw something up. Despite the lack of posts, I regularly add things to previous posts — hidden from the view of watchful readers. (like my music purchases and book reviews (which — yikes! — I need to update). I also post elsewhere on forums and stack exchanges and subreddits.

I’m started to admire Richard Stallman’s political notes (not really a blog, but very easy to read and relevant). Perversely, when I’m on my tablet I like to follow a subset of twitter accounts of journalists which keeps me informed of what people are working on. I’ve also started to read key newsletters: Will Bunch’s newsletter (he’s a great columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Release Notes (Dwight Silverman’s weekly technology letter). Emily Atkin’s Heated climate change substack (she is great!)

I try not to post to things behind paywalls, although that’s becoming harder these days (especially since a college friend D.T. gifted me a subscription to the Atlantic last Christmas). I’ll write about supporting media and paywalls sometime later.

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View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.

Preface

I found some great deals on Smashwords titles which were valid in the last 2 weeks of December. Prices jumped back to normal in January, but my guess is that the prices are still pretty low.

I’ve been busy on publishing stuff for most of 2020, so haven’t been able to post this column in a while. With my new blogging strategy, I expect to be writing Robert’s Roundup columns once a month. I’ll post the column page at the beginning of the month and then add it to over it over time. This kills a lot of birds with one stone. First, it ensures that I post more regularly and that I can post individual links more regularly. I used to treat this post as being time-sensitive, but over the past year I’ve decided that it’s less important to publish temporary sale prices than to make people aware of new authors and books. If you want, you can always set up price alerts on ereaderiq if you want instant notifications (perhaps Bookbub has that same functionality by now; can’t remember). I belong to the Smashwords affiliate marketing program, so you’ll notice that I do direct links to Smashwords ebooks. (I doubt if my affiliate payouts have amounted to more than $5 over the past year). More importantly, I like Smashwords because it’s very author-friendly, DRM-free and pays great royalties to authors.

I’ve stopped providing direct links to Amazon books mainly because they cancelled my affiliate account, but also because I see no reason to promote the Kindle platform because it’s so dominant. Another reason is that it’s time consuming to manage all those links — and frankly everybody knows how to google. Anyway, I think it’s more important to link to the author’s own website because they can direct you to the ebookstore they like the best.

In 2020 55% of my ebook spending came from Amazon.com, 30% came from Smashwords, 10% came from Google Play Books (GPB) and 5% came from buying directly from the publisher.

I expect to buy a lot more ebooks from GPB over the next year. GPB now pays indie authors one of the highest rates in the publishing world. Amazon only pays 35% for ebooks priced below 2.99; indeed for ebooks with a larger file size, Amazon will reduce author royalties by 15 cents for each MB of the ebook file as a “delivery fee.” This is crap, and both Smashwords and Google Play Books charge no such fee. For that reason, I try to buy indie titles on GPB or Smashwords instead of Amazon for ebooks priced at below 2.99. Of course, Kindle Unlimited titles are exclusive to Amazon, so you have no choice.

Indie Author Spotlight

(Read about indie authors profiled in previous months).

Frank Prem (Website is here) is an Australian poet who writes and performs poetry about the ordinary aspects of living — such as going shopping!

Sales on Smashwords

Here are the most interesting presses I’ve seen so far on Smashwords: Unsolicited Press | Fomite Press | Whitepoint Press | OpenBooks (interesting but overrpriced?), Bold Venture Press (republishes classic, pulp and genre fiction | Lethe Press | ReAnimus Press (established scifi press which republishes lots of things) | LDB Press | Black Opal Books | Propertius Press (too expensive though) | Atthis Arts | Leaf Garden Press (mainly poetry — see here)

Read by Strangers: Stories (Free!) by Philip Dean Walker (author website). A collection of sixteen queer stories exploring the complexities of the human experience. One review describes it as “result is a deep dissection of lives where the barriers to human connection can take on sometimes-comic, sometimes-monstrous proportions.”

Lethe Press has a variety of titles (notably gay fiction, sci fi, paranormal and some some general fiction and stories. Some good discounts here –highlights:

  • Vanishing Point by E.V. Legters (author website) — FREE! Novel about a turbulent affair a lonely housewife has with an emotionally unstable man. (called by Kirkus a “heartbreaking and exquisite story about emotional violence.”) See also: Connecting Underneath (on Amazon for $2, not SW) , her debut novel about teenage girl journey to discover who her father was. (Kirkus: engaging meditation on the most basic desire—to know oneself. )

Senior Touring Society by Donald Kemp

Isolde Kurz: A Cultural Anthology, translated by Becca Menon (free!) Kurz is a

Kissing Booth and other stories by A.C. Wise (3.75) — whoops, maybe I thought the price was lower? Gay surreal scifi fiction about time machines, robots, aliens, etc.

ReAnimus Press republishes out-of-print sci fi novels and story collections for 3.99 (no discount; it’s the same price as Amazon). (Update: I see that you can buy DRM-stuff for the same price directly from the publisher . If you subscribe to the newsletter, you get 20% off first purchase — and hopefully info about more promotions. I generally like buying directly from the publisher because author royalties tend to be higher). Still Smashwords has a lot of these titles — I found lots of James Gunn stories and Robert Silverberg novellas. From Gunn, I’m starting with Future Imperfect story collection, but there’s a lot to choose from. The Silverberg link above went to several 60,000 word collections of 3 novellas by well-known people. Wow, does sci fi have a lock on the 15,000 word novella?

John Flynn (aka Basil Rosa) Basil Rosa — a pseudonym (author website) for John Flynn has discounted all his 3.99 titles to 99 cents for this week — including his Lotion State Trilogy. Alas, I see that he has 3 poetry collections on Smashwords for free — which is great. Fun fact, Flynn served in Peace Corp Moldava in 1993-1995, and I lived in both Albania (1995-7) and Ukraine (1997-9) with Peace Corps and Soros Foundation (respectively). Moldava is right next door to Ukraine, and our country director in Albania came there directly in Moldava, so I have an affinity with this author already. His poetry comes from Leaf Garden which publishes a lot of free and low cost poetry.

Nature’s Confession by JL Morin and Loveoid Nature’s Confession is a YA climate change novel (descriptions and reviews here). Also, Morin has a Huffpost author page containing climate change articles.

Sussurus on Mars by Hal Duncan (1$) is another novella about Greek mythology, botany, philosophy, gay fiction

Richard Herley (author website) is a versatile English author who has already achieved a fair amount of commercial success and has published a lot of his titles on Smashwords (as well as Amazon). On both stores, a significant fraction of the ebooks are priced at free, but everything is under $3. On his author’s website, he has helpful advice about which books to read first and next.

Frank Prem is a gifted Australian poet who I mentioned in a previous column. (author website). I really love his stuff (and you should listen to  Frank Prem’s youtube pages.) . He has two poetry ebooks on Smashwords: Pebbles to Poems (free) and Herjo Devastation – a poetic collaboration with a storyteller

I have already highlighted Whitepoint Press in previous roundups. Whitepoint has published a few new titles in 2020: Bread and Salt by Valerie Minor (author website). (Note: This is just one title — more are sold on Amazon). Also, Mom’s Dead by Gerard Lafond (author website) and the poetry title Of Covenants by C. Kubasta (author website, also an interview here and here).

A brush with life by Steven Mayoff. (author homepage)

Various by Basil Rosa — pseudonym (author website).

Rasmenia Massoud (author page)

ISOLDE KURZ: A Cultural Anthology: Edited, Translated & Iluminated by Becca Menon FREE!

Man in the Seventh Row: and Related Stories of the Human Condition by Brian Pendreigh 99 cents. Novel by film critic about man who is sucked into various movies (see Purple Rose of Cairo, etc) . Several good reviews on Amazon (where it is on sale for the same price). Here’s his Smashwords interview.

Real World by Kathleen Jowett (author home page and book page). Novel by English writer about a gay woman torn between her desire to marry her girlfriend and the desire to serve as a vicar. From her website, a LGBTQ reading list. A few years ago Jowett published a well-received award-winning novel Speak its Name.

Two YA books by JL Morin: Nature’s Confession and Loveoid.

Deals published by Amazon imprints

Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb (and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month.  (check previous columns herehere and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).

The King of Kahel by Tierno Monénembo, trans. from the French by Nicholas Elliott. 99 cents (KU, APUB). French prize winner inspired by a historical event about a man who traveled to Guinea and conquered a region in order to build a railway. Reviews are mixed though.

Under the Radar

Talking is Wasted Breath (Tales from the Deccan Plateau) by Rasana Atreya (free, preorder on Amazon and Smashwords).

Gotcha! Inside Trump’s 2000 Campaign – A Novel by Ed Weinberger (99 cents). I usually pass on fiction about topical politics, but Weinberger is a legendary TV writer — wrote for Mary Tyler Moore, co-created Taxi and several other shows. Also, he and Ed Asner wrote an entertaining pseudo-history, Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution against right-wing hypocrites and nutjobs.

Three Stages of Amazement: A novel by Carol Edgarian (bought on sale for 2.99). (Author website). The first thing I noticed about the book page is that the author was the cofounder of Narrative Magazine (which is very well done). Wow, I read the first chapter a long while back — it’s a contemporary California story about love affairs, social classes, venture capital, current events (sorry for phoning it in; it’s been a while). But it seems competently written and Edgarian is definitely someone to watch (she’s even achieved a fair degree of mainstream success).

I swear, I keep bumping into the ebooks of John Vance, (author website) who is a retired academic who has written in a lot of genres — most titles run for 99 cents up to 2.99 on Amazon, so the price definitely is right. Professor and the Don’s Girl, Men Behaving Badly,

Empty Cell by Paulette Alden (author website). Alden won a Stegner Fellowship and wrote a novel about lynching in the 1940s.

Believe it or not, I bought one low priced collection of Penthouse Letters and found them surprisingly entertaining and well-written. Fun reading if you’re into that kind of thing — and not just as stroke material.

Dog Logic by Tom Stretlich (LE). (Author website) Satirical novel about a damaged caretaker at a pet cemetery. Stretlich’s thing is mainly being a playwright, so this is an extension of a play he wrote previously. I’m probably not describing the book fairly, so let’s hear from the author himself.

Regrets by Milton Schacter 1.99 (KU, LE). Well-reviewed crime novel about a defense attorney who is killed as a robber and returns to life as a 15 year old black boy. No author website, but the Amazon author profile is one of the longest I’ve ever read!

Inside the Robe: Judge’s Candid Tale of Criminal Justice in America by Katherine Mader (author website). (free)

Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling and Making of Cultures by Antonio R. Damasio 0.99 Philosophical book about how homeostasis explains human evolution and lots of other things.

For $1 each I’ve picked up 4 volumes of the sci fi series Eden’s Trial by Barry Kirwan (author website) who apparently in not the Irish folk singer with the same name. The premise is about humans who travel in a space ship to find a better planet after earth is ruined by war and climate change. You know I’m a sucker for those kinds of books.

Newspaper Widow (Novel) by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

Snapshots by Eliot Parker. 99 cents. Stories set in Eastern Kentucky/West Virginia. Stories about life’s quirky ironies, usually with a twist.

Film Writing mini-guides by John Gaspard. The series is called Fast, Cheap Filmmaking Books (KU) . I got Fast, Cheap & Written That Way: Top Screenwriters on Writing for Low-Budget Movies for free.

Blink and It’s Gone Sales

(books which go temporarily on sale for a day and then jump back to regular price; to hear about them, you generally need to set up price alerts on ereaderiq).

Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz . 1.99 Award-winning book by Polish author whom Milan Kundera proclaims one of the great novelists of our century. Described as “a metaphysical noir thriller narrated by Witold, a seedy, pathetic, and witty student, who is charming and appalling by turns.” I tried reading Ferdydurke earlier without really getting into it, but my critic friend raved about his other book Pornografia, so I’m willing to give him a second look. (Sometimes I throw aside books too quickly — a personality flaw).

Second World War by Antony Beevor. 3.99 (a fat ebook!) A well-researched comprehensive book which retells the whole narrative

Ecstasy is Necessary: a practical guide to sex, relationships and oh, so much more. by Barbara Carrellas. (A guide to having a good sex life sells for 99 cents on amazon — what a deal!). If you’re looking for a great book about sex and relationships (seriously), I recommend the book Sexual Intelligence by Marty Klein. (Here’s the author’s website). I also have thumbed through but not actually read his two other books about porn and “America’s War on Sex.”

Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. (author website). This much lauded first novel is one of a series and about a communist double agent from Vietnam who travels to America in order to spy on immigrants already in America. He has written other novels The Refugees and The Committed which give different perspective on the plight of post-war Vietnamese. Nguyen has written lots of essays and fiction (here’s a recent essay from NYT called “Post-Trump Future of Literature”). Here’s a long excerpt:

That much of the literary world was willing to give Mr. Obama’s drone strike and deportation policies a pass, partly because he was such a literary, empathetic president, indicates some of the hollowness of liberalism and multiculturalism. Empathy, their emotional signature, is perfectly compatible with killing people overseas — many of them innocent — and backing up a police and carceral system that disproportionately harms Black, Indigenous and other people of color and the poor. It turns out that a president can have a taste for both drone strikes and annual reading lists heavy on multicultural literature.

And here, marginalized writers who tell stories about marginalized populations do not get a pass. Take immigrant literature. During the xenophobic Trump years, when immigrants and refugees were demonized, simply standing up for immigrants became a politically worthwhile cause. But so much of immigrant literature, despite bringing attention to the racial, cultural and economic difficulties that immigrants face, also ultimately affirms an American dream that is sometimes lofty and aspirational, and at other times a mask for the structural inequities of a settler colonial state. Most Americans have never heard of settler colonialism, much less used it to describe their country. That’s because Americans prefer to call settler colonialism the American dream.

Too much of immigrant and multicultural literature fails to rip off that mask. Yet the politicization of these populations does pose a threat to the white nation that Mr. Trump represents. White identity politics has always been the dominant politics of this country, but so long as it was ascendant and unthreatened, it was never explicitly white. It was simply normative, and most white writers (and white people) never questioned the normativity of whiteness. But the long, incomplete march toward racial equality from 1865 to the present has slowly eroded white dominance, with the most significant rupture occurring during the war in Vietnam.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves ($2). I’ve heard good things about this.

Indie /DRM-free Ebook Deals

Once or twice a year, the radical publisher Verso Books discounts critical/leftist ebooks. Most Verso titles are brilliant radical works — often about economics, sociology, media studies, literary criticism (and occasionally even fiction). To my delight, I saw that Derrida‘s Politics of Friendship was discounted. I am somewhat well-read in Derrida, but as it happens, I attended the first public reading of the 1st chapter while at JHU in 1989. Although Derrida’s analytical method is fairly abtruse, he recited his thoughts carefully and intensely (leading me to believe that I understand most of what Derrida was speaking about. (I made small talk with him at a wine and cheese party afterwards). Verso has a lot of interesting “deep thoughts” books; it’s definitely worth signing up for the newsletter to be informed of when things go on sale.

Note: Verso Books sells DRM-free versions directly to the consumer and in multiple formats. Everything is also on Amazon, but discounted prices come only from directly purchasing on Verso’s site.

Creative Commons — Academic — Public Domain

Some more free titles from Cornell U Press that I hadn’t picked up already. This set comes from the series, Signale: Modern German Letters, Cultures, and Thought. I’m reasonably well-versed in German literature and for a while was reading advanced stuff in German (including 2/3 of Hermann Broch‘s Sleepwalkers). Sleepwalkers is a great work; I probably should revisit it in an age of Trump.

  • On the Ruins of Babel: Architectural Metaphor in German Thought by Daniel Leonhard Purdy
  • The Total Work of Art in European Modernism by David Roberts
  • Benjamin’s Library: Modernity, Nation, and the Baroque by Jane O. Newman
  • Lyric Orientations: Hölderlin, Rilke, and the Poetics of Community by Hannah Vandegrift Eldridge
  • Formative Fictions: Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Bildungsroman by Tobias Boes.

I have delved into the Cornell Open Access Project a bit. (See the newest free titles). There’s a lot there, and perhaps next month I’ll cover the offerings (many of which I’ve already downloaded). Suffice to say that on the Cornell website you can download epubs and pdfs, but on Amazon they are available at kindle files. If you download from Cornell directly, you should be sure to give the downloadable file a recognizable name. COAP has titles on a lot of subjects (maybe 1/4 are literary topics). Lots of social science, history and political economy,

Once in a Lifetime Deals

Improvement by Joan Silber, 2$

a

Poetry

See my blurb about R.S. Gwynn below.

Texas

Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island by Scott Semegran.

Republic of Jack by Jeffrey Kerr (author website). A satirical look at the Texas government who entertains the secession movement for political purposes. Kerr (who also makes movies) has a great sense of Texas politics — here’s a fun Texas history lesson he gave to the Austin public access TV.

Levee by Paul Otremba. (a Houston poet who died at 40 of stomach cancer). Here’s a very nice interview in American Literary Review in 2019. Here’s one lovely description: From a nice article about the book:

Levee—set in and around the Ship Channel, lush greenery, and crawfish boils of the Bayou City—is a thoughtful, sometimes ironic work that examines living in a time besieged by climate change and perpetual violence in a place forged from industry and greed. It’s also some of Otremba’s most personal work, drawing, as it does, from the poet’s own confrontation with mortality.

“He used his own illness as the background and metaphor for the illnesses of the world,” explains Otremba’s wife, Holly Holmes.

Morgan Kenney, Houstonia Magazine.

Demagoguery and Democracy by Patricia Roberts-Miller. (author blog).

Clay Reynolds is a distinguished and erudite Texas author (website) whom I’m currently interviewing. Curiously, despite his being born 16 years after me, he went to Trinity and we share a lot of cultural reference points. I’m excited to get into his fiction and essays which have overlooked way too long. I’ll be posting more about his fiction eventually, but two places to start is his 2004 public lecture A Cow Can Moo: The Irony of the Artistic Lie (PDF). It’s a detailed discussion about the evolution of a Texas writer’s sensibility and how you develop a sense of irony. Deep, heavy stuff. For something lighter, here’s a 2006 interview with Reynolds in Lone Star Literary Life. One curious thing about Reynolds is that he talks freely about his fiction. When Baen released ebook editions, he wrote new introductions for almost all of them.

From Barsoom to Malacandra: Musings on Things Past and Things to Come by John C. Wright (author website) Also: Transhuman and Subhuman. ( 99 cents KU, LE) Wright is a retired lawyer, editor and sci fi novelist. Here are two collections of essays about science fiction and the genre’s authors.

Review Copies Received

Erotica

To prepare for the interview with Texas novelist Clay Reynolds (author website), I received two great-looking print books by Clay Reynolds: Of Snakes & Sex & Playing in the Rain (essay collection) and

Printed books bought (Better World Books, Amazon, etc)

If you are looking for a great book about elephant society and how mammals communicate and emote, check out the brilliant and fascinating Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. by Carl Safina. (author home page). A great fascinating work about the animal kingdom.

Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Believe it or not, this comic was really big during college, but I never read it until a month ago.

Several volumes by George Singleton: These People are Us, Half-Mammals of Dixie, Calloustown, Between Wrecks.

Argument for Stillness by Erik Campbell. Found a poem in a litmag that blew me away, and finally tracked the book it came from.

Two books on medicine and philosophical questions: How We Die by Sherwin Nuland and Art of Aging. Here’s his NYT obituary a bio on his foundation website and two TED Talks.

How to Create a Flawless Universe: In Just Eight Days by Godfather Publications is one of my favorite novelty books. They’re giving away copies for nothing, and it is a clever humorous scrapbook kind of book.

Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. Lepore has covered weightier subjects, but this treatment of cultural history was engrossing.

Goethe, Goethe, Goethe. I’ve been a fan of the Princeton U Press multivolume set of Goethe Translations from the 1990s. This Christmas I broke down and bought two volumes — one of plays, the other of poetry. (That means I have 3 volumes so far).

No Word of Farewell: Selected Poems, 1970-2000 by R.S. Gwynn. Gwynn came highly recommended to me by Texas novelist Clay Reynolds, and he happens to be spending his retirement very close to Houston! By the way, I’ll be reading more works by Clay Reynolds, stay tuned.

I couldn’t resist. I’m an admirer of the book cover designer George Salter, a German-born Jewish artist who designed some immortal covers — both for German publishers and (after fleeing Nazi Germany) all the major US publishers. Someone gathered all his illustration work with commentary and packaged it into a print book. called Classic Book Jackets by Milton Glaser. You can view a sampling of Salter’s covers here . I have picked up a handful of books with Salter covers already, but it might be nice to collect these books (all the books sound cool too).

Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. All the titles are discounted on Smashwords for less that price — and usually under $1.50. Pay attention to any 100% coupon codes which I occasionally list below — they can be redeemed only a small number of times, so first come, first serve. Smashwords only sells epub versions of these titles, but you can easily convert them to Amazon’s mobi format by using Kindle Previewer or Calibre.

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Back to Tell You All…

I’ve been extraordinarily busy on publishing matters over the last 9 months. Just wanted to say that I’ll be posting a Robert’s Roundup of Ebook Deals (Dec 2020 Smashwords edition) sometime early next week (aiming for PM Dec 28).

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A few years ago I wrote a rhetorical piece saying we should not have a pity party for fossil fuel companies. Since that time, I have noted how often business reporters will write articles (and sometimes clumsy headlines) that suggest that the decline of fossil fuel consumption is somehow a terrible thing. In Houston, where I live, we have a great newspaper HOUSTON CHRONICLE which can publish great pieces about the environment and energy. At the same time, its business section gives excessive and unduly sympathetic coverage to an industry which basically engages in odious (albeit legal) behavior. Houston grew rich from the oil and gas sector in an age where climate change wasn’t as clear cut. But now it is clear cut, and there is no special reason to give these industries the benefit of the doubt. I’ve long said that the tragedy of Houston is that its most talented and creative (and law-abiding) people were persuaded to work for an industry that produced harmful and odious results (more).

This page will list and criticize news stories (from the Chronicle and elsewhere) which I feel framed the subject wrongly — in a way to portray the fossil fuel industry more sympathetically than was necessary. There are many victims from climate change — and workers in these industries are victimized in a way. I grew up in a city where articles about fossil fuels were dressed up in language stressing hard-work and enterpreneurship — distracting from long environmental consequences. Even today, press releases and media stress the benefit of partial solutions and the fact that the industry obeys the law (not hard in a state with lax regulations). Apparently the welfare of a rapidly diminishing population of O&G workers is supposed to trump all other things. I often used to joke that the easiest way to tell a company’s ecological destructiveness is the amount of greenery (and flowing water) which appears in their ads and promotional material.

Here’s a list of the most egregious examples of fossil fuel reality distortion:

PERSONIFICATION OF SHALE

Dear Houston Chronicle:

In the Sept 27 HOUSTON CHRONICLE business section (page 1), we see the headline, “NEW MEXICO SHALE IS BRACING FOR POSSIBLE BIDEN REGULATIONS.” Please note that shale is an inanimate object incapable of having any mental processes or emotion. Solecism aside, it’s disturbing to lament the proposed reduction of a business practice which threatens both the planet’s climate and the local ecosystem (and potentially the water supply). The shale mining industry may provide short-term economic gain to a small number, but it also threatens the health and stability of our climate and the people and creatures that live on it.

The “Threat” of Solar Energy

Dear Houston Chronicle:

I need to quibble with some of the wording in the otherwise excellent report on the emerging solar industry by L.M. Sixel on Monday Dec 2.

According to the article, “Solar, however, may pose an even greater threat because unlike wind, it produces the most power when demand is highest — hot, sunny summer afternoons.”

“Threat”? I find nothing threatening about using solar power. But when air pollution from fossil fuels annually causes 4-7 million premature deaths globally (WHO Report, 2014 & Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, 2017) and 75,000-100,000 domestically, I certainly feel threatened by the continued use of fossil fuels in Texas. Far from being a threat, solar is an encouraging sign, a reason to hope for the future. According to one economic analysis (U. of Mass, 2009– PDF), “clean energy investments create 16.7 jobs for every $1 million in spending. Spending on fossil fuels, by contrast, generates 5.3 jobs per $1 million in spending.”

Sometimes the overly effusive coverage by the Chronicle about the fossil fuel industry can be offputting. If an industry’s business model is dedicated to PERMANENTLY degrading the livable world for EVERY SINGLE baby born today, tomorrow, next year, next decade — even the next century, then it’s a no-brainer that we ought to act sooner rather than later to stop it, especially because we ALREADY HAVE the technology to solve the problem and already have a good idea about how to do it right.

Other fun Stuff

Brilliant anti-coal ads
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Interview with Harvey Havel (Novelist)

I first stumbled upon the novels of Harvey Havel during a recent ebook sale. Since that time, I’ve reviewed one of his novels and talked to him over the phone a few times. Personville Press is in the process of re-publishing ebook versions of two Havel novels which were previously released in print (apparently the original publishing company disappeared and left Havel hanging). Although born to Pakistani parents, Harvey doesn’t write about a lot of ethnic or immigrant themes (though he wrote a trilogy starting in Bangladash and ending in the USA). His novels are realistic and sometimes harrowing. He has dabbled in a lot of things — a memoir about the relationship with his mother and a series of philosophical/political essays about virtue and the fissures in US society. He has written about football players, poets and drug addicts. He has a great ear for how people really talk — especially those who are outcasts or down on their luck. Havel’s writing is hard to classify. His books describe the ordinary struggles of working class people — and perhaps his fiction comes off sounding strident. I’ve always been struck by Havel’s candor in describing life disappointments. Even in this interview, Havel is open about his personal demons and publishing woes. His literary output seems prodigious for someone who hasn’t turned 50. His prose has always struck me as more workmanlike than lyrical, but he’s great at telling an engaging story. In the interview Havel acknowledges a literary debt to Norman Mailer, but I see hints of Bellow’s chattiness, Steinbeck’s plain language and the William Kennedy’s stories about outcasts (in fact Havel lives in Albany and has crossed paths with Kennedy on more than one occasion). Born in Lahore in 1971, Harvey grew up in NYC and Western Connecticut, attended Trinity College and Emerson College creative writing program. He has done various kinds of jobs (mostly teaching). Harvey remains dedicated to writing novels even as he waits for the reading public to catch up. This interview was conducted by email over several months in 2020)

Growing Up & Literary Influences

 WHAT WERE YOU DOING IN YOUR TWENTIES?

Photo of Author Harvey Havel, 2020

I had just finished college up in Hartford, Connecticut, and  on my 21st birthday, I decided to become a fiction writer.  I  was under the delusion  that, one day, I could become a  great American writer like  Hemingway and Mailer and Kerouac and my other literary heroes.  It was a recession that year, during the Presidency of George H.W. Bush, I remember.  I wanted nothing more than to avoid the shitty job market and go to writing school to avoid having to work.  I finished writing school in Boston in 1997, and after that, I went to New York City and frequented  places where artists and poets hung out, like the Bowery Poetry Club and the Nuyorican Poets Café.  I went to tons of open mikes in Manhattan and Brooklyn.  I carried a guitar around for a blind musician named “Norris” who was the lead singer for a band called the Ebony Hillbillies   (God, how I miss him)!  I worked very hard on my writing, but no one wanted to publish me at all, to my great disappointment.  I was crushed, because I thought I would be able to make a living at it. How wrong I was!   No one was interested in my work  except for Norris perhaps.  Thirty years later, I still can’t make a living from it.  The New York City artist’s scene didn’t treat me well at all.  I worked at CBS News on and off, and while doing so, other artists in New York City and even the high cost of living in nearby Bergen County, New Jersey basically chewed me up and spit me back out.  I also developed a terrible drinking problem that I still have to deal with.  I never want to experience those years again.  They were horrific.

YOU RECEIVED A MASTER’S DEGREE IN CREATIVE WRITING FROM EMERSON. DID IT HELP YOU MUCH OR INFLUENCE YOUR APPROACH TO WRITING?  

I actually learned a lot from writing school, but these types of MFA programs are very expensive, and there is plenty about these programs to which I now strongly object.  But when I arrived at Emerson, I thought I already knew how to write fiction better than everyone else there, like the typical smug, arrogant first-year writing student.  Actually, I really had no idea about how to write anything.  I used weak passive verbs, for instance, and I told more than I showed, for example.  Also, my style was hardly comprehensible, and one of my writing instructors had to do a complete line editing of my prose to show how none of my stuff made sense to anyone who understood the English language.  Very importantly, an experienced writer/student in one of my workshops said that my writing was rushed.  (Interestingly, another  local writer said essentially the same thing after reading my books a few weeks ago).  I should have listened to that guy in workshop way back when.

But what I really got out of writing school had to be the direct advice from my writing instructors.  These were Christopher Keane, an accomplished screenwriter, Andre Dubus III, whose books they make into Hollywood movies now, and especially DeWitt Henry, whom I consider to be the most well-read and intelligent person I have ever met.   When I gave him my full-length manuscript for my first book, he told me the next day what was wrong with it, and his explanation took all but five minutes.   Five minutes!  The guy is amazing, and he was also the Executive Editor of Ploughshares back then too.   I’m serious, the guy has read every book ever published, or so it seems.  I’ve sent him every one of my books over the years.  I can only hope that he approves of them.

Other than that, MFA programs are really what you make of them.   You can get by without lifting a finger, but then they become a real waste of time and money.  You gain the most just by learning one-on-one with professional writers.  

HOW HAS “BOOK CULTURE” CHANGED SINCE YOU WERE IN COLLEGE? 

As far as literary fiction is concerned, not a thing.  The same multicultural-themed books  that stress identity politics and political correctness have continued to be popular over the last 30 years.    Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of good writing is still studied at MFA programs.  Unfortunately, certain  themes, styles and subjects are stressed, while other great books are  ignored, buried, or forgotten.

The real hope, though, is in commercial fiction.  More experimental fiction, science fiction, concept writing, and fantasy have taken off in recent years.  While I do see hope in these, the commercial fiction market is mostly driven by dollars and celebrity, just like the movie and TV  productions coming out of Hollywood.  Also, new technologies have revolutionized what writers can do.  Any writer can use writing in conjunction with any variety of technologies, like video and graphics, for instance, to create new literary art forms.  The Internet has made all that possible.  That’s not to mention the incredible rise of self-publishing, which is outpacing the nepotism that drives the traditional publishing industry and their corporate overlords.  These corporate houses are dying even as I answer this question, and it has been a long time coming.  They will never be able to penetrate the interpersonal networks that each self-published writer has already cultivated with  readers.  But at the same time, it will be more difficult for self-published writers to make a good living.  It is very hard, in fact, to do anything of the sort.  But at least it is a start, as the writer no longer has to acquiesce his or her creative freedom to the so-called literary elite of the publishing world.  It is a wonderful time for writers, and one of these days, the money will surely follow.

I’VE GOTTEN TO THE POINT WHERE I DEFINE COMMERCIAL FICTION SIMPLY AS “WHATEVER DOESN’T WIN AWARDS OR GET REVIEWED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.”  

Many writers do view this amorphous genre known as “Commercial Fiction” differently, simply because it is so far and wide-reaching.  It is hard to narrow its focus or to categorize these books when it comes down to their type or subject matter.  But I think you’re right.  “Commercial Fiction” is the stuff that falls outside what’s in Poets and Writers Magazine or The New York Times Book Review or taught in MFA programs and writing workshops.  It doesn’t take into account  mystery or crime novels, espionage, horror, science fiction, romance, fantasy, and an entire host of other genres that are considered too low-brow to be designated as literary fiction.  Harold Bloom’s list of books in the American literary canon is generally considered to be “literary fiction” and therefore above “commercial fiction”.  There’s an assumed snobbery involved here, but it can be funny if one views it as a really absurd statement. 

I remember really enjoying Anthony Lane’s yearly survey of books that made the New York Times’ best-seller list in the  New Yorker.   I had great laughs over these articles, usually published every year, as I remember them.  But folks in literary fiction often  look down upon their commercial fiction colleagues, and while this is a shame in many respects, commercial stuff makes so much more money for the publishing companies than the  literary books that often put people to sleep.  Hopefully, a good writer will be able to combine  literary talent with a capacity to entertain.  Great books can do both very well.

The Literary Life

I’VE GOTTEN STUCK ON SHORT STORIES FOR THE LAST 30 YEARS AND HAVE ONLY RECENTLY STARTED TO MAKE THE SHIFT TO LONGER FORMS. YET YOU DIVED ALMOST IMMEDIATELY INTO THE NOVEL (AND EVEN TRILOGIES). ARE YOU HAPPIER WORKING IN A MORE EXPANSIVE GENRE — OR DID YOU DO IT PRIMARILY FOR COMMERCIAL REASONS? 

I never dove into writing long books for commercial reasons.  I simply wanted to be a great American writer, rich or poor.  I thought I couldn’t do that as a short story writer.  Actually, short-story writing is how an author is supposed to start.  You place several short pieces in magazines or journals.  You get noticed by an agent or an editor (or these days, an agent), and then you keep writing short pieces until you can put together a collection of your own.   Then, after you make a name for yourself among critics and industry insiders, you write your first novel.  I did everything in reverse, because I had unrealistic expectations and overvaulting ambition.  Yes, I wanted to be a great American writer, silly me, but as a result, I really found my element in   longer works despite having no readership to speak of.   I love immersing myself in large projects and not coming up for air for a while.  It turns out that no one’s going to buy long novels by an unknown author.  I have come to terms with the fact that I may never be commercially successful, but I still have hope that I will be a great writer.   I take it on faith.   I somehow have come to believe that many people will read my work and enjoy reading it one day long after I’m gone.  What else could a writer ever want but that?  Money means nothing compared to this.  

DO YOU HAVE ADVICE  TO THE YOUNG WRITER (WHO PRESUMABLY WILL BE DEALING WITH DIFFERENT TECHNOLOGY, POLITICAL CONCERNS AND SOCIAL STRUCTURES).

Make sure you pay the bills.  It is hard to write from a position of abject poverty, especially in a hyper-capitalist society such as ours.  Arts for art’s sake lost its validity a long time ago. Money speaks  louder  in this age than art.  I wish it were different, but it just doesn’t change, especially if we are members of the Western world.  Perhaps it has never changed.  Only a handful of authors make it, and this is nothing new in America.    So make sure to pay the bills, eat well, and live a good, healthy life so that you can live to write another day and not face the utter loss associated with poverty and sickness.  Keep yourself healthy and don’t forget that you have to live your life as well as write your greatest works.  There is no avoiding it.  Artists cannot live in a vacuum.  We still have to survive.  And always remember from  Hemingway that “living well is the best revenge.”

ASIDE FROM THE FACT THAT EACH BOOK IS A DIFFERENT BEAST, HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY BIG CHANGES IN YOUR WRITING OVER THE DECADES? 

Ever since I left writing school and departed from the world of literary fiction, I think my work has gotten somewhat less artistic,  more plot-oriented but easier to read.  I had figured the goal was more to entertain an audience and not weigh readers down with narratives that are too rich and grave with meaning.  My stories have gotten simpler, less complex, riskier in terms of what is considered to be  good taste, and less involved in what good books ought to be like.   My recent books have been much better researched, although  artistically they still leave  me unsatisfied. 

IS YOUR UPCOMING 9/11 NOVEL THE FIRST YOU’VE HAD TO DO A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF RESEARCH ON? 

 I had to do a lot of research on the genocide in Bangladesh by West Pakistan in the 1970s for  Orphan of Mecca Trilogy, and also much research was done on Mister Big, which is a book about a football lineman and his fall from grace after an injury.  When I first started out writing, much of my work was simply creative and imaginative, but now, I am using research more and more to write my books.  I am currently doing this for The Queen of Intelligence, which is the September 11th book.  I find the research absolutely fascinating.  Now if  only  I could write the damn thing when the time comes to sit down and get to the real work. 

WHAT KIND OF WRITING HABITS DO YOU HAVE?

The rule of thumb is to write every day.  But we also have to make sure we don’t dip into poverty or illness because of it.  We still have to have shelter and food, good health, and the things we need to survive.  So I have always tried to write every day, but admittedly, I also have to pay the rent, do things for friends, read at events, go to the library and read books, comb the internet for news, take care of my sick parents, et cetera.  Writing every day is a good goal to have, but one shouldn’t forsake one’s quality of life or the needs of others in one’s life either.

Right now, I am burnt out from publishing two books back-to-back.  Also, to make ends meet, I am editing manuscripts for money and doing research for my next novel about the events leading up to September 11th.  The editing takes up time, and the research will take up more time than that, maybe a year or two.  Then the actual writing of the next book starts, and who knows how long that will take.  So the rule of thumb is to write every day, yes, but we have to deal with certain realities too.   We can’t write all day, every day,  or else we’d end up with a humongous collection of unorganized work on a hard drive. It just doesn’t work that way.  I know some writers who are senior citizens who have manually typed works over the course of several decades, and now they have no idea where their work will go after they pass.  We have to be practical about balancing regular commitments with writing daily sometimes.

Right now, I am not writing.  I am editing manuscripts and doing research, as I mentioned.  Back in the 1990s, as a young and naïve writer, I wrote for six hours a day.  I was a hermit who soon turned into a madman.  I had no life at all.  Be very careful to take care of yourself.  It is a much different world than it was during the writing industry’s hey-day of the 1950s.  Back then, a young writer could write for six to eight hours a day and get away with it.  Back then, getting paid for writing was much, much easier.

I ONCE READ THAT CHARLES DICKENS TOOK LONG DAILY WALKS (AND SOMETIMES AT NIGHT). DO YOU FIND IT NECESSARY TO ENGAGE IN SOME KIND OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY OR HOBBY TO BE CREATIVE?  

Taking long walks really helps. I get to think a lot. Sometimes I’ll listen to music or watch an inspiring movie, but other than that, not really.  For me, though, I just listen to music, sit at my desk, and cry!  Discipline usually works for me – just sit there and squeeze the blood out of my brain and onto the page, as  a writer once said.

IF I READ ALL OF YOUR BOOKS  AND THEN SPENT THE AFTERNOON WITH YOU,  WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD MOST SURPRISE ME? 

Realizing how much of a manic-depressive I really am.  Even though the sun is shining, there is still gloom and doom hovering over us. I am a born schizophrenic who has been in 13 psych wards, spent 60 days in jail,  been to five alcohol rehabs, was at one time wealthy as a younger man, and  declared bankruptcy twice  (and might be headed to another).  

You’d be very surprised to know that my high school class voted me “most likely to succeed” and how incredibly wrong they were.  You’d be surprised to know that I am an Indian/Pakistani, because you’d think I were Italian, Spanish, Mexican, or Portuguese visually, or at least a Black or White American from reading my books.  You would also notice that I talk a lot more about existential, real-life issues of survival rather than more flighty, intellectual issues and ideas (even though I spent my life thus far writing novels).  In other words, while we’re having dinner and discussing my books, I’d be worrying about how I’d pay my share of the check. 

 You’d also be surprised that I grew up partly in Alphabet City, New York, back when it was the most dangerous neighborhood in Manhattan – so dangerous  that taxi cabs wouldn’t pick up any customers there.  Maybe you’d even be surprised that I speak English at all and do not work pumping gas in New Jersey, or help my family run a shitty, roadside motel, or sell Lottery tickets, scratch-offs, and overpriced cigarettes at your local convenience store.  I think you’d be surprised that I actually wrote novels, short stories, and essays at all.  You’d probably think I had entered the country illegally by stowing away in the cargo hold of an Air India or PIA passenger jet.  And lastly, you never would have known that, when I was a young man just starting out as a writer at 21, I wanted to be just like Norman Mailer, and that I even acted like him back then too — to the rolling eyes of my wise writing instructors at my writing school.

Being a Pakistani-American Author/The Immigrant Experience

THE LITERARY WORLD (AND THE ARTS IN GENERAL) HAS ALWAYS SEEMED PRETTY ACCEPTING OF USA AUTHORS WHO WRITE ABOUT THE 1ST/2ND GENERATION IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE. DOES BEING PAKISTANI-AMERICAN COME WITH A LOT OF BAGGAGE?

I do not write about the Pakistani immigrant experience.  The subject doesn’t interest me at all.  I just write about everyday Americans and the American experience through mostly White-American and Black-American characters.  I do not write about Pakistani or Indian-Americans.  I did write about the Middle East, such as the Islamic religious/political thriller, The Imam.  I did write about the genocide in Bangladesh.  And I am working on a book about September 11th, which is set in the Middle East.  But other than that, the immigrant experience is hackneyed subject-matter that really ought to have been put to rest in the late 1990s.

I am more interested in writing about the everyday struggles of black and white Americans.  There is no way I will ever land a publishing deal with a traditional publishing house because of it. I can make it fine on my own, by the grace of God.

HOW DID FAMILY MEMBERS AND RELATIVES REACT TO YOUR WRITERLY AMBITIONS? 

At first they laughed at it; now they are mostly angry.  They insist, at the age of 50, that I get a real job.  And because I don’t have a real job and have hardly any income, probably won’t ever get married, and don’t have any children, they treat me like a child.   But I love my parents dearly, and they reluctantly put up with me when I ask them for a loan every now and then or when I get into legal trouble.  But I get shit for it all the time.  I can still hear them yell at me to “get a job” or to make money instead of wasting my time writing novels.

Orphan of Mecca Trilogy

YOU SET VOLUME 1 OF ORPHAN OF MECCA TRILOGY DURING THE STRUGGLE FOR BANGLADESHI INDEPENDENCE. WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN THAT?

I had no idea that I would write about Bangladeshi Independence when I started the trilogy.  I simply had a picture of a young, barefooted orphan from Mecca, dirty from the streets, making it to our American shores somehow.  That’s all I wanted to write about.  The stuff about Bangladesh is more of an afterthought that follows that original concept.  At the time. I believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had already started, and the times demanded that I write something about the Islamic experience in America.  For some reason, like a Ouija board, the pointer guided the trilogy towards the subject matter of the creation of the nation of Bangladesh.  It was never my intention to write about it at the outset.  Weird, right? 

DID YOU FIRST CONCEIVE OF IT AS THREE BOOKS? DID THE FINAL RESULT DIFFER MARKEDLY FROM HOW YOU FIRST IMAGINED IT? 

I had a long book in mind, and it was simply a more practical matter that I divided the book into three parts.  I thought it would be more digestible that way, because each part was set in different places.  Part One is in East Pakistan and then Bangladesh, while Part Three is on the streets of America, for example.  It just makes the trilogy easier to read.  

For some reason, though, I’ve always wanted to write long books like the pros always do.  (I have no idea why).  After I wrote Mister Big, one critic said that it was “comically long,” as though he knew of my secret desire to write the great long novel, like Les Miserables, War and Peace, or Moby Dick.  And so, embarrassed as I am to admit it, I did want Orphan to be a great, long trilogy.  I simply wrote these books all out at once and divided the entire long manuscript into three parts.  Isn’t that something an amateur would do?  Well, I’m still an amateur at this stage of the game, so as much as I hate to admit it, that’s what I did. 

WRITING A BOOK (OR TRILOGY) TEACHES AN AUTHOR SOMETHING — MAYBE A LOT OF THINGS.  WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF  FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF WRITING THIS TRILOGY.

Endurance as an author, plain and simple.  I learned to endure the long book and to continue writing it even though I was terribly exhausted and had nowhere to take it.  Mister Big is the same way.  It is forced, ‘the mind bleeding on the page,’ as one poet put it long ago.  For some reason, I just had to squeeze my brain until it hurt, even though I have never been up to the task of writing a trilogy, of all things.  Trust me, the final result was not planned.  The readers of this trilogy ought to notice how each book that follows is shorter than the one before it.  That’s the author (myself) gasping for breath as I try to swim the last laps of the heat.  It was hard to write, and I really don’t mind admitting it.  Hey, “if the writer doesn’t suffer, the reader will,” and so, I suffered on purpose and maybe for no reason (if the reader turns out not to like it).

Wild Gypsy of Arbor Hill: Romantic Delusions & Sexual Politics

WHAT WAS THE EASIEST BOOK TO WRITE? THE HARDEST? 

The Wild Gypsy of Arbor Hill, (my latest book) was the easiest to write.  A lot of it is based on a real character with whom I did have a real relationship, and it was the first time I had written a book based upon my own life experience.  I finally gave myself permission to do this.  All of my other books deal with issues that are important to me personally, but those books, their plots and their characters, are all imagined.  A lot of Gypsy really did  happen.  I wrote it quickly, and it was easier to write because the material was already there. 

The hardest was probably The Thruway Killers.  I really tried to combine the writing of a good plot with real and well-rounded characters.  With literary fiction, plot usually follows character in terms of priorities in a novel.  But in this case, I tried to make them both important, because I really needed The Thruway Killers to be a good, entertaining read.  Luckily, the book was received well, and it turns out that the plot was probably the most inventive I’ve ever written.  I am better at developing characters than planning out strong plots.  I wanted to do both, and I hope the reader benefited from that.  It is very hard to do both successfully.  We usually get one or the other – character in literary fiction or plot in commercial fiction.  I wanted to do both, because I believe the most successful novels tend to go in that direction.

WHAT PROTAGONIST OR CHARACTER VIEWPOINT HAS BEEN THE HARDEST TO WRITE? 

My protagonists are usually flawed men, and I guess I can identify with that, because I am a flawed man, like every man is.  Male protagonists are the easiest to write for me. I guess I don’t have much experience writing female characters, so I would say that women are the toughest to write for me. But this is all about to change, because with the next book, The Queen of Intelligence, the protagonist is a female CIA asset.  The only protagonist that I came close to writing is in The Wild Gypsy of Arbor Hill and the character of Gypsy.  But while she may be considered to be the book’s protagonist, we actually see her through Charlie’s eyes.

THE CENTRAL RELATIONSHIP OF CHARLIE AND GYPSY  IS FUNDAMENTALLY DYSFUNCTIONAL, AND YET CHARLIE  CONTINUES TO HOLD OUT HOPE THAT IT CAN BE SAVED. IT IS HARD TO WRITE LOVE STORIES THAT FEEL GENUINE TO THE READER. CAN YOU POINT TO ONE BOOK OR STORY WHICH OFFERS  THE SHARPEST INSIGHTS INTO   LOVE AND PASSION?   (FOR ME, IT WAS ARNOLD BENNETT’S OLD WIVES’ TALES — BLEW ME AWAY!)

 One of the harsh criticisms of the book is that its theme is really an old trope of how the woman in the relationship leads to the demise of the man.  And while there is truth to that, there is always the initial hope on the reader’s part  that the portrayed relationship eventually leads to a successful, everlasting love.  Because the outcome of a relationship like this is nothing new to fiction,  it wasn’t hard to make the writing of this love story  feel genuine. 

I think of the movie Pretty Woman for some reason, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.  This was more fairy tale than anything else, but it is my personal view that reality is usually quite the opposite.  Take Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights or even Othello and Desdemona, a relationship doomed to failure, because we already know the outcome before we even begin. Love’s tragedy of this kind is much easier to write about and to feel genuine, because I believe it is much more prevalent in our world, and we remember it the most, because it hurts and is felt much more than love’s successes.  In that way, love’s failure is always much easier to write about in a genuine way.  Dysfunctional relationships and the need for a couple to preserve what they have permeates our world to a greater degree than the perfect couple and their perfect love and their perfect life.  It’s just never that easy.  Our most passionate relationships, in my humble view, are always star-crossed.  In that sense, no, it wasn’t hard for this book to try to feel genuine.  But whether or not the relationship in this book actually feels genuine is up to the reader to decide, ultimately.  I hope I did an adequate job of it.

THERE IS A STRONG LEVEL OF ECONOMIC ALIENATION AND DESPERATION  IN  GYPSY.  WOULD  GREATER FINANCIAL SECURITY HAVE  BEEN SUFFICIENT TO HELP THE  PROTAGONIST REALIZE HIS ROMANTIC DREAMS (AT LEAST A SCALED VERSION OF IT)?  OR ARE ALL MEN (RICH AND POOR) EQUALLY SUSCEPTIBLE  TO THIS KIND OF ROMANTIC PROJECTION? 

I don’t think money would have helped this relationship at all.  More money may have strung it out a little more and given them both a false sense of security, but a romantic dream is more about staying together even without any money, and deep down, a man already knows this.

I remember in Albany, there was an elderly couple who lived in an old beat-up van and had street-parked it off Western Avenue in uptown Pine Hills.  When I saw them sitting in the front seats, their white hairs tangled messes and all of their earthly possessions piled up in the back of their van, I really thought that what I beheld was a couple that had fulfilled their romantic dreams.  Poverty couldn’t break this couple through  many years of being together.  They couldn’t exist living apart.  The couple had become one and needed each other so thoroughly that even through homelessness and hunger their love had survived.  Financial security may have helped them, but it didn’t necessarily aid or abet their romantic dreams any more than being totally broke, down and out, and being homeless in a van.  In my view, love is on a much higher level that transcends wealth, but then again, I’ve never been in love before, so I can’t really say.  I’m just lucky and privileged enough to see examples of it from time to time. 

While money is important in any relationship, it really doesn’t mean anything to a man.  It isn’t the ultimate, in other words.  For a man, the opposite has to be true in order to  have his romantic dreams realized.  He desires a woman who will stick with him even when he’s broke and down and out, like the woman in the van did for her man.  And this wasn’t just a fucking fairy tale either!  It was real.

THIS NOVEL SEEMS WRITTEN MORE FOR A MALE AUDIENCE THAN A FEMALE AUDIENCE. DO YOU AGREE?  WHAT’S THE MOST INTERESTING THING THAT A FEMALE READER COULD GAIN BY READING THIS NOVEL?  

You’re right; I do think it is written more for a male audience than a female one.  Females don’t need Charlie.  It is usually the other way around.  Charlie needs Gypsy.  Heterosexual men hunger for a woman like Gypsy.  They need Gypsy to totally drive them crazy and nearly ruin their lives.  That’s why men love this kind of woman in the first place, and that’s how such a woman can easily control and overpower a man such as Charlie.  Also, men need to be touched by women.  They need to feel their skin upon theirs.  And because these sirens call, men are easily destroyed by women of this kind as well. 

Most heterosexual men can relate, as literature is peppered with many great examples of this.  Nabokov’s Lolita comes to mind.  By reading this book, females would at least get an idea of how a woman’s attractiveness and a man’s hunger for her touch can equally destroy him and also lead to mistaken  attitudes about the women who offer their affections so easily.  In my view, women like Gypsy who offer what they do are men’s saviors.  Gypsy is the hero (heroine) of the book here.  Not Charlie, oddly enough.  And Gypsy is a tragic hero (heroine).  Maybe this is why females might  like and even learn from  this book, even if it may also offend their sensibilities, especially in this day and age.  When a woman turns cold, a man can’t survive.  Period.  All women need to learn this —  if they haven’t already.  Men would rather have a woman like Gypsy pretend that she loves him than go through the hellish nightmare of a woman’s cruelty.  Gypsy offers bliss, not cruelty, but in no way can something so sweet last for very long.

Cultural Influences

HAS TV OR FILM INFLUENCED YOUR WRITING MUCH? WHAT NON-BOOKISH THINGS HAVE EXERTED AN INFLUENCE ON YOUR BOOKS?

Remember that book by Nick Hornsby, High Fidelity?  I grew up on all kinds of media.  I watched television all day and all night, like in that hit HBO comedy series Dream On.  I watched everything, and I listened to very loud rock and roll music constantly and repetitively.  I drove my poor mother nuts!  And I must have seen a thousand movies at the theaters.  I read mainly in school, but I also read many books outside of school too.  By the time I got to college, I was ready for the asylum.  

At first, I had to write my books visually.  I wrote the movies that played in my head.  That’s how greatly movies and television influenced my writing.  I was all the visual image.  It was only over the last twenty years or so  that books took a clear and commanding role in my writing life.  Now I really can’t stand movies or television, and neither do I trust the two forms of media.  I trust books, and I am a certifiable news junkie.  In fact, my friends have to yell at me  to shut off the news and stay away from newspapers.  Nowadays,  I just turn on the TV for the noise.  It helps with the loneliness and the silence of writing.

 But politics and current affairs definitely shape my writing.  So does  my personal inability to win the woman of my dreams.  I have never been married, and I have never had children, mostly because of this stupid, ridiculous writing career.  But I have suffered much as a result of it, and one day I’m hoping to have great success after I’m dead and buried in the nearby cemetery.  

IT ALMOST SEEMS THAT THE FASTEST WAY TO GET A STORY MADE INTO A MOVIE IS TO WRITE ABOUT A FAMOUS PERSON OR A NOTORIOUS CRIME. DOES THAT HORRIFY OR SURPRISE YOU? 

Actually, the entire “New Journalism” movement was built on stories of notorious crimes and famous people, and the writers who penned such creative work are probably my favorites – Wolfe, Capote, Mailer, Vidal, etc.  For me, these are the greatest writers that America has ever produced, mainly based on their ability to infuse a social consciousness into their writing.  It was a new phenomenon, for instance, when Capote first penned In Cold Blood, and it really took off from there.  But this was in the 1950s and 1960s.  Also, this new form of journalism had been quite creative in its ability to deliver news items with the entertainment and artistic merit that the best fiction had provided.  It was quite a time when the first New Journalists rose to prominence in American fiction.

But movies are different.  Biopics about famous people have always been staples of the film industry, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that screenplays are often made based on the lives of famous people.  When I was much younger, I used to love going to these biopics and thinking that, one day, I could be like the persons depicted on the screens.  And of course, these portrayals are usually highly romanticized, almost heroic, depending on who these people are.  Nothing of the sort ever happened in my life, but watching these biopics did, nevertheless, inspire me to follow my dreams and pursue all of the things that landed me into a lot of trouble later in life!  But I don’t think one has to write about a famous person or a notorious crime to get a story made into a Hollywood movie.  

Getting a screenplay accepted by an agent or a film studio, (let alone having that movie greenlighted), is a one-in-a-million chance in itself.  It’s like winning the lottery.  But if a nascent screenwriter really believes in him or herself, I would say go for it, but knowing full-well that he or she shouldn’t bet the house on it.  Movies are tough to make in general, and instead of just writing a screenplay for it, it would be much better if the writer also raised or borrowed the funds to hire the director and the actors to produce the damn thing on his or her own.  This would be the far better route as well as the fastest – not necessarily by writing about a famous person or a notorious crime.  Because in my opinion, it’s the story that matters, not the subject.  

YOUR FICTION HAS  ADEPTLY  TACKLED SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ISSUES.  DO YOU WORRY ABOUT SOUNDING TOO PREACHY? 

When I wrote my first book, Noble McCloud, one reviewer didn’t like the book at all and remarked (paraphrasing Louis Mayer), “if you want to send a message, send it Western Union.”  Back then, I was heavily involved in politics, and I considered myself an activist just like most other writers and artists in New York City during the neo-liberal heyday of the 1990s.  But after I received that criticism, I really believed that the critic was right, and so now I try to avoid social messages that interfere with or supersede the stories and the characters I am writing about.  If I do want to establish a political point of view, though, there are many ways to do it using subtler means than the type of overt moralism that used to mar my earlier work.  While I am still proud of that earlier work, I should have toned it down  for the reader. 

CAN YOU NAME A NOVEL BY SOMEONE ELSE  WHICH ACHIEVES THE OPTIMAL BALANCE BETWEEN THE ARTISTIC AND THE POLITICAL? 

I love, really love, Norman Mailer’s work. That whole post World War II generation is where my true heroes lie.  And from the other end of the political spectrum, even Thom Wolfe’s satirical fiction is excellent.  Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is another good example, although that’s poetry, with his view of “Moloch” and other interjections of political and cultural outrage.  There’s the great Arthur Koestler, Frank Norris,  and John Steinbeck, and we can even go far back as Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter and Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary.  And that’s not to mention the Black American writers, such as Wright, Baldwin, Ellison, Wideman, Morrison, Baraka, Hughes, and almost every writer of the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. 

Then there’s Orwell, Kipling, and especially Athol Fugard who railed  vehemently against imperialism and colonialism of any kind, There’s tons of British stuff that’s centuries old, like Jonathan Swift, and mountains of stuff from Europe, like Kafka, Zola, Hugo, and Dostoyevsky. One of the primary motivations of any writer is to comment on political conditions of his or her time.  If we were to complicate things and talk about literary theory, we can even see texts through a political lens.  Politics, arguably, is the most exciting lens through which to view any literary work.  I’m all for it!

Science fiction can often do that as  well. 

Sci fi  writers can criticize the hell out of any society or political condition and advance plenty of political and philosophical ideas, which is why I love reading them from time to time.  I have written several science fiction stories, which I have submitted to magazines, but nothing ever came of them.  Mostly  Kafkaesque stories that I haven’t had time to look over yet or revise.  But I would love to write more.  It is important for a writer to be inventive, as  science fiction stories often are.  They don’t always have to involve space, technology, or science either. 

Staying Sane in a Covid-Infected World

WHAT QUESTION DO YOU ASK YOURSELF THE MOST? 

Where are all the women?  When do I get to drink all the booze without any consequences?  Where’s the good life that had been promised to all writers?  When do I become the rich and famous author featured on the cover of GQ Magazine?  In other words, where is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?  Well, I’m definitely not traveling along the arc of a rainbow, and there is definitely not a pot of gold at the end of this journey.  Quite the opposite, I’m afraid, but a job well done so far, if I could say something in my defense.

WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU THE MOST ABOUT THE COVID CRISIS? HOW ARE YOU ADAPTING? IS THERE ANY KIND OF ACTIVITY YOU ARE EAGER TO DO AFTER THIS DAMN THING IS BEHIND US? 

Actually I  found it very easy to adapt to the COVID crisis.  I found myself complaining very little, doing what our leaders told us to do, and keeping my big mouth shut.  Of course, it is not over yet.  The first thing I want to do is attend a reading at the NYS Writers Institute here in Albany.  And then, I want to go to a reading where my poet friends are.

HAVE THERE BEEN OCCASIONS WHERE THE STRUGGLES OF A WRITER’S LIFE REALLY GOT TO YOU? HOW DO YOU THINK THAT YOU’VE MANAGED TO STAY IN THE GAME?  

Every day it gets to me.  It’s all I think about.  The writer’s life is rife with misery and suffering.  It promises nothing and tells us to like it.  It’s dark. It’s the road less traveled without the sunlight of happiness on it.  

And if some young kid comes up to me and asks if he or she should be a writer, I would tell that kid to get a job and earn  his daily bread first before trying anything so stupid.  Yes, there is a lot of regret in it, and with every word I write there is a new struggle. 

But I’ve managed to stay a writer for so long because (thank God) I have had a fixed income and an education that gets me by every month, made possible by my parents who came to this country and endured much hardship to provide a good secure life for me.  Secondly, because I am disabled, I receive some Social Security income.  So, even though I can’t work, I do get help for living expenses  from a government to whom I am forever indebted and grateful, (even though I have criticized the hell out of it every day of my life).  But aside from that, I have stayed in the game, because I am really not geared for anything else.  I remember reading a survey in a literary magazine that covered what all of these rich and famous artists would be doing if they suddenly had a real job.  Poet Donald Justice said that the only thing he could really do was operate a small drawbridge.  See, I’m much the same way, because once you start writing full time, good luck trying to be competent in anything else!   Once a writer, always a writer.  Get out while you can! 


Robert Nagle is founder of Personville Press and has been blogging for more than 20 years. He has done extended interviews with a literary giant, a songwriter and a movie critic. He writes a semi-regular column (Robert’s Roundup) about low-priced indie ebooks.

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My Literary Shame

As an ebook lover, it may surprise people to learn how attached I am to my book collection. They are like pets or longtime companions. I don’t feel nostalgic about books — I gave away all my pre-1923 books without guilt. But some (many!) books are there to remind me of my longtime ambitions to read these things. Alas, the years ago go by, I know that I will never be able to read everything, but I still I still have time to read a lot. Here are the books that regularly shame me into reading them.

MY LITERARY SHAME #1: Last night I was talking to an uncle of mine about books. After he mentioned “the rabbit book,” I knew immediately that 1)he was talking about WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams, 2)that I had owned a copy of the book for at least 2/3 of my life without reading it and 3)in the last month I had grabbed my copy of it out of storage with the determination to actually read it this time. Will I read it? Time will only tell; and here’s a photo to mark my shame.

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