MyAppleMenu Reader - Mar 2015

Fixed Menu by Kevin Pang, Lucky Peach

I type this sentence twenty minutes after eating leftover spaghetti and clams for breakfast, a Hungry Man-sized portion at nine a.m. It is an exertion of my free will to do so. It is within my civic right as a dedicated grocery shopper and keeper of leftovers, imprinted in the Charter of Man, that I am free to eat however much I want, of what I want, when I want.

In prison, that right is stripped away. Craving pizza on a Saturday night? Feel like washing it down with cold beer? It’s not happening. Your right is reduced to eating portion-fixed food dictated by a warden on a set schedule. If you’re hungry after dinner, you’ll go to bed hungry.

The thought of losing this control sends me into a panic attack.

How Mushrooms Could Hold the Key to Our Long-Term Survival as a Species by Doug Bierend, Vice

The collapse of our planet’s natural ecosystem is accelerating, but it turns out nature may have already developed the technology to save us. And it’s right under our feet.

Poem: Future Biometrics by Jillian Weise, Poetry Foundation

The body that used to
contain your daughter

Dear Diary, I Hate You by Alice Gregory, New Yorker

I suspect that many people who don’t keep a diary worry that they ought to, and that, for some, the failure to do so is a source of fathomless self-loathing. What could be more worth remembering than one’s own life? Is there a good excuse for forgetting even a single day? Something like this anxiety seems to have prompted the poet and essayist Sarah Manguso, on the cusp of adulthood, to begin writing a journal, which she has kept ever since. “I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention,” she tells us early in her memoir “Ongoingness” (Graywolf). “Experience in itself wasn’t enough. The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it.”

Review: Nightwalking – An Enthralling Study of London after Dark by Robert McCrum, The Guardian

Nightwalking is an enthralling study of city life and creativity based on the illuminating discovery that, for a thousand years, being on the street after dark was a crime. Matthew Beaumont’s subtitle, A Nocturnal History of London, advertises the main thoroughfare down which he will perambulate, but it is the shady backstreets and twisting alleyways of his investigation that are the most suggestive. This is an impressive, magisterial book whose steady, earnest gaze also encompasses the lives of pickpockets and poets.

Poem: ​April Fools' Day by Elaine Feinstein by Carol Rumens, The Guardian

Rosenberg died in the Great War, on 1 April 1918, at the Battle of Arras. Not only a commemoration of his death, the title may imply that the war itself was one long April Fools’ Day, an implication strengthened by the question of the first line. “Does anybody know what it was all for?” the speaker asks. “Not Isaac Rosnberg … ” Right away, he’s the baffled anti-hero personified.

A Loss for Words by Judith Thurman, New Yorker

It is a singular fate to be the last of one’s kind. That is the fate of the men and women, nearly all of them elderly, who are—like Marie Wilcox, of California; Gyani Maiya Sen, of Nepal; Verdena Parker, of Oregon; and Charlie Mungulda, of Australia—the last known speakers of a language: Wukchumni, Kusunda, Hupa, and Amurdag, respectively. But a few years ago, in Chile, I met Joubert Yanten Gomez, who told me he was “the world’s only speaker of Selk’nam.” He was twenty-one.

Review: 'The Precious One' Has Love at Its Heart by Bobbi Dumas, NPR

If you whittle down the plot of de los Santos' newest book, The Precious One, into a sentence or two, you'd get something like this: After her estranged father suffers a heart attack, Eustacia "Taisy" Cleary goes back to the town where she grew up and unexpectedly becomes embroiled in the lives of her father's other wife and daughter — the new family for whom he abandoned her 17 years ago. She also reconnects with the high school boyfriend who was scorched in her family's implosion.

And that's an accurate description, but it doesn't do anything to convey de los Santos' talent for quirky characters and mesmerizing storytelling.

How to Eat in Other Places by Jeremy Berke, Medium

First, tie the legs. That way it doesn’t kick. If you’re around squeamish foreigners like myself, make sure the mouth is tied shut. Fear is a sensory experience; they say dogs can smell it. Rather than smell, I learned that fear has a clear and distinct sound — that of the horrible bleating of a goat on his deathbed.

Restaurant Review: The Lamplighter Dining Rooms by Jay Rayner, The Guardian

It’s time to talk about the really important things, the ones that make a difference. Obviously, I’m referring to the correct way to make cauliflower cheese. More food crimes have been committed in the name of cauliflower cheese than almost any other dish. So let me give you the rules: the cauliflower must be undercooked before being bathed in the sauce and it must be in a single large piece. Failure to do this will result in a mush you could masticate without the aid of teeth. Finally there must be a generous hand on both the cheese and the mustard in the sauce. Got it? Good.

The Radical Humaneness of Norway's Halden Prison by Jessica Benko, New York Times

To anyone familiar with the American correctional system, Halden seems alien. Its modern, cheerful and well-­appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere — these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all. It is, of course, but it is also something more: the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.

The Meaning of Skyscrapers – from the Tower of Babel to the Shard by Will Self, The Guardian

When it comes to skyscrapers I am, in the proper sense of the word, ambivalent: I hate them for all the obvious reasons – sometimes a cigar may be just a cigar, but a skyscraper is always a big swaying dick vaunting the ambitions of late capitalism to reduce the human individual to the status and the proportions of a submissive worker ant.

Yet I also love them – truly, I do. I love their Promethean swagger; I love their ability to transform our perception of the city by proposing a new parallax around which we instantly reorient as we tunnel along at ground level. And I love the way that they are seemingly purpose-built to accompany what Marshall McLuhan described as the “instantaneous medium” of electricity.

Photo: Oceans of Skyscrapers by Jerryang (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Secret of the Jane Austen Industry by Alexander McCall Smith, Wall Street Journal

The poet W.H. Auden said of Sigmund Freud that he was no longer just a person but had become a climate of opinion. That is about as effusive a compliment as one can imagine, and there are very few thinkers or writers who merit it. But one who undoubtedly does is Jane Austen. She is not only a climate of opinion, she is a movement, a mood, a lifestyle, an attitude and, perhaps most tellingly of all, a fridge magnet.

How Hard Would It Be to Change the Face on the $20? by Jaime Fuller, New York Magazine

On paper, it doesn’t look like it would be difficult to change the faces that greet us on dollar bills whenever we pull out our wallets. The Treasury Secretary has unilateral authority to banish Franklin from the $100 or Lincoln from the five spot whenever he wants; Congress also has the power to change the portraits used on U.S. currency. The possibilities for new monetary muses are nearly limitless — the only requirement is that they be dead, just like the luminaries chosen for stamps. There’s also an expectation that the portraits will be familiar faces from history.

However, the process must be harder than it looks, because the Treasury hasn’t retired a portrait since 1929, when Andrew Jackson replaced Grover Cleveland — which has everyone wondering what will happen with a new campaign to get a woman on the $20.

Photo: Paying attention to detail by Nic McPhee (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Defending Darwin by James J. Krupa, Slate

There’s one student I can remember in particular who took my freshman seminar on evolutionary medicine. He was an ardent evangelical Christian who believed in the literal truth of biblical creation. The seminar was very hard on him, and he struggled with the information, questioning and doubting everything we read. Several years later, our paths crossed, and we stopped for what turned out to be a long, easy chat. Now a doctor, he explained to me that, at the time, he was so upset with my seminar that he attended a number of creationists’ public lectures for evidence I was wrong. He said he found himself embarrassed by how badly these individuals perverted Christian teachings, as well as known facts, to make their argument. He wanted me to know that he came to understand he could be a Christian and accept evolution. Then he did something that resonates with any teacher: He thanked me for opening his eyes, turning his world upside down, and blurring the line between black and white.

The Shut-In Economy by Lauren Smiley, Medium

In many ways, social class can be defined by the chores you don’t do. The rich have personal assistants, butlers, cooks, drivers. The middle class largely do their own errands — with the occasional babysitter, pizza boy, maybe a cleaner. The poor do their own chores, and the chores of other people.

Then came on-demand’s disruptive influence. The luxuries usually afforded to one-percenters now stretch to the urban upper-middle class, or so the technology industry cheers. But can you democratize the province of the rich without getting a new class acting, well, entitled? My parents made me put away the dishes not to “outsource” their workload — they could have done it faster. They did it so I wouldn’t turn out to be a brat.

Now an entire generation is not just being served: It’s having to work out what it means when you buy someone to do it for you.

Can Music Truly Chime with Reading? by Sam Jordison, The Guardian

In an ideal world, I suppose, we’d all be able to read in peace and silence. But we live in a world full of engine noise, pneumatic drills, headphone leakage, people yakking at mobile phones and, worst of all, piped music.

Richard by Carol Ann Duffy, The Guardian

The poet laureate’s eulogy, written for Richard III’s re-interment at Leicester Cathedral, to be read by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Mercy by Patrick Phillips, selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

“Mercy” is full of echoes: the subtle repetition of sounds, alliteration and rhyme, and the repetition of image and action — what is taught, learned, passed down. The hinge in the middle of the poem’s one long sentence opens a space in which to contemplate what such legacies mean.

The True Story of Pretty Woman's Original Dark Ending by Kate Erbland, Vanity Fair

Lawton’s original script still contains many of the classic beats and scenes that people remember from the final film, including a trip to the opera, a series of bad shopping experiences, and that fancy dinner with the kind-hearted businessman whose company he is trying to raid. The characters are mostly the same, even Vivian’s best friend Kit, while the character who would become Jason Alexander’s Stuckey is simply known as William. But the tone and ending are completely different, and it’s mostly a relief when Vivian and Edward don’t end up together, even though the story ends on a decidedly down note. 3,000 ends with Kit and Vivian on a bus bound for Disneyland—that the film would eventually be produced by Disney is yet another odd bit to a complicated story—with Kit anticipating a fun day financed by Vivian’s week with Edward, as Vivian “stares out emptily ahead.” That’s it. That’s all.

Basically, it was “dark” and “gritty” before Hollywood even knew they wanted “dark” and “gritty.”

Buddy Up by Paula Marantz Cohen, The Smart Set

Am I giving this sort of film too much credit as a launching pad for social awareness and potential social change? I don’t think so when you consider the brouhaha caused by its release. It brought these issues to the attention of a wide, otherwise indifferent public, and precipitated a disruptive action on the part of a totalitarian government that required some kind of acknowledgment from us.

Review: Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry (and Antipsychiatry) Gets Told by DJ Jaffe, Huffington Post

This is a short, informative, highly readable history of psychiatry, and the tools psychiatrists have used over time. It is both an homage to science and expose of the pseudoscience used to justify the massive missteps--like defining homosexuality as a mental illness, and using fevers and induced comas to "cure" mental illness.

Scientists Have Discovered a Simple Way to Cook Rice That Dramatically Cuts the Calories by Roberto A. Ferdman, Washington Post

Not all starches, as it happens, are created equal. Some, known as digestible starches, take only a little time to digest, are quickly turned into glucose, and then later glycogen. Excess glycogen ends up adding to the size of our guts if we don't expend enough energy to burn it off. Other starches, meanwhile, called resistant starches, take a long time to for the body to process, aren't converted into glucose or glycogen because we lack the ability to digest them, and add up to less calories.

A growing body of research, however, has shown that it might be possible to change the types of starches found in foods by modifying how they are prepared. At the very least, we know that there are observable changes when certain foods are cooked different ways.

Did Jupiter Destroy the Solar System's First Planets? by Phil Plait, Slate

Ours may have looked a lot like all the others we’ve seen, but Jupiter came along and wiped it out, setting the stage for what see today: lower mass worlds like ours close in, and bigger ones farther out.

Review: Revisiting Saul Bellow's Words, on Society, Chicago and Other Writers by Dwight Garner, New York Times

There’s an asceticism, a kind of Zen purity, to “There Is Simply Too Much to Think About,” a new collection of Saul Bellow’s nonfiction, issued now on the centenary of his birth.

Alfred Hitchcock by Peter Ackroyd – 'Catholic, Controlling and Celibate' by Bee Wilson, The Guardian

When Psycho was released in the summer of 1960 to unprecedented success, making Hitchcock the richest film director in the world, he was so shocked that his incessant work urge was momentarily put on hold. “What will you do for an encore?” asked his agent, by telegram. “Hitchcock did not know,” writes Ackroyd.

And then he made The Birds.

Poem: Surrealist Gossip by Helen Picard

Helen Picard is a University of Toronto history student attempting to make a living off the particular arrangements of words and letters.

Galaxies Inside His Head by Stephen Burt, New York Times

“A poem is never about one thing,” he told them. “You want it to be as complicated as your feelings.” He played a clip of the brooding jazz-rap hit “His Pain,” by BJ the Chicago Kid, featuring Kendrick Lamar, with its melancholy refrain “I don’t know why You keep blessing me.” The students knew the song. Hayes then read a new poem, “The Carpenter Ant,” about a troubled relative; its stanzas paraphrase “His Pain.” She “took her hammer with its claw like a mandible/to her own handmade housing humming,/‘I don’t know why God keeps blessing me.’ ”

“I’m not really a poetry person,” an 11th grader, Hannah Rauenzahn, told me afterward. “But I really want to read that kind of stuff now.” When Hayes asked for questions, the students’ hands shot up. To be a poet, do you have to write in traditional poetic forms? Do you have to write in iambic pentameter? “If you can breakdance, that’s cool,” Hayes answered. “If you can breakdance in a straitjacket, that’s even better.”

Do We Need to End the 'War' on Cancer? by David Hauser and Richard Wassersug, The Guardian

Fight cancer. Beat cancer. Stand up to cancer. Aggressive militant language pervades discourse on the illness. Yet it is questionable whether there is a health benefit in conceiving of cancer as a monolithic enemy. Not only has the military motif not led to a cure for the disease, but it may actually be detrimental to our health.

Thinking Sideways by Louis Menand, New Yorker

History is the prediction of the present. Historians explain why things turned out the way they did. Since we already know the outcome, this might seem a simple matter of looking back and connecting the dots. But there is a problem: too many dots. Even the dots have dots. Predicting the present is nearly as hard as predicting the future.

Review: Searching for a Magical Creature, Finding a Need for Wild Places by Emily Anthes, New York Times

“The Last Unicorn” is an adventure tale and a meditation, an evocative read that makes clear why wild places matter and how difficult it will be to save them.

Mathematicians of the Future? Michael Harris, Slate

Perhaps such efforts will even lead to creation of expert systems that are able to prove mathematical theorems that are not only new but interesting. But the assumption that this would mean an end to human mathematics—short of putting an end to humans altogether—reflects a stunted vision of why humans do mathematics in the first place; a vision, at any rate, very different from the one I defend in my book Mathematics Without Apologies.

Poem: Landscape by John Hewitt by Carol Rumens

It wasn’t until I came to live and work in North Wales that I began to understand landscape in the way this poem and others by John Hewitt understand it.

As They Lay Dying by Joshua Mezrich and Joseph Scalea, The Atlantic

After much consideration, he decided that if he was going to die, he would like to try to save another person’s life in the process, even if that person was a stranger. And so last May he approached the University of Wisconsin’s transplant program, where we are surgeons, as a prospective organ donor.

W.B. hoped to turn his tragedy into someone else’s miracle. But although his mind was clear and his intentions unmistakable, we had no choice but to disappoint him.

How English Ruined Indian Literature by Aatish Taseer, New York Times

India has had languages of the elite in the past — Sanskrit was one, Persian another. They were needed to unite an entity more linguistically diverse than Europe. But there was perhaps never one that bore such an uneasy relationship to the languages operating beneath it, a relationship the Sanskrit scholar Sheldon Pollock has described as “a scorched-earth policy,” as English.

Review: How the Golden Age Lost Its Memory by Andrew Heisel, Los Angeles Review of Books

This may be a golden age of television, but it’s hard to feel particularly blessed about it. According to Brett Martin’s recent book Difficult Men, this TV golden age is actually America’s third. In fact, if you add up the spans of Martin’s different ages, we’ve spent more time since 1950 within a golden age of television than without. Our current one has been running since the late ’90s. This is odd, not because we’ve found ourselves so frequently in the company of great television, but because we’ve found ourselves in golden ages at all. For a long time, the idea of “the golden age” just didn’t work like that.

Review: The Village Effect by Susan Pinker – the Science of Friendship by Andrew Anthony, The Guardian

We live in a health-obsessed age in which we are assailed by reports that tell us what we should and shouldn’t eat and drink and do if we want to live long and well. But one of the principal determining factors for both are our social networks.

Not the mostly illusory ones that exist on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but those that involve physical meetings. The subtitle of Pinker’s book is Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters. Numerous studies show that, for example, people with active social lives have higher cancer survival rates than people who are isolated.

In Switzerland, a Musician Searches for the 'Holy Grail' of Instruments by David Rowell, Washington Post

It was called “the hang” (pronounced “hong”), or “hand” in the Bernese German dialect, and was created by Felix Rohner and his partner, Sabina Schärer. The only way you could get one, I learned, was to write a letter — no e-mails — and make a case as to why you were worthy of owning this instrument. Most applications were denied. The lucky recipient then had to fly to Bern to pick up the hang in person — and pay about $3,000. But not right away; there was a waiting list of a year or longer.

With two sons still to send off to college, I was no more likely to pay that than I was to start driving a German tank, but my want was modest: I was seeking a single encounter.

Review: The Future Is Here by Ligaya Mishan, New York Review of Books

Coming a decade later, The Peripheral sometimes has the awkward feel of a transitional work, as if Gibson were trying to adapt to how quickly the present has nearly outstripped his imagined futures. It’s tough being an oracle, but that was never what was most interesting about Gibson’s work. He is better understood as an interrogator of our own time, ferreting out the strangeness in our everyday and the ways that “the future is already here,” as he says—“just not evenly distributed.”

Review: In 'Just Kids from the Bronx,' Famous Names Recall Their Roots by Sam Roberts, New York Times

Ms. Alda, an author, a clarinetist and the wife of the actor Alan Alda, interviewed a diverse group of fellow Bronxites, ranging from 23-year-old Erik Zeidler, a naturalist who as a high school student hunted snapping turtles in the Bronx River, to Carl Reiner, the 93-year-old comedian and writer whose classroom contortions in first grade constituted his first show business performances.

David Graeber: 'So Many People Spend Their Working Lives Doing Jobs They Think Are Unnecessary' by Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian

But Graeber’s book doesn’t just present human idiocy in its bureaucratic form. Its main purpose is to free us from a rightwing misconception about bureaucracy. Ever since Ronald Reagan said: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help”, it has been commonplace to assume that bureaucracy means government. Wrong, Graeber argues. “If you go to the Mac store and somebody says: ‘I’m sorry, it’s obvious that what needs to happen here is you need a new screen, but you’re still going to have to wait a week to speak to the expert’, you don’t say ‘Oh damn bureaucrats’, even though that’s what it is – classic bureaucratic procedure. We’ve been propagandised into believing that bureaucracy means civil servants. Capitalism isn’t supposed to create meaningless positions. The last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.”

X, a C.V. by Elise Partridge, New York Review of Books

I stand, legs astride, a colossus—
or dancer in fifth position, wide port de bras.
Polymorph strayed into English,

How Chef Peter Chang Stopped Running and Started Empire-Building by Tim Carman, Washington Post

For years after he left the Chinese Embassy, Peter Chang seemed more ghost than chef, hiding in Fairfax and Alexandria kitchens under assumed names, often quick to flee when his cooking generated too much attention. He’d rarely, if ever, leave a forwarding address.

The pursuit of Chang soon became an all-consuming story among exotic-food hunters: a tale of obsession, devotion and love for one chef’s authentic Chinese fare. The chase narrative transformed a Hubei province farm boy with minimal English language skills into an American cult figure, an image that, years later, still clings to the chef despite his restaurant chain that keeps expanding year after year.

Review: ‘The Seventh Day,’ by Yu Hua by Ken Kalfus, New York Times

In Yu Hua’s surreal, mordant novel “The Seventh Day,” the victims of China’s ­explosively expanding market economy include the still conscious, still suffering, still impoverished dead. They can’t afford burial plots. They’ve been separated from their families and uprooted from their ­ancestral homes. Unable to be mourned in the proper Chinese way, they’re fated to roam a “hazy, indistinct city” where snow swirls around their legs and they have the opportunity to reflect upon their lives and the circumstances of their deaths. The limping shades may then encounter the dead former friends and loved ones who also inhabit this characteristically Chinese mega-necropolis.

Review: ‘The Contemporaries,’ by Roger White by Colin Fleming, Washington Post

If you’ve ever gone to a contemporary art gallery and hovered in front of some painting thinking, “Egads, I have no clue what is going on here,” this slim volume can give you one. Strolling around various corridors of the modern art world, Roger White’s “The Contemporaries” suggests just how far the business is from those romantic notions of a starving painter in his garret apartment, brush quivering.

Why Modern Fiction Has Turned Its Back on Friendship by AD Miller, The Guardian

Achilles and Patroclus, David and Jonathan: these are archetypal double acts, but both are repeatedly and strikingly evoked by reference to other types of relationships. It is as if – then as now – friendship lacked a convincing, independent vocabulary of its own.

The Ugliest Sign in America by Dan Koeppel, Medium

But this 20-inch placard, with a pair of glowing blue swooshes that wrap around four letters in bright red — O-P-E-N — is everywhere. I’ve noticed that not just in my home town of Los Angeles, where it is a mainstay of mini-malls, massage parlors, and marijuana dispensaries, but all across the United States; on a 10,000-mile automotive journey this past summer, we saw thousands of them, many replacing aged, flickering neon on the classic two-lane highways — Route 66, Highway 50 — that define the idea of the American road. And in a small way, these newer, ugly signs represent the end of that idea.

So how did this modern defilement happen? What possessed a nation of shop owners to lose their collective minds? And what’s to be made of fact that these signs are actually, secretly technological marvels?

Turning Japanese by Roland Kelts, The Long+Short

Japan’s 2014 fertility rate is low – 1.4 births per woman – but David Pilling, former Tokyo bureau chief of the Financial Times, notes that South Korea’s is lower; and that those of other developed countries, from Taiwan and Singapore to Germany and Italy, are similarly low.

“Much of the world is going Japan’s way,” says Pilling. “If Japan is doomed, so are many others.”

However, Pilling adds, the alternative isn’t necessarily better. “Can we really only conceive of a successful economy as one where the population increases year after year? By this measure Pakistan and many African countries should be screaming success stories. They’re not.”

Poem: Binoculars by Laura Kasischke, New York Times

Laura Kasischke is a novelist and a poet whose most recent book of poetry, “The Infinitesimals,” was published last year by Copper Canyon Press.

Rise of the Gender Novel by Casey Plett, The Walrus

These novels aren’t just clichéd by the standards of transgender literature—they’re clichéd by any standard. Meanwhile, the sections of these books that don’t deal with gender variance are often vivid and fully realized, particularly in Middlesex and Moving Forward. It’s not that Fu, Winter, Mootoo, and Eugenides aren’t talented writers. So what does it say that four very different authors set out to write four very different people—and came up with the same non-person? And why are cisgender readers so moved by such one-dimensional characters?

The English (Language) Privilege by Tristen Mills, Medium

Turns out, my ignorance hadn't been of other languages, but of the ubiquity of my own and the privileges it afforded. In taxis, cafes, and restaurants, I tried to use the new words I’d learned and was politely answered in much more proficient English. In Istanbul, “kahve, lutfen?” received a reply of “yes, one coffee, no problem.” In Batumi, “gamarjoba!” received surprised laughs from the Georgian men and women and excited “hellos!” from their children.

Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone? by Walter Nicklin, Medium

Are they hiding, like stars no longer visible in the light-polluted sky? Or are they simply no longer here, gone forever, like the passenger pigeon or Good Lord Bird? What I hope to spot is another elusive species, rare and endangered, maybe even extinct. I feel like a frustrated sky-watcher or avid birder, constantly on the lookout, from back roads to Interstate exit ramps; but I haven’t found a one. Not one. Not a single hitchhiker.

'Mountaineer' Is a Must-Read of Soviet Sci-Fi by Juan Vidal, NPR

First published in 1970, The Dead Mountaineer's Inn is a biting, deeply funny tale that sends its readers down unpredictable paths.

Tweet, Memory by Dani Shapiro, New Yorker

Lisa Adams died two weeks ago, at the age of forty-five, leaving a husband, three kids, her parents, many friends, and a legion of Twitter followers. Just about every obituary and tribute included reference to Kellergate. It frustrates me that this is a part of Lisa’s story. But as a memoirist, I know well the projections and insults that go with the territory, and Lisa was ultimately a memoirist. Twitter was her tool, and the aggregate of her tweets formed a kind of literature. Her fast, loose style of storytelling revealed far more than fleeting exchanges or witticisms; she allowed herself to be vulnerable, to be seen, and she made use of the material of her life to build a body of work that will have a lasting impact.

How Cereal Became the Quintessential American Breakfast by Jaya Saxena, Serious Eats

Cereal's position as America's default breakfast food is a remarkable feat, not of flavor or culture, but of marketing and packaging design. It's a century-long history of advertising, a brilliant campaign that capitalized on the intersection of industrialization, health-consciousness, and changing class attitudes that completely upended the way Americans ate. And it all began at a moment when products were primed to transcend regional tastes through the rise of mass-marketing.

Object Lesson by Teju Cole, New York Times

In her 1977 collection of essays, “On Photography,” Susan Sontag identified a feeling of helpless voyeurism that comes over us as we look at photographs of people in the midst of conflict. She also wrote about how repeatedly seeing such images could anesthetize the vision and deaden the conscience. Sontag understood photographs of conflict to be making a utilitarian argument — that they could bring us into a state of productive shock — and showed that they seldom did what they claimed, or hoped, to do. The more photographs shock, the more difficult it is for them to be pinned to their local context, and the more easily they are indexed to our mental library of generic images. What, then, are we to do with a thrilling photograph that is at the same time an image of pain?

Bad Thinkers by Quassim Cassam, Aeon

I want to argue for something which is controversial, although I believe that it is also intuitive and commonsensical. My claim is this: Oliver believes what he does because that is the kind of thinker he is or, to put it more bluntly, because there is something wrong with how he thinks. The problem with conspiracy theorists is not, as the US legal scholar Cass Sunstein argues, that they have little relevant information. The key to what they end up believing is how they interpret and respond to the vast quantities of relevant information at their disposal. I want to suggest that this is fundamentally a question of the way they are. Oliver isn’t mad (or at least, he needn’t be). Nevertheless, his beliefs about 9/11 are the result of the peculiarities of his intellectual constitution – in a word, of his intellectual character.

Why Small Cities Are the Best Places to Eat in America by Joshua Ozersky, Wall Street Journal

The contagion of foodie culture, once the special preserve of a few urban enclaves, travels at the speed of light via the Internet and a hundred food-themed TV shows. There are cooks and customers knowledgeable about and excited by the work once done only in a few major metro areas, and ready to see it in their towns.

How Running an $837,000 Office Pool Destroyed This Man's Life by Steve Politi,

It was Bovery, a now 58-year-old Middlesex County school teacher and SAT tutor with two adult daughters, who found himself embroiled in a nasty legal battle that somehow, even four and a half years later, has no end in sight. He wants his money back. He wants his life back.

He wants to know, in a country where gambling on fantasy football leagues and office pools is accepted as part of our culture, why he was hit with felony charges and jail time. He wants to know, in a state where lawmakers are waging a court battle to legalize sports betting, what he did that was so wrong.

Review: History of a Suicide: My Sister's Unfinished Life – Not One Tragedy but Many by Tim Adams, The Guardian

Suicide does not seem to demand a whodunnit. Still, that is exactly what those left behind are bequeathed. Who exactly was the person who decided that this was the day, the afternoon, the moment in which she or he would bring their life to a full-stop? And how was that person related to the person their family and friends had known and loved?

Jill Bialosky is a poet and book editor in New York. Twenty-five years ago her half-sister Kim, 10 years her junior, gassed herself with the exhaust from her car in the garage of the home she shared with their mother. Kim was 21. The tragic decision she made has shadowed Bialosky’s life and the lives of her other two sisters for all the days and years that have followed. Who could do such a thing?

There's No Wrong Place to Start Reading Pratchett by Tasha Robinson, NPR

The important thing isn't finding the perfect starting point. It's accepting that Pratchett created a messy, beautiful world that can't be summed up with one individual book — and diving in anyway.

Poem: The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O'Brien, The Guardian

The beautiful librarians are dead,
The fairly recent graduates who sat
Like Françoise Hardy’s shampooed sisters
With cardigans across their shoulders
On quiet evenings at the issue desk,
Stamping books and never looking up
At where I stood in adoration.

Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind Review – Touch Is a Sense We Shouldn't Underestimate by Salley Vickers, The Guardian

How is it that a child can be born deaf or blind and yet grow up to be emotionally and physically healthy; but if a child is deprived of early nurturing touch he or she will not only suffer emotional and psychiatric difficulties but also physical problems – obesity, type-two diabetes, heart disease, immune and digestive disorders – that will last into adult life? David J Linden, a neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, answers this question in this engrossing book.

How the Internet Made the World's Food Taste the Same by Alex Hern, The Guardian

“One thing the internet prevents is trial and error. Everybody wants something instantly. That’s fantastic, but what it sacrifices is the process of fucking up. I’m sorry, but nobody is born a chef genius, it’s whoever makes the best mistakes. And right now the internet puts people in the position where they have to get it right immediately.

A Girl, a Shoe, a Prince: The Endlessly Evolving Cinderella by Linda Holmes, NPR

The film that's coming out this weekend may be bent and polished, stripped of some of its themes and relieved of its bone-burying — and Cinderella may now be an established part of the Disney princess racket — but this is still recognizably a story of which 345 versions could already be found almost 125 years ago.

Jane Goodall Is Still Wild at Heart by Paul Tullis, New York Times

Last summer, almost exactly 54 years later, Jane Goodall was standing on the same beach. The vast lake was still warm, the beach beneath her clear plastic sandals still pebbly. But nearly everything else in sight was different. The jungle had reclaimed the clearing where she pitched her first tent. A ranger station and a small lodge stood nearby. Just out of sight, carved into the vegetation, were more cinder-block buildings that housed staff, researchers and their labs. Jutting into the lake was now a dock, where a boat was pulling up with a load of day-trippers from Kigoma, a small city to the south. All of this bustle was, of course, a result of the work Goodall began that day in 1960, which continues as one of the longest and most rigorously conducted inquiries into animal behavior.

For a good while in the beginning, Goodall had little human company. “Aloneness was a way of life,” she would write. Today, as a globe-trotting conservationist, Goodall can neither avoid nor refuse human contact. She radiates approachability; she typically dresses in khakis and an untucked oxford shirt. She can’t spend two minutes in a hotel lobby in Bujumbura or in an airplane seat waiting to depart for London without someone angling up to say how amazing she is. She can find relief from the crush of humanity only in hotel suites, in her childhood home of Bournemouth and here, on a remote shore of Lake Tanganyika, at the edge of a jungle few humans would set foot in had she not begun exploring it half a century ago.

Mathematicians Chase Moonshine’s Shadow by Erica Klarreich

The new proof strongly suggests that in each of the 23 cases, there must be a string theory model that holds the key to understanding these otherwise baffling numerical correspondences. But the proof doesn’t go so far as to actually construct the relevant string theory models, leaving physicists with a tantalizing problem. “At the end of the day when we understand what moonshine is, it will be in terms of physics,” Duncan said.

Review: Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey – a Propulsive Debut by Justine Jordan, The Guardian

Painful it may be, but the book is also wry, surprising and blackly funny, a queasily intimate travelogue of inner and outer journeys. In her portrait of a mind under pressure, tying itself in knots, hovering between overwhelming sensation and disassociated numbness, Lacey has produced a novel of uncomfortable power.

The Upside of Losing One's Memory by Tom Shakespeare, BBC

If I was looking for advice about anything other than which smart phone to buy, I'd generally ask someone aged 80- rather than an 18-year-old. It's like when you take a photograph - there's the shutter speed to consider, but there's also the depth of field. Perspective matters.

Poem: The Swap by Maurice Riordan, The Guardian

Someone snuck over the back fence
last night and pinched my ladder.
Then I found a bronze BMX
leaning outside the front door.

Why Pi Matters by Steven Strogatz, New Yorker

Why do mathematicians care so much about pi? Is it some kind of weird circle fixation? Hardly. The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach. Even young children get this. The digits of pi never end and never show a pattern. They go on forever, seemingly at random—except that they can’t possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle. This tension between order and randomness is one of the most tantalizing aspects of pi.

Photo: pi, by Robert Couse-Baker (CC BY 2.0)

How Tyler Brûlé Has Extended Monocle beyond Simply a Magazine for the Jet Set by Joseph Lichterman, NiemanLab

“We want to create and craft an environment where we’re not getting into a discussion about cost per thousands. It’s the cost of a quality audience.”

Review: Mary Helen Specht's 'Migratory Animals' by Joanna Rakoff, New York Times

Tales of naïve Americans abroad may have defined our national fiction around the turn of the last century, but the literature of the early 21st abounds with an entirely more sophisticated sort of traveler, perfectly exemplified by Flannery, the hard-as-nails heroine of Mary Helen Specht’s delightfully ambitious first novel, “Migratory Animals.”

Review: 'Master Thieves' Is a Treasure Hunt by William McKeen, Boston Globe

The book does not solve the mystery of one of the world’s biggest art heists — the theft of $500 million worth of artwork from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. But it does offer a pretty good road map for the FBI to follow 25 years later and rewards readers with a compelling story about Boston’s criminal underbelly.

Review: 'In Every Way,' by Nic Brown by Julie Sarkissian, New York Times

It sounds impossible: Give up your baby for adoption and still spend every day with her. But Maria, the 19-year-old protagonist of Nic Brown’s novel “In Every Way,” does just that, becoming the full-time nanny of the daughter she gave away. This is an ingenious feat, considering Maria opted for a mostly closed adoption. That the reunion is nonetheless entirely believable is a credit to Brown’s gift for realism, and evidence that there is no anonymity in the digital age.

There Is No 'Proper English' by Oliver Kamm, Wall Street Journal

People should not be stigmatized for the way they speak, and they certainly should not have stupid, made-up linguistic superstitions drilled into their heads.

Pratchett Himself, by Myrmi (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Disney's $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband by Bob Croslin

If you want to imagine how the world will look in just a few years, once our cell phones become the keepers of both our money and identity, skip Silicon Valley and book a ticket to Orlando. Go to Disney World. Then, reserve a meal at a restaurant called Be Our Guest, using the Disney World app to order your food in advance.

Los Angeles Should Be Buried by Justin Nobel, Nautilus

A day in the war between the city and its mountains.

The Embuggerance of Losing Terry Pratchett by Dean Burnett, The Guardian

In it, Leornardo Da Vinci analogue Leornard of Quirm is building some very important invention needed to save the world, and requests that all the apprentice craftsmen of Ankh-Morpork (London analogue) be assigned to the project. He’s told he can actually have qualified, even master craftsmen, but he insists on apprentices, because:

I have no use for people who have learned the limits of the possible

Goodbye Mr Pratchett. Thanks for the ride.

Author Terry Pratchett Was No Stranger to Death by Petra Mayer, NPR

Pratchett was no stranger to death. The big guy with the scythe and the booming voice was a constant and vital presence in the Discworld books and their screen adaptations. "HUMAN BEINGS MAKE LIFE SO INTERESTING," Death says in Pratchett's 1996 book Hogfather, and while it's Death speaking there in his characteristic capitals, that one sentence sums up what was marvelous about Pratchett: He found human beings so interesting.

Poem: Starting to Show by Kevin Young, New York Times

She sleeps on the side
her heart is on —

A Manners Manifesto by Tamar Adler, New York Times

In the democratic present, perhaps the way to distinguish useful etiquette from frippery is to discern which rules help us be good rather than seem good. Serving others first is plainly charitable. Filling companions’ glasses, waiting to eat, giving another the last of the stew, chewing with a closed mouth — each is a basic acknowledgment of togetherness. Perhaps the consequential lesson in the matter of holding your fork, etc., is that customs differ at different tables in different lands, and that there is a certain intelligence in doing as is done. In other words, whatever unites merits keeping, and what divides can be folded and stored away with the linen too old and ornamental to use.

Making Nice by Matt Sumell – Boisterous, Brutish and Brilliantly Funny by Sandra Newman, The Guardian

Matt Sumell’s novel-in-short-stories starts in familiar territory. The protagonist is a thirtyish loser who drinks too much and stumbles comically in his attempts to pick up women. He tells his life story in a hyper-masculine vernacular that relies on obscenity for its punch lines. One might wonder if we need another book exploring a landscape so thickly covered in footprints. But Making Nice has an anarchic humour and a goofy, ingenuous humanity that makes every page feel new.

The Human Epoch: When Did It Start? by Bob O'Hara, The Guardian

So if we are to have an Anthropocene then geologists must find a clear place in time where they can draw a line between the Anthropocene and those times when the Earth was relatively free of human influence. But where should it be?

To Tip or not to Tip? by Julian Baggini, Aeon

Tipping is confusing, and paradoxical. We tip some people who provide services but not others who work just as hard for just as little pay. It is insulting to leave any tip in Tokyo but offensive not to leave a large one in New York. It is assumed that the purpose of tipping is to encourage good service but we leave one only after the service has been given, when it is too late to change it, often to people who will never serve us again. Tipping challenges the sweeping generalisations of economists and anthropologists alike. To understand how and why we tip is to begin to understand just how complicated and fascinating we human beings are.

Post-Internet Poetry Comes of Age by Kenneth Goldsmith, New Yorker

What Riviere’s book points to is the idea of the poet as d.j., weaving together samples of preëxisting language into something unique. Of course, this is nothing new. The cento—snagging lines from other poems to make your own—has been around for nearly two millennia. But what’s new is Riviere’s use of Google as an oracle, the results from which are strained through his own subjectivity, leading to poems that are at once organic and mechanical, personal and, in a sense, objective.

Review: Jane Hirshfield's Poems of Beauty and Wonder by Kirsten Rian, The Oregonian

When was the last time you looked within three inches of a flower? Children peer, we adults hurry past. Jane Hirshfield's new collection of poetry, "The Beauty," composes the ordinary fruit, in the ordinary kitchen, the ants, the towels, the hopes, the loss, the way we humans believe and lose faith, all of it contained in the hours of every single ordinary day, and renders it beautiful, noticeable.

In Praise of Korean Fried Chicken by Juan-Carlo Tomas, The Guardian

The messiest food craze to hit Australia is also one of the tastiest. Just make sure you get plenty of tissues and a box for the bones.

Film Franchises Shouldn't Be Afraid of the Rewind Button by Chris Klimek, The Dissolve

I have one word for this guy who thinks he can just saunter in and violate the established continuity of the benighted Alien franchise: “Phew.”

Here are four more: Better luck this time.

Why People Leave Their Bodies to Medical Research – and What Happens by David Derbyshir, The Guardian

The first thing you notice as you walk into the operating theatre is the smell. There isn’t one. There’s no whiff of chemical preservatives, no sniff of disinfectant and, reassuringly, no smell of bodies. The room is brightly lit, spotlessly clean and there’s little noise apart from the buzz of air-conditioning units, the clatter of surgical tools and hushed conversation.

It takes a while to get your bearings in such as clinical environment. It’s only when you do that you notice the dismembered human arms lying on bloodstained white absorbent pads on the stainless steel operating tables. Some have been severed above the elbow, others at the shoulder. Their waxy flesh is bruised – a natural process caused by the settling of blood after death – and their palms are covered with purple pen marks and deep incisions. Pairs of trainee surgeons in blue gowns and latex gloves work on each arm, supervised by consultants. This morning they dissected the fingers and palms, prising apart the skin to expose garish yellow layers of fat and chalk-white bones. This afternoon they are practising tendon repair.

Blocking the Paths to Suicide by Celia Watson Seupel, New York Times

Instead of treating individual risk, means restriction entails modifying the environment by removing the means by which people usually die by suicide. The world cannot be made suicide-proof, of course. But, these researchers argue, if the walkway over a bridge is fenced off, a struggling college freshman cannot throw herself over the side. If parents leave guns in a locked safe, a teenage son cannot shoot himself if he suddenly decides life is hopeless.

Fiction: The Infinity Library by O. Westin, Micro SF/F

Next to the infinitely large room in which an infinite number of monkeys hammer away at their typewriters, producing such deathless prose as "Shall I compère thee, Thora Summers-Day?", the Infinity Library stores and catalogues the books the monkeys, and all other writers, produce. It is not, it should be noted, staffed by monkeys, as the task of a librarian is nothing as simple, frivolous and carefree as the task of a writer.

Poem: World Trade Center/Mail Runner/’73 by Peter Balakian by Carol Rumens

There was no languor, no drowsy trade winds,
or stoned-out stupor of lapping waves,

only news, the big board of crime,
corporate raiding, selling short and long.

(Actually) True War Stories at NBC News by Gabriel Sherman, New York Magazine

Less than two months later, of course, NBC News would be in chaos—its anchor publicly embarrassed for a virtual back catalogue of Hemingwayesque yarns, and its executives struggling in vain to figure out how to control the damage. But while the Williams fiasco might seem to be the cause of NBC News’ struggles, viewed through a wider lens it looks more like the symptom of a much bigger problem. Over the past year, all of the NBC News marquee franchises—Today, Meet the Press, Nightly News—have been badly damaged by bungled talent decisions and control-room shake-ups. Taken together, the upheavals portray a news division that has allowed talent to take over. That was the theme that echoed through interviews with dozens of current and former NBC News journalists, executives, agents, and rival-network officials: “There’s no adult supervision,” one senior NBC executive tells me. “If you don’t manage, it turns into a bad version of Ron Burgundy,” says another.

To the End of Time by Will Self, BBC

The fourth dimension appears so much slipperier to us than the first three - so slippery, indeed, that when we attempt to fix it in our minds it slithers away from our grasp in a faintly nauseating way.

Review: Hausfrau – Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Sad but Seductive Debut by Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

Jill Alexander Essbaum’s first novel has a pretty cover, its title embroidered in crimson silk on a background of delicate pewter flowers. Look closer, though, and among the twirling stems you’ll find the outline of a broken glass, petals giving way to shards, a jagged edge where there should be a dusty stamen. Hausfrau: suddenly, the word sounds more than usually weighted, a 21st-century piece of casual sarcasm thickening into something sharp and venomous.

Review: Girl in the Dark – A Powerful Chronicle of a Life Without Light by Ben East, The Guardian

Anyone who has experienced chronic illness will know that desperate feeling of not being able to trust your body, of racking your brain (and the internet) for reasons and potential cures. The hope, despair and guilt at the burden laid at the door of loved ones. Lyndsey prises open all these emotions with effortless, matter-of-fact clarity, without ever letting Girl in the Dark trip over into misery memoir territory.

Review: Michael Meyer’s ‘In Manchuria’ Documents a Changing Rural China by Jeff Swensen, New York Times

In Chinese, the region that was once the cradle of the mighty Qing dynasty is today rather prosaically known as Dongbei, the Northeast. Home to 110 million people, it has smoggy cities and bitingly cold weather. It can seem drab or worse to a visitor. But Michael Meyer has a more refined sense of history and poetry, and with his new book, “In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China,” he seizes the opportunity to dig beneath the region’s gritty surfaces.

Fiction: All You Have to Do by Sarah Braunstein, New Yorker

It was 1972 and Sid Baumwell was hungry. For the salt at the bottom of the pretzel dish, for frozen Mars bars, for appreciation from someone who wasn’t a blood relation—preferably a girl with pink cheeks and big sleepy eyes, like the one in “The Graduate,” his second-favorite movie of all time. He could do two dozen pull-ups. No acne. He wasn’t truly handsome but not bad-looking—handsome enough, he felt, to deserve his hunger. Freckles across the bridge of his nose, slightly splayed feet, respectable height. Smart. He knew this. His teachers told him so when they pulled him aside to say that he wasn’t working up to his potential. He had potential, and this mattered more than grades, comforted him more than any A. He held a secret belief that he could, if he really really really wanted to, become President, but he didn’t want to, enjoyed his personal freedoms too much—in any case, politicians were chumps. He told himself that as the eldest of three he was sort of like the president of the siblings, though he knew he was too passive, conflict-averse, not enough righteous fury. His sister, Robin, had got all the fury. “Dickweed,” she hissed. For six months she had referred to him only as Jack Squat, which didn’t seem so mean until you saw her raging eyes. Even then, Sid’s response had been to shrug and walk away. When his brother took a Mars bar from the freezer, Sid’s Mars bar, what did Sid do? He let it go. Faced with his brother’s saucer eyes and defective right hand, the chocolate ring around his pale mouth, Sid never found the strength to do anything but shrug.

The Death of Writing – If James Joyce Were Alive Today He'd Be Working for Google by Tom McCarthy, The Guardian

If these problems – essentially literary ones, it should once more be noted, problems of perceiving, describing, writing – plagued anthropology in its mid-century heyday, how much more so do they now? Since Lévi-Strauss’s era (and due, in large part, to the systems of equivalence he drew up that allow all cultures to be viewed through the same grid), the ethnographic viewfinder has shifted its gaze from the “primitive” world to the developed one, and to the very societies of which anthropologists themselves form part. The tribe is us. Where, then, is the dilapidated jetty? Where the rubber boat and ocean liner, and the study with its Twinings and its scotch? For decades now, the distinction (so vital to classical anthropology) between “field” and “home” has imploded – a collapse that goes hand-in-hand with that of the academy as a seat of “pure”, unsullied knowledge. As any contemporary British academic will tell you, thanks to a double whammy of drastic cuts in public funding for and creeping privatisation of higher education, universities have become businesses – and not very good ones. Conversely, businesses, and particularly those at the leading edge of innovation, have taken over universities’ former role as society’s prime sites of knowledge generation. That the best engineers, mathematicians and visual designers should end up working in business is perhaps unsurprising – but a more eyebrow-raising statistic is that more than half of all anthropology graduates now work for corporations too. Not on but for: deploying ethnographic knowledge to help companies achieve deeper penetration of their markets, to advise cities how to brand and rebrand themselves, and governments how better to narrate their policy agendas.

Review: Ode to Animals by D.J. Lee, Los Angeles Review of Books

This mass extinction is the starting point for Alison Hawthorne Deming’s Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit. “Human beings are degrading ecosystems at a rate unprecedented in human history,” Deming writes. “Now all animals are held captive by the global scale of change that human beings have induced. Even we are captives.” To combat our collective captivity, Deming captures readers with her prose — rich, insightful, curious, lyrical, and precise — and the reach of her moral imagination. In a chapter on elephants, for example, a zookeeper tells her that when the animals encounter a human, they know immediately how he or she feels. “Humans used to be that way,” he says. “But we’ve lost it.” Deming acknowledges but doesn’t condemn the destruction we’ve caused. She offers hope for change by connecting us with our animal natures and our animal past.

Review: ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ by Anne Tyler by Emily Rapp Black, Boston Globe

“A Spool of Blue Thread,’’ the newest novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler, is a thoughtful and intriguing study of the role of memory in creating and destroying the stories we tell ourselves about love. The lived story, the novel reveals, is far more complex than the one repeatedly told as part of a family’s known history.

Poem: Parma Violet by Frances Leviston, The Guardian

Egyptian sofas, old anaglypta,
the drop-leaf table where the pine tree posed
every mild December,
on its pedestal the dodo, crackle-glazed,
and hung above the hearth and the dormant fire
a painting I supposed

Engineering the Perfect Baby by Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review

“Germ line” is biologists’ jargon for the egg and sperm, which combine to form an embryo. By editing the DNA of these cells or the embryo itself, it could be possible to eliminate disease genes and to pass those genetic fixes on to future generations. Such a technology could be used to rid families of scourges like cystic fibrosis. It might also be possible to install genes that offer lifelong protection against infection, Alzheimer’s, and, Yang told me, maybe the effects of aging. These would be history-making medical advances that could be as important to this century as vaccines were to the last.

That’s the promise. The fear is that germ line engineering is a path toward a dystopia of super people and designer babies for those who can afford it. Want a child with blue eyes and blond hair? Why not design a highly intelligent group of people who could be tomorrow’s leaders and scientists?

Review: Neil Gaiman’s ‘Trigger Warning’ by Andrew O'Hehir, New York Times

Gaiman relates to his fans easily and without pretension, perhaps because he enthusiastically embraces fandom himself: His new collection of stories and poems, “Trigger Warning,” features an extra­canonical Sherlock Holmes adventure that finally explains why the great detective takes up beekeeping in his retirement and a terrifying tale of a boundary­less, time-devouring entity set in the universe of the venerable BBC science fiction series “Doctor Who.” Both of them, in classic Gaiman style, are lovingly steeped in established fictional worlds while artfully nudging them into unexplored territory.

Review: ‘Girl in the Dark: A Memoir,’ by Anna Lyndsey by Natalie Kusz, New York Times

A reader trolling the bookstore’s memoir section, sampling passages from random volumes, finally encountering Anna Lyndsey’s melodic, penetrating prose among the drama-heavy movie-of-the-week wannabes, might be excused for any unbecoming public outburst: a fist in the air, say, and a bellow of “Score!” For although “Girl in the Dark” is based on the author’s experience of a startling medical condition — full-body light sensitivity so severe that Lyndsey becomes largely restricted to a stifling blackout room — a spot-check of its paragraphs reveals the quiet, ingenious consciousness of a poet.

Poem: ‘Outside the Abandoned Packard Plant’ by Erika Meitner, selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

There is a driving rhythm in this poem — the industry of crickets, the forward motion of the lines — even as there is no man-made machinery at work in the defunct auto plant. The contrast between the two heightens the tension between what is lost and the image, in the last line, of a possible future.

Poem: Pillow by Jana Prikryl, New Yorker

How solitary
and resolute you look in the morning.
A stoic in your cotton sleeve.
Do you dream of walking out

My Father, the Philosopher by Emily Adler, The Hairpin

If your father is a philosopher, then you should expect to lose many arguments. You will never lose “because life isn’t fair,” or because your dad “says so.” You will always lose on strict logical grounds.

If your father is a philosopher, your premises must support your conclusion. Then, maybe once or twice in a childhood filled with lost arguments, you will win. When you win, you win big.

If your father is a philosopher then you should expect to see some version of your at-home altercations elevated to a moral academic question. If your father is a philosopher, this should not be misconstrued as a “coping mechanism.”

Holy Writ by Mary Norris, New Yorker

There was an opening! Two, in fact, one in the typing pool and one in the editorial library. I flunked the test for the typing pool. It was on an electric typewriter, and I was used to a manual—at least, that was my excuse. If my hands trembled over the keyboard, the typewriter took off without me. The other interview went better. Once I got a whiff of the library—that bookish, dusty, paste-and-paper smell so peculiar to libraries—I felt that I was in my element. Helen Stark, who was only the second person ever to be in charge of the library, had a noble head—you could see her profile on a coin—and strong features. She and three girls sat at desks that faced each other in a cloverleaf arrangement. Helen gave me a typing test—on a manual typewriter, cramming words onto an index card (I aced it)—and borrowed an empty office for the interview. I remember her arranging her skirt, which was black and wide at the hem, when she crossed her legs. (My skirt was a forest-green Danskin wraparound that a friend had picked up at a thrift shop in New Jersey, and I didn’t realize until the next time I wore it that one end of the hem hung some eight inches longer than the other.) I was all aglow, and Helen warned me that it was not a glamorous job. But she knew from experience that nothing she said could dim my enthusiasm or overturn my conviction that I would soon be one of the “young friends” whose “letters” were published in The Talk of the Town.

I started work on Monday, typing summaries of the fiction in that week’s issue and indexing it under key words. As Helen and I were leaving that night, an editor named Pat Crow got on the elevator at the eighteenth floor with us. I noticed his boots—big mud-green rubber boots—and said, “Those are the kind of boots we wore in the cheese factory.” He looked at Helen and said, “So this is the next stop after the cheese factory?”

How WWI Made Wristwatches Happen by Linda Rodriguez, Boing Boing

It would take a global war to catapult the wristwatch onto the arms of men the world over. Though the wristwatch wasn’t exactly invented for World War I, it was during this era that it evolved from a useful but fringe piece of military kit to a nearly universal necessity. So why this war? Firstly, the development of the wristwatch was hastened by the style of warfare that soon became symbolic of the First World War: The trenches.

The Strange World of Felt Presences by Ben Alderson-Day and David Smailes, The Guardian

Understanding more about how and why felt presences occur has the potential to tell us many things about ourselves: how we react under intense mental or physical stress, how we deal with danger and threat, and how we recognise the shape and position of our own body. But one thing it also may do is shed light on other unusual experiences that are hard to understand.

A Comfort Junkie's Resistance to Adventure Travel Lisa Unger, Wall Street Journal

It's not that I don’t have an adventurer’s spirit. After all, I left a secure job in publishing to become a novelist. What I do not have is an adventurer’s *body. At the mere suggestion of physical danger, it rebels. My stomach churns, my heart skips beats and I can’t catch my breath. Some people (my husband, Jeff, for instance) are adrenaline junkies. I’m a comfort junkie.

Review: ‘Act of God’ by Jill Ciment by Jan Stuart, Boston Globe

If you dig into the early acting career of Vida Cebu, one of four bedeviled women whose personalities illuminate Jill Ciment’s darkly comic jewel of a novel, “Act of God,” you will discover that she auditioned for the original off-Broadway production of “Six Degrees of Separation.” While we don’t know whether she ever got the role, the passing nod to the John Guare play provides an apt grace note for Ciment’s newest work of fiction, which also revolves around a small constellation of New Yorkers whose lives are conjoined by the machinations of a master freeloader.

Ungentle Jane by Paula Byrne, The Times Literary Supplement

Edward Bond once wrote, “I write about violence as naturally as Jane Austen does about manners”. Bond may be surprised to know that Austen was interested in violence and began her writing career pushing at the boundaries of what was acceptable and tasteful in literary fiction. As Kathryn Sutherland writes in her introduction to a splendid new edition of the “juvenilia”: “Jane Austen’s earliest writings are violent, restless, anarchic and exuberantly expressionistic. Drunkenness, female brawling, sexual misdemeanour and murder run riot across their pages”.

The 1906 Novel That Imagined Present-Day New York by Paul Collins, New Yorker

New York City may never live up to the vision of its future reported by the Times in 1906. “The state of civilization about New York in the year 2015 will resemble very closely that of England in the early days of the Saxon settlement,” the paper declared on June 30th of that year. Under the headline “Nightmare Prophecy,” this startling notion came not from a politician or an academic but from a review of what may have been that year’s most peculiar novel: Van Tassel Sutphen’s “The Doomsman.”

Review: Erik Larson’s ‘Dead Wake,’ on the Sinking of the Lusitania by Janet Maslin, New York Times

The Lusitania is about to sink — and sink, and sink — all over again. This May is the 100th anniversary of the attack on the grand British ocean liner by a German submarine, and the expected crop of books will commemorate the occasion. But the most attention-getting of the bunch is guaranteed to be Erik Larson’s “Dead Wake,” because Mr. Larson is an old hand at treating nonfiction like high drama. As he demonstrated with “In the Garden of Beasts” and “The Devil in the White City,” he knows how to pick details that have maximum soapy potential and then churn them until they foam.

The Mysterious (And Cool) Science of Icicles by Ivan Semeniuk, Globe and Mail

Rejoice icicle lovers. Dr. Freeze has delivered his magnum opus.

For the record, Stephen Morris, a professor of physics at the University of Toronto, does not call himself Dr. Freeze. But by his own admission, he is obsessed with icicles. He has observed them in the environment and grown them in his lab. He has accumulated thousands of photos and hundreds of videos of icicles forming under different conditions.

And he has tried – and is still trying – to puzzle out the underlying theory that rules their cold and pointy essence.

And now he’s giving all of it away.

Can God Lie? by Dallas G Denery II, Aeon

Anyone who has ever read the Bible knows that God can speak. Over the course of six days, God speaks the world into existence and then speaks to both Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Later he speaks to Cain and Abel, to Noah, to Abraham and many others. What sorts of things does God say? He issues commands – ‘Let there be light!’ – he lays down prohibitions – ‘Don’t eat from that tree!’ – and he asks questions, metes out punishments, offers advice, forecasts the weather, and orders an old man to kill his only son. Sometimes he says these things calmly, sometimes sarcastically, occasionally his words are filled with anger or pity or love. When God speaks people listen, but when people listen, should they always believe him? In other words, can God lie?

'Beholder' Has An Eye For The Absurd, And A Smirk Beneath Its Beard (Colin Dwyer, NPR)

And yet, more often than any book I can easily recall, Rapp's novel had me laughing like a fool, embarrassing myself each time I unthinkingly brought it out in public. Perhaps more surprisingly, that humor felt entirely natural — born organically from the idiosyncrasies of the characters themselves rather than foisted on them.

How I Learned To Be OK With Feeling Sad (Alice Mongkongllite, BuzzFeed)

The first time I didn’t feel sad about feeling sad was on Sept. 17, 2013. I was in my therapist’s office. More specifically, I was lying on a table, faceup, in my therapist’s office. Maybe it sounds simple, but it was a trick I’d spent years practicing and trying to learn.

Poem: Birder by Gwyneth Lewis by Carol Rumens, The Guardian

The former national poet of Wales commemorates her aunt in a bright and lively elegy that sees birds play metaphorical and metamorphic roles.

Travel with My Censor by Peter Hessler, New Yorker

My Chinese censor is Zhang Jiren, an editor at the Shanghai Translation Publishing House, and last September he accompanied me on a publicity tour. It was the first time I’d gone on a book tour with my censor. When I rode the high-speed train from Shanghai to Beijing, Zhang sat beside me; at the hotel in Beijing, he stayed on the same floor. He sat in on my interviews with the Chinese media. He had even prepared the tour schedule on a spreadsheet, which was color-coded to represent five types of commitments, with days that lasted as long as thirteen hours. Other authors had warned me about such schedules, so before the tour I sent Zhang a request for more free time. His response was prompt: “In my experience, the tours in China are always tough and exhausting. Hope you understand it.”

Can Violence Be Moral? by David Nussbaum and Séamus A Power, The Guardian

Generally speaking, we think of most interpersonal violence, not just terrorist attacks, as immoral. It’s very rare that you’ll see anybody claim that hurting someone else is an inherently moral thing to do. When people are violent, explanations for their behavior tend to invoke some sort of breakdown: a lack of self-control, the dehumanization of an “outgroup,” or perhaps sadistic psychological tendencies.

This is a comforting notion – one that draws a clear boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. But according to the authors of a new book, it simply isn’t an accurate reflection of how people actually behave: morality, as understood and practiced by real-world human beings, doesn’t always prohibit violence. In fact they make the case that most violence is motivated by morality.

How He Captured America by Frank Rich, New York Review of Books

When Bob Hope died in 2003 at the age of one hundred, attention was not widely paid. The “entertainer of the century,” as his biographer Richard Zoglin calls him, had long been regarded by many Americans (if they regarded him at all) “as a cue-card-reading antique, cracking dated jokes about buxom beauty queens and Gerald Ford’s golf game.” A year before his death, The Onion had published the fake headline “World’s Last Bob Hope Fan Dies of Old Age.” Though Hope still had champions among comedy luminaries who had grown up idolizing him—Woody Allen and Dick Cavett, most prominently—Christopher Hitchens was in sync with the new century’s consensus when he memorialized him as “paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny.”

Review: A Spool of Blue Thread – Human Muddle Meets Amused Tolerance by Kate Kellaway, The Guardian

What is most remarkable about it is the extent to which Tyler is able to relax into an ordinary, homely minor key while keeping one as absorbed as if it were one’s own family she were describing, and as if what happened to them were necessary reading. The book is no less eventful than ordinary life – and that turns out to be more than enough.

Review: True Tales of Language, Lore, and Love from Chinese Flyover Country by Adam Minter, Los Angeles Review of Books

In American terms, it’s Chinese flyover country — a region viewed by many of China’s 700 million urbanites as filled with places and people of little interest or sophistication, and deserving of little respect. It’s an image inflicted on farmers and rural communities across China, as well.

But, Manchuria, by virtue of its remote location in China’s Northeast, and its history of colonization by the Japanese, receives perhaps a little less respect — and is flown over much less — than rural communities elsewhere in China. Even Meyer himself can’t avoid looking down on it occasionally: early in his marriage, for example, he recounts that he and his wife described “any unsettled, purgatorial situation as being mired ‘in Manchuria.’”

Notes on Watching "Aliens" for the First Time Again, With a Bunch of Kids by Matt Zoller Seitz,

And as we watched, I realized again that while unfortunately you can't see a great movie again for the first time, the next-best thing is to show it to people who've never seen it.

The Greatest (Party) Generation by Dave Barry, Wall Street Journal

My mom, like my dad, and millions of other members of the Greatest Generation, had to contend with real adversity: the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, hunger, poverty, disease, World War II, extremely low-fi 78 r.p.m. records and telephones that—incredible as it sounds today—could not even shoot video.

They managed to overcome those hardships and take America to unprecedented levels of productivity and power, which is why they truly are a great generation. But they aren’t generally considered to be a fun generation. That was supposed to be their children—my generation, the baby boomers.

Should Texts, E-Mail, Tweets and Facebook Posts Be the New Fingerprints in Court? by Frances Stead Sellers, Washington Post

Textual sleuths find clues not in fingerprints or handwriting, but in word choice, spelling, punctuation, character sequences and in subtle (and usually subconscious) patterns of sentence structure. The sleuths have sprung into sight in recent years with such pop-culture stunts as identifying the author of “The Cuckoo’s Calling” (J.K. Rowling) and joining last year’s hunt for the bitcoin founder.

But as language specialists enter the legal world, they find the stakes are high, the science uncertain and the scrutiny intense.

The Anxiety of Misquotation by Scott C. Lucas, Los Angeles Review of Books

As part of their “civilizing mission,” British, French, and Dutch colonial administrators established new educational institutions that broke the near-monopoly religious scholars had long enjoyed in the realm of education. How these Sunni scholars survived and reasserted their authority in the wake of colonialism, nationalism, secularism, Nasserism, and socialism is the topic of Jonathan A.C. Brown’s exhilarating new book, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy.

Review: ‘The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty’ by Amanda Filipacchi (John Freeman, Boston Globe)

Amanda Filipacchi is the funniest novelist you’ve never heard of.

“The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty,” Filipacchi’s first novel in a decade, deepens her exploration of beauty and love, but with a comic levity so consistent it’s as if she’s piped it in.