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14 august 2018

Big Data is as big in the humanities as anywhere else. This seems counterintuitive. Humanities are supposed to be about the slow accumulation of expertise about unique, contingent things, not about crunching massive datasets to get generalizable results. But in some of the humanities, you can see the appeal of big data. Linguists love their corpuses, or whatever the plural of "corpus" may be. Historians depend on demography. Even literary scholars can appreciate the ability to scan vast ranges of text for verbal patterns that would take several lifetimes to get a feel for the old-fashioned way.     read more

13 august 2018

If Nick Hornby and Colson Whitehead collaborated on a book, it would be something like Hari Kunzru's White Tears. Though Kunzru's own voice is certainly there: a nerdy side from Transmission, identity-shifting from The Impressionist. In White Tears, obsessive collecting in New York City leads to odysseys across multiracial America (as in Whitehead's John Henry Days ). As in Hornby's High Fidelity, that obsession is trained with encyclopedic attention on old records. Add magical realism and Bret-Easton-Ellis-like violence, and you have a uniquely ambitious novel.     read more

12 august 2018

I recently picked up a copy of Beaumarchais' Figaro trilogy, the great enduring success of the late-18th-century French stage, at a used-book store in Dallas. The volume was in good shape, but was over 50 years old. Paperbacks of that vintage sometimes have a bad smell to them, something suggestive of mildew and body odor. I am almost anosmic, and I have never understood the rapture some devoted readers experience when smelling books. The only associations I have with the smell of books is when they're too bad not to get through to me.     read more

11 august 2018

I first spotted Julian Barnes' novel The Noise of Time a few weeks ago as Tidens larm, its Swedish translation, in a bookstore in Stockholm. You know you're not able to keep up when one of your favorite writers publishes a novel and you aren't aware of it till two years later when it fetches up in Sweden.     read more