The nude female body as a subject has a long history in art, and in photography. In fine art, it has always been more or less sedate – though see Courbet’s L’Origine du monde – but in photography, it has often been more osé. Nude photography follows the unwritten rules of the patriarchy; in most such photos, the woman is an object, often in ludicrous positions, or in situations that serve as nothing more than backdrops to their bodies. Photo magazines are full of nude or semi-nude photos – so-called “boudoir” photography – that serve to codify the tropes of this genre: for example, a naked women in high heels in front of a waterfall. There are certainly many exceptions, and nude art photography – to distinguish it from “I know it when I see it” pornography – can be very attractive, without demeaning its subjects.
Amazon UK runs a lot of deals on Kindle ebooks. There’s a daily deal, where there books are offered, usually for £0.99, there are other occasional daily deals, and there’s a big monthly deal, with hundreds of books ranging from £0.99 to a few pounds. Lots of people take advantage of these deals to pick up books they might not have read at bargain prices, or often to begin or complete a series of books, such as mysteries, fantasy novels, etc. I check the list every month, and often find books that I’d been wanting to read; for a pound, it’s a no-brainer to buy them.
Among these deals are non-fiction books. This month, Amazon’s selection is surprisingly political; not that there are a lot of political books in the lot, but that most of them are pro-Brexit, pro-Trump, and anti-Corbyn (Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party). Here’s what you can find this month in the monthly deal selection.
This one’s thesis is very clear from its title: the EU is bad:
Here’s a biography of Jeremy Corbyn. It might not be biased, but the title is clear. It’s published by Biteback Publishing, which is owned by Michael Ascroft, former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party:
Here’s another one attacking the Labour party. Coincidentally, also published by Biteback Publishing:
In fact, it looks like Michael Ashcroft’s publishing house has quite a deal with Amazon this month. I wonder why? Perhaps because it’s likely that there will be new elections in the UK soon?
This one is also pretty clear; another from Biteback Publishing, as are all the rest of the books I cite below:
Here’s a memoir from the person who led the Leave.eu campaign:
A book “written” by Nigel Farage:
Here’s Ann Coulter’s pro-Trump screed:
And another pro-Trump book:
Another pro-Brexit book:
And one more for good measure:
It’s not uncommon for a publisher to offer a bunch of its titles at a discount to Amazon. (It’s worth noting that the first book above, The Great Deception, is from a different publisher, Bloomsbury, who is a generalist, not a propagandist.) But having this many books that clearly lean in a specific direction politically is dangerous. People who scan the sale titles will see these books, all clearly ideologically biased, and not see only other options at these low prices. A publisher funded by an ideological politician is selling books at bargain prices in order, perhaps, to try to sway public opinion at a time when the UK is in crisis. I think this shows Amazon’s bias as well.
At 500 pages, The Overstory is a “majestic redwood” of a novel. Its place on this week’s Man Booker shortlist is testament that long books are fine by the judges.
One book survey found that the average number of pages had increased from 320 to 400 pages between 1999 and 2014. Some think that the shift to digital formats has contributed, not least in removing the fear of being crushed beneath your duvet by your bedtime reading.
Writers are not the only ones reluctant to kill their darlings. Director’s cuts tend to expand rather than contract movies. Viewers of Apocalypse Now Redux — 49 minutes longer than the lengthy original — can testify that there’s sometimes good reason for studios to interfere with a creative vision. Yet executives too can overrate the long and sprawling.
One culprit can be the misguided sense that volume equals value for money. Another is the odd association between physical heft and artistic or intellectual merit — “weighty” is a compliment, “slight” is an insult.
Interestingly, I opined about this back in June, specifically mentioning The Overstory, a new novel by one of my favorite authors. I’ve put off reading it because it’s long, and I’ve been more interested in reading shorter books these days. Oddly, the books that have caught my eye in recent months have been longer, and I haven’t bought many of them; I’m still in search of shorter, tauter novels to read.
Are we doomed to read distractedly in the digital age? Technology seems to deter slow, immersive reading. Scrolling down a web page with your thumb feels innately less attentive than turning over the pages of a book. Reading on a screen, particularly a phone screen, tires your eyes and makes it harder for you to keep your place. So online writing tends to be more skimmable and list-like than print. At the top of a web article, we are now often told how long it will detain us, forewarned that the words below are a “15-minute read”. The online reader’s put-down is TL;DR. Too long; didn’t read.
The cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf argued recently that this “new norm” of skim reading is producing “an invisible, game-changing transformation” in how readers process words. The neuronal circuit that underpins the brain’s capacity to read now favours the rapid ingestion of information, rather than skills fostered by deeper reading, like critical analysis and empathy.
We shouldn’t overplay these dangers. All readers skim. Skimming is the skill we acquire as children as we learn to read more sophisticatedly. From about the age of nine, our eyes start to bounce around the page, reading only about a quarter of the words properly, and filling in the gaps by inference. One of the little miracles of silent reading is that we can do it so quickly and yet also subvocalise, semi-hearing the words in our heads. Skimming is all part of that virtuoso human act.
I remember being taught how to skim in grade school, in order to efficiently read a newspaper. Given that American news journalists – at least back then – often used the the inverted pyramid approach, skimming was a good way to get news without having to read to much, and to know when we wanted to read more.
People who complain about skimming are missing the point. When they talk about reading articles on the internet, skimming is a useful strategy. The problem, however, is when that’s all that people read. I don’t think many people skim novels, though sometimes when a book isn’t that good, and I want to get to the end, I do skip some of the slow parts. Skimming non-fiction books is certainly a valid strategy, because you may not want to read every expanse an author presents.
I do agree that slow reading, or deep reading, is very useful, and worth doing when you read a really good book. But skimming isn’t new, and it’s not changing the way we read. Swiping and scrolling probably have more of an effect on attention spans than skimming articles.
If you’re like me, you have lots of tasks to juggle, and you may find that the tools you use aren’t sufficient to manage your work. Jeff Porten’s new book Take Control of Your Productivity has shown me that there are many options that I had not considered to develop a system to efficiently manage what I do.
Jeff has been studying and using a wide variety of productivity systems for decades, and although they all offer useful insights, none of them worked well for him. So Jeff developed a system that combines some of the best features of other approaches with his own “special sauce.” The result, described in detail in Take Control of Your Productivity, is a powerful yet flexible way to get all your ducks in a row and keep them there.
Whether you’ve been using a formal system like Getting Things Done or just making do with simple lists and calendars, this book will show you how to improve your approach so you can finish your projects and reach your goals–on time, with as little stress as possible.
Some of the things you’ll learn in this book:
What’s good (and bad) about your current approach to managing your time and activities
How to set and prioritize both short-term and long-term goals
How to pick a task-management app that’s appropriate for your needs (and whether that should be a simple app like Reminders, a more robust app such as Things or OmniFocus, or a super-complex tool such as Daylite)
What other productivity tools you’ll use alongside your main task management app, and how they all work together
Exactly how to track all your events and tasks, making sure everything happens in the right order
How to transition from an old system to your new system without worrying that anything will fall through the cracks
Where and how to collect all the thoughts and facts you encounter during the day that you might need to remember later–and what to do with them
What to do when you start on a task, only to find out that it’s much bigger than you expected
How to cope and adjust when something goes wrong–whether it’s a minor setback or a major life problem
Time was, I’d buy long books and devour them. I’d read them in the evening, often staying up late, absorbed by a work of fiction or non-fiction. I’ve always liked long books; the kind that you read for weeks at a time. I read fairly quickly – not through any form of speed reading – so back in the day when I had a one-hour commute morning and evening, having a 500-plus page book meant that I’d have enough to keep me going for a while.
I like the fact that with a long book – such as Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, arguably not one book, or James Joyce’s Ulysses, or lesser-known big tomes such as Russel Banks’ unjustly ignored Cloudsplitter (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), or Gregory David Roberts Shantaram (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), or so many others – you immerse yourself in a world that is enveloping, absorbing, that takes you on a long journey.
But in recent years, I’ve found that I don’t get along well with very long books any more. Perhaps it’s age, perhaps it’s a reduced attention span, but I don’t find it as interesting to sit down to read one of these long books. Sure, I read some – Richard Russo’s astounding Anybody’s Fool (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), a sequel to his equally wonderful Nobody’s Fool, for example – but I hesitate now when I see a large page count. I keep putting off buying Richard Powers’ latest novel The Overstory (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), even though he is one of my favorite authors, because it clocks in at more than 500 pages, and I never even started John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), his latest book.
One reason for my shunning long books has to do with the publishers. More and more, long books in print use tiny fonts. This has lead me to buy Kindle versions of more books, because publishers try to keep the page count lower to save money. But even then, I often find myself bored, or at least less interested, in longer books. Part of this could be the authors and editors; maybe that book didn’t need those extra hundred pages.
Lately, I’m more drawn to books around 200 pages long, often in a size that is similar to the standard trade paperback. I can read these books in an evening, perhaps two, and there’s no fat. Julian Barnes’ masterful The Only Story (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is one example. At 224 pages, with a comfortable font, I read it in about three or four hours, one long evening where I couldn’t go to sleep until I finished it. And I have recently ordered two other short books: Last Stories, the final collection of short stories by the inimitable William Trevor (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), and Upstate by critic James Wood (Amazon.com, Amazon UK).
I won’t shun long books forever, but sometimes it’s nicer to read something that is concise, without Rushdian digressions or Pynchonesque casts of characters. A good story, well told, doesn’t always need to be 500 pages long.
Michael Kenna got access to Mont St. Michel at night, when there were no people, and shot these stunning photos of the island and its structures. Often long exposures, he captures this memorable site, its contrasts, and it’s shapes. As always with Kenna’s photos, he focuses on the light and shadow, the subtle contrasts between shades, and the forms and shapes that we often ignore.
Bill Brandt was born in Germany, and moved to England when he was around 30 years old. He began documenting British people, at a time when this wasn’t a common way to make photographs, and published two books in the 1930s. He then went on to shoot photos for popular magazines, and became one of the greatest British photographers.
The world of wireless networking is constantly evolving. For the past 15 years or so, Glenn Fleishman has been carefully studying the ins and outs of Wi-Fi in its various forms and helping tens of thousands of people understand how best to make use of this essential technology–in part, by way of five previous Take Control titles on Wi-Fi. Those earlier books focused mainly on Apple’s Wi-Fi products, but now that Apple no longer makes AirPort devices, Glenn has written a new book that takes his well-respected advice on wireless networking in other directions: Take Control of Wi-Fi Networking and Security
If your Wi-Fi network is unreliable or offers insufficient coverage, if you’re designing a new Wi-Fi system for your home or office, or if you want to take advantage of the enhanced performance and modern features of newer equipment, Take Control of Wi-Fi Networking and Security contains all the information you need to make smart decisions and get the most out of your hardware. You’ll learn about selecting and placing gateways (and when you should consider a range extender or mesh system), configuring devices, improving throughput, troubleshooting, keeping your network secure, and much more. And, this new book covers every major operating system–macOS, Windows 10, iOS, Android, and even Chrome OS.
This 122-page book costs just $12.99. And, although Glenn’s previous book (Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network) is no longer for sale, everyone who buys the new book can also download a free copy of the old one, for additional advice on setting up any existing Apple Wi-Fi products. (See download instructions on page 5 of the new PDF.)
I like photography as a hobby, craft, and as an art. If you follow my writings, you’ve seen that both here on Kirkville, and on my photo site (photos.kirkville.com) I’ve written about photo books that I like. I’ve written about books by some of my favorite photographers, such as William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz, Michael Kenna, Gary Winogrand, and others.
There are lots of great photo books out there, but there are many by photographers who are not so well known. For example, I recently came across a beautiful book by Mark Steinmetz, Paris in My Time, which contains some beautiful black and white street photos.
I came across the Charcoal Book Club recently. It is a curated, monthly service which sends you one photo book per month. I like this idea, and I especially like that the books that they have sent, and currently sell individually through their store, include some photographers I appreciate, such as Todd Hido, Jan Koudelka, Michael Kenna, and others. There is always the worry that you may get a book you don’t want, but they let you know in advance what the next book will be, and you can swap it for something they have in their store, so I’m not worried about ending up with lemons.
So far I’ve gotten two books, and they are both very interesting, by photographers that I wouldn’t have found easily on my own. The service isn’t cheap – I’ve opted for the quarterly plan, which comes to $60 a book – but good photo books aren’t cheap, and I think it will expand my knowledge of photographers.
If you’re interested in joining, go here, and, when you get to the checkout, enter the discount code KIRKVILLE to save 10%. (I get a lagniappe for each person who signs up with this code.)