The best reads in culture, including observations on the US, the art of translation and Putin’s comparison of the Snowden affair to “shearing a pig”.

Poets And Czars From Pushkin To Putin
Mikhail Shishkin | The New Republic | 1 July 2013
Amusing and rather brilliant history of Russian cultural politics. “Poets appeared in Russia in the eighteenth century. They wore officers’ uniforms and mostly wrote odes for the accession of German empresses onto the Russian throne. In a country where life was lived according to the wartime principle of unity of command, everyone including poets served the government, which was personified by the autocracy. But everything changed with Pushkin.”

No Self-Mockery, Please, We’re American
Terry Eagleton | Chronicle Review | 1 July 2013
Observations on the American character. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek. “The good news about the citizens of this kindly, violent, bigoted, generous-spirited nation is that if ever the planet is plunged into nuclear war, they will be the first to crawl over the edge of the crater, dust themselves down, and proceed to build a new world. The bad news is that they will probably have started the war.”

How We Got Pukka
Josephine Livingstone | Prospect | 28 June 2013
Admiring review of Kate Teltscher’s abridged edition of Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases: “A lexical snapshot of a truly strange and fascinating moment in world history — the very pinnacle of British imperial dominance over other lands. The most interesting entries include something of the contemporary social mores of colonial British India, while also communicating linguistic mysteries behind common words.”

The Art of Translation
Vladimir Nabokov | New Republic | 27 June 2013
Republished from 1941. Why almost all translations are bad, the more so when Russian is involved. Rounded off with a homily on the difficulty of rendering even a single line of Pushkin adequately into English. “The tackling process lasted the worst part of the night. I did translate it at last; but to give my version at this point might lead the reader to doubt that perfection be attainable by merely following a few perfect rules.”      

Social History With A Smile
Mark Damazer | New Statesman | 27 June 2013
Another highly entertaining review of Modernity Britain, by David Kynaston, covering the years 1957-59. “The Kynaston method of compiling a vast array of sources and applying them with equal zest to the momentous and the ephemeral guarantees a rattling read. This is social, cultural and political history, more or less in that order, with a smile on its face.”

There Are Many Ways to Shear a Pig
Christopher Howse | Telegraph | 26 June 2013
Glorious fugue provoked by Vladimir Putin’s verdict on the Edward Snowden affair — “It’s like shearing a pig; plenty of squealing but not much wool.” If international affairs are to be conducted in proverbs, world leaders should stock up on gnomic statements. “The fire is never without heat. A quiet conscience sleeps in thunder. There’s no sun without shadow. Acorns were good till they found bread. Ah, yes, how true.”       

Huey Lewis’s Old, Weird America
Steven Hyden | Grantland | 25 June 2013
He was huge in the 1980s, and he’s still touring. Eighty shows this year, which is the 30th anniversary of the album, Sports. No longer a star, very much a working musician. “Lewis hasn’t been a fixture on pop radio for nearly 25 years, but he remains a reflexively mainstream artist. It’s not in his nature to upset the applecart. He’s still wired to give the public what it wants, however the public wants it, many years after the public has moved on.”

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