Water Margin

I first learned about this book when listening to an audiobook by Meir Shahar titled The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion and the Chinese Martial Arts.  In what is turning out to be vain quest to learn more about China and Chinese civilization I have decided to read this classical novel from the Ming dynasty titled “The Water Margin.”  This book is listed as one of the four classical novels of China in the company of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Journey to the West, and The Dream of the Red Chamber.  Some sources listed The Plum in the Golden Vase as another classic novel but I’m not about to split hairs over the works that make up a potential literary canon.  From what I have learned though a cursory study of secondary sources about Chinese literature is that there is an immeasurably deep Chinese literary canon that encompasses much more these famous novels, the Confucian classics, historical annals, the Art of War, and a handful of plays that most educated westerners are potentially conscious of.  Set in the Song Dynasty, the Water Margin is a highly fictional story revolving around the exploits of 108 mostly heroic characters who inhabit a stronghold Liangshan Marsh.  The characters live as outlaws away from the corrupt Song imperial authorities.  After the first part of the book introduces that stories of seven main characters the action turns to their stronghold in the marsh where the bandits conduct raids on the nearby villages to support themselves.

As an American I have very little contact with any meaningful part of the vast expanse of Chinese literature.  You could add in Indian, Persian, African, Islamic, Japanese or pretty much any other country for that matter.  Only a very select set of foreign blockbuster titles make their way to any commercial success here in the US.  Even fewer books and stories make their way to our consciousness from other cultures with well-developed literature.  In my quest for knowledge this is something which I am not really comfortable with.  I don’t want to be entirely ignorant of the stories that are shared among large groups of people.  I think that having some familiarity with the books and stories that have shaped roughly one quarter of the world’s population is a worthwhile pursuit.  And while one cannot know everything  – there is only so much time and energy, the time and energy we do have is best employed in pursuits that have the potential for growth.  To counterbalance this though recreation is needed to cleanse our minds and allow them to reset themselves in order to work productively.  I believe that our own individual experience can be enriched by a concentrated study of world literature.  In this case it is one work of Chinese literature. Literature in my opinion tells the personal stories of individual people while history relates to us the most important people, trends and dates.  They both go hand in hand in understanding the human experience.  Appreciating the nuances of other cultures is also a great way to contrast elements of other cultures with our own.  This contrast then leads to a deeper understanding of our our individual selves.  In short I believe that reading and taking on a relatively serious personal study of literature leads to the development of a better person.

This book is very long – I’m not sure how print pages long….the story is whatever 21,000 Kindle units come out to be.  I’ve seen the Pearl S. Buck translation (All Men are Brothers) in the library and it is 850 or so quarto pages and this book is 70 of the 108 chapters.  So far, I’m about 3/4 of the way through the book or on Chapter 74.   It will probably take another few months or so to finish.  At times, reading this book is an exercise in self-castigation while at other times it is a small window into a long established culture I still know precious little about.  Most of the difficulty I have had revolves around keeping the 108 main characters straight in my head.  From the secondary sources I have recently read about Chinese Literature some of the stories from the Water Margin serve as models for other stories in their literary canon which is not surprising as it is listed as one of the four great classical novels.  Some well-established themes do seem to come to the surface in the story: the yearning for an accepted central government, the importance of the family and ethical conduct within one’s own group.

The book has a various array of characters which I think are best remembered by their colorful nicknames or their prior deeds.  Early in the story there are seven or so main characters who have been the most memorable so far.  After about the first quarter of the book these central main characters are developed and most characters thereafter receives mostly a superficial treatment.  The book has taken a turn at the 70% point where the names of all the characters are presented to us and the action turns toward the capital city of the empire.  To compensate for the lack of character development the author has employed their nicknames hinting towards their special skills.  Interestingly, the action scenes are truncated in the translation that I am reading but the results of the scenes are more detailed.  I like the author’s use of the tavern as a place where future actions are decided and where action takes place.  This is mostly because I as a person like the idea of a tavern.  Fortunately there are a lot of scenes and many taverns in this very long book.

I have found the best way to read this book is to read a bit and then put it down and then go back to it later on.  It is far too complex and complicated to read straight through since the character count is simply overwhelming.  Fighting the greedy urge to finish it quickly is a struggle for me.  One point that I am struggling to understand is how this book potentially relates to the authors experience.  It is my opinion that most if not all fiction has an element of autobiography involved and his distant character sketches in the second half of the book may be an attempt by a second author.  The story does seem to comply with the official “party line” however as the bandits do eventually get together with the government.  The early well-developed characters are memorable and lend a sense of familiarity with some of the complicated stories in this complex book.  There are some commonalities and themes so far in the book:  the use of deception as a strategy, the corruption of the petty government officials, and a sense of fraternity among the bandit band that does not exist among the legitimate imperial forces.  The bandits are clearly the “good guys” and a case is made for a desire to have a legitimate dynasty and emperor.  A number of imperial officers that turn into bandit leaders seems to point towards the bandits as having a more cohesive unit in this regard.  Ok…that’s all for now.  Have a great weekend – its Wednesday and I’m already thinking of it!

 

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Wolf Totem

Every night instead of viewing television newscasts featuring highly educated but ill mannered and even worse behaved adults appeal to the lowest common emotional denominator, I have been reading a chapter in the book Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong.  I really have liked this story so far and would like to suggest it to anyone who is interested in Chinese culture and history.  It also may appeal to those who are interested in ecology and wildlife.  One thing I like about the story is that it imparts imagery evocative of wide open spaces and the winter scenes with snow impart a stark sense of contrast between the sky and the landscape.  This imagined natural beauty coupled with the imagery of wolves and other animals is a strength of the book.  The story is more action based than a lot of novels, which is something that I like.  Dialogue so far has been limited and I think this imparts a good window into the direct thoughts of the author – which is something I can resonate with.

While I don’t agree with all of his characterizations and generalities he makes, and I find some of his scenes hyperbolic, his story is very well done and thought provoking.   Since the book was written in Chinese, the translation may have something to do with this along with my possible ignorance of any cultural nuances which are foreign to me.  Regardless, there is a lot in the book of value.

I’m about half way through the book at this point.  Rong’s main characters are students voluntarily fleeing the cultural revolution in Beijing and choosing to live among the Mongols in Chinese Inner Mongolia.  The students are given a yurt and a flock to tend to.  The group’s elder, Bilgee favors the main character and takes time to show him the Mongol ways.  In the story he compares the settled Chinese civilization of his main characters with that of the nomadic Mongols with whom he is living.  In a surprising move from a novel from contemporary China, he seems to be somewhat critical of the government and its official who deals with the Mongols.  I will develop this concept later on as right now it is just an impression, albeit a powerful one but still is a concept that remains undeveloped in the book.  The author’s perspective seems tilted towards the Mongols but again, I think I would have to read the whole thing through to figure it out.  I cannot help but to make mental comparisons between the Han Chinese incursions west and the 19th century American incursion west into the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.  Maybe this subconsciously resonates with me?  Who knows.  But this novel does seem to herald a watershed moment in Chinese history when things began to rapidly change from the traditional to the modern.

There have been a few action scenes so far – mostly involving watching wolves, defending livestock from them, and chasing wolves.  A few main events have happened so far:  the slaughter of the warhorses by wolves, the government sponsored wolf hunt and the capture of a wolf cub by the main character Chen.  The main character has just abducted a wolf cub and is in the process of raising it as his own.  Throughout there have been conversations with their Mongol brethren and with Bilgee about grassland management, tradition, and their religious beliefs.  Yes, there is a lot more in the 225 pages I have read so far but I think I have hit the main parts.

So why would I write about a book I haven’t entirely read?  I think I’m going to experiment by mentally recalling what I’ve read and writing about it – especially before the story is complete.  Maybe the journey through the book is as important as the destination.  Why did I pick this book?  I picked this book because it supposedly one of the bestselling all time books in China and since I’ve been interested in China and learning some Chinese language the fact that book was popular is right up my alley.  While I would like to get away from the popular and towards the obscure in a search for novelty, the fact that China is so different automatically shifts their popular to our obscure.  I hate to say it though – often what is popular is popular because it is really good – at least in the book world.  I am also working on potentially conceptualizing a new creative writing piece that just might feature the countries of China, Russia and Mongolia.  It just might….regardless, I’m not letting the cat out of the bag on that one just yet.  But I’m excited about the idea/ideas that I have for a new story so far!

 

 

 

Friday on the Bestseller List

Friday, February 3 on the bestseller list at Amazon.

Two book worth watching have popped up.  Dangerous by Miro Yiannopoulos and Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman.

Dangerous is published by Threshold Editions, the conservative imprint of CBS owned publisher Simon and Schuster.  It is at #1 right now.  Norse Mythology is at #3.  It is published by Norton and Company, which is an employee owned publisher based in New York.

Norse Mythology is scheduled to be released on February 7.  Dangerous on March 14.

 

Reflections on my Cycling Past

Reflections on my Cycling Past

When I was in my 20s and cycling a lot (absolutely completely delusional about my potential athletic capability) I wore a heart rate monitor religiously.  Rediscovering the heart rate monitor has forced me to reminisce about those days.  I rode and raced from about they year 1999 to 2009.  Which in hindsight is relatively short amount of time.  Most of my racing was from 2001 to 2008.  I stopped wearing it when I met some older (and good) cyclists who told me about their formula for training:  ride long and mostly easy all winter and race every weekend – both days if available during the warmer weather from March to October.  Be sure to do cyclocross in the winter as well.  You were allowed about a week off in December, which I never took because I still was totally compelled to ride outside.  These guys rode during that time too.

And be sure to do a practice race during the week, maybe two – preferably predicated with twenty miles before and at least ten after.  I bought into this plan.  It was so organic and simple.  But it really was too much.  I know now that a lot of these guys have some serious self-absorbed psychological issues – issues that sort of became my issues when I was around them.  I still can’t stand it when (mostly guys) start up with the tech talk about their bikes.  Some of these guys believed they deserved to get paid.  And just about nobody is going to pay you any money to be a mediocre amateur bike racer – even if you are quite good.  Just because you ride around “advertising” (most kits have companies purchase ad space) doesn’t mean you are critical to day to day operations of the firm.  One has to be head and shoulders above the competition to get any kind of compensation – like a rapidly rising Cat 2 or a Cat 1 who gets consistent results.  Apart from my first bike, I built every bike I raced on – which is to say I learned how to attach the parts and to tune them up so they would work.  Having a small budget was of great help in learning this.  I could find cheaper parts online that I could in the store.  On occasion I brought my bike to the shop to get some things done.  I still remember some of these tech oriented shop guys telling me I could “never” ride with the bike I had because it was a mismatch of parts having a mix of Campy and Shimano parts.  They didn’t know what they were talking about.  Sure they looked great in their shiny new kits as they sported their spare wheels to the pit but I’m not sure how much they actually knew about the intricacies of the sport.  The amount of complete BS in cycling is amazing.

Just don’t crash with all this racing.  By the way, you are going to crash when racing this much – maybe you could stay safe if you’re fast enough to get into the inevitable breakaway or you only race the masters race (for those over 30 or 35).  I still can’t believe that they have an over 30 masters division in cycling.  The sad part is that the master’s 40 plus if often as fast or faster when compared to the 30 plus race.

Crashes happened to me about one every ten races or so – although it depends on how I rode them.  If I wanted to be competitive I needed to be right on the edge of my ability and this negates gross motor coordination.  Sprinting was not my forte and to get any kind of placing I would have to be in the lead out towards the finish in perfect position.  By the end of my experience I was tired of crashing.  I had crashed a few times every year.  The last time I broke my helmet and tore my rotator cuff, this was in March of 2009.  The season didn’t even start yet – this was during a practice race.  That was pretty much it for the racing – although I raced that year nearly every weekend. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore.  I still enjoyed riding, just not 200 miles a week of riding.  This was back in 2009.  I still haven’t given it up entirely.  I did a few races a couple of years ago, with minimal training (like less than 100 miles a week but about 30 of running) and didn’t get dropped which might negate the race every weekend training philosophy.  Most cyclist don’t run at all either which might be good advice for the lucky few semi-pro or pro guys but probably bad advice for the overwhelming vast majority of other cyclists.

I did make it to the category 3 level in cycling and this is where a heart rate training plan would have helped me attain the slim possibility of ever getting to the category 2 level.  I kept on riding the way I had been though.  Heck, I even looked down on people that didn’t train in the way that I did.  I thought I was the purest rider around and that I was somehow going to get some fictional award for putting in consecutive 90 mile days during school break in February.  I was delusional about this however.  But in the end I had done too much and didn’t give other methods of training enough time or effort.  I also put the bike mostly away after doing this for seven years.  I was so totally exhausted by the whole scene.  I had just burnt myself out and had begun to branch off into doing other things – namely going to graduate school and working full time.  To make my transition out of cycling easier I had only made a few meaningful friendships over the time that I was riding which was beginning to get pretty old by the time I was in my early 30s.  I also must take responsibility for this as I wasn’t really putting the time in to develop them either.  I also stuck around bad teams too long when I really should have been a lot more independent in my approach to riding partners.  But this is all in hindsight and I look forward to being able to help my son with these types of decisions in the future.

Just some thoughts on cyclocross.  Cyclocross is great fun and a great event.  Back then, I feel that cyclocross wasn’t nearly as “serious” as it is now but was growing in popularity.  Still, there were some who I think spent a pathological amount of time and effort with ‘cross.  Honestly, I actually find it comical how seriously some people took cyclocross.  Its one thing when you are young and single and you have aspirations of being a great athlete.  I applaud people with this growth mindset.  Its another thing when you are a 43 year old father of two and spending your kids college fund for your cross bike and the extra two to keep in the pit (in case something happens).  The same can be said with road racing.  I’ve seen people do this and thought it was weird back then.  It seems almost criminal now.

While the experience is totally individual the extreme financial cost of bikes sometimes takes the fun out of it.  Maybe we should all ride the same crappy steel bike with the same generation of parts at cross races?  What about the same thing in road races?  I decided that I’ll just level the playing field myself and stick to running.  Anyway, this post is more of a rant than anything.  If you are a cyclist and reading this just remember its a great sport and there are many different ways to succeed.

Maybe my bike should come out again though?  Yes, I think so – but its got to be warm out this time!

 

Amazon Reviews – the Bestseller list and Different

Lets face it – Amazon is huge.  It controls a vast amount of commerce.  I want to try to crack the Amazon code myself with some data.  Fortunately the book “Different, the Story of an Outside the Box Kid and the Mother Who Loved Him” by Nathan Clarkson came out and debuted on the bestseller list giving me another project.

I want to take a look at a few different sets of data and analyze them for any potential relationships.  To begin this project I surveyed the list of bestselling books on Amazon.com for Sunday, January 23 at 9:00 AM.  Amazon reports that its bestseller list is based on sales and is updated hourly.  Since Amazon probably accounts for most of the books sold right now, I have a lot of confidence using them as a source.  My goal is to look at the number of customers who had taken the time to write a review and track how it changes over three days.

Reviews on Amazon

I don’t think anyone really knows how many reviews are written per sale.  There are a lot of guesses out there but nothing really backed by any evidence that I could find.  Searching on the popular site Quora I’m getting figures all over the place –  one comment mentions that one half of a percent of customers write a review while another states that 2 to 5% of customers write a review.  On sellercentral.amazon.com it appears that somewhat higher numbers are reported with several persons saying that around 10% of buyers are leaving feedback.

I checked the bestseller list about 30 hours later to see how many new reviews each book received.  Perhaps this can be a window into how many are being sold?  Who knows.  I want to believe that a new book is going to get more reviews faster than one that is older.  I also see a trend where readers of fiction write reviews at a faster rate than nonfiction.

As far as genre goes there were only a few fiction books on this list.  I was surprised by the number of cookbooks, self-help books and children’s books there are as well.  I also think its a sad social commentary when a book titled “Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely” is at #13 on a national bestseller list but this is a story for another day.  Another surprising (or maybe not-so-surprising) find was the ascendancy of Orwell’s 1984 to the top of the bestseller list by January 25 – a mere five days after the inauguration of the new president.

Just some general impressions from looking at these lists.  Fiction books have far more reviews than nonfiction – even if they appear lower in the list.  The top half of the list remained relatively stable with changes in positions but not a lot of movement out of the top 20.  There are some exceptions, such as Orwell’s 1984 coming in at #6 on 1/24.  The bottom half of the list shifted around a bit more.  For example, “The Lose Your Belly Diet” fell to #41 by Tuesday.

Regarding the list on Sunday, January 22.

  • Seven are self-help books.
  • Two are children’s books
  • Three are general nonfiction but they are what I would consider as biography
  • Four are fiction
  • One is a reference book
  • Three are cookbooks

I checked the Amazon list 24 hours later.  The order of books has changed somewhat – 5 new books came on the list and 5 came off.  One book “Dr. Kellyann’s Bone Broth Cookbook: 125 Recipes to Help You Lose Pounds, Inches, and Wrinkle” replaced “Milk and Honey” at #2.  George Orwell’s 1984 came in at #6.  Another Children’s book, “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” popped in at #17.  “We Should All Be Feminists” came in at #19.  Sinclair Lewis’ book “It Can’t Happen Here” took #20.  Off the Sunday AM list was “A Dog’s Purpose,” “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and “Green Smoothies for Life” and “The Underground Railroad.”  

At two days later the order changed again.  Win Friends was down to #21, Green Smoothies at #22, Subtle Art at #29, Dogs Purpose at #32, and Lose the Belly at #41.  1984 came in at #6 while a book titled “Different, the Story of an Outside the Box Kid and the Mother Who Loved Him” debuted at #8.  Strengths Finder 2.0 came in at #16.  At this point my head is spinning.  Looking at the list on Wednesday, three days later it appears that 1984 has moved into #1 while the book Different has 66 reviews.

The book Different might be a book to track to see how it does over the next few days and weeks.  Right now, I know nothing about this book but I plan to research it in the near future.  I’m impressed at the speed the 66 reviewers had read this 256 page book.  These guys should be in the Olympics for speed reading!  Unless….they had it beforehand.  I think I might be onto something here.

Here is the Amazon bestseller list for books

Bestsellers on January 22, 2017                 Number of new reviews over 48 hours

1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance 85
2. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur 20
3. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly 26
4.The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom by Melissa Hartwig 7
5. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Timothy Ferriss 25
6.A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman 99
7.First 100 Words by Roger Priddy 17
8. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 6
9.The Instant Pot® Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook: Easy Recipes for Fast & Healthy Meals by Laurel Randolph 13
10. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman 20
11. Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss 7
12. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero 9
13. Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst 9
14. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo 22
15. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie 6
16. The Underground Railroad (National Book Award Winner) (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Colson Whitehead 48
17. Green Smoothies for Life by JJ Smith 15
18. A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans by W. Bruce Cameron 37
19. The Lose Your Belly Diet: Change Your Gut, Change Your Life by Travis Stork 31
20. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson 18
Different, the Story of an Outside the Box Kid and the Mother Who Loved Him – Debuted on Tuesday 1/24/17 66

Here is the list broken down to total numbers of reviews:

       Jan. 22                                 Jan. 24

1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance 4202 4287
2. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur 1498 1518
3. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly 331 357
4.The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom by Melissa Hartwig 2316 2323
5. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Timothy Ferriss 1165 1190
6.A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman 9600 9699
7.First 100 Words by Roger Priddy 6335 6352
8. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 3897 3903
9.The Instant Pot® Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook: Easy Recipes for Fast & Healthy Meals by Laurel Randolph 820 833
10. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman 10543 10563
11. Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss 3413 3420
12. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero 1933 1942
13. Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst 857 866
14. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo 11203 11225
15. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie 5434 5440
16. The Underground Railroad (National Book Award Winner) (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Colson Whitehead 2031 2079
17. Green Smoothies for Life by JJ Smith 280 295
18. A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans by W. Bruce Cameron 3446 3483
19. The Lose Your Belly Diet: Change Your Gut, Change Your Life by Travis Stork 245 276
20. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson 624 642

Conclusions:

  • Fiction seems to get a lot of reviews the median number was 43 reviews per day.
  • “Different…” has a backstory to it.  There is more than meets the eye.  I’m not postulating anything here and want to investigate further.
  • There were as few as 3 reviews per day.
  • There were as many as 50 per day.
  • The median measure was 20 reviews per day.
  • The mean number of reviews was 27 per day.

Resources:

https://www.quora.com/What-percentage-of-buyers-write-reviews-on-Amazon

https://sellercentral.amazon.com/forums/message.jspa?messageID=2377939

https://www.amazon.com/best-sellers-books-Amazon/zgbs/books

Escape From Freedom – Part One

About this time last year I read the book “Escape From Freedom” by Erich Fromm.  I like thought provoking books like this and was immediately enthralled with the ideas Fromm wrote about in 1941.  I think that his ideas are relevant today and are worth a visit.  For the sake of brevity or maybe just the path of least resistance I will attempt to distill down the vast amount of good information I found in this book to a few quotes and reactions.  To do so, I reviewed some of the notes I took from the book instead of a careful reread of the book.  Perhaps this approach may lead to some faulty conclusions but I want to avoid paralysis by analysis.  As part of my own personal practice I nearly always take notes on what I’m reading as a way to refer back to it later on.  I really could write for hours and hours on this book, others have done so.  I’m on my own quest for simplicity.

As a person regarding my own cognitive process, I’m interested in what I can take away from something I have learned in the long term.  My question is “how much of this book has entered my subconscious processes?”  “How much has entered my conscious cognitive process?”  For myself, this is the true essence of learning.  The foil to this is how much error have I made in interpreting what I have read the first time.  Are my beliefs based on a faulty understanding or on fallacies?  Am I misunderstanding the author due to my own lack of understanding?  As far as the reading process goes I believe the time spent with a book is both necessary and sufficient for a true understanding of a narrative or thesis which an author is trying to convey.  In this way short 1,000 word blog entries and articles can only give a snapshot inside

Fromm analyzes the rise of totalitarian Nazi Germany.  He begins with a discussion of how man was somewhat stable during European Medieval times but as the world became more advanced technologically and more complicated he became increasingly alienated, anxious and alone.  Fromm gets into the beliefs of differing social classes as well.  Essentially the entire thesis of the book can be summed up with the following quote from the forward.  “Freedom, though it has brought him independence and rationality, has made him isolated and, thereby, anxious and powerless.  This isolation is unbearable and the alternatives he is confronted with are either to escape from the burden of his freedom into new dependencies and submission, or to advance to the full realization of positive freedom which is based upon the uniqueness and individuality of man.”

I picked out a few Quotes from the first half of the book that I would like to share.  I have tried to include quotes that can stand alone and they are in the order in which they appear in the book.

  • New anxieties develop because of the threat of increasing structural unemployment.
  • Man’s brain lives in the twentieth century; the heart of most men lives still in the Stone Age.
  • “The serious threat to our democracy,” he says, “is not the existence of foreign totalitarian states. It is the existence within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions of conditions which have given a victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity and dependence upon The Leader.
  • Religion and nationalism, as well as any custom and any belief however absurd and degrading, if it only connects the individual with others, are refuges from what man most dreads: isolation.
  • especially was the middle class, as today, threatened by the power of monopolies and the superior strength of capital. 

The following quotes are regarding Martin Luther.  As a student of history the Protestant Reformation is one of those watershed eras that is given short shrift in the schooling process.

  • He hated others, especially the “rabble,” he hated himself, he hated life; and out of all this hatred came a passionate and desperate striving to be loved.
  • His whole being was pervaded by fear, doubt, and inner isolation, and on this personal basis he was to become the champion of social groups which were in a very similar position psychologically. 800
  • Luther freed people from the authority of the Church, he made them submit to a much more tyrannical authority , that of a God who insisted on complete submission of man and annihilation of the individual self as the essential condition to his salvation.1

Regarding John Calvin, who Fromm believed had a great impact on Anglo-Saxon cultures is said to view:

  • “success became the sign of God’s grace; failure, the sign of damnation.”
  • This picture of a despotic God, who wants unrestricted power over men and their submission and humiliation, was the projection of the middle class’s own hostility and envy.

Finally as we get towards the middle of the book:

  • Hostility or resentment also found expression in the character of relationships to others. The main form which it assumed was moral indignation which has  been invariably the characteristic of the lower middle classes from Luther’s time to Hitler’s.  
  • Those very qualities which were rooted in this character structure— (are the) compulsion to work, passion for thrift, the readiness to make one’s life a tool for the purposes of an extra personal power, asceticism, and a compulsive sense of duty….

I’m going to spare commentary on these quotes for a later time.

 

 

Reading List – Takeaways

Last year I read a total of 47 books.  Most of these were nonfiction.  Here are some of the results that I have discovered about my own reading.

  • Fifteen are are from what I would consider from independent publishers.
  • Three are from major University presses.
  • Eleven of the books were from the public domain.
  • Three are what I would consider as self-published works.
  • I’m not sure how to classify the publishers of three books – one from Kodansha, one from the Independent Publisher’s Group, and one from Moody’s.
  • Twelve are from the large publishing conglomerate complex
  • Out of the twelve from the big five – one is from Macmillan, one from Simon and Schuster, three from the Hatchette Group (all Basic Books) and five from Penguin/Random House.

On a personal note I found these general themes.  Only five of these books were fiction although one of these books, The Water Margin was very, very long.  Reading the Water Margin fits in with my interest into Asian cultures that has been steadily growing lately.  Early in the year I was on an eastern religious kick and read a bit on Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism.  After failing (miserably) to do the lotus position in the daily meditation practice I was doing at the time I began stretching my limbs again after a long absence and this strangely morphed into my rediscovery of the classical study of the martial arts, which I practiced ages ago.  I’m more into the “arts” side of the martial arts equation at this point.  That lotus position isn’t coming any quicker though!

Interposed with these intellectual pursuits are my normal diet of history, philosophy and psychology books.  This interest has remained consistent throughout my adult life.  Two books stood out this year above all others in this department.  Keirsey’s Please Understand Me II, and Escape From Freedom by Erich Fromm.  I especially recommend Fromm’s book as a lens to view our current political and social climate – it contains a very clear and prescient view of human behavior.

It is no secret that there has been massive consolidation in the media industry during the past few years.  Imprints that were once independent have been gobbled up by the big corporations.  I look forward to learning more who has acquired and who really controls these increasingly large corporations.  An article from “The Balance,” one of the first sites that came up when I searched for this topic seems to be a start.  Despite my initial suspicions about the first site that comes up to answer a question I can’t be paranoid about everything!

  • Harper Collins – A subsidiary of News Corp owned by Rupert Murdoch.
  • Hatchette – Owned by Lagardere and based in France.
  • Macmillan – Owned by German Company Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck
  • Penguin/Random House – Owned by the German company Bertelsmann
  • Simon and Schuster – CBS

Again, 75% of all books in stores reportedly are published by these five outlets.  And 75% of those books are nonfiction.  I’m sure if I dug deeper I would find out more interesting information.  From this article, it doesn’t seem that anything like a private equity firm is involved in the ownership of any of these companies right now.  What surprised me was the apparent fact that non-US entities own four out of the five big five publishers.

If publishing is so consolidated are other media vehicles owned by large corporations?  Who really is controlling what kinds of messages we receive?  Stopping by Wikipedia for a moment to look at who owns the other media markets it appears that CBS is controlled by a man named Sumner Redstone.  Redstone, also controls National Amusements and Viacom.  ABC is owned by Disney.  CNN is owned by Time Warner which also owns HBO, New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers.  NBC is owned by NBC Universal/Comcast.

Check out this site for more in-depth coverage of this topic.  This is a very detailed analysis that I think is worth a careful read.  It appears that only a handful of companies own virtually the entire media landscape.

The independent publishers vary in size from very small presses to larger organizations. Regarding my uncategorized publishers – Kodansha is the biggest publisher in Japan and the Independent Publisher’s Group is a consortium of small to middle sized organizations.  Moody’s is a Christian publishing group.

Conclusions:

I need to crunch this data longer and further to get any real conclusions out of it.  I always knew that a very small number of people control the media but I’m shocked to see how few companies there are.  Peeling the onion another layer might yield more relevant information.  I’ve concluded to be inconclusive.

I wonder why I read more from Penguin/Random House and Hatchette compared to other publishers.

I’m not sure if the consolidation of the media business is always a good or bad thing.  But I’m almost certain that the consolidation of the publishing business into so few hands is not good for free speech.  Certainly the “fake news” on Facebook highlights a tragic flaw in what could be otherwise be the democratic free space of social media.  Maybe we do need big companies to serve as the gatekeepers of information – especially for the public-at-large?  Or maybe they  serve as unofficial censorship agencies who act in their own self-interest?  Or is the truth somewhere in-between?

I like the democratic outlet of self-publishing as a foil to the profit motives of the big corporations.  While I do see a place for the big organizations, we need to have a strong independent market to put pressure on the big guys out there.

Resources:

Wikipedia

https://www.thebalance.com/the-big-five-trade-book-publishers-2800047

http://www.freepress.net/ownership/chart

My Reading List.

This week, I’m going to go out on another small project.  Over the past few years, I’ve kept a list of books that I’ve read.  Since the year 2006 I have read 333 books.  Last year was one of my most active reading years with 49 books of some sort having been read.  I have a partial list before this date but I’m not going there right now.  Most of those books were from my school experience and like most of the experiences I had in school, should be and are entirely better forgotten.

The reading list is organized by date with the books read early in the year coming at the top of this list.  I put most of the list into APA format.  It always seemed that I had gotten loads of points taken off in high school and in college for what I considered minute citation errors.  I ‘m thinking that this would be a good small exercise in redemption.  But doing all work this brings back vivid nightmares of being in the library searching through books for all this information I considered “silly” at the time.

Why would I do such a laboriously pointless exercise in futility?  First, I had two teeth extracted this morning and I’m not feeling like doing much of anything.  Curiously though, exploring my books read list and analyzing the publishers of the books I’ve chosen for myself to read seems exciting.  Maybe I can just look busy enough at the computer to get out of chores?

Anyway, I wonder if most of what I have been drawn to reading has been published by mainstream outfits or from the more obscure ones.  Do I read from the same publishing outfits unwittingly?  Where are the ideas that I’m reading about originate?  The US?  Other countries?  Europe?  Asia?  Africa?  The remainder of the Americas?  I used to think that any book that got into my hands was somehow “smart” and authoritative.  I know now that this is not always the truth.  Still, most published works that get through the extensive gatekeeping establishment in the US are smart, authentic and truthful – but in their own way.  Publishing is a business and the guardians have a pretty good idea of what can sell.  The real problem however is that just because a book sells doesn’t mean that it contains the truth.

How I choose what interests me remains sort of a mystery to me.  Honestly, I don’t know why I am interested in something or not.  I know I have some patterns of interest but I still wonder if there is something deeper going on.  Despite growing up with the TV on all the time, I do not watch very much of it.  I’ve also given up the radio for audiobooks – which is something I can whole heartedly suggest to anyone who has a commute of any sort.  Here in the US our media serves as a sort of propaganda outlet and I want to steer clear of much of these messages.  Just watch a professional football game – one of America’s greatest pastimes.  It would hard to make a case that the whole spectacle doesn’t have nationalistic overtones, ritualized violence, and the encouragement of territorial behavior.  Or it could just be myth and ritual in action!  But again, I get off topic.  While I don’t think that there is some nebulous big brother in control, it does seem that far too many decisions are made by increasingly far too few people.  The amount of consolidation in the media business and the connection between myth and ritual in sports are subjects that I would like to tackle another day.  The fact remains though, that I am a person subject to the mass media and the media big corporations for a lot of information.  There is simply too much information out there to sort through in “real” time.

To determine what I wanted to read I have used several sources.  For a long while, I was using the New York Times bestseller list as a guide, and I have read a lot of really interesting books from this list.  With the growth of Amazon and Goodreads I now look at these sites for similar titles to subjects I’m interested in.  I also go to the public library once per week and look through the new books section, read through the New Yorker, and occasionally read a book review section in the newspaper.  The last place I look for titles is the Brown University bookstore before classes begin.  I write down the titles of courses that look interesting to me.  I’m sure I could do this from the online platform but I like going out there and engaging with the world.

I look forward to writing about some of my preliminary conclusions later on and I’ll post this before my perfectionistic hobgoblins awake from their perpetual slumber to haunt me once again.

 

Basic Publishing Data Analysis

I’m switching my focus from creative writing for a bit to being a small time essayist.  I spent a year trying to write fiction and need a bit of a break from it.  I’m intrigued by the publishing business and even created a tiny imprint of my own to publish my own book.  I’m just curious about how much we are reading and how many books are sold.  Crunching just a few numbers has gotten me thinking.

First off, to get published by an established outfit you need to have an agent.  The Association of Author Representatives has 385 agents listed.  If this is correct, then virtually everything that is published comes through the eyes of one of these folks.  This is a small number for such a big country but lets look deeper at things.  From a series of lectures from the Great Courses by Jane Friedman it appears that 75% of all books published are from one of the big five publishing houses.  All are associated with New York City.  Hachette, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin/Random House, and Simon and Schuster.  Each one of these has several imprints that they publish out of.  Now out of these, 75% of all published works are nonfiction of some type.

From the research that I have done, it appears there is some conflicting data about the number of books one must sell to be a bestseller.  I have heard that at least 3,000 or more books per week sold becomes a bestseller.  In a March 10, 2014 Publisher’s Weekly article by Gabe Habash said that “a title in Amazon’s top five averages 1,094 print copies sold across all channels, including other retailers, on a typical day. And because the general industry thinking is that Amazon accounts for about 30% of print sales, that means it likely takes around 300 copies per day to reach Amazon’s top five.”  This would jive with a higher number of 9,000 copies sold per week which may qualify as a New York Times bestseller.  Of course, these numbers can be confounded by many variables – most notably time of the year.

A New York Times article authored by Shira Boss titled “The Greatest Mystery, the Making of a Bestseller” from May 13, 2007 may shed some more light on the situation of how many books that need to be sold.  It alludes to the sale of 15,000 to 20,000 as the mid-list point.  Some big titles that sold big were “Marley and Me” at 2.5 million copies and “The Secret” which sold over 5 million copies.

The publisher says a lot about what a book is about.  There are loads and loads of publishers out there.  It appears that Christian publishers are a very fast growing segment of this market.  Bowker indicated that in 2002 there were 12,253 religion books published and by 2013 there were 18,653.  I’m interested in learning more about this market later on.  This looks like a hefty increase in religion books – approximately a 50% increase.  If all these are Christian, and I would assume many are then this indicates a powerful trend upwards in sales of books in this genre.

According to Wikipedia, there are 304,912 books published in the US in 2013.  This number matches the Bowker ISBN count for 2013, which may include books that have or have not been published.  This number also includes new editions and reprints.  Looking further at the Bowker ISBN output report from 2002 to 2013.  It appears that the total number of ISBN’s issued in 2013 was 2,352,797, of which 2,042,840 are listed as non-traditional. The ISBNs from the Bowker list are then broken up into categories with about 50,000 classified as fiction.  There were 25,000 ISBNs in the fiction category in 2003.  I’m guessing that these numbers reflect purchases by larger publishers and would approximate the numbers of books printed or otherwise made available during that year.  This would include reprints and ebooks.  This is a surprising small number of books published and made available.  I suspect that the number of actual authors published is much smaller than this number.

I’m going to guess that this list also includes the academic press and textbooks.  I’ll also assume that this list reflects the output of the big five publishers and some of the other larger publishing houses.  Of course, I’m sure there will be confounding variables here – other publishers, ISBNs not employed and the many other things I haven’t foreseen.

Now, to get into self-publishing.  According to Bowker there was 727,125 books published in 2015, which is a huge increase from the 152,978 published in 2010.  It appears Smashwords and Amazon take the lion’s share of these.  My question is how many new novels are published each year?   How long are these books?  I’m guessing from the self-published books I’ve seen online that they might be short, perhaps in the neighborhood of 20,000 words.  There has to be some treasures in this number.  There just has to be – the struggle is to dig deep enough down to find them.

Here is where it gets tricky.  First off, getting on a list generates exposure which then drives sales.  Then its all the categories.  Hardcover.  Paperback.  Kindle.  How many copies need to be sold to get on the fiction list?  The nonfiction list?  The advice list?  How many copies need to sell in total?  My mind is already spinning.

Conclusions:

A very small group of people are controlling what is published.   Too small for a country this size but that is the way it is.  It is this group who are guardians of what we are reading and to what we are reacting to.  The profit motive is paramount in this industry and these folks are making sure that they can sell what is written.  In this way outstanding work is produced but true artistry and authenticity is reduced.

Self publishing and the blogs is the place where true authenticity is still taking place.  While these works are most likely going to be less refined than that from traditional sources, the good works will retain their true artistic quality.  The problem is sorting through the good stuff from the not-so-good stuff.  When I figure out how to do this I’ll let everyone know!

Resources:

http://media.bowker.com/documents/bowker-selfpublishing-report2015.pdf

http://media.bowker.com/documents/isbn_output_2002_2013.pdf

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/56284-how-many-copies-does-it-take-to-be-an-amazon-bestseller.html