Two female war workers play ping-pong at the YWCA war workers’ club in Yeovil, Somerset, England, 1944.
- I speak only English, so I write in English, too. And though for years this seemed to me the natural state of affairs, it might just be that I’m economically and politically undiscerning. As Tim Parks writes, “Ever since Jhumpa Lahiri published In Other Words, her small memoir in Italian, people have been asking me, Why don’t you write in Italian, Tim? You’ve been in the country thirty-five years, after all. What keeps you tied to English? Is it just a question of economic convenience? … But beyond any understandable opportunism, there is often a genuine idealism and internationalism in the decision to change language. If you have ‘a message’ and if English is the language that offers maximum diffusion, then it would seem appropriate to use it. In the 1950s, the rebellious and free-spirited Dutch novelist Gerard van de Reve felt that the Dutch language and culture was simply not open enough and not big enough for an artist with important things to say. Van de Reve moved to England in 1953, dropped the exotic ‘van de’ from his surname, and set about writing in his adopted language … Writing in another language is successful when there is a genuine, long-term need to switch languages (often accompanied by serious trauma), and when the new linguistic and social context the author is moving in meshes positively with his or her ambitions and talents.”
- Sup, speed reader? You think you’re so cool, with your fast retinas and your fancy apps. I think you’re a fraud. And the Gray Lady has my back: “In fact, since the 1960s, experiments have repeatedly confirmed that when people ‘speed read,’ they simply do not comprehend the parts of the text that their eyes skip over. A deeper problem, however—and the one that also threatens the new speed-reading apps is that the big bottleneck in reading isn’t perception (seeing the words) but language processing (assembling strings of words into meanings). Have you ever tried listening to an audio recording with the speaking rate dialed way up? Doubling the speed, in our experience, leaves individual words perfectly identifiable—but makes it just about impossible to follow the meaning. The same phenomenon occurs with written text.”
- Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe wrote, respectively, the first book in English by a woman and the first autobiography in English by a woman. Their manuscripts are being shown together at the Wellcome Center, but only one of them has a discovery story involving Ping-Pong. “Only one known manuscript exists of Margery Kempe’s story: its whereabouts were unknown from around 1520 until the 1930s, when it was discovered in the cupboard of a country house during a game of Ping-Pong. One of the players stepped on the ball and while searching for another, the Book of Margery Kempe manuscript fell out of a cupboard.”
- Meanwhile, in Culver City: a pair of sisters have opened the first-ever “exclusively romance brick-and-mortar bookstore.” “The Ripped Bodice is a clean, well-lit place, devoted to the many subgenres of romance, such as cowboys, aliens, Vikings, biker dudes, and the paranormal. There’s also a large erotic section, a Spanish-language area, and plenty for young adults, as well as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer communities. In the historical section, books include Jane Austen spin-offs and romantic tales among tartan-clad Scottish highlanders. ‘Love can come in many forms,’ says Bea, twenty-six, with a smile.”
- In which Emma Cline offers a tour of her writing room, an old garden shed in Brooklyn one block from the Gowanus Canal: “It reminds me of the cruddy little outbuildings I saw a lot of growing up in Northern California—the sloping floor, the amateur carpentry. We still haven’t finished the ceiling and it’s been three years … The best thing about working in such a small room, especially one without Internet access, is the sense of compression, a winnowing down to the essential things. Even one other person makes the space feel crowded. There’s really not very much to do in here but write, or nap on the air mattress in the loft.”