Friday, June 02, 2006

Street lit, Voltaire's letters, and recommendations

  • Brendan Koerner introduces the whiteys to street lit at Slate.
First it was "chick lit," then it was "lad lit," and now here comes "street lit," here exemplified by an admittedly entertaining-sounding tome called Candy Licker, the author going by the nom de plume Noire (of course). This is oh so much marketing crap, these "[fill-in-the-blank] lit" categorizations, evidence of advertisers trying to create trends where none actually exist, and it's disheartening to see advertising approaches for books focusing on narrower and narrower markets. Nevertheless, solicitations aside, they'll still end up being subjected to the same test as every other piece of writing: is it any good?
  • A Russian art dealer has purchased the correspondence of Voltaire and Catherine the Great.
Thomas Bompard, a manuscript expert at Sotheby's in Paris who looked after the archive, said: "Voltaire and Catherine never met, but the relationship between these great characters of the 18th century was conducted through these letters." The most telling comments in the letter for today's Russia refer to Catherine's governing style. Mr Bompard said Voltaire, who lambasted the French monarchy during the Enlightenment for its excesses, approved of her role as an "enlightened despot". Catherine, who ruled Russia for three decades until her death in 1796, viewed herself a patron of the arts and liberty, and a "philosopher on the throne", but has been criticised for the little she did for the millions of peasants in her empire.
Ah, well. At least we still have Candide to remember him by.
This is similar to the recommendations offered by Amazon and Netflix, in that the site tailors its recommendations to you based on the ratings you assign to what you've read in the past. It's not exactly comprehensive; I entered the book I'm reading now (The Magic Kingdom by Stanley Elkin) and came up with a recommendation for a Doctor Who book, which isn't quite to my taste. Then I entered Gravity's Rainbow and came up with recommendations for books by William Least Heat-Moon, Erich Maria Remarque, William Gaddis and others, some of which I've actually read, too, so it's not a total wash. You can also take a "What have I read?" test that will help refine your recommendations; it's a pretty fun way for a book lover to kill some time.

No comments: