Paris is a good place to mourn. It takes itself very seriously in a way that is sometimes tedious when you are young and full of the future, but is perfect when you are entering middle age and walking down cobblestone streets and missing someone you loved very much, particularly if that someone lived there. Paris is tonally at its most appropriate when you realize that somehow that someone, who was so intricately woven into the city — someone who, for you, was Paris — is no longer there and yet the city remains itself. The city somehow survives. But Paris absorbs your sadness like it has absorbed hundreds of years of sadness.
Paris understands that you aren’t in the mood to laugh. The museums will provide you with innumerable paintings of a headless John the Baptist, one from every angle as if they are crime scene photos, and paintings of Jesus killed in many more ways than are in our historical record — more ways than actually exist to kill a man in general — and still other paintings depicting war and combat and babies being eaten. Babies! Being eaten! The sheer scale of the paintings conveys their seriousness; their intensity is their importance. The amount of space they’re allowed to take up is what you need to know about Paris’ priorities. Paris understands that the only cure for your sadness is blood.
Like most brilliant ideas, it began as a joke. A friend and I were at lunch, discussing our frustrations with online dating, when I suddenly realized the ridiculousness of our conversation. Here we were, two modern, educated women, and we had spent nearly two hours talking about our romantic relationships! This wasn’t the sort of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be Gloria Steinem. I wanted to be Ruth Bader Ginsbuerg. I didn’t want to be the sort of woman who spends her entire life talking about boys.
I decided, right then, that I needed to do something to alter the course of our conversation. Putting on my big-girl feminist cap, I said, “You know, there have been a lot of talented, amazing ladies, throughout history, who never coupled off. Emily Dickinson, for example.”
His Paris does exist in the present tense, irresistibly, undeniably real and alive, as though summoned by its creator rather than imagined. In this, the novel performs perfectly the function of literature, which is not to escape the world but to enter more completely into it.
Mr Clare is a great enjoyer—of people, landscape, and above all of language. With the flick of a phrase, he can transform even his nightmare into something positive—a healthy scourge, he suggests hopefully, a kind of sauna cleansing the pores of the mind. He writes that his journey has broken open from within him both a heaven and a horror. But the reader can have no real doubt as to which side he leans.
Times have changed, to say the least. Tiffany & Co. now shares a block and a wall with Trump Tower, a place where very bad things seem likely to have happened, a place where you may have recently stood in the middle of a surging mass of people chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” during a political protest. Approaching the store requires maneuvering, at any hour, around large, ugly plastic barriers, and, for a certain kind of person, thinking about the state of the nation. Nonetheless, on Tuesday morning, I, too, tried to have breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Few things are as useful as the paper bag. In the United States, people use (and reuse) 10 billion of them every year. Who among us has gotten through life, likely as a child, without opening up a brown paper bag filled with a sandwich, juice box, and a piece of fruit? Or, later in life, enjoyed an alcoholic beverage in a public place with the illegal item safely ensconced inside a bag?
But paper bags have been around for so long, and in so many forms, that few have ever stopped to wonder where they came from in the first place. Even fewer know that paper bags were involved in not one but two feminist crusades.
Dustin Hoffman, upon reading Charles Webb’s first novel, came away convinced that its hero was a sun-kissed California preppy: tall, blond, and good-looking. He was certain that somewhere in the pages of The Graduate he had found precisely this description. That’s why he told director Mike Nichols that the role of Benjamin Braddock was not one he felt equipped to play.
Hoffman, it turns out, was quite wrong, in more ways than one. Author Charles Webb never provides the slightest physical description of Benjamin Braddock. In Webb’s spare, stripped-down novel, we come to know Ben—as he beds a middle-aged matron and then runs off with her beautiful daughter—solely through his words and deeds. But the WASP traits that Hoffman, and so many others, have projected onto the character offer a near-portrait of the artist as a young man. Charles Webb was to prove, however, far more complicated than his bland surface might imply. I’d call him a rampant idealist, one who has resisted for more than fifty years the pragmatic demands of adult life.
“Some people designed their body art so it all fit together, but I did mine piecemeal, like my life, and it looked fine,” insists Reyna, the central character of Joan Silber’s new novel, Improvement, a beautifully rendered magical mystery ride across decades, continents, and cultures.
But a design not meant to look like a design is still a design, and Reyna’s description of her body-as-canvas captures the question at the heart of Silber’s story: What of our life is mere chance, and what are we determining through the choices we make, our acts of autonomous free will? Are we the wing-fluttering butterfly in the Amazon jungle, or the tornado whose trajectory has, weeks later and hundreds of miles away, been altered by significant degree? Where are we, exactly, in the chain of cause and effect? Are we the designer or the designed?
This is the story of a blue most common, and most beloved. A blue that Thoreau thought needed to be Americanized, like Freedom fries. It’s the color of waves and stamps and too many paintings to count. It’s an accidental pigment, a happenstance color, and an antidote for heavy metal poisoning. Meet my sweetheart, Prussian blue.
I’m so sorry you can’t see her properly, because she is beautiful. Unfortunately, like many high-chroma (i.e., high-intensity) pigments, Prussian blue can’t be accurately displayed on a computer. Screens emit too much light to properly showcase the texture and depth of Prussian blue, a hue that is both a color and a material. Darker than cobalt and moodier even than indigo (and with enough green that it sometimes reads as a dark teal), Prussian blue is often called the first modern pigment. (A quick note: pigments and dyes are not the same. According to Color Studies by Edith Anderson Feisner, a pigment is a “powder that are in a binder such as acrylic or oil which covers and adheres to a surface. Dyes are pigments that are dissolved and absorbed in a fluid.”) The microcrystalline blue powder has been around since 1705. Its invention was, like penicillin and saccharin, the product of happenstance.
Instagram food has almost nothing to do with consumption as a gastronomic endeavor; instead, consuming Instagram food means acquiring it, and sharing proof of your acquisition. This flattens it out from a sensory experience into an aesthetic one; for the hungry audiences of the thin, conventionally attractive women whose hundreds of thousands of followers net them hefty checks, whatever’s being photographed is rendered calorie-neutral. It’s a visual-only binge.
Then Facebook and Twitter disrupted, in the traditional “made things worse” sense, the biz. Now when a user shares an article on their sites, a thumbnail image provides a preview of the article. If an article doesn’t have an image, social media will still pull in whatever it can—usually this is just a blown-up version of the website’s logo, though sometimes it’s another unrelated image from the same page, e.g. a thumbnail from another article. If the social media site can’t find any image at all, only the headline will be displayed. Websites fear that this makes them look unprofessional—or worse, boring—and drives away potential clicks. Even the fucking Economist now has a photo on every article on its website.
But what has increased in the age of distraction is our concern for the necessary conditions in which art could flourish. No longer can the world be kept at bay with the closing of a door; Woolf’s room of her own is now wired for internet. To look at my shelves of favorite novels written in feverish solitude and think that they might never have come to pass is also to know there must be many more today that are simply not being written. And so the greater truths found in solitude — in nature, like the Romantics’ “thoughts of more deep seclusion,” or in a country in which you don’t speak the language, in which no one knows your name — have never felt more rare and hard-won. The hermit sits alone no longer; he has a Facebook page to update.
The ride home from the airport isn’t particularly eventful. The communication of any actual news has been left to the siblings or my mother — my father and I rarely talk about anything meaningful. Instead, he likes to point out things we’re passing, or relay some mild fact gleaned from the Yahoo home page.
He brings a bag of sunflower seeds, the plastic cup into which he periodically spits his tobacco juice. Sometimes there’s an apple rolling around for me on the bench seat of his truck, or one of the packs of the gum he buys in bricks from Costco. My father, a famously opaque man, is made visible to me in these small ways. These small offerings.
Everyone who experienced the tsunami saw, heard, and smelled something subtly different. Much depended upon where you were, and the obstacles that the water had to overcome to reach you. Some described a waterfall, cascading over seawall and embankment. For others, it was a fast-rising flood between houses, deceptively slight at first, tugging trippingly at the feet and ankles, but quickly sucking and battering at legs and chests and shoulders. In color, it was described as brown, gray, black, white. The one thing it did not resemble in the least was a conventional ocean wave, the wave from the famous woodblock print by Hokusai: blue-green and cresting elegantly in tentacles of foam. The tsunami was a thing of a different order, darker, stranger, massively more powerful and violent, without kindness or cruelty, beauty or ugliness, wholly alien. It was the sea coming onto land, the ocean itself picking up its feet and charging at you with a roar in its throat.
It stank of brine, mud, and seaweed. Most disturbing of all were the sounds it generated as it collided with, and digested, the stuff of the human world: the crunch and squeal of wood and concrete, metal and tile. In places, a mysterious dust billowed above it, like the cloud of pulverized matter that floats above a demolished building. It was as if neighborhoods, villages, whole towns were being placed inside the jaws of a giant compressor and crushed.
The rise of the burger from a scapegoat for the obesity crisis to the symbol of a dining revolution was fuelled by a combination of social media and recession-era economics, and it established a whole new class of restaurant: inspired by simple street food, led by untrained chefs and advertised via Twitter. The gourmet burger has certainly dented the dominance of the old fast-food giants. But it has also disrupted the entire restaurant food chain.
For each person on earth, there are 17 million flies. They pollinate plants, consume decomposing bodies, eat the sludge in your drainpipes, damage crops, spread disease, kill spiders, hunt dragonflies.
Some have even lost their wings so as to live exclusively on bat blood, spending their lives scuttling about the fur of their hosts, leaving only to give birth to a single larva — usually.
“That’s why I love them. They do everything. They get everywhere. They’re noisy. And they love having sex,” said Erica McAlister, a curator of Diptera — flies, to the rest of us — at the Museum of Natural History in London.
Dr. McAlister has captured her affection for the Diptera in “The Secret Life of Flies,” a short, rich book by turns informative and humorous, both a hymn of praise to her favorite creatures and a gleeful attempt to give readers the willies.
Has anyone — a parent, teacher, or boss — told you to purge the words "um" and "uh" from your conversation?
When these words creep into our narrative as we tell a story at home, school, or work, it's natural to feel that we can do better with our speech fluency.
In How We Talk: The Inner Workings of Conversation, hitting shelves Tuesday, University of Sydney linguist Nick Enfield rescues those words (and everyone who uses them) from censure. In so doing, he exposes the fascinating and intricate workings of what he calls the human conversation machine: "a set of powerful social and interpretive abilities of individuals in tandem with a set of features of communicative situations — such as the unstoppable passage of time — that puts constraints on how we talk."
What’s most remarkable about Biden’s “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose” is that he’s decided to give us full visibility into the agony and strangeness of that period, showing just what it was like to care for his son — and then mourn him — while simultaneously fulfilling his duties as vice president. The book is a backstage drama, honest, raw and rich in detail. People who have lost someone will genuinely take comfort from what he has to say.
But this memoir is also a political book, one in which Biden touts his accomplishments and makes frequent forays into the wetlands of foreign and domestic policy. His position-paper entr’actes can be awkward and artless, much like the author himself. But after a time, you come to understand why he’s mixing in pages of his curriculum vitae with pages about grief: To Biden, the two are intertwined. It’s almost as if he suffers from a kind of political synesthesia. Deciding whether to run for the Democratic nomination in 2016, he writes, “was all tied up with Beau.”
It's hard not to feel for Biden, who exudes humanity throughout the book. He lays bare his emotions and vulnerabilities at losing a son with so much promise, which is made even more difficult by the understanding that Biden has faced unthinkable tragedy before. As almost anyone reading this likely knows, when he was first elected as a U.S. senator from Delaware, Biden's young wife and daughter were killed in a car crash. His sons Beau and Hunter, 3 and 2 at the time, were in the backseat. They survived, but were hospitalized for days. Joe Biden had just turned 30.
And now, four decades later, he was losing Beau, his trusted adviser. Biden writes that he was "pretty sure" Beau could have run for president one day. Biden describes Beau — who was attorney general of Delaware at the time of his diagnosis and set to run for governor — as like him, but better.
A chance for reappraisal has now come. “The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992” (Holt) is Brown’s private account of her work at Vanity Fair for nearly a decade, the editorship often seen as her most dazzling feat. When she took over, less than a year after being blown into New York by Dr. Ruth, the magazine was tens of millions of dollars in the red, with a circulation of about two hundred and fifty thousand. By the time she left, it had more than doubled its pages of advertising and gained about a million readers. The diaries are a ledger of the workdays in between.
That time was filled with famous people, endless parties, comic misadventure. But it’s Brown’s reports on editing that offer an illuminating thrill. Brown calls herself “a magazine romantic,” and, reading her diary, you see why: she collects old magazines the way some people collect baseball cards, and her entries flutter with the joy of conquest at a time when glossies were reaching a glamorous peak. Her narrative is juicy in the mold less of a chophouse steak than of a summer peach: a little tart, a little sweet, mostly refreshing. It’s pretty irresistible. Brown is an entertaining writer of what could be called High Magazinese, a prose of front-loaded descriptors and punch-line squibs (from the introduction: “Large, blond, and ebullient in his well-tailored suits, my father filled a room with his commanding height and broken nose”), and, winsomely, she seems to write this way even when writing for herself. She has a novelist’s sense of pacing and a perverse genius for description. One pompous woman is “a coiffed asparagus”; an aging lord’s secretary is “a pretty, silent blonde girl with whom he probably enjoys recreational humiliation.” Walter Mondale “would make an excellent prime minister of Norway,” and Wallace Shawn is “like a small, anxious hippo.” (There are misses along with the hits, and some descriptions—“Bill Buckley did a pale, sexy, contact-lens stare at me”—leave the reader not just cold but chilled.)
This scene reflects the strange malfunction of our urban dream of reclamation. The High Line and its artworks exemplify the middle-class cultural objects that have emerged to obscure the ills of a new Gilded Age. If you’re like me, you love the park. Maybe you visit with your family and friends to see conceptual sculptures and eat little ice cream sandwiches as the sun descends over Frank Gehry's igloo on the old West Side. But maybe you also notice the neighborhood’s grotesque luxury glut. Even as these objects delight us, they also remind us of the public space we’ve lost and the social inequality they’ve yielded.
Translating a poem into another language—its content, its form, its tone, its nuance—is, as almost everyone who has done it knows, a difficult business. But it also has enormous rewards: for the translator, for the reader, for poetry itself.
Some years ago, I was asked to teach a workshop about this impossible process. Among other materials, including essays about translation, I gave the participants two side-by-side English translations of a poem by Pablo Neruda, along with the original Spanish. Those translations proved to be the most valuable resource I offered. Seeing what different translators have done with the same poem immediately eliminates easy assumptions that beginning translators often make: that there is a single way, a most correct way, or a best way to translate a poem.
It’s hard to remember a time before we had the option to curate the playlist of our own minds. We are simply accustomed now to experiencing music in this deeply personal, albeit solitary, way. We disappear into headphones, stream a song via smartphone from the intangible, infinite web, creating a sonic landscape that mirrors our mood. We walk around the grocery store in Beyoncé-land.
But that wasn’t always the case. In her new book Personal Stereo, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow analyzes two major shifts in perspective associated with the 1979 birth of the first solo listening device, the Walkman. First, music becomes a personal experience, and second, music becomes immersive, a means to override — or even negate — the sounds of one’s immediate environment. Listening to music in private was not a new concept, of course, nor was the ability to take music on the road (à la the boom box). However, the idea of making the private experience of music a public phenomenon was groundbreaking. In that sense, the Walkman redefined music: it was a revolutionary tool that offered listeners a new kind of freedom. Music technology today still riffs on the basic concept of the Walkman, only now we have digital access to nearly every recorded song.
Some years ago, Jennet Conant wrote an op-ed entitled “My Grandfather and the Bomb,” in which she revealed that “Los Alamos was the chief morality tale of my childhood.” When she was 10 years old her father, Ted Conant, moved his family to Japan and took his young daughter to visit Hiroshima. She became acutely aware “that I was living in a country my grandfather had once tried to blow to smithereens.” Her father was highly critical of her grandfather, recounting his “transgressions, his complicity in the secret military effort to develop chemical weapons and the atom bomb.” This harsh portrait was at odds with the grandfather she knew, an austere New Englander “made more approachable by age and the twinkle in his eyes.” Young Jennet was caught in the poisonous relationship between her father and grandfather: “the deep rifts in our family never entirely healed.”
The nights were cold this week, and so were the days; the sun, when it appeared, flashed like a coin at the bottom of a well, and the rain fell whenever it felt like it. It was really and truly November, though I couldn’t quite accept it. I walked down my street kicking acorns and attempting to reattach fallen leaves.
I kept thinking of the opening of Moby-Dick, when Ishmael declares it a damp, drizzly November in his soul.
In any event, when he rose to shake my hand — friendly, cheerful even — something cracked open inside me. “Congratulations on the book,” I said. “It’s …” And that’s when a sob strangled the simple word I’d meant to say: “beautiful.”
“You can’t do that,” Mr. Biden said. He sounded strict. “If you cry, then I’ll cry,” he said. “We have to help each other.”
Hanson does not provide extended accounts of military campaigns. It focuses instead on the decisions about why, how, and where to fight the war, the diverse methods of warfare employed by the belligerents, and how the investments and strategies of each side led to victory or defeat.
The problem, Steve Roud explains in this monumental history of the English folk song, is that the material harvested from the late-Victorian fields turned out not to be so very old after all. In fact, you were lucky if you could trace a song’s pedigree back further than 100 years. What’s more, far from being as unadulterated as the water from a Yorkshire beck, these “folksongs” (a term barely used before 1891) turned out to be a mishmash of codes and styles. A song such as “Villikins and his Dinah”, which sounded like it had come into the world chewing straw, was actually written by the journalist Henry Mayhew for a forgettable stage farce called The Wandering Minstrel in 1834. The same was true of “The Jug of Punch” which started off as a music hall “Oirish” song and then slipped into the canon as the real deal.
On a trip to India six years before I got married, I bought a wedding sari. My grandparents and I visited a sari factory just outside of Chennai, and as I watched a woman weave gold flowers into bright red silk, I decided that I should buy one, just in case. I had thought about getting married in vague and hypothetical ways, and who knows, by the time my wedding day came, I might want to forgo the white wedding dress and do it the way my Indian grandparents had.
I did get married, and the sari stayed neatly folded in my bottom drawer. It was beautiful, but not right. This wasn’t just because we weren’t doing a Hindu ceremony, or because I absolutely loved my gold wedding dress covered in sequins. It was because I worried that, in a sari, I’d look like I was wearing a costume. (Never mind that a wedding dress is a costume all its own.) Who was I, this half-white woman who’d been to India twice in her life, to wear this?
However, this magic effect of SixthSense does not simply represent a radical break with our everyday experience; rather, it openly stages what was always the case. That is to say: In our everyday experience of reality, the “big Other”—the dense symbolic texture of knowledge, expectations, prejudices, and so on—continuously fills in the gaps in our perception. For example, when a Western racist stumbles upon a poor Arab on the street, does he not “project” a complex of such prejudices and expectations onto the Arab, and thus “perceive” him in a certain way? This is why SixthSense presents us with another case of ideology at work in technology: The device imitates and materializes the ideological mechanism of (mis)recognition which overdetermines our everyday perceptions and interactions.
And does not something similar happen in Pokémon Go? To simplify things to the utmost, did Hitler not offer the Germans the fantasy frame of Nazi ideology that made them see a specific Pokémon—“the Jew”—popping up all around, and providing the clue to what one has to fight against? And does the same not hold for all other ideological pseudo-entities that have to be added to reality in order to make it complete and meaningful? One can easily imagine a contemporary anti-immigrant version of Pokémon Go where the player wanders about a German city and is threatened by Muslim immigrant rapists or thieves lurking everywhere. Here we encounter the crucial question: Is the form the same in all these cases, or is the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory which makes us see the Jewish plot as the source of our troubles formally different from the Marxist approach which observes social life as a battleground of economic and power struggles? There is a clear difference between these two cases: In the second case, the “secret” beneath all the confusion of social life is social antagonisms, not individual agents which can be personalized (in the guise of Pokémon figures), while Pokémon Go does inherently tend toward the ideologically personalized perception of social antagonisms. In the case of bankers threatening us from all around, it is not hard to see how such a figure can easily be appropriated by a Fascist populist ideology of plutocracy (as opposed to “honest” productive capitalists). … The point of the parallel between Nazi anti-Semitism and Pokémon Go is thus a very simple and elementary one: Although Pokémon Go presents itself as something new, grounded in the latest technology, it relies on old ideological mechanisms. Ideology is the practice of augmenting reality.
So begins the $285, 19-course tasting menu at Benu in San Francisco. The egg is a traditional Chinese snack, often called (poetically, if inaccurately) a 1,000-year-old egg, preserved for a few weeks or months in lye or slaked lime, salt and tea. It’s sold by street vendors, tossed into stir-fries and scattered over congee throughout China, parts of Southeast Asia and the world’s Chinatowns. To more than a billion people, it is an utterly commonplace food.
But to present it as an amuse-bouche at one of the most acclaimed fine-dining restaurants in the United States, to a predominantly non-Asian clientele, is radical. For despite America’s long, complicated love affair with Asian cooking, it is hard to imagine such a food, so alien to Western culinary ideals in appearance, aroma, flavor and texture, being served in this kind of setting, let alone embraced, a decade ago.
Erling Kagge, a 54-year-old Norwegian explorer, author and publisher, was sitting one morning last month in the private gardens at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, a green oasis of relative quiet in the West Village of Manhattan.
“You never find a place that is total silence,” Mr. Kagge said. “I’ve been looking, and I have not found it.”
To be human is to wonder where we are. We look at the the ocean and imagine the far shore; we look into the night sky and imagine someone waving back. Life is uncertain and frightening. Our fears need maps. We want to understand what we're looking at.
Two recent books look at the very human (sometimes all-too-human) process of trying to make sense of the known universe: The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes, by Malachy Tallack, and The Planet Factory: Exoplanets and the Search for a Second Earth, by Elizabeth Tasker. They're so stylistically and scientifically disparate as to seem unrelated, but reading them in close succession makes for something greater than the sum of its parts — a joint atlas of human guesses in a world that seems destined to confound us.
Pochoda has a real gift for pacing, and she's a remarkably psychologically astute writer; it's hard not to feel at least some kind of sympathy for all the characters, even the ones capable of monstrous acts of violence and selfishness. It's a gorgeous portrayal of, as one character puts it, "the place to be when you don't belong anywhere else, when you've done things that make the straight world an impossible place to live."
I’ve been eating oysters. This wouldn’t be news, but I’ve been vegan for five years. My professional life as a food writer depends on this nut-cheese niche, and I’ve abandoned it for mid-day lunches I can’t share on Instagram.
The consumption of these bivalve mollusks began soon after my brother’s sudden death last October. On my first trip out of the house alone, I went to the John Dory Oyster Bar for the release of a cocktail book. There, a table of oysters, four varieties on ice, served as the centerpiece to the room. There were also charcuterie and antipasti and other standard book launch fare, but they hadn’t caught my eye. I got a cocktail and sat by the window, growing restless. I stared at the oysters, thinking about summer lunches on restaurant decks that jutted out into the Great South Bay. What was it my dad always ordered on the half-shell? Clams? Or oysters? Either way, my brother never ate them. The smell of seafood made him cry as a baby. In his twenty-six years on earth, he never developed a taste for it.
On planes, I like to joke to whoever is seated next to me that soon we’ll have to pay extra if we want oxygen masks to fall from the ceiling in case of emergency. My seatmates pretend to be listening to their headphones, because I’ve been talking a lot, but I think they get the point.
The one thing that hasn’t been taken away, I continue, is soft-drink service. And with every drink comes a three-inch-by-three-inch cocktail napkin—which, unlike pretty much anything else, the airlines really, really want to give you.
Have you ever tried to decline a cocktail napkin on an airplane?
Followers of John McPhee, perhaps the most revered nonfiction narrative journalist of our time, will luxuriate in the shipshape prose of “Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process,” a collection of eight essays that first appeared in The New Yorker, his home for more than 50 years. Writers looking for the secrets of his stripped-bark style and painstaking structure will have to be patient with what is a discursive, though often delightful, short book. McPhee’s publisher is presenting it as a “master class,” but it’s really a memoir of writing during a time of editorial cosseting that now seems as remote as the court of the Romanovs. Readerly patience will be rewarded by plentiful examples of the author’s sinewy prose and, toward the end, by advice and tips that will help writers looking to become better practitioners of the craft and to stay afloat in what has become a self-service economy.
The death of a big star, much more massive than our sun, usually proceeds like this: After millions and millions of years of shiny existence, the star starts to run out of hydrogen. Without this fuel, the star can’t power the nuclear fusion that produces its light. Its core shrinks and heats up, spawning heavier and heavier elements until mostly iron remains. Within a second, the core collapses and sends star material flying in a spectacular light show—a supernova—that fades after several months. The dead star leaves behind a neutron star, a very dense object, or a black hole, the light-gobbling lurkers of the universe.
What a star isn’t supposed to do, however, is stay alive.
You’re sitting here, reading this article. Maybe it’s a hard copy, or an e-book on a tablet computer or e-reader. It doesn’t matter. Whatever you’re reading it on, we can be reasonably sure it’s made of some kind of stuff: paper, card, plastic, perhaps containing tiny metal electronic things on printed circuit boards. Whatever it is, we call it matter or material substance. It has a characteristic property that we call solidity. It has mass.
But what is matter, exactly? Imagine a cube of ice, measuring a little over one inch (or 2.7 centimeters) in length. Imagine holding this cube of ice in the palm of your hand. It is cold, and a little slippery. It weighs hardly anything at all, yet we know it weighs something.
I climbed up into the gazebo beside him and looked where he was pointing, at the vast, pounding ocean. A delicate spout of water breached the air. And then another. And another. And then — a fin of an orca arcing over a wave.
“They’ve been feeding all day,” he said. “I was down there watching them for the past hour. I’ve never seen them like this.”
I hurried down to the beach. The dark gray sand was velvety and warm. I walked past beached jellyfish and oyster shells and the slender bones of sea gulls. Before me was nothing but ocean — no ships, no airplanes, no buildings. The huge noise of ocean and nothing but ocean was profound, a silence in its own right, which seemed odd as I thought about it — how can noise feel like silence? Perhaps because its quality is continuous, soothing, allowing immersion. Listening, it seemed I was on the verge of some feeling or fresh understanding. As the sensation crested, a huge orca lifted up out of the water, baring its smooth gray back, and for a moment I felt its weight settle on me.
Last July, I wrote three letters in quick succession: the first to my ninth grade algebra teacher, the second to my ex-boyfriend’s mother, the third to a somewhat famous author. The letters were not emails. They were divulgent and inelegant. Filled with things I would regret admitting; written way too quickly. The punctuation was erratic, the sentence structure un-self-consciously unvaried.
The letters were ugly because I wasn’t going to send them. I typed them on my computer because there would be no recipients to appreciate the immediacy—the intimacy—of handwriting. When they were finished, I filed the letters in a folder inside a folder. I wanted them to require unearthing.
There is a species of book that presents itself as the thing it's skewering, making it tricky to review; do you cover the experience of reading the bulk of it, or do you let the twists, reversals and switches work backwards, changing everything, and cover the experience of reading it in hindsight?
Orange City, the county seat of Sioux County, Iowa, is a square mile and a half of town, more or less, population six thousand, surrounded by fields in every direction. Sioux County is in the northwest corner of the state, and Orange City is isolated from the world outside—an hour over slow roads to the interstate, more than two hours to the airport in Omaha, nearly four to Des Moines. Hawarden, another town, twenty miles away, is on the Big Sioux River, and was founded as a stop on the Northwestern Railroad in the eighteen-seventies; it had a constant stream of strangers coming through, with hotels to service them and drinking and gambling going on. But Orange City never had a river or a railroad, or, until recently, even a four-lane highway, and so its pure, hermetic culture has been preserved.
Orange City is small and cut off, but, unlike many such towns, it is not dying. Its Central Avenue is not the hollowed-out, boarded-up Main Street of twenty-first-century lore. Along a couple of blocks, there are two law offices, a real-estate office, an insurance brokerage, a coffee shop, a sewing shop, a store that sells Bibles, books, and gifts, a notions-and-antiques store, a hair-and-tanning salon, and a home-décor-and-clothing boutique, as well as the Sioux County farm bureau, the town hall, and the red brick Romanesque courthouse.
Every emotion has a purpose—an evolutionary benefit,” says Sandi Mann, a psychologist and the author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good. “I wanted to know why we have this emotion of boredom, which seems like such a negative, pointless emotion.”
That’s how Mann got started in her specialty: boredom. While researching emotions in the workplace in the 1990s, she discovered the second most commonly suppressed emotion after anger was—you guessed it—boredom. “It gets such bad press,” she said. “Almost everything seems to be blamed on boredom.”
Technically, Berlin has only two functioning destinations for air travel—that’s Tegel and Schönefeld, two ill-fitting sky harbors on opposite ends of town. But two others hold outsize space in the Berlin imagination. There’s Tempelhof, the Nazi airfield in the heart of the city that was shuttered in 2008; it has since morphed into a freeform park and an unlikely site for refugee housing. And finally there’s Berlin Brandenburg, the ambitious post-unification effort to consolidate the above three airports into a single modern facility that better fits the aspirations of Germany’s current cosmopolitan center. Originally set to open in 2011, its long-delayed construction process has turned into a clusterfuck of epic proportions.
The city’s history can be told through these infrastructures.
Spooky season isn’t quite over in France. Let me tell you about the latest thing that’s got the French elites up in arms: in case you didn’t know, the French language is assailed by a horrible scourge that will most certainly lead to linguistic extinction. It’s called—ominous drumroll, please—inclusive writing.
Like many new parents back from hospital, Oliver Jeffers found himself taking his baby on a tour of his home: “Here’s the kitchen, where we make food...” This sparked the idea for his first foray into nonfiction, a picture book introducing his son to “the big globe, floating in space, on which we live”. Unmistakably conceived in the afterglow of new parenthood – the sun blazes, everyone smiles and the baby is a cute, luminous cocoon lighting up the nursery – it bursts with tenderness.
We were inside his neighborhood shrine, and staring at what looked like a miniature Japanese palace, intricately gilded and lacquered red and black. It was the vessel for the community’s god, a portable shrine known as the mikoshi. “More than my house,” Hirota said. Outside, men from the neighborhood were prepping for the summer matsuri (festival): shrugging into ceremonial white robes, and loading a tiny pickup to the brim with ice chests full of beer, sake and shochu.
I looked back at the mikoshi and winced. It looked about as heavy as a brick oven and just as likely to move. But for the next nine hours, our task would be to move it. As Hirota put it, carrying the shrine would “show off our manpower” and prove to the unseen spirit inside, known as an ujigami, that the people in the small town of Miyoshi in Chiba prefecture were strong enough to take care of their community for yet another year.
In the movies, when you gather together a ragtag group of eager but untrained dreamers to win a little league game, or put on a show to save the orphanage, odds are good that in the end, they’ll heroically surpass the expectations of even their most vocal detractors.
But in real life, when you get a bunch of amateurs together to perform a skilled task, like, say, playing an instrument, you usually end up with something like the Portsmouth Sinfonia, an experimental orchestra from the 1970s that invited anyone with a passing interest to join, and which became a momentary phenomenon by performing what could fairly be called unsuccessful music.
Claudia’s insight—while not blind to the ravages of a very real and enduring evil—is not a trivial one. Claudia and her sister have spent the entire novel surrounded by an internecine racism of assured ugliness that is rehearsed by their community, and reinforced by the broader culture. By the end of the novel, Pecola’s swollen belly ensures her separateness: she operates as a locus for the community’s own self-loathing and learned forms of self-disgust. But despite these social pressures, Claudia comes to understand that it is not the failure of the marigolds—and thus not the failure of Pecola—but instead, it is the soil that is bad. It is much too late for Pecola, of course. But not for Claudia.
Joe Hill's books are critically lauded, commercially successful. People love them. And in the not-too-distant future, Hollywood is going to bring Hill's work to the screen (one's made, the rest of his work has been optioned). But despite all of Hill's obvious success, one question remains: How do you make a name for yourself when your dad is the Master of Horror?
In September, Tom Cruise stepped into a car with Conan O’Brien and, with his characteristic exuberance, exclaimed that he was ready to sing karaoke or talk comedy. Mr. O’Brien waved away those ideas. “My thing, Tom, is take it back to basics,” he said, before describing his plan: “Two guys, just driving.”
What followed was not a spoof of James Corden’s signature “Carpool Karaoke” but something delightfully weirder than that. This 11-minute video began as cringe-comedy performance art, with Mr. Cruise bored and baffled, and Mr. O’Brien, quietly driving, as a hostile, frighteningly intense version of himself. Then the narrative turned into a kind of thriller as the hero, Mr. Cruise, in his best comic role since “Tropic Thunder,” slowly realized he was trapped with a maniac and needed to take desperate measures. It was the funniest bit on late night I had seen all year.
Each fall, I teach “Madame Bovary” to my graduate writing students at Hunter College, and each fall I read it with them. My course is called Introduction to the Modern: The Role of Compassion. So we look at modernism, and how it disrupts the literary world, and at compassion, and how it expands the soul. I ask my students a fundamental question about intention: Does Flaubert want us to feel contempt or compassion for his characters?
My students have strong views on this, and I do, too. One student declared his response to Charles Bovary. “I can’t stand him,” he said, explosively. “He’s such a loser.”
I was a foodie with a boring day job who figured he could run a restaurant. Then I encountered rats, endless red tape, crippling costs and debt-induced meltdowns, started popping sleeping pills, lost my house, and nearly sabotaged my marriage.
In Liza Mundy’s prodigiously researched and engrossing new book, “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II,” she describes the experiences of several thousand American women who spent the war years in Washington, untangling the clandestine messages sent by the Japanese and German militaries and diplomatic corps. At a time when even well-educated women were not encouraged to have careers — much less compete with men to demonstrate their mastery of arcane, technical skills — this hiring frenzy represented a dramatic shift. The same social experiment was simultaneously unfolding on the other side of the Atlantic. The British debutantes and their middle-class peers recruited to work at the secret Bletchley Park code-breaking operation came to outnumber the men.
The act of writing, like the act of reading, is often done in solitude. I am not sure if it is for this reason that both writing and reading can bring the comfort of a lover who knows where I begin and end as well as an anxiety that paralyzes. I do not think the latter is necessarily a bad thing — it is an ache waiting to be soothed, but an ache that we, readers and writers alike, may sometimes need. Humans must overcome obstacles; that is part of the process.
The second poem in Mandy Kahn’s new book, Glenn Gould’s Chair, contains the following lines: “We tend to favor / our most difficult projects, those painful loves, / so much of ourselves have been left / on their knife-blades and cutting boards.” We do do that. We all have a desire for the jouissance of life — if we are able to overcome its difficulties (again). Often, it is the works of others who share our sensibility, who share the experience of creative expression, that assuage the moments that produce nothing. Kahn’s new book furnishes us with a community of fellow creators. Their lives, through her poems, encourage us to breathe and let the mind wander or linger when we lose an expected sense of direction.
Truncated lives, unnecessary limits. There’s only one thing to do next. Look at the girls Modersohn-Becker painted, with their slim arms, their strong heads set against the sky. As Darrieussecq puts it: “It is not about what these young girls are dreaming, but what they are thinking … These girls are saying: ‘Leave us alone!’”
“Mythologiser” is one of the insults Sophia repeatedly flings at her sister, but from this author it’s high praise; Smith is engaged in an extended process of mythologising the present state of Britain, and Winter is at its most luminously beautiful when the news fades and merges with recent and ancient history, a reminder that everything is cyclical. There is forgiveness here, and song, and comic resolution of sorts, but the abiding image is of the tenacity of nature and light.
The assignment of books for review has always been haphazard. Fellow fiction writers can be tempted either to undermine the competition, or to flatter colleagues who might later judge prizes or provide boosting blurbs. There are no clear qualifications for book reviewing — perhaps publication, but most of all, because reviewers are paid for their text but not for the many hours it takes to read the bleeding books, a willingness to work for atrocious wages.
Mitigating the gravity of this matter? Aside from the authors whose work is on the block, almost no one reads book reviews, and I say that as someone who writes a fair number. It’s a publishing truism that ‘reviews don’t sell books’ — although negative ones can un-sell books. With lose-lose odds like that, why books are ever shipped out for review is anyone’s guess.
Yes, there are familiar tropes readily employed and certain passages that made me uneasy, but there is also much to savour, not least Handler’s clear-sighted exploration of gender politics and the fluidity of sexual identity. Tender and troubling, authentic and intimate, All The Dirty Parts is a thought-provoking read.
Kumukanda is an authentic and convincing book of poems in its many nuanced portrayals and unflinching reflections; rarely is it content to gloss or deceive. Though its music can sometimes falter as Chingonyi’s line of argument, a point to be made, supersedes the poetry itself, these more prosaic moments are evidence of his ambition and determination to use poetry as a uniquely transformative mode of thinking.
It’s been a trying year for the world’s most visible institutions. Congressional gridlock, partisan divide, and federal indictments torment Washington. Silicon Valley’s biggest companies are under scrutiny — and even headed to Capitol Hill — for their role in foreign interference during the 2016 election. And meanwhile, over at the Unicode Consortium, there is a contentious debate over a scowling pile of shit.
Digital shit, of course.
I recall, though my recollection may be faulty, a magnificent article by Giorgio Manganelli explaining how a sophisticated reader can know whether a book is worth reading even before he opens it. He wasn’t referring to the capacity often required of a professional reader, or a keen and discerning reader, to judge from an opening line, from two pages glanced at random, from the index, or often from the bibliography, whether or not a book is worth reading. This, I say, is simply experience. No, Manganelli was talking about a kind of illumination, a gift that he was evidently and paradoxically claiming to have.
How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, by Pierre Bayard, a psychoanalyst and professor of literature, is not about how you might know not to read a book but how you can happily talk about a book you haven’t read, even to your students, even when it’s a book of extraordinary importance. His calculation is scientific. Good libraries hold several millions of books: even if we read a book a day, we would read only 365 a year, around 3,600 in ten years, and between the ages of ten and eighty we’ll have read only 25,200. A trifle. On the other hand, any Italian who’s had a good secondary education knows perfectly well that they can participate in a discussion, let’s say, on Matteo Bandello, Francesco Guicciardini, Matteo Boiardo, on the tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri, or on Ippolito Nievo’s Confessions of an Italian, knowing only the name and something about the critical context, but without ever having read a word.
Towards the end of this intriguing and beautiful book, Cousins asks himself what kind of a book it is. Is it a “guided tour of the visible world”? A “photo album of a lifetime”? A reliquary? An exploration of the fact that “our eyes have not much evolved in 10,000 years, but the things to see have massively increased in number and our ways of seeing have stretched what we mean by seeing”? It is, to an extent, all of the above; it is also a kind of gloriously haphazard intellectual scrapbook.
A cook called in sick. The kitchen was beyond slammed. And, naturally, the phone was ringing. The restaurant’s proprietress barely answered in time. But she knew the voice on the line, though mostly by reputation within Seattle’s small food community. Rich Komen cut to the chase: “Hey Jerilyn, how’d you like to make the world’s greatest cinnamon roll?”
The year was 1985, and Jerilyn Brusseau had built a reputation of her own over the years. She sourced the ingredients for her eponymous restaurant in Edmonds, just north of Seattle, the way she’d learned on her parents’ dairy farm—from the people who grow them. Her VW bus crisscrossed the Snohomish, Skagit, and Whatcom Valleys to collect salad greens, shellfish, and 300 pounds of unsalted butter made every other week just for Brusseau’s. A few months before the phone rang, The New York Times had included Jerilyn in a lengthy, photo-splashed write-up about this revolutionary idea of eating local.
There was another reason she was on Rich Komen’s mind. Jerilyn Brusseau grew up making cinnamon rolls with her grandmother, who baked pies for the restaurants in her small Montana town. When Jerilyn and her then husband transformed a former Shell station—piles of rubble out front, windows blackened over with gunpowder from a stint as a firearms shop—into Brusseau’s in 1978, she originally feared her grandmother’s cinnamon rolls would seem too ordinary among the croissants and danishes and brioche. However those “ordinary” fragrant pinwheels of dough and dark, sticky filling built a fan base that stretched down to Seattle.
What endures after reading “Leonardo da Vinci” is just how indifferent to glory the man was. He lived in a world of his private obsessions. He often despaired over his failure to get anything done. (“Tell me if ever I did a thing,” he wrote in his notebooks.) What a gift that he did; what a gift that we know him at all.
The early 80s were a feverish time in Britain for new things, from youth cultures to design companies to political ideologies, and the Face – which tried to feature all of them in a fresh way, both glossy and gritty, while operating on a shoestring – remains one of the era’s most mythologised products. It never sold more than 130,000 copies, modest for a magazine distributed internationally, and it was published for 24 years – a good but not outstanding run. Yet it was consumed and is remembered with intensity. I was a Face reader from the mid-80s until near the end, and the feel of its best issues – forbiddingly stylish, but full of exciting information; insidery, but open to the world – was already loitering in my memory before I opened this elaborate history.
The book is a behind-the-stage-door dive into the ephemera of a woman who ritualistically kept virtually everything — every ticket stub, every dry cleaning receipt, every Polaroid from a wardrobe fitting — from her half-century-long career.
Affectionately compiled by her screen-sharing daughter, Melissa Rivers, and her onetime producer and longtime pal Scott Currie the book also charts her love of fashion, evident from the very start.
Since 1977, when the original “Star Wars” went supernova and started a multibillion-dollar franchise, Mr. Hamill has been synonymous with Luke Skywalker, the desert-dwelling tenderfoot who destroys the Death Star, becomes a Jedi knight and reconciles with his villainous father, Darth Vader.
In 2015, “The Force Awakens” found more substantial screen time for the senior incarnations of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). But Luke was withheld for maximum anticipation, a decision that Mr. Hamill came to accept — eventually — as a gift to him and his character.
“It is, if you can be objective about it,” he said a few weeks ago, sitting in his home here near the Pacific Ocean.
In the case of the man in black at Green River Cemetery, my fear went away once I realized where I’d seen him before: at another cemetery, Green-Wood in Brooklyn. Maybe I’d seen him next to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s difficult-to-find headstone, or admiring the Van Ness Parsons mausoleum shaped like a pyramid. I couldn’t quite recall, but it hit me that the stranger was not a ghost angry with me for disturbing his rest; he was a tombstone tourist, just like me.
John Carpenter’s Halloween opens with the post-coital murder of a half-naked adolescent girl at the hands of her younger brother, Michael Myers. He has just witnessed his sister’s seduction of a beautiful young man while spying on them through a window on Halloween night. What follows is a dreamlike first-person sequence that ends with the viewer looking through the eyeholes of a mask. As his sister’s lover bounds down the stairs and out the door, casually pulling on a striped T-shirt over a perfectly toned chest and torso, Michael seemingly takes the young man’s place, retracing his steps up the stairs and into the bedroom where his sister sits topless at a vanity table. He notices that the bed behind her is unmade, the sheets ruffled, evidence of an exchange that Michael doesn’t yet understand but for which he intuitively believes she must be punished.
The revelation of heterosexual desire seems to have triggered the onset of a latent evil inside Michael’s young body. This evil finds its mode of expression in the shiny blade of a kitchen knife, the first iteration of what will become his weapon of choice. After donning a clownish mask that had been discarded on the floor by the departed lover, Michael hacks his screaming sister to shreds before enacting his own post-climax exit down the staircase and out the front door. Outside the house, he encounters his parents emerging from the family car, and his father calls out to him by name as he approaches the street. But rather than relieve his son of the bloodied knife, Michael’s father first removes the mask. The imperative in this scene isn’t immediately to disarm the costumed Michael Myers of a murder weapon — rather, it’s to reveal him, to show his face.
The opening of Halloween is a coming-out story.
A half-century after the urban crisis, it appeared that the American city was becoming a source of national hope. In the 2016 presidential election, there were few indicators of how one would vote more salient than whether one lived in a city or far outside one. This result has given rise to the idea that cities would increasingly form the nucleus of the soi-disant “resistance” to right-wing nationalism and Donald Trump. Since last November, marches have repeatedly converged on urban cores; against the threats of the Attorney General, mayors touted their cities’ “sanctuary” status; and environmental standards retired federally have been upheld municipally. If the US had any chance to build a progressive, cosmopolitan future, the path lay through the cities.
Then came the contest to locate Amazon’s second headquarters. It turned out that the unifying power of hating Trump was nothing compared to the overwhelming national ardor for Amazon. Over the last two months, cities of every size and in every part of the country fell over themselves in a lurid, nauseating pageant of suitors. To whom would Amazon give the rose? The solidarity supposedly endemic to urban life was revealed to be the narcissism of minor differences, an inveterate competitive streak, a zeal to scrap every public plan in a fever of tax breaks. Faced with a corporation with monopoly power as great as the old railroads, cities genuflected. Millenarian apocalyptic rhetoric over Trump gave way to salvific paeans to Amazon. The company took on the form of a 21st-century Christ, offering its living water to the thirsty urban samaritans. Only San Antonio—appropriately, the city that once housed stolid, reliable, tedious pleasures like Tim Duncan—distinguished itself, refusing to enter a bid. “Sure, we have a competitive toolkit of incentives,” the city’s mayor wrote, at once inhabiting and parodying the language of the corporate brochure, “but blindly giving away the farm isn’t our style.”