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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.