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#NPRReads: Considering The Language Of Wine And What's In A Toddler's Mouth

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom share pieces that have kept them reading. They share tidbits using the #NPRreads hashtag — and on Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you four items.

From NPR producer Sarah Handel:

How does becoming a parent change your work? Conceptual artist Lenka Clayton rejected the idea that "being an engaged mother and serious artist are mutually exclusive endeavors." So she began her Residency in Motherhood. Clayton turned life with her one-year-old son into fodder for her art – not only did she take inspiration from various realities of life with a little one to inform her creative vision, she used artifacts from their life together as her medium.

Anyone who has spent time with a toddler will feel a jolt of recognition – if not dread – viewing "63 Objects Taken From My Son's Mouth." And then, there's "Maternity Leave":

For three months the sound of the distant domestic world of my home and new eight-week-old baby was transmitted via live audio feed to the Carnegie Museum of Art. The microphone at home was placed directly above the baby's cot, capturing every murmur, cry and nursery rhyme. In the museum the sound was broadcast through a white plastic baby monitor, standing on a pedestal in the middle of an empty gallery space, audible to all visitors during the opening hours of the museum.

I'm in awe of how Clayton flipped the conventional wisdom on its head and mined motherhood for thoughtful, creative work. And grateful to Joanna Goddard for highlighting it.

From NPR Arts Editor Nina Gregory:

Typeface designers are the ultimate snobs so I was curious to read about what they think is the best typeface to use in email. I've long been an Arial user, "a font one designer called Helvetica's 'ugly bastard son,'" the Bloomberg story says. As more people read on HD screens and devices like Kindles, new typefaces and customized versions of existing ones have emerged. For those of us using Outlook, it says Georgia or Verdana is better than Arial. I've switched to Verdana. What do you think of it?

From NPR Investigations Editor Alicia Cypress:

Among my close friends and family, I'm quite the wine geek. Among my wine friends, I'm the novice of the group. So I've always been cognizant about the way I communicate with everyone. I want to sound intelligent, but not come off as a wine snob. I want to exude my passion without sounding like an overeager fangirl. And when I'm ordering wine at a restaurant, I want to make sure the sommelier can pluck the perfect bottle out of their cellar for me.

But how can you comfortably and effectively communicate when even the wine community can't agree on how to always describe the nuanced characteristics of taste and flavor found inside a single glass?

In "Is There a Better Way To Talk About Wine," Bianca Bosker discusses the linguistics of wine – from early descriptions noted by the Greeks and the Romans – such as Pliny the Elder and Horace — all the way to modern day wine critics Robert Parker and James Suckling.

She writes:

In recent years, flowery, elaborate flavor descriptions have become commonplace in the wine world and beyond, regularly speaking to us from wrappers of artisan chocolate bars, menus of craft beers, and display cases of gourmet cheese.

This string of vocabulary may sound poetic, but does anyone understand it? Again Bosker:

But even with a standardized vocabulary, the flavor of wine—like any form of taste—is dependent in large part upon the biases and predilections of the person doing the tasting. Scholars who have studied the language of wine critics have shown how cultural ideals of masculinity, class, and even physical fitness have influenced flavor descriptions in past decades. (Who knew that a wine could be "broad-shouldered" or "sinewy"?) Today, in a farm-to-table food culture that worships at the altar of the artisan, hundred-point favorites are often presented as farmers' markets in a bottle, with comparisons to "wild strawberry" or "wet hay" conveying a rustic gastronomic ideal.

Centuries of communicating about fermented grape juice later, there may be some hope for something more unified. Acknowledging a problem is always the first step to solving it, right?

From Danielle Kurtzleben, a reporter on NPR's politics unit:

"Don't worry that the robots will take your job. Be terrified that they won't," Matt Yglesias writes in his epic exploration of why the American worker's productivity is slowing.

That sounds like the ultimate #slatepitch from the Vox cofounder (where he was, full disclosure, my editor for a while), but Yglesias lays out ample, compelling evidence that we should want more robots in the workplace. And this an important point, especially now, as productivity and stagnant wages will be perhaps the most important narrative in the presidential campaign, as I wrote a few weeks ago.

"Robots" — by which Yglesias means technological advances of all sorts (iPads and social networks, for example) — have been huge drivers of economic growth in the past. In other words, a robot might take a factory worker's job, which sucks for that factory worker, but a whole bunch of those robots can also make a factory produce more widgets, which helps speed the economy, which means a rising tide that lifts "the vast majority of boats," as Yglesias puts it.

The problem, Yglesias writes, is that this kind of change isn't happening much these days — technology is mostly changing our leisure time, giving us a weekend's worth of Orange is the New Black, rather than helping us churn out more widgets at our jobs. And even services like Uber and Washio aren't improving efficiency, he adds: they're just offloading our unpleasant household tasks to other people, who will take just as long to wash our clothes as we do ourselves.

This — even more than the inequality we keep hearing about — is why American workers' wages have stopped growing, Yglesias argues. It's a fascinating read and well worth your time if you want to understand the biggest economic issue in the next election.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Sarah Handel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Nina Gregory is a senior editor for NPR's Arts Desk, where she oversees coverage of film across the network and edits and and assigns stories on television, art, design, fashion, food, and culture.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.