In Praise of Libraries with Books, Cormac McCarthy’s Writing Advice, and the Nobel Gets Woke
Good morning.Auberon Waugh said he preferred “the vituperative arts”—that is criticism and journalism—to fiction, but “the trouble with being a vituperator,” Henry Hitchings writes, “is that your writing is likely to lose its zest as soon as your objects of opprobrium recede from view.”
Cormac McCarthy’s advice for clear science writing.
Oh dear: “Next week, the Swedish Academy will announce not one Nobel literature laureate but two, as the prize seeks to move on from a year of unprecedented scandal. The head of the award’s committee is confident the prize can make a comeback by avoiding the ‘male-oriented’ and ‘Eurocentric’ perspective that has dominated judging in the past.”
Ben Sixsmith reviews Tom Holland’s Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World: “Holland is a novelist and historian, whose elegant prose, good humor, and keen sense for an arresting image has been matched by a instinct for scholarly adventure. In his In the Shadow of the Sword, for example, Holland argued, in the face of some amount of Islamist intimidation, that the evidence for the historical truth of the origin stories of Islam is lacking. In Dominion he takes on the cheerful prejudices of secular liberalism. A great strength of Holland’s book is how it takes the reader back to when Christianity was not institutional and traditional but new and revolutionary.”
Many university libraries have changed study spaces into tech spaces and replaced physical books with e-texts. Students, it turns out, don’t like the change: “Survey data and experts suggest that students generally appreciate libraries most for their simple, traditional offerings: a quiet place to study or collaborate on a group project, the ability to print research papers, and access to books. Notably, many students say they like relying on librarians to help them track down hard-to-find texts or navigate scholarly journal databases . . . So-called digital natives still crave opportunities to use libraries as libraries, and many actively seek out physical texts—92 percent of the college students surveyed in a 2015 study, for example, said they preferred paper books to electronic versions. (Plus, a growing body of evidence shows that physical books and papers are more conducive to learning than digital formats are.) The dean of learning and technology resources at one of the six campuses of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) recently told me about a student he had met: Upon learning that her campus library had only the e-book version of a text she needed to read, the woman opted to make the trek to another campus a nearly half-hour commute away that had the hard copy. A 2016 survey of students at Webster University in Washington, D.C., also illustrates limited use of digital resources, finding that just 18 percent of students accessed e-books ‘frequently’ or ‘very frequently,’ compared with 42 percent who never used them.”
Jeff Koons’s tulip sculpture is finally installed in Paris: “They took three years to blossom, but Jeff Koons’s tulips are finally in full bloom. At a ceremony in Paris on Friday, the American artist dedicated a new sculpture to friendship between France and the United States, and to the victims of recent terrorist attacks in the city and across the European country. The ceremony drew a three-year saga to a close, in which French cultural figures quarreled about the monument’s location and significance, and questioned Mr. Koons’s motives in creating it.”
Essay of the Day:
In The Atlantic, Rebecca Boyle writes about recent research on the effects of artificial light on plants and animals:
“Since 2010, the scientific literature has exploded with research examining light’s effects on individual species, from birds to fish to trees to humans. The news, in general, isn’t good. Artificial light changes animal migration and reproduction, tree leaf growth, bird nesting and fledging, pollination, human sleep, and much more. It even affects the spread of diseases. In July, researchers reported that West Nile–virus–infected house sparrows that live in light- polluted conditions are infectious for two days longer than those that live in darkness are, increasing the risk of a West Nile outbreak by 41 percent.
“But none of this happens in a vacuum. The Lake Lab allows researchers to study how the effects of artificial light cascade through entire ecosystems—in this case, through bacteria, plankton, algae, and fish.
“As a research station studying broad environmental change, the Lake Lab is a microcosm of the larger, uncontrolled experiment humans have been conducting on the planet since the start of the industrial age. But the lab is a version that we can control. It is a place where scientists can determine just how bad things have become, and how we can make them better.
“Light is the basis for all life, but it is more than just a source of energy. It is also a source of information, telling organisms when to sleep, hunt, hide, migrate, metabolize, and reproduce. Since the advent of incandescent light bulbs, humans have been interfering with those messages. And the interference is worsening with the spread of LEDs, which consume less electricity and so are often brighter and stay on longer and later than their predecessors.
“Since 2012, when a satellite began taking detailed measurements, light emissions have been rising at a rate of 2.2 percent a year on average. Previous work showed that light emissions are growing by as much as 20 percent in some regions. This is faster than the average annual growth of the global economy, the global population, and emissions of carbon dioxide.”
Poem: Jessica Hornik, “Recuerdo, January”
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