The Observer meets Amazon’s Russell Grandinetti.
“During the Cold War, the conflicts that powered the thriller were rooted in ideology: Le Carre’s Berlin and Greene’s Havana were mainly backdrops against which the clash of the superpowers was played out. The new thrillers were not focused on ideology but on place; it was the peeling away of layers of culture and history that gave these novels their impetus.”
Mehdi Yazdany and Sarvenaz Heraner are no ordinary cabbies: they offer “a mobile reading room and taxi service, complete with chauffeur-librarian.” The cab has more than 40 titles, “from Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis to Charles Bukowski’s Pulp. There are also works by Iranian standouts such as Nader Ebrahimi, Zoya Pirzad and Sohrab Sepehri. … When you pay the fare, you can buy a book.”
George Packer: “Amazon has its own corporate lexicon, its own uses of language. Warehouses are ‘fulfillment centers,’ algorithmic recommendations are ‘personalization.’ I won’t call it Orwellian, because that poor, much-abused term should be reserved for special occasions, like North Korea. But it’s a style conducive to cheerful deception, and Orwell would have seen straight through it.”
Rebecca Mead: “The distinction partakes of a debased cultural Puritanism, which insists that the only fun to be had with a book is the frivolous kind, or that it’s necessarily a pleasure to read something accessible and easy … [or] that literary works, especially those not written last year, are placed at the opposite pole to fun.”
“Members of the public reacted angrily when the new edition – part of the Penguin Modern Classics range – was revealed [last] Wednesday. The cover was deemed ‘misleading’ and ‘creepy’. Author Giles Paley-Phillips said it looked ‘more like Lolita‘. But Penguin said it stressed ‘the light and the dark aspects’ of Dahl’s work.”
When a group of young people demanded that John R. MacArthur make Harper’s available for free online, “what he told them was ‘essentially, forget it.’ The web, to him, ‘wasn’t much more than a gigantic Xerox machine’ designed to rob publishers and writers. He was mocked as neo-Luddite. But the fight only hardened his convictions, which are reflected monthly in his magazine.”
“Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch has received ‘a few emails’ in response to a call earlier this weekend by Amazon to contact the executive, demanding he and his company give in to the retailer’s demands for lower ebook prices. In response to those emails, Pietsch is sending the below note.” [full text provided]
“[There's] a degree of cultural and political embarrassment to start with – over a writer whose near-total indifference to politics is still startling and whose attitudes to women are likely to win few allies today. But there is a deeper embarrassment yet. For so many male readers, he is the quintessential poet of adolescence. How many of us were convinced on reading him that this was what poetry was really like, heady, incantatory, obsessively sensual? How many proceeded to write terrible imitations of him in the back of school notebooks? That is what people wince over.”
“The neighborhood bookstore shut down, and that left a gap in the lives of a lot of people – without it, they had to go to Minneapolis to buy books, and that makes no sense – Minneapolis is where you go to see documentary films or lectures on urban planning or dances with titles like Dimensions of Being.”
“Just to make sure the letter writers stayed on message, Amazon offered a list of talking points. The first one … was, ‘We have noted your illegal collusion,’ always an icebreaker in these circumstances.” Amazon’s post went on to say, citing a truncated quote, “Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.” That just isn’t so.
“A load of laundry, a batch of cupcakes – followed by a child murder, a matricide, and an attempted school bombing, all with a cherry on top. … Why has this particular brand of violence, half cupcake and half decapitation, so thoroughly captured the Japanese imagination? In part it is because there are so many delectable Japanese cupcakes to corrupt.”
“An intuitive code governs the way English speakers order adjectives. The rules come so naturally to us that we rarely learn about them in school, but over the past few decades language nerds have been monitoring modifiers, grouping them into categories, and straining to find logic in how people instinctively rank those categories.”
“There’s a lot of advice about English usage that we largely take for granted, from split infinitives to dangling participles, but where did anyone get these ideas in the first place?” Linguist Robin Straaijer writes about his Hyper Usage Guide of English (HUGE)database project, using as an example the hopefully wars, which (like so many culture wars) has been fought since the ’60s.