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Archive for August 2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How Do Mathematicians Cut Cake?, by Ben Christopher, Priceonomics

You might think the answer is simple. Just count the number of diners at the table and divide up the frosting-coated surface evenly. Diets and gluten allergies might complicate your calculations, but really, you might think, this isn't advanced mathematics.

Except advanced mathematics is exactly what this is. And clearly you have failed to ask the important questions.

The Nobility Of Service, by Will Guidara, Lucky Peach

There are some people who come to forget things. Life is hard, and sometimes you need to go into a bubble where everything’s perfect for a little while. Fine dining should be make-believe; it should be the world as you wish it existed.

Also, I came to fine dining to take care of people. There’s nowhere else where you have the time and resources to really take care of people. I think hospitality can exist in all forms of restaurants if people decide that it’s important to them. I think it can exist at a McDonald’s, at a Shake Shack, a diner, a noodle bar. But the highest fulfillment of what it can be is not possible in a five-minute transaction.

The Sweet Science, by Dave Chang, Lucky Peach

To me, there is no better analogy for fine dining than boxing.

The comparison starts outside of the ring, with training and dedication and preparation and the choice to pursue the path. There is no room for a halfhearted boxer. When you sign up, you are signing up for a beating, for countless years in gyms and weight rooms and at the other end of another guy’s gloved fists.

Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Kingdom Of Speech’ Takes Aim At Darwin And Chomsky, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

Mr. Wolfe, now 85, shows no sign of mellowing. His new book, “The Kingdom of Speech,” is his boldest bit of dueling yet. It’s a whooping, joy-filled and hyperbolic raid on, of all things, the theory of evolution, which he finds to be less scientific certainty than “a messy guess – baggy, boggy, soggy and leaking all over the place,” to put it in the words he inserts into the mouths of past genetic theorists.

Secondarily, this book is a rebuke of the work of the linguist Noam Chomsky, whom Mr. Wolfe refers to as “Noam Charisma.” Rebuke is actually too frivolous a word for the contumely Mr. Wolfe looses in his direction. More precisely, he tars and feathers Mr. Chomsky before sticking a clown nose on his face and rolling him in a baby stroller off a cliff.

Planet Of The Apps — Have We Paved The Way For Our Own Extinction?, by John Thornhill, Financial Times

Most books that try to predict the future turn out to be wrong — sometimes spectacularly so — given that history rarely moves in straight lines. Extrapolating current trends is often misleading.

We had better hope that Yuval Noah Harari also suffers from faulty foresight. The future world that the Israeli historian describes in Homo Deus is terrifying — even though he stresses that his scenarios should be understood as possibilities rather than prophecies.

Indie Crossword Puzzlers Are Shaking Up A Very Square World, by Oliver Roeder, FiveThirtyEight

“I think of the indie world like we’re all craft beer brewers,” Brendan Emmett Quigley, a professional puzzle constructor, told me. The Times is a Budweiser lager; the indies are small-batch saisons and IPAs.

“My favorite thing about indie puzzles is the timeliness,” Neville Fogarty, an avid indie solver who helped found the Indie 500 crossword tournament, told me. Indie puzzles don’t have to wait months in a publication queue, as they would at the Times. They also aren’t subject to the stylistic constraints of a large media institution. Topics and themes, however recent, modern, niche or profane, are fair game. Nor are they subject to the physical constraints of a major newspaper. With few exceptions, all daily Times puzzles use 15-by-15 grids with rotational symmetry, a convention indies can and do break.

The Veggie Burger’s Ascent, by Erik Piepenburg, New York Times

It had been a culinary nobody, mushy and maligned.

But when a chef as decorated as Daniel Humm turns his attention to perfecting a veggie burger, the signal is clear: That second-fiddle vegetarian staple has arrived.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Born To Rest, by Jonathan Shaw, Harvard Magazine

“No hunter-gatherer goes out for a jog, just for the sake of it, I can tell you from personal experience,” says Lieberman. “They go out to forage, they go out to work, but anything else would be unwise, not to mention maladaptive” in calorie-restricted environments.

This tension between activity and rest, he says, plays out in human physiological and anatomical systems that “evolved to require stimuli from physical activity to adjust capacity to demand.” Muscles become bigger and more powerful with use, for example. With disuse, they atrophy. Bone deposition and repair mechanisms likewise require the presence of mechanical stimulation, such as running. The absence of such stimuli can eventually lead to a risk of osteoporosis. “In the circulatory system,” Lieberman continues, “vigorous activity stimulates expansion of peripheral circulation,” improves the heart’s ability to pump blood, “and increases arterial elasticity.” Without exercise, arteries stiffen, the heart pumps less blood, and metabolism slows.

The Eating Out Habit, by Paula Marantz Cohen, Table Matters

When I was growing up in suburban New Jersey in the 1960s, my parents would announce periodically that we would be going to go out to dinner. When the announcement was made, the evening was imbued with a festive air. We dressed up — I have a recollection of patent leather shoes and crinolines. Eating out was an occasion; it happened rarely and felt like an extravagance.

I don’t think my family was unique in this. Most people of that era — unless they worked in advertising — rarely ate out.

No longer. Now, everyone eats out all the time.

Playing Up Anchorage: New Book Reviews Playgrounds Of Alaska’s Biggest City, by Erin Kirkland, Alaska Dispatch News

Anchorage parks and playgrounds can be tough to find. Some are so small and tucked away in neighborhoods that parents new to town have a difficult time locating them. Some, like Margaret Eagan, have pseudo-names that only those of us who have been here long enough to learn them know the difference. Carlson took care of that aspect, too, listing nicknames alongside the official moniker. Been to Russian Jack Springs Park, aka "Polar Bear Park?" How about Bob and Arlene Cross Park? That one is known to many as the "Birdhouses Park."

Noah Hawley On A Thriller In Which Thomas Edison And George Westinghouse Face Off, by Noah Hawley, New York Times

What makes a fictional story feel true and a true story feel fictional? This is a question I considered often while reading “The Last Days of Night,” a novel by Graham Moore, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Imitation Game” and author of the 2010 novel “The Sherlockian.” His new book is a thriller built around the so-called electricity wars fought over a century ago between the rival inventors Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. Specifically, it explores Edison’s attempts to drive Westinghouse (and his superior A/C current) out of business. Our way into the tale is the real-life lawyer Paul Cravath, a prodigy in his mid-20s hired by Westinghouse to defend his growing empire from Edison’s attack.

Writing A Book Is Like Riding A Bike: You Shouldn’t Do Either, by Jim Behrle, The Awl

Some authors want to write bestsellers and some want to write deep and meaningful literature. I have different advice to those different kind of writers.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Let’s Go Fly A Kite, by David Francis, Los Angeles Review of Books

In her new book, subtitled How to Write with Spontaneity and Control — And Live to Tell the Tale, Alice Mattison, poet, teacher, story writer, and author of six novels, explores this delicate balance between surrender and control, using the metaphor of a flying kite and its restraining string. As a student of nuance and an admirer of dimensionality in both writing and life, I was intrigued to discover how Mattison might propose negotiating this fragile tension.

The Kite and the String does not purport to be either a DIY manual or memoiristic musing. Rather, it is a guide to the stages of writing, exploring an approach which is essentially practical, human, and hopeful — words not readily ascribed to the experience of many of us lost in the bowels of our novels. Instead, the words that come to mind include fraught, quixotic, and foreboding.

The Perverse Joy Of Reading Kids’ Books Written By Celebrities, by Laura Bennett, Slate

But to the dedicated student of celebrity arcana, these books have more to offer than their scattershot quality suggests. Despite their varied themes and the range of temperaments that animate them, they are most interesting when viewed through one particular lens: as a weird little reflection of a public person’s inner life, part whimsy, part memoir, part ego.

Moving To An Exotic New Country Won’t Solve Your Problems–but You Should Do It Anyway, by Catherine Baab-Muguira, Quartz

I thought that moving to New Zealand would turn me into a new person—someone much more sophisticated and adult. Instead of staying up half the night guiltily clicking through slideshows of Britney Spears’ most daring outfits, I’d read only serious publications. I wouldn’t sleep in until 10 am; I’d get up at dawn to hike for hours through pristine countryside. I’d become so worldly and enlightened that American graduate schools would rue the day they’d rejected me.

Instead, I moved to New Zealand and remained myself. But going there did help me shake some major illusions about what it means to be an adult.

I Vow To Stop Complaining About The High Price Of Tomatoes, by Sarah Jampel, Food52

But while the pricing behind various types of tomatoes might be confounding to those of us who don’t live and breathe farm economics, “random” it is not. Digging a bit deeper into the various small and large costs farmers incur—and the factors (like weather, imports from neighboring countries, the supply and demand of grocery stores) that affect what they make per acre—offers a glimpse into the deeply complex economic Jenga that farmers play every season, but that, until now, I hadn’t thought enough about.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Race To Save The Films We Love, by Manohla Dargis, New York Times

The industry shift from film to digital has been swift and dramatic and — despite the activist efforts of the high-profile likes of Christopher Nolan and the patron saint of preservation, Martin Scorsese — film on film has almost disappeared from theaters. Even features shot on film are digitally projected. (Almost all theaters worldwide are now digital.) Last year, I started following after Mr. Pogorzelski and Ms. Linville to understand the complexities of film restoration, largely because the medium is fast becoming a relic. More than 50 years ago, André Bazin asked “What is cinema?” But what is film?

The Unacknowledged Obstacle Of Literary Sleepiness, by Jonathan Russell Clark, Read It Forward

Here’s the thing: reading and writing exhaust. They expend my intellect, deplete my creative capabilities, and tire my body. These are not, though, inherently bad things; in fact the only reason reading and writing have those effects is because they are both extraordinarily operative—it is difficult, then, to engage with them half-heartedly, because it’s basically the equivalent of not engaging at all. It would be like exercising without a rising heart rate: you may look like you’re doing the same thing as everyone else at Planet Fitness, but you aren’t getting any thinner or any healthier.

Transit By Rachel Cusk Review – A Woman’s Struggle To Rebuild Her Life, by Helen Dunmore, The Guardian

Cusk is now working on a level that makes it very surprising that she has not yet won a major literary prize. Her technical originality is equalled by the compelling nature of her subject matter, and Transit is a very fine novel indeed.

Everything Has Meaning In The Dream World Of 'Vellitt Boe', by Amal El-Mohtar, NPR

I write this as if surfacing from deep water, or looking up to find a bright world dimmed around me. I have just put down The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe and it is dark outside, a rush of wind constant as surf, and I find myself wondering if the stars will be uncountable millions or if there will be only ninety-seven of them studding a thickly textured sky.

Should We Embrace The Mid-life Crisis Rather Than Be Embarrassed By It?, by Stephen Smith, BBC

What do Schopenhauer's insights boil down to, after all, but the tried and tested message of the needlework sampler: it's not about the destination, it's the journey. All the data suggests that we're living longer and beginning to adapt accordingly. What used to be pensionable age is now considered late middle-life; if you're not there yet, by the time you are, it will probably have been recalibrated again, to the bloom of youth - think of all that time you'll have to work on your Pokemon Go handicap.

At Summer’s End, An Ode To The Outdoor Shower, by Neil Swidey, Boston Globe

The sounds of the outside world hover in the air — kids shouting, Wiffle ball bats smacking, burgers sizzling. But a simple swinging door provides all the insulation we need, relieving us of any obligation to respond.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Legend Of The Choco Taco, by Jason Cohen, Eater

Empellon chef Alex Stupak owns four New York City restaurants devoted to tacos. He’s the author of a taco cookbook. But growing up in Leominster, Massachusetts, there was no Mexican food in Stupak’s life ("Old El Paso taco night" aside). Could it be, then, that the first taco Stupak ever had outside the home — and certainly the first taco he ever bought from a truck — was made of "light" ice cream, fake chocolate, chopped peanuts, and a sugar cone "shell"? Which is to say… a Choco Taco?

"That’s actually true," Stupak says. "Since I was a kid I've always been a fan of them." So when Dominique Ansel approached Stupak in the spring about a limited-edition dessert collaboration, the idea seemed almost inevitable. Who wouldn’t want the pastry chef best known for mashing croissants and donuts into one delicious portmanteau to riff on Choco Tacos, especially since Stupak is a former pastry chef himself? There was only one small problem. "Dominique, he’s obviously a French dude," Stupak says. "He had no idea what the fuck they were. I had to buy a box and feed him some."

Dating And Sex: Now The Thinking Gal’s Subject, by Casey Schwartz, New York Times

It requires only a glimpse at bookstore windows to notice the phalanx of young authors challenging the idea that dating and sex aren’t serious enough topics for certain kinds of writers to engage with. These authors share something else, besides subject matter: They are women.

Their books are a departure from the raw, unfiltered confessional writing that the internet seems to have fostered in recent years: inward-focused pieces on abortions and addictions and affairs we have gotten used to clicking on, or past.

Instead, this new crop of nonfiction seeks to blend personal writing with social analysis, to fashion some kind of philosophy about how we live, and love, now.

Fiction Or Standardized Test? ‘Multiple Choice’ Is Both, by Idra Novey, New York Times

Anyone who has groaned and considered crawling under the table after taking a standardized test will delight in the literary high jinks ­Alejandro Zambra performs in “Multiple Choice.” Like an exam, the book contains various fill-in-the-blank ­sections and brief narratives in “Sentence Elimination,” and concludes with fully developed stories in “Reading Comprehension,” all of which point with increasing ferocity at the alienation of the test taker, which in turn illustrates the alienation of the tested citizen.

Nutshell By Ian McEwan Review – An Elegiac Masterpiece, by Kate Clanchy, The Guardian

This book is organised so thoroughly, in its plot, characters and themes, around the central image of the foetus suspended in the churnings of gravity and time that it becomes, as Polonius also says, “scene individable, or poem unlimited”. Nutshell is an orb, a Venetian glass paperweight, of a book; a place where – and be warned, it puts you in the quoting mood – Larkin’s “any-angled light” may “congregate endlessly”.

Read It Later: A Procrastinator’s Memoir, by Britt Peterson, New York Times

The daily effort required to complete a major creative project is monumental — and frequently invisible. It’s rare for novelists, artists, composers or computer programmers to pull back the curtain on the granular accumulation of alarm clocks set an hour back, day-job ­duties plugged through, sunny afternoons spent indoors, moments with family and friends unattended. Part of this is because it would be very boring. And yet we are fascinated by famous artists’ and writers’ daily routines: Benjamin Franklin and his naked “air baths,” Patricia Highsmith’s bacon and eggs for every meal, P.G. Wodehouse’s calisthenics.

So, it’s not surprising that the Times business reporter and editor Phyllis Korkki’s book, “The Big Thing” — which (in an expansion of a 2013 column that did the same thing) performs the trick of narrating her completion of the book she’s writing — is both slow and fascinating. It’s slow in the way hearing about someone finishing her book day after day after day in real life can be. And it’s still fascinating, because Korkki is such a sympathetic subject, and her hodgepodge of a meta-book — part Malcolm Gladwell-lite behavioral psychology, part self-help writing guide — always manages to be charming.

The Co-Founder Of N+1 Is ‘Against Everything’, by Daphne Merkin, New York Times

“Against Everything” is a portrait of the egghead as a youngish man (Greif was born in 1975), trying the culture on for size, deeming it too saggy in some places and too constricting in others.

Friday, August 26, 2016

This Man Will Change The Way You Play Board Games, by Nicholas Hune-Brown, Slate

The day I met Daviau, he was hustling from game to game, a slim 46-year-old dressed in a black hoodie and glasses. In an industry that cranks out products by the thousand, Daviau has done the seemingly impossible: created a genuinely new way of playing board games. His “legacy games” unfold over months, changing as you play them. They have a beginning, middle, and—most shockingly—an end, completely overturning the fundamental idea that a board game must be eternal and endlessly replayable, an object you can inherit from your grandfather and play with your grandchildren. Daviau is the co-designer of Pandemic Legacy, which was released last year and almost immediately became the highest ranked game of all time on the influential site Board Game Geek. The Guardian said it “may be the best board game ever created.”

For Daviau, however, all that is just prologue. For years, he has been laboring over Seafall, a swashbuckling game of exploration that will be the first legacy game that isn’t based on an existing property. He first announced the game in 2013, hopeful that it would come out in a matter of months. Since then, it has been delayed over and over. It topped some fans’ “most anticipated” list in 2014. Then 2015. Then 2016. For a certain segment of board game nerds, the wait for Seafall has been like the wait for the first Kanye West album or the first George Saunders novel: a sense of anticipation mixed with a touch of anxiety, fear that an artist’s early promise won’t be fully realized.

After A Hundred Years Of The Park Service, What’s Next?, by Michelle Nijhuis, New Yorker

In the late summer of 1928, Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, received a curious proposal. George Melendez Wright, a twenty-four-year-old assistant naturalist at Yosemite, was offering not only to conduct a multiyear survey of wildlife in the national parks but also to pay for the work himself. Wright had been with the Park Service for barely a year. The orphaned son of a sea captain from New York and an heiress from El Salvador, he had been raised in San Francisco by a great-aunt who encouraged his early interest in birds, allowing him to ramble alone through Bay Area marshes. Later, as an undergraduate at Berkeley, Wright had studied under the pioneering field biologist Joseph Grinnell, adopting his mentor’s famously meticulous note-taking habits. In short, he was the perfect man for the job he was offering to create, and Mather, who was in the last months of his tenure, could hardly refuse. In 1929, Wright opened an office in Berkeley, ordered a customized Buick Roadster fitted with a truck bed and a water-resistant gear compartment, and hired two colleagues to help carry out the Park Service’s first system-wide research project.

There Is No Secret To Writing About People Who Do Not Look Like You, by Brandon Taylor, LitHub

Stories have many functions: entertainment, healing, education, illustration, explanation, misdirection, persuasion. Stories have the power to shape worlds and to change lives, and so there is a lot at stake when an author sits down to write. Many people fold stories like delicate paper ships and launch them from obscure corners of the world, hoping that their ships land on distant shores and spread some of the truth of their lives to strangers. It is an act of communion, an act of humanity, the sharing of your story with another person. We each contain within us a private cosmos, and when we write of ourselves, we make visible the constellations that constitute our experience and identity.

However, there are many ways that a story can harm. When an author writes a black woman who shows up only to be angry in two scenes full of sass and pilfered vernacular, divorcing the anger from its cause and playing to the worst of tropes, he is performing a violence. When an author conjures up a Latina cleaning woman who is old and slow and barely speaks English but leaves her home, the people who love her, and the dignity of her life on the cutting room floor, he is performing a violence. When an author rests a book on the thinly drawn metaphor of black bodies being torn asunder by some mysterious force that ends their lives just before adulthood, they are engaging in the ugliest exploitation of black trauma in America.

Atlas Aggregated, by Walter Kirn, Harpers

No social encounter delights me more than meeting a doctor at a cocktail party. In clinical settings, doctors tend to be guarded and aloof. Catch one with a whiskey in hand, though, and you might find yourself in possession of all sorts of inside information. Among the nuggets I’ve gathered in this fashion are: that salt and butter aren’t really bad for you; that nicotine is a marvelous antidepressant; that vegans are no healthier than the rest of us; and that early cancer screening may be pointless, since many small tumors vanish on their own and some grow so slowly that their human hosts will die before they do major harm. Some of this may be inaccurate, perhaps, but most of it is worth repeating at other parties.

The Story Of How Handwriting Evolved, And May Soon Die Off, by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, New York Times

“I never saw a hotter argument on so unexciting a subject,” the Dutch scholar Erasmus declared in 1528 in his treatise “On Handwriting.” As Anne Trubek’s new book, “The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting,” demonstrates, 500 years later the debate simmers on. Trubek traces Western script from Sumerian cuneiform to the Roman alphabet and on through Carolingian minuscule, Spencerian and Palmer scripts. When an Ohio second grader joins in to whinge about achy pen-holding fingers, handwriting — and specifically cursive, now eradicated from the Common Core curriculum — becomes as hot a topic as in Erasmus’s day.

The Kingdom Of Speech By Tom Wolfe - Review, by Evening Standard

Tom Wolfe has always believed in “saturation reporting”, getting out there among the people you are writing about, whether in fiction or non-fiction. In his manifesto for the novel, Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast, he disdained novelists who never left their studies, contrasting them with Zola who, to write Germinal, literally descended into the coal mines.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

On Music And Story, by Clare Beams, Ploughshares

I had a professor in college who maintained that writers write about artists in other disciplines—painters, musicians, sculptors, etc.—when they want to write about writers without actually writing about writers. There’s probably something to this. Most writers are preoccupied with the struggles of trying to create something, and writers’ preoccupations have a way of making their way onto the page. Of course, writers do also just write about writers (I see you, Philip Roth!). But perhaps there’s an instinct to portray the artistic struggle using media that are inherently more dramatic—more interpersonal, richer in sensory detail—than the act of writing, which on one level really just looks like sitting alone in front of a computer or a piece of paper a lot of the time.

The differences between disciplines also suit them for different roles in a story, though, I think. Music—the performance of music, anyway—lasts for a set period of time, and enfolds the performer and the listener at once; because of these characteristics, music allows a writer to create and play with particular kinds of tension.

To The Bright Edge Of The World By Eowyn Ivey Review – A Journey Into The Alaskan Wilds, by Geraldine Brooks, The Guardian

Perhaps living through Alaska’s long dark winter gives a writer extra insight into melancholy. Certainly Ivey’s scarred, sad characters are drawn with exquisite empathy. Everyone here carries burdens, both literal and metaphorical. And there is no easy unburdening. Love doesn’t always save the day for these characters. For some, it is only an added weight, an additional snare.

Discomfort Food: Using Dinners To Talk About Race, Violence And America, by Maura Judkis, Washington Post

When Ni­ger­ian chef Tunde Wey brings people together over a beautiful meal to talk about some of the ugliest problems facing our country — racism, sexism, police brutality — he can’t help but notice one recurring theme. After the people of color in the room have voiced their frustrations, fears and sorrows, someone — usually a white ally — would ask, “So what’s the solution?”

“White folks or privileged folks are quick to try to find a solution, or ask for a solution, as opposed to sitting in the discomfort,” said Wey. “How do you answer what the solution is to racism or systemic injustices?”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Where The Death Penalty Still Lives, by Emily Bazelon, New York Times

What separates the 16 counties where the death penalty regularly endures from the rest of the country, where it is fading away? The 16 counties span seven states in the South and the West. They include major cities, like Los Angeles, Houston, Las Vegas and Phoenix; suburban areas like Orange County, Calif., and San Bernardino, Calif.; and semirural pockets like Mobile County, Ala., and Caddo Parish, La. Some are dominated by Demo­cratic voters, some are dominated by Republicans and a few are evenly split. Many of the counties have high numbers of murders, but so do plenty of other places that don’t use the death penalty.

Brandon Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia,along with a research team at Harvard Law School called theFair Punishment Project, has been trying to identify the factors that explain why certain counties still regularly impose capital punishment. They have been delving into the death-penalty records of the 16 counties and comparing them with those of other jurisdictions and have found three key features that often characterize the 16. “The people who get the death penalty tend to live in places with overaggressive prosecutors and defense lawyers who aren’t up to the task of defending against them — that’s a double whammy,” says Robert J. Smith, who directs the project. “Then in some places there’s a third element: a cultural legacy of racial bias and exclusion. It’s just not true that we execute the people who are the most culpable.”

Fear Of The Light: Why We Need Darkness, by Amanda Petrusich, The Guardian

I grew up in a small town in the Hudson River valley, about an hour north of New York City. Like most children, I regarded the night sky (or what I could see of it) with wonder. I understood that nobody could say for sure what was out there. Little kids are often frustrated by the smallness of their lives – as a child, you can conjure complex worlds, but in your own life, you are largely powerless to make moves. Looking up, the tininess I felt was confirmed, but it no longer felt like a liability. If the night sky offers us one thing, it is a liberating sense of ourselves in perspective, and of the many things we can neither comprehend nor control.

“I wish to know an entire heaven and an entire earth,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in 1856. He understood those worlds as separate, but in some essential conversation with each other – to receive one without the other was to misunderstand both. But what happens when mankind divorces itself from a true experience of the cosmos, separating from the vastness above, taming it by erasing it? How can we ever come to know a heaven we can barely see?

Sitting Up, by Witold Rybczynski, The Paris Review

We are good at walking and running, and we are happy lying down when we sleep. It is the in-between position that is the problem. This is true even if we sit on the ground—as attested by the variety of pads, bolsters, armrests, and cushions used by floor-sitting cultures. It is even truer when we choose to sit on a chair. Every chair represents a struggle to resolve the conflict between gravity and the human anatomy. Sitting up is always a challenge.

Why Read Novels?, by Elisa Gabbert, The Smart Set

This, I think, is why I read novels — not to experience life in this world in a different way or through a different medium, but to gain access to another world. Because the worlds of novels don’t just differ from my own life in the details; they are different from the actual world.

Doing Philosophy Better, by Jeanne-Marie Jackson, n+1

Whereas Naipauline scenes of abuse and erotic degradation bespeak a deeper misanthropy and resignation, Square Wave is ultimately a novel about the possibility of intellectual uplift in a self-consciously global context. Its social dystopianism, for De Silva, seems almost like window-dressing for a rare and moving faith in the power of the trained mind. In this way, De Silva emerges as a rare voice committed to mapping the many tones of a hostile world.

Homo Deus By Yuval Noah Harari Review – How Data Will Destroy Human Freedom, by David Runciman, The Guardian

At the heart of this spellbinding book is a simple but chilling idea: human nature will be transformed in the 21st century because intelligence is uncoupling from consciousness. We are not going to build machines any time soon that have feelings like we have feelings: that’s consciousness. Robots won’t be falling in love with each other (which doesn’t mean we are incapable of falling in love with robots). But we have already built machines – vast data-processing networks – that can know our feelings better than we know them ourselves: that’s intelligence.

The French Fries Had A Plan, by Dan Piepenbring, The Paris Review

Even with its abundant personification, it strikes me as a pretty literal-minded parable of class struggle. I imagine West seated in some vinyl booth with a McDonald’s feast spread before him, suddenly vivisected by paranoia. He’s realized what every Dollar Menu chump must, at some point: the fries 00do have a plan, and their plan is to make you eat them, and then to make you eat them again.

How A Mathematician Turned An Obscure Number Into A Scary Story, by Eric Grundhauser, Atlas Obscura

For those without the fortitude to stare directly at the infernal number, that’s a one, followed by 13 zeroes, followed by the traditional Number of the Beast, 666, followed by yet another 13 zeroes, and a trailing one.

Branded Newsstands, Bad Nachos, And The Evolution Of Airport Retail, by Ernie Smith, Atlas Obscura

As a guy who travels a few times a year and notices trends, I wanted to answer an important question for myself about airports: Why are the stores branded after TV news networks?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Death And All Her Friends, by Matthew St. Ville Hunte, The Paris Review

I had to bury a dog in my backyard yesterday. She was a light brown mongrel and came up to about my knee—not huge, but not tiny, either. She showed up in the neighborhood a few months ago and gave birth to a couple of puppies under a neighbor’s water tank. She came around my house a few times and I fed her, so she and the puppies mostly hung around. A few days ago, she went off somewhere and came back with a wound. We tried to patch her up as best we could, and she seemed to be stabilizing, but eventually she died on the lawn, which had been stained violet from the iodine antiseptic.

What Percival Everett’s ‘Erasure’ Can Tell Us About Authenticity, by Alcy Leyva, The Millions

In giving us the fall of Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, Percival Everett was forcing us to question whether it was possible to clearly define the African-American experience in our country. The intervening 15 years have seen further missteps as we try to determine the answer. But the conversation is moved forward, however discordantly, by the new guard of people thinking about art and equality. Our world is not like Monk’s, and yes, we have the Internet to thank.

An Open Letter To The Teenager Who Ruined My Copy Of ‘Ragtime’, by Jacob Lambert, The Millions

However, when I opened it that night, I let out a disappointed groan. Highlighter marks were everywhere; on the first page of text alone, seven words (among them “stouter” and — snort — “steamers”) were underlined in neon blue, and the sentence “There was a lot of sexual fainting” had been, for some reason, parenthesized. I flipped ahead, and the blue marker was even thicker on subsequent pages. Though I’ve occasionally read secondhand books that previous owners had scribbled through, Ragtime was far too damaged to read. There was practically more highlighter than printer’s ink.

Colbert’s Conflicting Course, by Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer

Colbert can be compelling outside of the skin he shed when he left The Report, but as long as he’s bound by convention (as opposed to conventions), he’ll be a talented player stuck in a scoring system that doesn’t suit his skills.

Monday, August 22, 2016

How Nostalgia Drives The Music Industry, by Hua Hsu, New Yorker

We’ve grown accustomed to the baby-boomer-fuelled regularity of Rolling Stones reunion tours, but the return of bands like Dinosaur Jr. is a reminder of how yearning for the past shapes pop history, even for generations who once thought they were too cool for it.

A Once-Declining British Resort Town Sees New Life, Post-Brexit, by Steven Erlanger, New York Times

Many of the old bed-and-breakfast inns along the city’s seafront had either deteriorated or shut, the attractions had faded and become dated, and young people had stayed away. Even the two main political parties in Britain, which often came to Blackpool for yearly conferences, stopped coming in 2007.

Now the city is trying to reinvent itself as a seaside resort for the modern age. It also hopes to take advantage of a possible consequence of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union: an increase in the number of Britons who choose not to vacation abroad.

The Euro And Its Threat To The Future Of Europe By Joseph Stiglitz – Review, by John Kampfner, The Guardian

t’s two months since Britain’s worst foreign policy blunder of the modern era and it still rankles. The vote to take us out of the European Union was not about economics, less still diplomacy; it was a collective act of myopia, distrust, arrogance and fury. It was about emotions, negative ones; and behaviour is something that economists struggle to capture.

Joseph Stiglitz does better than most. For years the former chief economist at the World Bank and adviser to President Clinton has been inveighing against the rise in inequality and unaccountable elites. In his latest book, he returns to one of his pet hates, the single currency project of the Brussels establishment, and sets about disembowelling it.

A Doubter’s Almanac By Ethan Canin – Review, by Anita Sethi, The Guardian

Doubt battles with certainty throughout the engrossing seventh book from US novelist and short-story writer Ethan Canin, which explores the tortured mind of a mathematical genius and the blessing and burden of being gifted. “If you would be a real seeker after truth, you must at least once in your life doubt, as far as possible, all things,” wrote Descartes. Doubting makes Milo Andret an excellent mathematician, adept at questioning received wisdom, but we read in horror as he becomes consumed by crippling self-doubt.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Is Our Fear Of Insomnia What’s Actually Keeping Us Up At Night?, by Jeff Harder, Boston Globe

But to another faction of sleep researchers, the overstating of the sleep-deprived-society narrative is one of the main things keeping us up at night. They say we’re not truly sleeping less than recent generations — that sleeping nine hours is actually worse for you than sleeping seven, and that inflating the amount of rest we “need” sends anxiety-driven insomnia sufferers down a worrisome path, to the benefit of pharmaceutical companies.

Whether sleeplessness is an epidemic or an exaggeration, O’Connor says she doesn’t hear many of her peers bragging about getting by on diminished rest. “I don’t meet a lot of people who say, ‘I only need four hours of sleep.’ It’s more like, ‘I only got four hours of sleep, and I’m miserable.’ ”

Why It’s Better To Be A Parent Than To ‘Parent.’ Yes, There’s A Difference., by Erika Christakis, Washington Post

What’s the difference between being a parent and the state we have only recently come to call parenting? This is the central question in Alison Gopnik’s bracing and thoughtful book “The Gardener and the Carpenter.”

What’s the difference between being a parent and the state we have only recently come to call parenting? This is the central question in Alison Gopnik’s bracing and thoughtful book “The Gardener and the Carpenter.”

To parent, on the other hand, is to labor toward a specific outcome — getting into college, for example — just like a carpenter building a piece of furniture. “The goal is to somehow turn your child into a better or happier or more successful adult,” she writes, and though we may not want to say it out loud, “better than the children next door.”

Caleb Carr’s New Thriller Takes On Fancy Forensics, by Michael Connelly, New York Times

Carr is best known for “The Alienist,” a beautifully wrought novel set more than a century ago at the dawn of behavioral profiling and other detective sciences. In “Surrender, New York,” he has written an addictive contemporary crime procedural stuffed with observations on the manipulations of science and the particular societal ills of the moment. Call it mystery with multiple messages.

Book Review: ‘Unknown Caller’ Rearranges The Pieces Of A Family’s Story, by Frank O Smith, Portland Press Herald

Maine writer Debra Spark’s new novel, “Unknown Caller,” shatters the conventions of storytelling like a Cubist painting fractures realism. The result is a story that closely approximates real life – messy and confusing, with important pieces misplaced and time distorted by the force of circumstances and events. The reader may find the storyline hard to get a handle on at first. It’s best, as in life, to simply go with it.

Handwriting Just Doesn’t Matter, by Anne Trubek, New York Times

People talk about the decline of handwriting as if it’s proof of the decline of civilization. But if the goal of public education is to prepare students to become successful, employable adults, typing is inarguably more useful than handwriting. There are few instances in which handwriting is a necessity, and there will be even fewer by the time today’s second graders graduate.

If printing letters remains a useful if rarely used skill, cursive has been superannuated. Its pragmatic purpose is simple expediency — without having to lift pen from paper, writers can make more words per minute. There have been cursive scripts since the beginning of writing: The Egyptians invented one of the first, demotic, which allowed scribes to take notes on business transactions and Pharaonic laws faster than they could using hieroglyphics.

Indeed, the desire to write faster has driven innovations throughout history: Ballpoint pens replaced quill pens; typewriters improved on pens; and computers go faster than typewriters. Why go back?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Why There’s New Hope About Ending Blindness, by David Dobbs, National Geographic

Bennett takes care not to aggrandize her work or underplay the obstacles to further progress. Yet the gains so far for Christian and other patients give Bennett guarded hope that this basic gene-replacement approach might work for other forms of blindness. She and others believe that variations on her technique might soon help doctors find and fix similar genetic defects early enough—perhaps even in utero—to reverse or prevent eye damage.

Within roughly the past decade, efforts in two other areas, stem cells and biomedical, or “bionic,” implants, have also given at least some sight to people previously sightless. Stem cells—cells in early stages of development, before they differentiate into the building blocks of eyes, brains, arms, and legs—show increasing promise to replace or revive the failing retinal cells that underlie many causes of blindness. And the first generation of bionic retinas—microchips that replace failed retinal cells by collecting or amplifying light—is bringing a low-resolution version of sight to people who for years saw nothing.

These advances encourage talk of something unthinkable just 10 or 20 years ago: ending human blindness, and soon.

Sex, Death And The Short Story, by Sarah Hall, The Guardian

I’d recently read an interview with James Salter in which he mentioned that sex and death, as primary themes, were reasons the New Yorker had rejected his, and his fellow writers’, stories. But aren’t they essential human topics, I asked Pete, aren’t they critical to short fiction? They’re also the trickiest to get right, Pete noted, and then rolled out a pithy Alice Munro quote. When asked why so much of her work was about these two subjects, she replied, “Why wouldn’t it be? It’s all that matters.”

The Mysterious History Of The Ellipsis, From Medieval Subpuncting To Irrational Numbers, by Cameron Hunt McNabb, Slate

The punctuation mark of the ellipsis is perhaps the most unusual mark in the English language, for punctuation marks are designed to convey meaning by indicating relationships between ideas, but the ellipsis does the exact opposite. It simply indicates that something has been omitted. Sometimes, this omission is poignant, as in J. Alfred Prufrock’s lament “I grow old...I grow old…” which invites the reader to imagine what has happened to the him in the spaces between him growing old. Sometimes, it is simply a placeholder, as happens when a fellow messager is typing on the other end of the line. (Personally, my favorite example of the ellipsis is Seinfeld’s infamous “yada yada yada,” but I digress.)

Death And The Seaside By Alison Moore Review – An Ominous, Multilayered Thriller, by Sarah Crown, The Guardian

Dense, complex, thought-provoking, it manages to be at once a fairytale and a philosophical treatise, high-octane thriller and literary interrogation. Like the dreams that haunt Bonnie’s night-times, it holds its secrets close, and repays careful rereading. The end of the novel, abrupt and death-haunted, feels as neat and tight as a key in a lock, and sheds light on the mysteries that have gone before. Schubert would be proud.

Against Borrowing Books, by Jonathan Russell Clark, Read It Forward

Now maybe you’re sitting there thinking that I’m taking all this a little too sensitively, that probably my best course is to accept the loss of a handful of books as the necessary flotsam and jetsam of a life lived with friends and acquaintances around to borrow my books in the first place. To this, I have a few responses.

Friday, August 19, 2016

My 20-Year Quest To Find Carmen Sandiego, by Todd Van Luling, Huffington Post

I didn’t know this then, but “Where in Time?” is the only Carmen property to feature a live version of the character, with an actress performing the role on screen. This meant there was actually a real Carmen Sandiego, but the show tried to downplay its decision and never revealed who played the role, leaving the credit a mystery.

The year 2016 has been a bleak one for humanity. I’ve had a hard time falling asleep many nights after long days of seeing horrible news followed by more horrible news. The world has always been filled with both good and evil, but this year certainly seems to have awoken an inflamed inspiration from those who conduct the latter.

As a lowly content creator on the internet, I am obviously powerless to make this stop in any meaningful way within the scope of my day job. But since this year marks the 20th anniversary for “Where in Time?” I decided I could at least go after the villain I grew up with in a quest to bring a very small smidgen of justice to the world.

I needed to finally find Carmen Sandiego once and for all.

Liquor License, by Adam O’Fallon Price, The Paris Review

Even for a novel about an alcoholic writer and bartender, my book has a lot of bars. Sixteen, in fact: sixteen instances in which characters appear at sixteen different bars. Seemingly at every chance, Richard, The Grand Tour’s protagonist, walks into bars, sits down, and drinks. I knew the book featured a lot of bars, but sixteen is more than I’d imagined, and it raises some troubling questions. Whence these many saloons? Whither these sundry watering holes? And what’s wrong with diners, or teahouses, or hookah lounges?

‘The Deadly Dowager’: A New Look At One Of The Great Villains Of Modern Literature, by Michael Dirda, Washington Post

So, will Father Reginald be the agent for Arabella’s eventual comeuppance? Or will the implacable dowager trample over the forces of good and achieve her dreams? My lips are sealed. Still, if you prefer your summer entertainments somewhat tart — a mixture of gin and bitters — you’re in for a treat.

In Search Of The “Real” Japan, by Colin Marshall, Los Angeles Review of Books

“It is perhaps true that the best way to get to know a people is to sleep with them,” writes Donald Richie about halfway into The Inland Sea, “but this is complicated in Japan.” That hardly stops him from trying, however. In this account of a journey through the towns and villages of the titular “landlocked, lakelike body of water bounded by three of Japan’s four major islands” appear a memorable cast of partners: an island girl, barely of high-school age, who invites herself into Richie’s room; a brash, young yakuza cast into exile as a Buddhist acolyte; a sailor, even younger and more severe, who quashes his sexual urges with buckets of cold water; a pouting prostitute with whom a bar owner all but swindles Richie into spending a dire evening; a kept woman whose name he never catches, but with whom he imagines an entire blissful life together as, late in the book, they talk until sunrise.

The 2016 First Lady Cookie Contest Is Just As Weird As The Rest Of The Election, by Maura Judkis, Washington Post

Hillary Clinton has said that if she is elected president, she won’t have Bill pick out the china. Another thing the former president won’t be doing? Facing off against Melania Trump in the Family Circle First Lady Cookie Contest.

That’s not to say the Clintons aren’t participating in the 24-year-old contest, which opened its public ballot today on the magazine’s Facebook page. But the recipe they submitted isn’t Bill’s — it’s Hillary’s original recipe from 1992, now called the Clinton Family’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. The contest no longer focuses on first ladies, either — it’s been renamed the Presidential Cookie Poll.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Are We Losing The Grand Canyon?, by Kevin Fedarko, National Geographic

Since it entered the American consciousness, the Grand Canyon has provoked two major reactions: the urge to protect it, and the temptation to make a whopping pile of money from it. During the years after the Powell expedition, miners rushed into the canyon to lay claims for copper, zinc, silver, and asbestos. During the 1880s one tycoon wanted to turn the bottom of the canyon into a railroad corridor to haul coal from Denver to California. (He drowned in the Colorado, along with two members of his survey expedition.) In the 1950s a mining company tried to get rich by building a giant cableway to move bat guano from a cave and sell it to rose gardeners; that didn’t last long. There was even a government plan to build a pair of giant hydroelectric dams in the heart of the canyon, a project that would have transformed large parts of the Colorado River into a series of reservoirs whose shorelines today would undoubtedly be clotted with houseboats and Jet Skis.

The successful campaign to stop those dams, spearheaded by the Sierra Club during the 1960s, established the idea that the Grand Canyon is inviolable. And yet Pete and I had heard about a range of new proposals—many of them driven by savvy entrepreneurs operating just outside the canyon’s boundaries in areas that were controlled not by the National Park Service but by the U.S. Forest Service or one of the five Native American tribes whose federally recognized reservations are located around the canyon. From every point of the compass, threats ranging from colossal tourist developments and unlimited helicopter tours to uranium mining were poised to spoil one of the world’s premier parks.

Their Body, Themselves, by Rachel Klein, Catapult

I hadn’t thought much of the transition my child had gone through, which had become a simple and natural part of our lives over the past year. It started with wearing more masculine clothes. This was more than fine with me; I was a tomboy at that age, too. Then came a request for a cropped haircut. Again, I’d had short hair before, and I have never been one to police my children’s aesthetics. My deep anxiety about lice infestation, borne of my own childhood experiences, actually made me welcome the choice. Yes, I thought. Give them no safe harbor.

A little while later came the pronoun switch. That was not something I’d experienced before, but still I knew it had become more common, and detaching language from gender seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Why not divorce the language with which people identify you from your genitals? You go, human, I silently applauded.“They/them/their” took some getting used to, of course, and involved a bit of grumbling about poor grammar from my fastidious older daughter, but get used to it we all did.

Review: ‘Sixty’ Recounts A 61st Year, Complete With Humor, Rue And Hemorrhoid, by Jennifer Senior, New York Times

The idea is that when we’re older, we face an existential reckoning: We can either make peace with our choices, dunderheaded as some might have been, or we can spend our final years in a hair shirt of our own regrets.

Though Ian Brown never says it outright, this struggle lies at the heart of “Sixty: A Diary of My Sixty-First Year,” a great, fat rosebush of a book that’s beautiful and pungent and, at moments, deceptively prickly.

The Gardener And The Carpenter By Alison Gopnik Review – Modern Parenting Is All Wrong, by Bee Wilson, The Guardian

Gopnik’s central argument in this fascinating and passionate diatribe is that modern, affluent societies approach child-rearing in a wrongheaded way. Middle-class families feel under immense pressure to parent our children in such a way that they will turn out right. We speak of good and bad parenting. We shuttle them to football practice and ballet lessons; and later, push them to complete their Duke of Edinburgh awards. We anxiously scrutinise their book bags each night, or feel guilty that we are failing to do so. We worry whether they are getting enough sleep, making enough friends. There’s a tendency to endlessly query our own choices. Are we working too much or too little? Are we protecting them too much or not enough?

For Gopnik, these are simply the wrong questions, because we should not think of looking after children as “parenting” at all. The trouble with parenting, on her reading, is that it treats looking after children as a form of work rather than a form of love. And by treating childcare as work, parents are doomed to feel dissatisfied, because it’s a relentless, thankless, messy, unpaid occupation. But, Gopnik adds, it’s “a pretty great kind of love, at least for most of us”.

You Can't Hurry A Dive Bar, by Naomi Tomky, The Atlantic

Dive bars are the antithesis of change. Regular customers expect the same person to serve them the same drink, and that it will taste the same, the bar will smell the same, and that nothing will ever surprise them there. Sarah Jewell, who managed Seattle’s Central Saloon, called many of her regulars “ritualistic.” But whether it’s ritual, habit, or comfort, dive bars are the opposite of trendy, and the opening of a new bar is the opposite of everything for which the dive bar genre stands.

But entrepreneurs rushed to capitalize on that hard-earned vibe and open places that imitate the same spots that have been gentrified out of a neighborhood. (See practically-dive-themed bars like King’s Hardwareand Montana in Seattle.) The thing is, you can't rush dive bars. Like antiques—or, more appropriately, whiskey and wine—much of the value of a dive bar comes with the passing of time: butt grooves in banquettes, moisture stains on the bar in the shape of one million pint glasses, and a bartender spewing the kind of surliness that requires decades of practice. Dive bars aren’t opened: they evolve.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Write Stuff: How The Humble Pencil Conquered The World, by Jonathan Schifman, Popular Mechanics

Pencils aren't just for the SATs. It is the go-to drawing tool of the carpenter and the architect, the cartoonist and the painter. We used pencils when we learned math in elementary school, and a graphite-filled piece of wood remains the implement of choice for anyone who needs to make a mark that is not permanent.

The pencil's journey into your hand has been a 500-year process of discovery and invention. It began in the countryside of northern England, but a one-eyed balloonist from Napoleon Bonaparte's army, one of America's most famous philosophers, and some of the world's most successful scientists and industrialists all have had a hand in the creation and refinement of this humble writing implement.

Sharpen your trusty no. 2 and get ready to take some notes. This is the story of the pencil.

Instagram And The Pornification Of Food, by Davey Davis, the Millions

In the midst of this Instagram ennui, it happened: A friend tagged me in a post made by a food porn account. It was a photo of a deep-fried ball of mac n’ cheese mounted on a home-rolled ice cream cone and drizzled with ranch dressing. More joke than comestible, my friend’s find was a gastronomic outrage. Rather than laugh (or shudder) and move on, I was intrigued.

I followed the account that posted that image, but not before going back several months into its history, liking its photos and devouring the videos of fat, sugar, and bread being put through an Inquisition-style gauntlet of rendering: plunged into vats of oil and dipped into bowls of melted cheese, only to be frozen, breaded, and then dipped again. Of course, Instagram began to suggest similar accounts, and I followed more and more. With hundreds of thousands of followers (at the moment, the tag “food porn” itself is over 92 million strong), I was just one in a multitude of users who check in daily to see what’s new in the world of pornified food.

The Sandwich That Ate The World, by Simon Stanley, Roads And Kingdoms

I’d never tried a banh mi before visiting Saigon two years ago. But I fell in love with the city and the sandwich and never left. When a local magazine asked me to find the best in town, my bond with the ubiquitous street staple was forever sealed. For an entire week in 2015, it was pretty much all I ate, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The floor of our apartment was covered in breadcrumbs, my notebook filled with flecks of coriander and errant tasting notes, the greasy smears of paté and mayonnaise still visible on its pages today. [...]

France brought all manner of new and exotic items to Vietnam during its colonization of the region, from beer to bread, carrots to coffee, but didn’t hand them over willingly. The story of how the modern banh mi came together, the sort of banh mi you can pick up today at a farmers’ market in London, or from a food truck in Los Angeles, recounts 160 years of Vietnam’s history in one single, fiery package.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Beyond Spam, by Kyle Stock, Bloomberg

But around 2007, Hormel quietly embarked on a venture that would take it deeper than it had ever been into the cupboards and kitchens of Americans, many of them immigrants, many of them young. It led to a series of acquisitions and a blitz of research and development that helped round out its pantry of products and inoculate it against the fickle modern food trends of a kale-and-quinoa world.

One of the first things it did was hire an anthropologist.

​What If We Haven’t Found Aliens Because Humans Came First?, by Becky Ferreira, Motherboard

Indeed, Loeb’s team found that life would be about one thousand timesmore likely to arise in the distant future by calculating the probability of habitable, Earthlike planets forming over trillions of years.

The scenario casts Earthlings as early bloomers, prematurely born long before the universe’s most fertile life-bearing years. Perhaps this is one possible explanation for the classic Fermi paradox: Have we struck out in our attempts to detect alien intelligence simply because we are the first example of it to show up to the cosmic party?

Human Cells Make Up Only Half Our Bodies. A New Book Explains Why., by Jonathan Weiner, New York Times

“I Contain Multitudes” has a terrific story to tell. For the last quarter-century or so, microbiologists have been exploring what may amount to a new view of life, full of fascination and self-contradiction. Their work suggests strange and surprising things about our origin and evolution, about health and disease, about symbiosis and risk. This is one of the most interesting developments in biology today. It sweeps from the personal to the planetary; it changes the way you look at human bodies, birds in the air and leaves of grass. Like all new views, it is hard to take in — although, like it or not, we can hardly get away from it.

I Love Plane Food. Please British Airways, Don’t Take Away My Foil-wrapped Fun, by Daisy Buchanan, The Guardian

There should be a word for the sensation we experience when peeling back the foil lid from a tray of warm gloop. There’s a release of tension, a sense of comfort coupled with anticipation.

We’re unwrapping a meat mystery, but we already know the answer depending on our response to the question “Chicken or beef?”

Monday, August 15, 2016

Humans Need To Swear. But Are We Wearing Out Obscenities?, by Brian Bethune, Maclean's

Profanity is so emotionally powerful we store it in another part of the brain, away from everyday language: that’s why people otherwise rendered speechless by stroke or brain damage can, when the frustration of their situation boils over, still yell, “God f–king dammit.” Profanity even has its own syntax. The construction “I don’t give a [enter obscenity or euphemism of choice]” cannot be used with a regular English word; likewise, “What the . . . ” can be completed by certain profanities or euphemisms or left blank, but not filled out with an ordinary word.

In short, if English should lose its surprisingly small profane vocabulary set through overusage, we would be forced to invent new obscenities. That would be no easy task, given the polished perfection of what biology, time and chance has already bequeathed us.

Clothes In Books And Ways To Go Wrong, by Rosa Lyster, The Millions

The whole point of Jonathan Franzen is the richness of his description, his eye for a telling detail. Where are all the clothes, then? Why are there almost no descriptions of what anyone is wearing? It seems like the most amazing oversight. How is it possible that two characters can have an extremely detailed conversation about a third character being “jealous of the internet”, or that we are subjected to a long and over-vivid description of Pip’s boring job, or the smells of different kinds of soil, and yet we are given almost nothing in the way of clothing? They all might as well be walking around naked.

Joy Williams’s Refractory Brilliance, by James Wood, New Yorker

There is a theological parable devised by the impeccably named English philosopher John Wisdom but often adapted and updated by others. The version I first heard, years ago, went something like this: Two travellers return to a once neglected garden and find it miraculously restored to life. One of the travellers suggests that this is proof that a gardener has been tending the patch. The other disagrees, and they decide to set up watch. No one appears, which prompts the believer to suggest that an invisible gardener must be doing the work. Various monitors—bloodhounds, motion detectors, night-vision cameras—are put in place, but none register the appearance of the ghostly gardener. Finally, the skeptic asks the believer what meaningful difference there can be between a gardener who cannot be detected and a gardener who does not exist.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Dystopia: Tung-Hui Hu’s “A Prehistory Of The Cloud”, by Kevin Driscoll, Los Angeles Review of Books

What separates the cloud from earlier computer networks, in Hu’s eyes, is not technology. Rather, the cloud is defined above all by its capacity to hide the material cost of its infrastructure behind a facade of individual user freedom and flexibility. In Hu’s analysis, the cloud traverses the gap between material and immaterial by performing a sort of rhetorical virtualization, “turning real things into logical objects.” Cloud-scale symbolic substitution is powerful, capable of transforming a roiling assemblage of switches, servers, software, standards, and streams of data into a “cloud drive” that appears as singular and easy to comprehend as the USB stick dangling off of your keychain.

The Death Of Flair: As Friday's Goes Minimalist, What Happens To The Antiques?, by Lisa Hix, Collectors Weekly

Tall windows flood the vast dining room with natural light, illuminating a minimalist mix of rectangular and round tables—each ringed by tasteful, Modernist chairs—beneath a grid of industrial light fixtures and exposed wooden beams. Is this the city’s hottest new restaurant that everyone’s been talking about, the one with the locally sourced ingredients served on artfully presented plates? No, it’s the new T.G.I. Friday’s.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Slippers At Work? Nonstop Alcohol? Tales Of An American Executive In Korea, by Frank Ahrens, Washington Post

What did we know about South Korea coming in? Little more than most Americans do: It’s the most wired nation on earth, the kids are ultra-high-achievers in academics, and they eat kimchi. Surrounded by our LG flat-screen TVs, Samsung smartphones, and Hyundai and Kia cars, most Americans know Korea for its powerhouse consumer brands — and perhaps for the murderous Kim dynasty in the North, whose periodic outbursts alternate between lethal threats and farce.

As for what the worklife was like there, I had no idea. My first taste let me know how vastly different corporate cultures can be.

The Evolution Of Artificial Life In Science Fiction, by Joelle Renstorm, Ploughshares

Robots work in warehouses, explore Mars, assist police, clean floors, and serve as companions for kids and adults alike. But before Furbies there was Frankenstein, before Roombas there was R.U.R., and before androids we had Asimov.

A Marrying Of Photographic And Literary Obsessions, by Cinque Henderson, Washington Post

Though the bulk of the pieces are on photography (he’s the photography critic for the New York Times Magazine), he wanders far afield, omnivorously exploring everything from Virginia Woolf to his now-famous essay on the White Savior Industrial Complex. Cole’s takes on everything are seen through the alternating long and short lenses of a modern writer steeped in history. His short essays are the best, simple and elegant, and they sent me to Google to learn more about a wide range of people, including artist John Berger and composer Peter Sculthorpe. The essay on his doppelganger, Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski, is so remarkably done, its content and structure so finely balanced, that I shook my head in admiration at Cole’s skillful hand.

A Comic Novel Of Love And Delusion During The Bosnian War, by Michael Schaub, New York Times

Love has a way of making us do crazy things. Some people move across the country without a second thought; others dedicate their lives to changing everything about themselves in order to win the heart of the person they can’t live without.

Then there’s Andrew, the young British hero of Jesse Armstrong’s debut novel, “Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals,” who pretends to be proficient in Serbo-Croatian so he can follow his crush to the front lines of the Bosnian war. (Don’t judge until you’ve walked a kilometer in his trainers, mate.)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Inside The Race To Become The Chipotle Of Pizza, by Venessa Wong, BuzzFeed

Pizza, like other fast food, proliferated in the US because it was cheap and convenient. Above all else, most Americans expect pizza to cost very little, which can be a recipe for all sorts of culinary shenanigans. While it was beloved for decades — even in the highly industrialized form most of us know today — the big chains lost their way somewhere down the line, in pursuit, perhaps, of efficiency and profit. But what other choice did a pizza enthusiast have?

At some point, enough people decided they were no longer content to just passively gorge on whatever pizza they were offered. In 2009, responding to persistent customer complaints like “Domino’s pizza crust to me is like cardboard” and “the sauce tastes like ketchup,” Domino’s launched a new pizza recipe. In 2014, Pizza Hut revamped its menu to focus on bold flavors like honey Sriracha crusts and balsamic drizzles, after two years of declining sales. This year, Papa John’s ditched artificial flavors and colors and launched an exhaustive list of other banned ingredients: no partially hydrogenated oils, no MSG, no fillers in meat toppings, no BHA, no BHT, no cellulose, and no antibiotics in its chicken toppings and poppers.

Must Science Be Testable?, by Massimo Pigliucci, Aeon

Physicists agree that this means that either theory, or both, are therefore wrong or incomplete. String theory is one attempt at reconciling the two by subsuming both into a broader theoretical framework. There is only one problem: while some in the fundamental physics community confidently argue that string theory is not only a very promising scientific theory, but pretty much ‘the only game in town,’ others scornfully respond that it isn’t even science, since it doesn’t make contact with the empirical evidence: vibrating superstrings, multiple, folded, dimensions of space-time and other features of the theory are impossible to test experimentally, and they are the mathematical equivalent of metaphysical speculation. And metaphysics isn’t a complimentary word in the lingo of scientists. Surprisingly, the ongoing, increasingly public and acerbic diatribe often centres on the ideas of one Karl Popper. What, exactly, is going on?

The Tyranny Of Other People’s Vacation Photos, by Henry Alford, New York Times

Chief among my favorite Facebook memories is the time that a high-powered journalist of my acquaintance breezily informed us all that he was at the Grill Room of the Four Seasons with Ted Danson, tucking into some sea urchin. To which one friend responded, “That’s funny, because I’m at the Midtown tunnel with Rhea Perlman, eating shawarma.”

While some frequent users of social media are merely fabulous, others savvily buff their fabulousness to a dazzling gleam, becoming fahvolous. At no point in the year is this more evident than in August and early September, when Facebook and Instagram swell with the plump, juicy, sun-ripened harvest of summer: vacation photos.

The Depressing Food Of The Depression, In ‘A Square Meal’, by Steven Kurutz, New York Times

It was Americans who had sent food to starving Europeans during World War I. “A Square Meal” chronicles the ways the nation coped with suddenly not being the land of plenty.

“This was a time when food became a central, fraught subject for the American people,” Mr. Coe said, explaining why he and his wife wanted to write about it.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Baking To Sobriety, by Simran Sethi, Lucky Peach

I was sentenced on Good Friday. My mom was there in the courtroom. She and I both knew I was going to jail, but we didn’t know when or for how long. We thought we’d get to spend Easter together, but, to our surprise, the officers led me to a holding cell directly after sentencing. Mom was so distraught she stood up as they were leading me away and shouted, “Who’s going to make the lemon meringue pie?”

That person was supposed to be me.

What Are Words For?, by Titi Nguyen, Ploughshares

I get it: language is a substitute for the infinitely deep and inexpressibly rich vibrations of our experiences. Words are translation and in translation something is always lost. “Nowhere do they touch upon absolute truth,” Nietzsche insists.

But most of us don’t live in silence or solitude; civilization happened and we think, speak, converse, and write in words. Language isn’t fixed—we’re constantly honing and adjusting it to our changing needs. And while actual linguistic or language diversity has been in steep decline for decades—within a language, new relationships, new experiences, and new technologies compel or necessitate new words.

Vast And Riotous: On Rion Amilcar Scott’s ‘Insurrections’, by Michael Deagler, The Millions

Scott is an impressive ventriloquist, adopting a number of disparate narrative voices over the course of the book. He offers many brilliant lines (“I’ve never been one to watch weather reports. It’s more honorable to take the weather as it comes”), and writes about race, fatherhood, lust, and envy with estimable candor. Perhaps he is stuck, like nearly every artist, between what he knows how to do and what he hasn’t yet mastered. He knows how to write a small, realistic, domestic story. Neither chess nor the sacrament of confirmation are terribly fresh metaphors in 2016, but he can work them into narratives that satisfy. And yet his prose feels most alive when he’s pursuing those images and plot twists tied to the minutia of his created world, even if their thematic importance to the story at hand remains cloudy. What does it mean to rewrite the Bible in slang? And how does that redress the sting of police profiling? An answer is there, perhaps, though it has yet to find its fullest articulation.

Book Review: Science And The City, by Jonathan Trinastic,

In her debut book, Science and the City: The Mechanics Behind the Metropolis, Laurie Winkless explores the best scientific ideas and minds preparing our cities for this world of tomorrow. Winkless acts as an endlessly curious guide on an entertaining journey that zooms along as fast as a maglev train (the fastest train in the world, using magnetic levitation, as you’ll read about in the book). Thankfully, her scientific training shines through her accurate descriptions of widely ranging technologies, and her fun, free-flowing writing style will be accessible to most readers. Although the sheer number of topics covered sometimes detracts from the depth of explanations, it is easy to recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the technology that has carried cities into the present and the bold ideas that will push them into the future.

Books To Give You Hope: To The Wedding By John Berger, by Rowan Righelato, The Guardian

To The Wedding is a short book but a long read. Like poetry, Berger’s paragraphs ask to be read slowly and reflected upon. The chorus of voices in the book come to the story’s blind narrator unbidden. A seller of tamata – trinkets purported to bring good luck to those who wear them – he is a elliptical, laconic presence. There are no flourishes of wordsmithery here, no elaborate plot structures, no intricate character psychologies. Berger simply allows each person to speak, drawing them in words the same way a good artist would, in spare, true lines.

I Lost My Job And My Husband. Then I Found Newfoundland., by Sara Novic, New York Times

During my summer break from the M.F.A. program at Columbia University in New York, I found myself amid my first adult crisis. I had been teaching writing at a summer camp for high schoolers, but when it was over, I was unemployed for the first time since I was 16. My husband had gone to an extended business training session in Texas, and while away had discovered a penchant for sleeping with men. I moved out — first to a shared room in Washington Heights with two mattresses on the floor, where I slept opposite a Russian woman who stayed up staring at me through the dark, then to a sweltering fifth-floor walk-up in East Harlem, an improvement by all accounts, but still dark, moldy and depressing. Broke, heartbroken and profoundly sweaty, I had taken to pacing the apartment sans pants in a diagonal across the sloping faux-parquet floor. When that didn’t work I returned, as I always had, to books.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What No New Particles Means For Physics, by Natalie Wolchover, Quanta Magazine

Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe have explored the properties of nature at higher energies than ever before, and they have found something profound: nothing new.

It’s perhaps the one thing that no one predicted 30 years ago when the project was first conceived.

The infamous “diphoton bump” that arose in data plots in December has disappeared, indicating that it was a fleeting statistical fluctuation rather than a revolutionary new fundamental particle. And in fact, the machine’s collisions have so far conjured up no particles at all beyond those catalogued in the long-reigning but incomplete “Standard Model” of particle physics. In the collision debris, physicists have found no particles that could comprise dark matter, no siblings or cousins of the Higgs boson, no sign of extra dimensions, no leptoquarks — and above all, none of the desperately sought supersymmetry particles that would round out equations and satisfy “naturalness,” a deep principle about how the laws of nature ought to work.

How Cincinnati Tried, And Failed, To Build One Of America’s First Subways, by Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge

Which is not to say Cincinnati is some transit backwater. It has its own bike-share program; it has Uber and Lyft; and come September, it will cut the ribbon on a brand-new streetcar system. It’s just that in Cincinnati, the car is still king. In 2014, Cincinnatians spent an additional 60 hours behind the wheel because of traffic congestion. When I ask Michael Moore, the city’s head of transportation, what he was doing to encourage people to ditch their cars for cleaner modes of transit, he disagreed with the premise of my question. "I don’t think it’s important to get people out of their cars," he says. "I think it’s important that we offer people choice."

But under the streets of Cincinnati lies the vestige of a different vision — sealed underneath heavy manholes, hidden behind ivy-draped steel gates, and kept out of the public eye by the city’s highest officials. This is the city’s abandoned subway system, nearly three miles of empty tunnels and platforms now decorated in dust and graffiti. It is a vast subterranean space that stands as a monument to one of the biggest transportation blunders of all time. Had it been completed, the rapid transit system could have transformed Cincinnati. Instead, a decade after the project broke ground it was canceled, never to be completed. It is the nation’s largest ghost subway.

Watership Down And The Power Of Not-quite-appropriate Children's Books., by Nicole Cliffe, Slate

Our world is confusing to children, and so they are richly prepared to fumble their way through imaginary ones. A new language, be it Adams’ Lapine or High Elvish or Klingon, is no more baffling than the whys and hows of adult interaction. When Tolkien explains that one can study hobbits for a hundred years and still be surprised by them in a pinch, he’s talking about humans. As the parent of an autistic child, I have come to see the subtle cues most of us think of as instinctual—the physical shifting and wrist-glancing that signify a readiness to end a conversation, inquiring politely after what an acquaintance did over the weekend despite being utterly indifferent to the answer—as the learned dialect they are. Adams explains, for example, that rabbits live in a hierarchical society where leaders only welcome suggestions if they are couched in such a way that it seems the leader has come up with it himself. That’s a lesson some of us take decades to learn.

Lilies In The Yard: On Getting Away, by Brenna Casey, Ploughshares

I reread Sylvia Plath this summer on a fairly remote island off Ireland’s Connemara coast. Plath had been there once—just for the day—in September of 1962. She and Ted Hughes accepted an invitation from the Irish poet, Richard Murphy, to visit him at his home in the country’s heralded west. They were in the midst of their well documented marital turmoil. Murphy became desperate during the couple’s five-day stay, clearly internalizing the strain of a relationship in ruin. Seeking a diversion from the palpable tension, he organized an outing to a nearby island. It was this same place to which I arrived some 50 years later with a copy of Plath’s unabridged journals, a pair of walking shoes, and some empty notebook pages to teach a couple of writing workshops.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Inside Theme Park Connection, The Treasure Trove Disney Guests Rarely See, by Carlye Wisel, Racked

Theme Park Connection isn’t just a memorabilia store or a collectibles gallery. It’s an empire. Since it got its start 17 years ago, TPC has sold and continues to sell souvenirs, props, decor, figurines, artwork, relics and, rather unbelievably, bits and pieces direct from Disney park attractions.

Making a purchase here holds the promise of taking something better than a balloon or stuffed animal home with you — a promise General Manager Brian Ramsey tries each day to make a reality. Having spent 18 years in the business and seven of those at Theme Park Connection, he’s a bona-fide king of keepsakes, running both day-to-day operations and a company with a dozen employees. There are things you find out from spending an afternoon with the memorabilia middle man, like that John Stamos personally owns a Space Mountain vehicle. Or that Johnny Depp supposedly had a set of doors formerly of the Pirates of The Caribbean attraction installed on his boat. (So meta.)

The King's Letters, by Marisa Brook and Christine Ro, Damn Interesting

In the late 1430s and early 1440s, a certain Korean scholar embarked on a massively ambitious project, working almost single-handedly and spurred on largely by personal interest. Although the Korean language had existed for almost 1,500 years, it had never had its own dedicated writing system. Korean writers had long tended to rely on Chinese writing, which was logographic—that is, it was a system of symbols that stood for concepts. Adapting the Chinese characters to Korean meant borrowing some Chinese symbols because of the way they were pronounced, and others because of the concept they conveyed.

This approach had centuries of tradition behind it, but it was not ideal. In particular, Korean had more prefixes, suffixes, and short grammatical words (e.g., prepositions) than Chinese did, and Chinese logographs were not well-suited to capturing these. More practically, learning the thousands of Chinese characters required a good deal of study, which meant that only the most well-educated Koreans could read and write. The Korean scholar in question was determined to bring literacy to the masses. His insight was that they needed an alphabet—that is, a writing system based entirely on pronunciation, and one that required far fewer characters than the logographs.

Scream By Tama Janowitz Review – Memoirs Of The Reluctantly Famous, by Judy Berman, The Guardian

Once you get over your disappointment at Janowitz’s refusal to detail her wildest nights of “semi-fame”, the irreverence of an author who’s desperate for money but still won’t submit to expectations is thrilling. There’s an unspoken rule that women who write about their own lives must make readers empathize with them. So many memoirs take on the revelatory voice of Cheryl Strayed or the charmingly self-deprecating tone of the many famous female comedians who’ve recently published bestsellers. Scream is different. Though she loves to play the victim, Janowitz couldn’t care less about appearing reasonable. “I did not write books to be liked,” she announces, sounding more like a reality-TV contestant than a literary author. This aggressive approach to memoir can’t match the elegance of Strayed’s work, but at least it’s novel.

When Parks Were Radical, by Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic

An unmistakable irony creeps vinelike through Olmsted’s landscape theory: It takes a lot of artifice to create convincing “natural” scenery. Everything in Central Park is man-made; the same is true of most of Olmsted’s designs. They are not imitations of nature so much as idealizations, like the landscape paintings of the Hudson River School. Each Olmsted creation was the product of painstaking sleight of hand, requiring enormous amounts of labor and expense.

[You Can Eat It Here And There: Green Eggs And Ham Are Everywhere (On Menus)](

), by Tove Danovich, NPR

It's hard to blame the hero of Dr. Seuss' famous Green Eggs and Ham — which turns 56 this month — for being suspicious of the title dish. The illustrated lump of green meat and two eggs with alien yolks would look off-putting to the most adventurous eaters. Yet decades after Theodor Geisel's beloved children's book was first published, chefs across the United States are tickled by the idea of putting the infamous dish on their menus.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Bring Them Back, by Joseph J Fins, Aeon

But his parents continued to wonder. His mother, Angilee, told me of one episode that really left an impression. It was in 1993, and one of Terry’s nurses called to say he was somehow not right. Now, vegetative patients are not right or wrong, they just are. But these nurses hadn’t read the textbooks and didn’t know that vegetative patients couldn’t possibly have an emotional repertoire. They were mothers and intuited that something was wrong and that Terry needed Angilee.

Angilee arrived to find Terry with eyes wide open, looking scared. What had happened? An elderly man with advanced dementia, with whom Terry shared a room, had become confused; he’d asphyxiated himself in his sheets, and died. Terry witnessed the event, but still mute and presumed to be vegetative, could not tell anyone of his pain or distress.

Only when he began to speak a decade later would it begin to make sense. At some level, Terry had likely been capable of appreciating what happened that night, but he was isolated inside himself, and 10 years ahead of medical science.

The Linguistic Turf Wars Over The Singular 'They', by Ernie Smith, Atlas Obscura

Of all the turf wars that have complicated the landscape of grammar over the past few hundred years, the most complicated and frustrating may be that of the singular they.

It may be the most controversial word use in the English language—because it highlights a hole where a better-fitting word should go.

Donald Ray Pollock's 'The Heavenly Table' Is Brutal American Gothic Literature, by Steph Cha, Los Angeles Times

There are few living novelists with a stronger point of view than Donald Ray Pollock. After working 32 years in a paper mill in Chillicothe, Ohio, Pollock got his MFA in his 50s and in 2008 published “Knockemstiff,” a harrowing collection of short stories named for his hometown in southern Ohio. His first novel, “The Devil All the Time,” was a masterful follow-up, mining the same dark depths with a sharper eye for narrative arc. With these two books, Pollock established himself as one of the leading scribes of a new generation of American Gothic literature, full of rugged prose, desperation and decadent violence.

His latest, “The Heavenly Table,” takes place in 1917 from the border dividing Georgia and Alabama to Pollock’s own Ross County in southern Ohio. It revolves primarily around the three Jewett brothers, who leave their lives of abject poverty and subordination to go on a crime spree, influenced by a fictional “crumbling, water-stained dime novel” called “The Life and Times of Bloody Bill Bucket.” Cane Jewett is the eldest at 23, the leader and only literate one, as well as the only one who possesses both intelligence and a mostly functional moral compass. The middle brother, Cob, is slow-witted and childish — “there weren’t enough brains in his head to fill a teaspoon” — while Chimney, the youngest, is rash and unpredictable, with a chilling tendency toward cruelty.

You Don't Need An Extreme Bucket List To Find Happiness. Just Eat More Waffles, by Mary Elizabeth Williams, The Guardian

The thing about surviving an experience that by all rights should have killed you is that people tend to think you have returned from the brink with the secret to life. They ask you, full of hope and curiosity, what you’ve learned and what you can impart. And because of a nearly 10-year-old Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman movie, they kind of expect you to jump out of airplanes.

Well, all right. You want the lesson of getting a diagnosis that historically only grants a handful of months to live? Here it is: don’t jump out of airplanes unless you really, really want to. More importantly, though, get rid of that lamp you never liked. Try the chow fun, even though you always get the lo mein. Buy the shoes in red instead of black. Because let’s be real: whether we’ve experienced a serious brush with death or led a thoroughly charmed, healthy, injury-free existence, living every day as if it’s the last just sounds really exhausting.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Winona Uninterrupted, by Heather Havrilesky, New York Magazine

“I’m so sick of people shaming women for being sensitive or vulnerable. It’s so bizarre to me.” Winona Ryder is talking about the press and its tendency to pathologize female emotions, but she could also be talking about her lead role in Netflix’s Stranger Things playing a frantic mother whose child has mysteriously disappeared. The supernatural, Spielbergian ’80s-era drama, created by newcomers Matt and Ross Duffer, has attracted an enthusiastic and vocal viewership, but Ryder seems almost confused by some of the questions she’s been asked while promoting the show. “They use the word passion. ‘Did you feel passionate about it? Is it a passion project?’ ”

This isn’t the only time I’ll be treated to her strangely charming “I just got here from another planet” tone. Ryder seems more comfortable with discussions that exist one meta-level up, analyzing the perplexing ways of the press — even as we sit for two hours talking at the white-hot center of celebrity-interview clichés, the lounge of the Chateau Marmont, where several different waiters hover over our table, more attentive and slow to exit than nurses in a nicu ward.

A Novel Charts The Struggles Of Three Women In An Age Of Declining Privacy, by Ann Leary, New York Times

It’s a bold novelist who dares write from the perspective of the opposite gender in these sensitive times. A man who decides to explore the sexual and emotional makeup of three generations of women must, at every turn, check his privilege, avert his “male gaze” and for the love of God, no “mansplaining.” In his new novel, “The Inseparables,” Stuart Nadler has successfully braved this potential minefield in order to bring us the wonderfully authentic Olyphant women.

Joy Williams’s Micro-Fictions Are A Trove Of God’s Bafflements, by Justin Taylor, New York Times

Wry and playful, except for when densely allusive and willfully obtuse, “Ninety-Nine Stories of God” is a treasure trove of bafflements and tiny masterpieces.

Dinner, Disrupted, by Daniel Duane, New York Times

Today, Northern California has been taken over by a tech-boom generation with vastly more money and a taste for the existential pleasures of problem solving. The first hints of change appeared in 2005, when local restaurateurs sensed that it was time for a new culinary style with a new lifestyle fantasy. That’s when a leading San Francisco chef named Daniel Patterson published an essay that blamed the “tyranny of Chez Panisse” for stifling Bay Area culinary innovation. Next came the 2009 Fig-Gate scandal in which the chef David Chang, at a panel discussion in New York, said, “Every restaurant in San Francisco is serving figs on a plate with nothing on it.” Northern California erupted with an indignation that Mr. Chang called, in a subsequent interview, “just retardedly stupid.” Mr. Chang added that, as he put it, “People need to smoke more marijuana in San Francisco.”

Who Has The Right To Capitalize On A Culture’s Cuisine?, by Laura Shunk, Food52

Six years ago, I published a story about a live octopus hot pot I ate in Queens that hinged on a video of the cephalapod writhing across a hot stew of vegetables. Predictably, animal rights activists skewered me for my insensitivity, and as someone who wrestles constantly with questions of ethical eating, I can’t say that I blame them.

But I’m more uncomfortable with that piece today because it was sloppy journalism: it was a story built solely for page views, and to accomplish that goal, it removed an aspect of Korean food culture from its broader context and exploited its oddness for the American audience. Worse, I, a white woman who grew up on the Wonderbread cuisine of middle America (and had eaten Korean food about 10 times before writing that piece), potentially shamed Korean readers for their food habits while elevating myself for being “brave” and trying such a “bizarre” food.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Boxed In, Freaked Out: A Claustrophobe Navigates A Crowded City, by Jill Werman Harris, New York Times

Every claustrophobe will tell you that it’s the elevator riders who are the crazy ones. That’s what I am muttering as I haul myself up the winding staircase to the Grand Ballroom on the third floor of the Plaza Hotel in a gown on my way to a black-tie wedding. A few minutes earlier, I had taken one look at the elevator in the lobby and determined: No way. If there was an alternate route up, I would find it. My husband shot a knowing look my way and piled into the metal box with too many other guests — an image, even as I write this, that makes me uneasy — riding what The New York Times in 1891 called the “vertical railway.”

This Is What Happens When Someone Is Dying, by Elena Sheppard, Medium

Here in the hospital room a bag of someone else’s O+ hangs above her bed — an island of red in our yellow sea. The blood drips through tubes into her veins and now she’s sure death is coming. Now when even her own blood isn’t enough to keep her strong. “I’m dying,” she shouts again. Wobble. “Not today,” we say again. And this time she just shakes her hands toward the sky. No noise.

“You’ve broken bones before,” we remind her. “You know what it’s like. It’s just something broken, something hurt that needs to heal.”

“Dying!” she says.

First And Last, The First Amendment, by Stephen Rohde, Los Angeles Review of Books

On the occasion of my recent retirement from practicing law, it occurred to me that my entire 45-year career has been framed by my very first case representing William F. Buckley Jr., in a public figure libel case, and my very last case representing Britney Spears’s mother in a public figure libel case. In both, I defended the First Amendment, which has been at the heart of my law practice and intellectual life for all these years. My intellectual life, however, has been shaped by more than just the courtroom — it’s been shaped by over five decades of writing, including the book reviews I’ve written for the Los Angeles Review of Books, which are linked throughout this essay.

The Lauras By Sara Taylor Review – Elegiac And Beautifully Observed, by Hannah Beckerman, The Guardian

here is a moment at the beginning of The Lauras when Alex, the novel’s narrator, observes: “Usually when a person looks back they have to reconstruct, invent, guess at what was said or felt or smelled. That 24 hours, starting with the moment we left home, was burned into my memory.”

What follows in Taylor’s elegiac and beautifully observed second novel is a story recalled some 30 years later, when Alex is 43: the story of a road trip that takes a mother – Ma – and her child across the country and into the secrets of a parent’s past.

Book Review, I See You By Clare Mackintosh: A Clever Thriller Takes A Train Journey To A Shocking Destination, by Janette Wolf, Independent

Commuting. It’s a daily chore for so many and something you don’t much think about (unless you’re a Southern Rail customer and then you think of little else). You just do what you can to get through it: iPad perhaps, paper, seat by the window – if you’re lucky. What we don’t imagine, in all that sweaty, claustrophobic tedium, is that someone is watching us, making notes.

Clare Mackintosh has picked exactly this creepy scenario as the context for her second psychological thriller I See You.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Our Digital Lives And The Chaos Beneath, by Will Self, The Guardian

When I was a child I was always struck by the confusion of reality implicit in advertisements for televisions being shown on … television: particularly when the feature of the television that was emphasised was its superior picture quality. I would sit there, thinking to myself: but how can we see that it’s a better picture, given that the picture on our television is inferior? In the ultra high-definition future children will no longer be subjected to this paradox, because they will have confidence that the imagery they perceive is no longer representational at all, but rather constitutive of reality itself.

Life After Death: The People Who Fake Their Own Demise, by Sarah Weinman, The Guardian

he Elizabeth Greenwood I meet on a recent afternoon in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood seems the least likely person to fake her own death. She is ebullient and animated, her voice rising when passionate about a particular subject. She has a job she loves and is in a serious relationship. She’s also brought along her adorable Jack Russell-chihuahua Bonnie, whose tail brushes up against my leg as she slurps water from a bowl helpfully provided by the waiter.

But the Greenwood I meet is not the woman of five or so years ago. Back then, burdened by more than six figures of student debt and after a conversation with a friend, she sought out the rabbit hole of death fraud and fell straight down – all the way to a fake death certificate in her own name.

The Librarian Who Changed Children’s Literature Forever, by Laura Miller, Slate

They called her ACM, but never, ever, to her face. Her staff at the celebrated Room 105 of the New York Public Library were expected to observe strict decorum at all times, but those who passed muster got to see the giants of the first age of children’s book publishing walk through the door to pay court to Anne Carroll Moore, superintendent of the Department of Work With Children for the NYPL from 1906 to 1941. Beatrix Potter considered her a close friend; she could summon William Butler Yeats to appear at her library events. Carl Sandburg described Moore as “an occurrence, a phenomenon, an apparition not often risen and seen among the marching manikins of human progress.”

Last Supper? Japan's Diners Divided Over Killer Puffer Fish, by Justin McCurry, The Guardian

The poison in the fugu is produced when the fish feed on poisonous starfish, snails and other creatures. Rearing the fish on food that is toxin-free removes the risk, or so the theory goes.

But owners of hundreds of fugu restaurants in Saga have warned that relaxing the law could end up killing diners.

Friday, August 5, 2016

It Stinks, by Kent Russell, Paris Review

As I strolled through the mid-morning dumpster efflorescence of the west Bronx, I thought to myself: Summertime in the city is a contact high. It has less to do with sun and heat; it’s the sweet-sour reek of parboiling garbage that signals the height of the season is here. I breathed in summer as I skipped past wide, still puddles left by Friday’s a.m. showers.

North of Fordham’s campus, I joined a long line of people buying tickets at the entrance to the New York Botanical Garden. I’d been waiting for days, watching the YouTube livestream, assiduously refreshing the NYBG Twitter feed when, finally, it happened—on Thursday night, the Garden’s nine-year-old corpse flower, its Amorphophallus titanum, started blooming. It was the first specimen of this famously gorgeous-yet-also-rank-as-hell flower to bloom in the Garden since July 7, 1939. That day, in a “tribute to the salubrious climate of the Bronx,” the Amorphophallus titanum was proclaimed official borough flower, a distinction it held until 2000.

'New' Old Books: The Irresistible Charm Of Authors' Lost Works, by Alison Flood, The Guardian

ublish as much as possible of a beloved author’s work, because the fans will lap it up, or exercise a fierce quality control? It’s a question that I was pondering only this week, on reading the forgotten Dr Seuss stories in Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories to my children. We are regular readers of Horton Hears a Who, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas – and were looking forward to it. And … it just wasn’t as good. The Grinch wasn’t the right colour, he wasn’t very funny, and there were only two pages of him. Horton wasn’t as charming.

The Many By Wyl Menmuir Review – A Disturbing Debut, by Catherine Taylor, The Guardian

Menmuir is sturdily specific on the dwindling fish of the Atlantic – a lost litany of crab, char, shark and shrimp, and of the hazardous nature of fishing itself and its overwhelming loneliness. In a book of this length shortcomings stand out: over-earnestness and a danger of straying into Wicker Man-type territory, that is mostly avoided. On the whole Menmuir steers a steady course; the result is profound and discomfiting, and deserving of multiple readings.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Climate Change Is Hell On Alaska's Formerly Frozen Highways, by Greg Quinn, Bloomberg

For seven decades, the Alaska Highway has mesmerized adventure-seeking travelers. In one breathtaking stretch through the Yukon, glacier lakes and rivers snake through aspen forests and rugged mountains that climb into the clouds.

In recent years, though, a new sight has been drawing motorists’ attention, too, one they can spot just a few feet from their cars’ tires. Bumps and cracks have scarred huge swathes of the road, with some fissures so deep a grown man can jump in and walk through them. Scientists say they’re the crystal-clear manifestation that permafrost -- slabs of ice and sediment just beneath the Earth’s surface in colder climes -- is thawing as global temperatures keep rising.

‘I Have No Choice But To Keep Looking’, by Jennifer Percy, New York Times

Yuko Takamatsu was somewhere in the sea off the coast of Japan. Two and a half years had passed since the tsunami, and no one had found her; but no one was really looking, either, except her husband, Yasuo Takamatsu, who loved her very much. Takamatsu first searched on land, at the bank where she vanished, and along the beaches of Onagawa, and in the forests in the mountains. After two and half years, in September 2013, when he still hadn’t found her, he turned to the sea.

He contacted the local dive shop, High Bridge, to ask about lessons. The dive instructor, Masayoshi Takahashi, led volunteers on dives to clean up tsunami debris along the coastline. Takahashi and his team had encountered bodies locked inside cars or drifting through the water. Takamatsu felt sure Takahashi would be the one to help him find Yuko. On the phone, he said, “Let’s just meet and talk about it.” At the shop, he confessed his plan. “At the age of 56,” he said, “the reason I’m actually interested in learning to dive is that I’m trying to find my wife in the sea.”

In The Middle Of Things, by Kelly Cherry, The Smart Set

“Backstory” is a term used to refer to information that precedes the story at hand. Backstory fills us in on details that will prove important to the story (if it is not important, it shouldn’t be there, and maybe most stories have no backstory). Sometimes backstory weighs so much that it threatens to tip the story over backward; that’s not good either. But you can cut-and-paste until the surface is how you want it to be. Writing is actually a muscular sport and requires a good deal of trying this and trying that. Only if you are willing to do the hard work of lifting what needs lifting can you expect to find your way to that perfect surface.

Lance Olsen, an experimental fiction writer, has written a book that consists, in the first part, of openings, and in the latter part, of endings. We might consider the former backstories and the latter, stories, even though both parts are narrative.

The Happiness Industry By William Davies Review – Why Capitalism Has Turned Us Into Narcissists, by Terry Eagleton, The Guardian

Happiness for the market researchers and corporate psychologists is a matter of feeling good. But it seems that millions of individuals don’t feel good at all, and are unlikely to be persuaded to buck up by technologies of mind control that induce them to work harder or consume more. You can’t really be happy if you are a victim of injustice or exploitation, which is what the technologists of joy tend to overlook.

The History Of Push-Button Cuisine, by Nadia Berenstein, Lucky Peach

Push-button cuisine is one of the great, unrealized dreams of postwar food technology. In the 1950s and 1960s, food manufacturers, along with their allies in the container and chemical industries, imagined a world of effortless convenience, where, in the words of one 1964 newspaper article, “entire meals… can be oozed forth by a gentle push on a few cans.” The aerosol container seemed to be the apotheosis of ease and modernity, “a sort of Aladdin’s genie, ready at the touch of a fingertip to perform all sorts of bothersome kitchen chores.” Dozens of different aerosolized food and beverage products were introduced, from spray-on-coffee-concentrate to spray-on-pancake-batter. But despite the hype and high hopes of manufacturers, consumers didn’t buy it. By the late 1970s, only a few of the spray-foods survived.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Linguistics Of My Next Band Name, by Chi Luu, Jstor

We’ve seen how important it can be to name places meaningfully and how, in a way, it’s become a lost art. Of course there’s a hidden art to naming many things of cultural interest, and there are shifts to keep in mind, such as the changing fashion in people’s names from different eras, the names of status items such as cars, even startup company names… and yes, also band names.

How Nature Helps Us Overcome Trauma, by Fiona Macdonald, BBC

Some might see the new nature writing as a form of self-help with added sheep; others could simply want to lose themselves in a landscape as far from their computer screen as possible. Yet hanging over many of these books is an inescapable sense of loss.

Mark Twain’s Funny Scheme To Get Out Of Debt, by Debra Bruno, Washington Post

Samuel L. Clemens (the writer’s real name) was so financially inept that, even though he married a wealthy woman and had great success with his books and articles, he found himself owing $60,000 to banks, friends and business partners at the ripe old age of 59. (That’s $1.8 million in today’s dollars.)

The great author was a sucker for get-rich-quick investments, including a typesetting machine that broke often and was slower than its competitors. So, in 1895, he rented out his mansion in Hartford, Conn., and embarked on a round-the-world tour, a combination of stand-up comedy and celebrity victory lap to make back the money. He was the first American author to circle the globe that way.

In Delia Ephron’s ‘Siracusa,’ Relationships Fall Apart Under The Sicilian Sun, by Michelle Wildgen, New York Times

Ephron wields those occasional culinary descriptions — of Lizzie and Finn devouring brioches split and stuffed with gelato or Snow biting the innards from a fig — with a deft, stinging touch. They are a wise reminder that the hungers driving these people are a ravenous, even violent, business.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Why We Must Keep The Fires Of The Magical Firefly Burning, by Sara Lewis, Aeon

The first lesson is that fireflies are not an inexhaustible resource. We need to ban their commercial harvesting as an unjustifiable activity that exploits our shared natural heritage.

The second lesson is the need for habitat protection, specifically where species of particular cultural, ecological or economic interest live. Worldwide, that includes not just the Genji fireflies of Japan, but also the congregating mangrove fireflies of Thailand and Malaysia, and the winter fireflies of Taiwan.

The Workings Of Nature: Naturalist Writing And Making Sense Of The World, by Genevieve Valentine, NPR

The best naturalist writing delivers both a secondhand thrill of obsession and a jolt of protectiveness for what's been discovered.

Agatha: The Real Life Of Agatha Christie By Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau And Alexandre Franc – Review, by Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

Down the years, I’ve read so much about Agatha Christie: too much, probably. So when I was sent a new graphic biography of the world’s most famous crime writer, I felt only the tiniest bat squeak of enthusiasm. Where would it begin, I wondered. In Torquay, where she spent her childhood, or in Harrogate, to which she famously disappeared in 1926? And how would it end? With Hercule Poirot’s last case, Curtain, which was published in 1975? Or with Christie’s own death at home in Oxfordshire, only a year later?

The Storyteller By Walter Benjamin Review – A Master Thinker's Fiction, by Jonathon Sturgeon, The Guardian

The new volume, with its dreamscapes, travelogues and pedagogical exercises, reflects Benjamin’s lack of interest in these questions. Or, you might say, his interest in ignoring them. He instead concerns himself with the recovery of the story, which sometimes resembles what we traditionally call fiction, like Still Story. At other times, these works look more like freeform criticism, as in the case of Fantasy Sentences, which appears to reconstruct the gibberish of an 11-year-old girl.

Whatever form it takes, the story, for Benjamin, is nearly sacred; it’s nothing less than a unit of commonality, of shared experience. And he felt that our ability to communicate a shared life had been imperiled by the first world war and its attendant technological upheaval.

Tribes Of TriBeCa: Jay McInerney’s Latest Downtown Novel, by Bruce Handy, New York Times

I couldn’t tell whether or not I liked “Bright, Precious Days,” the new novel by Jay McInerney, until about a third of the way through, when a passage convinced me he was foreshadowing a major character’s death. It turned out I was both right and wrong: Several people die in this book, though the one I was anxious about makes it to the novel’s subdued, exhausted, bittersweet end. But the way my inner reader had flinched, the way I had hoped I was mistaken — the way I cared — made me realize I’d been caught in the novel’s slipstream. Or, to use a simile more appropriate to this author, it was like the moment you realize you’re having fun at a party you previously thought was ho-hum, the drink, the conversation, the attractiveness of the company all kicking in at once. Reader, I liked it.

How To Read A Book And Walk At The Same Time, by Nell Beram, The Awl

When I had a real job a few years ago, my friend and coworker the food writer Peggy Grodinsky convinced me that it’s possible to read and walk at the same time. She was routinely reading and walking to and from work and exhibited no rips in her hemlines from having listed into a bush, no bruises from having confronted a lamppost. I had to try it.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Why Are So Many Corpse Flowers Blooming At Once?, by Jessie Guy-Ryan, Atlas Obscura

If Friday’s announcement that the New York Botanical Garden’s corpse flower was in bloom—the first occurrence in the city since 1939—inspired a sense of dejá vu, it may not be all in your head. The Wall Street Journal has pointed out that over half a dozen of the gigantic plants have bloomed this year in the United States, unusually, at the same time.

What's going on?

Poetry Of A Childhood Lost, by Dan Chiasson, New Yorker

Jana Prikryl’s first book of poems, “The After Party”, brings to a close the long period of silent evaluation known as childhood. The “after party” is our memory of the past, not so much recollected in tranquillity as relived in the riotous terms of style and form. But it is also the afterlife: this is a book haunted by generations of the dead, including Prikryl’s brother, who died suddenly in 1995; the book is dedicated to him.

The Hands-on Power Of Touch, by Alexia Barrable, The Guardian

A lot of what we know about the importance of human touch comes from looking at the behaviour of other species. Many animals and birds groom themselves to remove dirt and parasites from their coat, but primates, our closest relatives, spend up to 20% of the day grooming each other. This is usually a rhythmic combination of vigorous finger-thumb pinches that pluck out pieces of debris, mixed with gentler sweeps that provide a stroking sensation.