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The Sunday Post for December 27, 2015

The Darkness Before the Right

Park MacDougald in a long piece examining a particualrly American conservatism that's he's coined, neoreactionism:

As the twenty-first century gets darker, politics are likely to follow suit, and for all its apparent weirdness, neoreaction may be an early warning system for what a future anti-democratic right looks like. So what is neoreaction, then, exactly? For all the talk of neo-feudalism and geeks for monarchy, it’s less a single ideology than a loose constellation of far-right thought, clustered around three pillars: religious traditionalism, white nationalism, and techno-commercialism (the names are self-explanatory). This means heavy spoonfuls of “race realism,” misogyny, and nostalgia for past hierarchies, leavened with transhumanism and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Unsurprisingly, they don’t always get along; if you want to preserve white racial purity, futurists trying to biohack us into a separate species are not your long-term allies. Still, similarities abound. All neoreactionaries reject “progressivism,” by which they mean democracy, egalitarianism, and a belief in more or less linear historical progress—and even the non-white-supremacists tend towards a hereditarian determinism that bleeds easily into outright racism.
I'm having a friendship affair

A Kim Brooks piece where the sub-head says it all: "A look at the intensely obsessive, deeply meaningful, occasionally undermining, marriage-threatening, slightly pathological platonic intimacy that can happen between women."

I’ve done it all my life. Call it oversharing. Call it lack of boundaries. Call it projection or a profound impatience for the normal social mores that make deep-friendship formation so excruciatingly arduous. It doesn’t matter what you call it; the trait remains — the tendency to find one person in a group, one person at work, at a party, on a trip, at a wedding, or anywhere at all. I find one person, and that is my person. We are on the same wavelength, I decide, and then I give up giving a shit about everyone else.
Our Star Wars Holiday Special

There is no escape. You are involved in the cultural conversation of the moment, and it's about a space opera. Here's Aaron Bady on the franchise:

For starters, it’s hard to think of a movie franchise that so revels in its own tautological premises. After all, what is “the force” except a means of embedding narrative convenience directly into the story itself? The force of heroic protagonism is strong with this one, declares Obi-Wan; may the camera be with you. Because if the camera is with you, you can defy odds, physics, and logic, in an even more blatant way than on-screen heroes usually can. But the force is not interested in people that we haven’t seen in close-up; if you don’t have a John Williams-composed theme to mark the fact that you matter, you can and will live or die unnoticed. The “force” is just the diagetic trace of an extradiegetic will, an expression of the screenwriter’s desire as it gets projected onto the blank screen of the audience’s appetite. The force is strong with Luke because he is a stand-in for Lucas’s own wish-fulfilments, and so, the universe obeys his commands. It’s not subtle, and like Luke for Lucas or Darth Vader for Dark Father, it’s not clever. But it is compelling.
Some thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey

If you're looking for something more specific and less about the culture of the thing, screenwriter Todd Alcott, who does detailed breakdowns of movies on his blog, looks at the characters of the new Star Wars movie, starting with Rey (but check his blog for his take on the other characters too).

The Force Awakens presents us with two major protagonists, an antagonist and an anti-hero. Although it re-states numerous plot points from A New Hope, it always takes care to present them in different contexts. The point of the recycling is not to remind us of a movie we like, but to reveal how everything changes no matter how much everything stays the same.

The Sunday Post for December 20, 2015

Men Explain Lolita To Me

Rebecca Solnit, after writing a piece mocking Esquire's infamous "80 Books Every Man Should Read", got things explained to her by white men. Thankfully, she's wonderful at explaining things back. It was hard to find a quote from this essay to pull here, since there were many paragraphs I wanted to quote, but this one in particular I found very affecting:

There is a common attack on art that thinks it is a defense. It is the argument that art has no impact on our lives, that art is not dangerous, and therefore all art is beyond reproach, and we have no grounds to object to any of it, and any objection is censorship. No one has ever argued against this view more elegantly than the great, now-gone critic Arthur C. Danto, whose 1988 essay on the subject was formative for my own thinking. That was in the era when right-wing senators wanted to censor art or cancel the National Endowment for the Arts altogether. The argument against this art, which included Robert Mapplethorpe’s elegantly formalist pictures of men engaged in sadomasochistic play, was that it was dangerous, that it might change individual minds and lives and then our culture. Some of the defenders took the unfortunate position that art is not dangerous because, ultimately, it has no impact.

Photographs and essays and novels and the rest can change your life; they are dangerous. Art shapes the world. I know many people who found a book that determined what they would do with their life or saved their life. Books aren’t life preservers; there are more complex, less urgent reasons to read them, including pleasure, and pleasure matters. Danto describes the worldview of those who assert there is an apartheid system between art and life: “But the concept of art interposes between life and literature a very tough membrane, which insures the incapacity of the artist to inflict moral harm so long as it is recognized that what he is doing is art.” His point is that art can inflict moral harm and often does, just as other books do good. Danto references the totalitarian regimes whose officials recognized very clearly that art can change the world and repressed the stuff that might.

An unbelievable story of rape

ProPublica and The Marshall Project bring this long, detailed, important story about the success, and failures, of policing in rape cases.

The fear of false rape accusations has a long history in the legal system. In the 1600s, England’s chief justice, Matthew Hale, warned that rape “is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused.” Judges in the U.S. read the so-called Hale warning to juries until the 1980s. But most recent research suggests that false reporting is relatively rare. FBI figures show that police annually declare around 5 percent of rape cases unfounded, or baseless. Social scientists examining police records in detail and using methodologically rigorous standards cite similar, single-digit rates.

The Sunday Post for December 13, 2015

Janet Wolfe, Gothamite on a First-Name Basis With Her Era, Dies at 101

This is the finest obituary I have ever read. Janet Wolfe was quite obviously a brilliant force of nature. But more than this, Margalit Fox practically re-animates her with luxuriant and vivid prose. What a joy to read. And you have my respect, Ms. Fox, since you can talk a copy-desk editor into letting you launch your piece with this graf:

So. About Janet.
The Washington Post Style Guide Now Accepts Singular ‘They’

Especially in light of modern gender awareness, those opposing the singular they seem antiquated. Why, even the Washington Post has switched over.

In everyday speech, singular they, the use of they/them to refer to one person, feels completely natural. But in more formal contexts, and in writing, that usage has long been frowned upon. And not just frowned upon, but banned as ungrammatical. However, it is not ungrammatical in the same way as “I didn’t knowed that” or “what are you cook for dinner tonight?” Those sentences don’t sound natural in any context.

Proponents of singular they have long argued that the prohibition makes no sense. Not only is it natural, it has been used in English for centuries. It’s in the King James Bible. Authors like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Swift, Austen, Thackeray, and Shaw used it. Before the production of school textbooks for grammar in the 19th century, no one complained about it or even noticed it. Avoiding it is awkward or necessitates sexist language.

Poker, Wikipedia, and the Singular They

Speaking of the singular they, Andy Baio went looking for information on poker champion Annie Duke, and found a Wikipedia page on Texas Hold 'Em rife with gendered language.

Because it was Wikipedia, I felt like I could do something about it. So I spent some time making the biggest edit I've ever made on Wikipedia: changing every male pronoun to gender-neutral language, sometimes rephrasing as "the player," but often using the singular they. I tried to be careful about readability, making sure to only use it in cases where it couldn't be confused with a plural group.
Hacking the City

When Marcus Westbury moved back to Newcastle, Australia to open a bar, he was amazed that none of the downtown properties that were sitting vacant would rent to him. Instead, he came up with an ingenious plan that renovated the area.

He began contacting landlords and leasing agents, expecting to be overwhelmed with offers, but no one returned his calls. Some buildings had been purchased on the cheap by speculators, who expected to cash in when government redevelopment funds finally arrived and who were happy to leave them vacant while they waited. Others were owned by family trusts that couldn’t agree on anything except doing nothing. More than one landlord demanded rents the market couldn’t possibly bear. Westbury learned that lowering the asking price often meant writing down the value of the building, which risked triggering foreclosure. Landlords were incentivized to stand pat, while downtown fell into ruin. “No one was even trying,” Westbury said.

The Sunday Post for December 6, 2015

Jury Duty

A remarkable story of jury duty, told by a black man. Very honest, very raw. Very anonymous, for obvious reasons.

There are twelve of us left. The first thing the prosecutor did during voir dire was ask all the men of color whether we trusted cops. Every black man had a story: police harassment, spurious arrests, intimidation. They were all eliminated. I was asked if I had any experiences of this kind, and I said no. It was the truth. Perhaps this was the time to mention that having witnessed the murders of Eric Garner and Walter Scott on video made personal experience unnecessary. I didn’t mention it.

In the end, only two men of color make it to the jury, and I am one of them. The other is Latino. There are two Latina women, one African-American woman, and one Asian woman. The remaining six jurors are white.

Brophy’s Behaivor in the Spotlight

What's that you say? I haven't mentioned Iris Murdoch in a few weeks? Time to remedy that! Brigid Brophy was a British novelist who had a very close relationship with Iris Murdoch. Her daughter, Kate Levey, has been exploring this:

In her private notebook, and dated 1961, my mother, Brigid Brophy, wrote

A person whom I adore
Is a novelist whom I abhor
Was ever a woman of literary integrity
In such a fix before?

The subject of Brigid’s ditty was Iris Murdoch. Brigid and Iris loved each other passionately, sexually, seriously, but also fatally. They could not reconcile their different attitudes to the nature of their love; on that topic there were deep rifts in expectation and in ambition. The resultant emotional tumults damaged the pair profoundly. Theirs seemed to Brigid insuperable problems; such they proved to be, thus eventually when Brigid found no remedy, she broke away from Iris.

The Sunday Post for November 29, 2015

The Most Misread Poem in America

David Orr, in an excerpt from his book The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong, on Robert Frost's best known poem.

Frost’s poem turns this expectation on its head. Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.
This Is How You Become an Editor

Mensah Demary on the kind of work writers do, so that they can do the sort of work that writers do.

I was gifted, or cursed, with a brain somewhat wired for business. My father knew as much about me; when, in 2007, I said to him, “Maybe I should finish undergrad, then get an MFA,” he retorted, “You should probably get an MBA instead.” I took this advice as an insult, or a devaluing of my creative desires, but I couldn’t ignore it. I was raised by this man, directed through life as child with the goal of growing into a self-sustaining adult.

The Sunday Post for November 22, 2015

SELFIE: The revolutionary potential of your own face, in seven chapters

I've seen many defenses of the selfie, but never such an indepth exploration of what it means, and why it is important. Rachel Syme covers it all, in seven parts.

Shot One: Open on a woman snapping a picture of herself, by herself. Maybe she is sitting at an outdoor cafe, her phone held out in front of her like a gilded hand mirror, a looking glass linked to an Instagram account. Maybe she tilts her head one way and then another, smiling and smirking, pushing her hair around, defiantly staring into the lens, then coyly looking away. She takes one shot, then five, then 25. She flips through these images, appraising them, an editrix putting together the September issue of her face; she weighs each against the others, plays around with filters and lighting, and makes a final choice. She pushes send and it’s done. Her selfie is off to have adventures without her, to meet the gazes of strangers she will never know. She feels excited, maybe a little nervous. She has declared, in just a few clicks, that she deserves, in that moment, to be seen. The whole process takes less than five minutes.

Shot Two: Zoom in on a group of people watching this woman, one table over. They are snickering, rolling their eyes, whispering among themselves. Maybe they are older than she is, making jokes about Narcissus and the end of civilization as we know it. Maybe they are all men, deeply affronted by a woman looking at herself with longing, a woman who is both the see-er and the seen, the courier of her own message. Maybe they are a group of chattering women, who have internalized a societal shame about taking pleasure in one’s face in public, who have learned to be good girls, to never let their self-regard come off as a threat. Maybe they are lonesome and hungry for connection, projecting their own lack of community onto this woman’s solo show, believing her to be isolated rather than expansive. They don’t see where her image is headed, where it will take up space in the infinite. This is scary for them, this lack of control, this sense that her face could go anywhere, pop up anywhere. This is why they sneer at her like she is masturbating. This is why they believe that no selfie could ever mean anything other than vanity. This is why they think selfies are a phase, something they can wish away. Whoever they are, and for whatever reason they hate selfies, they are wrong.

Space Oddity

Bee Lavender, on returning home to Seattle to visit her Aunt Mary.

Mary’s son Charlie was born later that year and I held him within hours of his arrival home from the hospital. I remember the shabby apartment they lived in, and the VW van my new uncle drove, and the fact that he was a gentle and sweet man. I also remember the fights between him and my aunt, which looked like any schoolyard scuffle, and that they carried their drugs around in the diaper bag. I was sad to lose that uncle when the marriage broke up; he was the nicest one I’d ever had.

Sunday Post for November 15, 2015

Terror Strikes in Paris

Only one story today about Paris, because that is about all I can bear. But reactions that are neither hot nor takes, but explorations of deeply felt frustrations, help me to process the horror of Friday evening. I've come to rely on Adam Gopnik's measured approach to tragedy, and his ever-apparent frustration with the violence he writes about for the New Yorker.

Terrorism of this nihilistic order is hardly unknown in Paris. But the terrorists of the seventies—like the Palestinians who, in 1982, committed a very similar horror, bombing and machine-gunning helpless diners in the Jewish restaurant Chez Jo Goldenberg, in the Marais—at least had some horrible logic of publicity appear to govern their acts. The new hunger for mass casualties, far beyond the needs even of diabolic publicity, is tied to a larger apocalyptic vision, a renewal of the twelfth-century religious warfare that the ISIS message underlined with such glee. The communiqué warned that this was only “the first of the storm.” This view, which was Glucksmann’s view, of an unappeasable war between modernity and a neo-medieval appetite for authority and absolute religious warfare, today must be more persuasive to more Parisians than it ever has been before.
Don DeLillo, The Art of Fiction No. 135

A 1993 interview from the Paris Review with Don DeLillo that was making the rounds this week. Interviewer Adam Begley asked if it made a difference in his career that he started writing novels when he was nearly thirty.

Well, I wish I had started earlier, but evidently I wasn’t ready. First, I lacked ambition. I may have had novels in my head but very little on paper and no personal goals, no burning desire to achieve some end. Second, I didn’t have a sense of what it takes to be a serious writer. It took me a long time to develop this. Even when I was well into my first novel I didn’t have a system for working, a dependable routine. I worked haphazardly, sometimes late at night, sometimes in the afternoon. I spent too much time doing other things or nothing at all. On humid summer nights I tracked horseflies through the apartment and killed them—not for the meat but because they were driving me crazy with their buzzing. I hadn’t developed a sense of the level of dedication that’s necessary to do this kind of work.
How Could You Like That Book?

Tim Parks, in the New York Review of Books, explores that all too common feeling when we come across somebody who likes a book we just can't understand them liking.

Perhaps it’s easy for me to understand why so many are not on board with these writers because I occasionally feel the same way myself. In fact it may be that the most seductive novelists are also the ones most willing to risk irritating you. Faulkner comes to mind, so often on the edge between brilliant and garrulous. Italy’s Carlo Emilio Gadda was another. Muriel Spark. Sometimes even Kafka. Resistance to these writers is never a surprise to me.

On the other hand, I do spend endless hours mulling over the mystery of what others like. Again and again the question arises: How can they?

When People—and Characters—Surprise You

Mary Gaitskill talks about Anna Karenina and breaks down why a particular passage was so meaningful to her.

I read Anna Karenina for the first time about two years ago. It’s something I’d always meant to read, but for some reason I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. When I finally settled down to read it, I loved it. What strikes me about the book is how precisely rendered the characters are, how recognizable they are as people. It was written so many years ago, and yet the characters are descriptions of people I know and see.

The Sunday Post for November 8, 2015

The Fort of Young Saplings

Settle in, folks. This one will take a bit of your time, but I promise you won't regret it. Oregon (and ex-Seattle) writer Vanessa Veselka goes deep on her personal connection to a clan of Tlingit people in Alaska, and using that connection explores the history, legends, and relationships with Russians, of this Alaskan indigenous people. A stunning piece of writing.

The Tlingit don’t fit stereotypes of Native Americans. They’re more like Vikings. Or maybe they’re more like Maori. A fiercely martial people, terrifying in their samurai-like slat armor, their bird-beak helmets, and their raven masks, they never surrendered to a colonial power, never ceded territory. When Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867, the Tlingit argued that the Russians held only trading posts and that the rest was not theirs to sell. The protest was unsuccessful, but it was the beginning of a narrative: The Tlingit had never signed away their land, had never sold it, had never moved.
The Decay of Twitter

I hate pontificating about Twitter as much as the next person (Twitter is the ultimate expression of the parable about the blind men and the elephant, except the blind men are 320 million men and women, and the elephant is just an idea), but this piece is pretty good, and has some good points about Twitter the network that people have feelings about, and Twitter the company that is trying to make a go out of it.

Since it went public two years ago, investors have rarely considered Twitter’s prospects rosy. The sliver of Twitter’s users who are interested in how it fares as a corporation have gotten used to this, I think: There’s an idea you see floating around that, beyond avoiding bankruptcy, Twitter’s financial success has little bearing on its social utility. Maybe there are only 320 million humans interested in seeing 140-character updates from their friends every day after all. If you make a website that 4 percent of the world’s population finds interesting enough to peek at every month, you shouldn’t exactly feel embarrassed.
Long Line at the Library? It’s Story Time Again

All about story time at the New York Public Libraries:

Among parents of the under-5 set, spots for story time have become as coveted as seats for a hot Broadway show like “Hamilton.” Lines stretch down the block at some branches, with tickets given out on a first-come-first-served basis because there is not enough room to accommodate all of the children who show up.
'The Good is Elusive and Transitory in This World'

Jessica Gross spends some time with the impossibly wonderful Maira Kalman (and even sat in her Eames Le Chaise chair)

I always told my kids, don’t have serious conversations with your mates at night, because everything looks so dark you’re going to have a fight in two seconds. Just don’t do it. I always say, “If you’re hungry you should eat something, and if you’re thirsty you should drink something, and if you’re tired, you should sleep.” They’re always making fun of me for saying that, but I think there are some truisms that are very, very basic. And if you just listen to what you need, sometimes it will take you out of troubling spots.
Does Fiction Based on Fact Have a Responsibility to the Truth?

Thomas Mallon and Ayana Mathis tackle this question in the Times. This from Mathis' piece:

At the risk of stating the obvious, truth and fact are not the same things. Our belief in the truthfulness of facts is mutable. I recently saw Joshua Oppenheimer’s superb documentary, “The Act of Killing,” which takes as its subject the murders of, by some estimates, as many as a million people in Indonesia in the 1960s. The killers were never punished. In many cases, they became powerful people who proudly and publicly refer to their days of heroic government service as the exterminators of Indonesia’s “Communists.” The murder of all those souls was, until very recently, simply part of the national lore. There is another reality of course — the terror of the survivors and resultant silence of the families of the victims. Both are examples of constructed narratives, though only one is a grotesque manipulation of what transpired, a ghastly example of the way facts may be ignored to create a narrative as far from truth as can be.

The Sunday Post for November 1, 2015

Amazon reviews hijacked by causes, conspiracies, rage

Amazon's reviews have long been an outlet for mocking humor, which the company has long tolerated. They're mostly harmless, and get people in the door and engaging on the platform. But Jay Greene at the Seattle Times looks at the darker of review activism.

Increasingly, though, people are launching coordinated campaigns to push political and social agendas through negative reviews often only tangentially related to the product for sale. They are able to do so because Amazon welcomes reviews regardless of whether the writer has actually purchased the product.
A Penny for Your Books

Some retailers have always worked on razor-thin margins, but it's amazing to look inside the world of discount online booksellsers -- like Auburn's own Thirft Books.

Despite the naysaying about the death of publishing, the industry’s most vital numbers — sales and revenue — aren’t actually all that gloomy. In 2014, publishers sold just over 2.7 billion books domestically, for a total net revenue of just under $28 billion, a larger profit than in the preceding two years, according to the Association of American Publishers. There were just over 300,000 new titles (including re-releases) published in the United States in 2013. The book industry may not be as strong as it once was, but it’s still enormous, and generates a considerable amount of surplus product each year.
Iris Murdoch, The Virtuoso Of Virtue

For as long as I'm penning the Sunday Post, Murdoch will be a commmon theme. There's a lot of interest in her works right now, as her letters are being collected and released. Here, Standpoint founding editor Daniel Johnson offers some remberences.

By the time I made her acquaintance in the 1980s, Iris had been a public figure for a generation. Her only rival as a philosopher-novelist had been Sartre, whom she had introduced to the Anglo-Saxon world. Having outlived and in many ways outshone him, she was a star of the first magnitude in the intellectual constellation of post-war Europe. Though she belonged to a brilliant generation of female philosophers — her “dearest girl” Philippa (“Pip”) Foot, her “friend-foe” Elizabeth Anscombe, and her friends Mary Midgley and Mary Warnock — all of whom made major contributions to academic and public life, Iris was the only philosopher of either sex among her contemporaries to become a truly national figure. She deserved her renown; her posthumous reputation as a writer and thinker has survived the scrutiny of biographers and critics. She never wrote an autobiography, but her letters reveal her introspective side, as she looks back over la vie antérieure and forward to new fields — and men — to conquer.
Rediscovering Angela Carter's poetry: Images that stick and splinter in the mind

Rosemary Hill looks at a newly released volume of Angela Carter's poetry.

“Unicorn”, like The Bloody Chamber, draws out what a post-Freudian age sees beneath the surface – the phallic unicorn’s horn, the virgin in the garden – draws it out, blows it up into imagery as lurid as a flashing neon sign outside a sex shop and then drops it bathetically flat at the end. This woodland’s “innocent and fragile leaves” conceal the strip-club agents who are using an unappealing virgin, “raw and huge … the only virgin to be had” to lure the unicorn. As Carter once said of Walter de la Mare, a writer she, surprisingly perhaps, much admired, these are images that stick like a splinter in the mind.

Sunday Post for October 25, 2015

My Writing Education: A Time Line

George Saunders in the New Yorker on learning to write, and the writing instructors he learned from.

Doug gets an unkind review. We are worried. Will one of us dopily bring it up in workshop? We don’t. Doug does. Right off the bat. He wants to talk about it, because he feels there might be something in it for us. The talk he gives us is beautiful, honest, courageous, totally generous. He shows us where the reviewer was wrong—but also where the reviewer might have gotten it right. Doug talks about the importance of being able to extract the useful bits from even a hurtful review: this is important, because it will make the next book better. He talks about the fact that it was hard for him to get up this morning after that review and write, but that he did it anyway. He’s in it for the long haul, we can see. He’s a fighter, and that’s what we must become too: we have to learn to honor our craft by refusing to be beaten, by remaining open, by treating every single thing that happens to us, good or bad, as one more lesson on the longer path.

We liked Doug before this. Now we love him.

Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up

Great interview with Terry Gross in the New York Times:

The interview wish is as old as the form itself. Journalistic interviews in the United States increasingly began to appear in the 1860s. Before that, when reporters talked to people, they typically didn’t quote them. Once interviewing started, it became a craze. It had its own practitioners, often women, who were thought to be better at drawing people out. Henry James’s journalists were almost all "interviewers," and his characters, like Selah Tarrant in "The Bostonians," crave their scrutiny: "The wish of his soul was that he might be interviewed," James wrote.
25 Objects for 25 Years Item 4: Iris Murdoch’s Notes on a Lecture by Jean Paul Sartre

The Kingston University Archives and Special Collections is revealing some of its gems in advance of its 25th anniversary. Like, Iris Murdoch's notes from a lecture by Jean Paul Satre:

The notebook contains Murdoch’s extensive notes made at the lecture, which are a fascinating insight into Sartre’s philosophy and Murdoch’s views on it at the time. The notebook is also unique as while we know Murdoch made notes on the writings of other philosophers, we are not aware of any others surviving taken from a lecture given by the philosopher themselves. The rear of the notebook is filled with notes that Murdoch made after reading many of Jean Paul Sartre’s books- Murdoch’s copies of which are also held in the Iris Murdoch Oxford Library, one bearing a personal message to Murdoch from Sartre himself.
Tolkien's annotated map of Middle-earth discovered inside copy of Lord of the Rings

It must be artifact day today for the Sunday Post. Here's Tolkien's annotated map, found inside a book that belonged to illustrator Pauline Baynes, who drew the maps for Tolkien.

The map was found loose in a copy of the acclaimed illustrator Pauline Baynes’ copy of The Lord of the Rings. Baynes had removed the map from another edition of the novel as she began work on her own colour Map of Middle-earth for Tolkien, which would go on to be published by Allen & Unwin in 1970. Tolkien himself had then copiously annotated it in green ink and pencil, with Baynes adding her own notes to the document while she worked.
Public response to SPL survey sharply against City Librarian Marcellus Turner’s rebranding plan

As a rule, the Sunday Post does not self-link to the Seattle Review of Books, but this piece about the public response to the City Librarian Marcellus Turner's plan for rebranding is too important to ignore. The board votes on Wednesday about this plan — if you want to have a say in the future of your library, now is the time to take action and write the board. Get more context in this article we published last Wednesday, by Laurel Holliday.

The Sunday Post for October 18, 2015

Pond Scum: Henry David Thoreau’s moral myopia.

Oh, how I love Kathryn Schulz's takedown of Thoreau in the latest New Yorker! I've never been a fan of Henry David, and we see his offspring littering the Pacific Northwest hiking trails, beaches, and REIs — especially on sale days. This was a delicious read for me.

The real Thoreau was, in the fullest sense of the word, self-obsessed: narcissistic, fanatical about self-control, adamant that he required nothing beyond himself to understand and thrive in the world. From that inward fixation flowed a social and political vision that is deeply unsettling. It is true that Thoreau was an excellent naturalist and an eloquent and prescient voice for the preservation of wild places. But “Walden” is less a cornerstone work of environmental literature than the original cabin porn: a fantasy about rustic life divorced from the reality of living in the woods, and, especially, a fantasy about escaping the entanglements and responsibilities of living among other people.
Mea culpas in kidlit

Meaghan O'Connell published a light-hearted piece in New York Magazine titled The Children's-Book Guy: An Ideal Crush Object. It's about how hot she found many of the young male illustrators of kids books. Although post-ironic and tongue-in-cheek (it's tagged with the title The Female Gaze), it drew a lot of negative attention from the kidlit crowd, who have been facing the same sort of gender issues the rest of publishing has. That is, it's mostly made of women, but the men get all the attention. They win the Caldecott awards. They get the bigger book deals. They get called cute and asked to show up on panels, at the sake of women not being invited. So O'Connell was taken to task for writing without knowledge of this context.

The great moral to this, though, is that O'Connell read the responses, and after understanding them, came out with a heartfelt apology and explanation.

In my personal writing I am often second-guessing and making fun of, or light of, my less admirable impulses. I am trying to write from a place of confidence, yes, but also fallibility, because I think that’s interesting, and true. This was definitely at work in that piece, but is often the first thing to get lost when people are understandably upset. Which MAKES SENSE.

Anyway that’s my own context. The greater context, I was more than a little horrified to discover, is an industry that is, yes, like most of publishing, female majority (more women writing, illustrating, editing, agenting, and BUYING books), but like most of publishing — and I should have known this, it was naive to assume otherwise — men get much of the credit, the glory, the jokey posts about how hot they are. CRINGE. I slowly learned this yesterday as a few very kind women shared some links with me, like this one, and this one: “Why Don’t Women Win Caldecott Awards?” Yikes. (And yes, this is about when I wanted to crawl into a cave and die.)

Speaking in Tongues

Josephine Livingstone goes deep into invented languages for the New Republic.

“Conlang” is short for “constructed language,” which is just what it sounds like: a language that has been constructed. There are a lot of them, of various sorts. International auxiliary languages like Volapük, Esperanto, or Interlingua are one specific type of conlang. Invented to facilitate international communication during the great techno-utopian-modernist thought-boom of the last two centuries, they never got terribly popular. Conlangs do not necessarily have to be useful. As Peterson explains in his new book The Art of Language Invention, conlanging is an art as well as a science, something you might do for your own pleasure, as well as for the entertainment of others. He is a conlanger for hire—besides Game of Thrones, Peterson has also worked on Syfy’s Defiance, in which humans and aliens coexist in postapocalyptic Missouri—an artist who will put words into the mouths of the characters, words which are part of a fully functioning language.
Is the world real, or is it just an illusion or hallucination?

I was thinking about linking today to a very long piece about Carlos Castaneda that recently published. But I'd rather get deep and philosophical in a more scientific way.

Hopes&Fears's Marina Galperina asked "neuroscientists, physicists, psychologists, technology theorists, and hallucinogen researchers if we can ever tell whether the 'reality' we are experiencing is 'real' or not."

The closest we come in science to "real" or "objective" is intersubjective agreement. If a large number of people agree that something is real, we can assume that it is. In physics, we say that something is an objective feature of nature if all observers will agree on it - in other words, if that thing doesn’t depend on our arbitrary labels or the vagaries of a given vantage point ("frame-independent" or "gauge-invariant", in the jargon). For instance, I'm ​not entitled to say that my kitchen has a left side and a right side, since the labels "left" and "right" depend on my vantage point; they are words that describe me more than the kitchen. This kind of reasoning is the heart of Einstein's theory of relativity and the theories it inspired.

The Sunday Post for October 11, 2015

What To Do If Your Workplace Is Too White

A manifesto by This American Life's Stephanie Foo that tackles excuses for lack of diversity in public radio, and how, exactly, to address it.

There’s a question I’ve heard a lot lately. Program directors and hosts approach me at radio events more and more often (it’s not hard to spot me — I’m often one of the only People of Color [POC] in the room) and ask, “How do I reach a more diverse audience? And how do I hire more people of color?”

I’m glad they’re asking the question. It’s about time that public media came to terms with the fact that it does not serve the public as a whole. More hosts and program directors realize that a market of POC exists — and if they don’t cater to it, they’ll fail to grow their audience. And I’m glad the people in charge are realizing that when it comes to attracting minorities, throwing some hip-hop beatz as a transition between stories is about as effective and transparent as Mitt Romney’s spray tan. Finally, finally, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the solution to our diversity problem is hiring producers of color, and that diversifying your business is smart from a content perspective.

Listening In

Maris Kreizman on evesdropping as part of the job, and evesdropping on how you learned your job, when you were a new editorial assistant.

The telephone was the preferred mode of communication for any busy editor, and we assistants were essentially operators, connecting our bosses to writers or to the bosses of other assistants, hearing how they flattered and evaded each other. We were supposed to learn how the industry worked by listening in, a step removed from the action but still hanging on the line, twisting the cord around our fingers.
The Chicago End-Times

The Awl published this long piece by Sam Stecklow on the state of the Chicago Sun-Times, and how their clunky, failing network was designed to take on bigger tech publisers.

The October 2014 press release announcing the launch of the Sun Times Network said that it was “designed to offer content in a manner similar to websites such as Deadspin and BuzzFeed, which aggregate news stories while offering additional commentary.” In an interview with Nieman Lab, Landon, who spent twenty-two years at the Tribune Company working on ad sales and classified services like and CareerBuilder before being replaced during the disastrous Sam Zell era, said, “If I can take $10,000 a month, am I better off putting two or three kids against and creating lots of content? Am I better off hiring a known political writer that is controversial? Am I better off doing Facebook advertising? That’s the way you have to think about it.”
How Tom Wolfe Became…Tom Wolfe

Michael Lewis takes a long look at Tom Wolfe for Vanity Fair.

In the late 1960s a bunch of writers leapt into the void: George Plimpton, Joan Didion, Truman Capote, Gay Talese, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, and the rest. Wolfe shepherded them into an uneasy group and labeled them the New Journalists. The New Journalists—with Wolfe in the lead—changed the balance of power between writers of fiction and writers of nonfiction, and they did it chiefly because of their willingness to submerge themselves in their subjects, and to steal from the novelist’s bag of tricks: scene-by-scene construction, use of dramatic dialogue, vivid characterization, shifting points of view, and so on.

I doubt I was ever alone in failing to find the whole New Journalism story entirely satisfying. (Hunter Thompson, for instance, wrote Wolfe, “You thieving pile of albino warts…. I’ll have your goddamn femurs ground into bone splinters if you ever mention my name again in connexion [sic] with that horrible ‘new journalism’ shuck you’re promoting.”) For a start, there wasn’t anything new about the techniques. Mark Twain used them to dramatize his experiences as a riverboat pilot and a gold miner. George Orwell set himself up as a destitute tramp and wrote up the experience as nonfiction. Virtually every British travel writer who has ever left an unpaid bill might be counted a New Journalist. When you look at that list of New Journalists, what pops to mind is not their common technique. It’s their uncommon voices. They leapt off the page. They didn’t sound like anyone else’s.

The Sunday Post for October 4, 2015

Writing Better Trans Characters

Cheryl Morgan offers guidance on writing trans characters on Strange Horizons. Her audience here is SF writers, but nothing in her advice should be limited to that genre. Any writer could benefit from this read.

I reject the idea that trans characters should only be written by trans people because cis folk are bound to get it wrong. While there are some really fine trans writers, there simply aren't enough of us in the world to do what is needed. We have to be part of all fiction, not just fiction that we write ourselves.
Future Reading

Craig Mod, one of the best investigators we have into the form of the book and how it is changing, looks here at the future of reading, and the formats we may be reading in. This is a delightful, deep, and personal essay. Highly recommended:

From 2009 to 2013, every book I read, I read on a screen. And then I stopped. You could call my four years of devout screen‑reading an experiment. I felt a duty – not to anyone or anything specifically, but more vaguely to the idea of ‘books’. I wanted to understand how their boundaries were changing and being affected by technology. Committing myself to the screen felt like the best way to do it.
Why We Need to Build More Diverse Worlds in Fiction

We’ve been talking about diversity this week quite a bit on the SRoB. Bernard Hayman took a look at diversity in world building recently over at The Toast.

What we learn about our own reality can often prove as fantastic or strange as anything in fiction. Anyone who has spent hours on a Wikipedia bender that starts at “toothpaste” and ends at “Tesla coils” understands that part of the appeal is not simply understanding the “what” of a thing, but the “why” and the “how.” Fiction encourages readers to engage with the reality we already know with our views slightly tilted — to see the world we live in with fresh eyes. The imagining and understanding of new worlds can encourage us forward in the real world, towards a different or better state.

The Sunday post for September 27, 2015

Unlearning: How rigorous self-assessment can transform your perspective

This absolutely wonderful article by Tiff Fehr, a senior developer at the New York Times (and Seattleite, now once-removed) will delight all word nerds early on. But keep reading, it includes actually non-trivial life-advice. (Also, her tl;dr burn is sick).

I doubt any readers stumbled over the word unlearning. We know negative prefixes (a-, anti-, dys-, in-, ir-, non-, un-, etc) and how they convey the inverse or opposite2 of a concept. Yet there was a time when that was new to “common” languages like English. To make it happen, negative prefixes needed to make their way via translation from the elite, literate world to the written local dialect and then into common speech.

Un- is fun among the negatives because it can express both a lack of something (unhappy) but also actions not yet performed (unread) or actions undone (undone). One of the early uses of the English root unlearn was by educated elites when they referred to common people lacking in education as the unlearned. Illiteracy was a huge socioeconomic hurdle—those “unlearned” people had to take oral recitations of translated works on faith, including rather important things like legal documents and mass. Unlearning emerged not long after, within the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was a cultural revolt in Europe, starting in 1517 with Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses”—in Latin, railing against a corrupt, oppressive church—and concluding around 1617, shortly after “The Tempest” and the final works of Shakespeare.

The Author of Our Best SF Military Novel Explains the Future of War

Brian Merchant talks to Joe Haldeman about his classic SF novel, The Forever War.

As William Gibson notes in the blurb on the front of my paperback copy, “To say that The Forever War is the best science fiction war novel ever written is to damn it with faint praise.” It’s one of the best books about war, period, and it’s telling that the other accolades listed come from literary lights like Jonathan Lethem and Junot Diaz, who calls it “perhaps the most important war novel written since Vietnam.”

Haldeman was a veteran of that conflict—“I was drafted against my will, and went off to fight somebody else’s war,” as he put it—and the book projects the contours of his duty and subsequent return to civilian life into a future marked by what is almost literally forever war. Its power lies in the expert co-mingling of hyperbolic allegory with gritty speculation. It’s about a war that literally damn near never ends, one that spans the furthest reaches of space and time; the fighting can happen anywhere and is potentially everywhere. The protagonist, an almost-anagrammed stand-in for Haldeman named Mandella, is hurled across far reaches of the galaxy to fight a poorly understood, apparently undefeatable foe.

The Absolutely True Story of Banned Books

Seattle's own Real Change looks at banned books, and why they get banned. Surprise! It's because people are small minded about differences.

People attempt to ban or bar books from schools or libraries for a variety of reasons, but increasingly, the most challenged books are either written by or about people of color. The top 10 most challenged books in 2014 included novels, comic books and picture books. Half of them are written by or feature prominent characters who are people of color. Others deal with same-sex parents, personal sexuality and abuse.
A Low and Distant Paradise

Friend of the SRoB Rahawa Haile wrote this lovely piece this week about losing her grandmother, Florida, Eritrea, refugees, and how one person can hold all of those things inside at once. Such a thoughtful, honest, and beautiful piece of writing.

My grandmother was born to the Italian lira, grew up under the British pound, revolted against the Ethiopian birr, lived under the American dollar in order to raise me, and died, finally, buried under her country’s first currency, the Eritrean nakfa. She was home to me, my link to a land generations had fought for and to the sand in Florida on which I played. A reminder of how far and against what odds my blood had traveled for the promise of autonomy. And now she was gone.

The Sunday Post for September 20, 2015

I created a fake business and bought it an amazing online reputation

Kashmir Hill’s fascinating look at the business of sock-puppeting business reputation. She starts a fake Karaoke truck, and manages to establish online credibility without too much effort.

Mark my words: reputation online is the battleground of the future. Trust is the key component.

For $5, I could get 200 Facebook fans, or 6,000 Twitter followers, or I could get @SMExpertsBiz to tweet about the truck to the account’s 26,000 Twitter fans. A Lincoln could get me a Facebook review, a Google review, an Amazon review, or, less easily, a Yelp review.
Nom de Vie: Literary social media in the age of Ferrante

The delightful Alexander Chee looks at Ferrante’s deal with her publishers, and what it means for the modern author, exposed and available at all times through social media.

The postcards I once made for my first novel back in 2001 have been joined by blogging and social media—which have a much bigger footprint online than a postcard or in some cases an ad—and come with a relatively low financial cost, if you already have a laptop or a smartphone. Thus the seemingly essential role social media and the Internet play in the marketing of books now. Most of us who write and publish fiction in 2015 are participants in a process that extends from before publication to well after, and includes creating a kind of electronic diorama of our writing process and lives, extending across several platforms, all of it available at a glance to any interested consumer. Your feed as native advertising, an open answer to the questions so often asked at readings: “How much of this is autobiographical?” or “What is your process?” or “Where do you write?”
How many books should you write in a year

As John Scalzi points out, it may matter how you define what a book is:

Also, you know. What a “novel” or “book” is, is a very fungible thing. The term “novel” encompasses a book like The Goldfinch, which is almost 300,000 words, and Redshirts, which was 55,000 words, not counting the codas. The more-or-less official lower length of a novel is 40,000 words; at the other extreme, Alan Moore’s novel Jerusalem, slated for publication next year, is a million words long. I don’t recommend trying to write four Jerusalems in a year. But on the other hand, four 40,000 word stories? That’s entirely doable for a very large number of writers.
Today in 1968: Margaret Atwood schools her interviewer on the meaning of "poetry”

It’s absolutely delightful to hear a young Margaret Atwood here, and never mind the idiotic terms with which the writer cast the interview. She’s nuanced and brilliant, and responding to stupid questions that intend to be heady, but instead are broad. Interviewers! Ask very specific questions and you will get good answers. “What is poetry”, on the other hand, is a horrible question. It’s insulting. You don’t ask accountants “What is accounting”. It’s a question designed only to make you look deep, and trust me, people are tuning in for her, not you. That Atwood offers such an interesting, engaged answer is testament to the fact that her genius started very young.

The tetchy writer who posted this wants to cast her as an barely understandable McLuhan figure. Ignore the write-up and skip right to the audio. Her own words from her mouth are more than enough.

The Sunday Post for September 13, 2015

Man, weeping

Sandra Newman — who is the funniest person on Twitter, and an amazing writer to boot — looks at the history of male tears.

So where did all the male tears go? The truth is, we don’t know for certain. There was no anti-crying movement. No treatises were written against men’s tears, and no leaders of church or state introduced measures to discourage them. Their decline occurred so slowly and quietly that no one seems to have noticed it happening. But by the 18th century, proponents of the Cult of Sensibility were exhorting men to be more sensitive, with an emphasis on free-flowing tears, which implies that males were already regarded as lachrymally challenged. By the Romantic period, masculine tears were reserved for poets. From here, it’s just a short leap to the poker-faced heroes of Ernest Hemingway, who, despite their poetic leanings, cannot express grief by any means but tippling and shooting the occasional buffalo.
By Any Other Name: The Best American Pseudonym 2015

Over at the Kenyon Review, poet Amit Majmudar takes a deep, nuanced, and fascinating looks at the Sherman Alexie white-poet-appropriating-Chinese-name-for-idiotic-reasons thing (white dudes: on't do it).

Editors often say they are looking for what is “unconventional” or “new,” but the new doesn’t exist (just ask Ecclesiastes), and literary conventions vary from clique to clique and era to era—is free verse conventional, or is a sonnet conventional? Depends on which century you’re referring to. What readers and editors alike desire is for the familiar language—English—to be estranged into poetry. For the familiar object to be perceived anew, as a strange thing, as if for the first time…so that a red wheelbarrow you have seen a thousand times before is no longer a red wheelbarrow you have seen a thousand times before. It is, forever after, the red wheelbarrow.

And that is what the byline “Chou” did to Hudson’s competent poem. “Chou” estranged what were thoroughly unstrange cultural references and sentiments. If we take a poem as inclusive of its byline—much as the word Monet at the bottom right hand corner is part of the painting of waterlilies—then that pseudonym is the most ingenious, most poetic part of a goodish poem; from this perspective, Alexie’s positive response to it was not a matter of nepotism at all.

I never noticed how racist so many children’s books are until I started reading to my kids

Anybody who has read around ages-old racial stereotypes in popular kids books while reading before bedtime will appreciate this Leigh Anderson piece on just that topic. It starts with her deciding to order a copy of Little Black Sambo.

I remember the story primarily for its description of the tigers chasing one another round and round a tree until they melt into butter, butter that Sambo's mother uses for a stack of crispy pancakes. In the 35 intervening years, I knew the book had been relegated to the dustbin of racist cultural artifacts, but I didn't remember it well enough to know why.

The young woman at the bookstore register flinched when I asked for the book and said she couldn't order it for me; Amazon, until recently agnostic on race relations, dropped a copy in a plain brown wrapper on my doorstep. A quick skim revealed illustrations with the minstrel-show aesthetic — bright, white, round eyes, bulging red lips — of "darky" iconography.

High Schoolers Stage "Read-In" Protest in Solidarity with Teachers' Strike

Seattle teachers are striking. We absolutely love the gumption of the kids, in this Rich Smith piece from The Stranger, staging a read-in. First, what a fantastic form of protest. Second, we at the SRoB are behind the teachers 100%. My kid is sitting out his first few days of Kindergarten during the strike right now, and we couldn't be more proud of where his teachers have drawn the line in the abuse the legislature and school district keep dumping on them. No cost-of-living increase in six years means their salary goes down every year. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court fines our pathetic legislature, who only find constitutional adherence something to crow about on the national level.

I propose that today when you read, read for the teachers. When you read this link, or whatever book you're on right now, think back to the teacher that inspired you to learn and want to keep learning. Then maybe write a note to your state respresentative and tell them to get their damn acts together.

Eli Konsker said he organized the event in solidarity with the teachers' strike because teachers have supported him during his three years at Nathan Hale High School. But he also wanted to offer students a chance to be productive even though they weren't in school. "I invited people to work on college essays, finish up summer reading, anything educational," he said.

The Sunday Post, for September 6, 2015

Book Bias Gets Magnified Between Shortlists and Winners — Some Data

A follow up for those of you who enjoyed the SRoB interview with Nicola Griffith. She posted this week looking at gender bias between the shortlist and winners of literary prizes — this data was drawn from the Literary Prize Data group, the folks who volunteered to put in the hours to collect the data when she put out the call.

Data suggest that the step from literary prize shortlist to winner might be an important inflection point in the operation of unconscious bias against women in the publishing ecosystem.
An Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar

Vijith Assar’s grammar lesson dealing with passive voice, from his McSweeney’s column “Facepalm Pilot: Where Technology Meets Stupidity”. The great thing about this is his build. He starts simple, instructs and builds until he’s reached the complexity of the kind of language we see every day. And then, he drives it all home. Can't recommend this one enough.

As a thought experiment, let’s examine in extremely close detail a set of iterative changes that can be made to a single simple grammatical structure, turning it from a statement taken at face value into one loaded with unrealized implication. This makes for rich writing which rewards – or even demands – close scrutiny.
The Movies of My Youth

The New York Review of Books published this Italo Calvino piece this week, wherein he reminisces on watching movies as a young man in pre-war Italy

Italian spectators barbarously made entering after the film already started a widespread habit, and it still applies today. We can say that back then we already anticipated the most sophisticated of modern narrative techniques, interrupting the temporal thread of the story and transforming it into a puzzle to put back together piece by piece or to accept in the form of a fragmentary body. To console us further, I’ll say that attending the beginning of the film after knowing the ending provided additional satisfaction: discovering not the unraveling of mysteries and dramas, but their genesis; and a vague sense of foresight with respect to the characters. Vague: just like soothsayers’ visions must be, because the reconstruction of the broken plot wasn’t always easy, especially if it was a detective movie, where identifying the murderer first and the crime afterward left an even darker area of mystery in between. What’s more, sometimes a part was still missing between the beginning and the end, because suddenly while checking my watch I’d realize I was running late; if I wanted to avoid my family’s wrath I had to leave before the scene that was playing when I entered came back on. Therefore lots of films ended up with holes in the middle, and still today, more than thirty years later—what am I saying?—almost forty, when I happen to see one of those films from back then—on television, for example—I recognize the moment in which I entered the theater, the scenes that I’d watched without understanding them, and I recover the lost pieces, I put the puzzle back together as if I’d left it incomplete the day before.
A Writing Lesson from Ursula K. Le Guin: In Pursuit of the Gorgeous Sound of Language

The best writing lesson what can be had on the internet, no doubt. LitHub excerpt’s Le Guin’s updated edition of Steering the Craft.

A good writer, like a good reader, has a mind’s ear. We mostly read prose in silence, but many readers have a keen inner ear that hears it. Dull, choppy, droning, jerky, feeble: these common criticisms of narrative are all faults in the sound of it. Lively, well-paced, flowing, strong, beautiful: these are all qualities of the sound of prose, and we rejoice in them as we read. Narrative writers need to train their mind’s ear to listen to their own prose, to hear as they write.

The Sunday Post, for August 30, 2015

No Country for Young women

Erin Kissane on why she stopped reading fiction written by men, and movies with male protagonists: "I just got tired."

It’s not even that my politics quail at something I otherwise enjoy. I’m just stung and sad, and ashamed that I keep falling for the same trick. If a piece of fiction is made by and emotionally centered on men, chances are, it defaults to the belief that women are nothing but fuel. Doesn’t matter if I’m catching every reference and gleefully staying ahead of every jump. It will eventually declare that it’s not meant for me. Sometimes the women are missing, or just vacant; sometimes there’s a string of bloody bodies that look like mine. The point comes across.
The Price of Diversity

Colleen Muir wonders, over at the Rumpus, if expensive writing conferences can really lay claim to promoting diversity?

On the Bread Loaf website, the director of the conference claims to “foster stimulating communities of diverse voices….” Yet I wonder if Bread Loaf, or any other fee-charging literary institution that waves the “we value diversity” flag, can genuinely make this claim. By charging writers such high fees, these literary institutions seal themselves off from what they claim to seek: diversity of talent, diversity of experience, diversity of voice.
Literary Magazines for Socialists Funded by the CIA, Ranked

The story of the journals that helped the CIA in their fight against communism.

“[I]n much of Europe in the 1950’s,” wrote Braden, “socialists, people who called themselves ‘left’—the very people whom many Americans thought no better than Communists—were about the only people who gave a damn about fighting Communism.”
Why there are no taboos in Scandinavian children's books

The Guardian published this piece by Norwegian writer Norwegian Ingelin Røssland on the openness in writing for kids in Scandinavia.

In Scandinavia there are no taboos when it comes to writing, even for children and young people. Books for teens exploring sexuality with explicit language are not censored. It’s so normal for us. There is nothing I can’t cover as a teen writer and I know my publisher would stand by me no matter what.

Here are a couple of examples to explain what I mean. The book Fittekvote by Axel Hellstenius and Morten Skårdal, about young girls in the military, won a literature prize in 2011. It would be called “Cunt Quota” if translated into English.

The Sunday Post for August 23, 2015

Dictionary Stories

A neat project from Jez Burrows, one of the few designers at Facebook who actually work with analog materials, and the publisher and designer of a fantastic short story collection. He's writing short stories "composed entirely of example sentences from the New Oxford American Dictionary."


He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery, a study of a man devoured by awareness of his own mediocrity. The place was dreadfully untidy. Tattered notebooks filled with illegible hieroglyphics, the evolution of animal life, the mysteries of analytical psychology, victorian architecture… The street lamps shed a faint light into the room. It was beginning to rain.
Ruth listened to the rhythm of his breathing. She sat very still, her eyes closed. She heard the click of the door. He was thrown backward by the force of the explosion.
Her hunting days were done.

“Don't mention the war." - Some Thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft and Race

A piece from David Nickle, published last year, that explores his trouble in getting people to talk about Lovecraft's race problems.

I'd make the case that Lovecraft's fiction—and Lovecraftian horror—depends on the xenophobia that was endemic to Lovecraft's work to the point that without it, many of his stories lose their unique and uniquely profound effect. "The Horror in Red Hook" is a direct channelling of Lovecraft's loathing of newcomers to New York City; the real horror of "The Call of Cthulhu" is not the octopus-headed demigod that emerges out of his underwater city to kill all the people, but the people themselves—all either eugenically unfit denizens of the bayou or "primitive" island cultures whose religious practises amount to a kind of proactive nihilism. The manifestation of Nyarlathotep in the eponymous story is that of a black man bearing trinkets, who seduces the good white folk of America into authoring their own demise.
Orwell's review of Mein Kampf

Did you know Orwell wrote a review of Mein Kampf in 1940?

Suppose that Hitler's programme could be put into effect. What he envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state of 250 million Germans with plenty of "living room" (i.e., stretching to Afghanistan or thereabouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder. How was it that he was able to put this monstrous vision across? it is easy to say at once stage of his career he was financed by the heavy industrialists, who saw in him the man who would smash the Socialists and Communists. They would not have backed him, however, if he had not talked a great movement into existence already. Again, the situation in Germany, with its seven million unemployed, was obviously favourable for demagogues. But Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it had not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of Mein Kampf, and which is no doubt overwhemling when one hears his speeches…. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. Once feels it again when one sees his photographs—and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of Hurst and Blackett's edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that this is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate, the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can't win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon such themes.

Resources: digital First Folios

Scholar and historian Sarah Werner posted a list all the digitized Shakespeare First Folios available online.

I’ve written about digitizing Shakespeare’s First Folio before, looking at the interfaces of the many different copies out there. But I’m turning my attention to this again for my contribution on the subject for the in-progress Cambridge Companion to the First Folio, edited by Emma Smith. In my article, I’ll be thinking about why there are so many libraries digitizing this same book over and over again and what these many projects can teach us about what we look for from the First Folio and from digital tools.

The Sunday Post for August 16, 2015

An Accomplished Writer Takes a ‘MasterClass’ From a Gargantuan Selling Writer

Writer Joyce Maynard takes a $90 “MasterClass” in writing from James Patterson.

In the 42 years I have worked full time—day in, day out—as a writer, producing, so far, 15 books (a couple of memoirs, a collection of essays and a bunch of novels). I have made it onto The New York Times list for a lifetime total of four weeks—back when the movie version of my novel Labor Day sent the novel that inspired it very briefly onto the charts. Other than that one heady moment, I have labored, like most of my writer friends, in one level or another of financial challenge. But I have held onto the undying faith that any day now, things might change, and all those readers out there who have been buying books by people like Jodi Picoult and James Patterson would suddenly realize what they were missing, and pick up one of mine, instead. And then I, too, would be one of those writers whose books the person on the seat next to you on the airplane always seems to be reading.
Off the Books: For some communities, the controversial labor practices of Andrew Carnegie outweighed the potential benefits of his libraries.

Jacqui Shine Looks at Andrew Carnegie’s libraries, why he built them, and if this legacy tips the scales away from his actions against nascent organizing labor. Some of his motivations will ring true to lovers of Horatio Alger tropes:

Carnegie’s philanthropy consisted not of handouts, but of investments in civic institutions. He was particularly interested in libraries because he believed that “self-help is the basis of every improvement, material, intellectual or spiritual, and that no mode of public benefaction could be chosen which exacted cooperation from the individual to such an extent as the public library.” The library was also a symbol of his own self-making. In his autobiography, Carnegie credited access to a benefactor’s library as the force that kept him “clear of low fellowship and bad habits” in his youth.

The Story Is the Thing: On Lucia Berlin

Lydia Davis on Lucia Berlin:

Things actually happen in the stories—a whole mouthful of teeth gets pulled at once; a little girl gets expelled from school for striking a nun; an old man dies in a mountaintop cabin, his goats and his dog in bed with him; the history teacher with her mildewed sweater is dismissed for being a Communist—“That’s all it took. Three words to my father. She was fired sometime that weekend and we never saw her again.”

Is this why it is almost impossible to stop reading a story of Lucia Berlin’s once you begin? Is it because things keep happening? Is it also the narrating voice, so engaging, so companionable? Along with the economy, the pacing, the imagery, the clarity? These stories make you forget what you were doing, where you are, even who you are.

At Sea With Joseph Conrad

We end up talking about Conrad and London a lot in the SRoB Slack channel (not as much, as, say, Chimamanda, it should be noted), but if even if you are as against Conrad as some in our group, it’s worth looking at this Maya Jasanoff piece for the illustrations (but since you’re there, give it a read too, won’t you?)

The tall ship Corwith Cramer stumbled into the Celtic Sea, engine roaring, 7,500 square feet of sail furled up mute. Its two masts ticked against the horizon like a metronome set to allegro. I joined a row of pallid sailors crouched at the leeward rail. Foam-lathered swell swung for my face, then reeled abruptly away. By the third time I threw up over the side, the “wine-dark sea” of Homer’s poetry just looked like the basin of a billion vomits.

Misery loves blame, so I blamed Joseph Conrad, whose fiction had brought me here. Before Conrad published his first novel in 1895, he spent 20 years working as a merchant sailor, mostly on sailing ships, and fully half his writing — including “Heart of Darkness,” “Lord Jim” and “The Secret Sharer” — deals with sailors, ships and the sea. These loom so large for him that as I have researched a book about Conrad’s life and times, I have felt it essential to travel by sea myself.