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Friday, October 25, 2013

Pinterest is the new Vogue, or How I Spent My Summer Vacation


For a long time I have wondered about fashion and magazines and reading time and beautiful photography and prices and old media versus social media and also what to wear today. All these concerns intersect in my world.

So - for starters, if you are reading books, you don't have time to read magazines and vice versa. That's hard for me, right there.

Then, the fancy fashion magazines are great for photography, but don't really help you decide what kind of shoes to get this fall, and when they do indicate what kind of shoes to get this fall, I find I am not keen to spend the $950 it takes to get them. (These are Gucci, and they are great, I must say, but who is able to afford that? How can one follow advice to buy these?) 

And also, I don't care what any fashion magazine has to say about issues. Not any issues: not clitorectomies; not body image; not art: not arts funding; not what men want; not how women combine work and motherhood; not what Michelle Obama is wearing today. Can you honestly say you care? I'd rather read about what Elizabeth Bennet is wearing, or Katniss, or Frankenstein's monster.

(Worth it, right?)

NOT ANY ISSUES. Actually, this is my main media concern, social and otherwise. I don't care what any people I DON'T KNOW think about any ISSUE. It's boring.

I once read (probably) that the reader is the product sold by the publication to the advertiser. Check that again. The READER is the PRODUCT SOLD BY the PUBLISHER TO the ADVERTISER. True. Also true for all televison, and quite certainly some movies and books. If that does not disembowel one's respect for content, nothing can. It's a frame as old as Latin: Cui bono? Who benefits?

When I was a kid, I loved magazines, started at 13 with Seventeen magazine, (I actually remember this cover), graduated to Vogue and the New York Times Sunday edition at 16. I have had to continually edit my collection of torn-out reference pages to bring it back to relevant and also to prevent drowning accidents. See comic below.

I've posted this brilliant Wondermark comic before, and I will help my children mutate to live as bibliophibians but not as ... uh ... magazinophibians ... journophibians ... cartophibians...I think you get my drift.

But for the past 10 years I have increasingly felt a gap in the area of my brain that used to derive pleasure from following fashion in magazines. I still love clothes - love designers - love buying clothes (and art) from artisans who are not only theorizing but touching and making the product with their own hands. But magazines...nada. A couple are OK–Lucky and LouLou come to mind–practically no stories, affordable realizable fashion, but they still have pages and pages and pages that are not interesting to me, like all that advertising which is really what pays the bills. The entry price of the magazine is to provide tangible proof to the advertiser that future consumers of their product will actually see the ad. And now even they can hardly give them away on paper. (I mean, a $3 subscription?)

That brings us to the solution: Pinterest. I follow both these magazines on Pinterest.

I sell Pinterest to all my friends as a magazine you curate yourself. Curation is the buzzword of culture these days, and here it is again. I find streams and content that sync well with my tastes and interests. It flows past easily, and in 2 seconds I can fish out content and place it an organizational structure that has meaning for me. (Funnily, tagging is not part of it. Pinterest is for visual people, not book people. Words are not important. Images must be repinned to appear in two places, advantage is not taken of the infinite ability of one image to appear via its tags in 20 categories – actually the board IS the tag.)

Pinterest has revitalized the fun of getting dressed in the morning, of shopping for white jeans, of checking thru my mother's jewellery box for vintage brooches. It makes it feel cool to support and celebrate a local designer with little media presence...without the time-wasting of pages full of ads, full of current-paradigm issues, full of commentary, full of images for the otherwise inclined.

Plus, it gave me the nerve to buy spray paint for some storage tins, and make a small macro photography studio, and find the right glues to properly repair things around the house, and make little presents with my kids by hand...

In addition (she lectures on and on) Pinterest is safe - populated mainly by non-predators (shall we say); the social contact is actually minimal as there is little or no chat space; the social and political content is negligable. I don't worry about my kids collecting pictures of hedgehogs, or dollhouses. They may run into the f-word or tatts or men's chests, but that's about the limit. We can talk about it. They won't be shocked.

Finally, there are some fun infographics about what good business it is to appear on Pinterest - more click-thrus to purchases than on any platform, more time spent per user, more actions per user etc and this compared to Tumblr (OK) Facebook (bleh!) and Twitter (bleh!), for example. It's the new asses-in-seats, and I recommend you get it while it's hot.

The marigold wonders nervously if she should include links to said infographics? They change all the time, and the summary is stated...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico

By Antonio Tabucchi
translated by Tim Parks
Archipelago Books

I have had a review copy of this book in PDF form for ages. It should have been a hot-button draw, but I just never seemed to feel like opening it on my desktop, despite its brevity. Finally, to clear up my obligation, I opened it, and found it delightful.

It seems that the writer, with  great sensitivity, wished to explore the imaginative space around certain historical objects, or episodes; he wanted to fantasize about the creation of art and history in a way that would feel like a real imaginative moment in the period. I found the little stories exquisite and evocative and delightful. Bravo. It is an exercise I enjoy, too, imagining the meetings in which movies are scripted, ads are planned, books are edited; imagining acts of imagination on their way to becoming realities.

I always try to capture my thoughts and impressions before researching or looking at other reviews. It was gratifying to realize that despite this book's appearance of being a self-published and self-indulgent effort, Tabucchi was actually a very respected academic and writer of literary fiction, and was nearly a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. This book was written about 25 years ago, and only pulled into English now.

Is it a coincidence that Tabucchi found his heart in Portugal, and that his post-modernism in these stories, many of which are set in Portuguese history, reminds me of Saramago? What is in the air/soil/food/water/wine of Portugal that fosters this art? My home language and culture is SO English, but I actually believe that literary art is happening elsewhere.

As someone always looking for a new thrill, I am pleased to have a new author to chase down and read through.

Now the marigold is wondering nervously about finding Tabucchi in a bookstore, about having this fixation with old guys writing about Portugal, about whether I should think up a thesis and aim for some sort of degree...

PS I have not yet found the shred of Fra Angelico that appears on the cover of the book, but I am looking. When I find it, I'll update this post.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Batch Early Review E-books from LibraryThing, together with some thoughts about the future of publishing, and how cultural icons are rehabilitated, etc.

You may remember me writing about e-books way back in the summer of 2011, (here) that it was like over-indulging in junk food. I found that it was too true, and I was already past the point of satiation. Without the trap of time, spent with only a phone to read from (first travelling and then waiting around in a hospital waiting room), my appetite went down for reading indie e-books. However, I requested some ARCs of e-books from LibraryThing before I really realized it, and here are the reviews:

Things Falling Apart
by JW Schnarr

This one is OK - deft enough, but didn't make me desperate to get back to the stories. Dark, Canadian, random, fragmentary...not bad, but not that special.

by Kristina Meister

The premise is cool, the voice seemed believable, but I couldn't quite stay with it long enough to find out where it was going. I may be able to get back to this and fill out my impressions.

Twice Shy
by Patrick Freivald

The cover resembles my fashion look-book on Pinterest, funnily enough. Cute idea of zombies masked to pass as humans. Readable enough, but not something I find myself choosing when I have a choice of books.

I have stopped requesting new indie e-books to review. However...

ON the other hand, there is something which has driven me back to the world of public-domain classics that are available thru the miracle of the internet.

By this I mainly mean the BBC show SHERLOCK–I sort of feel like I'm part of the fandom, can't get enough, regularly rewatch episodes, getting excited by the approach of the 3rd season in November, and got REALLY excited by the announcement of a 4th season to come– but also including the two Guy Ritchie movies of the more historic Sherlock Holmes, breathe...

I happened upon a short group of Sherlock Holmes stories on my iPad. When I first went "i-" I naturally checked out all the reading resources. I have, and use, and regularly buy for, mainly Kindle, but I also have iBooks, Stanza, and Audiobooks which I hardly use, except to try their free classics, plus an app called Classics, plus a free+ app called Sherlock Holmes. For free it has only a small selection of 12 short stories, but how thrilling to go to the original text when teasing apart episodes of SHERLOCK, to find actual quotations that appear in one or the other, and I even found one of the title episodes.

It also got me wondering. Was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a kind of genius or a popular phenomenon, a gifted hack or...what is the critical opinion, exactly? I recently heard of the rehabilitation of the composer Rachmaninoff and I am there with that. My childhood ears were filled with Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff and Puccini and, there but less so, Beethoven and my own first discovery, Dvorak. All super-easy superstars, sort of somewhat denigrated for their very ease of their popularity. I have always LOVED all of them, but as my music theory improved, I wondered if I loved them only for their childhood familiarity, if the music was simplistic. Needless to say, I was very pleased to hear, from Tom Allen on CBC 2 no less (see the link for his twitter feed on the sidebar) that Rach is being reconsidered as a composer, and shifted up somewhat from his lightweight class.

So, back to Conan Doyle, I am thinking of Adam Gopnik writing about Moby Dick in the The New Yorker in 2007, here, with the idea that works that would nowadays be "..., by conventional contemporary standards of good editing and critical judgment, improved..." are, in fact, hailed as genius because of their ideosyncratic irregularity.

Certainly merits some additional thought.

The marigold is wondering somewhat nervously about how one's reputation fares when one admits to liking the popular. What strength of character and reputation is required to be part of the movement towards critical acceptance rather than popular?

Someone besides Nigel Tufnell says D minor is the saddest key, and he proves it!

I couldn't believe it when I heard Tom Allen say that someone had been mashing up works in D minor to home in on a quality or "colour" that defines a key signature. I went to the CBC Radio 2 website, and there it was:

Paolo Pietropaolo's The Signature Series.

Not all the keys are there yet, but my favourite is...
D minor. He does say it is the saddest key! He also credits Spinal Tap. I am verklempt!

Although at this point I could say that no more need be said, but I will undoubtedly say more at some point.

PS Right now there are about a dozen keys defined in this way, and it's all fun.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pajama Press Review or A Fabulous Tudor Moment

By Sue MacLeod
Published by pajama press, 2013

I seem to be having a Tudor moment: a moment in which I am thinking about the place of Henry VIII in the development of Protestantism.

My readers know I ADORE the BBC show Horrible Histories, generated out of the book series by Terry Deary. Among the many importantly repeated characters is Henry VIII, (played by my favourite member of the comedy troop, Ben Willbond. Sigh.) I always get to watch it extra during the summer months. Less homework, you know.

Then, as a silver lining for a long summer in a foot cast (which goes with an even longer story, which I will tell you all about some other time) I got around to a couple of projects that needed some quiet time. I watched Simon Schama’s BBC video series History of Great Britain (he’s another of my heartthrobs). An entire episode was devoted to Thomas Cromwell, who was, for a significant period, a chief advisor to King Henry VIII, although he was one of many during Henry’s long reign.

As it happens, I was also just then reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel, also about Thomas Cromwell. Mantel gives Cromwell as a Protestant of ardent personal belief, who masterfully supports and exploits Henry’s turn away from Rome. Although the wish to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was a motivation, it can also be seen as a flashpoint. It highlighted the power of a foreign Pope over the English monarchy and succession, and came at a time when there were other protestant ideas swelling around Europe: to have bibles in the languages of the people which would allow all to access its message; a general disgust at the corruption of the old Catholic system, with some monks and nuns living in inappropriate luxury and abandon (not to mention priests, bishops, cardinals and Popes); the proliferation and sale of relics; and worst of all, the sale of indulgences.

To have a laugh about it all, watch this video from HH: It’s Your Reign, Henry VIII in which past friends and advisors of Henry are brought in to reminisce about their old times together.

Quite incidentally, I also recently watched and loved the Michael Wood documentary from PBS In Search of Shakespeare, which also centred on the struggle between the “old faith” or Roman Catholicism and the “new”, which became Anglicanism, a struggle that continued to play out throughout the reigns of Henry’s children, Catholic Mary and Protestant Elizabeth, and thus very importantly over the career of Shakespeare as well. I had never EVER thought about Shakespeare in terms of his personal political position on faith, and Woods’ research was stunning and fascinating. Just think of Romeo and Juliet in terms of the quarrel over religion and maybe your world will be as rocked as mine was. 

It was a stroke of good fortune that I received a copy of Namesake to review right when I was in the zone to appreciate it. The premise is effective and intriguing: a current high school student (like my kids), whose name is Jane Grey, somehow finds a small, illuminated, Book of Prayre among the library books she has taken out to prepare an AP History project on Lady Jane Grey.

The two Janes are linked not only by name, but also by the need for a refuge from the difficulties of their lives. Lady Jane Grey is awaiting beheading in the Tower of London for treason. She had been pushed into occupying the English throne as a Protestant for nine days on the death of her cousin, Henry VIII’s sickly young son Edward VI, until the Privy Council reinstated the more proper claim of his sister, the Catholic Mary. Modern Jane Grey lives with her alcoholic and unpredictable single mother, a university professor, who is going through the painful end of yet another romance. When each of the Janes turns to the prayer book for peace, they connect through time!

One of the main themes of Namesake is the struggle between Mary with her Catholic supporters and the mass of people already devoted to a more Protestant practice. Lady Jane follows the new faith. She maintains her faith loyally, and although she acquits herself well in discussion with a priest sent by Mary to bring her back to Catholicism, she declines to revert and thereby save her own life, choosing an honest and honourable death. Pretty rich for a YA book, which is ostensibly about teen-age troubles.

There is simply nothing I love more than offering some real, well-researched, history to kids, through a vehicle that engages them. Not at every minute in my life could I have felt as comfortable with the historical reality in this book, so how very fortunate it came to me just now.  I loved it, and I will be recommending this book anywhere I can, to any kids, teachers and libraries I encounter.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

LibraryThing Early Review

Hijacked: How Your Brain is Fooled by Food
by David A. Kessler MD,
Young Readers Edition adapted by Richie Chevat
from The End of Overeating
Tundra Books, 2013

This is an adapted version for kids, and, sadly, it feels like it was adapted by the "rules" method rather than ability to communicate with kids, with bullet point shout-outs, and breaks in the text. The ideas here are quite interesting, although, like many (if not nearly all) non-fiction books, it should actually just be a long article, as there is too much repetition used to flesh it out to book length. I can only imagine the grown-up version is even worse, with more anecdote and more repetition. (Should I say that again?)

The one key idea is that foods offered by industry with the magic fat:sugar:salt trio are nearly impossible to resist, especially, but not only, if you are not blessed by an inborn ability to govern your appetite. This is an idea to talk with kids about, and teaching my kids to mind themselves and have respect for the temple which is the body feels to me like one of my main jobs as a parent.

My mother is a dietitian, and I am a little jaded about food science, and a bit of a know-it-all, too, but even I was surprised by the fact that processed food is designed to be chewed and swallowed faster SO YOU EAT MORE. I imagine that just pure knowledge of this, and observing it next time we eat something processed, will help move my kids' tastes a little bit back toward food from processed food.

I was also interested to be tuned into the idea that a cute and clever way food companies get around the obligation to list ingredients by amounts is to break up "sugar" into brown sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup and so on, so each one appears as a much less important part of the food, rather than showing us as a single dominant mass at the top of the list. Food label reading is something we do, especially of breakfast cereals, but I think we might read together labels on bread and ketchup to share that thought and increase our awareness.

I was also interested to think about the paradigm of "eatertainment" used by the restaurant industry, and this is certainly a weakness of mine, rather than that of a fussy kid. Not just a hot dog, but 12 varieties of hot dogs, with exotic topping. And what about serve yourself fro-yo in a dozen flavours to be added to your cup. (Have you seen the shock on faces at the cash register when the fro-yo cups are weighed for payment? There should a calorie counter by weight, too.)

The question is, if your kids are not already fighting a weight battle, which has its own motivations, will knowledge be sufficient to retrain their tastes? I will be following some of the suggestions in the book's final section, "Food Rehab", and I was glad to see exercise there as a twin pillar of food management. We'll see. Knowledge is power, and governing one's appetite is a life-long part of good health, so worth some effort and valuable in any quantity.

I keep a few food-health books handy in the kitchen for reference and recipes, The South Beach Diet (for heart health as well as weight control) by Arthur Agatson

and Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health: But Don't Forget the Chocolate, by my friend Liz Pearson and her friend Marilyn Smith. This little book will join them so we can check things out right as they occur to us.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Eight–No, Nine–Best Reads and One Best TV Show: 2012

It's been a long time since I've worked here, for all the usual boring human reasons. But, I have been reading all along, and I have had some marvelous reading experiences in 2012–altho fewer by far than I have had the past few years– and that is not to mention the additional marvelous book-buying experiences this year has offered. So, here I am on Dec 21, and I have decided to celebrate that today is not, in fact, the end of the world by starting the reviewing and listing my favourite reads of the year.

(And here I am trying to finish up half-way thru February. Ah well. Nope. Finishing in March. The books were still good. Already found one or two for my 2013 list. )

In the number one position, by a long way, is a book so awesome that I think I may have caused a run on it in the local bookstores just by raving about it to all my reading friends:

Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence
by Bill James 

This is an extremely idiosyncratic book by a very smart guy. Reading it feels like talking with a bright friend. He already revolutionized baseball scouting by analyzing scouting practices as an outsider, and he has applied the same sort of pure rationality to the intersection of crime and media. He is not a lawyer or journalist or prison reform advocate or politician or...or...or. He is a smart guy. He has no vested interest. He has no agenda. I am so sad that I have finished the book. I wish it could have lasted longer. I am so attracted to his thinking that I am almost prepared to take up reading his baseball thoughts, even tho baseball is possibly lowest on my list of interesting sports. Well, perhaps basketball is...or rugby, erm, cricket...but anyway, this is a book I believe anyone could enjoy - from ardent readers of fiction to ardent readers of the newspaper.

Here are the rest of the books, in no particular order, fiction first, then the two non-fiction entries on the list.

by Jay Kristoff
Japanese Steampunk. With glossary. Bends the genre, and mashes it up. No more need be said.

Death and the Penguin
by Andrey Kurkov
(1996, first in English 2001, this edition 2011)
Post-glasnost Ukrainian fiction, black comedy, featuring a penguin. Horrifyingly real and funny.

The Wind-up Girl
by Paolo Baciagalupi (best name ever!)
A fantastic projection into the future - commerce controlled by food barons, borders locked down to slow the spread of plant epidemics engendered by mono-culturing of agriculture, a sexy Japanese cyborg struggling with her conscience, while the humans around her live blithely day-to-day. No, not blithely; they endure, but they don't challenge. This was a masterpiece of science fiction as far as I am concerned. It stayed with me so much that I realized I better give it my "favourites" tag on LibraryThing.

The Learners
by Chip Kidd
One of my literary heros, first he was a star of book cover design. This novel concerns Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority experiment at Yale, one of the (very) few things I truly learned in university, and a lesson that continues to resound in everyday life. It is also a book, if you are interested.

by Haruki Murakami 
(2009, in English 2011)
Murakami was a real favourite of mine, but then I read that his English editors shortened his works by 33%, thus, I guess, inadvertently enhancing the magical realism of his novels. I finally got past the idea when this book was recommended by a kid I admire, and I read it. It was Murakami; it was awesome.

by Mark Forsyth 
From the title joke, to the last word, this book was a delight and a surprise even to a committed amateur etymologist such as myself. So thorough, so funny. Although there were some gaps that I could identify from knowing Italian, I didn't see any errors, and for that I give about 5 thumbs up! Forsyth has a wordy website, The Inky Fool, which is now on my radar, and will stay on my "Links to Writers" sidebar.

The History of Mathematics
by Anne Rooney
A really concise and clear story that links up beautifully with the order in which our kids learn mathematics over the years. This book fills in the background against which they study the methods and application as taught in school. Shame it can't be fit into the curriculum.

Plus: Favourite non-reads: (only one item)

BBC's Horrible Histories
I know it was originally a book series, which is all very fine and good, but the TV show is absolutely perfect. So far, only 3 seasons are available in Canada, and on DVD (which I had to order, in Region 2 format, from Amazon UK), and yet no matter how many times I have seen each show, I am actually and literally disappointed when the show ends. I know it takes up valuable evening reading time, but I will continue to sacrifice reading for this show. Great great great comedians, great costumes and hair, great accents, great historical and modern body language, great production values, and even better original music! (Late breaking news: a new season of shows has appeared on BBC Kids in Canada. OMG!)

The Daughter of Time
by Josephine Tey

And I had a late great entry for this list from the end of December, a book that I realized was right at the intersection of Popular Crime and Horrible Histories, one of the rare books I have re-read several times, and am now encouraging some of my reading buddies to pick up (or pick up again). Tey was a brilliant writer, this being one of the two pen-names of Elizabeth Mackintosh. This book, from 1951, is about a cop laid up in hospital with a bad injury and nothing to do, who ends doing historical research, with the help of a young American history student, into the crime of the notorious Richard III - the murder of his nephews in the Tower of London. Your take on history and media will never be the same after you read this. And re-read it. And then re-read it again when the situation demands a review. And that's not to even start with the writerly aspects of the work, and her other books...
(Bizarrely and wonderfully, the long-lost burial site of Richard III was discovered earlier this year–2013–and he was certainly a crook-back. The photo is so beautiful I am including it here as a bonus.

Biggest disappointments:

Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky (1999, this edition 2012)
I know everyone loved it. I know it's very kid's favourite new book-slash-movie. Ho hum. Vertically integrated corporate product. Engaging characters. Confused psychology.

Cold Cereal
by Adam Rex (2012)
I love Love LOVE Adam Rex, but Lemony Snickett could have written this book.

Battle Royale
by Koushun Takami
(2003, this English edition 2009)
Supposed to be the original Hunger Games. Vicious, violent, gratuitous. No thanks. Offensive AND boring! I should add a PS - I refer you again to Obedience to Authority, and ask you to consider the opinion of a friend of mine, that Battle Royale is about the extent to which totalitarianism can replace morality with obedience. And he grew up in a totalitarian state. I'm glad I tried it. I am glad I know about Milgram. I am glad my friend shares his opinions with me.

The marigold is wondering rather nervously if anyone still remembers her...?