Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
Not to beat you with a dead horse, as my high school chemistry teacher used to say (verbatim) — the issues novelist Matthew Galloway raises in this piece are frequently discussed on the Seattle Review of Books — but: Publishing is going through the kind of cataclysmic shift that certain industries refer to as “disruptive,” and no reader or writer can afford to play innocent bystander.
Galloway published his first book in the “Green Zone” enclave of Big Publishing, his second with “the resistance” (independent publishers and sellers). The metaphor is dramatic, and he’s quick to dismiss the financial issues faced by those for whom writing is a vocation, rather than an avocation. But he has a solid insider’s view of how Amazon is shaping the book market, and how that translates into costs and benefits for authors, publishers, and readers.
Here’s some good news: As soon as an industry player is declared disruptive, it’s a sure thing that they’re vulnerable to disruption by the next new thing. It’ll take more than a drone army to keep Amazon fresh, as long as those committed to the written word make pragmatic decisions — decisions that drive the right action from publishing, and not Amazon’s bottom line.
Then there’s Amazon. If you talk to your overworked/underpaid friends who work in the trenches of Big Publishing, you’ll be keenly aware that no decision — from “content” to book covers to publication schedules to sales/marketing strategies — gets made without considering the actual or looming impact of the alien overlord/distributor. If Amazon is “unhappy” about anything, or if the perception of unhappiness is wielded like a dictatorial cudgel, the publisher will scurry to find a solution. The message — and the reality — from Amazon is: Make Us Happy or Die Trying.
The story of artificial intelligence is, at least for now, a story about human intelligence. Alexis Madrigal profiles Marion Tinsley and Jonathan Schaeffer — the world’s greatest checkers player and the world’s greatest checkers programmer. Chinook, the program that came between them, is a quiet third wheel as the two men race to the death (literally) for mastery of the board.
Schaeffer and Tinsley sat across from each other, and a large screen rendered the movement of the pieces. Tinsley drew first blood, besting Chinook in game five. But then in game eight, Chinook delivered a stunning win; it was Tinsley’s sixth loss in 40 years.
Despite the years of toil and dreams of success, Schaeffer felt sadness in that moment. “We’re still members of the human race,” he wrote in his book, “and Chinook defeating Tinsley in a single game means that it will only be a matter of time before computers will be supreme in checkers, and eventually in other games like chess.” Schaeffer might have won, but the humans have lost.
To celebrate his fiftieth birthday, Mike Montiero wrote a letter that’s somehow both typically irascible and terrifically poignant — about landing on the moon, landing in America, and choosing your own “we.” If you can get through this without watching the Dead Milkmen video twice, and/or crying a little, you’re a better man than I am.
As I looked down at my new son, I realized that for the first time in my life I was in a relationship I could not run away from, could not put on someone else, could not half-ass, could not pretend to do right. Even if I managed to to get all those things right, what genetic malfeasance had I saddled this kid with? I looked at this little bundle of pink flesh and spit and poop and realized that inside him there was the genetic code for depression, Alzheimer’s, cancer, anxiety, and all sorts of other shit. I looked at that little kid and thought, little one you are fucked.
Conversations about race and class and economic disparity are loud and angry in post-Trump (or, sadly, mid-Trump) America. David Joy strikes the tough balance between apology and defense in this honest essay about what “trash” really means.
Maybe that’s why what I read in a trade review recently struck me so hard. The reviewer didn’t like my book, and that’s all right. A whole lot of people don’t like my books, and that’s perfectly OK. My books aren’t for everyone. This reviewer didn’t like what he called my “Southern Poverty Law Center photorealism.” This is what got me, though. He wrote that I should “leave the peeling trailers, come down out of the hollers, and try writing about people for a change.” He actually italicized that word, people, to be sure and say that what lives in those trailers, what finds itself in a world consumed by hopelessness, addiction, and violence, those aren’t people at all. I’m not sure what he thinks men like my grandfather, boys like Darrell, Smokey, Bubba and Lyndon, men like Donny, like Paco are, other than to use his own words, “trailer trash.”
Yes! Housework is “a nerve-twangling bore”! Let’s celebrate the life of the woman who recognized that ugly truth and did something about it: designed and built a house — her own — to end the tyranny of daily cleaning chores.
In each room, Ms. Gabe, tucked safely under an umbrella, could press a button that activated a sprinkler in the ceiling. The first spray sent a mist of sudsy water over walls and floor. A second spray rinsed everything. Jets of warm air blew it all dry. The full cycle took less than an hour.
Runoff escaped through drains in Ms. Gabe’s almost imperceptibly sloping floors. It was channeled outside and straight through her doghouse, where the dog was washed in the bargain.