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Saturday, March 9, 2019

She's The Youngest Puzzle Designer In America. Can She Save Crosswords?, by Tanya Basu, Daily Beast

“I’m what they call a ‘cruciverbalist,’” Anna Shechtman says as she introduces herself. “It’s the term they use for crossword designers.” She pauses for a beat. “It always makes me think it should be a fancy word for a serial killer or something.”

That morbid, snarky, deadpan humor Shechtman hints at is why she’s become a star in the tiny community of cruciverbalists. Last spring, Shechtman was chosen to be part of a select group of cruciverbalists to help launch The New Yorker’s Monday crossword section, after publishing a crossword as a teenager in The New York Times.

Since then, Shechtman’s puzzles have become stars in their own right, dancing between sharp-tongued feminism, politics, and hat-tips to the cultural zeitgeist of the day. In doing so she’s welcoming a whole new class of crossword enthusiasts, particularly young women.

Teen Fiction And The Perils Of Cancel Culture, by Jennifer Senior, New York Times

If the public had found “A Place for Wolves” as criminally distasteful and insensitive as Twitter did, it would have sunk the book in slower, more deliberate ways. Librarians would have read it and taken a pass. Bookstore owners would have decided it wasn’t worth the space. Book critics would have savaged it — or worse, ignored it.

It should have failed or succeeded in the marketplace of ideas. But it was never given the chance. The mob got to it first.

Chimpanzees Are Going Through A Tragic Loss, by Ed Yong, The Atlantic

It took a long time to convince skeptics that such cultures exist, but now we have plenty of examples of animals learning local traditions from one another. Some orangutans blow raspberries at each other before they go to bed. One dolphin learned to tail-walk from captive individuals and spread that trick to its own wild peers once released. Humpbacks and other whales have distinctive calls and songs in different seas. And chimps still stand out with “one of the most impressive cultural repertoires of nonhuman animals,” says Ammie Kalan, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

But just when many scientists have come to accept the existence of animal cultures, many of those cultures might vanish. Kalan and her colleagues have shown, through years of intensive fieldwork, that the very presence of humans has eroded the diversity of chimpanzee behavior. Where we flourish, their cultures shrivel. It is a bitterly ironic thing to learn on the 20th anniversary of Whiten’s classic study.

'Gingerbread' Is A Delightfully Spicy Family Fable, by Michael Schaub, NPR

Literary fiction is often knocked for being dismal and cynical, but Oyeyemi proves that it can just as easily be life-affirming, charming and just plain fun. Gingerbread is an enchanting masterpiece by an author who's refreshingly unafraid to be joyful, and it proves that Oyeyemi is one of the best English-language authors in the world today.

Bangkok Wakes To Rain By Pitchaya Sudbanthad Review – A City Of Memories, by Tash Aw, The Guardian

The indelibility of memory – both individual and collective – forms the central pillar of this sprawling, multi-generational novel, where characters appear and disappear, only to reappear a hundred pages and several decades later. Their lives may span different eras and locations, even imagined worlds, but they are constantly pulled back to a central reality that revolves around Bangkok.

What We Owe A Rabbit, by Thomas Nagel, New York Review of Books

Christine Korsgaard is a distinguished philosopher who has taught at Harvard for most of her career. Though not known to the general public, she is eminent within the field for her penetrating and analytically dense writings on ethical theory and her critical interpretations of the works of Immanuel Kant. Now, for the first time, she has written a book about a question that anyone can understand. Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals is a blend of moral passion and rigorous theoretical argument. Though it is often difficult—not because of any lack of clarity in the writing but because of the intrinsic complexity of the issues—this book provides the opportunity for a wider audience to see how philosophical reflection can enrich the response to a problem that everyone should be concerned about.

'An American Summer' Presents The Human Side Of Gun Violence In Chicago, by Gabino Iglesias, NPR

One of the worst things about Chicago's violence is that it is public, so "each shooting or its aftermath is witnessed by many, children and adults alike." With this book, Kotlowitz amplifies the words of those who have witnessed it and makes their experience available to readers. The experience is painful, but also tremendously necessary.

'Brick' Is A Visual Ode To The Humble Red Block, Perhaps Humanity's Best Idea, by Drew Tewksbury, Los Angeles Times

Behold the brick. The red, six-sided rectangle that changed the world.

Its ubiquity renders it almost invisible, a hidden-in-plain-sight part of our built environment, whose fascinating history and radical architectural applications are often overlooked. In Phaidon’s new mini edition of the 2015 photo book “Brick” — sized perfectly for a tweed coat pocket — author and editor William Hall pays homage to “the humblest thing imaginable … [a] brick is after all just earth.”