In which Alexa reads my novel to me

My wonderful kids got me an Amazon Echo Dot for Father’s Day. This is an awesome little toy. Alexa (the thing’s voice) can play music and set a timer and tell me jokes and do math problems and lots more. It didn’t take me long to discover that Alexa could read books in my Kindle library. So of course I told her to read one of my own books–in this case, Terra.

The first problem was that she insisted on narrating all the front matter–copyright statement, ISBN, etc. There should be a way to turn that off or skip through it, but I couldn’t figure it out.

Then she started reading my deathless prose. She will not be replacing professional audiobook narrators anytime soon. The meaning is reasonably clear in her narration; she pronounces the words correctly (except for the oddball name “Polkinghorne”) and she pauses between sentences. But her emphasis was consistently a bit off: she said “post OFFice” instead of “POST office”; “cell PHONE” instead of “CELL phone”. And she didn’t do dialog right: you need to drop your voice a bit when you come out of a line of dialog to identify the speaker: “Larry said” or “Vinnie said”. She didn’t do that. And of course she made no effort to characterize the speaker; they all sounded just like Alexa (she sounds great, but she doesn’t sound like Larry Barnes). I couldn’t imagine listening to her for a whole novel. I gave up after about a page.

By the way, one of the most popular posts I’ve written is the one where I contemplate whether Jeff Bezos is the Antichrist. Apparently people Google that question a lot, and my opinion comes up second, just after Jonathan Franzen’s.

Maybe I’ll ask Alexa what she thinks.

PORTAL on sale for 99 cents!

For some reason my novel PORTAL is now on sale for a mere 99 cents at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I really think you oughta buy it. Here’s its great new cover:

And here’s a random quote from a satisfied reader:

A Terrific Read! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading this. Would the promising story idea deflate once it got past the initial set-up, as so many other books do? It definitely did not, and stayed entertaining all the way through – I could not put it down. I have kids around the same age and I really felt for these boys – they’re lost and are doing whatever they can to stay alive, stay together and hopefully get home. Glad the book was complete in itself, but it would be great to see them have more adventures like this. Overall, two very enthusiastic thumbs up!


Let’s raise a glass to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize lecture

Even though (maybe especially because) he apparently plagiarized parts of it from SparkNotes, of all places. Thus saith Slate:

In Dylan’s recounting, a “Quaker pacifist priest” tells Flask, the third mate, “Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness” (my emphasis). No such line appears anywhere in Herman Melville’s novel. However, SparkNotes’ character list describes the preacher using similar phrasing, as “someone whose trials have led him toward God rather than bitterness” (again, emphasis mine).

And so on. For Dylan, plagiarism is beside the point. He isn’t just another songwriter; he is a force of nature. Here he is singing “North Country Blues” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, when he was all of 22 years old. He tells us all we need to know about offshoring and alternative energy sources and the working stiff:

Battle lines being drawn

Here’s an article about Jamie Gorelick, the high-powered progressive attorney who has become the lawyer for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Just another day in Trump’s America.

I find this interesting because the lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, was in my class at Harvard, and this has become the subject of some interest on the class mailing list. As with the head of Homeland Security, I don’t know this person, but it feels like there’s a connection. And I find myself wondering: how does this person make such a choice? The article says that she didn’t realize that some of her friend would call her a turncoat. How could she not realize this? Gorelick has done far more than I have for liberal causes, but if I were attending a reunion, I’d be hard-pressed to shake her hand, knowing that she has in any way aided Trump’s family. At the end of the article Gorelick gets emotional as she worries about the quest for “political purity”:

She teared up, reached for a tissue, and, with her voice cracking, she added, “It would be a travesty for this country to go down that road. I believe in the facts. I believe in the law. I believe if you follow that system, you will get to a fair result. I don’t see that changing. Even now.”

But what if, in following the system, she enables a bunch of people who are intent on destroying that system? How will she explain that to her grandchildren?

Here’s the song running through my head, which is much more nuanced than I’m feeling nowadays:

Double rainbow over Fenway Park

We were at the Fenway Fantasy Day yesterday, and saw this:

Here’s something we couldn’t have imagined back in the 20th century–three World Series trophies, just sitting on a table waiting to be photographed:

Here’s the view from just above the Green Monster seats, just next to the foul pole made famous by Carlton Fisk’s game-winning home run in the 1975 World Series:

OK fine, here is that home run, long before there were seats up there:

Finally, here’s the classic form of our nephew Neil, who didn’t hit the foul pole but did loft one close to the warning track. I was impressed:

Let’s count adverbs!

This post about this book (which I need to buy) is great.  Number of  -ly adverbs per 100,000 words:

Hemingway: 80

Twain: 81

Melville: 126

Austen: 128

J.K. Rowling: 140

E L James: 155

One might easily imagine that the writer of the “Fifty Shades” novels would use almost twice as many adverbs as Hemingway, but it’s nice to see some data.

The case against adverbs is pretty clear: they are often a flabby substitute for more succinct prose.  “Hurry” is punchier than “walk quickly”.  And lots of adverbs might indicate that the writer hasn’t done a lot of revising and tightening:

The Hemingway book with the highest usage rate for -ly adverbs, True at First Light, was released only after his death and is considered one of his worst works.  The same pattern is true for Faulkner and Steinbeck, namely that the most highly praised works have relatively low rates of -ly adverb usage.  Among other notable authors surveyed, D.H. Lawrence seems to be the most obvious exception to this regularity.

I often find myself editing out adverbs that I couldn’t seem to avoid in my first draft.

While I’m sort of on the subject, I enjoyed the rather strange novel Adverbs by Daniel Handler (who was much more successful with his Lemony Snicket novels).