by Dish Staff
St. Simons Island, Georgia, 1.30 pm
Elisabeth Donnelly wagers that part of the reason “is that the people doing the reviewing are the writers and people in the book industry who are working in a similar genre”:
Book criticism, unlike other genres, is notoriously insular, like a meeting of Harvard men making Harvard plans for world domination at the Harvard club in NYC. … [T]here are too many vested interests for anything but lukewarm praise and a plot summary. (It is why a website like The Talkhouse, which offers “musicians on music” and “filmmakers on film” is clubby, insular, and boring.) And even if a review is critical, it’s only in the context of a discussion of whether or not the quality of the writing is good. But that’s not the only way to judge a book’s merit — or, crucially, its importance.
I find when I meet people who consider “liking books” as an important part of their identity, they’re not always acutely verbal as to the hows and whys of how a book can touch your life, heart, and brain. They’re good, fluent writers, but not good critics. They can enthuse on something for 1000 words, but they can’t get to the actual point: why the book matters, how it could change your life. Naturally, these people are often professional book reviewers, and their requirements when they’re freelancing at the occasional publication is to take what the editor assigns, and then to produce a piece that has some sort of thesis and is smart enough to impress people. … The result is boring, because nobody’s being pushed out of their boxes. When you meet people reading popular fiction, by contrast, you find that they’re excited about their books. They read voraciously. They may not be bragging about it online on a cool site, with photos of their long-lasting TBR pile. But they’re reading.
Evenings of these balmy August days, while riding my bicycle, I glimpse deer stepping out from the edges of thickets—including fawns and young bucks with delicate horns. This poem by Edmund Spenser springs naturally to mind, although it’s sweetly clear that he had something else on his. It’s one of more than seventy-five recordings of his courtship of his wife, Elizabeth Boyle, published with his Epithalamion in 1595.
From Amoretti by Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599):
Lyke as a huntsman after weary chace,
Seeing the game from him escapt away,
sits downe to rest him in some shady place,
with panting hounds beguyld of their pray:
So after long pursuit and vaine assay,
when I all weary had the chace forsooke,
the gentle deare returnd the selfe-same way,
thinking to quench her thirst at the next brooke.
There she beholding me with mylder looke,
sought not to fly, but fearelesse still did bide:
till I in hand her yet halfe trembling tooke,
and with her owne goodwill hir fyrmely tyde.
Strange thing me seemd to see a beast so wyld,
so goodly wonne with her owne will beguyld.
(Photo by Jereme Rauckman)
Planning to get blotto, schnockered or plonked this Labor Day weekend? David Crystal reflects on assembling an “almost complete list of every word we’ve ever used to mean ‘drunk'”:
Being drunk cuts across barriers. The list … shows only the occasional indication of a class preference (such as genteel whiffled vs thieves’ cant suckey), and occupational origins are seen only in some nautical expressions (three sheets, oversparred, up the pole, tin hat, honkers), though the etymology is not always definite. There are very few formal terms in the list, apart from a few expressions fostered by the law (intoxicated, over the limit), and some early scholarly words (inebriate(d), temulent, ebrious). Local regional variations are sometimes apparent, such as from Scotland (fou, strut, swash, blootered, swacked), England (bottled, pissed, ratarsed), and Australia (blue, rotten, shickery, plonked, on one’s ear); and since the eighteenth century most new words in this semantic field have started out in the United States. But it’s rare to find a word that stays in one country for long, and these days online slang dictionaries have largely broken down geographical boundaries.
Why has this field developed to the extent that writers regularly make a special collection of these words?
Autumn Whitefield-Madrano has more to say on the social significance of beauty-product consumption, turning from high-end splurges to the relatively affordable world of “masstige” creams and cosmetics:
[T]he temporary self-esteem boost one gets from bargain shopping becomes exaggerated when the shopper is able to attribute the bargain to her own skills—for example, proffering a coupon, or bargaining for a lower price, as opposed to simply purchasing a low-cost item. Another way a shopper might attribute a bargain to her own skills is recognizing a good deal when she sees it. Enter “masstige” products, i.e. products meant to be seen as prestige products that are sold at price points affordable to the masses. For New Yorkers, masstige is most evident in the aisles of Duane Reade drugstores, which in the past few years has revamped its beauty section to look more like something you’d see at Sak’s Fifth Avenue—softer lighting, island displays, skin care consultants. Along with that comes products that are more expensive than usual drugstore fare but still less than what you’d pay were you actually at Sak’s. (I’m a fan of a retinol cream I buy at Duane Reade that features sleek packaging and sounds all fancy but is just a brand of L’Oréal. A brand that costs three times as much as products labeled “L’Oréal,” mais oui.)
Indeed, masstige beauty is growing, with CVS entering the market, and with other major drugstore chains already in it. It’s gotten to the point where premium beauty brands are seeing masstige as a threat that supposedly confuses consumers into thinking they’re getting a higher-quality product than they actually are. Which brings us back to square one: The more that high-end beauty brands try to set themselves apart by seeming exclusive and catering to a consumer who sees purchasing that brand as evidence of her good taste, the more that reinforces the appeal of masstige products to a somewhat different consumer, who sees purchasing a masstige brand as evidence of her good sense. The masstige consumer might look at the prestige buyer and think, What a fool; the prestige buyer might look at the masstige buyer and think, Poor thing, or simply assume that the masstige route is a financial choice, ignoring or oblivious to its nonfinancial rewards.
Buried – sorry – in Biz Carson’s fascinating obituary of Hal Finney, who died this week from ALS, is a small aside with large implications. Finney, who was 58, was the first owner of bitcoins besides developer Satoshi Nakamoto (not his real name). This was in 2008, in a somewhat serendipitous turn of events, which Finney chronicled last year, typing via an eye tracker.
When Satoshi announced the first release of the software, I grabbed it right away. I think I was the first person besides Satoshi to run bitcoin. I mined block 70-something, and I was the recipient of the first bitcoin transaction, when Satoshi sent ten coins to me as a test. I carried on an email conversation with Satoshi over the next few days, mostly me reporting bugs and him fixing them. After a few days, bitcoin was running pretty stably, so I left it running… I mined several blocks over the next days. But I turned it off because it made my computer run hot, and the fan noise bothered me.
So the question is, now that he has died, what happens to Finney’s virtual currency?
A reader responds to Wednesday’s Mental Health Break:
Mozart Rap is nothing new – see the above version by Turkey’s rap superstar, Ceza. The text is not quite as wholesome as the one you showed, but it is a trenchant comment on the ills of Turkish society and politics today. Mozart’s Turkish March is something like the secret anthem of Turkey (at least for the secular Westernized part of society), and has been taken up several times by Turkish musicians. My favorite is this one, showing how music is a truly global art in a unique way:
Another reader senses an opportunity:
I feel compelled to turn this into a “dudes rapping to classical music” thread, because yes please. That clip reminded me of one of my favorite rap songs, Jedi Mind Tricks’ “Animal Rap”:
Rebecca Mead describes the challenges Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard has faced as a prominent female academic:
At Cambridge [in 1972], the inequities of gender began to dawn on Beard. “Most of the people who taught us in the faculty were blokes,” she says. “There were only twelve per cent women among the students, and you thought, Actually, there is an issue here. You go into a dining hall of a men’s college, and everybody’s portrait was a bloke. Well, perhaps some female founder back in 1512, some lady who gave the cash—and everyone else was a bloke. For the first time I saw that, somehow, I was there as sort of a favor.” She attended women’s groups and joined campaigns to open the university further to women. The women of Cambridge were undertaking more personal voyages of discovery, too: in a drawer somewhere in Beard’s house is a plastic speculum that she acquired at one consciousness-raising gathering.
Beard left Cambridge in 1979, for King’s College London. She completed her Ph.D. in 1982; two years later, she returned to Newnham as a fellow. At the time, she says, she was one of only three women on the classics faculty, out of a total of twenty-six; before long, both of her female colleagues left. (Now there are roughly four men to each woman.)
That was then. Today, explains Mead, Beard is active on social media, and holds her own in an ongoing battle with the ubiquitous misogynistic troll contingent. Mead addresses the particularity of how Beard, whom “the Queen recently appointed … to the Order of the British Empire,” battles lesser names (or the altogether anonymous):
There is, [Beard] acknowledges, an irony in the imbalance of power: as a prominent scholar, she does have a voice, however unpleasant the threats to silence her may be. Most of her Twitter detractors are grumbling to only a handful of followers, at least until she amplifies their audience.
Mead’s article brought to mind a pattern I’ve noticed within feminism, which I’ve called the Second After Sartre problem, namely that of women who aren’t merely privileged but are major leaders of their age, who call out the obstacles that prevent them from achieving what their male equivalents can, or from doing so as easily. It’s in reference to… I’ll let Lisa Appignanesi explain the story I’m referencing:
You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Be sure to email entries to email@example.com. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.
Browse previous contests here.