reality is weirder than you think

Month: July 2017 (page 1 of 5)

Award-winning book covers vs. bestselling book covers

Every year, the AIGA (that’s the American Institute of Graphic Arts) picks their favorite books and book covers for the year. It usually yields a roundup of pretty cool graphic design. What I found interesting about this process is that they judge the physical book, apparently without consideration of ebooks. Like in most professions, what impresses people who are constantly up to their eyeballs in graphic design may not be what actually catches the eye of the people.

Considering that very few books are actually bought in person anymore, no matter how beautiful they are, most of these books are in competition with other titles on Amazon and other online booksellers.

Because I’m now curious, I’m going to compare a random smattering of the best book covers against the highest ranking book in their category. This list is from 2016, so I’m not adjusting for time or anything, but I want to see if an award-winning cover outpaces a normal, workmanlike cover. For the AIGA covers, if the book is listed in more than one category, I’ll pick the highest-ranked one.

Let’s kick off with a nod to esoteric twitter.

German Poetry


The Essential Goethe, ed. Matthew Bell
Publisher: Princeton University Press
#34 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Poetry > Regional & Cultural > European > German

Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach
Publisher: Penguin
#1 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Poetry > Regional & Cultural > European > German

Not gonna lie, I am swooning a little bit over that Goethe cover: the beautiful copper color of the background, the intense blackletter typography, the way that the type frames Goethe’s eye, the playful way in which the type asserts that this is THE (only) Goethe reader that you’ll ever need. (I doubt that’s true but I appreciate the effort.) It’s so simple, yet it sings.

On the other hand, we have the standard-issue Penguin Classics cover design, which gets the job done.


German Historical Fiction

A Man Lies Dreaming, by Lavie Tidhar
Publisher: Melville House
#396 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Historical Fiction > German

Those Who Save Us, by Jenna Blum
Publisher: Mariner Books
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Historical Fiction > German

Now. These two books are designed to appeal to two completely different audiences, although they are both novels about the Jewish experience during the Holocaust. The AIGA-approved one has lots of visual references to the Soviet brutalist style. You know it’s going to be a brutal book. Our other title is a softly hand-colored vintage photograph in a style that reminds me of inspirational fiction from the mid-1990s. The typography is basic. It makes me cringe a little, but clearly it is more what people want to read.

Genre Fiction: Occult

The Way of Sorrows: The Angelus Trilogy, Part 3 by Jon Steele
Publisher: Blue Rider Press (Penguin)
#328 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Suspense > Occult

The Man of Legends, by Kenneth Johnson
Publisher: 47North (Amazon)
#1 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror > Occult

This is a great example of a “designed” cover versus a very workmanlike cover. The Angelus Trilogy cover definitely draws my eye, and I would indeed love to have it in hardcover form, to stare at. But as we’re finding with indie publishing, a good story trumps any blemishes on the cover, and honestly, the Man of Legends cover isn’t that bad.

Short Stories

Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, by David Galef
Publisher: Columbia University Press
#37 in Books > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Genres & Styles > Short Stories

100 Years of The Best American Short Stories, eds. Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
#1 in Books > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Genres & Styles > Short Stories

Interesting how this is two different types of book, in the same category. One is more of a how-to manual; the other is actual short stories. (You can use those as a how-to manual if you want, but most are designed to be read for pleasure.) Despite the Brevity cover reading as “cleaner,” both covers verge on having one too many elements. There’s a lot going on. Brevity, though, definitely stands out. It reminds me of a pop-psychology book like The Power of Habit.


Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity, by Rebecca Lemov
Publisher: Yale University Press
#70 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Counseling & Psychology > Ethnopsychology

Discipline Your Mind: Control Your Thoughts, Boost Willpower, Develop Mental Toughness, by Zoe McKey
Publisher: Kalash Media
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Counseling & Psychology > Ethnopsychology

One cover is visually intriguing, but completely unreadable. The other is mildly interesting, but clearly communicates the point of the book. Stacked rocks = discipline. It feels like the design of Database of Dreams is too clever for its own good. Unless you know what the cover looks like, it’s going to be harder to identify if you’re searching for it online, since the title is so obscured and small.

It’s clear that you don’t have a great cover to sell big (although it does need to be decent–there are no truly terrible covers on this list), and having a great cover isn’t a prerequisite to selling well in your category. Overly-clever visual presentation is not necessarily helpful in bookselling. There are a lot of other factors at play (average star rating, content of the book, marketing platforms, the competitiveness of the category, etc.) but workmanlike covers are not something that will hold a book back from first place.

More mullets

More evidence for the return of the mullet has presented itself–in the wild! And in the US, not Korea!

This ad for a fake cheese product is running in the August 2017 issue of Real Simple magazine. I’m sure that it’s in other magazines, too.

The tagline is “cheesier than ever.”

Things this ad has going for it (and by “it,” I mean the mullet):

  • Attractive man wearing the mullet
  • Delightfully cheesy content
  • Gets you to think ahead to August 7th aka International Mullet Day
  • Decent biceps

Things that this ad takes away from the memeing of the popularity of the mullet:

  • Too much 80s theme–takes it out of TODAY or THE NEAR FUTURE aka WHEN THE MULLET SHOULD BE POPULAR
  • Fake cheese (surprisingly not soy)
  • The hairstyling is flat and uninteresting
  • Aimed at the mom demographic*

*Although I suppose if you get the mom demographic screaming over something, it’s officially entrenched in the public’s consciousness (see also: Twi-Moms).

It’s not like mullets have ever really gone away from the public eye, but they are a convenient shorthand for a lot of people to refer to backwards hicks, or dated behavior. Stuff that can’t keep up sufficiently with the progress of modernism.

A modern non-dairy -gluten -soy company choosing to depict itself (however humorously) with a Mullet Man is — I am choosing to believe — a sign that the mullet has run fully circle in the irony mill and is now biding its time to reenter the public arena of hairstyles as a legitimate style.

That is, of course, assuming that mullets themselves are sentient in some capacity.

You know it’s true.

Zero Carb, Day… what day are we on now?

Today’s post is mostly an excuse to look at this gorgeous photo of the spot prawns I ate for dinner. (What ho, is this Instagram now?)

These delicious babies were caught by my uncle in the ice-cold waters off the coast of Alaska, and grilled (much later) on his fancy grill. They’re coated in sea salt, and after ripping off their craggy shells, we dipped them in butter. These are some of the best prawns I’ve ever consumed; their flesh was almost butter on its own, with that echo of sweetness that only shellfish has.

The side dishes to this delicious feast were a slab of wild king salmon (again, caught by mine own uncle) and some New York strip steaks, lovingly reverse seared and surprisingly tender, if a little “furry.” You know that stage in cooking beef where somehow the fibers are rough instead of smooth? Instead of “melting in your mouth,” there’s a kind of furry texture on your tongue. I’ve had that happen in stews that I didn’t cook long enough, so I suspect it has something to do with proteins that have not fully denatured in the cooking process.

I’ve cooked a lot of steaks on my Zero Carb journey so far. Some have been quite successful, some less so. I’m training myself on the “poke it with your finger” method of determining doneness, which has consequently helped me explore what I like and dislike about variously-cooked types of steak. Overcooked steak is no bueno, no matter what, but overly-rare steak is, I’ve found, quite delicious served cold the next day.

My one foray into the reverse sear method (with a giant ribeye) did not go so well. The cooking method was interesting and I appreciated frontloading the wait time (with a reverse sear you don’t have to rest your steak before eating it since the juices were evenly distributed during the long, low portion of the cooking process) but take note: without a good thermometer it’s easy to overcook on this method, because you’re not babysitting a hot pan on the stove until the very end.

Also, unlike what seems like the entire cohort of the Zero Carb community, I’m not a huge fan of the ribeye.

As far as the rest of my Zero Carb journey, I eat entirely too much cheese and deal with some inflammation partially as a result of that (the other part I suspect is due to stress…which eating minimal carbohydrates won’t help reduce). But, my skin looks great and for the most part I’m alert and in a decent mood most of the time.

Still trying to quit coffee, but when your neurotic guts decide to wake you up multiple times during the night, thus disrupting any refreshing sleep cycle, it’s a little hard to say no to at least a little bit. I’ve whittled myself down to about 6 oz of cold brew per day, and try not to drink it if I don’t have to.

The one thing that I’ve noticed is the most major change in my body with Zero Carb is that there is very little “buffer” material anymore. When I’m hungry, I go from 0 to “deep wrenching intestinal hunger roar” in about 5 minutes, rather than feeling traditional hunger signals. Coffee effects me much more deeply, because I’m not consuming it with a bunch of other foodstuff that would slow down its diuretic effect.

The funniest thing (to me, anyway) about going Zero Carb is how much less anxious I am about mealtime, even at a restaurant. In the old days, when I was low-FODMAP or SCD or any other type of diet plan that involved eating only specific vegetables and avoiding “bad” carbohydrates, eating at restaurants was a stressful endeavor. Either you find a place with a menu that naturally dovetailed with the diet, or you had to try to explain what you could or could not eat to a kitchen staff who may or may not be invested in helping you out. (And to a lot of people, sweet potatoes totally don’t count as carbs.)

Now, I just waltz in and order my stack of 3 burger patties with cheese. No worries, no fuss, just meat please. The hardest part is convincing the cashier that yes, I really just want the beef patties.

If you’re interested in the Zero Carb life, there’s still time to join the group of 300+ who will participate in the first-ever study of the carnivore lifestyle. Check out more at

The most trusted name in news

Five years ago, the “greentext” aesthetic was associated with epic stories, usually with some sort of groan-inducing pun or twist at the end. Or else they were super gross.

If you had told me then that I would trust a greentext news update more than I would trust my local nightly news, I would have laughed.

Now? I’m loving my daily news bulletin from /pol/ News Forever.

Reading green text on a peach background is not the greatest experience in the world (and can you imagine what it’s like for red-green colorblind people??) but, to me, it’s now an indicator that what I’m reading is plausible-to-true. The types of graphics that we see on CNN, or the local nightly news, with the ticker bars on the bottom of the screen and the rotating concentric circles, those now are a visual cue for fake news.

I wonder if I’m more willing to trust the butt-ugly chopped-together aesthetic of greentext as a direct contrast to the slickness of the mainstream media’s visual presentation.

This would make sense, as the Drudge Report is also incredibly popular, and its aesthetic focuses on “just the facts, ma’am.”

Sometimes Drudge’s layout looks extra special. I particularly like this one from yesterday. Most of the photos are crisp and bold, and fit into an overall red-yellow-green color palette (one of my favorites, tbh). Obviously Matt Drudge isn’t in the business of making news pretty, but sometimes it turns out that way.

It’ll be interesting to watch how the backlash against fake news also extends to the visual presentation of news. A sophisticated visual presentation doesn’t automatically mean that the content it contains is false, but it’s a lot easier to hide BS in a fancy container–there’s more distraction from what’s important.

The truth (or at the very least, the truth-as-you-see-it) needs very little varnishing to be effective.

Moochin’ the White House

I love this photo. It says so much.

Scaramucci perfectly framed by the door: symmetrical. The lines around his body are clean and strong, and square to the camera. Direct. Bold. His dark suit contrasts with the overexposed background. He breaks the symmetry with his body language, that stare at Priebus.

Thumbs tucked into his belt loops, like an old-west gunslinger ready to draw.

He’s wearing his badge.

There’s a new sheriff in town.

Priebus, on the other hand, he bleeds right into the background. His suit, white shirt, and tie make stripes that are an extension of the flag behind him. He’s turned to the side, away from the camera. His hand looks limp. And the couch is obscuring half his body; he is literally half the size of Scaramucci.

Even their hair tells a story. Scaramucci’s is robust and dark. Salt and pepper temples make some men look distinguished, but not Priebus.

Without saying a word, Scaramucci has established dominance over Priebus, and by extension, the entire GOP establishment. And since this photo has been all over twitter today (I think it scrolled past in my feed 3 times), he’s essentially marked his territory all over the Trump base.

You know it’s a beautifully communicative photograph when it transforms perfectly into a meme. Just add Pepe.

If this is the initial thesis statement for the Mooch-era White House, I think we’re in for a heckuva lot of fun.

Scaramucci has started out with a bang. I hope his follow-through is just as intense. (And with an endorsement from Nassim Taleb, I suspect it is.)

Postmodern Journaling

File this under “no such thing as coincidence.”

The very same day I posted yesterday’s post on a type of journal entry, Vox Day began ruthlessly examining postmodern literature. Essentially, the argument is that postmodern literature is void of information content or actual communication; instead, the writing is meant to be skimmed for an impression.

This holds true to what I know of modern MFA-style workshops in creative writing. They despise “genre fiction,” which tends to focus on such quaint, old-fashioned ideas like story and character, while being absolutely obsessed with sentence-level stylistics. If you never look past the WORDS to the MEANING, however, you don’t get a good story. (Hence why you never see any good stories coming out of MFA-style workshops.)

This can also apply to journals and diaries.

If I go back to my longhand journals, I can re-read entries and remember what was going on in my life at the time. There’s usually some sort of structure to what I wrote, and it reflected what was in my head. There’s content being communicated. And even though it’s to-myself from-myself, I can understand past entries even with the passage of time.

Now, the Keel’s Simple Diary, I don’t think I’ve ever gone through and re-read past entries.

[Press pause while I do so.]

Based our previous observation of words and content, I can validate the conclusion that you probably just leapt to that Keel’s postmodern approach to journaling does very little to retain the content of a day. Even in the entries that I specifically mentioned events, I have no idea what was going on. Nothing evokes a memory.

It’s fun to fill out, to make your brain stretch a little bit to fill in the random types of questions that are asked for each day, but because the questions are so random, there’s no comparison across time, or even space for a narrative or even just a data point or two.

You validate the action of updating a daily journal, but the purpose (to provide a document for daily life, thoughts, emotions, etc.) is completely obliterated.

Postmodernism strikes again.


Structured Journaling

I’m having one of those days where I am having a difficult time stringing thoughts together. It’s a tough place to be writing a blog post, because the likelihood of words coming out of my fingers in a jumbled mass of incoherence will quickly reach 100%. So, in order to stave off complete chaos and start my own exploration into the creation of a daily journal in the style of a Keel’s “Simple Diary,” I will simply record my answers here.


Your day was (only choose one)

(  ) a volcano.

(X) down the drain.

(  ) a fountain.

Explain why: Hard to concentrate at work, frittered away a lot of time, didn’t sleep well last night, my leaky guts leaked a little more than usual. It’s a day that’s ready to flush.


You are too realistic about: The fact that Crohn’s disease can never be cured.

And does it make you proud? 

(  ) Yes

(X) No


Life is uncomfortable.


Who gets away with it? The people who never do the work but show up at the end.

You believe you have changed.

(  ) Yes

(X) No

Who has nothing? The incurious.

Why do people like changes? Because we think that external changes will spark an internal change.

Featured Artist: Faces of Gypsy

I’ve been intending on starting something like this in the long run, a feature or catalog of artists of all stripes who are on our side. Today presented the perfect chance to start.

News broke that Gypsy Freeman, a Trump-supporting makeup artist, was divested of her winnings in a contest run by Kat Von D not-at-all-because-of-politics-but-totally-because-of-politics. This is exactly the kind of behavior I expect to see (and do) from the left.

It’s also why we need to support our own.

Gypsy Freeman is a beautiful makeup artist. My edit of her work is going to skew ethereal, but her portfolio also runs heavy into steampunk. I like her work because it hits the balance of stylized, editorial makeup and ethereal looks.

If you’re in Tampa or Wichita and need makeup expertise, definitely look her up.

A few things:

  1. Twitter’s algorithm is sometimes scary-accurate (which means, inversely, that its shadowbanning capabilities are also on target)
  2. Scaramucci’s actual tweeting style is so much like a parody account already, it’s going to be extra entertaining watching people mistake @scaramiucci for the real thing.
  3. I’m looking forward to the offensive media campaign that comes out of this.
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