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Friday, April 30, 2010

Richard Dawkins' Classic Still Has The Power To Open Our Eyes

Tim Radford, The Guardian

One sometimes forgets, given his recent combative secular humanism, just how warm and lyrical Richard Dawkins can be. This is a patient, often beautiful book from 1986 that begins in a generous mood and sustains its generosity to the end. It takes its title from a famous sentence in William Paley's Natural Theology (1802), which Dawkins calls "a book that I greatly admire..."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Attention Whole Foods Shoppers

Robert Paarlberg, Foreign Policy

Stop obsessing about arugula. Your "sustainable" mantra -- organic, local, and slow -- is no recipe for saving the world's hungry millions.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Perils Of Meeting Your Favourite Writers

AL Kennedy, The Guardian

You've been tremendously intimate with them long before you first say hello. This is a recipe for a disturbing experience.

Master Of Revels

John Lahr, New Yorker

Neil Simon’s comic empire.

A Fresh Batch Of Spices For True Indian Flavors

Alex Witchel, New York Times

When I make my annual pilgrimage to Kalustyan’s, the hub of international spices on Lexington Avenue near 28th Street, I tend to stockpile, ending up with so much Imperial Hot Curry Powder that by the time I get around to using it three years later, I could coat chicken nuggets with it and toddlers wouldn’t blink an eye.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Babies Suck: The Twisted History Of Pacifiers

Nicholas Day, Salon

They've been blamed for everything from masturbation to drug abuse. No wonder I can't bear to let my son use one.

What If Jack Kevorkian Had Helped My Mom Die?

Zoe FitzGerald Carter, Salon

Watching HBO's movie about Dr. Death, I couldn't stop thinking about my mother's own planned suicide.

Exploring Nerdiness, For Laughs

Dennis Overbye, New York Times

Three years after its debut, “The Big Bang Theory” has made its case to the scientific community, earning both fans and detractors.

17 Years Later, A Cancer Survivor Is Celebrating Life

Katherine Russell Rich, New York Times

When I was told I had a year or two, I didn’t want anything one might expect: no blow-out trip to the Galápagos, no perfect meal at Alain Ducasse, no defiant red Maserati. All I wanted was ordinary life back, for ordinary life, it became utterly clear, is more valuable than anything else.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Prelude

Richard Wilbur, New Yorker

The Lightkeeper

Carolyn Forché, New Yorker


John Kinsella, New Yorker

La Vita Nuova

Allegra Goodman, New Yorker

The day her fiancé left, Amanda went walking in the Colonial cemetery off Garden Street. The gravestones were so worn that she could hardly read them. They were melting away into the weedy grass. You are a very dark person, her fiancé had said.

Shakespeare, Sex & Love By Stanley Wells

Simon Callow, The Guardian

If there is any one aspect of Shakespeare's work that singles him out from every other great writer, it is the astounding comprehensiveness of his treatment of love and sex. Not only do those great themes figure prominently in virtually every play he wrote, he explores, with detailed vividness, a range of sexual and amatory experience that leaves Masters and Johnson looking pretty skimpy. From the most exalted Petrarchan effusions to the basest bodily function, he covers the waterfront.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pardon My French

Michael Kimmelman, New York Times

So what does French culture signify these days when there are some 200 million French speakers in the world but only 65 million are actually French?

Alex's Adventures In Numberland By Alex Bellos

David Bodanis, The Guardian

David Bodanis grapples with inventive new ways of making the world add up.

Separate Truths

Stephen Prothero, Boston Globe

It is misleading — and dangerous — to think that religions are different paths to the same wisdom.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Improbability Pump

Jerry A. Coyne, The Nation

While biologists agree that natural selection is not the only cause of genetic change in populations, the evidence is strong that it's the only one that can produce the remarkable adaptations of animals and plants to their environment--the elephant's trunk, the cactus's spines, the tiger's fangs and so on--the designlike quality of organisms that, as Darwin put it, "most justly excites our admiration."

Death And The Master

James Wolcott, Vanity Fair

The 100th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s birth brings a fresh onslaught of retrospectives and books about a man who has already been mythologized more than any other director. But his genius is so richly varied and suffused with cryptic clues (and MacGuffins) that the hunt for the real Hitchcock may last another century.

A Time To Mourn, And A Time To Cook

Regina Charboneau, The Atlantic

My mother was way too joyful for me to dwell on the sadness, so I will share the lighter side of the past few days and some of the tender moments and thoughts on comfort food. Knowing there is not anyone reading this article that has not experienced a broken heart, I ask you what is the food that gives comfort and relief?

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Fat Man’s Vengeance

Michael Wood, The New York Review of Books

“He had it coming,” we read on the second page of Ian McEwan’s new novel. This is the character’s line of thought, a self-accusation, not an authorial verdict, and he returns to it eagerly a little later. “Yes, yes, he had been a lying womanizer, he had had it coming.” This is the least of what he has been, and at the end of the novel he still has it coming, it’s almost upon him, in the shape of two women about to tear him apart, a dangerous melanoma on his wrist, and what promises to be a series of lawsuits that will last his lifetime.

Not Really Simple

Charlotte Allen, In Character

Welcome to the simplicity movement, the ethos whose mantras are "cutting back," "focusing on the essentials," "reconnecting to the land" - and talking, talking, talking about how fulfilled it all makes you feel. Genuine simple-living people - such as, say, the Amish - are not part of the simplicity movement, because living like the Amish (no iPod apps or granite countertops, plus you have to read the Bible) would be taking the simple thing a bit far.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Invaders, Yes. But Perhaps Quite Tasty.

Erik Eckholm, New York Times

Asian carp are reviled as vanquishers of native species, feared as hefty jumpers able to break a boatman’s jaw, and scorned as, well, carp. But even as Northern states battle to keep them from ravaging the Great Lakes, officials in the South, where the alien species have multiplied like guppies, are working to transform the carp into marketable assets.

The Enterprise Of Nations

David S. Landes, Wilson Quarterly

Critics have tried to explain away the West’s centuries-long economic domination of the globe; they would do better to study its lessons.

The Immortal Awfulness Of "Naked Lunch"

Stefan Beck, Salon

William S. Burroughs' subversive classic turns 50 -- and is still as vile and embarrassing as it always was.

Masturbation: Literature's Last Taboo

Chris Cox, The Guardian

Granta's new issue dedicated to sex reminds us that only the sin of Onan really retains the power to shock readers.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Little Green Men and Flying Saucers Are So Passé: New Ideas About Aliens

Dwight Garner, New York Times

Paul Davies’s new book, “The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence,” is a birthday card of sorts to SETI, an appraisal and acknowledgment of the interesting (if quixotic) work the project has done thus far. It’s also a pointed wake-up call. Mr. Davies believes that SETI has grown conservative in its methods. He thinks we’re looking for alien life in all the wrong places, and in all the wrong ways.

The Unmystical Joy Of Playing Catch

King Kaufman, Salon

Monuments of purple prose have been built to fathers and sons tossing the ball. The truth: It's just plain fun.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Big Box Encounter

Erika Meitner, Slate Magazine

With AIDS, Time To Get Beyond Blame

Abigail Zuger, New York Times

In most states, it’s still a crime to transmit H.I.V. But science has moved on.

It Slices, It Dices

Steven Strogatz, New York Times

The integral, perhaps mathematics' most graceful sign, is a foundation of calculus.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Edgemont Drive

E. L. Doctorow, New Yorker

Following A Stream

David Wagoner, New Yorker

Denying Shakespeare

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal

To deny that Shakespeare's plays could have been written by a man of relatively humble background is, after all, to deny the very possibility of genius itself—a sentiment increasingly attractive in a democratic culture where few harsh realities are so unpalatable as that of human inequality. The mere existence of a Shakespeare is a mortal blow to the pride of those who prefer to suppose that everybody is just as good as everybody else. But just as some people are prettier than others, so are some people smarter than others, and no matter who you are or how hard you try, I can absolutely guarantee that you're not as smart as Shakespeare.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Joy Of –ext

Erin McKean, Boston Globe

Sexting, chexting, drexting...the rise of a salacious suffix.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Those Who Wait

Elif Batuman, New York Times

In Olga Grushin’s second novel, “The Line,” hundreds of citizens spend several hours a day, every day for a year, waiting to buy tickets to a concert that may or may not take place. The premise is loosely based on Stravinsky’s 1962 concert in Leningrad, which was likewise preceded by a yearlong ticket line.

Christopher Hitchens Re-reads Animal Farm

Christopher Hitchens, The Guardian

Still outlawed by regimes around the world, Animal Farm has always been political dynamite – so much so, it was nearly never published.

Alex's Adventures In Numberland By Alex Bellosl

Joan Brady, The Guardian

"Ballet dancers are stupid." God knows how many times I heard that while I was in the ballet. When I gave up performing, I decided on a trial by fire and somehow got into Columbia University to study philosophy and maths.

Frank Herbert's 'Dune' Holds Timely -- And Timeless -- Appeal

Scott Timberg, Los Angeles Times

The late author's epic of a desert planet anticipates contemporary issues and poses a lasting challenge to filmmakers.

Politics And Faith

Peter Beinart, New York Times

Reading Ian Buruma makes you feel parochial. In “Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents,” he writes intimately about the relationship between politics and faith in Britain, the Netherlands, France, China, Japan and the United States. And beneath every cliché — about American religious fervor, French intolerance or Japanese godlessness — he uncovers ironies that wreak havoc with popular stereotypes.

Bob Brown, Godfather Of The E-Reader

Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times

Look past Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos to the forgotten Bob Brown and his 1930s reading machine.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What Do TV Directors Do?

Joanna Weiss, Slate Magazine

Just about everything movie directors do, only faster.

The Dark Side Of Dickens

Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic

Why Charles Dickens was among the best of writers and the worst of men.

The Anti-American Fallacy

Fred Siegel, Commentary

It was only in the 1920s, the same decade in which Lawrence wrote his poem, that such contempt for the bourgeoisie—and with it a deep hostility toward the United States’s position as the quintessentially middle-class, democratic, and capitalist nation—found a wide audience in this country through a new generation of writers such as Sinclair Lewis and H.L. Mencken. Weaned on the work of H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw and their loathing for conventional mores, Lewis and his confreres became the dominant force in American letters, and their views went largely unchallenged in the literary world. It was left to a critic named Bernard DeVoto to issue the first serious and meaningful challenge to their worldview—the opening salvo in a brave and lonely battle that still resonates, even though DeVoto and the book in which he took up arms for the United States against its own intellectuals are both forgotten.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In L.A., Pizza Goes Global

Miles Clements, Los Angeles Times

It may boast an Italian heritage, but pizza is now claimed by South Americans and South Asians alike, not to mention Croats, Israelis and Armenians.

"Sex And The City's" Friendship Fairy Tale

Elissa Strauss, Salon

The truth is, despite the warnings of much of the chick lit and chick flicks from the last decade, finding love and marriage turned out to be not so hard. Instead, it was the perfect girlfriend, or girlfriends, that has been so elusive.

What's In A Woman's Last Name?

Tracy Clark-Flory, Salon

Change your surname after marriage and you just might be seen as a walking female stereotype.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Can The Jewish Deli Be Reformed?

Julia Moskin, New York Times

New delis, with small menus, passionate owners and excellent pickles and pastrami, are rising up and rewriting the menu of the traditional Jewish deli, saying that it must change, or die. For some of them, the main drawback is the food itself, not its ideological underpinnings.

Dead Poets' Society

Jay Parini, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

Relationships among poets are about much more than anxiety.


Jill Lepore, New Yorker

What was at stake in the spat between Henry Luce and Harold Ross?


Stefany Anne Golberg, The Smart Set

Why would anyone want to play with a toy that is so damn hard? The Rubik’s Cube entered our collective cultural experience 30 years ago, next month, and there is still no satisfying answer.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Rachel Hadas, Slate Magazine

How Hoarding Shows Cured My Hoarding

Heather Havrilesky, Salon

"It's just stuff." This is what my father told a reporter as he watched his condo burn down a year before his death. The reporter referred to him as "stoical," but I get it: Thanks to a faulty attic fan, his life was in flames and all he could do was stand there and watch. He had to be wondering which things he might lose, and how much it would bother him to lose them: The sweatshirt he wore in college? The book he was reading, beside the bed? Witnessing an inferno where your home once stood, the orange and red flames dancing against a clear blue sky, you might just feel awe at having escaped a fiery death. What does stuff matter, in that context?

How I Lost My Middle-Class Life

Jayme Reid, Salon

What keeps me going? It's not faith. It's not hope. I don't have either. I think it's just motherhood. That unsinkable tenacity that makes women do whatever they have to do for their children.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Prefiguration Of Lalo Cura

Roberto Bolaño, New Yorker

I Have Daughters And I Have Sons

Robert Bly, New Yorker


Jorie Graham, New Yorker

In Germany, A Taste Of New York, Via McDonald's

Nicholas Kulish, New York Times

Chelsea, you are chocolate. Claim cappuccino, the East Village. Thank your Strawberry Fields, Central Park, for your flavor is strawberry.

Sorry, SoHo, but you are plain old vanilla.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Burn, Baby, Burn

Paul Johnson, Literary Review

John Casey, a Cambridge English don with a Catholic upbringing followed by many years of doubts, has written an excellent book about what may follow death. Beginning with the ancient Egyptians, the first people to believe in an afterlife, he surveys over 3,000 years of ideas about futurity, concentrating particularly on hell and heaven but, quite rightly, finding a key place for purgatory too.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Sour House

Matthew Hollis, The Guardian

Duet For Two Pens

Richard Howard, New York Times

How the communion of writer and translator bridges generations, cultures and languages.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Bad Morning At The New York Times

Russell Baker, The New York Review of Books

Gerald Boyd was a classic specimen of the self-made man. Born poor, he worked and studied his way up out of poverty under the guidance of his widowed grandmother. Childhood was work and study, study and work, and though they do not always guarantee success, for Gerald Boyd they did just what movies, books, and professional moralizers said they would do, probably because his widowed grandmother contributed a lot of wisdom, love, and iron to the self-making; and in his early fifties Gerald Boyd became managing editor of The New York Times. This was the second most important job in the newsroom of one of the world's better newspapers. He was the first black ever to reach such a dazzling position in the Times hierarchy, and the gaudiest job of all—the executive editorship—seemed within his reach almost until the very moment he was fired.

He Conquered The Conjecture

John Allen Paulos, The New York Review of Books

Masha Gessen's Perfect Rigor is a fascinating biography of Grigory (Grisha) Perelman, the fearsomely brilliant and notoriously antisocial Russian mathematician. Perelman proved the Poincaré Conjecture, one of mathematics' most important and intractable problems, in 2002—almost a century after it was first posed, and just two years after the Clay Mathematics Institute offered a one-million-dollar prize for its solution.

A Dressing-Down

Paula Marantz Cohen, The Smart Set

Sure, people wear shorts to the opera. But that just means I can wear a cocktail dress to the supermarket.

In The Attic

Shalom Auslander, Tablet

The population of the town in which I live is roughly 2,400 people. Of those people, I know approximately 50 or so by name, and of those 50, there are only 17 who I think will let me hide with my wife and children in their attic during the next genocide. This is assuming those 17 people haven’t already promised their attics to other Jews, blacks, homosexuals, Asians, Europeans, immigrants, etc., which I’m fairly sure at least six of them already have.

First come, first saved.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A = A

Andrew Joron, The Nation

Enjoy the Bugs, but Don’t Feed The Scientists

Edward Rothstein, New York Times

There is something daring, almost provocative, about the Cocoon. This eight-story-high egg-shaped structure, which contains major new exhibition space along with scientific-research facilities, is housed in an enormous glass-and-steel box. It is annexed to the Natural History Museum here as if it were a gigantic specimen brought back by 21st-century heirs to the collectors, entomologists and zoologists who created that great institution.

Momo' For Mamas: Inside The Latest Momofuku

Ryan Bradley, The Atlantic

It's high noon in Manhattan, and all eyes are on David Chang's latest creation, Má Pêche. For those out of the Chang-Momofuku-pork-bun-craze-loop, a quick review: Momofuku is Japanese for lucky peach, and the restaurants—Má Pêche, opening later this week, makes four, plus a dessert spot called Milk Bar—are Asian-influenced in the same way that the avante-garde '70s cult rock group Can is Asian-influenced. Can came out of Germany, but its lead singer was a wandering Japanese-born gypsy named Damo Suzuki. Momofuku comes out of New York, but Chang is, like Suzuki, a wanderer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Consider The Oyster

Christopher Cox, Slate Magazine

Last summer, I visited a friend in San Francisco whom I hadn't seen in a while. Normally in such cases, I must gently remind my host that I eat neither meat, nor dairy, nor eggs, but my friend beat me to it: "I recall that you are a vegan," he wrote, "though one that appreciates fine oysters." Finally, someone who understands me.

Life Without The Web

James Sturm, Slate Magazine

My (probably crazy) plan to give up the internet.

The Private Life Of Books

David Barnett, The Guardian

A cache of letters I found in a set of secondhand Asimov tales sketches an intriguing true story.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Day You Left // Mammogram

Terri Witek, Slate Magazine

Taking Toplessness To The Streets

Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon

It's shirtless season -- should women be able to join in?

Playing Chess With Kubrick

Jeremy Bernstein, The New York Review of Books

Kubrick explained that early in his career he too played chess for money in the park and that Duval was so weak that it was hardly worth playing him. I said that we should play some time and then left the apartment. I was quite sure that we would never play. I was wrong.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Next Door

Jessica Greenbaum, New Yorker

Lust For Life

Michael Robbins, New Yorker

The TV

Ben Loory, New Yorker

"In Pursuit Of Silence": How Noise Really Is Killing Us

Thomas Rogers, Salon

Most of us accept these noises as a normal byproduct of our gadget-obsessed times, but in his new book, "In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise," George Prochnik argues that this barrage of noise is more than just a nuisance; it poses a real threat to our cardiovascular system and mental health, our ability to concentrate, and, perhaps most dangerous of all, it turns our political discourse into a shrill barrage.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Can Animals Be Gay?

Jon Mooallem, New York Times

The science of same-sex pairings in the wild.

Authoritarianism Vs. The Internet

Daniel Calingaert, Hoover Institution

The race between freedom and repression.

Consumed: Slightly Used - Human Tools

Rob Walker, New York Times

What can we learn from our (seemingly) pointless tools?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Parent Problem In Young Adult Lit

Julie Just, New York Times

Judging from The New York Times children’s best-seller list and librarian-approved selections like the annual “Best Books for Young Adults,” the bad parent is now enjoying something of a heyday. It would be hard to come up with an exact figure from the thousands of Y.A. novels published every year, but what’s striking is that some of the most sharply written and critically praised works reliably feature a mopey, inept, distracted or ready-for-rehab parent, suggesting that this has become a particularly resonant figure.

Journey's End

Claire Messud, New York Times

We’ve all met Kevin Quinn, the 50-year-old protagonist of James Hynes’s fourth novel, “Next”; indeed, a fair number of us actually are Kevin Quinn, caught at midlife somewhere between jaunty and defeated, living with one foot in the present and one foot firmly in the past. In some ultimately perilous way, as we should be warned by the novel’s title, Kevin isn’t very good at thinking about what’s next.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Has Dottie Got Legs?

R. S. Gwynn, The New Criterion

On the poetry of Dorothy Parker.

A Critic’s Place, Thumb And All

A. O. Scott, New York Times

Critics, naturally, disagree over whether there is a future for criticism in the age of the internet.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Bright Side Of Science Fiction

Damien G Walter, The Guardian

If we are to have some some influence over how that change unfolds, isn't it important that our stories, whether they be in the news, on television screens or in the pages of science fiction novels, fully explore the optimistic possibilities that technology represents?

Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know

Patricia Cohen, New York Times

To illustrate what a growing number of literary scholars consider the most exciting area of new research, Lisa Zunshine, a professor of English at Kentucky University, refers to an episode from the TV series “Friends.”

For A Look Outside Presidential Bubble, Obama Reads 10 Personal Letters Each Day

Eli Saslow, Washington Post

Each day, 20,000 letters and e-mails addressed to Obama are screened for threats and then sent to a nondescript office building in downtown Washington. Hundreds of volunteers and staff members sort the mail into categories before a senior aide picks the 10 destined to provide Obama with his daily glimpse beyond what he calls "the presidential bubble."

By Heng-Cheong Leong