Posts by: Mary Allen
For the second time that day, then, I waited in the dark for something not quite human—and all too human—to begin.
If you haven’t seen Charlie Kaufman’s new film Anomalisa, we highly recommend that you do. And then after, read this wonderful piece by Zadie Smith on Kaufman, The Polar Express, Schopenhauer, and the uncanny humanity of puppets....more
Last year physicist Stephen Hawking suggested that advanced artificial intelligence, or AI, could lead to the end of humanity. How are scientists working on this issue? Teaching robots empathy with books! Newsweek reports on the Quixote system, which teaches AI a human sense of right and wrong....more
Keep a close eye on your Twitter account. Important things may be said there that you will be expected to weigh in on, and if you don’t, everyone will wonder if you fell asleep in the bathroom stall of the bar last night and are still there, head sunken low next to the toilet, one lost contact lens embedded somewhere in the floor grime.
Race is an important and central issue in the United States, but what about abroad?
It appears that both the United States and the United Kingdom are witnessing one of those moments when we confront what Toni Morrison said in an early interview about Beloved (1987), ‘something that the characters don’t want to remember, I don’t want to remember, black people don’t want to remember, white people don’t want to remember.
Where do our words go when we lose them? Jenny Diski embarks on an exploration into vanishing vocabulary:
So I had a thought about writing a book for the elderly, the old. Those who have lost their words more comprehensively than the friends around our lunch table, but haven’t lost themselves entirely.
As much as we cherish the books from our childhood, there is no denying that some of the stories are just a little (or a lot) racist. But how do we reconcile this truth?
They were the feckless prisoners of their times, and much as we’d like for people in the past to share our enlightenment, especially people we otherwise admire, it’s just not going to happen in an unfortunate number of cases.
The debate has typically been framed around whether it is ever appropriate for a writer to reference Seinfeld, Bright Eyes, or Facebook. What makes more sense is to talk about whether or not doing so is helpful for the specific project at hand.
Literature continually reminds us that we are not alone and (to paraphrase Kundera) that things are not always as simple as they seem. With so many stories, histories, characters and figures populating a reader’s mind, it’s easy for us to take for granted the liberation that literature imparts.
Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf has recently become legal to publish and sell in Germany for the first time since World War II. What place does this volume hold in our collective world history? And should it be regarded as a dangerous book?...more
Three more anthologies published last year suggest that while the [short] story remains one of our most flexible popular literary forms, and the quickest to absorb signals from the culture, if we’re on the verge of another revolution, the shockwaves haven’t registered yet.
As the value of an individual book is devalued, so is the self. We are made to feel that it’s only through constant communication with a community that we have any collective power.
How has the immediacy of the Internet changed how we absorb information?...more
For the Los Angeles Review of Books, Stephen Rohde gives a thorough and chilling analyzation of our current socio-political climate which highlights just how closely our world parallels the one that George Orwell predicted in his novel 1984:
No one aware of post-9/11 society in the United States, England, Europe, and elsewhere can fail to see how chillingly Orwell (and Madison) imagined the consequences of permanent war in instilling fear, inflaming patriotism, creating an obedient citizenry, and establishing a pervasive surveillance state.
The Folger has 82 First Folios—the largest collection in the world. It’s located several stairways down, in a rare manuscript vault. To reach them, you first have to get through a fire door … (if a fire did threaten these priceless objects, it would be extinguished not with water—never water near priceless paper—but with a system that removes oxygen from the room).
Domestic duties are regarded as feminine in popular culture. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s enormous three volume tome, My Struggle, is full of descriptions of domesticity, and he has been showered with highbrow literary praise for them. But would the same be true if he were a woman?...more
Considering the other forces vying to demarcate our time, dividing it up between mass shootings and other traumas, to encounter a packed bookshelf, a library, or a bookstore with a breathtaking procession of spines and all the potential therein—it is a relief to know that time can also look like that, that it could contain so many ways out, over, and through with those stories.
For those who start within the establishment, professional writing is likely to correspond to drudgery, and they’ll seek to escape it. For those on the outside looking in, it’s a mark of legitimacy.
The reasons behind why writers write is arguably broken into two camps: for art and as a profession....more
Can Haruki Murakami write a financially unsuccessful novel at this point in his career? What would it take for him, or a writer with a similar sales history, to fail to sell? And what does this tell us about the novels we continue to publish?...more