In Which I Avoid Accidentally Reading a Book a Second Time


Yes, I did just resolve the question of “did I read this book about the Greek War of Independence 1821 – 1830 before?” by finding a passage I was certain I had read. What was that gripping section? A foot note about how at one point the executive council ought to have had five members, but there was a vacancy “left for a representative of the island, and [ Theodoros ] Kolokotronis insisted on filling it himself”. I may or may not be able to follow the sweep of empires, but don’t try bluffing me on the committee compositions!

So, yes, I continue to learn more about why everybody treated me like that in middle school.

My Takeaways From This Book About Mapping


So here’s what I’m going to really remember from this 350-page book about Mapping in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region,, a history of mapping Michigan and the Great Lakes region:

  • There’s a couple of square miles in the upper peninsula of Michigan that aren’t in the Great Lakes watershed, while the rest of the state of course is.
  • Iowa’s official State Highway map for 1947 included on the back a story about a Martian seeking the best that Earth has to offer and being told to visit Iowa what with how “Nature has favored it with a temperate climate, ample rainfall, and productive soil; natural resources that attract thoughtful, industrious people who expect to work for a living and who have reason for confidence that their work will be rewarded”.
  • Michigan’s 1942 state highway map mentioned in a tire-saving blurb that “many roadside parks found `just around the corner’ from every community are expected to become more popular than ever” and apparently in 1942 “just around the corner” was such slangy talk it had to be safely cordoned off from a regular old sentence about how nice a park can be.
  • Iowa’s 1949 map included a poem titled In This State Called Iowa all about the garden that God was building in it.
  • When Michigan first started issuing state highway maps, in 1919 and the 1920s, the state prepared updated maps every two weeks, which seems like a lot even if they were like doubling the number of paved roads every two weeks in that era.

Me Week: The Quintessence Of My Humor Style


If anything characterizes what I think is funny, it’s “slightly over-researched stuff”. So here’s some pieces that exemplify that. When Time Came To New Jersey was somehow not that week’s long-form piece, but rather just a little something dashed off because I got to thinking about the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. And the question it raises I still haven’t answered, although I also haven’t asked any of the many people I in principle could to get some kind of answer.

In Why I Never Finish Just Reading A Stupid Book Already I get thrown off a book about usury and debt by a casual line about what the Secretary of the Treasury was doing in 1853. So I’m not just a person who reads about a history of usury and debt but also thinks about the change of office between Secretaries of the Treasury that happened in 1853.

And then in What Causes People To Sometimes Read About Canada there I go again, reading about the prelude to the British North America Act of 1867 (oh hey, happy birthday and stuff there) gets me thinking about the nature of boredom.

If you needed something else to read, here Twenty Books About Things That Changed The World and I thought I had read a majority of them. Huh.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell 29 points today as analysts and traders realized suddenly the year was half-over and they were just starting to feel good about that when they realized there was as much 2017 yet to come? And actually even more 2017 since the 30th of June is only the 181st day of the year and there’s 184 left in the year if we see the whole thing after all.

242

Statistics Saturday: Twenty Books About Things That Changed The World


  • Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky.
  • Banana: the Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World, Dan Koeppel.
  • Symbols of Power: Ten Coins that Changed the World, Robert Bracey, Thomas Hockenhull.
  • In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations that Changed the World, Ian Stewart.
  • Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, Margaret MacMillan.
  • Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World, Gillian D’Arcy Wood.
  • Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World, Chris Lowney.
  • Legends, Icons, and Rebels: Music that Changed the World, Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot.
  • Indigo: The Color that Changed the World, Catherine Legrand.
  • Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano that Changed the World, Alexandra Witze, Jeff Kanipe.
  • Tea: A History of the Drink that Changed the World, John C Griffiths.
  • Moment of Battle: The Twenty Clashes that Changed the World, Jim Lacey, Williamson Murra.
  • Franklin and Winston: A Christmas that Changed the World, Douglas Wood, Barry Moser.
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony: A Friendship that Changed the World, Penny Colman.
  • Mauve: How one Man Invented a Color that Changed the World, Simon Garfield.
  • Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids: And Other Small Events that Changed the World, Phil Mason.
  • Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History of the Explosive that Changed the World, Jack Kelly.
  • The Beatles: Six Days that Changed the World, Bill Eppridge, Adrienne Aurichio.
  • Tea: The Drink that Changed the World, Laura C Martin.
  • Nasdaq: A History of the Market that Changed the World, Mark Ingebretsen.

Not listed: The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, Simon Winchester.

Also counting the Winchester I’ve read at least seven of these. That Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe volcano book wasn’t about Tambora, don’t be silly.

In Support Of Pants-Wearing Animals


My love needed some books from the library. I went along because I like being places with my love. I did not go because I needed any books. I had several library books to read yet anyway. And I have a half-dozen or so books, some going back to summer, that I’ve bought and haven’t got to because I’ve been borrowing library books at a good rate (about one book per book finished) since then. I was there simply in a companionate role, smiling and being present and that was it.

What I’m saying is of course I borrowed Alan Abel’s The Great American Hoax, about the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals. This was the early-60s satire of groups that go out caring about stuff. It proposed that all sufficiently large animals wear clothes. The story of how allegedly grown-up people were fooled into thinking it was real was bought by Paramount for adaptation into a movie, if you believe the jacket copy, which who would?

Statistics May: Or, Statistics April, Continued Again


Finally I have a window to explore the strange state of my readership statistics. I’d had a weird, catastrophic drop in my readership, from 1,053 views by 483 visitors in march down to 808 views by 303 visitors in April. That trend … well, in May the number of views dropped to 759, though the number of unique viewers rose back to 359. I don’t know what to make of this. The number of views per visitor was more in line with what I’d expect. That was 2.11 in May, compared to April’s anomalously high 2.67. March was 2.18, which is about what I expect.

Still, the number of likes received over the month dropped again: from 443 in March, to 402 in April, to 380 in May. The number of comments similarly fell, from 113 in March to 108 in April to 81 in May. Perhaps I just didn’t have subjects that lent themselves to cross-chatter? Or that might reflect the end of the First Betty Boop Cartoons project, since listing all the previous firsts was counted by WordPress as a comment for reasons that make sense to WordPress’s statistics team.

If I’m reading it right stuff was basically fine except for the third week in May (the 18th through the 24th) when people just didn’t come around. I don’t see anything odd about that week’s selection of articles and cartoons and stuff, though.

Well, the month of June started at 17,231 page views, and 568 WordPress followers. Ten of them added in the month of May, so, hi there.

Now on to the popular business of listing stuff. The most popular articles in May were:

As for the popular listing of countries: the greatest number of readers in the reader-deprived month of May came from the United States (542), with runners-up the United Kingdom (33), the United Canada (28), and the United Australia (20). Sending me a single reader each were the United Belgium,
the United Bulgaria, the United Chile, the United Egypt, the United European Union, the United Finland, the United Hong Kong, the United India, the United Italy, the United Norway, the United Saudi Arabia, and the United United Arab Emirates. United Finland United is on a three-month streak of sending me a single reader. I don’t know how a reader can be coming from the United European Union considering there’s countries in it that are already listed.

Here’s some of the search terms I got. Good luck working out what they mean:

In Which I Am Doomed, Doomed I Tell You


I don’t figure this week’s big piece is going to be another massive composition based on what I happen to be reading. This is because I’m reading Mathematics Without Apologies: Portrait of a Problematic Vocation by Michael Harris. I had thought it was a mathematician’s memoir and thoughts about explaining mathematics to people who aren’t necessarily students. I realized by page fourteen that this is some completely different kind of book, because there it laid this on me:

Be assured that this is not a series of clippings from my autobiography. “When the studies of a philosopher, and especially of a mathematician, have been described, his discoveries recorded, and his writings considered, his history has been written. There is little else to say of such a man: his private life is generally uninteresting and unvaried.” 20 Too true! I can’t even begin to imagine what might make for an interesting private life. The “I” of this chapter’s title [ How I Acquired Charisma ] is not the hateful “I” of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées but rather the hypothetical “I” of a Weberian ideal type. “Type of what?” Maybe we’ll know by the end of this book.

That wasn’t even the end of this paragraph! And I haven’t dared look to the endnotes to see what the 20 is.

I realized this was going to be a more challenging read when a couple pages before that the book laid “apodictically” on me, but since my love is a professional philosopher I was warned about words like “apodictic” existing and meaning something. But this … this ….

I may not make it through the book alive, I’m sorry. That’s all.

Why I Never Finish Just Reading A Stupid Book Already


The book isn’t stupid, to be exact. It’s Beggar Thy Neighbor: a History of Usury and Debt, by Charles R Geisst, who probably knows what he’s talking about overall. The book’s from a university library. It doesn’t have a jacket. These are all marks of book respectability. But then I run into a line like this — and it’s exactly like this, in chapter 4 — and I’m thrown:

In 1853 the secretary of the Treasury estimated that around 60 percent of the bonds issued by Boston and Jersey City and 25 percent of those issued by New York City were held by foreigners.

It’s a straightforward sentence even if it’s rated “very hard to read” and is too short to judge what its readability is like anyway. Yet I’m wondering things I know I’ll never get answered. Here’s some.

  1. Obviously, the big one: Thomas Corwin or James Guthrie? I mean, c’mon, this wasn’t even a boring change of presidential administration like in 1857. This was a major change in the political status quo. Why, Corwin and Guthrie were born in completely different north-central Kentucky counties. So which one was estimating?
  2. Why was Corwin or Guthrie estimating this? Did it come up as part of the daily work of Treasury Secretary-ing? What work, then? I know he can’t have just finished the work of signing every new-issued dollar bill early that day and gone casting about for some way to fill an hour and forty minutes before he could duck out for home in good conscience. Maybe he was quarreling with the State Department. Perhaps he figured if he whipped out some snappy numbers about city bond holding by foreigners then it would help. Or was he just idly working it out, the way you might work out how much of Florida would sink beneath sea level if all the elephants of the world were to stand on Kissimmee? Was his curiosity professional, I mean?
  3. If he was working it out for a quarrel with the State Department (or whoever), did the numbers help his case any? It’d be a fine thing to work out foreign bond holding for Boston, Jersey City, and New York City and then find the answer made you look like the bigger fool. I guess it helped or we wouldn’t have heard the answer, unless someone on his staff leaked the numbers to make him look bad. Read any history of the United States in the 1850s and you get all this talk about the runup to the Civil War. Nobody mentions what assistant secretary of the Treasury might be trying to make Corwin or Guthrie look bad in a quarrel with the State Department about foreign-held municipal bonds.
  4. Why study Boston, Jersey City, and New York City? What made that the short list and not some other cities? Was the foreign-held municipal debt situation of Novi, Michigan too boring to consider? What did Milledgeville, Georgia, do to not rate consideration? Were Corwin and Guthrie even aware of Batesville, Arkansas? I don’t quarrel with looking into the municipal debt situation of Boston and New York City, since they’re interesting towns. But why does Jersey City make the list? I vaguely like the place, since I’m from New Jersey and we’re deeply invested in insisting Jersey City is the next Hoboken which is the next Brooklyn which is a good thing we swear. And Jersey City has a lot to recommend it. For example, its Pavonia neighborhood is indirectly named for peacocks, and how many neighborhoods can you say that about? Besides the Peacock District that I’m assuming exists in Kaatsheuvel, in North Brabant in the Netherlands, I’m guessing not many. Plus Jersey City has the Pulaski Skyway, not a single square foot of which isn’t terrifying in every way. But why would that bring the city’s bond situation to the Treasury Secretary’s attention? In 1853 the Pulaski Skyway was literally less than 150 years away from being built. That can’t have attracted their attention.
  5. Why worry about foreigners holding municipal bonds, anyway? Was the Treasury scared the foreigners would do something disreputable with them, such as lick the bonds before redeeming them? But then why not have the finance department just open overseas mail while wearing gloves?

Also, the book is not at all clear that quotes from around 1820 from the New-York Daily Times are not from the New York Times we know today. There were like six New York Timeses between the 1820s one and the modern one. I’m comically impotently enraged by all this.

And the book goes on for hundreds more pages. How can I finish? (I finished reading it on Monday.)

Writing To Be Read


It’s fair to say that writers are writing with the intention of being read. If it’s not then the umpires have been letting me get away with it for so long I could challenge a ruling to the contrary. But it’s not just being read at all that they want, it’s being perused, every word stared at and comprehended, ideally by a reader. But in the modern and endlessly distracted world the only things actually read in their entirety are the airline’s texts announcing flight cancellations and bitter arguments about the meaning of the word “peruse”, with side threads about “decimate” and “transpire”.

How can you get the desired sort of attention without starting your own grammar-quarrel-based airline? I’m not saying that isn’t a good idea, given that you could probably get a near-captive audience just over the question of what’s added by the flight attendant’s instructions saying people have to listen to these instructions “at this time”, but it’s a lot of work and it takes you away from the writing stuff. Also, if you pack a plane full of grammar-quarrel-oriented persons together you’re going to see the depths of human savagery and it’ll be over the number of spaces to put at the end of a sentence. The correct answer is “none before the punctuation mark and three afterwards”.

Unfortunately the best way to make sure you do get read is to accept modern reading habits and adapt your writing to them. People love having finished reading stuff, but not so much the actual reading, because that takes too long. If you write for the rapid and skimming way people expect to read, they’ll read the whole important parts of the thing, at least until they catch on that everybody’s started to write that way. Then they’ll change their reading habits so they don’t have to read stuff, and we can find out what they’re doing instead and shift once more. In this way the language evolves.

The first thing is brevity. Your writing has to seem brief. I know if you write you look with admiration at those late 18th century writers who could compose single sentences that go on for twenty pages, and that read like particularly contentious sub-lease agreements between parties that don’t trust one another, or anyone else, and aren’t so fond of themselves, and so produce these awesome sentences with hundreds of comma- and hyphen-linked clauses, fighting for sun and water in a rain-forest of references, with antecedents and dependent clauses sprawled all over the text, until one can either read the entire thing in one big lump or admit defeat and wake in the middle of the night following unsettled dreams of being back in seventh grade English class and having to diagram sentences, and there’s no way of telling what the sentence began to be about by the time you finish it anyway. Stop that. Everyone hates it. The ideal sentence these days has between six and ten words, and some of those words should be hard-to-resist “eye candy” type words such as iris caramel or “macula taffy” put in quote marks or italics so they don’t look too intimidating.

Paragraph length is at least as important, though not as important as riboflavin in your diet. Everyone knows that the first or the last sentences in paragraphs are the key ones establishing the point, and the rest are just filler added to make the commercial breaks come at the right times. You can’t fight that influence, unfortunately, but you can write so that the stuff you’re actually interested in is the start and end of the paragraph. The rest can just be you indulging yourself, prattling on about whatever you want. You could even put a second writing project hidden inside the first, where it’ll be noticed by literature majors, in case any read you. They’ll write up nice articles about your subtle genius if you do, which would make you feel better if you read literature journals. So size your paragraphs to friendly, appropriate lengths.

We all know that adverbs are pretty useless. Where you write an adverb the reader knows to take it as “make whatever adjective or verb is nearby even more so, unless in context it should be less so”, so you don’t have to bother writing them. Just include a note about what the context should be in a commentary track, because people love seeing commentary tracks about how the thing was written even more than they appreciate the writing, except the people who never listen to the commentary tracks.

Italics. Stuff in italics usually doesn’t matter either, but it makes the text look thoughtful, so include some of that, but don’t bother putting your real content in there. This is a good spot to use, say, your Next Generation/Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic that’s been haunting a series of hard drives since 1997, since now you can get it published without anyone reading it and curling up in a whimpering ball of prose aversion. The same is true for block quotes, which are necessary for nonfiction works but, again, aren’t worth reading. The only reason to put stuff in block quotes is so you can show how someone else said the same thing you’re saying, or so you can point out how dumb they were to say that, so you can just go on to saying what you wanted to say or to making fun of them.

Bullet lists are a good way to make your text look like a PowerPoint slide, which is good for making sure all the text on them is read because the audience would be desperate for something to do while the presenter reads every … single … word on the slide, if they didn’t have their phones out to look at anything else on the Internet instead. Also if you use bullet points your readers are going to expect you to provide them with a presenter who reads every … single … word off the slide. Use bullet lists with caution.

  • Oh, footnotes. Footnotes are a great place for stuff you want to be read because people know they mean you’re showing how the thing you originally wrote was misleading if you let it stand on its own, so it’s like getting to see the author self-snarking, which is always fun. Except for readers who figure if it mattered you’d put it in the text. So you’re on your own here [4]. Me, I can’t resist footnotes and would read a whole book of them, except I’ve read books where it’s all in the footnotes and they weren’t worth it.

If you’re appearing in a real printed book instead of electronically for some reason probably involving ransom demands, you should know that readers are aware the middle of the page is usually boring stuff they don’t need to read either. This requires some attention be paid to the layout of your book but, again, put the real content near the top and bottom of pages and lay on those scenes of Counsellor Troi and Knuckles the Echidna quarreling for the middle. Make sure your editor knows what you’re doing so they don’t let the publisher switch things over to, say, 14 point and screw up all the formatting. Modern professional writing software should let you interweave the real text and the filler without much hassle on your part, but it doesn’t.

It probably strikes you that this means that whatever it is you really want to write is going to be sprawled out over a lot more pages than it would have, say, thirty years ago. That’s all right, because the huge size of the writing convinces readers they’re getting good value for their time, and especially good value if they’re buying books, which is why everything’s too bulky and discursive to actually read anymore.

If you find these tips of use, please let me know in an e-mail I promise to skim at least and might someday respond to. That’s a different discussion.


[4] Sorry I can’t give you useful advice on this one. Maybe we should’ve gone with the grammar-quarrel-based airline instead.

From the Summer Catalogue


So this was listed in the Summer Catalogue:

Year-round cracked syllable and diphthong mixture to attract the widest variety of words. Blend effective all year round in zones with a Flesch-Kincaid number of 8 or above or Gunning fog index of at least 10; temperature climates support a Flesch-Kincaid of 6 or higher. Very good at attracting loan words from exciting language families. Certified low-zeugma. Gerund-safe. 20 pounds, $11.98 and free shipping.

It seems like a good deal and yet I wonder if it’s really for me. I have no idea what the Gunning fog index is around these parts.