• Adoniss Poems of Ruin and Renewal

    AdonissSongs of Mihyar the Damasceneis the central book of poems in modern Arabic literature. Published in 1961, its status in Arabic is comparable toThe Waste Landin English orDuino Elegiesin German. (Adonis collaborated on a translation of Eliots long poem while writingMihyar). Like those works of European high modernism, Adoniss collection is poetry of large and explicit ambitions. It evokes classical, Koranic, and Biblical sources on almost every page, even when announcing its own originality. It is a work of visionary exultation and powerful melancholy. It imagines a world of blight and barrenness and picks through the ruins for hints of resurrection.

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  • Arab films: Seven independent movies to watch out for

    For many years, the Arab presence at theCannes Film Festivalhas been predicable andtiresome. While the number of participating films has substantially increased, the all-too-familiar themes, subjects and forms remained unchanged. But this was not the case in 2019 – or at least not entirely.

    This year, the independently run sidebars of the festival, known as Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight, demonstrated a boldness and unpredictability – even frivolity in their choiceof films, which was absent from the official line-up, including the main competition.

    This was especially obvious when it came to Arab productions. The official selection opted for the obvious. Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight, on the other hand, selected a deliciously acerbic religious satire, a brilliantly opaque thriller, and possibly the most bonkers Arab picture that has been screened on the French Riviera.

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  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Believes in Humane Capitalism

    Were living in a time in which I feel a sense of urgency, saysChimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian author of Americanah and the viral 2012 TEDx Talk We Should All Be Feminists, a slogan that has reverberated its way into a Beyonc song and onto tote bags and Dior t-shirts. This month, she has again merged personal aesthetics with political values in a collaboration with the fine jewelry brand Foundrae: all of the retail proceeds from her Freedom of Expression medallion, which employs Foundraes signature lexicon of dainty symbols, will benefit PEN America, a nonprofit that promotes the intersection of literature and human rights. I used to joke, many years ago, thank God for PEN because if the Nigerian government ever throws me in prison at least somebody will care, says Adichie. Today, shes savoring Edith Wharton novels and spending time with her daughter to combat the constant barrage of outraging news. As she says, our time here is short and we need to make the most of it.

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  • In Praise of Public Libraries

    Years ago, I lived in a remote mountain town that had never had a public library. The town was one of the largest in New York State by area but small in population, with a couple thousand residents spread out over about two hundred square miles. By the time my husband and I moved there, the town had lost most of its economic basein the nineteenth century it had supported a number of tanneries and millsand our neighbors were mainly employed seasonally, if at all. When the regional library systems bookmobile was taken out of service, the town had no easy access to books. The town board proposed a small tax increase to fund a library, something on the order of ten dollars per household. It was soundly defeated. The dominant sentiments seemed to be leave well enough alone and who needs books? Then there was the man who declared that libraries are communist.

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  • The Truth Is Hard. But for a New York Times Lawyer, Defending It Is Fun.

    For many Americans, the greatest reason to cheer during the sleepy, low-scoring game that was Super Bowl LIII was not the Patriots victory. In certain circles, it was the highly anticipated,multimillion-dollar commercial produced bythe Washington Post, featuring the voice of Tom Hanks and heroic footage of journalists from various outlets that proclaimed, over a soaring score, these simple truths: Knowing empowers us, knowing helps us decide, knowing keeps us free.

    It was a good ad, inspiring even. Who doesnt love Tom Hanks? But you could find The Washington Post commercial uplifting and also saddening, insofar as it was deemed necessary.

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  • A Suspense Novelists Trail of Deceptions

    Dan Mallory, a book editor turned novelist, is tall, good-looking, and clever. His novel, The Woman in the Window, which was published under a lightly worn pseudonym, A.J. Finn, was the hit psychological thriller of the past year. Like Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (2012), and The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (2015), each of which has sold millions of copies, Mallorys novel, published in January, 2018, features an unreliable first-person female narrator, an apparent murder, and a possible psychopath.

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  • Life Size: A Day in the City

    When Sergio Garca Snchez, a Spanish comic-book artist, was given the opportunity to fill a whole room in a museum, he turned to his iPad and decided to sketch, in black-and-white, a single day in a bustling city. The result, produced entirely on an iPad, stretches almost a hundred feet long by five feet high, and just opened at the Centro Jos Guerrero, in Granada, Spain.

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  • Richard E. Grant on How to Survive Awards Season With Flair

    An Oscar would certainly be nice, butRichard E. Grantdoesnt need a golden statue to walk away from this awards season as a winner.

    The 61-year-old actor landed his first Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Jack Hock, the loyal accomplice of author-turned-literary-forger Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) in the biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me?

    Unlike most actors who become jaded by the grind that comes with awards season its punishing schedule of screenings, interviews on late-night shows, and grip and grins Grant isnt taking a single moment for granted.

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  • The Elusive Langston Hughes

    Bythe time the British artist Isaac Juliens iconic short essay-film Looking for Langston was released, in 1989, Juliens ostensible subject, the enigmatic poet and race man Langston Hughes, had been dead for twenty-two years, but the search for his real story was still ongoing. There was a senseparticularly among gay men of color, like Julien, who had so few out ancestors and wanted to claim the prolific, uneven, but significant writer as one of their ownthat some essential things about Hughes had been obscured or disfigured in his work and his memoirs. Born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902, and transplanted to New York City as a strikingly handsome nineteen-year-old, Hughes became, with the publication of his first book of poems, The Weary Blues (1926), a prominent New Negro: modern, pluralistic in his beliefs, and a member of what the folklorist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston called the niggerati, a loosely formed alliance of black writers and intellectuals that included Hurston, the author and diplomat James Weldon Johnson, the openly gay poet and artist Richard Bruce Nugent, and the novelists Nella Larsen, Jessie Fauset, and Wallace Thurman (whose 1929 novel about color fixation among blacks, The Blacker the Berry, conveys some of the energy of the time).

    In a 1926 essay forThe Nation, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, Hughes described the group, which came together during the Harlem Renaissance, when hanging out uptown was considered a lesson in cool:

    We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased, we are glad. If they are not, it doesnt matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are. If they are not, their displeasure doesnt matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.

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  • The Top 100 photos of 2018

    From tragedy to celebration, from promising beginnings to somber farewells, these images capture a momentous 2018.

    Through photographers lenses, we saw traumatized students led from bloody classrooms and watched California burn. We said goodbye to the worlds last male northern white rhino, and looked in the eyes of political leaders under scrutiny in a divisive time.

    Amid the adversity and conflict, there were moments of inspiration, too: a royal wedding that showed a modern marriage; an Olympic athlete flying breathtakingly high.

    Photographers pointed their cameras in every direction around the world to reveal these scenes at times risking their own safety and brought us along as virtual witnesses. Here, TIMEs photo editors present an unranked selection of the 100 best images of the year.

    Warning: Some of the following images are graphic in nature and might be disturbing to some viewers.

    Click Here to See the Photos

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  • Sponsored by my husband

    Heres my life. My husband and I get up each morning at 7 oclock and he showers while I make coffee. By the time hes dressed Im already sitting at my desk writing. He kisses me goodbye then leaves for the job where he makes good money, draws excellent benefits and gets many perks, such as travel, catered lunches and full reimbursement for the gym where I attend yoga midday. His career has allowed me to work only sporadically, as a consultant, in a field I enjoy.

    All that disclosure is crass, I know. Im sorry. Because in this world where women will sit around discussing the various topiary shapes of their bikini waxes, the conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why? I think its the Marie Antoinette syndrome: Those with privilege and luck dont want the riffraff knowing the details. After all, if “those people understood the differences in our lives, they might revolt. Or, God forbid, not see us as somehow more special, talented and/or deserving than them.

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  • Syrias Women Prisoners

    This is Hiam, a 65-year-old woman smoking a cigarette and sipping matteh, a warm herbal drink popular in Syria. It is a moment of solitude in a soul-crushing place; the bed is a prison bed. Hiam spent two and a half years in prison, most likely for the simple reason that she came from an area that rebelled against President Bashar al-Assads government.

    The artist who drew her, Azza Abo Rebieh, was one of 30 women sharing a cell with Hiam in the Adra prison in Damascus. Then 36, Ms. Abo Rebieh was on her own surreal journey through the Syrian security system, detained because of her art and her activism.

    Ms. Abo Rebiehs artwork, from the start of Syrias uprising in 2011, held up a mirror to a society in turmoil. Risking arrest, she painted graffiti murals about the protest movement. After security forces cracked down and some in the opposition took up arms, she helped smuggle food and medicine to people displaced by fighting.

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  • In Conversation With Mary Beard

    There are some reading experiences that make me gasp with horrified recognition on every page. Mary Beards new book, Women & Power, is one of them. Composed of two lectures that the Cambridge classicist gave at the British Museum, it contains her thoughts on women in public and in politics, from Medusa to Merkel.

    I met up with her in D.C. while she was in town to give a lecture at the Embassy of Italy. We sat in overstuffed armchairs next to a massive fireplace in the lobby of her hotel. While two little boys chased each other around the lobby, shrieking in French, we talked for over an hour about what it takes to fight misogyny and the future of women in the public sphere.

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  • What Is Possible

    In California, my mom worked an entry-level job at what now might be called a Silicon Valley tech business. It made audiocassettes. My dad made peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and popcorn. He picked me up from preschool, strapping me into the yellow child seat mounted at the back of his bike. He had a mustache and sideburns and not much more hair than that, and on his bike I toured the campus of the university where he was studying and went to swimming class and the grocery store, and at his side on our sofa I watched cartoons on our small black-and-white TV, a TV in which I always saw colors, though I was told by friends that this wasnt possible.

    My dad never told me that it wasnt possible. He was my buddy, and we made model planes and ant terrariums, and went hiking in the hills and swimming in Lake Lagunita, which in those days was sometimes dry and sometimes not. We fed butterflies sugar water and watched them unfurl what we called their tongues and drink.

    My mom drove to work every weekday morning in our secondhand blue Datsun and drove back every evening in time to make us dinner. She brought home the bacon, in my mind. (Of the non-pork variety, I ought to add, given that we were a Muslim family, though Im not sure I was aware that there was such a thing as religious identity, back then.)

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  • Comforting Myths

    Before he died, my father reminded me that when I was four and he asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a writer. Of course, what I meant by writer then was a writer of Superman comics. In part I was infatuated with the practically invulnerable Man of Steel, his blue eyes and his spit curl. I wanted both to be him and to marry himto be his Robin, so to speak. But more importantly, I wanted to write his story, the adventures of the man who fought for truth, justice, and the American Wayif only I could figure out what the fuck the American Way was.

    How could I tell the story with such glaring holes in my knowledge? I was terribly bothered that I did not know what the American Way was, and became even more so when I began to wonder whether there was such a thing as the Lebanese Way and whether I would recognize it. My parents were Lebanese, but I was born in Jordan, raised in Kuwait. Could my way be Kuwaiti and not Lebanese? Since most of my classmates were Palestinians, I had a Ramallah accent. Did that mean Id lost my way?

    I wanted to tell stories that belonged to me. Superman would be my friend, his world mine. In a single bound, he would leap the tallest buildings, basically my house and my cousins across the street. My Superman would be more powerful than a locomotive, stronger than my fathers red Rambler. I wished to share my story with the world, and it did not occur to me at that age to ask whether the world had any interest.

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  • Books Where Photography Meets Essays

    Design-wise, the most famous collaboration between a writer and a photographer did not end up looking like much of a collaboration at all. Walker Evans contributed a preface to the 1960 reissue of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the study of poor tenant farmers in Alabama, originally published in 1941; Walker crops up a number of times in James Agees text, but a formal separation is maintained between the tenderly austere photographs of families and their homes printed at the beginning and the 400 pages of Agees highly wrought, much-agonized-over text. This, for Gore Vidal, was no bad thing, because it left Evanss austere photos untainted by what good-hearted, soft-headed admirers of the Saint James (Agee) version so loved about the sharecroppers gospel.

    When it comes to the relationship between a critic or curator writing about photographers or photography, the results span the spectrum of exclusion, segregation and integration. There is not a single photograph in Susan Sontags classic On Photography. At the other extreme, the exquisite silence of the plates in lavish monographs is sometimes protected by only the slimmest prefaces or afterwords. At all points in between, the word-image ratio shifts constantly between the writing informing the pictures and the pictures illustrating the writing. But there is one form the simplest in many ways that permits and encourages a uniquely intimate relationship between writer and photographer.

    John Szarkowski was for many years the head of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2000, in the twilight of a provocative, highly influential career, he published Atget, a selection of 100 images by the French photographer Eugne Atget, each reproduced on the recto page with an accompanying caption-essay on the facing verso page. With Szarkowski as the best kind of guide one whose itinerary allows interludes of undisturbed contemplation we wind our way through the haunts of old Paris, emerging from time-shuttered streets into the open skies of the surrounding countryside. Szarkowski had always been a distinctive stylist, but this format enabled him to give free rein to his talents as a writer, which were usually securely tethered by curatorial obligation. He also drew confidence, I think, from an earlier assay at the same form, Looking at Photographs (1973), in which he used a single picture by each of the most important photographers in the museums holdings to compile a radically synecdochic survey of the mediums history. The obligation to cover so much ground, to balance what he had to say about so many major figures on such slender plinths, rather limited Szarkowskis range of literary and thematic movement. With Atget whose photographs, appropriately enough, were originally offered as Documents for Artists the combination of abundance of subject matter and limited space encouraged a kind of tight flourishing or contained extravagance. Szarkowskis knowledge of Atgets work was so extensive that he had scarcely even to think about what he knew. And so the photographs serve as starting-off points for reflections on all sorts of things, including how photography has changed our view of the world: I do not think that empty chairs meant the same thing before photography as they mean to us now.

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  • Hong Kongs Missing Booksellers

    When the police officer didnt laugh, Lam Wing-kee knew he was in trouble. In his two decades as owner and manager of Hong Kongs Causeway Bay Books, Lam had honed a carefully nonchalant routine when caught smuggling books into mainland China: apologize, claim ignorance, offer a cigarette to the officers, crack a joke. For most of his career, the routine was foolproof.

    Thin and wiry, with an unruly pouf of side-swept gray hair and a wisp of mustache, Lam was carrying a wide mix of books that day: breathless political thrillers, bodice-rippers and a handful of dry historical tomes. The works had only two things in common: Readers hungered for them, and each had been designated contraband by the Communist Partys Central Leading Group for Propaganda and Ideology. For decades, Lams bookstore had thrived despite the ban or maybe because of it. Operating just 20 miles from the mainland city of Shenzhen, in a tiny storefront sandwiched between a pharmacy and an upscale lingerie store, Causeway was a destination for Chinese tourists, seasoned local politicians and even, surreptitiously, Communist Party members themselves, anyone hoping for a peek inside the purges, intraparty feuding and silent coups that are scrubbed from official histories. Lam was an expert on what separated the good banned books from the bad, the merely scandalous from the outright sensational. He found books that toed the line between rumor and reality.

    Other retailers avoided the mainland market, but through years of trial and error, Lam had perfected a series of tricks to help his books avoid detection. He shipped only to busy ports, where packages were less likely to be checked. He slipped on false dust covers. Lam was stopped only once, in 2012. By the end of that six-hour interrogation, he was chatting with the officers like old friends and sent home with a warning.

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  • A Literary Road Trip Into the Heart of Russia

    Russia is a land of stories. Stories of the czar and his people, of Lenin and the revolution, of the Great Patriotic War; of the transformation of a backward land into a might, modern industrial state; of Sputnik, of Laika, of Gagarin. Then the story of Stalins reign of terror, the story of a country that ossified and stagnated and eventually collapsed, the story of Vladimir Putin, the K.G.B. officer who climbed to power amid chaos and re-established order. And how did he do that? With stories of the past, retold in such a way that everything in them led up to and justified the Russia that exists today.

    For almost my entire life, these stories have exerted a powerful pull on me. When I was growing up, Russia was not only closed, and therefore mysterious, it was presented as our antithesis: We were free, the Russians were oppressed; we were good, the Russians were evil. When I got older and started to read, the situation become more complicated, because it was from Russia that the best and most intense literature came: Dostoyevskys Crime and Punishment, Tolstoys War and Peace, Gogols Diary of a Madman. What sort of a country as this where the souls were so deep and the spirits so wild? And why was it there that the thought of the profound inherent injustice of the class society was transformed into action, first by the revolution of 1917 and then by the proletariats 70-year dictatorship? And why did a beautiful story about the equality of all human beings end in horror, inhuman brutality and misery?

    Russia is still an enigmatic country to me. Every day there is news from Russia we hear about Putin, about his imprisoned dissidents, about his meddling in the elections of his rivals all of it serving the notion that Russia is a singular, comprehensible, clear-cut entity. But what do the people who live inside of that entity think? What is Russia to them, what are the stories they tell themselves? A hundred years after the revolution, 25 years after the fall of Communism?

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  • Can Hollywood Change Its Ways?

    I’m calling it the Purge, a friend who works in Hollywood told me, a few days into the post-Weinstein era. Off the top of his head, he listed half a dozen men in the entertainment business whose behavior, he hoped, would no longer be condoned. In the weeks to come, they started toppling, joined by others, in a seemingly never-ending cascade, the worlds longest domino trick. The morning-news anchor, the worldly talk-show host, the animation genius with the awful shirts, feminist men, liberals, tortured artists, moguls, icons, bad boys, funny guys, even the folksy curmudgeon from public radio: they are being fired; stepping down; awkwardly apologizing, engendering ridicule and pique; or defending themselves and inviting rage. Then, like a backward rapture, they disappear, with the tacit or expressed acknowledgment that this is not their time.

    Amy Ziering, a documentarian who has made films about sexual assault in the military and on college campuses and is now at work on one about Hollywoodsuddenly, funding has materializedtold me, Im stunned. I keep reading the headlines, thinking, Am I reading the Onion or the New York Times? Man Accused of Assault and Fired! Its surreal.

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  • Ten of Our Top Stories from 2017

    This year has certainly been a memorable one for The Paris Review, with more than a few moments that tried our resolve. But we prefer to remember it as a landmark year, measured out by four extraordinary issues that included Hilton Alss imaginary biopic about James Baldwin and Nina Simone, the fiction debuts of J. M. Holmes and J. Jezewska Stevens, and an interview with Maxine Groffsky, one of the magazines first female editors, which reads like a page-turning feminist adventure story. This was the year we launched our podcast (there are six episodes to carry you into the new year, and many more to come) and reintroduced the Paris Review Editions imprint with the Women at Work interview anthology. As of this writing, the volume is sold out, but sign up for our newsletter: the next book is already underway.

    And here on the Daily, weve been publishing exciting new writing, well, daily. When I took over this post in September, I was nervous. My predecessor, Dan Piepenbring, had left big shoes to fill (as well as, it turned out, actual high-heeled shoes behind the desk, though he has denied ownership). Since the 2016 election, I have been filled with an existential dread that only seems to recede when I felt I was doing something worthwhile. Three months in, I can proclaim with absolute certainty that what were doing on the Daily and at The Paris Review is more than worthwhileits essential. In a year of constant, terrifying news alerts, we have carved out a space for humor, for reflection, for going deep and going wide, and for capturing our moment not through its tweets but through its culture. Its easy to get lost in despair. We want to make it easy, too, to get lost in writing that makes us feel reinvigorated, hopeful, and less alone.

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  • Alternative Narratives, Historical Documents

    Caught in the London Underground during German air raids in 1940, the famous British sculptor Henry Moore drew the terrorized individuals around him. The artist effectively became an eyewitness reporter, his Shelter Drawings a symbol against Nazi aggression and a remarkable and haunting historical record.

    Palestinian artist Samia Halabys stirring body of work Documentary Drawings of the Kafr Qasem Massacre, is the result of a decade of research and an exercise in remembrance as it depicts the murders of 49 Palestinian civilians by Israeli border guards in 1956.

    Notwithstanding the overload of photographs especially through social media, there has in recent years also been a growing use of illustration to raise awareness, inform audiences and to tell stories. NGOs have been making use of this much more artisanal medium, to capture and recount Syrian refugees lives. SyriaUntold has also been using illustrations with a number of articles since first doing so with Shadi Whose Mail was Too Late, in June 2017.

    British illustrator George Butler put forward that illustrations dont need to be competing with photographs, but I think they connect more powerfully with a smaller number of people, I think they are great tools for engaging people who care and understand. I think they can stick in your mind for life. I think they stand out in a world obsessed with photography.

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  • The Other Susan Sontag

    Seriousness, for Susan Sontag, was a flashing machete to swing at the thriving vegetation of American philistinism. The philistinism sprang from our barbarismand our barbarism had conquered the world. Todays America, she wrote in 1966, with Ronald Reagan the new daddy of California and John Wayne chawing spareribs in the White House, is pretty much the same Yahooland that Mencken was describing. Intellectuals, doomed to tramp through an absurd century, were to inflict their seriousness on Governor Reagan and President Johnsonand on John Wayne, spareribs, and the whole shattered, voluptuous culture.

    The point was to be serious about power and serious about pleasure: cherish literature, relish films, challenge domination, release yourself into the rapture of sexual needbut be thorough about it. Seriousness is really a virtue for me, Sontag wrote in her journal after a night at the Paris opera. She was twenty-four. Decades later, and months before she died, she mounted a stage in South Africa to declare that all writers should love words, agonize over sentences, pay attention to the world, and, crucially, be serious.

    Only a figure of such impossible status would dare to glorify a mood. Here was a woman who had barged into the culture with valiant attempts at experimental fiction (largely unread) and experimental cinema (largely unseen) and yet whose blazing essays in Partisan Review and The New York Review of Books won her that rare combination of aesthetic and moral prestige. She was a youthful late modernist who, late in life, published two vast historical novels that turned to previous centuries for both their setting and their narrative blueprint; and a seer whose prophecies were promptly revised after every bashing encounter with mass callousness and political failure. The Vietnam War, Polish Solidarity, aids, the Bosnian genocide, and 9/11 drove her to revoke old opinions and brandish new ones with equal vigor. In retrospect, her positions are less striking than her posethat bold faith in her power as an eminent, vigilant, properly public intellectual to chasten and to instruct.

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  • An algorithm to write a bestselling novel

    Its the multimillion pound question that publishers and writers have been pondering for decades: what makes a bestseller? Attempting to write one could certainly pay off the highest-paid author in the world, JK Rowling, has made $95m (70m) in the past year, and the 10 highest-paid authors in the world earned more than $310m between them, according to Forbes.

    But few authors will see that kind of cash. The average annual income for a UK writer is 12,000, well below the minimum wage for a full-time job, a recent European commission report found. The Authors Licensing and Collecting Society says professional authors have experienced a 29% drop in income in real terms since 2005, with the top 5% earning 42% of the money made by UK writers. And the bottom 50% struggle to generate even 7% of the total income.

    The promotional budget for a book is usually related to the advance, with celebrity authors attracting more than their fair share of publishers marketing spends, regardless of the quality of their work. And marketing budgets matter: according to the International Publishers Association, UK publishers released 173,000 titles in 2015. Thats more than 19 every hour over a year, and the highest number of new titles per million inhabitants in the world.

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  • A Novelists Response to the Refugee Crisis

    Earlier this summer, my family spent a week in an Italian village near Menton, just over the border that Italy shares with southern France. Dry hills, the azure Mediterranean, scents of rosemary and lavender, a lemon tree in the garden. Well, lucky us. Daily, we crossed the border into France and back again into Italy. We didnt have to stop, and the listless border guards barely glanced at our respectable little hired car, with its four white occupants. They were a good deal more interested in the African migrants, who gathered with persistent hopelessness on the Italian side of the border, just a few feet from the guard post. We saw the young men everywhere in that Italian hinterlandusually in groups of two or three, walking along the road, climbing the hills, sitting on a wall. They were tall, dark-skinned, conspicuous because they were wearing too many clothes for the warm Riviera weather. We learned that they had made their way to Italy from various African countries and were now desperate to get into France, either to stay there or to push on farther, to Britain and Germany. You might see them in the hills, the genial woman who gave us the key to our house said. Nothing to be alarmed about. There have been no problemsyet. Near that house, there was a makeshift sign, in Arabic and English: Migrants, please do not throw your garbage into the nature. Use the plastic bags you see on the private road.

    I had read moving articles and essays about the plight of people like theseI had read several of those pieces out loud to my children; I had watched terrible reports from the BBC, and the almost unbearable Italian documentary Fire at Sea. And so what? What good are the right feelings if they are only right feelings? I was just a moral flaneur. From inside my speeding car, I regarded those men with compassion, shame, indignation, curiosity, profound ignorance, all of it united in a conveniently vague conviction that, as Edward VIII famously said of mass unemployment in the nineteen-thirties, something must be done. But not so that it would disturb my week of vacation. I am like some flat character in a comic novel, who sits every night at the dinner table and repetitively, despicably intones, without issue or effect, This is the central moral question of our time. And, of course, such cleansing self-reproach is merely part of liberalisms dance of survival. Its not just that we are morally impotent; the continuation of our comfortable lives rests on the continuationon the successof that impotence. We see suffering only intermittently, and our days make safe spaces for these interruptions.

    Jenny Erpenbecks magnificent novel Go, Went, Gone (New Directions, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky) is about the central moral question of our time, and among its many virtues is that it is not only alive to the suffering of people who are very different from us but alive to the false consolations of telling moving stories about people who are very different from us. Erpenbeck writes about Richard, a retired German academic, whose privileged, orderly life is transformed by his growing involvement in the lives of a number of African refugeesutterly powerless, unaccommodated men, who have ended up, via the most arduous routes, in wealthy Germany. The risks inherent in making fiction out of the encounter between privileged Europeans and powerless dark-skinned non-Europeans are immense: earnestness without rigor, the mere confirmation of the right kind of political concern, sentimental didacticism. A journey of transformation, in which the white European is spiritually renewed, almost at the expense of his darkly exotic subjects, is familiar enough from German Romanticism; you can imagine a contemporary version, in which the novelist traffics in the most supple kind of self-protective self-criticism. Go, Went, Gone is not that kind of book.

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  • Serbias weird & wonderful pop music

    We dont always give pop music the analytical attention it merits. This is especially true when the music in question comes from non-Western countries and incorporates folk elements. After all, this kind of dancefloor-filler presents a higher access barrier for Western audiences and brings with it associations of kitsch, Eurovision and backward rural hinterlands untouched by wifi and non-binary gender classifications.

    Yet here hidden treasures lie. As mainstream Western pop stews in its own Instagram-friendly feelgood mediocrity year on year, I cant stop listening to eastern European pop-folk from Ukraines otherworldly Onuka, who marry traditional local instruments with electronica, ethereal vocals and the occasional theremin, to Hungarys Olh Gerg?, who augments Romani folk with trap-pop and modern choreography, and Bulgarias chalga music, a sort of sexed-up post-Ottoman reggaeton with a healthy sense of absurdity. But my favourite of all is Serbias turbofolk genre.

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