Readersforum's Blog

June 10, 2013

Google Doodles Maurice Sendak

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 10:58 am

Google celebrates Maurice Sendak's 85th birthday.

Google celebrates Maurice Sendak’s 85th birthday.

By Forrest Wickman

For what would have been his 85th birthday on Monday, Google has drawn up a wonderfully imagined Google Doodle as a tribute to the beloved illustrator and children’s book author Maurice Sendak. As io9 points out, the Doodle has already appeared in New Zealand.

It begins, of course, with Max sailing to the land of Where the Wild Things Are, but soon also ventures to the surreal cityscape of In the Night Kitchen and ends, appropriately, with the birthday party from Sendak’s 2011 book Bumble-Ardy.

Click here to read the rest of this story

Advertisements

May 27, 2013

Are Apostrophes Necessary?

NoNot really, no.

By Matthew J.X. Malady

One hundred and eighteen miles north of London, in the town of Boston, England, there lives a retired newspaperman named John Richards who is experiencing an unusually rotten spring. Richards is the founder and chairman of something called the Apostrophe Protection Society. His world, at least as related to the tiny mark that denotes possessives and the omission of letters from certain words, appears to be crashing down around him.

Recent news reports emanating from Richards’ native England, and from across the pond in America, describe a number of ominous developments that could threaten the sanctity of everything his society exists to protect. In March, the Mid Devon district council in southwestern England attempted to banish apostrophes from all area street signs. People went nuts, grammarians groused, and the council ultimately changed course. But celebrations by apostrophe acolytes would soon be contracted. A few months after the Mid Devon switcheroo, the Wall Street Journal noted that the United States Board on Geographic Names maintains a longstanding policy of removing apostrophes from titles proposed for towns, mountains, caves, and other assorted locations Americans like to name. The government doesn’t want us getting the wrong idea about, for instance, whether some guy named Pike actually owns “Pikes Peak.” So that’s why formal place names in the U.S.—aside from a few noteworthy exceptions such as Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and Clark’s Mountain in Oregon—rarely include apostrophes. English language formalists are now up in arms about that manner of proceeding, too.

With each new controversy, it becomes increasingly clear that we, as a society, have reached a Pikes Peak of our own when it comes to fussing and nitpicking over things like how we denote possessives and contractions. The apostrophe chatter business, according to Chairman Richards, is booming. He gets 30 or 40 apostrophe-related inquiries each month via email. “My website has received over a million hits,” he says.

Click here to read the rest of this story

March 25, 2013

The Amazing Story Behind Things Fall Apart

ThingsFallApart.jpg.CROP.article250-mediumBy David Haglund

Chinua Achebe, who has died at the age of 82, was more than a novelist. He was a total man of letters, who wrote poetry and essays and oversaw a trailblazing series of books by African writers. But he will probably always be most famous for his career-making, legacy-defining debut novel, Things Fall Apart, which tells the story of Okonkwo, an Igbo man who kills a white colonialist in the 1890s, and who, at the end of the book, hangs himself rather than be tried for that murder.

The book was informed by European literature—the title comes from a poem by William Butler Yeats—but tells an African story from an African perspective. Achebe explained many times that his novel was partly a rebuke to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a book that reduced “Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind,” as he argued in a famous essay, “An Image of Africa.” Conrad was “undoubtedly one of the great stylists of modern fiction and a good storyteller into the bargain,” Achebe wrote, but he was also, Achebe said, “a thoroughgoing racist.”

Click here to read the rest of this story

March 18, 2013

The Curse of “You May Also Like”

Algorithms and “big data” are good at figuring out what we like—and that may kill creativity.

By Evgeny Morozov

Of all the startups that launched last year, Fuzz is certainly one of the most intriguing and the most overlooked. Describing itself as a “people-powered radio” that is completely “robot-free,” Fuzz bucks the trend toward ever greater reliance on algorithms in discovering new music. Fuzz celebrates the role played by human DJs—regular users who are invited to upload their own music to the site in order to create and share their own “radio stations.”

The idea—or, perhaps, hope—behind Fuzz is that human curators can still deliver something that algorithms cannot; it aspires to be the opposite of Pandora, in which the algorithms do all the heavy lifting. As its founder, Jeff Yasuda, told Bloomberg News last September, “there’s a big need for a curated type of experience and just getting back to the belief that the most compelling recommendations come from a human being.”

But while Fuzz’s launch attracted little attention, the growing role of algorithms in all stages of artistic production is becoming impossible to ignore. Most recently, this role was highlighted by Andrew Leonard, the technology critic for Salon, in an intriguing article about House of Cards,

Click here to read the rest of this story

February 7, 2013

Amanda McKittrick Ros, the Worst Novelist in History

Irene… Maybe. An excerpt from Mark O’Connell’s Epic Fail.

Who was the worst novelist in history? A definitive answer is probably impossible, given that total artistic failure traditionally results in total obscurity. But it would be foolish to even consider the question without taking into account a very notable exception to that rule—a schoolmistress from Northern Ireland whose novels were so uniquely and thrillingly terrible that, in the early years of the last century, she became an ironic cause célèbre among the cultural luminaries of her time. Her story gives us some perspective on what we tend to think of as a uniquely contemporary phenomenon: the ironic appreciation of bad art—of monkey-faced frescos and multichapter R&B melodramas. This terrible novelist was a sort of early avatar of the spirit of the Epic Fail.

She was born Anna McKittrick in the village of Drumaness in 1860 and became Anna Ross when, after taking up a teaching position in Larne, she married the town’s stationmaster, Andrew Ross. When she began to write novels, she did so under the pseudonym Amanda McKittrick Ros, taking the name Amanda from an Irish romantic novel and dropping the second S in her husband’s surname in order to imply a connection with the noble de Ros family of County Down. For their 10th wedding anniversary, she convinced Andrew to put up the cash to have her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh, printed in Dublin.

Click here to read the rest of this story

January 16, 2013

This Is How You Write a Memoir

Elizabeth Wurtzel

Elizabeth Wurtzel

Rules for the much-maligned form.

By Katie Roiphe

There has lately been a rising backlash against the ubiquity of personal writing. Hamilton Nolan’s anti-confessional diatribe in Gawker claims that journalism students are now taught only to write about themselves, which I can say as a full-time faculty member at a journalism school is patently absurd, but he raised some interesting points about the dubious rise of confessional writing over the last two decades and the market pressure, especially on younger writers, to make a splash, or at least publish something somewhere, by turning to their own, possibly limited, life experience. And then, of course, there were recent critiques of Elizabeth Wurtzel babbling incoherently about her pure heart in New York Magazine.

All of which leads me to believe it may be time to think methodically about what separates good confessional writing from bad confessional writing. It’s dangerously cartoonish to say all personal writing is bad, and to automatically attack every writer who dares to delve into his own experience, but there are a million different ways to write personally and some of them are undoubtedly better than others. Here, then, are some basic principles I have come to over the years as both a professor and a writer (though, of course, I am still puzzling through them and tinkering with them and will continue to do so probably for the rest of my life):

Click here to read the rest of this story

November 30, 2012

2012 Books: Slate Staff Picks

Filed under: Best Books of the Year — Tags: , , — Bookblurb @ 6:39 am

  Slate’s editors, designers, and columnists choose their favorite books of 2012.

Click here to read the rest of this story

August 29, 2012

“Somewhere a Dog Barked”

Pick up just about any novel and you’ll find a throwaway reference to a dog, barking in the distance.

By Rosecrans Baldwin

As a reader of novels and not much else, I keep a running list of authorial whims. Male writers of the Roth/Updike generation, for example, love the word cunt. Also, where novelists once adorned their prose with offhand French bon mots, Spanish now appears. Here’s another: Novelists can’t resist including a dog barking in the distance. I’ve seen it happen across the spectrum—Jackie Collins, William Faulkner, and Chuck Palahniuk: “There was no more rain, just an eerie stillness, a deathly silence. Somewhere a dog barked mournfully.” (American Star) “She did not answer for a time. The fireflies drifted; somewhere a dog barked, mellow sad, faraway.” (Light in August) “This is such a fine neighborhood. I jump the fence to the next backyard and land on my head in somebody’s rose bush. Somewhere a dog’s barking.” (Choke)

Having heard the dog’s call, it seemed like I couldn’t find a book without one. Not The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Not Shadow Country. Not Ulysses. Not Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men, or Monica Ali’s Alentejo Blue, or Stephen King’s Itor Christine. Not Jodi Picoult’s House Rules. If novelists share anything, it’s a distant-dog impulse. Picture an author at work: She’s exhausted, gazing at her laptop and dreaming about lunch. “[Author typing.] Boyd slammed the car door shut. He stared at his new condominium, with the for-sale sign in the yard. He picked up a pistol and pointed it at his head. [Author thinking, Now what? Gotta buy time.] Somewhere a dog barked. [Author thinking, Hmm, that’ll do.] Then Boyd remembered he did qualify for the tax rebate for first-time home buyers, and put down the gun.”If a novel is an archeological record of 4.54 billion decisions, then maybe distant barking dogs are its fossils, evidence of the novelist working out an idea.

Click here to read the rest of this story

August 16, 2012

Should You Trust Online Reviews?

Should you have listened to that one TripAdvisor review?Photo by Creatas/Thinkstock

Yes and no.

By Ray Fisman

The Internet has fundamentally changed the way that buyers and sellers meet and interact in the marketplace. Online retailers make it cheap and easy to browse, comparison shop, and make purchases with the click of a mouse. The Web can also, in theory, make for better-informed purchases—both online and off—thanks to sites that offer crowdsourced reviews of everything from dog walkers to dentists.

In a Web-enabled world, it should be harder for careless or unscrupulous businesses to exploit consumers. Yet recent studies suggest that online reviewing is hardly a perfect consumer defense system. Researchers at Yale, Dartmouth, and USC have found evidence that hotel owners post fake reviews to boost their ratings on the site—and might even be posting negative reviews of nearby competitors.

The preponderance of online reviews speaks to their basic weakness: Because it’s essentially free to post a review, it’s all too easy to dash off thoughtless praise or criticism, or, worse, to construct deliberately misleading reviews without facing any consequences. It’s what economists (and others) refer to as the cheap-talk problem. The obvious solution is to make it more costly to post a review, but that eliminates one of the main virtues of crowdsourcing: There is much more wisdom in a crowd of millions than in select opinions of a few dozen.

Click here to read the rest of this story

July 13, 2012

I Want It Today

Amazon logistical center
Photograph by Jens-Ulrich Koch/AFP/Getty Images.

How Amazon’s ambitious new push for same-day delivery will destroy local retail.

By Farhad Manjoo

Amazon has long enjoyed an unbeatable price advantage over its physical rivals. When I buy a $1,000 laptop from Wal-Mart, the company is required to collect local sales tax from me, so I pay almost $1,100 at checkout. In most states, Amazon is exempt from that rule. According to a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, only firms with a physical presence in a state are required to collect taxes from residents. Technically, when I buy a $1,000 laptop from Amazon, I’m supposed to pay a $100 “use tax” when I file my annual return with my home state of California. But nobody does that. For most people, then, most items at Amazon are significantly cheaper than the same, identically priced items at other stores.

In response to pressure from local businesses, many states have passed laws that aim to force Amazon to collect sales taxes (the laws do so by broadening what it means for a company to have a physical presence in the state). Amazon hasn’t taken kindly to these efforts. It has filed numerous legal challenges, and fired all of its marketing affiliates in Colorado, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and California. It also launched a $5 million political campaign to get voters to turn back the California law. And when Texas’ comptroller presented Amazon with a $269 million sales tax bill last year, the company shut down its distribution center in Dallas.

But suddenly, Amazon has stopped fighting the sales-tax war. Last fall it dropped its repeal campaign in California and instead signed a deal with lawmakers to begin collecting sales taxes later this year. That was followed by several more tax deals—over the course of the next couple years, Amazon will begin collecting sales tax from residents of Nevada, New Jersey, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, and on July 1, it began collecting taxes from Texans. It also currently collects taxes from residents of Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Dakota, and its home state of Washington. After all the tax deals go into effect, the company will be collecting taxes from the majority of its American customers.

Why would Amazon give up its precious tax advantage? This week, as part of an excellent investigative series on the firm, the Financial Times’ Barney Jopson reports that Amazon’s tax capitulation is part of a major shift in the company’s operations. Amazon’s grand strategy has been to set up distribution centers in faraway, low-cost states and then ship stuff to people in more populous, high-cost states. When I order stuff from Amazon, for instance, it gets shipped to California from one of the company’s massive warehouses in Kentucky or Nevada.

But now Amazon has a new game. Now that it has agreed to collect sales taxes, the company can legally set up warehouses right inside some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation. Why would it want to do that? Because Amazon’s new goal is to get stuff to you immediately—as soon as a few hours after you hit Buy.

Click here to read the rest of this story

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: