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[LINK] What are the best known books of the countries of the world?

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Livejournaler Nicholas Whyte has started an interesting series of posts, examining book-related social networking sites to see which books are cited most often in reference to particular countries.

I was very interested by this list of the most famous books set in each US state which I saw last week, to the extent of thinking about how I might measure the best known book set in neach European country. As ever in these matters, I have turned to my trusty friends LibraryThing and GoodReads, each of which allows users to record the books that they own and also to tag (LT) or shelve (GR) by key words such as setting. I did a quick response on Twitter using those figures for the four main divisions of the British Isles.

But in fact that only records how often people reading a particular book thoguht to tag it as set in a particular country. They may be wrong about its setting; the book itself may be have a universal appeal that transcends its location. With a little more effort, one can dig into the numbers and find which books that are (sometimes) tagged as being set in a particular country are also the most widely owned among users of both websites.

The results have been interesting. In more than half of all cases that I have looked at so far, LibraryThing and GoodReads users agree on a particular book that has Country X as a setting and is particularly well-known. In a couple of cases – three Shakespeare plays, to take a convenient example – the actual presentation of country X in the work is rather different from the reality; it’s as if the author had never been there but just chose to write a story that was set there. In those cases I shall also strive to present an alternative book more firmly grounded in that country’s setting than you might get if you were adapting an obscure sixteenth-century novella or historical chronicle for the stage.

I hope you will find the results interesting.

Whyte began by looking at the statistics for England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Northern Ireland, and has since gone further afield.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 5, 2015 at 2:05 am

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • At Antipope, Harry Connolly analyzes a paragraph of Charlie Stross’ writing in detail.
  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait and the Planetary Society Blog’s Casey Dreier both note NASA’s interest in sending a probe to Europa.
  • blogTO notes that Wrigley will shut down a gum-manufacturing plant in Toronto, at the cost of 400 jobs.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a survey of 12 nearby red dwarf stars indicating that none of them have massive planets in close orbits.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes India’s interest in Japan’s Soryu submarine.
  • Kieran Healy analyzes vaccination data in California, looking at rates of vaccination in different types of schools.
  • Language Hat analyzes the complexities of Gogol’s writing style.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at a debt-restructuring plan for Greece.
  • The Planetary Society Blog shares the latest images from Ceres.
  • Strange Maps looks at the distribution of federally-owned lands across the United States.
  • Transit Toronto notes the passage of a new TTC budget aiming to fix underfunding-related problems.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy considers when voters should defer to the views of scientists.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia might be trying to de-Turkify Crimea, notes the non-Russian past of Siberia, and suggests that current Russian policy is a self-fulfilling prophecy of enemy-making.

[LINK] “Landscape and Austen”

jsburbidge has a nice post about the role of landscape in Jane Austen’s novels.

Somewhere back near the beginning of time (it sometimes feels like) I took a graduate seminar on Landscape and Literature, with a focus mainly on the 18th Century (although the 19th and 20th centuries did get a look in). It was not as interesting as it might have been — the professor, Leo Braudy, was not noted for the excitement he generated — but it did have its points.

I thought of that course again on re-watching the 2005 movie of Price and Prejudice (the one with Keira Knightly). I did so because it seemed to me that at many cases where Austen set a scene indoors, the movie gratuitously set it outdoors (sometimes jettisoning a good line in the process: there was no space for Mr. Bennett’s “I have two small favours to request. First, that you will allow me the free use of my understanding on the present occasion; and secondly, of my room. I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be”, as Elizabeth had stormed out of the house to a duckpond). Occasionally a scene which Austen set outside (Darcy delivering his letter to Elizabeth, Lady Catherine delivering her interdiction to Elizabeth) was set inside, for no obvious reason I could see. Sometimes the landscape seemed to invade the indoors: the Bennetts’ house seemed to have pigs in the background unpredictably.

These weren’t the only arbitrary changes which seemed to be aimed principally at foregrounding the picturesque. Why did the Gardiners go to the Peak District rather than having their planned tour to the Lake District cut short[1]? Why was Darcy’s set of miniatures by the fireplace (restrained, in good taste) changed into a sculpture gallery? For that matter, how did Darcy know that by wandering out at the crack of dawn he would find Elizabeth outdoors the morning after Lady Catherine had visited? (In the novel he is in London at the time, but I do not begrudge the simplification to the director of his being at Netherfield and coming over; but as a reasonable man he would have ridden over no earlier than mid-morning, on any reasonable expectation of getting access to Elizabeth. Indeed, he shows as much restraint and decorum in the book as one might expect, coming over with Bingley in the afternoon after his arrival back down from London.)

Given the generally positive critical response to the film, It’s beside the point to note that I wasn’t impressed. What is more interesting is to consider why such an extensive amount of swapping of locales took place, and why it might have an impact on what is designed into the book.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 29, 2015 at 11:35 pm

[LINK] “X-Rays Reveal Snippets From Papyrus Scrolls That Survived Mount Vesuvius”

National Geographic‘s Dan Vergano describes how the lava-charred scrolls of ancient Roman Herculaneum are starting to be read through careful use of X-rays.

The volcanic Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., destroying the wealthy Roman resort town of Herculaneum along with the better-known Pompeii. Only some 260 years ago did explorers at Herculaneum first uncover the roughly 800 charred scrolls from a library in a building dubbed the “Villa de Papyri,” buried beneath more than 50 feet (15 meters) of ash.

While hundreds of the scrolls have been painstakingly unwrapped since then, with some destroyed in the process, most remain too fragile to unroll and read. But a new x-ray technique reads the text right through the rolled-up papyrus, reports a team led by Vito Mocella of the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems of the National Council of Research, in Naples, Italy, by discerning charcoal ink from charred papyrus.

“This pioneering research opens up new prospects not only for the many papyri still unopened, but also for others that have not yet been discovered,” the team reports in the journal Nature Communications.

The x-ray technique, called phase-contrast tomography, can read the letters on a rolled-up fragment of a scroll that suffered the 608°F (320°C) heat of the ash avalanche that buried the town. The deciphered letters most likely were written in the century before the destruction of the resort.

The scrolls undergo the equivalent of a chest x-ray, which doesn’t do much damage, says computer imaging expert Brent Seales of the University of Kentucky, in Lexington, who is on the larger team that for years has sought to peer inside the Herculaneum scrolls. “The real worry comes from handling them; they are very delicate,” he says.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 26, 2015 at 10:27 pm

[LINK] “A Tiny Press Printed Only 15,000 Copies of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Autobiography. Big Mistake.”

Slate‘s Laura Putre writes of the relatively enviable plight of the publishers of the new annotated autobiography of author Laura Ingalls Wilder: they didn’t print nearly enough copies.

In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Banks of Plum Creek, Pa heads to town promising to return by nightfall, but a terrible storm blows through, and he finds himself trapped in a snow bank for three days. To survive, he eats the candy he brought for the girls’ Christmas stockings.

It’s a tale of pluck and miscalculation not lost on the publishers of Pioneer Girl, Wilder’s new annotated autobiography. Last November, they found themselves trapped in a snowbank of preorders for the book, which they won’t dig their way out of until March. They didn’t have to eat the Christmas peppermints, but they did leave Wilder fans crying in their homespun handkerchiefs when the book didn’t arrive in time for the holidays.

“Everyone keeps saying, ‘Where’s my copy, where’s my copy?’ ” says Sandra Hume, writer for the Beyond Little House blog and co-founder of the biennial “LauraPalooza,” a festival of all things Ingalls (which in previous years featured comedy of the Nellie Oleson actress from the TV series and a presentation by a meteorologist on the historical validity of Wilder’s The Long Winter).

Nancy Tystad Koupal, director of the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, the book’s publisher, said that Pioneer’s initial print run was 15,000. The books arrived at their warehouse the first week in November. By Thanksgiving, the press had not only exhausted that supply, but would take some 15,000 more orders. Coverage in a raft of publications, from The L.A. Times to the National Enquirer, sent demand through the sodhouse roof.* And that didn’t even count Amazon’s orders, which were around 30,000 and didn’t arrive until December. Those are the ones that won’t be filled until the third print run in March-ish.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 23, 2015 at 9:53 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Centauri Dreams considers the perhaps implausible magnetic sail.
  • Crooked Timber looks at William Gibson’s new novel, The Peripheral.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that half of all red dwarf stars might host Earth-like or super-Earth-like planets.
  • D-Brief looks at the latest findings from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
  • Joe. My. God. notes Irish same-sex marriage activists turning to their Irish-American counterparts.
  • Language Log considers the distinction, in official Chinese, between “accident” and “incident”.
  • The Planetary Society Blog considers the dynamics of the geysers and subsurface ocean of Enceladus.
  • Savage Minds notes that the 17th of February is national anthropology day.
  • Towleroad notes that Scotland has hosted its first pagan same-sex wedding.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes an odd dispute, one parent suing another for writing a book about their moderately famous autistic son.
  • Window on Eurasia notes Russia’s proposal to try a Russian soldier accused of murdering an Armenian family in a Russian court in Armenia, and points to armed unrest in Turkmenistan.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Bad Astronomy notes that there is as yet no evidence for distant planets beyond Pluto, merely suggestive evidence deserving of exploration.
  • blogTO reviews Villa Toronto, arguing it underwhelms and inspires all at once.
  • Centauri Dreams and the Planetary Society Blog both highlight the Dawn probe’s images of Ceres.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper documenting that trust is found among chimpanzees.
  • Imageo argues that Arctic exploration for oil and natural gas means that dangerous climate change is quite likely.
  • jsburbidge argues that Jo Walton’s trilogy explores Plato’s Republic in interesting ways.
  • Language Hat explores the meaning of the title of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty.
  • Language Log notes new ways to enter Cantontese-language text for the Internet.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes Saudi Arabia’s strategy for reducing regulation of fossil fuels.
  • Window on Eurasia notes anger in Armenia at Russia over the Gyumri killings, looks at Russian-supported terrorism in Ukraine, and notes Russian concern at China’s growing role in Central Asia.
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