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Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Kindle Changed The Book Business. Can It Change Books?, by David Pierce, Wired

It's now been a decade since Amazon unveiled the first Kindle to the world. The first model seems ridiculous in retrospect—what with the giant keyboard filled with slanted keys, the tiny second screen just for navigation, and the mostly pointless scroll wheel—but was wildly popular, selling out its initial inventory in less than six hours. Since then, the device has torn through the publishing landscape. Not only is Amazon the most powerful player in the industry, it has built an entire book-based universe all its own. "Kindle" has become a platform, not a device. Like Amazon tends to do, it entered the market and utterly subsumed it.

Now, however, Amazon's ebook project comes to a crossroads. The Kindle team has always professed two goals: to perfectly mimic a paper book, and to extend and improve the reading experience. That's what readers want, too. In a world filled with distractions and notifications and devices that do everything, the Kindle's lack of features becomes its greatest asset. But readers also want to read everywhere, in places and ways a paperback can't manage. They want more tools, more features, more options, more stuff to do. Amazon's still working out how to satisfy both sides. Whatever route it takes, the next decade of Kindle is likely to be even more disruptive than the last. First it changed the book business. Next it might help change books themselves.

Mark Bittman’s Year In Cooking, by Mark Bittman, Grub Street

It has been a year of revitalized cooking for me, a pattern that was typical until I began traveling so much. The domestic version of me has routine breakfasts of oatmeal or toast; lunches ranging from leftovers to really killer dal and rice or another grain; and dinners all over the map. Last night was an off-the-cuff roll-your-own cabbage leaf with pork, kohlrabi, carrot, mushrooms, nam pla–based dipping sauce, and so on, kind of great; the night before was a delicious “failure,” a dish I intended to turn into a simple cassoulet, but wound up being overcooked pork in bean-and-tomato sauce. Needless to say, little is wasted; as Julia Child used to say, “One of the great things about cooking is you get to eat the failures.”

All of this is interspersed with a few more serious projects, new and recurring themes, a kind of devotion both to discovery and to getting some old things right. That includes handmade pasta, which I know how to do, and have had lessons from some of the best, but really I’m not very good at; the old bread passion, which has evolved to sourdough and 100 percent whole grain, and about which everyone is sick of hearing; and cooking over wood, a total pain in the ass as everyone knows, but also really fun and often worth it.

Yet some ideas have taken hold more strongly than others for me. These are my current, and seemingly lasting, obsessions from the time I spent cooking in 2017 — and some things I’m hopeful I can master in 2018:

The World Broke In Two By Bill Goldstein Review – Modernism’s Annus Mirabilis, by John Mullan, The Guardian

It is the dithering, mournful, self-doubting Forster who emerges most vividly from a book that is sustained by its author’s undisguised curiosity about the quirks and susceptibilities of his chosen writers. Working from their letters and diaries, Goldstein does not hesitate to suggest he can know their private feelings. As a sign of his familiarity with them, he always refers to “Tom”, “Morgan” and “Virginia”; Lawrence alone, a more distant and difficult character, goes by his surname. This confidence brings one great benefit. The literary achievements of this extraordinary year, which we think we know so well, become hard-won and surprising, rather than inevitable. Indeed, as we follow Eliot’s endless prevarications over getting The Waste Land published, and his squabbles with prospective publishers over tiny amounts of money, we half expect the great work never to appear. Literary history may know what these authors were doing, but in this account they hardly seem to have known themselves.