Jay McInerney writing in the Observer about The Great Gatsby (Observer):
The Great Gatsby seems to be enjoying a moment, what with the success of the New York production of Gatz, opening in London (described by America's leading theatre critic Ben Brantley as "The most remarkable achievement in theatre not only of this year but also of this decade"), and the release later this year of Baz Luhrman's $120m film version. The book was little noticed on your side of the Atlantic on its initial publication. Collins, which had published the English editions of F Scott Fitzgerald's first two novels, rejected it outright, and the Chatto and Windus edition failed to arouse much enthusiasm, critical or commercial, when it was published in London in 1926. To be fair, the novel hadn't been a smash hit in the States the year before, selling less than his two previous novels and falling well short of the expectations of Fitzgerald and his publisher, despite some very good reviews. TS Eliot declared: "In fact, it seems to me the first step American fiction has taken since Henry James." And yet, many of the 23,000 copies printed in 1925 were gathering dust in the Scribner's warehouse when Fitzgerald died in obscurity in Hollywood 15 years later.At that time, Gatsby seemed like the relic of an age most wanted to forget. In the succeeding years, Fitzgerald's slim tale of the jazz age became the most celebrated and beloved novel in the American canon. It's more than an American classic; it's become a defining document of the national psyche, a creation myth, the Rosetta Stone of the American dream. And yet all the attempts to adapt it to stage and screen have only served to illustrate its fragility and its flaws. Fitzgerald's prose somehow elevates a lurid and underdeveloped narrative to the level of myth.
How popular are your tweets? Take a lesson from some researchers (The Atlantic):
The algorithm comes courtesy of a fascinating paper [pdf] from UCLA and Hewlett-Packard's HP Labs. The researchers Roja Bandari, Sitram Asur, and Bernardo Huberman teamed up to try to predict the popularity -- which is to say, the spreadability -- of news-based tweets. While previous work has relied on tweets' early performance to predict their popularity over their remaining lifespan, Bandari et al focused on predicting tweets' popularity even before they become tweets in the first place. The researchers have developed a tool that allows Twitterers -- and, in particular, news organizations -- to calibrate their tweets in advance of their posting, creating content that's optimized for maximum attention and impact. That tool allows for the forecasting of a tweeted article's popularity with a remarkable 84 percent accuracy.
An anthology of contemporary Taliban poetry is being published (The Atlantic)
The anthology has already been criticized for promoting sympathy for the Taliban. How do you respond to such commentary?We understand where these criticisms are coming from. Troops from 50 different countries are currently fighting in Afghanistan, and each week brings news of more injured and dead. At the same time, though, we would make a distinction between sympathy and empathy. This collection was not complied to garner sympathy for the Taliban. What it does give the reader is a new window on an amorphous group, possibly allowing one to empathize with the particular author of a poem, letting one see the world through their eyes, should one want to do so. For this collection, we felt these songs brought something new to the discussion, and added a perspective on where those who associate themselves with the movement are coming from. From our own experience, we knew how important and resonant these songs were for people living in Afghanistan, and we thought it would be useful to present these to a broader community of scholars, poets and the general public.
And a somewhat related opinion piece in Salon about the need to read books-with a question mark (Salon):
Essentially we haven’t changed since the beginning of our histories. We are the same erect apes that a few million years ago discovered in a piece of rock or wood instruments of battle, while at the same time stamping on cave walls bucolic images of daily life and the revelatory palms of our hands. We are like the young Alexander who, on the one hand, dreamt of bloody wars of conquest and, on the other, always carried with him Homer’s books that spoke of the suffering caused by war and the longing for Ithaca. Like the Greeks, we allow ourselves to be governed by sick and greedy individuals for whom death is unimportant because it happens to others, and in book after book we attempt to put into words our profound conviction that it should not be so. All our acts (even amorous acts) are violent and all our arts (even those that describe such acts) contradict that violence. Our world exists in the tension between these two states.Today, as we witness absurd wars wished upon us less from a desire for justice than from economic lust, our books may perhaps help to remind us that divisions between the good and the bad, just and unjust, them and us, is far less clear than political speeches make them out to be. The reality of literature (which ultimately holds the little wisdom allowed us) is intimately ambiguous, exists in a vast spectrum of tones and colours, is fragmented, ever-changing, never sides entirely with anyone, however heroic the character may seem. In our literary knowledge of the world, we intuit that even God is not unimpeachable; far less our beloved Andromaque, Parzifal, Alice, Candide, Bartleby, Gregor Samsa, Alonso Quijano.
From the Globe and Mail a news item about some teen inmates encouraged to write about their experiences in graphic novel form (GandM)
The result is In and Out, a graphic novel illustrated by Meghan Bell, a professional artist outside the system, based on a story line developed by the small group of 16-to-19-year-old inmates.It follows the experiences of a young man who fights to get his life on the right track, while his brother and friends are trying to pull him back into a continued life of crime.The goal of the project, Ms. Creedon said, was to both encourage literacy and find a way for repeat offenders to get across to their peers that there is a way to get out and stay out.“They refer to themselves as frequent flyers,” Ms. Creedon said. “They get out and then come right back in ... it is tragic.”She said the recidivism rate is in a large part due to the fact most young offenders have such poor literacy skills that they can’t get jobs.
From my twitter feed this week: