Saturday, December 17, 2011

NewsLink, Sydney Airport, Australia

The NewsLink books and convenience store at the Sydney International Airport. Michael Connelly's latest, The Drop, and Isaac Walterson's Steve Jobs were among the prominently placed tomes.

NewsLink Pty Ltd (or LS travel retail Asia Pacific - formerly known as Lagardère Services Asia Pacific) is an Australian company responsible for providing convenience items and travel products in airports and train stations in AustraliaChinaHong KongSingaporeTaiwan, and Fiji. []

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sydney Opera House, Australia

This is a photo of the Sydney Opera House - also a World Heritage Site, as seen from my hotel room at the Sydney Harbour Marriott at Circular Quay.

The views from the other side of the bay, the Admiralty House, are spectacular, as can be seen from so many  other photos of the building. As seen from the hotel, the photo can only hint at the marvelous beauty of this structure.

And this is the room from where I took the photo of the Opera House. The room's not bad at all, but then, it's like any other good hotel room.

I shot this photo below, again from the hotel room, at about 6AM local time. As you can see, while it was supposed to be summer (middle of November) - because in the southern hemisphere November is summer, but the skies were overcast, there was nary a trace of the sun, and there was a strong hint of rain in the evening. Which is just as well. I did not have any time to even step out of the hotel and do sightseeing, so this suited me just fine. It would have been awful to have been inside an office while the weather outside was warm, sunny, and inviting.

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© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Cheap by Ellen Ruppel Shell

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, by Ellen Ruppel Shell

Excellent and inexpensive (not cheap!) except for the isolated broadsides against capitalism and globalization

A very engaging journey through the history of cheap, from shops to malls to outlets to sales to IKEA to shrimps to globalization. Ignore the brief denunciations of capitalism and globalization and this is a five-star book. Thankfully much of the globalization phillipic is isolated at the beginning and end.

This book argues that cheap is different from a bargain. Cheap implies lack of longevity, lack of craftsmanship, and hidden costs that are sometimes not apparent till several years or decades after the purchase. Globalization is an imperative and inevitable but its costs are heavy. The book covers territory that is expected - the beginnings of the discount retail culture, but which requires a journey into the years following American independence to understand the underpinnings of cheap - standardization and industrialization. The insidious strategy behind outlet malls is an eye-opener. The psychology of sales, rebates, and coupons is also discussed by looking at how the mind works and responds to sales (answer: when confronted with sales we don't think much, and the little thinking that we do do is muddled and confused).  When you talk about cheap you have to talk about superstores, food, IKEA, and China. India too gets a mention, but it is China that is today the manufacturing outsourcer to the world. The book does not cover "cheap" in the context of software, else India would have received its share of, err, attention. The industrialization of food has been covered in the definitive classic of our times, "Fast Food Nation", but there is new and relevant information to be found here - shrimp farming in Thailand and the havoc it has wreaked on the economies and the environment in those countries for one. The author also argues that it is the expansion of the global and interconnected labor force that has actually done the American worker more harm than good. By flattening the world, and making outsourcing feasible and economical, the American worker has been shorn of bargaining power.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

The Brass Verdict, by Michael Connelly (Kindle e-book, Flipkart, my user review on
Gripping page-turner
4 stars
Rich guy of dubious innocence, a double-murder, and Michael Haller again in the middle of it. This book is also a page-turner, though, reading it very soon after "The Lincoln Lawyer", the pace and narrative felt familiar. Life for Haller, our competent but flawed lawyer, is trying to pick his practice up, when a lucky break, in the form of a murder of a former colleague of his, lands an entire practice in his hands. With that practice comes the case of Walter Elliot. Elliot is accused of murdering his wife and her lover. Forensic tests confirm gun powder residue on Elliot's hands. But is he really guilty? The murder weapon has not been found. Furthermore, there is the question of a possibly tainted juror, an FBI interest in the case, and a detective, Harry Bosch, who may be using Haller as bait. Bosch and Haller share a tense relationship through the novel, trying to figure out how much to reveal and to what extent to keep their cards close to their chests.
There is, expectedly, ample ink devoted to the courtroom in the form of jury selection, how and when to exercise the right to strike a juror, expert witnesses, and more. The setting is the city of angels, Los Angeles, and the author evidently likes, if not loves, the city enough to bring the reader into the city.

A satisfying read.

Kindle Excerpt:

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Barnes and Noble, Redwood City

The Barnes and Noble bookstore in Redwood City, California (store link). As opposed to earlier visits to different Barnes and Noble bookstores, the store this time felt a bit sparse, and a little less lively. Maybe it is a sign of the times, what with traditional booksellers fighting an increasingly losing battle first against online vendors, and now against e-books themselves.

Their non-fiction bestsellers rack had a lot of familiar titles, including the latest by Michael Lewis, "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World", "That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back" by Thomas Friedman, "Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever" by Bill O'Reilly.

The bargain priced shelves are always fun to browse. You can also sometimes find really good bargains that you like, like a Calvin and Hobbes collection, or a "Far Side" book, or jigsaw puzzles.

The Barnes and Noble book store entrance faces the North-West in the building at the bottom.

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© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bangalore Book Festival 2011

I had visited the Bangalore Book Festival last year (see blog post and post with photos). This year also the festival is running at the Bangalore Palace Grounds.
From the Deccan Herald article, Bangalore book fair begins today, we can learn that this festival has more than 300 stalls, of which 94 stalls have been set up exclusively for Kannada books. The festival closes Nov 27 (Sunday), and entry fees for adults is Rs 20.

The arrangements, for purchasing tickets as well as for parking, are much better this year compared to last year. Metal rails were used for four different ticketing windows to keep the queues in order. There were several people in the parking lot to help people park their cars into different rows.

They also had a large billboard put up displaying a list of all the exhibitors at the sale, and their stall locations. If you were interested in a particular publisher's stall, you could use this to go directly to that aisle. They were also selling a small booklet with a list and advertisements from all the publishers, in case one was interested.

Sahitya Akademi had stall in the first aisle. In fact they had stall number 1.

Apart from the CBT stall one other stall I was looking very much to visit was Pratham Books (book site). I had recently ordered their books and was very impressed by the quality of the printing, the illustrations, and the writing. And the prices are absolutely stunningly low. I mean, think Rs 15 and up. Fifteen rupees, and even 30 and Rs 40 for most books is a deal. It's a steal. When so many of the Barbie and Disney books sell for a hundred, two hundred, and even more, with dubious educational values, the Pratham Books are simply amazing.
They had books in English, Hindi, and Kannada at the stall - they publish in 11 Indian languages. We picked up a set (numbered Set 18) for Rs 110, which is a collection of five books, priced between Rs 15 and Rs 35. With their already amazingly low prices it was unsurprising that the books were not being sold at a discount, unlike other stalls where a 10% discount was pretty much the norm.

The Ramakrishna Math had a stall too. You could see a large poster of Swami Vivekananda. Most books are very reasonably priced. I picked one up - a collection of short stories for children written by Sister Nivedita.

How could I not snap a pic of this stall - Abhinava publishers!

The Kannada University Hampi stall.

Amar Chitra Katha publishers (ACK Media) had a stall, with a surfeit of Amar Chitra Katha comics.

Navneet Publishers had some nice  books where you could cut out pre-marked sections and construct different models. They had also put up some of those models for people to see before buying.

Interestingly enough, and I didn't know this before, but a publisher named Leftword Books had a stall. Now, the word is a dead giveaway, isn't it? Leftword Books!  And in case you still don't get it, take a look at the books on display: "A World to Win: Essays on the Communist Manifesto" - penned by, among others, Irfan Habib, a stalwart among communist hagiographers (sorry, "Marxist historiographer" or "eminent historian" (book) would be better words), and edited by Prakash Karat, a leading luminary of the Communist Party of India. Or "The Agrarian Question in Marx and his Successors", or "Imperialism" by Lenin. I imagine there are still people who hold romantically flawed notions of communism, but it is a settled question that communism killed more people in the twentieth century than all famines and wars combined.

Well, for what it's worth, I think it is good that such freedom of expression lives on in India - the space and freedom to hold differing opinions and contrarian views, a tradition that has existed and thrived for literally thousands of years in this country - where intellectual differences are settled through civilized discourse and debate. It is sad therefore to see both right-wing extremists and liberals in India today not believe in honest debate (see Sagarika Ghose for instance (thisthis), a staunch liberal whose stock-in-trade tricks consist of a bag of misrepresentations, outright biases, hidden agendas masquerading as honest opinions, and sometimes outright deceit - see especially this).

The CBT (Children's Book Trust), founded in 1957 by "by one of the India’s most celebrated cartoonist Keshav Shankar Pillai"# was a good place to get some pretty good bargains. They have published excellent and very reasonably priced books for chilren in India for decades now, and their contributions in this field deserve to be told to better publicized. The books are of high quality - i.e. the content, and are very reasonably priced. Two prominently placed books were on India's former Prime Ministers from the Nehru dynasty - Srimati Indira Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.


The Penguin stall had a large collection of classics, among other bestsellers.

I counted at least two stalls devoted to books on Islam. The "Discover Islam Education Trust" stall had a friendly and courteous gentleman handing free copies of a book on Islam.

Higginbothams used to be a very recognizable and popular fixture on Indian Railway stations, when travel on trains was much safer and cleaner. Reading paperbacks on a day or two-day long journey has been an inextricable part of so many millions of lives that a part of me feels somewhat sad and nostalgic that this is slowly going to remembered mostly through movies and songs.

One of India's oldest publishing houses, Motilal Banarsidass (Wikipedia)  was also present.

The ISKCON Bangalore book stall.

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.