An email from a vampire

I’m coming to the end of a book, haven’t decided what to read next, unsure I’ve got the stamina to start that big one. But perhaps, rather than that classic work of literature, I should give this other classic a go, albeit via – email?

Get the classic novel Dracula delivered to your email inbox, as it happensDracula Daily
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an epistolary novel – it’s made up of letters, diaries, telegrams, newspaper clippings – and every part of it has a date. The whole story happens between May 3 and November 10. So: Dracula Daily will post a newsletter each day that something happens to the characters, in the same timeline that it happens to them.

Now you can read the book via email, in small digestible chunks – as it happens to the characters.

I’ve got a few emails to quickly catch up on, but I’ve just found something else I think I should read first, perhaps the original.

The poet, the physician and the birth of the modern vampireThe Public Domain Review
From that famed night of ghost-stories in a Lake Geneva villa in 1816, as well as Frankenstein’s monster, there arose that other great figure of 19th-century gothic fiction – the vampire – a creation of Lord Byron’s personal physician John Polidori. Andrew McConnell Stott explores how a fractious relationship between Polidori and his poet employer lies behind the tale, with Byron himself providing a model for the blood-sucking aristocratic figure of the legend we are familiar with today.

Swoop on over to the ever-reliable Project Gutenberg to read it yourself.

In search of lost links

Well, this is disappointing: by way of a response to a request on Twitter for “maximalist novel” reading suggestions, I thought it would be useful to share here the small collection of links I had gathered over the years about Proust and his epic (it has long since occurred to me that, rather than reading Proust, I’d much rather read about reading Proust), but of those five links, I’ve already shared one before, two are now behind paywalls and the other two are returning 404 errors: a setback, yes, but luckily, when I first copied those links to Pinboard I also saved an interesting paragraph or two from them as well, as is my wont — so here they are, then, for posterity (Prousterity?); a few crumbs from lost, link-rotten madeleines.

Proust’s PanmnemoniconJustin E. H. Smith’s Hinternet
There is no denying that the narrator of In Search of Lost Time is one weird little mama’s boy, ever inventing ruses to summon his mother up to his room for another kiss goodnight, over the disappointed protestations of a father who would wish to see him “man up”. There is something delightful (if cherry-picked) in the thought that while the greatest monument of Russian literature broods over whether or not to murder someone just because you can, and the greatest of German novels explores the metaphors of illness in an Alpine sanatorium, France gives us instead, as its contender for the champion’s title, the neverending autofiction of a boy so entranced by the ‘bouquet’ of his own asparagus pee that he longs to call Maman upstairs to whiff it alongside him.

How Proust’s ‘madeleine moment’ changed the world foreverThe Telegraph
The novels were hugely influential on writers all over the world, in that they introduced the idea of writing about “streams of consciousness”. Through Proust’s ubiquitous narrator, they relay in great detail not just what is perceived, but also what is remembered, and the repeated and constant links between perception and memory. Even those who have not read the novels are aware of the journey of memory on which the narrator goes when he tastes a madeleine dipped in tea; it has become “the Proustian moment”.

Reading Proust on my cellphoneThe Atlantic
Knowing where you are, physically, in a bound book keeps you from feeling this oceanic feeling quite so much. It keeps you grounded. But reading the book on your cellphone emphasizes your own smallness, your at-sea-ness, in relation to the vast ocean. There you are, moving along without any compass. How brave you are in your little dinghy, adrift and amazed.

My friends are amused: “But how many times do you have to swipe through those tiny pages on your cellphone to get through a single Proust sentence?” they ask. Sometimes many. Sometimes not even once. Even that record-breaking sentence, which stretches over two and a half pages in my old paperback, takes fewer than a dozen swipes. And turning the page, strange to say, is one of the nautical joys. Each finger drag is like an oar drawn through the water to keep the little glass-bottomed boat moving. After a while you’re not even aware of rowing. You’re simply looking through the glass into an endless ocean, moving silently, blindly forward.

The odd pleasures of reading Proust on a mobile phoneClive Thompson
It occurred to me once, while nose-close with a painting, that novels (and other forms of longform writing) have a bit of the same dual-focus aspect: The writer composes word by word, sentence by sentence — but also has the entire text in mind. We readers experience the whole book both as a single bolus of culture and a collection of individual thrilling sentences or passages.

French writer Marcel Proust’s personal archives headed to auction in ParisEconomic Times
Proust fans will have an opportunity to get their hands on a set of proofs of “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”, the second part of Remembrance, that includes crossed out passages and corrections. The book, which was supposed to be published in 1914, was delayed by the outbreak of World War I and left the author with time to make changes to the manuscript. An original edition of “Swann’s Way”, the first volume of Remembrance and which was published in 1913, will also go up for sale.

Yeah but what if we are?

Simulation theory, the idea that we’re all living inside a supercomputer is pretty far-fetched, to be sure. But no one really believes it, right?

Of course we’re living in a simulationWIRED
In other words, yes, and with sincere apologies to Tonelli and most of his fellow physicists, who hate it when anybody suggests this: The only explanation for life, the universe, and everything that makes any sense, in light of quantum mechanics, in light of observation, in light of light and something faster than light, is that we’re living inside a supercomputer. Is that we’re living, all of us, and always, in a simulation.

Jason Kehe presents an interesting case (one that I really hope is more than a little tongue-in-cheek) in his review of David Chalmers’s new book, Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy.

Over the course of writing this essay, I must confess that everything seemed to confirm the truth of the simulation. Every impossible coincidence I experienced or heard about—simulated. The stranger at the café who quoted practically verbatim a line I was reading in a book—simulated. Every new book I picked up, for that matter—simulated. Seriously, how could every book one reads, in the course of writing about reality, be about reality in such a fundamental way? […]

This, it seems to me, is what the physicists, and simulation skeptics of all sorts, are missing. Not a belief in the simulation, per se, but the irresistible possibility of it, the magical conspiracy. It doesn’t diminish or undermine their science; quite the opposite, it enriches and energizes it. How many people, generally unmotivated to learn, find their way to a concept as intimidating as, say, quantum indeterminacy by way of the (far more welcoming) simulation argument? I’d guess a great many, and physicists would do well not to belittle that entry point into their work by calling it fluff, nonsense, the sci-fi pursuits of littler minds.

I get that it’s hard to prove a negative, that we can’t prove that our reality is not virtual, but does the inverse follow? Are our virtual worlds really real? Here’s an interview with David Chambers.

Can we have a meaningful life in a virtual world?The New York Times
I think what moves a lot of people is the idea that somehow if you were in a virtual world, it would all be fake, it would be an illusion. Maybe the virtual worlds are like video games: Nothing that happens there really matters; it’s just an escape from the issues in the real world. Whereas I think what happens in virtual worlds can, in principle, be very significant. You can build a meaningful life in a virtual world. We can get into deep social and political discussions and decisions about the shape of society in a virtual world. Rather than living in a video game, my analogy would be more like we’re moving to a new, uninhabited country and setting up a society. The issues will be somewhat different from the issues where we came from, but I wouldn’t consider that escapism. Also, I’m not saying abandon physical reality completely and go live in a virtual world. I think of the virtual world as a supplement to physical reality rather than a replacement, at least in any remotely short term.

That sounds very familiar.

Shelved

Remember those Amazon Bookstores I mentioned a while back, with their odd shelving arrangements? They started off full of promise.

Amazon begins a new chapter with opening of first physical bookstoreThe Guardian
Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said the surprise initiative showed the strength of demand for hardback and paperback books. “This is a vote of confidence in the physical book and the physical book store,” he said. “Book stores have been imperilled in recent years, but even Amazon has seen the benefit of a physical browsing experience.”

That initial enthusiasm didn’t last …

Amazon charges non-Prime members more at physical bookstores, hinting at new retail strategyGeekWire
When the Amazon bookstore in Seattle opened almost exactly a year ago — the company’s first full-fledged retail location — book prices were identical to those on Amazon.com, whether you were a Prime member or not. But now the discounted prices are only available to Prime members. If you’re not, you’ll pay sticker price. The message: If you’re not a Prime member, you can’t get discounts.

Amazon’s bookstores are generating almost no revenue — and there’s an obvious reason whyInsider
More likely the real reason is that the bookstores aren’t really a place for browsing and discovering books like a local independent bookstore — they’re actually just a place for Prime members. There’s no compelling reason for a non-Prime member to visit an Amazon Books store, except maybe to check out devices like the Amazon Echo or Kindle.

Is Amazon’s brick-and-mortar store a facade for e-commerce?Fortune
The ideas brought forth in Amazon Books are novel—such as review cards for each title that feature an aggregate of Amazon.com user ratings and a critic’s review—but industry experts believe the store is more interesting in what it’s attempting to achieve: to drive online sales through a brick-and-mortar presence.

… and they’ve finally shut up shop for good.

Amazon to shut its bookstores and other shops as its grocery chain expandsReuters
Amazon had aimed to reach shoppers in more places and bring its online touch into the real world. Its bookstores would pull from its vast data trove and showcase what people were reading, even the reviews they left on Amazon’s website. But the company’s innovations were not enough to counter the march toward online shopping that Amazon itself had set off. Its “physical stores” revenue – a mere 3% of Amazon’s $137 billion in sales last quarter, largely reflective of consumer spending at its Whole Foods subsidiary – has often failed to keep pace with growth in the retailer’s other businesses.

Amazon to close all BookstoresPublishers Weekly
The opening of its first store and subsequent national rollout gave rise to widespread speculation about what Amazon’s goals and motives were in opening the outlets, as well as a guessing game about where Amazon Books would next appear. Despite rumors that the company planned to open hundreds of bookstores, the chain’s impact on the overall bookstore business has been negligible.

Amazon is closing its terrible brick-and-mortar BookstoresCurbed
“Spending time browsing here was among my most dismal shopping experiences in recent memory: joyless, arbitrary, spiritually empty. And that was before a 20-something guy bounded into the store and started screaming: ‘Alexa! Alexa! Alexa!’” read a New York Times review of the 4-Star store in Soho. “Antiseptic and bewildering,” said The New Republic, which pointed out that readers generally didn’t care if books were on a lot of other people’s wish lists, had 4.8 versus 4.7 stars or were “hot on Amazon.” Many people noted that the bookstore’s selection was incredibly sparse, much more so than a normal bookstore, in part because the books were all displayed facing out to attract maximal attention and showcase their data points.

What a mess #2

The war in Ukraine is horrendous, doesn’t bear thinking about. But if you do want to think about it, here are a few interesting links. Let’s start with something positive from the art world.

A selection of resources in support of the people of UkraineIt’s Nice That
We stand in solidarity and support of the Ukrainian people and everyone affected by this war, and wish to use our platform to help. So, here, we’re sharing a growing list of resources put together with our sister company Creative Lives in Progress, shared by our team and community. They include places to donate and volunteer; creative responses to the crisis including projects, campaigns and fundraising sales; key information for those who need it; and other useful links, such as a free photo bank to tackle Russian government propaganda, a list of Ukrainian illustrators to commission, and a callout for help with Ukrainian artist visas.

STOP WAR: A new series of works by Sho Shibuya in support of UkraineDesign You Trust
In the peak of the coronavirus epidemic, he decided to recycle each of the New York Times front pages to turn them into works of art. The designer dedicates his new series of works to the war in Ukraine, a senseless and fratricidal war. A war that became a tragedy for millions of people. A war that cannot be justified.

Ukraine-based content platform launches a free resource of images of Russia’s war in Ukraine for anyone to useIt’s Nice That
Vista’s Depositphotos, a Ukraine-based content platform, has launched a free image collection, Say No to War, detailing the “brutal truth of what’s happening in Ukraine, as well as images of protests from around the world and inside of Russia”, says the Depositphotos team.

Rich with imaginative detail, Maria Prymachenko’s colorful folk art speaks to life in UkraineColossal
Expressive and consistently advocating for peace, Prymachenko’s paintings are widely known throughout Ukraine and internationally: she received a gold medal at the Paris World Fair in 1937, when Pablo Picasso is said to have dubbed her “an artistic miracle.”

Earlier this week, Russian attacks northwest of Kyiv destroyed the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, where about 25 of her works were housed. According to the Ukrainian Institute, though, local residents were able to retrieve the pieces from the burning museum before they were lost entirely. The aggression subsequently prompted calls for Russia to be removed from UNESCO, which declared 2009 the year of Prymachenko.

Ukraine accuses Russia of burning down a museumHyperallergic
About 25 paintings by Ukrainian artist Maria Pryimachenko were destroyed in a fire incited by an attack as part of the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said today, February 28, on Twitter. The works were housed at the Ivankiv Local History Museum in the Kyiv province. A video circulating on Twitter shows what appears to be the museum’s building in flames. The destruction of the museum was also reported by the Kyiv Independent. Hyperallergic could not independently verify these reports.

Some big names from the world of music aren’t faring too well.

Anna Netrebko withdraws from upcoming Met Opera engagementsOpera Wire
The company noted that in “not complying with the Met’s condition that she repudiate her public support for Vladimir Putin while he wages war on Ukraine, soprano Anna Netrebko has withdrawn from her upcoming Met performances in Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ this April and May, as well as the run of Verdi’s Don Carlo next season.”

Putin’s Maestro, and the limits of cultural exchange in wartimeThe New York Times
How will we think of Valery Gergiev a century from now? One of the world’s leading conductors, he has in just the last week lost a series of engagements and positions, including as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, for not disavowing the war in Ukraine being waged by his longtime friend and ally, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

How would those cancellations be spun in Russia, I wonder.

Outside Russia, Putin’s propaganda machine is swiftly crashing downVanity Fair
Under pressure from the Ukrainian government and other foreign leaders, tech giants and cable providers are issuing a flurry of measures to curb the reach of Russian state media in Europe as Russia wages war on Ukraine. Google on Tuesday blocked the YouTube channels of RT and Sputnik, two Kremlin-owned outlets that serve as mouthpieces for Vladimir Putin’s propagandistic agenda across the continent. The move came a day after Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and TikTok both said they would block RT and Sputnik content on their platforms in the E.U. Nick Clegg, Meta’s head of global affairs, cited “requests from a number of governments and the E.U.” and “the exceptional nature of the current situation” as he announced the restrictions, which prevent users across E.U. countries from accessing pages or content posted by the two state-backed outlets. Microsoft likewise took action against “state-sponsored disinformation campaigns” Monday as it blocked RT and Sputnik content from appearing on its platform in Europe and banned advertising from Russian state media. In doing so, the company joined Google, YouTube (which is owned by Google), Twitter, and Facebook, all of which have either restricted or banned state-backed media outlets from selling ads.

Russian state TV is covering the war very differentlyCNN
Russian media coverage looks very different than how CNN and other western news outlets are covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine war: ‘My city’s being shelled, but mum won’t believe me’BBC News
“I didn’t want to scare my parents, but I started telling them directly that civilians and children are dying,” she says. “But even though they worry about me, they still say it probably happens only by accident, that the Russian army would never target civilians. That it’s Ukrainians who’re killing their own people.” […] Oleksandra says her mother just repeats the narratives of what she hears on Russian state TV channels. “It really scared me when my mum exactly quoted Russian TV. They are just brainwashing people. And people trust them,” says Oleksandra.

Some Russians are breaking through and trying to make a different, though.

How Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova is using crypto to fight for equalityTime
[I]n the days following the late-February invasion of Ukraine, she helped launch UkraineDAO, a fundraising campaign that racked up almost $7 million in cryptocurrency donations in less than a week, with funds channeled towards Ukrainian aid organizations. “It’s really important for me to be a good activist and be an influential artist to be able to maintain my anti-Putin voice. In that way, it’s all inherently connected,” she says.

Here’s another example of new technology being used for good.

When war struck, Ukraine turned to TelegramWIRED UK
“How to distinguish our equipment from the enemy?” UkraineNOW posted on Friday, sharing pictures of Ukrainian and Russian tanks. On Saturday, three separate posts in the space of just six minutes warned of imminent airstrikes across Ukraine (“air alarm: Lviv, Rivne ❗️❗️❗️”); maps showing air raid shelter locations were shared. On Sunday the channel advised on ways to safely pass military checkpoints (“turn on the hazard warning light, no video recording”) and what to do if there are attacks on chemical processing plants (“close the windows and do not open them unnecessarily”).

With nearly 500,000 members before Russia’s invasion, UkraineNOW was already one of the country’s biggest Telegram channels. Now a million people depend on it for updates about the war.

And it’s nice to see the Second Life community playing its part too.

Linden Lab statement on UkraineSecond Life Community
Effective Monday, we will be further supporting our eligible Ukrainian-based community members by granting them a temporary 30-day moratorium on recurring account fees such as Premium Membership and Land Maintenance fees. We will review this again after 30 days and assess what we can do as next steps where necessary. We invite any of our Ukraine-based community members to contact support with any specific questions they may have.

Second Life community rallies to help Ukraine-based creators on platformNew World Notes
This is a Google Spreadsheet of Second Life stores and website Marketplace shops owned by Ukraine-based creators on the virtual world platform. It was quickly created by SL community members within the first 24 hours of the Putin regime’s invasion of that country, with a goal of supporting these merchants with L$ purchases — which they can subsequently convert into their local currency. (Whenever, that is, they are able to find a stable Internet connection in the now-embattled region.)

Slava Ukraini! Ways to show your support for Ukraine in Second Life (and in real life, too!)Ryan Schultz
You might be surprised to learn that current events in the real world are often quickly reflected in the virtual world! The war in Ukraine is no exception, and in almost no time at all, Second Life content creators have responded! This blogpost will showcase FREE clothing and home/yard decor to allow you to express your feelings about this unwanted, unnecessary, heartbreaking war.

Sadly, not everything online is a positive influence.

Scammy Instagram ‘war pages’ are capitalizing on Ukraine conflictInput
Hayden, who claims to be a 21-year-old from Kentucky, says that after learning about the war breaking out through the hip-hop Instagram page @Rap, he saw an opportunity. He had already run a popular war page called @liveinafghanistan. More recently, he had renamed it @newstruths and pivoted to posting viral, vaguely conservative-leaning videos featuring people shoplifting and clips of President Biden. But on Wednesday night, it was wartime again, and so the page became @livefromukraine.

Seven ways to spot fake photographs of the war in UkraineThe Art Newspaper
As it turns out, this piece of video was produced in DCS, a popular flight simulator game, and was originally posted to YouTube as a tribute to the Ghost, before being repurposed and circulated online as genuine footage. The footage is purposely miscaptioned and therefore fabricated.

Russia using TikTok to spread anti-Ukraine disinformation, experts sayUSA Today
Cyabra’s analysts tracked thousands of Facebook and Twitter accounts that had recently posted about Ukraine. Researchers saw a sudden and dramatic increase in anti-Ukrainian content in the days immediately before the invasion. On Valentine’s Day, for instance, the number of anti-Ukrainian posts created by the sample of Twitter accounts jumped by 11,000% when compared with just days earlier. Analysts believe a significant portion of the accounts are inauthentic and controlled by groups linked to the Russian government. […]

Russia tailors its propaganda message for specific audiences. For Russians and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, the message is that Russia is trying to defend its own people against Western-fueled aggression and persecution in Ukraine. Similar tactics have been used, including by Nazi Germany when it invaded Czechoslovakia under the guise of protecting ethnic Germans living there, Ludes noted.

But let’s not forget Western media is not without its flaws.

‘They seem so like us’: In depicting Ukraine’s plight, some in media use offensive comparisonsThe Washington Post
Such coverage resorts to “Orientalist concepts of ‘civilization’ that have long been present in European colonial discourse,” said Denijal Jegic, a postdoctoral researcher in communication and multimedia journalism at Lebanese American University in Beirut, in an interview. “This implicitly suggests that war is a natural phenomenon in places outside of the Euro-American sphere, and the Middle East in particular, and that war would take place because of a lack of civilization, rather than due to unjust geopolitical power distribution or foreign intervention.”

Recalling that Western media cares more about people Western countriesThe Morning News
In light of a round-up in the Washington Post of offensive descriptions in the media of the Ukraine invasion—ironic considering a headline the Post used for a George F. Will column as recently as July: “Civilized nations’ efforts to deter Russia and China are starting to add up”—an old graphic feels pertinent:

The Fox News journalist fact-checking channel’s pundits on air over UkraineThe Guardian
Last week Griffin had already corrected Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy and lectured the Fox News host Harris Faulkner about how Joe Biden stationing troops at Ukraine’s border would have given Putin “a pretext to go into Ukraine”, but the veteran journalist stepped it up in recent days as she apparently lost patience with the opinions of some of the Fox News punditocracy.

It’s hard to know what to say.

Help for teachers and families to talk to pupils about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how to help them avoid misinformationDfE Education Hub
Establish the facts by pointing pupils towards “trusted, reputable sources that explain the what, where, when, why and who”. It encourages teachers to challenge incorrect information when they see it and to present evidence for facts and get pupils to do the same.

How to talk to children about what’s happening in UkraineMetro News
As parents and carers we can feel like what we should be doing is giving them all of the facts and keeping them informed. But this approach can sometimes leave children feeling overwhelmed, Tania explains. ‘Children tend to be really good at spontaneous questioning. If they want to know something, they’ll ask,’ she says. But if they do ask, or you feel that they need some explanation or reassurance, it’s important to think about how you’re feeling first.

Let’s take a step back.

Ukraine Recap: the origins of Putin’s war – and why it’s not gone to planThe Conversation
Putin has also expressed his concern the Nato has reneged on a pledge after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 that it would not expand into the former Soviet republics. Whether there was indeed a formal pledge along these lines is doubtful, writes Gavin Hall of the University of Strathclyde. But what is not in doubt, writes Aldo Zammit Borda of City, University of London, is that Russia, Ukraine, the UK and US sat down and agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be respected. In return, Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal, at the time the third-largest in the world.

Beyond the fog of war: books to help us understand the invasion of UkraineThe Guardian
A crucial weapon that Putin’s Kremlin deployed in defanging the – albeit rickety and imperfect – democracy that grew up in Russia in the 1990s was his control of the press. No one has written about this better than Kyiv-born Peter Pomerantsev in Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, a hilarious but terrifying account of his own career in the Russian media. Joshua Yaffa did a fantastic job of exploring how ordinary people navigated the system Putin built in Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition and Compromise in Putin’s Russia.

But the west is very much not guiltless in supporting the corrupt systems that have bedevilled both Russia and Ukraine (anger at which drove Kyiv’s 2014 revolution). To understand how kleptocracy is enabled out of western capitals, and, above all, out of London, read Kleptopia by Tom Burgis. The oligarchs from both sides employ western lawyers, accountants and wealth managers to hide the money they stole, then spend it on property, luxury goods, fine art and more.

The best books on Ukraine and RussiaFive Books
The Soviet Union fell apart on the issue of Ukraine. The first to raise the banner of independence were the Baltic states, but they’re small countries and they’re not Slavic. The Ukrainian referendum of December 1991 didn’t ask the question of what one wanted to do with the Soviet Union, the referendum was about Ukraine only: ‘Do you want Ukraine to be independent?’ But once more than 90% of Ukrainians responded in the affirmative, the USSR was gone within a week. The Central Asian republics were really pushed out of the Soviet Union because Russia was not interested in a union with them without Ukraine. That’s the beginning of the most recent part of the story: the Soviet Union fell on the issue of Ukraine and now, if there are to be effective Russian economic, military and other spheres of influence, Ukraine is essential, like it was back in 1991.

UK universities brace for impact of sanctions against RussiaThe Guardian
Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, said most academics would support a research boycott with heavy hearts and concerns for Russian colleagues. “All the Russian academics I know oppose the war. The internal situation in Russia will get nastier and they will need solidarity, so there is a case for maintaining ties,” he said.

What a mess. Let’s leave the last word to the Ukrainians themselves.

Thoughts, hopes and disappointments in Kyiv: a street photographer’s photos of Ukraine – 2001-2021Flashbak
Everyday moments in Kyiv before the tanks rolled in.

In the nation’s darkest hours, Ukrainians look out for each otherKyiv Independent
Civilians all across the country do whatever it takes to help each other: They deliver medicine and food for those hiding in bomb shelters. Both regular citizens and restaurant chefs prepare meals for the military, refugees, and civilians. People adopt abandoned animals and offer shelters and rides to fellow Ukrainians.

Liutyk is no exception: The girl, together with her mother and best friend, has been offering warm food and drinks for free to fleeing Ukrainians who are spending exhausting hours in lines on the border with Poland in Lviv Oblast, where she lives. “Such difficult times either break the nation or, just like in our case, unite it entirely,” Liutyk says.

Can’t keep a good Maus down

As surely as night …

‘Maus’ Holocaust novel removed from classrooms by school boardThe New York Times
The board voted unanimously to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel from classrooms because it contained swear words, according to minutes from the meeting. […]

After reading the minutes of the meeting, Mr. Spiegelman said he got the impression that the board members were asking, “Why can’t they teach a nicer Holocaust?”

… follows day.

Maus sales spike after Tennessee school board banHyperallergic
The board’s decision is part of a wider trend of book banning in schools across the country. Books about gender and sexuality, race, and social inequality have been banned from public schools in Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, South Carolina, and other conservative states.

In an interview with CNBC last week, Spiegelman said he was “baffled” by the ban and called the school board’s behavior “Orwellian.”

Meanwhile, readers have voted with their wallets, giving Maus bestseller status more than four decades after it was first published.

Feeling hungry? #3

Plenty of food for thought here, with this photography series from Peter Menzel. He and writer Faith D’Alusio travelled the world, documenting what an average family typically eats in a week, and what it costs.

Hungry Planet portrait galleryPeter Menzel

This article in The Guardian pairs a selection of the photos with a line on how much the families spend each week on their food bill.

Hungry Planet: What the World EatsThe Guardian
Californian photographer Peter Menzel visited 24 countries for the book Hungry Planet. From the Aboubakar family, from Darfur, Sudan, who spend 79p feeding six people, to a German family who spend around £320, his work shows how much the world’s weekly groceries cost

The differences are quite startling. Food for thought, indeed.

Anybody there?

A pleasing philosophical coincidence I came across recently.

I’m happily devouring Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life and was at the section on presence and afk, when one of my favourite blogs posted this:

While you were outFutility Closet
A pleasing little philosophy puzzle: If there’s a sentence that’s guaranteed to be false in any context, surely it’s this:

“I am not here now.”

But this very phrase is played on millions of answering machines and voicemail systems every day, and we all understand it to be true. I, here, and now are indexicals, words whose meanings change with the circumstances of their utterance. Here each seems to make a rather uncertain reference, and the resulting sentence on its face cannot be true, yet we all understand it readily. How?

You don’t need to be lost in Second Life to puzzle over the virtuality of time and place.

Electric futures

Given the current climate crisis, you can understand why most visions of the future are quite negative. Over a hundred years ago, however, the future was imagined much more positively.

The future imagined in Albert Robida’s La vie électrique (1890)The Public Domain Review
Who participated in the first video date? A good couple for candidacy in this regard are Georges Lorris and Estelle Lacombe, who meet via “téléphonoscope” in Albert Robida’s 1890 novel Le Vingtième siècle: la vie électrique in which he imagines “the electric life” of the future. Adding a visual component to two recent technologies, the telephone (1876) and the phonograph (1877), this device lets scattered families in the year 1956 reunite around a virtual dinner table. For the lovebirds Lorris and Lacombe, the téléphonoscope facilitates their unapproved liaison in an immunologically fraught world. (And, for those without a beau, it also offers a service akin to on-demand streaming.) This proto Zoom / Netflix hybrid is just one of several prescient predictions in Robida’s novel.

Taking in the evening air.
A busy neighbourhood.

Take the future into your own hands

I’m coming across the term cli-fi more and more these days, the new name for fiction that “highlights and intensifies the risks of climate change in a way that reporting simply can’t match.”

A brief history of cli-fi: Fiction that’s hooking readers on climate activismMeans and Matters
It’s a truism that fiction teaches us about the world we live in: norms and cultures, values and beliefs, the complex interplay of external events and personal relationships that keeps us reading (or watching) until the end. Now, an emerging genre of writing known as climate fiction, or cli-fi, is teaching us about the world as we need to see it: a planet in the grip of a climate crisis that will shape our lives for as long as we inhabit Earth.

Here are a couple of books I’ve added to my to-read list, to get me started.

Of course they would: On Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Ministry for the Future”LA Review of Books
The Ministry for the Future is thus a novel about bureaucracy, but it’s also about the possibility of a wide diversity of tactics in the name of a livable future that include fighting both inside and outside the system. Characters in the novel contemplate targeted assassination of politicians and CEOs, industrial sabotage of coal plants, intentionally bringing down airliners in the name of destroying commercial air travel, bioterrorism against industrial slaughterhouses — and they do more than contemplate them. How does it change what’s possible when we stop worrying so much about losing in the right way, and start thinking about winning in the wrong ways?

Neal Stephenson predicted the metaverse. His new book imagines something even strangerSlate
Stephenson’s fiction has never shown much—or any, really—faith in the efficacy of national governments. The characters in Termination Shock all seem to take an equally dim view of the agenda of mainstream environmental parties. They dismiss the Greens, a significant political force in Saskia’s kingdom, for such DOA policy goals as trying to “get China and India to stop burning shit tomorrow and crash their economies for the sake of Mother Earth.” What if, this novel asks, individuals with the daring and wherewithal to do something decisive about the problem simply went ahead and did it? Compounding the attitude that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission is the titular phenomenon of “termination shock”: the uncertainty, as one character puts it, of “what the consequences might be of shutting the system off after it’s been running for a while.”

Gone? Not really

I’ve just been reading on the internet that Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, has written a new book.

100 Things We’ve Lost to the InternetPamela Paul
[A] captivating record, enlivened with illustrations, of the world before cyberspace—from voicemails to blind dates to punctuation to civility. There are the small losses: postcards, the blessings of an adolescence largely spared of documentation, the Rolodex, and the genuine surprises at high school reunions. But there are larger repercussions, too: weaker memories, the inability to entertain oneself, and the utter demolition of privacy.

Not really, but go on.

What does tech take from us? Meet the writer who has counted 100 big lossesThe Guardian
“There are a lot of terrible things to say about the internet,” she says. “What I wanted to focus on was not so much all of those doomsday scenarios, although they exist, but to look at all of these forces and say: ‘What does this mean for what we do in our daily lives – from the moment we wake up to the iPhone alarm to the moment when we’re trying to fall asleep at night and we can’t because we’re like: ‘Oh my God, there’s this newsletter that arrives at 11pm, let me just see what it says’? What does it actually mean down here at the level of how we live?”

It’s hard to read that article (about a book I wouldn’t have heard about if it wasn’t for the internet) and not respond with simply, “Ok boomer, whatever.” Yes, the internet’s changed many aspects of society, from book selling to banking, and yes, my predominant response to the web these days is one of disappointment. But I’m not sure many things have been lost, as such. We still have options. We can still make different choices.

She sounds a little pessimistic. Perhaps she should read this.

Pessimists Archive
Welcome to Pessimists Archive, a project created to jog our collective memories about the hysteria, technophobia and moral panic that often greets new technologies, ideas and trends.

There are sections that mark the worrying introduction of television and computing amongst others (Pamela Paul bemoaned the loss of civility, above. That went years ago, apparently), but the archive starts way back in 1858.

TelegraphPessimists Archive
It was humanity’s first taste of mass communications, and immediately triggered the same concerns about information overload, frivolous communications, loss of privacy, and moral corruption that today we blame on the internet.

There are eight newspaper clippings about telegraphs, including one that claimed “global telegraphy could screw with earths currents and disorder the universe.” But there are 65 clippings about bicycles, and even 17 about teddy bears.

Perhaps Pamela Paul needs to be reminded that being pessimistic about a new thing is not itself a new thing.

What makes a classic?

Are all these articles I’m sharing about covers of books, rather than the books themselves, making me look a little shallow? So it goes.

How Penguin’s Modern Classics dared us to judge a book by its coverThe Guardian
“From the beginning, built into the DNA of Penguin, has been this idea that the books need to be beautifully designed,” [says Henry Eliot, author of The Penguin Modern Classics Book]. “If anything has characterised the Penguin design ethos, it’s a kind of elegant simplicity – there’s something deceptively simple about a Penguin cover. It takes a huge amount of work to put them together.” […]

More unsettling is the work of Hungarian-born French cartoonist André Francois. Eliot singles out his cover of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, “where each eye of the face is made up of a mouth with another set of eyes. It’s just such a scary, striking image. It reminds me of Escher or one of Borges’s short stories – there’s something queasy and vertiginous about it.”

Judging a book by its 32 covers

After looking at collections of books all with the same cover, here’s news of a single book with a collection of covers.

Dave Eggers’ latest novel has 32 book covers, with even more on the wayPRINT Magazine
Never one to shy away from pushing boundaries, Eggers teamed up with art director Sunra Thompson for the project, who discovered that the dust jacket printer they were using could run several cover designs on one sheet of paper at once, providing the means to print dozens of different versions at the same time. Thompson decided to exploit this printing feature, enlisting a boatload of artists to design a completely new version of The Every cover, thanks to connections made by Noah Lang from the San Francisco gallery Electric Works.

It’s safe to say that Dave Egger is not a fan of Amazon.

You won’t find the hardcover of Dave Eggers’s next novel on AmazonThe New York Times
“I don’t like bullies,” Eggers wrote in an email. “Amazon has been kicking sand in the face of independent bookstores for decades now.”

The novel follows a former forest ranger and tech skeptic, Delaney Wells, as she tries to take down a dangerous monopoly from the inside: a company called The Every, formed when the world’s most powerful e-commerce site merged with the biggest social media company/search engine.

“One of the themes of the book is the power of monopolies to dictate our choices, so it seemed a good opportunity to push back a bit against the monopoly, Amazon, that currently rules the book world,” he said. “So we started looking into how feasible it would be to make the hardcover available only through independent bookstores. Turns out it is very, very hard.”

Ubiquitous book design

Noticed something blobby these days? (No, not that one.)

Behold, the book blobPRINT Magazine
This design trend, well into its third or fourth year in the major publishing houses, has attracted plenty of nicknames and attendant discourse online—culture critic Jeva Lange calls it “blobs of suggestive colors,” while writer Alana Pockros calls it the “unicorn frappuccino cover,” and New Yorker writer Kyle Chayka once referred to it on Twitter as “the Zombie Formalism of book covers.”

As the article goes on to say, spotting such trends in book cover design is far from breaking news.

Why do so many book covers look the same? Blame Getty ImagesEye on Design
This summer, Morrison, who goes by Caustic Cover Critic at his @Unwise_Trousers Twitter account, posted a collage of 20 Fog Men on 20 book covers. They comprised but one subset of a folder on his computer, titled, “One Image, Many Covers.” Over a few mid-June days, he emptied that folder all over Twitter, drawing the attention of authors, designers, and readers alike. Among the members of the One Image Many Covers All-Star Team: Some askew knees (three covers); a 1933 George Hoyningen-Huene photograph of model Toto Koopman in evening wear (eight covers); a woman expressing despair on the prairie (10 covers); a spectral, Victorian-ish lass toting an empty birdcage (10 covers); a top-hatted man lurking in the middle distance alongside a wrought iron fence (nine covers); a naked woman asleep on gravel (11).

That was from 2019, this next article is from 2015.

Why do so many of this year’s book covers have the same design style?Slate
But lately, another cover design trend has been popping up on this summer’s crop of beach reads: the flat woman. Inspired by the “flat design” that’s become standard on the Web, these covers take on a minimalist style characterized by bright colors, simple layouts, and lots of white space. Several different designers and publishers have used this approach on hardcovers and paperbacks alike, especially those aiming for the upmarket-but-still-commercial-fiction-for-ladies sweet spot.

And this one’s from 2008.

Chick lit cover girls, without headsGawker
On one hand, we can understand obscuring the faces—it’s less specific and makes the female protagonist easier to project oneself onto. (It’s probably been focus-grouped to death.) On the other hand—they look weird when put all together in a gallery, don’t they?

Making a very slow splash

There’s slow TV, then there’s really slow TV.

The Slow Mo Guys usually shoot their videos at 1,000 frames a second and play them back at 25 frames a second, in effect stretching one second into 40 seconds. But in this video they’re using a camera that allows them to shoot a mind-boggling 90,000 frames a second. When that footage is played back at 25 frames a second, one second lasts one whole hour.

The Slow Mo Guys: What if every second lasted an hour?YouTube
Gav shows you the tranquil results of stretching every second to be an hour long.

At this speed, a minute would last two and a half days, an hour would last about five months, and a day would come in at just under a decade, at nine years and ten months. Shall we keep going? A month would last around three centuries, and a year would be about 3,597 years.

Interesting visuals, for sure, but that concept of experiencing time at different scales is captivating.

Does anyone else get slightly filled with dread imagining how bad it would be to be stuck at this speed. Even if you were surrounded by people you wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone. It would be so lonely. It would take you so long to move anywhere. You wouldn’t be able to let anyone know what was happening to you. To them you’d be moving at normal speed but acting strangely…

It immediately brought to mind one of my favourite Borges short stories, The Secret Miracle, with the playwright facing a firing squad.

Jorge Luis Borges: The Secret MiracleSCASD [pdf]
The rifles converged upon Hladik, but the men assigned to pull the triggers were immobile. The sergeant’s arm eternalized an inconclusive gesture. Upon a courtyard flag stone a bee cast a stationary shadow. The wind had halted, as in a painted picture. Hladik began a shriek, a syllable, a twist of the hand. He realised he was paralyzed. Not a sound reached him from the frozen world.
He thought: I’m in hell, I’m dead.
He thought: I’ve gone mad.
He thought: Time has come to a halt.

It’s a common enough device, but Borges does it most poetically, I would say. But going back to that video, here’s what falling into a pool for an hour looks like. The action really kicks off at the 26 minute mark.

Reminds me a little of Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Pyscho although that feels like watching a rollercoaster compared to this.

But think of the trees

I’m a big fan of the photographer/designer/writer/walker Craig Mod, so it was great to read an interview with him in a recent Why Is This Interesting newsletter.

The [Tuesday] media diet with Craig ModWhy is this interesting?
Describe your media diet. Internet goes off before bed. No internet until afternoon. Mornings are for reading books and writing. I try to limit news to smart speaker updates — “Hey Googs, what’s the latest NPR news?” — since there is a natural backstop (the update ends) and it’s impossible to get sucked into hours of news gaping this way. Books, I read 50/50 on a Kindle/paper. Kindle is usefully quick and dirty although I despise the ecosystem. Any book I love enough to finish on Kindle I immediately buy the paper version for my library. Longform articles usually get sent to my Kindle or printed out for reading later since I find focusing on a long-form essay in a browser is akin to self-waterboarding. Mediums definitely matter! And if someone spent a great deal of time on a 5,000-word essay for NYT Magazine or The Atlantic, I want to make sure I’m fully there (full attention, full focus) for the ride.

Whilst I love his writing on reading and book design, I’m not sure about that “Any book I love enough to finish on Kindle I immediately buy the paper version for my library” line. I have so many great books on my Kindle that I’ve really enjoyed, and I would struggle to justify buying hundreds of paperbacks just to see them lined up on my bookcase.

Who am I kidding I’d love to do that.

Reading: the how, what and why

Across three essays for Literary Hub, one of my favourite authors, Will Self, ponders big, bookish questions.

Will Self: How should we read? In praise of literary promiscuity in the digital ageLiterary Hub
To read promiscuously is to comprehend the caresses of one work in the arms of another—and the promiscuous reader is a pedagogue par excellence. How should we read? We would read as gourmands eat, gobbling down huge gobbets of text. No one told me not to pivot abruptly from Valley of the Dolls to The Brothers Karamazov—so I did; anymore than they warned me not to intersperse passages of Fanny Hill with those written by Frantz Fanon—so I did that, too. By reading indiscriminately, I learned to discriminate—and learned also to comprehend: for it’s only with the acquisition of large data sets that we also develop schemas supple enough to interpret new material.

So many books, so little time — so just keep going!

Will Self on what to read: Canons to the left, canons to the right, and everything in betweenLiterary Hub
All of which is by way of saying: read what the hell you like. In a literary culture in which a Booker Prize winner (Bernadine Evaristo) can give an interview to the Guardian newspaper in which she states that “life’s too short” for her to read Ulysses, clearly the old idols have fallen. But then, they haven’t been the old idols for very long. No, read what you want—but be conscious that in this area of life as so many others; you are what you eat, and if your diet is solely pulp, you’ll very likely become rather… pulpy. And if you read books that almost certainly won’t last, you’ll power on through life with a view of cultural history as radically foreshortened as the bonnet of a bubble car.

And here, he compares the move from social reading to private, silent reading with the shift from the hefty codex to the hand-sized screen.

Why should you read? Will Self wonders what the hell we think we’re doingLiterary Hub
In the current era the dispute between those who view the technological assemblage of the internet and the web as some sort of panacea for our ills, and those who worry it might herald the end of everything from independent thought (whatever that might be), to literacy itself, has a slightly muted feel. I suspect the reason for this is also to be found in Understanding Media: as McLuhan pointed out, the supplanting of one medium by another can take a long time—and just as the practice of copying manuscripts by hand continued for centuries after the invention of printing, so solitary reading—conceived of importantly as an individual and private absorption in a unitary text of some length—persists, and will continue to endure long after the vast majority of copy being ingested is in the form of tiny digitized gobbets.

It’s books all the way down

Here’s another bookish sculpture to go with the others I found a while back.

Idiom installationAtlas Obscura
For bibliophiles, an infinite tower of books is a nightmare disguised as a dream—a huge collection of literature that you can’t get at because pulling a book or two out will cause the collapse of the tower. But it does make for a wonderful sight.

A real-life iteration of this dream-nightmare is on display at the Prague Municipal Library. Artist Matej Kren’s “Idiom” is a long-term art installation where hundreds of books are stacked in a cylindrical tower. Mirrors placed at the bottom and the top give the exhibit the illusion of being infinite. A tear-shaped opening on one side of the tower allows visitors to peek in and experience what it would be like to drown in a book well.

You should definitely pop into the Prague Municipal Library if you’re passing by.

Matej Kren’s ‘Idiom’Awayn
Located quite centrally, it’s a fun five minute stop to get some fresh photos and look at the book tower. Though it’s a lovely way for people to step into the building, you don’t have to go too far into it, so you don’t disturb anyone who goes for the actual library. As you come in the main entrance, it is literally in front of you; need to walk upstairs.

Here are some more photos of this little/infinitely large landmark. (via)