These days, in the thick of the American presidential primaries, it’s easy to see how the 50 states continue to drive the political system. But increasingly, that’s all they drive — socially and economically, America is reorganizing itself around regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters that ignore state and even national borders. The problem is, the political system hasn’t caught up.
For those of us who’ve spent all or much of our writing lives in the era of personal computers, it’s sometimes hard to fathom the drudgery (and delegation) that went into the production of pre-digital books. In his new study, Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing, Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is especially concerned with how word processing has changed the embodied labor of writing — its actual tasks, tools, and physical demands — and with how literary writers have embraced, resisted, and interpreted that transformation.
“The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu,” by Joshua Hammer, vividly captures the history and strangeness of this place in a fast-paced narrative that gets us behind today’s headlines of war and terror. This is part reportage and travelogue (there is a great deal of “setting off” in Land Cruisers, camels and small boats along the Niger River), part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract and part out-and-out thriller.
When we think of a haunted house, we imagine its ghosts to be the restless souls of previous occupants, kept by some unresolved horror from complete departure. But perhaps it’s possible that the deep grief of someone in the present can actually penetrate the past — can, in effect, haunt those who dwelled here long ago.