Sunday, 30 June, 2013
Stephanie Clifford, New York Times
If unhealthy food is wrong, restaurant visitors apparently don’t want to be right.
Saturday, 29 June, 2013
Anna Somers Cocks, The New York Review Of Books
Who will save “the fairy city of the heart”?
Clancy Martin, New York Times
“Taipei” is a love story, and although it’s Lin’s third novel it’s also, in a sense, a classic first novel: it’s semi-autobiographical (Lin has described it as the distillation of 25,000 pages of memory) and it’s a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story about a young man who learns, through love, that life is larger than he thought it was.
Patrick McGrath, New York Times
Fictional narrative and psychotic illness are mutually exclusive entities.
Fiona Sampson, The Guardian
Fleur Adcock has a way of laying claim to her readers. A poet of wry observation rather than nebulous epiphanies, she often seems to be conjuring the kind of intimacy that comes from shared assumptions and experiences. In "What the 1950s Were Like", she gives us "Clues: the Festival of Britain curtains, / the record-player, the new LPs, / the no TV (this was New Zealand)". Except of course that we are reading Glass Wings in Britain; and many of us, not being in our 80th year, have yet to follow where this fine new collection goes. The book's triumph is that, despite this, the people, creatures and ways of life that Adcock deftly sketches for us seem so immediately recognisable that we almost believe that we have.
Friday, 28 June, 2013
Mark Vanhoenacker, Slate
The American way of using fork and knife is inefficient and inelegant. We need a new way.
Thursday, 27 June, 2013
Alysia Abbott, Slate
I was raised by a single, gay father in the 1970s. I wish he had lived to see the Supreme Court's decision.
Nathaniel Frank, Slate
As of today, a majority of Americans, and a majority of the Supreme Court, have recognized this essential humanity of gay people. If history is any guide, their numbers will only grow.
Sara Davis, The Smart Set
A reverse chronological history of the wedding feast centerpiece.
Janet Maslin, New York Times
Rebecca Lee shows how far she can push the boundaries of so-called civilized behavior by opening “Bobcat,” her mesmerizingly strange new short-story collection, with an elaborate dinner party. The hostess and narrator has made a terrine, and even that showy culinary effort carries a whiff of violence. And it is mentioned on the first page of the title story, well before the night’s serious maiming has begun.
Wednesday, 26 June, 2013
Rebecca Solnit, Salon
Snowden revealed what many of us already suspected: Google completely controls the web.
David Rosenberg, Slate
When most artists decide to do portraits of their family, they ask their parents or siblings to pose for them. Laurel Nakadate, however, took a DNA test and began corresponding with strangers on websites who shared her DNA.
Tuesday, 25 June, 2013
John Noble Wilford, New York Times
We are beneficiaries of Mr. Switek’s undiminished passion, on display in “My Beloved Brontosaurus.” The book is a delight, coming along when so much has changed in our understanding of dinosaurs, ever since the beginning of a renaissance in dinosaur studies in the 1970s and ’80s.
David L. Katz, U.S. News
Kids' food should be eradicated. Still with me? I'll make my case.
Ma Thida, The Guardian
Freedom and literature are mutually interrelated and cannot be separated from each other. We fight not only for freedom but also to keep it in our literature.
Monday, 24 June, 2013
James Somers, Aeon
In today’s world, web developers have it all: money, perks, freedom, respect. But is there value in what we do?
Ian Buruma, New Yorker
Alexis de Tocqueville came to the United States in 1831 to study the country’s prison system, and ended up writing “Democracy in America.” Observing the Chinese prison system from the inside, from 1990 to 1994, as a “counterrevolutionary” inmate, Liao Yiwu tells us a great deal about Chinese society, both traditional and Communist, including the impact of revolutionary rhetoric, forced denunciations and public confessions, and, as times have changed since Mao’s misrule, criminal forms of capitalism. He ends his account by saying that “China remains a prison of the mind: prosperity without liberty.”
Joyce Carol Oates, New Yorker
Sarah L. Courteau, The Wilson Quarterly
There’s a fundamental contradiction in our attitudes about self-help—a term that describes the broad category of products and ideas that are supposed to make us thinner, happier, smarter, and more efficient. We Americans accept protein powders, extreme diets, personal trainers, expensive gym memberships, and the Rube Goldberg exercise contraptions that litter our basements and garages as the necessary paraphernalia for the pursuit of physical perfection. We openly admire gym rats and envy their fit bodies. But anyone who dabbles in the improvement of the mind—even taking yoga that hasn’t had its spiritual roots bleached out completely—invites a raised eyebrow among those of us who consider ourselves serious people. We are above such lockstep platitudes, empty positivity, and pop psychology.
Sunday, 23 June, 2013
Steve Almond, New York Times
What I’m experiencing is, in essence, a generational reckoning, that queasy moment when those of us whose impatient desires drove the tech revolution must face the inheritors of this enthusiasm: our children.
Edward Docx, The Observer
In other words, Gaiman's intelligence and his skill as a writer – to this reviewer at least – are best mobilised in the adult writing he purports to eschew; his account of real human drama, relationships, sensibility, emotions, thought. And so I'd love for him one day to stop with all these ragged tent-presences and just open his veins and write something powerful about human beings – fathers and sons, for example – without all the "gee-shucks-aren't-the-grown-ups-dumb" prophylactics. But I realise that I may be entirely alone in this hope.
Saturday, 22 June, 2013
Anna Merlan, Dallas Observer
Becca Morrison's husband came home from Iraq and killed himself. She's "still here, and still fighting."
Walter Kirn, New York Times
Between the lines is an implied critique of the sanitized, corporate, Disney-style amusements that have supplanted the grass-roots titillations of an earlier, cruder era. Through Devin, who senses that Joyland’s days are numbered, King is lamenting the disappearance of a certain type of candid hucksterism not all that different in spirit from pulp fiction. Both forms of entertainment offer audiences the same delightfully democratic cheap thrills.
Chloë Schama, New York Times
A plague of women’s backs is upon us in the book cover world.
Jesse Prinz, Aeon
One emotion inspired our greatest achievements in science, art and religion. We can manipulate it – but why do we have it?
Friday, 21 June, 2013
Katie Arnold-Ratliff, Slate
Have reports of the paperback’s death been greatly exaggerated?
John Sunyer, Financial Times
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ere’s some advice for bibliophiles with teetering piles of books and not enough hours in the day: don’t read them. Instead, feed the books into a computer program and make graphs, maps and charts: it is the best way to get to grips with the vastness of literature. That, at least, is the recommendation of Franco Moretti, a 63-year-old professor of English at Stanford University and unofficial leader of a band of academics bringing a science-fiction thrill to the science of fiction.
Ron Charles, Washington Post
The whole time I was working on my review of “The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls,” I froze whenever anyone asked me what I was reading. Sometimes, I’d just hold up the book and let them try to pronounce the title themselves. Other times, I’d call it “That Riding Camp for Girls Book.”
Thursday, 20 June, 2013
A. A. Gill, Vanity Fair
Enough. Enough, enough, enough of this convivial rant, this collectively confirming bigotry.
Morten Høi Jensen, Salon
The author's ideas about language are much more relevant to the current surveillance scandals than Big Brother.
Wednesday, 19 June, 2013
Erik Sofge, Slate
The unaddressed plight of Star Wars’ robotic underclass.
Laura Vanderkam, City Journal
Comparing women’s magazines, then and now, shows how much America has changed.
John Burnside, The Guardian
It is no accident that the two sections of James Robertson's new novel are subtitled "Ice" and "Fire", reminding us of that astonishing terse poem in which Robert Frost considers which of these two elements might bring this world to an end.
Tuesday, 18 June, 2013
Janet Maslin, New York Times
At the start of Carl Hiaasen’s latest comedic marvel, a visitor fishing near Key West hooks a severed human arm. There is no time for this to register as grisly. A page later the captain of the fishing boat tells the freaked-out tourist reassuringly, “Well, son, we’re in the memory-making business.” You can’t argue with that.
Cornelia Dean, New York Times
A lot of her advice is common sense, but some of it is surprising.
Monday, 17 June, 2013
Laura Miller, Salon
What the story sacrifices of the sweet, glassy purity of a child’s view, it compensates for with the complex sepia of maturity; it’s the difference between a bright young white wine and a well-aged burgundy.
Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker
Albert O. Hirschman and the power of failure.
Sunday, 16 June, 2013
Alex Preston, The Observer
The Quarry is a novel about disease, about "fucking cancer", as it's repeatedly described. It's a novel held up against the dying of the light, a fierce howl into the void that, in the image of the titular quarry, threatens to engulf the characters on every page. Reading this book, one is hit again and again with the fact – tragic and astonishing in equal measure – that Banks didn't know he was dying until he'd almost finished the first draft, that the cancer that was the subject matter of his novel would soon become the urgent subject matter of his life. It makes it a difficult, often distressing read.
Tom Geoghegan, BBC
A New York restaurant has banned tipping to spare customers the bother, while some restaurants in other US cities have already replaced the gratuity with a fixed optional service charge. So is the discretionary tip falling out of favour in the land where it's king?
Saturday, 15 June, 2013
Leah Price, Public Books
If you want to understand the forces reshaping what and how we read, if you want to understand what new glamor print is acquiring in the digital age, or if you want to pin down what books can do that blogs can’t and vice versa, it’s worth pausing en route to the Media Studies aisle to browse this unnamed section. Not that anyone has much to say about its contents; elegies for Gutenberg waste few tears on it. What Charles Lamb dismissed already in 1822 as “things in books’ clothing” find few defenders. Nor do gift books need any, since they laugh off the forces that threaten other print genres. Their resilience offers two lessons.
Curtis Siteenfeld, Washington Post
More than 50 years after its inception, many of us now take the space program for granted, but Koppel reminds readers just how bold and innovative it felt in the Sputnik era, and how mysterious the wilderness of space remains.
As their husbands changed overnight from anonymous military pilots to international heroes, the astrowives were pulled along, in some cases willingly and in others with reluctance. Each woman’s life was defined by an essential contradiction: To increase the chances of her husband being picked for a coveted mission position, she needed to make their marriage as stable as possible, or at least she needed to make it appear stable.
Helen Elaine Lee, New York Times
The sliding door buzzes and rumbles open. The guard calls out: “Come on, you’re next.” I stand up from the waiting area pews, where I have stowed my bag, watch and jewelry in a locker, and step forward. I enter the trap, a room between outside and inside worlds. I turn my pockets inside out, remove my shoes, walk through the metal detector and receive an ultraviolet stamp on my wrist. Every few months for 12 years, I have visited a Massachusetts prison to teach creative writing to a group of locked-up men.
Friday, 14 June, 2013
Theo Tait, The Guardian
Iain Banks's last novel is an honest evocation of the void opening up beneath a life.
Jessica Allen, The Smart Set
In the midst of Europe’s horse meat scandal, I went to Mongolia to see horses… and to eat them.
Thursday, 13 June, 2013
Adam Hochschild, The New York Review Of Books
A curious thing about the United States is that anticommunism has always been far louder and more potent than communism. Unlike sister parties in France, Italy, India, and elsewhere, the Communist Party here has never controlled a major city or region, or even elected a single member to the national legislature. Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party in 1948 received no more than 2.4 percent of the popular vote with Communist support; and Wallace himself soon repudiated the Communists here and abroad.
American anticommunism, by contrast, built and destroyed thousands of careers; witch-hunted dissidents in Hollywood, universities, and government departments; and was a force that politicians like Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon rode to great prominence. Of course this was not the first time that heresy hunters have overshadowed the actual heretics: consider the Inquisition, which began before Martin Luther, the greatest heretic, was even born, or how, on accusations of Trotskyism, Stalin imprisoned or shot Soviets by the millions—numbers many times those of Trotsky’s beleaguered, faction-ridden actual followers. But heresy hunting is seldom really about ideas; it’s about maintaining power.
Wednesday, 12 June, 2013
David Plotz, Slate
After every wedding, there is a dear friend who will immediately disappear from your life. And that’s OK.
Lori Aratani, Washington Post
Here in a small test kitchen on a dead-end street downtown, some of the food world’s greatest minds are at work. Their task might seem impossible, but they believe they can make a difference for millions of Amtrak riders, one roasted chicken at a time.
Tuesday, 11 June, 2013
Patrick West, Spiked
If you consider that the English and the French spent a good part of 800 years at war with each other, it’s not surprising that relations between the two peoples and their cultures remain awkward. The latest manifestation of this came last week. We learned that many people in France have been up in arms about plans to allow English to be used to teach science courses in its universities. The British, in turn, have found such fury and indignation hilarious.
Tom Whipple, Intelligent Life
More and more of modern life is steered by algorithms. But what are they exactly, and who is behind them?
Dennis Overbye, New York Times
Now, however, in a shot across the bow of cosmological optimism, a new analysis of the European data has cast doubt on whether there is actually a “there” there at Alpha Centauri B.
Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
Google does it. Amazon does it. Walmart does it. And, as news reports last week made clear, the United States government does it.
Does what? Uses “big data” analysis of the swelling flood of data that is being generated and stored about virtually every aspect of our lives to identify patterns of behavior and make correlations and predictive assessments.
Monday, 10 June, 2013
Paul Ford, Slate
Why does our perception of time change so dramatically from season to season and year to year?
Lauren Sandler, The Atlantic
It was only when I was working on a book investigating what it means to have, and to be, an only child that I realized how many of the writers I revere had only children themselves. Alongside Sontag: Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Hardwick, Margaret Atwood, Ellen Willis, and more. Someone once asked Alice Walker if women (well, female artists) should have children. She replied, "They should have children—assuming this is of interest to them—but only one." Why? "Because with one you can move," she said. "With more than one you're a sitting duck."
Eli Saslow, Washington Post
She had developed a habit in the last months of what her counselor called “defensive delusions,” when she would imagine for a few hours that Daniel was away at a friend’s house. Pretending helped her summon the energy to return a few e-mails or cook dinner, but the easiness of the mental game was starting to scare her. “Is it normal?” Jackie had asked the counselor at their last appointment. “Is this something other people do?”
“There is no normal,” the counselor had said. “There are only hard days to get through.”
Sunday, 9 June, 2013
Adam Davidson, New York Times
Few products are so underpriced that an entire subsidiary industry exists to take advantage of the discrepancy. When there is excess demand for a new car or phone, some people might sell theirs at a markup on eBay, but there’s nobody across the street from the dealership or Best Buy offering it right away for double the sticker price; there certainly isn’t an entire corporation built on exploiting companies’ failure to properly price items initially. Yet concerts and sporting events consistently price their tickets low enough that street scalpers risk jail time to hawk marked-up tickets, and StubHub makes hundreds of millions a year in revenue.
Saturday, 8 June, 2013
David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
Such a double vision — the 21-year-old actively living through his experience while his older incarnation reflects on it — gives the book an unexpected perspective, even as it reassures us that whatever happens in the novel, Devin will come out alive.
Carl Zimmer, New York Times
Science is a mess. It’s shaped by the time and place in which scientists work. Scientists choose to do a certain experiment or interpret an observation for many reasons. “More than 20 percent of Einstein’s original papers contain mistakes of some sort,” Livio writes. “In several cases, even though he made mistakes along the way, the final result is still correct. This is often the hallmark of great theorists: They are guided by intuition more than by formalism.”
Elizabeth Weil, New York Times
Every family has a claim to fame. A friend’s great-grandfather (times 16) was king of Poland for a day in 1586, according to family lore. My neighbor claims he’s related to the man who punched Houdini in the stomach, which may have killed him. My grandfather invented the Reuben sandwich. I’ve had some doubts since seeing the movie “Quiz Show” in 1994, but it’s what I choose to believe.
Friday, 7 June, 2013
J. Bryan Lowder, Slate
Should straight actors play gay roles?
Farhad Manjoo, Slate
So, what the hey, here are a couple more graphs, after which I promise I’ll wrap things up for the handful of folks who are still left around here. (What losers you are! Don’t you have anything else to do?)
Damien Walter, The Guardian
If SF is grounded in hard scientific fact, and science is killing God, then what place does that leave for divine intervention in the pages of SF literature?
John O'Connell, The Guardian
An unreliable narrator makes this enchanting jazz-age thriller a clever and addictive debut.
Thursday, 6 June, 2013
Mark Vanhoenacker, Slate
It just needs a product—thought experiments (TXes, if you will)—and a marketing plan.
Morgan Meis, The Smart Set
100 years since Swann’s Way was first published, the work still baffles us. Maybe the best way to enjoy it is to relinquish our usual sensibilities.
Nadia Arumugam, Slate
Because a proper cup of black tea must be made with water that’s come to a rolling boil.
Wednesday, 5 June, 2013
S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times
Some people just play it safe and head straight to the Chardonnays and order their favorite label. But what's the point? Part of the fun of going out is discovering something new.
Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
Towards the end of the 18th century, a young aristocrat, confined to his house in Turin for 42 days as a result of a duel (one presumes his antagonist came off worse), decided to both ease his boredom and make a joke of it all by writing a – well, there it is in the title. It was Blaise Pascal who said that all the troubles of humanity came about because of the difficulty men had in simply being happy to sit alone in their rooms; here is the result of such an enforced confinement. And it is wonderful.
Tuesday, 4 June, 2013
Carl Zimmer, New York Times
“I know what it is, you know what it is, but how does the embryo learn what it is?” asked Dominic P. Norris, a developmental biologist at the University of Cambridge in England.
Now Dr. Norris and other scientists are beginning to answer that question. They have pinpointed some of the steps by which embryos’ organs develop on the left or right. And their research may do more than simply solve an old puzzle.
Adam Johnson, GQ
The chef's name, an alias, is Kenji Fujimoto, and for eleven years he was Kim Jong-il's personal chef, court jester, and sidekick. He had seen the palaces, ridden the white stallions, smoked the Cuban cigars, and watched as, one by one, the people around him disappeared. It was part of Fujimoto's job to fly North Korean jets around the world to procure dinner-party ingredients—to Iran for caviar, Tokyo for fish, or Denmark for beer. It was Fujimoto who flew to France to supply the Dear Leader's yearly $700,000 cognac habit. And when the Dear Leader craved McDonald's, it was Fujimoto who was dispatched to Beijing for an order of Big Macs to go.
Dwight Garner, New York Times
At its best, it has distant echoes of early Hemingway, as filtered through Twitter and Klonopin: it’s terse, neutral, composed of small and often intricate gestures. At its lesser moments, it’s hapless, like a poorly lighted mumblecore movie.
I loathe reviews in which a critic claims to have love-hate feelings about a work of art. It’s a way of having no opinion at all. But I love and hate “Taipei.”
Monday, 3 June, 2013
Eli Lehrer, The Weekly Standard
Plenty of others can and will go to Disney World and return disappointed. But none of this means that anybody seeking to understand and appreciate American culture as a whole—its aspirations, its excellences, and its defects—can ignore Disney World.
Emily Oster, Slate
For an economist, the central question is not whether this creates a good role model for your children or upsets the power dynamic in the relationship; rather, it is simply whether this arrangement is more efficient.
Donald Kagan, The New Criterion
My subject is liberal education, and today more than ever the term requires definition, especially as to the questions: What is a liberal education and what it is for?
Carol Rumens, The Guardian
Bill Sheehan, Washington Post
The melodramatic aspects of the story are great fun, but the real strength of “Joyland” stems from King’s ability to connect with his characters directly and viscerally.
Sunday, 2 June, 2013
Oliver Chou, South China Morning Post
No Western performing group can claim to have had a closer relationship with China than the Philadelphia Orchestra. Certainly not in the 20th century.
As the first American orchestra to perform on Chinese soil, its visit to Beijing and Shanghai in 1973 made history and, unsurprisingly, the 40th anniversary of that episode has become a cause célèbre in both China and the United States.
Lauren Everitt, BBC
Most people have never heard of pareidolia. But nearly everyone has experienced it.
Anyone who has looked at the Moon and spotted two eyes, a nose and a mouth has felt the pull of pareidolia.
Saturday, 1 June, 2013
James Gleick, The New York Review Of Books
Now comes a book from the theoretical physicist Lee Smolin aiming to convince us that time is real after all.