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Archive for December 2018

Monday, December 31, 2018

How Hitler Nearly Destroyed The Great American Novel, by Ryan Holiday, Medium

There are horror stories about what can go wrong on release day, and then there is the story of John Fante. There has always been a rich genre of heartbreaking tales of what could have been — from albums released on September 11th to sculptures destroyed in transit — and then there is the novel Ask the Dust, a book whose tragic bad luck is spoken of in hushed tones — passed from writer to writer and repeated endlessly by critics and journalists — as the ultimate publishing nightmare.

The fact that a brilliant work would not be appreciated in its time is not, in and of itself, a remarkable event. But the nearly unbelievable (and up until now, largely unconfirmed) how of Ask the Dust, now widely considered to be a sort of West Coast Gatsby — which was released to rave reviews in 1939 but did not begin to find its audience until the early 1980s as Fante, then a double amputee, lay dying of diabetes — was not some inexplicable, unavoidable force majeure. It was not ill-health or racism or hubris. It was something much more specific. It was something with a face and a name. Really just one name, in fact.


At Lord & Taylor, Everything Must Go. A Daughter’s Guilt Will Remain., by James Barron, New York Times

The everything-must-go signs have been up for weeks. They promise huge markdowns, but there is not much left to pick over. Whole floors have been emptied.

The building opened when Woodrow Wilson was president. It is being sold to the office-sharing start-up WeWork.

But this is not a requiem for the store. It is the story of a mother, a daughter and the daughter’s guilt.

I Was A Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst Of America., by Lauren Hough, Huffington Post

For 10 years, I worked as a cable tech in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Those 10 years, the apartments, the McMansions, the customers, the bugs and snakes, the telephone poles, the traffic, the cold and heat and rain, have blurred together in my mind. Even then, I wouldn’t remember a job from the day before unless there was something remarkable about it. Remarkable is subjective and changes with every day spent witnessing what people who work in offices will never see — their co-workers at home during the weekday, the American id in its underpants, wondering if it remembered to delete the browsing history.

Mostly all I remember is needing to pee.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

New Life For Old Classics, As Their Copyrights Run Out, by Alexandra Alter, New York Times

This coming year marks the first time in two decades that a large body of copyrighted works will lose their protected status — a shift that will have profound consequences for publishers and literary estates, which stand to lose both money and creative control.

But it will also be a boon for readers, who will have more editions to choose from, and for writers and other artists who can create new works based on classic stories without getting hit with an intellectual property lawsuit.

What 2018 Looked Like Fifty Years Ago, by Jill Lepore, New Yorker

And that was the problem with 1968. People went ahead and built those things without worrying much about the consequences, because they figured that, by 2018, we’d have come up with all the answers. Toward 2019!

Peter Matthiessen’s “The Snow Leopard” In The Age Of Climate Change, by M. R. O’Connor, New Yorker

In the autumn of 1973, the naturalist and writer Peter Matthiessen and the zoologist George Schaller set out on a gruelling trek into the Himalayas. They were headed toward the Dolpo region of the Tibetan plateau. Schaller wanted to study Himalayan blue sheep; Matthiessen hoped to see a snow leopard—a large, majestic cat with fur the color of smoke. Snow leopards, which belong to the genus Panthera, inhabit some of the highest mountain ranges in the world, and their camouflage is so perfectly tuned that they appear ethereal, as though made from storm clouds. Two of them feature on the Tibetan flag of independence, representing harmony between the temporal and spiritual planes.

For Matthiessen, a serious student of Zen Buddhism, the expedition wasn’t strictly scientific. It was also a pilgrimage during which he would seek to break “the burdensome armor of the ego,” perceiving his “true nature.” After it was published, in 1978—first, in part, in The New Yorker, then as a book—“The Snow Leopard,” his account of the trip, won two National Book Awards, becoming both a naturalist and a spiritual classic. It overflows with crystalline descriptions of animals and mountains: “The golden birds fall from the morning sun like blowing sparks that drop away and are extinguished in the dark,” Matthiessen writes. But it’s also an austere Buddhist memoir in which the snow leopard is as alluring and mysterious as enlightenment itself.

I’ll Never Be Rachmaninoff, by Jennifer Weiner, New York Times

I go note by note, bar by bar. Five times, 10 times, 15, 20, playing the piece a little faster and more cleanly each time. Still not perfect, still missing that G sharp nine out of 10 times. I screw up, go back, start the measure again.

I don’t know if it’s that I’m creating new neural pathways, or if engrossing myself in something new and difficult just makes it hard to think of anything else. But I have come to believe in the value of doing something where I know I will never be better than O.K.

A Night Bus Saves Me From Despair, by Hannah Jane Parkinson, The Guardian

I have done some of my best thinking on night buses. The feeling of going from A to B, of having some kind of destination, when all else has ground to a halt. At the cafe, the waiters greet me warmly, as a regular who has the cover story that she works nights, but is almost certainly lying. I eat pancakes in a moat of syrup and sip at tea. I chat to them when I haven’t really seen friends in weeks. And after, the drivers of the night buses see I get back home safe.

Game Of Obsession: The Eternal Question Of Chess, by Ajay Orona, Los Angeles Review of Books

Reading Butler’s work as a chess player is something akin to an alcoholic watching someone fiddle with the citrus rind in their Old Fashioned and hearing the ice clink against the rocks glass. It’s dangerous, and impossible. Chess games will ensue. For those new to chess, The Grandmaster will function as both a cautionary tale of obsession and an exhilarating ride into a mysterious corner of the sports universe. What Butler has delivered is something much more intoxicating than a sports novel and immediately transcends the genre. It is sports writing at its finest.

The Krull House By Georges Simenon Review – A Dark Masterpiece, by John Banville, The Guardian

A calmly, almost diffidently narrated yet terrifying study of race hatred and mass hysteria, it was eerily prophetic of the violence and horror that were to engulf Europe and much of the world in the years following its first publication in 1939. Simenon knew the worst there was to be known about the human heart, and told it always as it always was, and is.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Modern Monkhood Of Thomas Merton, by Alan Jacobs, New Yorker

On December 10, 1941, a young man named Thomas Merton was received as a novice by a monastery in Kentucky, the Abbey of Gethsemani. Precisely twenty-seven years later, he died by accidental electrocution in his room at a retreat center in Bangkok, Thailand. He entered the monastery three days after Pearl Harbor; he died a month after Richard Nixon was elected to his first term as President. It had been an eventful time.

Merton was a remarkable man by any measure, but perhaps the most remarkable of his traits was his hypersensitivity to social movements from which, by virtue of his monastic calling, he was supposed to be removed. Intrinsic to Merton’s nature was a propensity for being in the midst of things. If he had continued to live in the world, he might have died not by electrocution but by overstimulation.

Where Have All The Vowels Gone?, by John Williams, New York Times

The first step in the next stage of language’s inevitable evolution — or devolution — may have already hppnd.

The year now ending has been one of catastrophes. To name just two: The planet is getting warmer and the alphabet is getting shorter. Where have all the vowels gone?

Hope Isn’t Just About The Future, by Kate Bowler, New York Times

I stood on the precipice of each new year with my checklist of resolutions in hand. I would achieve tenure, master the Russian language and visit the world’s largest statue of Paul Bunyan and his majestic blue ox, Babe, in Bemidji, Minn. My family can testify that I come by this brand of pragmatic determinism honestly. My grandfather Gerald Bowler lived in a small town in western Canada near the intersection of Bowler Place and Bowler Avenue. According to family lore, he had stared with a determined expression at an empty field for a long time with his hands on his hips and the subdivision simply materialized.

But after I found out at 35 that I had Stage IV cancer, time did not point toward the future anymore. It was looped: start treatment, manage side effects, recover, start treatment. I lived in the present tense.

Unplugged: What I Learned By Logging Off And Reading 12 Books In A Week, by Lois Beckett, The Guardian

This was a perfect assignment. For journalists on many beats – including mine, which includes the far right and gun policy – it had been a year of escalating violence during which conspiracy theories had moved into the mainstream. By December, I was exhausted and anxious. I craved the most American form of self-care: I wanted to get away with something.

My co-workers had plenty of opinions on my new mission. One of them loudly referred to it as “your vacation” whenever she thought our editor was listening.

How many books? How many days? How had this happened?

“I am very good at reading,” I replied with dignity.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The 17th-Century Astronomer Who Made The First Atlas Of The Moon, by Elizabeth Landau, Smithsonian

In the rare books collection of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, a large tome tied with string sits in an ivory box that looks like it came from a bakery. At one point, the book belonged to Edwin Hubble, who revealed that galaxies exist beyond our own and that the universe is expanding, among other things, at nearby Mount Wilson Observatory. Between the well-worn leather cover boards, I find some of the first detailed maps of the lunar surface, illustrated and engraved in the 17th century. As I delicately place the volume back in the box, the covers leave a light brown residue on my fingertips—a small remnant of one man’s quest to tame the moon.

The book, titled Selenographia, was created by perhaps the most innovative Polish astronomer since Copernicus. But Johannes Hevelius, as we call him in the English-speaking world, has been somewhat more forgotten among history’s great scientists. Selenographia was the first book of lunar maps and diagrams, extensively covering the moon's various phases. More than 300 years before humans stepped onto the moon’s surface, Hevelius was documenting every crater, slope and valley that he could see with his telescope. He conducted these observations, as well as others for a comprehensive star catalog, using his own equipment in a homemade rooftop observatory.

‘Black Mirror’ Gives Power To The People, by David Streitfeld, New York Times

“In five years, 10 years, we’ll either say, ‘Wow, “Black Mirror” was a real turning point for interactive content,’ or we’ll be going, ‘That was another false start,’ ” said Yellin, the Netflix executive.

Still, he has great hopes. “We have our eyes and ears wide open to the creative community — writers, producers, directors — for more ideas that would leverage this art form,” he said. “What are the new storytelling conventions that can be invented? We’re meeting with people now.”

Let The Fountain Pens Flow!, by Miranda Purves, New York Times

Around 40 people had gathered on a recent weekday evening in SoHo at the Lamy store, a 600-square-foot ground-floor showcase of contemporary Germanic pen design. Packed around a table with notepads and test pens, the group, ethnically diverse but mostly men, lacked the slick appearance you expect of customers at a luxury boutique.

In fact, it quickly became clear that these were nerds. Twenty-first-century pen nerds.

Where Have All The Music Magazines Gone?, by Aaron Gilbreath, Longreads

In the United States, music coverage now often comes in the form of “20 songs you need right now.” Websites offer features that masquerade as listicles detailing “10 reasons you should listen to so-and-so” or brief posts built around new singles, new videos, artistic feuds, and trending memes. Don’t get me wrong — I need music news, and I love a good list ranking ABBA’s 25 best songs, which is 23 more than I knew existed. I also love being whisked away in a story. Music is the thing that unites all people, and immersive music writing can provide as pleasurable an experience as an hour alone with your streaming service.

This isn’t a uncommon opinion: Many people I know enjoy reading and writing narratives about bands old and new. We love stories about memorable tours, obscure historical incidents, influential songs, personal obsessions, and overlooked music, like Julian Brimmers’s oral history of the short-lived genre Chipmunk Soul. We love career retrospectives and in-depth examinations of gender, race, culture, and our own identities as listeners; same for stories about lost albums, underappreciated musicians, and personalized political pieces like Ellen Willis’s “Beginning to See the Light,” an important dissection of feminism, fandom, and punk rock. These narratives aren’t pegged to a local show, or built around an upcoming album release or Super Bowl performance, which then highlights an increasingly relevant question: Without these news pegs, where do writers send them? For those of us who will likely never write for big slicks like The New Yorker or GQ, and who can’t just write books about the music we want, it’s very difficult to find nationally distributed magazines willing to publish unpegged longform music pieces. Many stories are important enough for us to try to tell, but American newsstands are now practically devoid of music magazines. Where did they go? Assessing the state of music writing requires a look at recent history, which can easily seduce you into discouraging nostalgia.

Cruelty In Literature, by Sue Rainsford, Ploughshares

Regardless, for now, we can consider our own embodied encounters with cruel sections of text versus their cinematic counterparts. On paper, the queasy devastation might feel no less protracted and visceral, but, for this reader at least, her focus isn’t quarantined to wondering when it will stop, and her response entails the heart as much as the stomach.

The Best New Year’s Eve Party Is In Seat 17A, by Rosie Schaap, New York Times

“Who flies on New Year’s Eve?” an automatic impulse made me ask myself, with an implicit “when they should be out celebrating” trailing close behind. But as soon as I shook off the dandruff of cultural conditioning, I knew exactly what sort of person would fly — and alone, no less — on New Year’s Eve: me. That’s who.

I embraced the scheme, as though, like some kind of strategic mastermind, I’d planned it that way all along. Flying on New Year’s Eve provided a ready excuse to turn down invitations (or to feel fine if I didn’t get any). I also didn’t mind saving a couple of hundred bucks. Plus, I’d heard a rumor that the airlines serve Champagne, gratis, to their New Year’s Eve guests.

Why Michelle Obama’s Memoir Should Have Demanded More Of Us, by Yiyun Li, The Guardian

One has no doubt that Michelle Obama exercises freedom of thought. One wishes that her memoir made a similar demand on its readers. What if she had chosen to forgo the vocabularies of empowerment and inspiration and patriotism? After all, she is a person who can make herself heard. The language she chooses to use will be incorporated into hundreds of thousands of minds and become infallible truth.

And the girl at the beginning, who refused to put disingenuous words into her poetry: I did in the end hear her read a poem, at the memorial service of a friend of hers. The realest life has no use for symbolic language – that was my thought when I heard her words.

The Art Of Bullet Journaling And The Improved To-Do List, by Concepción de León, New York Times

We now know that the brain truly can’t be trusted to hold or remember more than a few thoughts at a time. That’s why I decided to pick up bullet journaling, a system created by Ryder Carroll that organizes your to-do list, your schedule and your journal in one notebook while giving you free rein to design it according to your lifestyle. It has become a social media sensation over the last few years, with more than three million related posts on Instagram alone and a dedicated following inspired to create blogs and innovations to the original system. I was drawn in by its flexibility and the beautiful spreads created by others, but in practice, I couldn’t keep up the momentum.

In his new book, “The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future,” Carroll goes back to basics, explaining the practice and his reasoning behind each element, which include an index or table of contents, a future log for upcoming events or tasks, and daily and monthly logs for more granular planning. One can create custom collections, blank pages that can take any form, even just a simple list. “It’s not about how your journal looks, it’s about how it makes you feel and how effective it is,” writes Carroll in “The Bullet Journal Method.”

In A Brutal Chinese Satire, Villagers Surrender To Their Worst Impulses, by Julian Gewirtz, New York Times

But Yan’s fable, joining a long lineage of so-called “records of anomalies” in Chinese literature, forces readers to reflect on the side of the world that is “too absurd, too cruel and too unpleasant.” This makes “The Day the Sun Died” a relentless and even brutal experience. Yet its description of a society seized by its worst impulses, enacting the repressed hatreds and nightmarish obsessions of its inhabitants, felt more familiar the more I considered it. Yan’s subject is China, but he has condensed the human forces driving today’s global upheavals into a bracing, universal vision.

What Matters In Old Age: Rereading, Reconsidering And Reassessing, by John Sutherland, New York Times

Away from home during one of her husband’s health crises, Gubar finds comfort in the love poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Beethoven’s “Fidelio” always provides solace, as does the long, wise letter from aged father to young son that provides the narrative in Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead.” Beckett’s ruthlessly nihilistic “geriatric farce,” “Happy Days,” is unconsolingly arid but, perhaps, necessarily corrective. One perceives in her rereadings what an outstanding teacher Gubar was. And, we may rejoice, still is.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Wooly Mammoth Lumbers Back Into View, by Rachel Riederer, New Yorker

Around ten years ago, Stewart Brand, the founder of the “Whole Earth Catalog,” and George Church, a Harvard geneticist, met in Boston. Brand had an interest in using genetic technology for conservation, and when Church said that he read and wrote DNA, Brand told me, “that got my attention.” Reading DNA had been done before, but writing DNA was something new. The two hit it off and have been collaborating on a project to resurrect the woolly mammoth, the giant Arctic elephant that went extinct ten thousand years ago. Church is a pioneer in genetic technology—he helped develop the CRISPR-Cas9 technology that a researcher in China recently used on the world’s first genetically edited newborns—and, in his lab, scientists are working on bringing the prehistoric pachyderm back from extinction. The process would involve adding certain mammoth genetic adaptations, like a long, dense pelt and layers of insulating fat, to the DNA of Asian elephants, which share more than ninety-nine per cent of their DNA with their extinct cousins. Church and Brand have a vision of herds of future mammoths grazing the steppes of the far north.

Church’s woolly mammoth research is just one of several de-extinction projects—there are about ten underway now—that aim to use genetics to restore lost species. In her book “The Re-Origin of Species,” the Swedish science journalist Torill Kornfeldt travels the world meeting the scientists and conservationists involved in this movement. In California, she talks with Ben Novak, a scientist obsessed with bringing back the passenger pigeon—a bird that once travelled in flocks that were so giant and dense, Novak tells her, that they “swept through the landscape, with the same effect as forest fires.” In upstate New York, a researcher is working toward restoring the American chestnut, which was decimated by blight in the late eighteen-hundreds. Until then, chestnuts were so prevalent in the eastern half of the United States that, when their white blossoms fell in the spring, the hillsides looked like they were covered in snow; in the fall, their sweet, starchy nuts served as a free, abundant harvest. At Australia’s Sea Simulator aquarium, resurrection scientists are working on coral, which faces an existential threat from the rapid warming and acidifying of ocean waters. These researchers want to help coral avoid extinction by “trying to nudge evolution,” imbuing them with traits that will allow them to survive the hotter oceans of the future.

The Day I Tasted Climate Change, by James Temple, Technology Review

I’ve long understood that the dangers of global warming are real and rising. I’ve seen its power firsthand in the form of receding glaciers, dried lake beds, and Sierra tree stands taken down by bark beetles.

This is the first time, though, that I smelled and tasted it in my home.

Obviously, a sore throat and a flight change are trivial compared with the lives and homes lost in the Camp Fire. But after I spent a week living under a haze of smoke, it did resonate on a deeper level that we’re really going to let this happen.

In ‘The Earth Dies Streaming,’ Film Criticism That Transcends Raves And Pans, by Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

It can be hard for criticism to cohere when it’s perforated by ambivalence. A rave coasts along, buoyed by enthusiasm. A pan serves up the dramatic tension on a platter: The people trying to sell you a book (or movie or play) insist that it’s great, and here’s why it’s unremittingly awful. Mixed feelings are trickier, and more vulnerable. They’re like unstable elements waiting to be pulled into a wishy-washy middle ground.

Reading “The Earth Dies Streaming,” a collection of film writing by A. S. Hamrah, you realize it doesn’t have to be this way. As the resident movie critic of the journal n+1, Hamrah is committed to his ambivalence, conveying it with a mixture of precision and conviction that will remind you how much more there is to be gleaned from a review than whether a movie is “good” or “bad” (even if it’s a movie you happen to deem very good or very bad indeed).

Lab Rats By Dan Lyons And Seasonal Associate By Heike Geissler Review – Powerless At Work, by Houman Barekat, The Guardian

Job insecurity and wage inequality have been rising ever since the years of Reagan and Thatcher, but the advent of digital technology has exacerbated this trend, making it easier for companies such as Uber to assemble and manage large armies of low-paid contract employees. Whatever these workers might gain in flexibility is more than cancelled out by the disadvantages: “gig economy” work invariably means no health insurance, no retirement pension, no child-care provisions or paid holidays – all things Stephen DeWitt, the CEO of a startup selling “labour clouds” of freelance contractors, breezily dismisses as “old-model inefficiencies”. Citing evidence linking chronic mild stress to declining mental health, increasing antidepressant usage and rising suicide rates, Lyons reminds us that an economy built on insecurity is a public health time bomb. It is a cruel paradox that the very workers who are enervated by long-hours culture are expected to surrender ever more of their depleted emotional energy to their employers. Competence alone no longer cuts it; Lyons interviewed one woman whose boss fired her because she didn’t “seem excited enough”.

Sneaker Money, by Connor Goodwin, Los Angeles Review of Books

When the dirty covert money slowed, universities had to create alternative sources of revenue. For Dave Frohnmayer, former president of University of Oregon, raising tuition rates and out-of-state enrollment was not enough to cover the cuts in state funding. Then the football team played in the 1995 Rose Bowl. Though they fell to Penn State, they did win the attention of Phil Knight, founder and CEO of Nike.

University of Nike by Joshua Hunt gives a compelling account of what happened next in the ongoing story of the commercialization of higher education. Written in short clips that pivot between several story lines, Hunt’s book has a remarkable sense of pace that turns what might be considered a sludgy read into a page-turner. The race between Pepsi and Coca-Cola to close exclusive deals with public school systems reads as suspenseful as a late drive in the fourth quarter to win a championship.

The Ripples Of History In Howl, by Csilla Toldy, Ploughshares

After a few moments, the door on the right behind the lectern opened and in came Allen Ginsberg, bald and black-bearded and wearing black rimmed glasses, followed by his constant companion Peter Orlovsky, who had long grey hair that he’d put up in a ponytail that hung down to his bottom; a young boy carrying a guitar; and Ginsberg’s Hungarian translator, István Eörsi, a lecturer at the university. Ginsberg unpacked his harmonium slowly and sat down in lotus position on top of the long desk at the front of the room. He started: “Tiger, tiger burning bright, in the forests of the night,” and the crowd chanted with him. I knew nothing about Ginsberg’s “Blake vision,” an auditory hallucination he had in 1948 when he heard William Blake reciting his poetry, but Ginsberg’s voice was mesmerizing, shamanic, and ultimately transformative. I was in bliss for the next hour.

Ginsberg’s prose-poems are heavily reliant not only on imagery but on repetition and an internal rhythm, which gives them a mantra-like power, mirroring his Buddhist faith. Many people indeed thought that Allen Ginsberg was a prophet—not of the Buddhist faith, but of freedom of speech.

Turbulence By David Szalay Review – Stark Tales Of Life In Flux, by Justine Jordan, The Guardian

This new 12-story cycle, Turbulence, stretches its horizons to encompass the entire globe, as well as the female perspectives rigorously excluded from his previous book. Putting a girdle round the Earth in just 130-odd pages, it’s inevitably a much leaner work, written in a brisk, authoritative past tense rather than a layered and shifting present. Neatly organised as a series of plane journeys in which the narrative focus is passed between a dozen different characters, it begins and ends in London with a stifled fiftysomething Englishman awaiting the results of his cancer treatment. “Ironic, mocking and evasive”, Jamie is a familiar Szalay character, forced at last to accept his daughter’s insistence that “some things are serious. Which is frightening.” In between we spend time with a Senegalese businessman, an Indian caretaker living in Qatar and a Hong Kong academic, among others.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Reading Into Albert Einstein’s God Letter, by Louis Menand, New Yorker

Einstein did have views about God, but he was a physicist, not a moral philosopher, and, along with a tendency to make gnomic utterances—“God does not play dice with the universe” is his best-known aperçu on the topic—he seems to have held a standard belief for a scientist of his generation. He regarded organized religion as a superstition, but he believed that, by means of scientific inquiry, a person might gain an insight into the exquisite rationality of the world’s structure, and he called this experience “cosmic religion.”

It was a misleading choice of words. “Cosmic religion” has nothing to do with morality or free will or sin and redemption. It’s just a recognition of the way things ultimately are, which is what Einstein meant by “God.” The reason that God does not play dice in Einstein’s universe is that physical laws are inexorable. And it is precisely by getting that they are inexorable that we experience this religious feeling. There are no supernatural entities out there for Einstein, and there is no uncaused cause. The only mystery is why there is something when there could be nothing.

I Used To Write For Sports Illustrated. Now I Deliver Packages For Amazon., by Austin Murphy, The Atlantic

The hero’s journey, according to Joseph Campbell, features a descent into the belly of the beast: Think of Jonah in the whale, or me locked in the cargo bay of my Ram ProMaster on my second day on the job, until I figured out how to work the latch from the inside. During this phase of the journey, the hero becomes “annihilate to the self”—brought low, his ego shrunk, his horizons expanded. This has definitely been my experience working for Jeff Bezos.

During my 33 years at Sports Illustrated, I wrote six books, interviewed five U.S. presidents, and composed thousands of articles for SI and Roughly 140 of those stories were for the cover of the magazine, with which I parted ways in May of 2017. Since then, as Jeff Lebowski explains to Maude between hits on a postcoital roach, “my career has slowed down a little bit.”

The Christmas Time Capsule, by Margaret Renkl, New York Times

All day long I’m surrounded by reminders of nearly a quarter-century in this house. Who I am and who I’ve been, and who everyone else I love has been — it’s all laid out before me like a life-size version of a fourth-grade social studies diorama.

Then the Christmas boxes come down from the attic, and time extends backward even further, beyond this house, and forward to a future in which the broadest outlines are already clear though the details are still unknown. Getting down the Christmas decorations is always a reminder of eternity, that unfamiliar space where past and present and future exist simultaneously — a space I can enter, even figuratively, only at Christmastime.

How I Fell In Love With My Wheelchair, by Tim Rushby-Smith, The Guardian

I have come to appreciate my wheelchair as an empowering tool that enables me to live a full and active life, so don’t ever call me “wheelchair bound”. My wheelchair doesn’t bind me – it liberates me, and for that I love it.

Insomnia By Marina Benjamin Review - Sleeplessness As Resistance, by Elizabeth Lowry, The Guardian

For Gilman, who survived her near breakdown to conduct a vigorous intellectual life, the only effective cure was divorce. Benjamin (like Penelope) is firmly married, but her fascination with female sleep as a form of subjugation, and insomnia as instinctive rebellion, ripples through the book.

The Italian Teacher By Tom Rachman Review – Great Art And Monstrous Selfishness, by Clare Clark, The Guardian

Is the work all that matters? The critical and popular adulation that greeted the recent Picasso show at Tate Modern would seem to say that it is. But The Italian Teacher pushes us further. If success is at least as much about the artist as the work, and its value as much about the market as the artist, then what possible hope is there for authenticity?

A Century Later, A Novel By An Enigma Of The Harlem Renaissance Is Still Relevant, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

Few characters steer their own fates. Their lives are immutably organized according to the fiction of race. But they are alert to the fact of each other, and to beauty. The narrator describes a woman’s profile with such wonder it might be a skyline. Toomer’s personal impulses would run to experiments with racial definition and communal living. But here, in this lush, bleak book, in his evocation of the world as it is instead of how it ought to be, something hardier, more useful is conveyed — of the possibilities for epiphany, the reliable consolations of love and revenge. And in his style — this pastiche of poem, autobiography and fable — there is an integration of the self that the life never afforded.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Why Exaggeration Jokes Work, by James Geary, The Atlantic

Once perception settles into a comfortable pattern, we fall asleep to it. Only when the pattern is broken do we notice there is a pattern at all. The chains of mental habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson.

Wit, whether visual or verbal, can make the commonplace uncommon again by breaking the habits that render perception routine. We tend to define the quality of wit as merely being deft with a clever comeback. But true wit is richer, cannier, more riddling. And the best of it is often based on a biological phenomenon called supernormal stimuli.

I Can't Tell You Why We Eat Fish Every Christmas Eve, But I Love It, by Dom Nero, Esquire

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is perhaps the most well-known tradition of Italian-American culture. Its roots, however, are vague and mysterious. Every year Italian-Americans look forward to an elaborate dinner full of branzino, angel hair with clam sauce, fried calamari (or coll-uh-mahd), and many other salty seafood standbys of the Mediterranean on the night before Christmas. And of course, baccalá, that most sacred of salted cod-type white fish, which is prepared by soaking it in the sink, night after night, for up to a week before the big meal, exorcising just the right amount of saltiness before cooking it up with onions and capers to complement our ocean’s most delicious scaly friend.

Tilting At Windmills, by Tara Cheesman, Los Angeles Review of Books

As he explains in the prologue to his novel Seventeen, Hideo Yokoyama was a young investigative journalist when, in the immediate aftermath of the crash, he made the eight-hour trek up Mount Takamagahara “with no routes or climbing trails” to guide him. He walked through the wreckage (“it was the rare lucky reporter who didn’t inadvertently step on a corpse”) and filed stories on what he witnessed. Just five years after CNN introduced the world to the 24-hour news cycle, this experience reinforced what Yokoyama had already begun to suspect — that “the kind of information we call news will always eventually evaporate, fade from memory,” even a story of the magnitude of JAL Flight 123. Soon after, he gave up his journalism career to write fiction. The crash would inspire his 2003 novel Climber’s High, which has been translated by Louise Heal Kawai and retitled Seventeen for English readers.

Seventeen is Yokoyama’s second novel to be translated into English. Like 2018’s Six Four, which was actually written and published in Japan nine years after Seventeen, it is difficult to classify. It’s not a thriller, per se, in the way that American fans might understand the genre (as a scan of the reader reviews on Goodreads confirms). There’s no crime. Most of the cinematic action occurs off the page. A mystery is introduced and wrapped up in approximately 10 pages. Seventeen is best described as “newsroom noir,” and put in the same category as films like The Post and Spotlight, but minus the scandalous exposés. What Yokoyama has written is, ultimately, more than your standard thriller. True to form, he has created a meditative and multilayered narrative that is as much about a man at a mid-life crossroads as it is about journalism or a plane crash.

What The Fall Of The Roman Republic Can Teach Us About America, by Yascha Mounk, New York Times

Near the beginning of the third century B.C., the Republic of Rome faced an acute threat to its domination of the Italian peninsula. In a series of brutal battles, Pyrrhus of Epirus and a fearsome parade of 20 war elephants had managed to vanquish Rome’s armies. When Pyrrhus offered Rome a comparatively lenient peace treaty, many of its senior statesmen were keen to take the deal.

It was, Edward J. Watts shows in “Mortal Republic,” thanks to the unrivaled strength of Rome’s political institutions that Pyrrhus’ victories ultimately issued in his proverbial defeat. When the Senate convened to debate the offer, “an old, blind senator named Appius Claudius was carried into the Senate house by his sons.” As the chamber fell silent, he stood to chastise his colleagues. “I have,” he said, “long thought of the unfortunate state of my eyes as an affliction, but now that I hear you debate shameful resolutions which would diminish the glory of Rome, I wish that I were not only blind but also deaf.” By giving in to Pyrrhus, Claudius warned, the Roman Republic would only invite more outside powers to mess with it. Low as the odds of victory might be, Rome had no choice but to keep fighting.

Everything We See Hides Another Thing, by Annie Stenzel, TheRavensPerch

The words were hidden under Notes
on my device. I thought I had written them
myself and admired how clever I must be.

Monday, December 24, 2018

How Does A Writer Put A Drug Trip Into Words?, by Michael Pollan, New York Times

Soon after I set out to write a book about psychedelics, it became obvious what I would have to do: Trip, and then write about what it was like. True, I could have relied on the testimony of others, but that seemed less than satisfying. Ever since the 11-year-old me read George Plimpton’s account of playing football in “Paper Lion” (1966), I’ve believed that the most absorbing way to convey an experience is to have it yourself and then try to describe it from the inside. Best of all is to have it yourself for the first time, which is the only time the comprehensive wonder of any experience is available to us.

But while it may have been obvious that I would have to trip in order to write “How to Change Your Mind,” it wasn’t at all obvious how I would write about that experience, one often described as, well, indescribable. William James famously wrote that mystical experience — perhaps the closest analogue we have of a psychedelic trip — is “ineffable”: beyond the reach of language. I couldn’t count on a common frame of reference, since not all of my readers would be familiar with the exotic psychic terrain onto which I wanted to take them. Boring readers was another worry. Perhaps the second closest analogue of a psychedelic journey is the dream, and there is no surer way to drive people off — even your loved ones! — than to tell them your dreams. I’d also read enough “trip reports” online and in books to be acutely aware of the literary risks — what Arthur Koestler, a skeptic after his own psychedelic experiments, described as “pressure-cooker mysticism” and “cosmic schmaltz.”

My Mother Learned To Read At 63 - She Was Still The Smartest Woman I Know, by Donna Ladd, The Guardian

“Sit down and listen, Donner Kay. I have something to tell you,” she said, sniffing.

“Honey, your mama never went to school a day in her life,” she said. “I don’t know how to read or write. And I don’t want nobody to know but you.” I stared at her in shock. I had seen her sign her name methodically many times. “I want you to start helping me, alright?”

“I will, Mama. I promise,” I pledged, not knowing to what.

But we were a team in a world that wasn’t all that kind to us, and I was about to start writing checks, paying bills, reading her mail, helping her sell Avon beauty products, anything to help enable her to quietly survive in a written world.

The Misadventures Of An Idealistic Restaurant In Cut-Throat New York, by Britta Lokting, New York Times

Working at a restaurant is a rite of passage for many New Yorkers. For some it’s a way to finance their dance classes or start-ups or screenplays. For countless others, it is simply a way to survive. But the model of working for cash in a restaurant is changing, as several businesses, in an effort to guarantee workers a better hourly rate, are doing away with tipping. There is also a campaign underway to raise the wages of tipped workers across the state and the country. Such changes could raise prices all around, affecting the entire food-service ecosystem in New York.

Increasing wages for food service workers is certainly a noble cause, one that aligned with the ideals of Colors when it first opened, in 2006. But good intentions are one thing; running a restaurant in a city as competitive as New York is quite another.

Nein! By Paddy Ashdown Review – The Germans Who Stood Up To Hitler, by Rodric Braithwaite, The Guardian

And yet the idea still persists that those who opposed him were pathetically few in number, and that most were rabid nationalists with whom we could never have done business. That is inaccurate and unjust. Ashdown’s book is suffused with a moral sense, a fellow-feeling for the courageous men and women who made gut-wrenching moral choices in the most appalling circumstances. The story has been written before, but Ashdown contributes riveting new detail, especially about the Europe-wide network of agents through which Admiral Canaris, the wily head of the German foreign intelligence organisation, contrived to pass information to Hitler’s enemies. The book is pacey, fluent, and fascinating. But Ashdown aims above all to give these people the honour that is their due.

American Resistance, Explained, by Sean Woodard, Los Angeles Review of Books

“I have set out to write this book for my son in the context of our American story today,” he writes. “To remind him, and perhaps myself, that any hope for the future depends on our ability to reclaim the narrative of a long continuum of resistance that has been the foundation of our country and the bulwark against the very forces that have threatened our democracy since its founding.” This is the book’s real target, as little anger (if any at all) is directed toward the president’s character. But readers can latch onto that intended hope, that sense of goodness that permeates in the souls of humankind for its members of future generations. And that might be the book’s greatest accomplishment.

What We Have Lost Review – How Great Britain Stopped Being Great, by Gaby Hinsliff, The Guardian

There’s not much here for anyone looking for a route map to making Britain great again. Those curious about how manufacturing might evolve in years to come, under the threat of automation or the promise of some jobs potentially coming back to Britain if the premium on cheap labour gives way to one on skills, will also be disappointed. This is a book of lost yesterdays, not possible tomorrows. But agree or disagree with Hamilton-Paterson’s definition of lost greatness, at least he doesn’t make the politician’s mistake of promising to bring back something that he privately knows is gone for good.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The True Story Of 'Brainstorm,' A Lost Sci-Fi Classic—And Natalie Wood’s Final Film, by Ryan D'Agostino and Eleanor Hildebrandt, Popular Mechanics

By Thanksgiving 1981, filming was wrapping up. There were only a few scenes left to shoot, and then Trumbull would have staked his claim in the wild expanse of high-concept science fiction, would have shown the world the very beginning of what he could do with film.

Then Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, and Christopher Walken went out on a boat for the weekend.

Why American Cities Are So Weirdly Shaped, by The Economist

Most states make it difficult for a city to force its neighbours to join it. Only eight states allow municipalities to annex territory unilaterally. Eight require the state legislature to change municipal boundaries. The overwhelming majority, 29 states, require a referendum in the areas to be annexed, according to an analysis by Greg Lindsey of the University of Minnesota.

These votes often fail. Residents of unincorporated areas resist annexation, fearing a greater tax burden. Those in already rich suburbs fret about sharing their taxes with the poorer core city and merging of school districts. Municipalities avoid annexing poor neighbourhoods because they cost more to service than they provide in revenue. In places like Birmingham, blacks worry that rich, white suburbanites will usurp their hard-won power.

The result is duplication and waste as municipalities each pay councillors, police and fire departments, waste-collection agencies and school administrators to perform the same services. Cities are reluctant to co-operate even on menial things like waste collection, fearing an erosion of their independence. Fragmentation is one of the main reasons that many cities are poor at providing public transport.

The Big Chill: The Health Benefits Of Swimming In Ice Water, by Tim Lewis, The Guardian

In February 2017, Sara Barnes had a grisly-sounding operation called a bilateral high tibia osteotomy. A keen road cyclist and trail runner, Barnes had been left in agony from osteoarthritis, scarcely able to walk. The procedure would, in effect, break both her legs below the knee and insert a bone graft in each. She would be in a wheelchair for six weeks, then spend another two months on crutches.

“It was incredibly tough, both physically and mentally,” recalls Barnes, who is 56. “I saw the world as a wheelchair user. I had to completely trust the surgeon that I’d walk again, because he basically chopped my legs off. I’m a single parent – my son was 13 at the time – I’m self-employed, work from home. So I was isolated for six weeks.”

The day before her operation, Barnes promised a friend, who was a keen swimmer, that they’d go for a dip together as soon as she was up on crutches. So in mid-April, Barnes made her way to Crummock Water, a lake where the pristine water mirrors the steep slate fellsides, not far from where she lives in the Lake District. “I went down through the woods on crutches, got my wetsuit on and then went on crutches into the water,” she says. “And that was it, really.”

Desirable Body By Hubert Haddad Review – Whose Head Is It Anyway?, by Simon Ings, The Guardian

Desirable Body is about more than one decapitated man’s unusual plight; it’s about how surprisingly little our choices have to do with our feelings and passions. A farce, then, and a sharp one: it’s funny to contemplate, but if you fell into its toils for a second, you’d die screaming in horror.

Book Review: The Flame By Leonard Cohen, by Steve Walker, Stuff

“In many ways, it was Cohen who epitomised that period's self-exploration. It was he who articulated both our inner and our social selves, who drew attention to our frailty in the midst of the turbulence of our era. For that alone, this book demands our attention.”

Saturday, December 22, 2018

'A Rose With A Thousand Petals' … What Makes An Aphorism – And Is This A Golden Age?, by Sam Leith, The Guardian

Social media, these days, burgeons with such words of wisdom, floating around on a sea of hashtags, usually misattributed, and frequently accompanied by photos of sunsets over beaches. So are we living in a golden age of aphorisms? They are, after all, well suited to a 280-character limit, and positively beg to be shared.

“You’d think so,” says the poet and aphorist Don Paterson. “But there’s absolutely no evidence of it.” As he sees it, the aphorism is a different thing altogether from what he calls “wisdom literature”. He adds: “Temperamentally, [social media] is unsuited to the inspirational quote.”

Yet aphorisms – even though they haven’t much of a tradition in the anglophone world – are poking green shoots into the likes of Waterstone’s. In recent months, we’ve seen Paterson’s The Fall At Home: New and Collected Aphorisms, Yahia Lababidi’s Where Epics Fail: Meditations to Live By, and Sarah Manguso’s 300 Arguments, described by its publisher as “at first glance a group of unrelated aphorisms, but the pieces reveal themselves as a masterful arrangement that steadily gathers power”.

Canada’s Christmas Tree In A Bottle, by Quinn Hargitai, BBC

So far, I had found the European influence in Quebec’s largest city quite charming: the chatter of French in cafes; the freshly baked brioche for breakfast; the murmur of street-side jazz wafting through the summer air. But, although I’d usually consider it admirable, the one European sensibility I was currently not enjoying was the pronounced dearth of air conditioning. I had arrived in the middle of one of Montreal’s worst heatwaves in decades.

I raised the bottle and poured its contents into a frosted mug. The clear, effervescent brew had scarcely foamed to the top before it was at my lips. As I eagerly took my first sip, I was immediately hit with the unmistakable, biting taste of conifer – like a liquefied Christmas tree. This was my first bière d'épinette, or spruce beer.

Why We Can’t Stop Loving Stormtroopers, by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, Daily Dot

Despite being both evil and incompetent, stormtroopers have become a beloved icon. Their design is so brilliant, so instantly memorable, that it’s now as recognizable as Mickey Mouse or the Superman logo. With help from a Star Wars costume designer and some experts in the field, we decided to find out why.

How To Raise An Alien Baby, by E. C. Osondu, Los Angeles Review of Books

Rules are rules. They exist for a reason. They are meant to be obeyed.

If, for instance, you are going to adopt or foster an Earthling child, you have to obey certain rules. Yes, certain requirements must be met. Your home must be clean, at least on the day of the inspection. You must be at least 21 years old, because babies can’t look after babies. You must have some source of gainful employment. Why would you think fostering an alien baby is any different? The rulesought to be even more stringent, really. It is good manners to host visitors as you would family, or perhaps even better.

Ingrid Sischy’s Genius: Portraits Of Contemporary Culture, by Edmund White, New York Times

If you wanted to know what interested the American artistic and intellectual elite in the 1980s, ’90s and early aughts, you couldn’t find a better, truer hologram than the one Ingrid Sischy provided in her essays during those years. She shows us the glitz of that epoch of celebrity culture as well as the serious, thoughtful concerns of its cutting-edge painters and designers; at her best, she enters both domains through her stylish meditations on such figures as Jeff Koons, Robert Mapplethorpe and John Galliano. Sischy’s genius was that she took philosophy lightly and fashion seriously. By the time she died of cancer in 2015, at the age of 63, she had had a dazzling career as the editor of Artforum and Interview and as a contributor to The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

A Dystopian Thriller From Joyce Carol Oates, by Jamie Fisher, New York Times

“If this novel … had been published before 2016,” Oates tweeted in January, it “would seem like dystopian future/sci-fi.” But the world she imagines is rigorously believable, its every twist underlined and circled. Oates evokes a future made from the ingredients of the present: televisions and internet access, cellphones and broken government. She doesn’t try to stretch the limits of what we know, or what we might become. That’s a task for an Atwood, perhaps.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Fresno Bee And The War On Local News, by Zach Baron, GQ

And yet, the newspapers and the magazines and the websites still do the work every day. There's never been more news. To the extent that you know your local school board is corrupt or that your city's subway expansion plan is millions of dollars over budget or that your local power plant is dumping coal ash into your water supply, it's usually because of a reporter. You may think this stuff just comes drifting in on the air, or the Internet, like water flows when you turn on the tap, but no: Reporter. Newspaper. Journalism.

In October, the University of North Carolina's School of Media and Journalism released a study that estimated that a full 20 percent of all local newspapers have gone out of business or merged since 2004. Since then, an additional 1,300-plus communities in the United States have found themselves without any news source about their own city, town, or county. "Our sense of community and our trust in democracy at all levels suffer when journalism is lost or diminished," the authors of the report wrote. "In an age of fake news and divisive politics, the fate of communities across the country—and of grassroots democracy itself—is linked to the vitality of local journalism."

The Fall And Rise Of M. Night Shyamalan, by Brian Hiatt, Rolling Stone

If Shyamalan has righted his career ship, he believes it’s because he’s sending the right energy out to the universe, focusing on the right stuff. (If, in his life and art, he has a tendency toward an idiosyncratic spirituality, you might credit the experience of growing up in a Hindu household while attending a Catholic grammar school.) “If I’m a songwriter, concentrate on the song,” he says. “Put no energy into the column of ‘How will they receive the song?’ ” On set, he adds, “I gave it my all, so the audience, when they come pay their money, they see an artist that gave everything he had, and risked everything. I was like a rookie. All in, angsting and sitting on the set as the sun is coming up. No trailer, freezing to death and wondering, ‘Am I good enough? Can I make this shot work? Will we get the day?’ All those things that bring out the best in you. If it doesn’t work out, I gave it my all.” He wishes he could go back and tell the “younger version of myself who was lying on the couch after Unbreakable opened and feeling like I had failed” (because it didn’t out-gross The Sixth Sense) that he deserved to feel the same way.

Maybe most important, Shyamalan has also come to grips with his identity as a filmmaker. In his twenties, he says, “I don’t think you could have told me that making thrillers for your whole life wasn’t a bad thing. At first it was a sense of, ‘Hey, I can make anything.’ But that’s hypocritical, because when I pick up an Agatha Christie novel in my library, I have a strong expectation. So, I get it. . . . When I became happy with the idea of making thrillers for the rest of my life, everything went right.”

What Is Glitter?, by Caity Weaver, New York Times

What is glitter? The simplest answer is one that will leave you slightly unsatisfied, but at least with your confidence in comprehending basic physical properties intact. Glitter is made from glitter. Big glitter begets smaller glitter; smaller glitter gets everywhere, all glitter is impossible to remove; now never ask this question again.

Ah, but if you, like an impertinent child seeking a logistical timetable of Santa Claus’ nocturnal intercontinental journey, demand a more detailed definition — a word of warning: The path to enlightenment is littered with trade secrets, vapors, aluminum ingots, CIA-levels of obfuscation, the invisible regions of the visible spectrum, a unit of measurement expressed as “10-6 m” and also New Jersey.

The Master Recycler, by George B. Stauffer, New York Review of Books

Around 1730 Johann Sebastian Bach began to recycle his earlier works in a major way. He was in his mid-forties at the time, and he had composed hundreds of masterful keyboard, instrumental, and vocal pieces, including at least three annual cycles of approximately sixty cantatas each for worship services in Leipzig, where he was serving as St. Thomas Cantor and town music director. Bach was at the peak of his creative powers. Yet for some reason, instead of sitting down and writing original music, he turned increasingly to old compositions, pulling them off the shelf and using their contents as the basis for new works.

Why We Love Dinosaurs, by Boria Sax, Nautilus

There is something comforting for people of all ages about the way at least some kids in every generation go through a “dinosaur phase,” despite all the changes that society has experienced in the last century and a half. Dinosaurs appeal to a Victorian sort of “childhood wonder,” as well as reassuring us that our childhood experiences are part of an eternal condition. The phenomenon is especially remarkable because it so often seems to first emerge spontaneously in children, with very little adult encouragement. Yet perhaps dinosaurs, after all, are no more immortal than human beings. The ways we imagine them, at least, have been subject to constant change since their initial discovery in the early 19th century.

Maybe, after my childhood encounter with dinosaur bones, every subsequent experience of them could not be without a trace of disappointment. For me, as a child, it was the gateway to a world that would be without social pressures and demands. “To be a dinosaur,” a phrase that I used in a late adolescent poem, meant simply to be myself. It turns out that dinosaurs, or at least their bones, have been, since their discovery, deeply implicated in the worlds of commerce and power politics. But my childhood experiences suggest to me that, if all the hype could be finally stripped away, something wonderful might remain.

For The First Time In More Than 20 Years, Copyrighted Works Will Enter The Public Domain, by Glenn Fleishman, Smithsonian

“Whose woods these are, I think I”—whoa! We can’t quote any more of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” because it is still under copyright as this magazine goes to press. But come January 1, 2019, we, you, and everyone in America will be able to quote it at length on any platform.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, all works first published in the United States in 1923 will enter the public domain. It has been 21 years since the last mass expiration of copyright in the U.S.

Gluten Free Antarctica, by Maciej Cegłowski, Idle Words

Conor, our juvenile delinquent chef, emerges from the galley and drapes himself across the table to soothe her.

“What can I get you, love?” he coos, “Can I get you an egg?”

“I don’t want an egg.”

“Can I get you some bacon?”

“I don’t want bacon. What I want is a second piece of toast.”

“I’m so sorry, but we don’t have enough for all the gluten-free passengers.”

A New Biography Of The Architect Philip Johnson, The ‘Man In The Glass House’, by Paul Goldberger, New York Times

You want to begin a review of “The Man in the Glass House,” Mark Lamster’s stimulating and lively new biography of Philip Johnson, by saying something about architecture. But the reality of Johnson — one of the most compelling architects who has ever lived, which is not the same as being one of the best architects — is that the most interesting thing about him was not the buildings he designed. The qualities that make him, and this book, fascinating are his nimble intelligence, his restlessness, his energy, his anxieties, his ambitions and his passions, all of which were channeled into the making of a few pieces of architecture that will stand the test of time, and many others thatwill not.

The Not-So-Dumb Objects That Smartphones Have Led Us To Ignore, by Deborah Needleman, New York Times

“The real test of an object’s worth lies not in its efficiency, novelty or even beauty,” Adamson says, “but in whether it gives us a sense of our shared humanity.” Edwards’s latest innovation allows us to digitally transmit aromas through a small device that plugs into our phone. Thus far, our phones have engaged only our senses of sight and sound, leaving our olfactory organs untapped. Edwards’s hope is to offer the scientifically proven metabolic and calming health benefits of scent to us, on demand, even as we sit stressed out at work. Maybe one day, if widely adopted, this technology might, after the inevitable scented spam and fart pranks dissipate, revolutionize global food and medicine delivery systems. In the meantime, as Adamson might suggest, we should step outside and smell the roses.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Don’t Be Scared Off By Milkman’s Supposed Difficulty. It’s Remarkable., by Mark O'Connell, Slate

The book’s long sentences, its penchant for the exhaustive, can at times be challenging, and there were stretches where I found its uncanny energies stagnated for too long. But it also seems clear to me that these insistent strategies are in service of the book’s mood of total claustrophobia, and that they contribute to, rather than diminish, its overall effectiveness. As with so much of the national tradition from which she emerges—Synge, Joyce, Beckett, O’Brien, the whole collectible beer-mat set of the overwhelmingly male canon, few of whom get hassled for being insufficiently snappy—Burns seems to convey through her style a deep ambivalence about the English language itself. Because it would be strange, would it not, to write a book about a community for whom every conceivable aspect of the “country over the water” was an object of obsessive and justified suspicion, and to write it in the language violently imposed on one’s people by that colonizing nation, and yet to do so in a manner that did not convey that there was something uncanny, something essentially off, about that language as the community’s primary means of self-expression?

Dad And The Egg Controller, by Tom Francis

After dad died, trying to be useful, we looked through his office. ‘Office’ is underselling it – there was so much equipment that it could equally qualify as a workshop or even a lab. It had the special kind of ordely chaos of a place filled with a thousand incredibly specific things, meticulously organised by type, when you don’t know any of the types.

I opened a tiny drawer. Ah yes, this is where he kept things that were brass, cylindrical, and slightly ridged. I closed the drawer, my task complete.

On his desk, though, I saw something I did recognise. Something I knew it would be my responsibility to adopt, decipher, and operate. I don’t know if he ever gave it a name, so I will now: it’s the Egg Controller.

“I Refuse To Review”: Literary Criticism And Kim Hyesoon’s Autobiography Of Death, by Lotte L.S., Ploughshares

To speak back—to speak “up” and “out”—is often considered the strongest form of resistance to repression and censorship. But how to speak of—speak back to—that which is created “inside the world of parting” as Kim says of Autobiography of Death—that which exists in the gaps—the gutter—between language, between violence, between death? “It feels very normal for poems to be ‘inspected,’ ‘looked at,’ ‘examined’ ‘investigated,’ ‘explored,’ and even ‘interrogated,’’ write Jo Walton and Ed Luker in Poetry and Secrecy. “Even more than this, the whole practice of literary criticism tends to organise itself around the inspectability of its objects, and the necessary alignment of scrutiny and knowledge.” Whether intentional or not, much of current review culture presents reviewers not as readers, but as elevators of reading—subscribing to the idea of objective, universal interpretation and a prescriptive approach to reading. We are afforded our own subjectivities in writing, but not, it seems, in how we approach the writing of others in public, in print.

A Serious Reader Offers Appealingly Casual Thoughts On Reading, And Life, by John Williams, New York Times

But then the casualness of this collection is one of its attractions. It doesn’t strain after anything. It doesn’t have airs; and if it could speak, it would likely charmingly admit to its own imperfections. A mixture of depth and diversion, it makes you wish that, like a reliable band, Gabbert might publish a similar slender volume every year or two.

Sister Act: On “My Sister, The Serial Killer” By Oyinkan Braithwaite, by Art Edwards, Los Angeles Review of Books

In a murder tale, comedy of manners, or virtually any other kind of longform story, the key is making the reader care about the characters. Anyone who’s ever tried the form can attest that such engagement is hardly automatic. Characters tend to want to be boring, unlikable, or irrelevant. There are a million ways things can go wrong. Further, one could argue that with digital technology saturating our attentions and redefining our level of patience with words, it gets harder and harder for readers to open themselves to fictional characters. That’s what makes Braithwaite’s accomplishment so special. She combines the comparatively lighter tropes of Jane Austen with a dark tale of murder, familial complication, and moral compromise, and thereby redefines both tropes for a new generation. The reader doesn’t need to concern herself with what kind of novel she’s reading. She’s too busy being engaged to notice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Stuck On You: An Ode To The Second Person, by Nell Stevens, The Paris Review

I’m not going to write my second-person essay in the second person versus you’re not going to write your second-person essay in the second person. You tell yourself you’ll change it later. You’ll get a first draft done this way, because it’s easy, it feels right, flows better like this. Then I’ll change it back. She’ll change it back. You will. Or maybe no one will.

Recently it seems I can’t write anything that isn’t second person. It has caught my voice and won’t relinquish it; I begin everything with the gorgeous vagueness of you and then go back over it, painstakingly switching the you to she, or I, or whatever. And the fact that it could be whatever is what makes the you so alluring. You don’t have to make up your mind, or announce that you’ve made up your mind, with a you. It’s what writing can do that film cannot: introduce a character purely in terms of action, without giving them a face or body or gender. Even a bodiless voice-over in film has a gender. In writing, you can exist for pages, saying things, doing things, changing things, and nobody has any clue who you is. Sometimes that’s useful and sometimes it’s an easy way out of doing the hard work of creating character. Either way and both ways, I’m stuck on it.

The Night Hunter S. Thompson Might Have Given Me Writing Advice, by Heather Rose, Literary Hub

Hunter asked if I was hungry. I nodded. He picked up a container of half-and-half from the bowl at the center of the table. He swiveled himself around and with unerring accuracy, he lobbed the small container at the barman some eight meters away. It hit the man in the side of the head. The barman looked over immediately at Hunter but, instead of being angry, he nodded. In a moment, a waitress arrived at the table and Hunter proceeded to order food. The ordering took a little time. Hunter kept thinking of things to add. Occasionally he fired a question at me about what I liked to eat, but didn’t wait for my answer. Meanwhile another waitress brought drinks.

And then Hunter asked, “Why do you want to be a writer?”

Why Are Men So Much Worse At Writing Sex Than Women?, by Lisa Locascio, Electric Lit

What makes this sex writing bad is not the writing itself but the revelation of each author’s poorly drawn erotic landscape, in which an overabundance of insisted-upon excitement corrodes and obscures the possibility of intimacy. In this realm of unrivaled joining, they conceptualize the other, the desired one, the obscure object, the lover as flat and dim, a mere surface upon which the protagonist’s fantasies and self-absorbed interiority are projected. A refusal to examine the experience of the other is not only an artistic failing, but a moral one, that perpetuates the restrictive sexual mores that punish everyone, artist or not.

The Elusive ‘Hidden People’ Of Iceland, by Laura Studarus, BBC

Iceland is a country riddled with stories of elves (smaller, human-like creatures with pointy ears), ‘hidden people’ (interdimensional human-like beings, called huldufólk in Icelandic) and fairies (if you’re thinking Tinkerbell, you’re not far off). They’re believed to be peaceful creatures, co-existing alongside humans and indulging in the same day-to-day activities, including fishing, farming, raising families and – if the legends are any indication – occasionally lending a helping hand to humans who otherwise would die without intervention.

The Reinvention Of Economics After The Crash, by Eshe Nelson, Quartz

The 10 years since the global financial crisis have been plagued with increasing anxiety about inequality and economic security. The brutal and far-reaching economic collapse, deep recession, and slow recovery have puzzled economists. Macroeconomists have been fending off criticism for not foreseeing a financial crisis of such epic scale.

During the 20th century, the West suffered from two major economic crises. Each of these brought about a major revolution in economic thinking. After the 2008 financial crisis, no such shift has taken place. Economists are still using many of the same tools built to address the same questions as before. When is the revolution?

Comma Queen: A Grammarian’s Xmas, by Mary Norris, New Yorker

We sticklers are in fine fettle (cliché!) this holiday season. One guy hates “’Tis the season,” and he’s right: ’tis overused. I get pedantic about the placement of the vocative comma in “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” The song is not a suggestion to “merry gentlemen” to rest but an imperative to gentlemen to “rest merry.” Someone on Twitter admonishes those who claim that the spelling “Xmas” takes the Christ out of Christmas: X is not just a soulless abbreviation (say, for Xanax) or the unknown quantity in an algebraic formula (Let x equal what you will) but the Greek letter chi, which looks like X, which is rendered in English as “Ch,” which is the first letter of the Greek spelling of “Christ” and therefore Christ’s initial—Christ is the X in Xmas. So shut up.

Damn It All, by Stephen Greenblatt, New York Review of Books

“I think hell’s a fable,” the famous professor proclaimed—a surprising declaration not only because it was made in the late sixteenth century, when very few people would have dared to say such a thing, but also because he was at that moment in conversation with a devil to whom he was offering to sell his soul. The professor in question was Doctor Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s great Elizabethan tragedy. Bored with his mastery of philosophy, medicine, and law, Faustus longs for forbidden knowledge. “Where are you damned?” he asks Mephastophilis, the devil whom he has conjured up. “In hell,” comes the prompt reply, but Faustus remains skeptical: “How comes it then that thou art out of hell?” The devil’s answer is quietly devastating: “Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.”

Did Marlowe, a notorious freethinker who declared (according to a police report) that “the first beginning of Religioun was only to keep men in awe,” actually believe in the literal existence of hell? Did he imagine that humans would pay for their misdeeds (or be rewarded for their virtues) in the afterlife? Did he think that there was a vast underground realm to which the souls of sinners were hauled off to suffer eternal punishments meted out by fiends? It is difficult to say, but it is clear that hell was good for the theater business in his time, as exorcism has been good for the film industry in our own. In his diary, the Elizabethan entrepreneur Philip Henslowe inventoried the props that were in storage in the Rose Theater. They included one rock, one cage, one tomb, and one hellmouth, the latter perfect for receiving a sinner like Faustus at the end of act 5.

‘Once Upon A River’ Is A Meta-Gothic Slow Burn, by Greer Macallister, Chicago Review of Books

As readers, we know all novels are fiction, but sometimes we forget. We get swept up and lose track, believing on some level that it’s true. In Diane Setterfield’s you won’t forget that you’re reading a story—its language and framework are almost constantly calling attention to the story’s story-ness—but you probably won’t mind, either. It’s a corker of a story, full of moody elegance, as a good Gothic should be.

A Masterpiece That Requires Your Full Attention — And A Lot Of Time, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

There is a Borges story about a map so exact, so precisely detailed, it grew to the size of the place it depicted. The map had become the territory.

“Anniversaries,” Uwe Johnson’s oceanic, nearly 1,700-page masterpiece, performs a similar trick. Originally published in Germany, in four volumes between 1970 and 1983, it has been translated into English in full, for the first time, by Damion Searls. It is a novel that swallows reality — as noisy and demanding as the world itself.

A Magnificent Noir Novel, Written In Verse, by The Economist

The soldier who comes home from the war is one of literature’s most venerable figures, dating at least to Homer and Aeschylus. The veteran in “The Long Take” is Walker, a Canadian who, after the Nazis are defeated, washes up first in New York and then Los Angeles. Like the travails of Odysseus and Agamemnon, his tale is mostly told in verse—a medium rarely used in novels, and hardly ever this successfully.

A Silicon Valley Start-Up Offers Hints Of Alternate Lives, by Stephen Mccauley, New York Times

It’s entirely possible that there are happy, well-adjusted people who never traffic in regret or ponder what their lives would be like if they’d accepted a certain job offer years ago, had married A instead of B or had planned their financial futures differently. If they exist, these living-in-the-moment individuals are not to be found in the Palo Alto of “Come With Me,” Helen Schulman’s strikingly original, compelling and beautifully written sixth novel.

Hazards Of Time Travel By Joyce Carol Oates Review – Exiled From The Future, by Liz Jensen, The Guardian

Time travel stories are seldom really about time or travel, and Joyce Carol Oates’s 46th novel is no exception. Audacious, chilling and darkly playful, her thought experiment about belonging and otherness is quick to ignite, but admirably slow to reveal the full extent of its dystopian proposition.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Boomer Humor Writers Warned Us About All Of This, by Mike Pearl, The Outline

But the problem with my whole trip down memory lane was that much of what humorists were doing in those days was complaining about the kinds of things people are still very worried about today: a near-total distrust in institutional norms, class warfare, US imperialism, intergenerational warfare, and despair over climate change. Every white-knuckle, life-or-death, high-stakes current event shows up again and again in these books, except when it does, the author then says something to the effect of “they’ve gotta be kidding me!” and at the time it was all a barrel of laughs to read. I remember that being the case, even if — tragically — there’s not enough nostalgia power in the world to get me back into that headspace.

In short, I was reading brightly-colored, 20-year-old books with smirking boomers on the covers, but the topics they covered were relevant, which means it’s like you’re going back and watching the beginning of a movie with an unexpectedly tragic twist ending. For all the “humor” I got out of the experience, I may as well have been back on Twitter, reading about people getting fired from the Trump White House.

'Schadenfreude' Reveals Why We Secretly Enjoy The Misfortune Of Others, by Heller McAlpin, Los Angeles Times

While working on this review of Tiffany Watt Smith’s lively little book about the “ethically ambiguous” emotion of schadenfreude — taking pleasure in the humiliations and failures of other people — a message popped up on my newsfeed about Ivanka Trump’s use of a personal email account to send hundreds of emails about government business last year. Given her father’s tirades about Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email and cries of “Lock her up,” this felt like divine retribution. The burst of what Watt Smith calls “malevolent joy” and the “flick of spite” I felt upon reading this bulletin is a perfect example of what “Schadenfreude” is about.

Was my reaction “swirled through with shame” and dampened by concern about a lack of compassion? Nope. Is it evidence of a moral failing? According to Watt Smith, nope again. It’s a natural, even healthy response, fueled by what she describes as the satisfaction of seeing superior or smug people get their comeuppance when their hypocrisy is exposed. She argues that schadenfreude is a common, “cherished communal ritual” that can make you feel better about yourself not just by cutting others down to size but by recognizing that no one is flawless.

Hard Time: On Joyce Carol Oates’s “Hazards Of Time Travel”, by Alexander C. Kafka, Los Angeles Review of Books

The frame narrative here occurs in the NAS, or North American States — a grim Trumpian future dictatorship that shuns individuality and creativity and promotes mediocrity, conformity, sexism, racism, and violence. But we spend only 45 pages there before Adriane is thrust back — in punishment for her mildly provocative high-school valedictorian speech — to the autumn of 1959 where she is compelled to assume the identity of “Mary Ellen Enright” at a state college in Wisconsin.

Like a clean, precise log-splitting ax swing, that simple premise exposes a world of ideas and questions.

The Multiverse Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be In ‘Come With Me’, by Sarah Lyall, New York Times

As the book gathers itself toward its conclusion, the crises that strike the family are all too non-virtual. Their machines cannot help them. We can play out multiple scenarios, dream multiple fantasies, write multiple stories in our heads, but in the end we have only one — complicated, imperfect, hard-to-face — reality.

The Chills And Moods Of Yukiko Motoya’s Quietly Radical Stories, by Katy Waldman, New Yorker

There is something pareidolic about the writing process. The author reaches, with language, toward a reader who may or may not be there. Motoya’s book beguiles with its reversals: the bodybuilder’s husband may be unobservant to the point of eeriness, but, as it turns out, she is the shape-shifter, the trickster.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Gifts Of Humility, by Costica Bradatan, Los Angeles Review of Books

What if knowledge — the real, redeeming variety — is not power, but the opposite of it? If, for instance, to become properly human we need to run away from power as much as we can? Indeed, what if our highest accomplishment in this world came from radical self-effacement, the lowest existential station we could possibly reach?

If there is one trait that all forms of life share, it must be self-assertion. From the simplest to the most complex, all living entities seek to persist in their state and reproduce. And doing so requires pushing relentlessly against other entities, often to the point of annihilating them. That makes life a scene of cruelty of cosmic proportions. But “cruel” may be the wrong word, for it applies human judgment to something that, by definition, is anything but human. The process of life unfolds beyond any human concerns — spontaneously, blindly, tyrannically. Humans are caught up in it just like any other species. Far from having a say in the process, we are used and abused by it — brought into being, instrumentalized, and discarded. We think we fall in love, but that’s just one of the tricks life uses to reproduce itself; we devise some better tool and think ourselves smart, blissfully ignorant that we are just playing life’s game of self-assertion. We live in a comic farce and call it happiness.

The Final Adventure Of A Pioneer Scientist, by Sharon Levy, Undark

In November 1849, eight men set out from their “gold diggings” on the North Fork Trinity River in Northern California into a range of forested mountains that had never been mapped. Their leader was Josiah Gregg, a math whiz, self-taught navigator, medical doctor, and obsessive botanist. The Indians they’d met along the North Fork had described a large, sheltered bay on the Pacific shore, an eight-day walk to the west. Such a bay could make them all rich — if they got there before other settlers, they could lay claim to property and exploit the inevitable flood of miners eager to follow a new route to the gold-rich Trinity.

Dark Days, by John Horgan, Scientific American

I recently found myself leaning on a rail that separated me from the mighty Hudson River. It was dusk, the end of a cold, cloudy day. As the sky behind the Manhattan skyline faded from gray to black, the lights on the spires of the Empire State Building and Freedom Tower gleamed more brightly.

So I thought. I even came up with an aphorism: “The darker the sky, the brighter the lights.” Then I realized what I was doing. Nice try, I chided myself, but that’s pathetic, you’re grasping at epiphanies.

A Parting Of Ways, by Liam Hoare, Tablet Magazine

And indeed, to use Hitchens as a crutch is in a certain sense antithetical to the way he conducted himself. In Letters to a Young Contrarian, he rejected the label ‘model’ for himself as “almost by definition a single existence cannot furnish any pattern.” But if he is a model, then it is not so much for what he thought as how he thought: someone who was not afraid of to be deemed an awkward cuss, arrogant or selfish, who argued us to “seek out argument and disputation for their own sake” for “the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.” Ask not what Hitchens would think, but rather think for yourself.

What Cafés Did For Liberalism, by Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

Shachar Pinsker’s “A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture” (New York University) might seem, at a glance, like one of those “Bagels of Our Fathers” books that a Leo Rosten could have written back when Jewishness, as a cultural subject, still struck Americans as fresh and mostly funny. The cover shows an appealing pastel of a sunny, amazingly high-ceilinged and arch-filled café in Berlin—a lost Eden of conviviality and conversation. And the book itself is hugely entertaining and intimidatingly well researched, with scarcely a café in which a Jewish writer raised a cup of coffee from Warsaw to New York left undocumented. Yet it’s really a close empirical study of an abstract political theory. The theory, associated with the eminent German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas, is that the coffeehouses and salons of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries helped lay the foundation for the liberal Enlightenment—a caffeinated pathway out of clan society into cosmopolitan society. Democracy was not made in the streets but among the saucers.

Regulate It, Man, by Peter Maguire, New York Review of Books

Emily Dufton’s timely book Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America deftly chronicles the battle over the most popular semi-illegal substance in the US. It is a story of revolution, counterrevolution, pyrrhic victories, and, now, crass opportunism. Above all, it is a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of myopic zealotry. Dufton interweaves a history of 1960s counterculture with the emergence of marijuana advocacy groups like the well-known National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and lesser-known activists.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Case Of Agatha Christie, by John Lanchester, London Review of Books

Agatha Christie is, according to her website, ‘the world’s bestselling novelist’. That is a difficult claim to prove, and the official site makes no attempt to do so, but when you think that she wrote 66 novels and 14 short story collections, all of them still in print in multiple formats in dozens of languages, you can begin to see how she got to a total of one billion copies sold in English and another billion-odd in translation. Oh, and the longest-running play in the history of the world. Sceptics would be well advised to admit defeat on the issue of whether or not she sold more books than any other novelist ever has, and instead pivot to a more interesting question: why? I’m not claiming that this is an original inquiry, but I started to take an interest in it during a period when I was writing mainly about economically inflected subjects, and found that almost the only non-worky thing I could bear to read was Agatha Christie. She is the only writer by whom I’ve read more than fifty books. So – why?

Can A Sleepless Night Awaken Creativity?, by Marina Benjamin, The Guardian

“A bad night is not always a bad thing,” wrote the late science fiction author Brian Aldiss. A long-time insomniac, he appears to have been searching for the silver lining of a condition that, in chronic form, can suck the lifeblood from you.

One does not have to try hard to build the case against insomnia – the way its vampire clutch leaves just a hollow shell of you to ghost walk through your days; the way it trips you up and compromises your cognitive integrity. But Aldiss was after compensation. The “great attraction of insomnia”, he observed, is that “the night seems to release a little more of our vast backward inheritance of instinct and feelings; as with the dawn, a little honey is allowed to ooze between the lips of the sandwich, a little of the stuff of dreams to drip into the waking mind.”

Welcome To Брайтон Бич, Brooklyn, by Yelena Akhtiorskaya, New York Times

New Yorkers tend to discover Brighton Beach by accident. They set off for Coney Island, but through train mishaps or sheer excitement at the first sight of the sea, they get off at the wrong stop and are confronted with its grumpy next-door neighbor instead. If they do make it to Coney Island, they might stroll down the shore, until the sea turns to vodka and the newspapers turn Cyrillic. Regardless of how they get there, they seem to peregrinate in a fog, for which they can hardly be blamed: In Brighton Beach, questions are deeply frowned upon, then ignored.

But no one’s coming to Brighton Beach for clarity. A dose of local exoticism is the best they can hope for. And after wandering up and down the boardwalk, marveling at the decked-out seniors — the ladies in fur coats with radioactively purple hair and men in track suits playing backgammon as if their lives depended on it, which they quite possibly did in the Siberian prisons — after devouring the warm piroshki (flying saucers of fried dough), tanning alongside the master tanners who’ve got it down to a science, and braving the dour ladies in paper hats who dole out the delicacies the land has on offer, the visitors will sigh contentedly, as after a battle won, and say that they’re going back to Brooklyn.

A slip of the tongue, perhaps, but it means something. And what it means is that Brighton Beach is a universe onto itself, with its own time, its own language, its own customs, for which it makes no apologies.

The Pedestrian Strikes Back, by Richard Conniff, New York Times

In many of the major cities of the world, it has begun to dawn even on public officials that walking is a highly efficient means of transit, as well as one of the great underrated pleasures in life. A few major cities have even tentatively begun to take back their streets for pedestrians.

Francis: A Life In Songs By Ann Wroe Review – The Saint’s Life In Poetry, by David Wheatley, The Guardian

Among the stranger moments in the saga that is Brexit was Michael Gove’s suggestion that Theresa May, “our first Catholic prime minister”, is insufficiently attuned to the mood of Protestant Britain to see the project through. This would be the same Michael Gove who hailed Geoffrey Hill as “our greatest living poet”, despite that writer’s saturation in Anglo-Catholicism, the counter-reformation and proneness to celebrate visionary European saints and mystics. In her splendid Francis: A Life in Songs, Ann Wroe has produced a book that Hill, for one, might have relished, however awkwardly it sits with Britain’s current difficulties with Catholic Europe.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Lost In The Valley Of Death, by Harley Rustad, Outside Magazine

At the trailhead outside Kalga, a village of guesthouses and orchards where the road fades to footpath, Alexander handed Gapon his iPhone and asked him to take his picture to mark the “beginning of a spiritual journey.” The men hugged, and Alexander walked up the path into the forest. It was August 22, 2016.

Four days earlier, Alexander had blogged about his plan to meditate, practice yoga, and learn from the sadhu during this journey. The final line read, “I should return mid September or so. If I’m not back by then, don’t look for me ;).”

Alexander didn’t return. Somewhere in the high reaches of the Parvati Valley, he disappeared.

Did Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony Transform American Music?, by Douglas Shadle, New York Times

Countless history books and program notes would have us believe that Dvorak suddenly awakened a national musical consciousness soon after his arrival in the United States in 1892 and that the “New World” Symphony was an attempt to show naïve American composers how to build a distinctive style using what Dvorak called “Negro melodies.” Leonard Bernstein claimed at a 1958 New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concert that composers in the United States at the end of the 19th century began to “feel funny about not writing American-sounding music. And it took a foreigner to point this out to them.”

A great story. But it’s not true.

When Did People Start ‘Needing Space’?, by Julie Beck, The Atlantic

Space for oneself, or a lack thereof, likely became a salient issue for couples from the ’70s on, according to Coontz. “That was a period when expectations of intimacy were actually getting larger,” she says. “This is the time when we first begin to think that men and women should be really good friends as opposed to just two gender-role stereotypes.” This creates the possibility for a deeper, more meaningful relationship, but when people start expecting their partner to fill more of their needs, they may find themselves feeling too close, too interdependent.

Wherever the phrase came from, once it was out there, it likely fueled its own acceleration. “Language gives you tools,” says Kiesling, “and tools often make you do things in particular ways that you wouldn’t otherwise do.” Once needing some space was a commonly understood term, it stands to reason that a person wanting some time away from her partner, or to put the brakes on a relationship, would likely ask for “space” rather than finding another way to convey her meaning.

Does Scrabble Need To Be Fixed?, by Kevin McElwee, Nautilus

Recently, I conducted my own tests to see if Lewis’ values really make Scrabble more fair. In short, Lewis was wrong. His values don’t reduce the element of luck in Scrabble. The tests also show, however, that traditional tile scoring isn’t more fair than random tile values. If we want to make Scrabble scoring more indicative of skill, we’ve been looking at the wrong part of the game for years.

The Pleasure Of Difficulty, by Davis Smith-Brecheisen, Los Angeles Review of Books

In a rare and bold turn, the novelist, poet, and literary critic Christine Brooke-Rose dedicates her final book of criticism — Invisible Author (2002) — entirely to her own body of work, beginning it with a question: “Have you ever tried to do something very difficult as well as you can, over a long period, and found that nobody notices?” It is a rhetorical question. Her career is defined, she says, by writing difficult texts under self-imposed constraints — for example, omitting subject pronouns or restricting her novels to particular tenses — with little attention.

Because of this difficulty, her reader, she thinks, finds her work “unfamiliar” — if not impenetrable — and so “dismisses it, the pleasure of recognition being generally stronger than the pleasure or puzzlement of discovery.” The distinction describes a stark difference between the kinds of readers there mainly are — readers who dismiss or ignore difficult fiction — and the kinds of readers she wants — those who not only read difficult fiction, but also derive pleasure from that difficulty.

Friday, December 14, 2018

A Dissident Chinese Novelist Finds Echoes Of Mao, And Orwell, by Mike Ives, New York Times

“China Dream” is a sharper political allegory than Mr. Ma’s earlier novels. It crackles with bruising satire of Chinese officialdom, and an acerbic wit that vaguely recalls Gary Shteyngart’s sendup of Russian oligarchs in “Absurdistan,” or even Nikolai Gogol’s portraits of Russia’s provincial aristocrats in “Dead Souls.”

Yet even for Mr. Ma, whose work is banned in mainland China, the novel is especially provocative because it makes a critique that is rarely uttered aloud these days by ordinary Chinese: that censorship and repression under a Xi-controlled Communist Party bears an eerie resemblance to that of the Cultural Revolution.

How Do You Photograph The Wind?, by Bill Buford, Literary Hub

“Did you feel the temperature drop last night?” she would ask when she returned later in the afternoon. “Did you hear the banging? Were you woken by the slamming door?” She was animated. The animation was in her eyes and voice. She then whispered, “It’s the Mistral.”

I’ve come to believe that she whispered because she was afraid of scaring it away.

Cobb aspired to do what everyone knows can’t be done: she was trying to catch the wind. Only fools try to catch the wind. And in photographs? If you can’t see it, how can you take a picture of it?

Does This Look Right To You? HOLLA🎄D TONNEL, by Michael Gold, New York Times

One wreath covers the letter O of the Holland Tunnel sign in a perfect overlap. But then, slightly to the right, the tree is hung over the N instead of the A, which better matches its shape.

And there, N, lies the problem.

Cory Windelspecht, 38, said that seeing the tree covering the N instead of that adjacent A bugged him for years. So he started a campaign to adjust the Christmas decorations.

How Trees Can Be A Bellwether For Climate Change — And What Comes After, by Willy Blackmore, Los Angeles Times

Instead of the existential angst of imagining the future on fire everywhere, we need to look at the environment around us, understand that we’re part of that ecology, and begin in earnest to figure out how to adapt.

Revelations At 35,000 Feet, by The Economist

He pulls off this imaginative feat because his focus is on age-old themes of mortality and desire. And he trusts his readers to pay attention.

He’s A Legend Of Contemporary Poetry. There’s Finally A Volume Of His Collected Work., by David Biespiel, New York Times

There might be little left to say about Robert Bly, the poet, critic, translator and nonagenarian whose astonishing “Collected Poems” is now available. Ever since 1962, when “Silence in the Snowy Fields” established him as a poet of desperate sincerity, he has been a paragon of Jungianism against the brutality of capitalism and militancy. He’s hardly changed. But everything else has, and with it the significance of a poet who believes that poems should be near the center of life.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Reading While Nursing, by Leslie Jamison, The Paris Review

I read Meaghan O’Connell’s And Now We Have Everything, a collection of gloriously unsettled essays about imagining giving birth and then actually giving birth and then circling the tiny creature, lying in his Pack ’n Play, at first desperate for him to sleep and then desperately afraid he has died. I read the brilliant and unforgettable stories in Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories, including the one about a man carrying an alien baby, which is also about what it means to feel both violated by the life you made possible and beholden to it. I reread Meghan O’Rourke’s Sun in Days, whose poems wonder at—among other things—the shift from conjuring an imagined child to caring for an actual one, a baby built not from longing but from grapefruit and Rice Chex: “you were already you, not / an outgrowth of my mind.”

One evening I strapped my baby to my chest with the impossibly complicated stretchy fabric wrap and walked to a bookstore to listen to Terese Marie Mailhot read from her eloquent and seething memoir, Heart Berries. Swollen with hormones, I nearly started crying as she read about remembering her son’s milky breath years after losing custody; then my daughter started crying, not because she imagined another woman remembering milk but because she wanted milk herself. It felt good to nurse her, but it didn’t solve the pain in Mailhot’s precise, exquisite book, nor was it meant to.

Wait Wait … For NPR Host Peter Sagal, by Joanne Kaufman, New York Times

“One of the things I tell people,” he said, “is that if I had applied the discipline and planning to anything else in my life that I did to running, I would have a Nobel by now.”

“I didn’t know how to deal with my domestic situation,” added Mr. Sagal who got married again in June, to Mara Filler, a stage manager. “But looking back on myself it was probably really comforting to think, ‘let’s see if I can run a marathon in under a certain amount of time.’ I was probably attracted to the coherence of it. It was a high contrast to everything else.”

Learning To Live With A Chronic Urge To Die, by Clancy Martin, Huffington Post

“You guys ever see any ghosts?” I asked.

I believe that suicidal people can see ghosts in a way that sturdier folks cannot. The Canadian physician and addiction expert Gabor Maté describes addicts like me as living “in the realm of hungry ghosts,” people who have become ghosts while still alive. I think you can almost see when a deeply addicted person, who is killing himself with his drug of choice, is making the transition into the ghost lands.

I'm The Food Expert. But My Kids Love My Husband's Cooking., by Amanda Hesser, Food52

One of my other nicknames for Tad is Mr. Efficiency. He obsesses over the shortest route to a destination, orders everything in bulk, is always on time, writes thank-you notes within a day, and absolutely detests standing in line. Especially for food.

When it came to cooking, Tad was characteristically economical. Once we had our kids and our schedules went haywire, he set about mastering a handful of dishes he could pull off on a moment’s notice: fish tacos, pasta alla vodka, and Daddy’s pasta.

I Hate To Wait: On Jason Farman’s “Delayed Response: The Art Of Waiting From The Ancient To The Instant World”, by Lydia Pyne, Los Angeles Review of Books

Jason Farman’s Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting from the Ancient to the Instant World is a timely and insightful reminder that waiting is a natural, integral part of how communication unfolds and has been unfolding for millennia. Whether it’s in sending and receiving written missives, the regulation of how information flows, or building infrastructure to alleviate uncertainty around waiting, the act of waiting leaves traces in the records of history and material culture, as technology is — inevitably — invented and reinvented to mark and mitigate how people wait.

By exploring seven different historical instance of waiting — from sending messages via the pneumatic tubes in New York City in the early 20th century, to the royal seals of Elizabethan England, to the New Horizons mission exploring space — Farman unpacks how waiting is recorded in various social and material cultures. “[T]he promise of communication technologies is that they will connect people at an ever-accelerating pace until the distance between us is completely bridged,” Farman argues in the book’s introduction. “Contrary to the feelings of anxiety people have while waiting for messages, most of the contemporary rhetoric around the digital age seems to argue that digital media users have arrived at the promised era of instant connection.” Delayed Response walks readers through the culture of waiting and how it changes depending on what is being waited for and why.

A Look At Competition In Business Urges Us To Think Small, by Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

These are fraught times, and while you may be scared, Tim Wu suggests that you may not be scared enough. Like Michael Lewis’s “The Fifth Risk,” a recent book that shows how something most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about — government bureaucracy — is consequential (and potentially terrifying), Wu’s “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age” is a surprisingly rousing treatment of another presumably boring subject: mergers and acquisitions.

So You Think It’s All A Big Joke? What Wit Really Is — And Why We Need It., by Michael Dirda, Washington Post

What book about wit doesn’t contain a single quotation from either Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde? The answer, of course, is this one. For James Geary hasn’t produced a compendium of quips, comebacks, ripostes, zingers or verbal firecrackers, but rather a serious, even a philosophical study of — as his subtitle declares — “what wit is, how it works, and why we need it.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

My Year Of Writing Anonymously, by Stacey D'Erasmo, Literary Hub

This was not what I had been expecting. I don’t know what I was expecting; mostly, I was filling a gap in the schedule. Mostly, I was trying not to lose my shit in the classroom that winter and embarrass myself. But here it was, this life on the page. I didn’t understand it. I could understand why my students felt more free when writing anonymously, but why did the writing itself get better, on every level? I tried this exercise a few more times in other classrooms elsewhere. Again and again, I found that when students wrote without their names, much that was awkward, dull, strained, and frankly boring fell away. It was like watching people who thought they couldn’t dance dancing beautifully in the dark.

I wanted this experience, too. Lost as I was, I thought it might help me get somewhere, anywhere. However, and perhaps paradoxically, one can’t really write anonymously by oneself. Readers are required; the anonymous writer needs an audience to whom one can be unknown. I walked around with this conundrum, not particularly doing anything about it, until, at a literary event, I met Yuka Igarashi, then an editor at the online literary publication Catapult, who offered me an assignment. Instead of doing that assignment, I suggested an anonymous column. I became the Magpie, a pseudonym that came to me immediately. For the next year, I published as the Magpie every two weeks. It changed me in ways I never would have expected.

The Dictionary And Us, by David Skinner, Weekly Standard

One evening in the spring of 1977, at the elegant St. Regis Hotel in New York, 40 or so intelligent, distinguished persons came together and, with drinks in hand, talked about the English language. They were especially interested in words and phrases that reflect poorly on people who use them. On this peculiar subject—of what not to say and when—several attendees were reputed to be experts. All of them, however, could claim at least some degree of authority as members of the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.

It may have been the only time the usage panel—which was terminated, without ceremony, on February 1 of this year—met in person. Fortunately, Mark Singer, a writer for the New Yorker, was on the scene, and to him we are indebted for the unsigned article that appeared in the Talk of the Town section a few weeks later.

In Praise Of The Long And Complicated Sentence, by Joe Moran, Literary Hub

A long sentence should exult in its own expansiveness, lovingly extending its line of thought while being always clearly moving to its close. It should create anticipation, not confusion, as it goes along. The hard part is telling the difference between the two. I once heard Ken Dodd say that the secret of a great comedian is that he makes the audience feel simultaneously safe and slightly on edge. He has about half a minute from coming on stage, Dodd reckoned, to establish that he is harmless. He must quickly convey calm and control, so that the audience members relax into their seats, safe in the knowledge that nothing truly awkward is about to happen. But he must also create a sense of unpredictability that makes them lean forward. A good long sentence has that same tension. It should frustrate readers just a little, and put them just faintly on edge, without ever suggesting that it has lost control of what is being said.

A sentence, once begun, demands its own completion. It throws a thought into the air and leaves the reader vaguely dissatisfied until that thought has come in to land. We read a sentence with the same part of our brains that processes music. Like music, a sentence arrays its elements into an order that should seem fresh and surprising and yet shaped and controlled. It works by violating expectations and creating mild frustrations on the way to fulfillment. As it runs its course, it assuages some of the frustration and may create more. But by the end, things should have resolved themselves in a way that allows something, at least, to be said.

The Next Great Chess Boom Is Here, by David Hill, The Ringer

I was down on my knees before the chess set. Not out of deference, though I did feel a bit of that. I knelt because Irving Finkel, a board game expert and a curator at the British Museum, which displayed these chess pieces among its extensive collection, suggested that patrons view it that way. “When you look at them, kneel down or crouch in such a way that you can look through the glass straight into their faces and look them in the eye. You will see human beings across the passage of time. They have a remarkable quality. They speak to you.”

These were the Lewis Chessmen, and they composed perhaps the most important chess set in the world. They’re a centerpiece of the British Museum. Even as I knelt on the floor, staring into the eyes of a berserker warrior (most likely a rook) biting his shield, a crowd formed around me to gawk at the carved-walrus-tusk-and-whale-tooth game pieces, displayed on a chess board in a glass box in the middle of a large room. The pieces were an important piece of history, made in the middle of the 12th century, and they offered a glimpse into that time period. But was that all there was to the Lewis Chessmen? The British Museum housed many artifacts much older than these, and items that had a much more direct link to the history of the game. These chessmen hadn’t been owned by royalty or played with by famed explorers or conquerors. They had no writing on them, no messages to translate from our medieval ancestors. So why the fascination? Why did these chess pieces stand out in a museum filled with swords and jewels and ancient texts? Is it the pieces that are important, or is it the game itself that matters to us?

How Chicago’s Dining Scene Lost Its Mojo, by John Kessler, Chicago Magazine

About a year ago, I met Boehm at a party, and when he found out I was a food writer who had moved recently from Atlanta, he congratulated me on my good fortune to have landed in Chicago. “Wow, what a nice step up for you,” he enthused. I wish I had come up with a tart rejoinder instead of a forced smile, and so, on my bike ride home, I made a mental list of Atlanta’s advantages. Then I started thinking about other cities I’d eaten in recently and how Chicago stacked up against them. It didn’t take me long to arrive at a dispiriting answer: not so well.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m one of those annoying newcomers who want to bitch about everything Chicago, from the weather to the pizza. Well … yes, I am. But I’m the right kind of annoying newcomer. For starters, I’m not from New York. Also, I’ve spent the better part of 25 years reviewing restaurants. Most important, I really like my adoptive home. And so, in the spirit of tough love, I give you, my fellow Chicagoans, the following five observations.

It Could Be The Age Of The Chicken, Geologically, by James Gorman, New York Times

It’s one thing to eat chicken every day. It’s something else to have that on your permanent record, as in the geological record, the remnants of our time that archaeologists or aliens of the future will sift through to determine who we were and how we shaped our world.

But a group of scientists argue in a new essay published Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science that this is exactly how our time on Earth will be marked, by leftover chicken bones. We live in the Age of the Chicken.

Eclipse Expeditions, by Lynne Feeley, Los Angeles Review of Books

Todd’s travelogues represent a tiny sliver of her literary output. She wrote constantly, obsessively. She started a diary in 1866 when she was 10 and kept it for 66 years. In it, she recorded her day-to-day activities, social engagements, and life milestones. Alongside it, she kept a separate journal in which she dilated upon the events of her life and wrote with intimacy and profusion about love, sex, art, pain, and motherhood. She was a prolific letter-writer, as well, and a meticulous keeper of scrapbooks, and a poet, and she published book reviews in the Amherst Record. When you add Todd’s voluminous output to that of her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, who was the first woman to earn a doctorate in the field of geography from Harvard, and who likewise kept every scrap of paper she ever touched, you get the 700 boxes of Todd Family Papers that have rested in the Yale University archives since they were donated by Bingham in 1964.

If you want to study the work of Mabel Loomis Todd, however, you don’t go to Yale. You go to Amherst or Harvard, the two institutions that together hold most of Emily Dickinson’s original manuscripts. For it is not for her own literary works that Mabel Loomis Todd is known. Instead, Todd has been remembered primarily as the mistress of Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin Dickinson, and, with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, as the editor of Dickinson’s first published book of poems.

In A (Prose) Tribute To Fathers And Father Figures, A Fast-Paced Poet Slows Down, by Ed Pavlic, New York Times

“To Float in the Space Between” doesn’t show all Hayes’s powers, but it does transform the fast-twitch shift of his poems into a slower sense of drift. Reading “To Float” after Hayes’s poems feels akin to hearing Coltrane switch from “Giant Steps” (where he sometimes changes keys twice in one measure) to something like “Flamenco Sketches” (where he often remains in one scale for bar after bar after bar). If Hayes’s poems strobe, “To Float” is more tidal. Hayes eases into the flow by using Etheridge Knight’s life and career as his alibi, introducing a book “as speculative, motley and adrift as Knight himself.”

The Bedroom By Michelle Perrot Review – An Intimate History, by Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

The bedroom, says French superstar historian Michelle Perrot, is the place where everything important has already happened. From the days when early man first rolled a boulder in front of his cave and told neighbours to knock first, to hospital rooms, ladies’ boudoirs, prison cells and Proust’s cork-lined grime box, the bedroom is the place where we are most authentically, and explosively, ourselves. Perrot sets out to locate what she calls the “multiple genealogies” of the bedroom, “the melodic lines where religion and power, health and illness, body and spirit, love and sex interweave”. This sounds so dreamy and yet so thrilling – thanks in part to Lauren Elkin’s exquisite translation – that you can’t wait to push open the door and get cracking on this search for God, love, rest and death.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Novelist Who Works As A “Seasonal Associate” At Amazon, by Heike Geissler, Literary Hub

In any case, my boyfriend has mail from Amazon. Two children carry the parcel around the apartment, not understanding, just as I don’t, why the parcel doesn’t get unpacked right away. My boyfriend rescues his parcel and eventually tells us what’s in there: pants. Our older son complains and wants something too, and the younger one keeps on lugging the parcel around; it’s almost as big as he is. Two pairs of pants, says my boyfriend, and each pair was 30 euros cheaper than in the store.

Each pair? I ask. Each pair, he says. Damn, I say.

Days later, I spy the parcel in the hallway again, its corners slightly dented, ready for returning. The pants were the wrong color, my boyfriend says. They weren’t dark blue, they were blue-black. I shrug, kind of glad he didn’t manage to save 60 euros that easily, but perhaps that’s not true either. Perhaps I don’t care either, and anyway we’re not talking about these two pairs of pants bought by my boyfriend, we’re talking, for example, about the bluffs and cheats that Hannes Hintermeier described in a rather old article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, using the example of a nonfiction author who preferred to remain anonymous. This author, I read, “hated Amazon, with the full force of his passion. He preached that we ought to stand up to the monopolist with all our might. Admittedly, whenever he wanted a book, he simply told his wife and she ordered it for him—from Amazon.”

The Race To Understand Antarctica’s Most Terrifying Glacier, by Jon Gertner, Wired

Science season in Antarctica begins in November, when noontime temperatures at McMurdo Station climb to a balmy 18 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun hangs in the sky all day and night. For a researcher traveling there from the United States, the route takes time as well as patience. The easiest way is to fly from Los Angeles to Christchurch, New Zealand—a journey of 17 hours, if you’re lucky—and then to McMurdo, a charmless cluster of buildings that houses most of the southern continent’s thousand or so seasonal residents and both of its ATMs. McMurdo isn’t the end of the line, though. Often it’s just a pass-through for scientists hopping small planes to penguin colonies or meteorological observatories farther afield.

Few places in Antarctica are more difficult to reach than Thwaites Glacier, a Florida-sized hunk of frozen water that meets the Amundsen Sea about 800 miles west of McMurdo. Until a decade ago, barely any scientists had ever set foot there, and the glacier’s remoteness, along with its reputation for bad weather, ensured that it remained poorly understood. Yet within the small community of people who study ice for a living, Thwaites has long been the subject of dark speculation. If this mysterious glacier were to “go bad”—glaciologist-­speak for the process by which a glacier breaks down into icebergs and eventually collapses into the ocean—it might be more than a scientific curiosity. Indeed, it might be the kind of event that changes the course of civilization.

Can Special Effects Be Special Again?, by Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

Today, it’s hard to imagine a cinematic world where humans don’t fly. Or at least leap across miles, jump through wormholes, and zoom to the farthest reaches of space while battling impossible armies of intergalactic demons. Sometimes, the humans are not humans at all but vaguely human-like creatures, transformed by makeup and other enhancements, that move like us and talk like us, but are bigger, stronger, thicker, and purpler than us. Anything, it seems, is possible.

And maybe that’s the problem. This year, a giant mutant death pirate from the other end of the galaxy came to Earth, fought our greatest superheroes, and then wiped out half the universe, and I barely blinked. Three years ago, an entire Eastern European city was raised into the sky and then dropped back down to Earth by an evil, all-powerful, sentient robot; many of us just shrugged. It’s not that the VFX were bad; often, they were quite good. But they also felt curiously underwhelming.

What Does Literary Studies Know?, by Michael W. Clune, Los Angeles Review of Books

Jonathan Kramnick’s Paper Minds: Literature and the Ecology of Consciousness mounts a nuanced and persuasive account of how literary studies might thread the needle by both insisting on its disciplinary identity and modeling ways literature professors might bring literary insights into contact with the discoveries of other fields. While much of the book demonstrates his method by applying it to encounters between philosophy of mind and literature, he begins more generally, by criticizing the forms “anti-disciplinary thinking” has recently taken. Kramnick describes several flavors of hostility to the autonomy and integrity of the discipline, from the scientific reductionism that subordinates literary study to evolutionary psychology, to the historical reductionism that by uncovering the discipline’s origins seeks to debunk it.

Ghost Trees By Bob Gilbert Review – An Urban Botanical Sleuth, by Jon Day, The Guardian

Yet although he sets himself against the homogenising effects of globalisation, Gilbert is no Goodhartian reactionary. His interest in the relationship between nature and people in cities is open and inclusive. The presence of new plant species on London’s streets, he writes, “reflects our imperial past or the growth of global trade”, but it also reflects the contemporary demographic makeup of an area: new kinds of weed can be found in areas where immigrants have taken their plant life with them. “Our story,” Gilbert concludes, “is recorded in our street plants”, and in this warm, rich and fascinating book, he shows how attending to the particular can help us tell stories that are universal.

Art Restores The Soul In 'Museum Of Modern Love', by Heller McAlpin, NPR

My guess is that you've never read a book quite like Heather Rose's The Museum of Modern Love. I know I haven't. This is the Australian author's seventh novel, though it's her first published in the United States, and it's a real find. Rose celebrates the transformative power of art with an artful construct of her own — the profound response of a handful of fictional characters to Marina Abramovic's performance piece, The Artist is Present, in which the Serbian artist sat perfectly still and silent at a table in New York's Museum of Modern Art for a total of 736 hours over the course of the performance.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Acts Out, by Ariel Levy, New Yorker

Julia Louis-Dreyfus was not feeling relaxed. In a few weeks, she would be receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, in a televised ceremony at the Kennedy Center, and she was anxious about her speech. “It’s, like, ‘If you’re so fucking funny, get up onstage and prove it!’ ” she said one morning in Los Angeles. She was sitting in a white bathrobe, having her makeup done, in a room at the Glendale Hilton, where she was shooting an episode of her HBO series, “Veep.” Louis-Dreyfus has nine Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Golden Globe, and she shares with Cloris Leachman the record for the most Emmys accumulated by an actor: one for playing Elaine Benes, on “Seinfeld,” the role that made her a star; one for her performance in “The New Adventures of Old Christine”; and six for playing Selina Meyer, on “Veep.” But the Twain prize felt different. “Anyone can bomb,” she muttered. “Oh, God. Whatever.”

When the makeup was finished, a stylist ran a curling iron through Louis-Dreyfus’s shiny brown bob, one of several wigs she’s worn while making “Veep,” in order to minimize her preparation time. Her real hair is explosively curly, when it hasn’t been coaxed into sleekness for an event. These days, it is also “blasted by chemotherapy and still growing out,” after six rounds of treatment that Louis-Dreyfus underwent last year for breast cancer. She’d decided to address her illness and recovery at the Twain prize, but, as she put it, “I don’t want it to be ‘The Cancer Show at the Kennedy Center.’ ”

Yo-Yo Ma’s Days Of Action, by Alex Ross, New Yorker

The cyclone of exuberance that is Yo-Yo Ma tore through the Washington, D.C., area at the end of November. The cellist is in the middle of a sprawling tour called the Bach Project, which involves performances of Bach’s six solo-cello suites in thirty-six places, on six continents. Classical music has taken to attaching the word “project” to undertakings large and small. If two or more Brahms symphonies are played, it becomes a Brahms Project. The Bach Project, though, is deserving of the name. Most of Ma’s concerts are slated for large spaces capable of accommodating thousands. Each is accompanied by a Day of Action, in which Ma meets with local artists, community leaders, students, and activists, exploring how culture can contribute to social progress. In Washington, the venue was the National Cathedral. The Day of Action took place in Anacostia, the historic African-American neighborhood in southeast D.C.

Ma began the day at We Act Radio, a progressive Anacostia station. Joining him was the jazz composer, bassist, and singer Esperanza Spalding, who, as a participant in the Kennedy Center’s Turnaround Arts program, works with a local school. Ma said that he had come to Anacostia because of the community’s efforts to strengthen itself through culture. “You give of yourselves from substance,” he said. “It’s not money, it’s not just work, it’s that you give of yourselves, and, when you do that, that’s when beauty emerges.” He then played the Prelude of Bach’s G-major Suite. Kymone Freeman, the station’s co-founder, approved. “This is the type of culture that should be exposed to our children,” Freeman told his listeners. “The first thing that gets cut is art. The last thing that gets funded is art.”

What A Japanese-American Artist Inherited From The Atomic Bomb, by Moeko Fujii, New Yorker

In his photo series “My DNA,” currently on view at the Catherine Edelman Gallery, in Chicago, Koerner, a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, confronts the long legacy of the atomic bomb in his family. Kimiko’s diagnosis was the beginning of a string of medical crises. Koerner’s brother, Richard, died of pneumonia in 2002, at the age of thirty-two. Richard couldn’t fight the infection because he didn’t have a spleen–it was removed years earlier as part of his treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Around the time of his funeral, Koerner learned, from a cousin, that he had been the eldest not of two boys but of five: three brothers had been lost to crib death, stillbirth, or miscarriage. His mother would die, from complications due to Cushing’s disease, in 2008. “I used to say, ‘Family, what family?’ ” Koerner told me on a recent afternoon. “All of mine are dead.” In “My DNA,” he used collodion tintype, a laborious method of photography that was in vogue during the eighteen-fifties. His process, which involves sloshing, slapping, flinging, and blowing chemicals through a straw, yields abstract works that tackle the subject of atomic radiation through transformation, dilution, and chance—in short, the fraught process of inheritance. “See those fractal patterns, these bursts?” he asked me, pointing at at work titled “Fingerprints #6187.” “They’re mutations.”

“The Most Exhilarating Moments Of His Life”: On Charles Sprawson’s “Haunts Of The Black Masseur: The Swimmer As Hero”, by Antonia Cundy, Los Angeles Review of Books

At the time, I knew that my urge to write about the swim, that sensation of my body’s submersion, was something shared and most likely inspired by contemporary writers such as Philip Hoare, Amy Liptrot, and Jessica J. Lee. Expanding the bracket, I was not only paying tribute to these authors, who mix memoir and swimming in what have been called “swimoirs” or “waterbiographies,” but also the parent group they have dovetailed from: the personal nature writing of authors like Helen Macdonald, William Fiennes, and Robert Macfarlane. What all these authors specialize in, through their particular strand of what some call “literary nonfiction,” is taking their niche subject of interest — swimming, falconry, walking — and broadening its appeal to a wider audience. Like Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, the books’ specific subjects end up serving as unique kaleidoscopes through which to approach universal intrigues such as identity, love, and grief.

In recent years, the younger descendants of Macfarlane et al. have seemingly inverted the concept; in their work, the “literary” of “literary nonfiction” not only applies to the techniques and style of the writing but also to its subject matter. In the work of authors such as Lara Feigel, Elif Batuman, and Philip Hoare, literature and cultural history are at the forefront, the middlemen through which the books edge into wider reflections. Like many others, I found these books captivating, particularly Hoare’s RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR, which amalgamates the “swimoir” and literary nonfiction. But what I know now is that they are in fact indebted to and eclipsed by a work written in 1992, which stands as the grandfather of this particular strand of literary nonfiction. The author is Charles Sprawson; the book, Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero.

The Poet’s Table, by Mayukh Sen, Poetry Foundation

Angelou’s cookbooks shouldn’t be read in isolation from her larger body of work or treated as sidelines to her poetry. They offer further evidence of her literary style, unflinching in their humor and pathos. While her food writing may have been a more roundabout way to function as the people’s poet, Angelou treated a recipe, as she treated her poems, as a means to earn trust. “The reader has to believe what the writer is saying or else the book has failed,” she told the Guardian in 2011. “The same applies to cooking; if there is no integrity to the recipes, no one will trust them.”

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Is Listening To A Book The Same Thing As Reading It?, by Daniel T. Willingham, New York Times

So no, listening to a book club selection is not cheating. It’s not even cheating to listen while you’re at your child’s soccer game (at least not as far as the book is concerned). You’ll just get different things out of the experience. And different books invite different ways that you want to read them: As the audio format grows more popular, authors are writing more works specifically meant to be heard.

Our richest experiences will come not from treating print and audio interchangeably, but from understanding the differences between them and figuring out how to use them to our advantage — all in the service of hearing what writers are actually trying to tell us.

Retiring Retirement, by Linda Marsa, Nautius

There is plenty of alarm about the unprecedented aging of humanity. Since 1950, the median age in developed countries has jumped from 28 to 40, and is expected to reach 44 by mid-century. The percentage of citizens age 65 and older is expanding accordingly, from less than 10 percent in 1950 in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan to a respective 20, 30, and 40 percent by 2050. The fear is that, as baby boomers like me march lockstep into “retirement age” (the first of us crested that hill in 2011), there will be fewer young workers to support us old folk, which will curb spending, strain the healthcare system, and drain Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Yet it’s hard to reconcile this chilling prediction with my own experience. Thanks to genetic luck and some sensible lifestyle habits—I walk two miles every day, quit smoking decades ago, and have never set foot inside a fast food joint—I’m in as good or better shape than ever. I hike and travel, and still have the energy to work 50- to 60-hour weeks. I have a supportive network of family and friends, and a thriving career doing what I love. No longer crippled by the toxic insecurities of my youth, I’m the happiest and most fulfilled I’ve been in my life. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not even close to being put out to pasture.

Deployed For The Holidays, by Nate Bethea, The Outline

There’s a photo that circulates on social media around the holidays of an American soldier in Afghanistan standing watch at an outpost. In the frame, you see his rifle, binoculars, and thermal scope resting atop the sandbags at his position, adjacent to an uneaten plate of holiday dinner. The photo was taken on Thanksgiving Day in 2009 in the northwest corner of Paktika province, but when flattened into a shareable image for social-media prayers and hectoring, it might as well be a Christmas dinner, too. If you don’t know which details to scrutinize, you might think it had happened recently.

I know the facts behind this image because I was in that same unit and on that same deployment nearly 10 years ago. And, in the intervening decade since that photo was taken, there hasn’t been a holiday season in which the United States was not at war. This is a fact so utterly banal that it barely warrants mention anymore. When that photo was taken, we’d been at war in Afghanistan for almost as long as the Soviet Union was.

If you’re in the military, holidays don’t matter. And it really doesn’t matter if your mission is feasible or sensible or justifiable, if you are serving under a Democrat or a Republican, you are equally hostage to symbolism and the expendability of bodies and lives in service thereof.

The Language Of Capitalism Isn’t Just Annoying, It’s Dangerous, by Rebecca Stoner, The Outline

When General Motors laid off more than 6,000 workers days after Thanksgiving, John Patrick Leary, the author of the new book Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism, tweeted out part of GM CEO Mary Barra’s statement. “The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient, and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future,” she said. Leary added a line of commentary to of Barra’s statement: “Language was pronounced dead at the scene.”

Why should we pay attention to the particular words used to describe, and justify, the regularly scheduled “disruptions” of late capitalism? Published last week by Haymarket Books, Leary’s Keywords explores the regime of late-capitalist language: a set of ubiquitous modern terms, drawn from the corporate world and the business press, that he argues promulgate values friendly to corporations (hierarchy, competitiveness, the unquestioning embrace of new technologies) over those friendly to human beings (democracy, solidarity, and scrutiny of new technologies’ impact on people and the planet).

Book Review: ‘Those Wild Wyndhams’, by Rosemary Michaud, The Post and Courier

Renton’s “Those Wild Wyndhams” is a dense but deliciously readable examination of the lives and foibles of turn-of-the-century British social and political elites. It succeeds mightily. Yet there is something else here. The book is a powerful reminder that when it comes to difficult parents, silly crushes, break-up angst, marital mistakes and victories, the joys and sorrows of having children and jagged career paths, privileged women are no less fortunate or unfortunate than their more ordinary sisters.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

My So-Called Media: How The Publishing Industry Sells Out Young Women, by Soraya Roberts, Longreads

On November 30th, Tavi Gevinson published her last ever editor’s letter at Rookie. The 22-year-old started the site when she was just 15, and in the intervening years it had spawned a pastel-hued community of girlhood, which, if not always sparkly, was always honest. The letter spanned six pages, 5707 words. In Longreads terms, that’s 20 minutes, 20 minutes of Gevinson agonizing over the site she loved so much, the site that was so good, that was now bigger than her, that she couldn’t figure out how to save. “Rookie had been founded, in part, as a response to feeling constantly marketed to in almost all forms of media,” she wrote, “to being seen as a consumer rather than a reader or person.”

The market had won, but Gevinson was fighting to the death. It was hard to read. You could sense her torturing herself. And she was. Because in truth there was nothing Gevinson could have done, because the failure of Rookie was not about her, or even about the poor state of media as a whole. It was about what it has always been about, which is that as much power as women have online — as strong as their voices are, as good as their work is, as valuable as it is to women, especially young women — its intrinsic worth is something capitalism, dominated by men, feels no obligation to understand. This is what ultimately killed Rookie. And The Hairpin. And The Toast. And maybe even Lenny Letter too.

What It’s Like To Walk To LaGuardia Airport, by Karrie Jacobs, Curbed

Accompanied by Stanley Greenberg, a photographer whose primary interest is urban infrastructure, I walked to the airport simply to see if it could be done. It was an expedition, like Magellan circumnavigating the earth or Lewis and Clark trekking to the Pacific Ocean, except we were heading to a place that had already been thoroughly discovered—by some 30 million passengers a year—and is only five miles, as the crow flies, from midtown Manhattan.

The walk was partly motivated by curiosity and partly by principle. I had this theory that airports would be better—both as transportation facilities and civic spaces—if they were more intimately intertwined with the cities they serve. Jets taking off and landing require a lot of space, meaning there’s a limit to how centrally located an airport can be, but that doesn’t mean they need to be difficult to access.

The Humble Brilliance Of Italy's Moka Coffee Pot, by Dan Nosowitz, Atlas Obscura

Bialetti, the Italian maker of the moka pot, a stovetop coffee machine and one of the most iconic kitchen appliances ever created, announced recently that the company is in major trouble—tens of millions of Euros in debt, unpaid salaries and taxes, revenues that are way down and look to be staying that way. In a press release, the company said there are “doubts over its continuity.”

The moka pot is a symbol of Italy: of postwar ingenuity and global culinary dominance. It is in the Museum of Modern Art, the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and other temples to design. It is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most popular coffee maker, and was for decades commonplace to the point of ubiquity not only in Italy but in Cuba, Argentina, Australia, and the United States. It’s also widely misunderstood and maligned, with approval in the modern coffee world coming perhaps a bit too late, in only the past few years. Get one while you can.

‘Deal Or No Deal’ Gets A Revival, But Should Its Bevy Of 26 Models?, by Lara Zarum, New York Times

Game shows are as old as television, and for as long as they have existed, producers have decorated their sets with beautiful women who don’t say much but just might make your dreams come true.

Perhaps nowhere has that format proved more tenacious than on CNBC’s “Deal or No Deal,” which returned for a new season Wednesday after a nearly 10-year hiatus, and features 26 female models in matching high heels and short, skintight dresses. It’s a formula that helped make “Deal” a prime-time hit when it debuted on NBC in 2005.

That was 13 years ago. But in 2018, as the culture continues to grapple with the way women have been disregarded and sometimes abused by Hollywood and its machers, “Deal” and shows like it raise an awkward question: Is this a convention whose time is up?

Los Angeles Builds Itself, by David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times

As I traveled, I took note of landmarks: the Watts Towers, the Highland Theatre, LAX. The experience was like moving through a map in real time, in which Los Angeles revealed itself as small and large. By the time I was done, I was aware of a curious double vision, a sense of the pieces that make up the city and also the shape of the broader metropolis. It is this sort of cognitive dissonance — or negative capability — that, I want to tell you, Los Angeles requires of us.

A similar sensibility informs David Gebhard and Robert Winter’s “An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles,” which offers a complicated, and at times contradictory, engagement with the city not unlike what I discovered on the train. Originally published in 1965 by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it has just been reissued in a sixth edition that is significantly revised.

Jeeves And The King Of Clubs By Ben Schott Review – Bang-on Bertie Wooster Reboot, by Ian Sansom, The Guardian

As with Wodehouse himself, or like spending a long evening in the company of a scintillating conversationalist, things eventually begin to flag, but discretion on this point, as Bertie would have it, is the better p. of v. Schott has hit the target.

Friday Black By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Review – Both Funny And Frightening, by Colin Grant, The Guardian

Composed with brio and rare imaginative power, Friday Black recaptures the strange fear and excitement we first feel as child readers, when we begin to learn that Grimms’ fairytales are approximations of the real world.

'Mary Queen Of Scots' Is A Case Study On How Political, Human Narratives Get Crafted, by Genevieve Valentine, NPR

Zweig (blockbuster in his day, briefly forgotten, now undergoing a renaissance) had already written one hit about a doomed queen — 1932's Marie Antoinette, which atmospherically detailed the days of the last queen of France. In some ways, Mary, Queen of Scots is similar. It's a history obsessed not with "how" but "why"; facts are presented or debated with a scholar's enthusiasm, but often they merely set the stage for discussion of the psychological and the narratively preordained. (The man loves a portent). To him, Mary Stuart was a Shakespearean tragedy and a figurehead whose character was inextricable from the state itself — a story impossible to resist.

It's not pretty. The romance comes only in the failing. When Kirkus reviewed the 1935 edition, it noted Zweig seemed determined to bleed the legend from the legend: "Human, yes, but disillusioning." That seems to have been a place Zweig was comfortable; his keenest insights are the follies, the theater of politics, a powerless populace that knows better than to buy it. And much admiration for Mary comes not from action, but reaction — refusal to give in to a destiny that, he hints often, she might have seen coming.

Friday, December 7, 2018

I’ll Miss Coffee When I Die, by Molly Guinn Bradley, Electric Lit

I’d read Our Town just once before, in a hurried, obligatory way. It’s one of those things you wind up reading at some point or another, I knew; one of those things collectively considered worth reading. When I told friends that my dad was going to perform in it, I heard story after story about friends’ first encounters with Our Town: how one woman returns to it every year, when she’s feeling sentimental about her son’s — and her own — aging. How one man got to act in it at several different points of time through his life, playing older and older characters each time. How another can’t read it at all anymore. “It’s too sad,” he said to me.

“Because everyone in the play dies?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Because everyone dies.”

Why Tips Won, by Nikita Richardson, Grubstreet

The no-tipping policy lasted just six months at Chang’s Momofuku Nishi. Claus Meyer, a Noma co-founder, announced in February that he was ending the no-tipping policy at his own New York restaurant, Agern, after two years, citing slow business as a result of the higher menu prices. Gabe Stulman reversed course at his restaurant, Fedora, after four months without tips, telling Eater that guests were ordering less food than they had before. And last week, Andrew Tarlow — the owner of Brooklyn restaurants like Roman’s and Diner — revealed to his staff in an email that the no-tipping policies at his businesses had “created new challenges that we are unable to sustainably resolve. Ultimately, we ended up serving an ideal at the expense of taking care of you, our staff, which is a trade-off I didn’t fully anticipate and am unwilling to continue to make.”

“Andrew was very disappointed,” says an employee of Tarlow’s restaurant group, Marlow Collective, who asked to remain anonymous. “But when we went to non-tipping, we pretty much lost our entire staff that had been there for ten years. He wanted to make it work, but it just became really difficult.”

Tip-free dining was supposed to be the future of dining in New York and beyond. Instead, many owners are now scrambling to revert to the old way of doing things. There are holdouts — especially in the upper echelons of the fine-dining world — but it has become clear in just over three years that, for the time being, they will remain the overwhelming exceptions, not the rule. Here’s why.

'Broken Ground' Balances Location, Character And Props In Perfect Proportion, by Bethanne Patrick, NPR

You can read a lot of police procedurals. You can read a lot of police procedurals set in the United Kingdom. You can read a lot of police procedurals set in the United Kingdom that feature female protagonists.

But you won't read any police procedurals set in the United Kingdom featuring a female protagonist that are better than the ones Val McDermid writes, and that's because her DCI Karen Pirie books manage to balance all of the above elements — and more — with great compassion and elegance.

A Parable About Good, Evil And The Inevitable, by Scott Bradfield, New York Times

Kennedy’s prose — like the endlessly unreeling speculations of her most interesting characters — is simultaneously logical and illogical, sad and funny, simple and profound, turning over and over in endless permutations, like an elegant small snake wrestling against the constraints of its own shiny and menacing skin.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Why Language Might Be The Optimal Self-regulating System, by Lane Greene, Aeon

Decades before the rise of social media, polarisation plagued discussions about language. By and large, it still does. Everyone who cares about the topic is officially required to take one of two stances. Either you smugly preen about the mistakes you find abhorrent – this makes you a so-called prescriptivist – or you show off your knowledge of language change, and poke holes in the prescriptivists’ facts – this makes you a descriptivist. Group membership is mandatory, and the two are mutually exclusive.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I have two roles at my workplace: I am an editor and a language columnist. These two jobs more or less require me to be both a prescriptivist and a descriptivist. When people file me copy that has mistakes of grammar or mechanics, I fix them (as well as applying The Economist’s house style). But when it comes time to write my column, I study the weird mess of real language; rather than being a scold about this or that mistake, I try to teach myself (and so the reader) something new. Is this a split personality, or can the two be reconciled into a coherent philosophy? I believe they can.

Letter Of Recommendation: Recently Returned Books, by Elisa Gabbert, New York Times

This shelf houses a smallish selection of maybe 40 to 60 books — about the number you might see on a table in the front of a bookstore, where the titles have earned a position of prominence by way of being new or important or best sellers or staff favorites. The books on the recently returned shelf, though, haven’t been recommended by anyone at all. They simply limit my choices by presenting a near-random cross section of all circulating parts of the library: art books and manga and knitting manuals next to self-help and philosophy and thrillers, the very popular mixed up with the very obscure. Looking at them is the readerly equivalent of gazing into the fridge, hungry but not sure what you’re hungry for.

On Writerly Jealousy, by Elisa Gabbert, The Paris Review

There’s a bad double bind in being a writer: If you don’t write about things people are interested in, nobody is going to read you. But if you write about things people are interested in, other people are writing about them, too. I have felt jealousy as a writer many times: while reading Rachel Aviv writing about fugue states and psychosomatic unconsciousness; Lauren Oyler writing about the un-give-up-ability of social media; and, even though she’s dead, Susan Sontag writing about the way apocalypse looms but never occurs—the last section of AIDS and Its Metaphors is basically my whole work in progress, condensed. Sontag seems to have already had all my worthwhile thoughts. Reading writers I admire writing about things I want to write about, obsessions I’m protective of, makes me feel unspecial: a bratty thing to feel, or at least to admit.

How Online Confessional Columns Are Reinventing The Diary Book, by Luna Adler, Electric Lit

If the idea of the pre-internet diaries was to transmit a snapshot of a famous person’s actions, the internet diaries offer an outline of a famous person’s neuroses; readers witness them fret over everything from the quality of their writing to the quantity of food they consume. Alan Yang, co-creator of Master of None, prefaces his Grub Street Diet with this disclaimer: “What you’re about to read is a description of one of the craziest series of meals I’ve ever had…I love to eat good food, but this is not normal.” For his first feast, Yang orders: “three cheeses and blood-orange marmalade; salumi misti; a green salad with anchovies; roasted beets with whipped ricotta; burrata; white-bean soup; seared octopus with ramps; tonnarelli cacio e pepe; bucatini all’amatriciana; fettuccine alla carbonara; pappardelle alla Bolognese; malfatti with braised suckling pig; cavatelli with pork sausage; chitarra with charred ramps; chicken cutlet; poached trout; roasted carrots; and charred asparagus.” As can be seen by both Early and Yang’s anxious preambles, there is something incredibly meta about the whole ordeal: a week lived a certain way because the author is using it to market himself, curating a facade that he knows will leave an impact on his reputation and career as soon as the following day.

A Photographer’s Loving Ode To Small-Town Texas, by Mai Schotz, New Yorker

The five decades that Keith Carter has spent documenting small-town Texas more than make up for the fact that he was born in Wisconsin. His family moved to the town of Beaumont when he was just a few years old, in the early nineteen-fifties, and his single mother took up commercial portrait photography to support them. Mesmerized by the red-tinted darkroom printing he witnessed in their kitchens growing up, he turned to photography after graduating from Lamar University with a business degree. He has since built a prolific career making art of and for the place he’s from. “My home town,” Carter has said, “is the backdrop for a rich East Texas storytelling culture, an occasional mystifying spirituality, and abundant folklore,” qualities that manifest themselves in the rich, allegorical images he produces.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Talking Walls Of Angel Island, by Joy Lanzendorfer, Los Angeles Review of Books

This spring, when the Trump administration began separating families on the US-Mexico border, Angel Island popped into my mind. The apparent racial bias underlying this policy made me think of this older, racially motivated detainment of immigrants. As in the current crisis, the Chinese immigrants had no control over their situation. Separated by gender and race, they slept in bunkers on thin canvas mats. They were imprisoned for no other reason than they wanted to come to the United States.

While at Angel Island, the Chinese wrote poems on the walls of the detainment center about their situation. I’d been hearing about them for years. There are 200 poems, each a unique documentation of life at the center. In August, I took my six-year-old son on the ferry to see the poems myself.

Comfort Foods, by Mayukh Sen, Topic

A funeral is bleak and blunt in its finality, an observance of a life well lived and a reminder of your own mortality. Because of that emotional tenor, it can be hard to consider the food served at funerals or directly afterward in the same category as the meals served at more joyous rites of passage. Take a baby shower, a child’s first birthday, a baptism, or a marriage, all functions organized around cheer and gaiety. I think of my Bengali Hindu family’s own observance of annaprashan, a ceremony that marks an infant’s first intake of solid food. In the case of my two nieces, the ceremony involved me, an uncle, feeding rice to the infants in the form of payesh, a dessert of white rice in sticky-sweet milk, along with potato and eggplant fritters. But what these children eat doesn’t reflect what’s on the table for the hundred or so people who come to celebrate them, which, in my family’s case, were biryanis with chicken and vegetables, and enough samosas to feed a small army.

What Rogak’s 2004 book makes clear is that mourning is a communal affair; whoever’s in charge of cooking for the mourners must prepare enough to feed at least a dozen people. As with other food traditions, what certain groups—bound by ethnicity or religion or regional affiliation—eat at funerals is not static. The customs are malleable, so long as they fulfill a basic purpose: making sure everyone is nourished, before the room clears and each individual is left to live with his or her grief in private.

Kevin Killian’s Memoirs Of Sexed-Up, Boozy Long Island, by Andrew Durbin, The Paris Review

By the beginning of 1991, Killian was living at the edge of the Mission District on Minna Street. He was a poet. He was married to the writer Dodie Bellamy. A friend and collaborator of many artists, writers, and actors in the city, he helped found the New Narrative movement—a loose arrangement of poets and novelists centered around Robert Glück’s writing workshops at Small Press Traffic. New Narrative, with its emphasis on critical theory and identity politics, offered a fiction and poetry that took itself apart in order to make its inner and outer workings—and worker—transparent: a writing about the writer who’s doing the writing, a kind of authorial heroism, the splaying of the self. (Derrida was a touchstone.) In a conversation with Bruce Boone, the Language poet Charles Bernstein noted that Boone, like his counterparts, foregrounded the author through repeated interventions of a writerly interest in text qua text: “It would be as if Stephen King made [some of the] comments … that you’re making to me, within the novel, and talked about its links with the high and the low European [literature], to French philosophy, and so on.” If the author died in the late sixties, New Narrative attempted to account for the causes of their demise in order to resurrect the corpse in a poetry and prose of flesh and blood—stitched together and electroshocked back to life. The poet Cole Swensen once said that Killian’s work is about the “palpability of being alive.” One lives with it.

Why Don't Movies Have Intermissions?, by Jeva Lange, The Week

Going to the movies shouldn't be an endurance test; I can sit through a three-hour movie without an intermission, but that doesn't mean I want to. It isn't even healthy to sit for the average Hollywood runtime!

'Babel' Looks At Language Through The 20 Most-Widely Spoken, by Michael Schaub, NPR

Dorren's conclusion that English "is the end of Babel — or rather, it's the end of Babel as a problem" might not sit well with speakers of other languages (Mandarin, Dorren contends, is "just too damn difficult" for non-native speakers to learn), but he's careful to note it's only because of the English language's ubiquity and America's position as a superpower that it's so widely spoken.

But the great thing about Babel is that you don't have to agree with Dorren's conclusions to enjoy it — it's a book that's as joyful as it is educational, and above all, it's just so much fun to read.

Was Saul Bellow A Man Or A Jerk? Both, A Monumental Biography Concludes, by Mark Greif, New York Times

As previous biographers have discovered, it’s difficult to write an endearing biography of Bellow. “Was I a man or was I a jerk?” Bellow inquired on his deathbed. Leader put the question on the first page of Volume 1, and it bookends this two-volume opus. Nevertheless, he has managed to write a sympathetic, judicious, 700-page second volume here, which one can recommend on its own merits. I even came to admire Bellow more at the end than the beginning. How on earth did Leader do it?

Future Politics By Jamie Susskind Review – When Life-changing Decisions Are Made By Machines, by Rafael Behr, The Guardian

If Future Politics focused only on the power of tech giants it would be a useful book covering familiar ground. But Susskind’s ambition is far greater. His subject is the full spectrum of disruption to the way humans have organised themselves since antiquity. It is an attempt to disassemble the fundamental concepts that underpin political life – justice, liberty, democracy, equality, property – and put them back together again in the context of a tech-driven revolution. At the very least, it is an impressive feat of intellectual organisation.

Brutally Intelligent 'Milkman' Depicts Lives Cramped By Fear, by Annalisa Quinn, NPR

Perhaps the novel's most memorable strain is the way that characters in this world can't ask for what they want for fear of not getting it, or of getting it and inspiring jealousy, or of getting and losing it, or perhaps just of getting it and not being able to bear such a large and foreign and terrifying thing as happiness. Hence what middle sister calls the "wrong spouse" phenomenon, when you marry someone adjacent to the person you really love, the way you would avoid looking directly at the sun. But despite all that, Milkman still contains a sideways kind of hope. Because, as middle sister discovers, fear isn't as bad as numbness. Behind fear, animating and sharpening it, is the possibility, however tenuous, of joy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Solo Traveler Takes A Road Trip Through Her State Of Mind, by Peter Obering, Texas Highways

My adventure begins heading south on US 67, eager as I am to avoid the slalom of misery known as Interstate-35. Taking US 67 out of Dallas and then heading south on US 281 has emerged as the softer, gentler path to move north and southbound through our state. I pass haystacks and pastures as I glide through towns like Midlothian, Alvarado, and Glen Rose, home to Dinosaur Valley State Park and fossils of the Acrocanthosaurus that once roamed these parts.

Glen Rose is also where the late author John Graves lived and not too far from where he ended his canoe trip down the Brazos River, a solo expedition that formed his classic 1960 travelogue, Goodbye to a River. These days, canoeing sounds as outdated as dinosaurs, but Graves was a philosophic soul who believed the past lived inside the present. So I row my Honda down the auto-river, knowing that wherever I am headed, dinosaurs and native tribes and non-indigenous settlers and curious writers had helped to pave the path.

The Thai Cave Rescue: Miracle At Tham Luang, by Sean Flynn, GQ

Six days after the miracle, when the boys were cocooned in a sterile hospital and the divers had flown home and almost all of the journalists had dispersed, people came to the cave again. There were villagers from the flatlands beneath the Doi Nang Non, the mountains that rise between Thailand and Myanmar, and there were volunteers, hundreds of them in their lemon yellow shirts and sky blue caps, who had been there for most of the 18 days the miracle had required. There were monks, too, at a makeshift dais on the footpath to the cave, and there were dignitaries—local authorities, the families of the boys who'd been blessed by the miracle—in rows of chairs under a long tent.

The people, many of them, brought offerings. Below the mouth of the cave and in front of the big sign that announces the place as Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, in a clearing cut into the dirt at the side of the road, they planted small white pennants and sticks of incense and candles the color of goldenrod. On a table near the monks, they left fish and fruit and the severed heads of pigs.

These were gifts to the spirit of the cave. For almost three weeks, Tham Luang had held within her a dozen young soccer players and their coach, who were trapped by flooding rains without food or water or any possible way to remove themselves. For most of that time, it also was assumed, if rarely spoken aloud, that some of those boys—perhaps all of those boys—could die.

The miracle was that they did not.

Literary Hoaxes And The Ethics Of Authorship, by Louis Menand, New Yorker

This is where Christopher L. Miller’s smart and engaging study, “Impostors: Literary Hoaxes and Cultural Authenticity” (Chicago), enters the conversation. Miller is a literature professor at Yale, so he has been around the “death of the author”/“there is no ‘outside the text’ ” block a few times. He says that he was drawn to the subject of hoaxes because he was interested in the games they play with readers’ expectations—that is, for old-fashioned literature-professor reasons.

But as he was working on the book the world turned, and he realized that fakery is no longer just a classroom sport. “It is harder to see the fun in deception when the fate of the world seems to depend on resisting lies, ‘alternative facts,’ and ‘fake news,’ ” as he puts it. It seems to have taken the election of a man who is the personification of perspectivalism to reset the ethical calibrations of literary criticism.

The Legend Of The Princess Bride, by Yardenne Greenspan, Ploughshares

My first reaction to learning this was a sigh of disappointment. This legendary childhood of Goldman’s never actually existed. This memoir was fiction. This bit of real magic was just plain make-believe, and I had built my ideas of the kind of writer I could be on unsteady ground.

But the next thing I felt was awed. Not the awe inspired by a beautiful personal history, but the kind awakened by an encounter with a truly creative artist. It made the wonder-struck optimism at the heart of the novel even more radiant—while I cannot say whether there was any truth to the personal crisis he depicts, from which his “abridged version” was born, I do know that this feat of innovation burst out of him while he was bedridden, recovering from pneumonia. This world-within-a-world that Goldman created makes The Princess Bride a fairytale wrapped within another fairytale, and subsequently his own life as a writer into the stuff of legends. The power granted to me as a writer had just been upgraded from “chronicler” to “sorceress.”

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism – Review, by Suzanne Moore, The Guardian

The US academic Kristen Ghodsee has lived in several eastern European countries so she doesn’t wear rose-tinted spectacles, acknowledging that Albania and Romania have always been awful places for women, but she seeks with great brio and nuance to lay out what some socialist states achieved for women.

At heart this is about what happens when women are no longer economically dependent on men and childcare is collectivised.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Why Doesn’t America Love The Novella?, by Tobias Carroll, Electric Literature

There are moments when being a lover of literary minimalism can feel like being part of a secret society. A particularly obscure secret society, and one that’s closer in tone to a bizarre eating club than, say, a revolutionary faction looking to burn it all down. Nonetheless, the novella (or short novel; I’ll be using the two interchangeably) can feel like an overlooked form: concise enough to be an exercise in restraint, and yet too short to be deemed commercially viable.

Is Late Night Really ‘Late Night’ If It’s Pretaped?, by Bethy Squires, Vulture

You know the philosophical problem, the ship of Theseus? The one where a famous ship is replaced, board by board, until it’s a matter of metaphysical debate as to whether or not it’s the same ship? Late night is the ship of Theseus: The hosts have changed, the writers have changed, and for the most part, it’s neither produced nor viewed late at night anymore. The ship has the same name, but it’s dry-docked and being used as a novelty restaurant. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I, for one, love restaurants shaped like dumb shit.

One significant change in the history of late night that has been on my mind this week is pretaping. Late-night hosts took a much-deserved vacation during the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving, and they’ve been handling it differently than their forebears would have. Busy Philipps and Stephen Colbert pretaped shows before and after Thanksgiving, respectively. Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers ran reruns. Both options would have been unthinkable a decade or so ago.

Steal This Book, by Daniel Vollaro, The Smart Set

“The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad” I read, “and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior.”

I remember looking up when I read these words to see if anyone was watching me. I was alone, sitting in the English Resource Center, which was a small library controlled by the English teachers in my high school. On most days, there were a handful of students hanging around — all members of an unofficial clique of mostly freshmen and sophomores who liked reading and discussing books. This is where the literary magazine Savannah was cut and pasted together, literally, twice a year, and where six of us hatched a school newspaper in our sophomore year. Kids came to the ERC to read, hang out, think revolutionary thoughts, and practice our best avant-garde poses. There were several second-hand couches and chairs, which together formed a sad little lounge area; an adjoining office with a mimeograph machine, typewriters and filing cabinets; and of course, the books, which were displayed in several creaky free-standing bookshelves that leaned forward from the white-painted cement-block walls, threatening to collapse into the center of the room from the sheer weight of intellectual curiosity. The shelves were jammed with novels and literary nonfiction — some philosophy and history too — and the air in the ERC always carried a faint whiff of paperback, that mouldering acidic smell that any collector of books will immediately recognize. I had thumbed through nearly all of these books, discovering for the first time names like Hemingway, Joyce, T.S. Eliot, E. E. Cummings, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard.

On The Infinite Fault Lines Of Contemporary Life, by Asiya Wadud, Literary Hub

For our entire lives, we advance and retreat, advance and recede across the long plane of our own prismatic geographies. These geographies, multivalent and shifting, bear all of our paths, bear witness to all of our paths, and bear the load of the paths. Some of the routes we take become well-worn because we ferry ourselves across them again and again. Some paths we take only once and perhaps we presume their imprint falls then rests in a gathered heap somewhere in the recesses of our periphery. But I think each of the paths finds a way to engrave itself upon us, embed itself in us, become part of our subcutaneous logic. Sometimes the logic is a fixed engraving onto a firm, certain surface. Sometimes it is onto a mutable object. But always, in our own silos, our own logic becomes calcified, firm, ardent. Every single time we advance, there is a new imprint made, until there is a catalogue of imprints, countless intersection and grids, layered paths that form across the planes of logic, supposition, and summary we inhabit. Even if we take the same course 1,000 times, it’s never exactly the same, there’s always a tiny bit of vagrancy—we stray—somewhere. When we veer from the well-worn path even a little, a new imprint is made to take into account for that meander, that striving.

The Mixed Meanings Of Missing Girls, by Martha Cooley, Los Angeles Review of Books

What does it mean for a person to go missing? And what in particular does it mean when a girl or woman — as opposed to a boy or man — goes missing?

The figure of the missing girl is a familiar one in literature, both ancient and modern. Most narratives of her experience draw upon an implicit premise: unless she’s a young child, the missing female has somehow, without meaning to, provoked her own fate. This capacity to provoke isn’t synonymous with choicefulness, or with personal agency or power. The missing girl’s intentions and desires, her state of mind, her awareness (if any) of her sociopolitical context: little of this bears directly on what occurs when she goes missing. She is someone to whom things happen rather than someone who makes things happen. In effect, she’s a vessel, a carrier of messages.

Why We Sleep, And Why We Often Can’t, by Zoë Heller, New Yorker

Contemporary sleep evangelizers worry a good deal about our social attitudes toward sleep. They worry about many things, of course—incandescent light, L.E.D. light, nicotine, caffeine, central heating, alcohol, the addictive folderol of personal technology—but social attitudes seem to exercise them the most. Deep down, they say, we simply do not respect the human need for repose. We remain convinced, in contradiction of all the available evidence, that stinting on sleep makes us heroic and industrious, rather than stupid and fat.

A Novel About Coming Of Age Amid The Troubles, by Laura Miller, New Yorker

For a novel about life under multifarious forms of totalitarian control—political, gendered, sectarian, communal—“Milkman” can be charmingly wry.

The Tragicomedy Of “Evening In Paradise” By Lucia Berlin, by Dylan Brown, Los Angeles Review of Books

Considered together, the two collections leave little doubt she is one of the greatest American short story writers of the 20th century. That her work went unheralded during her lifetime has numerous likely reasons: sexism, no novels (a grave sin in some publishing circles), alcoholism, and a career with smaller presses. It is a small, but worthwhile, consolation that Berlin has found a readership 10 years after her death — an imperfect and bittersweet success, not unlike many of the pieces in this latest collection. These 22 stories show her startling range and unwavering devotion to remaining open, refusing to judge any of her characters, whether delinquent, conniving, or alcoholic.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

How The Fly Changed David Cronenberg’s Career, by Vrai Kaiser, VRV

The Fly is a nearly perfect horror film—it has tight writing, excellent performances, visceral practical effects, and well-developed themes about the horrors of deteriorative genetic inheritance. It was a breakout performance for Jeff Goldblum and, before that one episode of Rick & Morty, the most likely reason the average moviegoer would know the name “Cronenberg.”

But what many don’t know is how pivotal the film is in Cronenberg’s body of work—re-examining some of the themes of his earlier film The Brood and serving as a turning point for how his movies depicted women.

The Most Wonderful Smelling Time Of The Year, by David George Haskell, New York Times

This season, perhaps we could hear and answer the trees’ invitation: Inhale. Smell the needles, wood, oil and fruit. Then, expand the bounds of ritual and celebration to include the trees and the living Earth to which we belong. In these dark days, it is good to remember that we need one another.

An Introvert’s Guide To Friendship, by Sarah Ruhl, New York Times

When we find the right friend at the right time in our life, or the right teacher, or the right student, our lives are changed forever. Max was the voice that answered back. And he still is.

Lettuce Is Bullshit, by Beth Skwarecki, Lifehacker

Does it bug you that we’re living in a world where even the lettuce threatens our health? I have a solution. Toss out the romaine; dump the iceberg while you’re at it, too. Lettuce is bullshit. Lettuce has always been bullshit. Here’s why.

The Penguin Book Of The Prose Poem, Edited By Jeremy Noel-Tod – Review, by Kate Kellaway, The Guardian

You might think of a prose poem as a bastardised form – neither one thing nor another; a modernist mongrel. But this anthology is an invitation to rethink its place in literature (mongrels are, after all, prized for their intelligence). It is a wonderful book – an invigorating revelation. Jeremy Noel-Tod has done a stupendous job in corralling 200 poems from around the world. His definition of the prose poem boils down to “the simplest common denominator… a poem without line breaks”. Not a single piece here is unworthy of notice and the excitement is that, alongside indispensable familiars – Turgenev, Oscar Wilde, Seamus Heaney, Geoffrey Hill, Czeslaw Milosz – there are many unusual suspects. Noel-Tod maintains that the prose poem “drives the reading mind beyond the city limits”. It does – and its suburbs are extraordinary.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

N.K. Jemisin Is Trying To Keep The World From Ending, by Joshua Rivera, GQ

The most critically acclaimed author in contemporary science fiction and fantasy made history this year. Now she's trying to make the future.

Yes, The Octopus Is Smart As Heck. But Why?, by Carl Zimmer, New York Times

For decades, researchers have studied how certain animals evolved to be intelligent, among them apes, elephants, dolphins and even some birds, such as crows and parrots.

But all the scientific theories fail when it comes to cephalopods, a group that includes octopuses, squid and cuttlefish. Despite feats of creativity, they lack some hallmarks of intelligence seen in other species.

“It’s an apparent paradox that’s been largely overlooked in the past,” said Mr. Amodio. He and five other experts on animal intelligence explore this paradox in a paper published this month in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

What Am I If Not Employed?, by Maryam Banikarim, New York Times

I’ve worked nonstop since I was a teenager. Now, at 50, I’m hitting pause. It feels scary but necessary.

A Life Of Cy Twombly Brings A Poet’s Eye To The Artist’s Mythic Work, by Holland Cotter, New York Times

Some artists — Picasso, say — are limelight junkies. As such, they’re a gift to the popular press and a boon to biographers. Others, for whatever reasons, stay out of sight, keep mum and edit their paper trails. The American artist Cy Twombly, who died in 2011 at 83, held the personal details of his life close to his chest, and his survivors have respected his discretion, making any detailed account of his life almost impossible to write. That hasn’t deterred Joshua Rivkin, a poet and essayist, from trying. “Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly,” the most substantive biography of the artist to date, is the result.

Amparo Dávila's Short Stories Are Beautifully Wrought Nightmares, by Juan Vidal, Los Angeles Times

In a 1984 interview in the Paris Review, novelist Julio Cortázar likened the art of writing fiction to playing a game: “For me, literature is a form of play,” he said. “But I’ve always added that there are two forms of play: football, for example, which is basically a game, and then games that are very profound and serious. … Literature is like that — it’s a game, but it’s a game one can put one’s life into.”

In “The Houseguest and Other Stories,” Amparo Dávila seems to hold to a similar ethos and tradition. It is the first collection by the 90-year-old Mexican writer to appear in English. Translated by Audrey Harris and Matthew Gleeson, Dávila’s stories contain a playfulness that, not unlike the work of Cortázar, can be intense and deeply unsettling in the best ways.

Is Chess A Sport? A New Book Says Yes, by Jonathan Eig, New York Times

We understand why. Chess is intensely cerebral. It drives men mad, as Butler documents in vivid detail. But by remaining so deep in thought, Carlsen and Karjakin shut out their fans, shut out the author and shut out the reader. At the tournament’s end, one man emerges triumphant, or at least relieved, the other dejected. The rest of us watch through one-way glass, unmoved.