26 September 2017

Chunky Link Sausages Kneeling on the Sideline

Definitely chunky this time.

  • In yet another example of ignorance about how publishing works elsewhere from one segment of the industry, a UK journalist in a respected UK publication opines, as the opening of her article on the purported "differences" between US and UK cover design:

    Covers sell books.

    Danuta Kean, "Cover Versions: Why are UK and US Book Jackets Often so Different?," Grauniad (26 Sep 2017). I have a succinct, one-word answer with a long explanation:


    First, one must note that every single example offered is from bordering-on-literary trade fiction (with the single exception of the "title piece," from popular-trade nonfiction). That is, Ms Kean is making a broad statement of both similarity and difference from self-selecting samples of only subsets of publishing in the first place. This is an all-too-common problem, and neglects the converse instance: In category fiction and preadult ("children's," "early reader," "middle grade," and "YA" being the most common US subcategorizations), for example, UK covers are superior to the US covers more often than the converse, being far less prone to active misrepresentation and appealing to the wrong audience than the corresponding UK covers. Consider a critically-acclaimed and commercially successful work with near-simultaneous UK and US releases, such as Philip Pullman's book due out in the next month (UK edition on the left).

    UK editionUS edition

    Even the proportions of the UK cover are slightly more appropriate… but the key is to notice that the UK cover can be read in poor light, and will be clear on a hasty cell-phone picture, and is a consistent meme with Pullman's other related UK books (the US cover… is not).

    The real problem with Ms Kean's statement, though, is that it neglects its implicit inquisitory object: "To whom?" And here, the UK practice is markedly superior, because UK books are designed to actually appeal to the book's audience, while US books are (still) designed to actually appeal to bookstore and distributor "buyers" to get books "onto the shelves" (or webpage). Let's just say that the demographics — let alone tastes — of those two audiences are not congruent and leave discussions of racial, ethnic, and economic discrimination and condescension for another time, ok? (We certainly could have the discussion, as any photograph of senior management at any major US distributor or chain store could easily demonstrate — especially when supplemented by short bios.)

    In some ways, the distinction is actually worse away from the so-called "prestige mainstream." In US practice, active misrepresentation and/or pure category identification is the norm. In speculative fiction, choosing at not-quite-random two NYT bestselling series, one has on the one hand the "Kewl Spaceship" meme permeating John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, which concerns infantrymen and political systems (although this scene on the cover admittedly represents one, potential, momentary depiction of an incident that is in focus for less than a paragraph and is far from central to the book itself); on the other, one has the "BFG" meme permeating covers for "Jack Campbell"'s Lost Fleet series, in which neither the protagonist nor all but one of the critical "supporting actor" characters ever picks up a personal weapon, let alone pulls on fanciful "combat armor" or even leaves the damned spaceship.

    This is yet another example of publishing's obsession with fallacious inductive reasoning, in particular the so-called "hasty generalization." It's bad enough when one misgeneralizes from merely too few samples; it's even worse when those samples are already, archly, outliers from a subset, and one is attempting to draw conclusions as to not the subset but the entire population.

  • If only this had been an Oscar Mayer controversy involving "failing to control a weiner": former Congresscritter Anthony Weiner sentenced to jail. In contrast to the preceding, umm, link sausage on this platter, this says less about any particular subset of the political classes than it does about the political classes themselves. Weiner (and those like him… which, in many respects, includes the entire Congress) believed that the object of power is power, and that having power requires flaunting it. And I'm not just referring to the cell-phone flaunting, either.
  • Speaking of which, a note to the current designated resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC: The election in November 2016 was not for King. A monarch gets to declare by fiat what is "right" and "moral" for his or her citizens to do, and then just have the fun of enforcing it… especially against the descendants of a bunch of unruly colonists who celebrate the date not of their forming a true nation (years later), not the date on which their military forces finally forced the then-monarch to capitulate (also years later but not quite so many), but the date on which they gave the monarch the finger (handwritten with quill pen on parchment in far-more-civil language than appears anywhere in contemporary public discourse). It's a pretty serious indictment when 1%er football players, and coaches, and owners go to the public sporting temple of that very same monarch's successor and stand respectfully for that successor's national anthem — after having kneeled respectfully, together (with those not kneeling locking arms in Solidarność), in protest at your interpretations of the meaning of this nation's national anthem.

    That is indeed my meaning, sirrah: The dumb jocks displayed more intelligence, class, self-motivation to success, awareness of their surroundings, and savoir faire than you do every time you let your fingers do the {expletive deleted} walking, whether on (anti)social media or in your bloody speeches. As a veteran, I put my ass on the line for the right of every person in the United States — not just citizens with the right kinds of parents and appropriately Judeo-Christian upbringings and substantial financial success — to exercise "the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." And for you, you privileged draft-dodging jerk. Because that's why we're {string of foul and offensive expletives of the kind you, sirrah, use to describe those who disagree with you} HERE as an independent {different and even more offensive string of expletives deleted} NATION. I'll lock arms and kneel with those "sons of bitches" any time: By law, I had to show respect for and solidarność with the Reagan Administration on Iran-Contra, so I'll damned well do it for something I agree with! (Plus, I've actually bloody been to bloody Ferguson, Missouri… without a Secret Service escort to keep the hoi polloi away, either.)