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Archive for January 2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Following Time’s Arrow To The Universe’s Biggest Mystery, by Frank Wilczek, Wired

One might expect that a fact as basic as the existence of time’s arrow would be embedded in the fundamental laws of physics. But the opposite is true. If you could take a movie of subatomic events, you’d find that the backward-in-time version looks perfectly reasonable. Or, put more precisely: The fundamental laws of physics—up to some tiny, esoteric exceptions, as we’ll soon discuss—will look to be obeyed, whether we follow the flow of time forward or backward. In the fundamental laws, time’s arrow is reversible.

Does Anybody Still Loathe Phil Collins? (Even ‘In The Air Tonight’?), by Charles aaron, New York Times

For many, many years, Collins was pegged as the embodiment of bloated, Boomer dad-rock, with waning album sales, a jazz big band and weak covers of Cyndi Lauper and Leo Sayer songs. Lately, though, he’s been the subject of countless revisionist think pieces in which writers valorize his technical gifts as a drummer for the prog-rock pilgrims Genesis, emphasize his collaborations with Brian Eno, identify him as the secret patriarch of hip modern trends or express their incredulity that older generations ever denigrated the man’s output in the first place. How did this successful, gifted musician ever become such a whipping boy? Why were his treacly ballads and mild toe-tappers picked out as the ultimate symbols of consumerist vapidity? Was it just the cheap envy of older critics — so unlike today’s enlightened listeners, with our democratic embrace of pop that surgically strikes the pleasure centers of the masses? These windmill-tilting arguments have been trickling out steadily in recent years, following the lead of hip-hop tastemakers and Collins fanboys like Questlove and Kanye West. These days, you speak ill of Phil at your own risk.

Of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Martin Luther King, And Steven Levy… Steven Levy?, by Bruce Buschel, The Cauldron

In 1983, two baseball gods very nearly saw their legacies derailed. For one young reporter, though, they were still the legends of his youth.

In 'City Of Blades,' The Gods Are Dead. So What Happens Next?, by Jason Sheehan, NPR

Imagine if you could kill God. Literally just roll right up on him and shoot him in the face.

Now imagine that it's gods, plural. And while putting them down isn't by any means easy, it is possible. You can kill them. All of them. And free the world from their dominion, their miracles, their slavery and oppression. Kill the gods and the world is re-set, sans divinity, sans magic. The playing field, once mountainous with privilege and lack, is now level. Just so long as those gods stay dead.

In Other Words By Jhumpa Lahiri Review – A Pulitzer Prize Winner Gives Up Writing And Speaking In English, by Tessa Hadley, The Guardian

The author of Interpreter of Maladies and The Lowland has written a book about learning Italian – in Italian. She wanted to start over again with language.

What An Elephant’s Tooth Teaches Us About Evolution, by Alice Roberts, The Guardian

The most striking characteristics of living elephants – trunks and tusks – had appeared in their gomphothere ancestors by 20 million years ago. For a large animal with a short neck, the trunk was an extremely useful development, allowing these proboscideans to grasp leaves and bring them to the mouth, thus providing an evolutionary advantage.

Wild Swimming, by Elodie Harper

Saturday, January 30, 2016

New York Is Going To Turn Off Niagara Falls. Here’s How, by Eric Adams, Wired

Sometime within the next five to seven years, a section of Niagara Falls will go dry. This isn’t a case of the great western drought creeping east, but rather New York’s plan to, for lack of a better term, turn off the famed waterfall. The most astonishing part of the whole idea is that it’s not nearly as crazy, difficult, expensive, or novel as it may sound.

There’s an official, underwhelming word for the procedure: dewatering. And it’s been done before. The American Falls section of the continent’s greatest water feature was dammed for about five months in 1969 so engineers and researchers could study erosion of the bedrock. Horseshoe Falls, the much larger section that’s mostly in Canadian territory, wasn’t affected then, and won’t be this go-around, either. The blockage was billed as a once in a lifetime event, sparking a surge of tourists eager to gape at the novelty of the craggy, usually submerged floor and the 70-to-100-foot-tall stone cliff over which millions of gallons of water usually plummet every hour. Now, it’s happening again.

Harry Arter: ‘Every Single Game Now I Go Out To Play For Her’, by Stuart James, The Guardian

It was a couple of minutes before kick-off against Manchester United and the Bournemouth players had come together for their pre-match huddle. The same bubbly character always delivers the pep-talk – a few lines to get the adrenaline pumping – yet this time Harry Arter could tell his team-mates were wondering whether he would be able to get the words out. Only two days earlier his fiancee, Rachel, had given birth to their stillborn daughter.

‘The Lightkeepers,’ By Abby Geni, by Francine Prose, New York Times

Anyone who has been traumatized by Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” — a high percentage of its viewers, I’d guess — may hesitate to read beyond the early pages of Abby Geni’s first novel, “The Lightkeepers.” The heroine, a photographer named Miranda, is leaving the island where she has spent the previous year, where the sea gulls now seem to be trying to make sure that no one gets out alive. “A gull slams against Miranda’s temple, knocking her off balance. . . . Wings thunder around her shoulders.” But readers who persevere beyond this unnerving beginning will find themselves carried along by a sturdy, rather old-fashioned thriller ramped up by some modern, ecologically themed plot twists.

‘Thomas Murphy,’ By Roger Rosenblatt, by Brain Doyle, New York Times

Some novels delight their readers with an intricate and irresistible plot, in which pace and clues and the stumble of events offer an alluring puzzle. Others are wonderful at evoking a time, a place, an emotion. Still others are notable primarily for the way the author creates unforgettable characters — beings so real, so complex, so absorbing that you think about them long after you finish the book, and you cannot quite believe they will no longer be holding your attention, provoking that startled pang of understanding and fellow feeling.

This last feat, the unforgettable character, is the prime virtue of Roger Rosenblatt’s novel “Thomas Murphy,” for the aging poet who gives the book its name — whiskey-soaked; cheerful; mourning his late beloved wife, Oona; haunted by his bleak Irish childhood; best friends with his 4-year-old grandson, William — is the novel. He narrates it, he drives the ephemeral plot, he philosophizes and ruminates and remembers, he occasionally scrawls a poem. He is slowly losing his memory; he may soon be evicted from his vast rent-controlled New York City apartment; he is lured into another man’s whopping lie, which leads, perhaps, just maybe, to new love; and that, essentially, describes the entire arc of the narrative.

Dinosaurs On Other Planets By Danielle McLaughlin Review – A Quietly Dazzling Debut, by Catherine Taylor, The Guardian

here is currently a thrilling, seemingly unstoppable tide of new Irish writing emerging through small literary magazines and presses, with authors such as Sara Baume, Colin Barrett and Mary Costello going on to achieve widespread critical success. Joining them this year will surely be Danielle McLaughlin, whose short stories are set in an Ireland both contemporary and disturbingly unfamiliar. Her near-faultless debut collection, originally published by Stinging Fly, deals primarily with psychological alienation, and the desolate upheaval of humans in crisis.

In Defense Of Instagramming Your Food, by Megan Garber, The Atlantic

The bright bite of lemon juice; the earthy umami of an oil-roasted mushroom; the sour-sweet of dark chocolate—these are experiences that people across cultures and races and genders and generations can understand. They are relatively apolitical; they are relatively transcendent. Eating is biologically banal, but dining—the ritual, the event—is deep and social and shared.

Rewarding Greed In Men, by Kirstine Ong Muslim

Friday, January 29, 2016

An Oral History Of The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, by Margaret Lazarus Dean, Popular Mechanics

"No! No! No! They don't mean the shuttle! They don't mean the shuttle!"​​

Before “The War On Drugs”, by Josh Feldman and Temma Ehrenfeld, Los Angeles Review of Books

Much of what we believe about Prohibition is wrong. In the prevailing mythology, militant church ladies, some of them wielding hatchets, achieved a complete ban on alcohol. The ban was so despised, the story goes, that liquor flowed even more freely in a wild outbreak of speakeasies, and so the “noble experiment” failed.

But “Prohibition” was never a complete ban: It was much easier to drink spirits legally under the 18th Amendment than to smoke pot legally today. You could get a prescription for medicinal whiskey in any state, drink liquor you had stocked up before the law went into effect, or make your own wine. Not only was it not a complete ban, it did not fail — at least not as a public health measure. Liquor became scarcer, American drinking habits shifted, and alcohol consumption remained relatively low for the next three decades. Another misconception: we assume that Americans drank like fish before (and during) Prohibition, much more than we do now. In fact, we now drink about as much as we did in 1910.

Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State is dry and tendentious, like certain counties in Tennessee. But anyone with a serious interest in drug policy should read her book to understand how we arrived at our present tragedy.

This Is The Ritual By Rob Doyle Review – Sex, Drugs And Nietzsche, by Mark Blacklock, The Guardian

It’s a bold opening: a story that sets up a metafictional diving board and leaps from it with misanthropic glee. I cackled at Finnegan’s takedown of the tourists who flock to Dublin for Bloomsday: “fat, mental penguins”, indeed. As the Ulysses approaches port, however, Finnegan lapses into self-absorbed mumbling and doubt creeps in. Readerly doubt follows. Is the diving board a plank? Is this collection itself in the paltry realistic mode? This isn’t going to be deliberately shit, is it?

First Bite By Bee Wilson Review – How We Can Change Our Tastes To Eat Better, by Steven Shapin, The Guardian

The overarching question is how we acquire our tastes and what, if anything, might be done to change them – both for our kids and for ourselves. That is a refreshingly different way of structuring a discussion of how we eat now and how we should eat better.

I Won't Be That Foolish, by Virginia Smith Rice

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Useless Agony Of Going Offline, by Matthew J. X. Malady, The New Yorker

Just as our team’s quarterback threw a devastating interception, my wife’s iPhone, perched at the edge of the couch, made an odd sound. It was a FaceTime video call from her mother, in New York. She wanted us to watch as my brother-in-law opened a holiday gift. At one point during the call, my wife pointed at the TV and offered up an exaggerated thumbs-down: the couple on the show had decided to go with an all-white motif for their dining room; it looked sterile. “So lame,” she mouthed to me, out of view of the FaceTime camera. Right about then, a tweet from Slate caught my eye: “Man Distracted by Electronic Device Falls to His Death Off San Diego Cliff.”

The Man Who Tried To Kill Math In America, by A.K. Whitney, The Atlantic

American schools allowed an entire generation of students to fall behind mathematically.

Topography Of A Novel: The Suicide Of Claire Bishop, by Carmiel Banasky, The Guardian

This pain accompanied me through my novel writing process. The Suicide of Claire Bishop took six years from conception to bookshelf. Most of this time, I was on the road at writing residencies. I didn’t have a home, no desk to call my own. But it was the most luxurious homelessness you could imagine: a gorgeous view out every new window, lunch delivered to your door, a constant community of artists and writers. This lifestyle was addicting, and I didn’t stop until I had finished my novel. At my last residency, I looked around at the musty, supposedly haunted room – the Springfield Art Association’s Edwards Place, one of the oldest homes in America, which was beautiful but really not meant to be occupied – and thought: I think I need a home now.

Review: Facing Marriage And Befriending A Squirrel In ‘The Portable Veblen’, by Jennifer Senior, New York Times

“The Portable Veblen” is a novel of such festive originality that it would be a shame to miss.

In Praise Of Artificial Food, by Rachel Laudan, Aeon

Artificial food. That’s what humans eat. I say this to anyone who will listen. ‘Oh yes,’ comes the reply. ‘The more’s the pity. Cheap, nasty, imitation food-like substances. It’s high time to return to natural food.’ But, no, I mean artificial in its original sense of man-made, produced by humans, artfully created.

The Large Cool Store, by Philip Larkin

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

'Lolita' And Lollipops: What Nabokov Had To Say About Nosh, by Nina Martyris, NPR

As a master of the eccentric metaphor, the great Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov used food to fine effect in his writing.

There was, for instance, that one word he used to capture the texture, tinge and luster of his watery green eyes — "oysterous." And that icky image in Lolita, of motel floors burnished with the "golden-brown glaze of fried-chicken bones," that somehow made those shiny floors complicit in the squalor of pedophilia.

But when it came to eating, he really couldn't be bothered.

Bill Bryson’s ‘The Road To Little Dribbling’, by Alida Becker, New York Times

“I watched the rain beat down on the road outside and told myself that one day this would be 20 years ago.” Why on earth would the weary traveler who consoled himself with this notion, marooned in a shuttered-tight, sodden Welsh mining town, even consider hitting the road again? Anyone who followed Bill Bryson on his trek around Britain in “Notes From a Small Island,” published here exactly 20 years ago, will instantly understand. From the very beginning, Bryson, an American from Iowa who has lived and worked and established a family on the far side of the Atlantic, has responded to his British surroundings with an irresistible mix of frustration and fascination. That first travelogue was inspired by what turned out to be a temporary move back to the United States. This new one, which begins with Bryson taking a challenging (and, he mischievously observes, not entirely accurate) test to qualify for dual citizenship, has him questioning how much he really understands modern Britain, “a country that I don’t altogether recognize.” Has he just become older and crankier? Or have the places he first knew as a young man really changed? There’s a simple way to find out.

Don’t Distract Me, by Molly Young, New York Times

Cal Newport’s DEEP WORK: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World argues that dithering on our phones and inboxes incinerates our ability to focus on activities of cognitive worth. Newport, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, also includes texting, social media and “the shiny tangle of infotainment sites like BuzzFeed and Reddit” in the category of things that disrupt our attention spans.

To defeat these enemies, Newport suggests a variety of tactics meant to slice out distractions and “wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual ­capacity.” This promise is highly appealing for people in my exact category of intelligence, which is: just smart enough to know that we fall far short of how smart we’d wish to be.

Review: A Widow Documents Her Loss In ‘The Iceberg’, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

The story she has to tell is doubly dark because, when Mr. Lubbock discovered he had an aggressive cancer, the couple’s first child, a son, was just 18 months old. Thus “The Iceberg” is a story about one of the two men in the author’s life losing his wits while the other begins to gain his. Tragedy set beside joy throws both into topographical relief.

This book is about love and witness. “There is going to be destruction: the obliteration of a person, his intellect, his experience and his agency,” Ms. Coutts writes. “I am to watch it. This is my part.”

Meeting Death With Words, by Tom Rachman, New Yorker

memoir of dying is exceptionally wrenching because we know the end at the beginning, and so meet with an effortful, pulsing person who will soon be neither. Pages rarely tremble with such life as when expressing their author’s death.

The Disappearing Roadside Hamburger Stands Of Downtown Los Angeles, by Max Podemski, The Guardian

Los Angeles is, of course, inextricably associated with the automobile, and it was here that many suburban building types – from modernist homes to fast-food restaurants – were pioneered. But it is changing: five transit lines are being built, and cranes loom over the city’s boulevards. The epicentre of this transition is the once moribund downtown, where a denser and wealthier city is displacing, among other things, one of its old, car-oriented icons.

Ode To A Potato Masher, by Jessica Greenbaum

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

It's Always Sunny In 'Philadelphia', by Andrew Thompson, The Awl

Only one longstanding Philadelphia print publication has experienced a largely upward trajectory in recent years. Over the past three years, Philadelphia, a glossy magazine aimed at an affluent and overwhelmingly white audience in a city that is forty-four percent black and has a poverty rate of more than twenty-five percent, has more than tripled its web traffic from six hundred thousand visitors per month to nearly two-and-a-half million, and increased its digital revenue by fifty percent. Tim Haas, the magazine’s director of digital operations, showed me a graph of Facebook engagements-per-week with Philly media: received about twenty-six thousand, with close behind, at twenty-one thousand. (The next highest site received about five thousand.) In other words, the print media market, occupied by multiple dailies and weeklies, has been supplanted online by a duopoly played out between the assets of a non-profit and a glossy magazine.

Wigwag: The Magazine That Lex Built, by Mary Norris, New Yorker

In the late winter or early spring of 1989, I got a phone call from Lex Kaplen, who had been a fact checker at The New Yorker. I was on the copydesk, and had been there for seven years, a Biblical amount of time. Lex was eating as we talked—I pictured a jelly doughnut. He asked if I was interested in joining him and others who had been colleagues at The New Yorker on the startup of a new magazine called Wigwag.

A Lonely Story: The Perils Of Writing In Solitude, by Adrian McKinty, The Guardian

The life of the professional novelist is an agreeable one: you make your own hours, you do your best work in your pyjamas and Ugg boots, and no boss glares at you when you have crisps and Guinness for lunch. The only occasion when things can get a little tricky is when the dreaded writer’s block comes a-calling. I’ve always liked the Charles Bukowski solution: “Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t really work when you’re a mystery novelist. Last August I had a deadline looming and the solution to the ending of my book was nowhere in sight. I decided that I wasn’t the problem: the problem was my family, with their annoying requests for daddy time, food and so on.

Who’s Afraid Of Gender-Neutral Bathrooms?, by Jeannie Suk, New Yorker

In the middle of taking the bar exam at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, in New York City, along with thousands of aspiring lawyers, I had to go to the bathroom. The enormous line for the women’s restroom looked like it would take at least a half hour. There was no line for the men’s restroom. I walked in, passed my male counterparts at a row of urinals, used one of several empty stalls, then returned to my desk. I felt that my decision to forgo the women’s bathroom made a difference to my passing the exam, and that the much longer wait for women than men during an all-important test for entry to the legal profession was obviously unfair.

There is now, however, an active debate around what bathrooms we should be able to use. A recently proposed Indiana law would make it a crime for a person to enter a single-sex public restroom that does not match the person’s “biological gender,” defined in terms of chromosomes and sex at birth. The punishment could be up to a year in jail and a five-thousand-dollar fine. Similar laws proposed in several other states have not passed. These proposals attempt to counter recent moves in many states to allow transgender people to access bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s same-sex-marriage decision, last summer, these skirmishes may give the sense of moving the L.G.B.T.-equality debate from the sublime to the ridiculous. But the implications of the controversy go far beyond bathrooms.

Girlfriend, Mother, Professor?, by Carol Hay, New York Times

I’m not their mother. And I’m not their girlfriend either.

I’m their university professor. At times I encounter students, both male and female, who don’t quite grasp this, and I consequently find myself in a whole host of awkward situations, trying to subtly remind them that I’m neither going to make their bed nor go to bed with them.

Chop, Chop, Chop, by Adam Mars-Jones, London Review of Books

Max Porter’s compact and splendid book, a polyphonic narrative with elements of the prose poem, cracks open a set of emotions that has become spuriously coherent and tractable. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, in which a being that resembles Ted Hughes’s Crow appears to a bereaved husband and his sons (the father happens to be writing a critical book about Hughes), qualifies as a novel by the familiar logic of its not fitting any other category.

The Insanely Complicated Logistics Of Cage-Free Eggs For All, by Jennifer Chaussee, Wired

You may not have noticed while you were scarfing your avocado toast, but 2015 was the year of the egg, at least as far as the food industry was concerned. An Avian flu outbreak briefly sent egg prices soaring. Meanwhile, McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food chain and one of the biggest egg buyers anywhere, announced it would ditch its conventionally farmed eggs and sell nothing but cage-free eggs in all of its US and Canadian restaurants. By the end of the year, just about every major fast food chain and a handful of multinational food companies had followed suit, including Subway, Starbucks, Nestle and most recently Wendy’s, which joined in just this month.

But these announcements had a catch. The companies said the switch to cage-free would take anywhere from five years to a decade to complete. How could it possibly take ten years to let a bunch of chickens out of their cages?

Chainsaw, by John Kinsella

Monday, January 25, 2016

Free Love Or Genocide? The Trouble With Utopias, by Tobias Jones, The Guardian

A quarter of a century ago, the whole idea of utopia seemed irredeemably sullied. At the start of the 1990s, the largest social experiment in human history – the USSR – imploded, and with it went the notion that imagining a radically different society was a serious activity. It seemed that the rewards of such experiments were always so enticing that genocide inevitably ensued.

That was the lesson drawn from any totalitarian regime informed by the highest (or lowest) idealism: the Khmer Rouge, the Videla regime in Argentina, Nazi Germany, you name it. Back then, it was thought best not to fantasise too much about a better world, but to learn to live in this one. The academic and political atmosphere in the 1990s was decidedly pragmatic, rather than optimistic. It was an era in which the liberal democracies celebrated (prematurely, of course) “the end of history”. The story of humanity was a march to freedom, we were told, and we had arrived. This was as good as it got, and the idealists and unrealists should stop fantasising, because it was a dangerous hobby.

Who Pays Writers?, by Maggie Doherty, Dissent

Nearly half a century later, we find ourselves at a different sort of crisis point. Radical literary experimentation continues, but it has become the privilege of a few. In Barth’s day, a robust welfare state supported writers. Public patronage programs provided new classes of Americans with the resources needed to write and, through financial support, enabled them to take aesthetic risks. The upshot was a more diverse literary world—racially, politically, and aesthetically.

But times have changed. No longer supported by the state, today’s writers must meet market demands. Those who succeed often do so by innovating no more than is necessary. Many of today’s most celebrated writers marry experimentalism with accessibility; they produce prize-winning fiction with just a dash of formal excitement, enough to catch the eye of cultural gatekeepers but not so much that it renders a work unmarketable. They forge aesthetic compromise and favor political consensus. Their work reassures readers more often than it unsettles them. This isn’t so much bad literature as boring literature. After all, what’s more exhausting than reading, time and again, experimentation you’ve come to expect?

The Powers That Were, by Paul Krugman, New York Times

Robert J. Gordon, a distinguished macro­economist and economic historian at Northwestern, has been arguing for a long time against the techno-optimism that saturates our culture, with its constant assertion that we’re in the midst of revolutionary change. Starting at the height of the dot-com frenzy, he has repeatedly called for perspective: Developments in information and communication technology, he has insisted, just don’t measure up to past achievements. Specifically, he has argued that the I.T. revolution is less important than any one of the five Great Inventions that powered economic growth from 1870 to 1970: electricity, urban sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine and modern communication.

In “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” Gordon doubles down on that theme, declaring that the kind of rapid economic growth we still consider our due, and expect to continue forever, was in fact a one-time-only event. First came the Great Inventions, almost all dating from the late 19th century. Then came refinement and exploitation of those inventions — a process that took time, and exerted its peak effect on economic growth between 1920 and 1970. Everything since has at best been a faint echo of that great wave, and Gordon doesn’t expect us ever to see anything similar.

‘This Should Be Written In The Present Tense,’ By Helle Helle, by Jonathan Russell Clark, New York Times

For the last 20 years, Helle Helle’s novels and short stories have made her a star in her native Denmark, where she regularly receives awards and acclaim. Denmark is also where, according to her biography, Helle “lives in a forest.” What a fittingly magical dwelling for Helle, who — judging from her first novel to be translated into English, “This Should Be ­Written in the Present Tense” — has enchanting gifts as a storyteller.

The Dream Of The ‘90s Is Alive On TV: “The X-Files,” “Full House” And “Twin Peaks” Revivals Feed Off A Lost Sense Of Mystery, by Sonia Saraiya, Salon

What were the ‘90s? They were a world without our conveniences, and therefore, a world with a lot more mystery. Much of audiences’ fascination with the era is something like suppressed wonder at how anyone navigated adulthood without these devices and repositories of knowledge; even though, as we have discovered, an interfaced world is its own set of problems.

Why Bingeing On Health Foods Won’t Boost Your Immune System, by Dara Mohammadi, The Guardian

There are only two ways the human body can deal with the invading pathogens and infections that can cause colds and other illnesses – and neither involves vitamins or ‘superfoods’ that claim to offer protection.

How Stanley Tucci's Big Night Helped Kick Off An American Dining Revolution, by Matt Gross, The Guardian

The 1996 film about an Italian restaurant in the 1950s is a ‘cultural milestone’, says Mario Batali – and it foresees the future of the business.

La Beauté, by Charles Baudelaire

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Building An Impossible Clock, by Shayla Love, The Atlantic

The 18th-century horologist John Harrison claimed that he could make the world's most accurate pendulum clock, but his methods were scorned for hundreds of years—until someone proved him right.

How Larry Page’s Obsessions Became Google’s Business, by Conor Dougherty, New York Times

Three years ago, Charles Chase, an engineer who manages Lockheed Martin’s nuclear fusion program, was sitting on a white leather couch at Google’s Solve for X conference when a man he had never met knelt down to talk to him.

They spent 20 minutes discussing how much time, money and technology separated humanity from a sustainable fusion reaction — that is, how to produce clean energy by mimicking the sun’s power — before Mr. Chase thought to ask the man his name.

“I’m Larry Page,” the man said. He realized he had been talking to Google’s billionaire co-founder and chief executive.

The Value Of The Novel By Peter Boxall Review – Will Self Is Wrong, The Novel Is Thriving, by Lara Feigel, The Guardian

Now Peter Boxall has set out to defend the novel against Self’s charges in terms that draw partly on Lawrence. Boxall claims that the novel is ideally suited to capturing 21st-century life. He argues convincingly that Self ignores the fact that, historically, the novel is a genre that has derived its power precisely from its precariousness, from the tremulations described by Lawrence.

The Secret Meaning Of Ghost Stories, by Hephzibah Anderson, BBC

When we think of supernatural yarns we think also of HP Lovecraft, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Oliver Onions and others, all of them male. In recent months, a series of books by female authors have been published to challenge this. Gillian Flynn’s novella, The Grownups, tells the story of a sham psychic, a troubled child, and a house that seems to be home to a malevolent spirit. Reading it is like having an icicle dropped down your back. Lorna Gibb’s debut novel A Ghost’s Story fictionalises the life of a Victorian séance staple, Katie King, and Catriona Ward’s Rawblood tells a gothic tale of a cursed family.

The Cult Of Marie Kondo, by Penelope Green, New York Times

Now 31, KonMari, as she’s known, exhorts you to ask yourself, “Do your things spark joy?” If not, you must thank them for their service, and send them packing.

It’s a liberating manifesto, though in practice it can take months. (This reporter once lost an entire weekend to the KonMari method.) Handle each object to properly gauge whether it truly thrills. Ms. Kondo suggests giving your clothes a hug, and mimed doing so as the audience gently applauded.

Venus Flytraps Are Even Creepier Than We Thought, by Ed Yong, The Atlantic

If you accidentally get transformed into a fly, and get caught in a Venus flytrap, here is some valuable advice: Don’t panic.

“If you just sit there and wait, the next morning, the trap will open and you can leave,” says Ranier Hedrich from the University of Würzburg. “It you panic, you induce a deadly cycle of disintegration.”

The Secret Life Of Commuters, by Don Harris, Washington Post

True confession: I covertly photograph fellow Metro passengers during my daily commutes. Crowded buses and subways are my venues of choice, where I shoot mainly from the hip with my point and shoot camera.

Transmission, by Rachel Richardson

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Should Fiction Be Timeless? Pop Culture References In Contemporary Novels, by Kevin Pickard, Electric Lit

Should fiction be timeless? It was a debate that became especially heated in the 1980s, as a younger generation of writers, raised on corporate advertising and the burgeoning brand-ification of America, attempted to portray the daily consumption of pop culture and corporate sponsorship that was now inescapable. Older writers (who were often the teachers of the younger generation’s MFA workshops) found this tic annoying, and believed writers should excise any references that would “date” their fiction.

The Noise Of Time By Julian Barnes Review – How Shostakovich Survived Stalin, by James Lasdun, The Guardian

In part, The Noise of Time offers itself as a cubist biography in the manner of Flaubert’s Parrot, cycling and recycling choice vignettes through memory and reflection as well as real time, to create an intimately illuminating montage of Shostakovich’s life. It is immediately engaging at this level. Barnes surrounds his anguished central figure with supporting characters drawn from the fascinatingly coupled worlds of music and politics.

Don’t Tidy Your Room, by Uri Bram, The Smart Set

When I was a teenager I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Instead of taking this beautiful book as a path to something useful, like a career in theoretical physics, I mainly used it as an excuse not to tidy my room. And I don’t mean I sat there screaming “Mum! Not now, I’m reading a book!”: if I understood it correctly, A Brief History of Time said that tidying my room would (in an absurdly, ridiculously tiny way) hasten the end of the universe. Surely, I argued, a tidy room wasn’t worth that…

That the argument was asinine should go without saying, but an argument can be asinine and still technically correct.

Seattle Bookstores Face New Threat From Amazon: A Brick-and-mortar Location, by Julia Carrie Wong, The Guardian

A 116-year-old independent bookstore in Seattle is feeling the threat from Amazon. But this time the risk comes not from the online behemoth – but the physical bookstore that the company opened just two months ago.

Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth Of Winds, by Rose Lemberg

Friday, January 22, 2016

Work Imitates Life, by Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey, Aeon

The utopian workplace is here, complete with roof gardens, therapists and time to nap. Can the employee ever escape?

No Parking Here, by Clive Thompson, Mother Jones

Social critics often complain that the interstate highway system deformed the United States by encouraging sprawl. But the metastasizing of parking has had equally profound effects. On an aesthetic level, it makes cities grimly ugly. Economically, it is expensive to build. A study by the Sightline Institute found that at least 15 percent of the price of rent in Seattle stemmed from developers' cost of building parking.

Book Review: John Irving's Avenue Of Mysteries, by Nicole Abadee, AFR

Avenue of Mysteries features Irving's usual rollcall of bizarre characters and tragicomic events. To say more would be to spoil the fun – let's just say few readers will easily forget the inflatable sex doll of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the aquarium murders, or the hippy with a tattoo of the American flag across his backside. Not to mention Eduardo, the Iowan missionary with a penchant for self-flagellation; Flor the transvestite prostitute (Irving finds sexual outsiders especially engaging); or the statue of the Virgin Mary with her "darting eyes".

Dodge Rose By Jack Cox Review – Australian Debut Is A Rich And Unusual Anti-novel, by JS Tenant, The Guardian

Even prior to publication rumours had been circulating about Dodge Rose, the first book by Australian writer Jack Cox, retrieved from the slush pile at the offices of Dalkey Archive Press. It is an original, at times brilliant work that in its avoidance of cliche, its restorative effect on language, actually does recall Beckett. And it is more than an exercise in language; it ends up subverting the very ideas of nationhood, memory and ownership.

Friends Of Dead Poets Society, by John Cotter, The Smart Set

For Levis — who died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1996 at the age of 49 — posthumanity has been complex.

Striking Similes, by Dan Piepenbring, The Paris Review

There’s an abysmal simile making the rounds online right now, drawn from a certain splashy literary debut: “Breasts like bronzed mangoes.” Yes, it comes courtesy of a male writer, of course; and yes, Google suggests it’s the only use of the phrase “bronzed mangoes” in recorded history. Even so: as an object of ridicule, this is what you’d have to call low-hanging fruit.

The awful simile is a mainstay of literary prose. I don’t think we’ll ever be rid of it. Even with vigilant editing, meticulous revision, and a five-year terminal degree devoted to responsible acts of metaphor, we’d still see more than the occasional stinker. And why shouldn’t we?

Teaching: Just Like Performing Magic, by Jessica Lahey, The Atlantic

I asked Teller, a former Latin teacher and the silent half of the magical partnership known as Penn & Teller, about his years as an educator, and the role performance played in his teaching. Teller taught high school Latin for six years before he left to pursue a career in magic with Penn, and in the forty years since, the duo have won Emmys, Obies, and Writer’s Guild Awards, as well as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As our conversation meandered through Catullus, Vergil, Shakespeare, and education theory, he explained why he believes performance is an essential, elemental aspect of effective teaching.

Milk, Bread, And Eggs: The Trinity Of Winter-Storm Panic-Shopping, by Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic

Which led me to wonder: After people hear a message so ominous, and after reminders of their employers’ inclement-weather policies hit inboxes, what do they buy to prepare for spending a good deal of time indoors? I called up the managers of some grocery stores in DC to find out, and they all had more or less the same answer: bread, milk, and eggs. This holy trinity of winter-storm preparedness is not some quirk of the nation’s capital—bread, milk, and eggs are popular panic-buys everywhere from Knoxville to New England.

Biological Warfare: 1781, by Kim Roberts

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Why Humans Find It Hard To Do Away With Religion, by John Gray, New Statesman

The new atheists decry religion as a poisonous set of lies. But what if a belief in the supernatural is natural?

Killings, by Daniel Wallace, The Bitter Southerner

I cut its head off with a hatchet, the way people do. This chicken was the first thing I’d ever set out to kill, that I’d planned to kill over the course of many months, and the truth is it was weird, exciting, and sad. I didn’t kill it to eat (though it was eventually eaten, in a soup); I didn’t kill it because it was a troublemaking chicken (though it was a troublemaking chicken); and I didn’t kill it because it deserved to die (whatever that means). I killed it because I’d never killed a chicken before and I wanted to have that experience on my list of things I’d done, sort of like going to Venice, to be able to say, as I’m saying now, I killed a chicken.

‘A Very Sadistic Man’, by Janet Malcolm, New York Review of Books

In the introduction to his book, Bate—who is a professor of English literature at Oxford and the author of numerous books on Shakespeare, along with a biography of John Clare—offers a “cardinal rule” of literary biography: “The work and how it came into being is what is worth writing about, what is to be respected. The life is invoked in order to illuminate the work; the biographical impulse must be at one with the literary-critical.” And: “The task of the literary biographer is not so much to enumerate all the available facts as to select those outer circumstances and transformative moments that shape the inner life in significant ways.” But these fine words—are just fine words.

Yuki Chan In Brontë Country By Mick Jackson Review – A Tale Of Cultural Difference And Clairvoyance, by Miranda France, The Guardian

It is brave for a middle-aged male Lancastrian to put himself into the mind of a young Japanese woman, and to bring such disparate elements as clairvoyance, cultural difference and the Brontës together in a story. Yuki can be very funny when negotiating unfamiliar aspects of British life. If those elements don’t add up to a sustaining narrative, they do make for an enjoyable adventure in Brontëland and a novel that is beguilingly odd. And you have to admire a writer whose imagination can run as rampant as Heathcliff out on the moors.

Is France's Unloved AZERTY Keyboard Heading For The Scrapheap?, by Hugh Schofield, BBC

France's 100 year-old AZERTY keyboard - the equivalent of the English-language QWERTY - is to be reconfigured after the government ruled that it encourages bad writing.

Cotard’s Delusion, by Elisa Karbin

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Alexander Litvinenko: The Man Who Solved His Own Murder, by Luke Harding, The Guardian

The former Russian spy was poisoned with a cup of tea in a London hotel. Working with Scotland Yard detectives, as he lay dying, he traced the lethal substance to a former comrade in the Russian secret service.

The Woman Who Made Science Beautiful, by Andrea Wulf, The Atlantic

It was silkworms that first captured 13–year–old Maria Sibylla Merian’s attention. She would later graduate to a wider set of creatures, watching caterpillars, pupae, butterflies, and moths for days, weeks, and months. Paintbrush in hand, Merian recorded each stage of their life cycles, noting every change and movement. She depicted the silkworm moth from eggs, hatching larvae, molts, cocoons, all the way to adult moths. She distinguished between male and female, and showed a silkworm feeding on a mulberry leaf. Unlike many other girls her age, Merian was not disgusted by hairy crawling creatures or by tightly cocooned ‘date pits’ as she called the chrysalis. She pocked, squeezed, and prodded them to note how they ‘roll up,’ ‘twist and turn violently,’ or ‘lie there as if dead.’

Ask The Aged, by Karl Pillemer, Aeon

Who better to answer questions about the purpose of life than someone who has been living theirs for a long time?

What Do We Love About “War And Peace”?, by Louis Menand, New Yorker

When cultural goods travel, their historical baggage gets lost in transit. Is this also a problem with “War and Peace”? Tolstoy’s huge novel about Russia during the Napoleonic Wars has been adapted many times, despite the difficulty of catching the essence of a work whose essence has a lot to do with sheer scale. When the book was published, in 1869, people wondered what genre it was. There was a character named Napoleon. Was this a history or a novel? And why was it so big? It’s big because it’s both. In most historical novels, the history part is backdrop for the novel part. In “War and Peace,” like the title says, you get equal measures of each. It’s a production challenge.

Filmish By Edward Ross Review – The Seven Wonders Of The Big Screen, by Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

As anyone who has ever tried to struggle through its sacred texts will know, film theory doesn’t exactly make for easy reading. Mostly, it’ll drive you mad before it will change the way you think. So hooray for Filmish by Edward Ross, an Edinburgh-based, comic-book artist and writer. His new graphic journey through film bulges with such hefty names as Laura Mulvey (Todd Haynes’s theorist of choice) and André Bazin (the co-founder of the renowned French journal Cahiers du cinéma), and yet you will be able to whip clean through it in just a couple of hours. Even better, it promises to leave you with a long list of pictures you will want either to revisit, or to see for the first time.

'The Portable Veblen' Goes Enjoyably Nuts, by Heller Macalpin, NPR

Elizabeth McKenzie's clever, romantic comedy broadcasts quirkiness right on its cover, with its potentially off-putting title and its illustration of a squirrel instead of the interlocked wedding rings you might expect.

As Therapy Shows, Words Can Be Medicine, by Matt Haig, The Guardian

Humans are a clandestine species. We procreate behind closed doors, and we get ashamed of our illnesses. I am not immune to that shame, despite being that weird modern phenomenon: a public depressive. Or rather, a public person who is susceptible to depression.

Not one to fear hubris, I wrote a book called Reasons to Stay Alive. As well as promoting the book I have – since last April – appeared on TV and radio and in newspapers like this one talking about my illness. I am publicly ill, or publicly recovering, and it is odd.

In Search Of Japan’s Hidden Culinary Revolution, by Eli Gottlier, New York Times

I was on the Shinkansen bullet train and roaring north toward the Japan Sea at 125 miles per hour when I passed through the wormhole in space-time. The wormhole was on the far end of a long, unlit tunnel. Three-quarters of an hour earlier, in the midst of a sunny winter’s day, I’d boarded the train at the loud, insanely complex and many-leveled Tokyo main station, accompanied by my friend Bob Sliwa. We were bound for the coastal town of Kanazawa, sometimes known as the hidden pearl of the Japan Sea and famed for the freshness and variety of its fish-based cuisine.

The trip there last winter was to be the climax of my weeklong attempt to find the hidden culinary truth of Japan, beyond the reach of guidebooks or the well-intentioned efforts of such celebrity investigators as Anthony Bourdain. My secret weapon in this was Bob himself, a man embedded in Japan for 30 years, deeply conversant in the ways and cuisines of the country and, by great good fortune, my college roommate.

How “No Worries” Infected American English, by Matt Phillips, Quartz

The handy Australianism “no worries”—usually used in place of “you’re welcome”—has been burrowing deeper into the heart of American English.

First Principle, by Nancy Kress

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Polaroids Of The Cowboy Poet, by Dan Zak Washington Post

Polaroids hold a lot of detail, but at a remove. The intricacy isn’t immediate. Whole worlds are caged by those small frames. You can’t see that at first. But scan them into a computer, enlarge them 200 percent, and —

“It was like hacking through the jungle and finding El Dorado,” Joe says. “Like stumbling on Tutankhamun’s grave.”

Seeing The Spectrum, by Steven Shapin, New Yorker

The history of how autism was discovered, how the term entered the vocabulary of psychological expertise and also of everyday speech, and how its identity has evolved has been told many times. Chloe Silverman’s 2012 book, “Understanding Autism,” is the most sensitive account by an academic historian, and Steve Silberman’s best-selling work “NeuroTribes” (2015) is a deep history of autism, which ends up as a discussion of how we ought to think about it today. Now comes “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism,” by John Donvan and Caren Zucker (Crown). The authors are journalists, and, like many writers on the subject, they have a personal interest in autism. Donvan has a severely autistic brother-in-law. Zucker’s son has autism, and so does a grandson of Robert MacNeil, a former anchor of “PBS NewsHour,” for which Zucker produced a series of programs on the condition. Appropriately, a major focus of the book is on autism in the family and the changing historical role of parents of autistic children. “In a Different Key” is a story about autism as it has passed through largely American institutions, shaped not only by psychiatrists and psychologists but by parents, schools, politicians, and lawyers. It shows how, in turn, the condition acquired a powerful capacity both to change those institutions and to challenge our notions of what is pathological and what is normal.

Werner Herzog’s Maniacal Quests, by Stuart Klawans, The Nation

Early on in Les Blank’s 1980 short documentary film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, the star says in his unmistakable Bavarian-inflected English: “I’m quite convinced that cooking is the only alternative to filmmaking.” But almost as quickly as Herzog makes this bold if earnest assertion, he qualifies it: “Maybe there’s also another alternative: That’s walking on foot.” Several years before Blank’s documentary—in which Herzog famously eats his own leather shoe, expertly cooked by himself and chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, to make good on a wager with Errol Morris—the German filmmaker had entertained another, equally extreme proposition. In an attempt somehow to forestall what appeared to be the imminent death of Lotte Eisner, the great historian of Weimar cinema and biographer of Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, he would walk from Munich to Paris in exactly three weeks in late autumn 1974.

‘Why The Right Went Wrong’ And ‘Too Dumb To Fail’, by Adrian Wooldridge, New York Times

On the face of it E. J. Dionne Jr. and Matt K. Lewis could hardly be more different. Dionne is a much-­garlanded member of the liberal establishment — a fellow of the Brookings Institution, a Washington Post columnist and a fixture on big media. Lewis is a product of the conservative counterestablishment as reinvented by the Internet revolution. He writes regularly for The Caller, as well as The Week and The Daily Beast, and records a weekly podcast, “Matt Lewis and the News.” But they both agree that the buffoonery on the right is bad not just for conservatism but for America.

Is It Okay For Vegetarians To Eat Jellyfish?, by Dean Burnett, The Guardian

Vegetarianism may seem straightforward, but when you get down to the scientific details, it becomes less clear. With advancements in food technology, it’s likely to get even more confusing.

The Gartan Mother’s Lullaby, by Joseph Campbell

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Living Dead, by Peter Andrey Smith, New York Times

Medical examiners can often deduce cause of death based on an autopsy, but the exact time of death is hard to determine. At best, this evidence comes from an attending physician or, lacking that, an eyewitness. “But let’s say that a body was dumped in an alley or one of Detroit’s many empty lots,” Schmidt said. “And that’s all you know about the case. Let’s say it’s August and it’s 90 degrees. And the body is flaccid and lividity is fixed. So, has that body been there for less than 24 hours or more than 24 hours? The answer is: Who knows?”

Which was why Schmidt had teamed up with a group of scientists — Heather Jordan, a microbiologist in Mississippi; and Eric Benbow and Jennifer Pechal, two entomologists in Michigan — to systematically swab bodies during routine death investigations. They hoped to gather testimony from an unusual set of witnesses: the microbes that live after we die.

Humanizing The Humanities, by Lara N. Dotson-Renta, The Atlantic

In John Rassias’s classroom, language was an experience of the mind and body, meant to be lived and breathed.

Are Cities The New Countries?, by Sean Coughlan, BBC

Are there meaningful comparisons between cities such as New York, London and Shanghai, rather than between nation states?

That is the suggestion of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Such mega-conurbations have bigger populations and economies than many individual countries - and the think tank argues that they face many similar challenges, whether it is in transport, housing, security, jobs, migration or education.

Why I Taught Myself To Procrastinate, by Adam Grant, New York Times

Normally, I would have finished this column weeks ago. But I kept putting it off because my New Year’s resolution is to procrastinate more.

I guess I owe you an explanation. Sooner or later.

Getting Older Does Not Suck., by Amy Selwyn, Medium

In honor of this big day, I sat down and wrote out 57 things I now know to be true . If I’m lucky and I get to 58 next year, I’ll add another observation to the list. I’ll keep going for as long as I keep going. Aimin’ for a long, long list.

Never A Dull Moment, by Charles Baxter, New York Review of Books

What kinds of narratives fit comfortably into the short-story form? An impossible question: at no time has there been any general consensus about how to answer it, and anyone who tries to formulate such an answer usually becomes the victim of critical potshots. But the issue is worth raising, because even a partial explanation might tell us what short stories actually do, what part they play in our culture, and why writers go on stubbornly committing them to print.

Review: In ‘The Narrow Door,’ Paul Lisicky Opens A Window On Friendship, by Jennifer Senior, New York Times

Almost all of us have friends who don’t submit easily to categorization. They’re our life’s towering originals, the difficult ones who infuriate us and exhilarate us in equal measure. And if we met them in our late adolescence or early adulthood, forget it — their significance is almost indescribable. We were still jelly in those years. Quivering, impressionable. How on earth to convey their outsize influence, the overlarge hand they had in molding who we became?

Joyce Carol Oates’ The Man Without A Shadow Is A Provocative, Uneasy Love Story, by Ryan Vlastelica, AVClub

Memory is the battleground of Joyce Carol Oates’ The Man Without A Shadow, a novel that’s twisty and heartrending in equal measure, never allowing you to feel just one thing in response to each plot development.

Book Review: 'City On A Grid' Shows One Thing New York, Roanoke Have In Common, by Michael L. Ramsey, The Roanoke Times

Koeppel puts us in touch with our financial and cultural roots by following the birth of urban planning and providing a glimpse into how New York’s urban planning became a blueprint for cities across the nation.

An Ordinary Misfortune, by Emily Jungmin Yoon

Sunday, January 17, 2016

To Save Its Salmon, California Calls In The Fish Matchmaker, by Matt Ritchel, New York Times

Traditionally, the practice entailed killing fertile salmon and hand-mixing eggs and male milt, or sperm, then raising the offspring packed in containers or pools. When they were old enough to fend for themselves, they were released to rivers or sometimes trucked or ferried to release points to find the ocean on their own. This practice gave them a necessary transition before they hit saltwater and a semblance of the quintessential salmon experience of migrating to the sea and back. To that end, they eventually swam back to hatcheries, where they became the next breeders in the cycle.

While hatcheries have helped propagate the species, they have also created new problems. The salmon they produce can be inbred and less hardy through domestication, hurting their chances for surviving and thriving in the wild.

Life Is Short, by Paul Graham

Life is short, as everyone knows. When I was a kid I used to wonder about this. Is life actually short, or are we really complaining about its finiteness? Would we be just as likely to feel life was short if we lived 10 times as long?

Since there didn't seem any way to answer this question, I stopped wondering about it. Then I had kids. That gave me a way to answer the question, and the answer is that life actually is short.

How It Feels, by Jenny Zhang, Poetry

There was a girl in my middle school no one really liked. She told everyone her uncle had sexually abused her and that she had an older boyfriend who was a freshman at Yale, and yes, they did more than kiss. People said terrible things about her — that she was lying about her uncle, that she just wanted the attention, that her boyfriend was made up, that she had never seen a penis in her life, that the reason why she so frequently stared into space with her mouth hanging open was so she could remind everyone what her “blowjob face” looked like.

At the end of the year, she didn’t come to school for a few days in a row. The rumor was that she tried to kill herself with a plastic spoon (the especially cruel said it was a plastic spork she got from the lunchroom). It was officially (unofficially?) the most hilarious and pathetic attempt at suicide anyone had ever heard of. I didn’t find it funny, but I did rush home after hearing about it, grabbed a spoon from the kitchen, locked myself in my bedroom, and there, sitting on my bed, I pretended to slit my wrists with the spoon, pushing it against my vein. Is this at all meaningful? I wondered.

Don’t Feel Guilty About Buying Used Books: Writers Won’t See A Dime Of That Sale, But It’s The Long Game That Counts, by Rachel Kramer Bussel, Salon

First of all, those buying books in a used bookstore may not be able to afford a new copy. They also may not know that new copy exists because they’ve never heard of a given author before. Used bookstores can afford to be more varied in what they stock, thereby giving customers plenty of options, while shelf space is in higher demand in new bookstores. I’ve discovered plenty of series mysteries in used bookstores, then gone on to buy more in that same series at full price. As the Washington Post put it, “nothing provides a stronger pull than the experience of browsing — getting lost in the stacks, making serendipitous finds, having chance conversations with interesting people.”

The House By The Lake By Thomas Harding Review – The German 20th Century Story Told Through A Single Building, by Rebecca K Morrison, The Guardian

Harding’s purpose in revisiting the house in Groß Glienicke, a village on the edge of Berlin, shifts from a personal quest to something more all encompassing. As his knowledge of the building and its past grows, each account shared, each document perused, is another crumb along the path to a complete and very German story.

Why Does Moby-Dick (Sometimes) Have A Hyphen?, by Eric Blakemore, Smithsonian

It took Herman Melville years of whaling, writing and working to create Moby-Dick, a book that managed to make its way into the American canon despite tepid reviews and miserable initial sales. But questions about the book’s meaning and the symbolism of the its white whale pale in comparison to a debate that has endured since the book’s publication: What’s the deal with the title’s hyphen?

The Tube At A Standstill: Why TfL Stopped People Walking Up The Escalators, by Archie Bland, The Guardian

It’s British lore: on escalators, you stand on the right and walk on the left. So why did the London Underground ask grumpy commuters to stand on both sides? And could it help avert a looming congestion crisis?

The Walled Garden, by Sarah Howe

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Unforgivable Half Truths Of Memoir, by William Giraldi, New Republic

A decade since James Frey's memoir was exposed, we're still addicted to fiction packaged as truth.

Add Your Own Egg, by Nakul Krishna, The Point

I was summoned to my tutor’s office a day or so after I’d arrived in Oxford. It was the last day of summer. A bumpkin from the tropics, I’d never seen an autumn before. I watched the first leaves falling outside his window and heard the eighteenth-century staircase creaking with the weight of suitcases being heaved into new rooms. He told me I was to study moral philosophy that term and that if I wanted a head start on the reading I could get going on—he reached for his bookshelf with the air of someone going through a practiced routine—this book: Morality: An Introduction to Ethics by Bernard Williams.

And Yet ... By Christopher Hitchens Review – Fearless, Self-admiring, Effortlessly Eloquent, by Terry Eagleton, The Guardian

Christopher Hitchens was the ultimate champagne socialist, though as his career progressed the champagne gradually took over from the socialism. Known in his student days as Hypocritchens for his habit of marching for the poor and dining with the rich, he was a public school renegade in a long English tradition of well-bred bohemians and upper-class dissenters. Had he been born a little earlier, he might well have been a raffish spy propping up the bar of a Pall Mall club.

It's About Time: How Sci-fi Has Described Einstein's Universe, by Damien Walter, The Guardian

The popular understanding of relativity comes almost entirely from science fiction. A crew of astronauts crash land on a planet populated by apes, where humans are mutes kept as cattle. But it’s only when Charlton Heston screams “You maniacs, you blew it up!” at Lady Liberty that the other moon boot drops: we’re on Earth after a nuclear apocalypse, transported into the future as a result of time dilation, an effect of relativity predicted by Einstein’s theory.

Saigon Deli Sandwich & Taco Valparaiso Offers A Lesson In Cross-Cultural Communication Via Banh Mi, by Luke Tsai, East Bay Express

In Oakland, a lesson in cross-cultural communication might come in the form of a political protest, a mural graffitied on the side of a shipping container, or a poetry lesson at a local high school. Or it might come in the form of a sandwich — say, the amazing al pastor banh mi at East Oakland's Saigon Deli Sandwich & Taco Valparaiso, which is probably the only combination banh mi shop and taqueria in the Bay Area.

If The Longing Overcomes You, Blame The Dogs, by Shelley Frier List

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Natashas By Yelena Moskovich Review – Poisonous Sex Permeates A Surreal Debut, by Kirsty Logan

The debut novel from Ukraine-born Yelena Moskovich is a surreal and distinctively written exploration of identity that offers no easy answers. Although Moskovich writes in English, it is not her first language, as is immediately clear in her prose style. This can be irritating, but also leads to some wonderfully original turns of phrase: one character paints the stairs “with short, stubby strokes as if painting an elephant’s toenails”; another has “the look of a boy who’s hiding a beetle behind his back”. These unusual phrasings are the book’s strongest moments.

Elliott Chaze’s Black Wings Has My Angel Is A Perfect Crime Novel, by Christian Lorentzen, Vulture

It was still the golden age of pulp fiction in America, but Gold Medal’s enormous success would be among the forces that started to put the pulp magazines out of business. These books aren’t much read any more, and, of course, literary quality wasn’t the main criterion for publication, but on the evidence of Black Wings Has My Angel, a flawless 1953 heist novel by Elliott Chaze reprinted this month by New York Review Classics, it wasn’t disqualifying either. On a technical level, it is possible to write a perfect crime novel. You might say Black Wings Has My Angel is beyond perfection.

I Wanted My Son To Be Anything But A Writer. He Outsmarted Me., by Teresa Carpenta, Medium

Andrew’s father and I write non-fiction. A lot of our life together has been time spent freelancing. It’s an uncertain profession. In my heart I’d hoped for a vocation for our son that would leave him a little more secure. He could become an architect, perhaps. I thought that this would make a very fine pursuit. In preschool he was the undisputed master of the block corner. “So there,” I thought, “There. The matter is settled.”

Not so. One afternoon when he was about eight, he padded wordlessly into my office and stuck a strip of masking tape across one corner of the desk. Then, with a Sharpie, he scrawled, “Beyond the Stars.” I didn’t ask for an explanation and he didn’t give one. But some weeks later at dinner he blurted out, “I just can’t seem to finish a novel!” (Beyond the Stars was apparently one of those chucked into the dead MSS bin.)

Why (Almost) Everything You Know About Food Is Wrong, by Julia Belluz, Vox

There was a time, in the distant past, when studying nutrition was a relatively simple science.

The 12 Things That Restaurants Must Stop Doing In 2016, by Jay Rayner, The Guardian

My dentist tells me that I grind my teeth at night. He says this is a very bad thing and needs to be remedied. Apparently the problem is tension, brought on by stress. Clearly I need less stress in my life. To make this happen I have decided to use this column to address all the things about restaurants that I truly hate; the atrocities I hope to see disappear in 2016. These things may sound minor, but together they amount to a hurricane of tooth-blunting fury. My ability to chew meat properly depends upon all of it being dealt with.

Fault, by Allison Campbell

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Happiness Code, by Jennifer Kahn, New York Times

A new approach to self-improvement is taking off in Silicon Valley: cold, hard rationality.

Against Neutrality, by Teju Cole, New York Times

The photograph and the words arrive simultaneously. They guarantee each other. You believe the words more because the photograph verifies them, and trust the photograph because you trust the words. Additionally, each puts further pressure on the interpretation: A war photograph can, for example, make a grim situation palatable, just as a story about a scandal can make the politician depicted look pathetic. But images, unlike words, are often presumed to be unbiased. The facticity of a photograph can conceal the craftiness of its content and selection.

Review: Clive James, Writing Toward The Twilight, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

Since 2010, when the brilliant Australian critic, poet and memoirist Clive James learned he had terminal leukemia, he’s had his afterburners flipped on. He has been on a vivifying late-career tear.


His new volume of poems, “Sentenced to Life,” feels like the most important of his late books. It’s a harrowing collection, gravid with meaning, unflinching in its appraisal of the author’s mistakes, including infidelity, and plain-spoken in its reckoning with his life’s terminus.

‘Hunters In The Dark,’ By Lawrence Osborne, by Lee Child, New York Times

But then finally we understand: This isn’t a suspense novel. Never will be and doesn’t want to be. It’s a meditation. As well as the physical impact of Cambodia, we’re shown its eternal culture, where fate and karma are paramount, and ghosts are less weary than the living. Grieve is a symbol — a twig tossed into the broad current, to end up wherever he ends up. It’s giving nothing away to say that he has his money and his passport stolen, meets a girl, gets his money and his passport back and leaves for Thailand once again. A long loop, back to where he started. Very Eastern, we might say, but sharper than that, because this is Cambodia, after all, a country that has had loops of its own.

Menagerie By Caroline Grigson Review – A Lively History Of Strange Animals And Stranger People, by Wendy Moore, The Guardian

Filled with lively anecdote and scholarly commentary, Grigson’s book is a delightful guide to our long national obsession with wildlife.

What To Do When You’ve Won Powerball, by Andy Ihnatko

Your first question is “Should I pee myself, or crap my pants?” Do both, just to be safe. Once word gets out that you have $1.5 billion, you’re going to be set upon by mooching friends and distant relatives. Some of these might be put off by one form of effluvia, but not the other, and there’s no way to tell ahead of time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hi, I’d Like To Add Myself To The New Yorker, by Frank Chimero

Ladies and gentlemen, we have infiltrated the building. Not just the building, the magazine!

Dark Matter And Dinosaurs: Meet Lisa Randall, America’s Superstar Scientist, by Nicola Davis, The Guardian

The first thing that strikes me is that’s a lot of caveats – a factor some have been quick to point out. Randall is unimpressed. “I am fully aware that it is speculative,” she says, her matter-of-fact tone, steely expression and languid drawl combining to remind me that you don’t get to be one of the world’s most cited theoretical physicists – or on Time’s 100 list – by missing something as obvious as that. “Whether or not it turns out to be true, basically having an alternative [theory] makes you look at what you have more carefully,” she adds.

But if there is one person likely to be unfazed by a panoply of uncertainties, it’s Randall. Born and brought up in Queens, New York, she has dedicated her career to probing the abstract. “I guess I like to find unexplored corners,” she says.

Ladies Of Leisure, by Laura Miller, Slate

However frantically male authors—and those of the 20th century in particular—have attempted to redefine the novel as a manly endeavor dealing with such important subjects as war and male ambition, the readership for fiction is and has always been predominantly female and middle-class. No wonder then that the greatest novels in several languages, from Middlemarch to Madame Bovary to Anna Karenina, concern themselves with heroines at odds with their own domestic fates.

Does “Mein Kampf” Remain A Dangerous Book?, by Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

There was a lot said last week about the reëmergence, in Germany, of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” (“My Struggle”)—which just became legal to publish and sell there, for the first time since the end of the Second World War, albeit in a heavily hedged “scholarly” edition. Did providing a public place for the autobiographical testament of the Nazi dictator, written when he was briefly imprisoned in Bavaria, in the nineteen-twenties, in some way legitimize it, people asked, even if the text was surrounded by a trench work of scholarly addenda designed to italicize its lies and manias?

A Cup Of Rage By Raduan Nassar Review – From Lust To Rage To Howling Despair, by Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

A Cup of Rage is a burning coal of a work, superbly translated by Stefan Tobler. You may consider a book this short to be scarcely worthy of the name, but it packs more power into its scant 47 pages than most books do into five or 10 times as many. Each of its seven chapters comes not only as an unbroken paragraph but as a single sentence: you have to read carefully, to keep track, and once you have finished you will want to read it again. The writing is chewy – dense, tough, but well worth the effort.

Alias, by Sadie Stein, The Paris Review

Back when our family dog was not dead, he would vacation at the home of a woman named Janet. Hank was a pound mutt with shepherd coloring and terrier brains and a sensitive, Mr. Chips–like face that spoke of past sufferings. He and my dad were inseparable, which made his visits to Janet’s a big deal.

Does Taco Bell Hot Sauce Expire And Everything Else About Sauce Packets You Never Thought To Ask, by Ernie Smith, Atlas Obscura

Sauce packets, the dabbles of vinegar and tomato puree that make up ketchup, the emulsified eggs and oil bound together in the average mayonnaise (admit it, you use these for fries) or the soy sauce from your last takeout order, seem to be the Forrest Gump of the fast food world. With every milestone or major industry event, they sit there, in the background.

Yet, these small bits of plastic are a whole industry unto themselves. Before they started clogging up your silverware drawer, they represented a kind of packaging innovation.

Football Not Breakfast, by Matthew James Friday

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Inside The Lab Where Invisibility Cloaks Are Made, by Philip Ball, The Atlantic

Can science compete with magic?

Consciousness Is Not Mysterious, by Michael Graziano, The Atlantic

It’s just the brain describing itself—to itself.

Holding The T, by Tad Friend, New Yorker

When you carry a squash racquet in New York City, people admire you. They point you out on the subway and crouch beside their children to whisper, “He plays tennis!”

The game has a recognition problem, apparently. To be fair, though, it also has an image problem. Squash has long been synonymous with prep school, with being weedy and twee, and the most heinous clubs maintain an all-whites rule that encompasses the skin tone of their members. Full disclosure: I went to prep school, and grew up in the Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Cakeage, Or How Restaurants Really Feel About Cake Brought In, by Kim Severson, New York Times

Cakes are meaningful, so it is no surprise that people sometimes bring them along to a restaurant as a celebratory coda to a special meal. And it’s no surprise that restaurants don’t always like it.

Ice Fishing, by Beth Joselow

Monday, January 11, 2016

My David Bowie, Alive Forever, by Suzanne Moore, The Guardian

That door. He unlocked it. For me, for you. For us. He gave us everything. He gave us ideas, ideas above our station. All THE ideas and a specific one. Of life. The stellar idea that we can create ourselves whoever we are. He let us be more than we ever knew possible. There is nothing greater. Nothing.

A New Hope For A Perplexing Mathematical Proof, by Kevin Hartnett, Wired

Within days it was clear that Mochizuki’s potential proof presented a virtually unprecedented challenge to the mathematical community. Mochizuki had developed IUT theory over a period of nearly 20 years, working in isolation. As a mathematician with a track record of solving hard problems and a reputation for careful attention to detail, he had to be taken seriously. Yet his papers were nearly impossible to read. The papers, which ran to more than 500 pages, were written in a novel formalism and contained many new terms and definitions. Compounding the difficulty, Mochizuki turned down all invitations to lecture on his work outside of Japan. Most mathematicians who attempted to read the papers got nowhere and soon abandoned the effort.

For three years, the theory languished. Finally, this year, during the week of December 7, some of the most prominent mathematicians in the world gathered at the Clay Mathematical Institute at Oxford in the most significant attempt thus far to make sense of what Mochizuki had done. Minhyong Kim, a mathematician at Oxford and one of the three organizers of the conference, explains that the attention was overdue.

Toward A Wider View Of “Nature Writing”, by Catherine Buni, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well,” Thoreau once wrote. “Do not resist her!” Since I was young, I have walked in nature whenever I can. I am far from alone. But the woods we walk in are different from Thoreau’s. I’ve heard his famous wood thrush no more than twice in a dozen years. Mostly, I hear hermit thrushes, a more common bird here. But the song of the hermit thrush is beautiful too, and every time I hear it, “Nature is in her spring” and “it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut.” Except, of course, that gates are shut, almost everywhere. And there is threat of more closure, longer border walls.

Memories Of A Long Life Return In 'Alive, Alive Oh!', by Annalisa Quinn, NPR

Diana Athill is, by her own account, a very old woman. At 98, she lives in a home for the elderly in North London. This small and lovely book is a collection of favorite memories that return to Athill at the end of her life: heartbreak, yes, a miscarriage, but also a moment by the apple tree, a hill carpeted in bluebells, Byron's letters.

‘The Expatriates,’ By Janice Y. K. Lee, by Maggie Puncey, New York Times

In her new book, Lee observes an affluent community of contemporary Westerners, but more specifically, those who “crossed over into that other country of motherhood,” another foreign land requiring expatriation.

Some Of The Most Delicious Foods In The World Are Disappearing, by Simran Sethi, Slate

Embedded in every conversation about feeding people, conserving natural resources, and ensuring a healthy diet is the threat of the loss of agricultural biodiversity—the reduction of the diversity in everything that makes food and agriculture possible, from the microorganisms, plants, and animals we consume to the inputs and broad range of environmental, socio-economic, and cultural issues that inform what and how we eat. This shift is the direct result of our relationship with the world around us.

Poem With Two Endings, by Jane Hirshfield

Sunday, January 10, 2016

How The Las Vegas Review-Journal Unmasked Its Owners, by Maria Bustillos, New Yorker

Last month, reporters at the Las Vegas Review-Journal undertook a remarkable investigation into the secret identity of the buyer of their own newspaper. The paper had changed hands in early December for the wildly inflated price of a hundred and forty million dollars; New Media Investment Group (formerly GateHouse Media), which had purchased the paper only months earlier, reported flipping it for an estimated sixty-nine-per-cent profit. Six days after the sale was announced, on December 16th, Review-Journal reporters revealed that the acquiring company, News + Media Capital Group, which had been represented in the sale by an executive named Michael Schroeder, was in fact controlled by members of Sheldon Adelson’s family—and that, as many had suspected, the money had originated with the casino magnate himself. “My money that the children have with which to buy the newspaper is their inheritance,” Adelson told the Macau Daily Times. He said that he wasn’t directly involved with the purchase, and wasn’t interested in owning a newspaper.

Campus Sex … With A Syllabus, by Jessica Bennett, New York Times

But in real life — and, ever more frequently, on college campuses — what constitutes consent is wildly more complicated. Sometimes one person initiates; other times it’s both; still other times it’s hard to tell. Sometimes one party wants to engage in part of the sex act but not all of it; other times a person may consent to doing one thing at one moment, only to withdraw that consent as the thing actually begins to happen.

The Prose Factory By DJ Taylor Review – Beware The Suggestion That Literary Life Isn’t What It Used To Be, by Stefan Collini, The Guardian

DJ Taylor is far too sophisticated a writer to succumb to such stereotyping. As a self-described denizen of Grub Street himself, albeit actually based at an out-station in Norwich, he displays a good deal of fellow feeling with those in the past who lived by their writing, members of Thackeray’s Corporation of the Goosequill. But he is more concerned to recover and reanimate their literary worlds than to stack up evidence in the service of some present-minded polemic, though a certain lingering regret about what has been lost haunts his account, and he does indulge in a little familiar doom-mongering when he deals with the literary situation today.

The Joy Of Psyching Myself Out­, by Maria Konnikova, New York Times

Although it’s often presented as a dichotomy (the apparent subjectivity of the writer versus the seeming objectivity of the psychologist), it need not be. In fact, as I realized when I left the world of psychology behind to become that horror of all horrors (to an academic psychologist) — someone who wrote for a general audience — that neat separation is not just unwarranted; it’s destructive.

The Great British Curry Crisis, by Malcolm Moore, Financial Times

The high-street staple is under threat. Can a new generation of entrepreneurs save the nation’s tandoori?

Gulf, by Phillis Levin

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Words Unwired, by Lorin Stein, New York Times

Five years later I won’t say all that has changed. But things look slightly different. We spend more time than ever on our devices, but it seems fair to say we like them less, especially when it comes to reading. E-book sales have plateaued. Bookstores have staged a modest resurgence. Turning off your phone has become a prized luxury. Over these last few years all of us, readers and writers alike, have developed a growing appreciation for what the Internet wants to take away: our time alone with the written word.

How Could I Read More Books?, by Hannah Sander, BBC

Agatha Christie read 200 books every year, while Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gets through a book a fortnight. President Theodore Roosevelt read a book a day, and increased this to two or three when he had a quiet night. But how can mere mortals get through more?

The End Of The Story, by Laura Miller, Slate

Perhaps, though, this also the apex of its wisdom: Knowing that, in retrospect, the stupidest mistakes you’ve made are also often the very ingredients that give a long life its piquancy.

‘The Geography Of Genius,’ By Eric Weiner, by Ashlee Vance, New York Times

Undeterred by such realities, Eric Wei­ner has embarked on a hunt for the underlying recipe behind some of the world’s most productive and influential cities. In “The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places From Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley,” he takes the reader on a historical travelogue, examining Athens and Silicon Valley along with Hangzhou, Florence, Edinburgh, Calcutta and Vienna. In each case, Wei­ner attempts to explain the unique circumstances that led to one spot’s rise as a super­power of ideas and then to find the common ground linking them ­together.

Anti-Education By Friedrich Nietzsche Review – Why Mainstream Culture, Not The Universities, Is Doing Our Best Thinking, by John Gray, The Guardian

The long-misunderstood philosopher, a hater of nationalism but supporter of independent thought, disliked trends in higher education that are very evident today

US Has Reached Peak 'Food City': Every Town Is Now A Culinary Destination, by Matt Gross, The Guardian

Not so long ago, eating well was a challenge outside America’s major cities, but the farm-to-table movement, craft breweries and Instagram have changed that.

The Kill Fee, by Ian Rankin

Friday, January 8, 2016

How We Learn Fairness, by Maria Konnikova, New Yorker

And yet, for humans, an aversion to getting less is just one aspect of unfairness. Unlike other animals, we sometimes balk at receiving more than other people. Technically speaking, we experience “advantageous-inequity aversion.” In some situations, we’ll even give up something good because it’s more than someone else is getting. In those moments, we seek to insure that the distribution of goods remains fair. We don’t want the long end of the stick, either.

Dark Books, by Tara Isabella Burton, Aeon

What’s more wholesome than reading? Yet books wield a dangerous power: the best erode self, infecting readers with ideas

Love Me Back By Merritt Tierce Review – Going To Extremes, by Sandra Newman, The Guardian

It is also heartening to read an American novel that takes working-class life seriously. Here, the world of waiting tables is an arena large enough for tragedy and glory, and Tierce is not documenting the lives of its people from the viewpoint of an anthropologist, but singing them as their Homer.

The Power Of Documentaries On The Oscar Trail, by Cara Buckley, New York Times

Kirby Dick’s Oscar-nominated “The Invisible War” (2012), about sexual assault in the military, led to a House hearing on the matter. After the release of Louie Psihoyos’s Oscar winner, “The Cove” (2009), about the slaughter of dolphins in Japan, the number of dolphins and porpoises killed there fell by 17,000 a year. And “An Inconvenient Truth,” the 2006 film starring Al Gore that won two Oscars, thrust global warming into the public conversation — and look how well we heeded him! (Insert sad emoticon here.)

All of which, for the Bagger, raises a question: What onus, if any, falls on the Academy to spotlight documentaries that might bring about a measure of justice? Should substance trump style, or is it folly to assume they’re mutually exclusive?

War, by Hedd Wyn (translated from the Welsh by Michael Ratcliffe)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why Do We Feed Wild Animals?, by Helen Macdonald, New York Times

Putting out food for birds in your backyard can attract predators, and virulent diseases like trichonomosis or avian pox can be spread through contaminated feeders. But even if its impact is not always positive for wildlife, it is for us. We give food to wild creatures out of a desire to help them, spreading cut apples on snowy lawns for blackbirds, hanging up feeders for chickadees. The British nature writer Mark Cocker holds that the ‘‘simple, Franciscan act of giving to birds makes us feel good about life, and redeems us in some fundamental way.’’ This sense of personal redemption is intimately tied up with the history of bird-­feeding. The practice grew out of the humanitarian movement in the 19th century, which saw compassion toward those in need as a mark of the enlightened individual.

I’m Not Dead Yet, by Dan Piepenbring, The Paris Review

I was eleven when the family cat died—we found her on the cold concrete floor of the garage—but once we’d buried her in the backyard and erected a modest wooden cross, it occurred to me that she might not be dead. Sure, I had seen her dead, had held her dead body, but what if we’d been premature, what if she were only sleeping very, very stilly? The thought haunted me: I had a few nightmares where her little calico paw came jutting up through the ground, as in the archetypal images of zombie uprising. I went so far as to visit the grave with a trowel in hand, but the ground was soft and spongy, the soil still unsettled, and I got the creeps. I convinced myself the cat was extremely, entirely deceased.

Where’s Literature’s Class Diversity?, by Phoebe Maltz Bovy, The New Republic

In every field, the answer to the question of diversity tends to hinge on questions of representation. With the arts and media especially, there’s the question of seeing a version of oneself (or one’s actual self!) on a magazine cover or onscreen. With written stories, there’s the hope for diversity not just among authors and characters, but stories themselves.

Review: In ‘When Breath Becomes Air,’ Dr. Paul Kalanithi Confronts An Early Death, by Janet Maslin, New York Times

When Dr. Paul Kalanithi sent his best friend an email in May 2013 revealing that he had terminal cancer, he wrote: “The good news is that I’ve already outlived two Brontës, Keats and Stephen Crane. The bad news is that I haven’t written anything.” It was a jokey way of dealing with the unthinkable but also an indication of Dr. Kalanithi’s tremendous ambition. He had led a fascinating life and was not about to leave it unchronicled.

Struggling As An Author? Stop Writing Only What You Want To Write, by Andrew Crofts, The Guardian

I have now spent over 40 years as a freelance author and ghostwriter, during which time I have kept a meticulous record of every penny earned and can, with hindsight, see exactly how my personal experiment has panned out.

When Grace At The Bliss Café Calls, by Jane Vandenburgh

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Disappearance Of Self In Japan, by Pico Iyer, Huffington Post

In my quarter-century and more in Japan, I've been struck at how much the Japanese, following a tradition that may go back to Confucius or Lao Tzu, see the virtue of keeping the self out of things. This may be compounded by the fact that for so long they have had to share so little space with so many: the typical Japanese occupies a house with 117 square feet per person, less than a quarter of the space a typical American occupies.

Epic Fails, by Tom Levenson, Aeon

No-shows are a commonplace, though often hidden, part of the process of scientific discovery. Theories predict. That’s their job. Ever since Isaac Newton and his co‑conspirators in the 17th century consummated their revolutionary programme of subjecting nature to mathematics, this has come to mean that particular solutions to systems of equations can be interpreted as physical phenomena. If a given mathematical representation hasn’t yet matched up with some phenomenon in the real world, it becomes a prediction waiting for its verification. But what happens when the verification never arrives – when the prediction fails to find its match in nature? When do you finally take ‘no’ for an answer?

Someday Never Comes, by Laura Miller, Slate

The piles of stuff we might need someday are an argument that we will always be around to need them. The plans to revisit those photos and take up again that course of study, the books we fully intend to finally read assure us that there will be enough time to do so. Mementos presume the ongoing existence of a rememberer. Yes, all of that is a lie, but it’s a necessary lie. And all the joy in the world can’t really compensate for having to let that go.

Society, Mediated, by Carol Tavris, Times Literary Supplement

Laurence Scott can identify the moment of his own transformation from a three-dimensional to the “four-dimensional human” of his book’s title. In the early 2000s he was invited to La Cave, a cosy, elegant pub in Dublin, with his university classmates and his generous tutor, who ordered champagne for all. The students were enthralled and exhilarated, feeling they had truly arrived. “You would have to have been a fool not to have thought highly of yourself” in that gathering, he writes, when something interrupted their “perfect camaraderie”: “his thigh fluttered” with the hum of his mobile phone and a text from a friend prowling around in the world outside the pub. In millennial Dublin, a mobile phone was still a curiosity and texting was an utter novelty. “The champagne arrived and was poured,” he reports, “but my mind was up and gone in the dark streets, not simply dreaming but fixing plans.” He was caught out in the midst of what should have been the sociable bonding of a glasses-clinking toast. A classmate laughed at “the sordid finger-work” that he was engaged in under the table with his phone, and his tutor gently but publicly embarrassed him by chiding him for it.

'This Census-Taker' Is A Quiet Book With A Murderous Heart, by Jason Sheehan, NPR

This Census Taker is a small, quiet and gentle book with murder at its center. It's a beautiful chocolate that you bite into and find filled with blood. It is Miéville at his most sparse, his most controlled and restrained — giving us a world defined by a broken carburetor, the sound of a walk being swept, a pantry full of mushrooms and spiders, the distant flickering of neon. And while the blind spots of the boy at its heart — the things he does not know, the questions he does not ask — may drive you crazy, the questions that Miéville leaves itching in your brain at the turn of the final page are almost as interesting as the (few) truths that have been uncovered.

The Rambutan Man, by Naru Dames Sundar

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Poor Historians, by Suzanne Koven, The Virginia Quarterly Review

Writing makes people feel better. This may sound strange to anyone who’s struggled with a class assignment, or to many professional writers. But research begun in the 1970s, much of it done by James W. Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, has shown that writing as little as thirty minutes a day for four days in a row can ease anxiety and depression and help people recover from illness and trauma. In one study of what Pennebaker named “expressive writing,” participants who wrote about stressful experiences were less likely to require urgent medical care than students who wrote about more mundane subjects, like their dorm rooms or their shoes. In another study, people with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis who wrote about the most traumatic events of their lives had fewer flare-ups of their diseases. Writing can boost immunity, relieve pain, improve liver and lung function, and lower blood pressure.

No one is really sure how this works, but it may be similar to how psychotherapy does. In ways which elude our full understanding, putting emotions into words changes brain chemistry and brain architecture, which, in turn, affects the rest of the body. Writing rather than speaking or thinking those words seems to have a particularly profound influence on the brain. If I’d had a way to jot down my thoughts in the mammography room that day, I might have felt even calmer. And there’s some evidence that putting pen or pencil to paper is even more helpful than typing.

The Incredible Thing We Do During Conversations, by Ed Yong, The Atlantic

One of the greatest human skills becomes evident during conversations. It’s there, not in what we say but in what we don’t. It’s there in the pauses, the silences, the gaps between the end of my words and the start of yours.

Amateur Sleuths On The Dinosaur Trail, by David Mark Simpson, New York Times

The National Historic Preservation Act requires strict protection of human structures built 50 or more years ago on federal lands. With the requirement comes funding for archaeologists. While Dr. Schumacher and his Forest Service counterpart do team with academic researchers and museums, which provide some outside funding for protection of bones, there is no law that protects paleontological resources to the same degree.

So to get dinosaur bones from Picketwire Canyon to museums and scientists, Dr. Schumacher has developed a creative strategy. Twice a year, for a week at a time, these bones and footprints are uncovered by a group of about two dozen volunteers, many in their 70s and 80s, whom Dr. Schumacher has been training for the last 15 years.

10 Reasons People Are Lonely? It’s More Complicated Than That, by Sue Bourne, The Guardian

The problem I think is that we’re all a bit scared of loneliness – of being alone. Of being left. Of not being loved. Or needed. Or cared about. “Lonely” hits a spot of fear in all of us even if we don’t acknowledge it. So a year ago, I set out to find people who were brave enough to admit and talk about how lonely they were. But I wanted to find people whose stories offered hope – either because they’d found a way of dealing with loneliness or because they had something in their lives that, even in a small way, alleviated their loneliness.

A Healthy Diet’s Main Ingredients? Best Guesses, by Clyde Haberman, New York Times

How many times have Americans read about a study damning this or that food, only to then hear the revisionist opposite? Avoid eggs, we were told; they clog your arteries. Wait, we then heard, eggs have nutritional value. Coffee can give you cancer. Hold on, coffee can improve brain function. Butter is terrible. Well, not really. Again and again, yesterday’s verity becomes today’s punch line.

Self-Portrait, by Tina Escaja (translated by Kristin Dykstra)

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Rise, Fall, And Almost Rise Of The Caviair Of Cantaloupe, by Tori Marlan, BuzzFeed

During the early 20th century, the Montreal melon was a culinary delicacy and an agricultural moneymaker. But as industrial farming took hold, the hard-to-grow fruit went the way of the dodo bird. What one farmer’s attempt to revive it says about taste and technology.

Review: In ‘The Cabaret Of Plants,’ Richard Mabey Demonstrates Their Richness, by Constance Casey, New York Times

Imagine a picture of a jungle. There are the familiar palms and vines, and down in a corner a monkey sitting on a branch. Ask a number of people, “What is this a picture of?” and it’s a good bet that most will say it shows a monkey.

But someone like the British naturalist Richard Mabey could probably point out three or four tree species, a few kinds of vines, a variety of ferns and an orchid tucked in the crook of a branch. What’s more, Mr. Mabey, skilled at entwining human and plant history, would tell the story of one of the heroes of his book, Margaret Mee, the 20th-century botanical artist who sailed up the Rio Negro in Brazil to sketch the annual one-night blooming of the moonflower, a rootless climbing cactus.

Herd Mentality, by Emma C Williams, Quillette

At primary school, I rarely played with other children. For me, playtime usually meant a walk around the edges of the playground, observing others and thinking to myself.

There were lots of reasons why I found it difficult to connect with my childhood peers, none of them particularly interesting or unusual, but I do sometimes wonder whether my early experiences have defined my temperament; I’ve never been much of a joiner, and I find many people frankly depressing.

Single, And Surrounded By A Wall Of Men, by Susan M. Gelles, New York Times

Why was I putting myself through this again? It was exhausting. Maybe love was overrated. Maybe love was just what people claimed to feel for anyone who’d put up with them. I leaned against the wall and closed my eyes. I could hear the chatter of women, turning on faucets, flushing toilets. I’ll just wait here, I thought, until the mingling is over. Then I’ll go back and see if anyone has written down my ID number as someone they’d like to date.

I returned to the meeting room, only to discover that the mingling session wasn’t quite done. Immediately the lawyer who liked opera positioned himself in front of me. He was immaculately dressed in a suit, his dark hair clipped short, his brown eyes penetrating. Meanwhile, I could have played the part of the stablehand who groomed his horse.

How Medium Is Breaking Washington's Op-ed Habit, by Nancy Scola, Politico

Medium has a lot to gain in Washington. Establishing itself as the place where national leaders go to talk to one another helps the company, which has struggled a bit to decide what it wants to be, carve out a place in the online ecosystem. And it can piggyback off a broader shift in the relationship between Washington and journalism, with the political world no longer quite so dependent on the press in the age of social media.

Pining, by Jennifer Fandel

Sunday, January 3, 2016

10 Years Later, Did The Big Dig Deliver?, by Anthony Flint, Boston Globe

To everything there is a season, and a 10th anniversary — in Big Dig lore, the 2006 opening of the Albany Street ramps marked its completion — is a time for taking stock. A full decade since this thing was wrapped up. Boondoggle or bargain? If we could turn back time, what would be done differently for better outcomes — or would this mother of mega projects be attempted at all?

David Bowie And The 1970s: Testing The Limits Of The Gendered Body, by James Penner, Los Angeles Review of Books

At the age of three, a young David Bowie discovered some makeup in the upstairs bedroom. He put lipstick, eyeliner, and face powder all over his face, and when his mother caught him in the act, she was startled by his transformation: “[F]or all the world he looked like a clown.” Although amused at first, she warned him not to play with makeup because “makeup wasn’t for little boys.”[i] A cursory glance at the rock star’s extensive career reveals that his childish fascination with the outré has never actually waned. When Bowie first discovered rock music in the 1950s, he was consciously aware of the medium’s inherent theatricality and the ways in which rock music could become a conduit for radical forms of self-transformation.

How The Internet Changed The Way We Read, by Jackson Bliss, The Daily Dot

The truth is that most of us read continuously in a perpetual stream of incestuous words, but instead of reading novels, book reviews, or newspapers like we used to in the ancien régime, we now read text messages, social media, and bite-sized entries about our protean cultural history on Wikipedia.

In the great epistemic galaxy of words, we have become both reading junkies and also professional text skimmers. Reading has become a clumsy science, which is why we keep fudging the lab results. But in diagnosing our own textual attention deficit disorder (ADD), who can blame us for skimming? We’re inundated by so much opinion posing as information, much of it the same material with permutating and exponential commentary. Skimming is practically a defense mechanism against the avalanche of info-opinion that has collectively hijacked narrative, reportage, and good analysis.

San Francisco (1956), by Kristian Tonnessen

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Behind The Photo That Changed The Boston Marathon Forever, by David Davis, Deadspin

Everyone knows someone who’s run the marathon. Today’s big-city races—in places like Boston, New York, Berlin, and London—draw Olympic hopefuls competing for hundreds of thousands of dollars and hordes of weekend warriors raising money for their favorite charities or just hoping to check off “complete a marathon” on their bucket lists. Marathoning has birthed an industry of energy supplements and performance gear, training manuals and glossy magazines, corporate sponsorships and fitness expos. And nearly half of marathon entrants are women.

It’s an incredible change from 50 years ago. The very few marathons that did exist – even Boston’s, the oldest continuously run marathon in the world – attracted less than one thousand runners. The entrants were all amateurs; finishers at Boston were rewarded with a bowl of Dinty Moore beef stew. Oh, and the runners were all male. Women were banned from running marathons.

Just Wait — Everything Will Work Out For The Better, by Jim Tankersley, Washington Post

Matt Ridley shares America’s eroding faith in institutions, but he doesn’t much believe in supervillains. He is a true libertarian, to an extreme you rarely see in American public discourse. He doesn’t believe in God, doesn’t have much use for government and argues in his new book, “The Evolution of Everything,” that people generally place far too much stock in the notion that individuals can shape the course of world events — or perhaps even their own lives.

The Good Liar By Nicholas Searle Review – A Thriller That Will Trip You Up, by Mark Lawson, The Guardian

A successful novel is also a sort of swindle (making a fiction sound convincing, misleading the reader about where things are going), although with the difference that a good one should provoke a desire to be duped by the same person again. The Good Liar makes you want to experience Nicholas Searle’s next trick.

Lifting The Veil On The New York Public Library’s Erotica Collection, by Elaine Sciolino, New York Times

A guided visit to the library revealed some of the richness of its erotic (or pornographic, depending on who was doing the classification) material. The works are hidden treasures, many of them awaiting discovery. Not even the curators and librarians know everything that is there.

“There were many materials in the library’s special collections that I had never seen before,” Mr. Baumann said. “The range and depth of our collections never ceases to astonish me.”

What Exactly Does An Editor Do? The Role Has Changed Over Time, by Lynn Neary, NPR

These days there is more pressure on editors to acquire best-sellers, and they are much more involved in marketing a book. And that, he says, leaves precious little time for actual editing.

Keeping Things Alive, by Katie Budris

Friday, January 1, 2016

How A Nation Of Tech Copycats Transformed Into A Hub For Innovation, by Clive Thompson, Wired

Ten years ago, high tech observers complained that the nation didn’t have enough bold innovators. There were, of course, wildly profi­table high tech firms, but they rarely took creative risks and mostly just mimicked Silicon Valley: Baidu was a replica of Google, Tencent a copy of Yahoo, JD a version of Amazon. Young Chinese coders had programming chops that were second to none, but they lacked the drive of a Mark Zucker­berg or Steve Jobs. The West Coast mantra—fail fast, fail often, the better to find a hit product—seemed alien, even dangerous, to youths schooled in an educational system that focused on rote memorization and punished mistakes. Graduates craved jobs at big, solid firms. The goal was stability: Urban China had only recently emerged from decades of poverty, and much of the countryside was still waiting its turn to do so. Better to keep your head down and stay safe.

That attitude is vanishing now. It’s been swept aside by a surge in prosperity, bringing with it a new level of confi­dence and boldness in the country’s young urban techies. In 2000, barely 4 percent of China was middle-class—meaning with an income ranging from $9,000 to $34,000—but by 2012 fully two-thirds had climbed into that bracket. In the same time frame, higher education soared sevenfold: 7 million graduated college this year. The result is a generation both creative and comfortable with risk-taking. “We’re seeing people in their early twenties starting companies—people just out of school, and there are even some dropouts,” says Kai-Fu Lee, a Chinese venture capitalist and veteran of Apple, Microsoft, and Google, who has spent the past decade crisscrossing the nation, helping youths start firms. Now major cities are crowded with ambitious inventors and entrepreneurs, flocking into software accelerators and hackerspaces. They no longer want jobs at Google or Apple; like their counterparts in San Francisco, they want to build the next Google or Apple.

Brandenburg’s Dream, by Derek Walmsley, London Review of Books

Before recording devices were invented, music was preserved by oral traditions, contained in scores or listened to in real time; perhaps music could become something like a folk form again, with musicians liberated from financial obligation and listeners from ownership, allowing music to be part of a common cultural fabric. In an abrupt coda, Witt realises that his personal archive is ‘just an agglomeration of slowly demagnetising junk’; he goes to a data destruction company to get nails fired into his hard drives, ridding himself of tens of thousands of mp3s. The ones and zeros that make up the digital music revolution are hard to preserve, but also hard to kill and, as the music industry has discovered to its cost, hard to contain.

All Stories Are The Same, by John Yorke, The Atlantic

A ship lands on an alien shore and a young man, desperate to prove himself, is tasked with befriending the inhabitants and extracting their secrets. Enchanted by their way of life, he falls in love with a local girl and starts to distrust his masters. Discovering their man has gone native, they in turn resolve to destroy both him and the native population once and for all.

Avatar or Pocahontas? As stories they’re almost identical. Some have even accused James Cameron of stealing the Native American myth. But it’s both simpler and more complex than that, for the underlying structure is common not only to these two tales, but to all of them.

‘Suspicious Minds,’ By Rob Brotherton, by Adrian Chen, New York Times

For all the talk of Donald Trump’s unpresidential behavior, the Republican enfant terrible does share one notable trait with that paragon of presidentiality, George Washington: a fondness for conspiracy theories. Washington once wrote in a letter that he believed an Illuminati conspiracy was at work in America, while Trump is the figurehead of the birther movement, which claims Barack Obama is not a natural-born American citizen. The psychologist and science journalist Rob Brotherton’s new book, “Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy ­Theories,” helps explain why someone with such seemingly outlandish views can gain widespread public support. It turns out we are all conspiracy theorists.

Secondhand, by Sam Martone