Diana Athill is just a few days from her centenary, but – despite some hand injuries that mean she can’t type into a computer – she’s going strong. “Seasoned Athill watchers won’t be surprised to hear that she is at work on a new book – a tale of upward mobility in England as demonstrated through her own family’s rise from country doctors in early 19th-century Yorkshire to wealthy Norfolk landowners. At the centre of the story is her great-grandfather, who was left £44,000 by a grateful patient at a time when doctors were not considered to be gentlemen and such a sum could buy a handsome Queen Anne mansion in a landscaped park.”
Even genre fiction can’t make up for the dramatic decline in reading. “It’s a much more unforgiving ecosystem for authors of literary fiction today. We inevitably end up with a situation where the people best positioned to write literary fiction are those for whom making a living isn’t an imperative. That has an effect on the diversity of who is writing – we are losing voices, and we don’t want to be in that position.”
The morality of food is a battlefield now, and it was 150 years ago, when Dickens published A Christmas Carol, as well: “Dickens’s most abiding influence is his conviction that everybody has the right to sit down together and enjoy the same food. Crucially, the Cratchits’ Christmas was not part of any ecclesiastical or charitable space but enjoyed by a poor family in their own home. Dickens was challenging a culture that regarded food as necessarily exclusive. These are conflicts in a war for status and control, in which food is deployed to show that ‘you are what you eat.'”
“The report [for Arts Council England] analysed sales data from Nielsen BookScan and found that between 2007 and 2011, hardback fiction sales slumped by £10m. Paperback fiction had a more extreme dip, seeing declines almost every year after 2008. In 2011, paperback fiction sales were £162.6m; by 2012, they were £119.8m.”
“As much as we carp about the increasing digitization of our lives, this isn’t really a new problem. Writing required cord-cutting long before the computer. It’s an act of refusal, of relinquishment, and of retreat, a decision to turn away from the world and its noise of possibilities, to chase instead a signal down the quiet of a page. That work—the deep, sustained kind that yields poems and essays and fiction—can only happen in solitude, and in silence. And that’s the trouble.”
This archival video features Vonnegut using a chalkboard and his famous deadpan wit to map out three highly familiar narrative arcs that seem to have lost none of their popularity despite countless iterations.
Some revelations are inadvertent, and not especially flattering to the author. In my head, I have an informal taxonomy of acknowledgments, and one species is the Name-Dropper. Do writers know the kind of insecurity they’re betraying when they do their Trump Towers of thanks, their gold-plated word-piles of self-regard?
“After the team at Botnik fed the seven Harry Potter novels through their predictive text keyboard, it came up with a chapter from a new Harry Potter story: ‘Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash’.” Here’s one choice sentence: “He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family.”
Beating out Dictionary.com’s more disheartening choice, “complicit”, “feminism” saw searches spike by 70% over last year – thanks to the Women’s March, #MeToo, and (we’re afraid so) Kellyanne Conway.
The Tibetan Plateau is home to more than a dozen distinct local tongues, many of which come with their own elaborate character systems. Unfortunately, thanks to the growth of internet infrastructure and state-sponsored education, many of these lesser-spoken languages are now on the brink of extinction.
In this case, the media has been thrust in the position of the literary critic, drawing lines between the artwork and the broader culture. This isn’t a bad development, exactly—it’s great that a short story is making headlines. But it is also worth noting that the boundaries of literary criticism, at least as they are traditionally conceived, are being exceeded across the internet. The response to “Cat Person” is the latest evidence that we have entered new territory for online criticism, and no one quite knows what to make of it.
“The New Testament, after all, is not a store of ancient wonders like the Hebrew Bible. It’s a grab bag of reportage, rumor, folk memory, and on-the-hoof mysticism produced by regular people, everyday babblers and clunkers, under the pressure of a supremely irregular event – namely, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So that, says [David Bentley] Hart, is what it should sound like.” (“Where an author has written bad Greek, writes Hart, “I have written bad English.”)
“Ultimately, the whole project gives the impression of being based on two simplistic and very flawed premises: 1) you can judge a sex scene ripped from context, and 2) a good sex scene evokes not amusement, disdain, or pity but rather arousal.”
“The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy’s annual survey of Great Britain’s libraries paints familiar picture: for the seventh year running, the number of branches and paid staff declined. There are now 3,745 branches remaining in England, Scotland and Wales, down by 105 since 2016, while the number of paid staff has declined by 5% compared with a year ago.”
“Pseudoscience by definition is not supposed to find its way into scientific publications. From peer review to layers of ostensibly expert editorial scrutiny, the barriers to entry for nonsense are high—at least in theory. The reality, however, can differ substantially from the theoretical. Peer review can be porous, in that it allows errors, significant methodological problems, and misconduct into the literature. It also is vulnerable to gaming by researchers who exploit sloppy editorial processes to slip pseudoscience into the literature.”
“This is a bad time for my species — and a bad time for the study of English. In academe, we are witnessing an extinction of fields of study once thought essential. I teach at a private university that has just canceled majors in English, religious studies, philosophy, and music. The English major is becoming the useless gentleman, the Charles Smithson, of the modern university.”
Truth (Gay), roots (Gates), belief (Atwood), empathy (Clinton), ally (Ana Marie Cox), gaslight (Carmen Maria Machado), crossroads (Ellen Pao), collusion (Mitch & Freada Kapor), and others.
“The online archive, which is catalogued both in English and in Spanish, includes drafts and other material relating to all of García Márquez’s major books, … [as well as] previously unseen photographs, notebooks, scrapbooks, screenplays and personal ephemera, like a collection of his passports. Many archives are digitizing their holdings. But to make so much material from a writer whose work is still under copyright freely available online is unusual.”
Things like “ums” and “uhs” signal there’s some delay in processing. But as a speaker, what I can do is exploit those kinds of signals. I can use them dishonestly. I can use something like “um” to give the overt signal that I’m having some sort of trouble with processing, but in reality, all I’m doing is trying to claim more ground and get you to keep waiting for me to finish.
“It is difficult to prove that digital technologies are actually making people into worse writers. It is likely that the world is just seeing more unfiltered thoughts written down than at any other time in history. People are not writing worse so much as writing and publishing far more. But the internet is changing language.”
How an earthquake would kill the Pacific Northwest leads the list.
Their program can identify dozens of structural and stylistic details in huge chunks of text, and if you give them a collection of great stories—stories that maybe you wished you had written—they are able to identify all the details that those great stories have in common.
Translating literature is not always more difficult than translating other texts—tourist brochures, technical manuals, art catalogues, sales contracts, and the like. But it does have this distinguishing characteristic: its sense is not limited to a simple function of informing or persuading, but rather thrives on a superabundance of possible meanings, an openness to interpretation, an invitation to measure what is described against our experience. This is stimulating.
The Mekong Review is published out of Sydney, partly to avoid some censorship, and despite a tiny staff and a patchy delivery system, it’s doing well: “The magazine punches above its weight: Its contributors include some of the best-known authors, journalists and academics who follow the region, including Viet Thanh Nguyen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, and Emma Larkin, the pseudonym for a Bangkok-based American writer who has published several nonfiction books on Myanmar.”
Involving more senses probably helps. “The authors suggest that reading things aloud involves different types of processing, which makes it more active and engages us more than reading silently.”
“I don’t usually write about sex. I’m kind of a person who wouldn’t. By the time I’m on page 50 or 60, I sense, ‘Okay, this has been a wonderful fantasy, but stop.’ Something told me not to stop. … I said, ‘No, I want them to have fun. I want them to be sexual.'”
The publications are among the 10,000 titles banned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a list that includes best sellers like “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “A Time to Kill” and even obscure works, such as the “MapQuest Road Atlas.” Not banned: “Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler and books by white nationalists, including David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard. They are also prohibited from reading the pop-up edition of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “The Color Purple” and the 1908 Sears, Roebuck catalog.
A set of Orange County business types closed on the purchase pf the alt-weekly on Wednesday; the very same day, the entire editorial staff except one writer was laid off. The new guy in charge says he and the new owners are socially liberal libertarians and that the left-leaning editorial stance of the Weekly won’t change, but …
“In January, when the site moves over to a blockchain, Everipedia will convert IQ scores to a token-based currency, giving all existing editors an allotment proportionate to their IQ—and giving them a real, financial stake in Everipedia. From then on, creating and curating articles will allow users to earn tokens, which act as virtual shares of the platform. To prevent bad actors from trying to cash in with ill-founded or deliberately false articles and edits, Everipedia will force users to put up a token of their own in order to submit. If their work is accepted, they get their token back, plus a little bit for their contribution; if not, they lose their token. The assumption is that other users, motivated by the desire to maintain the site’s value, will actively seek to prevent such efforts.”
“To me, the keystone of the phrase ‘the great American novel’ is not the word American but the word great. Greatness, in the sense of outstanding or unique accomplishment, is a cryptogendered word. In ordinary usage and common understanding, ‘a great American’ means a great American man, ‘a great writer’ means a great male writer. … It makes perfect sense to me that I’ve never heard a woman writer say she intended, or wanted, to write the great American novel.”