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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