Even in the shade, sweat trickled down the backs and faces of the year-eight students. Ten of them stood nervously, each behind a short tower of hot bricks. “One more,” said the master, and the assistant year-threes hurried to the fire pit with tongs, carefully but quickly removing bricks from the flames and placing another on top of each of the ten smoldering stacks. One of the waiting year-eights, named Ton, muttered quietly, “Ah, what to choose, pain or failure?”
I've been reading a lot of vintage romance novels.
Incidentally, you get a lot of very special looks on the Underground when you're reading a well-worn copy of Sweet Savage Love. Especially, I suspect, as a thirty-something dude.
My romance reading is pretty new, it only started around three years now. What began as curiosity blossomed into, slightly unexpectedly, a genuine passion for the books. That's a metaphor for you. They're a lot of fun, they're culturally interesting, and - I don't want to gloss over the key point here: I really enjoy them.
I'm fascinated by instances where the creators of video games, RPGs, or comics change their worlds. The joy of fantasy is that everything is completely malleable. The history, the politics, the very physics of the universe - all can be changed at the creators' whim.
But what happens to the readers and players who are committed to that world? How do they deal with the upheaval?
Apple announced a $1b 'war chest' for original content (Wall Street Journal). This is still much, much less than its rivals - Netflix spends an estimated $6b each year, and Amazon Video $4.5b. Let's face it. That's a lot of money, but the world's richest company may be critically far behind. They can't follow in their rivals' footsteps with any hopes of catching up.
So, here's a lateral way of approaching it. What if they just bought the entire British fiction publishing industry?
The brand that lived
The managing director of the Licensing Industry Merchandising Association nails it in a guest piece for Campaign:
Harry Potter is more than the films, more than the books. It is a genuine lifestyle brand.... Along the way its brand DNA has grown to encompass imagination in all its infinite possibilities, outdoing conventional fashion brands at their own game.
I've argued in the past that Batman, Superman, Spider-man are all t-shirt brands with comic book spinoffs. I think Harry Potter belongs in that pantheon as well: geek culture brands where the identification is now so embedded that they're part of the visual vernacular. It isn't just about a nerd franchise being in Primark, it is about a nerd franchise being in Primark and coverage in the Sun.
If anything, Harry Potter's gone a step further and given us four lifestyle brands. Superhero logos say, generously, something about you. But the four Hogwarts houses have become a socially-accepted Meyers-Briggs self-classification.
I've been thinking about cities - and how we imagine and definite and interpret them - since the panel at Nine Worlds was announced. The panel itself, chaired by architect Amy Butt, and featuring Verity Holloway and Al Robertson, was brilliant and free-ranging.
One thing we didn't do is lapse into 'here are some books about cities that I recommend'. I'm grateful we skipped that because a) that's boring on a panel and b) that makes cracking blog content. Listicles are good fun.
Elizabeth Currid-Halkett's new book looks at the changing consumption habits of the wealthy in the West (especially America):
Over the past 100 years, improvements in technology and globalization have made consumer goods increasingly accessible to the average American. Currid-Halkett says this led to the “democratization of conspicuous consumption,” which has made consumer products a less appealing way for the wealthy to show their class. Rather, acts of conspicuous consumption are now focused on limited edition versions of goods that are difficult to imitate, like $20,000 Birkin bags and rare vintage wines.
Pride & Prejudice
On the one hand, you've read a classic. Congrats! On the other hand, you probably haven't read any other Austen besides Sense & Sensibility. Try harder. PS the Darcy-jumps-into-a-lake business is not in the book.
If you're not reading Lisa Schmeiser's So What, Who Cares,... get in there. It is a brilliant bi-weekly newsletter that connects the dots in fascinating ways. Her thoughts on this matter are much more considered, and interesting, than mine - so go read that.
The most recent issue examines the connections between Amazon and journalism. Not in the conspiratorial way, but in an economic one: Amazon affiliate links are a huge source of revenue for professional and amateur journalism.
The Dark Net (2017) is the new thriller from Benjamin Percy who - for many reasons - is on the 'must-read' pile. But we'll get to that in a moment. The Dark Net is a strangely 'classical' horror novel, in the Straub/King model, not, say, Poe. There's an evil rising in Portland, and a rag-tag group of people are drawn together to stop it.
Like a Straub or a King (or a McCammon or an F. Paul Wilson) there's a metaphysical element: a greater contest of Good and Evil taking place. It is implied that Portland is merely the latest battleground, but, unless our heroes band together... it could also be the last. If you know the genre, you know how it works, and can predict the properly embiggened and important ending.
While all the cosmic epic stuff happens up there (hand-waves), there's a lot of stuff happening on a more immediate, visceral level. The Dark Net is super-squishy, and properly downright terrifying. The monsters are monstrous and the people are worse. It is genuinely horrific in the true sense of the word: juxtaposing the uncanny and the unnatural into everyday life to get the reader recoiling in fear and disgust. Well done, really.