Selling Books

David Hume once said that his Treatise of Human Nature “fell stillborn from the presses,” because sales after publication were so miserable. He later wrote a couple of  shorter works titled An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals and they sold quite well. Ironically, the Treatise is today regarded as his most important and best work by far. But, believe me, I know how David Hume felt: waiting to see how the book will sell that you have watched move slowly into published form, how many people will actually read the words you wrote — or buy the book and make sure it has a prominent place on the coffee table — can be a frustrating experience. To say the least.

I have been fortunate enough to publish thirteen books, but with one or possibly two exceptions they have not done well. It is to be expected, I suppose, since I write about things that don’t interest that many people — I do not write pot boilers or romances. Serious topics are not everyone’s cup of tea. However, as thrilling and exciting as it is to watch your book through the many stages of publication, the period after publication can be hard on one’s ego, one’s sense of self-confidence, if the book doesn’t move off the shelves. Because no matter how much we tell ourselves that we don’t care if no one buys it, we do care! It’s a fact. It is some sort of validation, I suppose, but there it is. Most of us need it.

In any event, my most recent book, shamelessly promoted on this blog, has also fallen “stillborn from the press.” I never thought it would be a best-seller, but I did think some (many?) of my blogging friends would want to have the book. After all, it contains several hundred of the best posts I have written and it is dedicated to my Fellow Bloggers. But as someone asked, why would anyone buy the book if it’s available on the internet for free? The answer, I suppose is that it is a BOOK! It is something that one can hold in one’s hand and return to from time to time. One never knows when the words on the internet might disappear into cyberspace, or WordPress goes belly up and all would be lost forever. So I thought: why not preserve some of the posts that are worth preserving? I have written over a thousand blog posts, most of them not worth the time of day. In the case of this book, however, I carefully selected the ones I thought were worth preserving, those with the broadest possible appeal. And I have arranged them into chapters and placed an index at the end of the book to help readers find what they might be looking for.

As noted, the book was dedicated to my fellow bloggers who inspired me to keep writing and delighted me with astute comments from time to time. I named three specially who have “been there” for most of the blogging trip. But as of this writing only two bloggers have ordered the book and I must confess I am a bit dismayed. But then I recall that these are busy people who have lives of their own and who are also writing their own blogs and they may well have better things to do or they simply forgot. So I am writing this gentle reminder that the book is available at http://ellispress.com It will never do well, I am certain of that. But my hope is that it will do better than it has so far. Pity poor David Hume. It can be a frustrating experience.

 

Note To Readers:

Lisa suggested that I indicate how the Ellis Press web page works.  Go to the site and click on “Order Info.” Click on “Printable Order Form.” Print off the document and look for “Hugh Curtler.” Indicate how many copies you want (!), include your check (or a 20 pound note if you are in England and you dare) and send it off to Ellis Press in Granite Falls, Minnesota. They will let me know of the order and I will write an inscription and send the book to you directly. Ellis Press will pay for postage and handling.

If you prefer to use a credit card, the book is available on Amazon, though it may take a few days for them to process the information Ellis Press sent them. Note that books sold by Amazon will not bear my inscription.

I hope this helps. I am really not good at this sort of thing — as you can probably tell.

 

 

 

 

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HUZZAH!!

 

 

 

As threatened promised, my latest book featuring my very best  delightful decent blog posts from he past six years is now available, dedicated to my fellow bloggers. If you are interested in willing to buy this book, please contact the publisher directly:

Ellis Press

Box 6

Granite Falls,  Minnesota

56241

The web page is http://www.ellispress.com   You can download the order blank and simply send your order directly to Ellis Press along with your check. For orders outside the continental United States, pease add $5.00 to help defray cost of postage. The price of $20.00 (USD) is  a heck of a deal  not bad given that the book is a bit more than 400 pages.  Moreover, those are pages full of  delightful tasty pretty good food for thought!

Please note on your order that you are a blogger, if you are one, and I have made arrangements with the publisher to allow me to sign those books before they are sent back to you. Many thanks for your support and for checking occasionally reading my blog. This is indeed an exciting moment pretty neat!

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREFACE ix
SEEKING ANSWERS 1
EDUCATION 69
LAW AND FREEDOM 141
VIRTUE AND VALUES 195
SOCIETY AND CULTURE 257
ART AND LITERATURE 335
BIBLIOGRAPHY 403
INDEX 410

In The Shadows

Should you find yourself driving about in Southwest Minnesota, you might elect to follow one of the smooth, paved roads that snakes along the Minnesota River until it suddenly turns into a gravel road deep in the trees that remain near the river; at that point you might find a country house a couple of hundred yards down the gravel road just off to the right with a large black dog cavorting about the front yard. The owner of that house loves that dog, his seclusion, his wife and family (especially his tiny granddaughter in far-off Chicago), his university’s volleyball team, many (not all) of his students, and the writers he has chosen over the years to support in so many ways.

I don’t usually write blog posts about personal matters, much less about my friends. In general, I avoid the personal out of an acquired preference for the ideational, the abstract and general. At present, however, I choose to write about a good friend of mine who is watching his dog Harley chase a rabbit.

His name is Dave and he teaches at the university about thirty miles South of his home near the river in a department of English that is slowly dying a painful death as are so many English departments in universities and colleges around this wonderful country of ours. Like the other Humanities programs in the university it is giving way before the onslaught of the bean-counters who prefer to fund more “marketable” programs of study that will prepare young people for the work force so they can be successful in the only sense of that word Americans recognize.

Dave does love his sports and is an avid supporter of the university’s volleyball team, one of the very best in the entire country as it happens, despite the fact that the university itself is a tiny spot in the vast ocean of collegiate athletics and is virtually unknown. I know whereof I speak because I once coached women’s tennis at the university and despite our success as one of the better teams in the country within a couple of years of my retirement we were almost totally forgotten. Well, that’s not entirely true, because Dana, another good friend of mine, a former sports reporter and then editor of the Marshall Independent, wrote a book about the university’s tennis team in those glory days and Dave had it published.

And this brings us to that most remarkable feature of Dave’s activities. Not only does he teach at the university, support its women’s sports teams, and watch with an ache in his heart as his formerly vibrant academic department dwindles away, he also publishes books. This reflects his love of reading and his high regard for those who write, which should also include Dave himself except that he is not given to self-promotion (unlike so many his contemporaries) and prefers to keep his candle hidden under a bushel. As an author he has written a great many books of both prose and poetry and as a publisher he has published a number of important writers and was, indeed, the first to publish the writings of Bill Holm — a man who acquired a national and even an international reputation before his untimely death not long ago. Dave cannot for the life of him market the books he publishes successfully as he tends to ignore that aspect of the publishing trade. He’s no businessman, and I say that with affection. So the books pile up in cupboards, empty rooms, and empty buildings here and there about his place. But he does pride himself on the quality of the work he has published and well he should.

Sad though it is, it bears mentioning that his prowess both and an author and as a publisher of important literary works is almost totally ignored by those around him — including those at the university where he works among the bean-counters. Like other similar institutions of “higher learning,” the university is caught up in the numbers game, watching the bottom line, waiting for it to come to life or at least show a pulse. It has no time for recognition of those who deserve to be recognized and even lauded.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times that a man who loves words and is very good with them is ignored by those around him in their preoccupation with the business at hand — whatever that happens to be. In any event, he deserves to be applauded for the things he does, for supporting promising writers, for his love of teaching, and for his staunch support for the women’s teams at his university who hear him shout out from the stands, often nearly empty when the hapless women’s basketball team is playing, willing them on to better days — and bringing them shiny medals from Mongolia or Germany when they win.

So I felt it worth taking a few minutes to write about my friend whom I meet with once a week, when we can, to “vent,” share points of view, and have a drink or two at the local public house. Exceptional people deserve to be recognized even when they choose to hide in the shadows.

Barbarian Incursion

O gentlemen, the time of life is short;

To spend that shortness basely were too long,

If  life did ride upon a dial’s point,

Still ending at the arrival of an hour.

                                                                                                                                                                Shakespeare: Henry IV

Jacques Barzun, the great humanist and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003, told us more than 50 years ago to lock up the treasures of the West because the barbarians were about to take over our world. He was a bit premature. It didn’t happen quite as fast as he thought it would, but it certainly has happened, though the barbarians didn’t attack from without: we bred our own. You can recognize the new barbarians all around you by their boorish behavior, the loud music emanating from their cars as they pass by and their halting speech patterns, piercings, and tattoos. They also come armed with their iPods, iPads, iTunes, iPhones, Xboxes, Walkmen, smartphones, and an occasional concealed weapon. But their takeover is not a violent one, for the most part, though it is loud and unsettling.

In any event, contrary to Barzun, I would judge that the treasures of Western civilization are probably not threatened by this takeover, because these barbarians couldn’t care less about them! The treasures will not be destroyed; they will simply wither away because the young are otherwise occupied — listening to their tunes, earphones clamped securely to their heads;  gazing at their handhelds; and generally ignoring the world around them as they focus on electronic communications with their friends. Books and works of art don’t interest them in the least. They boast of the fact: they have other fish to fry and seem to have complete confidence in themselves and their abilities to catch and fry those fish. But it is sad, because what they are unaware of is that they don’t even know where the fish are hiding or what bait to use. In any event, they will no longer pick up thick books, like George Eliot’s magnificent Daniel Deronda, where they might read this sublime passage about the need for roots and the benefits of a geographical and psychological center to our lives:

“A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of a native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of the earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbors, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as the sweet habit of the blood. At five years old, mortals are not prepared to be citizens of the world, to be stimulated by abstract nouns, to soar above preference into impartiality, and that prejudice in favor of milk with which we blindly begin is a type of the way the body and soul must get nourished at least for a time. The best introduction to astronomy is to think of the nightly heavens as a little lot of stars belonging to one’s own homestead.”

And, irony of ironies, Eliot might have been describing one of the new barbarians when she describes her spoiled, self-involved heroine Gwendolen Harleth who, despite the havoc of Civil War across the Atlantic and the suffering of her fellow countrymen due to the loss of imported cotton, can think only of herself:

“Could there be a slenderer, more insignificant thread in human history than this consciousness of a girl, busy with her small inferences of the way in which she could make her life pleasant? — in a time, too, when ideas were with fresh vigor making armies of themselves, and the universal kinship was declaring itself fiercely: when women on the other side of the world would not mourn for the husbands and sons who died bravely in a common cause, and men stinted of bread on our side of the world heard of that willing loss and were patient: a time when the soul of man was waking to pulses which had for centuries been beating in him unfelt, until their full sum made a new life of terror or of joy.”

Indeed, it may well be that even if the young people of the present and the future had the least desire to read the elegant prose of a writer such as George Eliot (which, admittedly, takes time to read and savor), they would not understand whereof she speaks and writes. They have no idea what they are missing, which seems to be the heart of the matter. She was an eminently wise woman, but her wisdom would be lost on those who will not, or can not, listen or read her words.  It is just possible, also, that even if they did read and comprehend the meaning of her words they would have no idea what she is referring to since so many of these young people, immersed in themselves and enslaved to their digital toys, do not realize that they, too, may well lack consistency and rootedness in their lives and lack a place to call “home” — this “blessed persistence in which affection can take root.”

Over-Specialization

I am reading a history of early Rome that is well done but painstakingly detailed and slow reading. It’s title is Through The Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 A.D. Yes, that’s just the title. The book is by Peter Brown an Emeritus Professor of History at Princeton. Not long ago I was wading through another history book, The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787 by Gordon Wood. I never made it through Wood’s book though I am downrightt compulsive about finishing books I have decided to read. The book is ponderous, provides much more detail than I require, and is not well written. So I gave up on it. The Peter Brown book, on the other hand, exhibits better writing and was recommended by a friend, so I will probably work my way through the 530 pages (with 200 pages of notes and index, which I will skip). It reminds me of the fact that we suffer from over-specialization in this country.

The phenomenon results in books written by professionals in the field for other professionals — I dare say historians would appreciate the details and copious notes in both of these books. I speak here of history, but the same thing can be said of books in other disciplines (reading philosophy is like swimming through glue). Even novels are now written by writers who seem to be writing for other writers, not for the average reader who just wants a good read. The novel has to be clever and in the latest postmodern fashion.

Music is composed that can only be appreciated by professional musicians. For the rest of us it sounds like a cat with its tail caught in the car door. Art has become specialized as well as artists experiment with their media and try to discover new ways to say the same old things. This is not such a bad thing in the plastic arts, since they are more readily appreciated by the unsophisticated viewer and new ways of seeing things can be exciting. The plastic arts may survive the trend toward overspecialization, though there is always the lunatic fringe who create works that can be appreciated only by others on the lunatic fringe. But in so many of the arts sophistication has become the key to appreciation.

In any event, the phenomenon of overspecialization has infiltrated our colleges and universities where there are now specializations within specializations. As Michael Polanyi said 50 years ago, “. . .it is a rare mathematician, we are told, who fully understands more than half a dozen out of fifty papers presented at a mathematical congress.”  And that was then! This has resulted in a hodge-podge undergraduate “education” where students take bits and pieces of this and that until something strikes their fancy (or they have decided going in that they will become physicians or CPAs and they stay on track for their undergraduate years and get trained but not educated). Neither of these alternatives amounts to a coherent education that broadens as well as deepens perspective. But that’s what we seem to be stuck with as the specialists, separated as they are from one another by discipline — and often by geographical location on campus — don’t (can’t?) talk to one another and cannot come to any sort of agreement about what kinds of things make for a defensible undergraduate education. The student is victim though she doesn’t know it.

And the rest of suffer as well when we want to know a bit about the history of humankind and we are faced with ponderous books that are deep in detail and shallow in writing skill and readability. The curious layman (and student) has been forgotten in this age of specialization where walls between schools of thought cannot be conquered even by the most determined climber.

The Booker Award

My favorite blogger (MFB) newsofthetimes has awarded a number of her favorite bloggers the “Booker Award” for people who love books and spend much of their time with their noses buried in them. That’s me and I am especially touched by this award because “news” included me on her list. We have a mutual admiration thing going on here. The award requires that I list my five favorite books, mention at least five other bloggers who also deserve the award, and post the award itself.
I shall take these in reverse order:

My favorite blogger has already been mentioned and several others whom I would pass this award to are on the list “news” posted on her blog, including musingsofanoldfart and carrpartyoffive. And I thought immediately of EmilyJ, but “news” had already listed her. But there are a number of other exceptional bloggers and I will pass this award along to them:

1.Circles Under Streetlights. A woman who loves to read and also writes beautifully.

2. Seapunk2. A blogger who is alert and aware of whatever if going on around her in her home in the Pacific Northwest.

3. Salty Political Musings. The title says it all.

4. Jennifer Worrell. A very funny lady and her blogs are always worth reading.

5. Zebra Designs. A creative artist whose pictures along with her words always charm and delight.

6. Mindful Stew. A remarkable teacher who works hard at his craft and shares his insights and successes.

7. jotsfromasmallapartment has stacks of well-deserved awards. But I am sending this one along because she loves books and writes so well.

(I am stopping at 7 because folks in the middle ages regarded that number as lucky.)

The last requirement is the hardest because I have so many favorite books — books that I read again and again because, as I told “news” they reward me every time. But here goes:

1. Middlemarch. by George Eliot — the best book, perhaps, by one of the wisest writers I have ever read.

2. The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. Freud called it the greatest novel ever written, and he may be right.

3. Heart of Darkness. Joseph Conrad’s amazing novella that cannot be read too many times.

4. Don Quixote. Cervantes knew how to make humor take us closer to the human experience.

5. Age of Innocence. Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel — for a reason.

So there are my favorites — or many of them. It boggles the mind to try to come up with favorites and you always fear you have left someone or something out. If I were concentrating on American authors I would certainly include Melville and Steinbeck along with Wharton. But the requirements were for the top five.  in any case, I do thank newsofthetimes again for the delightful award.