Tuesday News: Perceiving genre, flashback to Fanny Hill, gender & anonymity, and book cover bags
Deep Neural Network Learns to Judge Books by Their Covers – Two researchers at Japan’s Kyushu University – Brian Kenji Iwana and Seiichi Uchida – created an algorithm to detect genre by book cover image. Although their results were not stunning (exact match only 20% of the time and top three 40% of the time), it’s an interesting experiment, one that will likely become more interesting once they can compare the algorithm’s results with those of human subjects. Would humans have the same problem discerning biography from history, for example? Are there specific cues for book readers that make covers recognizable (which would tie into the marketing function of covers)?
Their method is straightforward. Iwana and Uchida downloaded 137,788 unique book covers from Amazon.com along with the genre of book. There are 20 possible genres but where a book was listed in more than one category, the researchers used just the first.
Next, the pair used 80 percent of the data set to train a neural network to recognize the genre by looking at the cover image. Their neural network has four layers, each with up to 512 neurons, which together learn to recognize the correlation between cover design and genre. The pair used a further 10 percent of the dataset to validate the model and then tested the neural network on the final 10 percent to see how well it categorizes covers it has never seen. – MIT Technology Review
The 200-Year Old Book That Sent the East Coast Into a Sex Panic – So it can’t be too surprising that erotic fiction has created a lot of social outrage through the centuries. That a book written in England in the 1740s would go on trial in the U.S. more than 200 years later might seem odd, but when Putnam republished Fanny Hill in 1964, the country had only recently been grappling with the legal definition of obscenity. Still, one of the thing that stands out most to me about Fanny Hill‘s trial – and about this Atlas Obscura article – is the casual judgment of a woman who both values pleasure and places a monetary value on sexual desire. That seems to be the most persistently problematic aspect of so many of these controversies, and one that coincides with the idea of a literary canon and with the concept of “literary value” more generally:
Still, the question wasn’t whether or not the book was erotic or pornographic—certainly it was. (Even Massachusetts’ Assistant Attorney General John Sullivan admitted, “It did arouse prurient interest and impure thoughts in me. Fortunately I am well adjusted enough so it did not affect my daily life.”) The question was, does it have social value? Fanny Hill was an especially vexing book in this case. Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer had both been brought to trial (and both defended by Charles Rembar) and deemed protected by the First Amendment. But Fanny Hill was written by a poor prisoner who could by no stretch of the imagination be called a great writer. Fanny herself didn’t help matters. In his ruling against Fanny Hill, Massachusetts Justice Tom Clark described the woman as “nothing but a harlot.” In his review of the book, John Hutchens condemned Putnam for their scheme to “cloak Fanny in an unfamiliar respectability.” Here was a young woman who shed patriarchal expectations and used her body to earn, in her own words, “if not happiness, then at least affluence, or independence.” It was nearly impossible to separate disgust with the book from disgust with her.- Atlas Obscura
Elena Ferrante, Charlotte Brontë and how anonymity protects against female writing stereotypes – Arianna Rebolini’s Atlas Obscura article made me think about Erin Nyborg’s short piece in The Conversation on how authorial anonymity protects female authors in a number of ways, not the least of which is not having their work read as autobiographical (because how can women actually make up stuff that isn’t about their own little lives, right?!). Nyborg references the Brontës, and specifically Elizabeth Gaskell’s identification of the Brontë sisters, despite their initial attempts to be pseudonymous, comparing their plight to the possible implications of unmaking Elena Ferrante:
Gaskell’s biography also began a trend that haunts the Brontës to this day. She located the “originals” of the characters and locales in the Brontës’ novels in the people and geography of their native Yorkshire. The Brontës’ novels have been read through their lives ever since. These readings deny the Brontës’ genius, imagination, and literary skill. . . .
Ferrante’s story raises important questions about how we read and value women’s writing and authorship. Ferrante has stated that in part she wants to protect the Neapolitan community she writes about in her novels, just as Charlotte wanted to write about Yorkshire clergymen she knew without fear of discovery. The latter failed. Haworth locals gleefully identified some of the characters drawn from life in Shirley. If known, with a past to be examined, Ferrante’s novels could be subjected to the flattening biographical readings the Brontës’ works have long been subjected to. – The Conversation
These Gorgeous Book Bags Will Actually Make You Want To Go Back To High School – Putting the intellectual property questions aside, wouldn’t you love one of these?
The faux leather book bags are designed around classic book covers from Pride and Prejudice to The Great Gatsby, and even non-fiction like Gray’s Anatomy, so you can shout out to the world what you’re reading (or what you want people to think you’re reading instead of knowing you’re toting Twilight around for the fifteenth time.) The bags themselves are beautifully designed; not only are they decorated with the books’ vibrant covers, they also have detailing along the sides to look like pages. Oh, and here’s the best part: they’re designed in three different sizes, but each is the perfect shape to fit a book inside. Awesome! – Bustle