The week’s best arts and culture reads – including Beethoven’s gastrointestinal distress, book festival economics and why Angelina Jolie is a perfect celebrity.

A history of gendered pronouns
Gretchen McCullough | The Toast | 2 June 2014
Smart, funny and full of gems. "If you’ve ever seen people complain about singular 'they' or so-called generic 'he', or if you’re just really not so keen on gender binaries, you may have wondered what life and language would be like without gender pronouns. So put your linguist slippers on and get comfy, because we’re about to take an epic voyage across time and space." 

Beethoven exposed
George Stauffer | Weekly Standard | 1 June 2014
John Suchet’s “highly entertaining” biography, Beethoven, The Man Revealed, delivers what the title promises. The music scarcely gets a mention. “Beethoven’s erratic behavior and fiery temperament are front and center.” His gastrointestinal problems get pages to themselves. It works. “Rigorous Beethoven scholarship this is not. Yet, somehow, we forgive Suchet, for if he is shameless, he is also sincere.” 

Translating Frozen into Arabic
Elias Muhanna | New Yorker | 3 May 2014
Disney has opted to translate Frozen into Modern Standard Arabic, rather than the more usual Egyptian Arabic. A curious decision. The effect is rather akin to using the English of the King James Bible. The chorus of Let It Go renders roughly as: “Discharge thy secret! I shall not bear the torment! … I dread not all that shall be said! Discharge the storm clouds! The snow instigateth not lugubriosity within me.” 

The Economics of Book Festivals
Carl Wilkinson | Financial Times | 30 May 2014
Britain’s big four book festivals – Oxford, Hay, Edinburgh and Cheltenham – put on more than 2,000 talks and sell more than half a million tickets. But authors are rarely paid more than £150 ($250) to talk there; at Hay the standard fee is six bottles of wine. Authors grumble. Organisers say the overheads and risks are high. “While a literary festival might run for 10 days, it may well have taken the best part of a year to put together.” 

The Making Of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love
Marc Myers | Wall Street Journal | 29 May 2014
Jimmy Page tells the story, with help from engineers George Chkiantz and Eddie Kramer. “As soon as I developed the riff, I knew it was strong enough to drive the entire song, not just open it. When I played the riff for the band in my living room several weeks later during rehearsals for our first album, the excitement was immediate and collective. We felt the riff was addictive, like a forbidden thing.” 

The man who shot The Godfather
Chris McCoy | The Believer | 29 May 2014
Interview with Gordon Willis, cinematographer who worked with Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola. “There was never a dull moment with Francis. They also used too much dynamite in the car when we blew up Apollonia [in The Godfather]. It put a crack down the side of the villa. It was never a good idea to turn your back and miss what was being said. Francis tended to make a different movie with whoever he was talking to.” 

Angelina Jolie’s Perfect Game
Anne Helen Petersen | Buzzfeed | 29 May 2014
Jolie “plays the celebrity game better than anyone else in the business”. Her image is “built on the infrastructure of the status quo – a straight, white, doting mother engaged in a long-term monogamous relationship”. Life with Brad Pitt is “just extraordinary enough to truly entice but never offend”. “Lots of celebrities had kids; others had adopted kids; some even had twins. But none had all of the above.”

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