Cyber librarian

Cybrarian? Lyborg? Listen, you know how I feel about teaching thinking machines things that can be eventually used against us in the robot uprisings of the 2030s: negatively. So why are we replacing hot librarians in tight sweaters and horn-rimmed glasses with a simulated help assistant? I’m agin it. No good can come of this, I tell you.

And, as Scout is used by more people, it gets more intelligent. So far, the program is great at helping out patrons find out how to get a library card, what the branch hours are and can even guide folks through the process of streaming movies online. 

Reading in the new century

Reading in the future is really reading in the now, I suppose. How have we changed as readers in the 21st Century? (On some core level, I still think of 2000 as “the future”, so the fact that next year is 2020 is sort of baffling and upsetting. That said, I still don’t have my jetpack. Nor do I live in stylish 1970s housing on the inside of a rotating cylinder in space.)

For a while we were told that books were going to be a thing of the past. A new century had dawned, our lives were being digitised and surely there was no longer any reason to lug the pressed pulp of dead trees around. And yet, over the past decade, it seems clear that the death of the book has been greatly exaggerated. As we move into the 2020s there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the resurgence of the book – while also acknowledging that other avenues for storytelling are opening not only in the marketplace but in readers’ minds. The fact that we spend more and more time online may mean that we are increasingly distracted from reading… but it can also mean that readers have more avenues to find the stories they want and need.

Word of the Year!


They, a common pronoun that can be traced back to the 13th century, has been named word of the year by Merriam-Webster dictionary because of its growing usage for non-binary individuals.

The US dictionary, which has been in print for more than 150 years, said that look-ups for “they” increased by 313% in 2019 compared with the previous year, as the public investigated the word’s shifting use and its increasing prominence in the news.

Intellectual dark web

Why do self-styled liberals and centrists keep working for a magazine that is obviously a racist, far-right mouthpiece? Is it perhaps because they’re not actually liberals or centrists?

While Lehmann calls Quillette “independent,” “centrist,” and even “a community of liberal humanists,” the publication showcases racist pseudoscience purporting to show that people of color are intellectually and morally inferior to whites. Many of the writers of its race pieces are proponents of the Human Biodiversity Movement (HBD), a euphemistic name for a campaign to advance scientific racism launched in 1996 by Steve Sailer, a blogger for the white supremacist website VDare. (Sailer famously said that “in contrast to New Orleans, there was only minimal looting after the horrendous 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan—because, when you get down to it, Japanese aren’t blacks.”) Quillette contributors Ben Winegard, Bo Winegard, Brian Boutwell, and John Paul Wright have all either said they are part of the HBD movement or used the term to describe their own research. When asked to comment about why she publishes such writers, Lehmann said she rejected the premise of the question and did not elaborate further.

What Quillette is essentially doing is repackaging these white nationalist ideas in milder, pseudo-intellectual form and selling them to liberals who aren’t reading closely.

Attention gossip junkies: New judging panel scandal

Wut? You mean to tell me there are jurors who don’t read all the titles? Lolz, as my kid would say. I remember judging both the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 2009 and the Writer’s Trust for fiction sometime in the 2010s and both times I suspected other jurors had no idea what I was talking about. But that could just be me being thick. Now, in fairness, there were some titles where it became apparent within 50 pages that it was not going to be a contender, but to have not read books on the SHORTLIST while picking a winner? I admire this juror’s strong, brass ovaries, for sure. Sad Lucy Ellman’s book keeps getting shafted.

A judge of one of Scotland’s most prestigious literary awards has resigned over its choice of winner, claiming that her fellow judges had not read all of the books, and selected a book by a male author about a woman over three books by women about women.

The Saltire Society literary awards gave out a host of prizes at the National Museum of Scotland last weekend. The Scottish fiction book of the year went to Ewan Morrison for his novel Nina X, described by judges as a “great feat of imagination, showing digital modernity through the eyes of a young woman emerging from a lifetime within the confines of a Maoist commune”.

Plagiarism: is it really so bad?

Today we are looking at plagiarism as a generative force. Don’t worry: we’ll start yelling about it again tomorrow when someone we don’t like does it and we need a cathartic moment of screaming and self-righteous pearls-clutching.

I think it is inevitable that writing winds up happening in relationship to reading. When we go to school to learn to write we look at piece after piece until they’re so ingrained that when we sit down to compose our own we can’t help but be served by the structures and shapes of stories, essays, poems we’ve read. With a real sense of intent, though, we can find unexpected liberation in embracing the shells of works we’ve loved to do the work we feel compelled to do.

Would the novel die without women?

I can totally see that. Right from the author on through to the reader.

The idea that fiction is a female domain is taken for granted by most people involved in books. According to Nielsen Book Research, women outbuy men in all categories of novel except fantasy, science fiction and horror. And when men do read fiction, they don’t tend to read fiction by women, while Taylor claims that women read and admire male novelists, rarely making value judgments.

Women are not only keener buyers of fiction – surveys show they account for 80% of sales in the UK, US and Canadian fiction markets – far more women than men are literary festivalgoers, library members, audio book readers, literary bloggers, and members of literary societies and evening classes. It is also for the most part women who teach children to read, both at school and at home; and women who form book clubs – often actively shutting out men.