07/09/2009

Magazine Roundup

Magazine Roundup, which appears every Tuesday at 12 p.m., is originally published by Perlentaucher.

The New Yorker | Literaturen | HVG | The Guardian | NZZ Folio | L'Espresso | The Chronicle of Higher Education | El Pais Semanal | The New York Review of Books

The New Yorker 14.09.2009 (USA)

Alexandra Jacobs chronicles the legendary success story of the US online shoe retailer Zappos, which was founded in 1999. "At its most rarefied, shoe shopping still takes place in hushed, pastel-carpeted salons, with salesmen staggering under stacks of boxes and kneeling down to insure the perfect fit before whisking away the charge plates of their waiting Cinderellas. Some people still consider pawing through the sale racks at Bloomingdale's or the fluorescent-lit aisles of the Designer Shoe Warehouse an enjoyable contact sport. But Zappos and its imitators—shoes.com, heels.com, and the Gap's inexplicably named piperlime.com—are shifting this public transaction into the comfort and privacy of customers' living rooms. There, thanks to Zappos's three-hundred-and-sixty-five-day return policy, we can all be Imelda Marcos, sifting through ceiling-high piles of boxes, and waiting in sweatpanted indolence for the UPS man to pick up our rejects."

Further articles: Judith Thurman reviews a number of books on the American flight pioneer and women's rights activist Amelia Earhart who, in 1937, disappeared in the Pacific. Sasha Frere-Jones portrays the band Nine Inch Nails. Anthony Lane takes us though "The Americans", a photo exhibition by Robert Frank in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He also watched the animation film "9" and Neill Blomkamp's science-fiction thriller "District 9" in the cinema. There is a short story "The Low River" by Paul Theroux and poems by Justin Quinn, Tom Sleigh and James Schuyler.


Literaturen 01.09.2009 (Germany)

An upbeat Terezia Mora talks in an interview about her new novel "The Only Man on the Continent", whose protagonist, Darius, is an IT man who loses his job. It's not intended as a commentary on the global financial crisis, Mora says. "In my head was the 2001 crisis. That was a watershed for the IT community. The current crisis is still not being felt there yet – it's a bank crisis. I see the novel as a book which asks who we are, how we live, and not just now, but reaching back quite some time. What does work mean to us? (...) The interesting thing about the people in IT is that they are not concerned with the ladder, they don't want to belong to the upper crust. They want to keep on living just as they are. When asked about improving their working conditions my husband's colleagues replied in unison: 'The system will stay this way until we're 65."

The focus of this issue is China, this year's guest country the Frankfurt Book Fair. Literaturen editor Jörg Magenau was invited, together with the writers Marcel Beyer and Rolf Lappert and the translator Ulrich Kautz, to give readings and seminars at the German literature and language institutes in Shanghai and Nanjing. "One of the organisers of the exchange is Bi Feiyu, a writer who made a name for himself in the West with "The Moon Opera", a novel about the traditional Peking opera. The Germans and the Chinese, he says, have a similar problem. The German language was soiled by the fascists, the Chinese by the Cultural Revolution. This means that Chinese writers have to re-establish 'the purity of the language': 'It won't go in the dishwasher. Everything has to be washed by hand.' Bi Feiyu is pinning his hopes on the generation that was born in the 80s, because his generation is already tarnished. He praises Berhard Schlink's novel "The Reader" becauase Shlink was not afraid to take on history. 'You have to remember,' he says, 'this is the writer's imperative.'"

Other China-related articles include reviews of new books by Li Yiyun, Ma Jian, Liao Yiwu, ZhuWen. The Sinologist Ulrich Kautz explains how he translates Chinese literature and there is an article by Bi Feiyu. There is also a review of David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest" which has just been published in German.


HVG 04.09.2009 (Hungary)

Last Saturday, Budapest's gay community staged its annual Gay Pride demonstration – under heavy police escort, after the brutal attacks on participants last year. The opponents of the demonstration believe that people should be able to do as they please in the privacy of their homes, but that homosexuality has no place in public. The writer and gay activist Agata Gordon has the following response to such attitudes: "We are fighting aggressive homophobia and not the majority society. Ultimately we are only interested in showing that we are normal people and not disturbed individuals. In my opinion, people's objections are often provoked by the ambiguous term 'homosexual', because it refers explicitly to the body. As if gays and lesbians were solely interested in sexuality, when of course it is only one part of their social and emotional lives. The term 'homosocial' is much more fitting."


The Guardian 05.09.2009 (UK)

"How can you be a great writer if you are just an ordinary little man?" asks a female character in JM Coetzee's latest book "Summertime". It's just one of a string of harsh reviews, in this "unsparing" autobiographical novel, of Coetzee by Coetzee, of Coetzee the writer and Coetzee the man, as James Meek writes. "The intaglio Coetzee" who emerges from the accounts of the four female characters in the book who have known Coetzee's doppelganger at various stages of his life "is an unprepossessing figure, cold, awkward, remote, stubborn, foolish. He is scruffy and unattractive, physically, emotionally and intellectually. He is rude, bold when he should be discreet, withdrawn when he should be passionate. He has wispy hair, a scraggly beard and bad clothes. He is an unromantic loser, living with his old father in a rundown cottage, single, childless and poor. He's an ordinary failure, a bad lover. 'In his lovemaking, I now think there was an autistic quality. I offer this not as a criticism but as a diagnosis,' Julia tells Mr Vincent. 'Two inscrutable automata having inscrutable commerce with each other's bodies: that was how it felt to be in bed with John.'"


NZZ Folio 07.09.2009 (Switzerland)

The NZZ magazine is dedicated to the apprentice who, many believe, is just someone who couldn't get into university. But the vocational schools educator Rolf Dubs calls this "blinkered prestige thinking. Just look at how many lawyers and psychologists we educate every year – where are they all going to find jobs that befit their training. The same goes for St. Gallen University (one of Europe's leading business schools). The graduates all assume they that they have stellar careers ahead of them. It's just not true. I ask myself whether the graduates who get stuck in middle management in some bank are happier that a baker with his own business."

It seems prestige does play a certain role, however, as all the apprentices interviewed for the magazine are learning their trades at the best addresses: The dressmaker's apprentice, Martha Staub, is with the haute-couture atelier "a ma chere"; the watchmaker's apprentice, Nicolas Huguenin, is at Audemars Piguet in Le Locle; the confectionist-to-be, Rahel Blank, is at Vollenweider in Winterthur, the boat builder's apprentice, Jan Lüscher, is with Pedrazzini in Bäch. In his perfume column (in English) Luca Turin meets a "serpent de mer".


L'Espresso 04.09.2009 (Italy)

Can we trust Wikipedia? No, says Umberto Eco, but then no information is absolutely reliable. His solution is to look to other sources or just compare Wikipedia articles in different languages. "At first I logged in only to correct the entry about myself, because it contained false information or mistakes (it says, for example, that I am the first of 13 brothers, when that was my father). Then I gave up because every time I returned to my entry I found one or more charming little errors. Recently some of my friends informed me that Wikipedia was saying that I had married the daughter of my publisher Valentino Bompiani. I, personally, was not bothered by the information but I intervened on behalf of my good friends Ginevra and Emanuela. This wasn't just a misunderstanding (as the story with the 13 brothers has been), nor was it based on rumour. No one had ever heard mentioned anything about an arrangement with Ginevra or Emanuela. The anonymous co-author of the Wikipedia entry had simply published his or her own private fantasy, without feeling any obligation whatsoever to list any sources for the report."


The Chronicle of Higher Education 31.08.2009 (USA)

Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist from Berkeley, delivers a highly instructive article about Google book search. It describes the "trainwreck" that is the state of Google's bibliographic metadata which, in view of the growing monopoly Google has on "orphan books", needs remedying fast. One of the many examples he lists are false publication dates. "'To take Google's word for it, 1899 was a literary annus mirabilis, which saw the publication of Raymond Chandler's 'Killer in the Rain', 'The Portable Dorothy Parker', Andre Malraux's 'La Condition Humaine', Stephen King's 'Christine', 'The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf', Raymond Williams's 'Culture and Society 1780-1950', and Robert Shelton's biography of Bob Dylan, to name just a few."


El Pais Semanal 06.09.2009 (Spain)

"A hellish paradise." The Spanish writer Juan Jose Millas was deeply disturbed after accompanying "Doctors Without Borders" across Kashmir, where almost half of the Indian army (500,000 soldiers) is stationed. "According to Khurram Parvez, a coordinator working for a number of human rights organisations, the military presence here over the past two decades is responsible for 70,000 deaths and 8,000 missing persons. A further 18,000 people have been imprisoned." Having been bombarded with reports of torture, abuse, killings and abductions, he asks why the international community has shown such a lack of interest in the situation. Parvez lists a number of reasons: "Firstly, there are very few conflicts that have dragged on for this long. Secondly, in the West India is considered a land of Ghandis, so it unthinkable that it would be troubled by violence. Thirdly, after three Kashmir wars between India and Pakistan, this conflict is regarded as an unpleasant problem with the Muslims. Fourthly, all five neighbouring countries have their resepective interests in the war. Fifthly, India has a democratic image which doesn't help to resolve the conflict: Tibet attracts so much media attention because of its problems with China, which is not seen as a democratic country."


The New York Review of Books 24.09.2009 (USA)

Lorrie Moore takes up the cudgels for the Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, who is revered by Latin American scholars as a goddess and as Brazil's greatest writer, but is unknown by the rest of the world. "She was to the public a charismatic obscurity, a witch, a recluse, a mystery: the 'Brazilian Sphinx.' Her odd name made people think she was a man or working under a nom de plume (which she sometimes did, but Lispector was her actual name). She was a kind of feminist, but as someone who also at times wrote beauty advice columns and had a closet full of designer dresses, she was not a feminist's feminist. When later in life her work was called hermetic and she herself a "sacred monster," it was to her own great dismay."

In a detailed report on the future of the newspaper, Michael Messing sees the age of commercial media drawing to a close. The future, he believes lies in nonprofit enterprises, and he quotes from an op-ed piece in the New York Times, in which investment officer David Swensen and finance analyst Michael Schmidt suggest that newspapers should turn themselves into nonprofit endowed institutions, like universities. "'Endowments,' they wrote, 'would enhance newspapers' autonomy while shielding them from the economic forces that are now tearing them down.' Taking the Times as an example, they estimated that, with a newsroom costing somewhat more than 200 million dollars a year to run, and with some additional outlays for overhead, the paper would need an endowment of around 5 billion dollars. 'Enlightened philanthropists must act now or watch a vital component of American democracy fade into irrelevance,' they declared."

Further articles: Philippe Sands asks why, in his autobiography, General Richard B. Myers failed to mention his having authorised the use of torture in Guantanamo. Howard W. French reviews new books about the war in Congo. Ronald Dworkins analyses the unjust hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

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