Friday High Five: Critical misunderstandings, Sorkin’s Newsroom and an Odyssey of colour
The author strikes back
Patrick Somerville’s account of his new book being panned in the New York Times seems, at first glance, like another authorial whinge about being misunderstood by entitled book reviewers. But it’s actually a hugely impressive look at the nuances of what goes on when a creative work is reviewed. When Somerville first reads Janet Maslin’s not-very-impressed review of his novel This Bright River, he’s devastated. But then he realises, when his fictional character receives an email from an editor at the Times, that the reviewer has literally misunderstood the events of his prologue, colouring her reading of the entire book. What happens next is well worth the read.
Contemporary television, the cult of the writer and Aaron Sorkin
Aaron Sorkin’s eagerly awaited new television series, The Newsroom, has been slammed as vigorously as his best-loved show The West Wing is celebrated. The internet is crowded with scathing critiques, but a considered essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books looks at the failure of the show in the context of Sorkin’s wider career and the state of contemporary television.
While television has historically been focused on the producer or even actor as creative agent, and film is still very beholden to the director as prime mover, contemporary television alone is a cult of the writer. Since the days of David Lynch, television has tended toward indulgence with its screenwriters. But Aaron Sorkin, who frequently and publicly claimed unequivocal authorship of The West Wing, was one of the earliest and most visible popularizers of this model in this latest generation of quality TV. The writer is king on television, in part because Aaron Sorkin staged a coup.
The new public transport: mechanical walkways
Ever dreamed of getting around on foot without breaking a sweat (or burning a single calorie)? Well, that reality has pretty much come true in the Spanish city of Vitoria-Gasteiz,where a mechanical moving walkway has been installed right through the centre of town. Lazy or genius? You decide.
11 ways our shopping brains fail us
The Atlantic, with help from author William Poundstone (Priceless), shares 11 ways that most of us make irrational buying decisions, based on psychology, comparison and our own half-spun logic. These are the inside tricks marketers already know full well - and employ to their advantage.
You walk into a high-end store, let’s say it’s Hermès, and you see a $7,000 bag. ‘Haha, that’s so stupid!’ you tell your friend. ‘Seven grand for a bag!’ Then you spot an awesome watch for $367. Compared to a Timex, that’s wildly over-expensive. But compared to the $7,000 price tag you just put to memory, it’s a steal. In this way, stores can massage or ‘anchor’ your expectations for spending.
WNYC’s Radiolab podcast has long endeared itself to listeners by virtue of colourful storytelling and vivid sound design, but its most recent full-length episode - ‘Colors’ - takes us literally across the spectrum, as hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich explore colour from a variety of angles.
Along the way, they find animals with far broader colour perception than humans, treat colour-blindness and explore the violent secrets of gamboge’s ‘perfect yellow’ pigment.
But what really piqued our interest was the programme’s profile of (19th century British Prime Minister) William Gladstone. Studying The Odyssey and The Iliad, Gladstone - a devoted fan of Homer - noticed something unusual about the epic poems' descriptions of colour. Where did these inquiries lead? You’ll have to listen to find out; what transpires is fascinating stuff that left us questioning the fullness of our own perceptions.