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Archive for May 2019

Friday, May 31, 2019

Escaping Samuel Johnson, by Peter Martin, The Paris Review

America’s lingering literary and linguistic attachment to England is nowhere so evident as in the nation’s pervasive ambivalence toward Samuel Johnson and his great dictionary, published in 1755, which many call the first major dictionary of the language. He was the great sage of English literature, brilliant essayist, moralist, poet, lexicographer, and biographer, the “Colossus of Literature” and “Literary Dictator” of the second half of eighteenth-century England, a figure thoroughly synonymous with Englishness. Throughout his career as an author, Johnson advertised his multilayered and complicated dislike of America and Americans. In 1756, the year after he published his famous dictionary, he coined the term “American dialect” to mean “a tract [trace] of corruption to which every language widely diffused must always be exposed.” He had in mind an undisciplined and barbarous uncouthness of speech. With typical hyperbole on the subject of Americans, he once remarked, “I am willing to love all mankind, except an American … rascals—robbers—pirates.”

Yet Americans could not get enough of him. They devoured his books, which libraries held in great numbers. His influence on American thought and language was vast.

Why Young Chefs Still See Cookbook Deals As A Path To Success, by Brenna Houck, Eater

Only a precious few chefs get the chance to work on a cookbook. And of the hundreds of cookbooks written and published each year, only a few can hope to be considered for, let alone win, a Beard. Other authors may be fortunate enough to land on the New York Times best-seller list. Of course, awards and sales aren’t always the goal. For many young chefs who land a book deal, success can simply mean gaining the experience of publishing a cookbook, or creating a new source of revenue for their small business.

The Anthropocene Epoch: Have We Entered A New Phase Of Planetary History?, by Nicola Davison, The Guardian

It was February 2000 and the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen was sitting in a meeting room in Cuernavaca, Mexico, stewing quietly. Five years earlier, Crutzen and two colleagues had been awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry for proving that the ozone layer, which shields the planet from ultraviolet light, was thinning at the poles because of rising concentrations of industrial gas. Now he was attending a meeting of scientists who studied the planet’s oceans, land surfaces and atmosphere. As the scientists presented their findings, most of which described dramatic planetary changes, Crutzen shifted in his seat. “You could see he was getting agitated. He wasn’t happy,” Will Steffen, a chemist who organised the meeting, told me recently.

What finally tipped Crutzen over the edge was a presentation by a group of scientists that focused on the Holocene, the geological epoch that began around 11,700 years ago and continues to the present day. After Crutzen heard the word Holocene for the umpteenth time, he lost it. “He stopped everybody and said: ‘Stop saying the Holocene! We’re not in the Holocene any more,’” Steffen recalled. But then Crutzen stalled. The outburst had not been premeditated, but now all eyes were on him. So he blurted out a name for a new epoch. A combination of anthropos, the Greek for “human”, and “-cene”, the suffix used in names of geological epochs, “Anthropocene” at least sounded academic. Steffen made a note.

Why Some People Love Being Late To The Airport, by Amanda Mull, The Atlantic

Jonny Gerkin, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, says that both airport arrival styles are likely just vastly different ways of approaching the same emotional problem: the extreme anxiety of air travel. “One person is hyper-efficient and over-prepared, and another is someone who doesn’t manage their anxiety that way,” Gerkin says. It’s not that late people don’t find the airport as stressful as early people, in other words, but that their coping mechanisms indicate a fundamentally different approach to the negative parts of life.

“They distract and procrastinate, and next thing you know, they can’t do what they need to do to get there on time,” Gerkin says. “It’s not quite self-harm, but it’s in the same arena. It changes your feeling state and gets you out of that place that’s uncomfortable and into this place of excitement.” That can mean that even for people who experience higher risks from airport lateness—those who can’t afford rebooking fees, or those from ethnic groups more likely to be stopped for additional security checks—the siren song of lateness can be just as tempting. In some individuals, the additional stress of those factors might make lateness an even more attractive coping mechanism.

My Husband Wore Really Tight Shorts To The Eclipse Party, by Kerry Egan, New York Times

What I love in Alex — that ability to not care what other people think — is something I want for myself. I have experienced that utter lack of self-consciousness only three times in my life: When I fell in love 25 years ago, the months I had untreated postpartum psychosis, and the two-and-half minutes of the eclipse. Three times reality flipped.

His Novel’s Hero Is A Middle-Aged Canadian Catholic Professor. And A Suicide Bomber., by Tom Barbash, New York Times

“Original Prin,” Randy Boyagoda’s third novel, is an original animal, a comedy of literary and cultural references, with wordplay involving unfunny matters like cancer, a crisis of faith and Islamic terrorism, as well as easier comedic subjects like juice-box fatherhood and academic power plays.

The Beach As A Sandy Portal For Figuring Out What You Want, by Nick White, Chicago Review of Books

Though dark and, at times, quite brutal, Cape May, as a reading experience, is every bit a seduction in and of itself, and the novel, among its many delights, announces the arrival of a blistering new talent. Chip Cheek brilliantly explores the limits of marriage, of monogamy, and of a certain kind of staunch and superficial American masculinity that still persists today, more than half a century later.

Rob Zabrecky's Memoir 'Strange Cures' Is An Ode To A Forgotten L.A., by Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times

“Strange Cures” is a punk poem to a forgotten Los Angeles. And like all good poems, its heart is full of tragic beauty. It chronicles the coming of age of a young man who wants so little to do with established society and the accepted norms of living that he doubles down on self-sabotage. Despite almost dying from a heroin addiction that torpedoes nearly everything he holds dear, including his successful alt-rock band Possum Dixon, Zabrecky’s spirit proves indomitable.

The Cost Of These Dreams Book Review, by Trevor Seigler, Book And Film Globe

We hold up people who become famous for something (even if it’s just for being famous) as being better than us regular folk, and often the case can be made that those who reach the heights of their chosen profession and do so in the public eye deserve our acclaim. Often, we associate athletic gifts with character, success with contentment, and fame with happiness. But that’s not always the case. Indeed, it’s rare to read a profile about a happily content celebrity unless they’re selling something. The truth is that the people with God-given gifts are often themselves anything but gods.

Dreyer’s English By Benjamin Dreyer Review – How To Write Clearly And Stylishly, by Steven Poole, The Guardian

When a book manuscript has been revised and approved by the editor, it goes to a copy editor, someone who, in the words of Random House copy chief Benjamin Dreyer, “is to prose what a cobbler is to shoes: a mender”. The relationship between author and copy editor can be a testy one: emotions can boil over about the necessity or otherwise of certain commas, let alone word choices and sentence structure. Veterans of such skirmishes on both sides will enjoy learning of the spectacularly prima donna-ish writers Dreyer mentions (anonymously) here: one responded to the copy editor’s suggestions by writing “It’s called style” in the margin; another simply scrawled in red: “WRITE YOUR OWN FUCKING BOOK.”

Well, he has, and it’s already a bestseller in the US. Dreyer promises to reveal “some of the fancy little tricks I’ve come across or devised that can make even skilled writing better”, and does so with accuracy, style, and a humour that is slightly relentless.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

How Dr. Seuss’s ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go’ Became A Graduation-gift Cliche, by Ron Charles, Washington Post

It’s hard to retire a cherished children’s book. And maybe we don’t really have to give it up. But surely we can stop buying duplicate copies. And better yet, rather than reaching for a picture book that’s become the literary equivalent of a worn greeting card, why not spend a moment selecting a book that might actually get read and convey some fresh, relevant inspiration?

For anyone who can read something more complex than a chapter book, maybe it’s time for “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” to go.

Eat, Pray, Love, Lose, Write A Book, Repeat, by Penelope Green, New York Times

At 13 years and counting, how tiresome is it for Ms. Gilbert to keep answering questions about “Eat Pray Love”?

“I could do it all day, babe,” she said. “And often I do.”

A Perplexing Search For A Distant Moon, by Marina Koren, The Atlantic

This might offend some astronomers, but exoplanets are kind of old news. Over the course of two decades, telescope observations have pinpointed thousands of planets orbiting other stars across the cosmos. Some of these planets are as giant as Jupiter and smoldering hot. Others are more massive than Earth and covered in ice. A few reside in their solar system’s habitable zone, the not-too-hot, not-too-cold environment for liquid water. There have been so many discoveries in the last few years, in fact, that newly found exoplanets are announced now in batches of several hundred.

Not that exoplanets are boring. There’s just … a lot of them. So it was pretty juicy when astronomers reported, for the first time, that they might have found an exomoon—a moon orbiting a planet around another star, thousands of light-years from our own.

Much More To Investigate, by Désirée Zamorano, Los Angeles Review of Books

From the opening pages of Miracle Creek, Angie Kim creates an intense atmosphere of foreboding and suspense, building swiftly to the event that triggers the rest of her debut novel, unraveling so many lives and lies.

Also Milk, by Laura Grothaus, Cincinati Review

We were watching monkeys wring the wrists
of each branch, spring babies
losing their hands in their mothers’ fur, then

Boat Journey, by Ladan Osman, Literary Hub

Sunday afternoon on a city beach.
No sand, slabs of manufactured stone.
I watch two blondes, maybe sisters,
Inflate a raft. They use a bicycle pump.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

When Tea Reaches Its Boiling Point In Fiction, So Too May The Story, by Nina Martyris, NPR

Hot tea — it has to be unhealthily hot — has a deep emotional relationship with the drinker. Its dimensions encompass far more than the gustatory, starting with its magical ability to get chronic malingerers out of bed every morning. That first chastising sip constitutes a tiny tour de force of hope that, like a tingling hot bath, cauterizes other pains. Those grieving the loss of a loved one have found that hot tea can seep into places that, to quote poet William Wordsworth, "do often lie too deep for tears."

It's hardly surprising, then, that it's not just tea drinkers who are addicted to the seductions of hot tea — writers are, too. Across tea-drinking cultures, in China, England, India, Russia, Egypt or the U.S., writers have milked hot tea for all its worth to add a splash of narrative panache to comic or erotic scenes or to build mood, momentum and character.

On Frank Lloyd Wright And The Architectural War For New York’s Skyline, by Anthony Alofsin, Literary Hub

The New York City to which Frank Lloyd Wright returned in late 1926 was dramatically different from the metropolis he had encountered in 1909, but its evolution was not a mystery. The dramatic skyscrapers, the stock market, airplanes, jazz, the Harlem Renaissance, radio, and even organized crime, which gave the 1920s their fame, did not appear from nowhere. All had developed from the preceding decades. The risk was large, but for greater New York, still barely 20 years old, “the ties that bound—subways, bridges, schools, amusement parks, police, theaters, jobs, water, public health, Tammany, the excitement and pride of living in a great city—overmatched the innumerable antagonisms and kept them with bounds.” Squinting at risk, its citizens might assume “so far so good.”

Why I'll Never Be A Wedding Photographer, by Clare Harding, Petapixel

I have seen so many posts across various websites and Facebook groups this week all centered around one theme: wedding photography. Wedding season is well and truly upon us and I guess that everyone who’s getting married this summer has already booked their photographer. But their guests who are getting married next year or the year after? They’re the ones probably starting to think about who’s going to photograph their big day. And it’s a huge decision to make.

So why this article? What has riled me up so much that I feel the need to write about it?! Well to start with, I am not nor have I ever been a wedding photographer. So I’m not touting for business. But when people book a photographer — any kind of photographer — I want them to get what they’re paying for. I love value for money no matter what your budget. But certain threads and posts written recently by professional photographers make me think that not everyone has the same standards and that really winds me up.

Turning A Bad Day At The Office Into Cubicle Comedy, by Jillian Medoff, New York Times

Like many funny novels, “How Not to Die Alone” is influenced by the adage that humor equals tragedy plus time. We root for Andrew to come clean and connect, as much for his benefit as our entertainment. He will, of course — the book’s title tells us as much. But Roper aspires to more than a yuk-yuk sitcom resolution. He wants to show that Andrew can’t live authentically until he reaches back and confronts the heartbreak that derailed him in the first place. It’s a risky proposition for any novelist, particularly a rookie, but when Roper makes it work, the payoff is tremendous.

‘Mostly Dead Things,’ A Story Of Taxidermy, Love And Grief, With Echoes Of Past Literary Heroines, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

“Eden of dangerous things,” the novelist Lauren Groff once described Florida. Zora Neale Hurston famously wrote of the “ground so rich that everything went wild” — not least the writers themselves. What other state so reliably produces such rowdy, uninhibited imaginations? Hurston, Kelly Link, Karen Russell, Alissa Nutting, Laura van den Berg, Jennine Capó Crucet. They have created a literature full of mirages and (actual) sinkholes, poised on the hazy borders between man and nature, ripeness and rot, tragedy and gag.

And life and death, in the case of Kristen Arnett’s “Mostly Dead Things,” an irresistible first novel set in the hard sunshine and “juicy green” of Central Florida, featuring a family of taxidermists, suicides and ruthless intimacies. A clan after Diane Arbus’s very heart.

Ocean Vuong’s ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ Is Permanently Stunning, by Ron Charles, Washington Post

May 31 marks the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth, and the best present we could possibly receive is Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” The connection between the Good Gray Poet and this young Vietnamese immigrant may seem tenuous, but with his radical approach to form and his daring mix of personal reflection, historical recollection and sexual exploration, Vuong is surely a literary descendant of the author of “Leaves of Grass.” Emerging from the most marginalized circumstances, he has produced a lyrical work of self-discovery that’s shockingly intimate and insistently universal.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

My Many Years Of Reading Dangerously – Whether Twitter Likes It Or Not, by Andy Miller, Unbound

In an essay on her childhood reading of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, Ali Smith disputes the idea of reading as an escape, an alternative to life, something that takes you out of yourself. When we read a book we love, she says, when we are fully engaged with it, far from escaping we are being taken into ourselves; and the experience of reading that book will be remembered as a vivid, thrilling part of our life, not as an alternative to it. It is being alive.

Which is how – and why – I read so much.

My Friend Marshall, by Robert Christgau, Los Angeles Review of Books

A funny thing happened after the Village Voice published my rave review of Marshall Berman’s 1982 book, All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity. The author called me up, and within months we became such fast friends that, three decades later, I found myself delivering a eulogy that nabbed me the only Dissent byline of my career. Not that it was all that strange Marshall Berman called — he often telephoned people he knew slightly if at all, including me several times before then. And obviously there was nothing humorous about the sudden loss of a 72-year-old polymath whose intellectual fecundity was unimpaired by that dent in his skull, souvenir of the botched 1989 brain abscess operation his second wife browbeat the hospital into fixing. Nor, I should add, did my eulogy close an SRO funeral. That honor went to Marshall’s second son, Elijah Tax-Berman, a blunt 29-year-old I’d known since he left the incubator. His flow leaning Run-DMC, Eli nailed it. At the cemetery, he was still shoveling dirt into his father’s grave after the rest of us fell back.

Marshall’s call came during the crucial turning point of a life that was pretty tumultuous for someone who resided in one West End Avenue apartment and taught at one no-longer-free public university for all the time I knew him. Professionally, the turning point was a triumph. Although Marshall’s masterwork was assigned a supercilious pan in The New York Times Book Review, All That Is Solid enjoyed a trajectory more in keeping with the fondly skeptical daily Times review John Leonard ended with the perfect “I love this book and wish that I believed it.” Spurned in France and Germany but translated into many humbler tongues, the book made him a hero in Brazil, Norway, and other nations where socialism had a life. Personally, however, the turning point was a catastrophe: the December 1980 murder of Marshall’s five-year-old son Marc by his first wife, who threw the child out of their sixth-floor window and then jumped herself (he died and she didn’t). That, Marshall explained on the phone, was why he hadn’t called in a while.

Mayor Pete And The Millennial Paradox, by Peggy O’Donnell, Los Angeles Review of Books

On a wet, gray, and horrible Midwest day last winter, I tried to explain the geographical logistics of my life to a childhood friend. I work two hours away from my partner, which means we have to lease two apartments. “But which one is home?” she asked.

Home? I flipped through an internal rolodex of the places life had thrown me, where I’d stayed long enough to have an address. Boston, where I was born. The desert east of Los Angeles, where the sun carved deep lines into my forehead and I learned what it means to call a sky “blue.” The San Francisco Bay Area. The Hudson Valley. Chicago’s South Side. The stretch of cornfields and manufacturing plants and wide-open prairie just beyond the farthest northern reaches of Chicagoland’s suburban sprawl. All of them were home at one point, and none of them are Home.

Remember The ‘10,000 Hours’ Rule For Success? Forget About It, by Jim Holt, New York Times

Folk wisdom holds the trade-off between breadth and depth to be a cruel one: “jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” and so forth. And a lot of thinking in current pop-psychology agrees. To attain genuine excellence in any area — sports, music, science, whatever — you have to specialize, and specialize early: That’s the message. If you don’t, others will have a head start on you in the 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” supposedly necessary for breakout achievement.

But this message is perversely wrong — so David Epstein seeks to persuade us in “Range.” Becoming a champion, a virtuoso or a Nobel laureate does not require early and narrow specialization. Quite the contrary in many cases. Breadth is the ally of depth, not its enemy. In the most rewarding domains of life, generalists are better positioned than specialists to excel.

Jim Harrison’s Last Poems—of Love And The Earth—Are The Arguments We Should Be Having, by Dean Kuipers, Literary Hub

In this unforgiving literary moment, we must deal honestly with his life and work, as they are inextricable in a way that is not true of other poets. Harrison was a man of gluttonous appetites for sadness, for food, for a 1982 Petrus, for full immersion (if not reclusion) in nature, for the legs of a young woman not his wife that he could throw his arms around and declare that he’d found a reason to go on living. His resonant, necessary poems are even hungrier, and more demanding of proof that living matters. These poems bear-crawl gorgeously after a genuine connection to being, thrashing in giant leaps through the underbrush to find consolation, purpose, and redemption. In his raw, original keening he ambushes moments of unimaginable beauty, one after another, line after line. Harrison digs in the dirt and finds the stars.

The Making Of Poetry By Adam Nicolson Review – When Coleridge Met The Wordsworths, by Robert McCrum, The Guardian

In the 21st century, the creative act of authorship is the magic moment of the liberated and expressive self that is simultaneously more idolised and tantalising than ever before. The enigma of creativity – whence does inspiration spring? – remains at once the key to its allure and also its bewitching riddle. How to explain Shakespeare’s sonnets? Where is the wellspring of Moby-Dick? And what is the spell of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel?

Blood On Black Wax Book Review: A Must Have For Freaky Horror Vinyl Collectors, by B. Alan Orange, Movieweb

Collecting vinyl is an arduous task. And focusing in on horror soundtracks can often be very frustrating. The field is so wide and vast, it's imperative to lock in on one artist or sub-genre when building your record collection. But how do you know what you're even looking for? A lot of the best scores are long out of print. Many never before pressed. There are also a lot of re-issues and reprints, some of which are worth as much as the original releases. Blood on Black Wax comes as the perfect field guide, breaking down what's available, what's been released in the past, and why certain records should be sought out, even if the movie they are attached to is not worth revisiting or even watching. It's an impassioned love letter to the craft of movie music, paying as much attention to the score as the individuals behind each scary note.

Superior: The Return Of Race Science By Angela Saini – Review, by Alok Jha, The Guardian

This is an urgent, important book. It contains a warning: you thought racism might be on its way out of science? That the arc of society, bending towards more progressive, tolerant values, had long banished the scientific search for ways in which one grouping of people is inherently more talented, clever or physically able than another? You thought wrong.

From Anemoia To Zagreb: How 'Fictionaries' Are Liberating The Word, by Eley Williams, The Guardian

The idea of a lexicon to lampoon the power and celebrate the pleasure of language – whether through spoof, elegy, pun, satire or simply to mark the thrill of etymological pursuit – is here to stay. Challenge your lethologica today, dig deep into your inner anemoiac and see what freshly minted coinage you can add to our vernacular.

A Bit Of Love, by Helen Dunmore, The Guardian

He must stir himself. No more hiding
Behind the skill of hands
That are not his.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Books Of College Libraries Are Turning Into Wallpaper, by Dan Cohen, The Atlantic

It should come as no surprise that library leadership, in moments of dispassionate assessment often augmented by hearing from students who have trouble finding seats during busy periods, would seek to rezone areas occupied by stacks for more individual and group work. Yet it often does come as an unwelcome surprise to many, especially those with a powerful emotional attachment to what libraries should look like and be.

What’s happening here is much more complicated than an imagined zero-sum game between the defenders of books and library futurists. The decline in the use of print books at universities relates to the kinds of books we read for scholarly pursuits rather than pure pleasure, the rise of ebooks and digital articles, and the changing environment of research. And it runs contrary to the experience of public libraries and bookstores, where print continues to thrive.

This Place Is Pryson, by Mary Wellesley, London Review of Books

The cell was the size of a large cupboard. There wasn’t enough room to lie down. I’d come late on a winter afternoon; the light was seeping away. What light there was came through the ‘squint’ – the small window that looked onto the sanctuary. It was a cruciform shape and through it I could see a single candle standing on the altar. I turned on the torch on my phone. In front of the squint was an oak shelf with a dark circle on its edge where the wood had been rubbed smooth. Above it was a notice that read: ‘Please put nothing on the ancient sill. This was the prayer-desk of the anchorites for several centuries.’ I knelt in front of it. If the floor had been at the same height in the medieval period, the desk would have been too high for an anchorite to rest their elbows on. Had the indentation been made by pairs of hands gripping the edge of the ledge? I wondered at those pairs of hands. This cell had been a coffin to its inhabitants – once inside, they were never to come out. They may have been buried beneath my feet, in this tiny anchorhold in the church of St Nicholas in the village of Compton in Surrey.

An anchorite or anchoress permanently encloses themselves in a cell to live a life of prayer and contemplation. The word comes from the Greek ἀναχωρεῖν (‘anachorein’) meaning ‘to retire or retreat’. Anchoritism emerged in the late 11th century in tandem with a monastic reform movement and a growth in spiritual enthusiasm that is sometimes referred to as the Medieval Reformation. In the Middle Ages in England, as elsewhere in Europe, the practice was not uncommon – there were around a hundred recluses across the country in the 12th century; over the 13th century, the figure increased to two hundred. Women significantly outnumbered men, by as much as three to one.

New York's Vanishing Diners, by Stefanos Chen, New York Times

“I’ll never retire,” Mr. Gritsipis, 79, said. “If you retire, you’re dead.”

And why should he? “This is my palace,” he said after a recent lunch service at 42nd Street Pizza, the old-school Greek diner on the ground floor of his four-story, white stucco building. People come for pizza by the slice, or choose from the 220-item breakfast-lunch-and-dinner menu.

But Mr. Gritsipis’s kingdom is under siege — from rising expenses, changing tastes and developers who are trying to buy smaller and more unusual lots to assemble enough land for residential and mixed-use projects. His building, near the ultraluxury Hudson Yards development, is surrounded by glassy high-rises occupied by transient renters and owners, few of whom order gyro platters.

Undressing By James O'Neill Review &Ndash; Secrets Of A Man In A Green Anorak, by Kate Kellaway, The Guardian

If you had been reading Undressing as if it were a novella, you would hunger for the easy narrative satisfaction of a confrontation with the abuser. But Abraham’s decision to keep his head down and hold on to a Christian idea of forgiveness rings truer. And what’s more, his resolve turns out to be a triumphant use of silence.

The Bittersweet Poetry Of “Lima :: Limón”, by Dan Chiasson, New Yorker

These poems, drawn to the beauty and power of performance, nevertheless deeply mistrust corrupt forms of “simulation,” like staged border crossings billed as fun outings for wealthy young Mexicans, where, “if you are left behind, a pickup truck / will take you back to your hotel.” It’s a simulation that leaves out the essence of the experience; namely, that you might die. Scenters-Zapico’s poems are never simulations in that demeaned sense. Robert Frost called poetry “play for mortal stakes.” The stakes, in Scenters-Zapico’s poems, are that serious: her astonishing verbal crossings reveal a mind as richly self-divided as any you will find.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Hanging On The Telephone, by Meghan Gilligan, Real Life Magazine

Like frames that shape our way of seeing, films play a crucial role in shaping social discourse by helping us achieve the distance to reflect on the present. With better representation of contemporary life in film, what modernism encouraged, will come a more nuanced understanding of the psychological implications of phone use in the cultural imagination. What we do on our phone screens represents an extension of our psyches — it’s a part of character that contemporary stories can’t ignore. Some filmmakers are starting to embrace this fact, which is especially true for stories about characters coming of age today. Bo Burnham’s 2018 film Eighth Grade, for example, includes countless scenes of Elsie in isolation, scrolling through social media and filming YouTube vlogs that hardly anyone views. And in Mishka Kornai and Zach Wechter’s 2019 short Pocket, the entirety of the story is told from the perspective of a 15-year-old boy’s smartphone. It’s designed to be viewed on a phone.

Film and television will always have crackle, but stories that help us understand the present and situate its place in history are a necessary antidote. It’s an unavoidable reality that films that depict phone use tend to date themselves before they see theatrical releases. Perhaps this is a good thing. Documenting the elusive present restores some sense of historicity by giving audiences a recognizable past to remember for more than its styles.

In A Town Shaped By Water, The River Is Winning, by Linda Poon, CityLab

But it wasn’t just climate change that made both the 2016 and 2018 Ellicott City floods so lethal, many locals believe: Some blame the decades of suburban development patterns in the hills above the historic town, which replaced forested slopes with impervious surfaces that sluiced stormwater into town.

After the 2016 flood, county leaders debated a range of costly mitigation strategies, which involved constructing more stormwater ponds, building stream walls, widening the culverts beneath the streets, and building parking garages engineered to catch stormwater. A moratorium on new development was proposed, but didn’t pass.

That debate took on a fresh urgency after the Memorial Day disaster, which emphasized how fundamentally vulnerable the town was. In its third century, a picturesque mill town faces a profound reckoning, one that mirrors the challenge so many human settlements worldwide are confronting: When does retreating rather than rebuilding become the only rational choice?

The Cross, The Crosshatch And The Swoopy Lines,b y Joseph Darlington, 3:AM Magazine

So what is a mnemic symbol? It’s the trace of a trauma. A kind of parasitic image or word or memory that lingers in the mind. A minor hallucination presented to the ego by itself, to give it something to focus on, hiding the horrors of the id. It’s a recurring symptom. It’s Andrew Hodgson’s latest novel.

Published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe, Mnemic Symbols dances the same fine line that many of the new publishing house’s best works do in being both unashamedly experimental and rooted in a recognisable, swearing and smoking reality. The action of the novel is fragmentary, a series of mnemic symbols strung together by association, with memories emerging that range from the cringing to the tragic. Just as our reveries are liable to return to our father’s funeral one moment and a terribly awkward encounter with a faraway barmaid the next, so does Hodgson’s narrator reel from moment to moment, sometimes heroic and sometimes confused — sometimes both.

The Technologies That Remake Us: On Ted Chiang's "Exhalation: Stories", by Sherryl VInt, Los Angeles Review of Books

Chiang is a writer of precision and grace. His stories extrapolate from first premises with the logic and rigor of a well-designed experiment but at the same time are deeply affecting, responsive to the complexities and variability of human life. The impetus for a story will often be a potent philosophical question — free will versus determinism, the purpose and meaning of life, the relationship between memory and truth, the essence of one’s personality — but their denouement hinges on quiet moments of human illumination or connection. His work offers glimpses of a possible future wrought by technology, but more importantly, it interrogates who we may become in this future as technology changes the patterns of daily life.

'Summer Of Ellen' Builds Lyrical, Sunny Suspense, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, NPR

Alfred Hitchcock once said that a thriller is a whodunit, an intellectual process, but suspense is an emotional one. Friis knows this — and slowly, slowly takes us by the hand and draws us into a seductive, and dangerous, summer.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Eavesdropping On Ocean Vuong's New Book, by Kevin Bguyen, New York Times

Throughout the many revisions, the conceit was always clear: the novel would be a letter addressed to Vuong’s mother, who is illiterate. It uses a narrative structure called kishōtenketsu, commonly seen in the work of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, a form that refuses to deploy conflict as a means of progressing the story.

“It insists that a narrative structure can survive and thrive on proximity alone,” Vuong says. “Proximity builds tension.”

There are no villains, no victims, and no clear arcs. His goal: to create “a new gaze, a new attribution to American identity,” he says.

Framing Time: Guy Tillim's African Street Photography, by Carole Naggar, New York Review of Books

Over ten years ago, Tillim began to place his camera on a tripod at city street corners and would remain there for long periods of time, occasionally clicking the shutter. From a given corner, he photographed distinct moments, separate in time. He then displayed the images in groupings of two, three, or four—each photograph framed by a thin white line in order to preserve its individuality, but hung side by side as if together, they showed a panorama of the continuous street. By creating these diptychs, triptychs, and polyptychs, he wasn’t telling a story through a sequence, but trying, in his words, to “escape the tyranny of the single frame.” As if in reaction to Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment,” the photographer’s famous phrase for the significant fraction of a second in which a scene’s essence is captured, Tillim worked with a more diffuse sense of time and purpose. He has never believed that one frame can capture the essence of a situation. For Tillim, all moments could be decisive.

Frankissstein By Jeanette Winterson Review - A Dazzling Reanimation Of Shelley's Novel, by Sam Byers, The Guardian

Jeanette Winterson’s latest novel, Frankissstein, makes space for itself in a crowded field thanks to a deeply pertinent engagement with hybridity. Here, hard science and dreamy Romanticism exist in both tension and harmony. Beginning, evocatively, with Shelley composing Frankenstein, the novel leaps confidently into the present day to tell the story of Ry Shelley, a transgender doctor self-described as “hybrid”, meeting Victor Stein, a celebrated professor working at the bleeding edge of “accelerated evolution” through “self-designing” life. His interest in Ry is both sexual and detachedly philosophical. In Ry’s post-surgery body, he sees transhuman implications. “You aligned your physical reality with your mental impression of yourself,” he tells Ry. “Wouldn’t it be a good thing if we could all do that?”

Plume By Will Wiles Review - Where Satire Meets Surrealism, by Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

Whether or not you attach credence to the more outre aspects of Wiles’s techno-paranoia, his prose is consistently stylish and funny. The book also includes a white-knuckle descent into alcoholism, which Wiles freely admits is based on his own experience of drinking earlier and earlier in the day. “Another shameful first,” Jack concedes. “Maybe there wasn’t much material difference between drinking in the shower in the morning and drinking on the Tube on the way into the office.”

Why Can't We Sleep? By Darian Leader Review - Understanding Our Sleepless Minds, by Josh Cohen, The Guardian

If any concrete counsel can be inferred from this absorbing and refreshingly sane polemic, it’s that we should ditch the aspiration to turn our sleep into an impregnable fortress, to acknowledge instead its intrinsic fragility. Perhaps we’d manage those passages of wakefulness better if we experienced them less as an enemy than as an integral part of our nocturnal lives.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Summer Reading Shouldn’t Be A Chore, by Ron Charles, Washington Post

Over the years, I’ve heard from so many people who burden their summer — or their children’s summer — with deadly reading projects. They begin from some puritanical impulse or misdirected ambition and then drag themselves through the steamy months with an enervating sense of duty.


This is not a test. Your summer reading will not be on the exam. You don’t have to improve yourself — or impress anybody. You need not succumb to the tyranny of your book club or the predictability of the bestseller list.

Einstein V Newton: The Final Battle During A Total Eclipse, by Matthew Stanley, Aeon

Usually, when scientists test a theory, they get everything nicely under control. But in 1919, as the First World War was drawing down, the British astronomer and physicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington did not have that luxury. He was going to test Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity at a solar eclipse thousands of miles from the nearest precision laboratory. This was not easy. ‘In journeying to observe a total eclipse of the Sun, the astronomer quits the usually staid course of his work and indulges in a heavy gamble with fortune,’ wrote the young Eddington. For him, treacherous weather and war made true control even more difficult to attain.

Frankissstein By Jeanette Winterson Review: Bringing Mary Shelley's Classic Into The Modern World, by Holly Williams, Yahoo

In fact, the novel is overstuffed; you can sometimes feel the research bursting its stitches. Her characters also too often become clumsy mouthpieces for theories or contentious “takes” on a controversial topic. But the breezy way she handles the sheer number of complex ideas is also frequently dazzling, and ultimately means that this enjoyably audacious novel has no problem coming to life.

An Astronomer’s Poetic Soul Meets Dante’s Scientific Mind, by Marcia Bartusiak, Washington Post

At first glance, it seems an odd pairing of topics: In what way could Dante, the 14th-century poet, be linked with astronomy? But to my delight Tracy Daugherty — essayist, novelist, and biographer of Joseph Heller and Joan Didion — has uncovered a small gem within the history of astronomy. Along the way, readers become acquainted with the British romantics, Australian aboriginal astronomy, the folklore of India, and brief lessons on the sun’s energy production and Einsteinian physics. “Dante and the Early Astronomer” is an eclectic and engaging look at the Victorian and Edwardian ages, from the perspective of minor-league astronomers working in the hinterlands.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Sacred Trash: How To Dismantle A Library, by Sara Lippmann, The Millions

We’ve been given marching orders, but I can’t bring myself to do it.

In between classes I duck into the library to appraise the situation. It’s bad. The building has succumbed to decay. A stone’s throw from where I sleep, the library—aka the Sifriya (ספרייה) because everything here has a Hebrew name, as well as an abbreviation: The Sif—stinks with no fans or functional windows. Forget about that glorious mountain breeze endemic to Camp Ramah in the Poconos, the room smells like 50-year-old carpet, like tube socks, lake scum, fallen pines. But the fug and must are a comfort. This is the smell of my childhood. I am no longer a child and yet still I’m here, working at camp. A psychology for another day: my choices steeped in nostalgia, arrested development, a pressing hunger for vicarious joys. But the practical answer is teaching has become an affordable way to bring my kids here for the summer. I’m an adjunct. Over the years, I’ve come to view this month upstate as my own rustic residency: I teach by day and write at night. It may be no Yaddo, but time moves at a slower place, allowing for deeper concentration without the pull of city life or the buzz of social media.

Literature As Flattery, by James McElroy, American Affairs

In 1934, the Saturday Review of Literature published an ad on how to read James Joyce’s Ulysses. The ad is remarkable for its relationship to reading, democracy, and elitism. On the one hand, the ad dismisses critics who fret over the difficulty of the novel and presents it as a challenge that is rewarding to every reader. Yet the ad also makes it a point to link Ulysses with Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, and other critic-approved evocations of high culture. The implication is that reading is how every democrat can become an aristocrat. Today, this view of reading has created a whole subculture: Book People. These are the people carrying PBS tote bags, who listen to NPR every morning, who say the word “problematic” a thousand times a day, intermixed with exhortations to check out their podcast. You know, Book People.

The Radical Plan To Change How Harvard Teaches Economics, by Dylan Matthews, Vox

“It’s very different from the sciences, where as a kid you have a sense, it may not be very precise, but that people try to cure cancer,” he continues. He wants to give students a sense of the kind of economics that cures: that cures inequality, that identifies and fixes bad schools.

What Keeps Hollywood’s Oldest Restaurant Running, by Todd S. Purdum, The Atlantic

Yet Musso’s is thriving, and was recently featured favorably in one of Rao’s first reviews; she praised its “impossibly charming dining room,” and called the cocktails and steaks “unfailing” and the wedge salads “dignified.” By most accounts, the food—which was slipping a decade and more ago—is better than ever, and the restaurant has posted consistent double-digit revenue growth in recent years, according to Mark Echeverria, the chief operating officer in the fourth generation of family ownership.

Why? “I think Musso’s is in a time warp that appeals to our occasionally wanting to just strip away the new, the shiny, and the uncertain to simply eat and relax,” Barbara Fairchild, the former editor of Bon Appétit and a longtime Angeleno, wrote me in a recent email. “You don’t come to Musso’s to prove a point. You just come to enjoy yourself.”

The Surprising Truth About Caesar Salad, by L Sasha Gora, BBC

Today, Caesar’s has an old European feel, with black-and-white tiles and a shiny mahogany bar. The servers’ crisp white shirts poke out from beneath black waistcoats and ties. Historic photographs of Tijuana decorate the walls, heavy beams cross a dark wood ceiling and the lighting is dim, giving the restaurant an intimate vibe.

Ordering the ensalada Caesar’s is like pressing the play button to an elaborate show. Caesar salad isn’t just a recipe: it’s a piece of choreography; a slow dance between creamy dressing and romaine lettuce.

The Underrated Pleasures Of Eating Dinner Early, by Lauren Collins, New Yorker

Despite its connotations of denture-friendly fare and penny-pinching, early dinner is the most decadent meal there is. You’re familiar with dinner and a movie? Well, how about dinner and a movie and a bath and a book and sex and rearranging your whole spice drawer if you feel like it?

The Mind Has A Mind Of Its Own: On Maria Popova’s “Figuring”, by Janet Sternburg, Los Angeles Review of Books

Note the absence of a subtitle. This book is not for those who need to know in advance what a book is about. The readers who will love this book — count me among them — delight in walking on paths that branch without a defined destination. They are not perturbed by offshoots that others might call digressions but instead feel themselves to be held in trustworthy hands that will not leave them stranded.

Figuring does not lend itself to summary; to do so would be an injustice to author Maria Popova’s themes and methods that are inextricably linked throughout the book. I can, however, say simply that Popova’s central concern is the question of how humans make meaning. Popova writes that “[m]eaning is not what we find but what we create with the lives we live and the seeds we plant and the organizing principles according to which we sculpt our personhood.” The lives, the seeds, the principles are what inform this unusual and original book.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

How To Publish Classic Books That Aren’t Just By Dead White Men, by Constance Grady, Vox

“To appear in the Norton or Oxford anthology is to have achieved,” he wrote, “not exactly greatness but what is more important, certainly — status and accessibility to a reading public. And that is why, of course, it matters that so few women writers have managed to gain entrance to such anthologies” — and, we might add, so few writers of color.

That’s why it’s so exciting that Penguin Classics and Modern Library — two publishers who specialize in the classics and whose books are often used in classrooms — are now promoting books by authors from marginalized identities.

What To Eat When Your Book Tour Comes To An End, by Ann Beattie, Literary Hub

Of course you can drink Bombay Sapphire straight from the bottle, with a shotglass of tonic water on the side, or indulge in a bag of Hershey’s Kisses (as much fun for your thumbs as texting), or scoop peanut butter straight from the jar with your finger, which will also beneficially coat your stomach in advance of Excedrin PM., if not CBD. But think a bit more—here’s the word of the day—creatively.

Having A Library Or Cafe Down The Block Could Change Your Life, by Daniel Cox, Ryan Streeter, CityLab

For instance, residents in high-amenity urban neighborhoods are twice as likely to say people in their community are “very willing” to help their neighbors compared to urban dwellers in low-amenity areas. High-amenity suburban residents are three times as likely to say the same compared to those in low-amenity suburban areas. High-amenity urbanites and suburbanites are roughly twice as likely to say they trust their neighbors a great deal as their low-amenity counterparts. A similar pattern is evident when it comes to trusting coworkers.

Access to more community-oriented spaces is also associated with increased confidence in local government. Even though we are bitterly divided by politics and confidence in federal and state governments is in decline, people in vibrant neighborhoods have a greater level of confidence in their local government than those living in amenity-poor places. Americans living closer to neighborhood restaurants, bars, parks and libraries are about twice as likely as those living in places where these things are largely absent to say they trust local government (39 percent vs. 22 percent). Having access to neighborhood amenities also correlates with how we think about our capacity to make a difference in politics.

Director Stacy Title Is Racing Against ALS To Make Her Final Movie, by Amy Wallace, Vulture

Stacy has ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Her mind remains sharp, she still feels the full range of sensations, but she is unable to move all but a few muscles. She cannot speak, spit, or swallow, and yet — despite painful Botox injections into her salivary glands to reduce their output — she still makes saliva. This means that without near-constant attention from the able-bodied people around her, some of Stacy’s spit begins to slide down the back of her throat and pool on top of her tracheotomy tube, while the rest drools out her mouth.

“The only thing that makes her feel comfortable and safe are these washcloths we collectively call ‘Towel,’ ” Jonathan explained to friends and family on a site called Lotsa Helping Hands. The search for the softest, fluffiest Towel took months, as did learning how to place it, rolled up, in her mouth like a horse bit. But now, because she was losing control of her jaw muscles, even when Towel was carefully positioned, it often fell out within minutes or even seconds.

Somehow I Became Respectable, by John Waters, The Paris Review

Somehow I became respectable. I don’t know how—the last film I directed got some terrible reviews and was rated NC-17. Six people in my personal phone book have been sentenced to life in prison. I did an art piece called Twelve Assholes and a Dirty Foot, which is composed of close-ups from porn films, yet a museum now has it in their permanent collection and nobody got mad. What the hell has happened?

Fate And Misogyny: On Julia Phillips’s “Disappearing Earth”, by Randy Rosenthal, Los Angeles Review of Books

By taking us through the year after the sisters were kidnapped, from month to month, chapter by chapter, character by character, slowly spiraling back to the Golosovskaya family, Phillips is able to strike at so much of what ails not only Russia but also most tradition-bound areas all over the world today. Disappearing Earth is similar to L’Avventura in this regard, but this satisfying novel is ultimately very different from that frustrating film. So far, Disappearing Earth appears to have universal praise, already being called a masterpiece. While that could be a stretch, Phillips has certainly woven a sophisticated and powerful literary thriller; the stitches of her language make you go, Damn, that’s good. Long tracks of dead forest look like “thousands of bones pushed up from their graves.” When we first meet him, the kidnapper’s body “looked carved out of fresh butter.” One character’s “heart had been fragile, its chambers shifting as easily and dangerously as volcanic earth.”

And yet, it’s the ending that makes Disappearing Earth an absolute knock-out, an ending that can’t be described without borrowing some of Phillip’s own language: it peels open your chest, cracks back your ribs, grips that muscular organ, and squeezes out the stuff we read fiction to feel.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Audiobooks: The Past, Present, And Future Of Another Way To Read, by James Tate Hill, Literary Hub

Founded in 1931 after an act of Congress, the National Library Service’s talking book program initially recorded a limited number of general-interest books on vinyl for the blind. An even smaller number of selections was, and continues to be, available in Braille. In the 1960s, the Library of Congress extended the service to patrons with any physical disability preventing them from reading print. As users increased, so did the number and variety of books in the collection. The NLS motto, “That all may read,” appears today at the top of their home page.

The commercial market for audiobooks, once little more than LP records of poetry and short plays, grew exponentially with the advent of cassette tapes. Revenue for books on tape reached $200 million in 1987 and $1.5 billion in 1995, according to Publishers Weekly. The National Library Service, however, had one thing commercial publishers did not: permission to record any books it wished as long as those books were never available outside the library.

Civilisational Collapse Has A Bright Past – But A Dark Future, by Luke Kemp, Aeon Magazine

Many of us are familiar with this historical narrative of how cultures can rapidly – and violently – decline and fall. Recent history appears to bear it out, too. Post-invasion Iraq witnessed 100,000 deaths in the first year and a half, followed by the emergence of ISIS. And the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011 produced a power vacuum, leading to the re-emergence of the slave trade.

However, there’s a more complicated reality behind this view of collapse. In fact, the end of civilisations rarely involved a sudden cataclysm or apocalypse. Often the process is protracted, mild, and leaves people and culture continuing for many years.

John Okada’s ‘No-No Boy’ Is A Test Of American Character, by Karen Tei Yamashita, The Atlantic

No-No Boy is a daring book and, I would say, a test of and testament to character. There is no other novel like it about Japanese Americans in the postwar period. In the book, which is being released in a new edition this month, John Okada wrote of the reentry into civil society of young second-generation, or nisei, men who had served in the U.S. military during World War II. More particularly, through the character of Ichiro Yamada, he wrote of draft resisters who spent the war in prison. In so doing, he probed the intense center of the Japanese American community’s internal conflicts—confusions of loyalty and rights of citizenship, racial self-hatred and shame, the immigrant’s agony of failure and loss of a future, proscriptions of silence and resistance.

Kamchatka Is A Rich Backdrop For Mystery In 'Disappearing Earth', by Bethanne Patrick, NPR

While the peninsular Russian province of Kamchatka is not exactly in Sarah Palin's sightline, its far, far Eastern and Northern coordinates make it more like Nome than Moscow. Rife with wildlife, volcanoes, and treacherous topography, it's also almost inaccessible, with no major roads connecting it to the rest of Russia — because it was a closed military zone until 1989.

Kamchatka, with its main city of Petropavlosk, forms the backdrop to a stunning debut novel from Julia Phillips, Disappearing Earth.

With ‘Orange World,’ Karen Russell Delivers The Must-read Short-story Collection Of The Summer, by Bethanne Patrick, Washington Post

Russell’s ease with her material, her sheer glee on the page, shines through in each piece. There are just eight stories here, but each one holds a tiny, complete vision: eight delicious wedges of an orange.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Why The New York Public Library Has 7 Floors Of Stacks With No Books, by Winnie Hu, New York Times

But over the next century, the stacks became outdated and could not adequately protect irreplaceable books from sunlight, heat and humidity, library officials said.

The books were taken away in 2013 as part of the library’s plan to replace the stacks with a new lending library, which drew howls from prominent authors, scholars and many patrons.

The plan was abandoned, but the stacks remained empty as library officials figured out what to do.

The answer, library officials say after a two-year study, is that the stacks at the heart of the building will have no books — at least not anytime soon.

‘He Typed In Bed In His Dressing Gown’: How Orwell Wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, by Dorian Lynskey, The Guardian

George Orwell once said that Nineteen Eighty-Four “wouldn’t have been so gloomy if I had not been so ill”. But the truth is that Orwell, along with many other writers, found plenty to be gloomy about in postwar Britain. As he wrote in one of his London Letters in the New York magazine Partisan Review: “No thoughtful person I know has any hopeful picture of the future.” He was magnifying a widespread sense of bomb-haunted unease rather than projecting on to the world some private torment.

As Of Today, The Last Physical Object Used As A Standard Of Measurement Is No More, by Cutter Wood, Literary Hub

Today, May 20th, 2019, a cylinder of platinum-iridium alloy will be removed from a vault in the Pavillon de Breteuil in Saint-Cloud, France, just outside Paris, and relocated to a museum, officially “retired” in the terminology of metrologists, becoming the last object in human history to serve as a physical standard of measurement, or as metrologists tellingly describe such an object, an “artifact.”

This cylinder of dense metal, not much larger than a golf ball and colloquially known as “Le Grand K” or “the international prototype kilogram” or only “the IPK,” was created along with a few dozen sister cylinders at the end of the 19th century to act as the definition of the kilogram. It has been kept under three nested bell jars in an underground vault at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Saint-Cloud, accessible only with three separately controlled keys, while six of its sisters have been kept for reference as temoins, or witnesses. The IPK has been removed occasionally and cleaned with a chamois soaked in ethanol and ether before being steamed in distilled water, but otherwise it is merely left to rest. Of those few dozen cylinders originally made, the remaining prototypes were distributed to each of the world’s metrological powers, the signatories of the 1875 Treaty of the Metre—among which the United States numbers itself—and for the past 100 or so years these kilograms, kept and cleaned under similar conditions, have provided the citizens of each nation with their own approximation of the kilogram.

Death And Life In Great American Cities, by Lena Afridi, The New Inquiry

We buried my father on one of those harsh, bright New York January days. The hard glint of the sun did little to counteract the bitter wind that weaved its way through my layers of winter clothing. The cold that day found its way past skin and sinew and settled for hours in the bones. My father had been dead for 24 hours. We were in a rush to get him to the cemetery and into the ground. A Muslim funeral requires that the family bury the body as soon as possible, foregoing embalming fluid, lavish ceremony, and ornate caskets. The ritual is fast and all-consuming. The process is numbing. My siblings and I navigated a bureaucratic deathscape. We planned and coordinated moving the body, which quickly became nothing more than a package of flesh, from hospital bed to mosque, from mosque to the ground. We procured a death certificate and signed the paperwork that officiates the end of a life in the eyes of the state of New York. The constant motion of death tasks was a balm for grief in the immediate aftermath of loss.

On the day of the funeral, my family drove in silence for an hour and a half to a mosque in Bay Shore, Long Island, where my father’s body was washed, his frail form wrapped in a plain white sheet and then placed in a modest pine box, his dandyism buried with him. Suffolk County is a foreign place to my immigrant dad, who spent most of his time on the streets of Queens and Manhattan, who knew someone on every block, who had picked up a little Spanish, a little Mandarin, and a little Bengali. He bought all of his ties and crisp shirts off the folding tables that once lined Broadway, from Nigerian street vendors. He often brought my brother and me to the City and let us eat non-halal hot dogs from street carts across the island with a promise that we wouldn’t tell our mother. He walked us underground down narrow steps to Korean buffets in Midtown, bought us hot beef patties from Golden Krust in Hillside, entrusted us to the man behind the counter while he arranged some sort of clandestine business deal with the Bengali electronics-store owner down the block on Jamaica Avenue.

What Makes Ramen Noodles So Special?, by Mike Satinover, The Takeout

But what exactly makes ramen noodles, well, ramen noodles? After all, they come in all shapes, sizes, and textures. In Sapporo they’re brightly yellow and densely curled; in Hakata they’re extremely thin, brittle, and white. They can be springy or taut, wiry or thick, curly or straight, dark yellow or bright white, sometimes even tan. They can be hot or cold, long or short, translucent and dense or spongey and opaque.

What sets ramen noodles apart from other wheat-based noodles such as pasta, and what is arguably its defining characteristic, is kansui—a combination of several specific alkaline salts.

‘Dismembered, Relocated, Rearranged’, by Merve Emre, New York Review of Books

How can the contemporary novel speak the unspeakable? It’s an old question, a tired one perhaps, now that “the unspeakable” has come to encompass many forms of trauma that writers regularly speak about: self-harm, sexual abuse, genocide, fascism, climate change. Search for “speak the unspeakable” online, and the encyclopedic range of results, from the horrific (mass death) to the trivial (relationship advice) to the downright offensive (men’s rights forums, campus “free speech” controversies), makes it easy to start feeling cynical about how people deploy their memories for recognition. As the social theorist Zygmut Bauman observed, a plausible and individualized account of suffering has become a passport to social and political visibility in a world of indifference and insensitivity. “The more we try to think the unthinkable, and to speak the unspeakable, the more likely we become to qualify for a niche in a power structure, whether local or global,” Bauman writes. For the novel today, the more valid aesthetic and ethical questions concern the possibility of speaking about trauma without commodifying or further devaluing it. In what form can the novel speak, and speak self-critically, about its own processes of constructing unthinkable thoughts or unspeakable speech?

The late Croatian novelist Daša Drndić’s Belladonna (2012, English translation 2017), perhaps the most ambitious novel of the twenty-first century so far—along with its sequel, EEG—opens with three vignettes of not speaking. They are undated and without definite location: in a camp for illegal immigrants in an unidentified country, sixty incarcerated people sew their lips together and wander the grounds, not knowing how long they will be detained. Elsewhere, a woman in a red kimono throws herself through an open window. In an asylum, thirty-nine people sew their lips together to confront the staff, who refuse to address them by their names. Yet even when the pain of censorship and social death surfaces with such violent literalism, nothing comes of it. The suffering is atmospheric, the indifference unrelenting: “A still greater voicelessness reigned, a vast silence which now wafts like steam, like smoke, from the ceilings and walls of the ruined building in the back of beyond, and climbs in clouds toward the sky,” Drndić writes. “That same voicelessness, that fateful human muteness, apparently insane,” can exist anywhere and everywhere, now and throughout history.

Frankissstein By Jeanette Winterson Review – An Inventive Reanimation, by Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Guardian

At an advanced stage of a prolific career, Jeanette Winterson has had a surge of inventiveness. Frankissstein, her playful reanimation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic, gamely links arms with the zeitgeist. It’s a book about artificial intelligence and gender fluidity that also harks back to themes Winterson has been writing about for the past 30 years: love and desire, transformation and the unwritten meanings of the body.

Review: Loving Sylvie Is A Gossamer Story Of Small Moments That Matter, by Elizabeth Alley, The Spinoff

Against a background of so much sensual imagery lives can seem diminished, overcome. Smither is certainly one of our most startling observers of the human condition, one of our most original and elegant wordsmiths. It gladdens a grandmother’s heart. It is a beautiful read. But its framework, its structure, seems too slight to support all that it’s called on to carry. In this poetic novel, the characters are more friendly ghosts, than storytellers demanding we hear them out.

Camp Fire, by sam sax, Literary Hub

after the fires come rain
& in the time between
one devastation & another
we delight in the normal
pleasures of a sky weeping
like an adolescent
in a multiplex parking lot—

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Geneticist: It's Time We Stopped Human Evolution, by Alasdair Mackenzie, Big Think

Our greatest achievement as a species has been to break free from the sheer naked ferocity of evolution. It means we need GM food to avoid starvation. We need additives to ensure that the food we grow can be safely consumed before it spoils — an important consideration for an increasing population. And most importantly of all, we need vaccines to prevent disease. We must never again expose our children to the wholesome, fully organic, unblemished and obscene fury of Mother Nature unleashed. Love science, hate evolution. Coming to a car bumper sticker near you soon, I hope.

The Silver Road: A Superb, Slow-burning Slice Of Nordic Noir, by Sue Green, Stuff

This is a slow-burn book, low-key enough for Jackson to take time to develop the main characters, particularly Lelle and Meja, two characters with a longing and emptiness inside. Like high school teacher Lelle, Meja is lonely, but she is also bored, afraid of the isolation and vast distances. So her willing response and sexual awakening when three local brothers, one in particular, pay her attention is hardly surprising. Even when she discovers they and their family are survivalists, she is not deterred.

While partly a whodunnit – who took Lina? – Silver Road is also a hauntingly atmospheric story of love and loss and longing. Written in Swedish, this English-language version owes much to Susan Beard's translation of Jackson's evocative language.

The Porpoise By Mark Haddon Review – A Fantastical Voyage, by Justine Jordan, The Guardian

This is not a book, then, that aims for the coherence of a conventional novel. The appropriately classical motif of weaving runs throughout, and the stitches at the back of the tapestry are on show. The Porpoise often hints at its own construction, with characters intuiting a significance to events that is just beyond their reach. The different worlds sometimes jut into each other as the narrative dances on the threshold between reality and imagination.

Soledad, by Deborah Paredez, Narrative Magazine

Though you are their sole suspect
though they capture you on Columbus Day
though their conqueror’s pallor dulls the night’s obsidian pulse
though they smash the whorled tips of your fingers against the ink

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Hannibal Lecter’s Creator Cooks Up Something New (No Fava Beans Or Chianti), by Alexandra Alter, New York Times

Thomas Harris, the creator of one of literature’s most terrifying monsters, arguably has one of the darkest imaginations of any writer working today. His infamous serial killer, Hannibal Lecter, devours his victims’s organs after delicately preparing them, and once ate a man alive, serving slices of his brain with truffles and caper berries.

So it’s somewhat unnerving to hear Harris insist that he doesn’t invent anything.

“I don’t think I’ve ever made up anything,” he tells me as we drive across Miami’s 79th Street Causeway, which takes us past a small island called Bird Key where a climactic scene in his new novel, “Cari Mora,” takes place. “Everything has happened. Nothing’s made up. You don’t have to make anything up in this world.”

The Story Of Ernest Hemingway’s $187,000 Magazine Expenses Claim, by Peter Moreira, Columbia Journalism Review

Collier’s, a glossy weekly with a circulation of 2.8 million, was known as a forum for stellar writing. It was perhaps the most prestigious magazine in America, rivaled only by The Saturday Evening Post. It had commissioned Hemingway to cover what are now some of the most famous events in history, including the western Allies’ invasion of France and the collapse of the Third Reich.

We might have remembered that reportage alongside the best of his fiction. But we don’t—because Hemingway’s stint at Collier’s was a disaster.

‘Les Temps Modernes’: End Of An Epoch, by Mitchell Abidor, New York Review of Books

On December 6, 2018, five months after the death of its long-time editor, Claude Lanzmann, Éditions Gallimard announced that Les Temps Modernes, the legendary intellectual journal, would cease publication. Its editorial committee had earlier proposed changing to a digital format and holding public forums, but Gallimard wasn’t interested. As the editors wrote in Le Monde on May 2, “the review created by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in 1945, and led by Claude Lanzmann starting in 1986, now belongs to history.”

Its disappearance, the editors admitted, would not “change the face of the world,” its latest issues having failed to inflect the public debate, and even its closing barely having been noted in the press. The shuttering of Les Temps Modernes is significant not simply as the end of a review that had lived seventy-three years—a short life, compared to other intellectual journals in France, like the staid (Revue des Deux Mondes, which has been around since 1829; the Mercure de France*, appearing in its present form since 1890 and in an earlier incarnation since 1692; and Esprit, founded by the Personalist philosopher Emmanuel Mounier, which first published in 1932—but as the last symbol of an epoch, what Bernard-Henri Lévy called “Sartre’s century.”

Performing Shakespeare In Prison, by Ryan Schnurr, B Belt Magazine

A typical rehearsal lasts two hours. It may include: a quick check-in, to gauge how each man is doing; an acting exercise, maybe improvisational; then some focused work rehearsing whatever scenes are up that day. In other sessions, the men may work through the text in detail with Heller. At the end, the men reflect on the day’s work, and consider how they might bring its positive aspects into their daily lives. Morton said a common misconception is that prison theater is frivolous activity. “It’s hard work they do,” she told me. “They’re doing a lot of outer work with blocking and overall presentation, but there’s also a lot of inner work that’s going on.”

In L.A., My Car Was An Escape Hatch From Dates That Didn’t Work Out, by Erin Kuschner, Los Angeles Times

On the drive home in my dented Chevy Aveo, I cried hard and angrily, which is something you can do for extended periods of time in L.A. traffic. There has been plenty said about the emotional toll the 405 has on an Angeleno, but for all the road rage and automotive breakdowns, there is also this: Our cars offer us personal space that allows for grieving in transit, the trauma of heartbreak compassionately confined in a steel box.

By the time I got to my doorstep, 50 minutes and three freeways later, my tears had dried.

Cars are the enduring third wheel in an L.A. courtship, the backdrop of breakups, makeups and all the shifting status updates in between.

Voices Against The Wall: The Hilarious Terror Of Karen Russell’s “Orange World And Other Stories”, by Ryan Smernoff, Los Angeles Review of Books

Alternate realms and wacky ideas can only take a writer so far; the works of literary surrealism that never leave us are those that find the perfect blend of the fantastic with the familiar. Russell’s work claims its place at the literary heights by accomplishing just that, and by remaining accountable to the consequences. This is particularly true of her new and deftly chimeric collection, Orange World and Other Stories.

Multilayered and complex, these new stories reveal a maturity that results from persistent experience and, of course, that fiendish trickster we call time. It’s no surprise to learn that Russell penned them amid significant transitions in her own life, as well as the nightmarish tribulations that have developed in our society and world.

Rebirding By Benedict Macdonald Review – Rewilding Britain And Its Birds, by Tim Flannery, The Guardian

Surely the most dismaying message of Rebirding is that the British are gardening their islands to death. Everythingfrom landscapes to individual endangered species are being managed and monitored according to human-set targets. But nature is dynamic: populations and habitats need to grow, mature and change if biodiversity is to thrive. If only the British would keep their hands off it and let nature take its own course, Macdonald contends, it would stand a chance.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Meet The New Howard Stern. He'd Like To Make Amends For The Old Howard Stern, by Geoff Edgers, Washington Post

In the foreword, Stern dismisses his previous two bestsellers, 1993’s “Private Parts” and 1995’s “Miss America.” He also distances himself from his previous persona. As he sees it, the old Howard was an insecure narcissist so terrified his audience would turn the dial that he bullied his guests to either submit or flee. The new Howard is a kinder, happier and more generous entertainer freed from the constrains of shock jockdom. The beginning of that transformation, he says, is easy to chart: The end of his 23-year marriage to Alison Berns in 2001. Miserable and disappointed, fearing how his three daughters would view him, Stern began seeing a psychotherapist four days a week.

Book Clubs Get Especially Clubby, by Henry Alford, New York Times

Four or five years ago, if you asked someone about her book group, your ears were likely to be singed with anecdotes about the overconsumption of Pinot Grigio or various club members’ floundering marriages. Half the group didn’t even finish reading Donna Tartt’s book, your interlocutor would grouse; the other half kept referring to it as “The Goldfish.”

But ask today, and you might get a different response. A response betokening focused individuals and the intelligent chatter they make in the presence of their own kind. A response betokening a literal interpretation of the E. M. Forster dictum “Only connect.”

The Night The Lights Went Out, by Drew Magary, The Concourse

I am the least reliable narrator when it comes to the story of my brain exploding. This is because, from the time right before I suffered a freakish brain hemorrhage last year to the time I regained full consciousness roughly two weeks later, I remember nothing. My mind is an absolute blank. It’s like the fabled pause in the Nixon Tapes. I was not here. That time of my life may as well not exist. Oh, but it did.

How “Let People Enjoy Things” Became A Fight Against Criticism, by Constance Grady, Vox

As a critic, I’m obviously biased in favor of criticism. So I’m not going to use this space to convince you that criticism is important (although Todd VanDerWerff has a great argument on that front), or that it’s good and important to let people not enjoy things (although Esther Rosenfield has a great argument on that front). Instead, I want to try to figure out why all this antipathy is getting directed at critics right now.

The Rise Of The Sober Bar, by Margaret Eby, BBC

A bar without booze sounds like an oxymoron, like an aquarium without fish or a bakery that doesn’t serve bread. But in cities like New York and London, where bars often function as second living rooms for apartment dwellers with little space, an alcohol-free nightlife option can appeal to people who, for whatever reason, would prefer not to drink.

Love At First Sight And Other Disasters: Stories From Karen Russell, by Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times

Striking a balance between realism and artifice is a difficult task for any fiction writer, but for those whose work bends toward the fantastical, the problem is particularly acute. While Russell’s talent has always been obvious, in her earlier books she occasionally slipped into a territory that felt perilously close to weirdness for the sake of weirdness. But one of the great pleasures of reading an author’s body of work lies in observing the progression of her skills and sensibilities, and in “Orange World” the strangeness is never forced, the surrealism always grounded in recognizable emotion and experience.

‘The Ash Family’ Is A Debut Novel For Our Climate-Anxious Age, by Julia Scheeres, New York Times

In Molly Dektar’s somber debut novel, “The Ash Family,” the protagonist wrestles with these same questions. How can a progressive-minded individual protect our battered earth in the face of widespread indifference and corporate greed? Beryl (“Berie” for short) is a recent high school graduate whose life takes a sharp turn when she meets a group that purports to have the answer.

“Furious Hours” Is An Ingenious Double Mystery, by The Economist

“Furious Hours” is a well-told, ingeniously structured double mystery—one an unsolved serial killing, the other an elusive book—rich in droll humour and deep but lightly worn research. If at the final page it seems curiously unsatisfying, that is because readers and writers both long for resolution—and Harper Lee’s story, like that of her proposed subject, stubbornly resists a neat ending.

Truth, Beauty, And Oliver Sacks, by Simon Callow, New York Review of Books

It was through stories like these that Sacks became a best-selling author: they made science—particularly neurology—human. His writing is direct, transparent, accessible—too accessible for the British publisher Faber and Faber, which rejected the original manuscript of Awakenings (1973), telling him to “professionalize” it. But from the beginning, quite apart from his keen grasp of the clinical aspects of his work, he was a remarkable wordsmith.

What Kind Of Times Are These, by Adrienne Rich, Poetry Foundation

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Susan Sontag Was A Monster, Of The Very Best Kind, by Lauren Elkin, Aeon

Sontag had no time for the kind of faux humility that women are conditioned to perform anytime anyone shows interest in what we do. She gave no fucks, in the lingo of the internet, a particular patois she did not live to see. She became famous as a critic and essayist by being publicly serious about all kinds of culture, low to high; for elevating ‘camp’ to an aesthetic theory; for calling for an ‘erotics of art’ to replace the systematic forms of interpretation she perceived as stand-ins for engaged critique: symbology, exegesis, Marxism, Freudian psychoanalysis. But she remained famous because her continued scrutiny of art, as well as her work on photography, illness and torture, was so perceptive, even morally compelling, that it gave us the primary terms in which we understand these phenomena in a cultural context.

Nature Writing Is Booming – But Must A Walk Through The Woods Always Be Meaningful? , by Zoe Gilbert, The Guardian

Though access to many wild places remains a privilege, access to enchantment and meaning need not be. The more we idolise extreme or unusual experiences of the natural world, the less inclined we will be to bother looking for meaning in our ordinary lives, on our own street, in our local patch of park. But a place that appears thoroughly disenchanting to one person may bewitch another, if they tilt their heads. Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris’s The Lost Words is an exemplar, explicitly offering us words as magic keys to open up the natural world. It is no accident that this a spell book, since spells alter reality using words. As Ursula Le Guin had it: “Magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing.” Our world may not have much room for magic, but we all speak, write and read the language of enchantment – if we choose to see it that way.

Don’t Use My Family For Your True Crime Stories, by Lilly Dancyger, Crimereads

This summer, my cousin Sabina would have turned 30 years old. Instead, it will mark nine years since she was murdered. Though it’s been almost a decade, I’ve just very recently started writing about her, and her death. It always felt too raw, too sacred to pull apart for story fodder—even if I’m the one doing the telling. The thought of someone who didn’t even know her using the horrible, violent way she was taken from my family as “material” is unfathomable to me. This is what I think about when I try to watch or listen to true crime.

There’s No Such Thing As Breakfast Food, by Amanda Mull, The Atlantic

There’s no good reason you can’t eat a chicken-parmesan hoagie for breakfast. That’s what I decided last year when I woke up one morning, hungover and ravenous, craving the sandwich’s very specific combination of fried chicken cutlet, melted mozzarella, and tomato sauce. “Breakfast food,” as a category, suddenly felt like my middle school’s dress code: unnecessarily prim and preordained by people whose rules I should no longer heed.

I wrestled with the idea while summoning the wherewithal to leave bed. Why did a breakfast chicken parm seem so louche to me when an egg sandwich—a similar combination of protein, dairy fat, grease, and carbohydrates—seem so benign? If I marched up to the counter at my local bagel shop, which makes chicken-parm sandwiches for lunch, could I even order one at 9 in the morning? If I succeeded, would it open a Pandora’s Box of forbidden food hedonism from which I could never return? Why was breakfast food even breakfast food in the first place?

Lost Property By Laura Beatty Review – A European Odyssey, by Christobel Kent, The Guardian

But this shifting, unsure quality, made luminous with an extraordinary descriptive brilliance, emerges as the book’s strength. The narrative is highly wrought but never laboured, and always humanly tentative, as a quest should be. The last thing Lost Property’s narrator wants is to be any kind of authority. Rather, she is a receiver, a channel for other voices, other eyes.

Book Review: Conviction, By Denise Mina, by Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

This is a novel that ponders visibility and invisibility. There is the public realm of clamour and the strange privacy of the earbuds. There is standing out and being hidden. There is the power of listening and the power of speaking out. There is the selfie and the fractured self. Conviction is one of those rare and perfect titles, meaning both a belief profoundly held and to have been found guilty. The genius of the novel is that it reiterates that old phrase that a wise man once said – “the truth will set you free” – and it does so via fiction.

Book Review: Jayson Greene's 'Once More We Saw Stars' Is A Staggering Work Of Quiet Heartbreak, by Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone

Once More We Saw Stars is a quietly heartbreaking memoir from Jayson Greene, a music editor at Pitchfork. It’s his first book—but the last he ever would have wanted to write. He and his wife Stacy lost their two-year-old daughter Greta in a horrifying accident—the girl was sitting with her grandmother on a park bench in New York City, when a piece of brick fell from the eighth story of a nearby building and hit her. The book begins with their shock: the hospital rooms, the funeral, the realization that everything has changed. As he writes, they’re figuring out “how to breathe on this new planet.”

Perfect Children And Never-ending Meals: An Expat Describes The Highs And Lows Of Parisian Life, by Rachel Rosenblit, Washington Post

You know that French saying, je ne sais quoi? Which literally translates to “I don’t know what,” but is used to describe an ineffably unique quality, like the one that new velvet chaise imparts to your bordello-themed parlor? Say it in Paris, and you might as well be wearing a beret and lunching at the Hemingway cafe — because it’s something employed mostly by Americans, and rarely the French. Quelle surprise, non?

Nonfiction: We Have Abundant Food. Why Is Our Health — And The Planet’s — So Bad?, by Corby Kummer, New York Times

How bad are our diets, and how crazy is our relationship to food? The English writer and historian Bee Wilson sets out to discover how we have become at once enthralled and enslaved by a world of much too much food everywhere around us, and how uncertain we are of what, when and how much we should eat. Her ambition is as broad as the globe: She wants to examine dietary patterns in different cultures to see who has any kind of sane relationship to food. (Chad, Mali, Cameroon and Guyana, one study says.)

'A Thousand Small Sanities' Is A Lesson In Understanding Liberalism, by Gabino Iglesias, NPR

Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World was one of the most memorable books I read in my early teens. The brilliance of that book came from Gaarder's ability to make complicated concepts easier for young minds to digest. Adam Gopnik's A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism does the same thing with liberalism — but for politically engaged adults.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

In Memoriam: The Trashy Mall Food Court Smoothie Of The 90s, by Kelsey Lawrence, Vice

“Mall smoothie” is a surprisingly prolific search on Twitter.

When I worried that the mall food court smoothie was somehow maybe both too niche and too broad of a topic to reflect upon, the highly specific nostalgic yearnings of internet culture pulled through. Within only a four-day period from when I first thought of writing about the mall smoothie, people had tweeted: “whyyyyy am i craving one of those smoothies from the food court at barton creek mall”, “I stay going to the mall JUST for a smoothie”, and “A smoothie from the mall would be so amazing right now”. With the exception of perhaps the vaunted Auntie Anne’s pretzel, I’m not sure there’s another snack as closely associated with teen mall-rat culture as the smoothie.

A Debut Novel Set On The Brooding, Remote Kamchatka Peninsula, by Ivy Pochoda, New York Times

The first chapter of Julia Phillips’s superb debut, “Disappearing Earth,” begins with two sisters at the edge of a bay on a summer day. One wants to venture deeper, the other clings to shore, embarrassed by the childish antics of her younger sibling. By chapter’s end the sisters will have disappeared — kidnapped, it seems, by a man in a shiny black car. It’s a familiar setup in a wholly unfamiliar setting — the remote and beautifully bleak Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia.

What follows this abduction is a novel in the form of overlapping short stories about the women who are affected both directly and indirectly by the kidnapping. The purpose of these stories is not to unite a community around a tragedy as a less daring and more conventional narrative would have it, but to expose the ways in which the women of Kamchatka are fragmented personally, culturally and emotionally not only by the crime that jump-starts the novel, but by place, identity and the people who try, and often fail, to understand them.

Girlhood By Julia Copus Review – Phenomenal Mind Games, by Kate Kellaway, The Guardian

Julia Copus’s poems are acts of resistance. The material tests its own boundaries to become something new. She is not limited to – or by – personal experience. One of the many pleasures of this phenomenal collection, her first for seven years, is that you cannot predict the varied ways in which these poems will fly.

Karen Russell Proves She's A True Original With 'Orange World', by Michael Schaub, NPR

The stories in this collection aren't like anything you've ever read before; there's no doubt at all that Russell is one of the most original American authors working today. She's also one of the best. Orange World is a thing of beauty, a stunning collection from one of the most brilliant literary minds of her generation.

The Second Mountain By David Brooks Review – A Self-help Guide To Escaping The Self, by Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian

In David Brooks’s governing metaphor, you’ve made it to the summit of life’s “first mountain”, only to discover that the view isn’t really so great and you feel empty inside. The truly joyful people are those, often impelled by a shock such as divorce or bereavement, who find their second mountain, abandoning themselves to a greater cause, forgoing the life they’d wanted for whatever the world needs from them.

I Know You Are You, And Real, by Sara Peters, Hazlitt

One year after my sister is dragged to the Farmhouse
I place an ad in the newspaper that says Let’s Go Swimming

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

11 Authors On Their One-Word Book Titles, by Merriam-Webster

At Merriam-Webster we know that words have the power to shape worlds both real and imagined. And we know that writing is hard work. To distill a story, its characters, and all the associated emotions into a single word is no small feat.

That’s why we’ve partnered with eleven of our favorite authors who have shared the story and significance behind their one-word-title books.

The English Word That Hasn't Changed In Sound Or Meaning In 8,000 Years, by Sevindj Nurkiyazova, Nautilus

One of my favorite words is lox,” says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University. There is hardly a more quintessential New York food than a lox bagel—a century-old popular appetizing store, Russ & Daughters, calls it “The Classic.” But Guy, who has lived in the city for the past 17 years, is passionate about lox for a different reason. “The pronunciation in the Proto-Indo-European was probably ‘lox,’ and that’s exactly how it is pronounced in modern English,” he says. “Then, it meant salmon, and now it specifically means ‘smoked salmon.’ It’s really cool that that word hasn’t changed its pronunciation at all in 8,000 years and still refers to a particular fish.”

Too Much Theory Leads Economists To Bad Predictions, by Peter A Coclanis, Aeon

Whether it was the physicist Niels Bohr or the baseball player Yogi Berra who said it – or, most likely, someone else – it is indeed hard to make predictions, especially about the future. This is certainly so regarding economic, social and political phenomena. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Nobel prizewinning economist Paul Krugman, who, writing in The New York Times on the night of Donald Trump’s election victory in November 2016, predicted an imminent global recession, from which global markets might ‘never’ recover. We’re still waiting. One is reminded of the quip by another Nobel prizewinning economist, Paul S Samuelson: ‘Wall Street indexes predicted nine of the past five recessions!’

The Secret Of Aged Sushi, by Jenn Harris, Los Angeles Times

Most sushi connoisseurs prize a pristine surf clam still wriggling when it hits the counter or a sweet shrimp dancing on the plate. There are different levels of freshness when it comes to sushi, including flash-frozen fish that is defrosted before service, and the stuff picked out at the fish market that morning. But fish that has been sitting in the fridge for weeks before service, that’s a hard sell for most Americans.

You can find some form of preserved or aged fish at Q in downtown L.A., and a couple pieces on menus around the city, but in the States, restaurants pride themselves on letting as little time pass as possible between the boat and your plate. Kimura takes pride in how long he can age his fish before it turns to a mushy pile of rot. You could classify his style of sushi as uniquely his own — a variant on edomae (raw fish with cooked rice seasoned with vinegar).

Love On The Rocks, by Thomas Dai, The Southern Review

There is a tree on campus where all the lovers go. They deface this tree, carve their names into the wood and kill the tree slowly, for love. The other night, I dreamed that we were there, and that you were as you always are—sylvan and cool, a little stingy with your words—while I stood beside you filled with shanghuo, that inner heat which my grandmother blames for my acne, my temper, my sleepy, bloodshot eyes.

In the dream, we did not know what to do at the tree. It was as though we lacked the proper tools or the proper sense of each other to act. When I awoke, sticky and unresolved, it was already afternoon, and you had texted me an invitation to swim. I thought about my first day in this city, how the desert air had baked me dry and how my key would not turn in the door of a borrowed apartment. On that inaugural day, I had sat on the welcome mat beside a green scarab as bright and dead as a bauble, watching unknown neighbors doing laps in the pool. Maybe love is always having that someone on the inside, ready to let you in; or maybe it’s the doorframe that swells in the summer heat, catching a dead bolt fast. Maybe it’s neither and maybe it’s both. Either way, I remember buying a cold Fanta from the vending machine, putting the can to the keyhole, and waiting for something magic to happen: a contraction in the frame, an answer to my open sesame.

An Astronaut, An Antiwar Radical And A Novelist’s Epic Vision Of America, by Karen Thompson Walker, New York Times

Deep into Kathleen Alcott’s epic, multigenerational novel, “America Was Hard to Find,” a young man tells the story of how he landed on the cover of Life magazine. In the picture, he’s a 12-year-old boy dropping chrysanthemums down the barrels of rifles carried by National Guard troops at a Vietnam War protest. But the image conceals a more complicated truth: When the picture was taken, this child was high on mushrooms, provided to him by a friend of his mother’s.

This gulf — between the iconic photograph and the actual human experience, between the public’s imagination of history and the way it feels to the person living through it — is the focus of this sprawling but absorbing novel.

A Family Tragedy Rocks Alaska In ‘The Unpassing’, by Bradley Sides, Chicago Review of Books

As much as the story turns to individualized responses to tragedy, it also dissects a collective reckoning with the myth of the American dream. In this unrelenting Alaska, this once-determined family finds little comfort. In fact, they find little hope at all. Those surrounding them rarely even seem to notice the family. The father says, “They see only half of us.” And Gavin goes even further when pointing to his father’s failed choice to bring the family to the US: “He had brought us to a place we didn’t belong, and taken us from a place we did. Now we yearned for all places and found peace in none.” The deaths aren’t purely physical in The Unpassing.

The ending is surprising considering what comes before it, and, somehow, it feels true—earned even.

To The Heart Of The Heart, by Suzanne Koven, Los Angeles Review of Books

In his beautifully written, informative, and thought-provoking third book, Heart: A History, Sandeep Jauhar, a cardiologist, explores both the metaphorical and biological properties of the heart. He gives a fascinating account of how the heart’s circulatory and electrical system came to be understood over many centuries, ultimately leading to lifesaving innovations such as the heart transplant, the pacemaker, and the implantable defibrillator. He also tells the story of how our concept of the heart evolved from metaphor to machine, an evolution which is still not complete and which, Jauhar argues, probably never will be. Like The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s masterful “biography of cancer,” which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, Heart is a work of both medical history and medical philosophy, one which invites us to look deeply not just at one organ system or category of disease but more broadly at the relationship of mind to body and art to science.

Catch Of The Day, by Finuala Dowling, The Guardian

My therapist shakes her head.
It’s much more complex than that, she says.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Big Talkers, by Jenny Uglow, New York Review of Books

The Literary Club, known simply as “The Club,” was established in early 1764 after the portrait painter Joshua Reynolds became worried about his friend Samuel Johnson, who was sinking into a black depression. An old Oxford friend, William Adams, had visited Johnson the previous autumn and “found him in a deplorable state, sighing, groaning, talking to himself, and restlessly walking from room to room.” Johnson told Adams, “I would consent to have a limb amputated to recover my spirits.” An evening of talk with friends, Reynolds suggested, was a less drastic remedy.

This was an age of clubs, when men met in inns, coffeehouses, and homes, sharing interests ranging from scientific experiments to glee singing—and drink, which played an important part in the Club’s weekly meetings. These took place every Friday in a private room at the Turk’s Head Tavern in Gerrard Street, in Soho. In addition to Johnson and Reynolds, the nine founding members of the new Literary Club included Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, and the magistrate and historian of music Sir John Hawkins (who left after a quarrel with Burke), as well as Burke’s father-in-law, Christopher Nugent, a stockbroker, Anthony Chamier, and two other friends, Topham Beauclerk and Bennet Langton.

When Time Became Regular And Universal, It Changed History, by Paul J Kosmin, Aeon

What year is it? It’s 2019, obviously. An easy question. Last year was 2018. Next year will be 2020. We are confident that a century ago it was 1919, and in 1,000 years it will be 3019, if there is anyone left to name it. All of us are fluent with these years; we, and most of the world, use them without thinking. They are ubiquitous. As a child I used to line up my pennies by year of minting, and now I carefully note dates of publication in my scholarly articles.

Now, imagine inhabiting a world without such a numbered timeline for ordering current events, memories and future hopes. For from earliest recorded history right up to the years after Alexander the Great’s conquests in the late 4th century BCE, historical time – the public and annual marking of the passage of years – could be measured only in three ways: by unique events, by annual offices, or by royal lifecycles.

Hansel, Gretel And Halley's Comet Link The Tales In 'Alternate Endings', by Ilana Masad, NPR

There is something both nihilistic and deeply hopeful in Drager's looping novel. Nihilistic, because in so many ways it indicates that as parts of a continuum of human storytelling, life, love, and hate, none of us matter; but hopeful because that continuum means our stories are related, our narratives interlocking, and so while we may be insignificant, we are also never alone.

Plutocracy, Not Theocracy Compels The Handmaids Of 'The Farm', by Jean Zimmerman, NPR

The Farm might serve only as an echo-chamber treatment of The Handmaid's Tale, were it not for author Joanne Ramos's deft way of creating characters. She peoples her book with figures who are appealingly engaging — or, at times, engagingly repellent.

“Working”: A Brief History Of History, by John Schneider, Los Angeles Review of Books

Caro is, of course, a pillar of the Old Media: a Princeton-educated New Yorker who worked at Long Island’s Newsday (“a real crusading paper then,” Caro tells us), was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and then left journalism to write giant tomes about Important Men that won Impressive Awards (two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, et cetera). So one might expect his memoir ought to be a staid and stuffy recollection of the media’s halcyon days.

But his book is deceptively modern. In part, this is due to Caro’s oft-repeated clarification, which he sticks right on the first page of the new book: “I never had the slightest interest in writing the life of a great man. […] I thought of writing biographies as a means of illuminating the […] force that is political power.” And political power is an evergreen subject, particularly political power as it relates to subjects like civil rights, urban development, and partisan upheaval. Since much of Working has been previously published over the last 25 years, the book gives a sense of how coverage of those subjects has evolved over time.

The New Silk Roads By Peter Frankopan Review – The Present And Future Of The World, by Maya Jasanoff, The Guardian

Mackinder’s vision stood at odds with the political map of his times. Britain, notably, did not control the heartland; nor did the next biggest territorial empire, that of the French; nor did the emerging rivals Britons were worried about, Germany and the US. A century later, Mackinder has enjoyed a revival for his apparently prescient insights into today’s power politics.

Peter Frankopan doesn’t mention Mackinder, but this was the terrain he chronicled in his sweeping 2015 history The Silk Roads. In The New Silk Roads, he offers an extended epilogue that argues for the heartland’s continuing centrality to 21st-century trade and security. It cannot be a surprise to many readers that the balance of economic power today is tilting east – or that relative decline is having disruptive, polarising effects on the west. (Though just in case you have missed the news for the last couple of years, Frankopan quotes liberally from Donald Trump to make the point.) What The New Silk Roads contributes is a concise illustration of this shift from a Eurasian vantage point. Breezy and accessible, it seems perfectly pitched for a young student curious about globalisation, or for a passenger flying to China for the first time on business.

Crossing, by Carl Phillips, Literary Hub

Now that, at best, we’d rowed halfway across the woods
that we mostly thought of our lives as—despite the fact

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Female Spies And Their Secrets, by Liza Mundy, The Atlantic

Are women useful as spies? If so, in what capacity? Maxwell Knight, an officer in MI5, Britain’s domestic-counterintelligence agency, sat pondering these questions. Outside his office, World War II had begun, and Europe’s baptism by blitzkrieg was under way. In England—as in the world—the intelligence community was still an all-male domain, and a clubby, upper-crust one at that. But a lady spy could come in handy, as Knight was about to opine.

In a memo “on the subject of Sex, in connection with using women as agents,” Knight ventured that one thing women spies could do was seduce men to extract information. Not just any woman could manage this, he cautioned—only one who was not “markedly oversexed or undersexed.” Like the proverbial porridge, a female agent must be neither too hot nor too cold. If the lady is “undersexed,” she will lack the charisma needed to woo her target. But if she “suffers from an overdose of Sex,” as he put it, her boss will find her “terrifying.”

The Reinvention Of Tradition, by Ross Douthat, New York Times

There are different ways to read the resonant phrase “the invention of tradition,” coined by the great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm many years ago. One reading is debunking, skeptical, emphasizing the artificiality of all traditions, the extent to which all cultural narratives flatten or caricature the past.

Another reading is more favorable: It treats the element of invention in cultural traditionalism as a necessary way to bridge the gulf of years and keep the past alive. To invent or reinvent a tradition, in this sense, is not to craft a falsehood; it is to add your own bit of labor to a larger inheritance, which your heirs may renew and reinvent in their own turn.

How The Record Industry Is Trying To Make Vinyl More Environmentally Friendly, by Michelle Kim, Pitchfork

Last year, sales of vinyl records were at a 30-year high. But while the vinyl boom has been a bright spot for physical media lovers and the record industry alike, pressing vinyl poses a more urgent environmental concern than it did in the format’s heyday. At times, the process can seem almost antithetical to green living. Records are made of PVC, which comes from refined oil and can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. Traditional pressing machines are powered by steam boilers that require fossil fuels to generate heat and pressure; the water used is treated with anti-corrosive chemicals in order to prevent rusting, thus creating more wastewater. And that’s just the pressing procedure.

Consider, then, vinyl’s packaging and distribution. While leading packaging companies like TC Transcontinental use recycled or sustainably sourced paper and cardboard, there’s no regulation forcing their competitors to take similar steps. The ink that’s used to print cover art and liner notes is traditionally solvent-based, meaning it contains volatile organic compounds that can contribute to the production of ozone. Once the record is encased in a beautiful jacket, it’s then shrink-wrapped in plastic wrap before boarding a gas-burning, carbon-emitting truck to ship. Suddenly the listener’s choice to buy physical music shifts from an action that helps sustain an artist’s career, to one that potentially threatens broader sustainability.

Island Song By Madeleine Bunting Review – Haunted By The Past, by Stevie Davies, The Guardian

Historical sources are by their nature fragmentary, being made up, as Roz reflects, of “flotsam ... scraps which had by chance survived”. Yet fiction has licence to fill in the gaps and discontinuities. A Model Occupation and Island Song may be read as a diptych, exploring the excruciating dilemmas facing an occupied people. What if the mainland had come under Nazi occupation? What compromises and betrayals might we have made in the struggle to survive?

Howard Stern Can Talk. This Book Shows He’s Also A Good Listener., by Janet Maslin, New York Times

For anyone who still thinks of Stern as a jokey voyeur, overgrown teenager and smutmeister, he would like you to know how much he’s evolved. He’s become more sensitive. He’s in therapy, to the point where it becomes a constant refrain. He feels his subjects’ pain. Which might be problematic if he weren’t still such a sharp, funny, conversational sparring partner.

Original Fire, by Louise Erdrich, Literary Hub

I watch my daughter build a fire
not from a match or cigarette lighter
but from the original elements,
two sticks, a length of sinew, friction.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Letter Of Recommendation: Superstitions, by Karen Russell, New York Times

Superstitious people are often dismissed as irrational, stunted thinkers — mental children who never outgrow a scrambled understanding of causality. Even those studies that confirm “improved performance” for superstitious athletes can sound patronizing, hypothesizing that rituals like Serena Williams’s five bounces before her first serve work by conferring “the illusion of control.” To the skeptical observer, superstitions must look like blind adherence to a stupid rule, an automated naïveté. And I’ll admit that several of my own feel less like a conscious act than a fearful reflex. (I recently bought an extra Coke Zero to avoid a $6.66 charge — stand down, Satan.) But those of us who carry charms and sidestep ladders will tell you that superstitions can have an undeniable power. Not because they change the future, but because they articulate a wish. Superstitions are a special syntax, the ellipses we use to bridge the present and the dreamed-of future. Humble, hopeful, fearful, human.

Past Tense: When Neon Owned The Night, by Jeff Giles, New York Times

Before evolution hit a snag, and we reverted to slouching and staring at our phones, human beings walked with their eyes up, observing things. In the countryside, people contemplated church steeples, maple trees, clouds. In cities, they looked at the neon — and it was everything.

Between the 1930s and the 1970s, neon signs were a potent American symbol for both glamour and depravity, hope and desolation. In movies, how many star-struck ingénues have gazed up at the bright lights of Broadway? How many down-and-out characters have checked into a seedy hotel and found a malfunctioning sign buzzing like a bug-zapper outside their window?

This New Short-story Collection From The Author Behind Arrival Is Sci-fi At Its Smartest, by Constance Grady, Vox

The stories in Exhalation are a shining example of science fiction at its best. They take both science and humanism deeply seriously, which is why it’s so satisfying to watch Chiang’s shining, intricate machine at work: You know that whatever the machine builds, it will tell you something new about human beings.

Book Review: The Doll Factory, By Elizabeth Macneal, by Alasdair McKillop, The Herald

After reading a few pages of this book, the first from Edinburgh-born Elizabeth Macneal, I concluded the title and cover were the central elements of a conspiracy. They had worked together to perform an act of deception by creating certain expectations that were quickly, filthily and uncompromisingly dispelled. But, as I came to realise, this is a book about things being something other than they appear to be, quite often the exact opposite. That which looks free is trapped. That which seems fresh is rotten. Sometimes, that which is alive is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet.

Eat Food. All The Time. Mostly Junk., by Laura Shapiro, The Atlantic

Turning the pages of these two books, I wondered whether it was time to jettison my long-held belief that the best way to counter the food industry is to actually cook meals from scratch. Certainly the authors of Pressure Cooker have discarded any such notion. After all, they emphasize, it’s not just Cokes and Doritos that are making American households sick, stressed, and chaotic. The stumbling blocks these women encounter hour by hour make it clear that our food crisis is deeply intertwined with related crises, including income inequality, a fragile safety net, inadequate public transportation, and the scarcity of affordable housing. We’re not going to fix all of this with a nice pot of homemade chili.

Friday, May 10, 2019

In Arizona Literature, Beauty And Conflict Collide Under The Sonoran Skies, by Rigoberto González, Los Angeles Times

The palo verde trees are blossoming and covering the ground around them with golden flowers. It’s an incredible sight to behold as the sun rises over the mountain range. I have been in Tucson for only a few days and I want the Sonora Desert to keep me here, dazzling me year-round with its vast sky and enchanting light. The trail I have chosen runs along the Santa Cruz River, which is currently dry, but the air all around it is clear and crisp. And just as I’m about to throw my arms out in a theatrical display of complete freedom and ecstasy, I meet runners holding photographs and rosaries. I recognize the child in the pictures. She’s Jakelín Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in Border Control custody in December. Most likely, they’re headed to the Santa Cruz Catholic Church down the road. I stop, leaving my arms at rest, and bow my head.

It’s the only respectful gesture I can think of at the moment.

Words, Like People, Have Tangled And Extensive Family Trees, by The Economist

It is natural to try to find resemblances in family photos: grandma’s nose here, Uncle Jim’s hairline there. When considering the family of English words, it is tempting to look for the same sort of likenesses. Often they are real; for instance, regal and royal derive from the same source, which was imported into English twice, from both Grandpa Latin and Aunt French.

But often they are not. In the human world, people sometimes find out to their shock that they are adopted, or take a DNA test and discover a surprising parentage. At this point, resemblances that they thought were genetic turn out to be illusory. Similarly, two words can look so alike that it seems they simply must be siblings—yet they aren’t.

Take A Breath And Dive Into 'Exhalation', by Jason Sheehan, NPR

Chiang is, among other things, a short story specialist. A man who has never bothered to write a novel because, you know, why bother? He takes an idea (sometimes big, sometimes small, most often somewhere nebulously in-between) and gives it exactly the number of words it needs. His voice and style are so beautifully trim it makes you think that, like one of his characters, he has a magical looking-box hidden in his basement that shows him nothing except the final texts of stories he has already written — just so he'll know exactly how to write them well in the first place.

Into The Underland With Robert Macfarlane, by The Economist

Wherever they walk, people tend to look up, ignoring the world beneath their feet. For that world is dark. When it is cut open, for city drain-work or open-cast mining, the raw, muddy scar seems repellent. Few want to venture into it, let alone go deeper, where the light gradually diminishes and the bedrock closes in.

Yet as Robert Macfarlane points out, in his best and most lyrical book of nature-writing since “The Wild Places”, humanity’s relationship with this underland is complex and contradictory. It is a place to hide both what is precious and what is revolting—including objects that excite both feelings, such as the bodies of the dead. The underland is rifled for treasure, oil, gold, rare earths; it is visited by heroes and shamans to retrieve memories, discover mysteries, consort with ghosts (Aeneas) or rescue love (Orpheus). At one point Mr Macfarlane combines these enterprises, rattling in a truck for miles through the tunnels of a giant potash mine under the North Sea. He debouches in a laboratory where, in the necessary pitch-dark and silence, a young scientist sits watching deep space to catch, if he can, the invisible tremor of dark matter on the last, least particles that humans can observe.

Nutmeg And Mace, by Rose McLarney, New England Review

Spices were currency once.
Rent paid in peppercorns.

Can my dishes, so curried they amber the plates
with stains after, ensure the guests I serve stay?

Thursday, May 9, 2019

What The Great Gatsby Reveals About The Jazz Age, by Gabrielle Bellot, JSTOR

“It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire,” Fitzgerald famously wrote of the 1920s in a 1931 essay, “Echoes of the Jazz Age.” In his mind, the decade defied any rigid definition, but what perhaps characterized it best was the jazz music he so frequently alluded to in his own writing. In Fitzgerald’s most popular novel, The Great Gatsby, jazz appears as constant background music. In the contemporary phenomenon of “Gatsby parties”—festivities intended to capture the air of the titular Jay Gatsby’s famously lavish, bacchanalian parties—jazz is de rigueur to evoke the 1920s.

Killing Time, by Anna Funder, The Paris Review

It does not matter how close we get to that question mark; it is still unthinkable. The question mark remains a question mark until we have passed that date and gone into the zone of unthinkability ourselves. We cannot imagine the date of our demise. Our minds balk. On the one hand, it’s too grim. And on the other, we tempt fate if we count on a certain period as rightfully ours, when the outrageous end can come out of a clear blue sky like a fridge, a bomb, a car crash. Or a rare cancer.

It is the terror of imagining the date of our death, a thought that goes against all our human hardwiring, that is the propulsive power of Heinrich Böll’s 1949 novel The Train Was on Time. The novel incarnates and then inhabits this taboo space, which makes the work function—once you’ve swallowed it—like an inoculation against despair.

The Woman Who Invented The Modern Kitchen, by Sarah Archer, CityLab

The idea of a dedicated space to cook, which might also be stylish and even fun to spend time in, was only possible because of two major impacts of industrialization. First, mass production, along with municipal gas, water, and electricity, made modern appliances affordable, and more broadly, it triggered an enormous social upheaval that transformed social class in the western world. In other words, the 20th-century kitchen was a new kind of room designed for a new kind of person.

For A Split Second, A (Simulated) Particle Went Backward In Time, by Dennis Overbye, New York Times

In what amounts to a technological triumph for the aspiring Benjamin Buttons of the virtual world, a team of quantum physicists reported earlier this year that they had succeeded in creating a computer algorithm that acts like the Fountain of Youth.

Using an IBM quantum computer, they managed to undo the aging of a single, simulated elementary particle by one millionth of a second. But it was a Pyrrhic victory at best, requiring manipulations so unlikely to occur naturally that it only reinforced the notion that we are helplessly trapped in the flow of time.

Trust Exercise Is An Elaborate Trick Of A Novel, by Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic

Trust Exercise is an elaborate trick; it’s a meta work of construction and deconstruction, building a persuasive fictional world and then showing you the girders, the scaffolding underneath, and how it’s all been welded together. It’s also a work that lives in the gray area between art and reality: the space where alchemy happens.

Port Angeles Writer Tess Gallagher’s Poetry Collection Reveals The Beauty In All Of Us, by Anna Black, Seattle TImes

Gallagher is at her most agile in seeing deeply and exposing the nectar of this world. “I never put myself on the downhill side of anything, really. I think that we’re often given contradictory things to hold, and that is the job of the poet,” she says, “to hold things in contradiction and yet to come away with some elucidation.”

Book Review: Atlas Of Brutalist Architecture, by Jon Scott Blanthorn, Canadian Architect

While most publications don’t get much further than glamourous, gloomy images, the Atlas of Brutalist Architecture documents what brutalism intended all along: the equality of structure, the building as a framework for living, with spaces for people to work, eat, sleep, and dream in—and ultimately make their own.

'Becoming Dr. Seuss' Reveals Theodor Geisel As A Complicated Icon, by Gabino Iglesias, NPR

Becoming Dr. Seuss is an expansive biography that tracks Geisel's life and roots from 1904 to 1991. The book is divided in stages and pays equal attention to every step of Geisel's journey. While it is a standard biography in general terms, Jones goes above and beyond to contextualize Geisel in the larger picture at every moment of his life. This makes Becoming Dr. Seuss a fascinating read that discusses the origin of the humorous, simple rhymes, bizarre creatures, and magic that characterized Geisel's books while also showing the author's more radical side as an unemployed wanderer who abandoned his doctoral studies, a successful advertising man, and a political cartoonist.

A Historian Looks At Pregnancy And Mothering Through The Ages, by Robin Romm, New York Times

With this excellent tribute to the past, complete with dispatches from her very raw, real postpartum present, Knott provides a partial answer to that question: We have to contribute our own intellect and gifts, in order to look out for one another.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Souvankham Thammavongsa Shows Us The Beauty Of A Furious Poem, by Anita Lahey, The Walrus

At sixteen, waiting out a bomb scare at her high school while next to a display of dissected insects, Souvankham Thammavongsa wrote a poem called “Frogs.” She treated the poem as if it would be her last. “I didn’t want to go out without it being my choice—or at least without an argument,” she said in an interview. “I was angry.”

Far from her last, “Frogs,” which appeared in her 2003 debut, Small Arguments, became what she considers her first “real” poem. Realness refers to how poetry, for Thammavongsa, should feel like a well-built table, and “no matter what anyone does to it or says of it, it doesn’t wobble.” It also means a poem that readers can’t leave behind. “I hope I’ve said something there that matters. And that they carry that with them wherever it is they mean to go.”

Why Are We Living In A Golden Age Of Historical Fiction?, by Megan O’Grady, New York Times

But as we near the third decade of the 21st century, the urge to look back feels different: Making sense of our lives and of the unfathomable world in which we find ourselves has necessitated an understanding of what has come before — a clarification of the game and its stakes but also its rules and positions. A new kind of historical fiction has evolved to show us that the past is no longer merely prologue but story itself, shaping our increasingly fractured fairy tales about who we are as a society. The unmooring of time can be found everywhere, in battles for social progress we thought we’d already fought and won. In the media age, history is not simply a chain of facts recorded by scholars but a complex narrative harnessed by political parties and Facebook disinformation campaigns to speak to our sense of identity and belonging. The past we inherit speaks to us individually and collectively, but a common thread, much less a consensus view of reality, feels increasingly hard to come by.

Is Lab-Grown Meat Really So Revolutionary?, by Christy Spackman, Slate

Advocates for lab-grown meat say that beyond helping fight climate change, it will also improve animal welfare and shake up our food production system. But there is a problem with cellular agriculture—another name for lab-grown meat—that the cheerleaders don’t seem to be talking about. In key ways, lab-grown meat is built on the same foundational logics of our current industrial food system. As a result, it’s firmly on the road to replicating many of the challenges that it claims it will address, and in the process risks making a food future that is worse, rather than better, for eaters.

A Debut Novel Revisits A Tragedy In An Asian-American Family, by Brian Haman, New York Times

For all of its pathos, its themes of cross-cultural intermingling, its stories of immigrant arrival, marginalization and eventual accommodation, “The Unpassing” is a singularly vast and captivating novel, beautifully written in free-flowing prose that quietly disarms with its intermittent moments of poetic idiosyncrasy. But what makes Lin’s novel such an important book is the extent to which it probes America’s mythmaking about itself, which can just as easily unmake as it can uplift.

A Loneliness So Pure, by Marcus Jackson, The Cincinnati Review

The world encouraged me to complete
my doctorate in shamelessness. “You’ll hurt

to not be part of all this interface
and commerce,” I was warned, though

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Mystery Of Human Uniqueness, by Gary Marcus, Nautius

In short, humans may live very differently than chimpanzees, but the structural plans of our biology necessarily can represent only modest tinkerings to the genetic material that we inherited from our last common ancestors. Language, regardless of how it is instantiated in our brain, represents a comparatively tiny cognitive enhancement relative to the mental machinery we inherited from our last common ancestor. The same is true for the underlying biology of each of our cognitive innovations.

If it seems like scientists trying to find the basis of human uniqueness in the brain are looking for a neural needle in a haystack, it’s because they are. Whatever makes us different is built on the bedrock of a billion years of common ancestry. Humans will never abandon the quest to prove that they are special. But nor can we escape the fact that our minds are a modest tweak on an ancient plan that originated millions of years before we came onto the scene.

A Season Underground: Russian Doll And Mental Illness, by Peli Grietzer, Los Angeles Review of Books

My way of reading Russian Doll can’t, logically speaking, be the best way to read Russian Doll. Nobody makes a show about how the high-functioning mentally ill live in a fundamentally different world from the merely neurotic. But on my second time through that’s still all I see: No one except for Nadia or Alan can save Nadia or Alan, for all of the love and therapy and friendship, because no one else is in their social-material position. Nadia and Alan blend into the world of middle-class creatives and professionals (who are, of course, neurotic wretches), but its regularities and rhythms, the insistent gravitation that keeps you in orbit of a lifeworld even though you have, of course, gone half-insane in this late capitalist hellscape, aren’t theirs. You can stay here, but you can’t go home.

The Difference Between Happiness And Joy, by David Brooks, New York Times

We live in a cruel time, when people attack you when they see a hint of vulnerability. So, it’s extra important to stick with emotional honesty even after people take advantage of your vulnerability to inflict pain. Vulnerability is the only means we have to build relationships, and relationships are the only means we have to experience joy.

The Promise, by Christopher Urban, n+1

Something extraordinary happened at the Rewriters’ Workshop. Arnold Mitchell, a first-year student who had barely escaped the wait list, came down with a severe case of writer’s block: the kind that could make or break an author’s career. A group of us went to offer our congratulations, though not without skepticism. It’s not uncommon for a student believed to be experiencing “the block” to discover later that it had been a temporary thing, like a head cold.

What Happens When You Put 2,000 Nerds On A Boat?, by John Schwartz, New York Times

But the cruise goes very far to make introverts and the socially awkward comfortable, as well. At check in, everyone is offered two “Friendshipping” buttons that describe your attitude toward conversation: a big green YEAH for those who invite contact, and a red NAH for those who would rather not. The concept, which has precedents in the autism community, works beautifully for the merely shy. Sections of the ship are deemed quiet zones, and those who don’t want to attend the crowded, raucous evening concerts can watch a simulcast in a darkened lounge or even on the television in their cabins. The result is a floating community of friends, even if they have never met. “You’ll never find a group of nicer, more kind people,” said Linda Shapley, a former managing editor of The Denver Post making the trip with her husband, Ed.

One longtime sea monkey, CeeCee Stein, found the community so accepting that several years ago she decided to use a cruise as her moment to transition from male to female. “I got on the plane as Christopher, and I got off the plane as Christina,” she recalled. “It seemed like the group of people I would most want to lay my soul bare in front of,” she said.

She added, “I call it my birthday.”

Science Fiction Doesn’t Have To Be Dystopian, by Joyce Carol Oates, New Yorker

When Henry James remarked, in his preface to “The Portrait of a Lady,” that “the house of fiction has . . . not one window, but a million,” he could not have anticipated the genre of fiction to which we have given the inexact term “science fiction.” Still less could he have anticipated the sort of literary-humanist science fiction associated with Ted Chiang, whose début collection, “Stories of Your Life and Others” (2002), garnered multiple awards in the science-fiction community, and contained the beautifully elegiac novella “Story of Your Life,” which reëxamined the phenomena of time and memory in terms of language. (The novella was the basis for the Academy Award-nominated film “Arrival.”) Other stories in the collection reinterpreted the Biblical Tower of Babel, imagined an industrial era powered by Kabbalistic golems, and revisited the oldest of theological arguments regarding the nature of God. Like such eclectic predecessors as Philip K. Dick, James Tiptree, Jr., Jorge Luis Borges, Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, China Miéville, and Kazuo Ishiguro, Chiang has explored conventional tropes of science fiction in highly unconventional ways.

In his new collection, “Exhalation” (Knopf), his second, Chiang again presents elaborate thought experiments in narrative modes that initially seem familiar. Contemporary issues relating to bioethics, virtual reality, free will and determinism, time travel, and the uses of robotic forms of A.I. are addressed in plain, forthright prose. If Chiang’s stories can strike us as riddles, concerned with asking rather than with answering difficult questions, there is little ambiguity about his language. When an entire story is metaphorical, focussed on a single surreal image, it’s helpful that individual sentences possess the windowpane transparency that George Orwell advocated as a prose ideal.

Spring Cleaning, Ali Smith Style, by Rebecca Makkai, New York Times

But the Scottish marvel Ali Smith breaks rules better than anyone. She can build entire narratives around dreams and hallucinations. She can start a new novel in the middle of another. She can let a single exclamation point stand as an entire paragraph. It wouldn’t surprise me if she can write hanging upside down like a bat. And she’s given us, with “Spring,” the third in a planned quartet named for the seasons, an addition to a work-in-progress both as raw as this morning’s Twitter rant and as lasting and important as — and I say this neither lightly nor randomly — “Ulysses.”

Book Review: Throw Me To The Wolves, By Patrick McGuinness, by Allan Massie, The Scotsman

This is a novel which, while fulfilling the first function of fiction – which is to entertain, to give pleasure – also invites reflection about the state of morality today, about the lust for witch-hunts and the zeal to punish – even before any guilt has been established. So, while being a well-written and enjoyable crime novel, it’s also a disturbing one – though one crying out for an editor who recognises that in novel writing less is often better than more.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Taking An Author’s Photo Is Like Going On A First Date, by Nina Subin, Literary Hub

Writers may be difficult in their private lives, but on the other side of the camera lens they tend to be nervous but sweet. At the point where they need to be photographed for a book jacket or a magazine article, the book they’ve been working on for years is finally done (and the reviews aren’t out yet). Unlike actors or “celebrities,” they are unaccustomed to being photographed. They have no physical “brand image” to project, or a “better side” for their profile. Almost all writers start the session by telling me that they are not photogenic. (I tell them to decide after they have seen the photos.)

I try to make the process relatively painless. When I’m shooting in my studio there’s no loud music or a hubbub of bustling assistants. I’ve usually read at least a few chapters of the forthcoming book—if I don’t already know the previous work—to get a sense of the person. We talk about the book or travels or families—anything except politics, which these days makes anyone look too depressed for a portrait.

My Secret Life As A Rogue Romance Writer, by Remy Solomon, Narratively

Besides, I wanted to do something with writing. In my spare time, I was writing plays with the end goal of eventually transitioning to screenwriting. So it only made sense to try to align my part-time job with what I hoped would one day be my full-time job. After some very feeble internet sleuthing, I signed up for a handful of online freelancing sites. It became almost immediately evident that the biggest demand was for ghostwriters in the romance field, especially for young, female ghostwriters (which is kinda sexist, but OK). Essentially I would be paid for writing romance novels anonymously that would be credited to a best-selling author. Though I resisted the siren call of easy money for a week or so, I eventually caved and bid on my first romance writing job. I got the gig, and the rest, as they say, is literary history. Except of course it’s not, because romance writing is the most rote, formulaic type of writing out there. After all, there are only so many ways to describe a penis. A hero’s penis must be veiny, bulging, and little else. In my business there’s no room for a penile digression. Or at least, this was what I thought when I first began.

The New Toolkit For Opening Up Your Memoir Writing, by Eve Makis, Literary Hub

As I pondered the problem called my father that December, I had a eureka moment, a flash of inspiration: I would make something, uniquely from me. It would be something that would make my father feel treasured and draw him out of his shell. I would buy a cheap notepad and fill it with prompts that would cajole him into writing about his life. If I couldn’t get him to talk, perhaps I could get him to write.

Reinventing The Tomato For Survival In A Changing World, by Tejal Rao, New York Times

Born and raised in Northern California, Mr. Gates has been organically farming tomatoes in the region for 25 years, working on small leased plots and introducing new varieties with cult followings, like the dark, meaty Black Beauty and the striped, rosy-pink Dragon’s Eye.

For most of that time, he sold his tomatoes to top restaurants, including Chez Panisse in Berkeley. But a few years ago he completely rethought his work. Galvanized by climate change, he joined a growing number of farmers who are trying to find a future for their threatened crops — in his case, the queen of the farmers’ market.

Mr. Gates now grows thousands of tomato plants each year, selling the young ones to local shops and the seeds all over the country through his website and catalogs, encouraging people to grow their own at home. He believes that the tomato’s survival and continued deliciousness depend on the plant’s diversity, and he considers breeding hardy, cold-tolerant and heat-tolerant varieties an essential part of his work — not just to provide food, but also to expand the number of places where the plant can flourish.

‘The Big Bang Theory’ Is Ending, But We Shouldn't Let Multi-cam Sitcoms Die. Here's Why, by Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times

To laugh at home with a studio audience is to become a member of that audience; the fourth wall is whatever wall’s behind you. You become a witness, a participant, family. The Conners, the Cranes, the Bunkers, the Huxtables; Jerry and George and Elaine and Kramer; Sam and Diane and Norm and Cliff and Woody and Carla; Anne, Julie, Barbara and Schneider from the original “One Day at a Time” and Lydia, Elena, Alex, Penelope and Schneider from the recent one; Sheldon and Leonard and Penny and Raj and Howard and Bernadette and Amy, you are all one in virtual space and time. There has never been a sitcom title truer than “Friends.”

Saidiya Hartman's “Beautiful Experiments”, by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Los Angeles Review of Books

Saidiya Hartman’s new book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, is a radical, genre-defying examination of the lives of “ordinary” young Black women in this period — women who escaped to Northern cities, living on the great expectations of the Great Migration. Hartman deploys Black feminism as the framework with which to understand the tremendous shifts in political economy, culture, and resistance in this time, making an extraordinary comment on the centrality of Black women’s history and experience to the history and politics of the United States. By situating them as central agents, Hartman disables the notion that US history thrived on the momentum of progress in the Progressive Era. Instead, the lives of ordinary Black women hold the horrors of the American past as much as they represent the possibility of the future represented in their movement and rebellion.

Review: The Library Book Is A Thrilling Tale Of Fire, Loss And Renewal, by Marion McLeod, The Spinoff

Curiously, The Library Book is not at all a downer. Orlean, a staffer on the New Yorker since 1992, could write about paint drying and make it exciting. Come to think of it, she does just that here: she describes ink and other substances drying as experts patiently tend to charred volumes. And I swear it’s thrilling.

In short, The Library Book is non-fiction of the highest order – by turns informative, personal, philosophical, sad, funny.

Book Review: A True-crime Thriller From Victorian England Resonates Today, by Steven Whitton, Anniston Star

The crime at the core of “Murder by the Book” by Claire Harman stunned London for months. Yet Harman’s book is not so much focused on the uncovering of a murderer as it is on dissecting the London not only of Queen Victoria, but the London of Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray as well.

Along the way, the book also becomes a subtle reminder that media-roused controversy is not as contemporary an “art form” as we might think it to be.

This Is Shakespeare By Emma Smith Review – The Bard Without The Baggage, by Alex Preston, The Guardian

Now Smith has turned 20 of her Approaching Shakespeare podcasts into a book, expanding upon and weaving together her original lectures to create This Is Shakespeare, already burnished with glowing praise from Hilary Mantel and James Shapiro. In her epilogue, Smith imagines other books she might have written that are “present in the archaeology of this one”. She summons the beautiful image of the ghost buildings and settlements revealed by the “long, dry summer” of 2018 to trace these works buried within her own book. She might, she tells us, have composed a literary biography of Shakespeare (like we need another one of those), or a theatrical study of his work in performance, or a historical treatise exploring ideas of “Elizabethan succession politics, religion, social organisation and city life”. What she is doing by conjuring up these unwritten books is subtly reminding you that her book is all of these and more. This is the power of her central thesis: we find Shakespeare not in speculative biopics or the reductive quibbling of academic exegesis, but rather in the work itself. This, she is saying, is Shakespeare; he is his plays. “There’s nothing more to say about the facts of Shakespeare’s own life, and vitality is a property of the works, not their long-dead author.”

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Why You Should Start Binge-Reading Right Now, by Ben Dolnick, New York Times

But in book after book, if you do push on through one chapter break, and then on through the chapter break after that, something amazing happens. Subplots that would once have been murky to the point of incomprehensibility (what was the deal with that dead sea captain again?) step into the light. Little jokes and echoes, separated by dozens or even hundreds of pages, come rustling out of the text forest. A writer’s voice — Grace Paley at her slangy best, Nicholson Baker at his hypomanic craziest — starts to seep into and color the voice of your innermost thoughts.

The Age Of Forever Crises, by Linda Kinstler, Longreads

This year’s anniversary, marked by a trio of new documentary and historical projects, feels different, and perhaps somewhat darker, than many of those that have come before. These new accounts of Chernobyl disabuse their audiences of the notion that the earth can ever “naturally rewind.” They uncover its hidden history and its lingering effects, and though they take very different approaches to telling its story, each portrays Chernobyl as a harbinger of environmental catastrophes to come. Moreover, these three new accounts of Chernobyl each offer their own answer to a literary question that may very well determine how long our planet remains hospitable to human life: What narrative form can adequately capture the planetary stakes of an invisible, climatic disaster, one that threatens everything and everyone and will never burn itself out?

Relive The ’60s Counterculture In ‘Revolutionaries’, by Greg Jackson, New York Times

“Revolutionaries” inverts the structure of “American Pastoral,” telling the story of a radical from a son’s rather than a father’s perspective. One hears the influence of Philip Roth in these pages; elsewhere, echoes of Harold Brodkey. The novel’s great irony is that Lenny — ur-jokester, irreverence personified — may care most of all. Ochs, the real-life protest singer, plays an important role in its second half as an alter ego to Lenny and surrogate father to Fred — a glimpse of earnest longing unarmored by sarcasm or impiety. Ochs tells Fred that the movement has lost its direction, veered off course. “Who’s going to remember the place we were trying to get to?” he wonders, concluding that it will fall to the singers, the troubadours, to keep this memory alive. In a deeply felt and often beautiful book, Furst has done his part to continue this song.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Down And Out In The Gig Economy, by Jacob Silverman, New Republic

In truth, freelance journalism, as a career, is mostly an anachronism. Given the rock-bottom rates on offer, few writers actually support themselves with full-time freelancing. A lucky handful churn out features for the New York Times Magazine and GQ for $2 a word and then deliver half-apologetic aw-shucks accounts of their success on the Longform podcast, which dispenses romantic tales of literary striving to a mass of naive supplicants.

But for most of us, freelance journalism is a monetized hobby, separate from whatever real income one earns. The ideal relationship for a freelance journalist to their work becomes a kind of excited amateurism. They should hope for professional success and acceptance but always keep a backup plan or three in mind. They will likely not be welcomed past the gates of full-time employment. By year five or six, they might be rebranding themselves as “editorial consultants” or “content strategists,” realizing that any genuine fiscal opportunity lies in shepherding corporate content to life.

On The Importance Of Not Writing, by Mesha Maren, The Paris Review

I was 19 years old and had been living in Asheville, North Carolina for one month. Before that, I’d grown up on an isolated farm in southern West Virginia and all I had ever cared to do was read and write. In Asheville though, for the first time ever, my life was more exciting than any words. My new life was all about bodies. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with six other people. Our bodies were young, strong and seemed endlessly replenishable. We could fill them up and run them down again. We could use them for love, for money.

I’d put in applications at every downtown restaurant and still not found a job. One afternoon, Angela told me I could have her modeling appointment if I wanted it. She’d rather go hang out with her girlfriend anyhow. Twelve dollars an hour to just sit there, Angela said, and gave me the address.

Demolishing The City Of The Future, by Scott Anthony, Tribune

We’re used to a story that says in the second half of the twentieth century the austere international style of architectural of modernism in the West gave way to a theatrical, historicist Postmodernity. But the story of these architects illustrates that in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia it could be the other way around. For much of the late colonial period Singapore’s modern architecture borrowed its stylings from a Western past. The engineering and construction processes might have been modern but the façade was often neo-classical. The non-Western modernism that flickered into life in Singapore and South East Asia in the second half of the twentieth century was something else entirely.

There’s another interesting political tension here. Despite the Singapore government’s authoritarianism, the rapidity of development made rigid oversight impossible and gave the post-independence generation of architects’ enormous freedom. The government might have banned Cliff Richard and long hair but to a degree they outsourced the opportunity to radically reshape the urban environment. Today Singapore is a very different place. The government has become hyper sensitive to a narrow range of social demands. Inspired by Richard Florida’s ‘Creative Class’, substantial investments in the creative sector have expanded the boundaries of the permissible in civic society and enabled the staging of challenging artistic works, but arguably the overall context is one of tighter social control. While the PAP remain in office, one mode of what is effectively one-party government has given way to quite another.

Crispy-Gone-Soggy Is The Finest Texture Of Food There Is, Fight Me, by Amiel Stanek, Bon Appetit

Simply put, the crispy-gone-soggy (CGS) designation applies to any dish in which an element has been fried, baked, roasted, or otherwise rendered dry and crunchy, and then said crunchiness has been intentionally compromised by a delicious liquid of some variety, usually a sauce or a broth. However, this explanation doesn’t quite do the phenomenon justice. Much like pornography, it is a thing that eludes description—rather, you know it when you taste it.

A Fiction Of Miracles: On Michael Bishop’s “Other Arms Reach Out To Me: Georgia Stories”, by Doug Davis, Los Angeles Review of Books

The miracles never cease in Michael Bishop’s Georgia stories. Bishop has taken O’Connor’s miracles and coupled them with a conception of grace and an emphasis on survival that are all his own. The result is an entertaining, heartfelt, and often surprising collection of stories that celebrate their regional roots loudly and proudly, but are never held down by them.

Ted Chiang’s ‘Exhalation,’ Like His Story That Inspired ‘Arrival,’ Fuses Intellect And Emotion, by Paul Di Filippo, Washington Post

Chiang’s stories are uniformly notable for a fusion of pure intellect and molten emotion. At the core of each is some deep conceptual notion rich with arcane metaphysical or scientific allure. But surrounding each novum is a narrative of refined human sensitivity and soulfulness that symbolically reifies the ideas. While this combination represents the ideal definition and practice of all science fiction, it’s seldom achieved.

Friday, May 3, 2019

How Instagram Transformed The Fashion Industry, by Osman Ahmed, i-D

It’s true that the app has shifted the way that fashion is reported, shared and consumed. But there is no agreement about what has been lost and what gained for creativity and craft in Insta-world. In 2019, clothes must resonate through the two-dimensional photogenic prism of a smartphone screen. That can often translate to designers making bold, loud gestures that grab attention and stop you in your scrolling tracks. Sportswear with hyper-branded, instantly identifiable logos? Tick. Huge feathered gowns and outlandishly hyperbolic hair? Tick. Sparkly, glow-in-the-dark glittery stuff? Tick. Celebrity-endorsed fast fashion? Double tick.

Is There Any Real Way To Judge A Restaurant From The Outside?, by Chason Gordon, Slate

We suitors, on the other side of things, have our own prejudices regarding the dance of culinary seduction. Many look for flowery menus and rustic buildings filled with happy, eating people; the brazen may even step just inside to examine the atmosphere more fully, scanning coldly past the humanity of the host to spy, ideally, our double sitting at a table. I find myself spouting off overconfident reasons why a restaurant looks good to my very patient friends. “That place serves teriyaki and burgers,” I announce. “The burgers will be terrible.” Or, “Ooh, it has a flora of restaurant guide stickers on the window. That must be tasty.”

The Heavens By Sandra Newman Review – Brilliant Time-travel Fantasy, by Emma Jane Unsworth, The Guardian

It’s one heck of a pitch, and in the hands of any other writer could wind up gimmicky, but Newman’s genius lies in balancing these timelines and worlds so finely that the whole thing is seamless – not to mention lots of fun. The narrative darts around deftly and the bursts of archaic language are playful and tender.

The Dollmaker By Nina Allan Review – A Haunting Literary Experiment, by Paraic O’Donnell, The Guardian

Nina Allan has been known until now for her speculative fiction, but The Dollmaker is not concerned with the supernatural, at least not in the usual sense. This literary experiment has a conventional setting, in a contemporary England that feels only slightly askew. Its living dolls are kept within safely figurative bounds, avatars of the exotic in a moving fable of otherness, but they are every bit as unsettling as tradition requires.

John Updike Saw The World As It Was, by Peter Tonguette, National Review

Some artists just refuse to leave well enough alone when depicting the world. For example, Alfred Hitchcock brought to the screen a world more frightening and ominous than it actually was, while Norman Rockwell in his paintings summoned a world more beautiful and just than it ever could be.

In contrast to such alternately bleak and sunny visions was the commonsensical realism of John Updike, who, over the course of a career consisting of a huge output of novels, short stories, poems, and essays, could usually be counted on to take the measure of the world as it really was. “My only duty was to describe reality as it had come to me — to give the mundane its beautiful due,” Updike wrote in the 2003 foreword to a selection of his short fiction, The Early Stories: 1953–1975.

The Poetics Of Autism, by Travis Chi Wing Lau, Los Angeles Review of Books

Steve Silberman, in the introduction to his NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (Avery, 2015), poses a simple yet provocative question about the state of contemporary autism discourse: “After seventy years of research on autism, why do we still seem to know so little about it?” While clinical psychiatrists, behavioral therapists, neuroscientists, and educational researchers have long attempted to theorize cognitive difference, autism often remains “the unknowable, unnarratable” limit case. Despite promising shifts toward a spectrum model of autism more open to cognitive fluidity, clinical approaches to autism still tend to uphold the medical model of disability wherein autism is reduced to a state of lack or deficiency requiring correction or even elimination. Autistic activists and writers, responding to the shameful legacy of forced institutionalization and sterilization, have worked to resist stigmatizing discourses by reframing autism in terms of neurodiversity. A neurodiverse framework understands autism as part of human variation rather than as pathology. This concept has galvanized international autistic rights movements, challenging ableist ideals by suggesting that cognitive disability might enable new, viable ways of being. Rights-based activism not only led to landmark legislation like the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but also ethically restores personhood to cognitively disabled people still maligned and infantilized by caretakers, advocates, and specialists.

Flirtation, by Allison Joseph, New York Times

I like my tights electric blue,
my shoes of patent leather.
This dance I dance is meant for you —
I move quick as new weather.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Learning My Father’s Language, by Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Atlantic

My mother achieved real competence in Irish, and then gradually lost it. Her exertions were motivated by unrequited love, her ambitions, and even her politics. After she died, I found all these great propaganda pamphlets from the early 1980s, with titles like “Britain’s War Machine in Ireland.” All of it aimed at Irish Americans like herself. But it was hard, in the exurbs of New York with a dying mother and a growing son, to keep up the social circles that support a language. And gradually even we stopped using the ornamental bits of it.

And right now, the ornamental bits of it are almost all I have. When I’ve gone through my cycle of rebel songs, I have tried soothing this baby girl by counting in Irish. Or whispering, over and over, Mo chroi, mo thaisce. My heart, my treasure.

How A Canadian Chain Is Reinventing Book Selling, by Alexandra Alter, New York Times

It may seem strange for a bookstore chain to be developing and selling artisanal soup bowls and organic cotton baby onesies. But Indigo’s approach seems not only novel but crucial to its success and longevity. The superstore concept, with hulking retail spaces stocking 100,000 titles, has become increasingly hard to sustain in the era of online retail, when it’s impossible to match Amazon’s vast selection.

Indigo is experimenting with a new model, positioning itself as a “cultural department store” where customers who wander in to browse through books often end up lingering as they impulsively shop for cashmere slippers and crystal facial rollers, or a knife set to go with a new Paleo cookbook.

She Was The "Queen Of The Mommy Bloggers." Then Her Life Fell Apart., by Chavie Lieber, Vox

“I was feeling like life was not meant to be lived,” Armstrong says, sitting on her living room sofa one spring morning. “When you are that desperate, you will try anything. I thought my kids deserved to have a happy, healthy mother, and I needed to know that I had tried all options to be that for them.”

Armstrong lives on a quiet, leafy street in Salt Lake City, at the bottom of the snow-capped Wasatch mountain. She shares a home with her boyfriend Pete Ashdown, an early internet mogul and fellow ex-Mormon, and her two daughters, 15-year-old Leta and 9-year-old Marlo.

Armstrong is tall, thin, and blonde — precisely the stereotype of a successful blogger. Except, she notes with a sly grin while petting her Australian shepherd, Cocoa, “I’m also an irreverent ex-Mormon who is willing to speak her mind.” She admits she has a tendency for melodrama. She curses often and exaggerates frequently.

Want To See What One Digital Future For Newspapers Looks Like? Look At The Guardian, Which Isn’t Losing Money Anymore, by Joshua Benton, Nieman Lab

And yet The Guardian is here again an especially noteworthy exception. It’s the sort of institution where Wikipedia can note “The Guardian has been consistently loss-making” and there’s not even a [citation needed]. The BBC calls it “a culture in which constant, vast losses of the kind most private sector companies would not and could not tolerate had become culturally accepted.” (Perhaps a tinge of meanness from the state-funded broadcaster there?) Whether it was other media holdings within the same group or unrelated investments by the Scott Trust, The Guardian has long relied on someone else’s profits to bring it to break-even.

Until now! The Guardian announced this morning that, in its most recently concluded fiscal year, it…made money? “For the first time in recent history”?

How Losing My Mother Changed The Way I Understood Mortality, by Mallika Rao, Topic

The thing I needed to distract myself from, to erase by pretending it didn’t exist, I could see, was the fact of death itself. Yet my efforts toward immortality were going comically wrong. I’d seemingly exercised my way into not only physical but professional impotence. My period stayed gone, and typing was so painful I often cried. I saw myself as a character in a silent film, full of righteous energy, who slips on a banana peel. In trying so hard to live forever, I realized, I might wind up erasing myself faster.

I Dream Of Canteens, by Rebecca May Johnson, Dinner Document

There is also time for everyone. No one is asked to leave and no one feels anxious about out-staying their welcome. Of course people do leave, but still, staying is not suspicious. No laminated signs about leaving or staying or eating food bought here or elsewhere are on the tables or the walls. Indeed, in the fine Western tradition of hospitality that dates back to Homer’s epics ~xenia ~ no one who is hosted here will be asked to leave and everyone will be fed and watered and allowed to wash without question. No body becomes abject and disgusting through staying and crossing over an ambiguous but clearly defined boundary of time and space (at least not during opening hours). Such provision allows the existence of privacy in public, that is, if privacy is defined as the ability to be present without being suspected of anything. The causes of suspicion in London in 2019 are principally, to have no money, along with the constantly evolving intersectional biopolitics that make skin colour, gender, sexuality and religion causes for anxiety when in public.

We Need More Words For Play, by Sarah Siplak, Planetizen

Isn't it time we embraced playfulness as a quality worth designing into our urban spaces? Perhaps the trouble is that the word itself seems just too playful to be taken seriously. We need more words for play.

The Finnish language has no shortage of words for play. For Finns, playing a game is different from playing a sport, which is different from playing music. There are distinct Finnish words for children's play and the play that adults engage in. There's even a Finnish word that means both “work” and “play.” This rich vocabulary shows that in Finland, play is a valued part of life that isn't confined just to kids' stuff.

'Lie With Me' Captures The Wistfulness Of First Love, And First Loss, by Michael Schaub, NPR

Lie with Me succeeds as a novel because of Besson's graceful writing, beautifully translated by Ringwald. Besson is a gifted stylist, and he infuses Philippe's story with the right notes of sadness and longing.

Book Review: Fallen Angel, By Chris Brookmyre, by Louise Fairbairn, The Scotsman

Fallen Angel shows Brookmyre’s immense skill as a writer at the top of his game, as well as what can be created in the crime/thriller genre. It’s simply compelling.

My Mother Visits Me In Prison, by Jennifer L. Knox, Granta

‘I was in prison once!’ she chirps like it’s a story
about winning the lottery. ‘Really?’ I ask, unsure
if she’s lying on purpose or her brain’s hiding
the truth from her like the queen in a game

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Finding Freedom In Writing A Language My Parents Can’t Read, by Kia Abdullah, Literary Hub

I first understood the power of words when I was ten years old and found a piece of my writing—a missive calling for gender equality in my family—ripped to shreds and strewn about the landing, my brother clearly angered by it.

In seeing his reaction, I realized that I could unpick the seams of the status quo by putting my voice in writing. I was most expressive in English, the language of Anne Shirley, Jo March, Scout Finch and my other literary heroines, and the fact that my parents could neither read nor write it only fueled its allure as a means of subversion.

Who Stole Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers From Judy Garland’s Hometown? The Inside Story Of The Epic, 13-year Quest To Find Them., by Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, Washington Post

On a rainy afternoon in September 2018, the FBI gathered national media in its Minnesota headquarters for an important announcement. Jill Sanborn, special agent in charge of the Minneapolis division, stood in front of a packed room and said, “We’re here today to share with you the recovery of one of the most significant and cherished pieces of movie memorabilia in American history: Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the 1939 movie ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ ”

When the ruby slippers were stolen in August 2005 from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn., it made international news. Someone had broken in, smashed a plexiglass case and escaped with the shoes. David Letterman joked in a monologue that week that “a pair of ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ have been stolen. The thief is described as being armed and fabulous.” The crime, though, was no joke to this northern timber and mining community of about 10,000 people with a yellow brick sidewalk winding through its historic downtown. Judy Garland was born here in 1922, and “the theft devastated us,” says John Kelsch, senior director of the museum.

Journey To Zealandia, Earth's Hidden 8th Continent, by Francky Knapp, Messy Nessy Chic

Beneath the crystalline waters of the South Pacific, 32 scientists from 12 countries emerged after a nine-week voyage to the depths. They’d been drilling for samples from a long-lost world, on a quest that sounds a whole lot like the premise of a Jules Verne novel: the expedition to Zealandia. Not that far beneath the sea – and sometimes, far above it – the ancient land sleeps. We’re not just talking lost villages, cities, or even a country, but Earth’s newly-baptised eighth continent. How has Zealandia been hiding in plain sight all this time? Is there a way for amateur explorers to find it? Is it possibly Atlantis? We had some burning questions about the discovery of this watery lost world…

If you’re wondering how Zealandia slipped past the radar of your geography class, you’re not alone. The term itself was only coined in 1995, when Bruce P. Luyendyk, a geophysicist and oceanographer at UC Santa Barbara, wanted a name for the collective ‘broken’ land masses in the South Pacific (namely, New Zealand and New Caledonia). Thus, the term Zealandia was born. But Luyendyk also had another motive. Like most scientists at the time, he had a hunch that the islands weren’t just random specks in the sea.

From Politics To The Plate: How Pad Thai Was Invented By Government, by Bernice Chan, South China Morning Post

When thinking about Thai food, for many diners, the first dishes that spring to mind will probably be pad Thai, tom yum goong and green curry. They are on the menu of practically every Thai restaurant worldwide.

What they might not be aware of is that the delicious concoction – “Thai stir-fry” in the local vernacular – is not historically a traditional dish in Thailand. Pad Thai’s roots are as political as they are culinary. It was imposed upon the populace almost 80 years ago as a cornerstone ingredient of a nationalistic agenda.

Book The Table, Then Buy The Plane Tickets, by Sarah Firshein, New York Times

In 2017, when Nora Martins was trying to decide between Japan or South America for a big fall trip, it was neither the staggered steps of Machu Picchu nor the snow-capped peaks of Patagonia that sealed the deal.

“My husband called me and said, ‘I got a reservation at Central, so I think we should go to South America,’” said Ms. Martins, 34, a lawyer who lives in Long Island City.

Central, the chef Virgilio Martínez’s restaurant in Lima, is currently No. 6 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, an annual list that ranks restaurants worldwide.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey By Robert Macfarlane Review – Extraordinary And Thrilling, by Alex Preston, The Guardian

Robert Macfarlane quotes a long passage from Garner’s novel early on in Underland, his masterly and mesmerising exploration of the world below us. But, instead of perceptual narrowing, what this book is about is the broadening of perspective that comes when we take ourselves out of the familiar world of light and air. It is a book that seeks to re-enchant everyday existence by moving out of it; that asks us to be aware of those things, both actual and fabled, that move beneath our feet; it also seeks, as its subtitle “A Deep Time Journey” suggests, to reconfigure our experience of time, using the vast cycles of geological time and weaving in ancient mythical descents to take the measure of the Anthropocene era.

A Manifesto For Opting Out Of An Internet-Dominated World, by Jonah Engel Bromwich, New York Times

In 2015, Jenny Odell started an organization she called The Bureau of Suspended Objects. Odell was then an artist-in-residence at a waste operating station in San Francisco. As the sole employee of her bureau, she photographed things that had been thrown out and learned about their histories. (A bird-watcher, Odell is friendly with a pair of crows that sit outside her apartment window; given her talent for scavenging, you wonder whether they’ve shared tips.)

Odell’s first book, “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,” echoes the approach she took with her bureau, creating a collage (or maybe it’s a compost heap) of ideas about detaching from life online, built out of scraps collected from artists, writers, critics and philosophers. In the book’s first chapter, she remarks that she finds things that already exist “infinitely more interesting than anything I could possibly make.” Then, summoning the ideas of others, she goes on to construct a complex, smart and ambitious book that at first reads like a self-help manual, then blossoms into a wide-ranging political manifesto.