Sun, Mar 31, 2013
Steven Poole, New Statesman
During a classical music concert, a cough is rarely just a cough. According to a recent paper by the economist Andreas Wagener, people are twice as likely to cough during a concert as at other times. Furthermore, they are more likely to cough during modern, atonal music than during better-known repertoire and they cough more during slow or quiet passages than during fast and loud ones.
The classical cough, then, is no accident but rather a form of communication disguised as involuntary physiological tic.
Ben Lytal, The Paris Review
People pretend the idea of fact-checking fiction is hilarious and a paradox and maybe even scandalously bureaucratic and wrongheaded. But when fiction gets facts wrong, people care. If a novel claims to be about a real place, people say, It should at least get the street names right. If somebody writes a story about Manhattan, and he mixes up the streets, he’s expected to fix it.
When I first realized this, it worried me. If I ever wrote a story, I thought, it would be murder to go back and change the street names. Not because of their precious sonic qualities, the effect removing them would have on the rhythm of the sentences. But because likely I’d have done more than transpose street names. I’d have bent Broadway to intersect with Bowery so that my hero could stumble out of a Bowery bar and look up and be able to see Grace Church, for example. Moving the streets, shuffling them back or prying them apart, would ruin the effect.
John Lanchester, London Review Of Books
For reasons I’ve never seen explained or even thoroughly engaged with, there seems to be an unbridgeable crevasse between the SF/fantasy audience and the wider literate public.
Sat, Mar 30, 2013
Fiona Maazel, New York Times
That old dictum, write what you know? I’ve always thought that was terrible advice. Most of us don’t know much. And what we do know can feel shopworn in the retelling. Shopworn or just divested of emotional content. Sometimes, the things we’re closest to — our lives, for instance — are the very things we least want to examine with rigor.
So I prefer: Write what you can learn about. Alternately: Write what interests you. Because it interests you for a reason, and that reason probably has to do with the rough stuff of your inner life. Put differently, writing about things you don’t know seems a useful, albeit sneaky, gateway to material you cannot access otherwise.
Fri, Mar 29, 2013
Seth Mnookin, Slate
Time’s coverline is wrong, grandiose, and cruel.
Jory John, McSweeney's
Thu, Mar 28, 2013
Rick Gekoski, The Guardian
I'm enjoying writing this column, but the grander endeavour of a whole volume does, alas, require more sweat and worry.
Peter Stanford, Telegraph
What he has grasped is that, however much the rational and sane majority airily dismiss tales of fire-breathing dragons, strange creatures from outer space or beasts that inhabit the depths, there is still buried in most of us that reflex that can't help, on a dark night, walking along a lonely country lane, wondering, “What if there’s something out there?” And when we do, the collective cultural baggage of these tales of ghosts, ghouls and griffins is usually sufficient to make us put our hands over our eyes to block out what may just be lurking out there. But, then, we still peep.
Wed, Mar 27, 2013
Dahlia Lithwick, Slate
A mother, a daughter, and a garden.
Tue, Mar 26, 2013
Mark Kingwell, The Chronicle Of Higher Education
Robot-butlers or robot-maids—also robot-spouses and robot-lovers—have animated the pages of science fiction for more than a century. These visions extend the dream-logic of all technology, namely that it should make our lives easier and more fun. At the same time, the consequences of creating a robot working class have always had a dark side.
Tony Perrottet, Smithsonian Magazine
First in rustic tents and later in elaborate resorts, city dwellers took to the Adirondacks to explore the joys of the wilderness.
Mon, Mar 25, 2013
Joe Hagan, New York Magazine
And for this he wakes up at 4 a.m.?
Sun, Mar 24, 2013
Valerie Weaver-Zercher, Los Angeles Review Of Books
I do not know what books these boxes hold, but as I step inside the door, a shelf to my left offers a clue: Amish romance novels, all with covers depicting lovely Amish-clad Mädchen hovering over pastoral landscapes, line the shelves. A handwritten note on neon green paper taped to one shelf says, “New! Lydia’s Charm.” Published by Barbour Books, the novel tells the gentle story of a widow who moves to Charm, Ohio, and is pursued by two Amish suitors, one a widower with three unruly boys and the other a shy bachelor. Lydia’s Charm is joined by Amish novels published by Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, Bethany House, Revell, Harvest House, and other evangelical houses.
Sarah Lyall, New York Times
Imagine having the gift (or the curse) of continually dying and being reborn, so that you relive segments of your life again and again, differently each time, going down various paths and smoothing out rough areas until you get it right and can move on. Imagine, too, that you are not conscious that this is happening, but experience it as intermittent déjà vu, a sometimes-inchoate dread, an inexplicable compulsion at sudden moments to do one thing rather than another.
This is not an original artistic conceit, obviously. A century ago, the book “Strange Life of Ivan Osokin” depicted a young man who is given a chance to relive his life and correct his mistakes in 1902 Moscow. And in “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray is forced to repeat the same wretched day, and listen to the same wretched Sonny and Cher song, in Punxsutawney, Pa., until he becomes a better person and wins over Andie MacDowell. But in “Life After Life,” her eighth and latest novel, the British writer Kate Atkinson has taken these notions — what if practice really did make perfect, and what if we really could play out multiple alternate futures — and put them through the Magimix, pumped them full of helium, added some degrees of difficulty and produced an audacious, ambitious book that challenges notions of time, fate and free will, not to mention narrative plausibility.
Ronald Dworkin, The New York Review Of Books
The familiar stark divide between people of religion and without religion is too crude.
Sat, Mar 23, 2013
John Jeremiah Sullivan, Lapham's Quarterly
These are stimulating times for anyone interested in questions of animal consciousness. On what seems like a monthly basis, scientific teams announce the results of new experiments, adding to a preponderance of evidence that we’ve been underestimating animal minds, even those of us who have rated them fairly highly.
Nicholas Shaxson, Vanity Fair
Who really lives at One Hyde Park, called the world’s most expensive residential building? Its mostly absentee owners, hiding behind offshore corporations based in tax havens, provide a portrait of the new global super-wealthy.
Marisa Silver, New York Times
A generous humanity and a fond wit animate Jim Gavin’s wonderful first collection, “Middle Men.” Gavin’s stories revolve around a familiar theme — men searching for identity and meaning — but they’re distinguished by his more specific concerns: how work shapes lives, and the differences in the way the young and the old confront the humbling problem of ambition and success.
Hanah Wallace, Washington Post
Moss is devoted to showing us how ruthless these companies are at exploiting our built-in cravings for salt, sugar and fat, aggressively marketing junk food not just to children but to the poor.
Fri, Mar 22, 2013
Calvin Trillin, New Yorker
Writing the story at seventy lines didn’t mean the compressing was over. At the end of the week (or “at week’s end,” as we would have put it, in order to save three words), the makeup people would invariably inform us that the story had to be shortened to fit into the section.
David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
The author's novel takes a Zen approach, weaving together a Japanese girl's diary and the story of a novelist who finds it.
Thu, Mar 21, 2013
Justine Jordan, The Guardian
It's not often, reading a first novel, that you can settle back with a happy sigh, confident that you're in safe hands. The narrator of Kevin Maher's debut, 13-year-old Jim Finnegan, hits his comic stride straight away, and doesn't let up for a minute in a bittersweet picaresque that takes in first love, first loss, abusive priests, astral healing, multiple worlds theory, cancer, family dynamics and Bronski Beat.
Wed, Mar 20, 2013
Helen Hazen, The American Scholar
When a novice writer received a letter from Jacques Barzun, asking her to write a book, how could she have know what she was in for?
Sean O'Brien, The Guardian
Tue, Mar 19, 2013
Alex Clark, The Guardian
Flynn's coup de grace is to provide us with not one but two unreliable narrators.
Richard Nash, VQR
Current accounts of publishing have the industry about as imperiled as the book, and the presumption is that if we lose publishing, we lose good books. Yet what we have right now is a system that produces great literature in spite of itself.
Mon, Mar 18, 2013
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, New Yorker
Sun, Mar 17, 2013
BOer Deng, Los Angeles Review Of Books
Science is often indicted for the coldness of its absolutism. Its inflexible distinction between right and wrong leaves no room for the more human shades of interpretive grey. Yet we accept that, in science, being right and getting there first constitute the metrics of worthiness.
Daniel Barenboim, The New York Review Of Books
Hence it is metaphysical; but the means of expression is purely and exclusively physical: sound. I believe it is precisely this permanent coexistence of metaphysical message through physical means that is the strength of music. It is also the reason why when we try to describe music with words, all we can do is articulate our reactions to it, and not grasp music itself.
Sat, Mar 16, 2013
Abigail Meisel, New York Times
Bemoaning the decline of the written hand smacks of fogyism, but the British novelist Philip Hensher, who is also a columnist for The Independent and an arts critic for The Spectator, enlivens his musings about penmanship’s demise with sharp insights and wry wit.
Nancy Kline, New York Times
Generation after generation, we are linked via the jumble of atoms that each of us is composed of, atoms that, with “a touch of an unsought grace,” remember where they’ve been and, after we die, find their way into someone else’s memory.
Liz Jensen, The Guardian
A novel about everything from the Japanese tsunami and Silicon Valley to Zen and the meaning of life sucks the reader in like a great Pacific gyre.
Fri, Mar 15, 2013
Jennifer Howard, The Chronicle Of Higher Education
With the spread of digital technologies, dictionaries have become a two-way mirror, a record not just of words' meanings but of what we want to know. Digital dictionaries read us.
Thu, Mar 14, 2013
Laura Miller, Salon
From Paula Fox to Richard Yates, literary rediscoveries are in vogue. The latest model is wry satirist Barbara Pym.
Wed, Mar 13, 2013
Matthew J.X. Malady, Slate
It’s time to kill the email signoff.
Tue, Mar 12, 2013
Gail Mazur, Slate
Matthew Power, GQ
By day they work as computer programmers and stock boys and academics. But at night they are known as urban explorers. The Brooklyn Bridge, London's Shard, Notre Dame—each structure is an expedition waiting to happen. Each sewer, each scaffold, each off-limits site is a puzzle to solve. No wonder the cops are after them.
Jane Kramer, New Yorker
A history of culinary revolution.
Katherine Bouton, New York Times
If deduction and synthesis are a challenge, learning to observe may be even harder.
Mon, Mar 11, 2013
Andrew Kaufman, The Guardian
English teachers, dictionary publishers and that uptight guy two cubicles over who always complains about the microwave being dirty, they will all tell you that you can't. They will bring out the dictionary and show you that the word isn't there – therefore it doesn't exist. Don't fall for this.
Sun, Mar 10, 2013
Lisa Jardine, BBC
Maths genius Mary Cartwright was a modest soul and one of the early founders of chaos theory. It's time we recognised her massive contribution.
Dave Bry, New York Times
Dear Residents of 208 East 7th Street: Sorry for leaving that couch outside our door on the fourth-floor stairwell for two weeks.
Denise Winterman, BBC
Britain hasn't always been in love with its heritage. It took some shocking acts of destruction, and some very near misses, to help shape the way it is now treasured and protected.
Colin McGinn, The New York Review Of Books
And since we can duplicate these mechanisms in a machine, there is nothing to prevent us from creating an artificial mind—we just need to install the right pattern recognizers (which Kurzweil can manufacture for a price). The “secret of thought” is therefore mechanical pattern recognition, with hierarchical structure and suitable weightings for constituent features. All is revealed!
Sat, Mar 9, 2013
Cass R. Sunstein, The New York Review Of Books
If the goal is to ensure that people’s lives go well, Mill contends that the best solution is for public officials to allow people to find their own path. Here, then, is an enduring argument, instrumental in character, on behalf of free markets and free choice in countless situations, including those in which human beings choose to run risks that may not turn out so well.
David McConnell, The Paris Review
Writers often hate talking about the book they’ve just written. On the one hand, books are an exercise in preservation, an old-fashioned sort of external hard drive. But for the author personally, a book can also be an elaborate act of forgetting.
Claire Messud, New York Times
North American readers care inordinately that fictional characters be likable. This preference is strange, given that few real people are thoroughly nice and that those few aren’t interesting. Surely what actually matters is that characters clear this vital hurdle: that they be interesting.
Wendy Lesser, New York Times
Her latest novel, “The Blue Book,” presents us with multiple complicated lives that in the end are woven together into a single coherent tapestry.
Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
This uncommonly interesting and intelligent book considers how two powerful human urges — to imitate the things we admire and/or envy, and to be in the vanguard of modernization — have played out in the histories of four of the world’s oddest and most prominent cities: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai and Dubai. “A History of Future Cities” is not a linear account of how these cities developed but is divided into four stages in which they sought to become more modern and, specifically, more Western.
Fri, Mar 8, 2013
James Palmer, Aeon
Chinese parents bemoan the laziness and greed of their children, but this generation of young people has had enough.
Steven Poole, New Statesman
Take your pick: indie café or Beyoncé’s lip-syncing? We’ve become obsessed with authenticity and differences between echt and ersatz — but why bother doing anything for real if no one believes that you did?
Thu, Mar 7, 2013
Simon Akam, Slate
Adjoinages and the death of the American pun.
Rachel Kolb, Stanford Magazine
Lipreading, which makes one sense do the work of another, is a skill daunting to describe.
Wed, Mar 6, 2013
Frederika Whitehead, The Guardian
Ask any vegetarian who's been to Asia about the food and they will tell you something along these lines: "I told them I was vegetarian and they offered me chicken" or: "I ordered vegetable noodles and they came with bits of pork in the broth" or even "I went to Asia a vegetarian but gave up and came back having eaten sparrow, dog and snake as well as beef and chicken."
Joe Yonan, Washington Post
One interview subject, founder of an imitation-meat company, said something along the lines of, “The food editor of a major daily newspaper is vegetarian? This is huge!” And several food journalists have confessed, under their breath, that if it weren’t for their jobs, they’d do the same thing.
Paul Berman, New Republic
Victor Hugo's hard-nosed melodrama.
Tue, Mar 5, 2013
Wendell Jamieson, New York Times
I was 7 years old and lived four blocks away, on St. Johns Place. My mother came into the kitchen that day or the next, her hands shaking. “Wendell,” she said, “Whenever you answer the door, never go out to the gate until you know who is there. Always look through the window of the inside door. Because you know what happened? This little boy on President Street answered the door, and this crazy man poured acid on his head.”
She took me to our own front gate and made me practice. I thought: why would anyone do that to a kid? The newspaper provided no real clue, just a brief article: “Boy, 4, Is Hurt by Acid Thrower.”
Harold McGee, Slate
Now I think of best-by dates as maybe-getting-interesting-by dates. And to my trash can of aging staples I’ve added some hand-packed delicacies, to make sure that survival includes at least a few little pleasures.
Mon, Mar 4, 2013
Elizabeth Kokbert, New Yorker
The science of sleeplessness.
Rowan Moore, The Observer
There is, Kasarda says, a "new metric based on time and cost", and "location, location, location has been replaced by accessibility, accessibility, accessibility".
Sun, Mar 3, 2013
Nathaniel Rich, New York Times
In the United States, there are more than 100,000 train watchers, according to one estimate, a number that includes a 70-year-old retiree from Germantown, Md., named Steve King, whose first job, in 1959, was to serve as an operator for B & O Railroad. Though King identifies himself as a “transportation geek,” he doesn’t look the part: he has the crew cut, hulking build and piercing gaze of a former military man, the type of fellow who doesn’t suffer fools or Amtrak disparagers gladly. But he turns avuncular and garrulous whenever his favorite subject comes up in conversation. His train obsession has expanded his world, leading him to develop complementary interests in photography, American history and a field he calls “industrial archaeology.”
Sat, Mar 2, 2013
Matthew Kirschenbaum, Slate
What was the first novel ever written on a word processor?
Christopher R. Beha, New York Times
The personal essay about a young woman’s struggle to create a place for herself as a writer in New York is a proud genre that has recently fallen into some disrepute, and it’s worth taking note when it’s done this well.
Teddy Wayne, New York Times
As someone with a split nominal identity, I deliberated briefly over which to use as a pen name. And, I confess, I’ve paid lifelong attention to what people choose to call themselves, both in daily life and on the page, mulling over the possibilities and repercussions.
Fri, Mar 1, 2013
Brett Aho, Humanist
The term prohibition seems to be a remnant of an age long past, when mobsters wearing slick suits and fedoras sipped moonshine in speakeasies. However, as marijuana legalization enters onto the national stage, the word is quickly becoming associated with a new intoxicant. The religious and non-religious alike find themselves once again faced with a moral question that has haunted humanity since the first caveman stumbled across fermenting fruit: Should drugs be allowed?
Peter Mercurio, New York Times
The story of how Danny and I were married last July in a Manhattan courtroom, with our son, Kevin, beside us, began 12 years earlier, in a dark, damp subway station.