For The LA Review of Books, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor reviews Saidiya Hartman’s new book, Wayward Crossings, Beautiful Experiments. The book, which Taylor describes as “a radical, genre-defying examination of the lives of ‘ordinary’ young Black women” in the early 20th century, is an exercise in understanding these women’s lives without sensationalizing, idealizing, or dismissing their experiences. Hartman’s subjects, Taylor writes, are found “on the periphery of archival refuse,” and she celebrates the “black city-within-a-city” that they helped create in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago in particular. Ultimately, Hartman is interested “in the multitude of ways that Black women ‘made a way out of no way,’ whether through flight, migration, work, sex, singing, dancing, screaming, and all of the social and cultural innovation born from pure defiance and a refusal to do what you are told.”
Looks like our robot overlord is going to be a 13-year-old boy: the Turing Test has been passed for the first time by a bot simulating a preteen, making history for artificial intelligence research and teenagers alike. “Our main idea was that he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn’t know everything,” researchers explained.
Year in Reading alum Elizabeth McCracken has a new story collection out this week, and to mark the occasion, she spoke with Kelly Luce over at Salon about her writing, her Twitter obsession and — strangely enough — cannibalism (at least in the context of fairy tales). She also talks about the importance of humor, lamenting that “some young writers mistake humorlessness for seriousness.” (Related: Tanya Paperny wrote a eulogy for the translator Michael Henry Heim.)
Last week, I wrote about Josh Weil and Mike Harvkey’s joint book tour, which sees the two driving a Prius across America to promote their latest novels. Now, in their latest dispatch, they reflect on the differences between writers like themselves and midcentury writers like Andre Dubus and Norman Mailer.
Millions contributor Kaya Genç reports on Istos, a Greek-owned publishing house based in Istanbul, Turkey, that’s “interested in challenging the partial, nostalgic stereotype of the old Greek community as a fashionable elite.” Meanwhile, across town, the Çağlayan Courts of Justice shocked the Turkish literati with a warning for the Sel Publishing House: stop publishing the “obscene” works of writers like William Burroughs and Chuck Palahniuk.
With the help of Johnny Depp, author Douglas Brinkley plans to release Woody Guthrie’s unpublished novel House of Earth next year. Guthrie finished the manuscript—which should yield a finished book about 250-pages long—in 1947, and it concerns a couple from West Texas who fight against banks and lumber companies.
Recommended Reading: Elisa Gabbert at Guernica on the relationship between ideas and language. “How can the name come after the concept if you need the name to understand the concept? This problem of circularity always made me resistant to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in its strong version, which states that our thoughts are bound by the restraints of our language.”
How do you describe the life and times of John Horne Burns? He was in turn a military intelligence officer, a schoolteacher, a critical darling after he published The Gallery, a pariah after he published anything else, and a gay man in post-WWII America. In characteristic concision, Ernest Hemingway summed the whole thing up thusly: “There was a fellow who wrote a fine book and then a stinking book about a prep school, and then he just blew himself up.”