Tag: 2017 November Group Writing

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There may be as many ways to write a novel as there are novels. Some are entered into carefully by the author, with a tightly-interlocking plot or set of sub-plots developed before the first word of the text is written. In others, the author has nothing more than a vague notion or an opening line […]

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Interviewer: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is A.N. Other-Look, welcoming you to another fascinating episode of Is That My Book? Tonight, we have a special treat for you. Breaking her decades-long silence on the subject, Ms L.M. Montgomery is with us tonight to share her thoughts about the most recent adaptation of her book, Anne […]

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OK, I’m playing fast and loose with Group Writing’s November “Novel” theme. It’s my birthday and I can be ornery (or cry) if I want to. Tell you what: this aging experience does daily enhance a “novel” perspective of life. I remember oldsters shaking their fingers at us when we were kids as they admonished […]

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When did you, as young adult, realize that the modifier “young” was no longer applicable? For me and some of my former fraternity brothers it was when we noticed that we were no longer as hot to get the newest gadget, see the newest movie, catch the newest band as we had been in college. […]

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Oh, Brave New World! The Novel World of Big Data.

 

Last week @claire posed the question “What does Facebook know about us?” It is a worthy question, and one not easily answered. Facebook certainly can automatically glean a number of facts about us, but as her post demonstrates, that does not translate necessarily well into knowing us. Why else would she constantly receive ads for products in which she clearly has no interest? Ours is a brave new world of massive data gathering and data mining, where our personal profiles, in any form, are traded much as one would once have traded baseball cards. Yet for all its ubiquitous reach, this is still new, it is still novel, and it is still buggy, as I will relate below.

I have some direct experience as a customer of Google’s Ad Words program, though this experience is now somewhat dated. Six years ago I enrolled my company as a buyer of Google advertising. The program is fairly simple:

  • Assign a monthly budget cap.
  • Pick or spell out the search terms where you want your listings to come up first.
  • Pick or spell out the search terms where you want your banner ads to appear in the search sidebar.
  • Bid on how much you want to pay per click.
  • Create your ads, and link them to the appropriate landing pages.

After some automated vetting by Google, your ads are (hopefully) approved, and, depending on your bidding levels, will appear accordingly. Others who have bid higher than you will have their ads appear more often, and in more prominence than yours. You are not billed per ad displayed, but by click-through. I ran with the program for 18 months, and it never paid for itself.

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“At that moment, coming from the East, Lord Surya, mounted on his crystal chariot pulled by a thousand stallions, skirted Mount Meru, axis of the world, and went to the West following the circle of the constellations. When the chariot turned and was hidden by the enormous mountain, the Lord’s brilliant light dimmed and came […]

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National novel writing month, and I’ve finally decided to try and get one hammered out.  I’ve got several thousand words written, but that’s nowhere near what I should have done by this point.  I’ve had a lot of practice with not writing novels.  Back in high school, I’d planned out a series of three books.  […]

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If Past Presidents Had Twitter

 

I am neither condoning nor defending Trump’s tweets, nor Obama’s. For good or ill, I suppose they’re just a sign of the times. But then I don’t use Twitter for any reason, and am thus saved having to care. That being said, I do wonder how past presidents might have comported themselves on their own tweets.

I am certain FDR would have made full use of the medium, though the thought of fireside tweets is itself very amusing. Not sure that Truman would have been enamored of it, and I can say with some certainty that Ike would have loathed it. JFK though? Now that bears some thought, and I’m guessing he would have been a frequent tweeter. LBJ’s tweets I am guessing would have been artistically vulgar, and Nixon’s would have struck fear in many. Ford’s likely would have been a tad clumsy, and Carter’s would have been sermonizing and depressing. Reagan would have made tweeting an art form. GHW Bush, or so I would guess, would have been uninspiring but reliably anodyne. Bill Clinton’s would have been focus-group tested for maximum appeal, and so would shift as with the winds while not saying anything concrete at all.

Let’s see how we can imagine if past presidents would have had Twitter at their disposal, and see how their some of their quotes would fly today as Tweets.

Novels and Reality: Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote

 

As far as genres go, the novel is a relatively young one. Poetry and drama stretch back to antiquity and beyond, but what is widely considered to be the first novel didn’t arrive on the scene until the Renaissance was starting to draw to its close. This is Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes’ monumental work in both the Spanish and English literary traditions.

Published around the same time that Shakespeare was writing his last plays in England, its importance is not due merely to chronology. You’ll find no shortage of praise for the novel or insight about Cervantes’ influence as the grandfather of the modern novel. Milan Kundera stated, “The novelist need answer to no one but Cervantes,” and Lionel Trilling mused, “It can be said that all prose fiction is a variation on the theme of Don Quixote.” One of these many themes is the nature of the relationship between fiction and reality, the limits between their likeness, and how we relate to the fiction we read. The novel is, at its core, a story about stories.

Don Quixote, né Alonso Quixano, is a character who wants to make himself into a character. So enamored of tales of noble knights and honor and quests, he decides to take this fiction and translate into the realm of his reality. Where the translation is rough, he bends and reinterprets the world around him to fit the preset narrative of the books in his library. Though a man nearing 50 in a Spain where knights and quests are relics of a distant past, he declares himself a knight-errant, Don Quixote of La Mancha, and leaves his home in search of quests and adventure. We the readers are in on the joke. Like other characters in the novel, we see reality for what it is. Dulcinea del Toboso, the Guinevere to Don Quixote’s Lancelot, is just a Spanish country girl. Rocinante the noble steed is nothing more than an exhausted nag. Our knight-errant’s shining armor is just an old, rusty suit he found in his house.

Why Americans Love SUVs

 

“The whole world is angry at America for driving SUVs. Why do we Americans love these monstrous and threatening devices? Barging through traffic in a sport utility vehicle is hardly sporting. The utility of the things is open to question. And they are vehicles mainly in the sense that the Alaska pipeline is a vehicle for oil — most of this pipeline’s capacity being needed to keep on Cadillac Escalade topped up.” — P.J. O’Rourke, Driving Like Crazy, 2009

So begins P.J. O’Rourke’s defense of SUVs, from a piece first published in the London Times, and later reprinted in Driving Like Crazy. The essay is a short one, but full of O’Rourke’s typical wit.

Quote of the Day: Knowledge vs. Hate

 

“Faith, then, signifies a personal relationship with God; a relationship as yet incomplete and faltering, yet none the less real. It is to know God not as a theory or an abstract principle, but as a person. To know a person is far more than to know facts about that person. To know a person is essentially to love him or her; there can be no true awareness of other persons without mutual love. We do not have any genuine knowledge of those whom we hate. Here, then, are the two least misleading ways of speaking about the God who surpasses our understanding: he is personal, and he is love. And these are basically two ways of saying the same thing. Our way of entry into the mystery of God is through personal love. As The Cloud of Unknowing says, “He may well be loved, but not thought. By love can he be caught and held, but by thinking never.”

— Ware, Kallistos. The Orthodox Way (Kindle Locations 200-207). St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition.

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As usual with a Republican President, various leftists clamor that the Trump Administration will kill the “Arts,” most notably by reducing spending of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), made famous by sponsoring Andres Serrano (Piss Christ) and the controversial Robert Mapplethorpe. Even the NEA states the Art Organizations (AO) are typically less than 7% government […]

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Today is the release of Oathbringer, Brandon Sanderson’s latest novel in The Stormlight Archive. Since Amazon won’t be delivering my copy until (much) later in the day*, I have some time to write about what makes a Sanderson novel so novel and why he has become one of my favorite authors. But first, a bit […]

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Traditional Khmer Novels

 

The Khmer word for narrative fiction is lpaen. It is defined as works for pleasure. And before the arrival of the French in the mid-19th century, all traditional Khmer novels were written in verse. The French were the ones to introduce prose to Khmer fiction. That is not to say that Khmers did not write in prose before then. Prose was exclusively used for technical writings, medicinal treatises, astrology treatises, political and religious treaties, and for the translation of Buddhist literature. A new word was coined for prose novels when the first one was published in 1938 to differentiate between verse and prose fictions. Anyway, let’s ignore prose fiction for now because this post is all about traditional Khmer fiction, the verse-novels.

Lpaen or verse-novel has always been a popular genre in Khmer literature. French colonists in the 19th century would gather around the village halls in the evenings to listen to a recitation of a lpaen. Recitation is sometimes accompanied by a string instrument. Some of the verse-novels are quite long, as long as 9,000 stanzas. And they would take at least two nights to recite. A few could be mistaken for epics because of their length and subject matter.

Verse-novels emerged in the mid-17th century with Hang Yont (Mechanical Swan) thought to be the first novel. Most of these novels were sometime alleged to be Jātaka (tales of the Buddha’s previous lives) because some were written in the style of Jātaka with the usual preface benediction in Pali to the Buddha, the Dhamma (Buddha’s teaching), the Sangha (ordained monks and nuns), and the epilogue that includes the future lives of the characters. But the majority of these novels had nothing to do with Buddhism; the link to Buddhism was very minor. If anything, they had everything to do with Brahmanism even when Theravada Buddhism had replaced Hinduism permanently by the 16th century. For example, in Preah Ko Preah Keo, the main character Preah Ko was the manifestation of Nandi the Bull, Lord Shiva’s mount. Several of these stories were folktales rewritten in verse forms. Vorvong and Sourivong was based on a popular folktale, which itself was based on the adventures of two condemned Khmer princely brothers.

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The week before Passover in 1987 I lost my job, or perhaps I was fired; it wasn’t clear at the time nor ever after. So, I took my last paycheck from the small publishing company and spent the next couple of weeks preparing and celebrating Passover, but with a cloud over my head. I had […]

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Why Study Novels in English Class?

 

When we love literature, and reading comes easily to us, we tend to assume that the purpose for studying novels is self-evident. We’d be missing out on the romance of Jane Eyre, the brilliance of Achebe, and the wit of Twain. Besides, how could one object to reading stories as a required activity for school? We may as well get credit for eating cookies or binge-watching our favorite shows.

But not all students are eager to crack open that musty Gothic work, especially when there are friends to text and movies to watch at the touch of a screen. Besides, some students find reading to be laborious, a limitation that isn’t necessarily their fault. Because reluctant readers tend to be the exception and not the rule, English teachers need to establish a clear case for the benefits of novel reading. (They should also provide tools to help students get the most out of what they read, but that’s a different discussion.) At the beginning of the school year, all students should understand the “why” of literature:

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As an engineer with 10 patents, I understand the old saw that “Patents are the world’s most expensive vanity press.” So no matter how unique or important the invention, one must consider the costs of obtaining and defending a patent in court. Many times patents are generated by big companies to avoid litigation.* For smaller […]

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I had a peripatetic childhood, and by the time I finished high school I’d attended well over a dozen schools on three different continents, with time off for good behavior during a glorious year (in about third grade) where there wasn’t a school anywhere in sight. My mother, who was largely disinterested in her parenting […]

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