Search Results for: label/The Oxford English Dictionary

The Professor and the Madman – The Making of a Dictionary

The making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Simon Winchester. Harper Collins. Published in 1998.

The prompt for writing a quick review of this book is that I just started a third title by the same author, Simon Winchester, The Crack at the Edge of the World, and couldn’t help but remember with fondness – yes, I used the word ‘fondness’ in regard to reading a book about how a dictionary was written – when I read The Professor and the Madman. Winchester is to my knowledge the developer and foremost practitioner of an immensely entertaining historical-narrative literary style whereby he lures us into turning page after page (rapidly) of a history book by telling a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story that reads like pulp fiction, and yes, which is set within a larger historical context and moment.

Erik Larson followed the pattern in Devil in the White City , introducing us to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and how it changed the history of America through the lurid tale of a serial killer who was as big as Jack the Ripper before Jack found his first victim. In some parallel ways, Sebastian Junger employed this model, telling us about seemingly mundane things – the deep sea fishing industry, the physics of waves, the types of North Atlantic storms, and a little of the history of Gloucester, Massachusetts – through the sensational story of the crew of the Andrea Gail in his book The Perfect Storm, even better known for the George Clooney movie.

What is the historical setting and importance of the Professor and the Madman? The writing of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), of course. Now, without making any claims of being an academic, I must admit that topic kind of, sort of interested me anyway. I like the history of words and their definitions. But enough to read a book? I’m not sure. Even if it’s less than 300 pages? Still not sure. It may never have reached the top of the stack. But even if you aren’t that interested in what made the OED the finest reference work of its day – and perhaps the greatest reference ever created – the story of Dr. Charles Minor, the man who contributed thousands of entries, all painstakingly researched and neatly written from his home in Crowthorne, England, just 50 miles from Oxford, just might hook you.

What tied Minor to the OED and made his role so remarkable? Was it that he was an American creating something so peculiarly British? Nope. There was no snobbery as a sub theme. That he was a veteran of the Civil War, where he was surgeon for the troops of the North? Interesting, but not interesting enough to bring a dictionary to life. Was it that he maintained a long distance relationship with Professor James Murray – strictly by correspondence – for decades, despite numerous invitations from Murray to attend fundraising dinners or just stop by the office to meet due to his prolific 10 thousand entries? Not even close. Was it that he thought Irishmen were … and that one night he went out and … and because of that he ended up living in … ? Yes. Yes. And yes.

Spoiler alert. If you don’t want to know what each “yes” represents, now is the time to stop! [Read more…]

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – A Review

review of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

First things first. The title has nothing to do with IQ. The first character is the number 1 so the title is a play on George Orwell’s 1984. Just in case you were wondering if I selected the title because of a possible correlation in title and my intellect!

If you aren’t familiar with Japanese author Murakami, his novels are critically acclaimed – he has been awarded the Franz Kafka Prize, the Jerusalem Prize and many others – and are a fantastical mix of surrealism and a rich (sometimes dense) detailing of everyday life. He consistently deals with themes of loneliness and alienation, the self and reality (and especially perception/imagination and reality). 1Q84 tackles all that and adds acute questions of the-ends-justify-the-means murder, religion and cults, destiny, sexual abuse, revenge, and parallel realities. Oh, it takes a while to catch on, but first and foremost, it is a love story. Really.

Was it listening to Janacek’s Sinfonietta that sent Aomame (“sweet pea”) into another world with two moons? Did Tengo see the same two moons when he rewrote Fuka-eri’s crude draft of Air Chrysalis? (And by the way, was that a story from the fevered imagination of a 17-year-old girl or was she describing things that actually happened?) Will either of them survive the revenge of a cult group called Sakigake and the brilliant and relentless pursuit of Ushikawa – a man with a large misshapen head that shouldn’t be able to follow anyone without being noticed? And what of the “Little People” – who seem to hold special powers in 1Q84 and that seem to be looking for a bridge to 1984 – are they neutral or as malevolent as we suspect? And the big question: did Aomame and Tengo have to enter 1Q84 to find each other after 20 excruciating years of separation from each other and disconnect from the world around them? I don’t think it’s a spoiler alert to say that they became soul mates at age 10.

Enough. You’re with me or not. If I’ve scared you off completely, don’t run away before reading the last sentence of this paragraph. If you’ve read other reviews I’ve written what you might have already discovered is I don’t actually review books – I recommend books. Sometimes quite different books.  I know Murakami is not for everyone – though 1Q84 sold a million copies in Japan alone – and I’ll have to admit, it’s not my usual fare. But I recommend this book for its dense, other-worldly beauty – reading it creates that curious sensation of wanting (even needing and willing) it to be done and to never end.

The original Japanese version was published in 2010 and the English translation was introduced in 2011. I read the lovely boxed set (very reasonably priced on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and others) that was given to me as a gift by my son Merrick.

Bestselling Books of 2012

2012 was a good year to sell books as an author if your last name was James or Collins.

The January 4, 2012, online of edition of Publishers Weekly provided a chart with three bestseller lists, all dominated at the top by Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James) and The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins).

Bestselling Books of 2012
Nielsen Bookscan Top 20
Amazon Kindle Top 20
Amazon Print Top 20
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Greyby E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darkerby E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)1
4. The Hunger Gamesby Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
8. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
9. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
9. Bared to You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
10. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
10. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
10. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
11. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
11. Reflected in You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
11. The Hunger Games Trilogy Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
12. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson)
12. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)
12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
13. Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
14. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
14. War Brides by Helen Bryan (AmazonEncore)
14. The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd Edition by the College Board (The College Board)
15. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)2
15. A Game of Thronesby George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
15. A Song of Fire and Ice, Books 1–4 by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)3
16. The Innocent by David Baldacci (Grand Central)
16. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
17. The Hunger Games Triology Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
17. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
17. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (Amer. Psychological Assn.)
18. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Little, Brown)
18. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
18. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
19. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
19. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner)
19. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House)
20. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
20. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Berkley)
20. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander (Simon & Schuster)
Nielsen/BookScan (week ending Dec. 30, 2012)
Amazon Kindle (as of Dec. 31, 2012)
Amazon (as of Dec. 31, 2012)

RIP Stan Musial: Just a Few of His Incredible Numbers

Stan Musial died at age 92 - he was married 71 years.

Hall of Fame baseball player Stan Musial died on Saturday, January 19, 2013, at age 92.

Just a few numbers to consider:

  • 22 seasons in the major leagues (1941-1963), all with Saint Louis
  • 3,630 hits – 4th all time
  • 1815 hits at home
  • 1815 hits on road
  • 3,026 games – 6th all time
  • 6,134 total bases – 2nd all time
  • 20 straight years as an all star
  • 3 NL MVPS
  • 3 World Series championships as a player
But perhaps the most impressive number and the true measure of his greatness.
71 years married to the same woman.
A tip of the hat and shout out to the legend known by his fans as “Stan the Man”!

Contact Page

Snail Mail:

2000 Mallory Lane, Suite 130-229, Franklin, Tennessee 37067

The Four Queens of Crime – When Women Ruled Murder Mysteries

Ngaio Marsh was one of the Four Queens of Murder.While growing up I consumed a lot of Agatha Christie novels – I even solved one of the murders before the ending. (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.) I met another of my favorite “locked room mystery” authors – almost as popular as Christie – when I was a junior or senior in high school – Ngaio Marsh.

Marsh was born in New Zealand and split time between there and London. She wrote 32 crime novels and was considered along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Margery Allingham one of the “Queens of Crime.” Women novelists dominated the genre in the 20s and 30s – and they don’t do too bad today either.

Marsh’s most famous character was Inspector Roderick Alleyn. Alleyn was smart and witty but didn’t have the noir edge of a Spade and Marlowe – two detectives “across the pond” as mysteries and all genres became more “modern” and heroes were shown with all their flaws.

Circling back to read A Man Lay Dead took me back to a different era of entertainment, when even murder was polite, civilized, and almost wholesome!

I highlighted Ngaio Marsh from a Pinterest board I keep with book covers that feature my favorite spies, detectives, hit men, and vigilantes.

 

Don’t Eat That Frog First

Eat that frog?

Eat that frog?

In his bestselling book, Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy tackles the issue of personal productivity with 21 ways to conquer procrastination, beginning with his classic breakfast recipe :

If the first thing you do when you wake up each morning is eat a live frog, nothing worse can happen the rest of the day!

If you’ve ever met Brian, read one of his books or heard him speak, you know what a disciplined, talented, savvy communicator – and person – he is. I have a lot of admiration for him. Better to listen to him than me! I’ve been known to procrastinate at times.

But I would humbly suggest that there are some days you will get more done by foregoing the frog for breakfast – it tastes nothing like chicken – and enjoying your Cheerios, oatmeal or bacon and eggs. [Read more…]

Imagine Tat! What Do Tattoos Tell Us About a Person?

Do tattoos matter?

Do tattoos tell us anything about a person?

A friend in my age range – let’s not get too specific and just say somewhere between age 49 and 51 – just got a major tattoo.

I was at one of my 14-year-old’s AAU basketball games a couple Saturday’s ago and the mom of one of the players from the other team had also recently got ‘tatted’ up; a shoulder to wrist floral arrangement on both arms. Naive as I am, I kept thinking she had some sort of arm-nylons on under her sleeveless t-shirt. That’s what I explained to Amy who elbowed me because she thought I was looking over there too much.

Imagine tat!

Of course head for the local high school or even middle school and you’ll see a large number of young people with low ride jeans, high-rise shirts, and lots of tattooed skin. And then there’s the girls.

What do tattoos tell us about a person? Anything? (Is there an age limit on when you can get your first tattoo?)

The old adage claimed that “clothes make the man,” which seems way too superficial, just as getting worked up about tattoos seems judgmental, turning a matter of taste into a moral issue. Right?

Along those lines my grandpa insisted you could tell everything you needed to know about a potential job candidate from his shoes: “you don’t have to be rich to have your shoes shined.” He obviously hadn’t anticipated casual Fridays and Ecco comfort shoes.

But back to tattoos. Just in case you were wondering –

* 15% of Americans have been tattooed – about 40 million people
* 38% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 40 have been tattooed
* Democrats(18%) are more tattooed than Republicans (14%) and Independents (12%)
* Geographically the West (20%) outpaces the East (14%), Midwest (14%), and South (15%) among adults with tattoos
* About 20% of those who have been tattooed regret it, with the number one cause of regret being the person’s name in the tattoo (16%); 11% admit “it was stupid”
* Of those with tattoos 26% feel more attractive, while 5% feel more intelligent; 29% feel more rebellious and 57% of those without a tattoo agree that those with tattoos look more rebellious
* On google searches, more people are interested in Angelina’s tattoos than any other celebrity

I think the numbers speak for themselves. Besides proving that Democrats have a higher propensity toward rebelliousness, that Brad may or may not find tattoos attractive depending on which news source you take most seriously in the grocery store checkout line, and that the 5% of those who are tattooed may not be smart enough to know that ink on skin didn’t make them more intelligent, the conclusion really is quite evident and irrefutable … kids, the answer is still no … under no circumstance are you to get a tattoo!

Not even if you want a heart with Mom and Dad inside it.

Jerusalem: A Biography – Montefiore’s History of the Holy City

Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore

A look at 3500 year history of the Holy City – from King David to today.

Most of us know that in 1493 Christopher Columbus sailed the “deep blue sea.” But one of his key motivations for sailing west to secure the riches of India never made it to our childhood textbooks. It can be found in a section of his letter to Ferdinand and Isabella that is often redacted: “before the end of the world all prophecies have to be fulfilled – and the Holy City has to be given back to the Christian Church.” It is usually taught that the Spanish monarchs commissioned Columbus to beat the Portuguese in the search for the west route to India. But what is left out is that the drive behind the commissioning was they felt exactly the same way as Columbus – they needed more gold to fund a new Crusade to the Holy Land.

That is just one small glimpse into the unique, amazing, incredible, and fascinating history of Jerusalem – from King David to the Six Day War; from the birth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the concurrent rise of Jewish and Arab nationalism to the Israel-Palestine conflict – woven throughout Montefiore’s exquisite narrative on the history of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem has seemingly always been at the center of international politics and intrigue. In the 3000 years of Jerusalem’s known history, it was exclusively Jewish for 1000 years, Pagan for 300 years, Christian for 400 years, and Muslim for 1300 years. In all that time no group has secured or held the Holy City without bloodshed. Today it is the capital of two peoples and revered among three faiths. It is a never-ending clash of faith and civilization – and for many Muslims and Christians the place of the ultimate battle and of Judgment Day.

I picked up Jerusalem because I wanted a comprehensive history of the Holy City, particularly due to the fact that Jerusalem is such a focal point for contemporary international political debate. I thoroughly enjoy every minute of this 700-page book that is filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly – and a surprising amount of humor. I might not have agreed with all of Montefiore’s biblical exegesis during the history I am more familiar with due to my Old Testament and New Testament studies, but it didn’t matter because what I wanted was a sweep of the history and got it – three thousand years of faith and compromise, beauty and slaughter, and hatred and coexistence.

Jerusalem was filled with surprises – and not just Christopher Columbus’s fascination with the Holy City. For example, toward the end of the biblical era, I was taken back to learn how influential Herod was in Roman politics – he was close to Antony and Cleopatra, Tiberius, and a major reason Nero made it to the throne. Reading through the Crusader centuries was like reading a novel. I didn’t think it could get any more interesting but then I got to the 19th and 20th centuries when Rasputin, Lawrence of Arabia, Churchill, Tsar Alexander, Hitler, and so many other characters show up – every historical period was fascinating because of the people who kept popping in and out of the story of Jerusalem.

I’m not a historian, but I feel confident in asserting that whatever world history you do know will be enriched by reading this book.

In the Epilogue, Montefiore sketches out the parameters of a peaceful solution to the current political impasse, but does not seem overly optimistic it will be achieved: “Jerusalem may continue in its present state for decades, but whenever, if ever, a peace is signed, there will be two states, which is essential for Israel as a state and as a democracy, and justice and respect for the Palestinians.” That is, of course, the point where readers will agree and disagree for a variety of reasons, politically and religiously.

In closing, I’ll state the obvious. This is not a biblical, religious, spiritual book. Nor is it a political science book. It is a history book, though Montefiore is mostly careful about religious matters and sensitivities and at the end he does give his point of view on achieving peace. You will be disappointed in Jerusalem if you read this to confirm a political or religious interpretation.

I almost forgot to mention. I read this on my Kindle. I wish I had bought the paper and ink edition because of the maps and illustrations.

Montefiore’s own family is part of Jerusalem’s 19th and 20th Century history – and a section of the city still bears his family name. He has also written biographies on Potemkin and Stalin.

Christmas Reminds Us That Angels Watch Over Us

Christmas reminds us that angels watch over us.

Angels Watch Over Us

Believers, look up—take courage. The angels are nearer than you think. - Billy Graham

 Christmas reminds us that Angels watch over us.

Angels play a leading role in the story of Jesus’ birth. They appear to Joseph in a dream and tell him of the coming child. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her she has been chosen by God. And then a heavenly choir proclaims the message of the Christ child to a group of terrified shepherds.

But I wonder if angels played a behind-the-scenes role in other events surrounding Jesus’ birth as well. Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem would have been difficult and dangerous—doesn’t it make sense to think that angels helped them find their way safely and arrive at just the right time?

Mary gave birth in a barn full of animals, her first birth, with no midwives, no family except her new husband, no sterile medical conditions, no place to put the baby other than the manger. Under those circumstances, it seems that Providence was watching out for the young family—through the care of angels, perhaps? [Read more…]

Financial Analysis for Publishing

Mark Gilroy teams up with Brian Henson to provide a quantitative-qualitative financial analysis for publishing that will give executives and their full publishing team the tools to maximize strengths and mitigate weaknesses.

  • Industry variances in budgets and results – with recommendations
  • Author performance and recommendations
  • Category performance and recommendations
  • Major deal risk analysis with recommendation
  • Inventory management and recommendations
  • Backlist evaluation and “product mining”
  • Data management – we have experience and tools to extract and organize data (no matter what software plan) to give you and your publishing team the reports needed to enhance decision-making – and fine tune the process

Brian Henson is a 20-year publishing veteran.

Brian Henson has nearly twenty years’ experience in financial management and analysis in the publishing industry. Most recently, he managed all business and financial aspects for the Nashville division of the Hachette Book Group, the second largest book publisher worldwide, where he created budgets and forecasts, performed financial analyses, initiated and contributed to strategic plans, and revamped inventory management. He created many models that were adopted company wide, including new ways to evaluate—and some cases monetize—the company’s author portfolio and overall backlist. He considers his biggest accomplishment that of cutting inventories in half. The various contributions added millions of dollars to the bottom line. Brian played a big part in Hachette’s reacquisition of Joel Osteen, as well as recent deals with Joyce Meyer, T. D. Jakes, John Maxwell, and Joseph Prince.

 At Thomas Nelson, Henson filled similar roles, creating a “company first” dynamic budgeting system from the bottom up for more than $270 million in annual revenues in a complex, matrix style organization. He developed forecasting methodologies and monthly financial packages that are still used today. He also contributed to product development, having several of his ideas published. Henson served as the primary advisor to the Chief Publishing Officer and as liaison between publishers and sales executives – an acute need in most publishing companies. He created tools to help publishers and editors evaluate new product proposals prior to decisions meetings. He was a key analyst and performed due diligence on various company acquisitions.

Henson earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Dayton in marketing and marketing management, and the MBA from Wright State University with emphasis in accounting and finance.

 

Holidays Are for Games: 3 Recommendations

The online video gaming industry is huge and getting huger every year – almost as big as Hollywood and on a growth trajectory that will continue to cut into the TV audience for sports. But for all the realism and sophistication found in the new product launches and annual updates, video games lack something important that can still be found in playing old school board games: face-to-face human interaction and intimacy.

It’s almost Christmas. A lot of people will be off work with vacation time and a lot of families and friends will gather to celebrate and catch up. Tis the season when classic board games like Life, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly. Clue, and Scrabble will be lifted down from top closet shelves and dusted off. Holidays are for games.

Here are three holiday game ideas that you might want to try or adapt with your friends and family members.

Settlers of Catan

Up to 6 can play.

1. Settlers of Catan. My soon to be son-in-law brought this to our family Christmas gathering last year and the award-winning game was an instant hit. Think of Risk on steroids without the cannons and destroyed troops. The board comes in about 30 pieces and can be set up different every time. Up to six can play. The goal is to get 10 ‘victory points’, which are gained by building roads, settlements, cities, and armies. Players have to accumulate wood, bricks, ore, sheep, and grain through strategically building settlements in the right spots – and through good old-fashioned barter with other players. Sounds complicated but it only takes 15 to 30 minutes to learn. There are game extensions in the Catan family that can take you on the ocean or to outer space or into particular historical epochs, like the Roman Empire.

2. Fast Scrabble. I like regular Scrabble just fine but if you want an interesting variation try ‘fast scrabble.’ All tiles are placed in the middle of the table face down. The first player turns over a tile. If it’s a one-letter word like ‘I’ or ‘A’ then the first player to call out the word gets to keep the tile, face up, in front of him or her. If it’s not a word, the tile remains with the person who turned it over as a free letter. The second player turns over a tile and again, whoever calls out a word, made from that letter or that letter and any other letters that are face up, gets all the tiles to make a new word. If ‘A’ came up first and then ‘M’ came up second, player three can call out ‘Am’ and keeps that word in front of him. If the third letter pulled up is ‘C’ then the first player can call ‘Cam’ and all letters come back to him or her. If the next letter is an ‘E’ then someone can yell ‘Came’ and the tiles are now all theirs. Once a word is formed the letters must stay intact and in that order but can switch to different players throughout the game. ‘Oven’ can become ‘Coven’ can become ‘Covens’ and so on. When all tiles have been turned over, each player adds up the points on their tiles that are formed into words and subtracts any letters that are sitting free. Loud. Fast. Fun.

3. Team Hybrid Game Night. One of our favorite activities during the holidays is a family and/or friend game night where we divide into teams and play a combination of popular games, a new one each round. This works best with four or five teams going four to five rounds. We like to use Trivial Pursuit (each team is asked every question on a single card per round and is awarded 10 to 20 points per correct answer), Pictionary (50 points for identifying the picture), Tabu (20 points per correct word), Outburst (10 points per correct word), Scene-It (all teams compete at once in an ‘All Play’), but you can come up with a myriad of other options, like Charades or Family Feud, by adapting your favorite games into the process. One of the nice things about the team approach is that you can enjoy competition but no one gets singled out as not being good at something like Trivial Pursuit. I like to do a final round where points are doubled and each team gets to choose which of the previous games played they want to try.

Whether you’re gearing up to drive to Grandma’s or are hosting a group of friends on Christmas afternoon, don’t get stuck in the rut of staring at the TV screen and missing out on the people around you. Games or no games, find ways to interact face-to-face.

“The Necessary Compulsion of Exercise”

I will be riding my bike this Saturday with Lance Armstrong and other friends.

On Saturday morning I take off on my bicycle with a couple thousand of my closest friends – including Lance Armstrong and some of his Team RadioShack teammates – on the Harpeth River Ride. I am doing the 62-mile course with mixed emotions. (Not sure how far Lance is riding or how long we are going to hang together.)

On one hand I love riding my bike and I see the benefit – or more accurately the necessity – of riding to get in better shape (another way of saying, “I need to lose 20 pounds … again”). On the other hand, after a long winter hibernation and then an early spring surgery, I’m not in the best shape of my life, a condition that both motivates and discourages the obvious cure. So I know full well that not all of the 62 miles promise to be fun. In the short time I’ve had to get ready for this modest ride I’ve discovered that after riding about 25 miles the gentle rolling hills of Middle Tennessee, the hills are not always so gentle.

I was sifting through some excerpts from Albert Schweitzer’s Africa Notebooks and stumbled on this relevant observation the great missionary and humanitarian made as he conversed with the natives of Africa. They were curious as to the differences between themselves and the people of Europe where Schweitzer was born.

So I go on to tell them that in Europe people row for pleasure, a statement followed by uncontrollable laughter. … I don’t attempt to make clear to them what sport is. The conditions under which they live in so many ways compel them to use their physical forces and take exercise to a greater extent than they like, that they cannot understand at all how people can do so except under compulsion.

We may have a choice whether to exercise or not, but in our corner of the world where food is abundant and many of us ply a trade that is sedentary, it’s not surprising we put on jogging shoes or head to the gym or hop on a bike under a certain compulsion, too.

So will I ride for pleasure or compulsion on Saturday? I’m telling myself it is for pleasure. But halfway through I may not be able to fool myself any longer. As is so often the case in life, the answer is a definite and resounding, yes.

The First Super Bowl: 6 Fun Trivia Facts

6 fun trivia facts from Super Bowl I
The Chief’s’ Willie Mitchell tackles the Packers’ Carroll Dale.

The first Super Bowls was held January 15, 1967, pitting the Green Bay Packers of the NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. The two competing leagues had just merged, so there was even more animosity tied to the game than usual. The Green Bay Packers from the more established NFL won, as expected, 35-10.

To football fanatics the basic facts stated above are common knowledge. But here are six fun trivia facts you might not know.

  1. The first Super Bowl actually wasn’t called the Super Bowl. It was first touted as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.  The game was such a big hit by the second year that it was felt the game needed a catchier name. Commissioner Peter Rozelle suggested “The Big One.” The founder of the AFL, Lamar Hunt, who was the longtime owner of the Chiefs, was the man who suggested the name Super Bowl – based on a toy his daughter liked to play with, the Wham-O Super Ball. He said it could be a temporary name until they came up with something better. It was first used for Super Bowl III in 1969, the legendary game when Joe Namath predicted victory for his New York Jets.
  2. It was the only Super Bowl, (even though it wasn’t yet the Super Bowl), to not have a sellout crowd on hand in the stadium.
  3. It was the only Super Bowl to be broadcast on two domestic television networks. CBS had rights to the NFL and NBC had rights to the AFL. The game was a simulcast. Even the post game presentation of the trophy included two networks. Pat Summerall of CBS and George Ratterman of NBC shared duties.
  4. Both NBC and CBS recorded over the game film to save costs. The only two plays from the game that were shown for years were touchdowns by Max McGee and Jim Taylor of the Packers. In 2011 a CBS recording was found in an attic in Pennsylvania. Halftime and most of the third quarter were missing, but most of the game has now been rebroadcast.
  5. Two different brands of footballs were used throughout the game. The Chiefs used the official AFL Spalding football when on offense; the Packers switched to the official NFL Wilson football when they were on offense.
  6. Since NFL and AFL refs wore different uniforms during the season, a new uniform was designed that was only worn for Super Bowls I and II.

Dog Days of Summer: How I Lost That Loving Feeling for Baseball

Too many strikes, too much free agency - baseball is dead to me.

I have fallen out of love with baseball.

Yes, the dog days of summer are here. That means basketball, a winter sport indigenous to the U.S., is just starting their championship series. And that hockey, another winter sport, but this one transplanted to frigid regions of the U.S. like Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, and LA, just crowned a new champion. But as the seconds tick off on the NBA Series between the Lakers and the Celtics, what it really means is that we’re officially entering the dead period before football season starts.

Some sports purists just sat up a little straighter. Say what? Don’t you know it’s baseball season!

True. Baseball is still America’s pastime, particularly if you live in Boston or NYC and can outspend the rest of the league (combined) in the quest for tactical superiority and garnering every spot on the All Star team. But football is America’s passion. And so for the rest of us, excluding St. Louis fans who support their Cards no matter what, Chicago some years (or for certain proud masochistic Cubs fans, every year), and one Cinderella-story elsewhere in America, we just don’t care. Sure, we’ll watch a game or two before the season is over, but the second game depends on whether women’s bowling or billiards (or some combination of those two sports) is in reruns yet.

Just for context, I didn’t grow up with anything but love for baseball. I was born in Dayton, Ohio, about 45 miles north of Cincinnati, and was there when the Big Red Machine terrorized opposing pitchers. (My rookie year as a 5-year-old fan at old Crosley Field was Pete Rose’s rookie year as a player.) I was in Kansas City for most of the George Brett era and attended a minimum of 20-something games a year.

But something happened. It’s not just that the clubs I like started losing. You expect success to be cyclical in sports, unless you’re a Cubs fan, of course. (Sorry for that second gratuitous shot at the Cubbies in one article.) With the explosion of free agency, I discovered I didn’t know half the guys on “my team” from one season to the next. I could have lived with some rebuilding years with a young exciting roster of “our guys”, but once-proud franchises like the Royals and Reds became development squads for the deep pocketed coastal teams. Throw in a couple of strikes, including one that accomplished something that not even Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany could pull off – shutting down a World Series – and I was gone as a fan. I think forever.

So you’re pretty mad at baseball? You probably think I’m a hater. Nope. The problem is not that I got mad at baseball but that I simply stopped caring a decade ago. And despite publicity gimmicks like the Red Sox winning the World Series and biannual Congressional Steroids hearings, I’ve lost that loving feeling.

It might be Kevin Garnett with a follow up monster jam or Kobe Bryant with an acrobatic mid-air spin move with a reverse lay up that ends the NBA Finals. But whoever does it sometime in the next 10 days or so, all I can say is it’s almost time for football!

Overheard and Observed in China: Part 3: Odds and Ends

Time to move on to topics I’m less ignorant on, but after one more quick glance at my pictures and journal from China, I thought I’d throw a few odds and ends for your consideration.

1. Just a few miles from Hong Kong, part of the same country but a full border crossing away, stands Shenzhen. A fishing port of 300 thousand, it was singled out by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 as China’s first Special Economic Zone. Since then, 30 billion (U.S.) has flowed into the city and the population has grown to more than 10 million residents–with commuters and “invisible” people” causing estimates to fluctuate up to as many as 15 million)–and still growing. It is the most densely populated area of China. And you thought overcrowding was a problem in your city?

2. The level of “deferentialism” extended to American and other foreign business visitors to China is almost overwhelming. It’s hard to carry your own briefcase from the car to the meeting area without a young lady who probably doesn’t weigh 90 pounds wanting to lug it for you. We all like to be treated with courtesy and respect–and much more so when we are in a new environment–but the amount of attention given to helping one with their every move can create feelings of guilt. I’m over the guilt, however, so I’m not complaining–just observing!

3. In Shanghai, I’m pretty sure there is a ratio of one billboard for every resident–and visitor. And maybe for each panda, too!

4. Speaking of billboards, I was surprised that most of the signage in Hong Kong depicted Western models. The rule of thumb in advertising is that you strive for cultural relevance. I do have one idea on why the city’s signage looked a lot like New York City’s. Since Brand America is still the icon of wealth and prosperity, ad agencies in Hong Kong have played the “aspirational” card to the hilt. Of course, if the U.S. dollar drops any further, there may be job openings for billboard hangers in the near future!

5. China has long been viewed as a homogeneous people, which has probably always been a myth. If you look a the under-20 fashion statements even on the Mainland, China is rapidly becoming a diverse country.

6. I had dinner at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. A fleet of about 15 Rolls Royce Silver Shadows are arrayed in front to whisk guests to shopping and tourist destinations. I still haven’t figured out why my company’s travel manager didn’t book me there.

7. I talked to several business people there and in route who have a very strong non-financial motivation to doing business in China. It goes like this. China is not open to Christian missionary work. China is very open to Christian business men and women (and teachers). Once in China, there is plenty of freedom for religious expression (more so for foreigners but increasingly for the entire population as long as the topic isn’t Thailand or Tibet) combined with a keen interest in people from other countries, with America at or near the top of the list. Who knows how many “tent makers” are doing a good work in sharing their faith in China.

Presumption of Guilt and the Breakdown of Public Discourse

presumption of guilt and the lack of civil discourse

The meeting of the minds has become a contact sport!

Much is made of the lack of civil discourse and the breakdown of public discourse in American culture today. Is it time we declare the meeting of the minds to be a contact sport with special headgear?

The art of diatribe – a long, angry, bitter, satirical criticism against a different opinion – has always been practiced in the public square across generations and cultures. But doesn’t it seem worse than ever? Maybe I’m waxing nostalgic, but even in my lifetime, I seem to remember healthier expressions of dialog and debate on fiercely contested ideas.

Okay … I was born shortly before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law … my childhood was marked by the Roe v. Wade, the Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation, Watergate, and economic Stagflation. So it wasn’t very peaceful then either.

But I still seem to recall the mainstream political debates – every bit as contentious as today’s issues – having more civility. I think. Well … sometimes.

The constant companion of the diatribe today is the ad hominem attack – [Read more…]

How Healthy Is the Christian fiction Category?

Publishing professional and friend, Dan Balow, recently took a look at the Christian fiction category in his blog for the Steve Laube Agency. His analysis includes some counterintuitive insights for publishers and some very specific advice to retailers that I wanted to share here. (Since my novels are considered “tweeners” – somewhere between the Christian and general markets, I especially appreciated what he had to say.) Dan – thanks for permission to use the following!

Just how well is Christian fiction doing?

Last year, two Christian publishers downsized or suspended their fiction programs. Currently, some Christian publishers are nervous about fiction and in a wait-and-see mode before they attempt to expand it or try new things. Others are excited about growth potential in the category and are taking an aggressive stance toward it.

Similarly, some Christian retailers are doing quite well with fiction, others are lukewarm with it and some are not doing well at all.

The answer to the question, “Is Christian fiction thriving?” is no, but it is certainly interesting to explore the reason behind such widely diverse opinions on the subject of Christian fiction today.  How can one group see great potential and another see little or none?

Here is why I think Christian Fiction is causing some publisher and retailer confusion right now:

First and foremost, fiction is the segment of book publishing and retailing most affected by the sales of eBooks. In some cases, 50% or more of unit sales on a particular title can be digital.  Because eBooks are cheaper than printed editions, overall revenues to the publisher will decrease or remain flat, all the while readership increases. For a particular novel, digital sales might be 50% of the units and 20% of the revenue.

A new business model eventually emerges, but it takes time for publishers and retailers to adjust to new realities.

Retailers can easily recall how the decline in physical product sales were affected by music downloads (iTunes started in 2001), video download/streaming and audio book downloads. The migration to digital delivery in music, video and audio resulted in a corresponding drop in physical product sales at retail.  But knowing the cause doesn’t make it easier to handle.

The second major contributor to publisher and retail confusion about fiction is the relatively small number of titles published.  Even in good years, the total output of new Christian fictions titles by the main ECPA Christian publishers are not more than 250-300 annually.  (I am not counting the various Harlequin Love Inspired and Heartsong mass market lines which publish over 200 titles per year.)

According to R.R. Bowker data from a couple years ago, the entire U.S. publishing industry (not self-publishing) released over 250,000 new titles annually, of which about 40,000 are novels. There is no completely accurate data available on Christian publishers, but not long ago the total output of books from Christian publishers was around 10,000 new books annually. If Christian publishers followed the same ratios in fiction as the general market, there should be over 1,000 new novels each year, not 250-300.  Not every category growth problem is solved by doing more books, but in this case, I believe it has something to do with it.

Similarly at retail, when a category suffers a slowdown, reducing shelf-space for the category only hastens the decline.  The huge disparity between fiction in the general market retail and that in the Christian market would leave one to wonder whether some are giving up too early on it.

The final reason for confusion about fiction is there are a limited number of genres published by Christian publishers. For reasons that may or may not be obvious, Christian publishers cannot publish in as many genres as a general market publisher.  For instance, erotica will never be a category in Christian publishing, while it is a major category in the general market.

Combine these three things…eroding physical sales due to digital delivery, a small number of titles in relatively few categories  and maybe we can understand why it is rather confusing time in the Christian fiction category.

What can retailers do about it? (other than stocking current best-sellers and new titles)

  • Begin with the inventory. Carry the classic backlist.  Not just In His Steps or Pilgrim’s Progress but the authors who made the category successful over the last 30 years … Janette Oke, Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins/Tim LaHaye, Bodie and Brock Thoene, and Francine Rivers to name a few.
  •  Decide to add a new genre of fiction that heretofore you have not carried or promoted.  This is to grow your customer’s taste for a wider type of fiction.
  • Consider rearranging the fiction section by genre to help readers find new authors. Perhaps using a variation of the umbrella categories that the Christy Awards uses to separate the genres.
  • Encourage fiction reader groups among your customers. This will show how fiction can communicate spiritual truth in an effective manner.

Steve Laube, the founder and owner of the literary agency with whom I work, was a Christian retailer himself before getting into the publisher side of the equation over 20 years ago.  In 1989, his Berean Store in Phoenix, Arizona was named the CBA Store of the Year.  I asked him to give his perspective on how retailers can sell more fiction:

The key was that great story that got people telling their friends. Word-of-Mouth.  Second was a staff that was knowledgeable about the various fiction offerings. Hand-selling is still a critical piece of what makes the physical store a destination. Hand-selling is a form of word-of-mouth. For example, when Mrs. Sally came in the store each month and asked us, ‘What’s new?’ we could direct her to the latest and greatest because we knew the type of stories she liked and the type of stories that were on our shelves.  That principle has not changed over the years. I am always attracted to the part of any bookstore that has a ‘Staff Recommendations’ section. I find it fascinating to see what other people think is worthwhile to read.

Keep in mind, that if readers don’t find what they need in the Christian store, they will look elsewhere and personally, I’d rather they find a lot of great reads among titles from Christian publishers in Christian bookstores.

Why I Bought the Kindle Instead of the iPad

Why I bought a black and white Kindle instead of an iPad.

Why I bought a black and white Kindle instead of an iPad.

I have been in the publishing industry for almost 30 years now. Everyone knows that electronic production and delivery will shape the future of the book publishing industry – and most suspect that the future is now. So that’s the main reason I finally bought an ebook reader – to be less technologically behind in the work that provides room and board for the family. If you’re going to consider yourself an active member of the “long form” publishing world, better at least be aware of the mechanics – or electronics – of the digital book experience, I figured.

The final nudge I needed to order the Kindle was an impending trip to China last month. Anticipating 18 hours in the air each way, I wanted to make sure I had plenty to read without packing a stowage trunk. Sure enough, the Kindle worked like a charm on that trip. I downloaded four or five books at New York’s JFK Airport, boarded the plane, ate dinner, watched a movie, and then fired up a book I’ve been wanting to read. I was sleeping like a baby in fifteen minutes. It felt like home! (And yes, I did finish the book and two others while flying back and forth over the Pacific Ocean.)

After I told an author friend why I bought the Kindle, she let me know she was more interested in why it took me so long.  Good question. Frankly, I’ve not been sold on buying an ebook reader in general, and the Kindle in particular, until recently. I do like the feel of paper and ink bound inside a paper or board cover – but that’s not what really held me back.

We all know that technological improvements take place so fast that version 2.0 of the newest gadget follows 1.0 by weeks, not months or years. I’m not a late adopter of new technology, but on the other hand, I don’t want to be the one purchasing 1.0 at twice the price of 2.0, which will undoubtedly have more features and less problems.

So I waited for multiple powerhouse companies to launch new readers and for three million of my good friends to buy the first two iterations of the Kindle before I jumped in on the third wave.

But then came the next question from my author friend: why the Kindle over the iPad? It is hard to beat Apple for sleek and cool and seamless usability. And the iPad was all over the news and just about to sell its one millionth unit within months of its release when I bought the Kindle.

So here are my reasons for buying the Kindle over the iPad. (Perhaps I’ll take up the question of why I chose it over the Sony Reader and Barnes & Noble Nook at a later time.)

1. I read books and there are approximately seven times more books available through Amazon’s Kindle Store than are available for the iPad. The gap will close but is still significant.

2.  The iPad costs three to four times more than the Kindle. I’m not saying the iPad isn’t worth it. It looks to me like the iPad is the future of laptop computing and style. Apple and others will come up with a next generation device that is a cross between the laptop and the iPad, which will replace what I use now. But I don’t need all the extra computing and bells and whistles that come with it. I’ve already got a MacBookPro. I just need a book reader. It isn’t lost on me that most people I see with the iPad on airplanes aren’t reading books, though to be fair, it looks like the magazine reading experience is much better than it would be with the Kindle. But the iPad users I see are more often watching a movie or playing a game, not reading a book. And as a confession, I get distracted easily enough in life. When I want to read a book, less is absolutely more.

3. The electronic type on the Kindle has now reached the same level of readability (and lack of eyestrain) as the paper and ink book. When I took the Kindle out of the box I assumed there was a protective plastic film with a picture of a tree covering my screen. The saturation level of electronic ink was so rich and brilliant that I was surprised to discover it was the actual screen. (I’m glad I didn’t give in to my impulse to grab a sharp object to lift an end of the “film” so I could remove it from the screen.)

4. The size of the Kindle is just about perfect for carrying in a briefcase or purse – though I wouldn’t know firsthand on the purse – and the iPad is just a little too large as an “extra” device. As mentioned above, I don’t think the Kindle can compete with the iPad on reading larger visual publications (and certainly not playing games or watching movies). And it’s not just due to the smaller size. The Kindle is strictly black on white. So if I was in a different area of publishing – like fashion media or nature photography – I would undoubtedly purchase the iPad.

5.  I also picked the Kindle because I can now use it to carry and read my own documents. This is not really a reason I picked it over the iPad because that is not and never has been a limitation for the Apple device. Let’s just say that Amazon fixed something that they got wrong in earlier editions of the Kindle. Because it is a proprietary device tied to the Amazon Store, it used to be if you wanted to read a non-commercial-book document on the Kindle, you had to figure out how to upload it to the store and buy it from yourself there. I know one of the Big Five publishers bought all their employees the Sony Reader for this very reason – there were no limits on putting your own material on your reading device. The publisher wanted associates to experience an ebook reader and distribute company material on it. That was too tough – and expensive – on the Kindle. Maybe a better of way of making this point is to say that Amazon removed a reason I had previously been resistant to buying their Kindle. I’m going to fly to Orlando later today. I want to review a manuscript I prepared for the meeting. Now all I do is convert it to a pdf and email it to my Kindle email address that they assigned to me when I bought the device. The document will be waiting for me on my Kindle in about a minute.

Those were my reasons for buying a Kindle. They may not work for you.

So who should buy the Kindle? Simple. Book readers. I don’t think it’s going to a good purchase for people who want to read books instead of playing games. If you want to play games or watch movies, the iPad is the much better choice. (Though rumor has it that Amazon will introduce full color Kindle in the not so distant future.)

The early book publishing industry statistics say that book readers buy and read more books once they have an e-reader. Why? There are no space-time limitations of having to drive to a brick and mortar establishment during open hours to pick up something that is on your mind right now. Just read a good review on your flight magazine? You can purchase the book in about 30 seconds once you land at O’Hare or Hartsfield, even if your connection is tight. (It should be noted that buying a book on a Kindle is not as pleasant as sipping a cup of coffee while strolling through rows of bookshelves at a bookstore – and will never replace that.)

As a final comment, Amazon offers a lot of public domain books for free at the Kindle Store. I was about to board a plane last week when suddenly a story from my childhood popped into my mind: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. I looked it up and found a free edition, which I immediately “bought.” It was waiting for me when I took my seat. I read the opening chapters and was flooded with a sense of nostalgia – right after I woke up from my nap.

Just like being at home!

NOTE: I revisited the topic of why I bought a simple Kindle e-reader in light of new research on eyestrain in a 2014 blog.

Just Before Midnight: A Christmas Eve Novella: READING SAMPLE

Just Before Midnight, A Christmas Eve Novella, is “a charming intersection of the movies ‘Crash’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.'”

Christmas Eve is the time to be at home enjoying the warmth and laughter of family, isn’t it? [Read more…]