Jun. 29th, 2013 10:22 pm
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I'm so delighted I just have to share this right now. I've just paused about ... well, exactly 11:25 into last Sunday's episode of BBC Radio 4's Open Book. Which is to say, about a third of the way into a half-hour conversation in which the host and her guest seem to be, it is only somewhat hyperbolic to say, taking turns making one-another squee. The host is  — Mariella Frostrup, who I'd never heard of before but will definitely be looking for in the future: She's a fantastic interviewer with what may well be the best voice for radio I've ever heard. And her guest, who is clearly having a ball, is Neil Gaiman.

And now, I go back to listening. :)

Edit: Pausing again, less than three minutes later, to squee about having just heard the story of how one of you got your name. Is there an emoticon for shit-eating grin?
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When you're reading non-fiction and come across a statement that you know to be wrong, how do you react? I find it makes me feel, almost literally, as if I'd been punched in the gut — and the more I'd been enjoying the book or article, the worse it feels.

I'm currently reading Malcom Gladwell's Outliers, and had been finding his argument very interesting and for the most part persuasive. I'm now in Chapter 5, where (among other things) he's telling the story of some newly arrived immigrants in late 19th Century New York: Louis and Regina Borgenicht, married a few years, with one small child and another on the way. Louis has been trying his hand at various things while observing life around him and trying to find an unmet need. On p. 141, he decides on clothing, and, wandering the streets, notebook in hand, notes a little girl rendered all the more cute by the apron she's wearing &mdash which is unlike anything he's seen in stores. He rushes home to his wife; they discuss it, and he goes out to buy fabric.
She began to sew. At midnight, she went to bed and Louis took up where she had left off. At dawn, she rose and began cutting buttonholes and adding buttons. By ten in the morning, the aprons were finished. Louis gathered them up over his arm and ventured out onto Hester Street.

"Children's aprons! Little girls' aprons! Colored ones, ten cents. White ones, fifteen cents! Little girls' aprons!"

By one o'clock, all forty were gone.

"Ma, we've got our business," he shouted out to Regina, after running all the way home from Hester St.
Then, on p, 145:
The day after Louis and Regina Borgenicht sold out their first lot of forty aprons, Louis made his way to H.B. Chiflin and Company.... He had in his hand his and Regina's life savings &mdash $125 &mdash and with that money, he bought enough cloth to make ten dozen aprons.
Insert needle-scratching-record sound effect here. You're not going to make a lot of money selling aprons for ten or fifteen cents a piece when you're paying a buck each for materials.

Obviously at least one of these sets of facts is wrong.* But the fact that Gladwell failed to notice this glaring error, that his editors failed to notice it either, honestly leaves me wondering whether I should have any confidence in any fact that he asserts. If he's going to put two mutually exclusive claims of fact within five pages of each other, where any reader who's not asleep can spot them, how careful can I assume he's been with other facts?

I was really enjoying this book up to then.

* The most innocent explanation I can think of is that he wrote dozen when he meant gross. Ten gross sold at an average price per unit of 12½ cents is $180 revenue on $120 cost of materials. If he had written gross, I'd have found that entirely believable. But now, with my trust in the author damaged, I'm dubious. They were able to make 40 units working heel-to-toe in something like 16 hours; let's assume they double their productivity and each work 12 hours a day, and sell out every day, that's 120 units a day, and 12 days to sell out those ten gross &mdash so that's $5/day net. Ok, at least that's consistent with the claim that this is a good business for them to have fallen into in light of other prices mentioned in their story ($8/month rent for a small flat; Louis making $1 to $2/day in other things he'd tried their first few weeks in America). So half an hour later I am, provisionally, willing to again extend my trust to the author and continue reading. But only provisionally &mdash and I'm seriously annoyed with him for having put me through this.
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I had a lovely day today, which just closed on an especially lovely note.

This morning and part of the afternoon, Alyse and I volunteered at the National Braille Press, where we collated a book for their Children's Braille Book Club: Every month, they get a current children's book title from a print publisher. They remove the spine, interleave transparent pages of braille, containing both the book's text and descriptions of the illustrations, rebind it — producing a book that can be read together by both sighted and blind readers — and then sell for at most the cover price of the original print book.

(Let me just pause here to say what a fantastic idea this is. Not only for sighted parents of a blind child, but imagine: with this, a blind parent can read a picture book to his or her sighted child. Or a sighted and a blind child can sit together side-by-side and read the same book.)

It turns out that braille is difficult or impossible to machine-collate, because the machinery tends to crush the braille. Yes, the geek in my feels like this is a solvable problem, and the wheels are turning in my head even as I write this. But in the mean time, that's why Alyse and I and a dozen other volunteers spent about four hours collating today.

In the process, I discovered two absolutely delightful children's books: The one we were collating, Weslandia, a delightful fantasy about a nerdy kid who ends up creating an entire new world in his back yard. And another, which I found while browsing previous titles they'd done at lunch time, Is Your Mama a Llama?
"Is your mama a llama?" I asked my friend Dave.
"No she is not," is the anser Dave gave.
"She hangs by her fet and she lives in a cave.
I do not believe that's how llamas behave."

To top the day off, I just got off the phone with my sister, Marliene. Mars was a teenager when I was born — which means that when she was in school, no-one knew what learning disabilities were, and the smart, inventive young woman, with her imagination teeming with amazing stories — the big sister that I adored — was going off every morning to Hell in the form of high-school, to be mocked and made to feel stupid and to nearly fail to graduate. (Not that learning disabilities were her only problem Mars also has neurofibromatosis, which you may know as The Elephant-Man disease. As a small child, this produced a growth on her tongue, the removal of which left her with a life-long speech impediment. As a teenager, it produced a fist-sized growth on her shoulder. Yet she was then, and has been for my entire life, the warmest and most joyful person I have ever known.)

Fast-forward about thirty-five years, to the summer of 2004. Mars was working as a teaching assistant in a pre-school in the small Canadian town where she's now spent most of her life. Wishing she could do higher-level work; feeling well-qualified to do such work, but constrained by her lack of credentials. We're talking on the phone, and I tell her — honestly; because it's the truth — that she's the bravest person I've ever known. After explaining how my experience with cancer gave me a clearer understanging of what courage is (in a nutshell, that courage is not at all what most people — people who've never had to be brave — think it is: Rather, it is simply doing what you have to do, given the hand you've been dealt), I explained why she's the bravest person I know. And she accepted it.

Next thing I know, Marliene, who has avoided school like the plague for all those years and has barely ever in her life even touched a computer, has signed up for a certification program in early childhood development, which is administered remotely, and mostly via the Internet. She was terrified of failure. And she did it anyway.

She just called me to tell me she'd received her final grade in her final class — and it was an A+.

She has gotten all As or A-pluses in all of her classes. I could not be more proud.
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I don't recall ever having ordered either a Robert Heinlein or a Spider Robinson book from Amazon. It's been better than ten years since I regularly read enough fantasy or SF to call myself a fan. But today I signed on to Amazon and the "Plog" presented me with this:
Another '50s hero is being resurrected from the archives: sci-fi superstar Robert A. Heinlein. Via Quill & Quire (subscription required), we hear about the discovery a few years ago of Heinlein's outline and notes from 1955 for a novel he never completed. Heinlein's literary executors signed Spider Robinson, who was inspired to write by Heinlein and later became his friend, to give life to Heinlein's ideas, and the result comes out in September as Variable Star. (Read more on the project at Robinson's own website.) These sorts of collaborations with the dead are usually recipes for disaster, but Robinson's own skills and his respect for the master give one hope. If the rave blurb you can find on our detail page from Byrds member and Heinlein aficionado David Crosby is any measure, he pulls it off. (The early Publishers Weekly review on our site judges that Robinson captures Heinlein's "naiive yet advanced tone," but finds a clash in sensibilities at work.) --Tom, Books Editor

The Amazon AI absolutely nailed this one. I am so buying this book.
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I didn't see the Sci Fi Channel's adaptation of Wizard of Earthsea. And having read what Ursula Le Guin has to say about it, I don't think I will be.


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