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Archive for July 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

Surrounding Beethoven, by Wendy Lesser, Threepenny Review

Whenever a Beethoven piano concerto with a prominent soloist appears on an orchestral program, it is likely to be the highlight of the evening. Yet concert protocol dictates that something more traditionally “substantial,” like a symphony, has to come last, with the piano concerto appearing before the intermission. And because the concerto is likely to be shorter than the symphony, something short generally has to be added up front to pad out the pre-intermission period.

Stop Being A Snob And Use Onion Powder, by Leah Koenig, Taste

After years of avoidance, on a whim I sprinkled a little onion powder into a frittata—a dish that, despite the sautéed onions, shallots, garlic, and scallions I folded in, never seemed to pack enough oomph. Or at least, it never used to. That frittata, with its full-bodied, lightly caramelized flavor, was delicious, but it made me a little sad. How arrogant I’d been to write off an ingredient that could boost flavor as profoundly as onion powder, simply because I had deemed it unworthy.

Watling Street: Travels Through Britain And Its Ever-Present Past By John Higgs Review – The Road To Enlightenment, by Ian Thomson, The Guardian

In Higgs’s view, the left’s infatuation with identity politics has “greatly strengthened” the rise of the populist right in Britain. The Labour party has emotionally disengaged from its traditional voters, who feel “belittled” when seen only in narrow terms of race, gender and sexuality. The British right, for its part, has appropriated another sort of identity: national identity, with its paraphernalia of flags, anthems and jingoist sing-alongs. In Watling Street, an exploration of modern Britain and what it means to be British today, Higgs offers a more nuanced understanding of the national psyche.

Corporate Bungling And Political Scandal Abound In Jesse Eisinger's New Book, by Jason Heller, NPR

This book is a wakeup call, delivered calmly yet with no shortage of well-reasoned urgency, to a nation whose democratic traditions are being undermined by backroom dealing, deregulation, and the consolidation of corporate power. It's a chilling read, and a needed one.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Confusing Way Mexicans Tell Time, by Susannah Rigg, BBC

When I first stepped foot on Mexican soil, I spoke relatively good Spanish. I was by no means fluent, but I could hold a conversation. So when I asked a local ice-cream seller in downtown Guadalajara when he expected a new delivery of chocolate ice cream, and he said ‘ahorita’, which directly translates to ‘right now’, I took him at his word, believing that its arrival was imminent.

I sat near his shop and waited, my Englishness making me feel it would be rude to leave. Half an hour passed and still no ice cream arrived, so I timidly wandered back to the shop and asked again about the chocolate ice cream. “Ahorita,” he told me again, dragging out the ‘i’ ‒ “Ahoriiiiita”. His face was a mix of confusion and maybe even embarrassment.

The Chinese Language As A Weapon: How China’s Netizens Fight Censorship, by Jeanette Si, Medium

It may seem like a convoluted system of doublespeak to some, but for Chinese netizens, this is the norm — and always has been. Much of Chinese Internet lingo involves codewords, and the corpus of codewords is constantly changing to accommodate new topics and avoid smarter, stricter censors. It has reached the point where a simple understanding of Chinese vocabulary, syntax, and grammar is no longer enough to fully understand Chinese Internet discourse. On today’s Chinese Internet, fully comprehending the language requires a thorough knowledge of current events, a deep respect for historical implications, an agile mastery of cultural conventions, and more often than not, a healthy appreciation of topical humor.

Better Business Through Sci-Fi, by Nick Romeo, New Yorker

About five years ago, Ari Popper enrolled in a course on science-fiction writing at the University of California, Los Angeles, hoping to distract himself from the boredom of his day job as the president of a market-research company. “It was, like, the best ten weeks of my life,” Popper told me recently. “But I knew I wasn’t going to pay the bills as a science-fiction writer.” Still, the course gave him an idea: since businesses often spend money trying to predict how the world will change, and since speculative fiction already traffics in such predictions, perhaps one could be put in service of the other—corporate consulting through sci-fi narratives. Soon, Popper quit his job, sold his house, and launched his own firm, SciFutures. Today, his network of a hundred or so authors writes customized stories for the likes of Visa, Ford, Pepsi, Samsung, and NATO. Popper calls their work “corporate visioning.”

Marketing Modernism, by Loren Glass, Los Angeles Review of Books

We live in an era dominated by series production. From the Baby-Sitters Club to the Marvel Universe to Vintage Contemporaries to Chicken Soup for the Soul, our cultural products increasingly rely on the series concept to ensure market viability and brand loyalty. Cheap Modernism not only provides us with a fascinating backstory on this marketing mechanism, but it also illustrates an exemplary methodology for future study of what we might call serial culture.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Always A Critic, by Paula Marantz Cohen, The Smart Set

We all know that a book can change the shape of history. Think The Communist Manifesto and Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, not to mention the Bible and the Koran. But a book review? How much influence could a book review possibly have?

Judging from Norman Mailer’s review of Norman Podhoretz’s 1967 memoir, Making It, a lot. Serving as a catchall and a coda for the collective judgment of liberal intellectuals of the day, Mailer’s review would help turn Podhoretz against his progressive roots and harness his exceptional energy and intellect on behalf of neoconservatism, a movement that played a role in the election of Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes, and Donald Trump.

Academic Language And The Problem Of Meaninglessness, by Nathan J. Robinson, Current Affairs

It’s so easy to lose track of the meaning of words. Say any word enough times and it becomes a mere sound, its semantic content steadily evaporating with each additional usage (“anthill…anthill…anthill…”) Some words, such as “democracy,” “justice,” and “fascism,” can eventually turn into little more than empty praise or pejorative, essentially the equivalent of declaring “Hooray for this thing!” or “Boo to that thing.”

But, and this should go without saying, if people are actually trying to communicate with one another their words need to have meaning, and we need to have relatively fixed and identifiable definitions for concepts and actions. That’s always going to be elusive, because the usages of words will change over time and vary among users, so it will be impossible for any definition to stay truly stable and universally agreed. Yet while their boundaries can be fuzzy and contested, words ultimately need to be something more than meaningless mouth-noises. When nobody agrees on the definition of a word, when it contains so many possible connotations that it’s impossible to know what anyone who uses it actually means by it, the word is no longer able to effectively communicate.

The Rise And Decline Of The “Sellout”, by Franz Nicolay, Slate

Post-Napster, the music world’s self-righteousness dried up along with its giant pools of money, and the patronage model was revived in the forms of commercial licensing and Kickstarter. Stravinsky, for one, would have approved: “Let me say, once and for all,” he wrote in 1966, “that I have never regarded poverty as attractive; that I do not wish to be buried in the rain, unattended, as Mozart was; that the very image of Bartok’s poverty-stricken demise, to mention only one of my less fortunate colleagues, was enough to fire my ambition to earn every penny that my art would enable me to extract from the society that had failed in its duty toward Bartok as it had earlier failed with Mozart.” On that, both artists and labor organizers could surely agree.

The Idiot Review: Sharp, Funny Reflections On A Not-quite-adult Life, by Ian Maleney, Irish Times

This kind of meta-textual playfulness is not exactly rare in The Idiot, but its success does serve to highlight the impressive level of control Batuman has over her writing. The Idiot is funny and light, but also consistently perceptive, adventurous and intricate.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Humans Are The Only Animals Who Crave Oblivion Through Suicide, by Nicholas Humphrey, Aeon

Let’s suppose that this idea of death originated alongside language and symbolism about 100,000 years ago, and that it spread rapidly across human culture. The consequences for people’s hold on life must have been momentous. For those who, like Roth, would fear oblivion, it could provide a new reason to stay alive. But for others so unfortunate that they would welcome oblivion, it could provide a reason to die. Thus, a major advance in human knowledge could have had a dangerous outcome for human fitness: it could have made suicide – self-serving, egoistic suicide – a potentially attractive option.

How Instagram Is Reshaping Restaurant Design, by Casey Newton, The Verge

For years now, Instagram has sat at the center of trends in food and beverages. Rainbow-colored “unicorn foods” are often designed with Instagram in mind, and entrepreneurs responsible for popular treats like the galaxy donut and Sugar Factory milkshake often see lines around the block after images of their products go viral. Firms like Paperwhite Studio specialize in turning restaurants into Instagram bait by designing twee sugar packets, menus, and coasters bearing slogans like “hello, my sweet” and “hug more.”

Now some entrepreneurs are taking the idea a step further, designing their physical spaces in the hopes of inspiring the maximum number of photos. They’re commissioning neon signs bearing modestly sly double entendres, painting elaborate murals of tropical wildlife, and embedding floor tiles with branded greetings — all in the hopes that their guests will post them.

F-Bombs In The New York Times, by Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic

The New York Times likes to think of itself as a family newspaper. It is also the self-described paper of record. It may not be either, but it’s definitely not both all the time.

Take, for example, the moment when the Times had to choose whether to quote the new White House communications director in a particularly colorful tirade against his colleagues. Anthony Scaramucci, who joined the Trump administration last week, eviscerated the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and the administration’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, in an interview with a New Yorker reporter on Wednesday.

Is It Still Possible To Satirize America?, by Sean Gandert, Literary Hub

The line where reality ends and satire begins has moved, for sure, but all that means is that we need to move with it. Creating and consuming satire is a way of keeping ourselves from complacency, from saying, “He can’t go any further than this,” or, in the words of Sinclair Lewis, “It can’t happen here,” because of course it can. It already has.

The Surprising Things Statistics Tell Us About Fiction, by Dan Piepenbring, New Yorker

In high school, writing term papers on the family PC, I’d often turn to Microsoft Word’s “readability statistics” feature to make sure I sounded smart enough. With a few clicks, Word assigned my papers a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: a number from one to twelve indicating how many years of education the average reader would need to have completed in order to decipher my language. I had no idea how Word made this calculation, but I noticed that it rewarded prolix sentences with a higher “grade.” So that’s what I wrote. I put my every word choice under close scrutiny. Soon my paragraphs buckled under the weight of clauses and polysyllables, but I, a ninth grader, was generating prose that only twelfth graders could read—which made me pretty hot shit, my thinking went.

Those Flesch-Kincaid trials came back to me as I read “Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing,” by Ben Blatt, which looks at the canon as a statistical gold mine to be dredged for patterns, variances, and singularities.

The Zoo Is A Terrifying Place In 'Fierce Kingdom', by Lizzie Skurnick, NPR

It's hard to imagine how a scene of a mother buying her child crackers from a vending machine could be one of the more terrifying things in contemporary fiction. But that is the case with Gin Phillips' Fierce Kingdom, in which shooters take over a zoo at dusk, forcing those left behind to hide or be picked off along with the penned-in animals.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

American Sounds, by Heather Radke, The Paris Review

I first heard “Communicating with Horses” in 2008, sitting in a cold room in Portland, Maine, with a handful of other aspiring radio producers at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. We listened closely, unsure where to look. We screwed up our faces, confused. The freedom of the piece was what struck me the most; I remember thinking it was so profoundly weird. There was no real narrative thrust. The piece used real tape—the woman was an actual animal communicator—but it also used elements of fiction and theater that were outside the rules of radio as I had understood them. It was the mid-2000s public-radio equivalent of hearing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913. No one screamed or hurled fruit at the speakers, but we were disturbed: Was this allowed?

What Will You Learn From Watching ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’?, by Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic

And the Paris Agreement on climate change provides the closest thing this documentary has to a plot. Over the course of 100 minutes, Gore educates handsome young people about global warming while working off-stage to push for a finished document. The movie’s climax is the agreement’s completion—a crowning achievement for Gore, and a rare triumph in the long and otherwise sorry history of global climate cooperation.

And just think: If 100,000 people had voted differently in three states, that could have even been the end of the movie. (Warning: This review contains spoilers about the last nine months of geopolitics.) But given that the last moments of the film take place in this world, the movie spends its last moments on the election of Donald Trump and America’s abandonment of Paris. Gore declares that we cannot go back, we cannot lose ground, we cannot surrender—but he seems as at a loss as anyone else about what to do next.

Why A Toaster Is A Design Triumph, by Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

The mechanism that raises and lowers the bread from the chassis is motorized. After I press a button atop the frame, the basket silently lowers the bread into the device to become toast. On its own, this feature seems doomed to mechanical failure. But the risk is worthwhile to facilitate the toaster’s star ability: the “A Bit More” button. That modest attribute offers a lesson for design of all stripes—one that could make every designed object and experience better.

How Grilling Fish Wrapped In Banana Leaves Teaches You To Trust Your Intuition, by Samin Nosrat, New York Times

For the timid or uninitiated, leaf-wrapped foods offer an ideal and gentle introduction to fire cooking. Liberated from the need to worry about whether the fish is sticking to the grill or burning, pay attention instead to the rate of browning on the surface of the leaf, which you’ll get to discard whether it chars or remains pale. When juices begin to drip from the packets, you’ll know the temperatures within are climbing. Wait a minute or so, then unwrap a parcel. Check the fish. Is it firm and flaking apart at the touch, no longer translucent but opaque? If so, you’re done. If not, rewrap the fish and return it to the grill for another minute.

Playlist For A Classic Novel: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by Emily Temple, Literary Hub

First things first: I know A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play and not a novel. But I write this column, and therefore, much like Puck—not to mention Shakespeare himself—I get to break the rules. Plus, it’s feeling mighty midsummery out there (though technically, we’re way past the solstice), so a romantic, hot-weather playlist seems like just the ticket to get us all through the weekend.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is filled with music—fairy songs, mostly (“Weaving spiders, come not here; Hence, you long-legged spinners, hence; Beetles black, approach not near; Worm nor snail do no offence,” etc.)—and has been given many musical treatments over the years since it was put to paper in the late 1500s. But what if William Shakespeare had been a young, love-sick playwright, looking for inspiration in this century? Below, I’ve picked some dreamy, goofy, magical tunes that might have made for good writing music for the bard of bards.

Two Poems, by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Hyperallergic

If you die in real life do you die in the dream?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Strange Cultural Obsession With Brains In Jars, by Philip Ball, The Atlantic

I have no idea yet how I will respond to my own “brain in a jar.” But it has set me thinking about how pervasive this cultural trope is, and how much is invested in it. There is something disturbingly intimate about seeing, perhaps even touching, the brain of another person, and it’s not surprising that the image features in tales of transgression both real and fictional. A heart preserved in formalin is often seen as mere inert offal, but we seem to suspect that within the soft clefts of the human brain the person themselves somehow resides—or at least clues to what made them who they were.

So the brain in a jar has become a potentially misleading avatar of self. Its grey folded surface represents an illusory boundary between everything we know and everything outside of that knowledge.

Spending A Week In The Nude, by Jamie Lauren Keiles, Racked

By the time I went home, I’d seen a hundred soft dicks, hanging from men taking walks in the woods, hanging from men eating chocolate éclairs, resting like thumbs upon beanbag chairs, and hanging from grandpas and 11-year-old boys. By then I could say I’d grown bored of all the breasts — the mosquito-bite boobs and the honkin’ big naturals, the mastectomy scars and the ingenious bolt-on racks. My only real shock was how fast I inured to the sight of an ass that hung elegant like drapes. As it turns out, anything beautiful or grotesque can become boring with enough exposure. I saw zero public boners, and heard two public farts. If I had not been there, naked myself, I might now say that nudity is not a big deal.

I traveled to the Eastern Naturist Gathering in June, clothed and nervous, by way of rented Hyundai. I was sent there not to leer at naked bodies, but to see if I could prove, by way of contradiction, what we accomplish when we choose to wear clothes. The festival was hosted by the Naturist Society, a club for family-friendly nude recreation. I was allowed to attend as a writer so long as I agreed not to name where it was held: at a rented overnight camp, out of sight from any highway.

Trauma, Storytelling And Time Travel, by Leslie Kendall Dye, Electric Literature

“I live on West 76th Street, near Broadway,” said the mother on the playground, as we watched our girls romp on the jungle gym.

I hesitated. Then I replied that I had a friend who had jumped out a window on that block many years ago. “That man was a friend of yours?” she asked. I was taken aback; evidently the story had traveled the neighborhood and was a frequent anecdote. I thought of Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. “My, you do like a good story, dontcha?” she asks Sweeney suggestively.

Who doesn’t?

There’s No Such Thing As Historical Fiction, by Paul Lynch, Literary Hub

Let’s suppose you are a novelist writing fiction set in an historical era. Ask yourself this question: What reader from 1817 would recognize themselves in a novel written 200 years later? That reader would collapse in a cold swoon and wake up bereft and bewildered. The novelist can expertly summon a voice. They might evoke with uncanny accuracy the morals and codes of an era. For sure they will step carefully through the minefield of anachronisms—or blow themselves up in the name of revisionism. But any idea of an authentic past in the novel is illusion—the historical novel is an act of prestidigitation.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How Real Magic Happens When The Brain Sees Hidden Things, by Vebjørn Ekroll, Aeon

Inattentional blindness is just one example of a more general feature of our visual experience known to cognitive scientists as ‘the grand illusion’. When we look at the world around us, almost everything in our visual field appears clear, vivid and rich in detail but, in experiments, our objective ability to detect change is more suggestive of an observer with a bag on his head, with just a small hole through which to see anything. This observation hole can be moved around by the observer himself or it can be manipulated automatically when interesting events occur in the environment. But at any given moment, the observer sees the world only through a small hole in a bag. The essence of the grand illusion is that you have the impression of a clear view, while in reality you are limited by what you can see through the little hole in the bag over your head.

‘Make It So’: ‘Star Trek’ And Its Debt To Revolutionary Socialism, by A.M. Gittlitz, New York Times

If humanity in the 21st century is to be rescued from its tailspin descent into the abyss, we must recall the choice offered by the alien visitor from the 1951 sci-fi film classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

“Join us and live in peace,” Klaatu said, “or pursue your present course and face obliteration.”

I think of it as science fiction’s useful paraphrasing of Rosa Luxemburg’s revolutionary ultimatum: “socialism or barbarism.”

Let's Go To Jerusalem For Soup Again, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Saveur

It is impossible to believe now, but I was someone who could be pleased by simple things once. Back then, everything was new to me: all the world and all the people and all the soups. My eyes were open. They haven’t closed since.

But who could know that it was youth and inexperience that was so delicious? Who could know that a condition of your growth and experience in the world would be that soup would go from perfect to good to okay? Who knew that growing taller would actually make you smaller?

Taboo By Kim Scott Review – A Masterful Novel On The Frontier Of Truth-telling, by Melissa Lucashenko, The Guardian

Kim Scott navigates a lot of tricky ground in this fine, ambitious novel. His characters dance on the page through a multitude of startling events: a living curlew erupts from a campfire; a skeleton which is not a skeleton totters forward and speaks. And finally we are left with these understandings: prison stultifies. Language vivifies. The dead remain, always. And where tradition has been smashed, the vulnerable suffer most, women and girls especially.

On Vacation In Greece, And Refusing To Feel Ancient, by Henry Alford, New York Times

Yet these are smallish quibbles. In the end, Freed’s candor works to lift the veil off the misperception that life after 60 consists mostly of conversations about sciatica or ceaseless and slightly abject devotion to a tiny, shivery dog. Not for these ladies the lavender-redolent consolations of dozing off in old age’s quiet meadow. No, Ruth and Bess and Dania’s sojourn on their paradisal-looking island is full of tension — a tension that might beg the phrase “an exercise in suffering.” People cheat. People deliver insults. People fall down.

Monday, July 24, 2017

When Life Is A Fate Worse Than Death, by Haider Javed Warraich, The Guardian

All the physicians involved in Karen’s care agreed that her prognosis was extremely poor. They also agreed that the chances of her coming out of her coma were next to nil. Many physicians at that point might have gone with the Quinlans’ wishes, yet the doctors in this case did not. In retrospect, it is still difficult for me to imagine what I would have done in their position. On the one hand, Karen was in a state where her quality of life was almost subhuman. She was dependent on a machine to help her breathe. She needed artificial nutrition, in spite of which she was seriously underweight. And it was clear that there was no available technology or intervention that would help her regain any of her normal functions. Subjecting her to these interventions was not making her feel better in any conceivable way, and keeping them going was not going to make her feel different either.

And yet, at that time, all this was happening in a complete ethical and legal vacuum. Physicians are trained to think autonomously and to manage the patient in front of them. Several times a day, physicians face ethical decisions. Most of the time, they do what is congruent with their own moral compass. At that time, they rarely looked over their shoulder and second-guessed a decision. Frequently they would go ahead and write their own rules. Variability in medical practice increases as one moves into a data-free zone, and ethical decisions at the end of life were about as data- and legislation-free as it got.

Why Are We Still Talking About Avocado Toast?, by John Birdsall, Bon Appétit

This is a story of a dish everyone loved, then everyone hated but hardly anyone stopped eating. It’s a story about love and fashion, of private devotion and public shame. It’s a story of a thing with an unclear past and an evolving present, though it never really changes. It’s about millennial excess to some—a hashtag on more than 400,000 Instagrams.

To others it shows the cynicism of restaurants eager to make bank on a dish with the easiest of odds: a vegetal-tasting fruit of supermarket ubiquity, spread onto the world’s most common comfort food.

Yes, this is a story about avocado toast. Simple as that. Or, rather, “basic”—trendy in a bland, unquestioning way, without imagination or style—that’s what avocado toast has become. But that doesn't mean we’ve stopped paying $9 for it.

A New Kind Of Adultery Novel, by Alexandra Schwartz, New Yorker

Rooney has said that she wrote the bulk of “Conversations with Friends” in three months—there’s that flow for you—and her book has the virtues of that speed with surprisingly few of its faults. Perhaps as a result of such swift execution, the novel gave me the curious feeling that Rooney wasn’t always sure where she was going but that she trusted herself to find out. She writes with a rare, thrilling confidence, in a lucid and exacting style uncluttered with the sort of steroidal imagery and strobe flashes of figurative language that so many dutifully literary novelists employ. This isn’t to say that the novel lacks beauty. Its richness blooms quietly, as when Frances, about to have sex with Nick for the first time, says, with moving clarity, that her insides feel “hot like oil,” or when she recalls a terrifying episode during her childhood when her alcoholic father, stumbling into the house drunk, tripped over one of her shoes and threw it into the fire: “I watched it smouldering like it was my own face smouldering. I learned not to display fear, it only provoked him. I was cold like a fish. Afterward my mother said: why don’t you lift it out of the fire? Can’t you at least make an effort? I shrugged. I would have let my real face burn in the fire too.”

An Odyssey Through Self-Harm And Out The Other Side, by Daphne Merkin, New York Times

“Lights On, Rats Out” is told up-close and in the writerly equivalent of slow motion, as though the narrator is still trying to figure out what everything means and how to fit it altogether. LeFavour’s tale is a gritty one, and requires a certain corresponding grit in the reader. It is, among other things, a love story about a dedicated and gifted analyst and his difficult but equally gifted patient. For those who have wondered what actually takes place in therapy, this book provides a sense of the granular way in which change can take place. We are so used these days to instant diagnoses, even for complex, many-tiered problems, that it comes as something of a shock to read an account of nearly gothic suffering that does not provide easy answers or assign ready blame, preferring instead to circle its own mysteries. (Even Dr. Kohl is stymied, wondering if his patient was a victim of early sexual abuse that she can’t call up.) This is a courageous and unsettling memoir, infused with humor as well as pain, and marked throughout by a survivor’s wry insight.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Anti-Waiter Sentiment That Made Automat Restaurants Go Mainstream, by Michael Waters, Atlas Obscura

Beginning in the late 1800s, restaurants went to great lengths to develop “waiterless” systems to please their customers. These mostly failed attempts tried replacing waiters with a mix of conveyer belts, dumbwaiters in the centers of tables, and—in one particularly odd case—500 mini electric cars.

In 1896, German engineer Max Sielaff, the inventor of the vending machine, teamed up with a candy company to open the most enduring such waiterless restaurant: the Automat.

How Disability Benefits Divided This Rural Community Between Those Who Work And Those Who Don't, by Terrence McCoy, Washington Post

Tyler would hold a sign on the side of the road and beg for money. He would go to a town 30 miles down the road and stand at one of the region’s busiest intersections, where he prayed no one would recognize him, to plead for help from people whose lives seemed so far removed from his own.

To Tyler, the collapse of the coal industry had left two kinds of people in these mountains. There are those who work. And there are those who don’t: the unemployed, the disabled, the addicted, and the people who, like his family, belonged to all three groups. Those who work rarely mix with those who don’t, except in brief encounters at the grocery store, at the schools or, for Tyler, along the side of the road, where he knew he was likely to encounter acts of generosity as well as outbursts of resentment.

As he walked toward the car and got inside, he had so many hopes in his head. He hoped he would get enough money to feed his family. He hoped the cops wouldn’t arrest him. But most of all, he hoped he wouldn’t run into a man named David Hess.

I Went To An Urban Sweat Lodge To Try To Sweat Out My Problems, by Nick Leftley, MEL

If there’s one thing I hate in life — and there is not; I hate many things with equal vigor — it’s being too hot. In bed, my wife sleeps under two sets of covers, wearing pajamas, still shivering, while I lie naked, the covers thrown off, two limbs ideally hanging through the nearest open window. Heat is my mortal enemy: The sensation of sweat dripping down my back in a crowded, clammy subway station makes me want to tear off my own skin.

So, naturally, MEL decided I was the best person to send to an urban sweat lodge to spend 55 minutes sealed inside an infra-red sleeping bag that heats up to 160 degrees.

In July.


'Caesar's Last Breath' Is A Breezy History Of Our Atmosphere, by Jason Heller, NPR

People tend to take air for granted, but as Kean will persuade you, its invisibility and odorlessness — and, at times, its visibility and smell — hold clues to history. He uses the volcanic eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980 as a gateway to explore the previous atmospheres that Earth has harbored over its existence, a past he vividly describes as "a place where megabubbles of poisonous gas broke free all the time and stalked the landscape like supernatural terrors." From there he meanders through a variety of subjects — anesthesia, steelmaking, refrigeration, gas warfare, atomic testing — while putting on his well-worn storyteller hat. He tells alternatingly horrific and comic tales about World War I's ominous Operation Disinfection as well as how Charles Dickens' Bleak House stirred up a huge controversy about, of all things, oxygen.

The Music Shop By Rachel Joyce Review – Hits All The Right Notes, by Hannah Beckerman, The Guardian

But what really elevates The Music Shop is Joyce’s detailed knowledge of – and passion for – music. There are stories here about composers and musicians ranging from Beethoven, Vivaldi and Purcell to Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin and the Sex Pistols. Joyce weaves these into Frank’s musical therapy and the flashbacks to his childhood with his bohemian, emotionally remote mother, Peg, who taught him how to listen: “Music is about silence… the silence at the beginning of a piece of music is always different from the silence at the end… Because if you listen, the world changes. It’s like falling in love. Only no one gets hurt.”

Saturday, July 22, 2017

It's Okay To Be A Coward About Cancer, by Josh Friedman, Time

You don’t battle cancer. You don’t fight it. If cancer wants you it sneaks into your room at night and just takes you. It doesn’t care if you’re John Wayne or John McCain.

The “tough guy” narrative is seductive. It suggests we have control over our fate, that we can will cancer away. These are lies we tell ourselves. And for some patients that’s helpful. It gets them through the day. For them, it’s a useful tool. But courageousness is a standard that no sick person should feel like they have to meet.

Ellen Cooke, by Sadie Stein, The Paris Review

My mother has seen more ghosts than anyone I know. I am not sure why, although I once read that there is some correlation between allergies and sensitivity to such things. Certainly my mother has worse allergies than anyone I’ve ever met, and a constitutional disinclination to seek treatment. Also, the barriers between her emotional states have always seemed unusually porous—she can switch from anger to sadness to laughter to unfettered generosity with dizzying speed and total commitment—and maybe that applies to the barriers between the living and spirit realms, too.

Jeremiah Moss Was Here, by Molly Fitzpatrick, Village Voice

In his new book, Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul, Moss offers a wrenching, exhaustive chronicle of the “hyper-gentrification” of New York — and the relentless monotony of chain stores and luxury high-rises that continues to suffocate small businesses and displace the poor, working-class, immigrant, and ethnic communities and artists, eccentrics, and bohemians who have made the city what it is. Vanishing New York is an urban-activist polemic in the tradition of Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities: Every page is charged with Moss’s deep love of New York. It is both a vital and an unequivocally depressing read.

Life Lessons (With Zombies) In 'Minecraft: The Island', by Jason Sheehan, NPR

The twist here? The protagonist is very much human. Comes from our world, and reacts in a believable (if simple) way to being dropped into a universe where different physical laws apply. He experiences fear and anxiety and triumph. He befriends a cow and some sheep. He fights for his life and, by the end of things, emerges wiser and better prepared for moving on. It is the Hero's Journey, Pocket Edition. A one-man Illiad.

And it even has some zombies in it. Because it just wouldn't be a Max Brooks book without them.

Book Review: “Of Mouse And Men – Confessions Of A Walt Disney World Character Performer”, by Chuck Mirachi, Huffington Post

In the past, when guests yelled, “Andy’s coming!” the “Toy Story” characters would supposedly go lifeless and drop to the ground. When asked about this, Hopkins said “We would joke about it off-set… in training they were adamant about us never going down to the ground in costume when onstage. So, even if a guest had done it, we probably wouldn’t have played along. Plus, if Buzz had gone down, he’d have a heck of a time getting back up in that costume.”

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Unsettled, by Jessa Crispin, The Outline

Bali's beaches have long been the preferred destination of Australians looking for a place to get drunk and high and fucked, but Ubud has always been more of a cultural center, a place where artists around the world would learn from Indonesian artisans, work, and find a little peace amid the stunningly beautiful setting. Then, in 2006, Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love brought Ubud into the mainstream as a spiritual hotspot for finding yourself after a failed relationship, and what followed was a surge of development. She accelerated a process already in motion, but her descriptions of Ubud as a place of healing and awakening sparked countless pilgrimages. People started to come to Bali not just for a sunny retreat, but to live the good life.

On My Second Birthday We Landed On The Moon., by Mike Monteiro, Medium

My son made me realize that we are also a genetic code that travels through time. We are ancestors. We are descendants. And while we can’t fix the problems of the past in the present, we can make sure that we break the patterns that formed those problems. We can make sure the problems of our ancestors don’t plague our descendants. I want to be a good ancestor. Because I want my son to be a good ancestor someday too.

We don’t have to be the people our parents raised us to be. We need to be the people our children need us to be. The truth is our children raise us more than our parents ever did.

The History Of The Bendable, Durable, Chewable Board Book, by Olivia Campbell, Literary Hub

My two older kids liked books fine, but were never this eager or interested at such a young age. Perhaps it’s because when he brings me a book, everything else stops and I am suddenly speaking to and giving attention only to him—not his brothers or my work emails or the dinner dishes. But it’s not just the story or even the pictures that intrigue him—he loves manipulating the book itself.

Board books—those roughly 6” square books printed on thick paperboard that average a dozen pages or so, with vibrant illustrations and a sentence per page—are ubiquitous nowadays. And their popularity shows no sign of abating. Indeed, they have seen some of the largest growth of any book category: According to Nielsen, sales rose 7.4 percent over the previous year in 2016. And from 2010 to 2015, sales skyrocketed from 17 million units to 31 million units.

But where did it all start: when did we first think to make books catering to the sensibilities and durability needs of small children?

Fears Of British English’s Disappearance Are Overblown, by The Economist

This is—to use another Americanism—horsefeathers. American and British English differ on many levels: spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, style and grammar. Mr Engel focuses on showing that some British words are giving way to, or making room for, American alternatives. But these are a fraction of the huge vocabulary otherwise shared by the two dialects. It is easy to find a newspaper article in which not a single word (spelling aside) is distinctly British or American. In other domains (recipes and car-parts, for example) differences are frequent. But these domains are local and personal, and highly resistant to change.

London’s Hot And Busy Summer Of 1858, by The Economist

If you wanted to devote an entire book to a year in Victorian Britain, 1858 would not be an obvious choice. Rosemary Ashton, who has done just that, admits as much. No famous novel was published, and the government, like many just before it, collapsed in a vote of no confidence. Historians prefer 1859: Charles Darwin published his “On the Origin of Species”, the Liberal Party was founded, and Dickens, Tennyson, Eliot and Mill all produced major works. 1861 brought the death of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria’s withdrawal from public life. So why 1858?

The Chess Set On A Table Between Two Chairs, by Mary Jo Bang, New York Times

I wanted to be my father: leave, return, leave again saying nothing to no one.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Basic Income Really Could End Poverty Forever, by Dylan Matthews, Vox

You can’t assume away politics, though. And when you take a look under the hood of major plans from basic income advocates, the politics begin to look daunting. The coalition between left and right evaporates, the idea’s economic inevitability looks fanciful, and the promise that the plan could end poverty forever looks more dependent on technical details than you might think.

In part that’s due to disagreement about what basic income is for. I think it’s a useful tool for eliminating or dramatically reducing poverty in both poor and rich countries. But a lot of basic income advocates embrace it for other reasons, like responding to automation’s threat to jobs, or dismantling the welfare state. These purposes are often confused and contradictory, and lead to plans that differ widely and won’t get the same kind of bipartisan buy-in that the general concept does.

Basic income is going through an adolescence. I still think it’s a vitally important, worthwhile idea — but it needs to grow up a lot to survive the transition from the faculty lounge to actual policy.

How To Build A Tech-Age Company Town, by Zach Mortice, Citylab

Two company towns established about 15 years apart—Marktown, Indiana, and Hershey, Pennsylvania—illustrate the perils of the model, and provide some context for understanding what might become of Facebook-ville in a few generations. Both started out as worker-friendly visions of enlightened Gilded Age industrialism, but their fortunes diverged dramatically. Today, Hershey is a relatively prosperous town of 14,000 that embraces its heritage as the home of a beloved candy company; Marktown, once a steel manufacturing center, is now beset by vacancy and disinvestment, hemmed in by hulking oil refineries. What happened?

How Metaphors Shape Women’s Lives, by Sophia Smith Galer, BBC

Social scientists examining gender inequality have often conjured up bizarre imagery to try and explain social phenomena in the workplace. The ‘glass ceiling’, for example, is well known, but researchers have also proposed many other metaphors to describe the barriers and experiences that women – and men, too – face in their careers.

So, what do these metaphors mean, and could these words influence the way gender inequality is or isn’t tackled?

To Understand Why We Have So Many Languages, Look Way, Way Back In Human History, by Michael Gavin, New York Magazine

Why is it that humans speak so many languages? And why are they so unevenly spread across the planet? As it turns out, we have few clear answers to these fundamental questions about how humanity communicates.

Spying On The Rich In Crazy Rich Asians And Moll Flanders, by Aaron Hanlon, Ploughshares

Kwan writes Crazy Rich Asians with compelling command of the vernacular of high-end designer brands and luxury experiences. Even if he’s bullshitting, he’s fooling me deliciously, along with, I assume, the vast majority of readers who also wouldn’t know which Patek Philippe is the most exclusive one or which Alexander McQueen dresses are in season. But Crazy Rich Asians works on a more sophisticated register than simply wowing the non-rich with designer name-dropping and things described as “sumptuous.” Hot pink cover notwithstanding, this is not the novel version of the Sex and the City film franchise (though a Crazy Rich Asians film is currently in the works).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Metaphysics Of The Hangover, by Mark Edmundson, The Hedgehog Review

We commonly think of hangovers as the next-day result of too much alcohol. We overdo it the night before, and the following morning we pay. We develop flu-like symptoms. We get a headache; our joints hurt; it’s an unpleasant thing to stare too long at the light, which seems all too inclined to stare back—hard. Whatever optimism we might have stored away in the vault of our psyche seems to have disappeared. We’re down, sorry, sad, and grim. We feel as if we have succeeded in poisoning ourselves—and the word is that we have. The word toxic hides in the middle of intoxication, like a rat in gift box. We’ve infected our bodies with toxins, and at first we got a happy ride. Some scientists speculate that the euphoria induced by drinking may come from the way alcohol summons forth energies to fight against the possibility that we’ve been poisoned. Being drunk, or even tipsy, thus understood, is elation as the defenders come roaring into the breach like a wave of charging knights. Banners flap, armor clangs, the hautboys sound in the air.

But then comes the morning, and it is time to pay. We arrive at the downside of the event. As high as we have mounted in delight, as the poet puts it, in dejection do we sink as low. That really does seem to be the case. The higher we’ve flown under the influence, the more down and dirty is the experience of the morning after.

My Friends Are Dead, by Aimée Lutkin, Jezebel

Scrolling through Instagram in bed a few months ago, I saw a picture of my friend Anthony*. Before my brain processed who I was looking at, I felt a shock up and down my spine. Anthony has been dead for almost six years. For a moment, he was alive again, posting on Instagram.

Though we met when we were 14 and remained friends through college and our 20s up until the day of his death at 27, I have very few photos of myself with Anthony. I have a small copy of his high school yearbook picture, which had similarly affected me when it slipped out of the pages of an old album into my lap late last year. On the back he wrote, “Dear Aimee, You’re special. Love, Bill Cosby.” We didn’t know then.

No one knows what’s in the future, but I remember that as a teenager I was in a rush to find out, and brimming with the sense that things were going to start really cooking any second. Adults are often nostalgic for this feeling, but I think it’s just because they want to shake off that burden of knowing. The older you get the more you know about how people’s stories unfold and, sometimes, where they abruptly end.

David Lynch Is Obsessed With The Ways Cars Kill Us, by Rick Paulas, Vice

Analyzing the seedy underbelly of seemingly innocent norms has been a mainstay throughout Lynch's career—perhaps most on the nose in the opening of Blue Velvet, when he bypasses the pristine white picket fence for a close-up of the savage ants tangling in the grass below. It's not surprising, then, that throughout his career, Lynch has mined nightmare fuel from the most benign horror in American life: the automobile.

It Is A Truth Universally Acknowledged That Jane Austen Pairs Well With Tea, by Nina Martyris, NPR

But to turn to Austen's novels to savor her much-paraded relationship with tea is to set oneself up for disappointment. Tea is mentioned frequently but never fully. The sampling of lines below, variations of which occur throughout her six novels, illustrates the brisk indifference with which Austen treats tea.

We All Live In The Dark, But Some Of Us Live In 'The Dark Dark', by Carmen Maria Machado, NPR

But once you boil away the horror, these are stories about middle-class women imprisoned by the domestic in some way or another. Hunt's female characters are full of deep trenches that overflow with sorrow and rage. They are safe and suburban and utterly, profoundly alone — abandoned to their griefs, their desires, their particular understanding of the world.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Lawyer, The Addict, by Eilene Zimmerman, New York Times

Peter, one of the most successful people I have ever known, died a drug addict, felled by a systemic bacterial infection common to intravenous users.

Of all the heartbreaking details of his story, the one that continues to haunt me is this: The history on his cellphone shows the last call he ever made was for work. Peter, vomiting, unable to sit up, slipping in and out of consciousness, had managed, somehow, to dial into a conference call.

Is The Study Of Language A Science?, by Arika Okrent, Aeon

Science is a messy business, but just like everything with loose ends and ragged edges, we tend to understand it by resorting to ideal types. On the one hand, there’s the archetype of the scientific method: a means of accounting for observations, generating precise, testable predictions, and yielding new discoveries about the natural consequences of natural laws. On the other, there’s our ever-replenishing font of story archetypes: the accidental event that results in a sudden clarifying insight; the hero who pursues the truth in the face of resistance or even danger; the surprising fact that challenges the dominant theory and brings it toppling to the ground.

The interplay of these archetypes has produced a spirited, long-running controversy about the nature and origins of language. Recently, it’s been flung back into public awareness following the publication of Tom Wolfe’s book The Kingdom of Speech (2016).

Two Days In An Underwater Cave Without Oxygen, by Claire Bates, BBC

Luckily, Gràcia remembered that other divers had talked of an air pocket in a chamber nearby. He tugged Mascaró to it, and there they talked through their options.

Both knew they only had enough air for one of them to make it out.

"We decided I would stay and Guillem would go for help. He was skinnier than me and needed less air for breathing. I was also more experienced at breathing cave air, which has higher carbon dioxide levels," Gràcia says.

What Is The Heart Of A Poem?, by Chloe N. Clark, Ploughshares

The first word or two of a poem is such a small thing, one word out of many, but in a poem every single word can hold the weight of the entire piece. What about poems that begin with a specific subject for their first word—I, You, She, He, They, a person’s name? Does having a set character at the center of a poem shape the way we read it?

How To Stop Time By Matt Haig Review – Provokes Wonder And Delight, by William Skidelsky, The Guardian

Haig has been gifted with a rare ability, which is to make the far-fetched – and even ridiculous – seem believable. His books tickle your mind and tug on your heart, and their pages slip by with beguiling ease.

Monday, July 17, 2017

How To Crowdfund A Restaurant Empire, by Tim Adams, The Guardian

Looking back now, Usher recalls how that rejection was the point that he had to ask himself how much he wanted the business to work. The answer was: very much indeed. But he was going to have to do things differently. “My dad had a big stroke the week before Sticky opened and he’d run businesses and I looked up to him,” he says. “He impressed on me how I needed to work with the banks, always to be suited and booted when I went to talk to the manager, all that. But I realised at that moment when they said no it didn’t matter what I looked like. Banks had changed. I never saw the same person twice. They had little interest in what we were trying to do.” The local branch was not far away from Sticky Walnut but, he says, no one there ever told him they had been in for lunch.

Eventually Usher managed to scrape the money together for “an airship of an air conditioning system” but he wondered if there might be another way. For a couple of years he had been in charge of everything in the kitchen, and also overseeing front of house. He had a tight team, but no way to promote anyone, without stepping aside, which he couldn’t afford. A stellar review from Marina O’Loughlin in the Guardian made Sticky Walnut even busier. It was voted AA best restaurant of the year in 2014, at which point, Usher thought: “Fuck it, let’s do another restaurant.” That way he might improve his revenue, and have a way to promote his staff. The banks, ludicrously, remained unforthcoming. Then a friend suggested crowdfunding. Usher’s elder brother Shaun had just done something similar with a book project he had been trying to get off the ground: Letters of Note. Gary was dubious at first. “But Shaun was saying to me: it will work. And that is how Burnt Truffle came about.”

One Of The Most Common Questions In American Small Talk Is Seen As Rude In Much Of The World, by Lila MacLellan, Quartz

There is something daring in seeking out an exchange with someone, especially a stranger. For such occasions, cultures around the world develop a repertoire of easy conversation starters. In the United States and Canada, however, one opener dominates: what do you do?

Whatever the reason—the influence of a Protestant work ethic, or a desperate attempt to not appear classist—North Americans habitually start a conversation with strangers by asking what they do for a living. It’s one of many customs in which American cultural norms deviate from those of the UK and Europe.

In most places in the world, asking a stranger what kind of work he or she does, especially without any pretext, is frowned upon. And now, “What do you do?” is finally becoming a tainted question in North America, too.

What Makes Maths Beautiful?, by Cal Flyn, New Humanist

This concept of “beauty” found in maths has been referred to over centuries by many others; though, like beauty itself, it is notoriously difficult to define. Mirzakhani has compared her work to novel-writing (“There are different characters, and you are getting to know them better”); Einstein thought it “the poetry of logical ideas”; Bertrand Russell saw this “supreme beauty” as more statuesque (“a beauty cold and austere, like sculpture… sublimely pure”).

What Time Is It When You Pass Through A Wrinkle In Time?, by Kaitlyn Teer, JSTOR

Quantum physics isn’t the only discipline whose conception of time influences the novel. L’Engle’s fascination with time pervades her fiction and nonfiction, especially as concerns kairos, a concept from classical rhetoric meaning, roughly, to say or do the right thing at the right time.

Both kairos and chronos are Greek words for time. Kairos, a term for which there is no English cognate, is usually defined in opposition to chronos. Put simply, chronos is time that can be objectively, quantitatively measured. Kairos, on the other hand, is more subjective and qualitative. Sometimes theologians translate kairos as “God’s time.” L’Engle seems to prefer the definition “real time.”

This New York Love Story Subverts Its ‘Happily Ever After’, by Terrence Rafferty, New York Times

“I think I hate those fairy tales,” an evil old man declares in Victor LaValle’s strange and wonderful new novel, “The Changeling.” “Not really the tales, but how they end. Three words that ruin everything. ‘Happily ever after.’” Everybody’s a critic, especially in New York City, where this bitter man lives and where virtually the entirety of LaValle’s story — which is a fairy tale — takes place. (The urban action is interrupted only by a couple of nervous forays into the terra incognita of Nassau County.) In New York, its natives know, there’s no such thing as “ever after”: Everything changes, all the time, and the best we can do is plant our feet and hold on tight, straphangers on the hurtling express train of fate. The three words (spoiler alert) are in fact uttered on the last page of “The Changeling,” but LaValle revises them as soon as they’ve been spoken. He’s a New Yorker, Queens-raised. He gets that happiness isn’t somewhere you live forever; it’s an apartment whose rent isn’t stabilized, much less controlled.

Eureka By Anthony Quinn Review – Saucy Antics And Artistry In Swinging London, by Peter Stanford, The Guardian

If Eureka is beginning to sound too clever by half, rather like a 60s counterculture film, what brings it all delightfully together is Quinn’s flawless, easy-going prose. He never once puts a foot wrong either in the wealth of period detail or in giving each well-drawn character their distinctive voice. Clever, certainly, but in just the right measure.

Graceful 'Hollow' Is Solid All The Way Through, by Bethanne Patrick, NPR

Ollie's voice is one of the most believable I've encountered this year, sustained by honesty, realism, and compassion. In his exile, Ollie has taken stock. His reckoning with the past creates the story's exquisite tension and makes the final scene bloom with tenderness to the extent that the book doesn't even need the hollow-earth device. The core of Hollow is anything but.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

How Economics Became A Religion, by John Rapley, The Guardian

Although Britain has an established church, few of us today pay it much mind. We follow an even more powerful religion, around which we have oriented our lives: economics. Think about it. Economics offers a comprehensive doctrine with a moral code promising adherents salvation in this world; an ideology so compelling that the faithful remake whole societies to conform to its demands. It has its gnostics, mystics and magicians who conjure money out of thin air, using spells such as “derivative” or “structured investment vehicle”. And, like the old religions it has displaced, it has its prophets, reformists, moralists and above all, its high priests who uphold orthodoxy in the face of heresy.

What Is “Neo” About Neoliberalism?, by William Davies, New Republic

The term “neoliberalism” refers to various things, but is perhaps best understood with reference to an intellectual and political movement that sought to reinvent liberalism in a twentieth-century capitalist context. This context differed from that of Victorian liberalism in various ways, but especially in terms of the scale of bureaucratic centralization in both business and government. Intellectually it began in the 1930s, gathered momentum via think tanks and academic exchange in the post-war period, and then attained a grip on governments and multilateral institutions from the 1970s onwards. The contrast between this “neo” liberalism and its political and economic forebears can best be understood in terms of three distinctions.

Is Cultural Appropriation Ever Appropriate?, by Arthur Krystal, Los Angeles Review of Books

So about nine months ago, I turned the screenplay into a treatment for a six-part TV series, broadening its scope to include fictional and historical figures of the Regency period. Currently represented by the largest talent agency in Europe, the treatment is making its rounds of studios, eliciting both enthusiasm as well as regretful demurrals because of prior commitments. Nothing unusual about this, but this time something new had been added to the mix. As one well-known producer put it, the fact that neither the director nor the writer is black is “a huge red flag.” People in the industry, he said, are going to be wary of green-lighting the project.

Yes, it’s true, I am engaged in “cultural appropriation,” which, according to some moral custodians, makes it both unseemly and illegitimate for a Caucasian, however well meaning, to depict a person of color. I, quite literally, don’t have the bloodlines to portray Tom Molineaux, at least not in a creative or fictional format. As it happens, I wrote about Molineaux for The New Yorker in 1998 on publication of Black Ajax, a sly and rambunctious novel by George MacDonald Fraser. Relying on reports by the British press, Fraser presented Molineaux as a brutish simpleton with occasional flashes of insight, whose bad attitude and outrageous behavior are documented by multiple narrators. My screenplay and treatment take a very different tack, and my Molineaux is nothing like Fraser’s. Nonetheless I am guilty of putting thoughts into his head and writing dialogue for black people.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Joyous Homecoming For New York City’s Whale, by Kate Knibbs, The Ringer

Last November, a humpback whale swam up the Hudson River. The animal was spotted slapping its fin near the Upper West Side and then splashing below the Statue of Liberty’s effervescent mint skirt. I read every story I could about this cosmopolitan animal, worried that it would die like the poor Gowanus dolphin. One whale expert kept appearing as a source: Paul Sieswerda, a retired aquarium curator living on Staten Island, who had nicknamed the Hudson whale “Gotham,” and who assured reporters that it was likely not lost but hungry.

Another humpback was spotted in January, this time in the East River, near Gracie Mansion. Once again, Sieswerda was called on as New York’s resident whale guy, and once again he noted that the whale was likely feeding. I wanted to meet this man who was watching the whales return, and so this past April, I took a bumpy bus ride to the tip of the city to meet Sieswerda on a sand-swept dock in the Rockaways.

The Condition That Shielded My Grandfather From Heartbreak, by Kate Axelrod,

By the first week of July, a nurse called and said, Things are progressing. This seemed like misleading terminology, but I understood what she meant. Later, I flipped through the manual the hospice team had given us. Inside, it described how a body prepared for death, carefully and methodically shutting down. Perhaps it was just the way the copy was written, but the whole process seemed improbably kind and gentle. Like a family moving out of a home it loved but no longer needed. Reducing bedrooms to cardboard boxes, packing up photo albums and dishes and books to put into storage.

At ninety, death was ordinary and expected and it was not tragic. I knew these facts to be true and yet they seemed in direct opposition to everything I felt. I was seized by panic and dread each time Sadie’s breath was followed by the ominous death rattle—which sounded as though she were drowning after every inhalation (I was assured by doctors this was not actually the case.) My grandfather sat on the couch just a room away and he watched the news, listened to WQXR, laughed softly as his caregivers flirted with him and encouraged him to eat his dinner, a chicken breast and some steamed broccoli.

In 'Meddling Kids,' The Scooby Gang Grows Up — Hard, by Jason Sheehan, NPR

So yes, Meddling Kids is a story about what happened to the Scooby Doo gang after they all grew up. And it is awesome. It is a book that lives completely in the sweet recollections of childhood summers; that exists in the power band of maximum pop-culture self-referentialism. It trades on memory and nostalgia with almost zero ironic distance, just embracing the ridiculousness of its own backstory with both arms, making the surviving members of the gang (plus one hallucination) wear all their damage and all their scars in plain view. They were kids who saw some messed up stuff. They suffered horribly for it, and mostly in silence. Now they're going back to mend those things in them that have been broken.

And that's just the beginning.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Sleep Disorder That Makes People Hallucinate Their Own Death, by Michael McGirr, New York Magazine

Every night for the last 12 years, Anne has slept by the phone, waiting for calls. A few minutes after half past two in the morning, perhaps, the phone will ring.

Sometimes the caller is a nuisance, which is why Anne prefers to keep her last name private. But more often than not, somebody is calling for a few words of reassurance. They ask Anne a straightforward question: Am I still alive?

Anne tells them that, yes, they are alive, and then they hang up, released from their confusion, at least for tonight.

A Grand Unified Theory Of Avocado Toast, by Nathan Heller, New Yorker

I grew up in coastal California, the proud heart of the avocado belt. Yet I had never heard of avocado toast before coming to New York, which seemed odd, since New York avocados are mostly disgusting—small, starchy, and at once underripe and bruised. The toast, at first, felt of a piece with the same Gotham masochism that makes New Yorkers pay three-quarters of their income for hutch-like apartments and relish walks on trash-walled streets. I shrugged it off. Then, a few years ago, I started noticing acquaintances proposing avocado toast instead of lunch. (“Let’s get lunch soon!” is the traditional way to issue a hard goodbye in this city; one imagines it being shouted into six-foot trenches.) At that moment, I joined the frenzy. “We should get avocado toast,” I began announcing to friends and their dogs on the street. I found myself portentously signing e-mails “Avocado toast soon,” like a crazed man with a sandwich board foretelling the apocalypse.

Biddable urban people have had many culinary fixations over the years: bran, goji berries, boba, or those burgers with the mournful lettuce buns. Few people have suggested that any of these are stifling the middle class. Something about avocado toast taps into a deeper sense of where the world is headed, and—depending on your view of that future—is either scrumptious or abhorrent. Why? Even at a time when fancy sandwich stuffs are imbued with social symbolism, avocado toast remains a cultural cipher, a new lunchtime icon with a hazy past.

Lessons Learned From 11 Years Of Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwiches For Lunch, by Priya Krishna, Taste

At age seven, when I started at my new school in Texas, as one of only three Indian kids, I was desperate to fit in. Most of the kids brought brown-bag lunches containing Oscar Mayer turkey sandwiches on snow-white slices of Wonder Bread, accompanied by those little bags of Snyder’s pretzels. My parents wanted to pack me leftover dal—our cumin-spiked lentil soup—and sabzi (vegetables stir-fried in some sort of masala). But I saw the way the kids reacted with shrieks and wrinkled noses when the other Indian girl in my grade brought that kind of stuff to the cafeteria. Having a normcore lunch was a way of telling people that you weren’t here to disturb the status quo. So I begged my mom not to make me take Indian food. Maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

Why Is It So Hard For A Woman To Read Alone In America?, by Susan Harlan, Literary Hub

If you sit for many hours and look down at a book and then up at a city and then down at the book again, eventually the two blend into one, and there is no longer any difference between them. This is how the collapse between literature and life happens. Lots of people distinguish between books and life. The page and beyond the page. But in those cafés, when I was younger, I mixed them up in my mind, so I didn’t carry that line between the written and the real with me into adulthood, if I ever had it.

Why Women Are So Keen On Swimming, by The Economist

Treading water, sinking like a stone or riding the wave: there is something about water that makes it a good metaphor for life. That may be one reason why so many find solace in swimming when life’s seas get rough, and it goes some way towards explaining why “waterbiographies” and “swimoirs”, in which people tackle icy lakes, race in rivers and overcome oceans while reflecting on their lives, have recently become so popular.

These books reflect a trend, particularly strong in Britain, where swimming in pools is declining, but more and more folk are opting for open water. “Wild swimming” seems to be especially popular among women. Jenny Landreth writes about swimming for the Guardian and recently published a guide to the best dipping spots in London. Her new book, “Swell”, interweaves her own story with a history of female pioneers, “swimming suffragettes” who accomplished remarkable feats and paved the way for future generations.

A Comic Novel Of Infidelity Grapples With Sex And Money, by Michael Schaub, New York Times

Over the course of the past century, writers have spilled a disproportionate amount of ink on the subject of men and their cheating hearts, long before and after John Updike followed Rabbit Angstrom’s various pathetic, inexplicable infidelities.

As a literary theme, it’s about as played out as a dog barking in the distance on a dark and stormy night, but sometimes, miraculously, a writer manages to breathe some new life into the subject, even if it takes some hard-core CPR to do it.

The Answers By Catherine Lacey Review – How To Solve The Love Problem, by Sarah Ditum, The Guardian

As the computer Deep Thought pointed out in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it’s no good spending seven and a half million years working on the answer if you don’t start with a good idea of what the question is. Lacey’s second novel, the follow-up to 2015’s Nobody Is Ever Missing, opens with a full-scale assault on readerly curiosity: a female narrator wakes up in her own bed and then locks eyes, shockingly, with a woman called Ashley who is outside her window, staring in. The who, what and why are a powerful incentive to drive through the pages. But for the characters in The Answers, the thing they are looking for is always being deferred or displaced.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Why New York Is Just An Average City, by Geoffrey West, Nautilus

The ubiquitous use of per capita indicators for ranking and comparing cities is particularly egregious because it implicitly assumes that the baseline, or null hypothesis, for any urban characteristic is that it scales linearly with population size. In other words, it presumes that an idealized city is just the linear sum of the activities of all of its citizens, thereby ignoring its most essential feature and the very point of its existence, namely, that it is a collective emergent agglomeration resulting from nonlinear social and organizational interactions. Cities are quintessentially complex adaptive systems and, as such, are significantly more than just the simple linear sum of their individual components and constituents, whether buildings, roads, people, or money. There is an approximately 15 percent increase in all socioeconomic activity with every doubling of the population size, which happens almost independently of administrators, politicians, planners, history, geographical location, and culture.

In assessing the performance of a particular city, we therefore need to determine how well it performs relative to what it has accomplished just because of its population size. By analogy with the discussion on determining the strongest champion weight lifter by measuring how much each deviated from his expected performance relative to the idealized scaling of body strength, one can quantify an individual city’s performance by how much its various metrics deviate from their expected values relative to the idealized scaling laws. This strategy separates the truly local nature of a city’s organization and dynamics from the general dynamics and structure common to all cities. As a result, several fundamental questions about any individual city can be addressed, such as how exceptional it is relative to its peers, what timescales are relevant for local policy to take effect, what are the local relationships between economic development, crime, and innovation, to what extent is it unique, and to what extent can it be considered a member of a family of like cities.

Why Are There So Many More Species On Land When The Sea Is Bigger?, by Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic

Half a billion years ago on Earth, after the Cambrian explosion had created an astonishing array of new species, there was still no life on land. No complex life anyway. No plants, no animals, certainly nothing that even compared to the great diversity of life in the sea, which teemed with trilobites, crustaceans, bristly worms, and soft squid-like creatures. Most major animals groups that exist today originated in the sea at this time.

Fast forward to the present, and it is now the land that has a dizzying array of species. In particular: flowering plants, fungi, and insects, so many damn insects. By one estimate, there are five times as many terrestrial species as marine species today. So how did biodiversity in the ocean—despite its head start, despite its larger share of the Earth’s surface area—come to fall so far behind biodiversity on land?

'Goodbye, Vitamin' Is Sweet — But Not Sugarcoated, by Heller McAlpin, NPR

A heartwarming book about Alzheimer's disease? Seriously? Rachel Khong's first novel comes adorned with rows of hot pink, orange, and yellow lemons, but a pitcher of lemonade would have been apt too, for this is a writer who clearly knows how to squeeze the sweetness out of the tart fruit life throws at you.

Room Little Darker By June Calwell Review –Junkies, Sex Slaves And Ghosts, by Ian Sansom, The Guardian

The whole collection is an account – in the words of the narrator of the Poe-inspired story “Imp of the Perverse” – of “so much ugly craving”. The shape and conception of the stories are often shocking enough, but Caldwell’s linguistic verve is what keeps you paying attention, fascinated and appalled.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Occupied Territory, by Rebecca Solnit, Harper's

One morning, as I walked on the quiet, mostly wooded King Mountain trail above San Francisco Bay, a dog not much smaller than I and possessed of much sharper teeth made straight for me, growling. I tried to get away; it butted me roughly. When its owner came around the bend with a second dog, I said, the snot from the first still gleaming on my pants, “You need to keep your dogs under control.” “My dogs are under perfect control,” the woman replied with asperity. The point was clear: She could control them but didn’t care to. She didn’t share my belief that a person should have exclusive jurisdiction over her body.

Indignant, I strode away through the live oaks and the bay trees and the coyote brush. My mind was on its own track. Decades ago, I spent several minutes with my left thigh inside the jaws of a boxer, an episode that left me jumpy about dogs in the same way that a series of threats and assaults has left me anxious about strange men. The encounter on the trail hadn’t just alarmed me—it had offended my principles. I passed by wood ferns, maidenhair ferns, sword ferns, without seeing them. All power, I reflected, can be understood in terms of space. Physical places, as well as economies, conversations, politics—all can be conceived of as areas unequally occupied. A map of these territories would constitute a map of power and status: who has more, who has less.

Spider-Man Taught Me How Live, Comics Taught Me How To Write, by Nikesh Shukla, Literary Hub

Spider-Man was the perfect superhero for the child of immigrants from London in the 1990s. He understood shame and guilt like I did.

Peter Parker’s dual identity—one moment the science nerd, the other as friendly neighborhood Spider-Man—spoke to me. I empathized with the way he code-switched between shyness in one life, and cockiness in the other. He wore different masks and spoke in different languages, a duality synonymous with that of the child of immigrants. Often, while trying to do good, he was caught in lies. He led a secret life. He was unpopular at school. He could have been me.

Virtue And Liberation: The Literary Battle For The Mind Of The American Mill Girl, by Tatyana Branham, Ploughshares

In 2014, Horace Engdahl, judge for the Nobel Prize for Literature, decried the hollow transgressiveness of the Western novel: “Previously, writers would work as taxi drivers, clerks, secretaries, and waiters to make a living. Samuel Beckett and many others lived like this. It was hard—but they fed themselves, from a literary perspective.” Engdahl attributes the toothlessness of the Western novel to the professionalization of the writing class; through grants, university appointments, residencies, or inherited wealth, many writers are able to cobble together enough of a living to avoid the real work most Americans do.

Of course, the hard-won right to make a living from the labor of writing is elusive for most American writers. But Engdahl speaks to a larger problem in the American novel since the last half of the twentieth century: work, and the psychological impacts of work, are rarely represented in fiction. Despite this, America has a rich literary history of labor narratives, particularly in the case of female writers, dating as far back as the mid-nineteenth century.

A Novelist Forces Himself To Press On After Losing 100 Pages In A Tech Glitch, by Mat Johnson, NPR

And with age I, like everyone, have lost far, far greater things. I’ve lost people. I’ve lost people I love, who sometimes I forget I lost, and then remember, and it hurts all over again.

I told the tech at the Apple Store this time, “Just give me a new hard drive. Send it out, send me back a clean slate.” There’s nothing on there I can’t replace. They’re just words. I can write new words. Not only will I replace them, I will write them with the hope that they’ll be even better this time.

Known Alias: How Stephen King Was Outed As Richard Bachman, by Jake Rossen, Mental Floss

With King’s permission, NAL began circulating Thinner with a credit that read, “Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.” The following year, they reissued the previous Bachman titles in a volume titled The Bachman Books, with sales more in line with what publishers would expect from a King title. Film producers who had optioned The Running Man were ecstatic, since they had gotten a bargain Bachman price on the rights for a King product.

The only person unhappy with the reveal was the author himself. Bachman, King felt, was on the cusp of developing his own following and his own identity, and he had fully intended to continue publishing under the pen name. (King had planned on making Misery a Bachman tome.) But Thinner* had been too much of a King book, and there is evidence King himself may been giving himself too much rope with which to hang his alias. One of the characters in Thinner muses that “You were starting to sound like a Stephen King novel for a while there.”

A British Expat In Norway Gets Beyond The Scandinavian Stereotypes., by Lisa Abend, New York Times

Much of the book takes place in dark bars or on drizzling walks with friends of a similar age who argue with his assumptions. Sometimes all this comes off as a bunch of old Scandinavian men sitting around talking about a bunch of dead Scandinavian men. Certainly, this is not the book to read for glowing paeans to generous parental leave or the hottest new foraging chef or architecturally innovative bicycle bridges or any of the other things that have made Scandinavia the darling of lifestyle magazine editors the world over.

Instead, it offers something rarer: an engaging, layered look into a culture complex enough both to produce stylish rain gear and to embrace the foul weather that necessitates it.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Fear Won't Save Us: Putting A Check On Climate Doom, by Michael Mann, Common Dreams

The evidence that climate change is a serious problem that we must contend with now, is overwhelming on its own. There is no need to overstate the evidence, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness.

Freud Fainting, by Nausicaa Renner, The Paris Review

Yesterday, inexplicably, I fainted. I was stepping off the subway and I collapsed onto the platform. I’d known it was going to happen for maybe a minute beforehand. I thought if I could just get to my stop, sit down, and get some fresh air, I’d be okay. But as soon as the doors closed at the stop before mine, I knew it was unstoppable—I crossed the threshold from “might happen” to “will happen.” A grayness clouded my vision. I made eye contact with a woman and absently wondered if I should tell her I was about to faint, if she could read it on my face.

I’ve never fainted before in my life. I came close as a kid: kneeling during mass and standing up too quickly. The grayness would creep in, and I’d lean my weight against the side of a pew. But before now, I’d never fully fainted. I’m sure there’s a physiological explanation: I was probably overheating, dizzy from standing. But that’s no fun. So I looked into the psychological, emotional reasoning behind fainting.

The Bigger Picture, by Kim Fay, Los Angeles Review of Books

I enjoy binge-watching Netflix as much as the next person, but what I really love is binge-reading. There is a special pleasure in encountering a book by someone you have never read before, and then devouring everything by that writer you can get your hands on. From Charlotte Brontë to Graham Greene to M. F. K. Fisher, I have spent countless uninterrupted hours basking in the newly discovered landscape of a single author.

Especially enjoyable is coming upon a crime writer deep into a series. You can hurtle through one new investigation after another, all the while keeping company with the same characters and their maturing (or devolving) relationships with one another. When I came across French writer Philippe Georget’s Crimes of Winter, translated by Steven Randall, I was excited to learn that it was the third of his Inspector Sebag novels. But as I read from book to book, I found that Georget has not written a typical crime series.

What Libraries Lost When They Threw Out The Card Catalog, by Michael Lindgren, Washington Post

“The Card Catalog” is many things: a lucid overview of the history of bibliographic practices, a paean to the Library of Congress, a memento of the cherished card catalogs of yore and an illustrated collection of bookish trivia. The text provides a concise history of literary compendia from the Pinakes of the fabled Library of Alexandria to the advent of computerized book inventory databases, which began to appear as early as 1976. The illustrations are amazing: luscious reproductions of dozens of cards, lists, covers, title pages and other images guaranteed to bring a wistful gleam to the book nerd’s eye.

For someone who grew up in and around libraries, it is also a poignant reminder of a vanished world.

Michael Connelly’s New Detective Makes Harry Bosch Look Like A Slouch, by Janet Maslin, New York Times

The novel moves so quickly, racking up so many witnesses and suspects, that it ought to be hard to follow. But Connelly expertly hides a trail of bread crumbs that leads straight to the denouement, with so much else going on that it’s impossible to see where he’s heading.

Monday, July 10, 2017

When Will The Planet Be Too Hot For Humans? Much, Much Sooner Than You Imagine., by David Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine

But no matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough. Over the past decades, our culture has gone apocalyptic with zombie movies and Mad Max dystopias, perhaps the collective result of displaced climate anxiety, and yet when it comes to contemplating real-world warming dangers, we suffer from an incredible failure of imagination. The reasons for that are many: the timid language of scientific probabilities, which the climatologist James Hansen once called “scientific reticence” in a paper chastising scientists for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat really was; the fact that the country is dominated by a group of technocrats who believe any problem can be solved and an opposing culture that doesn’t even see warming as a problem worth addressing; the way that climate denialism has made scientists even more cautious in offering speculative warnings; the simple speed of change and, also, its slowness, such that we are only seeing effects now of warming from decades past; our uncertainty about uncertainty, which the climate writer Naomi Oreskes in particular has suggested stops us from preparing as though anything worse than a median outcome were even possible; the way we assume climate change will hit hardest elsewhere, not everywhere; the smallness (two degrees) and largeness (1.8 trillion tons) and abstractness (400 parts per million) of the numbers; the discomfort of considering a problem that is very difficult, if not impossible, to solve; the altogether incomprehensible scale of that problem, which amounts to the prospect of our own annihilation; simple fear. But aversion arising from fear is a form of denial, too.

In between scientific reticence and science fiction is science itself. This article is the result of dozens of interviews and exchanges with climatologists and researchers in related fields and reflects hundreds of scientific papers on the subject of climate change. What follows is not a series of predictions of what will happen — that will be determined in large part by the much-less-certain science of human response. Instead, it is a portrait of our best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action. It is unlikely that all of these warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency. But those scenarios, and not the present climate, are the baseline. In fact, they are our schedule.

What Happened When Walmart Left, by Ed Pilkington, The Guardian

The departure was so quick that telltale signs remain of the getaway, like smoldering ashes in the fireplaces of an evacuated town. Notices still taped to the glass entranceway record with tombstone-like precision the exact moment that the supercenter was shuttered: “Store closed at 7pm, Thursday 28 January 2016.”

Ten years. That’s all the time it took for the store to rise up in a clearing of the lush forest of West Virginia’s coal country and then disappear again, as though it had never been there.

But for the people of McDowell County – proud country folk laboring under the burdens of high unemployment, low income and endemic ill health – even such a fleeting visit to this rural backwater by the world’s largest retailer had a profound impact. Both in the arrival, and in the hasty leaving.

Why People From Manchester Are Mancunians, Not Manchesterians, by Dan Nosowitz, Atlas Obscura

A major problem with the entire system of demonyms is that it’s almost entirely ad-hoc, a mess of words cobbled from mostly archaic languages.

Understanding Poetry Is More Straightforward Than You Think, by Matthew Zapruder, New York Times

Do you remember, as I do, how in the classroom poems were so often taught as if they were riddles? What is the poet really trying to say here? What is the theme or message of this poem? What does this word “purple” or “flower” or “grass” really mean? Like classical music, poetry has an unfortunate reputation for requiring special training and education to appreciate, which takes readers away from its true strangeness, and makes most of us feel as if we haven’t studied enough to read it.

This attitude is pervasive. To take just one example, in his introduction to “The Best Poems of the English Language,” Harold Bloom writes, “The art of reading poetry begins with mastering allusiveness in particular poems, from the simple to the very complex.” This sounds completely reasonable, but is totally wrong. The art of reading poetry doesn’t begin with thinking about historical moments or great philosophies. It begins with reading the words of the poems themselves.

Finally Available In English, Out In The Open Is A Spry Feat Of Style And Story, by Shea Hennum, A.V. Club

A breakout success when it first struck the Spanish literary scene back in 2013, Jesús Carrasco’s Out In The Open tells a very simple story: danger hot on his heels, a boy flees across the arid plains of an unknown country toward hardship and pain. Carrasco’s style is terse and direct, and he omits all but the most necessary of details. As a result, the novel reads more like a parable or a fable, replete with iconic locations like a medieval castle, a vast desert, a sparse forest, and an abandoned village. The boy is simply “the boy,” the friendly mentor “the goatherd,” the villain “the bailiff.” Carrasco reduces his story to a series of abstractions and archetypes, grounded by violence, pain, and the relentless, blistering heat of an unforgiving sun. While he keeps readers on a strictly need-to-know basis with his characters, Carrasco spikes his otherwise spartan prose with more lurid descriptions of carcasses and corpses, describing dead dogs as “bags full of dislocated bones like giant chrysalises” and a “putrefying ox” as “an eyeless animal, its skin still intact. A stinking bag of bones in the midst of the new day dawning. A lighthouse guiding them to a safe harbor.”

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Food Court Is Dead. Long Live The Food Hall. Wait, What’s The Difference?, by Henry Grabar, Slate

What makes something a food court, and what makes it a food hall? One is the most discredited concept in 20th-century dining, while the other is the hottest new idea of the 21st: an open floor plan; fresh food prepared in front of your eyes; a post-industrial space, or at least one with high ceilings, exposed wiring, and hanging air ducts. Good-looking people hunched on long benches over small plates or perched on stools around dozens of tiny countertops. The accidental flash of a bad Instagram. The places brim with noise—perhaps even a kind of working sound, an occasional butcher’s chop, something left over from a more utilitarian period, or at least the roar of an espresso machine.

Reduce this concept to the basics—a dozen quick-service restaurants sharing a space, a landlord, and maybe a seating area—and you have a food court. A food hall, in contrast, is a drafty and austere moniker for an age of raw interior design. No pleather or plastic here. What separates the former from the latter is “authenticity,” according to Matthew Fainchtein, a senior director for real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield in Los Angeles and a guy who makes food halls, not courts.

Sam Rocha Told Me Something Beautiful, by Justin Tse, Patheos

Sam Rocha told me recently that I am not a geographer. You are a geometer, he said. Meter precedes writing.

Among the many things he has told me, this is the most recent, I think. He has actually been telling me things for a long time, from before the time we met (online, as it happened). This is because, as I’ve said before, I devoured everything on Vox Nova back in the day. Sam wrote on Vox Nova. He wrote about schooling and why he didn’t like it. He wrote about liberalism and why it was dumb. He wrote about love, and you knew what he was talking about because he played guitar, sang, and had a trio. He wrote about his first tenure-track job at the University of North Dakota, and I remember thinking as I read that post in Hong Kong that I wouldn’t want to go somewhere like North Dakota, but good for this guy, I guess.

Shark Drunk By Morten Strøksnes Review – Fishy Tales From Two Men In A Boat, by Horatio Clare, The Guardian

In vexed times, gently informative escapism is a winner for publishers and a refuge for readers. Strøksnes nails the appeal in a single paragraph. “The landscape is not in front of me. It’s all around me. There is a strong sense of here in the physical ocean current near the Skrova lighthouse. It feels very far away from the information current of everyday life in which we usually float.”

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Closet Archive: A Stuffed History Of Storage Spaces, by Shannon Mattern, Places

For centuries, closets have enabled the collection, preservation, and suppression of missives and media-machines, files and folios. But they are more than that. Behind the doors, closets are also active, generative spaces where media are made, where imaginaries and anxieties are formulated, where knowledges and subjectivities are born and transformed.

“Wee do call the most secret place in the house appropriate vnto our owne priuate studies, and wherein wee repose and deliberate by deepe consideration of all our waightiest affaires, a Closet,” wrote Angel Day, the original English secretary, in 1592. The closets of Early Modern Europe were private studies, media cabinets, epistemological architectures. In a private log, in 1556, Sir William Moore recorded the contents of his closet: “various maps, a writing slate, a perpetual calendar, a calculating board and a purse of counters, an ink stand, coffers, sets of weights and balances, a globe, scissors, seals, compasses, pens, a hammer, a penknife, a foot-rule, and a vast selection of texts in English, French, Italian, and Latin,” much of which was likely kept under lock and key.

This Is How I Want To Be Dead, by Richard Conniff, New York Times

We have made such a mess of the world in the rest of our lives that preserving a portion of nature with our deaths seems like small recompense. Classical mythology had Charon leading the dead across the River Styx and a three-headed dog named Cerberus guarding the entrance to the underworld. I find comfort instead in the idea of having Mole, Mr. Toad and the rest as companions on our travels into the darkness of the Wildwood.

“Who Is Rich?” And The Literature Of Infidelity, by Jia Tolentino, New Yorker

Matthew Klam, the author of the short-story collection “Sam the Cat,” has a new novel—his first—called “Who Is Rich?” that, among other things, is a gem within the canon of infidelity literature. The narrator is a lightly washed-up cartoonist named Rich Fischer who teaches at a motley arts conference in New England. Because he is as waffly and narcissistic as anyone you might expect to find at that sort of venue—and because his best material has always been autobiographical—Fischer is constantly thinking about how he might impose an artistic narrative on the affair that he has come to the weeklong conference to carry out.

Friday, July 7, 2017

On The Iberico Trail, by John. T. Edge, Garden & Gun

Three hours southwest of Madrid, in the rocky and arid region of Extremadura, where oak boughs sag with acorns, crumbling Moorish castles loom, and solar arrays tilt skyward, Allan Benton, the fabled Tennessee ham and bacon curer, glimpses a possible future for Southern food. Leaning into the lunch counter at a truck stop, between bites of a sandwich layered with Spain’s prized jamón ibérico, he wonders why this sort of everyday excellence is elusive back home. “Can you imagine getting a ham sandwich like this at a truck stop in Tennessee?” he asks, working that rhetorical in his head, grappling for an answer, burnishing the possibility like a gemstone.

Don’t Sext Me In The Present Tense, by Josie Thaddeus-Johns, The Awl

Communicating about sex, like a lot of actual sex, is a kind of negotiation, a dance between blunt statements of longing and the careful clarity to ensure that you’re not totally embarrassing yourself. Both of us would use lots of tenses to communicate our desire, but one thing we could agree on was that the present tense was to be avoided at all costs. Just like IRL sex, we don’t really know how other people are doing it until we do it with them — that’s part of the mystique of a crush. Were other people sexting in the present tense, we wondered? As my boyfriend hypothesized about “illocutionary force” and “universal necessity modals” (hot), I took a more straightforward path and started a Twitter poll. “DIGITAL SEXERS: what tense/mood do you sext in?”

The Massive Volcano That Scientists Can't Find, by Zaria Gorvett, BBC

The blast itself would have been heard up to 2,000km (1,242 miles) away and created a tsunami which caused devastation hundreds of kilometres away. In terms of scale, it surpassed even the 1815 eruption of Tambora, which unleashed energy equivalent to 2.2 million Little Boy atomic bombs and killed at least 70,000 people. Traces of the eruption have been found from Antarctica to Greenland.

The thing is, scientists can’t find the volcano that did it. What’s going on?

Seeking Wisdom From Those Who Are About To Die, by Laura Miller, Slate

Books like Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture and Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air spend weeks on the New York Times best-seller list (115 for the former, and for the later, 60 and counting), in part for their promise to share some of the clarity their authors earned in the hardest possible way. Writers have always contemplated their own deaths, of course, most famously Michel de Montaigne, the first modern essayist, whom Kalanithi quotes: “To study philosophy is to learn to die.” But most authors, like the rest of us, don’t get around to thinking about it until late in their lives. Neither Pausch nor Kalanithi were known as writers before they set out to chronicle the approach of their own deaths (from pancreatic and lung cancer, respectively), although Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon, had literary aspirations. Both men were young (46 and 36) when they received their terminal prognoses, as was the late Nina Riggs, author of the lovely new memoir The Bright Hour. Riggs, a poet, wrote a blog about living with stage 4 breast cancer, as well as personal essays on the subject, before her death just as The Bright Hour was going to press earlier this year. Taken together, these three books suggest that universal truths, even in extremis, are elusive. Perhaps they don't exist at all. We die the way we live, idiosyncratically.

In Praise Of Daphne Du Maurier, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

Few writers have watched and captured women with such conspicuous pleasure as du Maurier — the way they walk and wear coats and unscrew their earrings. The way they pin up their hair and stub out their cigarettes; the way they call to their dogs, break horses, comfort children, deceive their husbands and coax plants from flinty soil. Few writers (Elena Ferrante comes to mind) have been so aware of how women excite one another’s imaginations.

“What a pity I’m not a vagrant on the face of the earth,” du Maurier wrote in her diary at 21. “Wandering in strange cities, foreign lands, open spaces, fighting, drinking, loving physically. And here I am, only a silly sheltered girl in a dress, knowing nothing at all — but Nothing.”

Matthew Klam’s New Book Is Only 17 Years Overdue, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Vulture

But with every award and every achievement, the same thought occurred to him: He felt like a fraud. All those awards were for things he was going to do in the future, and he didn’t know if he had anything left to say. He didn’t know if the thing that was audacious in him that made him write “Sam the Cat” — “Fiction is uncalled for, in both senses of the phrase,” he likes to say — was still there. He felt that audacity dwindling.

This thought metastasized. In 2007, he realized he didn’t have another short story in him, and in 2008, his Knopf deadline looming, he disappeared.

Joshua Cohen's Novel 'Moving Kings' Is Brilliant, by Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times

Joshua Cohen’s third novel, “Moving Kings,” is a brilliant book whose brilliance comes via a bait and switch. It opens as a comic portrait of a midlife crisis, but concludes as a somber cautionary tale frothing with cataclysms, including fire and gunplay.

An Architect Turns His Genius To Scheming In An Isaac-Abraham Reboot, by Shulem Deen, New York Times

This is one of Bacharach’s more playful tendencies: good old-fashioned plot twists. His greater strength, though, is his energetic prose, sure-footed and boldly effervescent. While the plot gets a bit dense at times, the author’s ear for the sidesplitting verbal tics of his quirky and deliciously offbeat characters makes this book well worth the read.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

How To Sell A Billion-Dollar Myth Like A French Girl, by Eliza Brooke, Racked

Who is she? She’s intellectual, cool, and a bit of a romantic, but she doesn’t give her approval easily or smile too much. She might run around in black-tipped Chanel slingbacks, or barefoot if she’s on vacation. She has a signature perfume. She eats cheese without abandon and nurses a single glass of wine all night because she’s a master of reasonable indulgences. She’s almost always white, hetero, and thin, and you can only conjure her by willfully ignoring the many French women whose daily routines do not involve bicycling along the Seine in miniskirts with baguettes tucked under their arms.

But the French Girl’s influence is tangible. She makes money for big American drugstore chains, department stores, independent brands, book publishers, magazines, and digital media companies. She definitely has something to do with the fact that rosé, sales of which outpaced the rest of the wine market last year, has become so popular in the US.

The obsession has become a business, and in that sense, the French Girl is perfectly real.

Spiral Escalators Look Cool, But Do They Make Sense?, by Natasha Frost, Atlas Obscura

Designers and architects choose them for the wow-factor, rather than for any inherent advantage. A single one costs around $900,000 to install—at least four times the cost of an ordinary escalator.

Technically, the spiral escalator is stupidly twiddly. They require considerable, highly skilled manual labor that can’t be replicated in a factory: artisanal escalation. And there are plenty of things that can go wrong. “If there is even a slight discrepancy, they just won’t move,” Kudo says.

Shakespeare’s Cure For Xenophobia, by Stephen Greenblatt, New Yorker

I was determined to understand this birthright, including what was toxic in it, as completely as possible. I’m now an English professor at Harvard, and in recent years some of my students have seemed acutely anxious when they are asked to confront the crueller strains of our cultural legacy. In my own life, that reflex would have meant closing many of the books I found most fascinating, or succumbing to the general melancholy of my parents. They could not look out at a broad meadow from the windows of our car without sighing and talking about the number of European Jews who could have been saved from annihilation and settled in that very space. (For my parents, meadows should have come with what we now call “trigger warnings.”) I was eager to expand my horizons, not to retreat into a defensive crouch. Prowling the stacks of Yale’s vast library, I sometimes felt giddy with excitement. I had a right to all of it, or, at least, to as much of it as I could seize and chew upon. And the same was true of everyone else.

I already had an inkling of what I now more fully grasp. My experience of mingled perplexity, pleasure, and discomfort was only a version—informed by the accidents of a particular religion, family, identity, and era—of an experience shared by every thinking person in the course of a lifetime. What you inherit, what you receive from a world that you did not fashion but that will do its best to fashion you, is at once beautiful and repellent. You somehow have to come to terms with what is ugly as well as what is precious.

In ‘The Sisters Chase,’ They’re Starting Over After Mom Dies, by Sarah Lyall, New York Times

In an era of inflationary cheap praise, in which every run-of-the-mill thriller is advertised as some sort of Nobel-worthy combination of Shakespeare, Scott Turow and, inevitably, “Gone Girl,” “The Sisters Chase” is that rare thing, a slow burner that conceals its cunning and sneaks up on you unawares.

How To Stop Time By Matt Haig Review – A High-concept Romance, by Hermione Eyre, The Guardian

“You see, I have a condition,” Tom Hazard, the narrator of this engaging novel, confesses on page one. He is quasi-immortal. “I am old – old in the way that a tree, or a quahog clam, or a Renaissance painting is old. I was born well over four hundred years ago, on the third of March 1581 …” For every 13 or 14 human years, he ages one year. But far from bringing him godlike pleasure, his condition places him at a mournful distance from the rest of humanity, doomed to see everyone he loves age and die. Yep, this is one for fans of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sky High, by Duncan Murrell, VQR

We had spent five days unloading five tons of pyrotechnic product from the truck trailer, putting fuses to it all, carrying it across the several acres of the river sand and dirt that constituted the firing site, then setting it in place. We headed out on those hot mornings strapped with belts festooned with connector pliers, scissors, cutters, permanent markers, masking tape, and vinyl bags filled with hundreds of electrical connectors. We were the anonymous artificiers, the craftsmen, the laborers who, in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century golden age of fireworks, had been insulted and disregarded by the fancy architects, artists, and allegorists who seized credit for the shows fired for kings and popes.

That night we’d arrived at the booth unnoticed by most of the crowd, exactly fifteen minutes before the display was supposed to go off. The setup reminded me of the bridge of warships I’d been on at night during my time in the Marine Corps, only without the helm: mostly dark except for rows of dimly glowing screens lighting up our faces. The windows angled out a little over the stands. A voice came over a speaker in the booth, telling us in French that the sound system was ready. Zach and Patrick spoke to each other in a technical language, something about firepower tests. The red countdown clock edged toward 0:00.

Writing In The Shadow Of A Masterpiece: On Homage, by Margot Livesy, Literary Hub

Let me suggest, then, that one way to make both art and the world new, a way that would never have occurred to my younger self, is to consciously retell an old story.

Such retellings are referred to in various ways. Sometimes they are called “borrowing,” or “reimagining,” or “quoting.” Sometimes they are called “homage,” that elegant French term that points to the superiority of the original. The French critic Derrida, punning on ontology, uses the term “haunting.” I love this image of the earlier work ghosting around in the background of the new. When done secretly, with intent to deceive, it is described in harsher terms as copying, or plagiarism, or theft. This kind of close borrowing has been with us for centuries, perhaps as long as people have been making art. Did the first cave painters copy each other’s bison and horses?

On Accidental Books, by Ellen O'Connell Whittet, Ploughshares

Ann Patchett said of her 2013 essay collection, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, that a friend re-read the old essays she wrote during decades of supporting herself through writing journalism. She came back to Patchett with “a list of the essays she thought could make a book.” Patchett threw out a few from that list, wrote a few new ones, and said, “By this time those pieces were written it was obvious even to me that I was working on a book.” The result is a collection that traces the career of a young writer through the work she did to support herself while she wrote the novels for which she is best known.

There’s something intimate about knowing the genesis story of a book’s origin—how the spark of idea is ignited by a receptive and active mind—and reading it in its completed form. Patchett was paid by the word when her novels could not yet pay the bills, and her writing gained meaning as it grew and connected to new ideas and events in her life, eventually talking to each other in a meaningful enough way to become a coherent collection of essays. In some ways, it took her half a century to write this accidental book, her earliest silhouette as a writer darkening along its edges, informing the book she didn’t know she would write.

The Guilty Pleasure Of Reading Hollywood Memoirs, by Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

You don’t have Los Angeles history without Hollywood history. The entertainment industry found a new home here led in part by theater business rascals slyly getting as far as they could from Thomas Edison in New Jersey, who was trying to enforce his motion picture patents. In Los Angeles, they found a safe distance, lovely weather and light that was particularly suited to the new film medium. You may know all that: It’s part of the many terrific, straightforward, deeply researched histories and biographies I’ve read.

Memoir is another matter. Idiosyncratic and biased, obfuscatory and boastful, even unctuous and vain, the Hollywood memoir is not going to portray the past in a clear light. But like Sriracha on the table, it’s going to bring the heat and make the meal better. So much better.

“On The Side Of The L-law”: Boris Akunin’s Russian Detective, by Yelena Furman, Los Angeles Review of Books

The notion that detective fiction is a second-rate enterprise had long held sway in literary studies: its structure is formulaic, the thinking went, and its plots race toward the solution with little regard for character development or style. But in the past few decades the genre has gained increasing respect; a number of detective authors have been able to achieve popular success while winning scholarly recognition. In the English-speaking world, one such writer is P. D. James, best known for her Adam Dalgliesh series. Her work, replete with psychological insight and expertly crafted prose, proves that detective novels can be literary fiction — with a murder or two thrown in for good measure. In Russia, no author has proved detective fiction’s literary worthiness as definitively as Boris Akunin, pseudonym of Grigory Chkhartishvili. His most famous series stars the detective Erast Fandorin, and The State Counsellor (Statskii sovetnik, 1999) is its sixth installment; like the other five, it has now been expertly translated into English by Andrew Bromfield.

One of the most famous contemporary Russian writers, Akunin is also a literary scholar, critic, and translator of Japanese literature, whose faultless intellectual pedigree manifests itself in the highbrow aspirations of his fiction. The volumes in his three detective series are invariably best sellers, and a number of them, including The State Counsellor, have been adapted for the screen. At the same time, he has won or been nominated for prestigious literary prizes, a recognition of artistic merit that largely eludes writers of detective fiction. Akunin himself stresses that his aim is to produce intelligent work, and, indeed, his reputation in Russia is that of a writer for the intellectual classes, whose members are not embarrassed to admit that they greatly enjoy reading his tales of murder.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Racing The Storm: The Story Of The Mobile Bay Sailing Disaster, by Matthew Teague, Smithsonian

A false start cost another half-hour, and the boats were still circling at 10:45 a.m. when the NWS issued a more dire prediction for Mobile Bay: “Thunderstorms will move in from the west this afternoon and across the marine area. Some of the thunderstorms may be strong or severe with gusty winds and large hail the primary threat.”

Garner said later, “We all knew it was a storm. It’s no big deal for us to see a weather report that says scattered thunderstorms, or even scattered severe thunderstorms. If you want to go race sailboats, and race long-distance, you’re going to get into storms.”

The biggest, most expensive boats had glass cockpits stocked with onboard technology that promised a glimpse into the meteorological future, and some made use of specialized fee-based services like Commanders’ Weather, which provides custom, pinpoint forecasts; even the smallest boats carried smartphones. Out on the water, participants clustered around their various screens and devices, calculating and plotting. People on the Gulf Coast live with hurricanes, and know to look for the telltale rotation on weather radar. April is not hurricane season, of course, and this storm, with deceptive straight-line winds, didn’t take that shape.

How A Napping Subway Commuter’s Brain Knows When It’s Their Stop, by Stephanie Bucklin, New York Magazine

Perhaps you’ve seen them, those mysterious people who can fall asleep on the bus or the train and then, somehow, rouse themselves exactly at their stop. Perhaps you’re one of them. It’s as if the subway napper’s brain can sense exactly where and when it is in time and space, rousing the sleeper so she can exit at the right time.

How is this possible?

A Brief But Potent Scare In ‘You Should Have Left’, by John Williams, New York Times

The new book by the German-Austrian author Daniel Kehlmann, “You Should Have Left,” is a minor trick for him, but a neat one. This mind-bending novella about a writer losing his marbles contains images that startle and linger.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Maggie Shipstead On Being Alone (But Not Lonely) In Paris, by Maggie Shipstead, Literary Hub

I sat motionless at my desk, breathing shallowly, my fingers resting on my laptop’s keyboard. He knocked again, waited, knocked a little louder, waited. Under the apartment door, his feet cast shadows on the dark green linoleum. I didn’t make a sound. Finally, he went on his way, footsteps receding. After a minute, the hall lights, which were on a timer, clicked out, and there was only darkness under the door.

The phone had rung a few times the previous day, and I hadn’t answered. I knew who was calling. It was the same man who had just knocked: not a stalker or a creep, actually, but the Swiss composer who lived across the hall, an affable, fortyish guy with a mop of dark curls. I’d met him in the elevator earlier in the week. According to Google, he composed operas—not just any operas: underwater operas. (In related news, it turns out there are underwater operas. The world is a marvelous place!)

Will You Walk A Little Faster? By Penelope Shuttle Review – An Ode To London, by Kate Kellaway, The Guardian

Penelope Shuttle need not walk any faster – as this, her 14th collection, demonstrates. It is the gentle pace that captivates in her poems. And what a phenomenal poet she is (she has recently celebrated her 70th birthday). She has an unbossy, contemplative, unmistakable voice. She leads you quietly and helps you see things – London especially – afresh. There is nothing stale about the way she writes, although she is thinking about what it means to be older.

Dying: A Memoir By Cory Taylor Review – Courage In Abundance, by Hannah Beckerman, The Guardian

“It takes courage to contemplate one’s own death,” Taylor writes near the start of her book, and there is courage in abundance here. She looked death in the eye and, in her final months, produced a work that will help the rest of us approach our own demise with greater understanding, integrity and insight.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

“It Is So Beautifully Written, It Sings Itself”: The Beach Boys’ Sublime “God Only Knows”, by Jim Fusilli, Salon

“It’s a really, really great song,” said Paul McCartney. “It’s a big favorite of mine.”

“God Only Knows” is the song that corroborates the impression made by almost all that precedes it on Pet Sounds. It confirms what you suspected as you listened to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Sloop John B,” and to “You Still Believe in Me” and “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)”—that Pet Sounds is extraordinary.

“Really, really great” doesn’t quite say it, though such acknowledgment from McCartney is high praise. “God Only Knows” is sublime. As in “transcendent” and “awe-inspiring.” If you hear it, and ponder it as you let it engulf you, you begin to understand the depth of its statement, especially in this context. And its sense of wonder begins with the lyric and the invocation of the word “God.”

How Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood 'Off The Cliff', by Genevieve Valentine, NPR

It's the least surprising thing in the world that a nameless Hollywood executive had this reaction to Callie Khouri's script for Thelma & Louise. It could be a line from the movie itself — there's no shortage of men with that attitude. (Thelma and Louise pull one of them over and blow up his truck.) It's more surprising that, in a town where million-dollar business is shaped by such opinions, the movie ever got made.

Becky Aikman's Off the Cliff is subtitled How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge. That sounds like hyperbole, except that this oral history crackles with frustration on all sides. Khouri bristled at the workplace chauvinism in music videos (which inspired her to write a script about fighting back); Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon were fed up with Hollywood misogyny; Ridley Scott bristled that Khouri didn't fully trust him with her script; the marketing department panicked at selling a two-woman film that begins as a weekend romp and ends with its vigilante heroines driving into the Grand Canyon.

For The Literary Bride, A Fine Gift To Tuck Between The Negligees And Garter Belts, by Lisa Zeidner, Washington Post

It’s peak wedding season, and Ada Calhoun’s “Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give” is a fine gift to tuck between the negligees and garter belts at the more literary bride’s shower. A breezy, warm-hearted meditation on the nature of matrimony, the book began as a “Modern Love” column in the New York Times. Like many of the essays that appear there, the chapters, with titles such as “The Boring Parts” and “The Truth About Soul Mates,” are designed to encourage readers’ ruminations about their own triumphs and hardships in love.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Solving The Mystery Of Whose Laughter Is On The Golden Record, by Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic

This morning, I went back and listened to the NASA file on SoundCloud and realized something else: It turns out the laughter is there, only it’s barely perceptible. Without hearing the better-quality version of the recording first, it’s next to impossible to register. “I've heard how bad the online versions are,” Ferris told me. It’s not clear why the version on NASA’s SoundCloud is so low-quality compared with the pristine audio in its archives.

The laughter is so faint. It’s mostly lost in the static. Billions of miles away, though, the original Golden Record is out there, still in mint condition. Which means Sagan’s laughter—if it is indeed his—may yet be heard in some faraway galaxy, by some species we cannot imagine. But that’s a mystery for another time.

Matt Haig: ‘I Think Books Can Save Us. They Sort Of Saved Me’, by Katy Guest, The Guardian

Haig is probably best known for his 2015 book Reasons to Stay Alive (it was in the top 10 bestseller lists for nearly a year) – a warm and moving memoir-cum-self-help book about his first descent into depression, aged 24, and his subsequent efforts to climb out of it. Haig is also the author of seven novels for adults, seven books for children and various business books, but his latest is a genre-defying novel called How to Stop Time. Its hero is Tom Hazard, an unremarkable history teacher at a London comprehensive, who lives with a secret: he has a rare condition that makes him age very slowly; he may not look it, but Tom is more than 400 years old. This is a book full of fantastical adventures, from Elizabethan England to the south seas, but it is also intensely sad. Tom travels the world and witnesses history, but is doomed to watch societies continually repeat their mistakes. He can hang out with Shakespeare and meet Captain Cook, but the one thing he mustn’t do is fall in love. Like the alien narrator in Haig’s laugh-out-loud funny The Humans, or the family of vampires at the centre of his YA novel The Radleys, Tom is an outsider who is physically superior to mortals, but he would sacrifice it all for a life of human vulnerability and pain. Haig writes exquisitely from the perspective of the heart-sore outsider, but at their most moving his novels reveal the unbearable beauty of ordinary life.

Lunch And Other Distractions: On Susan Bright’s Pictorial History Of Food Photography, by Geoff Nicholson, Los Angeles Review of Books

Luddite or not, Parr, in his own work and via the three volumes of The Photobook: A History (edited with Gerry Badger), has helped create quite a few changes in the photography world. I’m not sure that anyone (other than perhaps Nobuyoshi Araki) has ever photographed food quite so relentlessly and with such attention as Parr. There are also a lot of Parr imitators out there, who mimic the form without understanding the content. He’s on Instagram these days too.

I mention all this because Parr’s influence looms large over Susan Bright’s Feast for the Eyes. For one thing, his work appears in the section labeled “1990s,” although of the eight Parr pictures included only one actually comes from that decade. Here you’ll find his deadpan images of British food: beans on toast, pink cakes in the shape of pigs, half a grapefruit in a bowl on a placemat that depicts John Constable’s The Hay Wain.

The Charm Of 'Spoonbenders' Is No Cheap Trick, by Amal El-Mohtar, NPR

Ultimately, I'm impressed at how well Spoonbenders overcame a rocky start to leave me feeling as happy and satisfied as it did. Reading it is a bit like being tricked into a game of 52 Pick-Up only to watch the cards resolve, mid-air, into a Royal Flush.