Below the Fold: On the History of Masturbation, Google’s quest for a universal typeface, learning how to get high, writing obituaries and overcoming writers’ block.


Me, Myself and I — The History of Masturbation by Stephen Greenblatt

The enabling mechanism here was the invention of domestic spaces in which people could be alone, coupled with a marked increase in private, solitary, silent reading. The great literary form that was crafted to fit these spaces and the reading practices they enabled was the novel. Certain novels were, of course, specifically written, as Rousseau put it, to be read with one hand. But it was not only through pornography that masturbation and the novel were closely linked. Reading novels—even high-minded, morally uplifting novels—generated a certain kind of absorption, a deep engagement of the imagination, a bodily intensity that could, it was feared, veer with terrifying ease toward the dangerous excesses of self-pleasure.

the masturbator, like the novel reader—or rather, precisely as novel reader—could willfully mobilize the imagination, engaging in an endless creation and renewing of fictive desire. And shockingly, with the spread of literacy, this was a democratic, equal opportunity vice. The destructive pleasure was just as available to servants as to masters and, still worse, just as available to women as to men. Women, with their hyperactive imaginations and ready sympathies, their proneness to tears, blushes, and fainting fits, their irrationality and emotional vagrancy, were thought particularly subject to the dangerous excitements of the novel.


Can Google build a typeface to support every written language?  by Tanvi Misra

In which we learn just how political typograpy can be.

 when one group of people (in this case, Google) decides what to code for and what not to — and in what way — people who are not a part of that decision-making process, those who actually use these fonts and these languages, can feel ill-served.

“So they were like, ‘Hey, you know, Chinese, Japanese, Korean — they’re pretty close. Can we just mash big chunks of them together?'”


Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

From the unlocked-for now archives. On writer’s block and writing, and excellent.


An Interview with the Obituary Writer for the Economist, Ann Wroe by Isabelle Fraser

Those characters who make for the best tales are usually people who are totally unknown; often they are suggested by readers. One such person was Marie Smith, the last person to speak Eyak, an Alaskan language. “She was the only person left who remembered all the different words for all the parts of a spruce tree. And nobody is ever going to see a spruce tree in that way again. I love it when there is an end of a whole tradition or culture: it is the last glimpse we are going to get first-hand of something that’s gone.”


Also worth thinking about: What kind of person gets left off those pages.


 Do You Have to Learn How to Get High?