Rouen, 1806: something in the water?

Reading old medical journals for information, I ran across a summary of an article on historical suicide statistics by Dr. Allan McLane Hamilton, of New York. There is a surprising amount of data, broken down by gender, location, marital status, work — but only for some cities.

In 1793, [there were] 1300 [suicides] in Versailles.
In the year 1806, 60 suicides were reported in Rouen, an extremely small city [in France].
Paris, from 1827 to 1830, furnished 6900 suicides,

Continue reading…

Saint Johnsbury? And a question for you.

I don’t often look at the statistics for this weblog, because… (1) it doesn’t occur to me (2) it occurs to me but I don’t have time (3) lazy lazy lazy (4) this ain’t a competition (5) I’m an addictive personality, and why put myself in harm’s way? (6) I’ll keep on with the weblog as long as it feels right to me. Even if I’m just babbling to myself.

Having said that, today I did have a quick look and the first thing I noticed was that I had a huge influx of visitors from Saint Johnsbury, Vermont.

So this is me waving at y’all over there on the other side of the continent. Can’t imagine why you’re all here at once, but you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.

On other fronts, I have a question for you. Are you actively trying to write short stories or a novel? If you are, could you say so in the comments? You don’t have to go into detail. I’m just curious how many people who stop by are just readers, and how many are writers/readers.

be still my heart

Over at LibraryThing they’ve launched the new groups feature. Anybody can set up a group for people with a common bookish interest, and anybody can join. There’s a group discussion board, and group statistics, and all kinds of lovely geeky things to make my heart beat faster.

I just set up a new group called Romance, from Austen to Byatt to Crusie. All you need is a free LibraryThing account and you can hop on over there and join.

Can you see this as a challenge? As people are scrambling to set up groups and get members to join, the romance community could kick some butt. Some thriller-butt, some baseball-butt, some aviation-butt, even poetry and theology and numismatic butt.


If memory serves, that was the title of a movie about people whose heads exploded…. yes indeed, according to google. Exploding heads. Maybe that’s why the name BookScan makes me laugh. Pam sent me this link to “Book Clubbed” an article by Daniel Gross on a company which keeps track of book sales. And so what, you ask. We are nation of people who love statistics. We invented baseball, after all. What’s the big deal about sales figures for books? It’s simple: there aren’t any. It’s almost impossible to get reliable sales figures on books because the industry is very secretive about that end of things. The article explores this topic in some depth, by means of BookScan:

BookScan, a Nielsen service started in January 2001, tallies retail sales from chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, from, and from stores like Costco (but not Wal-Mart). James King, vice president for sales and service at BookScan, suggests that the database captures about 70 percent of sales for a typical hardcover book. As such, BookScan has emerged as a powerful tool for the editors and agents whose employers pay several thousand dollars a year to subscribe.

And before you ask: I don’t have access to BookScan. Which is good, because I can think of no better way to feed the howling dogs of anxiety. You think I’m overstating, but Gross agrees:

… in the hands of journalists and polemicists, BookScan data has becomes a blunt instrument to humiliate, minimize accomplishments, and express joy at the misfortune of other writers.[…] Edward Wyatt of the New York Times has been a connoisseur of disappointing BookScan figures. Last December, he gleefully noted that Martha Stewart’s The Martha Rules, which had garnered a $2 million advance, sold a not-very-good 37,000 copies, and he cited even smaller figures for Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown (“just 26,000 copies”) and Myla Goldberg’s Wickett’s Remedy (“only 9,000”). In November 2004, he cited BookScan figures to show that the finalists for the fiction category of the National Book Award were a bunch of poorly selling obscurities.

Here’s my dilemma. I have to admit that if I did have access to BookScan, I would find it next to impossible to resist looking for other people’s bad news. Oh, I am awful. But I am not alone. From one of my favorite poems “The book of my enemy has been remaindered” by Clive James:

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys
The sinker, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of moveable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.

You can read the whole poem here. Have mercy on us writerly types, for we are deeply flawed, but we tell a good story.