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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sick Literature: What To Read When You're Ill

Sarah Crown, The Guardian

I've spent quite a bit of the last year under the weather, so have had plenty of time to devise rules for the best books to recuperate with.

The Cat's Table By Michael Ondaatje – Review

Annie Proulx, The Guardian

Michael Ondaatje's new novel novel tells of a journey from childhood to the adult world.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Querent

Alexander Chee, The Morning News

Fortunetelling is easy to ridicule, frequently misunderstood, and, for some people, extremely powerful. Unfortunately, what’s very tough to predict is what reading futures will do to the person with the cards.

Meet The Glamorous Celebrity Tutors Of Hong Kong

Hillary Brenhouse, Slate

Brutal exams go down easier when your teacher looks like a pop star.


Dana Goodyear, New Yorker

Eating bugs to save the planet.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What Killed American Lit.

Joseph Epstein, Wall Street Journal

Only 40 or 50 years ago, English departments attracted men and women who wrote books of general intellectual interest and had names known outside the academy—Perry Miller, Aileen Ward, Walter Jackson Bate, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Joseph Wood Krutch, Lionel Trilling, one could name a dozen or so others—but no longer. Literature, as taught in the current-day university, is strictly an intramural game.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It's Too Soon To Wave Goodbye To The Magical Art Of Travel Writing

Michael Jacobs, The Guardian

But, despite the rise of the internet and all the recent negative attitudes towards travel writing, to predict the death of the genre seems to me as nearsighted as believing that this country's pioneering travel bookshop has come to the end of its useful life.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Poems Of Childhood, Grief And Deep Space

Joel Brouwer, New York Times

In “Life on Mars,” Smith shows herself to be a poet of extraordinary range and ambition. It’s not easy to be so convincing in both the grand gesture and the reverent contemplation of a humble plate of eggs, and the early successes of this collection far outweigh its later missteps. As all the best poetry does, “Life on Mars” first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.

A Sort-of Love Story, With Pie Charts

Alexandra Jacobs, New York Times

Anyone who suffers from writer’s block — if only more were afflicted! — will appreciate the raw agony of the creative process laid bare in Patricia Marx’s new novel, “Starting From Happy.” To reach her “target word count,” the constitutionally and often brilliantly economical Marx pads her text with, among other enhancements, pen-and-ink illustrations; pie charts; footnotes; graphological analysis, even of her own signature; a catalog of punctuation; another of pasta shapes; a supposed survey from her publisher; letters from cranky “readers”; and 26 desperate lines of barn-­animal noises, recalling Humbert Humbert’s command in “Lolita”: “Repeat till the page is full, printer.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gold Coins: The Mystery Of The Double Eagle

Susan Berfield, BusinessWeek

How did a Philadelphia family get hold of $40 million in gold coins, and why has the Secret Service been chasing them for 70 years?

Defining The Universe: Harder Than You Think

Marcelo Gleiser, NPR

It turns out that understanding the nature of the universe goes hand in hand with our understanding of who we are and how we fit into nature. To see this, consider how a person of the 16th century thought of the world.

Science Question From A Toddler: How Ants Evolve

Maggie Koerth-Baker, Boing Boing

On the surface, that system doesn't make a lot of sense. Evolution works because of natural selection, right? And that's based on sex—who manages to survive to adulthood and who manages to find a mate or mates. It's all about passing on your genes to the next generation.

So why would any species evolve a whole class of individuals who never have sex, and never have offspring?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

All Over the Map: Writing on Buildings and Cities by Michael Sorkin – review

Rowan Moore, The Guardian

America's most invigorating writer on architecture is at his best when defending the importance of uncompromised public space.

Are There Hidden Messages In Pronouns?

Juliet Lapidos, Slate

James Pennebaker says computers reveal secret patterns.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Springtime For Hitler

Monica Osborne, The New Republic

Jokes about Hitler, Nazis, and concentration camps were pervasive before and during World War II: the least amusing era in history produced its own quantities of humor. Its jokes were told and heard by German citizens of all walks of life, which reveals an even more distressing piece of knowledge: Germans may not have been aware of every aspect of Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews and eliminate political dissenters, but they had an acute understanding of the diabolical nature of his vision, and instead of acting against it they sometimes laughed about it. Herzog’s new book uses Nazi-era German humor as a basis for exposing the ethical shortcomings not only of those directly involved in crimes against humanity, but also of those who remained silent or claimed ignorance.

The Genius In My Basement By Alexander Masters - Review

Jenny Turner, The Guardian

An unusual biography of a mathematician and public transport addict.

How Hard Is It To Get A Cartoon Into The New Yorker?

James Sturm, Slate

It was a Tuesday in July and I was sitting in the "cartoonist lounge" on the 20th floor of the Condé Nast building in Times Square with an envelope containing 10 drawings: my first cartoon submissions to The New Yorker. Every Tuesday is judgment day, the day Robert Mankoff, the magazine's cartoon editor, meets with cartoonists face to face.

The Prodigy Burned Out. Why Not Blame Mom?

Carlin Romano, New York Times

Why did he stop writing poetry at 20 and become an adventurer who spent a decade in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) as a merchant and gun runner before his death in a Marseille hospital?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Sculptor And His Muse

Greg Miller, Slate

How To Survive The Titanic Or, The Sinking Of J Bruce Ismay By Frances Wilson: Review

Andrew Lycett, The Telegraph

Frances Wilson has commandeered this seafaring Polish-British author and used his writings to help piece together a gripping study – part reportage, part biography, part literary criticism – of the more intimate ramifications of a disaster which still haunts the public imagination.

The Eight Memes Of The Postmodern Mystery

Ted Gioia, Postmodern Mystery

But how do you know which works of fiction fall under the rubric of postmodern mystery? Like any detective, the reader needs to gather evidence and look for clues. Here is a checklist: my handy guide to the eight memes of the postmodern mystery.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vodka Nation

Victorino Matus, Weekly Standard

How the flavorless, colorless, odorless spirit became a billion-dollar business.

Font Pain And Poetry: So Much Depends On A Curve

Janet Maslin, New York Times

This is a smart, funny, accessible book that does for typography what Lynne Truss’s best-selling “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” did for punctuation: made it noticeable for people who had no idea they were interested in such things.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

These Rioters Are Not ‘Thatcher’s Offspring’

Brendan O’Neill, Spiked

Is there anything bad in the world that ‘neoliberalism’ is not responsible for?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Flamingo Watching

Kay Ryan, The Guardian

Alice By Judith Hermann – Review

Philip Hensher, The Guardian

Over the last 40 years, novelists have begun to explore ways in which the old formal bonds may be shed, too. The old formal constraints, in which all the characters somehow know each other and in which their motives lead to some kind of mutual solution have started to seem unnecessary.

You By Joanna Briscoe – Review

Rachel Seiffert, The Guardian

But though the web may be tangled, Briscoe weaves compelling fiction. The prose is rich, the setting evocative: moors and mists, overgrown gardens merging into the rank tangle of fields and streams and woodland.

Writers In Front Of The Camera

Michael Holroyd, The Guardian

In the beginning and at the end is the picture. I learnt this when writing a television script. My job was to look at a sequence of photographs and some silent amateur films and to provide what amounted to spoken captions, filling the time and telling a story. I enjoyed this strange exercise as I might have enjoyed solving a manufactured puzzle. But I didn't want to do it again.

Steve Brill’s Report Card On School Reform

Sara Mosle, New York Times

Steven Brill is a graduate of Yale Law School and the founder of Court TV, and in his new book, “Class Warfare,” he brings a sharp legal mind to the world of education reform. Like a dogged prosecutor, he mounts a zealous case against America’s teachers’ unions.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Life After Death

Michael Harris, The Walrus

Thirty years after HIV/AIDS was first identified — after it decimated gay communities across the country — a new generation comes of age in its long shadow.

Dinner Theater, Starring The Kitchen

Charles Isherwood, New York Times

But the spread of food mania has given rise to another kind of restaurant theater, the newly public drama of creating the meal itself.

Think Again: War

Joshua S. Goldstein, Foreign Policy

If the world feels like a more violent place than it actually is, that's because there's more information about wars -- not more wars themselves.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What To Look For In Winter By Candia McWilliam - Review

Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

"Good writer" means more than just that, or evading the common traps of the genre: it means also having something worth saying.

Where Did Those Naked Ladies Come From?

Sam Kean, Slate

How the Chinese edition of my book about the periodic table got such a risqué cover.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sounds Familiar

John Sutherland, Literary Review

Put another way, most language is pre-owned. The previous owners are, as Gary Morson instructs us, often worth knowing about. Take, for example (not one of Morson's examples), the indisputably most famous and quoted line in English literature, 'To be, or not to be, that is the question'.

Under The Table

Julia Cooke, Guernica

Havana’s contradictions fascinated me: TV news shows that railed against the yanqui imperialists followed by reruns of Friends; empty supermarket shelves and hidden restaurants that served delicious platters of food; the fact that in a police state that threw political dissidents into jail, the open secret of Havana was that everyone did something illegal to augment the meager offerings of the ration books. At every turn, on each trip I took to the city, I learned something new about how life was lived there, and these discoveries thrilled me. I had begun to work on a book about youth culture in Havana a year before moving, taking month-long research trips and returning to where I was living in Mexico City. By the time I decided to head there for a year, my intellectual and professional goals also hid a vague personal curiosity: coming as I did from the rigid United States, I wanted to see if I could adapt to the more nuanced moral code that seemed to govern how people lived in Havana.

Body Of Dreams

Peter Streckfus, Slate

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Won’t Have The Stomach For This

Anna Stoessinger, New York Times

And so, with just 10 days left with my trusted stomach, we set out to capture all that food meant — all the memories it conjured, all the happiness it brought.

Personal Flight

Nancy Shute, National Geographic Magazine

The daring dream of personal flight.

The Race To The South Pole

Caroline Alexander, National Geographic Magazine

A century ago Scott lost and Amundsen won—partly because he knew when to turn back.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sex On A Plate: In Paris, Food And Seduction Are One And The Same

Elizabeth Bard, The Telegraph

Of all the things living and cooking in France have taught me, it is this spirit of improvisation that continues to surprise – and liberate me.

The Elusive Big Idea

Neal Gabler, New York Times

If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

America: The View From 2,500 Feet

Deborah Fallows, The Atlantic

The beauty of America is astonishing from the air, and always makes me think the Chinese were right when they named America Meiguo, which literally means "beautiful country."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Explaining It All: How We Became The Center Of The Universe

David Albert, New York Times

David Deutsch’s “Beginning of Infinity” is a brilliant and exhilarating and profoundly eccentric book. It’s about everything: art, science, philosophy, history, politics, evil, death, the future, infinity, bugs, thumbs, what have you. And the business of giving it anything like the attention it deserves, in the small space allotted here, is out of the question. But I will do what I can.

Romantic Mischief In 1930s Manhattan

Liesl Schillinger, New York Times

The saying “May you live in interesting times” has undeniable resonance for the investment executive-turned-­novelist Amor Towles.

Eating A Bagel, Humming Rihanna

Troy Patterson, Slate

Every Friday in the summer in the middle of Manhattan, many thousands of tourists wake before dawn, whoosh down to their hotel lobbies, and walk--perhaps at their usual speed, which is easily surpassed by a 7-month-old child cruising down a coffee table--to go see live music outside. NBC's Today, with sponsor Toyota, hosts acts in Rockefeller Plaza; ABC's Good Morning America sets a lot of Burger King logos bubbling around a venue in Central Park; CBS's Early Show is watched by no one, so we will never know if, like the other two shows, it offers concert performances giving off odd pops of glossy Americana, percolating desire with the coffee at 8:30 in the morning.

Fire And Rain By David Browne - Review

Richard Williams, The Guardian

Fire and Rain examines the music of the period, specifically of the year 1970, and even more specifically of three groups and one solo singer: the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and James Taylor.

Late Show

John Burnside, The Guardian

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Long Goodbye: A Memoir Of Grief By Meghan O'Rourke – Review

Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

There are people who insist that grief is ennobling. "You will come out of it a better person," they say, their hand softly upon your shoulder. But this is complete rot, of course. Maybe you will become a more compassionate person, in the sense that you now understand what grief feels like.

Is That All There Is?

James Wood, New Yorker

These are theological questions without theological answers, and, if the atheist is not supposed to entertain them, then, for slightly different reasons, neither is the religious believer.

Midnight Dreams Of Every Paris

Charles Rearick, Berfrois

Each one of them merits being highlighted and understood—as facets of the Paris that that we can visit today. A single generalizing narrative or a single thematic focus doesn’t do them justice. Nor does a description of them in guides and travel articles. In historical perspective, we can recognize them as living forms of centuries-old visions of the city—as long historical continuities that get lost in short-period accounts of dramatic events or famous people.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nurturing Weird Families In Tennessee

Julie Bosman, New York Times

So Mr. Wilson created a fictional family that he decided was far more dysfunctional than his could ever be. “The Family Fang,” published this week by Ecco, tells the story of Caleb and Camille Fang, parents and avant-garde performance artists who are dedicated to pulling public stunts with the help of their sometimes-unwilling offspring, Annie and Buster, who are considered anonymous pieces of the artwork and referred to as Child A and Child B.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

‘Pass The Ketchup’ Could Bring Surprises

Julia Moskin, New York Times

The chef José Andrés says that it’s time for America to face a hard truth, one that all of Alice Waters’s goat cheese salads and Thomas Keller’s fried chicken cannot change. “Everyone else in the world still thinks of American food as ketchup,” said Mr. Andrés, who was born in Spain but has been living and cooking in Washington for 20 years.

Now he is on a quest for redemption. He (and a few other chefs and entrepreneurs) are challenging the hegemony of the red, corn-syrup-sweetened product. “It is time to embrace and celebrate ketchup, not be ashamed of it,” he said.

All The Time In The World By EL Doctorow: Review

Tim Martin, The Telegraph

The stories in All the Time in the World, his latest volume, seem to confirm that Doctorow works best not only in the long form, but when he has a definite historical mould into which to pour his inspiration.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Beyond Space-time: Welcome To Phase Space

Amanda Gefter, New Scientist

A theory of reality beyond Einstein's universe is taking shape – and a mysterious cosmic signal could soon fill in the blanks.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Brute Force Or Intelligence? The Slow Rise Of Computer Chess

Matthew Lasar, Ars Technica

But what's most fascinating about "Mastering the Game," the Computer History Museum's computer chess exhibit, is that it frames the rise of the automated chess playing as a debate between two philosophies of computing. One emphasized the "brute force" approach, taking advantage of algorithmic power offered by ever more powerful processors available to programmers after the Second World War. The other has foregrounded the importance of teaching chess computers to select strategies and even to learn from experience—in other words, to play more like humans.

Storytelling: Digital Technology Allows Us To Tell Tales In Innovative New Ways

Aleks Krotoski, The Guardian

But the tools they use to tell tales are evolving, becoming more modular and tailored, more participatory and more engaging than just the printed word or the moving image. The new form of storytelling that's coming from a digitally enabled cabal moves beyond reinterpreting a text for radio or screen.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

On The Hunt For Wild Mussels

Felisa Rogers, Salon

The minus tide begins at 7 a.m. and we're on the road by 7:20, which is pretty good when you're traveling with Kamari and Abigail. Kamari has the slow truculence of a giant sloth, and Abigail flits around in circles like a flustered moth, but somehow the amount of time wasted usually comes out about even. This morning they are both unusually focused, probably because our expedition speaks to their guiding interests. In Kamari's case, the guiding interest is always free seafood. Abigail is a different story.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Everyone's A Critic

Tom Harrow, More Intelligent Life

I'm nostalgic for the days when criticism was an art. Most blogs about food and wine offer ceaseless narrative with little insight. A good critic, however, does not merely catalogue dishes but assesses them in a way that's illuminative.

The Mathematics Of Changing Your Mind

John Allen Paulos, New York Times

Statistics is an imperialist discipline that can be applied to almost any area of science or life, and this litany of applications is intended to be the unifying thread that sews the book into a coherent whole. It does so, but at the cost of giving it a list-like, formulaic feel. More successful are McGrayne’s vivifying sketches of the statisticians who devoted themselves to Bayesian polemics and counterpolemics.

Ragnarök: The Doom Of The Gods

AS Byatt, The Guardian

As it is, the world ends because neither the all-too-human gods, with their armies and quarrels, nor the fiery thinker know how to save it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Trick Of The Mind

Ronald Bailey, Reason

Looking for patterns in life and then infusing them with meaning, from alien intervention to federal conspiracy.

Review: 'My American Unhappiness' By Dean Bakopoulos

Margaret Wappler, Los Angeles Times

In other words, "My American Unhappiness" is a novel of First World problems, but it's so in touch with that state of privilege that it won't abide taking it all, or itself, too seriously.

Dana Spiotta Writes Firmly In The Moment

Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

"Seventies Los Angeles is really not ever very far from my mind, for some weird reason," says author Dana Spiotta, a former Angeleno who now lives in upstate New York. "I just love '70s Los Angeles."

The city plays a big part in her latest novel, "Stone Arabia," which is generating the same kind of excitement that Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning "A Visit From the Goon Squad" did last year. An exploration of creativity, fame (or non-fame), family, memory, the enthusiasms of youth and the dismays of middle age, "Stone Arabia" is also steeped in the vast distractions of our current moment.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Readings: It By Stephen King

Xan Brooks, The Guardian

Maybe it's finally time to revisit this old haunt, to reassure myself that It is still as sleek, scary and rambunctiously entertaining as I remember.

The Words We Live By

Dwight Garner, New York Times

Language here has teeth; it seeks you out; it wants a piece of you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Teacher Who Encouraged Me To Write

Dave Eggers, Salon

Teachers live on in a thousand hearts and minds, right? They're stuck with us. We follow them everywhere and always.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Lost Art Of Postcard Writing

Charles Simic, New York Review Of Books

Unlike letter writing, there never has been, and there never could be, an anthology of the best of postcard writing, because when people collect postcards, it’s usually for reasons other than their literary qualities. If there was such a book, I’m sure it would contain hundreds of anonymous masterpieces of this minimalist art, since unlike letters, cards require a verbal concision that can rise to high level of eloquence: brief and heart-breaking glimpses into someone’s existence, in addition to countless amusing and well-told anecdotes.

Book Review Clichés I’d Like To See

Darryl Campbell, The Bygone Bureau

If you’re going to lie and say you’ve thrown a book across the room, you may as well take such expressions to their logical extreme. A possible replacement: “I put down the book, scratched a curse in Hermes’s name against the author on a sheet of lead, and nailed it to the wall of the local temple, in the manner of a Roman defixio.” Better to be outrageous than predictable.

Deceptive Picture

Alex Ross, New Yorker

How Oscar Wilde painted over “Dorian Gray.”

On The Road Again

Jessa Crispin, The Smart Set

Is it possible to fail at travel?

Charmed: Reading "Humiliation"

Elizabeth Bachner, Bookslut

Humiliation is complicated -- it unites us and divides us. I’m thinking about what, if anything, I’ve learned about love and its necessities.

The Importance Of Being Earnest

Adam Kirsch, The New Republic

He was exceptional in many ways—in the scale of his ambition and achievement, the affection he inspired in readers, the generational significance of his life and death. But the root of Wallace’s distinction may have been his untimely style of Americanness.

Henry James And The American Idea

Susan Goodman, Humanities

Of the many contributors who supported and found support from the Atlantic Monthly, Henry James stands apart. James, who came into his own in the pages of the magazine, published stories, reviews, and novels through half a century—and with the Atlantic ocean between himself and the editors in Boston.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Poem Of The Week: Things I Say To Myself While Hanging Laundry By Ruth Stone

Carol Rumens, The Guardian

By Heng-Cheong Leong