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I found this article in Wired really interesting, not least because I’ve been working on “unquantifying” my life (the quantified life is one in which you track your behavior, health, etc. to try and improve outcomes). I hadn’t heard of the “nocebo effect” before but it makes sense:

“The body’s response can be triggered by negative expectations,” says Luana Colloca, a University of Maryland neuroscientist and physician who studies placebo and nocebo effects. “It’s a mechanism of self-defense. From an evolutionary point of view, we’ve developed mechanisms to prevent dangerous situations.”

For Golden, a 38-year-old patient advocate who began with an Excel spreadsheet and later used specialized apps, tracking initially helped her provide better information to her doctor. But she became focused on every possible factor that could make her headache worse. “I’ve seen people become very obsessed with it. I was at one point,” she says. “What did I do at lunch? What did I do at dinner? It can be all-consuming.”

The symptom tracker doesn’t just reveal your highs and lows. It produces a state of anxiety—and possibly more pain.

As always, I’d like to see more studies and the underlying data, but it’s an interesting finding.


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Andy Miller, who runs the Booklisted podcast among other things, writes a funny piece about being shamed, or at least mildly chastised, for the number of books he’s read. The fact that this happened at a book festival adds a special valence to the experience.

Now. Making an audience at a literary festival boo you for reading books is clearly some kind of shit achievement. And in one respect, I was not entirely telling the truth. In the year in question, I had not read ‘something like’ [XXX] books; I knew it was precisely [XXX] books. Why did I equivocate? Perhaps I sensed at that moment that the crowd was turning against me and it was necessary to self-deprecate as a matter of urgency. But that ‘something like’ was nothing like enough. What I should have said was ‘I don’t know exactly how many! A lot! I don’t get out much haha! Hahaha!’ And the audience, sniffing the air, would have turned its slavering attention to Lionel Shriver or someone and lumbered off in pursuit of where she gets her ideas from.

It’s true that if you cut down your time online and fill your discretionary time with reading, you can get through a lot of books. I certainly read more now than I did when I was more active on Twitter and Dear Author. But there is a performative aspect to telling people how much you read that is very much part of the online age (after all, this started because of Miller’s tweets). We don’t just read, we tell people we read, and not just what it is and what we thought of it, but where it fits in our total reading experience. I’m not sure where to draw the line between interaction and performance, but they aren’t the same thing.


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Here’s an interesting article which focuses on the rise of marketing to niche audiences in music, but is applicable to books and other cultural products. Since Game of Thrones just ended we all have to invoke it in our writing, so here’s mine: GoT stands out as a widely appealing product in a time of niche hits, and I’ve seen a number of articles pointing out that its Sunday audience exceeded Big Bang Theory’s finale numbers. But if you compare live audiences, then BBT beat GoT handily, 13.5 million to 18 million. Live broadcast TV is not quite dead. And where do they compare to series finales of the past? Neither would break the Top 10, which would require an audience of at least 35 million viewers.

But back to the point about niche markets:

Fandom is fragmenting. Streaming personalization and falling radio audiences are combining to rewrite the music marketing rulebook, ushering in a whole new marketing paradigm. Hits used to be cultural moments; artist brands built by traditional mass media. However, this fire-hydrant approach to marketing lacked both accountability and effective targeting. Now, hyper targeting, both in marketing campaigns and streaming recommendations, is creating a new type of hit and a new type of artist. Global fanbases are being built via the accumulation of local niches, while a few big hits for everyone are being replaced by many, smaller hits for individuals. Niche is the new mainstream.

We can see this in commercial fiction. Romance Twitter, as is frequently observed, doesn’t reflect the overall reading trends of the universe of romance readers (compare the waitlists for Mary Balogh at US libraries with the amount of discussion of her works on Romance Twitter, for example). But that doesn’t mean that Romance Twitter darlings don’t sell, and sell well. They just sell across different markets. They may not be Balogh level sales, but they’re healthy and can sustain careers while they’re popular.

The upside is that a lot more authors can break through. The downside is that the cultural space is fragmented and so is the discourse. Being a romance reader doesn’t mean you have the same books and authors in common anymore, at least not with as many people.


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Like the Weeknote post, the links post is late this week, but not absent!

Here is yet another article on how news isn’t news anymore. Yes, it’s a preoccupation of mine. I’ve been thinking about writing a post on what reading the “news” in the 21stC looks like these days. I’ve talked about it in links posts, but it deserves its own discussion. In the meantime, though, read this thoughtful Guardian article on news media consumption.

The profound experiential shift we have recently experienced is not merely down to the fact that the news is now available around the clock; CNN pioneered that, way back in 1980. Instead, it arises from the much newer feeling of actively participating in it, thanks to the interactivity of social media. If you are, say, angry about Brexit, it is possible to be angry about Brexit almost all of the time: to encounter new and enraging facts about Brexit, and opportunities to vent about Brexit, in ways that would have been unthinkable as recently as the mid-2000s. If you had fulminated then to your family and colleagues as even respected peers, novelists and philosophers now routinely fulminate on Twitter, you’d have alienated everyone you knew.

One crucial difference is that raging on Facebook, or sharing posts or voting in online polls, feels like doing something – an intervention that might, in however minuscule a way, change the outcome of the story. This sense of agency may largely be an illusion – one that serves the interests of the social media platforms to which it helps addict us – but it is undeniably powerful. And it extends even to those who themselves never comment or post. The sheer fact of being able to click, in accordance with your interests, through a bottomless supply of updates, commentary, jokes and analysis, feels like a form of participation in the news, utterly unlike passively consuming the same headlines repeated through the day on CNN or the BBC.

I think that one of the reasons we feel as if tweeting and sharing and so on is “doing something” is that activism and protest have been transformed by the availability of social media. There’s no question that coordination is easier with online tools. But limiting our participation to online forums rather and foregoing the old-fashioned, effortful methods of physically showing up to a meeting or public gathering (for those of us who have that option; not everyone does) does not do much to advance collective action goals. Yes, the Arab Spring was aided by Twitter. But did you know that the most common ways of communicating information during those protests were still through voice and text? And, for all of us, there is evidence that reacting and venting on social media about supposedly newsworthy events makes us feel worse about the world, not better.


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This article feels as if it was generated by the Slate Contrarian Bot circa 2005. In Bookriot, a librarian (and aspiring author) says she thinks that tagging authors in all discussions of their books, including negative ones, is a great idea!

I can understand why some authors might be hurt by negative reviews. Criticism is hard! I’m just not convinced that the “risk” outweighs the “benefit” here. Easy access to more information on authors is important to me and authors are not required to read reviews. Most books don’t fall within categories that are strictly positive or negative. If we lean toward caution and decide against tagging authors in negative reviews, we can’t tag authors at all—it’s rare that any review worth anything doesn’t mention anything that hasn’t gone well in a book. In that case, authors are losing out on additional potential readers.

Is this a huge deal? Absolutely not. If it was, I’d go on with tagging authors regardless of the kind of reviews I write. But I do think it’s worth considering who the reviews are for, at the end of the day.

This is a bad argument. As many, many Twitter responses and some site commenters are letting Bookriot and the author know. However, given that she seems to be one of the site’s most active contributors, and the content maw is never sated, I’m sure it’s not the last #slatepitch piece we’ll see with the same byline. Sigh.

UPDATE: The post is still up on Bookriot, but the original Bookriot tweet publicizing it, which so many people replied to (and probably ratioed badly) is gone. Which … is kind of missing the point?


I posted a link to Christian Lorentzen’s Harper’s essay on the demise of book reviewing a while back, and now LitHub has used it to generate more content published a roundup of responses from his fellow critics. They run the gamut from complete disagreement (mostly by critics who run or work in these listicle- and Q&A-dominated sections) to overall agreement (from a critic at the TLS, which is hardly a surprise).

This is at best not addressing his points at all, and at worst confirming them:

Are book reviews drying up? Is the world of serious criticism shrinking? It seems to me that, actually, the world of book reviews is expanding. There are readers everywhere, of all kinds. They all deserve to know what books are out there that might be of interest. We do our best to reach them all.

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