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Preview: Mark Bernstein

Mark Bernstein

Mark Bernstein: hypertext research

Last Build Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2017 21:25:28 +0000



Mon, 13 Nov 2017 21:17:38 +0000


The first restaurant I ever visited based on a Facebook recommendation. It’s Monday night — a low Monday in newly-offseason Madeira— and I’m looking for an early dinner after missing lunch. Mula’s all about mussels and all about good, informal, multilingual service with discretely communal tables and a real effort to make tourists feel welcome without making them feel like marks.

Nifty decor with lots of fresh concrete. Some nifty Portuguese wines, and an unusual effort to make a case for beer pairings.

Smoked cod is really nice, and the anchovies were good. The mussels were dandy, too.

Little Fires Everywhere

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 15:18:12 +0000

The author of the wonderful Everything I Never Told You returns in a new tale of suburbs gone wrong. In placid Shaker Heights, Ohio, the placid house of the Richardson family is afire. Lexie, Trip, and Moody were all away from home. Mr. Richardson is at work, of course, and Mrs. Richardson woke up in plenty of time and she’s fine.

No one knows where the youngest daughter, Izzy, has gone.

Like Ng’s first book, Little Fires Everywhere argues that parents don’t know their kids. Sometimes languorous, this book is beautifully designed and told.

Interactive Digital Storytelling

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 15:19:06 +0000

I’m off to the International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling, where I’m giving a little workshop paper on “Thoughts On Some Moral Question Concerning Story In Hypertext Narrative”. I’m looking at some questions that came up while I was working on Those Trojan Girls and thinking about the 20th anniversary of Hamlet On The Holodeck.

In the theater, Ophelia drown seven days a week and twice on Sunday, whether we buy a ticket or not. It’s not our fault. On the holodeck, though, it is.

The conference is in Madeira. I’ve never been there. Interesting program: looking forward to it.

The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 12:57:51 +0000

A fascinating oral history of Soviet women at war. When war came, an astonishing number of women ran to the defense of a country that no longer exists and of a dream that now seems forgotten. Studs Terkel at the front, this masterfully-crafted volume deserves the Nobel it won for its author.

The Tinderbox Way

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 12:58:26 +0000

The third edition is now available. Thoroughly revised for Tinderbox 7.3, with lots of entirely new material including a series of design notes exploring key issues in the design and evolution of Tinderbox.


Jane Unlimited

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 12:51:26 +0000

Jane is invited by her former tutor, in town for a college reunion, to visit the family house for a holiday gala. Depressed by the recent death of the aunt who raised her, Jane takes her up on the offer and they arrive at the old family mansion, somewhere off the coast of Maine, where everything is always in an uproar. Jane doesn’t know where to look or what to believe.

Like Cashore’s Bitterblue, this book is filled with strangeness and a coyly theoretical sophistication. Cashore’s characters, whatever their stated ages, seem very young: they are impulsive enthusiasts who have no patience and who seldom know themselves. Jane is an accomplished and original artist, yet somehow has never had occasion to give much thought to her own sexuality or to anyone else’s feelings. This lends many scenes a mythic quality, a sense of meeting archetypes, that frequently works very nicely; elsewhere, as when we sit down for a nice chat at dinner, it feels like nobody knows how to behave.

The first encounter with the old family mansion is handled very well. (It’s described as being off the coast of Maine, but this place is more San Simeon or I Tatti than the old summer cottages of the richly rusticating gilded age.) You’ll like the dog, too.

The book had a long genesis, was originally written in second person, and is filled with complex story play. If Bitterblue sometimes seemed a refraction of Beckett through modern medievalesque fantasy, Jane Unlimited feels like David Mitchell or Jennifer Egan performed in the key of Neil Gaiman.

Churchill and Orwell

Mon, 23 Oct 2017 10:48:33 +0000

Ricks wrote a fascinating account of the construction of this book for The Atlantic. His editor, Scott Moyers, warned Ricks at the outset against writing “an extended book review that leaned on the weak reed of themes rather than stood on a strong foundation of narrative.” That’s exactly the draft he originally sent in. This book is the revision.

In principle, narrative is strong. In practice, there’s not much real narrative here. It often seems that all the 20th-century English writers and journalists knew each other intimately. Take any two writers: if they hadn’t been at school together, the odds are good that one gave the other the pram now sitting in her foyer. Yet Churchill and Orwell never seem to have met; Churchill read some of Orwell’s books, but Churchill read everyone. Orwell admired some of Churchill’s war speeches: who did not? Both Orwell and Churchill entered old age as failures and then achieved the success for which they had been preparing for decades. That’s interesting, but it’s not a narrative.

I loved Ricks’ Fiasco, his superb book on the Iraq disaster. On more familiar ground, Ricks’ touch is less sure. His interpretation of Churchill rests heavily on Manchester’s superb biography, and explaining the history of the second world war tends to crowd out any but the most straightforward thinking about the wartime speeches. Yet if Churchill and Orwell are to be compared, it is these war speeches that matter; Churchill may not have been a great strategist or an ideal negotiator, but Orwell had nothing to do with strategy or negotiation at all. Some interesting points are made about the literary qualities of the war memoirs, but this is not enough — and our interest in those memoirs rests, in the end, on the success of those speeches as well as the success of the war.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Sun, 8 Oct 2017 12:40:32 +0000

Second reading of this charming romp about an unemployed, RISD-trained graphic designer who lands a night-shift job at an all-night North Beach bookstore that is, of course, more than what it seems. So, too, is the craft of this novel, for beneath the genre pastiche lies some lovely lyricism, surprising insight into the magic of technology, and a flair for drawing character or, more precisely, for depicting the narrator’s emotional response on encountering that character.

The perfect antidote to a bad case of the slums.