Write Now with Scrivener Podcast, Episode No. 3: J.T. Ellison, Thriller Author

J.T. Ellison has written more than 25 novels: standalone thrillers, three series, and has recently published the first in a series of co-authored young adult novels. She co-hosts a literary TV show, and is also a publisher. She also “loves Scrivener with the passion of a thousand fiery suns.”

Show notes:

Learn more about Scrivener, and check out the ebook Take Control of Scrivener.

If you like the podcast, please follow it in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app. Leave a rating or review, and tell your friends. And check out past episodes of Write Now with Scrivener.

Kirk’s Picks No. 10 – David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 [Book]

David Hockney’s new exhibit of art created on an iPad celebrates the arrival of spring during lockdown.

Theme music: Honest Labor, composed and performed by Timo Andres.

If you enjoyed the podcast, follow it on Apple Podcasts or in your favorite podcast app. For show notes and links to my pick, go to kirkville.com/picks. You can support this podcast by purchasing items via my affiliate links, or you can sign up for my Patreon and donate a few bucks a month.

Kirk’s Picks No. 9 – In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust [Book]

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time is one of the richest novels ever written, one that may be with you for the rest of your life.

Theme music: Honest Labor, composed and performed by Timo Andres.

If you enjoyed the podcast, follow it on Apple Podcasts or in your favorite podcast app. For show notes and links to my pick, go to kirkville.com/picks. You can support this podcast by purchasing items via my affiliate links, or you can sign up for my Patreon and donate a few bucks a month.

Happy 150th Birthday Marcel Proust

IMG 1862Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of French author Marcel Proust, and, as such, I’ve just started my fifth reading of his seven-volume novel A la recherche du temps perdu. Known in English as either Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time,

Even those who haven’t read the novel may have heard about the incident when the narrator dips a madeleine – a small cake – into a cup of tea, and takes a bite, these flavors unlocking a torrent of memories from his childhood. Memory and time are the two threads that flow constantly through the novel, and Samuel Beckett said, in his 1931 essay about the work, that the “entire book is a monument to involuntary memory and the epic of its action.”

You read Proust because it’s a literary Everest, but you fall in love with the novel because of the depth of its characters, and the way Proust makes you see the world through his eyes. You may have heard that it’s hard to read Proust: the novel is seven volumes long, and there are sentences that stretch on for hundreds of words. But it’s not hard, you just have to adapt to his style. The key that unlocked it for me was when I listened to an audiobook version of the novel in French, and realized that Proust’s writing is just the spoken word on the page. Once you understand that, you appreciate the cadences of his writing.

I first read La recherche in the early 1980s, when Terrence Killmartin’s revision of Scott Montcrieff translation was released in three huge volumes. I read it while commuting from Queens to Manhattan, perhaps 20 or 30 pages a day. When I moved to France in 1984 – initially to spend a year, but eventually staying in the country nearly three decades – I was optimistic. The very first book I bought was the compact, three-volume, leather-bound, bible-paper Pléiade edition of the novel. It took me a few years to get through the book – Proust used a vocabulary of more than 18,000 words in his novel – but after that, I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve read it every ten years or so, including once listening to a 128-hour audiobook recording in French. And so I embark, once again, on this journey.

In English, you have two choices. The Montcrieff/Kilmartin translation, titled Remembrance of Things Past. While not a literal translation of the title, Montcrieff took a line from a Shakespeare sonnet, feeling it was more poetic. This translation is arguably a bit old-fashioned, and doesn’t benefit from an updated edition of the French text published in the late 1980s, partly so the publisher, Gallimand, could retain copyright when the work was going into the public domain, but also to add a number of texts that had been discovered in the 1980s, including manuscript corrections that Proust made shortly before his death, but which had never been included in the work before.

The other option is the Penguin translation, completed in 2002, where each volume is rendered by a different translator. While this is a quick way to get this done, it does create inconsistencies. Titled In Search of Lost Time, this translation does contain the found texts of the newer French edition, and also takes into account the many corrections added to the 1987 Pléiade update.

And, to complicate things, there is even a revised version of the revision of Montrcieff’s translation, published by Modern Library, adopting the In Search of Lost Time title.

There are pros and cons to each translation, and I’ll put links below to articles about each of them, as well as a link to articles I’ve written about Proust on my website.

No matter which one you choose, should you wish to embark on this journey, you’ll discover one of the richest novels ever written, one that may be with you for the rest of your life.

Kirk’s Picks No. 8 – Foregone, by Russell Banks [Book]

Foregone, the new novel by Russell Banks, is a moving novel about the past, about truth, and about the acceptance of death.

Theme music: Honest Labor, composed and performed by Timo Andres.

If you enjoyed the podcast, follow it on Apple Podcasts or in your favorite podcast app. For show notes and links to my pick, go to kirkville.com/picks. You can support this podcast by purchasing items via my affiliate links, or you can sign up for my Patreon and donate a few bucks a month.

Kirk’s Picks No. 4 – Amazon Unbound, Brad Stone [Book]

Brad Stone’s Amazon Unbound looks at the history of Amazon, and Jeff Bezos, since the release of his previous book The Everything Store.

Theme music: Honest Labor, composed and performed by Timo Andres.

If you enjoyed the podcast, follow it on Apple Podcasts or in your favorite podcast app. For show notes and links to my pick, go to kirkville.com/picks. You can support this podcast by purchasing items via my affiliate links, or you can sign up for my Patreon and donate a few bucks a month.

Write Now with Scrivener, Episode No. 2: Dan Moren, Science Fiction Author, Journalist, and Podcaster

Dan Moren juggles a triple career: that of a science fiction author, tech journalist, and podcaster. He discusses his the “sci-fi espionage capers” he writes, how he transitioned from journalism to fiction, and how he has used Scrivener to write each of his novels.

Read more on the Scrivener Blog.

Learn more about Scrivener, and check out the ebook Take Control of Scrivener.

If you like the podcast, please follow it in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app. Leave a rating or review, and tell your friends. And check out past episodes of Write Now with Scrivener.

The Next Track, Episode #177 – Author Michael Connelly on Music in the Harry Bosch Novels and TV Series

Michael Connelly writes crime fiction, and his character Harry Bosch loves jazz. We talk with Michael about how he decided what music Bosch liked, and how he uses music in the novels and TV series.

Help support The Next Track by making regular donations via Patreon. We’re ad-free and self-sustaining so your support is what keeps us going. Thanks!

Support The Next Track.

Find out more at The Next Track website, or follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast.

When Books about Science Aren’t Fact Checked, I Can’t Trust Anything in Them

This weekend, I started reading This Is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel Levitin. He is a neuroscientist who had previously been a professional musician, and the book explores why we enjoy music and how it affects the brain.

It started off interestingly, showing that this was a book by a scientist exploring a topic in which he had personal experience. But then I got to a few areas where he made ridiculous statements, a couple of which were outlandish, and one that was just false. This showed that the book had not been fact checked, and made me wonder about everything else in it: if there were mistakes like this, they cast doubt on everything the author says.

The author was discussing the way information is stored in the brain, comparing it with the way data is stored on computers. He says:

People who work with image files all the time are able to look at the stream of 0s and 1s and tell something about the nature of the photograph—not at the level of whether it is a human or a horse, perhaps, but things like how much red or gray is in the picture, how sharp the edges are, and so forth. They have learned to read the code that represents the picture.

This is simply ridiculous. You cannot tell anything about the contents of any file from “the stream of 0s and 1s.” You could tell something about some types of files if you look at the hexadecimal interpretation of those 0s and 1s, but only if they contain metadata (such as the type of file, the creation date, etc.). There is nothing in a file that gives you any idea of its contents by simply looking at the raw data.

He doubles down shortly after the above statement:

Similarly, audio files are stored in binary format, as sequences of 0s and 1s. The 0s and 1s represent whether or not there is any sound at particular parts of the frequency spectrum. Depending on its position in the file, a certain sequence of 0s and 1s will indicate if a bass drum or a piccolo is playing.

I think the only polite thing that I can say is that this is fantastical. The idea that “a certain sequence of 0s and 1s” in any way suggests which instrument is playing, which note is played, or anything at all is ludicrous. Audio files are sampled 44,100 per second, meaning that in each second of music, there are 44,100 discrete segments, combined in “frames,” of audio data. Each of these frames of data contains an abstraction of the sound, and it is not broken up into sections for which instrument is playing, what note is played, etc. The fact that a scientist can write this, and that a publisher fact checked it, is literally beyond belief.

Finally, there’s this:

The research on the development of the first MRI scanners was performed by the British company EMI, financed in large part from their profits on Beatles records. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” might well have been titled “I Want to Scan Your Brain.

Alas, this is the kind of thing that, perhaps, one may have remembered hearing, but that a fact checker should have corrected. It was the CT scan that EMI developed; the history of the MRI is quite complex and took a long time to become a viable diagnostic tool. It began in the 1950s, and took a couple of decades to become useful.

It is beyond disappointing to read this sort of error. I know about these things, and was able to detect them, but I don’t know much about the other things – such as how the brain works – that the author discusses. So there’s no way of knowing whether he is correct, and I simply cannot read a scientific book with this doubt in my mind.

Binge Reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher Novels

Reacher

In early December, I decided that I wanted to spend some time reading a series of books. I’ve been reading mysteries and crime fiction for decades, and this is a genre where there are very long series, such as, for example, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, which ran for 40 volumes, until the death of the author. Unfortunately – and I’ll discuss this more later – his estate decided that it was worth containing novels with that character written by others. One of them was unfinished at his death, and his agent completed it, and there have been eight more since then, writing by Ace Atkins.

So I went back through the series that I enjoy, and decided to re-read Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. I had read about a dozen of them, many years ago, but had not gone any further. So I decided to buy all of the books, a few at a time, and read them. I completed the first 23 novels (and one volume of the "complete collected short stories") in about two months, and put off reading the latest (or last) one until a few days ago. I thought that I would perhaps save that one for a time when I wanted to dip back into the character, but decided to complete the series.

What I didn’t know when I began re-reading these books is that the latest novel, Blue Moon, is the last one. Not really, though. It’s only the last one that Lee Child will write. He’s announced his retirement and is passing the series on to his brother, Andrew Grant. (Lee Child is a pen name of James Grant.) I have no real interest in reading books by a surrogate author, so I won’t be reading any more.

The Jack Reacher novels are light reads. They read quickly, and, in some cases, I was able to complete one in an evening. They are well plotted and well paced, but relatively simple in execution. Reacher is an interesting character, a man who roams, almost, as Child has said, like a knight errant. He helps damsels (and dudes) in distress, out of a code of honor that he learned in the military. He has no attachments, and never stays anywhere more than a few days, unless he’s in a novel. This is, of course, somewhat unrealistic, but it is similar to the way in westerns some stranger would come into town, then ride off into the sunset.

He’s a very big man: 6′ 5" tall, or nearly a foot taller than Tom Cruise who played him in two movies, and weighs 250 lbs. Because of this, fans of the series could not accept Cruise’s depiction, and a TV series is on the works for Amazon.

He is also a violent man, with the reptilian part of his brain often taking over. But he also has a propensity for meeting female cops – and sleeping with them – so, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his lack of fine traits, seems to make women swoon easily, even though he is often described as "ugly." But they know he won’t stay long, so his exploits – always tastefully written – are just punctuations to complex stories of crime and punishment.

The books follow Reacher after he leaves the Army, where he was an MP, and there are a couple of books that reach back to when he was still active in the military, including one which leads directly into the first book. His understanding of the military and his experience as an MP gives him a unique outlook on crime, and he is a believable character.

in the first novel, Child writes a lot in an almost Hemingwayesque style. Which he later drops. Though it comes back again at times. While that style may work with the character, it’s a bit frustrating. Another element that I find annoying – and that I skip – is the detailed descriptions of firearms, with an almost erotic discussion of their features, muzzle speeds, and deadly effects. The fight scenes are also too detailed for my taste. Some fights – often fisticuffs, rather than gun battles – run for a few pages, and I just read the first sentence of each paragraph to know what’s happening, because the details aren’t important. I do understand that some people like that stuff though.

Over 23 books, there are a few duds, but for the most part, these are top-shelf crime novels. Child’s plotting is confusing in a couple of the novels, but it’s never the type of Harlan Coben-esque plot where you think you know what’s happening, then something unexpected happens, then something else unexpected happens, and so on. I find this fatiguing; it’s almost as if the author is toying with readers. Reading a Jack Reacher novel, you know what you’re getting: a clear ethical dilemma in which honor wins. His choices are sometimes illegal, but one can understand his reasoning.

Child is very careful to make sure that Reacher’s stern morality is constantly present, but he also constantly underscores some of the character’s weaknesses, such as his total cluelessness with technology. When computers, then mobile phones, come into the story, Reacher is always fat fingered and perplexed about these devices, though eventually manages to figure them out enough to exploit them when needed, as in the final novel, Blue Moon. (It’s a minor plot point, but I won’t include spoilers.) Reacher has many quirks, some of which reflect the author’s lifestyle (he drinks as much coffee as he can) and others which, hopefully, do not (he never washes clothes, but buys new clothes every few days and throws the dirty ones away).

As series go, the Jack Reacher novels are quite strong. There are highs and lows over this many books, and rarely do people read so many in such a short time, as I did. Reading like this allows you to see the similarities that may jar during a binge, but which are reassuring when you read one a year.

If you like this sort of novel, check them out. You won’t be disappointed.