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George Saunders in The Braindead Megaphone, of the news but perhaps applicable elsewhere as well:

In surrendering our mass storytelling function to entities whose first priority is profit, we make a dangerous concession: “Tell us,” we say in effect, “as much truth as you can, while still making money.” This is not the same as asking: “Tell us the truth.”

From Charles Mann’s 1491:

Almost 150 years before Columbus set sail, a Tartar army besieged the Genoese city of Kaffa. Then the Black Death visited. To the defenders’ joy, their attackers began dying off. But triumph turned to terror when the Tartar khan catapulted the dead bodies of his men over the city walls, deliberately creating an epidemic inside. The Genoese fled Kaffa, leaving it open to the Tartars. But they did not run away fast enough; their ships spread the disease to every port they visited.

Whoa.

From Wedge, a history of the conflict between the FBI and the CIA:

One famous undertaking was spawned by an unsolicited letter to the president from a Mr. Adams of Irwin, Pennsylvania, asserting that the Japanese were deathly frightened of bats and suggesting that America consider the opportunities for “frightening, demoralizing, and exciting the prejudices of the people of the Japanese empire” by a “surprise attack” in which Japan would be bombed with live specimens. The president passed Adams’ letter to Wild Bill [Donovan, head of the COI] with a note asserting that “this man is not a nut.” Donovan promptly commissioned the curator of mammals at the American Museum of Natural History to work with the Army Air Corps; bats were strapped into catapults and flung, and their trajectories noted on clipboards, but the project was terminated when it was discovered that bats would freeze to death at forty thousand feet. Also, though no one had bothered to check Adams’ assertion at the time, it turned out that the Japanese did not fear bats.

The difference between fantasy and science fiction

I recently came across this quote from Daryl Gregory on the difference between fantasy and science fiction:

Readers will read something as science fiction if the characters are engaged in the process of science. In fantasy there’s no fiddling with the rules. You pull a sword out of a stone, and that makes you King of England. There’s no, ‘But what if I put a sword into the stone?’ In a science fiction novel, everybody would be trying to figure out how to make more kings by inserting more sharp objects into rocks! A fantasy novel is almost distinguished by not asking those fundamental questions about what is going on. A science fiction novel, no matter what the rules, is always asking those questions.

Part of me likes this, but part of me disagrees completely — Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novels, for example, ask those questions and have their characters engaged in what fundamentally is science, albeit focused on magic. And yet the books are clearly fantasy.

Occupations in 1292 Paris

I just finished reading Life in a Medieval City, by Joseph and Frances Gies, and in the notes on page 236 I found this interesting list of occupations taken from the Paris tax list of 1292:

  • 366 shoemakers
  • 214 furriers
  • 199 maidservants
  • 197 tailors
  • 151 barbers
  • 131 jewelers
  • 130 restaurateurs
  • 121 old-clothes dealers
  • 106 pastrycooks
  • 104 masons
  • 95 carpenters
  • 86 weavers
  • 71 chandlers
  • 70 mercers
  • 70 coopers
  • 62 bakers
  • 58 water carriers
  • 58 scabbard makers
  • 56 wine sellers
  • 54 hatmakers
  • 51 saddlers
  • 51 chicken butchers
  • 45 purse makers
  • 43 laundresses
  • 43 oil merchants
  • 42 porters
  • 42 meat butchers
  • 41 fish merchants
  • 37 beer sellers
  • 36 buckle makers
  • 36 plasterers
  • 35 spice merchants
  • 34 blacksmiths
  • 33 painters
  • 29 doctors
  • 28 roofers
  • 27 locksmiths
  • 26 bathers
  • 26 ropemakers
  • 24 innkeepers
  • 24 tanners
  • 24 copyists
  • 24 sculptors
  • 24 rugmakers
  • 24 harness makers
  • 23 bleachers
  • 22 hay merchants
  • 22 cutlers
  • 21 glovemakers
  • 21 wood sellers
  • 21 woodcarvers

The Society of Creative Anachronism has a more detailed page listing the French occupation names and a breakdown by gender. For example, there was one male hangman (bourriau), one female mole trapper (taupiere), four male pike-makers (piqueeur), one female tart seller (tartriere), one male log floater (atireeur de busche), etc. Fascinating stuff.

The tax list was published by Hercule Géraud in 1837 in Paris sous Philippe-le-Bel, which is conveniently on Google Books (the list itself, “Le livre de la taille de Paris pour l’an 1292,” is a bit later in the book).

Reading goals for 2015

I recently came across a post about reading goals that got me itching to go and do likewise. I’ve had numeric goals in the past — read X books this year — but I’ve realized I’m less interested in the total number of books read and more interested in the types of books I read. (It’s also a grudging acknowledgement that this mortal life is finite and there’s no way I’ll be able to read all the books I want to. Such a sad thought. But there are massive libraries in heaven, right? I’m banking on that.)

Here, then, are my reading goals for 2015:

  • Read more books I wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in. Basically, expand my horizons, both in fiction and nonfiction.
  • Read more science fiction and fantasy classics. I did read the Foundation books in 2012–2013, but most of the time I tend to read newer stuff. (I guess I did also read The Stars My Destination earlier this year. I didn’t like it at all.)
  • Read more literary classics. Specifically, I want to read at least War and Peace and Dante’s Divine Comedy, and hopefully the Dostoevsky novels I haven’t yet read. Yes, I know, this isn’t the first time I’ve made a goal to read War and Peace. But this is the first year I’m going to actually do it, so help me. (I’ve read enough 1000-page epic fantasy novels by now that I can handle the length just fine.)
  • Read more nonfiction. Specifically, more history and biography. I’ve been reading more nonfiction this past year (Rubicon, Lies My Teacher Told Me, Food Rules, Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn, Stuff Matters, etc.) and it’s been quite enjoyable. Right now I’m reading and loving Edmund Morris’s Rise of Roosevelt, the first of a three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and Blake Harris’s Console Wars, a history of Nintendo and Sega in the 1990s.

Any of you have reading goals or happen to be reading something particularly interesting?

The Red Fairy Book

I’m back to making ebooks, this time continuing the colored fairy book series with The Red Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang, available in EPUB and Kindle editions.

Also, I’ve put the ebook source files on GitHub. (Mostly to allow for pull requests to fix typos, but also because I thought it would be nice to make the source files freely available as well.) I’ll eventually be posting sources for all my existing ebooks as well, though it’ll take some time to go through them.

Reading statistics

Since August last year I’ve been keeping track of my reading via Bookkeeper, as I’ve mentioned before. It wasn’t till the other day, though, that I realized I could pull stats on how many pages I’m reading each day.

For curiosity’s sake, then, here are the charts. I wrote a Python script to get the data from Bookkeeper and then charted it all in Numbers. You can click on any month to get a bigger image. X axis is day of month, Y axis is number of pages.

Also: Those two crazy 600-page days in December and April were awesome, but man, they make everything else look small. Oh well.

And my monthly averages:

  • Aug 2011: 36 pages/day
  • Sep 2011: 82 pages/day
  • Oct 2011: 30 pages/day
  • Nov 2011: 38 pages/day
  • Dec 2011: 52 pages/day
  • Jan 2012: 65 pages/day
  • Feb 2012: 48 pages/day
  • Mar 2012: 63 pages/day
  • Apr 2012: 60 pages/day
  • May 2012: 39 pages/day
  • Jun 2012: 66 pages/day

I think I might be a nerd.

The Blue Fairy Book

Today’s release: The Blue Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang, available in EPUB and Kindle editions.

While publishing Grimm in German and Perrault in French was great (and I’ll continue to publish original language editions like them), I’ve long wanted to start publishing fairy tale collections in English. I mean, reading to my kids in 1800s German is cool and all, and I’m certainly planning to do so (along with a delicious array of other old languages), but I have this unshakable feeling that every once in a while they’ll want their stories to be in English. Weird, I know.

So English it is, and Lang’s twelve colored fairy books (published 1889–1910) were the natural place to start. This is the first of the series. Enjoy.