Tue, Jan 31, 2012
Looking back, what I remember about Spanbauer’s house is this: It was dark and quiet. He had an old computer sitting in the middle of a table in his dining room. Since this was a decade ago, I pointed to it and asked if he could “dial up” from there. His exact wording is gone now, but he said something to this effect: “Writing, for me, is a deeply private affair, and I can’t imagine making the place I write so public.”
Mon, Jan 30, 2012
E.T. might be phoning, but do we care enough to take the call?
As obituaries editor of the Telegraph, I’m often asked if I find my job depressing. “Doesn’t it get you down?” people say in hushed, sympathetic tones, as though we were huddled together in the plushly upholstered confines of a Mayfair undertakers. “I mean, dealing with that relentless tide of death…” At which point I trot out a line well worn by those in my particular area of journalism: “Obituaries are not about death,” I insist. “They are a celebration of life.”
“I’ll take you to see Mulberry Street,” said Guy McLain, the director of the Museum of Springfield History.
He meant the real Mulberry Street, the one that inspired the first of Dr. Seuss’ 44 children’s books.
The point is that these writers are actually being highly precise in their misuses.
Sun, Jan 29, 2012
This particular McDonalds has one of those interchangeable-letters signs outside, which says: Last McDonalds for 500 kilometers. (It refers to the city of Thunder Bay, which is some ways – around 500 kilometers – down the road.) Imagine – an expanse of North America where this is possible! Rather, imagine the mind-reeling progression of events that lead to the point where this question makes sense.
Words remain cool, thank God. Words organised in narrative form are, possibly, even cooler. In the age of the internet, in which the sacred spaces of the monastery are thoroughly overrun, such "distinction" remains the indispensable guarantee of a future.
Sat, Jan 28, 2012
Roy Fuller, The Guardian
It was under L’Engle’s influence that we willed ourselves to be like Meg Murry, the awkward girl who suffered through flyaway hair, braces and glasses but who was also and to a much greater degree concerned with the extent of her own intelligence, the whereabouts of her missing scientist father, the looming threat of conformity and, ultimately, the fate of the universe.
Fri, Jan 27, 2012
Vonnegut deflected doubt and self-doubt alike with astringent jokes that stung like poison. Born into prosperity, raised in austerity, redeemed by posterity, the last laugh is finally his.
Thu, Jan 26, 2012
Often seen as the most personal and mysterious of literary forms – and therefore least likely to be guided by an outside hand – poetry is, in fact, strikingly indebted to invisible creators. What, we might ask, are the effects and risks of this little-understood practice on the nation’s verse?
With the expansion of electronic communication, the rise of more advanced forms of authentication, and the ease of signature forgery, some experts believe it's only a matter of time before the handwritten signature starts to vanish.
In other words, the PIN is starting to look mightier than the pen.
Daddy used to laugh at Trisha and me whenever we suggested discussing assisted living and long-term care insurance with him. He insisted—with the unshakable confidence of a career civil engineer—that he didn’t need to make such plans, that he would simply drop dead one day and that would be the end of it. He refused to discuss it further.
It didn’t work out according to that plan, and there was no other plan.
Wed, Jan 25, 2012
The object, vaguely pink, sits on the shoulder of the freeway, slowly shimmering into view. Is it roadkill? A weird kind of sagebrush? No, wait, it’s … a puffy chunk of foam insulation! “The laser almost certainly got returns off of it,” says Chris Urmson, sitting behind the wheel of the Prius he is not driving. A note is made (FOD: foreign object or debris, lane 1) as we drive past, to help our computerized car understand the curious flotsam it has just seen.
Tue, Jan 24, 2012
Was this the best in the city? I wasn’t sure. I’d eaten cơm sườn nướng, dozens of times before, some of it quite excellent. But frankly, that didn’t matter. What mattered was that my experiment was a success, and I had a new way to eat in Saigon.
Mon, Jan 23, 2012
Stephanie Ye, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore
Tan Wei Ning, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore
Sun, Jan 22, 2012
Roberto Bolaño, New Yorker
Sat, Jan 21, 2012
When asked whether The Handmaid's Tale is about to "come true", I remind myself that there are two futures in the book, and that if the first one comes true, the second one may do so also.
More essential is his portrayal of contemporary China as a place of laughter and forgetting, in which acquisitiveness and creature comforts have insulated the population — at least, the socially mobile, urban population — from larger questions of liberty and identity.
Against the backdrop of Gordon's magnificent, misguided ambitions for Khartoum, Slovo explores the essential nature of goodness. All three of the novel's primary characters – the military hero, the selfless doctor, the Angel in the House – represent paradigms of Victorian virtue but, as Slovo shows, goodness is not an absolute. It is subjective and conditional, its value often quantifiable only after the event.
New Yorker Pamela Druckerman married an Englishman and lived with him in Paris, where she had a baby, closely followed by twins. In England or the US she might have found sympathy and chummed up with similarly sleep-deprived, frazzled new mums. But motherhood in Paris was different.
Olivia McCannon, The Guardian
Fri, Jan 20, 2012
An idea’s been floating around for some time that whales more than chewed people — that they swallowed them, and people might have survived in the stomach. Jonah’s story came first, and then there were rumors from the 19th century Yankee Whale Fishery — whaling ships leaving New York and New England ports for years on the open ocean. I’d like to believe in swallowings, but it’s tough. There is no air in the stomach, for one. There are acids. And if we are talking about sperm whales, which we are most of the time, there is the deadly passage through the 30-foot jaws lined with 8-inch teeth.
This book’s editor, Teresa Carpenter, a longtime Village Voice writer, has had the ingenious idea to comb through hundreds of diaries, written by the famous, the infamous and the unknown in New York, and to liberate these chronicles of their crunchiest and most humane bits.
Every year I send a number of my Italian students in the Masters in Translation program at IULM University, Milan to England on an exchange. Years ago they would take general courses in English and American literature; then it was post-colonial literature; now they study “world literature.” Looking at the reading lists, which range far and wide chronologically and geographically, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Ernest Hemingway, the Tale of Genji to Jorge Luis Borges, it is hard to imagine how a strong sense of context can be built up around any of the individual works. Or rather, the only relevant context is the human race, planet Earth, post 5000 BCE, circa. The stress will be on the essential and universal rather than the local and accidental; the subtext, as David Shields insists in a recent polemic on contemporary fiction in Little Star, that “Every man contains within himself the entire human condition.”
But does he? Or she?
Many people engage in dubious experimentation in their youth. Some get involved with intravenous drugs. Others sleep with problematic men. A few tattoo their faces. I, for my part, went on a spree when I was nineteen of cooking exclusively from a 1917-era cookbook.
Thu, Jan 19, 2012
In fact the story of Hostess, as much a fixture as Chevy when I was a kid, is the common tale of extreme debt, real obligations to real live workers and an inability to change with the times.
At this I said basta. America may be enjoying its own artisanal-pizza boom at this very moment, but having the right pie at the right place on its Italian home turf is like discovering pizza joy for the very first time. And so, craving to assess the work of visionary pizzaioli and to reexamine pizza's roots, my boyfriend, Barry, and I plotted a tour of the most exciting pizzerie of Naples and Rome, both new-wave and old-world. Which city wins the golden pizza paddle? Read on to find out.
The Chinese-takeout container, with its Japanese-influenced origami folds, is a uniquely American invention. On Nov. 13, 1894, in Chicago, the inventor Frederick Weeks Wilcox patented a version of what he called a “paper pail,” which was a single piece of paper, creased into segments and folded into a (more or less) leakproof container secured with a dainty wire handle on top. The supportive folds on the outside, fastened with that same wire, created a flat interior surface over which food could slide smoothly onto a plate.
Wed, Jan 18, 2012
“Eating with the hands evokes great emotion,” she said. “It kindles something very warm and gentle and caressing. Using a fork is unthinkable in traditional Indian eating. It is almost like a weapon.”
Fri, Jan 13, 2012
The internet has introduced us to a large range of new punctuation, in the form of emoticons and irony-signallers, and popularised previously rare points, such as the reverse solidus, or backslash. It has also, however, found other punctuation difficult to deal with. In particular, the apostrophe.
The Floral Apron
Marilyn Chin, The Poetry Foundation
Thu, Jan 12, 2012
The writer once rebelled against his nerd designation. Now he rebels against nerds themselves. Technology, the plaything of geeks, is Bradbury’s punching bag.
Wed, Jan 11, 2012
The crumbling, all but abandoned manor house as symbol of a social order in distress: the English may have invented that notion, but their former colonial subjects in India have also proved adept at employing it as a literary device. In the three novellas that make up “The Artist of Disappearance,” Anita Desai uses it twice, in differing circumstances and locations, but to the same convincing and plaintive effect.
So what comes of all of this food? Fresh vegetables and meats are often cooked up for in-store deli and salad counters before they spoil, says supermarket consultant David J. Livingston. A portion of it is inevitably thrown into the garbage and ends up in landfills. But a surprisingly amount of it finds a second home. Some is given away to food banks, some sold to salvage stores, and the rest taken by people who scrounge outside supermarkets.
Tue, Jan 10, 2012
Since 1992, as the technological miracles and wonders have propagated and the political economy has transformed, the world has become radically and profoundly new. (And then there’s the miraculous drop in violent crime in the United States, by half.) Here is what’s odd: during these same 20 years, the appearance of the world (computers, TVs, telephones, and music players aside) has changed hardly at all, less than it did during any 20-year period for at least a century. The past is a foreign country, but the recent past—the 00s, the 90s, even a lot of the 80s—looks almost identical to the present. This is the First Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History.
In 2012, Ronald McDonald is essentially a clown without a country.
Mon, Jan 9, 2012
"Your sentences are so long," said a friend who teaches English at a local college, and I could tell she didn't quite mean it as a compliment. The copy editor who painstakingly went through my most recent book often put yellow dashes on-screen around my multiplying clauses, to ask if I didn't want to break up my sentences or put less material in every one. Both responses couldn't have been kinder or more considered, but what my friend and my colleague may not have sensed was this: I'm using longer and longer sentences as a small protest against — and attempt to rescue any readers I might have from — the bombardment of the moment.
Why should tree metaphors appeal to architects? Why should they be useful, even good, for people? In the Seville project, tree imagery helps construct a distinctive public place that offers shelter and areas to congregate. As under spreading trees, the boundaries defining these spaces are permeable; easy to enter and exit, they offer nature’s spatial freedom yet help people to feel more firmly rooted where they are. And tree metaphors, deployed architecturally, simultaneously lament nature’s absence and symbolically insert its presence.
Sun, Jan 8, 2012
Tessa Hadley's short stories are set in a carefully delineated contemporary landscape – complete with Facebook, MP3 players and mobile phones, and in the background such current world events as the war in Afghanistan – yet they have a definite hint of the 19th century about them. Her prose style is delicate, restrained, sometimes erring on the side of formality; her narratives chart upheavals of the heart with earnest attention to psychological development. The world she writes about is ethnically homogenous but social distinctions are microscopically observed.
Ever since big ensembles became the basis of orchestral music, about 200 years ago, doubt has dogged the guy on the podium. Audiences wonder whether he (or, increasingly, she) has any effect; players are sure they could do better; and even conductors occasionally feel superfluous. “I’m in a bastard profession, a dishonest profession,” agonized Dimitri Mitropoulos, who led the New York Philharmonic in the fifties. “The others make all the music, and I get the salary and the credit.” Call it the Maestro Paradox: The person responsible for the totality of sound produces none.
Sat, Jan 7, 2012
I believe that in nearly every instance where science fiction has successfully ‘‘predicted’’ a turn of events, it’s more true to say that it has inspired that turn of events. Gene Roddenberry’s set-dressers didn’t ‘‘predict’’ that Motorola’s engineers would make flip-phones that bore a more-than-passing resemblance to Star Trek’s communicators. Rather, Motorola’s engineers were trekkers.
In her unassuming third collection, shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize, Esther Morgan has collected some often dark, minutely attentive lyrics to conjure with. "Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it," said Simone Weil, and grace in all its shades – whether elegance, charm, propriety, prayer or reprieve – does just that in these rural and domestic poems; "in the stillness, everything becomes itself: / the circle of white plates on the kitchen table".
Since the 19th century, the common conception of “the author” has gone something like this: A young man, in his garret, writes furiously, crumpling up papers and throwing them on the floor, losing track of time, heedless of the public, obsessed with his own imagination. He is aloof, elusive, a man whom you know only by his writing and the portrait in his book.
Fri, Jan 6, 2012
We live high up in the hills in the Scottish Borders, so when the lights flickered and then failed this week, we were well prepared. The wood burner was stuffed with logs, a pot of water was put to boil on top of it and I set off for a confab with the neighbours. As dusk fell, just after three, I lit the candles in the front room and settled back down to read.
Thu, Jan 5, 2012
Pepper, as I learned, is a fickle spice—it can be used well, but add too much, and your food tastes cheap and crass. Because pepper is applied to mask poor quality, too much of it smacks of a cover-up.
Given that trickiness, I’ve started to wonder why pepper gets such Cadillac placement on the American table, sitting beside the salt shaker at every coffee shop and kitchen counter in the country. Why, too, do so many recipes invite us to season “with salt and freshly ground black pepper” upon completion? Why isn’t it salt and cumin, or salt and coriander, with every dish in the Western canon? What’s so special about pepper anyway? Perhaps it’s time to rethink the spice.
Jean-Louis Palladin was a chef’s chef, a genius whose instinctive, wildly creative and sensual approach to food changed America’s culinary landscape while freeing his native French cuisine of stodgy, ironclad traditions. During its 17-year run, his eponymous restaurant at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC, won virtually every major culinary award—even chefs in France sent their children and protégés to Palladin for training and inspiration.
Ten years after his death, at a time when celebrity chefs come and go with the speed of a prime-time television show, some of the world’s culinary greats still weep and laugh when they talk about how Palladin changed their lives and work. Which raises the questions: What was the nature of his genius? Why is Jean-Louis Palladin so fixed in the minds and hearts of the elite of his profession?
Wed, Jan 4, 2012
The processes leading to that flash of insight can illuminate many of the human mind's curious characteristics. Crosswords can reflect the nature of intuition, hint at the way we retrieve words from our memory, and reveal a surprising connection between puzzle solving and our ability to recognise a human face.
His slim but lively meditation on manners is far more witty-anecdote-driven and personal than pedagogical, a mean game of tiddlywinks played on the minefield of manners rather than a series of law-giving tablets etched in stone.
Sometime after the 10th reading of a particular book in a day we find ourselves examining the deeper and unspoken questions brought up by the text: Why is George so curious? Are Frog and Toad really friends? And most perplexing of all, what does Brown Bear actually see?
The closing of Series Q feels like a quiet end to a vivid chapter in academic publishing. It's difficult to remember what gay studies meant a decade ago, much less 30 years back.
Tue, Jan 3, 2012
So what of all this? This yoking of our lives to clock time? Despite our increasing reliance on the mechanical measurement of time to structure our lives, many of us find some part of us resisting it. We find it confining, too rigid perhaps to suit our natural states, and long for that looser structure of the medieval village (while retaining our modern comforts and medical advances, of course).
Choose your best friends among those who bring something to the party. It's not so easy to make new ones. As you grow older, a relentless narrowing takes place, until if you grow old long enough you're reduced to your original state when you first boarded the vessel: Those who feed and care for you.
Mon, Jan 2, 2012
Is there any other living novelist who calls for a perpetual re-evaluation as much as Stephen King? Thirty-seven years after the publication of his first novel, Carrie, King still seems not just underrated but uncomprehended.
Sun, Jan 1, 2012
That's an attractive development in many ways. It makes it easy for writers to correct errors and update facts. Guidebooks will no longer send travelers to restaurants that have closed or to once charming inns that have turned into fleabags. The instructions in manuals will always be accurate. Reference books need never go out of date.
Even literary authors will be tempted to keep their works fresh. Historians and biographers will be able to revise their narratives to account for recent events or newly discovered documents. Polemicists will be able to bolster their arguments with new evidence. Novelists will be able to scrub away the little anachronisms that can make even a recently published story feel dated.
The Power Point
D. Nurkse, The Threepenny Review
D.C.'s cultural strength comes precisely because the city isn't in the business of manufacturing coolness.