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Dictionary Wars, William Blake Gets His Due, and the Blackest Black

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After a bookseller erroneously marked Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments as the winner of the Booker Prize, the committee noted that a winner has not yet been selected. I’ll say more later, but it shouldn’t have even been put on the Booker’s shortlist.

In other news: Merriam-Webster has added a “non-binary” definition of “they,” and the Oxford Dictionaries are reviewing its definitions after receiving a petition demanding it eliminate all entries that “patronize” women. (A word with an interesting history, by the way.) The dictionary is also being asked to “enlarge the dictionary’s entry for ‘woman’.” You see, the word “man” has 25 different usages, whereas “woman” only has five, and the petitioners, who apparently have no idea how language or dictionaries work, are asking Oxford to increase the number of usages for “woman.”

Michael Pye reviews Stella Tillyard’s novel Call Upon the Water: “The English fenlands are a gift for a writer. Full of risk, they’re marshes where islands form out of silt and reeds, drift and then break apart, where the boundaries between land and water can’t be drawn for sure. One push and “a man can disappear here in an instant.” Aside from bird calls and nighttime lantern lights on the water, the most recognizable evidence of life is the tangle of glinting eels that swarm under boats as they slip out with the tide. The fenlands also have their tragedy, which begins the moment man starts changing them. Stella Tillyard’s sometimes lovely, sometimes infuriating new novel, Call Upon the Water, starts in the middle of the 17th century with the draining of the Great Level, the marshland around the Wash on the east coast of England. ‘Gentlemen adventurers’ want to take the land to make rich plantations.”

William Blake gets his due at the Tate: “The show is chronological and delights in . . . detail.”

A blacker black has been created at MIT. It captures 99.99% of light.

Adam Weinstein reviews Edward Snowden’s new memoir, Permanent Record: “Despite Macmillan’s black op to keep the book under wraps, over the past year, New York literary circles have buzzed with the news that novelist (and a contributor to The New Republic) Joshua Cohen had signed on as the famed whistle-blower’s literary interlocutor, traveling to Russia over the course of eight months to help Snowden, now 36, organize and improve his narrative. As book gossip goes, it all seemed a bit amusing; to cover his tracks, Cohen took to telling friends that he was ghostwriting a memoir for Elizabeth Warren. Cohen confirmed those rumors—over an encrypted phone app—to The New Republic in August, not that anyone expected his participation to be much of a secret after publication: Snowden thanks Cohen in the book’s acknowledgments. Enlisting a noted fiction writer to tell his life story might strike casual observers as odd, but Snowden and Cohen are both obsessed with the ways in which tech has transformed self and society.”

The physical demands of chess: “At 5-foot-6, Caruana has a lean frame, his legs angular and toned. He also has a packed schedule for the day: a 5-mile run, an hour of tennis, half an hour of basketball and at least an hour of swimming. As he’s jogging, it’s easy to mistake him for a soccer player. But he is not. This body he has put together is not an accident. Caruana is, in fact, an American grandmaster in chess, the No. 2 player in the world. His training partner, Chirila? A Romanian grandmaster. And they’re doing it all to prepare for the physical demands of … chess? Yes, chess.”

Essay of the Day:

In Commentary, Terry Teachout tells the story of Django Reinhardt, the only “European-born . . . full-fledged giant of jazz”:

“Born in Belgium in 1910 and raised in a horse-drawn Gypsy caravan, Reinhardt did not learn to read or write until adulthood and never learned how to read music. Sensitive about his lack of education, he concealed his self-consciousness by affecting a casual attitude toward his career, showing up at gigs and recording sessions whenever it suited him to do so, if he bothered to come at all. Philip Larkin, a staunch admirer, described him as ‘fond of gambling, too proud to carry his guitar, and almost entirely unreliable.’

“The only thing about Reinhardt on which it was possible to rely was his iron determination to play the guitar as well as it could be played. A child prodigy who started performing at the age of 12, he permanently damaged the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand in a 1928 fire. This forced him to reconstruct his technique from scratch, which he did with awe-inspiring completeness.”

Read the rest.

Photo:Capo Caccia

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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