MyAppleMenu Reader - May 2015

MyAppleMenu Reader will be taking a break for the next two days, and will return on Monday, June 1st.

‘Nabokov In America’ Looks At How U.S. Shaped Novelist, by Michael Dirda, Washington Post

In general, Roper’s observations are at their sharpest when he discusses “Lolita” and “Pale Fire.” Humbert Humbert, he points out, studies little Dolores Haze as intensely as Nabokov studied insects. He emphasizes that the writer’s great theme isn’t sex per se, but “amorousness: the disposition to become obsessed, to fetishize a lover.” Calling attention to the “shrill note, wiggling, head thrown back, teeth biting lip,” he daringly wonders if Lolita might have experienced an orgasm while sprawled on Humbert Humbert’s lap. And in a particularly astute summary, he talks of the complicitousness one finds in Nabokov’s books:

“Nabokov was an intimate writer. His reticences, his formal estrangements, his denial of interest in any reality beyond the text all need to be measured against that. Maximum closeness: not the closeness of ostentatious empathy but the closeness of one mind addressing another in the most thrilling terms. He speaks into the ear, sometimes dripping a little poison. He contrives to have a reader identify intimately with a protagonist or narrator, but even that is not enough; the reader receives secret handshakes from the author himself, behind a narrator’s back.”

Finders Keepers By Stephen King – Writers, Beware Your Fans, by James Smythe, The Guardian

For King, it is a rich vein that he has mined on more than one occasion. Some of his most enduring works feature writers: Salem’s Lot, It, The Shining, The Dark Half and many more feature writers of either novels or plays. But King’s most famous work about an author is Misery, a truly terrifying look at what happens when a keen fan strays onto the wrong side of obsession. It is commonly read as a metaphor for addiction, but can also be taken at face value as an investigation into the love that fans feel for the writers who have changed their lives.

It is that same part of the vein that King draws from here, in the follow-up to Mr Mercedes, last year’s crime thriller. In that book, retired detective Bill Hodges chased down the mass-murdering psychopath Brady Hartsfield, leaving him in a coma. By the time this sequel begins, Hodges and his associates have formed the titular investigation agency, which eschews criminal cases in favour of mysteries that will never involve the police. It is the thrill of the chase that King wants to capture, rather than the nitty-gritty of crime‑scene dusting.

The Golden Age Of Murder By Martin Edwards Review – An Excellent Work Of Detection, by Mark Lawson, The Guardian

Operating as a sort of archaeologist, Edwards is able, unlike other diggers of the past, to give his finds a second life. Most readers of his book will finish with a wish-list of previously unfamiliar titles from those he describes so enticingly.

Crime fiction is driven by death. In this superbly compendious and entertaining book, Edwards ensures that dozens of authorial corpses are gloriously reborn.

What We Don’t See, by Colson Whitehead, New York Times

“Pics or it didn’t happen” is the response you get online when you share some unlikely experience or event and one of your friends, followers or stalkers calls you out for evidence. “Next thing I know, I’m bowling with Bill Murray!” Pics or it didn’t happen. “I taught my cockatoo how to rap ‘Baby Got Back’ — in pig Latin.” Pics or it didn’t happen. “Against all odds, I briefly smiled today.” Pics or it didn’t happen!

It’s a glib reply to a comrade’s boasting — coming out of Internet gaming forums to rebut boasts about high scores and awesome kills — but the fact is we like proof. Proof in the instant replay that decides the big game, the vacation pic that persuades us we were happy once, the selfie that reassures us that our face is still our own. “Pics or it didn’t happen” gained traction because in an age of bountiful technology, when everyone is armed with a camera, there is no excuse for not having evidence.

The Triumph (And Failure) Of John Nash’s Game Theory, by John Cassidy, New Yorker

The long and the short of it is that if the purpose of economic theories is to predict which of many possible outcomes will occur, Nash’s methodology often isn’t much help—a point acknowledged by David Kreps, an economic theorist at Stanford, back in 1990. But asking any theory in the social sciences to correctly predict the future is a very demanding requirement. And asking that it accomplish this task across a wide range of areas, such as the ones to which Nash’s approach has been applied, is surely too much.

The Medieval 'New England': A Forgotten Anglo-Saxon Colony On The North-Eastern Black Sea Coast, by Caitlin Green

Although the name 'New England' is now firmly associated with the east coast of America, this is not the first place to be called that. In the medieval period there was another Nova Anglia, 'New England', and it lay far to the east of England, rather than to the west, in the area of the Crimean peninsula.

Corrupting The Chinese Language, by Murong Xuecun, New York Times

More than 60 years of Communist hate education, inane propaganda and the comprehensive destruction of classical civilization have spawned a new style of speaking and writing. The Chinese language has become brutalized — and the Communist Party is largely to blame.

It’s not only government proclamations that clank with harsh cadences and revolutionary fervor, but also literary and scholarly works, and most disturbing, private speech.

Optimism Doesn’t Sell, by Jeff Javis, Medium

That is the self-fulfilling paradox of Disney’s Tomorrowland. Toward the end, Hugh Laurie as the Keen/Carr/Morozov and lately Bilton and Naughton of tomorrow says that the people of today slurp up pessimism like eclairs — his image — and so we package it, sell it, buy it, and believe it. We make our own dark predictions come true because we don’t do anything to fix the planet or its politics. Why bother? To hell with hope.

The Technology Of Books Has Changed, But Bookstores Are Hanging In, by Eric Weiner, NPR

If the book is dead, nobody bothered to tell the folks at Capitol Hill Books in Washington, D.C. Books of every size, shape and genre occupy each square inch of the converted row house — including the bathroom — all arranged in an order discernible only to the mind of Jim Toole, the store's endearingly grouchy owner.

Sending Ice To Antarctica, by Sara Lentati, BBC

"When it comes to non-polar glaciers, because of global warming, a lot of them are going to disappear this century and those at the highest altitudes are already experiencing summer melting.

"We are probably the only scientific community whose archive is in danger of disappearing from the face of the planet. If you work on corals, on marine sediments, on tree rings, the raw material is still here and will be for many centuries," he says.

The Spinster Wars, by Hephzibah Anderson, Prospect

The meaning of being single changes as you leave your twenties behind and journey on into your thirties. For women, it can be an extra fraught moment, entangled as it is with ebbing fertility, and as 40 looms, all bets may as well be off: the true “girlfriend girls” are married with kids, and the rest of us are—well, what exactly? Spinsters? Old maids? Society has always found a large measure of benign tolerance for bachelors that is absent from these terms.

What doesn’t seem to change much is the way society relates to those of us who remain single—with patronising commiseration (you’d think marital strife and infidelity were non-existent), inequalities (be it tax breaks denied or single supplements imposed), and presumptuousness (if you’re single it cannot possibly be by choice; there must be something wrong with you). It’s evidently not in the interests of marriage for people to remember the extravagant joys of being alone.

Mat Johnson’s ‘Loving Day’ Takes A Satirical Slant On Racial Identities, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

Mat Johnson’s new novel, “Loving Day,” takes its title from an unofficial holiday, one his narrator likens to “Mulatto Christmas.” It’s the observance of the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, which in 1967 decriminalized interracial marriage in America.

Mr. Johnson, whose previous novels include the excellent “Pym” (2011), is himself the product of such a marriage — his mother is black, his father not just white but Irish white — and the politics of his own racial mix is a topic he’s written about with discernment and a rumbling wit.

Review: Stephen King’s ‘Finders Keepers’, by Larua Lippman, New York Times

In “Finders Keepers” (the second entry in a planned trilogy that began with “Mr. Mercedes”), book-besotted Morris Bellamy uses the metaphor of a classic love affair to define his roiling emotions about his favorite author: “It was . . . just as fate had come between Romeo and Juliet. That comparison seemed both ludicrous and perfectly apt. He was a lover.”

Alas for the object of Morris’s affection, John Rothstein, Morris feels betrayed.

Review: ‘Seveneves,’ By Neal Stephenson, by Charles Yu, New York Times

If the moon ever disintegrates, causing Earth to become a fiery hellscape for several thousand years, and we can select only a few hundred humans to entrust with the survival and repropagation of the species, I vote for Neal Stephenson to be one of those humans. There’s just no way he wouldn’t do a good job, you know what I mean? Or, at the very least, an astoundingly thorough job.

Readers of Stephenson’s previous work definitely know what I mean. This is not a writer who does things in half-measures. The author of “Snow Crash” and “Cryptonomicon,” and many other similarly imposing books in the past couple of decades, Stephenson seems to know how to do things in exactly one way: all the way. He publishes fiction by the pound.

Don't Write Off Paper Just Yet, by Eric Weiner, NPR

For some paper companies, the Internet has been a godsend. Every time you order something on Amazon, it arrives in a cardboard — that is, paper — package. Other paper companies are retooling to produce high-end stock used in photo books, like those made by Shutterfly and Snapfish. Paper companies are remarkably nimble and resourceful, yet, says Anderson, they still can't seem to get any respect.

Project Exodus, by Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker

Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, in 2011, the agency has lacked the wherewithal to get astronauts into LEO. And so, before Kelly could embark on the One-Year Mission, he first had to fly to Baikonur, on the steppes of central Kazakhstan. There he spent a few nights at the Cosmonaut Hotel before hitching a ride with two Russians on a Soyuz rocket.

It’s true that even a journey of thirty-five million miles has to start somewhere. Still, a reasonable person might ask: Where are we headed? Is it really to Mars? Or is it just to Kazakhstan?

The Monk Retires, by J.C. Hallman, The Baffler

The phenomenon of Philip Roth’s “retirement”—and that seems to be what it is now, a phenomenon—is not about a writer’s vanity, an ego grown so massive it’s like a publicity black hole sucking up limelight that might have shined warmly on other equally deserving authors. Nor is it about an inability to shut up, even though Roth admitted that his decision to quit writing, announced abruptly in 2012, had triggered in him an impulse to “chatter.” (Almost everyone has taken this quotation out of context, and I have too, which means that “chatter” may be on its way to becoming one of those offhand remarks that gets used to make a famous person appear to mean the opposite of what he probably did mean.)

No, Roth’s announcement that he would leave the literary stage, followed by his conspicuous failure to do so in favor of a series of curtain calls, is about us—Roth’s audience, a community of readers. We’re the ones endlessly fascinated by Roth’s penchant to pontificate about himself in public, from an interview with the BBC aired last spring (titled “Philip Roth Unleashed”) to a promised appearance on The Colbert Report (reportedly scheduled for last summer, but apparently scrapped). Through it all, Roth continues to insist that he’s retreating into full Garbo mode. “You can write it down,” he told a reporter last May after a star turn at the 92nd Street Y. “This was absolutely the last public appearance I will make on any public stage, anywhere”—this just a week before collecting an award from the Yaddo writer’s retreat and two weeks before accepting an honorary doctorate at the conservative Jewish Theological Seminary.

Poem: The Sheaves By Edwin Arlington Robinson, by Carol Rumens, The Guardian

The Sheaves at first glance, then, looks aberrant, a poem in which Robinson lets down his hair and indulges in suppressed romantic and metaphysical tendencies, entwining them in a final glorious union. Yet the concession to “some vast magic undivined” is moderated by a certain scrupulous realism, almost offstage but clearly audible as the sonnet unfolds. “As by some vast magic”, “As if a thousand girls” – a wariness of metaphor is marked at such points. The speaker who registers the wonderful phenomena also registers the connivance of his imagination.

Let’s Eat Together: How Immigration Made British Food Great, by Nigel Slater, The Guardian

I can think of no place that welcomes the food of other countries with more enthusiasm than Britain. Good though our indigenous cooking is, made with ingredients from our own landscape, we have long had an insatiable appetite for the food of other countries. A walk along our high streets will offer everything from sashimi to tacos and pizza to Korean noodles. Some of this food comes from chain restaurants with global domination, but for the most part it is the product of small restaurants and food shops run by first- or second-generation immigrant families that have come to Britain and set up shop. It is something I wholeheartedly want to celebrate.

Training Young Doctors: The Current Crisis, by Lara Goitein, New York Review of Books

Despite the fact that Osler’s idea lives on, there have been enormous changes over the years, and this is the subject of Kenneth Ludmerer’s meticulous new book, Let Me Heal. Ludmerer, a senior faculty physician and professor of the history of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, sounds a warning. The Oslerian ideal of faculty and residents forming close relationships and thinking together about each patient is in trouble. Instead, residents, with little supervision, are struggling to keep up with staggering workloads, and have little time or energy left for learning. Attending physicians, for their part, are often too occupied with their own research and clinical practices—often in labs and offices outside of the hospital—to pay much attention to the house officers.

The implications for the public are profound. Nearly anyone admitted to a teaching hospital—and these are the most prestigious hospitals in the country—can expect to be cared for by residents and fellows. Whether house officers are well trained and, most important, whether they have the time to provide good care are crucial. Yet until Ludmerer’s book, there has been very little critical attention to these questions. It’s simply assumed that when you are admitted to a teaching hospital, you will get the best care possible. It’s odd that something this important would be regarded in such a Panglossian way.

Review: ‘The Millionaire And The Bard,’ By Andrea E. Mays, by Stephen Greenblatt, New York Times

There was every reason, then, for book collectors to prize the First Folio, particularly after the 18th century, when Shakespeare’s reputation surged far ahead of his rivals and the public began to crave as holy relics any traces of his existence. The First Folio is by far the greatest of these traces, and its fascination is enhanced by the fact that the printing house practice in Jaggard’s time — a kind of rolling proofreading and corrections process — meant that each copy is in small but significant ways unique.

Review: ‘Another Person’s Poison,’ Matthew Smith’s Book On Food Allergies, by Alexander Nazaryan, New York Times

The author of two books on hyperactivity, Mr. Smith acutely grasps that medicine is often informed, or vitiated, by history and culture. He knows, too, that politics is a primary ingredient in most everything we ingest.

What It's Like To Be A Deaf Novelist, by Sara Novic, The Guardian

My first novel has recently become an audiobook to which I will not listen. The characters have been assigned voices and accents and inflections that I’ll never hear. This is not a complaint, exactly; to have written a book that someone wants to publish in any and all formats is a writer’s dream. But to hold some disc or drive that contains a thing I made, transformed into a new thing I can no longer understand, is a predicament in which few writers find themselves.

The Philosopher Novelist, by Nick Romeo, New Republic

Kundera’s novels have always occupied the borderlands between philosophy and literature. It’s revealing that his definition of a novel—“a long piece of synthetic prose based on play with invented characters”—also accommodates Plato’s early dialogues.

Review: The Happiness Industry: How Government And Big Business Sold Us Well-Being By William Davies, by Lucy Popescu, The Independent

In his impeccably researched book, Davies traces the history of the happiness industry back to the work of the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, a British philosopher and social reformer who believed human actions should promote happiness for the greatest number.

Not One Of Us, by Luc Sante, New York Times

So it isn’t surprising that “random” came to seem like an appropriate way to describe the new, fantastically scattered world in which the encyclopedia, the telephone book, the small ads and the apocrypha had all merged, jettisoning the alphabet along the way.

How The Biggest Fabricator In Science Got Caught, by Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky, Nautilus

Fujii, perhaps recognizing his good luck at being spared more scrutiny, mostly stopped publishing in the anesthesia literature in the mid-2000s. Instead, he focused on ophthalmology and otolaryngology, fields in which his near miss would be less likely to draw attention. By 2011, he had published more than 200 studies in total, a very healthy output for someone in his field. In December of that year, he published a paper in the Journal of Anesthesia. It was to be his last.

Over the next two years, it became clear that he had fabricated much of his research—most of it, in fact. Today he stands alone as the record-holder for most retractions by a single author, at a breathtaking 183, representing roughly 7 percent of all retracted papers between 1980 and 2011. His story represents a dramatic fall from grace, but also the arrival of a new dimension to scholarly publishing: Statistical tools that can sniff out fraud, and the “cops” that are willing to use them.

Havoc: A Life In Accidents, by Tim Winton, The Monthly

In my fiction I’ve been a chronicler of sudden moments like these. The abrupt and headlong are old familiars. For all the comforts and privileges that have come my way over the years, my life feels like a topography of accidents. Sometimes, for better or worse, they are the landmarks by which I take my bearings. I suppose you could say they form a large part of my sentimental education. They’re havoc’s vanguard. They fascinate me. I respect them. But I dread them too.

Is God Necessary?, by Marcelo Gleiser, LA Review of Books

What would happen, then, if we were to adopt science as the new path toward good? By its very nature, science discredits the God-given notion of truth. Scientific truth, in fact, becomes something akin to nirvana: an ideal one pursues but not necessarily achieves. A cursory look at the history of science convinces us that what was true in one age became false in another. Just compare what 16th-century Europeans thought about the arrangement of the cosmos (Earth-centered and finite) to what Newton thought of it (no center and infinite), and to how we now see it (no center, infinite, and expanding). As our views of the cosmos — and of our place within it — change, so does the notion of what is true. The more we know, the more we realize the immensity of our ignorance. To believe that we are now zeroing in on something like the Truth is nothing more than a delusion, something with no support in current science. We remain happily confused about much of what goes on in Nature.

In A God that Could be Real, Nancy Ellen Abrams sets off to elevate science from its centuries-old mission to a new role as some kind of global prophet. She argues passionately that it would be useless to insist on old-fashioned models of God. With that, it’s hard to disagree. A new God is needed, she adds, one consistent with science and with what scientists have discovered about the universe. This is a more contentious point.

Review: ‘England And Other Stories,’ By Graham Swift, by Valerie Martin, New York Times

There’s something bright and rewarding about this tendency to consider both the connotation and the denotation of words as they appear in random thoughts. And it is this that I take, though it isn’t on my list, to be a prime signifier of Englishness. Shakespeare’s characters engaged in it, and here they are still, in Swift’s stories: rich and poor, soldiers, sailors, barbers, lawyers, doctors, all given to following a casual word to its source. This rich, lively collection reminds me of what my grandfather didn’t want his son ever to forget: an English education.

Poem: Albatross (After Baudelaire), by Alan Jenkins and John Kinsella, The Guardian

Just to amuse themselves, deckhands will often take
A great sea-bird, an albatross –
One of those that plane above the ship’s white wake
As it pitches over briny chasms, shipwrecks, dross.


Make Mainframes, Not War: How Mad Men Sold Computers In The 1960S And 1970S, by Matthew Lasar, Ars Technica

In 1983, advertising pioneer David Ogilvy summarized his mission as follows: "I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don't want you to tell me that you find it 'creative.' I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product. When Aeschines spoke, they said, 'How well he speaks.' But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, 'Let us march against Philip'."

This Hellenic manifesto certainly gets to the point. Unfortunately, Ogilvy's battle cry offers little guidance for helping us view advertising spots from a half century ago—the kind that fans of the AMC series Mad Men see being worked out alongside the personal lives of Don Draper, Peggy Olson, and Pete Campbell. The dictum offers even less aid for considering ads that hawk items so outmoded that even Ogilvy's skills could not inspire us to march on our local electronics store.

‘Dork Diaries’: The Book Empire Built One Awkward Moment At A Time, by Michael Cavna, Washington Post

This is the story of how a mother, through fierce love and literary vision, buoyed her daughters, who had been bullied and harassed and ostracized — and how the three became the most popular of co-authors, one autograph and selfie and hug at a time.

It’s Time To Stop Praising Authors For Being “Good At The Internet”, by Katy Waldman, Slate

Therefore, I propose we cease celebrating in our authors the following webby traits: uncreatively peddling one’s brand on social media; putting stories online that would be perfectly fine, if not better, off-screen; playing with the web’s quirks and peculiarities in ways that feel calculatedly endearing. Instead, maybe we should limit future lists of web-conquering authors to one name: Jonathan Franzen, ruler of the Literary Internet without doing anything at all.

Can China Take A Joke?, by Christopher Beam, New York Times

Most Chinese TV hosts are all ingratiating smiles and talky energy; Wong has the nervous manner of a teaching assistant running his first seminar. Watching his delivery and the audience’s frequently awkward response, you wouldn’t guess that he’s one of the most successful stand-up comedians in China. This says as much about stand-up comedy in China, where the form is still in its infancy, as it does about Wong. When most audience members watch Wong perform, on the set of “Is It True?” or at one of his theater shows, they’re not just seeing him for the first time: It’s their first exposure to live stand-up, period. They’re not always sure how to react.

Silicon Valley Is A Big Fat Lie, by Sam Biddle, GQ

That gap between the Silicon Valley that enriches the world and the Silicon Valley that wastes itself on the trivial is widening daily. And one of the biggest contributing factors is that the Valley has lost touch with reality by subscribing to its own self-congratulatory mythmaking. That these beliefs are mostly baseless, or at least egotistically distorted, is a problem—not just for Silicon Valley but for the rest of us. Which is why we're here to help the Valley tear down its own myths—these seven in particular.

‘Leaving Orbit,’ A Pensive Ode To Closing Of A Frontier, by Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

It’s too early to write an epitaph for NASA and its underfunded yet ambitious plans, but then, as a Joan Didion epigraph Ms. Dean has chosen for this book reads: “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.”

Poem: The Blue Dress, By Jehanne Dubrow, selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

Long after my mother died, I found photographs of her with my father that I’d never seen, taken when she was only 21. Though I recognized her, there was something in her face unfamiliar to me. Looking at the pictures, I felt as I do reading this poem: the melancholy of knowing, as they could not have known then, all that was to come in their lives, each photograph an elegy for their past selves.

My Letterman Years, by Daniel Kellison, Grantland

One fateful night in the summer of 1988, I took acid. Steve Jobs apparently said he’d never hire a CEO who hadn’t done it — but this wasn’t a career move for me. Looking back, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into; I was 24 years old and in my sixth year of struggling through NYU with the equally preposterous/pretentious notion that I was going to be a playwright.

Why I Choose To Have Less Choice, by Tim Lott, The Guardian

This idea was suggested by Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice. Choice oppresses us. Why? Because there are too many choices and they are often too complex for us to be confident that we are making the right one.

Against Generations, by Rebecca Onion, Aeon

Overly schematised and ridiculously reductive, generation theory is a simplistic way of thinking about the relationship between individuals, society, and history. It encourages us to focus on vague ‘generational personalities’, rather than looking at the confusing diversity of social life. Since I’m a ‘Gen-X’er born in 1977, the conventional wisdom is that I’m supposed to be adaptable, independent, productive, and to have a good work/life balance. Reading these characteristics feels like browsing a horoscope. I see myself in some of these traits, and can even feel a vague thrill of belonging when I read them. But my ‘boomer’ mother is intensely productive; my ‘Greatest Generation’ grandmother still sells old books online at age 90, in what I consider to be the ultimate show of adaptability and independence.

First And Last Words, by Michael Graff, Charlotte Magazine

Otherwise, Cole Waddell died much like he lived in those last years, leaving little trace of himself. I called the Lancaster News to see if anyone there knew him. An editor passed my information to Jane, who called that afternoon. She talked about her friend for half an hour. It was clear that she loved him, and her stories revealed a gentle, witty, complicated man who should have given himself more credit, a gifted writer who never saw his first magazine story in print, a natural storyteller whose last wish was to not have an obituary.

Restaurant Review: Javelina In Gramercy Park, by Pete Wells, New York Times

At most restaurants, you are served what you ask for so routinely that your eyes glaze over with boredom. Javelina does not fall into the trap of dull predictability. One night after I left, I realized the guacamole I’d ordered had never arrived; it’s not every restaurant that gives you something to think about on your way home. Meanwhile, people at the next table were presented with a dish they insisted they hadn’t asked for. “You didn’t order brisket?” the server asked, keeping up the playful spirit.

When Birds Squawk, Other Species Seem To Listen, by Christopher Solomon, New York Times

Studies in recent years by many researchers, including Dr. Greene, have shown that animals such as birds, mammals and even fish recognize the alarm signals of other species. Some can even eavesdrop on one another across classes. Red-breasted nuthatches listen to chickadees. Dozens of birds listen to tufted titmice, who act like the forest’s crossing guards. Squirrels and chipmunks eavesdrop on birds, sometimes adding their own thoughts. In Africa, vervet monkeys recognize predator alarm calls by superb starlings.

The Truth About Poo: We’re Doing It Wrong, by Annalisa Barbieri, The Guardian

In my large Italian family, I grew up with the subject of poo, bottoms and constipation readily – and far too frequently – discussed at the dinner table. I’d be about to raise a raviolo to my mouth, only to hear how someone’s piles had popped, just that morning.

This doesn’t mean I’m anal (sorry) about the subject. It’s fascinating away from the lunch table. Late last year, I read that we are pooing all wrong: we should be squatting, not sitting, on a toilet bowl. Then a book called Charming Bowels by Giulia Enders caused something of a storm in its native Germany and I got fully immersed in the subject.

Poem: You May Have Heard Of Me By Shazea Quraishi, by Carol Rumens, The Guardian

The poem’s title indicates that, by the end of the story, the protagonist will have become a particular force demanding to be acknowledged; that mildly ironical “You May Have Heard of Me” seems to imply “you should have heard of me”. But the character is an unnamed everywoman, too, and represents the general, ordinary, thrilling, dangerous process by which adult independence and eloquence are attained.

Where The River Runs Dry, by David Owen, New Yorker

All that human utility has costs; the river suffers, in varying degrees, from many of the same kinds of overuse and environmental degradation that threaten freshwater sources around the world. The Colorado’s flow is so altered and controlled that in some ways the river functions more like a fourteen-hundred-mile-long canal. The legal right to use every gallon is owned or claimed by someone—in fact, more than every gallon, since theoretical rights to the Colorado’s flow (known as “paper water”) vastly exceed its actual flow (known as “wet water”). That imbalance has been exacerbated by the drought in the Western United States, now in its sixteenth year, but even if the drought ended tomorrow problems would remain. The river has been “over-allocated” since the states in its drainage basin first began to divide the water among themselves, nearly a century ago, and scientists expect climate change to strain it further, in part by reducing precipitation in the mountains that feed it.

Not long ago, I travelled as much of the Colorado’s length as can be followed in a car. I began near the headwaters, put three thousand miles on three rental cars, and ended, eventually, in northern Mexico, where the Colorado simply runs out. So much water is diverted from the river as it winds through the Southwest that, since the early nineteen-sixties, it has seldom flowed all the way to its natural outlet, at the upper end of the Gulf of California, and since the late nineteen-nineties it has made it there only once. People who drive into or out of the town of San Luis Río Colorado, in the Mexican state of Sonora, sometimes complain about having to pay a six-peso toll to cross a bridge that spans only sand.

Review: Adventures In Human Being – A Fascinating Journey Around The Body, by Robin McKie, The Guardian

With each vignette, we are provided with a smattering of medical insights: the physiological effects of crucifixion (a practice brought to Francis’s mind by the nail through the builder’s palm); details of the boxer’s fracture suffered by the prison warder; and the links between self-harm and abuse suffered in childhood.

The Only Technique To Learn Something New, by James Altucher, Boing Boing

I had a friend who wanted to get better at painting. But she thought she had to be in Paris, with all the conditions right. She never made it to Paris. Now she sits in a cubicle under fluorescent lights, filling out paperwork all day.

In Flight, by Mark Vanhoenacker, New York Times

When someone I’ve just met at a dinner or a party learns that I’m a pilot, he or she often asks me about my work. Three questions come up most often, in language that hardly varies. Is flying something I have always wanted to do? Have I ever seen anything “up there” that I cannot explain? And do I remember my first flight? I like these questions. They seem to have arrived, entirely intact, from a time before flying became ordinary.

Blaming The Internet Is Not The Answer, by Evan Selinger, LA Review of Books

Andrew Keen wants to free us from the tyranny of two myths concerning the internet: that it will create a “more open and egalitarian world” and that it will foster unprecedented global empowerment for everyone. This constitutes a noble agenda, one that Evgeny Morozov, Astra Taylor, and Nicholas Carr have convincingly pursued as well. Unfortunately, though, by zealously focusing on how “the hidden negatives outweigh the self-evident positives,” Keen overplays his hand throughout The Internet Is Not the Answer. Blinded by self-righteous indignation, he delivers a rhetorically inflated polemic that covers too much ground while glossing over too many important points.

The Pipe Dream Of A Perfect Television Finale, by Lindsey Weber, New York Times

Perhaps the solution is for all of us to agree to simply let finales mean less. If these prestige cable dramas occupy the cultural space previously held by the novel, as many people have suggested, then we should judge them the way we would a good book: for their entirety, not just the kicker.

Obituary For A Broken Man, by Emma Mulqueeny, Medium

What I remember is the lightness of being that I felt after that conversation. Also the sadness. I remember thinking: I know you will die, I know you will ultimately kill yourself with your goddamn vices and bloody mindedness, but we have had that chat just now, and I can be at peace…

But I never really imagined I would be living this day I am living now.

Wild Garlic: Restaurant Review, by Jay Rayner, The Guardian

This is why good restaurants were invented. You think they were invented to feed you well. You think they were invented to give you somewhere to go with that couple you don’t invite round for dinner because they never get the hint and leave at a reasonable time so you can go to bed. No. Restaurants were invented to make the world a slightly better place for the time you’re in there.

Poem: Baggage, by Fleur Adcock, The Guardian

Sealed in their heavy luggage in the hold
they’d brought the encapsulated highlights
of their shed lives: Eva’s sewing machine
and her Watteau Doulton dinner service;


Toward An Oral Art, by David Orr, New York Times

Surely if the sound of poetry can be moving enough to propel you into an adjacent Fiat, one might expect contemporary poems to ­flourish in a medium based heavily on the human voice.

But that has not, thus far, been the case. At Audible, arguably the premier venue for audiobooks, poetry represents around half a percent of the total offerings, and Audible itself has produced only 35 or so poetry audiobooks, as against their nearly 23,000 recordings in other genres. The numbers at Audible’s competitors are similarly discouraging for poets. Among more than 11,000 available titles at Audiobooks and more than 30,000 at Scribd, only a fraction are poetry collections.

Mao’s China: The Language Game, by Perry Link, New York Review of Books

It can be embarrassing for a China scholar like me to read Eileen Chang’s pellucid prose, written more than sixty years ago, on the early years of the People’s Republic of China. How many cudgels to the head did I need before arriving at comparable clarity? My disillusioning first trip to China in 1973? My reading of the devastating journalism of Liu Binyan in 1980? Observation of bald lies in action at the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 and in the imprisonment of a Nobel Peace laureate in more recent times? Did I need all of this to catch up to where Chang was in 1954 in her understanding of how things worked in Communist China, beneath the blankets of jargon? In graduate school I did not take Chang’s Naked Earth and its sister novel, The Rice-Sprout Song (also published in 1954), very seriously. People said the works had an anti-Communist bias. How silly.

Review: The Life Of Saul Bellow By Zachary Leader – ‘Was I A Man Or Was I A Jerk?’, by Benjamin Markovits, The Guardian

It’s a terrific biography. It’s also a first-rate piece of literary criticism. The book doesn’t really privilege the life or the fiction, or belittle the complexity of reading between them. But taken together they offer a very detailed kind of evidence, about the costs and benefits of Bellow’s existential intensity.

Freakonomics 10 Years On: Stephen J Dubner And Steven D Levitt On What They Got Right And Wrong, by Michelle Dean, The Guardian

Levitt is matter of fact: “There was literally nothing wrong about what we said. Everything we said was based on leading scholarship. As far as we know, all that leading scholarship continues to be true. And what people didn’t like about global warming was our conclusions. It had nothing to do with our facts.”

Dubner, meanwhile, decides to take a political stance. “Granted, you’re writing for the Guardian, which has a lean against the lean of that particular argument of ours, even though a lot of other leans of ours run right in the pipeline that the Guardian lays out, but … ” He pauses. “The attack on the climate change thing was basically a guy who made up a bunch of stuff, who works for a thinktank, whose agenda is a certain kind of environmental activism. And moreover, this guy was like a principal in a firm that consulted on solar energy. So, no offence, I am not directing this at you, but out of the universe of things that someone could ask about, this is the way it always goes. I can’t think of an interview from the last two years where someone hasn’t said, ‘Well, what about global [warming]?’”

Use Stress To Your Advantage, by Kelly McGonigal, Wall Street Journal

Members of both groups were still nervous before the speech, but the participants who had told themselves “I am excited” felt better able to handle the pressure and were more confident of their ability to give a good talk. Not only that, but observers who rated the talks found the excited speakers more persuasive, confident and competent than the participants who had tried to calm down. With this one change in mind-set, the speakers had transformed their anxiety into energy that helped them to perform under pressure.

Coding And Decoding Dinner, by Todd Kliman, Oxford American

We have witnessed remarkable progress over the past five decades, yes, and we should acknowledge this, too. What seemed fanciful, even utopian, a generation ago is now so commonplace as to not bear any comment at all. We have come to expect and accept black and white in the workplace, on the playing field, in politics, in the military, and we congratulate ourselves on our steady march to racial harmony. But our neighborhoods and our restaurants do not look much different today than they did fifty years ago. That Kingly vision of sitting down at the same table together and breaking bread is as smudgy as it’s ever been.

Landspeak, by Robert MacFarlane, Orion Magazine

As I have traveled, I have come to under­stand that although place-words are being lost, they are also being ­created.

The Green Road By Anne Enright – A Family’s Worth Of Stories, by Kate Clanchy, The Guardian

Any one of these episodes could be read separately, in short, for the wit or the pleasures of the deft prose; but it is part of the miracle of this novel that the stories seem, nevertheless, powerfully part of each other.

'Black Snow' Is A Lyrical Landscape Of Hope And Menace, by Alan Cheuse, NPR

Lynch's language is rough-hewn and yet beautifully lyrical, uncommonly conducted with as many vowels as consonants, and thus diverging from the raw piercing strength of traditional Celtic diction. I could scarcely read more than a few pages at a time without having to stop and contemplate quitting the writing of fiction myself, rather than compete with passages like Lynch's description of doomed farmhand Matthew Peoples, who has a face like "a dream of sand ... A face like a lived-in map. The high terrain of his cheekbones and the spread of red veins on the pads of his cheeks like great rivers were written on him."

Poem: The Corn Baby, By Mark Wunderlich, Selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

Poems are made things and, at their best, remake the world for us. The syntax, repetition and alliteration of this poem feel like a kind of bundling – the poet composing the form of the corn baby, sound by sound, word by word.

The Last Day Of Her Life, by Robin Marantz Henigmay, New York Times

Over the next several weeks, Sandy told those closest to her about her diagnosis and her plan to end her life before she became incapable of doing so. She told her two adult children, Emily and Jeremy, both in their 30s, and a handful of others: Karen; Daryl’s sister, Robyn Bem; and Sandy’s sister, Bev Lipsitz, who lived in Oregon. No one in that inner circle tried to talk her out of suicide; they knew how fierce she could be once her mind was made up. All they asked was that she promise not to choose a method that would be particularly disturbing — using a gun or jumping off a bridge into one of Ithaca’s famously beautiful gorges. Sandy had contemplated both of those options, but she didn’t want that sort of death either. “What I want,” she typed in her journal in an emphatic boldface font, “is to die on my own timetable and in my own nonviolent way.”

But when would that be? Sandy knew that the Alzheimer’s decline itself was predictable — it usually moves from mild (misplacing things, repeating questions) to moderate (being unable to learn something new, getting lost, failing to recognize loved ones) to severe (losing the ability to speak, swallow or remain continent; needing help with every function of day-­to-­day life). In the immediate aftermath of a diagnosis of amnestic M.C.I., however, she couldn’t know how long each stage might last. She wanted to squeeze in as much intellectual and emotional joy as she could before she died, but she wanted to make sure she didn’t wait too long. She needed to be engaged enough in her life to be able to end it.

Paul Shaffer: Life After Letterman, by Lisa Birnbach, Newsweek

Shaffer says he’s in no way ready to slow down or take his gold watch to play golf. He wants to do more acting, but first, “I’m going to learn to sight-read and play the bass pedals on the Hammond organ.”

He’s not kidding.

'Zombie Wars' Documents An Apocalypse Of Bad Decisions, by Michael Schaub, NPR

The Making of Zombie Wars is crazy in the best sense of the word, and very few authors could have pulled it off — even in its most sober moments, it's still essentially absurd. But Hemon is such a brilliant prose stylist, it's impossible not to get pulled in, not just by his sense of humor, but by his startling observations about what makes us human (or something like it).

Tips And Tricks For The Best Scrambled Eggs, Your Way, by Daniel Gritzer, Serious Eats

My girlfriend, Kate, and I have an ongoing disagreement about scrambled eggs. She's in the crack-'em-into-a-hot-pan-and-stir-until-well-done camp, which produces firm eggs that have visible striations of white and yolk. Influenced by my days as a professional cook, I belong to the soft-scrambled-or-bust party. Ultimately, there's no right or wrong—in the world of scrambled eggs, it's all about your personal preference.

(Ha, that's just the BS that I tell her to keep the peace. We all know soft-scrambled eggs are the only way to go. Also, anyone have a couch I can sleep on tonight?)

How TV Sex Got Real, by Eliana Dockterman, Time

In the first episode of Girls, Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath submits herself to awkward, humiliating and—for some—realistic sex. Her friend with benefits, Adam (Adam Driver), takes charge of the encounter and won’t even answer the question of whether he’s putting on a condom. It was a scene that made many cringe, but it signaled a transformation in the television landscape. Sex on TV, it turned out, didn’t have to be romantic—or even appealing.

Five years after Dunham’s first unsatisfying hookup on Girls, sex on even the most mainstream shows is beginning to look more like what happens in our own bedrooms, from Marnie receiving anilingus on the season premiere of Girls to The Americans’ infamous 69 scene last season. We’ve entered a new era of realistic, wide-ranging on-screen intimacy that reveals as much about our society’s evolving social and sexual politics as it does about any one character.

The Climate Adviser’s Dilemma, by Oliver Geden, The Guardian

For some time now, responsibility for successfully addressing the climate problem has rested in the hands of governments. Valuable scientific knowledge will remain an important factor going forward, but it will by no means be the decisive factor. To start taking effective action, politicians and policymakers already know more than enough.

Science Fiction: Brilliant, Big Ideas Are Not Just For Geeks, by Richard sandling, The Guardian

There is a lot of misery in the world at the moment, so why not give yourself an opportunity to embrace joy twice in one evening by seeing a brilliant sci-fi movie AND getting to learn some brilliant science as well?

Writing About Not Writing, by Ruth Margalit, LA Review of Books

But the literary conceit I’m referring to here is different. It can be thought of as an X-ray, or a negative, of the book-within-a-book device. In Writing About Not Writing Something Else, the author details the existence of another novel — one that, for the most part, hasn’t been completed and perhaps never will. The emphasis is on a shadowy absence, like a dictionary to a language that doesn’t exist. In this sense, the act of writing about not writing has a direct relation to the reader, not a self-referential one. The author, who struggles and fails to produce, doesn’t have the upper hand here. The reader — entrusted with the entire frustrating process — does.

Review: In ‘Extreme,’ By Emma Barrett And Paul Martin, Psychologists Explore Those Who Test Limits, by Christie Aschwanden, New York Times

A yearning for novelty and sensory stimulation may draw people to extreme activities, but these pursuits inevitably require long periods of boredom, the psychologists Emma Barrett and Paul Martin write in “Extreme: Why Some People Thrive at the Limits,” an intriguing examination. Dr. Barrett and Dr. Martin investigate the challenges facing extreme adventurers, and the traits and skills needed to overcome them.

‘Rise Of The Robots’ And ‘Shadow Work’, by Barbara Ehrenreichmay, New York Times

In “Rise of the Robots,” Ford argues that a society based on luxury consumption by a tiny elite is not economically viable. More to the point, it is not biologically viable. Humans, unlike robots, need food, health care and the sense of usefulness often supplied by jobs or other forms of work. His solution is blindingly obvious: As both conservatives and liberals have proposed over the years, we need to institute a guaranteed annual minimum income, which he suggests should be set at $10,000 a year. This is probably not enough, and of course no amount of money can compensate for the loss of meaningful engagement. But as a first step toward a solution, Ford’s may be the best that the feeble human mind can come up with at the moment.

We Were With Coco, by Troy Patterson, Slate

He amuses the faithful with his sheer exasperation at being trapped in stale quarters. He put in his time lampooning talk shows in a unique way, and he now seems to be doing time putting on a show within established limits, a reined-in version of his former self. This is perhaps its own perverse achievement: to devise a bespoke prison on one’s own wacky Elba.

I Secretly Lived In My Office For 500 Days, by Terry K., Salon

I was asleep when I heard the door rattle against the frame. My eyes flashed open and I sprung upright in my under-desk sleep space. Was it all over? Had someone come to work early? I peered over my desk, afraid of what I might see. The morning sun burned through the chicken-scratch graffiti of the office’s front door, spilling across the labyrinth of desks spread out before me. There wasn’t a soul in sight. I breathed a sigh of relief. Probably just paranoia. Or maybe not — a breeze blew the front door against its frame, the pygmy-like rattle of a loose door jamb. It was the same sound I heard moments before and would hear countless times in the future but never quite get used to.

Poem: Doctor Faustus By Christopher Marlowe, by Carol Rumens, The Guardian

But suspend your disbelief, and enjoy the pace and trenchancy of Marlowe’s terrific blank verse. Never pedestrian, never predictable, the line swings and churns with Faust’s emotions, changes pitch to suit the various objects of his address, becomes as elastic as he wishes time might be.

The Killing Of Osama Bin Laden, by Seymour M. Hersh, London Review of Books

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

Keeping An Eye Open: Essays On Art Review – Julian Barnes Looks At The Great Painters Afresh, by Peter Conrad, The Guardian

Julian Barnes, defying the embargo in these collected essays, looks at his chosen artists with the eye of a novelist – chastened because paint can “render emotional states and complexities normally conveyed at novel length by means of colour, tone, density, focus, framing, swirl, intensity, rapture”, yet also keen to justify his own art by discovering a quirky literary character behind the faces painted by Manet and Bonnard or by teasing stories out of the moments frozen by Courbet and Degas.

A God In Ruins By Kate Atkinson Review – Her Finest Work, by Stephanie Merritt, The Guardian

This is a novel about war and the shadow it casts even over generations who have never known it, but it is also a novel about fiction. Though it may appear to lack the bold formal conceit that made Life After Life so original, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Atkinson has abandoned her interest in authorial playfulness.

In Mathematics, Mistakes Aren’t What They Used To Be, by Siobhan Roberts, Nautilus

ladimir Voevodsky had no sooner sat himself down at the sparkling table, set for a dinner party at the illustrious Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, than he overturned his empty wine glass, flipping bowl over stem and standing the glass on its rim—a signal to waiters that he would not be imbibing. He is not always so abstemious, but Voevodsky, that fall of 2013, was in the midst of some serious work.

Founded in 1930, the Institute has been called “the earthly temple of mathematical and theoretical physics,” and is a hub for all manner of rigorous intellectual inquiry. Einstein’s old house is around the corner. In the parking lot a car sports a nerdy bumper sticker reading, “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”—which might very well be aimed directly at Voevodsky. Because during the course of some professional soul-searching over the last decade or so, he’d come to the realization that a mathematician’s work is 5 percent creative insight and 95 percent self-verification. And this was only reinforced by a recent discovery around the time of the dinner party: He’d made a big mistake.

The Accidental Swami, by Michael Schulman, The Believer

As Black watched and rewatched the film, mirroring Phil’s repetitious existence, he found endless strands of interpretation. On August 11—day 10 of what he called “The Groundhog Day Project”—he presented a study of gender roles. On September 10 (day 40), he discussed Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence. He offered disquisitions on Carl Jung, Phil as Christ figure, and the color blue. On December 2 (day 147), Black took an online dating quiz and concluded that he was in a relationship with Groundhog Day.

He’s not the only one. In the two decades since the movie was released, it has become a philosophical touchstone, dissected by comedy nerds and PhDs alike. Religious scholars have cast Phil’s predicament as a metaphor for Christian purgatory, or the Buddhist concept of samsara. Military theorists have used it as an analogy for endless war. An economist at the Ludwig von Mises Institute once posited that the film “illustrates the importance of the Mises-Hayek paradigm as an alternative to equilibrium economics.”

Review: 'BiblioTech' Shows It's An Exciting Time For Libraries, by Michael L. Ramsey, The Roanoke Times

“BiblioTech” is an exciting adventure — the exercise of imagining how we can provide a library model that will ensure the continued education and enjoyment of future generations no matter how they create and receive the information they will share.

Second Acts: A Second Look At Second Books Of Poetry By Rae Armantrout And Ye Chun, by Lisa Russ, Los Angeles Review of Books

I admire in Armantrout’s work much of what I prize in Dickinson — surprising, destabilizing diction; slippage of scale and person; paratactic daring; a fierce, riddling intelligence that is at once utterly clear and intricately obdurate; a mix of abstraction and image, of seriousness and humor, of discourses and contexts, particularly the scientific and the quotidian; an awareness of words; and a provocative, stereoscopic obsession with story and fiction that resists neat resolution. Because I am best acquainted with Armantrout’s relatively recent work, I was eager, for this series pairing a second book of poetry written over 20 years ago with a recently published second poetry collection, to locate Armantrout’s first two books, and to take a special look into the second to see something of the roots of this remarkable writer, who is associated with the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets, but who also, like any original artist allied with any school or group, is very much her own stylist.

The Perfection Of The Paper Clip, by Sara Goldsmith, Slate

Most everyday objects—like the key, or the book, or the phone—evolve over time in incremental ways, and the 20th century in particular revolutionized, streamlined, or technologized the vast majority of the things you hold in your hand over the course of an average day. But if you could step into an office in 1895—walking past horse-drawn buses and rows of wooden telephone switchboard cabinets—you might find a perfectly recognizable, shiny silver paper clip sitting on a desk. What was then a brand-new technology is now, well over a century later, likely to be in the same place, ready to perform the same tasks. Why did the paper clip find its form so quickly, and why has it stuck with us for so long?

Review: A Guide For The Culinarily Perplexed, by Stephanie Butnick, Wall Street Journal

The day before Passover a few years ago, my cousins and I crowded around a kitchen table in downtown Manhattan. We had come to learn to make my late grandmother’s gefilte fish recipe, which made its way to America from Poland through the Nazi concentration camps in which most of her family perished. I shepherded cold clumps of carp through a meat grinder under my aunt’s watchful gaze, both of us relishing the meticulous detail of this precious family recipe: “Keep adding sugar and salt until it tastes good.”

I hate gefilte fish, but I actually tried my grandmother’s version that year at the Seder; it tasted pretty good.

The Real Mayors Of 'SimCity', by Jason Koebler, Motherboard

In the lead up to the 1990 Democratic primary election in Providence, five mayoral candidates competed against each other in the then-brand-new game. The experiment was set up by Joseph Braude, a freelancer for the Providence Journal who was only 15 years old at the time. Little did Lederberg know that the article Braude would write, which included details about her simulated incompetence, would hurt her with real voters.

The Mysterious Persistence Of The Cronut, by Brendan O'Connor, New York Times

In the popular consciousness, Cronut mania had the mayfly-like lifespan you might expect; a Google Trends search shows online interest reaching its peak in August 2013, dropping precipitously by November and fading into negligibility within the year. Two years later, the circus has moved on — and yet the Cronut, and the Cronut line, endure. But why?

The Price Of Nice Nails, by Sarah Maslin Nir, New York Times

Once an indulgence reserved for special occasions, manicures have become a grooming staple for women across the economic spectrum. There are now more than 17,000 nail salons in the United States, according to census data. The number of salons in New York City alone has more than tripled over a decade and a half to nearly 2,000 in 2012.

But largely overlooked is the rampant exploitation of those who toil in the industry. The New York Times interviewed more than 150 nail salon workers and owners, in four languages, and found that a vast majority of workers are paid below minimum wage; sometimes they are not even paid. Workers endure all manner of humiliation, including having their tips docked as punishment for minor transgressions, constant video monitoring by owners, even physical abuse. Employers are rarely punished for labor and other violations.

The Science Of Scarcity, by Cara Feinberg, Harvard Magazine

Mullainathan is not a psychologist, but he has long been fascinated by how the mind works. As a behavioral economist, he looks at how people’s mental states and social and physical environments affect their economic actions. Research like the Minnesota study raised important questions: What happens to our minds—and our decisions—when we feel we have too little of something? Why, in the face of scarcity, do people so often make seemingly irrational, even counter-productive decisions? And if this is true in large populations, why do so few policies and programs take it into account?

Review: ‘The Love Object’ By Edna O’Brien, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

The confidence and authority of Ms. O’Brien’s writing, and the humor and sexiness that flow through it, mark her as a figure at the top of the food chain. “The Love Object,” a new volume of her selected short stories, written between 1968 and 2011, consolidates this position. It’s a book of deep and complicated and sometimes rude pleasures.

Review: Between You & Me: Confessions Of A Comma Queen By Mary Norris – Lifting Grammar Off The Page, by Gilda Williams, The Guardian

Norris is warm, knowledgable and unapologetically fussy – “And what’s wrong with being fussy? That’s what we’re getting paid for.” She knows she represents a dying breed, like the office boy who long ago used to come round proofreaders’ desks offering freshly sharpened pencils off a tray, like liquorice sticks. The pleasure of Between You & Me boils down to a willingness to spend 200 tightly edited pages in Mary Norris’s good-natured, wise company. “Follow some rules, sure, but in the end what you’re after is clarity of meaning.”

Poem: Outside, By Dan Albergotti, selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

In a culture overrun by sound bites and clichés, poems can reinvigorate language that has become too familiar. In this poem, I am struck first by the music, the way its cadence carries forward what seems a meditation on the variations on a phrase, “out of.” But the poem takes an elegiac turn in the wordplay of the final line, becoming no longer general but startlingly particular.

Engineers Of Addiction Slot Machines Perfected Addictive Gaming. Now, Tech Wants Their Tricks, by Andrew Thompson, The Verge

You can play a slot machine in Las Vegas before you’ve even reached baggage claim: there are tiny slots parlors in every terminal of McCarran International Airport. Once you pick up your rental car, you can stop for gas and play slots at a convenience store. And that’s all before you’ve even reached your hotel-casino, which — if it follows the modern standard — dedicates roughly 80 percent of its gaming floor to slots, and only 20 percent to table games.

Reading Every Issue Of The New Yorker, by David Ochsner, Not Even Past

By reading every issue—every article, every advertisement starting with Issue No. 1, Feb. 21, 1925— and blogging about it, I am hoping to gain a better sense of how one slice of America was living and thinking in the interwar years and beyond.

Review: In 'Subprimes,' Swiftian Satire Hits Close To Home, by Jean Zimmerman, NPR

Greenfeld's satire fits the harrowing subject matter, especially so when it bleeds into a storytelling that can best be called heartfelt. He opens the book with a quote from Steinbeck: "The little screaming fact ... sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed." As dark as this new American landscape is, The Subprimes ultimately shows us how people knit together, overcoming the cruel machinations of their overlords.

What Hollywood Can Teach Us About The Future Of Work, by Adam Davidson, New York Times

Our economy is in the midst of a grand shift toward the Hollywood model. More of us will see our working lives structured around short-­term, project-­based teams rather than long-­term, open­-ended jobs. There are many reasons this change is happening right now, but perhaps the best way to understand it is that we have reached the end of a hundred-­year fluke, an odd moment in economic history that was dominated by big businesses offering essentially identical products.

Why Ken Jennings’s ‘Jeopardy!’ Streak Is Nearly Impossible To Break, by David Goldenberg, FiveThirtyEight

For those six months in 2004, Jennings put together an unassailable streak unlike any other in any competition. We don’t make a ton of promises at FiveThirtyEight — the nature of forecasting is that something unexpected is bound to happen one of these days. But after going through the Internet’s “Jeopardy!” databases — yes, there are several — and talking to former champions, I can say this: It’d be a near-miracle if somebody beat Jennings’s streak. Here’s why.

In The Shadows Of Booming Cities, A Tension Between Sunlight And Prosperity, by Emily Badger, Washington Post

These new buildings — a product of developer ingenuity, architectural advance and international wealth — are changing more than the city’s famous skyline, though. They will also transform New York far below, further darkening city streets and casting long shadows that will sweep across Central Park.

For cities, shadows present both a technical challenge — one that can be modeled in 3-D and measured in “theoretical annual sunlight hours” lost — and an ethereal one. They change the feel of space and the value of property in ways that are hard to define. They’re a stark reminder that the new growth needed in healthy cities can come at the expense of people already living there. And in some ways, shadows even turn light into another medium of inequality — a resource that can be bought by the wealthy, eclipsed from the poor.

Stories We Can’t See, by Tim Park, New York Review of Books

“What do we see when we read (other than the words on the page)?” asks Peter Mendelsund in a welcome and fascinating new book. Or more precisely, “What do we picture in our minds?”

Do we see Anna Karenina with her shining gray eyes under thick lashes, her faint smile and red lips; or Uriah Heep with his red eyes, red hair, dinted nostrils, and lank forefinger? Or Captain Ahab, who “looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them”? Certainly this sounds vivid enough. But do we see him?

Review: Darjeeling By Jeff Koehler - Trouble's Brewing For The 'Champagne Of Tea', by Kit Gillet, South China Morning Post

This is the story that Koehler, who never hides his love for the hot and steamy beverage that has become a major part of many people's daily routines, has valiantly attempted to tell: from early British tea traders engaging with imperial China, to colonial-era European pioneers searching for the ideal places to grow tea in India, and finally to the Indians who now own and run the tea estates of Darjeeling and who continue to send the teas around the world, often for top prices.

The Death Of An Underdog In American Art, by David Van Biema, The Atlantic

That reaction, and others, suggested that the issue here was the simple loss of a venue for the art of religion. But MOBIA served a far more particular purpose that made it nationally unique. (A couple of museums in far smaller markets come close.) It corrected for a massive flaw in museum culture by being a gallery dedicated to the religious nature of religious art. And not only that, but it was a secular museum dedicated to the religious nature of religious art.

This Is What Happens After You Die, by Moheb Costandi, Digg

“It might take a little bit of force to break this up,” says mortician Holly Williams, lifting John’s arm and gently bending it at the fingers, elbow and wrist. “Usually, the fresher a body is, the easier it is for me to work on.”

Inside The School Silicon Valley Thinks Will Save Education, by Issie Laposwky, Wired

So you’re A parent, thinking about sending your 7-year-old to this rogue startup of a school you heard about from your friend’s neighbor’s sister. It’s prospective parent information day, and you make the trek to San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. You walk up to the second floor of the school, file into a glass-walled conference room overlooking a classroom, and take a seat alongside dozens of other parents who, like you, feel that public schools—with their endless bubble-filled tests, 38-kid classrooms, and antiquated approach to learning—just aren’t cutting it.

At the same time, you’re thinking: this school is kind of weird.

Review: ‘Women Of Will,’ By Tina Packer, A Look At Shakespeare’s Feminine Side, by Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

In her fascinating but not always convincing new book, “Women of Will,” Tina Packer — the founding artistic director of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass. — provides a detailed look at Shakespeare’s heroines, arguing that they form a progression over the years that traces his spiritual growth and evolving vision of the world.

How To Eat … A Cheese Sandwich, by Tony Naylor

Gourmets! Gastronauts! The unfeasibly greedy! Gather around in as tight a huddle as our bulging stomachs will allow, for How to Eat is going where others are too complacent to tread. Yes, we are opening a Tupperware pandora’s box and taking a large bite out of the humble cheese sandwich. Identified last month as the nation’s favourite weekday lunchtime repast, this is not just a snack but one of the building blocks of the British identity. One that, thankfully, has recently been exonerated after accusations it had played a principal role in starting the first world war. As ever, below the line, please choose your words caerphilly. Do not turn the air blue. If necessary, brie the feta man.

Poem: Selling His Soul By Sophie Hannah, by Carol Rumens

Sophie Hannah’s work is always a pleasure to read and hear. Many of her poems explore the cross-purposes that divide, and cruelly connect, men and women. The psychological complexities testify to her additional career as a novelist. Such poems never seem agenda-driven, and rarely involve a black-or-white argument or conclude with a simple victory. Feelings often seem intense, irrational and outside the control the poem’s forms appear to underwrite.

The Painful Price Of Aging In Prison, by Sari Horwitz, Washington Post

“Our federal prisons are starting to resemble nursing homes surrounded with razor wire,” said Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “It makes no sense fiscally, or from the perspective of human compassion, to incarcerate men and women who pose no threat to public safety and have long since paid for their crime. We need to repeal the absurd mandatory minimum sentences that keep them there.”

Parts &Amp; Recreation, by Jeff Greenwald, Craftsmanship

What makes people devote hours to the frustrating task of gluing together pieces so small you have to pick them up with tweezers? And does this obsessive hobby even matter anymore?

Survival Of The Fittest In The English Department, by David Wescott, The Chronicle Review

The story of how things went so wrong for a promising young scholar is one of disciplinary politics, contentious methodological debates, and the respective statures of the sciences and the humanities. Above all it is the story of how brash literary Darwinists and evolutionary theorists attempted to "save" English departments — by forcing them to adopt scientific methodology — and were, on the whole, repelled.

Rhapsody, A Lofty Literary Journal, Perused At 39,000 Feet, by Alexandra Alter, New York Times

Last summer at a writers’ workshop in Oregon, the novelists Anthony Doerr, Karen Russell and Elissa Schappell were chatting over cocktails when they realized they had all published work in the same magazine. It wasn’t one of the usual literary outlets, like Tin House, The Paris Review or The New Yorker. It was Rhapsody, an in-flight magazine for United Airlines.

Poem: For You, by Maureen N. Mclane, New Yorker

It’s been a long while since I was up before you
but here I am, up before you.


The Disremembered, by Charles Leadbeater, Aeon

Dementia raises deeply troubling issues about our obligations to care for people whose identity might have changed in the most disturbing ways. In turn, those changes challenge us to confront our philosophical and ethical assumptions about what makes up that identity in the first place. Everyone touched by the disease goes through a crash-course in the philosophy of mind.

Philosophy is not of much practical use with most illnesses but in the case of dementia it provides insights about selfhood and identity that can help us make sense of the condition and our own reactions to it. Broadly speaking, there are two accounts of how personal identity is formed and sustained. Each has different implications for how we understand dementia and so seek to care for people with it.

Review: A God In Ruins By Kate Atkinson - It's A Matter Of Life And Death, With Dizzying Possibilities, by Matt Cain, The Independent

Without giving too much away, Atkinson takes up the theme that originally fascinated her and attacks it from a different and totally unexpected angle, in the process revealing the two novels to be much more similar than they may at first have seemed. And to my mind, A God in Ruins stands as an equally magnificent achievement.

Review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes – A Mortician’s Dissection Of Death, by Hannah Beckerman, The Guardian

The latest addition to the genre is Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematorium, Caitlin Doughty’s fascinating and often very funny memoir chronicling her initiation into the death industry, beginning as a 23-year-old crematorium operator, through to her current career, six years later, as a licensed funeral director and YouTube star hosting the series Ask a Mortician.

Why I Love Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Neil Gaiman, The Guardian

I loved the things she said and the things she did not say. I loved crabbed Norrell and, less feckless than he seems, Strange, and John Uskglass the Raven King, who is not in the title of the book unless he hides behind the ampersand, but who hovers there anyhow. I loved the supporting players, the footnotes, and the author – she is not, I am convinced, Clarke, but a character in her own right, writing her book closer to Strange and Norrell’s time than our own.

Audiology, by Sean O'Brien, The Guardian

I hear an elevator sweating in New Orleans,
Water folding black on black in tanks deep under Carthage,
Unfracked oil in Lancashire


Does Post-Apocalyptic Literature Have A (Non-Dystopian) Future?, by Jason Heller, NPR

The end of the world sure is taking a long time. Ever since the breakout success of Cormac McCarthy's 2006 novel The Road, America has been degraded, devastated, and decimated time and time again — at least, on the page. Granted, McCarthy didn't invent post-apocalyptic fiction. But he helped spark a literary trend that shows no signs of abating.

Review: ‘Einstein’s Dice And Schrödinger’s Cat,’ By Paul Halpern, by Jennifer Ouellette, New York Times

The men were natural allies. Both were Nobel laureates, recognized for foundational work in the earliest days of quantum mechanics. Each had a strong philosophical bent, which shaped his worldview. Einstein favored the work of Spinoza, while Schrödinger had an affinity for Schopenhauer and dabbled in Eastern mysticism. Those philosophical influences contributed to their mutual dislike of the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics, despite its stunning experimental success.

The Half-Life Of Physicists, by Peter Woit, Wall Street Journal

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s discovery of the key equations of general relativity, which was followed 10 years later by Erwin Schrödinger’s discovery of the equation of quantum theory that bears his name. These equations remain today at the core of our understanding of fundamental physics, and their story has been well told by many authors over the years. In “Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat,” physicist Paul Halpern ably takes up a less well-known subject, that of the two men’s later careers, during which they at times collaborated closely. It is a fascinating and thought-provoking story, one that sheds light on the origins of some aspects of the current challenging situation in physics.

Choose Your Old Adventure, by Jacob Brogan, Slate

If Kickstarter is the future of gaming, the future of gaming is grounded firmly in gaming’s past.

In Search Of Lost Tweets: On Being A Writer On Twitter, by Mensah Demary, Electric Lit

I once tweeted to a fellow writer that Twitter was far more invaluable to my writing career than relocating to Brooklyn. After writing this, I held my phone and stared at the tweet in my app, and I felt a little ridiculous. Twitter was a useful tool, yes—a necessary platform, maybe—but “invaluable” seemed a stretch. It implied, to me, that I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time on Twitter, and was perhaps invested in the lives and words of people who, for the most part, I haven’t met in real life and may never get to meet offline. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed.

How Doing Nothing Became The Ultimate Family Vacation, by Reif Larsen, New York Times

Why had surrendering to entropy become the ultimate family vacation? A part of this can, of course, be chalked up to the throes of parenthood, in which time essentially ceases to be your own: Your baby manages to perform some feat of special relativity by bending time to the dictates of his bodily orifices. New parents will attest that you become so exhausted by the mechanics of the everyday that all you begin to dream about is the chance to just do nothing for five minutes.

But I think there’s something else going on here, something more fundamental than just the inevitable weariness brought on by constantly being covered in fluids shot out of a small being. I think part of the reason parents across the country are fleeing to these anesthetized retreats is because of America’s failure to acknowledge that children actually exist.

An Alternative-Medicine Believer’s Journey Back To Science, by Alan Levindvitz, Wired

The debate pits not just doctor against layperson, but also doctor against doctor. And as the Laidlers demonstrate, it can pit well-trained doctors against their own psyche.

Poem: Once, by Saskia Hamilton; Selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

Once, when I came home from school after being taunted on the playground for having a black mother and a white father, I climbed onto my parents’ tall bed and lay between them. It was a raft, and the world around us fell away as we drifted there. Saskia Hamilton’s poem carries me back to that moment as if speaking to my own particular experience. It’s one of poetry’s great gifts to show us ourselves through the intimate voice of another.