Google swallows 11,000 novels to improve AI’s conversation

As writers learn that tech giant has processed their work without permission, the Authors Guild condemns blatantly commercial use of expressive authorship

When the writer Rebecca Forster first heard how Google was using her work, it felt like she was trapped in a science fiction novel.

Is this any different than someone using one of my books to start a fire? I have no idea, she says. I have no idea what their objective is. Certainly it is not to bring me readers.

After a 25-year writing career, during which she has published 29 novels ranging from contemporary romance to police procedurals, the first instalment of her Josie Bates series, Hostile Witness, has found a new reader: Googles artificial intelligence.

My imagination just didnt go as far as it being used for something like this, Forster says. Perhaps thats my failure.

Forsters thriller is just one of 11,000 novels that researchers including Oriol Vinyals and Andrew M Dai at Google Brain have been using to improve the technology giants conversational style. After feeding these books into a neural network, the system was able to generate fluent, natural-sounding sentences. According to a Google spokesman who didnt want to be named products such as the Google app will be much more useful if they can capture the nuance of language better.

For the moment, the research is just a proof of concept, the spokesman continues via email, but these methods could help Google understand and produce a broader, more nuanced range of text for any given task.

We could have used many different sets of data for this kind of training, and we have used many different ones for different research projects, he adds. But in this case, it was particularly useful to have language that frequently repeated the same ideas, so the model could learn many ways to say the same thing the language, phrasing and grammar in fiction books tends to be much more varied and rich than in most nonfiction books.

The only problem is that they didnt ask. The Google paper [PDF] says that the novels used in this research were taken from the Books Corpus, citing a 2015 paper by Ryan Kiros and others [PDF] which describes how the authors collected a corpus of 11,038 books from the web, describing them as free books written by [as] yet unpublished authors. Its a collection that has been used by other researchers working in artificial intelligence and which is currently available for download in its entirety from the University of Toronto.

Forster says that she always appreciates an interesting use of words, but while Hostile Witness is available to download for free, no one asked her permission to use her novel as raw material to train a computer.

Perhaps Im still thinking in the old way, that a reader will read my book it didnt even occur to me that a machine could read my book. What I found curious was that these were referred to as free books written by as yet unpublished authors because my state is very different, she says.

Like many of the novels in the Book Corpus collection, the edition of Hostile Witness used in the research was published on Smashwords and includes a copyright declaration that reserves all rights, specifies that the ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only, and offers the reader thanks for respecting the hard work of this author. While Forster says shes no lawyer, the spirit of this declaration is clear you hope that your work would be respected by readers.

I take great pride in my craft, and perhaps it was chosen because of that. Which would be great. Or perhaps it was chosen because it was there, because it was free?

Another writer whose work has been used in the Google Brain research is Erin McCarthy, the author of more than 28 novels. The first volume of her Fast Track series, published by Penguin Random Houses Berkley Books imprint, is also available for free online, but McCarthy says that Google didnt get in touch with her or ask for permission to use Jacked Up in their research into AI. Shes fascinated to hear that romance novels are being used to improve the search conglomerates ability to speak.

There is a reason they are the bestselling genre in the US and I believe its because they feel conversational themselves, McCarthy says. Its real life turned up a notch. Realism overlying a fantasy.

The flow of the dialogue is very important, she continues. I am very cognizant of using modern diction and age-appropriate word choices. If my female character is 24 shes not going to speak in a formal manner. Conversations between the hero and heroine have realistic word choices, but there is additionally an element of fantasy there. What they want a hero to say, but what might not actually occur in real life. Thats what readers want and expect from a romance novel.

McCarthy isnt sure how to respond to the idea that her work has been used for an entirely different purpose to the one she intended, a purpose that may result in services to make the tech giant a lot of money.

Its hard to gauge the use of my work and the exact purpose for its use without having seen it in action, she says. My assumption would be they purchased a copy of the book originally. If they havent, then I would imagine the source of the content, as intellectual property, should be properly attributed and compensated for the general health of the creative community.

Far from offering proper attribution or any compensation, the Google paper avoids any suggestion that the novels used in the research were written by real people, describing the books only as a collection of text from 12k ebooks, mostly fiction.

Forster is equally adamant that writers whose work has been used to gain a commercial advantage should reap a portion of the rewards, but isnt holding her breath for any payment.

If theres one thing thats niggling at me its that I would have liked to have known, she says. With all the technology at their fingertips, then it wouldnt have been too hard to let everyone know.

According to Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, this blatantly commercial use of expressive authorship comes as no surprise. Weve seen this movie before.

The Guild has been in dispute with Google since 2005, arguing that the companys project to digitise library books was a plain and brazen violation of copyright law. Google Books won in 2013, with the district court ruling that all society benefits from the project, a decision that the supreme court declined to review earlier this year.

Why shouldnt authors be asked permission, or even informed not to mention compensated before their work is used in this manner? Rasenberger asks. Theres no doubt the company has the means to do so.

Google wouldnt say whether getting hold of 11,000 authors was beyond their capacities, or if they have any plans to reward the writers, or if the people whose expertise was harvested to train their network were ever considered as individuals. While attribution isnt required, the spokesman says via email, the researchers clearly identify where they got the data.

The machine learning community has long published open research with these kinds of datasets, including many academic researchers with this set of free ebooks it doesnt harm the authors and is done for a very different purpose from the authors, so its fair use under US law.

But Rasenberger isnt convinced.

The research in question uses these novels for the exact purpose intended by their authors to be read, she argues. It shouldnt matter whether its a machine or a human doing the copying and reading, especially when behind the machine stands a multi-billion dollar corporation which has time and again bent over backwards devising ways to monetise creative content without compensating the creators of that content.

Rasenberger adds that nobody knows how books will be read or used in the future, which is why the Authors Guild is proposing that digital uses should be allowed under a licensing system. But for the moment, Google is extracting immense value from the creative efforts of thousands of authors and looking the other way.

For Forster, the lack of any proper attribution speaks volumes. If theyre not mentioning the authors, she says, then maybe theyre not thinking of it in terms of it being someones work.

She never imagined her work would wind up as being part of someone elses dataset, as raw ingredients to satisfy a machines hunger for information, but shes been around long enough to know that what you hope for isnt always what you get.

I would have loved to have been part of the discussion of this project, and to have known how it was going to be used, she says. But Id also like to be thought of as intelligent enough to be able to make a decision about the end product.

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‘How I accidentally became a poet through Twitter’ – BBC News

Brian Bilston has been dubbed the “unofficial poet laureate of Twitter”, but he stumbled into writing poetry on social media. Here he explains the power of online verse.

It started with a tweet. I never thought it would come to this.

I’m not even sure it was a poem. More of a play on words, each one carefully selected to fit into the 140-character constraint of a tweet.

It went:

Image copyright Twitter

I sent it out – and then went out. By coincidence, to see a poet – a proper one, the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, no less – who was giving a reading nearby.


I had turned off my phone so it wasn’t until a few hours later, when I’d returned home and turned it back on again, that I saw my Twitter notifications had gone crazy – my tweet had been shared several hundred times, I had 200 new followers. It was the kind of reaction I was utterly unaccustomed to getting.

A few weeks later, I tried again. A poem entitled Frisbee:

Image copyright Twitter

Again, it was well-received. More retweets. More new followers. And so my career as social media poet began.

I had never intended to be a poet. A poet to my mind was someone of intensity, a serious type, the kind of person you wouldn’t want to get trapped in a kitchen with at a party (if poets received invitations to parties at all, that is).

I vaguely remembered the term “iambic pentameter” from my schooldays. I knew roughly how many syllables there were in a haiku, and I had a rudimentary grounding in the poetry of Eliot and Larkin – although my true heroes were Roger McGough and Ogden Nash.

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This is an edited version of The Social Media Poet, part of Radio 4’s Four Thought series – catch up on BBC iPlayer Radio

I had never intended to waste my days on social media either. Of Twitter, I was, as with so many other things, a late adopter. I had only joined it in order to understand what it was that those people at work, invariably younger than I, would talk about so irritatingly in meetings.

So I joined, and like many other first-time tweeters, those early months were spent in writing bad jokes and puns which echoed in the ethereal emptiness.

But something else had begun to bloom in the background – I had started to talk to strangers on Twitter (some of whom were very strange) and read about the things that interested them or made them laugh or annoyed or sad or angry.

And almost nothing, it seemed, made Twitter angrier than bad grammar. For every badly spelt, poorly constructed tweet, there were a hundred unreconstructed grammar pedants leaping in to point out the mistakes.

So I started writing poems about these heinous crimes, the misapplication of a semi-colon, the rule about i before e, and of course, that most controversial of all the punctuation marks, the Oxford comma – and even gently mocked the grammar enforcers themselves:

Image copyright Twitter

I began to receive feedback on my poems from Twitter users. A typical response was: “I hated poetry at school. I never thought I’d find myself retweeting a poem.”

Or: “I don’t really like poems but I like whatever it is you do”

I am still unsure as to whether these are compliments or not. But it did open my eyes to how poetry is still viewed with suspicion by a large part of the populace, in spite of the undoubted resurgence in popularity it has seen in recent times.

We see signs of that new interest in poetry all around us – the growth of performance poetry and the spoken word movement, poetry slams, workshops for aspiring poets, the soaring membership of societies at the national and regional level, the rise of self-publishing, and a new generation of inspiring younger poets, such as Kate Tempest and George the Poet, taking the form to newer audiences.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kate Tempest

But move outside of that growing community, the impression remains that poetry – in general terms – is difficult, almost deliberately obtuse and obscure, frequently dull, and willfully uses words such as “crepuscular” or “obsidian”.

Small wonder that the business of publishing poetry books is a fraught one – few titles sell in substantial quantities, and most general commercial publishers or literary agents have turned their backs on poetry.

Books are published by specialist presses with short print-runs or self-published. Poetry sections in bookshops appear to shrink by the month. There’s a lot of poetry about but it seems few people want to buy it.

But social media shows us that a broader, more democratic appetite for poetry exists, after all.

In June, as the terrible news came in of the murder of MP Jo Cox, the Poetry Society – a UK organisation with the aim of promoting the study, use and enjoyment of poetry – shared on Twitter The Mower, one of Philip Larkin’s later poems.

The poem concerns the death of a hedgehog, jammed up against the blades of his lawnmower. The poem is mournful and melancholic but also compassionate and powerful.

It travelled around Twitter at lightning speed, bursting out from the bubble of The Poetry Society’s followers to find a much broader audience. It was re-shared over 3,500 times and reached a readership of half a million readers in just a few days.

It’s a piece that does what brilliant poetry does best – it moves us, it gives voice to thoughts and feelings that we ourselves may struggle to articulate, it’s personal and yet universal.

Image caption Philip Larkin

But also, 37 years after it was written, it is relevant. It’s Poetry as Current Affairs. The Poem as Social Commentary. And that can be the power of social media for poetry – a place to share words at the point of need. It is lent an immediacy other outlets for poetry do not have – it is not trapped in the pages of a book on a shelf, nor waiting to be recited at an event taking place two weeks next Thursday. It’s there where we need it – and when we need it.

But the relationship between poetry and that broader social media audience is more than an immediate, articulated response to tragedy. A platform such as Twitter can also serve as an endless source of ideas for poets.

Without Twitter’s hashtag, the symbol for what is trending at any moment in time, I would never have known about Penguin Awareness Day or National Stationery Week. Last year, the stars aligned and three celebrations occurred all on the same day – World Philosophy Day, International Men’s Day and World Toilet Day, giving rise to this short piece – Poem for International Men’s Toilet Philosophy Day – which combines all three:

Image copyright Twitter

Poetry is often seen as being about Universal Concepts and Big Ideas – Truth, Love, Death, Beauty, Betrayal, Regret. These are all Grand Themes upon which we have cause to reflect throughout our lives. But there’s poetry to be found in the stuff of everyday existence, too – that nonsense in our lives that sometimes gets in the way of those Grand Themes – and social media is the ideal arena in which to share it.

Image copyright Twitter

There are other lessons for poets to learn from social media about how to keep their writing interesting and relevant to modern audiences. The ways in which we consume content have begun to change.

Any time spent wallowing in the mire that is social media shows how visual the information is with which we now engage – yes, there are words aplenty, but there are pictures and videos, too.

The barrage of information that is thrown at us means that plain words on a page are becoming less likely to be read. People struggle to find the time, inclination or powers of concentration to wade through pages of dense text. Words find themselves in competition with pictures. And less is often more.

But poets shouldn’t feel threatened by this in a social media setting – rather, it gives us the opportunity to think about form as well as content, and how the presentation of a poem might enhance or complement the words which accompany it.

I began to experiment with the visual aspects of poetry, when I wrote a poem in the shape of a Christmas tree. The poem itself was about how I had neglected to water my words, and I illustrated this by having words spread out around the base of the poem, like pine needles scattered over a carpet.

Image copyright Twitter

The presentation of the poem was the punchline but also enabled it to stand out amongst the hundreds of other tweets sitting on users’ timelines.

Other forms and shapes followed. We live in an age of infographics, data, flowcharts. On Twitter, I noticed how everyone, it would seem, enjoys a good Venn diagram. So I wrote a poem using two different personal narratives separated into two halves of a Venn diagram, with words which overlapped in their stories appearing in the intersection to form a third, unifying perspective to the poem.

Image copyright Twitter

And from there followed poems in flowcharts, or made from Scrabble tiles, in Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, in the form of CVs, in the shapes of wine-glasses and light-bulbs. They all became popular.

Yes, their novelty helped the poems stand out – but they also embedded words within places or situations that people recognized from their own lives.

So what have I – as an accidental poet – accidentally learnt?

Poetry on social media is more than a never-ending stream of haiku concerning the changing light of the moon on water, or the beauty of cherry blossom.

It’s far more interesting and relevant than that.

More about Brian Bilston

Media captionBrian Bilston on Donald Trump, sex and the Daily Mail

It’s an opportunity for poetry to present itself in situations where and when people most need it – as a way of finding meaning or comfort to bigger, often unfathomable, world events, perhaps, or simply to provide some light relief from the complexity and perplexity of life.

But it’s also a platform for poets themselves to interact and engage with their audience – and, indeed, find new audiences – through experimentation with content and form, and a deeper engagement with real world concerns.

I shall finish with one more poem, written one day when Twitter became unavailable for a whole afternoon, much to the angst of millions of people around the world. It’s called The day that Twitter went down.

That day I got things done.

I went for a long run.

Played ping-pong,

Wrote a song.

It got to number one.

That day I did a lot.

I tied a Windsor knot.

Helped the poor,

Stopped a war,

Read all of Walter Scott.

O what a day to seize.

I learnt some Cantonese.

Led a coup,

Climbed K2,

Cured a tropical disease.

That day I met deadlines,

Got crowned King of Liechtenstein,

Stroked a toucan,

Found Lord Lucan,

Then Twitter came back online.

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Regularly Reading Books Prolongs Your Life By Up To Two Years

There are many ways to improve the chance of you living to a ripe old age, and some are fairly obvious. Refraining from smoking and drinking, doing moderate-intensity exercise, and eating a relatively healthy diet are some of the more obvious ones, but a new study in the journal Social Science and Medicine also concludes that those who regularly read books add years to their lives too.

In fact, in a long-term study of 3,635 people, they found that those thatindulged in a bit of novel perusing specifically, for more than 3.5 hours per week live on averagetwo years longer than non-readers. This appeared to be linked to cognitive enhancement rather than any other associated factor, including age, sex, education, race, health, wealth, marital status, and depressive tendencies.

During the 12-year-long study, the research team led by Avni Bavishi from the Yale University School of Public Health divided their subjects into three groups: those who didnt read at all, those who read for 3.5 hours per week or less, and those who read for more than 3.5 hours per week.

Even in the second group, these occasional bookworms were 17 percent less likely to die during the follow-up period than those who did not. Before you claim that all those magazine articles you read aregood enough, however, its worth noting that this effect can only be linked to books, and not other forms of reading material.

Book reading contributed to a survival advantage that was significantly greater than that observed for reading newspapers or magazines, the authors note in their study, concluding that these findings suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them.

Reading books tends to involve two cognitive processes that could create a survival advantage, the team added. First, it promotes deep reading, an immersive process that encourages readers to form connections to other parts of the material and the world around them. Second, books can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival.

It seems that the complex, interwoven nature of many books cannot be matched, at present, by any other type of text-based information. Nevertheless, this doesnt mean that books are the only way to engage your brain in intricate, engaging ways multiple studies across the years have shown that computer games are also excellent ways to boost intelligence and learning capabilities, both of which will undoubtedly give you an advantage in life.

Still, at this point, it seems that books rule the roost. The novelist Stephen King once said that books are a uniquely portable magic, and it appears that he was right in more ways than one.

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Hey, Girl, The History Of The Word Girl Is Actually Crazy

There’s “gal,” there’s “lady,” and now, there’s “kween” (comma, “yas”).

The ways modern girls evade calling each other “girls” are myriad, but most of them take on the same semi-ironic tone, mocking the days when femininity, monolithic as it was, could be neatly contained within the parameters of a word.

As much as those old-timey words smack of condescension “ladies” seems at home in the mouth of a suited courter, verbally italicized they can also generate feelings of solidarity among women, and so we use them, half-seriously. “Lady” has a disparaging air; it implies that a woman behaves as she “should.” “Gal” isn’t as bad, but it harkens back to a time when women had fewer rights. When we use these words on our own terms, we’re giving them a new life.

But there’s one girl-word that’s still icky in spite of its ubiquity, and that’s “girl” itself.

It’s unapologetically juvenile, like the cringeworthy “panties,” which, according to a survey of 500 women, is among the most-hated words. Its juvenility, when applied to adults, reveals some uncomfortable things about femininity being inextricably linked to youth. But, as Robin Wasserman pointed out in a piece on the word on Literary Hub, “girl” is having a moment. Citing a rash of new books with “girl” in the title – including her own, Girls on FireWasserman writes, “There is, it seems, a girl for nearly every kind of woman. I think it’s worth asking why.”

She surveys Gone Girl, Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band, “Golden Girls” and Lena Dunham’s “Girls” to arrive at the conclusion that until we reshape the stuffy, stifled connotation of “woman,” “girl” is liberating, and “girlhood as a state of mind” is worth embracing.

But how did we get ourselves into this linguistic conundrum, wherein the two most viable pronouns for women are respectively infantilizing and rife with domestic, subservient connotations?

The word started cropping up in English texts in the 13th century, used to refer to a young person, but not necessarily a female child.

Sally McConnell-Ginet, professor emeritus of linguistics at Cornell, shared her insights about the history and function of the word “girl” in an email exchange with The Huffington Post, explaining that its roots aren’t tied to gender, but to youth in general.

The precise origin of “girl” is unknown, but, McConnell-Ginet said, the word started cropping up in English texts in the 13th century, used to refer to a young person, but not necessarily a female child. “Gay girls” referred to young women, while “knave girls” referred to young men, until around the 16th century, when “girl” evolved to mean young women in particular.

“This is pretty interesting,” McConnell-Ginet said. “It is much more common for words designating either sex to become specialized for application to males, as in the case of ‘man,’ which from meaning ‘human’ has come to mean in most uses ‘male human.’”

She suspects that the transition of “girl” from genderless to gendered has to do with the word’s dainty connotation, and the perception of young women as smaller and fairer than young men. “It is probably because of the very common association of childishness, smallness, etc.,” McConnell-Ginet said. “Female children might seem in many contexts the quintessential children.”

Does calling adult women “girls” imply that they should strive to be quintessential children, too? It would seem so, when it was uttered in workplaces by “Mad Men”-era nine-to-fivers, describing their secretaries, regardless of age. “My girl” wasn’t just a diminutive descriptor at work, either. The oldies hit bearing the phrase as a title was a No. 1 single by The Temptations in 1964. “Girl Friday” and “girl next door” are among the offshoots that take “girl” to mean a woman who is dependable, helpful, and, as such, eager to serve.

Using historically juvenile words to refer to people who are no longer children has been used as an oppressive tool in other contexts, marking the habit as a harmful one. McConnell-Ginet notes that black men in America were referred to as “boy” by white slaveholders, and, later, employers. “The ‘houseboy’ in many colonial contexts was typically adult,” she added. “Women of any age doing domestic work were often referred to as ‘girls,’ a usage more likely for women of color.”

Using historically juvenile words to refer to people who are no longer children has been used as an oppressive tool in other contexts, marking the habit as a harmful one.

It’s not surprising, then, that, as with so many inventive language phenomena today, the reclaiming of “girl” began in black communities. McConnell-Ginet called it a “warm and powerful form of address,” and due to that power, the usage spread.

In the ‘90s, there were the riot grrrls and the glossier pop equivalents touting “girl power.” Today, Beyonce chants that girls run the world. The widespread reclamation might’ve been disseminated over radio waves and Spotify downloads, but it made its way to more academic realms, too. Eve Ensler, founder of The Vagina Monologues, preaches the reclaiming of the “girl self,” the versions of our personas that “we, as both women and men, often devalue as weak, foolish and irrational as a result of our gender socialization.” When put that way, “girl” is at once a guttural battle cry and a sound defense of traditionally “feminine” virtues, so often written off as foolish or naive.

Andi Zeisler, founder of Bitch Media and author of We Were Feminists Once, attributes the omnipresence of “girl” to a less innocuous force. In a phone interview with HuffPost, she said, “I do think it’s because it’s easier to conceive of girls as an attractive category than it is to think about women in that same way. The Women’s Guide to Savvy Investing is just not going to move the same kind of units as The Girl’s Guide to Getting Rich! A lot of it really is, from a selling and consumption perspective, [about] making things useful, making them sassy, trading on the imagery of the word ‘girl’ as somehow more fun and less ponderous than ‘woman.’”

Zeisler remembers making the conscious decision to refer to herself as a “woman” rather than a “girl,” a deliberate choice she believes many young women make while they’re in the throes of their politically charged college years. 

“I was certainly referring to my contemporaries as girls well into my freshman year before I started noticing that a lot of the people I respected and looked up to were using the term ‘woman,’” Zeisler said. “It’s sort of alien. I remember it sounding very alien in my own mouth, and I felt like I was tripping over myself when I said it. I felt really self-conscious about it.”

Condescension and commercialization aside, she doesn’t think reclaiming “girl” as a positive descriptor rather than a dismissive moniker is all bad. “I don’t really see a ton of downsides,” Zeisler said. “Other than the fact that you don’t always get to choose what people mean when they’re calling you a ‘girl.’”

But that alone the interpretable nature and fraught history of the word, which can be molded into meanings that range from stunting to healing may be reason enough to avoid it.

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Kobos Giant E-Reader May Put the Kindle in Its Place

In the annals of great underdogs, a Canadian subsidiary of a Japanese mega-retailer makes for an unlikely entrant. And yet heres Kobo, again, with a new e-reader that could give Kindle owners some serious second thoughts.

The new Kobo Aura One is literally big, a 7.8-inch behemoth in a world of standard 6-inch displays. But its features are also outsized, whether its robust waterproofing, a clever new nighttime lighting system, or a way to help you read as many top-shelf books as you please without paying a cent. More importantly, theyre all enhancements you wont find on an Amazon Kindle.

Kobo A-Gogo

Its a rocky time for e-readers. Last month, the Association of American Publishers reported that while overall book revenue increased .6 percent in 2015 versus the year before, e-book revenue fell a precipitous 11.3 percent. Of Amazons extensive e-reader lineup, only two crack the companys top 100 sellers in electronics.

So its not surprising then that Kobo has felt some of this decline as well; in fact, the only surprising thing for most people may be that an e-reader called Kobo exists at all. The upstarts parent company, Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, wrote down its 2011 Kobo acquisition by nearly $250 million earlier this year.

The bleak economics of e-reading belies the steadily increasing joys of the devices themselves, especially in the burgeoning premium category. Not many people may be willing to spend hundreds of dollars on an e-reader, but if youre one of them, youre in for a treat. That applies to Amazons $200 Kindle Voyage, its more recent $290 Oasis, which comes with its own leather charging case, and now to the $230 Kobo Aura One, which launches on September 6. It does things neither of those Amazon devices can dream of, and it has to if it wants to shake people from their e-reader lethargy.

When people talk about seeing declines in the space, one of the things thats embedded in that is that people are still reading on devices that they bought in 2011 and 2012, says Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn. Then they slowly upgrade until something comes along thats good enough to make them step upward. Its not like smartphones, where youre getting a giant influx of new customers every 18 months.



If e-reader success is a matter of enticements, the Aura One makes for a pretty solid siren. Previous Kobos have been waterproof, but the latest model can survive submerged two meters for up to an hour, not that youd need to. The Aura One hops on the anti-blue-light trend, phasing out blue spectrum over time so that reading in bed doesnt go on to affect your sleep. (There are studies that say this is helpful, and Apple introduced a similar feature in iOS 9.3, but mileage will vary).

Its also bigger. Tamblyn says the 7.8-inch display helps mimic the feel of a hardcover, rather than a paperback, and that aging e-book enthusiasts prefer having more words on a page even at blown-up font sizes. In my short time with the Aura One, I can confirm that despite its size, its comfortable to hold one-handed, thanks to minimal weight and a pleasantly texturized rubber back. I dont know that I prefer a bigger display yet, or prefer it enough to sacrifice even that little bit of room in my bag. All that surface area can also make the Aura One a little awkward to navigate when youre using the keyboard to search the store, or adjusting far-flung settings.

But youre mostly just reading. And besides, any annoyance quickly disappears when you get to the Aura Ones best feature. The one where you dont have to buy books anymore.

Maximum OverDrive

Apologies if this comes as no surprise, but you dont actually have to purchase e-books. You can rent them from your local library, through a company called OverDrive.

I know, right? Free books! And its not like you were going to display them on your built-ins anyway. The reason more people dont know about this, or maybe more accurately just dont do it, is that the process is a pain. You have to sign up at your library, register at OverDrive on your browser, download a book, transfer it to your device; its a mess, no matter what e-reader you own.

The previous experience of people side-loading to the device was 16 steps to borrow through a library, says Tamblyn. And if any one of those went wrong, it was usually a customer service call to us.

Youll notice that Tamblyn uses the past tense. Thats because Rakuten bought OverDrive in 2015 for over $400 million, which means OverDrive and Kobo are siblings, which is why (thanks, corporate synergy!) the Kobo Aura One has OverDrive built right in.

That gets a little tangled, so let me clarify: You can borrow e-books directly on the Aura One, for free, with just a few taps. I picked up National Book Award finalist Fates and Furies last night with about 30 seconds of work, including the download time. It retails for $13 on Amazon.

There are hiccups to OverDrive borrowing. The titles eventually disappear from your device when the lending period is over (although you can re-up), and the selection can be scant. But giving OverDrive equal weight as a paid bookstore is a remarkable thing. If you borrow 10 books a year, thats easily a hundred dollars youve saved, not to mention avoiding the hassle of side-loading.

For now, the direct OverDrive access is limited to the Aura One, though Tamblyn didnt rule out the possibility that it could come to other models as well. It goes a long way towards making that $230 purchase price more palatable, though. Especially when that still undercuts Amazons best by a solid amount.

We were certainly quite delighted to see someone come out with something up in the $300 range that was still a 6-inch screen, that hadnt done anything with light and sleep, not waterproof, says Tamblyn. That was a great gift to us.

There are things not to like about the Aura One. It has no physical buttons, if you prefer those, and Kobos e-book store selection still falls well short of the Kindle Store. The larger size might throw you off. But theres also so much to like. More importantly, theres so much here that you wont find anywhere else. At the very least, it makes Kobo worthy of a closer read.

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Mom Writes Public Letter To Her Husband Before Leaving Him With 6 Kids

You know how they say, If you want something done right, ask a busy woman?

Well, were here to tell you that the lady for the job is probably Meghan Oeser.

This Ilinois mom is a professional photographer. Plus, shes mama to six beautiful children five girls and one boy, between the ages of 3 and 15.

Her husband, by all accounts, seems like a great partner, but works a 12-hour day and spends his free time on a new house for the family that hes building from the ground up.

According to Oeser, that combination means that hes rarely home on the weekends when things are at their most hectic.

So when it was time for Oeser to go off on a girls weekend with her ladies, she was likely just as relieved for some adult time as this mom when the kids went back to school.

Still, she had more than a few doubts about leaving her husband home with the kids for two unstructured days.

To that end, she left her dear husband a hilarious, but brutally honest, note of warning before she headed out. For the full effect, read her letter below.

Please note, there is strong language ahead.

[H/T:Daily Mail]

Meghan Oeser, a busy mom with six beautiful children, knew her hubby Kevin was in for a huge surprise when she left for an all-girls weekend.

Deciding to give him fair warning, the fun-spirited mom wrote him a detailed note explaining what he was in for.

Her hilarious letter has since gone viral, gaining almost 150,000 likes and 55,000 comments!

Reading her colorful words, it’s no surprise why.

“Dearest Husband,

I’m writing this to you out of love, not fear. I wanted to go over a few things with you before you embark on this weekend alone… with the others.

Nighttime, daytime, breakfast time, and somewhere around lunchtime can easily be mistaken for pure H*LL, with Satan coming off as a My Little Pony in comparison.

First thing’s first…

Upon arriving home after work, things won’t seem so bad. The others will hug, jump, and for the most part, be pretty excited to see you. This will be short lived… I promise.

School season or not… this is also known as h*ll hour. The others will fight about anything and everything, with Quinn and Penny being the biggest instigators.

It’s most likely that Quinn will be pissed off about Penny wearing her Elsa dress, and Penny equally pissed off because Quinn will ONLY refer to her as Anna. Penny will also be fighting sleep, which I’ll get to later.”

“Dinner will suck. Bailey will want pizza, while Harper will ask for hot dogs.

Quinn will cry when you say the word hot dog and will insist on mac [and] cheese (but not the orange kind or the white kind, but the purple kind). We’ll be fresh out of the purple kind, so she’ll then ask for toast.

You’ll already have started making mac [and] cheese for Penny, but since she heard Quinn ask for toast, she’ll also want that toast. You’ll end up tossing the mac [and] cheese because Bailey got the stomach flu [five] years ago after eating the orange kind, and Harper prefers the white kind.

“You’ll also forget about Harper because her friend Lily “unexpectedly” stopped by, so they went ripsticking down the street. Everyone will eat cereal for dinner, and Lily will come inside for a[Band-Aid].

You’ll want to sit down and relax after dinner/breakfast, but I’m warning you against this. It will get quiet… REAL quiet.

This is when you’ll realize that the threenager has fallen asleep somewhere. Do NOT let the threenager fall asleep. You’re basically f**ked if this happens.

She will be wide awake until at least 1:30 a.m. if you’re not careful. Given your 9:30 bedtime and 5 a.m. wake up, this is less than ideal.”

“Moving along.

Good. F**king. Luck, buddy.

Pajamas. F**K pajamas. Don’t even ATTEMPT anything but a nightgown for Penny. And if you cannot find a nightgown for Penny, keep f**king looking.

She’ll ask for her Minnie Mouse nightgown, but once you put it on, she’ll scream in agony…Just find her Elsa one. Chances are, it’s dirty as s**t, but so what… So is she. I can’t remember the last time I put soap to that one.

Go ahead and leave Penny on the couch with you. God knows you let her a** fall asleep somewhere prior. Quinn, Harper, and Bailey will go down seamlessly. Just wait.

As they lie in their beds, they’ll then realize that their tiny mouths are on God d**ned fire, and they’ll act as if they’ve just walked 800 f**king miles through the Sahara. They will come down… one by one… every God d**ned 5 minutes… for water.

Don’t let ANYONE use Quinn’s pink Elsa cup. If she sees this, she will lose her holy s**t.”

“You’ll end up bringing Penny to bed with you, thinking that’s a good idea. Ha ha ha ha ha! You may as well sleep next to Evander Holyfield on uppers.

Just try getting her into her bed. Give her the iPad. This will save your life… Promise.

Make sure you turn the volume down, along with the screen brightness. Speaking of brightness, don’t forget the diffuser.

Fill that s**t up, and add [two] drops of Peace and calming, one lavender, and one stress away. If she was a real d**k that day, add some frankincense. Set the light to PURPLE. Sweet baby Jesus, please remember purple.

If you set it to blue, she will act as if her retinas are on the God d**ned sun. Don’t forget her sippy cup. Seriously… DON’T. She’ll drink some, and then ask you to take it. She’ll want you to place it on her dresser.

She’ll call you in [five] minutes later for the rest. She’ll call you in AGAIN to put that s**t back on the dresser. She’ll then… wake up at 3 a.m. screaming that someone has stolen said sippy cup. Just fill that s**t back up, and pray to Peter and Mary that she falls back asleep. Oh, and don’t forget her fan…”

“Breakfast. Ha! Just as fun as dinner… if not worse. Get coffee. LOTS of coffee. You’ll need it.

Penny might want cereal, or she’ll go for toast. Whatever you do… LET HER PICK HER SPOON.

Chances are, Quinn will have the ULTIMATE spoon, and Penny will convince you that you’ve left her with the sh**tiest spoon in the bunch. Sometimes, I’ll give her a fork, and then flip her off.

Breakfast will be such a s**t show that you’ll forget to eat, and begin to experience the caffeine shakes.

It’s almost lunchtime. Just start drinking now.

Lather, rinse, and repeat. I’ll see you Sunday.”

“Oh, also… Just incase you wanted to get ANYTHING done this weekend… good f**king luck. Quinn cries basically every [five] minutes, and you would think that Penny’s esophagus was on certain fire every [four-and-a-half] seconds.

She’ll need constant refills, which leads to more potty breaks. Sometimes, she can go by herself, and sometimes, she’s completely useless and will whine about everything.

Including, but not limited to, her underwears feeling funny. Have backup underwears.

Oh, and since you made me get rid of most every sippy cup, leaving me with [two]… she’ll lose those. Good f**king luck finding them.


The wife.”

If you ever been on the wrong side of a toddler at 3 a.m.with zero coffee, you know exactly what she’s talking about profanities and all.

All we’ve got to say is… Enjoy your weekend off, Mom!

If you agree,

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Woman Paints Staircase With Her Favorite Book Covers

Pippa Branham and her husband moved to their first permanent home just last year, which meant it was finally time for Pippa to personalize their home. Her first target was the staircase.

Pippa wanted to make the stairs safer for children, so she thought carpeting the stairs (£200) would be a good idea. That was until she stumbled upon a DIY picture on Pinterest… Inspired by it, she decided to decorate the stairs with the covers of her favorite books. She made a list of her fave books, found the original copies that she read for the first time, and got to work! The result is not only amazingly good looking, but also safe for kids, as she mixed the paint with children’s play sand to make it grippy, and not to mention £180 cheaper than her original idea to carpet the stairs!

(h/t: demilked)


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Ever wonder “How to get my book reviewed”?

Books/Image Source: Vbctulsa

So you’ve published your book. Its been edited and published, and now you’re trying to figure out how to get to your potential readers. While starting your marketing campaign usually happens well before your book is completed, getting your first reviews can’t begin until your book is done or in a final draft status.

Many stores won’t carry a small press or self-published book that doesn’t have reviews from a recognizable publishing. So how do you get someone to pay attention to your book among all of the hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions they see every month?

City Book Review, publishers of the San Francisco Book Review, Manhattan Book Review and Kids’ BookBuzz all have programs to help you. Kids BookBuzz is only for kids, tweens and young adult books, but the other two will take almost any book you have (including children’s stories).

So how do you get your book reviewed by the San Francisco Book Review?

If your book is within 90 days of the publications date, you can submit it for general review (at no cost). The closer you are to the 90 days, the less of a chance it will have to be reviewed, but you can still start there. The SFBR gets more than 1000 submissions a month, and only reviews 300 or less, so your opportunities of getting your book reviewed in this way is less than 33%. But you can give it a try and see if it gets reviewed.

General Submission Guidelines

If your book is more than 90 days past its publication date, or you really want to have it reviewed and don’t want to just hope it’ll get picked up through the general review, you can go through the Sponsored Review program. While there is some controversy about paying for a review, SFBR is a respected publication like Kirkus or Foreward Reviews and doesn’t offer vanity reviews for payment. You can expect the same level of professionalism from their standard reviews. And they don’t mark sponsored reviews any different than the other reviews.

Get My Book Reviewed from the San Francisco Book Review

Get My Book Reviewed from the San Francisco Book Review

There are a lot of different options for getting your book reviewed, mostly around how long it takes to get your review back, and if you want more than one or an interview as well.

  • Standard Reviews Take 8-10 weeks for turnaround from the time they receive your book Start at
  • Expedited Reviews Take 3-5 weeks for turnaround from the time they receive your book Start at
  • Get more than one review for the same book you’ll get a discount on the normal cost of 2 or 3 reviews. Reviews range in price from $150 to $299.
  • Getting a podcast interview for Audible Authors to promote yourself and your book, and you can add an interview to a review package at a discount.

And if you really like your review, you can have it posted on the other publication’s website for $99, or get a new review from a different reviewer. Both can help with your marketing and search engine optimization.

So how do you get your book reviewed by the Manhattan Book Review?

The Manhattan Book Review uses the same format for the San Francisco Book Review. Different audience, so if you’re an East Coast writer, you might be more interested in having the credit from MBR over SFBR. Personal taste is the only difference between the two for reviews. If you are a local SF or Manhattan writer, they will also flag that in your review.

General Review Submission Guidelines for the Manhattan Book Review

Sponsored Review Submission Guidelines for the Manhattan Book Review

So how do you get your book reviewed by Kids’ BookBuzz?

First thing, all of the reviews for Kids’ BookBuzz are done by kids. They are assigned age appropriate books, but the kids read them and write the reviews themselves. The younger kids have some help from their parents, but the words are all theirs. Don’t expect any easy reviews either. These kids see a lot of stories, so they know good books when they read them.

General Submission Guidelines for Kids’ BookBuzz

Sponsored Review Submission Guidelines for Kids’ BookBuzz

15+ Reading Nooks Perfect For When You Need To Escape This World

Although some people claim that they can read anywhere, anytime, we all know that a comfortable, well lit, soft spot is ideal. On a blanket in a park is one such perfect spot; on dry, spongy moss, under a tree, is another good location. But what happens if you’re a city dweller (or not even!), and outdoor reading spots are at a premium?

Bored Panda has collected this list of reading nooks for you, those indoor bookworms that maybe like to read outside, but who also need a comfortable place inside to get the pages turning. Which reading nook looks most comfortable to you? Vote, or submit a picture of your own reading nook below! (h/t)


#1 Cozy Reading Nook


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