The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing &..
The Passive Voice is an aggregated blog of the latest news in the publishing industry. Also known as the Passive Guy, this blog, while lacking a bit in the way of page styling and pizzaz, collects and publishes the most up-to-date news related to publishing and self-publishing.
‘Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment,” Monet once lamented, while Georgia O’Keeffe noted, “I found I could say things with colors that I couldn’t say in any other way—things that I had no words for.” Decades later, Steve Jobs sounded a different note, saying, regarding Apple’s candy-colored iMacs, “For most consumers, color is more important than megahertz, gigabytes, and other gibberish associated with buying a typical PC.”
Such is the poetry and the power of color. Color pervades our lives, and yet we probably think little about its many facets, which also include theory, history, utility and mystery.
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All of those aspects are on view at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, in “Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color,” which explores how we perceive and use color. As visitors climb a staircase to the exhibit—which is drawn from printed materials that belong to the Smithsonian Libraries and design objects that belong to the Cooper Hewitt—they should grasp with a glance the first principle, that color is simply light in different wave lengths, via “Peony” (2014), designed by Karel Martens. As light cast by the chandelier above changes shades, so too does the appearance of this wall hanging, with colors shifting in intensity. Digitally printed, “Peony” consists of thousands of multicolored pixels, imprinted with differing designs and arranged by an algorithm to form the flower.
“Saturated” then takes visitors through “seven phases of color”—a reference to the seven hues Aristotle cited in his color spectrum in the fourth century B.C.
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Color’s mysterious properties, like iridescence, fluorescence and optical illusions, are still being explored and exploited. As Josef Albers wrote in his seminal book, “Interaction of Color” (1963)—a copy of which is on view—“In order to use color effectively it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually.” The exhibition offers such examples as a Tiffany Peacock Vase (c. 1901) and a 19th-century Indian fabric woven with beetle wing casings for iridescence, as well as 21st-century Nike running shoes in fluorescent green.
Indie authors are confronted by color decisions when they choose covers for their books. Most of those covers will, of course, be viewed through a computer monitor against the white background of Amazon.
Here’s a photo PG took a few weeks ago that he enjoyed for its quiet colors.
Dystopia is everywhere. No longer just a narrative form in the vein of 1984 or Soylent Green, the very word is seeping into our daily news and culture, invoked as readily in the pubs of London as the checkpoints of Gaza. Far from “an imagined … society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic,” dystopia is now used to describe Facebook, Brexit, biometric data, militancy, antibiotic resistance, and HQ Trivia.
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Of course, the Western political and economic upheavals of the past few years are about as dystopian as a party balloon next to the reality of life in, say, North Korea, whose government sums up the rights of its citizens with a simple phrase—“One for all and all for one”—better known in the West for a book that is probably not discussed much in Pyongyang. Like Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany before it, the totalitarian oppression of the DPRK feels so remote that it becomes almost pantomime. The hysterical weeping of party officials at the death of Kim Jong-il and the assassination of Kim Jong-un’s defector brother, with the killers allegedly told it was part of a “prank” show, feel closer to fiction than fact—stories to be marvelled at, rather than profound human truths. Propaganda and history collide, blurring the lines between fiction and reality; as these lines move, so does our cultural understanding of dystopia.
Perhaps the sci-fi anthology show Black Mirror has been a catalyst for shifting the definition of dystopia away from Mad Max–esque cannibals and dehydration to a new conversation of insecurity, intrusiveness, horror, and internalized, personal calamity. Here, dystopia becomes an everyday experience in which the promises of freedom, equality, and basic human rights are corrupted by the very structures we have built to empower us. Your digital assistant is a torture device; your aspirations to be a good parent destroy lives; your cartoonish satire is the tyranny of tomorrow.
Yet historically speaking, we’ve never had it so good. We beat smallpox and polio is on the verge of eradication, solar power grows in leaps and bounds, and humans have never been richer or lived longer. As for the internet! The advent of mobile data gives us more knowledge and power in our hand than the crew of the Enterprise could have dreamed of. The world is awesome.
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Animal Farm is one of the few novels that explores how the final tyranny of its world is created, from the subversion of a utopian ideal into a dystopia that favors the select few. Black Mirror picks up on this theme and asks, What if through our utopian ideas and technologies we are creating the very opposite?
In his book Ordinary Men, the historian Christopher Browning examined how men from across 1930s Germany were transformed from harmless next-door neighbors into the Einsatzgruppen, working behind Nazi lines to murder approximately 2 million people. The conclusion he reached was depressing in its universality. These were not special men with violent tendencies. They were told that Jews were less than human, other, but more importantly, they were commanded by authority figures and pressured by the camaraderie of the unit, to kill. Our moral compass collapses with devastating speed, and it is easy to obey, and to walk into darkness.
These days parents, caregivers and teachers have lots of options when it comes to fulfilling that request. You can read a picture book, put on a cartoon, play an audiobook, or even ask Alexa.
A newly published study gives some insight into what may be happening inside young children’s brains in each of those situations. And, says lead author Dr. John Hutton, there is an apparent “Goldilocks effect” — some kinds of storytelling may be “too cold” for children, while others are “too hot.” And, of course, some are “just right.”
Hutton is a researcher and pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with a special interest in “emergent literacy” — the process of learning to read.
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While the children paid attention to the stories, the MRI, the machine scanned for activation within certain brain networks, and connectivity between the networks.
“We went into it with an idea in mind of what brain networks were likely to be influenced by the story,” Hutton explains. One was language. One was visual perception. The third is called visual imagery. The fourth was the default mode network, which Hutton calls, “the seat of the soul, internal reflection — how something matters to you.”
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In the audio-only condition (too cold): language networks were activated, but there was less connectivity overall. “There was more evidence the children were straining to understand.”
In the animation condition (too hot): there was a lot of activity in the audio and visual perception networks, but not a lot of connectivity among the various brain networks. “The language network was working to keep up with the story,” says Hutton. “Our interpretation was that the animation was doing all the work for the child. They were expending the most energy just figuring out what it means.” The children’s comprehension of the story was the worst in this condition.
The illustration condition was what Hutton called “just right”.
When children could see illustrations, language-network activity dropped a bit compared to the audio condition. Instead of only paying attention to the words, Hutton says, the children’s understanding of the story was “scaffolded” by having the images as clues.
“Give them a picture and they have a cookie to work with,” he explains. “With animation it’s all dumped on them all at once and they don’t have to do any of the work.”
Said to be the UK’s first fully open-access university publisher, UCL Press—University College London—has announced today (May 24) that more than 1 million copies of its books have been downloaded in the international marketplace.
The press has been in operation for three years, and produces scholarly monographs, edited collections, and textbooks. Some particulars of the activity reported by the company:
UCL Press books are downloaded approximately 913 times per day
Each title achieves approximately 12,500 downloads
Its books have reached readers in 222 of what the press is “a possible 223 countries and/or territories”
UCL’s books, according to the company, have saved readers more than £60 million, being published as free-of-charge volumes via open access
UCL Library Services pro-vice-provost Paul Ayris is quoted, saying, “Institutional open access publishing is transformative, being a completely new model of how universities engage with readers and with society.
“In the 15th century, the invention of movable type printing in the West transformed Europe. In the 21st century, open access publishing can do the same.”
There is no sort of wrong deed of which a man can bear the punishment alone; you can’t isolate yourself and say that the evil that is in you shall not spread. Men’s lives are as thoroughly blended with each other as the air they breathe; evil spreads as necessarily as disease.
Recent allegations of sexist misconduct against author Junot Díaz have reignited an old debate: Should we engage the work of artists whose personal conduct or belief systems are reprehensible? At the Washington Post, Sandra Beasly has weighed in on this question; she wonders whether she should “continue to teach the work of people we now suspect of behaving unethically or abusively.” Her answer to the question is nuanced, so I won’t attempt a brief and therefore unsatisfactory summary.
My response, though, is an unequivocal yes: We should read the books of flawed writers who produce great art.
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Between artists and the art they produce should be erected a large and nearly impenetrable wall. An author’s personal misconduct should not distract us from questions of literary merit — and neither should the sorts of obscenities that appear within the books themselves. When a novelist writes, he creates a voice, the voice of a narrator who does not exist in the real world. Such a voice must be judged on its own; it must be separated from its authorial creator and be given the freedom to explore even the more monstrous aspects of the human experience.
This insight about separating author from narrator seems to have been forgotten in much of the conversation surrounding Díaz. One writer called his books “sexist and regressive,” suggesting that we should refrain from reading that which our culture has deemed verboten. Having read most of Díaz’s fiction, I can confirm that there is certainly a great amount of misogyny depicted. That does not mean that his oeuvre as such encourages sexism, any more than Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn serves as an apologia for slavery, any more than James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room endorses homophobia, or any more than Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon promotes segregation. Twain, Baldwin, and Morrison are masters of their craft, able to depict bigotry and intolerance in all their vile and irrational glory; the same is true of Díaz. We shouldn’t condemn authors for portraying the truth of life’s brutalities.
Feminist literary critic Roxanne Gay reviewed Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her back in 2012. She got it exactly right: “The influence of [sexism] is plainly apparent throughout This Is How You Lose Her. Women are their bodies and what they can offer men. They are pulled apart for Yunior’s [the protagonist’s] sexual amusement. There’s nothing wrong with that, the fact that Yunior is a misogynist of the highest order . . . that none of the men in this book are very good to women. This is fiction and if people cannot be flawed in fiction there’s no place left for us to be human”(emphasis mine).
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Dickens was a writer who cared deeply about the poor of England but was simultaneously contemptuous of the Indian victims of British imperialism. What are we to do with him? Should we read him because of his sympathy for the poor or dismiss him because of his racism? Neither, I argue; instead we should read him because he is a monumental figure in the history of British writing. And, of course, we can read him even as wekeep in mind that he was a complex human, capable at the same time of making abominable moral judgments and of producing lasting works of fiction.
PG will note that he does not always agree with the content of everything he posts about on TPV.
The OP is not the first to raise the question of whether we must expose ourselves to evil in order to gain an understanding of evil. As with many questions of this type, PG believes the answer is yes and no.
In some cases, exposure can be beneficial to our understanding. Reading Mein Kampf, The Communist Manifesto and the writings of Mao Zedong underpinning Land Reform, The Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution may be examples of such beneficial exposure and increases our understanding without negative side-effects.
On the other hand, direct exposure to hard-core and child pornography and snuff films may be examples of exposure that doesn’t really help to increase our understanding of these evils and may have continuing detrimental effects.
A federal judge dismissed an author’s claim that the popular thriller novel and movie “Gone Girl” is based on her copyrighted screenplay, finding that the stories are considerably different.
“Overall, no ordinary observer could conclude that [Out of the Blue] and Gone Girl are substantially similar. Their common elements are standard in thrillers and at the level of particular expression they tell very ‘different stories,’” U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey wrote in a 33-page opinion issued Monday.
Author Leslie Weller filed a lawsuit in December against “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn, claiming she gave a copy of her screenplay “Out of the Blue” to a script consultant linked to Flynn, who then copied several elements of it.
Weller argued both stories focus on the central theme of “how well one person can really know another person.”
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Judge Blakely wrote that Weller failed to “connect the dots.”
“She describes a chain of professional relationships—most of which have no relation to Gone Girl—and invites speculation that some unidentified intermediary, for some reason, showed Flynn—who was by then two years into her work on the novel—an unproduced screenplay by a writer whom [her agency] did not represent,” the ruling states.
The judge also found that “numerous and significant differences” between the stories “weigh against finding substantial similarity.”
Here’s a challenge for you: find a book jacket that features an image of a woman over 40.
My own hunt – as yet unsuccessful – was prompted by the actor and novelist Barbara Ewing, whose novel about a drama-school reunion, The Actresses, has just been reissued. Ewing says she cried when she first saw the cover of the 1997 edition – although it focuses on women over 50, the jacket image was a close up of a young woman’s face. This time around, she and publisher Head of Zeus have gone for an elegant photograph of a silver-haired woman that measures up perfectly to the book’s protagonists. But Ewing says bookshops aren’t interested.
It seems the book world doesn’t think readers want to see women of a certain age on their novels – even if that is precisely what the books are about. Take a look at some literary novels about older women – Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child, Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, Carol Shields’ Unless – and you’ll see a lighthouse, two children wearing fairy wings, a young couple in a car and a child standing on her head.