Over the course of 4 months, 97,100 metric tons of methane quietly leaked out of a single well into California’s sky. Scientists and residents are still trying to figure out just how much damage was done.
On March 12, 1978, the man Meryl Streep had been dating for nearly two years died as she sat at his hospital bed. She had met John Cazale, the crane-like character actor best known for playing Fredo Corleone in the Godfather films, when they starred together in a Shakespeare in the Park production of Measure for Measure in the summer of 1976. From the beginning, they were an unusual pair: a pellucid 27-year-old beauty just a year out of the Yale School of Drama and a 41-year-old oddball with a forehead as high as a boulder and a penchant for Cuban cigars.
But the romance was tragically short-lived. Only months after she moved into his Tribeca loft, Cazale was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. When he was cast in the Vietnam epic The Deer Hunter, Meryl joined the film, in part, just to be with him. Cazale didn’t live to see the completed work. A few weeks after he died, Meryl’s brother helped her pack up her belongings. He brought along a friend she had met once or twice—a sculptor named Don Gummer, who lived a few blocks away, in SoHo. Only weeks after losing the love of her life, she had found the second love of her life, the man who would become her husband.
Perhaps no government policy anywhere in the world affected more people in a more intimate and brutal way than China’s one-child policy. In the West, there’s a tendency to approve of it as a necessary if overzealous effort to curb China’s population growth and overcome poverty. In fact, it was unnecessary and has led to a rapid aging of China’s population that may undermine the country’s economic prospects. The scholar Wang Feng has declared the one-child policy to be China’s worst policy mistake, worse even than the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward (which led to the worst famine in world history). The one-child policy broke up families and destroyed lives on an epic scale—and although it officially ended last fall, it continues to ripple through the lives of Chinese and the 120,000 Chinese babies who were adopted in America and other Western countries.
In seven brisk chapters, he hurries us through the development of Old, Middle and Early Modern English, the increasing 17th and 18th-century concern with correct usage and standardisation, and the 19th and 20th-century heyday of language manuals, prescriptiveness and verbal snobbery. As George Bernard Shaw observed a century ago: “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him”: like most modern philologists, Horobin is keen to dispel all remnants of such dialectal prejudice.
Earlier that morning, I was introduced to Alex Samuelson, a baby-faced 31-year-old member of the Beachy Amish-Mennonite faith who, along with his wife Rebecca, would be my guide for the day. Alex suggested that he might be better equipped to drive and he was right: he glided along the twisting back roads and gave me an orientation to the area not even the all-knowing Siri could have provided, especially considering the spotty service.
As a Beachy Amish-Mennonite, Alex is permitted to drive–the church is what Alex calls “car-type”–but adheres to prohibitions against television, popular music, and limitations on the Internet. (These prohibitions vary somewhat from congregation to congregation, although certain stringencies–like not owning televisions–are uniform throughout Beachy society.) Like all Mennonite and Amish groups, Beachy doctrine is firmly Anabaptist, which means that they don’t accept infant or childhood baptisms. They also believe in keeping themselves separate from the world, which is one motivation behind their Plain garb (although it’s worth noting that the style of dress also differs between congregations.)
How do we know when a photographer caters to life and not to some previous prejudice? One clue is when the picture evades compositional cliché. But there is also the question of what the photograph is for, what role it plays within the economic circulation of images.
Citations in academic writing, not unlike those in legal writing, are intended to refer the questioning reader back to the sources or precedents for the argument at hand. This is in part driven by a desire to give credit where credit is due: by citing those who have influenced us, we acknowledge their work and its role in our own. But citation serves more purposes than simply naming the giants on whose shoulders we find ourselves standing. Citations, in fact, play much the same role for the humanities that enumerating the details of laboratory procedures used in experiments plays for the sciences. An odd assertion, no doubt, but here’s what I mean: the validity of scientific work hangs on what is often popularly referred to as its reproducibility, the notion that you could obtain the same results by following the same procedures. This reproducibility is perhaps more accurately and evocatively described as falsifiability — the more skeptical, but more important sense that you could follow those procedures, or perhaps some better procedures, and wind up disproving the hypothesis in question. In this same way, research in the humanities exposes the details of its procedures via citation such that it too might be rendered falsifiable. Readers can return to the sources in question and render their own better interpretations of them. Academic writing becomes academic, in other words, precisely when it exposes its process to future correction.
For many of us, a sandwich was the first meal we learned to make for ourselves. And we delight in eating them for the rest of our lives, sometimes at an astonishing rate—roughly 50% of Americans consume a sandwich every day. It is, after all, one of the most versatile, simple, and universally beloved foods we know, with countless variations to satisfy every palate, dietary restriction, and time of day.
And yet, for all its ease and accessibility, the sandwich is not infallible. Even the most basic iterations, like the PB&J and grilled cheese, can go awry—and that's not touching on more labor-intensive preparations, like meatball subs or bánh mi. It takes only one disappointing sandwich, homemade or store-bought, to realize just how much can end up wrong. So how do you maximize flavor, manage sogginess, maintain structural integrity, and achieve the most well-balanced and delicious sandwich possible?
“I’d been taught never to talk about money, because, like talking about sex and politics, it was vulgar; like religion, it was private,” Harrison declares in “True Crimes: A Family Album,” her latest collection of essays written for various magazines and anthologies over the course of a decade. In spite of her proper upbringing, Harrison has no qualms about poking around in the back alleys of the mind, places that polite society prefers to avoid. With startling candor and almost clinical attention to detail, she writes about the sort of behaviors, thoughts and experiences most of us don’t care to recall, let alone lay bare and examine for an audience. For Harrison, whose interior life is like a rich vein she can tap at will, there seems to be no moment, no feeling, too private, peculiar or uncomfortable to render in words.
“Caution—object ahead.” But she said it object, as if someone would soon pop into the middle of the road and interrupt a cross-examination.
When Ray crosses the road to eyeball the competition, he encounters a barista he can’t quite size up. First he calls the barista “sir,” and the barista balks, “Why’d you feel the need to call me ‘sir’?” So Ray tries “female?” and the barista says: “Oh, ‘female’? You a biologist? You a biological essentialist? Are you a detective?” So Ray asks, “What’s going on here?” and a second barista steps in to explain: “What’s going on here is that you offended they, and you offended me, so I think it’s best that you leave.” He does. The baristas embrace.
This little volume has several things going for it: it’s compact, bound in the style of an industrial manual, so it can take a lot of punishment. It illustrates points about grammar and punctuation using examples drawn from newspapers and magazines all published – online or in print – on December 29, 2008 (hence talk of the financial crisis, the election of Barack Obama, strife between Israel and Palestine). And its author, Frank L. Cioffi, who teaches writing at Baruch College in New York City, is humble. His aim is not so much to enforce rules as to provoke debate. He wants you to look beyond the meaning of the sentence to the choices made by the writer and the editor.
Vladimir Nabokov once observed that “a writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.” The geobiologist Hope Jahren possesses both in spades. Her engrossing new memoir, “Lab Girl,” is at once a thrilling account of her discovery of her vocation and a gifted teacher’s road map to the secret lives of plants — a book that, at its best, does for botany what Oliver Sacks’s essays did for neurology, what Stephen Jay Gould’s writings did for paleontology.
One of the central challenges society faces is how to improve opportunities for those who have had a difficult start.
The journey to the Chhota Shigri Glacier, in the Himalayan peaks of northern India, begins thousands of feet below, in New Delhi—a city of twenty-five million people, where smoke from diesel trucks and cow-dung fires dims the sky and where the temperature on a hot summer day can reach a hundred and fifteen degrees. The route passes through a churning sprawl of low-land cities, home to some fifty million people, until the Himalayas come into view: a steep wall rising above the plains, the product of a tectonic collision that began thousands of years ago and is still under way. From there, the road snakes upward, past cows and trucks and three-wheeled taxis and every other kind of moving evidence of India’s economic transformation. If you turn around, you can see a great layer of smog, lying over northern India like a dirty shroud. In the mountains, the number of cars drops sharply—limited by government regulation, for fear of what the smog is doing to the ice. The road mostly lacks shoulders; on turns, you look into ravines a thousand feet deep. After the town of Manali, the air cools, and the road cuts through forests of spruce and cedar and fir.
In sharing a variety of children’s books that have grandparent characters, I discovered something. The grandparents in books are nothing like the real “grands” I know. My grand friends are everything from aeronauts to zookeepers. They are vibrant, vivacious, and bon vivant. They can be described with an alphabet of adjectives from alluring to zesty.
The books I’m reading, though, show grandparents who are quite the opposite. The grands in most children’s literature don’t have jobs, volunteer or paid. They can be described in adjectives from addled to zany. They all fit a similar profile — they bake, they rock (only in chairs, not in a good, rock and roll way), they knit, they garden, they fish or golf, and they do it all with paunches and ponchos and very little panache.
“The Nest” is a novel in the Squabbling Sibling genre. Unless such stories are told by someone of the caliber of Chekhov or Dostoyevsky, they tend to be domestic comedies padded with lucky coincidences and studded with old grudges. And they need to be set in motion by some convenient family crisis and venue.
That trigger can be a vacation in Majorca, Spain (Emma Straub’s “The Vacationers”), or sitting shiva in suburbia (Jonathan Tropper’s “This Is Where I Leave You”), or a wedding at the family’s once-sacrosanct, soon-to-be-despoiled summer palace. Or, like Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel, “The Nest,” it can be the bare-bones version. “The Nest” doesn’t need much in the way of set dressing. It just has the author’s excellent antennas for describing the New York area and that evergreen fuel for food fights: an inheritance meant to be divided among adult children.
For the past few months, however, I’ve finally started to cook for myself. I’ve found that the physical act of cooking alleviates symptoms of stress and anxiety almost immediately. Food is such an inextricable part of the human condition, however, that the simple sensation of having some meat and vegetables sizzling on a pan is also affecting me on a deeper emotional level. Even the often arduous process of prepping, grocery shopping, and washing dishes has added a level of structure to my life and gradually normalized my daily routine.
In his review of X-Men (2000), Roger Ebert begins with an evocation of the mythological gods of Ancient Greece, and ends with a plea to die-hard comic-book fans, whom he wishes would “linger in the lobby after each screening to answer questions.” Sixteen years later, viewed from a cinematic present overrun by the cape and cowl, Ebert’s words read as both prescient and portentous.
After comparing the fish’s “fingerprint” against a library of species profiles, the computer presents its verdict. This time it’s not guilty: “cod”, reads the screen. But just as often, such tests will reveal fraud — cod mixed with something cheaper, whiting perhaps, or a different species entirely.
Professor Chris Elliott, the institute’s 56-year-old founder and an international expert on food integrity, puts it plainly: “What we eat and where it comes from, generally, we don’t know any more. It’s a very complex web. Every time you have a transaction [in the supply chain], there’s another opportunity to cheat.” And every week his lab picks up several cases of food fraud happening somewhere in the world. “If we think about Europe first of all,” Elliott says, “we pick up more and more reports now about the mafia getting involved in criminal activity in food. Part of that is because in other areas of criminal activity they’ve been involved in, they’ve been clamped down on.”
The title of Gerard Woodward’s new book of short stories offers a simile for the experience of reading the book too good to pass up. Immersion in these stories is comparable to entering an amusement park to which people carry the ordinary and everyday aspects of their lives, but which is also a hyperreal space marked by the marvellous and a carnival atmosphere. Repeatedly, Woodward’s stories astonish: they seem to offer a predictable direction, then swerve elsewhere. And just like the toy that lends the title story’s playground its name, these narratives are meticulously designed, building into dazzling and surprising structures.
How had this tranquil little beach assumed the sudden frenzy of emergency? It seemed surreal, almost ridiculous; the scene belonged to a disaster movie, not a family holiday. Even as I paced helplessly, I couldn’t quite take my own fright seriously. Emergencies in real life always turned out to be false alarms, didn’t they? And sure enough, a float reached the fishermen, and soon they had Tony in their arms. A neighbour and I stood in the surf holding the float’s rope, and together we hauled the exhausted tangle of swimmers ashore. The drama was over. In a minute or two Tony would sit up, complain about sand in his ears and ask for a Red Stripe. As the crowd gathered around him, I turned my attention to Jake, who’d not moved from the spot where I had left him. Pale and still, he was staring past my ankles at his father.
“What’s that white stuff coming out of his nose?”
I want to discuss a popular TV show my wife and I have been binge-watching on Netflix. It’s the story of a family man, a man of science, a genius who fell in with the wrong crowd. He slowly descends into madness and desperation, lead by his own egotism. With one mishap after another, he becomes a monster. I’m talking, of course, about Friends and its tragic hero, Ross Geller.
The cold equations of “realism,” some claim, suggest there is little scope for women taking an active and interesting role in epic stories set in fantasy worlds based in a pre-modern era. Women’s lives in the past were limited, constrained, and passive, they say. To include multiple female characters in dynamic roles is to be in thrall to quotas, anachronisms, Political Correctness, and the sad spectacle and dread hyenas of wish-fulfillment.
Is this true?
An absurdist autobiography is either a contradiction in terms or a redundancy, depending on how you look at it. Either the purpose of an autobiography is to make sense of the writer’s life, in which case absurdity would be a severe impediment — or else life itself is absurd, and all autobiographies are too. In his new autobiographical novel, “Gone With the Mind,” Mark Leyner seems to split the difference: He makes sense of his life by unpacking just how ridiculous it is to be alive.
“Curst be he that moves my bones” reads part of the inscription above Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. But apparently, someone did.
Researchers led by Kevin Colls, the project manager at the Center of Archaeology at Staffordshire University, have uncovered evidence that they say indicates that Shakespeare’s skull was stolen from his grave by a local doctor in 1794.
As the critic Pauline Kael said, Robert Redford liked to make “how to” pictures: how to be a political candidate, a mountain man, a downhill skier. Smart, credible low-key films, free of Hollywood bluster and pretense. Captivated by Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate articles in the Washington Post, he wanted to make how to be an investigative reporter, to bare the dogged reality, enshrine their relentless drive. Perhaps he wouldn’t even act in it.
Back when thick bricks of wood pulp were dropped on our doorstep, the highest praise for a movie star was “so powerful he could get the studio to make a picture from the telephone book.” If ever it applied to anyone, it was Robert Redford in 1974. But when he told the studios he wanted to make All the President’s Men, most of them said they’d rather film the phone book. It came down to Warner Bros.
I’m soon to move across the country, and surveying my bookcases—the three in the living room and the three in the bedroom, plus the unshelved piles that crop up from any flat surface—fills me with dread. The only cure, I’ve found, is to let my thoughts wander to another, even larger literary collection, a kind of underworld reflection of the one all around me. The books in this second collection are not all fiction, but they are all fictional. I’m imagining a place the late Umberto Eco might appreciate: the Borges Memorial Non-Lending Library of Imaginary Books.
When someone you love dies, their cookbooks and recipe collections can be a great comfort. Reading and recreating those recipes brings you into a communion that defies the finality of death. But what happens when you inherit the recipe box of someone you didn’t necessarily love, someone who often infuriated you?
“A bookmobile made so much sense, because food trucks work so well in this town,” Ms. Hayes said by telephone. “It’s a great way to get our name out there, too. It’s a rolling advertisement.”
Aristotle talked about an ideal polis that extended the distance of a herald’s cry, a civic space not so large that people could no longer communicate face-to-face. In Zuccotti Park, a contained space only a block long and wide, the police allowed protesters, who were prevented from using loudspeakers, to communicate by repeating phrase by phrase, like a mass game of telephone, what public speakers said, so that everyone, as it were, spoke in one voice. As in any healthy city or town, the occupants did not in fact all agree about goals and dreams or about how to bring about political and social change, even while they shared the same space; and without a sustained and organized structure of governance, their spontaneous occupation inevitably came apart, even before it was invaded and dispersed by the police. That said, for a time Zuccotti became a physical manifestation of democratic impulses and hopes embedded, since the days of the agora, in the very notion of a public square.
We lose many things in our lives. But some losses are existential losses. They take away some part of what we are. After such a loss, we are in a new and unfamiliar world, in which the support on which we had depended – perhaps unknowingly – is no longer available. The loss of a parent, especially during one's early years, is a world-changing experience, and orphans are marked for life by this. The loss of a spouse can be equally traumatic, as is the loss of children, who take with them into the void all the most tender feelings of their parents. Such losses leave us helpless, and even if we find a way of healing the wounds that they make, the scars will remain.
“The Violet Hour” is Roiphe’s impassioned attempt to answer these questions, by way of forensic investigation into the final months of six writers: Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Sendak and James Salter. “I’ve picked people,” she writes, “who are madly articulate, who have abundant and extraordinary imaginations or intellectual fierceness, who can put the confrontation with mortality into words — and in one case images — in a way that most of us can’t or won’t.”
“Everything has gone for me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.” So ends Virginia Woolf’s poignant suicide note, addressed to her husband, Leonard Woolf. It is a throbbing document, hauntingly beautiful, in which a decision is made to part with a rote anguish. I’ve read it dozens of times over the years with fascination, even obsession. I picture her writing these final words in a thin ring of lamplight at a worn desk; walking deliberately down the road’s mellow dust; bending to fill her coat pockets with smooth river stones; the crisp blue cold of the Ouse biting at her ankles. But I always return to the contents of the note: the impossible task of a writer attempting to explain herself—to say goodbye to both a companion and an existence—with words grown suddenly insensate, rebellious. “You see I can’t even write this,” it reads at one point, a line that has always seemed, to me, the most tragic part of a tragic letter—that the mind capable of crafting To the Lighthouse should recoil at its own halting articulation.
Now I see meatballs differently, and more broadly. Meatballs represent home and hearth and family generally speaking, and across cultures. I can imagine Vietnamese children savoring the indulgence of bó viên in a warm bowl of pho, and Swedes (or IKEA customers) finding respite from winter’s cold with hearty köttbullar in a thick, brown gravy. Even so, I still take comfort and pride in the knowledge that the meatball I know and love is a uniquely Italian-American blend, just like my family, and just like me.
For six weeks during the summer of 2010, I traded in my high-waisted skirts and oversized T-shirts for a modest cropped black blazer and a pair of slim-fitting slacks. I wore this professional ensemble every day while I interned at a small nonprofit in the stodgy Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC. I spent my days there assisting boss women who hobnobbed with politicians as they wore patterned jackets with shoulder pads and matching pants that just brushed the top of their heels.
Their pantsuits were from pricey places like Ann Taylor and Bloomingdales. However, as a lowly intern, I paid $45 for my set after discovering it at the bottom of H&M's clearance section. Because the jacket was a size too small, I could only really wear it open. But it kept me warm when the office was colder than an igloo. And my flared trousers were crucial for the mornings when I had to dart up DC's steep hills to catch the bus on my way to work.
Although I wore a pantsuit nearly every day that summer, I never stopped to think about what it signified or how it became so ubiquitous. The truth is, the pantsuit, as innocuous as it might seem, has an incredibly complicated history and still exists in a strange space within our culture, reflecting the aspirations of strong women seeking to defy gender norms and inciting the ire of those intent on keeping us in our place.
Ubiquitous computing and automation are occurring in tandem. Self-operating machines are permeating every dimension of society, so that humans find themselves interacting more frequently with robots than ever before—often without even realizing it. The human-machine relationship is rapidly evolving as a result. Humanity, and what it means to be a human, will be defined in part by the machines people design.
The essays in “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics” arrive like shots of espresso, which you can consume the way the Italians do, quickly and while standing up. As slim as a volume of poetry, Mr. Rovelli’s book also has that tantalizing quality that good books of poems have; it artfully hints at meanings beyond its immediate scope.
For fifteen years, I had scrupulously avoided reading the Novelist’s work, except maybe for a few short pieces in major magazines, which I’d scan for a bit and then set aside. Don’t ask me why I refused to read the Novelist—I had my reasons. I sincerely believed I would not enjoy The Novelist’s work, based on what I’d heard about it. But I was also afraid I might like the Novelist’s work. If it should turn out that The Novelist, who is the same age as me, were truly the voice of his/her generation, that would make it harder for me to claim that mantle at some undisclosed future date. And at our age, that window is rapidly closing, if not already shut, sealed, and winterized.
But finally this past summer, with the Novelist’s name and foibles monopolizing the main channels of every social medium, I could no longer bear to remain the only writer in New York without an opinion about the Novelist. I took the plunge and read one of the Novelist’s most iconic works.
Recently, a friend of mine sent me a strange message. It was imperative, she said, that I get in touch with a guy named Geoffrey Mitchell. Geoffrey lives in the Bay Area and works for Caltrans — the California Department of Public Transportation. But before that, he worked as a marine biologist for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in the swamplands around Lake Charles.
That's, he told me, where he heard about the parrot in a witness protection program.
In case you haven’t heard, journalism is now in perpetual crisis, and conditions are increasingly surreal. The fate of the controversialists at Gawker rests on a delayed jury trial over a Hulk Hogan sex tape. Newspapers publish directly to Facebook, and Snapchat hires journalists away from CNN. Last year, the Pulitzer Prizes doubled as the irony awards; one winner in the local reporting category, it emerged, had left his newspaper job months earlier for a better paying gig in PR. “Is there a future in journalism and writing and the Internet?” Choire Sicha, cofounder of The Awl, wrote last January. “Haha, FUCK no, not really.” Even those who have kept their jobs in journalism, he explained, can’t say what they might be doing, or where, in a few years’ time. Disruption clouds the future even as it holds it up for worship.
But for every crisis in every industry, a potential savior emerges. And in journalism, the latest candidate is sponsored content.
Nobody can tangle a text like Iain Pears. His best-known novel, “An Instance of the Fingerpost,” explored a 17th-century Oxford murder and its aftermath through the memoirs of four unreliable narrators, each hotly disputing the others’ versions of reality, science, religion and justice. After nearly 700 pages of deposition, when the guilty are finally sorted from the hard-to-call-innocent, many readers will understandably have already lost track of their scorecards. Now, almost 20 years later, Pears’s latest novel presents a complexly interwoven series of narrative entanglements that stretch across time, alternate universes and at least several textual realities — from Elizabethan pastoral romance and multiple universe theory to a Narnia-like fantasy world and Cold War international intrigue. What’s the difference between all these systems of order, knowledge and storytelling? the attentive reader might ask. And the answer might well be: no difference at all. They are equally “real” and equally “unreal” — take your pick.
The world’s biggest wooden pencil manufacturer, Faber-Castell, say they are experiencing "double-digit growth" in the sale of artists’ pencils and have been forced to run more shifts in their German factory to keep up.
I have worked for the United Nations for most of the last three decades. I was a human rights officer in Haiti in the 1990s and served in the former Yugoslavia during the Srebrenica genocide. I helped lead the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Haitian earthquake, planned the mission to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons, and most recently led the Ebola mission in West Africa. I care deeply for the principles the United Nations is designed to uphold.
And that’s why I have decided to leave.
The world faces a range of terrifying crises, from the threat of climate change to terrorist breeding grounds in places like Syria, Iraq and Somalia. The United Nations is uniquely placed to meet these challenges, and it is doing invaluable work, like protecting civilians and delivering humanitarian aid in South Sudan and elsewhere. But in terms of its overall mission, thanks to colossal mismanagement, the United Nations is failing.
Just before I left for a business trip recently, I boxed up the remains of a family dinner, braised lamb shanks with Moroccan spices, and told my husband to remember to eat them while I was gone. I figured he might want something other than delivery pizza and boxed mac and cheese while I was absent. I thought about how good the meat would taste mixed with braised greens, tossed with pappardelle, or even cold between two slices of bread with a lick of hot mustard. I was setting my husband (and myself) up for failure: He doesn’t cook, doesn’t even reheat, and I knew from the start that the lamb would likely go uneaten. Even so, five days later, I found myself sadly tsk-tsking him as I pulled the soured lamb out of the refrigerator and tossed it in the compost.
I should have known better than to entrust my husband with such a treasure—after all, not everyone is as attached to leftovers as I am. The word itself evokes a wrinkled nose from many eaters (and food writers). I was once told to trim the word from a piece I was writing because my editor thought Anna (Wintour) would be put off by the idea of recycling a meal.
Works of critico-fiction tend to be formally innovative and The Irresponsible Magician is no exception, particularly in that the book makes no distinctions between its fiction and its nonfiction. Its 10 chapters contain myriad shapes: fragmentary meditations, fictive interviews with cultural figures both actual and imagined, a fanciful catalog, a photo essay, a work of art criticism, a travelogue. Interspersed within the text are motley color photographs that only sometimes bear direct relation to the nearby writing. A series of leitmotifs connect each of these discrete components, which make the disparate parts of the book feel related and almost rebus-like. As in a dream, however, the ultimate meaning always slips just out of grasp. Rutkoff, as the book’s titular magician, is a master of the tantalizing indirection.
But until eight years ago, Mr. Robison, who wrote the 2007 memoir “Look Me in the Eye,” a touchstone in the literature of Asperger’s syndrome, had never experienced the most obvious aspect of music that neurotypical people do: its simple emotional power.
That all changed, Mr. Robison explains in “Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening,” when he participated in a pioneering Asperger’s study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston in 2008. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, doctors hoped to activate neurological pathways in his brain that would deepen his emotional intelligence.
As a general rule, I disdain wine brands. When the strength of a wine’s brand eclipses the actual product, the focus goes away from the wine itself and onto the brand and what that brand represents. Branding is easy if you know how to do it. Winemaking is hard work, especially in Virginia, and it changes from year to year. When a branded winery experiences mass popularity, the wine and the hard work of the winery team become disembodied from the brand, in this case reduced to a side note as the wine’s meaning becomes less about Virginia terroir and more about Trump.
Too Naked for the Nazis (a biography about an Egyptian comedy dance trio written by Alan Stafford) was the official winner of the Diagram Prize with 24.8% of the vote.
The statistics on sexual assault may have forced a national dialogue on consent, but honest conversations between adults and teenagers about what happens after yes — discussions about ethics, respect, decision making, sensuality, reciprocity, relationship building, the ability to assert desires and set limits — remain rare. And while we are more often telling children that both parties must agree unequivocally to a sexual encounter, we still tend to avoid the biggest taboo of all: women’s capacity for and entitlement to sexual pleasure.
Still standing in the middle of the produce section with my phone against my face — the call over — I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. With “all my education,” as my family would say, two degrees and the student loans to show for it, I was nonetheless positioned only marginally better off than my grandparents, who ran errands and did other grunt work two generations removed from where I now stood. Activity continued around me, and this glaring manifestation of what it meant to only slightly improve over one’s predecessors was a quiet, personal revelation that somehow moored me and kept me from imploding. I recognized a shared struggle between myself and them, a sort of inheritance. And unlike my grandparents, who had grade school educations and did factory and domestic work, I had options. Or at least, I thought I did.
Derrida makes a startling claim in the Grammatology: to focus on the apparently marginal and secondary issue of writing raises problems serious enough to overrun all the conceptual resources of the then triumphant “human sciences” (and their model of scientificity provided by structural linguistics), in addition to those of history in general and indeed philosophy itself. All these disciplines share presuppositions that a hard look at the question of writing radically unsettles.
Spiotta throws in many surprises, keeping us off balance throughout this complicated and important book. She reminds us to wonder what's "real," and what's constructed by visible or invisible others. And how can we tell?
Indeed, the very word fuzzy often has a negative connotation in the U.S. (see fuzzy math in politics), and goes against Western notions of logic, which are mostly built around the Aristotelian law of the excluded middle: in lay terms, the idea that a statement cannot be true and false at the same time.
Malki, however, says that fuzzy logic’s ability to incorporate gray into what was once a black and white world is what makes it so powerful. These gray areas, along with the use of language rather than just numbers, also explain why it is a foundation of artificial intelligence. “This is exactly how we as human beings think and make decisions,” Malki said. “If you ask someone how the temperature is, we don’t say 82.3 degrees. We say it’s warm.”
So what does all of this have to do with consistently perfect rice?
In the words of Jonathan Richman, I eat with gusto, damn! You bet!
That is, I did until very recently. Last spring, my middle-aged body cried uncle and I developed a host of complaints, including waterlogged joints and a persistent urge to nap. My doctor attributed it to aging, lifestyle, and stress. I could try NSAIDs and water pills, or I could change my diet. She recommended more vegetables and whole grains, less fatty meat, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, and a big reduction in sodium. I should have been relieved: a mild health problem with an easy, noninvasive solution. Instead I mourned the end of an era. Henceforth I would slog through thin, meagerly salted soups and turn down cake. Ironically, the idea of telling my friends that I couldn’t eat something, anything, filled me with shame. Oh no, I thought, I’m going to be one of those people. By which I really meant, not myself: I love food, and much of who I think I am is wrapped up in the way I eat.
The pleasurable awareness of a story being told courses through the collection like electricity, down to the knowing quality of a title like “If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think.”
A thriller writer gets a second chance to revise her novel 20 years after it first came out. Did she make it better?
So why don't you know his name? Meet the mastermind partners working alongside star chefs.
The essence of Tom Jones might come down to one night in the mid-’90s on an episode of his show The Right Time. Each week was devoted to a specific musical genre. This night the focus was soul, and the guest was Stevie Wonder. It wasn’t the first time the two singers had worked together. Wonder had been one in an impressive array of guests (Janis Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Cocker, and Ray Charles among them) who appeared on Jones’s late ’60s variety show. Here, Jones stood at a piano while Wonder played, the two of them dueting on soul numbers. And on almost every song, it was Jones who knew all the words. Time and again, Wonder would resort to la-la-la-ing while Jones was ready to sing straight through to the end. And time and again, Jones, not wanting to show up his guest, would conclude his vocal and the two of them would chat a little before moving on to another song. In the course of their talk, Jones brought up the subject of songwriting, admitting he was mystified by the process, and asked Wonder how he did it. Rather than answer, Wonder told his host that what every songwriter dreamed of was great singers to put their work across, and he made it clear that he believed he was in the presence of such a great singer. Jones, abashed and humble, quietly thanked him. But beneath that, you could sense Jones thinking, “Who am I to be getting a compliment from Stevie Wonder?”
For an influential group of writers, the purpose of novels is to bear witness to the spectacle of aloneness.
So what is the deal with the small number of people whom transportation researchers have found to be perfectly fine with their commutes, even—shockingly—enjoying them?
When Jay Miscovich came to Key West in 2009, he had treasure in mind. Miscovich was a fifty-year-old, 300-pound real-estate investor from Pennsylvania who had recently lost everything in the financial crash and was relying on his mother’s Social Security check to get by. He did not find gold, but as he would explain to a federal judge at a bench trial in December 2012, a couple of blocks from the terminus australis of U.S. 1, he soon came into possession of more than a hundred pounds of rough Colombian emeralds. He’d discovered them, he testified, while scuba diving in international waters forty miles north of the island.
The discovery seemed at first to be unambiguously good news, and yet less than a year after Miscovich’s testimony, police would find him dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound. “I’ve loved many beautiful women, built my business and found an awesome treasure,” he said in a note he left for his friends and family. “So don’t mourn my death, celebrate my life!”
It is always tempting to say that this is not a good time for ideas. Though people hold them or dismiss them, promote them or disparage them, ideas often seem unstable. Often we think we are debating an idea only to discover that it no longer means what we thought it meant. We proclaim our affection for equality, autonomy, liberation, authenticity only to find that the meanings of those words and the concepts they name have changed into something unrecognizable. Those of us who have long been wary of big ideas, ideas that mobilize infatuates, find that even modest ideas are routinely appropriated for purposes that can seem astonishing. This is a time when students and their mentors at major universities declare themselves endangered by the "unsafe and hostile" environment created by a professor — call her Laura Kipnis if you like — who had the nerve to publish a so-called offensive essay. Thought you understood terms like "unsafe," "hostile," and "endangered" and knew more or less what diversity of outlook or opinion might entail in an academic environment? Think again.
When Heather Lende was asked to write an obituary for her local paper in Alaska, she had no idea that over the following 20 years she would go on write hundreds of them - all for people she knew. She also became an unofficial bereavement counsellor for the town of Haines.
But my husband insisted there was nothing to be ashamed of, and we should directly ask for "hot water only." He cleared his throat and in a posh British accent said, "Can I have a glass of hot water?" He paused awkwardly, then added, "Please?"
The waitress' eyes widened and her mouth suddenly popped open, like a cartoon character receiving unexpected news. She was so confused she looked pained. She stuttered a reply: "To … to … to drink?"
Maybe it’s because work is satisfying. Maybe it’s because we’re trapped. Or maybe, as Ryan Avent suspects, it’s because of a troubling combination of the two.
Glory, for the translator, is borrowed glory. There is no way around this. Translators are celebrated when they translate celebrated books. The best translations from the Italian I have seen in recent years are Geoffrey Brock’s rendering of Pavese’s collected poems, Disaffections, and Frederika Randall’s enormous achievement in bringing Ippolito Nievo’s great novel Confessions of an Italian into English. Brock, who has also given us an excellent version of Pinocchio, finds an entirely convincing English voice for the troubled Pavese. Randall turns Nievo’s lively, idiosyncratic pre-Risorgimento prose into something sparklingly credible in English. However, neither of these fine books became the talk of the town and their translators remain in the shadows.
Suddenly, loneliness is everywhere. Some people are writing about it, and some are making it the subject of films. Meanwhile, others are simply trying to cope with it, just as they’ve always done. Hubert, which marks Ben Gijsemans’s debut as a graphic novelist, is also about the isolation that comes with city life. However, this beautiful, moving book isn’t only about what it is like to be too much alone; to turn its almost wordless pages is briefly to replicate the experience. The deafening silence of its frames are at moments as crushing as lead.
“The Travelers” does confirm what Mr. Pavone’s first two books have established: that when it comes to quick-witted, breathless thrillers that trot the globe, his are top-tier. But if he chooses to let the next one breathe more deeply, that would work, too.
While e-books retailers like Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble can collect troves of data on their customers’ reading behavior, publishers and writers are still in the dark about what actually happens when readers pick up a book. Do most people devour it in a single sitting, or do half of readers give up after Chapter 2? Are women over 50 more likely to finish the book than young men? Which passages do they highlight, and which do they skip?
Mr. Rhomberg’s company is offering publishers the tantalizing prospect of peering over readers’ shoulders. Jellybooks tracks reading behavior the same way Netflix knows what shows you binge-watch and Spotify knows what songs you skip.
The line between fiction and fact began to blur for Shapter in 2009, at a Smithville bed-and-breakfast. Shapter was scouting locations for his first feature film, which he hoped would be the fictional story of a woman from a small town who had helped rob the bank where she worked and then disappeared.
Funnily enough, he says his hosts told him, something a lot like that had happened there many years ago. A woman who’d been working as a bank teller allegedly got her boyfriend to rob her employer. She was interrogated but skipped town before charges were filed and was never seen again.
Later, Shapter says, David Herrington, a local historian who is interviewed in The Teller and the Truth, showed him a picture of the woman—posing, memorably, with her midriff bared—in an old Smithville newspaper. But her tale dead-ended after that. “There’s no more to that story other than she was brought in for questioning,” Shapter tells me. So Shapter filled in the details. He decided to give the woman his late grandmother’s name because he thought that attributing fictional incidents to a real person would invite a lawsuit. And that 1974 photo that he posted to Flickr? It was actually a photo he took in 2010 of Leilani Galvan, an employee at an Austin juice bar he frequents. (Shapter does not have a photographer uncle named Paul Amos McQueen.) He calls his creation of the Wetherbee myth a “social experiment.” He certainly didn’t expect it to blow up like it did.
Richard Susskind has been discussing “the end of lawyers” for years. He’s at it again, but this time with even more sweeping claims. In a recent book entitled The Future of the Professions, co-authored with his son, Daniel, he argues that nearly all professions are on a path to near-complete automation. Lawyers may be relieved by this new iteration of his argument — if everyone’s profession is doomed to redundancy, then law can’t be a particularly bad career choice after all. To paraphrase Monty Python: few expect the singularity.
Yet for all its ubiquity, the magazine retains a central air of mystery. Even regular readers are often unaware of its origins, and its editor-in-chief is all but publicly invisible. Which is why I went on a pilgrimage to Kinfolk's offices in Copenhagen to find Nathan Williams and figure out how an almost painfully reserved 29-year-old ex-Mormon from rural Canada bucked the slow death of print to create the lifestyle magazine of the decade, not just for Brooklyn or the United States, but the entire world.
For anyone familiar with Greene’s prolific output, it’s hard to believe that he could ever suffer from writer’s block. But, in his fifties, that’s precisely what happened—he faced a creative “blockage,” as he called it, that prevented him from seeing the development of a story or even, at times, its start. The dream journal proved to be his savior. Dream journaling was a very special type of writing, Greene believed. No one but you sees your dreams. No one can sue you for libel for writing them down. No one can fact-check you or object to a fanciful turn of events. In the foreword to “A World of My Own,” a selection of dream-journal entries that Greene selected, Yvonne Cloetta, Greene’s mistress of many years, quotes Greene telling a friend, “If one can remember an entire dream, the result is a sense of entertainment sufficiently marked to give one the illusion of being catapulted into a different world . . . . One finds oneself remote from one’s conscious preoccupations.” In that freedom from conscious anxiety, Greene found the freedom to do what he otherwise couldn’t: write.
Tim Whitmarsh’s brilliant new book about ancient atheism makes a compelling case that various forms of religious disbelief have been with us for the past two and a half millennia, with greater and lesser degrees of cultural prominence. Atheism has had a distinguished and varied lineage. It seems likely that doubt about religion is just as old as religion itself, although there is no way to prove what people believed or did not believe in cultures that have left us no literary evidence.
It’s true, of course: we all make up a self. We invent and perform multiple selves. But writers—especially writers who choose an autobiographical first person, as Myles does—have a particularly bizarre relationship to that invented self because the construction is also the basis for the art. Then the art generates further ideas about the invented self, and sometimes the maker gets a bit famous, and now which is which? Is the constructed self the writer? Is the writer the work? Is the work the image, the fame? Is the image or fame the same as the life? There it is: the hall of mirrors.
“For five seconds or perhaps longer, the world was perfectly still and immensely quiet. Then the screaming began.” The novelist Mischa Berlinski wrote those words in February, 2010, a month after the earthquake that devastated Haiti. He had been living there since 2007; his wife was working for the United Nations; he had embarked on his second novel.
I have wrestled with how to review it, circled my metaphors like a wary cat, and finally abandoned the enterprise of trying to live up to its accomplishment. I will be honest, and blunt, because this is a book that has scoured me of language and insight and left itself rattling around inside the shell of me.
I have never been so moved by a collection of short fiction. I was at times afraid to read more. Every single story struck chords in me profound enough to hurt, whether about the love and cruelty of families; the melancholy of thermodynamics; the vicious unfairness of history and the humbling grace with which people endure its weight. Stories so often take us out of ourselves; Liu's stories went deep into my marrow, laying bare painful truths, meticulously slicing through the layers of pearl to find the grain of sand at its heart.
The perennial adolescent complaint that adults have ruined the world (and that blameless young people will inherit it) has some real kick in these days of catastrophic storms and retreating glaciers. The last generation to take a stable season-cycle for granted could be reading right now; in any case, young people growing up today will face the consequences of our industrial activity more concretely than any previous generation. So it is no surprise that science fiction’s latest subgenre — climate fiction, or cli-fi — has produced a number of works intended for young readers.
Paolo Bacigalupi is one of cli-fi’s most successful practitioners. Almost every one of his novels and stories is set in a near-future devastated by rising sea levels and dwindling resources. Several of his books, in fact, seem to be set in the same collapsed future.
Over the years since the “My Stepmother Is an Alien” screen test, I told myself that I didn’t get the part because I didn’t actually want it. I didn’t want to be a child star; I wanted to be a theater actor in New York, a far worthier goal. [...] But a quarter of a century later, do I wish I had gone back to that Columbia soundstage, hot tears rolling off my chin, and said, “Mr. Benjamin, can I just do one more take?” Every single day.
I have always loved rain, anything from drizzle to downpour and all the spits and spots in between. Being out in it, hiding from it, the fact that it both freshens up the world and makes it cosy. Above all, I like the fact that rain is unaccountable. It just turns up or doesn’t, and, short of having an aeroplane loaded with cloud-seeding chemicals at your disposal, there is nothing you can do about it. In an increasingly commodified world, rain keeps us wild and it keeps us humble.
But try telling that to other people. Mostly they look at you as if you had just expressed a preference for being in pain. So how exhilarating to find that Melissa Harrison, a nature writer as well as a novelist (who has just been longlisted for the Baileys prize and was shortlisted for the Costa) feels the same, and has both the specialist knowledge and knack of language to explain why water falling from the sky is such a pleasurable part of daily existence. Setting her narrative in 2014, a very good year for those of us who like to get wet, she embarks on four country walks chosen to showcase the different faces of English damp.
“Super” (from the same word in Latin, meaning above, over or beyond) has been around as an adjective and noun since the mid-19th century and as a prefix long before that. Shakespeare even got into the compound mix, noted Patricia T. O’Conner, an author of several books on language, with “my super-dainty Kate” in “The Taming of the Shrew.” But it has been in use as a stand-alone adverb — as a synonym for very or extremely — since only 1946, according to Merriam-Webster.
Genius and food have a lot in common. Both nurture, inspire and occasionally intimidate. Some appeal to almost everyone instantly. Others are acquired tastes. So perhaps it's not surprising that, scanning history's greatest minds, we find many were inspired by certain food or drink, repulsed by others —or had some very peculiar dining habits.
Sam Harris sets out an ambitious project for himself. Harris—a neuroscientist and atheist who has argued militantly against religious belief—hopes to meet head-on a common response to the atheist position, that, as Dostoyevsky famously put it, in the absence of God anything is permitted. The fear is that without religious belief to guide us, we are flung at once into the quicksand of moral relativism dispossessed of any firm footing upon which to claim that anything is truly right or wrong. For a public intellectual who has made his bones using religion as philosophical target-practice, this is a logical move. Harris wants once and for all to vanquish the challenge of moral (and cultural) relativism. Unfortunately (and I mean that sincerely), the assault of moral skepticism upon the notion of objective moral truth cannot be swatted away quite as easily as Harris implies.
Dana Spiotta has now spent four novels proposing and revising her own definitions of friendship. “Lightning Field” (2001) centered on the rivalrous affection between an ambitious restaurateur and her friend/employee; “Eat the Document” (2006) on the bond between fugitive Vietnam-era radicals; “Stone Arabia” (2011) concerned filial friendship, specifically that between a single-mother sister and the brother who relies on her to be the sole audience for his music and visual art. Now comes “Innocents and Others,” a brilliant, riddling clip-montage of the friendship between two very different filmmakers.
Ballet dancer Eric Underwood was on tour last summer in the south of Italy when he had finally had enough.
He's black, and as a soloist for the Royal Ballet often needs to wear flesh-coloured shoes for his performances. But walk into a ballet store and the only options are beiges and pinks. There is usually nothing for non-white ballet dancers.
here are a dozen factors that make Japanese food so special – ingredient obsession, technical precision, thousands of years of meticulous refinement – but chief among them is one simple concept: specialisation. In the west, where miso-braised short ribs share menus with white truffle pizza and sea bass ceviche, restaurants cast massive nets to try to catch as many fish as possible but, in Japan, the secret to success is choosing one thing and doing it really fucking well. Forever.
The air was as crisp as a hundred dollar bill, on April 27, 1936. A southwesterly breeze filled the bright white sails of the pleasure boats sailing across the San Francisco Bay. Through the cabin window of a ferryboat, a man studied the horizon. His tired eyes were hooded, his dark hair swept backwards, his hands and feet locked in iron chains. Behind a curtain of grey mist, he caught his first dreadful glimpse of Alcatraz Island.
“Count” Victor Lustig, 46 years old at the time, was America’s most dangerous con man. In a lengthy criminal career, his sleight-of-hand tricks and get-rich-quick schemes had rocked Jazz-Era America and the rest of the world. In Paris, he had sold the Eiffel Tower in an audacious confidence game—not once, but twice. Finally, in 1935, Lustig was captured after masterminding a counterfeit banknote operation so vast that it threatened to shake confidence in the American economy. A judge in New York sentenced him to 20 years on Alcatraz.
Four years ago, when I began working on a book about the secrets of productivity, I had a hidden motivation: I wanted to figure out how to eat dinner with my kids.
I don't see my job as making or breaking an artist. I have other responsibilities toward art.
The best part is, I just tested the free Wi-Fi and it’s 114 Mbps, easily the fastest I’ve ever gotten. Thank you, Jeff Bezos!
Intersections in America are boring: Grind to a halt, go left, right, or straight. Why can’t we be more like countries that forgo 90-degree angles for welcoming roundabouts, where drivers can ease into their exits or just circle repeatedly in automotive bliss?
However, in the 15 years that have passed since I completed my linguistics degree, I’ve realized that descriptivism can quickly succumb to its own kind of smugness; it forms its own set of shibboleths and rules. There’s often an insider-y smirk lurking behind the declaration that “language changes.” Yes, language changes — everything changes, Q.E.D. But there’s room in the middle for language moderates who can tell the difference between, on the one hand, arbitrary, baseless, unenforceable rules and, on the other, a refusal to correct even obfuscating or harmful errors.
Novels, of course, communicate a lot more in carrying out their design, but what seems to me beyond dispute is that literature, when undertaken seriously, is a celebration not of life but of awareness, an awareness of the human condition, which is both communal and individual and inevitably strikes a balance, palpable or barely perceptible, between the two. Each of us, then, is a fulcrum where the private and the public meet, where inner and other-directed yearnings sometimes clash. Literature gets written because of this, and what we understand and love in it, as Erich Auerbach wrote, "is a human existence, a possibility of ‘modification’ within ourselves."
Still, it was hard to imagine how Jack Viertel would be able to fill a 300-page book about how Broadway hits get made. Doesn’t every musical have its own particular alchemy? Is there really a recipe for success?
As Viertel lays out in “The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built,” both are clearly true; there is a certain amount of magic that transforms a show into a classic. But there is also time-tested architecture that makes some musicals more effective than others.
At the ninety-nine-cent store, I looked in vain for a bathtub stopper. “Can I help you?” asked a woman, presumably the owner. When I told her what I was looking for, she flew to a seemingly random shelf and began to scan it with a gimlet eye. She tried to give me a drain catch and then one of those flat rubber pads that covers everything, but I really wanted the sort with a chain. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I can just go to the hardware store … ”
Last August, in the middle of the summer news doldrums, I wrote a quick story on an obscure U.S. Department of Agriculture dataset called the "natural amenities index," which ranked America's counties on a number of physical characteristics -- mild weather, ample sunshine, varied landscape -- that usually make a place desirable to live in.
The piece had a few hundred words, a map and some charts -- standard data journalism fare. Per usual, I called out the winners and the losers, according to the data. On that latter point, some far-flung place I'd never heard of called "Red Lake County" (pop. 4,057) in Minnesota scored dead last. I did a quick Google search, added a dash of snark about its claim to fame -- "the only landlocked county in the United States that is surrounded by just two neighboring counties" -- and called it a day.
That's when the trouble started.
But is it possible to write criticism—or even to write critically—while at the same time refusing the critic’s authority? Can a work be coherent, meaningful, and precise without its author dressing it as a piece of art criticism—or as an interview, a short story, a book of photos, a psychoanalytic case study, an autobiography?
Archangel — the debut science fiction novel by Marguerite Reed — powerfully invokes the wonder of myth: Reed draws on fairy tales, legends, holy works, and prayer to create the speech and personality of her protagonist. It’s often difficult for a sci-fi novel to create a myth that resonates with readers, for an alien world’s truths to echo our own. Even more difficult is the task of weaving our own myths into a world similar to ours in a way that feels fresh. Stunningly, Reed accomplishes both. Women’s roles in the novel, in particular, are archetypal: lover, maiden, fertility goddess, seductress, avenging angel. After reading, it is no surprise that both Gaia and Kali pulse at the heart of this story.
Most writers would give everything they own to have just one masterpiece to their name. British author Helen Oyeyemi is barely 31, and she already has at least three of them. That includes her last two novels, Mr. Fox and Boy, Snow, Bird, both of which received extensive critical acclaim in the U.S. and around the world.
It also includes her latest book, the short story collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. The book contains the same sly humor, gorgeous writing and magical characters as her previous efforts. It is, in a word, flawless.
The question “How much?” is of particular interest to me a year after leaving a well-paid newspaper job with prospects, pension and private medical insurance, for freelance writing. As I sat down to write this review, an email arrived from an editor on a woman’s glossy magazine apologising for the “genuinely pathetic amount of money” they were able to pay.
Baumeister’s theory of willpower, and his clever means of testing it, have been borne out again and again in empirical studies. The effect has been recreated in hundreds of different ways, and the underlying concept has been verified via meta-analysis. It’s not some crazy new idea, wobbling on a pile of flimsy data; it’s a sturdy edifice of knowledge, built over many years from solid bricks.
And yet, it now appears that ego depletion could be completely bogus, that its foundation might be made of rotted-out materials. That means an entire field of study—and significant portions of certain scientists’ careers—could be resting on a false premise. If something this well-established could fall apart, then what’s next? That’s not just worrying. It’s terrifying.
More than 30 years ago, when he learned he was infected with the virus that causes AIDS, Peter was certain his life was over. Since then, he’d lost not just his lover and his friends, but his livelihood, his community, his home.
But on this Christmas Eve, on the cusp of another new year, Peter was still here: 61, his beard flecked with gray, his eyes still a striking, youthful blue. A survivor of a plague that killed tens of thousands just like him.
“I’m the luckiest unlucky person in the world,” he often said. “No one wants to be the last man standing.”
Not only do we want dead bodies to be in the right place, our collective response to decaying and dead bodies exposes fundamental truths about social conditions, and especially about the vulnerability of the poor.
The boxes at my door were plastered with red drawings of bugs and the blunt warning: “Live Insects.” I could hear audible scratching and shuffling—and even what I thought was an errant “chirp”—as I placed them on my kitchen counter.
I slowly opened the first lid. Out poked two antennae, followed by the head of a cricket. I lifted the lid higher and saw dozens of them hopping around. Inside the second box, a thousand mealworms wriggled over an egg crate.
The first ingredients for my dinner party had arrived.
It’s shocking that such brilliant scientists could be quite so ignorant, but unfortunately their views on philosophy are not uncommon. Unlike many other academic subjects (mathematics and history, for example), where non-experts have some vague sense of the field’s practices, there seems to be widespread confusion about what philosophy entails.
In Nye’s case, his misconceptions are too large and many to show why each and every one is flawed. But several of his comments in the video speak to broader confusions about philosophy. So let’s clear up some of those.
There were two problems with Heaton’s argument. First, territories and borders can be delicate and volatile things, and tampering with them is rarely without unforeseen consequences. As Heaton learned from the public response to his self-declared kingdom, there is no neutral or harmless way to “claim” a state, no matter how far away from anywhere else it appears to be. Second, Heaton was not the first well-intentioned, starry-eyed eccentric to travel all the way to Bir Tawil and plant a flag. Someone else got there first, and that someone was me.
Slow Burn City describes London in the early 21st century, the global city above all others, whose land and homes are tradeable commodities on international markets, a transit lounge and stopping-off point for the world’s migrant populations, all to an extent greater than anywhere else. It is dazzling and exciting but also struggles to deal with the pressures created by its success. It is unable to offer many of its citizens a decent home, and its best qualities are threatened by speculation. Modern London tests to the limit the idea that, when it comes to the growth and organisation of a city, the free market knows best. London is a New Sybaris of entertainment, art, fashion, cuisine and multiple refinements of pleasure, and a place of invention and opportunity where people are desperate to live…
Some readers might wonder, does it matter? If one calls oneself Jewish, or Christian or whatever, what’s the harm in that? If belief were truly a personal matter, not much. But with evangelicals still accounting for a quarter of all Americans, and generally voting as a bloc, the electoral implications of the rise of the Nones are clear. Faith skews political discourse to the right. Rousing nonbelievers to come clean about their views and cast ballots accordingly would change the political landscape in the United States, and help settle controversial issues such as women’s reproductive rights, right-to-die legislation, and, of course, the teaching of evolution by natural selection in schools.
Those are all battles progressives need to fight and win. Silverman’s Fighting God will provide much needed succor to the hitherto too-timid secularist rank and file.
It’s difficult for those of us who live in urban areas – 82% of us now – to get a good sense of the land on which we live. Its contours are obscured by buildings, its marshes drained, its rivers often diverted or sent underground; what we relate to on a day to day basis are its manmade features, the texture of its surface, and not the land beneath.
Travel was once a way to understand topography, but the modern road network often disengages us from it. Most of the time, all that’s visible from a motorway is fast-moving embankment or a half-mile strip of field. On the dashboard, the satnav tells us nothing about the physical characteristics of the land we travel through – only that we are on the right route.
Think about how negotiating the space of a museum compares to using a reference book. How would you begin? Do you use the index; start at the beginning; let the pages fall open? And how does that repertoire of bookish movements connect to the way we occupy our virtual habitats — spaces where distances are crossed in great leaps of electronic association, minds anticipated by invisible algorithms, thoughts extended by keyword searches that return the unlikeliest affinities?
We find ourselves these days at a strange point in the history of intellection, where the “how” of finding out often looms larger as a form of innovation than the “what.” And so it is fitting that questions of method frame these two new books, each of which begins with an essay reflecting upon the getting in and getting along in a world of information. Brad Pasanek’s Metaphors of Mind begins as a dictionary of key terms — coinage, metal, rooms, writing — in which flipping and searching is facilitated and foreseen as an activity that joins the 18th-century reader of books to the 20th-century reader of data. Sean Silver’s The Mind Is a Collection stages itself as a series of cases stocked with exhibition pieces: cases whose specificity is designed to put generalizations under pressure.
For all that it brims over with diverse, colorful creations, it's fundamentally about a lack: the absence of an artist who should exist, but was never allowed to. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye mourns all the creators who have never been permitted to thrive in Singapore. Liew's own existence seems to be evidence of a change, but only partly. The government withdrew its support from his book, but it didn't ban it outright. That's a kind of progress.
“If you ever try to do something in a science lab that’s not science, people look at you in a really funny way,” said Mr. Coelho, who initially had to schmooze the gatekeeper to the multimillion-dollar microscope, which was designed to repair microchips (the pair settled for access in the wee hours). But once the lab technician saw their surprising results, in which the microscopic contours of the grains resemble mountainous landscapes, he offered more time on the machine and his own ideas for images they could make. “You could see the excitement percolating through the system,” said Mr. Coelho, who spent four years on the “Sandcastles” series.
A sgroup of eagle-eyed puzzlers, using digital tools, has uncovered a pattern of copying in the professional crossword-puzzle world that has led to accusations of plagiarism and false identity.
Since 1999, Timothy Parker, editor of one of the nation’s most widely syndicated crosswords, has edited more than 60 individual puzzles that copy elements from New York Times puzzles, often with pseudonyms for bylines, a new database has helped reveal. The puzzles in question repeated themes, answers, grids and clues from Times puzzles published years earlier. Hundreds more of the puzzles edited by Parker are nearly verbatim copies of previous puzzles that Parker also edited. Most of those have been republished under fake author names.
The evasion of justice within academia is all the more infuriating because the course of sexual harassment is so predictable. Since I started writing about women and science, my female colleagues have been moved to share their stories with me; my inbox is an inadvertent clearinghouse for unsolicited love notes. Sexual harassment in science generally starts like this: A woman (she is a student, a technician, a professor) gets an email and notices that the subject line is a bit off: “I need to tell you,” or “my feelings.” The opening lines refer to the altered physical and mental state of the author: “It’s late and I can’t sleep” is a favorite, though “Maybe it’s the three glasses of cognac” is popular as well.
From a slope in Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery, I looked down at a plain gravestone that was leaning to the right. Next to me, my friend Gary turned a map of the plots. Between the fall-dead leaves that half-buried it and the weathering of the stone, neither of us could read the name. Gary knelt, passing his hand over the letters. “Here she is,” he said. “E.D.E.N. Southworth, 1819-1899.”
We made the pilgrimage to find 19th-century author E.D.E.N. Southworth’s grave when I was rereading her most famous novel, “The Hidden Hand,” and realized she was buried here, in Washington. I immediately felt compelled to pay my respects and to take Gary with me, because we both first encountered Southworth’s work in graduate school.
In a 1975 interview with the New York Times, MAD Magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman recalled an illustration of a grinning boy he’d spotted on a postcard in the early fifties: a “bumpkin portrait,” “part leering wiseacre, part happy-go-lucky kid.” It was captioned “What, Me Worry?”
“Bridge is such a logical game,” he told me. “When you do a lot of strange things in a very short period of time, and those strange things are successful—it just doesn’t happen.” He spent hours studying records of hands that he and his partner had played against Fisher and Schwartz, and concluded that they had been cheating. “I just didn’t know how they were doing it,” he said.
There is a special risk in writing about Orson Welles. The dimensions may get a little out of hand, as if they had to mime the physical size and imaginative reach of the subject. Patrick McGilligan’s excellent biography of Alfred Hitchcock takes 750 pages to cover the director’s life and his fifty films. By page 706 of Young Orson, Welles is about to start shooting Citizen Kane, his first full-length movie: he is twenty-five years old, and he lived till he was seventy. There is a thirty-nine-page postlude about the day and night of Welles’s death.
From certain angles, it’s a kind of New England gothic, where the lost children and dead women and doppelgängers serve to add atmosphere and meaning to the narrator’s past peregrinations, her dalliances and uncertainties. It turns out in the end that this is in fact a book about an arty person with a complicated personal life. But it’s a lovely one, written in a moving and uncanny register.
If “Every Song Ever” has an overarching theme, it is an injunction to open your ears! Music, or a component of music like repetition or pitch, is around us all the time, even “the distinct blasts of the commuter train whistle down by the river.” In his smart, provocative introduction Ratliff reminds us that we live in a different musical universe now, at least as regards the multitude of digital delivery systems and platforms along with the fact that “every song ever” is downloadable: total access around the clock.
The story of gentrifying communities is always about the dynamic between the new and the old, the outsiders and the insiders, but that friction is palpable when you feel as if you need to stake your claim to the neighborhood on your restaurant’s menu. ‘‘It’s funny,’’ Monika said. ‘‘I moved away a few years ago, but now, when I come back with my baby and go to a cool coffee shop, the people look at me like: ‘Great. Here come the stroller people. There goes the neighborhood.’ ’’
As a proud New Yorker, I was not supposed to like Pizza Hut's pizza, reconstructed from a third-hand dream about Little Italy. It was pizza distilled and distorted for white middle states, with doughy crusts and sweet sauce and something that just felt off. Liking Pizza Hut was just not what we did.
Except, as a kid, I loved Pizza Hut. As a 9-year-old in 1995, any discomfort I had with the idea of impostor chain pizza was overridden by the promise of that delicious abomination, the stuffed crust.
I am not prescribing moral amnesia here. To be wholly without memory would be to be without a world. Nor am I arguing against the determination for a group to memorialise its dead or demand acknowledgment of its sufferings. To do so would be to counsel a kind of moral and psychological self-mutilation of tragic proportions. On the other hand, too much forgetting is hardly the only risk. There is also too much remembering, and in the early 21st century, when people throughout the world are, in the words of the historian Tzvetan Todorov, “obsessed by a new cult, that of memory”, the latter seems to have become a far greater risk than the former.
The choices made throw together manuscript conventions (the blackletter titles but also sparing use of punctuation and the absence of uppercase letters), the resolute orality of Buccmaster’s first-person voice, and Jenson’s association with Humanism and its crucial companion, the printing press. The book materializes as a reminder that history comes to us only in highly mediated ways, through flawed witnesses like Buccmaster, imaginative writers like Kingsnorth, and makers like Jenson and his modern-day descendants at Graywolf.
But how does Valley of the Dolls actually hold up as a read 50 years later? Incredibly well, in fact, if you’re not looking for nuance and shading. Susann bothers little with phrasing or mood. For her, language is a blunt instrument to move a story forward—mostly through straightforward and often hilarious dialogue.
Any story that, on its very first page, redefines its protagonist from third to first person, flips forward in time to offer a view of him from elsewhere, makes a subtle alteration of tense, and announces that the character’s age in the story is a matter of speculation even to the older self doing the narrating, is going to be a story about perception, whatever else it is. It is going to be about seeing, as well as about the things seen.
There were two cars, belonging to Jax and Flynn, driving from the beach north up through town to someone’s parentless house. Riding with Jax was Seger, and with Flynn, Xavier. On a stretch of road by one of the town’s country clubs, Jax lost control of his car, hit a telephone pole, and skidded a hundred feet into a tree. The crash drove the engine through the dashboard. The Jaws of Life were required to cut the bodies from the wreckage.
At that moment—as the first siren sounded, as the first numbers were dialed, as the bodies were gathered and rushed away—I was watching a movie/eating Chinese/on a bed with my girlfriend, I can’t remember exactly. Lost in the oblivious haze of youth, I was certain, like millions of teenagers before me, that nothing would ever touch us there.
Until, of course, it did.
By now, Corden has surprised himself. He too had his doubts about whether he was ready to host a late-night talk show. Now he does not.
“In many respects, it’s the dream job for me,” he says.
Because late-night TV plays to your strengths?
“I don’t know if it’s playing to my strengths,” Corden says drily. “It’s more like ignoring my weaknesses.”
Who the &%!#@ is James Corden?
Fox News may have been surprised by the allegations, as were many close to Simmons, but doubts about his background had percolated for years within Clizbe’s social network of ex-spooks, and they began in earnest at that fateful lunch in 2010. As Clizbe drove home, his thoughts drifted to a passage from George MacDonald Fraser’s 1969 novel ‘‘Flashman,’’ about a wealthy misfit who, because of a series of misunderstandings, earns a reputation as a war hero. It opens on the fraudulent narrator considering a portrait of himself: ‘‘I can look at the picture above my desk, of the young officer . . . tall, masterful and roughly handsome . . . and say that it is the portrait of a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward — and, oh yes, a toady.’’
The work is George Gershwin’s jaunty, jazzy symphonic poem “An American in Paris,” and the effect involves a set of instruments that were decidedly not standard equipment when it was written in 1928: French taxi horns, which honk in several places as the music evokes the urban soundscape that a Yankee tourist experiences while exploring the City of Light.
The question is what notes should those taxi horns play. In something of a musicological bombshell, a coming critical edition of the works of George and Ira Gershwin being prepared at the University of Michigan will argue that the now-standard horn pitches — heard in the classic 1951 movie musical with Gene Kelly, in leading concert halls around the world, and eight times a week on Broadway in Christopher Wheeldon’s acclaimed stage adaptation — are not what Gershwin intended.
Today, Penn Station is more like a polished turd, except it’s not really polished. It’s been called “the worst place in New York City,” “the worst transit experience in the US,” and “the worst place on Earth” — and that’s just from Googling one adjective.
Her new novel, “Innocents and Others,” shares these same themes, and like “Lightning Field,” it features a heroine obsessed with the movies, and a collagelike structure that jump-cuts between her story and the stories of two other main characters. “Innocents” is more ambitious and tendentious than earlier Spiotta novels like “Eat the Document” and “Stone Arabia.” It aims not only to use its characters’ experiences to open a window on American life in the late 20th century, but also to examine how technology has atomized contemporary life and the ways art mediates our relationships with friends and strangers.