The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- Going to the library gives people the same kick as getting a raise does — a £1,359 ($ 2,282) raise, to be exact — according to a study commissioned by the U.K.'s Department for Culture, Media & Sport. The study, which looks at the ways "cultural engagement" affects overall wellbeing, concluded that a significant association was found between frequent library use and reported wellbeing. The same was true of dancing, swimming and going to plays. The study notes that "causal direction needs to be considered further" — that is, it's hard to tell whether happy people go to the library, or going to the library makes people happy. But either way, the immortal words of Arthur the Aardvark ring true: "Having fun isn't hard when you've got a library card!"
- Richard H. Hoggart, scholar and key witness in the 1960 obscenity trial involving the U.K. publisher of Lady Chatterley's Lover, died on April 10. He was 95. A defense witness for Penguin Books, Hoggart argued that D.H. Lawrence's novel about Constance Chatterley's affair with a gamekeeper was "puritanical, poignant and tender." He explained that the book was "puritanical" not because it was rigid or prudish, but because it carried "an intense sense of responsibility for one's conscience." Penguin was acquitted.
- French economist Thomas Piketty's 700-page book on income inequality has attracted rapturous media coverage since it became the top selling book on Amazon. But in an article for The New York Times, Justin Wolfers asks whether Piketty has "kicked off a broad national conversation about inequality, or is the book being read mostly in the East Coast liberal echo chamber?" Wolfers used data from Google searches to show that people in Washington, D.C., did far and away more searches for Piketty, followed by Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut — pointing to a coastal, not a nationwide trend.
- The shortlist for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing, which awards the author of the winning short story £10,000, was announced this week. The list includes work by Diane Awerbuck, Okwiri Oduor, Billy Kahora, Tendai Huchu and Efemia Chela. According to a press release, the head of the judges, Jackie Kay, said this is "a golden age for the African short story," adding that the shortlisted works were "compelling, lyrical, thought-provoking and engaging." She said, "From a daughter's unusual way of grieving for her father, to a memorable swim with a grandmother, a young boy's fascination with a gorilla's conversation, a dramatic faux family meeting, to a woman who is forced to sell her eggs, the subjects are as diverse as they are entertaining." The full list, with links to each story, is here.
A large piece of metal found earlier this week on the coast of western Australia, which investigators had called an "object of interest" in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the 239 people who were on board, is apparently not connected to the missing jet.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau reports that "after examining detailed photographs of material washed ashore 10 kilometers east of Augusta, it is satisfied it is not a lead in relation to the search."
So, the "weeks of false leads and conflicting information about what may have happened to the jet and the 239 people on board" that we cautioned about on Wednesday continue.
As we've said before:
The jet was about one hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in the early morning hours of March 8 (local time) when it was last heard from. Flight 370 was headed north over the Gulf of Thailand as it approached Vietnamese airspace.
Investigators believe the plane turned west, flew back over the Malay Peninsula, then out over the Indian Ocean before turning south toward Australia. They're basing those conclusions largely on data collected by a satellite system that received some information from the aircraft. The critical question — why did it turn? — remains unanswered.
If the jet did go down in the Indian Ocean west of Australia, "experts say it is likely that debris from the plane could wash up" on the nation's western coast, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. It writes that:
"Busselton underwater observatory manager Sophie Teede said the Leeuwin Current that originates off the coast of Indonesia is able to transport material all the way along the West Australian coast.
" 'Depending on the conditions and what time of year, it can run all the way to Tasmania,' she said."
As for the search for the plane and its passengers, Australian authorities say in a statement that "up to 11 military aircraft and 11 ships" were involved today. They're focusing on an area about 1,000 miles northwest of Perth. Under the surface near where pings from the plane's black boxes may have been detected two weeks ago, more than 90 percent of the area has now been examined by a remote vehicle. "No contacts of interest have been found to date," authorities say.
It's probably a little too pat to say that all successful political careers are marked by contradiction and compromise, though you're not likely to hear many objections to that characterization. Politics is a game of survival, and with a few sadly notable exceptions, unyielding purists seldom make it to the top.
As Philip Short demonstrates in his new biography, A Taste for Intrigue, former French President Francois Mitterrand was not one of those exceptions — he was, in a way, the rule that proves the rule. One of his country's most iconic statesmen, Mitterrand was notoriously hard to know, a slippery figure who turned contradiction and reinvention into something of an art. It's hard to imagine a tougher subject for a biographer, but Short, who has previously written books about Mao Zedong and Pol Pot, does a wonderful job depicting the man who — in the words of his own brother — "was always opposing something."
Short chronicles Mitterrand's life from his childhood in southwestern France to his death in Paris in 1996. The boy who would become president was raised in a conservative Catholic household, though he began to embrace a more liberal ideology after witnessing the widespread abuse of French prisoners of war during World War II. (Mitterrand was himself a POW in Germany, but escaped.) Bookish, shy and introverted, Mitterrand thought about becoming a literature professor before beginning his rapid ascent into French politics.
His politics were always flexible; as a member of the National Assembly and Senate before accepting a series of positions in the French Cabinet, Mitterrand was a staunch anti-Communist until realizing he needed the party's (somewhat grudging) support to win the presidency. Even in his later years, he seemed unwilling to commit to any overarching ideology. "Where did he stand politically?" asks Short, of the young Mitterrand. "He hardly knew. The schisms traversing France were mirrored within himself."
It's no surprise that Mitterrand remains extremely controversial in France — particularly after last month's local elections, in which his Socialist Party took a serious drubbing. But Short's biography is remarkably evenhanded, especially when dealing with Mitterrand's most controversial moments (and there were many). Short acknowledges that the young Mitterrand had friends and associates in the Vichy government who were rabidly anti-Semitic, but writes that the man himself harbored no hatred for Jewish people.
Short's portrait of the man, not the politician, is especially enthralling. Mitterrand's contradictions weren't just limited to his professional life — he was shy and prudish, but loyal to his friends (or, as Short has it, "pigheaded to the point of unreason"). He could be charming when he had to, but also had a well-deserved reputation for arrogance and imperiousness — rejecting the draft of a speech written by one of his staffers, Mitterrand wrote, "Who do you take me for? Who do you take yourself for?"
Biographies of politicians can often tend toward inside-baseball tedium, but Short does an excellent job keeping A Taste for Intrigue moving with sharp prose and fascinating analysis. He's also quite funny: Writing about Mitterrand's early enemies in the Free French Forces, Short notes, "Subverting government directives is not uniquely a French pastime, but, even in times of war, French officials take a delight in it which puts other nations to shame."
It's hard to claim that A Taste for Intrigue will make readers understand Mitterrand; indeed, it's not clear that the man really understood himself. He was happy, Short writes, when he worked with the French Resistance, using dozens of different aliases and blending in wherever he could. It might be tempting to psychoanalyze Mitterrand's contradictory words and actions to death, though Short has a simpler explanation: Like many people of his generation, "he was horribly confused."
And so was France. Short quotes Neville Chamberlain on the country: "She can never keep a secret for more than half an hour or a government for more than nine months." It's a cutting, and not inaccurate, observation (though it probably would be even more cutting had it come from anybody besides Neville Chamberlain). But indecision and contradiction aren't unique to France; you'll find them anywhere there are politicians, anywhere there are people. It's a point that Philip Short makes beautifully in this compelling, highly accomplished biography.
"Needles River" is the first single from Melaena Cadiz's upcoming album Deep Below Heaven. She wrote and recorded the song with her husband, Mikael Kennedy. Kennedy also conceived and directed the video.
"I was thinking about that idea of fleeing, of a community exodus towards a hopefully better life," Cadiz tells us. "I asked my husband, Mikael Kennedy, to make the video — he's a photographer and he'd never made a music video before. I always feel his photography creates a visual world so perfectly in line with the music I'm working on. We talked about the song being an incantation, the overlaid images fading and appearing like a spell, maybe visually suggesting many voices with parallel stories."
Kennedy tells he rarely has a plan when he starts a project. "It's more about just starting it and seeing where it takes you," he says. "The overlaying images was an accident that ended up working really well with this song. I was wandering around the valley in Vermont where I grew up, shooting footage, listening to the song again and again and I began to feel like I was listening to the voice of a community, of a group exodus. It felt heavy, with the weight of history and mythology to me."
Deep Below Heaven is due out May 20 on Wild Kindness Records.