New and noteworthy – 20 October 2016

A fresh run at Homer; unseen dirty work; all the lols of yoof-speak; and the link between Ayn Rand’s bad thoughts, worse writing and financial catastrophe

October 20, 2016
Statue of Homer, Bavarian State Library, Munich
Source: Rufus46

Barbara Graziosi
Oxford University Press

If Graziosi was daunted by the task of offering fresh perspectives on the Odyssey and the Iliad – and in the scope of such a brief format – there’s no sign of it in this clear, beautifully written, enthusiasm-radiating volume. We learn of textual and material clues to the Homeric question, the “poet in the poems”, Achilles’ wrath, Hector’s tragedy, wily Odysseus of course, the underworld, and women and monsters. On every page, insights such as this gleam: “For all the dangerous girls, women, goddesses, and monsters Odysseus meets on his way home, it is Penelope herself who constitutes the greatest peril for him.”

Housekeeping by Design: Hotels and Labor
David Brody
University of Chicago Press

Design scholar and unabashed hotel fan Brody serves up a wonderfully readable mix of personal anecdote, historical overview, theoretical analysis and ethnography in a perceptive study of the “invisible” work of housekeeping, and an industry that “does everything in its power to make certain that guests do not have to think about the hard work involved in cleaning guest rooms”. Labour organising and sustainability, “located” design practice and the spectacle of leisure travel, Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite and reality TV show Hotel Impossible, turndown service and TripAdvisor all find room at the inn.

Teen Talk: The Language of Adolescents
Sali A. Tagliamonte
Cambridge University Press

When her children reached preadolescence, a linguist discovered, “the kitchen table became an unexpected laboratory”, and the result is “linguistic analyses of some of the most frequent, innovative, but also intensely ill-reputed, features of teen language circa late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries”. Present and (in)correct are “so”, the “quoting ‘like’”, “yeah”, “stuff”, “whatever”, intensifiers and online abbreviations, as is a welcome examination of gender differences, and the parting observation that some day soon, “adults will talk with like, just, so, and all that stuff” and to the “youth of tomorrow it will sound stuffy and old-fashioned”.

Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in an Age of Globalization
Kjetil Fallan and Grace Lees-Maffei, editors

Everyone fancies a little exoticism in their design, of course, but historical studies of the subject have traditionally turned West. The able Norwegian and British editors of this valuable volume know that there’s more ground to be covered, and draw in contributors from five continents to deliver detail and analysis. Southern African design history (“does it exist?”), “Kiwiana” in New Zealand, Bohemian crystal, Japanese design and Pevsner, 1960s Lebanon, the myth of Danish design, the “transatlantic domestic dialogue” and the domestic advice genre, and tropes of authenticity in Mexican-American food packaging feature. Recommended.

How Bad Writing Destroyed the World: Ayn Rand and the Literary Origins of the Financial Crisis
Adam Weiner

Thesis: that appalling fiction by an appalling woman is not only a reliable shelf-scanning test when sizing up dates for arrogance or stupidity, but literally toxic. Weiner’s pugnacious look at the bad, bad, morally and stylistically bad books of Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum pans back to show us Alan Greenspan and the crash on one end of a comedy of horrors, and a key Rand influence, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, on the other, via Nabokov and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. You’ve got to love a scholar who starts with “On the Dubious Virtues of Selfishness” – and ends with “In the Graveyard of Bad Ideas”, a closing shot of Atlas Shrugged’s chain-smoking ghouls, a crack about lung cancer and the words “The vulture will always come home to roost.”

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