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Archive for October 2017

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Curious Case Of The Biopic, by Ciara Wardlow, Film School Rejects

But whereas pumpkin spice fever will give way to peppermint and eggnog by the time Black Friday rolls around, you can expect biopic season to trudge along all the way through the end of December, the Oscar eligibility cutoff date.


However, when I asked Google to explain why biopics are so popular, a quick scroll through the first few pages of results left me deeply underwhelmed. So I’ve spent the past two weeks doing a lot of reading and enough number-crunching to make me seriously question at least half of my life choices in search of a satisfying answer. While I have not transformed into an all-knowing font of biographical film knowledge, I have learned some things, condensed for your convenience below.

You Are Nowhere, by Emily Lackey, The Rumpus

In the weeks leading up to the end of our five-year relationship, my boyfriend and I spent all our time together watching Alone. The show—a History Channel original—follows ten contestants as they self-document their attempts to survive alone in the wilderness. The winner is the last person left standing. They call it tapping out, but really what that means is that the contestant presses a button on their emergency satellite phone and the rescue crews swoop in.

We didn’t know it was the end then, but in those final weeks my boyfriend, Jamie, and I sat on opposite ends of the couch together, watching in the dark of our small house as, one by one, each of the contestants reached their breaking point and went home.

Midwestern Girl Is Tired Of Appearing In Your Short Stories, by Gwen E. Kirby, Guernica

Midwestern Girl goes to New York City and reminds the protagonist (of course she is not the protagonist) of everything he has left behind. He covets her innocence and despises it. When she gives up and returns home, he is sad, but not surprised.

A flick of your wrist. Midwestern Girl stands alone at a house party. The protagonist smiles at her, as if to say, Cheer up and I notice subtle things, and this reminds the reader that the protagonist is secretly sensitive, no matter what he has done or will do. He and Midwestern Girl never speak and the story leaves her to sip her beer in a corner. In the living room, the protagonist punches his best friend. Will he turn out to be like his father? He ends the night with two strangers. They walk to the East River and throw rocks into the fathomless dark deep.

Leave Novelists Out Of Fiction, by Tim Parks, New York Review of Books

Extraordinary how Beckett, taking an axe to the relation between words and things, conveys and entertains so much more than the novelist who confidently puts words to his inner thoughts. We should read our great authors, not mythologize them.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

This Is What Really Happens When Amazon Comes To Your Town, by Paul Roberts, Politico

To be sure, the town’s business community is mortified to be losing so much of Amazon’s future growth to another city and has roundly blamed the city’s left-leaning “anti-business” politics. But many ordinary Seattleites seem relieved. Most would acknowledge the extraordinary prosperity that Amazon has brought to Seattle since Jeff Bezos and his startup arrived in 1994. But they are also keenly aware of the costs, not least the nation’s fastest-rising housing prices, appalling traffic and a painful erosion of urban identity. What was once a quirkily mellow, solidly middle-class city now feels like a stressed-out, two-tier town with a thin layer of wealthy young techies atop a base of anxious wage workers. As one City Council member put it, HQ2 may give Seattle “a little breathing room” to cope with a decade of raging, Amazon-fueled growth. A commenter on a local news site was less diplomatic: “Amazon = cancer.”

Traveling Across Japan, by Eve Lyons, New York Times

“I like to document the small things people do on a daily basis that are not significant enough to be listed in the history books,” he said. “I would like to think that that’s part of history, too, but not in an obvious or romantic way.”

With that in mind, the Mr. Ito got in a car with three of his best friends from elementary school and drove 90 minutes from Tokyo to Atami, a kitschy seaside city that is a popular destination for family vacations. “I think that’s part of Japanese culture, too,” he said of the country’s goofier tourist attractions.

What Are We Doing Here?, by Marilynne Robinson, New York Review of Books

I have been reading lately about the rise of humanism in Europe. The old scholars often described themselves as “ravished” by one of the books newly made available to them by the press, perhaps also by translation. Their lives were usually short, never comfortable. I think about what it would have been like to read by the light of an oil lamp, to write with a goose quill. It used to seem to me that an unimaginable self-discipline must account for their meticulous learnedness. I assumed that the rigors and austerities of their early training had made their discomforts too familiar to be noticed. Now increasingly I think they were held to their work by a degree of fascination, of sober delight, that we can no longer imagine.

John Milton said, “As good almost kill a man as kill a good book.” He was arguing, unsuccessfully, against licensing, the suppression or censoring of books before publication. This was usual in the premodern and early modern world, of course. How many good books were killed outright by these means we will never know, even granting the labors of printers who defied the threat of hair-raising punishments to publish unlicensed work, which others risked hair-raising penalties to own or to read.

The Inner Life Of Animals By Peter Wohlleben Review – A Revolution In How We Regard Other Species, by Richard Kerridge, The Guardian

Wohlleben’s revelations about trees were startling, but it remains hard to entertain the idea that our consciences should be troubled by plants feeling pain and fear. We can feel delight at the intricate, sensitive lives of trees without having to question our continuing use of wood. Animals are another matter. Discoveries about animal feelings and intelligence raise questions of conscience with which we already struggle.

Friday, October 20, 2017

How Money Became The Measure Of Everything, by Eli Cook, The Atlantic

What happened in the mid-19th century that led to this historically unprecedented pricing of progress? The short answer is straightforward enough: Capitalism happened. In the first few decades of the Republic, the United States developed into a commercial society, but not yet a fully capitalist one. One of the main elements that distinguishes capitalism from other forms of social and cultural organization is not just the existence of markets but also of capitalized investment, the act through which basic elements of society and life—including natural resources, technological discoveries, works of art, urban spaces, educational institutions, human beings, and nations—are transformed (or “capitalized”) into income-generating assets that are valued and allocated in accordance with their capacity to make money and yield future returns. Save for a smattering of government-issued bonds and insurance companies, such a capitalization of everyday life was mostly absent until the mid-19th century. There existed few assets in early America through which one could invest wealth and earn an annual return.

Capitalization, then, was crucial to the rise of economic indicators. As upper-class Americans in both the North and South began to plow their wealth into novel financial assets, they began to imagine not only their portfolio but their entire society as a capitalized investment and its inhabitants (free or enslaved) as inputs of human capital that could be plugged into output-maximizing equations of monetized growth.

The Allure Of The Egg, by Bernd Brunner, The Smart Set

The science of eggs is called “oology” (from the Greek “oion”) and not, as one might have guessed, “ovology.” Is interest in the outer covering of an egg an expression of the joy the observer feels as they anticipate the new life forming, unseen, inside? That is doubtful, because the act of collecting blown eggshells and storing them in boxes, drawers, and cupboards — taking them out from time to time to dust them off — pretty much shoots that theory down. Is there any connection at all between marveling at the object and appreciating the bird? It hardly seems possible that the urges to collect eggs and to delight in birdwatching could coexist in the mind of one person. Perhaps it is only the egg in all its flawless perfection that fascinates, and what the observer experiences is an appreciation for the object in and of itself?

How Food Created The British Empire, by The Economist

In 1879 a group of British soldiers at the battle of Rorke’s Drift in South Africa struggled to defend themselves against thousands of Zulu warriors. For shelter they threw up an improvised barricade. And the material they chose? Bricks of biscuit tins made by Carr’s of Carlisle.

It is an image that nicely sums up “The Taste of Empire”, in which Lizzie Collingham, a British historian of curry and of the Raj, argues that food was not an adjunct to Britain’s imperial might but fundamental to it. Usually it is assumed that Britain’s empire appeared and then Britain’s food trade—that vast tonnage of tea, flour, sugar, bully beef and Crosse & Blackwell pickle that swept across the seven seas—appeared to feed it. Ms Collingham turns that idea neatly on its head. It was not so much the empire that began the trade, but trade that began the empire.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Let The New York Times Google That For You, by Jaime Fuller, The Awl

In 1908, there was no sparsely decorated webpage with a blinking cursor silently begging to answer every stupid question that had ever decided to staycation in your brain. So when New York Times reader F.S. Shaw wanted to know the know the heights of the Eiffel Tower and the Singer Building in order to settle a bet, his best option was sending a letter to the newspaper. When fellow subscriber David Levy was curious about the population of Salt Lake City, he did the same, as did the person who just wanted to know how Benedict Arnold’s descendants were doing. Eventually, the answers appeared in a column in the fashion and society section, forbear to the Sunday Styles, next to articles about the Long Branch dog show, the fine weather at Bar Harbor, and diatribes against the dearth of small hats this season. It was called “Queries from the Curious and Answers to Them.” It was mail-order Google for the exceptionally patient.

We’ve Got American Cuisine All Wrong, by Sean Sherman, Eater

Aware of this urgency, indigenous communities throughout North and South America are in the process of reclaiming their language, arts, seeds, knowledge, and cuisine. Those of us committed to the indigenous food movement are tapping into the wisdom of our ancestors — and using today’s technology to research and recover much of what was lost or destroyed. By sharing our research, as well as our elders’ wisdom, we are working together to bring something larger than any single one of us to the plate. This is not a revolution or reclamation; it is an indigenous evolution.

Hard Up In New York, by Jonathan Franzen, New Yorker

In 1981, before full-scale gentrification, before mass incarceration, the city seemed starkly drawn in black and white. When a young Harlem humorist on the uptown 3 train performed the “magic” act of making every white passenger disappear at Ninety-sixth Street, I felt tried and found guilty of whiteness. Our friend Jon Justice, who that summer had Thomas Pynchon’s “V.” stuffed into the back pocket of his corduroys, was mugged at Grant’s Tomb, where he shouldn’t have been. I was aesthetically attracted to cities but morbidly afraid of being shot. In New York, Amsterdam Avenue was a sharp dividing line, and I stood on the east side of it only once, when I made the mistake of riding a C train to 110th and walking home from there. It was late afternoon and nobody paid attention to me, but I was light-headed with fear. Deepening my impression of menace were the heavy, light-blocking security gates on our windows and the police lock in our entry hall, its steel rod anchored to the floor and angling up to a slot on the front door. I associated it with our next-door neighbor, an elderly white man with raging senile dementia. He would pound on our door or stand on the landing, wearing only pajama bottoms, and asseverate, over and over, using a vile epithet, that his wife was having relations with black men. I was afraid of him, too, and I hated him for naming a racial division we liberal kids accepted in silence.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Joni Mitchell: Fear Of A Female Genius, by Lindsay Zoladz, The Ringer

Some people think that when a woman takes her husband’s last name it is necessarily an act of submission or even self-erasure. Joni Mitchell retaining Chuck’s last name for decades after their divorce has always struck me as a defiant, deliciously cruel act of revenge. In the 50 years since, she spread her wings and took that surname to heights and places it never would have reached had it been ball-and-chained to a husband: the hills of Laurel Canyon, The Dick Cavett Show, a window overlooking a newly paved Hawaiian parking lot, the Grammys, Miles Davis’s apartment, Charles Mingus’s deathbed, Matala, MTV, the Rolling Thunder Revue, and the top of a recent NPR list of greatest albums ever made by women. Over a singular career that has spanned many different cultural eras, she explored—in public, to an almost unprecedented degree—exactly what it meant to be female and free, in full acknowledgement of all its injustice and joy.

A Day In The Life Of A Freelancer, by Lorraine Berry, Literary Hub

When I was a younger woman, back in the days when I longed to call myself a “writer,” but knew that I had not yet established any kind of writerly authority to claim the mantle, I remember reading an interview with Graham Greene. He explained how he was able to write one novel per year: he told his interlocutor that he held himself to a standard of 500 words per day—no more, no less—and that, in the course of a year, that would produce a novel.

At about that same time, I was struggling to be a writer, an ambition that took a direct hit after being sexually harassed by my writing professor—although at the time, I thought it was my fault—I had even fantasized that if my life’s ambitions were to come true, some day I would live in a cottage by the sea, and I would support myself by writing.

Happy Accidents, by Eileen Myles, The Paris Review

It’s funny to think I just stumbled on this book by chance. I must have been escaping from something much more heavy—I love the turgid pace of an academic book, if it’s a topic I really care about, about once a year. I think I probably escaped to Jean Stafford from something like that, and I didn’t expect much of her. I thought, Oh, this is just good old-fashioned fiction, I’ll try that for a change. So often you’re just reacting to the last book you read, and you want something that’s a little bit of an antidote to that. I’ve found that if I live a more programmatic life where I’m reading the books that I’m supposed to read—if I’m accomplishing all my little chores of reading what everybody else is reading—I stop having time to read in a way that’s rich and multiple.

'Death In The Air' Revisits 5 Days When London Was Choked By Poisonous Smog, by Maureen Corrigan, NPR

Certainly, the London of Sherlock Holmes would be a lot less mysterious without that obscuring fog. Impressionist painter Claude Monet, who famously depicted the Houses of Parliament shrouded in mist, said that: "Without the fog, London would not be a beautiful city. It is the fog that gives it its magnificent breadth."

Monet was talking about an added dimension to the city; but "breath," as in human breath, was precisely what the fog stole from London in the terrible winter of 1952.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Live Alone, But Die In A Very Large Group If You Can, by Jim Behrle, The Awl

Human beings were never meant to live with one another. We’re just not built for it. Adam and Eve, look how they fucked that relationship up. Blaming each other, listening to snakes. Their sons killing each other. All we do is get on each other’s nerves, constantly, for almost no reason. Basically all American sitcoms are about how impossible it is to cohabitate with anyone, including our families. If we were smart we would have long ago adopted those Japanese Hotel Pods everywhere. Make them sound proof, so I don’t have to hear my neighbor’s Creed CDs on full blast. Lock yourself in and everyone just live and sleep in dark, soundproof, lonely silence. We think humans are the cure for loneliness. But the cure is probably robots. Or at least, talking boxes.

Fish Depression Is Not A Joke, by Heather Murphy, New York Times

But what has convinced Dr. Pittman, and others, over the past ten years is watching the way the zebrafish lose interest in just about everything: food, toys, exploration — just like clinically depressed people.

“You can tell,” said Culum Brown, a behavioral biologist at Macquarie University in Sydney who has published more than 100 papers on fish cognition. “Depressed people are withdrawn. The same is true of fish.”

An Unflinching Take On Love And War: Charmaine Craig’s “Miss Burma”, by Rosalie Metro, Los Angeles Review of Books

Miss Burma reminds us that there is no nation-state on earth that wasn’t built around exclusion and violence. Craig has called writing this novel “a political act”; it is also clearly a deeply personal one. She weaves those threads together for us, showing us the ordinary human failings behind what often seem like clear-cut cases of good and evil.

“Lack of courage keeps us from understanding others’ perspectives,” a fellow political prisoner tells Benny. While this novel cannot untangle ethnic identity from tribalism, it is a courageous attempt to broaden the way we see others and ourselves, both personally and politically, at home and abroad.

Breathing New Life Into Ancient Stories, by Scott Lankford, Los Angeles Review of Books

Award-winning Native American author Greg Sarris’s new collection of stories, How a Mountain Was Made, presents a stunning array of ancient California Coast-Miwok narratives freely reimagined as contemporary allegories. The tales are deeply rooted in the past, present, and future of the Northern California landscape.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Secrets Of Sleep, by Jerome Groopman, New Yorker

When I trained to be a doctor, some four decades ago, everyone neglected sleep. “On call” duty for hospital interns began at 6 A.M. and lasted twenty-four hours; I often kept on working until early evening the next day, after which I would stumble back to my apartment and fall asleep in my clothes. The ethic was not to complain. You were being toughened up—“iron man” was the term we all used—to deal with the demands of doctoring, which did not respect the clock. But that wasn’t the only way in which sleep was disregarded. In medical school, the subject had been covered in only the most cursory way. In a class on the brain, an instructor mentioned a neural pathway, the reticular activating system, that was associated with wakefulness. In passing, he also told us about narcolepsy, a rare condition that could cause people to sink into slumber at any moment and that had other fascinating features, such as vivid hallucinations and abrupt loss of muscle control. That was it. Ordinary sleep, it seemed, was not a subject that medicine concerned itself with.

Today, interns still work difficult hours, but the medical world’s opinions on sleep have changed. There’s a field of sleep science dedicated to the biology of repose. Sleep medicine has become a specialty, with fellowship training programs and clinics devoted to caring for those suffering from sleep disorders. And these disorders are not rare. Some forty-seven million adults, according to the National Sleep Foundation, do not get a restorative night’s sleep. In the workplace, sleep deprivation results in injuries and decreased productivity, which is thought to cost the U.S. eighteen billion dollars each year. As many as 1.2 million car crashes—twenty per cent of the annual total—can be attributed to tired drivers, so it could be said that lack of sleep causes thousands of deaths and injuries every year.

The Quest To Make A Better Video Game Controller, by Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku

About 10 years ago, after permutations ranging from Atari 2600 joysticks to Sega Genesis "C" buttons, console game controllers arrived at something resembling a standard. A modern console controller must have: Two clickable sticks and a D-pad, four face buttons, a pair of triggers, a start and options button, and a pair of shoulder buttons.

That configuration has held steady for at least one full console generation. The modern PS4 controller, Xbox One controller, and Nintendo Switch Pro controller all have more or less the same functionality as their predecessors. Of course, some people still think it's time for new ideas.

The Murderer Who Helped Make The Oxford English Dictionary, by Lucas Reilly, Mentalfloss

For many patients, getting institutionalized at an asylum such as Broadmoor marked the end of their useful lives. But not Minor. From the solitude of his cell in Broadmoor’s Cell Block Two, he’d become the most productive and successful outside contributor to the most comprehensive reference book in the English language: The Oxford English Dictionary.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dystopian Surrealism For Our Times: Karin Tidbeck’s “Amatka”, by Irene Morrison, Los Angeles Review of Books

Now is the time for dystopia, and Swedish author Karin Tidbeck offers a surrealist, distinctly European addition to the genre with her debut novel, Amatka. The novel is based on a now-common science fictional premise in the age of climate crisis: when Earth becomes unlivable for reasons not fully explained, some find a way to escape and settle on a hostile alien planet. From this basic premise, Tidbeck launches a unique narrative that unsettles the social structures and ideologies underpinning European democratic socialism, in particular liberal humanism.

The River Of Consciousness By Oliver Sacks Review – An Agility Of Enthusiasms, by Gavin Francis, The Guadian

Millions of Sacks’s books have been printed around the world, and he once spoke of receiving 200 letters a week from admirers. For those thousands of correspondents, The River of Consciousness will feel like a reprieve – we get to spend time again with Sacks the botanist, the historian of science, the marine biologist and, of course, the neurologist.

John Green’s New Novel Is A Sophisticated Story Of Teen Love And Mental Illness, by Laura Miller, Slate

Green created Aza, endowing her with his own wit, heart, and terrors, and perhaps in her dreams she appeals to him just as Molly pleaded with Joyce for escape. He told her story, but he never forgets that she is also telling his.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Angry Sea Will Kill Us All, by Charlie Mitchell, Stuff

For a long time, Kiribati was one of the world's forgotten nations. It is adrift and alone in the ocean; its residents rarely left, and visitors rarely arrived.

But it has suddenly come to an international prominence. Kiribati is among the first nations to run the climate change gauntlet, serving as a bellwether for the rising seas, the droughts, the storms, and all the other cruelties that follow.

The irony is that Kiribati's greenhouse gas emissions are the third lowest in the world. New Zealanders, per capita, emit 25 times more, Americans 45 times more.

The Underclass Origins Of The Little Black Dress, by Shelley Puhak, The Atlantic

Last week, Sotheby’s auctioned off 140 little black dresses. The event, “Les Petites Robes Noires, 1921–2010,” featured vintage dresses collected by the fashion antiquarian Didier Ludot. A dazzling mix of silk faille, velvet, jersey, and tulle—all in black—cut simple silhouettes. The collection included iconic pieces from Chanel, Givenchy, and Hermès. The more expensive lots fetched over 20,000 euros.

To introduce the collection, Ludot wrote, “Today I pay tribute to the astonishing story of the little black dress and to the designers who wrote its story, a dizzying tale ... from the Roaring Twenties to the new millennium.” But the most astonishing part of the little black dress’s story might be its prologue, the backstory left out of the auction catalogue, the glossy coffee-table books, and the fashion magazines. The most important acolytes of the little black dress were not designers nor aristocrats, but masses of working-class women.

The Object In Writing And Art, by Annie Weatherwax, Ploughshares

Visual artists see beauty in junk. In almost every found object, whether a rusty nail or discarded household item, there is potential to make art. We are experts at transforming the banality of stuff into magnificent things. The object is the visual artist’s holy grail, but like body language, writers often leave objects out. If objects appear at all, they are frequently generic, or relegated to the background as mere placeholders that indicate a setting.

But our objects contain our stories. The chair we sit in, the purse or wallet we carry, the toothbrush we use, the food we eat, the glasses we wear–these items have hidden meaning. Cleaning people can know almost everything there is to know about us because the objects that surround us put our secrets in plain view. And how we use these objects can disclose character. The bent tip on a kitchen knife tells us something about the impatient soul who couldn’t wait to open a package.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Things I Learned At Rolling Stone, by Mike Sager, Esquire

One brilliant and bustling day in the fall of 1988, I was in Manhattan, visiting the Rolling Stone offices on Fifth Avenue. It was an opportune time for a writer to be seen at headquarters; my latest piece for the magazine was currently on the newsstands, which still flourished everywhere, and particularly in New York. The pre-internet marketplace was limited to paper and newsprint. To be published was to be selected; you couldn’t just post something yourself; and it took millions of dollars to start a magazine. Walking along the streets of the greatest city in the world, seeing the new issue with your new piece displayed again and again and again. I guess you could say it was the old school version of going viral, with an additional you-are-there component.

Issue 535 of Rolling Stone featured on the cover a rising young singer named Tracy Chapman. The logo was red. The book was 119 pages printed in an outsized format, 10 by 12 inches. (The most recent Rolling Stone delivered to my house was 46 pages, 8 by 11 inches.) Inside was my account of six weeks embedded with V-13, a well-established and once-feared Mexican-American gang in Venice, California, that had fallen prey to the ravages of crack.

Plunging Into The Infinite: How Literature Captures The Essence Of Chess, by Matthews James Seidel, The Millions

If stories teach us what it means to be human, then it’s no surprise that chess crops up again and again in literature. After all, people from all over the world have been playing this game for thousands of years. The game has a profound hold on our collective imagination? What about chess commands our respect as “the immortal game” or “the royal game,” whereas most of its peers are seen as harmless time-wasters?

The Eastern European Nutella Crisis, by Rebecca Schuman, The Awl

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what makes a German mad, because Germans always seem mad. But there’s a marked difference between Resting Deutsch Face—the Teuton’s natural state, wherein arguing about soccer and pointing out other people’s insignificant grammatical errors does not actually mean that one is böse (BOOO-suh), geärgert (guh-AEEER-gurt), or sauer (ZOW-ur)—and actual Wut (VOOT, or “rage.” Fun fact, the German word for “rabies” is Tollwut, TOLE-voot, meaning “crazy rage.”) Yes, all right, the Germans have a lot of words for being pissed off, but I promise you that usually they’re not. Unless, that is, they discover that you’re fucking with Nutella.

Optimism Has Made Wars Likelier And Bloodier, by The Economist

This is not really a book about the future of warfare, with all that might imply in terms of exotic technologies that will transform not only the character of war, but, some believe, even its very nature. Lawrence Freedman does indeed discuss the impact of cyber-attacks, artificial intelligence and machine learning on the conflicts of the future. But that is not his main purpose. The clue is in the title. The author, arguably Britain’s leading academic strategist, examines how ideas about how future wars could be fought have shaped the reality, with usually baleful results.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Should Endangered Languages Be Preserved, And At What Cost?, by Rebecca Roache, Aeon

The year 2010 saw the death of Boa Senior, the last living speaker of Aka-Bo, a tribal language native to the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. News coverage of Boa Senior’s death noted that she had survived the 2004 tsunami – an event that was reportedly foreseen by tribe elders – along with the Japanese occupation of 1942 and the barbaric policies of British colonisers. The linguist Anvita Abbi, who knew Boa Senior for many years, said: ‘After the death of her parents, Boa was the last Bo speaker for 30 to 40 years. She was often very lonely and had to learn an Andamanese version of Hindi in order to communicate with people.’

Tales of language extinction are invariably tragic. But why, exactly? Aka-Bo, like many other extinct languages, did not make a difference to the lives of the vast majority of people. Yet the sense that we lose something valuable when languages die is familiar. Just as familiar, though, is the view that preserving minority languages is a waste of time and resources. I want to attempt to make sense of these conflicting attitudes.

Why Do Hong Kong Restaurants Serve Borscht? The Overlooked History Of Russian Hong Kong, by Christopher DeWolf, Zolima Citymag

Though Queen’s Café is often associated with the “soy sauce Western” cuisine that emerged after World War II, it is actually a remnant of a time when many of Hong Kong’s most famous restaurants were run by Russian émigrés. “Borscht, beef stroganoff, chicken kiev” – Yu lists some of the classic dishes at Queen’s Café. His grandfather, Mischa Yu, trained in Russian restaurants in Shanghai, and when he came to Hong Kong, he made the dishes he knew best. “Back in the 50s there were a lot of Russians in Hong Kong,” says Yu. “At the time, Western food in Hong Kong was Russian food.”

Hong Kong was a transient place for much of its history, a stepping stone for Chinese migrants on their way to California or Australia, a layover for British colonials, and a temporary refuge for those caught up by the waves of history. Once powerful communities have vanished, like the Portuguese who dominated civic life for a century. The Russians came and went, too – but not without leaving a trace.

How Paris Turned Me Into A Writer, by Piu Eatwell, Literary Hub

When I came to Paris from London twelve years ago, supposedly for an August weekend break, I never imagined that I would settle, marry, and have children here. Least of all, that I would become a writer. I was, then, a successful British lawyer for an international law firm. How could I have imagined that I would, in less than two years, be writing books?

But that was before Paris seeped into my head, by a slow and stealthy infiltration of the brain. When I walked out of the doors of the Gare du Nord that August summer day onto the busy Rue de Dunkerque, it was to meet a city so steeped in books that their long-dead authors seemed to haunt the streets with the easy nonchalance of the local flâneurs. Around the corner from one of my first rented homes was the tiny, fourth-floor apartment of Ernest Hemingway at 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, back then an archaic, working-class district of the 5th arrondissement. It was in an office near here that Hemingway pounded out on his typewriter his ode to the Lost Generation, The Sun Also Rises.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What I Don’t Tell My Students About ‘The Husband Stitch’, by Jane Dykema, Electric Literature

When I teach Carmen Maria Machado’s story “The Husband Stitch,” the first in her collection Her Body and Other Parties, to my fiction workshops, it’s unlike teaching any other story. For one thing, the men in class don’t speak. I’m not sure if, like me, they don’t know what to say, something I admit before we begin. “I don’t quite know how to discuss this story,” I say. “I’m really having us read it because I love it.” Or maybe they feel like they shouldn’t because it is, among other things, a story about being a woman. The conversation limps along, uncharacteristically weighted with all the things the students are thinking and not saying. Often, one woman admits she cried when she read it, and when I nod and ask why, she says she doesn’t know. Always, a student says that she sent it to all of her friends.

Novels Were Never The Same After Henry James, by John Banville, Irish Times

Although I often feel that I have been reading him since I was in the cradle, the somewhat embarrassing fact is that I came late to Henry James. It was in the mid-1970s that I first read The Portrait of a Lady, the great achievement of his middle years, if not the greatest of all his novels, as many readers consider it to be. I fell at once under the spell of the Master, and have knelt at his knee ever since.

That first encounter with The Portrait took place in Florence, where I was staying with my wife and son, in an eccentric little hotel run by two cadaverous but kindly and almost identical brothers, in the Via della Scala.

It seemed to me a nice coincidence that so much of the action in the book I was reading takes place in Florence. However, there was a greater coincidence that I was unaware of at the time.

I Ate Alone At The Times Square Olive Garden For Ten Days, And I'm Different Now, by Maria Yagoda, Food and Wine

It’s the seventh day of this self-assigned quest, and I emphasize “self-assigned” because I must make it horrifyingly clear, for character development reasons, that no one asked me to do this, no one wanted me to do this: to eat at the Times Square Olive Garden alone for ten days in a row. Using my Never Ending Pasta Pass, a $100 plastic card that, this year, sold out in less than one second, I’m free to sample an unlimited amount of pasta during the eight-week promotion: I choose my shape, sauce and protein and can refill the bowl as many times as my physiology will allow. I’m entitled to unlimited breadsticks and salad or soup, too, and that irresistible chain-restaurant ice water, all with pulsing neon views of New York’s most shat-upon quartier. Could I eat here, alone, every night for ten days? Could I trust myself to dine reasonably, or would I, like a golden retriever playing fetch until he dies of exhaustion, eat spaghetti until I am gone? Some people, I’ve heard, do yoga.

Sylvia Plath’s Letters Reveal A Writer Split In Two, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

In 1951, Sylvia Plath signed off on a letter to her mother: “The only quiet woman is a dead one.”

Was anyone ever so wrong?

Twelve years later, Plath would kill herself in her London flat on a winter morning, while her small children slept in the next room and her husband was off with another woman. But she has never stopped speaking to us.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Half The Universe’s Missing Matter Has Just Been Finally Found, by Leah Crane, New Scientist

Two separate teams found the missing matter – made of particles called baryons rather than dark matter – linking galaxies together through filaments of hot, diffuse gas.


Because the gas is so tenuous and not quite hot enough for X-ray telescopes to pick up, nobody had been able to see it before.

“There’s no sweet spot – no sweet instrument that we’ve invented yet that can directly observe this gas,” says Richard Ellis at University College London. “It’s been purely speculation until now.”

So the two groups had to find another way to definitively show that these threads of gas are really there.

Money For Nothing, by Benjamin Cunningham, Los Angeles Review of Books

The idea of a universal basic income, whereby the state or another such sovereign provides all citizens with regular cash payments to supplement earnings, has existed in various incarnations for centuries, even if it is not yet a reality. In recent decades prominent intellectual advocates, like the Belgian academic Philippe van Parijs and American ex-union leader Andy Stern, have argued its merits, but the universal basic income — known by the acronym UBI — is gaining new momentum amid fears that automation will continue displacing the traditional working class.

A June 2016 petition-driven referendum in Switzerland on whether to implement a UBI system only added to the hubbub. Though nearly 77 percent of Swiss voters rejected the plan — and the Swiss are not exactly radical, women did not obtain the right to vote until 1971 — the plebiscite nonetheless drew serious attention to a concept previously considered eccentric if not insane. In the meantime, the Finnish government launched a two-year pilot study on UBI, whereby recipients are picked at random from the country’s unemployed and get €560 (or about $590) per month with no strings attached. Similar trial runs are now underway in Scotland, and the idea has plenty of advocates in the hipster salons of Silicon Valley.

The New Midlife Crisis For Women, by Ada Calhoun,

As I cooked dinner the other night, I thought about the women I had been talking to. They're just entering, slogging through or just leaving their 40s. They belong to Generation X, born roughly during the baby bust, from 1965 to 1984, the Title IX babies who were the first women in their families to go to college. Or go away to college. Or to live on their own, launch a career, marry in their late 20s (or never) or choose to stay home with their children. They're a Latina executive in California, a white stay-at-home mom in Virginia who grows her own organic vegetables, an African-American writer in Texas, an Indian-American corporate vice president who grew up in the suburbs of New York, and dozens more. They're smart. They're grateful for what they have. They're also exhausted. Some of them are terrified. A few of them are wondering what the point is.

An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious and overwhelmed. What we don't talk about enough is how the deck is stacked against their feeling any other way.

So Your Character Wants To Be A Historian, by A.K. Afferez, Ploughshares

Maybe it’s something about the 21st century, and the anxieties awaken by the new millennium. Maybe it’s the result of the social movements of the 60s that renewed interest in marginalized and erased histories. There’s no easy way to actually quantify this, but it feels like more and more characters I see in books are historians of some kind – regardless of their status, amateur or professional, these are characters who do sleuthing work about the past, consciously or not. This goes beyond having an interest in family history: the characters are deeply implicated in a process of finding out what happened, and interweaving multiple levels of history (the family, the community, the nation).

Monday, October 9, 2017

Jennifer Egan’s Travels Through Time, by Alexandra Schwartz, New Yorker

Writing four novels is no guarantee that you’ll complete a fifth. Readers may love you; critics may praise you; you might win a big prize. None of it helps when you find yourself back at the beginning, confronted with your own unredeemable prose, convinced, as Jennifer Egan was not so long ago, that you’ll never produce a decent chapter again. “The book was bad,” she told me recently. “I did one draft that was absolutely unspeakable. But that’s normal.” Then she wrote a second draft, and despaired. “I thought very, very seriously about abandoning it, because I just thought, Hell—the distance between this and something anybody is ever going to want to read is too great for me to span.”

The book was “Manhattan Beach,” Egan’s latest novel—her fifth, if you’re going by its October publication date, though it has been in progress for close to fifteen years. In that time, Egan has published two other books, “The Keep” and “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, in 2011. Her sons, Manu and Raoul, have grown from toddlers to teen-agers. “They were so young when ‘Goon Squad’ came out that I think they somewhat regarded me as a failure,” she said. “From their point of view, I’m essentially a stay-at-home mom.”

Why Does Literature Have So Little To Say About Illness?, by Meghan O'Rourke, Literary Hub

As long ago as 1912, Virginia Woolf, who suffered from migraines, mourned the fact that literature has so little to say about illness in “On Being Ill,” which remains one of the best essays about illness and the sick body:

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.

The Art Of Embarrassment And The Embarrassment Of Art, by Jamie Carragher, Los Angeles Review of Books

We have all felt embarrassed and witnessed the embarrassment of others. It’s a universal emotion. It’s also a mainstay reality of the artistic process. For writers and performers who labor in the limelight, mortification is an occupational hazard. The act of creating art invites the potential of negative evaluation, the foundation of embarrassment.

Not all artists are willing participants in this pact. Dawn Powell was so nervous about the reception her novel Whither (1925) might receive that she bought and destroyed every copy she could.

But this fear of embarrassment also indicates why most people who make art do so in the first place: the desire to connect with others. Artists present their work to an audience in hope and fear, even if that audience is small — or not yet existent. Simply imagining the audience’s reaction can be enough to provoke abashment.

The 20 Years That Made New York City, by Joseph Berger, New York Times

New York has always been a work in progress. But the particular years recounted in this essential, absorbing and mostly sprightly history went a long way in shaping the pulsating city we know.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Strange Political Afterlife Of Arnold Schwarzenegger, by Edward Isaac Dovere, Politico

The Governator is off to conduct the band at his favorite beer tent at Oktoberfest. Why? Well, he finished his salty half-chicken, gave the photographers the pose he knew they wanted—the one holding the giant beer stein and mime-biting the oversize pretzel—and he’s not quite ready for dessert.

Oh, but w­­­­­hy? Because he wants to. The crowd chants his name. He crouches forward, making a show of drawing out the tubas with his fingers. He does a muscleman pose. He pretends to blow a trumpet. In the beer tent, he makes his pecs dance.

Welcome to the strange and wondrous political afterlife of Arnold Schwarzenegger, a rural Austrian kid who parlayed his success as perhaps the greatest bodybuilder of all time into a lucrative career as Hollywood’s top action hero, then parlayed that into becoming the improbable Republican governor of California for two terms.

Who Invented ‘Zero’?, by Manil Suri, New York Times

Carbon dating of an ancient Indian document, the Bakhshali manuscript, has recently placed the first written occurrence of the number zero in the third or fourth century A.D., about 500 years earlier than previously believed. While the news has no practical bearing on the infrastructure of zeros (and ones) underlying our high-tech civilization, it does remind us how indebted we are for this invention. But to whom is this debt owed? And how should it be repaid?

Ever Wonder How They Get The Skeletons Out Of The Humans?, by Sarah Laskow, Atlas Obscura

“Now most of the skeletons used in medical schools are plastic, but the ones that were used a couple hundred years ago—they were all people,” says Guerrini. For centuries human skeletons have been bought and sold, though it’s rare for a commodity to have once been part of a person. But despite the long practice of hanging human bones in museums and academic institutions, “we really don’t have a good history of skeletons,” says Guerrini. After noticing how overlooked they had been, she began investigating the history and iconography of skeletons—how they were they used, how they were made, and how that knowledge was passed down through generations of scientists. Vesalius’s technique was one among many proposed strategies for creating a pristine set of human bones.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Science Behind Mona Lisa’s Smile, by Walter Isaacson, The Atlantic

The magic of the Mona Lisa’s smile is that it seems to react to our gaze. What is she thinking? She smiles back mysteriously. Look again. Her smile seems to flicker. We glance away, and the enigmatic smile lingers in our minds, as it does in the collective mind of humanity. In no other painting are motion and emotion, the paired touchstones of Leonardo’s art, so intertwined.

The Mona Lisa’s smile came not from some divine intervention. Instead, it was the product of years of painstaking and studied human effort involving applied science as well as artistic skill. Using his technical and anatomical knowledge, Leonardo generated the optical impressions that made possible this brilliant display of virtuosity. In doing so, he showed how the most-profound examples of creativity come from embracing both the arts and the sciences.

Thanks To Ikea, Cafeterias Matter Again, by Andrew Holter, Eater

The few public cafeterias that are left are mostly beloved, legacy restaurants like the Valois in Chicago’s Hyde Park and Sokolowski’s University Inn in Cleveland, where at this very moment there’s probably a line forming for plates of pierogies, kielbasa, and sauerkraut.

And then there’s Ikea, the Swedish-founded, Netherlands-headquartered retailer of flat-packed furniture and housewares that raked in 37.6 billion dollars in annual revenue last year. Chances are, you may be sitting in, or adjacent to, a piece of furniture you put together from a box you bought at Ikea. And in that case, you’ve probably also eaten at one of its cafeterias.

The Truth And Fiction Of Adam And Eve, by Marilynne Robinson, New York Times

Stephen Greenblatt follows Adam and Eve through a long arc of Western history. He begins at the beginning, with paleoanthropology, then moves on to the Babylonian epics, which influenced the early chapters of Genesis, and on to a sketch of the life of St. Augustine. From there, he arrives at the Renaissance and its depictions of the first and perfect man and woman, then Milton, of course, the age of discovery and the rationalist rejection of Adamic creation, which was a rejection as well of the belief that, as St. Augustine said, “God willed to create all men out of one, in order that they might be held in their society not only by likeness of kind, but also by bond of kindred.” Europeans found that the great world teemed with people toward whom they felt little likeness and less kindred. Then Darwin emerged, upending everything all over again. And Greenblatt finally lands in his last pages at a fairly disheartening account of mating among the chimpanzees. This is the march of progress, tinged with melancholy, as always.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Down With The English Language!, by Colin Marshall, Los Angeles Review of Books

The Japanese novelist Minae Mizumura, however, does believe that her countrymen labor under “the feeling that they ought to know English,” an “irrational obsession, a paranoia that has spread across the nation like a plague.” As in Korea, it happens because “most people, despite years of suffering from mandatory English courses in junior high, high school, and college, end up with little or no grasp of the language,” and so, “feeling defeated, and blaming themselves for the defeat, ordinary people have succumbed to a kind of mass hysteria, convinced despite all evidence to the contrary that they can and must master the language.” Mizumura makes this diagnosis in her treatise The Fall of Language in the Age of English, a surprise hit upon its original publication in Japan in 2008 and recently translated by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter.

The Japan title is somewhat different, translating to “When the Japanese Language Falls: In the Age of English.” Although Mizumura assures us straightaway that we have “no need to fear for the future of Japanese literature,” she adds this contradictory caveat: “not unless the Japanese language is falling, not unless Japanese people keep on letting it fall or, even worse, keep on doing everything in their power to accelerate its fall (which I’m afraid may be the case) now that we have already entered the age of English.”

An Argument Over The Evolution Of Language, With High Stakes, by The Economist

On one thing, at least, most agree: though animals communicate, only humans have true language, with the power to organise complex thoughts into a string of words, often about absent or abstract things. And most scholars also reckon that Homo sapiens is the only species ever to have had such language. They think it must have emerged somewhere between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago.

Now Daniel Everett, of Bentley University in Massachusetts, has, in “How Language Began”, published a broadside against that idea. He thinks that Homo erectus, Homo sapiens’s predecessor, had something that could be called language—and not just grunting proto-speech. This would make language not 200,000 years old, but something like 1.9m.

The Story I Tell Myself About My Father’s Death, by Sharon Harrigan, Literary Hub

When my father took my six-year-old sister on a trip to kill a deer, the deer killed him. They were still winding their way Up North, driving the four-hour trip from suburban Detroit to the country. In the pre-dawn fog, a buck ran in the middle of the road, the soft-top Jeep crashed, turned upside down, and crushed my father. My sister survived, and my mother was left to care for three small, bewildered children on her own. My brother was nine, I was seven. My father was 32, my mother 29. The year was 1974. This is our family story.

We tell ourselves stories in order to live, Joan Didion famously said. I’ve wrapped myself up in this story’s shelter, the comfort of its familiarity which, after many repetitions, starts to feel the same as its truth.

'Unkindness Of Ghosts' Transposes The Plantation's Cruelty To The Stars, by Amal El-Mohtar, NPR

What Solomon achieves with this debut — the sharpness, the depth, the precision — puts me in mind of a syringe full of stars. I want to say about this book, its only imperfection is that it ended. But that might give the wrong impression: that it is a happy book, a book that makes a body feel good. It is not a happy book. I love it like I love food, I love it for what it did to me, I love it for having made me feel stronger and more sure in a nightmare world, but it is not a happy book. It is an antidote to poison. It is inoculation against pervasive, enduring disease. Like a vaccine, it is briefly painful, leaves a lingering soreness, but armors you from the inside out.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

How Dictionary Editors Find Meaning In The Age Of Internet Speak, by Daniel Crown, Motherboard

A perception exists that careless millennials and social-media aficionados have laid siege to the English language and that modern dictionaries have failed to hold the line. "We'll put up with the shitty adolescent vernacular (or avoid Twitter and modern television shows)," one critic recently ranted beneath an article on the definition of literally on Merriam-Webster's Words at Play blog. "[But] do we really need [this] crap clogging up the dictionary?"

Put another way, in the internet age, is it the job of the lexicographer, who writes, edits, or otherwise tends to dictionaries, to protect the English language, or document it as it evolves?

What Stinky Cheese Tells Us About The Science Of Disgust, by Brian Handwerk, Smithsonian

The dinner party is popping. You're enjoying the wine, music and sparkling conversation—when suddenly the soiree is invaded by an unexpected guest. Your host has just unveiled a show-stopping block of blue cheese, which is now pumping out an almost tangible odor thanks to the bacterial hordes going to town on the crumbling hunk.

The question is: Are you thinking “ooh, time to eat” or “ew, smelly feet”?

Neuroscientists, it turns out, are fascinated by this pungent scenario. They want to know why we react they way we do to stinky cheeses—with revulsion or desire—because uncovering the roots of this love/hate relationship could reveal the neural basis of disgust. Today these pioneers of the revolting are using brain-scanning to take a detailed look at what these polarizing foods actually do to our brains.

The Novel Taste Of Old Food, by Ligaya Mishan, New York Times

In food, as in life, we prize what is young and unsullied by time: tiny wild blueberries that drop off the bush with the slightest tug; a sea urchin pried from a rock and gulped down on the beach; an egg still warm from the nest. We clamor for restaurants where the vegetables on the plate arrive in the kitchen caked in dirt, uprooted from a farm within 100 miles or, better yet, the chef’s backyard. The less interference the better. When ripeness is so exalted, cooking is corruption.

But sometimes an ingredient can be too young, callow — as yet uncommitted in flavor. Age brings depth and contours. It pushes past the obvious. If fresh food affirms the splendor of the natural world, aged food speaks to human ingenuity. What is more human than refusing to accept things as they are, than believing we can make them better?

Listening To Audiobooks Is Just As Good As Reading, If Not Better, So Back The Hell Off, by Alex Watt, New Yorker

If you have something to say to me about audiobooks, say it to my face. Kind of like you just did, but more animated.

That way, I’ll know you’re speaking to me and I can take my headphones out. Otherwise, I’d be too busy consuming literature through my ear canals to hear you talking smack.

What A Punderful Word: On Joanna Walsh’s “Worlds From The Word’s End”, by Adam Fales, Los Angeles Review of Books

How do we write about language’s insufficiency? More so, how does the world exist in excess of language’s depiction of it? This is something Joanna Walsh wants to ask in her latest collection of short stories, Worlds from the Word’s End (And Other Stories, 2017). On their surface, Walsh’s stories explore elements of dystopia that inhere in daily life. But as she immerses her reader into her various puns, paradoxes, and absurdities, Walsh also shows how words, books, and language texture an individual’s experience of the world. These stories, which often resemble prose poems, follow unnamed narrators who introduce readers to uncanny settings, as they pepper these strange situations with brilliant moments of empathy and insight that invite readers closer. Through short conversations between narrator and reader, Walsh explores how language makes a world of its own.

Fairy Tales About The Fears Within, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

“Her Body and Other Parties,” by Carmen Maria Machado, is a love letter to an obstinate genre that won’t be gentrified. It’s a wild thing, this book, covered in sequins and scales, blazing with the influence of fabulists from Angela Carter to Kelly Link and Helen Oyeyemi, and borrowing from science fiction, queer theory and horror.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

How We Become Who We Are, by Pam Houston, Outside

I had no job, no place to live except my North Face VE 24 tent—which was my preferred housing anyhow—and nine-tenths of a Ph.D. All I knew about ownership was that it was good if all your belongings fit into the back of your vehicle, which in my case they did. A lemon yellow Toyota Corolla. Everything, including the dog.

I drove the whole American West that summer, giving readings in small mountain towns and looking for a place to call home. I started in San Francisco and headed north—Point Reyes Station, Tomales, Elk, Mendocino. I crossed into Oregon and looked at property in Ashland, Eugene, and Corvallis. All I knew about real estate was that you were supposed to put 20 percent down, which set my spending ceiling at exactly $105,000. I had no idea that people often lied to real ­estate agents about their circumstances, and that sometimes the agents lied back. I had $21,000, a book that had been unexpectedly successful, and not three pages of a new one. I understand now that, in a certain way, I was as free as I had ever been and would ever be again. I came absolutely clean with everybody.

The Absurdity Of The Nobel Prizes In Science, by Ed Yong, The Atlantic

But what of the other scientists who contributed to the LIGO project, and whose names grace the three-page-long author list in the paper that describes the discoveries? “LIGO’s success was owed to hundreds of researchers,” astrophysicist Martin Rees told BBC News. “The fact that the Nobel Prize 2017 committee refuses to make group awards is causing increasingly frequent problems and giving a misleading impression of how a lot of science is actually done.”

This refrain is a familiar one. Every year, when Nobel Prizes are awarded in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine, critics note that they are an absurd and anachronistic way of recognizing scientists for their work. Instead of honoring science, they distort its nature, rewrite its history, and overlook many of its important contributors.

Interpretation: A Case For A Broad Perspective, by Gerald Elias, Future Symphony

How wonderful it would be to be able to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony exactly as it was heard at its premiere! Or would it?

Jeffrey Eugenides' 'Fresh Complaint' Makes For Absorbing Fiction, by Heller McAlpin, NPR

Jeffrey Eugenides' first short story collection reminds us, during the long wait between novels, what we like so much about his writing. These ten stories, written over nearly 30 years, showcase his ability to write convincing female characters, his sensitivity to spouses and artists under duress, and his compassion for people who disappoint themselves as much as each other.

Jeffrey Eugenides’s Short Stories Salvage Wit From Life’s Grind, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

Eugenides has written life-altering books of that sort, and “Fresh Complaint” isn’t one of them. But its charm and insight are real, and formidable.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Roast Duck Soup For The Chinese-American Daughter’s Soul, by Su-Jit Lin, Longreads

Coming from an underprivileged family in the restaurant industry, I learned early on in life that although cash may change hands, food is the ultimate currency. Greens hold more value than greenbacks, and bringing home the bacon wasn’t a figure of speech — it’s what my parents literally did. Although we were disadvantaged, because of my parents’ profession, food was always plentiful. In our house, money wasn’t used to coerce us to do the right thing, but tasty treats were always fair game.

[The Sympathizer And The National Imagination](

e-national-imagination/), by Bianca Lech, Ploughshares

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer re-situates history. 3 million Vietnamese died, and 58,000 American soldiers. The US lost the war, but still got to write its history into the American imagination in a way that, as imagination tends to do, glosses over reality. A generation later, Nguyen has given this history an authentic voice—a voice that has been brushed aside, hidden from discourse, from textbooks, from individuals whose identities contain it.

I started to read The Sympathizer this past summer, when a friend of mine, a man my father’s age, who happens to have avoided the draft by going overseas, gave me a copy. I got twelve pages into the book when I decided that if I continued to read it, I’d need some historical context for the opening sequence of The Sympathizer, which launches with the fall of Saigon.

Using Science And History To Unlock The Secrets Of Bread, by Tejal Rao, New York Times

The new book — stretching over 2,000 pages, with step-by-step images and a hefty list price of $625 — chronicles the history and science of bread-making in depth (“Baking is applied microbiology,” one chapter begins), breaking frequently for meticulous, textbook-style tangents on flour and fermentation. Its recipes require a commitment to close reading, and to flipping back through the books for deeper explanations. But each has useful variations that work with many kinds of mixing and cooking methods, for both professional and home kitchens.

Above all, the book is a call for cooks to rethink one of the world’s oldest foods — to understand how bread is made, using more than their instinct and intuition, so they can push the craft forward.

In ‘Manhattan Beach,’ Jennifer Egan Sets A Crime Story On The Waterfront, by Amor Towles, New York Times

The prevalence of the ocean in this story is not simply atmospheric; it is central to the symbolism. As the Melville epigraph affirms, “meditation and water are wedded for ever.” For Anna the sight of the sea provides an “electric mix of attraction and dread” while for Eddie it’s “an infinite hypnotic expanse” and for Dexter it’s “never the same on any two days, not if you really looked.” Egan really looks, and so do her characters. Turning their backs on the crowded constraints of their urban lives, all three look to the ocean as a realm that while inherently dangerous also promises the potential for personal discovery and an almost mystical liberty. This is a novel that deserves to join the canon of New York stories.

A Patient Fury By Sarah Ward Review – Classic Police Procedural, by Alison Flood, The Guardian

Crime fans are spoiled for choice these days. But sometimes, what a devoted crime reader wants isn’t anything too fancy. Sometimes, what we want is a good, solid police procedural, preferably set somewhere interesting, preferably with a troubled, renegade investigator who refuses to listen when their boss tells them to leave an avenue of investigation alone. And in Sarah Ward’s A Patient Fury, that’s exactly what we get.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Capitalists Need The Nation-state More Than It Needs Them, by Dani Rodrik, Aeon

Markets need regulatory and legitimising institutions to thrive – consumer-safety rules, bank regulations, central banks, social insurance and so on. When it comes to providing the arrangements that markets rely on, the nation-state remains the only effective actor, the only game in town. Our elites’ and technocrats’ obsession with globalism weakens citizenship where it is most needed – at home – and makes it more difficult to achieve economic prosperity, financial stability, social inclusion and other desirable objectives. As we’ve all seen, elite globalism also opens political paths for Right-wing populists to hijack patriotism for destructive ends.

How Science Saved Me From Pretending To Love Wine, by Anne Fadiman, The New Yorker

My father wrote that wine contains “an inexplicable élan vital.” Inexplicable. It not only couldn’t be explained, it shouldn’t be. He would not have wanted to know which receptors he had used to taste the 1904 Château Lafite Rothschild he was served at his eightieth-birthday party, just as he would not have wanted to read a chemist’s account of how it had been produced. He liked to think of wine as made partly by human beings but mostly by the glorious lottery of soil and slope and sun and rainfall, no two vineyards alike, no two years alike, no two bottles alike, the whole enterprise risky, suspenseful, and at least partly accidental. “Accidental” is another word for “miraculous.” If the opposite of science is religion, then my father’s feelings about wine were as religious as he ever got. My research confirmed that I was different from him not only in matters of gustation and olfaction but also in matters of character. He liked to leave some things a mystery. I’d rather find everything out.

I’m more open about my wine non-appreciation than I once was, and I have discovered that I am far from alone. Everywhere I go these days, I seem to run into people who belong to the club. Its members include two former students of mine, one who says that half a glass leaves her zonked and red-faced (I suspect an acetaldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency), and another who invests in wine futures but has never sampled his stock because he says wine makes his mouth hurt (possible supertaster). A former boyfriend recently told me that his late father, who could have afforded Haut-Brion, opted for half-gallon bottles of S. S. Pierce Sauternes, into which he stirred half a cup of sugar (genetic variant for sweet preference).

Why We Will Never Hear What Mozart Heard, by Cynthia Green, JSTOR

When we play one of Mozart’s or Beethoven’s compositions, or when we hear one, we probably aren’t hearing what they heard or what they thought in their heads as they composed. Their pianos were quite different from the ones we play today. Modern pianos are the product of a 600-year evolution. The instrument has evolved from the mention of Hermann Poll’s clavicembalum in 1397, through various clavichords and harpsichords to the modern grand piano.

The Personal Essay Isn’t Dead. It’s Just No Longer White, by Soraya Roberts, The Walrus

What Emre herself referred to as “the idle chirping of social media” flew not-so-idly her way with a pile of praise—even I congratulated her for voicing what I could not, for decoding a lack of profundity I had hitherto suspected but failed to parse, concluding I was simply too stupid to understand. This may have been one of the reasons few had openly criticized this kind of precious prose in the past, not to mention the social status of the writers who engage in writing such essays, causing peers who question it to do so on the DM so as not to risk their own upward mobility. (Surely, Emre’s position as a Canadian academic outside of New York’s literary circles insulates her, to a degree.) However, it was also noticeable that most of the praise for Emre came from white academics. Only a minority outside of this circle argued that “It” girl Chew-Bose was merely the writer of colour du jour to be sacrificed on the altar of white institutions or that writers like Gaitskill and Nelson were only the latest in a procession of Caucasian intellects.

A Trust Buster For The New ‘Knowledge Monopoly’, by John Herrman, New York Times

The technology critic is typically a captive figure, beholden either to a sorrowful past, a panicked present or an arrogant future. In his proudest moments, he resembles something like a theorist of transformation, decline and creation. In his lowest, he is more like a speaking canary, prone to prophecy, a game with losing odds. His attempts at optimism are framed as counterintuitive, faring little better, in predictive terms, than his lapses into pessimism. He teeters hazardously between implicating his audience and merely giving their anxieties a name. He — and it is almost always a he — is the critical equivalent of an unreliable narrator, unable to write about technology without also writing about himself. Occasionally, he is right: about what is happening, about what should happen, and about what it means. And so he carries on, and his audience with him.

Franklin Foer, thankfully, recognizes these pitfalls even if he can’t always avoid them. Who can?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Curious Case Of The Alien In The Photo – And A Mystery That Took Years To Solve, by Les Carpenter, The Guardian

By 2012 time was running out on Roswell. With nothing tangible to link the accident to aliens, Roswell was becoming a cold case.

Then Joseph Beason contacted Tom Carey.


When Carey opened the email attachment in his Philadelphia-area home office , he jolted in his seat. Clearly visible on the figure’s head was a dark mark similar to other black blotches across the body’s torso. It appeared to be some kind of skin discoloration, but to Carey, who has anthropology degrees from two different universities, that mark on the head was something else.

What It Was Like Trying To Get President Obama To Tell A Dick Joke, by David Litt, Vulture

Perhaps our friends in Hollywood knew how to crank out an endless series of amazing jokes. I certainly didn’t. For me, the secret to writing one funny line was to write about twenty-five awful ones first. Most evenings I would comb through the day’s rubble and sigh. But after picking the diamonds from the rough, and combining them with material coming from outside the building, a monologue began to take shape.

A few days before the dinner, Favs and I went to the Oval to present about forty of our favorite lines. Together with David Plouffe, the president’s senior advisor, and Jay Carney, the press secretary, we sat on the couches while POTUS read out loud. Each time he laughed, I made a mental note. Each time he didn’t, I had a mental breakdown.

Tough-Love Urbanism: On Jeremiah Moss’s “Vanishing New York: How A Great City Lost Its Soul”, by Sam Hall Kaplan, Los Angeles Review of Books

But what is the nature of the changes we are now witnessing, and how are they already affecting the hapless city dweller?

According to Jeremiah Moss, the change in his beloved city of New York over the last several decades has been decidedly and depressingly convulsive, if not worse, destroying in his view what had made New York the world’s urban paragon — the Big Apple, Batman’s Gotham City, call it what you will. The change is engaging and exciting, but also exasperating, and it makes life in the city a challenge for most.

Universe Review: Our Starry Night, Seen From All Angles, by Stuart Clark, The Guardian

As I flipped through the pages of the new Phaidon book Universe, I found myself experiencing a sense of Herschelian wonder at the sheer beauty of deep space. But what makes this book unique is that as well as the breathtaking images taken with telescopes and the drawings of historical astronomers, it also includes the creative representations that have sprung from the mind of artists.

The result is a weighty tome that contains more than 300 evocative pictures. It was once popular to call publications of this sort “coffee table books”, but Universe deserves more serious consideration than as a visual distraction while taking a caffeine hit.