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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Of Loos And Language

by Roger Cohen, New York Times

That England’s gone, of course, it’s had its glossy makeover like everywhere else. Gastropubs shun bangers and lumpy mash and even Leeds is trendy.

But language is another story.

American Stonehenge: Monumental Instructions for the Post-Apocalypse

by Randall Sullivan, Wired

Whoever the anonymous architects of the Guidestones were, they knew what they were doing: The monument is a highly engineered structure that flawlessly tracks the sun. It also manages to engender endless fascination, thanks to a carefully orchestrated aura of mystery. And the stones have attracted plenty of devotees to defend against folks who would like them destroyed. Clearly, whoever had the monument placed here understood one thing very well: People prize what they don't understand at least as much as what they do.

Final Edition

by Stefany Anne Golberg, The Smart Set

In praise of the newspaper obituary.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Nonfiction Marriage

by Jonathan Van Meter, New York Magazine

After the massage parlors, after the affair, after the scandalous book that nearly broke up his family, Gay Talese is writing a new opus—about his relationship with his wife.

What's So Funny?

by Alex Beam, Boston Globe

In the immortal deathbed phrase variously attributed to actors Edwin Booth, Edmund Kean, Donald Wolfit, and others: "Dying is easy, comedy is hard."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Eurydice: 1887

by Avery Slater, Slate

The Name's Du Xiao Hua, But Call Me Steve

by Huan Hsu, Slate

What's up with Chinese people having English names?

Meals Worth A Flight (Or A Cab Ride)

by Mimi Sheraton, New York Times

How many stars then would the good Guide accord a restaurant that is worth a special plane trip across the Atlantic? Given the cost, confusion and discomfort of air travel these days would four stars be enough for that designation, or might such a place rate a five-star constellation?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Inside The Baby's Mind

by Jonah Lehrer, Boston Globe

It's unfocused, random, and extremely good at what it does. How we can learn from a baby's brain.

Purpose-Driven Life

by Brian Boyd, The AMerican Scholar

Evolution does not rob life of meaning, but creates meaning. It also makes possible our own capacity for creativity.

Forgotten Fountain

by W. S. Merwin, The New Yorker


by Ange Mlinko, The New Yorker

Against Readings

by Mark Edmundson, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

If I could make one wish for the members of my profession, college and university professors of literature, I would wish that for one year, two, three, or five, we would give up readings. By a reading, I mean the application of an analytical vocabulary — Marx's, Freud's, Foucault's, Derrida's, or whoever's — to describe and (usually) to judge a work of literary art. I wish that we'd declare a moratorium on readings. I wish that we'd give readings a rest.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

No, You Can't Get An Upgrade

by David Segal, New York Times

Forget the upgrade. The game now is avoiding the downgrade. This is grim and troubling, in part, because so much of our consumer culture is built around the enticements of the Better.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Great And Terrible Truths

by Tom Bissell, New York Times

David Foster Wallace’s address at Kenyon College was funny, warm — and unmistakably dark.

With Kindle, Can You Tell It's Proust?

by Joanne Kaufman, New York Times

The publishing world is all caught up in weighty questions about the Kindle and other such devices: Will they help or hurt book sales and authors’ advances? Cannibalize the industry? Galvanize it?

Please, they’re overlooking the really important concern: How will the Kindle affect literary snobbism?

Come Visit. Live Life. Eat Cheese.

by Gail Collins, New York Times

It’s hard to go wrong when you’re picking a state flower, but the number of bad slogan-driven tourism campaigns is legion.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Gather 'Round The Cadaver

by Barron H. Lerner, Slate

The photographs in the remarkable new book Dissection shocked me, even though I spent a year in anatomy class during medical school.

Darwin's Worms

by Amy Stewart, The Wilson Quarterly

When I stand on a patch of earth and wonder about the activity occurring underfoot, I’m not alone. Gardeners are inquisitive by nature; we’re explorers; we like to turn over a log or pull up a plant by the roots to see what’s there. Most of the gardeners I know are, like me, quite interested in earthworms, in the work they do churning the earth and making new dirt. We hold soil in our hands, squeeze it and smell it as if we’re checking a ripe melon, and sift it to see what inhabits it. Ask a gardener about the earthworm population in her garden, and I guarantee she’ll have something to say on the subject.

It seems strange, then, that most scientists before Charles Darwin (1809 –82) didn’t consider worms worthy of study.

Bound To Burn

by Peter W. Huber, City Journal

Humanity will keep spewing carbon into the atmosphere, but good policy can help sink it back into the earth.

Does Updike's Last Verse Hit Its Mortal Mark? Plainly.

by Michael Dirda, Washington Post

In their last years, many artists cast aside all their usual flourishes, dismiss the circus animals and simply set down, as directly as possible, the realities and inevitabilities of old age. So John Updike has done in this moving book of poems. As he ruefully attests, "In the beginning, Culture does beguile us,/but Nature gets us in the end."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Our Hawaiian Holiday Without, Well, Hawaii

by Michelle Slatalla, New York Times

So last week we joined the ranks of Americans who are staying home and calling it a vacation.

Losing Its Cool At The Mall

by Eric Wilson, New York Times

This spring, spending by teenagers, a closely studied but rarely understood segment of the population, is off by 14 percent, a direct reflection of the economy, according to a report this month by the investment bank Piper Jaffray. And that is having a profound effect on an already unraveling mall culture, where deep discounters and stores known for heavy promotions are suddenly the popular destinations and aspirational brands are struggling to fit in.

China's Other Minority, Seen By One Of Its Own

by Howard W. French, New York Times

In this memoir, “Dragon Fighter,” part defiant political tell-all, part engrossing personal saga, Rebiya Kadeer paints a vivid picture of her life as a mother of 11 and a businesswoman who spent nearly six years in prison on her way to becoming the Uighur people’s most prominent dissident.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Helen Gurley Brown: The Original Carrie Bradshaw

by Dwight Garner, New York Times

In her entertaining new biography of Ms. Brown, “Bad Girls Go Everywhere,” Jennifer Scanlon, a professor of gender and women’s studies at Bowdoin College, charts her subject’s rocketlike rise out of the Ozarks. She also argues, convincingly, for Ms. Brown as a feisty, pivotal and too easily dismissed pioneer of the American women’s movement, one who dismayed more serious feminists with her breezy tone, her refusal to see men as the enemy and her belief that sex is not only great fun but also a “powerful weapon” for single women.

Tackling The Ethics Of Eating

by Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

With the growing move toward sustainable, simpler habits, choosing how and what to eat can get complicated. Enter the green guru.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Magazine With A Puzzle Buried Inside

by Dave Itzkoff, New York Times

For its latest issue, Wired wanted J. J. Abrams’s contributions and sensibility on every page, and devoted the entire magazine to the topic of mystery as a catalyst for imagination.

Why Isn't The Brain Green?

by Jon Gertner, New York Times

Decision scientists are trying to figure out why it’s so hard for us to get into a green mind-set. Their answers may be more crucial than any technological advance in combating environmental challenges.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Longing For Great Lost Works

by Stephen Marche, Wall Street Journal

From Shakespeare's 'Cardenio' to Ovid's Getic poetry, missing texts hold tantalizing possibilities.

Headline Art

by Stanley Fish, New York Times

I can’t hold a candle to the headline writers of the New York Post. I am not thinking only about the famously attention-grabbing headlines like “Headless Body in Topless Bar”, but of headlines that demand interpretive work of a kind usually associated with modern poetry.

Let The Record Show

by Dora Malech, The New Yorker

Sketch For A Novel

by Franz Wright, The New Yorker

Vast Hell

by Guillermo Martínez, The New Yorker

Often, when the grocery store is empty and all you can hear is the buzzing of flies, I think of that young man whose name we never knew and whom no one in town ever mentioned again. For some reason that I can’t explain, I always imagine him as we saw him that first time: the dusty clothes, the bristling beard, and especially the long, dishevelled hair that almost covered his eyes. It was the beginning of spring, which is why, when he came into the store, I took him for a camper headed south. He bought a few cans of food and some coffee; as I added up the bill, he looked at his reflection in the window, brushed his hair off his forehead, and asked me if there was a barber in town.

Is It Fresh?

by Jon Garvie, The Times

The competing myths about fresh food that have helped to mould the contents of the Western fridge.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

We're At The Center Of The Universe - Unless We're Not

by Anthony Doerr, Boston Globe

All those galaxies, stuffed with all those stars, stuffed with how many worlds? If our sun is one in 10 sextillion, could our Earth be one in 10 sextillion as well?

Or the Earth might be one - the only one, the one.

Either way, the circumstances boggle the mind.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Scrolling Down The Ages

by Mary Beard, New York Times

There’s a lot in the Roman literary world that seems quite familiar two millenniums later: money- making booksellers, exploited and impoverished authors, celebrity book launches and career-making prizes.

The Passion Of Alec Baldwin

by Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic

The blustering actor’s memoir of divorce is really a love letter to his daughter.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When Nature Calls

by Roger Cohen, New York Times

The bizarre case of an air traveler who was refused use of a business-class lavatory on a Delta Air Lines flight offers a morality tale for our age.

Watch Your Language!

by Stephanie Zacharek, Salon

Are you loaded or shitfaced? Edumacated or frakked? A new book explores the poetic, ever-changing world of slang.

Why Newspapers Are Like Department Stores

by Gene Lyons, Salon

They're both outmoded business models, and they're both in trouble.

Cloned Species

by Tom Mueller, National Geographic

Bringing extinct species back to life is no longer considered science fiction. But is it a good idea?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dinosaur At The Gate

by Maureen Dowd, New York Times

Why can’t Google, which likes to see itself as a “Don’t Be Evil” benevolent force in society, just write us a big check for using our stories, so we can keep checks and balances alive and continue to provide the search engine with our stories?

He declines to pony up money, noting that newspapers could opt out of giving their content to Google free and adding, “We actually like making our own money for obviously good capitalist reasons.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

After The Service, The Widow Considers The Etymology Of The Word Salary

by J. Allyn Rosser, Slate

Boldly Going Nowhere

by Seth Shostak, New York Times

Piling into a starship and barreling into deep space may long remain — like perfect children or effort-free bathroom cleaners — a pipe dream.

This Is Not The Beginning Of The End

by Robert Reich, Salon

It probably isn't even the end of the beginning of the recession. We can't wish the economy back to health.

No Extra Charge

by Troy Patterson, Slate

The dubious art of informercials.

Child's Pose

by John Dickerson, Slate

How my kids found peace and tranquillity at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Last Voyage For The Keeper Of The Hubble

by Dennis Overbye, New York Times

John Grunsfeld was sitting in an astronomical meeting in Atlanta in January of 2004 when he got a message to come back to headquarters in Washington to talk about the Hubble Space Telescope.

To say that he was excited would be an understatement. As an astronaut, Dr. Grunsfeld had twice journeyed to space to make repairs on humanity’s most vaunted eye on the cosmos, experiences he had described to a high-level panel pondering Hubble’s fate only a few months before as the most meaningful in his life. He was looking forward to leading the third and final servicing mission, which had been delayed by the loss of the shuttle Columbia and its crew the year before.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Lunch Poem For F.S.

by Jonathan Galassi, The New Yorker


by D. Nurkse, The New Yorker

Guy Walks Into A Bar Car

by David Sedaris, The New Yorker

Lost loves and lost years.

'Big Bang's' Success: It's Not Rocket Science

by Maria Elena Fernandez, Los Angeles Times

It makes absolute sense that the folks at the Apple store Genius Bar would freak out at the sight of the cast of “ The Big Bang Theory.” Or that thousands of fans would fill a room to spend time with them at Comic-Con last summer. But when the paparazzi of Mexico City went so berserk over the five actors during a promotional visit in December that they required an armed bodyguard, the young cast knew their little sitcom was turning into a sensation.

Parrot Asks, "What'd The Fozen Turkey Want?"

by Roger Ebert, Chicaco Sun-Times

A joke should have the perfection of a haiku. Not one extra word. No wrong words. It should seem to have been discovered in its absolute form rather than created. The weight of the meaning should be at the end. The earlier words should prepare for the shift of the meaning. The ending must have absolute finality. It should present a world view only revealed at the last moment. Like knife-throwing, joke-telling should never be practiced except by experts.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

CEO Of Me Inc.

by Vanessa M. Gezari, Washington Post

How to satisfy the needs of work and home? A business professor and entrepreneur searches for answers -- in the classroom.

If Only Literature Could Be A Cellphone-Free Zone

by Matt Richtel, New York Times

There’s not much fun, or tragedy, when a simple call can clear up everything.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

50 Years Of Stupid Grammar Advice

by Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. Celebrations, readings, and toasts are being held, and a commemorative edition has been released.

I won't be celebrating.

Paper Tigers

by Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker

What media moguls make.

About That Book Advance...

by Michael Meyer, New York Times

“In the old days,” the novelist Henry Bech, John Updike’s fictional alter ego, once said, “a respectable author never asked for an advance; that was strictly for the no-talents starving down in the Village.”

Since then, Washington Square rents have soared, and writers of fair and ill repute alike seek advance payment for their books.

Going For The Filp Side

by Douglas Quenqua, New York Times

Bob Saget can't even get through the door without his worlds -- the wholesome and the profane -- colliding.

Keeping Up With Being Kept

by Ruth Padawer, New York Times

At first glance, the web site seems like any other dating site. Most of the men are looking for fit, sexy women, and most of the women want nice guys who can make them smile and laugh. But if eHarmony or is a chatty social mixer, Seeking Arrangement is a down-and-dirty marketplace where older moneyed men and cute young women engage in brutally frank transactions. They’re not searching for longtime soul mates; they want no-strings-attached “arrangements” that trade in society’s most valued currencies: wealth, youth and beauty. In the cheesy lexicon of the site, they are “sugar daddies” and “sugar babies.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pianist Gould Foresaw Tech Role In Music

by Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

This week marks 45 years since Glenn Gould made his last public performance. He preferred to offer recordings that someday, he wrote, could be altered by the listener in different ways.

Pairing Wine With Chinese Food

by Jen Linliu, New York Times

On a recent Tuesday evening, I gathered a group of eight wine and Chinese cuisine experts in my courtyard kitchen in central Beijing to taste a broad range of 10 Chinese dishes with eight wines. The goal was to test the common perception that it’s challenging — or downright impossible — to pair wines with Chinese cuisine.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Your Bra Size: The Truth May (Pleasantly) Surprise You

by Laura M. Holson, New York Times

First there was economic inflation. Then there was grade inflation. Now comes cup inflation.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Skeptic's Guide To Passover

by Michael Lukas, Slate

Scientific explanations for the parting of the Red Sea, the 10 plagues, and the burning bush.

Take A Walk

by Bill Bunn, Salon

There is only one way humans are made to move. They are made to walk. There are many other ways to get around. You can canoe, for instance. Or paraglide. Or jog. But these modes of transportation are not the staple of human mobility. Walking is unavoidable, a necessity for those with two working legs.

Larger Than Life In London

by A. A. Gill, New York Times

It’s invariably the little things, the unconsidered, off the cuff, in passing, unrehearsed things that snag our attention, and seem to be telling of the bigger things. In the case of Barack Obama’s first visit to London and the Group of 20 conference to save the endangered habitat of bankers and real estate salesmen, it was the handshake with the bobby that seemed to be emblematic. In a forest of waving palms, this handshake meant more.

The Dark Side Of Dubai

by Johann Hari, The Independent

Dubai was meant to be a Middle-Eastern Shangri-La, a glittering monument to Arab enterprise and western capitalism. But as hard times arrive in the city state that rose from the desert sands, an uglier story is emerging.

Do You Own Facebook? Or Does Facebook Own You?

by Vanessa Grigoriadis, New York Magazine

Trust is a fragile commodity.

Wine And Pizza

by Eric Asimov, New York Times

I guess the sad idea is that nobody actually bakes their own pizza, so delivery pizza is in fact the standard.

Noah Webster Gives His Blessing

by Daniel Redman, Slate

Dictionaries recognize same-sex marriage—who knew?

He Who Smelts, Simply Melts

by Bonny Wolf, Washington Post

It turns out I belong to a cult. We are not organized, we don't have meetings and until a few days ago, I didn't even know we existed. Then I started calling around looking for smelts and realized I am not alone. Area fishmongers carry smelts every year for people who don't think winter's over until the tiny silver fish appear in markets.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Happy 5th Birthday, Subservient Chicken

by Rick Webb, Barbarian Blog

Five years. Holy moly.

Bombs Rock Cario

by Chrstian Wiman, Slate

Scratching Relieves Itch By Quieting Nerve Cells

by Benedict Carey, New York Times

Neuroscientists at the University of Minnesota report that specialized cells in the spinal cord appear to be critically involved in producing the sensation of itch and the feeling of relief after the application of fingernails, at least in healthy individuals.

When All You Have Left Is Your Pride

by Benedict Carey, New York Times

The fine art of keeping up appearances may seem shallow and deceitful, the very embodiment of denial. But many psychologists beg to differ.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Long-Term Marriage

by Spencer Reece, The New Yorker

Siblings And Half Siblings

by Jana Prikryl, The New Yorker

The Color Of Shadows

by Colm Tóibín, The New Yorker

Got Poetry?

by Jim Holt, New York Times

The grandest claim for memorizing poetry is made by Clive James, himself a formidable repository of memorized verse. In his book “Cultural Amnesia,” James declares that “the future of the humanities as a common possession depends on the restoration of a simple, single ideal: getting poetry by heart.” A noble sentiment. I just wish that James had given us some reason for thinking it was true.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Help Wanted, After All

by Geeta Kohli, Boston Globe

I finally admit it: I met my fiance through a newspaper ad with the aid of Dad and Mom.

Liberty, Equality, Envy

by Amélie Nothomg, New York Times

In Europe, and especially in France, there is envy for the faith that Americans have in their president.

In Praise Of The American Short Story

by A. O. Scott, New York Times

The near-simultaneous appearance of three new literary biographies offers a powerful and concentrated challenge to the habit of undervaluing the short story.

The Best Damn Job In The Whole Damn World

by Roger Ebert, Chicacgo Sun-Times

A. J.Liebling once wrote, "Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one." Not quite right. It also belongs to the people who produce one, even if they do smoke at their desks.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Panda Paradox

by Daniel Libit, Washington Post

With so few pandas left in the world, the pressure on the National Zoo to deliver another cub is enormous. But the mysteries of the animal's reproductive system make that quest a race against time.

Just One Last Swirl Around The Bowl

by Dan Barry, New York Times

A man becomes emotionally attached and plays caregiver to his daughter's dying fish.

The Past As Peep Show

by Susan Dominuss, New York Times

Two books examine vain efforts to keep a lid on the seamy, steamy side of New York.

Signs And Portents

by Steven Heller, New York Times

Books on vintage New York City storefronts, advertising illustration, early photojournalism, fashion photography and Bollywood film posters.

What Would It Look Like To Fall Into A Black Hole?

by Stephen Battersby, New Scientist

Falling into a black hole might not be good for your health, but at least the view would be fine.

A Traveler's Way With Words

by Jamie James, Wall Street Journal

In editorial offices these days, the term "travelogue" is shorthand for "boring," designating flowery descriptions of places that impede the narrative thrust of a piece of writing -- something to be cut. But in the late 19th century, the reading public hungered for travelogue. Steam-powered ships and the telegraph were shrinking the world quickly, but reliable photographic reproduction -- not to mention motion pictures and color printing -- was still decades away. The best instrument for capturing the newly accessible, if faraway, places of the time was still the pencil -- the reporter's notebook or the artist's sketch.

Scientists Map The Brain, Gene By Gene

by Jonah Lehrer, Wired

While conventional brain maps describe distinct anatomical areas, like the frontal lobes and the hippocampus—many of which were first outlined in the 19th century—the Allen Brain Atlas seeks to describe the cortex at the level of specific genes and individual neurons. Slices of tissue containing billions of brain cells will be analyzed to see which snippets of DNA are turned on in each cell.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spoiled: Organic And Local Is So 2008

by Paul Roberts, Mother Jones

Our industrial food system is rotten to the core. Heirloom arugula won't save us. Here's what will.

First As A Child, Then As A Parent: Life's College Tours

by Jan Benzel, New York Times

For many families with 16- and 17-year-olds, the Grand Tour doesn’t mean Europe. It’s New England in mud season, the South as the cherry trees begin to bloom, California, Chicago, Ohio — the architecture may well be Gothic, but the do-it-yourself waffle maker in the cafeteria is among the artifacts most keenly examined on the road trip to college. If it’s Tuesday, we must be in North Carolina. Or is it Ohio?

May The Force Be With Them

by Emily Bazelon, Slate

Why does Star Wars still take over the minds of small boys?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Undemocratic People's Republic Of Korea

by Juliet Lapidos, Slate

Why do the most totalitarian countries always have the most democratic-sounding names?

Paper Money

by Daniel Gross, Slate

All newspapers—all print media—have been hit hard in this recession. All face an existential crisis and may ultimately face the prospect of bankruptcy. Those whose owners saw papers as assets to be flipped, leveraged, and stripped are already bankrupt.

Blowfish's Bad Rap Is Killing Him

by John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times

A Japanese chef wants to convince people that the deadly fish known as fugu is perfectly safe in the right hands. His, for example.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

'Das Kapital' As A Boy's Bedtime Story

by Dwight Garner, New York Times

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s memoir recounts growing up in a family of ardent members of the Socialist Workers Party, convinced that revolution was just around the corner.

Pun For The Ages

by Joseph Tartakovsky, New York Times

But low as puns may be, they have been known to appeal to the loftiest minds.

An Awkward Obituary

by Kurt Soller, Newsweek

Seattle was a two-newspaper town until one went down. How do you cover your competitor's demise?

Empty Garden

by Jason Zengerle, The New Republic

Why did New York stop growing basketball stars?

Think Outside The Carton, Homemade Ice Cream Lovers

by David Lebovitz, Los Angeles Times

Carrots, cocoa nibs, roasted buckwheat — just a few ingredient ideas to kick your imagination up a notch.

By Heng-Cheong Leong