- “A rare first edition of Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds belonging to Frances Currer, the woman believed to have inspired Charlotte Brontë’s pseudonym of Currer Bell, has come to light.” That’s fine news. But it gets better: Currer’s edition includes “an engraving which depicts someone urinating out of a cowshed [which] was considered rather coarse by some contemporaries and was bowdlerized in some copies but is untouched in this.”
- Since Hitler’s death in 1945, Germany has barred any and all reprinting of Mein Kampf. But that ban is soon to expire, and the first new German edition of the book in some seventy years is on its way. “The new edition is a heavily annotated volume in its original German that is stirring an impassioned debate over history, anti-Semitism and the latent power of the written word … Rather than a how-to guidebook for the aspiring fascist, the new reprint, the group said this month, will instead be a vital academic tool, a 2,000-page volume packed with more criticisms and analysis than the original text.”
- Galleries are great for displaying and selling your art—but they’re getting better at losing it, too. We live in a Golden Age of misplaced artworks. “As art prices rise, gallerists are less likely to keep all the art consigned to them on their own premises, because of safety and insurance costs … There’s also been a boom in mega-big-box galleries that have multiple locations in one city, or around the world, occasioning traveling exhibitions. Add to this the fact that many pieces, on inventory lists at least, look nearly identical, and you see the problem.”
- Today in insidious, nihilistic capitalist ploys: “Faced with a cadre of young workers who say they want to make a difference in addition to a paycheck, employers are trying to inject meaning into the daily grind, connecting profit-driven endeavors to grand consequences for mankind.” KPMG, an accounting firm, launched a new video encouraging employees to see themselves as “bricklayers or cathedral builders.” One employee said “it got him thinking about the lack of meaning in his day job.”
- Alice Munro on Dickens’s A Child’s History of England: “This was the first book I ever read … in the sense that I had a private vision of what I was reading about—unexpected, incommunicable, painfully exciting.”
Was the community you grew up in pleased about your career?
It was known there had been stories published here and there, but my writing wasn’t fancy. It didn’t go over well in my hometown. The sex, the bad language, the incomprehensibility … The local newspaper printed an editorial about me: A soured introspective view of life … And, A warped personality projected on …
—The Art of Fiction No. 137, 1994
Happy birthday to Alice Munro. In this 1979 clip from Take 30, a Canadian talk show, Munro—who’s eighty-two today—discusses the less-than-warm reception her collection Lives of Girls and Women received in her native Huron County, where a conservative group argued that it should be expunged from twelfth-grade syllabi. She speaks here to Harry Brown (whose three-piece suit yours truly wouldn’t mind owning) about fighting the proposed ban.
This is the kind of talk show that’s all but extinct today, in which two unadorned, ordinary-looking people have an intelligent conversation without a studio audience, or a ticker scrolling beneath them, or a host of other distracting stimuli that have come to seem normal. But what’s more eye-opening is how little has changed since then. The controversies stalking literature in 1979 are almost identical to today’s bugbears: declining readership, increasing moral turpitude. A debate, in other words, about what literature should do and who it’s for.
“Many people don’t read much and don’t think books are very important anyway,” Munro tells the interviewer. And:
As far as I can tell from the talk of the people who are against the books, they somehow think that if we don’t write about sex, it will disappear, it will go away. They talk about preserving their seventeen-year-old and eighteen-year-old children, protecting them. Well, biology doesn’t protect them. They don’t need to read books.
It’s not clear whether Munro succeeded in stopping or overturning the ban, but apparently the events in Huron County “inspired the Book and Periodical Council of Canada to launch Freedom to Read Week, an annual celebration of freedom of expression.”
- Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize last year, which is neat and all, but what’s even cooler is that her face is going to appear on a five-dollar Canadian coin—an honor second only to having a New Jersey Turnpike rest area named after you.
- The world’s most expensive musical instrument: “a Stradivari viola, whose asking price will start at $45 million when it is offered for sale this spring.”
- If one loses the ability to speak, a prosthetic voice offers the chance to restore one’s vocal identity.
- What was on French television in the sixties? Michel Foucault and Alain Badiou discussing philosophy. Obviously.
- If you’ve got two left feet, scientists have done you a solid: they now know exactly which dance moves catch a lady’s eye. The Electric Slide is not among them, experts say.
- Since Alice Munro skipped the trip to Stockholm, there is instead a Nobel video, and we can all watch it!
- David Ulin on Nelson Mandela, the writer.
- Here is some unabashed coziness porn: a slideshow of reading nooks. HuffPo ran it on #SanctuarySunday (which exists, it would seem) but on a Monday morning fraught with wintry mix, I daresay we need it even more.
- And apparently on the same page, the Guardian brings us a list of comfort reads.