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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Beat And Dust: Tangier's Tang Of History

Sam Jordison, Guardian

The Moroccan port of Tangier was once a hub for experimental writers, even forming the setting for William S Burroughs' Naked Lunch. But how much of its countercultural heritage remains?

Paradoxical Truth

Graham Priest, New York Times

According to this theory, some contradictions are actually true, and the conclusion of the Liar Paradox is a paradigm example of one such contradiction. The theory calls a true contradiction a dialetheia (Greek: “di” = two (way); “aletheia” = truth), and the view itself is called dialetheism. One thing that drives the view is that cogent diagnoses of what is wrong with the Liar argument are seemingly impossible to find.

Inside The Wild, Wacky, Profitable World Of Boing Boing

Rob Walker, Fast Company

It's eccentric. It's unprofessional. And it makes money. How four people who do exactly what they want run one of the most popular blogs on the planet.

Precedent And Prologue

Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker

Momentous Supreme Court cases tend to move quickly into the slipstream of the Court’s history. In the first ten years after Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision that ended the doctrine of separate but equal in public education, the Justices cited the case more than twenty-five times. In the ten years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion-rights decision of 1973, there were more than sixty-five references to that landmark. This month marks ten years since the Court, by a vote of five-to-four, terminated the election of 2000 and delivered the Presidency to George W. Bush. Over that decade, the Justices have provided a verdict of sorts on Bush v. Gore by the number of times they have cited it: zero.

For These Book Clubs, Food Is The Real Page-turner

Kathleen Purvis, McClatchy Newspapers

Yes, the book is important. The mix of personalities is key. But with book club names like "Mostly We Just Eat" and "First, The Food," does anyone doubt what really pulls book clubs together?

Tongues Twisted

Laura Marsh, The New Republic

These are convincing arguments, but they lead no further than a grim prognosis for English. Ostler’s grand theory that English will be the last lingua franca stands and falls with his vision of “virtual media.” One problem with such a vision is that there is no evidence that the technology on which it relies will ever be perfected.

Monday, November 29, 2010

On The Death Sentence

John Paul Stevens, New York Review Of Books

David Garland is a well-respected sociologist and legal scholar who taught courses on crime and punishment at the University of Edinburgh before relocating to the United States over a decade ago. His recent Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition is the product of his attempt to learn “why the United States is such an outlier in the severity of its criminal sentencing.” Thus, while the book primarily concerns the death penalty, it also illuminates the broader, dramatic differences between American and Western European prison sentences.

Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music?

Alex Ross, Guardian

Avant garde art and architecture are loved, but in music we cling to the past. We're missing out.

A New York Tale Of Art, Money And Ambition

Janet Maslin, New York Times

“An Object of Beauty” follows the New York art world climb of Lacey Yeager. She is a charismatic character yet a very odd one to have emerged from the imagination of Steve Martin. Although Lacey is treated as this book’s main source of fascination, it’s less interesting to look at her point-blank than to look at her while wondering what Mr. Martin sees.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How I Got Lost In Translation And Found My True Calling

Maureen Freely, Guardian

We all work for the dozen or so publishers which remain committed to fiction in translation even as the walls of fortress English grow and grow. If the art of literary translation continues to thrive in this country, it will be thanks to them, and also to the British Centre for Literary Translation, which is training the new generation, and the Translators Association, which speaks up for us when we're exploited, and the Independent foreign fiction prize, whose organisers work hard to take our best efforts to a larger audience.

Why do any of us bother, when the odds are so against us? Because it's fun to discover new books and new writers. It's gratifying to see at least some of them do well. For me, it makes a welcome change from my old life, when I mainly looked after number one, wasting acres of times fretting about bylines and book sales and column inches. Somehow, this feels more romantic and far more worthwhile.

Zero-sum World: Politics, Power And Prosperity After The Crash By Gideon Rachman – Review

John Kampfner, Guardian

More is surely required to revive an economic and political model whose allure has waned around the world. That said, Rachman has produced a commendable potted guide to the travails of the post-cold war world.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Path Of Least Resistance

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, New York Times

Thirty years ago, while reporting on Latin America for The New York Times, Alan Riding began wondering how artists and writers responded to brutal dictatorships. He then went to live in Paris and realized that not so long before, the French intellectual and cultural elite had provided an answer, in often unlovely ways. “And the Show Went On” describes this history in gripping and painful detail.

The Road: Short Fiction And Essays By Vasily Grossman, Translated By Robert And Elizabeth Chandler – Review

Gillian Slovo, Guardian

Taken together, the collection is a treasure trove that lends the reader an insider's understanding of what it was like to live through the Soviet era, at the same time as it introduces us to Grossman's enduring preoccupation with the wonder and terror of humanity.

Revolution By Jennifer Donnelly – Review

Linda Buckley-Archer, Guardian

This is a great example of young adult fiction: beautifully written and thoroughly researched yet not, to borrow Patrick Ness's phrase, "an adjective novel". There is an emotional vividness and a delight in story that will speak strongly to teenagers.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Flipping Awesome

Robert Weintraub, Salon

Is the long, proud history of the coin toss in professional sports coming to an end?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

All The Things That Remind Me Of Her

Matt Zoller Seitz, Salon

After my wife died, music and movies we once loved became the very triggers I tried my hardest to avoid.

The Things I Learned At Dinner

Charles Simic, New York Review Of Books

Back in the early 1970s, when I was teaching in California, I had a colleague named Bob Williams who taught fiction writing and was famous for beginning each semester with a lecture on the art of cooking. He’d tell his students, for example, how to prepare a dish of sausages, onions, and peppers—elaborately describing how to chose the right frying pan, olive oil, and sausages, explaining next how they ought to be cooked till browned and then removed from the pan—so that the sliced onions, garlic and peppers, and whatever fresh herbs could be introduced in their own proper order—until he had the entire class salivating. The point, of course, was not just to stimulate their appetites, but to show them the degree of love and devotion to the smallest detail required to turn this simple Italian dish, often poorly made, into a culinary masterpiece. Writing stories and poems was like that too, he told them. Instead of the ingredients he had just conjured, there would be words, experiences, and imaginings to combine. Actually, what he demonstrated to his students was the ancient relationship between cooking, eating well, and storytelling.

Enticing Readers To A Long Road With Sudden Shocks Of Self-Recognition

Adam Langer, New York Times

And yet the further you delve into “In a Strange Room,” Damon Galgut’s taut, mesmerizing novel, a finalist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, the more you realize that the shocks of recognition do not arise so much from any particular artwork you may have encountered but from the uncanny relevance that the novel ultimately seems to have for your own life. Or perhaps more impressively, from how deftly Mr. Galgut uses rhetorical devices to intermingle his narrator’s thoughts with your own, even if you have little in common with his narrator, a tragically isolated South African traveler named Damon.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Poetry And Pantomime

Siân Hughes, Guardian

But is there even such a thing as public poetry? If something belongs in public, something acknowledged and accepted, openly celebrated, it doesn't need poetry. It might call for verse, in a formal way, or some kind of ritual with words, but poetry? Poetry is for the shameful, secret, private, taboo. It's about turning over the stone and seeing the horror of insects underneath. Perhaps it is something to do with political engagement, using poetry to raise demons and laugh in their faces, or perhaps to make heard the voices of the silent, the underdog or the powerless. Those are all things Lochhead's poetry could be said to do, using recognisable voices in a way that challenges as well as entertains.


David B. Hart, First Things

Yes, I know: there are good and sincere souls who run for office, and some occasionally get in, and a few of those are then able to accomplish something with the position they assume, and some of those even remain faithful to the convictions that got them there. But, lest we forget, those are also the politicians who often create the greatest mischief. Sincerity, after all, is not the same as wisdom.

Norman And Me

Amy Rowland, The Smart Set

On writing in the writer's house.

The Beard

Paula Marantz Cohen, The Smart Set

A razor-sharp consideration of men's facial hair.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Let's Face The Music And Dance

J. Allyn Rosser, Slate

Reinventing The Book

Boris Kachka, New York Magazine

Imagine a book—in this case the 1934 novel The Street of Crocodiles, a surrealistic set of linked stories by the Polish Holocaust victim Bruno Schulz—whose pages have been cut out to form a latticework of words. The result is a new, much shorter story and a paper sculpture, a remarkable piece of inert, unclickable technology: the anti-Kindle.

It’s All Your Fault

Theodore Dalrymple, New English Review

No man is so much a determinist that he fails to place moral blame upon his parents; and such was I. It never really occurred to me, I can honestly say not for a second in all those years, that my poor late mother had experienced hardships in her life a thousand times harder to contend with than my own, and that therefore, if anyone were to be excused, it was she. Resentment is fundamentally egotistical.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Paul Rudnick, New Yorker

I am Mr. Peanut, and I can be silent no longer. While I have only the greatest respect for Mr. Levine, who is the senior director for marketing at Planters, I cannot live a lie. I’m a gay nut, and Benson and I are in love.

The Yellow

Samantha Hunt, New Yorker

Lawrence: Fresh Look At Warrior Of Desert

Janet Maslin, New York Times

Michael Korda’s long, sometimes secondhand but finally satisfying book about T. E. Lawrence starts in a strange way. He opens “Hero” in 1917, when Lawrence, an Englishman leading an Arab guerrilla force and using military tactics that proved to have enduring impact, devises the bold strategic move of attacking the port city of Aqaba, on the Red Sea, by approaching it from an unexpected direction. In the monumental film biography of Lawrence that Mr. Korda does his best not to mention, this is the very famous “Aqaba — from the land!” moment.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanks For Asking

Jan Freeman, Boston Globe

“Where do you get your ideas?” people often ask. And for years, I’ve answered, truthfully, “Mostly from readers.” It’s great to have that constant feedback. But here’s the best part: The most routine-looking questions, on the most familiar usage issues, can lead us down the rabbit hole to a land of language surprises.

The Memory Chalet By Tony Judt – Review

Peter Preston, Guardian

Tony Judt never thought his dying memoir would be published. In fact it is a book to treasure.

How The King James Bible Shaped The English Language

Robert McCrum, Guardian

The King James Bible turns 400 next year, and even in multicultural, secular modern Britain its influence is still profound.

All Natural: Why Breasts Are The Key To The Future Of Regenerative Medicine

Sharon Begley, Wired

Here’s the weird thing about breasts: They are a point of obsession, vulnerable to the mercurial whims of mass culture. But one thing remains constant: In every era, a whole lot of women are convinced they have the wrong kind.

Dumb Luck

Corey Marks, Threepenny Review

Book Review: 'Sunset Park' By Paul Auster

David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times

The novel suffers from an excess of analysis, especially the essay-like accounts of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and PEN American Center's efforts on behalf of human rights. Still, Auster keeps coming back to "the pull of the stories, always the stories, the thousands of stories, the millions of stories, and yet one never tires of them" — although, of course, they are never enough. This makes "Sunset Park" a novel that finishes as open-endedly as it begins. Chancy territory, as Renzo puts it, but ultimately, what other choice do we have?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My Year In Waxing School

Virginia Sole-Smith, Slate

Naked people don't tip well, and more tricks of the trade.

This Ballerina Found History In Her Footsteps


It is not the typical academic who studies the political and cultural history of nations by trying to locate those histories within her body. Yet that was precisely the approach taken by Jennifer Homans, a former professional ballet dancer turned historian and critic, whose enormous new history of classical ballet, “Apollo’s Angels,” was published this month.

The Zen Of Silence

John Adams, New York Times

John Cage was one astonishing individual. A composer we commonly associate with coin tossing, whose most famous piece called for the performer not to make a single sound, he upended long-held conventions about the listening process and prodded us to re-evaluate how we define not only music but the entire experience of encountering art. He was, in the words of Kenneth Silverman’s new biography, “driven by an ideal of nonmythic listening and seeing, of perceptual innocence”; his goal was to compose “a prelapsarian music untainted by history.”

Tolstoy: Russia’s Thunderous Prophet

AN Wilson, Financial Times

The death of Leo Tolstoy on November 20 1910 in a small railway station in southern Russia, was being turned into mythology even as it was happening. Pathé, the pioneer of newsreels, made one of its first moving-pictures about the event. Lenin had said two years earlier that Tolstoy was “a mirror of the revolution”. Both communist revolutionaries and the Russian government were watching to see what the effect of the death of the great anarchist would be on the Russian people, who felt that they had lost not just a great artist but the most eloquent voice that had thundered on their behalf against monstrous injustices.

Chasing The Sun: The Epic Story Of The Star That Gives Us Life By Richard Cohen – Review

Tim Radford, Guardian

Richard Cohen is a publisher who kept looking for other people to write this book, and then finally did it his way. This literary orbit around the biggest thing in our lives takes in mythology, written history, and the traffic of understanding from Babylon, ancient Egypt, Athens, the Islamic world, imperial China and Japan, the scientific revolution that began with Copernicus and Galileo and other extraordinary ways in which this slow understanding of the Sun has changed our lives.

Creating New Books From Old

Jonathan Safran Foer, Guardian

The order was given to destroy the Second Temple. Three of the walls went down, but the fourth resisted. It stood firm against hammers, and pick-axes, and clubs. The Romans had elephants push against the wall, they tried to set fire to it, they even invented the wrecking ball. But nothing, it seemed, would bring the wall to its knees. The soldier in charge of overseeing the Temple's destruction reported back to his commanding officer: "We have destroyed three of the Temple walls."

"And what about the fourth?"

"I am of the opinion that we should leave it, as a testament to our greatness."

Ballets Russes Style: Diaghilev's Dancers And Paris Fashion By Mary E Davis – Review

Veronica Horwell, Guardian

The story conventionally goes that Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes landed with a crash on the Paris stage in 1909 and changed the style of everything forthwith: music, ballet and its choreography, art, decor and especially fashion. With Diaghilev the impresario, Stravinsky's dissonances, Nijinsky's leaps and Bakst's designs, modernity got started. That's one of the plots of this winter's V&A exhibition of the Ballets Russes and its accompanying book, and it underlies Mary Davis's account of the relationship between the company and fashion. Not so much fashion in the sense of the sewn frock, as fashionability, a conjunction of perfomed glamour, conspicuous outrage, publicity and pizazz that Diaghilev exploited so well.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Case Of The Vanishing Blonde

Mark Bowden, Vanity Fair

After a woman living in a hotel in Florida was raped, viciously beaten, and left for dead near the Everglades in 2005, the police investigation quickly went cold. But when the victim sued the Airport Regency, the hotel’s private detective, Ken Brennan, became obsessed with the case: how had the 21-year-old blonde disappeared from her room, unseen by security cameras?

Avoiding The Void: A Brief History Of Nothing(ness)

Marcelo Gleiser, NPR

We all know the aphorism that one can see a glass filled to the middle with water as half-full or half-empty, the optimistic versus the pessimistic views. What about an empty glass? Of course, everyone knows that it’s filled with air. Can we, however, contemplate total emptiness? And if we can, does it really exist? Is there such a thing as a complete void in Nature, the absence of everything?

The Worst Of Times

Jesse Wegman, Slate

Cookbook writers are ridiculously bad at guessing how long it'll take to prepare a meal.

A World Cracked Open

Alan Hollinghurst, New York Review Of Books

Michael Cunningham’s novels have tended to be airy, open structures, covering large spans of time and space. They are narrative experiments, multivoiced and wide-ranging, with a romantic sense of the adventure of the inner life and a brilliant eye for the details of the everyday world; it is not surprising that Virginia Woolf has been so important a presence for this midwestern New Yorker.

If Specimen Days, enjoyable though it was, seemed an adventure too far, Cunningham’s new novel By Nightfall is by contrast disconcertingly conventional in subject and technique. It is seen entirely through one consciousness, takes place in and around New York City, and unfolds over a period of a few days (albeit bulked out with substantial flashbacks).

Typo Analysis

Ed Park, Bookforum

The evolving narratives hidden in a classic style guide.

The Last Bohemian

Laura Miller, Salon

When Patti Smith first began to release albums in the late 1970s, she seemed to have magically eluded all of the shackles imposed on women in the rock 'n' roll world. She was neither angelic muse nor bad-girl sexpot, a tomboy willing to be photographed in a pale peach slip, flashing a patch of unshaven armpit hair that shocked the record-store boys I knew more than just about anything any girl had ever done. Rumors went around that she claimed to masturbate to photographs of herself, a concept that baffled me; I was so naive I didn't understand yet that people (i.e., men) masturbated to photographs, and the idea of being sufficiently aroused by one's own image to do so was unfathomable. Fascinated, I turned out to see this intimidating person at an in-store appearance, only to have my copy of "Easter" signed by a soft-spoken urchin with a luminous smile.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stranger Than Science Fiction

Damien G Walter, Guardian

Maybe our inner world of dreams and imagination offers not merely escape, but our best way of finding truth in the confusing fictional landscape of modern reality.

Steve Martin’s Sketch Of The Art World

Julie Bosman, New York Times

Walking down Madison Avenue on a sunny afternoon last week Steve Martin had the look of a movie star in thin disguise, wearing tinted glasses and a charcoal fedora that covered his familiar white head of hair.

But once inside the Gagosian Gallery, one of the most high-powered galleries in New York, he peeled off his coat, revealing a dark suit, burgundy tie and perfectly polished black shoes that made him look more like one of the art dealers he describes in his new novel.

Collette Waller: 'Without MS, There Wouldn't Be All These Poems'

Jon Henley, Guardian

Collette Waller can't read her poems out loud any more. In fact, there are lots of things she can't do any more. She can't walk, can't talk, can't swallow. She is confined to her bed and her wheelchair, and fed through a tube in her stomach.

She can still smile though, grin even, and turn a pair of still-bright eyes on you and make a noise – an exaggerated exhalation, a sort of throat snort – that is, quite plainly, a laugh. She does this often. Even pale, puffy, unable (literally) to move a muscle, a cloth under her chin to catch the dribbles, she's a force of nature.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How To Think About Abortion

Frances Kissling, Salon

These failures to make progress in the electoral and policy arena on abortion should come as no surprise. Politics is about the here and now. But if anything is ever to change the back-and-forth dynamic of so-called electoral solutions to the problem of abortion, Obama’s effort to get people to talk to each other has to be tried, outside of the Beltway.

Why Do The National Book Awards Bar Fairy Tales?

Laura Miller, Salon

Humanity's favorite stories are punished for their vaguely disreputable origins.

Digital Keys For Unlocking The Humanities’ Riches

Patricia Cohen, New York Times

A history of the humanities in the 20th century could be chronicled in “isms” — formalism, Freudianism, structuralism, postcolonialism — grand intellectual cathedrals from which assorted interpretations of literature, politics and culture spread.

The next big idea in language, history and the arts? Data.

Explaining The Modern World And Keeping It Short

Janet Maslin, New York Times

In his happily provocative new book of aphorisms, the fiscal prophet and self-appointed flâneur Nassim Nicholas Taleb aims particular scorn at anyone who thinks aphorisms require explanation. And he differentiates the aphorism from the equally short-form sound bite by noting that the aphorism enhances knowledge while the sound bite shrinks it.

That said, it is extremely foolhardy to try to paraphrase any of Mr. Taleb’s pronouncements.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Shadow Scholar

Ed Dante (Pseudonym), Chronicle Of Higher Education

In the past year, I've written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won't find my name on a single paper.

Burger Queen

Lauren Collins, New Yorker

April Bloomfield’s gastropub revolution.

Looking For Neutrinos, Nature's Ghost Particles

Ann Finkbeiner, Smithsonian Magazine

To capture these elusive entities, physicists have conducted some extraordinarily ambitious experiments. So that neutrinos aren’t confused with cosmic rays (subatomic particles from outer space that do not penetrate the earth), detectors are installed deep underground. Enormous ones have been placed in gold and nickel mines, in tunnels beneath mountains, in the ocean and in Antarctic ice. These strangely beautiful devices are monuments to humankind’s resolve to learn about the universe.

Continental Divide

Anne Applebaum, Slate

Europeans are starting to realize that their governments are too big. Will Americans catch on next?

Jimmy Baldwin: Stirring The Waters

Darryl Pinckney, New York Review Of Books

Life never bribed him to look at anything but the soul, Henry James said of Emerson, and one could say the same of James Baldwin, with a similar suggestion that the price for his purity was blindness about some other things in life. Baldwin possessed to an extraordinary degree what James called Emerson’s “special capacity for moral experience.” He, too, is persuasive in his antimaterialism. Baldwin, like Emerson, renounced the pulpit—he had been a fiery boy preacher in Harlem—and readers have found in the writings of each the atmosphere of church.

Destroyed Apple Products Become Photographic Works Of Art

David Ng, Los Angeles Times

When does an iPhone or an iPad cease to be a mere consumer gadget and enter the rarefied world of visual art? How about when someone willfully destroys it, turning it into an abstract, brutalized husk of its former self?

Colorless, Tasteless But Not Dangerous

Dwight Garner, New York Times

So many volumes about race and its discontents are published each year that you could keep a specialty bookstore stocked with them. In the back of that imagined bookstore (where the “adult” stuff used to reside) there’d be a selection of vaguely self-loathing books you’d be tempted to label Ironic White Studies.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Review: 'The Mind's Eye' By Oliver Sacks

Meehan Crist, Los Angeles Times

Oliver Sacks has built a reputation on exploring the medical mysteries of individual patients to illuminate the larger mysteries of human experience. "The Mind's Eye," a collection of essays on the ways in which we perceive the world (many of which have already appeared in some form, most notably in the New Yorker) is no different, introducing readers to a predictably unpredictable cast of characters.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Hate To Tell You

Erin McKean, Boston Globe

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there’s a whole range of phrases that aren’t doing the jobs you think they’re doing.

In Chengdu, China, Remaking Sichuan Food

Anand Giridharadas, New York Times

In a private room in a mysterious little restaurant in Chengdu, my fellow diners goaded me to eat the turtle. It was soft-shelled, they said — as if that made it more enticing. They laughed and joked in Chinese, which I do not speak. Eating turtle grows a man’s bank account, my translator said. I didn’t get the meaning at first. Then it sunk in.

Why Modern Books Are All Too Long

Robert McCrum, Guardian

One of the most remarkable things about Amanda Foreman's magnificent study of British involvement in the American civil war is both its length – it comes in a few folios shy of 1,000 pages – and also, almost as telling, that virtually no one has commented on this, perhaps out of respect for the fact that Dr Foreman devoted more than 10 years of her life to it. Film, video, TV and radio all accommodate our diminished attention spans, and the fragmentary nature of modern life, but books are definitely getting longer.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Lost Art Of Argument

Lee Siegel, Wall Street Journal

Polemic seems to have gone the way of the typewriter and the soda fountain. The word was once associated with the best practitioners of the form: Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, George Orwell, Rebecca West. Nowadays, if you say "polemic," you get strange looks, as if you were referring not to refined argument, especially written argument, but to some sort of purgative.

Back To The City

Joseph Salvatore, New York Times

In 1974, Armistead Maupin, then a young journalist, covered a story on a Safeway supermarket in San Francisco that had become a popular pickup spot. Local customers, gay and straight, were not, as it turns out, shopping only for wheat bread and alfalfa sprouts, nor were they willing to talk to a reporter. Undaunted, Maupin created his own spokeswoman: a fictional young Midwesterner named Mary Ann Singleton.

The Mind Of A Disease

Jonathan Weiner, New York Times

Many doctors become storytellers too, and Mukherjee has undertaken one of the most extraordinary stories in medicine: a history of cancer, which will kill about 600,000 Americans by the end of this year, and more than seven million people around the planet. He frames it as a biography, “an attempt to enter the mind of this immortal illness, to understand its personality, to demystify its behavior.” It is an epic story that he seems compelled to tell, the way a passionate young priest might attempt a biography of Satan.

A History Of The World In 100 Objects By Neil MacGregor – Review

Mary Beard, Guardian

Brilliant on radio, Neil MacGregor's 100 objects also make a marvellous book.

The Saturday Poem For Remembrance Day: "Bugle"

Ivor Gurney, Guardian

The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? By Padgett Powell – Review

Steven Poole, Guardian

Is my review of a novel composed entirely of questions itself going to be composed entirely of questions? What do you think? What is this novel composed entirely of questions about? Is it "about" anything? How are we to imagine the scenario? Do certain lines and section-breaks in the novel, one coming after the question "Do you have anything you'd like to say?" imply unheard answers by another character? If we assume the questioner is speaking his questions out loud, what are we to make of the moment when he says he was writing one? Is this interrogation taking place in a military base, or a padded cell, or in Purgatory? Who are the other people present who never speak either but are implied exactly once? Or is this all in the questioner's head? And if so, how did we get inside his head? How can we get out?

After Visiting Hours

Hilary Mantel, Guardian

Three or four nights after surgery – when, in the words of the staff, I have "mobilised" – I come out of the bathroom and spot a circus strongman squatting on my bed. He sees me, too; from beneath his shaggy brow he rolls a liquid eye. Brown-skinned, naked except for the tattered hide of some endangered species, he is bouncing on his heels and smoking furiously without taking the cigarette from his lips: puff, bounce, puff, bounce. What rubbish, I think: actually shouting at myself, but silently. This is a nonsmoking hospital. It is impossible this man would be allowed in, to behave as he does. Therefore he's not real, and if he's not real I can take his space. As I get into bed beside him, the strongman vanishes. I pick up my diary and record him: was there, isn't any more.

The Hazel Effect

Rick Moody, New York Times

Still, for me this entire question — the question of home — has shifted dramatically in the last year and a half for a simple and felicitous reason: the birth of my daughter, Hazel.

Friday, November 12, 2010

How Do You Say...

Frank Bures, The Smart Set

Learning a language is one thing; living it is another.

Paul Auster's Unexpectedly Searing New Novel

Mark Athitakis, Salon

The literary icon's "Sunset Park" is a somber, poignant look at abandoned homes and disrupted families.

Why Airplane Dining Has Always Been Awful

Francis Lam, Salon

If you think airline food is bad now, you should have seen it in its "glory" days.

Going Korean

Mary H.k. Choi, New York Times

Pedicures are disgraceful. This is not a diatribe on female grooming rituals. I do not resent the hamster wheel of appearing kempt.

This is a story about reluctantly thrusting your feet in the face of an older Korean woman when you are Korean and female yourself. And unmarried. And 30. Also, broke.

Love! Valour! Compassion!

Molly Young, More Intelligent Life

Oh, the joys of Nora Ephron! That voice. That snobbishness. That candour. "I Remember Nothing", the author's latest collection of essays, covers subjects as varied as meat loaf, memory, the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome (from playing too much online Scrabble), the internet, Christmas dinner, divorce and ageing. But mostly ageing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Strip Show

Miriam N. Kotzin, The Smart Set

In defense of bare trees.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Curse On All Your Paintings: The Secret Magic Of Renaissance Art

Jonathan Jones, Guardian

Magic is halfway between science and religion. Hear me out, secularists, hear me out. Religion is concerned with a spiritual realm beyond the visible world. Science only accepts – for practical purposes and, if you are Richard Dawkins and others, for philosophical purposes, too – the existence of that visible world, and attempts to discover its nature and how it works. But magic is the desire to use invisible forces to change the visible world.

Unfathomable Depths

Matthew Price, Boston Globe

Veteran journalist Simon Winchester has, in recent years, taken to writing what might be called geological blockbusters. His method is to focus on a relatively contained event — the eruption of Krakatoa, say, or the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 — and envelop it in several layers of context, social, scientific, historical, political. Winchester’s technique gives him license to pursue tangents hither and yon, which are annoying and charming in equal measure.

The subject of his new book, “the S-shaped body of water covering 33 million square miles’’ otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean, gives him an even wider latitude to explore the interaction between Earth’s physical geography and human civilization. The Atlantic has had a profound influence on the history of humankind. Winchester tracks the Atlantic from its beginnings, when it “started to achieve properly oceanic dimensions about 190 million years ago,’’ to the present day.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mother And Child

Rosanna Warren, Slate

Outstripping The News

Garry Wills, The New York Review Of Books

There have been other comic strips that dealt with politics, but they did so sporadically, and as one-trick diversions—Al Capp satirizing the welfare state with his schmoos, Walt Kelly turning Senator Joseph McCarthy into Simple J. Malarkey—but Trudeau has reflected on politics at a depth and with a breadth no one else has achieved.

We’ll Always Have McSorley’s

Robert Day, The American Scholar

How Joseph Mitchell’s wonderful saloon became a sacred site for a certain literary pilgrim.

Dispatches And Details From A Life In Literature

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

The real-life letters of Herzog’s creator turn out to be just as arresting, seizing the reader by the lapels and refusing to let go. Although Bellow (1915-2005) repeatedly apologizes in this collection for being a lousy correspondent — suffering from some sort of “disagreeable reticence” — he is a gifted and emotionally voluble letter writer, convinced that sharing his experiences and thoughts with friends provides an escape hatch from the “miserliness” of “private consciousness.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Obelisk By EM Forster – Review

Anna Winter, Guardian

These quietly subversive stories deserve to reach a new audience.

Tom Lubbock: A Memoir Of Living With A Brain Tumour

Tom Lubbock, Guardian

This is about my dying: and how my life got here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shining Light On The Cost Of Solar Energy

Maggie Koerth-Baker, National Geographic

The sun packs some serious power. Even taking into account the all the energy that’s lost in space, enough still reaches Earth in an hour to power the entire planet, theoretically, for a year. So why doesn’t the world harness all this energy?

The truth: Capturing that power, and putting it to work in the form of electricity, is relatively expensive.

Numbers Are Hard To Come By

Jack Shafer, Slate

What journalists write when they encounter a known unknown.

Beyond Tourism

William Dalrymple, New York Times

The conviction that traveling in general, and walking in particular, can bring inspiration and even enlightenment is a very ancient one, and it exists in many cultures across the globe. As the old adage, taken up by the wandering scholars of medieval Europe, had it, “Solvitur ambulando” (“It is solved by walking”). In the sixth century B.C., the Indian saint Mahavira is said to have received enlightenment while walking, and the idea is still current. I recently met an itinerant Jain nun who told me: “This wandering life, with no material possessions, unlocks our souls. There is a wonderful sense of lightness, living each day as it comes.” For her, journey and destination became one, thought and action became one.

All The President’s Memories

Craig Fehrman, New York Times

We seem to be witnessing a renaissance in protests — if that’s the word for it — against political books. When Sarah Palin went on a bus tour last fall to promote “Going Rogue,” a man at the Mall of America threw tomatoes at her. When Tony Blair appeared in Dublin to promote his memoir, “A Journey,” people threw eggs and shoes. During Karl Rove’s recent tour in support of “Courage and Consequence,” a handcuff-carrying activist tried to arrest him for war crimes — twice. Thank goodness George W. Bush, whose “Decision Points” hits stores on Nov. 9, already comes with a Secret Service detail.

But none of today’s protesters have anything on the Committee to Boycott Nixon’s Memoirs, a group that was every bit as real as the notorious Committee for the Re-election of the President, though much less remembered.

Interactive Books (‘E’ Not Included)

Sam Grobart, New York Times

A new genre of books for children tries to tweak narrative norms in a similar fashion. While not exactly creating an original form of user-generated content the way the Choose Your Own Adventure books did, they are using the Internet to expand beyond print.

We Ten Million

Alix Christie, More Intelligent Life

Somewhere in the world right now, ten million souls are hunched over their keyboards writing novels. Ten million hopeful scribblers in their holes. Good Lord, I’m one of them.

Friday, November 5, 2010

In Search Of The Great European Novel

James Hopkin, Guardian

With Jonathan Franzen's Freedom installed as the latest contender for the Great American Novel, will there ever be a European equivalent - and would we even see it in English?

Reconsidering The Lobster Roll

Michelle Loayza, Salon

Fish farms might be the key to sustainable seafood, but visiting one made me think twice about the lunch I wanted.

Full Dark, No Stars By Stephen King – Review

Neil Gaiman, Guardian

These are stories of retribution and complicity: of crimes that seem inevitable, of ways that we justify the world to ourselves and ourselves to the world. Powerful, and each in its own way profoundly nasty.


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

In fact, Richard Donner's "Superman" (1978) is surprisingly slow-starting. The scenes of young Clark Kent's boyhood and adolescence might seem pointless if we didn't know, "and someday…that child will grow up to be Superman." The high school football scene, where the future Man of Steel gets bullied and has a cute girl snatched away from him, pay off later in establishing Clark Kent as a shy and, yes, mild-mannered reporter. But they also raise the intriguing question: Who is this being, anyway.

The Soul Of Miso

Sonoko Sakai, Los Angeles Times

Of all the things he could have done in life, Kenji Tsukamoto has chosen to grow mold for a living. He is a fourth-generation koji-ya, or artisanal "mold maker," on Sado island on the western coast of Niigata, Japan. It's rare to find a traditional koji-ya in Japan these days.

I Feel Bad About My Memory

Janet Maslin, New York Times

Nora Ephron worries about a failing memory in the title piece of “I Remember Nothing,” her inviting new collection of essays. But even her most amnesiac readers still remember “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” the 2006 collection that this new book closely resembles. That resemblance is helpful in some ways and alarming in others.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Cities We Want

Witold Rybczynski, Slate

The question is not whether we want to live in cities. Obviously, a growing number of us do—otherwise we would not build so many of them. The real question is: In what kind of cities do we want to live? Compact or spread out? Old or new? Big or small?

Chasing Stingray All Over Town

Julia Moskin, New York Times

Mr. Seetoh, a former photojournalist who now publishes exhaustive guides to street foods in Southeast Asia, was my wingman for what may have been America’s first stingray crawl. Its goal: to mine Mr. Seetoh’s expertise by choosing one popular dish from the alluring, often bewildering menus of New York’s Southeast Asian restaurants, and chasing it all over town.

Conflict Or Cooperation?

Richard K. Betts, Foreign Affairs

Three visions revisited.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Gulag A Go-Go

Jeremy Hildreth, Wall Street Journal

'Doesn't anybody smile in Russia anymore?" Rep. John McDowell of the House Committee on Un-American Activities asked the novelist Ayn Rand. "You paint a very dismal picture." It was 1947 and Rand, a Russian émigré, was giving testimony before the committee regarding life in Stalin's U.S.S.R.

"Look," Rand retorted, "it is very hard to explain. It is almost impossible to convey to a free people what it is like to live in a totalitarian dictatorship. I can tell you a lot of details. I can never completely convince you, because you are free."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Two Poems

Jane Hirshfield, Slate

Meals On Wheels

Nina Shen Rastogi, Slate

Should I buy my lunch from a food truck or a restaurant?

Monday, November 1, 2010

And When I’m Gloomy, You Simply Gotta Listen To Me

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

The story of Frank Sinatra’s rise and self-invention and the story of his fall and remarkable comeback had the lineaments of the most essential American myths, and their telling, Pete Hamill once argued, required a novelist, “some combination of Balzac and Raymond Chandler,” who might “come closer to the elusive truth than an autobiographer as courtly as Sinatra will ever allow himself to do.”

Now, with “Frank: The Voice,” Sinatra has that chronicler in James Kaplan, a writer of fiction and nonfiction who has produced a book that has all the emotional detail and narrative momentum of a novel.

By Heng-Cheong Leong