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Archive for March 2018

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Good Game Well Played: The Story Of The Staying Power Of ‘StarCraft’, by Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer

Two decades after the day when StarCraft players first flooded onto Blizzard’s online gaming platform,, in force, the game remains one of the finest examples of the real-time-strategy style that made the bones of Blizzard, its renowned developer. It launched a fictional universe, spawned a successful sequel, and inspired Blizzard to take on even more ambitious follow-up projects. Even more importantly, it provided a genre-redefining proof of concept for what online competition could be, fueling the growth of an industry and subculture that have entered the mainstream today. “Back in the day, folks in the U.S. and Europe looked to South Korea’s Starcraft scene for inspiration,” says T.L. Taylor, a comparative media studies professor at MIT who has written a number of ethnographic books about online gaming. “It provided a playing field for incredibly talented players to show us what true virtuosity in digital gaming could look like. StarCraft was also a title a lot of folks currently working in the industry cut their teeth on. Its importance can’t be overstated.”

Neither can the difficulty of the crunch time that created it.

Organ Grinding, by Sudip Bose, The American Scholar

Four Organs begins with a pattern of eighth notes played by the maracas—a steady, unyielding rattling that’s sustained for the duration of the piece. When the organs come in, they too play repeated figures of eighth notes, and although Reich manipulates both the lengths of the notes (augmenting them steadily) and the notes themselves (which, taken together, make up a dominant eleventh chord), the piece can sound repetitive at first, monotonous, bewildering. That night, it didn’t take long for some rather prominent coughing to break out, before the crowd let loose with less subtle forms of protest: boos and catcalls, the agitation growing over the course of the piece’s 15-plus minutes. At one point, an older woman approached the stage, took off a shoe, and banged it on the stage, imploring the ensemble—which included Reich and Tilson Thomas—to stop. Someone else sprinted down an aisle, yelling, “All right! I confess!” Other aggrieved patrons simply left. With the commotion escalating, the musicians could barely hear each other play, forcing Tilson Thomas to call out the beats over the noise. This was no easy task.

The Surprising Reason That There Are So Many Thai Restaurants In America, by Myles Karp, Munchies

I’m not the first to wonder about the ubiquity of Thai restaurants in American cities and suburbs, and most seemingly informed and lay analysts have suggested that it’s simply because Thai food tastes good, or happens to hit the American palate in just the right way.

But as it turns out, there is a much simpler answer: The Thai government paid for it.

Poet Li-Young Lee Articulates Life’s Interminable Uncertainties, by Craig Morgan Teicher, Los Angeles Times

Few poets write like Li-Young Lee these days, facing the biggest and broadest questions head-on — What is the purpose of human life? How should we reconcile our best and worst impulses? Which is more real, the spirit or the body? Fewer still ask these questions so well, and so movingly, in terms anyone can understand, making vast abstractions feel specific and, for the most part, grounded in a lived life. "You publish doubt and call it knowledge," writes Lee in one of several poems in this new collection, his fifth in 30 years, in which an unnamed interlocutor, a stand-in for the beloved, interrogates the poet's choice of vocation. I can't think of a better expression for what a poet does: articulate life's interminable uncertainties, perhaps making a fool of himself.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Alaskan Illuminations, by Andrea Sachs, Washington Post

To view the northern lights, you need utter darkness. That leaves a lot of daylight hours to fill. To be exact, 9 hours 51 minutes and 32 seconds on the first day I arrived, with more than a six-minute gain each day thereafter.

Many of the activities that seem exotic in the Lowers are a way of life for Alaskans. Locals use snowshoes, sled dogs and snowmachines (mobiles, to you and me) for errands and commuting. Clearly, their modes of transportation are more adventurous than ours. Plus, you’d earn a low rating for telling an Uber driver that he’s a good boy.

How Nashville Became One Big Bachelorette Party, by Anne Helen Petersen, BuzzFeed

Depending on whom you ask, these groups are either a symbol of all that’s wrong with Nashville’s recent, astronomical growth, or exactly the sort of people necessary to sustain it: young, armed with disposable income, en route to the upper-middle class. They are not the Nashville tourists of our parents’ generation. Most have little interest in visiting the Grand Ole Opry; if they listen to country music at all, it’s a mix of what’s become known as “classic” (read: ’90s) country and contemporary pop/hip-hop hybrids.

The majority of these bachelorette parties are from the Midwest, but they also come from New York, Seattle, California, and Boston. Most don’t own cowboy boots and have never set foot in a honky-tonk. That’s part of the allure: the ability to try on a culture while avoiding accusations of appropriation.

Conjuring Anthropology’s Future, by Simon During, Public Books

Let’s state that thought like this: if anthropology was invented to bring the full force of modern rationality to bear on “primitive” societies and cultures, and this under conditions in which the division between the modern and the primitive was most concretely based in the division between reason and magic, what happens to anthropology once the hard division between magic and reason is undone (as it is here), and in the same breath the hard division between “primitive” and “modern” (once again) crumbles?

In this situation, anthropology itself, rather than being a vehicle of universal rationality, becomes an expression of a particular society and culture and, indeed, a performance somewhat like a magic performance in which partial, more or less ritually produced statements are passed off and sanctioned as legitimate objective knowledge.

The Give And Take Of Literary Magazines, by Michelle Betters, Ploughshares

Mennies also emphasizes, however, that many of the journals she polled depend on a combination of “editors’ wallets” and submission fees to stay afloat. This suggests a much larger problem with the system we’ve developed and normalized; many editors and publishers work for little to no money themselves. “Lit mag editors are typically volunteering their labor, and even with fees nobody is getting paid,” writes former Electric Literature editor Lincoln Michel, “So it’s hard to feel like you are exploiting anyone when you don’t get any money from the exploitation.”

Most writers and publishers set out to make art, to sustain the literary community and to extend its boundaries, to tell stories and to help readers access those stories. But does volunteer editing and publishing also, in Michel’s words, “devalue” writing?

Leslie Jamison's 'The Recovering' Finds Her Truth In A Failed Love Affair With Drinking, by David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times

Leslie Jamison wastes no time setting the terms of her relationship with alcohol in “The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath.” Here it is, in the very first paragraph: “You never told me it felt this good.” She is remembering her first drink, just shy of 13, “the crackle of champagne, its hot pine needles down my throat.” But what she is really describing is anticipation, or is it more accurate to call it a form of love?

“The Recovering,” after all, is something of a love story, or a series of overlapping love stories, or a story about the moment that love fails. It is the history of Jamison’s drinking, while at the same time it seeks to wrestle with the very question of drinking and what it means. “Addiction doesn’t surprise me,” she writes. “It seems more surprising that some people aren’t addicted to anything. From the night of my first buzz, I didn’t understand why everyone in the world wasn’t getting drunk every night.”

Meg Wolitzer’s New Novel Takes On The Politics Of Women’s Mentorship, by Lena Dunham, New York Times

The novel’s timeliness cannot be understated, but it also invites a bigger question: What do we as readers, as a society, want from our fiction? Is it enough for it just to speak to the zeitgeist? Or are we also committed to words working their magic and characters growing hotter to the touch with each passing page? Of Greer’s interest in language, Wolitzer — a noted bard of middle-class malaise — writes, “All written words danced in a chain for her.” And the same could be said of the author herself, who writes in warm, specific prose that neither calls attention to itself nor ignores the mandate of the best books: to tell us things we know in ways we never thought to know them.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Politics Of Waxing, by Dayna Evans, New York Times

A survivor of the French Revolution and a protégée of the physician and waxworks hobbyist Philippe Curtius, Marie Tussaud, born Anna Maria Grosholtz, brought a traveling roadshow of wax figures she had created through England between 1802 and 1835, after which she set up a permanent exhibition in London. (Notable characters including Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire sat for her back in the day.)

When the museum burned down in 1925, firefighters saved the attraction’s on-site parrot, which, once revived, is said to have remarked to the crowd that had gathered, “This is a rotten business.”

How Vietnam Changed Journalism, by Andrew Pearson, New York Times

Good journalism is always hard to do, but there’s a new generation of reporters who take nothing for granted because of what they know about Vietnam. Their work is everywhere in the best daily newspapers, on cable news and in online newsletters, blogs and websites. Of course journalism is populated by an assortment of people. There’s no entrance exam, so a lot of reporting is done by people who are ignorant and inexperienced about the subjects they pretend to know. Journalism is no better or worse than any other American institution. But the best young reporters have learned from the Vietnam War to question authority and find out for themselves what’s really going on. And that’s how it’s supposed to work in a democracy.

Do Flashbacks Work In Literature?, by Tim Parks, New York Review of Books

Every few days, working on my new novel, my thoughts flash back to something Colm Tóibín said at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival nine months ago: that flashbacks are infuriating. Speaking at an event to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, Tóibín said Austen was marvelous because she was able to convey character and plot in the most satisfying way without the “clumsiness” of the flashback. Today, on the other hand, we have to hear how a character’s parents and even grandparents met and married. Writers skip back and forth in time filling in the gaps in their shaky stories. It is dull and incompetent.

Is Tóibín right? I worry, as I prepare to put together a flashback myself. Is there no merit or sense in the device? Didn’t Joyce use it? And Faulkner? Or David Lodge, for that matter? Or John Updike? Or going back before Austen, Laurence Sterne? In which case, can there really be, as Tóibín appears to suggest, an association between the flashback and “our unhappy age”?

I Wanted To Love Paris, But It Didn’t Love Me, by Jennifer Hope Choi, BuzzFeed

Perhaps deep down I knew my experience in Paris couldn’t really be the way I had imagined. But I was steadfast in my delusions. My parents had recently separated, and on the heels of our family’s final, ugly collapse, I hoped to fall into someone else’s happy home, miles away from what little remained of mine.

A semester abroad hardly qualifies as an authoritative introduction to any city. But like many of my travels in the years since, I hadn’t flown to Paris to become an expert on its streets or history. I went, instead, equipped with the foolish notion that a change in location and context could suddenly stir to life my truer, best self — and that I could present that counterfeit iteration to the world, and people might believe it. I didn’t know then the impossibility of such a pursuit; that you don’t get to choose how to be seen, or whether you’ll be embraced or discarded — that neither the city, nor the mirage of reinvention, can ever really belong to you.

Why You Should Reject ‘Guilt-free’ Foods – And The Whole Idea Of Food Guilt, by Cara Rosenbloom, Washington Post

Food marketers freely use words like “guilt” and “sin” and “cheat” in the context of food, so what we eat is wrapped up in who we are and the choices we make. We judge food as being either good or bad, and then judge ourselves based on what we choose to eat. If we enjoy salad, we are good, but if we indulge in ice cream, we are bad . . . unless it’s guilt-free ice cream, of course. Doesn’t this sound absurd?

It’s time to remove food from the scales of judgment, and remember that food is fuel for your body, and nothing more. Maybe you’d feel guilty for stealing food from a store, but for eating cake? Ridiculous.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What Will Alaska Be Without Winter?, by John Luther Adams, New Yorker

One spring afternoon, while watching birds at a bog near our house, I was startled to hear the unmistakable call—congare-e-e-up—of a red-winged blackbird. This is a bird that I’d first come to know in Okefenokee Swamp, thousands of miles to the south, in Georgia. It was certainly not a resident species of interior Alaska. Yet here it was. And ever since then the redwings have appeared each spring, in that same northern bog. During the next decade, we saw the climate of Alaska continue to warm at an accelerating rate. In a very real way, the Alaska that we knew was beginning to disappear.

Meanwhile, the wildfire season increased in length and intensity. In 2004, it lasted all summer. From June through September, temperatures soared, and there was almost no precipitation. That summer, 6.3 million acres in Alaska—an area larger than the state of Vermont—went up in flames. In northern Alaska, summer is the season of endless daylight, and yet, day after day, we didn’t see the sun. The smell of smoke was omnipresent, and the air was dangerously polluted. The public was warned to limit exertion and to stay indoors as much as possible. The Red Cross set up smoke-respite centers to provide people with sanctuary from the oppressive conditions. Many fled south, in search of cleaner air. In its magnitude and intensity, that fire season dramatically surpassed all those previously recorded. But subsequent summers have come all too close to matching it.

A New Generation Of Food Magazines Thinks Small, And In Ink, by Tejal Rao, New York Times

Despite some off-putting names — like Toothache or Mold — many of these publications are beautiful and inviting, with ink-saturated pages filled with original art, and nuanced, complex stories you want to spend time digesting. Their cover prices are fittingly high, with many around $20, and a few don’t even bother to post their content online, focusing entirely on print.

Staffs tend to be tiny (often just one or two people), as do circulations (150 to 15,000). But what these titles lack in size or legacy, they make up for in originality and ambition, often zooming in on stories that have been overlooked or misrepresented in traditional magazines, and publishing them on their own terms.

The American Girl Doll Magazine Made Me A Feminist, by Abigail Weil, Electric Literature

I didn’t need to ask my parents whether I could have an American Girl doll to know that the answer was no. I found work-arounds. I played with my best friend’s sister’s Samantha when she wasn’t home. I pored over the catalog and made storylines out of what I saw. Each doll had her own doll, natch, and one year for my fun Channukah present, I chose the doll’s doll my parents could afford. It was a twelve-inch ragdoll which belonged to the slave character Addy. Her name was Ida Bean, she cost $18 (l’chaim!) and I loved her.

While my parents could not have afforded an American Girl doll, let alone all the paraphernalia, in 1995 the company launched a new venture that was more amenable to both their tax bracket and my family’s consumer habits: the American Girl magazine. The bimonthly magazine cost $19.95 for one year, or the bargain price of $36 for two. There is felicitous synchronicity in the fact that price tag on the one-year subscription matched the calendar year, and what a year it was (Bill Clinton! Clueless! The Rachel cut!). And so, when I was nine years old, my copies of American Girl magazine began arriving, to be hungrily read and then stacked in between my parents’ copies of The New Yorker.

How To Make Bookstore Appearances Ten Times More Interesting, by Craig Terlson, Literary Hub

After lamenting the mediocre bookstore appearance, my son-in-law gave me a brilliant idea. He told me that no one ever knows what to say to an author in a bookstore. What do you ask them? “So, you wrote a book then?” I flashed back to the time I met Carol Shields in a small bookstore in Winnipeg, just before The Stone Diaries made her famous. I turned a corner and found her perched behind a desk, squished between the stacks. Not knowing her or her work, I said, “Um, so you wrote this?”

The Death Row Book Club, by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin, Longreads

The books were a big deal. Nobody had books on death row. They had never been allowed, and it was like someone had brought in contraband. Only six guys were allowed to join me in book club, but every guy on the row was now allowed to have two books besides the Bible in his cell. Some didn’t care, but others made calls out to family and friends to let them know they could send in a book or two. It had to be a brand-new book and be sent directly from a bookstore to the prison. It was like a whole new world opened up, and guys started talking about what books they liked. Some guys didn’t know how to read, others were real slow, almost childlike, and had never been to school beyond a few grades. Those guys didn’t know why they were on death row, and I wondered about a world that would just as soon execute a guy as treat him in a hospital or admit he wasn’t mentally capable of knowing right from wrong.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Hilarious Life And Agonizing Death Of Online Comedy, by Alison Herman, The Ringer

There’s never been more humor available on the internet. But it’s unclear whether the business of making people laugh online will ever be profitable on a mass scale, rather than merely a pit stop on the way to a television gig. Though their jokes are ostensibly crafted for people, online comedy writers of all stripes now find themselves performing for social media algorithms.

What’s Cooking In That Egg Spoon? A Bite-Size Culture War, by Kim Severson, New York Times

The lines were drawn. On one side were those who viewed cooking an egg over a fire as the embodiment of food elitism and all that is annoying about the Slow Food movement. Only people who are very rich or very poor have fireplaces in their kitchens, critics said. Where is a working parent supposed to find the time?

In the opposing camp were people happy to discover a slow, delicious way to make those farm eggs that they had worked so hard to find. Even if the egg spoon was merely aspirational, it set the bar for a simpler way of cooking and eating — one in which a fire-roasted egg slipped onto levain toast seemed the antidote to an unthinking, tech-dominated culture fueled by unhealthy, overly processed food.

In The Gap Between Writer And Reader The Novel Comes To Life, by Claire Fuller, Aeon

According to Gavron: ‘Omission is a form of creation. Limit, constraint and the compulsions of the unknown – the excluded – are the true foundation of narrative art. A place for the reader to enter more fully into the book.’ Gavron is talking specifically about experimental fiction; works that wilfully stutter, or are deliberately disjointed. But I believe that it is also possible for readers of conventional fiction to actively participate with the text. Conventional novels that employ unreliable narrators, magical realism, polyphonic techniques, direct address or opt for ambiguous endings, for example, will create a space for the reader. Readers who embrace such novels will be rewarded with a more intense experience, and a more emotionally rich connection. Who wouldn’t want that from the book they’re reading?

The World’s Smallest Publishing House: A Typewriter In A Bookstore, by Michael Gustafson, Literary Hub

That morning, I had set out a typewriter on our lower level for anyone to use. It was a community-building experiment: What if people could walk into a bookstore and type anything they wanted?

Would they write haikus, confessions, or declarations of love?

Would they contemplate the meaning of life? Would they make fart jokes? Would people even know how to use a typewriter?

Can There Be An Atheist Novel?, by M. M. Owen, The Point Magazine

The Hungarian philosopher György Lukács called the novel “the epic of a world that has been abandoned by God.” Other forces played more obviously into the form’s rise to literary preeminence—the consolidation of a middle class; advances in printing technology—but the link between the emergence of the novel and the decline of religiosity is strong. Three hundred years ago, reading novels (as opposed to the classics, or Shakespeare) was widely seen as vulgar, indicative of a deficient mind. So was not believing in a divine creator. Today, at least among the sort of people who tend to read literary magazines, both these thing are more likely to be regarded as signs of intellectual and moral refinement. For the critic James Wood, this is no coincidence: the novel is “the slayer of religions,” a form that swept away Biblical certitudes and replaced them with fictional narratives that move “in the shadow of doubt,” asking readers for a belief that is fundamentally and irreligiously metaphorical.

One author who would agree wholeheartedly with Wood is England’s Ian McEwan, who asserted in 2013 that the novel is a product of the Enlightenment that “has always been a secular and skeptical form.” McEwan is a committed nonbeliever, so committed that he qualifies as a junior member of the intellectual movement-cum-publishing-ploy known as New Atheism, which emerged in the wake of 9/11. Christopher Hitchens dedicated his God Is Not Great to McEwan, and McEwan blurbed Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, calling it “lucid and wise, truly magisterial.” The critics Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate, in their 2010 study The New Atheist Novel, write of McEwan “it is tempting to say that—if his fiction did not exist—Dawkins and company would have had to invent it, so completely does it vindicate their worldview.” McEwan’s protagonists are universally, as Edward says in On Chesil Beach, “grateful to live in a time when religion has generally faded into insignificance.” Ostensibly, this view is never seriously challenged, the gratitude never corroded.

Leslie Jamison’s “The Recovering” And The Stories We Tell About Drinking, by Gary Greenberg, New Yorker

Jack London started drinking at age five, plunging his face into a bucket of beer he was carrying to his father and lapping it up; he spent the afternoon lying sick under a tree. As a teen-ager, he drank prodigiously, got into fights, and suffered epic hangovers. At least once, he combined all three activities, downing whiskey “like so much medicine” somewhere south of Oakland (“I think the place was Haywards. It may have been San Leandro or Niles”), brawling on the train back to the city, and ending up . . . well, it’s not entirely clear, but he came to, the next night, in a strange boarding house, after seventeen hours in a “comatose condition.”

By the time London wrote down these recollections, in “John Barleycorn,” published in 1913, he was both a famous writer and an every-day drinker, although he generally held off from booze until he’d met his thousand-word daily quota. But he was not, he tells us again and again, an alcoholic. “I was never a drunkard, and I have not reformed,” he writes in the last chapter. Because he lacked any “organic, chemical predisposition to alcohol,” he was always able to “drink when I wanted, refrain when I wanted,” and remained “thoroughly the master of John Barleycorn.” With one fateful exception: a period, shortly after he returned from a failed attempt to sail around the world, when he found himself “in the heart and deeps of me, desirous of alcohol.” After twenty-five years of drinking, “I had the craving at last, and it was mastering me.” The loss of control was only temporary, he claims, but it so unnerved him that he became a suffragist—not out of a concern for equal rights, but because he figured women would sway the country to Prohibition, which he favored on the ground that if a man with his “gorgeous constitution” could be rendered a slave to John Barleycorn, merely by repeated exposure, then no one was safe.

Farewell To Winter, Farewell To My Fingertip, by Ben Shattuck, The Paris Review

I lost my fingertip in January while carrying a wooden boat across icy ground. When I slipped, the gunwale came down on my hands. About a half inch of my middle finger lay in the dead grass, which might not sound like a lot until you look at the geography of a hand—the cut went to the white crescent setting in the cuticle. I wish I could accurately describe the feeling of picking up the fingertip—how immediately protective I was, holding it in my palm, cupping it like I’d found a songbird egg; how I felt it was both numb and not numb because it was then an object, not part of my body anymore. It was of my left hand—my writing and painting hand.

“We have to go,” I said to my friend carrying the other side of the boat.

In Lorrie Moore’s Nonfiction, The Sounds Of An Intellectual Having A Good Time, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

In her introduction, Moore stresses that the title of this book should not be read as a boast. When writing teachers pass this book to their students, the title “See What Can Be Done” will be read as a simple command.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Myth Of Traveling Light, by Alison Willmore, BuzzFeed

But then traveling light is, at heart, about going solo. What's the point of winnowing your stuff down to something you can sling over your shoulder if you have to wait around for someone else to gather their stuff at baggage claim? It was an unsettling realization, the first few times I traveled by myself — ventures that felt so far from my experiences growing up as to almost require their own vocabulary — that it could be so blissfully easy. It felt like shirking responsibilities that hadn't actually been assigned to me. For so long, travel had been all about strengthening ties; to feel like there were no strings on me gave me a sense of guilty exhilaration.

Am I Chinese Enough To Tell This Story?, by Kirstin Chen, Literary Hub

After my interaction back in Singapore, however, I had doubts as to my ability to write this next novel. If there were readers out there who believed I didn’t have the right to tell a story set in Singapore—the land of my birth, the only home I knew—who was I to embark on this novel, set in a part of southern China that I’d only visited twice, during a time period that I knew almost nothing about? While I am Chinese, my family hasn’t lived in China for several generations. My relatives live in Singapore, Hong Kong, or the US. English is my first language, and my years in America have chipped away at my ability to read Chinese. If I wasn’t Singaporean enough to tell a Singaporean story, then how could I possibly be Chinese enough to tell a Chinese one?

“Tangerine”: A Début Novel That Delights In Excess, by Laura Miller, New Yorker

“Tangerine” is over the top, but it is also endearing and even impressive in the force of its determination to conjure a life more exciting than most lives are. It’s not Tangier that the novel summons but the desire for Tangier, less a city than a blurry reverie of romance and adventure. It requires readers already infected with such daydreams, but when it finds them it will be just the ticket.

“As In An Obituary”: Ivan Blatný’s Songs Of Muteness, by Jonelle Mannion, Los Angeles Review of Books

Thumbing through The Drug of Art, the first major publication in English of the poetry of Czech modernist Ivan Blatný (1919–1990), provides for a rich visual experience. The poems expand and contract, sometimes spreading into prose, sometimes remaining clipped and brief; they are peppered with the accents of multiple languages, inflected with lines of gray text; and some appear alongside images of typed or handwritten originals. The collection, edited by Veronika Tuckerová, spans Blatný’s oeuvre, and much of the book’s stylistic innovation responds to the task of presenting the work of a writer whose motives are difficult to determine, and of translating poems that are precariously perched within the Czech language to begin with.

Ordinary People Review – A Deft Portrait Of Marital Angst, by Hannah Beckerman, The Guardian

Although the first half of the novel suffers from an excess of backstory, which interrupts the sense of quiet urgency she has introduced in her characters, Ordinary People is nonetheless a deftly observed, elegiac portrayal of modern marriage, and the private – often painful – quest for identity and fulfilment in all its various guises.

A Map Of Belonging: China Miéville’s The City & The City, by Cassandra Farrin, Ploughshares

What’s so interesting about this particular puzzle, though? What’s the “so what” factor here? It has to do with how all human communities seem to inherently divide their citizens into separate classes, often people who live side by side without understanding how vastly different their experiences of the same geographical spaces are. Miéville doesn’t explicitly call out, for example, how homeless individuals and families navigate cities compared with people in more stable homes, but the comparison is right there under the surface of the economically depressed Besźel alongside the thriving Ul Qoma.

Once readers notice this uncomfortable theme, another question naturally emerges: Who and what maintains the separation between one person’s experiences of a place and someone else’s? What happens when the borders fuzz together, when one person crashes into another?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

What A Book With Two Titles Reveals About The Way We Read, by Claire Cameron, The Globe And Mail

Hysteria, by the Canadian author Elisabeth de Mariaffi, is published by HarperCollins Canada and I Remember You, also by Elisabeth de Mariaffi, comes out with Titan Books in Britain. While publishers in different countries do redesign covers, a completely new title and marketing campaign in the same language is more rare. Why go through the effort at all? A closer look at the story within reveals an answer that lies in fear, feminism and who we choose to believe.

‘What’s The Point Of A Risk-free Life?’ – Deborah Levy On Starting A New Life At 50, by Deborah Levy, The Guardian

Life falls apart. We try to get a grip and hold it together. And then we realise we don’t want to hold it together.

When I was around 50 and my life was supposed to be slowing down, becoming more stable and predictable, life became faster, unstable, unpredictable. My marriage was the boat and I knew that I could not swim back to it. It is also the ghost that will always haunt my life. I will never stop grieving for my long-held wish for enduring love that does not reduce its major players to something less than they are.

I am not sure I have often witnessed love that achieves all of these things, so perhaps this ideal is fated to be a phantom. What sort of questions does this phantom ask of me? It asks political questions for sure, but it is not a politician.

'The Italian Teacher' Paints A Troubled Father-Son Relationship, by Lynn Neary, NPR

Great artists are known to have big egos — they can suck up all the air in a room if given half a chance. And living in the shadow of such greatness can stunt a person's growth, which is exactly what happens to the central character in Tom Rachman's new novel, The Italian Teacher. Rachman takes us through the life of Pinch Bavinsky, from his childhood adoration of his famous father to the disappointments of adulthood, and in the process, explores what it means to be an artist.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Solving The Suicide Crisis In The Arctic Circle, by Melody Schreiber, Pacific Standard

Mike Papoosie, 14, often doesn't know what to do once the library closes at night. He doesn't want to go home just to stare at the wall in his tiny bedroom, he says, because it will make him crazy.

Instead, Mike (whose name was changed for this story in order to protect the health of a minor) and his friends wander the icy roads of Clyde River, Canada, migrating like a pod of narwhal. In Clyde, this is one of the most popular activities for teens. They trudge along the snow-packed gravel, joking and talking and scanning the sky for northern lights. If they reach the end of the road, where snowy tundra takes over, they turn around. There is no destination in mind, anyway. They just try to stay moving, to keep some momentum in their lives. A new kind of nomadism.

"This town," Mike says. "It drives some people insane."

John Oliver’s Parody Of Mike Pence’s Bunny Book Happens To Be A Delightful Work Of Children’s Lit, by Katy Waldman, New Yorker

Bunnies, of course, are sites of whirling semiotic complexity. They are children’s-book staples, with starring roles in “The Runaway Bunny,” “The Velveteen Rabbit,” and “Goodnight Moon,” not to mention the myth of the Easter Bunny and the tales of Beatrix Potter. Linked to infancy, these creatures have enormous eyes, twitchy noses, floppy ears, thumping feet. They look soft and cuddly and innocent and defenseless, a suite of attributes warped to sardonic effect by the movie “Donnie Darko.” As pets, bunnies evince zero edge and exude a whiff of basicness. At the same time, they have served as sex symbols since long before the phrase “bunny girls” first hopped into Playboy, in 1960. The cliché “fuck like a bunny” goes back at least to 1978; “fuck like rabbits” dates to 1897. As the language blogger John Kelly recounts, the rabbit synonym “coney” inspired associations with “cunny,” a slang term for the vagina, as early as the fifteen-hundreds. (Mike Pence might be fascinated to learn of the linguistic ties between “cunt” and “country.”) In the wake of “Sex and the City,” a rabbit may also summon thoughts of the character Charlotte’s temporary vibrator addiction. BOTUS takes his place in the tradition of lusty, naïve leporidae. Only a bunny could be at once so pure and so dirty—so perfectly suited to square the Pences’ blandness with the subversions of “Last Week Tonight.”

Oliver’s Marlon Bundo, bashful and lovelorn, deploys these contradictory energies brilliantly. His job is to show readers that gay romance is adorable and appealing; it is also to rib Pence’s base via a lingering sense of taboo. (“I’m very, very fun,” BOTUS assures his audience, hula hoop in hand. He’s right.)

Does Having A Day Job Mean Making Better Art?, by Katy Waldman, New York Times

Once upon a time, artists had jobs. And not “advising the Library of Congress on its newest Verdi acquisition” jobs, but job jobs, the kind you hear about in stump speeches. Think of T.S. Eliot, conjuring “The Waste Land” (1922) by night and overseeing foreign accounts at Lloyds Bank during the day, or Wallace Stevens, scribbling lines of poetry on his two-mile walk to work, then handing them over to his secretary to transcribe at the insurance agency where he supervised real estate claims. The avant-garde composer Philip Glass shocked at least one music lover when he materialized, smock-clad and brandishing plumber’s tools, in a home with a malfunctioning appliance. “While working,” Glass recounted to The Guardian in 2001, “I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him that I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”

Why Do We Love Reading Books About Sick People?, by Nick Duerden, The Guardian

And so, though I might not have realised it at the time, all those health memoirs I’ve devoured over the years have helped fortify me for the obstacles life was waiting to hurl my way. They have made me a better reader, and they have upped my resilience at a time when resilience is what I needed most. Being able to write Get Well Soon feels nothing less than a privilege, and the response from readers and medical practitioners has been humbling.

Of course, I hope I will never find myself in the position of being able to write another one – I’ve had my sickness quota, thanks; all plain sailing from here on in – but I do know that I will continue to reach for them. “I think the more curiosity we have about how people deal with their own misfortunes, the better,” says Rentzenbrink. “The momentum I find in the best examples is very affecting. Every time I read one, I feel better for it. Don’t you?”

Friday, March 23, 2018

On The Hunt For The Lost Wonders Of Medieval Britain, by Sarah Laskow, Atlas Obscura

This is “Dark Age” history, often overlooked in the rush from the Romans to the Renaissance, with details forgotten or recorded only in legend. The Wonders of Britain, too, have disappeared from memory. According to the manuscript curators at the British Library, “few actual geographic features” known today match the list’s descriptions.

But if the broad outlines of medieval political divisions linger over modern Britain, some of the wonders are still hiding there, too. Evans, a senior lecturer in the geography department at the University of Leeds and self-proclaimed “expert in nothing,” started trying to track them down more than a decade ago. “We get into the rut of drifting through places without really thinking about them,” he said. But finding the site of a medieval wonder can burnish a familiar landscape with a sheen of the strange and mysterious.

When Frank Lloyd Wright Designed A Bookstore, by Adam Morgan, The Paris Review

In October 1907—a few months after Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle horrified Chicago—a new bookstore opened on the seventh floor of the Fine Arts Building downtown. In her autobiography, Margaret Anderson, the founder and editor of The Little Review, called it “the most beautiful bookshop in the world.” But Browne’s Bookstore survived for only five years. In 1908, a visiting Publishers Weekly reporter may have hit upon why: “Thus far, only one dealer in all classes of books has had the courage to locate his store up ‘in the air.’ ”

“The air” was the seventh floor. The lone dealer was Francis Fisher Browne, the editor of Chicago’s literary magazine du jour, The Dial, whose offices were located on the same floor. At the time, the Fine Arts Building was the center of Chicago arts and culture. Constructed by the Studebaker Company in 1885 to showcase their horse-drawn carriages, the colorful Romanesque building was remodeled a few years later to gather “the artistic, social, and literary concerns of the city into a single building.”

The Mind Is Flat By Nick Chater Review – We Have No Hidden Depths, by Steven Poole, The Guardian

You probably think you have beliefs, desires, fears, a personality, an “inner life”, maybe even a subconscious. Poppycock, says Nick Chater, a behavioural psychologist. All that stuff is folk nonsense. The brain essentially just makes everything up as it goes along – including what we fondly think of as our direct perceptions of the world, which are a patchwork of guesses and reconstructions. There is nothing going on “underneath”; there are no depths. The book could equally have been called “The Mind Is Shallow”, though potential readers might have found that more off-puttingly rude.

A Compelling Look At The Flaws In The Chinese Economy, by The Economist

Mr McMahon, a veteran financial correspondent in China, most recently with the Wall Street Journal, wears his knowledge lightly, whether discussing ghost stories or balance sheets. His book, “China’s Great Wall of Debt”, is notable for two reasons. It is one of the clearest and most thorough statements of an argument often made about the country: that its government has relied on constant stimulus to keep growth strong, an addiction that is bound to backfire. Second, he comes closer than any previous writer to covering the Chinese economy as Michael Lewis, the hugely popular author of “The Big Short”, might do. His analysis is informed but accessible, animated by anecdotes and characters, some colourful, some verging on tragic.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thanks For Not Sharing! My Fine Dining Isn’t Your Fork Orgy, by Alex Williams, New York Times

A classic American meal has a discernible beginning, middle and end — a story arc, to put it in Hollywood terms. What happens to that arc when everyone is scrambling to sample everything on the table? The meal becomes a jumble; too many characters, too many conflicted motives, too many fractured moments — basically, Robert Altman at his worst.

Perhaps I am overly sensitive about pacing because, yes, I am the slowest eater I have ever met. From my vantage, a shared meal means sitting by and idly chewing, while the food on the table vanishes like a time-lapse nature video of an ant colony devouring a dead bird.

The Advice Columnists Who Prescribe Literature As Medicine, by Katy Waldman, New Yorker

Can a book solve your problems? Yes, if one of your problems is that you wish to read a book. Or if another one of your problems is that you would like to learn about a certain subject. If your problem can be expressed as “I would like to feel X type of feeling,” a book perhaps can help, but here complications start to dawn. And if the problem is “I would like to be X type of person,” the situation grows thornier still. Although the experience of reading involves fulfilling needs you didn’t know you had, literature—like most things that are free—reacts poorly to being instrumentalized.

Death Rattle: The Body’s Betrayals, by Ellen Wayland-Smith,

One morning about a year ago I was sleeping on the sofa in my parents’ apartment when I was woken by the sound of my father dying in the next room.

At first I couldn’t tell what the noise was, or even locate where it was coming from. It was a ragged, scraping sound, like metal being pulled through tightly-packed glass. Then it shifted: like someone breathing in a viscous liquid in greedy gulps, aspirating yogurt. When I realized the noises were coming from my father’s throat, I froze.

'The Gunners' Seems Simple At First ... But Keep Reading, by Lily Meyer, NPR

Accept your emotions. Feel them bluntly, plainly. Allow yourself to flinch. There isn't a better way forward. Not in life, and not, I suspect, on the page.

The Executor By Blake Morrison Review – A Novel With Poetic Vision, by Edward Docx, The Guardian

Blake Morrison’s new book is a novel about the piecing together of a poetry collection, which is then printed in full at the end. Reading it was, I confess, a perplexing experience: something like watching Lewis Hamilton ride a bicycle round Silverstone for innumerable reconnaissance laps just so as to be prepared when he finally climbs into his race car and risks his life at 200mph on the edges of adhesion and daring.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What Exactly Does A Librarian Do? Everything., by Kristen Arnett, Literary Hub

Growing up, I liked to imagine what it would be like to work in a library. What little I knew about them was what I’d gleaned from movies and TV because my conservative parents never took us to any and only let me read books they purchased from the Bible Book Store. I didn’t know any librarians in real life—outside of the elderly woman who ran our tiny school media center—but I understood librarians were smart and savvy. Cool and collected. They were everything my rowdy, boundary-busting, literature-hating family was not. I envisioned a sweet future for myself sitting behind an elaborately carved wooden desk, surrounded by towering stacks of leather-bound books. I’d read for hours in total silence, vanilla and almond perfuming the air. Pages wafting in a gentle breeze. Nobody around to bother me. With librarianship, I’d finally have solitude. Peace.

I cling to these happy memories whenever somebody breaks the copy machine for the fourth time that day by jamming a ballpoint pen inside the feed tray. Or spills their kale smoothie down the side of the circulation desk. Or when a person decides to eat an extra large pizza while vaping in the women’s bathroom. I think: remember why you chose this job? The elegance? And I laugh.

A Beijing Bookstore Where George Washington Is On The Shelves, by Jane Perlez, New York Times

If he owned a bookstore, he had mused at the age of 7, he wouldn’t have to spend money on books. From behind bars, and with his entrepreneurial drive still intact, he saw his dream in a different light. A bookstore might be a more plausible way to pursue the freedom of ideas that he and hundreds of thousands of others had failed to win with public protest.

He got out of jail fairly quickly. The authorities lightened up a bit. He opened a bookstore and ordered an eclectic range of volumes that leaned toward philosophy, history, political science and an ample dose of Western thought.

Reader Discretion Advised, by Claire Luchette, Poetry Foundation

Punishments for profane language vary by culture and context, but in America a foul mouth is scolded, washed out with soap, censored, or even cited. In Massachusetts, anyone older than 16 is subject to fines for using “impure language” at sporting events, and an errant “Jesus Christ!” could theoretically land someone in jail. Obscene words are bleeped or minced on-air, asterisked or expurgated in print. In January, when President Trump reportedly referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations as “shithole countries,” the New York Times’s headline discreetly described his language as “disparaging words,” while the Washington Post printed the insult in full. Most cable newscasters repeated the word on-air, and it scrolled across CNN and MSNBC’s chryons. Fox News, meanwhile, bowdlerized the word with dashes.

For poets, the stakes of using profanity are different. Each of a poet’s “fucks” is deliberate and premeditated, deployed for meaning and phonetic value rather than shock value.

Peter Funch Sees The Patterns In The People On The Street, by Teju Cole, New York Times

It’s not that hard to go out into the street and take a stranger’s picture. It is legal and, with the right equipment, technically simple. But how do you arrive at two pictures of the same person, with almost the same expression, on what seem to be different days? These photographs were made by the Danish artist Peter Funch, and they are part of a series of many such pairs. For nine years, from 2007 until 2016, Funch hung around Grand Central Terminal and watched commuters during the morning rush between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. Using a long-lensed digital camera, he made countless portraits, an intriguing face here, another one there, yet another over there. He began to notice repetitions, the same people, the same faces, the same gestures, the same clothes. Each person was in the self-enclosed reverie of getting somewhere. The photos were all taken in May, June or July, in bright summer sunshine. The resulting project, published last year in a monograph titled “42nd and Vanderbilt,” is named for the street corner on which Funch stationed himself. It contains dozens of pairs of portraits (and a few in sequences of three), all of strangers.

If It’s A Man’s World, Let’s Escape It … Or Subvert It, by Carmen Maria Machado, New York Times

But the truth is, all women writers find themselves turning the crystal tumbler of their experience against men’s light. (Men, on the other hand, just get to write about the light, and are applauded for it.) And so the question remains, grows ever larger: How do writers divest themselves from the pressures of the dominant culture while also addressing the burdensome weight of that dominant culture?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

What Goes Into A Jeopardy! Clue, by John Wenz, Popular Mechanic

“There’s a saying in quiz shows,” Wisse says, “that a good question has to get one of three reactions: ‘I knew that,’ or ‘darn I should have known that,’ or ‘I didn’t know that, but now I’m glad I do.’ That’s basically what we’re looking for.”

He oversees a staff of eight writers. Another eight researchers to double-check the facts. Researchers ensure that the facts are independently verified, and that spellings and other details are correct. This usually requires two or more independent sources per question. Both the researchers and writers work on what is called “pinning” in the jargon of Jeopardy! Pinning means sorting out that there is for sure only one possible answer. Of course, sometimes as we’ve seen in the show, the judges will accept one of two answers, but that’s the upper ceiling of multiple choices.

‘Grandma’s Food’: How Changing Tastes Are Killing German Restaurants, by Maura Judkis, Washington Post

The cuisine’s long history here might be part of the reason, too. It’s “Grandma’s food,” Hauck said. At a time when American eaters seem interested in sampling new-to-them cuisines from around the globe — Native American food is the new poke is the new Uighur is the new Filipino — German food seems stodgy. Not to mention that in the age of Instagram, it suffers from an acute case of brown.

It’s also hearty, heavy and boasts enough starches to make ketogenic, gluten-free Whole 30 adherents lose their minds — which makes it seem out of place in our current food culture.

How Silicon Valley Turned Into ‘Brotopia’, by Jessica Bannett, New York Times

Silicon Valley has long celebrated failure as a way station to success. And yet it has failed women repeatedly, with little recognition or progress made — or even an attempt to learn from past mistakes. In Chang’s words, “it’s time for the industry to own it.”

When Doctors Don’t Listen To Women, by Randi Epstein, New York Times

[T]he focus of the book is really in the subtitle: “A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain.” She builds a convincing case that women describing discomfort are more likely than men to be dismissed by physicians, but along the way tells a story that will resonate with anyone (man or woman) who has ever experienced pain.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Swiftness Of Glaciers: Language In A Time Of Climate Change, by Rob Nixon, Aeon

As consciousness of climate change has grown, a new class of dead metaphors has entered the English language. We speak routinely of carbon footprints, of wiping species off the face of the Earth, and of greenhouse gases, but we no longer see the feet, the hands, the faces and the backyard sheds that were once vivid when those phrases were newly coined. Geologists now talk of searching for the ‘human signature’ in the fossil record. Some geo-engineers want to inject vast clouds of sulphur aerosols into Earth’s atmosphere in the hopes of ‘resetting the global thermostat’. Many of these coinages attempt to give an intimate, human dimension to planetary phenomena that can seem intimidatingly vast and abstract. Adam Smith in 1759 responded similarly to the massive scale of economic forces by inserting the human body in the form of the ‘invisible hand’ of the market. Today, the science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson brings that dead metaphor back to life, complaining that, when it comes to the environment, ‘the invisible hand never picks up the check’.

The Legal Battle To Colonize Mars, by Caroline Haskins, The Outline

So if Musk were to establish a private Martian settlement, that settlement would be an (illegal) territory of the United States. But to a figure like Trump, who recently established the National Space Council and an agenda to support private space commerce, the prospect of a private Martian settlement may be appealing. And there’s ample precedent for the U.S. ignoring treaties that are inconvenient to its national interests. In fact, according to Dodge, the Cold-War-era Outer Space Treaty was written to be ambiguous and open to interpretation.

The Fall Of Nanjing As My Grandmother Lived It, by David D. Chen, The Atlantic

On December 13, 1937, my grandmother, a woman of barely 22 years named Wein-Shiu Liu Chou, heard the steady barrage of artillery from Imperial Japanese troops as they began their final assault on Nanjing, her hometown in China. The sound of shells exploding just outside the city walls must have made clear to those still in the city that the end was near. My grandmother would live a long life of 98 years, raise two daughters, see five grandchildren grow up, run small businesses in Taiwan and the United States, and sing in a choral group in Los Angeles, California, in her golden years. But on that cold December morning, such a future seemed impossible.

Literature As Lifeline: The Exile In “Call Me Zebra”, by Irina Dumitrescu, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Literature,” writes Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, “is a nation without boundaries. It is infinite. There are no stations, no castes, no checkpoints.” This is the promise at the heart of her new novel Call Me Zebra, that the exile who lives through books can acquire a more liberated identity than the one fate has in store. It explores the seductive qualities of this idea but also its ultimate brittleness: it is one thing to be nourished by the words of dead writers, quite another to fall in love with death itself.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

How A Group Of Journalists Turned Hip-Hop Into A Literary Movement, by Dean Van Nguyen, Pitchfork

Sitting in a homely bistro on Malcolm X Boulevard, music journalist Greg Tate is bundled up in a peaked beanie, bright yellow scarf, and plenty of padded layers. His threads offer protection from the chill setting down on the Harlem streets outside, streets that have offered a home to a galaxy of Black American icons—from Duke Ellington to Cam’ron—across the last century. When a little-known mixtape track by local rapper Vado starts to pour out of the speakers, Tate breaks from his salmon salad to shake from side to side. At 60, one of the most influential hip-hop writers to ever strut these curbs still keeps his ears wide open.

It was 1981 when Tate jumped on an Amtrak from Washington D.C. to New York City to cover Harlem rap group the Fearless Four’s show at the Roxy, his first assignment for The Village Voice. The following year, he moved to the city, accelerating a blistering career with the Voice that’s included dozens of lengthy columns on culture, politics and, of course, the snowballing hip-hop scene.

The Folly Of Fighting Fate In “All The Names They Used For God”, by Michael Valinsky, Los Angeles Review of Books

The nine stories in Anjali Sachdeva’s debut collection All the Names They Used for God aren’t your typical narratives. Each one provides a haiku-esque glimpse into the infinite mind of an individual while revealing how the seeming trivialities of life can reverberate with meaning. Throughout, characters grapple with predetermination as they experience the brutal clash between expectation and reality.

Waiting For The Last Bus By Richard Holloway Review – Reflections On Death And How To Live, by Blake Morrison, The Guardian

As a man deeply versed in religion (a former bishop of Edinburgh and head of the Scottish Episcopal Church), he’s familiar with notions of reincarnation and eternal life. But he thinks denial of death spiritually unhealthy. Even if our corpses did come back, suitably defrosted, what kind of reception would we get? Wouldn’t we be treated like freaks or illegal immigrants? And what about the social injustice of only the rich having the resources to outrun death?

'It Could Be Huge. It Could Be A Nightmare': Attempting The Largest Family Reunion In The World, by Ada Calhoun, The Guardian

“When his first request for an interview with former president George HW Bush was rejected, AJ Jacobs resorted to a desperate plea: “Couldn’t you do it for family?” – pointing out that they were (distant) cousins.

The plea worked. Bush gave him an interview and even posed for a photo – an image that sits alongside others, including Daniel Radcliffe, Olivia Munn, and Ricky Gervais, in Jacobs’ new book, It’s All Relative. The book examines the promise and challenges of the world family tree – the dream of some geneticists and genealogists to connect everyone who’s ever lived, be they Neanderthal or celebrity.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

I Want My ChessTV, by Kevin Lincoln, Topic

When you think of chess, what do you picture in your head? Chances are it’s either Bobby Fischer staring at a set of chess pieces like he wants to light them on fire, or it’s two kids in glasses sitting at one of those tables with the built-in gameboards, playing after school while they wait for their parents to pick them up.

Compare that to a typical session with the Chessbrahs, the most popular chess streamers on Twitch. Over the course of one of their streams, which can last up to four hours, you might see chairs thrown amid a torrent of f-bombs, freestyle rapping mid-game, and a never-ending barrage of trash talk. This is the new, online era of chess—set to the soundtrack of dance music.

Curate, by Wilfred M. McClay, The Hedgehog Review

In the demimonde of Facebook and the like, everyone is in the public relations racket, and everyday life takes on the texture of a real-estate commercial, with constant inflation of language and imagery in the service of self-presentation. Why is it no longer enough to say that a store stocks a fine assortment of important and interesting titles? Is “selection” not a fancy enough word anymore? Does it not convey in plain and accessible English the central idea—that this is not a Barnes and Noble or any other cookie-cutter franchise operation, but that the proprietors have instead exercised independent taste and judgment in assembling their offerings? Why do we need to have the pretentious and mystifying notion of “curation” drifting in and fogging up the air?

The Beauty And Mystery Of How A Building Is ‘Built’, by Judith Dupré, New York Times

Supertall buildings like One World Trade Center, Shanghai Tower and the Shard are touching new ceilings of safety, sustainability and efficiency. Mimicking nature, infrastructure can now self-diagnose and self-heal when problems arise. Uses for graphene, one atom thick and the strongest material yet, are still a twinkle in the structural imagination, but not for long. Engineers are saving the world.

If that sounds like a grand claim, it’s because engineering is so seamlessly integrated into every facet of our lives that it is all but invisible. Drawing on varied examples across centuries and continents, Roma Agrawal’s “Built” seeks to tell this untold history — for, as the author claims, the “engineered universe is a narrative full of stories and secrets.”

The Good, The Bad And The Panther, by Paulette Jiles, New York Times

Benjamin Shreve, the teenage narrator of Elizabeth Crook’s new novel, “The Which Way Tree,” unspools his tale of Civil War-era Texas in a first-person voice that is utterly convincing, consistent and believable. Crook never slips out of that voice for a moment. This is no small feat given that the tale involves Benjamin’s demented half sister, the infamous massacre of Union-sympathizing German immigrants by local Confederates, and a giant panther.

Time And Freedom In Jason Barker’s “Marx Returns”, by Nina Power, Los Angeles Review of Books

If we had more time would we be freer, happier? Would we maintain our friendships and relationships as retirees might retain their gardens, if we get to retire, if we have a garden, if there are either gardens or retirement left for anyone anymore? If we decided against lack, if we acted as though we had all the time in the world, and that we could take stock of all the private property in the world with a view to apportioning it, reorganizing it; if we could make free what has been enclosed, such that we could all have access to the commons and become commoners once again, would we also be able to start to see time as less of a prison cell, an anxious warder, but more of a vast expanse in which social relations were infinite and infinitely possible, infinitely interesting? If we “did as we pleased for as long as we liked,” might we finally be able to do some good?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Why Earth's History Appears So Miraculous, by Peter Brannen, The Atlantic

It’s something of a miracle that life on our planet has been left to evolve without fatal interruption for billions of years. Such a long unbroken chain of survival, however unlikely, is necessary for bags of mud and water like ourselves to eventually sit up, and just recently, to wonder how we got here. And like the bullet-riddled—but safe—planes, our planet has survived countless near-fatal blows. There have been volcanic apocalypses, body blows from supersonic space rocks the size of Mount Everest, and ice ages that might have frozen the planet almost to the tropics. Had any of these catastrophes been worse, we wouldn’t be here. But they couldn’t have been worse for precisely that reason.

As Sandberg and his coauthors Nick Bostrom and Milan Ćirković write, “The risks associated with catastrophes such as asteroidal/cometary impacts, supervolcanic episodes, and explosions of supernovas/gamma-ray bursts are based on their observed frequencies. As a result, the frequencies of catastrophes that destroy or are otherwise incompatible with the existence of observers are systematically underestimated.”

That is, our forecasts about the future could be blinded by our necessarily lucky past. Not only is it impossible to look back and find truly world-ending impact craters in our planet’s history—stranger still, it would be impossible to find these impacts in the rock record even if they struck planets like ours all the time. Existential hazards, even if they’re extremely likely, might hover just out of frame, concealed by our “anthropic shadow.”

Why Don’t We Eat (More) Brains?, by Alan Jasanoff, Literary Hub

When I first touched a brain, it was braised and enveloped in a blanket of beaten eggs. That brain had started its life in the head of a calf, but ended in my mouth, accompanied by some potatoes and a beverage at an economical eatery in Seville. Seville is a Spanish city famous for its tapas, and tortilla de sesos, as well as other brain preparations, are occasional offerings. On my brain-eating trip to Seville, I was too poor to afford sophisticated gastronomic experiences. Indeed, some of my most vivid recollections of the trip included scrounging around supermarkets for rather less satisfying food, while the delectable tapas remained out of reach, only for the ogling. The brain omelet was certainly one of the better meals I had.

My next encounter with sesos came many years later in a laboratory at MIT, in a crash course on neuroanatomy whose highlight was certainly the handling and dissection of a real sheep’s brain. At that time, I was drawn to the class and to the sheep’s brain by a diffuse set of concerns that motivate many of my fellow humans to follow and even embed themselves in neuroscience. The brain is the seat of the soul, the mechanism of the mind, I thought; by studying it, we can learn the secrets of cognition, perception, and motivation. Above all, we can gain an understanding of ourselves.

How Liberal Democracy Fell Apart, by The Economist

“The People vs Democracy” is a chastening read for all sorts of reasons. It provides lots of evidence to suggest that the battle between illiberal democracy and liberal elitism will only become more intense. It demonstrates that those harbingers of openness, young people, are in fact much more sceptical about democracy than are their seniors. But the biggest reason for its chilling effect is unwitting: the prescriptions for saving democracy are so much feebler than the explanation of why it is in danger.

The Cookbook Everyone Is Falling In Love With, by Linda Burgess, The Spinoff

Her tone is chatty. She’s chatty. At the festival, her moderator Marianne Elliot, who handled the panel of three chefs with aplomb, did a magnificent job of the solo act with a crisp introduction, a gentle push, then Nosrat was like a balloon whizzing round the room in no danger whatsoever of deflating. The book does not have the normal layout, managing successfully to incorporate a touch of memoir, comment, information and actual recipes in a fairly loose format. This tone means that at any stage you can go back into this book and just enjoy any bit of it. A glance at any page will mean you’ve learnt something new.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

What It's Like To Die Online, by Amanda Montell, Marie Claire

When Castellano first started her channel, becoming a “cancer vlogger” wasn't her intention, she simply wanted to talk about makeup. Following her diagnosis, a family friend taught Castellano how to decorate her face with colorful eye shadows and lipsticks as a distraction. She came to love watching makeup tutorials. “Eventually she thought, ‘You know what? I could do this. I’m good enough to do what they do,’” says Castellano’s mom, Desirée. In 2011, the pre-teen began uploading her own bubbly tutorials and haul videos, which she’d film and edit on her laptop in her bedroom. It wasn’t until Castellano’s budding viewership began asking personal questions—why she didn’t have hair, for example—that she decided to talk about her disease. “She started raising awareness for childhood cancer through her videos, and the channel blew up,” recalls her sister Mattia, now 23. By 2012, her influence as an advocate landed her an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and she was named an honorary CoverGirl by the cosmetics company.

“Every morning I would wake up in the hospital with nothing to do. I'd basically just spend my day watching other people on YouTube,” says Gall of the impetus for her channel. “Eventually I thought, What would be so hard if I made these videos?

Tracy Morgan Is A Survivor. And ‘A Better Man Now.’, by Dave Itzkoff, New York Times

He is more than ready to move forward, as feisty, as fiery and as occasionally prone to fly off the handle as he has ever been. Still, he cannot help but take stock and wonder how the experience — just the latest in a series of tests that life has hurled at him — has made him who he is.

As he said to me that morning, “I have to ask myself, because of what I’ve been through, was I better then or am I better now?” Almost immediately, he answered himself: “I’m a better man now,” he said. “I’d rather be a good man than a funny man, any day.”

Saving The Salisbury Steak From TV-Dinner Obscurity, by Tamar Adler, New York Times

What I’ve realized is that I like dreaming about what old dishes would be. I like imagining where they would be eaten and by whom, how they might be served, what conversation and convention punctuate their eating, what time of day, what weather, what energies drive eaters to that table and from it. I do like reading their instructions. I just don’t like to follow them. I like to take what I can. It’s sometimes a particularly good way of describing one step of a process, or the suggestion of a way of life — involving long lunches and wild strawberries — or a really wonderful general idea for a dish, with a lovely and evocative name.

In 'Go Home,' Finding — Or Building — A Home In Words, by Ilana Masad, NPR

But as Nguyen writes, language allows for many homes, and perhaps the writers — and readers of the anthology too — will succeed in returning home, or finding a home, through these words.

A Hilarious Novel About Family, Death, Madness — And Math, by Bethanne Patrick, Washington Post

The subtitle of “The Last Equation of Isaac Severy” by Nova Jacobs is “A Novel in Clues.” How clever, maybe even a bit twee. Is Jacobs about to lead readers on a choose-your-own-adventure chase? In a way, yes.

A Brief History Of Time Changed Our Perception Of Physics And Its Mass Appeal, by Dan Falk, Slate

Yes, the success of A Brief History took everyone (including its author) by surprise. But it succeeded for good reason. The book revealed a profound truth that had been largely ignored: We desperately want to understand our place in the cosmos. And if a guide comes along who can help us make sense of it all, we’re willing to listen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Blue Planet II Captivated Audiences Abroad. Why Didn’t America Care?, by Alex Barasch, Slate

Blue Planet II pulls no such punches. It’s a product of the BBC Natural History Unit’s careful, extensive experimentation to find the right balance between science and spectacle. And it works. The series shows us young albatrosses who’ve choked on plastic, the grim reality of coral bleaching, and the autopsy of a young dolphin. It also makes it clear that these things are our fault. But as the most overtly “political” series ever to come out of the NHU in terms of acknowledging human culpability, it may have alienated a certain percentage of American viewers from the outset.

The Cliff That Changed Our Understanding Of Time, by David Cox, BBC

Suddenly Jim tapped me on the shoulder. “Up ahead,” he pointed. As we drew closer, I began to make out the outcrop’s telltale layers. Up close, the contrast between the vertical sheets of oceanic rock along the bottom of the cliff and the horizontal layers of sandstone high above were clearly visible.

Back in 1788, few people understood the significance of that contrast. It took an Enlightenment thinker – 62-year-old farmer James Hutton, who made this journey around Siccar Point more than two centuries ago – to realise that it proved the existence of ‘deep time’.

Eye Trouble, by Alice Mattison, New Yorker

My eye trouble started more than three decades ago, when I was forty-one. I discovered that if I closed my left eye, straight vertical lines curved extravagantly, and I could not read. I became sensitive to bright lights. A retina specialist told me that I had a rare genetic ailment, macular dystrophy: the disintegration of a tiny spot at the center of the retina that is responsible for fine vision. I had the disease in both eyes, and there was no treatment. Still, I found an optometrist who prescribed tinted lenses and reading glasses with high magnification, and with those I could continue to read, write, and teach. For years, my good left eye kept me going, and nothing much changed except that the blank my right eye saw grew bigger.

Eight years ago—twenty-five years after my disease started—I began to have new trouble seeing. I made an appointment with another retina specialist, who told me that I now had age-related macular degeneration along with macular dystrophy: a drop of fluid and blood was on the macula of my good left eye, and if nothing was done I’d quickly lose central vision. But there was help. The doctor gave me three injections, one a month, standing at my side, too far back to be seen, putting the needle into the corner of the eye. The shots worked, and we agreed that I was fortunate—though the requirement to rejoice irked me. I was fortunate only compared with someone who was more unfortunate than I.

The Unforgotten: On Michael W. Twitty's 'The Cooking Gene', by Pete Candler, The Millions

To publish a recipe can be—especially in the world of rock-star chefs, cooking-themed reality television, and the general atmosphere of cooking as a variety of warfare—an act of self-conscious display of culinary erudition or imagination. It can have the effect of dangling before the reader the lure of the possibility of participating, however briefly, in the ex nihilo genius of a famous chef who somehow thought of putting ingredients together in a way designed to wow and astonish our dinner guests.

There is another way in which a recipe can be written, however, and more importantly, received. It can be written as an invitation into a reality that you did not recognize was possible before, an invitation into a kind of fellowship or communion. A recipe can be the transmission of a tradition, and to cook from such a recipe is not to “try this at home” but to enact a performance of that tradition, and thereby to participate in it in a mysterious and unrepeatable way. This is the way that recipes operate in Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South.

Memory Is Mutable, Understanding Elusive In 'Memento Park', by Heller McAlpin, NPR

Memento Park is ultimately about the mutability of memories and understanding, and an exhortation to really pay attention — while realizing how much you may miss regardless.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Does Recovery Kill Great Writing?, by Leslie Jamison, New York Times

The first time I told the story of my drinking, I sat among other drinkers who no longer drank. Ours was a familiar scene: circled folding chairs, foam cups of coffee gone lukewarm, phone numbers exchanged. Before the meeting, I imagined what might happen after it was done: People would compliment my story or the way I’d told it, and I’d demur, Well, I’m a writer, shrugging, trying not to make too big a deal out of it. I practiced with notecards beforehand.

It was after I’d gone through the part about my abortion, and how much I’d been drinking pregnant; after the part about the night I don’t call date rape, and the etiquette of reconstructing blackouts — it was somewhere in the muddled territory of sobriety, getting to the repetitions of apology or the physical mechanics of prayer, that an old man in a wheelchair, sitting in the front row, started shouting: “This is boring!”


Other people at the meeting shifted uncomfortably in their seats. The woman sitting beside me touched my arm, a way of saying, Don’t stop. So I didn’t. I kept going — stuttering, eyes hot, throat swollen — but this man had managed to tap veins of primal insecurity: that my story wasn’t good enough, or that I’d failed to tell it right, that I’d somehow failed at my dysfunction, failed to make it bad or bold or interesting enough; that recovery had flatlined my story past narrative repair.

On The Mysterious, Powerful Effects Of Placebos, by Lauren Slater, Literary Hub

His doctor then did something that doctors today would never be permitted to do. He told Mr. Wright a story, a lie. The news reports, the doctor said, were wrong. Krebiozen was in fact a potent anticancer drug. Why, then, Mr. Wright wondered, had he relapsed, and so badly? Because, his doctor said, Mr. Wright had unfortunately been given an injection of the stuff from a weak batch, but the hospital was expecting a new shipment and it was guaranteed to be two times stronger than even the most potent Krebiozen to date. Mr. Wright’s doctor delayed administering anything to his patient so that his anticipation would build. After several days had passed, the doctor rolled up Mr. Wright’s sleeve; Mr. Wright offered his arm, and the doctor gave his patient a new injection—of pure water.

Again hope made an entrance. Mr. Wright let all his tumors go. Once again they shrank and disappeared until no trace of them could be found in his body, and once again he left the hospital. It’s not hard to picture him dancing his way through his days. A second remission! Mr. Wright lived for a further two months without symptoms and then, unfortunately for him, came another news report. The American Medical Association, after numerous tests on patients, issued its final verdict on Krebiozen, confidently declaring the drug to be useless. Mr. Wright’s tumors reappeared, and this time, within two days after his readmission to the hospital, he was dead.

Tennessee Williams In Four Objects, by Margaret Bradham Thornton, The Paris Review

In the decade I spent editing and annotating the notebooks of Tennessee Williams, I learned that one cannot find nor, as my editor Jonathan Brent noted, tell the story of anyone’s life in a linear way, certainly not Williams’s. As I endeavored to track down individuals with only their first names as guide and find and identify unpublished manuscripts referred to only in the most generic ways, my efforts, at times, took more the form of a scavenger hunt, even a flea-market trawl. Along the way, I unearthed several lost notebooks and unknown manuscripts, including a one-act play. Encouraged by the British Museum’s ability to tell the history of the world across a span of two million years with one hundred objects, I have chosen, from Williams’s archives, four objects from four categories—an unpublished poem, a passage from a journal, an unknown one-act play, and a letter—to give insight into his ambition, his psyche, his creative process, and, finally, his sense of humanity.

When Your Favorite Neighborhood Restaurant Closes, The Grief Is Real, by Tim Carman, Washington Post

To some, restaurants are just businesses, with cooks who prepare the food and servers who bring it, a purely transactional experience. To others, restaurants are places where friends meet, birthdays are celebrated, special occasions toasted and memories made. To those in the latter group, a beloved restaurant closure can be a blow. Therese Rando labels these blows “disenfranchised losses,” which are personal losses that are not publicly recognized as such.

‘The Flight Attendant’ Is, Yes, The Perfect Airplane Read, by Maureen Corrigan, Washington Post

Filled with turbulence and sudden plunges in altitude, “The Flight Attendant” is a very rare thriller whose penultimate chapter made me think to myself, “I didn’t see that coming.” The novel — Bohjalian’s 20th — is also enhanced by his deftness in sketching out vivid characters and locales and by his obvious research into the realities of airline work.

No More Maybe, by Gish Jen, New Yorker

Since my mother-in-law came to visit America she is quite busy. First, she has to eat many blueberries. Because in China they are expensive! While here they are comparatively cheap. Then she has to breathe the clean air. My husband, Wuji, and I have lived here for five years, so we are used to the air. But my mother-in-law has to take many fast walks. Breathing, breathing. Trying to clean out her lungs, she says, trying to get all the healthy oxygen inside her. She also has to look at the sky. “So blue!” she says during the daytime. “I have not seen such a blue since I was a child.”

At nighttime, she says, “Look at the stars. Look! Look!”

She has to post pictures of the stars on WeChat for her friends. And she has to take some English-language classes. Because these classes are expensive in China! she says. Here they are free.

She thinks this is very strange.

“Why are they free?” she asks. She says, “America is a capitalist country. What about so-called ‘market force’?” “Market force” sticks out of her Chinese like a rock in a path. “And what about so-called ‘invisible hands’?” she goes on, and there it is—another rock.

Monday, March 12, 2018

In Defense Of The Catcher In The Rye, by Amanda Parrish Morgan, Ploughshares

Suddenly I felt that kind of out-of-body anger fused with embarrassment and disbelief to be dizzying. I heard myself continuing: “No one even reads the books, and then, instead of just sitting here quietly, you all raise your hands and say some made up thing from Cliff Notes. Why are you even taking this class?” No one responded, so I kept talking. I was so excited and nervous and relieved to be saying all of this aloud that I worked to keep from shaking visibly. “Everyone’s in this class so you can get honors credit but you don’t even like to read.” I ended with what I considered to be the world’s greatest indictment: “Holden would hate all of you.”

Years later, when I was a high school English teacher myself, exhausted, behind on grading and college recommendations, just trying to keep chaos from breaking out on that awful half-day of school before Thanksgiving, I thought of Ms. Gottlieb. She had been young, kind, quiet, smart. I had really liked her, and although at the time I’d thought I was doing her a favor, calling out my classmates so she wouldn’t have to, I realized I’d likely ruined her lesson plan, and likely her day.

Grammar Gripes: Why Do We Love To Complain About Language?, by Penny Modra, The Guardian

But often I feel I’m not the adviser they’re looking for. People want me to bang the grammar gavel and solemnly rule that “irregardless” is not a word, and that it’s wrong to say your team is “versing” another team, and that sports commentators who start sentences with “for mine” must be driven from our towns and cities. (There are lots of complaints about sports commentary.)

So really it’s a segment about language change. And I love language change! Thus, I disappoint the listeners. Change is the thing they revile.

Why Do We Love To Quote (And Misquote) Albert Einstein?, by Andrew Robinson, Aeon

The phenomenon of Einstein misquotation is largely driven by an all-too-human desire for mystification and for authority figures, epitomised by the two words ‘iconic’ and ‘genius’.

“The Undressing”: Poetry Of Passion Laid Bare, by Dan Chiasson, New Yorker

Lee’s most ambitious poems are made from the commonest verbal stock. I had a dream while I was preparing to write this review, inspired, no doubt, by Lee’s own artfully pregnable verbal surfaces, where dream and realism, the apple blossoms and the dozing father, coöperate. I was telling a friend about a poem I’d written in which daisies spoke and revealed their sadness to me. “Why do they talk that way?” my friend asked. “The flowers?” I replied. “The poets,” he answered. It’s an ancient question, and Lee’s poems, quarrying their insights from the oldest and deepest sources, pose and answer it anew.

From A Low And Quiet Sea By Donal Ryan – Review, by Alice O'Keeffe, The Guardian

“If a tree is starving, its neighbours will send it food,” observes Farouk, one of the characters in Donal Ryan’s wise and compassionate novel. “No one really knows how this can be, but it is. Nutrients will travel in the tunnel made of fungus from the roots of a healthy tree to its starving neighbour.” Through a series of interlinking monologues, From a Low and Quiet Sea explores the ways in which human beings, too, sustain one another through deep and sometimes hidden connections.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Apocalypse Soon, by Jessica Langer, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Cli-fi,” as it’s been dubbed — a genre of fiction that extrapolates the consequences of catastrophic climate change on Earth — is never only about the climate. In climate fiction narratives, the weather is generally one of many overlapping factors that create an inhospitable world. Or rather, such works show that we, humanity, have created a world that is inhospitable for ourselves, by our own carelessness. Cli-fi highlights how the climate is something over which our scientific interventions have very little control, especially in contrast to our industrial and petrochemical impact, and explores how we have been wantonly destructive toward the natural environment without thoughts of mitigation — or, in the case of the current administration of the world’s most powerful country, even recognition that there is a problem to be mitigated.

As VanderMeer says, cli-fi is not science fiction in any traditional sense. It extrapolates, but its predictions do not point toward things that are unlikely or improbable. Instead, it explores how the dominoes are already falling. We cannot, at this point, save ourselves from the damage we have done, but we can look ahead to consider where our already-chosen path is taking us.

Solarpunk: Against A Shitty Future, by Rhys Williams, Los Angeles Review of Books

It seems important today to find, question, and celebrate narratives that are striving to meet the challenges facing us and that provide persuasive visions of a better future. As Amitav Ghosh and others have argued, however, literary realism runs out of steam in the face of the climate crisis and its increasingly commonplace impossible events. Realism relies on an unspoken reliability of the social and material world for its verisimilitude, yet when the world refuses to function as the stable background for our kitchen-sink dramas, a realism which ignores the growing instability of the Earth’s climate increasingly feels like escapist fantasy.

This is why the most interesting literary work that addresses the Anthropocene and its attendant crises is emerging from speculative (rather than realistic) genres: science fiction, fantasy, and the weird. Speculative genres provide a means to think beyond the constraints of what we have inherited as “reasonable” — they reveal the fragility and contingency of such reasonableness, gesturing instead toward seemingly unreasonable alternatives that we desperately need.

Up In Smoke: Should An Author's Dying Wishes Be Obeyed?, by Blake Morrison, The Guardian

When a writer is born into a family, the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz said, that family is finished. Yes, but when a writer dies that family’s troubles have only just begun. Wills may be contradictory and instructions to literary executors confused. Works left behind on computers or in desk drawers may be of uncertain status: were they intended for publication or not? And if the writer is famous enough, there’ll be biographers to deal with: can they be trusted to paint a kindly portrait? In their lifetime, authors have a measure of control. Once they’re gone, it’s left to others to guard their reputations.

The vigilance can be fierce, with the appointed custodians (whether spouses, children, lawyers, agents, editors or friends) not so much keepers of the flame as dragons guarding a cave. Posterity is rarely kind to them: however they act, they will be accused of acting badly. If they deny the author’s wishes, as those acting for the French philosopher Michel Foucault have recently done by consenting to the publication of a book he hadn’t finished and didn’t want to come out, they will be called treacherous. And if they are overly loyal, destroying work the author disowned but that deserves to be saved, they will be called philistine or just plain stupid. Either way, they can’t shirk the role allotted them. They have an estate to manage: an acreage of words.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Privilege Predicament, by Robert Boyers, The American Scholar

“But the idea of privilege has moved many people to say things both nonsensical and appalling, and it is worth pointing out what is often ignored or willfully obscured: that privilege is by no means easy to describe or understand. Say, if you like, that privilege is an advantage, earned or unearned, and you will be apt to ask several important questions. Earned according to whom? Unearned signifying shameful or immoral? The advantage to be renounced or held onto? To what end? Whose? Privilege, the name of an endowment without which we would all be miraculously released from what exactly? Is there evidence, anywhere, that the attention directed at privilege in recent years has resulted in a reduction in inequality or a more generous public discourse? Say privilege and you may well believe you have said something meaningful, leveled a resounding charge, when perhaps you have not begun to think about what is entailed in so loaded a term. What may once have been an elementary descriptor—“he has the privilege of studying the violin with a first-rate music instructor”—is at present promiscuously and often punitively deployed to imply a wide range of advantages or deficits against which no one can be adequately defended.”

How Celebrity Book Clubs Are Changing The Literary World For Good, by Seija Rankin, Entertainment Weekly

These clubs exist entirely online and almost entirely on Instagram — Belletrist has 160,000 followers and Reese’s Book Club has 390,000. Each month the actresses select a title for their fans to check out and offer their own opinions, discussion topics, and exclusive interviews with the authors — in addition to the chance for readers at home to feel like they’re following the novels alongside their celebrity idols. And for the chosen authors, the benefits are practically endless.

The two clubs have highlighted dozens of novelists, but two with particularly fascinating backstories — and post-book club journeys that feel fairy tale-esque — are Chloe Benjamin and the aforementioned Celeste Ng.

Bookworm By Lucy Mangan Review – An Enchanting Memoir Of Childhood Reading, by Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

To read Lucy Mangan’s memoir of growing up bookish is to be taken back to a time in life when reading wasn’t merely a gentle pleasure or mild obligation but an activity as essential as breathing. Not any old breathing either, but deep, sucking gulps made all the more urgent by the terror that the oxygen could get cut off at a moment’s notice. Mum might shout that it was time to come down for supper, or Miss might tell you to go out and play in the fresh air with the other children. Worse still, you might come to the end of a book and have nothing left to read apart from an old bus ticket fished out from the pocket of your mac.

Jesse Ball's 'Census' Is An Understated Tale Of A Father And Son Taking Stock Of America, by Ellie Robins, Los Angeles Times

While Ball is willing to stick his neck out and write a narrative as plainly sincere as a medieval morality play, he also makes space for complexity, the flux of things, the slipperiness of truth and knowledge. Case in point: the novel's central hollow, which both allows Ball to write about his brother without diminishing his memory with words, and forces readers to participate in imagining him. The hollow is rich and generative, a lacuna of a kind Ball has mastered.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Trees, Our Best Defense Against Climate Change, Are Going Up In Flames, by Eric Holthaus, Grist

Some tropical forests — in the Congo, the Amazon, and in Southeast Asia — have already shifted to a net carbon source. That means they emit more greenhouse gases than they absorb, worsening the climate problem worldwide. And signs are emerging that the health of California’s forests is fading, too.

The world’s treescape is undergoing a significant shift in real time. And with the situation getting particularly desperate, conservationists are beginning to rethink which species belong where. They’re even considering speeding up forest transitions, so we can get to the next phase where trees are soaking up massive amounts of carbon again instead of bursting into flames.

Forests are our last, best natural defense against global warming. Without the world’s trees at peak physical condition, the rest of us don’t stand a chance.

How Pop-Ups Took Over America's Restaurants, by Ryan Bradley, GQ

In the age of the rock-star chef, pop-ups are their world tours. They even have specially designed posters! And merch! Follow five hot young chefs on Instagram and you'll start to stumble upon pop-ups the way you do Bonobos ads. You'll learn that “pop-up restaurant” can accurately describe everything from a parking-lot cookout to a brand activation to a fine-dining experience. The only through line is that it's temporary—but even then, it might not be. Some pop-ups are sneak previews, market tests of restaurants to come, or offerings from brick-and-mortar spots on another coast. The triumph of modern pop-ups in dining culture, a decade after they first began emerging, post-recession, shows us just how transient our desires are. After a month of eating at pop-ups, I figured out only one conclusive thing about them: They are not so much about the food as they are about all the stuff around the food—how we eat, not what we're eating.

A Dictionary Of Academic Terms That Is Also A Meditation On Work, by Hua Hsu, New Yorker

“Keywords” is a commentary on what it means to work in academia, but it’s also a meditation on what it means to work at all. Careful attention can help us discern what the language of achievement reveals, and also what it hides.

The Downside Of Immortality, by Joshua Max Feldman, New York Times

“The hard part isn’t living forever,” Rachel observes. “It’s making life worth living.” And the question at the heart of this wise and appealing novel is finally not how Rachel finds meaning in her eternal life. It is how we, despite our portions of sorrow, tedium and disaster, persist in finding meaning in ours.

For The Love Of A Dog, by Lori Soderlind, New York Times

The dog in Sigrid Nunez’s new novel, “The Friend,” is an almost mystically grand beast named Apollo, a 180-pound Harlequin Great Dane. His size corresponds to the grief Nunez’s narrator is living with as the story opens. Her much-loved friend and literary mentor has committed suicide; within about 30 pages, and reluctantly at first, the narrator is living not only with her grief for this man but with his equally bereft dog.

Folk By Zoe Gilbert Review – A Dreamlike Tapestry Of Island Fables, by Benjamin Myers, The Guardian

Folk is a special book: immersive and dripping with life, each story a spell, an allegory, a dark, smoky poem divined from the landscape of our ancient kingdom. A reminder that myths are vessels of truth as valuable in the present as in the past, it reads like a dream that, once visited, is difficult to leave behind.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Miracle Of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”, by Jon Michaud, New Yorker

Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” has always seemed like a fluke. In November, 1968, the irascible songwriter from Belfast released a jazz-influenced acoustic song cycle that featured minimal percussion, an upright bass, flute, harpsichord, vibraphone, strings, and stream-of-consciousness lyrics about being transported to “another time” and “another place.” The album was recorded in three sessions, with the string arrangements overdubbed later. Many of the songs were captured on the first or second take. Morrison has called the sessions that produced the album “uncanny,” adding that “it was like an alchemical kind of situation.” A decade later, Lester Bangs called the album “a mystical document” and “a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk.” Bruce Springsteen said that it gave him “a sense of the divine.” The critic Greil Marcus equated the album to Bob Beamon’s record-shattering long-jump performance at the Mexico City Olympics, a singular achievement that was “way outside of history.”

Ryan H. Walsh’s new book, “Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968,” takes up Morrison’s sui-generis masterpiece and unearths the largely forgotten context from which it emerged. Though the songs on “Astral Weeks” were recorded in New York and are full of references to Morrison’s childhood in Northern Ireland, they were, in Walsh’s words, “planned, shaped and rehearsed in Boston and Cambridge,” where Morrison lived and performed for much of 1968. In documenting the milieu out of which the album came, Walsh also argues for Boston as an underappreciated hub of late-sixties radicalism, artistic invention, and social experimentation. The result is a complex, inquisitive, and satisfying book that illuminates and explicates the origins of “Astral Weeks” without diminishing the album’s otherworldly aura.

Why Do We Still Buy Mass-Produced Souvenirs?, by Rolf Potts, Literary Hub

For unexpected weather, Par’ici sells Eiffel Tower-themed umbrellas, sun hats, and scarves; for amusement, it sells Eiffel Tower-embossed soccer balls, poker chips, and Rubik’s Cubes. Several dozen types of Eiffel Tower miniatures are also on offer, from inch-high plastic key chains that cost 0.50 euros, to bronze lawn ornaments that stand four-and-a-half-feet tall and sell for 890 euros each. The store also offers a fair selection of items that don’t allude to the Eiffel Tower (Mona Lisa shot glasses, plastic cancan-dancer figurines, ballpoint pens in the shape of baguettes, etc.), but for the most part Eiffel Tower products dominate.

A central irony here is that 52 Rue Mouffetard is not particularly close to the Eiffel Tower. One cannot glimpse the Tower from any point along this cobblestoned thoroughfare, and a pedestrian would need to walk west for one hour to reach the monument on foot. It is because of this seeming anomaly—not in spite of it—that Par’ici feels like a fitting place to begin our investigation of souvenirs.

Is Martin Short The Greatest Talk-Show Guest Of All Time?, by Ian Crouch, New Yorker

In a recent conversation with Vulture’s great interviewer David Marchese, the actor and comedian Martin Short talked a bit about the process he goes through when preparing to be a guest on a late-night talk show. “What I do for a typical talk-show appearance, and I’m not exaggerating, is I’ll send in something like 18 pages ahead of time,” Short said, adding that he then spends at least ninety minutes speaking with a show’s producer, cutting down his proposed material and shaping it into a conversation he’ll have with the host. What looks almost like an organic chat on TV is really a tightly choreographed two-man bit, with Short doing, as he puts it, “an impersonation of myself being relaxed.”

He’s not alone in preparing meticulously. During his last appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” in 2015, Short told a story about how his friend Steve Martin would call him, from time to time, to tell him a joke that he was readying for a “Letterman” appearance that was still months away. (And less fastidious guests are compelled by most late-night shows to at least have their material vetted before they appear.) Yet one gets the sense that, of all his peers, Short is the hardest-working talk-show guest in the business—and, as a result, he may also be the greatest.

‘Asymmetry’ Is A Brilliant Conversation Between Life And Art, by Sebastian Sarti, Chicago Review of Books

In the midst of such global problems, fiction can seem like an indulgent distraction. Books that touch on topical issues might get a pass — it’s hard to deny the importance of To Kill a Mockingbird or War and Peace — but what about those quiet novels that explore one person’s intellectual development or emotional turmoil?

Taking this question as an entry point, Lisa Halliday has written a slyly ambitious debut novel, Asymmetry, that manages to deliver personal and global stories as if they were one.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Long, Knotty, World-Spanning Story Of String, by Ferris Jabr, Hakai Magazine

In his 1956 book The Marlinspike Sailor, marine illustrator Hervey Garrett Smith wrote that rope is “probably the most remarkable product known to mankind.” On its own, a stray thread cannot accomplish much. But when several fibers are twisted into yarn, and yarn into strands, and strands into string or rope, a once feeble thing becomes both strong and flexible—a hybrid material of limitless possibility. A string can cut, choke, and trip; it can also link, bandage, and reel. String makes it possible to sew, to shoot an arrow, to strum a chord. It’s difficult to think of an aspect of human culture that is not laced through with some form of string or rope; it has helped us develop shelter, clothing, agriculture, weaponry, art, mathematics, and oral hygiene. Without string, our ancestors could not have domesticated horses and cattle or efficiently plowed the earth to grow crops. If not for rope, the great stone monuments of the world—Stonehenge, the Pyramids at Giza, the moai of Easter Island—would still be recumbent. In a fiberless world, the age of naval exploration would never have happened; early light bulbs would have lacked suitable filaments; the pendulum would never have inspired advances in physics and timekeeping; and there would be no Golden Gate Bridge, no tennis shoes, no Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

“Everybody knows about fire and the wheel, but string is one of the most powerful tools and really the most overlooked,” says Saskia Wolsak, an ethnobotanist at the University of British Columbia who recently began a PhD on the cultural history of string. “It’s relatively invisible until you start looking for it. Then you see it everywhere.”

I Fell In Love Because She Hated Shakespeare, by Christine Prevas, Electric Literature

We’ve been together for six years now; neither of us is much of the same person we were then, though remnants of those eighteen-year-olds still remain: my vaulting excitement and insecurity when someone disagrees with an opinion I value dearly, her leather jacket and ability to outpace me in really any argument. We’ve bonded over a hundred books since then, argued over maybe even more, but when people ask me how we met, I always return to the same story: she told me she hated Shakespeare, and so I couldn’t let her go.

Behind The Selfie, by Jennifer Finney Boylan, New York Times

As I pulled over on the Massachusetts Turnpike to take five at a rest stop, I noticed a woman at the Burger King counter wearing a lovely formal dress, her hair meticulously styled; she wore heels and a pair of stockings with seams running up the back.

In one hand she carried a long white cane. Because she was blind.

As I looked at her, I thought what in retrospect is something I’m ashamed of: If I were blind, I wouldn’t be wearing all that crap.

I didn’t even have time to tell myself that what I was thinking was wrongheaded before the woman raised her cellphone and, to complete my astonishment, took a selfie.

Aches And Joys On The Long Road Of Life, by Ramsey Mathews, Los Angeles Review of Books

In engaging such a cross section of people, who become animated in his presence, the narrator strives to uncover the idiosyncratic and meaningful in each. “I must, in speaking to a person, know what is special about that individual,” he thinks. He is on a quest to discover himself in the faces of others, in the events of their lives, and in the quirks of their conversation. People, Ball seems to be prompting the reader, are mirrors for the good and bad within us, and there are rewards in paying attention.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Day In The Life Of A Line Cook At One Of NYC's Fanciest Restaurants, by Amanda Shapiro, Bon Appétit

If you follow major restaurant openings, you’ve probably heard of New York’s Le Coucou. Maybe you know of Daniel Rose, its much-fêted 40-year-old executive chef, who was born outside Chicago and proved his talents with three restaurants in Paris. And it’s possible you’re familiar with Stephen Starr, the megawatt Philadelphia-based restaurateur who co-owns Le Coucou. But the name Nana Araba Wilmot? It won’t ring a bell.

Yet on any given night, chances are Wilmot will be in the kitchen in her tall white toque, long black braids hanging down her back. When you order the tender sole, set in a shallow pool of vermouth-butter sauce and dotted with precisely peeled grapes, it’s Wilmot who will have made it. And the powder-white fish cakes and the monkfish bathed in shellfish broth: Those are hers too. Hours later, when you’ve had your last sip of Bordeaux, paid your check, and left the golden-lit dining room, Wilmot will still be there, cleaning her station and sharpening her knives. She’s just one of 1.6 million line cooks in the United States, trying to build a life out of 11-hour shifts. Without cooks like her, those restaurants you obsess over, those dishes you snap photos of, wouldn’t exist. So wouldn’t you like to know what it’s like to be her for a day?

Why Cook Over An Icelandic Geyser? Because You Can, by Peter Kaminsky, New York Times

“Do many people cook other things this way?” I asked, eyeing the natural heat sources all around me.

“Not much,” she replied. “Sometimes a goose that a hunter shot, but most often, just the lava bread.”

I found this surprising in an energy-rich and conservation-minded country that is also a pioneer in modern Nordic cuisine. In this era of slow cookers and sous-vide, wouldn’t it be possible, I wondered, to make a whole meal using Iceland’s natural geothermal ovens?

These Writers Are Launching A New Wave Of Native American Literature, by Anne Helen Petersen, BuzzFeed

Mailhot dislikes most of the implicit and explicit expectations of what she calls “the white MFA.” She was chafed when a male creative writing professor requested she “stay away from conversations about feminist theory” in her work. She resented being told to “slow down,” especially in her writing about trauma, in order to offer the “tourist experience” to readers through curation of pain.

She doesn’t have to deal with any of that at the Institute of American Indian Arts, or IAIA — which offers the first indigenous-centered MFA program in the US. IAIA, whose campus is perched on the sagebrushed hills outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was established in 1962. But the MFA program, touting Sherman Alexie among its first faculty members, was only launched in 2012 — conceived, as Mailhot puts it, with “a renaissance in mind.”

The Nameable: On Experimental Writing, by Eugene Lim, Something On Paper

In the summation of his poetics as “An integral / Lower limit speech / Upper limit music,” Louis Zukofsky is suggesting a metaphoric area, the southern region of which is made up of pedestrian utterances and the northern, “upper” region—and by upper I think there’s at least a notion of aspiration—a place where the poem tends to be more than mere function, that is, it tries to become music. Language near this loftier border wants to be ordered, formal, and at play with abstraction and connotation. (“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music,” says Walter Pater stating a similar, if more dogmatic, idea.) Everywhere between these two limits, between speech and music, exists the potential space for the poem.

I’d like to propose a definition that modifies Zukofsky’s metaphor to clarify and broaden the term of “experimental writing” and which thus hopefully rehabilitates it from the censure of the many—including a formally daring writer like Erickson—who view the province of experimental writing as a naval-gazing warren, an unpopular gymnasium occupied solely by the effete.

Life And Death Online, by Michael Waters, Hazlitt

In person, we usually make friends around a community; we meet our friends through school, work, or the local book club. But internet friendships, more often than in-person friendships, tend to be wholly individualized. We don’t always have mutual contacts with our internet friends; we don’t always know the family, the in-person acquaintances, even the hometown of the person we’ve come to cherish. There is, of course, a beauty there—a friendship without social obligations is a friendship entirely premised on mutual interest and intimate conversation. But without that community, grieving is difficult.

How Businesses Became People, by Zephyr Teachout, New York Times

Much of the value of Winkler’s book lies in his elegant stitching together of 400 years of diverse cases, allowing us to feel the sweep and flow of history and the constantly shifting legal approaches to understanding this unusual entity — Blackstone’s “artificial person.” Four hundred years is a lot of time, and Winkler does a wonderful job of finding illustrative details without drowning in them, and of giving each case enough attention to make it come alive.

Sex, Lies And Subterfuge Roil Joyce Carol Oates’s New Story Collection, by Benjamin Markovits, New York Times

This is Oates’s real trick, that her formal games and realism tend to reinforce each other — they make the same case.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Did Andrew Lloyd Webber Ruin The Musical Or Rescue It?, by Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

American lovers of musical theatre who blame Andrew Lloyd Webber for pretty much everything that went wrong on its stages, starting in the early seventies, will be chagrined to discover that he has written an autobiography that has all the virtues his music always seemed to lack: wit, surprise, contemporaneity, audacity, and an appealingly shrewd sense of the occasion. There is nothing pompous or pallid about his prose, which makes it all the odder that so much of the music that he wrote seems to have no other qualities. Given his reputation as the guy who dragged the Broadway musical from its vitality and idiomatic urgency back to its melodramatic roots in European operetta—while also degrading rock music to a mere rhythm track—is it possible that, as his memoir indicates, his work might be more varied and interesting than we had known? Could we, terrible thought, have been unfair to Andrew Lloyd Webber? The answer turns out, on inspection, to be a complicated and qualified Yes. Certainly, no artist as hugely successful as he has been can have struck a chord without owning a piece of his time.

Biography Is A Thoroughly Reprehensible Genre, by Roger Lewis, Spectator

I saw a biopic about Morecambe and Wise recently. The actors impersonating the comedians were not a patch on the originals — how could they be? You need a genius to play a genius. I often wonder if my own HBO Peter Sellers movie would have been improved if someone fiery, of the calibre of Gary Oldman or Sacha Baron Cohen, had been cast instead of Geoffrey Rush, who was muffled under prosthetic make-up. But my point is, biopics seldom come off, and nor do biographies.

Indeed, it is a reprehensible and misguided genre. Privacy is violated, creative achievements are explained away, and great men and women are unmasked as sneaky, predatory, cruel and ordinary. Humphrey Carpenter wrote all his biographies — of Auden, Britten and Ezra Pound — in this way.

Why Is Brooklyn Barbecue Taking Over The World?, by Nicholas Gill, Munchies

"BBQ here [in Brooklyn] can be whatever you want it to be and your BBQ place can look like whatever you want it to look like," says Mylan. "In the last ten years Brooklyn has really loved taking something with a long tradition elsewhere and fucking with that trope, whether you're talking the dive bar, soul food, French bistro, Mexican cantina, diner, or BBQ. Results are variable and some things perhaps are better left unmolested, but, through Brooklyn (and NYC in general), a pathological desire to rework these tropes has given the rest of the world carte blanche to fuck with things like BBQ as well, and adapt that type of food to the local diners preferences."

Must Atheists Trash Religion?, by Todd May, Los Angeles Review of Books

There are philosophy books that break new ground, offering us theories or explanations of perspectives that have not appeared before. Other books of philosophy call us to a recognition of things that are right in front of us but that we have not yet fully grasped, or perhaps whose implications for our lives we have not grasped. The Meaning of Belief is of the latter sort. It reminds atheists that there are others out there who are (we would claim) mistaken but whose lives are enriched by those mistaken beliefs and their associated practices in ways that need not be subject to unrelenting attack. In particular, whatever religion is, it is not merely, as the New Atheists would have it, a simple combination of a fairy-tale belief in the supernatural and an archaic moral code. We atheists could do much worse than to bear this recognition in mind as we navigate our own lives through a world still overwhelmingly populated by believers.

The Immortalists Review – A Quartet Facing The End Of Time, by Benjamin Evans, The Guardian

The Immortalists is not just a novel about grief; it conjures characters with such dimension that you mourn them too, a magic rare enough to leave one astonished.

The Shadow In The Garden: A Biographer’s Tale – Review, by Tim Adams, The Guardian

Like any one-sided love affair, Atlas’s entrapment of Bellow is familiar in its trajectory but entertainingly unique in its particulars – and an inspiration for compulsive biographers everywhere.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Staying Alive, by Steve Almond, Southwest Magazine

Sometimes at night, after everyone else in my family had gone to sleep, I would lie in bed and pretend I was a pinball machine. I would press the knobs of my hip bones as if they controlled the flippers and kick my legs as if they were bumpers and imagine the silver ball careening through spinners and up ramps and into the drop targets of my favorite machines, the layouts of which I had memorized. Inevitably, I played brilliantly enough to light up the cherry-red circle marked “special,” at which point I would fire the ball into the illuminated kick-out hole (otherwise known as my belly button) to win a free game, an event commemorated by a muffled but distinct crack, the sound of which, even 40 years later, is enough to set my heart aflutter. I thrashed around, playing this imaginary game, until I fell asleep. I would then dream of pinball.

That’s how much pinball meant to me as a 10-year-old kid.

Why Don't We Say 'You're Welcome' Anymore?, by Caroline Bologna, Huffington Post

Over the years, American etiquette experts, baby boomers and writers have lamented the apparent decline in the use of the phrase “you’re welcome” in everyday conversation.

But the reasons for the decline do not necessarily come from a place of rudeness, nor is “you’re welcome” simply another thing that millennials are bent on “killing.” In some ways, it comes from a desire to be more considerate.

'Looks Good Enough To Eat': Inside The Home Of Japan's Fake Food Industry, by Justin McCurry, The Guardian

A godsend to foreign tourists who, faced with a Japanese-language menu, can simply point and order, shokuhin sanpuru (food samples) have been tempting diners into Japan’s restaurants for almost a century.

Gujo Hachiman, a picturesque town tucked in the mountains more than three hours west of Tokyo, lays claim to being the home of a replica food industry now worth an estimated $90m.

The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle By Stuart Turton Review – Quantum Leap Meets Agatha Christie, by Carrie O'Grady, The Guardian

Stuart Turton, a debut novelist, has drawn on half a dozen familiar tropes from popular culture and reworked them into something altogether fresh and memorable. His murder mystery takes place in the classic setting of the 1920s country house, but right from the start, you know you’re far from Hercule Poirot territory.

'A Place Of Darkness' Is An Illuminating History Of Horror, by Genevieve Valentine, NPR

We're all intrigued by a story that suggests something isn't quite right. The thing that cemented the horror movie in film culture was the addition of a story to the scare — giving us something to dread. Phillips suggests the thing that cemented the horror movie in American culture was that it offered a chance to experience large cultural fears in a tidy way. With Get Out on the Best Picture ballot this year, it's clear that the right story can still terrify us; A Place of Darkness is a primer on how the movies learned to do it.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Travel Companies Enabling Us To Work From Anywhere, by Alice Gregory, Outside Magazine

As a millennial with a college degree, no debt or dependents, more or less unlimited professional autonomy, and a passport, I am a case study in what it means to be free to live and work where I choose. But how does someone live when they can work wherever they please? It’s a question I should have been able to answer for myself just by looking in the mirror. Instead, I flew halfway around the world to find out.

I landed in Bali in late October, amid travel warnings about the imminent eruption of 10,000-foot Mount Agung. Though news reports threatened ashy wind, I found what Anaïs Nin once described as “a soft, caressing climate.” About 40 years later, the sandalwood-scented air that Nin inhaled had a top note of diesel. But I wasn’t in Bali to document ecological degradation or to track the process by which a tropical paradise gets gentrified by spiritually dissatisfied tourists. I wasn’t even here to snorkel or bird-watch. I was here to watch teleworkers send e-mail, Skype with their bosses, and scroll through tweets being posted ten time zones away.

The Octopus Is Not A Crafty, Soulful Genius. It’s Dinner, by Daniel Engber, Slate

I think there’s another reason why we overrate the octopus, and one that gets a little closer to the center of its mass appeal. We love that octopuses are so weird and slippery—that they always seem to find a way to elude our grasp. Godfrey-Smith has said this trait can help explain why it’s been so hard for scientists to comprehend the fullness of octopus cognition. “They’re so hard to experiment on,” he told the Guardian last year. “You get a small amount of animals in the lab and some of them refuse to do anything you want them to do—they’re just too unruly.”

We’ve convinced ourselves that octopuses might be so street smart that we’ll never know how intelligent they really are.

How To Write A Memoir While Grieving, by Nicole Chung, Longreads

I am writing a book my father will never see. Not in its entirety, not out in the world. He got through about half of my first draft, my mother said, or maybe a little bit more, sometimes using a magnifying glass to read the manuscript I’d sent in 12-point double-spaced Times. When I heard this, I berated myself — I should have thought of that; I should have sent a larger-print version. “Honey, it wouldn’t have mattered,” Mom said. “He had to use the magnifying glass for all his reading, even the bigger type.”

Why didn’t I know that? Because I was far away, across the country. Because he didn’t read books on the too-rare occasions when we were together; he was focused on spending time with me. Because, while I asked about his health all the time, I never asked, specifically, how does he read these days? One more thing I hadn’t known about my father. One more thing to reproach myself for.

He did read part of my book. I think about that every day. He and my mom were reading it aloud, together, chapter by chapter, working their way through it in the evenings after she got home from work. When my dad died suddenly, six days into the new year, they were still several chapters from the end.

A Japanese Photographer Traces How Cities Are Built And Destroyed, by Dan Piepenbring, New Yorker

Concentrating on the rudiments of city life, Hatakeyama is able to glimpse a fact so obvious that it’s rarely mentioned: “There has never been a time in our history when the space about us was so fraught with artificial objects.” We walk around every day in complex, unnatural environments that we built by wresting raw material from the ground. A city, Hatakeyama reminds us, is just a product of human intervention, no more permanent than the lime hills it came from. Seeing that construction in its totality, in Hatakeyama’s photographs, forces us to experience, as he puts it, a simultaneous “fear and admiration for the world of things.”

Review: “The Woman In The Water”: An Elegant Mystery Novel Set In Victorian England, by Patrick Anderson, Washington Post

Hippos, brass frogs, Russian trips, unattainable love, the doomed Thames Ophelia — fans of the Lenox novels will enjoy these glimpses of Charles’s early life. And those new to his work will find here a persuasive portrait of Victorian England.

Australian Censors Cut Lady Bird’s C-Bomb, But Aussies Love The Word Anyway, by Rachel Withers, Slate

While the word is not essential to Greta Gerwig’s film, it is somewhat essential to its scene, and to showcasing Lady Bird’s transition to try-hard bad girl—not to mention Saoirse Ronan’s humorous delivery skills. The word doesn’t offend, or cause “anger, disgust, resentment, or outrage” in Australia. So why exactly has ’Straya’s favorite word been cut? For that we Aussies can blame the silly cunts at the Australian Classification Board.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Lottery Hackers, by Jason Fagone, Huffington Post

So perhaps it was only fitting that at age 64, Jerry found himself contemplating that most alluring of puzzles: the lottery. He was recently retired by then, living with Marge in a tiny town called Evart and wondering what to do with his time. After stopping in one morning at a convenience store he knew well, he picked up a brochure for a brand-new state lottery game. Studying the flyer later at his kitchen table, Jerry saw that it listed the odds of winning certain amounts of money by picking certain combinations of numbers.

That’s when it hit him. Right there, in the numbers on the page, he noticed a flaw—a strange and surprising pattern written into the fundamental machinery of the game that, like his cereal boxes long ago, revealed something no one else knew. A loophole that would eventually make Jerry and Marge millionaires, spark an investigation by a Boston Globe Spotlight reporter, unleash a statewide political scandal and expose more than a few hypocrisies at the heart of America’s favorite form of legalized gambling.

Exactly What Happens When You Get Cremated, by Caren Chesler, Popular Mechanics

As I follow him deeper inside the columbarium, we pass through the Rose Room. Urns here are not hidden in niches behind glass, but instead are on display in the open air. I prefer it this way. The glass cases remind me of the razors at the drug store—the ones you can only access by notifying a salesperson with a key. Deeper still, at the very rear of the room, lies a set of stained glass doors. Koslovski slides them open to reveal a hidden set of spy-movie doors, these made of metal. They are solid for a reason: Behind them lies the crematorium itself.

The doors open, and we stroll onto what looks like the floor of a factory, but one dedicated to a certain kind of deconstruction.

A Shark Swims Through It: A Talent For Nonchalance, by Lidija Haas, London Review of Books

Not long ago, a woman several years older than me and very much more successful leaned across a table to offer some assistance: ‘I can see you’re at the point where you’re feeling that you need to have a child,’ she said. ‘And I just want you to know that you can wait that feeling out. It passes.’ We’d only known each other an hour or so. Clearly my anxieties must have been leaching all over the place. She elaborated: if I thought I might have important work to do in the future, I should consider writing off reproduction and doing that instead. Whether important work meant writing something good or fighting political injustice or some other thing entirely wasn’t spelled out, but either way, a baby would be draining resources that might be better used elsewhere. Though few people say it to your face, this idea is hard to escape. If you try to care for more than one kind of thing, the op-eds imply, expect to do it badly. One of the few accounts of women’s lives in which that notion feels utterly foreign is the work of Grace Paley, where the typewriter sits on the kitchen table and single mothers do their political organising at the playground. You don’t have a story, Paley warned her writing students, if you’ve left out ‘money and blood’, i.e. how your people make their living, and whom they’ve been forced to live alongside.

I’m aware that it’s embarrassing to begin speaking of her in this way, since Paley is known not as a purveyor of self-help but for writing some of the more ambitious and surprising American short stories of the 20th century. And while she did write about gossip, women’s friendships, long days alone with toddlers and other aspects of experience that were not, in the 1950s, generally considered the stuff of serious fiction, even some of the great men of the day were so impressed as to call her work ‘unladylike’ (in the blurbs at the front of her 1994 Collected Stories, she receives that compliment from both Edmund White and Philip Roth). Still, A Grace Paley Reader, the most recent posthumous collection of her work, in giving some of her lectures and occasional pieces equal space beside samplings of the poems and the better-known stories, celebrates Paley the person as much as the writer, and seems to invite a personal response.

Young And Adrift In New York City, by Deborah Shapiro, New York Times

Being young in New York — the romance of discovering oneself in a city whose capacity for mythologizing has been thoroughly mythologized — is an old story. But it’s still a renewable one, as Hermione Hoby proves with her smart, stylish debut novel, “Neon in Daylight.”

The Western Wind By Samantha Harvey Review – A Deft Medieval Whodunnit, by M John Harrison, The Guardian

The Western Wind is as densely packed as all of Harvey’s work: it’s a historical novel full of the liveliness and gristle of the period it depicts; an absorbing mystery with an unpredictable flurry of twists in its last few pages; a scarily nuanced examination of a long-term moral collapse; a beautifully conceived and entangled metaphor for Britain’s shifting relationships with Europe. But most of all it’s a deeply human novel of the grace to be found in people.

An Insightful History Of Giant Factories, by The Economist

Mr Freeman rolls up his sleeves and delves into the nitty-gritty of manufacturing. He successfully melds together those nuggets with social history, on the shop floor and beyond the factory walls, from union battles to worker exploitation and, in the case of Foxconn, suicides.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Mark Lilla And The Crisis Of Liberalism, by Samuel Moyn, Boston Review

For a long time, a faction of U.S. liberals shouldered the burdens of a fully inclusive social compact. They rightly indicted welfare-state compromises that served some and not others, and that served even the most privileged beneficiaries—white working-class men—only to some extent. Recognizing that the New Deal was a raw one for the neglected poor as well as African Americans and women, some liberals in the early and mid-1960s gave sustained critique to the structural limitations of New Deal liberalism and the Cold War geopolitics that framed the enterprise.

After 1968, disaster set in. Faced with the sins of Vietnam, the Democrats flirted with ending Cold War militarism only to double down on it. The critique of the welfare state, not the demand for its extension, prevailed. A toxic brew of white identity politics, a rhetoric of “family values” and “personal responsibility,” and, above all, anti-statist economics wafted across party lines. Fifty years later, Donald Trump is in the White House, embattled but victorious.

Yes, Bacon Really Is Killing Us, by Bee Wilson, The Guardian

The real scandal of bacon, however, is that it didn’t have to be anything like so damaging to our health. The part of the story we haven’t been told – including by the WHO – is that there were always other ways to manufacture these products that would make them significantly less carcinogenic. The fact that this is so little known is tribute to the power of the meat industry, which has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco.

The Advent Of The AI Co-Author, by Stuart Turton, Granta

‘I know a lot of people are worried about computers replacing humans, but I really don’t see that happening,’ says Professor Wiggins. ‘Having cars doesn’t stop people having fun walking in the countryside. Because creativity is something humans get a kick out of doing it’s very unlikely humans will ever be replaced by computers. I also think it’s unlikely the kind of computers we have now will ever do art as well as a human. Maybe future kinds of computers will, but they’d also probably do it differently.’

I’m choosing to believe him. I like the idea of an AI co-author that makes writing more fun, or one that gives everybody the chance to tell their stories. And truthfully, it doesn’t matter whether I embrace the technology or not, because it’s coming one way or another.

To The Point, by Apoorva Tadepalli, Real Life Magazine

I often write in my journal as though I am writing for an audience. Imaging those readers seems to affirm that the stories I tell in my journal actually matter, actually mean something. This imagining goes beyond the words I choose; I use my favorite fountain pen, paper that smells nice, an attractive notebook. I am trying to mimic images I’ve seen, both online and in real life, of calmness: beautiful desks and cups of steaming tea. Such images momentarily ease an anxiety I have about writing, or productivity, or living a meaningful life. Self-care is bound up with images of serenity that can prefigure it.

This seems part of the point of the bullet journal community too: that “stories” of self-care, whether represented by calligraphy, or lists of fitness goals, or pictures of coconut milk chia seed pudding with blueberries and bananas, become meaningful and effective when they’re sent out into the world and can function as a template. They make bullet journaling not merely a protocol but an aspiration that can be visualized, emulated. The images posit a group of peers who serve as role models and supporters.

Asymmetry By Lisa Halliday Review – A Dizzying Debut, by Justine Jordan, The Guardian

Can any of us escape our own perspective? What are the risks, if we do not? What is art for, and how do we fit our lives around it? This is a debut asking a dizzying number of questions, many to thrilling effect. That it leaves the reader wondering is a mark of its success.