In late 2001 among the people I knew, cellphones went from being a gadget of the technorati to something that everyone had. I was living in a dorm with five roommates at the time and one consequence of the change was that we no longer ever spoke with each other’s parents. Previously parents had called the room line and whoever was around would pick up. I enjoyed shooting the breeze with my friends’ moms (it was mostly moms who called) and I regretted that there was no longer much opportunity to do that once cellphones allowed our parents to call each of us directly.
Ereaders today feel somewhat like cellphones just before 2001. They are not yet ubiquitous, but they are well past the early-adopter stage and their growth seems poised to go geometric. When the Kindle came out in 2007 I poopooed it as the future face of reading; the hyperactivity of the Internet just seemed like a bad match with the meditative experience of reading a book. But the other day while watching my eight-month-old son knock around a pile of books, I knew suddenly and viscerally that I was wrong. The clunky objects he was playing with seemed like relics.
The Millions has written previously about the externalities of e-readers. Edan has commented on how they portend a drawing down of the public space in which we read—with the Kindle you don’t know what the person next to you is reading, or how far along in it they are, or whether their copy of the book is dog-eared or brand new (because it’s neither).
One of the most prominent losses in this regard stands to be the loss of bookshelves. A chief virtue of digital books is said to be their economical size—they take up no space at all!—but even a megabyte seems bulky compared to what can be conveyed in the few cubic feet of a bookshelf. What other vessel is able to hold with such precision, intricacy, and economy, all the facets of your life: that you bake bread, vacationed in China, fetishize Melville, aspire to read Shakespeare, have coped with loss, and still tote around a copy of The Missing Piece as a totem of your childhood. And what by contrast can a Kindle tell you about yourself or say to those who visit your house? All it offers is blithe reassurance that there is progress in the world, and that you are a part of it.
Of the bookshelves I’ve inspected in my life, two stand out as particularly consequential. The first was my mother’s, which was built into the wall of the bedroom where she grew up. When I would visit my grandparents in the summer I would spend hours inspecting that bookshelf. The books were yellowed and jammed tightly together, as though my mother had known it was time to leave home once she no longer had any room left on her shelves. In the 1960s novels, the Victorian classics, and the freshman year sociology textbooks fossilized on the bookshelf, I got the clearest glimpse I ever had of my mother as a person who existed before me and apart from me, and whose inner life was as bottomless as I knew my own to be.
And then there was my wife, whose bookshelves I first inspected in a humid DC summer, while her parents were away at work. The shelves were stuffed full of novels—Little House on the Prairie, The Andromeda Strain, One Hundred Years of Solitude—that described an arc of discovery I had followed too. At the time we met, her books still quivered from recent use and still radiated traces of the adolescent wonder they’d prompted. In the years since, on visits home for the holidays and to celebrate engagements and births, I’ve watched her bookshelves dim and settle. Lately they’ve begun to resemble a type of monument I recognize from my mother’s room. They sit there waiting for the day when our son will be old enough to spend his own afternoons puzzling out a picture of his mother in the books she left behind.
It remains to be seen how many more generations will have the adventure of getting to know their parents in just this way. One for sure, and maybe two, but not much beyond that I wouldn’t think. To the extent that bookshelves persist, it will be in self-conscious form, as display cases filled with only the books we valued enough to acquire and preserve in hard copy. The more interesting story, however, the open-ended, undirected progression of a life defined by books will surely be lost to a digital world in which there is no such thing as time at all.
The secret passion of the cinephile is to find a hidden treasure. It’s often a film that wasn’t well-received in its day; its makers were beleaguered; and it is definitely, certainly not on DVD. Check all three for The Victors, a 1963 World War II movie in which a battle emerges between a bulging international cast. The movie’s director, Carl Foreman, was one of the blacklisted screenwriters that made up the Hollywood Ten, and The Victors was his only director’s credit. The New York Times hated it (though Bosley Crowther hated many things), and the Time critic wrote that “Foreman has spent two and a half years producing a faintly vulgar medley nearly three hours long.” It didn’t help that the previous year’s WWII epic, The Longest Day, had earned lots of money and a Best Picture nomination, overshadowing it. To this day The Victors isn’t on DVD or VHS. For all these reasons we can call the film a rediscovery. But is it good?
For long stretches, no, though its precepts are useful. Like many strong American war movies (from The Best Years of Our Lives to The Big Red One to The Thin Red Line), The Victorsfocuses on a group rather than on one individual, with accompanying commentary on group patterns and behaviors. (The Hurt Locker, by contrast, seems much more focused on individual trauma.) Foreman’s film sets up its social dynamic from its first scene, where a voiceover introduces us to our American soldiers, arriving last at their two German prisoners, “not-so-masterful members of the master race.” We’re told that in war there are two kinds of people, the vanquished and the victors. Nearly every scene in this episodic film illustrates that dynamic, whether the opposed be soldiers in different armies, men and dogs, or concentration camp survivors and their American saviors. Most frequently, though, the vanquished/victor dynamic emerges between American boys and European girls. Married Vince Edwards pines for married Rosanna Schiaffino, George Hamilton chases down young Romy Schneider, George Peppard falls into the older Melina Mercouri’s clutches, strong Eli Wallach protects quivering Jeanne Moreau (think about that last pairing). At times the movie feels less like Battleground and more like La Ronde—though, funnily, with its focus on all the time and space lovers spend without each other, the light love story La Ronde proves the sadder film.
Foreman gives his sweethearts nothing but time and space, with or without each other: He generally frames the action so that the actors have several inches of room on either side of them. That doesn’t mean that you can see them better, as the film’s black-and-white stock drowns in grainy, murky light, suggesting that The Bridge on the River Kwai's screenwriter watched Paisantoo many times. When people talk about the authenticity of Italian neorealist films, they’re often referring to technical elements (natural lighting, location shooting, amateur actors) rather than narrative ones. Neorealism’s plots can be as formulaic as Hollywood’s, with characters and events turned to make specific, didactic points—though sometimes, like with The Bicycle Thief, it works anyway. It doesn’t so much with The Victors, in which the message of each scene is that war is hell, somehow, and love sometimes sucks, too.
The movie’s script thuds and clunks (Schiaffino: “You love wife. You love me. I love husband. I love you.”), and so does its cast. Moreau, playing a Frenchwoman in a bombarded house, falls flattest: With her stiff, face-forward delivery, every word about civilian hardship enunciated, she gives not a character but a public service announcement. The other actors, hamstrung, follow. Wallach, the plainspoken, anti-bullshit, anti-intellectual voice of reason, keeps calling people “stupid idiots”; belle artiste Schneider stares into a glass and pines for her lost conservatoire. A young Albert Finney (the same year as Tom Jones), in a cameo as a Russian lout in a bar, escapes by freeing himself, Laughton-like—expanding his stance, stretching his shoulders, dangling an easy hand over the bartop, and generally swallowing space. It’s one of the few instances in The Victors where I don’t feel like I’m watching something that’s been carefully blocked.
This raises a paradox: The Victors shows copious newsreel footage (the Yalta Conference, or Army’s football team beating Notre Dame’s), but very little of the film feels authentic. To critic James Agee, one of the greatest (if not the greatest) war films ever made was 1944’s The Story of G.I. Joe, precisely because of how it merged documentary and fiction. I’m not crazy about G.I. Joe—Robert Mitchum gives a wonderful early-career performance, but after a while the film’s story disappears—yet I find myself in tune with Agee’s arguments for it. He wrote that G.I. Joe "not only makes most of its fiction look and sound like fact—and far more intimate and expressive fact than it is possible to record on the spot; it also, without ever inflating or even disturbing the factual quality…gives fact the constant power and meaning beyond its own which most ‘documentors’—and most imaginative artists as well—totally lack feeling for." An image can feel real, in other words, even when highly stylized. The example Agee gave is a sudden close-up of a soldier’s gear-laden back as he walks away from his captain’s corpse, an image Agee compared to poetry; by contrast, whether through round Churchill or square George Hamilton, The Victors constantly speaks dull prose.
That said, the two films overlap on at least one approach they take to capturing the real, and it’s the aspect of The Victors that I admire the most. Agee wrote that G.I. Joe acknowledges death by eliding it: “With a slight shift of time and scene, men whose faces have become familiar simply aren’t around any more. The fact is not commented on or in any way pointed; their absence merely creates its gradual vacuum and realization in the pit of the stomach.” Similarly, The Victors often drops characters without explanation, sometimes bringing them back with missing noses or crippled legs. The movie contains no actual battle sequences, but conveys the damage of battle beautifully—sudden, grotesque, and arbitrary (this differs from several rancid Holocaust films, the worst being The Grey Zone, which by burning as many fake bodies onscreen as possible to prove its moral seriousness actually cheapens real slaughter). This may be partly why two of The Victors's most overt on-screen depictions of violence, an execution of an American soldier for treason and a climactic knife fight between rivals, are two of the film's most galvanizingly obvious moments. In the first, the austere longshot handling clashes with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on the soundtrack; in the second, the flying V shape that the wounded men form competes with the ruined physical terrain. In moments like these the victors are the audience members, who get to walk away from the movie. Cinema is a literal medium, but its stabs at reality can often look fake.
I had the opportunity to see Murakami speak this past weekend.
What interested me most is that he doesn’t seem to consider his work to be particularly artistic, instead he sees himself as just a guy telling stories, doing what he does. He compared himself to a taxi driver at one point, saying he sees himself “as a guy just doing what he has to do.” Craft of writing more than art of writing.
Also he said that when he writes he never/rarely has a destination in mind. That what he enjoys in writing, is seeing “what’s next, what’s next.” “If you know the end, the fun is spoiled.” He will start writing with just an opening scene or image which he may have had in mind for weeks or months, then make things up from there.
He claims to never dream while sleeping, and that instead he does his dreaming while he writes, almost comparing it to lucid dreaming without ever actually using that term. he did say though that it is fun to be able to “stop, start, stop start.” He writes every day in the early morning, usually goes to sleep at 8 or 9pm and wakes at 3 or 4am. As he said, and I totally agree, there is something special about the hours or the early morning. I love the way the light is during dawn and pre dawn hours, and if I really wanted I could see it all the time, yet instead every single day I and most other people sleep through it, dream through it. There is something in Murakami’s writing which is dream like, simple and calm, I find it reassuring almost that he is writing his stories while I am sleeping.
Additionally, he said that he does read the english translations of his work and is very satisfied with them. Repeatedly questioned on this by the audience, each time he claimed the Japanese and English versions of his books are “basically the same” and couldn’t seem to think of any even minor differences between the two.
about his musical taste: he has somewhat of a rotation. In the morning he listens to baroque music, while driving always rock (REM, Beck and Radiohead are a few artists he mentioned), and in the evenings always jazz.
And about his open ended writing style, not having a plan or destination in mind for a story, he compared knowing when he is done to making love. “Somehow you just know.” a puzzling thing about this is that he seemed to say it is a subtle, vague thing, that somehow you just sort of know when you are done writing/making love. When making love though, knowing you are done is not so subtle…
he concluded the talk with a couple anecdotes. One, “Life is good sometimes” about a fan who might love one of his books but dislike the recent ones, or vice versa.
“There is literally not enough celery root grown in the world for it to survive on the menu at McDonald’s — although the company could change that, since its menu decisions quickly become global agricultural concerns. Not long after he arrived at McDonald’s in 2004, Coudreaut added to the menu an Asian salad that included edamame. The Soyfoods Council, a trade group, immediately got calls from consumers across the nation looking to buy edamame at their grocery stores. “Now you can find it in supermarkets all over.””—McDonald’s Mac Snack Wrap: Chef Changes Fast-Food Menu (via petervidani)
“The Times’s Jeffrey Marcus is three rows from Wayne Gretzky, who fell to his seat and covered his face with his hands when Zach Parise scored. Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, is slouched in his seat, staring at the scoreboard.”—
I’ve run pitchfork.tumblr.com for almost a year now. I had several posts up and I followed 28 people with the account. All my posts are now gone and my address has been changed to pitchfork1.tumblr.com. Where my blog once stood now stands the official Tumblr for Pitchfork Media Inc.
Recently, one of my friends who is subscribed to my pitchfork tumblr was surprised to see a sudden change in the content I was posting. That’s because Tumblr stole my subdomain and gave (sold?) it to Pitchfork Media Inc. Keep in mind that the word “pitchfork” is not a proprietary name, it is a noun dating back to the year 1364, so they had no legal right to the word or the subdomain. It clearly wasn’t a case of impersonation as none of my posts had anything to do with music. If there was some kind of content quality threshold that failed to be met which led to my blog’s demise, then 98% of Tumblr should now be blank. Is it possible there’s a certain amount of time that can pass between posts before Tumblr deletes your blog? If so, they should probably make that information public just in case someone accidentally makes the mistake of going on vacation.
The worst part of all this is that if you subscribe to the RSS feed for the “new” Pitchfork Tumblr (http://pitchfork.tumblr.com/rss), you’ll see the first five posts I made are still there! There’s even a post with a screenshot from my March Madness pool standings with my name and face on it. Sadly, I apparently no longer control this image or this information, nor can I exercise my right to remove it from the Internet. But hey, it’s not like these amateurs haven’t pulled this crap before, they’ll probably just write some new content policy after the fact in order to justify it like last time.
If you think your content shouldn’t be deleted and moved arbitrarily at the whims of corporate latecomers, then you should consider contacting the Tumblr team to ask them to stop disrespecting their loyal users:
Email firstname.lastname@example.org and or call them out on Twitter
How to Wrap Five Eggs, a mid-60s classic of Japanese design, is back in print. Assembled by graphic designer Hikeyuki Oka in 1965, this stunningly laid-out paean to traditional Japanese packaging is rife with sumptuous black and white photos by Michikazu Sakai of all manner of boxes, wrappers and containers that appear at once homely and sophisticated, ingeniously utilitarian yet fine and rare. - dwell
“what we have lost for sure is what this book is all about: a once-common sense of fitness in the relationships between hand, material, use and shape, and above all, a sense of delight in the look and fell of very ordinary, humble things.” - George Nelson
…Imagine a country where all of the slicing tomatoes they sold were completely flavorless, neither sour nor sweet, devoid of tang, mushy, pink, and generally a disgrace to the name. Well, guess what, I live here. Why Korean-grown tomatoes are so piss poor, I will never know, but the only Korean food I’ve seen them applied to is Kongguksoo, a cold soy bean noodle dish, and they are an arbitrary addition at that; the only other way Koreans really eat slicing tomatoes is by serving them in wedges, sprinkled with sugar, at bars and in brothels and like establishments. You have the different Chinese dishes that use tomatoes, like the egg dishes, etc, but they neither have those here in Korea nor do the Chinese disrespect their tomatoes so badly to have a problem like this.
For those who doubt, I lined up a pair of Kinokuniya tomatoes bought in Japan (because Kinokuniya produce lasts twice as long as regular supermarket produce, sup Murakami), and a pair of Korean ‘chal’ tomatoes; of slicing tomato varieties in Korea, there is pretty much only this kind, and then the fully ripened ‘wansook’ version of this same tomato. As you can see, the prices are similar; 2700-something won for the Korean ones and 258 yen for the Japanese ones. The coloring is obviously different.
As you slice into them, you notice the differences immediately; Korean tomatoes have very little seed and liquid, and have a huge core section. The Japanese tomatoes are similar to what we know in the western world, as well as most everywhere else, as a typical (albeit a really good example of a) slicing tomato. The flavor is full and deep of tomato, good sour balanced with some sweetness (Japanese produce is all very deep and rich in flavor and natural sweetness) and texture is nigh perfect. Perfect on a sandwich, on a burger, in wedges or pieces for a salad.