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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How Does It Feel To Die In A Tsunami?, by Richard Lloyd Parry, Literary Hub

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.

Ten Years Of Posh Burgers – How They Changed Britain's Dining Habits, by Tim Walker, The Guardian

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.

Trillions Of Flies Can’t All Be Bad, by James Gorman, New York Times

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.

Um, Uh, Huh? Are These Words Clues To Understanding Human Language?, by Barbara J. King, King

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."

In Joe Biden’s Memoir, Private Grief And Its Effect On A Public Life, by Jennifer Senior, New York Times

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.”

'Promise Me': Joe Biden On Loss, Grief And Recovery, by Domenico Montanaro, NPR

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.