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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Where Is All The Book Data?, by Melanie Walsh, Public Books

After the first lockdown in March 2020, I went looking for book sales data. I’m a data scientist and a literary scholar, and I wanted to know what books people were turning to in the early days of the pandemic for comfort, distraction, hope, guidance. How many copies of Emily St. John Mandel’s pandemic novel Station Eleven were being sold in COVID-19 times compared to when the novel debuted in 2014? And what about Giovanni Boccaccio’s much older—14th-century—plague stories, The Decameron? Were people clinging to or fleeing from pandemic tales during peak coronavirus panic? You might think, as I naively did, that a researcher would be able to find out exactly how many copies of a book were sold in certain months or years. But you, like me, would be wrong.

I went looking for book sales data, only to find that most of it is proprietary and purposefully locked away. What I learned was that the single most influential data in the publishing industry—which, every day, determines book contracts and authors’ lives—is basically inaccessible to anyone beyond the industry. And I learned that this is a big problem.

Can God Be Proved Mathematically?, by Manon Bischoff, Scientific American

Who would have thought about God as an apt topic for an essay about mathematics? Don’t worry, the following discussion is still solidly grounded within an intelligible scientific framework. But the question of whether God can be proved mathematically is intriguing. In fact, over the centuries, several mathematicians have repeatedly tried to prove the existence of a divine being. They range from Blaise Pascal and René Descartes (in the 17th century) to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (in the 18th century) to Kurt Gödel (in the 20th century), whose writings on the subject were published as recently as 1987. And probably the most amazing thing: in a preprint study first posted in 2013 an algorithmic proof wizard checked Gödel’s logical chain of reasoning—and found it to be undoubtedly correct. Has mathematics now finally disproved the claims of all atheists?

Querelle Of Roberval A Homage To The Works Of Jean Genet, by Ian McGillis, The Globe And Mail

If the title of Kevin Lambert’s Querelle of Roberval rings any bells, it should. It’s a direct homage to Jean Genet and his 1947 novel, Querelle of Brest – a work perhaps best known in the non-Francophone world for a 1982 Rainer Werner Fassbinder film adaptation starring Brad Davis.

The Montreal writer takes the tribute further, too: Shifting the scene from a port city in Brittany to a logging town in northern Quebec, reimagining the original’s vision but respecting his essence, he shows himself a worthy heir to Genet’s project of giving the public morality of the day a thoroughly subversive seeing-to.

The Icelandic Secret To Happiness? Elf-Actualization., by Liesl Schillinger, New York Times

For 70 summers, children have boated to an island in the Adirondack wilderness to seek out a cluster of tiny wooden houses and leave messages for the fairies who are said to live there. Sometimes the fairies write back — on slips of birch bark, tucked into the crevice of a log for children to find and exult over. The adult go-betweens behind the letters can’t resist feeding the children’s faith that the natural world reciprocates their interest.

Of course, they don’t believe in fairies themselves. In “Looking for the Hidden Folk,” the cultural historian Nancy Marie Brown asks: Why not? “Why should disbelief be our default? Why should we deride our sense of wonder? Why do we allow our world to be disenchanted?”

‘She Paints With The Brush In Her Ass’: The Artists Sharing Their Worst Savagings, by Alex Needham, The Guardian

Ninety per cent of the artists Mir initially approached told her to get lost, suspicious of how their savagings might be used and unwilling to revisit pieces that had hurt them. “Half the YBAs were weirdly humourless about it,” she says. Yet as the project progressed, more and more artists decided to share their terrible notices. They included such good sports as Robert Longo, who contributed a 1989 review by Roberta Smith of the New York Times which he said “single-handedly derailed my life”. The piece is headlined: “Once a Wunderkind, Now Robert ‘Long Ago’?”

String, by Daniel Halpern, The Atlantic

Think about it, a piece of plain string,
any length, a piece of hemp, a strand of