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Can You Read a Book in a Quarter of an Hour?

Blinkist is an app. If I had to summarize what it does, I would say that it summarizes like crazy. It takes an existing book and crunches it down to a series of what are called Blinks. On average, these amount to around two thousand words. Some of the books that get Blinked are gleamingly new, such as “Leading with Light,” by Jennifer Mulholland and Jeff Shuck, which was published in March; other books are so old that they were written by people whose idea of a short-haul flight involved feathers and wax. In the realm of nonfiction alone, more than six and a half thousand works have been subjected to the Blinkist treatment. Across all platforms, there have been thirty-one million downloads on the app. Right now, there will be somebody musing over Blinks of “Biohack Your Brain,” “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” or “The Power of Going All-In,” which is, I am sorry to report, yet another study of successful leadership. Given the title, I was hoping that it might be about breakfast buffets, or the best way to behave yourself at an orgy. Read more

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Why I Kept My Kinks a Secret by R. O. Kwon

Kink is a large, shifting term, with outlines etched less by what it is than is not, this single word applied to an ever-changing negative space. Lina Dune, a prominent kink writer and podcaster, defines kink as any sexual act or practice diverging “one tiny step outside of what you were brought up to believe is acceptable.” So, bondage, sadomasochism, fetishes, and role play are examples of kinks, and these aren’t fringe penchants. By some measures, 40% to 70% of people might be kinky; given the stigma, this estimate could be on the low end. Read more

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The Mainstreaming of Historical Fiction

Historical fiction is suddenly everywhere. It’s on the bestseller list, in college classrooms, and probably on the lap of the woman sitting next to you on the train. A genre that at one point felt maligned and boring—neither serious nor sought after—has undergone a full-on transformation. In just the past few months, some of the most anticipated new releases by contemporary literature’s most beloved authors have been historical, including Lauren Groff’s The Vaster Wilds, Zadie Smith’s The Fraud, James McBride’s The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, and Jesmyn Ward’s Let Us Descend. Read more

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Literature Machines

The Italian novelist Italo Calvino was unusually optimistic about the invention of a “literature machine.” In his 1967 essay “Cybernetics and Ghosts,” he imagines a computer that would be “capable of conceiving and composing poems and novels,” bringing to the page what humans “are accustomed to consider as the most jealously guarded attributes in our psychological life.” For him, literature is simply “a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material, independent of the personality” of the writer. When read today, Calvino’s predictions—“provocative and even profane” at the time, as he admitted—seem eerily prescient. Read more

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Literary Fiction is Dead, Long Live Literary Fiction!

As an English professor, I’m often asked, “What do you like to read?” Sometimes I answer, “Literary fiction.” By that phrase, I mean fiction that privileges art over entertainment. I did not know until recently that literary fiction—the phrase, not what it stands for—grew up with me. We’re about the same age. And while I hope I’m only midway through my life, literary fiction might be dead. More precisely, what might have died is literary fiction as a meaningful category in publishing and bookselling. Read more

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