by Sunita

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday. In the arts prizes. Richard Powers won the fiction award for The Overstory (I was not a fan) and the finalists were The Great Believers and There There. I was very pleased to see Carlos Lozada win the criticism award since he’s a book critic. How often does that happen? And Darrin Bell became the first African-American to win the editorial cartooning prize. I shouldn’t be surprised, and yet I am.

I really enjoy Tim Parks’s posts in the NYRB blog. He is an novelist, translator (of Italian) and essayist, and I’ve been reading him since I came across his book on Italian soccer. This is a departure from his more recent essays on global literature and translation issues. It’s an exploration of the relationship between modes of travel and the novel:

I want to go further and suggest that there is actually a deep affinity between a book and a means of transport, just as there is an evident analogy between a story and a journey. Both go somewhere. Both offer us a way out of our routine and a chance to make unexpected encounters, see new places, experience new states of mind. But without too much risk. You fly over the desert, or race across it, but you don’t actually have to experience it. It’s a circumscribed adventure. So it is with a book. A novel may well be shocking or enigmatic or dull or compulsive, but it is unlikely to do you too much damage.

He closes with an unabashed love note to the way trains and novels go together, and I couldn’t agree more. There’s something about the pace and sound of rolling stock that goes with a big, thick novel. I’ve spent a lot of time on trains and reading everything from romantic sagas to Henry James has been an integral part of the experience. Ereaders have made traveling with books a lot easier, but I kind of miss sitting in a train compartment with a big fat book, working my way through the chapters as the miles roll by.

This story about rating and reviews in the sharing economy is really interesting. I don’t use sharing services except for the very occasional VRBO. I don’t like what the other calls the “blending of the social and commercial”:

“People are playing a game and pretending it’s a lovely social exchange — hosts sharing local tips with guests and guests sharing knowledge and skills from their native land — when it is, in fact, a business exchange,” he said. “Because money is exchanged via credit card, it’s largely invisible at the point of engaging and becomes something forgotten, or intentionally forgotten.”

I agree with the argument that it levels the playing field in terms of who has power, or at least makes the field closer to level. But it involves a type of emotional reciprocity under-girded by an implicit threat: if you’re not what I want I can affect your future ability to use or work in the service. It ties into the larger and very fraught subject of “social credit.” I don’t want to live my live with a “worthiness” number attached to me, and I don’t want anyone else to have to either.