Today in brief: In this week's Friday High Five, we look at a quirky pie chart of the themes in a Murakami novel, new covers for Lolita, the cultural meaning of The Hunger Games, and the good and bad of US food culture. And 35 years on, Armistead Maupin reflects on writing Tales of the City - recalling an editor who kept charts to ensure the series' homosexual characters 'didn’t suddenly outnumber the hetero ones’.
Fans and sceptics alike will enjoy this chuckle-worthy breakdown of a typical Murakami novel. there’s cats, classical music, bizarre dream sequences and jazz. It’s all there; the only thing to disagree about is the percentages. Personally, we think 25% cats may be overstating it a bit.
Three years ago, architect and blogger John Bertram ran a competition asking designers to come up a better cover for Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, a novel that has been often misinterpreted as portraying a teenage sexpot and seducer. ‘We are talking about a novel which has child rape at its core,’ says Bertram, who challenged the designers to do justice to its dark complexities. The competition has spawned its own book, with 60 new designs. A Salon article shares a few of them.
We all know that The Hunger Games is the new Twilight, which was the new Harry Potter. When books strike such a chord with such a broad and populous fan base, they usually says as much about our culture – and the fears, desires, fantasies or questions it’s tapping into – as it does about the book or its author. On the eve of The Hunger Games movie, Salon’s Andrew O'Heihr takes a deeper look.
‘The Hunger Games taps into a vibrant current of pop culture and indeed of Western civilization in general, one that never really runs dry. It’s the idea that our species remains cruel and barbarous at heart, that the strong will always rule the weak by whatever means necessary, and that our collective obsession with sports and games and other forms of manufactured entertainment is a flimsy mask for sadism and voyeurism.’
Ten years after Fast Food Nation was published, Eric Schlosser reflects on what’s changed and what hasn’t. It’s sobering. He reports that the annual revenues of America’s fast-food industry have risen by about 20 per cent since 2001. The annual cost of the nation’s obesity epidemic (‘about $168 billion’) is, alarmingly, the same as the amount Americans spent on fast food in 2011. And in 2008, 143 million pounds of meat (one fourth of it purchased for federal school lunch and nutrition programs) had to be recalled.
On the other hand, there is a significant growth in those who are embracing a new food culture, championed by the likes of Alice Waters and recent Wheeler Centre guest Jamie Oliver, involving farmers' markets, organic food and school gardens. ‘The contrast between the thin, fit, and well-to-do and the illness-ridden, poor and obese has no historical precent,’ writes Schlosser, in a piece published by The Daily Beast.
Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is now officially middle-aged: the series celebrates its 35th birthday this year. To mark the occasion, Maupin – whose life was so entwined with his stories that he used Michael Tolliver’s coming-out letter to his parents to come out to his own – has written a gorgeous reflective piece for the Guardian. He was often at odds with his editors over his insistence that ‘gay folks’ were part of the human landscape and deserved equal billing in his chronicle of modern life. ‘One of them even kept an elaborate chart in his office to insure that the homo characters in Tales didn’t suddenly outnumber the hetero ones and thereby undermine the natural order of civilisation.’
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