Monday Stepback: Why Read?, Verbing, Straw Feminism, and Getting Yelled At

The weekly links, opinion and personal updates post

Links of Interest

From the Guardian Books Blog, When Authors Met Book Bloggers for Lunch, interesting and balanced:

This is a great strength that literary bloggers have. They do not have to write for a mass audience, their excesses are not necessarily reined in by an editor, and so they are free to produce indecent, funny, inappropriate, uplifting, provocative, controversial or unconventional reviews, just as they are free to produce reviews that are vicious. I defend their right to be vicious and I don’t take it personally anymore, because I see literary viciousness as a dark art that sometimes needs writers as its canvas. I do worry about some of the writers who are just starting out, though. Some of the more casual meanness that happens online might be avoided if the reviewer imagined the author reading their piece, or if they envisaged a day where they had to meet face-to-face in a room.


From today’s New York Times, Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites like Twitter:

The effect is seen on the companies providing the blogging platforms. Blogger, owned by Google, had fewer unique visitors in the United States in December than it had a year earlier — a 2 percent decline, to 58.6 million — although globally, Blogger’s unique visitors rose 9 percent, to 323 million.

LiveJournal, another blogging service, has decided to emphasize communities. Connecting people who share an interest in celebrity gossip, for instance, provides the social interaction that “classic” blogging lacks, said Sue Rosenstock, a spokeswoman for LiveJournal, which is owned by SUP, a Russian online media company. “Blogging can be a very lonely occupation; you write out into the abyss,” she said.

But some blogging services like Tumblr and WordPress seem to have avoided any decline. Toni Schneider, chief executive of Automattic, the company that commercializes the WordPress blogging software, explains that WordPress is mostly for serious bloggers, not the younger novices who are defecting to social networking.

In any case, he said bloggers often use Facebook and Twitter to promote their blog posts to a wider audience. Rather than being competitors, he said, they are complementary.

“There is a lot of fragmentation,” Mr. Schneider said. “But at this point, anyone who is taking blogging seriously — they’re using several mediums to get a large amount of their traffic.”

I think this last point is very true.


Rebecca at Dirty Sexy Books is celebrating her second anniversary with an interesting post full of lessons learned.


At All About Romance, Dabney Grinnan is Flying the Romance Flag With Pride, an innocuous celebration of the genre … until something strange happens in the comments, now numbering 39. I may have made a snarky “contribution” myself.


Once again my US Senator has a very bad idea. On the Kill Switch bill (via Books Inq).


Monsters and Humans: Where to Draw the Line in Fiction, a guest post at Midnight Moon Cafe by Roxanne Rhoads.


Is It Ok To Call Someone Else Nuts? at Udo Schuklenk’s Ethx Blog. I have purged words like “retarded” and, less successfully, “lame” from my vocabulary, but “nuts” is one I am on the fence about.


Folks participating in a February 11 romance panel at a Sydney library have produced a transcript and a post from the moderator. Check them out for answers to questions like “How has romance changed since the 1980s?” and “Has the stigma against the romance genre diminished?”


Let’s Say Goodbye to the Straw Feminist, by Cordelia Fine, in response to UVa psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s views on bias in science, as reported in the New York Times recently:

What about claims of sex differences in the brain, sometimes speculatively linked to aptitude in science and maths? Small sample sizes, noisy data, publication bias, and teething problems with statistical analysis techniques leave this literature littered with spurious findings of sex differences. So where does the disagreement lie between the neuroscientist or commentator who reports a sex difference in the brain, and the critic of that empirical claim? Does the former have a far more optimistic view of the study’s reliability? Or is she less concerned about the social fall-out should her claim about the difference between the male and the female brain turn out to be wrong?


Is the Kindle increasing piracy, or is author Dave Carnoy thinking data is the plural of anecdote? (at CNET, vie @jafurtado)

A lot of people think moving away from paper is a good thing. Maybe it is. But what should also be alarming to publishers is that the number of people pirating books is growing along with the number of titles that are available for download. As I’ve written in the past, the rise of the iPad has spurred some of the pirating, but now the huge success of the Kindle is also leading to increased pirating. Yes some companies, such as Attributor, have done some studies about the issue, and seen increases. But for my evidence one only need glance at Pirate Bay and see what people are downloading and how many of them are doing it.


Reading is Overrated by Rick Gekoski at the Guardian, a post probably more interesting for the way it rides the line between satire and seriousness (or is it the line between brilliant and bad writing?) and for the comments than for the words it contains:

And then we have this, from Somerset Maugham: “To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all of the miseries of life.” Well, almost all? I wonder which miseries reading is a refuge from, and which not? And if it is such an escape, are we not likely to doubt that what we were protected from was not a misery, but an inconvenience or an occasional source of bad temper? I suspect that a good definition of “misery” might well be “pain so acute that even reading will not assuage it”. I’d be surprised if reading provided a “refuge” from the pains of toothache, colic, or childbirth, the deaths of loved ones, the decline into dementia, the experience of war, famine, or grinding poverty, or the relegation of Coventry City FC.

Do You Verb? by Stefanie at So Many Books:

the penchant in English to turn, usually nouns but sometimes other words too, into verbs. The grammatical term for it is “denominalisation” but I like “verbing” better, it is much more fitting, don’t you think?

Sometimes verbing make me nuts, but usually in my professional life. So, for example, when people say they “consented” a patient. What the hell does that mean?!


If you were as disappointed as I was in the 20-years-late-to-the-party New Yorker Paul Haggis Scientology piece, read this excellent article at the Awl on The Early Heroes of Scientology Reporting.


As a bioethicist, I am always interested in the lines between (often overlapping really) mental disorder and moral failings. This Time Magazine article on Sex Addiction is actually pretty interesting in that regard:

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is debating whether sex addiction should be added to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The addition of what the APA is calling “hypersexual disorder” would legitimize sex addiction in a way that was unthinkable just a few years ago, when Bill Clinton’s philandering was regarded as a moral failing or a joke — but not, in the main, as an illness.

APA recognition of sex addiction would create huge revenue streams in the mental-health business. Some wives who know their husbands are porn enthusiasts would force them into treatment. Some husbands who have serial affairs would start to think of themselves not as rakes but as patients.


If you are interested in roundups of what happened at last week’s Tools of Change conference, check out these posts by Jane Litte, Sarah Wendell, and Ron Hogan. I was pretty wowed that Margaret Atwood commented — although not with super humility, unless I read it wrong — on the Smart Bitches post:

I was the Good Fairy who sprinkled you with snark dust, which you have to admit has served you well; and I have been following the fortunes of the Daughters of Pride and Prejudice (Harlequins) and the Daughters of Wuthering Heights (rippers with cloaks) and the Daughters of Aurora Leigh (a wounded man is more controllable) off and on ever since. In Lady Oracle, the secret life of the hapless protagonist is as a romance writer…
I will send you my shortie, “Women’s Novels,” if you like. (Inspired by my sister-in- law asking me why I didn’t write them, or at least something with white sharks in it.) Or you can find it in the (cough, ahem) book, Good Bones and Simple Murders… if, that is, you can find the book…

And have also been puzzling over this comment by Edward Champion:

The problem with conferences like Tools of Change is that they are often run by people who are socially clueless and extraordinarily rigid in their thinking. Real world pragmatism is going to be what separates the successful bookstores from the Black Books types that vanish in the next year.

… The collision of commerce-driven, socially clueless geeks with booksellers who comprehend social intricacies can often lead to regrettable results. And I suspect that the solution will probably involve a new panel called Humanity 1.0: Rediscovering Vital Social Values Practiced by 90% of the Human Population (Who Also Don’t Own E-Readers).


Funny of the week: At Risky Regencies, author Janet Mullany on a Quick Writers Guide Through History. (via @keirasoleore)


I gave a talk very early this morning at the hospital as per usual. This time, we were going over cases (rather than doing theory, for example, or policy). One fictional case had to do with a 4 year old who had to have surgery to remove baby teeth. Her parents gave her sugary drinks and failed to encourage good eating habits. After the surgery, when they saw how many teeth had been pulled, the parents were angry. In the PACU, the nurse anesthetist is confronted by them. How should s/he respond?

I’m not going to go into the details of how I would work through this case with the group, because I wanted to mention one physician in the room who was increasingly agitated as I went through the details of the (fictional, but all too common) scenario. He raised his hand right away and tried to derail the conversation in favor of a discussion of patient rights versus patient responsibilities. He was angry — very angry — that I failed to take into account that the whole problem began with bad parenting. He interrupted my talk several times, along the same lines. When I suggested that clinicians try to figure out why the parents were angry, he accused me of being “too touchy feely” and “ridiculous”, noting that his job was to bring the patient safely through the surgery, and that’s it. When I tried to find common ground (a usually foolproof mediation tactic, as in “we both agree clinicians should not get enmeshed in patient emotions”) he threw my handout on the floor, grabbed his bag and stormed from the room in the middle of the session.

This is the kind of exchange I have very frequently in my work at the hospital. I don’t get called in unless there is a “situation”, so emotions are always running high. People — nurses, doctors, social workers, patients and families — care very much about their work or their loved ones, and they also, being human, care about themselves. It matters a lot to me to be an agent of good, as far as I can (often, not very far), in this setting, and I will persevere even with people who don’t respect me, don’t like me, argue in bad faith, lie to themselves and to others, and are generally very difficult to deal with. I can’t let that exchange go by the wayside: I will work on it, through intermediaries if necessary, even if it is upsetting or frustrating.

But here, in Romanceland, I’m not going to do it. Here, for me, the bar is set much much lower for “not worth my time”. I’m sure in some cases, online meaningful discussions with people who seem “impossible” can yield important interpersonal breakthroughs, but in most cases, I doubt I can do it. More importantly — most importantly — I don’t have the energy. I just can’t. For me, in my life, disputes like the one this morning are much more important to face and resolve than disputes on a thread in Romanceland. I do not have loads of energy, so if I use up a lot of emotional energy in Romanceland, I know I won’t have enough for the other work that I have decided is more important for me, let alone for my family and friends, who are the most important of all. So — and I am responding to some emails here, which I’ll keep private — if I am not as involved in flamewars, or don’t get into it with commenters here, or just bow out of discussions or threads, or ignore some people on twitter, even though I may follow them, this is why.

The kids are off this week. And the spouse and I are … not. A lot of juggling. I hope to review Again the Magic by Lisa Kleypas later this week.


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