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The week’s best arts and culture reads – including how mobile phones ruined storytelling, the revival of forgotten words and the perils of quotation.
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Literature | Cellphones: Enemy of storytelling
Authors of literary fiction seem to hate mobile phones, at least in their books. And with good reason. When allowed into the plot they ruin coincidences, avert tragedies, dispel uncertainties and allow everybody to talk at once without being overheard. A popular avoidance strategy is to set the story in the 1980s and early 1990s – a “nostalgic present”, when life is modern save for all the mobiles. (Steve Himmer, The Millions, 2,720 words)

Classical music | Be careful what you quote
The young Estonian composer Jonas Tarm has written an orchestral work, March to Oblivion, which is unplayable. Not because of its technical difficulty, but because it includes a 45-second quotation from the Horst Wessel Lied, anthem of the Nazi Party. No major New York hall will touch it. Tarm says the usage was meant “not to provoke but to evoke”. But can such precise intentions ever be clearly conveyed in music? (William Germano, Lingua Franca, 730 words)

Language | Re-using forgotten words
Nature writing is flourishing in Britain to the point at which authors struggle for words to name and describe things in country life which have been neglected in print for hundreds of years. In his new book, Landmarks, Robert McFarlen proposes a glossary of ancient words for modern use. The Gaelic èit, for example, describes “the practice of placing quartz stones in moorland streams so that they sparkle in moonlight and attract salmon in the late summer and autumn”. (Philip Hoare, New Statesman, 2,180 words)

Classical music | The genius of Schubert’s songs
Discussion of Franz Schubert: The Complete Songs, by Graham Johnson – a “vast encyclopaedia” which constitutes “one of the great modern monuments of practical musicology”. In his lifetime Schubert was compared unfavourably to Beethoven, and the song-writing in which he excelled was considered a minor genre. But as the stature of song has risen, becoming the most popular musical form in modern times, so Schubert’s reputation has risen with it. His songs are understood now as masterpieces. (Ian Bostridge, New York Review Of Books, 3,325 words)

Literature | How Grimm’s fairy tales evolved
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s anthology of German folk tales went through seven editions between 1812 and 1857, changing profoundly as it found a wider and wider market. The first edition is full of brutal stories about murder, sex and cannibalism, which the Grimms never intended to be read by children. By the final edition the stories have been shortened, expurgated and overlaid with Christian morals. The first edition is meant for scholars, and belongs to the oral tradition. The last edition has been honed for the literary public. (Jack Zipes, Humanities, 2,200 words)

Design | Ikea has conquered the world
Ikea is brilliant at selling Ikea everywhere in the world. Eight of its ten biggest stores are in China. After a hasty first try at expanding into America flopped 30 years ago, the Swedish firm took a step back and saw the importance of studying local cultures, even ones that seemed at first glance to be familiar. Its catalogues serve as pedagogical tools showing how Ikea products can fit into local lifestyles. But some things are universal: the internal Ikea nickname for a product that takes too long to put together is a “husband killer”. (Beth Kowitt, Fortune, 3,400 words)

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