Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Around the Word (Catch-up Edition)

Now that we are out of our earthquake crouch, we can resume our regular word-nerd programming. Here's a quick catch-up of the stories we've been following on the Word Wide Web the last few days.

You are what you read: How many times have you heard someone you know say a favorite book changed their life? Well, a new study out of Canada suggests that old chestnut may be more true than we know. According to Quill and Quire, Canada's premiere literary news magazine, a group of researchers at the University of Toronto found that reading fiction can alter people's personalities -- and arm them with better social skills than non-readers. The study randomly assigned participants 1 of 2 versions of a short story; one full and the other merely containing abbreviated plot points. "We found the people who read the [whole] story changed a bit in their personality," said lead researcher Keith Oatley. "What we found interesting was that they all changed in different ways." Does this ring true with you?

Pronunciation for Dummies: If you are like most wordsmiths, and spending more time writing than reciting, your pronunciation skills can get a little rusty. The New Yorker's Book Bench turned us onto a great way to flex those atrophied verbal muscles -- the Pronunciation Book on You Tube. This channel features a male speaker with a clear, easy-listening voice breaking down and sounding out a range of tricky words. For example: "When a conversation about poetry moves from Romanticism to Modernism, you'd hate to be the one who draws a distinction between Keats and Yeats, but mistakes them for a rhyming pair." Do you have any pro pronunciation tips to help avoid spoken faux pas?

Please, watch your pronouns: We're all taught to mind our manners, but according to psychologist James Pennebaker, we should be focusing on our pronouns too -- for they reveal the most about us. Our friend the Eloquent Woman recently posted a summary of Pennebaker's most interesting findings on the most personal of usages, some of which challenged conventional assumptions. "Most people assume that men use I-words and cognitive words more than women, and that women use we-words, emotions and social words more then men," EW wrote. "Bad news. You were right if you guessed that women use social words more. However, women use I-words and cognitive words at far higher rates than men." We're also offered some insight on how pronouns are used by those in power. Turns out that leaders tend to use them less, but underlings can't get enough of "I," "me," and "mine." If you want to learn more about the hidden messages your pronouns are sending, you can pick up Pennebaker's book, The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us.

How to turn PDFs into PDQs: Are you having trouble tracking and reading all the varied PDFs -- manuscripts, articles, editorial letters -- littering your desktop? We came across a neat tool, courtesy of eBookNewser, that can offer you some iRelief. This simple tutorial will show you how to cleanly convert your abundance of documents from different platforms into streamlined Kindle or epub files. "Our tutorial also includes a simple introduction to coding so you can scrub out frustrating headers, page numbers, or other stray bits of code that make your converted PDF hard to read." Try it out and let us know how it works.

Financials of the trade: If you are curious about what different literary jobs pay, you may want to consult Glassdoor, the anonymous job site, to get a sense of the landscape. Our friends at GalleyCat did a quick survey this week, and found that New York area book designers make about $58,924 on average, editors around $53,500 and publicists trail below at $37,093 a year. Do these numbers track with your experience?

One small step for authorkind: Also from GalleyCat, we learned of a rather novel partnership between NASA and Tor/Forge publishers. Now that the space program has gone on hiatus, NASA's scientists have agreed to assist Tor/Forge authors at a two day workshop at GFSC in November, where they will provide access to the agency's data and design elements. The program's immediate goal is to aid in the development of more "scientifically accurate and entertaining novels," though ultimately NASA hopes the program will encourage more students to follow science, math, and technology tracks in school.

Trim the fat off your kids' reading: The Los Angeles Times this week keyed us into a raging debate about a soon-to-be-released diet book targeted at girls between the ages of 6 and 12. The picture book, Maggie Goes on a Diet, by author and self-publisher Paul M. Kramer, is written in rhyme and chronicles Maggie's decision to lose weight after kids at school called her "fatty" and "chubby." Though Maggie loses weight the healthy way, cutting back on junk food and allowing herself one "normal-sized treat a week," critics contend that the book sends the disturbing message that being thin will make you happy.  One blogger commented, "Little girls shouldn't even know what a diet is, much less be encouraged to lose weight." In an interview Kramer commented that he wasn't advocating any little girl go on a diet, though he quickly rescinded the statement, acknowledging just seconds later that ..." Maggie did indeed go on a diet, as the title of the book clearly indicates." Despite the controversy Amazon still plans to offer the book, which should be available in October.

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