In praise of pessimism #2

Here’s a nice companion piece to that post earlier about accessing mindfulness therapies via chatbot apps. It includes a reminder of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Want to be happy? Embrace being miserable
The path offers guidance on the elements of a principled existence, based on a cultivated perspective. But not necessarily a happy one.

Still, liberating yourself from the expectation of happiness lightens your load. It makes life a little easier when you are realistic but resolved, rather than deluded, desirous, and determined to have the impossible. By calculating discomfort and struggle into the mix, you can remain cautiously optimistic, knowing there’s surely trouble ahead, but that you will face it with grace.

As we saw earlier, there are a number of apps that can help us build up a solid sense of perspective. Here’s some more about Woebot.

This robot wants to help you control your emotions
A bot cannot really talk to you, of course, but it can call your attention to the way you converse with yourself, and perhaps in time shift your own relationship with angst. That’s the notion behind the Woebot, an app created by Stanford research psychologist Alison Darcy that aims to make emotional mindfulness available to the masses.

[…]

Next, it provided a brief lesson on the power of language in the context of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This mode of treatment for anxiety and depression, CBT, calls attention to thinking patterns and teaches patients to recognize and address their negative tendencies and limiting beliefs with exercises.

It tries to literally change your mind by providing perspective and cultivating attention until you have replaced bad habits with better ones.

I loved the way that the closing paragraph from that first Quartz article above was both simultaneously downbeat and uplifting.

Know that you’ll fail, you will fall, you’ll feel pain, and be sad. You will be rejected. You will get sick. Your expectations will not be met, because reality is always more strange and complicated than imagination, which also mean something more interesting than you know could yet be on the horizon. Know, too, that even so, dull moments will abound. Yet it can always get worse, which is why it’s worth remembering that every day, at least some things have to be going okay, or else you’d already be dead.

And let’s not forget Will Self’s take on all this.

Stop, we want to get off

Shortly before he died in 2015, Oliver Sacks wrote this slightly melancholic article about his fears for the future of a society so obsessed with “pee ring into little boxes or holding them in front of their faces”, oblivious to their surroundings.

I’m not sure why the New Yorker has published this now, four years later, but I must admit to sharing some of his concerns.

The Machine Stops, by Oliver Sacks
In his novel “Exit Ghost,” from 2007, Philip Roth speaks of how radically changed New York City appears to a reclusive writer who has been away from it for a decade. He is forced to overhear cell-phone conversations all around him, and he wonders, “What had happened in these ten years for there suddenly to be so much to say—so much so pressing that it couldn’t wait to be said? . . . I did not see how anyone could believe he was continuing to live a human existence by walking about talking into a phone for half his waking life.”

These gadgets, already ominous in 2007, have now immersed us in a virtual reality far denser, more absorbing, and even more dehumanizing.

[…]

I have only to venture into the streets of my own neighborhood, the West Village, to see such Humean casualties by the thousand: younger people, for the most part, who have grown up in our social-media era, have no personal memory of how things were before, and no immunity to the seductions of digital life. What we are seeing—and bringing on ourselves—resembles a neurological catastrophe on a gigantic scale.

Out of curiosity, I took the option on the New Yorker webpage of having this article read to me. I enjoyed the irony of listening, right at the end, to an advert for an iPhone app.

Chocolate, but not as we know it

So it seems those strange Japanese KitKats I mentioned a while ago are on their way here…

The matcha moment: why even KitKats now taste of green tea
The chocolate coating is an Instagrammable – if lurid – lime green, with the promise of a “sweet and fragrant” flavour. Fifteen years after it went on sale in Japan to squeals of acclaim, the matcha green tea KitKat will hit UK supermarket shelves from this month as its manufacturer, Nestlé, brings the cult snack to a wider European audience – albeit with its flavour modified for our less-refined tastebuds.

chocolate-but-not-as-we-know-it-1

Nestlé brings green tea-flavored KitKat to Europe
“Nestlé in Japan has taken KitKat to the next level in the last two decades, with innovative flavor combinations and inspiring special editions. We are excited to bring one of the most iconic Japanese KitKat back home to Europe this year,” von Maillot said.

“The launches of KitKat Ruby and KitKat Green Tea Matcha are further proof of our commitment to our leading international confectionery brand,” he added. “We have introduced other innovative flavors and premium products to KitKat, KitKat Chunky and KitKat Senses in recent years, and there is more to come.”

Er, I can’t wait?

Having fun, Dave?

As Brexit continues to mess things up…

The fragmentation of the big parties
One reason Brexit has proved tricky is that the party divide does not map onto views about Europe. This week 11 moderate mps, eight Labour and three Conservative, decided that they had had enough—and more may join them. Given that Parliament seats 650 mps, their resignation to create a new Independent Group might seem a minor tremor. But it matters: as a verdict on Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn; as another complication in resolving Brexit; and as a warning of an earthquake that could yet reshape Britain’s two-party system.

… let’s not forget who got us into this hole.

David Cameron checks in from Nice

So what do you think, is Brexit making things better?

Is Britain great again?

Show and tell and tell and tell

Here’s a guy who has a lot of time on his hands a thirst for knowledge.

Meet the man behind a third of what’s on Wikipedia
Steven Pruitt has made nearly 3 million edits on Wikipedia and written 35,000 original articles. It’s earned him not only accolades but almost legendary status on the internet. […]

“I think for a long time there was an attitude of, ‘That’s nice, dear. The boy’s crazy. I don’t know why he wastes his time, the boy’s crazy,'” Pruitt said of what his parents think of his volunteer gig. That may have changed when Time magazine named him one of the top 25 most influential people on the internet, alongside President Trump, J.K. Rowling and Kim Kardashian West.

I took a leaf out of Steven’s book and tried research a little wider to look for some more articles about him. Here’s one from the alumni magazine of the William & Mary University in Virginia.

Steven Pruitt ’06: Wikipedia’s most prolific editor
He began dabbling in Wikipedia when he discovered the online encyclopedia while he was attending William & Mary as an art history major. The first article he wrote was about Peter Francisco, a Portuguese-born Revolutionary War hero known as the “Virginia Giant” who was also Pruitt’s great-great-great-great- great-great grandfather on his father’s side of the family. Since that first contribution, he’s written more than 31,000 other articles — some, he acknowledges, with the aid of a template.

“He cares so intensely about the spread of knowledge,” says Bethany Brookshire ’04, a friend from college who lives in the Washington area. “The instant he learns something, he has to tell you.”

I wonder if he’s been tempted to edit his own entry on Wikipedia. The page has certainly been quite busy this month, with this fresh set of articles about him doing the rounds.

Enough is enough

The shambles that is British politics continues.

Labour MPs quit over Brexit and anti-Semitism
The seven Members of Parliament, many of them longstanding figures in the party, said variously that Labour was racist, had betrayed its working-class roots and was a threat to national security. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was not fit to become Prime Minister, they said.

One of the seven, Luciana Berger, said she had become ashamed of the party she’d served as a Member of Parliament since 2010. It had become “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left,” she said.

Good for them. It couldn’t have been an easy decision.

I can no longer support Corbyn becoming prime minister, which is why after 22 years I’m leaving Labour – I hope you’ll join me
The party’s collective failure to take a lead and provide sufficiently strong, coherent opposition to Tory government policy on the UK’s relationship with Europe, with all the adverse implications this poses for the working people of this constituency, is a betrayal of the Labour interest and Labour’s internationalist principles. This started with the leadership’s halfhearted effort to campaign for Remain in 2016, followed by its refusal even to commit to the UK staying part of the single market and now its offer to facilitate a Tory Brexit. So many families in my constituency, like me, have relatives from EU countries and feel grossly betrayed by the party.

I support the liberal, international rules-based order underpinned by Nato, which Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin were instrumental in establishing in the wake of the Second World War. This demands the UK plays an active role on the international stage. Through its lukewarm attitude towards Nato, reluctance to act where necessary, and willingness often to accept narratives promoted by states hostile to this country, the party’s leadership has turned its back on this history.

So what happens next? Will this make a difference?

Watson tells Corbyn he must change direction to stop Labour splitting
Watson’s emotional intervention came as a number of Labour MPs were poised to follow the founders of the new Independent Group – and after reports on Monday night that some Conservatives were also ready to defect.

Saying that he sometimes “no longer recognises” his own party, Watson urged Corbyn to ensure Labour remains a broad church and reshuffle his shadow cabinet to reflect a wider balance of MPs.

Update

Wait, there’s more.

MP Joan Ryan quits Labour for Independent Group
Joan Ryan has become the eighth Labour MP to quit the party in the past 48 hours, citing its tolerance of a “culture of anti-Jewish racism”. The Enfield North MP said she was “horrified, appalled and angered” by Labour’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism, saying its leadership allowed “Jews to be abused with impunity”. Ms Ryan said she did not believe Jeremy Corbyn was fit to lead the country.

Three MPs quit Tory party to join breakaway group
In the letter, the former Tory MPs said the party was “in the grip” of the DUP and the pro-Leave European Research Group over Brexit, and said there had been a “dismal failure” to stand up to them. They wrote: “We find it unconscionable that a party, once trusted on the economy, more than any other, is now recklessly marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal.”

I wonder what the Lib Dems think of all this. As the BBC notes, “the group now has more MPs in Parliament than the Democratic Unionist Party and equals the number of Liberal Democrats.” If this group of eight previously Labour MPs and three ex-Conservative MPs are forming the new centre ground, are the Lib Dems even relevant anymore?

So, farewell then, Opportunity

15 years. That’s not bad at all.

NASA’s record-setting Opportunity Rover mission on Mars comes to end
Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – Perseverance Valley.

Nasa confirms Mars rover Opportunity is dead
“We had expected that dust falling out of the air would accumulate on the solar rays and eventually choke off power,” Callas said. “What we didn’t expect was that wind would come along periodically and blow the dust off the arrays. It allowed us to survive not just the first winter, but all the winters we experienced on Mars.”

A dust storm has killed NASA’s longest-lived Mars rover
In 2005, Opportunity overcame a sand trap and the loss of one wheel to arrive at the Victoria crater, a 2,400-foot hole that it explored for two years, finding features at its bottom again shaped by ancient water. It next explored the Endeavor crater, 13 miles away, starting in 2011. Most recently it had traversed a narrow valley leading down into the larger Endurance crater.

As this video from NASA shows, the Rover had been on an incredible trek these last 15 years.

Opportunity: NASA Rover completes Mars mission

Here’s xkcd’s surprisingly moving take on it.

so-farewell-then-opportunity

xkcd: Opportunity Rover
Thanks for bringing us along.

Absolutely.

No change

Another great find from Futility Closet.

Unquote
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” — Isaac Asimov, Newsweek, Jan. 21, 1980

I wonder why that quote, from 1980, made me think of this news item from just the other day, in 2019.

Why the attack on our cameraman was no surprise
President Trump interrupted his speech and checked that Ron was OK. But there was no condemnation. No statement that this was unacceptable. The Trump campaign issued a two-line statement on the incident, but equally did not condemn what happened. What conclusion should we draw from that? What message does it send to people who feel hostile towards the media?

Hanging on

Typewriters are still around, and thankfully so too are some of the typewriter repair shop.

This typewriter repairman was told computers were king. Twenty years later, he’s still in business
But Quezada’s admiration for the machine is clear. The Underwood and its kind “are like Mercedes, like Rolls Royces,” he said. They belong to an era before planned obsolescence, when people did not just replace, but repaired, what they owned.

Unlike the pager, the PDA, the floppy disk and the VCR, the typewriter has escaped the heap of gadgets defunct and disused. The reason, according to Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission and typewriter collector: Its slow pace is meditative, not frustrating, an exercise in deliberateness closer to engraving than typing on a computer.

hanging-on-1

Business isn’t what it was, of course.

When Quezada left his Mexican home state of Chihuahua in 1987 to join his sister in San Gabriel, the shop she owned with her husband — an Italian immigrant who repaired typewriters as a boy in Salerno — had servicing contracts with school districts in San Gabriel, El Monte, Whittier and Alhambra.

In the summer, when students were gone and the schools wanted classrooms full of typewriters repaired, the shop had so much business it had to hire temporary workers, Quezada said.

“Around 1980, every little town had a shop that repaired and sold typewriters. A typewriter was expected to be serviced and repaired, and it was expected to last 20, 30 years.”

Quezada took over the shop in the mid-’90s. It wasn’t long before computers were supplanting the typewriter. Though he’s held on, business gets leaner every year, the new interest notwithstanding.

His door is still open at the moment, at least.

hanging-on-2

International Office Machines

Making (a lot of) music

Kind of like a two-person one-man band?

Twenty instruments reconstructed to play through the keys of a vintage piano
We’ve all tinkered around on a keyboard that, when a button is pushed or settings tweaked, gives us a chance to play the sound of a flute or drum. When the Ukrainian band Brunettes Shoot Blondes purchased a vintage, albeit broken, grand piano they decided to recreate this concept in analog form. The group secured twenty instruments to the inside of the piano and its sides so they could effectively play each as they pressed certain keys.

Brunettes Shoot Blondes – Houston

I liked how they operated the cello and violins, and the flourish on the chimes was a nice touch. An earlier video of theirs is equally ingenious.

Brunettes Shoot Blondes – Knock Knock

Hashtag political satire

Perhaps Twitter is good for something after all?

Four men with a ladder: the billboard campaigners battling Brexit
It all began, as most good ideas do, in the pub. They were talking about the infamous David Cameron tweet – “Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice – stability and strong government with me or chaos with Ed Miliband” – which was doing the rounds again after Theresa May cancelled the vote on her deal in December. And someone said: why don’t they slap it on a billboard, make it the tweet you can’t delete?

hastag-political-satire

How an army of farcical fakes ruined Turning Point UK’s big day
The result was a surreal farrago of misunderstanding and noise. Fake accounts would call out Turning Point’s genuine handle as a fake set up by antifa extremists, and sometimes would even go as far as exposing other fellow fakes as fakes. It was fakes calling out convincing-looking fakes as fakes in order to reroute Twitter’s attention to other fakes.

hastag-political-satire-2

Money – too much, not enough

Nicer problems to have.

Mind my Picasso… superyacht owners struggle to protect art
Pandora Mather-Lees, an Oxford-educated art historian and conservator, started giving lessons after a billionaire asked for help to restore a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting damaged not by sea spray, but by breakfast cereal. “His kids had thrown their cornflakes at it over breakfast on his yacht because they thought it was scary,” Mather-Lees said. “And the crew had made the damage worse by wiping them off the painting.”

[…]

Tilman Kriesel, founder of an art advisory firm, told the conference one client asked how to display a Rothko that was too tall for a yacht’s grand saloon. “We turned the piece by 90 degrees,” he said. “The artist would probably be turning in his grave, but we took a deep breath and said ‘it’s your painting, do what you like’.”

Another of Kriesel’s clients had a piece by the Japanese modern artist Takashi Murakami that he wanted to display in the “beach club” – the rear of superyachts where owners access jet skis and other water toys – but again it was the wrong size. “In the end we cut it up to make it fit,” he said.

Meanwhile.

money-too-much-not-enough-1

What it’s like to slash millions from Council budgets: Local Authority leaders speak out
Local authorities have already lost 60 per cent of their central government funding over the last decade, substantially more than any other area of government. And it is in the loss of valued frontline community services that the impact of this austerity drive is most keenly felt by communities across England.

Regardless of their political stripes, the council leaders each called on central government to invest in local government saying the cuts have now gone far enough. […] So acute are the financial challenges that even the most basic services – such as libraries, school lollipop patrols, street lighting, road repairs, cemetery maintenance, gritting – are now being considered for savings.

And that’s what makes all the time, energy and money wasted on Brexit so shameful.

I’ve never really thought about yachts before. They sound horrible.

The lonely life of a yacht influencer
“Nah, I’m nobody you’d know,” he assured me. “I’m here to take some pictures and post some video stories of the yacht, which a brokerage group is trying to sell. The watch is a loaner from a friend. I wear it, take a picture of my wrist and tag his company on my Instagram account. It’s just a small part of the hustle.”

Life and death on a superyacht: ‘If something goes wrong, they can just raise the anchor and leave’
While it is a dream job for some, other deckhands and chefs have horror stories of working punishing hours. Accidents, injuries and deaths are also commonplace, with union leaders believing working on superyachts to be more dangerous than life on oil rigs; over the past few years at least three young Brits have died while serving their billionaire bosses.

Seeing Brexit clearly

Even as we approach the end of the beginning of Brexit, it’s still hard to pin down what it is. On one hand, it’s simple — it’s a mistake. On the other, the complicated tangle of frameworks it’s operating within is hard to grasp.

Here’s a very helpful visual explainer from David McCandless.

Brexit explained
Everything you need to understand about Brexit in one graphic. Written, designed and narrated by David McCandless

Sometimes, an outside view can best illuminate the absurdities we’re too close to. Here’s an article from the Washington Post.

The collective madness behind Britain’s latest Brexit plan
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded that her party reject her own Brexit plan so she could go back to negotiations with the European Union and dismantle an agreement that her government reached with the continent, on an impossibly fast timeline, during talks that have already been ruled out. On every level, it is an insane way to behave. The British government is actively sabotaging the work it has spent the past two years completing and then doing a victory dance.

Instagrammable and Amazonable

Remember those cricked necks we used to get, wandering up and down the books shelves in Waterstones, Borders and the rest, head at an awkward angle to read all the spines? Book buying looks different now, with our stiff necks due to staring down at our screens.

Welcome to the bold and blocky Instagram era of book covers
None of these titles is available yet, but anywhere you find them online will likely direct you to preorder on Amazon. In fact, their covers are designed to ensure that you will. At a time when half of all book purchases in the U.S. are made on Amazon — and many of those on mobile — the first job of a book cover, after gesturing at the content inside, is to look great in miniature. That means that where fine details once thrived, splashy prints have taken over, grounding text that’s sturdy enough to be deciphered on screens ranging from medium to miniscule.

Social media has a part to play now, too, in our book-buying habits.

“Instagram is a major tool now in ginning up excitement that we used to see in print magazines,” says Emma Straub, Riverhead-published author and owner of the Brooklyn bookstore Books Are Magic.

She’s referring, of course, to the latte-laden still lifes that influencers post to brag about receiving an advance copy of a book, or the artful arrangements they use to signify literate lifestyles arranged in bold colors.

Money ≠ happiness

Wired’s review of a new book has a somewhat click-baity headline.

Social media has totally warped how you think about happiness
That higher-status jobs lead to more happiness is only one of the social narratives that Dolan’s book surgically dismantles. Happy Ever After may sound like a cheap self-improvement guide to positive thinking; in reality, it is a pragmatic inspection by an LSE-qualified behavioural scientist.

And it’s not just about securing a good job. Dolan also tears apart the myth of monogamous marriage and of long-lasting marriage; the myth of having children, of going to university or of earning a lot of money. Of owning your own property. Of donating to charity (and not bragging about it). Even of being healthy.

It may sound like a blow to what you have always been taught – but the link between all of these things and happiness is, according to research, extremely loose.

He’s done his research, so has the numbers to back that up, but he talks about social narratives being to blame for our unrealistic expectations and harsh judgements of ourselves and others, not social media. That’s just the mechanism by which these narratives are being magnified.

It all sounds a little Stoic.

Five minutes?

Via Laughing Squid, a video from the BBC on the correct-according-to-science way of making a cup of tea. Yes, getting rid of the styrofoam cup makes sense, as does filtering the water first, but waiting five minutes? Really?

How to prepare a proper cuppa using a tea bag
“It is a long time but it’s gonna be too hot to drink anyway, so you’ve got to leave it. There’s more (of) the flavor coming out and also the more caffeine comes out, the stronger the tea will be. There’s also more (of) the antioxidants coming out. Tea is a great source of antioxidants and these are natural substances that our body uses to help fight disease. So it is important that you leave it to brew.”

How you’ve been making tea wrong your entire life – BBC

Let me just check with the proper authorities…

How to make a proper brew
Wait patiently. Tea needs time to unlock all its flavour, so give it 4-5 minutes to do its thing. This is a perfect time to munch a sneaky biscuit or daydream about holidays.

Hmm. OK then, you win. Now get that kettle on.

China’s fear of losing control

This isn’t quite the brave new world we were hoping these new technologies would enable.

Davos: George Soros calls Xi Jinping a “dangerous opponent” of open societies
Soros said he wanted to “call attention to the mortal danger facing open societies from the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes.” Echoing recent concerns raised about China’s use of facial-recognition technology, Soros asked: “How can open societies be protected if these new technologies give authoritarian regimes a built-in advantage? That’s the question that preoccupies me. And it should also preoccupy all those who prefer to live in an open society.”

Tracing his critique of authoritarian governments to his own childhood under Nazi occupation in Hungary, Soros, who is now 88, urged the Trump administration to take a harder stance on China. “My present view is that instead of waging a trade war with practically the whole world, the US should focus on China,” he said

The complicated truth about China’s social credit system
What’s troubling is when those private systems link up to the government rankings — which is already happening with some pilots, she says. “You’ll have sort of memorandum of understanding like arrangements between the city and, say, Alibaba and Tencent about data exchanges and including that in assessments of citizens,” Ohlberg adds. That’s a lot of data being collected with little protection, and no algorithmic transparency about how it’s analysed to spit out a score or ranking[.]

[…]

The criteria that go into a social credit ranking depends on where you are, notes Ohlberg. “It’s according to which place you’re in, because they have their own catalogs,” she says. It can range from not paying fines when you’re deemed fully able to, misbehaving on a train, standing up a taxi, or driving through a red light. One city, Rongcheng, gives all residents 1,000 points to start. Authorities make deductions for bad behaviour like traffic violations, and add points for good behaviour such as donating to charity.

Running a red light is one thing, but what if you’re a journalist investigating corruption and misconduct?

Chinese blacklist an early glimpse of sweeping new social-credit control
What it meant for Mr. Liu is that when he tried to buy a plane ticket, the booking system refused his purchase, saying he was “not qualified.” Other restrictions soon became apparent: He has been barred from buying property, taking out a loan or travelling on the country’s top-tier trains.

“There was no file, no police warrant, no official advance notification. They just cut me off from the things I was once entitled to,” he said. “What’s really scary is there’s nothing you can do about it. You can report to no one. You are stuck in the middle of nowhere.”

In China, facial recognition tech is watching you
Megvii, meanwhile, supports the state’s nationwide surveillance program, which China, with troubling inferences, calls Skynet. Launched in 2005, Skynet aims to create a nationwide panopticon by blanketing the country with CCTV. Thanks to Face++, it now incorporates millions of A.I.-enhanced cameras that have been used to apprehend some 2,000 suspects since 2016, according to a Workers’ Daily report.

[…]

Jeffrey Ding, an Oxford University researcher focused on Chinese A.I., believes there is more pushback in the West against deploying facial recognition technology for security purposes. “There’s more willingness in China to adopt it,” he says, “or at least to trial it.”

But there’s also less freedom to oppose the onslaught. “The intention of these systems is to weave a tighter net of social control that makes it harder for people to plan action or push the government to reform,” explains Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The line from Soros about the danger from “the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes” chimes with what I’m reading in James Bridle’s new book, New Dark Age.

May we live in interesting times.

Trim Trump touch-ups?

The BBC have a couple of before-and-after images of President Trump that raised a smile this morning.

Trump team accused of posting edited images on social media
Social media users were quick to point out the possible tweaks to this image, which was shared on Mr Trump’s official Instagram and Facebook accounts. […]

The ruffles in the president’s suit have been smoothed out near his shoulder and he looks trimmer, specifically around his neck. His hair also seems tidier, although this could be a result of the image being superimposed on a different background, and his face has been brightened.

One of the more unusual differences is that Mr Trump’s fingers seem to have been made longer.

How vain! I can’t replicate it properly here, but you must check out the interactive slider they have on their website, to see for yourself.

trim-trump

Size matters

How long is the perfect book?
British novelist E.M. Forster once complained that long books “are usually overpraised” because “the reader wishes to convince others and himself that he has not wasted his time.” To test his theory we collected reader ratings for 737 books tagged as “classic literature” on Goodreads.com, a review aggregator with 80m members. The bias towards chunky tomes was substantial. Slim volumes of 100 to 200 pages scored only 3.87 out of 5, whereas those over 1,000 pages scored 4.19. Longer is better, say the readers.

The phenomenon that Forster describes, akin to literary “Stockholm syndrome”, is only one possible explanation, as the article goes on to explain.

books-future-perfect-1

I like that phrase, ‘literary Stockholm syndrome’. I wonder, though, if the age of the reader is relevant — I certainly feel less patient with these longer books as I grow older. (And less patient generally, if my family is to be believed!)