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Archive for the 'Book of the Week' Category

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Love and Experience

Marriage as a Fine Art

“The pages that follow resonate with current anxieties around the topic of marriage, while not falling for the unlikely merger of two into one or hinting at a happy solution to the idyllic, and failed, ‘togetherness’ of ‘diversity.’ They invite you, simply but ambitiously, to ponder the experience of marriage as one of the fine arts.” — Julia Kristeva

This week, our featured book is Marriage as a Fine Art, by Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt in which Kristeva and Sollers discuss the nature of experience.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Marriage as a Fine Art!

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Love of the Other

Marriage as a Fine Art

“Together we fell into a dialogue that never stopped, we are still deep into a conversation with no end in sight, because it’s full of arguments; though we don’t always see eye to eye, the intensity of the conversation never flags.” — Philippe Sollers

This week, our featured book is Marriage as a Fine Art, by Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers. To kick off the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s fourth chapter, in which Kristeva and Sollers discuss the idea of “love” and how it impacts a relationship and a marriage.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Marriage as a Fine Art!

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers’s Marriage as a Fine Art

Marriage as a Fine Art

“[Kristeva & Sollers's] performance, so smart, so practiced, is genuinely entertaining, enacted, as it is, by two people who are openly energized by showing off to and for one another. Their mutual enjoyment, as they go through their paces, is palpable. Clearly, intellectual busking is the glue that binds Kristeva and Sollers to one another.” — Vivian Gornick, New Republic

This week, our featured book is Marriage as a Fine Art, by Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Conserving the Environment is Crucial but Simple

Endangered Economies

“External costs pose the biggest threat to the environment by preventing nature and the economy from working together. External costs occur when a third party must pick up the tab for the negative consequences of a transaction. A transaction that occurs every day is a good example: let’s say I buy gasoline, burn it in my car, and harm people who inhale the exhaust fumes or whose climate is altered by greenhouse gases generated. The people who are injured did not purchase and burn the gas—I did. Yet I do not pay for the harm done.” — Geoffrey Heal

This week, our featured book is Endangered Economies: How the Neglect of Nature Threatens Our Prosperity, by Geoffrey Heal. Today, we are happy to present a guest post from Heal, in which he argues that environmental conservation is crucial to our prosperity, and indeed to the future of our civilization, and is easier than most people think. He also provides four relatively simple reforms that will transform how our economies interact with the environment and make a pristine environment compatible with growth and prosperity.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Endangered Economies!

Conserving the Environment is Crucial but Simple
By Geoffrey Heal

Our dependence on nature runs deep. There is no denying that a pristine environment improves our health, lengthens our lives and makes us more productive. Yet in our lifetimes, catastrophic environmental change will occur because of four basic, correctable errors in the design of our economic systems. We can fix the most egregious flaws in the system to correct our neglect of nature and allow the economy and the environment to coexist and nurture one other.

External costs pose the biggest threat to the environment by preventing nature and the economy from working together. External costs occur when a third party must pick up the tab for the negative consequences of a transaction. A transaction that occurs every day is a good example: let’s say I buy gasoline, burn it in my car, and harm people who inhale the exhaust fumes or whose climate is altered by greenhouse gases generated. The people who are injured did not purchase and burn the gas—I did. Yet I do not pay for the harm done. There are many ways of solving problems like this – problems that involve a social cost. We can levy a charge to reflect the costs to third parties, we can give damaged parties the right to sue, we can regulate activities that affect third parties, and more. What we can’t afford is to continue to ignore this harmful error in our economic policies. (more…)

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Environment and Economy—No Conflict

Endangered Economies

“External costs pose the biggest threat to the environment by preventing nature and the economy from working together. External costs occur when a third party must pick up the tab for the negative consequences of a transaction. A transaction that occurs every day is a good example: let’s say I buy gasoline, burn it in my car, and harm people who inhale the exhaust fumes or whose climate is altered by greenhouse gases generated. The people who are injured did not purchase and burn the gas—I did. Yet I do not pay for the harm done.” — Geoffrey Heal

This week, our featured book is Endangered Economies: How the Neglect of Nature Threatens Our Prosperity, by Geoffrey Heal. To start off the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s first chapter, in which Heal explains why there’s no real conflict in trying to save the environment and improve the economy.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Endangered Economies!

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Endangered Economies: How the Neglect of Nature Threatens Our Prosperity, by Geoffrey Heal

Endangered Economies

“In this passionate and readable book, Heal sets out the measures needed to reconcile economic progress with preservation of the planet. They are surprisingly simple and attainable. Heal demonstrates that there is not a trade-off between growth and environmental protection, but that they can and must go hand-and-hand, that growth is not attainable over the long run without protecting the environment.” — Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economics

This week, our featured book is Endangered Economies: How the Neglect of Nature Threatens Our Prosperity, by Geoffrey Heal. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Introducing Class Clowns

Class Clowns

“At the end of the day, the underlying motivations of the various actors matter less than knowing how to avoid the mistakes detailed here. The trick is to retain the passion for education but lose the emotional or ideological commitments to particular solutions.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, for the final day of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Knee’s introduction.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Class Clowns!

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

Why For-Profit Education Fails

Class Clowns

“Should anyone care that a bunch of very rich people have failed in these ventures? In fact, this should matter to anyone concerned about education. That failure, repeated so consistently, has given credible fodder to people who resist the active participation of for-profit enterprises in the educational sphere. But that sphere will always comprise public and private, nonprofit and for-profit institutions, and for-profit businesses play an essential role.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, we are happy to share an excerpt from “Why For-Profit Education Fails,” an article by Jonathan Knee that appeared in The Atlantic.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Class Clowns!

Why For-Profit Education Fails
By Jonathan A. Knee

[O]ver the past couple of decades, a veritable who’s who of investors and entrepreneurs has seen an opportunity to apply market discipline or new technology to a sector that often seems to shun both on principle. Yet as attractive and intuitive as these opportunities seemed, those who pursued them have, with surprising regularity, lost their shirts. JP Morgan backed Edison Schools’ ill-conceived effort to outsource public education in the late 1990s and saw the business lose 90 percent of its value during its four years as a public company; Goldman Sachs was one of many private-equity firms that came up empty after betting on the inevitable ascendance of for-profit universities; the billionaire Ronald Perelman shut down his futuristic K–12 educational-technology company, GlobalScholar, after spending $135 million and concluding that the software was faulty and a “mirage”; by the time the hedge-fund titan John Paulson was able to sell the last of his stake in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in 2015, he had likely lost hundreds of millions financing the company’s misguided mission to remake textbook publishing.

Not all financial investments in education end badly, but the number that have is notable, as are the magnitudes of the fiascos, in stark contrast to the successes of many of these same investors in other domains. The precise sources of failure in each instance are diverse, as are the educational subsectors targeted and the approaches pursued. But what many share is the sweeping nature of their ambition. (more…)

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

The Road to Disastrous Educational Businesses Is Paved With Good Intentions

Class Clowns

“Scaling back ambitions and moving from high-minded rhetoric to the gritty operational challenges can have the feel of selling out. When the principles involved are viewed as fundamental, compromise—whether to a business model or to a policy platform—can be anathema. Yet the failure to do so in both instances not only makes the perfect the enemy of the good, but it also threatens to more permanently undermine the potential long-term benefits to both shareholders and the public.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, we are happy to share a piece of an excerpt posted in full by EdSurge.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Class Clowns!

Adherents of particular educational business models and advocates of particular educational public policy approaches have a tendency to use very similar language in promoting their views. Their favored instrumentality of change is typically described alternatively as “transformational” or “revolutionary.” In both cases, the evidence suggests that a narrowing of focus, a nuanced appreciation of the particular market structure and context, and an emphasis on the importance of effective execution would go a long way toward improving the probability of successful outcomes.

But this is easier said than done. In general, revolutionaries are not known for their humility. Scaling back ambitions and moving from high-minded rhetoric to the gritty operational challenges can have the feel of selling out. When the principles involved are viewed as fundamental, compromise—whether to a business model or to a policy platform—can be anathema. Yet the failure to do so in both instances not only makes the perfect the enemy of the good, but it also threatens to more permanently undermine the potential long-term benefits to both shareholders and the public.

In the public policy arena, there is no better example of this phenomenon than the failed efforts of well-meaning reform advocates to use Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s public schools to revolutionize urban public education more broadly. As documented by Dale Russakoff in her compelling 2015 book “The Prize,” the Newark initiative was disastrous, leaving little to show for the massive investment. In seeking transformational results that could be used as a template elsewhere, leaders misjudged the political environment, ignored the specific needs of the traumatized local population, and entrusted execution to true believers who did not have the required skills.

It would be hard to argue that the magnitude of this failure has not set back even better-conceived reform efforts. Those most responsible for the Newark debacle frequently invoked jargon plucked from business best sellers to justify their misguided efforts. Given the embarrassing results of many of the “transformative” educational business initiatives—including a number with which the same executives involved in Newark were associated—it is unclear how compelling these references were. More broadly, the failure of these business ventures has given credible fodder to those who resist the active participation of for-profit enterprises in the educational sphere.

Read the excerpt in its entirety at EdSurge.

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

A Cautionary Tale on Education Investment Flops: Jonathan Knee on Squawk Box

Class Clowns

“When you try to mix your philanthropy with your investing, you tend to do both badly…. The important thing about good for-profit education is that it’s sustainable, it’s got a sustainable business model.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. On Friday, December 16, Jonathan Knee appeared and discussed the dangers of investing in education on CNBC’s Squawk Box. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to share the video of his interview below.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Class Clowns!

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education

Class Clowns

Class Clowns is more than a business book, or a book on the education industry. Filled with colorful characters and gripping narratives, it poses deep questions that should engage a broad audience. By bringing the keen insights of a veteran investment banker, Knee demonstrates that no matter the goals, any business is subject to the basic laws of economies of scale, geographic advantage, and barriers to entry. This is an important lesson that many in the education sector seem to have ignored” — James B. Stewart, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Den of Thieves

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

10 Tidbits from Gordon M. Shepherd’s Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine to Casually Slip into Conversation at Your Next Winetasting Party

Neuroenology

“If someone comments on how fun and relaxing winetasting parties are: ‘Actually, the process of orthonasal smells, or initial smell images, changing into mental images, while integrating taste, tactile, auditory, and visual stimuli is very involved.’”

This week, our featured book is Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Gordon M. Shepherd. Today, we are happy to present a list of ten tidbits about the science of how we taste wine for use in common wine-tasting party settings, pulled together by Columbia UP publicity intern Elisa Kong.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

10 Tidbits from Gordon M. Shepherd’s Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine to Casually Slip into Conversation at Your Next Winetasting Party
By Elisa Kong

1) When someone comments on how smooth the wine is: “Actually, the initial perceived smoothness of wine depends on the balance between the serous and mucus parts of your saliva.”

2) If you catch your friend tasting the wine before sniffing it: “Before you start tasting, remember that sniffing is quite important when tasting wine, as it allows you to sense a wine’s aroma, which is critical in your judgment of its taste… But don’t stop on my account!”

3) If someone’s having a difficult time picking up on the aroma of the wine at hand, ask them if their olfactory bulb, the first station for processing sensory response, is working. “Pardon me, but is your olfactory bulb in tune today?”

4) When your friend says the wine is too “tart,” remind them that “tart” is not a term to be used lightly, as it implies that a wine’s acidity is much too strong. Mild acidity adds an “edge” to wine, which might have been the more appropriate term to use. (more…)

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

The Vocabulary of Wine: Ten Neuroenologic Terms for Understanding the Neuroscience of Wine

Neuroenology

“Photoreceptor response: the electrical response when particles in light waves called photons hit the eye. This is what allows us to see a wine as red or white, or, in Shepherd’s view, red or pale.”

This week, our featured book is Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Gordon M. Shepherd. Today, we are happy to present a list of ten neuroenologic terms from the book compiled by Columbia UP publicity intern Andrew Loso.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

The Vocabulary of Wine: Ten Neuroenologic Terms for Understanding the Neuroscience of Wine
Compiled by Andrew Loso

Gordon M. Shepherd’s new book Neuroenology, the first book on wine tasting by a neuroscientist, offers a comprehensive take on how the senses and the brain perceive wine. The text is palatable for novice wine drinkers and novice scientists alike, and Shepherd introduces the reader to many new wine-related terms. “Neuroenology” itself is a new term which is defined as how the brain creates the taste of wine. These ten are a cross section across the many topics that Shepherd covers.

Aroma burst: the sensation produced by the high concentration of particles called volatiles that coat the mouth immediately after swallowing.

Congruent: describes when the stimuli involved with taste and retronasal smell complement each other, which is essential to maintaining the flavor balance of wine.

Experienced pleasure (EP): the good feeling we get from doing something, relevant here to a study in which subjects felt the same EP for wine ranging from $5 to $90 in a blind test.

Flavor image: one of the most complex, and rewarding, human flavor experiences in which taste, retronasal smell, tactile stimuli, and visual stimuli integrate.

Hedonistic value: the emotional value a person puts on wine, based on their preference for whether or not the wine tastes “good” to them.

Legs: drip lines created by swirling wine in a glass that reflect the wine’s chemical composition.

Mouthfeel: perceptions which physical touch stimuli activate, such as supple, aggressive, viscous, and steely.

Photoreceptor response: the electrical response when particles in light waves called photons hit the eye. This is what allows us to see a wine as red or white, or, in Shepherd’s view, red or pale.

Retronasal smell: the sensation produced after wine has entered the mouth as the mixing of saliva with particles called volatiles in the wine affects their volatility.

Taste modalities: sweet, salt, sour, bitter, umami, and fat, all of which are present in much lower quantities in wine than in food.

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

A New Approach to Wine Tasting

Neuroenology

“This book builds on [other] authoritative accounts by focusing on a new approach to wine tasting that can be summed up in the phrase: the taste is not in the wine; the taste is created by the brain of the wine taster.” — Gordon M. Shepherd

This week, our featured book is Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Gordon M. Shepherd. To get the feature started, we are happy to present Shepherd’s introduction to Neuroenology.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Monday, December 12th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Gordon M. Shepherd

Neuroenology

“Shepherd provides a valuable and interesting glimpse into the human side of science and its inherently cross-disciplinary nature. After having read Neuroenology, every sniff, bite and gulp, will create a moment of reflection on how complex and wonderfully mysterious the human brain is.” — Christopher R. Loss, Culinary Institute of America

This week, our featured book is Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Gordon M. Shepherd. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, December 9th, 2016

Thoughts on and an Excerpt from Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays

Today Adham Azab-Xu, Ph.D. candidate in French and Romance Philology at Columbia University and current Fellow in Academic Administration here at Columbia University Press, responds to Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler and translated by Chandler, Jesse Irwin, and Susan Larsen.

When Christine Dunbar, the editor of the Russian Library Series, asked me to read Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it—I certainly don’t have a background in Russian literature, and have never been an enthusiastic reader of plays. But once I began reading, I was quickly engrossed in the stories these plays have to tell, which is why I am writing this post and urging you, our readers, to give Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays a chance.

In his excellent introduction to this book, Chandler writes that “like all great art, [Platonov’s] stories and plays can speak to a reader who knows little or nothing about the author and his times. Platonov’s deepest concerns were, in fact, always universal—philosophical and psychological more than political” (xxvii). We often perceive great art as great particularly because it continues to appeal to us in changing times, or because changes in our own perspective fill it with new life. In a way, then, great art is both timeless and ephemeral—it endures, but it variously reflects differing perspectives across physical and temporal boundaries.

Wanting to disconnect from the world for a bit, I began reading Fourteen Little Red Huts on November 8th—the day Donald Trump won the presidential election—and Chandler’s observation resonated deeply with me. Like many people I know, I was up in arms for the whole presidential campaign about the unmitigated triumph of disinformation. Even now, fake news sites spread it relentlessly and virulently, and large groups of people (some of whom I know intimately) only double down on their beliefs when presented with information that contradicts the most damaging and outlandish conspiracies. On November 8th, I saw that ours is not unlike the world to which Platonov bears witness in Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays—his characters, in spite of their suffering, and in spite of the obvious signs of falsehood that surround them, cleave ever more closely to their beliefs, or to what they are told to believe, and it certainly doesn’t do them any good.

Granted, to put things in historical context, Platonov’s characters, living—or, more accurately, starving to death—on collective farms (or kolkhozy) in Soviet Russia, are faced with a choice between what they’re told to believe, on the one hand, and the Gulag* on the other. While it is reassuring that relatively few people in the world today have to make such a choice, it is important not to forget that these plays’ most dystopic scenes represent Platonov’s real-life experience as a land reclamation expert in the 1920s, and as a writer sent to report on events in the Soviet countryside between 1929 and 1932. Between 1932 and 1933 alone, the Encyclopedia Britannica estimates that six to nine million people died of hunger in the fields, but even as Platonov’s characters wither away and die, many of them refuse to acknowledge the direness of their reality. They continue to toe the party line.

The plays’ jarringly unnatural, morbidly jocular language, especially in The Hurdy Gurdy and in Fourteen Little Red Huts, testifies to the unbelievability of the situation their characters find themselves in, and I sense that in using this kind of language in these two plays, Platonov was walking a fine line—struggling to find a truthful way to express the dystopic suffering he witnessed without getting himself sent to the Gulag. On several occasions, though, it seems a wonder that Platonov got away with writing so openly about the famine, since the Soviet government denied its existence and criminalized all discourse about it. To this effect, the cries of starving children in Fourteen Little Red Huts are both poignant and remarkable—a true act of literary bravery, even if none of these plays, and only one of the works Platonov wrote about the collectivization or about the famine, were published during Platonov’s lifetime.

In light of this fact, it is perhaps not surprising that Platonov expresses a distinct ambivalence about the value of writing in his plays. Reading Fourteen Little Red Huts in particular, it seems fair to say that he would reject the notion of literary bravery altogether; the three writers in Fourteen Little Red Huts certainly do not come across in a positive light, and, in the same play, reading appears to be little more than a diversion for those who are both starving and bored to death on the kolkhoz. And yet, Platonov still wrote these plays—plays that have often been deemed unperformable on account of their unusual stage directions, which seem more aimed at readers than at potential viewers. Why write plays that aren’t really plays? And why write at all, when it won’t get you anywhere?

If there is any value at all in writing, I would argue that, as far as these plays are concerned, it has more to do with revealing the suffering of the voiceless than with trying to assuage that suffering, which would be an exercise in futility. Platonov offers these voices up to us, and, eighty-five years later, they still speak to us, reminding us in so many ways that we “shall languish without motion amid the historical current, […] the same piffle as everything living or dead” (159).

At any rate, I hope all of you will read Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays! Especially now, it will give you a lot to think about.

*Editor’s note: Not yet called the Gulag, but the point still stands…

See below for an excerpt from Fourteen Little Red Huts:

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

An Excerpt from the main text of Strolls with Pushkin

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Strolls with Pushkin

Eugene Onegin, Pushkin’s novel in verse, is one of the most influential works of Russian literature. In the below excerpt, the narrator “strolls” through Eugene Onegin, explaining why it’s a good thing that Pushkin was superficial, full of nonsense, and unconcerned with consequences.

Intrigued? For more context on Strolls with Pushkin, see the excerpt from Catharine Theimer Nepomnyaschy’s introduction: http://www.cupblog.org/?p=20320

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Excerpt from Catharine Theimer Nepomnyaschy’s introduction to Andrei Sinyavsky’s Strolls with Pushkin

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Strolls with Pushkin

Anglophone readers, and perhaps Americans in particular, have a hard time understanding the centrality of Pushkin to Russian culture. The most tempting comparison is to Shakespeare: after all, Pushkin and Shakespeare are the generally acknowledged “great writers” of their respective languages; both wrote not only lyric poetry but also longer, more complex works; both popularized plots that continue to energize the writing of others; both are taught in schoolrooms and authored phrases that have entered everyday speech. And, Pushkin really liked Shakespeare, a fact that seems to give an added imprimatur to the comparison. But to me, at least, Shakespeare has never felt as immediate as Pushkin. He’s much further removed temporally, of course, having been born in 1564 to Pushkin’s 1799, and that makes his language more removed from the modern idiom as well. And I suspect that Shakespeare’s Englishness contributes to this sense of distance for me as an American. But more than anything, it’s Pushkin’s ubiquity in Russian life that lacks an appropriate analog in the Anglophone world.

This ubiquity both motivates and makes possible Andrei Sinyavsky’s book Strolls with Pushkin. Sinyavsky wrote the book while in Dubrovlag, part of the Soviet gulag system (the “lag” in both words in short for “lager’” or “camp”). He explains that while politics and camp conditions were proscribed topics, it was entirely permissible to fill his bimonthly letters to his wife with musings on Pushkin. After all, what could be more innocent? Nevertheless, the resulting book would prove to be Sinyavsky’s most controversial, as Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy explains in her masterful introduction. Following a biography of Pushkin that begins with his birth and continues, in the form of an overview of the cult of Pushkin, past his death and up to the time when Sinyavsky was writing, Nepomnyashchy offers the following invitation to the text:

It is precisely the boundary between the revered and the irreverent Pushkins that Sinyavsky transgresses from the very beginning of his Strolls with Pushkin. He sets off on his meanderings through the “sacred verses” of the poet with the Pushkin of pushkinskie anekdoty as his companion in hopes of circumventing the “wreaths and busts” that enshrine the canonic Pushkin and finding the “beautiful original.” This initial border violation defines the course of Sinyavsky’s strolls throughout. At every step he challenges accepted dividing lines—between writer and critic, author and character, sacred and profane, art and life—in order to undermine the commonplaces of the Pushkin myth as well as the understanding of literature as a reflection of reality that the myth entails. His project, moreover, rests on an internal contradiction. If strolling is by definition aimless motion, how can one stroll in search of something? This paradox is ultimately resolved when Sinyavsky reaches his goal only to discover that it is “zero,” that it lies in the very imposture embodied in the anecdotal Pushkin with whom he began. His strolls have both attained their object and gone nowhere and thus become a paradigm for “pure art”—art that transcends purposes external to it and becomes an end in itself. As Sinyavsky observes, “Art strolls.”

To read more:

Check back later this week now for an excerpt from the main text of Strolls with Pushkin.

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The three inaugural titles of the Russian Library

The Russian Library series

“Sasha Sokolov’s classic Between Dog and Wolf is intricate and rewarding–a Russian Finnegans Wake.” — Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair

This week, we are featuring the three inaugural titles of the new Russian Library series of Russian literature in translation: Between Dog and Wolf, by Sasha Sokolov, translated and annotated by Alexander Boguslawski; Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays, by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler and translated by Chandler, Jesse Irwin, and Susan Larsen; and Strolls with Pushkin, by Andrei Sinyavsky, translated by Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy and Slava I. Yastremski.

Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about these books and their authors and translators on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

How I learned to love data visualization (again)

Better Presentations

This week, our featured book is Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks, by Jonathan Schwabish. Today, we are happy to feature a presentation by Schwabish himself on how he came to embrace the value of data visualization.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Better Presentations!

Jon Schwabish – How I learned to love data visualization (again) from VISUALIZED on Vimeo.