What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?



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There seems be an attractive quality to things that are ostensibly unhealthy or dangerous.
Alisusha/Shutterstock.com

Mark Canada, Indiana University and Christina Downey, Indiana University

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

And how many times have we learned of someone – a celebrity, a friend or a loved one – who committed some self-destructive act that seemed to defy explanation? Think of the criminal who leaves a trail of evidence, perhaps with the hope of getting caught, or the politician who wins an election, only to start sexting someone likely to expose him.

Why do they do it?

Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s greatest – and most self-destructive – writers, had some thoughts on the subject. He even had a name for the phenomenon: “perverseness.” Psychologists would later take the baton from Poe and attempt to decipher this enigma of the human psyche.

Irresistible depravity

In one of his lesser-known works, “The Imp of the Perverse,” Poe argues that knowing something is wrong can be “the one unconquerable force” that makes us do it.

It seems that the source of this psychological insight was Poe’s own life experience. Orphaned before he was three years old, he had few advantages. But despite his considerable literary talents, he consistently managed to make his lot even worse.

He frequently alienated editors and other writers, even accusing poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism in what has come to be known as the “Longfellow war.” During important moments, he seemed to implode: On a trip to Washington, D.C. to secure support for a proposed magazine and perhaps a government job, he apparently drank too much and made a fool of himself.

According to Edgar Allen Poe, knowing something is wrong can make it irresistible.
Wikimedia Commons

After nearly two decades of scraping out a living as an editor and earning little income from his poetry and fiction, Poe finally achieved a breakthrough with “The Raven,” which became an international sensation after its publication in 1845.

But when given the opportunity to give a reading in Boston and capitalize on this newfound fame, Poe didn’t read a new poem, as requested.

Instead, he reprised a poem from his youth: the long-winded, esoteric and dreadfully boring “Al Aaraaf,” renamed “The Messenger Star.”

As one newspaper reported, “it was not appreciated by the audience,” evidenced by “their uneasiness and continual exits in numbers at a time.”

Poe’s literary career stalled for the remaining four years of his short life.

Freud’s ‘death drive’

While “perverseness” wrecked Poe’s life and career, it nonetheless inspired his literature.

It figures prominently in “The Black Cat,” in which the narrator executes his beloved cat, explaining, “I…hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart…hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin – a deadly sin that would so jeopardise my immortal soul as to place it – if such a thing were possible – even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.”

Why would a character knowingly commit “a deadly sin”? Why would someone destroy something that he loved?

Was Poe onto something? Did he possess a penetrating insight into the counterintuitive nature of human psychology?

A half-century after Poe’s death, Sigmund Freud wrote of a universal and innate “death drive” in humans, which he called “Thanatos” and first introduced in his landmark 1919 essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.”

Sigmund Freud wrote of a universal death drive, which he dubbed ‘Thanatos.’
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Many believe Thanatos refers to unconscious psychological urges toward self-destruction, manifested in the kinds of inexplicable behavior shown by Poe and – in extreme cases – in suicidal thinking.

In the early 1930s, physicist Albert Einstein wrote to Freud to ask his thoughts on how further war might be prevented. In his response, Freud wrote that Thanatos “is at work in every living creature and is striving to bring it to ruin and to reduce life to its original condition of inanimate matter” and referred to it as a “death instinct.”

To Freud, Thanatos was an innate biological process with significant mental and emotional consequences – a response to, and a way to relieve, unconscious psychological pressure.

Toward a modern understanding

In the 1950s, the psychology field underwent the “cognitive revolution,” in which researchers started exploring, in experimental settings, how the mind operates, from decision-making to conceptualization to deductive reasoning.

Self-defeating behavior came to be considered less a cathartic response to unconscious drives and more the unintended result of deliberate calculus.

In 1988, psychologists Roy Baumeister and Steven Scher identified three main types of self-defeating behavior: primary self-destruction, or behavior designed to harm the self; counterproductive behavior, which has good intentions but ends up being accidentally ineffective and self-destructive; and trade-off behavior, which is known to carry risk to the self but is judged to carry potential benefits that outweigh those risks.

Think of drunk driving. If you knowingly consume too much alcohol and get behind the wheel with the intent to get arrested, that’s primary self-destruction. If you drive drunk because you believe you’re less intoxicated than your friend, and – to your surprise – get arrested, that’s counterproductive. And if you know you’re too drunk to drive, but you drive anyway because the alternatives seem too burdensome, that’s a trade-off.

Baumeister and Scher’s review concluded that primary self-destruction has actually rarely been demonstrated in scientific studies.

Rather, the self-defeating behavior observed in such research is better categorized, in most cases, as trade-off behavior or counterproductive behavior. Freud’s “death drive” would actually correspond most closely to counterproductive behavior: The “urge” toward destruction isn’t consciously experienced.

Finally, as psychologist Todd Heatherton has shown, the modern neuroscientific literature on self-destructive behavior most frequently focuses on the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with planning, problem solving, self-regulation and judgment.

When this part of the brain is underdeveloped or damaged, it can result in behavior that appears irrational and self-defeating. There are more subtle differences in the development of this part of the brain: Some people simply find it easier than others to engage consistently in positive goal-directed behavior.

Poe certainly didn’t understand self-destructive behavior the way we do today.

But he seems to have recognized something perverse in his own nature. Before his untimely death in 1849, he reportedly chose an enemy, the editor Rufus Griswold, as his literary executor.

True to form, Griswold wrote a damning obituary and “Memoir,” in which he alludes to madness, blackmail and more, helping to formulate an image of Poe that has tainted his reputation to this day.

Then again, maybe that’s exactly what Poe – driven by his own personal imp – wanted.The Conversation

Mark Canada, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Indiana University and Christina Downey, Professor of Psychology, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Ten great Australian beach reads set at the beach



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The beach is a common setting for Australian novels, which often capture its darker side.
boxer_bob/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Liz Ellison, CQUniversity Australia

Australians flock to the beach over the summer holidays: Bondi alone had 2.9 million visitors in 2017 – 2018. But while tourism campaigns often portray the beach as an idyllic, isolated haven, many of our beach stories depict it as a darker, more crowded and complex place.

Here are ten Australian beach stories (in no particular order) worth reading this summer.

Floundering by Romy Ash

Romy Ash’s debut novel Floundering, shortlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin award, is a captivating, sometimes chilling story of two young boys who are taken, without warning, by their mother to a beachside caravan park.

Left to their own devices, the boys must make the most of their time by the beach without anything but their school bags and uniforms.

The un-named regional beach in this novel is uncomfortable, “a location of risk and danger” as author Robert Drewe once described it, and sometimes reveals the worst ways in which nature and humanity meet. It’s a refuge for people looking to escape from city life, a stark comparison to more urbanised beaches.

Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey

When I tell people that I research the Australian beach, often their first response is to ask if I’ve watched Puberty Blues. Perhaps Australia’s most iconic beach text, the book (first published in 1979) is the story of two friends growing up in beachside suburbs of Sydney. It was adapted for film by Bruce Beresford in 1981.

Both the book and film, with their characteristic colloquialisms and Australian slang, capture a sense of Australian coastal identity while revealing uncomfortable truths about gender, sex, and drugs for the teenagers they depict.

Australian stories about the beach are often male-centred and written by men. Puberty Blues is an important contribution to beach literature because of Debbie and Sue, its female protagonists, and their perspectives on a blokey world.

Time’s Long Ruin by Stephen Orr

In 1966, the three Beaumont children disappeared from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide. They were last seen in the company of a tall, blond man. Despite continued searching, even earlier this year, they have never been found.

Time’s Long Ruin (2010) is a fictionalised account of the disappearance of three children as told through the eyes of their young neighbour. Loosely based on the Beaumont story, Orr captures the dread of the aftermath for those left behind who knew and loved the children, the challenge of dealing with false leads and unreliable information, and the growing realisation that they will likely never be found.

The case of the Beaumont children had an enormous impact on Australian culture. My mother, who was a young girl when they disappeared, still recalls how her parents would worry about her momentarily being out of sight at the beach at this time.

Breath by Tim Winton

Breath, published in 2008, earned Tim Winton his fourth Miles Franklin award and was recently adapted into a film, directed by and starring Simon Baker.

On the surface, this novel is about surfing. But it asks deep questions about masculinity, and boys’ attitudes towards sex, while capturing the feel of Australian coastal life in the 1970s.

Winton’s writings often engage with the ocean, the coast, and the beach – usually in West Australia, where he lives. His memoirs have revealed his love for the coastal landscape. As he writes in Land’s Edge (1993): “There is nowhere else I’d rather be, nothing else I’d rather be doing. I am at the beach looking west with the continent behind me as the sun tracks down to the sea. I have my bearings”.

The Empty Beach by Peter Corris

Peter Corris died in August, after publishing 102 novels. The Empty Beach (1983) was released early in his career and is the fourth novel featuring the private investigator Cliff Hardy – a homegrown, hard-boiled detective, firmly located in Sydney. It was adapted for film in 1985.

In this book, Hardy is investigating the disappearance of John Singer, missing and presumed dead. He begins his probe in the rough, working class Bondi of the early 1980s. Corris captures Bondi Beach through the eyes of his protagonist, depicting it as a seedy extension of the city.

Hassled by junkies, threatened by mobsters; Hardy spends much of the novel embroiled in the corrupt underbelly of Sydney’s criminal kingpins, never far from the now infamous shoreline.

The True Colour of the Sea, by Robert Drewe

Having lived in many coastal spots across the country, including Perth, Sydney, and Byron Bay, Robert Drewe’s stories regularly capture that very familiar, domestic sense of a beachside life.

Drewe’s The Bodysurfers (1987), a collection of short stories, became a bestseller.

His memoirs and short stories are all infused by the beach landscape, and this latest collection is no different.

As the narrator writes in Dr Pacific, the opening story in his new collection:
“One thing’s for sure – it’s my love of the ocean that keeps me going. You know what I call the ocean? Dr Pacific. All I need to keep me fit and healthy is my daily consultation with Dr Pacific.”

Atomic City by Sally Breen

Sally Breen lives and works on the Gold Coast, and that strip of high density development on the beach works its way into much of her writing.

With its high rise skyline under a big sky, Surfers Paradise has been called a “pleasure dome” by Frank Moorhouse. But Atomic City (published in 2013), set largely in the lofty apartment buildings and businesses that abut, and look out on, the beach, captures perfectly the grift and graft of this place.

Jade arrives on the Gold Coast to make herself over and get rich. Together with shady croupier “The Dealer” this is a beach tale of cons, scams and identity theft.

Not Meeting Mr Right by Anita Heiss

Prominent Australian Indigenous author Anita Heiss straddles both fiction and non-fiction, with her work often grounded in ideas around Indigenous identity. Her series of “chick lit” novels includes Not Meeting Mr Right (first published in 2007).

In the novel, Alice lives beachside in Coogee and regularly walks the coastal path between it and Bondi. A proudly single, Indigenous woman, Alice has a change of heart about marriage and decides to get serious about settling down – which means embarking on the rocky road towards finding love. In contrast to the challenges – including racism – she encounters along the way, the beach is a comfortably ordinary presence in this novel. However, Heiss also parodied the white Australian beach experience in an earlier book Sacred Cows (1996).

After January by Nick Earls

If you grew up in Brisbane when I did, there was a high chance you were reading a Nick Earls novel or seeing one adapted into a play. After January (first published in 1996) is one of Earls’ first works for young adult readers, and is set in the long break after finishing high school.

Alex is on holidays at Caloundra in his family’s beach house, a teenage boy uncomfortable in his skin but comfortable in the ocean. Although now more than 20 years old, this story still captures the uncertainty of burgeoning adulthood and the comfort the ocean can bring.

Bluebottle by Belinda Castles

For many Australians, the beach can be wrapped up in childhood memory. These memories can blend and blur. In my mind, my summers spent at the beach with my grandparents were never-ending, from the moment school finished until the day before I was set to return. In reality, we spent some time there, often weekends, and certainly never the entire school holidays.

Belinda Castles’ Bluebottle tells the story of the Bright family, and is filled with that uncomfortable tension that arises when we realise memory is fallible. Siblings Jack and Lou recount key moments from their childhood, starting with the disappearance of a local school girl and their father’s unpredictable purchase of a beachside property in Bilgola, Sydney. However, they learn that growing older can change perspectives on the past and, like the beach, it can be hard to tell what’s under the surface while the waves distort our view.The Conversation

Liz Ellison, Lecturer in Creative Industries, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What big data can tell us about how a book becomes a best-seller



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Factors ranging from the timing of a book’s release to its subject matter can determine whether it will crack the vaunted list.
Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com

Albert-László Barabási, Northeastern University

The average American reads 12 or 13 books a year, but with over 3 million books in print, the choices they face are staggering.

Despite the introduction of 100,000 new titles each year, only a tiny fraction of these attract a large enough readership to make The New York Times best-seller list.

Which raises the questions: How does a book become a best-seller, and which types of books are more likely to make the list?

I’m a data scientist. Recently, with help of Burcu Yucesoy, a postdoc in my lab, I put the reading habits of Americans under our data microscope.

We did so by analyzing the sales patterns of the 2,468 fiction and 2,025 nonfiction titles that made The New York Times best-seller list for hardcovers during the last decade.

Real lives, imaginary action

The first thing the data reminded me is just how few books in my favorite category, science, become best-sellers – a paltry 1.1 percent. Science books compete for a spot on the nonfiction list with everything from business to history, sports to religion.

Yet, on the whole, hardcovers in these categories don’t fly off the shelves, either.

Which nonfiction titles do? Memoir and biographies, with almost half of the 2,025 nonfiction best-sellers falling into this category.

Then we examined the fiction list. Much of the press focuses on literary fiction – books we see debated by critics, lauded as important and culturally relevant, and eventually taught in schools.

But in the past decade, only 800 books categorized as literary fiction made the best-seller list. Most best-sellers – 67 percent of all fiction titles – represent plot-driven genres like mystery or romance or the kind of thrillers that Danielle Steel and Clive Cussler write.

Action sells – there’s no surprise there.

But it was unexpected the degree to which only a handful of authors repeatedly appear: Eight-five percent of best-selling novelists have landed multiple books on the list. Mystery and thriller novelist James Patterson, for example, had 51 books on the best-seller list in the period we explored.

James Patterson has sold over 100 million copies of his book, grossing more than US$1 billion in sales.
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

By contrast, only 14 percent of nonfiction authors had more than one best-selling book. Perhaps this is because the genre often requires expertise on a specific subject matter. If an author primarily writes about football, or neuroscience, or even her own life, it’s difficult to generate 10 books on the topic.

A universal sales curve

Publishers eagerly slap “New York Times Bestseller” stickers on each book that appears on the list’s 15 slots.

A quarter of those, however, have only a cameo appearance, briefly grabbing a spot at the bottom of the list and dropping out after a single week. Only 37 percent have some staying power and spend more than four weeks on the best-seller list. Even fewer – 8 percent – attain the number one spot.

Some rare exceptions can lease out a spot for years: “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett lingered on the fiction list for an astonishing 131 weeks, while Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken” stayed on the nonfiction list for a record 203 weeks.

One big misconception is that you have to write a mega-seller to make the list. The majority of titles on The New York Times best-seller list only sell between 10,000 and 100,000 copies in their first year. “The Slippery Year,” a 2009 memoir by Melanie Gideon, made the list with a yearly sale of fewer than 5,000 copies.

How is this possible?

Our data set shows that just about your only chance of making the list is right after your publication date.

That’s because book sales, we discovered, follow a universal sales curve – there’s a single mathematical formula that captures the weekly sales of all books. And that sales curve has a prominent peak right after the release, meaning you sell the most copies during the first weeks after your book’s release. Fiction sales almost always peak within the first two to six weeks; for nonfiction, the peak can come any time during the first 15 weeks.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/A6uG3/1/

While you might assume that there would be overlooked books that build their audiences slowly and eventually make it onto the hallowed list, there really aren’t.

It’s all about the timing

In other words, what happens during a brief window of time can foretell a book’s success.

For this reason, the timing of the release matters a great deal, especially since the threshold to reach the list varies throughout the year.

In February or March, selling a few thousand copies can land a book on the best-seller list; in December – when sales skyrocket during the holidays – selling 10,000 copies a week might not guarantee a book a spot.

So when should authors publish?

It depends on their circumstances. If they lack a strong fan base, and their hope is to simply make it onto the best-seller list, it’s best to aim for February or March.

At the same time, appearing on The New York Times best-seller list doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a book will sell more copies. Research shows that appearing on the list tends to boost sales only for unknown authors, and the effect disappears after one to three weeks.

So for well-known authors or celebrities who already have built-in fan bases, appearing on the best-seller list might not matter as much. Instead, they’ll likely want to maximize sales – in which case, it’s best to publish in late October: The release will coincide with peak sales in December, when bookstores are packed with Christmas shoppers.

The good news is that if you’re like me – and have written several books that didn’t end up as best-sellers – you still have a chance to break through: Our analysis shows that only 14 percent of novelists made the list with their first book.The Conversation

Albert-László Barabási, Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science, Northeastern University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Milkman by Anna Burns & Difficult Books


The link below is to an article that explores the need for difficult books and comments on the 2018 Man Booker winner, ‘Milkman,’ by Anna Burns.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/nov/10/anna-burns-milkman-difficult-novel

Sound Effects and Music Added to Ebooks


The link below is to an article reporting on Google Home and Disney adding sound effects and music to ebooks.

For more visit:
https://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/google-home-and-disney-adds-sound-effects-and-music-to-books

The Length of Books/Ebooks


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the length of books/ebooks – are books/ebooks getting longer?

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/21/the-guardian-view-on-lengthening-books-read-them-and-weep

From Tolkien to Burgess: the ethics of posthumous publication



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An artistic interpretation of a Nazgul from The Lord of the Rings.
wikipedia/NazgulfanartDanijel, CC BY

Andrew Biswell, Manchester Metropolitan University

The publication of The Fall of Gondolin by JRR Tolkien completes a publishing project that began in the distant past of 1977, when Christopher Tolkien edited The Silmarillion, the first volume of his father’s posthumous stories.

When Tolkien senior died in 1973, he left four full length published novels and a mass of uncollected papers behind him. His youngest son Christopher, now aged 93, has spent almost half a lifetime annotating his father’s work and preparing it for publication. The 12 volumes of the History of Middle-earth provide an astonishingly detailed account of the languages and landscapes of Tolkien’s fictional world.

This monument of scholarship allows readers of The Lord of the Rings to gain the fullest possible understanding of the careful preparation which stood behind the handful of books published by Tolkien in his lifetime.

As a literary critic who specialises in archival work, I admire the heroic labours of the Tolkien estate in presenting the author’s private papers, letters and illustrations to a wide readership of scholars and enthusiasts. But not all heirs and executors take the same view when it comes to publishing posthumous work, and there are often ethical problems arising from an author’s drafts and manuscripts.

The Larkin Letters

When the first edition of Philip Larkin’s posthumous Collected Poems appeared in 1988, many readers were dismayed to find that the editor had chosen to include a large number of unfinished poems and apprentice work written when Larkin was a student. Critics of that volume argued that Larkin would never have allowed publication of this inferior work, and the overall effect was to diminish the impact of the poems he valued.

Publication of the Collected Poems was followed in 1992 by a volume of Larkin’s letters (heavily cut to remove libels), which revealed the poet to have been seething with racist prejudices. It took many years for Larkin’s reputation to recover from these deep wounds, which had been administered by his own literary executors. There will be no posthumous edition of Larkin’s diaries, which were shredded shortly after his death, according to his own instructions.




Read more:
After years of scandal, Philip Larkin finally has a spot in Poets’ Corner


Virginia Woolf’s letters and journals offer a positive counter example. Edited by her nephew Quentin Bell and published posthumously, Woolf’s Diaries have established themselves as an inspiring series of books for everyone who studies her novels. The pleasure of watching over Woolf’s shoulder as she documents the ups and downs of her writing life is immense.

The ‘lost’ works of Auden and Burgess

Other writers have attempted to take control of their reputations more directly. W.H. Auden, who died in 1973, stipulated in his will that no edition of his letters should be published, and he requested that anyone who had letters in their possession should burn them. Fortunately for posterity, many of his friends had already sold their batches of Auden letters to university archives, and other people simply ignored his wishes. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that an edited collection of Auden’s letters will ever appear.

Edward Mendelson, who is Auden’s literary executor, recently wrote an article in which he discussed his own ethical dilemmas as the editor of the Collected Poems. Mendelson’s guiding principle has been to value the poems that Auden chose to include in his two volumes of Collected Longer Poems and Collected Shorter Poems.

But what to do about the poems published in magazines but excluded from Auden’s books? Those appear in the Collected Poems on the grounds that Auden had signed them off for publication. And what about the rejected early work, such as the poem “Spain” – a response to the Spanish Civil War published in pamphlet form but later excluded from the Collected Shorter Poems? That does appear in The English Auden, an edition of poems written in the 1930s, but it is absent from the Collected Poems.

There is another category of “lost” work by Auden, existing only in manuscripts and notebooks, but never collected in book form. Mendelson has recently unveiled his plans to publish some of these poems, carefully edited and contextualised, in a volume of Auden’s “Personal Writing”, which will include poems and verse-letters written for friends. But none of this work will be finding its way into the next edition of the Collected Poems.

Anyone who manages a literary estate faces hard questions about what should or should not be published. In September 2018 Manchester University Press will publish Paul Wake’s edition of Puma, a science fiction novel by Anthony Burgess. The manuscript, completed in 1976, was unpublished in Burgess’s lifetime, but letters in the archive confirm that he was actively seeking to find a publisher shortly after he’d written it. What readers will make of this “lost” novel by Burgess remains to be seen.

The Tolkien example is a story of a son’s devotion to his father’s work and there is much to admire in Christopher Tolkien’s determination to put as much unpublished writing as possible into the public domain.

For the future, as electronic communication becomes more pervasive, it seems likely that writers will find it harder to delete published work from the record, or to edit their past in the ways evidenced by Auden and Larkin. If only they had survived into the age of social media, their Collected Tweets might have been required reading for every diligent student of their poems.The Conversation

Andrew Biswell, Professor of Modern Literature, Manchester Metropolitan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Insta Novels’


The links below are to articles that take a look at novels on Instagram.

For more visit:
https://bookriot.com/2018/08/22/nypl-insta-novels/
https://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/will-anyone-read-ebooks-on-instagram
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/08/new-york-public-library-initiates-insta-novels-classics-instagram/