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1. How India can motivate Pakistan to prevent cross-border terrorism

As the new year dawned on 1 January 2016, six heavily-armed men crossed through a marshy section of the Punjab border from Pakistan into India. Disguised in Indian Army fatigues, they commandeered first a taxi, then a small SUV, eventually covering the approximately 35km to reach the Air Force base at Pathankot. There, they cut through […]

The post How India can motivate Pakistan to prevent cross-border terrorism appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Was Anton LaVey serenading Satan in his cover of “Answer Me”?

Anton Szandor LaVey was the most outspoken and most notorious apostle of Satan in the twentieth century. On his life before founding the Church of Satan in 1966, LaVey liked to spun wild tales, but he did actually work as a professional and semi-professional musician in the carnival circuit. The High Priest of Satan was fond of bombastic classic music in the Wagnerian mould and popular tunes from the thirties, forties, and fifties, the period in which he himself had been young.

The post Was Anton LaVey serenading Satan in his cover of “Answer Me”? appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. A Closer Look at Newt’s Wand from Noble Collection

As we learned from our editors at SDCC 2016 and Leavesden Studios, fans, press and attendees were given limited edition Newt Scamander wands from Noble Collection. Eddie Redmayned lead a crowd in lighting up H Hall at Comic Con, as everyone said “lumos” with their Fantastic Beasts wands. He then show cased his wand for the Noble Collection event at SDCC.

With this, we get our first close up look at Fantastic Beasts movie merchandise, and most anticipated retail item. Georgia, snapped this picture of her wand.

(Click to enlarge the picture below.)

 

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The box isn’t quite up to par with the other Olivander boxes from the Wizarding World theme parks and other Harry Potter Noble Collection wands. However, as new merchandise is released with the opening of the movie, we expect this simple cardboard box to be replaced with a more standard wand box. Perhaps they will keep the scaled background and the Fantastic Beasts logo.

Newt’s Wand is simple, wooden (like most wands), marked with scars and gashes. He does deal with many beasts, after all. The wood wand is a spectrum of light melting into dark. The end of the wand, at its base, we see that it is open, and an inside lined with shell.

Andrew Sims from Hypable posted on instagram:

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We know from previous Fantastic Beasts reports that Newts wand in Fantastic Beasts/Harry Potter canon is made of “lime wood, shell, bone and other elements.” The prop replica seems able to represent that description quite well.  Many of these first-look, tester wands from SDCC are being auctioned off on Ebay, but we are quite sure they will be available through Harry Potter channels in the near future!

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4. A summer reading list

The sound of paddling pools, ice-cream vans, and sizzling barbecues means but one thing: summer is finally here. We caught up with four of Oxford University Press' most seasoned travelers to see which books they recommend for trips to Thailand, Cambodia, Germany, India, and France.

The post A summer reading list appeared first on OUPblog.

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5. Scientific method and back pain

Do you have back pain? Statistics show you likely do. Or you have had it in the past or will in the future. Back pain can be a million different things, and you can get it an equal number of ways. Until you've suffered it, you don't realise how disruptive it can be. Trying to fix back pain is a superb way to make people understand the power of scientific method and how to use it.

The post Scientific method and back pain appeared first on OUPblog.

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6. Scholastic Celebrates ‘Cursed Child’ with a ‘Muggle Mob'; ‘Cursed Child’ Book Breaks Pre-Sale Records

With mere days until the release of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts 1 & 2 script book, fans around the world are celebrating in ways we haven’t seen since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

On July 21, hundreds of Potter fans descended on NYC’s SoHo neighborhood to put on a “Muggle Mob” in celebration of the release of the eighth book.

Scholastic shares more:

“More than 300 Harry Potter fans formed a massive flash mob or ‘Muggle Mob’ today, taking over Broadway in front of the Scholastic headquarters building in New York City, just 10 days before the highly anticipated release of the eighth Harry Potter story, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two. The fans, all Scholastic employees and their children, flooded onto the street reading from a favorite Harry Potter book and stopping traffic in the busy SoHo area. At the culmination of the estimated two-and-a-half[-]minute event, the fans lowered their books and raised up paddles showing the cover of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two, drawing cheers throughout the neighborhood. As the crowd dispersed, ‘Muggle Mob’ participants handed out their Harry Potter books from the Harry Potter series 1-7 to lucky passersby, sharing the gift of books and reading.”

Watch the video below for a recap of the event!

Cursed Child‘s already staggering sales have made the script book for the new play a bestseller, but according to Amazon and Barnes & Noble‘s reports, the book is also breaking pre-sale records.

According to Barnes & Noble:

“…the latest addition to the Wizarding World is the most pre-ordered book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007.”

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts 1 & 2 will be released internationally on Sunday, July 31.

Thanks to our friends at Mugglenet for the heads-up!

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7. National marketing in a global market

Marketing as a business function has swept the world. It is the fastest growing global business activity. It has infiltrated all aspects of life, not just the economic - but also the political, social and personal.

The post National marketing in a global market appeared first on OUPblog.

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8. Certain Songs #604: The Hold Steady – “Constructive Summer”

hold_steady -stay_positive-frontal Album: Stay Positive
Year: 2008

Some of you might have noticed that one of the things I really like in an artist is prolificness.

And by the standards of the 21st century, putting out their three albums in three years, the Hold Steady were absolutely on fire. So to me, the two years between the world-beating Boys and Girls in America and the 2008 follow-up seemed almost interminable.

All of which was instantly forgiven the second “Constructive Summer” came pouring out of the speakers, combining Tad Kubler’s punk riff with Franz Nicolay’s Jerry Lee Lewis piano and maybe Craig Finn’s best opening verse ever.

Me and my friends are like
The drums on “Lust for Life”
We pound it out on floor toms
Our psalms are sing-along songs

Man. It was great to have them back, this band that somehow crammed nearly every other band I ever loved into their super-smart, super-rocking songs.

Summer grant us all the power
To drink on top of watertowers
With love and trust and shows all summer
(Get hammered!)

Let this be my annual reminder
That we could all be something bigger

“Constructive Summer” perfectly captures the essence of first week of summer, when you’re still reeling from the last days of class, but you know that you have just limited amount of time to get the shit done you wanna get done.

And with Tad Kubler’s guitar squealing around the edges, the last verse nearly tops the first.

Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer
I think he might have been our only decent teacher
Getting older makes it harder to remember
We are our only saviours
We’re gonna build something this summer

An absolute scorcher from start start to finish — even the piano-driven breakdown burns and crashes — “Constructive Summer” a near-perfect way to kick off what turned out to be the difficult follow-up album.

And if Stay Positive turned out to be a skosh too restless — some of the experiments slightly off, some of the rockers slightly rote — I still loved it nearly as much as the two titanic records that proceeded it.

“Constructive Summer” performed live in 2009

Fan-made video for “Constructive Summer”

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A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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The post Certain Songs #604: The Hold Steady – “Constructive Summer” appeared first on Booksquare.

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9. Oral history for youth in the age of #BlackLivesMatter

As students in Columbia University’s OHMA program we are often urged to consider Oral History projects that not only serve to archive interviews for future use, but that “do something.”

The post Oral history for youth in the age of #BlackLivesMatter appeared first on OUPblog.

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10. Etymology gleanings for July 2016

As I have observed in the past, the best way for me to make sure that I have an audience is to say something deemed prejudicial or wrong. Then one or more readers will break their silence, and I’ll get the recognition I deserve (that is, my comeuppance).

The post Etymology gleanings for July 2016 appeared first on OUPblog.

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11. ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is “Intense” and “Ritualistic”

Reviews of Cursed Child have been dominating muggle news, and the Cursed Child Twitter page have not been ignoring the love.

Following our pervious article on the review snippets that the @HPPlayLDN Twitter page has been sharing, we’re covering a few more of the newest reviews and photo releases from the Cursed Child website to get you excited for the Cursed Child official opening and script book release in just a few days time!

24 new photos of the play have been released, and SnitchSeeker have compiled them into an article here. In an effort to ‘keep the secrets’, some have been omitted in this article, so check out Snitchseeker’s gallery here for more.

Unsurprisingly, Time Out describe the play as “intense” and “ritualistic” as a result of Steven Hoggett’s ‘startling movement direction’. Judging from the captivating air of the Harry Potter soundtrack, and the latest Fantastic Beasts trailer, it’s hard to believe that a play – being so involving and close to the audience – would be any less enchanting!

@HPPlayLDN posted this review, with a photo of what appears to be students swooshing their robes, potentially jumping, or perhaps disapparating? Take a look below:

The play’s composer, Imogen Heap, was commended for her ‘light-synths harmonies’ by The Radio Times: 

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Photo from Pottermore

The Times also praised Christine Jones’ set design, which, judging from previous sneak peaks (which you can view here) is well deserved!

Illusions, costumes and lighting were also commended by The Guardian:

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Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione do a great job of conjuring audience nostalgia. The New York Times gives a shining review, saying the following of the talent of the cast and crew:

I reread “The Deathly Hallows” on the flight to London from New York, and I was amazed at how naturally what I saw on the stage seemed to flow from the page. Mr. Thorne, Mr. Tiffany and their movement director, Steven Hoggett, and set designer, Christine Jones, collaborated previously on the chilling adolescent vampire play “Let the Right One In,” and they are all expert in mapping the intersection of the uncanny and the everyday.

 Along with a team that includes Katrina Lindsay (costumes), Neil Austin (lighting) and Imogen Heap (music), Mr. Tiffany and his cast conjure the self-contained world(s) of Ms. Rowling’s books with imagistic wit, precision and, occasionally, stark terror. A convocation of wizards is evoked through the simultaneous swirling of black capes; an otherworldly, xenophobic and unsettlingly topical-feeling Fascist brigade materializes and multiplies out of yawning darkness; and staircases, bookcases and suitcases assume varied and miraculous lives that propel both themes and story.

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Check out more reviews of Cursed Child here!

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12. How do performance-enhancing drugs affect athletes?

Performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) are drugs that improve active performance in humans, known colloquially in sports as 'doping'. Perhaps the most famous abuser of PEDs to date is Lance Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France champion, who in 2013 confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career, and was stripped of the seven Tour de France titles he won from 1999 to 2005.

The post How do performance-enhancing drugs affect athletes? appeared first on OUPblog.

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13. Behind the Scenes of the Fantastic Beasts Q&A (From London to SDCC)

With the heavily anticipated and exciting launch of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ due to hit screens this November, Leaky was not only present at the San Diago Comic-Con event, but also lucky enough to get some behind the scenes action from our two representatives watching the live cast interviews unfold, from the Great Hall at Leavesden Studios in London!

Prior to the Live interviews commencing at Comic-Con, across the pond in London, we eagerly awaited the main event of the evening and took time to appreciate the Harry Potter Studios in all it’s glory! From famous sets to beautifully executed props with a magical aesthetic, the evening consisted of everything J.K. as we able to indulge in ultimate wizarding fan entertainment!

After a fantastic tour, fans were guided to a private screening, showing us the newly released trailer of ‘Fantastic Beasts’. Watch the trailer here! (If you havent’t seen it already–it’s amazing!)

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Finally the Great Hall doors were opened, and along with some limited edition, ‘Newt Scamander’ wands gifted by Warner Bros, the audience was seated ready to go live with everyone at the SDCC exclusive event! The interaction with the cast was brilliant, with Ezra Miller and Dan Fogler receiving a particularly cheerful response from our London audience as they made the interview even more fun amongst their talented co-stars.

As a perfect round off to the already magical evening at the Warner Bros Studios, we were given a glimpse at the extraordinary 1920’s costumes used in the movie. The wizarding world felt very much present as fans took a good look at the very individual looks presented, but they definitely emitted something fresh and original to keep everyone on their toes for the latest Rowling installment!

 

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Over in San Diego, Carianne and Tabitha met up with Warner Bros to take seats across from the Fantastic Beasts cast, as everyone prepared for a live Q&A with the cast of one of the most anticipated films of the year. Carianne, a proud Hufflepuff (just like Newt!) from San Diego, and Tabitha a proud Gryffindor, with a lot of Hufflepuff qualities mixed in, wrote about their experience at the events unfolding at SDCC 2016.

Carianne described what it was like behind the scenes, saying:

Being in the room in San Diego during the livestream was an incredible experience. The Fantastic Beasts group was so close to me that I couldn’t even fit them all in one picture! When they entered the room, the cast was buzzing with excitement over how well their Hall H presentation had gone (that room holds 6,500 people, so it’s a pretty big deal). Their energy was electrifying and contagious and an absolute joy to watch!
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Then the host announced “2 minutes till live!” and the room suddenly became still and silent with anticipation. To lighten things up again, Ezra Miller started cracking jokes, such as giving us signals to follow during the live stream: He said if he tugged his ear we were supposed to laugh, and if he scratched his nose we were supposed to cheer! He was kidding, of course, but he got everyone laughing and really livened the room up again. He was such a riot! (Ezra also made a few hilarious quips after the Leavesden host said she wanted to “Take an Ezra Miller home,” but those might be the kind of things he would rather I did not share with the internet.)
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After the livestream, they stood on the stage talking to each other for a few moments, looking just like a group of friends rather than co-movie-stars. It was clear that this cast really gets along well with each other. Their was a friendly and supportive demeanor among all of them. It honestly just made me even MORE excited for the film to come out! November can’t come soon enough :)
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As the even ended, a few of the cast members gave a little bit of attention afterward to the fans that were in the room. They didn’t have a lot of time (as they were running late to make it to their next event), but just a “thank you for your question!”, a high-five, or a quick photo went a long way. They were in no way obligated to do any of those things — they just did it because they are nice. My only regret is that I couldn’t spend more time talking with them! Maybe someday… :)
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Tabitha wrote about her experience and the atmosphere in the hall:
There was a great spirit of camaraderie between all of the writers/interviews there. I talked a bit with a couple of writers there, one representing Snitchseeker and the other MuggleNet. We got to know each other a little before the interview, and we all expressed how excited we were for this opportunity. 
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To me, as someone who has never been behind-the-scenes for something like this, it was fascinating how something as seemingly simple as an interview takes so much preparation by a host of different people. All of the camera operators had to prepare their equipment and test it extensively; other members of the crew had to test the live-feed between San Diego and Leavesden to make sure it worked properly; and of course, there were quite a few people dedicated solely to making sure the actors were ready. 
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On a light note, the room the interview took place in was *tiny*! It was maybe a fifth of the size of the Great Hall shown in Leavesden. The stage took up about half of the room, and there was hardly any free space for people to move around in. 
Unfortunately, the cast couldn’t stick around for long after the interview. They were rushed out pretty much immediately afterwards to go sign autographs at Comic Con. 

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Thank you to Georgia, Gemma, Tabitha and Carianne for attending the Fantastic Beasts Live Q&A events both in London and SDCC 2016. The video of the event can be seen here.

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14. Hufflepuff Parody Play ‘Puffs’ Set for Off-Broadway Run

While Harry Potter and the Cursed Child may be making magic across the pond, a decidedly different Potter-inspired play is stirring up success of its own in New York.

Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic is a fan-created, unofficial play written by Matt Cox that follows the true Hogwarts underdogs–Hufflepuffs–as they navigate seven years of mishaps and misadventure, all thanks to a certain troublemaking trio. The parody–which will soon wrap up a sold-out run at the Peoples Improv Theater–has recently announced that it will move on to an off-Broadway run this fall.

The show’s site summarizes the play’s premise:

Some people are born to do great things. Some people change the world. Some people rise from humble beginnings to beat back the forces of darkness in the face of insurmountable odds. Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic by Matt Cox is the story of the people who sit in class next to those people. And badgers.

Wayne Hopkins–a boy from New Mexico who is neither brave, smart, nor a snake–finds out he’s a wizard. Upon arrival at a certain school of magic and magic, he’s placed into the Puffs: a group of well meaning, loyal rejects. Over seven increasingly eventful years, he’ll try to learn magic; try to get out of the shadow of his world famous nemesis; and try not to get hurt in what is actually a very dangerous place for unsupervised children to be. Sometimes he will succeed. Partially.

Public previews for Puffs will begin at the Elektra Theatre on September 29. The show officially opens on October 20.

Read more at Entertainment Weekly and Mashable.

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15. Around the world in spices and herbs

On supermarket shelves, we are given a mind-numbing array of choices to select from. Shall we have some peppercorns on our macaroni, some cinnamon for baking, or a bit of rosemary with roast pork? Five hundred years ago, however, cooking with herbs and spices was a much simpler choice.

The post Around the world in spices and herbs appeared first on OUPblog.

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16. USAopoly Introduces New Harry Potter Board Game!

USAopoly recently revived fan-favorite Harry Potter board games, Trivia Pursuit’s World of Harry Potter and Harry Potter CLUE. With multiple editions of well-loved Harry Potter games, it has been years since we’ve seen a brand new Harry Potter board game. With the resurgence of the Harry Potter franchise with the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (both the opening of the play for preview and the script book reaching fans this weekend!!!) and the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them films, USAopoly is releasing a new Harry Potter deck building game!

 

Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle–A Cooperative Deck-Building Game is a new interactive board game that allow players to take on Voldemort as one of their favorite member Dumbledore’s Army (choosing between Harry, Ron, Hermione, or Neville). Each player must complete seven tasks, each one more challenging, to protect Hogwarts from Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Each player starts with cards specific to their character, and then collects more cards–spells, skills, abilities and more. USAopoly describes the game:

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The forces of evil are threatening to overrun HOGWARTS™ castle in this new cooperative game! It’s up to four students to ensure the safety of the school by defeating villains and consolidating their defenses. Players take on the role of a HOGWARTS student: Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville, each with his or her own personal deck of cards. To secure the castle from the forces of evil the students must work together to build more powerful decks using iconic Wizarding World characters, spells, and items.  Defeat all the villains including He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and win the game!

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  • Play together as your favorite heroes! Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville
  • Relive the excitement of the Wizarding World as you battle evil forces to defend HOGWARTS™
  • Become a more powerful wizard as you learn new spells and acquire more allies and items
  • Unlock new secrets and challenges with each successive game adventure

Fans can preview and play the game for the first time at GenCon in Indianapolis, August 4-7, 2016. A limited number of copies will be available for sale and fans will receive exclusive extra cards with purchase.

 

The game will be featured and available for purchase at GenCon (with exclusive extra cards!) August 4-7 , and is available for preorder on the Harry Potter Shop website. The game will be shipped out to customers September 15, 2016.

 

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The Harry Potter Shop describes the game:

“Can you stop the forces of Evil from overtaking Hogwarts Castle? Take on the role of a HOGWARTS student; Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville to defeat the villains and ensure the safety of the school with this Hogwarts Battle Deck Building Game. Each character has his or her own personal deck of cards which is used to acquire resources. Add more cards to the deck to form iconic characters, spells, and magical items. But be weary of villains and the Dark Arts. Other cards allow you to regain health or to fight against villains, keeping them from gaining power. Only by working together will players be able to defeat all of the villains, securing the castle from the forces of evil. Includes game board, chip pieces, markers, health tracker boards, 245 cards, dice, card boxes, rules booklet, and sorting cards. Ages: 11+. 2-4 Players.”

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17. Jamie Parker Opens up on Playing Harry Potter in Cursed Child

Jamie Parker recently sat down with The Stage to give an extensive interview on his acting career, including his latest mega-headliner, The Boy Who Lived. Playing the most well known boy wizard is a pretty daunting task, but Parker remarked that he was “under no illusion the role of Harry Potter belongs” to him.

 

For many fans who are pretty weary of the latest addition to the Harry Potter franchise, the “8th story,” a Harry Potter play (a medium never used in the franchise before), Parker tries his best to put those qualms to rest. Acting is his career, his job, and he recounts this in his description of what it is like to work on Cursed Child.

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“We’re still working during the day and performing at night,” he tells me. “But our hours with the creative team are starting to lessen off as we get into a full performance schedule of eight shows a week. The company is feeling really good – Steven [Hoggett, the movement director] has prepped us properly to be in the right physical shape. Working with him, you’ve got to be in shape. And John [Tiffany, the director] has kept up our spirits with his relentless positivity and trust in his company.”

[…]

“I was familiar with the books and read some of them, but I wasn’t a Potterhead. But it’s been great now to immerse myself in it – I’ve gone through all of them several times now, and I’m going to go through them again. I won’t stop making notes, and every day I am finding out exactly how detailed Jack [Thorne, the playwright] and John’s work on it has been with Jo [JK Rowling]. In any decent play there’s an unspoken script going on underneath the actual script – like Woody Allen’s subtitles, whether they’re serious or funny – and that’s absolutely the case here. The play is perfectly clear to anyone who doesn’t know anything about Harry Potter – it’s just a very good play on that level. But for those who are immersed in it, there are Easter eggs hidden in every scene. There’s a lot that goes unspoken, and that’s fertile ground for being able to talk to each other onstage.”

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From the moment the show was announced, it has been the subject of intense media interest and speculation. How was he cast to follow in Daniel Radcliffe’s very significant footprints? Was it a long process? “Because of the nature of the beast, not that much,” he recalls. “They couldn’t spread the script around to cast the net especially wide, so they were quite particular about who they had on the list in the first place, though I never saw who else was on it. But they asked themselves before they got in touch with people if they really wanted to have that conversation.”

What about the responsibility, though, of playing such a beloved character and giving flesh and blood to him? “It’s not my responsibility solely. I know I’m only as good as the material I’ve got to work with. I’m not an alchemist, not when it comes to writing or production. You could argue that alchemy is part and parcel of what we do, but that responsibility is shared with the audience, and putting it on in the first place was Jack and John drawing from the wealth of Jo’s back catalogue and the layer upon layer of detail in there to create something that has its own emotional trajectory and its own legs. If I hadn’t thought that was apparent, even in that early draft, I wouldn’t have put myself in the position of taking on the amount of responsibility I do have – that would be a suicide mission.”

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Though we do not know for sure how many years after Potter the play finishes at, and Parker says he can’t reveal such information, we do know it begins right where Deathly Hallows left off, with Rose and Albus heading to Hogwarts “19 years later.” Parker continues,  “the relationship between Harry and his son Albus is a large part of the meal.

To read more on Jamie Parker’s extensive career, working with Noma Dumezweni and Paul Thornley again, and his opinions on the Hermione controversy, visit the original article here.

The published script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child hits shelves this weekend! The play also officially opens for previews on the West End.

 

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18. This year’s other elections

The primaries, the conventions, and the media have focused so much attention on the presidential candidates that it’s sometime easy to forget all the other federal elections being held this year, for 34 seats in the Senate and 435 in the House (plus five nonvoting delegates). The next president’s chances of success will depend largely on the congressional majorities this election will produce.

The post This year’s other elections appeared first on OUPblog.

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19. From ‘conforming stores’ to digital first – the changing world of retail

I was in a taxi in Hong Kong several years ago, stuck in traffic in the pouring rain. I said to my Hong Kong-based colleague how notable it seemed that all the apartment buildings looked exactly the same. “Cheaper that way isn’t it?” was his response, “Just design one then put up 50. Obvious really.”

The post From ‘conforming stores’ to digital first – the changing world of retail appeared first on OUPblog.

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20. Tom Felton on Joining CW’s ‘The Flash’

Tom Felton visited San Diego Comic-Con last week to talk about joining CW’s show The Flash as Central City Police Department crime scene investigator, Julian Dorn.

Entertainment Tonight managed to chat to the cast of The Flash at the event, and Tom says he’s settling into the show well. He’ll be joining as a season regular, so it’s a good job he’s feeling at home!

“It’s always very nerve-racking when you’re joining such a well-oiled machine,” Felton told ET’s Leanne Aguilera during a Comic-Con Facebook Live session on Saturday. “But I’ve only been around them for less than a few days, and I already feel like part of the family.”

When asked by Entertainment Tonight whether he’d be playing a villainous, Malfoy-esque character, he said:

“Any character I play you should see as a threat … I honestly don’t know”

“I tried to get both of these writers tipsy last night, to pry some information out of them. I’m not sure,” he added. “In the first two episodes that we’ve gotten so for, there’s definitely friction [with Barry]… There’s some feathers ruffled.”

“If the last two seasons have anything to go by, anything is possible. I could be a woman by episode six!” he added.

Flashpoint is a huge event will be coming in Season 3 of The Flash, which, according to executive producer Todd Helbing, is going to “ripple through the entire season”. It has the potential to ‘ripple through’ other shows in the DC/The CW universe as well, including Arrow. This event is the reason Tom Felton is able to join the show, as the changes caused by Flashpoint lead to many new characters being introduced to this season.

According to Entertainment Tonight, Tom also reflected on the connection between Harry Potter and The Flash at Comic Con:

Felton couldn’t help but give the franchise that started his career some love, saying he was last here at Comic-Con representing a franchise “symbolized by a lightning bolt and now here I am.”

Watch Entertainment Tonight’s interview with the cast, and the trailer for Season 3 of The Flash below:

 

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21. Violent sports: the “most perfect of contests”?

Violent sports like American football, ice hockey, rugby, boxing and mixed martial arts are perennially among the most popular. Their status is a frightening indication of the flowering of violence in sports in the 21st century, booming to a level unknown since ancient Greece and Rome. In the ancient Mediterranean, the audiences both in the Greek East and in the Roman West mutually enjoyed Greek athletic contests and Roman spectacles.

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22. From the archives: the top 5 movie scenes set in libraries

Paul Feig’s Ghostbuster’s remake has made waves on both sides of the Atlantic. As the original 1984 film set some significant action in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library, we couldn’t help but indulge in a rifle through the archives of cinematic tributes to libraries.

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23. Critics Say ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is “Charmed”

The first official reviews for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are in, and it’s clear that audiences have been bewitched by the latest installment in the Potter story.

 

Five-star reviews have been flooding twitter all day–many accompanied by brand new pictures from the play showcasing impeccable set design, costuming, and a closer look at the characters we know and love (as well as a few characters we look forward to getting to know!).    

 

 

 

If these rave reviews–and countless others found on J.K Rowling’s twitter and the official Pottermore and Cursed Child twitter accounts–are any indication, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child does indeed live up to the hype and the Potter magic lives on through a new generation.

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24. Reality Affects


Bonnie Nadzam's recent essay at Literary Hub, "What Should Fiction Do?", is well worth reading, despite the title. (The only accurate answer to the question in the title [which may not be Nadzam's] is: "Lots of stuff, including what it hasn't done yet...") What resonates for me in the essay is Nadzam's attention to the ways reality effects intersect with questions of identity — indeed, with the ways that fictional texts produce ideas about identity and reality. I especially loved Nadzam's discussion of how she teaches writing with such ideas in mind.

Nadzam starts right off with a bang:
An artistic practice that perpetually reinforces my sense of self is not, in my mind, an artistic practice. I’m not talking about rejecting memoir or characters “based on me.” What I mean is I don’t have the stomach for art that purports to “hold up a mirror to nature,” or for what this implies, philosophically, about selfhood and the world in which we live.
This is a statement that avant-gardes have been making since at least the beginning of the 20th century — it is the anti-mimetic school of art, a school at which I have long been a happy pupil. Ronald Sukenick, whose purposes are somewhat different to Nadzam's, wrote in Narralogues that "fiction is a matter of argument rather than of dramatic representation" and "it is the mutability of consciousness through time rather than representation that is the essential element of fiction." Sukenick proposes that all fiction, whether opaquely innovative or blockbuster entertainment, "raises issues, examines situations, meditates solutions, reflects on outcomes" and so is a sort of reasoning and reflection. "The question," he writes, "is only whether a story reflects thoughtfully, or robotically reflects the status quo with no illuminating angle of vision of its own."

Magritte, "The Human Condition", 1933

Sukenick, too, disparages the "mirror to reality" or "mirror to nature" idea: "Once the 'mirror of reality' argument for fiction crumbles, possibilities long submerged in our tradition open up, and in fact a new rationale for fiction becomes necessary."

Nadzam's essay provides some possibilities for remembering what has been submerged in the tradition of fiction and for creating new rationales for fiction's necessity:
I want fiction to bend, for its structure not to mirror the reality I think I see, but for its form and structure to help me peel back and question the way reality seems. The way I seem. I love working with the English language precisely because it fails. Even the most perfect word or phrase or narrative can at best shadow and haunt the phenomena of the world. Words and stories offer a way of experiencing being that is in their most perfect articulation a beat removed from direct experience. And so have I long mistrusted those works in which representation and words function without a hiccup, creating a story that is meant to be utterly believed.
Again, not at all new, but necessary because these ideas so push against dominant assumptions about fiction (and reality) today.

An example of one strain of dominant assumptions: Some readers struggle to separate characters from writers. On Twitter recently, my friend Andrew Mitchell, a writer and editor, expressed frustration with this tendency, saying: "EVERYTHING a character says/does in a story reflects EXACTLY what the writer believes, right? Based on the comments I just read: YES!" As I said to Andrew in reply, this way of thinking results from certain popular types of literary analysis and pedagogy, ones that seek Message from art, ones that want literature to be a paragon of Self Expression, with the Self either a fragile, wounded bird or an allegorical representative of All Such Selfs. It's "write what you know" taken to its logical conclusion: write only what you know about what and who you are. (Good luck writing a story about a serial killer if you're not one.) Such assumptions are anti-imagination and, ultimately, anti-art.

These dominant assumptions aren't limited to classrooms and naive readers. Consider this, from Achy Obejas's foreword to The Art of Friction (ed. Charles Blackstone & Jill Talbot):
When my first book, We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like  This?, was released in 1994, my publishers were ecstatic at the starred review it received in Publishers Weekly.

But though I appreciated the applause, I was a bit dismayed.  The review referred to the seven pieces that comprise the book as “autobiographical essays.” I found this particularly alarming, since six of the seven stories were first-person narrations, mostly Puerto Rican and Mexican voices, while I am Cuban, and one was from the point of view of a white gay man named Tommy who is dying of AIDS.

I’d have thought that the reviewer might have noticed that nationality, race, and gender seemed to shift from story to story—and that is what they were, stories, not essays; fiction, not memoir—but perhaps that reviewer, like many others who followed, felt more comforted in believing that the stories were not products of the imagination but lived experiences.
Imagination is incomprehensible and terrifying. In the classroom, I see this all the time when students read anything even slightly weird — at least one will insist the writer must have been on drugs. When a person reads a work of fiction and their first impulse is to either seek out the autobiographical elements or declare the writer to be a drug addict, then we know that that reader has no experience with or understanding of imagination. For such readers, based on a true story are the five most comforting words to read.

I come back again and again to a brief passage from one of my favorites of Gayatri Spivak's books, Readings:
I am insisting that all teachers, including literary criticism teachers, are activists of the imagination. It is not a question of just producing correct descriptions, which should of course be produced, but which can always be disproved; otherwise nobody can write dissertations. There must be, at the same time, the sense of how to train the imagination, so that it can become something other than Narcissus waiting to see his own powerful image in the eyes of the other. (54)
There must be the sense of how to train the imagination so that it can become something other than Narcissus waiting to see his own powerful image in the eyes of the other.

To return to Bonnie Nadzam's essay: Another dominant force that keeps fiction from becoming too interesting, keeps readers from reading carefully, and prevents the education of literary imagination is mass media (which these days basically means visual/cinematic media). I love mass media and visual media for all sorts of reasons, but if we ignore pernicious effects then we can't adjust for them. Nadzam writes:
...I’ve noticed that with much contemporary fiction, when we read, we’re often not asked to imagine we’re reading a history, biography, diary or anything at all. Often the text doesn’t even ask the reader to be aware of the text as text. With much fiction, we seem to pretend we are watching a movie. And it is supposed to be a good thing if a novel is “cinematic.”
Much fiction today, especially fiction that achieves any level of popularity, seems to me to draw not just structurally but emotionally from television. At its best, it's The Wire (perhaps the great melodrama of our era -- and I mean that as high praise); more commonly, it's a Lifetime movie-of-the-week. TV, like pop songs, knows the emotional moves it needs to pull off to make its audience feel what the audience desires to feel -- make your audience feel something they don't desire to feel, and most of them will turn on you with hate and scorn.

The giveaway, I think, is the narrowness of the prose aesthetic in all fiction that pulls its effects from common wells of emotion, because a complex, unfamiliar prose structure will get in the way of readers drinking up the emotions they desire. Such writing may not itself be inherently rich with emotion; all it needs to do is transmit signs that signal feelings already within the reader's repertoire. Keep the prose structure and style familiar, keep the emotions within the expected range, and the writer only needs to point toward those emotions for the reader to feel them. The reader becomes Pavlov's dog, salivating not over real food, but over the expectation of it. If an identity group exists, then that identity group can train its members toward particular structures of feeling. If the structures are even minimally in place, then members in good standing of an identity group will receive the emotional payoff they desire. Fiction then becomes a confirmation of identity and emotion, not a challenge to it.

(Tangentially: The radical potential of melodrama is to trick audiences into feeling emotions they would not otherwise feel and to complicate expected emotions. This was, for instance, the great achievement of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book that is terribly written in all sorts of ways, but which mobilized -- even weaponized -- sentiment to an extraordinary degree. The same could be said for The Wire, though with significantly less social effect [Linda Williams has some thoughts on this, if I'm remembering her book correctly].)

Anyone who's taught creative writing will tell you that lots of students don't aspire to write for the sake of writing so much as they aspire to write movies on paper. Which is fine, in and of itself, but if students want to write movies, they should take screenwriting and film production courses. And if I want to watch a movie, I'll watch a movie, not read a book.

Movies, TV, and video games are the dominant narrative forms of our time, so it should be no surprise that fiction often resembles those dominant forms. Even the most blockbustery of bestselling novels can't compete for dominance (and almost every bestselling novel these days is a movie-in-a-book, anyway, so they're just contributing to the dominance). Look how excited people get when they find out their favorite book will be turned into a movie. It's like Pinocchio being turned into a real boy!

What gets lost is the literary. Not in some high-falutin' sense of the Great Books, but in the technical sense of what written texts can do that other media either can't or don't do as well. Conversely, other media have things they do that written texts don't do as well, or at all — this is what bugs me when people write about films as if they're novels, for instance, because it loses all sense of what is distinctly cinematic. But that's a topic for another time...

Nadzam discusses how she teaches fiction, and I hope at some point she writes a longer essay about this:
When I do “teach” creative writing, I point out that a work of formal realism (which I neither condemn nor condone) usually adheres to a particular formula: Exposition informs a person’s Psychology, from which arises their Character, out of which certain Motives emerge, based upon which the character takes Action, from which Plot results (EPiC MAP). And what formal realism achieved thereby was answering some of the metaphysical questions raised by Enlightenment thinkers about what the self, or character, might be—a person is a noun. A changing noun, perhaps, but a noun nonetheless—somehow separate from the flux of the world they inhabit. The students I’ve had who want to “be writers” hear about EPiC MAP and diligently set to work. The artists in the class, however—the kindred spirits with the mortal wound—they look at me skeptically. Something about that doesn’t feel right, they say. I don’t want to do it that way, they say. Can we break those rules? And each of their “stories” is a terrible, fascinating mess. Are the stories messes because these writers are breaking with habit, forcing readers to break with expectation, or is the EPiC MAP really an effective mirror? I grant that this is an impossible question to answer, but an essential question to raise. By my lights these students are trying, literally, to re-make the world.
This reminded me of Mac Wellman's longstanding practice of encouraging his playwrighting students to write "bad" plays. The New York Times describes this amusingly:
He asks students to write bad plays, to write plays with their nondominant hands, to write a play that takes five hours to perform and covers a period of seven years. Ms. Satter recalled an exercise in which she had to write a play in a language she barely knew.

“I wrote mine in extremely limited Russian,” she wrote in an email. “Then we translated them back into English and read them aloud. The results were these oddly clarified, quiveringly bizarre mini-gems.”

Mr. Wellman explained: “I’m not trying to teach them how to write a play. I’m trying to teach them to think about what kind of play they want to write.”
Further, from a 1992 interview:
Inevitably, if you start mismatching pronouns, getting your tenses wrong, writing sentences that are too long or too short, you will begin to say things that suggest a subversive political reality.
One of the most effective exercises I do with students (of all levels) is to have them make a list of "writing rules" — the things they have been told or believe to be key to "good writing". I present this to them seriously. I want them to write down what they really believe, which is often what teachers past have taught them. Then, for the next assignment, I tell them to write something in which they break all those rules. Every single one. Some students are thrilled (breaking rules is fun!), some are terrified (we're not supposed to break rules!), but again and again it leads to some fascinating insights for them. It can be liberating, because they discover the freedom of choice in writing, and do things with words that they would never have given themselves permission to do on their own. It's also educative, because they discover that some of the rules, at least for some situations, make sense to them. Then, though, they don't apply those rules ignorantly and unreflectively: when they follow those rules in the future, they do so because the rules make sense to them.

(I make them read Gertrude Stein, too. I make them try to write like Gertrude Stein, especially at her most abstract. [Tender Buttons works well.] It's harder than it looks. They scoff at Stein at first, but once they try to imitate her, they struggle, usually, and discover how wedded their minds are to a particular way of writing and particular assumptions about sense and purpose.)

(I show them Carole Maso's book Break Every Rule. I tell them it's a good motto for a writer.)

To learn new ways to write, to educate our imaginations, we need not only to think about new possibilities but to look at old models, especially the strange and somewhat forgotten ones. Writers who only read what is near at hand are starving themselves, starving their imaginations.

Nadzam returns to 18th century writers, a trove of possibilities:
Fielding thought a crucial and often overlooked aspect of the theatrum mundi metaphor was the emphasis the metaphor puts on the role of the audience, and the audience’s tendency to hastily judge the character of his fellow men. We are not supposed to assume, Fielding’s narrator tells us in Tom Jones, that just because the brilliant 18th-century actor David Garrick plays the fool, Garrick himself is a fool. Nor should we assume that the fool we meet in life is actually—or always—a fool. How then is Fielding’s audience to determine the character of Fielding’s contemporary who plays the part of an actor playing the part of a ghost puppet who represents a real-life individual whose eccentric and condemnable behavior Fielding satirizes? For Fielding, there is no such thing as an un-interpreted experience; an instance of mimetic simulation cannot be considered “truth” (a clear image in a well-polished mirror) because truth itself is the very act of mimetic simulation.
Seeking out writers from before fiction's conventions were conventional helps us see new possibilities. (This is one of the values of Steven Moore's two-volume "alternative history" of the novel, which upends so many received ideas about what novels are and aren't, and when they were what they are or aren't. Also Margaret Anne Doody's The True Story of the Novel. Also so much else.)

Finally, one of the central concerns of Nadzam's essay is the way that assumptions about fiction reproduce and reify assumptions about identity:
...what is now generally accepted as “fiction” emerged out of an essentialism that is oddly consoling in its reduction of each individual to a particular set of characteristics, and the reality they inhabit a background distinct from this self. At worst, behind this form are assumptions about identity and reality that may prevent us from really knowing or loving ourselves or each other, and certainly shield us from mystery.
So much fiction seems to see people as little more than roleplaying game character sheets written in stone. Great mysteries of motivation, great changes in conviction or belief, all these too often get relegated to the realms of the "unrealistic" — and yet the true realism is the one that knows our movement from one day to the next is mostly luck and magic.

Relevant here also is a marvelous essay by Stephen Burt for Los Angeles Review of Books, partly a review of poetry by Andrew Maxwell and Kay Ryan, partly a meditation on how lyric poetry works. More fiction writers ought to learn from poetry. (More fiction reviewers ought to learn from the specificity and attention to language and form in Burt's essay, and in many essays on poetry.) Consider:
A clever resistance to semantic function, an insistence that we just don’t know, that words can turn opaque, pops up every few lines and yet never takes over a reader’s experience: that’s what you get when you try to merge aphorism (general truth) and lyric (personal truth) and Maxwell’s particular line of the North American and European avant-garde (what is truth?). It haunts, it teases, it invites me to return. By the end of the first chapbook, “Quotation or Paternity,” Maxwell has asked whether lyric identification is also escapism: “Trying to identify, it means / Trying to be mistaken / About something else.” Poetic language is, perhaps, the record of a mistake: in somebody else’s terms, we misrecognize ourselves.
And:
We can never be certain how much of our experience resembles other people’s, just as we can’t know if they see our “blue”.... Nor can we know how much of what we believe will fall apart on us next year. ... His poems understand how tough understanding yourself, or understanding anyone else, or predicting their behavior, or putting reflection into words can be, and then forgive us for doing it anyway...
We need more fiction like Stephen Burt's description of Andrew Maxwell's poems: More fiction that understands how tough understanding yourself, or understanding anyone else, or predicting their behavior, or putting reflection into words can be, and then forgives us for doing it anyway.

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25. Certain Songs #603: The Hold Steady – “Southtown Girls”

hold steady boys Album: Boys And Girls in America
Year: 2006

First it’s just Craig Finn:

“Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay”

Dead air while the rest of the guys saunter up to their respective mics to join in with some raggedly imperfect harmonies.

“Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay”

More dead air. Tumbleweeds. Days, weeks, months pass.

And then, with a swoosh of Franz Nicolay’s organ, the entire band kicks in, and it’s utterly glorious.

Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay

Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay

And then, just like that, Kubler, aided by the huge spaces in Bobby Drake’s drumbeats, peels off yet another big-ass Zep riff that kicks “Southtown Girls” into a new lane.

Meanwhile, Finn gives us some unreliable narration on just how to find the titular girls:

Take Lyndale to the horizon
Take Nicollet out to the ocean
Take Penn Ave out to the 494

Near the end, after a nice twin-guitar solo by Kubler and a rarer-than-rare harmonica solo by Nicolay, the back half of the last verse gets almost funky, as Gavin Polivka leans into his basslines over Drake’s stuttering beat while Finn leaves a couple of text messages.

Meet me right in front of the rainbow foods.
I got a brown paper bag and black buckle shoes.
If anything seems weird then just cruise.

Meet me right in front of the party city.
That two sided tape it gets way too sticky.
I got a bad case of noisemaker blues.

But with “Southtown Girls,” it’s all about that chorus, which rings out over and over again, always keyed to that organ swoosh and those joyful harmonies.

Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay
Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay

Easily the least epic of all of the Hold Steady’s album closers, “Southtown Girls” is nevertheless a fitting closer for Boys and Girls in America, positing that after all of the craziness that goes on between those American boys and girls, sometimes a little stability is just what the doctor ordered.

And for the second straight year, The Hold Steady had made my favorite album of the year.

The last time that had happened was was 1979-1980 with St. Joe Strummer and The Clash, back when I was just beginning to live some of these stories.

Fan-made video for “Southtown Girls”

“Southtown Girls” performed live at Glastonbury, 2007

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