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Monday, January 31, 2011

My Rayannes

Emma Straub, The Paris Review

Part of me wants to touch her arm, to pull her close to me and smell her shampoo and perfume and smoky breath, but the larger part of me is content to notice, to smile, and to keep walking, knowing that I’ll think of her for the rest of the day.

White Paint, Chocolate, And Postmodern Ghosts

Randy Kennedy, New York Times

Surveying the row of door buzzers outside the hulking Brooklyn building where the artist Sue de Beer works, it somehow seems fitting to find a lone occupant listed on the building’s top floor, with no further explanation: “GOD.”

"Endgame": The Genius And Madness Of Bobby Fischer

Laura Miller, Salon

How did one of the greatest chess players of all time end up a paranoid, hate-filled old man?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Nobody Gets Out Of Here Alive

Joseph Epstein, Wall Street Journal

You can deny the inevitable but not defy it—still there are a few compensations to growing old.

Wintergirls By Laurie Halse Anderson – Review

Melvin Burgess, The Guardian

There is a great deal of dross written in teenage fiction, nearly all of which seems to end up on my desk. But from time to time, you come across a book that reminds you just why this is such an exciting – and exacting – field.

In Nevada, The Viewing Has Begun From The Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge

Henry Fountain, New York Times

“You know you’re getting into your late 30s when you come here to see a bridge and Las Vegas is secondary,” Mr. Jepsen said.

The Hoover Dam bypass bridge is not just any bridge, however.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Wrath Of Grapes

Dick Cavett, New York Times

I have no valuable advice to impart from my sodden and ill-advised Johnny Walker experiment except for one thing.

Should you find yourself standing near me some day and should you for some reason utter the word “scotch” . . . stand back.

The Perils Of Literary Profiling

Geoff Nicholson, New York Times

Looking at the list now, however, I can see that it contains elements of the pretentious littérateur and the moody loner, both of which are obviously to be avoided. And if the horror of the Arizona shooting has taught us anything, it’s that some place a high value on what can be gleaned from a man’s reading habits, whether actual or simply professed.

Jerusalem: The Biography By Simon Sebag Montefiore – Review

Antony Beevor, The Guardian

Montefiore's book, packed with fascinating and often grisly detail, is a gripping account of war, betrayal, looting, rape, massacre, sadistic torture, fanaticism, feuds, persecution, corruption, hypocrisy and spirituality.

The Saturday Poem: From 'In The Village'

Derek Walcott, The Guardian

Dinner At 5:05, 7:20, 9:45...

Greg Beato, The Smart Set

Somewhat paradoxically, bringing full-blown dining to the multiplex may actually improve the average moviegoer’s concentration. He’s killing two birds with one stone, so he’s not so preoccupied with all the other things he might be accomplishing if he weren’t stuck in a movie theater. He’s waiting for his food to arrive, so he’s staying glued to his seat even after he realizes Natalie Portman isn’t ever going to get naked in No Strings Attached.

The Hot Spotters

Atul Gawande, New Yorker

Can we lower medical costs by giving the neediest patients better care?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Larry Page's Google 3.0

Brad Stone, BusinessWeek

The company co-founder and his star deputies are trying to root out bureaucracy and rediscover the nimble moves of youth.

The New School Of Fish

Erik Vance, San Francisco Magazine

Eating sustainably is at the very core of Bay Area culture, an essential part of the local ethos. Our chefs are leaders of the organic movement, and when we sit down in a top-rated restaurant, we take it for granted that the food we’re served has been sourced with the best interests of the planet at heart. We assume that the salad greens are always organic and that the porchetta sandwich we stand in line for is made with meat from a humanely raised, hormone-free pig who spent his days rooting for acorns underneath an oak tree. But when it comes to offering sustainable seafood, very few local restaurants get it right in any consistent way.

Getting Medieval On Higher Education

Thomas H. Benton, Chronicle Of Higher Education

One could imagine that in the Middle Ages, choosing a monastery might have been like selecting among liberal-arts colleges, each with a different variation of mission and expression. But the major purpose, in every case, was to turn away from the vices and distractions of the world toward a higher life—often a deeply intellectual one—nurtured by the work of one's hands.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

When My Car Was The Safest Place To Live

Becky Blanton, Salon

I still sleep in my van in a Walmart parking lot from time to time. It's one of the few things I miss about being homeless: the feeling of being anonymous, of being invisible to the demands of my life. I like to slip back inside when it rains, usually in the spring or fall, when it's not too hot or too cold. I snuggle into my sleeping bag at the back of the van, listen to the sound of rain hitting the roof and my dog snoring at my feet.

Is Haggis Really That Disgusting?

Francis Lam, Salon

It's a sheep organ-stuffed sheep stomach. It's Scotland's national dish. What's not to love?

Multiple-Universe Theory Made, Well, Easier

Janet Maslin, New York Times

This book explores the idea of parallel universes, the array of different forms they might take, the wigginess of their implications (“this would blow Newton’s mind”), the wild extremes that can be extrapolated from such conjectures and the challenge of backing up theory with scientific proof. Yet his book’s first page promises that it will take “no expertise in physics or mathematics on the part of the reader” to keep up.

Nonfiction: Nabokov Theory On Butterfly Evolution Is Vindicated

Carl Zimmer, New York Times

Few professional lepidopterists took these ideas seriously during Nabokov’s lifetime. But in the years since his death in 1977, his scientific reputation has grown. And over the past 10 years, a team of scientists has been applying gene-sequencing technology to his hypothesis about how Polyommatus blues evolved. On Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, they reported that Nabokov was absolutely right.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Morgan Meis, The Smart Set

Just the very act of writing down a word tells us about who we really are and what it means to be the creatures we are. It is thus a spiritual act of the highest magnitude.

Letter (Not) From Davos

John Cassidy, New Yorker

It’s Davos week again, and we can expect the usual deluge of meaningless stories from journalists desperately trying to justify their presence at the annual Alpine shindig known as the World Economic Forum. If I were there, I’d be doing the same thing, but my invitation got lost in the mail. This year, sadly, I won’t get the chance to discuss over breakfast with Bono how to alleviate African poverty, stop in for a nightcap with Tim Geithner, who is leading the American delegation, or cavort on the dance floor at the Google party with the girlfriend of a minor Russian oligarch.

Nixon In China, The Dinner, Is Recreated

Florence Fabricant, New York Times

Despite the avid global attention to the meal, the menu was “not that exciting,” Mr. Tong said. “In those days the Chinese did not know what Americans liked so they served familiar things like roast pork and Chinese sausages, which are not usual banquet dishes,” he said. “There were two shrimp dishes even though shrimp are not typical of Beijing cuisine, because they heard that Americans like shrimp.” Also on the menu were cucumber slices, tomato slices, sliced roast duck with pineapple, and bread and butter. The beverages included “boiled water (cold).”

But there were also dishes like shark’s fin soup, black mushrooms with mustard greens, spongy bamboo shoots in egg-white consommé, and fish fillets in pickle wine sauce.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Ange Mlinko, The Nation

Is it an exaggeration to say that a second language can provide us with a new self?

With Poem, Broaching The Topic Of Death

Ben Daitz, New York Times

In Navajo culture, talking about death is thought to bring it about, so it is not discussed. A dead person’s name is never spoken. Only designated tribal members are permitted to touch and bury the dead.

So it is up to Ms. Begay and her colleagues to find ways to teach people (many with little or no English) about things like living wills, durable powers of attorney, do-not-resuscitate orders, electroencephalograms, feeding tubes and ventilators.

Learning From White Castle

Dave Kim, Utne Reader

From August 13 to 16, 2010, I ate at White Castle #100034 in East Williamsburg 12 times. I live around the corner from the restaurant and use it to guide friends to my apartment all the time. I happen to be a vegetarian. Like most fast food establishments, White Castle doesn’t really cater to diners like me, but as part of a recent effort to explore neighborhood businesses I know nothing about, I decided to spend a few days recording and analyzing life in my local chain restaurant. Here are some observations.

The End? Far From It

Ed Cumming, Intelligent Life

Once upon a time, films would open, close, appear on video, be shown on television, then vanish. Now with dozens of television channels to fill and rentals going postal, some never go away.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rhetorical Devices

Erin McKean, Boston Globe

Rhetoric in the original sense — the classic sense — is something else. It’s a toolkit, a set of methods used for generations to make speech more artful and effective. Rhetoric in this sense now tends to be dismissed as an anachronism, the kind of thing that goes with side whiskers or quill pens.

But the truth is, we all use this kind of rhetoric every day without understanding it.

"Harlem Is Nowhere": Travels In A City Of Dreams

Laura Miller, Salon

A young writer finds the "Mecca of black America" is in danger of slipping away.

How The First Cable Was Laid Across The Atlantic

Duncan Geere, Wired UK

So next time you're reading our US colleagues' website over a transatlantic fibreoptic cable, remember the steadfast work of Frederick Gisborne and Cyrus Field back in 1858, in a pair of boats in the middle of the Atlantic.

Life Is More Meaningful Than Mere Facts Can Convey

Adam Frank, NPR

But the reasons individuals find their lives transformed by spiritual longing are intimate and deeply personal affairs having little to do with dusty "proofs for the existence of God." As all those "spiritual but not religious" folks popping up in surveys on religion will tell you, the essence of the question is about experience, not facts.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Love Affair With The Fireplace Cools

Christina S. N. Lewis, New York Times

Hard as it may be to believe, the fireplace — long considered a trophy, particularly in a city like New York — is acquiring a social stigma. Among those who aspire to be environmentally responsible, it is joining the ranks of bottled water and big houses.

How To Write A (Good) Sentence

Adam Haslett, Financial Times

The trouble with the book isn't the rules themselves, which the authors are sage enough to recognize "the best writers sometimes disregard," but the knock-on effect that their bias for plain statement has tended to have not only on expositional but literary prose.

Norwich, England — A Getaway For Book Lovers

Rachel B. Doyle, New York Times

Norwich, a two-hour train ride northeast from London, has increasingly become a refuge for writers fleeing the hectic pace of the capital’s publishing scene. At first glance it appears to be just another charming medieval town, with a fantastically preserved castle and a 900-year-old cathedral. But look a little deeper and you’ll notice the wellspring of author readings and literary festivals, featuring recent talks by Booker Prize winners like John Banville and Penelope Lively.

Film Criticism Is Dying? Not Online

Roger Ebert, Wall Street Journal

We're actually living in a Golden Age of Film Criticism. More filmgoers are reading more good writing about more films, new and old, than ever before. They are also reading more bad writing, but there you go. Having lost the ability to speak, I've adopted the Internet as my own social network and am amazed almost daily by yet another extraordinary film critic.

Book Review: 'Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas' By Rebecca Solnit

Lynell George, Los Angeles Times

We often speak of inhabiting a place — a country, a city or our own small plot of land — but seldom do we pause to deeply consider how that place inhabits us: not just how we define it but also how it defines who we are.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

China's Hottest Cuisine

Mitch Moxley, Wall Street Journal

Yes, it's spicy. But what exactly makes Sichuan food so special?

The Forger’s Story

John Gapper, Financial Times

For nearly three decades, Landis has visited museums across the US in various guises and tried to donate paintings he has forged. As well as Father Scott, he has posed as “Steven Gardiner” among other aliases. He never asks for money, although museums have often hosted meals for him and made small gifts. His only stipulation is that he is donating in his parents’ names – often his actual father, Lieutenant Commander Arthur Landis Jr, a former US Navy officer.

The Philosophical Novel

James Ryerson, New York Times

Can a novelist write philosophically? Even those novelists most commonly deemed “philosophical” have sometimes answered with an emphatic no.

We, Robots

Jonah Lehrer, New York Times

If the Internet of 1995 was a postmodern playhouse, allowing individuals to engage in unbridled expression, Turkle describes it today as a corporate trap, a ball and chain that keeps us tethered to the tiny screens of our cellphones, tapping out trite messages to stay in touch. She summarizes her new view of things with typical eloquence: “We expect more from technology and less from each other.”

How To Change The World: Tales Of Marx And Marxism By Eric Hobsbawm – Review

Stefan Collini, The Guardian

Perhaps the truth is that Marxism has, despite its founder's famous proclamation, always contributed more to understanding the world than to changing it. Certainly, Eric Hobsbawm has done more than most to further that understanding. And if we ask what his own final view may be about the prospects for changing the world, then we are, happily, still in a position to adapt Zhou Enlai's answer about the French revolution – that it's too early to say.

Incoming! Or, Why We Should Stop Worrying And Learn To Love The Meteorite By Ted Nield

Tim Radford, The Guardian

Like an old friend, a meteorite may drop in any time and may occasionally break something but – so far – has never hurt anybody. Also like an old friend, a meteorite has a story to tell of long relationships, faraway bust-ups and very long, circuitous journeys to get here.

Taller When Prone By Les Murray – Review

Paul Batchelor, The Guardian

Murray's best is intimidatingly good; but sprawl is as sprawl does, and this remains a generous, celebratory volume.


Blake Morrison, The Guardian

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Meal That Ended My Career As A Restaurant Critic

Steve Silberman, NeuroTribes

It’s easy to imagine that being a restaurant critic would be one of the best jobs on Earth — particularly when millions of people are eager to churn out lengthy reviews for free on sites like Yelp and Chowhound.

As someone who was the food critic for a glossy magazine in San Francisco in the 1980s and quit, however, I can tell you that being a roving palate-for-hire is a mixed blessing. While dining out is one of life’s most enduring pleasures (and is certainly a rare privilege on a planet where one in six people are starving), having to eat in restaurants several nights a week, while manufacturing an opinion about every bite, can get to be a drag.

The Trouble With Dictators

William Pfaff, New York Review Of Books

Dictators do not usually die in bed. Successful retirement is always a problem for them, and not all solve it. It is a problem for everybody else when they leave.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Four Poems

Richard Meier, The Guardian

Old Man In Winter

Morgan Meis, The Smart Set

But the phrase "now is the winter of our discontent" is so powerful that it often gets picked out of context and made to stand alone. When you do that, it seems as if "now" is the winter of our discontent. The winter of our discontent isn't going anywhere. It is simply the way it is right now.

Science Proves You're Stupid

Joe Quirk, h+ Magazine

You can't understand your brain unless you break it. Without brain damage, you are incapable of acquiring any insight into how your mind works, because your brain is sublimely designed to trick you into thinking you have a clue.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Under Paris

Neil Shea, Photograph By Stephen Alvarez, National Geographic Magazine

Getting There: It involves manholes and endless ladders.

What to Wear: Miner's helmets are good.

What to do: Work, party, paint—or just explore the dark web of tunnels.

Where Did The Korean Greengrocers Go?

Laura Vanderkam, City Journal

There are two stories behind the Korean greengrocers’ disappearance. One involves a changing New York economy over the last 20 years. The other, a particularly Korean saga, is a story of how immigration can work in America—a testament to how far these new Americans have come in a single generation.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lines In Memphis, Tennessee

Joel Brouwer, Slate

Baking For Beginners: An Introduction To Temperature

Joanne Chang, The Atlantic

When people say that baking is tricky, they may not realize that in so many different ways, temperature plays a huge role in success or failure. It helps to understand when and why something needs to be ice-cold, chilled, room temperature, hot, or caramelized. Seeing things from the ingredients' point of view takes the mystery out of baking—so you can march confidently into the kitchen and make something sweet.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tracing Those Angry Birds To The Dawn Of Man

Matt Ridley, Wall Street Journal

Predicting parabolas is something humans just seem to find intriguing. How else do you explain golf? Or the awe in which we hold good quarterbacks in football and good spin bowlers in cricket?

With the exception of the archer fish, which knocks insects off leaves with well-aimed jets of water, no other animal uses parabolic trajectories.

The Modesty Of The Porn Generation

Tracy Clark-flory, Salon

When it comes to smut, we're much more shy -- and basically human -- than the media narrative would have you think.

Darkness On The Edge Of The Universe

Brian Greene, New York Times

In a great many fields, researchers would give their eyeteeth to have a direct glimpse of the past. Instead, they generally have to piece together remote conditions using remnants like weathered fossils, decaying parchments or mummified remains. Cosmology, the study of the origin and evolution of the universe, is different. It is the one arena in which we can actually witness history.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Susie Boyt, Financial Times

Though built on a tower of bold improbabilities – to put it mildly – this novel is utterly convincing: full of subtlety, delicate, piercing prose, charming, lively dialogue and descriptive passages that are poetic, witty and acute. At times it has the pace of a thriller, yet for all its highly specific subject matter it still manages to achieve a feeling of spaciousness in which it is possible for the writer to ponder, with a bit of leisure, the definition of human nature.

A Lobster In Winter

Melissa McCart, Washington City Paper

The real difference between winter lobster and summer lobster has nothing to do with logistics or cost, though. Like anything else involving a fresh seasonal product, it’s a matter of taste.

Delicate Planet

Dominique Browning, New York Times

Why are we in such denial? Carl Safina’s ambitious new book, “The View From Lazy Point,” is a series of field reports entwined with a loving meditation on the interconnectedness of nature and humanity.

Stories Of Dislocation And Relocation

Roxana Robinson, New York Times

Why in the world had I never heard of Edith Pearlman? And why, if you hadn’t, hadn’t you? It certainly isn’t the fault of her writing, which is intelligent, perceptive, funny and quite beautiful, as demonstrated in “Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories.” In the world of literary fiction Pearlman is hardly unknown: she’s the author of three previous collections, “Vaquita,” “Love Among the Greats” and “How to Fall”; she has won several prizes; and her work has appeared repeatedly in “Best American Short Stories.” So she should be known all over the place.

An Optimist's Tour Of The Future By Mark Stevenson – Review

Jon Turney, The Guardian

True, the bad news about climate change is underpinned by science, but if we have confidence in the power of science to measure the damage, perhaps we should have a bit more hope in its capacity to help put things right again.

How Novels Came To Terms With The Internet

Laura Miller, The Guardian

The internet has altered our lives in ways television never did or could, but mainstream literary novelists – by which I mean writers who specialise in realistic, character-based narratives – have mostly shied away from writing about this, perhaps hoping that, like TV, it could be safely ignored.

Blood Relative

David Harsent, The Guardian

Cancer: Should We Stop Trying To Cure It?

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Guardian

As our population ages, the question is not if we will encounter this illness in our lives, but when. Is it time we stopped fighting and learned to live with it?

Looking It Up, Long Before Britannica

Michael Dirda, Washington Post

There's no disguising the fact that Ann M. Blair - Harvard professor of history, author of "The Theater of Nature: Jean Bodin and Renaissance Science" (1997) and MacArthur fellow - has written a deeply scholarly book. It focuses, after all, on Latin reference works compiled mainly during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the early modern era. Nonetheless, "Too Much to Know" is a fascinating account of the traditions, ideals and practices of early "information management," in particular "the collection and arrangement of textual excerpts" in the centuries before our own computer age.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Space Invaders

Farhad Manjoo, Slate

Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period.

Streetcars Vs. Monorails

Tom Vanderbilt, Slate

The future of urban transportation looks a lot like the past.

The Gram Junkies: In Transportation Design The Key Issue Is Not Speed, But Weight

John Thackara, Change Observer

When is transportation sustainable and when is it not?

Irony Is Good!

Eric Abrahamsen, Foreign Policy

How Mao killed Chinese humor ... and how the Internet is slowly bringing it back again.

Darwin's Rape Whistle

Jesse Bering, Slate

Women, gather round, read carefully, because this gay man—who once, long ago, feigned sexual interest in your bodies—is about to shine a spotlight on some hidden truths about your natural design. It's by no means a perfect system, but evolution has endowed you with some extraordinary, almost preternatural abilities to prevent your own sexual assault. And these abilities are especially pronounced when you're ovulating.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Catcher In The Rye Sequel Might Just Be A Good Idea

David Barnett, The Guardian

Certain literary characters take on a life beyond the books where they were created, and cease to be a single author's property.

The Trouble With Autobiography

Paul Theroux, Smithsonian Magazine

What is more autobiographical than the sort of travel book, a dozen tomes, that I have been writing for the past 40 years?

The assumption that the autobiography signals the end of a writing career also makes me pause. And what is there to write?

Pimp My Poem

Kathleen Rooney, Poetry Foundation

Moonlighting at Chicago’s Poetry Brothel.

Denis Dutton, Intellectual Entrepreneur

Robert Cottrell, New York Review Of Books

As others have remarked before me, Dutton was, in effect, a master of the tweet long before Twitter was invented. He knew how to capture and project in just a few words, not so much the essence of a story, as the zest or the mystery of it. Really, it was the opposite of precis writing. Having read Dutton’s teaser, instead of thinking, “Well, now I know what that’s about,” your reaction would be, “What on earth is that about?” and you would click dutifully on the “more»” link to find out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Separation Anxiety

Joan O’C. Hamilton, Stanford Magazine

Now that there's no escaping the digital world, research is getting more serious about what happens to personalities that are incessantly on.

The Revenge Of Comic Sans

Dave Munger, Seed Magazine

Less-legible fonts can actually make for better reading comprehension, perhaps because they force slower, more careful reading. Yet how can we reconcile those results with the Song & Schwarz study cited by Schnell?

Haiku Economics

Stephen T. Ziliak, Poetry Foundation

Perhaps it’s the economists who can learn the most from poets about precision and efficiency, about objectivity and maximization—the virtues, in other words, of value-free science.

The Secret Stories Of Book Inscriptions

Wayne Gooderham, The Guardian

I love to think that the actual copy I hold in my hands has been a catalyst to someone else's imagination; has perhaps been loved or hated, brought consolation or comfort; perhaps has even changed somebody's life. Or perhaps, of course, it has done none of these things. Which is why it is all the more thrilling to find hard evidence of pre-ownership scrawled across the inside covers of these used books in the form of handwritten dedications. The dedications can range from the awkward scratchings of adolescent infatuation, to the resentful recriminations of a love affair gone sour, and offer fascinating glimpses into their books' own secret histories, imbuing them with an emotional resonance independent of the actual texts.

3 Arkonska Street

Adam Zagajewski, Slate

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The War Of The Worlds, Round 2

Kenneth Chang, New York Times

For now, Drs. Maury and Sicardy decline to say exactly how small Eris is, because they first want to publish the results in the journal Nature. But they say that even accounting for the uncertainties in the observations, the largest possible Eris is smaller than the smallest possible Pluto.

The news raises the question of what might have happened if Eris’ true size had been known from the beginning. Dr. Brown’s discovery of Eris — and the presumption that it was bigger than Pluto — was the falling domino that pushed the International Astronomical Union to come up with a new definition of “planet” that excluded Pluto. Pluto and Eris were downsized to “dwarf planets” — roundish objects that do not gravitationally dominate their orbits.

Why So Many Rich People Don’t Feel Very Rich

Catherine Rampell, New York Times

The answer is simple: because any Americans who are richer than this cohort are so much richer.


John Barker, 3 AM Magazine

The Coming Flood

Andrés Barba, Granta

The Afterlife Of David Foster Wallace

Jennifer Howard, Chronicle Of Higher Education

Readers outside academe caught on to Wallace before scholars did. When he died, academic interest in him had only begun to show real signs of life, with scholars starting to look closely at the ways in which Wallace responded to and reshaped for a new generation the postmodernism practiced by writers like Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon. Two years later, spurred in part by his death but even more by a rising generation of young scholars, the impending publication of a posthumous novel, and the opening of a major archive of the writer's papers, David Foster Wallace studies is on its way to becoming a robust scholarly enterprise.

The Extraordinary Life And Death Of David Burgess

Elizabeth Day, The Guardian

Last October, detectives were called to investigate the death of a woman under a London tube train. But as they traced her final moments, they discovered that she was, in fact, David Burgess, one of the most brilliant immigration lawyers of his generation.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Twin Alone, Disconnected But Not Lost

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

The formative event in the composer Allen Shawn’s life happened when he was 8 years old: His twin sister, Mary, who was mentally disabled, was sent away, abruptly disappearing from his daily life. Allen not only missed her terribly, but he also became terrified of “the mental illness that Mary had exhibited, and which had led, or so it had seemed to me as a child, to her being ‘ostracized’ from the family.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"The 4 Percent Universe": Dark Matter And Dueling Scientists

Laura Miller, Salon

"The 4 Percent Universe" is largely an account of the uneasy alliance between astronomers and particle physicists in the quest to grasp what the astronomer Alan Sandage called "the only two numbers to measure in cosmology," that is, how fast the universe is expanding right now and at what rate that expansion is changing over time -- otherwise known as the deceleration parameter. These two figures can tell you how old the universe is and when it will come to an end. But figuring out what those numbers are and above all why they are what they are has been no easy task.

Our Desperate, 250-Year-Long Search For A Gender-Neutral Pronoun

Maria Bustillos, The Awl

Okay, so it is true that the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment took pains to ensure that women were excluded from its protection, by introducing the word "male" into the constitution for the first time. But. Oh, god! There were substantial problems with the original text of the Fourteenth Amendment. And ever since the Supreme Court case of Reed v. Reed, 1971, the Fourteenth Amendment has provided an explicit basis for granting women equal rights as American citizens.

China Rises, And Checkmates

Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times

If there’s a human face on Rising China, it belongs not to some Politburo chief, not to an Internet tycoon, but to a quiet, mild-mannered teenage girl named Hou Yifan.

Measuring Hell

Chris Wright, Graphic By Javier Zarracina, Boston Globe

Was modern physics born in the Inferno?

The Net Delusion: How Not To Liberate The World By Evgeny Morozov – Review

Tom Chatfield, The Guardian

This powerful critique of 'cyber-utopianism' shows us that the net isn't always what we think.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Handwritten Letter, An Art All But Lost, Thrives In Prison

Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times

In prisons across the country, with their artificial pre-Internet worlds where magazines are one of the few connections to the outside and handwritten correspondence is the primary form of communication, the art of the pen-to-paper letter to the editor is thriving. Magazine editors see so much of it that they have even coined a term for these letters: jail mail.

John Gray On Humanity's Quest For Immortality

John Gray, The Guardian

From Victorian séances to the embalming of Lenin's corpse to schemes for uploading our minds into cyberspace, there have have been numerous attempts to deny man's mortality. Why can't we accept the limits of science?

Pulse By Julian Barnes - Review

Rachel Cusk, The Guardian

A short story, with its somewhat clandestine relationship to the concept of fiction, is not a marriage. Julian Barnes's choice of the form is significant: in Pulse, the nature of long-term partnership is a predominant theme. This is a volume that works hard to overcome its own fragmented condition, as though in fear that variety might become disarray. At this point Barnes is certainly the master of his own style: what preoccupies him here are the novelistic qualities of endurance, unity, cohesiveness, qualities for which the short story is made to act as an anti-metaphor.


Jackie Kay, The Guardian

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Best Present Money Can Buy

Viviana A. Zelizer, New York Times

Now that the holidays are over, many disappointed gift-recipients are heading to the mall to return their useless, unattractive or thoughtless presents. Next year, why not spare them the trouble, and give cash instead?

Lost Rituals, Found Poems

Christopher Benfey, New York Review Of Books

The War Against Cliché Has Failed

Michael Holroyd, Guardian

Language can't remain in aspic, but cliché has defeated Martin Amis. Are there any linguistic developments we should be celebrating?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Restaurant Or Butcher Shop?

Jonathan Gold, LA Weekly

If you didn't know better, or you weren't reading this in the restaurant column instead of in the corner of the paper where the consumer products go, you could almost swear that Salt's Cure was a butcher shop where dining was almost a sideline and the real business of the place was the cutting and preparation of meats.

The Economics Of Economists' Ethics

Annie Lowrey, Slate

If they read their own research, economists might disclose conflicts of interest more often.

Blood Loss

Christopher Beam, Slate

The decline of the serial killer.

Selling A Book By Its Cover

Penelope Green, New York Times

Book lovers, you can exhale. The printed, bound book has been given a stay of execution by an unlikely source: the design community. In this Kindle-and-iPad age, architects, builders and designers are still making spaces with shelves — lots and lots of shelves — and turning to companies like Mr. Wines’s Juniper Books for help filling them.

Hard Core

Natasha Vargas-cooper, The Atlantic

The new world of porn is revealing eternal truths about men and women.

Cyberspace When You’re Dead

Rob Walker, New York Times

Suppose that just after you finish reading this article, you keel over, dead. Perhaps you’re ready for such an eventuality, in that you have prepared a will or made some sort of arrangement for the fate of the worldly goods you leave behind: financial assets, personal effects, belongings likely to have sentimental value to others and artifacts of your life like photographs, journals, letters. Even if you haven’t made such arrangements, all of this will get sorted one way or another, maybe in line with what you would have wanted, and maybe not.

Suppose that just after you finish reading this article, you keel over, dead. Perhaps you’re ready for such an eventuality, in that you have prepared a will or made some sort of arrangement for the fate of the worldly goods you leave behind: financial assets, personal effects, belongings likely to have sentimental value to others and artifacts of your life like photographs, journals, letters. Even if you haven’t made such arrangements, all of this will get sorted one way or another, maybe in line with what you would have wanted, and maybe not.

For Gangsters, Read Royals

Intelligent Life

For the three filmgoers and a dog who like British gangster movies, there is no need to panic. “The King’s Speech” is a film about a famous West End family that features a fading patriarch, a pair of brothers at war with each other and some very sharp tailoring. It’s “The Godfather” with less blood and more tweed.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Elements Of Clunk

Ben Yagoda, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

Punctuation is a train wreck among my students. I have no doubt as to the root of the problem: Students haven't spent much time reading. Punctuation, including the use of apostrophes and hyphens, is governed by a fairly complicated series of rules and conventions, learned for the most part not in the classroom but by encountering and subliminally absorbing them again and again. Students have a lot of conversations and texting sessions, but that's no help. You need to read a lot of edited and published prose.

The Now-You-See-It Restaurant

Frank Bruni, New York Times

For his follow-up to Dovetail, an elegant success on the Upper West Side, Mr. Fraser has chosen a project with a death foretold. He signed a short-term lease for a space in SoHo whose landlord cannot promise that the building, likely to be demolished, will be around past July. In return he received a rent of about $9,000 a month, well below market rate.

He was also freed from many of the little and big concerns that can turn the opening of a restaurant into such a protracted odyssey and the running of it into such an expensive one.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Philosophy Lives

John Haldane, First Things

Why Stephen Hawking’s attempt to banish natural theology only shows why we need it.

Spin Cycle: On Tim Wu And Kevin Kelly

Paul Duguid, The Nation

Kelly and Wu speak for a new technocracy, and their books epitomize its libertarianism and its frustration with the political system. Both seem at best hostile and at worst indifferent to politics.

Flying Machines, Amazing At Any Angle

Jim Robbins, New York Times

The flying abilities of even the most prosaic bird put airplane maneuvers to shame, and experts here at the University of Montana Flight Laboratory are cognizant of that every day.

The Classics As The Antidote To Modern Malaise

Michael Roth, New York Times

The philosopher Hubert Dreyfus and his former student Sean Dorrance Kelly have a story to tell, and it is not a pretty tale for us moderns. Ours is an age of nihilism, they say, meaning not so much that we have nothing in which to believe, but that we don’t know how to choose among the various things to which we might commit ourselves. Looking down from their perches at Berkeley and Harvard, they see the “human indecision that plagues us all.” In “All Things Shining” they offer readings of classic texts to show both how we got into this mess and how we can overcome it.

Man Of Mystery

Joan Acocella, New Yorker

Why do people love Stieg Larsson’s novels?

Monday, January 3, 2011

How To Make A Decent Cup Of Tea

Christopher Hitchens, Slate

Ignore Yoko Ono and John Lennon, and heed George Orwell's tea-making advice.

The Incredible Shrinking Sound Bite

Craig Fehrman, Boston Globe

The sound bite, they argue, stems less from a collapse in standards or seriousness than from the rise of a more sophisticated and independent style of journalism — which means the sound bite might not be such a bad thing. Letting politicians ramble doesn’t necessarily produce a better or more informative political discourse.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

For Sushi Chain, Conveyor Belts Carry Profit

Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times

The Kura “revolving sushi” restaurant chain has no Michelin stars, but it has succeeded where many of Japan’s more celebrated eateries fall short: turning a profit in a punishing economy.

My Family’s Flop

Jennifer George, New York Times

I was 12 when my parents’ musical opened and closed. After a decade in the works, it lasted a fleeting seven performances.

America's Forgotten City

Glenn Hodges, Photographs By Don Burmeister And Ira Block, National Geographic Magazine

Cahokia was born with a bang and died of unknown causes.

Meet The Twiblings

Melanie Thernstrom, New York Times

How four women (and one man) conspired to make two babies.

A Vow For 2011: No Cheap Chicken

Francis Lam, Salon

So this, then, is my omnivore's dilemma: Which is more important to me? To stop having my money support chicken that is mass-produced at unbelievable scale, poisoning the earth and water for hundreds of miles, that is treated brutally, that goes through a disassembly line so fast and furious that it injures 1 out of every 3 poorly paid workers who works on it? Or to keep supporting Mr. Charles, to share in his chicken, to know what his work means to him? To have that chance to meet the many Charles Gabriels, the taco truck cooks and the noodle shop owners and all the other working-class cooks whose cuisines I adore and whose stories I want to hear and help tell?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Road Into The Open

Pico Iyer, Wall Street Journal

Which of us has not entertained that deliciously seditious notion: to do a Gauguin? To slip away for a while from everything that sounds so important—a steady job, a settled home, a regular salary—and go off in search of adventure, restoration, fun? There is, after all, more and more to escape these days: The average American spends eight hours a day in front of a screen; the average American teenager, according to a Nielsen survey, sends 2,272 text messages a month (or 70 every day). At the end of the last century, the average Westerner was already taking in as many images in 24 hours as a Victorian saw in a lifetime. So why not drop everything and go walkabout, all the way to the Arctic Circle? Or such, at least, is the implication of a classic Finnish novel in which the wake-up call to a truer life comes in the unlikely form of a runaway hare.

"Geographies Of Mars": Why Are We So Obsessed With Mars?

Adam Kirsch, Salon

We've been looking for life on the Red Planet since the 19th century. A new book explores our fascination.


Ruth Fainlight, Guardian

Snowdrops By AD Miller – Review

John O'Connell, Guardian

"In Russia there are no business stories," declares one character in this punchy debut set in Moscow, where its author worked for three years as a correspondent for the Economist. "And there are no politics stories. There are no love stories. There are only crime stories." This would have been news to Tolstoy and Chekhov. But times have changed, and Russia's position on the world stage is such that you can say whatever you like about it, thanks to a widespread willingness to believe the very worst.

Charlie Chaplin's Film Music

Carl Davis, Guardian

Chaplin must have faced the most terrible crisis. Would the public accept the tramp if he spoke? Chaplin decided to keep him mute and instead created a soundtrack using recorded sound effects and a fabulous score. Now, he was really in control of the music and he knew how to use it.

The London Train By Tessa Hadley - Review

Susanna Rustin, Guardian

By far the most interesting feature of Tessa Hadley's carefully sculpted novel is the way she enters so completely into her characters' private worlds of thought and action. The minds of Paul and Cora, the male and female centres of the novel's two mirroring halves, are so fully occupied by this most astute and sympathetic of writers, that the reader hardly questions their weirdest and least wise moves.

By Heng-Cheong Leong