MyAppleMenu Reader - Aug 2015

In Defense Of Disneyland: Why It’s Worth Revisiting As A Jaded Adult, by Steve Bramucci, Uproxx

People may be tired, and they may be burnt out on crowds, and they may be done getting jabbered at by animatronic figures, but they leave happy. They really do. And the ability to create that on such a huge scale is absolutely and completely mind-blowing. All I can conclude is that it takes a lot of work, huge vision, superb employees, endless diversions for the agitated mind, and plenty of singing.

Still, watching thousands of people head for the exits after the fireworks show and witnessing the situation not dissolve into madness makes me marvel, every time.

The Summer That Never Was, by Tim Kreider, New York Times

I NEVER went to Iceland. I suppose I should say I didn’t go to Iceland this summer — never sounds a little melodramatic, possibly terminal. It’s not as if I’ve died and all hope of ever having gone to Iceland is obviated. But for some reason this missed opportunity is causing me more than the usual, near-toxic level of regret. I’ve had a free apartment in Reykjavik on offer for several years, and somehow I’ve never made it there. The owner of the apartment sends me photos of the aurora borealis that break my heart.

What Are The Odds?, by Laura Miller, Slate

This is why everyone, even mathphobic humanities majors, needs to take a class in statistics. I wish I had, although thanks to excellent writers like Hand and Jordan Ellenberg, I’ve been doing my best to catch up. We all need to learn why the term statistically significant may very well not mean actually significant—at least not in any way that matters to the making of public policy or to deciding whether to undergo a medical treatment. We all need to understand regression to the mean and how it’s been used by quacks to peddle bogus cures, as well as how selection bias has distorted the results of everything from extrasensory perception experiments to which research gets published in scientific journals and ends up reported on in your daily paper. Statistics and the science of probability represent the ultimate in critical thinking, because they teach us how to criticize the ways we habitually think.

As Hikers Celebrate On Appalachian Trail, Some Ask: Where Will It End?, by Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times

Faced with increasing crowds and partylike behavior by a few — including an ultramarathon runner who celebrated at the summit last month with a spray of champagne — officials here are threatening to reroute the end of the trail off Katahdin and out of Baxter State Park.

The very idea has stunned the hiking world. Katahdin has been the trail’s northern terminus for more than 80 years. For the thousands who set out annually to follow its entire path, moving the trail’s endpoint off this rocky peak would be a momentous detour, forcing long-distance hikers to end their treks not with a bang but a whimper.

When Did Parents Get So Scared?, by Melissa Schorr, Boston Globe

Despite the eye-rolling of our elders and psychologists bemoaning that we are raising “a nation of wimps,” I belong to a cohort of parents ruled by fear. Every mother I ask can recall with pinpoint accuracy a moment of stomach-churning panic when her child went momentarily missing — at a mall, in a hotel lobby, up an elevator, in the Children’s Museum.

Rather than abating with time, the checklist of parental worries has only lengthened as our children have aged, like pencil marks ticking up their growth chart: from SIDS to chemicals in sippy cups, arsenic in apple juice to hormone-laden milk, Lyme disease and meningitis and measles outbreaks, vaccinating, not vaccinating, concussions and trampolines, whole grapes and popcorn, school shootings and cancer-causing sunscreen, overheated cars and negligent nannies, boogeymen kidnappers and friendly neighborhood molesters, and always, above all, the judgment of our fellow parents for failing to be as hypervigilant as they are.

‘The Incarnations,’ By Susan Barker, by Simon Winchester, New York Times

Traveling in China back in the early 1990s, I was waiting for my westbound train to take on water at a lonely halt in the Taklamakan Desert when a young Chinese woman tapped me on the shoulder, asked if I spoke English and, further, if I knew anything of Anthony Trollope. I was quite taken aback. Trollope here? A million miles from anywhere? I mumbled an incredulous, “Yes, I know a bit” — whereupon, in a brisk and businesslike manner, she declared that the train would remain at the oasis for the next, let me see, 27 minutes, and in that time would I kindly answer as many of her questions as possible about plot and character development in “The Eustace Diamonds”?

Ever since that encounter, I’ve been fully convinced of China’s perpetual and preternatural power to astonish, amaze and delight. And seldom in the years since have I felt that conviction more powerfully than while reading “The Incarnations,” Susan Barker’s astonishing, amazing — yet hardly delightful — new novel. It has left me quite as flabbergasted today as I felt at that desert railway station a quarter of a century ago. Flabbergasted and at the same time quite troubled.

How The Ballpoint Pen Killed Cursive, by Josh Giesbrecht, The Atlantic

The ballpoint’s universal success has changed how most people experience ink. Its thicker ink was less likely to leak than that of its predecessors. For most purposes, this was a win—no more ink-stained shirts, no need for those stereotypically geeky pocket protectors. However, thicker ink also changes the physical experience of writing, not necessarily all for the better.

Can A Novelist Be Too Productive?, by Stephen King, New York Times

No one in his or her right mind would argue that quantity guarantees quality, but to suggest that quantity never produces quality strikes me as snobbish, inane and demonstrably untrue.

The Loney By Andrew Michael Hurley Review – A Gothic Masterpiece, by Sarah Perry, The Guardian

Back in the time of the guilds, an apprentice was required to submit a masterpiece to attain the status of a master craftsman. It was not the peerless and crowning achievement of a career, but the moment he showed mastery of the craft. Well, then – here is the masterpiece by which Hurley must enter the Guild of the Gothic: it pleases me to think of his name written on some parchment scroll, alongside those of Walpole, Du Maurier, Maturin and Jackson.

Typewriter, You're Fired! How Writers Learned To Love The Computer, by Joe Moran

Even by the standards of the bulbous grey contraption that was the 1980s computer, the Amstrad PCW 8256 was an unlovely thing. The poet Hugo Williams, deciding to stick with his old Adler typewriter, dismissed it as a “grisly gulag of beige plastic”. But while it failed to win over Williams, the Amstrad did manage to convert a vast army of his fellow authors. Its launch 30 years ago, in September 1985, was a significant moment in British literary culture – the tipping point when many writers, published and aspiring, made the trek to Dixons, where it was exclusively sold, and joined the computer age.

Grow In The Dark, by Jonathan Carroll, Medium

To this day I do not know how far it is from the Hotel New Otani to the Hotel Tokyo Prince. Someone recently told me it is only two or three miles. But the walk took me all night, and I am not exaggerating. I walked across that city for hours, having only one thing to guide me: behind my hotel was a huge television tower called fittingly the Tokyo Tower. Whenever I got lost, which was about every fifteen minutes, I would either look for the tower way off there in the distance, or I would ask someone. I would say “Tokyo Tower! Tokyo Tower!” in a desperate voice and then shrug exaggeratedly.

The Colorful Language Of Chameleons, by Patricia Edmonds, National Geographic

Chameleons communicate with color change, hunt with lightning-fast tongues—and live in some of Earth’s most threatened habitats.

The Meaning Of Science By Tim Lewens Review – Can Scientific Knowledge Be Objective?, by Julian Baggini, The Guardian

The physicist Richard Feynman once remarked that “philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds”. Some of his colleagues have not been so kind. When Stephen Hawking pronounced philosophy dead in 2011, it was only the fame of the coroner that made it news.

Good scientists, however, are willing to revise their theories on the basis of new data, and Tim Lewens’s wonderful addition to the excellent Pelican Introductions series, The Meaning of Science, is all the evidence any open-minded inquirer needs to demonstrate the worth of philosophy of science.

‘The Wake’ Poses Readers A Novel Challenge, by Jennifer Maloney, Wall Street Journal

Then he had a thought: Would it be possible to write a book that contained only words that had existed in Old English? The answer was almost.

Mr. Kingsnorth invented what he calls a “shadow tongue”—a kind of middle ground between Old English and the language we use today. He ended up using mostly, though not exclusively, words that originated in Old English. He spelled them using the alphabet of 1066. That is, no “k,” “v,” “j” or “q.” And he used no capitalization or punctuation, save for a period every few sentences.

Then he wrote his whole novel in it.

The Politics Of The Curation Craze, by Miya Tokumitsu, New Republic

Blogs are curated. So are holiday gift guides. So are cliques, play lists, and restaurant menus. “Curated,” a word that barely existed forty years ago, has somehow come to qualify everything in our lives.

Poem: ‘Mirror. Memory’, By Eavan Boland, selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

Cultural memory often involves a good measure of willed forgetting, an overlooking of some parts of experience in favor of a dominant narrative. In this poem, the precise imagery of faces reflected in a kettle — “misted and revealed” — hints at how these subjects are at once obscured and plainly seen. Here, the memory of people who are often left out of history is set against the imagery of the painting, connected by the single long sentence from which the poem is made.

Will Robots Inherit The Earth?, by Mark Alpert, Los Angeles Review of Books

As neuromorphic circuits improve, scientists will eventually develop a computer that can hold all of the human mind’s data — memories, character traits, emotions and so on — which can be gleaned from the brain by analyzing the myriad connections among its cells. What’s more, the neuromorphic circuits will be able to process this information the same way the brain does, allowing the computer to generate new thoughts and emotions. If researchers copy a person’s brain data to these circuits, the “personality” inside the machine will be self-aware and indistinguishable from the original personality in the living brain.

What We Learn From Old Recipes, by Tamar Adler, New York Times

Out with the old and in with the new! Or so the saying goes. But it often goes the opposite way for me: In a reading life full of recipes, I like old ones better. I didn’t realize how much, or why, until I recently started writing a book updating a hundred of them — mostly from the 20th century, but all with timeworn roots.

Jonathan Franzen Is Having More Fun Than His Critics, by Laura Miller, Slate

True, the title is portentous; yes, some passages address this or that big issue: the fall of the Eastern Bloc, the disintegration of privacy in the Internet era, the puzzle of revising gender roles, the toxin of celebrity culture. All that, however, feels almost vestigial or even playful, remnants of the “serious” tag affixed to a novel that in truth has happily surrendered itself to the pleasures of story and character.

The Girl Who Outlived Her Creator: Salander Returns In 'Spider's Web', by Lynn Neary, NPR

"I write best when I sort of collide myself with another man," Lagercrantz says. "So I think, I hope that a combination of me and Stieg Larsson will create something good."

On One Paris Street, Shopkeepers Specialize In Only One Kind Of Thing, by Elaine Sciolino, New York Times

“The sense of neighborhood has gone, never to return,” the American art critic John Russell wailed in “Paris,” his classic 1975 study of the City of Light. “The one-person shop, the solitary craftsman, the frugal, secret and yet dignified life — all have been lost.”

Except, that is, on a street like the Rue des Martyrs.

Larry King Is Preparing For The Final Cancellation, by Mark Leibovich, New York Times

King is fixated on dying. Everyone is, to some degree, but not like him. Shawn King, his seventh wife, told me that Larry talks so much about his demise that he started to upset their teenage sons, and she had to tell him to knock it off. ‘‘He kept saying, ‘Listen, I’m not going to be around much longer, boys,’ ’’ Shawn said. ‘‘ ‘Whatever you do, don’t let your mother put me in a home.’ ’’ Recently, Larry and Shawn met with some insurance and lawyer types to go over their family trust. They were talking about his will and who got what and the tax ramifications. ‘‘After about 20 minutes, I said, ‘Wait a minute,’ ’’ Larry told me. ‘‘I won’t be here when this happens. I won’t exist. Everything in that conversation had nothing to do with me.’’

Can Computers Help Us Read The Mind Of Nature?, by Paul Davies, The Guardian

We are still left with Hoyle’s basic problem of how life got going in the first place. But now there are new puzzles to contemplate. For example, how did software emerge from hardware? How did digital information storage and processing, such as we see today in DNA, RNA and proteins, come out of random molecular odds and ends?

How Many National Anthems Are Plagiarised?, by Alex Marshall, BBC

Several of the world's national anthems are shockingly similar to other compositions. Is this because composers pilfer other people's tunes - or does it tell us more about the difficulties of writing an original melody?

Is Amazon Creating A Cultural Monopoly?, by Vauhini Vara, New Yorker

It is perhaps the writers’ lack of legal expertise that has given them the freedom to put forth what antitrust experts described to me as a highly unorthodox argument: that, even though Amazon’s activities tend to reduce book prices, which is considered good for consumers, they ultimately hurt consumers.

Review: In ‘Purity,’ Jonathan Franzen Hits A New Octave, by Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

In fact, even readers who have found his earlier work misanthropic, too filled with bile and spleen for their tastes, are likely to appreciate his ability here to not just satirize the darkest and pettiest of human impulses but to also capture his characters’ yearnings for connection and fresh starts — and to acknowledge the possibility of those hopes.

‘Speak,’ By Louisa Hall, by Katy Waldman, New York Times

A less artful title for “Speak,” Louisa Hall’s sidereal novel on artificial (and thus human) intelligence, might be “What We Talk About When We Talk About Computers.” This starfish of a book, five voices waving gracefully around a core of philosophical questions, wants to explore the nature of memory; the borders of personhood; how words can illumine and obscure and hoodwink and rescue.

Why Salad Is So Overrated, by Tamar Haspel, Washington Post

As the world population grows, we have a pressing need to eat better and farm better, and those of us trying to figure out how to do those things have pointed at lots of different foods as problematic. Almonds, for their water use. Corn, for the monoculture. Beef, for its greenhouse gases. In each of those cases, there’s some truth in the finger-pointing, but none of them is a clear-cut villain.

There’s one food, though, that has almost nothing going for it. It occupies precious crop acreage, requires fossil fuels to be shipped, refrigerated, around the world, and adds nothing but crunch to the plate.

It’s salad, and here are three main reasons why we need to rethink it.

The Danger Of Being Neighborly Without A Permit, by Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

We've constructed communities where one must obtain prior permission from agents of the state before freely sharing books with one's neighbors! And their proposed solution is to get scarce public art funds to pay for the needless layer of bureaucracy being imposed on the thing already being done for free.

Banksy’s ‘Dismaland’ In England: It’s A Strange World, After All, by Christopher D. Shea, New York Times

“They’re intentionally being so rude,” Ms. Griffiths said of “Dismaland” “staff members,” who greet visitors with an angry pat down. (A guard who patted this reporter down told me to avert my eyes as he did so; another asked me to turn around, then told me to turn around again. “I didn’t ask to see your butt,” she said.) “It is hilarious because I mean, we’re British, we’re so polite,” Ms. Griffiths said.

Poem: The Horse Fair By George Mackay Brown, by Carol Rumens, The Guardian

The Orcadian poet, playwright and novelist George Mackay Brown was also, as Douglas Dunn noted in the Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry, “a scholar and historian of his place”. Mackay Brown’s place was Stromness, his birth-town, soul-landscape and life-long home. As several commentators have observed, the small geographical circumference his writing occupied was offset by the span and vividness of his historical imagination.

Why Is Canadian English Unique?, by James Harbeck, BBC

The standard stereotype among Americans is that Canadians are like Americans, except they say ‘eh’ a lot and pronounce ‘out and about’ as ‘oot and aboot’. Many Canadians, on the other hand, will tell you that Canadian English is more like British English, and as proof will hold aloft the spellings colour and centre and the name zed for the letter Z.

Canadian does exist as a separate variety of English, with subtly distinctive features of pronunciation and vocabulary. It has its own dictionaries; the Canadian Press has its own style guide; the Editors’ Association of Canada has just released a second edition of Editing Canadian English. But an emblematic feature of Editing Canadian English is comparison tables of American versus British spellings so the Canadian editor can come to a reasonable decision on which to use… on each occasion. The core of Canadian English is a pervasive ambivalence.

Neurotribes Review – The Evolution Of Our Understanding Of Autism, by Saskia Baron, The Guardian

Neurotribes by Steve Silberman explores in fascinating, near-encyclopedic depth how autism has evolved. It’s a gripping narrative written with journalistic verve. First defined as a rare disorder of childhood in 1943, today autistic spectrum disorders are estimated to affect about one in 100 people of all ages in the UK (in the US, the figure is one in 68). Silberman combines portraits of autistic individuals with a forensic exploration of the disorder’s history and also delineates the current political and cultural battles that divide professionals and parents, self-advocates and charities.

Who Won Science Fiction's Hugo Awards, And Why It Matters, by Amy Wallace, Wired

The Puppies’ revolt did not merely push back against the gains traditionally underrepresented people have made in a maligned literary sub-genre. It was a backlash against gains they’ve made everywhere. Like the sound of starship engines, the Hugos don’t exist in a vacuum.

Dinner And Deception, by Edward Frame, New York Times

IT’S 4:25 p.m. I make my way through the kitchen, past the prep cooks, up to the locker room on the second floor. Getting dressed takes 10 minutes. That leaves 20 to get “family meal” before the porters break everything down. At 4:55, I’m ready. Lineup is in five minutes — “live at five.” I double-check my uniform, an expensive-looking suit issued by the restaurant, before I join the rest of the wait staff downstairs.

Lineup is our final meeting before service. The managers report on menu changes and our ranking on the world’s top restaurants list. Sometimes they test us. “Where did Chef get his first Michelin star?” “What kind of stone is the floor made of?” But tonight we just taste the new wine. A classic Burgundy: red fruit, rose petal, underripe cherry; med-high acid, soft tannins. It’ll pair well with the pork.

Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe, by Stefaan Blancke, Scientific American

Many people believe that GMOs are bad for their health – even poisonous – and that they damage the environment. This is in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that proves that GMOs are safe to eat, and that they bring environmental benefits by making agriculture more sustainable. Why is there such a discrepancy between what the science tells us about GMOs, and what people think?

In Science We Trust… Up To A Point, by Adam Rutherford, The Guardian

There has been an explosion of writers and scientists, primarily online, not in the traditional media, eager to scrutinise research. But, with equal volume, disinformation about climate change, vaccination, creationism also abounds. I don’t know how a non-expert can navigate this quagmire.

The End Of Walking, by Antonia Malchik, Aeon

I am writing from a position of privilege. Not white or middle-class privilege – although I am both of those things and those facts play a role in my privilege – but rather, the privilege Americans don’t realise they’ve lost in a nearly Orwellian fashion: I can open the door of my home, take my kids by their hands, and meet almost any need by lifting my feet and moving forward. Food, schools, social centres, books, playgrounds, even doctors and dentists and ice cream – nearly everything our family uses daily is within about a mile’s walk of home and well-served by wide, uncrowded sidewalks.

The Ghost Grid Of California City, by Jay Owens, Medium

The story of California City I’d been sold was one of nostalgia for California optimism and the Space Age, for a 1950s modernism that believed cities could be planned and rationalised and perfected. We know that they can’t, now, but there’s supposed to be a kind of poignancy at the generations before us who believed in the future. I didn’t feel that twang. But for all that (and the hangover) I’m glad I was there. This road trip was driven by many things, but Brad and Wayne’s generosity and enthusiasm in showing me their California mythos was a big part of it. The hope that that mythos might be there, might be tangible for a moment — that’s a dream worth having dreamt.

‘Machines Of Loving Grace,’ By John Markoff, by David Alan Grier, New York Times

We may not need to follow Musk’s call for regulation, but we probably need to assess the state of artificial intelligence and robotics, a task that John Markoff describes as looking for “common ground between humans and robots” in “Machines of Loving Grace.”

Mario Vargas Llosa’s ‘Notes On The Death Of Culture’, by Joshua Green, New York Times

I call it the newspaper problem: About a decade ago I wrote an essay on contemporary poetry for a newspaper that will remain nameless, and had the occasion to quote a line by “Eliot.” The editor sent back many changes, the most telling of which was that the quotation was now attributed to “the English poet T.S. Eliot.” Vaguely piqued, I asked what the editor was trying to clarify: Was he afraid readers wouldn’t realize the quotation came from a poem? Or was he afraid readers might confuse the Eliot who wrote it with, say, George Eliot, the pseudonymous author of “Middlemarch”? Anyway, I noted that the English qualifier was misleading: Though T.S. Eliot had taken British citizenship, he had been born in America. The editor, then, sent on another suggestion: “the American-born English poet T.S. Eliot.” I, having lost all the patience I had as a 24-year-old, replied by modifying that tag to: “the American-born, British-­citizen English-language poet, essayist, dramatist, teacher, publisher and bank teller Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965),” after which the editor finally got the point and canceled the assignment.

Even Speech We Hate Should Be Free, by Mick Hume, Wall Street Journal

Those who want to limit freedom of speech are misusing Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous 1919 line about ‘shouting fire in a theater’.

The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t, by Steven Johnson, New York Times

Taking 1999 as my starting point — the year both Napster and Google took off — I plumbed as many data sources as I could to answer this one question: How is today’s creative class faring compared with its predecessor a decade and a half ago? The answer isn’t simple, and the data provides ammunition for conflicting points of view. It turns out that Ulrich was incontrovertibly correct on one point: Napster did pose a grave threat to the economic value that consumers placed on recorded music. And yet the creative apocalypse he warned of has failed to arrive. Writers, performers, directors and even musicians report their economic fortunes to be similar to those of their counterparts 15 years ago, and in many cases they have improved. Against all odds, the voices of the artists seem to be louder than ever.

The End Of The Ambitious Summer Reading List, by Lee Siegel, Wall Street Journal

I may be one of the last people to be burdened by the self-imposed obligation to read certain books during the golden months of vacation. These days, the summer-reading list seems to have gone the way of the perfect tan. (In fact, our relatively recent awareness of the health hazards caused by exposure to the sun probably has kept more books off the chaise-lounge, and thus off the best-seller list, than anything else.) Schools and colleges still make available reading lists for students who are devoted, or anxious, enough to pack Lytton Strachey’s “Eminent Victorians” (summer of 1982, status: unfinished) in with their kayak paddles, but few people seem any longer to identify summer with catching up on the great books of the past or even on the must-reads of the present.

Me, Myself And I In An Age Of Autobiographical Fiction, by Belinda McKeon, The Guardian

I panic whenever someone reads a story I have written, let alone a novel; I panic because of what has been revealed of me, of my sensibility. But my panic is none of the reader’s business, and it is none of the writing’s business, either. The writing has its own room to live in now.

Abandoning The Work I Hated, by Robert Markowitz, New York Times

But soon, my body started giving out one part at a time. First a shoulder, then my lower back, knee cartilage, neck vertebrae. Two groin hernia surgeries later, at 33 years old, I could not lift a bag of groceries, or sit without an orthopedic pillow. After 10 years as a law student and lawyer, working in a profession I didn’t like was taking its toll.

Why Is The UK Still Knocking Down Historic Cinemas?, by Justin Parkinson, BBC

"A few years ago, for a decade or so from the mid-1990s, there was more a swing towards historic preservation of buildings," Trevor-Jones says. "But the pendulum seems to have swung back in favour of redevelopment again. Cinemas are among the buildings coming under greater pressure. We need more advocates for preservation. "

Poem: ‘Beaux Arts’, By Chana Block, selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

It’s a delight to see the way that poems (and poets) engage in conversation with other works of art. Chana Bloch’s poem is layered in its ekphrastic references, not only to a painting but also to “Musée des Beaux Arts,” a poem by W.H. Auden that has long been one of my favorites. Echoing the language of Auden’s poem (“About suffering they were never wrong,/The Old Masters: how well they understood”), “Beaux Arts” extends the meditation on art, myth and the representation of human emotion.

Gravity’s Oldest Puzzles, by Brian Koberlein, Medium

Our understanding of gravitational dynamics is very good. With it we can send probes to distant worlds such as Pluto to an accuracy of a dozen kilometers. But sometimes our models don’t quite match reality. These astrometric anomalies are small and subtle, but they sometimes lead to a new understanding of the universe.

The Reinvention Of Black, by Mark Peplow, Nautilus

Suddenly, black was everywhere. It caked the flesh of miners and ironworkers; it streaked the walls and windows of industrial towns; it thickened the smoky air above. Proprietors donned black clothing to indicate their status and respectability. New black dyes and pigments created in factories and chemical laboratories entered painters’ studios, enabling a new expression for the new themes of the industrial age: factory work and revolt, technology and warfare, urbanity and pollution, and a rejection of the old status quo. A new class of citizen, later to be dubbed the “proletariat,” began to appear in illustrations under darkened smokestacks. The industrial revolution had found its color.

Empty Cities, by Pico Iyer, New York Review of Books

Drawing back the curtains in my nineteenth-floor hotel room in Las Vegas last year, I looked out on a sand-colored landscape that was mostly emptiness. Cars were trickling along the broad freeway through the desert, and I could see the edge of a few look-alike high-rises; otherwise, there was no sign of life for as far as I could see. The minute I stepped out of the front door of the thirty-six-story structure, however, I was confronted by what passes for real life here: a mock Eiffel Tower, an enormous glass pyramid, a pseudo-Venetian lagoon, and dozens of circuses and pleasure domes offering images of the wider world for those who will seldom see it in the flesh.

Just twenty-four hours later, I found myself on a plane flying across the ocean to arrive in another high-rise hotel, this one forty-five stories high, which might have been found in a different corner of the same city. Not far from my room was an Arc de Triomphe (thirty feet higher than the one in Paris). Minutes away was the tallest tourist hotel in the world, a 105-story construction in the shape of a rocket. Theaters in the shape of water-mills, Ferris-wheels, and Legoland skyscrapers, gleaming Olympic stadia lined the wide avenues for which Pyongyang has long been famous.

‘The Road Not Taken,’ By David Orr, by Adam Plunkett, New York Times

The poem casts doubt on this in ways echoed by studies and theories of decision making, agency and selfhood; studies of people forgetting what they chose or why they chose it or telling themselves stories to justify decisions they think they made but didn’t; theories of the self as found or made or just another sort of story we tell. In Orr’s lucid reading, the poem brings to life and dances on the grave of the plucky, nonconformist, self-determined and self-realized person at the heart of the American myth of individualism.

The Science Of Love In The 21st Century, by Eve Fairbanks, The Huffington Post

Scientists believe they've discovered a simple formula for happy relationships. Reader, I tried it.

Cookbooks' Key Ingredient Now Design Not Recipes, Says Food Writer, by Caroline Davies and Nicola Slawson, The Guardian

We salivate over the sizzling sardines and feel the Mediterranean heat on sun-kissed olive groves. The photography in cookery books is so visually enthralling that the smell of sea air is almost palpable in glistening shots of the fisherman’s haul.

When we come to cook, however, the cookbook stays on the coffee table. Instead, we turn to Google, according to the cookery doyenne Prue Leith. Or even order in a takeaway.

My New Attitude To Travel Is To Skip The Iconic – And I Thank My Father For That, by Shahnaz Habib, The Guardian

There are good arguments for doing new things, but having made them all to myself, I am now beginning to see the case for doing only the things you are curious about. As I grow older, I hope to become more like my father, who caused much amusement by firmly declining a ride by the White House when we went to Washington DC to visit my in-laws.

‘The Gift Of Failure,’ By Jessica Lahey, by Julie Lythcott-Haims, New York Times

When I was learning to drive, my mother sat in the passenger seat pressing her foot on an imaginary brake, gripping the door handle for dear life. She couldn’t do it for me; she could only watch. It wasn’t pretty, but I did learn.

As you read Jessica Lahey’s new book, “The Gift of Failure,” a picture emerges of childhood today unfolding the way a young person learns to drive, except the car is the kind with controls on both sides and the parent riding shotgun is quick to take the wheel outright rather than letting the kid figure it out. Together they arrive at the destination — college, the workplace or simply chronological adulthood — but the child was really just along for the ride.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin Is 10—And All Grown Up, by Megan Garber, The Atlantic

The 40-Year-Old Virgin was also a movie that heralded a cultural moment, one preoccupied with a question that will be implied, if not explicitly asked, by a film about a middle-aged virgin: What does it mean, actually, to grow up? How does one really—at this moment, in this context, in this culture—become an adult?

The Late, Great Stephen Colbert, by Joel Lovell, GQ

He was tracing an arc on the table with his fingers and speaking with such deliberation and care. “I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died.... And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.

“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that's why. Maybe, I don't know. That might be why you don't see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It's that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

How Books Help Us To Be Better Human Beings, by Jonathan Bate, New Statesman

It is striking that none of them has made it their profession to teach literature at a university (though Hofmann and Wood supplement their earnings with visiting faculty positions). It is even more striking that the kinds of things they say would never (well, hardly ever) be said by a professor in a department of English: “art is the nearest thing to life” (Wood, quoting George Eliot); “This transmigration of souls is literature’s modest miracle” (Manguel on how “if we recognise ourselves in Cordelia today, we may call Goneril our sister tomorrow, and end up, in days to come, kindred spirits with Lear, a foolish, fond old man”); “Ted Hughes is at least arguably the greatest English poet since Shakespeare” (Hofmann); “Finally you get to the age when a book’s power to make you think becomes the first thing you notice about it” (James, on reading and rereading in the knowledge that he is in the endgame of a life of reading).

The Paradox Of Time Capsules, by Erik Rangno, The Atlantic

But time capsules go a step further by insisting upon the actual atoms rather than just the words used to describe them. They celebrate the talismanic quality of their objects, packaged to deliver the vicarious experience of having occupied a particular cultural moment: the belief that these time-bound materials of timelessness speak for themselves.

The Unquiet Past, by The Economist

Seven decades on from the defeat of Japan, memories of war still divide East Asia.

All Booked Up, by Thomas Swick, The Weekly Standard

All writers begin as readers, and the majority, the ones worth reading, continue life as more prolific readers than writers—especially, it seems, as they age. “In my seventh decade I feel a new haste,” Larry McMurtry wrote in Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen (1999), “not to write, but to read.” As Clive James writes in his introduction here, in a line that evokes the child hiding under the covers with a flashlight and book as much as it does the grizzled bibliophile: “If you don’t know the exact moment when the lights will go out, you might as well read until they do.”

My Irish Clean Plates Neurosis, by Colm O'Regan, BBC

In a restaurant where no-one knows me, where we are paying for the food, I am concerned they will think it a flaw in my character if I can't finish my grub. Maybe because I committed the worst sin of all - I spoiled my appetite.

Like a lot of Irish people writing about their lives, I blame my mother for this neurosis. Well "blame" is a strong word, and actually so is "my". I blame everyone's mother.

Selling Out The Newspaper Comic Strip, by Luke Epplin, Los Angeles Review of Books

Unlike Schulz, Watterson was unable to reconcile his creative ambitions with the lucrative opportunities that success had opened up. He was every bit Schulz’s artistic heir, but he had little interest in inheriting the fertile commercial landscape that Schulz had so carefully cultivated. Twenty-five years later, their disagreements come across as equal parts quaint and timely — a remnant from the last era when newspaper cartoonists commanded widespread readerships and profitable product lines, and an ageless meditation on what selling out and authenticity mean in a commercial art form.

How Snoopy Killed Peanuts, by Kevin Wong, Kotaku

By the end of its run in 1999, Peanuts was an institution. It had become an omnipresent part of American culture, and that’s not a compliment.

Book Review: 'Speak' Asks Us To Consider Humanity In Age Of Technology, by Lawrence Wayne Markert, The Roanoke Times

We need to invoke Mary Shelley again. Her “monster” says to Frankenstein, his creator, “I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel.” His maker’s unsympathetic response is, “Begone! I will not hear you. There can be no community between you and me.” His misery stems from Frankenstein’s rejection. Hall’s novel fittingly creates a range of examples of the struggle with the real fiend humans face, our innate isolation, along with the various attempts to break its boundaries.

Poem: Vertigo, by Les Murray, The Guardian

‘In The Language Of Miracles,’ By Rajia Hassib, by Monica Ali, New York Times

“In the Language of Miracles” should find a large and eager readership. For the beauty of her writing alone, Hassib deserves it. There is another reason. The central metaphor in the novel belongs to Khaled, who writes a blog about butterflies. His favorite is the monarch, whose migration is two-way: “Because their life cycle is shorter than the duration of the migration, the butterflies that return in the spring are never the same as the ones that migrated in the fall. They are their children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.” This is a long-established theme in immigrant literature, the sense of loss and longing, and desire to return to a homeland, even one that the descendants have never actually known (the dream of Western jihadis), or one that has changed so much it now lives on only in memories and stories. It is fraught with difficulty and conflict, particularly between generations. Here the theme is served up differently, and will be welcomed by readers with open arms.

Jeff Bartsch’s ‘Two Across’, by Jenny Rosenstarch, New York Times

Though many of the novel’s big moments aren’t as powerful as you would hope, it moves at a nice clip, aided by the regular appearance of the cleverly coded puzzles Stanley and Vera plant for each other in various newspapers. Crossword enthusiasts will appreciate the many insider winks, but everyone will be eager to solve the book’s biggest puzzle: whether Stanley and Vera will succeed in their search for happiness.

‘Alphabet,’ From Ancient Greece To Google, by Ben Zimmer, Wall Street Journal

By betting on “Alphabet,” Google is relying on a word that we all learn as children but has only existed in English for about five centuries. In Old English, if you wanted to refer to the alphabet, you would use a word formed from the first four letters: “a-be-ce-de.” In Middle English this was shortened to “a-be-ce,” or as we would now spell it, “ABC.”

An Illustrated History Of Hamburgers In America, by Alison Herman, First We Feast

By now, the hamburger is such a crucial part of America’s identity that it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t being hailed as our de facto national dish.

But according to Hamburger America author George Motz, the burger as we know it is less than a century old. Like everything from pizza to bagels, hamburgers were once considered ethnic food, associated with the immigrant community that initially brought them to the country.

Man Vs. Machine: The True Story Of An Ex-Cop's War On Lie Detectors, by Drake Bennett, Bloomberg

Doug Williams used to give polygraph exams. Now he’s going to prison for teaching people how to beat them.

A New Approach To Jonathan Franzen, by Jessica Woodbury, BookRiot

Jonathan Franzen has another book coming out. People have opinions. If you haven’t seen it all start to shake out, let me tell you what’s going to happen for the next few weeks as we await its early September release.

Poetry As Enchantment, by Dana Gioia, The Dark Horse

There often seems something crude or naïve about essentialist views of poetry. Anyone with an advanced degree in literary studies knows there is no professional future in trying to connect the art of poetry with its putative human purposes. There are too few hard facts and too many value judgments involved to make this a safe area of academic inquiry. That is probably why the poet-critics who have made the most persuasive claims on the primal aspects of verse have mostly been outsiders, such as Ezra Pound, Robert Graves, Edwin Muir, Kathleen Raine, William Everson, Robert Bly, Les Murray, Wendell Berry, and—to name one non-poet—Camille Paglia. To put it mildly, these poets have not written in the language of academic discourse. They relied mostly on experiential argument, mythic allusion, historical analogy, and personal narrative, often peppered with amateur anthropology or psychology.

Finding The Other, Cheaper Side Of Bali, by Seth Kugel, New York Times

It was worth it, for two reasons. First, it gave me easy access to the unadulterated Balinese food sold at market stalls — a spicy jumble of mixed vegetables called serombotan, a luscious goat satay (no beef, since the vast majority of Bali, unlike the rest of Indonesia, is Hindu).

And, on the way back, drenched in sweat, I stopped to see a group of men scorching the hair off two slaughtered pigs and ended up with an invitation to spend the festival of Galungan with a new friend.

Chihiro's Journey: Analyzing "Spirited Away", by Jane Monji,

In July 2012, Roger wrote about viewing “Spirited Away” for a third time and how he was then “struck by a quality between generosity and love.” It was during that viewing he “began to focus on the elements in the picture that didn’t need to be there.” Recently, I was re-reading that essay as I was watching the Blu-ray of "Spirited Away" three times (Japanese, English dub and back to Japanese) back-to-back-to-back.

Poem: ‘More Than Once’, By Alberto Ríos, selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

So much depends on the precision of language. In this seemingly plain-spoken poem, ‘‘tears’’ suggests not only a literal image but also an abstract one. In that trick the eye plays on the mind, I see at once the rips in the fence and a glimpse at the emotion such a crossing — ‘‘a little dangerous’’ — can engender.

The Books I Loved As A Child Have Lasted – But The World Has Changed, by Owen Duffy, The Guardian

Rereading favourite books from childhood with my son brought us closer, but underlined how much life has moved on.

Haruki Murakami’s ‘Wind/Pinball’, by Steve Erickson, New York Times

More than anyone, Haruki Murakami invented 21st-century fiction, which says as much about the 21st century as it does about Murakami. He is the novelist of our mash-up epoch and the subversive who, by intent or not, lit the fuse to whatever “canon” of the previous century anybody still takes seriously.

Hear The Wind Sing/Pinball, 1973 By Haruki Murakami Review – Super-Elliptical Pop-Noir, by Ian Sansom, The Guardian

Magical, mystical and magnificent? Messy, middling and monotonous? Whatever. It doesn’t matter what you think, because the publication of these two early novels by Haruki Murakami is only going to further enhance his reputation.

Book Review: One Hundred Days Of Happiness By Fausto Brizzi, by Lucy Scholes, The National

Despite the inevitable tragedy awaiting Brizzi’s anti-hero, it’s a simple feel-good narrative with plenty of gentle comedy thrown in to further lighten the load.

Book Review: 'To Live And Dine In L.A.' Searches For A City's Soul Through Menus, by Matthew Kang, Eater

By juxtaposing these contemporary voices and their ventures with the menus of old, Kun reveals the city's culinary evolution from plentiful generalized "American" fare, to endless variations of specialized cuisines. The book does a masterful job of chronicling the economic and gastronomic development of America's second-largest metropolis.

Canon Of Taste, by Jill Neimark, Aeon

‘Tasting an heirloom cultivar prepared in the classic way is like discovering a lost masterwork,’ says Shields, a professor of literature at the University of South Carolina. ‘It’s like listening to Thomas Tallis’s Spem in Alium, a Renaissance choral masterpiece for eight five-part choirs. When you hear it, you sense what heaven must have sounded like then. It’s the same when you taste restored cultivars prepared using recipes of an earlier time.’

Shirley Jackson And Me, by Benjamin Dreyer, The Toast

But what happens when the copyeditorial fantasy comes to corporeal life and the presumptuous red pencil wielder is faced with a stack of very real pages written by a very real—and very dead—Great Author of All Time, a Great Author of All Time who happens to be his Favorite Author of All Time?

Let me tell you.

Pizza As Autobiography In 'Slice Harvester', by Jason Heller, NPR

Pizza is a lot of things to a lot of people. Mostly, though, it's just food. Colin Atrophy Hagendorf is keenly aware of both sides of this not-quite-burning issue in his debut book Slice Harvester. Subtitled "A Memoir in Pizza," it chronicles a two-year period in Hagendorf's life, from 2009 to 2001, when the 20-something burrito deliveryman wrote a blog called Slice Harvester, in which he reviewed a plain slice of pizza from every pizzeria in Manhattan. Hundreds of them.

Review: Clarice Lispector’s ‘The Complete Stories’ Sees Life With Existential Dread, by Larry Rohter, New York Times

On the very first page of the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector’s “The Complete Stories,” she signals that hers was never an ordinary sensibility, but one capable of perceiving anxiety and menace in even the most routine phenomena. The story in question was her debut as a writer, published in 1940 when she was just 19. Called “The Triumph,” it begins with a woman awakening to a “bright stain of sunlight” that leaves her motionless in bed, “crucified by lassitude.”

For Inmates, "The Wall" Has A Totally Different Meaning, by Michael Heald, Runner's World

A row of pay phones—never operational during any of the races—stretches off to our right. Just beyond, two well-groomed baseball diamonds are wedged inside a quarter-mile track. Despite the expanse of grass, and a surprising number of flowers, there's an overwhelming sense of gray. My eyes hit concrete in every direction, with the occasional flourish of razor wire.

Out on the asphalt track, the runners are warming up in sweatshirts and jeans. Even with our mandatory extra layer—an orange vest, to make it easier for the guards to pick us out from the blue-clad inmates—we're shivering and momentarily underdressed. The sun hasn't quite cleared the top of the wall, and in its long shadows, the place feels as cavernous as a football stadium.

The Last Kid In Cold Bay, by Michelle Theriault Boots, Alaska Dispatch News

In the wake of the school closing in Cold Bay, a shrinking town just a short hop from the Aleutian Islands, 13-year-old Wake Kremer has become the last school-aged kid in town.

The Sex We're Having Versus The Sex We Think We Should Be Having, by Jessa Crispin, Broadly

But true sexual liberation is not going to look like a nonstop orgy, all inhibitions discarded and hang-ups tossed to the side. Nor is it going to look like the finally perfect, nuanced list of labels and identifiers that accurately categorizes all of our impulses and characteristics. It will look like a part of our lives that does not hold any more power than any other part. That's not liberation any individual is capable of creating on her own. It's a liberation of a society's imagination.

Mollusks And Me: Learning The Art Of Eating Oysters, by Ralph Gardner Jr., Wall Street Journal

I’ll say. I frankly hadn’t considered oysters in that light before. In fact, I hadn’t given their life cycle much thought at all. Which is sort of how I approach oysters in general. When it comes to other food groups, steak and chicken, for example, there’s a lot of chewing and savoring going on.

But with oysters, I mostly just swallow, frightened by their “It’s alive!” texture. If an oyster suddenly raised its voice and started to plead for mercy, it wouldn’t totally surprise me.

Poem: Decline And Fall By Nic Aubury, by Carol Rumens, The Guardian

Poetic parody is – ahem – a funny genre. Its purpose varies. Sometimes, it sets out to mock the style, technique or message of the original poem: sometimes, it has entirely other fish to fry, and simply borrows the frying pan. Decline and Fall has its own satirical target: the demotion of classics from the literary curriculum, the overemphasis on “recency”. It’s a contemporary theme, yet not unrelated to the object of WS Gilbert’s satire.

Pretty Is By Maggie Mitchell Review – A Subversive Take On Kidnap-Lit, by Alison Flood, The Guardian

There are layers upon layers upon layers in Pretty Is, with Lois’s novelised version of the abduction overlapping with the memories of the women themselves, the stories Lois is telling Sean, and the increasing sense of danger as events converge on the film set of the adaptation. Like those who repeatedly question Lois and Chloe about their experiences, we are desperate for a motive, desperate to make sense of what happened.

Jackson Book Like Winning The 'Lottery', by Eliot Schrefer, USA Today

It’s the non-fiction that’s the real star here. A highlight of the collection is “Here I Am, Washing Dishes Again,” in which Jackson tenderly gives life to the objects in her kitchen. “I get a lot of unnecessary sarcasm from that eggbeater,” confides the hardworking wife and mother of four, observing that “a dishtowel is the most easily cowed of all kitchen implements, excepting only the steel wool, which hides a heart of gold under its gruff exterior.”

I’m Too Old For This, by Dominique Browning, New York Times

But there is also something profoundly liberating about aging: an attitude, one that comes hard won. Only when you hit 60 can you begin to say, with great aplomb: “I’m too old for this.”

Built For Eternity, by Elmo Keep, Motherboard

Are any of these monuments we try and erect for the far future really about deep time and the Long Now, or are they only about us in this brief moment?

Life Through The Lens Of A Falling 'Fishbowl', by Tasha Robinson, NPR

As the book begins, a goldfish named Ian begins to plummet from the 27th floor of an apartment building. This story plays out with slow deliberation over the course of the book, amid philosophical musings about the nature of buildings and so much time spent on Ian's limited intellectual capacity that he recalls the dim-witted, cheery whale falling from the sky in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Here’s What’s Wrong With Most Commentary On The Beijing 2022 Olympics, by Taisu Zhang and Pauh H. Haagen, China File

All in all, the Chinese government probably has good reason to believe that the 2022 Games will strengthen, rather than weaken, its domestic standing. In other words, Beijing may have been able to bid for the Games not because of its autocratic nature, but rather because it enjoys, at least on this issue, substantial popular support.

Poem: A Fable For The 21st Century, by Tishani Doshi, The Guardian

Keeping Skyscrapers From Blowing In The Wind, by Michelle Higgins, New York Times

Fueled by a scarcity of land and by demand from multimillionaires willing to pay record prices for helicopter views of Central Park and beyond, Manhattan developers are building ever taller, ever thinner apartment buildings on ever tinier lots. Clustered mostly in and around West 57th Street, these skinny skyscrapers are reaching heights of more than 1,000 feet.

One consequence of beanstalk proportions: The higher and slimmer buildings get, the more they tend to sway at the top.

‘Kitchens Of The Great Midwest,’ By J. Ryan Stradal, by Dawn Drzal, New York Times

“Larger than life” is usually a cliché, but in the case of Eva Thorvald — the 6-foot-2 mighty Aphrodite who strides through the pages of J. Ryan Stradal’s appealing first novel — the description is literally as well as metaphorically accurate.

Poem: ‘Written By Himself’, By Gregory Pardlo, selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

There is so much to pay attention to in this poem: the rich and varied allusions; the use of repetition at the beginnings and endings of its sentences; the rhythm in the making and breaking of its pattern; and the idea of a personal mythology, a song of the self that, in its expansiveness, might stand for us all.

‘Gig’: Once A Word For A Joke, Now For An Economy, by Ben Zimmer, Wall Street Journal

How did these “bits and pieces” get to be called “gigs” in the first place?

What Life Would Be Like If You Lived In A Bookstore: A Poem, by Ginni Chen, B&N Reads

Have you ever walked into a bookstore and thought, “I never want to leave?” Almost every bookworm has daydreamed about staying in a bookstore forever, spending their days nose-deep in novels, drinking in their fill of words, and basking in an endless array of literary wonders.

But have you ever thought about what it would be like to live in a bookstore? It’s precisely the kind of impossible magical daydreaming Dr. Seuss would encourage! As a tribute to the man behind If I Ran the Zoo and If I Ran the Circus, we present to you If I Lived in a Bookstore.

Saying Goodbye To A Secret Bookstore, by Brian Patrick Eha, New Yorker

suppose it’s O.K. to give away the address now. The books are gone, packed up in dozens of cardboard boxes and hauled away. When you ring the buzzer for apartment No. 7, nothing happens any longer, and won’t, probably, until someone else moves in. The old feeling you’d get, that you had sprung a trapdoor, discovered a secret passage, won’t come anymore.

Purity By Jonathan Franzen, Book Review - Thrilling, Frenzied And Self-Mocking, by Benjamin Markovits, The Independent

Jonathan Franzen has become a difficult writer to review. The praise and the reaction against the praise have become so extreme that you end up bouncing back and forth between them. It’s a part of his real achievement to attract such strong feelings. Like Tom Wolfe, or Dickens, for that matter, he has managed to do what few literary writers can – reach a large audience. Partly because, like both Wolfe and Dickens, he writes fun, serious books in which stuff happens.

MIT Claims To Have Found A “Language Universal” That Ties All Languages Together, by Cathleen O'Grady, Ars Technica

Language takes an astonishing variety of forms across the world—to such a huge extent that a long-standing debate rages around the question of whether all languages have even a single property in common. Well, there’s a new candidate for the elusive title of “language universal” according to a paper in this week’s issue of PNAS. All languages, the authors say, self-organise in such a way that related concepts stay as close together as possible within a sentence, making it easier to piece together the overall meaning.

Why Red Means Red In Almost Every Language, by Chelsea Wald, Nautilus

The results revealed two remarkable patterns, which Kay and Berlin laid out in their 1969 monograph, Basic Color Terms. First, almost all of the languages they examined appeared to have color words that drew from the same 11 basic categories: white, black, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, purple, pink, orange, and gray. Second, cultures seemed to build up their color vocabularies in a predictable way. Languages with only two color categories chunked the spectrum into blacks and whites. Languages with three categories also had a word for red. Green or yellow came next. Then blue. Then brown. And so on.

Kay and Berlin took these commonalities as evidence that our conception of colors is rooted, not in language, but in our shared human biology. Other experts were skeptical, questioning the researchers’ methods or accusing them of harboring an Anglocentric bias, in which 11-color languages like English sat atop the evolutionary color tree. The debate triggered a flood of new research. Over the next half-century, scientists sought to explain Kay and Berlin’s theories or debunk them once and for all. They journeyed to remote tribes, wrangled pre-linguistic babies, and peered into the brains of humans and animals, all in a quest to answer one of the most basic—and most profound—questions about human consciousness: Did color spring from our heads or our tongues? Or from somewhere in between?

Food For Thought, by William Saletan, Slate

The debate over genetically modified organisms is a great case study in how to think critically.

The Day I Ordered Pizza That 'Doesn't Exist', by Dany Mitzman, BBC

At last, I understood that it was all about definition... of paramount importance in Italian culinary tradition. A marinara is, by definition, a pizza with tomato and garlic and no mozzarella. Essentially, I'd been asking for the equivalent of a black coffee with milk.

Journeys In Literature: The Old Ways By Robert Macfarlane, by Richard Norton-Tarylor, The Guardian

Walking for me will not be the same again. I will walk along paths, sail on the sea, with added enjoyment, my imagination fired after reading The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. Macfarlane embraces landsc apes, and seascapes. He revels in what he sees with his eyes, as well as the history, books and poems they have inspired. (Language and dialects, the origins of words, are themes of his latest book, Landmarks, published earlier this year.)

Desert Utopia, by Jared Keller, Aeon

But while sci-fi writers and futurists imagined the triumphant metropolises of the not-so-distant future, Soleri set off to the Arizona desert to actually build one. Soleri wanted to answer a simple question: is it possible to design a utopia? Can the perfect human habitat be engineered by human hands, or does it have to emerge, organically, from the ecological and economic forces far beyond the grasp of a master builder? Soleri would spend the rest of his life trying to find out.

Garlic In Fiction, by Shirley Jackson, New Yorker

Far and away the greatest menace to the writer—any writer, beginning or otherwise—is the reader. The reader is, after all, a kind of silent partner in this whole business of writing, and a work of fiction is surely incomplete if it is never read. The reader is, in fact, the writer’s only unrelenting, genuine enemy. He has everything on his side; all he has to do, after all, is shut his eyes, and any work of fiction becomes meaningless. Moreover, a reader has an advantage over a beginning writer in not being a beginning reader; before he takes up a story to read it, he can be presumed to have read everything from Shakespeare to Jack Kerouac. No matter whether he reads a story in manuscript as a great personal favor, or opens a magazine, or—kindest of all—goes into a bookstore and pays good money for a book, he is still an enemy to be defeated with any kind of dirty fighting that comes to the writer’s mind.

How The Sausage Is Made: A Look Inside The World Of Bespoke Hot Dogs, by Tamar Adler, Vogue

From an emotional perspective it was a good plan. From a practical one, it was complicated. I had no way of asking Jesse about the hot dogs he served from his roadside cart. I imagine they came in industrial packages from an anonymous factory—though I can’t say. So much about hot dogs is opaque that when I think about the breed of affection we have for them, it strikes me as the dysfunctional one we reserve for foods and friends about which we say things like I don’t even want to know.

Then an idea: What if I were to decide, in the spirit of my age, to Make My Own? Which led to another question—one I had somehow never asked: What, precisely, is a hot dog?

Learning To Speak Lingerie, by Peter Hessler, New Yorker

Upper Egypt is the most conservative part of the country. Virtually all Muslim women there wear the head scarf, and it’s not uncommon for them to dress in the niqab, the black garment that covers everything but the eyes. In most towns, there’s no tourism to speak of, and very little industry; Asyut is the poorest governorate in Egypt. Apart from small groups of Syrians who occasionally pass through in travelling market fairs, it’s all but unimaginable for a foreigner to do business there. And yet I found Chinese lingerie dealers scattered throughout the region. In Beni Suef, at an open-air market called the Syrian Fair, two Chinese underwear salesmen had somehow embedded with the Syrians who were hawking cheap clothes and trinkets. Minya, the next city to the south, had a Chinese Lingerie Corner in a mall whose entrance featured a Koranic verse that warned against jealousy. In the remote town of Mallawi, a Chinese husband and wife were selling thongs and nightgowns across the street from the ruins of the Mallawi Museum, which, not long before the Chinese arrived, had been looted and set afire by a mob of Islamists.

‘The Beautiful Bureaucrat,’ By Helen Phillips, by Jamie Quatro, New York Times

Style aside, what makes “The Beautiful Bureaucrat” a unique contribution to the body of existential literature is its trajectory, as the story telescopes in two directions, both outward to pose macro questions about God and the universe, and inward to pose intimate inquiries about marriage and fidelity.

Someone Else's Song By Kamala Das, by Carol Rumens, The Guardian

Das’s poems often have a forbidden, male muse, but the muse of the American-English language is equally important. It represents her permission to write poetry in free verse, and to write personally, as part of a lived quest to reject subservience and refuse “to play at pretending games …” Her gift for personal memoir imbues her poetry, too.

Are Plants Intelligent? New Book Says Yes, by Jeremy Hance, The Guardian

Plants are intelligent. Plants deserve rights. Plants are like the Internet – or more accurately the Internet is like plants. To most of us these statements may sound, at best, insupportable or, at worst, crazy. But a new book, Brilliant Green: the Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, by plant neurobiologist (yes, plant neurobiologist), Stefano Mancuso and journalist, Alessandro Viola, makes a compelling and fascinating case not only for plant sentience and smarts, but also plant rights.

Galaxy Quest, by Jason Stanford, Texas Monthly

When my wife, Sonia Van Meter, was chosen as one of the 100 finalists for the Mars One Project, a mission to establish a permanent human colony on Mars, I already knew the answers to these questions (yes, a thousand times yes, she has the right stuff), but I wasn’t prepared for just how much it would change the world she and I live in, so to speak.

The Democracy Of ‘Difficult’ Fiction, by Joanna Scott, The Nation

The value of fiction was clear to Virginia Woolf, who argued that nonfiction consists of half-truths and approximations that result in a “very inferior form of fiction.” In Woolf’s terms, reading ambitious fiction isn’t comfortable or easy. Far from it: “To go from one great novelist to another—from Jane Austen to Hardy, from Peacock to Trollope, from Scott to Meredith—is to be wrenched and uprooted; to be thrown this way and then that.” The illuminations that fiction offers are gained only with considerable effort. “To read a novel is a difficult and complex art,” Woolf wrote. “You must be capable not only of great fineness of perception, but of great boldness of imagination if you are going to make use of all that the novelist—the great artist—gives you.” When we read actively, alertly, opening ourselves to unexpected discoveries, we find that great writers have a way of solidifying “the vague ideas that have been tumbling in the misty depths of our minds.” For Woolf, fiction provides an essential kind of knowledge that can only be acquired by careful reading.

True Stories, by Jan Breslauer, Los Angeles Review of Books

According to the author, “The purpose of this book is to get lawyers more comfortable with storytelling.” That’s a laudable mission. As an attorney, I think any lawyer who cares about convincing anyone of anything should read this book. Scratch that. Any person who cares about convincing anyone of anything should read this book.

Shapiro’s book is fun, ingeniously clever, bordering on sneaky, with a deceptively easygoing style. He weaves his own stories into examples of how best to tell a tale, and the tone remains conversational, even as he wields language with an ear for its music. He conveys complex concepts in simple, direct terms, and doesn’t pile on the verbiage or ply the passive voice, as so many attorneys are wont to do. Throughout the book, he shows you, even more than he tells you, how storytelling works. As he puts it, “If the book sometimes reads like an excuse to tell stories rather than as a manual on how to tell them, then I have done my job.”

‘The Love She Left Behind,’ By Amanda Coe, by Karen Karbo, New York Times

When Sara, at age 30, dumps her husband and two children for Patrick, a devastatingly charismatic British playwright with one buzzed-about play (“Bloody Empire”), a head of dark seductive hair and a terrible temper, what’s left behind is not just “love” but dismay, grief, suppressed rage and a lifetime of unanswered questions.

Naked At Lunch Review – The Funny Thing About Nudism, by Phil Hogan, The Guardian

This thoughtful, funny book is a plea for the middle ground. By the end of his unbuttoned adventures, Smith has widened his idea of what normal can be – and, following him into that sea of flesh, so has the reader.

Memory And Delusion, by Shirley Jackson, New Yorker

The very nicest thing about being a writer is that you can afford to indulge yourself endlessly with oddness, and nobody can really do anything about it, as long as you keep writing and kind of using it up, as it were. I am, this morning, endeavoring to persuade you to join me in my deluded world; it is a happy, irrational, rich world, full of fairies and ghosts and free electricity and dragons, and a world beyond all others fun to walk around in. All you have to do—and watch this carefully, please—is keep writing. As long as you write it away regularly, nothing can really hurt you.

On Fans And Fan Mail, by Shirley Jackson, New Yorker

think that the popular notion of the writer as a person hiding away in a garret, unable to face reality, is probably perfectly true. In my own experience, contacts with the big world outside the typewriter are puzzling and terrifying; I don’t think I like reality very much. Principally, I don’t understand people outside; people in books are sensible and reasonable, but outside there is no predicting what they will do.

For instance, I went the other day into our local drugstore and asked them how I would go about getting enough arsenic to poison a family of six. I had expected that they would behave as people would in any proper Agatha Christie book; one of them, I thought, would engage me in conversation in the front of the store, while someone else sneaked out back to call the cops, and I was ready with a perfectly truthful explanation about how the character in my book had to buy arsenic and I needed to find out how to go about it. Instead, though, no one really paid any attention to me. They were very nice about it; they didn’t have any arsenic, actually, and would I consider potassium cyanide or an overdose of sleeping pills in stead? When I said I had my heart set on arsenic, they said then I had better get in touch with a taxidermist, since no modern drugstore stocks arsenic anymore at all. Now, you have to concede that such behavior is bewildering; if someone turned up with chronic arsenic poisoning, they probably wouldn’t even remember that I was in asking about it.

‘Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War,’ By Susan Southard, by Ian Buruma, New York Times

It was bad enough for the Americans to have killed so many people, and then hide the gruesome facts for many years after the war. To forget about the massacre now would be an added insult to the victims. Southard has helped to make sure that this will not happen yet.

Almost Lovable, by Sheila Fitzpatrick, London Review of Books

Back in the day, everyone knew that Stalinist architecture was hateful. The Poles notoriously loathed the Palace of Culture and Science that was the gift to war-ruined Warsaw from the Soviet elder brother or – as the Poles saw it – master. Foreigners and sophisticated Russians sneered at Moscow’s wedding-cake buildings and lamented the old Tverskaya that had undergone a Stalinist remake as Gorky Street. Some people cherished the onion domes of 17th-century Muscovy, others the grand classical façades of 18th-century St Petersburg, and a few even idolised the dilapidated remnants of 1920s Constructivism in Moscow, but there was a general consensus that Stalinism of the 1930s-50s was the pits. I was one of those trekking around Moscow in the late 1960s, a worn copy of P.V. Sytin’s 850-page From the History of Moscow Streets in hand, to see what monstrous acts had been committed against innocent buildings in Stalin’s time. I don’t know how Sytin ever got that book published. It first came out in 1948, illustrated with smudgy non-glossy photographs, light grey on the yellowing pages, with new editions in 1952 and 1958, each adding hundreds of pages of street by street and building by building close description. I suppose the censor accepted it as a celebration of Stalinist transformation, even if the intelligentsia read it as a lament for the pre-Revolutionary imperial Russian past. It’s been reprinted several times since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but who knows in what spirit of Stalinist nostalgia people read it these days. Now, Owen Hatherley tells us, the Poles actually like their Palace of Culture.

When I’m Gone, by Rafael Zoehler, Medium

Death is always a surprise. No one expects it. Not even terminal patients think they are going to die in a day or two. In a week, maybe. But only when this particular week is the next week.

We are never ready. It is never the right time. By the time it comes, you will not have done all the things that we wanted to. The end always comes as a surprise, and it’s a tearful moment for widows and a bore for the children who don’t really understand what a funeral is (thank God).

A Beautiful Question By Frank Wilczek, Review: 'Worth The Effort', by Lewis Dartnell, Telegraph

Frank Wilczek’s A Beautiful Question is the first book I’ve read in which I’ve felt that almost vertiginous sensation of peering through layers of theories down to the true nature of the universe. Wilczek, a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, sets out to answer a deceptively simple question: “Does the world embody beautiful ideas?” Or to rephrase this in a slightly more useful way: “Is the physical universe, and the equations that physicists have derived to explain it, beautiful?”

'Three Moments' Is A Symphony Of Short Story Strangeness, by Jason Heller, NPR

A mix of new and previously published stories, Three Moments dazzles and confounds.

Vacation '58, by John Hughes, National Lampoon, reprinted by The Hollysood Reporter

If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever! We were going to Disneyland. It was a dream come true. The rides! The thrills! The Mouseketeers! I was so excited that I spent the whole month of May feeling like I had to go to the bathroom. When school finally let out on a Tuesday, I sprinted home as fast as I could, even though we weren’t leaving until Friday.

Dad picked up our brand-new 1958 Plymouth Sport Suburban Six station wagon on Thursday morning. The speedometer had only six and three-tenths miles on it. Dad said that it would be a pleasure to travel for six days in a car that smelled as good as our new Plymouth. It was nice to see Dad excited about our trip. For months Mom had to act moody and beg to get him to drive out to California. “What good will it do the kids to see their country from an airplane seat?” she wanted to know. Finally, Dad gave in and said we would get a station wagon and drive the 2,448 miles from 74 Rivard Boulevard, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, to 1313 Harbor Boulevard, Anaheim, California.

It took almost all day Friday to pack the car. Dad loaded and unloaded it again and again to save a square foot here, a square inch there. Then he simonized the car and hung litter bags in the front and back seats, attached a compass to the dashboard, and put a first aid kit in the glove compartment. Then he called everyone outside to take one item apiece out of the car so he could close the back.