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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Walking The Dog By David Hughes

Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

A man's strolls with his pooch prompt all manner of engaging reflections in this innovative book.

The Free-Appropriation Writer

Randy Kennedy, New York Times

Copying passages from another author used to be an unforgivable sin. But remix culture is coming to literature.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Depression’s Upside

Jonah Lehrer, New York Times

The persistence of this affliction — and the fact that it seemed to be heritable — posed a serious challenge to Darwin’s new evolutionary theory. If depression was a disorder, then evolution had made a tragic mistake, allowing an illness that impedes reproduction — it leads people to stop having sex and consider suicide — to spread throughout the population. The alternative, of course, is that depression has a secret purpose and our medical interventions are making a bad situation even worse.

In Richard Bausch’s Stories, Peril And Temptation

Maria Russo, New York Times

This collection’s characters circle a disturbing truth: the power to shape our lives can be as terrifying as it is liberating.

Subcontinental Tour

Jason Goodwin, New York Times

Jerry Delfont, the narrator of Theroux’s latest novel, “A Dead Hand,” is a travel writer firmly embedded in the transactional side of the business. For him, it’s a question of cadging free flights from airline press agents or being “comped” to a hotel room in return for mentioning the donor in his articles. Theroux is spilling a few industry beans here. Hard though it is to get a travel book off the starting block, travel itself has never been easier. Worldwide, the travel industry is a behemoth, employing millions of people and taking in billions of dollars. Air fares are still comparatively low, and the Russians, the Indians and even the Chinese are taking the place of the once ubiquitous Japanese tourist, complete with luxury bus and long-lensed Nikon. We harness the power of the Internet to search out new places, cheaper fares, discounted rooms, bargain packages. With television travel shows, travel magazines and guided tours on your iPod, who needs books anymore?

I Was A Teenage Illiterate

Cathleen Schine, New York Times

At the age of 26, when I returned to New York after an inglorious stab at graduate work in medieval history on the frozen steppes of Chicago, I had a horrifying realization: I was illiterate. At least, I was as close to illiterate as a person with over 20 years of education could possibly be. In my stunted career as a scholar, I’d read promissory notes, papal bulls and guidelines for Inquisitorial interrogation. Dante, too. Boccaccio. . . . But after 1400? Nihil. I felt very, very stupid among my new sophisticated New York friends. I seemed very, very stupid, too. Actually, let’s face it, I was stupid, and it was deeply mortifying, as so many things were in those days. But I have since come to realize that my abject ignorance was really a gift: to be a literarily inclined illiterate at age 26 is one of the most glorious fates that can befall mortal girl.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Delicious Free-For-All

Eric Asimov, New York Times

A good selection of Belgian-style ales is like the very best kind of buffet, offering an assortment of flavors, aromas, styles, strengths and types. You want strong ale, sour ale, sweet ale, dry ale, golden, dark, wheat, fruity and malty. When we set out to draw a stylistic standard for a planned tasting of Belgian golden ales, it seemed as if we’d taken on an impossible task. But glory does not come to those who quit easily.

Better Living Through Tape Delay

Bill Smee, Slate Magazine

Why live sporting events are for suckers.

Mavis Gallant's Dreams Of Escape

Alex Clark, The Times

Her early stories explore the shifting worlds of the rootless and the dispossessed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Teenage Fiction's Death Wishes | Alison Flood

Alison Flood, The Guardian

With novels about leukaemia, car crashes and the afterlife topping young adult reading lists, why are teenagers so fascinated by tales of death and dying?

The New Math Of Poetry

David Alpaugh, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

The notion that writing and performing "poetry" is the easiest way to satisfy the American itch for 15 minutes of fame has spilled out of our campuses and into the wider culture. You can't pick up a violin or oboe for the first time on Monday morning and expect to play at Lincoln Center that weekend, but you can write your first poem in May and appear at an open mike in June waving a "chapbook" for sale. The new math of poetry is driven not by reader demand for great or even good poetry but by the demand of myriads of aspiring poets to experience the thrill of "publication."

Feeling At Sea On The Roads Of New China

Dwight Garner, New York Times

American travel writers over the past century have taken special delight in describing the intricacies, and the lunatic comedy, of driving etiquette in foreign countries. Some enterprising publisher is bound to scoop up the best of these observations and issue a queasy-making anthology: “Carsick: A Global Reader.”

When that anthology does arrive, Peter Hessler’s new book, “Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory,” deserves a special place in it. It’s not merely that Mr. Hessler convinces us that the Chinese, being new to driving, are simply awful at it. He makes the additional, and delightful, case that perhaps no other people “take such joy in driving badly.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

To The Bitter End: Books And Me

Toby Lichtig, The Guardian

I'm a hostage to books. I can read the first page, maybe two and still put it down. But any further and I'd have to commit. Why I have to finish books, even if I don't like them ...

'The Infinities' By John Banville

Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

Move over 'Clash of the Titans.' Here, in the Booker-award winner's latest, the Greek gods look on as a dying mathematician considers his flaws, fame and family.

Misunderstanding Darwin

Ned Block and Philip Kitcher, Boston Review

We admire the work that both Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini have produced over many decades. We regret that two such distinguished authors have decided to publish a book so cavalier in its treatment of a serious science, so full of apparently scholarly discussions that rest on mistakes and confusions—and so predictably ripe for making mischief.

In A Dessert, The Soul Of Canada

Jennifer Ward Barber, The Atlantic

Like many expat Canadians, I often feel compelled to introduce Americans to the wonders of my home. Last Monday evening, as I watched a Canadian Olympian receive a gold medal on home turf for the first time in history, I knew it was an occasion for Nanaimo Bars.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Oral Culture

Lesley Wheeler, Slate Magazine

The Joys Of Bookshop Browsing

Sam Jordison, The Guardian

Searching real shelves is the most satisfying way to find literary treasures – but can it survive the rise of Amazon and ebooks?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Poem Of The Week: A Letter To A Brother Of The Pen In Tribulation By Aphra Behn

Carol Rumens, The Guardian

The Deflationist

Larissa MacFarquhar, New Yorker

How Paul Krugman found politics.

Blending Tea And Hearts

Janet Maslin, New York Times

Helen Simonson’s first novel has intelligence, heart, dignity and backbone.


Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, New Yorker

Dream IV

Gerald Stern, New Yorker

Preachers Warn

Charles Simic, New Yorker

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Unnamed By Joshua Ferris

Tim Adams, The Guardian

What links Joshua Ferris's dazzling debut novel of office politics, Then We Came To The End, with this, his somewhat unnerving second book, is an atmosphere of parable. In each case, though he seems to be presenting a mimetic surface of contemporary life, he constructs original and affecting metaphors for curious truths about the way we live now.

Attack Of The Light Drizzle!

Robert David Sullivan, Boston Globe

If you’ve started to feel that anticlimaxes have become the norm in Boston, you’re right. But it’s not because something has changed about the weather. It’s that something has changed about its packaging. Weather, especially on TV, has exited the realm of straight news, and even of entertainment, and entered the realm of marketing.

Literature's First Unreliable Narrator

John Swansburg, Slate Magazine

The unexpected lessons of The Lost Books of the Odyssey.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Trekking With Wolves

Greg Breining, New York Times

In the winter, northern Minnesota becomes a lonely place, a wilderness to explore on snowshoes, where the only company is often four-legged.

A Bouquet Of Science

Jeremy Bernstein, The New York Review of Books

In French cooking there is the notion of the amuse-gueule. These are tasty bits one has before the main meal in order to prepare the palate for the real thing. That is what this book is—a collection of amuse-gueules. One hopes that the reader will go on to sample the real thing.

Carnivorous Plants

Carl Zimmer, Photograph by Helene Schmitz, National Geographic

They lure insects into death traps, then gorge on their flesh. Is that any way for a plant to behave?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mothers In Combat Boots

Mary Eberstadt, Policy Review

With the obvious assent of the American people, as well as most of our political and military and other leaders, the United States military now routinely recruits mothers or soon-to-be mothers of babies and young children — and often puts them in harm’s way more or less as it does every other soldier. This is a practice so morally questionable, and in virtue of that fact so fraught with policy difficulties, that both its persistence and its apparent lack of controversy fairly beg for explanation. It is past time to ask the question: Why?

House Life In A Koolhaas

Martin Filler, The New York Review of Books

Few makers of architectural documentaries exploit the full potential of film to create a convincing sense of what it is like to move through a sequence of interiors, an ability made much easier with the introduction of the Steadicam in 1976. A rare exception is Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine’s 58-minute-long Koolhaas Houselife (2008), one of two recent releases on the celebrated Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, principal of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Walking The Walk, Talking The Talk: A Brit Rethinks His Text

Geoff Nicholson, Los Angeles Times

A book about walking presents a few specific problems. An English pavement is the equivalent of an American sidewalk, while what the Americans call a pavement is what the English call a road surface. An Englishman may carry a rucksack when he walks, as opposed to a backpack. Sometimes I'll use a GPS, which in England is a "sat-nav."

A Writer's Risk: The Restaurant Life

Jarrett Wrisley, The Atlantic

I've often expressed a deep interest in opening a restaurant with professional chefs whom I'm closest to, but their responses are usually no different than the advice I once gave a chef who wanted to write. "Why the hell would you ever want to do that?" I growled.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Roger Ebert: The Essential Man

Chris Jones, Esquire

It has been nearly four years since Roger Ebert lost his lower jaw and his ability to speak. Now television's most famous movie critic is rarely seen and never heard, but his words have never stopped.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Summer Of '09

Andrew Hudgins, Slate Magazine

How The Frisbee Took Flight

Ben Van Heuvelen, Salon

It began with two sweethearts tossing a tin lid in 1937 and ended up a testament to the American Dream

It’s A Plot! No, It’s Not: A Debunking

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

In “Voodoo Histories,” the journalist David Aaronovitch deconstructs a dizzying array of conspiracy theories with logic, common sense and at times exasperated wit.

The Night They Burned Ranum's Papers

John Castellucci, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

At about 2:30 a.m. on May 22, 1968, as New York City police entered Hamilton Hall, on Columbia University's Morningside Heights campus, to clear it of demonstrators, files belonging to Orest A. Ranum, an associate professor of history, were ransacked, and papers documenting more than 10 years of research were burned. The fire came at the tail end of a month of protests that had roiled Columbia, paralyzing the university and provoking the biggest police bust ever undertaken on an American campus. Members of Students for a Democratic Society, which led the protests, denied responsibility for the arson, claiming that if anyone had set fire to Ranum's papers, it was the police.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Manifesto Of The Lost

Ian McMillan, The Guardian

Go left when you should go right, east rather than west: the world will seem a brighter place.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Listening In On A Pay Phone In Queens

Manny Fernandez, New York Times

Yet this grimy phone — in a silvery booth that Superman would have skipped over, for it is doorless and not fully enclosed — survives and, in its own nickel-and-dime way, thrives.

The Flower, The Leaf And The Lobby: A Valentine's Tale

Eric Felten, Wall Street Journal

It's odd that we celebrate love with perishable tokens.

Post-Minimal To The Max

Roberta Smith, New York Times

To paraphrase Jerry Lee Lewis, there is a whole lot of art making going on right now. All different kinds. But you’d hardly know it from the contemporary art that New York’s major museums have been serving up lately, and particularly this season.

Forget 'Serious' Novels, I've Turned To A Life Of Crime

Stephanie Merritt, The Guardian

Murder mysteries, once looked down on, are now fit for the literary elite.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Freedom’s Laboratory

Gary Rosen, New York Times

Timothy Ferris argues that the scientific frame of mind played a leading role in the emergence of democratic governance and individual rights.

Why Orwell Endures

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, New York Times

Sad as George Orwell’s early death was, one can’t escape a sense that in some way it was providential.

Just Kids By Patti Smith

Edmund White, The Guardian

This book brings together all the elements that made New York so exciting in the 1970s – the danger and poverty, the artistic seriousness and optimism, the sense that one was still connected to a whole history of great artists in the past.

The End Of The Beijing Consensus

Yang Yao, Foreign Affairs

Can China's model of authoritarian growth survive?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Once A Writer, Always A Writer?

Jean Hannah Edelstein, The Guardian

Just because an author writes a well-liked book shouldn't mean they are required to carry on forever.

Shylock, My Students, And Me

Paula Marantz Cohen, The American Scholar

What I’ve learned from 30 years of teaching The Merchant of Venice.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

For Richer, For Poorer

Paul Romer, Prospect

Forget aid—people in the poorest countries like Haiti need new cities with different rules. And developed countries should be the ones that build them.

Grandfather's Love, In A Sandwich

Ian Knauer, The Atlantic

My grandfather, like most men of his day, never cooked. He never even set foot in the kitchen. So it was to my great surprise when he called me from the lawn with a brisk wave of his arm. He'd made a sandwich for my lunch: an act that to this day, if only due to its rarity, still symbolizes his love for me.

The Eccentric Muse Behind Dave Eggers' McSweeney Journal

Dave Eggers, The Guardian

In 1998 I started collecting fiction, essays and experiments for a journal I was planning to put out. I decided to name it Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. Here's why.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Big Lie About The 'Life Of The Mind'

Thomas H. Benton, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

One reason that graduate school is for the already privileged is that it is structurally dependent on people who are neither privileged nor connected.

A Calculus Of Writing, Applied To A Classic

Larry Rohter, New York Times

Zachary Mason, author of the critically praised first novel “The Lost Books of the Odyssey,” is a computer scientist eager to understand “thought with computational precision.”

The Dull New Global Novel

Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

As a result of rapidly accelerating globalization we are moving toward a world market for literature. There is a growing sense that for an author to be considered “great,” he or she must be an international rather than a national phenomenon. This change is not perhaps as immediately evident in the US as it is in Europe, thanks to the size and power of the US market and the fact that English is generally perceived as the language of globalization, so that many more translations go toward it than away from it. However, more and more European, African, Asian and South American authors see themselves as having “failed” if they do not reach an international audience.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Delivering Bad News And Bearing It

Janet Maslin, New York Times

Sarah Blake has coaxed forth a book that hits hard and pushes buttons expertly.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Is The Great American Novel Destroying Novelists?

Malcolm Jones, Newsweek

Ellison died trying to finish his last book. That shouldn't stop you from reading it.


Dorothea Lasky, New Yorker


Claire Keegan, New Yorker

The Tag

Ciaran Carson, New Yorker

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Yeah, Right

Erin McKean, Boston Globe

Do we need a new punctuation mark?

Composer’s Intent? Get Over It

Allan Kozinn, New York Times

It was not until 1990, when the music historian Richard Taruskin published “The Spin Doctors of Early Music” in The New York Times, and argued that contemporary notions of period sound were actually modern fashion statements, that the myth of authenticity was exploded decisively. And at that, it took a few years for the stunned early-music world to adopt Mr. Taruskin’s view, banish “authentic” from its collective vocabulary and adopt the phrase “historically informed performance” instead.

Truth Or Dare

Joel Brouwer, New York Times

Asked why so many of his poems seemed animated by unhappiness, Philip Larkin once told an interviewer, “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.” A supremely cynical thing to say — but also backhandedly romantic, isn’t it? A dreadful muse is still a muse. Like Larkin, Tony Hoagland seems to draw inspiration and fluency as a poet from his disappointment and frustration as a human being. And like Larkin’s, Hoagland’s poems, though chock-full of grousing, are so fully alive to the rich, dark depths of their grumpiness that they constantly threaten, against their author’s gimlet-eyed better judgment, to become beautiful.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Wrinkle In Time

Geoff Dyer, New York Times

Don DeLillo explores the radical manipulation of time in this novel, which brings an Iraq war planner, his daughter and a filmmaker together at a house in the desert.

The Book Of Self-Love

Lee Siegel, New York Times

Christopher Lasch’s “Culture of Narcissism” offered an indictment of American life that displeased both the right and the left.

On Monsters: An Unnatural History Of Our Worst Fears By Stephen T Asma |Book Review

Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

You will find every kind of monster lurking within these densely-packed 350 pages. There are two headed-babies, mythical mermaids, a giant, detached mouth, not to mention that horrible thing that bursts out of John Hurt's torso in Alien. In a dizzying if not entirely coherent book, Stephen Asma is determined to look unblinkingly at the creatures that lurk on the edges of our consciousness, those sticky slitherers and orange-tusked grunters which hide in wardrobes or in the deep end of the swimming pool, just waiting to pull us down from our well-lit lives into murky mayhem.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Everyone Eats …

Robert Sietsema, Columbia Journalism Review

But that doesn’t make you a restaurant critic.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rules Worth Following, For Everyone’s Sake

Jane E. Brody, New York Times

In the more than four decades that I have been reading and writing about the findings of nutritional science, I have come across nothing more intelligent, sensible and simple to follow than the 64 principles outlined in a slender, easy-to-digest new book called “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual,” by Michael Pollan.

Why Is Braille Dying?

Stephen Towey and Helen Cota, Salon

In an age of audiobooks, only 10 percent of blind kids learn Braille. But listening isn't the same as reading.

Does Harper's Make Sense As A Magazine Anymore?

Marion Maneker, Slate Magazine

One of the problems facing little magazines in this day and age is that bloggers have replaced them. A smart, impassioned blogger is the Phillip Rahv of our day.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Who Stole Our Reading Time?

Alan Bissett, The Guardian

Time for serious reading appears to be getting more and more pinched – and that's a loss to more than literature.


Olivia Judson, New York Times

How did the animals of the Galapagos get so tame and fearless?

A Woman’s Undying Gift To Science

Dwight Garner, New York Times

A thorny and provocative book about cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” also floods over you like a narrative dam break, as if someone had managed to distill and purify the more addictive qualities of “Erin Brockovich,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “The Andromeda Strain.” More than 10 years in the making, it feels like the book Ms. Skloot was born to write. It signals the arrival of a raw but quite real talent.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Figures In A Landscape

Gail Mazur, Slate Magazine

Upright Hubris: A Short Tale Of Skyscrapers

Ingrid D. Rowland, The New York Review of Books

If the Earth has never been shy about proclaiming the instability of its surface, the creature misnamed Homo sapiens has never been shy about ignoring the message. Dubai’s 828 meter-tall Burj Khalifa skyscraper, which opened in early January, is only the latest in a millennial series of contenders for the title of world’s tallest building. It looms, at least for now, above Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, Toronto’s CN Tower, Chicago’s Sears Tower, and the quaintly venerable Empire State Building in that proverbial city of towers, New York. Yet the profile of Burj Khalifa suggests nothing so much as a seventeenth-century engraving intended to ridicule the human habit of tower-building, part of the German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher’s exquisitely illustrated essay on the Tower of Babel, Turris Babel of 1679.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Poem Of The Week: What The Mountain Saw By Philip Gross

Carol Rumens, The Guardian


Troy Jollimore, The Walrus

Science fiction contains worlds of wonder, but without love it’s lonely in space.

William Burns

Roberto Bolaño, New Yorker


Mark Doty, New Yorker

If Truth Is The Lure, Humans Are Fishes

Jane Hirshfield, New Yorker

By Heng-Cheong Leong