Book-banning in a digital age

Last week Amazon deleted copies of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm from some of their customers' Kindles.This has happened before. In June, Amazon deleted some Ayn Rand titles. And it's happened with Harry Potter titles as well. Amazon's defense is pretty believable; they said the copies were pirated and that they were only acting to protect intellectual property. But as Farhad Manjoo at Slate says, "The Orwell incident was too rich with irony to escape … [Read more...]

Escape the busyness and find inner calm

"The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness," said Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset in his book Mission of the University: "it is always urgent, 'here and now' without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point-blank."Another philosopher and artist, Wyndham Lewis, saw the problem this way: "Everything in our life today conspires to thrust most people into . . . a sort of trance of action," he said in the 1957 preface to his book Time and Western Man. … [Read more...]

Don’t just blame the marketing

Mike Hyatt is fond of saying that good marketing makes bad books fail fast. The logic is pretty straightforward: If the marketing works and people swarm to a book only to discover it's lousy, what happens? Blog posts, email chatter, coffee-shop eyerolls -- scads of people saying that the book stinks. The better the marketing, the faster they find out, and the quicker the book goes down like the Hindenburg.But most authors whose books bomb don't see it that way. If a book bombs, a common author … [Read more...]

No pain, no gain

Jane Fonda popularized the phrase “no pain, no gain” in her exercise videos of the 1980s. But we all know Fonda nicked it from Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard.“There are no Gains without Pains,” runs just one of a thousand aphorisms in Franklin's 1758 essay, “The Way to Wealth.”And Ben pinched it from seventeenth century poet Robert Herrick: "If little labour, little are our gains/Man's fortunes are according to his pains" (Hesperides 752). Did Herrick filch it from even further back?T … [Read more...]

Bishop takes rook

One of the most fascinating figures I’ve discovered while researching about the life of Paul Revere is Jonathan Mayhew. He was the pastor at West Church in Boston. He is often cited as the first Unitarian, and in his letters you can read him complaining about, among other things, the average Bostonian’s “zeal for Athanasian and Calvinistic Orthodoxy." Paul Revere was more than a decade his junior, but they became friends in Revere’s later teens. Mayhew married the daughter of Revere’s landlord. … [Read more...]

Working in uncertainty

The book business isn’t doing too well in America right now. Sales are down. Returns are up. And foot traffic in bookstores is in double-digit decline compared to a year ago.But that's not the case everywhere. From its lofty seat in the lap of America’s publishing culture, the New York Times recently reported that things are different in Europe, where book sales are actually up. … [Read more...]

More customers, fewer consumers

To succeed in business you need to “meet the needs of consumers,” right? It’s so hackneyed it must be true. It’s so true it must be wrong.To get what I mean, see how this strikes you. It’s from the jacket copy of Paul Nunes and Brian Johnson's book Mass Affluence: Seven New Rules of Marketing to Today's Consumer (Harvard Business School Press):Millions of consumers can now afford to pay more for everything—from household cleaning products to clothing to automobiles. Yet these “moneyed masses” … [Read more...]

Authentic growth vs. trash and waste

Yesterday the stock market surged. The Dow shot up 380 points, the Nasdaq nearly 90. But while I was rifling through my bedside drawers for some Dramamine, I heard this: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to keep the federal coffers open for additional stimulus packages. I got nauseous for a whole different reason. Didn’t we just float an $800 billion note last month? Slow it down, sister.After conferring behind closed doors with practitioners of the dismal science, Speaker Pelosi emerged to say … [Read more...]

The ‘F’ word

As right-wing political dominance wanes, politicians, pundits, and activists are waxing nostalgic for progressive policies of yesteryear — shaking loose the mothballs, dusting off the attic cake, looking for the polishing kit. One of these policies is the Fairness Doctrine, which mandated that one broadcast opinion should be balanced by competing views.Though jettisoned in 1985, it was the law for decades, going back clear to 1949. The policy, which was enforced by the Federal Communications C … [Read more...]

What politics learned from pulpits

What's the connection between political campaigns and megachurches?As this post explains, the secret to building a successful megachurch is in evangelizing people inside cultural subsets rather than imploring people to venture outside of their subset.Political machines are putting the same strategy to use. Here's the underlying cultural dynamic at play:Neighbors witnessing to neighbors is a marketing technique suited to Americans, who are increasingly sequestering themselves in … [Read more...]

Crooked men in a crooked world

“There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile.” — British nursery rhymeSo I’m reading Alan Jacobs’ new book, Original Sin: A Cultural History, and several thoughts about human will and intention crisscross my mind:1. The idea that our heart — in the classic sense, the seat of our intellect and will — is by nature corrupt or prone to corruption is not something that people easily accept. Jacobs covers the clashes generated by the idea since Augustine and even dips back into Paul’s epis … [Read more...]

Don’t write edifying fiction

Here's a fact: The way to write edifying fiction is to write what is. Here's another: The way to write bad fiction is to write what is edifying.I just read a line by Flannery O'Connor in Mystery and Manners that explains why this is so: "what is written to edify usually ends by amusing." The word "amusing" is what triggered the realization. Humor is often produced by incongruity, contradiction, and paradox. The fool is comic because man is not supposed to be foolish. The wise man is good for … [Read more...]