Art Kavanagh

Criticism, fiction and other writing

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Bringing back the CD
My CD collection has been languishing unplayed in a French attic since 2011. I wanted to bring the discs home. But not their “jewel” cases, which only add bulk and weight.

Talk about books, print edition — again
A year ago, I was thinking about a print edition of my Substack (as it then was), but I did something else instead. It’s an idea whose time has come back.

Publishers and short stories
Short stories aren’t novels. So maybe it’s not a good idea that collections and anthologies so often take the same size and shape as a novel.

Why I don’t trust
The declared aim of is to support independent bookshops. The effect may be to make them appear irrelevant.

Newsletter no longer
Substack doesn’t want you to think of it as part of “the newsletter economy”. The same goes for Talk about books. And I’m again (a year later) thinking about offering a printed edition.

“Talk about books”: Issues 34 to 39 inclusive
My newsletter is halfway through its second year of existence. These are the 6 issues I’ve posted in the last three months, and an indication what to expect in the next quarter.

Up to a point, with Copper
I’ve signed up for yet another book/reading tracking app: Copper. This time it might be different. The app, which is iOS-only for now, aims at a more even balance between the interests of authors and readers than comparable apps have done before now.

“Talk about books” newsletter — year 2, first quarter
Talk about books is now seven issues into its second year. Here’s a summary of the year so far, and an indication what to expect in the next few months.

Adding a description to posts
I wanted to add a description to my newsletter posts in, one that could be used in Twitter cards and in an archive of (only) the posts included in the newsletter (Talk about books). This is how I did it.

Substack farewell: “Talk about books” is moving
I had no intention of moving “Talk about books” from Substack. Then Manton Reece introduced email newsletters on The decision to move my newsletter was far from being a no-brainer but it didn’t take me long to make up my mind. Here, I explain why. is an interesting app/site, but it’s not for me
Why I decided to stop using I don’t need an alternative to Goodreads. I’m happier when I’m not keeping track of my reading.

Three book reviews that I posted on
I tried out for two months but concluded it wasn’t for me. Here are three reviews I posted there of books I haven’t written about elsewhere.

Talk about books — print edition
My newsletter, Talk about books, is a year old now. I think it’s time that it existed in print as well as in the form of bytes and data.

A year of “Talk about books” (already)
It’s hard to believe, but my newsletter, “Talk about books”, has been running for a year already. The first issue of year 2 is due on 24 November.

I’m again thinking of leaving Medium
Last May, I was planning to delete my Medium account when it struck me that it would be easier to point a custom domain at it. Four months later, I’m reverting to the previous plan.

Paul Graham and the online essay
The cofounder of Y Combinator sees his main activity as writing “essays” online. When I read his account of what he’s worked on, I suddenly understood why I’d started a Substack newsletter 3½ months ago.

Printed books and ebooks: another small reason to prefer the former
Here’s another small way in which ebooks offer an inferior experience to that provided by printed books.

Citing book and journal titles when posting on Medium and Substack
Substack and Medium treat all inline italic text as emphasis. So, how are you to cite a book or periodical title?

The judgment of critics
For most of my life I’ve believed that the paramount function of the critic was judgment. Then John Naughton (Memex 1.1) quoted a short, simple epigram from Robert Musil that changed my mind.

Who needs independent booksellers?
It’s not easy to be consistent in one’s attitude to booksellers, whether independent or part of a chain, particularly when one thinks about how Amazon has changed the market for books in the past 15 years.

The books I left behind — and some I didn’t
Nine years ago, I left most of my books, as well as a substantial portion of my other possessions, in the attic of my sister’s house near Toulouse. I’ve just been back to sort out which of the books I want to keep.

Where to now for RSS?
It’s nice to be using RSS again but I still have some reservations about it. Here are my suggestions for incorporating its most essential features into HTML and the browser.

Even plainer text
A suggestion for writing a basically structured document in plain (i.e. UTF-8) text without reference to an external style sheet and with as little markup as possible.

The body in The Matrix
I watched The Matrix only once, and didn’t like it, to the extent that I didn’t bother to watch the sequels. A piece in Vox by Emily VanDerWerff about the film as an allegory of gender transition has made me realize why I’ve been refusing the red pill. It has to do with transcending the body’s limitations.

Reading poetry in scholarly editions
Scholarly editions of poetry provide some protection against anachronistic readings, misinterpretation and other errors. Unfortunately, that protection comes at a price.

A good masculinity is hard to find: Part 3 — gender as behaviour
The old-fashioned notion of gender-as-behaviour has recently been overshadowed by the concept of gender identity. But there are still useful things to be said about the older idea. For one thing, having believed for more than 35 years that masculinity and femininity were “merely social constructs”, I’ve recently changed my opinion.

Writing “plain” text
For the past few years, I’ve been doing most of my writing as unformatted text, what some people still insist on describing as “plain”. Sounds like it might be time to dust off the old AlphaSmart, if it still works. But can it cope with UTF-8?

Tech’s unfulfilled promises
Tech held out the promise of helping to free humanity from drudgery, boredom and hard physical work. Obviously, that promise hasn’t been kept. So, what now?

A good masculinity is hard to find: Part 2 — gender as identity
I got through most of my adult life without ever thinking about gender as a question of identity. It’s normal for clashes over identity to lead to mutually contradictory, incompatible claims, and ultimately irresolvable disputes. “Woman” is a contested identity.

A good masculinity is hard to find: Part 1 — episodes from the early life of an antimasculine male
For some time, I’ve been trying to write about gender in general, even abstract, terms. But first I think I need to give an account of some of my own personal history as it relates to gender. This is the first part of an intended series of three posts.

PDF is preferable to ePub, even on small screens
The conventional wisdom may be wrong as to the relative merits of PDF and ePub in the dissemination of long form texts.

Heather Sellers: Learning the lessons of face-blindness and place-blindness
A professor of creative writing can’t recognize faces or find her way around places she knows well. Her approach to dealing with this difficulty is something we can all learn from.

Music distribution formats
I’ve just ordered a CD for the first time in 3 years and I’m wondering if I should do it more often. The things I don’t like about downloads are the absence of physical liner notes and careless, inconsistent or wrongheaded metadata.

In defence of flow: a response to Barbara Gail Montero
Professor Montero makes a persuasive case against the notion that excellence or mastery in performance can be achieved effortlessly, in an ecstatic state of altered consciousness. In spite of this, I’m not yet quite ready to give up the idea of “flow”.

The good old days of the web may be just around the corner
We need to go back to the future of the worldwide web. A follow-up to my article on LinkedIn, Advertising and the future of surveillance capitalism.

I was not born to follow
Why I think “following” isn’t a very satisfactory model, either for social media or the open web. Unexpectedly (to me at least), this turns out to be a follow-up to my recent post about Google and the future of search.

Living without Amazon
It’s four months since I deleted my Amazon account. Getting by without ordering from the online retailer is at worst a minor inconvenience.

Why Google might just conceivably be the future of search
The existence of sites like Million Short suggests that many of us suspect that the kind of algorithmic search pioneered by Google may not be reliably turning up the best and most relevant results, and that the problem only gets worse as the web expands. We need something better.

The book review is slowly dying, and we don’t need to mourn it
Book reviews have become an impoverished form of writing. The internet needs a more critical and enlightening kind of book discussion.

Survivorship bias in writing and publishing
We all want to avoid irrational thought patterns but it may not be a good idea for writers, publishers and literary agents to worry too much about being fooled by survivorship bias. This is why.

More thoughts on ebooks and real books
I’ve been critical and dismissive of ebooks in recent posts. That doesn’t mean that I always prefer to read from a printed page rather than a screen but rather that I believe that ebooks have so far failed to make the most of the possibilities of digital publication.

How ebooks could become real books
This is a follow-up to something I posted two months ago on Medium: Why ebooks aren’t real books. It would require a change of attitude towards ebooks by publishers (traditional and indie) and also by suppliers such as Apple Books.

Last updated 27-Apr-2024.