Fri, Aug 31, 2012
Mark O'Conell, New Yorker
The reason I don’t finish books is not that I don’t like reading enough; it’s that I like reading too much. I can’t say no.
Maria Konnikova, The Atlantic
How to respond when a writers try to retract beloved poems, novels, and plays.
Thu, Aug 30, 2012
Ned Beauman, The Guardian
It's true that Wallace never intended to set himself up as some sort of generational sage. But it's also true that, as a devotee of self-help books and Alcoholics Anonymous, he was far more hospitable than most postmodern intellects to the idea that from someone else's advice or example you can learn specific and articulable things about how best to live your life. So it makes sense that his bereft readers would like some reassurance that Wallace's final act was not – as Edouard Levé wrote of his own imminent suicide – "the most important thing [he] ever said".
Daniel Mendelsohn, New Yorker
If Vendler was writing about the latest volume of poetry by, say, James Merrill, it was clear from her references that she’d read and thought about everything else Merrill had ever written; what you were getting in the review wasn’t just an opinion about the book under review, but a way of seeing that book against all of the poet’s other work. Ditto for the others. To read a review by Croce about this or that performance of a Balanchine ballet was to get a history of the work itself, a mini-tutorial in Balanchine technique, and a capsule history, for comparison’s sake, of other significant performances of the same work.
Ron Charles, Washington Post
And here she comes with a big, challenging new novel about the forces that poison our dreams of economic ascendancy.
Rachel Cooke, The Guardian
Zadie Smith's London novel is flawed, fragmentary and undeniably brilliant.
Wed, Aug 29, 2012
Jeremy Stahl, Slate
They think he sounds Norwegian. Also, they’d like you to stop asking.
Tue, Aug 28, 2012
Katherine Hollander, Slate
Barton Swaim, The Weekly Standard
Modern academics are not celebrated for the clarity and felicity of their writing. One of the most important lessons a postgraduate student can learn—and if he doesn’t learn it soon, he’s doomed—is that academics generally do not write books and articles for the purpose of expressing their ideas as clearly as possible for the benefit of people who don’t already understand and agree with them. Academics don’t write to be read; they write to be published.
Joel Shurkin, Slate
How journalists interpreted the most important quote in history.
Mon, Aug 27, 2012
Carol Rumens, The Guardian
Emma Donoghue, The Atlantic
Sun, Aug 26, 2012
Alexander Linklater, The Observer
In these final essays, Hitchens examines his own disbelief that writing – indistinguishable to him from living – is about to end. "Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Centre rise again? To read – if not indeed to write – the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger?" It's the wry trace of self-knowledge at the end of that rhetorical triad (the pleasure he might have taken in the fall of his enemies he must now grant to them) that breaks the spell.
Sat, Aug 25, 2012
Richard Brown, Salon
Those who have never felt those moments of hopelessness can’t understand what they are like. I’ve heard people tell me that they could never take their own life, and in their words, I hear naiveté. There is no way to predict how people will act once they make that descent into utter despair. I always think of Fran, the least likely suicide I’ve ever known.
Jenn Ashworth, The Guardian
The Lighthouse is a spare, slim novel that explores grief and loss, the patterns in the way we are hurt and hurt others, and the childlike helplessness we feel as we suffer rejection and abandonment. It explores the central question about leaving and being left: even when it feels inevitable, why does it hurt so much, and why is this particular kind of numbness so repellent to others? The brutal ending continues to shock after several re-readings.
Fri, Aug 24, 2012
Beth Jones, Telegraph
What home and family mean, both psychologically and physically, across the ages and across continents, is the central theme of Suzanne Joinson’s debut novel.
Thu, Aug 23, 2012
Aram Bakshian Jr., The National Interest
But if the once-great redwoods of American weekly journalism are all dead, dying or seriously ill, a smaller, older English oak survives and flourishes, possibly because it has never tried to be anything other than itself: a literate, informed (and occasionally smug) publication aimed at a literate, informed (and occasionally smug) readership.
Matthew Yglesias, Slate
A bumper crop is pushing lobster prices through the floor, so why aren't restaurants charging less?
Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
What Mr. Max’s book does do — and does powerfully — is provide an emotionally detailed portrait of the artist as a young man: conflicted, self-conscious and deeply thoughtful, like so many of his characters a seeker after an understanding of his own place in the world and a Melvillian “isolato,” yearning for connection yet stymied by the whirring of his own brain and the discontinuities of an America reeling from information overload.
Rob Mifsud, Slate
How Americans near the Great Lakes are radically changing the sound of English.
Wed, Aug 22, 2012
Manjit Kumar, Telegraph
Thinking in Numbers is a collection of 25 essays in which Tammet explores what he calls “the maths of life”. The book, he writes, “entertains pure possibilities”, immune to prior experience or expectation. “The fact that we have never read an endless book,” he writes, “or counted to infinity, or made contact with an extraterrestrial civilization should not prevent us from wondering: what if?”
Charles Simic, The New York Review Of Books
The world is going to hell, but we poets have something to look forward to. We never got rich in the past and won’t see a dime in the future.
Tue, Aug 21, 2012
Stephen Cave, Financial Times
The gaps in our knowledge make life uncomfortable for those who are struggling to defend evolutionary theory against the dogma of creationism.
Daisy Fried, New York Times
Poetry changes nothing, W. H. Auden suggested. For once in his life he was wrong. Poetry changes everything, starting with the good behavior of anyone who reads a lot of it, as the poet-critic Maureen N. McLane discovers in her beguiling new book, “My Poets.”
Mon, Aug 20, 2012
Alex Stone, New York Times
The last thing we want to do with our dwindling leisure time is squander it in stasis. We’ll never eliminate lines altogether, but a better understanding of the psychology of waiting can help make those inevitable delays that inject themselves into our daily lives a touch more bearable. And when all else fails, bring a book.
Andrew Motion, New York Times
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” and “Wide Sargasso Sea” provide their own rich rewards — but they also teach a lesson, and anyone interested in sequeling or prequeling would be well advised to learn it: Don’t tread too hard on the heels of the original.
Sun, Aug 19, 2012
Sam Leith, The Observer
Will Self's sprawling new novel is not his most accessible but it may well be his best.
Sat, Aug 18, 2012
Laura Kipnis, New York Times
“Sincerity” is a serious and engaging cultural history painted on an admirably large canvas, yet Magill is careful not to take himself too seriously, as evidenced in his snarky asides and chatty footnotes. He wraps up on an eminently reasonable note: society needs both sincerity and insincerity. You can’t go too far in either direction: neither the frothy superficiality of court society nor the deadly purposefulness of the French Revolution. Who can argue with that?
Richard Polt, New York Times
A purely scientific outlook can not give us a full understanding of what human being truly are.
Fri, Aug 17, 2012
Nate Berg, The Atlantic Cities
But surely there must be some physical limitations that would prevent a building from going up too high. We couldn't, for example, build a building that reached the moon because, in scientific terms, moon hit building and building go boom. But could there be a building with a penthouse in space, beyond earth's atmosphere? Or a 100-mile tall building? Or even a 1-mile building?
Maria Konnikova, Scientific America
Yet, over and over, with alarming frequency, researchers and scholars have felt the need to take clear-cut, scientific-seeming approaches to disciplines that have, until recent memory, been far from any notions of precise quantifiability. And the trend is an alarming one.
Mike Sula, Chicago Reader
The rural eastern gray squirrel has long been a valued food source, but what about its urban cousin?
Thu, Aug 16, 2012
Tom Bartlett, The Chronicle Of Higher Education
A new science of religion says God has gotten a bad rap.
Dwight Garner, New York Times
I’m a professional book critic, someone who is paid, week in and week out, to take some of those shots. It’s a job that mostly suits my temperament. I like people — artists and civilians — who aren’t rude or censorious but who aren’t mush-mouthed either. Since childhood I’ve been a loather of America’s feel-good, everyone-on-tiptoes culture. Give me some straight talk. Give me a little humor. Give me something real. Above all, give me an argument.
Rodney Welch, Washington Post
Mark Harril Saunders’s first novel, “Ministers of Fire,” is a brilliant, exciting and profound spy tale about, among other things, what it means to have faith.
Peter Miller, National Geographic Magazine
Rains that are almost biblical, heat waves that don’t end, tornadoes that strike in savage swarms—there’s been a change in the weather lately. What’s going on?
Wed, Aug 15, 2012
Dani Shapiro, New York Times
“How does life begin? What does it mean? What happens when you’re dead?” Tracing the history of ideas related to these questions, which lie at the heart of every religion and most world conflict, and animate centuries’ worth of scientific research, she casts a sympathetic gaze on humanity and its often cockamamie ideas.
Tue, Aug 14, 2012
Eric Rawson, Slate
Alexander Chee, The Morning News
One of the burdens of life among fellow civilians is that when you enter the fugue state required for making art, you can’t really be a normal person. The good news is that at a colony, you’re not expected to.
Mon, Aug 13, 2012
Robert J. Samuelson, The Wilson Quarterly
The future of affluence is not what it used to be. Americans have long believed—it’s part of our national character—that our economic well-being will constantly increase. We see ourselves as a striving, inventive, and pragmatic people destined for higher living standards. History is a continuum of progress, from Robert Fulton’s steamboat to Henry Ford’s assembly line to Bill Gates’ software. Every generation will live better than its predecessors.
Well, maybe not.
Ewan Morrison, The Guardian
We like to think we're free in the free market; that we're beyond the forces of advertising and social manipulation by market forces. But there is a new social trend - the rise of 'the single person' as model consumer - that presents us with a paradox. What we once thought of as radical - staying single - may now be reactionary.
Sun, Aug 12, 2012
James Vlahos, New York Times
Selling your life and selling a house have more in common than you’d think.
Sat, Aug 11, 2012
Matthew Yglesias, Slate
The new Cantina Bell menu shows the influence of Chipotle on the industry and the real future of American food.
Keith Ridgway, New Yorker
I don’t know how to write. Which is unfortunate, as I do it for a living. Mind you, I don’t know how to live either.
Jane Shilling, Telegraph
The Victorians were redoubtable picnickers – doubtless because the prospect of catastrophe in the form of sudden thunderstorms, enraged wasps or mad bulls offered the enticing possibility of unchaperoned flirtation.
Gillian Silverman, New York Times
We don’t want to give up our experience of reading as an “opening” into another mind, as a progressive exploration, registered in the turning of pages, of thoughts that originated elsewhere.
Leah Price, New York Times
In hindsight, we can see how rarely one technology supersedes another.
Fri, Aug 10, 2012
Joseph Stromberg, Smithsonian Magazine
For the first four decades of competition, the Olympics awarded official medals for painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music, alongside those for the athletic competitions. From 1912 to 1952, juries awarded a total of 151 medals to original works in the fine arts inspired by athletic endeavors. Now, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the first artistic competition, even Olympics fanatics are unaware that arts, along with athletics, were a part of the modern Games nearly from the start.
Thu, Aug 9, 2012
David Annand, Telegraph
Herman Koch's 'The Dinner' is a study of the repercussions of an act of violence.
Eric Asimov, New York Times
Are restaurants obliged to offer something for everybody? Or do they have the right to stay uncompromisingly true to a vision that may strike some as arcane?
Wed, Aug 8, 2012
Dean Burnett, The Guardian
Whether it's obscenity trials or questionable literature, is it fair, or even possible, to dictate what someone is sexually aroused by?
Tue, Aug 7, 2012
Yusef Komunyakaa, Slate
Adeena Sussman, Columbia Magazine
How did a second-generation Chinese woman from the Midwest end up cooking Japanese curries and South American ceviches in a Greenwich Village restaurant?
Maria Konnikova, The Atlantic
My copy of Le Petit Prince looks like it has been through a natural disaster. Or two. The dust jacket is torn at every edge. What's not torn is frayed. A piece of scotch tape holds together the é and r of Exupéry. The white background can't really be called white anymore. And inside, little pencil markings lurk throughout the text (I would memorize passages when I was young), alongside evidence of attempted erasure—but you know how those old-school Number Two pencils are; all the erasers seem to do is leave things a little grayer than before. The book, in other words, has been well loved.
That's not surprising. Most favorite children's books are. But there's one thing about mine that's different: With the exception of those pesky eraser marks, the damage wasn't sustained in childhood. Those are adult wounds.
Mon, Aug 6, 2012
Alison Mercer, The Guardian
Sex scenes have blossomed since the distant era of the Lady Chatterley obscenity trial, creating a whole new set of problems for the writers who attempt them: what, if anything, do you call the relevant body parts? How do you describe pleasure without sounding breathlessly trite? But birth is more often gracefully elided, occurring between the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, or even between one paragraph and the next. We might have overcome our inhibitions about following characters into the bedroom, but we want a birth over with in a neat-and-tidy jump cut.
Sun, Aug 5, 2012
Rachel Cooke, The Observer
Gladstone would rather nudge than shout, drop hints than scrawl bullet points on a whiteboard. Even better, she puts the 21st-century media cleverly into context, cramming her book both with history (she takes the story of the press right back to ancient Rome, when Julius Caesar decreed that the activities of the Senate be posted on a handwritten sheet) and the latest scientific research (her analysis of the "Is the internet destroying our capacity to concentrate?" debate is compelling).
Sat, Aug 4, 2012
Scott Korb, Slate
Antonin Scalia teams up with David Foster Wallace’s favorite lexicographer for a revealing look at how judges read laws.
David Eagleman, New York Times
We love a good story. Narrative is stitched intrinsically into the fabric of human psychology. But why? Is it all just fun and games, or does storytelling serve a biological function?
Patrick Cassels, New York Times
Simon Rich’s first novel, the prep-school sendup “Elliot Allagash,” drew comparisons to Evelyn Waugh and P. G. Wodehouse. His new novel, “What in God’s Name,” evokes another titan of English comedy: Douglas Adams. Like Adams in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Rich drags heaven down to Earth. His paradise is a mismanaged corporation, Heaven Inc. — full of departments like Prayer Intake and Geyser Regulation — whose chief executive, God, decides on a whim to retire, destroy Earth, kill all the humans (by fire or ice, he’s still deciding) and fulfill his lifelong dream of opening an Asian-American fusion restaurant.
John Fowles, The Guardian
Fri, Aug 3, 2012
Mike Loukides, O'reilly Radar
The excitement of science is tied to challenging assumptions about how things work.
Tim Martin, Telegraph
The Newlyweds, her third book, takes a typically light-footed approach to contemporary events, shading a plot skimmed from the top of the collective consciousness — the financial crisis, Islam, the information society, the shrinking globe — with a downbeat comic insight that feels almost 19th-century.
Dwight Garner, New York Times
A subterranean stream of death and personal tragedy trickles around the margins of Jim Holt’s new book, “Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story.”
Alison Agosti, The Atlantic
There are two things you need to know right off the bat: Yesterday I ate a huge burrito for lunch, and my family is not very close. We're not unclose, I guess. It's just that we have better things to do, and I'd be willing to guess we all register somewhere in the Asperger's spectrum.
So when I got a text message from my mom today telling me not only that my grandmother was on life support, but that they were, in fact, removing it, please understand that it was not that outlandish. My mom got married a few years ago and didn't tell me until like a week later.
Thu, Aug 2, 2012
Andrew O'Hehir, Salon
As the taste for raw fish spreads to India, China and Eastern Europe, the "sustainable sushi" movement emerges.
T. M. Luhrmann, The American Scholar
Hans used to be overwhelmed by the voices. He heard them for hours, yelling at him, cursing him, telling him he should be dragged off into the forest and tortured and left to die. The most difficult things to grasp about the voices people with psychotic illness hear are how loud and insistent they are, and how hard it is to function in a world where no one else can hear them. It’s not like wearing an iPod. It’s like being surrounded by a gang of bullies. You feel horrible, crazy, because the voices are real to no one else, yet also strangely special, and they wrap you like a cocoon. Hans found it impossible to concentrate on everyday things. He sat in his room and hid. But then the voices went away for good.
Wed, Aug 1, 2012
Roger Rosenblatt, New York Times
And yet, at the end of the day — our own or days in general — what else do we seek from our books? The verities need not be expressed gently, unambiguously or in rhyming couplets, but it is the verities that make us know ourselves. And you can swoon your critical head off over Joyce’s bourgeois “Ulysses” and Robert Graves’s girl-crazy “Ulysses,” and still know in your acritical heart that neither holds a candle to the original wild sailor or even to Tennyson’s old salt, who strove, sought and found, and did not yield.
Augusten Burroughs, New York Times
In order to pass along the knowledge of how to succeed, first you must know how to fail.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, New Yorker
Alex Clark, The Guardian
Past and present blur in James Kelman's curiously compelling novel.