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Daily Office:


16 April 2010


Matins: Not to worry! Jason Kottke assures us that children's books in print will be the very last to go, notwithstanding the blandishments of the iPad Alice. He tells us so in his response to Kevin Rose's despairing tweet.

However, I'd like to assure the childless Rose that if paper books ever go extinct (they won't), paper children's books will be the last to go, particularly among the pre-K crowd. E-books are "broken" in several ways that are important to kids, not the least of which is that paper books are super useful as floors in really tall block buildings.

Say we: Just ask Ollie.

Lauds: Here's the finish of a (Murdoch Era!) Wall Street Journal story that Renée Fleming hopes that you won't finish. (via Arts Journal)

Over her career, Ms. Fleming has performed more than 50 operatic roles, and she is unlikely to learn many more. Few left are suitable for her voice. In recent years, she has favored recitals, which are more lucrative. Opera "fees are fixed around the world," she explained. She receives as much as $15,000 a night; the lengthy on-site rehearsals are uncompensated. Recitals, which take less time to prepare, let her stay in New York more often during the school year. They also allow her the luxury of recreational travel, especially during the summer, when she can bring her girls along. She is eager to do more. "For years, I had no time for exploratory travel," she said, which was a sacrifice because "all of my hobbies are culturally based—art, especially 20th-century art, theater, all kinds of music. And nature, too." In tune with the travel objective, she would like to be a cultural ambassador for the U.S.

At one point during the interview Ms. Fleming said she wanted to perform at private concerts—for corporations, say —but started to explain that they are difficult to slot into a schedule booked so far in advance. "Oh, wait," she said, stopping. "This is for The Wall Street Journal, right? I would love to do more private concerts."

Prime: On our first visit to EConned, we discover the Rahm Emanuel parallax. We forget what a parallax is, and Ms Smith's entry reminds us of rubbing green twigs together in the rain, but it's Friday, and we still feel that the Magnetar story needs to be Out There.

And the hedge fund’s cagey bet on Rahm? Litowitz and his wife had never before made significant political donations. In 2005, they started giving to Rahm and his PACs, and only PACs connected to Rahm, just before the Magnetar CDO program began, and continued through the first quarter of 2008, when the trade would have started to pay out handsomely. The Litowitzs gave a total of $8,000 to Emanuel and $10,000 to his Our Common Values PAC in May 2005. In 2006 and 2007, they contributed $51,700 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, while Emanuel was chairman. We have been advised by individuals involved in political fundraising that the amounts given would be considered significant, and the way the payments were distributed across the PACs is sophisticated. Put it another way: this money was not given impersonally.

If there's a real story here, it's Fire Larry Summers.

Tierce: Dweck's Paradox: If you praise your child by telling her that she is smart, and she is smart, she will probably conclude that you are an idiot for saying such a thing. In New York Magazine, Po Bronson grasps how hard it is not to use the S word.

Truth be told, while my son was getting along fine under the new praise regime, it was I who was suffering. It turns out that I was the real praise junkie in the family. Praising him for just a particular skill or task felt like I left other parts of him ignored and unappreciated. I recognized that praising him with the universal “You’re great—I’m proud of you” was a way I expressed unconditional love.

Offering praise has become a sort of panacea for the anxieties of modern parenting. Out of our children’s lives from breakfast to dinner, we turn it up a notch when we get home. In those few hours together, we want them to hear the things we can’t say during the day—We are in your corner, we are here for you, we believe in you.

In a similar way, we put our children in high-pressure environments, seeking out the best schools we can find, then we use the constant praise to soften the intensity of those environments. We expect so much of them, but we hide our expectations behind constant glowing praise. The duplicity became glaring to me.

Eventually, in my final stage of praise withdrawal, I realized that not telling my son he was smart meant I was leaving it up to him to make his own conclusion about his intelligence. Jumping in with praise is like jumping in too soon with the answer to a homework problem—it robs him of the chance to make the deduction himself.

Sext: Sam Sifton has so much fun reviewing a fashionable foodery in the heart of Madison Avenue's tenderloin that we must serve up a generous helping of extracts. The first three paragraphs are setup; go straight to the "crisp artichokes" for the truffles. But be aware that the Upper East Side is studded with places like Nello. For a reason! (NYT)

Nello, which opened in 1992, is an ecosystem that is almost incomprehensible to those not a part of it. The food is not very good. Yet the restaurant’s customer base is built of the richest and most coddled people in the city, who love it for its elegance and, perhaps, simplicity.

It is a private club of sorts, where the dues are paid nightly. The meetings are unadvertised. Nello’s dining room can be crowded at 3 p.m. or midnight. It can also be empty at 1 p.m. or 9 p.m. Regular patrons respond to whistles mere customers cannot hear.

The table of four that night was made up of that latter group: New Yorkers relatively new to the restaurant, unknown to the management.

They ate crisp artichokes offered as carciofi alla giudia. These tasted of shirt cardboard. They ate sawdusty chicken livers lashed with balsamic. They sipped at lentil soup familiar to anyone who owns a can opener and shared too-salty saffron risotto, correctly yellow, of no particular flavor.

They gummed at cannelloni with mushrooms that from the grit on them might actually have been harvested wild, as well as at rubbery swordfish drenched in mustard sauce, then laughed about lobster ravioli so tasteless it might have been prop food for an advertisement.

Only an arugula salad with fontina and pears could have been mistaken for something good to eat.

Nones: As part of our Irresponsible Spring Break Friday reportage, we turn to Al Jazeera for news that some/many Poles are outraged that would-be flight director Lech Kaczynski will be buried in Krakow's Wawel Castle. We did check the Times first, but it didn't have a story on this vital follow-up. (via The Morning News)

Poles also organised protest campaigns on social media site Facebook, with a group called "No to the Kaczynskis burial in Wawel" attracting over 30,000 fans.

"If President Kaczynski had died of natural causes he would never have been buried in Wawel," Jerzy Meysztowicz, a Civic Platform (PO) politician in Krakow, told Reuters.

"All the president's faults will soon be in the spotlight and in many cases sorrow will turn to hate."

The leading Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza also opposed the move, calling the decision "hasty and emotional" in a front page editorial.

But allies of the late president defended the decision, which was made after consultations on Tuesday between the church and family members, including Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president's brother.

Wawel is a large complex of buildings on the Vistula river that includes a castle, cathedral and fortifications, and traces its roots as a centre of political power back to the end of the first millennium.

As well as Polish kings, the Wawel crypt also contains the bodies of legendary military commander Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who fought in the US war of independence, Poland's wartime leader Wladyslaw Sikorski, and national poet Adam Mickiewicz.

Vespers: It was inconceivable that Paul Harding's Tinkers would win the Pulitzer Prize without Cinderella's stepsisters trying to find out how it happened. Turns out to have been good, old-fashioned gatekeeping. (Globe; via Arts Journal)

The author’s unlikely success story is rooted in a series of personal interactions between publishers, booksellers, and reviewers that launched a book the old-fashioned way. There were no media campaigns, Twitter feeds, or 30-city tours. Instead, the success of “Tinkers’’ can be linked to a handful of people who were so moved by the richly lyrical story of an old man facing his final days that they had to tell others about it.

“This wasn’t social media,’’ says Michael Coffey, co-editor of Publishers Weekly and a big booster of “Tinkers.’’ “It was real word of mouth and somebody picking up a lunch check.’’


That May, the galleys arrived, with blurbs from some of the esteemed writers Harding had studied with over the years — Barry Unsworth, Elizabeth McCracken, and Marilynne Robinson. Goldman, a veteran of several major publishers before joining Bellevue, met Publishers Weekly’s Coffey for lunch. She handed him a galley.

He started reading it at work, went home for dinner, and kept reading until midnight. “It’s not something I normally do,’’ he said. “But it was just so beautifully written. I don’t often see prose like that. I saw him as a sort of heir to Updike.’’


At the same time, Lise Solomon, who lives just outside San Francisco and serves as a sales representative for a group of small presses, sat on her couch devouring her advance copy of “Tinkers.’’

“I sat and lingered over it,’’ she said of the 191-page book. “I read and reread it, because the writing is so luscious and I didn’t want to read it in an hour.’’

Compline: The elusive VX Sterne hated the vacations that his parents put him through as a child, and he vowed to do things differently when he grew up. As indeed he has, given that his family never want for showers or other creature comforts. Nevertheless, our favorite anonymous executive is characteristically haunted.

Looking back at what I wrote above, I can see that my attitude towards vacations is not all that different from my parents’. I, like them, approach vacation with a grim determination to do something other than enjoy myself. The only difference is they were determined to save money, while I am determined to find a safe haven.

At least I’m not hot, sweaty and caked in dirt when I return.

If I return, that is.

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