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Archive for July 2016

Sunday, July 31, 2016

In Cuba, As An Uncertain Future Inches Closer, It’s Still A Step Back In Time, by Moriah Balingit, Washington Post

Despite numerous novice traveler mishaps, Cuba ended up delivering on its magic. To see the island now is to see a place in flux, to play witness to history and to get a glimpse into the Cuban people’s mix of emotions — anxiety, excitement, fear — over the coming shift. It is to observe mind-bending surreality, to see hints of modernity — like the crowds of tourists and locals slumped over smartphones and huddled around public WiFi spots — amid noisy, rumbling decades-old cars, the omnipresent reminder of a nation slowed by the embargo.

Sorrow And The Feminine In Three Experimental Texts, by Kristina Marie Darling, Los Angeles Review of Books

Elaine Scarry once observed that “a made object is a projection of the human body.” We must remember, too, that much is housed within the walls of the body: the senses, certainly, but also grief, difference, and the various narratives from which they arise. With that in mind, even the most commonplace items are inscribed with history’s discontents and inequities, a startling numbness in the fingertips that is inevitably externalized.

Three recent experimental texts explore the many ways difference is written onto the body, as well as the objects that surround us: “ill-fitting shoes,” “flowers carved out of thick glass,” “a cracked bowl.” We are presented with a sorrow that is contained in everything we touch, with the tears of things. Indeed, Lisa Fay Coutley’s Errata, Suzanne Scanlon’s Her 37th Year: An Index, and Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women conceptualize a sadness that is at once tangible and historical, a melancholy stitched into the seams of every dress.

'Dark Matter' Is A Jet-Propelled Science Thriller, by Jason Sheehan, NPR

Here's the big one: Do you think you can you swallow all of the above — forgive all the various failings of a book which is sometimes maddening in its refusal to be as good as you want it to be — if the payoff is worth it? Can you do it if I told you that Crouch sticks the landing in such a way that I rode an elevator up and down for 20 minutes one afternoon just so I could get to the end of one of his final chapters?

A Beautiful Young Wife Review – Dissection Of The Male Heart, by Julie Myerson, The Guardian

You know you’re in the presence of properly great fiction writing when you forget to question a single word of it. “This happened,” the author declares – and that’s it, you’re there, the book in your hand suddenly so much more urgent and alive than the world around you. Absolute narrative authority is a rare commodity, hard to unwrap and (I would argue) near impossible to teach. So what a joy to stumble across it here – along with prose of such exquisite precision and intensity – in this Dutch writer’s sixth novel.

If We’re A Nation Of Foodies, Why Do Patients Starve?, by Kevin McKenna, The Guardian

What I don’t get, though, is that the quality of food in our hospitals has become a national scandal and that it took the brave efforts of my former colleague, the journalist Anne Johnstone, to expose it as such during a recent spell in hospital. What we serve our elderly and infirm, at a time when they are in most need of a decent meal, is processed slops prepared off-site by catering firms that have won the contract with the lowest possible tender.

And what I don’t get either is that as Glasgow has made a fetish of its food it has also become the foodbank capital of Scotland, with the numbers using this facility rising significantly each year. But hey, did you know that the city is becoming a European go-to destination for gourmet burgers?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Cookie Jar, by Stephen King, VQR

There was a certain accord between them, right from the beginning. The boy thought the old man looked pretty good for ninety, and the old man thought the boy, whose name was Dale, looked pretty good for thirteen.

The kid started by calling him Great-Grandpa, but Barrett was having none of that. “It makes me feel even older than I am. Call me Rhett. That’s what my father called me. I was a Rhett before there was a Rhett Butler—imagine that.”

Dale asked him who Rhett Butler was.

“Never mind. It was a bad book and only a so-so movie. Tell me again about this project of yours.”

“We’re supposed to talk to our oldest relative, and ask what life was like when he was my age. Then I’m supposed to write a two-page report on how much things have changed. But Mr. Kendall hates generalities, so I’m supposed to concentrate on one or two specifics. That means—”

“I know what specifics are,” Rhett said. “Which specifics have you got in mind?”

A Fictional Surveillance Expert Is Being Watched, And The Watcher Wants Him To Know It, by Jonathan Lee, New York Times

In “I Am No One” we find a writer standing on the border between the immediate and the allegorical, the personal and the political, the thriller and the novel of ideas, glancing in several directions at once. It raises the enticing question of where Flanery’s bold imagination will choose to transport us to next.

The Museum Of Ice Cream Is Sold Out. Here’s What You’re Missing., by Katie Rogers, Nw York Times

When Maryellis Bunn was a child, she dreamed of jumping into a swimming pool full of sprinkles. So, here we are.

Friday, July 29, 2016

1MDB: The Inside Story Of The World’s Biggest Financial Scandal, by Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian

The global effort to uncover Malaysia’s missing billions began with Xavier Justo. He leaked 90GB of data, including 227,000 emails, from his former employer PetroSaudi, an oil services company that had signed the first major deal with 1MDB. (PetroSaudi denies any wrongdoing.)Without these files, there would have been no reckoning.

What Should Fiction Do?, by Bonnie Nadzam, Lithub

Whenever you see a story within a story, or a play within a play, or a painting within a novel, I propose that what you’re seeing is a mirror held up to a mirror, a twist and perversion of the old metaphor, and it’s in service of so much more than something like “plot.” It disorients a reader in her place in relation to the work of art. And I just love that.

When fictions are embedded in fictions, when we see a character influenced by a work of art to behave in a certain way, the notion of “self” or “character” is presented to us as enactment. Personhood is not a noun, but a verb. It is a function that is both fluid and continually formed and re-formed in response to bearing witness to the world and, especially, to art.

The 17th-Century Language That Divided Everything In The Universe Into 40 Categories, by David Doochin, Atlas Obscura

In the mid-17th century Anglican bishop John Wilkins set out on a not-so-small quest: to refine human communication with a language that would classify every concept, thing, and idea within the universe into just 40 categories.

Wilkins' goal was to propose a system that would eliminate the confusion—the sense of lawlessness—that characterized human language, which was rife with synonyms, idioms, and other elements that didn't strike at the heart of what the speaker really meant to say.

How To Get Rid Of Books, by Nell Beram, The Awl

If you read a book from your shelves and dislike it, then this is a good day for you: now you can ditch it. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up strenuously disliking a book by an until-now untried author whose work you have in multiplicity. I’m not naming names, but fairly recently I read a fat, exalted novel and had the pleasure of getting rid of it and its shelf neighbors too.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Confessor. Feminist. Adult. What The Hell Happened To Howard Stern?, by David Segal, New York Times

As an irregular listener of “The Howard Stern Show,” I found this conversation, which took place in 2014, a bit startling. For years, Mr. Stern was known principally for pushing the limits of taste as the ringmaster of a raunchy circus of pranksters, oddballs and strippers. During his decades on terrestrial radio, his main passions seemed to be, in no particular order, boob jobs, prostitutes, lesbians and flatulence. Introspection and empathy were not fortes.

What I didn’t appreciate, until hearing Mr. Murray lay bare his deepest anxieties, is that since settling in to his new home on satellite radio, which he did in 2006, Mr. Stern and his show have gradually taken on an improbable new dimension. Scattered among the gleefully vulgar mainstays are now long, starkly intimate live exchanges — character excavations that have made Mr. Stern one of the most deft and engrossing celebrity interviewers in the business and a sought-after stop for stars selling a movie or setting the record straight.

Why Poetry Is Good For The Rational Mind, by Fiona Sampson, New Humanist

In our house, we make a joke about the phrase “It teaches us what it means to be human”. The trick is to spot this cliché in reviews of, introductions to and even critical work on poetry. (An American friend does the same with chickens in movies. She maintains that every film has a chicken in it somewhere − dead or alive.) My husband is always daring me to use the line myself. I’ve managed it here already.

The trouble is that, as with most clichés, “Poetry teaches us what it means to be human” does contain an element of truth. Like maths, or political theory, poetry is a form of thought. It is a way in which human understanding goes on. This being the case, we might expect good poetry to understand more, or more deeply, than bad verse does, just as professional mathematicians can discover what high school students can’t. Sure enough, we find William Mc­Gonagall’s odes implausible and hilarious but read William Shakespeare’s sonnets for insights into lovers’ behaviour.

The Office Politics Of Workplace Fiction By Women, by Lydia Kiesling, New Yorker

The last two decades have seen a boom in workplace novels written by and mostly marketed to women, from books put out by major publishing houses, to cheaply produced small-press books, to self-published titles. If the author is a woman, workplace fiction is also domestic fiction, easily disguised as “chick lit,” “girlfriend literature,” or even “erotica.” Regardless of the packaging, these books provide mapping, contextualizing, and rich illustration of women’s working lives. They form a kind of counter-tradition of office literature, dealing with the same bureaucracies and white-collar doldrums that have inspired male novelists but reflecting the particular challenges and preoccupations of women in the workforce.

Review: ‘Landmarks,’ A Book On Language And Landscape, by Sarah Lyall, New York Times

“Landmarks,” a remarkable book on language and landscape by the British academic, nature writer and word lover Robert Macfarlane, makes a passionate case for restoring the “literacy of the land,” for recalling and setting down the lexicon of the natural world, at a time when it’s rapidly disappearing. He means to explore the value of reading and writing about nature, he explains, and also to celebrate what he calls “word magic” — terms that can “enchant our relations with nature and place.”

How Sound Can Make Food Taste Better, by Simran Sethi, Nautius

When you consider the earthy aroma of a cup of cappuccino or the salty tang of a potato chip, you may overlook the sounds they make as you savor them. The glug-glug of coffee as it’s poured into your mug, the crackle of the chip on your teeth, even any music playing in the background—these details may not capture your attention. Nevertheless, sound actually plays a big role in the flavor of your food: It can color our perception of smell and taste and even alter the biochemical properties of what we eat.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Why News Junkies Are So Glum About Politics, Economics, And Everything Else, by Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

Man bites dog. It is one of the oldest cliches in journalism, an acknowledgement of the idea that ordinary events are not newsworthy, whereas oddities, like a puppy-nibbling adult, deserve disproportionate coverage.

The rule is straightforward, but its implications are subtle. If journalists are encouraged to report extreme events, they guide both elite and public attitudes, leading many people, including experts, to feel like extreme events are more common than they actually are. By reporting on only the radically novel, the press can feed a popular illusion that the world is more terrible than it actually is.

Christmas In July—Inside A Santa Summer Camp, by Mary Meehan, National Geographic

They are slow-moving spots of cotton-topped crimson along the railings of the upper floors. They crowd the glass-walled elevators, rising and falling in rushes of red, white, and green. They are at the bar, by the pool, and in long lines for the buffet. A few are planning to meet later for milk and cookies near the spa. Outside, in 90-degree temperatures, Santas compete in tug-of-war and footraces. At night, they dance in their Santa casual cocktail outfits on a twilight steamboat cruise.

And everywhere, there’s the sound of jingles. Not short, hard rings that might signal a passing sleigh, but the slow, rolling sound of bells on the shoes of old men walking carefully and heavily.

Being Santa is not a young man’s game.

Artist In Residence By Simon Bill – Book Review, by Sarah Laing, New Zealand Listener

Still, I admire Bill’s ability to cut from popular science to lurid misadventures. And there were so many passages I underlined. When someone queries the use of “performativity” and “the voice of the other” in the exhibition essay, the narrator explains to us “that the purpose of this kind of writing – this kind of ‘text’ – is magical. It’s not there to give information or guidance; it’s there to evoke the spirit of contemporary art.”

Euphemise This, by John McWhorter, Aeon

What the cognitive psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker has artfully termed ‘the euphemism treadmill’ is not a tic or a stunt. It is an inevitable and, more to the point, healthy process, necessary in view of the eternal gulf between language and opinion. We think of euphemisms as one-time events, where one prissily coins a way of saying something that detracts from something unpleasant about it. That serves perfectly well as a definition of what euphemism is, but misses the point that euphemism tends to require regular renewal. This is because thought changes more slowly than we can change the words for it, and has a way of catching up with our new coinages. Since that is likely eternal, we must accept that we’ll change our terms just like we change our underwear, as a part of linguistic life in a civilised society.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

America At The Atomic Crossroads, by Alex Wellerstein, New Yorker

On July 25, 1946, the United States Navy carried out the fifth detonation of an atomic bomb in history, in a lagoon at Bikini Atoll, in the South Pacific. The device was anchored about ninety feet beneath a barge, and when it exploded it sent up an immense column of radioactive seawater, topped by a flattened white mushroom cloud. The column rose some six thousand feet, then collapsed back into the lagoon, generating a wave that was nearly the height of the Chrysler Building. From the air, the explosion’s shock front could be seen racing across the lagoon toward an armada of ninety mothballed warships—American, German, and Japanese—which were moored nearby. By the time the chaos subsided, eight had sunk and many more had been damaged.

The BBC's Detailed Plans For Nuclear War, by Paul Reynolds, BBC

The War Book reveals a world of meticulous BBC planning. The Wartime Broadcasting System (WTBS) - referred to in the book as "Deferred Facilities" - would have operated from 11 protected bunkers spread across the UK.

Known as "Regional Seats of Government", these would also have sheltered government ministers and staff from government departments during what is termed a "nuclear exchange". The BBC had a studio in each, usually with five staff drawn mostly from nearby local radio stations.

The Perils Of Writing Wilderness: On Dave Eggers’s ‘Heroes Of The Frontier’, by Mary Catherine Martin, The Millions

In the first ten pages, Josie and the kids drive through an animal park that advertises its Alaskan mammals. They see “a pair of moose, and their new calf, none of them stirring.” I realize this is a zoo, but male moose do not hang around with their calves. They saw “an antelope, spindly and stupid; it walked a few feet before stopping to look forlornly into the grey mountains beyond. Its eyes said, Take me, Lord. I am now broken.” Again, a zoo, but there are no antelope in Alaska. If it wanted to flee into the Alaskan mountains it would find itself just as lonely and would die of cold, wolves, or starvation come winter. When they’re finished with the zoo, a ranger points “to a mountain range nearby, where, he said, there was a rare thing: a small group of bighorn sheep, cutting a horizontal line across the ridge, east to west.” Bighorn sheep do not live in Alaska. Alaska has Dall sheep, which are a different species.

To most Alaskans, these are big mistakes. But when reading Heroes of the Frontier, I was also thinking about something more intangible — the nature of a place versus the nature of a story set in that place.

To A Writer, A Body Of Work Is A Taunt, by Roger Rosenblatt, New York Times

Readers and writers do not think of a body of work in the same way. To a reader, a body of work is a static totality by which a writer may be assessed. To a writer, it is something of a taunt. Writers think of a body of work as a movie tough guy whom we have popped in the jaw. We rear back and deliver our best haymaker, and the body of work shakes it off and says, That all you got?

Book Review: ‘On Grief, Hope And Motorcycles: A Diary’, by Ben Getz, Rider Magazine

On Grief, Hope and Motorcycles is more than just one woman’s accounting of her sorrow, it is much more. It provokes one to think seriously about some unpleasant “what-ifs,” and to look forward in our life journey so as to live without, or limit, the regrets we may face.

Breast-Feeding The Microbiome, by Ed Yong, New Yorker

Every mammal mother produces complex sugars called oligosaccharides, but human moth­ers, for some reason, churn out an exceptional variety: so far, scientists have identified more than two hundred human milk oligosaccharides, or H.M.O.s. They are the third-most plentiful ingredient in human milk, after lactose and fats, and their structure ought to make them a rich source of energy for growing babies—but babies cannot digest them. When German first learned this, he was gobsmacked. Why would a mother expend so much energy manufacturing these complicated chemicals if they were apparently useless to her child? Why hasn’t natural selection put its foot down on such a wasteful practice? Here’s a clue: H.M.O.s pass through the stom­ach and the small intestine unharmed, landing in the large intestine, where most of our bacteria live. What if they aren’t food for babies at all? What if they are food for microbes?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Just Deserts, by Robert H. Frank, The Hedgehog Review

“Luck,” E.B. White once impishly observed, “is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.” Today, the widespread faith in the meritocratic ideal has pushed that taboo well beyond the circles of the successful. Most people in modern democracies cling almost religiously to the belief that merit, and merit alone, leads to success.

But how important is luck? Few questions more reliably divide conservatives from liberals. As conservatives correctly observe, people who amass great fortunes are almost always extremely talented and hard working. But as liberals also rightly note, countless others have those same qualities yet never earn much, or even see much of a rise in their station or status.

Dave Eggers Takes A Trip To Alaska In Heroes Of The Frontier, by Bill Jones, AV Club

Heroes Of The Frontier’s adventure doubles as a metaphor for American life in suburbia. As much as Josie is fleeing personal problems, she also is fleeing an era in which everyone is disappointed with everything.

Book Review: The Talented Ms Highsmith, by Stephen Jewell, New Zealand Herald

As Dawson writes in the novel, Highsmith believed she had little in common with the likes of Agatha Christie and our own Dame Ngaio Marsh.

"What she was trying to distance herself from was the detective novel," says Dawson. "So there's never any detection or whodunnit in her books; there's no set-up with a load of clues. It's not puzzle fiction, which Highsmith always said she despised."

However, crime was always at the centre of her novels, which ranged from her 1950 debut Strangers on a Train to the five novels she wrote starring amoral sociopath Tom Ripley, brought to life on the big screen by Matt Damon in 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Yes, It’s Summer. But You Still Can’t Wear Those Shorts In These Restaurants., by Maura Judkis, Washington Post

Usually, he’ll seat the underdressed near the lounge, and they’ll never be the wiser. But first, he’ll offer them a loaner jacket.

“I have all jackets made by Brooks Brothers, like the president,” he says. “I have six sizes.”

There are closets like Kebaier’s across the country, filled with identical blazers hanging in wait for the next wardrobe faux pas. But each year, there are fewer of them. As fine dining grows more casual, restaurants with jackets-required policies are going the way of the dodo — a fact that’s never more obvious than in the summer.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

At A Funeral Home In Brooklyn, The Hard Business Of Goodbye, by Noah Remnick, New York Times

After death, black bodies in America have often been displayed in grotesque and dehumanizing ways — from public lynchings to Michael Brown left lying for hours on hot pavement in Ferguson, Mo. The Thompsons seek to reverse that painful legacy: commemorating, honoring and restoring dignity to members of their community upon dying in a way that can elude them in life.

“Our society has become immune to death in the black community,” Ms. Thompson-Simmons said. “We want people to understand we have history and our lives matter.”

Your Air Conditioner Is Making The Heat Wave Worse, by Stan Cox, Washington Post

Air conditioning has become a necessity but not a solution. It’s like an ice bath for a patient suffering an extreme fever, treating the symptom while leaving untouched the underlying cause — in this case, the one-two punch of climate change and the distorted physical and social structure of our cities. And by making our world temporarily cooler, air conditioning is making it permanently hotter, thanks to the increases in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, vehicle fuel consumption and refrigerant production that keep the cool air flowing.

The Water Kingdom: A Secret History Of China By Philip Ball – Review, by Isabel Hilton, The Guardian

In 2007, the Yellow river dried up: for 277 days it failed to reach the sea, its lower reaches reduced to a broad highway of cracked mud. The Yellow river begins its 3,000-mile journey on the high Qinghai Tibet plateau and meanders across north China until it reaches the Bohai Gulf. It is celebrated as China’s mother river because of the state-sponsored claim that Chinese civilisation began in the fertile soils of its middle reaches. That it should have dried up for most of a year, therefore, carried a significance far beyond the immediate environmental catastrophe.

As Philip Ball describes in The Water Kingdom, managing China’s huge and troublesome rivers has been the job of the ruler since earliest times. The mythical Emperor Yu auditioned for the top post by taming the floods 4,000 years ago. Successive empires and countless officials have risen and fallen on the quality and effectiveness of their hydrology and ambitious engineering has drained the coffers of many dynasties in a culture in which competence in water management is seen as a proxy for fitness to rule.

Book Review: ‘Monterey Bay’ Reimagines ‘Cannery Row,’ With The Passion Of A Teenage Girl, by Michael Berry, Portland Press Herald

Writer Lindsay Hatton takes a big gamble with her debut novel, drawing on both history and invention to explore a setting made famous by a Nobel laureate.

You Don’t Need A Restaurant Empire To Be A Successful Chef, by Melissa McCart, Eater

So what makes a chef/owner decide to keep things small? Their success depends on serving a community, having a clear vision, and offering perceived value in their genre — be it fine dining, bistro fare, or something else. Sometimes, operators run a single restaurant because attempts to open more than one have failed. Other times, having one restaurant allows owners to more definitively pursue their original goals. As chef/owners calibrate this balance, one thing becomes clear: building a career on a single restaurant can be precarious. Meet three who are holding steady against the fast-casual current — and one team that's finally taking the plunge.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Big Dumb Objects: Science Fiction's Most Mysterious MacGuffins, by Damien Walter, The Guardian

A term coined by critic Roz Kaveney and later popularised by the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the Big Dumb Object (BDO) is a unique selling point of the sci-fi genre. It can be a broad term – usually, they’re alien architectures, ranging from the man-sized to the planetary. BDOs either look extreme or unusual, and can often do extreme or unusual things: everything from lurking on a horizon to creating worlds. Usually, BDOs are plonked into plots to awe us with their majesty and mystery – really, they’re science fiction’s equivalent of a MacGuffin.

No other kind of storytelling goes in for spectacle quite so big, or quite so dumb as science fiction. But which is the biggest, dumbest object of them all?

Ad Me, by Matthew St. Ville Hunte, The Paris Review

I have long thought that nostalgia died with the arrival of the internet. (A computer never forgets, and so it has no memories.) But even though I’ve been able to track down the episodes I used to have on that VHS tape, for a long time there were some things I hadn’t been able to fully replicate that I now see were indelible parts of the experience: the running order and the commercials. Because I watched the cartoons so much, the entire tape became like a musical suite, with the disparate parts flowing seamlessly into each other. The commercials for Cabbage Patch Kids and Yahtzee seemed like such a natural part of my viewing experience that their absence felt like defacement.

Time-Traveling Poems Consider The Self In Its Many Guises, by Joel Brouwer, New York Times

“The After Party” seems an odd title for a poet’s first book. Have we come to opening night and found the show already closed? Jana Prikryl’s readers will quickly discover such rueful humor is typical of her understated sensibility.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Hidden Science Of The Missing Gravitational Waves, by Sarah Scoles, Nautilus

Space should be churned up like a speedboat-filled lake, crisscrossed by gravitational waves rushing at the speed of light in every direction. That’s because any kind of acceleration, of any kind of mass, will produce a gravitational wave. When you whoosh your arm through the air, you are launching a gravitational wave that will travel forever. The Earth produces gravitational waves as it orbits the sun. So do black holes that twirl around or crash into each other.

Every accelerating mass produces a signal, and all those signals should add together into a detectable background.

So where is it?

Voyeur, Collector, Amateur Sleuth, by Kristin Van Tassel, Los Angeles Review of Books

When I look back now, with the perspective of a decade and several subsequent travel-writing classes, I see the trip was risky, if not exactly irresponsible. I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was. I didn’t have contingency plans in place. And even so, that first travel-writing class proved to be the best teaching I’d done to that point in my career, in part because — as was the case with my students — I learned to figure things out as I went.

Words Are Losing Their Power. Not Even Jason Bourne Can Save Them Now, by Catherine Shoard, The Guardian

Cinema uses speech less and less. Superman says 43 lines in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In Mad Max: Fury Road, Tom Hardy grunts out 52. That’s three times what Ryan Gosling manages in Only God Forgives. The reasons are obvious. Later this year,China will overtake America as the biggest box office territory in the world. The tickets may be cheaper, but many more millions of people in that country are forking out for them. If you’re in Hollywood, the western world is no longer enough. In order for movies to turn a profit, not only do they need to conquer east Asia, but South America and all of Europe too.

The Mare By Mary Gaitskill Review – Bold, Dramatic And Deeply Unsettling, by Alex Clark, The Guardian

At a crudely superficial level, everyone in The Mare behaves true to type; it is in its more subterranean depths that the mystery of attachment begins to show itself. Gaitskill is a writer who situates herself in a version of reality, and then studs it with the portents and symbols of the unconscious; the tiny box of found objects, including a broken doll that looks like Ginger, that Velvet keeps close; the news reports from the Iraq war that float from the car radio into Ginger’s agitated brain. And while The Mare is not perfect – sustaining a child’s voice is near-impossible, and the book’s adherence to an unfolding temporal narrative means that it lapses into episodic repetitiveness – it is bold, dramatic and deeply unsettling.

Food & Consequences: Cooking With Colostrum, by Aaron Thier, Lucky Peach

The first thing all mammals eat, or are supposed to eat, is colostrum, a thick, yellow milk-precursor that has the consistency of eggnog. It varies in composition from species to species, but it tends to be much higher in protein than the milk that follows. It also contains immune factors that protect a vulnerable newborn. It used to be the best source of antibiotic agents in the days before penicillin; the first polio vaccine used an immunoglobulin from bovine colostrum. It was prized as a sort of panacea long before its composition was understood, and today it’s available in capsule form, as a nutritional supplement. It’s supposed to be good for the gut, good for adding lean muscle mass, and good for weight loss.

But from a culinary perspective—which is the perspective from which I was initially committed to evaluating it—the amazing thing is that it sets when it’s cooked, so it can be substituted for eggs.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Bicycle Problem That Nearly Broke Mathematics, by Brendan Borrell, Scientific American

Seven bikes lean against the wall of Jim Papadopoulos's basement in Boston, Massachusetts. Their paint is scratched, their tyres flat. The handmade frame that he got as a wedding present is coated in fine dust. “I got rid of most of my research bikes when I moved,” he says. The bicycles that he kept are those that mean something to him. “These are the ones I rode.”

Papadopoulos, who is 62, has spent much of his life fascinated by bikes, often to the exclusion of everything else. He competed in amateur races while a teenager and at university, but his obsession ran deeper. He could never ride a bike without pondering the mathematical mysteries that it contained. Chief among them: What unseen forces allow a rider to balance while pedalling? Why must one initially steer right in order to lean and turn left? And how does a bike stabilize itself when propelled without a rider?

The Magicians, by Kevin Pang, Chicago Magazine

Gathered around it at present, as on every Saturday, are Bannon and three other men, all nearing or past the far edge of middle age: David Solomon, David Finkelstein, and Simon Aronson, who is the owner of said table and the host of these weekly summits. Having duly impressed their visitor, the men get down to business, removing from their persons multiple packs of playing cards, like weapons for a gunfight, and stacking them neatly on black felt pads. Aronson prefers red-backed Bicycles from the United States Playing Card Company, which he purchases from Costco in 12-deck bricks. Bannon is a standard Bicycle man too. Solomon likes Bicycle Rider Backs that are “professionally cut”—that is, trimmed from the uncut sheet in such a way as to make a certain type of shuffle easier to perform. (You have to special-order those.) Finkelstein, the youngest of the group, has produced three decks today: Arrco Tahoe No. 84s, blue Bicycles, and Steamboat 999s, which are made of an especially smooth, thin card stock.

Next, hand lotion is applied—soft skin makes for better card handling. Aronson uses Cetaphil. Finkelstein prefers Neutrogena. Solomon favors Magician’s Choice Emerald Formula with aloe vera. Bannon does without.

Exquisite Masochism: On Sex And The Novel, by Claire Jarvis, The Millions

How do novelists describe sex and still maintain a respectable distance from pornography? As a formal plotting technique, marriage offers respectable cover for the secretive impulses of sex. As readers, we no longer have to worry about what will happen to a character once she marries; we know what she’s in for on her wedding night. Likewise, waves, oceans, blooms, and illuminations mark the sexual act within the respectable novel and allow a writer to refer to sexual action without realistically describing the act itself. Descriptive haze lets a reader experience sex’s capacity to dislocate personal experience. It alerts us to the fact of sex’s occurrence, and it absolves the writer of a particular kind of obscenity, one that comes of naming things as they are. More than this, though, fuzzy metaphor locates the description of sex as internal to a character. By describing a sexual act as a bloom or a wave, an author is not describing something in the external world. Instead, she is focusing on the internal register of sexual act — on orgasm and its felt experience, on seduction and its bodily effects. Metaphor, in other words, provides protection for writing about the internal experience of sex.

'The House At The Edge Of Night' Is A Comforting, Familiar Place, by Annalisa Quinn, NPR

After all, tropes are tropes for a reason (and Sicilians really do eat ricotta, drink limoncello, and dance in the piazza). The novel does not suffer from the fact that it uses familiar building blocks, or the fact that the inner lives of characters mostly stay there. Instead, it has the gnomic and suggestive simplicity of a folktale, koanic rhythms that let you fill in whatever complexity you can into the elisions.

How To Make The Best Pork Satay I've Ever Had, by J. Kenji López-Alt, Serious Eats

When my wife, Adri, and I spent a few months traveling through Asia a couple of years back, we made a pact on the very first day we got there, and it was this: If we see smoke or steam coming out of a dark alleyway, we will investigate.

That one simple rule served us well, sending us to everything from steamed buns to noodles and dumplings, but nowhere was it as useful as it was in the Singapore-Indonesia-Malaysia triangle, where satay delivers its smoke signals from nearly every alleyway you walk by.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hotdogs In Zion, by Jacob Silverman, The Baffler

At the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida, Jesus is crucified most afternoons around 5 p.m. On the day I visited last fall, things were humming along right on time, if remarkably quickly. Six minutes after the redeemer’s bloodied corpse was carried into the tomb, a shout—“I am alive!”—proclaimed his return. A gold-spangled, virile-looking Jesus emerged from a cloud of smoke to announce that the sick shall be healed, and then kicked off a Hallelujah dance party.

Miracles are the stock-in-trade of this Christian theme park, which welcomes about a quarter-million people per year. They might come to the Holy Land Experience (HLE for short) out of faith or fascination or a misplaced sense of irony, but they all pay fifty dollars for entry, and some will spend a little extra for a “My Cup Overflows Refillable Souvenir Cup.” In return, they get a curious kind of history lesson, plus a dose of American prosperity theology, which turns spending into a higher calling and spiritual pathos into gaudy pageantry.

Incest And Spouse Swapping: On Iris Murdoch’s ‘A Severed Head’, by Gabe Habash, The Millions

The remarkably prolific Iris Murdoch wrote 26 novels over a 40-year span; today, she’s best known for 1978’s The Sea, the Sea. The novel won the Man Booker Prize, and deservedly so: it’s a world-eating emotional chronicle in which the elderly narrator, Charles Arrowby, tries to fix his greatest mistake: letting his first and only love go. But almost 20 years earlier, Murdoch, who worked and reworked similar moral themes throughout her entire career, wrote a much more potent and incendiary novel than The Sea, the Sea. This delirious little book, A Severed Head, is a dirtier, more bizarre study of the messiness of human desire, complete with incest and spouse swapping. It was likely too weird to win the Booker, but it’s arguably the better book.

White Sands By Geoff Dyer Review – Travel And The Meaning Of Life, by Rob Cowen, The Guardian

As well as being a sharp and evocative collection of travel essays that takes the reader to such locations as China, New Mexico, Svalbard and Los Angeles, and various landscapes of Dyer’s memory, White Sands is an examination of some of the fundamental questions of life.

Here Comes The Sun By Nicole Dennis-Benn Review – The Ills Of Paradise, by Syreeta McFadden, The Guardian

Still, I did see something of the rest of the country. My oldest friend from high school tracked down a family friend and he scooped us up from the resort and drove us to Negril. We stopped at a roadside stall and got fried fish, before reaching a piece of beach with stiller, calmer waters than the rough undertow of Treasure Beach. Later, on the return trip, we visited our guide’s family, who lived in a modest wood house with a tin roof. It looked like old photos I had seen of black sharecroppers. My eyes must have given me away.

River Bank, the beleaguered fishing village that serves as the setting of Nicole Dennis-Benn’s dazzling debut novel Here Comes the Sun, reminded me of that place. Roads that hug the shoreline revealing “the wide expanse of the sea” and where “the shacks look like interspersed cardboard boxes on the land surrounding the river … floating on the water like sleeping whales.”

Clean Eating And Dirty Burgers: How Food Became A Matter Of Morals, by Julian Baggini, The Guardian

What we need to get over is the implicit idea that foods come with red or green lights attached, allowed or forbidden. Overcoming these assumptions requires more than avoiding the moralistic buzz words that infect our conversations about food, even though that is at least a good place to start.

Does Subsidizing Crops We're Told To Eat Less Of Fatten Us Up?, by Allison Aubrey, NPR

We — the U.S. taxpayers — help subsidize farmers by paying part of the premiums on their crop insurance. This helps ensure that farmers don't go belly up, and it also protects against food shortages.

But are there unintended consequences? For instance, do subsidies encourage the production — and perhaps overconsumption — of things that we're told to eat less of? Think high fructose corn syrup or perhaps meat produced from livestock raised on subsidized grains.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Unified Theory Of Deliciousness, by David Chang

The Momofuku Pork Bun was our first dish that consistently got this kind of reaction. It was an 11th-hour addition, a slapped-together thing. I took some pork belly, topped it with hoisin sauce, scallions, and cucumbers, and put it inside some steamed bread. I was just making a version of my favorite Peking duck buns, with pork belly where the duck used to be. But people went crazy for them. Their faces melted. Word spread, and soon people were lining up for these buns.

That became my yardstick: I’d ask, “Is this dish good enough to come downtown and wait in line for? If not, it’s not what we’re after.” A chef can go years before getting another dish like that. We’ve been lucky: Hits have come at the least expected time and place. I’ve spent weeks on one dish that ultimately very few people would care about. And then I’ve spent 15 minutes on something that ends up flooring people like the pork bun.

Believe me, nobody is more surprised about this than I am. Cooking, as a physical activity, doesn’t come naturally to me. It never has. To compensate for my lack of dexterity, speed, and technique, I think about food constantly. In fact, I’m much stronger at thinking about food than I am at cooking it. And recently I started seeing patterns in our most successful dishes that suggested our hits weren’t entirely random; there’s a set of underlying laws that links them together. I’ve struggled to put this into words, and I haven’t talked to my fellow chefs about it, because I worry they’ll think I’m crazy. But I think there’s something to it, and so I’m sharing it now for the first time. I call it the Unified Theory of Deliciousness.

Why Calvin And Hobbes Is Great Literature, by Gabrielle Bellot, Lithub

“Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand-new!” Hobbes says in Watterson’s final strip, and, certainly, my own world after coming out seemed brand-new, as well. But after the pain and loss, sometimes we find more beauty in the world than we ever expected. It really can be a magical world, after all.

Urgency: On Writing About The Body And The Corporeality Of The Lyric, by Emilia Phillips, Ploughshares

For some, the act of writing about the body is not necessarily the inclusion of the body as a poem’s subject but the body as the vehicle for the poem. We see this perhaps most literally in performance poetry and the work of those who privilege breath. Think of how repetition recalls movement, dancing. Think of how good a rhyme feels in the mouth.

Sometimes I’ve wondered if my body isn’t often more empathetic than my brain—or maybe empathetic isn’t the right word. Maybe sympatheticis more accurate.

Complex Stories Snap Together In 'This Must Be The Place', by Heller Mcalpin, NPR

Maggie O'Farrell writes novels in which you can happily lose yourself. She is fascinated by women who refuse to conform, by the secrets withheld even from our nearest and dearest, and by the unpredictable, serendipitous nature of life, the way a chance encounter can change everything and come to feel inevitable. Her lushly emotional books are filled with strong characters and unexpected convergences and revelations that unfurl across decades and continents.

The Best (And Worst) Of Times For Japanese Wagyu Beef In The US, by Larry Olmsted, Serious Eats

Real wagyu is so different from other types of high-end steak, be it USDA Prime, French Charolais, Scottish Aberdeen Angus, or Italian Chianina, that it might as well come from a different animal altogether. The incredible dispersion of fat is so particular and distinctive in this style of meat that almost anyone could tell real wagyu from the world's other steaks with a glance.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Where Are You From, Where Are You Going?, by Mark L. Keats, The Offing

Picture this: A man and a woman meet at a party and greet each other simply with, “Hello.” Maybe they shake hands, exchange names, locate a point of commonality. One asks what the other does for a living, where they went to school, if they saw the game last night. Their connection is greased by the idea that they are one in the same, that their sense of identity is nothing more than a mirror image: They might learn they are from the same town, the same state, the same demographic. They might think to themselves: This person reminds me of myself. Or, if not myself, a family member. A friend. Someone familiar. They won’t, however, suspect that the person standing next to them was not born in this country. Nor will they question where this person’s parents or grandparents or even great-grandparents were born.

Now picture this: I am also at that party with that man and that woman. I am not oblivious but I am sometimes unaware of my physicality, what I might suggest or represent externally. Part of this is that my name and surname, which, unless you meet me in person, beguiles my physicality and all that that might represent. One of them asks me my name. “Mark,” I reply. But he or she will not necessarily ask me what I do or where I went to school next. Instead, there is another question for me: One of them will ask, “Where are you from?”

Review: Dave Eggers’s New Novel, ‘Heroes Of The Frontier’, by Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Dave Eggers’s captivating 2012 novel, “A Hologram for the King,” was both a sad-funny portrait of a man in the midst of a midlife crisis and a light-handed allegory about the current frustrations of middle-class America. His latest novel, “Heroes of the Frontier,” is a kind of bookend to “Hologram”: another midlife crisis, captured in media res — through the story of Josie, a former dentist on the run from a bad relationship and on the lam in Alaska with her two children.

The novel is a slapdash, picaresque adventure and spiritual coming-of-age tale — “On the Road” crossed with “Henderson the Rain King” with some nods to “National Lampoon’s Vacation” along the way. It’s not as moving as “Hologram” and hardly as bravura a performance as the author’s stunning debut, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” but Mr. Eggers has so mastered the art of old-fashioned, straight-ahead storytelling here that the reader quickly becomes immersed in Josie’s funny-sad tale.

What Getting Published At 16 Taught Me About Becoming A Writer, by Catherine Banner, Lithub

All writers have a journey-to-publication story, and usually it involves some element of struggle. We love to hear about the writer who received a hundred rejection letters; the writer who drove buses and wrote each evening; the writer who began at 75. But the truth is, these anecdotes are only part of the story. The real struggle to become a writer begins long before a word of the debut novel is written, when a young writer first decides to apprentice themselves to the craft. My own apprenticeship began at 15. And I think, though it is utterly unrepresentative, it says something about what it takes to make a writer, something that perhaps we need to talk about more.

When Grief Strikes, Food Can Be A Gift From The Gods, by David Ferguson, The Guardian

While our powers to soothe heartbreak are limited, we offer what gifts we can. In this way, I like to think we can strike little victories against the pain and darkness that inevitably come with being alive.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Hope Is A​n Embrace Of The Unknown, by Rebecca Solnit, The Guardian

Your opponents would love you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win. Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons.

The Lonely Hearts Club, by Nora Caplan-Bricker, Los Angeles Review of Books

What can writers do with the subject of loneliness? Distilled, loneliness lacks the elements of a good story. It may be the product of drama — abandonment by a lover, loss of a friend, uprooting and relocation — but the feeling itself is nonnarrative and sedentary. When it comes to tone, loneliness is quicksand: attempt to represent its bleakness, and risk sounding like a Raymond Carver wannabe; describe its watery wellings-up, and be dismissed as a self-indulgent sap. It presents, on top of everything, a problem of knowledge: everyone feels it, but no one can share in it. Two lonely people in the same room are not together, and if one could grasp the full shape of the other’s loneliness, then would they really be lonely anymore? Writers must desire to connect to an audience, but, in loneliness, we are all solipsists.

Book Review: Dreaminess Of “House At The Edge Of Night” Is Enchanting, by Bethany Ao, The Denver Post

Huge events may occur around us, but what matters at the end of the day are our loved ones, our family happenings and dreams filled with simplicity and happiness.

You Can’t Write When You Lose Your Language, by Elena Lappin, The Guardian

I began to write almost as soon as I could read: stories in my head, mini novels in my notebooks, tales invented and told daily to my little brother. I started school magazines just so I could write in them. I published poems and satirical pieces in real magazines for children. I was quite sure that my first novel would be out in the world by the time I was 18.

But all this nascent writing of mine was in Czech. I was growing up, very happily, in Prague; my dream of becoming a writer was crushed when, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, my family emigrated to Germany. The death of the intoxicating freedom that was the Prague spring is, in my mind, always synonymous with my own death as a writer. You can’t write when you lose your language.

Citizens Of The World: Don’t Let The Food Cowards Win., by Gene Weingarten, Washington Post

To me, having a taste for well-done meat is like having a taste for generic seascape art: It’s your business entirely, and far be it from me to make fun of you, but we have established what you are, so please don’t criticize my taste in, say, poetry.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Why You Should Believe In The Digital Afterlife, by Michael Graziano, The Atlantic

Imagine scanning your Grandma’s brain in sufficient detail to build a mental duplicate. When she passes away, the duplicate is turned on and lives in a simulated video-game universe, a digital Elysium complete with Bingo, TV soaps, and knitting needles to keep the simulacrum happy. You could talk to her by phone just like always. She could join Christmas dinner by Skype. E-Granny would think of herself as the same person that she always was, with the same memories and personality—the same consciousness—transferred to a well regulated nursing home and able to offer her wisdom to her offspring forever after.

And why stop with Granny? You could have the same afterlife for yourself in any simulated environment you like. But even if that kind of technology is possible, and even if that digital entity thought of itself as existing in continuity with your previous self, would you really be the same person?

How To Keep A Journal, by Alyssa Pelish, The Paris Review

“The first thing to do in beginning a journal,” an 1878 article in the popular American children’s magazine St. Nicholas counsels its readers, “is to resolve to stick to it … A journal, or diary, should be written in every day, if possible.” I applied myself to VOLUME I as if a copy of that article had been Scotch taped to the inside cover. “Set down the date at the head of the first page, thus: ‘Tuesday, October 1, 1878,’ ” St. Nicholas says. “Then begin the record of the day, endeavoring as far as possible to mention the events in the correct order of time—morning, afternoon and evening.” And here we have the basic structure of a VOLUME I entry. There was, I am sure I felt, something virtuous about this daily, orderly accounting.

Not surprisingly, the discipline of the diary is rooted in Protestantism. In the sixteenth century, English Puritans were beginning to use paper manuscripts to document their behavior for the eyes of God. While Catholics could unburden themselves of their sins with a trip to the confessional, the Puritans, having no such recourse, recorded their trespasses on paper. One sixteenth-century preacher’s diary consists of little more than daily lists of his sins (oddly enough, the specificity and comprehensiveness of each list almost takes the shape of an entire day). Notably, this preacher lists among his sins the days that he has neglected to record his sins in his diary.

The Future Is Expensive Chinese Food, by Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic

As various immigrant groups have arrived in significant numbers on American shores, one of two fates has tended to befall the culinary knowledge they’ve brought with them: Their recipes have either been granted admission to high-end, white-tablecloth establishments or relegated to lower-status eateries, often taking on the label of “ethnic” food.

Consider the cases of steak frites and carne asada. They both involve cooking a fairly high-quality cut of meat over high heat, and they’re both dishes whose origins are foreign to America. But they’re often listed on American menus at vastly different prices. Why?

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Sound So Loud That It Circled The Earth Four Times, by Aatish Bhatia, Nautilus

Think, for a moment, just how crazy this is. If you’re in Boston and someone tells you that they heard a sound coming from New York City, you’re probably going to give them a funny look. But Boston is a mere 200 miles from New York. What we’re talking about here is like being in Boston and clearly hearing a noise coming from Dublin, Ireland. Traveling at the speed of sound (766 miles or 1,233 kilometers per hour), it takes a noise about four hours to cover that distance. This is the most distant sound that has ever been heard in recorded history.

So what could possibly create such an earth-shatteringly loud bang? A volcano on Krakatoa had just erupted with a force so great that it tore the island apart, emitting a plume of smoke that reached 17 miles into the atmosphere, according to a geologist who witnessed it. You could use this observation to calculate that stuff spewed out of the volcano at over 1,600 miles per hour—or nearly half a mile per second. That’s more than twice the speed of sound.

Voltaire’s Luck, by Roger Pearson, Laphams Quarterly

It was once said of Voltaire, by his friend the Marquis d’Argenson, that “our great poet forever has one foot on Mount Parnassus and the other in the rue Quincampoix.” The rue Quincampoix was the Wall Street of eighteenth-century Paris; the country’s most celebrated writer of epic and dramatic verse had a keen eye for investment opportunities. By the time d’Argenson made his remark, in 1751, Voltaire had amassed a fortune. He owed it all to a lottery win. Or, to be more precise, to several wins.

Lotteries were all the rage in eighteenth-century Paris. There had been a financial crisis in 1719, and France had nearly gone bankrupt. The bankers were to blame, having devised financial instruments that magicked debt away, only for it to return multiplied once it was discovered that the collateral wasn’t there. With the ensuing austerity came the lottery and the blandishments of la bonne chance. Why tax a weary and resistant populace when luck might seduce them?

Something To Write Home About, by Guy Gavriel Kay, The Walrus

When I first went to Greece to write in my early twenties I was following a useful, and perhaps entirely pragmatic, Canadian literary tradition. Among other giants, Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen had both found Greek islands effective places to live and work. Seemed like a splendid idea. I bought a used typewriter (It had umlauts!) in the flea market in Athens, lugged it aboard the night ferry to Crete, and eventually arrived over the mountains at what became “my” village, Agia Galini. It was my twenty-fourth birthday. Yes, there was ouzo involved. Also raki at night’s end. Don’t ask.

I had gone away to escape. To remove myself from people, distractions, demands. I had just finished law school, having promised myself when I’d begun that I would save for a period of time away after, to see if I could actually begin and complete a novel.

Review: ‘Pond’ Makes Misanthropy Compelling, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

The Irish writer Claire-Louise Bennett’s first novel, “Pond,” dabbles in a black art we don’t get enough of in summertime: misanthropy.

Ms. Bennett’s unnamed narrator is a young academic who’s gone to live in a stone house in a remote coastal village in Ireland. She’s in flight from something, though from what is not entirely clear.

Why Do So Many People Choose Dull ‘Death Row’ Meals?, by Jay Rayner, The Guardian

The choice that intrigues me is Victor Feguer’s, executed for murder in 1963. He asked for a single olive, complete with stone. I think I’d go for the same, though I would make one change. I’d lose the olive and make do with the empty plate.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The American Who Accidentally Became A Chinese Movie Star, by Mitch Moxley, New York Times

If the Hollywood studios really want to understand how to succeed in China, Kos-Read’s journey makes for a kind of accidental guide.

A Manifesto Against ‘Parenting’, by Alison Gopnik, Wall Street Journal

People sometimes use “parenting” just to describe what parents actually do, but more often, especially now, “parenting” means something that parents should do. “To parent” is a goal-directed verb; it describes a job, a kind of work. The goal is to somehow turn your child into a better or happier or more successful adult—better than they would be otherwise, or (though we whisper this) better than the children next door. The right kind of “parenting” will produce the right kind of child, who in turn will become the right kind of adult.

The idea that parents can learn special techniques that will make their children turn out better is ubiquitous in middle-class America—so ubiquitous that it might seem obvious. But this prescriptive picture is fundamentally misguided. It’s the wrong way to understand how parents and children actually think and act, and it’s equally wrong as a vision of how they should think and act.

When Will Helen DeWitt Be Recognized As One Of The Great American Novelists?, by Christian Lorentzen, Vulture

Many, many writers are chronically broke. Many have a long list of grievances with the publishing industry. Many will tell you about the circumstances that would have allowed them to enjoy the success of Ernest Hemingway or David Foster Wallace. Many have had multiple brushes with suicide, but there’s only one who wrote The Last Samurai and Lightning Rods, two of the finest novels published this century, and she’d recently spilled a glass of iced tea on her MacBook.

The Age Of Bowie By Paul Morley Review – The True Importance Of A Pop Master, by Lynsey Hanley, The Guardian

Anyone could have written a book solely comprising the memories, tributes, odes, affectionate jokes and straightforward obituaries of Bowie that emerged in a rush during that raw January week. Morley says that, instead, he chose to write the only sort of book that he could have written about Bowie: part love letter, part biography, part autobiography, part theoretical framework for life.

Time Catches Up With Us All In 'The Heavenly Table', by Jason Sheehan, NPR

Donald Ray Pollock's newest novel, The Heavenly Table, is a book about time.

It's a book about the Jewett brothers, Cane (the smart one), Cob (the ox) and Chimney (the crazy one), who own two books, a Bible and a dime-store pulp, swollen and falling to pieces, called The Life And Times Of Bloody Bill Bucket, which they use as their guiding light into a life of crime.

Three, Six Or 36: How Many Basic Plots Are There In All Stories Ever Written?, by Alison Flood, The Guardian

Putting – maybe – an end to a debate that has been ongoing for millennia, the researchers found there are “six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives”.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

How Technology Disrupted The Truth, by Katharine Viner, The Guardian

Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.

What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means, as this year has made very clear, that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.

Increasingly, what counts as a fact is merely a view that someone feels to be true – and technology has made it very easy for these “facts” to circulate with a speed and reach that was unimaginable in the Gutenberg era (or even a decade ago). A dubious story about Cameron and a pig appears in a tabloid one morning, and by noon, it has flown around the world on social media and turned up in trusted news sources everywhere. This may seem like a small matter, but its consequences are enormous.

Only The Lonely, by Cody Delistraty, Aeon

Loneliness is hell; I knew that. And yet, I couldn’t help but crave it once more. If only for a moment.

Look Up And See!, by Robert O. Paxton, New York Review of Books

When most people think of birds in New York City, they think of pigeons, or perhaps starlings or house sparrows quarreling at a street corner. They may think of Canada geese making a nuisance in a park. Leslie Day, in her Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City, does not look down on these commonest birds. She enfolds them all in an affectionate embrace. She regrets efforts to limit the Canada goose population, even in the vicinity of JFK airport. Mainly she wants us to know that there are many more kinds of birds to be seen and admired in New York City than just these omnipresent species.

Temporary Talismans, by Sejal Shah, The Kenyon Review

I have three friendships that grew out of postcard correspondences. I met W and H at an artist residency (fourteen years ago and six years ago, respectively) and M at a conference for writers eleven years ago. We were all already writers. But the four of us, individually, also had a practice of writing postcards to friends—and we all still do.

They Say There's No 'Right' Way To Mourn. That's What Makes It So Hard For Me, by Zack Budryk, The Guardian

Caroline, one of my best friends, died in June. Everyone grieves differently, people told me. There is no “right” or “wrong” way. But I can’t help it. I need a template. I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome about 13 years ago. Since I found out, things have been a bit easier because I know that while it gives me the occasional difficulty, watching what other people are doing helps. Dealing with grief is uncharted territory; I need to know what I should be doing and do it, ideally with a timetable.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Helen Gurley Brown, Terry McDonell, And The Glossy Glory Days Of Magazines, by James Wolcott, Vanity Fair

great magazine editor is a Diaghilev commanding an executive desk, a miniature aircraft carrier from which ideas launch into the wild yonder, which isn’t as wild as it used to be, but let’s save the wistful notes for the last paragraph. Like the founder of the Ballets Russes or a golden-age Hollywood producer, the ideal alpha magazine editor is an impresario, talent spotter, and snake charmer, a schmoozer extraordinaire possessed of iron stamina (capable of sitting for hours at luncheons and awards ceremonies without losing the last rope-hold on hope), and a master of minutiae who never loses sight of the big picture—the final production. . .then has to whip up another batch all over again. Book editors have their own war stories and victory sagas to tell, but their relationships with authors resemble long marriages that sometimes capsize into bitter divorce (witness the ongoing acrimony of the Gordon Lish-Raymond Carver controversy, even though only one of its combatants is still alive). Magazine editors have to conduct a magic show every week or month, juggling a battery of tender or prickly egos—not just authors’ but also those of art directors, photographers, illustrators, the advertising department, and editorial staffers—and avoiding burnout from the constant churn while staying in tempo with the times. To fall out of fashion may be professionally fatal. The subjects of the biographies and memoirs of magazine editors earning a spot on the Wall of Fame tend to divide into the long-haulers and the blazing comets—the institution builders and the rebel iconoclasts.

In Honor Of Faces, by Charles Molesworth, The Smart Set

For several centuries the pose in a portrait served as a key element, and was often joined chiefly with the sitter’s clothing, and occasionally the background, as crucial supplements. These three elements — the body held, covered, and situated — were enlisted to support the emotional meaning of the work. Moreover, the elements were generally in service to the look on the subject’s face. This look was meant either as an expression of a true identity or as a comment on the world (including the viewer) onto which the subject looked. The resulting overarching emotion might embrace hauteur or graciousness or melancholy, emotions that could possess an ironic cast, but were often presented as pure and unadulterated. This complex of emotions is usually what catches us and holds us, inviting us to return gaze for gaze, to repay alert sensitivity with open absorption.

My Uncle’s Books, by Kate Leary, The Ploughshares Blog

A year and a half ago, my uncle Chuck died unexpectedly. My family wanted me to have his books because I was a reader like he had been, and I was also a writer. And I wanted the books, especially his Library of America books, which looked so lovely and uniform and canonical. More importantly, I wanted to continue the conversation we’d been having since I’d learned to read—the “what are you reading,” conversation—because we were both always reading something. We were insatiable. We understood this about each other. There were so many things I would miss about him, but I knew I would miss this conversation the most.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Falling For Sleep, by Rubin Naiman, Aeon

Sleep has been transformed from a deeply personal experience to a physiological process; from the mythical to the medical; and from the romantic to the marketable. Our misconstrued sense of sleep and consequent obsession with managing it are the most critical overlooked factors in the contemporary epidemic of sleep loss.

Something is very wrong. Despite decades of innovative sleep research, escalating numbers of new sleep specialists and clinics, and an explosion of media attention and public health education initiatives, the epidemic of insufficient sleep and insomnia appears to be getting worse.

How Sea Otters Help Save The Planet, by Robin McKie, The Guardian

This view of nature – looking down from the top – contrasts with previous attempts to understand food chains from changes that affect their bottom rungs to see how animals and predators at higher levels are affected. An example of this approach is provided by scientists who study how reductions in Arctic sea ice might reduce levels of algae (which forms on the underside of sea ice) and which might then affect the creatures that consume alga: the plankton, fish and seals further up the food chain.

Top-down forcing – or trophic cascades – looks at the problem in the reverse direction, with a perfect example being provided by the work of James Estes, an American marine biologist who has studied wildlife in the north Pacific Ocean for the past 45 years and has revealed the astonishing manner in which terrestrial and sea predators can change land and marine environments. This top-down picture – with predators influencing the health of plants – is depicted in enthralling detail in his newly published Serendipity: An Ecologist’s Quest to Understand Nature.

Everything We Love To Eat Is A Scam, by Maureen Callahan, New York Post

Among the many things New Yorkers pride ourselves on is food: making it, selling it and consuming only the best, from single-slice pizza to four-star sushi. We have fish markets, Shake Shacks and, as of this year, 74 Michelin-starred restaurants.

Yet most everything we eat is fraudulent.

In his new book, “Real Food Fake Food,” author Larry Olmsted exposes the breadth of counterfeit foods we’re unknowingly eating. After reading it you’ll want to be fed intravenously for the rest of your life.

John Aubrey: My Own Life By Ruth Scurr – Review, by Alexander Larman, The Guardian

Scurr’s great achievement is to bring both Aubrey and his mutable world alive in detail that feels simultaneously otherworldly and a mirror of our own age. Her Aubrey is above all human, flawed and crabbily decent.

Peter Doig Says He Didn’t Paint This. Now He Has To Prove It., by Graham Bowley, New York Times

Art law experts say they can’t recall anything like it, certainly not for a major artist like Mr. Doig.

“To have to disprove that you created a work seems somehow wrong and not fair,” said Amy M. Adler, a professor at New York University Law School.

The stakes are high as well. A Doig painting has sold for more than $25 million. Other works have routinely sold at auction for as much as $10 million. The plaintiffs, who include the correction officer and the art dealer who agreed to help him sell the work, are suing the painter for at least $5 million in damages and seek a court declaration that it is authentic.

The Curious History Of Animals Interfering With The Tour De France, by Jessie Guy-Ryan, Atlas Obscura

The internet’s favorite camelids were threatening to grab the spotlight yet again, as Huffington Post France uncovered evidence that some llamas in the area have developed an affinity for the paved mountain pass used in the Tour. Local Joël Adages posted pictures of a substantial llama gathering on the Col du Tourmalet about a week ago, wryly noting the potential conflict with the caption “The first Tour de France spectators are already in place.”

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Welcome To The Country, by Erin Anderssen, The Globe And Mail

Undaunted, more than 65 towns lined up to sponsor Syrians. And Altona, located 10 kilometres from the U.S. border, in Manitoba’s Bible Belt, has taken more than most: So far, 34 refugees, all Muslim, have landed here. Ahlam Dib and Ahmad Daas, along with their three daughters and four sons, were among Manitoba’s first. Two more families – brothers, with their wives and children, arrived on New Year’s Day, and a family with 11 children landed two weeks later. The arrival of a fifth family, still pending, will bring the town’s count to 45. Not so many by city standards – but it represents roughly one per cent of the local population. “There is a lot of love in small places,” says Amy Loewen, an Altona sponsor and young mother, “for people who need a home.”

The Subtle Genius Of Elena Ferrante’s Bad Book Covers, by Emily Harnett, The Atlantic

With their sandy beaches and windswept women, the U.S. editions of Elena Ferrante’s novels look familiar even if you’ve never seen them. That’s because they look like virtually every other book authored by a woman these days—not to mention like bridal magazines, beach-resort brochures, and even “Viagra ads.” On Twitter and beyond, readers have described Ferrante’s covers as “horrible,” “atrocious,” “utterly hideous,” and as a “disservice” to her novels. At Slate, one commenter approvingly mentions a local bookstore’s decision to display one of Ferrante’s books in plain brown paper, reviving a practice used for Playboy and the infamous issue of Vanity Fair with a pregnant Demi Moore on the cover. The implication, of course, isn’t that Ferrante’s covers are obscene in the traditional sense—just obscenely bad.

Book Review: I'm Thinking Of Ending Things By Iain Reid, by Janette Wolf, Independent

This is a deliciously frightening novel, Reid has a light, idiosyncratic touch but never lets his vice-like grip of suspense slacken for a second. Once finished, you will be hard pressed not to start the whole terrifying journey all over again.

How To Get Paid To Do Nothing, by Tom Hodgkinson, New York Times

Italian bureaucracy is legendary for a reason. Italians spend so much of their lives waiting in line — an estimated 400 hours a year per person — that some are now willing to pay freelancers to wait on their behalf. The rich can pay a “codista,” a neologism for a trained line sitter, to maunder at the post office or bank while they get on with something more important.

I’m not quite sure what training is required to stand in place and occasionally shuffle forward, but maybe there is more skill to waiting in line than meets the eye. And it seems that Italy is not the only bureaucratically overwhelmed nation with its own waiting industry.

Why We Rank Things, by Saul Austerlitz, Boston Globe

There is so much to see, to read, to listen to, and we will never be able to conquer it all. Where would we even begin?

This desire to become culturally fluent springs from an urge to find order in the glorious but often overwhelming morass that is the history of art. Lists and rankings are the only way to stop endlessly scrolling around your Netflix library.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

How Richard Feynman’s Famous Diagrams Almost Saved Space, by Frank Wilczek, Wired

Feynman, normally as quick and lively as they come, went silent. It was the only time I’ve ever seen him look wistful. Finally he said dreamily, “I once thought I had that one figured out. It was beautiful.” And then, excited, he began an explanation that crescendoed in a near shout: “The reason space doesn’t weigh anything, I thought, is because there’s nothing there!”

To appreciate that surreal monologue, you need to know some backstory. It involves the distinction between vacuum and void.

Stories Exploring The Misguided, The Unrequited And The Mortified, by Nicholas Mancusi, New York Times

All of the stories in this stark and cutting collection grapple with our failure to communicate, and investigate not merely the woeful inefficiency of language itself (although that’s bad enough) but also the inherent impossibility of truly understanding another person’s internal state.

The book’s power comes from ­Barrodale’s ability to distort and project the familiar into something new, like a visual artist playing with shadows cast on a gallery wall.

‘An Innocent Fashion,’ By R.J. Hernández: The Millennial Fairy Tale, by Becca Rothfeld, Washington Post

“An Innocent Fashion” is often wry (Ethan reports that his roommates are consultants, but “whom they consulted, and on what matters,” he has no idea), but sometimes it is abruptly literary, adopting a tone unlike any that Ethan might actually take. The book’s portrait of post-graduate millennial dishevelment, however, rings true. If Hernández indulges a juvenile tendency to state his thematic claims too baldly, he also manages to capture the confusion of a generation wilting beneath the weight of adult responsibility. His characters are vivid enough to stand alone, without any of his obligatory nods to the horrors of materialism and corporate drudgery.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Let Them Be Spoiled, by Charles Curkin, The Paris Review

In all forms of media, the spoiler alert has barreled into common usage. It has become necessary because we’re living in an age when information is diffused at such a violent pace. With the privilege of speed comes great sensitivity.

What Do You Call The Corner Store?, by Dan Nosowitz, Atlas Obscura

Every city has something like this, the anchor tenant in many city-dweller’s mental maps of their neighborhood. But in many places, you’d be laughed out of the building for calling it a “convenience store”. It’s a bodega. It’s a packie. It’s a party store. What you call the store on the corner says a lot about where you live.

The Innovative, Beguiling Reflections Of Claire-Louise Bennett's 'Pond', by Heller McAlpin, Los Angeles Times

If your idea of a great read requires a rousing plot line, Claire-Louise Bennett’s “Pond” probably isn’t going to float your boat. But if you’re excited by the kind of writing that can transport you deep into the oddly beguiling, meditative reflections of a woman living alone in a thatched-roof, stone cottage on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, then this uncategorizable book will leave you positively buoyant.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Should The United States Save Tangier Island From Oblivion?, by Jon Gertner, New York Times

Warmer global temperatures make oceans bigger — a process known as thermal expansion — and thus increase sea levels; at the same time, land-based glaciers around the world, along with the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica, are melting into the ocean. “But they’ve got it worse here,” Schulte said. Tangier’s location in the center of the bay, along with its friable turf of sand and silt, leaves it dangerously exposed and fragile. What’s more, the land in and around the Chesapeake is sinking, because of lingering effects from geological events dating back 20,000 years. “They’re just in a very untenable position,” Schulte said. “And they don’t have any options right now other than something big to turn them around.” A very big construction project, in short.

What Ever Happened To The Couch Potato?, by Laurence Scott, New Yorker

At the end of our tour, the guide gave us a quiz, to see whether we could work out the definitions of a handful of obsolete words. A flittermouse, we learned, is a bat. To have the yux is to have the hiccups, and a fopdoodle is “a fool, an insignificant wretch.” Then we came to the word “bedpresser.” One student guessed that it referred to a prostitute, though she put it less delicately. Another ventured, with a surprising degree of confidence, that it was someone who pushed beds around in the streets. No one could divine the real meaning—“a heavy, lazy fellow.” Trying to be helpful and contemporary, I said that a bedpresser was like a couch potato. A student put up her hand. “What’s a couch potato?” she asked.

This Book Of Essays By The Head Writer Of ‘Inside Amy Schumer’ Is Hilarious, by Sloane Crosley, New York Times

A stand-up comedian and former writer for “Saturday Night Live,” Klein is currently the head writer and executive producer of “Inside Amy Schumer.” In these 24 short pieces, her irreverent and inventive brand of humor almost seamlessly transfers to essay form. Riffs on dating, aging, marriage, infertility and childbirth have the zing-and-run rhythm of sketch comedy, but structured for the page.

'I Am No One:' Feels Like Somebody's Watching Me, by Annalisa Quinn, NPR

Patrick Flanery's new novel I Am No One asks whether it is more delusional to think you are being watched, or to think you are not being watched. Conventionally a mark of mental illness, it has more recently come to mean you're just well informed.

Hunters & Collectors By M Suddain Review – Space Travel, Murder And Restaurant Reviews, by Jeff Vandermeer, The Guardian

I’ve never read anything quite like M Suddain’s second novel. On the one hand, it’s a galaxy-spanning space opera with intrigue, adventure and fascinating tech extrapolations. On the other, it’s a hilarious, almost Nabokovian account of a food critic’s gastronomic misadventures as he conducts a tour of restaurants on dozens of far-flung planets. Suddain manages the almost impossible task of balancing cosmic scope with slapstick, intricate wordplay and dialogue at times worthy of PG Wodehouse.

My Struggle With American Small Talk, by Karan Mahajan, New Yorker

American life is based on a reassurance that we like one another but won’t violate one another’s privacies. This makes it a land of small talk. Two people greet each other happily, with friendliness, but might know each other for years before venturing basic questions about each other’s backgrounds. The opposite is true of Indians. At least three people I’ve sat next to on planes to and from India have asked me, within minutes, how much I earn as a writer (only to turn away in disappointment when I tell them). In the East, I’ve heard it said, there’s intimacy without friendship; in the West, there’s friendship without intimacy.

My Mother Is Gone, But Her Edits Remain, by Blair Hurley, Lithub

A year after her death I opened one of the many books I’d inherited from her—it was Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies—and felt my heart lurch to see her familiar handwriting. There were her notes on the title page: “Lots of detail, but I’m not interested in it. Too mundane. Every story is about unhappy women.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Should Prince's Tweets Be In A Museum?, by Sonia Weiser, The Atlantic

If journals, sketchbooks, letters, and scribbled-on napkins are venerated and kept for insights into great minds, there seems to be a case that tweets should be held onto, too. Then again, publicly accessible 140-character bursts can be so frivolous—and based so much on maintaining appearances—that they might seem like they don’t offer anything worth preserving.

My Summer Waiting Tables At The Writers’ Retreat, by Michael Paterniti, The New Yorker

So, here’s what I dreamt: that, after a long journey, I came to a faraway place where real writers gathered in an Elysian kingdom, to talk about how to make words last, about lyric and intention and the condition of our souls. You know, all that writerly rigamarole. I dreamt that I was somewhere that wasn’t here (here being Harwich in winter, under a blinter of stars), where there was a river whose main tributary rushed with these concerns, and nourished life with this new energy. But, in reality, here I was, icebound at the trickling headwaters, blamming out deadline copy.

So: how to get there.

Book Review: The Rise Of The Robots, by Leslie D'Monte, Livemint

If the Industrial Revolution introduced the assembly-line production concept in factories, the 1950s and 1960s saw companies like General Motors introduce robotics on shop floors. These developments, however, will pale in comparison to what is in store for the human workforce a few decades from now, given the acceleration in capabilities of software automation and artificial intelligence (AI) driven predictive algorithms.

In The Queer Kitchen: 'Food That Takes Pleasure Seriously', by Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen, NPR

Writer and former chef John Birdsall firmly believes there is a queer aesthetic in modern food culture, rooted in the work of three great American food writers: James Beard, the longtime New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne, and expat Richard Olney, whose cookbooks helped introduce Americans to the joys of French cuisine. The sensibilities of this trifecta of closeted gay men had far-reaching influence, changing the way Americans cooked and ate.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Can Capitalism Be Redeemed?, by Jeff Kehoe, Harvard Business Review

One thing becomes clear after reading these three books: Although it may be necessary to treat inequality as an economic problem, it is not sufficient. The U.S. as a country needs to ask, and answer, some basic questions—Who gets to set the rules? What values should they reflect? What’s fair? What do we owe to one another?—and reshape our society accordingly.

Why The Humble Notebook Is Flourishing In The iPhone Era, by Josephine Wolff, New Republic

There’s an irony in seeing such an old-fashioned technology as the notebook so widely celebrated online. But in another sense, bullet journal pages seem like a natural fit for the aspirational lifestyle motifs of social media. Looking at perfectly planned, beautifully penned bullet journal pages online quickly gives rise to the fundamental pair of emotions that Instagram seems to have been designed to elicit: “Why doesn’t my life look like that?” and “Maybe, with the right pen, and the right notebook, and the right handwriting, and the right stickers—maybe, my life could look like that!”

Baker, Birdwatcher, by Jeremy Klemin, The Ploughshares

In nature writing, it’s not uncommon for “the ever-changing dividing line between the animal and the human,” or something similarly abstract, to be a central theme throughout a book, or at least something that critics and reviewers like to write about. To say that 20th century English writer J.A. Baker wanted to be a bird is neither metaphorical nor hyperbolic. He quite literally wanted to be a peregrine falcon.

Seven Brief Lessons On Physics Review – Science Without The Detail, by Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

Yes, “brief” is right: 10 pages per lesson, and the typeface is large. There are also some space-filling illustrations. Yet the subject matter of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is immense: the very nature of the universe, from the sub-atomic scale to space and time.

Review: ‘Invincible Summer’ Focuses On Friendships Built To Survive Crises, by Janet Maslin, New York Times

There’s a long list of reasons that Alice Adams’s debut novel, “Invincible Summer,” shouldn’t work. But it clicks anyhow. Ms. Adams has managed to combine a hoary premise, a familiar plot, readable to iffy prose and pigeonhole-ready characters and spin their story into a heart tugger with seemingly honest appeal. This amazing feat doesn’t rival those of the Large Hadron Collider, which plays a cameo role in “Invincible Summer.” But it’s close.

The Lack Of Diversity In Philosophy Is Blocking Its Progress, by Peter Levine, Aeon

Philosophy is a remarkably un-diverse discipline. Compared with other scholars who read, interpret and assign texts, philosophers in the United States typically choose a much higher percentage of their sources (often, 100 per cent) from Europe and countries settled by Europeans. Philosophy teachers, too, look homogeneous: 86 per cent of new PhD researchers in philosophy are white, and 72 per cent are male. In the whole country, only about 30 African-American women work as philosophy professors.

Monday, July 4, 2016

In Honor Of American Independence, A Good-natured Poke At The British, by John Kelly, Washington Post

Yes, the United States and Great Britain were allies, but over-the-top displays memorializing the events of 1776 — when a scrappy bunch of Colonials vowed to cast off the yoke of British oppression — were officially discouraged.

My father didn’t listen.

In Paris, The Lost Generation’s Lost Bookstore, by Erin Zaleski, The Daily Beast

Don’t go searching for Hemingway’s Paris, it’s long gone, but the echoes of those old days still contribute to the modern symphony of life.

I Faked Being An Extrovert For Years: Here's What Happened When I Embraced Being An Introvert, by Jerry Liu, The Muse

When I was in high school, I remember many days of trying to get out of my head. I was happier inside my mind, and every time I talked to people I felt a little drain of energy. My adrenaline spiked and my heart raced. I thought there was something wrong with me, so I forced myself to talk in class every day. I wanted to be like the kids who seemed to be able to talk to anyone and make friends with everyone instantly. I also wanted to be like those “smart” kids who could challenge the teacher and analyze things off the top of their head. By senior year of high school, I was getting there, so I thought. I was trying to “pass” as an extrovert.

Meet The Woman Who Knows What You’ll Buy At Whole Foods, Long Before You Do, by Muara Judkis, Washington Post

Usually, when AnaMaria Friede goes to the Fancy Food Show — the trade show for makers of specialty foods and the stores that sell them — the first thing she does is flip over her badge so her name can’t be seen. It’s better for her to slip under the radar as she walks the 363,000 square feet of booths at New York’s Javits Center, sampling gluten-free brownies and fair-trade coconut water and vegetable chips, so many vegetable chips.

That’s because Friede is a buyer for the Mid-Atlantic region of Whole Foods Market, responsible for deciding which packaged cookies or frozen mac-and-cheese or jarred olives, among other things, you’ll pluck from the shelves of your local store.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

‘Star Wars’ And The Fantasy Of American Violence, by Roy Scranton, New York Times

For a long time after I came home from the war, fireworks made me jumpy. They sounded like what they are, shrieking rockets and exploding gunpowder, and every Fourth of July set off Alert Level Yellow. I’d crack another beer and try to laugh it off even as the friends I was with turned into ghosts of the soldiers I once knew.

Thirteen years ago, I spent the Fourth of July on the roof of a building in Baghdad that had once belonged to Saddam Hussein’s secret police. Our command had suspended missions for the day, set up a grill and organized a “Star Wars” marathon — the three good ones — in an old auditorium. But George Lucas’s lasers couldn’t compete with the light show playing out across Baghdad, and watching a film about the warriors of an ancient religion rising up from the desert to fight a faceless empire seemed, under the circumstances, perverse.

How Amazon’s Team Of Old-school Book Reviewers Influences What We Read, by Ángel González, Seattle Times

Within the highly automated folds of Amazon’s online bookstore, there’s a small team of literary types whose main job is rather old school.

They read books, write about them and rank the works according to their qualities, helping readers sift through thousands of offerings while also planting the tech juggernaut’s flag in the world of literary culture.

In an engineer-driven company ruled by algorithms and metrics, the Amazon book editors are rare birds. Once in a while, they’re misunderstood by authors and publishers who retain a deep suspicion of after years of clashes over the book industry’s future.

After Agatha Christie … Female Crime Writers Delve Deep Into Women’s Worst Fears, by Sarah Hughes, The Guardian

“It’s certainly a very healthy time for female crime fiction, but it would be wrong to suggest that women writers only discovered their dark side five years ago,” says Erin Kelly, author of The Poison Tree and co-founder of female crime-writing collective Killer Women. “Current stars such as Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins have their antecedents in Nicci French in the 1990s, Lois Duncan and PD James in the 1980s, Ruth Rendell in the 1960s and Patricia Highsmith before that.”

What’s happening now, Kelly argues, is that the publishing world has finally caught on to the idea that female crime sells. It is an argument the industry itself acknowledges.

In Jodi Paloni’s Linked Stories, A Desire For More, by Frank O Smith, Portland Press Herald

There is a powerfully arresting line near the end of Jodi Paloni’s collection of linked stories, “They Could Live with Themselves,” that, when you come to it, you simply cannot push past it.

It is in the story of Charlotte Cook, a young girl who fears that her mother won’t be home for her 12th birthday. Her mother is away being treated for addiction. Charlotte goes out the back door of the house, but skirts the line of crows that always perch on the fence above the trash can. “I hate them,” she thinks. “They want and they want.”

That line rises like the report of a tolling bell, declaring what lies at the heart of all 11 stories in the author’s deeply affecting debut book. The line’s sparse eloquence, naked as a heartbeat, lays bare the yearning of the dozen or so main characters, each with their own regrets and losses, yet striving still to reconcile their lives to the circumstances they find themselves in.

The Myth Of Cosmopolitanism, by Ross Douthat, New York Times

Genuine cosmopolitanism is a rare thing. It requires comfort with real difference, with forms of life that are truly exotic relative to one’s own. It takes its cue from a Roman playwright’s line that “nothing human is alien to me,” and goes outward ready to be transformed by what it finds.

The people who consider themselves “cosmopolitan” in today’s West, by contrast, are part of a meritocratic order that transforms difference into similarity, by plucking the best and brightest from everywhere and homogenizing them into the peculiar species that we call “global citizens.”

Saturday, July 2, 2016

To Surprise A Voice, by Max Nelson, The Point

Why shouldn’t subtitlers—who generate the specific words and sentences through which many of us come to know many of the films we watch—be held more accountable for the creative choices they make? If, say, Carl Dreyer’s Ordet, a talky film in which characters make nuanced, complicated arguments in a language (Danish) many American moviegoers don’t understand, appears on DVD with one subtitle track and screens at a repertory theater with a second one, why not treat the two versions as variants separated by important, maybe decisive differences? It might seem obvious that Dreyer admirers would benefit from comparing two—or three, or four—English renderings of the film, much like English-language readers compare translations of Dostoevsky or Proust. But lingering on a film’s subtitles involves entering a contentious debate over what can be done to movies in order to equip them for international export—what affronts to a movie’s purity translators should be permitted to make.

Their Grief Counselor Is A Crow. It’s Fiction., by Katie Kitamura, New York Times

Coleridge’s albatross, Poe’s raven, Hitchcock’s homicidal flock and Iñárritu’s costumed Birdman: Birds act as figures of prophecy, manifestations of trauma, voices of the superego. Above all, they are signs of trouble to come, or trouble already arrived.

In Max Porter’s first novel, “Grief Is the Thing With Feathers,” the bird in question takes the form of a metafictional crow, a reference to Ted Hughes that winds its way through this brief novel. However, there is nothing indirect about the tragedy Porter stages: the sudden death of a wife and mother, and the grief of the husband and sons she left behind. Much of the novel takes place within a domestic sphere both occupied and diminished by loss, run by a father functioning as a ­“machine-like architect of routines for small children with no Mum.”

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid, by Rufi Thorpe, Vela

I am proud of being a mother. I love my two children. I love them so much that it hurts to look at them and I am pretty sure they are the best, smartest, scrappiest, funniest boys in the world, and having them changed my life. My life before children was selfish and bland, all feelings and no grit, just a drifting miasma of mood. To go back to living like that seems like hell. I get annoyed when women’s magazines try to edit my motherhood out of my work. I get depressed when they won’t run a piece unless I take out any mention of my having children. I firmly believe that having children has made me smarter and better and more interesting, and fuck you to any women’s mag that doesn’t think so too.

And yet, I am profoundly unfree.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Mind: Less Puzzling In Chinese?, by Perry Link, New York Review of Books

People who study other cultures sometimes note that they benefit twice: first by learning about the other culture and second by realizing that certain assumptions of their own are arbitrary. In reading Colin McGinn’s fine recent piece, “Groping Toward the Mind,” in The New York Review, I was reminded of a question I had pondered in my 2013 book Anatomy of Chinese: whether some of the struggles in Western philosophy over the concept of mind—especially over what kind of “thing” it is—might be rooted in Western language. The puzzles are less puzzling in Chinese.

Is ‘Devouring’ Books A Sign Of Superficiality In A Reader?, by Louise Adams, Aeon

Two hundred years ago, describing someone as ‘devouring’ a book would have been an act of moral censure. The long, turbulent relationship between reading and eating is invisible to modern eyes, yet in our media-soaked culture, it is more pertinent than ever. The unexamined language of ‘devouring’ idealises one kind of reading at the expense of others, leaving readers impoverished.

Know Thyself: The Riddles Of Anne Garréta's Sphinx, by Ryan Ruby, 3 Quarks Daily

On the face of it, Sphinx tells an entirely conventional love story. Garétta traces the relationship of an unnamed narrator, "I", a young Parisian who drops out of seminary school to become a DJ at a posh nightclub, for A***, an older cabaret dancer from Harlem, through all of the classic phases: friendship, courtship, obsession, consummation, contentment, jealousy, estrangement, death, and mourning. What distinguishes Sphinxis its constraint. At no point is the gender of "I" or A*** ever revealed.

Review: ‘Seinfeldia,’ On Why We Still Can’t Escape ‘Hello, Jerry’, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

The reasons to come to “Seinfeldia” are its carefully marshaled history lesson, and Ms. Armstrong’s way of laying out her produce as if she were operating a particularly good stall at a farmer’s market.

She reminds us that Stanley Kubrick was such a fan of the show that he had tapes sent to him in England. About why the name Kramer worked best for Michael Richards’s character, she writes, “That plosive consonant K sound is known to be among the English language’s funniest phonemes.”

The Origin Of The Coney Island Hot Dog Is A Uniquely American Story, by Erick Trickey, Smithsonian Magazine

The hot dog, that quintessential American food, has been associated with Coney Island, America’s most storied amusement resort, since frankfurter first met bun. But Nathan’s century-old triumph of entrepreneurship is only part of the Ellis-Island-meets-Coney-Island story. Thanks to immigrants from Northern and Eastern Europe alike, the name “Coney Island hot dog” means one thing in New York, another in the Midwest and beyond.

A Vegetarian's Ode To The Hot Dog: I Miss You Little Meat Tubes So Much It Hurts, by Madeleine Somerville, The Guardian

I miss a lot of things about my wild meat-eating days, but I miss hot dogs most of all. To hell with smoked salmon or roasted chicken or filet mignon. I miss those delicious little meat tubes so much that it hurts. And now that we’re in the middle of barbecue season, my longing is more intense than ever.