Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
This is a scathing take on that most beloved institution of the MFA — the writing workshop — by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer. Hard to say what’s most terrifying here: the thought that this set of attitudes and assumptions is readily accepted (and celebrated) throughout American literary culture … or that it’s becoming an infectious export globally. I’m going to shut up now and let Nguyen carry it:
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 from the Communist countries America bombed during the Cold War, or where it sponsored counter-Communist efforts. We come from the lands America occupied, invaded or colonized. We come as refugees and immigrants, documented and undocumented. We come from the ghettos, barrios, reservations and borders of America where there are no workshops. We come from the bedrooms and the kitchens of the American home, where we were supposed to stay, and stay silent. 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.
Making every book in the universe searchable and instantly available online? Yes, please. Stealing income from authors and holding libraries hostage to skyrocketing access fees? No, thanks. That, in a nutshell, is the story of Google’s “Project Ocean,” a moonshot to scan every book on the planet.
James Somers threads the massive legal labyrinth of copyright and class action suits that’s holding the world’s largest digital library hostage — and demonstrates just how urgently we need a new model that mediates between artists and audiences in a sane and sensible way.
Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25-million books and nobody is allowed to read them. It’s like that scene at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie where they put the Ark of the Covenant back on a shelf somewhere, lost in the chaos of a vast warehouse. It’s there. The books are there. People have been trying to build a library like this for ages — to do so, they’ve said, would be to erect one of the great humanitarian artifacts of all time — and here we’ve done the work to make it real and we were about to give it to the world and now, instead, it’s 50 or 60 petabytes on disk, and the only people who can see it are half a dozen engineers on the project who happen to have access because they’re the ones responsible for locking it up.
eBooks can be polarizing: friends and families set at odds, lovers torn apart over paper vs. Paperwhite. In a bit of good news for those holding up the side for physical books, headlines that once read “print is dead” are suddenly posting obits for electronic editions. Paula Cocozza argues that digital books are simply finding their level, but that won’t stop us from enjoying the public re-investment in the beauty of a well-made book.
Once upon a time, people bought books because they liked reading. Now they buy books because they like books. “All these people are really thinking about how the books are — not just what’s in them, but what they’re like as objects,” says Jennifer Cownie, who runs the beautiful Bookifer website and the Cownifer Instagram, which match books to decorative papers, and who bought a Kindle but hated it. Summerhayes thinks that “people have books in their house as pieces of art”. One of her authors’ forthcoming works features cover art by someone who designs album covers for Elbow. “Everyone wants sexy-looking books,” she says.
It’s deeply satisfying, from a narrative perspective, that the Trump presidency has invigorated both the transformation of Teen Vogue and a comeback by discredited elder statesman Dan Rather. Sort of like Don Quixote saddling up to ride with Furiosa … or not, if you’re not that kind of nerd. Ahem. Regardless: In this profile of Rather, Ben Baker describes a journalist who is passionate, articulate, and determined to win the last battle of his career.
For decades, Rather was fodder for critics who considered him too emotional, too liberal, too ambitious, too self-serious. He didn’t smile a lot; his folksy sayings could come off as downright weird. But the exact eccentricities that made at times for an awkward fit for network television, and his talent for thoughtful but unambiguous pronouncements of outrage, have been pitch-perfect for this new medium and moment. One of the leading voices of the Trump resistance is not some black-masked radical or a marching young woman with a pink knit hat but a man with gray hair, a name you know and a neatly knotted tie.
In a complete change of pace (no pun intended), here’s an engrossing article by Sara Estes about a batshit crazy footrace called the Barkley Marathons that may or may not be run by a man named Lazarus Lake.
Since 1986, the Barkley has been operating entirely under the radar, rising from a casual underground affair to a cult obsession. Few even figure out how to enter the Barkley, fewer still come close to finishing it. Today, people come from all over the world for the chance to annihilate their minds and bodies in a 60-hour, 100-mile, sleepless, nearly impossible gauntlet through the merciless mountains. Lost and alone, they struggle through hallucinations, extreme cold, heat, thunderstorms, sleet, and rock-bottom exhaustion while they navigate vast stretches of sinister, unmarked woodland with only a compass and their prayers.