Newley's Notes

Amazon India Doormat Flap; Assessing the G.A.N.; You’re Tying Your Shoelaces Wrong — This Week’s Newley’s Notes

2017 01 19mountains

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Hi friends, thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter in which I share links to my stories and various items I think are worth highlighting.


Amazon Yanks Indian-Flag Doormats as New Delhi Threatens Punishment. The story begins: Inc. pulled doormats emblazoned with the Indian flag from its Canadian website after the South Asian nation’s foreign minister threatened to oust the Seattle company’s employees.

“This is unacceptable,” Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter Wednesday in response to a posting from a user showing an image of the doormats for sale.

Ms. Swaraj, who has 7 million followers on the platform, called on Amazon to remove the “insulting” products and threatened to rescind visas for Amazon’s foreign staff in India if action wasn’t taken.

India a key market for Amazon’s future growth. The company does not want to anger consumers – or public officials – here.


Book Notes: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

My notes from an excellent book about Jeff Bezos and the rise of his powerful, controversial company.

On Austin Tice, Syria, and Risks Freelancers Take.

Musings on a long story in Texas Monthly about Tice’s mysterious disappearance while reporting in Syria, and how dangerous being a freelancer in a conflict zone can be.


1) Cool: weed helps chronic pain. Not cool: it’s totally bad for your lungs. Those are among the conclusions of a lengthy U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine report that examined over 10,000 studies, according to Quartz. The full study is here.

2) What is, truly, the G.A.N.? That’s Great American Novel, of course. Literary Hub has a survey of the contenders, from “The Great Gatsby” and “Moby Dick” to works by Toni Morrison and Jonathan Franzen.

3) Sick of those “Best 30 Under 30 Lists”? At, Bess Kalb gives us “A Selection of the 30 Most Disappointing Under 30.”

Sample: “Joanna Feldman, twenty-two: Misquoted E. E. Cummings in her rib-cage tattoo.”

4) This simple shoelace-tying trick will change your life. Basically, if your shoes ever come undone, you’re doing your granny knots wrong. Take it away, Dr. Shoelace. And don’t miss the video. You will never again resort to double knots.

5) I love this concept: is a website that provides a stream of YouTube videos that “have almost zero previous views.”

“Today, you are an Astronaut,” the site says. “You are floating in inner space 100 miles above the surface of Earth. You peer through your window and this is what you see. You are people watching. These are fleeting moments.

Thanks for reading.


Book Notes

Book Notes — ‘Purity,’ By Jonathan Franzen

Note: I have long kept written notes on index cards about the books I read. I decided to share some of these thoughts here, and will be posting them, one by one on individual books, in no particular order. I’ll group them all together on a central page later. Thanks to Derek Sivers for the inspiration.

2016 06 22 franzen purity

By Jonathan Franzen
Published: 2015
Read: April 2016
ISBN: 0374239215
Amazon link
Rating: 9/10

Brief recap: A novel about youth, ambition, and desire, packed with sharp cultural observations. I loved it, as I have loved most of Franzen’s fiction.

My notes:

  • The novel follows protagonist Pip Tyler as she seeks out direction in her life and tries to negotiate her relationship with her mother – and her father, who she didn’t know growing up.

  • While the novel is nearly 600 pages long, I found it to be extremely fast-paced, and loved the intricacy of the plot, with scences boucning between decades, both in the U.S. and in Germany.

  • I liked Franzen’s description of the geography in Bolivia, where part of the novel takes place.

  • I can’t excerpt it here because it present a major spolier, but the language describing one key character’s sudden demise was striking. I read that passage again and again.

  • My sense is that if you liked Franzen’s earlier works (as I did), such as “The Corrections” and “Freedoms,” you’ll like this one, too.


Another Novel I Really Loved: Adam Johnson’s ‘Orphan Master’s Son’

2015 02 11 oms

Back in September, I wrote I post called “A Novel I Really Loved: Adam Johnson’s ‘Parasites Like Us’”:

At the airport on my way to a recent beach getaway I picked up a copy of Adam Johnson‘s “Parasites Like Us.”

It is a remarkably good novel.

Though the book was published ten years ago, I hadn’t heard of it. (Johnson’s 2012 novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. “Parasites Like Us” is his debut novel.)

Well, I recently got around to reading “The Orphan Master’s Son.” It, too, is exceptional.

Sam Sacks wrote in a WSJ review after the book was published:

Adam Johnson’s remarkable novel “The Orphan Master’s Son” is set in North Korea, an entire nation that has conformed to the fictions spun by a dictator and his inner circle. Mr. Johnson’s book is based on years of research (including a trip to North Korea that the regime carefully choreographed), and though experts on the region will know better than I, his depictions have the feel of eerie authenticity. Set during the recently ended reign of Kim Jong Il, the book is a work of high adventure, surreal coincidences and terrible violence, seeming to straddle the line between cinematic fantasy and brutal actuality.

Indeed, there is a Gabriel García Márquez-style magic realism about the book.

It’s very much worth reading, especially for those interested in North Korea.


A Novel I Really Loved: Adam Johnson’s ‘Parasites Like Us’

2014 09 21 parasites

At the airport on my way to a recent beach getaway I picked up a copy of Adam Johnson‘s “Parasites Like Us.”

It is a remarkably good novel.

Though the book was published ten years ago, I hadn’t heard of it. (Johnson’s 2012 novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. “Parasites Like Us” is his debut novel.)

It tells the story of an eccentric anthropology professor, his similarly wacky students, and an apocalyptic scenario. (Previous post about apocalypic scenarios is here.)

But the book’s mostly about relationships, love, the passage of time, and what, if anything, we can learn from those who inhabited the earth 10,000 years ago, at the dawn of civilization.

The writing is evocative. The characters are vivid. And it’s extremely funny. I found the passages describing the landscape — the story takes place in South Dakota — especially moving.

For more, here’s the New York Times‘s review. Some reviews I’ve read are critical of certain elements of the book. But I loved it.