The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

by Erskine Childers

A pioneering thriller, perhaps the first of its genre, and a moderately fine rollick. Young Carruthers is having a dull, dull summer, stuck in his tiresome minor post at the Foreign Office because some distant personage decreed that the office should be on alert. Out of the blue, a college acquaintance invites him for a spell of yachting in the Baltic. His superior sees no harm in it, so he goes. It’s nothing like what he had expected.

The opening repays close study, even though we’ve now seen dozens of echoes and imitations. There's an awful lot of sailing in the midsection, and rather too many tides and charts. Still, this was uncharted ocean in 1903, and it's remarkable how well the story holds up.

by Emily St. John Mandel

A fascinating study by the author of Station Eleven of a group of high school friends who have lost touch with each other while their lives have spun variously off course. Gavin Sasaki has wrecked his career in newspapers but, having discovered that he may possibly have fathered a girl who might now be ten years old, remembers that he once wanted to be a private investigator. He finds the former members of his high school jazz quartet – a policeman, a pusher, a compulsive gambler, and a drugged-out former musician whose college roommate became Django Reinhardt’s heir.

by Jill Lepore

A fascinating history of feminism in the early 20th century, wrapped around the complex life of William Moulton Marsden. A Harvard-educated psychologist, Marsden invented the lie detector and then succumbed to the temptation to over-promote his invention. He married his childhood sweetheart, the spiky and erudite Sadie Elizabeth Holloway. He fell in love with his research assistant Olive Byrne, and brought her home to begin a group marriage that lasted for decades and outlived him. Byrne’s mother had been the first feminist hunger striker in the US; her aunt was Margaret Sanger. Merciful Minerva!

Aug 16 11 2016

Hold Still

by Sally Mann

A fascinating autobiography of the influential photographer, accompanied by many photographs (to which the Kindle edition does nothing like justice). Oddly, she says very little about the genesis of At Twelve, the haunting book that made her famous, and there’s surprisingly little about the success of Immediate Family.

What I had missed about Mann is that she sees herself as explicitly a Southern artist – not a regionalist, and certainly not a fan of Southern racial nostalgia, but still chiefly interested in the people (especially poor people, black and white) and in the backwater.


Sparse posting here. Busy!

  • I’m working on a third edition of The Tinderbox Way. In addition to updates on new Tinderbox facilities, the new edition will have a ton of new material on the design and implementation of Tinderbox and the history of the underlying ideas.
  • I’m finishing Decline and Fall, a big hypertext story about a prep school caught in the aftermath of war. It’s The Trojan Women in a school story.
  • I’m working on an interesting side project for the marvelous Victorian Web, involving a simple DOM transformation on perhaps 40,000 hand-coded Web pages.
  • My real work is on Tinderbox 7, chiefly a new approach to recognizing and using big structures that involve multiple notes working together. This has the potential to be transformative, but research is research: we’ll see.
Storyspace 3.2

Storyspace 3.2 is out. The headline here is that we now have the Storyspace Reader, a redistributable reading app for macOS 10.9 and later. Also of note are stretchtext links, the first appearance of our new and adaptive smart guides to help organize your Storyspace maps, broad links, and compatibility with the new Tinderbox 6.6.4.

Lots more Storyspace news coming soon.

Aug 16 4 2016


by Stephanie Danler

This charming and delightfully intricate first novel describes, unusually for its generation, the world of work. Tess, a midwestern girl, has just moved to New York; desperate for work, she lucks into a job as a back waiter at a tony café in Union Square, based on the Union Square Café. This isn’t merely a stage set: the novel is truly interested in how the work world works, how the wheels turn.

Everyone in the restaurant gives Tess a different nickname – Little One, BabyMonster, Fluff, Skipper – because she really is an unformed bundle of potential. She has an appetite for liquor, an even bigger appetite for coke, and she’s addicted to the approval of people whose approval is rare and precious. She is naturally hospitable, attentive to her duty, and takes time to taste experience.

Aug 16 2 2016

Vinegar Girl

by Anne Tyler

A lovely retelling of The Taming Of The Shrew, in which Kate is an entirely sympathetic, sensible, and straight-talking pre-school teacher who lives with her father, a medical researcher. Dad’s postdoc has a problem: his visa is going to expire in a few weeks and he needs a green card.

What makes this work so well is that it’s not simply interrogating Shakespeare – it reimagines the premise of Shrew and asks how this artificial, comic construct could possibly be real. Kate’s two leading traits, after all, are not at all horrible: she doesn’t care about getting a guy and she doesn’t care much about what other people think. Her little sister cares too much, as little sisters will, and so Kate chides her for excesses of fashion and flirtation, leading (as chiding will) to some moderate family chaos.

I’m thinking just now about composite objects – Tinderbox notes that are made up of several notes.

Alongside inheritance, composition – building objects from smaller objects – is one of the key ideas in object design and knowledge representation. Of the two, inheritance gets attention but composition is the workhorse: beginners are always reaching for complex inheritance chains while overlooking nice designs composed of a handful of cooperating objects.

A Question of Type

Here’s an excerpt from my Hypertext 2016 conference notes about one excellent paper presented by Thomas Schedel. The whole thing is really one composite, a ConferencePaper. Inside, we see some smaller composites, too. There’s an author/title pair, which all conference papers have but which things like fiction readings also have. There are horizontal lists, vertical lists, and perhaps some lists of lists. There are notes about questions I had during the talk, things I wanted to ask Dr. Schedel about; he and I later had an extraordinarily productive one-on-one in the lobby of Dalhousie’s collaborative health education building – a lobby nicely designed for this sort of collaborating.

Many questions remain. Do we tell Tinderbox that “this is a conference paper”? Or do we build a prototypical ConferencePaper and ask Tinderbox to discover conference papers automatically? Suppose we have a ConferencePaper that doesn’t quite fit our definition: how can we relax the definition without getting bogged down in some sort of generalize Backus-Naur notation? (Trust me on this: when Tinderbox users are trying to keep up with a speaker in a scientific conference, they do not in general want to be juggling BNF simply in order to get what she's saying into their notebook!)

What is “ConferencePaper,” anyway? It’s less than a Class or a Type, but I think it’s more than a Name or a Label. I wonder if there are lessons from Duck Typing that I should study, or perhaps something from Programming By Example? Ideas? Email me.

by Muriel Spark

At the start of 1955, Mrs. Hawkins is a young and overweight editor who lives in a Kensington rooming house with assorted postwar types: a moderately rich girl who is trying her wings will inevitably fall pregnant, a devout old Polish seamstress, an Irish landlady, a hard-studying medical student. Her husband died in the war, and in point of fact they were scarcely married. By day, she is a skilled editor at a small but important publishing house which is hurtling toward bankruptcy. Everyone confides in the skilled and sexlessly unthreatening Mrs. Hawkens.

Then, one morning, Mrs. Hawkens decides it might be a good idea to lose weight. That changes everything. A skilled and lively portrait of a character whom everyone assumes to be uninteresting.

by William Ritter

A skillful cadenza on Sherlock Holmes in which Watson is transmogrified into the adventurous, observant Abigail Rook. She has just arrived by ship, penniless, at New Fiddleham, one of America’s brand-new great cities, and needs a job. Jackaby, a private investigator who specializes in inexplicable and supernatural phenomena. He needs an assistant, his previous assistant being, temporarily, waterfowl.

by Antonia Fraser, ed.

A clever anthology of essays by notable writers about their early reading and their favorite books. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this collection is that it gathers so many different voices (A. S. Byatt, Tom Stoppard, Ruth Rendell, Stephen Spender, J. G. Ballard) and asks them to write a piece on a tightly constrained set topic – like reading a pile of school essays written by the all-star team. Quite a few of the participants balk at some of the requirements, and the expected list of “ten favorite books” proves especially unpopular.

Some aspects of early reading are surprisingly common. There are, apparently, two ways to encounter Winnie The Pooh: either as bedtime reading when you are six, or as required reading in the bed of one’s college lover. Everyone, it seems, has read Richmal Compton’s Just William books, though I missed the memo. There are some wonderful evocations of libraries, bookstores and booksellers, especially from Gita Mehta:

Sahib. Latest from Plato. The Republic. Also James Hadley Chase and P. G. Wodehouse. You want Catcher In The Rye, Sahib? Mad Magazine?
Jul 16 24 2016

The Boston Girl

by Anita Diamant

The story of Addie Baum, a nice Jewish girl from the tenements of Boston’s North End, and also (of course) the story the immigrant experience refracted by the summer program of a Boston settlement house. The immigrant stories here are well told and witty; you’ve heard them before, of course, but they’re always fresh enough.

Jul 16 23 2016

Tinderbox 6.2.2

We delivered a new Tinderbox yesterday, with some nice improvements in maps and some important infrastructure. This was, as these things go, a fairly small release, intended to clear the decks for the start of Tinderbox 7.

This makes a new user’s post in the Tinderbox Forum all the more welcome.

I bought Tinderbox in the most recent Summerfest.

Today I got to experience one of the pleasures of joining the TB club:a new release! Grin

The list of improvements was more extensive than I expected. Very nice.

No grander message than that, but I fully admit to always getting a little thrill from installing updated software.

We do lots of Tinderbox releases: seven new versions in the last twelve months. Backstage, we’ve had 54 new versions in the past year (and that doesn’t include Storyspace releases or the preview of my hypertext school Decline and Fall).

Jul 16 19 2016


by Ian McEwan

A strange, suspenseful, but also lyrical story about the sophisticated and successful men who loved Molly, an extraordinary woman whose London funeral opens the story. Terrific and rare portraits of real people – a newspaperman and a composer – doing real work, bookended by plenty of incident. The best of McEwan.

Jul 16 17 2016

Hypertext 2016

Just back from Hypertext 2016 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’ve missed a couple of hypertext conferences lately – they’re costly, especially when in a remote place, and lately the center of gravity has swung toward empirical studies of Twitter and Facebook that strike me as irrelevant to – or actually destructive of – the hypertext of the Web.

This year, though, the conference had a really strong hypertext session and quite a few fascinating papers. The Engelbart Award was taken home by Millard and Hargood (again) for a nifty paper about Patterns of Sculptural Hypertext in their location-based narrative system Storyplaces. It’s fascinating work – hypertexts to be read while wandering through a city – and led to all sorts of fascinating discussions about literary experience, tourism, augmented reality, China Miéville’s City and The City, and much else. Almost makes up for missing Readercon, which was scheduled for the same dates.

Thomas Schedel and Claus Atzenbeck had a terrific paper on spatial parsers. This is an old core idea of spatial hypertext, in which the computer works to understand the layout of things like Tinderbox maps. Schedel’s just finished a doctorate on the topic, to which he brings some fascinating insight and a welcome sense of rigor. This is ambitious work that will have direct influence on systems you use, and you won’t need to wait very long to see the impact.

These two papers were the first I can remember in eons where I returned from hypertext with immediate implementation plans. My own paper on Storyspace 3 was in the same session and nicely received; it describes how the new Storyspace accommodates “exotic” affordances like sculptural hypertext and shark links – things originally termed exotic because they were not anything like Storyspace.

Stacey Mason chaired a creative track that was fascinating, too. A sidebar to the creative track reception was a performance by the 2B Theater Company of “REBECCA reads NORA reads MOLLY” – a staged reading of the entire final monologue of Ulysses. The work the referees selected for the creative exhibit were a fascinating mix:

  • Apartment 613 (Carlos Ramírez)
  • Cape (Bruno Dias)
  • Cancel Cable Or Die Trying (Tony Smith)
  • Hypertext and Cultural Autobiography: Talk with Your Hands Like an Ellis Island Mutt (Steven Wingate)
  • Generative Stein Poems (Everardo Reyes, Samuel Szoniecky and Jean-Pierre Balpe)
  • Decline and Fall (Mark Bernstein)
  • Pluto (Mez Breeze and Andy Campbell)

I wrote some notes on Decline and Fall for the Narrative Workshop as well. We have a bunch of intriguing work here, not all of it ideal for reading at a cocktail reception, to be sure, but fascinating anyway and suggesting lots of directions for the future.