Friday, 31 January, 2014
Stevie St. John, LA Weekly
But while I knew I'd be sacrificing convenience, I was excited to leave the freeway behind. I'd had a contentious relationship with L.A.'s roads from the start.
Cecil Adams, Washington City Paper
Think what this means: The method supposedly used to determine zero on Fahrenheit’s scale doesn’t always work. Who would be foolish enough to invent a temperature scale that wouldn’t permit thermometers to be reliably calibrated?
Richard Lloyd Parry, London Review Of Books
I met a priest in the north of Japan who exorcised the spirits of people who had drowned in the tsunami. The ghosts did not appear in large numbers until later in the year, but Reverend Kaneda’s first case of possession came to him after less than a fortnight. He was chief priest at a Zen temple in the inland town of Kurihara. The earthquake on 11 March 2011 was the most violent that he, or anyone he knew, had ever experienced. The great wooden beams of the temple’s halls had flexed and groaned with the strain. Power, water and telephone lines were fractured for days; deprived of electricity, people in Kurihara, thirty miles from the coast, had a dimmer idea of what was going on there than television viewers on the other side of the world. But it became clear enough, when first a handful of families, and then a mass of them, began arriving at Kaneda’s temple with corpses to bury.
Thursday, 30 January, 2014
Laura Miller, Salon
Do Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace qualify, and if not, why not?
Dave Wedge and Casey Sherman, Esquire
An extraordinary journey down a river in France, with 114 victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing.
Liz Alderman, New York Times
Even though France is renowned as a world capital of gastronomy, these days, odds have grown that a savory-looking entree or dessert — especially at establishments near tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame or Montmartre — may have been at least partly prepared by an industrial food giant, frozen, then reheated in a kitchen. Even the bread, the French bread, may have been made in an industrial bakery.
The solution is just as French: Lawmakers are expected to approve this month a consumer protection law requiring restaurants to designate fresh dishes with a “fait maison,” or “homemade” logo. If a dish is unlabeled, some or all of it is presumed to come from an assembly line.
Wednesday, 29 January, 2014
Penn Jillette, CNN
"Tim's Vermeer" didn't diminish my love, respect, enjoyment or awe of Vermeer's paintings. I still believe in genius. But, for better or worse, all geniuses have to work their asses off.
Miles brundage, Slate
Technology won't, on its own, create fulfilling jobs for all. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
Marin Cogan, ESPN
Ten years ago, 90 million people watching Super Bowl XXXVIII saw Janet Jackson's breast for nine-sixteenths of a second. Our culture would never be the same.
Dan Falk, The Telegraph
The genius from Stratford-upon-Avon has worn many hats over the years, with imaginative scholars casting him as a closet Catholic, a mainstream Protestant, an ardent capitalist, a Marxist, a misogynist, a feminist, a homosexual, a legal clerk and a cannabis dealer – yet the words “Shakespeare” and “science” are rarely uttered in the same breath.
A surprise, perhaps, given that he was producing his greatest work just as new ideas about the human body, the Earth and the universe were transforming Western thought. But a re-evaluation is on the horizon. Scholars are examining Shakespeare’s interest in the scientific discoveries of his time – what he knew, when he knew it, and how that knowledge might be reflected in his work.
Sarah Maslin Nir, New York Times
With its low coffee prices, plentiful tables and available bathrooms, McDonald’s restaurants all over the country, and even all over the world, have been adopted by a cost-conscious set as a coffeehouse for the people, a sort of everyman’s Starbucks.
Tuesday, 28 January, 2014
Donald Antrim, New Yorker
Nick Stockton, Wired
Before there was Space Syntax the multinational company, there was space syntax, the science of how cities work. In the late 1970s, British architects Bill Hillier and Julienne Hanson hit on the idea that any space within a city – or the entire city itself – could be analyzed in terms of connectivity and movement. They reasoned that a city’s success depended largely on how easy it was for people to move about on foot.
Claire Lundberg, Slate
Having a baby in Paris gave me a crash course in socialized medicine—and a new, very French definition of “costly.”
Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
Mr. Novak has an idiosyncratic voice that’s distinctively his own, though “One More Thing” (a title that oddly recalls the line that Columbo, the television police investigator, liked to use to eke out clues from unsuspecting suspects) will also produce lots of comparisons to other writers.
Amir Alexander, New York Times
As the British author Simon Singh shows in “The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets,” math is everywhere in the Simpsons’ world, from references that flash across the screen in an eye blink (such as Springfield’s Googolplex movie theater) to entire segments that explore deep mathematical concepts (like “Homer3” in 1995). Math is built into the show’s DNA.
Monday, 27 January, 2014
Chris Kohler, Wired
The conventional wisdom is wrong. It is not an inevitability that Nintendo must put its games on rival hardware or die. It may even be a bad move.
Seth Stevenson, Slate
The wonderful free language app that makes learning new tongues incredibly fun.
Sunday, 26 January, 2014
DJ Taylor, The Independent
Art that rises from personal debris.
Sam Leith, The Spectator
All this is not to say that we shouldn’t reprint book reviews, nor I suppose that reviewing them is a waste of time. But there can be a sense, particularly when reviewing a review of a literary biography, that the original object of study might have made its excuses and quietly slipped out of the room. Nevertheless…
Saturday, 25 January, 2014
John Burnside, The Guardian
Paul Kalanithi, New York Times
I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.
William Giraldi, New York Times
The salient word, of course, is “quality” reading. In his indispensable “Lectures on Russian Literature,” Vladimir Nabokov, with typical Nabokovian acuity, chided those pedants “who talk about books instead of talking within books.” That might appear a distinction without much difference, but Wendy Lesser’s lovely “Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books” demonstrates the chasm between Nabokov’s two prepositions. An intellectual of unflinching dignity and gravitas, founder of The Threepenny Review and author of nine previous books — including literary memoir, cultural criticism and an incandescent study of Shostakovich — Lesser talks within books as few now are able to do.
Michael Sharp, Wall Street Journal
This tension between the puzzle-as-fun and the puzzle-as-politics is captured beautifully in Ben Tausig's "The Curious History of the Crossword: 100 Puzzles From Then and Now," which commemorates the puzzle's centenary with specimens from throughout the past 100 years and thematic chapters tracing the puzzle's history.
Daniel A. Gross, The Atlantic
Groan-worthy innuendos in the style of Michael Scott came and went—that's what she said—but they taught important lessons about puns and parodies along the way.
Friday, 24 January, 2014
Cienna Madrid, The Stranger
After another pause that really caused me to sweat, he walked out of my tiny yard, which has a fence around it separating it from the rest of the gardens, gently closed my gate, and disappeared. The next day, I received my second housewarming gift: a lock for my front gate. I now keep mace by the front door, too.
Mari Ruti, The Chronicle Of Higher Education
All of this can make us feel so anxious about feeling anxious that when we catch ourselves getting a little stirred up, a little excited, even in a good way, we end up suppressing our feelings because we fear that our ardor might deliver us straight into the lair of ... anxiety. In that sense, we are getting a general education in emotional numbness; essentially, we are taught to fear aliveness in all of its manifestations.
Tim Parks, The New York Review Of Books
Can people change their lives? Can novelists change the kind of stories they write? The two questions are not unrelated.
Eric Schlosser, New Yorker
Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.
Thursday, 23 January, 2014
Willa Paskin, Slate
Twenty-two years after he left television, Bill Cosby remains one of the few people who can get a black family show on a network again.
Janet Maslin, New York Times
Ms. Joyce builds her novel around two 11-year-old English boys who have heard that the year 1972 will be two seconds longer than other years and wonder about the cosmic consequences this change may have. It should go without saying that Ms. Joyce makes the two seconds matter a great deal.
Stacy Torres, New York Times
Like the teenagers who linger over sticky tabletops at Burger King and McDonald’s, these older people have reached a time when their lives do not revolve around work and family. In the absence of those, these public places can anchor routines and provide a sense of structure and belonging.
Wednesday, 22 January, 2014
Cathy Barrow, Washington Post
Grace Hong is pretty sure her mother would be appalled. Not at the fact that she and her husband celebrate the new year with traditional lucky mandu, dumplings made the Korean way. But possibly at every other aspect of their celebration. With 600 dumplings, 60 guests and an unmentionable amount of wine and beer, the annual fete they call Dumplingfest violates most, if not all, of her mother’s holiday traditions.
James Surowiecki, New Yorker
Thirty years ago, the best-paid workers in the U.S. were much less likely to work long days than low-paid workers were. By 2006, the best paid were twice as likely to work long hours as the poorly paid, and the trend seems to be accelerating. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that ninety-four per cent worked fifty hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of sixty-five hours a week. Overwork has become a credential of prosperity.
Tuesday, 21 January, 2014
Ethan Gilsdorf, Salon
Yes, it’s a fantasy game, and the whole enterprise is remarkably analog, powered by face-to-face banter, storytelling and copious Twizzlers and Doritos. But like any pursuit taken with seriousness (and the right dose of humor), Dungeons & Dragons is more than a mere game. Lessons can be applied to the human experience. In fact, all I really need to know about life I learned by playing D&D.
George Johnson, New York Times
Replication, the ability of another lab to reproduce a finding, is the gold standard of science, reassurance that you have discovered something true. But that is getting harder all the time. With the most accessible truths already discovered, what remains are often subtle effects, some so delicate that they can be conjured up only under ideal circumstances, using highly specialized techniques.
Monday, 20 January, 2014
Merrill Markoe, New York Times
I learned something about a year ago that I wish I’d learned much sooner. And it happened only after I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk. An X-ray revealed that my hip cartilage had made a unilateral decision to jump ship. I liked my hip cartilage. I thought we’d be together forever.
William Deresiewicz, New Republic
Using science to explain art is a good way to butcher both.
Emily Nussbaum, New Yorker
“Sherlock” and its audiences.
David Pilling, Financial Times
Twenty-five per cent of Japanese are over 65. But not only do they live longer, they work longer, stay healthier, care for their elderly better – and have found ways to pay for it.
Sunday, 19 January, 2014
Mark Oppenheimer, New York Times
In September 2008, two graduate students working for Keith Hampton, a professor at Rutgers, raised a camera atop a 16-foot tripod to film down into Bryant Park, the sprawling green space behind the main branch of the New York Public Library. They hit record, then milled about nearby pretending they had nothing to do with the rig, as it semi-surreptitiously filmed the comings and goings of hundreds of New Yorkers. The charade didn’t last. After an hour, Lauren Sessions Goulet, the more senior of the pair, found herself talking to the park’s private security force, which sent her to see their bosses, the Bryant Park Corporation. She was nervous.
Across the street and up 11 floors, in the corporation’s Fifth Avenue office near the park, Goulet explained what Hampton had sent her there to do. “Look, we were just trying to refilm Whyte,” she said, pleading with them. To her relief, the corporation offered to help.
Emily Singer, Wired
Rather than targeting specific traits, as Lamarck’s theory would have predicted, the mutations struck random genes, with some good outcomes and some bad. However, the process wasn’t completely random. Rosenberg’s findings suggested that bacteria were capable of increasing their mutation rates, which might in turn produce strains capable of surviving new conditions.
Everyone knows not to make bomb jokes at the airport. You just don’t do it. You don’t mention terrorism, or Yemen, or discuss unconventional political points of view. If you’re Muslim, you try to minimize anything about your appearance that might symbolize your faith or get you profiled. The point is to be inconspicuous. The less you say, and the more you look and act like every other business traveler, then the more likely it is that you will pass through security and customs unmolested by any special airport screening or extra questioning.
What if the airport were everywhere?
Saturday, 18 January, 2014
Jane Smiley, The Guardian
The ending of Ragtime is a sad but just one – when characters die, it is because they are working out their fates. All the characters, even the drunken volunteer fireman who deposits a pile of faeces in the car of a black man audacious enough to drive a new Model T, pay their debt of mortification. Doctorow is not nearly that hopeful any more. In Andrew's Brain, only Andrew is even curious about justice. The others get away with murder.
Adam Langer, New York Times
Then again, what is book criticism but another con game, using literary evidence and textual references to give the reader the illusion of authority?
Thomas Doherty, The Chronicle Of Higher Education
For many viewers, critics, and scholars, the second (and third, fourth, and fifth) screen is as good as the first. In some quarters, the decorative wraparound material—the term of art is "paratext"—is outshining the prize in the box. The irritating distractions have morphed into the main attractions.
Friday, 17 January, 2014
Jessa Crispin, Spolia
Would you be the same person if you were a different gender?
Joshua Hunt, New Yorker
The SRF-39FP is the gold standard among prison radios in part because it runs on a single AA battery, and offers forty hours of listening time—longer than an iPod Classic. Digital models can require twice as many batteries, like the Sony SRF-M35FP, which runs on two AAAs. Federal inmates are particularly attuned to battery life because they are allowed to spend just three hundred and twenty dollars each month on commissary goods; more cash spent on batteries means less for snacks, stationery, clothing, and toiletries.
April Bernard, The New York Review Of Books
It only makes sense that a novelist of such long tenure, one so preoccupied with the slippery nature of time, should actually write a novel on the subject of “prolepsis”—the anticipation of future events. Drabble uses the adjectival form of the word frequently in her new novel, beginning with the first sentence: “What she felt for those children, as she was to realize some years later, was a proleptic tenderness.” When one notices its insistent reuse, by a writer of such verbal precision, consulting the dictionary seems a good idea.
Thursday, 16 January, 2014
Laura Miller, Salon
Maybe Flynn is the exception to this phenomenon, and her ending is one of the 8 million Lego pieces she assembled with such cerebral deliberation. But if there was any organic instinct involved at all, I hate to see that hammer fall. She may never be able to put it all back together again.
Kathryn Schulz, Vulture
In hindsight, however, perhaps the most interesting thing Eliot does here is trace out, in negative space, the contours of a truly great novel. Such a novel would represent human beings, in their inner and outer worlds, with nuance and fidelity. Its prose would be bespoke and cleansed of cliché. It would approach life’s knotty moral questions with knowledge, intelligence, and experience. It could not be fatuous, frothy, prosy, pious, or pedantic. It would have to be rich and filling when served hot; it would also have to keep. Fifteen years later, Eliot sat down and wrote it.
Sarah Baird, Punch
It’s 10 a.m., and Spider is sweeping cigarette butts from the floor with all the finesse of a waiter cleaning up crumbs between courses at Le Veau d’Or. A scruffy, waiflike man who bears a startling resemblances to the broom with which he’s sweeping, Spider hollers through the empty bar, spittle flying in the morning light, “They just throw ‘em on the floor—don’t care a thing for ‘ol Spider! No damn respect.”
Chelsea Davison, McSweeney's
Ask your man to help you build a new bed frame from IKEA and mention that there’s a special treat in it for him when it’s done. Wink. Order pizza as the two of you enter your third hour of bed building. Pull up a video tutorial on YouTube and immediately close it when he gets defensive. Lock the cat in the bathroom after she steals a wooden peg that was apparently important. Go to sleep on an air mattress.
John Gravois, Pacific Standard
How did toast become the latest artisanal food craze? Ask a trivial question, get a profound, heartbreaking answer.
Wednesday, 15 January, 2014
Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian
What if most modern arguments against religious belief have been attacking the wrong God all along?
Max Tegmark, Scientific American
What's the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything? In Douglas Adams' science-fiction spoof “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”, the answer was found to be 42; the hardest part turned out to be finding the real question. I find it very appropriate that Douglas Adams joked about 42, because mathematics has played a striking role in our growing understanding of our Universe.
Ashe Dryden, Model View Culture
Many see the critiques of tech culture and get defensive, not realizing this is a compassionate act.
Tuesday, 14 January, 2014
Alok Jha, The Guardian
A short history of Einstein's theory of relativity.
Kyle Vanhemert, Wired
When AI is cheap, what does all the other technology look like?
Monday, 13 January, 2014
Alexander Nazaryan, Newsweek
Morton is the head of the English department at Rice University and a leader in the field of object-oriented ontology, affectionately known as OOO, a relatively recent philosophical movement that declares the human being just one thing among many things. Human consciousness, for OOO true believers, isn't all that special, even if we are a thing that can write epic poems, perform Bach concertos, and run a mean pick-and-roll.
Laura Miller, Salon
Lightman explores the way recent (and not-so-recent) discoveries and theories in physics and cosmology affect the sort of questions human beings ask in fiction: questions about the meaning of life, the nature of morality, the importance of love. These are obviously puzzles that concern many physicists as well as novelists. But even those scientists who excel at penning lucid popular explications of their work are rarely as gifted at articulating the “messy” bits, such as the contradictory human desires for order and transgression, or our delusory longing for permanence.
Sunday, 12 January, 2014
Ben Westhoff, LA Weekly
There were surely many casualties in an era when hip-hop's sudden popularity forced this odd bit of slang into a head-on collision with the broader culture: For one group of people, "cock" referred to the male genitalia. For another, it referenced the female.
Koye Oyedeji, Washington City Paper
Sarah Weinman, New York Times
Before this phone call, it had never occurred to Kirkpatrick that her contest winner might have spent the past 25 years in prison, where he’s serving a life sentence for murder.
Bobbi Dumas, NPR
The novel is a textured masterpiece, quietly yet powerfully poking our consciences and our consciousness. What does it mean to be a sister, a friend, a woman, an outcast, a slave? How do we use our talents to better ourselves and our world? How do we give voice to our power, or learn to empower our voice?
Tim Parks, The New York Review Of Books
Why do we have this uncritical reverence for the published writer? Why does the simple fact of publication suddenly make a person, hitherto almost derided, now a proper object of our admiration, a repository of special and important knowledge about the human condition? And more interestingly, what effect does this shift from derision to reverence have on the author and his work, and on literary fiction in general?
Marlena Spieler, New York Times
To not smell the world around me, to not discern tastes, was horrifying. So, in the two years since the accident, I created a taste rehabilitation plan that gradually began to revive my senses of smell and taste.
Saturday, 11 January, 2014
Caroline Levine, Public Books
In this story of an ever-broadening canon, the study of world literature makes perfect sense. It is simply the latest chapter in the larger story of the widening horizons of literary study. Yet world literature has prompted an awful lot of hand-wringing. Isn’t it absurd to try to study the literature of the entire world?
Lydia Netzer, New York Times
In a not-too-distant future, in a world much like our own, a young man sits in a white room, answering a white phone, listening. In his world, fast-food chains and political philosophies are one. Jack-o-Bites chefs and Whiggery Piggery employees brawl with kebab sticks in the public square, and neo-Baconians keep safe houses to protect themselves from the Cathars at the Strawberry Parfait. At the center of it all, Leonard, a customer-service rep for a Pythagorean pizza company, must save the world by time traveling and speaking to historical figures through the Neetsa Pizza support line.
Rory Waterman, The Guardian
Friday, 10 January, 2014
Ben Blatt, Slate
The incredibly popular, highly contentious Wikipedia pages for penis and vagina. Plus: Meet a guy who uploaded one of the penis photos.
Linda Vaccariello, Cincinnati Magazine
Baker had few artifacts from the last months of her son’s life, when schizophrenia had rendered his world chaotic. But she did have the waterlogged message that police found in Brian’s pocket when his body was recovered from the Texas lake where he died. It began painfully: “Maybe my dying is for the best,” he wrote. It then devolved into the confused rambling characteristic of his illness before concluding with two clear and desperate questions: “Where does it end? How does it end?” He answered by drowning himself.
Pestian’s project was so compelling to Baker that, she says, “I tracked him down.” Now her son’s last words are part of an extraordinary collection of data: the language of approximately 1,400 people who have ended their own lives.
Thursday, 9 January, 2014
John McPhee, New Yorker
Beyond the picnic-table crisis.
Joseph Flaherty, Wired
In science fiction, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Ender’s Game, astronauts zip around zero-g environments clad in stylish, skin-tight spacesuits. In reality, outfits designed for outer space are bulky, hard to maneuver, and have all the charm of adult diapers. Even their name, Extravehicular Mobility Units, or EMUs, is clumsy.
Enter Dava Newman, fashion designer to the stars.
Ben Tarnoff, Lapham's Quarterly
Mark Twain loved frontier humor, the impish wit and yeasty vernacular, its fondness for the gargantuan and the grotesque. He also understood its deeper value: not merely as entertainment but as a survival tactic.
Glenn Fleishman, Medium
The notion that ebooks are the sole path forward into the future, and that printed books are dead ignores nearly all the evidence against it, searching for a narrative that isn’t there.
Wednesday, 8 January, 2014
Brian P. Kelly, The Weekly Standard
If, as Kurt Vonnegut believed, the only reason to use a semicolon is to show that you’ve been to college, what does it say when someone uses a pilcrow? Or, for that matter, an interrobang, a manicule, or an octothorpe? While this book doesn’t make any judgments about the punctuation one chooses to use or avoid, Shady Characters takes an entertaining look at the evolution of both common and lesser-known characters.
Susan Herrmann Loomis, New York Times
In France, as in many countries, a new generation has tried to loosen the demands of work to make more time for family. But in few professions is the shift more surprising than among elite French chefs.
Steven Levy, Wired
Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the other tech titans have had to fight for their lives against their own government. An exclusive look inside their year from hell—and why the Internet will never be the same.
Tuesday, 7 January, 2014
Marie Potoczny, Ploughshares
Russell Jacoby, The Chronicle Of Higher Education
Who criticizes the professional journals or the general book reviews? Few or no one. The reason is obvious. We all hope to be reviewed or noticed.
Emily Singer, Quanta Magazine
About 8 million to 12 million years ago, the ancestor of great apes, including humans, underwent a dramatic genetic change. Small pieces of DNA replicated and spread across their resident chromosomes like dandelions across a lawn. But as these “dandelion seeds” dispersed, they carried some grass and daisy seeds — additional segments of DNA — along for the ride. This unusual pattern, repeated in different parts of the genome, is found only in great apes — bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and humans.
“I think it’s a missing piece of human evolution,” said Evan Eichler, a geneticist at the University of Washington, in Seattle. “My feeling is that these duplication blocks have been the substrate for the birth of new genes."
Monday, 6 January, 2014
Rebecca Mead, New Yorker
Jennifer Weiner’s quest for literary respect.
Colin Robinson, New York Times
It’s not just more difficult to find the time and focus that a book demands. Longstanding allies of the reader, professionals who have traditionally provided guidance for those picking up a book, are disappearing fast. The broad, inclusive conversation around interesting titles that such experts helped facilitate is likewise dissipating. Reading, always a solitary affair, is increasingly a lonely one.
Gerard Helferich, Wall Street Journal
Travelers making the vertiginous, 90-mile drive up Highway 1 from San Francisco to Fort Ross, Calif., may be surprised to come upon a weather-beaten chapel whose severe roofline and mismatched cupolas seem better suited to the Siberian tundra than to the Gold Coast. The church and its companion structures mark the southernmost garrison of Russia's American empire, whose rise and demise are recounted in Owen Matthews's intriguing "Glorious Misadventures."
Sunday, 5 January, 2014
James Meek, London Review Of Books
A housing shortage that has been building up for the past thirty years is reaching the point of crisis. The party in power, whose late 20th-century figurehead, Margaret Thatcher, did so much to create the problem, is responding by separating off the economically least powerful and squeezing them into the smallest, meanest, most insecure possible living space. In effect, if not in explicit intention, it is a let-the-poor-be-poor crusade, a Campaign for Real Poverty. The government has stopped short of explicitly declaring war on the poor. But how different would the situation be if it had?
Michael Greenberg, The New York Review Of Books
Throughout his life, Jorge Luis Borges was engaged in a dialogue with violence. Speaking to an interviewer about his childhood in what was then the outlying barrio of Palermo, in Buenos Aires, he said, “To call a man, or to think of him, as a coward—that was the last thing…the kind of thing he couldn’t stand.” According to his biographer, Edwin Williamson,1 Borges’s father handed him a dagger when he was a boy, with instructions to overcome his poor eyesight and “generally defeated” demeanor and let the boys who were bullying him know that he was a man.
Beth Herman, Washington Post
Though the term “underwater” may have a negative connotation in today’s economy, there’s no place Ashburn-based dentist Haress Rahim would rather be.
Rachel Cooke, The Guardian
How are we to make sense of ourselves and the world that holds us if not by reading stories? For isn't this how we've talked to ourselves – soothed, stimulated and improved ourselves – for thousands of years? I know I sound like a tragic old Leavisite when I say that fiction and ethics are intimately bound, but I feel this to be true. Novel reading boosts empathy or, at any rate reminds us that things are complicated; fiction unpicks knots.
Saturday, 4 January, 2014
Daniel Johnson, Wall Street Journal
At the heart of Calder Walton's "Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War, and the Twilight of Empire," an important and highly original account of postwar British intelligence, is a history of the Anglo-American "special relationship."
Max Liu, The Independent
On Such a Full Sea is a strange, skilful performance by a novelist who is brave enough to consistently subvert our expectations of narrative continuity.
Mark Lawson, The Guardian
In his first novel since The Slap – which became an international bestseller, igniting debate over its depiction of the sexual and racial politics of Australia – Christos Tsiolkas chooses a telling phrase to describe a change of season. "Spring," we are told, "had yet to beat back winter."
Friday, 3 January, 2014
Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic
If you use Netflix, you've probably wondered about the specific genres that it suggests to you. Some of them just seem so specific that it's absurd. Emotional Fight-the-System Documentaries? Period Pieces About Royalty Based on Real Life? Foreign Satanic Stories from the 1980s?
If Netflix can show such tiny slices of cinema to any given user, and they have 40 million users, how vast did their set of "personalized genres" need to be to describe the entire Hollywood universe?
Paul Constant, The Stranger
The real answer to all my hand-wringing is that I should just work harder to make sure that everyone is included. I regret not doing better.
Lisa Zeidner, Washington Post
“We all come out from Gogol’s overcoat,” Fyodor Dostoevsky famously said about the roots of Russian literature. Wildly surreal and replete with snarky social commentary, Nikolai Gogol’s story “The Overcoat” features a poor nebbish who is easy to mock — yet still lovable. Like Gogol, the best-selling Russian-born American novelist Gary Shteyngart delights in raining misfortune on his antiheroes’ heads as they navigate the farcical obstacle courses of their lives. In his memoir “Little Failure,” the pathetic dweeb is Shteyngart himself. Real name Igor, a.k.a. “Little Failure,” “Weakling,” “Jew-nose” or — due to his bad asthma — “Snotty.”
Thursday, 2 January, 2014
Michael Dirda, Washington Post
One can read “Mortality’s Muse” for pleasure, even though it addresses that most painful aspect of human existence: our dreadful knowledge that each of us must die.
Wednesday, 1 January, 2014
Deborah A. Choen, Salon
Every restaurant serves different portion sizes: some are large, some giant, and others gargantuan. This leaves many of us confused and prone to eating far too much. How much easier would it be to control our intake if we knew that a cheeseburger had 400 calories whether we purchased it at McDonald’s, Burger King, or Denny’s? Or that lunch was going to contain just 640 calories, regardless of what we ordered?
Betty Hallock, Los Angeles Times
After some rough years, conditions are just right for the return of those responsible for diners’ sugargasms. The proof is in, so to speak, the pudding.
J. Hoberman, The New York Review Of Books
The sudden explosion of color comics had been facilitated by new high-speed four-color printing presses, but “lead pipe” may have been the operative term in Hearst’s boast. The original comics were designed to stun—both their startling graphics and their rambunctious antics.