The Daily

On the Shelf

A Profound Experience of Art, and Other News

July 29, 2014 | by

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What the Mona Lisa sees all day—cue a quotation from the “Most Photographed Barn in America” section of White Noise. Photo: Susan Lesch

  • Museums have a real, if enviable, problem on their hands—they’re too popular. “Seeing masterpieces may be a soul-nourishing cultural rite of passage, but soaring attendance has turned many museums into crowded, sauna-like spaces, forcing institutions to debate how to balance accessibility with art preservation.”
  • A proposed virtual-reality edition of Ulysses sounds about as abstruse as the novel itself: “As a user of In Ulysses walks along a virtual Sandymount Strand, the book will be read to them—they will hear Stephen’s thoughts as they are written—but these thoughts will then be illustrated around the user in real-time using textual annotations, images, and links.”
  • Fewer people are giving books as gifts—the number of gift-book sales fell by nine million in a year. (If you’d like to reduce the deficit and you need an excuse to give, today is International Tiger Day.)
  • Trend alert: there’s never been a finer moment to be a deceased performer. “Two thousand fourteen is only half over, yet the year in culture has already been dominated by people who are dead … I mean people like Michael Jackson, who, five years in the grave, performed at the Billboard Music Awards in May. And Rick James, who’s been dead for a decade and who has a new memoir this year. And the great Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died in February and has a new movie out.”
  • From Disobedient Objects, a book about design’s effect on social change, a look at the storied history of defacing currency.

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When Shades Meant Shady, and Other News

July 28, 2014 | by

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Sunglasses: take ’em off! Photo: Zarateman, via Wikimedia Commons

  • “It’s not too much of an exaggeration to call autocorrect the overlooked underwriter of our era of mobile prolixity. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to compose windy love letters from stadium bleachers, write novels on subway commutes, or dash off breakup texts while in line at the post office.” The wondrous history of autocorrect, including a brief meditation on the nature of profanity. (Because autocorrect “couldn’t very well go around recommending the correct spelling of mothrefukcer.”)
  • “Three hundred thousand books are published in the United States every year. A few hundred, at most, could be called financial or creative successes. The majority of books by successful writers are failures. The majority of writers are failures. And then there are the would-be writers, those who have failed to be writers in the first place, a category which, if you believe what people tell you at parties, constitutes the bulk of the species.”
  • On the distinct merits of Bolaño’s Distant Star: “At some point in 1995, Bolaño seems to have discovered that he could expand a published text without diluting its effect or getting bogged down in circumstantial details, and that he could bring back characters and give them fuller lives without being strictly constrained by what he had already written about them.”
  • After twenty-seven years, the Rodeo Bar, “New York’s longest-running honky-tonk,” has closed.
  • “I’m not happy about people wearing sunglasses at all. Proper upstanding citizens never used to. They preferred to leave that sort of thing to dodgy characters from the underworld.”

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Sword-and-Sandal Epics Be Damned, and Other News

July 25, 2014 | by

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Poster for Atlas Against the Cyclops, 1961.

  • Movies set in Ancient Rome always do well at the box office. Why not Ancient Greece? “What is Hollywood to do with a world of 1,000 competing city-states, where homoeroticism was institutionalized and philosophers were more interested in the rationale for Platonic love than for war? … Greek tales would be better treated as supernatural thrillers. Imagine the real, lived historical experience for the ancient Greeks: the day-to-day jeopardy of knowing there was a fickle spirit in every breath of wind and ear of grain; that malicious deities might be lurking around the corner, shape-shifting to have their way with you.”
  • David Lynch, whose suspiciously mercantile interests I’ve complained about before, is now designing women’s luxury activewear. “The special collection features ‘limited edition David Lynch Floral’ print leggings, sports bras, shorts, and one very plain T-shirt, none of which are priced below $100.”
  • Why are so many cities building “innovation districts”? “Dozens of cities across the United States, Europe, South America, and East Asia are cultivating local utopias of entrepreneurship … These districts represent a mash-up of research institutions, corporations, start-ups, and business incubators, intermixed with ‘innovative housing,’ neighborhood amenities, and cultural sites in a clean energy, Wi-Fi-enabled environment … But is crowding a bunch of people into a few city blocks really the way to make creative sparks fly?”
  • Joan “Tiger” Morse “was a mod fashion designer in the mid 1960s … As the proprietress of the Teeny Weeny, her pop boutique located on Madison Avenue at 73rd Street, Morse sold mini dresses and other fashion oddities that used primarily man-made fabrications. With her frequent collaborator Diana Dew, Morse turned out illuminated mini dresses that would glow in myriad colors, all powered by a small battery pack worn at the waist.”
  • The secret beating heart of the dream office is the stationery cupboard, the ideal kind, the one that opens to enough depth to allow you to walk in and close the door behind you. No one does close the door—it would be weird—but the perfect stationery cupboard is one in which you could be perfectly alone with floor-to-ceiling shelves laden with neat stacks of packets, piles and boxes, lined up, tidy, everything patiently waiting for you to take one from the top, or open the lid and grab a handful.”

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Witchcraft Then and Now, and Other News

July 24, 2014 | by

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Detail from Francisco José de Goya’s Linda maestra, 1797.

  • Profiling William T. Vollmann: “Although Vollmann these days sports the punctilious mustache of a maître d’, he still resembles the baby-faced boy wonder readers first encountered in his shocking late ’80s author photo, in which he affectlessly held a pistol to his own head … Along with the Internet and e-mail, Vollmann also foregoes cell phones, credit-card use, checking accounts, and driving.”
  • On David Mitchell’s Twitter story, “The Right Sort”: “The effect of reading was not feelings of disjunction and separation but rather one of surprising connection, a sense of disappearing into the scroll and the vortex of the story.”
  • From the Guardian, July 24, 1844: “a most lamentable difference exists between the witchcraft of modern romance and the witchcraft of ancient superstition.”
  • “Is there any consistent relationship between a book’s quality and its sales? Or again between the press and critics’ response to a work and its sales? … As of a few days ago UK sales of all three volumes of Knausgaard work in hardback and paperback had barely topped 22,000 copies … In the US, which has a much larger market, that figure— total sales of all three volumes (minus e-books)—stood at about 32,000.”
  • “As Amazon gains market share, we can no longer abide its self-proclaimed conceit that unfettered growth is invariably in the consumers’ interest … Amazon ought no longer to be permitted to behave like a parasite that hollows out its host. A serious Justice Department investigation is past due.”

 

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The World’s Most Average Typeface, and Other News

July 23, 2014 | by

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Z, from BIC’s Universal Typeface Experiment.

  • On the Booker longlist: Joshua Ferris, Joseph O’Neill, Richard Powers, Siri Hustvedt, Howard Jacobson, David Mitchell, David Nicholls, and others. Notably excluded: Donna Tartt.
  • Earlier this month came news of Charlotte and Branwell Brontë’s tiny books; now it’s the Brontë sisters’ school progress reports. In the early nineteenth century, a minister at Cowan Bridge noted that Charlotte “writes indifferently … knows nothing of grammar, geography, history, or accomplishments.”
  • Do you seek a bland font, a middling font, a dutifully average font? Try the Universal Typeface, “a constantly evolving, algorithmically produced font created by averaging hundreds of thousands of handwriting samples submitted to BIC’s website. Anyone with a touchscreen can help shape the Universal Typeface by linking their phone or tablet to the website and writing directly on the touchscreen—the lettering is quickly transferred to the Universal Typeface algorithm. As of this writing, more than 400,000 samples have been collected from around the world, and the resulting alphabet is … well, sort of boring.”
  • Wallace Shawn discusses playwriting and his new take on Ibsen’s The Master Builder: “If a man can presume to make a list of men who contributed to the feminist view of life, you’d have to put Ibsen at the head of the list. But he’s laying out on the table some of the worst male fantasies. I mean, he was a very daring writer, and he dared to be sort of sickening. He dared to create these characters who were sort of dreadful.”
  • “The jukebox musical can be an embarrassing phenomenon: a living, breathing pop-music wax museum. It can be pandering and disingenuous, fostering a dynamic that the Times has called ‘ovation-by-coercion.’ It can repackage your happiest memories as a Vegas revue … Our instinct is to sigh about it, but we shouldn’t. The form is evolving.”

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Our Office Plants, Ourselves, and Other News

July 22, 2014 | by

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Polly Brown photographs plants in offices. Photo via The New Yorker; plant also via The New Yorker.

  • Coming soon to the two-euro coin: Tove Jansson’s face. How can you get one? “ ‘Some collectors consider it important to obtain the coin from circulation, but it is easier to purchase the special coin in polished proof quality from numismatic shops or the Mint of Finland online shop,’ says Mint of Finland CEO Paul Gustafsson.”
  • Bertrand Russell: bright guy and all, but was his pacifism really so logically rigorous? “The peace agenda of Russell and his followers was always based on the assumption that war is simply a euphemism for the madness of state-sponsored mass murder, and that we could prevent it by standing up for moral and political sanity … But the paths to war are paved not with malice but with righteous self-certainty. People who choose to participate in military action are more likely to be altruists than egotists.”
  • How should you explain what your novel’s about? Not like this: “This was the story of a young guy, from a town, with a family, with a handful of familiar issues, going back to that town.”
  • The photographer Polly Brown “has spent the past year documenting the plants that bloom in the headquarters of Louis Vuitton, A.T. & T., Nike, Vogue, and even The New Yorker … Brown’s idea was to present the office plant as a representation [of] our ‘biophilic desires.’ ”
  • In 2002, radio producers interviewed “New Yorkers who were among the last—and in some cases, the very last—to hold jobs in industries that were dying … They came up with seven people—a Brooklyn fisherman, a water-tower builder, a cowbell maker, a knife-and-scissor grinder, a lighthouse keeper, an old-fashioned bra fitter, and a seltzer man.” The interviews are now online.

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