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A Week in Culture: Tim Wu, Professor, Part 2

November 11, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Tim Wu’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

11:00 A.M., Amtrak, Washington, D.C. → New York City

Taking a break, I read P. G. Wodehouse, whose work I would call a guilty pleasure if I actually felt any guilt about it. Today, I read what must be one of his most brilliant stories, “The Story of Webster.” It is about a young Bohemian named Lancelot whose uncle, a disapproving Vicar, makes him take care of his cat while he is on missionary duty in Bongo Bongo.

The cat, it turns out is something of a proxy for the Vicar’s disapproval. “His eyes were clear and steady, and seemed to pierce to the very roots of the young man’s soul, filling him with a sense of guilt.” Lancelot cannot seem to ignore the pressure. Soon he has begun to shave daily, clean his apartment, and under the cat’s influence even ditches his fun-loving poetess girlfriend for a Miss Carberry-Pirbright, “a young woman of prim and glacial aspect.” All seems lost, until at the end the hero solves the problem in a way I won’t spoil.

2:50 P.M., Room 104, Jerome Green Hall, Columbia University

My copyright class today is about cultural appropriation, or more precisely, what a secondary author can and cannot do without the first author’s permission. We talk about the case of the Harry Potter Lexicon—a detailed encyclopedia of all things Potter, which J. K. Rowling declared an infringement of her authorial rights.

This year’s copyright class is a good crowd. I banned laptops, and class speaking is done standing so it has a performative aspect that adds intensity. It also doesn’t hurt that the underlying topic—authorship—is just interesting.

How authors react to works based on their work is unpredictable. Some authors take the existence of any secondary works as a sign of success. Others are hurt, even if the work is flattering. I tell the class about the day I watched Ms. Rowling on the witness stand, crying and saying that her life had lost meaning thanks to that nasty Lexicon.

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Staff Picks: Alice Illuminated, the Pelé of iPads

August 6, 2010 | by

What we're reading this week.

After seeing Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, I’ve been looking through Lewis Carroll’s original text. The British Library has a copy of the 1864 illuminated manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, conveniently online. The illustrations are delicate and charming. They’re much like Carroll’s handwriting, neat and subtle, with no trace of the macabre imagery in Burton’s movie. Alice is worth returning to again and again. —Daisy Atterbury

Four middle-aged strangers, stranded late at night in a railroad station, begin speaking of love. Soon each is telling the story of his one great romance. It sounds like a lost work of Turgenev—and sometimes it reads that way too—but it’s My Kind of Girl, by the mid-century Bengali poet Buddhadeva Bose. First published in 1951, out next month in a new translation by Arunava Sinha. —Lorin Stein.

At the risk of stating the obvious, wasn’t that some piece about Gil Scott Heron? —L. S.

In the week that Newsweek was bought for a dollar, and Wikileaks dominated the news, I read up on the changing media landscape. I read John Koblin’s article in the New York Observer about Scott Dadich, executive editor of digital development at Condé Nast, with great interest. Dadich’s job is to help magazine editors develop their iPad applications. I’m fascinated by this new frontier, professionally and personally. Dadich is incredibly talented. In Koblin’s piece, he’s compared to Jesus, Pelé, Miles Davis, and Frank Lloyd Wright. —Caitlin Roper

Scavenged for all things Heidi Julavits after reading her story, "Multiples of Cohen," in the latest Harper's. —Anna Hartford

As a cyclist, I’ve been alarmed to learn from Republican electoral candidates that I am part of a vast biking conspiracy, started by the UN, to use bike lanes to take away people’s freedom. Meanwhile, back in the real world, I’ve started Ursula K LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, a story about a planet where gender roles are obscured, just in time for the California District Court’s decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger. I picked up my copy, a classic early seventies hardcover edition with wonderfully strange modernist artwork, for fifty cents on somebody’s stoop near the office. —Patrick Loughran

What is an editor to do with a galley of the annotated edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? I have yet to find a fun way to feature the book on the Daily (suggestions are welcome). It’s more information than I’ll ever need. When is it the hunting season for partridges? Did you know that Epsom salts derive their name from the fact that they were originally made by boiling down mineral water from Epsom? Or that Frances Burney's first novel, Evelina (1778), was perhaps the first work to explore the notion of embarrassment? Is possible to overdose on Jane Austen? —Thessaly La Force

Also loved John Bowe’s piece in The New York Times Magazine about music copyright enforcers. Bowe delves into a facet of music copyright that I haven’t considered, and it’s a rough one—he follows a BMI licensing executive as she goes door-to-door to collect licensing fees for music that restaurants are already playing. The article gets at the question of how we feel about paying for music, a subject I never tire of. In June, I donated to Creative Commons after reading this letter from their creative director in response to ASCAP’s fundraising letter decrying what they characterized as efforts to “undermine” their copyrights. —C. R.

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