The New Yorker
At 47,J K Rowling is about to publish her first novel for adults,The Casual Vacancy. With the whopping success of the Harry Potter seriesit has even inspired 600,000 pieces of Harry Potter fan fictionthere is little doubt that Rowlings latest work will invite unfair inferences,writes Ian Parker. There is no part of me that feels that I represented myself as your childrens babysitter or their teacher, Rowling tells Parker. Im a writer,and I will write what I want to write.
The Casual Vacancy has not been written for children,but reviewers looking for echoes of the Potter series will find them,says Parker. The book is not a whodunnit but,rather,a rural comedy of manners that,having taken on state-of-the-nation social themes,builds into black melodrama. Two years into writing,Rowling picked up the standard British handbook for local administrators. I needed it to check certain points. And in there I came across the phrase a casual vacancy. Meaning,when a seat falls vacant through death or scandal. And immediately,I knew that that was the title, Rowling tells Parker.
Out with Modern Family
For the first time ever,the Emmy nominations,announced in July,for Outstanding Drama series didnt feature anyone from the four major broadcast networks. Yet,when the awards were given away on Saturday,it allowed its Comedy categories to be dominated by old-school outlets,writes Albert Ching. Given Modern Familys numerous nominations,one expects it to define the era in a way Seinfeld,Cheers and M*A*S*H did in the past. Yet those three shows,says Ching,may ultimately be more modern than Modern Family,one of the most conventional series currently running despite its edgy mockumentary style. Ching says,Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence against Modern Family is that both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama claim it as among their favorite shows…Well,thats a Venn diagram of blandness from which nothing compelling can escape.
The social network for core Muslim values
Will a Facebook-like model work,with a user base that is more interested in defining cultural boundaries rather than blurring them,asks Lauren E Bohn. Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov,chairman of Salaamworld,thinks the answer is yes. Salaamworld,headquartered in Istanbul,aims to launch a social network founded on core Muslim values. Last month,Salaamworld released a beta version and it plans to launch in 17 countries by November. Salaamworld plans to offer counselling from certified imams,a library of e-books on Islamic heritage and a Muslim news network besides the regular social network tools. But Muslim-focused social media ventures,such as Finland-based Muxlim.com and Muslim Brotherhoods Ikhwanbook.com,havent had a glorious run so far. Salaamworld also will have to accommodate users unlikely to agree on whats acceptable content. Were still debating on whether to allow pictures of women in bikinis,says Yavez Kurt,Salaamworlds spokesman,We are lucky there is only one Koran as a basis.
London review of books
Among the Alawites
Nir Rosen travels through the villages of Syria,some of them strongholds of the Alawites,to understand why the Assad regime has found so many backers. To Alawites,the Baath party was a way to transcend sectarian identity. The army and the civil service gave them a way out of their impoverished villages. In 1971,Hafez al-Assad,an Alawite,then the Minister of Defence,led a coup against a Baathist rival. When Hafez died in 2000,after 30 years in power,his son Bashar took over. Historically,Alawites stood so far at the margins of Islam that Assad the elder had to Islamise them, writes Rosen. In the end,says Rosen,a Lebanese solution for Syria,in which different areas have different outside backers,may work,but it is nobodys goal.