Journaling and drawing divinatory cards had both become routine parts of my life earlier that year, when I was fighting psychosis and struggling to make the world cohere; I’d found that tarot and oracle cards offered a decent framework for structuring a fractured existence. Tarot cards vary from deck to deck, depending on the artist and/or creator, but typically follow a seventy-eight-card structure of Major Arcana, consisting of twenty-two archetypes, from The Fool to The World, and Minor Arcana, consisting of four suits of fourteen cards each (Wands, Pentacles, Swords, Cups), from Aces to Kings. Oracle cards offer more variety; their content and theme depend entirely upon the creator. The one I primarily used that winter had watercolor illustrations: “Redefine Boundaries,” read one card; “Higher Self,” read another. Whichever card I drew served a double purpose, foreshadowing how the day might take shape and also giving me a shape with which to understand the events of the day. And on that day in 2013, I could see with what some call clairvoyance.
But the day went on, and the strange ability left me incrementally, as though a heavy curtain were dropping, until when I closed my eyes there was only darkness. If I close my eyes right now, I still see only this ordinary darkness.
It's not unusual for Dutch patients with dementia to request euthanasia, but in the later stages of the disease they may be incapable of reconfirming their consent - one doctor is currently facing prosecution in such a case. But fear of being refused is pushing some to ask to die earlier than they would have liked.
If the people you’re spending the weekend with don’t understand that you just need a time-out with some ink on paper, then you’re not likely to want to get lit with them anyway. Am I right or am I right?
It's always interesting, as readers, to see what we remember about books years after we've read them. I recall reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger several years after it came out, and loving it — for the romance, yes, and its variously tragic and joyful twists and turns, but mostly because I was so impressed with the complexity of the time travel narrative, the way its pieces fit together. In other words, what's remained with me are the book's mechanics. Mike Chen's debut novel, Here and Now and Then, is also about time travel and includes a romance or two, but these elements feel almost secondary, despite being necessary for the plot. At its core, Chen's book is really about the prides and perils of parenthood, and I'm certain that's what I'll always remember about it.
When you’re inside the protected bubble of “movie”—when that bubble exists to enclose and enchant people like you—it can be hard to see what and who has been left on the outside. What this seductive yet at times repellent book never fully grapples with is the privilege required to grant yourself that innocence.
Staring out the window of a plane
there is a certain uniformity to the world.
Confusing city scapes become
ceramic tile countertops
and farmland turns into an
autumn-colored watercolor canvas.
HIV is used as a weapon, but not usually by the people who carry it.
There is a type of book, I find, that falls in this category: books that resist you. This is different from books you think are bad, or books you don’t want to read. These are books you want to read, but for some reason are unable to. These are books that, if anything, you somehow fail, not being up to the task.
Readers of detective fiction look forward to a big reveal: Whodunit? Readers of campus fiction hold out for a quieter pleasure. If a character is an academic, at some point the author will divulge the topic of the character’s book or dissertation. Generally speaking, writers don’t let this opportunity go to waste. You know how dogs look like their owners? The bouncy, athletic guy matches his golden retriever, and the tall, skinny lady with a long nose, her greyhound? Likewise, fictional academics resemble their work.
Perhaps because creative writers have reductive opinions of their scholarly counterparts, though, the question What breed is this academic? tends to yield one of only two answers. Many works in progress expose that the academic is a Tesman or a Lovborg.
How difficult is it for a story to move continents? One of Sherlock Holmes’ early Chinese translators, Cheng Xiaoqing (1893–1976), decided to find out, appropriating both the style and characters of the famous detective stories in Sherlock in Shanghai: Stories of Crime and Detection (translated by Timothy C. Wong). Cheng transplanted Sherlock Holmes from the foggy streets of 19th century London to his own Republic-era Shanghai. Calm, intellectual, and addicted to tobacco, Cheng’s protagonist Huo Sang is instantly recognizable as Holmes; the stories’ faithful narrator Bao Lang plays the part of Watson.
Despite the vast difference in context, the stories follow patterns that will be familiar to any Conan Doyle aficionado: the mysterious crime, the unexpected twists in narrative, and the bumbling local police force who invariably pursue the wrong suspect. Jewels go missing at society balls, blood drips from ceilings, and murders are not all that they seem. Huo Sang smokes Golden Dragon cigarettes and plays the violin, using his powers of deduction to unravel impossible cases. But these stories also touch on issues more specific to Cheng’s own lifetime, like corrupt officials and the rate of social change in areas such as marriage.
To converts, almond and oat milk are the next wave in a fundamental shift towards a more conscious, sustainable way of living. To critics, they’re little more than cleverly marketed nut juice with additives – a symptom of everything that’s wrong with modern food culture. And so a strange battle has emerged, between an industry trying to replace something it says we don’t need in the first place, and dairy, a business that for a century sold itself as the foundation of a healthy diet, while ignoring the fact that most of the world does just fine without it.
While China does produce lots of poultry, many of their chicken paws are exported to richer East Asian countries such as Korea and Japan. This lets them command higher prices, writes researcher Xiaosi Yang. Meanwhile, billions of American chicken paws are worth next to nothing in their country of origin. Yet they can be sold in China, where even a low price means the seller can extract profit from an otherwise worthless byproduct.
While it might seem like a home run for free trade, the United States and China have turned the international chicken paw trade into a subject of diplomatic wrangling, retaliatory tariffs, and even formal complaints to the World Trade Organization. Years before trade wars were the talk of Twitter, chicken feet were stirring up talk of unfair trade practices and reciprocity.
There’s a lot to process here, but Cander is a smart, deft storyteller who holds her Scriabin-worthy tale together. She understands how something as beloved as a piano can actually be a burden.
She also understands the inner workings of a Blüthner, just as she seems to understand carburetors and brakes. I’d probably let her work on my piano — or my car.
In his third book, The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution, he deploys fascinating facts of natural history and genetics as he enters a debate staked out centuries ago by Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (among other philosophers), and still very much alive today: how to understand the conjunction of fierce aggression and cooperative behavior in humans. Why are we so much less violent day-to-day within our communities (in pretty much all cultures) than our closest primate relatives, chimpanzees, are within theirs? At the same time, how is it that human violence directed toward perceived enemy groups has been so destructive?
This book about the commercial takeover of the news business is sure to make a lot of powerful people very angry. Jill Abramson takes an unsparing look at US journalism’s moral decline; as former executive editor of the New York Times, she is someone who knows where most of the bodies are buried and is prepared to draw the reader a detailed map. Names are named, mistakes are exposed, and the writing is unforgiving and unadorned, as befits a woman with “balls like iron cantaloupes”, as one veteran journalist tells her. It is a cracking read, and a complicated one, flawed in many places yet absorbing in its frank desire to hold journalism to account for becoming overly willing to sell out to advertisers and thereby endangering its own future.
“Good luck with your dad,” he replied, leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette.
“Still,” he raised his eyebrows at me, “good luck with your dad.”
“It’s fiction.” I smiled through gritted teeth. He shrugged.
“We’re doing better now,” I admitted, and walked away. Immediately, I wished I’d made up something to embarrass him instead of acquiescing — told him my dad had died, or left my family when I was young.
The first time someone asked me if my novel, “Talent,” had “screen potential,” I was living in Los Angeles. I thought the question was a quirk of the place—a city where most writers are screenwriters and lots of people are paid to read novels instrumentally, with an eye to adaptation. So I laughed and said something to the effect of “you tell me.” My novel contains footnotes and the rambling notebook entries of a made-up author; it does not contain meet-cute sex or much in the way of nonverbal excitement. How’s that for an elevator pitch?
But the Hollywood lens was not specific to Hollywood.
But the blood in vegetarian burgers is too richly symbolic to be dismissed as a gesture of verisimilitude. Should we take it as a sign of atonement, an acknowledgment that we have repented and been granted forgiveness? Or is it a gothic reminder of our ecological sins—an indelible stain, like the blood Lady Macbeth cannot wash from her hands?
Much more than a fancy way to say “parmesan”, Parmigiano-Reggiano is a cheese that can only be made with extremely precise ingredients, in an extraordinarily particular process, in a 10,000-sq-km geographical area of Italy so carefully defined that you can make Parmigiano on one side of the small city of Bologna but not the other.
The result of all that labour and legality is – as many cooks, nutritionists and Italians alike will tell you – a practically perfect food.
I wound up hiking Mt. Brandon by accident. But it is an accident in the same way a traveler stumbles on ruins he didn’t know he was looking for. On Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula, they say you don’t get lost, you discover. And wherever you go, someone has been there before, walking.
So it was with me. While meandering along Slea Head Drive, stopping to take in the coastal views and ruins, I passed the sign for Mt. Brandon. It was late afternoon, still lots of daylight left. No need to return to Dingle just yet. So I turned around and followed the sign to the foot of the mountain.
All day I saw it looming over the peninsula, snow on its flanks, peak in the clouds, a presence. At the trailhead, the gentle slope looked enticing. I could start walking up the trail right now, I thought, the way people have done for hundreds of years.
My six-year-old said “I don’t know time.” She already knows it’s unknowable. Let it be always a stranger she walks wide around.
Before Harry Potter and his friends bewitched my boyhood, I was enchanted by a different set of adventures: those of the teenage sleuths Frank and Joe Hardy, more famously known as the Hardy Boys. And why wouldn’t I be? Their namesake books, which were written by Franklin W. Dixon and debuted in 1927, feature suspenseful titles such as What Happened at Midnight, Footprints Under the Window, and The Haunted Fort, which are brought to life with vibrant cover art and dramatic frontispieces. Within the slight volumes themselves, the young detectives, who are often joined by their friends, solve mysteries in the fictional town of Bayport. As a 7-year-old, I felt the books extended an invitation, a promise: You, too, can save the day.
But as I continued to read the series through middle school and into high school, I began to notice that the beloved franchise’s world—where black characters are a rarity and obviously gay characters are nonexistent—wasn’t much like the one I lived in. Not every book can represent every reader’s personal experience, of course. But beyond the fun exploits, the enduring appeal of the Hardy Boys series, and the reason it has sold more than 70 million copies, stems from its broad relatability. That is, the books take seriously the fact that growing up often means having boundless curiosity, challenging authority, and wrestling with questions of good versus evil.
In some scientific quarters, this Comtean notion of how science evolves and progresses remains common currency. But philosophers of science, over the past half-century, have turned against the representation of science as a ceaseless forward march toward truth. It is just not how science works, how it moves through history. It flies in the face of the wonderful and subtle historical nuances of how scientific revolutions have in fact occurred. It does not accommodate how some of the greatest scientific minds held dearly to some false beliefs. It wilfully ignores the many voices, disagreements and controversies through which scientific knowledge has often advanced and progressed over time. Simple faith in the ‘Whiggish’ narrative of science naively presumes that progress is marked by some cumulative acquisition of ‘more true beliefs’.
However, many (and legitimate in their own right) criticisms against this naive view of science have committed a similar mistake. They have offered a portrait of science purged of any commitment to truth. They see truth as an inconvenient and disposable feature of science. Fraught as the ideal and pursuit of truth is with tendencies to petty doctrinairism, it is nonetheless a mistake to try to purge it. The fallacy of positivist philosophy was to think of science as coming in stages of some sort, or following a particular path, or historical cycles. The anti-truth trend in the philosophy of science has often ended up repeating this same misstep. It is important to move beyond the sterile dichotomy between the old (quasi-positivist) view of truth in science and the rival anti-truth trend of recent decades.
In the year 2514, some future scientist will arrive at the University of Edinburgh (assuming the university still exists), open a wooden box (assuming the box has not been lost), and break apart a set of glass vials, in order to grow the 500-year-old dried bacteria inside. This all assumes the entire experiment has not been forgotten, the instructions have not been garbled, and science—or some version of it—still exists in 2514.
By then, the scientists who dreamed up this 500-year experiment, Rolf Möller, a microbiologist at the German Aerospace Center, and his U.K. and American collaborators, will be long dead. They’ll never know the answers to the questions that intrigued them back in 2014, about the longevity of bacteria.
People eat at Prince’s because of the chicken but also because of the story behind it. Jeffries has spent the better part of her adulthood recounting the legend, for she inherited both the recipe (which is secret) and the family lore (which is unverifiable). In the nineteen-thirties, her great-uncle Thornton Prince III was a handsome pig farmer and fond of women. One Saturday night, he dragged home late, angering his girlfriend. The next day, Prince asked her to make his favorite food, fried chicken. The girlfriend complied, but with a furious twist: she saturated the bird in cayenne pepper and other spices.
No doubt, Prince was expected to suffer, and did—but he also enjoyed the experience. He began replicating the spicy fried chicken and selling it on weekends, out of his home. He eventually opened a small restaurant, the BBQ Chicken Shack, which became beloved in the black community. It became popular with white people, too, especially after the restaurant moved to a location near the Grand Ole Opry. Under Jim Crow, the Princes were not free to dine wherever and however they wanted, or to use the front door of white establishments, but they never told their own customers where to sit or what door to use. The matter handled itself: black patrons sat up front; whites entered through the back door and sat in back.
In any event, a book that ties the reader up in such moral knots is a book worth reading, no matter how displeasing the reading experience may be. And it is. The characters’ illnesses are well-described, their depravities carefully delineated, their crimes docketed without fail. Enlightenment through suffering necessarily entails suffering, and this book bears a lot of it. Plus, the ideas in it are so heavy, and so imbricated, that reading the book is an intense, blinkered experience. Even if you’ve put the book down, your emotions haven’t really let go, and your mind keeps working at its contradictions.
Since a book like Thirty-Seven requires so much investment from the reader, its author damn well better know what he’s doing. Stenson does; his craft is as finely honed as a sushi knife. He is capable of registers ranging from Talley’s like-whatever delivery to a psychiatrist’s dry patience. The dialogue is sharp and rapid-fire, the kind that’s realistic without being burdened by idiom:
Backlash is an honest, smart, and thoughtful book, but some white readers will have problems with it, not merely because of the difficult self-analysis it demands of them. Yancy’s arguments are highly conceptual, based on relational understandings of self that derive from his academic training in philosophy. He largely dispenses with the kinds of statistics usually used to illustrate the systemic disadvantages black people face in America — educational disparities, racial bias in prison populations, the lack of representation in certain economic and cultural spheres. I don’t mean to say that Yancy doesn’t provide compelling evidence, but this evidence is so complex and theoretical that the average white reader might not be willing to do the mental work required to fully grasp his premise.
‘Being good with quotations means avoiding having to think for oneself,” observes the narrator of Optic Nerve, a seductively clever debut novel about an art historian who sees her life through the paintings and artists who enthral her.
Charly Cox is explaining why she thinks her poetry is so popular with young women. “It’s a really difficult age to articulate how you’re feeling,” she says. “We’re all so stressed out. We’re so confused, so lonely. Poetry is an incredible form of solace. If you encounter something in a poem that you feel you’re feeling, it is a freeing, lovely experience.”
The problem is in full focus this week after news of layoffs at three major media companies. While a lot of the attention is focused on national players HuffPost and BuzzFeed, the cuts at Gannett are the most worrisome, because it is one of the last big newspaper chains that has properties in markets of all size.
That the Gannett news is not a red-alert story in the U.S. reflects a misunderstanding of the major problems facing American newspaper companies, an economic story that goes back further than the advent of the public internet in the 1990s. But it’s a story Americans need to know and understand better, because the news crisis you keep hearing about is a local problem. If you think there’s corruption in D.C., what’s happening at City Hall is often worse—and in more and more places, there’s no longer anyone paid to root it out.
“Could I get a program, please?”
You can feel the bafflement percolating in the audience when ushers have nothing to give out before a performance in New York. We theatergoers have gotten used to the fact that some shows don’t want us getting our paws on a playbill until afterward — they don’t want us distracted, maybe, or a surprise spoiled — but the new twist is no program at all.
At least not one we can hold in our hands.
For all the millions of words that have been written about the second world war, there is an extraordinary level of agreement about much of the story. The rise of nazism in Germany in the 1930s, for example, is nearly always seen as inexorable and unstoppable. This account is, however, challenged in this book, which was the surprise winner of the 2017 Prix Goncourt – the most prestigious French literary prize – but which was already a bestseller by the time that jury came to make up its mind. It sold so well partly because it is a tightly paced and gripping read, but also because – as Vuillard has made clear in interviews – it is supposed be a book about the present as well as the past.
For Rajesh, the romance of train travel does indeed live on, “in the passengers who would always tell their story to strangers, offer advice, share their food, and give up their seats”. Unexpected acts of kindness and generosity of spirit create a unique sense of community, “like we are a train family”, as one traveller tells her in Thailand.
She glimpses an enthralling swirl of cultures and landscapes on a journey filled with memorable brief encounters: “Trains are rolling libraries of information, and all it takes is to reach out to passengers to bind together their tales.”
I picked up All Systems Red on a Wednesday morning, meaning to read for five minutes, maybe ten. I'd picked it because there was a mean-looking robot on the cover and, obviously, I have a weakness for robot stories. Also, because it had the word "Murderbot" right there under the picture. All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries. And I was thinking to myself, "Well, hey. If someone is brave enough to put the word Murderbot right there on the cover — so unafraid of the schlock connotations, so willing to be lumped into the shallow end of the sci-fi trope pool — then I'm gonna have a look."
Weird thing happened next: The book, somehow, glued itself to my hand. It was short, sure, but it was also ... compulsive. Novellas, when done well, are like the oversized appetizer of the literary world — like a giant plate of chicken wings or some little fried things with crab. They're fun, They're fast and they offer simple, easily digestible pleasures.
The belittling of needlework clearly rankles with Hunter, who points out that although textile-production has been crucial to industrial development and embroidery was a well-recompensed high art during the Middle Ages, sewing has since been trivialised precisely because it's been relegated to the female and domestic spheres. By Victorian times, the once prestigious craft of tailoring was being ridiculed as effeminate and even the great Bayeux tapestry was derided as “rudely worked with figures worthy of a girl's sampler”.
Yet as Hunter points out, the unobtrusive nature of sewing meant that oppressed women have often used tapestry and embroidery to make their voices heard. The exiled Mary Queen of Scots displayed her regal birthright by embellishing her clothes with emblems, ciphers and coats of arms. Much later, the painstakingly crafted banners held aloft by suffragettes were a deliberate subversion of the “gentle” feminine arts.
That September night—once the homework was done and my laundry was safely on spin cycle—I made the lonely walk across the empty quad. Yet with each step it seemed to grow more populated, one silhouette after another springing forth beneath the street lights.
Maybe there were six of us in all, all budding writers whose love for the written word far surpassed our ability to actually write them. Undeterred, we’d stuffed our pockets with our poems anyway, and then—just hours after our coded, hushed whispers had been tendered and received—began our trek to poet Carl Sandburg’s birthplace, just a mile or so off campus.
When Christy Collins’ daughter was born, the doctors were baffled. The baby’s body was larger on one side than the other, and her skin was covered with unusual birthmarks. The girl had low muscle tone and fluid in her lungs, and her legs felt doughy to the touch. But why? Medical experts could not say.
This was the beginning of Collins’ journey to find her daughter’s diagnosis. A freelance web developer, Collins already had two healthy children from uneventful pregnancies and was completely new to the disability world. Her journey over the next eight months would span multiple clinics, countless websites, and even continents before yielding answers. Just a few decades ago, children with seemingly undiagnosable conditions—children like her little girl—received a catchall label of “multiple disabilities” without further investigation. But things have changed.
In her new book, Emily Bernard writes she is “most interested in blackness at its borders, where it meets whiteness, in fear and hope, in anguish and love.” She examines this intersection closely, with her own life as a case study, to see where the pieces fit together neatly like a puzzle, and where their edges collide. The result is the collection of deeply personal essays in Black is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine.
Eamonn Forde has been writing about the music industry for nearly 20 years. Though slightly sullied by an opening section that spurns laying out the reasons why EMI was a household name in favour of business arcana, his account of what happened next is an addictive blend of tragedy, comedy and insight.
To step inside Viviana Peretti’s camera obscura is to witness the very process by which memory is made. The poetic beauty of the photographs she creates feels unmediated; one after another, these raw and delicate images carry us back into our own deep past. They speak to the earliest days of our own individual experience, a pre-verbal time when knowledge was unformulated, before we had tools like art and language with which to make sense of the world.
But eight years since Reynolds first made his case, much of this freeze-dried nostalgia functions within a transformed media landscape: rock-bottom distribution costs (YouTube + wifi = infinite access), and the concurrent flattening of all media services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu) have created a unique and unforeseeable explosion of content. Call it the single most plentiful moment in consumer history. And don’t downplay the notion that the end user has, for perhaps the first time, a supreme advantage: free music flows at our fingertips, while artists and labels clamor for our attention. This past fall, Apple Records released two deluxe Beatles box sets of material from 1968 and 1971 in a furious pas de deux between the band’s interests (the White Album, hitched to both Paul McCartney’s and Ringo Starr’s neverending oldies tours) and Yoko Ono’s response (John Lennon’s Imagine — The Ultimate Collection, to celebrate its 47th birthday). A gajillion cynics rolled their eyes, as scholars and Fab-heads dug back in.
The “glass-half-full” response to Retromania’s relentless examples might include how durable an aesthetic the 1960s offered us, even as it paraded as gleeful, spontaneous, completely unpredictable, and organic to its particular historical moment. The music itself has not only moored radio for decades but also opened up the style for boomer progeny, inviting everybody to hear gospel and R&B, rockabilly, and country-and-western ancestors with new ears.
Lots of people are joining me out there: this is the state's most traveled piece of rural asphalt, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation. But the state's busiest freeway is also its most reviled, crossing what many consider swaths of unattractive scrublands and cheerless little offramp villages. "At night and with a six pack," is how one historian friend of mine—a great lover of this state—described his only preferred way to travel I-10.
Nobody writes a poem to this section of expressway, completed in the heyday of the optimism of the Kennedy-Johnson New Frontier between 1961-1971. I have lived in both Phoenix and Tucson off and on and have probably traversed this road more than 800 times, looking at the same sunbaked landmarks and thinking the same reliable thoughts: about old friends, old happenings, old mysteries of my life here. How many others mark their I-10 journeys with a mental libretto of musings on the roadside spectacle?
“For the last few years, the only reason this place still existed is because we loved it,” said Sebastian Junger, a co-owner of the Half King, longtime war journalist and author of “The Perfect Storm.” “We wanted to take one last stand against the ‘generification’ of New York City. It finally got to the point that we were actively losing money and we just couldn’t sustain that for very long. I can’t imagine opening another bar, because we’d face the same headwinds that this one is being forced closed by.”
While not the only bar in New York City that caters to the arts — KGB Bar still hosts regular readings and bars like the Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor in Greenwich Village organize art exhibits — it filled a unique niche.
They come two by two, sometimes solo, or in fours, key card in hand, to the small room on the 10th floor of Hotel 3232. Some know what to expect, but others are in for a surprise.
One couple came on their anniversary, a gift from husband to wife, and riding up in the elevator she wondered if he was taking her to a sex party. She was relieved to find that where the bed would normally be was a sushi bar — and behind it the exuberant, wisecracking chef David Bouhadana.
Over the telephone, Wells, who divides his time between Berlin and the Bavarian countryside, described how composing “The End of Loneliness” changed his outlook both as a writer and a human being. In his previous novels he said that he had tended to wield “irony and sarcasm and to look away like most people from loss and loneliness and death.” But that this time he deliberately “wanted to confront death again and again,” to explore how people find the courage to cope with it.
My father would come back in the still dead of the night and eat eggs— one after another— while
my mother watched in silence. What do you say to someone who has been gone for that long?
“I never read introductions,” says Rose, the younger of my two daughters. She thinks it over for a second, frowns; the statement doesn’t quite ring true. She amends it: “Well, I’ve read two,” she says. One turns out to be Jack Kerouac’s introduction to Robert Frank’s The Americans, required reading for a photography class: “But it was fine because I like his style.” The other is Sherman Alexie’s introduction to his own The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (a favorite book, and author, of Rose’s), because “it felt like it would be rude not to.”
I suspect that my daughter’s antipathy toward introductions (we did not discuss postscripts) is fairly common among avid readers. People who never bother to read what is more properly styled as a foreword (in which one writer presents the work of another) or a preface (in which the writer herself, often retrospectively, reflects on her own work) are likely as numerous as people who don’t bother with user manuals before launching the software application or powering up the widget.
Criticism of the liberal mainstream has been a part of New Atheism’s identity since it first appeared nearly two decades ago. Yet in presenting themselves as the defenders of reasoned argument against the various forces of ideological conviction, the New Atheists also unwittingly reflect some of elite liberalism’s deepest instincts. The movement’s rightward journey from the cutting edge of anti-Bush liberalism to the fringes of today’s “intellectual dark web,” moreover, reveals a striking divergence over the meaning of liberalism itself. Is “true” liberalism grounded on reason alone, or can it be, as some on the liberal left have insisted in recent years, made consistent with a politics of conviction?
It’s not a route for the faint of heart. But I did it. And my fuel was the one thing that unites the disparate communities along the way — chile.
Chile peppers are the Southwest’s most famous gastronomic expression: grown and packed and used for decoration, grilled and dried and frozen, and eaten all year in the region. On I-25, however, “chile” is as varied as the land and people. It’s the pepper, for sure, but also a salsa that can be as thick as gravy or as thin as water, mellow or scorching. “Chile” also appears as a cheeseburger, a snack, a meat rub. A full meal or an appetizer. A bowl or a plate. A soup or chicken-fried steak or burrito drowned (“smothered” in local parlance) in it. Red or green chile or both, a style called “Christmas.” Dessert. Heritage. Life.
For a newspaper editor heading into the new news century, deathwatch beetles were everywhere, but so was possibility. Rusbridger wants us to know what it felt like to work inside a news organization during this era, and his painstaking account is fascinating, even for those of us who lived both the peril and the promise. The rapid technology changes, collapsing business model, 9/11, media convergence, paywall wars, dawn of social media, rise of the “citizen journalist” and more are here valuably detailed by a gifted reporter focused on the story of his own profession. All around him was shiny invention but it wielded a double-edged sword. In discovering Google News, one of his colleagues “self-mockingly responded by slumping across his desk in a pose that suggested there was little point in carrying on,” Rusbridger writes. “How could one compete with this all-seeing eye on the world, hoovering up anything that happens, anywhere on the planet and alerting users within minutes in a remorseless perpetuum mobile of breaking information?”
It is part of the human experience to slowly realize we are each an isolated mind in a sea of other isolated minds, and then to spend our lives trying to cross the mighty gulfs between ourselves and others, striving to make a connection. Everybody wants to be found. So it’s natural, as our science has progressed, that the human race should project its collective hopes onto the cosmos and see if anyone else is reaching out to us. The last century is permeated with science fiction of alien visitors, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (or SETI) is the manifestation of our hopes that someone out there is trying to find us. So great is our desire for contact, we instinctually see aliens in emissions of radiation, in planetary landscapes, and in comets on hyperbolic trajectories. In a sense, we anthropomorphize the universe.
If Merchants of Truth had focused on the Times and the Post alone, it would have been an excellent contribution to the history of journalism. So why did Abramson step out of her zone of expertise to profile digital media? It’s tempting to see the answer in the circumstances of her own career. If the younger generation suffers from a lack of traditional newsroom training in fairness and ethics and reporting, then the loss of Jill Abramson means something.
Of course, losing her did mean something to many people at the Times. But Abramson’s narrative insists on a meeting of the personal and the historical, when her ouster could more easily be chalked up to factors that are as timeless as they are petty: the machinations of an underling, say, who wants to be king. What we’re left with is half of a great book, and half of a book that recommends to other late-career journalists that they take their inheritors seriously. The digital natives now have loud voices, magnified by the authority of their political convictions. You have to meet change on its level—especially if you’re trying to sell the truth.
Fannie wanted her family to make full and forthright use of the opportunities that her profits made possible, but the source of those profits had to stay hidden. She taught her five children to keep their heads up and their mouths shut.
“The World According to Fannie Davis” is a daughter’s gesture of loving defiance, an act of reclamation, an absorbing portrait of her mother in full. “The fact that Mama gave us an unapologetically good life by taking others’ bets on three-digit numbers,” Davis writes, “is the secret I’ve carried with me.” Blending memoir and social history, she recounts her mother’s extraordinary story alongside the larger context of Motor City’s rise and fall.
I watch the flood splash & truck
by my first-floor window
before I see Gawd strut by
with Her iron & forty ounce.
What I don’t know about short stories could fill a book. Two books, actually, so far. When I teach, I’m always striving to explain what a short story is, usually by comparing it to something it surely is not. As a teacher (as well as a writer), I love metaphor, which might not speak well of me. It’s like talking to someone who won’t stop doing impressions. I love impressions, too. I love all imitations of greatness. A short story is a single instrument upon which any piece of music may be played; a novel is an orchestra, every song and every sound. A short story is the fin cutting the ocean’s surface that lets you feel and fear the shark beneath; a novel’s the entire Atlantic. A short story is an optical illusion: the hag and then the young beauty and then the hag again, the hag eyeballing you uncannily, the beauty always turning away. Or a vase, and then two faces in profile about to kiss and never getting there. A novel — well, it’s any number of old hags and young beauties and old beauties and young hags and, chances are, a fair number of kisses.
The good news? A growing number of SF authors are talking about climate change overtly, imagining futures full of flooded cities, droughts, melting icecaps, and other disasters. Amazon.com lists 382 SF books with the keyword “climate” from 2018, versus 147 in 2013 and just 22 in 2008. Some great recent books dealing with the effects of environmental disasters include Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City, Edan Lepucki’s California, Cindy Pon’s Want, Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. It’s simply not true, as Amitav Ghosh has suggested, that contemporary fiction hasn’t dealt with climate issues to any meaningful degree.
But we need to do more, because speculative fiction is uniquely suited to help us imagine what’s coming, and to motivate us to mitigate the effects before it’s too late.
There are phrases people tell librarians that raise my hackles every time. “My fines pay your salary” is absolutely one of them (thanks for the 15 cents, Brenda, I’ll try not to spend it all in one place). “Isn’t print dead?” is another (please stop saying this, don’t say this to anyone, ever again, I’m banning this phrase forever, amen). I especially loathe hearing “It must be so nice to have a job where you can read all day.” A big part of my job is working with the collection, sure, but that doesn’t mean I’m lounging behind a desk leafing through a big stack of novels—absolutely not! I save those massive to-be-read piles for home, where they can tower menacingly next to my bed, threatening to fall over and crush me to death at any given moment.
Since I’m a writer, a particular phrase I often hear is “librarianship must give you so much fodder for your work.” I mean, hey, they’re not wrong! Here I am, writing you all a column every other week about libraries! I’m writing about what I experience in my work life. I’m writing about what I know (or what I’m thinking about, God knows I never feel like I really know anything). Librarianship is a huge part of my life, so it’s absolutely gonna factor into my work.
At the start of each year, Southern California gets a glimpse into a future of rising seas, through an annual event called the king tide. On that day, the sun, moon and Earth align to create a heavy gravitational pull, leading to the highest tides of the year. If “king tide” sounds ominous, that’s because it is, particularly for a city like Imperial Beach, a small coastal town near the Mexican border surrounded by water on three sides: San Diego Bay to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Tijuana River Delta to the south.
In 2010, a powerful El Niño storm hurled the king tide over Imperial Beach’s sand berms and onto Seacoast Drive, where the city’s higher-priced condos are located. In 2015, another El Niño year, the king tide raised the surf from 3 to 7 feet, tearing sand away from the beach and flooding the city with salt water that soaked the streets for days.
Currently an anomaly, the king tide is a portent of things to come. Researchers warn that, due to myriad factors including the Earth’s rotation, California will deal with even higher sea-level rise than other locations, as the atmosphere and oceans warm. The oceans are now rising at a faster rate than any time since the last Ice Age, about half an inch or more per decade. While much of this is understood by researchers and informed readers, very little has been done by coastal cities to confront this slow-moving catastrophe. That is what makes Imperial Beach so interesting. Here, at the southernmost beach town in California, in an obscure corner of the United States, one small city is asking: What if we just got out of nature’s way?
I awoke from a dream this morning in which I was at the Breslin for one of their ten-person whole-pig dinners, except I was the only guest — it was sad, it was just the two of us, with sides. So began the first day of eating.
I don’t really eat breakfast during the week, but walk to work instead. My route today took me past Augustine, where I imagined ordering their egg-in a-hole, which I had once, but continued along Nassau Street, past Pisillo Italian Café, famous for its Panini #26. At the corner I had a change of heart and turned back. I returned to snag that Pisillo pistachio croissant in the window and walked it to work.
The chef Timmy Kang is a rising star in the culinary world, known as much for his reputation as an enfant terrible as his innovative cooking. Now, thanks to the success of his restaurant Moo Moo, the radical chef has proven that he can do haute cuisine without compromising his vision or his nap schedule.
He is four years old.
As the title alerts us, this book takes place in a territory beyond reason, in all its connotations — beyond explanation or understanding. The mother does not require them. In the final reckoning, there is nothing she needs from Nikolai other than his company, his ghost; to carry him for a moment more, to keep the story going.
“We once gave Nikolai a life of flesh and blood; and I’m doing it over again, this time by words,” she writes. “Where else can we meet but in stories now?”
Diverting and often amusing as it can be to join Power on her George Plimpton-like adventure through some of the classics of self-help, readers won’t have trouble anticipating the happy ending. It involves nature and friends and a baby (not her own). Lesson learned: Happiness comes from appreciating the little things. “Now it was time to stop thinking about myself, to look out rather than in. To live life rather than analyze it.”
Unless there’s an offer for a sequel. Then all bets are off.
Set in Pakistan in the year 2000, Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable is a faithful retelling of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—down to the naming of its characters. The Pakistani Binats are the new Bennetts; Alys is the new Lizzie, and Darsee the new Darcy. The plot, too, hews pointedly close to the Austenian original. But even as Kamal consciously retraces the storylines of Pride and Prejudice, she explores new thematic terrain, as defined in her novel’s two epigraphs.
It’s fall, & my mother meant to die. Gallons of wine & cartons of cigarettes amount to suicide.
In a dim corner of my local bus interchange is a pub, a pub wherein I spent a laborious year behind the bar. This pub – let’s call it Pub C – which always teetered precariously on the brink of financial collapse – and maybe actual collapse – was propped up by a set of regulars, countable on one’s fingers. Serving these regulars was my first genuine encounter with alcoholics. Their alcoholism was not the passing alcoholism of university debauchery, the standard three-year crash course in hangover cures and morning after pills. Theirs was a grim and lonely alcoholism, more tragic affliction than youthful miscalculation.
Alcoholics are the ideal literary subject. For it is alcohol, readily available and socially acceptable, that everyone, from the shitkicker upwards, has easy access to. In the pages of literature, it will ruin the lives of consuls, mayors, the already down and out, private investigators and law students to name just a few. Their fall from top to bottom or top-of-the-bottom to bottom-of-the-bottom is a readymade tragedy.
The Worcester Sunday Telegram was founded in 1884, when a telegram meant something fast. Two years later, it became a daily. It was never a great paper but it was always a pretty good paper: useful, gossipy, and resolute. It cultivated talent. The poet Stanley Kunitz was a staff writer for the Telegram in the nineteen-twenties. The New York Times reporter Douglas Kneeland, who covered Kent State and Charles Manson, began his career there in the nineteen-fifties. Joe McGinniss reported for the Telegram in the nineteen-sixties before writing “The Selling of the President.” From bushy-bearded nineteenth-century politicians to baby-faced George W. Bush, the paper was steadfastly Republican, if mainly concerned with scandals and mustachioed villains close to home: overdue repairs to the main branch of the public library, police raids on illegal betting establishments—“Worcester Dog Chases Worcester Cat Over Worcester Fence,” as the old Washington press-corps joke about a typical headline in a local paper goes. Its pages rolled off giant, thrumming presses in a four-story building that overlooked City Hall the way every city paper used to look out over every city hall, the Bat-Signal over Gotham.
Most newspapers like that haven’t lasted. Between 1970 and 2016, the year the American Society of News Editors quit counting, five hundred or so dailies went out of business; the rest cut news coverage, or shrank the paper’s size, or stopped producing a print edition, or did all of that, and it still wasn’t enough. The newspaper mortality rate is old news, and nostalgia for dead papers is itself pitiful at this point, even though, I still say, there’s a principle involved. “I wouldn’t weep about a shoe factory or a branch-line railroad shutting down,” Heywood Broun, the founder of the American Newspaper Guild, said when the New York World went out of business, in 1931. “But newspapers are different.” And the bleeding hasn’t stopped. Between January, 2017, and April, 2018, a third of the nation’s largest newspapers, including the Denver Post and the San Jose Mercury News, reported layoffs. In a newer trend, so did about a quarter of digital-native news sites. BuzzFeed News laid off a hundred people in 2017; speculation is that BuzzFeed is trying to dump it. The Huffington Post paid most of its writers nothing for years, upping that recently to just above nothing, and yet, despite taking in a hundred and forty-six million dollars in advertising revenue in 2018, it failed to turn a profit.
Almost everything about losing my voice was ironic. I’m a comedy writer, and my voice loss coincided with the virtual dissolution of my writing career and, with it, my sense of humour. The story actually begins with a humour piece I wrote for The Walrus in December 2007, which led to me being courted by two international literary agents, one from New York City and one from London (UK!). Both encouraged me to write a funny book that they would help sell.
The timing seemed positively karmic, as I had recently suffered a career-slash-nervous breakdown as a result of being trapped in a codependent work relationship with a TV writer/producer I had allowed to run my life for over two years. The promise of one day maybe becoming head writer on the show we were developing had lured me. She had no boundaries when it came work, calling me at all hours of the day, including weekends, to discuss scripts or her latest brainstorm. As a conflict-averse WASP (tautology noted), I had no idea how to stand up to her or for myself. One day, I worked sixteen hours straight while sick to get a draft to her on a Saturday night. The next morning, for the first time in two years, I ignored her call. A few minutes later, I remember listening an angry voice message about how “disappointed” she was, and how I appeared to be losing my “mojo.”
The “orchestra of minorities” refers to the crying of birds mourning the slaughtered among them. It extends, symbolically, to the broader human community of the poor, the dispirited, the silenced, the plundered — those whose spirits have been savaged, those who have been stripped of all dignity, those who risk everything or make impossible journeys to better their lives. It’s a story as old as the epic, but, sadly, an all too modern one.
This deeply eccentric comedy about family connection and loss winds up being both a poignant testament to the struggles of the little guy — and a giddily topsy-turvy tour of how youngsters see their world.
It’s the ultimate irony: Jill Abramson was, indirectly at least, fired because of her resistance to the “innovation report.” And now she’s produced a marvelous book about exactly how prescient the darn thing was.
What’s special about “Cat Person,” and the rest of the stories in “You Know You Want This,” is the author’s expert control of language, character, story — her ability to write stories that feel told, and yet so unpretentious and accessible that we think they must be true.
Can these two positions be reconciled? Doesn’t translating a work of literature inevitably involve moving things around and altering many of the relations between the words in the original? In which case, either the original’s alleged perfection has been overstated, or the translation is indeed, as pessimists have often supposed, a fine but somewhat flawed copy. Unless, that is, we are going to think of a translation as a quite different work with its own inner logic and inspiration, only casually related to that foreign original. In which case, English readers will be obliged to wonder whether they have ever read Tolstoy, Proust, or Mann, and not, rather, Constance Burnett, C.K. Scott Moncrieff, or Helen Lowe-Porter. Or more recently, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, or Lydia Davis or Michael Henry Heim.
How perplexing. One of the problems in this debate is that most readers are only familiar with translated texts in their own languages. They cannot contemplate the supposed perfection of the foreign original, and when the translation delights them, they rightly thank the translator for it and are happy to suppose that the work “stands shoulder to shoulder with the source text,” as Polizzotti puts it. It makes these readers’ own experience seem more important. Alternatively, when they rejoice over the perfection of Jane Austen, Henry James, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, they do not see what foreign translations have done to the work as it travels around the world.
The 20th-century Trappist monk and poet Thomas Merton, upon witnessing one of his first services at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, which would later become his home, wrote: ‘The silence with people moving in it was 10 times more gripping than it had been in my own empty room.’ The silence and solemnity of the masses were so overpowering, he added, they ‘choked me with love and reverence that robbed me of the power to breathe. I could only get the air in gasps.’ His relationship with that silence, which stood at the heart of monastic life, would always be a complex one.
In choosing a life of silence, Merton believed he was leaving a chaotic world on the cusp of the Second World War for one of contemplation, introspection and calm. But his role as a writer – including publication of his critically acclaimed autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948) – forced him back out: he called his writerly self ‘my double, my shadow, my enemy’. Merton struggled with his desire for the purity of silence and with the need to break it, to the end of days.
As newborns, we enter the world by inhaling. In leaving, we exhale. (In fact, in many languages the word “exhale” is synonymous with “dying.”) Breathing is so central to life that it is no wonder humankind long ago noted its value not only to survival but to the functioning of the body and mind and began controlling it to improve well-being.
As early as the first millennium B.C., both the Tao religion of China and Hinduism placed importance on a “vital principle” that flows through the body, a kind of energy or internal breath, and viewed respiration as one of its manifestations. The Chinese call this energy qi, and Hindus call it prana (one of the key concepts of yoga).
A little later, in the West, the Greek term pneuma and the Hebrew term rûah referred both to the breath and to the divine presence. In Latin languages, spiritus is at the root of both “spirit” and “respiration.”
I am writing about my experience not as something unique or special. On the contrary, I am writing about it because so many women go through exactly this. And I am lucky, I know, because this is where it begins and ends for me. I enjoy a clean bill of health, make an appointment for next year, go off to my life.
Later, fully dressed and drinking coffee with my husband in the university cafeteria, I try to explain to him what it’s like, this routine examination, this tip of the iceberg for so many women. Think of someone maneuvering your penis into a 90-degree angle, I offer, and then trapping it for ten seconds or so. Something like that.
There can be no doubt that Chokshi has grown as a writer with each book, and The Gilded Wolves takes us to a new level of intrigue. The diverse characters each have an iconic presence and the necessary tragic backstory. Their intertwining friendships are artfully crafted, giving us a multitude of reasons to root for them as they sprint their way through the plot. The world is lush and complex, blending magic and technology with the golden glimmer of late nineteenth century Paris. And the heist itself is breakneck, tumbling from one incident to the next with mindboggling complexity.
He writes in the preface that he will explore “my lifelong attachment to this bewitching, temperamental, exasperating city and the deep love-hate relationship that binds me to it”. Yet he is ultimately a romantic, and the scent that rises from these pages is a heady aroma of Gauloises and red wine. Peppiatt, as a young man, was rather fond of the bottle; this book, at its best, has a similarly intoxicating quality, if one allows for the inevitable moments of self-absorption.
What actually exists in history, instead, are varying models that attempt to deal with masculinity’s dark side in different ways, by channeling, sublimating and containing male aggression. All these models are “traditional” in the sense they were forged in societies more sexist and patriarchal than ours. But they were also forged by cultures well aware of the problem of toxic, reckless, violent men, and very concerned with what to do about them.
The success of ikigai, forest bathing and Marie Kondo may indeed be telling us something. But it isn’t that Japan possesses a particular genius for good living. And it isn’t (just) the power of a consumer trend once it gains some momentum. It is that for some perverse reason, the most valuable human insights are easily lost or forgotten. Being gifted them again in some fresh form is surely good for us — we just shouldn’t get hung up on whose they are or where they come from.
One of the most cherished science fiction scenarios is using a black hole as a portal to another dimension or time or universe. That fantasy may be closer to reality than previously imagined.
It has been about a year and a half since my heart attack. And until very recently there hadn’t been an hour of any day that I hadn’t thought about almost dying. It’s always there: when I wake up, when I’m dropping my daughter off at school, when I’m telling my wife to have a good day at work, when I’m at the office, when I’m on the road.
On nights when I see my wife and daughter together, dancing across our living room floor, Beyoncé on the speaker and my baby leading the choreography, I’m almost brought to tears. It’s not that every small moment is now overflowing with emotion — I’m just more present while deciding on a board game to play or what takeout to order, less distracted, less focused on what’s happening tomorrow, or how dominant I am in a game of Uno.
Carl Phillips’s poetry makes the case that poetry’s task is not to be a mirror for what is, authoritative only in its concreteness, but a way of refracting the light. Phillips repeatedly turns the glass so that it reveals objects askew, in motion, and at the edges of the visible realm. In his poems, there is no gaze that does not become a search, and no search that does not reveal the workings of the mind.
“Being British comes with a catalogue of sea-themed cliches,” Charlotte Runcie muses early in her first book, “fish and chips on the beach, or in the car while the rain pelts down, ‘Rule, Britannia!’ at the BBC Proms, the shipping forecast playing out over and over every night, a warning for sailors, a lullaby for those of us safe in our beds and never at sea.” She doubts she would feel “this saline connection” if she had grown up in a landlocked country. Salt on Your Tongue is the story of her deepening love and longing for the ocean while pregnant, aged 28, with her first child. By the end of the book, her generic, gently nationalist appreciation of the sea has transformed into a specific, strongly feminist position: “The call of the sea is the call to the absolute strength of women, telling their stories and making music of beauty and imagination, and eternal mothers and grandmothers making eternal daughters and rocking them in the night as they sing while the tide comes and goes.”
As with Austen, whose books could be read as fun and simple romances or acerbic examinations of class and women's choices (and lack thereof), Kamal's Unmarriageable succeeds in being both a deliciously readable romantic comedy and a commentary on class in post-colonial, post-partition Pakistan, where the effects of the British Empire still reverberate.
I wanted to tell you
but decided against it
because the cut of the weekend is real—
The Grolier Club, a redoubt of bibliophiles on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has no shortage of stately, book-lined interiors that scream — or at least murmur quietly — “serious collectors here.”
But the true spirit of the place might be found in an unassuming closet on the fourth floor containing an alarming, nearly floor-to-ceiling jumble of crumpled papers practically exploding out of weathered wooden crates.
What separates us from our fellow apes is a question that, rightly or wrongly, distracts anthropologists periodically. Their discussions generally focus on language, tool use, creativity or our remarkable abilities to innovate, and it is certainly the case that two decades ago these answers would have been top of the ‘exclusively human’ list. But as our knowledge of the cognitive and behavioural abilities of our primate cousins increases, the dividing line between us and them becomes more blurred, being about the extent and complexity of – rather than the presence or absence of – a behaviour. Take tool production and use. Chimps are adept at selecting and modifying grass stalks to use as ‘fishing rods’ when dipping for termites, but their ability to innovate is limited, so there’s no rapid forward momentum in tool development as would be the case with humans.
However, there is one aspect of human behaviour that is unique to us but is rarely the focus of these discussions. So necessary is this trait to the survival of our species that it is underpinned by an extensive, interrelated web of biological, psychological and behavioural systems that evolved over the past half a million years. Yet, until 10 years ago, we had neglected to try to understand this trait, due to the misguided assumption that it was of no significance – indeed, that it was dispensable. This trait is human fatherhood, and the fact that it doesn’t immediately spring to mind is symptomatic of the overwhelming neglect of this key figure in our society.
You learn a lot tending bar in a region where organized crime has infiltrated every aspect of life. Your job forces you to watch, to scrutinize everyone from your place behind the physical barrier of the bar, and you learn to understand. You start recognizing behaviors and body language. You learn to differentiate between someone who belongs to the Camorra and someone who doesn’t. The former has no need to make itself known; they rely on being recognizable, which is also why they refrain from engaging in displays of overly aggressive behavior. And everything flows as if this were completely normal. The intimidation of having one of these individuals in your bar, as it stands, does not require the weight of a gun.
Moreover, it’s impossible to pinpoint a certain trait of places where the Camorra might hang out. There's nothing that marks an establishment as having a “bad clientele.” There's no point in blacklisting bars where you might work,
With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say “tea” in the world. One is like the English term—té in Spanish and tee in Afrikaans are two examples. The other is some variation of cha, like chay in Hindi.
Both versions come from China. How they spread around the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before “globalization” was a term anybody used. The words that sound like “cha” spread across land, along the Silk Road. The “tea”-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe.
But if this is your choice, if you’re writing science fiction that decides on its attitude toward the future in advance of doing the work of imagining that future, you’re not heeding the most ambitious calling of the genre. You’ve substituted the hunt for a cool new market niche for the work of telling compelling stories that help us think rigorously about how we might make a better world, or at the very least better understand where our world might be heading. If, instead, you retain the hope of writing fiction that confronts readers with new ways of thinking about their relationship to the future—our future—you may need to drop the -punk suffix.
If western society continues to follow the Dutch, Belgian and Canadian examples, there is every chance that in a few decades’ time euthanasia will be one widely available option from a menu of possible deaths, including an “end of life” poison pill available on demand to anyone who finds life unbearable. For many greying baby boomers – veterans of earlier struggles to legalise abortion and contraception – a civilised death at a time of their choosing is a right that the state should provide and regulate. As this generation enters its final years, the precept that life is precious irrespective of one’s medical condition is being called into question as never before.
As the world’s pioneer, the Netherlands has also discovered that although legalising euthanasia might resolve one ethical conundrum, it opens a can of others – most importantly, where the limits of the practice should be drawn. In the past few years a small but influential group of academics and jurists have raised the alarm over what is generally referred to, a little archly, as the “slippery slope” – the idea that a measure introduced to provide relief to late-stage cancer patients has expanded to include people who might otherwise live for many years, from sufferers of muscle-wasting diseases such as multiple sclerosis to sexagenarians with dementia and even mentally ill young people.
The people of Cremona are unusually sensitive to noise right now. The police have cordoned off streets in the usually bustling city center and traffic has been diverted. During a recent news conference, the city’s mayor, Gianluca Galimberti, implored Cremona’s citizens to avoid any sudden and unnecessary sounds.
Cremona is home to the workshops of some of the world’s finest instrument makers, including Antonio Stradivari, who in the 17th and 18th centuries produced some of the finest violins and cellos ever made. The city is getting behind an ambitious project to digitally record the sounds of the Stradivarius instruments for posterity, as well as others by Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, two other famous Cremona craftsmen. And that means being quiet.
My mother texts me four photos of a dead moose the week I leave Alaska. It is freshly hit. The pebbled pink brains fanning across the pavement have not yet grayed in the brisk autumn air. The animal will not go to waste. For the past 50 years, Alaska has been the only state where virtually every piece of large roadkill is eaten.
We should, after all, avoid a belief in tidy solutions. Works of technology criticism are often expected to provide a few hundred pages of doomsaying before providing a concise final chapter in which the Gordian knot of our problems is neatly and improbably cut. “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” with its near-700-page footprint, is thankfully not that kind of book. Light on prescriptivist notions, Zuboff does propose a “right to sanctuary,” based on universalist, if ever more threatened, humanitarian principles, like the right to asylum. But she’s after something bigger, providing a scaffolding of critical thinking from which to examine the great crises of the digital age. Through her we learn that our friends to the north were indeed correct: Facebook is the problem (along with Google, Microsoft, Amazon, et al.). This is the rare book that we should trust to lead us down the long hard road of understanding.
Dan Lyons, a journalist who spent time working in the industry, has written an entertaining, if scattergun, attack on one aspect of technology’s influence—the effect it has had on everybody’s working lives. He argues that the industry has reduced real wages, made workers feel dehumanised and less secure, and exposed them to constant, stress-inducing change. Tellingly, the proportion of Americans who are happy with their jobs dropped from 61% in 1987 to 51% in 2016.
There is a pleasing clarity to Griffin’s five-act structure, in which the successive libations give rise to five fully realised individual works of fiction.
My English department colleagues and I can spend a whole lunch break making fun of To Kill a Mockingbird. A literary roast punctuated by sarcastic regurgitations of Atticus Finch’s sanctimonious advice. Just, you know, take a walk in her shoes, dude, I might sneer, interrupting a teacher’s account of an encounter with a difficult student’s unpleasant parent. Most of us have to teach the novel every year, and our irreverence springs from discomfort. We’re tasked with teaching a book that doesn’t live up to its longstanding responsibility.
Mort Felix liked to say that his name, when read as two Latin words, meant “happy death.” When he was sick with the flu, he used to jokingly remind his wife, Susan, that he wanted Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” played at his deathbed. But when his life’s end arrived at the age of 77, he lay in his study in his Berkeley, California, home, his body besieged by cancer and his consciousness cradled in morphine, uninterested in music and refusing food as he dwindled away over three weeks in 2012. “Enough,” he told Susan. “Thank you, and I love you, and enough.” When she came downstairs the next morning, she found Felix dead.
During those three weeks, Felix had talked. He was a clinical psychologist who had also spent a lifetime writing poetry, and though his end-of-life speech often didn’t make sense, it seemed to draw from his attention to language. “There’s so much so in sorrow,” he said at one point. “Let me down from here,” he said at another. “I’ve lost my modality.” To the surprise of his family members, the lifelong atheist also began hallucinating angels and complaining about the crowded room—even though no one was there.
Past the faceless concrete housing projects, the kebab joints, the corner stores, the bus stops, and the tramlines of the city of Saint-Denis in metropolitan Grand Paris, the sheep snatch at plants on weedy strips between the sidewalk and the street. Urban shepherdess Julie-Lou Dubreuilh, curly-haired and ruddy-cheeked, dressed in black jeans and a royal-blue down jacket, clicks the end of her long staff on the pavement, urging her flock along with low cries of “ehh.” The sheep quicken their pace, ivy yanked from chain-link fences disappearing into their mouths like strands of spaghetti.
Located just north of Paris, the administrative department of Seine-Saint-Denis is France’s poorest and most ethnically diverse. Its Brutalist public housing complexes, once triumphant monuments to socialist modernism, are now sites of social marginalization. It’s the last place one would imagine seeing wandering shepherds tending their flocks. Yet here, and elsewhere in metropolitan Paris, an urban agricultural revolution is taking root.
I definitely pissed off a member of the Bamonte family. I didn’t mean to do it. I was trying to explain to Nicole Bamonte that I’m writing about how I will try, and likely enjoy, any establishment that displays one or more autographed photos of a cast member from The Sopranos, that it’s a seal of approval for me when I walk into a place in the Tri-State area and see a glossy with Vincent Pastore or Drea de Matteo looking down at me. “That means the place will probably be good,” I said to the great-granddaughter of the founder of the Williamsburg red sauce landmark.
She just stares at me for a second, the kind of stare that is meant to offer the person who said something stupid an opportunity to redeem themselves.
“I mean, I didn’t need to watch The Sopranos to know this place is great…”
“Stories of war begin midsentence is one way to start.” The first line of the poem “War Stories” comes in the middle of Pamela Hart’s latest poetry collection, Mothers Over Nangarhar, which presents readers with the inadequacy of language to describe war in the lives of individuals; specifically, individuals whose loved ones are serving in the military. Can language plumb the feelings of anxiety and powerlessness a person may feel when their son, daughter, spouse, or friend is serving in the military? For all that is undisclosed in the context of war, what can be spoken, and how well can the spoken encompass what war does to families and communities?
Tracing material choices that echoed through generations, the book captures the quirks of human inventiveness and the power of sound.
But there’s also the compelling case that reading in pubs is a British institution. The bond between literature and pubs is time-honoured. Countless books and pubs across the UK celebrate their common history, from Compton Mackenzie’s novel Whisky Galore gently parodying Hebridean islanders’ fondness for a good dram, all the way down to Broadstairs highlighting Charles Dickens’s affection for its Kentish coastline in two separate museums, a week-long Dickens festival, and, inevitably, a pub. London, Dublin and Edinburgh have plenty of literary-themed pub crawls, and you just need to cast your eye over a list of your local pubs to appreciate how many book or writer-inspired names they’ve enthusiastically adopted. If you aren’t within 10 miles of a “Shakespeare’s Something”, you’re in France.
My hunch is that although the novel can do almost anything when it’s done right, it’s really most at home when it’s at home. Born in its true shape in the bourgeois 18th century, that era of burgeoning literacy and print and urbanization and social mobility, and written and read from the very beginning by so many women, it side-stepped the traditions of male education. For centuries men had been educated mostly through the classics, trained in conventions of rhetorical address, fixed categories of subject matter and style. In the novel, women took the pen into their hands and wrote about the daily life they knew, in the vernacular language of everyday. And men did too, of course.
What books do we reach for when we know that we soon will die? And do we read to prepare ourselves for death, as the ancient Egyptians did with the “Book of the Dead,” or to distract ourselves from it — to break from the crisis of the present? Dying of leukemia in 2004, Susan Sontag carried “Don Quixote” with her to radiation treatments, and blitzed through “Persepolis” in her hospital bed at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Sigmund Freud, dying of mouth cancer, read Balzac’s “The Wild Ass’s Skin,” refusing all painkillers save aspirin to maintain his lucidity. In Saul Bellow’s final novel, “Ravelstein,” the secular protagonist, modeled on the philosopher Allan Bloom, finds himself unexpectedly drawn to the sacred as he is dying of AIDS: “If he had to choose between Athens and Jerusalem, among us the two main sources of higher life, he chose Athens, while full of respect for Jerusalem. But in his last days, it was the Jews he wanted to talk about, not the Greeks.”
“Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp,” by the Polish painter, intellectual and writer Jozef Czapski, represents a unique contribution to this tradition of last books. Delivered to a group of P.O.W.s in a Russian labor camp where he was imprisoned in the winter of 1940-41, Czapski’s wide-ranging lectures on Proust provide a rare glimpse into what it means to turn to art and literature at a time when mortality is on your mind. Born in Prague in 1896 to an aristocratic family, Czapski, who was fluent in Polish, Russian, German and French, fought for Poland against the Bolsheviks, eventually moving to Paris to pursue a bohemian career as a painter. Through the connections of the Polish pianist Maria Godebska-Sert, he was ushered into Parisian artistic and literary circles, where he met several friends of Proust, who had recently died. Discouraged by the difficulty of the French master’s prose and the extravagance of his style, Czapski abandoned an attempt to read “Remembrance of Things Past.” After a romantic disappointment, however, he returned, eccentrically picking up the novel in the middle, with the sixth volume, “The Fugitive.” This early encounter blossomed into a literary obsession.
Quillette’s suggestion that our intellectual media stifles “open-minded” discussion is dismissed by its detractors as being made in bad faith. If anything, they say, there is too much “open discussion” these days; we have a president who will say anything at any time, neo-Nazis marching through university towns, and have you been on Reddit? Here, too, it’s fair to be skeptical: many calling for open-mindedness simply want to be able to say contemptible things with no consequences or criticism, and there are certain ideas that we refuse to countenance for good reason.
But which beliefs exactly should be judged as “out of bounds”—and who gets to be the referee? How wide is the circle of ideas that are not even worthy of discussion? Such questions are themselves open to debate, and the judgments we make about them in particular cases will tend to be provisional. Still, this is preferable to the alternative. For there is a growing cost to pretending we’ve arrived at a settled consensus about their answers, or to denying that they are even real questions.
But Lopez’s friend said the crazy diet was science-based: The absence of carbs and abundance of fat pushes your body into a biological state called ketosis, during which you burn fat instead of glucose. Lopez—who was five foot nine, 200 pounds, and “a bit portly”—was intrigued. His online digging led to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Rogan, a college dropout and self-described “silly bitch,” unpacks complex topics with no pretense. He was interviewing the top keto researcher, Dom D’Agostino, Ph.D., a professor of physiology at the University of South Florida.
“It was interesting to hear a scientist talk about what he eats and why,” says Lopez. D’Agostino is not a salesman, and he did not create the diet. Which raises the question: Who did? That’s when things get weird, involving a two-time felon, medical misconduct, and multiple deaths. But Lopez didn’t know about keto’s history. He just wanted to find out if the hype could be real. “I threw out all my carb-heavy foods, like ramen and Hot Pockets,” he says. “Then I grabbed as much bacon, grass-fed butter, and steak as I could find.”
It’s in hundreds of shops like his around the city, many no bigger than subway cars, where you’ll find New Yorkers shoulder to shoulder, eating slices in near silence. “Teens, Wall Street guys, guys camped out with a shopping cart, a pizza place is the most diverse space in the city,” said Colin Atrophy Hagendorf, author of “Slice Harvester: A Memoir in Pizza” and host of the Radio Harvester podcast. “Inside a pizzeria that dream of diverse New York City is a reality. I think that’s such a beautiful thing.”
Silicon Valley’s Phoenix-like resurrection is a story of ingenuity and initiative. It is also a story of callousness, predation, and deceit. Harvard Business School professor emerita Shoshana Zuboff argues in her new book that the Valley’s wealth and power are predicated on an insidious, essentially pathological form of private enterprise — what she calls “surveillance capitalism.” Pioneered by Google, perfected by Facebook, and now spreading throughout the economy, surveillance capitalism uses human life as its raw material. Our everyday experiences, distilled into data, have become a privately owned business asset used to predict and mold our behavior, whether we’re shopping or socializing, working or voting.
“Big Bang” is a stunningly accomplished novel, both deeply American and deeply weird. So is it, as Bowman claimed, “true history?” Lethem, for his part, urges caution: “Indeed, though Bowman’s book is full of facts, none of them is to be considered strictly reliable.” And of course it doesn’t matter; this is, after all, a work of fiction, and a vastly entertaining one at that.
One chord attached you to me, enclosed us in a symphony;
Two feet you found your way around, holding papa’s hand, you learned to stand;
A few years ago a student walked into the office of Cesar A. Hidalgo, director of the Collective Learning group at the MIT Media Lab. Hidalgo was listening to music and asked the student if she recognized the song. She wasn’t sure. “Is it Coldplay?” she asked. It was “Imagine” by John Lennon. Hidalgo took it in stride that his student didn’t recognize the song. As he explains in our interview below, he realized the song wasn’t from her generation. What struck Hidalgo, though, was the incident echoed a question that had long intrigued him, which was how music and movies and all the other things that once shone in popular culture faded like evening from public memory.
The hunt for the millions of books stolen by the Nazis during World War II has been pursued quietly and diligently for decades, but it has been largely ignored, even as the search for lost art drew headlines. The plundered volumes seldom carried the same glamour as the looted paintings, which were often masterpieces worth millions of dollars.
But recently, with little fanfare, the search for the books has intensified, driven by researchers in America and Europe who have developed a road map of sorts to track the stolen books, many of which are still hiding in plain sight on library shelves throughout Europe.
I first read Maze as a child, on a bus. I don’t remember where the bus was going (I’m not even sure it was a bus — maybe it was a van?) because I was thoroughly and instantly inside the book. From the first page, I felt stifled and scared, full of an obsessive drive that I otherwise only associate with moments of sexual awakening. The words of the directions functioned like a spell. The book told me that it was a building, and then it was. And I was trapped inside.
Like a first-rate novel, too, “The Last Whalers” has an abiding but unforced theme. It’s about the flood of modernity, in the form of outboard motors and cellphones and televised soap operas, as seen from the perspective of a curious but wary society that fears losing itself in the deluge.
My mother’s idea of heaven was a pulse, nurses
in white spilling light across fields with hurricane
lamps, bandage rolls, syringes, pain killers,
stethoscopes, pressure cuffs, patella hammers.
It was meant to be a happy song—you could tell by its confident insistence on Christ’s kingship, by the shuffling major key in which it was played, and by the smiles and falsetto ad-libs it elicited from the crowd. But, either there in the sanctuary or later, lying in bed, I sometimes fixated on the bit about the gates of Hell. My father had died recently, and I’d begun wondering where he might be. I’d been assured that he was in Heaven, but I could tell, even then, that he hadn’t been a saint. Sometimes I pictured him enveloped in light, dissolving into the never-ending worship around the throne of God. Other times, helped along by the accounts of my Jesuit schoolteachers, I imagined him waiting, otiose and slightly bored—restless, as he had often seemed to be in life—in the long, cosmic queue of Purgatory. Also possible, I had to concede, was the Bad Place, which, until then, I’d thought of mostly as the un-air-conditioned underside to Heaven.
Here, though, was a different idea. Hell, according to the logic of the song, wasn’t only a place beneath my feet for the lesser of the dead but a force ruling a large portion of the world around me, gathering troops and waging battle against the good. More immediately distressing than the prospect of going there was the idea that it could be headed in my direction, determined to overtake me even before my death. “Satan has desired to have you,” my new pastor sometimes preached, quoting Jesus’ words to the apostle Peter, “that he may sift you as wheat.” Had Hell already occupied me, before I’d even known about the war?
So, to return to the “Death of the Author,” not only did authors have it coming; they largely enacted their own death by making the renunciation of meaning — or even speech — a privileged literary maneuver. They set themselves above the vulgar garrulity of traditional forms to pursue subtle but evanescent sensations in an almost priestly atmosphere. Not all artists, of course, took this path. At the same time that Gustave Flaubert was downgrading the subject matter of literature to the status of a mere excuse for style, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was developing the realistic novel to its fullest polemical potential. But the avant-garde of the future would see itself in Flaubert and the Symbolists more than in the realistic works of Dostoyevsky, Dickens, or Zola, and it was the former conception of literature that would hold weight for literary critics in the 20th century. This was especially true of poetry critics, the most influential being T. S. Eliot.
The essence of my single-sentence tinkering is in the phrases, “I think it’s important that a writer change,” and “So when I finish a book, I don’t write anything for six months.”
One thing I love about these words is how they have helped me excuse the long periods of time I’ve taken between books; Carver liked six months, but I’m averaging more like six years, if we’re going by publication dates. I wasn’t not writing during those gap years, I tell myself; I was giving myself time to become a different kind of writer.
Another thing I love about these words is the idea—so casually made it’s easy to miss—that it’s important that a writer change.
If a sense of the spiritual anchors Ho’s personal life, it is her political convictions that have come to define her public persona. Six years ago, she became the first major female star in Hong Kong to come out as gay, a significant move in a society that remains culturally conservative. Then, in 2014, during what became known as the Umbrella Revolution—protesters held up umbrellas as a protection against teargas—she joined thousands of people demonstrating against Beijing’s encroachments on the autonomy of Hong Kong. (In 1842, China ceded Hong Kong Island to the British, who gave it back with additional territory in 1997, in an agreement that secures certain privileges of self-governance for the territory.)
At the protests, Ho and a number of other Cantopop singers performed a song, “Raise the Umbrella,” that became the anthem of the movement. In the third month of demonstrations, she was arrested. The footage of her being led away by police furnished one of the enduring images of the protests. On the Chinese mainland, where Ho had been a burgeoning star, and where most of her income came from, she became persona non grata. State media outlets called her “a poison of Hong Kong,” and one editorial warned that the mainland sales Ho depended on were far from guaranteed: “Don’t think you can eat our food and smash our pots at the same time.” Since then, her music has been rigorously purged from streaming platforms in China, and she is banned from having a social-media presence there. As Beijing chips away at Hong Kong’s freedoms, Ho has become an emblematic figure of the territory—embattled, emboldened, and unbeholden.
The Wall of Birds is decidedly not a field guide — it has heavy board covers, measures nine inches by 10 and a half inches, and weighs in at just over three pounds — too large and heavy for a birder’s knapsack. It wouldn’t be very useful in the field, since it doesn’t offer the information a birder often wants: nothing, for example, about identifying marks, mating practices, habitat preferences, call/song, diet, et cetera. It’s not really a coffee-table book either, though it has something of the look of that genre, with Kim’s fabulously detailed head-portrait of a great hornbill (Buceros bicornis) occupying about one third of the front cover, and with hundreds of her energetic, brightly colored paintings inside.
As soon the reader opens it, however, she finds a serious essay in scientific ornithology from the unique point of view of a scientific illustrator-artist. It’s also a fascinating artist-diary explaining some of the hundreds of decisions Kim had to make as she painted 243 full-color, life-sized images of birds onto a 40-by-100-foot interior wall at the Visitor Center of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. That wall became her canvas when she agreed — enthusiastically — to take on the project.
Kennedy’s slim, suggestive fable is about the need for kindness to strangers; it’s about greed and politics; it’s about migration. It’s about the lessons we learn from the books we read as kids. What The Little Snake is about more than anything, though, is the acceptance of death as an ineluctable part of life. It’s not a new message, but Kennedy conveys it here in a manner that is subtle and hugely moving.
The newspaper, The Portland Press Herald, promptly responded with a challenge: If Mr. King could get his followers to buy 100 digital subscriptions, it would bring back the local reviews.
The exchange took off on social media as The Press Herald led a campaign to get readers to subscribe. “We’d be willing to bet a retweet by @StephenKing would get us over the threshold,” the newspaper tweeted on Saturday morning.
“Sales pitch? Blackmail?” Mr. King wrote back. “Either way, 71 people have subscribed so far. Are there 29 more Twitterheads out there who want to ante up? Just asking.”
My high school’s production of Man of La Mancha introduced me to the character of Don Quixote, the dreamer of impossible dreams whose main achievement is to encourage the serving woman and part-time prostitute Aldonza to see herself as the lady Dulcinea. Never mind that such a change in her view of herself does nothing to protect Aldonza from the predations of violent men; in the end, the musical unironically celebrates the idealism of Don Quixote. An idealist myself at the time, I was inspired.
When I first read Don Quixote as a college freshman, its satiric plot and tone surprised me. The Don Quixote I encountered in the novel by Cervantes is quite different from Don Quixote as he is portrayed both in the musical and more generally in the popular imagination—a fool admirable for his idealism and noble intentions. In the novel by Cervantes, not only is Don Quixote a bad reader whose “brains got so dry that he lost his wits,” but he is also full of rage, armed, and violent. Again and again his story shows that idealism untethered from reality leads to nothing but real harm, and I find in it a cautionary tale for our age, in which misinformation and conspiracy theories proliferate.
Astronomy is in the middle of a data revolution, a time of enormous discovery. Humans have been looking up at the stars for thousands of years, but modern telescopes and computers are rapidly accelerating our understanding. We know far more than we did even 20 years ago, and we are now much closer to answering questions about whether life exists elsewhere in the cosmos, how our planet came to be here, our cosmic origins and eventual fate.
On a clear night the stars twinkle in the sky, and often we can see the bright planets of our own solar system in orbit, like us, around our sun. Until the early 1990s, we had no idea whether there were any other planets around the stars in the sky. Astronomers suspected so, but had no way to prove it. We have in the past decade found thousands in orbit around foreign stars, and have a better idea of how common they are. A sizable fraction of stars probably have their own planets, their own worlds carried around them in the most fantastically diverse solar systems.
Up until then, most women in broadcast journalism were researchers. At first, the four of us in our little group were grateful just to be in the door as reporters. Things began to stir when the women at Newsweek sued over gender discrimination. Then, 46 women filed a claim against NBC News. At our shop, it was Sylvia who organized a committee to go to the president of CBS, Arthur Taylor, with demands for more airtime and better assignments. She asked me to join.
I remember worrying about the men who viewed the women’s agenda as a personal assault on themselves, and knew that women who “made waves” were often penalized. I was a coward and didn’t go. I let Sylvia carry the banner, while, I’m ashamed to admit, I crouched.
Is it true that Asian-Americans cannot say “I love you?” The striking title of the writer Lac Su’s memoir is “I Love Yous Are for White People,” which explores the emotional devastation wreaked on one Vietnamese family by its refugee experiences. I share some of Lac Su’s background, and it has been a lifelong effort to learn how to say, without awkwardness, “I love you.” I can do this for my son, and it is heartfelt, but it comes with an effort born of the self-consciousness I still feel when I say it to my father or brother.
Thus, when the actress Sandra Oh won a Golden Globe for best actress in a television drama, “Killing Eve,” perhaps the most powerful part of her acceptance speech for many of us who are Asian-Americans was when she thanked her parents. Gazing at them in the audience, she said, in Korean, “I love you.” She was emotional, her parents were proud, and I could not help but project onto them one of the central dramas of Asian immigrant and refugee life: the silent sacrifice of the parents, the difficult gratitude of the children, revolving around the garbled expression of love.
In the ’60s, Martin Luther King Jr. told Nichelle Nichols, the actress who portrayed Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek series, that her show was the only one he let his kids stay up late watching. His rationale: The positive depiction of an African-American woman. Thirty years later, Star Trek: The Next Generation was the show I was allowed to stay up late watching. Crammed next to my father in an old easy chair, I was mesmerized. The portrayals of brave, competent women conducting scientific experiments and exploratory missions nudged me toward imagining a career in science. But unlike the majority of scientists for whom Star Trek was an inspiration, I didn’t choose physics or engineering or computing. I chose evolutionary biology. My fascination for Star Trek life forms sparked my curiosity about how life on our world works.
A biology professor at Duke University, Mohamed A. F. Noor might have had a similar experience. Indeed, in his new book, Live Long and Evolve: What Star Trek Can Teach Us about Evolution, Genetics, and Life on Other Worlds, he thinks the series has a lot to teach us about the evolution of life on our planet. He’s not actually the first to make this point. Two other books, both published in 1998, explored aspects of this same topic, but they were overshadowed from the get-go by physicist Lawrence M. Krauss’s 1995 best-selling The Physics of Star Trek. This is not surprising: the show was still associated at that time with space and feats of engineering — and so with the physical-sciences-focused, Sputnik-infused mid-20th-century “golden age” of science fiction. Now, however, life itself is our most rapidly changing frontier, and for this reason, Noor’s book is timely in a way the other two books weren’t.
Humans have long understood that sunlight can be good for us. Almost 4,000 years ago, the Babylonian king Hammurabi advised priests to use sunlight in the treatment of illness. In the 4th century BCE, Greek physicians associated with Hippocrates recommended it for the restoration of health. The splendid 19th-century geographer and anarchist Élisée Recluse advocated nudity on the grounds that it was healthier for skin to be fully exposed to light and air. What, then, is the “new science” of sunlight?
Michael Pollan sums up his manifesto In Defence of Food with: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Similarly compressed, Chasing the Sun by Linda Geddes would become something like: “Get lots of natural light, not too much direct sun, and avoid blue light at bedtime.” But that would understate a key point. Because the new science – which Geddes explores in a range of encounters, from insomniacs untethered from the passage of day and night to Nobel-winning scientists and Sámi reindeer herders, as well as in her own try-it-at-home experiments – situates an understanding of the importance of natural light in the study of the daily and seasonal rhythms of our lives. We are, as Ted Hughes wrote, “creatures of light”, but for our wellbeing, the dark is just as important.
A hybrid of nature journal and motherhood memoir sounds cynically on-trend, but Salt never feels anything less than wholly authentic. True, its brief chapters sometimes read like the ramblings of a writer in search of her story, hopping from topic to topic with a fidgetiness that can leave the reader feeling almost seasick. Still, relax into its motion and the narrative’s fluidity becomes a joy.
He is more than a poet or novelist: Ray Young Bear is a word-collector who has been at work transcribing and assembling on the Meskwaki Tribal Settlement, near Tama, Iowa, for nearly fifty years. His work is not done in obscurity: last year saw two of his poems, (he calls them “word songs”), published in The New Yorker, his second publication in the magazine. And his collected poetry, Manifestation Wolverine, won an American Book Award back in 2016.
And yet, that night, he talked about dreams, dark beer, and Steely Dan. Later, after I drove him home and left the Meskwaki Settlement, I realized that in underlining his words, I had emulated what readers and those few academics who have studied him have been doing to Young Bear’s work for decades: grating only the surface of a truly singular writer’s work, missing the point entirely.
It’s not enough just to read anymore. It’s not even enough to post your reading on Instagram anymore. Today, you have to create an atmosphere to show just how analog and sensual you’re being. That often involves … a candle.
Home from the hospital, I found myself Googling “Down syndrome.” I knew immediately, even though I would languish in denial for a week as we awaited genetic-testing results.
During that week, my entire worldview, a belief system informed by my career in cultural anthropology, began to crumble. Here I was, an expert in a discipline that studies and celebrates the diversity of humankind, struggling to come to terms with a child born different.
Today I am ashamed that I ever felt this way. My love for Michaela is so powerful that I can’t fathom life without her. So why was I initially devastated by her Down syndrome diagnosis?
Throughout Lost, Withycombe outlines a comprehensive yet incredibly accessible history about the shift in the narrative. She provides detailed accounts from the letters of women, includes excerpts from medical journals, and uses the larger historical context to situate this ongoing negotiation between women and doctors to dictate the terms of what pregnancy was and wasn’t. The shift isn’t necessarily one of feeling, but one, perhaps of faith.
Hark Morner, the antihero of Sam Lipsyte’s fourth novel, “Hark,” is a huckster. Armed with some half-baked philosophy and imagined historical facts, he seduces audiences with woolly pronouncements even he doesn’t quite believe in, like “If you grow silent, easeful, the body will launch the spirit’s shaft true.”
His audiences don’t quite believe it either. Hark’s “Mental Archery” brand targets skepticism-soaked corporate retreats and conferences infested with “internet imams, public atheists, and assorted bandwidth hustlers.” But we’ve collectively struck a deal with the hucksters, Lipsyte means to say. We’re now so eager for distraction from our anxieties that we’ll accept some well-packaged, Hark-ish nonsense if it helps us get away from it all.
I heard about what you said, but nah. We both know I, the African lost in America, had to come and claim your body. And to level with you, homie, when I got word, no shock shot through me like the lightning of revelation. I figured it was always going to end this way for you, bruh; the child of pain is obviously pain as well, couldn’t dream of being anything more than its sorry daddy was.
A lovely and heartening sentiment, perhaps, when it’s the guy who did Phantom Thread counseling the guy who did A Quiet Place. “Dude, Paul Thomas Anderson is out there on the wall for us!” Krasinski continued. “He’s defending the value of the artistic experience. He’s so good that maybe you project onto him that he’s allowed to be snarky, but he’s the exact opposite: He wants to love everything because that’s why he got into moviemaking. And ever since then, I’ve never said that I hate a movie.”
Another way to get out there on the wall and defend the value of the artistic experience is to take the precise opposite approach. Roger Ebert, on the 1994 family comedy North: “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it.” The New York Times’ A.O. Scott on the 2008 Will Smith melodrama Seven Pounds: “Among the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made.” Every film critic in America, myself included, roughly paraphrased on 2018’s farcical mob biopic Gotti: “LMFAO.”
“I don’t know why the city wins over the country, I don’t.” I read this comment below a newspaper article on rural health care featuring the somewhat dire title, “Colorado Divide: In rural Colorado, doctors are retiring and dying—and no one is taking their place,” and it struck me that it is no great stretch here to substitute “tenured professors” or “school teachers” or “librarians” or many other professions for “doctor.” Of course, each profession faces difficulties that do not divide upon lines so cleanly defined, nor is it quite accurate to say that “no one,” in these instances, is stepping in—although, to be sure, nurse practitioners, iterant adjuncts, subs and student teachers, and staff heading up the school library desk may feel as invisible as that—yet it is clear that the problem is real and invites thought that avoids the too-easy summations that so often characterize the urban/rural “divide” in our public and political discourse.
It is a data-laden phenomenon, to be sure, but it is not the data that interests me so much as the possibilities the data presents for symbolic correspondences. The concern here involves the ways in which we use language to shape our existence wherever it is upon the map we happen to find ourselves.
By about 2010, the fancy burger had become all but ubiquitous, so thoroughly fetishized and aestheticized that its latter-day accoutrements veered perilously close to punch line territory. Of course every restaurant with a bar had a burger that attempted to distinguish itself from the rest, whether it came clothed in raclette, caramelized onions, and tomato aioli, a la New York’s Bowery Meat Company, or plopped on a biscuit and piled with pimento cheese, bacon jam, and an egg, a la Nashville’s Biscuit Love. Of course, those burgers were advertised by their parts rather than the sum of them: the grass-fed beef, the brioche bun, the house-made pickles, the special blend from LaFrieda or DeBragga, another purveyor of bespoke cow parts. Depending on how you looked at it, the burger had reached its apotheosis or nadir.
And then Instagram came along.
For the most part, “realism” in current discussions of fiction has become conflated with conventional narrative practice: “storytelling” employing the orthodox “elements” of fiction as developed in that latter 19th and early 20th centuries. While in American literary history at least, the rise of realism in this period did bring a change in the kinds of subjects addressed (more “ordinary” characters), in setting (less familiar sorts of places, made to seem “real” in the kind of description involved), and in the stories told (fewer stories about haunted mansions or demoniac white whales), as well as in the manner of telling (less grandiloquent, but also less stylistically dynamic), in both the new realism and the old romanticism writers ultimately perceived their task to be relating a story recognizable as such according to accepted dramatic form—elucidated perhaps most memorably by Gustave Freytag in his famous “pyramid.”
It's hard to think of a more aptly named recent novel than Fever Dream, Argentine author Samantha Schweblin's 2017 book about a woman and boy who find themselves together in a country hospital. The novel, Schweblin's first to be translated into English, was haunting and nightmarish, and evoked a world where everything is distorted, unfamiliar and, above all, frightening.
Admirers of Schweblin's work will be delighted to learn that she hasn't lost any of the atmospheric creepiness that made Fever Dream such an unsettling ride. Her new short story collection, Mouthful of Birds, is just as ethereal and bizarre as its predecessor, and it proves that Schweblin is a master of elegant and uncanny fiction.
Gabbert has described The Word Pretty as “a collection of critical essays, rarities, & B-sides,” and also as “one of those books of random bits and bobs of unrelated prose that only famous people get to do,” but in the end, my micro-experience with the discussion of the spelling of Alan/Allen echoes the macro-experience of reading the book — all the individual essays feel meaningfully connected, like the balls on the pool table. Although the pattern they form may appear to be random, the leave has been cleverly chosen, and the shot goes in.
Sarah Moss’s eerie new novel, “Ghost Wall,” opens with an incantatory prologue. A young woman is being prepared for sacrifice. The final sky she will ever see fades above her as the twilight is buffeted by drumbeats. She is stripped and bound, the hair shaved from her head, while friends and family stand in witness. When knives and ropes and stones are deployed against her, no one protests, no one falters. The blood ritual binds the community together as surely as the pounding of the drums. There is an art to the preparation of a sacrifice, and as the prologue draws to its shivery end, we sense the intoxicating power of that art. Before we have read two pages, Moss has made us complicit in an act of primal violence.
“Ghost Wall,” Moss’s sixth novel, is a compact, riveting book. Female sacrifice is never far from the center of her concerns; she wants us to question our complicity in violence, particularly against women.
What emerges in “Revolution Sunday” is primarily a novel of the self, of an artist contending with her own vanishing. The paradox of isolation without privacy. The isle in the word exile. “Why do this to me?” Cleo thinks after her home is raided by police. “Who am I to them? Above all, who am I to me?”
When it comes to this fleshed neck
even a finger could do it,
The terrific story she told me that evening involved her late father and a phone call he made toward the end of his life. Ullmann’s telling of it was occasioned by a question I asked about long marriages, what she thought helped them flourish and endure. She and her husband, married nearly 20 years, have a gentle way with each other: Dahl’s hand would briefly come to rest on Ullmann’s shoulder; Ullmann’s feet would find Dahl’s lap at the end of a dinner party. The terrific story Ullmann told about her father and the phone call spoke sweetly and, I thought, meaningfully to that question. And yet it was also — Ullmann made clear, when she came to its conclusion — as far as she was concerned, not a terrific story: rather, an anecdote, one of many she has accumulated across her long, unusual life. But it was not the sort of story that she tells in public. More important, it was not the sort of story she exploits in her fiction.
“I can’t stand anecdotes,” Ullmann said, cross-legged on her couch beneath a framed Alexander Calder lithograph, her voice rising at the end of her sentence as if to chase the final word away.
In the years leading up to the release of her third album, Jepsen did a lot—she moved to New York City, and did a short stint on Broadway (playing Cinderella in a Rodgers and Hammerstein production). But above all, she wrote, and wrote, and wrote. In all, Jepsen wrote 200 songs for the album, with only 12 songs making the cut and an additional 8 songs released a year later as an EP of B-Sides. “I think some people have painting in their blood, or dancing in their blood. And even more than singing for me, writing is very much a part of me and I can’t not do it,” she says at the beginning of a mini behind the scenes documentary, released alongside the album on YouTube. The 8-minute clip shows Jepsen humming, writing, singing, and bouncing ideas back and forth with a team of artists and producers that included Tegan and Sara, Dev Hynes, Rami Yacoub and Joe Janiak among others.
In his last published essay, “To Crush a Serpent,” Baldwin wrote, “Complexity is our only safety and love is the only key to our maturity.” In a country that remains in many ways emotionally infantile, and where simplemindedness can be deemed a sign of strength, Baldwin’s fierce imagination remains an invaluable resource and provides a blueprint for America’s collective welfare.
Rockstar Grill Operator is Waffle House’s term for its best short order cooks, after the entry-level Grill Operators and more-senior Master Grill Operators. Rockstars like Charles must be nominated by several of their peers and managers and pass various food safety examinations. They also take a “volume based” cooking test that Waffle House isn’t particularly happy discussing in detail (I suppose it’s proprietary) but that one employee told me meant you had to cook $1,500 worth of orders on a single six-hour shift. I have no true sense of how difficult that is, but my steak and eggs, the most expensive item on the menu that day, cost $8.50, so the math is available to be done. Waffle House only recently codified these classifications, after years of more haphazard ratings, such as the impressive-sounding Super Master Grill Operator and the subtly undermining Master Blaster. About 10 percent of Waffle House’s cooks currently qualify as Rockstars.
In New York City, as with most big cities, there is the opportunity to be anonymous on the streets. For a long time, I loved no one knowing who I was or what my business was. I took comfort in the speed with which I moved through the streets of the city, head down, in my own little world, but still somehow absorbing a thousand details at once. It was helpful to my development as an artist, I felt. If all you want is to be left alone with your imagination, then there is no better place to do it than New York.
In New Orleans, there is an insistence to the way we all interact with each other out in the world. We share these streets, which are generally sparsely populated in the neighborhoods. There are good mornings, goodnights, how y’all doings, and head nods and smiles and eye contact. There are neighbors who walk out on their front porch to give treats to my dog. There is polite chit-chat even if we don’t know each other. There are waves from car windows. There is communication. My solo-artist instincts still sometimes rise up, but here, I can’t hide even on those rare occasions I wish I could. This is me now: I’d rather be seen and known than ignored and isolated.
There is a photograph, taken in 2017, of my desk as it looked until recently: monitor, laptop, stacks of papers, various derelict technologies, magazines, books. It resembles a forest—or better yet a city, loose towers arrayed around a small square of open space. This was during the time I was spending a semester in Las Vegas, where I had a different, and much cleaner, desk in the small apartment I rented not far from the campus of UNLV.
I took the photo by way of comparison, so I would remember what I’d left behind. I wasn’t using either desk very much: the one at home because it was too cluttered, the one in Nevada because I had a small breakfast table in the front room where I preferred to write. I could set up my computer and spread out notes and papers on the rounded surface, everything (or so I thought) accessible to me. It was then that I first began to imagine what it might be like to clean my office, to remove those ancient piles and discard the detritus, to get rid of the Kindle and the Sony Reader, to deconstruct and excavate the evidence.
If there was any lingering doubt that Brutalism — the architectural style derided for everything the name implies — was back in fashion, the “Atlas of Brutalist Architecture” quashes it with a monumental thump. At 560 pages representing some 878 works of architecture in over 100 countries, the outsize volume is part reference tool, part coffee table book, and certainly part of an ongoing design trend favoring big, big books.
Death is emptying us out with the flat teaspoon
of minutes, bit by bit, without being excessively
Simple questions often yield complex answers. For instance: what is the difference between a language and a dialect? If you ask this of a linguist, get comfortable. Despite the simplicity of the query, there are a lot of possible answers.
I think we’d all be better readers if we realized that it isn’t the writer who’s the time traveler. It’s the reader. When we pick up an old novel, we’re not bringing the novelist into our world and deciding whether he or she is enlightened enough to belong here; we’re journeying into the novelist’s world and taking a look around.
The difference in perspective, the clarification of who exactly is doing the traveling, might lead to a different kind of reading experience.
The bowerbird defies traditional assumptions about animal behavior. Here is a creature that spends hours meticulously curating a cabinet of wonder, grouping his treasures by color and likeness. Here is a creature that single-beakedly builds something far more sophisticated than many celebrated examples of animal toolmaking; the stripped twigs that chimpanzees use to fish termites from their mounds pale in comparison. The bowerbird’s bower, as at least one scientist has argued, is nothing less than art. When you consider every element of his courtship — the costumes, dance and sculpture — it evokes a concept beloved by the German composer Richard Wagner: Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, one that blends many different forms and stimulates all the senses.
This extravagance is also an affront to the rules of natural selection. Adaptations are meant to be useful — that’s the whole point — and the most successful creatures should be the ones best adapted to their particular environments. So what is the evolutionary justification for the bowerbird’s ostentatious display? Not only do the bowerbird’s colorful feathers and elaborate constructions lack obvious value outside courtship, but they also hinder his survival and general well-being, draining precious calories and making him much more noticeable to predators.
These quandaries rest on the presumption that physical time, with an absolute starting point, is the only real kind of time. But what if the question of the beginning of time is ill-posed? Many of us like to think that science can give us a complete, objective description of cosmic history, distinct from us and our perception of it. But this image of science is deeply flawed. In our urge for knowledge and control, we’ve created a vision of science as a series of discoveries about how reality is in itself, a God’s-eye view of nature.
Such an approach not only distorts the truth, but creates a false sense of distance between ourselves and the world. That divide arises from what we call the Blind Spot, which science itself cannot see. In the Blind Spot sits experience: the sheer presence and immediacy of lived perception.
The next morning, I went for a run, looking for another high. When I was a teenager, I loved to run. Like a drug, it cleared my mind. It had been a while since then. I ran until drinking sounded dreadful, then I ran some more. It was early, and Brooklyn was slowly waking up. A man watered his flowers; the subway screeched; a woman with a floral top drank coffee on her stoop. I noticed the calmness in the details of the morning—how life was actually being lived in it. Throughout the day, I replied to old texts I never responded to. Nobody I talked to understood what I was apologizing for. I drank, one by one, at least six liters of water.
On these first head-clearing runs, I started to understand how everything got so bad: Every drink that I had was a result of a resentment paired with the fear it stemmed from: I have resentment at my father because I fear that one day, I’ll also die from multiple sclerosis. I fear that he never got the chance to teach me the things he needed to. I fear that I’ll always push people away when life gets too hard, like he did. I resent my design work because I fear that it doesn’t have a huge impact on the world—that I could have made something better. I’m tethered to my emotions in sobriety now, all of the time. All the bad parts of me are crystal-clear, and the shame makes me grimace in frustration, but I know I owe it to myself to move forward. I do my best to do that keeping a strict routine of running and 12-step meetings.
These days, I’m trying to embrace and create detours. Sometimes I get off the train at random stops, or I walk a different way home. For me, feeling lost is part of the journey.
Forever and a Day is true to the Bond character — not the Bond of the movies but the Bond of the books. You don’t know Bond until you’ve read Horowitz’s highly imaginative manifestation. This is Bond 1.0. Accept no facsimiles.
There was every reason for the killing of Pamela Werner to simply fade into history until a book introduced the case to a modern audience in 2011. But Paul French's best-seller Midnight in Peking also dug up old ghosts and animosities which ran much deeper than the writer could have envisaged.
A retired British policeman, Graeme Sheppard, has now written a rival book challenging French's version of events.
The result: a literary stand-off revolving around family pride, bizarre events now lost in the past and a grisly murder still unsolved.
Why produce a daily podcast? If your subject matter is the news, it’s the only time frame that can keep up with the snowball-rolling-down-Mt.-Everest pace of what’s going on. If your subject matter is poetry, the point is to slow everything down and keep slowing everything down.
That’s the goal of The Slowdown, from U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith and American Public Media. For five minutes every weekday, Smith introduces a new poem, explains why she selected that poem, and reads it. That’s the whole podcast. It’s a REAL THING. You can actually subscribe to a show that gives you permission to listen to a poem for five minutes read by the woman who was nominated twice to spread poetry all over the country. This is a literary once-a-day multivitamin to keep your body going a little bit longer.
During my training as a hematologist at U.C.L.A., forty years ago, a senior faculty member introduced the program of study by citing a verse from Leviticus: “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” For the assembled young physicians, this was a biological truth. Red cells carry oxygen, required for our heart to beat and our brain to function. White cells defend us against invasion by lethal pathogens. Platelets and proteins in plasma form clots that can prevent fatal hemorrhages. Blood is constantly being renewed by stem cells in our bone marrow: red cells turn over every few months, platelets and most white cells every few days. Since marrow stem cells spawn every kind of blood cell, they can, when transplanted, restore life to a dying host.
In a wide-ranging and energetic new book, “Nine Pints” (Metropolitan), the British journalist Rose George examines not only the unique biology of this substance but also the lore and tradition surrounding it, and even its connections to the origins of the earth and of life itself. “The iron in our blood comes from the death of supernovas, like all iron on our planet,” she writes. “This bright red liquid . . . contains salt and water, like the sea we possibly came from.” George charts the distance that our blood (as her title suggests, we contain, on average, between nine and eleven pints of it) travels in the body every day: some twelve thousand miles, “three times the distance from my front door to Novosibirsk.” Our network of veins, arteries, and capillaries is about sixty thousand miles long—“twice the circumference of the earth and more.”
The baobab trunks are thick and bulbous and fat. The bark is shiny and red. The trees don’t sway. They don’t whistle with the wind. Movement is slow and barely perceptible, if they move at all. Baobabs can grow to 100 feet tall; their diameters can reach up to 40 feet. For the most part their leaves appear for just a few months during the wet season and look like the unnatural hair that emerges from a chia pet. Their most dynamic motions are during the roughly five minutes at dusk when their night-blooming flowers open for the bats and moths who drink their pollen, and in death, when they topple suddenly and dramatically in just a few hours.
In June 2018, a study was published by the scientific journal Nature Plants; it stated simply that the baobabs are dying. The scientists involved do not know why, but they suspect increased drought and climate change. For decades, villagers in Botswana have witnessed the depletion of baobabs because of human encroachment—cattle grazing and farmland have taken over areas once roamed by hunter-gatherers. The introduction of agriculture and changes to the soil have produced a negative effect on the trees. These trees, which are some of the oldest on the planet, are rooted so solidly into the African horizon, they appear invincible, as if the sun couldn’t set without the silhouettes of their gnarly branches reshaping the line where land meets sky.
Thus, it would seem that reading has become at once more populous and less popular––statistically strong, but much more cloistered, academic, and remote from everyday life. The students ordering Mann and Joyce for their master class in modernism do not represent the culture’s pulse––its living, breathing interest in narrative art. They are caretakers. Some of them will go on to become professors, or creative writing teachers, hired hands that will work on semesterly contracts for the rest of their lives––because even teaching literature is no longer a stable profession. And these teachers will, in turn, hand down the same works and erect a new generation of literary custodians, who will live out their lives in the offices they borrow on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, forever bemoaning the good ol’ days when one could see people like Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer on the cover of magazines, or fighting it out on late night television. This is exactly the kind of bitching you can expect to hear when writers get around each other. And it’s all true. All of it. So, can they be blamed for the flurry of pamphlets they’ve been dropping from the ivory tower before they’re forced to vacate it?
Sometimes, an idea can be so arresting that, for a time at least, we care more about the fascinating nature of the idea than we do about its feasibility or reality. This was how I felt when I discovered that one man (and a few others before and after him) firmly believed that the Earth is “hollow and habitable within.” The idea of a concave inner world that was as yet unexplored captivated me initially, but in the end, it was the man who believed this theory so doggedly who captured my attention.
John Cleves Symmes Jr. lived 200 years or so ago; I discovered a monument in his honor in a park in Hamilton, Ohio, a small city north of Cincinnati. I first learned of it when I was surfing Atlas Obscura and went to check out the monument.
In a time when facts are to be treasured, perhaps paper maps have real significance, recording as they do a version of the truth less susceptible to tampering and fakery.
Forsman and Radiguès seem to understand instinctively that while one person’s search for happiness may be the cause of another’s deep pain, accepting daily sadness as a kind of life tax won’t, in the end, make things better for anyone. Also, that an absent parent is not necessarily an unloving one. Some people – some women, even – do this sort of thing better at a distance. Their survival may even depend on it.
On the face of it, Walter Kempowski’s All for Nothing is void of even the blackest humour. The novel is set against the disastrous evacuation of East Prussia in the closing months of World War II. As the Red Army advances westward, the roads fill with some 750,000 German refugees, nearly half of whom will perish in their desperate flight. In the middle of the chaos stands the decaying manor house of the von Globigs, a newly-aristocratic family trying obstinately to preserve the tedium of domestic normality – that is, until midway through the novel, when the front arrives at the von Globigs’ doorstep and forces them to join the caravan. The first half of All for Nothing, then, is deliberately dull; the second, with its unflinching depiction of German suffering, unrepentantly bleak. And yet, its function approximates that of Ifans’ paedophilia gag. By temporarily positing the German view of WWII as the norm and not the aberration, All for Nothing allows us to sustain both our disgust for the crimes of the Third Reich and our enjoyment of those parts of German kultur which that regime might otherwise have ruined.
The Water Cure is both otherworldly and very much of this world in its deep pessimism about the fate of the planet, as well as the fate of equitable relations between men and women. It's not a pretty or uplifting novel, but it's effective — and clearly it's the kind of story that Mackintosh and a lot of other authors feel they need to be writing — and we need to be reading — right now.
The science-fiction writer and futurist Stanisław Lem was well acquainted with the way that fictional worlds can sometimes encroach upon reality. In his autobiographical essay “Chance and Order,” which appeared in The New Yorker, in 1984, Lem recalls how as an only child growing up in Lvov, Poland, he amused himself by creating passports, certificates, permits, government memos, and identification papers. Equipped with these eccentric toys, he would then privately access fictional places “not to be found on any map.” Some years later, when his family was fleeing the Nazis, Lem notes that they escaped certain death with the help of false papers. It was as if the child’s innocent game had prophesied a horrific turn in history, and Lem wonders if he’d sensed some calamity looming on the horizon—if his game had sprung “perhaps from some unconscious feeling of danger.”
Lots of sci-fi focuses on rollicking adventurers hurtling through space, with characters who don’t have time to worry about, say, making dinner for each other. It’s easy to overlook the everyday mundanities of what people are putting in their bodies when there’s a plot to focus on.
When you look beyond complicated narratives and fast-moving stories, you begin to notice that just as many characters aren’t eating as don’t have enough to eat. More and more, authors are interrogating problems of climate change, equity, and food security through the table even as their protagonists explore galaxies far, far away.
This wasn’t always the case.
Behind the desk in my office is a portrait of the young Iris Murdoch painted by artist-philosopher Renée Bolinger in the style of Lucian Freud. Murdoch stares over my shoulder as I type, her boyish haircut bristling in oils, lips pursed, emphatic cheekbones gray-green-blue. I first encountered Murdoch as one of BBC Two’s “Men of Ideas,” interviewed by the irreplaceable Bryan Magee. You can watch the video on YouTube now, but I read a transcript in the volume that followed the series. I was 15 years old and I adored the book. It was my window to a world of urbane intellectualism, a symposium at which Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, and Ludwig Wittgenstein were virtual guests. The best conversation was Murdoch’s, on literature and philosophy.
Murdoch was a professional philosopher for 15 years before leaving her position at Oxford University to work on fiction full time. By the time her interview with Bryan Magee was broadcast, in 1978, she had written 19 novels, including The Sea, The Sea (1978), which won the Booker Prize that same year. Her dialogue with Magee has become infamous among students of Murdoch for its sustained resistance to the blurring of lines between philosophy and literature. Philosophy “states and attempts to solve very difficult highly technical problems,” Murdoch begins, whereas “art is fun and for fun, it has innumerable intentions and charms.” She concludes: “I am reluctant to say that the deep structure of any good literary work could be a philosophical one.”
If the contents of the story are under tremendous pressure, so are the book’s political themes. This is supposed to be a mad and furious book about a mad and furious city, and I suspect that Gunaratne wants his writing to borrow some of the freedoms of song lyrics and engaged journalism—to deliver political commentary, ardent instruction, and harsh intervention, to praise and to rage. But I also want to hear the characters sing the song of themselves. Gunaratne’s powers of observation are so acute and extractive that he can trust his material to generate its own human significance. Caroline, when denouncing familial blood enmities, is relatively predictable. She is anything but earlier in the novel, when she says this about her former partner: “I thought if I married John, I’d be safe. It was a common-law marriage, mind you. Though it might as well have been the real thing because he beat the shit out of me anyway.” That’s mad and furious, too.
I was born to watch
the beavers’ chewing
flood the pond.
Fated to bear witness
to such confident
accretion, my life was bitten down
Why do you need to take the letter ‘u’ out of all the words where we use them, change the ‘s’ to ‘z’? Why do you need to change car park to parking lot (is that really so hard to figure out from context?)? And these may be small things, but there were a lot of them and that led to a reading experience that felt wrong. I will happily read a book written by an American author, set in America, published in America, that is written in American English. That is the original language. But this was a book written by an Australian, set in Australia, that is suddenly in the wrong language. And it’s not like it even needed to be translated—Australian English is not that far removed from American English. This loss of flavour and character of language, that seems entirely unnecessary, is irksome.
For the past few months, I’ve been talking to many scholars about intellectual humility, the crucial characteristic that allows for admission of wrongness.
I’ve come to appreciate what a crucial tool it is for learning, especially in an increasingly interconnected and complicated world. As technology makes it easier to lie and spread false information incredibly quickly, we need intellectually humble, curious people.
I’ve also realized how difficult it is to foster intellectual humility.
The stories around wealth and success, in particular, are social narratives that we can’t seem to get enough of. Now, it should be obvious that the absence of either of these two things can cause anxiety and misery. I will not suggest otherwise. The narratives suggest, however, that no matter how much we have of each, we are expected to be reaching for more. The assumption is that ever more happiness is achieved with ever more money and more markers of success. The trap comes from the fact that the happiness hit from adherence to these narratives gets ever smaller the further up the ladder you go and, eventually, can become reversed. To be happier we need to move from a culture of “more please” to one of “just enough”.
Doing nothing is my favorite thing in life. I believe in the ancient practice of doing nothing. I believe that this planet is doomed because we so believe in doing things that now the world’s most recognized dictum is “Just do it.” But how can you think nothing? Especially when you’re told to think nothing?
“How many times can you tell a good story? It depends on the teller, but that tends to suggest that the more a story is told the further it retreats from reality. Somebody once said that if everyone who claimed to have been at the first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring had actually been there, you’d have needed Wembley stadium to fit them all in. Conversely, the famous riot has been so anthologised that it has now become chic in academic circles to question whether it actually happened.”
The powerful language proves equal to the story’s chilling moral profundity and all involved appear that bit smaller and meaner.
I know that you are rich And I am just a poor immigrant I’ve been selling milk tea on the street Since I was seven
But my grandmother watches me close
From her banana tree in heaven
Poetry, which requires formal speech, takes place in a different arena than friendship, which requires informal speech. For poets who are friends, this is not necessarily a contradiction. But for a friendship in poetry, certain difficulties emerge. The body of the friendship cannot live long outside an informal mode of speech, but the purpose of it, the poetry itself, cannot survive outside a formal one. The more the friendship succeeds in producing viable poetry, the less that poetry—the very catalyst and meaning of the friendship—truly belongs to its participants or can even be fully comprehended by them.
I’ve heard that Hachette Book Group is debating putting one in its trade book contracts, though the publisher wouldn’t confirm it. These clauses release a company from the obligation to publish a book if, in the words of Penguin Random House, “past or future conduct of the author inconsistent with the author’s reputation at the time this agreement is executed comes to light and results in sustained, widespread public condemnation of the author that materially diminishes the sales potential of the work.”
This past year, regular contributors to Condé Nast magazines started spotting a new paragraph in their yearly contracts. It’s a doozy. If, in the company’s “sole judgment,” the clause states, the writer “becomes the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals,” Condé Nast can terminate the agreement. In other words, a writer need not have done anything wrong; she need only become scandalous. In the age of the Twitter mob, that could mean simply writing or saying something that offends some group of strident tweeters.
Agents hate morality clauses because terms like “public condemnation” are vague and open to abuse, especially if a publisher is looking for an excuse to back out of its contractual obligations. When I asked writers about morality clauses, on the other hand, most of them had no idea what I was talking about. You’d be surprised at how many don’t read the small print.
Darkness in fashion is seldom bland. Even where it fails, its objective is to make its mark, whether one of elegance or uniformity, modesty or dangerous seduction. Like red wine rather than white, it can suggest sophistication, even opulence; like the darks of professional makeup—the art of smoky defining shadows and dark lipstick—it can obscure what we find less appealing and hint at mysterious qualities that a scrubbed-clean face couldn’t hope to inspire. In China and Japan, for example, teeth were once lacquered black to protect the enamel, but also because it was considered beautiful, and the practice goes on today among some minorities in Southeast Asia. To paint black what should be white creates a shock that is the essence of dark fashion.
Fashion is related to the desire for conformity. Even the least sartorially concerned among us might feel uncomfortable wearing bright colors at a funeral unless asked to do so, say, or be reluctant to turn up at a wedding dressed top to toe in black or, indeed, white. To ignore the unspoken rules of dress is to draw attention to oneself and to seem to make a critical statement about the status quo, as if one knows better. This is fashion in its widest sense. We may not think we give a damn about what we wear, but still we can find ourselves caring very much when even the smallest aspect of dress feels curiously unlike ourselves, as for a conservative dresser in a tie that is brighter or fractionally wider than his custom. It may be important to a person that their clothes do not look cheap—or, to another, too new.
Patt Morrison likes the small stuff. "I am a great lover of what is erroneously called ephemera, our paper trail in this world," the longtime journalist says on a recent morning at a Cypress Park Starbucks. She likes small objects, postcards and notes on napkins; all things that could be easily discarded. Yet there’s a story in every scrap.
A few years ago, Morrison began to notice postcards with images from long-gone newspapers. During that time, she saw the troubles in print media industry, including the ongoing challenges of newspapers large and small. "We are in the business of telling other people's stories," says Morrison, an L.A. Times columnist. Journalists are the conduits of the world's stories, the writers of the first draft of history. But she wondered: Who would tell the stories of journalists?
Off the shore of a remote island, three sisters navigate the currents of grief after losing their father—assumed dead after disappearing at sea. The unfolding narrative that follows in Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel, The Water Cure, is both eerie and stunning, driven mostly by poetic devices in the language and dramatic action. Told in elliptical vignettes, the scenes culminate in a coming-of-age story that delves into the psychology of womanhood. Raised to believe that the “mainland” is filled with men who will harm them, the three sister protagonists—Sky, Lia, and Grace—wade through the possibility and curiosity of this supposed truth.
In the language of handkerchiefs // there’s really nothing // I don’t want
I’m glad to be paid in gold // when the devil beats his // you know what
When she finally grew tired of the silence (this took a while – Le Guin seemed quite content to sit quietly with me) Le Guin told stories. In retrospect, I see that she may have cottoned on to what I was going through, for the stories she told were about being out of place and being brave. She told me about the first time she took the train across the country – to attend Radcliffe just after the war, when Radcliffe was deeply in the shadow of Harvard and the idea of educating women was an afterthought. She told me about living on the East Coast for the first time and feeling out of place among upper crusty New Englanders. She told me about her struggles to learn French and the time she spent studying in Paris when the words would sometimes refuse to come and she wondered if she’d ever be fluent. But then, she told me, one day she was riding the bus. She was about to miss her stop; the driver, in a hurry, was speeding right past it. When she found herself yelling at the driver rapidly in French to slow down, to stop, she realized she had conquered the language. She told me about writing at the kitchen table late at night after she’d put the children to sleep, that writing when no one expected you to write, when there was little support for a woman writer, had some advantages: ‘If no one is expecting much, it’s not hard to exceed their expectations.’ And she told me about how tired she was of being asked what it takes to be an author. ‘Don’t try to be an author,’ she said as we stood outside a lecture hall in the bitter cold. ‘You cannot control that. Instead, try to be a writer. And to do that, you must write. That’s it. It’s very simple. Why don’t people understand that?’ The words came out in a tumble and her breath, mixing with the frigid air, turned to crystal.
Nonsense such as this might get tiresome to read, but it can make for a useful thought-experiment – particularly about language. In the Snark, as in the Alice books of 1865 and 1871, the commonsense assumptions that usually govern language and meaning are turned upside down. It makes us wonder what all of those assumptions are up to, and how they work. How do we know that this sentence is trying to say something serious, or that where we are now is not a dream?
Language can’t always convey meaning alone – it might need sense, which is the governing context that framed it. We talk about ‘common sense’, or whether something ‘makes sense’, or dismiss things as ‘nonsense’, but we rarely think about what sense itself is, until it goes missing. The German logician Gottlob Frege in 1892 used sense to describe a proposition’s meaning, as something distinct from what it denoted. Sense therefore appears to be a mental entity, resistant to fixed definition.
The first literary anniversary of 2019 will be one of the biggest: Jan. 1 marks the centenary of J.D. Salinger. (To mark the occasion, his four books are being reissued in a boxed set by Little Brown.) A hundred years seems like it ought to be a long time in literary history—Salinger is as distant from a child born in 2019 as he himself was from Herman Melville. Yet somehow he doesn’t feel as far removed from us as the other writers of his generation—figures like Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, or John Updike, who also became famous in the post-World War II years. Our readerly accounts with those famous names are basically settled, but Salinger’s remains open; his achievement feels unsettled, incomplete.
“Bandersnatch” ’s do-overs lighten the weight of our decisions, which in turn lightens the gravity of the whole. It’s an exhilarating experiment, not least because it’s played out on such a major stage, and on one of Netflix’s prestige properties. Much of the episode’s success, however, relies on the clever marriage of theme and mechanism. Without this, the flimsiness of the supporting framework, more gimmick than revolution, would be exposed. It is a choice, in short, to be repeated only with great care.
When does a word become unfashionable? When unfashionable people start using it, of course. In other words, well before these Google peaks—driven as they are by the uninitiated, many of them looking to learn the meaning of a trendy piece of jargon for the first time. As such searches rise, the cool kids who came up with the slang in the first place will have already moved on, preserving their avant-garde status by coining something else.
What is it that makes the world of the miniature so appealing? “It’s the feeling that you can hold the entire works of Shakespeare in your hands,” says Garcia-Ontiveros. “Miniature books were never seen as serious books, they were curiosities, seen as fun objects, not the kind of books that would make it into libraries. They were the books people would have at home, and because they are tiny and often printed on cheap paper they don’t tend to survive, so in any age miniature books are very rare. And they get lost! We ourselves had one fall behind a cabinet and it wasn’t until we had some building work done that one of the builders saw it behind a cabinet. We’d been looking for it for years.”
Already in the 1990s, early experiments showed that rutherfordium (104) and dubnium (105) do not behave in keeping with their positions in the periodic table. According to the periodic law, the two should behave like the elements directly above them, hafnium and tantalum. Instead, rutherfordium reacts like plutonium, which is quite far away in the periodic table, while dubnium behaves like protactinium, a distant element in the table. But not all super-heavies behave unexpectedly. Seaborgium (106) and bohrium (107) act so in keeping with what Mendeleev’s table would have predicted, scholarly papers on them were titled “Oddly Ordinary Seaborgium” and “Boring Bohrium,” Scerri notes.
Whether or not the periodic table remains periodic for very heavy atoms is, Scerri admits, “of no great practical consequence, at least for the foreseeable future. The loss of predictive power in the superheavy realm will not affect the usefulness of the rest of the table.” However, “the question of special relativity’s effect strikes at the very heart of chemistry as a discipline.” If the periodic law loses its predictive power due to special relativity, chemistry will be more reliant on physics. But if the periodic law remains (largely) valid, chemistry would keep some independence.
When I started this harebrained experiment in January, to visit and report on the Times’s entire 52 Places to Go in 2018 list, I thought that by stop 48, for sure, I’d be the Wonder Woman of travel: blocking mishaps with a flick of my wrist. Instead I was staring down a 2 a.m. arrival in New Delhi before having to force myself awake for a morning plane to Bhutan.
But there was the man on the platform — a waiter for the railway, whose job it is to pass out dinners — flashing a gesture that seemed to mean, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.” I had bought an “unreserved” ticket, which I thought was for people who’d had trouble purchasing online, but which really meant I’d likely have to stand for five hours.
But when the train pulled in, the man talked to the conductor and ushered me into a sleeper car. English-speakers all around jumped in to interpret. Seven dollars in fines and upgrade fees later, I was sitting in a cluster of bunks with four boisterous 20-something women from New Delhi.
A million plastic sprinkles. A neon-lit sound bath. A giant egg carton, welcoming you to step inside. Chances are, you’ve come across at least one of these sets, designed expressly for staging cool photos, at some point in your Instagram feed. This is recreation in the social media age, designed for users who live to get the ‘gram. Pics or it doesn’t happen.
Instagram is no longer just an app, but a visual lens through which we navigate physical spaces. With 1 billion users worldwide, the social media platform has given rise to a cottage industry of photogenic pop-up “experiences” and installations that cater to preening users looking to capture a memorable, and envy-inducing, experience.
In 1976, James Baldwin released what is perhaps his most novel—and most often forgotten—book: Little Man, Little Man, a curious, hybrid-genre composition without precedent in his body of work. A few years earlier, his little nephew, Tejan, had asked Baldwin—Uncle Jimmy—to write a book about him on one of Baldwin’s visits to New York to see Tejan’s family at 137 West 71st Street. At the time, Baldwin was spending most of his days in a residence in the southern French village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, so whenever he made the transatlantic trip to drop by his American family’s home, friends, kin, and strangers would simply appear at the door like moths to a lantern, seeking an audience with the great writer, and soon the apartment’s air would be thick with the sound of voices and music and sweet-pungent with the scent of whiskeys and wines.
Tejan and his sister, Aisha, liked to spy on the events; they had learned that their uncle was not simply popular in the neighborhood, but, as the siblings would boast to their friends and schoolmates, he was “an Author,” with a capital “A” that betokened Baldwin’s celebrity. One day, Tejan claims in the foreword to a lovely new edition of Little Man, Little Man—published last year at the urging of Baldwin scholar Nicholas Boggs, who co-edited the book—he caught his uncle by the arm. “Uncle Jimmy!” he yelled repeatedly. “When you gonna write a book about MeeeeEEE?”
“Ravens” is refreshing because it allows these subtleties of ideation and reception to bubble up, even in a book that covers over 70 years of photography. This is due to Fritsch’s even-handed approach, one that allows for other voices and resists centering itself. I’m sure there are experts who will quibble with her choices — some artists, like Morimura Yasumasa, already much discussed in the West, receive more attention than others — but the book gives me hope. In the realm of art, at least, perhaps we are moving toward a more respectful, circumspect discourse, where it might be possible to recognize oneself through the lens of another.
Twins make up only a small fraction of the population but loom disproportionately large in literature. They are handy for storylines involving mistaken identity and creepy synchronicity, and offer the chance to show how people whose lives begin in the same place can take drastically different paths. A contrast between dissimilar twins is at the heart of “Golden Child”, Claire Adam’s assured and compelling first novel, which is set in rural Trinidad, where she grew up, during the 1980s.
In my twenties the question was never “What do I want to read?” but rather “Who do I want to be?”—and bookstores were shrines I pilgrimaged to for answers. I didn’t have much money and had to be intentional in my selections. I’d pull a book from the shelf and study its cover, smell its pages, wander into the weather of its first lines and imagine the storms to come—imagine a wiser, wilder me for having been swept away by them. It’s something I still feel in my forties. I’m still dazzled by possibilities when I walk into a bookstore.
But it’s not the same.
Now when I wander the aisles, it’s not just some future self I imagine but a past one. There aren’t just books to read but books I’ve already read. Lives I’ve lived. Hopes abandoned. Dreams deferred. The bookstore is still a shrine but more and more what I find aren’t answers to questions but my own unwritten histories.
What happens to a song lyric when it lands on the page? It becomes oddly silent but also not silent. Ghosts of its usual rhythms lie at the beginnings and ends of its lines. The blank space around it seems weirdly disconcerting, like white noise.
This happens, of course, because a song lyric isn’t poetry. A poem exists between pages of paper, bound by its own internal logic. A lyric arrives from the wider world, laden with decades of meaning and remembered melody, and is unmoored violently and suddenly from its bearings. It is also presented for the reader’s eye – which implies an act of choice – not the listener’s ear. The ear could have heard an unforgettable lyric quite by chance on an otherwise ordinary morning. This serendipity disappears in print, although we still hunt for magic within these new leaves.
Jane Kenyon writes in her poem “Having It Out with Melancholy” about feeling melancholy ever since she was a little girl, a sad baby who couldn’t even be saved by “the yellow / wooden beads that slid and spun / along a spindle on [her] crib.” “I was already yours,” she writes, “the anti-urge, / the mutilator of souls.” One of the most famous lines of the poem is: “Unholy ghost, / you are certain to come again.” She goes on to write, “There is nothing I can do / against your coming. / When I awake, I am still with thee.” Frighteningly, like the Holy Ghost, melancholy inhabited Kenyon, insidious, its vengeance to consume eternal. I first read the poem in college but forgot the writer and title, for years only remembering someone else’s words describing my own experience—the feeling of something alien inhabiting my body and tugging me under. Discovering the poem again years later felt like a comforting relief.
I was already drunk on a sense of abundance by the time we sat down for lunch with my mother at the California Pizza Kitchen, choosing it because it seemed fancy and my father was leaving work in the middle of the day to meet us. We studied the menu giddily, and when we were encouraged to each order our own pizza, we all had our own reasons to go for it. That’s when I felt the first pull of something like love for America, not the one I’d seen on TV, not the one I’d come to expect from the dubbed episodes of “Fresh Prince” and “90210” that we watched in rural France, but the one that stretched out before me now, greasy and messy and garnished with fresh cilantro.
“The Moviegoer” isn’t really about movies, and yet the title remains unexpectedly apt, just as it was when the novel, published in 1961, became a surprise winner of the National Book Award and made a sudden Southern eminence of its author, Walker Percy, a nonpracticing physician and self-taught philosopher in early middle age. It’s apt because it moves the novel (and our expectations for the novel) out of the South. It intimates that this novel, set in New Orleans, the region’s most storied city, isn’t about history or legacy, isn’t about place at all: it’s about how we see things—a novel of perception and sensibility, dealing with the search for authenticity in a scripted, stylized, mediated world.
9 to 5 reemerges into a work culture in which little has changed. As Fonda told Vanity Fair, “‘I’m sorry to say the situation is worse today,’ particularly in terms of the harassment that people in the workplace face. ‘Today, a lot of the workforce [is] hired by an outside company, so if there’s a problem, who do you complain to? Who do you fight with?’” Add to this list of worthwhile questions: where did this chronic job insecurity come from?
Louis Hyman, a professor of economic history at Cornell University, offers an answer. In his latest book, (Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary*, he attempts to explain the origins of what is often called the “gig economy,” the “sharing economy,” or “platform capitalism,” exemplified by companies like Uber, Airbnb, Etsy, and Upwork.
But this sort of wandering speculation is precisely what Benjamin finds so productive in sleeplessness, and such straying is always preferable to a refusal to transgress. In her willingness to embrace the same sort of liminality in her work that she champions in the menopausal state and the insomniac condition, Benjamin boldly points the way toward new and productive ways of living.
Americans supposedly have little patience for expertise these days — except, it seems, when it comes to parenting experts, who continue to churn out guides as quickly as their audience can consume them. This appetite for counsel inevitably reflects deeper, often unspoken middle-class aspirations and anxieties; as the psychoanalyst and essayist Adam Phillips once observed, the appeal of such books goes beyond the immediate need to deal with a sullen teenager or a sleepless newborn. “Our obsession with child development and with so-called parenting skills,” he wrote, “has become a code for our forlorn attempt to find a sanity for ourselves.”
Jennifer Traig apparently agrees. In “Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting,” she takes solace in how useless, contradictory and downright harmful so much advice has historically been. “The things we take for granted as normal and natural strike parents in other parts of the world as absurd and dangerous,” she writes, in this brisk survey of child-rearing tips through the ages.
Nervous and excited, the readers were ready to take a risk and be vulnerable in a public space by allowing their work to be seen and heard in a new way. Remarkably, the 7 was on time and no track work was being done that weekend. When we stepped onto the train at 2:02 pm, there were about a dozen people in the car. As we started the reading, I announced to the unwitting passengers that we were not asking for money—we only wanted to offer some poems about Queens as we rode through it.
Some call the 7 train the “International Express,” since its Queens line runs from hyper-gentrified Long Island City—the first stop in the borough—through the heavily immigrant enclaves of Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, and Corona before reaching its terminus in Flushing, the site of New York City’s first Chinatown. The train serves communities from the Philippines, Ireland, India, Bangladesh, Tibet, Mexico, Columbia, El Salvador, China, and many other countries.
“That’s it,” Stroud told me, gesturing to the place he planned to die. It was a good spot — the crest of a grassy hill, surrounded by an ancient forest of towering trees, with a clear view of the wooded valley rolling beyond. Nearby, a creek sang over the moss and rocks, and the mountains rose green and silent in the Oregon sky.
“You know, there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end,” he mused, looking out over the valley. “And if you live the middle part right, the end is not so tragic.”
Over the course of his 71 years, Ramey “Coach” Stroud has striven to live the middle part right.
Broadly, two criteria qualify an event as an act of God: 1) No human agency could have stopped the event, and 2) no human agency could have exercised due care to prevent or avoid the event’s effects. In other words, acts of God must be unpredictable, and their damage must be unpreventable. On that basis alone, the act of God is nearly obsolete, or at least it should be. While specific weather events such as hurricanes or fires may seem to be acts of God, our growing knowledge of climate systems challenges any vision of weather divorced from human activity. Humans meddle with the climate, which meddles with weather, and the two can’t be disentangled.
But legislators haven’t yet caught on. They’re stuck with a centuries-old precedent built on outdated understandings of nature. While no one person can be held legally responsible for causing a specific hurricane, it’s just wrong to say that weather events are uncaused or unpreventable by human activity—aka human agency. We can’t prevent all weather, but human action could have prevented the cataclysmic droughts, fires, and floods that lurk in the near future. The public now knows who triggers the growing spate of hurricanes, floods, and extinctions, and it is not God. Scientists have been warning the public about human-caused climate change for decades. In fact, the act of God’s obsolescence is just one symptom of a deeper disease. Our legal and intellectual frameworks have not kept pace with our understanding of the climate.
The book is undeniably bold, original, and deeply impressive in its investigation of the desire for greatness, along with the need to escape one’s background in order to arrive at some higher experience that seems just out of reach, during a specific time in recent history. We see each character’s purity as well as his or her biases. Psychological depth mixes quite nicely with Greenland’s pace-driven novel of multiple narratives.
A modern collection of vegetarian comfort-food recipes, the book details the lineage of the invisible contributions of African women, and the savvy meal refinement of their descendants, self-reliant and creative West Indians who innovated the region’s most beloved foodstuffs.
Without question, he has once again written a valuable book, reflective as well as jarring, concerning the most violent and enduring conflict in American history.
You keep turning up in my dreams
like a penny, worth less than the old,
I’d had my reasons. I grew up in the Catholic Church, where “forgiveness” was constantly advocated, despite the fact that God did not do much of it Himself. “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you,” we recited at each Mass, “but only say the word and I shall be healed.” God absolved our sins in confession, but only if we listed everything bad about ourselves first. God’s forgiveness was a passive-aggressive note from the author of Creation, a reminder of exactly how much we’d done wrong.
But if God did not forgive, women had to. Women in the Church were pressured to forgive men constantly, and rarely for good reason. Sexual violence was something women and girls in my church were sometimes asked to forgive. So was domestic violence, and child abuse, and so was a husband who cheated on you, or talked down to you, or made you call in to his work to say he had the flu whenever he was hung over, which he was every Monday, until he got fired and you lost your house. “Even if they don’t repent, we still have to forgive,” Focus on the Family tells us, in its marriage-counseling section. Women were expected to do the work of forgiveness so that men did not have to do the work of change.
The photographer Li Zhensheng is on a mission to make his fellow Chinese remember one of the most turbulent chapters in modern Chinese history that the ruling Communist Party is increasingly determined to whitewash.
“The whole world knows what happened during the Cultural Revolution,” Mr. Li said. “Only China doesn’t know. So many people have no idea.”
When I worked as a book publicist, my boss told me that the blessing and curse of our industry is that “everyone thinks they can do what we do, even though no one has a clue what we do.” This comment was prompted by a marketing meeting during which we were lauded for glowing review coverage that no reasonable person could attribute to our efforts, while simultaneously being asked whether we had “tried the ‘Today’ show.” Because pitching the “Today” show is just the kind of thing that would never occur to a book publicist.
A short train ride from Brussels, in the sleepy university town of Mons, Belgium, is an inconspicuous white building that houses a relatively obscure testament to humanity’s thirst for knowledge. Called the Mundaneum, the building houses an early-1900s attempt at collecting and cataloging the entirety of the world’s information, nearly a century before sites like Google and Wikipedia made access to such repositories easily accessible from anywhere with a Wi-Fi signal.
Founded by Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine, two Belgian lawyers with big turn-of-the-century futurist ideas, The Mundaneum began as a continuation of the duo’s earlier efforts to create the perfect classification system. Their index card-based Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) system—still used in over 150,000 libraries today—improved and expanded upon the existing Dewey Decimal System, methodically classifying all the factions of human knowledge into easily searchable groupings and subgroupings. Utilizing this system, the duo launched their Répertoire Bibliographique Universel or “Universal Bibliography Repertory” (UBR) project in 1895, which sought to catalog any-and everything ever published into a “global city of knowledge.”
As a rule, it’s easy to complain about inequality, hard to settle on the type of equality we want. Do we want things to be equal where we start in life or where we land? When inequalities arise, what are the knobs that we adjust to get things back on track? Individually, people are unequal in countless ways, and together they join groups that resist blending. How do you build up a society that allows for such variety without, as in the greater-Detroit real-estate market, turning difference into a constraint? How do you move from a basic model of egalitarian variety, in which everybody gets a crack at being a star at something, to figuring out how to respond to a complex one, where people, with different allotments of talent and virtue, get unequal starts, and often meet with different constraints along the way?
In 1999, Anderson published an article in the journal Ethics, titled “What Is the Point of Equality?,” laying out the argument for which she is best known. “If much recent academic work defending equality had been secretly penned by conservatives,” she began, opening a grenade in the home trenches, “could the results be any more embarrassing for egalitarians?”
“So what happened?” I asked, though I already knew. Lisa had told me that morning on the phone that his grandfather clock had fallen on him. It was made of walnut and bronze and had an abstract human face on it, surrounded by numbers that were tilted at odd angles. My mother always referred to it as Mr. Creech, after the artist who made it, but my dad calls it Father Time.
I’d said to Hugh after hanging up with Lisa, “When you’re ninety-five, and Father Time literally knocks you to the ground, don’t you think he’s maybe trying to tell you something?”
There’s a real sense of “gee-whiz” in this book, but it’s mostly in service of Dunn’s overarching goal: to preach the preservation of biodiversity, not only in the lush forests and streams that fit our traditional image of nature’s abundance, but in the most humble places, too, where the vast majority of us will have most of our cross-species encounters — our basements, mattresses, refrigerator drawers and showerheads.
Adjei-Brenyah is a versatile writer who creates a micro-universe with each story that explodes our expectations and takes us inside frustrated lives.
It’s hopeless, the stars, the books
about stars, they can’t help themselves