Many would-be painters, art-school students discouraged by the cost of living and cowed by the daunting stairway to the top, then seduced by the salaries at hipster ad agencies, derail their fine-arts careers, opting for a creative-director slot with benefits. Creative director is the contemporary name for what used to be called art director. The title changed over recent decades because art director proved too small a title for what had become the dominant job in magazines and advertising. Art director began referring to the subordinates who size photos and push type around. The creative director is a visual genius collaborating with fashion photographers (who prefer to be known as artists) and fighting it out with the corporate editors and writers for creative control.
Flash fiction is normally defined as anywhere from five hundred to one thousand words (give or take a couple hundred depending on the place doing the classification). Within that relatively small range of words lies a huge gamut of what a flash fiction piece can entail. It also forces writers to pay attention to the precision of their language (in a way, I sometimes like to argue, that makes flash fiction even closer to poetry than prose poetry is). But within that small amount of space, is it possible for a writer to convey an entire story arc?
Tom Topol has been collecting passports for 14 years, and runs the website passport-collector.com, a repository of travel documents through the ages. Topol first became fascinated by old passports after a chance encounter with some at a flea market in Kyoto, Japan. “Today our passports are uniform,” he says, “but look at an old passport [from the] 19th century—at that time they were really some kind of art.” He has spent last decade and a half learning everything he can about the politics and geography of historical passports, as well as digging into the stories of individual booklets and their bearers.
In the abstract, John and Thomas are similar: They both succumbed to short-term temptations, and both didn’t keep their long-term goals. But while Thomas attributed that outcome to problems with willpower, John came to reframe his behavior from a perspective that sidestepped the concept of willpower altogether. Both John and Thomas would resolve their issues, but in very different ways.
Most people feel more comfortable with Thomas’ narrative. They would agree with his self-diagnosis (that he lacked willpower), and might even call it clear-eyed and courageous. Many people might also suspect that John’s reframing of his problem was an act of self-deception, serving to hide a real problem. But Thomas’ approach deserves just as much skepticism as John’s. It’s entirely possible that Thomas was seduced by the near-mystical status that modern culture has assigned to the idea of willpower itself—an idea that, ultimately, was working against him.
Today, we have a lot more than words to take us places; there’s Instagram, YouTube, Google Earth, for starters. But while virtual travel may diminish the field of travel writers it won’t—or shouldn’t—cut into the number of travelers. There is still no substitute for being there.
No technology can replace the visceral experience of arriving in a new place, the moment when you step out of an airport, or off a ship, and subject yourself—body, mind and heart—to a strange land. You’re attuned to everything: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the textures, very soon the tastes. I always tell travel writing students to use these early hours to explore, because one’s surroundings—the colorful drinks, the melodic sirens, the sweet-and-foul smells—will not be as clear or as sharp in a few days. At the start, everything stands out as if in high definition, especially, strangely, if you’re groggy from jet lag.
Yet into this bleak picture drops a book and an author bristling with hope, optimism and answers. Rutger Bregman is a 28-year-old Dutchman whose book, Utopia for Realists, has taken Holland by storm and could yet revitalise progressive thought around the globe. His solutions are quite simple and staunchly set against current trends: we should institute a universal basic income for everyone that covers minimum living expenses – say around £12,000 a year; the working week should be shortened to 15 hours; borders should be opened and migrants allowed to move wherever they choose.
Harrowing memoirs are a bit like harrowing films. As long as they’re done beautifully, they feel life-changing. Still, it can be hard to recommend such things. I admire Manchester By the Sea more than any film I’ve seen in years but I’d still hesitate to “recommend” it to someone I didn’t know well. Both The Wild Other by Clover Stroud and Traveling With Ghosts by Shannon Leone Fowler fall into this category: gloriously rendered, beautifully written, but utterly devastating. Both are admirable. But neither are for the faint-hearted.
Alter teaches marketing and psychology at New York University and wants to show us how smartphones, Netflix, and online games such as World of Warcraft are exquisitely and expensively engineered to hook us in. “As a kid I was terrified of drugs,” he writes. “I had a recurring nightmare that someone would force me to take heroin and that I’d become addicted.” It’s unsurprising he’s become a psychologist of addiction, and his intoxicant of choice is the internet. In a chapter subtitled “Never Get High on Your Own Supply” he makes the observation that neither Steve Jobs of Apple nor Evan Williams of Twitter have allowed their children to play with touch screens.
The linguist Dwight Bolinger once said, “Words are not things, but activities.”6 That point of view doesn’t really invalidate the dictionary’s emphasis on origins, but does denaturalize it, with consequences that are hard to foresee. The one thing we know is that the OED and other dictionaries will be very different kinds of things 40 years from now, and Simpson can take some of the credit for that change.
It is a rare gift to come across a book as tender, affecting and complete as “Pretending Is Lying.” Dominique Goblet, a Belgian painter and sculptor, began working on her graphic memoir in 1995, completing it 12 years later. Jean-Christophe Menu, her editor at the influential French comics press L’Association, which first published Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” writes in the introduction that the initial pages she showed him “were as impressive as they were pungent. . . . This book smells of oil, grease pencil, humid wood.”
I should have taken that injured bird somewhere safe and warm to die. Instead I took it to a cypress tree a few feet away and set it on a small limb deep in the greenery. Its feet worked spastically for purchase but finally caught hold. It was clinging to the branch when I left it to go back inside. By the time I checked 15 minutes later, it had tumbled into the soft ground cover under the cypress. One wing was spread out like a taxidermist’s display, those waxy red tips stretched as far apart as fingers in a reaching hand. I didn’t need to pick it up to know it was dead. I knew it was dead, but I hadn’t known it was dying.
If the story of Dugas as Patient Zero was scientifically inaccurate, the mere invention of a journalist in search of a literary prop, then why did it persist for so long? What makes the idea of a primary case so compelling, and what does our fascination with it reveal about our need for narratives to make sense of what seems beyond our grasp?
Based on earnings reports and market research, Taco Bell’s dollar value menu — which it calls Dollar Cravings — is a runaway success, particularly as compared to value and dollar menus among the top national fast-food chains. This year, Taco Bell announced plans to add more options to its existing dollar menu, and as of last fall, introduced a dollar menu just for breakfast.
Taco Bell’s dollar menus can be traced back to America’s most famous burger chain: McDonald’s. The Golden Arches wasn’t the first chain to introduce a value menu at all of its locations, but it did pave the way with limited-time offers and the country’s first real “value meal” targeted at children.
The discounts help get customers in the door, but as Andrew F. Smith writes in Fast Food: The Good, the Bad and the Hungry, there’s a dark side to a good deal. “Research has shown that bundled meals encourage customers to purchase more than they might if they just selected individual items,” Smith writes, and this imperative to overbuy has impacted consumers’ wallets and waistlines for decades. Here’s how Taco Bell and McDonald’s have played off each other’s dollar-menu success over the years.
At this point in my career, I’m not as interested in setting stories in Louisiana as I am in following what guides me and making that impetus interesting for readers. Writing teachers tell their students to write what they know, and that’s good advice. But that doesn’t suggest that a writer has to wallow exclusively in the local culture or their childhood.
My parents liked to read, cook and eat, quite liked their brood and made efforts to have us all at the table every day. In the kitchen, a small pile of cookery books (pulled from laden shelves), with a pad and a pencil for notes, awaited my mother’s interest.
To this day this is how I love to read a book: at home, surrounded by piles of this, that and the other. I sometimes find my finger, as my mother’s did, tap-tap-tapping at a recipe on a page.
Sleeper trains occupy a romantic corner of any traveller’s soul. One of Hercule Poirot’s most gripping adventures takes place on the Simplon Orient Express, which used to run from Paris to Istanbul. A famous scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” features a night train entering a tunnel. James Bond, meanwhile, detects a spy on a sleeper train after noticing him behave suspiciously in the dining car (“Red wine with fish!” Bond mutters).
GiveDirectly wants to show the world that a basic income is a cheap, scalable way to aid the poorest people on the planet. “We have the resources to eliminate extreme poverty this year,” Michael Faye, a founder of GiveDirectly, told me. But these resources are often misallocated or wasted. His nonprofit wants to upend incumbent charities, offering major donors a platform to push money to the world’s neediest immediately and practically without cost.
What happens in this village has the potential to transform foreign-aid institutions, but its effects might also be felt closer to home. A growing crowd, including many of GiveDirectly’s backers in Silicon Valley, are looking at this pilot project not just as a means of charity but also as the groundwork for an argument that a universal basic income might be right for you, me and everyone else around the world too.
Think of food companies’ plight this way: The finest scientists in industry have spent decades trying to find or invent a no-calorie sweetener that tastes and feels as good as the stuff extracted from pure cane. And now, after they largely failed to master that complex, arduous task, the level of difficulty is being raised even higher: This improbable concoction cannot appear to have been engineered by scientists.
“When I’m on the forum,” Ebert said about his early days on CompuServe, to an interviewer from Wired, “I get instant chat messages that say, ‘Is this really Roger Ebert?’ If I answer ‘Yes,’ they write back, ‘No, it’s not.’ If I answer ‘No,’ they write back, ‘Yes, it is.’ If I write, ‘The answer to that question cannot logically be settled via computer,’ they write back, ‘Gee, I was just trying to be friendly.’”
Almost all of the filmmakers and critics I asked about Roger Ebert mentioned his early curiosity about technology, his openness to ways of transmitting a love of the movies. A few suggested that the anonymity Wikipedia offered may have been attractive to him later in his career. Ebert “didn’t only write to be visible and influential. He wrote because he enjoyed it and because it made him less lonely,” A.O. Scott told me. “And Wikipedia, I’m guessing, offered a chance to write about whatever he felt like. No one could say, ‘Who cares what Roger Ebert thinks about that?’”
“What came first,” in the immortal words of Nick Hornby, “the music or the misery?” During one of the most highly anticipated panels at the biggest academic conference of the year in my field, I’m sitting on the floor with a bunch of other eager dopes who didn’t show up in time to snag a seat. Everyone’s still in high spirits, though. One of the hottest names in “theory” today is running the panel and all the papers sound fascinating, in an obsessive hobbyist sort of way—it all promises to be a thunderous nerdgasm.
Then, halfway through the panel, it hits me: this is awful. The redeeming insights are just so few and far between, stranded between deserts of lame, forced conference humor and straightforward, even banal points dressed up in comically unnecessary jargon. And everyone in the audience keeps nodding. I’m annoyed first, then just overwhelmingly sad. Being overwhelmingly sad is, to be fair, a regular part of being an academic, and oftentimes it can feel like there’s just something about the profession that attracts overwhelmingly sad people. But, for the first time, I start to wonder if it’s not just me. In my head, all I can hear is Hornby by way of John Cusack . . . Did I join academia because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I joined academia?
How I loved the train uptown. My feeling as the 6 pulled into the station was like that of the toddler who spots an ice-cream truck rounding the corner, only my treat of choice was sleep. To school I took the express, for time was of the essence, but from school I took the local, for time no longer mattered, and I wanted merely to sit and doze. My naps were efficient, a city dweller’s naps; they unfurled with near-mechanical precision. As the train left each station, I slipped out of consciousness. As it slowed upon arrival at the next, I re-entered the waking world. Among the shoppers who boarded at Canal, the students at Hunter, the doctors at Lenox Hill, I slept. Each time I woke, I became half-aware of the industry of the world — and then I slept again.
Subway slumber was one of my few acts of rebellion in those days. I was a sweet kid, with a ready smile, a ravenous appetite for good grades and an oddly long to-do list. I had fun only on the rare occasions when my homework happened to be fun. But flying beneath the city streets, jostled by the Discman-toting masses, I retreated into myself and refused to do anything at all.
Ebert’s reviews were deeply subjective, but his position as America’s most famous film critic means he represented something bigger than himself. His perspective was that of an educated, middle-class, white, liberal American male, and his zero-star reviews are a reflection of what the average educated, middle-class, white, liberal American male was willing to accept at any given moment. Ebert’s forty-six-year body of work reads like an intellectual autobiography. There are few writers who I’ve spent more time reading than Roger Ebert. There are few culture writers who inspired more people to follow in his footsteps. I’m surprised by how seldom I’ve revisited him since his death.
"Most pizzas are cooked over here, on the right side, far from the fire," Tamaki explained to me in Japanese, drawing an overhead picture of the oven, a three-quarters circle, flat at the bottom, the wood burning off to the left, a line down the middle. "That's the safest place. But I put the marinara in the center, close to the flames. When other pizza guys see this they can't believe I'd take this risk," he said. "There is no room for mistake in the center. Timing has to be perfect. And then at the last moment I throw in a handful of sugi chips" — Japanese cedar — "flaring up the fire, glazing the dough, giving it just the slightest hint of bitterness from the wood. That bitterness deepens all the other flavors and amplifies the umami."
Tamaki makes a style of Neapolitan pizza that's not quite NYC, not quite Naples; it's something all his own, and something worthy in and of itself of a visit to Tokyo. Over the last 20-odd years, new kinds of Neapolitan-style pizza have taken shape and matured in Tokyo. The style derives from the classic Neapolitan — a thin-but-not-too-thin crust, lush San Marzano tomatoes, and careful attention to the fundamentals of fine-grained doppio zero flour, olive oil, and water — but in the same way that New York's Neapolitan is often called neo-Neapolitan (because the center is usually less soupy, the toppings sometimes more baroque, and the old New York ovens fired by coal, not wood), the pies coming out of the ovens of Tamaki and his brethren can only be called Tokyo Neapolitan. A perfect Tokyo Neapolitan pizza is defined by locally sourced wood burned in a locally sourced oven, an extra punch of salt, and a delicateness of dough that extends to the tip of the fire-seared crust.
Cumming’s images undermine the idea that a photograph, upon first glance, is as reliable as anything that reaches the unique receptors leading to our sensorium—eyes, nose, ears, mouth, skin, the liminal areas between the world around us and the world of cognition. He explores the moment of seeing, and delivers us wildly imagined permutations of the moment that follows: when perception is either uncontrollably, automatically processed or mistakenly processed based on remembered experience. But always with a robust and fathomless imagination.
The act of translation is not just a case of switching words from one language to another: it requires countless extralinguistic tweaks and alterations to account for differences in the target culture. And there is more to the adaptation of a short story to film than simply producing a visual rendition of what is written on the page.
We wanted to disappear. Back then, disappearing was simple. There was one telephone in the lobby of the hotel, which couldn’t make international calls. There were no cell phones. There was no internet, no social media—no way to “check in.”
To keep in touch while traveling, we exchanged addresses of the places we anticipated we’d end up and made plans to meet at specific monuments or bars or stations at specific times. If we didn’t have maps (and we never did because they were an unnecessary expense) we got lost until we knew where we were. Athens was a sprawling, radiant, dangerous city. Learning to navigate it was one of the last acts of my adolescence.
Satire plays an important role in a healthy democracy and a vital role in an endangered one. It’s timely, then, to have “Jonathan Swift: The Reluctant Rebel,” John Stubbs’s new biography of the finest satirist in the English language. That the name of the author of “Gulliver’s Travels” persists in popular vernacular — with “Swiftian” defining caustic and accomplished wit — speaks to his lasting influence. But if Swift’s satire deserves contemporary study, so does the man himself, a figure of contradiction and intellectual courage, unafraid to savage Enlightenment England and Ireland’s greatest powers.
I was the species of moody adolescent who drove people away from me when that was the last thing I wanted, so I spent a lot of time alone. I had private enthusiasms. I liked to be in the woods by myself, I liked to sleep, I liked to swim underwater, and I liked to sit in my room and listen to music, usually repetitively, while looking at the record’s cover. The first record I did this with was the Kingston Trio’s “At Large,” which belonged to one of my older brothers. I played it often enough that I was able finally to establish who among the three men on the cover was Dave Guard, who was Bob Shane, and who was Nick Reynolds; also, who had the husky voice, who had the tenor, and who had the slightly stiff delivery.
The female-friendly (or -unfriendly) version of the garment made its appearance in the 1939 World’s Fair. It wasn’t just a novelty item, as most of the gadgets at the World’s Fair would have been. It was a requirement. The mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia, ordered nude dancers at the fair to cover their “private parts.” Burlesque dancers at the time were savvy enough to realize that too much coverage would be a disservice to their profession. By creating a G-string, they were able to continue flaunting their butt cheeks while also technically obeying Mayor La Guardia’s dictate. The new garment was a far cry from the bloomers — which resembled boxers — that most women wore on a daily basis.
The park service issued reassurances that mountain lions (also called cougars or pumas) are basically shy creatures. To keep an eye on things, they sedated the animal, put a monitoring collar on him, and named him P-22 (P for Puma, 22 to indicate the number of urban mountain lions being tracked at the time), and released him back into the park.
During this time, I lived in New York City, unaware of P-22 and his Hollywood haunting.
Four years later, I decided I'd have to hunt and kill him.
The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer. Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?
It’s no longer controversial to give other authors a share in Shakespeare’s plays—not because he was a front for an aristocrat, as conspiracy theorists since the Victorian era have proposed, but because scholars have come to recognize that writing a play in the sixteenth century was a bit like writing a screenplay today, with many hands revising a company’s product. The New Oxford Shakespeare claims that its algorithms can tease out the work of individual hands—a possibility, although there are reasons to challenge its computational methods. But there is a deeper argument made by the edition that is both less definitive and more interesting. It’s not just that Shakespeare collaborated with other playwrights, and it’s not just that Shakespeare was one of a number of great Renaissance writers whose fame he outstripped in the ensuing centuries. It’s that the canonization of Shakespeare has made his way of telling stories—especially his monarch-centered view of history—seem like the norm to us, when there are other ways of telling stories, and other ways of staging history, that other playwrights did better. If Shakespeare worshippers have told one story in order to discredit his contemporary rivals, the New Oxford is telling a story that aims to give the credit back.
If authors can be seasonal, then Scottish writer Ali Smith is, to my mind, a summer novelist. Her fiction, even when it depicts upsetting events, has an Arcadian atmosphere reminiscent of As You Like It, as if her characters were wandering through a green glade on a sunny day. These people shine brighter and are also a bit more straightforward than the people you meet in the course of real life; psychological complexity is not a hallmark of Smith’s work, but its buoyancy and charm more than make up for that.
In Mastai’s instantly engaging debut novel, the world as we know it (or knew it in 2016) is the dystopian future that never happened. Tom Barren’s world (or as he puts it, “where I come from”) is more like The Jetsons: “Flying cars, robot maids, food pills, teleportation, jet packs, moving sidewalks, ray guns, hover boards, space vacations and moon bases.”
You know that future everyone fantasized about in the 1950s? It all happened, says Tom. Until, that is, he kind of undid it. And he undid it, at least in part, for love. He also undid it out of resentment — a very messy way of lashing out at his imperious, “super-genius scientist” father who invented the time-travel machine that propels Tom and the story on a wild ride through the space-time continuum.
This is, instead, a novel to be enjoyed for its visual and impressionistic prose style. Paragraphs are short and resemble prose poetry. August’s memories are fragmented and questioned. What is real? What is imagined? The overall effect is a collage of experiences and reflections that intersect geographically, temporally and sexually.
My Sister’s Bones is an elegant, punchy thriller with a dark heart. The twists and turns aren’t entirely unexpected, but that doesn’t detract from the power of the story-telling.
Furnham studies queueing, but is not immune to its stresses. Last week, his latest research was widely reported as revealing a “rule of six” behind queueing behaviour: people will wait for only six minutes in a queue, and are unlikely to join one with more than six people in it. This simplification has a grain of truth. Six minutes of queueing does make people impatient, but it is not a magic length of time beyond which people stop waiting. For one thing, it depends what they are waiting for. “You won’t wait for six minutes at an ATM machine,” Furnham says, “but you will if you want concert tickets. Six minutes was the sort of average.”
James Webb will be big, and it will have the major advantage of operating beyond the Earth's atmosphere, but astronomers are coming up with some incredible ways to make our telescopes on the ground ever more sensitive.
Two things strike me whenever I teach my undergraduate seminar “Women in American Medicine.” First, my students, many who have medical ambitions of their own, are shocked by the well-documented history of the medical establishment’s discrimination against women, from actively excluding midwives from the bedside in the 19th century to enforcing the criminalization of abortion in the 20th. Second, they are even more surprised that the history of nursing is much more complicated than one might imagine given depictions of nurses in popular culture.
Images of nurses as selfless ministering angels predominated in the 19th and early 20th centuries and were replaced during World War II with representations of sexy pin-up nurses as seen in novels, film, and television. During this period, nursing as a field professionalized and struggled to balance its legacy as gender-stereotyped “women’s work” with a commitment to scientific training, technical competency, and authority at the bedside. In this context, nurses had the opportunity to leverage cultural associations between femininity and caregiving to pursue paid employment. But, as members of a feminized profession, they also had to confront grueling labor demands, chronic undercompensation, and devaluation within medical hierarchies.
Where A Herring Famine excels is in poems that, alongside their craft and guile, wear their heart on their sleeve.
I unhook two fingers down my throat
and here they come back again with their
new and brave ideas.
Yankovic has sold millions of albums, played 1,616 shows and outlasted so many of the stars he once spoofed. [...] “Comedy recording and funny songs go back to the earliest days of the record industry,” says Barry Hansen, better known as Dr. Demento, the radio host who introduced Yankovic to the public 40 years ago. “But Al is unique. There’s nothing like him in the history of funny music.”
Not a lot of research has been done on how our minds perceive and comprehend large orders of magnitude—big differences between the size of, say, a cell and our sun. But one academic outwardly passionate about it is David Landy, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington. Landy has done several studies on how well people understand very large numbers—namely, the millions, billions, and trillions—in relation to each other on a number line.
We pull up to the farmhouse to find a courtly white-haired man trimming the hedge with a set of clippers. “It’s him!” Dad whispers. He rolls down his window and leans out. “Hello, good sir!” The man seems a little nonplused. “I have a car full of young readers here who’d give anything to meet their favorite author. A word from you, and they’ll remember this moment for the rest of their lives.” What choice does the poor man have? Within a few minutes, the famously reclusive E.B. White is demonstrating to a cluster of little girls in bathing suits that when you crush pine needles between your fingers and hold it to your nose, the smell is as strong as patchouli. And Dad is right — we never will forget it.
They offer opportunities for unobtrusive observation, stolen glances and frissons, anticipation and nudging possibilities. And when the sensible realization strikes that a thrilling plan is better left unaccomplished, they might also become sites of abandonment.
On an overcast winter morning, Charles Vigliotti, chief executive of American Organic Energy, drove me to his 62-acre lot in rural Yaphank, N.Y., 60 miles east of Manhattan, to show me his vision of the future of alternative energy. He snaked his company Jeep around tall piles of wood chips, sandy loam and dead leaves. Then, with a sudden turn, we shot up the side of a 30-foot bluff of soil. At the top, we gazed down upon those many piles and breathed in the mildly sulfurous exhalations of a nearby dump. Vigliotti radiated enthusiasm. Within the next several months, he expected to break ground — “right there,” he said, thrusting his index finger toward a two-acre clearing — on a massive $50 million anaerobic digester, a high-tech plant that would transform into clean energy a rich reserve that until recently has gone largely untapped: food waste.
This resource, Vigliotti knew, had a lot going for it. Like oil and coal, kitchen scraps can be converted into energy. But unlike oil and coal, which are expensive to dig out of the ground, food waste is something that cities will actually pay someone to haul away. Many innovative municipalities, in an effort to keep organic material out of dumps — where it generates methane, a greenhouse gas — already separate food from garbage and send it to old-fashioned compost facilities. There, workers pile the waste in linear heaps called windrows, mix it with leaves and grass clippings and let oxygen-dependent microbes transform the gunk into lovely dark fertilizer. But the more material you compost, the more space (and gas-guzzling bulldozers and windrow turners) you need to process it. It can get a little smelly, too, which is yet another reason New York City, which generates about one million tons of organic waste a year, will probably never host giant compost farms.
It’s easy to take these ambitions more seriously than those of the Extropians. It’s harder to know where they will lead us. In To Be a Machine, the Dublin-based writer Mark O’Connell infiltrates groups of transhumanists with the aim of discovering how they think and live.
In sportswriting, there was once a social and professional price to pay for being a noisy liberal. Now, there’s at least a social price to pay for being a conservative. Figuring out how the job changed — how we all became the children of Lester Rodney — is one of the most fascinating questions of our age.
Out, out, brief candle! As life nears its end, thoughts can acquire urgent clarity. This truth is more perceptible among some artists than others; novelists, for example, find endless ways of disguising it. But it is so evident among playwrights, composers, and visual artists that “late style” has become an accepted critical concept. Consider the late plays of Henrik Ibsen, furiously rattling the bars of the bourgeois cage. Discount for a moment a brain-researcher’s recent suggestion that the abstraction of Willem de Kooning’s late paintings reflects the onset of dementia, and consider instead the late works of Vincent van Gogh and Francisco Goya.
I had known my friend Merav for a long time before she told me the story of how she almost drowned one summer and the hand of God had saved her. Or so she was convinced at the time. Later, she'd put the whole thing down to coincidence, dumb luck and extreme circumstances. So you could see it as a miraculous story about divine intervention, with God ready to set aside bigger problems to answer the prayers of a reckless teenager alone and sinking in a turbulent sea off the Mornington Peninsula, or you could see it as a story about what happens to the mind when a body of water threatens to claim you for its own.
I’ve run the numbers, and can confirm that the U.S. Constitution is 77 percent bullshit. Witness the famous preamble: “We the People of the United States.” Not bad. Could be shorter. What’s wrong with “We Americans”? “In Order to form a more perfect Union.” Eight words in and already we’re breeches-deep in b.s. “In order to” is what I like to call a flesh eater — a phrase that eats up space and reduces the impact of your writing. “To” would be better. As for “more perfect” — what were you thinking, guys? The Union is either perfect or it isn’t.
Imagine if surrealist artworks were coming to monstrous life and roaming the streets of occupied Paris during an alternative-history 1950 in which the second world war was still going and the Nazis were desperately trying to raise demons from hell. Actually you don’t need to, because China Miéville has. And this is a writer, his admirers have long known, from whom one should expect anything except the ordinary.
The psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross urged parents who have lost a child to steer clear of Valium. She did not issue the same warning about writing. I do not think that many mental health professionals do; writing is deemed therapeutic. After his eight-year-old Anatole died, the poet Stéphane Mallarmé began work on a poetic tomb (as he called it) for his son, a vault that would encase “the immense void produced by what would be his life—because he does not know it—that he is dead.” Mallarmé never completed this work, but that was not the point: the writing must have provided something, if only deeper immersion within that void.
Relatives sat around with red-rimmed eyes and large glasses of wine, looking dazed. Dad was like a man who had lost something he’d assumed would always be there. They needed to be fed.
This was the first thing, the only thing, that came into my mind. I didn’t have a recipe – Mum hardly ever wrote anything down. I just cooked it. It was almost as if she were there, guiding me. It was perfect – just like hers. We were quiet, all eating, all consumed by memories. Good memories, with a few smiles, because that’s what good food does. It’s evocative and healing. It shows love and kindness. It is life-affirming.
The sign on the fence says, “Caution: A panda may be in this yard.” And as I peer through a glass panel, I see that it is accurate. There is, indeed, a panda in the yard.
Her name is Bao Bao, and on this cold and windy afternoon at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. , she is prostrate and asleep. “She’s like, Yeah I’m being a panda. This is what I do,” says Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director of animal-care sciences.
Next to us is a white metal crate—four feet high, and six feet long. The FedEx logo is emblazoned on the top. On the side, there’s a sticker that reads “Contents: one panda,” and some “This Way Up” arrows. On February 21, Bao Bao will be ushered into this crate for a 16-hour flight to China. It’ll be the only flight she ever takes, and the first time she’ll venture out of the zoo where she was born. She will travel as she has always lived—in the bright gleam of the public eye.
It is this radical disbelief — a disbelief, it appears, even in the power of art — that makes Kitamura’s accomplished novel such a coolly unsettling work.
“Human brains are hard-wired to fill in blanks when they see them,” said Helen R. Friedman, a clinical psychologist in St. Louis. “In difficult times, when life begins to feel out of control or when faced with an emotional dilemma, working on something that has finite answers can provide a sense of security.”
[B]ut the traction of the protests wasn’t just a matter of opportunistically seizing on the choke points in airport layouts. The ways in which airports do work as intended — the way they manage to consistently sustain flow-through for millions of passengers every day, at times facilitating the movement of some at the expense of others — has also played a role.
Saunders’s first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is out this week. Set in a Washington, D.C., graveyard in early 1862, it concerns the agonizing real-life death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son, Willie, and is mostly narrated by ghosts, including Willie’s own. The audiobook version involves 166 voice actors, including such celebrities as Julianne Moore, Ben Stiller, Susan Sarandon, Don Cheadle, and Nick Offerman.
As a plain old book you read yourself, Bardo is profoundly odd, and tough to wrap your head around at first, and often unbearably sad. It’s the best thing he’s ever done. Super doesn’t appear once. The word doesn’t apply much to that period in American history, maybe. Nor does it particularly apply to this one, though Saunders would probably argue the precise opposite.
What stays with you, at the end of “Homesick for Another World,” is less the ugliness than the loneliness and the pervasive sense of disappointment and failure.
In Russia during the Soviet era, government control made the challenge of getting a ballet onto the stage no less onerous than being admitted into the ballet schools of Moscow or Leningrad. The daunting auditions of Soviet legend—teachers scrutinizing preadolescents for the slightest physical imperfection—found an ideological parallel in the required inspections by censorship boards at the Bolshoi and the Mariyinsky–Kirov Theaters. First the subject of a prospective ballet was adjudicated in terms of its fulfillment of the demands for people-mindedness; the music and the dance would be likewise assessed. There would follow a provisional closed-door runthrough to decide if the completed ballet could be presented to the public, after which it would either be scrapped or sent back to the creative workshop for repairs. Dress rehearsals were subsequently assessed by administrators, cognoscenti, politicians, representatives from agricultural and industrial unions, and relatives of the performers. Even then, after all of the technical kinks had been worked out, an ideological defect could lead to the sudden collapse of the entire project.
Bodies as well as plots were changed by politics. The traditional emploi that defined danseurs noble and demi-caractère endured, but emphasis was placed on bigger builds and altogether less softness in the curves. In sculpture, “Soviet man” became like a Greek or Roman demigod, the muscles stronger than steel. So too he became in ballet.
Direct measurements of the magnetic field now span almost two hundred years, and iron-rich volcanic rocks on the ocean floor provide a lower-fidelity chronicle of its erratic behavior—including wholesale reversals in polarity—back about a hundred and fifty million years. But reconstructing the field’s behavior between these two extremes has been difficult. The trick is to find an iron-bearing object that locked in a record of the magnetic field at a well-constrained time in the past, in the way that wine of a given vintage preserves an indirect record of that year’s weather conditions. For this sort of remnant magnetism to form, the object generally must have been heated and then cooled through its Curie temperature—the threshold, named for Pierre, at which iron-oxide particles will align themselves with the ambient magnetic field. At best, however, young volcanic rocks can only be dated to within a few thousand years. Fortunately, natural rocks aren’t the only ones with magnetic memories; archeological materials like fired pottery and even smelting slag may bear similar information.
In his timely new book, “A World in Disarray,” Richard Haass — president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the senior Middle East adviser to President George H. W. Bush — takes a calm, reasoned look at the world today and America’s foreign policy, but comes to the unsettling conclusion that the global trend is “one of declining order.” Haass writes that “the 21st century will prove extremely difficult to manage, representing as it does a departure from almost four centuries of history — what is normally thought of as the modern era — that came before it.”
Schutt does not shy away from the ambiguities in the existing evidence, nor does he linger unnecessarily on those stories that have little substance: he does not need to, for there is plenty to intrigue and entertain here.
Kaze no Oto, in a suburb of Yokohama, is one of a few restaurants in Japan catering to an aging population with meals for those who have difficulty chewing or swallowing. In the way that restaurants have long offered children’s menus, some are now offering special senior meals, too.
With its expanding efforts to accommodate the growing population of the elderly, Japan offers a foretaste of the kinds of societal changes that are beginning to shake a number of wealthy places with rapidly aging populations, including many countries in Western Europe as well as South Korea and Hong Kong.
The main goal isn’t simply to maximize revenue from advertising—the strategy that keeps the lights on and the content free at upstarts like the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and Vox. It’s to transform the Times’ digital subscriptions into the main engine of a billion-dollar business, one that could pay to put reporters on the ground in 174 countries even if (OK, when) the printing presses stop forever. To hit that mark, the Times is embarking on an ambitious plan inspired by the strategies of Netflix, Spotify, and HBO: invest heavily in a core offering (which, for the Times, is journalism) while continuously adding new online services and features (from personalized fitness advice and interactive newsbots to virtual reality films) so that a subscription becomes indispensable to the lives of its existing subscribers and more attractive to future ones. “We think that there are many, many, many, many people—millions of people all around the world—who want what The New York Times offers,” says Dean Baquet, the Times’ executive editor. “And we believe that if we get those people, they will pay, and they will pay greatly.”
There is an argument that human progress has been fuelled primarily by hardship, that necessity is the mother of invention. In these seductively erudite 300 pages, Steven Johnson makes the contrarian case for a more glass-half-full theory of ingenuity. He argues, mostly persuasively, that the major advances in technology and culture have been more often the result of our craving for distraction and for delight rather than for survival. That all work and no play does indeed make Jack a dull boy.
The halls of Valhalla have been crying out for Neil Gaiman to tell their stories to a new audience. Hopefully this collection will be just the beginning.
My father was a pilot. He flew airplanes for nearly his entire life, although ironically, he hated traveling. When he was home with us, he complained that my two brothers and I drove him crazy, that our mother was “too much to handle.” When he was away, he called every night to tell us he missed us. It was only that in between phase, the limbo of flight—the going—where he was at peace.
I still don’t know who exactly was responsible for coming up with the rocket idea. It felt preordained. I tried attributing credit to my middle brother, Chase, who spoke often of his memories building and launching Estes model rockets with our father. But Chase was under the impression the idea had been mine. All I know is at some point during the memorial planning, Chase went online and ordered a rocket. When it arrived he sanded, glued and painted it and made sure the plastic payload compartment was secure enough to carry its crucial cargo: my father’s ashes.
Throughout history, comedy has proven to be one of the most effective forms of resistance, especially for those under tyrannical rule; comedians can claim they were just kidding, after all, or subtly mock a leader without naming him or her. It’s such an important release valve for any society that even some medieval monarchies made room for the masses to laugh at their leaders during the annual Feast of Fools, in which masters served slaves and peasants played at leadership positions, led by an appointed Lord of Misrule as king.
The right to laugh at leaders has been taken for granted in longstanding democracies such as the US and the UK, but the election of Donald Trump as the United States’ new president appears to have renewed interest not just in speaking truth to power but poking fun at it too.
Menaced by deadlines, journalists live from day to day: the tempo of the trade is existentially doomy. Even so, AA Gill surely shocked the readers of the Sunday Times last November when, at the start of his restaurant column, he abruptly and unpalatably announced: “I’ve got cancer.”
The disease was eating him alive, which prompted Gill to describe it in gustatory terms. “I’ve got the full English,” he explained, treating his “meaty malignancy” as a fat boy’s fry-up; not for him the surreal aestheticism of Christopher Hitchens, who marvelled at the “deformed beauty” of the tumours that were killing him. Then, with a humorous stoicism that seemed entirely unaffected, Gill reported on an “absurdly happy” meal of fish’n’chips he had just enjoyed in Whitby. Three weeks later, after a final essay that forgave the NHS for its inability to cure him, he was dead.
Pachinko is an unfair game — a gambler’s pinball with strong house odds — one that lends itself rather easily to metaphors about life. “There could only be a few winners and a lot of losers,” one character reflects. “And yet, we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones.”
Take another look, however, and something else stands out. Blade Runner may be Los Angeles’s “official nightmare,” as Mike Davis has claimed, but this city of 2019 is heterogeneous, disordered, and active. Taffey’s Snake Pit, the bar visited by bounty hunter Rick Deckard, is dark and dangerous, but also intriguing. Women sport retro fashions, pipes are puffed and joints smoked, and masked dancers sway to techno-beat music. The bustling streets teem with vitality, the Asian faces suggesting its attractions for entrepreneurial immigrants. Norman Klein reports that many Los Angeles residents found the scene where Deckard grabs lunch at an outdoor market to be appealing rather than off-putting, and the entire pulsating mishmash of food carts, sushi bars, and discount retailers that line Blade Runner’s streets match one of the standard 21st-century prescriptions for vitalizing bland American cities.
The idea of the city as an information-processing machine has in recent years manifested as a cultural obsession with urban sites of data storage and transmission. Scholars, artists, and designers write books, conduct walking tours, and make maps of internet infrastructures. We take pleasure in pointing at nondescript buildings that hold thousands of whirring servers, at surveillance cameras, camouflaged antennae, and hovering drones. We declare: “the city’s computation happens here.”
Yet such work runs the risk of reifying and essentializing information, even depoliticizing it. When we treat data as a “given” (which is, in fact, the etymology of the word), we see it in the abstract, as an urban fixture like traffic or crowds. We need to shift our gaze and look at data in context, at the lifecycle of urban information, distributed within a varied ecology of urban sites and subjects who interact with it in multiple ways. We need to see data’s human, institutional, and technological creators, its curators, its preservers, its owners and brokers, its “users,” its hackers and critics. As Mumford understood, there is more than information processing going on here. Urban information is made, commodified, accessed, secreted, politicized, and operationalized.
Why do we need time travel, when we already travel through space so far and fast? For history. For mystery. For nostalgia. For hope. To examine our potential and explore our memories. To counter regret for the life we lived, the only life, one dimension, beginning to end.
But what really makes this novel stand out is not the Black Mirror-style black comedy but the tenderly devastating portrait of mental illness. Smart, funny, brilliant Genevieve has bipolar disorder, and the burden of living with the illness, for her and for the besotted, anxious Karl, is slowly revealed throughout the book. The atmospheric prickles in the air as a heightened mood blows in; Karl’s rising fear as her voice gets faster and her fidgeting increases; the deadness in her eyes when depression hits.
When my son was almost 4 months old, I was walking down the street with him strapped to my chest. He was big—nineteen pounds—and alert. I was walking slowly, in loping, elephantine strides, trying to take as long as possible, and to walk as securely as possible. It had taken me a long time to get this confident—if that’s what you could call it—walking with him, but the thread of fear still lived in me. I was still anxious. Then, all of a sudden, I couldn’t tell if I was real or not. That was how rapidly it happened, and this is what it was like. One moment, walking. The next—am I real?
But there was a problem with this made-for-TV narrative—several, actually. Shortly after Oliver left, a study by the West Virginia University Health Research Center reported that 77 percent of students were “very unhappy” with his food. Students who relied on school meals for nearly half of their daily calories routinely dumped their trays in the trash. Some did it because they hated the taste; others because it became the cool thing to do. And while Oliver’s meals used fresh, high-quality ingredients, many turned out to be too high in fat to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards. Within a year, McCoy said, the number of students eating school lunch fell 10 percent, forcing her to cut her budget and lay off several cooks.
In almost every respect, it would have been easier for McCoy to drop this grand experiment in school-lunch reform that had been foisted on her. Her employees were overworked, and the fresh food was more expensive, even after McCoy abandoned the free-range chicken and organic vegetables that Oliver had insisted on (and that school officials say ABC Productions had paid for). There’s only so much you can do when you have $1.50 to spend on ingredients for each meal. But over the next few years, McCoy accomplished exactly what Oliver had set out to do himself: She saved school lunch in Huntington and proved that cafeteria food isn’t destined to be a national joke.
As proverbs go, “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush” seems particularly apt in Baltimore. It’s cautionary, but it’s underpinned by a notion of gratitude, and in a city that so mightily and publicly struggles with violence and poverty, there’s practically an ethical imperative to be grateful for what you’ve got. Yet, for all of the city’s well-known economic and social woes, in the two years I’ve lived here, I’ve noticed that many Baltimoreans love Baltimore in a way that, say, you’re average DC resident doesn’t love DC (particularly since the inauguration).
I won’t speculate as to why others enjoy living here (especially since this is well-worn ground: the city’s been written about and celebrated by people with far more Baltimore credibility than I’ve got), but for me, Baltimore’s appeal has everything to do with its affect and atmosphere. Put simply: Baltimore and Baltimoreans are generally unpretentious and they’re also pretty damned interesting, which are two adjectives I’d also use to describe Bird in Hand, the city’s new café and bookstore.
n the autumn of 2011, as the world’s financial system lurched from crash to crisis, the authors of this book began, as undergraduates, to study economics. While their lectures took place at the University of Manchester the eurozone was in flames. The students’ first term would last longer than the Greek government. Banks across the west were still on life support. And David Cameron was imposing on Britons year on year of swingeing spending cuts.
Yet the bushfires those teenagers saw raging each night on the news got barely a mention in the seminars they sat through, they say: the biggest economic catastrophe of our times “wasn’t mentioned in our lectures and what we were learning didn’t seem to have any relevance to understanding it”, they write in The Econocracy. “We were memorising and regurgitating abstract economic models for multiple-choice exams.”
Although the study of time has yielded few firm conclusions, one lesson is poignantly certain: most people complain that time seems to speed up as they get older, in part because they feel more pressed for it. “Time”, writes Mr Burdick, “matters precisely because it ends.”
Maybe because I’m older and many of my friends are raising strong and spirited daughters themselves, and maybe because of refugees still hoping to flee from war and disaster—but with far fewer choices than the women of The Joy Luck Club—I am slowly coming around to Team Chinese Mom. I understand now the need to invest your daughter with every wise word and cautionary tale to lead her to a successful and happy life. But as Lindo Jong says near the end of the book, it’s a difficult task to graft the old ways onto “American circumstances.”
Most of the series is gorgeous and disappointing. In each episode we’re introduced to a different type of habitat—islands, jungles, deserts—and shown how the various living things have adapted themselves to it in tiny six-minute vignettes, as if biological life were made up of little stories. But the final episode, showing animals in the city, is spectacular. The natural world is no longer out there, in the eternal wilderness, divided from our own lives by an absolute ontological barrier, and interacting with humanity only insofar as we destroy it. Instead it’s rising up from underneath with a mocking challenge to the world we think we’ve built.
Explorers have long filled in our understanding of the world, using and then discarding the sexton, the compass, MapQuest. “The project of mapping the Earth properly is to some extent complete,” Hessler says. But while there are no longer dragons fleshing out far-flung places, a surprising number of spaces are still uncharted—and the locations we’ve discovered to explore have only expanded. “Where we were just trying to accurately map terrestrial space,” Hessler says, we’ve moved into a “metaphor for how we live. We’re mapping things that don’t have a physical existence, like internet data and the neural connections in our heads.”
From mapping the dark between stars to the patterns of disease outbreaks, who is making maps today, and what they’re used for, says a lot about the modern world. “Now anything can be mapped,” says Hessler. “It’s the Wild West. We are in the great age of cartography, and we’re still just finding out what its powers are.”
Sacks made it his life’s work to convey what it was like to inhabit exceptional, radically different kinds of minds, whether it was that of a surgeon with Tourette’s syndrome (one of the case studies in “An Anthropologist on Mars”) or that of the music teacher who was the title case study in “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” Yet it wasn’t until the publication of his 2015 autobiography, “On the Move,” that Sacks wrote freely about himself. Only then did he reveal that he’d fallen in love with Hayes, a writer 30 years his junior, after three and a half decades of celibacy.
Hayes has now written a memoir of his own, “Insomniac City.” It’s a loving tribute to Sacks and to New York. He provides tender insights into living with both. But Sacks was by far the more eccentric of his two loves.
“The Pedersen Kid” is a wild, wacky horror story about snow that deserves to be rediscovered, appreciated — and, instead of Joyce — tweeted, as the snow falls upon all the living and the dead.
Price was the first person ever to be diagnosed with what is now known as highly superior autobiographical memory, or HSAM, a condition she shares with around 60 other known people. She can remember most of the days of her life as clearly as the rest of us remember the recent past, with a mixture of broad strokes and sharp detail. Now 51, Price remembers the day of the week for every date since 1980; she remembers what she was doing, who she was with, where she was on each of these days. She can actively recall a memory of 20 years ago as easily as a memory of two days ago, but her memories are also triggered involuntarily.
It is, she says, like living with a split screen: on the left side is the present, on the right is a constantly rolling reel of memories, each one sparked by the appearance of present-day stimuli. With so many memories always at the ready, Price says, it can be maddening: virtually anything she sees or hears can be a potential trigger.
The way we assess our lives and the ways we go about finding a cure are in lockstep; the form of the question holds its own answer. While the truth in religion for believers is the word of god, the truth of traditional self-help is locating and then satisfying the desires of the self. Despite its credentials, the new wave of scientific popular psychology is playing the same tune on a different instrument: the power of thought, the importance of organisation, and the reliability of the messenger remain the core messages. The truth now comes in details and data; god has been replaced by the physical universe that science can poke and prod, and the self is now ‘human nature’ to which we are all ineluctably bound. Maybe it is not self-help but rather our hopes of accurate self-assessment that are built around a core of magical thinking: that the will is stronger than the flesh.
I discovered I couldn’t dance when I was ten years old. My parents had signed me up for a ballet course in Toronto with a dour, shriveled Romanian teacher, chosen no doubt because of our shared totalitarian traumas. In her class I felt uncoordinated, impossibly gawky. My clearest memory is of trying to accomplish a gentle downward sweep of the hand. My teacher performed the movement. As I attempted to imitate her, she said, over and over, “but do it gracefully!” I could not figure out how to do it gracefully. I could not even see the difference between her gesture and mine. I came to the logical conclusion: I was terminally ungraceful. In fact, I couldn’t dance at all.
I quit ballet. I did have to dance again when I took part in the yearly audition held by a local school for the arts. I was terrible at acting and drawing too, but the dance test was my Waterloo. A teacher demonstrated a complicated choreography at the front of the room while we waited patiently in rows. Then he gave us a cue, and as if by magic, all of the other children repeated the combination perfectly. I, on the other hand, was a mess of arms and legs and confused desperation. I managed with twisted precision to be always facing in the opposite direction from the other kids, stumbling into them dangerously.
The problem with depression—the thing that makes it so hard to describe, and gives its sufferers a bad conscience—is its resemblance to unhappiness. Unhappiness is part of every life, and most people learn how to cope with it: by changing the conditions that cause it, or by distracting themselves, or by actively repressing it. A person who can’t deal with being unhappy is seen as a moral failure—childish, selfish, “difficult.” It is all too easy to apply the same judgment to a depressed person, as if depression just meant luxuriating in unhappiness. David Foster Wallace wrote a brilliant story, “The Depressed Person,” in which a woman worries that by describing her suffering she will only disgust her friends and even her therapist—a worry which itself feeds into her suffering.
But depression is actually the opposite of unhappiness, because it is precisely not “a part of life.” When you are unhappy, life is pressing you, hurting you, and you are forced to respond to it. An unhappy life is a problem, and to be absorbed in a problem is to be absorbed in existence. When you are depressed, on the other hand, there is no problem, because there is nothing to be solved. Existence itself seems to retreat, to leave you stranded, without purchase on things, people, yourself.
The novel centers on a small, independent video store in the town of Nevada, Iowa, in the late 1990s whose tapes start coming back with mysterious and sometimes terrifying clips spliced in the middle. What appears to be a chilling horror tale is also a perfectly rendered story about family and loss.
As a push for diversity in fiction reshapes the publishing landscape, the emergence of sensitivity readers seems almost inevitable. A flowering sense of social conscience, not to mention a strong market incentive, is elevating stories that richly reflect the variety of human experience. America—specifically young America—is currently more diverse than ever. As writers attempt to reflect these realities in their fiction, they often must step outside of their intimate knowledge. And in a cultural climate newly attuned to the complexities of representation, many authors face anxiety at the prospect of backlash, especially when social media leaves both book sales and literary reputations more vulnerable than ever to criticism. Enter the sensitivity reader: one more line of defense against writers’ tone-deaf, unthinking mistakes.
The idea of the body as analogous to a machine, complete with bugs to be fixed by means of gene modification tools such as Crispr-Cas9, conflicts with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution: machines and computers do not evolve, but organisms do. Evolution matters here because bits of code that compromise one function often enhance a second function, or can be repurposed for a new function when the environment shifts. In evolution, everything is grasping for its purpose. Parts that break down can become the next best thing.
Jacobs’s unconventional politics grew out of her temperament. She was allergic to dogma; she followed not an ideology but a methodology. She did not assume, or imagine, or take things on faith; she observed. But she didn’t stop there: She accumulated observations and distilled them into general principles. For her, empiricism and theory were not opposites but complements.
Saunders’s novel is at its most potent and compelling when it is focused on Lincoln: a grave, deeply compassionate figure, burdened by both personal grief and the weight of the war, and captured here in the full depth of his humanity. In fact, it is Saunders’s beautifully realized portrait of Lincoln — caught at this hinge moment in time, in his own personal bardo, as it were — that powers this book over its more static sections and attests to the author’s own fruitful transition from the short story to the long-distance form of the novel.
Now comes Saunders’ long-awaited first novel, just at the moment when his capacity to hold onto that slender thread of humanity running through the direst social circumstances seems most needed. And it is … a historical novel. About grief. And Abraham Lincoln. It’s not that Lincoln in the Bardo isn’t worthwhile. It has many moments of power, and even passages of the sort of lushly sensual prose that hasn’t previously been a Saunders specialty. It definitely marks an advance into new formal territory. It’s just that the timing on this thing is really, really bad. A George Saunders novel seems like just what we need right now, but chances are Lincoln in the Bardo is not the George Saunders novel you’re looking for.
When the President of the United States travels outside the country, he brings his own car with him. Moments after Air Force One landed at the Hanoi airport last May, President Barack Obama ducked into an eighteen-foot, armor-plated limousine—a bomb shelter masquerading as a Cadillac—that was equipped with a secure link to the Pentagon and with emergency supplies of blood, and was known as the Beast. Hanoi’s broad avenues are crowded with honking cars, storefront venders, street peddlers, and some five million scooters and motorbikes, which rush in and out of the intersections like floodwaters. It was Obama’s first trip to Vietnam, but he encountered this pageant mostly through a five-inch pane of bulletproof glass. He might as well have watched it on TV.
Obama was scheduled to meet with President Trần Đại Quang, and with the new head of Vietnam’s national assembly. On his second night in Hanoi, however, he kept an unusual appointment: dinner with Anthony Bourdain, the peripatetic chef turned writer who hosts the Emmy-winning travel show “Parts Unknown,” on CNN.
You might have learned in school that there are three phases of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. That is a useful simplification for young students, but there are in fact many, many more. In the past century or so, we’ve discovered that there are hundreds of distinct solid phases—some of which are used to build the silicon chips that run your computer. In addition, there are dozens of liquid crystal phases—some of which create the images on your laptop screen. And that’s before we even get to the really exotic stuff: quantum phases like superfluids, quark-gluon plasma, Bose-Einstein condensates, and the so-called “topological phases.”
But before we get to that, let’s step back and discuss what we mean by the word “phase.”
It’s a recurring theme in “The Refugees” that the traumatized individual must make his way slowly, word by word. Nguyen’s narrative style—restrained, spare, avoiding metaphor or the syntactical virtuosity on display in every paragraph of “The Sympathizer”—is well suited for portraying tentative states. His characters are emotional convalescents, groping their way to an understanding of their woundedness. “Writing was entering into fog, feeling my way for a route from this world to the unearthly world of words, a route easier to find on some days than on others,” the narrator observes, in “Black-Eyed Women.”
Darwin’s first American trial was far more interesting. On the Origin of Species quietly crossed the Atlantic as a single book, thistle-green and gilded with two golden pyramids. The author had mailed it to his Harvard colleague Asa Gray, the premier botanist of his age. Gray in turn lent the book to his cousin-in-law Charles Loring Brace, the father of modern foster care. Brace then passed the book among his transcendentalist friends in Concord, Massachusetts — Amos Bronson Alcott, Franklin Sanborn, and Henry David Thoreau. These five men were among Darwin’s first American readers, and his book impacted each of them deeply and differently. Its American reception wasn’t a trial at all, but a seed planted into varied brains and a shared historical atmosphere, sprouting into lovely and prickly varieties of colors and shapes.
Food writing gets a bad rap for being fluffy and bougie, which isn’t quite fair since food is such an essential part of our existence. Outside of the establishment of bona fide culinary writers, many fiction writers have touched on the sensory and emotional aspects of food, from Marcel Proust to Nora Ephron, but no one has tapped into its prosaic humanity quite like the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. This is not lost on Murakami fans, and there are a few blogs devoted to the food his characters prepare, like What I Talk About When I Talk About Cooking. Murakami writes intricate plots with an extremely high level of emotional intelligence, but no matter how fantastical his stories are, his characters remain relatable, and food provides the balance between surrealism and normalcy. He weaves food into his stories in a mundane way that communicates the deep-seated reasons of why, how, and what we eat.
Miniatures are the most concentrated form of extravagance I know, a decadent combination of ontological and visceral attraction. There is wickedness to it, a pleasant brand of self-disgust. The masochistic ecstasy of seeing myself as a monster when next to a miniature is unshakeable.
No, it’s not some massive conspiracy, and yes, the space above our planet is getting increasingly and worryingly crowded with satellites and space junk. It’s just that humans and the things we build are tiny compared to the vastness of our planet. There are about 4,256 human-made satellites orbiting the Earth, of which about 1,149 are still working. Most of these are fairly small, ranging from tiny CubeSats that are only four inches on each side to communications satellites that can be over 100 feet long.
That’s still tiny when you consider that the Earth is 7,917.5 miles across.
Photography has lost some of its authority in recent years — as a discipline, at least. Its specialized mysteries have been torn away from their magical light boxes and poured through the irises of millions of plastic cellphones. But it still leaves an irrevocable signature on those artists who take it seriously — like, for instance, Belgian comics creator Dominique Goblet. Her approach is postmodern, with a scruffy, anything-goes mix of styles and moods, but it's marked everywhere by her forays into photography. She's fascinated by the same aesthetic conundrum that has captivated photographers throughout the medium's history: Can a photograph tell a lie? Can it ever not tell one?
It's difficult to write this review in the midst of everything that's happening: difficult to write of a future in which people of color move unfettered through the stars, befriend aliens, make peace between warring factions. Right now, the fantasy in the Binti novellas, the fiction, isn't the jellyfish-aliens, the magical math or strange artifacts, but the ease with which travel is allowed black and brown people between planets, nations, lives. As futuristic as these books are, every passing day makes them feel farther away. But I cling all the same to what they believe in: love between family members who want different things of each other and the world; communication winning out between warring parties; change enabling friendship and discovery. What Home says, ultimately, is that travelling the galaxy is relatively easy compared to understanding ourselves and each other — and that this is crucial, necessary work.
Filipinos make up nearly a third of all cruise ship workers. It’s a good job. Until it isn’t.
There’s been no shortage in recent years of narratives exploring the complicated and often intense friendships that develop between women. But in “The Animators,” Whitaker has given us something we rarely see: a relationship between two women that also revolves around business and art. It’s a connection that in many ways resembles a marriage — a shared life, passion and progeny (in this case their artwork), with all the requisite compromises and envy that go along with coupledom — despite the two never being romantically involved.
But with its wrath and violence, “A Book of American Martyrs” offers this teaspoon of warmth in these troubled times: that it is possible to be wrong without surrendering your humanity.
Some have argued that it’s a way to save energy. Others have suggested that slumber provides an opportunity to clear away the brain’s cellular waste. Still others have proposed that sleep simply forces animals to lie still, letting them hide from predators.
A pair of papers published on Thursday in the journal Science offer evidence for another notion: We sleep to forget some of the things we learn each day.
At the end of the gallery, in one long case, were two dozen ballerinas in various states of motion or repose. One dancer was examining the sole of her right foot; another was putting on her stocking; a third stood with her right leg forward and her hands behind her head. Arabesque decant—tilted forward on one foot, arms outstretched, like a child imitating an airplane. Arabesque devant—upright on left leg, right leg pointed forward, left arm overhead. Their motion was frozen yet still fluid; I felt as though I had wandered into a rehearsal and the dancers had paused just long enough for me to appreciate the mechanics of their grace. At one point a group of young men wandered through whom I also took to be dancers. Their instructor said, “Quick, which one are you right now?” and they each picked out a bronze to emulate— the man nearest me with his right leg forward and his hands on his hips, elbows winged backward. “I like that you picked that one, John,” the instructor said.
So how do psychologists tell whether someone has a real mental disorder, or whether they’re trying to pull a fast one?
The strange questions that I heard in court are part of a test called the Structured Interview of Reported Symptoms, second edition. It’s one of the most widely used of a number of evaluation tools designed to detect fabrication or exaggeration of symptoms. Richard Rogers, the psychologist who created the SIRS test in 1992 and updated it in 2010, told me how forensic psychologists use tests and interview techniques to find the fakers.
If Paris is a moveable feast, then let’s feast on it with more recent works that describe Paris as it is today, without ignoring the city’s multifaceted history.
If you can, picture a marriage between exquisite old-guard Parisian outposts like Le Voltaire or Le Grand Véfour and lively English restaurants like the Wolseley or Wiltons. In creating an atmosphere of a Milan from days gone by, Sartori Rimini and Peregalli wove through some of the elements of French taste that were influential in northern Italy at the end of the 19th century, along with ornate Victorian details found in English clubs. From England one can trace the dark polished wood paneling with pilasters and arches, antique mirrors, brass details and stucco ceilings. From France one gets the hand-painted cotton and velvet fabrics, the rare books, the Coromandel screen and oil paintings. Studio Peregalli custom-designed the tables, chairs, lights and tableware and sourced whatever details they didn’t draw, from the antique sugar pots to the glass goblets.
“Nobody shoplifts from a store that knows 3,214 ways to murder someone,” a sign at the Mysterious Bookshop in TriBeCa warns. But if the country’s oldest independent purveyor of mystery literature gets the ax, its owner will know why: money.
Philip Roth’s novel “The Plot Against America” is a masterwork of counterfactual history, a what-if story in which Charles Lindbergh, the aviation hero and Nazi sympathizer, is elected President in 1940, leading to the widespread persecution of Jews in the United States. The novel is also a counterfactual masterwork of personal history.
As “gentrification” has become an increasingly dirty word, the volume of disingenuous posturing on the subject has increased dramatically, and the supply of balanced reporting has declined. One writer who has managed to speak sensibly above the din is Kay S. Hymowitz, a contributing editor at City Journal and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “The New Brooklyn” is her admirably clearheaded assessment of the borough that sometimes seems the epicenter of American gentrification.
Starting in closeup, with 10-year-old Eddy being assaulted in a primary school corridor, the narrative presents us with a compelling series of snapshots of a family and community where daily life is structured by working-class rage, male violence and alcohol. For an effeminate boy like Eddy, this world creates a perfect storm; his survival is not just in doubt, but simply impossible.
Few people ever saw the images of China girls, although for decades they were ubiquitous in movie theaters. At the beginning of a reel of film, there would be a few frames of a woman’s head. She might be dressed up; she might be scowling at the camera. She might blink or move her head.
But if audiences saw her, it was only because there had been a mistake.
Over the decades, a number of white, often male, authors have created Asian protagonists, many of whom have fallen into the same Orientalist trap: Eliot Pattison’s Beijing Justice Department Investigator Shan Tao Yun, John Burdett’s “philosophical” Royal Thai Police Force detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, and Colin Cotterill’s French-trained national coroner of Laos Dr. Siri Paiboun. These writers have been criticized for bringing an unmistakably foreign and exoticized take on the countries where their mysteries are set. Brian Thao Worra, an award-winning Laotian American writer, laments that all of Jitpleecheep’s adventures are set in or near Thailand’s red-light districts and feature “lots of exotic deaths and kinky eroticism.”
However, in recent years, more mysteries and thrillers by Asian writers, often first published to wide acclaim in their home countries, have been published in the United States, perhaps due to a desire for a more authentic portrayal of Asians and an increased interest in crime fiction set outside traditional borders. Here is a short introduction to nine Asian authors writing with more intimate knowledge of their identities and settings.
“4 3 2 1” is a very long novel — it’s actually four books in one, or at least three and a third — and like many gargantuan tomes, it loses steam and focus in the final stretch. In addition to the parade of forgettable post-Amy lovers, there’s too much textbook-style rehashing of the political turmoil of the ’60s (including an exhaustive account of the student unrest at Columbia University in 1968), and more about the minuscule particulars of young Ferguson’s literary and journalistic careers than most readers will care to know. But despite these flaws, it’s impossible not to be impressed — and even a little awed — by what Auster has accomplished. “4 3 2 1” is a work of outsize ambition and remarkable craft, a monumental assemblage of competing and complementary fictions, a novel that contains multitudes.
Lafferty is best known for her groundbreaking working as a geek-culture podcaster, but over the last couple years she's come into her own as a novelist — and Six Wakes drives that point home. With pitch-perfect pacing and dialogue, she unfolds the investigation aboard the Dormire with chilling grace.
When you walk into New York City’s landmark Tribeca Grill in the dead of winter, you may not even notice one small but important detail: You’re instantly warm thanks to a strong heater inside an enclosed foyer. “The aesthetic of walking from the cold into a warm restaurant is a nice thing, so we blast that thing in the cold weather so people know right away it’s nice and hospitable,” explains owner Drew Nieporent.
It’s just one element — so tiny that it’s often an afterthought when designing a restaurant — but winterization can change a dining experience. Nobody wants to sit too close to the door in a drafty restaurant, shivering through the cold gusts of wind that blow in every time someone crosses the threshold. There’s good reason that’s one of the worst seats in the house.