Finally, in 1977 — the same year Victoria's Secret was founded — the sports bra as we know it was invented by Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith, with the help of designer and runner Hinda Miller. That first sports bra was simply two jockstraps sewn together. It wasn't just that jockstraps were the right size, they were also the right idea. "We said, what we really need to do is what men have been doing: pull everything close to the body," Miller later told researchers. They called this new bra the Jockbra, but quickly changed it to Jogbra after store owners in South Carolina deemed the name offensive.
Today, the bra market is worth about $15 billion. Factor in that female participation in sports is increasing every year and athleisure appears to be here to stay, and it's no wonder that from Lululemon to Under Armour to Victoria's Secret, brands are turning their attention to sports bras.
But researchers are still a long way from understanding exactly how breasts move during exercise. Standing in the way of designing the best sports bra possible is millennia of stigma, powerful marketing forces, and good old-fashioned physics.
It’s been difficult to get beyond the mocking portrayals of Welles in part because so many critics and pop film historians have adopted Hollywood’s conformist notions of success. Welles’s story of uncompromising ambition and lack of concern for studio approval has functioned as a cautionary tale: a lesson in how not to succeed in show business.
But this year, the Welles centennial, an appreciation for Welles—even the late, bloated, talk-show-guest Welles—is gathering force.
Before the advent of industrial agriculture, Americans enjoyed a wide range of regional flours milled from equally diverse wheats, which in turn could be used to make breads that were astonishingly flavorful and nutritious. For nearly a century, however, America has grown wheat tailored to an industrial system designed to produce nutrient-poor flour and insipid, spongy breads soaked in preservatives. For the sake of profit and expediency, we forfeited pleasure and health. The Bread Lab’s mission is to make regional grain farming viable once more, by creating entirely new kinds of wheat that unite the taste and wholesomeness of their ancestors with the robustness of their modern counterparts.
Lost neighborhoods, the way the other half lived and died, buried treasure in the form of old photographs and documents, what he has called the “husks” cast off by the past, are the main attraction for this literary scavenger. The Belgian-born and vastly erudite Sante has followed his appetite for the detritus of the past in essays and translations and in books like “Low Life” (1991) and now “The Other Paris.” “I’ve always been a sucker for tales of lost civilizations, pockets in time, suppressed documents,” he once wrote.
Many dream of visiting Tokyo, yet have trepidations about going alone. Perhaps you were told, as I was, that English is rarely spoken; or that the city can be dangerous for tourists; or that it is prohibitively expensive, especially getting into Tokyo from Narita International Airport. If so, what you’ve heard is wrong.
Or outdated. Tokyo is an ideal city for solo travel. Tables for two or more are not the default arrangement, thanks to standing sushi bars and long counters at restaurants specializing in tempura, ramen and soba. It is not uncommon to sit opposite a sushi chef and talk, or to order a meal from a restaurant ticket machine and enjoy it on a stool alongside other solo diners. At department store food halls, one can buy bento boxes, hot dumplings, and savory pancakes known as okonomiyaki and dig in at nearby tables. And at any 7-Eleven (they’re ubiquitous and a go-to lunch spot) onigiri, balls of rice filled with meat, fish or vegetables that fit in your palm, can be had for a couple of dollars for a tasty lunch on the run.
One 84-year-old librarian has spent more than half her life building a comprehensive database of cookbooks throughout history.
During a recent long car ride whose soundtrack was a medley of NPR podcasts, I noticed a verbal mannerism during scripted segments that appeared on just about every show. I’ve heard the same tic in countless speeches, TED talks and Moth StorySLAMS — anywhere that features semi-informal first-person narration.
If I could attempt to transcribe it, it sounds kind of like, y’know … this.
“Tonight feels like a board game co-designed by MC Escher on a bender and Stephen King in a fever,” observes a spooked member of a university’s paranormal society in David Mitchell’s manically ingenious new novel, Slade House. It’s hard not to read the assessment as the author’s compressed verdict on his own Halloween-timed offering, but the book is much more besides.
Recognizing the limitations of our senses and the subjectivity of our experiences is the only route to transcending them. As David Foster Wallace explained in his Kenyon College commencement address, we can’t help but see the world from our own point of view. Our limited perspective makes us forget that the human experience is a vast locus of points of which we are but one.
We met outside the funeral home after my brother Robert died. He tried to pass an eighteen-wheeler on a two-lane highway in February, swerving as the mini-van emerged from the blowing snow in the opposite lane. He failed. My father had them burn what was left of Robert so my mother wouldn’t have to see the pieces. I read a poem at the ceremony.
“He was a good man,” Candace said, waiting outside in the cutting wind. Flurries gathered in the thick blonde hair piled up on her head. Robert was barely twenty two. Still a boy.
“I know, I know.”
Poem selected by Natasha Trethewey.
The biologist E.O. Wilson wrote, ‘‘Homo sapiens is the only species to suffer psychological exile.’’ That feeling of disconnection haunts this poem. Without punctuation, which would separate or halt the fluid movement of thought, the lines seem to connect the past with the speaker’s present longing for what is ineffable.
Yet one factor in the public distrust of science has been largely overlooked, and it goes to the heart of the scientific enterprise. The capacity for self-correction is the source of science’s immense strength, but the public is unnerved by the fact that scientific wisdom isn’t immutable. Scientific knowledge changes with great speed and frequency – as it should – yet public opinion drags with reluctance to be modified once established. And the rapid ebb and flow of scientific ‘wisdom’ has left many people feeling jerked around, confused, and increasingly resistant to science itself.
One of the first video recordings of a David Lynch interview dates from 1979. The twenty-minute black-and-white segment was produced for a television course at the University of California, Los Angeles, and conducted in the oil fields of the Los Angeles Basin, one of the locations that constituted the barren wasteland of his first feature, “Eraserhead” (1977). This was the moment of Lynch’s first brush with cult fame: “Eraserhead” was a year into its three-year run as a midnight movie at the Nuart Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard. Against a backdrop of hulking tanks and rusted pipes, an eager student reporter named Tom Christie directs questions to Lynch and his cinematographer, Frederick Elmes. The thirty-three-year-old Lynch, in a voice so flat and nasal it verges on cartoonish, enthuses about all the “neat areas…down in the tanks,” explaining that he found the location while driving by one day: “I think this place is beautiful, if you look at it right.” He directs the camera’s attention to a blotch on the ground: the remains of a cat, procured from a veterinarian for use in the film, that “got covered in tar and preserved itself.”
There are two dogs in Stephen King’s fat new collection, The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams. Both of them die. You expect there to be a certain amount — well, a lot — of death in a King book, and he does his best, as ever, to deliver the mortal goods. What’s unusual about the tales in this volume is how many of its deaths are ordinary, mundane sorts of demises: deaths by cancer or heart failure or car accident or simple, non-supernatural homicide.
AISLE be very pleased to hear from you.
At the end of a quiet road, behind a veil of twisted black oak trees, there was a house. A woman lived there. On bitter nights like this one, she sat by the fire and read until she grew tired enough for sleep. But on this night, as her lids grew heavy, she was startled by a sound. A sound she wasn’t accustomed to hearing these days. Who could be calling, she wondered? And this late? She rose from her chair and picked up the phone.
“I’m going to kill you,” a man with a deep voice said.
“Who is this?” she asked.
The midnight sun still gleamed at 1 a.m. across the brilliant expanse of the Greenland ice sheet. Brandon Overstreet, a doctoral candidate in hydrology at the University of Wyoming, picked his way across the frozen landscape, clipped his climbing harness to an anchor in the ice and crept toward the edge of a river that rushed downstream toward an enormous sinkhole.
If he fell in, “the death rate is 100 percent,” said Mr. Overstreet’s friend and fellow researcher, Lincoln Pitcher.
But Mr. Overstreet’s task, to collect critical data from the river, is essential to understanding one of the most consequential impacts of global warming. The scientific data he and a team of six other researchers collect here could yield groundbreaking information on the rate at which the melting of Greenland ice sheet, one of the biggest and fastest-melting chunks of ice on Earth, will drive up sea levels in the coming decades. The full melting of Greenland’s ice sheet could increase sea levels by about 20 feet.
Jon Aujay went for a desert run in 1998 and never returned. A member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau, he seemed to have evaporated into the hot blue sky. Theories, suspicions, hunches—they’ve all been far more plentiful than actual clues in the search to discover his fate.
In Freetown, the people lived close to the land, cooking their harvest in wood stoves, using wells and streams to keep food cool. And they lived close to one another. Chester and Lucinda’s granddaughter Edna Lewis remembered food as the center of its culture of work and community. In 1984, she told Phil Audibert, a documentarian: ‘‘If someone borrowed one cup of sugar, they would return two. If someone fell ill, the neighbors would go in and milk the cows, feed the chickens, clean the house, cook the food and come and sit with whoever was sick. I guess rural life conditioned people to cooperate with their neighbors.’’ Their conversation was recorded a half-century after Lewis moved away, but the impression her community made on her was still profound.
Is it summertime or wintertime? Since Sunday, no one in Turkey has been entirely sure.
Carol Rumens's poem of the week.
May Kendall was born Emma Goldworth Kendall in Bridlington, Yorkshire, in 1864. Little is known about her education; on the evidence of her work, it was a solid one. Her father was a Methodist minister, and Kendall’s interest in the sciences never deflected her from her religious convictions and sense of life as sacred. She was founder member of the York Fabian Society and collaborated with Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree on radical sociological works in the early 20th century, by which time she had abandoned poetry and fiction. Her later years were sad: it’s thought that she suffered from senile dementia. She died in an institution in 1943, and is buried in York, the city where she spent the greater part of her life.
The company is trying everything it can to win back deserters. Last month, in keeping with prevailing desires and current nutritional wisdom, McDonald’s abandoned margarine for butter. The company announced recently that it would stop selling chickens that have been raised with antibiotics that could affect human health, and milk from cows that had been treated with growth hormones. They introduced low-calorie “artisan grilled chicken” sandwiches and, this month, began serving breakfast all day—fulfilling a request that the Egg McMuffin crowd has been making for years. McDonald’s has also jumped on the seasonal-food bandwagon, having sold about thirty-seven million Cuties, the brand of clementines that come with Happy Meals. The company has even begun to introduce restaurants with digital kiosks, where customers can build their own dishes on a touch screen, then grab a G.P.S. locator, find a seat, and wait until the freshly made product is delivered by a server who has homed in on the signal.
McDonald’s describes all these changes as an attempt to “reassert” itself as “a modern, progressive burger company.’’ Nonetheless, daunting questions hover over its ambitious agenda, and over the entire industry. Can traditional restaurant chains, indelibly branded as places to eat cheap food fast, switch to healthier fare and stay profitable? And to what degree can companies like Sweetgreen thrive by offering a fresher, more nutritious alternative?
The guests were drawn mainly from three constituencies: chefs, journalists, and businesspeople—a triad that thrived as interdependently as corn, beans, and squash. The chefs ran the restaurants, which the journalists wrote about, promoting the businesspeople’s interests, so that they plowed more money into the chefs’ projects, which yielded fodder for the journalists. Onstage, the host was announcing the winners in descending order. (Seeking to extend the brand, in 2013 the World’s 50 Best Restaurants launched separate lists for Asia and Latin America.) Everyone talked through the presentation, but the furious networking only heightened the excitement.
We in 2015, we the entertained, who live in a fun house of Sherlocks — Cumberbatch Sherlock, Downey Jr. Sherlock, Jonny Lee Miller Sherlock, etc. — need no convincing of the imaginative vitality of Sherlock Holmes. But the fact that Bret Harte, revered and shaggy forebear, of whose stories Conan Doyle felt his own early efforts to be but “feeble echoes,” could come out in 1900 with such a spot-on and beautifully modern satire of a Sherlock Holmes story tells us something of the immediacy with which Holmes franchised himself into popular consciousness.
Enter the penny booksellers. There are dozens of sellers — Silver Arch Books, Owls Books, Yellow Hammer Books and Sierra Nevada Books — offering scores of relatively sought-after books in varying conditions for a cent. Even including the standard $3.99 shipping, the total sum comes out to several dollars cheaper than what you’d pay at most brick-and-mortar used-book stores.
The iconic brand’s midcentury recipes evoke the era’s peculiar optimism, encased in gelatin and smothered in mayonnaise.
When you settle into your seat at a restaurant, don’t be shy about telling your server your food preferences. By all means, ask if your dish can be prepared garlic-free or cauliflower-free or gluten-free. You’re paying good money, so you should get the meal that you want, not one that leaves you riding home in a foul mood and a plume of fetid air. The days of the imperious no-substitutions chef, telling you to take it or leave it, now seem as dated as a rerun of that Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” episode from 20 years ago.
But for the love of Julia Child and the sake of every other soul in the restaurant, particularly the underpaid line cooks sweating their way through another Saturday night shift, please, please stop describing your food preferences as an allergy. That is a very specific medical term, and invoking it triggers an elaborate, time-consuming protocol in any self-respecting kitchen. It shouldn’t be tossed around as liberally as the sea salt on the house-made (gluten-free) breadsticks.
The Oyster War opens with the epigraph “Everything not saved will be lost.” The sentiment seems straightforward, appropriate for a book addressing, according to the subtitle, “the future of wilderness in America.” But I paused at the quote’s attribution. The book’s guiding thought comes not from Thoreau or Stegner, not from Muir or Snyder, not from generations of writers who’ve proclaimed the intrinsic value of the wild. Instead, the author pulled this quote from a Nintendo quit screen message.
What, exactly, are we talking about saving?
It started with a prickling sensation on their skin. Then Abigail Williams, 11, and her cousin Betty Parris, 9, complained of feeling pinches and bites. They howled, writhed, went rigid and spoke gibberish. Friends and neighbors gathered in their house to pray and sing psalms.
Weeks later, a well-meaning neighbor hit on a solution. She ordered a household servant to make a witch cake, mixing the girls’ urine into rye flour that was baked in embers, then fed to a dog, in an attempt to reveal who had bewitched them. Within days, Abigail and Betty named three local women as their tormentors.
As someone who lives in America and has worked in the service industry, going out to eat and not tipping makes me so uncomfortable that I have to do it – even if those on the receiving end are just as uncomfortable accepting it.
If you find yourself suddenly gaining access to a time machine, what’s the first thing you’d do? If you said “kill Adolf Hitler”, then congratulations; you’re a science-fiction character. Actually, the whole “access to a time machine” thing suggested that already, but the desire to kill Hitler clinches it. Any time-travelling sci-fi character (at least ones created by Western society) seems to want to kill Hitler, so much so that there’s a trope about how it’s impossible.
That attempting to kill Hitler has become such a common sci-fi plot device speaks volumes. What about Stalin? He was arguably worse, killing 20 million of his own people to fuel his ideology. But no, Stalin went about his business unmolested by time travellers, all of whom are busy targeting Hitler.
Thank you for your interest in our all-inclusive travel package to the fourth dimension. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get from prospective explorers. So far, none of our clients have returned—or even sent a text—so we can only share what our scientific consultants say will likely occur.
A former adviser to the World Health Organisation and a sociology lecturer at the University of Essex, long a base for radical academics, she casts an unsparing eye over “philanthrocapitalism” – as she and some of its practitioners call it. A small group of private donors, she writes, play “an outsized role in national and global policy-making”: they “want to revolutionise the last realm untouched by the hyper-competitive, profit-oriented world of financial capitalism: the world of charitable giving.”
Published in the Adelphi Magazine, May 1933.
Friendships are unique relationships because unlike family relationships, we choose to enter into them. And unlike other voluntary bonds, like marriages and romantic relationships, they lack a formal structure. You wouldn’t go months without speaking to or seeing your significant other (hopefully), but you might go that long without contacting a friend.
Still, survey upon survey upon survey shows how important people’s friends are to their happiness. And though friendships tend to change as people age, there is some consistency in what people want from them.
Tasteful biographers sift through archives, not trash cans. But what they look for is biographical gold (very valuable dirt), and that nearly always involves something written for private purposes: unpublished letters, say, or a diary no one knew about. Is unearthing this treasure very different from going through the garbage? I used to be sure, now I’m not.
What does it mean to be a woman alone? This question lies at the heart of M Train, the new book by poet, author, and singer Patti Smith. That, and the eternal query, Where’s the best place to get a good coffee?
Is there any meaningful way to distinguish the words? Fowler found one in the Oxford English Dictionary. He wasn’t convinced by it, though, and pooh-poohed it as more aspirational than real—something the editors of the O.E.D. wished were true but wasn’t quite. Still, to me it seems much more subtle than the division between literal farthers and metaphoric furthers, and I’d like to explain it in order to, um, further its career.
There’s a map bred in the bones of the bird. Before you ingest the chicken wing, you must know the vertices of its hinge, that place where tendons and gristle connect and shake hands. It’s all very scientific.
“The cat does not offer services,” William Burroughs wrote. “The cat offers itself.” But it does so with unapologetic ambivalence. Greet a cat enthusiastically and it might respond with nothing more than a few unhurried blinks. Later, as you’re trying to work, it will commandeer your lap, keyboard, and attention, purring all the while. A cat will mew at the food bowl in the morning and set off on a multiple-day trek in the afternoon. Dogs are dependent on us to the point of being obsequious, but cats seem to be constantly reëvaluating the merits of our relationship, as well as their role in domestic life. “Are cats domesticated?” is one of the most frequently Googled questions about the animals, based on the search engine’s autocomplete suggestions.
Tobias Wolff calls my parents’ house in Amarillo, Texas, leaves a message: I’ve been admitted to the Syracuse Creative Writing Program. I call back, holding Back in the World in my hands. For what seems, in chagrined memory, like eighteen hours, I tell him all of my ideas about Art and list all the things that have been holding me back artistic-development-wise and possibly (God! Yikes!) ask if he ever listens to music while he writes. He’s kind and patient and doesn’t make me feel like an idiot. I do that myself, once I hang up.
In Night Vale, people experience several realities at once — and so do I, writing this review with a strange sort of triple vision. On the one hand, I want to speak as a fan of the extraordinarily popular podcast, so beloved that its listeners catapulted the novel into Amazon's #2 spot seven months before its release; on the other hand I want to explain Night Vale to people who may not have yet encountered it; on the third, vestigial hand I want to look at Welcome to Night Vale as a stand-alone novel, and try to see it from the perspective of someone who isn't already in love with the recurring characters, locations, and spatio-temporal anomalies of the podcast.
Poem selected by Natasha Trethewey.
Jan visited Cedartown at least annually for decades, well into her adulthood. In the fall of 2014, she returned for good. On October 17 — a year ago this month, and eight days after she died at age 57 in her upstate New York home — the former Saturday Night Live star was laid to rest at Cedartown’s Northview Cemetery in a plot next to that of her mother, Sadie. Come to say their final farewells, a group of 30 or so friends and family members assembled at the Lester C. Litesey Funeral Home, where Jan’s plain dark-wood casket was closed. Next to it, on a small table, sat a large framed portrait of Jan, surrounded by floral arrangements from her former SNL boss Lorne Michaels, the show’s staff, and Jan’s onetime boyfriend turned costar, Kevin Nealon. Later, at the cemetery, her brother Tom led graveside proceedings. “This service may be a little different than what you’re used to,” he said. “But hey, so was Jan.”
When I first looked at UBC's website months ago, I felt that same twinge of, "It's a store full of lost stuff? That sucks." I figured I would write a quirky piece about a kooky store, to compensate for the inherent sadness. But my world changed this summer, and now I'm here in Alabama, and the idea of losing stuff on an airplane feels decidedly less heavy.
I lost my lifelong best friend in July.
Reading strictly for plot, “Becoming Nicole” is about a transgender girl who triumphed in a landmark discrimination case in 2014, successfully suing the Orono school district in Maine for barring her from using the girls’ bathroom. But the real movement in this book happens internally, in the back caverns of each family member’s heart and mind. Four ordinary and imperfect human beings had to reckon with an exceptional situation, and in so doing also became, in their own modest ways, exceptional.
The idea behind Cookbook Club is a simple one—a group of friends all make recipes from the same book and gather to share the results, a crowdsourced feast. But there's a bit of magic to Cookbook Club that I didn't anticipate when I attended my first meeting, walking into an unfamiliar house clutching a bowl of pumpkin seed dip from Diana Kennedy's The Essential Cuisines of Mexico.
This fall, Gross marks her 40th anniversary hosting ‘‘Fresh Air.’’ At 64, she is ‘‘the most effective and beautiful interviewer of people on the planet,’’ as Marc Maron said recently, while introducing an episode of his podcast, ‘‘WTF,’’ that featured a conversation with Gross. She’s deft on news and subtle on history, sixth-sensey in probing personal biography and expert at examining the intricacies of artistic process. She is acutely attuned to the twin pulls of disclosure and privacy. ‘‘You started writing memoirs before our culture got as confessional as it’s become, before the word ‘oversharing’ was coined,’’ Gross said to the writer Mary Karr last month. ‘‘So has that affected your standards of what is meant to be written about and what is meant to maintain silence about?’’ (‘‘That’s such a smart question,’’ Karr responded. ‘‘Damn it, now I’m going to have to think.’’) Gross says very little about her own life on the air. ‘‘I try not to make it about me,’’ Gross told me. ‘‘I try to use my experiences to help me understand my guests’ experiences, but not to take anything away from them.’’ Early in her career, she realized that remaining somewhat unknown allows ‘‘radio listeners to do what they like to do, which is to create you.’’ She added, ‘‘Whatever you need me to be, I’ll be that.’’
In-fill development, historic preservation, and new construction present some of the same problems for the departed as they do for the living.
The only piece of advice I have taped over my desk, other than a kind note of forgiveness from one of my first-year college English professors, is from the introduction to Roger Zelazny’s short story “Passion Play.” In that autobiographical essay, included in the late science fiction and fantasy writer’s collection The Last Defender of Camelot, he describes “a writing situation where you see an alternative to what you are doing, a mad, wild gamble of a way for handling something, which may leave you looking stupid, ridiculous or brilliant — you just don’t know which.” One option, of course, is to “play it safe,” to fall back on what you know (or hope) will work. But it is also possible, he writes, to take a chance on that “mad, wild gamble” — that is, to “trust your personal demon who delivered that crazy idea in the first place.” Since neither choice is any guarantee of success, Zelazny advises that, when faced with this dilemma, “Trust your demon.” That demon, a distant relative, maybe, of Poe’s Imp of the Perverse, is often at work in Zelazny’s best fiction. Take, for example, A Night in the Lonesome October, his last novel, first published in 1993, two years before his death, and recently reissued, complete with James Warhola’s fine cover and Gahan Wilson’s macabre and delightful illustrations, by Chicago Review Press.
Depending on whom you ask, the use of the active voice over the passive is arguably the most fundamental writer’s maxim, thought to lend weight, truth, and power to declarative statements. This absolutist view is flawed, however, because language is an art of nuance. From time to time, writers may well find illustrative value in the lightest of phrases, sentences so weightless and feathery that they scarcely even seem to exist at all. These can convey details well beyond the crude thrust of the hulking active voice, and when used strictly as ornamentation, they needn’t actually convey anything at all.
As a thought experiment, let’s examine in extremely close detail a set of iterative changes that can be made to a single simple grammatical structure, turning it from a statement taken at face value into one loaded with unrealized implication. This makes for rich writing which rewards – or even demands – close scrutiny.
Tasting menus, featuring a succession of courses usually determined by the chef, have multiplied in New York City over the past decade. No sooner does one restaurant grab the attention of deep-pocketed gastronomes with its tasting menu than another starts touting its multicourse meal, often with an even longer or more complex menu.
As we start to understand, and learn to measure, the capacities that underlie behavioural freedom, we can begin to put this natural free will on a scale. Paralleling the measurement of intelligence, we could call it the freedom quotient: FQ. Such a scale should give us new insights into the factors that hinder or enhance our efforts to shape our lives. In other words, FQ should tell us how free we are – and how we can become even more so.
To his admirers, Scialabba is something of a literary monk, shuffling virtuously in the background, spurning public attention. His writing completes the portrait: his measured essays generally concern better-known thinkers, more roaring, titanic writers whose own work stomps imperiously down the page. “As far as I know, I’ve never had a genuinely original idea,” he told me. He promised that this wasn’t a boast.
Walter Benjamin is often described as a philosopher, but you won’t find his works being taught or studied in the philosophy departments of many British or American universities – in English, modern languages, film studies and media studies, yes, but not in philosophy.
If you never stopped using your broiler, you are to be congratulated. I am happily becoming reacquainted with mine. It began sometime around the time my friend and frequent co-author Chris Schlesinger called me with an invitation.
“Come on over,” he said. “I’m broiling some fish.”
From someone else, that might have been less remarkable. But from Chris, it was the equivalent of: “Come for dinner. I’m poaching some T-bones.”
Carol Rumens's poem of the week
On the surface, Claimant voices a political protest. That’s where its power will lie for most readers. But between the lines it may also say something about what Eliot termed “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and the way that the new plants its feet, cautiously at first, on the shoulders of the past.
It only occurs to me halfway through lunch that my companion might have more reason to care what the food he’s eating has arrived on than most of us. When you are an award-winning ceramicist renowned for the exquisite simplicity of your creations; when you describe yourself as having an obsession with white; and when your lifelong working relationship with porcelain takes such a hold that you have to write an entire book about it – well, then you probably notice the plates. So, I ask Edmund de Waal, potter par excellence, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes and now The White Road, is it the kind of thing that strikes him immediately?
In the centre of the Arctic Ocean there is a Pole that has yet to be conquered. Now a British team is planning a journey of more than 1,000km (800 miles) to be the first to reach the loneliest place on the ice.
Once upon a time, the Carnegie Library sat on a wooded bluff on the east side of town: red brick and fieldstone, with turrets and broad windows facing the trees. Inside, green glass–shaded lamps cast warm yellow light onto oak tables ringed with spindle–backed chairs.
The floors were wood, except in the foyer, where they were pale beige marble. The loudest sounds were the ticking of the clock and the quiet, rhythmic thwack of a rubber stamp on a pasteboard card.
It was a cozy, orderly place.
Each year around 50,000 people die in New York, and each year the mortality rate seems to graze a new low, with people living healthier and longer. A great majority of the deceased have relatives and friends who soon learn of their passing and tearfully assemble at their funeral. A reverent death notice appears. Sympathy cards accumulate. When the celebrated die or there is some heart-rending killing of the innocent, the entire city might weep.
A much tinier number die alone in unwatched struggles. No one collects their bodies. No one mourns the conclusion of a life. They are just a name added to the death tables. In the year 2014, George Bell, age 72, was among those names.
Meriem became a prostitute because she lost her virginity. She told me this in a house that I was renting in a Moroccan seaside town. It was 2008 and I had just moved there from Fez because the words people used to describe the place were belle and tranquille. Europeans owned homes in the Old City, which they occupied in the summer, when the town was saturated in blue and the beach looked savage and grand. The rest of the year, you saw vacant homes and hungry people and heroin addicts.
Seated on my sofa, Meriem narrated her life story.1 I stopped her on occasion to be sure I wasn’t misunderstanding her Moroccan Arabic. “Your childhood boyfriend raped you?” I asked. I repeated the word she had used, which I assumed meant “rape.” She nodded while I looked it up in my dictionary, but rape wasn’t there.
I hadn't thought of Nixon much since his funeral. He stayed dead while I chased girls, befriended drag queens, and discovered socialism. But Mad Men spoke of a different guy than the one I knew as a kid. In season one, Don Draper competes for Nixon's 1960 campaign business. He calls him "Abe Lincoln from California." That interested me. I learned that Nixon, like Lincoln, was an autodidact who grew up poor and developed his political skills through repeated failure.
But I didn't consider him a character yet. I was going to tweet outrageous stuff from the tapes. No one did that. The tapes reveal Nixon's desire to execute repeat drug offenders, his relish in "crushing" and "destroying" his enemies. We hear him encourage Henry Kissinger to bomb North Vietnam's dikes, which would have drowned 200,000 people.
People and polar bears have always lived side-by-side in this part of the world but in the past it was rare for bears to enter the town. Now, every summer and autumn, it's becoming an uncomfortable part of everyday life.
“You really can do anything you want” with art, she says, whereas with architecture “you’re designing for others.” She compares art to writing a poem and architecture to writing a novel. “They’re both incredibly difficult and challenging, but sometimes that poem is harder…because I’m stripping it bare.”
Writing about visual art is, in the strict sense, almost impossible: an image is always vastly richer than any words that can be used about it, so that reading even the best essay about a painting is a poor substitute for seeing it. (Here literary criticism has an advantage over art criticism, in that it uses the same medium as its subject, making quotation possible.) Knowing this, Barnes is sparing with the kind of prose-poetic rhapsody that turns the writer into a (losing) rival of the artist. When he does describe, he is intensely practical, simply teaching us how to look.
After a mesmerizing session watching another misfit kid named Evan play Ultima III, the young Clune walks home through his wintry suburb. The snowy ground becomes a map. In a boot print, he sees a canyon floor “patrolled by wolves.” There is a tower, and “a demon lived in the tower. On the far side of the canyon, five crystal cities (five fallen icicles) rise from the plain. One of them is called the Heart of the Light. The center of the city glows.” And so on. From wintry heartbreak overlaid by a trace of pixels comes the redemption of a lonely boy’s imagination.
That is what Redniss has done, too: shown us how human beings live with nature — fighting, coexisting, taming, predicting via leech barometer and radar and intuition. How does one connect with other survivors of lightning strikes? How do engineers render the hajj bearable to pilgrims in 100-degree temperatures? How does an endurance swimmer battle the easterly winds between Cuba and Florida?
For centuries, we human beings have speculated on the possible existence and prevalence of life elsewhere in the universe. For the first time in history, we can begin to answer that profound question. At this point, the results of the Kepler mission can be extrapolated to suggest that something like 10 percent of all stars have a habitable planet in orbit. That fraction is large. With 100 billion stars just in our galaxy alone, and so many other galaxies out there, it is highly probable that there are many, many other solar systems with life. From this perspective, life in the cosmos is common.
However, there’s another, grander perspective from which life in the cosmos is rare. That perspective considers all forms of matter, both animate and inanimate. Even if all “habitable” planets (as determined by Kepler) do indeed harbor life, the fraction of all material in the universe in living form is fantastically small. Assuming that the fraction of planet Earth in living form, called the biosphere, is typical of other life-sustaining planets, I have estimated that the fraction of all matter in the universe in living form is roughly one-billionth of one-billionth. Here’s a way to visualize such a tiny fraction. If the Gobi Desert represents all of the matter flung across the cosmos, living matter is a single grain of sand on that desert. How should we think about this extreme rarity of life?
My motto as a historical novelist has been: “You are there.” But in order to put you there, I have to use my imagination to make connections, to evoke feelings, to show patterns, to build a logical structure. But then, my historian colleague must do the same. It is for the reader to decide which logical construct he or she believes.
In his slight but readable new book, “The Last of the President’s Men,” Bob Woodward — who, with Carl Bernstein, broke the Watergate story for The Washington Post more than four decades ago — returns to the subject of President Nixon. Long famous for his inside sources, Mr. Woodward relies here largely on some 40 hours of interviews with Mr. Butterfield, a draft of an unpublished memoir by that former aide and a voluminous archive of documents that Mr. Butterfield — deputy to Haldeman, and near the very center of the president’s tiny solar system — took with him when he left the White House in 1973.
Now comes “M Train,” Smith’s second work of memoir, a book closer in spirit to her shambolic, freewheeling musical style than its narrative-driven predecessor. Like one of Smith’s songs, “M Train” weaves poetry, dreams, art, literature, and conversational fragments into a phantasmagoric, atmospheric, and transportive whole.
Selected by Natasha Trethewey.
The simplest images can startle us, prompting a flash of recognition. Reading this poem, I thought of my mother and the notepad I found in her briefcase after she died. There was a message to me there, as vivid as the leaves of Jeffrey Harrison’s severed maple branch. Here, the single rhyme creates a sense of closure, an echo drawing the images together.
As we roll down US Highway 41 in Terre Haute, Indiana , my guide insists I give him my iPhone. Then he tosses me a satin blindfold. The terms of our trip were clear—I wasn't to know where we were going or how we got there. That's because we're on our way to the undisclosed location of an underground bunker designed to survive the end of the world, whatever form that apocalypse takes.
And so, as the story of such cities goes, the priced-out move outward — in New York City, to Brooklyn and, increasingly, to Queens. For San Franciscans, the rent refuge is here in Oakland, where the rates are increasing as well — so much so that young professionals are living in repurposed shipping containers while the homeless are lugging around coffinlike sleeping boxes on wheels.
Hallberg writes like he's not sure anyone will ever give him a second chance. There are places where you can taste his panic and his need to use every word he knows now. And there should've been an editor around to tell him that keeping something in your back pocket for later ain't always the worst idea in the world — but there's also something to be said for a guy that just leaves it all on the table.
Photography is inescapably a memorial art. It selects, out of the flow of time, a moment to be preserved, with the moments before and after falling away like sheer cliffs. At a dinner party earlier this year, I was in conversation with someone who asked me to define photography. I suggested that it is about retention: not only the ability to make an image directly out of the interaction between light and the tangible world, but also the possibility of saving that image. A shadow thrown onto a wall is not photography. But if the wall is photosensitive and the shadow remains after the body has moved on, that is photography. Human creativity, since the beginning of art, has found ways to double the visible world. What photography did was to give the world a way to double its own appearance: The photograph results directly from what is, from the light that travels from a body through an aperture onto a surface.
But when the photograph outlives the body — when people die, scenes change, trees grow or are chopped down — it becomes a memorial. And when the thing photographed is a work of art or architecture that has been destroyed, this effect is amplified even further. A painting, sculpture or temple, as a record of both human skill and emotion, is already a site of memory; when its only remaining trace is a photograph, that photograph becomes a memorial to a memory. Such a photograph is shadowed by its vanished ancestor.
Across the country, pubs are being shuttered at an alarming rate – scooped up by developers and ransacked for profit – changing the face of neighbourhoods and turning our beloved locals into estate agents, betting shops, and luxury flats. This is the story of how one pub fought back.
In a world where everything from a ride to the airport to the way a child learns math has been disrupted, the written recipe — that fundamental bedrock of how we cook and share food — is undergoing its own makeover.
Like media and music, the recipe is being stretched and shattered, its conventions challenged by a generation that learned to cook from television chefs and YouTube videos.
The Reflection is an experimental novel disguised as a thriller – or is it the other way around? On the one hand, it is a noirish page-turner set in 1940s Manhattan with more plot turns than a Hitchcock box set. On the other, it is a story about the way we try to make sense of stories.
In short, writers like Costello because he has always taken writing seriously. That's obvious to anyone who pays attention to his lyrics, and it's even more apparent to anyone who reads Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, his charming new autobiography. The book is refreshingly free of salacious gossip and needless name-dropping; it's an intelligent self-assessment from a musician who went from angry young man to elder statesman of pop.
Is there anything inherently “doggy” about the word “dog”? Obviously not—to the French, a dog is a chien, to Russians a sobaka, to Mandarin Chinese-speakers a gǒu. These words have nothing in common, and none seem any more connected to the canine essence than any other. One runs up against that wall with pretty much any word.
Except some. The word for “mother” seems often either to be mama or have a nasal sound similar to m, like nana. The word for “father” seems often either to be papa or have a sound similar to p, like b, in it—such that you get something like baba. The word for “dad” may also have either d or t, which is a variation on saying d, just as p is on b. People say mama or nana, and then papa, baba, dada, or tata, worldwide.
Unlike Sudoku, which always has the same format and gets easier with practice, the disparate puzzles that Mr. Gardner favored required different, inventive techniques to crack. The solution in such puzzles usually pops up in its entirety, through a flash of insight, rather than emerging steadily via step-by-step deduction as in Sudoku. An example: How can you identify a single counterfeit penny, slightly lighter than the rest, from a group of nine, in only two weighings?
My brother found us the next day. Three days later I woke up in the hospital. My mom was already buried. And there were homicide charges. That same night they transferred me to jail.
Carol Rumens's poem of the week.
This week’s poem takes a walk on the linguistic wild side. Adam Lowe’s Vada That (Look at That) draws much of its vocabulary from Polari, with some additional slang phrases invented by the author. Lowe has provided a handy glossary, reproduced at the end of this piece: one of the online urban slang dictionaries may also prove useful in deciphering some of the non-Polari lingo. The most important point for the new reader to remember is that the “she” in the poem is a “he”.
And yet no one is happy, says Louis C.K. Everything is amazing and nobody is happy. Why not? The answer that Louis suggests is that we’re unhappy because we’re a bunch of ungrateful little snips. If we looked around at what we had (at least those of us who are rich enough to own computers and fly on planes), if we counted our techno-blessings, we’d become more equable. We’d become grateful. We might even manage to be—whisper this; don’t say it too loud—something like happy.
Really? Are you sure?
Well, let us ask an authority, maybe the ultimate philosophical authority on the subject of happiness. So: What would Plato say?
The supremacy of Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books—the 1865 “Alice in Wonderland” and its still better successor, “Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There”—among children’s books, and comic-philosophical literature generally, is by now, I suppose, pretty generally accepted. Carroll isn’t just big in the little way that Beatrix Potter is big; his bigness is as universally agreed upon as the bigness of Mozart or Molière or Wayne Gretzky. There is hardly a puzzle or a predicament that has fascinated intellectually minded people that is not captured and held, with wild gaiety and complicated understanding, in the books. Whether showing the true nature of the way we use words—Humpty Dumpty is a deeper philosopher of language than Wittgenstein—or achieving, in the Red Queen, the perfect description of the Carly Fiorina-type of boss, “Alice,” once read, is always there. (Indeed, the entire present Republican Party is on display in Carroll’s pages. When Ted Cruz recently explained to the head of the Sierra Club that there can’t actually be a scientific consensus on global warming, since scientists are supposed to be critical—so that if there is a consensus, it can’t be science—he was producing a piece of logical-seeming absurdity, of mindless mindfulness, that the Duchess, or Humpty himself, would have been proud of.)
The four stories here — one is a long novella of shifting tone and focus; the others are short and more directed — differ widely from one another. But they are connected by a tension, an unease, a threat, a sense that things are off kilter but perhaps can be put right if the characters, and the reader, understand them more fully.
The journalist-turned–pickup artist tries to reclaim his soul.
Mothers, Tell Your Daughters is filled with shifts like this, when a turn of fate, a moment in nature, brings surprises and revealing insights. And within the turmoil and the troubles, the demands and the limits of life, Campbell reminds us, there are possibilities for moments of grace.
Walking, as both Rousseau and Thoreau recognised, is a form of meditation. More, it is a form of writing. Our favoured paths – often not the official ones – are a kind of script across the landscape, readable to others, so that even a planet shared with many other species finds room for a library of human movement. And beyond that again, a particular kind of solidarity. Walking in someone else’s shoes is a metaphor for the act of empathy that is at the heart of all imaginative writing, which is not quite such a sedentary occupation as those who only read or who are indifferent to books seem to believe.
But I also know that I had no existence for the 13.8 billion years that the universe existed before my birth, and I expect the same will be true after my death. The universe is not about me or any other individual; we come and we go as part of a much larger process. More and more I am content with this awareness. We all find our own solutions to the problem death poses. For the foreseeable future, bringing your mind back to life will not be one of them.
While the neighbourhood is not immune to pressures - some restaurants are shuttering because of rent hikes, hotels and luxury apartments are appearing on the periphery, and wealthier tenants are slowly filling vacancies in some of the old buildings - it is, broadly speaking, an exceptionally tight-knit and self-sustaining city unto itself.
Here are five reasons why.
I can only tell them my own experience, which is that the hardest bit isn’t having nobody to share the burden, it’s having no one to share the love. Nobody right there when your child tells their teddy that “people are bears, too, but with bones inside”, which you think is the most amazing thing in the history of the world, but you have a creeping suspicion nobody else will, and you can’t go on Facebook or ring your mother again.
Here are the reasons why Doc McStuffins is the most important children’s show since Jim Henson and the gang laced them up.
War zones aside, the high mountains are the only places on Earth where it is expected and even normal to encounter exposed human remains. And of all the mountains where climbers have lost their lives, Everest likely carries the highest risk of coming across bodies simply because there are so many. “You’ll be walking along, it’s a beautiful day, and all of a sudden there’s someone there,” says mountaineer Ed Viesturs. “It’s like, wow – it’s a wakeup call.”
Also - and this is important too - I encourage you to find lines you particularly like and repeat them. Try the words in different orders - cut bits out - make it yours. Once you do this - the poem’s life will be even longer. Make them sing and find their tune.
The dedication of “The Thing About Jellyfish” reads, “For curious kids everywhere.” It could also read, “For all those kids who need a gentle nudge to look closer at nature and science.” Or perhaps, “For grieving kids who are struggling to come to terms with their losses, and seeking a path to peace and conciliation.” There are, in other words, a lot of children who might not only benefit from this book but also find themselves deeply moved by it.
Like most infrastructure, the refrigerator is ignored until it breaks. But in “Chilled,” Tom Jackson demonstrates that the humble appliance’s physical and sociological history are worth a close look. Who invented the fridge, how does it work, and how did the ability to keep food cold shape how we eat? The patient reader will ultimately find out, but be forewarned — the path can be slushy.
As aphorisms go, the one that says the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach seems particularly ill-suited to the modern age. These days, that man is himself likely to be the resident kitchen wizard, and anyway, he’s probably watching his carbs. But if you’re married to an Englishman an ocean away from home—as I am—and you place a heaping plate of bacon, Lincolnshire sausage, black pudding, eggs, baked beans, tomato, mushrooms and toast before him, you may discover that the old saying rings pretty true.
As though napping, the climber lays on his side under the protective shadow of an overhanging rock. He has pulled his red fleece up around his face, hiding it from view, and wrapped his arms firmly around his torso to ward off the biting wind and cold. His legs stretch into the path, forcing passers-by to gingerly step over his neon green climbing boots.
His name is Tsewang Paljor, but most who encounter him know him only as Green Boots. For nearly 20 years, his body, located not far from Mount Everest’s summit, has served as a grim trail marker for those seeking to conquer the world’s highest mountain from its north face. Many have lost their lives on Everest, and like Paljor, the vast majority of them remain on the mountain. But Paljor’s body, thanks to its prominence, came to be one of the most well-known.
I can get as grumpy as anyone about bad writing. But as a scientist who studies language for a living (and who has had to unlearn the bad habits of academic writing) I long ago developed my own opinions on why so much prose is so egregious.
Forget guns. Forget nukes. The real ultimate weapon? Breasts.
Exposed breasts are a significant tactical advantage. In pop culture, large-breasted women fighters invariably wear very revealing, breast-emphasising outfits. There are numerous examples in comics (Wonder Woman, Power Girl, Psylocke, Emma Frost, Zatanna, Black Cat, She Hulk etc.) and video games (Lara Croft, Bayonetta, Blaze, Ivy, Rayne, Mai etc.) Presumably such capable individuals would be able to wear what they like, so why would they choose to expose so much skin to danger?
Selected by Natasha Trethewey.
I love the moment in a poem when two worlds collide, as in a movie theater. Here, the action on-screen and in the audience reflects what is always present in a poem: something in the foreground and something in the background — a distance that must be bridged.
Since Saudi women still can’t take control of the wheel, I step out of the backseat of my shared family car, my long black abaya spilling onto the street as the call to prayer lingers in the cool Saudi air and the sun dips behind the horizon. I walk towards the sand-colored building holding a notebook, and adjust my headscarf with my free hand. The car drives away. The male workers inside the family-owned heritage store nod at me as I enter. I nod back. I go up the stairs alone, my abaya wiping away my footsteps as I climb higher.
Past a thick door, the second-floor café is decorated like an artsy Middle Eastern living room with large cozy sofas and coffee tables. A group of ten women, mostly twenty-and thirty-somethings, plus one teenager, all of different educational and occupational backgrounds, gather around. We simultaneously uncover our hair, and peel our abayas off, revealing colorful clothing — bold paintings hidden beneath dark curtains. Kisses fly onto cheeks as we introduce ourselves in Arabic. I do not know any of them, but as soon as I hug them, we are sisters, brought together by a love of reading.
"Grandfather used to say that when he was little, potatoes actually had tiny little eyes that would open up and look at you," she writes in "A Christmas Carol." "You could hear seashells laughing and talking to one another on the seashore. When you were at the beach, it sounded like you were in the audience at a circus when the lights went off and the show was about to begin." And there is possibly no better metaphor for this collection's collective voice: A murmuring, jubilant chorus both anxious to speak and ready to listen.
With such long working lives, Talwar predicts that workers will adopt a "portfolio" approach to employment, meaning they could have as many as 10 different, shorter careers, including 40 different jobs. People could do more than one job in a day, he says - perhaps driving an Uber cab in the morning and delivering Amazon parcels in the afternoon.
Americans’ enthusiasm for reheating last night’s dinner has faded as the nation has prospered. At times, it’s been a moral act; at others, a groan-inducing joke.
Many of the novel’s most unnerving passages do not take place at night in haunted houses, or have screaming cheerleaders chased by knife-wielding boogeymen. The death of Patrick Hockstetter in the town dump, Beverly’s encounter with a witch at her childhood home, Ben seeing a mummy drifting towards him on the frozen Derry canal – all these unforgettable moments take place during the day in a town so painstakingly evoked that we feel like citizens ourselves.
I found a strange note on my desk a month ago: ‘‘Why do soufflés rise and fall?’’
The handwriting was mine, but the note seemed foreign. I’ve never known myself to seek answers to the puzzles of the physical world. I stopped taking sciences after 10th grade, availing myself of a school policy by which enrollment in A.P. classes on a certain number of subjects entitled a student to choose abject ignorance in others. I would be a better person, I counseled myself, if I practiced finding comfort, as Keats put it, in the universe’s ‘‘uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’’
I am here to tell you that this notion is false. The most important part of the bread-making process is neither kneading nor not-kneading, nor measuring with scientific accuracy, nor any technique per se. The most important thing is to leave the dough alone for long periods of time, over and over again, which is easy to do.
At the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Catharine A. Conley has a lofty job title: planetary protection officer.
That conjures to mind shades-wearing Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the “Men in Black” movies. Indeed, on her first day on the job, nine years ago, she was presented with a pair of sunglasses.
But with no extraterrestrial invasions on the horizon, Dr. Conley’s job is not so much protecting Earth from aliens as protecting other planets from Earth.
Everone I know is reading, or means to read, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Elena Ferrante. These authors have very little in common, by the way such things are typically measured: they share neither genre, style, gender, race, nor nationality. What they do share is the sense of personal urgency, the hunger, they’ve created in readers. What does this response say about these writers, seemingly so different, and about all of us who have brought them together in our book bags, in mind and feeling? How have they arrested and occupied our attention?
The magic of Jamie’s nineteen hinds is that they are not magic. They’re free and easy and glad-to-be-female, with no hunter – not even a rutting stag – to bother them, or not in the quicksilver moments of the poem. And yet you might read a hint of almost Rilkean challenge in the deer’s invitation: “Come to me,/ you’ll be happy, but never go home”. In other words, perhaps, “You must change your life.”
Garth Risk Hallberg’s “City on Fire” is a big, stunning first novel and an amazing virtual reality machine, whisking us back to New York City in the 1970s, that gritty, graffitied era when the city tottered on the brink of bankruptcy, when the Bronx was burning and Central Park was a shabby hunting ground for muggers, and the Son of Sam was roaming the streets. Punk rock was being born downtown and starving artists could still rent garrets in Midtown. Vinyl was the music delivery system of choice, writers still wrote on typewriters, researchers relied on microfilm, and no one anyone knew had a cellphone.
It all started after she was immediately struck by “how quiet the subway is in New York. People have this unspoken code of conduct, even on packed trains,” she explains. “You have this image of New Yorkers – so chatty, and curious, and I thought: ‘It can’t be that I’m standing in front of all these people and not talking to them.’” Books became an excuse to start conversations – and she is amazed at “how much of people’s lives is connected to the books they’re reading”. The project is giving Beutter Cohen, who “above ground” works for mental health start-up Everbliss, a new sense of purpose. “Older New Yorkers have told me that I’m bringing something back to the subway that is getting lost.”
It is true that companies might try to take advantage of consumers and investors, perhaps with outright lies, perhaps with subtler forms of deception, perhaps by manipulating their emotions. But from the standpoint of standard economic thinking, that’s nothing to panic about. The first line of defense is competition itself—and the market’s invisible hand. Companies that lie, deceive, and manipulate people are not going to last long. The second line of defense is the law. If a company is really engaging in fraud or deception, government regulators might well get involved, and customers are likely to have a right to compensation. But for economists, competitive markets are generally trustworthy, and so the old Latin phrase retains its relevance: caveat emptor.
By emphasizing human fallibility, the group of scholars known as behavioral economists has raised a lot of doubts about this view. Their catalog of errors on the part of consumers and investors can be taken to identify a series of “behavioral market failures,” each of them calling for some kind of government response (such as information campaigns to promote healthy eating or graphic warnings to discourage smoking). But George Akerlof and Robert Shiller want to go far beyond behavioral economics, at least in its current form. They offer a much more general, and quite damning, account of why free markets and competition cause serious problems.
Think of one of your moderately expensive indulgences. Maybe it’s dinner once a week at a nice restaurant, or hard-to-get concert tickets. Or even a daily subscription to this newspaper. What if I could persuade you that the dollars you spent on these things could save the lives of exactly 43 people in a hungry African village, or rescue precisely 11 girls from sex trafficking in Asia? Would you give up your pleasure to rescue those distant strangers?
The “do-gooders” in Larissa MacFarquhar’s new book, “Strangers Drowning,” make these kinds of calculations every day. Obsessively. They sacrifice little luxuries and add up the lives they’ve saved. Then they wonder if they should give up more things they don’t need: cable television, having children, a new winter coat, that extra kidney they’ve been carrying around forever.
Do-gooders take something we all want to believe is quintessentially human—the willingness to extend ourselves to strangers—and place it in direct conflict with something that is even more fundamentally human: caring for our own. The result is a bit like a reverse version of the famed Uncanny Valley effect, in which a representation of a human being becomes more disturbing as its resemblance to an actual human being increases. Do-gooders are already human, of course, but as they ratchet up their selflessness, they begin, ever so slightly, to depart from the fold. They look like us and talk like us, but they abide by rules that we understand we could only adopt were we to abandon something that feels essential to ourselves.
Beijing-based author A Yi’s new novella A Perfect Crime achieves something we haven’t seen in Chinese fiction for a while — a refreshingly non-verbose, verb-driven, first-person narrative of taut tension (reflected brilliantly in Anna Holmwood’s translation). It’s a great contrast to much current Chinese literature, which tends to be overlong and riddled with tangential ramblings and philosophical musings. A Yi has gone the other way: his writing is pared back, short, driven by pace, and very to the point.
Several times while reading “The Food Lab,” the new cookbook from J. Kenji López-Alt, I wished I had the text in a keyword-searchable format—I wanted to put on my Internet goggles and surf. López-Alt’s native format is the blog: he is the managing culinary director at Serious Eats, a Web site geared toward the dedicated home chef. His column, which shares a name and many recipes with the book, comprises an extensive body of work on the science behind cooking. Both are long and jaw-droppingly thorough—perfect for scanning and scrolling. Among digitally inclined amateur home cooks, Kenji’s methods and recommendations have become indispensable kitchen wisdom. As Eater’s Helen Rosner puts it, “When I need to make sure I’m using the best possible technique, my usual m.o. is to google the thing I’m trying to figure out, plus the word ‘Kenji.’ ” (Like Martha, he is known by his familiar name.)
This contemporary novelisation is the first in a series of reimaginings of Shakespeare’s works by prominent authors to coincide with the 400th anniversary of his death next year. There’s a mania for rewriting the classics at the moment but, as Winterson points out, Shakespeare borrowed many of his plots from other people’s – including The Winter’s Tale, whose elements came from a play by Robert Greene – so you have to imagine he would have applauded the project.
We know how to get to Mars. We know how to land on Mars. Now comes the hard part: figuring out how to leave.
The inception of Freedom was curiously bound up with the death of my friend David Foster Wallace. In June 2008, after struggling for six years to get a new novel off the ground, I went to Berlin and barricaded myself in a room at the American Academy. There’s something about Germany – maybe its distance from America, or the seriousness of its literature, or my immersion in a language that I understand but don’t write in – that seems to help me start writing a novel. I wrote the first pages of my first book in Berlin, early chapters of my second novel in Bavaria. In 2007, I went back to Berlin to try to get Freedom moving. I ended up with nothing usable, and I became so discouraged that I set aside the project for a full year.
As the storytelling grows more manic, what comes through clearly — much too clearly — is the novel’s controlling theme: an allegory about humanity’s struggle between superstition and reason.
While we don’t know the answers to that question, we should, at the very least, be skeptical. There is no example so far where an extrapolation as grand as that associated with string theory, not grounded by direct experimental or observational results, has provided a successful model of nature. In addition, the more we learn about string theory, the more complicated it appears to be, and many early expectations about its universalism may have been optimistic.
At least as likely is the possibility that nature, as Feynman once speculated, could be like an onion, with a huge number of layers. As we peel back each layer we may find that our beautiful existing theories get subsumed in a new and larger framework. So there would always be new physics to discover, and there would never be a final, universal theory that applies for all scales of space and time, without modification.
This novel way of viewing both spacetime and the stuff in it implies a novel way of viewing ourselves. Our thoughts, our emotions, our self-awareness, and that deep existential feeling “I am”—none of this feels the least bit mathematical to me. Yet we too are made of the same kinds of elementary particles that make up everything else in our physical world, which I’ve argued is purely mathematical. How can we reconcile these two perspectives?
Where will those explorations happen? I don’t know. But I do know that print has endured and continues to endure for good reason. Our relationships to our most meaningful books are long and textured. And until we can trust our digital reading platforms, until the value propositions of digital are made clearer, until the notes and data we produce within them is more accessible and malleable, physical books will remain at the core of our working libraries for a long time coming.
What do we attend to first in a poem: music or meaning? Reading this one, I was so enthralled by the rhythm and sound that the lines carried me along before I registered what was being said — a seamless blend of content and form.
Paul Allen has been waiting for the emergence of intelligent machines for a very long time. As a young boy, Allen spent much of his time in the library reading science-fiction novels in which robots manage our homes, perform surgery and fly around saving lives like superheroes. In his imagination, these beings would live among us, serving as our advisers, companions and friends.
Now 62 and worth an estimated $17.7 billion, the Microsoft co-founder is using his wealth to back two separate philanthropic research efforts at the intersection of neuroscience and artificial intelligence that he hopes will hasten that future.
There is something that Ina Garten knows about what we want, or who we want to be, or how we want to feel. "There isn't a letter, there isn't a recipe, there's no photograph, there isn't a font, there isn't a color, there isn't a detail that I don't totally do myself," Ina said, so that's how it's done.
Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life,” published in March, turned out to be one of the most talked-about novels of the summer. It’s a big, emotional, trauma-packed read with a voluptuous prose style that wavers between the exquisite and the overdone. A potboiler about very intense male friendship, it’s a sui generis phenomenon that became a runaway hit. And it is now a shortlisted contender for the Man Booker Prize, which will be awarded on Oct. 13.
Languages can be profoundly weird. Well, depending on your point of view. The majority of us grow up speaking languages with millions of speakers who reinforce our inherited linguistic understanding of what is conventional and normal, but it’s often the outlier languages, the ones that seem so different from our own, that can tell us a thing or two about the boundaries of human linguistic diversity—what human language can and can never be.
My mother taught me many things, including, in the end, how to die.