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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Taiwan Families Receive Goodbye Letters Decades After Executions, by Paul Mozur, New York Times

The month before he was executed, in April 1952, Guo Ching wrote letters to his mother, wife and children to say goodbye.

The letters had only 140 miles to travel, but they would take 60 years to be delivered.

When his daughter finally received her father’s farewell after a protracted negotiation with Taiwan’s government, she was in her 60s, twice his age when he died.

Children Of The Century, by Alexander Chee, New Republic

Historical fiction was not—and is not—meant to supplant literature from the period it describes. As a veteran of the Crimea, Tolstoy wrote War and Peace to match his own internal sense of the truth of the Napoleonic wars, to dramatize what he felt literature from that period had failed to describe. The force of his vision, even in translation, may have shifted the benchmark for realism away from authenticity and toward the feeling of it for the reader—a way for the living to argue with history and posterity. Powdered wigs or not, War and Peace is with us still.

Ernie And Me, by Matt Gallagher, The Paris Review

Meanwhile, we’ve made our peace, Hem and me. He’s just a writer to me now, and his work matters more than the myth ever did. Of course he’s spawned a legion of imitators and posers. He put in the work. Besides, his pithy macho quips can—sometimes—hold up. Writing what you know, for example. That’s inspired many a reckless idiot to pursue the reckless and the idiotic, but direct experience is only one way of many to know something. And Hemingway’s obsession with finding the “true” bits—it took me time and perspective to figure out he meant more than transcribing reality, but tapping into the emotional wells of human existence and perspective. (That’s not “truth,” exactly, but macho pseudo-philosophies require some malleability.)

Journeys To The East, “Journey To The West” , by W J F Jenner, Los Angeles Review of Books

Another decision I made right at the beginning and stayed with to the end is one that would be wrong in translating almost anything else. I hesitate to admit it, but I did not read the book through before starting, or even as I went along. I knew the overall shape of the book from Waley's version devoured in childhood. It is not like a poem so intricately structured that you need to be aware every word of it before attempting to translate any line of it. I found reading it for the first time as I translated it helped me to be caught up in each story. I wanted to know what would happen when I finished each page and started on the next. If it turned out that something later in the episode meant that a correction was needed in an earlier part, that could easily be put right. This questionable but attractive strategy kept me from going stale, and there was no harm in having the urgency and freshness that comes from translating something new and unexpected.

On “Sisters”, by Briallen Hopper, Los Angeles Review of Books

like Elizabeth Bennet, Hilton Als, and Jazmine Hughes, I have four sisters. My original plan for this piece was to see the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy Sisters with my sisters over the holidays and write a kind of conversational film review — a transcription of all of our during-the-movie snarky whispers and post-movie summary judgments. On Sisters, by sisters!

I texted them all about it before my trip home in December, and they were open to the idea — especially since I was paying — though they were not exactly enthusiastic.

Do The New, Big-Money Science Prizes Work?, by Lawrence M. Krauss, The New Yorker

The idea behind the Breakthrough Prize seems to be that money and celebrities will make science sexier, and that this, in turn, will entice more talented young people to go into it. Is this really sensible, though? Does someone go through a decade of advanced education and a lifetime of hard work in the hopes that they might win a science lottery and get to shake Russell Crowe’s hand? Meanwhile, although any mid-career scientist would be happy to win such a prize, I suspect that every single winner of the Breakthrough Prize would happily return the money in exchange for a Nobel Prize. The Breakthrough Prize, like the Kavli Prize and the other million-dollar-plus awards being given out around the world, will always be considered a consolation prize.

Playboy Puts On (Some) Clothes For Newly Redesigned Issue, by David Segal, New York Times

The print version of Playboy, in other words, is struggling with the conundrum of the Internet, just like every other legacy media enterprise. But say this for the redesign: Even if it fails to increase subscriptions, it makes that deathless dodge “I read it for the articles” a little easier to utter with a straight face.

So Many Places To Hide, by Christina Sanders