Archives for category: Reading

The problem with democracy is that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. If you allow a group like Moms for Liberty to take control of your local school board meetings, look out. Hernando County, Florida school board member, MfL supported Shannon Rodriguez, tells us “We do not want to have equity and inclusion in our schools. We want to keep our schools traditional, the way that they were. We don’t want any of the woke or the indoctrination.” Here’s the NPR clip, which shows a defeat on this occasion for the Moms for Liberty forces. (Click on the arrow at the left to listen.) Many of these extremists who are intent on cleansing schools of all non-traditional content, have made threats against librarians and teachers, and some of these public employees have chosen to leave their jobs rather than face up to death threats. Apparently most Americans (even Republicans) do not support banning books, yet books are being banned in unprecedented numbers. If these banners really don’t represent the majority opinion, the majority has to stand up and be counted.

Seventeen plaintiffs, including the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild as well as local bookstores, libraries, parents, and students, are filing a federal lawsuit against the state of Arkansas over its recent law which seeks to limit minors’ access to books and other materials deemed “obscene”. As Shelf Awareness puts it: “The law, which passed in March and goes into effect August 1, states that anyone will be allowed to ‘challenge the appropriateness’ of public libraries’ offerings, but it does not define ‘appropriateness’ or provide any ‘standard that we’re expected to use’ to determine this, John Adams, an attorney for the Central Arkansas Library System, told the Arkansas Advocate. The newspaper continued: ‘Proponents of the law have said no one under 18 should be able to access content pertaining to racism, sexual activity and LGBTQ+ topics, calling it ‘indoctrination’. Opponents of the law say this content reflects the community and that restricting access amounts to censorship.'”*

Well now — of course, anyone can do anything they want (within the law), so who am I to object to bringing a lawsuit against the Arkansas law making librarians criminally liable for making allegedly obscene books available to minors? But it’s precisely because I believe that anyone can do anything they want that I have concerns about objecting to this sort of action. I can’t get away from the thought that people in any community surely have the right to make any rules and regulations they want in order to govern how they live. Just because I don’t agree with them and “know that I’m right” doesn’t give me any preferential status over their opinions. This is a policy which concerns the inhabitants of Arkansas, and they need to be the ones dealing with it (and indeed several of the plaintiffs are local). If that’s what people in Arkansas want, good luck to them! Mandating ignorance can never be a good idea, but lots of people have always preferred to bury their heads in the sand than to think seriously about right and wrong. Despite all sorts of crazy (to the liberal mind) laws lots of people still seem to want to move to states like Texas or Florida (where they are now proposing to deny healthcare on the basis of moral, ethical or religious beliefs) — I guess they don’t mind, or don’t mind as much as I do. And if they do eventually decide they do object to this or that restriction, then of course the democratic process provides a roadmap for them to get the laws reversed. And if that doesn’t work, maybe they’ll need to think about moving to a community where more people agree with them.

Of course nobody wants obscene books pushed on anyone; and this includes librarians. The problem of course is definitional: we all know it when we see it, but unfortunately when it comes to obscenity, or even just social undesirability, none of us can define it with any precision. We all see different things. Judging from the Arkansas Advocate story referenced above, many people in Arkansas are off to the races on their definition of obscene. In the end one man’s obscenity is another man’s sober discussion. We also trust readers’ good sense to differing degrees. Conservatives tend to want the state to play the role of stern daddy, wagging its finger to stop people doing “bad” things, whereas liberals see it more as a benevolent old granny keeping them fed and protected.

The plaintiffs maintain “Together, we have filed this lawsuit to protect the First Amendment rights of Arkansas’ reading community. Arkansas Act 372 robs the state’s readers of their constitutional right to receive information and threatens the state’s booksellers and librarians with extreme punishments for performing their core—and essential—function of making books available to the public.” (Quoted in Publishing Perspectives.) Come on — the Bill, insofar as it “robs” anyone of anything, robs minors of the “right” to receive information free of charge from their library. (Do we really have a right, first amendment or any other, to receive books free of charge from a public library?) I don’t think it helps your case to misstate the harm you are protesting.

Censoring books may be wrong, and is certainly ineffective as a means of suppressing ideas. My knees jerk just as strongly as the next guy’s to liberal ideals, but I can’t help seeing arrogance in the assumption that we publishers know better than the locals and have an obligation to make them behave as we would. Nothing in the Arkansas law affects what publishers may or may not publish.†

If this is what Arkansans want, who are we to interfere? If it’s not, then a simple remedy beckons. Just go to school board meetings and vote!

Another similar case is the “lawsuit filed by PEN America, Penguin Random House, authors, and parents against the Escambia County School District and School Board in Florida over book bannings and access restriction in the area’s public school libraries.


* Amusing to note that in Utah such laws have been used to force the authorities to remove the Bible and the Book of Mormon from school libraries.

† Slightly different is the case of state school boards which mandate changes in textbooks in order that they may be adopted. If you want to sell textbooks to say the Texas school system, then it’s not smart business to insist that those pages about critical race theory (or whatever they’ve objected to) be retained intact. Your choice is to make the change and make the sale, or refuse and move on. For governors of eastern seaboard states to call on publishers to refuse to make such changes is nothing more than political posturing — and no publisher in this market will be paying much attention to them.

Pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty is remembered (at least by me) for insisting that reading novels was good for you. He maintained that a liberal arts education was essential for the preservation democracy, and for strengthening a global human rights culture. All that reading’ll make you a better human being. Now LitHub brings us confirmation from the world of science — Reading fiction makes you nicer.

What can one say? Could it not be possible that reading history might also make you nicer? Or philosophy — perhaps especially Richard Rorty’s work? I suppose we’ll just have to fund another research project to discover this. But failing to understand what people around you are feeling is potentially a dangerous way to live — and novels provide a handy antidote to this lack.

Eric Schwitzgebel writes “I have a theory: Jerks are people who culpably fail to appreciate the intellectual and emotional perspectives of others around them.” This definition of an all too pervasive phenomenon is part of his Atlantic piece about “The COVID Jerk”. Being a jerk is not a wise life choice, though it does seem to be one made by way too many people. We all believe that reading should help to overcome this disability, and that among books fiction should be the best cure.

Fiction OK but not fiction alone! Here are W. S. Merwin’s suggestions (to Borders Books, a representative of whom had enquired) for five books and five poems to be taken on nuclear submarines, where we hope they lead to a reduction in the threat of nuclear war. Mr Merwin’s books are

  • Chekov’s Short Stories
  • Huckleberry Finn
  • Essays of E. B. White
  • Lewis Thomas: Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony
  • Kierkegaard: Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing

His five poems are

1. William Stafford, “Earth Dweller”
2. Stanley Kunitz, “Touch Me”
3. Gerald Stern, “The Dog”
4. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “The End of the Owls”
5. Emily Dickinson, “I reason, Earth is short”

Here’s the Emily Dickinson one:

I reason, Earth is short—
And Anguish—absolute—
And many hurt,
But, what of that?

I reason, we could die—
The best Vitality
Cannot excel Decay,
But, what of that?

I reason, that in Heaven—
Somehow, it will be even—
Some new Equation, given—
But, what of that?

Let us give credit to Ms Dickinson’s words for keeping us safe — though I’m not sure that Mr Merwin’s suggestions were ever loaded onto a submarine. But poems be damned — Fiction rules! D. H. Lawrence dismisses poetry in his 1925 essay “Why the Novel Matters” — “being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet, who are all great masters of different bits of man alive, but never get the whole hog. The novel is the one great book of life.” Despite the over-the-toppishness of DHL’s rallying call, I suppose Professor Rorty would nevertheless encourage you to read even the novels of the somewhat manic, whole-hoggish Lawrence. I prefer his poetry to his prose myself (Lawrence’s not Rorty’s, though the latter’s I’ve not managed to read, if indeed it exists).

Maybe you didn’t think of it exactly this way, but Big Think tells us How reading fiction can make you a better person.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Whether reading is good for you or not is maybe impossible to prove, but it does appear to have effects in the brain, although Gregory Berns reports at LitHub that they were not the effects he was expecting. The effects were manifested in the sensorimotor network rather than in emotion centers. While reading was under way an effect in the angular gyrus, and area in the left temporal region associated with language did show alterations which he likens to the effect of exercise on muscles. Indeed some of his description of the sensory motor effects made me think of mirror neurons, the effect of which is to leave me exhausted after watching a televised Scottish rugby international match! The LitHub piece is an adapted extract from his book The Self Delusion: The New Neuroscience of How We Invent—and Reinvent—Our Identities (Basic Books, 2022).

For those wishing to pursue this line, Longreads provides a reading list about the neuroscience of reading.

See also an earlier post Reading is good for you (and writing too).

Illinois is about to become the first state to ban book banning. A bill to withhold funds from any of the state’s 1,600 public or school libraries which are known to have removed books, has passed both houses of the legislature and now goes to the governor. “In Illinois, we don’t hide from the truth, we embrace it and lead with it,” J. B. Pritzker, the governor said when the bill was first presented. “Banning books is a devastating attempt to erase our history and the authentic stories of many.” After he has signed the bill the law will become effective on 1 January 2024. The story comes from Politico via BookRiot.

On the other hand, and more typical of the news these days: “in Missouri libraries would lose state funding if they give minors books parents don’t want them to read, don’t keep ‘age-inappropriate’ books away from minors, or fail to publicize how they select books and how parents can challenge those book selections.” (from BookRiot.) Relax: Big Brother is still looking out for us.

Oliver Skipp, Harry Kane and Richarlison support reading

Reading for Dreams provides books for students at village schools in mountainous areas of China. Since 2021, over 310,000 books have been provided to children in rural communities across Yunnan, Sichuan, Hubei and Henan provinces. The charity was formed in partnership between AIA China and the Amity Foundation, a charity which works to promote education, social welfare, public health, community development, environmental protection, disaster relief and other philanthropic undertakings in China and other parts of the world.

Last weekend Spurs wore shirts calling out the charity — AIA being their regular shirt sponsor. These special shirts did manage to enable the team to eke out a draw during what has turned out to be a disastrous run of games.

Whether the team’s gesture encouraged donations to the charity (or reading itself) is not crystal clear. Reading is of course to be encouraged everywhere, not just in the mountainous areas of China.

Home book collections are always (at least a bit) for show. So it’s not surprising that when people on television started addressing us from home, they would tend to pose in front of some bookshelves, demonstrating the breadth and depths of their interests. One of the more human weaknesses I noticed was a tendency to display your own recent book face on so that you could quietly advertise it while commenting on the news.

Atlas Obscura brings us a story about how an anonymous Portuguese satirist behind Uma Página Numa Rede Social, a humorous political analysis project, compiled some of his favorite home libraries into a Twitter thread and called it the 2020 Portuguese Bookshelf Championship. People began to “vote” on which background was most impressive, and in the opposite direction some called for the “immediate resignation” of the Minister of Education, because his video conference background didn’t include books.

I find I’m missing these backgrounds now that television presenters are venturing back into the studio. I guess I’ll never find out now what that large yellow book was which was always lying flat on the shelf by Jonathan Capehart’s left elbow. It had an oddly opaque title which I can’t remember now. He always had nice flowers.

Now here comes The New York Times with an article (paywall protected no doubt) suggesting that some of those bookish backgrounds may in fact have been made up of fake books. They even refer to one guy who got a curtain printed with book spines on it to suggest in Zoom meetings that he was in an book-lined office rather than in his garage. Surely it’d have been cheaper to go out to a thrift store and buy a bunch of old books. I wrote about this business almost seven years ago in Books by the foot (the name of one large player in this marketplace) and in Biblioexhibitionism. I also did a more recent post on ColorPak books, color coordinated wrapped books — but at least that’d give you the option of unwrapping the thing should you be interested in finding out what the filling was.

Not sure I care for (or actually, about) this home-decorating trend — in one way, if non-readers think that it makes them look smart to have shelves stuffed with important looking books which are nothing more than spines — good luck to them. We ought perhaps to welcome any behavior which accepts a premise that books accord status! Just not sure why real ones wouldn’t be just as good and in many cases cheaper. Go that route and you would also be able to read one in the event you changed your mind and actually thought reading a book might be a good idea.

These ideas are insidious. Could Mr Capehart’s big yellow book have been a fake? Say it ain’t so Jo.

I’m not wild about book sculpture, but to some extent I don’t mind the hollowed-out book as security chest. (There are, we have to admit, a lot of books which deserve eviscerating!) The Times article shows us one rather extensive book safe which is currently available for $34.20 from Covogoods of Salt Lake City.

I guess the idea is that burglars are unlikely to hang about admiring your book collection, and certainly won’t be prioritizing books for their swag. Store the title deeds of your house and your reserve cash stash behind a bunch of dull-looking book spines, and you’ll be safe as houses. Keeping your firearm in such a location might be more of a risk though. (Please do not be keeping a firearm in any event. They rarely do the owner any good — just imagine the turmoil of an armed break-in where you have to ask yourself in a panic “Is it in David Copperfield or Nicholas Nickleby? Or did I put it in Martin Chuzzlewit because it’s about America?)

For an earlier take on Zoom background libraries, please see Show-off from August 2021. For somewhat exhibitionist of self-serving reading see Performative reading.

“According to a 2022 Department of Education assessment, 67 percent of American fourth graders are not proficient readers . . . ProPublica recently reported that one fifth of adults in the United States struggle with reading—a ‘silent literacy crisis’.”

The teaching of reading is having a moment. Constantly we are reminded how bad we are at this. Is help on the way?

“But the situation has rather abruptly changed: in the past year, in light of increased media coverage of American children’s abysmal reading scores and a drumbeat of attention on the plentiful research on ‘the science of reading,’ districts across the nation, including New York City, have abandoned or pledged to abandon cueing and return to phonics-based instruction.”

We were recently told on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer radio show that New York City school teachers “just had a bunch of workbooks dropped on the desk, and were told ‘You’re now teaching phonics’.” Now this may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but HOW reading is/should be taught seems to be guaranteed to raise hackles. Whether phonics is the right way or not (and it seems to me that it should be) clearly this is not the way to set up a new curriculum program. Doubtless NYC teachers are getting a bit of direction and help. One emotionally-committed article is the recent piece by Christine Smallwood at The New York Review of Books (paywall, of course). You’d think that we’d have been researching this so constantly, that we’d be in no doubt about it, but just like research into the methodology of reading pedagogy, the science of reading itself remains a bit opaque — testing people’s brains is always a tough assignment.

“Stanislas Dehaene identifies three stages of learning to read: the pictorial, where children memorize a few words as if they were pictures (these are likely to be the child’s own name or a familiar brand logo); the phonological, where they ‘decode graphemes into phonemes’; and the orthographic, where ‘word recognition becomes fast and automatic.’ Ultimately there are two distinct neural pathways that are used in reading. The ‘phonological route’ is used for words that are ‘very regular, rare, or novel’.”

Ms Smallwood argues that the USA has focussed on the first of these three stages, the pictorial, and that we have built our entire reading instruction around that — the whole word/whole language method of reading instruction. She argues that this methodology gained favor because researchers thought that some of the best young readers appeared not to be sounding out the individual phonemes to construct the words they were reading, but to be recognizing the whole word, as almost a picture. New research suggests however that such readers were actually sounding elements out, just too quickly for the researchers to notice, and that many of them just happened also to have a good pictorial memory. Concluding from their faulty “observation” that all kids should be taught to recognize words as a whole unit rather than to sound them out phoneme by phoneme, our pedagogy willfully walks past the methodology used by the best readers in order to insist that weaker readers should not be taught what are really the tools for ultimate success.

The extremes are always easy to criticize, but teaching reading via cueing leads to a situation where the child learns that saying pony in response to the character string h-o-r-s-e is not really wrong. As researcher Irene Fountas reports “If a reader says “pony” for “horse,” because of information from the pictures, that tells the teacher that the reader is using meaning information from the pictures. His response is partially correct, but the teacher needs to guide him to stop and work for accuracy.” This may be partially correct as a response to a picture, but it’s just plain wrong in response to a string of characters. Surely much time is wasted on this deceptive side-road around literacy.

The podcast Sold a Story provides much evidence. APM Reports carries a reading list of ten titles about the science of reading, selected by Sold a Story‘s Emily Hanford. Much money has been made from changes in reading methodology — after all, all the old books have to get tossed and replaced by shiny (and expensive) new ones. Authors as well as publishers have benefitted, and to some extent can be argued to have an interest in this debate’s continuation.

The support for phonics all sounds plausible to me, but I have to reflect that I was taught reading from the Dick and Jane books, and appear to have managed to break the code. Ms Smallwood identifies this series as Exhibit A in the whole language teaching method, but I don’t think we were taught that way. I remember c-a-t being sounded out as three individual sounds, not being identified as a sort of picture. Indeed I distinctly remember at the age four or five reciting as a group “c-a-t spells cat”. Maybe British Dick and Jane books were different, or perhaps the pictorial method was hammered onto poor Dick and Jane later on. As far as I remember, my daughters were also taught that way, but I think by then we had developed that special phonic alphabet, ITA (International Teaching Alphabet), which always seemed a bit of overkill to me — and didn’t last very long as it turned out to confuse as much as it may have helped.

Hard to know exactly, without doing the research oneself, but I suspect that we should be happy that New York City is finally catching up with the methodology inculcated in 1836 by William McGuffey (1800-1873):

I’m certainly no enemy of scientific research, but it does seem occasionally to happen that it turns out that we innocents had already stumbled onto the best way of doing something without the help of researchers.

On his Saturday morning NPR radio program Scott Simon recently asked his guest about the lack of time we have nowadays for reading.

Nowadays? People who need to work all the time to make enough money to survive have always lacked time for reading. Why do you think that our image of the original novel reader is an elegant lady sitting in a comfortable chair next to a window looking out on a handsome garden, cutting the pages of the latest novel? Because if you’re stoking a blast furnace you can’t be reading. If you’re trudging over the rain-beaten hills looking for a lost sheep you can’t be reading. If you’re driving a loom you can’t be reading.

What really set me off was the implication that this was some modern day phenomenon connected with those wicked social media; that we are living in times where the good old virtue of curling up with a book has withered sadly away. And when, pray Mr Simon, was this golden age, when we all read voraciously? Well, of course, if you seriously tried to think about this question, you’d soon come up with the perhaps surprising realization that the golden age of reading is TODAY. The here and now is when more books are being read by more people than ever before, just as more books are being published now for all these readers.

Reading requires three things: literacy (basically education), sufficient money to buy the things, and, not unconnected, a good deal of time in which to indulge in it.* These things have never been universally available. Your worker who reads books was always an exceptional person, but such exceptional people do still exist.


* I suppose motivation might be added to this list: you’ve got to want to read a book in order to read a book — unless like all too many reluctant schoolboys, you are forced into it. Took me decades to pick up Oliver Twist again.

We should probably applaud this initiative to get more books into people’s homes. If we have to slip them in as home decorating props, that’s surely better than not. Pottery Barn offers you a selection of decorative books, which they seem to have acquired in the remainder market, maybe even, who knows, from Wonder Books. The Pottery Barn marketers encourage us thus: “Take your bookcase to new design heights with these color-grouped collections of modern hardcover books. Each pack measures one linear foot, so you can perfectly plan out your shelf space . . . All books are published 1980-present and include a variety of literary works, period novels and topical texts with light overall wear.” Scroll down and you’ll discover that they also offer “Dust Jacketed ColorPak Books”, “Paper-wrapped ColorPak Books”, “Modern ColorStak Book Sets”, “Modern Dust Jacket ColorStak Books”, and “Linenwrapped ColorPak Books”. What’s to stop you? You can get them in lots of different color schemes.

This collection of nine Linen-wrapped books with what amount to rather flimsy cloth chemise bindings, will set you back $349. If you care, you can find out what the books are when the parcel arrives. Why would anyone waste their time going into a bookshop? Actually lots of bookshops have been going in for that “mystery package” type of bookselling: What you are offered is a plain brown-paper-wrapped item — buy it and have the thrill of opening it up and seeing what you just got for your $25. I guess there are people out there who don’t care what they buy, just so long as they are seen to be buying smart stuff.

Do you keep that jute twine on though? It’s part of the design, and I think you’re meant to, though that’ll make reading the books even harder — but I don’t think that’s what you’re expected to do anyway. As Pottery Barn assures us when describing Paper-wrapped ColorPak Books, “This color-coordinated book collection serves as a chic design accent – a fun way for readers (and non-readers) to decorate their space.” Who can resist a chic design accent?

How will the metaverse change the publishing market? asks Anna Belova at Forbes. (Link via TechnologyInnovationPublishing.) She advises publishers, who seem strangely reluctant to jump onto this bandwagon, to start working on AR (Augmented Reality) right away. But:

“You should keep in mind that the process of creating AR books is not like creating ordinary books, and the production requires a different approach; in addition to editors and artists, you also need developers, programmers, 3-D modelers, animators and sound directors.”

“Adding new paths for learning, exploring, playing, puzzling, socializing and challenging will only empower the publishing industry in the near future.”

“I do not believe the metaverse will destroy books, only help them evolve into something completely new and amazing.”

This is all very nice, and is of course meant to be reassuring. In the end though it just strikes me as upside-down. Ms Belova fails to heed her own advice: “creating AR books is not like creating ordinary books” she tells us, overlooking the fact that opposite is also true. New books are not by and large dreamt up in boardrooms by people striving to find new ways to make money: they are written by authors sitting in their garrets tapping away on their own at keyboards which represent the maximum of high-techishness needed for the process. Furthermore, the economics of book publishing just doesn’t support the hiring of “developers, 3-D modelers, animators and sound directors”. Think of any book in the bestseller list: offer the straight text at $29.95 and an AR edition at $39.95, and then watch your shirt follow the whizz-bangery down the drain. It’s not just the book itself: if you refer readers to additional material, additional material has to be created, and this tends to be quite expensive. People might be willing to pay extra for a book here and there, The Guinness Book of World Records gave it a go in 2014 (see link below) and still seems to be incorporating QR codes. I suspect some interactive instructional books might also work out, but by and large book publishers are too used to complaints that books cost too much to be willing to take the risk of setting up an AR operation.

We had a flurry of enthusiasm a few years back about interactive books, and one or two such items were attempted, especially in the children’s book market. But the boring reality is that when people read a book what they seem to want is just to read a book. Even e-book demand has settled at about 20%. New markets are rarely created by some genius thinking up a brilliant idea — they come about because people develop a desire for this or that thing, and clever entrepreneurs work out how to provide it. Now, it is of course possible that one day the public will clamor for AR-assisted reading material. Possible, but I suspect, on the evidence thus far, pretty unlikely. Ms Belova, who has an iron in this fire, might of course be keen to gin up such demand.

We all know that we pathetic humans, laboring under the burden of constant social media onslaught and video game bouts, have been developing shorter and shorter attention spans, don’t we? Do you think it’s evolution, or is it an adaptation?

For myself I think it’s all simply nonsense — just a story dreamed up by bored journalists. Along with Joseph Esposito, I believe the question “Does anyone really believe that people nowadays have shorter attention spans than Dickens or Emily Brontë?” should be answered with a resounding “No”, though I fear there are lots of people who do so believe.* What we have going on today is lots and lots of potential distractors. When you are surrounded by flashing lights and loud bangs (or by bleeping smartphones) your attention will inevitably be dragged this way and that — but after a few minutes, when so many thises and thats have become normal background noise, we find that attention can still be paid. I would take some persuading to agree with anyone who told me that War and Peace or Moby Dick had become unreadable in an age of tweets and Instagram posts. Sure, most people don’t read them, but most people in 1923 didn’t either, and it wasn’t because texting had eroded their attention spans.

The context for Mr Esposito’s question is a discussion of super-short form publishing in his recent Scholarly Kitchen piece. Flash fiction, as super-short short stories are being called, has its own Wikipedia entry where you learn that it actually goes back to the thirteenth century at least. I suspect that lots of earlier examples have been lost: little things often do. The popularity of flash fiction has nothing to do with the mental capabilities of its consumers, and all to do with the authors’ quest for brevity. (Novels in Three Lines by Félix Fénéon (1861–1944), NYRB 2007, is an example not mentioned by Wikipedia.) Maybe there really are more examples coming out nowadays — but there are more examples of absolutely everything coming out now. Correlation is not causation.

Mr Esposito was convinced short form was the way forward in 2015 when I commented on his original call for publishing into the market for what he terms interstitial reading. Publishing little stories has the difficulty that you can never charge enough to make it worthwhile. It probably requires a subscription model, but that doesn’t really look too likely in the world of trade publishing.

A few years ago I did a couple of posts about vending machines dispensing free mini-stories — here is a link to the second of these. Seems to me this sort of story-vending machine may now be an obsolete technology. Why wouldn’t you get a ChatGPT app on your phone and let it rip making up unique flash fictions for you? Do you like Stephen King? OK. Perhaps Stephen King, or more appropriately Scribners, should develop an archive containing only his work, educate the AI-driven ChatGPT app on that corpus, and see if it can’t come up with new original King mini-stories. If they don’t do it, can we comfortably assume nobody else will? Heck, even if they do do it, can we assume nobody else will?†


* For those who insist that they can detect this effect in their own lives, let me just say one word — aging. The aging brain is likely to be operating at a slower rate than the teenage version. This is not caused by social media I fear.

† One wonders what the copyright status of such works might be. Seems to me © should be available to Mr King, but AI’s involvement might sway the Copyright Office the other way.