MyAppleMenu Reader - Sep 2015

The Politics Of Pantyhose, by Troy Patterson, New York Times

We should understand the current state of hosiery in the context of a collapse of intimate infrastructure that started in the 1920s, when flappers cast off corsets and petticoats. The 1960s success of panty­hose, which essentially obviated the girdle and its garter straps, answered a dream of some 19th-­century suffragists who identified the matter of holding up stockings as one of the main problems of rational dress for women. In recent decades, some women, embarking on their first office jobs, rolled L’eggs over their limbs because their mothers had. It just seemed like the thing to do — and then they got to the office and saw that things had changed. It was now a matter of personal preference whether to wriggle into a synthetic sheath that was plainly a vestige of an old social framework.

‘South Toward Home,’ By Margaret Eby, by Howell Raines, New York Times

Among the scores of writers who’ve traveled to Monroeville, Ala., in hopes of seeing the elusive Harper Lee, Margaret Eby arrived with an advantage. A mutual friend with local ties agreed to take her to visit Lee at her nursing home. As Eby tells it in “South Toward Home,” she arrived with a whimsical gift, a chocolate Easter bunny from the Dollar General. She knew what she wanted to tell the author, now 89 years old. “That I, too, had gone to New York City as a wide-eyed Alabama girl, hoping to write something true about the South, . . . its fiery strangeness and treasures and tangled past.” Alas, Lee was reported to be asleep. Showing a good feel for the etiquette of their shared culture, Eby, who was raised in Birmingham, left the bunny and a nice note: “Dear Nelle, Sorry to miss you. Thank you for everything.”

In ‘The Food Lab,’ The Science Of Home Cooking, by Emily Weinstein, New York Times

His twin specialties are using the scientific method to figure out a better way to prepare a particular dish or ingredient, and telling you why it works. He is reliable, personable and unpretentious. He is also a gifted explainer, making difficult concepts easy to grasp for those of us with a lifelong lack of aptitude for the sciences.

Texts For Nothing, by Jan Mieszkowski, Los Angeles Review of Books

Among the facilitators of this casual, proudly ephemeral style, there would appear to be no bigger sinner than Twitter. The one thing that everyone knows about this popular social media site is that tweets have to be very short. The 140-character limit is a vestige of “SMS” messaging systems on which Twitter’s users no longer rely, but it is widely accepted that to abolish the restriction would be tantamount to destroying the medium. For many who have never tried to tweet — and some who have — the compulsory brevity relegates the resulting compositions to the scrapheap of the trivial. Under such conditions, one may be able to fashion the equivalent of headlines or catchy slogans, but any pretension to argumentative development, much less profundity, has to be regarded as suspect in the extreme.

Those who have labored with the 140-character form have a very different sense of its possibilities and limits. A tweet — any tweet — mocks and rejects the internet’s defining resource: unlimited space in which to ruminate, ramble, or pontificate. How the aspiring tweeter wrestles with the provocation of this mandatory concision proves decisive. She may rebel against the constraint, whether by fashioning strings of connected tweets, posting photos of longer chunks of text, or abandoning the medium altogether. Alternatively, she may embrace the fact that every detail in a 140-character composition — every syllable, punctuation mark, space — is supremely consequential. If your goal is to learn to write formal poetry — or ad copy — there are worse ways to hone your craft than by tweeting.

Woody Allen: A Retrospective By Tom Shone; Woody Allen Film By Film By Jason Solomons – Review, by Guy Lodge, The Guardian

For an artist who professes never to read criticism, Woody Allen feeds the medium most generously. The sheer regularity of the 79-year-old film-maker’s output – averaging a film a year since 1969 – matched with its stimulating inconsistency of content and quality, makes for one of the most amply analysed oeuvres in modern American cinema. Each new study that comes along has mere months to thrive before it’s officially outdated.

The Words Collide By Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, by Carol Rumens, The Guardian

The Words Collide has been placed last in the main section of the book, perhaps signifying the poem’s reach and resonance. The question of what might be literal and what metaphorical, and the sensation of how effortlessly the categories slide into one another, shift enjoyably under the purposeful clarity of its surface.

Naked Cities, by Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

Cities are the contradictions of capitalism, spelled out in crowds. They are engines of prosperity and inequality in equal measure, and when the inequality tips poor they look unsavable; when it tips rich, they look unjust. And then cities enfold a subtler contradiction—they shine by bringing like-minded people in from the hinterland (gays, geeks, Jews, artists, bohemians), but they thrive by asking unlike-minded people to live together in the enveloping metropolis.

What Will I Hear When My Ears Stop Working?, by Ysabelle Cheung, Narratively

What is silence? To most of us, it is found in temporary absence of sound: the quiet nights of sleep in suburban neighborhoods; the demi-beat before a pianist pounds the ivories; and the pause one takes after receiving bad news. In our world, silence is also abstract. It is the hush that blankets a city devastated by disaster. But silence – true silence – is neither poetic nor dramatic. For those who can no longer hear, it is constant and formless.

Forget The Book, Have You Read This Irresistible Story On Blurbs?, by Colin Dwyer, NPR

Nearly as long as they've been around, they've been treated by a vocal few with suspicion, occasionally even outright snark and scorn. Author Jennifer Weiner, for instance, sees some value in them, but suggests they've been getting over the top; scholar Camille Paglia, not one to mince words, called them "absolutely appalling" in a 1991 speech.

And if no less a luminary than George Orwell — way back in 1936 — credited the decline of the novel (even then!) with "the disgusting tripe that is written by the blurb-reviewers," one question naturally arises: Why are blurbs still around — and still, at least among publishers, so popular?

As it turns out, the answer is a bit complicated, long-lived and even a little bit (dare I say it) compelling.

Lisbeth Salander: The Girl Who Survived Her Creator, by Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic

There’s a difference, clearly, between unauthorized writing online and a published work that continues the series an author created. In Larsson’s case, most of the controversy stems from the fact that he never got to choose; he died before his books were published, and thus never had to think about what might happen to his characters without him. And Gabrielsson is right in assuming that publishers almost always choose to continue popular series for financial reasons. But that doesn’t mean readers don’t also benefit.

Making A Point: The Pernickety Story Of English Punctuation Review – Hissy Fits About Apostrophes, by Sam Leith, The Guardian

A couple of weeks ago I saw David Crystal give an after-dinner speech at the august annual conference of the Society of Indexers and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. In it, he recalled having been an adviser on Lynne Truss’s radio programme about punctuation. She told him she was thinking of writing a book on the subject. He advised her not to: “Nobody buys books on punctuation.” “Three million books later,” he said, “I hate her.”

Sherry Turkle’s ‘Reclaiming Conversation’, by Jonathan Franzen, New York Times

Sherry Turkle is a singular voice in the discourse about technology. She’s a skeptic who was once a believer, a clinical psychologist among the industry shills and the literary hand-wringers, an empiricist among the cherry-picking anecdotalists, a moderate among the extremists, a realist among the fantasists, a humanist but not a Luddite: a grown-up.

If They Build It, Will We Come? Meet The Tech Entrepreneurs Trying To Take Back The Porn Industry, by Charlie Warzel, BuzzFeed

Porn has long been a driving force in tech and internet innovation, but the industry now finds itself in unprecedented danger thanks to piracy and free “tube” sites. These are some of the pioneers and entrepreneurs who are trying to fight back.

The Middle-Class Squeeze, by Charles Moore, Wall Street Journal

I am no alarmist, and no one should worry that I have become a late convert to Marxism. Marx’s prescriptions were mostly wrong, and his spirit was intolerant and coercive. He did not understand markets or respect political institutions, and he thought liberty was a sham.

But Marx did have an insight about the disproportionate power of the ownership of capital. The owner of capital decides where money goes, whereas the people who sell only their labor lack that power. This makes it hard for society to be shaped in their interests. In recent years, that disproportion has reached destructive levels, so if we don’t want to be a Marxist society, we need to put it right.

Far Away From Here, by Teju Cole, New York Times

The invitation had come from the Literaturhaus in Zurich, one of those wonderful arts institutions of which Europe seems to have so many. Every six months they selected one writer, from anywhere in the world, to stay in the apartment they ran with a foundation. When I received the invitation, I felt as though I’d won a raffle I didn’t even know I had a ticket for.

Switzerland: The place comes with an easy set of mental associations. But I suspected there was more to it than its reputation for calendar-pretty landscapes, secretive bankers and regular trains, and here was a chance to see for myself. Besides, I had a manuscript to work on, a nonfictional narrative of Lagos, Nigeria, the city in which I grew up. Where better to write about chaotic, relentless, overpopulated Lagos than in modest, quietly industrious Zurich? There would be so little else to do in Switzerland anyway (according to my less-than-enthusiastic friends) that I would be mainly absorbed in writing during my time there. Perhaps I might even continue my photographic exploration of landscape and memory, a project that comprised images from many countries I had visited over the past few years.

The Programs That Become The Programmers, by David Auerbach, Slate

In his new book The Master Algorithm, Pedro Domingos covers the growing prominence of machine learning in close but accessible detail. Domingos’ book is a nontechnical introduction to the subject, but even if it still seems daunting, it’s important to understand how machine learning works, the many forms it can take, and how it’s taking on problems that give traditional computing a great deal of trouble. Machine learning won’t bring us a utopian singularity or a dystopian Skynet, but it will inform an increasing amount of technology in the decades to come.

‘The Invention Of Nature,’ By Andrea Wulf, by Colin Tubron, New York Times

Alexander von Humboldt was the pre-eminent scientist of his time. Contemporaries spoke of him as second in fame only to Napoleon. All over the Americas and the English-speaking world, towns and rivers are still named after him, along with mountain ranges, bays, waterfalls, 300 plants and more than 100 animals. There is a Humboldt glacier, a Humboldt asteroid, a Humboldt hog-nosed skunk. Off the coast of Peru and Chile, the giant Humboldt squid swims in the Humboldt Current, and even on the moon there is an area called Mare Humboldtianum. Darwin called him the “greatest scientific traveler who ever lived.”

Yet today, outside Latin America and Humboldt’s native Germany, his name has receded into near oblivion. His insights have become so ingested by modern science that they may no longer seem astonishing. As Andrea Wulf remarks in her arresting “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World,” “it is almost as though his ideas have become so manifest that the man behind them has disappeared.”

A Facelift For Shakespeare, by John H. McWhorter, Wall Street Journal

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will announce next week that it has commissioned translations of all 39 of the Bard’s plays into modern English, with the idea of having them ready to perform in three years. Yes, translations—because Shakespeare’s English is so far removed from the English of 2015 that it often interferes with our own comprehension.

Why I Still Drink Eight Glasses Of Water A Day, by Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian

Here’s the argument for my radical stance: there is no suggestion eight glasses is bad; you’ll probably drink fewer sugary drinks; and those toilet trips will stop you sitting, unhealthily, at your desk all day. Plus following any such rule makes you more attentive to what you’re putting into your system. In other words: the eight-glass rule is wrong, on its own terms, but still useful. And I’m convinced all sorts of “rules for living” work this way.

Broken Links, by Alana Massey, Aeon

When no ancient chat or post is beyond the grasp of Google, what matters more: the right to forget, or to be remembered?

Review: ‘Strangers Drowning’ Examines Extreme Do-Gooders, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

In the introduction to his book “Class: A Guide Through the American Status System” (1983), Paul Fussell noted that he’d had trouble telling others what he was working on. Social class is a touchy subject. At parties, people edged away from him.

“It is not just that I am feared as a class spy,” Mr. Fussell wrote. “It is if I had said, ‘I am working on a book urging the beating to death of baby whales using the dead bodies of baby seals.’ ”

In her first book, “Strangers Drowning,” Larissa MacFarquhar, a staff writer for The New Yorker, reports a somewhat similar phenomenon. Her superb book is about extreme do-gooders, people whose self-sacrifice and ethical commitment are far outside what we think of as the normal range.

The Meritocracy Is A Lie: The Wild Myths That Allow CEOs, Hedge Funders And The 1 Percent To Outearn Us All, by Robert Reich, Salon

The rich aren't smarter than us and they don't do more for society. We must rethink how people get paid

Adventures In The Anthropocene By Gaia Vince – Review, by Tim Radford, The Guardian

Vince doesn’t just assemble the statistics of exploitation and destruction, she goes to see for herself what they mean. Like a good reporter, she tries to see both sides; she explores both the human devastation and the wholesome and sometimes dazzling solutions that human ingenuity can deliver.

The Heart Goes Last By Margaret Atwood Review – Rewardingly Strange, by M John Harrison, The Guardian

Jubilant comedy of errors, bizarre bedroom farce, SF prison-break thriller, psychedelic 60s crime caper: The Heart Goes Last scampers in and out of all of these genres, pausing only to quote Milton on the loss of Eden or Shakespeare on weddings. Meanwhile, it performs a hard-eyed autopsy on themes of impersonation and self-impersonation, revealing so many layers of contemporary deception and self-deception that we don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The First Thing I Saw On The Internet, by Lauren Modery, Medium

How fan fiction opened the door to my sweaty, sticky adolescence.

Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Heart Goes Last’, by Mat Johnson, New York Times

The world of “The Heart Goes Last” starts out feeling familiarly post-­apocalyptic: a destitute married couple, Charmaine and Stan, drift across a devastated landscape, forced to sleep in their car as roving bandits threaten attack each night. As the story expands, we see the novel’s reality is even more disturbing: This is not a different universe, just a slightly exaggerated version of our own. A world where the working class has been pushed off the edge of the economic cliff, and the middle-class dream is alive only as a living nightmare.

China: The Superpower Of Mr. Xi, by Roderick MacFarquhar, New York Review of Books

In the almost one-hundred-year existence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), its current general secretary, Xi Jinping, is only the second leader clearly chosen by his peers. The first was Mao Zedong. Both men beat out the competition, and thus secured a legitimacy their predecessors lacked. Why was Xi chosen?

What Comes First: How To Master Cooking With Eggs, by Jeremy Lee, The Guardian

Is there any dish so particular in its seeming simplicity as a perfectly done, soft-boiled egg at the breakfast table, with a great heap of just-buttered fresh toast, still hot?

Oh, what a torment of expectancy it is to wait until the shell is cracked and the lid lifted, and what a relief and joy from both guest and cook to find the egg is as hoped for! I confess to having been, a fair few times, both that cook and that guest. It is a cruel tyranny whichever role is taken. Mind you, the modest challenge is worth it., even if it is potentially greying-round-the-temples stuff.

A Modest Proposal, by David Sedaris, New Yorker

London is five hours ahead of Washington, D.C., except when it comes to gay marriage. In that case, it’s two years and five hours ahead, which was news to me. “Really?” I said, on meeting two lesbian wives from Wolverhampton. “You can do that here?”

“Well, of course they can,” Hugh said when I told him about it. “Where have you been?”

TV Vs. The Internet: Who Will Win?, by Jacob Weisberg, New York Review of Books

How the television business has eluded the bitter fate of other media is the subject of Michael Wolff’s new book, Television Is the New Television. “For sixty years, television, given massive generational, behavioral, and technological shifts, has managed to change…not so much,” he writes. To Wolff, the industry’s imperviousness to digital disruption counts as nothing short of heroic. In an assemblage of digressive riffs, he praises television’s stodginess in defense of profits. This stands in contrast to newspapers and magazines, which he derides for embracing digital transformation in ways that have only accelerated their decline. For example, he criticizes The New York Times for relinquishing its attachment to a print edition that still provides nearly 80 percent of its revenue in favor of the much smaller, “profitless space” online.

Is Hamlet Fat?, by Issac Butler, Slate

But what if our mental image of Hamlet is wrong? What if the grieving, vengeful prince is actually fat? Just because you’ve never considered the possibility doesn’t mean that Shakespeare scholars haven’t argued about it, just one front in a centuries-old debate about how you determine meaning in Shakespeare’s plays.

A New Front: Can The Pentagon Do Business With Silicon Valley?, by E.B. Boyd, The California Sunday Magazine

As much as Defense Department officials say they want better access to commercial technology, the way the Pentagon functions often makes this impossible. The military has spent decades configuring itself to work with defense contractors to build complicated systems that take years to produce, like fighter jets and aircraft carriers. With its cumbersome rules and processes, the Department of Defense is not set up to race alongside small, agile companies.

The Pentagon is beginning to realize it must operate differently. Some of the most advanced work in computing, big data, cybersecurity, energy, robotics, and space — all areas the military draws on — is being done by tech companies, not traditional defense contractors. Last year, the Pentagon kicked off a large-scale effort called the Defense Innovation Initiative. In April, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter traveled to Palo Alto to announce that the department was establishing an office in Silicon Valley.

The Great British Dream Factory: The Strange History Of Our National Imagination By Dominic Sandbrook – Review, by Nick Cohen, The Guardian

But talent must have a culture ready to accept it. Instead, it meets a complacent cultural establishment that squats like a toad on creativity, as much now as it did in Noël Coward’s day. Our culture industries never admit for a moment that they may not be as good as they could be. On the BBC, or at the Edinburgh television festival, or in the arts pages of the serious press, everyone criticises what the government does to the Arts Council and licence fee; no one criticises what they do. The tedious results of the self-congratulation are there for all to see, if you can stay awake long enough to look at them.

The Tides By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, by Carol Rumens, The Guardian

Sometimes, a formal poem can be more effective than free verse in embodying process and movement. This may have been truer in the days when poetic convention allowed for varieties of inversion. Inversion seems partly to account for the growing vigour of rhythm in The Tides, a Petrarchan sonnet full of syntactical and structural turnings that help to realise the principal metaphor.

In Unit Stalked By Suicide, Veterans Try To Save One Another, by Dave Philipps, New York Times

After the sixth suicide in his old battalion, Manny Bojorquez sank onto his bed. With a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam beside him and a pistol in his hand, he began to cry.

He had gone to Afghanistan at 19 as a machine-gunner in the Marine Corps. In the 18 months since leaving the military, he had grown long hair and a bushy mustache. It was 2012. He was working part time in a store selling baseball caps and going to community college while living with his parents in the suburbs of Phoenix. He rarely mentioned the war to friends and family, and he never mentioned his nightmares.

He thought he was getting used to suicides in his old infantry unit, but the latest one had hit him like a brick: Joshua Markel, a mentor from his fire team, who had seemed unshakable. In Afghanistan, Corporal Markel volunteered for extra patrols and joked during firefights. Back home Mr. Markel appeared solid: a job with a sheriff’s office, a new truck, a wife and time to hunt deer with his father. But that week, while watching football on TV with friends, he had wordlessly gone into his room, picked up a pistol and killed himself. He was 25.

Meet The Hottest Restaurant Of 2081, by Matt Buchanan, Eater

In a warm, very yellow November morning, I met the chef Paul Nova in front of his new restaurant, Farm & Table, which is finally set to open next week after two years of intensely secret research and development. 2081’s most anticipated new opening occupies the first flood-safe floor of a six-story trapezoid of condos, but it's a remarkable contrast to the checkerboard of glass and steel that wraps around the top five stories—bright, heavy wood doors open into a room of fifty seats that's lit by scavenged orange incandescent bulbs, littered with the occasional hunk of heirloom cast-iron industrial equipment. Otherwise, the space is a collection of all-wood everything, from wall to wall to wall—festooned with the occasional animal trophy, half of the species extinct—that looks and feels sturdy and knotted, not like re-composited bamboo or synthetics, but old, lived-in wood from trees that once grew tall and strong.

Time For Vinyl To Get Back In Its Groove After Pressing Times, by Melanie Sevcenko, The Guardian

Rainey was looking for a new venture that would take him out of California, and after hearing the blues about supply and demand in the vinyl industry from his friends who ran labels, it was obvious that he needed to go to the source.

Superannuated Psychiatrist, by UA Fanthrope, The Guardian

Light Dawns, by Sidney Perkowitz, Aeon

A further breakthrough came in 1905, when Albert Einstein showed that c, the speed of light through a vacuum, is the universal speed limit. According to his special theory of relativity, nothing can move faster. So, thanks to Maxwell and Einstein, we know that the speed of light is connected with a number of other (on the face of it, quite distinct) phenomena in surprising ways.

But neither theory fully explains what determines that speed. What might? According to new research, the secret of c can be found in the nature of empty space.

The Case For More Traffic Roundabouts, by Zachary Crockett, Pricenomics

As we will demonstrate, there is ample “proof” that roundabouts are safer, better for the environment, and improve traffic flow. Yet, despite the many proven successes of roundabouts, America still hasn’t made strides to integrate them on a larger level.

Kyung-Sook Shin’s ‘The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness’, by Christine Hyung-Oak Lee, New York Times

Kyung-sook Shin’s “The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness” begins with an unnamed novelist writing in isolation on Korea’s Jeju Island. She informs us of a recent call from an old friend, someone who has read her work and says, “You don’t write about us. . . . You seem to write quite a lot about your childhood, and also about college, and about love, but there was nothing about us.” Rattled, the novelist looks back on her teenage years. Why indeed hasn’t she written about her classmates and friends from that time?

What we come to learn is that those years were spent in assembly lines in factories and a school for industrial workers. The 1970s was a harsh postwar period, when Korea was ruled by a dictator, when political dissent meant banishment and safe working conditions were not even an afterthought but a laughable request. The novelist’s peers had fingers paralyzed from wrapping thousands of candies a day and were sickened from regular exposure to lead. They were slowly destroyed, like the characters in Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.”

Stephen Breyer’s ‘The Court And The World’, by John Fabian Witt, New York Times

In all the fanfare surrounding the Supreme Court’s end-of-term rulings this past June, a little-noticed passage in an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer quietly revisited a debate that has roiled American law for nearly two decades. Dissenting on the final day of the term from a decision to uphold Oklahoma’s new lethal injection protocol, Breyer (joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) observed that 137 countries — a full 70 percent of member states in the United Nations — have abolished the death penalty either formally or in practice. Breyer noted further that in 2013 the United States was one of only 22 countries in the world to carry out any executions at all.

To the untutored eye, such observations may seem inoffensive enough, albeit on a grave subject. But by citing the experience of the rest of the world, Breyer raised a question that is not about the death penalty at all but is at the heart of a fierce controversy over the future of American democracy. Does foreign law have a place in interpreting the American Constitution?

What Do Real Italians Think About New York's Italian Food?, by Rose Hackman, The Guardian

Garlic, you see, is not quite the staple of Italian cuisine Americans think it is. Depending on who you speak to, onions are a controversial ingredient too – and don’t even think of ever combining the two in a single dish.

The idea of ingredient misuse provoking tears may appear a little drastic, but Bellomi is hardly alone at having an emotional reaction to Italian food faux pas. After all, Americans are messing with their grandma’s grandma’s grandma’s recipes.

The Art Of Not Dying: A Story For Suicide Awareness Month., by MC Hentz, Medium

The greatest misconception of depression is that we think we are alone. But there are millions of us who have all felt that same crippling ache. We’re all in this together, no matter how different our stories, and the the pain we share demands attention, compassion, and strength. There is a way out of the darkness, and it starts with fighting to live, and seeing one another through the fog. We’re all here, right beside you.

The Pure, Messy Math Of Us, by Andrew Winer, Los Angeles Review of Books

Purity is scary good fiction. I mean this in both the colloquial sense — how did Franzen do it? — and the more literal sense, as if there were a comma after “scary.” Readers will find convenient, book-reportish summaries elsewhere and everywhere; I intend to say a few things here about this novel’s willingness to take us to the right kind of frightening place. By willingness I of course mean authorial intention, and one of the victories of Purity is its recording of Franzen’s more expansive and risky (one might even call it new) understanding of how deep are our wells of crude, unrefined emotional fuel; it’s safe to say that, in at least three of this novel’s protagonists, Franzen taps those wells until it seems he’s extracted every last drop, and then, convinced he hasn’t exhausted all available emotional resources, goes fracking for more.

Review: ‘Beauty Is A Wound,’ An Indonesian Blend Of History, Myth And Magic, by Sarah Lyall, New York Times

The plot twists and the winding roads the characters’ lives take are too complicated to explain fully.But the book never spirals out of control, and Mr. Kurniawan does a masterly job of pulling together all the seemingly flyaway strands.

Can You Copyright A Sandwich?, by Dale Esinger, Hopes And Fears

In the time between Colón’s invention of the sandwich and his lawsuit, a legal precedent had already been set. A 1996 Seventh Circuit Court, in a case of publishing and republishing recipes, separated the recipe into two parts: functional and expressive. The functional aspect was the list of ingredients and the preparation itself. The expressive aspect was a matter of how creative elements wrapped around the functional elements.

Fish In The Sky, By Peter Fallon, selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

The imagery in this poem conjures the means by which the world around us — objects and their juxtapositions — brings to mind other moments in our lives. And the ways metaphor, seeing one thing in terms of another, can draw us deeper into “a dark wood” and shine a light there.

How The Body’s Trillions Of Clocks Keep Time, by Veronique Greenwood, Quanta Magazine

Carrie Partch was at the tail end of her postdoc when she made the first discovery. The structural biologist was looking at a database of human proteins, noting those that shared a piece with the ones she’d been studying. “I was just sort of flipping through it thinking, ‘I should know all of these,’” she recalls. “Then this one came up, and it had a different domain architecture than I’d ever seen.” She looked further into the protein, called PASD1, whose function was unknown. She found that among the few proteins it resembled was one called CLOCK. And that made her sit up straighter — because CLOCK is at the heart of a very large, mysterious process.

Not that long ago, as Partch knew, it had become clear that nearly every cell in nearly every tissue in the body keeps time. Every 24 hours, responding to a biochemical bugle call, a handful of proteins assembles in the cell’s nucleus. When they bind to each other on the genome, they become a team of unrivaled impact: Under their influence, thousands of genes are transcribed into proteins. The gears of the cell jolt into motion, the tissue comes alive, and on the level of the organism, you open your eyes and feel a little hungry for breakfast.

The Peppery Napoleon Who Once Led China, by Julian B. Gewirtz, Los Angeles Review of Books

Behind these panegyrics, who was this Deng Xiaoping whom China’s leaders still “learn from”? Americans may best remember Deng for his own trip to the United States in 1979, the first visit of a top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader to the United States, during which he donned a ten-gallon hat and smiled for the cameras as if to embody the new “opening and reform” that he was launching in China. Back at home, Deng was the supreme leader sitting atop a system undergoing a dramatic transformation affecting nearly every aspect of Chinese life. How did Deng manage to become both “a great Marxist” and “the chief architect” of China’s move toward the market economy, as Xi called him in a 2014 speech on the 110-year anniversary of Deng’s birth?

Furiously Happy By Jenny Lawson Review – How To Feel OK When You Have A Brain That Is Trying To Destroy You, by Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

There is, though, a way in which Lawson has managed things more nimbly than Sedaris. For while the latter, like so many memoirists, has come under scrutiny as to whether his writing is actually “true” or not, Lawson makes it clear that she long ago trampled that binary. Her mind is lying to her all the time – telling her that she is no good, that she will feel better if she pulls out handfuls of her own hair – so that the impossibility of sorting out what is real and what is not becomes the whole point of the book.

Review: ‘The Art Of Memoir,’ By Mary Karr, Is A Veteran’s Guide, by Janet Maslin, New York Times

There’s a textbook lurking at the heart of Mary Karr’s new book about how memoirs have and should be written. But it’s a chaotic one: Ms. Karr is, by her own admission, “a passionate, messy teacher.”

The Great Quake And The Great Drowning, by Ann Finkbeiner, Hakai Magazine

What the indigenous people knew all along, geologists have known only since 1984. Thomas Heaton was still in college in 1970 when geologists, who knew that the world’s largest earthquakes occurred where one tectonic plate descended under another one, first recognized that one of these subduction zones ran between the Juan de Fuca and North American plates. But the so-called Cascadia Subduction Zone had no record of ever producing large earthquakes. So, says Heaton, “they thought it was aseismic, just creeping.”

Then in the early 1980s, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was considering whether to locate nuclear power plants in Washington and Oregon, and, just to be sure, asked the US Geological Survey (USGS) whether the Cascadia Subduction Zone was safe from earthquakes. Heaton, then at the USGS, knew about subduction zones because he’d consulted for Exxon on oil platforms in earthquake-prone Alaska. He compared the Cascadia zone with known earthquake areas and told the NRC, “Well, maybe it is aseismic, but another interpretation is, it looks like Chile—which is also aseismic, except for the big ones.” Perhaps, Heaton suggested, the Cascadia zone had escaped earthquakes only because it was currently locked.

Professor Bellow, by Jeet Heer, The New Republic

Bellow was an early test case for novelists trying to get by in the academy, and a particularly telling case, since he was a more enthusiastic recruit than most. As last year’s n+1 anthology “MFA vs. NYC” demonstrated, the tension between academia and real life has only deepened and still defines the contours of literary life. Cagey and brainy, Bellow wanted to be the novelist of both the streets and the faculty lounge. Alas, in too much of his work, he serves as a cautionary tale of how schools can open minds but can also sometimes trap the soul.

Review: The Stories Of Joy Williams: Short, But Seldom Sweet, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

Piling up lines and details can make her stories sound brittle, random, half-felt. They are not. This is a writer who sees deeply into the hearts of things. All the world’s woe pools below her sentences.

A Dreamy Marriage Turns To Rage In 'Fates And Furies', by Jason Sheehan, NPR

The half-and-half narration could've failed terribly if Groff hadn't had it in her to do the hard thing — which is not to just tell two versions of the same story, but two completely different stories that happen to contain some of the same details. But she did. A long marriage isn't just about two people remembering things differently, she says with her choices. It's about two people remembering entirely different things, inhabiting entirely different worlds.

Strange Bedfellows, by Laura Miller, Slate

How Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies brings two very different people—and novels—together.

Fish Fingers Turn 60: How Britain Fell For Not-Very-fishy Sticks Of Frozen Protein, by Felicity Cloake, The Guardian

It’s hard to believe that fish fingers celebrate their diamond jubilee this year – for me, they are the quintessential taste of the 80s, a decade in which they appeared every Friday lunchtime without fail, flanked by mealy peas and a gaggle of cheery faces made from reconstituted potato.

Who Apes Whom?, by Frans de Waal, New York Times

The problem is that we keep assuming that there is a point at which we became human. This is about as unlikely as there being a precise wavelength at which the color spectrum turns from orange into red. The typical proposition of how this happened is that of a mental breakthrough — a miraculous spark — that made us radically different. But if we have learned anything from more than 50 years of research on chimpanzees and other intelligent animals, it is that the wall between human and animal cognition is like a Swiss cheese.

The Elmore Leonard Story, by Joan Acoella, New York Review of Books

Elmore Leonard, who died two summers ago, aged eighty-seven, became famous as a crime novelist, but he didn’t like being grouped with most of the big names in that genre, people such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett or, indeed, any of the noir writers. He disapproved of their melodrama, their pessimism, their psychos and nymphos and fancy writing. He saw in crime no glamour or sexiness but, on the contrary, long hours and sore feet. His criminals didn’t become what they were out of any fondness for vice. They just needed work, and that’s what was available. They are not serial killers (or only one is), but bank robbers, loan sharks, bookies.

In Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, Truth Is Found In Fiction—not In Data, by Gregg LaGambina, A.V. Club

Franzen is speaking to those of us who continue to find pleasure in fiction and reminding us that pure and abundant information is boring. But if we are reading his novel, he’s preaching to the already converted. If Purity is a book about identity, Pip’s journey reveals that who we are is an invisible structure built on a foundation of the people in our lives. The “friends” we’ve collected online, or all the information we cannot use, is not who we are. We are a very special case—not the data that approximates us.

Ten-Cent Stories, Typewritten While You Wait, by Karl J.P. Smith, The Toast

“Write me an erotic story about Batman and the Queen of England. Bonus points if you get the Queen’s corgis in there somehow.”

“Write me a story about a backpacker whose dying wish is a tiramisu cupcake.”

“Write me a meet-cute about Cthulhu and a woman at a bar in the style of Charles Bukowski.”

I say yes. Of course I say yes — I’m the man sitting under the tree with a typewriter. In the two years I’ve been busking, I’ve written over 250 stories for strangers. I’ve only ever turned down one prompt.

We Don't Need Another Cronut, by Helen Rosner, Eater

In other words, the success of the Cronut is only half attributable to its inherent deliciousness. The other half is something much harder — if not downright impossible — to engineer.

Blood And Soil, by Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

A college student working on a seminar paper about the mechanics of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 sees his father reading “Black Earth” (Crown), the Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s new book on the Holocaust, and asks the unaskable question: Do we really need one more book on the Holocaust? The facts are in and clear, he says, while so many other human horrors demand our historical understanding and get so much less: how many new books have been published this year on the Belgian genocide in the Congo? Doesn’t endlessly retelling the story of the murder of the Jews of Europe let us give ourselves the appearance of moral seriousness while immunizing us to the urgencies of actual moral seriousness? Piety is the opposite of compassion, which is better directed toward those who need it now than toward those who were denied it then.

How I Fell In Love With Ho Chi Minh City, by David Vann, The Guardian

There’s something I love about communist/socialist countries, though, so I didn’t go to Thailand or the Philippines. I went to Saigon, known now as Ho Chi Minh City. I planned to spend only one night and then go to the beach, Mui Ne, about five hours away by bus, to kitesurf and watch sunsets over the water.

But I stayed in Saigon for about six months, even though I generally don’t like cities, and here’s why.

Poem: Dead Love By Elizabeth Siddal, by Carol Rumens, The Guardian

It’s clear that, however slender her poetic output, Elizabeth Siddal was a conscious craftswoman, aware of voice, form and characterisation, and not merely spilling out her sense of mistreatment by her lover Dante Gabriel Rossetti or her sorrow for their stillborn child. When she died at the age of 32 she had achieved more as a visual artist than a poet, but the fact remains that her contribution to pre-Raphaelite poetry is true to some of its most enlivening principles. Stripped-down, direct, emotionally intense, it comes to us unburdened by Victorian convention, demanding a similarly honest and myth-wary response.

Teaching A Different Shakespeare From The One I Love, by Stephen Greenblatt, New York Times

Even the highly gifted students in my Shakespeare classes at Harvard are less likely to be touched by the subtle magic of his words than I was so many years ago or than my students were in the 1980s in Berkeley, Calif. What has happened? It is not that my students now lack verbal facility. In fact, they write with ease, particularly if the format is casual and resembles the texting and blogging that they do so constantly. The problem is that their engagement with language, their own or Shakespeare’s, often seems surprisingly shallow or tepid. It is as if the sense of linguistic birthright that I experienced with such wonder had faded and with it an interest in exploiting its infinite resources.

Writing And Holding, by Jonathan Farmer, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Words change depending on who speaks them,” Maggie Nelson writes early in The Argonauts, her widely-praised memoir of love, language, motherhood, queerness, and critical theory: “there is no cure.” The notion of language as something that cannot be cured of our human interactions with and within it — and the attendant fear of our presence in language as a kind of contagion — isn’t, by itself, new. What makes Nelson’s version of it remarkable is the degree to which the incurable, in this book, becomes an invitation to health.

Of course, “health” is itself part of our language, with its compromised immune system and its constant exposure to humans — to our varied ends and assumptions — so it’s hardly a simple ideal. In Nelson’s rendering, health is at once physical and mental, holistic and provisional, grounded in honesty and, perhaps most importantly, attendant to the needs of one person at one time. “The peace is not total,” she writes of her husband’s transitioning and the relief it brought to him, “but in the face of suffocating anxiety, a measure of peace is no small thing.”

‘The Story Of My Teeth,’ By Valeria Luiselli, by Jim Krusoe, New York Times

“The Story of My Teeth” is playful, attentive and very smart without being for a minute pretentious. It’s Walter Benjamin without tears — sunnier, more casual and more nimble. Luiselli is an exciting writer to watch, not only for this book, but also for the fresh approach she brings to fiction, one that invites participation and reaction, even skepticism — a living, breathing map.

Public Good-Byes, by Colleen Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed

Like most breakups, those between higher education and the academics who choose to leave it typically happen quietly. But as in romance, sometimes these breakups become very public affairs -- usually when an academic decides to reflect on the decision in a blog or other medium. The genre, called “quit lit,” has been around for several years, at least according to social media. And it’s enjoying a resurgence of sorts, thanks to some recent high-profile Dear John letters.

They Pretend To Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist, by Jenny Zhang, BuzzFeed

White people don’t like it when we don’t do well and they don’t like it when we do. But most of all, they don’t like it when they don’t do well.

High And Low, by Kathleen Rooney, Poetry Foundation

What we write about when we write about celebrities.

The Most Misread Poem In America, by David Orr, The Paris Review

Everyone knows Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”—and almost everyone gets it wrong.

Slipping Away, by Shannon Proudfoot, Maclean's

That Christmas, Joël Aubin was 36 years old and already battling hard to work around an erosion process that was hard-wired into every cell of his body. He had dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s disease, the result of a genetic mutation that snakes through family trees. The disease itself is rare, and Jo is a nearly unheard-of aberration because of his age. He wouldn’t know he had the disease for another 18 months—but he’d seen it all before: His mother was 47 when she died of the same illness. Jo’s teenage world had been ripped from its frame then, but he had grown up with no idea that he had a 50/50 chance of inheriting the same fate. Alzheimer’s disease would fray his marriage before fundamentally changing it, shrink Jo’s world to the size of his neighbourhood and forge his friends and family into a tight support system. And it would lead Jo to resolve to avoid a long goodbye like his mother’s, and to choose when his story would end.

How The Tiny Graywolf Press Became A Big Player In Book Publishing, by Boris Kachka, Vulture

Graywolf has been winning for a while. Over the past few years, as publishing conglomerates merged, restructured, and grappled with Amazon, a midwestern press snuck in and found a genuinely new way forward for nonfiction.

Beauty Is In The Mouth Of The Beholder: Why Veggie Burgers Deserve A Chance, by Joshua Stein, The Guardian

All things being equal – that is, bun, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, fixins accounted for – a veggie burger is, quite simply, not quite as tasty as the real thing. But if you really consider what delicious means beyond momentary oral elation, it’s a clear winner.

This Face Changes The Human Story. But How?, by Jamie Shreeve, National Geographic

A trove of bones hidden deep within a South African cave represents a new species of human ancestor, scientists announced Thursday in the journal eLife. Homo naledi, as they call it, appears very primitive in some respects—it had a tiny brain, for instance, and apelike shoulders for climbing. But in other ways it looks remarkably like modern humans. When did it live? Where does it fit in the human family tree? And how did its bones get into the deepest hidden chamber of the cave—could such a primitive creature have been disposing of its dead intentionally?

This is the story of one of the greatest fossil discoveries of the past half century, and of what it might mean for our understanding of human evolution.

When White Poets Pretend To Be Asian, by Hua Hsu, The New Yorker

Perhaps there was no high road to be taken here, but as unsatisfying as it is to reward Hudson—a poet who, in the parlance of literary criticism, acted dickishly—Alexie did the right thing. His admiration for the poem didn’t change. What changed was that he was forced to detail and rationalize the way he reads and what he reads for.

On Alaska’s Ferries, Beloved Bars No Longer Make The Trip, by Laura Coffey, New York Times

For decades, the ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway System have been home to some of the most gloriously quirky bars in the 49th state. As the ferries, 11 of them now, make their runs along Alaska’s south central coast, the Aleutian Islands and the Inside Passage of southeast Alaska and British Columbia, they collect all manner of passengers, from fishermen, oil workers, military personnel and adventure travelers to big fans of the ferries’ communal watering holes.

The Simple Perfection Of A Cookbook Bookstore, by Sadie Stein, Eater

A shop filled with nothing but food books is a certain form of heaven.

China’s Funeral Revolutionaries, by Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian

A few hours later, Wang tried a different tack. He crossed the highway abutting the hospital and stopped beneath the vast concrete hull of an elevated railway line, where a row of funeral services shops stood as filthy and forlorn as slum brothels. Wang picked one at random, and walked inside. It was dusk, and a single lightbulb hung from the ceiling. The shopkeeper had a deep tan, a tuft of Brillo-like hair and a thick, unplaceable accent. He asked Wang a few cursory questions, and then demanded a £300 deposit. “What’s the money for?” Wang asked. The man smiled, revealing a mouth full of yellow teeth. “You just give me the money, and I’ll take care of everything,” he replied. Wang nodded and backed out through the door.

“When he looked at me, it felt as if he was looking at a piece of meat,” Wang recalled. “It just gave me this terrible feeling.” He visited another shop on the street, then a third, and each made his skin crawl. “I thought, in such a modern society, why would this industry be so primitive and weird?”

Omission, by John McPhee, The New Yorker

Ideally, a piece of writing should grow to whatever length is sustained by its selected material—that much and no more. Many, if not most, of my projects have begun as ideas for The New Yorker’s section called The Talk of the Town, and many of them have grown to greater length. In the nineteen-seventies, observing the trials of an experimental aircraft, I intended at first to tell the story in a thousand words, but the tests and trials increased in number, changed, went on for years; a rich stream of characters happened through the scene; and the unfolding story had a natural structure analogous to a dramatic plot. The ultimate piece ran at fifty-five thousand words in three consecutive issues of the magazine. “Oranges,” seven years earlier, had grown in the same way, but my aptitude for selection needed growing, too. Bingham, after restoring much of what he had cut (and suggesting to Shawn that what we were doing made sense), insisted that substantial amounts of text remain down and out. Even I could see that for magazine purposes he was right. Four or five months later, as the piece was being prepared for publication as a book, I asked my close friend Mr. Bingham to help me choose from the original manuscript what else to restore, and what not to restore, to the text. In other words, the library at the Citrus Experiment Station had beguiled me so much—not to mention the citrus scientists, the growers, the rich kings of juice concentration—that I lost the advantage of what is left out.

What It's Like Running An Arcade In 2015, by Willie Clark, Polygon

For many arcades, though, it's a balancing act between old technology and modern business models. To stay afloat, the money has to come from somewhere, and arcades are adapting in different ways to continue to survive in the ever-changing economic landscape. By looking at four arcades — a traditional arcade, two arcade bars, and a national chain — we were able to see how well that balance is maintained, and how sometimes it isn't quite balanced at all.

On Putting Things Off, by Robert Hanks, London Review of Books

The broken promises, the unprofessionalism, the evasions and quasi-explanations you offer to others, the outright lies you tell yourself: better leave this till after the weekend; I’ll have it finished by the end of Tuesday; they won’t mind getting it on Wednesday … Achilles, never catching up with that fucking tortoise. Reading as a way of putting off thinking; thinking as a way of putting off feeling.

Peer Review, Preprints And The Speed Of Science, by Stephen Curry, The Guardian

But you can read our paper today, for free, because we have uploaded it as a preprint to the bioRxiv (pronounced ‘bio-archive’). This was an unusual thing for us to do. Preprints are a relatively new thing for life scientists, though the arXiv (‘archive’) preprint server has been in use in many fields of physics, mathematics and computer science for over 20 years. To be honest, it felt odd to be publishing without the comfort blanket of peer review. We went ahead anyway because preprints are part of the solution to the troubled state of research publication and we want to see more scientists publishing by this route.

But isn’t peer review supposed to be the quality assurance mechanism for research, an essential filter that prevents flawed or nonsensical papers from being published? It is often touted as such in reassuring tones when scientists talk to the media or to the general public – especially in discussions of politically contentious areas such as climate science, vaccine safety or genetic engineering. Are delays in publishing not a price worth paying to ensure the trustworthiness of the published literature?

You’ll Never Power-Lunch In This Town Again, by Robert Draper, GQ

For decades, the biggest swinging dicks in the world did their grandest dick-swinging at New York's famed Four Seasons. Ah, but seasons change. Today the old power den is shuttering, and its notorious owner is battling a sex-assault case that could send him to prison.

Stephen Colbert, The Late Night Hope, by Dave Itzkoff, New York Times

Mr. Colbert brings his well-honed political savvy to this crowded marketplace, but he cannot succeed solely with the audience of wonkish young insomniacs who tuned into “The Colbert Report” (which drew about 1.7 million viewers an episode in its last season, according to Comedy Central). He’ll have to broaden his reach, in a way that fits his eclectic, brainy comic taste.

This is the puzzle that Mr. Colbert and his colleagues have been contemplating during their hiatus, even as they feel certain that they have solved it.

I Am Not A Story, by Galen Strawson, Aeon

Some find it comforting to think of life as a story. Others find that absurd. So are you a Narrative or a non-Narrative?

Multi-Tasking: How To Survive In The 21st Century, by Tim Harford, Financial Times

Forget invisibility or flight: the superpower we all want is the ability to do several things at once. Unlike other superpowers, however, being able to multitask is now widely regarded as a basic requirement for employability. Some of us sport computers with multiple screens, to allow tweeting while trading pork bellies and frozen orange juice. Others make do with reading a Kindle while poking at a smartphone and glancing at a television in the corner with its two rows of scrolling subtitles. We think nothing of sending an email to a colleague to suggest a quick coffee break, because we can feel confident that the email will be read within minutes.

All this is simply the way the modern world works. Multitasking is like being able to read or add up, so fundamental that it is taken for granted. Doing one thing at a time is for losers — recall Lyndon Johnson’s often bowdlerised dismissal of Gerald Ford: “He can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.”

The Heart Goes Last By Margaret Atwood Review – Madcap Life-Swapping Dystopia, by Stephanie Merritt, The Guardian

It’s gloriously madcap, though the heightened comic tone keeps the reader at one remove from her characters, whom we only ever know by their first names. There are poignant moments, but if the level of emotional engagement feels more superficial here, Atwood compensates with pace and comic timing; you only pause in your laughter when you realise that, in its constituent parts, the world she depicts here is all too horribly plausible.

Review: Lauren Groff’s ‘Fates And Furies’ Features A Wife Who’s Full Of Surprises, by Janet Maslin, New York Times

If you approach “Fates and Furies” without great expectations, you’re much likelier to appreciate it for the bumpy but alluring effort that it is, and even for its touch of evil. Ms. Groff takes a wicked view of Lotto’s circle of friends, climbers and sycophants, and she skewers them intermittently throughout the early parts of the book. Little do they — or we — know what kind of damage the fully revealed Mathilde of Part 2 can do.

The Delays That Make Train Travel Fun, by Christine Finn, BBC

After two weeks of Amtrakking I was now familiar with the word "delay" and had realised that the timetable was little more than fiction. It was more, "We'll be there, we'll get there." After all, the distances here are colossal. And if we are behind a slow or broken-down freight train, well, we are not going anywhere fast.

This is not to dismiss Amtrak in any way. I see it as our moment of Zen. The slow, and very slow, amble across country is what we Amtrak aficionados get on board for. A hark back to the old days of chance conversations, the serendipity of being in the next seat to a story.

Your Gynecologist Had To Start Somewhere. You Can Thank These Actors Later., by Drew Harwell, The Washington Post

Sosa is a gynecological teaching associate, and she holds one of modern medicine’s most awkward jobs, using her body to guide med students through some of its most delicate, dreaded exams. Every week, she lies back for dozens of the next medical generation’s first pelvic and breast screenings, steering gloved fingers through the mysteries of her own anatomy and relaying the in-depth feedback they’ll need out in the wild.

She is not, in the traditional sense, a medical professional herself: A 31-year-old theater actor, she has also worked recent jobs at a bakery and Barnes & Noble. Yet what she lacks in faculty prestige, she and her compatriots — including a squad of male urological teaching associates, who teach genital and prostate exams — make up for in humor, candor and endurance. For nervous students, she is like an enthusiastic surgical dummy, awake through the operation and cheering them on.

Hitler’s World, by Timothy Snyder, New York Review of Books

Nothing can be known about the future, thought Hitler, except the limits of our planet: “the surface area of a precisely measured space.” Ecology was scarcity, and existence meant a struggle for land. The immutable structure of life was the division of animals into species, condemned to “inner seclusion” and an endless fight to the death. Human races, Hitler was convinced, were like species. The highest races were still evolving from the lower, which meant that interbreeding was possible but sinful. Races should behave like species, like mating with like and seeking to kill unlike. This for Hitler was a law, the law of racial struggle, as certain as the law of gravity. The struggle could never end, and it had no certain outcome. A race could triumph and flourish and could also be starved and extinguished.

In Hitler’s world, the law of the jungle was the only law. People were to suppress any inclination to be merciful and were to be as rapacious as they could. Hitler thus broke with the traditions of political thought that presented human beings as distinct from nature in their capacity to imagine and create new forms of association. Beginning from that assumption, political thinkers tried to describe not only the possible but the most just forms of society. For Hitler, however, nature was the singular, brutal, and overwhelming truth, and the whole history of attempting to think otherwise was an illusion. Carl Schmitt, a leading Nazi legal theorist, explained that politics arose not from history or concepts but from our sense of enmity. Our racial enemies were chosen by nature, and our task was to struggle and kill and die.

Purity By Jonathan Franzen Review – Piercingly Brilliant, by Tim Adams, The Guardian

Franzen can be piercingly brilliant at deconstructing myths the culture tells about itself. There are many paragraphs in this book that read like inspired op-eds. You don’t read him for the polemic, however, but for the way he roots these ideas in his flawed and beguiling characters, and for the smile that haunts sentences that have the authentic cast of joined-up thoughts. In one of several throwaway “Twitter storms” that he has lately provoked, the author took issue with the idea of emoticons and all who believed in them, “because,” he said both mischievously and in earnest, “it takes 600 pages to convey emotion”. This novel, with its baggy plot and big heart and seductive intelligence, proves his point in a mere 563.

Academics Are Being Hoodwinked Into Writing Books Nobody Can Buy, by Academics Anonymous, The Guardian

So I’d been asked to write a book about whatever I wanted, and this editor didn’t even know whether I’d written anything before. It didn’t matter. It would sell its 300 copies regardless. Not to people with an interest in reading the book, but to librarians who would put it on a shelf and then, a few years later, probably bury it in a storeroom.

Poem: Mercies, by Don Paterson, The Guardian

Uncharted, by Lisa M. Hamilton, The California Sunday Magazine

The trip leader is Robert Henry, a modest, affable geneticist who directs a global agricultural research center at the University of Queensland. In 2010, he was named one of the most-cited authors in scientific literature about agriculture. Nothing about him suggests that he would lead an expedition into a land where there are more snakes than people. His shoulders slump under his rumpled dress shirt; his khakis bunch up over his Blundstone boots. Whenever he finds cell reception, he starts shooting out emails — about the intercontinental spread of a banana-fungus epidemic, travel plans for a meeting at the Pentagon to discuss biofuel. Just before noon each day, his phone chimes: His assistant programmed it to remind him to eat lunch.

What draws Robert to the edge of the continent appears at first glance to be undeserving of his attention. It is a grass, composed of erect green blades and tiny flowers that hang unremarkably from the plant, like feathers that have poked their way out of a pillow. Cape York is home to hundreds of other grasses, many more beautiful or rare. What makes him want to chase down this one is that it is related to Oryza sativa, the plant we know as rice.

The Shapeliness Of The World, by Margaret Wertheim, Washington Post

‘Is the world a work of art?” And if it is, then “is it a successful work of art?” Specifically, as a work of art, is the physical world “beautiful”? These are the questions Frank Wilczek sets out to explore in his ambitious new book, “A Beautiful Question,” an impassioned text he describes as a “meditation.”

It is jumping no guns to say that Wilczek answers all three queries in the affirmative, with resounding and almost giddying gusto. The fundamental laws of nature, he tells us, have again and again revealed an inherent beauty at the heart of the universal system. He hopes to share this beauty with his readers: “Just as a graduate degree in art history is not a prerequisite for engaging with the world’s best art and finding a deeply rewarding experience,” he writes, “so I hope, in this book, to help you engage with Nature’s art.” For Wilczek, it is always Nature with a capital N, and here there are explicit overtones of anthropomorphism, as Nature with its creative powers is likened to human artistic legends such as Rembrandt, Mozart and Louis Armstrong.

‘The Making Of Asian America,’ By Erika Lee, by Oliver Wang, The New York Times

Early in Erika lee’s sweeping “The Making of Asian America: A History” she suggests that Asian-Americans constantly cycle between being labeled “good Asians” versus “bad Asians,” depending on the shifting and often contradictory politics behind their immigration and settlement. We were a “despised ­minority” when Asian immigrants threatened 19th- and early-20th-century white labor, yet since the Cold War we’ve been described as a “model minority,” valorizing the promise of American meritocracy. The capricious ease with which those labels get swapped highlights how our precarious social position rests on our perceived utility: as cheap labor, as anti-­Communist soldiers, as overachievers meant to ­success-shame other communities of ­color. In doing all of this “work,” Lee argues, Asian-­Americans have redefined not only immigration politics and racial categories but also “the very essence of what it means to be ­American.”

Ride, Hustle, Kill, Repeat: The Underground Cycle Gangs Of Los Angeles, by Rory Carroll, The Guardian

This was a real-life, two-wheeled version of The Fast and the Furious, a sub-culture of bicycle tribes that claims LA’s streets by night. Dozens of groups, big and small, with names like the Wolfpack Hustle, Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade and Kushtown Society, hold races and mass rides on streets originally designed solely for cars. There are events most nights: some wild and illegal, others blessed by city authorities. And they go anywhere, improvising routes from Boyle Heights to Pasadena, Hollywood to Compton, up Mulholland Drive, down Griffith Park, through Beverly Hills, around Silver Lake, back down Sunset Boulevard.

Silent Room, by Rebecca Chace, Los Angeles Review of Books

I work in a silent room. A fact that I realize is rare and precious. It’s not cork-lined, but I understand the impulse.

This room is inside a building whose very name used to define quiet: a library. Not just any library — the New York Public Library. The marble heiress with pet lions on either side of her wide steps, where people linger even in the bitter cold. Where tourists take selfies and New Yorkers pretend not to notice the occasional photo shoot with beautiful creatures shivering in expensive clothing.

The Mysterious Origins Of Punctuation, by Keith Houston, BBC

As readers and writers, we’re intimately familiar with the dots, strokes and dashes that punctuate the written word. The comma, colon, semicolon and their siblings are integral parts of writing, pointing out grammatical structures and helping us transform letters into spoken words or mental images. We would be lost without them (or, at the very least, extremely confused), and yet the earliest readers and writers managed without it for thousands of years. What changed their minds?

‘The Moon’, Translated By Hilary Vaughn Dobel From Spanish, selected by Natasha Trethewey, New York Times

This poem, translated from the original Spanish, unfolds as a litany of the many ways the moon has been described. One long, complex sentence links all the previous iterations, while a second, much shorter sentence isolates the image of yet another moon. The prose-poem form seems to contain the patch of night sky from which that new apprehension — the moon reflected in the vision of a solitary witness, the poem’s speaker — arrives.

Earth In 10,000 Years, by Lizzie Wade, The Atlantic

The answer came as a surprise to those accustomed to dire warnings that climate change will turn the Amazon into a desert. The vast majority of Winter’s seedlings didn’t die. In fact, most thrived at significantly warmer temperatures than they experience today, growing faster and larger. Just two species succumbed to the heat, and only at the very highest temperatures. The trees’ success echoes paleontological data, which hints that warmer temperatures can be a boon for tropical forests. After all, the last time Earth experienced average temperatures of 95 degrees, there were rainforests in Michigan and palm trees in the Arctic.

That doesn’t mean climate change won’t affect tropical forests of today. It already is. And it definitely doesn’t mean humans needn’t worry about global warming. Climate change will be the end of the world as we know it. But it also will be the beginning of another.

In Hyperspace, by Fredric Jameson, London Review of Books

But modernity has in fact invented such a hyperspace from which to observe the observer: it is called the camera. And film becomes the logical extension of the time-travel narrative in that paradoxical sense in which, as Stanley Cavell so memorably put it, the world is viewed without myself. This is, then, how the structural/poststructural search for the decentred subject ended up, not with some impossible ‘death of the subject’, but rather in film theory, with the camera apparatus as that ultimate subject without subjectivity, that ultimate literal and visual embodiment of the ultimate observer of the ultimate self and of the literalisation of James’s literary ‘point of view’. The transcendental hyperspace in which such a transcendental observer finds itself is then simply the infinite regress of point of view, the nothingness on which the attempt to think time and temporality, to think the past and the present, to think the difference between my multiple selves, is founded. Temporality is then nothing but a time-travel narrative.

Unkillable Mockingbird, by Andy Crank, Los Angeles Review of Books

Consequently, the character of Atticus Finch morphed from Lee’s fictional father into an early version of the now familiar mythic white savior-reformer, who, despite the odds, takes up the hard but necessary burden of agitating on behalf of his African-American brother. The trope was a safe one, free from the messy controversy of often violent marches and sit-ins; Atticus’ tepid appeal to equality felt courageous and heroic, even though he ultimately fails in his defense of Tom Robinson, who is unceremoniously killed while trying to escape from police custody. Over the last four decades, as Lee remained painfully absent from public discourse, the Atticus myth would continue to grow; it would be reimagined, revisited, and celebrated in films like Mississippi Burning and The Help.

And yet, the movie version of Atticus Finch, the one emblazoned in our cultural memory, as the southern white superhero defender of equality isn’t exactly the Atticus Finch Harper Lee wrote about in To Kill a Mockingbird. The Atticus Finch deified by American culture is a decidedly Hollywood invention; the Atticus in the novel is a different character altogether.

Clearing Up Ambiguity, by Tim Parks, New York Review of Books

So what is it about ambiguity that it has to be praised to high heaven by all and sundry? Above all, how did it come to take on, at least for some, a cloak of liberal righteousness, to shift from being an aesthetic to a moral virtue, as if the text that wasn’t clear, that didn’t state its preferences clearly, were ethically superior to the text that does.

The Limits Of Language, by David Auerbach, Slate

Wittgenstein’s philosophy also accounts for the disastrous state of Internet discourse today. The shift to online communication, textual interactions separated from accompanying physical practices, has had a persistent and egregious warping effect on language, and one that most people don’t even understand. It has made linguistic practice more limited, more universal, and more ambiguous. More people interact with one another without even realizing they are following different rules for words’ usages. There is no time or space to clarify one’s self—especially on Twitter.

It is this phenomenon that has affected political and ethical discourse in particular. To take some hot-button issues, use of the words privilege and feminism and racism is so hopelessly contentious that it’s not even worth asking for a definition—even if you get one, no one else will agree with it. In situations where misuse can get you savaged on the Internet, I’ve simply stopped using a word. Let me know when everyone else has worked it out.

A Compelling Plot Gives Way To Farce In Franzen's Purity, by Roxane Gay, NPR

In this novel he is not just reaching for the zeitgeist. He is offering up an earnest, albeit rather narrow and privileged assessment of the world we live in and a demonstration of how the more we are able to know about others, the less we know about ourselves. Unfortunately, the shame of this novel is that purity is largely found not in the storytelling but in the author's passive aggressive contempt for nearly all his characters.

‘The Silo Effect,’ By Gillian Tett, by Chris Hayes, New York Times

In the past decade ­“silo-busting” has become one of those buzzy management ideas you find everywhere from start-ups to lefty nonprofits, and in a series of case studies, from the Bank of England to the Chicago Police Department to Facebook, Tett attempts to show us how silos can undermine organizations and how they can be overcome.

Bitter Melon Isn't As Exotic As You Might Think, by Pooja Makhijani, Paste Magazine

Exoticism is all about perspective. I roll my eyes when foodies express profound amazement for an ingredient or a dish that is unfamiliar to white people. Most recently, I stumbled upon Jennifer McLagan’s Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor. She devotes pages (and recipes) to the bitter melon (also known as bitter gourd), a vegetable that the South Asian cooks in my family and community consider rather ordinary.

More Titillated Than Thou, by Ann Neumann, The Baffler

Peering out from a wire rack in a grocery store was a religious vision of sorts: a paperback romance novel that neatly summed up classic yearning, confining cultural norms, and the hazards of defiled purity. At the center of all this familiar masscult longing and inner turmoil was an unlikely heroine: a young Amish woman, barefoot, clutching a suitcase, her white-bonneted head turned away from a mysterious man in the foreground. Here, plopped down in a hormonally charged set piece, was a figure straight out of the homey folk tradition known as Amish country pastoral. Though this pious woman couldn’t seem more out of place, the book is called Found ; it is the third entry in a series called The Secrets of Crittenden County. There were other books, too, in the rack—The Quilter’s Daughter, Leaving Lancaster—clearly meant to evoke the remote corner of central Pennsylvania where we were standing.

My sister and I grew up in the heart of Amish country, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We came across these curious specimens on a routine shopping trip to a rural grocery store. Like people growing up anywhere, we share a complicated relationship with the customs of our homeland, but seeing them serve as the backdrop of a faith-based fiction franchise was a blow to our hard-won sense of place. It was a bit like what many rent-strapped single women writers in New York must have felt when they first encountered long-lunching, fashion-obsessed Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City fame, or how Appalachian teens might dissect descriptions of District 12 in the Hunger Games franchise.

The Heady June Joys Of Indie Publishing, by Ben Paynter, Los Angeles Review of Books

The truth is that the best small firms get snapped up by the big ones, most of the time. Nevertheless, where companies are especially reliant on — and attuned to — their grassroots support, combining this with a taste for daring, then the material is always going to be worth checking out.

Girl Waits With Gun By Amy Stewart Review – A Marvellous Debut Mystery, by Sarah Weinman, The Guardian

This is dark material. But Stewart’s declarative, efficient sentences successfully convey an early 20th-century style without ladling florid prose on to the plot’s high drama.

Books Kept Me Alive In Prison, by Erwin James, The Guardian

The official lifting on the ban on sending books to prisoners, which comes into effect on Tuesday, finally brings to an end one of the most irrational and baffling Ministry of Justice policy decisions in recent times. When I consider my life before prison and my life after prison, the difference is so immense it’s almost immeasurable. In my heart, I know that I could not have made the changes I needed to make, to live a contributing life, without education and books.

Soul-Searching In TV Land Over The Challenges Of A New Golden Age, by John Koblin, New York Times

John Landgraf’s comments arrived like a thunderbolt.

There’s a malaise in TV these days that’s felt among executives, viewers and critics, said Mr. Landgraf, the chief executive of FX Networks. And it’s the result of one thing: There is simply too much on television.

How Eric Ripert Became A Restaurant Legend Without Working Himself To Death, by Bryant Urstadt, Bloomberg

Although he appears regularly in the media and runs a small restaurant in the Cayman Islands, called Blue by Eric Ripert, he is, for the most part, local and focused. And he’s surely leaving millions of dollars on the table. “I’ve reached my level of contentment career-wise,” he says. “I’m very happy not to expand to other restaurants.” Last fall, he did open a wine bar, just across the courtyard from Le Bernardin and connected through the basement. If it magnifies Ripert’s fame, it will be only among the serious eaters who follow him closely.