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August 31, 2008

Helping The Stars Take Back The Night

by Joe Sharkey, New York Times

It's easy to forget, 130 years after outdoor electric lighting first case its glow through the night, that the sky is actually full of stars.

James Wood's 'Fiction' Is About Making It Real

by Charles Matthews, San Francisco Chronicle

"How Fiction Works" is an audacious title, not only because explaining the mechanisms of fiction is a large task, but also because fiction doesn't seem to be working as well as it used to, if you take the decline in book sales as evidence. But if any contemporary critic is up to the task, it's James Wood, who has read more and better than the rest of us.

Carry On Laid Bare? You're Having A Laugh

by Elizabeth Day, The Guardian

The world divides broadly into two types of people. THere are those who believe that the resemblance of sausages to male genitalia is a fund of endless ribaldry. And there are those who don't.

Solzhenitsyn The Stylist

by Michael Scammell, New York Times

Most of the recent tributes to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who died earlier this month, have concentrated on his titanic struggle against the Soviet regime, and rightly so. But what seems to have gotten lost is the reason he was listened to in the first place — namely, his virtues as a writer.

August 30, 2008

The Life Of A Jellyfish

by Constance Casey, Slate

A profusion of jellyfish is often described as an invasion or an attack. Which is laughable, given the guiding principle of jellyfish behavior—"whatever."

August 29, 2008

The Expatriate

by Michael Donohue, The National

Around the time of the Chinese Revolution in 1949, a small crowd of foreign sympathisers came to help build the Maoist dream. Sixty years later, one of them is still there.

Rumors About Me

by Yasutaka Tsutsui, translated by Andrew Driver, Zoetrope

August 28, 2008

The Road To Wikipedia

by Laura Miller, Salon

How do we know what we know? A new book takes a long view of knowledge, from ancient oral traditions to the rise of universities and the internet.

'Year Million: Science At The Far Edge Of Knowledge,' Edited By Damien Broderick

by Brett Levy, Los Angeles Times

Ironically, our future is expected to bring the descendants of mankind back to coping with the same issues we face today: environmental problems, high energy prices and a shortage of raw materials.

August 27, 2008

The Anti-Restaurants

by Melena Ryzik, New York Times

Mainstream it's not — and that's just how the organizers like it.

Love Food? Think Twice Before Jumping In

by Micheline Maynard, New York Times

Running a restaurant has perhaps never been so tempting, thanks in part to the Food Network and celebrity chefs, but statistics show it is still very easy to fail.

Spell It Like It Is

by Frank Furedi, Spiked

Celebrating variant truths, like variant spellings, is presented as a pluralistic gesture of tolerance.

First, Crack Them Open (Like Americans Do!)

by Jennifer 8. Lee, New York Times

The instructions on the red wrapper are very explicit: (1) Open the packaging. (2) Use both hands to break open the fortune cookie. (3) Retrieve and read the fortune. (4) Eat the cookie.

In China, such details are necessary, it seems.

Why We Shouldn't Still Be Learning Catcher In The Rye

by Anne Trubek, Good

Don't some of Holden's younger siblings deserve the end-of-the-year spot in sophomore English?

Yom Kippur

by Philip Schultz, Slate

August 26, 2008

'Burn Notice.' The Novel

by Tod Goldberg, Los Angeles Times

Does a real writer accept a gig doing books spun off from films or TV shows? A real writer found the answer to his own question.

August 25, 2008

We Did Not Make Ourselves

by Michael Dickman, New Yorker


by Jeffrey Skinner, New Yorker

Gorse Is Not People

by Janet Frame, New Yorker

Haiku Nation

by Jeremy Caplan, Time

Short is in. Online Americans, fed up with e-mail overload and blogorrhea, are retreating into micro-writing. Six-word memoirs. Four-word film reviews. Twelve-word novels. Mini-lit is thriving.

August 24, 2008

The Butterfly Effect

by Dan Southerland, Washington Post

I paid the bill at exactly 5.52 p.m. (I've kept the receipt as a souvenir) and decided I might as well call it a day and head home — with the butterfly. I phoned my wife, Muriel, to ask her to put off the movie she had planned to go to and wait for me, because I'd be bringing a butterfly home.

Sex And The Olympic City

by Matthew Syed, The Times

I am often asked if the Olympic village - the vast restaurant and housing conglomeration that hosts the world's top athletes for the duration of the Games - is the sex-fest it is cracked up to be. My answer is always the same: too right it is.

Please Put A Sock In It - This Is A Library

by Hephzibah Anderson, The Guardian

Once as essential to libraries as books themselves, silence is now as elusive as that stolen copy of Lord of the Flies - except it hasn't been pinched, it's been driven out.

August 23, 2008

The Theory That Ate The World

by George Johnson, New York Times

Hawking's information paradox opened an arena in which two great theories of physics — general relativity, describing gravity, and quantum mechanics, describing everything else — duked it out.

A Long, Strange Trip

by Steve Coates, New York Times

Is there anything in the Western literary canon with more abundant, potent or frolicsome offspring than Homer's "Odyssey"?

My Long War

by Dexter Filkins, New York Times

What it's been like reporting a conflict that never seems to end.

The Shape Of Music

by Dmitri Tymoczko, Seed

How do harmony and melody combine to make music?

August 22, 2008

Title Inflation: For Books, The More Words The Better In The Era Of Google

by Ian Williams, The Guardian

Think of what would have happened to George Orwell's snappy title. 1984: One Man's Discovery that Big Brother is Indeed Big but Hardly Fraternal and that Sex with Comrades Can Have Torturous Consequences.

White Moon

by Wang Xiaoni, translated by Pascale Petit, The Guardian

I'll Have The Banana Pancake Flambe Stonehenge

by Paul Collins, Slate

A cookbook titled A Treasury of Great Recipes sounds innocuous. What's frightening about noodle casserole? Why, nothing... except when it's cooked by Vincent Price.

Joseph Moncure March: Poem Noir Becomes Prizefight Film

by Jefferson Hunter, The Hudson Review

As unlikely as it seems—in the long history of the cinema, how many pictures, let alone boxing pictures, can have been based on a poem ?—the line is perfectly accurate.

August 21, 2008

In Praise Of Melancholy

by Eric G. Wilson, Chronicle Of Higher Education

American culture's overemphasis on happiness misses an essential part of a full life.

August 20, 2008

The Battle For A Country's Soul

by Jane Mayer, New York Review Of Books

Seven years after al-Qaeda's attacks on America, as the Bush administration slips into histroy, it is clear that what began on September 11, 2001, as a battle for America's security became, and continue to be, a battle for the country's soul.

How Utterly, Splendidly Ripping

by Lucy Mangan, The Guardian

Blyton's gold medal positio in this table is evidence that it is the books we read, wholeheartedly, passionately, uncritically, in childhood to which we remain most firmly and irrevocably attached. The flaws we see in them as adults, the criticisms - and some pretty hefty ones, in the shape of accusations of sexism, racism and class snobbery have been flung Blton's way over the years - do not weaken those bonds.

Why We Love Doing The iPod Shuffle

by Naomi Alderman, The Guardian

Whether listening to music on our iPods, surfing the net, shopping or travelling, there's something seductive about randomness.

How To: Solve The New York Times Crossword Puzzle

by Will Shortz, New York Times

A crosssword puzzle is a battle between the puzzle maker and editor on one side and the solver on the other. But unlike most battles, both sides here have the same goal — for the solver to win. A perfect puzzle may put up lots of resistance. It may, in fact, seem impossible at first. Ideally, though, in the end the solver should triumph and think, Oh, how clever I am!

August 19, 2008


by Gail Mazur, Slate

Notes From A Barbarian

by Morgan Meis, The Smart Set

The idea of a "canon" is in tatters. A canon needs an established cultural authority, and there is no guiding authority in culture anymore.

Cinema Stole My Favorite Books

by David Barnett, The Guardian

I expended time and imagination to absorb these stories. Why should people be entitled to think they know them without puttting in any effort?

Did Doctors Remove Babies' Hearts Too Soon?

by Rahul K. Parikh, Salon

Colorado doctors are under fire for performing infant organ transplants prematurely. But they made the right call.

The Great Lobster Mystery

by Daniel Gross, Slate

Food prices are soaring, so why are prices for the delicious crustacean falling?

The Other Darwin

by Mark Czarnecki, The Walrus

Evolutionary psychology takes evolution one step further: not only the body of Homo sapiens, but the human mind as well has been shaped by this process. How we think and feel has evolved over millennia, stretching back to our prehistory on the African savannah, and those ancient patterns stay with us, despite the cultural overlay of recorded history nd the wide spectrum of individual difference.

August 18, 2008

Author, Author: Name That Plume

by Anne Enright, The Guardian

Naming is nice. It took me days before I was able to speak a name for my first child (what if people did not like it?), and I suspect we gave her a secret, second name as well, to keep her safe.

Naming characters is much less fraught.

Isola Bella

by C. K. Stead, New Yorker

Here The Birds' Journey Ends

by Mahmoud Darwish, New Yorker


by Tobias Wolff, New Yorker

Confidence Game

by Drake Bennett, Boston Globe

How imposters like Clark Rockefeller capture our trust instantly - and why we're so eager to give it to them.

August 17, 2008

Green Sahara

by Peter Gwin, Photograph by Mke Hettwer, National Geographic Magazine

How a dinosaur hunter uncovered the Sahara's strangest Stone Age graveyard.

The Chances Are That Gordon Brown Is A Loser

by David Smith, The Guardian

Mlodinow's telling central permise is that our desire for control leaves us in denial about how important randomness is.

August 16, 2008

A Teachable Moment

by Paul Tough, New York Times

Hurricane Katrina wiped out the New Orleans public schools. It also created a rare chance to build a system that might solve the biggest problem in urban education — how to teach disadvantaged children.

A Not So Common Reader

by Walter Kirn, New York Times

This old-fashioned primer on literature from the esteemed critic James Wood concentrates on the art of the novel.

Judgment Call

by Alexander Star, New York Times

Our justice detectors are not fundamentally defective. They are suited to the task of setting things right — approximately.

He Blurbed, She Blurbed

by Rachel Donadio, New York Times

Blurbings LLC traffics in "blurbs," the often hyperbolic declamations on book covers alerting readers that they're holding the greatest single work of literature since the Bible — or perhaps since "The Da Vinci Code."

The End Of Aviation

by Bradford Plumer, The New Republic

What will happen when America can't afford to fly?

August 15, 2008

The Man Behind Woody Allen

by Lennard Davis, The Common Review

Can we really think seriously about the bespectacled, neurotic schlemiel who stumbles through Take the Money and Run (1969) or Bananas (1971) as the true heir to the Western intellectual tradition?

Ever Thine. Ever Mine: How Romantic Are Today's Authors

by Emma Hagestadt, The Independent

The latest collection of historical love letters show sthat authors were a romantic lot. But are today's writers as handy with a pen?

Literary Soul Mates Or Authors Who Were Polar Opposites?

by Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

David Lebedoff attempts to argue that George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, apparently polar opposites, were in fact soul mates.

The Cities Of Our Dreams

by Thomas Meaney, Wall Street Journal

In a world where cities are on the rise, where the world is, in many respects, becoming a city, it behooves our leading architectural critics to structure our pressing needs into a solid argument. But Mr Kingwell has given us sketches when we need blueprints and reveries when we need concrete.

Facial Frontier

by Robert Fulford, National Post

The human face can reveal much about a person—whether they like it or not.

August 14, 2008


by Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic

The view that everything is changing for the better is marketing propaganda—Google progressivism.

August 13, 2008

Harvesting The Waste Land: An Anthology Of New Criticism

by Adam Kirsch, New York Sun

The New Criticism is too good and too serious to be dismissed as advertisement. It deserves to be remembered, instead, as the scaffolding on which the monument of modernism was raised.

This Is Not My Beautiful Wife

by Laura Miller, Salon

Meteorology meets conspiracy in Rivka Glachen's exquisite first novel about a man who mistakes his wife for an impostor.

Louis Owens And John Steinbeck's Ghosts

by Tony Ortega, Village Voice

A mystery solved with the help of a professor and a mobster's musician.

Down With The Perfect 10!

by Jordan Ellenberg, Slate

A mathematician explains the genius of the new gymnastics scoring system.

God And Jerk At Yale

by Rachel Toor, Chronicle Of Higher Education

The difference between having a college degree and not having one is far greater than where you go to college. But where you go can determine, to a large extent, who you become. Some of us become jerks. And others spend our lives trying to figure out what it meant to have been there — and how to get over it.

August 12, 2008

A Bristle Of Wings In The Ivy

by Teresa Cader, Slate

Bizarre Death Of The Man Who Talked Too Much

by Joseph Weisberg, New York Times

In "The Terminal Spy" Alan S. Cowell, a veteran foreign correspondent for The New York Times, gives an absorbing account of Mr Litvinenko's life and bizarre murder. Along the way he explains how Russia lost and got back its tremendous energy resources after the fall of the Soviet Union, describes how wealthy Russians have turned London into "Moscow-on-the-Thames" and tries to determine if the Litvinenko murder is the harbinger of a new and especialy dangerous kind of terrorism.

While A Magician Works, The Mind Does The Tricks

by Benedict Carey, New York Times

"Here's this art form gooing back perhaps to ancietn Egypt, and basically the neuroscience community had been unaware" of its direct application to the study of perception, Dr Marthinez-Conde said.

Condolences, Felt But Not Expressed

by Kent Sepkowitz, New York Times

I think doctors have a strange way of grieving their patients.

Britons Abroad: Speaking In Tongues

by Michael Church, The Independent

Each language represents a particular kind of society, and a particular way of feeling and thinking. For those who speak it, it's the sum of human intelligence. We should all take note, and cherish our little grammar books.

'Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us)' By Tom Vanderbilt

by Mathew DeBord, Los Angeles Times

An encyclopedic look at traffic woes. Unfortunately, it goes nowhere.

August 10, 2008

Paul Auster's 'Man In The Dark'

by Stephen Elliott, San Francisco Chronicle

Paul Auster has captivated generations of readers with his expansive imagination and style - a style that could be called lazy, in the best sense of the word, like a dog with his tongue out, rolling in the sun. But this, his latest novel, is something else.

The Future Of Crossing The Street

by Billy Baker, Boston Globe

Boston drivers are bad, but Boston pedestrians might be worse. Now some very smart people think they've got the answers to help everyone play nice on our roads.

A Glimpse Into The Thoughts Of George Orwell

by David Mehegan, Boston Globe

It may be hard to imagine that any of George Orwell's writings would be unread 58 years after his death. Generations of readers have been gripped by such classics as "Down and Out in Paris and London," "Homage to Catalonia," "Animal Farm," and especially "1984." However, most of even the most devoted aficionados haven't read Orwell's diaries.

They May Not Mean To, But They Do

by Caryn James, New York Times

Like so many adolescents, Doris Lessing swore never to be like "these sick and half crazy people, my parents." Unlike most, she became a brilliant Nobel Prize-winning writer, and in "Alfred and Emily" offers them the greatest gift she can: the lieves they might have had.

'Punk Half Panther'

by Stephen Burt, New York Times

Herrera's worst poems seem disorganized, excessive, frantic; his best seem disheveled, excited, uncommonly free.

August 9, 2008

Paris Match

by Maureen Orth, Vanity Fair

Just months after his May 2007 election, French president Nicolas Sarkozy faced growing criticism over his stalled reforms, flashy style, and stormy divorce. The last straw should have been his whirlwind remarriage, to an Italian heiress, ex-model, and singer who had past liaisons with Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, among others, and nude photos all over the internet. But the lady in question, Carla Bruni, is proviing an unexpected asset.

Clarke And Pohl's 'The Last Theorem'

by Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle

Completed only a few days before the death of Arthur C. Clarke, "The Last Theorem" is a paean to the elegance of mathematics and th epower of the scientific method.

August 8, 2008

Demons Inner And Outer

by Adam Kirsch, New York Sun

Almost seven years after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, readers still display a surprising hunger for the definitive "9/11 novel."

A Literature Of Our Own

by Julie Bindel, The Guardian

Eighty years after Radclyffe Hall wrote the radical novel The Well of Loneliness, is there still any need for novels to be categorised as lesbian?

August 7, 2008

Unholy Saturday

by Philip Levine, Threepenny Review

Why The World Needs Quantum Mechanics

by Michael Nielsen

Conventional wisdom holds that quantum mechanics is hard to learn. This is more or less correct, although often overstated. However, the necessity of abandoning conventional ways of thinking about the world, and finding a radically new way - quantum mechanics - can be understood by an intelligent person willing to spend some time concentrating hard.

From A To Zyxt

by Nicholson Baker, New York Times

Ammon Shea, a sometime furniture mover, gondolier and word collector, has written an oddly inspiring book about reading the whole of the Oxford English Dictionary in one go.

Shea's book offers mor ethan exotic word lists, though. It also has a plot.

Journalist Seeking Paycheck? Try India

by Arun Venugopal, Salon

As U.S. newsrooms shrivel, India's are booming. And they're hiring, not firing reporters and editors.

Roadside Americana

by Emily Nunn, Chicago Tribune

The farm stand has a place in our hearts—and, we're happy to report, on MapQuest too.

The Power To Say No

by Steve E. Landsburg, Wall Street Journal

If you need both an operating system and a browser to get on the internet, would you rather acquire them from a single monopolist or from two competing monopolists?

Struck By Lightning

by Jill Frayne, The Walrus

It's random and electric, and we are forever drawn to its deadly charms.

August 6, 2008


by David Plotz, Slate

August is the Mississippi of the calendar. It's beastly hot and muggy. It has a dismal history. Nothing good ever happens in it. And the United States would be better off without it.

In Changing Harlem, Soul Food Struggles

by Timothy Williams, New York Times

Soul food is dying in Harlem and elsewhere in the city. The reasons can be chalked up to the vagaries of contemporary city life: Changing tatstes; health consciousness; the fast-food culture; and an influx of wealthier young adults — including African-Americans, long a customer base for soul food restaurants — who are more comfortable eating Indian or Thai dishes.

The Coffee Fix: Can The $11,000 Clover Machine Save Starbucks?

by Mathew Honan, Wired

The Clover coffeemaker debuted in a handful of cafes in 2006 and was promptly hailed as the best thing to happen to coffee lovers since the car cup holder.

Paying Homage To What's Vanished In Beijing's Race To Modernize

by Michael Kenney, Boston Globe

By the time Michael Meyer arrived in 1997, Beijing's old neighborhoods were being gutted and rebuilt skyward in the run-up to this summer's Olympics.

Sunday Morning Lifeblogging: Adventures In European Subtitling

by Guy La Roche, A Fistful Of Euros

Subtitlers do everything in their power to make sure people do not notice all their billiant solutions to difficult problems.

August 5, 2008

The Intention Of Things

by David Ferry, Slate

The China Problem

by King Kaufman, Salon

We have the IOC to thank that if we're going to enjoy the running and jumpig, we'll have to ingore what's going on outside the venues. Just what China's government wants us to do.

Inside Story Of The Telescope That Nearly Wasn't Built

by Dennis Overbye, New York Times

Behind every pretty picture of the universe there is a lot of dirty work that had to be done to capture it.

August 4, 2008


by Jerome Groopman, New Yorker

The new generation of resistant infections is almost impossible to treat.


by Matthew Dickman, New Yorker

The Dinner Party

by Joshua Ferris, New Yorker

On occasion, the two women went to lunch and she came home offended by some pettiness. And he would say, "Why do this to yourself?" He wanted to keep her from being hurt. He also wanted his wife and her friend to drift apart so that he never had to sit through another dinner party with the friend and her husband. But after a few months the rift would inevitably heal and the friendship return to good standing. He couldn't blame her. They went back a long way and you get only so many old friends.

Attabled With The Spinning Years

by John Ashbery, New Yorker

Perspire To Retire!

by Heather Havrilesky, Salon

I was all fired up to svae for the future. Then I found out I was a day late and about, um, $90,000 short.

Why Won't You Blurb Me?

by Rebecca Johnson, Salon

I had an agent and a book deal for my first novel. All I was missing was quotes for the back cover. Next time, remind me to suck up to more famous writers.

August 3, 2008

When A CHild Vanishes, Ghosts Follow

by Richard Eder, Boston Globe

Childhood: not just another country or even another planet, but, in Catherine O'Flynn's delicate wilderness of a first novel, a tiny asteroid on collision course with our bloated planet.

August 2, 2008

A Fuehrer Over Underpants

by Gene Weingarten, Washington Post

When people ask me if I have any rules for humor writing, I say: "Only one. I always try to put the funniest word at the end of the sentence underpants."

Me, Myself And I

by Caroline Winter, New York Times

Why do we capitalize the word "I"? There's no grammatical reason for doing so, and oddly enough, the majuscule "I" appears only in English.

Era With No Name

by Nicholas Thompson, New York Times

Yes, a lot happened in this era. But no one is exactly sure what it meant - or what it should be called.

Famous Writers And Their Work Spaces Come Together In A Mural

by Eric Konigsberg, New York Times

The mural, "At Home With Their Books," measures 10 feet high by 30 feet wide and depicts, in six chronologically ordered panels, the writing spaces of six authors who spent some, if not all, of their careers in New York.

What's Really Killing Newspapers

by Jack Shafer, Slate

They're no longer the best providers of social currency.

Pubs Are The Last Place I'd Want To Drink In

by Andrew O'Hagan, Telegraph

George Orwell once described a warm beer and a country pub as being among the essential flavours of England. Nobody would claim that now: perhaps a blood red pair of Mad Dog 20/20s (two for the price of one) would more accurately summon the present atmosphere.

Literary Doubles

by David Jenkins, The Guardian

I'm having an identity crisis, because there's a new David Jenkins on the block, journalistically speaking.

August 1, 2008

Getting Drunk With Ethan Canin

by Paul Constant, The Stranger

There's always something wonderful about getting drunk with smart people, especially authors.


by Mattathias Schwartz, New York Times

Measured in terms of depravity, insularity and traffic-driven turnover, the culture of /b/ has little precedent. /b/ reads like the inside of a high-school bathroom stall, or an obscene telephone party line, or a blog with no posts and all comments filled with slang that you are too old to understand.

In Defense Of Casual Sex

by Tracy Clark-Flory, Salon

A new raft of chastity books laments a hookup culture that is hurting young women. As one of those young women, I beg to disagree.

By Heng-Cheong Leong