The decline of Western culture continues apace: Scrabble has expanded its list of allowable words, and it includes “OK.” “Four-time national Scrabble champion Philip Nelkon welcomed the addition of new two-letter words, calling them the ‘lifeblood of high-score Scrabble, enabling us to make those high-scoring parallel plays involving many words’. However, he said that OK was a controversial choice among players, as according to the official rules, it should not be allowed due to being both capitalised and an abbreviation.”
Remember Amélie Wen Zhao’s book Blood Heir? A few months ago, she cancelled the novel’s publication because readers said her depiction of slavery was insensitive. It will now be published after all: “Afterward, Zhao, who is 26, agonized over her decision. She kept herself occupied at her day job as a portfolio manager at an international bank. Then she collected herself and reread her book several times, examining the plot and characters to see if the critics were right. She decided they weren’t. In March, Zhao called her editor at Delacorte Press and told her that she wanted to move forward with the novel after all. She made some revisions, and Blood Heir is now scheduled to be released in November.”
Why is it so hard to learn a foreign language in middle age? “When I moved to Paris in my early 30s and started learning French practically from scratch, I knew I’d never sound like a native. But I envisioned a hero’s journey in which I struggled for a few years, then emerged fluent, or at least pretty good. Fifteen years later, I’ve made strides, but they’re not heroic. I’ve merely gone from bad to not bad.”
The Guardian records its first profit in over 20 years.
Indigo—Canada’s largest bookstore chain—is increasing the number of stores it has in the United States. According to The New York Times, here’s how it is supposedly competing with Amazon: “It may seem strange for a bookstore chain to be developing and selling artisanal soup bowls and organic cotton baby onesies. But Indigo’s approach seems not only novel but crucial to its success and longevity. The superstore concept, with hulking retail spaces stocking 100,000 titles, has become increasingly hard to sustain in the era of online retail, when it’s impossible to match Amazon’s vast selection. Indigo is experimenting with a new model, positioning itself as a ‘cultural department store’ where customers who wander in to browse through books often end up lingering as they impulsively shop for cashmere slippers and crystal facial rollers, or a knife set to go with a new Paleo cookbook.” Isn’t this exactly what Barnes and Noble tried to do, though to a lesser degree?
The example of Rotterdam: “Forget economic anxiety. Rotterdam is a warning that the emerging political fight across Europe really is about cultural assimilation after all.”
Essay of the Day:
In The London Review of Books, Freya Johnston discusses Samuel Johnson’s marital and other advice:
“Johnson’s writings seemed to his contemporaries to offer personal guidance for all stages of life. Chance acquaintances, regular correspondents and acolytes came to rely on his advice and knowledge about everything from reading lists to the digestive faculties of dogs. Such reliance was not always welcome. When one young man called out, ‘Mr Johnson, would you advise me to marry?’ he was brusquely told: ‘I would advise no man to marry, Sir, who is not likely to propagate understanding.’ Characteristically, Johnson shortly after repented of his impatience, providing his interrogator with a lengthy ‘dissertation’ on the pros and cons of matrimony which was ‘so useful, so elegant, so founded on the true knowledge of human life, and so adorned with beauty of sentiment, that no one ever recollected the offence, except to rejoice in its consequences’. The anecdote typifies the man: Johnson was able to explain moral questions so admirably that people forgot all about his initial roughness. In fact, his tendency to explain such questions in the fullest and most down-to-earth terms was often a way of atoning for the harsh first impression he had made.
“We cannot know what Johnson told the young man, but we can hazard a guess. In Rasselas (1759) Princess Nekayah gives a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of single and of matrimonial life: ‘Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.’ Her sentiments chime with Johnson’s own; one friend remembered his comment that ‘even ill-assorted marriages were preferable to cheerless celibacy.’ This careful adjustment of preferences – acknowledging the inevitable discrepancy between human hopes and human reality, yet opting for one kind of disappointment as preferable to another – is one of the most valuable aspects of Johnson’s thinking. It is a kind of mournful pragmatism.
“‘What should books teach,’ he asked, ‘but the art of living?’ Writing to and about the ‘bulk of mankind’ was the literary equivalent of his own escape from loneliness to the comforts of social life, the only cure, he said, for his ‘vile melancholy’. Solitude and idleness were, in his view, the two roads to madness; his criticism of one friend as ‘a very unclubable man’ was a serious objection. Johnson always sought to bring one person’s experience into contact with another’s – this was, in his view, the chief aim of biography, his favourite kind of writing – and hence to palliate his own and his readers’ isolation. So his Lives of the Poets presents Milton not only as the contriver of Paradise Lost, but as a hopelessly unsuccessful schoolmaster and a strangely cruel father. The connection between writing and living, the application of one to the other, were subjects to which he returned throughout his long career. Unlike many authors, he did not shirk the potentially embarrassing question, ‘What is the point of books?’ And in view of the scale of many of his literary enterprises, it is heartening to find him complain: ‘Alas, Madam! How few books are there of which one can ever possibly arrive at the last page?’ and ‘a book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?’ He recommended pocket-sized volumes, readily available at moments of boredom or crisis, as the best kind of literary resource, making the obvious but frequently overlooked point that ‘that book is good in vain which the reader throws away.’”
Poem: Devin Johnston, “Cold Trail”
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