A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘popular literature

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly wonders why people read at all in the 21st century world.
  • D-Brief notes how chickens have been modified to have dinosaur-like legs.
  • Dangerous Minds shares 19th century photos taken of Native Americans in their traditional and ceremonial wear.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper predicting exoplanets orbiting HD 202628 and HD 207129 based on gaps in the debris disks of those stars.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that the director-general of the ESA asked China to opt to contribute to the International Space Station.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that the lesbian subtext of Xena will be made explicit in the remake.
  • Language Log looks at odd names, in the Chinese world and in the wider world.
  • Marginal Revolution links to a paper speculating that future economic growth will be absorbed entirley by life extension.
  • pollotenchegg maps changing birth rates across Ukrainian regions from 1960 on.
  • Towleroad quotes lesbian comedian Joy Behar on her incredulity about Caitlyn Jenner’s professed politics.

[LINK] “Under the Crushing Weight of the Tuscan Sun”

At The New Yorker, travel writer Jason Wilson confesses his issues with Under The Tuscan Sun. I do think I get his point that travelogues without narratives of setbacks or shocks of some kind are ultimately boring, leaving aside the whole fetishization of a region.

I have sat on Tuscan-brown sofas surrounded by Tuscan-yellow walls, lounged on Tuscan patios made with Tuscan pavers, surrounded by Tuscan landscaping. I have stood barefoot on Tuscan bathroom tiles, washing my hands under Tuscan faucets after having used Tuscan toilets. I have eaten, sometimes on Tuscan dinnerware, a Tuscan Chicken on Ciabatta from Wendy’s, a Tuscan Chicken Melt from Subway, the $6.99 Tuscan Duo at Olive Garden, and Tuscan Hummus from California Pizza Kitchen. Recently, I watched my friend fill his dog’s bowl with Beneful Tuscan Style Medley dog food. This barely merited a raised eyebrow; I’d already been guilty of feeding my cat Fancy Feast’s White Meat Chicken Tuscany. Why deprive our pets of the pleasures of Tuscan living?

In “Tuscan Leather,” from 2013, Drake raps, “Just give it time, we’ll see who’s still around a decade from now.” Whoever among us is still here, it seems certain that we will still be living with the insidious and inescapable word “Tuscan,” used as marketing adjective, cultural signifier, life-style choice. And while we may never escape our Tuscan lust, we at least know who’s to blame: Frances Mayes, the author of the memoir “Under the Tuscan Sun,” which recounts her experience restoring an abandoned villa called Bramasole in the Tuscan countryside. The book, published in 1996, spent more than two and a half years on the Times best-seller list and, in 2003, inspired a hot mess of a film adaptation starring Diane Lane. In the intervening years, Mayes has continued to put out Tuscan-themed books at a remarkable rate—“Bella Tuscany,” “Bringing Tuscany Home,” “Every Day in Tuscany,” “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook”—as well as her own line of Tuscan wines, olive oils, and even furniture. In so doing, she has managed to turn a region of Italy into a shorthand for a certain kind of bourgeois luxury and good taste. A savvy M.B.A. student should do a case study.

I feel sheepish admitting this, but I have a longtime love-hate relationship with “Under the Tuscan Sun.” Since first reading the book, in the nineties, when I was in my twenties, its success has haunted me, teased me, and tortured me as I’ve forged a career as a food and travel writer who occasionally does stories about Italy. I could understand the appeal of Mayes’s memoir to, for instance, my mother, who loves nothing more than to plot the construction of a new dream house. “I come from a long line of women who open their handbags and take out swatches of upholstery,” Mayes writes, “colored squares of bathroom tile, seven shades of paint samples, and strips of flowered wallpaper.” She may as well be speaking directly to my mom and many of her friends. But I was more puzzled by the people my own age who suddenly turned Tuscan crazy—drizzling extra-virgin olive oil on everything, mispronouncing “bruschetta,” pretending to love white beans. In 2002, I was asked to officiate a wedding of family friends in Tuscany, where a few dozen American guests stayed in a fourteenth-century villa that had once been a convent. The villa’s owners were fussy yuppies from Milan who had a long, scolding list of house rules—yet, when we inquired why the electricity went out every day from 2 P.M. to 8 P.M., they shrugged and told us we were uptight Americans. This irritating mix of fussy, casual, and condescending reminded me of the self-satisfied tone of “Under the Tuscan Sun.” I began to despise the villa owners so much that when the brother-in-law of the bride and groom got drunk on Campari and vomited on a fourteenth-century fresco, causing more than a thousand euros in damage, I had a good, long private laugh.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 13, 2016 at 5:44 pm

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Bad Astronomy reports on the discovery of a repeating fast radio burst.
  • blogTO lists the five most exciting neighbourhoods in Toronto, my Dupont Street rating there.
  • Centauri Dreams studies the ecology of space colony agriculture.
  • Crooked Timber notes the contrast between progress on climate change internationally and bizarre rhetoric in the United States.
  • Discover‘s Inkfish reports on a study suggesting scenic environments do keep people healthy.
  • Language Log notes difficulties with accessing Tibetan-medium education in China.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the authoritarian mindset.
  • Marginal Revolution wonders why labour mobility in India is so low.
  • Steve Munro looks at the TTC’s policy on fares.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes yet another issue with the Nicaragua Canal.
  • Towleroad notes Hillary Clinton’s apology for praising the record of the Reagans on HIV/AIDS.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes an American custody order preventing a mother from talking about religion or her sexual orientation to her children.
  • Arnold Zwicky notes some prominent children’s graphic novels.

[LINK] “Dropping loonies squeezes library budgets as costs for materials climb”

The Globe and Mail‘s Philip Moscovitch reports on how the falling Canadian dollar has hit libraries in Canada hard.

Every morning, Tom Hickerson turns on the TV and checks for the day’s exchange rate.

He is not a trader, banker or economist. But still, what he sees will have a major impact on the day ahead of him.

As the head librarian at the University of Calgary, Mr. Hickerson has watched in horror over the past two years, as the dropping dollar eats into his library’s purchasing power. Every drop of a penny against the American dollar takes a bite of over $100,000 out of his acquisitions budget.

The fall of the loonie – from just over 94 cents in early January, 2014, to the low 70s today – has left academic and public libraries with less money to pay for the increasing number of materials they are billed for in U.S. dollars.

Public libraries have made much of their transformation into digital hubs. In addition to allowing customers to download e-books and audiobooks, some also offer music and film streaming, as well as digital subscriptions to magazines like the New Yorker.

But these services all originate with American vendors – and when the Canadian dollar drops, the libraries’ costs go up.

Vickery Bowles, city librarian for the Toronto Public Library, said her institution spent nearly $1-million on currency conversion in 2015, out of a collections budget of $18-million. In 2010, the figure was $58,000. Most of those costs were for digital content. “That’s a huge difference and takes a real bite out of our collections budget,” she said.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 12, 2016 at 1:48 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Centauri Dreams looks at debris disks, and potential planetary formation, around red giant stars.
  • Crooked Timber notes the Bitcoin frenzy.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze looks at studies of the atmospheres of hot Jupiters.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money cannot understand skepticism about the harmful nature of the waters of the Michigan city of Flint.
  • The LRB Blog notes that The Gruffalo is a product of Anglo-German collaboration. Is it a product of the European Union?
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes that the joint ESA/Roscosmos Exo-Mars probe is set to launch.
  • The Signal notes a new project to digitize the corpus of Persian-language literature dating back a millennium.
  • Understanding Society looks at social facts and their non-linear origins.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy reports on a paper by on of their authors written in defense of Israel’s borders.
  • The Financial Times‘ The World notes the exceptional fragility of Italian banks.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO notes that Canadian Backpackers Hostel is set to close down to make room for condos.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at ways to use the Earth’s transit of the Sun to find potentially watching extraterrestrial civilizations.
  • Dangerous Minds notes the human zoo.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze looks at the packed planetary system of young HL Tauri.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that primates in North America were not outcompeted by rodents.
  • Geocurrents maps the substantial progress in development seen in Brazil.
  • Language Log notes intriguing research suggesting some songbirds have a capacity for grammar.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the environmental injustice of hog farms.
  • Marginal Revolution notes it is now possible to get loans with negative interest rates in Germany.
  • Rachel Kessler reflects on otherness and the need for empathy in the works of Octavia Butler.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog commemorates the first mention of the name “Lithuania” in March 9, 1009.
  • Torontoist debates Ontario’s funding of the Catholic separate school system.
  • Transit Toronto looks at the latest plans for Smartttrack in Toronto.

[LINK] On the impending end of the Barnes & Noble Nook

I’ve been aware of the Nook, Barnes & Noble’s E-book platform, for some time. The recent news, courtesy–among others–Diginomica’s Stuart Lauchlan that Barnes & Noble will be drastically cutting back on the content available, and dropping support for British consumers entirely, is not at all good news for the platform.

It’s easy to see why this is the case. While the third quarter saw B&N turn in increased profits of $80.3 million, up from $72.2 million year-on-year, total sales fell 1.8% to $1.41 billion, attributable in large part to poor online sales offsetting decent offline activity in-store. [. . .]

So action is required – and it’s starting to kick in soon. B&N customers need to get used to some big changes coming up next week – 15 March to be precise. That’s when the firm will no longer offer third party applications from the Nook Store. That’s a decision fuelled by the success of Google’s Play Store which runs on B&N devices and has been inevitably far more successful.

This decision impacts every tablet B&N has ever made, but the company insists that all existing Apps previously downloaded from the NOOK Store will remain in customers Nook Library and will continue to be accessible on compatible Nook devices.

From 15 March, customers will also not be able to rent or purchase video content from the NOOK video store, which will be closed down completely on 30 April. If customers want to keep the content they’ve already purchased, the need to transfer content to other providers.

If you’ve bought Disney, Pixar, Marvel or Star Wars content, you need to open an account with Disney Movies Anywhere, while all other content will now require the opening of a CinemaNow account. If you haven’t done so by 30 April, you lose the content you’ve purchased.

Meanwhile in the UK, e-books will no longer be supported by B&N. Instead, customers need to open an account with supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. In a less than encouraging proviso, B&N adds that if a book can’t be transferred to the Sainsbury’s platform, a Sainsbury’s Entertainment voucher will be issued as compensation.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 10, 2016 at 4:16 pm


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