Number-crunching the New York Times' bestseller list is not a good look for diversity

"New York Times Best-selling author" is a one of those highly treasured accolades to which most writers aspire. It's the kind of recognition that can make or break a writer's career — even though the numbers are not curated in a plain and simple way. Consider the way that Donald Trump Jr. hacked his way to the top of the list by buying up copies of his own book, in order to become a "New York Times Best-selling author," thus guaranteeing higher sales for his book.

(Full disclosure: I do work for a company that is owned by the New York Times, a fact which does not impact my perspectives either way.)

Over on Medium, a user calling themself "John the Correlator" has compiled all of the publicly-available data related to the Times' best-seller list, and crunched the numbers to analyze the demographic diversity of the authors represented by the list. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it's not very representative of the US population:

There's a lot more specific data broken down in the blog post, titled, "We Need To Talk About The List." And I suspect that we'll be seeing more from John the Correlator soon. But needless to say, it all supports the thesis: we need to talk about the list.

We Need To Talk About The List [John the Correlator / Medium]

Image: Public Domain via U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Hailey Haux Read the rest

Get lost in one of 50 contemporary books over 500 pages long

Door stop books. Baby booster seat books. Boat anchor books. Whatever you want to call them, gargantuan novels have their weighty charms, especially now, as we're all looking for distracting rabbit holes to fall into.

To that end, Literary Hub has put together a list of 50 fine, contemporary novels that clock in at over 500 pages. Read 'em if you can hold them up.

Richard Powers, The Overstory (512 pages) Strap in for a 512-page book about trees. But of course it’s really about humanity—all literature is—and it’s weirdly engrossing. Though it lags a bit at the end when it succumbs to polemic, for the most part, Powers manages to entertain, inform, and inspire action in the most high profile work of climate fiction yet.

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (512 pages) A murder mystery concerning a labyrinthine library, and probably the only bestselling novel to be based on semiotics.

Tana French, The Witch Elm (528 pages) It’s not my favorite of French’s novels (that would be The Likeness, obviously, I’m not a crazy person), but it’s the only one that tips over the 500-page mark, and honestly, even my third favorite French ranks above most other people’s books. The Witch Elm is also perhaps her most fully realized, investigating not just a murder but privilege and society and the notion of memory—or sanity—itself. It’s very good.

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (639 pages) Chabon’s magnum opus is a gloriously fun, wham-pow novel of heroes, friendship, magic, the Golden Age of Comics, and sure, okay, Hitler. Read the rest

Someone started a literary magazine dedicated to Taco Bell

Taco Bell Quarterly is not affiliated with Taco Bell. It also has no profit model, and admits on its own website that it cannot even get extra sauce at the Taco Bell drive-thru.

It does, however, still pride itself as being, "the literary magazine for the Taco Bell Arts and Letters."

We’re a reaction against everything. The gatekeepers. The taste-makers. The hipsters. Health food. Artists Who Wear Cute Scarves. Bitch-ass Wendy’s. We seek to demystify what it means to literary, artistic, important, and elite.

We’re taking it personally. We’re freaks, slackers, punks, rule-breakers, people with weird ideas, writers, artists, and dreamers. We welcome writers and artists of all merit, whether you’re published in The Paris Review, rejected from The Paris Review, or DGAF what The Paris Review is.

Perhaps a better descriptor comes from their Submissions page, under the highly-detailed header, "This next guideline contains a really random Puff Daddy reference."

We have a vision of unleashing unruly, Tolkien-esque tomes, like a Puff Daddy and the Family three disc set. Let’s drop mad volumes, intense, scary, 750-page chalupa bombs of beautiful-ass energy and love about Taco Bell. Generations of readers will read it in book clubs or on the toilet.

Taco Bell Quarterly is the brainchild of MM Carrigan, a Baltimore-based writer who recently published some Kafka-esque work on Teddy Ruxpin at the Rumpus. Carrigan has so far published 2 volumes of work under the Taco Bell Quarterly brand, and (unpaid) submissions are open for a third volume to follow. Read the rest

Monty Python co-founder Terry Jones's last major project was this Canterbury Tales app

Monty Python co-founder Terry Jones who died last month was also a scholar of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, having penned two books about the great English poet. Before Jones's death, he was collaborating with an international team of Chaucer geeks on a Canterbury Tales app called "General Prologue." It is the first in a series.

“We want the public, not just academics, to see the manuscript as Chaucer would have likely thought of it—as a performance that mixed drama and humor,” said University of Saskatchewan English professor and project leader Peter Robinson.

“We were so pleased that Terry was able to see and hear this app in the last weeks of his life. His work and his passion for Chaucer was an inspiration to us,” Robinson said. “We talked a lot about Chaucer and it was his idea that the Tales would be turned into a performance.”

From the University of Saskatchewan:

The app features a 45-minute audio performance of the General Prologue of the Tales—the masterpiece work by the most important English writer before Shakespeare—along with the digitized original manuscript. While listening to the reading, users have access to supporting content such as a translation in modern English, commentary, notes and vocabulary explaining Middle English words used by Chaucer.

The app, an offshoot of Robinson’s 25-year work to digitize the Canterbury Tales, contains key new research work. This includes a new edited text of the Prologue created by USask sessional lecturer Barbara Bordalejo, a new reading of the Tales by former USask student Colin Gibbings, and new findings about the Tales by UCL (University College London) medievalist professor Richard North.

Read the rest

Passport and Nobels

My life-long work of performance art is to somehow maintain my original passport: notwithstanding the life and opportunities of a techno-nomad.

Woman discovers 'secret' coded message in John Milton poem 'Paradise Lost'

A young Massachusetts woman who recently graduated from Tufts University is convinced that she has found a 'secret' encoded message in “Paradise Lost,” the poem by John Milton. Read the rest

Millennials are killing Poe's Raven

From Ross Wolinsky's "The Millennial Raven" in McSweeney's: Once upon a midnight dreary, Tinder swiping, buzzed and weary/I asked Siri about my sushi ordered one hour before/ While I chewed some pretzels, snacking, suddenly there came a tapping/As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my apartment door/“’Tis my roommate,” I muttered, “walking ‘cross the hardwood floor/Only this and nothing more.” (via Kottke) Read the rest

You can read beautifully illustrated novels in the New York Public Library's Instagram account

In an effort to get more people reading, the New York Public Library set out to take advantage of Instagram's huge user base.  Mother New York designed "Insta Novels" as a way to read entire novels in Instagram Stories.  The books feature carefully selected fonts, beautiful animations, and some clever hacks to allow such an unorthodox use of the Instagram app:

one challenge was that the pages would turn themselves after 10 seconds. But the solution of the Thumb Rest gave us a simple way-finding element and let us add illustrations to every page for a more engaging reading experience.

...

Knowing the active story would only be live for 24-hours, we also launched a teaser post with each title to let readers know they could find a new title in our highlights. These posts served as mini-movie trailers for each book to bring the audience to the title.

You can read Alice in Wonderland, A Christmas Carol, The Raven, and more now.

Read the rest

Deluxe edition of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik

Folio Society has produced a special illustrated edition of Philip K. Dick's novel Ubik, featuring several illustrations and a foreword by Kim Stanley Robinson:

This video describes the creation of the edition, including hiding a secret in the slipcase:

Read the rest

Tolkien’s Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is probably a misogynist satire of women's rights campaigner Victoria Sackville-West

Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is a Lord of the Rings Hobbit, one of the few, rare female characters in that series, and she's a nasty piece of work: a bitter enemy of Frodo and Bilbo, she is mostly depicted trying to either steal their stuff or buy it at deep discounts from them: she ends her days first imprisoned and starved, and then dead shortly after she's sprung. Read the rest

Science fiction and the law: beyond mere courtroom drama

Christopher Brown is a lawyer and science fiction writer; his debut, 2017's Tropic of Kansas, was an outstanding novel of authoritarianism and resistance, and his next book, Rule of Capture (out on Monday, watch for my review!) is a legal thriller about disaster capitalism, climate catastrophe, and hard-fought political change. Read the rest

An annotated bibliography of anarchism in science fiction

Ben Beck has relaunched his 30+ year-old AnarchySF site, with new contributions from Eden Kupermintz and Yanai Sened; it's billed as "an open-source repository of anarchist or anarchy-adjacent science fiction" and the relaunch incorporates "modern content management frameworks to allow a community to form around the archive and help maintain it." My cursory examination confirms that the site is an excellent resource already, but still really use work, especially on non-English sources. Read the rest

New Yorker calls a Sylvia Plath story "lost," but it is easy to find

Here's a tidbit I came across in the excellent Book Curious newsletter:

The Lilly Library Twitter account had some excellent words for the New Yorker headline describing the recent publication of a new Sylvia Plath story as "lost." In subsequent tweets, the Lilly's own Rebecca Baumann deftly navigated the line between pointing out erasures of the labor involved in libraries and archives, while encouraging researchers to continue looking for real discoveries.

Read the rest

Argentine hacker mods Furby so it quotes Borges, creates a "Borgy"

Argentine hacker [Roni Bandini] modded a 1998 Furby so that it responds to stimulus by rattling off a random quote from Jorge Luis Borges. He calls it "Borgy." Read the rest

Tips for overcoming reader's block

I have a lot of trouble reading anything longer than a tweet, these days, so I wrapped duct tape around my head and monitor to force myself to get through Emily Petsko's tips for overcoming reader's block.

2. TRY A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES ...

Compared to a 300-page novel, short stories won’t seem like such an insurmountable task. Ginni Chen, Barnes and Noble’s “Literary Lady,” suggests trying a collection of stories written by different authors. That way, you’ll have the chance to figure out which styles and subjects you enjoy most. In an advice column addressed to someone with reader’s block, Chen recommended the Best American Short Stories and the Best American Nonrequired Reading collection. And if you want to start really small, there’s an app called Serial Box that will send you 150-character stories as push notifications.

Other good ones include "4. READ PAGE 69 BEFORE COMMITTING TO A BOOK." and "7. THROW ALL YOUR GADGETS IN A LAKE."

Photo: Shutterstock. Read the rest

Former Archbishop of Canterbury on Tolkien as a warning against fascism

Here's former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on J.R.R. Tolkien, often seen as a reactionary but also the creator of a myth of Englishness completely opposed to fascism and other rotten boughs of capitalism.

So, how do we now respond to Tolkien’s imagined world, a world that is hierarchical, notoriously short on female agents, and which was accused by the poet Edwin Muir of being populated exclusively by different-sized schoolboys? As with Lewis, the complaint about implied misogyny is regularly coupled with worries about racial stereotyping, the romanticising of violence and the reduction of moral issues to cosmic battles between absolutes.

It is worth noting that Peter Jackson’s superbly visualised film versions of Tolkien’s novels if anything intensify some of these problems. But things are not quite that simple. ...

...he ends up writing, despite himself, a story that is more of a novel than a myth. Myths have no authors, it has been said. Even with the apparatus of invented language and ethnography, Tolkien’s history and “legendary” are haunted by the self-awareness of a particular type of 20th-century author: English, Catholic, academic, intensely aware of the devastation of a very specific England by industrialisation and urbanisation, more stoical than optimistic, yearning for a shared social narrative that would reaffirm certain solidarities of faith and mutual respect; deeply conservative but just as deeply opposed to unexamined power and the tyranny of profit.

Read the rest

New York Public Library making it easier to See Dickens' desk, Woolf's cane, and Kerouac’s boots

NYPL's Berg Collection ranks among the greatest collections of literary ephemera and artifacts, but it's been very hard to see these items until recently. Read the rest

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