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Meghan O’Rourke, New Yorker
Writing a mother’s death.
Nell Boeschenstein, The Millions
The starting point of handwriting is no doubt neurological, but pens have been, historically speaking, what has gotten us from capital letter to full stop. Hence, the fabled image of writer bent over desk, pen to paper, deep thoughts flowing like wine down the esophagus. The pen’s place in a writer’s self-image is somewhat sacred. For better or worse, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to venture that some are as likely to pony up for pens as for health insurance.
Robin Hyde, The Guardian
Lamorna Elmer, 3:AM Magazine
Jan Freeman, Boston Globe
Learning to love regionalisms.
Margot Sanger-Katz, Boston Globe
An ingenious way to get kids to eat healthy: Give cafeterias a psychology lesson.
Sam Leith, The Guardian
Strap yourselves in, postmodernism fans. This is a book within a book, based on a true story. Well, not true-true. That is to say, the true story that is fictionalised in "The Afterparty" (the book-within-a-book) isn't actually true: it is a figment of the imagination of the author of The Afterparty (the book under review here).
Lisa O'Kelly, The Guardian
"When things settled down again I think I simply realised I didn't know who I was. I had no blood ties, no connections to anybody. My gene pool was an unknown quantity. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was a made-up person but I had sort of built myself from what I'd got to hand, and that wasn't much."
Miguel Syjuco, New York Times
Julius’s peripatetic wanderings and their connections to personal histories — both his own and those of the people he meets — form the driving narrative, allowing him to reflect on his adopted New York, the Africa of his youth, the America of today and a Europe wary of its future. With every anecdote, with each overlap, Cole lucidly builds a compassionate and masterly work engaged more with questions than with answers regarding some of the biggest issues of our time: migration, moral accountability and our tenuous tolerance of one another’s differences.
Ted C. Fishman, New York Times
Susan Jacoby has long made it her project to uncover ill-formed, cynical “junk thought” and administer a cold dose of reason and logic against it. But Jacoby is no Mr. Spock. Her rationalism is delivered in an angry barrage peppered with enthusiastically snide asides. In previous books, including “The Age of American Unreason” and “Freethinkers,” her targets have been right-leaning religionists, social Darwinists, and the paucity of reason in a generation that stares too much at glowing screens and too little at learned books. In her latest jeremiad, “Never Say Die,” she fights to slay the conspiracies of ignorance and greed that she believes conceal a single, and indeed irrefutable, truth: extreme old age can be nasty, brutish and long.
Leah Price, New York Times
A year ago, an injury left me unable to sit. For months, I could choose only between standing and lying on my back. In the past, sick days had bought me time to read, novels anesthetizing every ill. But now, with no lap to rest a book on, books became unwieldy. Tables were too high when I lay down, too low when I stood up. Flat on the floor, I tired of propping a paperback above my head. Pacing the room, I craved an extra hand: one to hold the book, another to turn its pages, a third to underline.
Fran Brearton, The Guardian
Ruth Fainlight's late husband, Alan Sillitoe, wrote in the preface to his own Collected Poems that "a poet and writer, wherever he lives, even if on home territory, suffers exile for life". For Fainlight, who was born in the US to European Jewish parents, and who moved to England at the age of 15, that condition of exile is understood at the deepest level. Her own New & Collected Poems, representing half a century's work, asks us to read her writing life as a journey that never really ends, even with publication of a monumental achievement. As "The Fall" puts it, "Once you let go, there's no hold anywhere. / Whatever your home was, having left it / There can be no other."
Mike Steinberger, Slate
The French respond to the argument that their national cuisine is in decline.
Mike Sager, Esquire
Our packed prisons are starting to disgorge hundreds of mostly African-America men who, over the last few decades, we wrongly convicted of violent crimes. This is what it's like to spend nearly thirty years in prison for something you didn't do. This is what it's like to spend nearly thirty years as someone you aren't. And for Ray Towler, this is what it's like to be free.
James Ramsden, The Guardian
Now the big-name chefs have moved in with their pop-up restaurants, is there still an appetite for eating home cooking at a supper club?
Sara Breselor, Salon
And if the appeal of the Easy-Bake Oven for children is rooted in such ancient themes, it is not surprising that other aspects of the toy come from an older tradition.
Francis Lam, Salon
The federal ban on incandescent light bulbs won't doom the bulb-powered toy for good. But it will hurt its spirit.
Joseph Grosso, The Humanist
How romantics and technophiles can reconcile our love-hate relationship with scientific progress.
David Marsh, The Guardian
If they come from Cornwall, they must be Cornish pasties. But do they go with champagne?
Nathan Heller, Slate
How he makes his voice heard.
David E. Hoffman, Foreign Policy
Largely unseen by the world, two dangerous germs homed in on their targets in the spring and early summer of 2009. One was made by man to infect computers. The other was made by nature, and could infect man.
Suzanne Strempek Shea, Obit
The lack of forwarding addresses didn’t stop a group of acclaimed writers and poets from penning fan letters to their deceased literary heroes.
Christopher Byrd, Salon
It is O'Neill's voice, by turns vulgar and classed-up, that centers the novel and invests it with a stubborn optimism.
Freeman Dyson, New York Review Of Books
The story of the drum language illustrates the central dogma of information theory. The central dogma says, “Meaning is irrelevant.” Information is independent of the meaning that it expresses, and of the language used to express it. Information is an abstract concept, which can be embodied equally well in human speech or in writing or in drumbeats. All that is needed to transfer information from one language to another is a coding system. A coding system may be simple or complicated. If the code is simple, as it is for the drum language with its two tones, a given amount of information requires a longer message. If the code is complicated, as it is for spoken language, the same amount of information can be conveyed in a shorter message.
Joshua Weiner, Slate
Dennis Overbye, New York Times
Darwin speculated that life began in a warm pond on the primordial Earth. Lately other scientists have suggested that the magic joining of molecules that could go on replicating might have happened in an undersea hot spring, on another planet or inside an asteroid. Some astronomers wonder if it could be happening right now underneath the ice of Europa or in the methane seas of Titan.
Sam Lipsyte, New York Times
However friendly and interactive that Monopoly tower might seem, maybe our own kids will work together to do an end run around the authoritarian monolith in the center of their world. And after they’ve torn down that huge plastic hegemon, they can all pass Go and head to the kitchen for equal shares of oatmeal cookies.
Tony Naylor, The Guardian
Would it encourage you to eat a 3 course lunch if you're guaranteed to be out in an hour?
Dirk Johnson, New York Times
“People will always find a way to annotate electronically,” said G. Thomas Tanselle, a former vice president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and an adjunct professor of English at Columbia University. “But there is the question of how it is going to be preserved. And that is a problem now facing collections libraries.”
Viv Groskop, The Telegraph
Once men used to get together to watch sport and drink beer. Now they have muscled in on a female craze.
Edward Mcclelland, Salon
The store went from a true alternative to a big-box bore. Now, it's the independent shops who come out the winners.
Jessica Holland, The Guardian
Lanier's economic argument is designed to scare, but not so much as his argument that web 2.0 – with its anonymously written wikis and multiple-choice expressions of personality on Facebook – is eating away at our very souls.
Ingrid Ricks, Salon
I was terrified I wouldn't see my girls grow up. But as I lost my sight, I began to focus on what really mattered.
Erin McKean, Boston Globe
The growing world of online language advice.
Christopher Norris, Philosophy Now
Professor Hawking has probably been talking to the wrong philosophers, or picked up some wrong ideas about the kinds of discussion that currently go on in philosophy of science. His lofty dismissal of that whole enterprise as a useless, scientifically irrelevant pseudo-discipline fails to reckon with several important facts about the way that science has typically been practised since its early-modern (seventeenth-century) point of departure and, even more, in the wake of twentieth century developments such as quantum mechanics and relativity.
Clark Whelton, City Journal
The decline and fall of American English, and stuff.
Walter Isaacson, New York Times
The problem with writing a biography of Socrates, as Bettany Hughes merrily admits, is that he’s a “doughnut subject”: a rich and tasty topic with a big hole right in the middle where the main character should be.
Alfred Brendel, The Guardian
Dwight Garner, New York Times
One of the pleasures of a good book of letters is watching a voice develop and ripen over time, and Chatwin’s does. It grows lovelier, grainier, more confident, more wicked.
Mark Oppenheimer, New York Times
The Lonely Island, consisting of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, who are familiar from their “Digital Shorts” on “Saturday Night Live,” has not only revived the novelty song, but they’ve done the unthinkable: they’ve made it cool. And catchy. They make novelty songs you can laugh at and also bob your head to.
Ken Jennings, Slate
When I was selected as one of the two human players to be pitted against IBM's "Watson" supercomputer in a special man-vs.-machine Jeopardy! exhibition match, I felt honored, even heroic. I envisioned myself as the Great Carbon-Based Hope against a new generation of thinking machines—which, if Hollywood is to be believed, will inevitably run amok, build unstoppable robot shells, and destroy us all. But at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Lab, an Eero Saarinen-designed fortress in the snowy wilds of New York's Westchester County, where the shows taped last month, I wasn't the hero at all. I was the villain.
Barton Swaim, The New Criterion
A review of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage: The Classic First Edition (Oxford World's Classics) by H. W. Fowler.
Tom Meltzer, The Guardian
Whether it's from KFC, Tennessee, Dixie, Perfect or Golden, fried chicken is Britain's fastest growing fast food. Can anything stem our appetite for it?
Rick Gekoski, The Guardian
Too many people will have you believe that our very humanity resides in books – and that's reading a little too much into it.
Gabriel Brownstein, The Guardian
Jonathan Franzen and Allegra Goodman both published accomplished novels on grand themes last year. Only one got the Capital Letter treatment.
Janet Maslin, New York Times
Karen Russell, author of the wave-making debut novel “Swamplandia!,” knows how to use bizarre ingredients to absolutely irresistible effect.
Julia Moskin, New York Times
When this new restaurant, Next, serves its first customers on April 1, its menu will be painstakingly reproduced from the classical French repertoire: whole lobes of foie gras baked in brioche, clear turtle soup with Madeira, duck pressed and sauced with its own blood and marrow, as served at the Tour d’Argent in Paris for more than 200 years.
These dishes, which Mr. Achatz has been refining for a year, will be served for all of three months. Next will then morph into an entirely different restaurant, and again three months after that.
Nicola Abé, Spiegel
No bars. No walls. No armed guards. The prison island of Bastøy in Norway is filled with some of the country's most hardened criminals. Yet it emphasizes self-control instead of the strictly regulated regimens common in most prisons. For some inmates, it is more than they can handle.
Dan Koeppel, Photograph By Michael Christopher Brown, National Geographic
Nobody had ever done it before: Hike, ski, and raft 4,679 miles through eight national parks, dozens of mountain ranges, and the length of the Yukon territory. Then along came Andrew Skurka.
Joe Yonan, Washington Post
All of which got me thinking: Could some strategies help these 20-something singles realize the benefits of living together, while supporting their ability to eat independently?
Garry Kasparov, New York Review Of Books
It would be impossible for me to write dispassionately about Bobby Fischer even if I were to try. I was born the year he achieved a perfect score at the US Championship in 1963, eleven wins with no losses or draws. He was only twenty at that point but it had been obvious for years that he was destined to become a legendary figure. His book My 60 Memorable Games was one of my earliest and most treasured chess possessions. When Fischer took the world championship crown from my countryman Boris Spassky in 1972 I was already a strong club player following every move as it came in from Reykjavík. The American had crushed two other Soviet grandmasters en route to the title match, but there were many in the USSR who quietly admired his brash individuality along with his amazing talent.
Andrew Keen, Salon
A new book looks at the ways social networking is warping our sense of independence -- and ability to interact.
Katherine Bouton, New York Times
Michael Chorost is not only a clear and concise science writer, but also a visionary. The coming integration of humans and machines may be a bit further off than he thinks, but he convinced me that we will get there someday.
Wayne Gooderham, The Guardian
Other people's hidden handwriting lurks in many an author's work, but is it an entirely decent practice?
B. R. Myers, The Atlantic
Gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism is still gluttony.
Laura Miller, Salon
"The Rise and Fall of the Bible" is a succinct, clear and fascinating look at two phenomena: what Beal calls "biblical consumerism" -- in which buying Bibles and Bible-related publications and products substitutes for more meaningful encounters with the foundational text of Western Civilization -- and the history of how the book came to be assembled.
Nicola Barr, The Guardian
So far, so normal. Boy meets girl and they negotiate pitfalls of union. But in reimagining the age-old story, Levithan has dispensed with chronology and written it in dictionary entries, moving step by step through the alphabet. The broken up time scheme works. Just as you are enjoying the intoxicating dance of their descent into love, you are met face to face with infidelity and the pain of the fallout.
Elizabeth Day, The Guardian
Barrow's reminiscences of his brother's life – from a Wiltshire childhood surrounded by eccentric relatives and a menagerie of animals (including a much-loved family dachshund) to a miserable time at Harrow and then on to a hand-to-mouth existence in late- 60s Chelsea – are touching and heartfelt. But in other places the book is overwhelmed by the anarchic, surrealist tone of Jonathan's own writing.
Lettie Ransley, The Guardianr
Despite achieving fame and notoriety as an avant-garde essayist and critic, Susan Sontag, towards the end of her 40-year writing career, achieved popular success with this 1992 novel. The Volcano Lover is as big, rich and complex as one might expect – using the story of Nelson's affair with Emma Hamilton as a prism through which to view the baroque drama of the Enlightenment.
Ariel Leve, The Guardian
The British are elitist about eating snacks. They seem to think that it's as American as Sarah Palin.
Jan Freeman, Boston Globe
We may not be quite so delicate today, but euphemism — from the Greek for “auspicious speech” — is with us still.
Kirsty Logan, Boston Globe
As much as I enjoy the books, I often find that the book I have read is somehow not as exciting as the book I had imagined reading.
Ann Hulbert, The American Scholar
My mother, who died six months after she was diagnosed, was acutely grateful to be supported at almost every turn in her quest to end life on her own terms—which is not to say that “letting go” came at all naturally to her. Even for someone thoroughly out of step with our more-care-is-better medical ethos, it proved anything but easy to relinquish control. For her, resisting the doctors’ edicts was not so hard; that was her way of taking charge. Yet then what? To embrace ordinary, loving care, knowing the burden it put on others, was a struggle. But her odyssey—our odyssey—allowed us to feel our way toward those feats together, with few regrets and many rewards alongside the inevitable fear and pain. In a culture of Promethean aspirations, and in busy hospital corridors, it is rare to get that chance.
Diane Ackerman, New York Times
When I crossed the threshold into my husband’s hospital room, I entered a world that was unfamiliar, with an unfamiliar man lying in it. He suffered a massive stroke only days before, one tailor-made to his own private hell. In the cruelest of twists for a novelist-professor obsessed with words, the stroke ravaged the language areas of his brain.
Virginia Heffernan, New York Times
No Kindles in cafes? You’ve got to be kidding. This is an affront, not only to readers and gadget lovers, but also to the spirit of cafes!
Deborah Cameron, The Guardian
The Language Wars takes the reader on a Cook's tour of complaints about English past and present in a bid to show that the obsessions of the complainers are (a) as old as the hills, (b) based on no linguistic logic, and (c) ultimately futile, since no one can stop language from varying and changing.
Edward Glaeser, The Atlantic
Besides making cities more affordable and architecturally interesting, tall buildings are greener than sprawl, and they foster social capital and creativity. Yet some urban planners and preservationists seem to have a misplaced fear of heights that yields damaging restrictions on how tall a building can be. From New York to Paris to Mumbai, there’s a powerful case for building up, not out.
Amanda Craig, The Telegraph
The Edwardian period has returned to us as a strange centenary echo of our own fall from comfort into crisis; anyone reading Anthony Quinn’s second novel, Half of the Human Race, may be struck by how far we have travelled to remain the same.
Alex Clark, The Guardian
Editors are supposed to edit: well, of course. What else would they do? And why should Private Eye, in the process of tweaking a few authors' noses, alight on those who labour behind the scenes and accuse them of incompetence? The answer lies in the changing role of the editor, in the turning wheel of the publishing industry and in the expectations of readers.
Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian
The new minimalism suggests a way out of domestic asphyxiation. We don't need shelves of books when everything we want to read can be on our Kindle.
Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
The reclusive Salinger, who died a year ago at 91, seems to have found that ideal reader in his latest biographer, Kenneth Slawenski, founder of the fan site DeadCaulfields and now author of a new life of Salinger that is earnest, sympathetic and perceptive.
Oliver Strand, New York Times
I understand that some of you are put off by proselytizing — you want coffee, not a sermon — but where others perceive smugness and superiority, I see enthusiasm and curiosity, which is what we ask of our chefs: cooking isn’t stuck in 1990, or we would still be sitting down to menus with honey-mustard glaze and sun-dried tomatoes. Why should coffee be any different?
Peter Biskind, Vanity Fair
Harvey Weinstein lost not only his beloved Miramax studio, and millions of dollars, but also his passion for filmmaking.
Dana Jennings, New York Times
Cancer and racism, immigration and terrorism: each topic is a predictable way station on the circuit of the 24-hour news cycle. In the following books, though, poets wrestle with these staples of newspaper and TV headlines (and much more) and alchemize them from eye-glazing abstractions into well-wrought literary gold.
Malise Ruthven, New York Review Of Books
Traditional Islamic doctrine offers little explanation for this violent response. There is no explicit ban on figurative art in the Quran, and representations of Muhammad, though absent from public spaces, appear in illuminated manuscripts up until the seventeenth century; they still feature in the popular iconography of Shiism, where antipathy to pictures of the Prophet is much less prevalent.
Dwight Garner, New York Times
One of the pleasures of “Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker,” a new collection of her correspondence with that magazine’s poetry editors, is snooping around in the excellent footnotes and front matter for the wicked comments she made behind the magazine’s back.
Nicola Davison, Slate
A visit to a Shanghai fake-marriage market, where lesbians and gay men meet to find a husband or wife.
Bonnie S. Benwick, Washington Post
Flowers have long been a fixture at the Montgomery Farm Women's Co-op, but a certain crop has really turned heads since fall. They are impossibly perfect, and edible.
Kathrin Hille, Financial Times
Wang Tingting last saw her parents nearly two years ago, but now that they are reunited, no one knows what to say to one another. Finally, Su Taoying, Tingting’s mother, clasps her 12-year-old daughter’s hand and says, ruefully, “Next time I see you, you will be taller than me.” As they smile, the family resemblance is striking. And yet for the past five years they have not really been a family.
Seth Kugel, New York Times
No matter where your comfort zone lies, though, to be a successful frugal traveler you may have to shed your preconceived notions surrounding six areas. Once you do so, the rewards of seeing the world exceed the inconvenience of going without a plush terry-cloth robe.
Sharon Olds, Slate
Dwight Garner, New York Times
As Annia Ciezadlo writes in her winsome new memoir, “Day of Honey,” people flocked to Arabic restaurants as if to say, “Look, we trust you, we’re eating your food.” Newspapers ran photographs of immigrants holding platters of appetizers, she writes, “their eyes beseeching, ‘Don’t deport me! Have some hummus!’ ”
Akiva Gottlieb, The Nation
Presumably each of my faceless co-conspirators would have shelled out $20 to see the movie projected at the New York Film Festival, had we not been trapped in the hinterlands by the exigencies of fate. This is all to say that Susan Sontag, consummate Manhattanite, had it wrong in her 1996 essay “The Decay of Cinema”: “Perhaps it is not cinema that has ended but only cinephilia.” If the ardor of film culture were dead, movie piracy wouldn’t matter.
Paula Marantz Cohen, The Smart Set
The power of the model railroad.
Lawrence Wright, New Yorker
Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology.
James Ramsden, The Guardian
Is it just me or is this business breakfast malarkey suddenly starting to make sense?
Richard Conniff, New York Times
The terrible notion that a piece of God’s creation could be swept off the face of the Earth only became a reality on January 21, 1796, and it was a body blow to Western orthodoxy.
Janice P. Nimura, Los Angeles Times
Instead of dismissing games as frivolous entertainment or trying to unplug our children, we should take a close look at what games provide and figure out how to make reality as exciting and rewarding — as "gameful" — as the virtual world.
Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times
Metcalf's book is an enjoyable addition to the shelfload of books prompting us to reconsider everyday things — from appliances to the moon overhead to the air we breathe. His book, in fact, isn't just enjoyable — that's right, it's better than OK.
CHARLES McGRATH, New York Times
Hefner still supervises the layouts and chooses all the photographs, which by today’s standards are practically chaste-seeming. Airbrushed and lustrous, their pubic hair (if there is any) as carefully fluffed as their tresses, the Playboy nudes are suffused with an unearthly, almost Platonic radiance; and as the critic Joan Acocella once pointed out, those enormous breasts, miracles of buoyancy and cantilevering, make the women seem less sexy, oddly, than childish and innocent. They’re like little girls with balloons.
Richard Powers, New York Times
It does not matter who will win this $1 million Valentine’s Day contest. We all know who will be champion, eventually. The real showdown is between us and our own future. Information is growing many times faster than anyone’s ability to manage it, and Watson may prove crucial in helping to turn all that noise into knowledge.
Michael Erard, New York Times
Reading about all this multilingual dreaming, I asked myself, Why isn’t anyone dreaming in English?
Emma Donoghue, New York Times
Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride: Russell has style in spades.
Tom Carson, GQ
As Drive Angry arrives in theaters, the question must be asked: Can anything explain the lunatic career of Nicolas Cage?
Sarah Weinman, Los Angeles Times
Keigo Higashino's 'The Devotion of Suspect X' shows how things don't always add up, even when a mathematician is involved in murder.
Francis Lam, Salon
OK, so they're technically not my mom's dumplings. But I wish she were here.
Peter Gill, The Guardian
If you know The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy, then you also know the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. But how did Douglas Adams come up with that number?
Lillian B. Rubin, Salon
As Hank disappears into dementia, I have to admit the unbearable: His death would be easier than this.
Witold Rybczynski, Slate
Or an essay on the ridiculous way architects talk.
Catherine Price, Slate
Road kill: It's what's for dinner.
Jonah Lehrer, Wired
The apparent randomness of the scratch ticket was just a facade, a mathematical lie. And this meant that the lottery system might actually be solvable, just like those mining samples.
Alastair Macaulay, New York Times
On the occasion of the reissues of the two most indispensable books about Astaire, it’s worth taking another look at “Bojangles.” Though blackface certainly often expressed racist sentiment — I shudder to recall the TV “Black-and-White Minstrel Show” of my youth — it was often used subversively. Here Astaire is subverting racist caricature to celebrate the black tradition of tap dance.
Chris Bachelder, The Believer
An interrogation into the mechanisms of jokes.
Dwight Garner, New York Times
Judith Guest’s 1976 novel, “Ordinary People,” and the 1980 film adaptation starring Timothy Hutton, were groundbreaking because they underscored Ms. Guest’s title. Mental illness could occur in the most ordinary families, these works suggested. It could happen to anyone.
The appeal of the Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn’s distressing new memoir, written with his son Henry, is quite the opposite, because the large Cockburn family is completely extraordinary.
Billy Collins, Slate