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a blog by Ann Althouse

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"He awoke to the sound of water dripping into a rusted sink. The streets below were bathed in medieval moonlight, reverberating silence."

"He lay there grappling with the terror of beauty, as the night unfolded like a Chinese screen. He lay shuddering, riveted by flickering movements of aliens and angels as the words and melodies of 'Marquee Moon' were formed, drop by drop, note by note, from a state of calm yet sinister excitement. He was Tom Verlaine, and that was his process: exquisite torment. Born Thomas Joseph Miller, raised in Wilmington, Delaware, he left his parental home and shed his name, a discarded skin curled in the corner of a modest garage among stacks of used air-conditioners that required his father’s constant professional attention...."
 
Writes Patti Smith in "He Was Tom Verlaine/Patti Smith remembers her friend, who possessed the child’s gift of transforming a drop of water into a poem that somehow begat music" (The New Yorker).

"He lived twenty-eight minutes from where I was raised. We could easily have sauntered into the same Wawa on the Wilmington-South Jersey border in search of Yoo-hoo or Tastykakes. We might have met, two black sheep, on some rural stretch, each carrying books of the poetry of French Symbolists—but we didn’t. Not until 1973, on East Tenth Street, across from St. Mark’s Church, where he stopped me and said, 'You’re Smith.'... Examining each other’s bookcases, we were amazed to find that our books were nearly identical, even those by authors difficult to find. Cossery, Hedayat, Tutuola, Mrabet...."

Goodbye to Tom Verlaine, my fellow Wilmingtonian. I too lived among the Butterscotch Krimpets, long ago. Never have heard of Cossery, Hedayat, Tutuola, and Mrabet though. Imagine being into Cossery, Hedayat, Tutuola, Mrabet, then meeting somebody who had books by all 4.

"Quit Lit gave my patients and me an easy way to talk about dependence and addiction... 'This Naked Mind,' 'The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober'... 'Quit Like a Woman'...."

"These confessionals about alcohol dependence share a common theme: explaining in vivid detail the author’s battle with the bottle, and the ways in which society has duped us into thinking that alcohol is a cool way to deal with life’s ups and downs, rather than a toxic substance with addictive properties, which increases anxiety and depressive symptoms over time.... I listened to the audio version of 'This Naked Mind' in December.... After spending some time with Quit Lit, I understood the appeal. There’s probably a reason that only 7.7 percent of people with serious drinking problems seek help — it can be humiliating to label yourself as an alcoholic. When a witty, wise woman is telling you about her journey, it seems like one you want to be on...."

Writes Lesley Alderman in "'Drinking until I passed out': Quit Lit targets women’s sobriety A new genre of storytelling focuses on alcohol dependence and is helping some women curtail drinking or quit altogether" (WaPo). 

I've never noticed the term "Quit Lit" before. Googling, I see it's a very popular term! Here's Goodreads's collection of Quit Lit.

"When we calculate how many well-constructed sentences remain for AI to ingest, the numbers aren’t encouraging...."

"Ten trillion words is enough to encompass all of humanity’s digitized books, all of our digitized scientific papers, and much of the blogosphere.... You could imagine its AI successors absorbing our entire deep-time textual record across their first few months, and then topping up with a two-hour reading vacation each January, during which they could mainline every book and scientific paper published the previous year.... [W]ithin a few decades, speed-reading AIs will be powerful enough to ingest hundreds of trillions of words—including all those that human beings have so far stuffed into the web.... Perhaps in the end, big data will have diminishing returns.... My 13-year-old son has ingested orders of magnitude fewer words than ChatGPT, yet he has a much more subtle understanding of written text. If it makes sense to say that his mind runs on algorithms, they’re better algorithms than those used by today’s AIs. If, however, our data-gorging AIs do someday surpass human cognition, we will have to console ourselves with the fact that they are made in our image. AIs are not aliens.... They are of us, and they are from here.... They know our oldest stories...."

From "What Happens When AI Has Read Everything? The dream of an artificial mind may never become a reality if AI runs out of quality prose to ingest—and there isn’t much left" by Ross Andersen (The Atlantic).

The 13-year-old son and other humans have preferences within an individual life with a place in the world and make choices within a brain that is part of a nervous system that experiences fear and desire. AI can only copy or pretend to copy that. And yet, most writing by humans is awkward, boring, and bad. It's full of mistakes and lies and manipulation. The AI might develop higher standards. 

I'm not sure why the key to improving AI is shoveling more and more text into it. As a human reader, I get a lot out of rereading the very best things and by stopping and thinking — and writing — about things that evoke feelings and ideas. I don't think speed-reading more text would make my mind work better. But as a human, I couldn't do it. I'd get tired and balky and peevish. Not like a computer at all.

Those things are alien. That they "know our stories" ought to make us wary.

"During the early stages of my father’s Alzheimer’s, when he still had lucid moments, I apologized to him for writing an autobiography many years earlier..."

"... in which I flung open the gates of our troubled family life. He was already talking less at that point, but his eyes told me he understood. I thought of that moment when I read that Prince Harry, in his new memoir, wrote about his father, King Charles, getting between his battling sons and saying, 'Please, boys, don’t make my final years a misery.'... My justification in writing a book I now wish I hadn’t written... was very similar to what I understand to be Harry’s reasoning. I wanted to tell the truth, I wanted to set the record straight. Naïvely, I thought if I put my own feelings and my own truth out there for the world to read, my family might also come to understand me better.... There isn’t just one truth, our truth — the other people who inhabit our story have their truths as well.... Years ago, someone asked me what I would say to my younger self if I could. Without hesitating I answered: 'That’s easy. I’d have said, "Be quiet."'"

Writes President Reagan's daughter Patti Davis, in "Prince Harry and the Value of Silence" (NYT).

"... just a funny cover the inside is a bunch of random bs that has nothing to do with falling in love with a horse..."

From a 1-star review of "But... You're a Horse" — at Amazon, where it's quite clear that you're basically buying a hilarious book-shaped object that looks like this:

 

That came out in 2014, so why am I running across it today? I googled the line "You did it for a horse." I had my reason!

To write Andre Agassi’s memoir, 'Open,' [J.R.] Moehringer moved to Las Vegas, where Agassi lived. Agassi said he bought a house a mile away from his own..."

"... and Moehringer occupied it for two years while he worked on the book. All the writer requested was a long table where he could lay out the scenes he’d piece together 'like a necklace,' Agassi recalled. They’d meet in the morning, fueled by breakfast burritos from Whole Foods. 'I’d spend a couple of hours with him over breakfast and a tape recorder,' Agassi said. 'Open' is widely considered a paragon of sports autobiographies — a raw and honest excavation of a well-known life. Agassi said he sought out Moehringer to write the book — 'romancing' him to do it, he said... Like any reliably employed ghostwriter, Moehringer is also known for his discretion. Prince Harry’s book is his third ghostwriting project. Maybe.... Agassi.... said he wanted to put Moehringer’s name on the cover.... But Moehringer declined such public credit, Agassi said. He preferred to disappear."

Writes Elizabeth A. Harris in "When the Writing Demands Talent and Discretion, Call the Ghostwriter/Ghostwriters write books in someone else’s voice — without leaving fingerprints. Doing it well requires great technical skill and a flexible ego" (NYT).

Moehringer is also the ghostwriter for Prince Harry's new book — "Spare" — and, again, his name is not on the cover.

I'm giving this post my "furniture" tag because what attracted me to the story was the line "All the writer requested was a long table where he could lay out the scenes he’d piece together 'like a necklace.'" 

I'm very interested in the furniture used by writers. Note my expression of admiration — here — for the book "The Writer's Desk." 

But also the appearance of the word "necklace" caught my eye — and not just because it's a snazzy simile. It was only yesterday that I was quoting from Prince Harry's book, "He grabbed me by the collar, ripping my necklace...."

By the way, how rich do you need to be to have someone working for you to assemble fresh breakfast burritos? Do people with over $100 million really just do take out from Whole Foods — day after day?

"He set down the water, called me another name, then came at me. It all happened so fast. So very fast. He grabbed me by the collar, ripping my necklace..."

"... and he knocked me to the floor. I landed on the dog’s bowl, which cracked under my back, the pieces cutting into me. I lay there for a moment, dazed, then got to my feet and told him to get out."

Writes Prince Harry, quoted in "William is my ‘arch-nemesis’, says Harry in new book Spare" (London Times). 

William, according to Harry, urged his little brother to hit him back, recalling the fights they had as children. Harry, however, said he refused and William left before returning, “looking regretful, and apologised.”

When William left again, Harry said he “turned and called back: ‘You don’t need to tell Meg about this.’

“‘You mean that you attacked me?’

“‘I didn’t attack you, Harold.’”

Harry said he did not initially tell his wife but called his therapist. Meghan, 41, is said to have later spotted “scrapes and bruises” on Harry’s back and it was then that he told her about the attack. Meghan, according to Harry, “wasn’t that surprised, and wasn’t all that angry. She was terribly sad.”

Elsewhere in the London Times, in "Harry’s book Spare is excruciating in its detail of fight with William/Claim that prince knocked his brother to the floor takes things to a new level," Valentine Low writes:

That William — like his father — has a temper is well known. But the claim that he would grab his brother by the collar and knock him to the floor takes things to a new level. It will also be an accusation that William will find hard to shake off: he will always be the prince who attacked his brother.

"Dino sings deceptively. You can’t hear any effort, you can barely hear any breathing."

"There’re little slurs and modulations that are as hard to sing as they are easy on the ear. In the bridge, he hits a blue note and then a line or two later ('I heard somebody whisper, please adore me') there is a little waver in his voice that brings to mind Nick Lucas, Tiny Tim’s mentor, who sang the original 'Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips.'"

Writes Bob Dylan about Dean Martin's version of "Blue Moon, in "The Philosophy of Modern Song."

Let's listen to Nick Lucas:

"... just a funny cover the inside is a bunch of random bs that has nothing to do with falling in love with a horse..."

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