• New York Times, July 29, 2010: Amazon is introducing a new version of its Kindle e-reader that will sell for $139. This low-end version will be a wireless-only unit, so you’ll need to have access to a wi-fi system to download books and so forth. But wi-fi is pretty easy to come by these days, so plenty of people will be attracted to this version, which is lighter than earlier versions and has greater book storage capacity. Apple has sold millions of iPads but you gotta believe its price ($499) is beyond the reach of a large segment of the population. Not so with this new Kindle, which will be out just in time for the holiday season.
• New York Times, July 29, 2010: The new e-books coming out have a lot more to offer than a digital replication of a printed book. “The new multimedia books use video that is integrated with text, and they are best read — and watched — on an iPad, the tablet device that has created vast possibilities for book publishers,” the Times reports. The new e-book version of Nixonland, by Rick Perlstein, includes 27 videos scattered throughout the book. “Most are news clips from events described in the book, including the Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960,” according to the Times. The possibilities are, indeed, vast, and this is where the iPad has a distinct advantage over the Kindle.
• Orange County Register, republished in the Las Vegas Sun, July 27, 2010: The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif., recently took possession of a cache of multimedia material from the Nixon presidential years: “300,000 photographs, 2 million feet of film, 4,000 videos, 30,000 gifts, 4,500 audio recordings and 46 million pages of documents.” This is stuff Nixon wanted destroyed, but Congress intervened to protect it. Litigation ensued. “Finally, in 2004, a deal was reached that allowed the collection to leave the Washington area,” the Register reports. And a few months ago, “21 trucks loaded with documents left College Park, Md., and pulled up at the library in Yorba Linda.” Since then, researchers of all kinds have been poring over the materials, most of which have not yet been properly indexed. Rest assured, interesting revelations will come, eventually, from this trove, including, perhaps some new information about Howard Hughes, one of my pet interests.
• New York Times, July 26, 2010: Wealthy and upper-middle-class people in Indonesia tend to speak English more than the national language. They also send their children to private schools where they can learn almost exclusively in English. This has created cultural and political problems in Indonesia, where some fear the demise of their national language. Also, if kids raised on English have trouble speaking Indonesian, it could create conflicts and difficulties for them.
• New York Times, July 26, 2010: The National Journal, described as “a sleepy weekly magazine for lobbyists and lawmakers,” is aiming to increase its profile and its vitality. It has hired Ron Fournier, former Washington bureau chief of the Associated Press, as its editor in chief. Also, Ronald Brownstein, a former Los Angeles Times political columnist, will work alongside Fournier to increase the magazine’s profile. More hires are expected soon from the cream of the nation’s political reporting crop.
• New York Times Book Review, July 15, 2010: Elizabeth Gilbert’s best seller, Eat Pray Love, now a movie starring Julia Roberts, is not the first book “to mass-market the ashram experience.” An essay by David Shaftel reminds that in 1944, Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge sold more than 3 million copies. Pico Iyer has called it the prototypical hippie novel. Shaftel traveled to the ashram where Maugham visited in the late 1930s and found “no landmark to commemorate his visit nor is The Razor’s Edge sold in the well-stocked bookstore.”
From Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote. Here, in a piece published in 1959, Capote writes about when he was a young boy and encountered Louis Armstrong. Just an amazing scrap of writing:
“Surely the Satch has forgotten, still, he was one of this writer’s first friends, I met him when I was four, that would be around 1928, and he, a hard-plump and belligerently happy brown Buddha, was playing aboard a pleasure steamer that paddled between New Orleans and St. Louis. Never mind why, but I had occasion to take the trip very often, and for me the sweet anger of Armstrong’s trumpet, the foggy exuberance of his come-to-me-baby mouthings, are a piece of Proust’s madeleine cake; they make Mississippi moons rise again, summon the muddy lights of river towns, the sound, like an alligator’s yawn, of river horns — I hear the rush of the mulatto river pushing by, hear, always, stomp! stomp! the beat of the grinning Buddha’s foot as he shouts his way into ‘Sunny Side of the Street’ and the honeymooning dancers, dazed with bootleg brew and swearing through their talcum, bunny-hug around the ship’s saloony ballroom.”
The Chicago writer Richard Stern has a new collection of nonfiction pieces out called “Still on Call.” This excerpt deals with the fundamental difference between fictional characters and real people:
“A fictional existence needs but a tiny proportion of what constitutes real life. . . . [Fictional characters] offer clarity seldom experienced in the murk and complexity of real life. . . . Fictional people have been honed and sharpened, rehoned and resharpened into a kind of perfection which not even the greatest saints, sages and heroes of real life touch. There is no revision in real life. Even if one makes up for what one has badly done, the make-up action exists alongside the “original.” And even in the best of real life action, there is so much accompanying complexity, both ex- and interior, so much that reveals next to nothing, that it never approaches the comparative purity of fictional action where every thought, dream, opinion, exchange and interaction matters. The individuality of a living being may resemble that of an author’s creation, but the creation is purer, clearer, as reflections in water, free of the bedazzlement and impurities of the atmosphere, are clearer and usually more beautiful than what they reflect.”