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Barnes & Noble’s Nook Spinoff Reverses the Usual Plot

Amazon Nook
Dominick Reuter—Reuters

Barnes & Noble plans to split off its Nook tablet unit so investors will focus on its much-healthier book-selling business. Go figure.

In most media companies, it is the “old” part of the business — usually, things printed on dead trees — that’s a drag on the much faster-growing and promising tech-driven side. So the typical playbook calls for management to sell, jettison, or spin off its old media unit so investors can focus on the newer and shinier parts of the company.

That’s what happened at the old News Corp. (now Twenty-First Century Fox) 21ST CENTURY FOX INC. FOX 0.5848% , Time Warner (former parent of Time Inc., which owns Money) TIME WARNER INC. TWX -0.9158% , and it’s happening again at Tribune.

Yet at the struggling bookseller Barnes & Noble BARNES & NOBLE BKS -0.4523% , it’s just the opposite.

The company — which on Wednesday reported a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss of 72 cents a share (Wall Street was bracing for around a 63 cents a share drop) — found a way to assuage worried investors by announcing that it plans to split off its troubled Nook e-reader division into a separate company.

The stock immediately shot up on news that Barnes & Noble investors would no longer be saddled with the Nook’s disappointing sales:

BKS Price Chart

BKS Price data by YCharts

Barnes & Noble CEO Michael Huseby noted that management has taken several steps to strengthen the company. Among them: Improving the company’s core retail operations and growing its promising college book business. As such, he said, “we believe we are now in a better position to begin in earnest those steps necessary to accomplish a separation of Nook Media and Barnes & Noble Retail. We have determined that these businesses will have the best chance of optimizing shareholder value if they are capitalized and operated separately.”

In other words, investors will better appreciate the decent growth in the company’s traditional print-driven businesses — retail revenues grew around 1% in the quarter, while college sales jumped more than 18% — if the Nook wasn’t tethered to the company.

In the quarter that ended April 30, Nook sales fell more than 22%. In fact, revenues for the company’s tablet business for the fiscal year have sunk to around $505 million, versus $933 million in fiscal year 2012.

When Barnes & Noble launched its first Nook e-readers around five years ago, the device was supposed to be an answer to rival Amazon.com’s Kindle devices. Yet as e-readers morphed into full-fledged tablets, which required investments not only in hardware but also in building out a software- and payment-based ecosystem, the book-selling chain started feeling the pinch.

The company recently began breaking out its Nook sales, possibly to find a suitor for the division. Yet the grim details only added to the misery that Barnes & Noble investors were feeling.

How much time does this buy both halves of Barnes & Noble?

The traditional retail business has found some success with an aggressive push into the college book space. Yet Dan Caplinger at the Motley Fool correctly notes that there is a concern that eventually, the digital revolution will hit that business too, so the company may be right back having to figure out a digital business model.

And as for the Nook, sales were depressed in part because the product line did not get a refresh in 2013. This year, Barnes & Noble has teamed up with Samsung, which is launching a 7-inch Galaxy Tab 4 Nook later this summer.

The fact that Samsung will be shouldering the burden of hardware development does take a load off of Barnes & Noble — more specifically, the soon-to-be-independent Nook business.

However, with demand for Nooks so soft compared with other tablets, it’s unclear how a smaller, independent Nook company will be able to keep up with the Amazons and Apples of the world when it comes to software development, marketing, or that cool factor.

TIME How-To

Where to Find Free and Cheap Ebooks

+ READ ARTICLE

Summer is officially here. It’s a great time to sit back at the beach and enjoy a good read. But at prices as high as $15 a pop, a summer’s worth of ebooks can get real expensive real quick.

The good news: There are plenty of places to find great ebooks for free or at significant discounts. Here are some of our favorite places to go for summer reading on the cheap.

Your Local Library

The best place to start for free books is your local library, and the same holds true for ebooks. The vast majority of libraries now offer popular ebook titles to borrow, just like their hardcovered cousins. To find out what books are available near you, either visit your library in person or search online using the OverDrive website at overdrive.com.

Project Gutenberg

Free is hands down my favorite price for books, and few places offer more free books without subscription or commitment than Project Gutenberg. The non-profit is full of approximately 46,000 public domain titles from authors like Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jane Austin and F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you’ve ever wanted to check out a classic novel, Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) is a great place to start.

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

If you’re already a member of the $99-per-year Amazon Prime premium service, then you already have access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. The service now contains over 500,000 ebooks, including the entire Harry Potter series and a number of other New York Times best sellers. They’re not all top-tier reads, but they are free for Kindle owners to download and try.

Kindle Daily Deals

Like most major bookstores, Amazon has a sale section, too. Before you pay full price for an ebook, check out Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deals where you can find titles for teens and adults priced between 99 cents and $3.99. There’s a little bit of everything to discover, from historical biographies to mystery novels to light summer romance fare. And if you don’t like what’s currently available, check back tomorrow – the deals are updated every day.

Samsung Galaxy S5

If you picked up Samsung’s newest flagship smartphone, then you’ve also picked up access to a free rotating selection of ebooks via Kindle for Samsung. You get four “prominent” books to choose from every month on your Samsung Galaxy S5, up to a total of 12 per year. There’s no telling if you’ll want to read the limited selection, but hey – free is free.

Oyster and Scribd

If you’re the type of person who craves new reads rather than re-reading old favorites – or if you just blaze through a ton of books each month – then you’re a perfect candidate for Oyster and Scribd. Both are relatively new subscription services, something akin to a Netflix for books. The services have access to approximately half-a-million titles each, including ebooks from top publishers HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. In short: Even the pickiest readers are guaranteed to find something worth their time.

New members get a free month of service on both Oyster and Scribd, allowing you to get through prime summer vacation season without spending a dime. After the free trial, Oyster costs $9.95 per month; Scribd is $8.99 but with approximately 100,000 fewer titles. You can check out Oyster by visiting oysterbooks.com and Scribd at scribd.com.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Books

Read to Your Baby, Say Doctors — But Which Books?

Baby Reading
Tetra Images / Jamie Grill / Getty Images

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging members to encourage reading to newborns

When her son was very small, Dr. Pamela High noticed something funny: she would come home and find the babysitter in the rocking chair with the boy, reading out loud from whatever book she happened to be working on herself at that moment. As her son got older and began to respond more to the words themselves, the babysitter switched to reading children’s books — but the image made an impression on his mother.

Now her son is grown up and High is the lead author of a new policy paper released by the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommends pediatricians advise parents to read aloud to young children “beginning in infancy,” to encourage word learning, literacy and positive family relationships. The report notes that reading to children is correlated with family income level — and, as the New York Times reports, Scholastic is donating 500,000 books to the literacy advocacy group Reach Out and Read, which works with pediatricians to get books to low-income families — but even in families that make 400% of the poverty threshold only 60% of children are read to daily.

But what exactly should they be reading? If your one-day-old baby doesn’t understand the words, does it even matter?

“I don’t think that there’s a huge amount of information on that,” High tells TIME, noting that her own experience with the sitter reading to her son is just an anecdote, not research. “The research is primarily about reading children’s books.”

Part of the issue is that it’s hard to measure understanding, to say that at some number of months of age it begins to be important that you’re not reading a kid something totally inappropriate like 50 Shades of Grey. Language is acquired gradually, and High says that she’s personally seen evidence of understanding even before the 1-year marker at which most children can point to pictures that correspond with spoken words. Plus, she says, “I think [babies] understand the emotion in the words that are being read to them very, very early.”

But there are some things that parents should keep in mind, she says. For example, it’s developmentally appropriate for children to chew on books, so you shouldn’t read to a baby from a valuable and rare manuscript. Colorful illustrations can help keep a child’s attention, but even so you shouldn’t expect a very young infant to concentrate on the book for longer than about 90 seconds. And finally, it’s important that the parent not think the book is annoying. “It starts with the parent’s enjoyment and then becomes a shared enjoyment,” High says.

With that in mind — chewability, enjoyability and calm or positive emotions — here are a few books parents might consider reading aloud to their newborns:

For actual newborns: Can’t & Won’t by Lydia Davis. This short story collection, which came out in April, is a book for grown-ups, by Man Booker International Prize- and MacArthur grant-winner Davis. But it’s great for tiny babies because the short stories are, in some cases, very short. If your kid doesn’t understand the words yet and you can only sneak in a minute of reading a day, and it’s perhaps a minute out of the precious few moments of “me time” you have, you can get up to date on a buzz-worthy literary release. Plus, if the baby’s too young to do too much damage to the book, investing in a hardcover isn’t such a risk.

For slightly older babies who will one day get English degrees: Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Because emotion is more important than content, a nice big collection of lovey-dovey poems that take about a minute to read is perfect. As High points out, reading is often used to help a baby wind down at the end of the day, and the regular rhythm of a rhyming sonnet can’t hurt. If the baby can’t understand Shakespearean words, that’s no big deal; if a word or two does sneak into her brain, there’s nothing inappropriate to worry about.

For kids old enough to touch the book: Farm by James Brown. This picture book made the 2014 Best Books for Babies list, an annual list put together by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Company (as in, Mr. Fred Rogers). The selection committee commended the author for his use of interesting textures to “add tactile appeal” to the book.

For kids who are already growing up too fast: The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey. The classic tale of a lollygagging dog was once ranked by Publishers Weekly as the top-selling children’s book ever, having sold nearly 15 million hardcover copies between 1942 and 2000. That means parents are likely to remember reading it themselves. Help your infant’s future literacy and reminisce about your own childhood, all in one place.

For kids old enough to laugh : Toot! by Leslie Patricelli. Yes, this book is about farts — but it was also, just today, named Amazon’s top book of the year so far for babies age 0–2.

TIME Books

Review: Top Model Alum Tackles iPhone Addiction and Social Media in New Book

Unfriending My Ex (And Other Things I'll Never Do) by Kim Stolz
Unfriending My Ex (And Other Things I'll Never Do) by Kim Stolz Scribner

Kim Stolz sheds light on what anyone with a Facebook page and a smartphone likely already knows

There are two things the world really doesn’t need more of: former reality stars with book deals and screeds about how technology and social media are undermining our humanity.

But both are bound to keep happening, and if you’re determined to read up on the topic, Kim Stolz — otherwise known as “the gay one” from the fifth season of America’s Next Top Model — isn’t a bad choice for a guide. The author of the new book Unfriending My Ex (And Other Things I’ll Never Do) must have serious social media self-promotion skills if we’re still talking about her almost a decade later, right? (Kidding — Stolz has had an impressive career beyond Top Model: she’s the vice president of equity derivatives sales at Citigroup, a former MTV News correspondent and a co-owner of the currently closed New York City lesbian bar-restaurant The Dalloway).

As a writer, Stolz is non-judgmental (she admits to Googling herself and once almost checked her phone during sex), self-aware (she knows she has no business comparing her iPhone detox to Thoreau’s Walden) and sometimes pretty funny (she gives the real-life people in her book code names from Beverly Hills, 90210). So it’s too bad the book is short on the groundbreaking insight promised by the effusive back-cover praise from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham. Yes, we know we can’t put down our phones at the dinner table. Yes, Facebook has made the definition of “friend” a little fuzzy. Yes, technology can make romantic communication a war zone, and, yeah, social media is just one big performance. Oh, and people sometimes embarrassingly text the wrong person? You don’t say!

Mixing personal anecdotes with social science research can be a compelling way to understanding human behavior, but it often feels forced in Unfriending My Ex. Stolz has experience writing for MTV and other outlets, so journalistic ambitions aren’t a stretch, yet when she drops studies and statistics into her stories, it comes across like a cursory attempt to justify bad behavior, rather than truly explain it. Stolz often quotes other writers and journalists, too, which isn’t so much a problem of originality as it is an issue of timeliness—the Times’ Jenna Wortham wrote about Facebook resisters and FOMO back in 2011, so when her work is referenced here, the book’s themes (to say nothing of its Candy Crush shout-out) feel dated.

In the very first chapter of Unfriending My Ex, Stolz talks about her self-imposed technology hiatus and the difficulty she had staying focused while reading a book. It’s a relatable struggle, sure, but it’s also a little ironic: there’s not a lot in this book that will keep you from wanting to check your phone, either.

TIME

The Dishonest Diplomat: How a Critical Profession Got a Bad Rap

I work in a profession devoted to compromise and incremental change — and we diplomats have acquired an unfortunate reputation for dishonesty

“An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”

—Sir Henry Wotton, 1604

“Diplomacy, n. The patriotic art of lying for one’s country.”

—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1906

There are few more odious figures in popular culture than the diplomat. Ben Kingsley’s ambassador to Yemen in the movie Rules of Engagement is first a coward, hiding under his desk from an angry mob, waiting to be rescued by U.S. Marines, and then later a snake, lying smoothly under oath to help convict the very Marine officer who saved him from the mob. In Costa-Gavras’ classic Missing, the American diplomats are alternately dissembling and disinterested. And it would be hard to top The Omen, in which an American diplomat, played by Gregory Peck, lies to his wife, played by Lee Remick, and tricks her into raising the Antichrist. That, needless to say, does not work out well.

Spies and soldiers can draw on the goodwill generated by thousands of popular books and movies that, on balance, present a broadly positive image. Tom Clancy’s CIA officers, for instance, are good-looking, hardworking, honorable patriots. The general public has every reason to feel that it understands what soldiers and spies do for a living and how they contribute to American security. Diplomats, on the other hand, are something else. Only a relatively small number of people have a good grasp of what it is that diplomats actually do. We are part of the national-security establishment. We collect information, formulate policy and seek to influence foreign governments in support of that policy. And as instruments of state power, we are considerably cheaper than spy satellites or cruise missiles.

To the extent the public thinks about it at all, however, there is something vaguely slippery about diplomacy as a profession. Part of the reason is that, at its core, diplomacy is fundamentally about compromise. It is the art of the possible. Victories are rarely clear-cut, and they are typically more of the incremental variety than of the transformational. Even more important, however, is the reputation diplomacy has acquired for dishonesty. Diplomats, it is widely assumed, are professional liars with expense accounts and nice suits. If not immoral, they are at best amoral.

The reality is that diplomacy — good diplomacy, at least — places a premium on honesty, defined here as credibility and trustworthiness. Do you mean what you say? Do you deliver on what you promise? If not, why would anyone give you the time of day?

I have devoted more than 20 years to the diplomatic service of the U.S., and I have never once been asked to lie for my country. I have said things — often with complete confidence and utter conviction — that later turned out to be wrong. And I have engaged in my fair share of lies of a social nature — “We’re friends, aren’t we?” “Of course we are” — but I have never, to the best of my recollection, deliberately lied to a contact.

I have said things I do not believe — lots of things. But that’s a very different issue. When I speak professionally on behalf of the U.S., whether in public or private, I represent U.S. policy and U.S. views to the best of my abilities. Like royalty, diplomats do a great deal of talking in the first-person plural (“We believe . . .”) or the third-person inanimate (“My government feels . . .”). My contacts — interlocutors, in diplomatese — don’t care what I think. Or at least they shouldn’t. They care a great deal, however, about what the U.S. thinks. So my job is to persuade others to see things our way but not necessarily my way.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought the board game Diplomacy for my 12-year-old son, drawing on my fond memories of late-night sessions in junior high school. The other day, I brought the game to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, where I am currently assigned. What could be more fun than playing Diplomacy with a bunch of diplomats?

We were terrible at it.

On one level, of course, Diplomacy the board game bears as much resemblance to diplomacy the profession as the board game Operation does to surgery. Diplomacy is the exercise of national power in its multidimensional complexity. The game version involves pushing little cardboard pieces across a map of long-defunct European empires. It also involves lying — lots of lying. You make promises to other players about how you are going to support them in achieving their ambitions, and then you don’t follow through. You deceive and cheat your way to Continental domination.

There was a demonstrable reluctance on the part of the diplomats playing Diplomacy to promise X and do Y, even in a game. In real diplomacy, if it ever becomes apparent that your word is no good, you are, for all intents and purposes, finished. A diplomat who can’t be trusted is little short of worthless.

This doesn’t mean that being a diplomat is being an open book. Far from it. We cherry-pick our facts, omit the inconvenient from our narratives and manipulate language without mercy to make our point. All of this is fair game. But just don’t lie. It’s not only unethical, it’s bad business.

The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State.

Matthew Palmer is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, currently serving as political counselor at the American embassy in Belgrade. While on the Secretary of State’s policy-planning staff, Palmer helped design and implement the Kimberley Process for certifying African diamonds as “conflict free.” His experience in Africa serves as the foundation for his debut novel, THE AMERICAN MISSION, out June 26.

TIME Books

J.K. Rowling’s New Book Is Available Now—Unless You’re Shopping on Amazon

The Silkworm
Mulholland Books

The shipping delay comes as booksellers also express worries about Amazon's phone announcement

UPDATED JUNE 20, 2014

The Silkworm, the new novel by J.K. Rowling alter-ego Robert Galbraith, comes out June 19. Which, in common parlance, means it’s available today.

But fans of protagonist Cormoran Strike are finding that such is not always the case. At Amazon’s shopping page for the hardcover of The Silkworm, observant shoppers will notice that while they can save $2.80 off the list price, the title “usually ships within 1 to 2 months.” The Silkworm is published by Mulholland Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, which is a division of Hachette, the publishing company that is still feuding with Amazon over the terms of a contract for e-book sales. For weeks, the dispute has involved the retailer putting Hachette titles on backorder. The idea is that Hachette will suffer for losing sales through Amazon, but the move may also be a win for other booksellers: When it comes to highly desirable titles like Silkworm, fans are motivated enough to seek out the book elsewhere. As the New York Times has noted, Walmart has promoted the title heavily and independent bookstores are advertising special deals on it.

But, while bookstores are hoping to benefit from Thursday’s big release, they’re not exactly gloating about Amazon’s recent moves.

Wednesday’s announcement that the forthcoming Amazon Fire Phone will be available in July came with the news that the device would come with a “Firefly” button, a feature that allows users to scan real-world items and then purchase them immediately via Amazon. It’s a device that has booksellers on edge, worried that the tech will encourage the practice known as showrooming: using a brick-and-mortar shop to do your browsing and a cheaper online retailer for actual purchases. Book business newsletter Shelf Awareness highlighted just such a reaction from Los Angeles’ Skylight Books:

Except, of course, if that “anything” is The Silkworm and its compatriots.

UPDATED JUNE 20, 2014: On the second day of The Silkworm‘s availability, Amazon’s new shipping alert on the title had been changed to “In stock but may require an extra 1-2 days to process.

TIME Books

The Silkworm—J.K. Rowling Has the Magic Touch With Serial Books

Mulholland Books

With Rowling’s second Cormoron Strike novel on sale this week, it’s clear the author has the magic touch when it comes to recurring characters

J.K. Rowling has tried several times to break free from total Potterdom as a writer. The first time post-Harry was with The Casual Vacancy, an adult novel about a small-town government election, which she published in 2013. The book was not well received overall (but did earn high marks from TIME’s Lev Grossman), which is perhaps why she made the de-pressurizing decision to publish her next novel, 2013’s crime story The Cuckoo’s Calling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. It dominated bestseller lists once the true author became known. And maybe the Galbraith name is Rowling’s felix felicis; even though we know exactly who she is this time around, she—as Galbraith—has come back with The Silkworm. Rowling, it seems, is a serialist at heart.

Readers flocked to the Potter series not just because of the compelling story lines, but because the adolescent wizards felt like friends. Hell, even the elves felt like friends. And though it’s nearly impossible to recreate the comfort of that series, Rowling delivers a similar sentiment in reuniting readers with detective duo Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott.

The first novel followed Strike and his new secretary-cum-sidekick as they solved the mysterious death of model Lula Landry, but The Silkworm delves into territory that is darker and more disturbing than any of Draco Malfoy’s doings. Strike is hired by the wife of author Owen Quine, who went missing after receiving news that his latest manuscript was unpublishable. What follows is a sadistic murder mystery that only Ellacott and Strike, now celebrated for solving the Landry case, could solve.

The story is enthralling, not only for its twists and turns, but for the fun of the teamwork. Rowling lets the reader in on bits of their back stories—Strike’s combat in Afghanistan that cost him a leg, Ellacott’s career goals and difficult relationship with her fiancée. Each chapter draws us further into Cormoran Strike’s psyche, and makes us care more not just about the case getting solved, but about Strike being the one to solve it.

They are likable, and worth getting to know— and Rowling should stick to recurring series with characters worth revisiting. The Casual Vacancy told a wonderful story, but it did little for readers invested in character development, especially those who crave a sort of friendship with the people on the page. In such a sprawling landscape, with an abundance of characters, I would have preferred a series to keep track of, and more investment in the people of Pagford. Though I enjoyed the story, I felt quite disconnected to those involved. And I wasn’t the only one. Confusion amongst readers led The Telegraph to publish a guide to 34 characters for those who wanted a cheat sheet.

The Casual Vacancy is being optioned jointly by HBO and BBC as a three-part series starring Michael Gambon, known well for playing Dumbledore in the last few Potter films. The brilliance of Rowling’s novels is that they’re written so cinematically and leave the reader with a sense of longing, that they’ll miss the place and the people Rowling brought them to. But with hardly a break for the reader to sort through the plot and plethora of people in Vacancy, it felt almost too dense to enjoy.

If I had Hermione’s time turner, I’d urge Rowling to go back and split The Causal Vacancy into two or three books. With The Silkworm, she’s back on track with a cast of characters who you’ll want to meet again and again.

TIME Companies

Apple Settles E-Book Price-Fixing Lawsuit

Apple
Peter Kneffel—picture-alliance/AP

Apple has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to plaintiffs in 33 states demanding compensation for an alleged price-fixing conspiracy

Apple has reached an out-of-court settlement with plaintiffs seeking compensation for an alleged e-book price-fixing scheme, according to a Monday court filing.

Apple will pay an undisclosed sum to customers who accuse the company of driving up e-book prices by allegedly striking a deal to fix prices with five major U.S. book publishers.

The class-action lawsuit, representing customers in 33 states, claimed that Apple had overcharged its plaintiffs by $280 million and sought triple that amount in damages, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The settlement comes one year after a Manhattan court ruled in a related anti-trust case that Apple was guilty of price-fixing. Apple has appealed the ruling, maintaining that it was innocent of any wrongdoing as the case triggered two separate class-action lawsuits. Monday’s settlement payment is contingent on the ruling of the appeals court.

TIME Parenting

Breaking News: Having a Father Is a Good Thing

Hey dads, they like you, they really like you!
Hey dads, they like you, they really like you! Jekaterina Nikitina; Getty Images

A new book 'discovers' the obvious—and the headlines follow. Enough already with the wonder of the dad

Science has a deliciously entertaining habit of stating the obvious. For every ingenious, truly groundbreaking insight that has a researcher sitting bolt upright at 3:00 a.m. entertaining dizzy visions of an inevitable Nobel, there other insights—researched, peer reviewed and published—that you don’t exactly need a double Ph.D to figure out. And so you get studies showing that “Moderate Doses of Alcohol Increase Social Bonding in Groups” or “Dogs Learn to Associate Words With Objects Differently Than Humans Do” or the breaking story that opened with the tantalizing headline, “Causes of Death in Very Old People.” Um, old age?

But the thing about these studies is this: somebody had to do them. Science is nothing if not persnickety about proof, and if you don’t have the data, you can’t officially establish the case. So the work gets done and the box gets checked and progress marches on. It was with that in mind that I tried to read with equanimity a Father’s Day gift from The Washington Post, which led its review of Paul Raeburn’s book Do Fathers Matter? with the headline, “Yes Dads, You Do Matter.”

And so, too, I tried to embrace the idea that Raeburn’s book needs to exist at all.

It’s not that the book isn’t a good, solid piece of science journalism. It is. And it’s not that Raeburn isn’t a good, solid science reporter. He’s been in the game a long time and is the media critic for MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Tracker.

The deeper question is: are we not yet past this? It’s a question Raeburn himself raises but seems to answer with an emphatic no simply by having written his book. There seems to be no killing the idea of dad the extraneous; dad the superfluous; dad, who’s nice to have around the house but only in the way that air conditioning is nice to have in the car — it makes things more comfortable, but you’ll still get where you’re going without it.

It’s as if the steady shrinking of the Y chromosome over the ages is somehow being mirrored by the dwindling relevance of the parent who carries this dying scrap of DNA. That vanishing Y, as recent studies have established, has been both arrested and overstated, but not before giving rise to headlines like “As Y Chromosome Shrinks, End of Men Pondered.” And that bit of silliness came from NPR, not, say, TMZ.

The idea of the father’s expendability has been exacerbated by the persistence of the doofus dad stereotype, something else Raeburn addresses: the well-intentioned bumbler who is still a staple of kid-targeted TV (thank you, Disney Channel). He’s the guy who can’t quite boil an egg and can’t be trusted to go shopping, but is eventually bailed out by mom or one of the kids, who set things right. Eyes roll, dad looks abashed and hilarity ensues. Except it’s not really funny—though not because it’s profoundly offensive or causes deep wounds to the sensitivities of a newly defined oppressed group. There’s enough elective umbrage at large already without adding one more voice of grievance to one more cable news show.

It’s just … off, somehow—like Jay Leno’s cringe-worthy performance at the 2010 White House Correspondent’s dinner, during which he made jokes about President Obama’s courage because (wait for it!) he invited his mother-in-law to live in the White House. There was a time, maybe, when the mother-in-law as harridan image was an apt—or at least fresh—source of humor, but that time is long past. Ditto dad as dunce.

Raeburn’s book is guilty of none of this. It’s stuffed with studies showing the vital role fathers play in their children’s lives from the moment of conception, through the mother’s pregnancy and onward. But there’s still a sense of wonder that comes with it. “The discovery of the father is one of the most important developments in the study of children and families,” is a nice line. But is it true? Is this really something that needs “discovering?” And do fathers really need a new book and a major newspaper reminding them that “You Do Matter?” Not on Father’s Day at least. And certainly not on one in the 21st century.

TIME Michael Hastings

Lessons From My Husband Michael Hastings

Michael Hastings Elise Jordan
Courtesy Elise Jordan

His first novel, a satire of the media, will be published next week. Here’s what the late former war correspondent would make of the coverage of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl—the most important story of his career.

Audiences are constantly frustrated and baffled by what becomes “news,” what gets ignored and which stories go on and on — the hours spent salivating over another book by Hillary Clinton wholly devoid of news, for instance. Who decides all this stuff? My late husband Michael Hastings channeled his frustration with the media’s choices into a work of fiction, The Last Magazine, which comes out next week.

Michael is best known for his acclaimed Rolling Stone profile that unintentionally brought down General Stanley McChrystal. But the story closest to his heart was all but invisible until last week: the plight of prisoner of war Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Before Bergdahl has made it out of a hospital in Germany, he’s been called a deserter and traitor. The media’s self-centered bastardization of “news” inspired Michael, from his first days as an intern and cub reporter at Newsweek throughout his career.

Sergeant Bergdahl’s story did not gain traction until his release became politicized. Everyone in the media understands why. Most of the men and women in the industry hate it too. But they live with it, some quite complacently. But what happens when they don’t?

After years of reporting on Iraq and Afghanistan — watching what he called “jaw-dropping news” rarely break into the news cycle — Michael decided to go after the human stories behind the wars: what people really say, how people really act, the things they really believe. “If nobody died, war would be NFL football. But people die, and that’s the cost. You lose people and their futures,” Michael said. He cared about lost futures and discounted the accounting: “We fixate on the numbers, and we get numb.”

Baghdad Adhamiyah Sweep
Michael Hastings in Baghdad. Lucian Read

While reporting Bergdahl’s story, Michael had his own problems sleeping, pacing our apartment through the night and chain-smoking cigarettes as he worked on the story. He agonized over the possibility that a casual detail might incite Bergdahl’s captors to behead the young soldier. Michael thought it was the most important story of his career, and he was sure the story would break through the news cycle. He readied for attacks, like the vitriol from colleagues that he confronted following his McChrystal profile. No one seemed to care.

Bergdahl wasn’t powerful. So Bergdahl languished — wasting away, physically shrinking, escaping only to be recaptured and locked in a metal box, tortured — in captivity, until the Obama Administration decided to accept the same exact terms proposed by the Afghan Taliban, two years later, as originally reported in Michael’s story.

I listened to Michael and his reporting partner Matt Farwell’s interviews with the Bergdahl family this weekend and was struck by all the material that is still vital to understanding such a complex tragedy — the material Michael couldn’t fit into a single profile. Like when Bergdahl’s father Bob laments the U.S. government’s decision to make freeing Raymond Davis from Pakistan a priority: ”So if you’re a CIA Blackwater mercenary, you get the red carpet extraction, but if you’re just a grunt who happens to be the victim of war …” His father’s voice trails off. “I think worst-case scenario, he’s a psychological casualty. Thank God [he] didn’t commit suicide.”

With McChrystal, Michael was fascinated by how someone can kill so many, however honorable the intentions, yet never seem to lose an hour of sleep. (Or in McChrystal’s case, even need sleep in the first place.) In young Bergdahl, Michael saw the complete opposite of the four-star. McChrystal exuded power; Bergdahl lacked it, so he lacked a voice. When a sensitive 22-year-old from Idaho went missing from a remote outpost in Afghanistan, Michael asked the question few others bothered with: Why?

We’ve seen the personal destruction of a decade-plus of war: drugs, suicides, broken marriages and posttraumatic stress. Through it all, Bergdahl lay awake on a cot, likely in a sleeping bag under a mosquito net, alone in the world, in what many describe as the edge of civilization. What drove a teetotaler, a voracious reader and ballet dancer, to such an extreme decision? What was he thinking?

Michael knew, of course, that without Bergdahl’s side of the story, he’d never have a definitive answer. And we still have that answer ahead of us — a reality that insensitive politicians and media commentators ignore as they pass judgment on a young man still in psychological hell after being tortured and enduring the unimaginable.

But Michael got more to the truth of Bergdahl’s actions and his motivations than any other journalist reporting the story today. We need to wait until Bergdahl’s ready to talk to find out why, instead of wildly overplaying certain unknowns and ignoring others. Michael would have been disgusted by the exploitation of personal tragedy for craven ends. What would serve us even better right now is a wider canvas, someone stepping back to analyze and satirize the whole process. Someone on the inside, but a rebellious voice, refusing to answer to anyone but his readers. To state the obvious: it’s one of the many reasons I miss Michael Hastings.

Jordan is a writer and political commentator. She is a former speechwriter for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and director for communications at the National Security Council.

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