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Archive for June 2017

Friday, June 30, 2017

Friendship Or Identity Theft? In This French Best Seller, It’s Hard To Tell., by Alex Kuczynski, New York Times

The horrors of authorship — missed deadlines, self-loathing, isolation — provide especially good material for psychological thrillers. The writer works in solitude, sequestered in a lonely house in a deserted town, incapable of producing a page. If the writer achieves any measure of fame, she attracts the kind of weirdo fans who believe they have somehow inhabited the writer’s brain through her work and have earned a personal connection. Add a twisted, witchy relationship that’s closer to identity theft than friendship, and you have Delphine de Vigan’s latest novel, “Based on a True Story.”

Harry Crews’s ‘A Childhood’ Vividly Evokes A Depression-Era America, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

“A Childhood” is the best introduction to his work. It explains so much of where Crews was coming from in his blood-tinted fiction. About the way people looked at him when he had polio, he writes: “I hated it and dreaded it and was humiliated by it. I felt how lonely and savage it was to be a freak.”

This memoir has a foot in another world, a weird, old Depression-era America. Crews writes with knowledge and feeling on a wide series of topics, from farming to factory work (his mother later takes a job at a cigar-making factory) to food and sex.

Blind Spot By Teju Cole Review – A Writer’s Photographs, by RO Kwon, The Guardian

Next to a photo shot in Tivoli, Cole recalls hearing that someone he knows is losing his vision. “I was stunned,” he says. “Him of all people, so young, so good at seeing.” In this new, luminous book, Cole shows himself to be really one of the best at seeing.

The United States Welcomes You, by Tracy K. Smith, The Nation

Why and by whose power were you sent?
What do you see that you may wish to steal?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Just A Recent Blip In The Cosmos, Are Humans Insignificant?, by Nick Hughes, Aeon

The pessimistic view, then, is that, because we occupy such a small and brief place in the cosmos, we and the things we do are insignificant and inconsequential. But is that right? Are we insignificant and inconsequential? And if we are, should we respond with despair and nihilism? These questions are paradigmatically philosophical, but they have received little attention from contemporary philosophers. To the extent that they address the question of whether we are cosmically insignificant at all, they have typically dismissed it as confused.

Watching And Lamenting The Death Of The New York Diner, by Adam Platt, Grub Street

Joe Jr.’s closed in the summer of 2009, with a farewell note hastily tacked up in the window explaining that the restaurant had lost its lease and, after more than 30 years in business, they were saying good-bye. Like Henri Soulé’s famous French restaurant, it was replaced, in time, by a more fashionable version of itself: a café serving Brazilian coffee, where a new generation of headphone-wearing habitués crowd the uncomfortable wood chairs, peering silently into their laptops, sipping four-dollar coffee from biodegradable paper cups. For a while, the Platts tried to find another place in our little neighborhood to go for our family breakfasts, but the dwindling number of old-time diners and coffee shops were too crowded or too anonymous or too far away. When my daughters want a bowl of chicken soup, these days, they get it at the Pret a Manger down the street, and although I pass the now-svelte Mizrahi on the street sometimes, I’ve never seen John Waters or the Tattoo Lady again.

Monocle's View From Nowhere, by Kyle Chayka, New Republic

An airplane is the perfect, and perhaps the only, place to actually read the globe-trotting lifestyle magazine founded in 2007 by Tyler Brûlé, a Canadian editor and erstwhile war correspondent. Its logo, an “M” with a twisted loop inscribed in a circle, lurks at airport terminal bookstores all over the world, the magazine’s glossy black cover—which the late David Carr likened to “a slab of printed dark Belgian chocolate”—conveying a placeless, easily translated sort of luxury. Inside, one encounters articles on Canadian soft power, Latin American soap operas, and Finnish domestic architecture: the casual reading of an armchair diplomat.

Crime In The City: Singapore, World Capital Of The Cozy Mystery, by Paul French, Literary Hub

Given the sultry temperatures that envelop Singapore pretty much all year round you might not expect the city’s crime fiction to be dissimilar to other Southeast Asian noir, the strength-sapping humidity leaving everyone wrung out and tense. While that is mostly what you get in crime writing from Bangkok and Phnom Penh, for example, Singapore, the city state William Gibson famously dubbed “Disneyland with the Death Penalty,” also, perhaps surprisingly, specializes in quirky, mildly amusing, sometimes bizarre cozies—masses of sunshine, food, friendly fat aunts and crimes that make a Miss Marple story look like an episode of The Wire. So here’s a spoiler—if you like your crime fiction hardboiled and noir-ish read the next two paragraphs and then skip to another article.

The Joy Of Reading About Cooking, by Tejal Rao, New York Times

As soon as I got home from school, a daily humiliation, I read my parents’ cookbooks. These were the only English books in the house I hadn’t already read, a random assortment of gifts and last-minute purchases made at airports. It didn’t bother me too much that it wasn’t Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. I was a reader, happy to be reading. Every page was new to me, equally precious, and I hung on to the microstories tucked into the recipe introductions, any turns of phrase or quotations I could memorize.

No one in my family had been to Australia, but we had a paperback of The Australian Women’s Weekly “Children’s Birthday Cake Book.” I studied its pages before going to sleep, lingering over the steps for a vanilla cake lined with chocolate biscuits, topped with finely chopped green jelly and white plastic figurines, which was meant to look like an aboveground swimming pool. It was a book about aesthetics more so than cooking, and whether the recipe was for a typewriter with candy keys or a rubber duck with potato chip lips, it began, like a prayer, in the exact same way: “Make cake according to directions on packet.”

The Virtues Of Patience, by Clare Beams, Ploughshares

By nature an impatient person, I have found that the two states I’ve always wanted most for my life—writerhood and motherhood—can demand more than I comfortably have in reserve. My children take my patience small handful by small handful. Writing takes it too: the waiting for the writing to make its way in the world, of course, but also the act itself. It has never seemed like a coincidence to me that right around the time I accepted that my writing career was not going to unfold according to any kind of pace I could plan for ahead of time, I got better at the actual writing. The patience I was learning was helping my fiction, because fiction has to exercise patience in order to work its effects on the reader. A kind of focused attending, a burrowing-in.

Jem Finch Has Been Dead The Whole Time, by Annie Abrams, The Awl

But if you read the first page of To Kill A Mockingbird with close attention to the way Scout switches verb tenses, Jem’s death comes as no surprise at all. To the contrary, Jem is already dead by the time the novel begins. In the first paragraph of Mockingbird, Scout uses the past tense to recall that Jem broke his arm when he was thirteen and his body never truly recovered. She explains, “His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh.” Here, Scout explains how Jem’s accident permanently affected his body. In the next paragraph, she switches to the present tense and then back again when she says, “I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that.” Scout is alive to tell the tale — she “maintains” in the present tense. Meanwhile, Jem exists only in the past tense — by the time Scout tells the story, he is no longer four years Scout’s senior, and his left arm is no longer shorter than his right. Jem has been dead for as long as Scout has been telling the story of his broken arm.

What to do with this information?

The ‘I Before E, Except After C’ Rule Is A Giant Lie, by Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post

In fact, the opposite is true: “cie” words outnumber “cei” ones by about three to one. The ratio of “ie” to “ei” is exactly the same for the after-c words as it is for all words in general.

"This addendum to the rule completely useless,” Cunningham writes. “You still have roughly three to one odds that the ‘i’ goes first.”

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Greetings, E.T. (Please Don’t Murder Us.), by Steven Johnson, New York Times

That 168 seconds of noise, now known as the Arecibo message, was the brainchild of the astronomer Frank Drake, then the director of the organization that oversaw the Arecibo facility. The broadcast marked the first time a human being had intentionally transmitted a message targeting another solar system. The engineers had translated the missive into sound, so that the assembled group would have something to experience during the transmission. But its true medium was the silent, invisible pulse of radio waves, traveling at the speed of light.

It seemed to most of the onlookers to be a hopeful act, if a largely symbolic one: a message in a bottle tossed into the sea of deep space. But within days, the Royal Astronomer of England, Martin Ryle, released a thunderous condemnation of Drake’s stunt. By alerting the cosmos of our existence, Ryle wrote, we were risking catastrophe. Arguing that ‘‘any creatures out there [might be] malevolent or hungry,’’ Ryle demanded that the International Astronomical Union denounce Drake’s message and explicitly forbid any further communications. It was irresponsible, Ryle fumed, to tinker with interstellar outreach when such gestures, however noble their intentions, might lead to the destruction of all life on earth.

Revisiting My Hong Kong, 20 Years After The British Left, by Nicholas Kulish, New York Times

In the years after I left, the stories I told about this place were always fun and lighthearted, the dragon-boat races, Chinese dice games, Cantopop karaoke. Then I found an old leather-bound journal I had kept and was dumbfounded at the misery. Down and out wasn’t fun, getting rocked by a financial crisis didn’t feel like a roller coaster, losing your first job out of school, getting evicted and spending all your savings just to survive was romantic only in retrospect.

The city was too big, too expensive and too tough for me. What made it tolerable and, through the hazy tint of memory, a wonderful time, were the friends I made. Ng Chung led me down a back staircase, to a bar where they knew him as well as they used to know us at the Globe. His assistant left and we drank happily, as before, chattering away without comprehending the words but still understanding.

Where The Highway Splits, by Gloria Harrison, The Rumpus

Where I’m standing now, State Route 58 is a four-lane highway separated by a twenty-foot-wide, deep ditch. Farther down the road, about a mile from Boron, California, the ditch disappears and the two lanes join together.

I figure the accident probably happened where the highway splits. The drunk driver probably mistakenly continued into the wrong lane, driving into oncoming traffic. I don’t know for sure, but that’s where I decided to park my car, since it’s close to where the accident report said it occurred.

Ballet Farewells Are The Best Farewells, by Marina Harss, New Yorker

There are farewells and farewells, but it must be said that ballet farewells are the best farewells. No one pulls off a final performance quite like a famous ballerina, particularly if she is Russian. The performance itself is only the beginning. Then comes the real event: the tears, the piles of flowers, the confetti raining down from the rafters, the roar of the audience. And that feverish sense that the audience just can’t let go.

Last Friday, the forty-year-old St. Petersburg-born ballerina Diana Vishneva gave her final performance with American Ballet Theatre, the company she has danced with for the past thirteen years. She’s not leaving dance altogether, just ending her formal relationship with A.B.T. Like many ballerinas at her age, she wants to slow down, travel less, focus her efforts.

Review: Francis Spufford’s First Novel Is A Swashbuckling Tale, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

But I read it in what felt like 10 minutes, and it left my mind feeling like it had been kissed by some sunburn. Its action is so vivid that you seem to be consuming (imagine Wolf Blitzer’s voice here) breaking news. Delirious storytelling backfilled with this much intelligence is a rare and happy sight.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Beyond This Point You May Encounter Nude Sunbathers, by Christopher Bollen, The Paris Review

In August 2004, my friend Joseph and I organized a trip to Dubrovnik before chartering a boat on the Adriatic Sea. A Croatian friend advised me of a tiny nearby island called Lokrum. It was popular with nudists, he said, and had perfect swimming coves.

I told Joseph about the island when we met up in the Dubrovnik airport, and the next morning, anxious for the sea and sun, our skin the color of too much office work, we rode the ferry toward Lokrum. Only then did I mention that it was a nudist beach. “I don’t mind,” Joseph assured me. “Me neither,” I replied. “I just hope some of them are attractive.” Joseph turned to me with a smirk. “No,” he said. “I mean, I don’t mind being naked.” I hadn’t seen much of Joseph in the past year. Now I was going to see too much of him—every inner-thigh freckle, scrotal wrinkle, and circumcision mark.

Assimilation Food: Closing, Not Fusing, The Gap, by Soleil Ho, Taste

Watching The Motel, a 2005 indie film about a Chinese-American family who own a motel in the middle of nowhere, was a revelation to me. I’ll always come back to the scene in which the mom, as a special dinnertime treat, buys McDonald’s for her family. She carefully unwraps the burgers and cuts them in half, placing each half on top of a bowl of white rice. I have never felt so understood by a movie.

That's The Way It Crumbles: Matthew Engel Explores Americanisms, by John Sutherland, New Statesman

Matthew Engel is a journalist at the end of four decades of deadline-driven, high-quality writing. He is now at that stage of life when one thinks about it all – in his case, the millions of words he has tapped out. What historical meaning was ingrained in those words? It is, he concludes, not the European Union but America that we should be fearful of.

Systemic Cruelty, Mass Sadism, And Reading “The Lottery” In 2017, by Emily Temple, Literary Hub

You could argue that “The Lottery” has only one hero: the reader. The story’s ultimate goal is perhaps to “shock us awake,” so that we might be moved to act differently the next time we’re confronted with stale ideas that perpetuate senseless cruelty, bigotry or injustice. If anything positive should come from the harrowing spectacle of watching our political discourse degenerate into reality TV, perhaps the current election cycle—like the reading of my grandmother’s dystopic tale of horror—might just shock us awake as a nation, encouraging us to move together beyond this dark and ugly place we seem to be in.

Why Grown-Up Muggles Should Read ‘Harry Potter’, by David Busis, New York Times

I read them because these writers have mastered the ancient magic of storytelling, and because they remind me of what it’s like to be young, living in a world that seems both simple and incomprehensible. Childhood taught us that wonder is our only true defense against the ordinary. We forget that at our peril.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Can You Have Quidditch Without Harry Potter?, by Dwyer Murphy, Literary Hub

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is celebrating 20 years in print, but when it comes to the book’s beloved pastime, really who can say how long the thing has been around? Quidditch, depending on which version you’re inclined to believe, was either invented in the year 1050 by a half dozen or so wizards with a passing knowledge of ancient broomstick games and access to a swampy area known as Queerditch Marsh, or in the mid-1990s, by a woman in a Manchester hotel room who had just gone through a bad breakup and was having a deep think on just what it is that keeps people and societies together, or in 2005, by a group of college students in Middlebury, Vermont, who, bored of a Sunday, decided they would fashion capes out of bath towels and go make a spectacle of themselves on the quad.

The alternatives may sound stark but they’re nothing too far out of the ordinary for sports. Tetherball, for example, may or may not descend from a Tatar decapitation ritual. Baseball, who knows? Myths are part and parcel of our games, an active ingredient in the intoxicant that keeps us coming back for more winning and losing.

Quidditch, as much as any respectable sport, and not unlike the fictional universe where it was first dreamed up, is steeped in myth and occasionally bedeviled by it.

A Word For Blue, by Bianca Lech, Ploughshares

Across languages, cultures, and time, blue is humanity’s most novel color. As far back as we can track human words for colors and their appearance in art and artifact, black and white were first, then red, yellow, and green. In Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey there is no mention of the color blue, despite his numerous descriptions of the sea. Neither is blue found in far more ancient texts, from China to India, to the original Hebrew bible. The ancient Egyptians, for whom the color blue denoted celestial status, were the only exceptions. Though their influence was vast, words for blue didn’t appear in the world for millennia.

“Golden Hill”: A Crackerjack Novel Of Old Manhattan, by Laura Miller, New Yorker

The eighteenth-century British novel appeals to an apparently dwindling taste. With intrusive narrators, slatternly plots, odd punctuation, and long, ambling digressions, books like “Tristram Shandy” and “Joseph Andrews” try the patience of many contemporary readers, and modern efforts to emulate them—Thomas Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon” and Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle spring to mind—are frequently greeted with exasperation. Laurence Sterne and Henry Fielding couldn’t help writing like that, but what, some people wonder, is Pynchon’s excuse? The appealing qualities of the period’s literature—its humor, its frankness about sex and power, its omnivorous curiosity about humanity and the world—can be squandered, by present-day revivalists, amid defunct slang, semicolon dashes, and promiscuous capitalization.

Francis Spufford’s first novel, “Golden Hill,” which is set in New York in 1746, doesn’t make that mistake. It is trim rather than bulky, refrains from indulging in too many antique spellings, and tells its story with crafty precision. The novel begins with the arrival of Richard Smith, a young man from England, in a city that is still more small town than metropolis. Smith comes bearing a bill of exchange, drawn upon the debt of a local merchant, for the staggering sum of one thousand pounds sterling. (Or “one thousand seven hundred and thirty-eight pounds, fifteen shillings and fourpence, New-York money,” as the newcomer specifies; the baffling complexities of pre-Revolutionary currency and finance become one of the novel’s running jokes.) Smith refuses to state the nature of his business, but agrees to postpone collecting on the bill until the arrival of further documentary confirmation. “You don’t know me,” he concedes, “and suspicion must be your wisest course, when I may be equally a gilded sprig of the bon ton, or a flash cully working the inkhorn lay.” Rumors circulate that the amiable Smith is rich or a charlatan or a Turkish conjurer or—worst of all—a Catholic.

Teju Cole: ‘My Camera Is Like An Invisibility Cloak. It Makes Me More Free’, by Sean O'Hagan, The Guardian

The book unfolds – and succeeds – as a deftly choreographed dance of words and pictures, with Cole’s characteristically allusive style of writing here condensed to what he calls “fragments”. Sometimes, but not often, the words refer directly to what is in the picture, but more often the photographs are conceptual starting points for musings on his now-familiar obsessions: memory, myth, culture, politics, race and dreams.

A Manual For Heartache Review – Sound Advice For The Grieving, by Matt Haig, The Guardian

And this is why it is a major asset to this book that Rentzenbrink isn’t a doctor or a therapist. This is not an academic text. It may be chicken soup for the soul, but this isn’t a wiser-than-thou self-help book. One of her tips, as an avid book lover, is to read “gentle, comforting, funny things” and that is what she herself is offering here. Not just a comfort in the advice she offers, but in the reassuring way she is choosing to offer it. Very often Rentzenbrink is giving advice to herself, as much as to the reader, acknowledging that she as much as any of us is a work in progress.

Before The Internet, by Emma Rathbone, New Yorker

Before the Internet, you would just sit in an armchair with a book open on your lap, staring into space or staring at a decorative broom on the wall—kind of shifting back and forth between those two modes of being.

Before the Internet, you might take it upon yourself to do a drawing. You’d quietly start sketching something in a notebook, not sure what it was, but you’d let inspiration guide you and then—woop!—turns out you’d drawn a squiggly alligator with a cockeyed approach.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Going Dark

MyAppleMenu Reader is going dark for two weeks, and will return on June 26, 2017. See you soon!

Do We All Need A Little Time Simply To Sit And Think?, by André Spicer, Aeon

Pop-up philosophy. Stop, sit down and just think. That’s what I wrote on a whiteboard – then I took it outside and propped it next to a small folding chair near the entrance to my office at City, University of London.

For a week, I had been travelling around London with two folding deckchairs and a whiteboard. My quarry was stupidity-intensive spots. I had set up outside the London Stock Exchange, a large bank that had been bailed out by the taxpayer, the Houses of Parliament, Oxford Street, St Paul’s Cathedral and the BBC. Now it was time to reflect on the stupidities closest to home. So I set up my deckchairs outside my own university.

Students and faculty came and went, saw the deckchairs, looked at me, read my sign. Some seemed surprised. Others took a photo with their smartphones. Many laughed. A few sat down and joined me in a few minutes of quiet contemplation.

What Makes A Good Whodunit? 'Magpie Murders' Author Spells It Out, by Lynn Neary, NPR

Horowitz says if he's done the job right, you won't be able to figure out who the murderers are until the very end of the book. "It has to have that big smile that comes with the surprise 'Oh, it was him!' or 'Oh, it was her! I should have seen that.' And if you can manage that, if you can pull it off, then I think you've written a successful whodunit."

Theft By Finding By David Sedaris Review – Diaries To Make You Gasp, by Fiona Sturges, The Guardian

So often Sedaris’s phrasing is beautiful in its piquancy and minimalism. If you’ve listened to him on NPR or Radio 4, you’ll no doubt hear his voice in your head, indignant and amused, delivering each sentence with perfect comic timing. His life is extraordinary in so many ways – the drug addiction, the eccentric family, the crazy jobs, the fame, the globetrotting – but one of the more unlikely achievements here is in making it all seem quite ordinary. Ultimately, his masterstroke is in acting as a bystander in his own story. It’s other people’s lives that Sedaris finds most fascinating and, by extension, so do we.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Should The World Eat More Like The Cantonese?, by David Robson, BBC

Sitting down in this small Hong Kong restaurant, I assume that the white chest of drawers behind me are filled with tea leaves, herbs, and fungi. So I’m rather perturbed when my guide Cecilia Leung tells me that they are not filled with dried plant life – but live snakes.

If the owner were here, Cecilia says, he would happily bring one out for me to inspect. Indeed, the “snake king’s” talents are so famous that he is sometimes called out in the middle of the night to capture and relocate venemous specimens blocking public rights of way.

Luckily for me, the only serpent I see is skinned, sliced, and served up in a thick, gravy-like broth with pork, chicken, mushrooms, and lemon grass. The snake meat itself is greyish with a slightly pink blush – and what appear to be the imprint of its scales still marking its delicate surface.

Forest To Table: How The Oldest Cooking Method Became The (Literal) Hottest Trend In Restaurants, by Julia Kramer, Bon Appétit

It’s funny to call this return to cooking with fire a trend. If it is, it’s certainly the oldest trend in the book. And yet there is no arguing that the burning hearth has of late gripped the restaurant world, seeming to bestow the imprimatur of “serious chef” on anyone who embraces it. Over the past few years, live-fire cooking has gone from the province of backyard barbecuers and homesteader-type chefs (such as Russell Moore of Oakland’s Camino) to a national phenomenon. It’s become de rigueur among casino kitchens in Las Vegas and scene-y restaurants in Miami and Michelin-star hopefuls in Brooklyn. But no one’s saying it’s easy.

Omniscient Narrator Voices I Have Coveted, by Rosalie Chan, The Awl

I became a huge fan of Snicket’s voice, and I started narrating my life in my head in a similar fashion. “She scrunched her nose after drinking a can of pop that was especially effervescent, a word here means giving off bubbles, or fizzy,” I thought when I was drinking a can of Sprite shortly after learning the word “effervescent,” a pretentious-sounding word that I almost never use. Or, “After running a mile in P.E. class, she felt like she was dying. She was only figuratively dying, as she was only exhausted from running and struggling to catch her breath, but after some rest, she will be fine. But she is also literally dying, as we are all moving closer to our deaths every moment.” You get the point.

A Thin Place, by Jill Crawford, n+1

You are late. The receptionist is judgmental. At the desk, you have to give your date of birth and home address. She repeats your information back to you in a robust voice.

As you give your date of birth, you realize that the last time you were here, you were about the age of the girl behind you in the queue. She has a small child in a pram who calls her “Mammy.” She is yakking on the phone. She must be about 16. You had not had sex when you were 16. You waited until you were out of the country and safely away.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Why Aren’t You Laughing?, by David Sedaris, New Yorker

From the outside, our house on the North Carolina coast—the Sea Section—is nothing much to look at. It might have been designed by a ten-year-old with a ruler, that’s how basic it is: walls, roof, windows, deck. It’s easy to imagine the architect putting down his crayon and shouting into the next room, “I’m done. Can I watch TV now?”

Whenever I denigrate the place, Hugh reminds me that it’s the view that counts: the ocean we look out at. I see his point, but it’s not like you have to limit yourself to one or the other. “What about our place in Sussex!” I say. From the outside, our cottage in England resembles something you’d find in a storybook—a home for potbellied trolls, benevolent ones that smoke pipes. Built of stone in the late sixteenth century, it has a pitched roof and little windows with panes the size of playing cards. We lie in bed and consider sheep grazing in the shadow of a verdant down. I especially love being there in the winter, so it bothered me when I had to spend most of January and February working in the United States. Hugh came along, and toward the end we found ourselves on Maui, where I had a reading. I’d have been happy just to fly in and fly out, but Hugh likes to swim in the ocean, so we stayed for a week in a place he found online.

In ‘Camino Island,’ John Grisham Takes A Vacation From Writing John Grisham Novels, by Ken Tucker, New York Times

The veteran suspense novelist is off on a happy lark with “Camino Island,” a resort-town tale that reads as if Grisham is taking a vacation from writing John Grisham novels. Instead of hurtling readers down the dark corridors of the courthouses that dot his 20-plus legal thrillers, here he gently ushers us onto an island off the coast of Florida, a sleepy place whose town’s social life is enlivened by a busy independent bookstore run by a garrulous peacock who has a different-colored seersucker suit for every day of the week.

What Algorithms Want, by Richard Marshall, 3:AM Magazine

Was Corbyn’s election success further evidence of how elections in the future will be run and how democratic power will be decided? The official Labour campaign was supplemented by private algorithmic arbitrage on social media, anonymous forums, and Youtube, a 24 hour personalized and cranked up response network that excited and incited new elements of the electorate and helped counter the toxic bias of the print media, ‘official’ news channels and the stodgy unconvincing ‘balance’ of the BBC. Whatever we think of the actual result there is little doubt that power is being decided using the same sort of algorithmic arbitrage that runs the production and consumption of, among other things, entertainment, art, news, knowledge, taxis, restaurants, stocks and shares, fashion and relationships. Shared spaces and shared concerns are being privatised. The success of Trump in the USA was a Cow Clicker political success: no matter how dumb, nasty, inept and poorly designed, Trump understood where the new magic sources of power lie. It’s no accident that he tweets, cutting out the ‘normal channels’ of shared concern to ‘speak’ directly to the private space of (anti) social media. His genius has been to seduce and reach beyond both comprehension and knowledge, to haness some vast algorithmic political unknowability and ignorance.

This is the new cultural landscape that Ed Finn’s timely and fascinating book investigates.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Troubled History Of Horse Meat In America, by Susanna Forrest, The Atlantic

President Donald Trump wants to cut a budget the Bureau of Land Management uses to care for wild horses. Instead of paying to feed them, he has proposed lifting restrictions preventing the sale of American mustangs to horse meat dealers who supply Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses.

Horse meat, or chevaline, as its supporters have rebranded it, looks like beef, but darker, with coarser grain and yellow fat. It seems healthy enough, boasting almost as much omega-3 fatty acids as farmed salmon and twice as much iron as steak. But horse meat has always lurked in the shadow of beef in the United States. Its supply and demand are irregular, and its regulation is minimal. Horse meat’s cheapness and resemblance to beef make it easy to sneak into sausages and ground meat. Horse lovers are committed and formidable opponents of the industry, too.

The management of wild horse herds is a complex issue, which might create difficulty for Trump. Horse meat has a long history of causing problems for American politicians.

'Last Kid Left' Is A Summer Read For People Who Hate The Light, by Jason Sheehan, NPR

At first glance, it has all the hallmarks of a beach read: Summer, a shore town in New Hampshire full of tourists and locals, a murder (double murder, actually) and an investigation which take up several hundred pages. There's a zip to it. A musicianship to the language that makes the whole thing hum like a plucked guitar.

But the question you've gotta ask yourself is, what kind of summer read are you looking for? How much blood do you want to take to the beach with you? Because this book is a mystery, but only kinda. A procedural, but only kinda. A love story, done in the terrible tones of dead-end youth crossed with die-for-you romanticism. It's a summer book for people who hate the light.

The Secret Life: Three True Stories By Andrew O’Hagan – Review, by Andrew Anthony, The Guardian

It’s a strange, slightly haunting voyage into digital life that reads as much like a short story as an essay. It ends with O’Hagan encountering the dead man’s mother. And suddenly, at the core of this excellent collection, we glimpse the unbridgeable difference between the real and the invented.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright, Urban Visionary, by Darran Anderson, CityLab

For all his criticisms, Frank Lloyd Wright was not intrinsically opposed to cities. Instead, he urged us to examine what cities had become and recognize that none of this was inevitable. Other cities were possible and it was the role of architects, invested with an artistic eye, to humanize the city. One of the ways to do so was to break out of restrictive influences and look to the wider world for inspiration. Wright was enthralled by the materiality, harmonies, and silver ratio of Japanese architecture, a debt he repaid with his Maya-infused Imperial Hotel, which survived the devastating Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 but not the demolition crew of 1968. He was inspired not just by the ornamentation of “Toltec, Aztec, Mayan, Inca” architecture he’d adored since childhood (as evidenced in his Ennis House, which inspired Deckard’s apartment in Blade Runner) but also by the urban planning of Mesoamerican settlements with their plazas, passages, and palaces.

“The Joy Luck Club” Is The Movie You Needed, And It Almost Never Happened, by Susan Cheng, BuzzFeed

But then Yang read The Joy Luck Club, an intricate and poignant story about the cultural divide between four Chinese-American daughters and their immigrant mothers. Moved by Tan’s portrayal of women who shared her struggle, the then-budding producer met with the author soon afterward, in March 1988, determined to bring the book to the big screen. “I didn’t know what the hell was going to happen in my life, per se. I didn’t really know how to navigate the industry very well … I just knew that I really wanted to do The Joy Luck Club.”

But she knew it would be a hard sell. In the late ’80s and decades prior, the very identity “Asian-American” was largely unheard of in mainstream America. In the rare moments when Hollywood showed Asian faces onscreen, the characters were more often written as demeaning stereotypes and relegated to bit or supporting characters, secondary to their white counterparts — roles like Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles or the characters that pioneering Chinese-American actor Anna May Wong was afforded throughout her career. So to pitch Hollywood a film that centers not just on women but on Asian-American women? And one that portrays them as complex human beings with turbulent interior lives, at that? It was a bold ask.

A Blue-Collar Specialist Takes A Turn At Well-Off Professionals, by Adelle Waldman, New York Times

Russo’s new collection of stories, “Trajectory,” is a departure from that book in two ways. First and most obviously, “Trajectory” focuses not on characters who are chronically down at the heel but on upper-middle-class professionals, people whose financial woes are mostly of manageable proportions. Second, and more interestingly, Russo has forgone the plottiness of “Empire Falls,” a book somewhat marred by the surfeit of action — everything from a school shooting to a flood — crowded into its final pages.

Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends And Human Creativity Begins By Garry Kasparov – Review, by John Naughton, The Guardian

Yet by the end of the book, he has arrived at a more enlightened view of machine intelligence than most people in the tech industry, who are obsessed with machines that will replace people. Kasparov was an early enthusiast for chess-playing computers and indeed did much to foster the technology that enables every child nowadays to learn to play against a grandmaster-level virtual opponent. In the end, the technology he inspired defeated him. But the message he bears is that the really intelligent approach is not to rail against the machine for being better than we are at some things, but to celebrate its capacity to augment our human capabilities. And therein lies the beginning of wisdom in these matters.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Crisis Of The Multiverse, by Ben Freivogel, Nautilus

Has the theory lost its mooring to observation? If the multiverse is large and diverse enough to contain some regions where dark matter is made out of light particles and other regions where dark matter is made out of heavy particles, how could we possibly predict which one we should see in our own region? And indeed many people have criticized the multiverse concept on just these grounds. If a theory makes no predictions, it ceases to be physics.

But an important issue tends to go unnoticed in debates over the multiverse. Cosmology has always faced a problem of making predictions. The reason is that all our theories in physics are dynamical: The fundamental physical laws describe what will happen, given what already is. So, whenever we make a prediction in physics, we need to specify what the initial conditions are. How do we do that for the entire universe? What sets the initial initial conditions? This is science’s version of the old philosophical question of First Cause.

Fearless Girl, Charging Bull, And The Problem Of Authorial Intent, by Janey Tracey, Ploughshares

Putting aside the arguments about Fearless Girl’s effectiveness as a feminist symbol for the time being, there’s still a lot to unpack about the role of capitalism in art, authorial intent, and artistic appropriation. First, the fact that Fearless Girl was commissioned by a corporation does not invalidate its status as a work of art. Capitalism is inextricable from art, since all art is produced in a capitalist society. Most of the revered paintings from the Renaissance were commissioned by rich families. Louisa May Alcott primarily wrote for money, to put food on the table, but that doesn’t change the fact that Little Women is a perennial American classic.

The question of authorial intent is a little bit trickier.

How To Ease Travel Anxiety In An Era Of Terror: Travel More, by David Shaftel, New York Times

The more I travel in today’s security climate, and refuse to alter my behavior, the better I feel about travel — and the sillier I feel afterward for worrying. I would deeply regret hunkering down in our hotel this summer instead of taking my daughter to see Big Ben and London Bridge, sites she recognizes from children’s literature. True, the old London Bridge of the nursery rhyme came down centuries ago, but I would never bother trying to explain that to a 3-year-old who also calls the Pulaski Skyway in New Jersey “London Bridge.” Neither should I have to explain to her why there are so many police officers wielding large guns there.

Anthony Horowitz’s Whodunit Within The Whodunit, by Roslyn Sulcas, New York Times

In the book, “Magpie Murders” is the name of the latest novel by the fictional mystery writer Alan Conway. (The title also alludes to Christie’s love of nursery rhyme structures, with chapters based on “One for Sorrow,” about magpies.) Conway’s editor, Susan Ryeland, sets up the Russian nesting doll structure of the novel: “You can’t beat a good whodunit: the twists and turns, the clues and red herrings and then, finally, the satisfaction of having everything explained to you in a way that makes you kick yourself because you hadn’t seen it from the start,” she observes. “But ‘Magpie Murders’ wasn’t like that,” she adds, finishing with an ominous caveat: “Unlike me, you have been warned.”

The Outcasts Of Time By Ian Mortimer Review – A Joyous Romp Around England’s Dark Past, by Suzi Feay, The Guardian

As well as writing weightier books, historian Ian Mortimer is the author of witty “Time Traveller’s Guides” to medieval, Elizabethan and Restoration England. If you want to know how much things cost or how you went to the toilet, he has the answers. For his first historical novel published under his own name he has created two time travellers, narrator John of Wrayment and his rapscallion brother, William Beard.

Gail Godwin Has Penned A New Type Of Ghost Story, by The Economist

Out with the clichés of cold draughts and creaking doors. Contemporary novelists are refocusing the ghost story, revelling in its potential for psychological drama. “Grief Cottage” by Gail Godwin, a prolific American writer, is a quiet, hopeful ghost story—a wistful reflection on loss, loneliness, coming of age and coming to terms with the past.

Hysteria Over Hyphens, by The Economist

“If hyou take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad,” warns the style manual of the Oxford University Press. This maxim is quoted in The Economist’s own style book, which goes on about the punctuation mark for eight pages.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Eugene Lim’s Uncanny Sense Of What It’s Like To Be Alive Right Now, by Hua Hsu, New Yorker

After a while, it becomes clear that what propels the novel isn’t an overarching plot or a conspiracy but anecdotes, episodes, and fantastical interludes that point to the book’s guiding ethos. There are no answers, just an uncanny sense of what it’s like to be alive right now: constantly distracted, bounding between idealism and cynicism, ever conscious of the fact that we may never bring the size and complexity of our world into focus.

'The Alice Network' Is A Crackling Tale Of Spies And Suspense, by Jean Zimmerman, NPR

In the aftermath of World War II, Charlie is thrown together with a veteran female spy from the previous war in a high-stakes journey to locate disappeared figures from the past. Unsolved puzzles and cryptic riddles crop up like weeds in a bomb crater, and as math-whiz Charlie puts it, "There was always an answer and the answer was either right or it was wrong." But her adventures turn out to be messy, non-formulaic and not so black and white, which after all is what makes life — and novels — interesting.

'Opening Wednesday' Dusts Off Some Overlooked Cinematic Treasures, by Genevieve Valentine, NPR

You can tell when someone's writing about what they love, and whether it's the empty sky of Vanishing Point or the neurosis of Eyes of Laura Mars, Taylor's having a blast. Tying a dozen movie underdogs to a wider cultural history is just the icing on the cake.

Phone By Will Self Review – A Hotline To Humour And Humanity, by Alex Clark, The Guardian

This modernist narrative is best approached with a commitment to playfulness rather than a determination to hold all its strands close, and Self’s achievement is to make it intensely funny and humane. The book’s cerebral qualities are buttressed by his great skills as an observer and flaneur.

There Is No Better Place To Write Than The Library, by Joe Kanon, Literary Hub

The main Reading Room—rightly, a tourist destination—with its ambient noise of chairs scraping and laptops clicking and book delivery bins clattering at the call desk is about as far as one could get from the silent, hermetically sealed workroom writers are supposed to crave. The trick is to make your own privacy—a pen, a yellow legal pad, and your own cone of personal space and you’re there.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Chef’s Quest In India: Win Respect For Its Cooking, by Kim Severson, New York Times

Her frustration over American interpretations of the beloved coconut-scented fish curries, dosas and carefully layered beef biryanis of her homeland echoes the lament of countless cooks who have immigrated from countries like China, Mexico or Vietnam only to find their food mangled to meet the limitations of a new country’s palate and relegated to its cheap-eats guides.

“I wish I could say to every immigrant cook in America, ‘Why do you think your food should be any less than any other cuisine that comes from anywhere else in the world?’” Ms. Gomez said.

Math Has No God Particle, by Oliver Roeder, FiveThirtyEight

Even when researchers do want their work shared widely, why don’t we read more about the fuel that makes math grow? “The physicists tell exciting stories,” Vogan said. “In some ways, this is a failure of mathematicians to tell exciting stories.” The physicists also have better names. Black hole and God particle quicken the pulse somewhat more than “irreducible unitary representation.”

The asymmetry in storytelling between math and the other sciences may also be because the research has different start-up costs. You need billions of dollars to build an enormous tunnel to house a particle accelerator to discover evidence of the God particle, also known as the Higgs boson. A good story may secure you coverage, enthusiasm and, if you’re lucky, lots of cash. To map Lie groups, Vogan said, you just need a teaching load light enough to put in extra work on the weekends: “We can do these things with small amounts of money.”

What A Child With Autism Can Teach A Novelist About Storytelling, by Emily Schultz, Slate

My work morning starts with a long stare at the “to-write” list. It’s about to spill off the whiteboard. There is the stack of script notes my husband, Brian, is eager to see us turn into pages. We have a meeting with a film producer next week, and we need to sell our script, or else negotiate with our landlady. There is my new novel that exists as only 60 typed pages, some notes in a Moleskine knockoff, and a very good third act that lives only in my head. An idea for a short story has hit me, which will put off the novel for another day.

There’s also our 5-year-old son, Henry. He is on the autism spectrum.

Letters To A Young Writer Review – Sound Advice For Novelists, by Kate Kellaway, The Guardian

But the truth is that writing is a struggle – often a lonely struggle – and writers and perhaps especially novelists need cheering. This slim volume cannot fail as a pick-me-up. I read it with huge pleasure and on the lookout for robust quotations to pin on my study wall. I found enough to wallpaper a room.

'Would Everybody Please Stop' Is Serious, Funny And Seriously Funny, by Heller McAlpin, NPR

Most of the 35 very short essays in Would Everybody Please Stop? are either hilarious, heartfelt, or both. Many, including "I'm Awake," first appeared in The New Yorker. Some are over-the-top silly, others read like material for her performances as a monologist and may be even better live. Yet her wry voice — sometimes confiding, sometimes overbearing — comes through loud and clear in print.

Destination Reading, by Juliet Lapidos, The Awl

Destination Reading just means you pick a destination and read there — read a book, a magazine, Twitter. Whatever. But everyone loves a label, and labels confer dignity.


The trick is to choose a place that, in the manner of Goldilocks, is just right, a place that’s neither special nor objectionable. You’ll know you’ve got it if your friends, when they hear that you’re heading there, say, “Oh yeah, I’ve been once or twice.” They’re not super eager to return, you see.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How Lego Clicked: The Brand That Reinvented Itself, by Johnny Davis, The Guardian

Lego’s revival has been called the greatest turnaround in corporate history. A book devoted to the subject, David Robertson’s Brick by Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation, has become a set business text. Sony, Adidas and Boeing are said to refer to it. Google now uses Lego bricks to help its employees innovate.

Lego’s saviour is the aforementioned Vig Knudstorp – a father of four, perhaps not uncoincidentally – who arrived from management consultants McKinsey & Company in 2001 and was promoted to boss within three years, aged 36. “In some ways, I think he’s a better model for innovation than Steve Jobs,” Robertson has said.

Bookselling In The 21st Century: The Deep Pain Of Returning Books, by John Gibbs, Literary Hub

Considering all of us gravitate toward the familiar. The books and authors you respect and read don’t change much if there is no venturing outward, and sometimes that venturing occurs with books facing a diminished readership, an extinction. I recognize small presses I revere proclaiming the new voice of a generation on my return report. I want to save it from exile, to prop it up and give it one more chance to make an impression. I want to buy it. But decisions must be made, and for the time being I log it somewhere in the back of my mind, on that running tab of books to come back around to when I have more time—whenever the hell that might be.

The Big Picture: How Food Photos Have Told Our Story Over The Decades, by Tove Danovich, NPR

The way that food has been photographed over the years is a reflection on the times we live in. The first still-life like images of overflowing fruit baskets soon branched out into ways of commercializing food. As photography evolved, food was sometimes used to make statements during important moments in history, such the Great Depression or the fight for civil rights.


Today, we want food to look real. In the past few decades, food photos have taken on a real-time documentary feel, from a chef captured mid-flambe to a scoop of ice cream that has just begun to melt.

The Biggest Mystery Of My Book Is Its Cover, by Rachel Kadish, Literary Hub

As soon as I saw the cover art, I knew I was in luck: my publisher had come up with a gorgeous, smart design for the book jacket of the novel I’d spent years writing.

There was just one problem with it… a problem that seemed to worry no one but me.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Taking Muhammad Ali Home, by Tom Junod, ESPN

A week before her husband dies, Lonnie Ali changes the plans for his funeral. The funeral she had envisioned is too big, she thinks. It is too complicated. At her annual meeting with the man who has been doing most of the planning, she says, "Sit down. I have to talk to you about something."

She is making changes because she believes she has time to make them. Her husband is not even sick. And besides ... he's Muhammad Ali. She began working on the plan a decade earlier in response to counsel, and she's come to regard it as part of his routine upkeep, not so different from helping him with his meds. There are just some things you have to do, she says. She is not planning his funeral because she thinks he is going to die but because she has known him since she was a small child -- and a part of her thinks he is going to live forever.

The Peculiar Pleasures Of Recording Your Own Audiobook, by Michael Frank, The Atlantic

Like most people, I can’t stand the sound of my own voice. When, at a meeting last summer, a member of the marketing team at Farrar, Straus and Giroux told me that more and more authors, especially authors of memoirs, were recording their own books, I nodded politely. But then she asked outright, “So how would you feel about reading yours?”

The response I heard in my inner ear: Are you out of your mind?

The one I offered aloud: “Sure.”

How To Write An Internet Essay To Support Your Novel, by Gabe Habash, Literary Hub

You should probably write something about your book, now that it’s being published. But you are worried because you don’t have anything left to say about your book. The problem with writing is you haven’t really done it in two and half years, since you finished the book, which emptied you out. The space you entered to write the book now feels used-up and potentially noxious, a place of dormant chemicals you’re forbidden to revisit. You picture Pripyat’s hastily-abandoned rooms, its dry swimming pool, rust and grime.

Something like loneliness comes over you, a feeling you recognize and have felt before, something you recognize as productive and motivating. Perfect, you think: you can use this feeling for your writing because you are expected to write more now that your book is out. It should be good writing; the better it is, the more it will help the book. You take a very long shower and bite your fingernails but your thoughts are so broad and vague and involuted you forget all the specifics. You aren’t sure what’s there anymore, and whatever productive loneliness you felt for a moment has gone. As though it decided it didn’t want to see you, after all.

You put off writing the essay.

In Defense Of Imaginary Friends, by Rachel Kadish, Electric Literature

I’m long past ten, and I live among imaginary friends. As a novelist I spend years unearthing their secrets, their fears, their senses of humor. My characters are musicians, childcare workers, historians — anything other than fiction writers. They’re taller than I am, or smaller; less educated or — intimidatingly — more. Every scene I write through their eyes is a ticket to a different way of being in the world. What’s it like to walk down a nighttime street as a six-foot-three man, women quickening their pace with a nervous glance back at you? What does it feel like to be old; to be an immigrant; to be powerful, powerless?

In Writing By Adam Phillips Review – The Shrink As Unreliable Narrator, by Tim Adams, The Guardian

As a psychoanalyst, and a writer, Phillips is of the “employ anything that works” school. “Like all essentialist theories”, he says of Freudianism, “psychoanalysis makes a cult out of what could be just good company.” Literature, the love of it, risks the same religiosity. “Writing needn’t be a world domination project… but just the attempt to find enough people who are interested in what matters to you.” There is a great deal of what matters to Phillips just now between these covers; that alone should guarantee its interest.

Catherine Lacey’s Masterful The Answers Asks Whether Love Can Be Made In A Lab, by Laura_Adamczyk, AV Club

There’s a joke to be made about The Answers not offering up any, but the ideas it interrogates are so immense, and fundamentally existential, that any single explanation would ring false. “Such a serious thing we are doing, and no one really knows how to do it,” Mary says of love, the closest this probing novel comes to a sure conclusion.

A Tale Of Coffee Shops, Croissants And Steaming Confrontations, by Eva Wiseman, The Guardian

“I just wanted to say,” she shouted, “that I’m the manager here, and I can’t believe that you brought your own food into a food establishment.” I offered a sort of strangled apology, an insistence that the waitress had said it would be OK, and we both stared at the croissant with varying degrees of accusation. A familiar heat settled on my skin, the realisation that I am terrible and have yet to learn the rules of a life. What was I thinking? There I sat, a meat piñata of shame and shock. It was confirmation, at last, that I was made of something less than flesh and conscience, something akin to papier-mâché left outside in a storm. “I’m incredulous. I’m just INCREDULOUS that you thought this would be OK.” I started to stand, gathering my assembled bags. “I’m not kicking you out, it’s FINE. I just can’t believe that a person could do this.” “It’s obviously NOT fine, so… I’ll go,” I said, feeling a little better actually. Because something was actually happening. Somebody was properly shouting at me. Not just typing, or rolling their eyes. She was shouting at me, and it was daylight and nobody was high or ill or startled from being reversed into by a slowly parking car. It was just us, in an empty café and something was happening.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Skydiving From The Edge Of Space, by Laura Parker, The Atlantic

A few months later, Eustace was back home in Mountain View when his phone rang. It was Cani. He wanted to know whether Eustace had heard about a guy named Felix Baumgartner, who was after an even bigger challenge: He was trying to beat the high-altitude-skydiving record with a jump from the upper reaches of the stratosphere, more than 100,000 feet in the air. Cani had found a sponsor to launch a competing effort, and wondered whether Eustace could advise him on the type of equipment he’d need.

Eustace was delighted. He was sure Baumgartner was way ahead—he had backing from the energy-drink company Red Bull, which had hired more than three dozen team members with backgrounds in nasa, the Air Force, and the aerospace industry—but he liked Cani, and wanted to see him create some healthy competition. He agreed to help in any way he could. But before Cani’s effort could kick off, his funding fell through.

Eustace considered this news. He led a quiet, comfortable life. He wasn’t after publicity or adrenaline. But this was the engineering challenge of a lifetime. Forget the Gulfstream. He could attempt the stratosphere jump himself, and fund it with his own savings. He thought for a few months and called Cani to ask for his blessing. Cani laughed, amused. Go for it, he said.

Al Franken On Al Franken: From Comic To (Mostly) Serious Legislator, by Christopher Buckley, Washington Post

“Al Franken: Giant of the Senate” is an only-in-America story of how a grandson of Belarussian immigrants grew up in the Midwest, went to Harvard and then on to a brilliant career in comedy, and then decided what the heck, and ran for the Senate and won. Just typing that mini-CV made me tired.

Whatever you make of his politics, Franken tells a great story. He can (for the most part) make the nitty-gritty of politics and legislating good reading. His partisanship is fierce and occasionally strident, but he doesn’t indulge in the smugness and condescension that are often characteristic of the muscular, progressive liberal. Republicans ought to read this book, if only on the principle of Know Thy Enemy. And make no mistake, Republicans: Franken is your enemy. But a mensch.

'Theft By Finding' Is As Mesmerizing As A Spinning Chicken (Trust Us), by Annalisa Quinn, NPR

But David Sedaris' diaries are not especially introspective. They offer a different kind of pleasures: those of the cultural historian, rather than those of the snoop. As he points out in his introduction, you only find out that he's an alcoholic on the day he writes that he's going to quit drinking.

Instead, he describes the world around him. This is an accommodating book, one you can pick up at leisure, to find pleasant entries about the vast and splendid array of human life that can be observed at IHOP, or the vagaries of fruit picking.

From The Creator Of ‘Foyle’s War,’ A Delightful Homage To Agatha Christie, by Charles Finch, Washington Post

In this nested tale, Horowitz seems to be querying his genre’s essential paradox: how often it’s a refuge, comfort reading. “Death,” as Dorothy Sayers once observed, “seems to provide the minds of the Anglo-Saxon race with a greater fund of innocent amusement than any other subject.” The plotting and the solution of Pünd’s half of “Magpie Murders” are far tidier and more satisfying than Susan’s faltering, bloody, ugly investigation. Which do we want, Horowitz wonders, a safe murder or a dangerous one? Only since Agatha Christie has it passed into the stewardship of readers to make precisely that decision.

I Was A Failed Hand Model, by Danielle Sepulveres, Racked

I didn’t even know how I’d ended up here, auditioning to hand-model jewelry that would take me eight lifetimes or a loveless Wall Street marriage to afford. But after spending time working as a body double on TV shows and in some movies, where my hands often ended up being used in close-up shots in lieu of the actual actress’s, I kept hearing the question “Hey, do you hand model?” I mainly wrote it off as a compliment of my diligent nail bed and cuticle maintenance, but then I met a guy who asked the question seriously and sent me along to meet his agent, who very quickly became mine as well. I nervously went to her office and presented my hands, which she examined carefully and smiled at, then gave me the nod. I was in. Until I started actually auditioning, where something always invariably went wrong.

I didn’t even know how I’d ended up here, auditioning to hand-model jewelry that would take me eight lifetimes or a loveless Wall Street marriage to afford.

Fortune Cookies, by Iris Smyles, New Yorker

One day you will put a pen down with your right hand and pick it up with your left hand, and your writing will be illegible.

One day you will go outside and, realizing you forgot your umbrella, go back inside to get it.

One day you will go outside and, realizing you forgot your umbrella, will not go back inside but buy a small one on the street that will break immediately.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Station Eleven And The Invasion Of Literary Novelists Into Sci-Fi, by Laura Miller, Slate

For novelists, whose work typically takes at least a year (and often much longer) to produce, delivering an up-to-date depiction of contemporary life must be a maddeningly elusive goal. In the time it takes to write a novel that perfectly nails some new technologized form of connecting, the rest of us will most likely have left off using it and moved on to something new. Surely today no one remembers, let alone reads, Lucy Kellaway’s best-selling 2006 corporate satire Who Moved My Blackberry?

Some novelists beat this problem by sticking to historical fiction, a move that rescues, for example, a writer who married before the advent of social media from trying to accurately depict what courtship feels like in the age of Tinder. But more and more literary novelists now choose to move in the opposite temporal direction. Writers who once might have penned tender coming-of-age or immigrant-experience novels, who might once have devoted themselves to wacky satire or meticulously observed depictions of the way we live now, have opted instead to speculate on how we’ll live then—that is, in the near or distant future.

A Wallflower Has To Find A Date To Claim A Free Vacation, by Ann Leary, New York Times

Daniel Wallace is one of those rare, wonderful writers who make it look easy. You find yourself chortling and sometimes laughing aloud as you breeze through his novels, which makes it possible to overlook the artistry and expertise that render his characters so vivid and his plots so engaging. It’s not so much what his characters experience but how they experience their world that makes them so utterly relatable and unforgettable.

Marriage, Family, A Ph.D.: A Comic Novel Looks At A Chemist’s Unstable Bonds, by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, New York Times

“Chemistry” is a novel about an intelligent woman trying to find her place in the world. It has only the smallest pinches of action but generous measures of humor and emotion.

Cookbook Of The Week: 'All About Eggs,' The Last Cookbook From Lucky Peach, Plus An Egg Tart Recipe, by Amy Scattergood, Los Angeles Times

Hindsight is a funny thing, loaded with irony and regret and a kind of impossible nostalgia, a quality that should, by definition, require more than a few months to accumulate meaning. Think about politics, of course. Think about eggs. Eggs? Well, yes, because we’re talking about Lucky Peach, the recently-shuttered food magazine, and “All About Eggs,” the fourth and final cookbook by the editors of that publication, which came out in April.

So you read this last Lucky Peach cookbook, written by Rachel Khong with more than 50 ancillary contributors, in a kind of vertigo, flipping the pages — and sometimes the actual eggs — with a heady mixture of hunger, amusement and sadness. It is almost impossible not to find a double meaning spilled through the pages like curry sauce. This, of course, has always been part of the fun of Lucky Peach, a publication that was known for its mash-up assembly of excellent and irreverent writing about food, science and culture.

Friday, June 2, 2017

All Spicy Food Is From Latin America, by Vincent Bevins, The Awl

If you ever go to Asia (do not do this, it is too big, and trying to comprehend it will only convince you that your mind was never meant to really comprehend anything) and you want to put all the attention rightly back on yourself, the important American, here is a little trick you can use. First, be in one of the countries that makes really spicy food, and then performatively eat stupid amounts of it in front of everyone. Hurt yourself badly, but pretend like do this all the time. Probably, everyone will laugh and someone will say, “Whoa! Usually Western people don’t like chilis.”

This is your chance. Lean forward, sweating like a giant asshole, wink, and say, “Actually, all spicy food is from the West. Chilis come from Central and South America, and they were brought over here after Spanish colonization. None of your chilis are native to Asia.”

Don’t Make Yourself The Hero Of Your Own Story, by Elena Lappin, Literary Hub

Eight years ago, I decided, very reluctantly, to write a memoir. I had never really planned on it—exploring other people’s lives was always more fascinating to me than openly analyzing my own. Until then, I wrote fiction, where I could hide in plain sight behind the stories I invented, and investigative journalism, where I could delve into the truth concealed within narratives invented by others.

But then, completely unexpectedly, a stranger from Moscow called to inform me that the story of my birth was not what I had known all my life. I was, he said, the child of an American man living in Russia, and the granddaughter of a Soviet spy. Even as he spoke, I felt that whatever the true story turned out to be, I needed to examine it the only way I knew: by writing a book. And I also knew that I would need to write this book—a memoir—before I could go back to writing fiction.

David Sedaris: ‘There Are Things Nobody Wants To Hear. But The Disturbing Things Are Great’, by Alex Clark, The Guardian

David Sedaris’s partner of 25 years, Hugh Hamrick, calls the first chunk of the essayist’s diaries, published under the title Theft By Finding, “David Copperfield Sedaris”. And it’s true, Sedaris concedes, the book – which covers the years from 1977, when he scribbled his first entries on the backs of coffee shop placemats while travelling around, to 2002 – has a certain rags-to-riches quality. In the second volume, on the other hand, “I just go from shopping at Paul Smith to shopping at Comme des Garçons, and I’m on airplanes all the time”. The thought prompts a memory of a recent plane trip, first class from Hawaii to Portland, Oregon. “This woman said, you are so lucky to be seated up front, it’s a great spot for people-watching. And I said, hmm, it could be, but we don’t really count you as people.” He bursts out laughing, and so do I, even though I know I oughtn’t. What on earth did she say? “She laughed, she knew I was kidding. Hugh was horrified. Horrified.”

Leave It To Cory Doctorow To Imagine A Post-apocalyptic Utopia, by Scott Timberg, Los Angeles Times

“I’ve hewed to what really happens in disasters,” says Doctorow of his latest book, the novel “Walkaway”. Sitting in his Burbank backyard that includes a chrome-colored yurt, basketball hoop and surfboard converted into a coffee table, he continues, “This is one of the first disaster novels that says, ‘Disasters are the places where we put our differences aside to help each other but you still find things you can’t agree on.’ How do we dig out of the rubble?”

No Answers At All: The Futility Of Love In Catherine Lacey’s “The Answers”, by Joshua James Amberson, Los Angeles Review of Books

The Answers is perhaps the middle ground between what fans loved about her the first time around and what her detractors thought she was lacking. While it rarely has the stunning, labyrinthine sentences of Nobody Is Ever Missing, it directs that energy into an unpredictable, layered plot that will likely take most readers by surprise.

The Last Show: A Farewell To The Circus, by Roger Angell, New Yorker

Olden days and sweet thoughts do not come naturally to me, and this long reach back to the Ringling Bros. is, perhaps, only an attempt to escape the greater shows on Earth that now envelop us. Low attendance and our recent knowledge of the deep cruelties of animal training have done away with the glitter of the circus. Larger losses impend. Elephants are disappearing in violent—and perhaps unstoppable—fashion, and so is their habitat, and our own. Elephants, at least, deserve better.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Will The Death Penalty Ever Die?, by Jed S. Rakoff, New York Review of Books

The law professors Carol S. Steiker and Jordan M. Steiker (sister and brother) have written a revealing book about the history of the death penalty in the US and, in particular, the continued difficulties the Supreme Court has had in attempting to regulate capital punishment so that it conforms to constitutional standards. If I have a criticism of their otherwise trenchant account, it is of their failure to give more than passing attention to the moral outrage that provides much of the emotional support for the death penalty—outrage felt not only by the family and friends of a murder victim, but also by the many empathetic members of the public who, having learned the brutal facts of the murder, feel strongly that the murderer has forfeited his own right to live.

The Alien That Therefore I Am, by Matt Ossias, 3:AM Magazine

Alien: Covenant (2017) begins with a question that is almost as absurd to ask today as it is to raise in the even more thoroughly scientific future of the film: how did life emerge? Peter Weyland, the wealthy futurist funding the enterprises of the Alien series, disavows the scientific consensus that life sprang into existence from out of a cosmic accident that has likely occurred (and will continue to do so anew) on seemingly innumerable planets. Organic life was born as the contingent effect of a confluence of material causes that are rationally intelligible without thereby implying an intrinsically meaningful raison d’être . David, an android named after the Michelangelo sculpture, is told by Weyland, his creator, to seek out a different answer to creation concealed beyond the Copernican sun of our galaxy. What David finds is not our alien origins, as the film suggests, but an allegory of the alienation constitutive of subjectivity.

‘The Long Haul’ Is A Trucker’s Slangy Tour Of The Road, by Jennifer Senior, New York Times

Truck driving may be dangerous, and truck driving may be stressful, but Finn Murphy is here to tell you that of all species of truckers driving all species of trucks, it’s the long-distance drivers of moving vans who have it worst. You think easing a 53-foot rig through snowy Loveland Pass high in the Rockies requires steel-reinforced nerves? Ha! Here’s what requires a cast-iron stomach and the imperturbability of a Navy SEAL: Backing that rig into the twisting driveway of some starter castle in Aspen, Colo., or Greenwich, Conn., without getting stuck or crushing the new owners’ geraniums.