Saturday, 13 April 2013

News: Modern Mythology, Self-Help, Yelp Help, And Amazon

Indian mythology is being 'updated' in contemporary Indian fiction - and making authors rich and famous. Is the evolution worth it?

Readers who grew up with the idea that Ravana was a through-and-through bad guy, for instance, will be surprised to learn that he was the son of a sage and was a devout worshipper of Shiva who knew that the bad things he did had some purpose in balancing the cosmic books (the way I see it).

Modern audiences have no patience for such complicated accounting, so the dynamics between protagonists and anatgonists were distilled into a more familiar black-and-white thing they can relate to. That'll move copies, I'm sure, but will this mean the ability to understand nuance and navigate different shades of grey will eventually be sacrificed?

I have issues with the behaviour of some sages, the so-called brahmins - particularly their sense of entitlement and demand for respect. That sage mentioned in the Ramayana who cursed Shakuntala when she did not greet him because she was daydreaming about her beloved? You'd think he'd understand. Cursing people out of anger is not what people expect of learned, enlightened beings.

If there's a story where sages get punished for such behaviour, I'd read that.

A restaurant critic lists 11 reasons why Yelp reviews suck, plus 11 fixes for that.

Some reasons include making "unfair judgments or poor decisions based on ignorance of the restaurant’s cuisine, level of formality, intentions, or audience" (thinking of you here, Brad Newman), "no understanding of how restaurants work", "a lack of human empathy", "an undue sense of entitlement" (hello again, Brad Newman) and "unreasonable expectations on whether the restaurant can accommodate special dietary preferences."

Self-help by women for women: Why do they seek advice for everything under the sun from strangers? What's wrong with that?

Nothing, if you're seeking practical instruction on practical problems: how to fix your bike, prepare your taxes, or roast a leg of lamb. Practical problems can be quantified. Personal or existential challenges are idiosyncratic and resistant to formulaic fixes; they require retail, made to measure therapy. One size doesn't fit all.

Which is probably why we'll continue to see more of the same in bookstores for the foreseeable future.

Russell Brand remembers Margaret Thatcher. Not how I'd imagine Russell Brand remembering Margaret Thatcher. One choice bit:

Barack Obama interestingly said in his statement that she had "broken the glass ceiling for other women." Only in the sense that all the women beneath her were blinded by falling shards.

And another:

The blunt, pathetic reality is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there's no such thing as society, in the end there isn't. Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship. It isn't sad for anyone else.

Read the whole thing. G*d. Did he actually write all that?

Shades of Amazon eats Goodreads? Academic publisher Elsevier buys social media research platform Mendeley. The app that allowed academics to share material was developed by several PhD students who wanted an easier way to manage research papers and collaborate with colleagues overseas.

Mendeley users cried foul over the move, because this means that Elsevier can dictate the terms of usage and access on what was said to be an open resource. A report in The Bookseller has details about the purchase and why this could be bad:

Many expressed sceptism over whether Mendeley will remain open since Elsevier gained a reputation for being against open access to research as it supported the failed anti-piracy legislation Stop Online Piracy Act.

And why did Amazon buy Goodreads? To get, it is said, into the heads of a small segment of "super readers", those who read a dozen or more books in a year. Not Malaysians in general, then. Forbes outlines the benefits Amazon can expect to reap from the purchase.

Seems Thai publishers are spreading their wings, but may have problems with publishing requirements in other countries.

Some foreign publishers also have special needs, she said, mentioning a request from publishers in Muslim-majority Malaysia for illustrators to adjust certain drawings.

"So the illustrators had to remove pigs and references to pork from drawings in certain books plus any related text. They were also asked to depict character wearing only clothes which are in line with Islamic dress codes," [Chonrungsee Chalermchaikit, vice-president of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (Pubat)] explained.

While certain sensibilities should be respected, that respect should be reciprocal. Telling foreign publishers that their culture may raise hackles in your own country is kind of, well, bad to say the least.

In the Washington Post, an editor's dilemma when proofing copy:

I knowww. The things editors do when fact-checking.

Amazon reverses refusal to handle Cornish text in children's book. Will Google flip on 'ogooglebar'?

While Cornish-speakers and language activists worldwide were happy with the U-turn, not everyone feels Amazon was totally wrong, wrong, wrong. Somebody pointed out that it was merely business. "For one thing, only 500 people cited Cornish as their primary language in the 2011 census. Is it so shocking Amazon wasn’t all that interested in publishing the Cornish title?"


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