Monday. 21/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Turning a page

What’s that? Could it be the sound of a smattering of year-end good news in the publishing world after an extraordinarily tough nine months? Last week, one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards, the Booker prize, announced its judging panel for 2021. But tucked in amid the news that novelist Chigozie Obioma (pictured), historian Maya Jasanoff and Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, will be among those assessing next year’s contenders is a bit of admin news that could perhaps have a much more profound impact on who makes next year’s shortlist.

In past years, the Booker Prize Foundation, the charity that operates the annual award, has required that the publishers of the shortlisted novels stump up £5,000 (€5,516) to be used for marketing and public events. For 2021, recognising the brutal impact that coronavirus has had on publishing houses this year, the foundation decided to waive the fee. And from now on, the foundation has revealed, it will remain that way. This news is especially meaningful for smaller imprints and independent presses. After all, megawatt publishing houses have little trouble covering such fees but for the little guys it could be the dealbreaker that holds their authors back.

With the larger publishing houses throwing more attention and money behind commercial novels and celebrity memoirs, it’s the smaller, independent outfits that are increasingly publishing more experimental, ground-breaking and genuinely exciting literature. Take 2020’s A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, from indie Tramp Press, as just one thrilling example. If these works are now more easily able to be included on literary prize lists, they’ll be much more widely read. So, ultimately, this move is good news for readers too.

Image: Reuters

Politics / The Vatican

Following the star

The inclusion of a giant spaceman in The Vatican’s nativity scene this year has sparked comment across the Christian world. The controversy concludes a strange year for Pope Francis in which the Catholic Church has been in a tricky position: as a result of coronavirus, the devoted have needed support like never before but the pandemic has curtailed the very possibility of communion. Live coverage of a striking blessing delivered in an empty St Peter’s Square in March was watched by 11 million people but the progressive pontiff is at his best face-to-face. “Pope Francis likes to be in the crowd,” Andrea Gagliarducci, Vatican analyst for the Catholic News Agency, tells the Monocle Minute, making 2020 “an unexpected transition year”. Still, with a trip to Iraq planned for March, The Vatican is clearly hoping for a return to business as usual. As for the spaceman? Perhaps it should be taken as a sign of the times: a pontiff prepared to aim for the heavens.

Image: Shutterstock

Urbanism / Toronto

Talking shop

If you’re somebody who gets gift ideas from browsing shelves, last-minute shopping could be something of a challenge this week. Luckily, cities such as Toronto, which is enduring a second lockdown, are bringing the browsing out front. Instead of their traditionally decorative shop-window displays, many of Toronto’s smaller retailers are transforming them into full miniature showrooms of what’s inside the store.

“Don’t mind our no-open sign,” writes Canadian fashion shop Coal Miner’s Daughter, which is rotating displays of its latest arrivals and inviting people to contact them online if they see something nice from the street. Others are involving Toronto-based artists: the Business Improvement Association of Cabbagetown, which represents a Victorian-era district of the city, has commissioned eight delightful installations for shopfronts inviting people to buy local. Given the challenges posed to small bricks-and-mortar retailers in Toronto during a restricted festive-shopping period, many are hoping that the displays promote “window shopping” but also drive sales.

Image: Shutterstock

Elections / Jerusalem

Split the vote

Residents of Jerusalem head to the polls tomorrow to vote for representatives on their community councils. Mayor Moshe Lion has announced that a select number of seats in every district will be reserved for both ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews, groups who frequently clash on issues such as street and business closures on the Sabbath, and spending on community facilities. Lion hopes that designating seats on the basis of religious affiliation will help to minimise power struggles over purse-strings and lifestyles. But some experts, such as Yossi Mekelberg, research fellow of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House, aren’t convinced. “In Jerusalem you have this mosaic of religious and non-religious, of Arabs and Jews, Christians and Muslims, and these committees should reflect that,” Meckelberg tells the Monocle Minute. “No one should impose quotas there, otherwise it allows one group to impose their way of life on others.” The solution, according to Meckleberg? Work harder to encourage respect and tolerance.

Image: Kendal Noctor

Business / UK

Scents of timing

To mark today’s winter solstice, customers on the ledger of Somerset-based perfumer Ffern will receive their bottles of this season’s fragrance – with the next scent not arriving until the vernal equinox on 20 March. The natural-perfume house, the creation of brother-and-sister team Owen Mears and Emily Cameron, has gained a cult following thanks to its quarterly release schedule: a seasonal fragrance is sent to a limited number of subscribers every equinox and solstice. Mears says that making only one bottle for each name on a limited ledger allows them to stay true to traditional, small-batch production, with no waste or excess stock. “We wanted to celebrate the skill and craftsmanship involved in natural perfumery,” says Mears. “And to be entirely transparent about our ingredients and their provenance.” As we head into a new year with thoughts of renewal, Ffern’s business model offers a valuable lesson: focusing on craft and quality can go further to creating a personal connection with customers than building stock and spending on a marketing campaign.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 225: Calienna

When Miriam and Christian Cervantes moved to Vienna with a view to opening their own plant shop, they didn’t think they would be doing so in the middle of a pandemic. But they persevered and launched Calienna in September after months of lockdown and renovation. Alexei Korolyov speaks to the pair about their new shop.

Monocle Films / Global

Christmas shopping in Ljubljana

The Slovenian capital is a treasure trove of unusual and creative gifts for the festive season – and our pick for all the presents and stocking-fillers you could ever need.

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