Burn Unit — At the New York Times ‘Bits’ blog, David Streitfeld writes on Amazon’s recent image problems:
[Take] the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek two weeks ago. It shows a book in flames with the headline, “Amazon wants to burn the book business.” What was remarkable was not just the overt Nazi iconography but the fact that it did not cause any particular uproar. In the struggle over the future of intellectual commerce in the United States, apparently even evocations of Joseph Goebbels and the Brown Shirts are considered fair game.
[It] was really about pursuing a totally unnecessary and gratuitous body of really, really esoteric knowledge. It wasn’t about accumulating a bunch of objects. It was about getting into something utterly, witheringly obscure, but getting into it at the level of, like, an extreme sport. I met some extraordinarily weird people. I met guys who could say, “Well, I’ve got this really rare watch, and it’s missing this little piece. Where might I find one?” Then the guy would kind of stare into space for a while, and then he’d say this address in Cairo, and he’d say, “It’s in the back room. The guy’s name is Alif, and he won’t sell, but he would trade it to you if you had this or this.” And it wasn’t bullshit. It was kind of like a magical universe. It was very interesting. But once I’d gotten that far … I got to a certain point, and there was just nowhere else to go with it. The journey was complete.
Magic Journalism — Writer Geoff Dyer chooses five unusual histories for The Browser:
[T]ypically, I guess, you read history books for the content – that sounds an unbelievably stupid comment – and you’re drawn to certain works of history rather than others because you’re interested in the period. You read Stalingrad by Antony Beevor because you’re interested in the Second World War, or Russia or whatever. Whereas it seemed to me that the thing about these books was that you might be interested in the subject, but it’s the way that the subject is dealt with that is the distinguishing feature of each one.
In the 18 months since the book came out, de Waal has completed six overseas book tours, given dozens of talks, answered hundreds if not thousands of questions. He has also kept his porcelain-making studio busy and has plans for a subsequent book, about the history of porcelain around the world, which will take him from 18th-century Plymouth to the hillsides outside Jingdezhen where porcelain was first made in China, via Dresden, Marco Polo’s Venice, Istanbul and Yemen. “Porcelain”, he says, “is light when most things are heavy. It rings clear when you tap it. You can see the sunlight shine through. It is in the category of materials that turn objects into something else. It is alchemy. Porcelain starts elsewhere, takes you elsewhere. Who could not be obsessed?”