Some thoughts RE: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

The ever-hilarious Jon Ronson is back with another investigation into pop-psychology, or rather the collective psyche of that mob mentality on social media. Some call it a social movement. I have no idea what it really is, but I’m fascinated by its energy. Here is a snippet from Ronson’s meeting with Jonah Lehrer, the now infamous self-plagiarist.

For the last hour Jonah had been repeatedly telling me, in a voice strained to breaking point, ‘I don’t belong in your book.’

And I was repeatedly replying, ‘Yes, you do.’

I didn’t understand what he was talking about. I was writing a book about public shaming. He had been publicly shamed. He was ideal.

Now he suddenly stopped, mid hiking trail, and looked intently at me. ‘I am a terrible story to put in your book,’ he said.

‘Why?’ I said.

‘What’s that William Dean Howells line?’ he said. ‘“Americans like a tragedy with a happy ending”?’

The actual William Dean Howells line is ‘What the American public wants in the theatre is a tragedy with a happy ending.’ I think Jonah was close enough.

Hah, way to kick him when he’s down.

Aside from self-plagiarizing, Jonah Lehrer has also been found guilty of misquotations and, in some cases, mangling Bob Dylan’s words. That was his downfall–mangling Bob Dylan. It was a small, barely noticeable, lapse in Lehrer’s huge body of work. By the time anyone (Michael Moynihan) found that tiny piece of loose thread and pulled, Lehrer had already become a popular successful author. And he’s so young too. Everyone had been amazed. So when the boy genius fell from grace, it was a big deal. It rocked the publishing world. But the fall out didn’t stop there. People went back and meticulously combed through everything he’s written and found that almost every essay and two books, now pulled from publication, contained self-plagiarism.

You may not think that’s a big deal–so he didn’t cite himself a couple of times, so what? Here’s what: he did it repeatedly and, I would assume, deliberately. But you’ll have to read Moynihan’s side of the story and decide for yourself. Anyhow. The point isn’t that Leher “forgot” to cite himself. The point is he recycled old material and passed it off as new…and got paid handsomely for it. If Lehrer were to cite himself properly in each of his essays, almost every single paragraph would have been a quotation taken from essays he’d written in the past. Very little of the new essay would contain new or original content. So if not for the recycled material, there would have been no new material to publish or sell. It was essentially a scam, and Lehrer did it knowingly. That is the point. Another point is no one looked twice because he’s a young educated fellow from a prestigious background, but that’s another thing entirely.

So far I haven’t learned much about the concept of public shaming, other than how it plays out, but I did learn what self-plagiarism is in the publishing world. And yes, it’s a difficult thing to avoid when you’ve written so much for so long on just one topic. Sometimes you’ll end up repeating what you’ve already written in the past; the lapse in memory is bound to happen sooner or later. It’s an honest mistake… if it happens once or twice. But in almost every essay? That shows intent and deliberation.

Jon Ronson writes in a very funny and engaging way. I find myself reluctant to put this book down.

 

[ETA] I did some digging and it looks like Jonah Lehrer’s transgressions extended further than self-plagiarism. People have found actual plagiarism in the two books that were pulled and many of his essays from Wired.com and The New Yorker. Only 18 essays were pulled for closer examination, and of those 18, 17 were found to contain plagiarized material. People have also found instances where Lehrer pulled a Stephen Glass, formerly known as a Janet Cooke, and made up facts and sources to pad his writing (source).

Jon Ronson seems to think we’re all being too hard on Lehrer. Maybe it’s time to forgive and forget? Maybe. After all, “we’re not monsters.” Hah hah…hah. Ahem. We’ll just have to see how much plagiarism is in his new book to determine whether or not it’s forgivable. Oh btw, he’s sold a new manuscript (source).

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Some thoughts RE: Bill Browder and Red Notice

This book came to me highly recommended by people I work with. It’s not the type of book I normally read, but every once in a while I pick up a nonfiction exposition to, you know, keep up with current events.

The premise is an American businessman, Bill Browder, in the early 1990s saw an opportunity in Russia and went for it. After setting up shop and working with the Kremlin for some time, he found himself in over his head when his work was pulled out from under him, and then he got kicked out of the country and charged with a list of crimes against the government for trying to expose corruption. It’s a whirlwind of a story, full of intrigue, suspense, corruption, and murder.

It’s an interesting story and well written overall, but what I’ve been able to skim from the book so far leads me to believe that Browder’s troubles could have been avoided had he done his homework ahead of time.

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RE: Foxglove Summer (and snow)

Nothing says “welcome home” like over a foot of snow at the start of November. We don’t usually get buried under until after New Years, but it looks like winter is kicking off early this year. While I was bemoaning the amount of snow and taking the day off, I got a surprising email from Gollancz about Foxglove Summer. More about this below.

Foxglove Summer has 2 release dates, Nov. 13 for the UK and some day in January for the US. Since I didn’t want to pay the shipping price, I placed my order through a US seller which means my copy won’t arrive until next year. [*headdesk*] This is the kind of thing publishers should let retailers know ahead of time, before allowing advanced orders. I won’t even ponder the reasons for separate release dates or why the dates are so far apart. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have ordered ahead of time.

But then the people at Gollancz came to the rescue and offered to send me the ebook, which I did not expect at all. I expected a refund, but this is better, much better. I don’t know whether or not this is a common thing for publishers, and I don’t know that many people who order books early, so I can’t compare notes. It must be a rare occurrence though because the people I talked to were like, “Be honest, how many times did you yell at them before they gave in?” So tbh, none. I didn’t reach out to them or even talk about it online until now.

The ebook will be sent to my account this Thursday, and I can hardly wait.

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In which I read books people left on planes

They’re all terrible but in their own unique ways. Terrible in that they’re not to my taste and also because the content are insufferable, but the writing and delivery…aren’t half bad. Readable overall, although very gimmicky at times. Each book amp up the shock factor to keep the pages turning, and I admit I fell for it.

This post isn’t meant to deter anyone from picking up these books. I think you should give them a try if any one of them ever held your interest in the past. Each book is more or less an examination of glamour, sex, violence, and pushing the envelope, though not an intelligible examination, might I add. What these books lack is interesting relevant commentary on our morbid fascination with these topics. IMHO, the authors really missed their chance to say something to tie their stories together or at least show their awareness of this morbid fascination.

I never leave home without at least one book on hand. So I boarded each flight in the hopes of getting a few quiet hours with Bill Bryson or Tana French, and I did get some time to read my books, but then on 3 of the flights, the people who’d sat in my seat before me left behind paperbacks in crisp condition. Quite a coincidence, but not surprising.

And here they are in no specific order:

Doesn’t surprise me one bit that these three books got left behind.

Some thoughts RE: Revenge (the show)

A couple of years late to the party, but I made it and am glad I did because this first season…it’s really something.

Advertised as a modern take on Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, it’s a long-winded tale of vengeance that takes place on the beachy resort side of the Hamptons. The protagonist, Emily Thorne, comes back to the Hamptons under disguise to exact revenge on the Grayson family and their friends and allies, all of whom conspired together to frame her father and had him imprisoned where he was later killed. It’s the conspiracy of the decade that the Graysons thought they’d buried, but they forgot one major loose end, and now she’s returned for some serious payback.

Emily’s style of vengeance is quite artful and inventive in that she only manipulates a few events to set a domino effect in motion which lead to her targets hanging themselves, not literally, at least not yet. The story arc is a classic with some new twists added to give the show a modern feel. This is the type of show that ends each episode on a cliffhanger, but each episode is chocked full of twists and turns, so that makes up for it leaving you hanging.

At first I wasn’t sure if this was a show I’d be interested in, what with all the glitz and glamour and mansion-sized beach houses, but then as the episodes rolled by and target after target fall from grace, I realized I was actually hooked and I ended up staying up late night after night to watch just one more episode. The showrunners have an interesting way of working in the aftermath of the most recent financial crisis into the setting and background; it’s tucked snugly way in the back and only resurfaces in subtle ways as a reminder that Hampton denizens’ glamorous lifestyles aren’t as glamorous as they look.

The show has its flaws, some glaring, others not so much. Here are a few things I can’t overlook.

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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

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Some thoughts re: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Giving this book another try because I’ve been on an urban fantasy kick these past few weeks and would like to actually finish it. I hate leaving books I own unread, and people always tell me I’m missing out by not giving this series a chance, so now that’s what I’m gonna do. I might even reach the end this time, with help from James Marsters of course.

I tried the first chapter several times, but it just never clicked. For whatever reason I kept putting off the second chapter and then eventually abandoning the whole book altogether. Then I’d go on another UF bender kick, like now, and suddenly want to get through this damn book once and for all, if only to cross it off the DNF list.

The biggest obstacle is clearly Harry Dresden, wizard extraordinaire, and his good-guy personality. There’s just something inherently unlikable about him and I find his inner thoughts extremely annoying, which makes reading from his POV a real challenge. But then people keep saying the writing, including Dresden’s characterization, gets a lot better with each book. I’m inclined to believe them, and so here I am again, giving Storm Front another try.

ETA: Finished it. Here’s the review.

Some thoughts re: The Fault in Our Stars and John Green

Most recently John Green did a whole thing on Twilight (here and here for more details). I went from disliking him but still interested in reading his books (or just this one) to pitying him because he seems so out of touch with reality and completely misses the point on why books like Twilight are deserving of “harsh” treatment. Critics aren’t making things up; they’re just pointing to what’s already there in the text.

It’s absolutely terrible that Stephenie Meyer had been and is still being personally attacked over her books. We should always call attention to these things, BUT that doesn’t mean we should overlook all of the controversial things Ms. Meyer chose to write about. That’s great that Mr. Green wants to stand up for and align himself with a fellow author (really it is–no sarcasm at all), but he doesn’t have to pretend to elevate her writing to a level unbeknownst to her critics to show his support. (Just say you support another author. We understand. By pretending there’s depth to be found in Twilight, you’re making me doubt everything you’ve ever written. This goes for everyone, not just authors.)

Tens and millions of people can be wrong, Mr. Green; this happens almost every day all over the world. (This also happens to be terrible evidence btw because tens and millions of people have been wrong in the past about a multitude of things and tens and millions of people will continue to stand on the wrong side of many things in the future.) The point is lots of people can be wrong, and lots of people can be wrong together. Just because so many people love a deeply troubled story like Twilight doesn’t mean there are depths to it that are beyond its critics’ reach and understanding. All those tens and millions of people loving Twilight doesn’t erase the fact that it’s a troubling book. Everything that’s wrong with it is still there, right in the text, whether or not you choose to see it.

Love and support whatever you want, but don’t choose to ignore its problems. You aren’t doing anyone or even yourself any favors by being willfully ignorant.

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Winter’s Tale movie

From the Huffington Post: Saddle Up Your Magical, Winged Space Horse, Let’s Answer Some Questions About ‘Winter’s Tale’

Q: Is “Winter’s Tale” a story about love?
A: Yes.

Q: As all good love stories do, does “Winter’s Tale” feature a magical, winged space horse?
A: Yes.

Q: What is the magical, winged space horse’s name?
A: Athansor.

Q: Is “Winter’s Tale” the dumbest movie that you’ve seen in the last year?
A: Yes.

Q: Why is “Winter’s Tale” so dumb?
A: Well, first of all, this is a movie that takes itself so seriously, even though the main character, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), flies around on a magical, winged space horse.

[…]

Q: Does the magical, winged space horse actually fly Peter into space at some point during this movie?
A: Yes.

Q: Is it weird that now I want to see this movie?
A: Yes.

They had me at “magical, winged space horse.”

Sometimes you find yourself in the mood for a book with depth and challenging commentary, and sometimes you just want a flying horse in fantasy New York. Excuse me, winged space horse.

Some thoughts RE: Gone Girl (the movie)

movies-gone-girl-ew-cover.jpg (618×824)

(Cover and article can be found here)

I have a few concerns about casting and the age difference between the two leads, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.

This question has been asked before by numerous people more articulate than me regarding the newest Batman.

  • Isn’t Ben Affleck too… Ben Affleck to play [insert any leading male role here]? In this case, it’s Nick Dunne.

Now on to the age difference.

  • Isn’t Rosamund Pike a bit young to play Amy Dunne against Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne?

(Review of book can be found here)

* * * spoilers below * * *

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Some thoughts RE: Sabriel (Abhorsen, #1)

Cannot continue. Maybe when/if I get hold of the audiobook set I might be tempted to pick up where I left off. Tim Curry as narrator is enough to entice.

My not finishing this book has little to do with the content, which leans heavily on necromancy/death magic, and more to do with having read one too many coming of age stories in the fantasy genre. Not to mention this is YA, which makes my eyes wander and fingers flip to the end of the book automatically. The series is not advertised as YA–clever? or just insulting?–but it definitely reads like YA, and once you figure that out, you can lose interest at an alarming rate. And by “you,” I mean me.

The writing is fine. It moves the plot along and does a good job explaining how necromancy is a misunderstood magic without having to info-dump. The one element that would have made this story more interesting is if Sabriel is believable as a teenage girl. The way the character is written makes it seem like she could have been a teenage boy and it wouldn’t have affected the story much. Then again, I haven’t even finished the story, so it’s too soon to say.

Updated review can be found here.