Saturday, 31 August, 2013
Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
Sometimes Margaret Atwood can get a little goofy. I mean no disrespect to the author of "The Handmaid's Tale" — in fact, it's a good thing that she writes intelligent works of dystopian fiction with a sense of humor. Otherwise, the end of the world as we know it might be just too grim.
Troy Patterson, Slate
At the amusement park—like the mall, a great preserve of pedestrianism in a car culture—we learn about American society and know our populist place in it.
James B. Stewart, New York Times
But if the book is as good as critics are now saying it is, why didn’t it sell more copies before, especially since the rise of online publishing has supposedly made it easier than ever for first-time authors?
Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
Whether he was writing about his family’s farm and the unforgiving world of nature in his earliest poems or, later on, about an Ireland ravaged by the violence of the Troubles, Mr. Heaney possessed an uncommon ability to glean “the unsaid off the palpable,” to capture in words the relationship between the individual and the wider world, the “mind’s center and its circumference.”
Phil Nichols, The Atlantic
Why educational technologies should be more like graphing calculators and less like iPads. An Object Lesson.
Friday, 30 August, 2013
David Schultz, Slate
New drug names aren’t just bizarre—they’re dangerous.
Thursday, 29 August, 2013
Cameron Tung, New Yorker
Comedy series crowd the list of iTunes’s top podcasts at any given time, and everyone from an eighteen-year-old aspiring comic producing shows out of his college dorm room to the most élite standups in New York and Los Angeles are exploring their potential.
James Polchin, The Smart Set
How do we speak objectively about something of which we’re a part? By documenting everything.
Lisa Schmeiser, The Magazine
We can be responsible for machines.
Wednesday, 28 August, 2013
Adam Gopnik, New Yorker
So why have English majors? Well, because many people like books. Most of those like to talk about them after they’ve read them, or while they’re in the middle. Some people like to talk about them so much that they want to spend their lives talking about them to other people who like to listen. Some of us do this all summer on the beach, and others all winter in a classroom. One might call this a natural or inevitable consequence of literacy. And it’s this living, irresistible, permanent interest in reading that supports English departments, and makes sense of English majors.
Jennifer Raff, Violent Metaphors
I want to help people become more scientifically literate, so I wrote this guide for how a layperson can approach reading and understanding a scientific research paper. It’s appropriate for someone who has no background whatsoever in science or medicine, and based on the assumption that he or she is doing this for the purpose of getting a basic understanding of a paper and deciding whether or not it’s a reputable study.
Tuesday, 27 August, 2013
Mark Bittman, New York Times
There are few brown-baggers in the building in which I work. This is not because the food in the neighborhood is so great (it isn’t), or because the cafeteria is Google-like (it isn’t), but because many people are either “too busy” or too embarrassed to bring their lunch. Somehow one of our oldest and sanest traditions has become a laughingstock: it’s not hip to bring lunch.
Let’s try to fix that.
Monday, 26 August, 2013
Meg Wolitzer, Financial Times
It seems that we recognise talent far more easily when it’s accompanied by success.
Liz Robbins, New York Times
“Everyone fell in love with Colin,” said Dr. Michael Conroy, 41, his best friend growing up in Philadelphia. “We had him as some demigod.”
Before dawn on July 25, Mr. Devlin was found 38 miles south of his Pennsylvania farmhouse in the cemetery of Chestnut Hill Church, outside Allentown. A worker restoring the steeple spotted a white BMW sport utility vehicle on the private road inside the cemetery, and then, upon inspection, a body, face down, by the far woods. Mr. Devlin had shot himself in the head, the police said; he was holding a .38 revolver that belonged to him.
Cory Doctorow, The Guardian
Thus, two of Oxford's most iconic institutions – its deposit library and its press's flagship titles – have each embraced a model that the other has utterly rejected.
Sunday, 25 August, 2013
Douglas Wolk, Los Angeles Times
When Arneson and Gygax joined forces, they devised "Dungeons & Dragons," first published in early 1974. The rules in the three booklets that made up the game's first edition were badly written, confusing and amateurishly illustrated. It didn't matter.
Matthew Walther, The American Spectator
Negative criticism is as fun to write as it is to read, but most reviewers end up sinking their fangs into only one or two really bad books per publishing season. This is probably a good thing: vitriol, like vegetables, is no good canned, as it tends to be when it appears with any real frequency in the books sections of newspapers and magazines. Still, it’s undeniably the case that a lot of us—not just professional reviewers but unpaid readers of taste—enjoy reading bad writing.
Matteo Pericoli, The Guardian
Every book has a structure – but what if you were to represent it as a physical object?
Saturday, 24 August, 2013
Freeman Dyson, The New York Review Of Books
Ray Monk says he wrote his book because the others gave too much weight to Oppenheimer’s politics and too little weight to his science. Monk restores the balance by describing in detail the activities that occupied most of Oppenheimer’s life: learning and exploring and teaching science.
Jean Sprackland, The Guardian
Laura Miller, Salon
Accents mean a lot in the audio version of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel, “Americanah.”
Joshua Henkin, New York Times
My father probably cared more than he should have how I did on the SAT, but he cared for the right reasons — because he loved learning, because he loved words — my father, whom I remember best for coming home every evening with his vocabulary lists, and who, in cahoots with Stanley Kaplan, unknowingly but persistently set me on my path.
Friday, 23 August, 2013
Jon Henley, The Guardian
"If you want your children to be intelligent," Albert Einstein once remarked, "read them fairytales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales." It is a sentiment with which Philip Pullman heartily agrees. Which is as well, because his latest bestseller is a highly acclaimed and high-voltage retelling of 50 Grimm brothers fairytales.
Thursday, 22 August, 2013
Josh Gondelman, McSweeney's
I want to go at it under the sheets no matter how hot it is. Our feet will extend past the end of the bed, even though you get no leverage that way. We will not notice any unexpected moles or embarrassing tattoos. Everything that happens will be sexy. There won’t be any gross sounds or sights. Just like in the movies, our sex will be tasteless and odorless.
Judith Shulevitz, New Republic
Sometimes buzzwords become so pervasive they’re almost inaudible, which is when we need to start listening to them. Disruptive is like that.
Nathaniel Popkin, The Smart Set
But it turns out places don’t endure because of nostalgia; likewise, people don’t cling to them because they lack reason. Rather, place — physical space to which we ascribe meaning — holds a kind of perplexing, mysterious power.
Tatiana Craine, City Pages
Gaiman turns 53 this year and will see more projects come to fruition than many writers see in an entire career.
Wednesday, 21 August, 2013
David Haglund, Slate
In other words: Don’t do these things, unless you’re good at them. Then go ahead. Which is actually, in itself, not terrible advice.
Wayne Curtis, The Smart Set
Texting while driving can kill you. Texting while walking will eat your brains and heart.
John Mahoney, BuzzFeed
The “umami” craze has turned a much-maligned and misunderstood food additive into an object of obsession for the world’s most innovative chefs. But secret ingredient monosodium glutamate’s biggest secret may be that there was never anything wrong with it at all.
Michael S. Roth, New York Times
If I meet any students heading to the University of Virginia, I will tell them to seek out Mark Edmundson, an English professor and the author of a new collection of essays called “Why Teach?” For Mr. Edmundson, teaching is a calling, an urgent endeavor in which the lives — he says the souls — of students are at stake.
James Surowiecki, New Yorker
For more than a decade, we’ve been living through a commodity price boom. From oil to wheat and beef, the general rule has been that if you farmed it, caught it, or took it out of the ground you were probably going to make money selling it. But there has been a strange exception: lobster.
Monday, 19 August, 2013
Laura Miller, Salon
“It was a paranoid time,” writes Jesse Walker after recounting an elaborate, half-forgotten conspiracy theory from the 19th century. (It involved “the Slave Power,” which some 19th-century Americans believed had been responsible for poisoning several officials who had in fact died of natural causes.) “In America,” he adds, “it is always a paranoid time.”
That’s the core argument of “The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy,” a new cultural history by the Reason magazine editor.
Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times
Is adultery a kind of murder that causes ex-spouses and old lovers to be expunged from our lives, as if they'd never existed? Are novelists akin to rogue detectives or perhaps morticians, possessed with godlike powers: creating make-believe people, killing them off, then exhuming their corpses for clues about their character?
These unsettling thoughts may creep up on you as you read "The Infatuations," the precise, haunting new novel by Spanish author Javier Marías.
Sunday, 18 August, 2013
Carol Muske-Dukes, Los Angeles Times
Drew Nelles, The Walrus
Dan was the most physical person I knew. Then he broke his neck.
Saturday, 17 August, 2013
Luke O'Neil, Slate
Why would a restaurant deserve a more friendly review timetable than any other form of leisure or entertainment?
Robin Romm, New York Times
Creating links between seemingly disparate ideas is Solnit’s gift, her stock in trade. It’s what gives her writing its eccentricity, its spirit and frenetic energy.
Joe Hill, New York Times
No one can accuse Marisha Pessl of unfamiliarity with the tools of the modern thriller. With pages of faked-up old photos, invented Web sites and satellite maps, “Night Film” — Pessl’s second novel, following “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” (2006) — asserts itself as a multimedia presentation more than an old-fashioned book.
Mary Stewart Hammond, New York Times
Friday, 16 August, 2013
Amir D. Aczel, Nautilus
The simple question might be “why do such unlikely coincidences occur in our lives?” But the real question is how to define the unlikely. You know that a situation is uncommon just from experience. But even the concept of “uncommon” assumes that like events in the category are common. How do we identify the other events to which we can compare this coincidence? If you can identify other events as likely, then you can calculate the mathematical probability of this particular event as exceptional.
Dwight Garner, New York Times
Fiction, like sex, is messy. It’s complicating. Achieving softness and fluffiness doesn’t seem like much of a substitute.
Thursday, 15 August, 2013
Jay Porter, Slate
Our service improved principally because eliminating tips makes it easier to provide good service.
Wednesday, 14 August, 2013
Jed Lipinski, Slate
The bottom line is that the government’s interest in protecting children from getting the measles should trump parents’ interest in making medical decisions for their kids.
Michael O'Donnell, The Barnes & Nobel Review
No volume can resolve the contradiction between Orwell's genial nature in person and his penchant for ferocity on the page -- his impatience with fellow travelers and liars, and his over-fondness for broad, raking fire.
Ron Charles, Washington Post
Mark Slouka’s new novel is set in the late 1960s, not far from Woodstock, but you can’t feel any heat from the Summer of Love. Although the brooding teenagers in these pages listen to Jefferson Airplane and grouse about the Vietnam War, “Brewster” is about as psychedelic as a bruise. Instead, this is a masterpiece of winter sorrow, a tale of loss delivered in the carefully restrained voice of a man beyond tears.
Martha Gill, The Guardian
It's happened. Literally the most misused word in the language has officially changed definition.
Tuesday, 13 August, 2013
Jonathan Wolff, The Guardian
Are people still writing comedy campus novels and we have just stopped noticing, or has the genre come to a halt? And when did things change?
Dennis Overbye, New York Times
This time, they say, Einstein might really be wrong.
Monday, 12 August, 2013
David Haglund, New York Times
Some readers, like this one, may even wonder at first why Mr. Crain is describing so minutely the colors in a woman’s hair, a plastic bag of milk purchased at a still basically socialist grocery store, the wall panels at the city’s central subway station. But before long the purpose of such pointillism becomes clear: “Necessary Errors” aims to vividly and carefully reconstruct a lost time.
Owen Hatherley, The Guardian
What has happened over those 200 years was the rise to dominance of capitalism, which obviously changed, and changes, our language and thinking. The researchers discovered a more algorithmic and superficial version of something that the Welsh socialist writer Raymond Williams had already tried to uncover – the way that English had become a class language, where loaded words (and, as he often pointed out, pronunciations) were accepted as "standard".
Sunday, 11 August, 2013
Jessica Holland, The Observer
The quest to crack this code has been traced by authors before, as acknowledged by Margalit Fox, an obituary writer at the New York Times with a masters in linguistics. Her innovation, in this well-paced "palaeographical procedural", is to place Alice Kober, a classics lecturer from a working-class family of Hungarian immigrants living in Brooklyn, at the centre of the story.
Ben Shattuck, Salon
What made these sightings different from the long history of sea monster sightings was that they came from Gloucester fishermen – those who had inherited the oldest fishing port in America, those who knew mostly every fish species off Cape Ann and when each migrated through.
Alison Hallett, Slate
North’s campaign was very close to perfect, one that should serve as inspiration to anyone who wants to crowdfund a creative project: The concept was innovative; the reward tiers were thoughtfully designed; North communicated clearly and enthusiastically with backers at every step of the process; and the project not only delivered what was promised but improved upon the initial concept. As the book arrives in backers’ mailboxes this month, it’s worth asking: Is it a good book? Is it $580,905 good?
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
Rob Sheffield is the kind of true-blue music nerd who'll pause his latest memoir — one with a subtitle promising a book about "the rituals of love & karaoke" — to address the important topic of Rod Stewart.
Saturday, 10 August, 2013
Rebecca Goss, The Guardian
Joseph Lapin, Salon
Well, music videos are exiled to MTV 2 and YouTube, and what remains of MTV’s reach is its influence on the branding of artists. Contemporary radio programs and streaming technology like Spotify, Pandora and SoundCloud are showing that The Buggles spoke way too soon and music videos — and the musicians who make them — are in the hands of marketing and communication professionals, not VJs.
Florence Williams, New York Times
Prudery doesn’t really explain our discomfort, but Aldersey-Williams hints at what might, namely fear. We fear the fragility, illness and suffering that are native to our corporeality. In “Anatomies,” he seeks to study the body full-on, frontally.
Christopher Byrd, Washington Post
Few ideas hurtle toward us with the velocity of evil. Perhaps only the apprehension of death looms as a greater affront to our understanding. How we make sense of mankind’s capacity for atrocity and sadism says a great deal about our worldview.
Friday, 9 August, 2013
Jon Canter, The Guardian
Writing the follow-up to Douglas Adams's comic dictionary was weird, but it was destiny.
Catherine Saint Louis, New York Times
Flavor is intensified. The meal is enjoyed more. It may be one reason why birthday cake is savored more than the stumbled-upon 4 p.m. brownie, because of the singing and candle blowing that precedes it.
Thursday, 8 August, 2013
Michael Dirda, Washington Post
Many, if not most, readers are hardly aware of who publishes their favorite authors. Without looking, could you name John Grisham’s publisher? Or J.K. Rowling’s? Or Thomas Pynchon’s? Probably not. Only those who make their living in the book industry, starting with the writers themselves, tend to know or care that Knopf means classy and distinguished, that Simon & Schuster is a commercial powerhouse and that Farrar Straus Giroux — the subject of this juicy new book by New York magazine contributing editor Boris Kachka — has long possessed unrivaled literary cachet.
Stephen Curry, The Guardian
Switching from real books to ebooks was surprisingly painless. But the pleasure of reading is too often spoiled by careless presentation.
Wednesday, 7 August, 2013
Alex Clark, The Guardian
Charlotte Mendelson's story of homesickness and exile is a little masterpiece of characterisation and milieu.
David Rosenberg, Slate
Photographer Nir Arieli readily admits he can’t dance. And he isn’t a choreographer, either.
Fortunately, his cousin is a dancer who went to the Juilliard School and introduced Arieli to some of his friends. Arieli at the time was studying at the School of Visual Arts and started to take advantage of the Juilliard connection by photographing some of the dancers.
The result of the collaboration became a series of multiple-exposure images mostly shot with natural light in the hallways and dance studios of Juilliard that Arieli titled “Tension."
Tuesday, 6 August, 2013
Jascha Hoffman, New York Times
In “Time Warped,” Claudia Hammond, a British radio journalist and psychology lecturer, delves into scores of experiments on how we track the seconds, hours, months and decades. At each duration she finds distortions and paradoxes, revealing the persistent “capriciousness, strangeness and mutability” of time as we sense it.
Boris Kachka, Slate
The short and difficult marriage of Jonathan Franzen and Oprah Winfrey.
Michael Winerip, New York Times
The last song she heard before pouring powdered barbiturates, provided by hospice officials, into a glass of grape juice was George Gershwin’s “Lullaby.” Then she hugged and kissed them all goodbye, swallowed the drink and, within minutes, lapsed into a coma and died.
Monday, 5 August, 2013
David McRaney, Salon
The twisting path to becoming less dumb has led to many stops and starts, yet humans persist. Sure, scientists are just people, prone to the same delusions as anyone else, but the enterprise, the process, slowly but surely grinds away human weakness. It is a self-correcting system that is always closer to the truth today than it was yesterday.
Robert Gottlieb, New Yorker
A new book—“Hothouse” (Simon & Schuster), by Boris Kachka—takes as a given that its subject, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, has been and remains a great publisher, and without any question that’s the case. FSG, as it’s generally called, has brought us more than half a century of distinguished books, rarely slipping below the level of distinction it hoped to achieve. How it did so is certainly worth both parsing and paying tribute to, but a degree of disillusionment with this project sets in when we get past the cute title to the even cuter and more hyperbolic subtitle: “The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House.” The tone is set: this vigorous and often diverting trot through the history of an important cultural institution is frequently slapdash and overwrought in its determination to show just how hot the house was—in fact, “hands down, the hottest house in New York.” I’ve been in the business close to sixty years, and there’s never been a single hottest house; neither FSG nor any other publisher has ever been perceived as one—except perhaps by the central character in Kachka’s account, Roger Straus, the crucial “S” of FSG and, to put it mildly, an accomplished blower of his own horn.
Sunday, 4 August, 2013
Michele Filgate, Salon
But what does the age of social media mean for correspondence and diaries? Are tweets and Facebook status updates and Tumblr posts and emails replacing journals and letters? And if so, are we losing something in the process?
Saturday, 3 August, 2013
Drew Bratcher, The Paris Review
The city is our best shot at escaping the city. Within the big, frantic city, we find places to breathe. Twice in the last month, dozens of times in the past year, I have taken refuge in the National Gallery of Art. Washington has beer joints. Washington has baseball. But when money is tight and the stress intolerable, there are few luxuries like strolling along a wall of Modiglianis for free.
Emily Parker, New York Times
In exploring the darker aspects of Chinese life, Ma Jian and Liao Yiwu speak mostly to the outside world. The work of both writers has been banned in China, and neither lives in his native land. Ma Jian is a longtime resident of London. Liao crossed the border into Vietnam in 2011 and fled to Berlin, where he remains today.
Amy Wilentz, New York Times
I’ve decided that books are my enemy, though they used to be my great love. They are taking over. They crowd my dining room, they double up in the bedroom, they make the attic floor sag. We even have a library in the bathroom: shelves and shelves of books where a normal person might have a vanity table or piles of towels.
Claire Trévien, The Guardian
Friday, 2 August, 2013
Steve Paulson, Nautilus
How the unlikely and unexplainable, strange and terrifying, spawned the age of science.
Dwight Garner, New York Times
“Five Star Billionaire” is a meditation, at heart, on impermanence. The New China never stands still; to pause for even a moment is to be left behind. “Every village, every city, everything is changing,” a young woman says. “It’s as if we are possessed by a spirit — like in a strange horror film.”
Thursday, 1 August, 2013
Julia Turner, Slate
We stand in the shadow of the hegemon, sharpening our pencils and shaking our fists (and, with a deafening rattle, our Boggle boards). There is no national Boggle championship. There is, for that matter, no best-selling Boggle book. Indeed, the very game of Boggle is in peril; companies have stopped manufacturing the game in its classic form. And so the time has come to make our case: Boggle is better than Scrabble. It’s just as challenging, much more fun, and deserves your esteem and respect.