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.
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 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.
“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.”
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.