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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Funeral For A Friend

Virginia Heffernan, New York Times

I started to distrust telephones the instant they stopped working. I can’t pinpoint when that was — the first time I “dropped” a call, or someone said, “I’m losing you” — and I don’t know why the telephone, the analog landline telephone, was never formally mourned. I do remember clearly what life was like when telephones worked.

Blue Diamond Growers

Martha C. White, Slate

What a California almond company can teach us about the globalization of American agriculture.

Why I Loathe Top 10 Film Lists

Roger Ebert, Wall Street Journal

No, I won't be making out my list of the 10 Best Films for Halloween this year. Nor earlier this year did I make lists of the 10 Best Horror Films, the 10 Scariest Films, or the 10 Most Frightening Slashers in the Cinema. By not making my list of Halloween films, I'll clear my desk and have plenty of time left to not make my list of the Top 10 Thanksgiving Films. It's still a little early to consider not making a list of the 10 Best Christmas Pictures, and don't even ask about the list I won't be compiling of the 10 Greatest Love Stories for Valentine's Day.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tough Love

Philip Caputo, New York Times

Bruce Machart’s impressive first novel, “The Wake of Forgiveness,” opens with a scene of a pioneer woman dying in childbirth on a homestead on the South Texas plains. Her husband, a Czech farmer named Vaclav Skala, carries her body into a hayloft so his three older boys do not wake to find their mother dead, then burns the gore-spattered mattress upon which his fourth son was born and stares into the flames to avoid looking at his hands, “stained with the blood of the only woman he’d ever been fond of.”

Monte Baldo

Annie Freud, The Guardian

Screwtop Thompson By Magnus Mills – Review

Gerard Woodward, The Guardian

Magnus Mills writes with a childlike clarity about very grown up worlds. His typical characters are labourers, working men and artisans who shuffle around on the margins of society. The power of his fiction is often generated by the tension between the disarming transparency of his prose style, and the dark complexity of the worlds it describes.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Why Is Burma Holding An Election?

Sebastian Strangio, Slate Magazine

The military junta has no intention of surrendering power.

When Did Halloween Get So Tawdry?

Juliet Lapidos, Slate Magazine

In the 1970s.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ode To The Slimy Hagfish

Jonathan Gold, LA Weekly

Nothing about hagfish may be quite so alarming as watching a mess of them, skinned and gutted, thrown onto a charcoal grill. The long, eel-like filets writhe, they contort, they twist around one another like the serpents on Asclepius' staff, before shrinking into tiny bicycle tires on the grate.

Bobbing For A Lost Apple

Sloane Crosley, New York Times

In order to properly carve into Halloween, to gut its innards and illuminate it, we have to flash forward to the blight on fun that is New Year’s Eve.

Isn’t It Rich?

Paul Simon, New York Times

The book “Finishing the Hat” becomes a metaphor for that feeling of joy, the little squirt of dopamine hitting the brain when the artist creates a work of art. It’s a feeling so addictive the artist is willing to forgo love in order to experience artistic bliss. It could be a metaphor for Sondheim’s love of songwriting.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"The Gun": How Automatic Weapons Changed The Way We Kill

Matt Zoller Seitz, Salon

A new book explains how AK-47s, M16s and other guns reinvented slaughter -- and their gruesome effect on the body.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why Hollywood Hates Capitalism

Rick Groen, The Globe And Mail

Of all the ironies in Tinseltown, none is richer than this: Hollywood is a big business that, on the screen at least, loathes and despises big business.

Amish Hackers Tell All

Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times

Amish country, in Kelly’s telling, is a version of the hippie-nerd Maker Faire without the colorful clothing. The Amish may not have cars or buttons, but they do have “alpha-geeks,” “early adopters” and enough clever retro-futuristic contraptions to do any steampunk proud.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Making A Home In A Pyramid, 462 Feet Above Seattle

Michael Tortorello, New York Times

To get to the top of the world, Petra Franklin Lahaie ushers her two young daughters and their girly bikes through a set of heavy bronze doors, greets the 24-hour elevator operator in the Prussian blue uniform, rides up 35 stories past mostly vacant office suites, debarks next to an observation deck and Chinese-themed banquet room, passes through a portal marked “private residence,” climbs two stories into a neo-gothic pyramid and enters a penthouse apartment.

Johnny Has Two Mommies – And Four Dads

Drake Bennett, Boston Globe

In the age of assisted reproductive technology, the increasing acceptance of same-sex partnerships, and a steady growth in “blended” families, more parents and more children are finding that traditional notions of the nuclear family don’t accurately reflect their lives and relationships.

A Passenger’s Airport Wish List

Susan Stellin, New York Times

Airlines have taken a lot of heat over bad customer service, but as I was waiting for a flight at La Guardia Airport this summer, I realized that the stress of flying sometimes starts at the terminal curb.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Do Writers Need Paper?

Tom Chatfield, Prospect

The tyranny of choice is a near-universal digital lament. But for literary authors, at least, what comes with the territory is an especially barbed species of uncertainty.

The Atheist's Guide To Christmas By Various Authors – Review

Jessica Holland, The Guardian

This compendium of essays is the perfect godless curmudgeon's stocking-filler.

The Eternal City By Kathleen Graber – Review

Kate Kellaway, The Guardian

Kathleen Graber's superb second collection of poems grapples with big questions and the commonplace.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Shakespeare & Company: The Bookshop That Thinks It's A Hotel

Clare Dwyer Hogg, Independent

When William Burroughs wanted to research his book Naked Lunch, he was in Paris. So he went straight to the Rue de Bucherie on the Left Bank, through the doors of the bookshop Shakespeare & Company, and directly to the bookshelves of the American bookseller George Whitman. There, he found stacks and stacks of hefty medical tomes, along with just about every English language paperback of note you could want. Burroughs has long gone from this world, but Shakespeare & Company has not. It is still perched on the same cobblestones on the bank of the Seine, overlooked by the Notre Dame. And if Willy Wonka were to take time off from chocolate concoctions and open a bookshop, this is what it would look like.

From Bomb To Bust

Stephanie Zacharek, New York Times

“My Year of Flops” covers some 50 underappreciated pictures; every troubled orphan is assessed and deemed a Failure, a Fiasco or a Secret Success. Rabin scrutinizes stinker after stinker, from the 1956 Howard Hughes-produced anti-miscegenation screed “The Conqueror” (he refers to its central figure, played by John Wayne, as John Wayneghis Khan), to the dismal 2005 film version of “Rent” (which he describes, aptly, as starring “fake 20-somethings playing fake bohemians in a wholly inauthentic take on la vie bohème”), to Cameron Crowe’s woebegone 2005 “Elizabethtown” (which confounded Rabin so much he wrote about it twice).

Friday, October 22, 2010

All Programs Considered

Bill McKibben, New York Review Of Books

Radio receives little critical attention. Of the various methods for communicating ideas and emotions—books, newspapers, visual art, music, film, television, the Web—radio may be the least discussed, debated, understood.

Your New Age, And Mine

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

You may have absorbed the idea that it's about the afterlife. It would be fairer to say it's about the common human need for there to be an afterlife.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Longing For The Lines That Had Us At Hello

Michael Cieply, New York Times

Sticky movie lines were everywhere as recently as the 1990s. But they appear to be evaporating from a film world in which the memorable one-liner — a brilliant epigram, a quirky mantra, a moment in a bottle — is in danger of becoming a lost art.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Original California Cuisine, Courtesy Of Sunset Magazine

Kim Severson, New York Times

Before Alice Waters picked her first Little Gem lettuce and Wolfgang Puck draped smoked salmon across a pizza, California cuisine meant something else.

The Best Biography Of George Washington Yet

Max Byrd, Salon

Ron Chernow's extraordinary new book paints the first president as a man in a struggle to contain his emotions.

Keener Sounds

Robert Pinsky, Slate Magazine

How can poetry that doesn't rhyme be so pleasing to the ear?

The Tyranny Of Metaphor

Robert Dallek, Foreign Policy

Three historical myths have been leading American presidents into folly for nearly a century. Is Obama wise enough to avoid the same fate?

The Sixth Memo of Italo Calvino

Margaret Lafleur, The Millions

In the mid 1980’s, Italo Calvino began to think about the approaching millennium. It was still a decade and a half away, but the Italian writer had been invited to give a series of lectures at Harvard University and believing he needed a bigger theme to guide his lectures he chose “Six Memos for the Next Millennium,” which would be collected in a book by the same name. On the eve of his departure for the United States and with five memos written, he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. In the front of the collection his wife later published is a list of the six memos in Calvino’s handwriting, though the sixth and final is faint, as if someone had attempted to erase it. I have read the book a handful of times since it was assigned to me in an MFA course a couple years ago and this opening page remains my favorite, the faded letters like an invitation to finish the list for him, as if the sixth memo could (and should) be almost anything.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Readers Behind Bars Put Books To Many Uses

Dwight Garner, New York Times

A funny thing happens to “Running the Books” as it inches forward. Mr. Steinberg’s sentences start to pop out at you, at first because they’re funny and then because they’re acidly funny. The book slows down. It blossoms. Mr. Steinberg proves to be a keen observer, and a morally serious one. His memoir is wriggling and alive — as involving, and as layered, as a good coming-of-age novel.

Good Chocolate Doesn't Have To Be Dark

Trish Deseine, The Guardian

The idea that the darker the chocolate, the better it is isn't the whole truth. Milk and white chocolates deserve a little more respect.

Morals Without God?

Frans de Waal, New York Times

Five centuries later, we remain embroiled in debates about the role of religion in society. As in Bosch’s days, the central theme is morality. Can we envision a world without God? Would this world be good?

UN Savory Tale Of Roald Dahl, Graham Greene And A Literary Mystery

David Marsh, The Guardian

Authors have long used characters' names for comic effect. Sometimes they may even be real.

Time Expired

Tom Vanderbilt, Slate Magazine

The end of the parking meter.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why Does E=MC2? By Brian Cox And Jeff Forshaw – Review

Alok Jha, The Guardian

In the process of exposing the science, the authors do a good job of showing how the hard end of research works: abandon all assumptions and re-build everything from scratch. It's frustrating, it's terrifying and it's slow. Sometimes it is hugely confusing and counter-intuitive. But patience and persistence in the face of dearly held beliefs is exactly why scientists have made such a remarkable fist of understanding (and shaping) our modern world. It's well worth your while to gulp down any fears of maths and glimpse some of that remarkable achievement in action.

Block That Adjective!

Alexander Mccall Smith, Wall Street Journal

I am not at all sure—convinced, certain, persuaded—that creative-writing courses are a good idea unless they prevent people from writing sentences like this one, where adjectives—useful, helpful, intensely descriptive words—are stacked upon one another as Pelion used to be piled upon Ossa. Phew! That sentence took some writing and ended, you will have noticed, with a rather useful classical allusion. Thank you.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A New Lens

Wendalyn Nichols, Boston Globe

The rise of 'optic,' and how we love shiny toys.


Adam Gopnik, New York Times

n Lane Smith’s new book, called, simply, “It’s a Book,” a mouse, a jackass and a monkey — all drawn with the kind of early-’60s geometric-minded stylization that requires a gentle reminder of which animal is which on the title page — discover a new thing. Flat and rectangular, with a hard cover and a soft, yielding inside, it baffles the jackass, while the behatted monkey tries patiently to explain its curious technology. “Do you blog with it?” the jackass says. “No, it’s a book,” the monkey explains. This only makes the donkey’s exasperation keener: Where’s the mouse? Does it need a password? Can you make the characters fight? Can it text, tweet, toot?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Read My Book? Tour My House

Anne Trubek, New York Times

Having toured dozens of dead writers’ houses over the years, I was familiar with the genre of the Mailer tour: the bedrooms, the bookshelves, the dining room table scratched up by the author. I could also anticipate the quiet awe of my fellow tourgoers once we reached the mecca, the third-floor study. My reaction? Geez, it’s hot up here, and musty, and I hope no one saw me yawn. But I did marvel at one thing: the Universal Gym, in mint condition, installed in the middle of the room. I wonder how that will play to the Provincetown pilgrims 50 years from now?

Player One By Douglas Coupland – Review

Scarlett Thomas, The Guardian

Somewhere along the line popular culture won (if there was even a battle), and the exclamation mark took over. "Poor humanity!" has something upbeat, sentimental and ironic in it that "Poor humanity" does not. Of course, one senses that Coupland knows this, and his characters know it too, and it could be that his all-surface-no-depth approach does tell us something important about ourselves. Perhaps the fact that we know it already is not the point at all.

Why Hollywood Can't Get The Hang Of Science Fiction

Damien Walter , The Guardian

Wherever and whenever it's set, this genre's most special effect is its ideas – things that Tinseltown generally leaves on the cutting-room floor.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Buildings On The Big Screen

Martin Filler, The New York Review Of Books

The static art of architecture and the kinetic art of motion pictures might seem antithetical mediums, but films can be enormously helpful in explaining buildings to laymen and professionals alike. Certain architectural works—the photo-resistant designs of Alvar Aalto come to mind—are difficult if not impossible to understand in still imagery, and are made fully comprehensible only through films that move around and inside them.

Wallowing In Grief Over Maman

Dwight Garner, New York Times

“Mourning Diary” feels like a first draft: it has repetitions, ambiguous passages and even (as Barthes admits) emotional banalities. But this book’s unvarnished quality is the source of its wrecking cumulative power. Barthes’s ironic intellect, apparent everywhere in his many books, is wrapped here around his sore and nakedly beating heart.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Through The Valley Of The Nest Of Spiders

Samuel R. Delany, Boston Review

My Life As A Bra Fitter

Natalee Woods, Salon

I help women find lingerie that's right for their body. Crystal made me reconsider exactly what that means.

Philip Roth's Playful, Unpredictable "Nemesis"

Greil Marcus, Salon

The literary icon's latest novel considers the effects of a polio epidemic in 1940s New Jersey.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Think Again: Global Aging

Phillip Longman, Foreign Policy

A gray tsunami is sweeping the planet -- and not just in the places you expect. How did the world get so old, so fast?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This Year, Gardening Includes Oysters

John Martin Taylor, Washington Post

The bay's recreational oyster season officially opened last week, but more than 2,000 volunteers have already signed on to work with the bivalves: not harvesting them, but "gardening" them on private property. It's the most visible of the aggressive programs Maryland and Virginia have begun, with the help of new federal funding and a number of environmental organizations, in hopes of increasing the number of oysters in the bay tenfold in the next decade.

MFK Fisher And The Dangers Of Overcooking Books

Jean Hannah Edelstein, The Guardian

It's a hard but essential lesson for writers that there comes a time when you have to stop revising your work.

Monday, October 11, 2010

In Defense Of Naïve Reading

Robert Pippin, New York Times

Clearly, poems and novels and paintings were not produced as objects for future academic study; there is no a priori reason to think that they could be suitable objects of “research.” By and large they were produced for the pleasure and enlightenment of those who enjoyed them. But just as clearly, the teaching of literature in universities ─ especially after the 19th-century research model of Humboldt University of Berlin was widely copied ─ needed a justification consistent with the aims of that academic setting: that fact alone has always shaped the way vernacular literature has been taught.

"How To Live": Grandfather Of The Writing We Love To Hate

Laura Miller, Salon

Michel de Montaigne committed every sin we complain about in today's memoirists and bloggers, 400 years ago.

Too Much Information

Jill Lepore, New Yorker

Books about the birds and the bees.

Bliss Street

Ange Mlinko, New Yorker

Making Sense Of The Multiverse

Peter Galison, Slate Magazine

So, what does Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design tell us about God?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Get a Real Degree

Elif Batuman, London Review Of Books

The world of letters: does such a thing still exist? Even within the seemingly homogeneous sphere of the university English department, a schism has opened up between literary scholarship and creative writing: disciplines which differ in their points of reference (Samuel Richardson v. Jhumpa Lahiri), the graduate degrees they award (Doctor of Philosophy v. Master of Fine Arts) and their perceived objects of study (‘literature’ v. ‘fiction’). Mark McGurl’s The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing, a study of Planet MFA conducted from Planet PhD, might not strike the casual reader as an interdisciplinary bombshell, but the fact is that literary historians don’t write about creative writing, and creative writers don’t write literary histories, so any secondary discourse about creative writing has been confined, as McGurl observes, to ‘the domain of literary journalism’ and ‘the question of whether the rise of the writing programme has been good or bad for American writers’: that is, to the domain of a third and completely different group of professionals, with its own set of interests, largely in whether things are good or bad. McGurl’s proposal to take the rise of the programme ‘not as an occasion for praise or lamentation but as an established fact in need of historical interpretation’ is thus both welcome and overdue.

A Stimulus Plan, Disguised As Censorship

John Schwartz, New York Times

Could it be that President Obama has found an innovative way to inject financial adrenaline into the beleaguered publishing industry? And the beauty of the maneuver is that the military is a part of the executive branch, so he doesn’t have to ask obstructionists in Congress for permission.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

If Walls Could Talk

Dominique Browning, New York Times

Many adults have a fantasy that if they could go back to college — now that the desire to party, drink and sleep around has faded to a burnished memory — they’d get so much more out of it. The publishing industry often reflects this wish. Every season brings offerings that are right at home on anyone’s continuing-ed syllabus: innovative, original ways to study world history through lenses trained on the minutiae of salt or cod, earthworms or spices, tea or telephones. Now, finally, for those of us who wrestled with Rocks for Jocks, pined amid Physics for Poets and schlepped through college on 101s of any and every subject — the beloved survey courses — here’s that most popular professor, Bill Bryson, with a fascinating new book, “At Home: A Short History of Private Life.”

The Baler

Seamus Heaney, The Guardian

Friday, October 8, 2010

The App Trap

Michael E. Grass, Washington City Paper

D.C. is awash in real-time transit information. And it's driving us nuts.

A Storyteller Enthralled By The Power Of Art

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Two related themes thread their way through all of Mr. Vargas Llosa’s novels: a fascination with the human craving for freedom (be it political, social or creative) and the liberation conferred by art and imagination.

Save A Penguin If You Can

Tim Flannery, The New York Review of Books

When oil gushes into the ocean, the consequences can be indelible. Individuals, ecosystems, even entire communities can be devastated, never to return to what they were before. Yet there are people who rush into the danger zone, for no other reason than to assist the wild creatures caught up in the slick. Dyan deNapoli’s book The Great Penguin Rescue tells the story of the largest wildlife rescue ever mounted.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Confessions Of A Used-Book Salesman

Michael Savitz, Slate Magazine

I spend 80 hours a week trawling junk shops with a laser scanner. I don't feel good about it.

The Spoils Of Happiness

David Sosa, New York Times

Nozick’s thought experiment — or the movie, for that matter — points to an interesting hypothesis: Happiness is not a state of mind.


Andy Kroll,

Stranded on the sidelines of a jobs crisis.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Phantom Of The Fair

Scott Gabriel Knowles, The Smart Set

A dispatch from the Shanghai World Expo.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Aiming To Learn As We Do, A Machine Teaches Itself

Steve Lohr, New York Times

Researchers are fine-tuning a computer system that is trying to master semantics by learning more like a human.


James Ledbetter, Slate Magazine

The strange but inevitable rise of e-reader pornography.

Monday, October 4, 2010

"At Home": The Weird History Of The Houses We Live In

Laura Miller, Salon

Bill Bryson delivers an irresistible grab bag of vermin-infested wigs and double-barreled privies.


James Surowiecki, New Yorker

What does procrastination tell us about ourselves?

Jonathan Franzen's Freedom Has Been Pulped. MORE HEADLINE TO GO HERE

Charlie Brooker, The Guardian

There's nothing like the lonely horror of realising you've made a really massive cock-up.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Found In Translation

Michael Cunningham, New York Times

As the author of “Las Horas,” “Die Stunden” and “De Uren” — ostensibly the Spanish, German and Dutch translations of my book “The Hours," but actually unique works in their own right — I’ve come to understand that all literature is a product of translation. That is, translation is not merely a job assigned to a translator expert in a foreign language, but a long, complex and even profound series of transformations that involve the writer and reader as well. “Translation” as a human act is, like so many human acts, a far more complicated proposition than it may initially seem to be.

The Japan Syndrome

Ethan Devine, Foreign Policy

China's teetering on the verge of its own lost decade, and a meltdown in Beijing would make Japan's economic malaise look like child's play.

The Test Has Been Canceled

Keith O’Brien, Boston Globe

Final exams are quietly vanishing from college.

What Jack Didn't Know

Wendy Smith, Slate Magazine

Emma Donoghue's amazing ventriloquism in Room.

Nemesis By Philip Roth | Book Review

Edward Docx, The Guardian

This riveting tale of a polio outbreak in wartime New Jersey is vintage Roth.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Too Funny For Words

Peter Funt, New York Times

When my dad, Allen Funt, produced “Candid Microphone” back in the mid-1940s, he used a clever ruse to titillate listeners. A few times per show he’d edit out an innocent word or phrase and replace it with a recording of a sultry woman’s voice saying, “Censored.” Audiences always laughed at the thought that something dirty had been said, even though it hadn’t.

Science Knows Best

Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York Times

Moral solutions do not reside in religion but in science, Sam Harris writes.

Happy 200th, Snow White!

Stefany Anne Golberg, The Smart Set

The look of Snow White — her blue-and-red capped sleeves, her cherry-colored Clara Bow lips — and the seven dwarfs with their funny names, are all from Disney’s telling. This Snow White is so palpable for me, and for most Americans, that one might believe Snow White an American invention.

A Different Sky By Meira Chand | Book Review

Maya Jaggi, The Guardian

Meira Chand has for 30 years turned an outsider's acute eye on the societies in which she has lived in Asia, mainly Japan and India. Her eighth novel is a panoramic page-turner set in colonial Singapore. Like JG Farrell's The Singapore Grip, A Different Sky leads up to the Japanese invasion described by Churchill as the "largest capitulation in British history". Yet the focus is less on the delusions of a faltering empire than on the turmoil of the brashly emergent city-state.

Pebble And I By John Fuller | Book Review

Charles Bainbridge, The Guardian

One of the most enjoyable things about these two latest offerings from John Fuller is the subtlety and variety of their descriptive detail. Pebble and I, his 18th collection of poetry, is packed with his usual technical brio and range of tone, but what impresses more than anything is the precise and playful imagery, especially a delight in the use of comparisons. The new book doesn't have the sustained formal virtuosity of his A Space of Joy (2006) or the comic pyrotechnics of Song and Dance (2008); it's in many ways more meditative and occasional, happy to respond to places and events as and when they occur.

A Human Head . . .

Edwin Morgan, The Guardian

Friday, October 1, 2010

The End Of The Story

Zach Baron, The Believer

Robert Jordan died before he could finish his sprawling, thirteen-book fantasy epic, so his widow hired a thirty-one-year-old fantasy novelist to finish it for him.


James Polchin, The Smart Set

On looking at those who don't want to be seen.

By Heng-Cheong Leong