Thu, Jan 31, 2013
John Gray, The Guardian
Seeing history in terms of dynasties and epochs, China's rulers attach no special significance to the revolutions of the past few centuries. It is an attitude that time may well vindicate. But even these devotees of the long view will have much to learn from Gore's book, a tour de force that no government can afford to ignore.
Jen Chaney, Slate
If our Tina—first female head writer for Saturday Night Live and the stinging satirist behind the movie Mean Girls—could be put in charge of her own show about a woman who’s also in charge of her own show, then surely this would lead to a TV landscape in which, to borrow the title of Fey’s book, a lot of ladies would soon be walking across our LED screens wearing bossypants. At least that was the hope.
Leslie Kaufman, New York Times
The digitization of books has facilitated the rerelease of a spate of nonfiction works years or decades after their initial publication, and in some cases the common interpretation of their subject matter has evolved or changed significantly.
Wed, Jan 30, 2013
Eric Wagner, Slate
Steve Palumbi has a few rules when it comes to sushi. If something is labeled tuna, then it probably is, but stay away from the salmon, because it probably isn’t. More likely, it’s steelhead trout—a close relative of salmon, both of which start life in freshwater, migrate to the sea, and return to their natal stream to breed and die. But still: a trout. Shrimp is shrimp and crab is crab, unless it’s pollock. And don’t trust the white fish. That could be anything: tilapia, something else, who knows.
Jennifer Ouellette, Scientific America
No longer was it just science seeping into the popular culture: now popular culture was inspiring scientists in turn. And then came film and television!
Tue, Jan 29, 2013
Sadie Stein, The Paris Review
The first time I cooked for him, it was the height of August. The meal was very simple: a salad; a pasta; some peaches I roasted and served with ice cream. Nothing special. And he seemed to like it okay. But the writing was on the wall: this was a man who ate to live, and not the other way round.
Abigail Zuger, New York Times
Health has nothing in common with the laws of physics and everything in common with lottery cards, mutual funds and tomorrow’s weather forecast.
Batya Ungar-Sargon, The Smart Set
As 21st century thinkers and readers, we are accustomed to thinking that our generation has invented all of its major concerns, habits, and styles. It’s difficult to imagine that our parents, let alone 18th century novelists, could have conceivably cared about the things that preoccupy our digitized minds. But some things haven’t changed in 300 years.
Mon, Jan 28, 2013
Hunter Oatman-Stanford, Collectors Weekly
There’s plenty to hate about driving—traffic jams, car accidents, speeding tickets—not to mention the endless headache of finding a spot to park. So what if you discovered an invention that could wean us from our vehicles, combating suburban sprawl and making city streets less dangerous, congested, and polluted? Well, that device has been around for nearly 80 years: It’s called the parking meter.
Nicole Krauss, New Yorker
Ann Friedman, New Republic
The word “lady” has become core vocabulary of feminism in the age of irony.
Mark O'Connell, Slate
Who was the worst novelist in history? A definitive answer is probably impossible, given that total artistic failure traditionally results in total obscurity. But it would be foolish to even consider the question without taking into account a very notable exception to that rule—a schoolmistress from Northern Ireland whose novels were so uniquely and thrillingly terrible that, in the early years of the last century, she became an ironic cause célèbre among the cultural luminaries of her time. Her story gives us some perspective on what we tend to think of as a uniquely contemporary phenomenon: the ironic appreciation of bad art—of monkey-faced frescos and multichapter R&B melodramas. This terrible novelist was a sort of early avatar of the spirit of the Epic Fail.
Tim Kreider, New York Times
Eventually I found myself on the wrong side of the fight.
Sun, Jan 27, 2013
Charles Simic, The New York Review Of Books
The dreams that I could remember were few and far between. Their poorly-lit, grainy quality and idiotic plots gave them the look of movies made by the Three Stooges; a few images from the day’s events interspersed with older memories, plus some scary stuff and a bit of porno thrown in now and then to enliven things.
Sat, Jan 26, 2013
Maggie Koerth-Baker, New York Times
That’s right: there is no universal definition of comfort, especially as it relates to temperature.
Karen E. Bender, New York Times
I became a writer when I was hit on the head with a rock.
Fri, Jan 25, 2013
Trine Tsouderos, Slate
Like ballet companies, operas, and symphonies, Next sells season tickets for its productions, and the dining room itself resembles a stage—a dark blank slate with a girder-like track running through its center into the kitchen.
Thu, Jan 24, 2013
Jen Graves, The Stranger
The Breathless Zoo describes Bobo's context: the cultural history of taxidermy—distinguished from other forms of preservation by posing dead animals "as if they were alive"—going back to the 1600s. The story is hilarious, eccentric, tragic, and conflicted.
Luke Mackay, The Guardian
In a year of unsurpassed mediocrity, cliché and downright lunacy, food television has just had one low point after another. Do commissioning editors really consider the viewing public so ignorant that they'll think a ubiquitous fashion bloke shouting "WOK ON!" is the next Keith Floyd?
Wed, Jan 23, 2013
Aaron Hamburger, New York Times
Over the course of my 17-year writing career, I began to give up on outlining — that is, before I write. I’ve come to prefer a more organic approach to creation, first laying out my raw material on the page, then searching for possible patterns that might emerge. But now, after I’ve completed a first draft, I compose an outline. I’ve found that this is the surest way to make sense of the work. I originally thought I was a genius for having invented reverse outlining, but I’ve since learned that many writers do this in some form or another.
Jeff Gordinier, New York Times
Although not universally acknowledged as members of New York’s creative class, the people who sell cheese arguably deserve a place of recognition alongside the poets and the playwrights, the folk singers and the indie screenwriters.
In case you haven’t noticed, some of the most amusing and captivating writing in the city is being produced in the service of cheese.
Jason Snell, Snell-o-Vision
In that moment, my understanding of my relationship with my older half-siblings changed completely. Before, with barely any inkling of the complexities of adult relationships, I just knew they had a different mother, and that it was awkward when they came to visit my dad and his new family.
What I hadn’t understood was that my mother was the Other Woman, and that my father met her nearly a year before my half-brother was born.
Katy Waldman, Slate
But “One Today” is not the only lyric giving the lie this week to our suspicion that inaugural poems are too tricky to pull off.
Freya Johnston, The Times Literary Supplement
As Kelly McGuire points out in Dying To Be English: Suicide narratives and national identity, 1721–1814, the word has a vexed history. Deploying a pronoun as a prefix in order to describe both an action and a person (a person who is at once victim and perpetrator), it is something of a botched job.
Penn Jillette, New York Times
Religion cannot and should not be replaced by atheism. Religion needs to go away and not be replaced by anything. Atheism is not a religion. It’s the absence of religion, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Dwight Garner, New York Times
In Anthony Minghella’s 1990 film, “Truly Madly Deeply,” one of the great weepies in cinematic history, a bereaved woman (Juliet Stevenson) is visited by the ghost of her dead, cello-playing boyfriend (Alan Rickman). It doesn’t go well. He brings friends over. She asks: “Are you telling me there are dead people in my living room watching videos?”
The Scottish novelist Ali Smith’s slim new book, “Artful,” is equal parts ghost story and academic treatise: it reads like a clumsy but seductive blend of “Truly Madly Deeply” and Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lectures on Literature.”
Tue, Jan 22, 2013
Ariana Kelly, Los Angeles Review Of Books
In the summer of 1999, the Holy Spirit directed Rick Karr, a 51-year-old Texan, to answer the calls made to a phone booth located in the middle of the Mojave Desert, 15 miles from a highway. He spent 32 days camping beside the phone booth on the desert playa in scorching heat. During that time he answered over 500 calls, many of which came from someone named Sergeant Zeno, who said he was phoning from the Pentagon.
What was there was only a ghost of what had been there, a phone booth installed in the 1960s for volcanic cinder miners and the few other domestic residents of the area. By the time Rick Karr arrived, the glass casing had been shattered, and what remained of the interior was lined with candles, license plates, rosaries, and other votives.
Mon, Jan 21, 2013
Allison Lemnos, The New Republic
James Surowiecki, New Yorker
So how do you counter this problem?
Sally Davies, BBC
How did the pun acquire such a dubious reputation?
Sun, Jan 20, 2013
Trevor Butterworth, The Awl
If you think of all the information encoded in the universe from your genome to the furthest star, from the information that's already there, codified or un-codified, to the information pregnant in every interaction, "big" has become the measure of data. And our capacity to produce and collect Big Data in the digital age is very big indeed. Every day, we produce 2.5 exabytes of information, the analysis of which will, supposedly, make us healthier, wiser, and above all, wealthier—although it's all a bit fuzzy as to what, exactly, we're supposed to do with 2.5 exabytes of data—or how we're supposed to do whatever it is that we're supposed to do with it, given that Big Data requires a lot more than a shiny MacBook Pro to run any kind of analysis. "Start small," is the paradoxical advice from Bill Franks, author of Taming the Big Data Tidal Wave.
Sat, Jan 19, 2013
Dana Stevens, Slate
In the Realm of the Senses isn’t about sex, it is sex: Sex is the medium it moves in and the language it speaks.
H. Allen Orr, The New York Review Of Books
The history of science is partly the history of an idea that is by now so familiar that it no longer astounds: the universe, including our own existence, can be explained by the interactions of little bits of matter. We scientists are in the business of discovering the laws that characterize this matter. We do so, to some extent at least, by a kind of reduction. The stuff of biology, for instance, can be reduced to chemistry and the stuff of chemistry can be reduced to physics.
Thomas Nagel has never been at ease with this view.
James Gleick, The New York Review Of Books
This is an ocean of ephemera. A library of Babel.
Ron Carlson, New York Times
Thad, the river swimmer, is 17 in every way; Clive, the art professor returning to the farm in “The Land of Unlikeness,” is 60. These two trenchant and visionary long stories are about the real human discomfort — and triumph — of being awake.
Fri, Jan 18, 2013
Katy Waldman, Slate
A collection of stories by a university press? The horror! I have no problem with longer lists—they tend to mean more feted books, which is great—but Entrekin’s talk of broadening and mainstreaming raises a major question about what these awards are primarily for. Are they intended to honor the very best books that get published in a given year? Or is their primary goal to increase book sales?
Jackson Landers, Slate
I had realized that this was as perfect an opportunity as I would ever have to find out what bear meat tastes like. Disassembling a 150-pound dead bear wasn’t what I’d had planned for the evening (I’d intended to catch up on The Walking Dead), but I’m a carpe diem kind of guy. An hour later I found myself the proud, legal owner of one dead black bear.
Laura June, The Verge
If you’ve never been inside a “real” arcade, it could be hard to distinguish one from say, oh, a Dave & Buster’s. Authenticity is a hard nut to crack, but there are a few hallmarks of the video game arcade of days gone by: first, they have video games. Lots and lots of video games, and (usually) pinball machines. They’re dark (so that you can see the screens better), and they don’t sell food or booze.
Thu, Jan 17, 2013
The Economist
In the end, the main risk to advanced economies may not be that the pace of innovation is too slow, but that institutions have become too rigid to accommodate truly revolutionary changes—which could be a lot more likely than flying cars.
Elaine Sciolino, New York Times
When it comes to erotica and pornography, whether hard, soft, sadomasochistic or merely steamy, the French believe they have done it first, done it better and done it all. So the French version of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy should have flopped.
Wed, Jan 16, 2013
Justin E.H. Smith, The Chronicle Of Higher Education
It was disgusting. I did it again.
Carmen Faye Mathes, McSweeney's
Henri Cole, Slate
Jörg Friedrich, The European
When today’s present turns into the distant past, today’s everyday life won’t fall into oblivion anymore. For the self-perception of society, the lack of historical memory loss is even more consequential than the current loss of privacy.
Tue, Jan 15, 2013
Sarah Giragosian, Baltimore Review
Tessa Hadley, New Yorker
Mon, Jan 14, 2013
Steve Almond, New York Times
Good morning. My name is Steve Almond. I’ll be your narrator for today. I felt duty bound to introduce myself because the following essay is actually about narrators, and it begins with what we in the narrating business call a “triggering anecdote.”
Hélène Mialet, Wired
But in another version of Hawking’s story, we notice that he is more “incorporated” than any other scientist, let alone human being. He is delegated across numerous other bodies: technicians, students, assistants, and of course, machines. Hawking’s “genius,” far from being the product of his mind alone, is in fact profoundly located, material, and collective in nature.
Sun, Jan 13, 2013
Kirk McElhearn, Kirkville
For a dozen years, I lived on the outskirts of a town in the French Alps, on a road leading up to one of the toughest climbs in the race: the Col d’Izoard. The route of the Tour de France changes each year, but the race comes back often to the most spectacular climbs, such as that mountain. In 12 years, the Tour de France came past my house three times; other cycling races, heading to or from the same climb, whizzed by a few times as well.
Sat, Jan 12, 2013
George Szirtes, The Guardian
Fri, Jan 11, 2013
Cara Feinberg, Harvard Magazine
But even more astounding, most of the other patients reported real relief, and those who received acupuncture felt even better than those on the anti-pain pill. These were exceptional findings: no one had ever proven that acupuncture worked better than painkillers. But Kaptchuk’s study didn’t prove it, either. The pills his team had given patients were actually made of cornstarch; the “acupuncture” needles were retractable shams that never pierced the skin. The study wasn’t aimed at comparing two treatments. It was designed to compare two fakes.
Thu, Jan 10, 2013
Julian Baggini, Aeon
You’ve just had dinner at one of the best restaurants in the country, the kind of place where the chef talks about his passion for perfection, obsession with detail and demand for the best, freshest ingredients. You know that there is probably one cook in the kitchen for every couple in the dining room. So you might feel surprised — even cheated — to discover that the coffee you are now enjoying was made by the waiter popping a capsule into a machine and pressing a button.
Josh Levin, Slate
For Jack Guarnieri, pinball’s decline brought on an existential crisis. Guarnieri has held most every job that has to do with flippers: repairman, game operator, reseller, inventor. With his livelihood and life’s passion in peril, he figured there was only one thing to do: Create history’s greatest pinball machine, one that would introduce a new generation to the pleasures of a well-struck ramp shot. Three-dimensional aliens couldn’t save pinball. Can a small-business man in New Jersey?
Jason Wilson, The Smart Set
Few consider the faith of the food writer. And this is probably a good thing. I won’t say that to worship food and drink is to pray to a false god. But even with all the high-minded talk of farm-to-table or Slow Food movements, of molecular gastronomy or urban gardening, of locavorism or fruitarianism or whatever-the-latest-ism, in my experience it rarely leads one down the shining path of enlightenment.
Or at least that’s what I believed until this past spring, when I spent one of the most glorious weeks of my life eating my way through Copenhagen, capped off by a 25-course, five-hour lunch at Noma, considered by many to be the best — and most thought-provoking — restaurant in the world.
Suzane Berne, New York Times
A novel about a homely, forsaken child is bound to involve hardship and despair, and Shannon certainly endures both, but Ms. Celona adroitly confounds many of our expectations.
Wed, Jan 9, 2013
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones
There must be more going on here than just a change in policing tactics in one city. But what?
Tue, Jan 8, 2013
Charles Emmerson, Foreign Policy
In many ways, the world of 1913, the last year before the Great War, seems not so much the world of 100 years ago as the world of today, curiously refracted through time. It is impossible to look at it without an uncanny feeling of recognition, telescoping a century into the blink of an eye. But can peering back into the world of our great-grandparents really help us understand the world we live in today?
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Tarantino attacks at all levels.
Rivka Galchen, New Yorker
I was at home, not making spaghetti. I was trying to eat a little less often, it’s true. A yogurt in the morning, a yogurt at lunchtime, ginger candies in between, and a normal dinner. I don’t think of myself as someone with a “weight issue,” but I had somehow put on a number of pounds just four months into my unemployment, and when I realized that this had happened—I never weigh myself; my brother just said to me, on a visit, “I don’t recognize your legs”—I wasn’t happy about it. Although maybe I was happy about it. Because at least I had something that I knew it wouldn’t be a mistake to really dedicate myself to. I could be like those people who by trying to quit smoking or drinking manage to fit an accomplishment, or at least an attempt at an accomplishment, into every day. Just by aiming to not do something. This particular morning, there was no yogurt left for my breakfast. I could go get some? I could treat myself to maple. Although the maple yogurt was always full cream. But maybe full cream was fine, because it was just a tiny—
Nathaniel Popkin, The Smart Set
The history of color is notoriously difficult to tell because it necessarily involves questions of human perception, ambiguities of light and matter, and technical descriptions of scientific and alchemical processes.
Sun, Jan 6, 2013
Hugo Lindgren, New York Times
So what am I missing? What is that elusive thing that turns some people’s daydreams into their next novel for F.S.G.?
Seth Stevenson, Slate
When did we all become amateur typography experts? Perhaps we should credit Steve Jobs, a calligraphy buff who built a bunch of cool typeface options into early Macs. By the time I got to college, any sophomore worth her salt had firm feelings about whether Palatino or Garamond looked better on her Classic II. And any professor worth her salt knew that a term paper printed in 12-point Courier was a desperate attempt to stretch eight thin pages to the required 10.
Sat, Jan 5, 2013
Elaine Blair, The New York Review Of Books
All this gives most sitcoms a certain sense of indeterminacy—we’re bound for no obvious destination—that also applies to the characters’ relationships. As long as each episode has its own tidy, reassuring little ending, audiences tolerate a great deal of open-endedness when it comes to the hero or heroine’s romantic life. And what those tidy little endings are reassuring us about, much of the time, is the fact that the characters are not alone even when they remain romantically unattached and hapless; they have friends, family, colleagues—stability, in other words, even without being married. Sitcoms offer a salve for the bruises of urban single life.
Christiopher R. Beha, New York Times
Mary Anne, a lifelong reader, and Will, then the editor in chief of a major publishing house, began trading books to discuss when Will accompanied his mother to her chemotherapy sessions. As its title suggests, these discussions are the ostensible subject of Will Schwalbe’s memoir, “The End of Your Life Book Club.” But just as the books themselves served as excuses for Mary Anne and Will to talk of difficult things — particularly mortality — the book club serves here as an excuse for a loving celebration of a mother by a son.
Andrea Wulf, The Guardian
In June 1769, 21-year-old Thomas Day and his friend John Bicknell went to the Orphan Hospital in Shrewsbury to select a prepubescent girl for Day. This was not a gesture of charity to remove the girl from her destitute situation but an experiment in which Day was trying to create his "perfect wife".
Thu, Jan 3, 2013
Maria Konnikova, Slate
I do not think like Sherlock Holmes. Not in the least. That was the rather disheartening conclusion I reached while researching a book on the detective’s mental prowess. I’d hoped to discover that I had the secret to Sherlockian thought. What I found instead was that it would be hard work indeed to even begin to approximate the essence of the detective’s approach to the world: his ever-mindful mindset and his relentless mental energy. Holmes was a man eternally on, who relished that on-ness and floundered in its absence. It would be exhausting to think like Sherlock. And would it really be worth it in the end?
Wed, Jan 2, 2013
Roxana Saberi, New York Times
But I handled Tehran, with its traffic, morality police and Evin Prison. I can handle New York City, too.
Daniel Levitin, The Atlantic
"Please forgive me for asking this, but I do this with everybody. Could you tell me your name again and how it is that I know you?"
Tue, Jan 1, 2013
Natalie Angier, New York Times
Instead, there are infinities, multiplicities of the limit-free that come in a vast variety of shapes, sizes, purposes and charms. Some are tailored for mathematics, some for cosmology, others for theology; some are of such recent vintage their fontanels still feel soft. There are flat infinities, hunchback infinities, bubbling infinities, hyperboloid infinities. There are infinitely large sets of one kind of number, and even bigger, infinitely large sets of another kind of number.
Jeff Ryan, Slate
I decided that I would read more. Not a book a month, or even a book a week. One entire book every day. Three hundred sixty-six books by year’s end. “Challenge accepted!” the Barney Stinson of my soul boasted. No sweat.