All posts by cjverb

When I worked in an office, my colleagues kept me up to speed on tech, jargon, and TV shows. Since I became a freelancer, I’ve had to rely on magazines in doctors’ offices. Thus I’m a year late discovering the Battop Folding Keyboard. This inspired pocket-size device folds up as small as your phone, and when opened, not only lets you type in semi-comfort with your phone as a screen, but provides a stand for it. I saw it in a “gifts for under $30” spread and fell in love instantly.

There are plenty of others on the market now, naturally, but none that I’ve read about is quite this ingenious.

From the copyright front comes excellent news this week from UK solicitor Jonathan Westwood. Have you ever worried about winding up broke and/or in jail if your novel quotes more than three words from a popular song? Westwood researched this issue for his own work in progress. He concludes: “I don’t believe the use of one line of a lyric will ordinarily be considered any more unfair than extracting 300 words from a book.” Here’s why. And here’s the frosting on the cake:

“…Music publisher Warner/Chappell coerced people into giving it £1million each year to use “Happy Birthday To You” on the basis of a non-existent copyright it claimed to own. Warners had the deepest pockets with which to instruct the nastiest lawyers to bully lesser mortals for 25 years – until documentarian Jen Nelson challenged Warners’ demand that she must pay $1,500 to use the song in a film she was making. After a long legal battle Warners conceded, accepted the song is in the public domain and was forced to pay $14 million to people it had extorted.”

This week’s bad news comes from Amazon. In an e-mail which ironically declares its aim to be “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company,” Amazon informs me that, no, it can’t change the order of books shown on my Author Page. Why are three out-of-print 1990s textbooks from second-hand dealers (one with a phony cover) displayed on “my” landing page, but not my latest in-print mystery novel or memoir? Don’t blame Jeff Bezos or CS rep “Daniel B” — blame algorithms:

“…The order of the titles that appear on your bibliography is determined automatically and based on many factors, such as past sales history, current availability, and length of time the items have been listed on our site. It’s not something we are able to manually alter.”

What that says about Amazon’s definition of “customer-centric” — and Amazon’s definitions loom very large for those of us writing and publishing books — I find troubling. I’m hoping to make more headway in Round 2 — at the very least, badger them into showing the real cover for that out-of-print secondhand textbook.

 

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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical TalesThe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Back in the pre-social-media late 20th century, it was The New Yorker magazine that “broke” many of my favorite authors. That’s where I discovered Oliver Sacks’s remarkable book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” Literary categories were less Procrustean then, & readers were more adventurous. At the time, what made this book a sensation was Sacks’s extraordinary blend of curiosity, compassion, & academic rigor as a neurologist.

The case studies he presents here are astonishing, fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking. Each was referred to him because of some unusual, even bizarre, biochemical & physiological syndrome which sets this person apart from other people: the navy man whose memories ended around 1945; the elderly woman who suddenly began hearing loud Irish songs, like a radio that wouldn’t shut off; the distinguished musician of the title, who’d forgotten how to recognize a human face. Some of these patients frightened or repelled “normal” people, but Sacks approaches each one as a multifaceted person worthy of respect & help. He watches, he listens, he tries different tactics; he sets aside the judgment of others who dismiss the patient as defective, less than human. Often his best collaborator is the patient, who is more eager than anyone to find out what’s wrong & how to deal with it. Sacks’s expertise coupled with sympathy enables him to help nearly all of them.

But what kind of book is this? Sacks the healer & writer tells us heart-wrenching human stories — & emphasizes the need that humans have for stories, whether in the form of memories or constructed narratives that make up for inaccessible memories. Yet Sacks the neurologist is writing for his peers, in an era before political correctness ruled out classifications like “retarded” & “defective” (although he repudiates them). Some of the prose is so technical that any 21st-century editor would have refused to publish it. Yet when this book came out, it became a best-seller. Rereading it now, decades later, I was surprised to see how rare it’s become for such rich 3-D human interactions to be presented in a mostly accessible but sometimes stuffy medical style.

The rise of algorithms has encouraged modern publishers to underestimate their readers, much as Sacks’s fellow physicians tended to underestimate his patients, & likewise has led us as readers to underestimate our own ability to grapple with complex writing for the sake of illumination. This is a book that’s well worth reading, even if one chapter at a time.

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zapped-frontc-contrast-line300If inventor Pam Nash is right about Zappa, she could revolutionize law enforcement. If she’s wrong, they’ll kill her daughter.

Now you can read ZAPPED: AN EDGAR ROWDEY CAPE COD MYSTERY on your phone, tablet, or computer for just $3.99. Click to see it at Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.

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