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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Group Think

Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine

Once you burn off a lot of definitional fog, the “social cure” reveals itself as nothing more than peer pressure applied toward ends that Rosenberg supports. That raises a question that, bafflingly, she never addresses: Who gets to decide what constitutes acceptable peer pressure? Your idea of a good peer group might be my idea of a cult. Your worthy goal might be my worst nightmare. Rosenberg cherry-picks positive outcomes, but the process she describes as “the social cure” is fundamentally neutral—equally useful to ­Samaritans and to Stalin.

I've Seen Every Woody Allen Movie

Juliet Lapidos, Slate

Here's what I've learned.

Durian: The King Of Fruits Is An Angry King

Francis Lam, Salon

Beloved in Southeast Asia, famously stinky, I've avoided the "King of Fruit" for decades ... until now.

Ocean Acidification

Elizabeth Kolbert, National Geographic Magazine

The carbon dioxide we pump into the air is seeping into the oceans and slowly acidifying them. One hundred years from now, will oysters, mussels, and coral reefs survive?


Russell Jacoby, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

Why we should fear our neighbors more than strangers.

Tina Fey's Tough Girl Feminism

Katie Roiphe, Slate

The rough humor in Fey's new book Bossypants is exactly what the movement needs.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Murder Foretold

David Grann, New Yorker

Rodrigo Rosenberg knew that he was about to die. It wasn’t because he was approaching old age—he was only forty-eight. Nor had he been diagnosed with a fatal illness; an avid bike rider, he was in perfect health. Rather, Rosenberg, a highly respected corporate attorney in Guatemala, was certain that he was going to be assassinated.

A Very Big Bang

Wilson Da Silva, Cosmos

On one clear day 65 million years ago, the sky suddenly fell in, and 80% of all life became extinct. But this cataclysm also opened the door for humans to inherit the Earth.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Get Lost

Paul Salopek, Foreign Policy

The most lyrical passages in In Motion describe how the 2003 blackout in New York jarred an entire bustling metropolis -- the apex of sedentary life -- into a state of Deep Travel: Manhattanites gaped at lingering sunsets for the first time in years; and with thousands of air conditioners silenced, neighbors could hear hushed conversations across the street. An old wonder was rediscovered.


David Ferry, Slate

When Are You Dead?

John Sanford, Stanford Medicine

In the end, that patient became brain dead, so he was allowed to be a donor. Several months later, the hospital’s board of directors approved the DCD protocol, which Magnus, Esquivel and other Stanford physicians helped craft. Nevertheless, Magnus is confident it was right to forgo DCD in that case.

“There’s no doubt Carlos was frustrated, but I think we eventually won him over,” Magnus says. “It was never a good idea to let a transplant team go in half-cocked, without a protocol.”

Indeed, as both would soon discover, half-cocked DCD efforts can end in criminal charges. But we’re getting ahead of the story.

Words Vs. Work

Kristen Hoggatt, The Smart Set

It’s hard to measure the value of writing a poem versus the more immediate value of taking out the trash, but I think writing a poem would be greater, in most respects. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take out the trash, that there’s no value in performing such a task. Life is all about balance and...

Oh, who am I kidding?

Saving Souls

Vivian Gornick, Boston Review

While the tone and the rhetoric of Israeli writing is certainly different from that of eastern Europe, in much of it the same stunned sense of disconnect prevails; even more so, in fact. In Israel the catastrophe has gone on for so long, and has pressed so many people into the position of victimizer as well as victim, murderer as well as murdered, that a haunting sense of complicity colors the disconnect.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wall Of Sound

Nikil Saval, Slate

Two years ago, at the nadir of the financial crisis, the urban sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh wondered aloud in the New York Times why no mass protests had arisen against what was clearly a criminal coup by the banks. Where were the pitchforks, the tar, the feathers? Where, more importantly, were the crowds? Venkatesh's answer was the iPod: "In public spaces, serendipitous interaction is needed to create the 'mob mentality.' Most iPod-like devices separate citizens from one another; you can't join someone in a movement if you can't hear the participants. Congrats Mr. Jobs for impeding social change." Venkatesh's suggestion was glib, tossed off—yet it was also a rare reminder, from the quasi-left, of how urban life has been changed by recording technologies.

What I've Learned From Seamus Heaney

Olivia O'Leary, Irish Times

You may well ask why a journalist with no literary credentials should be writing about Seamus Heaney. There are two reasons. Firstly, the impact of his work on our national life, on the way we think about ourselves, has given him a cultural importance that poets should have but so often don’t. Secondly, I felt that impact particularly on my life and work as a journalist. And if it seems that I forget my place in making any connection between what journalists do and what poets do, let me state my case modestly.

"Iphigenia In Forest Hills": The Mother And The Hit Man

Laura Miller, Salon

The point of a trial is to establish what "really" happened and who is truly responsible, which is one reason why courtrooms have been the setting of so many satisfying fictions. But the shooting of Daniel Malakov as he stood with his 4-year-old daughter in a playground was no fiction, and there are times when insisting that a handful of facts be made to add up to a clear chain of events and an unqualified apportioning of blame leaves us not with justice but something that looks like its opposite.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lose The Hyphen

Jan Freeman, Boston Globe

Like much language change, a shift in AP style seems to say something about who we are and what we value as a culture. That may be an illusion, but we can’t resist inventing explanations for our language preferences.

It's Hard To Find Food In A British Restaurant

Simon Heffer, The Telegraph

I like food. I eat little else. But I feel I am somewhat out of kilter with what is deemed to be the educated man’s appreciation of food in the modern world. Perhaps this is because I am not an educated man. Or, perhaps it is because the food and restaurant industries in this country are continuing to play the elaborate culinary confidence trick that began with nouvelle cuisine 25 years ago, which in my view always meant treating food as something that was not necessarily there to be eaten.

LA Confidential

Anna Stothard, The Guardian

Unlock the secret world of Los Angeles and you'll discover a city full of hidden gems – including a magician's castle, a naked spa and a fictional heritage tour.

Perfect Rigour: A Genius And The Mathematical Breakthrough Of The Century By Masha Gessen – Review

Robin McKie, The Guardian

By any standards, Grigori Perelman makes a marvellous subject for a biography. Arguably the world's greatest mathematician, he worked out a solution to one of the seven great unsolved mathematical problems, the Poincaré conjecture, in 2002. It was a magnificent achievement. Honours, cash, offers of world lecture tours and lucrative teaching posts were hurled at the Russian theorist.

But Perelman turned down the lot, including the Fields medal, the mathematical world's equivalent of a Nobel prize, and a million dollars in prize money that the Clay Institute wanted to give him for his work. Since then, he has announced he has given up the study of mathematics altogether and has cut off communications with all journalists and nearly all his friends.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Oprah Magazine’s Adventures In Poetry

David Orr, New York Times

The signs of the coming apocalypse are many, but none are starker than this Web headline in the April issue of O: The Oprah Magazine: “Spring Fashion Modeled by Rising Young Poets.” Yes. Spring fashion. Modeled. By rising young poets. There follows a photomontage of attractive younger women — some of whom are rising poets mostly in the “I get up in the morning” sense, but all of whom certainly look poetic — in outfits costing from $472 to $5,003.

King Of The Badgers By Philip Hensher – Review

Helen Dunmore, The Guardian

Privacy is the one thing no novelist allows his or her characters. In exposing fantastic, hidden lives, fiction is more searching than any airport Strip-Jack-Naked or swivelling CCTV camera. Not only the body and mind, but the heart and the soul of each character is opened to the imagination of the reader, who is privileged to go where no census-form compiler or police investigator would dare to venture. Philip Hensher's wonderfully complex, paradoxical subject in King of the Badgers is the nature of privacy, and of its violation. Brazenly, he takes us through doors which would never be opened to us, while anatomising what is lost when his characters can no longer close these doors to one another.

Paris, Home Of The Avant-garde

Adam Thirlwell, The Guardian

I suppose I should worry that the French and military codeword avant-garde still seduces me. This word, after all, can conceal so much snobisme. But then: there's no reason to dismiss something just because it's impure, and this idea of the avant-garde, in its essence, is a noble ideal. The avant-garde is wildness: a wildness of content, and a wildness of form.

And this is one reason why I harbour another complicated attraction. My idea of the avant-garde is so often Parisian.

The London Satyr By Robert Edric – Review

DJ Taylor, The Guardian

The curious thing about Robert Edric's historical novels is how un- or even anti-historical they are.

13, Rue Thérèse

Simon Schama, Financial Times

his is either your thing or it isn’t but Mauli Shapiro won’t be winning the Bad Sex Writing Prize any time soon, for she is much too witty.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Send In Whatever Clowns Are Left

Stefany Anne Golberg, The Smart Set

Hard times come to the stage.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Mysterious Genesis Of Books

Rick Gekoski, The Guardian

When asked where my books come from and what they are about, I'm often at a loss – the impulses are from the deep unconscious.

Is The Short Story Really The Novel's Poor Relation?

Chris Power, The Guardian

It may be a minority interest, but the brevity of the form acknowledges the world's vastness and ambiguities.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How Carrots Became The New Junk Food

Douglas Mcgray, Fast Company

Jeff Dunn believes he can double the $1 billion baby-carrot business -- and promote healthy eating -- by marketing the vegetable like Doritos. His secret weapon? He knows every snack-marketing trick in the book.

The Wedding Bouquet I Can't Throw Away

Rebecca Morean, Salon

The bouquet lies inside the little pearl-topped basket tucked in my bottom drawer. There they are, dried and carefully arranged: the yellow roses from my wedding day. All 25 -- the age I was when I married and nearly the number of years before he left. Twenty-five little promises, preserved and vibrant still, for my two daughters and my two sons. He left all five of us one night six months after his own father's death and in fear for his own -- or at least his sanity. That was his excuse.

Masters Of Disguise Among Meatless Burgers

Jeff Gordinier, New York Times

For meat-lovers, the veggie burger was long seen as a sad stand-in that tried to copy the contours and textures of a classic beef patty while falling pathetically short of the pleasure. And for meat-refusers, the veggie burger served as a kind of penitential wafer: You ate this bland, freeze-dried nutrient disc because you had to eat it (your duty as someone who had forsaken the flesh) and because at many a restaurant or backyard barbecue, it was the only option available.

If that has been your mental framework since the days when Jerry Garcia was still with us, it might be time to take another bite. To borrow a phrase from the culture that produced it, the veggie burger seems finally to have achieved self-actualization.

Why I Write In The Margin

Joe Moran, The Guardian

I am almost neurotically law-abiding, but there is one area of life where I am an outlaw, beyond the pale, a fugitive from justice. I only do it in pencil, and sometimes I remember to rub it out, but … I write in library books. Those spaces down the sides of the page seem so inviting that the impulse to anoint them with scribbles is irresistible. History is on my side: until the 19th century books were often used as scrap paper, and few people had qualms about scrawling on a pristine copy. No jury in the land would convict me. Books are meant to be written on.

Who Would Dare?

Roberto Bolaño, The New York Review Of Books

The books that I remember best are the ones I stole in Mexico City, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, and the ones I bought in Chile when I was twenty, during the first few months of the coup. In Mexico there was an incredible bookstore. It was called the Glass Bookstore and it was on the Alameda. Its walls, even the ceiling, were glass. Glass and iron beams. From the outside, it seemed an impossible place to steal from. And yet prudence was overcome by the temptation to try and after a while I made the attempt.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Great Read Shark: Fear And Loathing At 40

Michael Bourne, The Millions

That was then. In the forty years since Thompson took that fateful trip into gonzo history, he has gone from arguably the most dangerous man in American journalism, to a cartoon character in Doonesbury, to a drug-fuddled has-been, to a suicide, and yet the work remains. Four decades on, does the Fear and Loathing still hold up?

The Poetry Of Catastrophe

Sam Tanenhaus, New York Times

What follows is a sampler of literary catastrophe. Don’t run away. It’s not as depressing as it sounds. One of the enduring paradoxes of great apocalyptic writing is that it consoles even as it alarms.

A Cure For Writer's Block

Laura Miller, Salon

"Limitless," a deeply stupid Bradley Cooper vehicle about a frustrated novelist who gets his hands on an experimental drug that kicks his IQ up to the "four digit" range, is only the latest example of Hollywood's long fascination with writer's block. From "Barton Fink" to "Adaptation," the tortured spectacle of a writer who cannot write has proven much more fun to watch than one who can.


Evan Osnos, New Yorker

A nation bears the unbearable.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

DIY Dictionary

Erin McKean, Boston Globe

If we think of language as a technology, we could think of paper dictionaries as a kind of user’s manual. And if the language had a third-party manual, that book would be “How to Read a Word,” by Elizabeth Knowles.

Busted! When Private Toys Go Public

Tracy Clark-flory, Salon

Even the brashest women can be undone by its appearance. Why does a buzzing gadget have such power to mortify us?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Condemned To Joy

Pascal Bruckner, City Journal

The Western cult of happiness is a mirthless enterprise.

From The Paris Review To A Korean Deli

Corby Kummer, New York Times

It’s hard not to fall in love with “My Korean Deli.” First, it’s the (very) rare memoir that places careful, loving attention squarely on other people rather than the author. Second, it tells a rollicking, made-for-the-movies story in a wonderfully funny deadpan style. By the end, you’ll feel that you know the author and his family quite well — even though you may not be eager to move in with them.

Why Last Chapters Disappoint

David Greenberg, New York Times

Lippmann’s experience will be familiar to almost anyone who has written a book aspiring to analyze a social or political problem. Practically every example of that genre, no matter how shrewd or rich its survey of the question at hand, finishes with an obligatory prescription that is utopian, banal, unhelpful or out of tune with the rest of the book. When it comes to social criticism, no one, it seems, has an exit strategy.

Rereading: The Rainbow By DH Lawrence

Rachel Cusk, The Guardian

Not least physically: to read Lawrence is to read with the body as well as the mind. For this he will always be treated with suspicion, with caution, as long as the formation of the human personality is based around the denial or misrepresentation of the body's wants. But Lawrence possessed the bitter knowledge born of his own experience: that originality and truth will always meet with rejection by the common mind.

Optimistic Little Poem

Neil Astley, The Guardian

Friday, March 18, 2011

Little Big Words

Robert Lane Greene, Intelligent Life

One way to gauge the prevalence of a word is to consult the Oxford English Corpus, a body of 2 billion words. “I” comes in tenth; “you” is 18th. They are not quite our two favourite subject pronouns: “he” is 16th (“she” is 30th). But in the world of the 21st century, “you” and “i” are two very potent little words.

Incredible Edibles

John Lanchester, New Yorker

The mad genius of “Modernist Cuisine.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pushing Paper

Ben Kafka, Laphams Quarterly

Why is there no Norton Anthology of Paperwork? Though the trove of Franz Kafka manuscripts hidden away in safe-deposit boxes has attracted more attention from the mainstream media, the collection of newly translated memos that the author crafted during his years as a staff lawyer for the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute in Prague is the real treasure. Kafka: “The Institute is convinced that if the case were such that the risk category for sheep’s-wool-weaving mills had been higher than the category for cotton-weaving mills, pressure would have been exerted to get the mixed-weaving mills classified as cotton-weaving mills, a change that would, if only coincidentally, have corresponded to actual conditions.”

Dancing The Body Electric

Laura Jacobs, City Journal

New York had always been a destination for dancers; traditionally, it was where they came to put the finish on their training. But in the seventies, as if they were the incandescent flip side to those Port Authority burnouts, aspiring Pavlovas, Isadoras, and Astaires positively streamed into the city. Dance was suddenly the most vital performing art in America—the medium with the message—and the dance boom of the 1970s was on.

Can Fantasy Ever Tell The Truth?

Damien G Walter, The Guardian

As a genre it provides simple escapism, but its metaphors may express something that realism alone can not reach.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Talent For Sloth

Philip Connors, Laphams Quarterly

The essentials of my current line of work—anonymity, discretion, watchfulness—are not so different from those demanded of a copyeditor. The lookout life fell into my lap, no effort required. It came to me, in fact, while I was on vacation one summer—seemed like one long vacation itself. I had two days to decide if I wanted the job. I surveyed my past and saw only blind striving; I played out my future and saw an abyss: day after day the guillotine of an evening deadline stretching into the murky distance. How could I refuse such a sweet summer sinecure? That, at its essence, is the story of my talent for sloth. I tried it for the first time in my life. I liked it. The plague of Midwestern Catholic guilt on my conscience notwithstanding, I often feel I could work my mountain as long as I walk upright on earth.

What The Luddites Really Fought Against

Richard Conniff, Smithsonian Magazine

The label now has many meanings, but when the group protested 200 years ago, technology wasn't really the enemy.

Miracle Above Manhattan

Paul Goldberger, Photograph By Diane Cook And Len Jenshel, National Geographic Magazine

Almost a decade after the Giuliani administration tried to tear the High Line down, it has been turned into one of the most innovative and inviting public spaces in New York City and perhaps the entire country.

The Mission At A Restaurant Where The Obamas Dine: Remain Calm.

David Hagedorn, Washington Post

As a former chef-restaurateur, I always wondered what must go on in Washington restaurants when the Obamas come calling. Not just from the usual angles - What did they eat? Where did they sit? How did they tip? - but from an operations standpoint.

What To Expect: X-Ray Vision, Doubled Life Spans And Lots Of Robots

Dwight Garner, New York Times

“Dull” and “charmless” are awfully harsh words to apply to Michio Kaku’s “Physics of the Future,” a book that examines, with exhaustive pluck, what life might be like at the end of the current century. But they’re the first words that popped into my mouth when a stranger asked me, in a coffee shop, “How’s the book?”

My Astounding And Yet Not At All Unusual Day In Culture

David Orr, The Awl

6:30 p.m.: Realize that I am still a bit drunk.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Kimberly Johnson, Slate

Consider Cabbage

Oliver Thring, The Guardian

Few vegetables are as widely used or unfairly maligned as those of the brassica family. How do you take your cabbage?

The Tiger's Wife By Téa Obreht: Review

Lucy Daniel, The Telegraph

Natalia’s narration bleeds into the voice of an omniscient storyteller to paint two versions of history, one rural and myth-infused, one metropolitan and worldly.

"Day Of The Oprichnik": The Fascinating World Of Soviet Science Fiction

Paul Di Filippo, Salon

The well-tread genre gets an intriguing twist in newly translated work from a former Cold War enemy.

No Face, But Plants Like Life Too

Carol Kaesuk Yoon, New York Times

The most surprising turned out to be the realization that I couldn’t actually explain to myself or anyone else why killing an animal was any worse than killing the many plants I was now eating.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Seconds Before The Big One: Progress In Earthquake Alarms

Richard Allen, Scientific American

Earthquake detection systems can sound the alarm in the moments before a big tremor strikes—time enough to save lives.


Pilita Clark, Financial Times

John Kasarda, the man with the ideas behind this sprawling and provocative book, grew up in a Pennsylvanian coal-mining town that went bankrupt after a disastrous mine collapse in 1959. He was in his teens at the time, and it taught him an early lesson in how places can shape people, rather than the other way around. Today, he is a business professor who spends much of his life telling governments about the one thing he thinks they can build that will help secure their prosperity in an era of intense global competition: an airport.

The Rise Of The Aerotropolis

Greg Lindsay And John D. Kasarda, Salon

Worried about being squeezed by its neighbors, New Songdo is Korea's earnest attempt to build an answer to Hong Kong. To make expatriates feel at home, its malls are modeled on Beverly Hills', and Jack Nicklaus designed the golf course. But its most salient feature is shrouded in perpetual haze opposite a twelve-mile-long bridge that is one of the world's longest. On the far side is Incheon International Airport, which opened in 2001 on another man-made island and instantly became one of the world's busiest hubs.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rethinking Snow

Courtney Humphries, Boston Globe

But another winter will come, and perhaps the next time nature dumps this much, we could try a different approach: use the overabundance of snow to create something beautiful.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Lobster Underground

Baylen Linnekin, Reason

Whether as a treat for the common man or an excuse to slum it for the well-to-do, the lobster roll was never terribly hip, edgy, or controversial. Until last year, when a Brooklyn artist and chef reinvented the lobster roll as delicious underground performance art.

Churchill, Depression And A Talking Dog

Tadzio Koelb, New York Times

One of the three main characters is Winston Churchill; another, Esther, is a library clerk at the House of Commons. The third, her lodger, is an oversize talking dog.

Other People's Money By Justin Cartwright – Review

Alex Clark, The Guardian

Cartwright is a sophisticated enough writer to make the predictability of these characters seem like part of the joke, as if to underline the moribund nature of the world he depicts. And when he succeeds, it's worth it.

The Summer Without Men By Siri Hustvedt - Review

Justine Jordan, The Guardian

All the characters are in the grip of change: the girls, becoming women; Lola, learning to be a mother; Mia, experiencing that Change we euphemise with a capital letter; and her mother and friends, facing the final inevitable transformation. Selfhood – the limits and lineaments of identity – is Siri Hustvedt's great subject: the way it changes over time, the extent to which it is subject to the force of others, and the influence it brings to bear on the outside world.

Gabrielle Hamilton, Cooking With Words

Frank Bruni, New York Times

It’s hard to think of another American chef who has outdone Gabrielle Hamilton in converting the humblest of stages into the heftiest of reputations. The restaurant she opened in downtown Manhattan in 1999, Prune, has barely enough room for the 30 diners it squeezes in at brunch, lunch and dinner, and despite the reliable presence of dozens of additional customers waiting on the sidewalk, she has either escaped or resisted the itch for expansion that so many of her contemporaries scratch and scratch. Prune has no annex or uptown sibling; there is no Prune Dubai. Just this one cramped, irresistible nook with its scuffed floors, nicked tables and servers in pink.

Writer's Block

Nicole Krauss, The New Republic

To browse online is to enter into a search that allows one to sail, according to an idiosyncratic route formed out of split-second impulses, across the surface of the world, sometimes stopping to randomly sample the surface, sometimes not. It is only an accelerated form of tourism. To browse in a bookstore, however, is to explore a highly selective and thoughtful collection of the world—thoughtful because hundreds of years of thinkers, writers, critics, teachers, and readers have established the worth of the choices. Their collective wisdom seems superior, for these purposes, to the Web’s “neutrality,” its know-nothing know-everythingness.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Suddenly Susan

Sigrid Nunez, New York Times

There was nothing wrong with the three of us sharing a roof, she said. Indeed, in other cultures an arrangement like ours would have been common. And, tell her, please: What was so terrific about the nuclear family? Hadn’t she publicly pronounced it “a disaster”? (She also frequently railed against couples: no matter how interesting one or both people might be when you saw them separately, when you saw them together they were invariably boring.)

“Don’t be so conventional,” she said when I expressed doubts about the three of us always being together. “Who says we have to live like everyone else?” (The truth was, I had grown up in a very unconventional household, and ordinary bourgeois existence was, I confess, not only attractive but frankly exotic to me.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Vaster Wasteland

Newton N. Minow, The Atlantic

For 50 years, we have bombarded our children with commercials disguised as programs and with endless displays of violence and sexual exploitation. We are nearly alone in the democratic world in not providing our candidates with public-service television time. Instead we make them buy it—and so money consumes and corrupts our political discourse.

How To Save Dying Cities

Witold Rybczynski, Slate

They don't need light rail, downtown stadiums, or flashy new museums. They need smart people.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I Don't Need A Hug

Juliet Lapidos, Slate

Honestly, get your hands off me.

Cook From It? First, Try Lifting It

Michael Ruhlman, New York Times

We now have a definitive work about this cuisine, how and why it works, and the tools and ingredients it could not do without. What it all means, well, I hope to know one day before I die.

Robots Say The Damnedest Things

Jon Ronson, GQ

I've been hearing that there are a handful of humanoid robots scattered across North America who have learned how to have eloquent conversations with humans. They listen attentively and answer thoughtfully. One or two have even attained a degree of consciousness, say some AI aficionados, and are on the cusp of bursting into life. If true, this would be humanity's greatest achievement ever, so I've approached the robots for interviews. Conversations with robots! I've no doubt the experience is going to be off the scale in terms of profundity.

"Are you happy?" I ask Zeno again.

Working-class Lives, In Writing

Meredith Tax, The Guardian

The voices of ordinary working people in the US once had their own media. But writing classes can reinvent that empowerment.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Two Poems

Charles Simic, Slate

"Emily And Einstein": The Dog With The Soul Of A Man

Eloisa James, Salon

"Emily and Einstein"is a novel that dances between genres: women's fiction, magical realism, romance, dog lovers' fiction (surely its own genre by now). The novel doesn't fit into any neat package, and Linda Francis Lee employs these incongruities, including a paranormal flourish, to deepen her story's emotional punch.

The Ashtray: The Ultimatum (Part 1)

Errol Morris, New York Times

It was April, 1972. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N. J. The home in the 1950s of Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel. Thomas Kuhn, the author of “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and the father of the paradigm shift, threw an ashtray at my head.

Book Review: 'Conversations With Scorsese'

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

Though billed as a conversation, it often reads more like a lecture series as the men discuss each of Scorsese's feature films, a smattering of his documentaries, his views on editing, music, color, storyboarding and everything else in the filmmaking process.

As anyone who's ever caught the filmmaker on TV or in person knows, everything about him seems irrepressible — his humor, his passion, that rubber-band grin, the Buddy Holly horn rims and those caterpillar brows.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Zooming Out: How Writers Create Our Visual Grammar

Rob Goodman, The Millions

We can consider the influence of the writer’s “camera” by looking at one of the most dramatic edits available: zooming out. What can a writer accomplish by playing tricks with distance and scale, sometimes pulling away from the action, leaving the characters neglected in place as the viewpoint pulls back to take in the landscape, or even the whole planet? We’ve all seen dramatic zooms used for effect—but what exactly is the effect, and have writers helped shaped it? I want to start to answer those questions by examining three important—and moving—instances of literary zooming out. I don’t claim that these three authors are responsible cinematic zooming out, but I do think they helped create a lasting set of conventions that give it its power and its emotional meanings. Zooming out relies for that power on the tension between human smallness and human dignity—on the possibility that putting us in cold, “God’s-eye-view” perspective can, against expectations, make us more important.

"Pym": Negroes On Ice

Laura Miller, Salon

"Pym," by Mat Johnson is a blisteringly funny satire of contemporary American racial attitudes -- which is quite an accomplishment when you consider that most of the novel is set in the wilds of Antarctica.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Once A Villain, Coconut Oil Charms The Health Food World

Melissa Clark, New York Times

The last time I checked, coconut oil was supposed to be the devil himself in liquid form, with more poisonous artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising, heart-attack-causing saturated fat than butter, lard or beef tallow.

So given all this greasy baggage, what was coconut oil doing in a health food store?

The Power Of Lonely

Leon Neyfakh, Boston Globe

What we do better without other people around.

The Illumination By Kevin Brockmeier – Review

Julie Myerson, The Guardian

Human pain is lit from within in this startling and enthralling novel.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

City Of The Future: An Airport?

Michael Powell, New York Times

Kasarda, a professor in the business school at the University of North Carolina who has consulted with four White House administrations and numerous cities and governments, believes that something very different from La Guardia is transforming our world: the gleaming “aerotropolis,” with a state-of-the-art airport at its center, surrounded by customized transportation links, fine restaurants, designer shopping and nearby corporate suburbs connecting workers umbilically to the global marketplace. The aerotropolis, he says, represents not just a redesign of travel but a vital new economic paradigm. From the United States to Holland to Dubai, no nation in this “frictionless” age of fast-paced and highly competitive trade can long survive without airport hub cities built to spec.

Why Do Writers Abandon Novels?

Dan Kois, New York Times

“A book itself threatens to kill its author repeatedly during its composition,” Michael Chabon writes in the margins of his unfinished novel “Fountain City” — a novel, he adds, that he could feel “erasing me, breaking me down, burying me alive, drowning me, kicking me down the stairs.” And so Chabon fought back: he killed “Fountain City” in 1992. What was to be the follow-up to his first novel, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” instead was a black mark on his hard drive, five and a half years of work wasted.

Godzilla In Mexico

Roberto Bolaño, The Guardian

The Billionaire Who Is Planning His 125th Birthday

Frank Bruni, New York Times

So that sore throat wasn’t just an irritant. It was a challenge to the whole gut-centered worldview on which his bid for extreme longevity rests. “I went back in my mind: what am I not eating enough of?” he told me. Definitely not fruits and vegetables: he crams as many as 20 of them, including pulverized banana peels and the ground-up rinds of oranges, into the smoothies he drinks two to three times a day, to keep his body brimming with fiber and vitamins. Probably not protein: he eats plenty of seafood, egg whites, beans and nuts to compensate for his avoidance of dairy, red meat and poultry, which are consigned to a list of forbidden foods that also includes alcohol, sugar and salt.

Have It Your Way? Purist Chefs Won’t Have It!

Diane Cardwell, New York Times

New York has spawned a breed of hard-line restaurants and cafes that are saying no. No to pouring takeout espressos, or grinding more than a pound of coffee at a time. No to taming the intensity of a magma-spicy dish. And most of all, no to the 21st-century conviction that everything can be accessorized to the customer’s taste.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"The Birth Of Classical Europe": Does History Still Have A Place In A Wikipedia Age?

Jonathan Liu, Salon

"The Birth of Classical Europe" is an old-fashioned attempt to turn raw historical facts into a grand narrative.

Broke Town, U.S.A.

Roger Lowenstein, New York Times

Vallejo, a city about 25 miles north of San Francisco, offers a sneak preview of what could be the latest version of economic disaster. When the foreclosure wave hit, local tax revenue evaporated. The city managers couldn’t make their budget and eliminated financing for the local museum, the symphony and the senior center. The city begged the public-employee unions for pay cuts — all to no avail. In May 2008, Vallejo filed for bankruptcy. The filing drew little national attention; most people were too busy watching banks fail to worry about cities. But while the banks have largely recovered, Vallejo is still in bankruptcy. The police force has shrunk from 153 officers to 92. Calls for any but the most serious crimes go unanswered. Residents who complain about prostitutes or vandals are told to fill out a form. Three of the city’s firehouses were closed. Last summer, a fire ravaged a house in one of the city’s better neighborhoods; one of the firetrucks came from another town, 15 miles away. Is this America’s future?

Life Stories

Jessa Crispin, The Smart Set

Is it worth knowing about the lives philosophers led, or is their philosophy enough?

Why Couldn't I Quote Charlotte's Web On Stage?

Lucy Caldwell, The Guardian

EB White's classic is a fine example of literature helping children deal with death. So why couldn't I use it in my new play?

Can Fiction Give Life To Childbirth?

Emily Cleaver, The Guardian

While I'm waiting to do so myself, nobody I speak to can tell me much about what giving birth is like. Do any novels capture the experience?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dr Seuss, Happy Birthday! Let's Say It Once More

Lindesay Irvine, The Guardian

Like generations of children I was weaned on his spry, jazzy tales, and now – when Uncle Lindesay steps up to put the kids to sleep with one of his famously thrilling bedtime stories – it's not just a nostalgic kick I'm getting out of the experience. They're still brilliant pieces of writing: as well as the mad imagination, the language turns over with a poise as sure as the lyrics of Cole Porter, and the reader rides his characteristic anapestic metric schemes with effortless glee. It still weaves a spell on the younglings, and many have understandably imitated it, but very few can make it swing like the Doctor.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Sort Of Sad Death Of The Mercury Thermometer

Sam Kean, Slate

Most people who have encountered mercury have done so after breaking a mercury thermometer. And many of us who saw the liquid balls of mercury scatter across a floor or countertop considered the element the most beautiful on the periodic table.

Those days have passed.

Cherchez La Femme Fatale

Kevin Nance, Obit

And then she was gone. By the early 1950s, the femme fatale all but disappeared from the big screen, displaced by the politely swooning housewives of Douglas Sirk and, later, empowered ass-kickers like Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.

A Chef’s Life, With Scars And All

Jeff Gordinier, New York Times

On the page and in the kitchen, Ms. Hamilton can be charming, tempestuous, persnickety, vulgar, poetic, provocative and mothering, sometimes all in the course of a single flurry of sentences. Whatever scars she has, she is not inclined to cover them.

Indeed, her menu at Prune could be seen as a companion memoir to “Blood, Bones & Butter,” with dishes that have their roots in her own life, from her freewheeling upbringing along the Delaware River in New Hope, Pa., to a borderline-starvation backpacking trip through Europe and Turkey. (Consider one Sunday brunch offering: the Youth Hostel Breakfast.)

Advice To Writers: Skip The Scenery

Laura Miller, Salon

Too much description of landscape and weather has ruined more than one literary novel.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who’s To Blame?

Joel Johnson, Wired

It’s hard not to look at the nets. Every building is skirted in them. They drape every precipice, steel poles jutting out 20 feet above the sidewalk, loosely tangled like volleyball nets in winter.

To A Mountain In Tibet By Colin Thubron – Review

Joanna Kavenna, The Guardian

Travel writing – or any writing that seeks to express something beyond the bare bones of a journey, to dramatise as well the mind of the traveller – must struggle with certain dilemmas. The traveller is untethered from their quotidian assumptions, buffeted from one encounter to the next. How, then, to evoke the so-called real, as it gets destabilised by solitary travel, even at times merged with the imaginary? How to write about such indeterminacies without becoming unreadably indeterminate yourself?

Poem About Heaven

David Blair, Slate

It’s (Gasp!) Alive, Not To Mention Peeved

Ben Brantley, New York Times

Bet you’ve never seen baby pictures like these. In the thrilling first moments of the National Theater production of “Frankenstein,” directed with rough magic by Danny Boyle, a newborn tumbles hard from the womb and straight into the struggle that is life. Oh, the muscle-clenching pain of it, as this still inchoate being tries out its lungs, its limbs, its voice. When it takes its first wobbling steps, it’s an act of exultation, and we want to roar with it.

With A Few Tweaks, Shaking Up History

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

In his shrewdly written, often riveting new book, “Then Everything Changed,” the veteran political journalist Jeff Greenfield ponders some smaller-scale and more plausible what-ifs: three events, he says, “that came within a whisker of actually happening.” What if an actual attempt on John F. Kennedy’s life, shortly after his election to the White House, had succeeded? What if Sirhan Sirhan had been thwarted in assassinating Robert F. Kennedy in 1968? What if President Gerald R. Ford had corrected a misstep in the 1976 presidential debates and defeated Jimmy Carter?

'The Last Brother' By Appanah

Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

This deeply affecting work, first published in French in 2007, is the fourth novel by Nathacha Appanah, a journalist who grew up in Mauritius. All of her novels deal with injustice — the injustice of poverty, class, indentured Indian workers in Mauritius and, in "The Last Brother," the terrible suffering of two young boys.

By Heng-Cheong Leong