The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Midweek Miscellany


Two stunningly minimal designs by Rodrigo Corral for New Directions.

Faceout Books is back after a hiatus. First up, an interview with Jennifer Heuer about her design for Down and Delirious in Mexico City by Daniel Hernandez.

Haystacks of Needles — Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, on situational overload versus ambient overload:

Situational overload is not the problem. When we complain about information overload, what we’re usually complaining about is ambient overload. This is an altogether different beast. Ambient overload doesn’t involve needles in haystacks. It involves haystack-sized piles of needles. We experience ambient overload when we’re surrounded by so much information that is of immediate interest to us that we feel overwhelmed by the neverending pressure of trying to keep up with it all. We keep clicking links, keep hitting the refresh key, keep opening new tabs, keep checking email in-boxes and RSS feeds, keep scanning Amazon and Netflix recommendations – and yet the pile of interesting information never shrinks.

The cause of situational overload is too much noise. The cause of ambient overload is too much signal.

The Case for the NovellaThe New York Times Magazine has an excerpt from “The Three-Day Weekend Plan,” an essay by John Brandon from the new book The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books (Soft Skull):

Bluntly, the novella is in its Golden Age as a form right now because no one is beating it with a stick until nickels fall out. So my plan for the novella is — drum roll: Do nothing. Or do whatever little is required to steward the status quo. Let’s agree, shall we, to keep throwing around the inane term Great American Novel, and to never, ever utter the phrase Great American Novella.

And on the subject of The New York Times Magazine…

The Speed of Change — Former Design Director for Khoi Vinh on the new design of the New York Times Magazine:

Digital publishing is supposed to be much quicker than print publishing, but this… suggests that more important than the speed of medium is the nimbleness of the business behind it. The print side of The New York Times takes a lot of good natured ribbing for being slow to publish news, but it’s still very, very good at what it does. Which is to say that few organizations can publish on a weekly basis and still effect the kind of major change that this redesign represents.

In some ways, the digital side of the business is not as nimble as that. To be sure, few companies can execute digital publishing as well as The New York Times… But partly because the medium is much younger and constantly changing, partly because best practices are less well-defined, and partly because the mission is more diffuse, execution is a more intricate, protracted and, often, inefficient affair on the digital side.

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