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old-books-300x205“Old books smell like grass, with a tang of acidity and a hint of vanilla, according to scientists who have discovered a way to tell the condition of an [sic] works by their odour.

“The system can measure the degradation of old books and historical documents on the basis of their aroma.

“Now the scientists say their non-destructive ‘sniff’ test could help libraries and museums preserve a range of prized objects, some of which are degrading rapidly due to advancing age.

“Matija Strlic, a chemist at University College London, and lead author of the study, and her team note that the well-known musty smell of an old book, as readers leaf through the pages, is the result of hundreds of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper. . . .

“Conventional methods for analysing library and archival materials involve removing samples of the document and then testing them with traditional laboratory equipment. But the new approach involves no damage to the document.

“The new technique analyses the gases emitted by old books and documents without altering the documents themselves.” (more @ The Telegraph UK, via Melville House)

Gopnik Cookbooks“Vicarious pleasure? More like deferred frustration. Anyone who cooks knows that it is in following recipes that one first learns the anticlimax of the actual, the perpetual disappointment of the thing achieved. I learned it as I learned to bake. When I was in my early teens, the sick yearning for sweets that adolescents suffer drove me, in afternoons taken off from school, to bake, which, miraculously, meant just doing what the books said and hoping to get what they promised to yield. I followed the recipes as closely as I could: dense Boston cream pie, Rigó Jansci slices, Sacher Torte with apricot jam between the layers. The potential miracle of the cookbook was immediately apparent: you start with a feeling of greed, find a list of rules, assemble a bunch of ingredients, and then you have something to be greedy about. You begin with the ache and end with the object, where in most of the life of appetites—courtship, marriage—you start with the object and end with the ache.” (more @ The New Yorker)

jazz band“Long before we debated what real punk-rock was, what true hip-hop was, or what made indie-rock authentic, jazz heads grappled with what is and isn’t jazz music. Now, the debate is whether jazz is dying off or not.

“Not long ago Jae Sinnett, a jazz drummer, composer, educator and radio personality, told NPR that jazz is dying because people are falling out of love with it. Hip-hop, Sinnet says, stole jazz’s thunder. He also blamed club owners for removing pianos from their venues to save space over the years.

“Sinnet’s claims are not unfounded. The Wall Street Journal‘s Terry Teachout reported in August that the audience for America’s great art form was withering away, based on data in the latest survey of public participation in the arts. According to the report, America’s jazz audience is not only shrinking, it’s aging. Attendance at jazz performances has dropped 30% since 2002. The median age of concert patrons in 2008 was 46; in 1982 it was 29. . . .

“Teachout said the problem is that most Americans see jazz as a form of high art. Sinnet confirmed that ‘the masses don’t understand the music,’ largely because there are fewer places to hear it. Getting ‘these kids’ to ‘realise [jazz] is something worth their time is difficult because they don’t hear it on TV or MTV.’ The word ‘jazz’ itself has even become sandbagged with lofty associations (Time Out London goes so far as to call it the ‘J Bomb’).” (more @ Intelligent Life)

Robert Johnson“The mystery surrounding bluesman Robert Johnson‘s life and death feeds the lingering fascination with his work.

“There’s the myth he sold his soul to the devil to create his haunting guitar intonations. There’s the dispute over where he died after his alleged poisoning by a jealous man in 1938. Three different markers claim to be the site of his demise.

“His birthplace, however, has been verified. The seminal bluesman came into the world in 1911 in a well-crafted home built by his stepfather in the Mississippi town of Hazlehurst.

“Now, 71 years after his death, local officials want to restore the home in hopes of drawing Johnson fans and their tourism dollars to Copiah County, about 100 miles from the Delta region that most bluesmen called home.” (cont’d @ Variety)

I’m not sure why I feel compelled to post this, but:

SCOTUS_baseball_card“If you’re a fan of the U.S. Supreme Court bobbleheads that can be found on the desks of powerhouse lawyers and law professors nationwide, then you’ll like the next brainchild of the bobbleheads’ creator: Supreme Court baseball cards.

“The first one, commemorating Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. as the Court’s ‘pitcher,’ has been issued to cognoscenti who subscribe to the unconventional law review Green Bag. Editor Ross Davies, who commissioned the bobbleheads, cooked up the trading cards too.

“Roberts is shown in the image of Mordecai ‘Three Fingers’ Brown, the famed Chicago Cubs pitcher who, like Roberts, grew up in Indiana. In the background is legendary umpire Bill Klem — a nod to Roberts’ 2005 statement that the Court must strive to be a ‘fair and unbiased umpire.'” (more @ Law.com)

OED“Ever wonder how people really talked in the 1800s, or 1500s, or earlier?

“You can stop building the time machine. Such questions are now easier to answer than ever before, with the publication—after 44 years of work—of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. At almost 4,000 pages and about 800,000 meanings, this mind-boggling reference work is the biggest thesaurus ever and the world’s first historical thesaurus: It takes the enormity of the OED and arranges it thematically and chronologically.” (cont’d @ GOOD)

WhoIsAJew“The questions before the judges in Courtroom No. 1 of Britain’s Supreme Court were as ancient and as complex as Judaism itself.

“Who is a Jew? And who gets to decide?

“On the surface, the court was considering a straightforward challenge to the admissions policy of a Jewish high school in London. But the case, in which arguments concluded Oct. 30, has potential repercussions for thousands of other parochial schools across Britain. And in addressing issues at the heart of Jewish identity, it has exposed bitter divisions in Britain’s community of 300,000 or so Jews, pitting members of various Jewish denominations against one another. . . .

“The case began when a 12-year-old boy, an observant Jew whose father is Jewish and whose mother is a Jewish convert, applied to the school, JFS. Founded in 1732 as the Jews’ Free School, it is a centerpiece of North London’s Jewish community. It has around 1,900 students, but it gets far more applicants than it accepts. . . .

“By many standards, the JFS applicant, identified in court papers as ‘M,’ is Jewish. But not in the eyes of the school, which defines Judaism under the Orthodox definition set out by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Because M’s mother converted in a progressive, not an Orthodox, synagogue, the school said, she was not a Jew — nor was her son. It turned down his application.

“That would have been the end of it. But M’s family sued, saying that the school had discriminated against him. They lost, but the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal this summer.” (more @ NY Times)

D'Lugoff“Art D’Lugoff, who was widely regarded as the dean of New York nightclub impresarios and whose storied spot, the Village Gate, was for more than 30 years home to performers as celebrated, and diverse, as Duke Ellington, Allen Ginsberg and John Belushi, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 85 and lived in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. . . .

“Opened in 1958, the Village Gate was on the corner of Bleecker and Thompson Streets. The cavernous basement space it occupied — the building’s upper floors were then a flophouse — had once been a laundry. . . .

“The club closed its doors in 1994, amid rising rents, a changing market for live music and the aftermath of some unsuccessful investments by Mr. D’Lugoff. It briefly reappeared on West 52nd Street in 1996 but sputtered out after less than a year. . . .

“The Gate may have lacked the cachet of the Village Vanguard, a more intimate West Village club, but it was a bright star in the city’s cultural firmament for decades. A young Woody Allen did stand-up comedy there. The playwright-to-be Sam Shepard bused tables there. A waiter named Dustin Hoffman was fired there for being so engrossed in the performances that he neglected his customers, though service was by all accounts never the club’s strength. Dozens of albums were recorded there, by musicians like Pete Seeger and Nina Simone and by comics like Dick Gregory.

“Though most often thought of as a jazz space — among the eminences heard there over the years were John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk — the Gate offered nearly every type of performance imaginable. There were blues artists like B. B. King; soul singers like Aretha Franklin; rockers like Jimi Hendrix; comics like Mort Sahl and Richard Pryor; and Beat poets.” (more @ NY Times)

Levi-StraussClaude Lévi-Strauss, the French anthropologist who transformed Western understanding of what was once called ‘primitive man’ and who towered over the French intellectual scene in the 1960s and ’70s, has died at 100. . . .

“A powerful thinker, Mr. Lévi-Strauss was an avatar of ‘structuralism,’ a school of thought in which universal ‘structures’ were believed to underlie all human activity, giving shape to seemingly disparate cultures and creations. His work was a profound influence even on his critics, of whom there were many. There has been no comparable successor to him in France. And his writing — a mixture of the pedantic and the poetic, full of daring juxtapositions, intricate argument and elaborate metaphors — resembles little that had come before in anthropology. . . .

“A descendant of a distinguished French-Jewish artistic family, Mr. Lévi-Strauss was a quintessential French intellectual, as comfortable in the public sphere as in the academy. He taught at universities in Paris, New York and São Paulo and also worked for the United Nations and the French government.

“His legacy is imposing. ‘Mythologiques,’ his four-volume work about the structure of native mythology in the Americas, attempts nothing less than an interpretation of the world of culture and custom, shaped by analysis of several hundred myths of little-known tribes and traditions. The volumes — ‘The Raw and the Cooked,’ ‘From Honey to Ashes,’ ‘The Origin of Table Manners’ and ‘The Naked Man,’ published from 1964 to 1971 — challenge the reader with their complex interweaving of theme and detail.” (more @ NY Times)

Bookcover1Bookcover2

Two examples from the extraordinary selection of twenty-five Weimer-era book covers and posters from the sadly out-of-print book Blickfang: Bucheinbände und Schutzumschläge Berliner Verlage 1919 – 1933 (Holstein, 2005), posted by Will on his blog, A Journey Round My Skull. (via thebookslut)

lonely_planet“It was bought amid a flurry of raised eyebrows and has sat uneasily in a global broadcasting and media stable ever since — and yesterday Lonely Planet was once again the subject of speculation, uncertainty and possibly even a little controversy.

“The backpackers’ essential guides to, well, pretty much everywhere may, it seems, be heading back into the uncharted territory of the marketplace, barely two years after BBC Worldwide paid £90 million for the company.

“As part of Lonely Planet takeover in October 2007, its founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler, who published their first guide — South East Asia on a Shoestring — 34 years ago, were left with a 25 per cent stake, valued at A$67.3 million before the credit crunch, which they could have sold to the BBC at any time before Saturday.

“However, BBC insiders said yesterday that the Wheelers’ put option had been extended, triggering speculation that the broadcaster is preparing to offload the travel publisher, whose original purchase has so damaged its reputation.” (cont’d @ Times Online)

Shameless self-promotion, I know, but . . .

Anson Program“Since the 1970s, as a collector, as a dealer, and as an auctioneer (one-half of the highly respected Sloate & Smolin Auctions and the sole owner of About Time Auctions), Jerry Smolin has been well known as a baseball historian and as a true connoisseur of baseball memorabilia. He is one of the few collectors or dealers whose experience spans from the earliest days of the organized hobby as we know it to the present day, and he is universally respected and recognized as a true scholar in the field.  Some of the greatest treasures of baseball memorabilia of all types, especially nineteenth-century items, including cards, photography, documents, and display pieces, have passed through his hands in private sales and at auction over the past thirty years. One special area of personal collecting interest that has been a constant for all these many years has been early baseball programs. This collection of thirty-five programs (which will be presented in twenty-eight lots) was assembled with great care and patience, and with an eye for quality, rarity, historical significance, and display value. This is by far the best collection of early baseball programs we have ever offered or even seen in one place. Only the best examples of their type were added to the collection, one program at a time, armed with a great appreciation and an unmatched knowledge of what is special in the field of program collecting.” (cont’d @ Robert Edward Auctions)

soupysalesSoupy Sales, whose zany television routines turned the smashing of a pie to the face into a madcap art form, died Thursday night. He was 83.

“Mr. Sales’s former manager, Dave Usher, said the entertainer died in a hospice in New York City after suffering from multiple health problems.

“Cavorting with his puppet sidekicks White Fang, Black Tooth, Pookie the Lion and Hobart and Reba, the heads in the pot-bellied stove, transforming himself into the private detective Philo Kvetch, and playing host to the ever-present ‘nut at the door,’ Soupy Sales became a television favorite of youngsters and an anarchic comedy hero for teenagers and college students.

“Clad in a top hat, sweater and bow tie, shuffling through his Mouse dance, he reached his slapstick heyday in the mid-1960s on ‘The Soupy Sales Show,’ a widely syndicated program based at WNEW-TV in New York.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

ToniMorrison“The most overrated novel ever has got to be Beloved. Upon its initial publication, it was rightly passed over for the 1988 National Book Award, which went to Larry Heinemann’s Paco’s Story, while the National Book Critics Circle handed its fiction award instead to Philip Roth for The Counterlife. In protest, forty-eight ‘black critics and black writers’—their own self-description—wrote to the New York Times Book Review, ‘asserting [them]selves against the oversight and harmful whimsy’ by which white males were preferred to Toni Morrison. ‘The legitimate need for our own critical voice in relation to our own literature can no longer be denied,’ the forty-eight declared.

“Not quite ten weeks later Beloved was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Everyone quoted on the record agreed that the protest and demands for recognition did not influence the prize committee’s decision—not a chance, no way, no how. Just to be sure, the Swedish Academy gave Toni Morrison the Nobel Prize in literature four years later. ‘She is the first black woman to receive the prize’ the, Times helpfully noted on the front page.” (cont’d @ A Commonplace Blog)

Matchcover“If smoking was their sole raison d’être, restaurant matches should by all rights have disappeared by now. After being overtaken by the disposable lighter, they have run into smoking bans of varying severity. (Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia now have laws prohibiting smoking in restaurants, according to the American Lung Association, and local jurisdictions impose their own smoke-free rules.)

Matches“Yet matches appear to be struggling back from the brink to reassert their pre-eminence among the rabble of coasters, business cards, cocktail napkins and swizzle sticks charged with hawking a restaurant’s good name. In an era of instant information access and viral publicity, logo-bearing matches may have the edge as ambassadors that convey distinction in their very physicality.” (more @ NY Times)

HopperChopSuey“Is there anything more American than Chinese food? Remember that scene in ‘Manhattan’ where Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway cozy up in bed in his cramped apartment with cardboard boxes of something in black-bean sauce while W. C. Fields plays on the television? Or the scene in ‘A Christmas Story’ when the holiday meal is rescued by crispy duck? Both examples highlight one of the key features of American Chinese food: it’s always there when you’re in a tight spot. And it really is always there. One of the fascinating facts in Andrew Coe’s new history ‘Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States’ is that there are today over forty thousand Chinese restaurants in the country, ‘as exciting,’ Coe writes, ‘as the corner gas station or the Super 8 Motel down by the highway entrance.'” (cont’d @ The New Yorker)

Pastrami“He may have written a book about Jewish food, but David Sax is quite a ham. He refers to a deli’s finances as ‘pastraminomics,’ describes a knish as being ‘baked to a George Hamiltonesque hue,’ and titles a chapter on Las Vegas’s deli scene ‘Luck Be a Brisket Tonight.’

“But in addition to Catskills shtick, journalist Sax brings passion and substance to Save the Deli, his paean to the Jewish delicatessen experience. The heart of the book is his cross-country road trip, during which he sizes up the state of the deli in cities obvious (New York, Los Angeles, Miami) and unlikely (Boulder, Salt Lake City, Houston).” (cont’d @ Barnes & Noble Review)

lowboy“The last dozen years or so have seen the emergence of a new strain within the Anglo-American novel. What has been variously referred to as the novel of consciousness or the psychological or confessional novel—the novel, at any rate, about the workings of a mind—has transformed itself into the neurological novel, wherein the mind becomes the brain. Since 1997, readers have encountered, in rough chronological order, Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love (de Clérambault’s syndrome, complete with an appended case history by a fictional “presiding psychiatrist” and a useful bibliography), Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn (Tourette’s syndrome), Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (autism), Richard Powers’s The Echomaker (facial agnosia, Capgras syndrome), McEwan again with Saturday (Huntington’s disease, as diagnosed by the neurosurgeon protagonist), Atmospheric Disturbances (Capgras syndrome again) by a medical school graduate, Rivka Galchen, and John Wray’s Lowboy (paranoid schizophrenia). And these are just a selection of recently published titles in “literary fiction.” There are also many recent genre novels, mostly thrillers, of amnesia, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder.” (cont’d @ n+1)

Roth NewarkPhilip Roth came home again Saturday, which is not so unusual because he’s been a frequent visitor in recent years. ‘As you get older, you get closer to home.’ Roth said this as he entered the Newark Museum yesterday as the surprise guest on a bus tour of Newark. Now 76, the man once called one of America’s greatest authors is now called America’s greatest living author as contemporaries like Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer and John Updike have passed on in recent years.

“Saturday, he was among another group of contemporaries, though a decade younger: graduates of Weequahic High, 1960, who, as part of their 50th reunion, signed up for ‘Philip Roth’s Newark.’ Still, the ‘kids’ knew him. As Roth stepped on to the bus, the murmurs turned into buzz, the cell phones and digital cameras flashed. America’s greatest living author is also Weequahic High’s most famous graduate. . . .

The author, who today lives in Connecticut, had never done the whole route. But on the first tour, he was honored at his childhood home at 81 Summit Street, where the block was ceremoniously named Philip Roth Plaza and a marker unveiled on the house.” (more @ NJ.com)

Related: (10/21/09) Philip Roth Unbound (Video interview with Tina Brown @ The Daily Beast)

pg-32-brothel-AFP-g_251491s“A Berlin brothel is claiming the title of Germany’s first ‘green’ sex establishment after offering clients eco-discounts if they can prove they arrived by bicycle or public transport.

“The concept has been dreamed up by the Maison d’Envie (House of Desire) brothel in the city’s fashionable Prenzlauer Berg district where Germany’s Green party won 46 per cent of the vote in last month’s general election.

“Regina Goetz, the former prostitute who runs the establishment, explained yesterday: ‘The environment is on everyone’s lips around here and it’s pretty hard to find a parking space, so we came up with the idea of an eco-discount of €5 (£4.60) for anyone who leaves the car at home.’

“Ms Goetz, 56, said that the recession had cut the brothel’s turnover by almost half, but the introduction of eco-discounts has proved so successful that business was virtually back to normal again.” (cont’d @ The Independent UK)