Tuesday, 31 December, 2013
Harry Ritchie, The Guardian
Why do we persist in thinking that standard English is right, when it is spoken by only 15% of the British population?
Monday, 30 December, 2013
Adam Kirsch, Harvard Magazine
Almost as soon as the concept of the Great American Novel was invented, in the nation-building years after the Civil War, Buell finds it being mocked, noting that one observer dryly put it into the same category as “other great American things such as the great American sewing-machine, the great American public school, and the great American sleeping-car.” It was enough of a cliché by 1880 for Henry James to refer to it with the acronym “GAN,” which Buell employs throughout his book.
Yet Buell warns us against taking all this dismissal at face value: “critical pissiness suggests the persistence of some sort of hydrant,” as he puts it. Even today, in our endlessly self-conscious literary era, novelists are still writing candidates for the GAN. What else are Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, or Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, or Don DeLillo’s Underworld, if not attempts to capture the essence of American modernity between two covers?
Antonya Nelson, New Yorker
Jonathan Rosen, New Yorker
Why the passenger pigeon became extinct.
The most troubling similarity between 1914 and now is complacency. Businesspeople today are like businesspeople then: too busy making money to notice the serpents flickering at the bottom of their trading screens. Politicians are playing with nationalism just as they did 100 years ago. China’s leaders whip up Japanophobia, using it as cover for economic reforms, while Shinzo Abe stirs Japanese nationalism for similar reasons. India may next year elect Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist who refuses to atone for a pogrom against Muslims in the state he runs and who would have his finger on the button of a potential nuclear conflict with his Muslim neighbours in Pakistan. Vladimir Putin has been content to watch Syria rip itself apart. And the European Union, which came together in reaction to the bloodshed of the 20th century, is looking more fractious and riven by incipient nationalism than at any point since its formation.
Sunday, 29 December, 2013
Laurie Penny, New Statesman
The first time my father caught fire, I was nine years old. I can’t have been much older, because it was around that time that Dad, still living with us, went through a period of making bacon in the mornings, padding about in his dressing gown, absent-mindedly charring bits of meat and offering them to whichever of his children happened to be awake. On one of these occasions, I was sitting with a book at the kitchen table when my distractable father let his dressing gown sleeve dangle in the gas flame.
Jon Frosch, The Atlantic
Movies like Blue Is the Warmest Color, Bastards, and Violette didn't just depict lots of sex—they used it to ask tough questions about class, desire, and politics.
Saturday, 28 December, 2013
Simon Baron-Cohen, New York Times
Is morality innate? In his new book, “Just Babies,” the psychologist Paul Bloom draws from his research at the Yale Infant Cognition Center to argue that “certain moral foundations are not acquired through learning. . . . They are instead the products of biological evolution.” Infants may be notoriously difficult to study (rats and pigeons “can at least run mazes or peck at levers”), but according to Bloom, they are, in fact, “moral creatures.”
Stephen Rodrick, New York Times
Schrader wrote “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver” and has directed 17 films. Still, some fear Lohan will end him. There have been house arrests, car crashes and ingested white powders. His own daughter begs him not to use her. A casting-director friend stops their conversation whenever he mentions her name. And then there’s the film’s explicit subject matter. Full nudity and lots of sex. Definitely NC-17. His wife, the actress Mary Beth Hurt, didn’t even finish the script, dismissing it as pornography after 50 pages. She couldn’t understand why he wanted it so badly.
But Schrader was running out of chances.
Friday, 27 December, 2013
Dan Savage, The Stranger
About the only place this book hasn't been is in my hands, open and upright, with my eyes pointed at it. But that's about to change. Because I'm going to read this book in 20-minute bursts over the next eight hours. Why 20-minute bursts? Because that's how long it takes for a batch of my mother's Slog-famous Christmas Snowball cookies to bake. I'm going to put a tray in the oven, read, swap trays out, read some more.
And I think it's fair to say that by the end of the day today—after all my Christmas cookies are baked—I will have read more of this book than Sarah Palin wrote.
Sheryda Warrener, The Believer
Thursday, 26 December, 2013
Tevis Thompson, Grantland
Despite whatever other beliefs we have about fate or God or a deterministic universe, we often act as if luck is quite real in our daily lives.
Wednesday, 25 December, 2013
Sandy Hingston, Philadelphia
The wheels are coming off the funeral business as God takes a backseat to online memorials, Facebook messages and “life celebrations.” How we’re blurring the line between life and the grave.
Sudip Bose, Washington Post
The image of Johann Sebastian Bach that has come down to us through the centuries — that of a self-taught, flawless man who, in pious isolation, composed some of the world’s greatest musical masterpieces — is largely due to Bach himself. It was an image he wanted desperately to preserve, and his second son, C.P.E. Bach, and his student Johann Friedrich Agricola obliged, publishing a lengthy, idolatrous obituary notice in 1754, a few years after the composer’s death. Thus was the Bach mythology created. And yet, as the esteemed English conductor John Eliot Gardiner writes in this exhaustive study — the summation of a lifetime’s absorption in the baroque master’s religious music — Bach may have been “an unfathomable genius,” but he was also self-important, peevish and something of a rebel, to name just a few of his lesser-known traits.
Taylor Clark, The Atlantic
How one of the most notorious alleged hustlers in the history of e-commerce made a fortune on the Web.
Tuesday, 24 December, 2013
Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal
The point here isn't that the Gospels must be true. It is that the Gospels offer no easy way to explain away their content. They therefore demand one of two choices. Either they relay things that Jesus actually said and did, in which case he really is who the New Testament claims he is, or they are haphazard collections of deliberately fabricated stories about a man who may have said some extraordinary things in first-century Judea but who has no more claim on your attention than Socrates.
Bill Berkson, Poetry Foundation
David Haglund, New York Times
“Want Not,” Jonathan Miles’s second novel, opens with an immensely satisfying first paragraph, in which a city dweller named Talmadge looks at snow-covered trash bags along the sidewalk and, being thoroughly stoned, sees them as “alpine peaks.” Untying their knots, he imagines himself as “a god disassembling the Earth.”
Monday, 23 December, 2013
In Beijing the blame for all of this was falling heavily on the head of one plump, bewhiskered gentleman, Wanyan Chonghou. A wealthy nobleman and formerly a trusted confidant of the imperial family, Chonghou, then 54, was in prison awaiting decapitation. He had been sentenced to death, essentially for the crime of being China’s worst ever diplomat. Sent to Russia to extract concessions from the tsar, he made them instead.
Laura Miller, Salon
John Cheever, after an afternoon spent reading about the ruination of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life by alcohol, wrote “I am … one of those men who read the grievous accounts of hard-drinking, self-destructive authors, holding a glass of whiskey in our hands, the tears pouring down our cheeks.” Cheever’s not alone in that, and so a reader might be excused for approaching Olivia Laing’s “The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking,” with trepidation, thinking it might turn out to be devoted to provoking such weepy scenes.
It’s not, and furthermore, I can attest that “The Trip to Echo Spring” is a rewarding book to wend your way through even if the writers Laing focuses on — Cheever, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Raymond Carver and the American poet John Berryman — aren’t among your particular favorites.
Tom Hickman, Slate
… Compared to an ape’s. It’s probably the same size as every other man’s, though.
Sunday, 22 December, 2013
Penelope Lively, The Guardian
Jeff Himmelman, New York Times
But the proliferation of smartphones and tablets has increasingly led to the use of digital technology to help us make those purchases, and it’s in that convergence that eBay sees its opportunity. As Donahoe puts it: ‘‘We view it actually as and. Not online, not offline: Both.’’
Lyne Truss, The Guardian
So, Happy Centenary to the crossword – but with certain reservations. Many people will argue that the solving of cryptic crosswords keeps the pathways of one's brain pleasantly open – but, in fact, there is, as yet, no scientific proof of this. My instinct is that the reverse is true.
Saturday, 21 December, 2013
Sarah Manguso, New York Times
Writing multiple novels is generally considered a triumph, writing multiple memoirs a somewhat shameful habit. Still, I’ve never heard anyone sniff about Paul Auster’s autobiographical recidivism; perhaps his 16 acclaimed novels compensate for it. In any case, on the basis of his five memoirs alone, Auster should be recognized as one of the great American prose stylists of our time.
“Report From the Interior” is a companion text to the 2012 “Winter Journal.” Where that book was a history of the author’s body, this one is a history of his psychological development, from childhood through early adulthood. Both use second-person narration, which is easy to label a gimmick, but here it feels natural, inextricable from the rest of the prose.
Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic
This is a story about how the future gets weird.
It's about how humans interact with each other, and machines, and systems that can only properly be called cyborg.
Let's start, though, with a man sitting on a couch. His phone rings. It's a telemarketer for a home security service.
Friday, 20 December, 2013
Tim Wu, Washington Post
In a society that idolizes tech founders, it is healthy to be reminded that they are so often ordinary young men who just happened to be the ones pulling the lever when three bars came up.
Thursday, 19 December, 2013
Joyce Wadler, New York Times
This was when I encountered my first surprise in Christmas Cookie Land: These things do not hold their shapes when you bake them. You remember “Alien: Resurrection,” when Sigourney Weaver finds a lab with cloned, monstrous versions of herself gone wrong and one of the deformed Sigourneys begs the real, or at least the successfully cloned and beautifully toned, Sigourney to kill it?
My snow persons were like that.
Frank Bruni, New York Times
Its signature was a six-ounce patty of coarsely ground, loosely packed, steak-quality beef that had been seasoned just so and was served on a soft, Portuguese-style roll. It cost $8. You ordered it at a table, and could have booze.
Peter Forbes, The Guardian
Venter believes – as George Dyson posited in Turing's Cathedral – that there is a convergence between the code of DNA and digital computer code. The result will be a coming age of digital biology, in which a genome can be designed on computer, transmitted over long distances by radio or other electromagnetic waves and reconstituted in a rapid synthesiser to produce a new life form.
Wednesday, 18 December, 2013
Greg Barbrick, Seattlepi.com
One of the greatest things about Hammett's writing are his flawed characters. He may not have invented the anti-hero, but they were central to his work.
Bobby Constantino, The Atlantic
As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed – shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings – I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs. Last year, I got myself arrested in New York City and found out.
Corey S. Powell And Laurie Gwen Shapiro, Slate
Scandals and conflicts obscured one of the most extraordinary achievements of the Space Age.
Tuesday, 17 December, 2013
Kay Ryan, The Threepenny Review
Corey S. Powell, Nautilus
Our home in the universe continues to rock out of control.
Louis Bayard, Washington Post
Her life stops in the exact moment her fiance jilts her. Decades later, when a boy named Pip encounters her, every clock in her manor is frozen at 20 minutes to nine. The wedding cake, reduced to black fungus, still rests on the cobwebbed dining table, and the woman herself, shrunken and waxy, is robed in the mildewed remains of her bridal gown.
Monday, 16 December, 2013
Patrick Anderson, Washington Post
Vicious crime at Christmastime?
Murder most foul as kiddies sing and sleigh bells ring?
Poison in the punch? Cyanide in the pudding?
Ye gods, what unspeakable horror!
James Surowiecki, New Yorker
How did states and cities get into this jam? By following Mark Twain’s famous dictum: Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
Carol Rumens, The Guardian
The Irish author's awkwardly beautiful Christmas poem plays with shape and rhyme in unexpected ways.
Sunday, 15 December, 2013
Sam Knight, Prospect
The battle over the burial of King Richard III has become savage.
Meryl Gordon, New York Times
Daniel Menaker loves words, and you can see it in every clause, in the rhythms of his language, even in the length of the sentences in his bracing memoir, “My Mistake.” A veteran editor at The New Yorker and Random House, an insider who has always felt like an outsider, he was jolted by lung cancer several years ago into re-examining his past. He grabs the reader with urgency as he grapples with big questions: What shaped me? Where did I go right and wrong? What has my life meant? His clever, fast-paced prose makes you stop and think and wonder, meandering down your own byways, contemplating the ways his story reverberates.
Les Murray, The New York Review Of Books
Thursday, 5 December, 2013
MyAppleMenu will now go dark as I take a break from this little web site. I will be back on 16 Dec, 2013.
Tracey Lien, Polygon
Unraveling the story behind the stereotype of video games being for boys.
Wednesday, 4 December, 2013
Elizabeth Day, The Guardian
As a 17-year-old Freda Kelly was the envy of thousands of teenage girls: she was secretary to the Fab Four and ran their fan club. Now, in a new documentary about her role, she has finally decided to open up.
Derek Thompson, The Atlantic
My mom’s cancer and the science of resilience.
D. T. Max, New Yorker
Jack Dorsey, of Twitter, is now making big money at Square—and is out to prove that he’s more than a lucky man.
Emily Bazelon, Slate
American kids don’t know how to explore. Maybe what they need is forest kindergarten.
Tuesday, 3 December, 2013
Justin Heckert, Indianapolis Monthly
She was 52, homeless, and cancer-stricken. A group of devoted strangers vowed that she would not die alone. And then something miraculous happened. One woman's beautiful, strange, and troubling final days.
Monday, 2 December, 2013
Maria Bello, New York Times
He looked at me for what seemed like an eternity and then broke into a huge, warm smile. “Mom, love is love, whatever you are,” he said with wisdom beyond his years.
Jonathan Beckman, The Independent
I’m a little smug, naturally, that these acute social commentators have attributed to me powers of such huge consequence, baleful though they may be, and acclaimed me the Dr No of oh yes, oh yes, Oh Yes, OH YES. Sadly, though, they manifest a fundamental misprision about the award’s purpose – a purpose that has evolved somewhat since the prize’s founding 20 years ago.
David Streitfeld, New York Times
Some features may be getting a second life online, but efforts to reimagine the core experience of the book have stumbled. Dozens of publishing start-ups tried harnessing social reading apps or multimedia, but few caught on.
Sunday, 1 December, 2013
Zadie Smith, The New York Review Of Books
The handwriting suggested old age. Whoever wrote this inscription was dead now; whoever received the book no longer wanted it. I took the unloved thing to the fifteenth floor, in the hope of learning something of Italian masterpieces. Truthfully I would much rather have been on my iPhone, scrolling through e-mail. That’s what I’d been doing most nights since I bought the phone, six months earlier. But now here was this book, like an accusation. E-mail or Italian masterpieces?
Chris Knittel, Vice
Right up until 9:14 PM on November 22nd, 1987, what appeared on Chicago's television sets was somewhat normal: entertainment, news, game shows. That night, as usual, Dan Roan, a popular local sportscaster on Channel 9's Nine O'Clock News, was narrating highlights of the Bears’ victory over the Detroit Lions. And then, suddenly and without warning, the signal flickered up and out into darkness.
Johnna Rizzo, National Geographic
As helium supplies sag, should the giant Snoopy balloon still soar?