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Archive for September 2016

Friday, September 30, 2016

Does Human Noise Damage The Environment?, by Ashley Powers, The California Sunday Magazine

“You don’t realize how much you hear of yourself,” said Job, 33, a dark-haired beanpole in a brownish T-shirt and olive cargo shorts. “Your breathing, your clothes moving, your joints popping, the sound of you swallowing.” Only by staying quiet — melt-into-the-forest quiet, hear-twigs-snap-and-insects-buzz quiet — could we find the distinctive trill that had so far eluded him: Troglodytes pacificus, the Pacific wren.

Job works for the National Park Service and Colorado State University as part of a small team that experiences nature not through granite peaks and stunning vistas, but through soundscapes. His back seat was hidden beneath a heap of fuzzy microphones, one so large that a passer-by mistook it for a dog. He’d spent months hauling them deep into the park’s thicket of ponderosa pines and Douglas firs to capture the geologic, animal, and man-made mixtape that can signal whether and how an ecosystem is changing.

Listen when we’re out there, he told me. Really listen.

How Massive Cuts Have Remade The Denver Post, by Robert Sanchez, 5280

Newspapers across the country have been dealing with unprecedented turmoil for most of this century, but Post staffers can be excused for feeling like the past year has been exceptional for the pain they have had to endure. In addition to buyouts and layoffs and a substantial newsroom restructuring, this past March journalists at the Post saw their beloved editor, Gregory L. Moore, abruptly resign amid rumors he refused corporate orders to cut more jobs from an already gutted staff. Moore, who’d reached near-iconic status in his 14 years leading the paper, picked the newsroom to announce he was leaving, rather than the first-floor auditorium where big news—and frequently bad news—was often delivered. Though he’d soon be gone, Moore didn’t want his staff thinking they would be, too.

During his announcement, Moore said he’d recently looked at a staff photo from 2013. It was taken right after the Post won a Pulitzer Prize in breaking news for its coverage of the Aurora theater shooting, the ninth Pulitzer in the paper’s history and the fourth under Moore. “I realized there are more than 50 people in that photo who aren’t here anymore,” Moore told his staff. It was a somber recognition that resonated within the newsroom.

ReflexLOLogy: Inside The Groan-Inducing World Of Pun Competitions, by Peter Rubin, Wired

From the moment he spoke, I knew I was screwed. On the surface, the guy wasn’t particularly fearsome—pudgy, late thirties, polo shirt, plaid shorts, baseball cap, dad sneakers—but he looked completely at ease. One hand in his pocket, the other holding the microphone loosely, like a torch singer doing crowd work. And when he finally began talking, it was with an assurance that belied the fact that he was basically spewing nonsense.

“I hate all people named John,” he said with surprising bravado. “Yeah, that’s right, that was a John diss!” The crowd roared. John-diss. Jaundice. A glorious, groan-inducing precision strike of a pun.

Welp, I thought. It was fun while it lasted.

A Danger To Others: On Teddy Wayne’s ‘Loner’, by Evan Allgood, The Millions

Teddy Wayne holds up the Ivy White Male card as the ultimate trump. He means to slap awake a country that glorifies wealth; deifies men; objectifies women; and treats victims of sexual assault like sluts, kooks, and gold-diggers. The story barely qualifies as fiction, and it arrives on our shelves just in time.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Son, The Prince Of Fashion, by Michael Chabon, GQ

Half an hour late, and just ahead of his minder—he was always a step ahead of his ponderous old minder—Abraham Chabon sauntered into the room where the designer Virgil Abloh was giving a private preview of Off-White's collection for spring-summer 2017 to a small group of reporters, editorial directors, and fashion buyers. Abe's manner was self-conscious, his cheeks flushed, but if his movements were a bit constrained they had an undeniable grace. Saunter was really the only word for it.

“Now, this dude here, that's what I'm talking about,” Abloh said, smiling at Abe from the center of the room, the attic of an old photo studio in the Latin Quarter: crisscrossing steel beams, wide pine floorboards, every surface radiant with whitewash except for the gridded slant of windows in the steep-pitched roof. From their folding chairs opposite the atelier windows, the buyers and editors turned to see what Abloh was talking about. So did the four male models lined up and slouching artfully in front of the people in the folding chairs. By the time his minder caught up with him, everyone in the room seemed to have their eyes on Abe. Prompt people never get to make grand entrances.

Review: ‘The Moth Snowstorm,’ And Other Natural Bliss-Outs, by Jennifer Senior, New York Times

Mr. McCarthy is an environmental journalist in Britain. As a writer and observer, he shares certain similarities with his countryman Robert Macfarlane, whose “Landmarks” came out in the United States this summer. Mr. McCarthy, too, writes about the natural world as if he’s of it, not apart from it, in language both sumptuous and attuned. (His discussion of waders searching for lugworms leaves little room for doubt: He is the bard of mud.) He too has a mystical sense of place.

“The Moth Snowstorm,” however, is much more than a paean to the Earth’s beauty. It is also an elegy for it, and a particularly distressed one at that.

Book Of The Week: 'Seeds On Ice' Opens The Door To An Arctic Vault That Could Secure The Future Of Food, by Amy Scattergood, Los Angeles Times

Deep inside a mountain on a Norwegian island near the Arctic Circle, at the end of a tunnel carved into the stone and permafrost, is a vault like a treasure box — a storage facility not for riches or government documents, but for seeds. What this is and how and why it came to be built in such a remote location are the subject of a new book called“Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault” by Cary Fowler.

Google Swallows 11,000 Novels To Improve AI's Conversation, by Richard Lea, The Guardian

When the writer Rebecca Forster first heard how Google was using her work, it felt like she was trapped in a science fiction novel.

“Is this any different than someone using one of my books to start a fire? I have no idea,” she says. “I have no idea what their objective is. Certainly it is not to bring me readers.”

After a 25-year writing career, during which she has published 29 novels ranging from contemporary romance to police procedurals, the first instalment of her Josie Bates series, Hostile Witness, has found a new reader: Google’s artificial intelligence.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Stupefied, by André Spicer, Aeon

Smart young things joining the workforce soon discover that, although they have been selected for their intelligence, they are not expected to use it. They will be assigned routine tasks that they will consider stupid. If they happen to make the mistake of actually using their intelligence, they will be met with pained groans from colleagues and polite warnings from their bosses. After a few years of experience, they will find that the people who get ahead are the stellar practitioners of corporate mindlessness.

Bad Poems, by Alan Michael Parker, The Best American Poetry

After two months of the most god-awful poetry, I became mean to those around me. I kicked my bicycle whenever the chain fell off; standing on the sidewalk, I kicked and kicked. One time, I was so mad at how my own new poem ended, I drove my car straight onto a restaurant’s lawn, and insisted to the policewoman that I receive a moving violation. I felt as though I had enlisted in a poetry assassination squad, a private cohort of beauty slayers, and my code name had become Buzz Kill.

But nevertheless, all the while, keeping a working notebook in which I recorded my abjection, I began to clarify what had ruined my work too often, and especially the kinds of go-to conventions of free verse I had inherited, and learned to teach.

When Rent Was Cheap And Dance Music Reigned, by Sasha Frere-Jones, New Yorker

Halfway through Tim Lawrence’s “Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor: 1980-1983,” a six-hundred-page book about four years in the life of a dozen New York City clubs, there’s a short chapter called “Shrouded Abatements and Mysterious Deaths.” It describes two forces that began warping New York City in the early eighties, neither of them musical, and it elegantly explains how a period of artistic flourishing was squashed.

No One Knows What The Words ‘Healthy’ Or ‘Natural’ Mean In Food—Including The US Government, by Chase Purdy, Quartz

Your food may claim to be “natural” and “healthy,” but don’t believe it. Even a granola bar can stretch the truth.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How Should An Advice Column Be?, by Megan Marz, The Point

While novelists or memoirists or poets might merely hope a reader takes something from their writing beyond a literal understanding of the words, advice artists go one step further. Just as they use reader questions as prompts for their writing, readers are explicitly invited to use the answers as prompts for living, ways to get unstuck from old, unhelpful truths and latch on to the truths we need. It’s a reciprocal, participatory literature that calls to mind Sheila Heti’s 2012 novel How Should a Person Be?—and not just because How to Be a Person in the World reframes that question as a directive.

Why Linguists Are Fascinated By The American Jewish Accent, by Dan Nosowitz, Atlas Obscura

There’s so much going on in just that tiny sentence, “You heard of me?” There’s a distinct New York City accent, if an outdated one, turning “heard” into “hoid.” (This feature, known as the coil-curl merger, is really only heard in New Yorkers born before World War II.) Beyond that, he doesn’t intone this query as a question in any typical American English; the pitch and emphasis of the question doesn’t resemble how a non-Jew would ask it. Brooks’s pitch shoots upward at the word “heard,” back down in “of,” and then slightly up again at “me.”

But is really a religious or ethnic thing? Can we call it a "Jewish accent" rather than, say, a "New York accent"?

A Hunger Of The Soul, by Stephen King, New York Times

After making my way through several recent novels written in tiresome hey-look-at-me prose (Emma Cline’s “The Girls” comes to mind), “The Wonder” arrived as a welcome relief. Donoghue’s prose is as sturdy and serviceable as a good pair of brogans, but never nondescript. There are occasional flashes of lyricism — “a cloud loosely bandaged the waning moon,” for instance, a line of perfect description couched in perfect iambic pentameter — but Donoghue’s main purpose here is story, story, story, and God bless her for it.

Alton Brown, Showman Of Food TV, Pulls Back The Curtain, by Kim Severson, New York Times

At its heart, “EveryDayCook” is a midlife-crisis book. “It’s ‘Who the heck am I?’ time,” he said. “I’ve spent years projecting and presenting this thing, but in the end, what am I? I thought it was important to put something on paper.”

Lying In A Hammock, by Elizabeth O'Brien, Ploughshares

It’s a line that so neatly upends and yet somehow fulfills our expectations of where the poem will end. The poem is free verse, although it loosely adopts conventions of the sonnet form. Place—setting—becomes the poem’s argument, and the volta appears at the end, reduced from a traditional Shakespearean couplet to the single final line. And in spite of its abrupt arrival and flat diction, the ending feels epiphanic. “I have wasted my life,” Wright discovers, laments, even seems to marvel—depending, perhaps, on the reader’s mood when they encounter the line. Like a traditional volta, the line turns the poem’s argument in an unexpected direction.

Will Adding A Veggie Burger To The In-N-Out Menu Destroy The Country?, by Emily Byrd, Los Angeles Times

What did I do to unleash this online vitriol? Did I kick a puppy on YouTube? Shred a painting of Ronald Reagan? Star in the female version of “Ghostbusters”?

None of the above. All I did was ask In-N-Out to add a veggie burger to its menu. I did so in my capacity as communications manager for the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes alternatives to animal-based meat, dairy and eggs.

Monday, September 26, 2016

This American Fight, by Chris Chafin, Fast Company

This spring, This American Life and its creator and host, Ira Glass, became the latest flashpoints in a long-simmering public radio civil war.

Glass had recently signed a deal to distribute the hour-long show through streaming audio service Pandora, a potentially lucrative partnership that promised to bring in millions of new listeners to what is already one of the most visible and well-loved audio programs in the English-speaking world.

Executives at struggling stations, however, were not exactly thrilled. After the news broke, Mike Savage, a member of NPR’s 23-person board of directors and the station manager of WBAA, at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., wrote a short post on LinkedIn explaining why he planned to drop TAL from his station, and why he thought other stations should, too.

Denmark's 'House Of Memories' Re-Creates 1950s For Alzheimer's Patients, by Sidsel Overgaard, NPR

A living history museum usually conjures up images of butter churns and anvils. At Den Gamle By (The Old Town) Museum in Aarhus, Denmark, you'll find all that. But tucked away in one corner of this museum, there's also something different — an entire apartment straight out of the 1950s.

The "House of Memories" is not usually open to the public, and it's not aimed at schoolchildren sent to learn about a distant and exotic past.

Rather, this exhibit is intended for visitors living with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. And the history they've come to experience is their own.

Running Through Time, by Anthony Doerr, New York Times

“Time Travel,” like all of Gleick’s work, is a fascinating mash-up of philosophy, literary criticism, physics and cultural observation. It’s witty (“Regret is the time traveler’s energy bar”), pithy (“What is time? Things change, and time is how we keep track”) and regularly manages to twist its reader’s mind into those Gordian knots I so loved as a boy.

Far And Away: How Travel Can Change The World By Andrew Solomon – Review, by Andrew Solomon, The Guardian

As a boy in Manhattan in the early 1970s Andrew Solomon confesses himself to have been “afraid of the world”. He had nightmares about a Soviet bomb; he had fears that he might be kidnapped, and alternative fears that he had already been kidnapped without his knowing. His comfort lay in an idea of England that he discovered in fiction. This anglophilia began when his father read him AA Milne at two, and advanced through Narnia and Wonderland. He “developed a taste for marmalade and for the longer sweep of history”. He adopted, as he recalls, certain Chelsea airs: “My parents’ usual reprimand was to remind me that I was not the Prince of Wales.” It was with these kind of fantasies in mind that he travelled abroad for the first time aged 11, on a family trip that took in England, France and Switzerland. And after that he never really looked back.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Who Gets To Write What?, by Kaitlyn Greenidge, New York Times

Some would have you believe that if you’re a serious writer, you are not allowed to add questions about who is telling what story and why to the list of things we ask of a piece of fiction.

It can be hard to come up with real answers to those questions. It’s especially difficult if you aren’t doing the work of creating fully human characters, regardless of your or their identity. And it can be really, really, hard to come up against your own blindness, when as a writer, you are supposed to be a great observer. It can be terrifying to come to the realization that it is totally possible to write into this blind spot for years. Whole books, in fact whole genres of fiction, make their home in this blind spot, because of writers’ publishing community’s biases.

Conclave By Robert Harris Review – A Triumphant Vatican Showdown, by Ian Sansom, The Guardian

I am about to use a word I have never knowingly used in any review of any book ever. During my 25-odd years of writing about books I have done my best to avoid cliches, slipshod summaries, oracular pronouncements and indeed anything else that might appear emblazoned on a book jacket. Nonetheless, there is only one possible word to describe Robert Harris’s new novel, and it is this: unputdownable.

John Scalzi On Writing Great Big Books, by John Scalzi, Los Angeles Times

An interesting question to ask, however, is: How does that pace compare with others who write novels? Is 10 years for a 600,000-word-plus novel actually a massive undertaking? Or is it, as a matter of simple word count, a fairly standard level of output among novelists?

The Bleak Future Of Food Criticism: Yelp Reviews, Puff Pieces And No Accountability For Restaurants, by Cara Strickland, Salon

Whatever our problems with food criticism, the alternative is playing out in my food scene now. There are feature stories and interviews with local chefs. There are ads and events and announcements of openings. There is Yelp. But no one is holding chefs accountable. No one is consistently looking out for families like mine, or that couple Ruth met. Now if we want to know what a restaurant is like, we have to pay to find out.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The People’s Cheeseburger, by Willy Blackmore, Eater

With its burgers and fried chicken sandwiches, Locol is recognizably a fast-food restaurant, despite the absence of counter-service standards like soda and French fries. But the greasy paper wrapper of the Locol "cheeseburg" is deceptive. The patty is not all beef, as other chains may proudly advertise: Thirty percent of it is composed of cooked grains and tofu. It’s served on a whole-grain bun leavened with koji, the fermentation culture used to make sake, soy sauce, and miso, which is designed to reproduce the soft texture of white bread without sacrificing nutritional density. The dishes served are punctuated with various Korean and Mexican touches, like breakfast sandwiches loaded with carnitas, or a noodle bowl flavored with ginger and lime.

The menu — and the mission — of Locol didn’t come out of nowhere. Patterson had started the Cooking Project, which teaches kids in poor Bay Area neighborhoods culinary skills, in 2013, a few months before hearing Choi’s impassioned speech at MAD. And Choi, whose Kogi trucks have fed a broader demographic and geographic swath of Los Angeles than practically any other restaurant brand in the city, had spent years laying the groundwork for his latest turn as a messianic populist. His Kogi trucks "built the muscle" for the work of launching Locol, Choi told me. "Because I was feeding people everywhere. It didn’t matter — there was no discrimination. We would just post up and feed everyone for two dollars."

Why Stephen King's It Still Terrifies 30 Years On, by James Smythe, The Guardian

It seems that King was taking lessons from himself when he wrote It. Indeed, he called the novel “the summation of everything I have learned and done in my whole life to this point”. Those references and nods are clear to King’s Constant Readers (the name he gives to his fans): for It’s main narrative thrust, it almost seemed as if he looked at the teenage friendships he’d written in 1982’s The Body (later adapted into film as Stand By Me) and took the basic setup of that book, deciding to push it further. What if there’s a group of friends who find something? What if it’s something they have to keep as a secret, something which deeply affects their lives – not just as children, but as adults as well? Fears aren’t something, King realised, that are confined to us as children. Those same terrifying thoughts often rear their heads in our adult lives, often manifesting in vastly different, far more complicated ways.

The Vietnam War Still Has A Hold On The Fiction Of Robert Olen Butler, by Michael Upchurch, New York Times

Though compact, the book ­ranges widely in time and setting to trace the effects of war — primarily the Vietnam conflict — on several generations of a New Orleans family. Butler’s Faulknerian shuttling back and forth across the decades has less to do with literary pyrotechnics than with cutting to the chase. “Perfume River” hits its marks with a high-stakes intensity.

Review: The Honest Dishonesty Of Norm MacDonald’s Based On A True Story, by John Semley, The Globe And Mail

It’s hard to know whether Old Jack actually existed. (Based on a True Story* is honest about its various dishonesties, from its title to its copyright page note clarifying that “[t]he stories in this memory begin with the author’s recollection of events, which is – by his own admission – spotty,” to the obviously made-up sections inserted throughout (such as the one in which Macdonald cheats the devil in a wager for his mortal soul), to italicized interjections from an imaginary ghostwriter, who in time begins battling for control over the narrative of the memoir itself. But whether he’s real, a product of Macdonald’s rambling imagination, or a bit of both, it’s obvious that Old Jack is a useful figure in understanding Norm Macdonald.

A Cartoonist Confronts The Power Of His Pen In 'Reputations', by Juan Vidal, NPR

I'd have loved to see Vásquez delve deeper into some of the consequences of art imitating life, where, in his words, "opinions have their effects." But Reputations is a powerful, concentrated achievement. It makes clear that our memories, and even the things we've forgotten, can come back to haunt us and make us question the true cost of our actions.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Inside The Final Days Of Roger Ailes’s Reign At Fox News, by Sarah Ellison, Vanity Fair

In the morning of July 6, James and Lachlan Murdoch were on opposite sides of Sun Valley, Idaho. Lachlan was finishing a workout at the decidedly downtown Ketchum YMCA. James was hiking down a bike trail after attending an early-morning session at the annual Allen & Co. conference. Every July, the conference jams the small Friedman Memorial Airport with the Gulfstream jets of the world’s media and technology billionaires, who gather in the ski town to negotiate their own preservation. James and Lachlan had both attended the conference before, but they were always in the shadow of their father, Rupert Murdoch. This year was different. For the first time, they were there on their own terms, at least for the moment, and it might have felt as if they were finally operating by their own rules.

At a little after 10 A.M., Mountain time, Lachlan pulled out his cell phone and dialed Julie Henderson, the executive vice president and chief communications officer at 21st Century Fox, the Murdoch family company, to check in. “Have you seen the suit?” she asked. “What suit?” he replied. Henderson explained that Gretchen Carlson, a former co-host of Fox & Friends, had sued Roger Ailes personally for sexual harassment.

The History Of Fine Dining, by Sascha Bos, Lucky Peach

Being familiar with the mold can help us appreciate those who break it, and looking at fine dining as a timeline alerts us to the ways trends form (groundbreaking!) and fade (overdone). When a restaurant that doesn’t quite fit the mold gains acceptance in the world of fine dining, that’s worth noting. What happens in this relatively small corner of the food world can change the entire landscape. But at its most basic level, we hope this timeline will help orient you to the whos, whats, and whys of fine dining.

A Recipe For Memory, by Ronni Lundy, Oxford American

I’m often asked if I learned to cook from my mother. I always answer, “yes,” even though I know what they likely envision is far from the truth: a patient woman standing at a counter with tools and ingredients laid out before her in an orderly manner; an attentive child at the woman’s elbow as she measures, chops and pours; the woman explaining each step and the reasons for it. This is not how it was.

The Strange Life Of Punctuation!, by Chi Luu, Jstor

Poor punctuation: all rules and no play. Countless style guides over the ages have prescribed the exacting rules for where to put your em-dashes, your en-dashes, your commas, your Oxford commas, your colons—and let’s not even talk about the semi-colon, which has been known to incite fury and debate in even the mildest of punctiliously-inclined folk. Is there anything else so heavily regulated, codified, and coddled as these dull chicken scratchings of written language? Just… follow the rules and no one gets hurt.

As Faulkner Lay Drinking, by Philip Greene, The Daily Beast

For these legendary writers, it became de rigueur to drink, often to excess. Fitzgerald noted that for the American writer, “the hangover became a part of the day as well allowed-for as the Spanish siesta.” Yet this affliction—er, condition—among writers goes back to ancient times. It was the great poet Horace (65-8 B.C.) who observed that, “No poems can please nor live long which are written by water-drinkers.”

Far & Away By Andrew Solomon Review – How Travel Makes You Modest, by Caroline Moorehead, The Guardian

The idea of a foreign refuge was attractive to the anxious boy, fearful, as he endearingly explains, of everything from scuffles in the school playground to a nuclear attack, and he was fortunate in having a mother who not only loved to travel but insisted on going well prepared. It developed in him a keen curiosity and a profound interest in the nature of travel itself, in “difference”, and in dealing with strangers. As a reporter, he taught himself to move slowly, take time to get to know the people he met and to look at their worlds without haste or prejudice. “Travel,” he writes, “makes you modest.”

Travels With My Weather App, by Juliet Lapidos, New Yorker

It’s forty-four degrees and cloudy in Moscow; large brick residential buildings loom above a busy boulevard clogged with traffic. It’s sixty-four degrees and rainy in London; passenger boats on the Thames await tourists under a menacing sky. In New York, it’s eighty degrees and clear. The Chrysler Building fights for air, wedged between an uninspired tall black monolith and a truly ugly skyscraper with a pyramidal top. And in Los Angeles it’s seventy-nine degrees and sunny. Again. I can see straight across Universal City to the San Gabriel Mountains—or, if I look out my window instead of at the weather app on my screen, the trees that separate my house from the street.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Building Blocks Of Japanese Cuisine, by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, Lucky Peach

When it comes to Japanese food, we’ve reached beyond the fifties-era soy sauce, sukiyaki, and tempura and the seventies-era sushi, sashimi, and miso. Now, in this fermentation-crazed time, we are ready to step up our understanding of the building blocks of Japanese cuisine on our way to appreciate how the sauces used in Japanese cooking are made.

'History Can No Longer Be Viewed In Splendid Isolation': What Is A Global Historian?, by Serge Gruzinski, The Guardian

If the past is still required to understand the present, then approaching the past globally is an absolute necessity. But what does it mean to “think globally” today? What does a truly global history look like?

Follow ‘The Tao Of Bill Murray’ To A Better Life, by John Wilwol, Washington Post

The Ten Principles of Bill, generally speaking, are all about learning to recognize and seize opportunities to have a little more fun and be a little more kind.

How Anthony Bourdain Went From CNN’s Biggest Risk To Its Most Unexpected Star, by Emily Yahr, Washington Post

“Parts Unknown” has developed a fiercely loyal audience in the 3½ years since its debut, and Bourdain’s fans follow his every move as he explores international cultures and cuisines. This month, the show won its fourth consecutive Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Series or Special. (It won another in 2013 for cinematography.) The show is a great press stop for, say, a world leader who wants to talk about his trip to improve relations between the United States and Vietnam.

But in early 2013, when CNN first announced plans for the series, some inside and outside the cable news network scoffed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

There’s Always Dairy, by Dan Piepenbring, The Paris Review

It’s rough out there for artists and writers right now, I know. There are days when you just want to throw in the towel, say fuck it, fake your own death, give insurance fraud a go, and live out of a Winnebago somewhere in remote Ontario. That’s a good plan—that’s a really good plan—but remember, you’ve got options.

You might just need a little breather, is all. Before you go permanently AWOL, consider Reuben Kadish, the artist, who died twenty-four years ago today. After World War II, when he had a family to support and couldn’t find a cheap place to live in New York or even on Long Island, Kadish decided to check out for a while: he bought a disused dairy farm in Vernon, New Jersey. Despite knowing nothing about the operation, he ran it, apparently with great success, for ten years. When he moved to the place, he was a painter; when he reemerged as an artist, he was a sculptor, his hands having imbibed the ways of farm life. This could be you.

We Are All Suffering Equally, by Tom Overton, The Paris Review

Outside each cell at Reading Prison, there’s a small metal frame screwed into the wall. The cell number sits in the bottom section, and the top has a card that keeps track of graffiti before and after prisoners are moved: NONE, SOME, or LOADS. The most popular form of vandalism is a wryROOM SERVICE often scrawled next to the cells’ emergency buttons for calling warders. In one cell, the dated corner of a tabloid newspaper clings to a piece of chewing gum: presumably the rest of the page involved nudity. Stickily, it fossilizes a moment—July 5, 2013—in the year the prison closed.

Remainders Of The Day, by Joel Stein, New York Times

I assumed the humiliations had ended. They began even before my book was published, when network morning shows that regularly had me on now refused my pleas for some airtime to promote it. Once the book came out in 2012, it only got worse. I read at bookstores with audiences smaller than those you might find randomly browsing on any given day, and had an Amazon ranking higher than the number of books I thought existed in the world.

The Magnificent 10: Restaurants That Changed How We Eat, by Tejal Rao, New York Times

In his navy suit and thin-rimmed glasses, Mr. Freedman, a professor of medieval history at Yale University, doesn’t look the part of a provocateur, either. But for his new book, “Ten Restaurants That Changed America” (W. W. Norton & Company), he set out on a brash mission: culling through hundreds of thousands of restaurants, across a span of two centuries, to produce a list of what he believes were the 10 most influential.

The list is brief, but Mr. Freedman marshals deep research to map the changes each restaurant made to American culture.

The Season Of The Skulls, by Kirstin Valdez Quade, New York Times

This time as we set out, my father offered us a stake in the trip: “Two dollars, girls, for every kangaroo skull you find.” Why he needed those skulls is a little hazy; I believe he was comparing the tooth enamel of these modern kangaroos to that of fossilized herbivores to determine their diets and therefore the flora of that long-ago landscape.

He probably lectured us about radiocarbon dating and the elemental composition of enamel, about paleoclimates and C3/C4 plant material, but if so, I missed it, because I was already running calculations. The Australian two-dollar coin, with its profile of an Aboriginal elder, was thick and heavy, exactly like, I imagined, a doubloon. I pictured hundreds of them clinking dully against each other in my backpack. My obsession took root.

McDonald’s Is The Only Restaurant That Should Be In Airports, by Fran Hoepfner, The Awl

I am never more bummed out than when I see restaurants in airports. And I’m not talking “Chili’s Too” bummed out. I’m talking places called stuff like “La Tapenade” or “Wicker Park Seafood And Sushi.” What are you thinking, eating sushi at an airport? What are you thinking, eating a caprese salad at an airport? You’re about to fly for several hours in a dirty sky bus, but you need a crepe first?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How I Rewired My Brain To Become Fluent In Math, by Barbara Oakley, Nautilus

was a wayward kid who grew up on the literary side of life, treating math and science as if they were pustules from the plague. So it’s a little strange how I’ve ended up now—someone who dances daily with triple integrals, Fourier transforms, and that crown jewel of mathematics, Euler’s equation. It’s hard to believe I’ve flipped from a virtually congenital math-phobe to a professor of engineering.

One day, one of my students asked me how I did it—how I changed my brain. I wanted to answer Hell—with lots of difficulty! After all, I’d flunked my way through elementary, middle, and high school math and science. In fact, I didn’t start studying remedial math until I left the Army at age 26. If there were a textbook example of the potential for adult neural plasticity, I’d be Exhibit A.

What’s The Point Of Maths Research? It’s The Abstract Nonsense Behind Tomorrow’s Breakthroughs, by Wolfram Bentz, The Conversation

The applications of mathematics might change with scientific progress, making some mathematical topics more useful at times than others. But because mathematical results are based on logical deductions alone, they actually never become wrong, never get obsolete, and never truly get old. They are just waiting for the right application to arrive.

Books, Magazines, And TV Guides, by A.K. Afferez, Ploughshares

So there were books. It just didn’t register, at least to anyone else but me, that owning them should be a source of pride. What the adult me can detect however, and what went completely over my head as a child, is the classist undercurrent of the whole thing. You can’t make someone love books if they never could afford to access them in the first place, and you can’t sustain any kind of passion for reading if you don’t have the means to do so.

What We Can Learn From Women Who Break The Rules, by Salamishah Tillet, New York Times

Doyle reminds us that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge women in terms of degrading ­stereotypes or unrealistic expectations. “Women,” she writes, “are not symbols of anything, other than themselves.”

Monday, September 19, 2016

Taste Space, by Tom Jokinen, Real Life

Maybe that’s my taste space. If so, it’s been buried, in a way that the algorithmic machinery, which depends on explicit memory and 2 + 2 = 4 to operate, can’t fathom. An encounter with art is more like turning up in a neighbourhood you know, somehow, but can’t remember ever visiting, and getting a chill when you recognize a house you’ve clearly been in. Taste is not about what I remember explicitly, but that which haunts me.

It Might Be Lonelier Without The Loneliness: Poetry And Loneliness, by Emilia Phillips, Ploughshares

Poems, for me, are the epitome of Dickinson’s capital-L Loneliness, that loneliness that accompanies and keeps one from feeling utterly alone, its shadow-shape, its cameo presence. I’ve often turned to poetry when I’ve felt most alone. When I did a month-long writing residency a couple of weeks after my brother died, I read and read and read Wallace Stevens. When I was unsure about my health, I wrote as many poems as I had time to write.

But I’ve often wondered if my turn to poetry in times of loneliness and uncertainty is a behavior that’s naturally implicit within the genre or if it upholds some cliché notion of what poetry is and should be. Many poets, including my younger self, started writing poetry about their “deepest, darkest” thoughts, their candid internal lives, their feelings. They attempt to render these thoughts and feelings often as abstractions. Of course, this is what I now urge myself away from, putting on the broken record of the one-hit wonder, “Show, Don’t Tell” in my brain.

Review: In ‘The Wonder,’ The Morality Of Letting A Child Fast, by Sarah Lyall, New York Times

At first reading, I wished the author had preserved more of the tantalizing mystery that propels much of the story. But that’s not the point. Like Ms. Donoghue’s best-selling “Room,” the novel ultimately concerns itself with courage, love and the lengths someone will go to protect a child.

Maternal Ecstasies In Emma Donoghue’s “The Wonder”, by Meghan O’Gieblyn, Los Angeles Review of Books

The heroine of Emma Donoghue’s new novel The Wonder is an English nurse in her late 20s who trained under Nightingale and served with her at Scutari during the Crimean War. Like Nightingale, Lib Wright is a single woman who comes from middling upper-class family. “My father was a gentleman,” Lib tells a doctor upon arriving at her new job in rural Ireland, then immediately feels ashamed for distinguishing herself by her class. In fact, Nightingale’s reforms would transform nursing, long regarded as a dirty form of menial labor for the lower classes, into a respectable occupation for educated women.

Book Review: In ‘Truck Full Of Money,’ A Tech Prodigy Made Real, by Joan Silverman, Portland Press Herald

Tracy Kidder’s achievement in this biography is matched by the ease of his storytelling. Kidder takes on a hugely complicated man – brilliant, troubled, obsessive, a charismatic team leader, dutiful son and “monster coder,” as English might say – and he paints a rich, three-dimensional portrait. He also gives a sense of the wild start-up culture in which English thrived. That Paul English comes across as a shrewd, appealing character, not a saint, reflects Kidder’s success.

The Best Superheroes Right Now Aren’t On Screens. They’re In Books, by Charlie Jane Anders, Wired

Superheroes are everywhere. Our spandex-clad saviors rule movies. They own television. They even appear in comics occasionally. Yet some of the most interesting stories about caped crusaders right now don’t come with pictures or fancy special effects. They’re in good old fashioned books.

Who Wants A Din With Their Dinner?, by Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

A tolerance for extreme noise is, alas, just another aspect of what we might call the booming 21st-century restaurant industry’s near sadistic approach to customers: the same treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen attitude that brought us restaurants which refuse to take bookings, and maitre d’s who would rather stare at an iPad than meet your eye.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Difference Between Rationality And Intelligence, by David Z. Hambrick And Alexander P. Burgoyne, New York Times

Are you intelligent — or rational? The question may sound redundant, but in recent years researchers have demonstrated just how distinct those two cognitive attributes actually are.

Marisa Silver’s ‘Little Nothing’: A Story Of Magical Transformation, by Fran Bigman, Washington Post

Marisa Silver’s fantastically inventive new novel counters expectations at every turn. The “Little Nothing” of the title is a girl named Pavla, born in an unnamed Slavic country on the cusp of modernization. Superstition, at first, seems to be the enemy: When Pavla is born a dwarf, she is considered a curse. Yet the unexpected occurs, in an unexpected turn of phrase: “Like a rat or icy wind, love creeps in.”

Feeding Time By Adam Biles Review – A Dazzling And Darkly Funny Debut, by Anthony Cummins, The Guardian

Adam Biles steers a path somewhere between these chalk-and-cheese predecessors in his dazzling and darkly funny first novel, which opens without any hint of the weirdness that awaits. It tells the story of Dot, a retired teacher selling up to join her husband, Leonard, at Green Oaks, a residential home recently purchased by a cost-cutting contractor with its fingers in school catering and – grimly – waste disposal.

I Published My Debut Novel To Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke, by Merritt Tierce, Marie Claire

The reality about making money as a writer is you hustle the fuck out of freelance pieces like this one. Or you teach. Or you drive a bus. Or someone supports you. Or you're independently wealthy. The reality is that somehow you have money, and somehow you write.

In India, A Rich Food Culture Vanishes From The Train Tracks, by Charukesi Ramadurai, NPR

Much like armies, train travelers in India march on their stomachs. And this was certainly true when I was a child, growing up in the 1980s, in the southern city of Chennai. My most vivid memories of summer vacations are of overnight train journeys to Hyderabad, to visit my maternal grandparents. The trips were defined by food.

As soon as the train left Chennai station, my mother would open a container of munchies for the evening – perhaps a homemade snack like murukku (a crunchy fried snack made from lentil and rice flour) or thattai (savory crisps made of lentil flour) or boiled peanuts tossed with onions, cilantro and mild spices. She would wash this down with a cup of tea bought from the passing chai wallahs (tea vendors), who hopped on and off at the small stations on the way.

There Is Nothing More Tedious Than Reading A Restaurant Review In The United States, by Olivia Goldhill, Quartz

As a British journalist living in the US, I’m well aware of the benefits of each country’s approach to journalism. British reporting is scrappier and has less respect for authority, while US journalism tends to be more high-minded, with insightful and nuanced analysis. Though I’m from the UK, I the prefer the US approach (partly because British scrappiness has a tendency to get dirty), with one very clear exception: Restaurant reviews.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Babies For Sale: The Secret Adoptions That Haunt One Georgia Town, by Matthew Steven Bruen, Narratively

On a humid August day in the small mountain town of McCaysville, Georgia, Sandy Dearth stands in front of the building where, 53 years ago, a nurse secretly and illegally handed her out a back window to a pair of eager and nervous adoptive parents. Sandy, who has not been back here since that day in 1963, is holding her husband Bill’s hand tightly. A lifetime of searching has led her to this moment.

The building she faces is divided into several units: at one end rests a BBQ joint, at the other a pizza place. In between, poison ivy grows along the peeling painted brick walls and a faded FOR RENT sign hangs in the window. This forlorn space is where the Hicks Community Clinic once operated. In addition to providing standard healthcare for members of this declining mining town, the clinic offered clandestine abortions and adoptive services to desperate girls and young women. Sandy’s biological mother was one of them.

The Strange Second Life Of String Theory, by K.C. Cole, Quanta Magazine

String theory today looks almost fractal. The more closely people explore any one corner, the more structure they find. Some dig deep into particular crevices; others zoom out to try to make sense of grander patterns. The upshot is that string theory today includes much that no longer seems stringy. Those tiny loops of string whose harmonics were thought to breathe form into every particle and force known to nature (including elusive gravity) hardly even appear anymore on chalkboards at conferences. At last year’s big annual string theory meeting, the Stanford University string theorist Eva Silverstein was amused to find she was one of the few giving a talk “on string theory proper,” she said. A lot of the time she works on questions related to cosmology.

Even as string theory’s mathematical tools get adopted across the physical sciences, physicists have been struggling with how to deal with the central tension of string theory: Can it ever live up to its initial promise? Could it ever give researchers insight into how gravity and quantum mechanics might be reconciled — not in a toy universe, but in our own?

How America’s First Popular Comic Shaped The 19th Century Newspaper Wars, by Erik Shilling, Altas Obscura

Whatever their content, the comics were so popular that by 1896, Hearst came calling, and in the fall of that year Outcault took his act to the Journal. There was only one problem, though—Outcault didn't have the copyright, meaning that Pulitzer and his World could keep producing their own rival versions of the Yellow Kid. They did just that, hiring George Luks—who would later establish himself as a painter—to keep the World's version of Hogan's Alley going.

"Do not be deceived," Outcault took to signing some of his comics, "none genuine without this signature."

As Amazon Arrives, The Campus Bookstore Is A Books Store No More, by Arielle Dollinger, New York Times

This summer, Stony Brook, part of the State University of New York, announced a partnership with the online retailer Amazon, now the university’s official book retailer. Students can purchase texts through a Stony Brook-specific Amazon page and have them delivered to campus.

In the campus store where the textbooks used to be, there are now adult coloring books, racks of university-branded polos and windbreakers and three narrow bookshelves displaying assorted novels. The rest of the store is a vibrant collage of spirit wear and school supplies: backpacks and baseball caps; pompom hats and striped scarves; notebooks and correction fluid. There will soon be a Starbucks.

A New Story Collection Offers Windows Onto Intimate Moments, by Alexandra Kleeman, New York Times

“When Watched,” Leopoldine Core’s first collection of short stories, dwells in the realm of the sparkling mundane, the type of human matter that is invitingly recognizable, the type of matter that you yourself have participated in or observed. Written exclusively in the third person and unfolding almost in real time, Core’s stories have a voyeuristic quality, like peering through the windows of a ground-floor apartment as you walk by.

I Want Crab. Pure Maryland Crab., by Bill Addison, Eater

I moved away from Maryland over 25 years ago, but if I don't make it back to the state at least once a year for steamed crabs, I'm like a bird whose migration pattern has been disrupted. I'm unsettled in the world.

But now I'm here, which is as it should be. I'm planted in front of a pile of swimmers, their raw blue shells turned brushfire-red in the steamer pot, a marvel of pigment and biochemistry. Ryan Detter, who covers restaurants for the Baltimore City Paper and writes the occasional Baltimore-themed Heatmap for Eater, sits across the table from me. This is our first meal together. We've met up to spend a few days gorging on classic Baltimore eats — especially crab, because it is high summer, and absolutely nothing tastes better on a sweltering day than buttery crabmeat zapped by the sharp spices that rubbed off on your fingers while handling these critters. Maryland's official crab season runs from April to December, but late summer and early fall is when crabs are at their heaviest, sweetest, and most plentiful.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Life Aboard A Renovated World War II Tugboat, by Brendan Jones, Smithsonian Magazine

The morning of our departure I woke in the dark, Rachel and the baby breathing softly beside me. An oval of light worked its way over the knotty pine of the Adak’s stateroom, cast by the sodium floodlights of a herring seiner passing in the channel.

Lying there I could see my upcoming trip projected on the ceiling above: Our World War II tugboat plying Peril Strait, coasting down Chatham, hooking around Point Gardner, then east, past Petersburg, into Wrangell Narrows. And there at the bottom, scattered like diamonds at the foot of the mountain, the lights of Wrangell—and the only boat lift in Southeast Alaska burly enough to haul our floating home from the sea.

The First Time I Bombed On Late Night TV, by Ellie Kemper, New York Times

Thanks to bombing five years earlier, I got to experience a true moment of joy: I did a stupid bit with a comedy hero — and it wasn’t boring.

Humanity's Dogged Endurance : On Alexander Weinstein's 'Children Of The New World', by Bayard Godsave, The Millions

What tends to get overlooked by utopian dreamers of Kurzweil’s ilk, what Weinstein chooses to examine head-on is that whatever technologies might emerge, and however they might propel our evolution, there will likely be someone with designs on exploiting them for profit.

Language Is Home In 'When In French', by Lauren Collins, NPR

Are you a different person when you speak a foreign language? That's just one of the questions New Yorker writer and native North Carolinian Lauren Collins explores in this engaging and surprisingly meaty memoir, about her strenuous efforts to master French after marrying a Frenchman whose name — Olivier — she couldn't even pronounce properly. When in French ranges from the humorously personal to a deeper look at various theories of language acquisition and linguistics, including the relativist position (which Collins espouses) that languages "possess and inculcate different ways of thinking."

'It's Like Hitting A Painting With A Fish': Can Computer Analysis Tell Us Anything New About Literature?, by Richard Lea, The Guardian

Instead of acting as a barrier, Piper believes these new methods are putting researchers into closer engagement with the text. “There is a myth that when you read something with a computer, you aren’t reading,” he says. “That is a misunderstanding. I read more closely now than I ever have. In order to understand how to model a problem I need a very clear understanding of what I am talking about … For me to understand nostalgia, I need to clearly define it and collect examples of it. This is the closest kind of reading.”

Why It’s OK To Play With Your Food, by Jay Rayner, The Guardian

Call me an idiot, but I suspect the dishes of India, Japan, Vietnam and the rest are robust enough to survive the efforts of less than expert cooks from somewhere else. Indeed, I’d go further. There’s a lot to be said for experiencing crappy versions of food before you get to the good stuff. It makes the moment of realisation so very much better.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Free-Time Paradox In America, by Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

"Every time I see it, that number blows my mind.”

Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of Chicago, was delivering a speech at the Booth School of Business this June about the rise in leisure among young men who didn’t go to college. He told students that one “staggering” statistic stood above the rest. "In 2015, 22 percent of lower-skilled men [those without a college degree] aged 21 to 30 had not worked at all during the prior twelve months,” he said.

"Think about that for a second,” he went on. Twentysomething male high-school grads used to be the most dependable working cohort in America. Today one in five are now essentially idle. The employment rate of this group has fallen 10 percentage points just this century, and it has triggered a cultural, economic, and social decline. "These younger, lower-skilled men are now less likely to work, less likely to marry, and more likely to live with parents or close relatives,” he said.

The Gradual By Christopher Priest Review – A Haunting Journey In Time Travel, by Christopher Priest, The Guardian

Critics sometimes talk of an artist’s “late style”. Shakespeare’s last plays have a distinct flavour all their own, as do Beethoven’s late quartets, or Henry James’s densely fluid later novels. To pick a more contemporary example, we can ponder both the continuities and the differences between early David Bowie and his last album Blackstar. Edward Saidhas written well on this topic: how certain artists use a lifetime’s wisdom and technical maturity to do something both recognisably their own and also new, even contradictory, “a form of exile from their own milieu”.

Such thoughts are provoked by reading Christopher Priest’s new novel, since Priest, now in his 70s, has moved into a potent late phase of his art. He has always deployed unostentatious prose to tell elegantly complex stories about alienation and loss; about twins, conjuration, displacement and strangeness. His most recent fiction still does all this, but it feels somehow different: cooler, more austere, balancing his perennial fascination with mortality against a new sense of the possibilities of restitution.

'Jerusalem' Is Alan Moore's Really Big Book — In Every Way, by Jason Sheehan, NPR

Inasmuch as anyone ever has to read anything, you have to read Jerusalem. People are going to say a lot of things about it — that it's massive (obviously), that it's brilliant (it is), that it's beautiful and maddening and sweet and stupid all in equal measure (true, true, true and true). That it involves dozens (hundreds) of characters — from artists to angels and prostitutes to politicians, from James Joyce to Lucia Joyce (his daughter) and Samuel Becket to Oliver Cromwell — across a span of a thousand years. And that's true, too. Except where it isn't.

On The Challenges Of Designing A Book Spine, by Daniel Benneworth-Gray, Creative Review

So I’ve decided to start today by tutting at the cereal boxes.

Look at them there, all lined up and colourful. There’s something about the sides of these boxes that is so utterly infuriating. All of that minuscule type and gleeful clutter. Who could possibly need this much immediate information about riboflavin?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Encyclopedia Reader, by Daniel A. Gross, New Yorker

A few months ago, Robin Woods drove seven hours from his home, in Maryland, to visit a man named Mark Stevens, in Amherst, Massachusetts. The two had corresponded for years, and they’d spoken on the phone dozens of times. But they had never met in person. Woods, who is bald and broad-shouldered, parked his car and walked along a tree-lined street to Stevens’s house. He seemed nervous and excited as he knocked on the door. A wiry man with white hair and glasses opened it.

Within a few minutes, Woods, who is fifty-four, and Stevens, who is sixty-six, were sitting in the living room, talking about books. The conversation seemed both apt and improbable: when Woods first wrote to Stevens, in 2004, he was serving a sixteen-year prison sentence, in Jessup, Maryland, for breaking and entering. It was a book that had brought them together. “I never met you until today, but I love you very much,” Woods told Stevens. “You’re a good man.”

Welcome To Camp Midlife Crisis!, by Rosecrans Baldwin, GQ

I am Spoonhead. I come from village Bear. I wear face paint, men cry when I sing, and my haircut is so inspiring it makes women lift me off the ground. I haven’t drowned in a cuddle puddle yet, but I’m still awesome, even if it took me a couple days to get there.

My wife found it first: Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults. She knew I’d hate it, maybe love it. Probably hate it. Based on the brochure, it looked like a graduate school for twentysomethings from the Bay Area: four days in the redwoods, at a camp established in the 1930s, where people gathered for pickling seminars, stilt-walking workshops, and creative-writing lessons with manual typewriters.

However. In case you’re gagging as much as I was, consider that as of this moment, for the first time since 1880, more young adults live with their parents than with a partner or spouse. Chance the Rapper’s latest album is called Coloring Book, at a time when coloring books for adults are best-sellers.

Why Print News Still Rules, by Jack Shafer, Politico

What accounts for print’s superiority? Print—particularly the newspaper—is an amazingly sophisticated technology for showing you what’s important, and showing you a lot of it. The newspaper has refined its user interface for more than two centuries. Incorporated into your daily newspaper's architecture are the findings from field research conducted in thousands of newspapers over hundreds of millions of editions. Newspaper designers have created a universal grammar of headline size, typeface, place, letter spacing, white space, sections, photography, and illustration that gives readers subtle clues on what and how to read to satisfy their news needs.

Web pages can't convey this metadata because there's not enough room on the screen to display it all. Even if you have two monitors on your desk, you still don't have as much reading real estate that an openbroadsheet newspaper offers. Computer fonts still lag behind their high-resolution newsprint cousins, and reading them drains mental energy. I’d argue that even the serendipity of reading in newsprint surpasses the serendipity of reading online, which was supposed to be one of the virtues of the digital world. Veteran tech journalist Ed Bott talks about newsprint's ability to routinely surprise you with a gem of a story buried in the back pages, placed there not because it's big news but because it's interesting. "The print edition consistently leads me to unexpected stories I might have otherwise missed," agrees Inc. Executive Editor Jon Fine. "I find digital editions and websites don’t have the same kind of serendipity—they’re set up to point you to more of the same thing." Reading a newspaper, you explore for the news like a hunter in a forest, making discoveries all the way. The Web offers news treasures, too, but they often feel unconnected to one another, failing to form a daily news gestalt.

In ‘Avid Reader,’ A Celebrated Editor As Shepherd And Alchemist, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

Robert Gottlieb, the celebrated editor at Simon & Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf and The New Yorker, was a pale, bookish, sensitive, rumpled and vaguely mousy young man. His first father-in-law, a roofing contractor, took a look at him and said, “If I had a son like that, I’d take him out and drown him like a sick kitten.”

How bookish was Mr. Gottlieb? At summer camp, as a child, he arranged to have The New York Times delivered to him daily. His family — they lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan — read books rather than converse at the dinner table. “Only later did it occur to me that this was not normal,” he writes in “Avid Reader,” his new memoir, “but a symptom of our particular brand of dysfunction.”

Trudy Dittmar Explores The Uncanny Valley, by Nichole L. Reber, Ploughshares

The most fascinating essay from this collection, “Wolf Show, Truman, Ersatz Moon,” uses nature to introduce us to what Dittmar’s thinking, but she swirls in a sort of existential take on a movie to discuss a large, far-reaching issue of today’s society: the uncanny valley. She’s not talking about artificial intelligence or robots or the stuff of sci-fi. She’s talking about how we can hardly tell the difference between reality and what’s on the screens before our zombified faces. The essay weaves two stories about a public event of watching wolves in their “natural” habitat and The Truman Show, a ‘90s movie starring Jim Carey.

Does Staring At A Blank Computer Screen For Two Hours Count As Creativity?, by Chuck Klosterman, The Guardian

The second question is (to me) more fascinating, even though it seems far simpler: “How long did it take you to write this?” It’s a query that raises a lot of ancillary questions about the entire process. Am I writing if I’m just thinking about writing, or is writing only the mechanical typing? Does stoically staring at a blank computer screen for two hours while drinking Mountain Dew count as creativity? If I come up with the vague idea for a novel in 1996 but don’t write a word until autumn 2016, did the novel take 20 years or six months?

I never know when the writing starts.

When Did Brunch Get So Basic?, by Miranda Popkey, Extra Crispy

But the meal’s loudest detractors—or those given the loudest microphones, anyway—seem peeved not because it’s necessarily the province of those with both disposable time and disposable money, but precisely because it used to be reserved for those who had much more of both. The problem, they hint, is not that brunch is too elitist, it’s that it’s not elitist enough; it’s become popular, nonexclusive—in a word: basic.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

How Japan Invented Los Angeles — And Reinvented American Style, by Colin Marshall, Los Angeles Review of Books

Forty years ago, four Japanese writers and photographers came to town and invented Los Angeles. Or rather, they invented an image of Los Angeles they could distill, package, and sell — first to Japan, then to the rest of the world — with the debut issue of Popeye, published July 1976. Described in its own subtitle as the “Magazine for City Boys,”Popeye would go on to stake out and ultimately dominate its territory in the world of Japanese men’s style print media, one of the most internationally visible branches of that country’s still shockingly robust print media ecosystem.

A Brief History Of Everyone Who Ever Lived Review – Popular Science At Its Best, by Robin Mckie, The Guardian

Humans turn out to have fewer genes than a roundworm. Or a banana. Or a grain of rice. Yet scientists had no inkling our complement of genes was so meagre. As Rutherford notes: “The greatest achievement of the Human Genome Project was working out exactly how little we knew.”

It is a neat phrase and typical of this elegant, informed account of the lessons we are still learning from the project. This is no bombastic view of a world transformed by modern genetics or a health service revolutionised by gene-based therapies. More than anything, this is a book that highlights the limits of what genes can tell about us or do for us.

Book Review: ‘Simple Pleasures’, by Melanie Springer Mock, Mennoite World

In the creative nonfiction course I teach every spring, I talk about a memoirist’s ability to both convey personal experience and also make connections with an audience. This interplay between the individual and the universal is what can make reading a memoir a powerful experience.

Marianne Jantzi’s Simple Pleasures: My Life as an Amish Mother reminded me of this principle, if only because little in Jantzi’s life is familiar to me, though I am also a mother: not her exuberant crafting with her young children; not the cooking she does with a wood stove; not the complexities she faces when riding with her family in a buggy; not any number of daily activities she completes without the assistance of modern technologies.

The Very Last Howard Johnson’s, by Adam Chandler, The Atlantic

Howard Johnson’s may not be a staple of the American roadside anymore, but the visually similar franchises it helped popularize go on as far as the eye can see.

In Silence We Became The Most Real, by Rosebud Ben-Oni, Kenyon Review

Looking out the window at the box-shaped apartments in colorful rows of sky blue, white, caramel, marmalade, and you are there with verse-spiraling ribbon, with ink-well and tools, with sunsets to lay over them. It’s a seasonless evening, all clouds, no sunset, extremely humid, a slight chill everywhere. Not seasonless, but every season, and you, you are there.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Evidence Rebuts Chomsky's Theory Of Language Learning, by Paul Ibbotson, Michael Tomasello, Scientific American

The idea that we have brains hardwired with a mental template for learning grammar—famously espoused by Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—has dominated linguistics for almost half a century. Recently, though, cognitive scientists and linguists have abandoned Chomsky’s “universal grammar” theory in droves because of new research examining many different languages—and the way young children learn to understand and speak the tongues of their communities. That work fails to support Chomsky’s assertions.

The research suggests a radically different view, in which learning of a child’s first language does not rely on an innate grammar module. Instead the new research shows that young children use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all—such as the ability to classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and to understand the relations among things. These capabilities, coupled with a unique hu­­­man ability to grasp what others intend to communicate, allow language to happen. The new findings indicate that if researchers truly want to understand how children, and others, learn languages, they need to look outside of Chomsky’s theory for guidance.

On Not Reading, by Amy Hungerford, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

I refuse to read books. Coming from a critic, this confession sounds both imperious and ignorant, but, truth be told, all of us, especially scholars of literature, refuse to read books every day. I remember someone telling me at a party in graduate school that my adviser — a famous Americanist — had never read Moby-Dick. Was it true? I did not dare ask him. Did the very idea amplify his bad-boy critical aura? Of course. (Recently, I did ask him. "For a while it was true," he said; "and then, forever after, it wasn’t.")

Where “It” Was: Rereading Stephen King’s “It” On Its 30th Anniversary, by Adrian Daub, Los Angeles Review of Books

Perhaps the novel also gained a certain clarity in translation, for I first encountered It, as a child growing up in Germany, as Es. While the Freudian resonances were lost on seven-year-old me — Es was Freud’s plain German name for what English translators have far more pretentiously termed “the id” — some of the word’s primal grandeur was not: an “it,” after all, can be any critter or animal, while an es seems to reach deeper into our collective mental topography. “Wo es war, soll ich werden”: “where it was, I shall be,” Freud declared. For the longest time, wherever I was, It was not.

I realize now that I can’t even remember when I finally picked up one of these errant copies of It and started reading. But perhaps that’s a strangely appropriate mode of reception for a horror novel that reserves its greatest terror for the vagaries of memory. It features relatively little of the kind of horror that has protagonists shining their flashlights into dark corners to face unseen abominations. Instead, it dwells on the horror of having lived with something terrifying all along, of having become blind and numb to it. It strikes me only now, rereading the book decades later in English, that there’s something distinctively American about the pervasive, dreamlike fog of amnesia that envelops the town of Derry, Maine, in King’s novel. Not for nothing does It make its home in the town’s sewers; as one character puts it: “Nobody knows where all the damned sewers and drains go, or why. When they work, nobody cares.”

Dining Down Memory Lane, by Jane Kramer, New Yorker

I love restaurants. I’m a serial eater-out, prowling New York for an uncommonly delicious dinner, at a decent price, cooked by someone else. And never mind if the meal turns out to be disappointing. There is always the promise of the next meal, the next new place, and, besides, the pleasures of eating privately in public tend to compensate for most culinary catastrophes that do not involve a trip to the emergency room after the latest hole-in-the-wall around the corner serves me last week’s clams. My husband says that I never learn; if there’s a new restaurant in our neighborhood, I try it.

Given that Paul Freedman’s new book, “Ten Restaurants That Changed America” (Liveright), is largely a history of eating out in this country, it’s worth noting that the word “restaurant,” at least as food scholars define it, is as recent historically as the experience it describes. It comes from the French restaurer, to restore, and was coined in the seventeen-sixties, supposedly when a nutritionally minded Frenchman known only as Boulanger (his first name has disappeared from the annals of gastronomy) decided to open a place in Paris offering a menu of “restorative” meat broths, along with tables to sit at, wine to sip, and, possibly, a bit of cheese or fruit to end the meal. (“Boulanger sells restoratives fit for the gods,” the sign on the door said.)

The North And The Great Canadian Lie, by Scott Gilmore, Maclean's

Canada needs to stop pretending that it cares about the North. Decades of false rhetoric has created expectations among those few who do live up North that someone “has their back.” No one does. They’re on their own and they have been for generations. We tell the world the North is ours, that we are protecting our sovereignty and our vast mineral wealth. But the truth is we aren’t, and those resources are so far from the nearest railhead they may as well be on the moon.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Why Do Tourists Visit Ancient Ruins Everywhere Except The United States?, by Alex Mayyasi, Priceonomics

The Greek government loves to invest in the Parthenon, and Greeks love to visit it. But Indian sites are more likely to remind Americans of the Trail of Tears and treaty violations than appeal to their nationalism.

“Cahokia doesn’t mesh with the narrative of what the U.S. was like,” explains Dr. Adrienne Keene, a Native scholar and activist. “We are taught that nothing was here, so Native people deserved to have their land taken away. There would be less excitement about making Cahokia a national monument: that’s how white supremacy and colonialism work.”

Hive Consciousness, by Peter Watts, Aeon

But we’ve moved beyond merely thinking orders at machinery. Now we’re using that machinery to wire living brains together. Last year, a team of European neuroscientists headed by Carles Grau of the University of Barcelona reported a kind of – let’s call it mail-order telepathy – in which the recorded brainwaves of someone thinking a salutation in India were emailed, decoded and implanted into the brains of recipients in Spain and France (where they were perceived as flashes of light).

You might also remember breathless reports of a hive mind emerging from the depths of Duke University in North Carolina during the winter of 2013. Miguel Pais-Vieira and his colleagues had wired together the brains of two rats. Present a stimulus to one, and the other would press a lever. The headlines evoked images of one mind reaching into another, commandeering its motor systems in a fit of Alien Paw Syndrome.

The Hunt For Vulcan By Thomas Levenson Review - Newton, Einstein And The Invisible Planet, by Tim Radford, The Guardian

Some science books explore new science, or neglected science, or enduring puzzles, or forgotten adventures in science. Levenson’s is a fresh, smartly-paced account of a story much of which has already been told in different forms many times and especially last year, on the hundredth birthday of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.

Don’t discount it for that. By making Vulcan the star turn, so to speak, Levenson shines a light on how science really happens. Other histories of planetary discovery speed past the mistakes and get to the great achievements. Levenson follows the twists and turns of the Vulcan pursuit – including the newspaper reports, the academic bickering and frustration – and with a light touch delivers serious lessons. One of them, which should be a comfort to us all, is that scientists keep on testing their own assumptions, and questioning their own observations. Yes, if they expect to find something, there is a likelihood that they will see what they are looking for, but they don’t like to be the only people to see it. The lesson is that good science is replicable.

Why The 9/11 Novel Has Been Such A Contested And Troubled Genre, by Arin Keeble, Independent

In some ways, the high profile critical debates that surrounded these novels and placed so much importance on them, actually reinforced George W Bush’s assertion that “on September 11 night fell on a new world”. And in doing so, some argue that they undercut the complex prehistories and aftermaths of 9/11, giving it inflated importance in the world narrative.

Rediscovering The Simple, Timeless Message Of Winnie-the-Pooh, by Pooja Makhijani,

Generations of parents before me have come to understand that the proverbial days are long, but the years are short. Still, I can’t help but feel that catch in my throat, especially as she begins to become curious and asks about weightier subjects, like the vastness of the universe as she looks into her telescope or about her paternal grandfather’s Parkinson’s Disease as she plays hide-and-seek with him.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

How Arianna Huffington Lost Her Newsroom, by William D. Cohan, Vanity Fair

Rumors were circulating in the newsroom about her uneasy relationship with Tim Armstrong, the C.E.O. of AOL, the company that had purchased the HuffPost for $315 million three years earlier. An idea had already been floated to transform Huffington into a sort of semi-retired figurehead who would perform ceremonial tasks without wielding any real power—a covert operation, The New York Times later reported, code-named “Popemobile.” A looming corporate shake-up added still more uncertainty. At the time of the Zakaria incident, Verizon was eyeing AOL for a takeover—a $4.4 billion deal that would come to be announced 10 months later.

Huffington, meanwhile, had no intention of relinquishing power at the organization she had co-founded nearly a decade earlier, in 2005, against such long odds. Despite a relative lack of experience in journalism, business, and technology—as a wealthy divorcee who had written several books and unsuccessfully run for governor of California—she had turned the Huffington Post into one of the most recognizable media brands of our time. Within a decade, the site became part of the media firmament and Huffington became a global brand unto herself. She was a regular at the annual World Economic Forum, in Davos; a ubiquitous talking head on television; a budding lifestyle guru; and the keeper of one of the more prodigious Rolodexes in the industry. She counted among her friends everyone from Charlie Rose to Ann Getty and Henry Kissinger to Barbara Walters. She divided her time between a mansion in Brentwood, California, and an $8 million apartment in SoHo.

The Depression Radically Changed The Way Americans Ate, by Sadie Stein, New York Times

During his presidential campaign of 1928, Herbert Hoover declared that the United States was “nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land.” The country was giddy with postwar prosperity, and the country’s mood was reflected on America’s dinner tables. As people flocked to cities and moved to small apartments, delicatessens, cafeterias and other purveyors of grab-and-go food began to proliferate. In rural communities, efficiency experts encouraged farm wives to lighten their loads with a range of new conveniences. When President Hoover and his wife, Lou, arrived in the White House, they set a regal tone, presiding over elaborate multicourse banquets and requiring dinner jackets even en famille.

The Depression brought all that to an end. And as Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe show in their engaging and often moving cultural history, “A Square Meal,” those years also changed the way America thought about food. We are what we eat — or in the case of the Depression, didn’t.

Time Travel And The Quest For Immortality, by Rosalind Williams, Washington Post

This “new mode of thought” emerged in the context of many other inventions of the 19th century, both intellectual and material, that heightened time consciousness: new means of connection such as the railroad, steamship and telegraph; the proliferation of cheap, reliable timekeeping devices; the discovery of “deep time” in the earth sciences; and the unearthing of artifacts of human prehistory and antiquity.

Underlying all of this was a new consciousness of human history as progress over time. Instead of being a tale of cyclic repetition, history was redefined as a story with a direction, in which the passage of time brings accumulating achievement and gradual perfection of the human condition. To take one compelling example, by 1900, the “age of exploration” was reaching its climax. In the previous four centuries, humankind had mapped the entire globe. This was a stupendous achievement but also a reminder that humanity was reaching the limits of planetary space. Would time be the next frontier?

An Unborn Baby Overhears Plans For A Murder In Ian McEwan’s Latest Novel, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, New York Times

Ian McEwan’s compact, captivating new novel, “Nutshell,” is also about murderous spirals and lost messages between fathers and unborn sons, although it’s the father’s fate that hangs in the balance here. I promise not to give away the formidable genius of the plot — but the premise, loosely, is this: Trudy, jittery and fragile, lives in a London townhouse as dilapidated as it is valuable, where she spends hot afternoons coldly plotting the murder of her husband, John. She is heavily pregnant with John’s son.

It’s Official: You’re Lost In A Directionless Universe, by Adrian Cho, Science

Ever peer into the night sky and wonder whether space is really the same in all directions or whether the cosmos might be whirling about like a vast top? Now, one team of cosmologists has used the oldest radiation there is, the afterglow of the big bang, or the cosmic microwave background (CMB), to show that the universe is “isotropic,” or the same no matter which way you look: There is no spin axis or any other special direction in space. In fact, they estimate that there is only a one-in-121,000 chance of a preferred direction—the best evidence yet for an isotropic universe. That finding should provide some comfort for cosmologists, whose standard model of the evolution of the universe rests on an assumption of such uniformity.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Why It’s So Hard To Find The Next Earth, Even If You’re Looking Right At It, by Maggie Koerth-Baker, FiveThirtyEight

But this brings us to what is probably the ultimate limitation. Most exoplanets haven’t been studied using both the transit and radial velocity methods. Transit can find a planet’s radius, but not mass. Radial velocity can find mass but not radius. And what scientists really, really want to know about is exoplanets’ density — a calculation that requires both mass and radius. “It’s like the holy grail for planets,” Christiansen said. That’s because density is what tells you if a planet is rocky (like Earth) or just a big ball of gas (like Jupiter). Density is how you really start to separate out the stuff that might be kind of Earth-ish, maybe, from the stuff that could be truly habitable.

This is why the fact that we’ve found 10 habitable exoplanets doesn’t mean there are only 10 habitable exoplanets. There could be way, way more than that. But our technology, and the way we’ve used it, hasn’t been optimized to find them.

Divine Indigestion, by Jonathon Sturgeon, The Baffler

The notion that American literature might have an imperial bent—that it might be anything other than a string of lightly co-influential works of “imaginative power,” and might itself reflect our national desire to dominate—is lost on its critics, both right and left.

But the possibility of an imperial literature wasn’t always lost on our sly centrist critics, who helped to cultivate it across generations.

A Professional Book Critic In Praise Of Amazon Reader Reviews., by Laura Miller, Slate

So I’ll never denounce the abundant proliferation of reader reviews, not even the ones that lambast my own book. One-star reviews testify to a loss of faith, and they wouldn’t get written if that faith didn’t keep rising up in the first place. Each review represents an instance of someone taking a chance, opening the covers of a book and allowing an author’s words into her head with the hope that something magical might result. And I just can’t see anything bad about that.

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: ‘Pain Shape-shifts Down The Generations’, by Ilana Masad, The Guardian

When her mother suddenly lost her memory, Buchanan began to write Harmless Like You, her cross-cultural debut novel about how children inherit identity

The harm we cause one another – casually, accidentally, deliberately, unknowingly – haunts Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s mind. Her debut novel, Harmless Like You, which sparked a fierce bidding war among publishers, takes its title from a photography series that Yuki, one of Buchanan’s main characters, puts together in the early 1970s. The series is made up of pictures taken on the sly of girls around New York City: brown, black, Asian girls, and one of a white American darling, complete with ringlets, rosy cheeks and a copy of the 11 June 1972 edition of the New York Times, with the now-famous Napalm Girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, on the front cover.

Keep Trying. Be Content: On Belle Boggs’s ‘The Art Of Waiting’, by Linnie Greene, The Millions

It is an innocent train ride, full of the banal chatter we save for our post-work hours, until my coworker Marthine pulls out her phone and shows me a video of her laughing son. At what she calls the “sweet spot,” those tender months between squalling and teething, Arun(whose name refers to the dawn in Sanskrit) glimpses himself in the mirror and chortles, drool pooling between his lips and chin. He is as smitten with himself as the world is with him. He observes himself; he loves what he sees. We observe him; we love what we see.

There is a portion at the end of Belle Boggs’s The Art of Waiting in which, as she’s holding her infant at home, a mason says, “Imagine if there was only one baby in the whole world…Wherever that baby was, we’d put down our things and go see it.” “You’re right,” she says. “I’d go.” At 26, newly struck with baby fever, I would be there in line, craning my neck to behold.

What African-American Cookbooks Tell Us About Our Culinary History, by Adrian Miller, First We Feast

For centuries, we've been force-fed myths about the African-American culinary experience—distorted realities describing African-American cuisine as unsophisticated, or the supposed limited capabilities of black cooks. To begin to unravel these myths and re-write the script takes thorough research, which is exactly what award-winning author Toni Tipton-Martin resolved to do with her monumental book, The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cooks.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

When Will New York City Sink?, by Andrew Rice, New York Magazine

Klaus Jacob, a German professor affiliated with Columbia’s University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is a geophysicist by profession and a doomsayer by disposition. I’ve gotten to know him over the past few years, as I’ve sought to understand the greatest threat to life in New York as we know it. Jacob has a white beard and a ponderous accent: Imagine if Werner Herzog happened to be a renowned expert on disaster risk. Jacob believes most people live in an irrational state of “risk denial,” and he takes delight in dispelling their blissful ignorance. “If you want to survive an earthquake, don’t buy a brownstone,” he once cautioned me, citing the catastrophic potential of a long-dormant fault line that runs under the city. When Mayor Bloomberg announcednine years ago an initiative to plant a million trees, Jacob thought, That’s nice — but what about tornadoes?

Why Are Babies So Dumb If Humans Are So Smart?, by Maria Konnikova, New Yorker

The evolution of human intelligence isn’t something that Celeste Kidd had ever pondered. A developmental cognitive scientist who currently works at the University of Rochester, her work had focussed mostly on learning and decision-making in children. Over years of observing young children, she became impressed with the average child’s level of sophistication. But when she looked at the infants she encountered, she saw a baffling degree of helplessness: How could they be so incompetent one second and so bright so soon thereafter? One day, she posed the question to her colleague Steven Piantadosi. “Both of us wondered what could possibly justify the degree of helplessness human infants exhibit,” she told me recently. “Even other primate babies, like baby chimps, which are close in evolutionary terms, can cling onto their moms.” She began to see a contradiction: humans are born quite helpless, far more so than any other primate, but, fairly early on, we start becoming quite smart, again far more so than any other primate. What if this weren’t a contradiction so much as a causal pathway?

The Book That Taught Me What I Want To Teach My Daughter, by Belle Boggs, New Yorker

That’s the main difference, I suppose, between Ginzburg and some of today’s most prominent parenting-advice-givers. Ginzburg, who authored twelve books and two plays; who, because of anti-Semitic laws, sometimes couldn’t publish under her own name; who raised five children and lost her husband to Fascist torture; who was elected to the Italian parliament as an independent in her late sixties—this woman does not take her present conditions as a given. She asks us to fight back against them, to be brave and resolute. She instructs us to ask for better, for ourselves and for our children.

In Ann Patchett’s ‘Commonwealth,’ Knotting And Unknotting The Ties That Bind, by Jennifer Senior, New York Times

The questions “Commonwealth” raises are ultimately counterfactual, philosophical: Who might we be if our parents hadn’t made catastrophic choices, and we hadn’t responded catastrophically to them? Maybe better-adjusted people with easier days and nights. But maybe the poorer for it.

No Giggling Ghost, by Jessa Crispin, The Smart Set

The wife is very often a problem in stories, whether they are told in movies, books, or just dinner party anecdotes. The words “my wife” set my teeth on edge, said so often in the same tone of voice as a man might say “my car” or “my phone.” The property label often trumps her own name – why do you need her name when the most important thing to know about her is her association with me? And so wives in stories are metaphors, representations of domesticity, or adjacent to the real actors: the husbands. Who almost always get names.

But the dead wife is a particularly nasty trope in storytelling because so often her life is sacrificed directly in service to the story. She is there only to die.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Can Science 'Enrich The Understanding But Rob The Imagination?', by Sara Lewis, The Guardian

Science provides a unique way of knowing. Scientists use an iterative method to analyze and piece together the jigsaw puzzle of reality. We rely on making detailed observations, constructing theories to explain these facts, then gathering new data to test and refine our theories. Rational and systematic, this process works splendidly – we have learned so much about ourselves, the Earth, our fellow creatures, and the universe! Yet once we adopt this scientific mindset, through training or through proclivity, it becomes difficult to fully recapture that experience of newly-minted, breath-taking awe. This is a fragile wonder, easily suffocated by the narrow focus and tedium inherent in the scientific process.

There Is No Such Thing As The Young Adult Novel, by Zan Romanoff, The Millions

There are, of course, novels written about teenagers and novels that focus on coming of age, novels that that skirt the subjects of sex and drugs and death or, alternatively, focus on our first experiences of them, what the world feels like when you’re just learning its brightest and darkest corners.

But when you try to define the category, it remains slippery and elusive: difficult to delimit in terms of content, since YA now covers addiction and rape as readily as — and sometimes alongside — first crushes and homecoming dances.

‘Commonwealth’: Ann Patchett’s Masterful Novel Of Family And Family Secrets, by Ron Charles, Washington Post

In someone else’s hands, “Commonwealth” would be a saga, a sprawling chronicle of events and relationships spread out over dozens of chapters. But Patchett is daringly elliptical here. Not only are decades missing, but they’re also out of order. We’re not so much told this story as allowed to listen in from another room as a door swings open and closed.

Books To Give You Hope: After Auschwitz By Eva Schloss, by Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

After Auschwitz is an incredible book, remarkable for its unflinching gaze at the past and also for its hope. For some reason, the most moving part for me is a description of how, forced by the Nazi curfew to be at home every evening at 8pm, Schloss’s family became hooked on bridge. She writes: “I can’t prove it, but we played so much I believe I became one of the most outstanding, and committed child bridge players in the whole of Europe.” The tenderness and poignancy of that image of the child bridge player – but also her toughness and will to win – is unforgettable.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Hot Stuff, by Kendra Pierre-Louis, Aeon

On YouTube, the pepperhead – a gangly 12-year-old with Harry Potter glasses, a 20-something woman in a cat T-shirt, or a bro in a backwards baseball cap – begins to chew. There’s a pause as the brain registers the sensation, then an eruption of expletives, tears, occasionally vomiting. The milk, a supposed tempering agent, never works, whether it’s chugged, swirled around like mouthwash, or poured over the body. ‘It tastes like a thousand burning needles in my mouth,’ exclaims the pepperhead, before losing the ability to speak altogether.

Why would anyone do this to themselves?

Pete Wells Has His Knives Out, by Ian Parker, New Yorker

Pete Wells, the restaurant critic of the Times, who writes a review every week—and who occasionally writes one that creates a national hubbub about class, money, and soup—was waiting for a table not long ago at Momofuku Nishi, a modish new restaurant in Chelsea. Wells is fifty-three and soft-spoken. His balance of Apollonian and Dionysian traits is suggested by a taste for drawing delicate sketches of tiki cocktails. Since starting the job, in 2012, he has eaten out five times a week. His primary disguise strategy is “to be the least interesting person in the room,” he had told me, adding, “Which I was, for many years. It’s not a stretch.” But he does vary his appearance. At times, he’ll be unshaven, in frayed jeans; in Chelsea, he looked like a European poet—a gray wool suit over a zip-up sweater, a flat cap pulled low, nonprescription glasses. He was carrying a memoir, written by a friend, titled “Bullies.”

Songs Of Innocence And Experience: Mark Greif’s “Against Everything”, by Timothy Aubry, Los Angeles Review of Books

It is safe to assume that Mark Greif’s fans have been waiting for him to put out a collection of essays for some time. Greif was, after all, the most prolific prodigy in that class of gifted and talented writers responsible for bringing us n+1, the magazine that effectively remade the intellectual scene in New York City. Launched in 2004 and modeled on midcentury little magazines like The Partisan Review and Dissent, n+1 met a desperate need, providing a platform for serious debate outside the university, where relatively unknown writers could think long and hard about politics, culture, literature, sociology, and philosophy, and reach an audience of like-minded interlocutors. The magazine aspired to publish pieces free of the jargon that tends to fence in academic writing, yet equally rigorous, more broadly relevant, and far more enjoyable to read — and Greif showed everyone how it could and should be done.

The release of Against Everything, a collection that features many of Greif’s best essays, offers a good occasion to consider what it was that made his early work so singularly powerful.

I’ll Have What She Had: A Friend’s Competitive Memoir About Nora Ephron, by Elinor Lipman, New York Times

Who in the course of a celebrity life hasn’t been observed behaving badly? Name your offender, but ouch, please not the late, beloved Nora Ephron. If you’re among those who saw only the good and the brilliant in her work and admired the bumps in her road, so artfully reported, Richard Cohen would like to burst your bubble.

Review: ‘Nutshell,’ A Tale Told By A Baby-to-Be (Or Not-to-Be), by Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

With “Nutshell,” Ian McEwan has performed an incongruous magic trick, mashing up the premises of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and Amy Heckerling’s 1989 movie, “Look Who’s Talking,” to create a smart, funny and utterly captivating novel.

As From My Window I Sometimes Glance, by Brenna Casey, Ploughshares

Lately, I spend a lot of time gazing out my window.

In quiet moments with a cup of coffee and the whole day unspooling before me, I sit on the ledge looking at the street below and think of Alicia Ostriker’s poem, August Morning, Upper Broadway. “As the body of the beloved is a window,” she starts near-philosophically. “…and as the man on the corner with his fruit stand is a window,” she writes a few lines later, materializing the frame.

Monday, September 5, 2016

How Much More Can We Learn About The Universe?, by Lawrence M. Krauss, Nautilus

The answer, of course, is that we don’t know in advance. We won’t know if there is a limit to knowledge unless we try to get past it. At the moment, we have no sign of one. We may be facing roadblocks, but those give every indication of being temporary. Some people say to me: “We will never know how the universe began.” “We can never know what happened before the Big Bang.” These statements demonstrate a remarkable conceit, by suggesting we can know in advance the locus of all those things that we cannot know. This is not only unsubstantiated, but the history of science so far has demonstrated no such limits. And in my own field, cosmology, our knowledge has increased in ways that no one foresaw even 50 years ago.

This is not to say that nature doesn’t impose limits on what we can observe and how we can observe it. For example, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle constrains what we can know about the motion of a particle at any time, and the speed of light restricts how far we can see or travel in a given interval. But these limits merely tell us what we cannot observe, not what we cannot eventually learn. The uncertainty principle hasn’t gotten in the way of learning the rules of quantum mechanics, understanding the behavior of atoms, or discovering that so-called virtual particles, which we can never see directly, nevertheless exist.

Mark Thompson’s New Book On The Use And Misuse Of Rhetoric, by James Fallows, New York Times

I don’t think this book will change the continuing debates about “bias” and “objectivity,” the separation of the public into distinct fact universes, the disappearing boundary between entertainment and civic life, the imperiled concept of “truth” or the other important topics it addresses. But it offers many instructive allusions, useful judgments and important refinements on these themes — and provides reassurance by its mere existence that someone in the author’s position is grappling so earnestly with such questions.

‘Razor Girl,’ A Tale Of Kidnappers, Reality TV Stars And Dodgy Seafood, by Janet Maslin, New York Times

Carl Hiaasen’s irresistible “Razor Girl” meets his usual sky-high standards for elegance, craziness and mike-drop humor. But this election-year novel is exceptionally timely, too. It illustrates the dog-whistle effects of bigotry that take the form of entertainment, with a plot that revolves around a “Duck Dynasty”-type reality show, the sermons delivered by one of its stars and a crazed fan who decides to follow what he thinks are the star’s teachings. Mr. Hiaasen — and probably only Mr. Hiaasen — could weave this into a book that’s still so funny.

Taking My Father Back To Louisiana One Last Time, by Natalie Baszile, BuzzFeed

My father loved Louisiana’s food-famous Boudin Trail, so it only felt right that my family laid him to rest there.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Flooding Of Coast, Caused By Global Warming, Has Already Begun, by Justin Gillis, New York Times

For decades, as the global warming created by human emissions caused land ice to melt and ocean water to expand, scientists warned that the accelerating rise of the sea would eventually imperil the United States’ coastline.

Now, those warnings are no longer theoretical: The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes.

Does Chinese Civilization Come From Ancient Egypt?, by Ricardo Lewis, Foreign Policy

On a cool Sunday evening in March, a geochemist named Sun Weidong gave a public lecture to an audience of laymen, students, and professors at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, the capital city of the landlocked province of Anhui in eastern China. But the professor didn’t just talk about geochemistry. He also cited several ancient Chinese classics, at one point quoting historian Sima Qian’s description of the topography of the Xia empire — traditionally regarded as China’s founding dynasty, dating from 2070 to 1600 B.C. “Northwards the stream is divided and becomes the nine rivers,” wrote Sima Qian in his first century historiography, the Records of the Grand Historian. “Reunited, it forms the opposing river and flows into the sea.”

In other words, “the stream” in question wasn’t China’s famed Yellow River, which flows from west to east. “There is only one major river in the world which flows northwards. Which one is it?” the professor asked. “The Nile,” someone replied. Sun then showed a map of the famed Egyptian river and its delta — with nine of its distributaries flowing into the Mediterranean. This author, a researcher at the same institute, watched as audience members broke into smiles and murmurs, intrigued that these ancient Chinese texts seemed to better agree with the geography of Egypt than that of China.

His White Suit Unsullied By Research, Tom Wolfe Tries To Take Down Charles Darwin And Noam Chomsky, by Jerry A. Coyne, Washington Post

Here Wolfe’s victims are two renowned scholars, Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky, whom he considers the most vocal exponents of the “hardwired” school of language. But Wolfe’s argument ultimately backfires, for the book grossly distorts the theory of evolution, the claims of linguistics and the controversies about their connection. Finally, after misleading the reader for nearly 200 pages, Wolfe proposes his own theory of how language began — a theory far less plausible than the ones he mocks. [...]

But in fact Wolfe doesn’t even understand the theory he so despises. Evolution, he argues, isn’t a “scientific hypothesis” because nobody’s seen it happen, there’s no observation that could falsify it, it yields no predictions and it doesn’t “illuminate hitherto unknown or baffling areas of science.” Wrong — four times over. We’ve seen evolution via real-time observations and ordered series of fossils; evolution could be falsified by finding fossils out of place, such as that of a rabbit in 400 million-year-old sediments; and evolution certainly makes predictions (Darwin predicted, correctly, that human ancestors evolved in Africa). As for evolution’s supposed failure to solve biological puzzles, Wolfe might revisit Darwin’s description of how evolution not only unlocks enigmas about embryology and vestigial organs, but clarifies some perplexing geographic ranges of animals and plants. Or he could rouse himself to read recent biology journals, which describe multitudes of evolutionary riddles being solved.

Dear Mr M By Herman Koch Review – A Stalker’s Tale Of Revenge, by Ian Sansom, The Guardian

Like all of Koch’s novels, Dear Mr M works ultimately through the deliberate withholding of information: it is a book, like all his books, with a final and magnificent twist. Whether or not readers will have the patience and interest to wait for the final twist depends rather on whether they are interested in all the little swerves and sleights along the way.

Love Undone, by Deborah Levy, New York Times

In the late 1920s when the British poet Robert Graves asked Gertrude Stein to recommend somewhere to live that was not England, she advised him to move to Majorca. “It’s paradise,” she said, “if you can bear it.” He could bear it and made the mountain village of Deia, 22 miles northwest of the capital, Palma, his home for the rest of his life.

I often think about Stein’s cryptic comment when I recall my first vacation in this same village 30 years ago. I was 27 and living in London, and my new English boyfriend was approaching 40. I was excited about getting to know more about him in paradise for two weeks, but it would have been wiser to know less.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

How To Change Your Mind: Our Writers On What They Got Wrong, by New Statesman

So, what changes people’s minds? Oddly, a weaker argument might help. Asking opponents to flip from a strongly held belief to its opposite is a huge psychological demand. It involves acknowledging that they have been grievously wrong, which might call their entire belief system into doubt. Making a smaller mental leap is less challenging.

For the same reason, it is also easier to convince us to change our minds when the change doesn’t threaten our sense of identity. Take people who are devoutly religious: they are likely to have friends who share their faith, to belong to circles in which faith is important, and perhaps even to have a spouse, parents or children who would be hurt and alienated by a change of heart. In such circumstances, jettisoning a conviction is freighted with emotional trauma.

‘The Nix’ Is The Love Child Of Thomas Pynchon And David Foster Wallace, by Teddy Wayne, New York Times

First, the good news: Hill has so much talent to burn that he can pull off just about any style, imagine himself into any person and convincingly portray any place or time. “The Nix” is hugely entertaining and unfailingly smart, and the author seems incapable of writing a pedestrian sentence or spinning a boring story.

'A Gentleman In Moscow' Is A Grand Hotel Adventure, by Annalisa Quinn, NPR

A Gentleman in Moscow is a novel that aims to charm, not be the axe for the frozen sea within us. And the result is a winning, stylish novel that keeps things easy. Flair is always the goal — Towles never lets anyone merely say goodbye when they could bid adieu, never puts a period where an exclamation point or dramatic ellipsis could stand. In his narratorial guise, he likes to drop in from the sky in dramatic asides, rhetorical questions, and cute self-referential footnotes.

Inside JetBlue’s Quest To Make Plane Food Great Again, by Jennifer Chaussee, Wired

Before going any further, let’s explain why airplane food has had the same lousy reputation since the 1980s. One part is stinginess, understandable in an industry with tiny profit margins. Another is that most food comes from the same few industrial catering kitchens. Airlines often partner with fancy chefs to plan menus, but catering chefs do the day-to-day grunt work of churning out meals for a bunch of carriers.

Then there’s the combination of cabin pressure, altitude, and dry air that knocks out roughly 30 percent of a person’s sense of taste, Farmerie says. Salt can fill that gap, but a heavy pour can create the over-processed texture people associate with plane food.

Good Riddance To The Vacation Season, by John Moore, The Walrus

No matter how spectacular the sunset, I have a limited capacity for appreciating different hues of orange. Are we not just one more day closer to death?

Friday, September 2, 2016

How To Keep Running, by Lauren Quinn, Hazlitt

Joey had a collapsed lung and a tiger tattoo that crawled up his arm like it could leap off and sink its claws right into you. It didn’t, of course. It just lay there, blown-out and faded, tensing when he tensed and twitching when he twitched.

He showed it to me, that first night in the truck, all the places where it was wrong: missing a toe, tail crooked, its front paw as big as its head. “I told the guy to stop, to just stop, he was fucking it all up.” He puffed on his vape and the sick-sweet smell of maple swirled around me. “But he finished it anyway.”

Where The Spirit Of Mister Rogers Endures, by Arielle Bernstein, The Atlantic

Rogers’s warmth and earnestness were hallmarks of his show, from the gentle manner in which he’d describe an ordinary experience like going to the doctor, to the way he’d handle more complicated emotions like jealousy or fear. Fifteen years after the last episode of Mister Rogers aired on August 31, 2001, its spirit of affirmation persists in excellent children’s pop culture, such as recent episodes of Sesame Street, Inside Out, and Kubo and the Two Strings.

It also lives on in an unlikely place—the modern advice column.

What Does It Mean To “Live Like An Artist” In New York?, by Rachel Pincus, The Awl

When my twenty-two-year-old artist father moved into his raw loft space in SoHo in 1975, he had to pay an extra $1,000 to get basic plumbing risers installed. The floor was stained with machine grease from the bookbindery that had operated there; there were no walls or partitions, and he slept on a mattress in the corner on the floor. Trash collection was seldom, and basic groceries were a half-mile away.

For the first couple of years, a printing press still operated upstairs, shaking his entire building during business hours.“This is not an apartment!” his family cried. Yet, he never had to take a roommate to make rent. He had the entire space to himself, where he could set up his creative life: print his etchings and work on oil paintings and illustration projects. Sometimes, on breaks, he would pretend he was a baseball player, running around the 1200-square-foot space and sliding into an imaginary third base.

A Doubter’s Almanac By Ethan Canin Review – The Burden Of A Beautiful Mind, by Mark Lawson, The Guardian

This is big, serious, completely involving fiction of a kind rarely written today. By modelling the topology of genius and fear, Canin has achieved a proof of his own high value to American fiction.

If Technology Makes Humans Into Gods, Old Questions Return, by Giles Fraser, The Guardian

The life of a homo deus will not be nasty, brutish and short, but painless, purposeless and long. In such a future, one can imagine that most deaths will take place though suicide. “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?” writes Harari.

How A Book About Chinatown Made Me Remember My First New York Date., by Dating History, Wei Tchou

He met me a week later outside of my apartment, in Two Bridges, and we walked south to go to dinner. “Where are we going?” I asked.

“To a Chinese place,” he said.

“Seriously?” I asked. I thought he had to be very brave or very dumb to take a Chinese girl to a Chinese restaurant on a first date.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Joys—and Unexpected Perils—of Sleeping In A Tiny House, by Shaunacy Ferro, Mental Floss

In the age of Marie Kondo’s imperative to declutter, downsizing is starting to look a lot more glamorous. Some of us content ourselves with throwing out old socks that no longer “spark joy” within us. For the more ambitious, the desire to live minimally goes beyond belongings. For some, it’s not just about cleaning your house, but about getting rid of your house, too.

Enter the tiny house, pint-sized dwellings that vary in size and design, but tend to take up less than 500 square feet of space. They’re typically built on a wheeled trailer, as if the love child of a mobile home and an RV dressed up in the trappings of a high-end Brooklyn coffee shop. They have a minimal carbon footprint, requiring fewer raw materials to build and less energy to power and heat, and compared to a mortgage for a traditional house, they're a bargain. They're mobile, ideal for people who suffer from wanderlust but still want to own a home. They're easy to customize, and plenty of people who don't have construction experience find themselves capable of building one on their own.

Most Television Shows Should Only Be One Season, by Silvia Killingsworth, The Awl

You know what would have been a great TV show? “Homeland” if it ended after the first season. Just: fade to black, never find out if Brody detonated or not, the end! It would have been a nice echo of the last episode of “The Sopranos,” which is probably the last show that should have been allowed to have many seasons. Instead, we have a dead Brody, Carrie has a baby, and did you know that Homeland is still on television? Yeah, we’re about to hit Season 6 and renewal for 7 and 8 is around the corner.

“True Detective” should never have made a second season. This is an indisputable fact. “UnREAL” could have stopped after Season 1 just fine, and then we wouldn’t have had to be worried about how crazy Season 2 got. (Also, I know it’s a podcast but there’s no way Serial is ever going to live up to the hot mess that is the Hae Min Lee murder: a perfect crime for a true crime series because it happened in the ’90s when we knew a lot but still not enough. You used to be able to get away with murder, you know, and that was the inflection point, I’m convinced. Another post for another day.)

Review: ‘The Art Of Waiting,’ What To Expect When You’re Still Not Expecting, by Jennifer Senior, New York Times

I thought quite a lot about what normal is and isn’t as I was reading “The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood,” Belle Boggs’s thoughtful meditation on childlessness, childbearing, and — for some — the stretch of liminal agony in between. Her book is a corrective and a tonic, a primer and a dispeller of myths. It is likely to become a go-to guide for the many couples who discover that having children is not the no-assembly-required experience they were expecting. They will come away enlightened, reassured and comforted by her debunker mentality.

The Burning Desire For Hot Chicken, by Danny Chau, The Ringer

Hot chicken was a dish created for the express purpose of bringing a man to his knees. Its origin myth wasn’t the result of a mistake, like chocolate chip cookies, Coca-Cola, or the French dip sandwich. Hot chicken was premeditated; to this day, every bite of Nashville hot chicken is touched by the spectral presence of a betrayed lover.

The story remains such a foundational part of hot chicken’s allure that it bears repeating (and, frankly, it never gets old): Back in the 1930s, there was a man named Thornton Prince, who had a reputation around town as a serial philanderer. His girlfriend at the time, sick of his shit and spending her nights alone, decided to do something about it. After a long night out, Prince came home to breakfast. His girlfriend made fried chicken, his favorite. But before serving it, she caked on the most volatile spices she had in the pantry — presumably cayenne pepper and mustard seed, among other things. If it didn’t kill him, at least he would reevaluate his life choices. He didn’t do either — Prince fell harder for the over-spiced piece of chicken than he did for any woman he’d ever courted. Prince implored her to make it for his family and friends — they all loved it, too.

Goodbye, World Not Ending, by Rosebud Ben-Oni, by Kenyon Review

Goodbye, summer. Goodbye, multiple showers we’ve taken due to midnight walks in a month-long heat wave, when there’s no sun to heat the concrete beneath our flip-flops with toe posts forever popping out of place, our walks long and sweaty-palmed, melding our hands into one another’s, the stifling night forging something new and dangerous when you’d stop me mid-sentence, mid-step, to kiss, slightly unable to breathe, breathless.