‘Wins’ Without Losses: Agreeable Disagreement

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Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

Five Quite Recent Provocations

Provocation One: Man Booker Irrational?

When the American novelist Lydia Davis was given the £60,000 Man Booker International this week in London, the prize administration rushed to its site to quote one of her short works:

“I was recently denied a writing prize because they said I was lazy.”

Writer Unboxed, Porter Anderson, Provocations in Publishing, books, ebooks, authors, literary, literature
Lydia Davis

“Well not anymore!” chortled the site’s folks in what might be the most charming, personable home-page announcement seen on a big-prize site.

But by Friday, Dennis Abrams was reporting at Publishing Perspectives that a blogger was asking, Is The Man Booker International Prize Not International Enough? This was the third consecutive International Man Booker (of five total) to go to a North American, after all. And four of the five had gone to English-writing authors.

 

Provocation Two: Are Amazon’s Fans Fictional?

When Amazon Publishing announced its ingenious everyone-gets-paid plan to publish fan fiction through its new Kindle Worlds program, one reader quickly got to me on Twitter to say:

“I’m offended. There are real authors out there with fresh voices. This is a slap in the face to them.”

Writer Unboxed, Porter Anderson, Provocations in Publishing, books, ebooks, authors, literary, literatureSome of publishing’s oldest guard, who normally can utter nothing good about Seattle—don’t even mention Tacoma—were quietly calling Amazon’s program “brilliant.” And yet I was simultaneously in an exchange with this author who earnestly felt that Kindle Worlds somehow gave fan-fiction writers an unfair advantage over original writers.

 

Provocation Three: A Patchett Job

When one of the best-loved authors among us, Ann Patchett, said to The Bookseller in London that “authors have been protected for a long time, we are very well cared for” and “we need to think about our other partners, from bookshops to publishing and self-publishing,” you’d think Pope Francis had opened fire on a family of doves.

Writer Unboxed, Porter Anderson, Provocations in Publishing, books, ebooks, authors, literary, literature
Ann Patchett

Never mind that she was doing an interview in support of the UK’s upcoming Independent Booksellers Week. No, here is the headline on one blog post: Ann Patchett Doesn’t Know Shit About Publishing. And that post sends you to this one

Passive Guy has just about decided that the differences between indie publishing and traditional publishing are so great that nearly anyone immersed in traditional publishing has almost nothing useful to say about indie publishing.

 

Provocation Four: Barnes & Noble’s Lists—Pretty Rank? 

When some authors looked at their rankings on Barnes & Noble’s Nook best-seller list, they complained that titles once at No 5 had fallen to No. 126 and/or No. 127. In a matter of hours. While sales were high. Others, rising in the ranks, got no higher than No. 126 and/or No. 127. And these were “racy” books; erotica.

Writer Unboxed, Porter Anderson, Provocations in Publishing, books, ebooks, authors, literary, literature
Hugh Howey

Author Hugh Howey wrote it up in Does B&N Manipulate Its Rankings?

It turns out that two other authors have experienced the same thing and with the same number! Gail McHugh saw her book rise to #126 and go no higher. It appears that any flagged book, whether due to racy cover or racy content, is given a hard ceiling. Couple this with allegations that erotica books have been deleted from NOOK UK with no explanation and no recourse. Folks, this ain’t right.

Soon, we all trundled over to the KindleBoards, checking out some compelling accounts from authors including Holly Ward, who recently topped the Digital Book World Top 25 eBook Best-Sellers list. On the face of it, something does look amiss here, and it looks serious. What’s the explanation? We need to hear from Barnes & Noble.

Provocation Five: Dan ‘n’ Dante 

Writer Unboxed, Porter Anderson, Provocations in Publishing, books, ebooks, authors, literary, literature
Dan Brown

When I got busy in Writing on the Ether with some of Michael Deacon’s exhilarating Dan Brown parody—”using the feet located at the ends of his two legs to propel him forwards”—a friend and colleague berated me strenuously on Facebook for my “negativity.” She was going to take Brown’s new Inferno to the beach, she said, no matter what, and there was no way I could stop her.

Of course, I hadn’t tried to stop her. As I told her, I was and am happy for her to take it to the beach and read it, over and over if she likes. Commit it to memory and terrify dinner party companions with recitations from it, fine with me.

What I’d written was that while nobody can or should deny the popularity of Dan Brown’s books, those huge sales, in my opinion—just mine, you don’t have to agree—don’t do much to lead people to better-written work. Dan Brown’s books exist in a realm of entertainment that includes the action films made from them, and are not as salutary an event in literature as many like to say they are. I have yet to hear an excited reader say, “You know, that last Dan Brown book was so good that I’m going to try the new Barbara Kingsolver.”

No one suggests that reading romance or science fiction will lead readers to DeLillo and Didion, but Brownians love to tell you how good their man’s astronomical sales are for publishing.

Indeed, one of our most astute observers of the realm and a great, favorite colleague of mine, Philip Jones in London, wrote in his Future present blog post at The Bookseller that “newspaper critics” of Brown “once again show how disconnected they are from readers.”

I disagree, and I ask that we talk in terms of “reviewers” and “critics,” not lumping them together. The literary critic’s job is not to judge the quality of Dan Brown’s work by the fact that readers buy him. Readers bought 50 Shades of Grey, too. And while consumer reviewers might want to focus on popularity as a criterion, what literary critics are saying is that they (for the most part) don’t agree with the readers’ high regard for Brown’s books. That’s disagreement, not disconnection.

And here’s my real point: no hard feelings. Jones, if and when he reads my comment here, will see me drawing the familiar line between consumer reviews and literary criticism. There’s even a debate to be had about whether what he refers to as “newspaper critics” should be critics; maybe consumer reviewers, who tell you to “read” or “don’t read” something, are all that’s wanted in times of Dan Brown launches. But for Jones and me, there’ll be no animosity. No beach-blanket wails of “Negativity!” No Gustave Doré writhings in agony. Jones and I are colleagues. We can disagree and still respect each other, easily, readily, without a bump.

That’s what this column is about.

 

Here’s the Deal

We’re flagging these columns “Provocations in Publishing” because the industry! the industry! is one overwrought place these days.

Have you noticed how many publishing people stage every disagreement as if it’s life and death?

No Writer Unboxed reader would ever do this, of course. It’s the others we’re talking about.

There are a lot of provocations in publishing. Most of my writings deal with them. Some are serious. Some are less so. Any major business locked in the wrenching upheaval that publishing is undergoing will be wracked with challenging, divisive issues.

We tend to confuse those issues with our emotional responses to them.

  • We can come to believe that disagreement is the problem.
  • Disagreement is not the problem.

The United States was founded on disagreement. Our forebears ankled England because they disagreed with how things were going. And yet, we’ve become a society addicted to happy agreement. Many times in this past week of so many “publishing provocations,” I’ve found myself assuring somebody that it’s just fine to disagree—with me, with others. No need to be nasty…no need to snarl…no need to win…no need to win…no need to win…getting that?…no need to win…

That’s it, isn’t it? In many Western cultures these days, we probably love winning more than we love the freedom to disagree. In publishing, you see it everywhere, from pundits who claim they’ve “won” because they predicted something (who cares?) to authors who claim they’re “winning” because their favorite model of publishing is “better” than someone else’s.

I don’t have to win. I also don’t have to see you win. I’ll still love you if you come back on your shield.

So in coming posts, as we look at provocations in publishing here, bear that in mind, please. Nothing you read here is meant to say you’re winning or losing some odd, unseen competition. You’re doing exactly what you should be doing. I’m glad it includes spending some time with this diverse WU community.

The provocations we discuss here are in publishing, dear Brutus, not in ourselves. As long as we remember that, we’re friends, Romans, and countrymen.

So, do you want to give me a piece of your mind about Dan Brown and his popularity? Or Barnes & Noble’s best-seller lists? Or Ann Patchett’s be-nice-to-publishers comments? Or Amazon Publishing’s fan fiction deal? Or Lydia Davis’ Booker win? I’ll get you started: “Porter, you ignorant slut…”

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About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in publishing. Anderson is The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook in London, a sister site focused on developments in digital publishing. He is also a featured writer with Thought Catalog in New York, writing on publishing and on #MusicForWriters in association with Q2 Music. In 2015, Anderson has programmed the IDPF Digital Book Conference that opened BookExpo America (BEA) and is programming the First Word event at the Novelists Inc. (NINC) conference later in the year. And he is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair on special programming for its new Business Club suite of events and facilities, now in its second year, 13-16 October, in the 2015 Buchmesse. More on his consultancy, which includes Library Journal's and BiblioBoard's SELF-e among its clients in 2015: PorterAndersonMedia.com | Google+

Comments

  1. CG Blake says

    Porter,
    Thanks for your thoughtful piece. The problem I see with a lot of what passes for commentary is that the critic who is lobbing grenades lacks both subject matter expertise and a filter. Professional critics spend years studying and analyzing their field, whether it is music, art or literature. They can distinguish a work that is derivative from one that is innovative and fresh. When I was a newspaper reporter my stories went through rigorous editing. Today’s critics lack a filter. Many online critics react viscerally in response to others’ opinions. Reason and reflection are lacking. Of course this criticism doesn’t apply to anyone on Writer Unboxed. Thanks again for being the voice of reason in a noisy world.

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    • says

      So true, Cris!

      Thanks for the input. It’s just like us humans, isn’t it, to diss what we need more of? :)

      Those “hard lessons” are seemingly “hard” enough that we prefer the “easy” kinds in which we get to be right, right, right all the time. And yet, as you say, finding ourselves wrong, wrong, wrong normally yields a lot more growth and benefit.

      Good point, and guaranteed to go right in one ear, get an affirmative and appreciative nod from each of us, and go right out the other ear. We just never, ever get that lesson down, do we? :)

      Thanks again!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  2. says

    Hey, CG,

    Right back at you, thanks for a thoughtful comment. All the values you’re naming here are correct and right in good criticism. It’s great to see them enumerated.

    But having come out of the National Critics Institute, myself — where we spent a lot of time really looking at these issues as professionals “seized of the matter,” as they say — I’ve come to the conclusion that the critical community, itself, has really helped create its own nightmare.

    We never took the time, the care, the effort to get the public (let alone hiring editors in newsrooms) to understand that “reviewer vs. critic” distinction I’m making here.

    We never taught anybody, “This is what a consumer reviewer does — the thumbs up or down, the “go” or “don’t go” to the movie command, the “read” or “don’t read” order, the “perfect for a rainy afternoon” appraisals. In theater criticism, I used to get it across pretty easily in a lecture by saying, “The consumer reviewer is the one who writes, ‘The costumes were colorful and the kids in the show had a great time on stage.” That — for many people on both sides of the box office, is as close to real criticism as they ever want to be.

    And by contrast, we never taught anybody, “This is what a trained, legitimate critic does — never saying “go” or “don’t go,” never saying “read” or “don’t read,” always predicating his or her evaluations on the expectations erected by the work itself (“This book’s author has said that what he set out to do here is such-and-such,” etc.), drawing contextual and researched parallels from other arts and letters and delivering a true judgment, still without ever once telling a consumer what to do about it, leaving that to the reader. Coming out of that same theater performance, the true critic might write, “The costume design, while colorful, routinely missed the play’s period by a good 150 years, and the actors, clearly glad to be onstage, might well have channeled some of their exuberance into learning their lines.”

    The purposes of reviewing and criticism are different. Both valid, Both legitimate. But different.

    And in the same way we’ve allowed the word “theater” to refer to both film and stage houses (the word “cinema” was available but, no, we went with “theater,” muddying the distinction forever), we’ve allowed the terms “criticism” and “reviewing” to become interchangeable. They’re actually different things. And so are the people who do them different, the critic and the reviewer. (Many pros on both sides of that line actually know this well — it’s the readers and viewers and listeners we forgot to tell.)

    So this is a case in which I agree with you wholeheartedly AND lay my regret at the feet of my own profession. We critics — sometimes afraid for our jobs (as I say, most editor never figured out who to hire), sometimes afraid the public didn’t care or would reject genuine criticism — never made the point clear enough. Reviewers, too many of them, worked hard to muddy the line because they liked the prestige of being called “critic” (without the training or experience, as you say) and because they, too, were fearful of losing their jobs; what if their bosses wanted real critics, not consumer reviewers?

    A long, sorry tale, then, of many mistakes by many people for many reasons over many years … and the result is that critical evaluation of the most serious kind is genuinely being practiced less and less, consumer reviewing is often the most you can hope for.

    May I mention to you an author who works as a critic and does a very fine job in the current milieu? Emily St. John Mandel ( @EmilyMandel ) writes at the site called TheMillions.com ( @The_Millions ) and I’m always glad to read her. She writes openly, intelligently, with careful explications of any biases and expectations, and with clearly delineated background and perspective. While in many cases, I worry that practicing authors aren’t the ones to critique other authors, Mandel is that special case in which the critical sense is so finely tuned that you know there’s no issue of conflict of interest or skewed perspective to worry about — she arrives with all considerations on good display. What a breath of fresh air. Here is her latest, headlined “War is Just Business: John le Carré’s A Delicate Truth” — http://ow.ly/loexT (I can’t make heads or tails of her critique schedule, and I fear that she can’t either. The critiques appear to come out a bit erratically. But it’s a good day when one appears.)

    So there you go. Commiseration, confession and commendation, all in one comment. It’s early in the day. :)

    Thanks again, CG, always glad to have your eye on things.
    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson

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    • says

      Hey, Mary Jo,

      Glad you like @Nunferno, too — the secret is posting only good tweets, I think, quantity over quality. They’re worth waiting for, sometimes very clever parody.

      Yes to those absolute numbers, lol, and to publishing being soooo much more, huh? By the moment.

      Thanks for the note!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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    • says

      Too kind, as ever, Alex. With luck, we have some grounding here so we can handle more tricky issues as they come up with folks understanding we need to disagree and that it’s fine and healthy and productive as long as we’re not obstreperous. Not that anybody at WU would ever be obstreperous. Other people. :)
      Thanks!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  3. says

    Oh for a pickled herring. Or a red herring. Is that all that Dan Brown is good for these days? Actually I liked the Da Vinci code if only for the fact that it took me about a minute & a half to read it. Talk about fast-paced pacing. Hehe. I disagree with myself already (& don’t even get me started about Seattle vs Tacoma). As for fan fiction, what else is there to be said in the world? Its hard to be original. Even Dan ripped off those other dudes who talk about the CODE. Agatha, please let me be YOU!

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    • says

      Hey, Diana, thanks for the good comment,

      Yes, I argue with myself pretty continually, too (being the best conversationalist I know).

      And your note about fast-paced reminds me of Joanna Penn (writes as J.F. Penn), who said in a comment on the Ether that she found Inferno to be “the wrong kind of page turner,” lol, in that she was riffling through big chunks of it at a time.

      Thanks again,
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  4. says

    So interesting!

    I think Americans LOVE conflict. I think we LOVE to fight and disagree. I think we get really ticked off when we feel our right to disagree is being threatened. In fact, I think there’d be a lot less stalemate and inefficiency in our country if we really were so “happily addicted” to agreement.

    But gollygeewillikers, I just wish people were kinder (not less honest; just kinder) as they critiqued and reviewed. Nastiness does no good. I definitely don’t need everyone to agree. I just want us to interact in respectful ways that neither belittle nor degrade our fellow humans.

    Thank you for sharing this perspective, especially the details re: reviewer vs. critique-er. I never knew!

    Earnestly,
    Pollyanna Tenderheart

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    • says

      Respectful disagreement is my favorite of the 50 Shades of Disagreement Grays. Those other 49 shades? No one ever looks good in those, darlings. (Opinion respectfully submitted.)

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      • says

        TERI!

        I love the 50 Shades of Disagreement (Disagreeable?) Grays, LOL.

        And you’re right, the ONLY one to go out in is Respectful. Maybe a little something in Snarkette on a weekend, but way late in the evening and only among intimates. :)

        Thanks for the wardrobe input, so tastefully — as well as respectfully — submitted, a well-dressed comment, much admired.
        :)

        -p.
        @Porter_Anderson

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    • says

      Hey, Sarah,

      YOU, of course, are extremely good with criticism and differences of opinion — and interestingly, you’re bringing to mind this thing about how I always say that people love a crisis.

      I’m not sure it’s disagreement they dislike (if it’s a fight, yes, but they want to watch it, not be in it). I actually think they like the emergency feel of things when “tensions are rising,” as they say on TV about war zones and hot spots. When I was living in Atlanta for CNN and we’d get the occasional light snow, I could swear people were trying to have wrecks, just so they could tell everybody about it (for weeks, no doubt) — a good crisis, always a hot property.

      I’m totally with you on the kindness thing. You can put across so much more useful material, too, if you try to get it on a civil level because then people aren’t shutting down their minds with a lot of reactive emotion. There’s this tradition of the surly, though, the personally wounded tone. In tech reviews, I call it the snot-nerd syndrome, in which people go on about a new phone that has disappointed them as if the developers purposely set out to let them down. Sneering, pouting, petulant tones…so hard to get valuable criticism through all that hostility, isn’t it?

      And yeah, as for the critic-vs.-reviewer issue, as I was saying to CG, this is critics’ fault, really. We’ve never done the job of educating our audiences, and this massive confusion now is the result. It’s pretty close to too late, too — there are so few actual practicing critics now, as the media prefer to hire the more entertaining, “news you can use” consumer reviewers (or force their actual critics to work in that mode, which is hell for a real critic…I had that experience along the way at one newspaper.)

      Thanks for the input, bright and early, too. Good weekend!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  5. says

    Oh, no! Et tu, Porter? Why is everyone getting in on the Dan Brown slapfest? I happened to have enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, and I say the word “enjoyed” with no asterisks or caveats. My feeling is if some people think his books help elevate publishing, yippee for them. If others think he’s lame-o, great-o. The enjoyment of a book is so subjective.

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    • says

      Hey, Dina!

      You know, there actually are a couple of elements of teh “Dan Brown slapfest,” lol, that make sense when you think about it.

      (1) The guy is doing just great. He also seems really affable in appearances on TV, etc. And he’s raking in the dough, more power to him. So no one has to feel as if they’re jumping on some saintly hardship case. He can take it and just keep selling and selling and selling.

      (2) He’s like Nixon. Remember how easy that guy was for cartoonists to caricature? Bless his heart, Brown really does have a style that lends itself to the kind of structural parody that @Nunferno and Michael Deacon (at the Telegraph) are so good with. In my Writing on the Ether piece, in fact, I ran a bit of Deacon’s parody, then a few lines from the real Inferno…and the actual Brown lines sounded worrisomely as if they were from the parody. http://ow.ly/lom9X

      (3) And then, there’s the serious issue here, too (though it’s easier to handle in the slapfest mode). With a market for reading and literature as conflicted and complex as this one has become, we actually need to know what major successes — these few logic-transcending breakouts — can tell us. We need to understand so much more than we do about how hits happen these days AND what impact they might have on the rest of the market. (That question I’m raising about whether this success really helps the business or not.)

      I’m glad you liked Da Vinci. I found it the easiest to handle of the books. (And I ended up wishing I’d just seen the film — though I was glad it coudn’t make much sense of the ending, either.) I forced myself through Angels and Demons. Couldn’t get through Lost Symbol — I made it as far as Arlington, Virginia, and just couldn’t go on. Exploding tech company headquarters or something? I threw in the towel. Still debating whether I want to try to do all 488 pages of this thing (since I don’t have an actual review assignment on it, in which case you must read a book in its entirety, of course). I do wish it had dealt more with the Dante, I feel like we’ve had bio-threats so much (from before Pandemic and after, lol).

      But as you say, so subjective. Exactly. Great, great point, and thanks again fro dropping in (and the tweet), much appreciated!

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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      • says

        Hey, thanks, Erin,

        Great of you to read and drop a note, and I’m glad you’re liking @Nunferno, too — reminds me I should get out a tweet-blessing to that account to say thanks.

        Very cool, I’m seeing one tweet on the account from a reader who says:

        “Really enjoying @Nunferno, Dan Brown parody account. Must confess l also bought Inferno though. Curious after all the terrible reviews.”

        That’s great, huh? Somebody actually getting the book to read, to see if she agrees with the reviews. Can’t ask a reader for more than that kind of open mind.

        Take care, and thanks again!
        -p.
        @Porter_Anderson

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  6. says

    Hi Porter,

    Always enjoy reading your posts. This one is particularly entertaining.

    Twitchy and prickly seem apt descriptors for so many folks these days. Couple that with a universally deceasing human attention span, throw in a growing disregard for erudition, and it is no wonder that we too often descend to SCREAMING and RANTING rather than engaging in civil discourse. Whatever happened to divergent thinking being a good thing? Sometimes it feels like the whole world is itching for a fight, happily seeking out personal affront, or glorying in righteous indignation. Lordy, it just makes my head spin!

    Provocations…hmmmm. Your courage is to be commended, she said while discretely ducking for cover!! :-)

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    • says

      Hey, Linda!

      Love your comment, LOL, almost too much — just about every phrase you write puts me in the mood to write another column. DON’T WORRY, I won’t! :)

      But I’m so glad you brought up the attention span issue, in particular. You’re right, it’s incredible how much that awful trend is hurting us these days, not only in the usual and obvious ways but also in the fact that everybody would just rather blow a gasket than take the time to have a rational, sensible debate about anything. The modus seems to be Fly Off the Handle First, Investigate the Truth Later.

      Which means we waste tons of time later having to walk around apologizing to everybody for blowing up about something that wasn’t what we though it was, anyway, LOL. (“Oh — he said it was the FIRST thing she’d written, not the WORST thing she’d written? Oh, well then…” lol)

      And all the righteous indignation we can eat, too, yes, indeed.

      I’d say you’ve pretty much got a handle on this whole thing, and since you’re kind enough to commend my bravery, I’ll be enlisting you as a bodyguard on the coming installments of Provocations in Publishing!

      Thanks, and stay close –
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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      • says

        I got your back, Porter. Of course, when someone has your back, they are actually standing behind you, aren’t they? Does this mean I’ll be using you as cover for myself? Well now, that raises all kinds of excellent possibilities. Can’t wait for the next installment of Provocations in Publishing!

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  7. says

    Of everything above that could give me instant cardio, the comments Ann Patchett uttered did the most for my pseudo-workout.

    Her comments about authors needing Publisher’s Row might be all fine and good on the surface, were it not for one small problem: In order to benefit from any assistance they could provide, the author needs to convince them to work with them, give them that aid she says they all need. Which is damned unlikely if these folks are putting all their efforts behind the Dan Brown in their stable, the one person who no matter the quality of their work is responsible for 85%+ of gross accumulated during the year, and so gets all the help she claims others need.

    Argumentum ad adsurdum, in a nutshell.

    And to preface it with a dismissive about self-pub by saying, “and that is understandable,” probably delivered like a villain in a Capra film bedecked in a cummerbund with a slight sneer in her tone, and you get the sense that she speaks about people outside the chummy world she’s ensconced in the way Petain talked about his new friends back in Berlin…

    Hmmm, heart rate’s pretty high; time to relax with a request for more of those hilarious Dan Vinci’s Nunferno tweets…

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    • says

      Hey, Jim!

      Yeah, I fear that Ms. Patchett — as the UK commenters at The Bookseller called her as they ripped her legs off — “really did it this time,” as my grandmother might have said.

      It’s such an odd incident because you can tell she meant well but simply hadn’t considered — or worse, didn’t know — how naive and dismissive her comments would seem to less fortunate authors than her highly regarded self.

      London author Dave Morris translated her as saying “the serfs need to work more closely with the barons,” which was rather good.

      I’d love to know, in fact, how the UK’s Independent Booksellers crowd came to hook up with her for this promotion (coming up in late June, as I recall). I guess there may not be a major author on that side of the pond who so far has taken the plunge and opened a bookstore. Seeing the cloud under which our Ann now is operating, I’d say just about any author in Britain who felt moved to open a store very quickly would be warmly embraced by the Independent Booksellers Week organizers, who must be dying to get off a quick “thanks anyway, Ms. Patchett!” email at the least, um, provocation. ;)

      Cling to those Nunferno tweets, they seem to get only better. (For sheer cleverness, the one about the poker-playing-dogs painting takes the cake … even Tom Hanks must be dying to film that scene at the Louvre as a truly bad addendum to Da Vinci Code. Best thing yet for everybody’s blood pressure.

      And thanks so much for the good comment, great to have you!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  8. says

    Several years ago I decided that just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. I think that goes for airing your opinions on the internet. There appears to be many who think that they have a God-given right to say whatever they want, however they want, and damned be the people who don’t appreciate their thinking or how they let their thoughts be known.

    Aggression has become commonplace – even if it’s only verbally. Civil discourse has broken down and where that began, heck if I know. I suspect its roots are many.

    I’ve been searching for book bloggers to review my novel and am saddened by how many of them have put disclaimers in their review policies about how the review is their opinion, and to please not give them backlash for performing a service the author asked them to do! I feel like an old lady wringing my hands and clucking to myself “What has this world come to.” But, I certainly have no answers.

    I don’t think you’re an ignorant slut. Actually, your ability to handle those negative comments and be assertive without being aggressive is enviable. :)

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    • says

      Hey, Lara!

      So glad to have your input here, you’re getting at something none of us has a decent handle on yet. As far as I can tell, we still need an extremely sophisticated, large study made over time of a sample of people whose concept of the Internet has that “shoot-first-ask-questions-after” quality of entitlement to it. You constantly hear the Wild West comparison, and you just wonder why folks don’t understand they really can’t just ride to the next town and start over on the Net like they could out on the range.

      We all know the rudimentary basics of what’s happening. In a room of your own with nothing but a device in front of you, “people” on the other end don’t seem like people, really, and so it’s much easier (for some, apparently) to haul off and be obnoxious than it would ever be in person, or even on the phone. And yet, what’s taking so long for many to seem to realize is that what they say and do on the Internet? Stays on the Internet. Not even the “reputation-wiping” services out there are thought to be able to get at everything.

      And the even deeper reality here, I’m afraid, is that people — in general — are just seething. If we assume that this willingness to haul off and lambaste anyone and anything has to do with an odd lack of “social governors” in place when people get onto the Net, we also have to concede that these people are, Internet or not, just screaming mad all the time. Furious. Livid. Murderously angry.

      So that’s the next study, after “Why Are People so Unguarded and Rude on the Internet” — the follow-up is “What on Earth is Making Everybody So Angry That they Behave This Way in Any Setting They Think Will Let Them Get Away With It?”

      If I thought it didn’t matter how I treated people online? — I still would never be interested in behaving like such a boor. Why in God’s name are people like this? That’s what I fear we really need to understand. Some form of dreadful hostility is much more prevalent than makes any sense. Happy people don’t treat each other like dirt, even when they think they can get away with it. There’s no point in it unless it’s an (always misguided) attempt to address some sort of feeling of angry inadequacy.

      Very disturbing. Perfectly represented by those notices you’re seeing posted by reviewers. “Please don’t beat me up for expressing my opinion, especially by authors who asked me to do so.” Incredible.

      The Net has done so many things for us, lots of which won’t even show up for years and decades to come. One of them, of course, is the revelation that all but three people on the face of the Earth at the moment believe they should be writing books, lol. But another is this horrible disgruntlement, seemingly suppressed in real life (except by hockey players, lol) but unleashed as soon as the gauze of a computer screen makes people think they’re not “visible” when they act like banshees.

      Every time I’ve been subjected to such hostility, I’ve found that the last thing they expect is for you to turn around and question them. If you refuse to use foul language on them, but you also refuse to leave and you insist they explain how you’ve somehow damaged or otherwise crossed, them, they soon (for me, so far) are quite apologetic and will go into full back-peddle. This, of course, indicates that the initial assault does occur under their assumption that they won’t be called out for bad behavior. I just want to know why the bad behavior happens in the first place.

      My father (Rev. Daddy) mentioned in a lot of sermons — early repurposing, lol — a phrase “What’s eating you?” He always credited it to Abraham Lincoln, whom, Daddy said, accosted some political opponent with that line once. But I don’t find it in references on Lincoln. I do see a form of it in Twain, in which he apparently said, “It’s not what you eat that gives you indigestion, it’s what’s eating you.”

      Seems apropos. Something is eating a lot of people these days, and we get a snootful of it every day online. I hope we learn more about this. Time for sociology to step up and really get at this. I’d love to see any research results that anybody has come up with on contemporary anger, if you will, and its expression on the Net.

      At any rate, thank God nobody at WU would ever act so badly, right? :) Of course right. :)

      Thanks again, Lara, great to have you,
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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        • says

          Thanks for this Jim, it does follow the pattern promoted by most research. The question I want answered sets aside the vulgar behavior and looks at what these people are so mad about.

          Put it this way : all things being equal, if you think the way you act online doesn’t matter like it does in real life, why do you opt to act like a shit? Why wouldn’t civil behavior be the default?

          -p.

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    • says

      Lara–what a wonderful and thoughtfully written post that seems as if it came straight from a conversation I had with a friend just this week. She is closing her Facebook account and refuses to get on Twitter because of the dearth of civil discourse. Other friends refuse to get involved with causes they would normally support because of the vitriol that so often passes for conversation these days.

      A very wise woman I knew in my past said something once that has stayed with me throughout the years–“Say what you mean and mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.” Pretty nifty way to live an internet life, don’t you think?

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  9. says

    Hey can I quote you on Facebook, “in many Western cultures today we probably love winning more than we love the freedom to disagree”. It’s the least you can do after giving me a massive migraine the likes of which Western medicine has never seen (and probably never will see in person) by putting your blog post inter spiced/spliced with those awful quotes from Dan Vinci’s Nunferno on my iPhone. I will not read anything by Dan Vinci again!! Not if my headache gets worse and not if I’m plied with martinis either shaken or stirred. So there!!!!!

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    • says

      Hi, Marianne!

      By all means, do feel free to quote me on Facebook, with my apologies for the headache of the @Nunferno quotes. I’m afraid that when we’re “left to our own devices,” lol, those devices are not all set up to handle media-driven copy (such as embedded tweets) very well. They look great on a computer screen (and on my Kindle Fire, too. The phone is likely too small to handle the big fun of Dan Vinci’s Nunferno, lol, so again my apologies and thanks for dropping by, hope the head is better! :)

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  10. says

    You get a cookie for the SNL reference, Porter. Also, I approve of the opening image. Is that a new logo? It’s rather Batman-like. Next you’ll need a cape. ;)

    Is there an opening for sidekick? Will Lycra be required. I’m asking for a friend. ;)

    “Disagreement is not the problem.”

    I agree with you 100%. I’ve come to see that when I’m upset about another person’s opinion, it’s got little to do with them and more to do with me. Am I doubting my values or priorities? Am I wrestling with something and looking for distraction, so seeking a way of externalizing conflict? Am I unconsciously following the news paradigm, with its fondness for pitting black against white? Etc.

    The terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad part of this self-awareness, is that it’s harder to justify spend time on a good debate–potentially leaving people like you with time on your hands. ;) Without the need to win or declare someone else’s position wrong, I find myself commenting less often and feeling more peaceful.

    What’s a person to do? On the one hand, by refusing to enter a state of conflict while disagreeing, there’s more inner peace. On the other, sometimes I miss a good intellectual wrestle on a Saturday morning.

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    • says

      Hey there, Jan!

      Thanks much for dropping in, and yes, the cape is on back-order. Provocations Man. Limited Lycra. I’ll let you know when we open auditions for sidekicks, lol. Our new logo, by the way, is the good work of Liam Walsh, just got a credit into the caption, I love it. The Provocations theme formalizes the direction my entries here tend to take, since that’s my stock in trade (being, as you know, that critic-not-reviewer I’m talking about in the piece, both by temperament and profession).

      Seemed smart to me to start by looking at this whole question of how we tend to respond to these provocations — the never-ending argument, if you will. When ensuing columns take on such provocations, maybe folks will have a little better preparation for our discussion after this basic look at what that discussion is (potentially agreeable, not disagreeable, and collegial, not adversarial).

      And I think you’re making a really fascinating point about the odd approach-avoidance component of this dynamic.

      You’re right that there’s actually a kind of “love of the kill” factor in the instinctive debate function. And I’ve realized, as you’re saying that there are times when I’ve left some part of my life (a career change, etc.) only to find the comparative peace and spaciousness I got back when suddenly no longer involved in the incremental moments of the long argument.

      Eventually, though — for my purposes only — this becomes a non-contributive posiiton. I don’t find that I’m offering as much to my world and interests when I’m not engaging, though I may have a sense of calm I can’t get while tussling. It all depends on your interests, what you want to get out of something. It does, though, become less disruptive, I find, if I dismiss the idea of a win or a kill as being part of the attraction. If I can find a way to know the wrestling as exploration, then I come back with more than I went out with — and with less headache.

      But a lot of things have to be lined up just so for my own approach to be so healthy, yes. Provocation is a really high wire. And you don’t want to get halfway across only to realize that you don’t know what you’re doing out there. :)

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  11. J. F. Constantine says

    Intelligent, thoughtful and downright funny in parts. There are so many different things I love about this piece I’d have to write an essay to say it all. :) So, I’ll just say that you provoked some deep thinking from me, and then in parts you made me laugh out loud.

    You are right on, my friend! Thanks for this. :)

    Best,
    Fotini

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    • says

      Hey, JF, thanks so much. What a lovely comment. I’m especially glad about the laughs, we can all use some.
      Thanks so much for reading and dropping a line!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  12. says

    Usually, Mr. Anderson, the reprinted tweets in your columns drive me bats (you should see how they come through in the email versions: unreadable distractions).

    But this batch is brilliant.

    Way back when, I read _DaVinci Code_ eager to glean its true secrets: how to be a mega-bestseller. I found the writing stunningly bad (sorry, Dina) and haven’t been tempted to pick up another. But I thought that Brown’s genius was to reframe sacred cultural icons (Jesus, Catholicism) in a way that shocked and titillated. Now there’s a formula.

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    • says

      Hey, Mary,

      Sorry the tweets have been so rough in the past (I’ve seen them turn an email into hamburger, myself) — the odd thing is that they can be one of the best ways I get to say something without saying something I’ve found. In my Ether columns on Mondays http://ow.ly/kJcln and Thursdays http://ow.ly/kJco2 , I can make many points with these things, and even introduce important writing into the mix when I don’t have the space (mental or otherwise — some Ether columns are more than 7,000 words long). And in this case, I was able to bring (a) some welcome humor and (b) some fine Brown parody to bear on the column without even referring to it, myself. Don’t know if you noticed, but I never mention @Nunferno in my own writing on this piece. I let this cool little parody account speak for itself — in that special wooden way, lol — happy to know that while I yammer on about provocations, Dan Vinci @Nunferno would be keeping people in their skins for me.

      I could use @Nunferno in every column I write, lol.

      Thanks for the input, you’re very kind — and you’re right, the original idea of reframing sacred icons, while hardly exclusive to Mr. Brown, was and is a good one, the Vatican’s positions notwithstanding. I think one of the probs for Brown is a natural tendency to get caught in one mode (it worked last time, etc.) and finding it hard to generate a new approach. Hence we still are getting secret societies and ancient-to-modern puzzles…and people “gasping!” as they open the door at the end of ever little chapter. :)

      Take good care,
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  13. says

    I have never looked at the difference of the sales between literary literature, fiction/non fiction and compare to the erotic books. That isnt right at all. Hopefully that will change soon.

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