Monday, October 5, 2015

The death of Henning Mankell

Henning Mankell, the Swedish creator of the Inspector Kurt Wallander series, in Stockholm in June. CreditTt News Agency, via Reuters
Henning Mankell, the Swedish novelist and playwright best known for police procedurals that were translated into a score of languages and sold by the millions throughout the world, died on Monday in Goteborg, Sweden. He was 67.
The cause was cancer, said his literary agent Anneli Hoier. Last year, Mr. Mankell disclosed that doctors had found tumors in his neck and left lung.
Mr. Mankell was considered the dean of the so-called Scandinavian noir writers, who gained global prominence for novels that blended edge-of-your-seat suspense with flawed, compelling protagonists and strong social themes. Among the others are Arnaldur Indridason of Iceland, Jo Nesbo of Norway and Stieg Larsson of Sweden.
But it was Mr. Mankell who led the way, with 10 mystery novels featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander, a gruff but humane detective troubled by self-doubt, overeating, alcoholism and, eventually, dementia. Most of the action in those books takes place in and around Ystad, a real-life town of 18,350 inhabitants on the Baltic Sea, about 380 miles south of Stockholm, which has become a magnet for Wallander buffs.
Mr. Mankell's "Faceless Killers," published in 1991, won the Glass Key award. CreditOrdfront
Mr. Mankell divided his time between Stockholm and Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, where he was the artistic director of the main theater, Teatro Avenida.
“I came to Africa with one purpose: I wanted to see the world outside the perspective of European egocentricity,” he wrote in an essayfor The New York Times in 2011. “I could have chosen Asia or South America. I ended up in Africa because the plane ticket there was cheapest.”
Though Africa was rarely the main setting for Mr. Mankell’s detective novels, it informed his sensitivity to the mistreatment of non-European immigrants in enlightened Sweden.
“Solidarity with those in need run through his entire work and manifested itself in action until the very end,” Robert Johnsson, Mr. Mankell’s literary agent for Sweden, and Dan Israel, with whom he founded the publishing company Leopard, said in a statement.
In “Firewall” (1998), he managed to adeptly intertwine financial cybercrime with colonialism. That novel begins with the discovery of the body of what appears to be a heart attack victim lying in front of an A.T.M. in Ystad and the seemingly unconnected murder of a cabdriver by a teenage girl on the outskirts of the town.
The novel ends with the villain — a white doctor in Africa driven by anticolonialist rage — flying to Sweden in a frantic attempt to ignite a meltdown of the global financial system. Wallander saves the day, but only after stumbling into the conspiracy through his hapless affair with a woman who is the villain’s accomplice.
Mr. Mankell grew irritated over attempts by readers to trace elements of his life in Wallander’s. Still, the parallels were there. Born in Stockholm on Feb. 3, 1948, Mr. Mankell was abandoned by his mother, along with his two siblings, and they moved in with their father, a judge, in Sveg, a small community in northern Sweden.
Through his father’s court activities, Mr. Mankell learned about criminal cases in a small-town setting not unlike Wallander’s investigations in Ystad. And like the author’s mother, Wallander is an errant parent who abandons a child — though the two reconcile in the course of the detective series.
Mr. Mankell, whose grandfather was a composer, passed on his love of classical music to his famous detective. Wallander spends many lonely nights listening to Mozart operas or walking the windswept beaches of Ystad with his dog, Jussi — named after Jussi Bjorling, the great Swedish tenor.
And Wallander’s repeated failures at lasting romances echoed the author’s own: Mr. Mankell was married four times, the last to Eva Bergman, daughter of the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. “It shows I am an optimist,” Mr. Mankell said in a 2013 interview with The Guardian.
Mr. Mankell embarked on a literary career early. Hoping to emulate Joseph Conrad, he went to sea in the Swedish merchant marine at 16. But he quit when, after numerous voyages, he got no further than the British industrial port of Middlesbrough.
Besides, when he was 19 a play he had written was produced in Stockholm. A year later, he was named an assistant theater director and traveled around the country with touring productions.
It was not until 1991, when he was 43, that the first of his Wallander novels, “Faceless Killers,” was published. In the opening scene, Ystad police officers, led by Wallander, are called to an isolated farmhouse, where they find the owner, an elderly man, tortured to death. His wife, who has been bludgeoned, survives only long enough to utter a single word: “Foreign.” That incites Ystad mobs to attack local immigrants in revenge. The novel won the Glass Key award, given annually to a crime novel written by a Scandinavian.
Mr. Mankell’s popularity grew with each Wallander mystery. In “Sidetracked” (1995), a series of aged men, apparently model citizens, are killed in increasingly grisly fashion and then scalped by the murderer.
In “One Step Behind” (1997), three young revelers, dressed as 18th-century nobles, are found shot to death in a forest. And in “The Man Who Smiled” (1994), a depressed, alcoholic Wallander comes out of brief retirement to investigate a double murder that may be linked to a wealthy philanthropist.
Like almost all of the Wallander mysteries, these best sellers were adapted for television. The British actor and directorKenneth Branagh played Wallander in several BBC broadcasts. Perhaps the most successful Wallander screen portrayals were for Swedish television and starred the Swedish actor Krister Henriksson, whom Mr. Mankell often said came closest to his own image of the detective.
Income from his novels and their screen adaptations made Mr. Mankell a multimillionaire. But he continued to espouse often controversial left-wing views.
A virulent critic of Israel, he denounced the two-state solution as fraudulent. Writing for a leftist political blog, Pulse, after a visit to Israel and the West Bank in 2009, he called for “the fall of this disgraceful apartheid system.” In 2010 he was aboard one of the ships in the flotilla that tried to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. In a confrontation with Israeli forces on one of the boats, nine people were killed. Mr. Mankell, who was on another vessel, was arrested and deported back to Sweden.
He is survived by his wife, Ms. Bergman, and a son, Jon.
Mr. Mankell chafed at his failure to reach a broader audience outside of Sweden for his many works besides the Wallander series. In all, he wrote more than 40 volumes of fiction and 40 plays.
But some critics suggested that, like other mystery writers seeking higher literary recognition, Mr. Mankell could not escape the stylistic limitations of the detective genre.
In a 2007 Times review of his World War I-era naval novel “Depths,” Lucy Ellmann asserted Mr. Mankell was “encumbered with all those irritating little habits mystery writers can develop: staccato sentences, paragraphs and chapters,” as well as “that old audience-grabber, plot for plot’s sake, in the form of a murder every now and then (even the cat gets killed).”
Mr. Mankell eventually tired of Wallander. He ended the detective’s career with the publication of “The Troubled Man” (2009), in which Wallander bows out of the police force because of Alzheimer’s disease. “I shall not miss Wallander,” Mr. Mankell told The Guardian in 2013.
But his readers and many reviewers did.
“Detective Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander has solved his last case,” Marilyn Stasio lamented in a 2011 Times review. “Making this news more bitter, the alcoholic, diabetic, antisocial and perpetually dour Swedish detective is at his gloomy best in ‘The Troubled Man.’ ”

Friday, October 2, 2015

Quote du jour/Buddy Guy

If you haven't had a bad time in life, just keep living.
Buddy Guy from the movie
Keith Richards Under the Influence

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Today's picture/Hazel Nina's personal Face time

Hazel picked up my calculator, put it to her ear, got a book from the shelf, and went to the window. Tom was on the porch just outside. So I figure she was Face timing him to show him the book.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Good news for fans of print books

I was very happy to read this. As you may know, I use my kindle strictly at bedtime for ease of holding the book. My heart belongs to print books, and I have bought a lot in the past year.

From the New York Times.

The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead
Penguin Random House last year doubled the size of its distribution center in Crawfordsville, Ind., to speed up book distribution. 
A J Mast for The New York Times

Five years ago, the book world was seized by collective panic over the uncertain future of print.

As readers migrated to new digital devices, e-book sales soared, up 1,260 percent between 2008 and 2010, alarming booksellers that watched consumers use their stores to find titles they would later buy online. Print sales dwindled, bookstores struggled to stay open, and publishers and authors feared that cheaper e-books would cannibalize their business.

Then in 2011, the industry’s fears were realized when Borders declared bankruptcy.

“E-books were this rocket ship going straight up,” said Len Vlahos, a former executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit research group that tracks the publishing industry. “Just about everybody you talked to thought we were going the way of digital music.”

But the digital apocalypse never arrived, or at least not on schedule. While analysts once predicted that e-books would overtake print by 2015, digital sales have instead slowed sharply.
Steve Bercu, co-owner of a bookstore in Austin, Tex., where 2015 sales are up 11 percent, and profits are the highest ever.
Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Now, there are signs that some e-book adopters are returning to print, or becoming hybrid readers, who juggle devices and paper. E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.

E-books’ declining popularity may signal that publishing, while not immune to technological upheaval, will weather the tidal wave of digital technology better than other forms of media, like music and television.

E-book subscription services, modeled on companies like Netflix and Pandora, have struggled to convert book lovers into digital binge readers, and some have shut down. Sales of dedicated e-reading devices have plunged as consumers migrated to tablets and smartphones. And according to some surveys, young readers who are digital natives still prefer reading on paper.

The surprising resilience of print has provided a lift to many booksellers. Independent bookstores, which were battered by the recession and competition from Amazon, are showing strong signs of resurgence. The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago.

“The fact that the digital side of the business has leveled off has worked to our advantage,” said Oren Teicher, chief executive of the American Booksellers Association. “It’s resulted in a far healthier independent bookstore market today than we have had in a long time.”

Publishers, seeking to capitalize on the shift, are pouring money into their print infrastructures and distribution. Hachette added 218,000 square feet to its Indiana warehouse late last year, and Simon & Schuster is expanding its New Jersey distribution facility by 200,000 square feet.

Penguin Random House has invested nearly $100 million in expanding and updating its warehouses and speeding up distribution of its books. It added 365,000 square feet last year to its warehouse in Crawfordsville, Ind., more than doubling the size of the warehouse.

“People talked about the demise of physical books as if it was only a matter of time, but even 50 to 100 years from now, print will be a big chunk of our business,” said Markus Dohle, the chief executive of Penguin Random House, which has nearly 250 imprints globally. Print books account for more than 70 percent of the company’s sales in the United States.

The company began offering independent booksellers in 2011 two-day guaranteed delivery from November to January, the peak book buying months.

Other big publishers, including HarperCollins, have followed suit. The faster deliveries have allowed bookstores to place smaller initial orders and restock as needed, which has reduced returns of unsold books by about 10 percent.

Penguin Random House has also developed a data-driven approach to managing print inventory for some of its largest customers, a strategy modeled on the way manufacturers like Procter & Gamble automatically restock soap and other household goods. The company now tracks more than 10 million sales records a day, and sifts through them in order to make recommendations for how many copies of a given title a vendor should order based on previous sales.

“It’s a very simple thing; only books that are on the shelves can be sold,” Mr. Dohle said.

At BookPeople, a bookstore founded in 1970 in Austin, Tex., sales are up nearly 11 percent this year over last, making 2015 the store’s most profitable year ever, said Steve Bercu, the co-owner. He credits the growth of his business, in part, to the stabilization of print and new practices in the publishing industry, such as Penguin Random House’s so-called rapid replenishment program to restock books quickly.

“The e-book terror has kind of subsided,” he said.

Other independent booksellers agree that they are witnessing a reverse migration to print.

“We’ve seen people coming back,” said Arsen Kashkashian, a book buyer at Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Colo. “They were reading more on their Kindle and now they’re not, or they’re reading both ways.”

Digital books have been around for decades, ever since publishers began experimenting with CD-ROMs, but they did not catch on with consumers until 2008, shortly after Amazon released the Kindle.

The Kindle, which was joined by other devices like Kobo’s e-reader, the Nook from Barnes & Noble and the iPad, drew millions of book buyers to e-readers, which offered seamless, instant purchases. Publishers saw huge spikes in digital sales during and after the holidays, after people received e-readers as gifts.

But those double- and triple-digit growth rates plummeted as e-reading devices fell out of fashion with consumers, replaced by smartphones and tablets. Some 12 million e-readers were sold last year, a steep drop from the nearly 20 million sold in 2011, according to Forrester Research. The portion of people who read books primarily on e-readers fell to 32 percent in the first quarter of 2015, from 50 percent in 2012, a Nielsen survey showed.

Higher e-book prices may also be driving readers back to paper.

As publishers renegotiated new terms with Amazon in the past year and demanded the ability to set their own e-book prices, many have started charging more. With little difference in price between a $13 e-book and a paperback, some consumers may be opting for the print version.

On Amazon, the paperback editions of some popular titles, like “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, are several dollars cheaper than their digital counterparts. Paperback sales rose by 8.4 percent in the first five months of this year, the Association of American Publishers reported.

The tug of war between pixels and print almost certainly isn’t over. Industry analysts and publishing executives say it is too soon to declare the death of the digital publishing revolution. An appealing new device might come along. Already, a growing number of people are reading e-books on their cellphones. Amazon recently unveiled a new tablet for $50, which could draw a new wave of customers to e-books (the first-generation Kindle cost $400).

It is also possible that a growing number of people are still buying and reading e-books, just not from traditional publishers. The declining e-book sales reported by publishers do not account for the millions of readers who have migrated to cheap and plentiful self-published e-books, which often cost less than a dollar.
At Amazon, digital book sales have maintained their upward trajectory, according to Russell Grandinetti, senior vice president of Kindle. Last year, Amazon, which controls some 65 percent of the e-book market, introduced an e-book subscription service that allows readers to pay a flat monthly fee of $10 for unlimited digital reading. It offers more than a million titles, many of them from self-published authors.

Some publishing executives say the world is changing too quickly to declare that the digital tide is waning.

“Maybe it’s just a pause here,” said Carolyn Reidy, the president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster. “Will the next generation want to read books on their smartphones, and will we see another burst come?”

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday morning pancakes

I am on a bit of mission to do more cooking from my recipe boxes. This recipe has sat in the 'muffins and pancakes' box untried for 25 years. It is from a dear friend's neighbor who made them for us all those years ago.  She called them:

Healthy Pancakes (Amy's)

mix together:
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking powder
3/4 t. baking soda

beat lightly together and then stir into dry mixture:
1 egg
2 c. buttermilk
2 T. melted butter

I added some blueberries and raspberries.

Cook on a greased griddle.

These were great, and I won't wait another 25 years to make them! The recipe makes a lot of pancakes, plenty for Tom and I with enough batter left over for Matthew and Margaret to make pancakes for Hazel Nina.

You may go visit here to see what else is cooking this weekend.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Today's poem by Sara Clancy

When the test to predict Alzheimer's is available

I will be away from my desk
on a road trip to the Wind River Range. I will be drinking
coffee from a cardboard McDonald's cup. Or I will be home,
hanging Marianne's stained glass in the kitchen window or laundry
on a line. I will be kneading sour dough, writing poems or texting dog
pictures to my daughter. Straightening an oil painting of the three of us
in Manzanita, Oregon. Filling the hummingbird feeder. Reading an electronic
book published in 1813. Feeding my fish. Listening to Ladies of the Canyon.
I will be crocheting colors of my great grandmother into another new blanket.
Reminding my mother that she changed her password
and my father that I am his daughter
and my name is Sara. 

Sara Clancy
Kentucky Review 2014

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The amazing Agatha

This is from The New Yorker

In the course of her career, Agatha Christie killed hundreds of characters: some by drowning, some by stabbing, and one with a crowbar. But her preferred murder weapon was chemical, rather than physical. “Give me a decent bottle of poison,” she is supposed to have said, “and I’ll construct the perfect crime.”
Or, perhaps, the perfect murder mystery: as Kathryn Harkup demonstrates, inadvertently, in a new book, “A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie,” Christie’s fictions are profoundly shaped by the poisons that their characters skillfully employ. What’s more, those characters enjoy relatively unfettered access to a range of exotic toxins, in a way that a would-be murderer could only dream of today. One begins to suspect that, among the many factors that gave us Christie’s enormously popular novels, we must count the particular period for poisoning in which she lived.
Harkup is a chemist, as well as a Christie fan. Christie, she writes, “freely admitted to knowing nothing about ballistics,” but used poisons “with a high degree of accuracy.” Christie also used them far more frequently than any of her contemporaries. Her meticulous use of strychnine was even remarked upon in a review in the Pharmaceutical Journal, much to Christie’s delight.
Her expertise can be traced back to volunteer service in the local hospital dispensary during the First World War, during which time Christie trained as an apothecary’s assistant. She successfully passed her exams in 1917, after receiving private tuition from a local commercial pharmacist. Mr. P., as she referred to him, was a rather alarming character, whom Christie caught making a potentially fatal mistake while formulating suppositories, and who carried a lump of curare in his pocket at all times, because, he said, “it makes me feel powerful.”
Mr. P. went on to play a starring role in one of Christie’s later mysteries, “The Pale Horse,” and Christie’s firsthand experience in the delicate art of handling potentially deadly drugs became central to her books. In Christie’s fictional universe, as Joan Acocella has written for this magazine, emotional depth is forgone in favor of elaborate and entertaining puzzles. After all, as Acocella points out, “if she had given her characters any psychological definition, we could have solved the mystery,” and the addictive quality of Christie’s whodunit formula would have suffered as a result. The cold, calculating nature of murder by poisoning, as opposed to the violent passion implicit in a stabbing or strangulation, is precisely suited to propelling plots in which any one of the characters could be the culprit, all the way until the very end. In many ways, the poison was the personality in Christie’s stories—the element of surprise amid an otherwise reassuring collection of country-house clichés.
According to Harkup, when it came to poisons, “Christie invariably played with a straight bat”: no untraceable poisons, no implausible sourcing, and just three invented drugs, only one of which was used to kill. Harkup plays it equally straight, sticking to her own formula so closely as to risk tedium. After a promising introduction, readers are left to plod through the next fourteen chapters, each of which details, in the same order, the toxicology, availability, famous real-life cases, and Christie’s fictional use of arsenic, strychnine, cyanide, and eleven other poisons. Fortunately, interesting tidbits emerge: digitalis intoxication may have been responsible for van Gogh’s “yellow period”; eating phosphorus-laden match heads was a surprisingly common method of suicide in the nineteen-twenties; and arsenic was popular enough among murderers that its French nickname was poudre de succession, or “inheritance powder.”
More intriguingly, out of the somewhat mind-numbing accumulation of detail, it becomes possible to discern the ways in which chemistry, rather than character, drives Christie’s plots. It is the poison that provides the pacing, for example, in the Hercule Poirot mystery “Five Little Pigs,” in which the time it takes for a lethal dose of hemlock to take effect allows five potential murderers, all of whom have good cause to wish the unlucky Amyas Crale dead, the opportunity to strike. Again and again, the varying availability, symptoms, antidotes, and post-mortem detection methods of particular poisons shape both the actual crimes and Christie’s careful orchestration of red herrings and clues. Arsenic’s solubility in hot water, atropine’s bitter taste, even phosphorus’s propensity to endow its victims’ intestines with an eerie glow, not to mention “smoking-stool syndrome”—in each case, it is the poison’s strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies that structure the narrative and eventually allow Miss Marple, Poirot, or one of Christie’s other amateur detectives to solve the mystery.
Indeed, as the examples (and dead bodies) mount up, Christie’s rigorous rejection of character and motivation in favor of chemical agency comes to seem almost avant-garde. Meanwhile, as Harkup points out, while she favored cyanide, Christie was frequently esoteric in her choice of poisons. Hemlock, for example, had not been used in an intentional poisoning since Socrates’ day, according to Harkup. Ricin, which is deployed against four members of the same household in “The House of Lurking Death,” had no track record as a murder weapon at the time Agatha Christie was writing, Harkup says, despite being potent, untreatable, and easily consumed accidentally in the form ofcastor-oil seeds. “In many respects,” Harkup writes, Christie’s use of ricin “was years ahead of her time.” (Ricin had a brief moment of notoriety when the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was assassinated in London using a ricin-tipped umbrella, in 1978, but its current fame is owed mostly to Walter White, of “Breaking Bad,” who favored ricin as a means of disposing of anyone who got in his way.)
What’s most striking about Harkup’s exhaustive descriptions, however, is the portrait they draw of a culture awash in poisons. In early-twentieth-century Britain, patent tonics contained strychnine, opium could be bought over the counter without question, and no gardener’s shed was without a stock of potassium cyanide (for use as an insecticide). Meanwhile, the Industrial Revolution had democratized arsenic: as a byproduct of smelting iron ore, arsenic trioxide was scraped out of chimneys in vast quantities. “Soon,” according to Harkup, “anyone and everyone could afford enough arsenic to dispatch an unwanted relative or inconvenient enemy.” The nineteen-twenties and thirties, when Agatha Christie began her career, are known as the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction,” in which a cohort of mostly British authors defined the standards of the genre. Seen through the lens of Harkup’s research, it seems equally to have been the golden age of poisons, after the first flowering of organic chemistry and before the stricter regulations that arrived after the Second World War. Never before or since, it seems, has the would-be murderer—or murder-mystery writer—been furnished with such a range of easily available toxins.
Indeed, Christie’s attention to detail left her open to the accusation that she offered a handbook for would-be murderers. Harkup recounts a 1977 case in France, in which Roland Roussel, a fifty-eight-year-old office worker, murdered his aunt using atropine eye drops. The gendarme who found a copy of the Miss Marple mystery “The Tuesday Club Murders” in Roussel’s apartment reportedly declared, “I’m not saying Roussel was inspired by the book, but we found it in his apartment with the relevant passages on poison underlined.”
At the same time, Christie’s precision when it came to poisons can apparently be credited with saving at least two lives. Harkup quotes a 1975 letter from a woman in South America who had raised justified suspicion that an acquaintance was being poisoned by his young wife: she wrote to Christie in thanks, concluding, “but of this I am quite, quite sure—had I not read ‘The Pale Horse’ and thus learned of the effects of thallium poisoning, X would not have survived.” Two years later, soon after Christie’s own death, a nurse with a taste for mysteries spotted the symptoms of thallium poisoning in a nineteen-month-old in Qatar. In their report, the child’s physicians acknowledged their indebtedness “to the late Agatha Christie for excellent and perceptive clinical descriptions, and to Nurse Maitland for keeping us up to date with the literature.”