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Magazine Roundup

The Nation | | London Review of Books | Die Weltwoche | The New Statesman | Polityka | The Economist | Standpoint | The New York Times

The Nation 05.01.2009 (USA)

The age of the book is over, delares editor's publisher and blogger Tom Engelhardt while he watches publishers waste away and book sales plummet. It's funny how books seemed so recession-proof, "unless you happened to focus on just how many dazzling entertainment options had, in the interim, entered the American home at prices more than competitive with the book. After all, most Americans can now read endlessly on the Internet, play video games, download music, watch movies and even write their own novels without stepping outside; and keep in mind that the 27.95 dollar hardcover and the 15.95 dollar paperback on the shelves of that mall store, once you drive there, aren't exactly the inexpensive objects of yore." 10.12.2008 (Slovakia)

How does it feel to worship someone like an idol then drop him in embarrassment decades later, only to find out that the rest of the world holds him in much higher esteem that they do you? This is how the writer Stefan Chwin feels about Lech Walesa. And he has a sneaky suspicion why this might be. "His great career, his glamorous rise to the heights of the Polish Republic, demonstrated the failure of the Polish intelligentsia, the failure of the Polish democratic opposition, the failure of Jacek Kuron, Adam Michnik, Litynski, Modzelewski, the Kaczynskis, Macierewicz and others, the failure of the visible and invisible elites, yes, the failure of the entire Polish intelligentsia which, in a key historic moment, failed to produce an intellectual leader of Vaclav Havel's stature, and one who was also liked by the majority of Poles. And the Czechs did like their Havel. ... The current panicky Walesa cult ('we have to defend the legend!') as well as the equally panicky destruction of the myth ('the legend has to be unmasked!') is further proof of the failure of our intelligentsia, whose members are not able to stand up in their own right when it comes to leadership." (Salon has translated Chwin's article from Tygodnik Powszechny into English.)

London Review of Books 01.01.2009

John Lanchester enters the world of the computer game which, he says, is still unknown territory to great swathes of the educated classes. Even though, economically speaking, in the UK this year video games overtook the music and film industries combined. He makes other interesting comparisons: "Gaming is a much more resistant, frustrating medium than its cultural competitors. Older media have largely abandoned the idea that difficulty is a virtue; if I had to name one high-cultural notion that had died in my adult lifetime, it would be the idea that difficulty is artistically desirable. It's a bit of an irony that difficulty thrives in the newest medium of all - and it's not by accident, either. One of the most common complaints regular gamers make in reviewing new offerings is that they are too easy. (It would be nice if a little bit of that leaked over into the book world.)"

Further articles: The novelist Hilary Mantel looks back on her time in the Saudia Arabian city of Jeddah, twenty-five years ago. Sara Roy describes the situation in the Gaza Strip. Adam Shatz comments on the unrest in Greece. There are reviews of John Updike's novel "The Widows of Eastwick" and Gus van Sant's new film "Milk".

Die Weltwoche 18.12.2008 (Switzerland)

Wolfgang von Mecklenburg, former head of advertising at the Weltwoche, explains in an interview on the newspaper crisis: "I do not believe that newspapers will become redundant, but the industry is changing.... Saturday and Sunday are becoming more important as reading days, while the radio and internet are the primary news providers during the week. In Switzerland it is the papers offered free at train and underground stations. Other free newspapers exclusively target a youth readership. What will they read when they get older? This is the product which publishers should be working on now."

Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Radio Echo Moskow, Russia's last independent Radio station, describes the mounting pressure on journalists in Putin's Russia. "There are objective signs for a negative trend in the last eight years. There have been a total of 43 draft laws aimed at curtailing the freedom of the press and not a single bill which bucks that trend. In the last ten years, between 12 and 17 journalist have been murdered but the investigations into their deaths have never led anywhere. The problem is not that we are being murdered, that is an occupational hazard. The problem is that the authorities are not investigating the murders properly. The journalists are not seen as a public institution but as an instrument in someone else's hands."

The New Statesman 18.12.2008 (UK)

Is English becoming the language of world literature? Or is Anglo-Saxon literature provincial? Inspired by Horace Engdahl's derogatory remarks about American literature, the writer and philosopher Jonathan Derbyshire outlines his thoughts on the concept of world literature since Goethe: "There is a significant wrinkle in Goethe's theory of Weltliteratur... And it is that Goethe reserves a special role for one national literature in particular: Germany's. He wrote that it was the 'destiny' of the German language to become the 'representative of all the citizens of the world'. With the centrality of translation to German literary culture, anyone who knew the language well enough wouldn't have to go to the trouble of learning Greek or Latin or Italian; they could read Homer, Virgil or Dante in German translations that were more than a match for the originals. Germany, therefore, was the literary marketplace par excellence. And Weltliteratur, it turned out, wasn't so much a matter of dissolving national boundaries as a matter of a single national literature going global. You might say that today America (or the 'Anglosphere', if you want to include Britain) plays the role that Goethe once envisaged for Germany."

Polityka 19.12.2008 (Poland)

Adam Michnik
explains in an interview (here in German) with Jacek Zakowski why he is so insistent that the Communists should receive some credit for what they did for the Third Republic of Poland. "I have used the expression 'man of honour' in the past, but I would be more cautious about so today. It is not my job to hand out certificates. But I will remind you that, sitting at the Round Table, I heard accusations coming from the opposite side that we were ignoring the Poles in Lithuania, who were being discriminated against by the Lithuanians. As President, Jaruzelski had sufficient means to fan these sort of emotions. If the Communists had dealt with the Ukrainian question like the right-wing Radio Marya is doing today, they would have had no trouble in stirring up ethnic sentiments. But they never attempted to do so. However abominable the communist system was, and however many crimes and disgraces were committed in communist Poland, one thing has to be said: In 1989 these people passed the test of Polish patriotism."

The Economist 21.12.2008 (UK)

In a Christmas edition packed with scientific findings, it is only fitting that the obituary should be of a man who helped to unlock many a door to the human memory. The patient H.M., who died at the age of 82, had lost the ability to retain memories after an experimental operation to treat his epilepsy. From that point, everything was constantly new and completely foreign: "It has often been said that a man with no memory can have no sense of self. Both Dr Milner and Dr Corkin disagree. H.M. had a sense of humour, even if he was capable of telling the same anecdote three times in 15 minutes. He was polite, and would cup Dr Corkin's elbow as they walked around MIT. Everybody liked him, though it was a temptation for those who knew him to patronise him, to treat him like a favourite child or pet, such was the inequality of his and their knowledge about his life."

Other articles cover the loneliness of Chinese birdwatchers and our shopping brain. We also learn that ecstasy has proved benficial in combating post-traumatic-stress syndrome. A long article explains a number of biological speculations that link music to sexual success.

Standpoint 19.12.2008 (UK)

Edward Lucas (his blog), Eastern Europe correspondent for The Economist, is puzzled and alarmed by German's love of Russia. And he is nothing short of contemptuous for Michael Stuermer's book, which was written in English, "Putin and the Rise of Russia", and which he sees as symptomatic of the author's countrymen. "The problem is that the semi-colonial relationship that Germany seems to want with Russia is in fact a two-way street. As other imperial countries know well, you may start off exporting your values and outlook, but you end up importing theirs. German business was already surprisingly corrupt even before the great push eastwards that followed the collapse of communism. Dealing with Russia has accentuated that. Germany's commitment to the Atlantic alliance was looking wobbly from the 1980s onwards; now it is frayed and rotten. Rather than exporting German virtues to Russia, the danger now is that Germans are importing Russian sleaze, corporatism and anti-Americanism. That is bad for Russia, bad for Germany and terrifying for the countries in between."

The New York Times 21.12.2008 (USA)

Mexico's Oportunidades programme for fighting poverty has proved so successful that other countries are starting to adopt it, reports Tina Rosenberg. It's all about tough love: you get financial support in exchange for giving your children a future: "Until recently, for example, children like Maleny did not go to high school. Though Maleny's school is public, families often prefer not to pay the fees they’re assessed or to pay for school supplies, food and transportation. More important, if she were not in school, she, too, could be working in the fields. Such work is especially common among girls, as their education has been widely derided as a waste of money in rural Mexico - why educate someone who is just going to get married? Now Maleny goes to school because her mother is enrolled in Oportunidades. Solis gets 61 dollars a month from the Mexican government on the condition that Maleny goes and maintains good attendance. (If she worked in the fields and earned a typical salary, she would be paid 7.40 dollars or an eight-hour day.) Such grants start for students in third grade, increase for each year of school and are higher for girls, which gives families added incentive to send them." The programme is proving so successful that Michael Bloomberg the mayor of New York is keen to test it out in a number of districts there. (More on Oportunidades here in Spanish and in English and an external evaluation of the project here in English.)

Further articles: Lynn Hershberg profiles the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman – or rather she let's him talk and adds only the most essential bits of information, which makes for fascinating reading because the man has plenty to say. Mark Leibovich sends a report about Obama's media strategy and his press speaker, red neck and bulldog Robert Gibbs.

In the Book Review there is a double review of Ingo Schulze's "New Lifes" and Christoph Hein's "Settlement", of Steward O'Nan's novel "Songs for the Missing", Ingrid D. Rowland's biography of Giordano Bruno, Gustav Niebuhr's book "Beyond Tolerance" about interfaith dialogue in the United States and Christopher Plummer's memoirs "In Spite of Myself". - let's talk european