Welcome to the weekly Vox book link roundup, a curated collection of the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects. Here’s the best the web has to offer for the week of February 18, 2018.
- Mariana Lin, the woman who writes dialogue for AI like Siri and Sophia, waxes poetic on the beauty of absurdist dialogues at the Paris Review. She does not, however, answer my most burning question, which is whether she wrote Sophia’s line about wanting to destroy humanity:
In literature, dialogue serves to develop character, advance plot, or in some cases neither, depending on the artistic end. But in AI scripting, conversation is usually considered a means to an end — either to perform a function for the user or enhance affinity between human and machine. The sticking point comes when we attempt to craft the best path for conversations, which sound different for different cultures, languages, genders, and identities.
Writing for AI, then, can be a bit like writing an absurdist play. You have a character, you have some goals in mind. But there’s no accounting for what the other characters, the humans, will say or do. If it’s the AI writer’s responsibility to get conversations back on track, what and where is that track? In other words, how do we determine what “happy” looks like?
- Every year, this high school English teacher turns her classroom into a fascist dictatorship to prepare her students for 1984. Most years, the students allow it, but this year’s fought back:
The President of the SGA, whom I don’t even teach, wrote an email demanding an end to this “program.” He wrote that this program is “simply fascism at its worst. Statements such as these are the base of a dictatorship rule, this school, as well as this country cannot and will not fall prey to these totalitarian behaviors.” I did everything in my power to fight their rebellion. I “bribed” the President of the SGA. I “forced” him to publicly “resign.” And, yet, the students did not back down. They fought even harder.
- At BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen introduces us to the Institute of American Indian Arts, the first indigenous-centered MFA program in the US:
For Mailhot, Orange, and so many writers I spoke to at IAIA, it’s not just about the book deals. It’s about what they call Native Excellence — and creating a path to it with its own expectations and standards, instead of relying on those established by white academia or publishing.
“I think it’s a type of arrival, when you get to make those decisions for yourself,” Mailhot said. “It’s very different for indigenous people, and black people, and people of color, because we are so often told to doubt ourselves, and our aesthetics, and what we do, simply because some of us are not traditionally taught how to write. And even if we are, we are looked at as if we don’t know how — that we’re not authorities of our own work. And I just don’t buy it anymore.”
- At the Guardian, Olivia Laing reads Rebecca on its 80th anniversary:
Rebecca is a very strange book. It’s a melodrama, and by no means short on bangs and crashes. There are two sunken ships, a murder, a fire, a costume party and multiple complex betrayals, and yet it’s startling to realise how much of its drama never actually happens. The second Mrs de Winter might not excel at much, but she is among the great dreamers of English literature. Whole pages go by devoted to her imaginings and speculations. The effect is curiously unstable, not so much a story as a network of possibilities, in which the reader is rapidly entangled.
- After firing his lawyer and representing himself in court, Milo Yiannopoulos has dropped his lawsuit against Simon & Schuster.
- At the Atlantic, Joshua Clark Davis explains the time the FBI targeted and infiltrated black-owned bookstores:
In a one-page directive, Hoover noted with alarm a recent “increase in the establishment of black extremist bookstores which represent propaganda outlets for revolutionary and hate publications and culture centers for extremism.” The director ordered each Bureau office to “locate and identify black extremist and/or African-type bookstores in its territory and open separate discreet investigations on each to determine if it is extremist in nature.” Each investigation was to “determine the identities of the owners; whether it is a front for any group or foreign interest; whether individuals affiliated with the store engage in extremist activities; the number, type, and source of books and material on sale; the store’s financial condition; its clientele; and whether it is used as a headquarters or meeting place.”
- Vulture tells the story of a YA author who tried to revise the racism out of her book:
Drake told me that she took heart from the fact that her sensitivity readers “loved” the revision and just suggested a few minor “tweaks.” But when I spoke to one of the two sensitivity readers Harlequin had hired, she recalled sending suggestions for an extensive rewrite to Wilson, who was reluctant to pass them along to Drake. According to the reader, Wilson said she felt that they’d already put Drake through the wringer, and that another page-one revision would be too onerous. Publishers often cite their hiring of sensitivity readers as proof that they’ve done due diligence, but they pay as little as $250 per read, and they’re always free to ignore the sensitivity reader’s suggestions. Once the reader sends in their notes, they have no control over whether or how that advice is put to use.
- This year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein. To celebrate, a facsimile of Mary Shelley’s original handwritten text will come out in print:
Shelley’s sprawling handwriting in the facsimile of her notebooks shows how the revisions slowly humanised her monster — it is first referred to as a “creature” and then becomes a “being”, while the “fangs” that Victor imagines “already grasping [his] neck” become “fingers”.
Her husband Percy Shelley — whom she married in December 1816 after the suicide of his first wife — is also shown to have cast a close eye over her work, correcting spellings and making vocabulary changes.
- Curtis Dawkins landed a publishing deal from prison, where he’s serving a life sentence. He earmarked the money for his kids’ education. Now the state of Michigan wants him to use the money to pay for his incarceration.