paper trail

Computer algorithm picks "The Circle"

Suki Kim

An algorithm built to predict which books will become bestsellers has awarded a perfect score to Dave Eggers’s The Circle, a dystopian novel about a sinister Google-like company that hijacks the time and free will of its employees and the wider world. Using “cutting-edge text-mining techniques” developed by Jodie Archer, a former publisher, and Matthew Jockers, a co-founder of Stanford University’s Literary Lab, the model trawled through 20,000 novels to isolate elements of plot, character, and style that appeal to the broadest segment of the reading population. Archer and Jockers expected the algorithm to nominate Lee Child, John Grisham, or Nicholas Sparks; Eggers, whose Circle was not a bestseller, would seem to indicate machine-bias. “The algorithm appears to have winked at us all,” said its creators. “We weren’t sure whether we should take a sledgehammer to it, or buy it dinner.” Read more about their quest in The Bestseller Code, which comes out in September.

In the wake of Omar Mateen’s shooting of forty-nine people at the Orlando gay club Pulse, poet-novelist-essayist Eileen Myles demands that we take a good look at America’s gun problem and who is most endangered by it. “When we talk about gun control I think we need to put the focus explicitly on protecting us from us and not from ISIS. We have guns, we live here, we find it so easy to kill,” she writes. “Something is so very wrong with America when the right to bear arms is not a freedom but a curse. We are killing ourselves, and we are killing the most vulnerable ones among us.”

“In 2011, armed with a book contract, I went undercover to work as an ESL teacher at an evangelical university in Pyongyang,” writes Suki Kim in the New Republic. Kim’s 2014 book, Without You, There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, was a daring work of investigative journalism—“As I taught, I lived in a locked compound under complete surveillance: Every room was bugged, every class recorded. I scribbled down conversations as they happened and buried my notes in a lesson plan. I wrote at night, erasing the copy from my laptop each time I signed off, saving it to USB sticks that I carried on my body at all times”—marketed as a memoir, a bit of chicanery more often inflicted on women writers than on men. “I was being moved from a position of authority—What do you know?—to the realm of emotion: How did you feel?

Translator Susan Bernofsky points out that most authors who are translated into English and published in the US are white.

In a new video featuring Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls fame, Michelle Obama discusses the education organization Let Girls Learn and chooses a book to read during her upcoming travels: Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend.