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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is English Special Because It's "Globish"?

John McWhorter, The New Republic

Between the fostering of the myth that a language can make a people imaginative, the encouragement of a sense that English is a “realer” language than others, and the endless booboos, Globish is inaccurately covered where the implication is that it is a legitimate argument shakily rendered. It is as authoritative an argument as a book I could write on how squid are the world’s coolest animals. It is, despite innocent intentions, a jolly misfire – and for reasons far beyond mere ones of form.

Does A Lover Really Have First Claim On Breasts?

Rowan Pelling, Telegraph

Women's bodies have become so associated with sex that now a mothers' magazine has called breast-feeding 'creepy'.

Independent Streak

Morgan Meis, The Smart Set

We have a right to abolish any government and to establish a new one under any principles we fancy, but it is a right that only a fool would actually exercise.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Going To Zero

Peter Balakian, Slate Magazine

One Reason Why Humans Are Special And Unique: We Masturbate. A Lot.

Jesse Bering, Scientific American

Nevertheless by all available accounts, and by contrast with human beings, masturbation to completion is an exceedingly rare phenomenon in other species with capable hands very much like our own. As anybody who has ever been to the zoo knows, there's no question that other primates play with their genitalia; the point is that these diddling episodes so seldom lead to an intentional orgasm.

An Agnostic Manifesto

Ron Rosenbaum, Slate Magazine

I would not go so far as to argue that there's a "new agnosticism" on the rise. But I think it's time for a new agnosticism, one that takes on the New Atheists. Indeed agnostics see atheism as "a theism"—as much a faith-based creed as the most orthodox of the religious variety.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Erlking

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, New Yorker


Rae Armantrout, New Yorker


Frederick Seidel, New Yorker

Surely It’s 30 (Don’t Call Me Shirley!)

Matt Zoller Seitz, New York Times

When the creators of “Airplane!” were lining up actors for their rollicking parody three decades ago, some of the straight-arrow character actors that ended up in the cast worried about the harm it might do to their careers. One of the most skittish participants: Peter Graves, the taciturn “Mission: Impossible” star who played the movie’s pilot, a kindly veteran who welcomes a little boy named Billy into the cockpit and asks questions like “Ever seen a grown man naked?"

40 Winks? She’d Even Settle For 30

Janet Maslin, New York Times

Ms. Morrisroe’s cheerfully anecdotal “Wide Awake” is full of such sleep-related absurdities. It describes her various forays into the world of insomnia remedies as she tried a plethora of would-be cures. Behavior modification, sleep-inducing drugs, artificial light, meditation, absinthe and orthodontia: these are all avenues she considered. Even the subject of uvulopalatopharyngoplasty as a cure for sleep apnea comes up, though perhaps only so that “Wide Awake” can include that word.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Forgetting Zoe By Ray Robinson

Alison Flood, The Guardian

This is a story of hell told without judgment, leaving the reader free to infer what horrors they will, and to apportion the blame which Robinson declines to. It's a thriller which doesn't need to resort to breakneck pace, a crime novel without a detective, a misery memoir with much of the misery left to the reader's imagination.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hedge Hogs

Chrystia Freeland, New York Times

Today’s populist mood has not deterred Sebastian Mallaby. In “More Money Than God,” his smart history of the hedge fund business, Mallaby does more than explain how finance’s richest moguls made their loot. He argues that the obsessive, charismatic oddballs of the hedge fund world are Wall Street’s future — and possibly its salvation.

The Secrets Of "Psycho's" Shower Scene

Steve North, Salon

Perkins added that the director, in effect, broke his own long-standing rule with that decision. "He was outspokenly eager to not play any tricks on the audience in his films, to do anything that couldn’t be thought of as fair play, but in that instance, he in fact did.

Mr Peanut By Adam Ross

Christopher Tayler, The Guardian

All the same, it's an impressive first novel, and there's no question that the people who signed Ross up had shrewd eyes for talent, a quality he's jumping with.

The Arabs And The Holocaust By Gilbert Achcar

Tariq Ali, The Guardian

In a systematic and scholarly refutation of the simplistic myths that have arisen following the formation of Israel, Gilbert Achcar, the Lebanese-French historian, who is currently professor of international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, has provided us with the best book on the subject so far.

Is ‘Ghoti’ Pronounced ‘Fish’?

Ben Zimmer, New York Times

When talk turns to the irrationality of English spelling conventions, a five-letter emblem of our language’s foolishness inevitably surfaces: ghoti.

Where Do Gadgets Really Come From?

Rob Walker, New York Times

You might own a device made by Dell, Hewlett-Packard or Apple, for instance, but had you heard of Foxconn Technology before multiple suicides by workers became a big news story?

America Psycho By Bret Easton Ellis

John Mullan, The Guardian

The running joke is an ignoble device, beloved of TV comedy. You won't find it described in dictionaries of literary terms (despite the fondness for running gags of highly literary novelists such as Sterne and Nabokov). American Psycho relies on running jokes, being all about repetition.

The "Thriller" Diaries

Nancy Griffin, Vanity Fair

Michael Jackson’s 1983 “Thriller” remains the most popular music video of all time: a 14-minute horror spoof that changed the business. Behind the scenes it gave its star a temporary home with director John Landis, sparked a near romance with actress Ola Ray, and revealed how damaged the young pop idol already was.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Rent A White Guy

Mitch Moxley, The Atlantic

Confessions of a fake businessman from Beijing.

Smarter Than You Think

Wyatt Mason, The New York Review of Books

“What I would love to do is a profile of one of you guys who’s doin’ a profile of me,” David Foster Wallace told the journalist David Lipsky in 1996 during a series of conversations now collected as Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. “It would be a way,” Wallace continued, “for me to get some of the control back”.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

From ‘Less Than Zero’ To More Anomie

Janet Maslin, New York Times

Bret Easton Ellis’s “Imperial Bedrooms” can be described euphemistically as an extension of, sequel to, meditation on or deliberately cobwebby meta-reworking of “Less Than Zero,” the debut novel that put its disaffected young author on the map 25 years ago. It can also be seen as an act of desperation, and it may be all of the above. Whatever its genesis, what this vacant new book does best is demonstrate that there are more ways to be bored and boring in Los Angeles in 2010 than there were in 1985.

Bubbles, Bread And Beer

Olivia Judson, New York Times

Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as baker’s yeast, is one of the most useful beings known to humans. We rely on it for making bread and beer; but it is also a denizen of the laboratory, one of the most studied organisms on the planet. Which is why I’m nominating it for Life-form of the Month: June.

In ‘Blockade Billy,’ King Drifts Back Into Baseball

Richard Sandomir, New York Times

In the season of Stephen Strasburg comes another phenom, a fictional one created by Stephen King. William Blakely is weird and not all that smart. He’s out of sync with his New Jersey Titans teammates and, being a King character, he possesses a horrible secret.

Epistles At Dawn: The Dying Art Of Letter Writing

Peter Geoghegan, The Guardian

Way back in 1898, the New York Times dubbed the long-dead Lord Byron the greatest letter writer in the English language, celebrating his letters' "natural eloquence, their audacious humor, the force and spirit of their substance, the grace and purity of their style". Saul Bellow's forthcoming epistles might not be remembered quite so fondly 70 years from now, but chances are that, by then, the entire genre of collected writers' letters will have disappeared completely – leaving readers (and literary estates) markedly poorer for their loss.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Footy Verse

Rosie Schaap, Poetry Foundation

At least since the fifth century BC, when Pindar entreated his heart to sing the splendor of the Olympian in his victory odes, poets have found in sport a worthy subject. And soccer—as we know it, a game of relatively recent advent, despite a lineage that can be traced back thousands of years—has inspired many to write in praise of its glory and in lamentation of the heartache it can yield.

Stoicism Is Just So Yesterday

Emily Colette Wilkinson, In Character

Ours is not a philosophical age, much less an age of Stoicism. As Frank McLynn explains in his new biography of Marcus Aurelius, the last of Rome's "five good emperors," commander of Rome's prolonged campaigns against the invasions of barbarian German tribes, and the last important Stoic philosopher of ancient days, our philosophers (academics) no longer profess to help the average person answer life's great metaphysical questions. Contemporary philosophers might contemplate such abstruse problems as whether mental properties can be said to emerge from the physical processes of the universe; what the necessary and sufficient conditions are for self-interest; where the mind stops and the rest of the world begins-not, perhaps, the pressing existential questions presented by the normal course of a human life.

Tackling Real-life Characters In Fiction Is Fine – As Long As You Do It Well

Meg Rosoff, The Guardian

Do what you like, only do it well – and don't expect the relatives to approve.

Metropolis, Enlarged

Geoffrey O'Brien, The New York Review of Books

To see Metropolis in its original form is to discover not just the new material but all the rest; the restorers have not simply added deleted episodes but expanded existing ones, and the film’s rhythms and internal rhymes are disclosed as if for the first time.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Breeders' Cup

Bryan Caplan, Wall Street Journal

Amid the Father's Day festivities, many of us are privately asking a Scroogely question: "Having kids—what's in it for me?" An economic perspective on happiness, nature and nurture provides an answer: Parents' sacrifice is much smaller than it looks, and much larger than it has to be.

Numberplay: Spooky Action At A Distance

Pradeep Mutalik, New York Times

Today we will explore a fundamental and almost unbelievable result of Quantum Mechanics (QM) through a set of simple puzzles. This famous result is “Bell’s Interconnectedness Theorem” which was discovered by the physicist John Stewart Bell in 1964. Bell’s theorem has been called by physicist Henry Stapp “the most profound discovery of Science.” It is profound because it shows that the universe has the property of non-locality: two particles can be light years apart, yet they are linked to each other instantaneously.

Letter To John Updike

Nicholson Baker, The New York Review of Books

I read three quarters of your “Constellation of Events” just now on a nice, sunny Sunday morning subway ride on the D line, having borrowed that New Yorker from my girlfriend, and, having to stop in the middle of your story and get out and walk home, I had a thought, being still under the oddly peaceful emotional umbrella of your story: I had it, in fact, just walking under the awning of a tuxedo shop: I thought what an amazing thing that Mr. Updike has been writing all the years that I have been growing up, and how I have come to depend on the idea that he is writing away as a soothing idea, and then I was reminded of Trollope, and how nice it must have been for writers back then to go about their lives knowing that Mr. Trollope was going to have a new book coming out soon, that it would be good; and they might not read all of the things he wrote, but they would read some, and they would know that what they didn’t read they were missing, but were comforted also that they knew what kind of man he was because they had already read a lot of what he wrote; and the idea they had of the man who gradually had written all these books was a powerful, happy thing in their lives.

Monday, June 21, 2010

On Web Video, Captions Are Coming Slowly

Brian Stelter, New York Times

Orpheus At The Second Gate Of Hades

Yusef Komunyakaa, New Yorker

The Young Painters

Nicole Krauss, New Yorker

The Sink

Catherine Bowman, New Yorker

Yes, People Still Read, But Now It’s Social

Steven Johnson, New York Times

“The point of books is to combat loneliness,” David Foster Wallace observes near the beginning of “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” David Lipsky’s recently published, book-length interview with him.

If you happen to be reading the book on the Kindle from Amazon, Mr. Wallace’s observation has an extra emphasis: a dotted underline running below the phrase. Not because Mr. Wallace or Mr. Lipsky felt that the point was worth stressing, but because a dozen or so other readers have highlighted the passage on their Kindles, making it one of the more “popular” passages in the book.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Teach Us To Sit Still By Tim Parks

William Leith, The Guardian

A simple story, then, but very well told. Parks takes many detours through the worlds of literature and art. He tells us about Coleridge and his neuroses. He meets a strange old American guru called John Coleman. Parks is a conscientious and expert companion whom it is hard not to like. And, if you spend your time sitting on your bottom, rigid with tension, and you've been feeling a lot of aches and pains lately, you'll love his message. It is: relax. Sit still. Stop worrying.

The Best Vacation Ever

Drake Bennett, Boston Globe

How should you spend your time off? Believe it or not, science has some answers.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Do I Contradict Myself?

Jennifer Senior, New York Times

The truth is, by Hitchens’s standards, his examination of how he and the left parted company is surprisingly un strident and nonpolemical. It is, in fact, almost melancholic. He’s not claiming with his typical adamantine force that the balance sheets work out. And perhaps the strongest theme in “Hitch-22” is just this — that sometimes the balance sheets are an unholy mess.

Inside The Box

Chris Suellentrop, New York Times

Video games have created what must be the biggest generation gap since rock ’n’ roll. Sure, a generational rift of sorts emerged when the World Wide Web showed up near the end of the last century, but in the case of the Web, the older cohort admired and tried to emulate the younger crowd, rather than looking down on them with befuddlement or disdain. With games, a more traditional “Get off my lawn” panic has reared its head.

Pharma Drama

Maggie Scarf, New York Times

Belfer clearly knows her scientific material. She also knows how to turn esoteric information into an adventure story, and how to tell that story very well.

One World, One Voice

Roy Blount Jr., New York Times

McCrum is bullish on Globish: the reign of English as the world’s lingua franca or default tongue, “the worldwide dialect of the third millennium,” the language in which China trades with Zambia, the language in which a Greek watching CNN phones a friend from the Middle East to get him off the London bus he’s riding before it explodes. English, the author argues convincingly in “Globish,” will not break up into new languages and die, as Latin did, because it is sustained by the Internet, global marketing, mass consumerism, instant communications, international soccer, texting, and (McCrum is English) cricket and the legacy of Winston Churchill.

A Village Life By Louise Glück

Charles Bainbridge, The Guardian

Set in a village somewhere in the western Mediterranean sometime in the last 50 years, Louise Glück's captivating 11th collection is full of spacious, carefully balanced monologues and narratives.

Food Writing Moves From Kitchen To Bookshelf

Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

It is 10 years since Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential rocked into town and gave food writing such a hard slap that it has never quite known which end to stand on ever since.

Massive: The Hunt For The God Particle By Ian Sample

Graham Farmelo, The Guardian

Never has so much been expected of a scientific machine. The Large Hadron Collider, 30 years in the planning, promises to shed new light on nature's fundamental laws and particles, thus justifying its multi-billion-dollar price tag to the governments that have footed the bill. "If the Collider doesn't deliver some really sexy discoveries," one of the world's most illustrious experimenters recently whispered to me, "particle physicists will be fucked."

Dysregulation Nation

Judith Warner, New York Times

After the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina, the Wall Street meltdown of 2008, the collapse of the housing market and now the BP spill,we have come to what feels like a moment of reckoning, with some tentative signs that our country’s decades-long love affair with deregulation is starting to chill.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Tony Judt, The New York Review of Books

I was raised on words. They tumbled off the kitchen table onto the floor where I sat: grandfather, uncles, and refugees flung Russian, Polish, Yiddish, French, and what passed for English at one another in a competitive cascade of assertion and interrogation. Sententious flotsam from the Edwardian-era Socialist Party of Great Britain hung around our kitchen promoting the True Cause. I spent long, happy hours listening to Central European autodidacts arguing deep into the night: Marxismus, Zionismus, Socialismus. Talking, it seemed to me, was the point of adult existence. I have never lost that sense.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shoe-Leather Reporting

Susan Burton, Slate Magazine

Although much has been written on the history of meat-eating, the topic of doneness is strangely unexplored.

Holocaust On Stage

Ian Buruma, The New York Review of Books

The harder we try to show what cannot be shown, the more elusive reality often becomes. Some things must be left to our imagination, not because it allows us to share the experience of real victims, for that, thankfully, we cannot do, but because a poem, or an oblique image, a faded photograph, a discarded suitcase, a child’s broken toy, or a plasticine puppet, can jolt our emotions by suggestion, which somehow is more effective than attempts at direct portrayal.

All The Dead Are Vampires

Michael Sims, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

A natural-historical look at our love-hate relationship with dead people.

Hummus Catches On (As Long As It’s Flavored)

John T. Edge, New York Times

“Back home, they would shoot me in the head for doing this to hummus,” Majdi Wadi said as he waited to board a flight to Los Angeles, where he would meet with Costco executives to pitch his company’s roster of 14 flavored hummus varieties, including artichoke-garlic and spinach.

By “home,” Mr. Wadi meant Kuwait, where he was born, and Jordan, from which he immigrated in 1994, places where hummus is usually a purée of chickpeas, sesame paste, lemon, garlic and not much else.

On Being A Bus, Not A Tram

Amira Nowaira, The Guardian

Reading English poetry at an Egyptian university in the 60s was an eye-opening, sometimes chastening experience.


Carol Muske-Dukes, Slate Magazine

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Are Killer Viruses Things Of Beauty?

Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York Times

That thought — viruses as irregular, fuzzy balls — suddenly raises the question of whether or not I am being a pious hypocrite. Maybe it’s the price tags I find irksome, more than the idea of swooning over a killer’s beauty — though I would be offended by, say, a portrait of the cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer celebrating his good looks.

My Life As A Canadian Writer

David McGimpsey, The Walrus Magazine

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Maestro Of Carnivore Porn

Sasha Chapman, The Globe And Mail

Medium Raw, Bourdain’s sequel, takes stock of both the changes in his life and in the culinary world he inhabits. Which are quite a few.

Merely Human? That’s So Yesterday

Ashlee Vance, New York Times

Some of Silicon Valley’s smartest and wealthiest people have embraced the Singularity. They believe that technology may be the only way to solve the world’s ills, while also allowing people to seize control of the evolutionary process. For those who haven’t noticed, the Valley’s most-celebrated company — Google — works daily on building a giant brain that harnesses the thinking power of humans in order to surpass the thinking power of humans.

Holly Golightly, Before She Was Immortal

Janet Maslin, New York Times

Sam Wasson’s “Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.” is willing to take a fond and incisive look, if not Paramount’s self-importantly tough one. This alluring little book is devoted to the contradictions that pervade “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: the contrivances that kept it so frothy, the weirdly backhanded feminist message (Holly was certainly free spirited) and the unusual place occupied by this sprite, her evening gown and her 5 a.m. Fifth Avenue Danish in the history of American film.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Once Upon A Life

Jeanette Winterson, The Guardian

Small, sustainable, ethical, modestly profitable, local, co-operative. Go on… open your own shop!

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves

David Papineau, The Guardian

In his argument against the world's economic doom-mongers Matt Ridley has some persuasive history on his side.

The Bright Side Of Wrong

Kathryn Schulz, Boston Globe

Of all the things we’re wrong about, this view of error might well top the list. As ashamed as we may feel of our mistakes, they are not a byproduct of all that’s worst about being human. On the contrary: They’re a byproduct of all that’s best about us. We don’t get things wrong because we are uninformed and lazy and stupid and evil. We get things wrong because we get things right.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Essay: My Backlogged Pages

John Feffer, New York Times

Provided I hold on to this library, I can still pretend that I will be all the people that I imagined I would be as a teenager, as I wandered the church book sale and selected gifts for my future selves.


Sam Riviere, The Guardian

The Ask By Sam Lipsyte

Toby Litt, The Guardian

The same word appears on the cover of each of Sam Lipsyte's three novels: funny. And The Ask is a very, very funny novel – funny in a painful, anxious, generous way.

Lifelong Earning

Rob Walker, New York Times

The appeal of the (sort of) grown-up, geeky merit badge.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Does Legalizing Gay Marriage Mean Fabulous Gay Weddings?

Amanda Hess, Washington City Paper

One way of looking at it: Marriage equality ought to mean that same-sex couples get the same right as heterosexual lovebirds when it comes to overpaying for flowers, stressing out about hors d’oeuvres, and second-guessing the DJ’s choice of music.

A Modest Proposal: A King And Queen For America

Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times

If we can just get over George III, our new constitutional monarchs could serve as National Hand-Holders, Morale-Boosters-in-Chief and Founts of American Indignation.

Our king and queen could spend days traipsing along tar-ball-infested beaches, while bathing oil-soaked pelicans and thrusting strong chins defiantly at BP rigs.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Chemical Weapons Of Onions And Garlic

Harold McGee, New York Times

What do garlic and onions have in common with gunpowder? A lot. They’re incendiary. They can do harm and they delight. Sulfur is central to their powers. And they helped inspire the work of a chemist who has just published a welcome treatise on the smelly yet indispensable allium family.

A Salute To Al Cassell, L.A.'s Burgermeister

Lawrence Dietz, Los Angeles Times

Fresh meat and made-on-the-premises sides added up to the best hamburger in town. Thanks, Al, you'll be missed.

You Can’t Run From Past, but You Can Rewrite It

Janet Maslin, New York Times

Carolyn Parkhurst’s third novel is about Octavia Frost, a woman who is famous for her best-selling novels. Octavia deserves to be equally famous for being unpleasant. And Ms. Parkhurst deserves credit for twisting her character’s sourness into an unlikely selling point for “The Nobodies Album,” just as she made human-canine communication a boon for her first book, “The Dogs of Babel.”

13 Stripes And 51 Stars

Chris Wilson, Slate Magazine

If Puerto Rico were to become the 51st state—and granted, that's at least four ifs away—federal law requires that a new star be added to the American flag. One can't help but wonder: Where would we put it?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Table for 2? Get Ready To Wait In Line

Glenn Collins, New York Times

Reservations? Not accepted.

That is the blunt message for restless queues of hungry diners at a clutch of new restaurants in New York City, ranging from Má Pêche, David Chang’s place in Midtown; to the Breslin, April Bloomfield’s kitchen north of Madison Square Park; to Fatty ’Cue, Zak Pelaccio’s restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The Art Of War

Brian Palmer, Slate Magazine

Why do commandos use paintball guns?

The Kid

Salvatore Scibona, New Yorker

The Entire Northern Side Was Covered With Fire

Rivka Galchen, New Yorker

The Book Of The Dead Man (Vertigo)

Marvin Bell, New Yorker

Lenny Hearts Eunice

Gary Shteyngart, New Yorker


Franz Wright, New Yorker

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Death And Life Of The Book Review

John Palattella, The Nation

Despite the turmoil and doubts, I think there's no better time than the present to be covering books. The herd instinct is nearly extinct: newspapers inadvertently killed it when they scaled back on books coverage en masse; and the web, for all its crowds and their supposed wisdom, is a zone of unfederated cantons. The field is wide open. If you can't take chances now, if in such a climate you can't risk seeking an air legitimate and rare, when can you?

The Quaintness Of The Past

Billy Collins, Slate Magazine

Numberplay: The Playful Mr. Gardner

Pradeep Mutalik, New York Times

Most of the wealth of tributes to Mr. Gardner have focused on his professional side. In today’s post, we explore his playful side through some of his puzzles.

Cheese Heads, Unite!

Michael Feldman, New York Times

June is National Dairy Month, but milk has been the coin of this realm ever since there was a Dairyland.

Monday, June 7, 2010

French For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do it: Reading My First New York

Elizabeth Bachner, Bookslut

I’ve started taking French classes. I want to read Edmond Jabès in French. I want to someday visit the markets of Togo and Senegal. It would make a trip to Madagascar easier. I have to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. People suggest languages, hobbies, new relationships, sports. When someone speaks a foreign language at me, or throws a hard, round object my way, my instinct is to freeze. If I’m lucky, I duck. I don’t swing a bat at the thing, or smile and say hello. But this has to change. I have to get wilier and more agile, braver, more cunning.

Should This Be The Last Generation?

Peter Singer, New York Times

If there were to be no future generations, there would be nothing for us to feel to guilty about. Is there anything wrong with this scenario?

My Obsession With A New York Cup Of Coffee And A Doughnut

Geoff Dyer, The Guardian

One morning, as I gobbled my doughnut and slurped my coffee, thinking to myself, "What a fantastic doughnut, what an amazing coffee," I realised that I had not just thought this but was actually saying aloud, "What a fantastic doughnut! What a totally fantastic experience!", and that this was attracting the attention of the other customers, one of whom turned to me and said, "You like the doughnuts, huh?"

"And the coffee!" I said. "The doughnut would be nothing without the coffee – and vice versa."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sweet Land Of... Conformity?

Claude Fischer, Boston Globe

The idea that personal liberty defines America is deeply rooted, and shared across the political spectrum. The lifestyle radicals of the ’60s saw themselves as heirs to this American tradition of self-expression; today, it energizes the Tea Party movement, marching to defend individual liberty from the smothering grasp of European-style collectivism.

But are Americans really so uniquely individualistic? Are we, for example, more committed individualists than people in those socialist-looking nations of Europe? The answer appears to be no.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Our Cluttered Minds

Jonah Lehrer, New York Times

Socrates started what may have been the first technology scare. In the “Phaedrus,” he lamented the invention of books, which “create forgetfulness” in the soul. Instead of remembering for themselves, Socrates warned, new readers were blindly trusting in “external written characters.” The library was ruining the mind.

In “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” the technology writer Nicholas Carr extends this anxiety to the 21st century.

Travel Books

Alida Becker, New York Times

It might be just a coincidence. Or another sign of publishing’s adaptation to the age of austerity. In any case, this season’s most interesting travel books have gone into staycation mode. Their authors aren’t any less curious about the wider world, but they tend to be nest builders, not vagabonds.

Tea Death

Jo Shapcott, The Guardian

King Death By Toby Litt

Gabriel Weston, The Guardian

Toby Litt is well known as a fictional shape-shifter who has tackled genres as diverse as crime, chick-lit and science fiction, and for his intention to work his way through the entire alphabet with the titles of his novels. He has expanded this repertoire even further with King Death, a book that combines love story with action-packed medical whodunit.

Beatrice And Virgil By Yann Martel

James Lasdun, The Guardian

What a perplexing mixture of opposites Yann Martel's long-awaited new novel turns out to be: clarity and confusion, insight and banality, boldness and a persistent, self-monitoring nervousness.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hollywood Loves A Good F&%#ing Title

Claude Brodesser-Akner, New York

When it comes to brainstorming movie titles, Hollywood tends to fall in love with certain words: Impact, Extreme, Deep, Desperate. But recently writers, producers, and studios have become enamored with putting a word on the front page of their scripts that they know has mass appeal: “Fuck.”

Plotting Along

Jessa Crispin, The Smart Set

You think women's fiction is improving, and then the rug is pulled.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

It's No Crime To Be Funny

Colin Bateman, The Guardian

Crime fiction used to entertain us with double acts such as Holmes and Watson – but when and why did it lose its sense of humour?

A River Runs Through Him

Laura Barton, Intelligent Life

Here, 700 miles from the headwaters, the Mississippi stretches three-fifths of a mile wide, far across to the dark, wooded banks of Illinois. It runs north into Iowa and south to Kentucky, but right on this particular curve the river lies deep and silty, its banks rich with black walnut, maple and hickory trees, and the water itself, dappling blue and gold and olive-green. Standing here, I agree with Twain, who called this view “one of the most beautiful on the Mississippi”.

Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

Olivia Judson, New York Times

To what extent do our preconceived notions narrow our perception of the planet, and ourselves?

Hive Of Nerves

Christian Wiman, The American Scholar

To be alive spiritually is to feel the ultimate anxiety of existence within the trivial anxieties of everyday life.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The End Of An Era In Publishing

Garrison Keillor, New York Times

Children, I am an author who used to type a book manuscript on a manual typewriter. Yes, I did. And mailed it to a New York publisher in a big manila envelope with actual postage stamps on it. And kept a carbon copy for myself. I waited for a month or so and then got an acceptance letter in the mail. It was typed on paper. They offered to pay me a large sum of money. I read it over and over and ran up and down the rows of corn whooping. It was beautiful, the Old Era. I’m sorry you missed it.

Two Poets

Robert Hass, The Believer

A generation after the "Misty School," Chinese poetry has come alive again.

Behind The "Celebrity Deaths Come In Threes" Curse

Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon

Death, that great, random and cruel mystery, will have dominion over all of us yet. All we can do in the meantime is pretend to understand it -- with steadfast magical thinking, lighthearted wagering, or a little bit of both.

Murdoch's Disastrous Triumph

Jack Shafer, Slate Magazine

How Rupert Murdoch won the Wall Street Journal and lost billions in the process.

The Pleasures Of Imagination

Paul Bloom, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

Our main leisure activity is, by a long shot, participating in experiences that we know are not real. When we are free to do whatever we want, we retreat to the imagination—to worlds created by others, as with books, movies, video games, and television (over four hours a day for the average American), or to worlds we ourselves create, as when daydreaming and fantasizing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Heat And Desperation

Jane Hirshfield, The Three Penny Review

After Reading Wallace Stevens

Anna Smaill, The Wolf


Campbell McGrath, Slate Magazine

Anti-Socialist Realism

Michael Weiss, The New Republic

Not least among Vasily Grossman’s great achievements as a Soviet writer was his ability to fashion a true art form out of the procrustean genre of socialist realism. His technique was as simple as it was subversive. Rather than employ his characters as monotone metaphors acting in the service of revolutionary fantasy, he made them into variegated people besieged by revolutionary reality. As the protagonist of Everything Flows, Grossman’s third novel, puts it: “The literature that called itself ‘realist’ was as convention-ridden as the bucolic romances of the eighteenth century. The collective farmers, workers, and peasant women of Soviet literature seemed close kin to those elegant, slim villagers and curly-headed shepherdesses in woodland glades, playing on reed pipes and dancing, surrounded by little white lambs with pretty blue ribbons.” Grossman let war, persecution and genocide serve as his backdrop but he was most preoccupied with the fate of ordinary human beings caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Down to the last battlefield commissar, guilt-ridden informant, or NKVD agent, his characters were imbued with a psychological and moral complexity rare for any age, much less a totalitarian one that forced an artistic parade ground upon what Max Eastman once witheringly termed “writers in uniform.”

No Secrets

Raffi Khatchadourian, New Yorker

Julian Assange’s mission for total transparency.

Not Dead Yet

P. J. O'Rourke, Weekly Standard

One bright idea isn’t going to solve the problems of the American newspaper industry, but it’s one bright idea more than the American newspaper industry has had in 40 years. What I propose is “Pre-Obituaries”—official notices that certain people aren’t dead yet accompanied by brief summaries of their lives indicating why we wish they were.

By Heng-Cheong Leong