It’s been a slow blogging week here at The Lost Salt Atlas, but that also means it’s been a great week for progress on my novel. It’s always a little like playing Whack-A-Mole trying to keep up. Anyway, here are my picks for your weekend reading pleasure. Enjoy!
I’m still trying to wrap my brain around how LIGO, earth’s most sensitive machine, successfully “heard” gravitational waves caused by two gigantic black holes colliding about a billion years ago. The best summary I’ve found yet is Nicola Twilley’s lucid piece in the New Yorker.
The collaborators began the arduous process of double-, triple-, and quadruple-checking their data. “We’re saying that we made a measurement that is about a thousandth the diameter of a proton, that tells us about two black holes that merged over a billion years ago,” Reitze said. “That is a pretty extraordinary claim and it needs extraordinary evidence.”
In an essay for Dissent magazine, Maggie Doherty explores the history of government support for writers. Beginning with the Depression-era Federal Writers Project, and today’s NEA, Doherty concludes that these programs have been crucial in fostering work that’s had trouble finding a commercial market (experimental poetry and work by minority writers, for instance). She’s troubled by declining NEA budgets and a new trend: giving grants to established writers:
Money that goes to a best-selling writer is money diverted from the writers who need it most—young, marginalized, politically radical artists who may never find market success, or who may not even desire it. On the whole, today’s writers are less materially secure than those of previous generations.
The publishing industry counts only 4 percent of its employees as African American. Chris Jackson, an editor at Spiegel & Grau and a founder of legendary Manhattan bookstore McNally/Jackson is trying to counter that trend, bringing to the forefront a new generation of black writers, including Ta-Nehisi Coates. You can read about Jackson in a perceptive profile in The New York Times Magazine by Vinson Cunningham:
‘The great tradition of black art, generally,’’ [Jackson] started again, ‘‘is the ability — unlike American art in general — to tell the truth. Because it was formed around the great American poison, the thing that poisoned American consciousness and behavior: racism.
Over at Electric Literature, read the microstory “To Revive a Person is No Small Thing,” from Diane Williams’ new collection Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine. It’s an intense snapshot of a moment in a relationship, told with a surreal precision:
I ripped off some leaves and clipped stem ends, with my new spouse, from a spray of fluorescent daisies he’d bought for me, and I asserted something unpleasant just then.
Yes, the flowers were cheerful with aggressive petals, but in a few days I’d hate them when they were spent.
Since I’m writing a novel set in the past, I suppose you could call it a historical novel. But as Alexander Chee observes in a great essay for The New Republic, the genre has often been scoffed at, mocked as neither true history nor truly literary fiction. Chee describes the intricate balance of creating a fresh understanding within the “old consciousness” of the past:
Looking into the past is like finding yourself with the belongings of some newly dead distant relative, and the haphazard pattern of their life is revealed with each new object put up for auction. One piece reveals the truth of another, and that of another, and a pattern begins to emerge—the novel itself.
We all know that English is weird language: its quirks of spelling alone are so bizarre that it often confounds foreign learners. In a fascinating history of the English language at Aeon magazine, John McWhorter takes us through the strange story of the evolution of English under the influence of Celts, Scandinavians, and Normans.
There is no other language, for example, that is close enough to English that we can get about half of what people are saying without training and the rest with only modest effort.
Top image of a simulation of two black holes colliding courtesy of NASA.