“A typical ‘Modern Love’ column is no more representative of how the average person falls in love than Romeo and Juliet. … Still, the column can reveal a lot about our cultural attitudes toward romance and heartbreak. As graduate students in economics and computer science, we decided to use statistics to analyze every ‘Modern Love’ column published over the past 10 years – with the goal of identifying patterns in how romantic narratives take shape.”
The new system still makes mistakes, but these are now relatively rare, where once they were ubiquitous. It uses an artificial neural network, linking digital “neurons” in several layers, each one feeding its output to the next layer, in an approach that is loosely modelled on the human brain. Neural-translation systems, like the phrase-based systems before them, are first “trained” by huge volumes of text translated by humans. But the neural version takes each word, and uses the surrounding context to turn it into a kind of abstract digital representation. It then tries to find the closest matching representation in the target language, based on what it has learned before. Neural translation handles long sentences much better than previous versions did.
Turkey did not say why it chose to block Wikipedia, other than it had taken “an administrative measure” after “technical analysis and legal consideration … .” But the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted an official from the ministry of transport who said the government blocked the site because it was part of a “coordinated smear campaign.” The article went on to say a Wikipedia entry claimed Turkey was aligned with various terrorist organizations.
“Most of the stories come from the 30s, that dark decade for him, for America and for the world. Why weren’t they published when they were written? Did Fitzgerald himself like them, and try to get them into print? What did editors think of them? What else was he doing, and what else was on his mind, as he wrote?”
Turn to a 19th-century cookbook by a princess, of course: Princess Barbare Jorjadze’s book, Georgian Cuisine and Tried Housekeeping Notes, “has long been a prized household possession. … Georgian chefs now increasingly consult Jorjadze’s book for forgotten flavors, many of them obliterated by the Soviet Union’s homogenizing influence.”
Emma Donoghue says, “My publishers initially choked when I offered them a novel about eight children, with four parents. One editor suggested I trim this down to a ‘big family of five kids.’ But by my standards (having grown up in an Irish Catholic clan in the 1970s), five was a puny total. Also, I needed the kids to outnumber the parents, to create enough pleasurable havoc. So we compromised: I culled the kids to seven.”
One hundred separate versions have been published online by Editions at Play, a digital publisher that specialises in “books that cannot be printed”. You can read any of the 100 editions for free – but if you’re lucky enough to own one, prepare yourself for some creative destruction: each version can only be passed on to a new owner after it has been modified. Owners must add one word and remove two from each of the story’s 21 pages and are stopped from moving forward through the book until they’ve made the required interventions.
According to eHarmony, women who listed The Hunger Games among their favourite books saw the biggest boost to their popularity, while men who read Richard Branson’s business books were approached most often. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a hit for both genders. But crucially, reading anything is a winning move; men who list reading on their dating profiles receive 19% more messages, and women 3% more.
Sales of children’s books rose 16% to £365m, with the increase due mainly to the purchase of printed works. Readers also flocked to fitness and self-help books, sending non-fiction sales up 9%. Revenues from fiction fell 7%, the PA’s annual report said.
The literary magazine has a stellar track record picking writers. Rather than make a yearly list, Granta picks looks over the course of a decade to choose writers it thinks will make an impact.
“Mr. Coates’s fiery work – which made him the National Book Award winner and a Pulitzer Prize finalist [and, arguably, earned him a MacArthur ‘genius award’] – will be adapted into a multimedia performance, with excerpted monologues, video projections, and a score by the jazz musician Jason Moran. Portions of Mr. Coates’s letters to his son would be read aloud, while narratives of his experiences at Howard University and in New York City could be performed by actors.”
Mohammed Hasan Alwan’s A Small Death retells the life of Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi (1165-1240), considered by some the greatest of Sufis and by others (conservative Muslims) an apostate, and his journeys across the breadth of the Islamic world. The award includes $50,000 for the author and another $50,000 toward the costs of translation into English.
It’s April 23, el dia de Sant Jordi (St. George’s Day), the Catalan counterpart to Valentine’s Day – except that it’s a book and not a box of chocolates that goes along with the bouquet for your true love. Natasha Lomas gives us a look at the celebration, for which €20 million worth of books are sold each year.
“When reading about the feeling of hopefulness in a novel, it can become an almost tangible thing, perhaps made out of the fiber of the pages you’re turning, or housed within the blackness of the ink used to print the words you’re reading. And hope can often be easier to hang on to in literature than in real life, where it might feel ephemeral, intangible, and unsteady. And now, more than ever, hope takes work.”
The 1,200-year-old language isn’t among the many options available on smartphones, virtual assistants, voice-activated devices, and even many computers – and with a small base of speakers (fewer than 350,000), Silicon Valley has little reason to spend money to add Icelandic. The worry: “The less useful Icelandic becomes in people’s daily life, the closer we as a nation get to the threshold of giving up its use.”
In honor of Shakespeare’s 453rd birthday (and, perhaps, 401st death day), the Folger has opened a treasure trove: “a Digital Anthology of Early English Drama, which makes original scripts and visual images from 40 plays available to anyone with Internet access.”
In medieval times, nobles believed a crowned and invested king had “two bodies” – one that was material and earthly, and one that was heavenly and bestowed by god. But “the character Richard II — like Trump — shows us how this agreement to live by a fiction can go wildly wrong. Richard does not realize that he is not really superhuman but that his subjects only grant him their willing suspension of disbelief if he plays the part he has been assigned.”
Poet Jane Hirshfield, who hadn’t done anything political before (“I don’t even give dinner parties,” she said), participated in the Science March on Washington on Earth Day. She said; “Poems are visible right now, which is terribly ironic, because you rather wish it weren’t so necessary. … When poetry is a backwater it means times are O.K. When times are dire, that’s exactly when poetry is needed.”
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.” James Somers runs down the history of the massive book-scanning project and of Authors Guild v. Google – and how “perhaps the most adventuresome class action settlement ever attempted” was taken apart despite the best interests of all the parties.
“Southern accents are like hot sauces: dozens of varieties that can be difficult to distinguish, but they can be subtle or heavy-handed; they can add color or be a one-note distraction. … When some people detect their presence, that’s all they can focus on. In the wrong hands they can be dangerous.” John Adamian talks to a professional audiobook narrator about the pitfalls involved.
“There’s no question that digital technology presents challenges to the reading brain, but, seen from a historical perspective, these look like differences of degree, rather than of kind. To the extent that digital reading represents something new, its potential cuts both ways. Done badly (which is to say, done cynically), the Internet reduces us to mindless clickers, racing numbly to the bottom of a bottomless feed; but done well, it has the potential to expand and augment the very contemplative space that we have prized in ourselves ever since we learned to read without moving our lips.”
In this Lexicon Valley podcast, “John McWhorter [talks about] the evolution from ‘crippled’ to ‘handicapped’ to ‘differently abled’ – and why no such term is likely to stick around long.” (audio)
“The writer in the Western literary imagination is an individual observer, an individualist, experiencing and observing the world and its structures from the outside, with some amount of skepticism and humor and empathy. If that’s what you’re trying to do, or to be, it can feel really uncomfortable to realize that, within the story you’re trying to write about, there is an equally real sense in which you are actually also the beneficiary and representative of, an insider of, a world-dominating superpower.”
A group of London researchers have analyzed samples of various tomes and developed a vocabulary for describing books’ scents similar to the language used for discussing wines. (Yes, this can have some practical uses.)
“Reading what you hate helps you refine what it is you value, whether it’s a style, a story line or an argument. Because books are long-form, they require more of the writer and the reader than a talk show or Facebook link. You can finish watching a movie in two hours and forget about it; not so a novel. Sticking it out for 300 pages means immersing yourself in another person’s world and discovering how it feels. That’s part of what makes books you despise so hard to dismiss. Rather than toss the book aside, turn to the next page and wrestle with its ideas. What about them makes you so uncomfortable?”
AmazonCrossing, the publishing unit devoted to scouring the world for good tales, has in a short time become the most prominent interpreter of foreign fiction into English, accounting for 10 percent of all translations in 2016, more than any other publishing house in a field populated by small imprints.
Read Gertrude Stein carefully, and tenaciously, and you’ll see how she teaches writing with every rigorous sentence. (No, she was not a famous teacher of composition, of course.) “To Gertrude Stein, the arrangement and creation of sentences and paragraphs was always paramount, no matter the origin.”
This is the 25th anniversary of the first Donna Leon book starring detective Giuseppe Brunetti, but it’s not the first one where the murders are related to crimes around the environment (indeed, in Venice, who could afford to ignore the rising waters?).
“Two things happened to Google Books on the way from moonshot vision to mundane reality. Soon after launch, it quickly fell from the idealistic ether into a legal bog … that finally ended last year, when the US Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the Authors Guild and definitively lifted the legal cloud … But in that time, another change had come over Google Books, one that’s not all that unusual for institutions and people who get caught up in decade-long legal battles: It lost its drive and ambition.”
“We had to pivot and say: What are we going to do with these books that were going to be anti-Hillary? Instead we developed new approaches that talked about the Trump agenda.”