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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rising To The Challenge Of (Almost) Unplugged Baking

Karen Stabiner, Los Angeles Times

I've made so many pie crusts in my food processor that I think it knows the recipe by heart; I could probably measure out the ingredients, set them next to the machine, turn my back for three minutes and return to find the dough, magically, mixed.

By hand it's another story.

A Real Table For My Imaginary Family

Shalom Auslander, Salon

Building a table for Thanksgiving, I was armed with power saw and a dream. It wouldn't be nearly enough.

The F-Word In Art

Jessica Machado, More Intelligent Life

Unlike the in-your-face identity studies of female artists of the 1970s, Gilmore and many of her contemporaries are making work that is more accessible and more appealing to a wider audience. Time and opportunities have created a new breed of so-called "feminist" artists, many of whom now view the contradictions of the modern female experience through a lens of humour.

Book Review: 'Room' By Emma Donoghue

David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times

The more you know about Emma Donoghue's ninth novel, "Room," the harder it is to assess.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Are Books Good For?

William Germano, Chronicle Of Higher Education

I've been wondering lately when books became the enemy. Scholars have always been people of the book, so it seems wrong that the faithful companion has been put on the defensive. Part of the problem is knowing what we mean exactly when we say "book." It's a slippery term for a format, a technology, a historical construct, and something else as well.

Doggy Heaven

Colin Pope, Slate Magazine

In Israel, A Pork Cookbook Challenges A Taboo

Jeffrey Yoskowitz, New York Times

Dr. Landau, a 61-year-old retired cardiologist and food writer from Tel Aviv, likes pork and thinks there are many Israelis who shy from it not so much because it’s taboo, but because they don’t know how to prepare it. “People are reluctant to cook pork at home,” said Dr. Landau, who is not an observant Jew. “I want to make it easier for chefs and personal cooks to bring it home and to the menus. If that happens, I’ll be more than happy.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why My Kids Watched Me Give Birth

Madeline Holler, Salon

I wanted them to witness the pain and emotion of life. Then I started screaming -- and my daughter started crying.

Dickens in Lagos

George Packer, Lapham's Quarterly

Two years ago in Rangoon, I met a toothpick-thin, boisterous young Burmese man called Somerset. He had conferred this nickname on himself at age sixteen, after renting a collection of stories by W. Somerset Maugham from one of the bookstalls on Pansodan Road. By memorizing sentences from the collection, Somerset taught himself a somewhat formal and archaic English. Then he moved on to Charles Dickens.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Dungeon Master

Sam Lipsyte, New Yorker

Small Change

Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker

Why the revolution will not be tweeted.

The Handmaid's Tale By Margaret Atwood | Books Review

Charlotte Newman, The Guardian

Atwood's chilling tale of a concubine in an oppressive future America is more vital than ever.

The Anatomy Of Ghosts By Andrew Taylor

Alison Flood, The Guardian

As the days edge further into autumn, what better way to pass the time than with a good old-fashioned ghost story? Andrew Taylor's The Anatomy of Ghosts provides just that, as grieving bookseller John Holdsworth is coerced into attempting to disprove the existence of "an alleged apparition" in a corrupt, crumbling 18th-century Cambridge college.

How To Ask Awkward Questions And Annoy People

Angus Kennedy, Spiked

Socrates’ relentless questioning of received moral wisdom and authority, his struggle to apprehend real existence in consciousness, would make him many enemies.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cannes: Woody Allen's "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger"

Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

These days, Allen is using his gift for light comedy as a thin veneer over an essentially sour, thin-spirited worldview, and that worked a lot better in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," with its hot chicks and stunning Spanish locations, than it does here. His movies were less fundamentally depressing when he was obsessively mimicking Ingmar Bergman.

"The Last Utopia": How We Invented "Human Rights"

Adam Kirsch, Salon

In dating the birth of human rights, as an ideology and a movement, to the mid-1970s, Moyn is deliberately bucking a trend. Recent histories, notably "Inventing Human Rights" by Lynn Hunt, have tried to trace the origins of human rights back to Plato or the Bible, or to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, or, at the latest, to the Holocaust, which is supposed to have shocked the world into recognizing a need to protect those rights.

Moyn argues convincingly, however, these attempts to create a "usable past" for human rights, well-intended though they are, actually distort the truth. To understand the real strengths and limitations of the idea of human rights, he argues, it is necessary to see it not as an ancient tradition but as "the last utopia," which emerged "in an age when other, previously more appealing utopias died."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"It's Like A Safari, And We're The Zebras"

Jeremy Stahl, Slate

Inside the bizarre tourist trade at Harlem's Sunday church services.

The Meat Eaters

Jeff McMahan, New York Times

Viewed from a distance, the natural world often presents a vista of sublime, majestic placidity. Yet beneath the foliage and hidden from the distant eye, a vast, unceasing slaughter rages. Wherever there is animal life, predators are stalking, chasing, capturing, killing, and devouring their prey. Agonized suffering and violent death are ubiquitous and continuous. This hidden carnage provided one ground for the philosophical pessimism of Schopenhauer, who contended that “one simple test of the claim that the pleasure in the world outweighs the pain…is to compare the feelings of an animal that is devouring another with those of the animal being devoured.”

The Age Of Citation

David Orr, New York Times

But if the epigraph’s prevalence is a product of history, it also reflects the specific needs of our own literary moment.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Time-Travel In A Minor Universe

Jeremy Axelrod , Intelligent Life

Charles Yu’s debut novel, "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe", is a brainy reverie of sexbots, rayguns, time travel and Buddhist zombie mothers.

The Idea Of A University

Roger Scruton, The American Spectator

A reader of Cardinal Newman's book today is likely to agree that the university, as he describes it, would be an institution of irreplaceable value. Newman's university was to be an integral part of the social order. It was to set an example and to help young men to live up to it. It was not the antagonist but the completion of ordinary life, and the great rewards that it offered were to be purchased by social discipline. Newman's university was to be eminently respectable: critical of society only because critical of itself.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Paula Bohince, Slate Magazine

When "Porn" Lost Its Impact

Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon

From horror movies to interior design and young adult books: How a salacious word got robbed of its meaning.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Ah-Choo!": What You Didn't Know About The Common Cold

Michael Humphrey, Salon

The common cold makes fools of us. It's not just the runny nose and Daffy Duck speech; it's our naiveté about preventing, alleviating and curing the mess. Despite spending millions of dollars on preventions such as Airborne and immunity enhancers and endlessly washing our hands, we humans are still constantly undone by the minuscule menace. On average, we catch between 100 and 200 colds in our lifetime, and in the coming weeks, as the weather cools off, it will likely reduce millions to heaps of mucous and lethargy.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lost Libraries

Craig Fehrman, Boston Globe

What Markson’s fans had stumbled on was the strange and disorienting world of authors’ personal libraries. Most people might imagine that authors’ libraries matter--that scholars and readers should care what books authors read, what they thought about them, what they scribbled in the margins. But far more libraries get dispersed than saved.

Limning A Controversy

Erin McKean, Boston Globe

It is probably a bit too harsh to call those upset by The Baltimore Sun’s recent use of the word limn in a headline word-haters, but I assume they’d be even more offended by the fancy word misologists.

The Fry Chronicles By Stephen Fry

Euan Ferguson, The Guardian

The second volume of Stephen Fry's memoirs recalls his Cambridge years and rise to fame in perfect prose and excruciating honesty.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Plot Escapes Me

James Collins, New York Times

I have just realized something terrible about myself: I don’t remember the books I read.

Fibbing With Numbers

Steven Strogatz, New York Times

Charles Seife is steaming mad about all the ways that numbers are being twisted to erode our democracy. We’re used to being lied to with words (“I am not a crook”; “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”). But numbers? They’re supposed to be cold, hard and objective. Numbers don’t lie, and they brook no argument. They’re the best kind of facts we have.

Separation Anxiety

Aimee Bender, New York Times

Emma Donoghue’s remarkable new novel, “Room,” is built on two intense constraints: the limited point of view of the narrator, a 5-year-old boy named Jack; and the confines of Jack’s physical world, an 11-by-11-foot room where he lives with his mother. We enter the book strongly planted within these restrictions. We know only what Jack knows, and the drama is immediate, as is our sense of disorientation over why these characters are in this place.

Crazy Age By Jane Miller

Joan Bakewell, The Guardian

Jane Miller's 11 essays unfold into an acceptance of a world which its author finds full of comfort and pleasure, friendships and books. "I like being old at least as much as I liked being middle aged and a good deal more than I liked being young."

All Men Are Liars By Alberto Manguel

Steven Poole, The Guardian

Alberto Manguel is a liar. Or so the reader of this book is invited to think, having enjoyed a peculiarly evasive and suspenseful story told by a rather neurotic and unreliable character named "Alberto Manguel", only to see the next narrator exclaim, at the start of her version of the same tale: "Alberto Manguel is an asshole [. . .] No, nothing is true for Manguel unless he's read it in a book."

Love Poem With Pig

Paul Muldoon, The Guardian

Friday, September 17, 2010

America's Prudish Literary Morality

Ridesallyride, Salon

Why are so many writers, including Jonathan Franzen, so obsessed with creating "likable" characters?

Cooking With Dexter: Prep School

Pete Wells, New York Times

The whole idea of mise en place tortures me. It refers, as you already know if you have watched any cooking shows in recent years, to the practice of having all the ingredients and tools set to go before you even light the stove. Mise en place (meez on PLASS) comes from restaurant kitchens, where a brigade of helpers spends the day getting everything ready for the dinner rush. It comes from a French phrase meaning “make the new guy do it.” In my mind, it stands as an unattainable ideal, a receding mirage, a dream of an organized and contented kitchen life that everyone is enjoying except me.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Two Is The Magic Number

Joshua Wolf Shenk, Slate Magazine

What makes creative relationships work? How do two people—who may be perfectly capable and talented on their own—explode into innovation, discovery, and brilliance when working together?

Australia’s Lost Giants

Joel Achenbach, National Geographic Magazine

Seven-foot-tall kangaroos, rhino-size browsers, enormous flightless birds, and a predator that could kill them all: Such were the megafauna that once dominated Australia. Then humans arrived, and most of the giant animals vanished. Did the Ice Age finally catch up with them? Or did humans hunt megafauna to extinction?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Christo vs. Colorado

Kelly Crow, Wall Street Journal

The artist famous for draping monuments in cloth is fighting for what may be his last major project — suspending fabric over 42 miles of the Arkansas River. The catch: convincing the locals.

Are You Game?

Justin Peters, Slate Magazine

I've had relatively few experiences with exotic meats: occasional visits to a fancy sausage stand in Chicago, a regrettable plate of undercooked venison in 2004, and presents from my gun- and game-enthusiast uncle (The pheasant pie I got last Thanksgiving was delicious, though peppered with birdshot.) But since I'm partial to all things ground into patties, I was intrigued to hear that Fuddruckers recently put an elk burger on its menu. It's part of a new line called Fudd's Exotics—a name that summons images of a disreputable zoo—featuring adventurous, lean meats such as ostrich, buffalo, and wild boar.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Limits Of Science

Anthony Gottlieb, Intelligent Life

It’s a fair bet that many of today’s scientific beliefs are wrong, but only your grandchildren will know which ones, and in the meantime, science is the only game in town.

How Animals Made Us Human

Drake Bennett, Boston Globe

Who among us is invulnerable to the puppy in the pet store window? Not everyone is a dog person, of course; some people are cat people or horse people or parakeet people or albino ferret people. But human beings are a distinctly pet-loving bunch. In no other species do adults regularly and knowingly rear the young of other species and support them into old age; in our species it is commonplace. In almost every human culture, people own pets. In the United States, there are more households with pets than with children.

What Is the Future of Avant-Garde Fiction?

Adam Kirsch, Slate Magazine

Now comes C, McCarthy's new novel, the book that is supposed to show us the future of fiction. And here is how it begins: "Dr. Learmont, newly appointed general practitioner for the districts of West Masedown and New Eliry, rocks and jolts on the front seat of a trap as it descends the lightly sloping path of Versoie House." It is a wonderfully canny move on McCarthy's part. How does an experimental novelist surprise his admirers, whose appetite for the new buffers them against any possible surprise? He writes a Victorian pastiche—a sentence of the kind that Virginia Woolf already declared out-dated in the 1910s.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Captive’s View Of Life, And He’s 5

Janet Maslin, New York Times

The narrator of Emma Donoghue’s “Room” is a 5-year-old boy who leads a busy life. “We have thousands of things to do every morning,” Jack tells the reader, and he seems to mean it. Jack is a smart, eager kid with a great imagination and unlimited energy. But he and his mother have been trapped in the 11-by-11-foot room of the title since the day he was born.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Pause That Annoys

Jan Freeman, Boston Globe

Punctuation, quietly doing its job, rarely arouses the passions of the general public the way buzzwords and mispronunciations do. Yes, certain manly writers enjoy denouncing the wimpy semicolon, and spotting misused apostrophes is a popular pastime. But when you hear people arguing about the serial comma or the overuse of dashes, they’re probably editors.

My Father's Fortune: A Life By Michael Frayn | Book Review

Elizabeth Day, The Guardian

With this slim, moving memoir, Frayn has finally managed to respond to the father he so clearly loved. He does so with immense panache, writing in a way that evokes emotion without ever lapsing into bathos, threading sentences through with a gentle, touching humour.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Scarlett Thomas, New York Times

In a late-capitalist marketplace where you can buy or sell almost anything, including artificial islands in Dubai (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt apparently bought one in the shape of Ethiopia), nothing feels impossible. And in a world where fiction is becoming indistinguishable from reality, as the philosopher Baudrillard suggested, the flow of “truth” goes both ways. It’s just as likely that fiction will come true as it is that the truth will turn out to have been fiction all along.

Code World

Jennifer Egan, New York Times

There are many stories Tom McCarthy chooses not to tell in “C,” his tour de force new novel encompassing the short life of one Serge Carrefax, born at the turn of the 20th century on a rural English estate.

Miniature Poodle

CK Williams, The Guardian

The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing The Way We Think, Read And Remember By Nicholas Carr

Steven Poole, The Guardian

Do you find it hard to concentrate these days? Do you get fidgety after two pages of a book, and look around for something else to do? Is the online abbreviation "tl;dr" (too long; didn't read) your response to basically everything? If so, Nicholas Carr feels your pain, and has diagnosed the cause: using the internet has rewired your brain and turned you into a flibbertigibbet.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why Have Ufos Changed Speed Over The Years?

Martin S. Kottmeyer, TPM

Things have certainly changed since 1947, and the oddest, simplest proof of this is in the statistics about the speed of saucers. Where 53 percent of the cases of 1947 emphasize speed, statistics from 1971 showed only 41 percent of cases mention it. By 1986 it had fallen to 22 percent. Inversely, there has been a startling shift in the presence of hovering in UFO reports.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book Review: 'Bob Dylan In America' By Sean Wilentz

Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

"Bob Dylan in America," a new biography of the singer-songwriter by distinguished cultural, political historian Sean Wilentz, gives an enjoyably thorough, convincing explanation why Dylan's new music has gone on finding new audiences ever since he burst upon the New York folk scene of the early 1960s, fresh from the iron range of northern Minnesota and ferociously ambitious for his art.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bare-Naked Lady

Emily Yoffe, Slate Magazine

My vacation at a nudist camp.

Books Of The Times: Many Kinds Of Universes, And None Require God

Dwight Garner, New York Times

Mr. Hawking’s new book, “The Grand Design,” published on Tuesday, has already made headlines and been a trending topic on Twitter, thanks to a different sort of Godmongering. This time Mr. Hawking has, we’re told, declared God pretty much dead.

A Unified Theory Of New York Biking

Felix Salmon, Reuters

Bicyclists aren’t like pedestrians: we’re much faster, we can’t stop quickly, we can’t navigate as adroitly, and it takes a lot of effort to slow down and speed up again, compared to the effort expended in just moving at a constant velocity. We’re a danger to pedestrians, but they’re a danger to us, too. And cars, of course, are a danger to both of us.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bats Perish, And No One Knows Why

Reeves Keyworth, Slate Magazine

The Problem With American Poetry

Josh Cook, Bookslut

There are two declarations you're likely to hear in an assessment of the state of American poetry. One proclaims its vibrancy, the other its unpopularity. One says there is more poetry being written and published today than at any other time in history; the other that poetry doesn't sell. Unfortunately, I don't think either is useful in assessing the state of American poetry, not because they appear mutually exclusive -- they aren't -- but because, after a little examination, neither one says anything important about the state of American poetry.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Landlord

Wells Tower, New Yorker

Getting Readers Off To A Good Start | David McKie

David McKie, The Guardian

The opening sentence of a novel should pique the curiosity. But its closing should be masterly.

Urban Plight: Vanishing Upward Mobility

Joel Kotkin, The American

In the twenty-first century—the first in which the majority of people will live in cities—this unique link between urbanism and upward mobility is under threat. Urban boosters still maintain that big cities remain unique centers for social uplift, but evidence suggests this is increasingly no longer the case.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Savoring The Rise Of New Nordic Cuisine In Copenhagen

Betty Hallock, Los Angeles Times

Restaurants like Noma and Herman that are redefining Danish food have turned Denmark's tiny capital into a culinary destination.

The End Of Tenure?

Christopher Shea, New York Times

In tough economic times, it’s easy to gin up anger against elites. The bashing of bankers is already so robust that the economist William Easterly has compared it, with perhaps a touch of hyperbole, to genocidal racism. But in recent months, a more unlikely privileged group has found itself in the cross hairs: tenured ­professors.

How To Shrink A City

Drake Bennett, Boston Globe

Not every great metropolis is going to make a comeback. Planners consider some radical ways to embrace decline.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

America's Ruling Class -- And The Perils of Revolution

Angelo M. Codevilla, The American Spectator

Never has there been so little diversity within America's upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America's upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and "bureaucrat" was a dirty word for all. So was "social engineering." Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday's upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.

The Many Iterations Of William Shatner

Pat Jordan, New York Times

He’s late. He calls to explain. “A mix-up,” he says, and then, “I read all your stories.” Pause. “You. Are. A. Grrreat. Writer.” Another pause. “What’s your name?” I tell him. He says, “Of course it is.” I ask what his name is. “MY NAME? I. Am. William. Shatner!”

Well, yes, but which William Shatner?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Simon Wiesenthal, The Man Who Refused To Forget

Dwight Garner, New York Times

Simon Wiesenthal, the legendary Nazi hunter, was in many ways a smaller-than-life character. Balding, mustached, the wearer of frumpy suits and neckties, possessed of an old-world Yiddish accent and a distracted air, he often seemed to be stooped, one observer said, “as if permanently looking for a mislaid piece of paper.”

The Last Days Of My Mother, The Control Freak

Judith Levine, Salon

Two weeks after my mother's final stroke, it occurred to me she might not know she was dying.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Stephen Hawking Says Universe Not Created By God

Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian

In the new work, The Grand Design, Professor Stephen Hawking argues that the Big Bang, rather than occurring following the intervention of a divine being, was inevitable due to the law of gravity.

Of Two Minds About Books

Matt Richtel And Claire Cain Miller, New York Times

Auriane and Sebastien de Halleux are at sharp odds over “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but not about the plot. The problem is that she prefers the book version, while he reads it on his iPad. And in this literary dispute, the couple says, it’s ne’er the twain shall meet.

At The Center Of The Storm, But Still A Mystery

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Mr. Blair’s decade in office would be marked by his momentous — and divisive — decision to go to war in Iraq alongside George W. Bush, and by his remaking of the Labour Party in a more centrist, Clintonian incarnation. Yet all these years and political miles later, the man — hailed by The Observer as “one of the most electorally successful and effective party leaders of all time” — remains a curiously opaque figure. And the self-portrait that emerges from his new memoir, “A Journey: My Political Life,” is very much that of a man without a shadow.

Book Review: 'Let's Take The Long Way Home' By Gail Caldwell

Julia M. Klein, Los Angeles Times

Decades past high school, Gail Caldwell had the luck to find a true best friend — a woman whose strengths and weaknesses perfectly complemented her own. Then she endured the tragedy of losing her, an ending that she shares at the beginning of her affecting new grief memoir, "Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Are We Living In A Designer Universe?

John Gribbin, Telegraph

To create a new universe would require a machine only slightly more powerful than the LHC – and there is every chance that our own universe may have been manufactured in this way.

Roger Ebert: No Longer An Eater, Still A Cook

Kim Severson, New York Times

“Food for me is in the present tense,” he said. “Eating for me is now only in the past tense.” He says he has a “voluptuous food memory” that gets stronger all the time.

“I can remember the taste and smell of everything, even though I can no longer taste or smell,” he said.

By Heng-Cheong Leong