Wednesday, 30 April, 2014
Jenifer Ouellette, Scientific America
Yet Gravity’s action sequences run as long as 17 minutes without a single cut, giving the film a very different feel for audiences accustomed to a more frenetic visual pace.
Tuesday, 29 April, 2014
Janet Maslin, New York Times
Boy meets girl in Anthony Doerr’s hauntingly beautiful new book, but the circumstances are as elegantly circuitous as they can be. The heroine of “All the Light We Cannot See” is blind, but anyone familiar with Mr. Doerr’s work, which includes the short-story collections “The Shell Collector” and “Memory Wall,” will know that its title has many more meanings than that.
Monday, 28 April, 2014
Carol Rumens, The Guardian
Roger Highfield, Mosaic
At the core was a deceptively simple question: how do we know that another person is conscious?
Sunday, 27 April, 2014
Mireille Silcoff, New York Times
By way of decorating a baby shower with the second edition of ‘staff patient communication’ because it is the right shade of pink, we here enter the realm of the truly objectified book.
Christopher Benfey, The New York Review Of Books
What tugged at my attention wasn’t the argument itself, to the extent that I could follow it, but rather the arresting parenthesis “(the pain, or the piano-tuning),” which immediately reminded me of another example of bracketed pain—“the most famous parenthesis in postwar literature,” according to Geoff Dyer—namely, Humbert Humbert’s laconic précis, in Lolita, of the death of his mother.
Saturday, 26 April, 2014
Rich Cohen, New York Times
There’s no way around it. To exercise power is to be ridden with guilt. To step is to step on. This, among other things, is the paradox of modern Israel. A nation meant to harbor and normalize the Jews has, in the process, entangled this ancient people with the brutality of sovereignty in a way so old it’s new. For a lot of us, it’s been a thrilling, maddening, disorienting 65-plus years. It’s this mood — pride wrapped in fear, the quest for the ordinary pitted against prophecy — and the violence that accompanies it that Zachary Lazar explores in his brilliant new novel, “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.”
William Grimes, New York Times
Writing in English, novelists find inventive new voices.
Friday, 25 April, 2014
Austin Allen, Poetry Foundation
Why would a poet try to immortalize gossip?
Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Wired
Silicon Valley is where the astounding success of the very few is held out to the youth in exchange for their time, their energy and -- well, their youth.
Thursday, 24 April, 2014
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
If we are to admire Shakespeare as fully as possible, we should be as tough on ourselves as we can. Is this week not as good as any to admit how intellectually challenging much that lies in the complete works can be and how borderline incomprehensible his language can get, both in terms of the now archaic and obscure nature of his references and the complexity of his poetic expression?
Wednesday, 23 April, 2014
Michael Agresta, Slate
A library without books was once unthinkable. Now it seems almost inevitable.
Ron Charles, Washington Post
Pssst. Looking for a good read? Check out the Chameleon Club in Montparnasse. Go alone — or with someone you trust. Step down a few stairs, knock on the door and whisper the password: “Police! Open up!”
Pete Wells, New York Times
Some people are nostalgic for foam-topped egg creams or Grandma’s buttermilk biscuits or defunct brands of children’s cereal. I miss bread and water.
It sounds like something out of a John O’Hara story now, but not very long ago, when we sat down in a restaurant, waiters would fill every glass with ice water and set a basket of rolls or sliced baguettes on the table. We didn’t have to ask for it or pay for it. Bread and water simply ... appeared.
Tuesday, 22 April, 2014
John Dvorak, Slate
Once, seismologists correctly predicted a major quake. They were only 12 years off on the timing.
Frank Swain, BBC
As director of the Laboratory of Survival and Longevity at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, Vaupel studies longevity and survival in human and animal populations. He tells me that the pattern of improvements to mortality has shifted greatly in the past 100 years. Before 1950, most of the gains in life expectancy were made by combating the high infant mortality that Huseland noted. Since then, however, it’s been the over-60s and most recently the over-80s who’ve seen the greatest decreases in mortality.
In other words, we are not just surviving childhood in greater numbers, we’re living longer – a lot longer.
Amir Alexander, New York Times
The idea of parallel universes, in which events diverge from those in our own reality, is usually the domain of science fiction. But Dr. Tegmark is a scientist, not a novelist, and he makes a powerful case, leading us step by logical step from well-established mainstream science into ever stranger territory.
Graciela Mochkofsky, The Paris Review
Seven years ago, a stolen first edition of Borges’s early poems was returned to Argentina’s National Library. But was it the right copy?
Monday, 21 April, 2014
Donald Low, The Kent Ridge Common
The myths matter for public policy because they shroud almost every discussion of inequality and of how our social security system should be organised in a thick and unquestioned set of assumptions. They act as an ideological blinker, and cause the policymaker to respond reflexively to any suggestion to redistribute incomes and reduce inequality with the argument that doing so will compromise the efficient working of markets. The myths matter because they reduce the ability of the Singapore government to pursue pragmatic and creative solutions to the challenge of inequality. And like many other myths and ideologies, they prevent a comprehensive and objective assessment of the policy alternatives successfully pursued by governments elsewhere.
Justin Fox, The Atlantic
The reason some of these moneymaking ideas seem fresh or strange or maybe even a little dodgy now is that we’ve just been through roughly half a century during which news organizations could fund themselves more than adequately with straightforward advertising, supplemented with a bit of subscription revenue. But it didn’t always work that way. And the immediate future of news media may end up looking a lot more like the pre-1950s landscape than what we’ve become accustomed to since.
Louis Menand, New Yorker
Updike spent almost his entire life writing; he had very few professional tribulations; and whatever personal adventures he had, no matter how private, he turned into fiction. Adam Begley decided to meet the difficulty head on by treating Updike’s life and Updike’s writing as mutually informing. His “Updike” (Harper) is essentially an extended essay in biographical criticism, an insight into the man through the work and the work through the man.
Shirley Jackson, New Yorker
Henry Hitchings, Wall Street Journal
From Dickens we get 'butterfingers,' from Lewis Carroll 'chortle.' Shakespeare's word for a half-smile—'smilet'—never caught on.
Sunday, 20 April, 2014
Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine, BBC
This is the era of hyper-tech espionage, encrypted emails and mindboggling cryptography. But you can hear a very old-fashioned form of espionage on shortwave radio.
Hugh Schofield, BBC
Hard to believe for a country supposedly devoted to the cult of coffee, but today French blends are the toast of tea cognoscenti from Nanjing to New York.
Robert H. Frank, New York Times
Renowned art originals will always be scarce, and so will high-quality mined diamonds, at least while De Beers holds sway. But what will happen to the lofty prices of such goods if there is an inexhaustible supply of inexpensive perfect copies? Economic reasoning can help answer this question. It can also shed light on how new technologies might alter traditional ways in which people demonstrate their wealth to others, or might change what society embraces as tokens of commitment and other gifts.
David Auerbach, n+1
Microsoft and AOL were both, obviously, giant companies, and soon the press got hold of the story. On July 24, the New York Times put it on the front page: “In Cyberspace, Rivals Skirmish Over Messaging.” It was like reading about a boxing match that you yourself were in. AOL kept blocking us, wrote the paper of record. “But Microsoft refused to roll over. Late Friday, the software giant said it had revised its MSN Messenger program to circumvent America Online’s roadblock. Within hours, America Online answered that challenge with a new block.”
I framed the article. My name wasn’t in it, but it didn’t matter. That was me!
Saturday, 19 April, 2014
Lisa Guenther, Aeon
We know solitary confinement annihilates the minds of its victims — but what does it do to the rest of us?
Sam Kean, Wall Street Journal
By every fair reckoning viruses, bacteria and other one-celled organisms dominate life on earth. Bacteria outnumber all plants and animals by several orders of magnitude, and viruses outnumber even bacteria. Microbes also outweigh us. Just the bacteria found in the ocean weigh more than all the elephants on earth—millions of times more. Yet we haven't even been able to grow the vast majority of microbes in the lab in order to study them. That fact often surprises people—what are petri dishes for, after all? Two new books force us to look more closely—much more closely—at the living world. The view isn't always comfortable or affirming.
George Johnson, New York Times
What was it like to be uprooted from your home in your first years of marriage and plunked down at a remote outpost in a far-off mountain land?
In her first novel, “The Wives of Los Alamos,” TaraShea Nesbit conjures forth that lost time. Thousands of civilians, including young couples just out of the university, lived behind the secret project’s checkpoints. While their husbands worked a few miles away in the Tech Areas, the wives, some with advanced degrees of their own, lived in a makeshift suburb plagued, like any construction site, with blowing dust and mud.
Anthony Gottlieb, New York Times
In Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s new book, “Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away,” Plato turns up not only at the search engine’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., but also with the obstreperous host of a cable news talk show, as a consultant to an advice columnist, and in several other places a long way from ancient Athens.
Mat Honan, Wired
How Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are rushing to cash in on cannabis.
Friday, 18 April, 2014
Blake Morrison, The Guardian
Adam Begley's fine biography reveals a writer enthralled by the detail of his own experience.
Pete Wells, New York Times
Now, instead of worrying that Mr. Chang’s menu will disappear overnight, his admirers play a different kind of shell game. On any given day he will probably be cooking in a Peter Chang restaurant, but which one?
Daniel Smith, New York Times
“I had a lot of friends who were writing about climate change and doing a lot of good work on it,” he told me during a break from his festival duties. “I was just listening and looking at the facts and thinking: Wow, we are really screwed here. We are not going to stop this from happening.”
Alex Clark, New Statesman
Wayne Curtis, The Smart Set
They might have the appropriate Bistro Collection Café Chairs. But everything else is slightly awry and amiss, as if designed by someone whose understanding of European café culture arose from having once, long ago, seen the Disney film The Aristocats.
Rebecca Brown, The Stranger
But it isn't like that for everyone.
Maybe, really, it isn't like that at all.
Thursday, 17 April, 2014
Michael Dirda, Washington Post
There’s no subtitle to this biography of writer John Updike (1932-2009), perhaps because the only logical one is a rather old-fashioned phrase: “His Life and Works.” Recognizing how relentlessly Updike’s fiction draws on its author’s own experiences, Adam Begley structures his book as a kind of double helix with two interlaced narrative strands. In one, he provides the facts of Updike’s 76 years in the world, in the other he shows how this most writerly of writers used his work to probe and reflect on nearly every aspect of his life.
Jon Gertner, Fast Company
Astro Teller is sharing a story about something bad. Or maybe it's something good. At Google X, it's sometimes hard to know the difference.
Francine Douwes Whitney, The Smart Set
When Barbie appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, all the usual Barbie hate ensued. For me, it feels so 30 years ago.
Wednesday, 16 April, 2014
Amanda Lee Koe, Asymptote
Daid Vognar, The Huffington Post
In his new book Trying Not to Try, the University of British Columbia Asian Studies and Embodied Cognition professor Edward Slingerland treats us to a work of seminal importance. Yet never was there such an important book that takes itself so lightly. Slingerland explains the correspondence between ancient Chinese philosophical ideas about wu-wei, or doing by not doing, and modern neuroscience. In doing so in erudite fashion, he also manages to discuss Woody Allen, magic mushrooms, his daughter's storybooks, Luke Skywalker and how hard it is to get a date when you're desperate.
John Gribbin, Wall Street Journal
Does the neutrino, the 'outlaw' particle that weighs less than one millionth of the weight of an electron, hold the secret to the universe?
Chris Beckett, The Atlantic
Why do so many readers still look down on the genre of Orwell and Atwood?
Tuesday, 15 April, 2014
Emily Nussbaum, New Yorker
The gorgeous existential funk of “Adventure Time.”
Boris Kachka, ELLE
Like Theo’s customers, we want to be deceived, and no one obliges better than the mature Donna Tartt—perhaps not even her younger self.
Adam Platt, Grub Street
The Chinatown dining scene has been stuck in neutral for years now.
Chris Suellentrop, New York Times
The implacable nature of the game led me to delay writing about FTL at first. Never before have I written about a video game that I haven’t completed — that is to say, that I haven’t won by defeating the game’s final stage. In fact, I’ve told myself that it’s unethical to do so. You have to turn every page, watch every frame.
But a permadeath game subverts that expectation. Life is permadeath, after all, but you’re not expected to delay your autobiography until you’ve played to the end, are you?
William Grimes, New York Times
A quarter-century has passed since the Berlin Wall came down and the German Democratic Republic disappeared. That’s more than half the life span of the East German state, a smoke-and-mirrors contraption conjured from the rubble of World War II that has become, for those who lived there, an increasingly distant and improbable memory.
That memory haunts Maxim Leo, a journalist who grew up in East Berlin and watched the world of his parents and grandparents, and of his own youth, vanish overnight. It lies at the heart of “Red Love: The Story of an East German Family,” his searching and sensitive chronicle of three generations making the journey from euphoric hope to disillusionment to despair.
Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
Her latest novel, “Casebook,” provides an ungainly look at a boy’s relationship with his mother as their family navigates the choppy waters of separation and divorce.
Monday, 14 April, 2014
Thomas McGuane, New Yorker
Sunday, 13 April, 2014
Alice Gregory, GQ
In the beginning, Ryan McGInley was an outsider. He used his band of beautiful friends to create photographs—rarely not naked but never quite sexy—that he now calls "evidence of fun." But in the past decade, McGinley's vision has evolved and expanded into a tidal wave of influence, affecting the look of art, advertising, music videos, film, even Instagram—and making him arguably the most important photographer in America. So why are so many of us just learning his name?
Andrew Hussey, The Guardian
One of the slogans of the 2011 Occupy protests was 'capitalism isn't working'. Now, in an epic, groundbreaking new book, French economist Thomas Piketty explains why they're right.
Saturday, 12 April, 2014
Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal
Two centuries ago our celebrities were not actors or singers but poets. Poetry has now all but disappeared from public life, with the consequence that we are cut off from an entire mode of thought—not unlike losing math or philosophy. Can it be revived? I don't know, but if a book full of lachrymose men can help, I'm for it.
Heidi N. Moore, New York Times
Most people are used to owing money to others, but few think about what money may owe us: an equitable society, a functioning political system, a peaceful economy that can stay off the exhausting roller coaster of financial booms and crashes.
We don’t usually think of money as a tool to accomplish all that, but Felix Martin, an economist and former World Bank official and author of the compulsively readable new book “Money: The Unauthorized Biography,” says that money can give us all those things; it can deliver “both stability and freedom.” The catch is that we must radically rethink money itself. It’s not a fixed, physical thing, he argues, but a virtual “social technology” that should be used to enable a more democratic and equitable world, bring order to the banking system and foster “peace, prosperity, freedom and fairness.” Sign me up.
Martha McPhee, New York Times
The mountain of Purgatory haunts the cover of Peter Mountford’s arresting second novel, “The Dismal Science.” The image, which calls to mind the second volume of “The Divine Comedy,” leads the reader into the book, the stark path curling its way up toward Terrestrial Paradise, symbolized by one lonely but verdant tree.
Sadie Jones, The Guardian
Exotic dancers, pimps, whores and a cross-dressing, bicycle-riding gamine who makes a living catching frogs for the cooking pots of restaurant kitchens. This is the cast of Emma Donoghue's eighth novel, a tale set in the rooming houses and bars of San Francisco in 1876. If those ingredients don't make for sufficient drama, the city is in the grip of both a smallpox epidemic and a heatwave.
Friday, 11 April, 2014
Michael Dirda, VQR
Whenever my father used to see me intently hunched over my grade-school English homework, he would say, “Looks like you’re working on the Great American Novel,” then pad off to read the news-paper. You don’t hear much these days about the GAN (as Henry James nicknamed it), but that doesn’t mean writers don’t still quest after this literary grail—or will-o’-the-wisp.
Meg Wolitzer, NPR
Some things in life are just too painful to accept, and the same is true in novels.
Thursday, 10 April, 2014
Bill Simmons, Grantland
Every Letterman junkie always knew he’d retire on a whim; that’s exactly what happened. No hype, no warning, no manufactured drama, nothing. Only Carson would have done it that way, and maybe that was the point. The old man told a story, then a second story, then a third story, and suddenly, he was gone. He’s leaving after his 33rd year. My favorite number. And now, officially, late-night television can morph into something else. I just don’t know what.
Nolan Feeney, TIME
Shipstead's sophomore novel makes a grand arabesque into the world of dance.
Chris Cottrell, New York Times
In the early days of aviation, it was common for people to visit airports simply to stand on observation decks and watch the planes come and go. This city’s new airport is attracting tourists for the opposite reason: a conspicuous lack of passengers and planes after a series of delays and bungles that have driven its cost billions of dollars over budget and pushed its opening back indefinitely.
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
Wednesday, 9 April, 2014
Rebecca Onion, Slate
A new sci-fi novel explores the ramifications of outsourcing our language to our devices.
Sam Sifton, New York Times
I am here to say: You can make pizza at home. You can make pizza at home that will be the equal of some of the best pizzas available on the planet. With a minimal amount of planning and practice, you can get good at it, even if you are a relatively novice cook.
Tuesday, 8 April, 2014
Stuart Taylor Jr., Wall Street Journal
When a tree fell into a stream in Franklin Township, N.J., it took 12 days and $12,000 for the necessary permits to remove it.
John Allen Paulos, New York Times
Bertrand Russell once wrote that mathematics had a “beauty cold and austere.” In this new book, the historian Amir Alexander shows that mathematics can also become entangled in ugliness hot and messy.
John Ashbery, The New York Review Of Books
Monday, 7 April, 2014
Jane Kramer, New Yorker
Vegetarian cookbooks for carnivores.
Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal
The liberals who dominated political and intellectual life, Mr. Marsden writes, "were passionately committed to principles such as individual freedom, free speech, human decency, justice, civil rights," and so on. But "their justification for these principles was not that they were fixed in a higher law or derived from an ideology. Rather, it was that these principles had evolved historically in the give and take of human experience in free societies." So, if the intellectuals' ideals weren't based on anything outside the self, the only other place to look was inside.
Sunday, 6 April, 2014
Elizabeth Hyde Stevens, Salon
The Muppets shaped "30 Rock," Jimmy Fallon, "The Office," Zadie Smith -- and gave Gen X license to change the world.
Jeff Himmelman, New York Times
He has spent much of his career going back in time — up to ancient villages in the remote reaches of the Himalayas, out to the vast plains of Africa in search of the roots of man — but now time has caught up to him. He’s 86, and for the last 15 months he has been countering leukemia with courses of chemotherapy. You can still see the intensity in his long, serious face and clear blue eyes, but there is an unexpected softness to him as he pads back toward the living room in an old sweater and stockinged feet. His latest novel, “In Paradise,” is being promoted by his publisher as his “final word,” but Matthiessen doesn’t want to talk about the book or his career in those terms. He has no desire for sympathy points. Though he did not want to dwell on it, he acknowledged that his medical situation was “precarious,” and a few weeks after our two days together his health would decline to the point that he had to be admitted to a hospital, with family standing by. It gave our conversations the feeling of stolen time.
Tim Harford, Financial Times
Unfortunately, these four articles of faith are at best optimistic oversimplifications. At worst, according to David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge university, they can be “complete bollocks. Absolute nonsense.”
Saturday, 5 April, 2014
Tom Shone, New York Times
“The Ballad of a Small Player” forgoes Osborne’s gifts of social satire but retains his sense of dread and gift for gimlet-eyed metaphor: that old crone’s face “like an overripe peach, furred and uneven”; a gambler on his way to the table “like a raccoon on its way to a Dumpster”; a casino interior like “some Hans Christian Andersen fairy palace imagined by a small child with a high fever.” That’s not a bad description of the book itself, a vivid and feverish portrait of a soul in self-inflicted purgatorio.
David Chang, GQ
No dining experience is more associated with the concept of freshness than sushi: If the notoriously squeamish American diner is to consider eating raw fish, that fish had better be fresh. But the truth is, sushi’s not great because it’s fresh. It’s great because it’s actually sort of rotten.
Friday, 4 April, 2014
Andrew Leonard, Salon
What explains this renaissance? The collapse of Borders in 2011 is one big piece of the puzzle.
Alex Bellos, The Guardian
We cannot help but react to numbers, but why are odds masculine and evens feminine? Why were Levi's 501s and WD-40 given those names? And is number 3 really 'warm' and 'friendly'?
Toni Bentley, The New York Review Of Books
Together at last. Boxers and ballerinas. Those two great seemingly Yin-Yang forces of the physical—the soft, fluid Terpsichore and the aggressive Herakles; the small (ok, tiny) and the large (ok, huge); the artist and the athlete; the aerial and the earthbound.
Thursday, 3 April, 2014
Steven Poole, The Guardian
We are, apparently, hungry for the end. In books, TV and films, there is no end of zombie apocalypse, asteroid smash, planetary plague. But what comes after the end? Not many works of modern Armageddon literature portray a plucky band of humans in the post-apocalypse methodically bootstrapping themselves back up to the level of hi-tech civilisation we currently enjoy. So the science writer Lewis Dartnell has written a book on how that might happen.
Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
The kernel of inspiration for Karen Russell’s new novella, “Sleep Donation,” appears to come from Gabriel García Márquez’s classic “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which described a plague of insomnia that comes to the mythical Latin American town Macondo — a plague that makes the afflicted unable to sleep for days and causes such memory loss that objects, plants and animals need to be labeled. A sign hung around the neck of a cow reads: “This is the cow. She must be milked every morning.”
Wednesday, 2 April, 2014
Kathryn Schulz, New Yorker
What death certificates can tell us, and what they can’t.
Jerry Stahl, Bookforum
One of my favorite moments in Cubed, Nikil Saval’s lush, funny, and unexpectedly fascinating history of the workplace, comes in a chapter called “The Birth of the Office,” in which the author describes the insane yet rampant “efficiency” craze that began to sweep the nation in 1900. One of its outgrowths was a periodical called System, subtitled A Monthly Magazine for the Man of Affairs. “Each volume,” Saval writes, “had articles proposing new models for the minutiae of office life, whether a new system of filing or a more efficient mode of envelope licking.” (In 1929, the magazine changed to a weekly—and called itself BusinessWeek.)
Jeff Gordiner, New York Times
Emily Gould stood in an Upper West Side kitchen on a Saturday evening and gazed into a crumb-encrusted pan full of creamed spinach. “It kind of suffered on the subway a little bit,” she said.
It was a moment that might have appeared in an essay by the food writer Laurie Colwin, whose recipes were on the menu that night. Ms. Gould is a writer whose first novel will come out this summer, and the apartment belongs to her friend Sadie Stein, a contributing editor for The Paris Review. Both hang out with a young, literary, food-obsessed crowd, and they had met up with two friends to eat baked mustard chicken and that creamed spinach, debating and paying tribute to a writer whose work overflows with stove-centered gatherings just like this one.
Rebecca Boyle, Aeon
An eternal electric day is creeping across the globe, but our brains and bodies cannot cope in a world without darkness.
Tuesday, 1 April, 2014
Philip Delves Broughton, Wall Street Journal
Wall Street has always attracted more than its share of scammers and bandits. Today's prime exemplars, argues Michael Lewis in "Flash Boys," are high-frequency traders—or HFTs—who nickel-and-dime investors by exploiting a technological arsenal of servers, fiber-optic cable and microwave transmission towers to trade milliseconds ahead of everyone else in the markets. They have turned the exchanges into a computerized monster churning up unprecedented market volatility. All this has happened since the 2008 financial crisis, a period in which the markets were supposed to have been under closer scrutiny than ever.