Thursday, 25 May 2017

Book Marks: Fifty Years Of Style, A Page Out Of Time

"The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it." It's been five decades since William Strunk and E.B. White's style guide was published but British-American linguist and Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, Geoffrey K. Pullum, won't be celebrating.

I was given a copy of The Elements of Style when I started writing professionally, but I never really took to much of the advice. Too many rules. Like everything I learnt about math and science in school, I've more or less forgotten about it. "Style", for me, was more synonymous with one's writing voice.


Plus:

  • "A Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) academic claimed today that an autobiography of Selangor assembly speaker Hannah Yeoh, which he bought, could influence him towards Christianity. UUM’s Malaysian Institute for Political Studies director Kamarul Zaman Yusoff said this was because the book contained 'too many stories and quotations from the Bible' ... '[that] can influence readers, including myself, to feel admiration for the greatness of Hannah Yeoh’s God,' said Kamarul in his police report..."
  • A 540-year-old page from a medieval priests' handbook printed by William Caxton has been found. Apparently, it was torn out and "pasted into another book for the undignified purpose of reinforcing its spine." It's kind of a big deal, as Caxton introduced the printing press to England, and the page may have come from the early days of print.
  • "In Nigeria ... publishing is a tough business. Many readers will happily pay for religious texts or textbooks but sometimes balk at paying for contemporary fiction or creative nonfiction. Yet local publishers like ParrĂ©sia, Ouida books, Farafina, and Cassava keep feeding Nigerians with high quality literary works, even with the ever looming piracy threat and unfavorable business environment." Now, Cassava is breaking into the US market after its entry into Europe.
  • "Every author I know has been tagged by readers like this. Usually the reader announces they have reviewed the author's latest novel. Only it's a vicious review, awarding two stars (one for arriving on time). Why would they announce that to the author?"
  • "It wasn't so long ago that book publishers and bookstore owners were quailing about the coming of e-books, like movie theatre owners at the dawn of the television age. Now they're taking things more calmly. Recent statistics confirm a trend first noticed by the book trade in late 2015: At least among major publishers, e-book sales have plateaued or even begun to decline." Here's why.
  • "Traditional publishers are often criticized for not prioritizing fast. Despite new technology, most books still take one to two years to reach market. Publishers tend to prioritize quality over speed, which wasn't seen as problematic until the industry started getting compared to innovative startups. Silicon Valley's often-celebrated operating procedures tend to focus on agile product development, which values speed and releasing new iterations." What do publishers and authors have to compromise to stay in business?
  • "Many insiders assumed cheap e-books would simply replace mass market books. Then something else happened. A few years ago, e-book sales began flattening, proving that digital was not going to replace print. With the knowledge that many consumers were going to read both print books and e-books, some in the industry thought mass market sales might finally start crawling upward. But stumbling blocks to a full scale rebound of the format remain in place for the major publishers."
  • "Controversial politicians. Celebrity cricket players. Spiritual gurus. India's publishing industry, like the country's broader economic story, has a lot to work with. So it's perhaps no surprise India’s GDP growth of 7.1 percent – the fastest among major economies – is fueling a boom in book sales. Indian publishing successes, in return, can help provide insights into the country's growth and consumer confidence. It is a land where the travails of a saucy, soon-to-be-married Goldman Sachs Group Inc banker – in Chetan Bhagat's fictional One Indian Girl – is a runaway best-seller."
  • "Authors and publishers at this year's instalment of the Franschhoek Literary Festival have called for the opening up of the book industry and for the retirement of those in senior positions who aren’t adaptive to change. During a panel discussion titled 'Is there a shortage of black fiction authors?', guest speakers vented their frustrations about the lack of opportunities that black authors and publishers encounter."

Monday, 22 May 2017

Hand-Blending Hijinks: Mush, Magic And Mayhem

I haven't been picking up a kitchen utensil much or tried out new recipes, but an urgent need to get more greens (and other colours) into my diet had me scrambling for a new blender. The old Khind standing blender was useful, but it's beginning to show its age.

And I had carelessly shredded the gasket for its dry mill long ago. The mill still works but cleaning up is messier.

At the suggestion of a friend, I settled for a hand blender: a Philips ProMix with a 550W motor, the same one she uses. I haven't test-driven many blenders, though some online sources equate high motor power with better blending. The powerhouses are all imported brands and expensive, so thriftiness triumphed.

But while inspecting the business end, the blade left a bloodless mark on my thumb. Nice to meet you too.


Say hello to my magic wand


I had problems with spilling, but more because I would fill the beaker to almost full capacity and moving the blender bar would cause them to spill. The vortex from the spinning blades and design of the blender head, I suppose, keeps the ingredients from splattering.

And whatever guarantees manufacturers make about the strength and durability of the blender and the blades, chopping, grating or cutting the ingredients into smaller bits is always a good idea.

About half a dozen smoothies later, I don't see any difference in blending quality. Fibrous ingredients such as carrot and berries don't liquefy as much, but the soft stuff like bananas pretty much melted. However, clean-up's a breeze.

Unfortunately, I still can't wake up late and pulverise a few ingredients into an astronaut's breakfast before heading off to work. And I have to be careful of consuming too much raw or wrong food that might protest my treatment of it by rioting in my gut.

Anyway...

One of the first combinations I mooted was an apple, orange and carrot smoothie, thickened with oats, oat bran or chia seeds. The latter produced a cleaner and thicker mix, compared to the creamier and somewhat milkier one made with oats. I can also spice it up with turmeric.

Another recipe was a zucchini and cauliflower concoction with oat bran for bulk and seasoned with black pepper and lemon juice - basically a cold soup of raw ingredients. Adding a clove or two of garlic, powdered Parmesan and olive oil made for a naughtier version.


The "naughty" zucchini and cauliflower smoothie-not-smoothie,
before and after - with help from a mortar and pestle


This recipe was more involved. I mixed Greek yoghurt, water, lemon juice and powdered Parmesan cheese into the blending beaker first; chopped the cauliflower florets, zucchini and garlic; and dry-toasted and ground the black peppercorns and oat bran. The bran had to be ground with a mortar and pestle, as the blender alone would not do.

What I got tasted fresh, clean and healthy, with a spicy kick from the pepper. When cheese, garlic and olive oil were added, not so much. Zucchini and cauliflower blend quite well, but it's another story when they're frozen. Probably because of the ice crystals. Should've dipped the Ziploc bag holding the extra chunks in water to defrost first.

I also mixed something with Aik Cheong coffee steeped in milk, banana, Greek yoghurt and a little vanilla extract, but it's an acquired taste. Maybe it'll become the next New York food craze. They're already serving lattes in avocado skins... .

Other recent recipes include purple carrot/apple/blueberry and plum/blueberry/apple juice with chia seeds. I reckon I can get more fruit and veg into my diet this way; one smoothie can comprise up to two and a half servings of either.

Before the plum and blueberry smoothie, I made pesto with the magic wand, but it seems, as it was the case with the standing blender, I might have to chop the basil leaves and process them in batches. With the beaker size of 500ml max, I can make enough for a few servings of pasta.

Mmm, can't wait to revisit my mushroom and "ancient carrot" soups, experiment on curry pastes and try some sambals. Once I exhaust all humanly possible combinations for smoothies, that is, which might take ... two years, assuming I make one smoothie a day.


Plum, blueberry and chia seed smoothie made with apple juice. I used a
glass and set aside some fruit and hydrated chia seeds for garnish.


Wish me luck and pray I don't end up ingesting what some might consider bad fruit/vegetable smoothie combinations. Although some say there is no such thing, others feel different, especially those who subscribe to old-world schools of thought such as Ayurveda or traditional Chinese medicine.

I know they say men going through midlife crises find succour in power tools but I don't think that includes handheld blenders.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Book Marks: Robert Pirsig, E-book Slump

A little exhausted for the past fortnight, so I haven't been keeping watch on the book and publishing front. But here's what caught my attention anyway:

  • "Robert M. Pirsig, whose philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance became a million-selling classic and cultural touchstone after more than 100 publishers turned it down, died Monday at age 88. ... Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was published in 1974 and was based on a motorcycle trip Pirsig took in the late 1960s with his 12-year-old son, Chris."
  • "When Simon & Schuster announced in late February that it is canceling Milo Yiannopoulos's book, Dangerous, many in the publishing industry reacted with a sigh of relief. ... though it's still unclear what ultimately motivated the publisher to yank the book, the fervor that the alt-right bad boy's deal caused put some on alert. Could other publishers be pressured into canceling books by controversial conservatives? Does the industry have a double standard for authors on the right? Does it matter?"
  • Book piracy is hurting Zimbabwean authors, including Charles Lovemore Mungoshi. "Mungoshi is so famous in Zimbabwe and other countries ... he should be able to make a comfortable living just like some writers in Africa and other parts of the world," writes Lazarus Sauti in The Southern Times. "but the book sector in Zimbabwe is so punishing to the extent that the celebrated writer is not even enjoying the fruits of his fame and hardwork. Recently, his family sourced for $9,000 required for a repeat operation after doctors inserted a shunt to drain water from his brains last year."
  • "It's World Book Day, but India's publishers are up against a serious snag: The [Raja Ram Mohan Roy National Agency, which issues ISBNs for books in India,] launched a website where publishers ... would have to register to get their numbers. ... This website, however, is still riddled with bugs. And with no phone number through which the Agency can be reached, some publishers have been left waiting for months for their ISBN numbers, with no clarity on the status of their application."
  • '"It was new and exciting,' says Cathryn Summerhayes, a literary agent at Curtis Brown. 'But now [Kindles] look so clunky and unhip, don't they? I guess everyone wants a piece of trendy tech and, unfortunately, there aren't trendy tech reading devices and I don't think people are reading long-form fiction on their phones. I think your average reader would say that one of the great pleasures of reading is the physical turning of the page. It slows you down and makes you think.'"
  • "It wasn't so long ago that book publishers and bookstore owners were quailing about the coming of ebooks, like movie theater owners at the dawn of the television age. Now they're taking things more calmly. Recent statistics confirm a trend first noticed by the book trade in late 2015: At least among major publishers, ebook sales have plateaued or even begun to decline. It turns out that not all readers are quite ready to give up the tactile pleasures of holding a hardcover or paperback in their hands in order to partake of the convenience and digital features of e-reading."
  • "Dennis Johnson, co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House Books and one of the first book bloggers, is possibly best known for the fight he picked in the spring of 2014.He was at the front of a group of independent publishers who decided to spar with Amazon over the predatory, escalating fees it was charging small publishers, as well as its covert war on the major publisher Hachette, which it carried out by deliberately delaying shipments and hiking prices. Johnson asked The New York Times how Amazon's business practices weren't considered 'extortion,' and compared the monolith to the Mafia." Enjoy The Verge's interview with Johnson and Melville House's director of marketing and publicity, Julia Fleischaker.
  • "Kasem bin Abubakar was told nobody would buy his chaste romance novels about devout young Muslims finding love within the strict moral confines of Bangladeshi society. And yet his tales of lovers whispering sweet nothings between calls to prayer sold millions in the 1980s and proved a huge hit among young girls from Bangladesh's rural, conservative heartland." Wrong. "Mullah novels" do sell.
  • "[The author] of the book Mila, Maslina Yusoff, will soon have her book animated in collaboration with leading South Korean studio, H Culture. The Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Shah Alam alumni said that her own daughter inspired the story and it has always been her dream to write and illustrate her own children’s books."
  • Saudi novelist Mohammed Hasan Alwan has won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, dubbed the Arab Booker, for his novel A Small Death, a fictionalised account of the life of a Sufi scholar and philosopher Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi. ... the US$50,000 prize is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London, but it is funded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority."