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.