It had a mild title, the essay that The New York Times published in 1968, but its intent was broad and strong. “‘Freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of mankind by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorships,’ [Andrei Sakharov] wrote. Suddenly the Soviet Union’s most decorated physicist became its most prominent dissident.”
Writing consists of basically two things: idea and execution. You come up with an idea, and you figure out how to execute it in terms of style, setting, and genre. Writers are understandably protective of our ideas, but for better or worse the law only really protects execution. Unless someone is directly stealing your exact words, it is nearly impossible to prove that they took the idea. And it probably wouldn’t be a good thing if it did.
For decades, self-publishing was derided as an embarrassing sign that an author couldn’t cut it in the “real” publishing industry—“the literary world’s version of masturbation,” as Salon once put it. And Amazon, the world’s biggest e-commerce site, with its bookstore-beating prices, was painted as an enemy to authors. But now its self-publishing service, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), has made it easy for people to upload their books, send them out into the universe, and make money doing so. Its store has created a place for readers to go and easily find inexpensive self-published books. The site that got its start by radically changing where books are sold is now reshaping how books are published and read.
“Prizes, at least the biggest ones, help sell books. Many of them were created for just that purpose and the prize-givers are not shy about saying so, and why should they be? What’s the point of publishing great books if you can’t find an audience for them? Authors and editors all hope that a nomination or a prize will draw attention to work they’ve already committed enormous amounts of time and energy to bringing into print. Still, the contrast between the language of literary merit and that of cool business calculation can be jarring.”
“The poem ‘If’, which was written around 1895, had been painted on the wall of the university’s newly refurbished students’ union. But students [who argue that Kipling ‘dehumanised people of colour’] painted over the verses, replacing them with the 1978 poem ‘Still I Rise’ by the US poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.”
The academy is paralysed by the scandal, which was followed by a slew of resignations and expulsions. Six of The Eighteen have withdrawn from any part in its deliberations; another two were compelled to do so. The statutes say that 12 members must be present to elect any new ones, so with only 10, no important decisions can be taken and no new members elected. The vacuum has been filled with invective.
Elsevier last week stopped thousands of scientists in Germany from reading its recent journal articles, as a row escalates over the cost of a nationwide open-access agreement. Negotiators in Germany and Sweden want all their papers published in Elsevier journals to be open access as part of any new contracts. They have said that they will not pay more than they did previously for subscriptions. But, until now, the Dutch publisher has offered other countries read-and-publish deals that cover only a small proportion of a country’s publishing output.
“Of all the changes within Nicaragua to come out of the overthrow of the Somoza regime by the Sandinistas in 1979, perhaps the least anticipated was the birth of a new language. Nicaraguan Sign Language is the only language spontaneously created, without the influence of other languages, to have been recorded from its birth. And though it came out of a period of civil strife, it was not political actors but deaf children who created the language’s unique vocabulary, grammar, and syntax.”
Yes, it is a clay tablet from the early centuries CE and it does have a passage from Homer’s epic inscribed on it, but that’s about all that the English-language stories got right. (For a start, we have plenty of excerpts from the Odyssey that are older.) Emily Wilson, whose widely-praised translation of the work was the first ever done into English by a woman, clears up the confusion.
Slate writer (and trans man) Evan Urquhart: “I knew [when I was 12 that] I preferred old-fashioned books by men for men (or adolescent boys), and I read these as if I were a native rather than a visitor to their world. This stood in contrast to the way I consumed girl culture: by trying to absorb and mimic the attitudes of straight girls … I was trying to play a part based on the adventures of the Sweet Valley Twins, but I could never get it exactly right. In The Robots of Dawn, the third entry in Asimov’s Robot series, I found something else.”
“For the last 25 years, in novel after novel, Houellebecq has advanced a similar critique of contemporary sexual mores. And while Houellebecq has always been a polarizing figure — admired for his provocations, disdained for his crudeness — he has turned out to be a writer of unusual prescience. … Houellebecq, whose work is saturated with brutality, resentment and sentimentality, understood what it meant to be an incel long before the term became common.”
I believe the way to think about this is to see all audio content providers — from the conventional podcasts of the open ecosystem to everything on Audible to whatever Anchor will become to Headspace plus whatever subscription-first audio platforms come over the horizon to the entire digital music ecosystem — as fighting from the same cochlear real estate.
“Zowie,” the romance author Deborah Macgillivray wrote on Twitter last month after she discovered copies of her 2009 novel, “One Snowy Knight,” being offered for four figures. One was going for “$2,630.52 & FREE Shipping,” she noted. Since other copies of the paperback were being sold elsewhere on Amazon for as little as 99 cents, she was perplexed.
The Library of Alexandria is so embedded in our cultural canon that it remains a broadly known and admired institution. Its shadow lingers over the world of scholarship, despite the fact that the library was completely destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago leaving no physical trace behind, including, scholars believe, not a single scroll.
Today’s comics sell one-tenth the numbers Marvel expected in the 1960s and 1970s glory days when comic books were cheaper than candy bars and just as easy to find at the nation’s newsstands, corner markets and drugstores. Now, a new comic book costs $4-$6 and the only shelves they reach are at the 2,500 comic book specialty shops doing business in the U.S. and Canada — and even that number is in decline as stores
“Our literary culture would be richer if we could observe more interactions between authors and critics. (A couple of very smart people explain why they think this is a bad idea here.) Unfortunately, authors are routinely advised to ignore negative reviews, while positive reviews are showered with smiley faces on social media, as though literary criticism were simply an extension of book marketing.”
The New Academy asked Swedish librarians to nominate an author from anywhere in the world who has told the story of “humans in the world” – and the resulting longlist is surprisingly surprising. Yes, some of the perennial Nobel contenders are here, and deservedly so: Cormac McCarthy is nominated, as are Margaret Atwood, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Amos Oz and Haruki Murakami. But the librarians have also added some fresh faces to the usual suspects
“After more than a decade, the Oxford American, a nonprofit literary magazine that explores Southern culture, has finally paid off the entire $700,000 debt it owed the University of Central Arkansas. Since the debt began accumulating in 2004 and peaked in 2008, UCA has seen four presidents, and the nonprofit magazine has parted ways with its founding editor and has a new top editor and executive director.”
Just two years ago, Univision acquired what became the Gizmodo Media Network from the wreckage of Gawker Media. Now the Spanish-language broadcast network has “initiated a formal process to explore the sale” of the group, which includes, among other sites, The Onion, The A.V. Club, Deadspin, Gizmodo, Clickhole, Jezebel, and The Root.
“Far more urban, far more ethnically and culturally and politically diverse, the South is no longer a place defined by sweet tea and slamming screen doors, and its literature is changing, too. ‘It is damn hard to put a pipe-smoking granny or a pet possum into a novel these days and get away with it,’ the novelist Lee Smith once said.” Even so, Margaret Renkl has a answer to the question – one that’s paradoxical and somewhat painful.
News of the discovery of these Gnostic manuscripts in 1940s Egypt – manuscripts that ultimately upended everything scholars had thought they knew about early Christianity – came with an all-too-colorful story: precious ancient books lying unnoticed in the desert for generations, exotic peasants engaged in blood feuds stumbling upon the volumes, a last-minute rescue from fire. Nicola Denzey Lewis points out just how improbable (and Orientalizing) it all is, looks at what we know for sure about how the codices were found, and works out a more likely, and more unsavory, story.
“If the coherence and usefulness of the Western canon seem increasingly untenable today, for reasons that reach beyond ideology, the very concept of a canon — one critically authoritative corpus of thought — now feels harder and harder to countenance. Not only has the unfolding triumph of digital life supplied every claim and every authority with an effectively infinite number of criticisms, the digital revolution has called into profound question how any limited body of knowledge can claim canonical authority over a world where information is infinite.”
The Golden Man Booker. “As a system of selection, this is a curious conflation of the single expert and the wisdom of crowds — or, if you will, super elitism and mob rule. After all, each novel on the shortlist was chosen by just one person (not nearly enough), and yet the winner was chosen by thousands (far too many). Having the unwashed public pick the best novel sounds wonderfully egalitarian, but it ignores all kinds of unanswerable questions about the self-selection and legitimacy of the voters.”
“[CEO Demos] Parneros’s termination is the latest in a long line of setbacks for a retail giant trying to stay afloat in the e-commerce era. It’s also the latest reminder of the extent to which Barnes & Noble, once the most disruptive company in publishing, has lost its way.” Alex Shephard looks at what he describes as “quite a lot of strategic incoherence.”
In a statement issued the afternoon before the Fourth of July holiday, the troubled bookstore chain announced that Demos Parneros had been terminated without severance pay for unspecified “violations of the Company’s policies.” (The statement did say that Parneros’s dismissal had nothing to do with financial malfeasance or fraud.)
Archival research has its moments: Yeats scholar John Kelly “was browsing the catalogue of Princeton University Library, where he had pored over Yeats’s holdings some years earlier, when he spotted a file of 17 letters to the poet’s publisher he had not seen before. He discovered from the librarian it had been stolen in the 1970s, disappearing without trace until it turned up recently, delivered anonymously in a brown package.”