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Saturday, December 31, 2011


Ruth Padel, The Guardian

Humans Have The Need To Read

Gail Rebuck, The Guardian

The discovery that our brains are physically changed by the experience of reading is something many of us will understand instinctively, as we think back to the way an extraordinary book had a transformative effect on the way we viewed the world. This transformation only takes place when we lose ourselves in a book, abandoning the emotional and mental chatter of the real world. That's why studies have found this kind of deep reading makes us more empathetic, or as Nicholas Carr puts it in his essay, The Dreams of Readers, "more alert to the inner lives of others".

Friday, December 30, 2011

Salad-bar Strategy: The Battle Of The Buffet

Jamie Condliffe, New Scientist

A mathematician, an engineer and a psychologist go up to a buffet… No, it's not the start of a bad joke.

While most of us would dive into the sandwiches without thinking twice, these diners see a groaning table as a welcome opportunity to advance their research.

Retail Therapy

The Economist

At a time when national companies were aggressively jockeying for position among Americans—a suddenly cash-happy and acquisitive bunch—Dichter promised a way to influence consumers’ brains. If shopping was an emotional minefield, then strategic marketing could be a gold mine for companies.

The Joy Of Quiet

Pico Iyer, New York Times

In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Married Love By Tessa Hadley – Review

Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

Tessa Hadley compresses a novel's-worth of detail into each short story.

Between The Lines

Dave Gardetta, Los Angeles Magazine

“L.A.,” says Shoup, “required 50 times more parking under Disney Hall than San Francisco would allow at their own hall.” Downtown already had an oversupply of garages and lots where music fans could leave their cars. “After a concert in San Francisco,” says Shoup, “the streets are full of people walking to their cars, eating in restaurants, stopping into bars and bookstores. In L.A.? The bar next door at Patina is a ghost town.” Receipts that should have gone to the philharmonic’s endowment instead are funding enough parking for nearly every ticket holder to park a car every night downtown.

Keira Knightley’s Vagina

Kartina Richardson, The New Inquiry

There is no joy in watching another person’s suffering, but the rearing of dark secret sexual power reminds of the mysteries of sexuality — the expanse that lies there untapped and, of course, its inherent relation to birth and death.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In Madrid’s Heart, Park Blooms Where A Freeway Once Blighted

Michael Kimmelman, New York Times

All around the world, highways are being torn down and waterfronts reclaimed; decades of thinking about cars and cities reversed; new public spaces created.

If Cave Men Told Jokes, Would Humans Laugh?

Katherine Bouton, New York Times

You may think you know someone who thinks like a Neanderthal. You may even think you know someone who is a Neanderthal, or at least part one. Chances are you’re right about both. Webster’s definition of Neanderthal is unflattering: “suggesting a cave man in appearance or behavior.” (The definition of cave man: “One who acts in a rough primitive manner, esp. toward women.”)

But Thomas Wynn (an anthropologist) and Frederick L. Coolidge (a psychologist), both at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, offer a very different picture in “How to Think Like a Neandertal,” their engaging reconstruction of Neanderthal life.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Navigating Love And Autism

Amy Harmon, New York Times

Yet as they reach adulthood, the overarching quest of many in this first generation to be identified with Asperger syndrome is the same as many of their nonautistic peers: to find someone to love who will love them back.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Muses Of Insert, Delete And Execute

Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times

“The story of writing in the digital age is every bit as messy as the ink-stained rags that would have littered Gutenberg’s print shop or the hot molten lead of the Linotype machine,” Mr. Kirschenbaum said, before asking a question he hopes he can answer: “Who were the early adopters, the first mainstream authors to trade in their typewriters for WordStar and WordPerfect?”

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Memoir: 'Listening' To Mom Through Her Books

Lynell George, Los Angeles Times

One writer finds her mother's 'voice' in her books — in the notes in the margins, the clippings that spill out, the dog-ears, even the pages on which a book opens.

Sealed In Wax

Hephzibah Anderson, Prospect

Marie Tussaud’s waxwork museum has given rise to a billion dollar global franchise. What’s the secret of its success?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Carols In King's

Anne Stevenson, The Guardian

Their Noonday Demons, And Ours

John Plotz, New York Times

By some miracle, you set aside a day to tackle that project you can’t seem to finish in the office. You close the door, boot up your laptop, open the right file and . . . five minutes later catch yourself thinking about dinner. By 10 a.m., you’re staring at the wall, even squinting at it between your fingertips. Is this day 50 hours long? Soon, you fall into a light, unsatisfying sleep and awake dizzy or with a pounding headache; all your limbs feel weighed down. At which point, most likely around noon, you commit a fatal error: leaving the room. I’ll just garden for a bit, you tell yourself, or do a little charity work. Hmmm, I wonder if my friend Gregory is around?

The Collector

Eliza Gray, The New Republic

Did a famed connoisseur of political memorabilia commit an audacious crime?

Friday, December 23, 2011

BlackBerry Winter

Rose Tremain, The Telegraph

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Accidental Universe: Science's Crisis Of Faith

Alan P. Lightman, Harper's

Dramatic developments in cosmological findings and thought have led some of the world’s premier physicists to propose that our universe is only one of an enormous number of universes with wildly varying properties, and that some of the most basic features of our particular universe are indeed mere accidents—a random throw of the cosmic dice. In which case, there is no hope of ever explaining our universe’s features in terms of fundamental causes and principles.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Trials And Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us

Jonah Lehrer, Wired

This assumption—that understanding a system’s constituent parts means we also understand the causes within the system—is not limited to the pharmaceutical industry or even to biology. It defines modern science. In general, we believe that the so-called problem of causation can be cured by more information, by our ceaseless accumulation of facts. Scientists refer to this process as reductionism. By breaking down a process, we can see how everything fits together; the complex mystery is distilled into a list of ingredients. And so the question of cholesterol—what is its relationship to heart disease?—becomes a predictable loop of proteins tweaking proteins, acronyms altering one another. Modern medicine is particularly reliant on this approach. Every year, nearly $100 billion is invested in biomedical research in the US, all of it aimed at teasing apart the invisible bits of the body. We assume that these new details will finally reveal the causes of illness, pinning our maladies on small molecules and errant snippets of DNA. Once we find the cause, of course, we can begin working on a cure.

The problem with this assumption, however, is that causes are a strange kind of knowledge. This was first pointed out by David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher. Hume realized that, although people talk about causes as if they are real facts—tangible things that can be discovered—they’re actually not at all factual. Instead, Hume said, every cause is just a slippery story, a catchy conjecture, a “lively conception produced by habit.” When an apple falls from a tree, the cause is obvious: gravity. Hume’s skeptical insight was that we don’t see gravity—we see only an object tugged toward the earth. We look at X and then at Y, and invent a story about what happened in between. We can measure facts, but a cause is not a fact—it’s a fiction that helps us make sense of facts.

Sex, Drugs And E Chords While Seeking Remission

Dwight Garner, New York Times

It would be possible to praise Joshua Cody’s memoir, “[sic],” without talking about how teeming it is with what Kingsley Amis liked to call E.S.D. — explicit sexual description. But why would you want to?

The Right Fit

Rosten Woo, Los Angeles Review Of Books

On how the spacesuit was made.

Monday, December 19, 2011

You Need Me

Gilbert Koh

Ain’t Miscuratin’

Cat Kron, DIS Magazine

Everyone’s a critic but who’s a curator?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Channeling Of The Novel

Craig Fehrman, New York Times

Recently, however, authors have found themselves pursued less by Hollywood than by HBO.

Poets & Ampersands

Kevin Nance, Poets & Writers

Even so, for nearly a century, the ampersand has been a key feature of certain strands of American poetry. To understand the ampersand’s history in the genre, one must return to the character’s origins—which are somewhat obscure, in part because they date back to antiquity.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Now That Books Mean Nothing

Nell Boeschenstein, The Morning News

When you’ve long been identified as a “literary type,” how can it be that receiving books as get-well gifts leaves you feeling empty, angry, and determined to chug YouTube straight?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller

Farhad Manjoo, Slate

Buying books on Amazon is better for authors, better for the economy, and better for you.

Consider The Oyster Farm

Tamar Haspel, Gilt Taste

Oysters don't need feeding and they don't run away. So why is it so (hilariously) hard to raise them?

Philosopher Sticks Up For God

Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times

Mr. Plantinga has led a movement of unapologetically Christian philosophers who, if they haven’t succeeded in persuading their still overwhelmingly unbelieving colleagues, have at least made theism philosophically respectable.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reality Effects

James Wood, New Yorker

John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essays.

Inappropriate Dreams

Brenda Shaughnessy, Slate

Monday, December 12, 2011

iPhones Vs. The Police

Caleb Crain, New Yorker

So why invent police? What are they for?

The Unread: You’ll Never Read Every Book; Perhaps That Should Be Cause For Hope

Mark Medley, National Post

Instead of looking at our shelves and collapsing under a sense of hopelessness, perhaps our unread books should be cause for celebration. After all, there will always be another book to read.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eels Über Alles: On Julio Cortázar

Ben Ehrenreich, The Nation

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Linda Chase, The Guardian

The Science Of Poetry, The Poetry Of Science

Ruth Padel, The Guardian

Both depend on metaphor, which is as crucial to scientific discovery as it is to lyric.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Now That Books Mean Nothing

Nell Boeschenstein, The Morning News

When you’ve long been identified as a “literary type,” how can it be that receiving books as get-well gifts leaves you feeling empty, angry, and determined to chug YouTube straight?

Trial Of The Will

Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair

Reviewing familiar principles and maxims in the face of mortal illness, Christopher Hitchens has found one of them increasingly ridiculous: “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Oh, really? Take the case of the philosopher to whom that line is usually attributed, Friedrich Nietzsche, who lost his mind to what was probably syphilis. Or America’s homegrown philosopher Sidney Hook, who survived a stroke and wished he hadn’t. Or, indeed, the author, viciously weakened by the very medicine that is keeping him alive.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How Do Writers Choose Pen Names?

Alison Potter, The Guardian

One of the fun things about being a novelist is inventing names for your characters. You can let your imagination run free, stripped of caution and compromise. But what happens when you have to choose a pen name? Suddenly, it's personal and heartfelt, challenging your identity and family history.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Japanese Foodies Add A Deadly Twist To 'Killer Curry’

Xanthe Clay, The Telegraph

So why would anyone contemplate eating fugu at all? My father, who ate it several times on business trips to Japan, explained that the thrill was the faint tingle on the lips, the brush with death. For adrenalin junkies, it is a kind of gastronomic bungee jump.

How Doctors Die

Ken Murray, Zócalo

It’s not like the rest of us, but it should be.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dream (After Lermontov)

Daniel Bosch, Slate

The Pump You Pump The Water From

Sven Birkerts, Los Angeles Review Of Books

On writer’s block.

Monday, December 5, 2011

On The Impracticality Of A Cheeseburger.

Waldo Jaquith

Further reflection revealed that it’s quite impractical—nearly impossible—to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in the fall. Mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year, and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive—requiring a trio of cows—and demand many acres of land. There’s just no sense in it.

From The Other Coast

Lytton Smith, Los Angeles Review Of Books

On British poetry and riot.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Life In Hotels

Guy Trebay, New York Times

If you travel a lot, it happens that you are expected to keep a list of dream destinations. Friends are understandably curious to learn where somebody fortunate enough to have visited a fair number of places would voluntarily go if given the chance. It surprises people, then, to learn that where I would most like to be is often a great hotel.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Strange Birth And Long Life Of Unix

Warren Toomey, IEEE Spectrum

They say that when one door closes on you, another opens. People generally offer this bit of wisdom just to lend some solace after a misfortune. But sometimes it's actually true. It certainly was for Ken Thompson and the late Dennis Ritchie, two of the greats of 20th-century information technology, when they created the Unix operating system, now considered one of the most inspiring and influential pieces of software ever written.

Read It Again, Sam

David Bowman, New York Times

There are motives to reread that are unique to writers. The biographer and novelist Edmund White sums up one of the more touching ones: “I reread in order to remind myself how good you have to be in order to be any good at all.”


Will Eaves, The Guardian

Friday, December 2, 2011

Last Notes

Jan Swafford, Slate

The wild, sublime music that composers write on their deathbeds.

Wired For Sound

John Schwartz, New York Times

The truth, it seems, is that the way we read, and our reasons for loving or disliking audiobooks, are deeply personal. They are expressions of self, so tied to who we are. If you belittle the way I read, you’re belittling me.

Grief And Solemnity

Colin Dickey, Los Angeles Review Of Books

On the American way of death.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Translating In The Dark

Tim Parks, The New York Review Of Books

As a writer myself who has also done a number of translations I might be expected to have a vested interest in the idea that what skill I have in English sets me apart from the “usual reliable” translator. However, and quite regardless of whether we want to call such work translation or imitation, it does seem that a serious issue is being dispatched with indecent haste here.

Honey Money: Who Says Selling Sex Is Degrading?

Abigail Ross-Jackson, Spiked

Apart from the silly sociological categories and sex ed lessons, Catherine Hakim’s book is a cocky retort to today’s patronising strand of feminism.

When Novels Change History

Stuart Kelly, The Guardian

Alternative history, or 'unchronie', seems to be going through something of a boom. How could it be otherwise?

By Heng-Cheong Leong