Viet Thanh Nguyen: “We, the barbarians at the gate, the descendants of Caliban, the ones who have no choice but to speak in the language we have — we come bearing the experiences and ideas the workshop suppresses. […] We come speaking languages other than English. We come from the margins, where English is broken. We come with financial aid and loans and families that do not understand what ‘creative writing’ is. We come from communities we do not wish to renounce in the name of our individualism. We come wanting to do more than just sell our stories to white audiences. And we come with the desire not just to show, but to tell.”

Margaret Atwood: “Is The Handmaid’s Tale a ‘feminist’ novel? If you mean an ideological tract in which all women are angels and/or so victimized they are incapable of moral choice, no. If you mean a novel in which women are human beings — with all the variety of character and behavior that implies — and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure and plot of the book, then yes. In that sense, many books are ‘feminist.’ ”

X because of course X.

Jon Meacham: “To understand the narcissism of the first decades of the 21st century, it may help to realize that it is neither a sudden nor an entirely new phenomenon. ‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about,’ Oscar Wilde’s Lord Henry remarked in 1890’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, ‘and that is not being talked about.’ The world Wilde anticipated […] can be explained by a few key texts that illuminate how we find ourselves with a president of the United States who used to call up New York tabloid writers […] posing as Trump spokesman ‘John Miller’ or ‘John Barron’ to talk about … himself.”

Everyone needs a hobby. My brother builds model ships, I steal tomatoes from my neighbour’s back garden, and Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, complains to the Equality and Human Rights Commission that literary prizes discriminate against white writers.

From Yuval Harari’s review of The Knowledge Illusion: “Individual humans know embarrassingly little about the world, and as history progressed, they came to know less and less. […] In one humbling experiment, people were asked to evaluate how well they understood how a zipper works. Most people confidently replied that they understood it very well — after all, they use zippers all the time. They were then asked to explain how a zipper works, describing in as much detail as possible all the steps involved in the zipper’s operation. Most had no idea. This is the knowledge illusion. We think we know a lot, even though individually we know very little, because we treat knowledge in the minds of others as if it were our own.”

From Will Self’s review of Slavoj Žižek’s new book: “Life is, despite all the advances of medical science, still way too short to spend any time reading theoretical gibberish concocted by superannuated Marxists.”

Jerry Salz: “I often think that everyone who isn’t making art is a failed artist, even those who never tried.”

From a review of James Forman’s Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America: “White sociologists invented a new category: black criminality. Black crime was understood to be different from, and more intractable than, crime by poor whites or immigrants, whose misbehaviour could be explained in terms of social causes. ‘White criminality was society’s problem,’ and could be reduced through government policy, while ‘black criminality was black people’s problem,’ reflective of their ‘culture’, if not their biological make-up, and largely impervious to remedy.”

Samantha Hunt: “Edgar M. Welch, a young father and, so far, the most famous victim of fake news, luckily did not kill anyone when he showed up at Comet Ping Pong pizzeria heavily armed, ready to liberate the phantom children who were being held in the restaurant as sex slaves for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Welch told the New York Times after his arrest, ‘The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent.’ Indeed. The intel on anything, everything, outside of death, will never be 100 percent. The only question is, Will we ever be brave enough to acknowledge that truth?”

E. B. White on William Strunk, author of  The Elements of Style:

“Omit needless words!” cries the author on page 21, and into that imperative Will Strunk really put his heart and soul. In the day when I was sitting in his class, he omitted so many nedless words, and omitted them so forcibly and with such eagerness and obvious relish, that he often seemed in the position of having short-changed himself, a man left with nothing more to say yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had outdistanced the clock. Will Strunk got out of this predicament by a simple trick: he uttered every sentence three times. When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and in a husky, conspiratorial voice said “Rule Thirteen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!”

(H/T Language Log)

Pregnant athletes have been kicking ass for a while now: “In 2009, the golfer Catriona Matthew won the Brazil Cup on the L.P.G.A. tour when she was five months pregnant with her second child; eleven weeks later, she won the Women’s British Open. The beach-volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics while five weeks pregnant. The Olympic distance runner Kara Goucher trained throughout her pregnancy with her son, and even went for a run on the day she went into labor. Labor is a pretty intense workout. People with a high level of fitness going into pregnancy can generally keep exercising till the end.”

Things you can’t do with a Kindle ebook: “You can’t turn down a corner, tuck a flap in a chapter, crack a spine or flick the pages to see how far you have come and how far you have to go. You can’t remember something potent and find it again with reference to where it appeared on a right- or left-hand page. And you can’t pass it on to a friend or post it through your neighbour’s door.”

You can, of course, do all this and more with a printed book. Perhaps print’s resurgence and the Kindle’s relative decline is due to the public’s belated realisation of this fact. As Umberto Eco puts it, “the book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved.”

Sometimes atheists with access to food, sex and libraries become religious in adulthood. All such persons are mentally unstable. Take Patricia Lockwood’s father:

He converted when he was working as a naval seaman, serving on a nuclear submarine, and the family legend is that it was due to multiple underwater screenings of The Exorcist: “that eerie, pea-soup light was pouring down, and all around him men in sailor suits were getting the bejesus scared out of them, and the bejesus flew into my father like a dart into a bull’s eye”. […] In due time, he made his terrorised children watch The Exorcist as a “tender rite of passage”: “My father attempted to mute the line ‘Your mother sucks cocks in hell!’ but hit the wrong button on the remote and actually ended up blasting it at maximum volume.”

Mark Krotov: “In 1995, Diesel wrote and directed a short film called Multi-Facial, in which he plays a struggling New York actor who tries on different races and ethnicities for each of his auditions. He’s too intense for the Italian-American role, too light-skinned to read for the black one. When he’s asked to read for a Latino character, he screws up because he doesn’t speak Spanish. He finally nails an audition for a black character, but the casting directors tell him that they’re looking for someone with dreadlocks.”

Chinelo Okparanta, Dinaw Mengestu and Yaa Gyasi are on Granta’s list of the most promising American authors under 40.

Jill Lepore: “It has taken me a long time and years of advice from my editor to learn how to put together an essay that does what I want it to do and that says what I mean. I have always been curious about the origins of things: how did this come to be? But how to deliver an answer to that question in an essay that a magazine reader would want to read, that I learned from my editor. I had a bat. I could swing it. I have a pretty good eye. Everything else—where to stand in the box, when to shift my weight to my front foot, whether to roll my wrists, which pitches to swing at, how to place the ball, when to bunt—good lord, I’m still trying to learn those things from him.”

John Tottenham: “To receive posthumous acclaim, one has to die first. How inconvenient. I must put that on my to-do list.”

Hari Kunzru on the prime minister: “Theresa May strikes me as the kind of Tory who has read too much Trollope and not enough of anything else. It might be nice to give her a book that shows England from an outsider’s perspective, perhaps Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners. Or something by Victor Serge, though that would just be trolling. I think the president might benefit from a basic civics textbook, something with large print.”

How many books will you read before you die? Choose wisely.

As further evidence of the linguistic strangeness of “Black Twitter,” I present the word “coon.” In America, this deeply offensive slur was once used interchangeably with the N-word. Alex Haley writes in The Autobiography of Malcolm X:

In the summertime, at night, in addition to all the other things we did, some of us boys would slip out down the road, or across the pastures, and go “cooning” watermelons. White people always associated watermelons with Negroes, and they sometimes called Negroes “coons” among all the other names, and so stealing watermelons became “cooning” them.

When Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House, the president was called a “coon-flavoured miscegenationist” by white southerners. And as Randall Kennedy reminds us:

In Mississippi in 1964, during a successful gubernatorial campaign, Paul Johnson repeatedly joked that the acronym NAACP stood for “Niggers, Apes, Alligators, Coons, and Possums.”

These days the word is rarely used outside the black community, where it serves as an instrument of social critique or, less charitably, a weapon wielded by a marginalised group against itself (as a form of linguistic black-on-black violence).

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A “coon”, in this context, is a black person who harms his or her community by playing to traditional stereotypes or by a slavish desire to appeal to “white” tastes and conform to mainstream society. As with the N-word, many who use the term are aware of its history, specifically as it relates to vaudeville and representations of black people on stage and screen. But many are not, and it is disheartening to see racist slurs given new life by the culpably ignorant.

[see also: “What’s it like to have a name that’s also a racial epithet?”]

“It’s been estimated that about half the books published between 1923 and 1963 are actually in the public domain—it’s just that no one knows which half. Copyrights back then had to be renewed, and often the rightsholder wouldn’t bother filing the paperwork; if they did, the paperwork could be lost. The cost of figuring out who owns the rights to a given book can end up being greater than the market value of the book itself. To have people go and research each one of these titles, it’s not just Sisyphean—it’s an impossible task economically. Most out-of-print books are therefore locked up, if not by copyright then by inconvenience.”

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: “I don’t think that there is any work that only a certain community can understand. Or if there is, it is bad art.”

Marina Abramović made me cry.

A “culture vulture”, according to the OED, is a person who is very interested in the arts. But on social media, and especially in the hip-hop community, it is used in an entirely different sense.

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The idea is that the accused persons are vulture-like scavengers who appropriate other cultures for financial gain. This use of the term is so widespread and intuitive that it will almost certainly end up in dictionaries as an alternative definition.


What Samantha Allen learned from the SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies: (1) Gaydar exists, and there’s a word for it in Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Hebrew, Russian, and Korean. (2) There’s little evidence to support the theory that some transgender women are straight men turned on by the thought of being female. (3) Transgender elders with dementia may forget they’ve transitioned and revert to the gender assigned to them at birth.

According to the National Crime Agency, “in 2015, the average age of suspects in cyber crime investigations was 17 years old, compared to 37 in drugs cases and 39 in economic crime cases.”

Mary M.W. Billington on living with an eye patch in a big city: “We all know there are certain groups of people for whom we are expected to give up our seats on a crowded subway: children, pregnant women, the elderly. Apparently, for some people, otherwise-healthy 20-somethings with eye patches also make this list.”

Namwali Serpell: “In his well-known collection of essays Decolonising the Mind (1986), Ngũgĩ [wa Thiong’o] provides telling anecdotes about his childhood inculcation in linguistic imperialism. Refusal or inability to speak English was punished in both corporal and psychological fashion: strokes of the cane upon the buttocks; metal plates around the neck saying I AM STUPID or I AM A DONKEY. Each time a student spoke in a mother tongue, they would receive a button; they would hand it on when they overheard the next culprit; at the end of the day, the students would sing the names of whoever had passed them the button; all the offenders would then be punished. In this way, cultural shame was both internalized and self-regulating.”

Richard Ford: “I don’t like trusting people, and almost never do it. And I’m uncomfortable when people want to place trust in me, and almost always discourage it. Trust seems an entirely optional and unnecessary article of pseudo faith, one that’s too much about my being predictable (which I’m not); or about my being able to be depended on to act in someone’s best interest, which I always want to do but routinely fail at, particularly when my own interests are involved. Nowadays, the worst people can say about you is that they can’t trust you. To which I say, then don’t.”

As a general election approaches, Henry Jeffreys urges us to renounce the devil and all his works: “Twitter was once like a rowdy pub conversation, but lately the level of bile has made it more of a bar brawl. Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is particularly enlightening on how much of the unpleasantness online comes from those convinced they are doing things for noble reasons. […]  As the novelist Ned Beauman wrote recently: ‘I’m impressed with anyone who can follow all the skirmishing on here and still maintain the same level of creative output and general wellbeing. I prefer not to maintain a state of simmering irritation and disgust throughout every waking hour.’ ”

For some it’s a book title. For others, a code to live by.