Before he died, Kafka had written a letter to Max Brod, who found it when he went to clear out Kafka’s desk. In this “last will,” Kafka instructed Brod to burn all his manuscripts, including his letters and diaries. But Brod, who admired Kafka to the point of idolatry, refused to carry out his friend’s wishes. Instead, he devoted the rest of his life to editing, publishing, and promoting Kafka’s work—even writing a novel about him, in which Kafka was thinly disguised as a character named Richard Garta. In this way, Brod ensured not only Kafka’s immortality, but his own. Though Brod himself was a successful and prolific writer, today he is remembered almost exclusively for his role in Kafka’s story.
Times are changing, and poets? Well, they draw huge crowds. “The face of poetry in the United States looks very different today than it did even a decade ago, and far more like the demographics of Millennial America. If anything, the current crop of emerging poets anticipates the face of young America 30 years from now.”
This is what the NYT, and everyone, meant by calling him “controversial” – a lot more than a couple of issues. “As much as any single great writer of the 20th century, Naipaul is present in everything he wrote. His life story; his caustic, penetrating, often callous opinions; his cruelty; his genius: All are there, in his novels and nonfiction. Naipaul inflicted extreme psychological abuse on his first wife, Patricia Hale, beat his mistress, and seemed defiantly proud of his racism, misogyny, and toxic political views; to talk about separating the art from the man seems especially futile in his case.”
In a Lexicon Valley episode titled “Wabbit Twacks,” Columbia University linguist John McWhorter applies the analytical tools of his discipline to Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, and their fellows. (podcast)
“The festival … has reported a jump in refusals over the last few years. This year, about a dozen individuals had gone through an extremely difficult process to obtain a visa, [director Nick] Barley said. They were from Middle East and African countries, with one author from Belarus.”
Black English is not a degraded variety of the language—it’s an alternate form of English. If a sentence like People be lookin’ at him funny seems unsophisticated because the be isn’t conjugated, try wrapping your head around the fact that the be also expresses, overtly, a nuance that the standard sentence would not—that this looking in question happens on a habitual basis.
“There are many things that would be lost if we slowly lose the cognitive patience to immerse ourselves in the worlds created by books and the lives and feelings of the “friends” who inhabit them. And although it is a wonderful thing that movies and film can do some of this, too, there is a difference in the quality of immersion that is made possible by entering the articulated thoughts of others. What will happen to young readers who never meet and begin to understand the thoughts and feelings of someone totally different?”
“According to state statistics, more than 1 million foreign tourists and football fans visited Russia in the first two months of this summer, contributing a growth in book sales reported to be almost 50 percent higher than were seen in the same timeframe of 2017.” The increased demand from visitors was largely for the classics, with the only widely-requested 20th-century titles being The Master and Margarita and Doctor Zhivago.
Words matter to me. I am a professional writer, after all. But then Gmail made it tantalizingly easy to say “hi” instead of “hey,” and Google’s prediction, albeit wrong at first, became self-fulfilling. It wasn’t until two weeks after I began using Smart Compose that I realized I had handed over a small part of my identity to an algorithm.
It turns out that many biographers and historians need to eat — and pay rent and buy clothes for their children. Such earthly demands push most scholars into academic jobs at colleges and universities, where they’re rewarded for producing arcane work that remains cloistered in the hallowed halls of academe.The National Endowment for the Humanities is determined to break down those walls. Since 2015, the NEH has been funding the Public Scholar program, an annual series of grants designed to promote the publication of scholarly nonfiction books for a general audience.
“Let’s go back to the Dickens model,” says Serial Box co-founder Molly Barton. “Let’s be Shonda Rhimes for books, and harness the power of telling a little bit of the story each week.” That’s what the company does, publishing books on the limited-TV-series model: the books come out in chapters meant to take 40 minutes to read (so you can do it on your commute); the various titles have seasons, writers’ rooms, and even showrunners; customers can purchase by the episode chapter, season, or entire span of a series.
Edwin Yoder: “Despite the warnings of C. S. Lewis and others, I am left echoing Eve’s question: if the beasts [can eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil], why not man? Why, having armed his new creatures with intellectual curiosity, should their thirst for intellectual adventure become the paramount sin and its exercise a cosmic catastrophe? This prohibition seems especially odd because it contradicts what we know of Milton the lifelong scholar and polymath.”
Lera Boroditsky, of Stanford University, has amassed interesting data on the effects of how we speak of things, such as that people who speak languages that use the same word for a pair of colours need more time to distinguish between them than ones who have a separate word for each – but they can distinguish between them. Mandarin speakers conceptualise time vertically while English speakers conceptualise it horizontally – but each language could use the other metaphor; it has the words for it.
Says James Geary, author of Wit’s End, “Puns point to the essence of all true wit — the ability to hold in the mind two different ideas about the same thing at the same time. … In poetry, words rhyme; in puns, ideas rhyme. This is the ultimate test of wittiness, keeping your balance even when you’re of two minds.”
Long after he had left the Alliance High School, Ngũgĩ was struck by how little he and his cohort had noticed, let alone responded to, their socialization into a Western-oriented outlook. Nor had he appreciated what role the school played in conferring class markers in a community that before hadn’t known that stratification. The school and everything it taught—and refused to teach—was accepted, even venerated, by the community. “The language of power is English and that becomes internalized,” he explained. “You normalize the abnormal and the absurdities of colonialism, and turn them into a norm from which you operate. Then you don’t even think about it.”
“Generalization is treacherous, but let’s posit that at the center of most modern storytelling, in particular most literary storytelling, lies the struggling self, or selves, individuals seeking some kind of definition or stability in a world that appears hostile to such aspirations: life is precarious, tumultuous, fickle, and the self seeks in vain, or manages only with great effort, to put together a personal narrative that is, even briefly, satisfying.”
When you’re the sister of and a criminal defense lawyer for a major Dutch crime boss, and you secretly record everything and decide to turn it over to the state, sometimes you don’t live for long – though long enough to see your book get published in English and become a mini-series.
“We now live in a culture in which there are no clear distinctions between highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow culture. It stands to reason that in a society in which speaking in a recognizably ‘highbrow’ way confers no benefits, dictionaries will likely matter less.” There’s an exception, though: When the current U.S. president and his administration try to bend words to mean something they do not, dictionaries are striking back.
Viet Thanh Nguyen: “Seeing my son reading, I realize he is taking one step further on his own road to independence, to being a border-crosser, someone who makes his own decisions, including what he reads and what he believes. Perhaps that’s why seeing him read on his own is tinged with melancholy. I remember my own loss and I sense the loss that is yet to come, when he is no longer all mine.”
The Hate U Give book cover illustrator Debra Cartwright on what happened when the studio took over: “So much money was thrown behind the movie, and so much marketing was thrown behind it, and it’s just like, you can tell who Hollywood is pushing to be in the limelight, and everybody knows it has a lot to do with appearance, but it also is still being driven a bit by colorism. Not a bit. It is.”
Jason Reynolds, who produces high-quality, award-winning young adult books (and now middle grade books too) at an astonishing clip, explains his strategy to get kids reading: “Young people – especially young men – it’s not that they hate reading, it’s that they hate boredom. So my thing was: I need to write a story that is interesting, that is gripping, that can connect to them and their experiences, and write something that’s not very intimidating.”
Think about Call Me By Your Name or Sag Harbor, for instance. “At its most basic, this means a release from the usual constraints, although at the same time summer provides a usefully closed system.”
We’re suckers for these galleries – it’s pure library picture porn. The amazing images of these libraries around the world speak to the place books have in our consciousness.
Last month, for instance, it started going around the web that “tag” (as in the game) was an acronym for “touch and go.” (Merriam-Webster was not amused.) “Etymythology [was] coined by the Yale linguist Laurence Horn for the general phenomenon of using fabricated etymologies (acronymic or otherwise) in the service of telling attractive origin stories, doing for words what Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories did for animals.”
Having survived decade after decade of the America-dominated post–World War II global order, French may indeed look a bit worse for wear, cluttered with sometimes risible English loanwords and dismissed as useless by the increasingly many students who pass it up in favor of Spanish and Mandarin. Yet however many now regard the French language as little more than a fussy antiquarian hobby, as many others continue to revere it.
“Not seen by many beyond scholars and academics over the last six decades, the story” – “A Room on the Garden Side”, written in 1956 – “takes place in Paris’s Ritz hotel and is narrated by a character called Robert, who shares the author’s own nickname, Papa. Robert and his entourage of soldiers, who are all due to leave the city the next day, drink, quote Baudelaire and debate ‘the dirty trade of war’.”
Christine Riccio, the most popular of the bunch: “I was reading a lot of books, and I had no one to discuss them with. I was like, ‘I’ll be lucky if I ever get 500 subscribers over here.'” She now has more than 400,000. Reporter Concepción de León meets Riccio and several of her fellows at VidCon (yes, it’s sort of like ComicCon, but for videomakers).
“The 14-line poem, by a young poet named Anders Carlson-Wee, was posted on the magazine’s website on July 5. Called ‘How-To,’ and seemingly written in the voice of a homeless person begging for handouts, it offered advice on how to play on the moral self-regard of passers-by by playing up, or even inventing, hardship. But after a firestorm of criticism on social media over a white poet’s attempt at black vernacular, … the magazine said it had made a ‘serious mistake’ in publishing it.”
A 13th century bible, one of a handful of books which survived intact when the library of Canterbury Cathedral was broken up at the time of the Reformation, is back in the building after almost 500 years.
“In particular, [a new paper] proposes that certain literary exercises, like rewriting short stories that involve ethical dilemmas, can expand doctors’ worldviews and make them more attuned to the dilemmas real patients face” than traditional medical ethics case studies do.