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Archive for November 2019

Saturday, November 30, 2019

How The Economist Shaped The Liberal Mind, by Gavin Jacobson, New Statesman

Exalted in the international halls of power, pored over in the chancelleries of Europe, admired on US university campuses, wielded in the business class lounges of Asia and endorsed by Steve Bannon, the Economist is singular both in its commercial reach and ideological self-assurance. Former subscribers range across the political and intellectual gamut from Marx to Mussolini, and have also included Woodrow Wilson, Friedrich Hayek, John Maynard Keynes, Franklin D Roosevelt and Hitler’s finance minister. Boasting a print circulation of 859,000, no journal has remained so resolute in its status as the ur-mag of Anglophone liberalism.

Yet on 15 September 2018, as the title celebrated its 175th anniversary, God’s voice quivered. “We were created 175 years ago to campaign for liberalism,” that week’s editorial read. “Liberalism made the modern world, but the modern world is turning against it… For the Economist this is profoundly worrying.”

Review: Befores, Afters And In Betweens Fuel 'Dead Astronauts', by Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

When writers are working in a series, there is a risk that its world will close in on itself. This world began with “Borne,” the story of a woman living in a broken-down apartment building in the City who finds a cuttlefish-slash-houseplant with the awareness of a little boy.

With “Dead Astronauts,” VanderMeer has expanded to a multiverse with a poisoned past, engineered monsters and a possibly redeemable future, all from something that was merely decoration. There’s no limit to where it might go next.

'My Fake Rake' Turns The Makeover Trope On Its (Well-Coiffed) Head, by Kamrun Nesa, NPR

My Fake Rake is a feast of female empowerment, positive friendships, feel-good moments, and social satire. And as the first book in a series, it builds a delicious world you'll want to come back to — hopefully because the delightful supporting characters will get their own stories next.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Life Lessons Of “Little Lulu”, by Margaret Atwood, New Yorker

But Lulu had a special significance for me, because she had curls and so did I. Curly hair went in and out of fashion—Twiggy was to get revenge on behalf of the straight-haired in the late nineteen-sixties—but, in the Shirley Temple-dominated nineteen-forties, curls were at a premium, and it was horrifying for me to witness the Torquemada-like tortures inflicted on my friends’ heads by their mothers: their hair was twisted up in damp rags and secured with bobby pins at night, producing, in the morning, a few limp spirals of hair that would quickly wilt. Whereas Lulu and I were all set! Soon I would surely get a job selling that new consumer item, Kleenex, just like her. (This failed to happen.)

But Lulu had a few other things going for her, in my eyes. She was little, as was I, but this did not stop her for an instant. The eternal problem of the boys’ clubhouse—not being let into it, that is—was treated by her, by and large, with a phnuh. She had other, better things to do, and anyway, she—being the title character—was smarter, so there. And, in an age somewhat devoid of female title characters, she was the title character. One could therefore be little, and a girl, and nonetheless the title character. Move over, Jane Eyre!

Wild At Heart And Weird On Top: Barry Gifford’s Sailor And Lula Ride Again, by Molly Boyle, Los Angeles Review of Books

Before Barry Gifford’s novel Wild at Heart even made it into bookstores, movie audiences had already welcomed Sailor and Lula, the “Romeo and Juliet of the South,” into the pantheon of American outlaw couples. In May 1990, nearly six months before the book’s publication, David Lynch’s adaptation of Wild at Heart won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The Wild at Heart screenplay, written by Lynch and vetted by Gifford, follows the broad contours of the darkly funny novel. The story centers on the parole-breaking cross-country quest of the ex-convict Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage, peacocking in his prime), and his barely legal girlfriend, Lula Fortune (a leonine, red-lipsticked Laura Dern). They cross state lines to flee the clutches of Lula’s overbearing mama, Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd, Dern’s real-life mother), and Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton), the private eye tasked with tracking them down. Gifford’s neo-noir antiheroes are indelibly embodied by Cage and Dern. Their kinky, if somewhat dimwitted, chemistry placed Sailor and Lula alongside other, more murderous fugitive twosomes: Bonnie and Clyde, for sure, but also Kit and Holly, the Badlands couple inspired by spree killer Charles Starkweather and his underage girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate.

Wild at Heart sparked a spate of films about dangerous duos on the run: Thelma & Louise (1991), True Romance (1993), and Natural Born Killers (1994). The movie is still eminently quotable, owing to a combination of pungent original dialogue and the bushy-tailed cheesecake served up by the lead actors. Cage, doing a kind of swamp-thing Elvis impression, repeats the mantra behind Sailor’s snakeskin jacket: “This jacket represents a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.” Lula, slithering in a black lace bodystocking, drawls an intimate summary of her love: “You move me, Sail, you really do. You mark me the deepest.” But the manic interpretation pulled off by Lynch, Cage, and Dern also effectively stole the thunder and shrouded the sharp intelligence of the road-tripping couple as they were conceived of and written by Gifford.

Left And Right Are Both Gripped By An Identical Fear: Homogeneity, by Holly Case, Aeon

In the run-up to Hungary’s parliamentary elections in 2018, one of the cabinet ministers of the country’s ‘illiberal’ prime minister Viktor Orbán travelled to Vienna in neighbouring Austria, where he filmed himself walking through a part of the city where a number of immigrants have settled. As pedestrians go about their business in the background, their movements overplayed by a mournful piano melody, János Lázár earnestly tells the camera that there are hardly any white, German-speaking residents left in this part of town. Lázár then warns Hungarians that the same fate could await Hungary if they failed to vote for Orbán’s Fidesz party in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Lázár’s stunt was about raising the fear of difference, but it also played into an opposite, one might say complementary, fear – that Hungary could become just like everywhere else. This anxiety about homogenisation is not limited to Right-wing thought. It is traceable across the political spectrum, suggesting that what people most fear is not difference, but instead a world in which nothing and nowhere is truly unique, one in which everything and everyplace is the same.

Food Is Where The Generation Gap Is Widest, by Zoe Williams, The Guardian

The number of times you have to explain to your children what a boomer is, before they stop saying “OK, boomer” is … well, I do not know the answer to this. I have to assume it is infinite, and they will never stop. Anyway, I am not a boomer, as I was born long after the mid-60s, and nor are/were my parents, who fall into what went before – the silent or beat generation. These distinctions are important when it comes to cooking, because boomers cook one way (the women can’t cook at all, because of feminism, and they vie with each other to see who can do the most disgusting thing to an aubergine; the men all cook like Keith Floyd), Generation X cooks another way and the beat generation does things that must be recorded now, because once they have passed out of fashion, they will never be discovered again.

How To Talk To Aliens, by The Economist

Communicating without a shared context is hard. For example, radioactive sites must be left undisturbed for tens of thousands of years; yet, given that the English of just 1,000 years ago is now unintelligible to most of its modern speakers, agencies have struggled to create warnings to accompany nuclear waste. Committees responsible for doing so have come up with everything from towering concrete spikes, to Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, to plants genetically modified to turn an alarming blue. None is guaranteed to be future-proof.

Some of the same people who worked on these waste-site messages have also been part of an even bigger challenge: communicating with extraterrestrial life. This is the subject of “Extraterrestrial Languages”, a new book by Daniel Oberhaus, a journalist at Wired.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Joy And Horror Of Dancing The Nutcracker, The Most Brutal Job In Ballet, by Dorie Chevlen, Slate

The Nutcracker is a ballet about a little girl’s journey into a magical land of sweets, warring rats, and colossal Christmas trees, but what’s most fantastical is the snow. It comes down in the finale of Act I, during the famed “Waltz of the Flowers,” falling gently at first, a few glittering flakes at a time, then building into a magical blizzard so dense dancers fade into obscurity behind it.

I’ll tell you something about that snow. I had danced Nutcracker for years before seeing it performed live, and when I finally did, I had two reactions: It really looked like snow—pure, white, glittering snow. And I could still taste, from memory, those dusty gray pieces of shredded newspaper, reeking of fireproof chemical treatment, and inevitably gulped into my throat as I leaped across stage. My stomach would knot at the start of the music as I braced for 12 minutes of nonstop jumps and turns, exhaustion made terrifying by the flying scraps that blinded and choked me and made the floor slick as ice. In all my years it happened only once, but I worried each season that one of us would wipe out—and what a spectacle that would be, our tulle skirts pooled around us on the floor, while the other dancers zigzagged in midair to avoid the fallen.

The Trends That May End The ‘Y’all” Vs “You Guys” Debate, by Lila MacLellan, Quartz

“You guys,” rolls off the tongues of avowed feminists every day, as if everyone has agreed to let one androcentric pronoun pass, while others (the generic “he” or “men” as stand-ins for all people) belong to the before-we-knew-better past.

“Y’all” is sitting right there, offering us a lovely, ready-made solution to avoid calling everyone men.

A Language Of Figs, by Sema Kaygusuz, translated by Nicholas Glastonbury, Granta

Like everyone, I too am made of language. I remember how I came into being like it was yesterday: as a single sentence, head to toe. My mother told me she felt the seed take root the instant I flashed like a spark in her womb, when my father whispered into her ear, ‘A girl.’ I felt an unbridled sense of gratitude as I listened to this story, felt the joy of being beckoned lovingly into this world. From that day forth, I gained a newfound respect for all the creatures I encountered in the world, each bestowed with its own unique significance. That sentence of hers had planted itself in my spirit to such a degree that I was carried away imagining my mother during her pregnancy, imagining her craving moonlight and my father gathering moonlight for her accordingly. To imagine was, if nothing else, to hold my place in the world.

Bonds Built And Broken, by Sara Cutaia, Chicago Review of Books

On the surface, The Innocents is a novel about a brother and sister trying to live off the vast emptiness of Newfoundland coast after their parents and infant sister perish from an illness. They have one boat to catch fish, one garden to grow vegetables, one set of clothes for all the seasons, and only each other’s company. The stakes are high: survival, year after year.

But at its core, The Innocents is a deeply emotional and moving portrait of human desires, temperaments, and existence in the face of both mundane and extreme situations. Michael Crummey has fashioned a survival tale out of introspective musings and spellbinding settings, meshing both brother’s and sister’s interiority with the wildness and unpredictability of the landscape around them.

Tommy Pico’s ‘Feed’: A Book-Length Meditation On Modern Appetites, by Stephanie Burt, New York Times

When Tommy Pico published “IRL,” the first of his four smart, chaotic, book-length poems about modern life, the universe and everything, he was an unheralded 20-something gay Kumeyaay Indian (or, as he prefers, NDN) man living uneasily, reflectively, in Brooklyn. Three years and three books later, with “Feed,” he’s still most of those things, but he’s very much heralded in with-it poetry quarters. His mix of verse and prose, diary, comedy and accusation, grimy detail and prophetic announcement, seems to many young and not-so-young writers just what he, and we, need.

Investigating A Famous Study About The Line Between Sanity And Madness, by Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

In the end, Cahalan treads a delicate line between condemning Rosenhan and forgiving him; for all his exaggerations and outright falsehoods, she says, “I believe that he exposed something real.” “The Great Pretender” shows Rosenhan and his paper for what they are, but it also shows us something else. Pretensions to certainty can be seductive, eking out a temporary tactical advantage, but their victories are often brittle. Once the veneer of impermeability gets cracked, it “breeds an anti-science backlash born of distrust,” Cahalan writes.

The Glorious History Of Movie Musicals, by Louis Bayard, Washington Post

The real value of “The Movie Musical!” may just be to call the roll, invoking, yes, titans like Gene Kelly and Vincente Minnelli but also the host of ancillary talents who’ve diverted us through the years. By book’s end, closet musical lovers will have new treasures to carry back into their YouTube caves: Janet Gaynor crooning “I’m a Dreamer, Aren’t We All”; Alice Faye and Jack Haley chiding Shirley Temple with “You’ve Gotta Eat Your Spinach, Baby”; and, lest we forget, a Sonja Henie wannabe named Belita, who, for her big finish in “The Spirit of Victory,” skated to Beethoven’s Fifth before a gigantic copy of the Statue of Liberty. That’s entertainment.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Why Three Generations Of Americans All Have Same Favorite Cookbook, by Abigail Weil, Electric Literature

It was a rainy, snuggly night in November 2018, perfect for making mushroom barley soup or stuffed cabbage. I was walking home from the train when I saw it, inexplicably abandoned at the Little Free Library on my block. There, lying on its side as if after a long day of work, was that unmistakable thick white tome with the feisty red lettering on its spine: Joy of Cooking.

I didn’t need it, of course. I’d brought my copy, used so relentlessly the backstrip dangled like a hangnail, when my partner and I moved in together—even though he, no slouch in the kitchen, had his own. No, I didn’t need it. But taking it felt like a moral imperative. It was the same as if I’d seen a stray kitten cowering under a bush. I told my mom, and later my best friend, who was at the time a new mother, about the intense reaction I’d had to the sight of an abandoned Joy. They both said they would have felt exactly the same way.

Lessons From Ancient Rome On The Power Of Anonymity, by Tom Geue, Aeon

Anonymous works of art and literature tend to rend and vex their audience. Debate still simmers over whether the UK street artist Banksy’s fugitive identity is a compelling act of cultural critique, or an annoying and cynical publicity stunt. The same goes for the elusive, self-created pseudonym of an Italian novelist, Elena Ferrante: is the ‘real’ Ferrante’s absence making an important feminist point about anonymous authorship, flipping a genuine middle finger to the publishing industry and the capitalist culture of self-promotion, or is it a glorified money-spinner, a bare strategy of generating interest and sales, a joke, as it were, on us? Because anonymous works leave a crucial gap as a placeholder for the author’s ‘rightful’ position, they open themselves to the wild and contradictory gamut of responses. They can also give rise to other electric acts of creativity, responses stretching from conspiracy theories, to informed speculation, to new ways of understanding authorship, to new works of art and criticism.

Adam Sandler’s Everlasting Shtick, by Jamie Lauren Keiles, New York Times

He became America’s most reliable comic star without ever leaving his comfort zone. So what’s he doing in this year’s most anxiety-inducing film?

Thumbing A Ride: What I Learned From Siskel And Ebert, by Dipti S. Barot, Longreads

When do you get to see intelligent people who actually respect each other disagree so passionately that it’s as if sparks are ricocheting off the screen? There was chubby Roger Ebert, often the meaner of the two, with his barbed complaints about his partner’s latest opinions, and there was the tall, balding Gene Siskel, the gentler and kinder one, more likely to throw up his hands in exasperation. With Siskel and Ebert, you got to peek into the unvarnished moments where they wanted to throttle each other, and it was an intellectual exercise in rhetorical gymnastics, layered with the antics and drama of World Wrestling Federation. It was a bedazzling polemical display.

Loss, Love And A Promise Kept For The Voice Of Auburn Football, by Sam Borden, ESPN

On this day, they've done what mothers and fathers do all the time: A child presented them with a choice. They talked about it. They made a decision. They followed through. It was, by almost any measure, a fairly ordinary act of parenting. Except for this: Josh is not their son.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Pointing To The Trap, by Eric Newman, Los Angeles Review of Books

The worst books are all by females. All the great art heists of the past three hundred years were pulled off by a female, working solo or with other females. There are no good female poets, simply because there are no good poets. A list of things invented by females would include: airplanes, telephones, the smallpox vaccine, ghosting, terrorism, ink, envy, rum, prom, Spain, cars, gods, coffee, language, stand-up comedy, every kind of knot, double parking, nail polish, the letter tau, the number zero, the H-bomb, feminism, and the patriarchy.

So begins Females, the first book by critic Andrea Long Chu, whom you may know as Twitter’s @theorygurl or as the author of expertly savage recent reviews in Bookforum, Affidavit, and others. As this opening indicates, “female” is an existential category for Chu, defined not by genitals or modes of performativity, but rather by the universal, constitutive experience of “let[ting] someone else do your desiring for you, at your own expense.”

The Limits Of The Bit, by Kay Gabriel, Los Angeles Review of Books

Toward the start of Females, a book-length essay of media criticism and gender theory, Andrea Long Chu admits that she doesn’t mean what she says. The content of her claims, she suggests, matters less than the fact of saying them. Chu relates an incident from an academic event: someone asks what she means by ethics, and she replies, “I think I mean commitment to a bit.” “To commit to a bit is to play it straight — that is, to take it seriously,” she continues. “A bit may be fantastical, but the seriousness required to commit to it is always real.” This passage presents something like a how-to guide for reading Females, a book that, as its own publisher’s copy states, defends “the indefensible.” Chu articulates something less than an argument and more than an attitude. If what counts is doubling down on what you say, no matter if you really believe it in the end, then the point of saying it becomes convincing someone that you really feel how you feel. Your argument is a front for your tone. Females therefore doesn’t so much present a theory about gender as an affective stance toward it, one derived from a politics but without political claims per se — at least, not claims that, in the last instance, the author is really prepared to defend the truth of. “[M]aybe I’m just projecting,” she ends one chapter, throwing a rhetorical stink bomb in the air and ducking for cover.

Not Quite The Playboy Life, by Michael Gibson, City Journal

The Atomic Age had its anxieties, but Hugh Hefner believed he had a good diversion. “We aren’t a family magazine,” he announced in the first issue of Playboy in 1953. “We enjoy mixing up cocktails, an hors d’oeuvres or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” By the 1960s, the music had grown louder, the colors more lurid, the conversations steamier. When Hefner died in 2017, he was considered either a hero of hedonism or an object lesson in the period’s squalid obsessions. Run a Google search today on Hefner, and you’ll often find the word “Epicurean” to describe him. Is this fair to Epicurus, the man who set forth the philosophy starting in 306 BC?

How To Cook Up A Lively Universe, by Dennis Overbye, New York Times

As Thanksgiving approaches, would-be chefs and hosts, including apparently my editors, are perfecting their techniques for making the all-important gravy for the turkey and potatoes.

I have my moments as a cook — come over for my stardust waffles some Sunday morning — but I have never had the patience or skill to master gravy, so it usually comes out lumpy. This is a problem at the dinner table. On the grandest possible scale, however, lumps are a good thing.

In ‘Labyrinth,’ A Musician With Amnesia Loses Life’s Rhythm, by Sarah Lyall, New York Times

The questions flow out from the pages and echo our own. What makes us who we are? If we cannot remember our past does it still belong to us, and are we culpable for the things we have done?

The Girl With The Leica By Helena Janeczek Review – A Revolutionary Life In Pictures, by Jamie Mackay, The Guardian

If the attempt to represent these tendencies frequently comes at the expense of narrative flow, the novel as a whole is a daring attempt to capture the life of a revolutionary woman whose commitment to freedom held firm against the dogmas of her time.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Writing Is Tough. My Book Went So Unnoticed I Won An Award For It, by Ilka Tampke, The Guardian

Only standing naked under floodlights in the middle of a football stadium would feel more exposing than publishing a novel. In those first crucial weeks after the release date, the author is poised in nail-biting suspense, waiting to see if their creative baby will sink or swim. With sales data notoriously slow to arrive, how can you tell that your novel is not quite setting the world on fire?

The realisation usually comes slowly. First there is the conspicuous absence of reviews, publicity spots and invitations to literary festivals. Then there is the all-too-swift removal of your title from the glamorous New Release section of the bookstore, and its relegation to the densely packed Australian fiction shelves in the bowels of the shop. Lastly and most humiliatingly, you see that the single copy of your book has been turned perpendicular to the wall, now only visible by its spine. At this point you know your novel has lived its short, inglorious life and there will be only a few more spluttering sales before it passes into the annals of the entirely ignored.

Rachael Ray At 50: 'Eat Your Spaghetti!', by Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR

Ray is now in her 50s, and to commemorate the moment she has, of course, come out with a cookbook — but it's also part memoir. It's called Rachael Ray 50: Memories and Meals From a Sweet and Savory Life.

"I wanted, as a woman who's 50 and has a lot of jobs that I'm grateful for, I wanted to reflect that the American dream is still alive, that if you work very hard, opportunity will come your way," she says. "That you can be 50 and over and female in this country and still be relevant."

Women Writers Give Voice To Their Rage, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

The first word in Western literature, according to the classicist Mary Beard, is “wrath,” which opens the “Iliad,” written in the eighth century B.C.

“Wrath” might also be the first word of the literature of the past decade. Novels and plays throughout history have starred women who insist on doing it their way — savage, intemperate women, beautifully indifferent to opinion: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Hedda Gabler, Sula Peace.

My Secret Life As A Reporter For “Doll Reader” Magazine, by Toni Fitzgerald, Narratively

I was attending my first doll convention as an employee of Doll Reader magazine, and meeting Simmons, an uber-collector with his own line of figurines, was one of the job’s rites of passage.

I was 24 and self-important, impatient for my “real” career to begin. I didn’t want to be excited about doing anything at a doll magazine. I needed the paycheck, but I considered the job beneath me.

Yet Richard Simmons was kind and joyful, and so were the other people I encountered that day at the doll fair. Maybe, it dawned on me … maybe I was seeing this job, and my life, all wrong.

The Cinema Of Inadvertence, Or Why I Like Bad Movies, by Phil Christman, Hedgehog Review

Regarding distinctions of “good” and “bad,” we have not really moved much past David Hume’s essay “Of the Standard of Taste,” which two and a half centuries ago told us that “good” art was what a consensus of the thoughtful and experienced said it was. You developed the ability to discern it by thoughtfully comparing one work with another. To this argument, his twenty-first century readers would merely add emphasis to a fact Hume thought too obvious to dwell upon: It takes some amount of privilege to take part in the conversation that he describes. A person needs literacy and free time, for starters, but also the ability to look “authoritative” (however “authoritative” looks at the moment), or the extra cleverness and luck and persistence that allow one to get by without looking that way.

For this reason Hume strikes us—correctly—as a snob. But the process he illuminates is at work to some degree among fans of any human activity. Children ranking soccer players, and arguing over their rankings, engage in it too. The same with forms of artistic activity Hume would not have recognized. Read a hundred romance novels, and you’ll have some opinions about who writes the best ones and what you mean by “best.” Discuss those opinions with others, and you’ll hear certain names again and again (Georgette Heyer; Jennifer Crusie). Before science fiction became respectable—indeed, inescapable—any fan could still tell you that Robert Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon, and before them Stanley Weinbaum, wrote circles around Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov. This is just how any social human activity works. We participate, we compare, we start to notice our favorites, we start to articulate what makes them favorites. And because each of us is not a member of a species of one, some of those criteria overlap. Exclusive and oppressive social structures distort this process, but they do not constitute it.

Meditations On A Sunday Morning While Driving On Sunset Boulevard, by Sam Farahmand, Literary Hub

I was driving down Sunset for almost a mile or more before I realized I was driving down Sunset when sometime around the same time I realized I wasn’t supposed to be driving down Sunset but driving up Sunset, so after another mile of mostly staring down Sunset for somewhere to make a U turn, until I realized the hangover may have been hiding under the leftover high from last night while I wondered why the hell Sunset Boulevard wasn’t called Sunrise Boulevard in the morning, I turned left onto a side street then left again and again then turned right off of another side street to start driving up Sunset, though even with the sun in my eyes it didn’t feel like Sunday morning then as much as I felt like I was still stuck in mourning the night before while I tried to remember where it was I fell between the life and the death of the party.

East through Westwood toward West Hollywood where I would end up as far west as one can in West Hollywood before one isn’t, but where, after another U turn on Sunset, I picked up Adam outside of the drive-in where we were supposed to meet up at ten after ten if we weren’t both late. I wondered why it was still called a drive-in when one either had to valet or try for parking down some side street off Sunset to go to the drive-in, the drive-in that 50 years ago was a drive-in and now only a diner and drive-in only in name. It was still the diner I would have been sitting in with a cup of coffee if I were a handful of minutes earlier and with the same name of the drive-in I would have been dining in and still in the car if I were 50 years earlier, when the drive-in was more than a name held together, as if suspended somewhere in the space between a and the, with a proper noun and an s apostrophied between it and its drive-in like some possessive God.

Harvest, by Isabel Galleymore, The Guardian

After stripping the branches of berries
the robin held a handful of seeds
in her stomach: the robin carried a tree

Sunday, November 24, 2019

A Designer’s Suicide And The Clothes He Left Behind, by Vanessa Friedman, New York Times

A talent who was able to balance on the knife edge between poetry and a grungy kind of power, who was fond of tattered romance, a sweeping Byronic trench and the perfect line, Mr. Thimister was also a casualty of fashion’s transition from creative hothouse of individuality to global industry.

He was among the last in a line of designers who came of age in the late 1980s and ’90s still believing in purity of concept and allegiance to the creative muse above all else, only to discover that in the 21st century, marketing and constant streams of stuff were the new benchmarks of success, that the catchphrase wasn’t “vision” but rather a “vision statement.”

Colette’s Burgundy, by Alexander Lobrano, New York Times

With her wry sense of humor honed by a coquettish but self-doubting vanity, the French novelist Colette would doubtless have been flattered to see the painstakingly authentic renovation of her childhood home by the Paris decorator Jacques Grange in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye. Born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette in 1873 in this Burgundian village 115 miles south of Paris, she went on to become a legend of French letters. Colette wrote more than 30 books and was made a member of the Belgian Royal Academy, the prestigious French Académie Goncourt and a grand officer of the French Legion of Honor, before becoming the first Frenchwoman ever accorded a state funeral in 1954 (she’s buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris).

As I knew from having read her most autobiographical works, Colette’s sensibility, by turns tender and sharp, sensual and austere, had been born and nurtured here, in this house and in this village. “My house remains for me what it always was, a relic, a burrow, a citadel, the museum of my youth. …,” Colette wrote in “Retreat from Love,” published in 1907. That house was opened to the public in 2016 after having been privately owned — and ever since, an exploration of Colette’s Burgundy has had a compelling centerpiece.

A Honeymoon On A Harley, by Marcos Villatoro, New York Times

As a child, I kept photos of my parents in an old, torn shoe box. I’d often gaze at the ones of them posing with my dad’s 1947 Harley Davidson Knucklehead, and try to imagine their days before I came along. I’d wonder: What was it like for a white Appalachian man and a Salvadoran woman to ride a motorcycle cross-country in the postwar years? How had their love endured at a time when many Americans were hostile to interracial marriage?

A 'Girl On Film' Grows Up And Finds Her Artistic Path, by Etelka Lehoczky, NPR

More than a life story, it's an account of how to live an artist's life even when it looks like your artistic ambitions are grandiose and impractical. In fact, Castellucci shows, your artistic ambitions are pretty much guaranteed to be grandiose and impractical. That doesn't matter. What matters is how you live with your big dreams, what you give up for them, what you hang onto and what you let go.

Book Review: 'Bowie's Bookshelf' Spotlights Musician's Love Of Reading, Eclectic Taste, by Drew Gallagher, The Free Lance-Star

Interesting on its own merits if you are a Bowie fan, this is far more than merely a list of 100 books that Bowie found influential in his own life and music. John O’Connell, the book’s author, fleshes out the list and the books included in the list to tremendous effect and makes this book infinitely readable and valuable beyond the Bowie factor. For every book included, O’Connell provides a summation that goes well beyond a Wikipedia entry and provides interesting tidbits on the work and the author while speculating on how that particular title influenced Bowie and his songs.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Will Instagram Ever ‘Free The Nipple’?, by Julia Jacobs, New York Times

Photographers have learned to be inventive in evading Instagram’s ban on female nipples. They’ve used paint, glitter, hair and flower petals to obscure them. They’ve covered them up with leaves, cornstarch, a spatula, handbags, shot glasses, strands of bubble gum, and sand.

Some have inserted a rectangular black censorship bar. Others have used digital editing tools to blur the nipples or overlay a patch of the model’s skin color to give the impression that she has no nipples at all.

These artistic gymnastics are the result of Instagram’s community guidelines, which allow female nipples in paintings and sculptures, but not typically in photography. And they are related to a campaign — #Freethenipple — being waged by artists, activists and celebrities, and playing out on the social media platform itself.

Hunting To Eat Is Not A Novel Idea. It's The Original Idea, by Kristen Gunther, Eater

But to many hunters, that connection to an ecosystem is the point. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, after all, isn’t a food organization. It’s a conservation group, a growing advocacy arm of the sportsmen and sportswomen’s community driven by a politically diverse membership — largely young people — passionate about public lands and wildlife. The connection between hunting and advocacy might not seem immediately clear, but in much of the United States, hunting hinges on access to public lands, as well as functioning ecosystems and healthy wildlife populations. Many sportsmen and sportswomen will speak readily about the personal connection — sometimes even identification — that they feel with the animals they hunt.

It’s no accident, then, that food is so central to Rendezvous, and the restaurant-level quality of the dishes on hand reflects a shared respect for food as “the most long-held spiritual connection to wild places,” in the words of BHA board chair Ryan Busse.

“There isn’t a dinner on the planet, regardless of price, that has any more authenticity and labor involved,” Busse says of the Rendezvous cook-off. The event is particularly fun “for a lot of us who grew up thinking and being told that wild game, a pheasant you shot, was a compromised food,” he adds. “It’s good. It’s exquisite. It’s not a compromise.”

In The Jersey Suburbs, A Bookstore Whose Vibe Is Pure Narnia, by Dana Jennings, New York Times

A ramshackle throwback to a funkier, more literary time, the store has shelves handmade from raw lumber. And its customers and clerks are often just as eccentric as the shelves.

Plagued By Fire By Paul Hendrickson – Frank Lloyd Wright, A Life Of Disaster And Disarray, by Michael Prodger, The Guardian

Paul Hendrickson, whose previous book was a study of another oversize American figure, Ernest Hemingway, is riveted by what he calls Wright’s “life of Old Testament disaster and disarray”, and has written not a biography but a “biographical portrait”. While Wright extolled the “definitely decorative value of the plain surface”, Hendrickson’s proclivities are for the baroque. This is the most mannered book you are likely to read: self-referential, full of what-a-clever-boy-am-I writing, spattered with show-off phrase-making, and achingly self-aware.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Wuthering Heights And Language Play, by Lesley Jenike, Ploughshares

What if Emily Brontë’s achievement in Wuthering Heights is really its dramatic correlation to her own passage from child actor to adult novelist, serving as a natural extension of her language play, and espousing play as necessary work? This isn’t an earth-shattering idea. After all, why do we call plays plays? For decades, psychologists have written reams on the power of play—how it allows children to work cooperatively as well as independently, try on different personas, and work through various problems.

How George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” Resonates In The England Of 2019, by Rebecca Mead, New Yorker

Lately, though, I have found myself thinking less about Eliot’s depiction of individual characters and more about the novel’s subtitle, “A Study of Provincial Life.” When Eliot set out to write “Middlemarch,” what she seemed to have in mind was a panoramic examination of a small town and its inhabitants that would capture not just the stories of individuals but would also say something about the way a community works, and about the state of the nation. “I am delighted to hear of a Novel of English Life having taken such warm possession of you,” her publisher, John Blackwood, remarked, when Eliot conveyed her intentions to him. Revisiting “Middlemarch” in the England of 2019—a year in which Britain was due to leave the European Union but instead has been mired in parliamentary paralysis, which the forthcoming election may or may not resolve—Eliot’s ironic observations about the electoral system have a new piquancy, and her representation of the innate conservatism of English provincial life has a topical relevance.

What I Have Learned From My Suicidal Patients, by Gavin Francis, The Guardian

Once a man was brought in who had jumped from the Forth Road Bridge. He had fallen 150ft, shattered his ankles and three of his vertebrae; “A fall on water from a height like that is like falling on concrete,” one of the nurses told me. He had crewcut hair, a scar across his lip and lay as if pinioned to the bed, eyes wide with fear. “We’ll need to keep a close eye on him,” the psychiatrist told me. “No one jumps from a height like that on a whim.” It was not the first time he had tried to end his life; I remember the pinched face of his mother when she came round at visiting time, the drawn bun of her hair, the tremble in her hands as she sat at his bedside.

Later, as a doctor in the adjacent emergency department, it would be my job to break bad news to the families of those who had been rushed to A&E too late or too broken to survive. Horror was a common reaction. Shock, of course, and grief, but so, too, was a kind of wretched acceptance. Often, the bereaved families had previously sat at bedsides on ward 1A, with a brother or mother, sister or spouse, and with the completion of the act there was sadness, of course, but also something akin to, but different from, relief – that a great and unappeasable suffering had finally come to an end.

Especially At Thanksgiving, A Sustainable Meal Is About More Than Carbon Emissions, by Tamar Haspel, Washington Post

Thanksgiving isn’t about just any old food. It’s about the food that’s native to our land, the food that sustained indigenous people long before Europeans landed on these shores, the food that connects us to the world around us. It’s what we often think of when we talk about sustainable food. But what is sustainable, anyway?

One of the best people to ask is Ruth DeFries. She teaches about sustainable development, land use and food systems at Columbia University (her work has won her a MacArthur Foundation fellowship), and she asks her students that same question: What is sustainable?

Tragicomic Fiction That Masquerades As An Extended Lawyer Joke, by Randy Boyagoda, New York Times

Among other things, “The Mutations,” a feisty first novel by the Mexican writer Jorge Comensal, is a dark, extended lawyer joke, made at the expense of Ramón Martinez. A decadent urban professional about to enjoy another pork sandwich, Ramón becomes a dyspeptic, housebound mute after the sudden pain he feels at his favorite cantina turns out to be a tumor, “which throbbed in his mouth like a tiny, misplaced heart.” Comensal’s brisk, if at times diffusive, storytelling — in a translation by Charlotte Whittle that conveys both his blunt and sharp humor — coheres around the question of how a person (as well as his family members, friends and colleagues) deals with the felt and future consequences of sudden dire news.

Warning, by Barbara Daniels, Ravensperch

Your lover leaves the toilet seat up,
forgets what color your eyes are, misses
your calls four times out of five.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Why Everyone Is Using The Word 'Horny', by Kayla Kibbe, InsideHookBut things have changed. While 25 years ago the New York Times’ William Safire was cautiously pondering whether the word “ha[d] crossed the line from slang to colloquialism, from mild vulgarity to acceptable informal usage,” it is all but inescapable today, cropping up in contexts more casual — if more unusual — than Safire likely could have ever imagined.

For 20 Years, Neopets Has Taught Us How To Care For Virtual Pets — And Each Other, by Allegra Frank, Vox

It’s hard to pinpoint when, exactly, kids and teens became 100 percent plugged in — fully online, all the time. But 1999 would be a decent guess, and November 1999 an especially good one, as it marked the launch of Neopets: a kid-friendly social network that combined virtual pets with discussion forums, games, and even a stock market. Neopets ultimately evolved into something magical, and an inextricable part of many a millennial’s formative years.

We Spend So Much Time Staring At Our Phones. What Do We Miss When We Don't Look Up?, by Mel Campbell, The Guardian

We no longer identify with the “little people” looking up but with the powerful people looking down. It’s a forced perspective. We’re still surveilled but this time, by the glowing lozenges we cradle in our palms, the ones that keep our heads bowed and shoulders aching.

Murder At Lake Maggiore, by Scott Bradfield, New York Times

There seem to be three notable (and, for my money, equally enjoyable) types of murder mystery. First, there’s the whodunit, in which readers scramble to catch up with clever detectives (Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Nero Wolfe) as they solve complicated crimes committed by someone who may be standing right next to them. Then there’s the whydunit, in which a humane, contemplative sleuth (best exemplified by Simenon’s Maigret) wants to understand how desperate emotions drove the culprit (and might well drive many of us) to commit such an act. Finally, there’s the why bother knowing who did it since we’re all going to die anyway and then what does it all matter really?

Dinosaurs, Dogging And Death: The Secret Life Of British Car Parks, by James Reith, The Guardian

Britain is a country of fields and country lanes, lakes and woods – and car parks. Roughly 20,000 of them(the government stopped counting in 2014). As Gareth E Rees writes in his new book Car Park Life, there is “an assumed truth that car parks are non-places without geography, nature, social history or cultural nuance” – and he wants to correct that.

It starts with a late-night, post-pub stroll through Rees’s favourite car park, at the Morrisons supermarket in Hastings. Suddenly, he notices things he previously hadn’t seen; what he calls the “secret lives that hide in plain sight”. Elsewhere, his finds include a dried-up water channel built by Sir Francis Drake, now located between a B&Q and a KFC (Crownhill Retail Park in Plymouth – Rees’s second-favourite facility); neolithic standing stones; a dinosaur footprint; a long history of dogging and drug deals; a tree stump ominously covered in women’s shoes; and a dead body.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

What Tweets And Emojis Did To The Novel, by Charles Finch, New York Times

One of the strangest effects of this transition was that it rekindled very ancient human behaviors. The scroll, one of the earliest technologies for reading, returned, as did the oldest form of writing, the ideogram, reincarnated in the emoji panel. In this weird, narrow sense, opening a paperback in 2019 was more modern than texting with your friends.

‘This Is Happiness’ Is An Unforgettable Trip To A Lost Irish Village, by Ron Charles, Washington Post

The Ireland that Niall Williams writes about in this novel is gone — or would be if he hadn’t cradled it so tenderly in the clover of his prose. Escaping into the pages of “This Is Happiness” feels as much like time travel as enlightenment. Halfway through, I realized that if I didn’t stop underlining passages, the whole book would be underlined.

It’s 1468. Why Does The Village Priest Have An iPhone?, by Nicola Griffith, New York Times

As a novelist, Robert Harris has a gift of immersing readers in an unfamiliar milieu, and thrilling them with the subsequent emotional, physical and ethical challenges faced by the protagonist as he (and it is always he) navigates mounting obstacles to a supposedly routine task — and, in the process, unearths unexpected truths.

Feeling At Ease In The Dark Of Night, by Grace Ebert, Chicago Review of Books

As self-described writer, author, and environmentalist Tiffany Francis makes clear in her newly released nature narrative, Dark Skies: A Journey into the Wild Night, humans have a long, storied history of associating darkness with evil and death. “Not only does the night conceal,” Francis writes, “it transforms things we once recognised by daylight, mutates and changes them into something unknown, unwelcome.” The folktales that scared us as kids sometimes grip us well into adulthood, precluding the possibility of feeling at ease with the unknown of a dark night.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Secret Feminist History Of Shakespeare And Company, by Caitlin O’Keefe, New York Review of Books

One hundred years ago this month, the Shakespeare and Company bookshop opened its doors for the first time in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. As we celebrate the centennial, the popular story of the shop’s founding is sure to be retold. The origin story of the shop often goes as follows: during the 1920s, Sylvia Beach, a devoted enthusiast for the literary genius of her time, decided to set up shop a few steps from the Luxembourg Gardens. From there, Beach’s biography is often framed as a Cinderella story of Modernism. When James Joyce asked her, an amateur bookseller, to publish Ulysses, and she rose to the occasion, she underwent a transformation from an anonymous shopkeeper into an internationally famous figure. Beach then provided a home for expatriates like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald who came to Paris during “Les Années Folles,” France’s version of the Roaring Twenties. Beach has thus been memorialized as the “midwife to Modernism.”

“Certain people are meant to be midwives—not mothers of invention. Sylvia was one,” wrote Noël Riley Fitch, author of Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation (1983), in the most recent introduction to a collection of Beach’s letters. Yet to characterize Beach as merely a “midwife” and to remember her primarily for bringing into being the work of Great Men is to misrepresent her and the everyday work of her shop. Revisiting the story behind Shakespeare and Company’s creation reveals that its roots lie in early twentieth-century feminist activism and, in particular, Beach’s own deep-rooted conviction that women had a right to an intellectual life.

The Joys Of Reading With A Second Grader, by Alison B. Hart, The Millions

In the four years since my daughter first learned to read, I’ve been hoping to teach her the joys of reading for pleasure. No one wants to be nagged into enjoying themselves or doing something that’s good for them. Instead, I turn off the TV, grab the dog and a blanket, and make a nest so cozy the FOMO sucks in my daughter. You’d be surprised how often it works. But even for a lifelong reader like me—with the responsibilities of middle age: the emails to send, checkups to schedule, sitters to book, pages to write, and bills to pay—it can be difficult to access anything like joy. Contentedness? Sure. Admiration for an author’s achievement and the gratitude that comes with having your world increased and your knowledge deepened? Of course. But the joy in discovering a book that’s too good to resist? That’s been rare—until I started reading with my daughter.

Can Babies Learn To Love Vegetables?, by Burkhard Bilger, New Yorker

Food preferences are a chicken-and-egg problem. Do we choose them or do they choose us? The Good Tastes Study was designed to tease such mysteries apart. Over the next six months, a hundred and six babies will pass through Building 500 and try the samples. Afterward, two experts in human expression will scrutinize their faces on the videos. They’ll divide their features into zones of activity and classify every twisted lip and wrinkled nose according to a Facial Action Coding System. The system can sort adult expressions into emotional categories: Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Contempt. But baby faces are too pudgy for such specificity, Johnson says, so she’ll settle for positive, negative, and neutral. (When a baby makes a gesture known as “the rake” and claws the kale off his tongue, that’s negative.) She’ll correlate those responses with the electrode readings, compare them with the babies’ reactions to a control substance (oatmeal), and then circle back to see how the parents reacted to their children’s reactions.

Baby food shouldn’t be this hard. After a few hundred thousand years of raising children, humans ought to have this part down. No food has been more obsessively studied, no diet more fiercely controlled, no dining experience more anxiously stage-managed. Yet we still get it wrong. On any given day, a quarter of American toddlers eat no vegetables. When they do eat them, the most popular choice is French fries. Why don’t babies know what’s good for them? And why don’t we?

My Life As A Child Chef, by Adam Shatz, New Yorker

This wasn’t much fun. For one thing, I was depriving myself of the pleasures of my mother’s cooking. Some families are brought together by faith; we were brought together by food. By secretly not eating, I was isolating myself. As I grew thinner, I felt both proud and terribly lonely. Toward the end of the summer, my parents became aware that I wasn’t myself; in photos from that time I look gaunt and unhealthy. When we returned home from the shore, my parents took me to a child psychologist, Sidney Hyman.

Dr. Hyman was in his late fifties, wore a bow tie, and liked to crack silly jokes. He didn’t ask many questions, but I remember playing a lot of board games with him. I’d become very serious, and I think he wanted me to rediscover what it was like to have fun. Trying to have fun is what started me cooking. I opened a cupboard, found some chocolate—I’d hardly touched any since becoming obsessed with my weight—and decided to make what I called fudge. I put the chocolate in a plastic container and placed it in the toaster oven. The container melted a bit, but the warm, liquefied chocolate was delicious, and the fact that I’d melted it myself was exciting: I had transformed something.

The Dread, by JH Phrydas, Los Angeles Review of Books

Each time I return to San Francisco, I begin to sweat. As the 5 gives way to the 580, cutting west between yellow hills that insulate the Central Valley, my vision slows. As chrome windmills, a hundred feet tall, glint the tips of their blades in an unhurried spin, I hunch lower in my seat. As the bus descends into a hazy field of buildings along a cool, tinny shore, my shoulders tense. And even though I can’t place the source of pressure along my back, I accept it. Hold it close. Like a fetish, I savor it. Because the weight has become familiar to me.

I’ve fled this city more times than I can count, but each time I return, the water is still shallow. Still the same, milky green. Its deep currents flow toward the mouth of the bay where, under the arc of a bridge more ochre than gold, the silt floor drops to the ocean’s bottom 150 feet below. Maybe it’s that invisible suction, the confluence of small waves from the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers, that pulls me back. Each time I succumb to this gravitational tug, I am reminded of the simple fact that this is no longer my city, although I wanted it to be — my foreverland. Now, when I cross the Bay Bridge high above the city’s protective waters, I enter as a visitor. It may feel like a homecoming, but it’s a home no longer inviting. No longer viable. Gliding through the skyscrapers that clump along the Embarcadero, I can hardly breathe. The anxiety of remembering presses against the windows: how the rooms of this town made me, molded my view of the world as a place ruled not only by law or politics but by magic.

A pure, queer divine.

Dread The Holidays? Feasting Together Might Actually Help, by Simran Sethi, New York Times

Fall-into-winter: the time of year when we come together to light a candle, carve a bird, raise a glass. It’s a season that is cherished and dreaded often in equal measure. But while attending the company holiday party or fa-la-la-ing with family might seem like a chore, social scientists and other experts make a compelling case that there is strength in numbers: Gathering is good for our body and our spirit.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Look, Latin Is Not Useless, Neither Is It Dead, by Nicola Gardini, Literary Hub

In short, all in service of machines, with the idea, no doubt, that machines are fundamental, the only truly useful thing, the all-encompassing solution . . . But what about the rest? Those needs that aren’t immediate, that aren’t practical or distinctly material, and yet are no less urgent? The so-called spirit? Memory, imagination, creativity, depth, complexity? And what about the larger questions, which are common to other essential domains of knowledge, including biology, physics, philosophy, psychology, and art: where and when did it all begin, where do I go, who am I, who are others, what is society, what is history, what is time, what is language, what are words, what is human life, what are feelings, who is a stranger, what am I doing here, what am I saying when I speak, what am I thinking when I think, what is meaning? Interpretation, in other words. Because without interpretation there is no freedom, and without freedom there is no happiness. This leads to passivity, a tacit acceptance of even our brighter moods. One becomes a slave to politics and the market, driven on by false needs.

A 17-Mile Hike To Unite San Francisco, by Nellie Bowles, New York Times

When I finally got a hold of the man behind it, 79-year-old Bob Seigel, he was wary.

“It’s gone too viral,” he said.

Typical NIMBY not wanting anyone new to join in, I thought. But a trail is probably a story, and I needed a byline. So here I was, in a sour mood, coming to ruin it more.

“I take it you’ll go and write about it even if I tell you not to?” Bob asked.

Everybody Loves Rey, A Star Wars Story, by Angela Watercutter, Wired

Then, in 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens happened. Near the start of the first act, a young scavenger removes a pair of goggles, and we meet the galaxy's new hero: a brave woman, draped in no-fuss garments and carrying a staff. Every fan wanted to be her; every fan could be her. “I make a lot of costumes with my dad,” McIntosh says, looking down at her linen and straps. “It's super empowering for girls to see that they can be that person.”

Now Rey is heading into her third (and possibly final) movie. Which has meant four years of fan-driven debate about the existence and value of a female protagonist. Much of that conversation has felt either rote or backward—but shifting the focus from Rey's gender to the more specific ways she wields and wears it reveals the deeper secret to her success: her costume.

Look Who’s Here!, by Natalie Walker, BookForum

My father, a theater neophyte at the time who was always eager to accumulate trivia, settled in with his program and tried to distract himself from the heat with some light conversation. “You know,” he murmured to my mother (uninterested in theater then, now, and forever), “I think one of the songs from this show is famous.” “‘The Ladies Who Lunch’!” answered a warm, benevolent voice behind him. “Sung by Elaine Stritch.” Then, somewhat conspiratorially, as if not to spook the sixteen-year-old a few feet away burdened with the impossible task of putting over this booze-soaked, acid-tongued aria: “Oh, you gotta listen to her version when you go home—it’s iconic.”

The word has become ubiquitous to the point of cliché—something that was certainly not lost on the actress in question. Theater columnist Michael Riedel’s use of it to describe her, during a 2010 appearance on the PBS series Theater Talk, was met with exasperation. “What’s ‘iconic’ mean?” she crowed. Riedel attempted to redirect the conversation, but Stritch was not to be deterred. “Let’s all level. Let’s all level today and tell each other what ‘iconic’ means,” she insisted, inciting guffaws before the final thrust: “it’s a mouthwash!” Even her rejection of the descriptor merely authenticated its aptness. Elaine Stritch, for many, is a figure unquestionably worthy of veneration, mythic and holy.

Slacklands 2 By Corinna Dean Review – Beauty Of Our Forgotten Architecture, by Rowan Moore, The Guardian

Some of the best architecture happens when its creators are looking the other way – side elevations rather than imposing facades, kitchens and stables in great palaces, chimneys and roof trusses and other functional items. Something good happens when the anxiety to impress is removed, and an architect or builder can just get on with solving a practical problem with a degree of grace.

So it is with most of the structures in Slacklands 2 in which the architectural curator and teacher Corinna Dean follows up her 2014 book Slacklands with further images of what she calls “rural contemporary architecture of the 20th century”. Her examples are such things as the ancillary structures of dams, military installations, water towers, mine headframes. What makes them striking is that they follow logic outside the usual run of houses and farm buildings, as often as not made inscrutable by the passage of time – whatever considerations once guided them tends to be forgotten.

Sappho Drives Upstate (Fr. 2), by Anne Carson, Literary Hub

I saw two old white horses in a field,
in the corner of a field,
in the shade,
who had sought the shade,

Sunday, November 17, 2019

'Your Throat Hurts. Your Brain Hurts': The Secret Life Of The Audiobook Star, by Tim Dowling, The Guardian

Narration may sound like an easy way to make money – you just sit there and read – but I can assure you, it isn’t. I narrated my own audiobook in 2014, an experience that I described at the time as being akin to an exorcism: three long days in a dark room, tripping through the minefield of my own words. All I could think was: if I’d known I was going to have to say this whole book out loud, I would have written a better one. Or maybe I wouldn’t have written one at all.

I’ve done two more audiobooks since – most recently, last spring – with the gently increasing confidence that comes of never, ever listening back to previous recordings. The first time, I agreed to the challenge only because I was assured it was not unusual for a first-person, non-fiction book to be read by its inexperienced author. But I never met anyone else like that in my three days at the studio. I met only professionals.

The Danger Of Traveling Light, by Jay Wellons, New York Times

What else could I possibly need, I thought, fighting off a hint of anxiety and a faint longing for my swim goggles.

Soon after, I settled into my seat on the plane and we took off. I carefully folded my suit jacket, placed it on the empty seat next to me and began to drift off to sleep. I was jolted awake as a flight attendant walked swiftly past, heading toward the front of the airplane. Soon after came the inevitable announcement asking if there were medical personnel on board.

Reef Life By Callum Roberts Review – Miraculous And Threatened, by Caspar Henderson, The Guardian

There are few better guides to the glories of reefs than Callum Roberts. Reef Life is a vibrant memoir of the joys, as well as the grind, of a research career beginning in the 1980s that has spanned a golden age of coral reef science. It is also a fine introduction to the ecology of reefs and the existential threats they now face.

Why Mushroom-picking Is The Best Form Of Mindfulness, by Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

In her new book, The Way Through the Woods, the Norwegian-Malaysian writer Long Litt Woon describes the various sensory pleasures that are involved in the gathering of mushrooms: the beguiling way they yield to the human hand; their different textures, whether velvety or hairy, rubbery or powdery; even the noises they make (some pop when snapped). Above all, there are the different ways that they smell. The prince mushroom comes with top notes of marzipan. The wood blewit brings to mind burnt rubber. The common stinkhorn emits the sweet aroma of rotting flesh.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Story Of The 1991 'Beauty And The Beast' Screening That Changed Everything, by Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

The idea of a much-anticipated animated family blockbuster premiering to a discerning crowd of highbrow film enthusiasts may not seem like such a big deal nowadays — after all, Shrek 2 somehow opened Cannes in 2004 — but in 1991, it was downright inconceivable to many. “We got a fair amount of flak for it at the time,” recalls Richard Peña, who was then in his fourth year as program director of the festival. “I remember my dear friend, the critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, asking, ‘What’s next? A retrospective screening of Casablanca?’”

Peña himself hadn’t been entirely certain what to make of the idea when he’d gotten a call in early August from the Walt Disney Company. “Listen,” the voice on the other end of the line had said, “we were wondering if you would be willing to have a look at Beauty and the Beast.” The programming team had been putting the finishing touches on that year’s festival slate, which included pictures like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique and Jacques Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse — not exactly the kind of movies among which one would expect to find a musical romance from the Mouse House. Disney was seen as corporate, antiseptic, G-rated, while the New York Film Festival had introduced American audiences to the early work of Jean-Luc Godard, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Martin Scorsese.

Weird Earthquake Just Put A Crack In France, by Maya Wei-Haas, National Geographic

Clocking in at 4.8 magnitude, the temblor damaged numerous buildings and injured four people. It also left scientists buzzing over a number of curious features. For one, while France is no stranger to temblors, they are often quite small, explains seismologist Jean-Paul Ampuero of the Université Côte d'Azur in France. Monday’s event was only of moderate intensity by global measures, but it was a “very large one for French standards,” he says.

Even more surprising is that the temblor cut clean to the surface, cracking Earth’s crust like an eggshell. Such breaks are common for hefty earthquakes, such as the 7.2 magnitude Landers earthquake that struck California in 1992. The formation of a surface fracture during the Le Teil temblor therefore left researchers scratching their heads, prompting a hunt for the curious quake’s source.

The Irresistible Visual Power Of Urban Advertising, by Darran Anderson, CityLab

Advertisements tell us about much more than the products and services they promote. They tell us about desire, how it changes, and how it and thus we are manipulated. Like many revelatory urban features, advertising signage is ubiquitous to the point of becoming almost invisible. Yet we read cities as much as we inhabit and traverse them.

In cinematic aerial footage of cities, we are often presented with the blank facades of skyscrapers. But the closer to street level we get, the closer to the part of the city we navigate, we find that cities are a riot of lettering and symbols. The city itself is a form of visual language. Advertising is everywhere. It is a pictorial cacophony that we’ve grown used to.

We are not as immune as we might think to its powers. It reflects who we are, or want to be, while threatening to overwhelm us. And yet, often despite itself, it can connect us to the past, to the local, and to senses of meaning.

Green London, by Kelsey L. Bennett, Ploughshares

Typically, people come to London to experience the best of a culture as it manifests itself in its great museums, libraries, and performance venues. London’s green spaces, however, present an allure equally powerful. Indeed, some of the city’s trees have the distinction of being older than London itself—the Totteridge Yew, for one, has been around for over 2,000 years. To put this stunning fact into perspective, in the Evening Standard, self-described guerrilla geographer and explorer Dan Raven-Ellison reminds readers that “everything that has ever happened in London has happened in its lifetime.”

Revealing Journeys Through Mexico’s ‘Hard-up Hinterland’, by Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Washington Post

But Americans’ insatiable hunger for drugs — and Mexican drug lords’ race to supply them — has since turned a luminous nation into a battlefield. Nearly 300,000 Mexicans have vanished or been killed since December 2006, when then-president Felipe Calderón tried to dismantle the cartels. A decade later, the United States elected a president whose rallying cry was “Build that wall,” despite the ineffectiveness of the 670 miles that already existed.

So when Paul Theroux left his Cape Cod home for the southern border in early 2017 in a Nissan Murano with license plates lettered “Massachusetts — The Spirit of America,” just about everyone echoed the warning issued first by a man on a Harley: “Don’t go thar! You’ll dah!” This only fueled Theroux’s mission to show that Americans and Mexicans are “at two ends of the same road.” The resulting travelogue, “On the Plain of Snakes,” chronicles seven month-long trips that spanned the length of the border and as far into the interior as Chiapas, which neighbors Guatemala.

Why Movie Musicals Work, by Noah Isenberg, New York Times

Basinger’s exuberant style — the exclamation mark in her title almost seems to declare the book a kindred spirit to “Oklahoma!” — coupled with her dry wit, is hard to resist. Her writing zips along with the same razzle-dazzle she so loves in the movies she discusses, while the sumptuous selection of photographs included in the book offers the perfect visual counterpart. Whatever reservations she may harbor about certain recent movie musicals, Basinger has not lost her faith. “Who today can outsmart the old musical?” she asks, inviting a challenge. “Who wants to try?” The heart of this book lies in her answer: “Someone, I hope.”

Friday, November 15, 2019

Against Economics, by David Graeber, New York Review of Books

A good example is the obsession with inflation. Economists still teach their students that the primary economic role of government—many would insist, its only really proper economic role—is to guarantee price stability. We must be constantly vigilant over the dangers of inflation. For governments to simply print money is therefore inherently sinful. If, however, inflation is kept at bay through the coordinated action of government and central bankers, the market should find its “natural rate of unemployment,” and investors, taking advantage of clear price signals, should be able to ensure healthy growth. These assumptions came with the monetarism of the 1980s, the idea that government should restrict itself to managing the money supply, and by the 1990s had come to be accepted as such elementary common sense that pretty much all political debate had to set out from a ritual acknowledgment of the perils of government spending. This continues to be the case, despite the fact that, since the 2008 recession, central banks have been printing money frantically in an attempt to create inflation and compel the rich to do something useful with their money, and have been largely unsuccessful in both endeavors.

We now live in a different economic universe than we did before the crash. Falling unemployment no longer drives up wages. Printing money does not cause inflation. Yet the language of public debate, and the wisdom conveyed in economic textbooks, remain almost entirely unchanged.

The Resurrection Of The Greatest Sci-Fi Writer You’ve Never Read, by Isaac Butler, Slate

Three years ago, over breakfast, my friend Helen handed me a novel about a quest that, unknown to both of us, would set me off on a quest of my own. The book was called The Dragon Waiting, and it was written by the late science fiction and fantasy author John M. Ford. Helen placed the mass-market paperback with its garish cover in my hands, her eyes aglow with evangelical fervor, telling me I would love it. I would soon learn that, owing to Ford’s obscurity, his fans do things like this all the time. Soon, I would become one of them.

She Woke Up From Surgery As A Different Person — And A Great Songwriter, by David Ehrlich, Indiewire

“I felt strange as soon as the anesthesia started to wear off,” Steenburgen said. “The best way I can describe it is that it just felt like my brain was only music, and that everything anybody said to me became musical. All of my thoughts became musical. Every street sign became musical. I couldn’t get my mind into any other mode.”

Fun as that might sound in an Oliver Sacks kind of way — the late neurologist wrote about similar, potentially stroke-inspired symptoms in his book “Musicophilia” — Steenburgen wasn’t thrilled about the sudden mental shift. The next two months were tough. “I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t have acted,” she said. “I couldn’t have learned any lines. My husband [actor Ted Danson] and I were kind of frightened about it.”

Steenburgen’s son, filmmaker Charlie McDowell (“The Discovery,” “The One I Love”), also remembers it as a trying time. “If your mom comes to you after surgery and says that her head is now full of music, I think it’s totally fair to think that she’s gone crazy and has major psychological problems,” he said. “All of the sudden she was referencing these obscure indie bands and picking up random instruments — I’m not gonna lie, the accordion playing drives me nuts.” McDowell laughed. “When I say all this out loud it sounds insane. It was definitely a change.”

The Most Watched Show At The Office? Sexual Harassment Training Videos, by Elizabeth A. Harris, New York Times

Troy Dillinger was having a good month. A working actor in Los Angeles, he played in June a lawyer in a Lifetime movie, a coach in a public service announcement about opioids, and a judge in Cardi B’s video “Press.”

He also slid into his best creepy smirk and sexually harassed an underling in a corporate training video.

Where Have All The Fragments Gone?, by Elizabeth Della Zazzera, Laphams Quarterly

Between 1961 and 1989 the “Antifascist Protection Rampart” served as both physical barrier and symbol of the division and conflict that gripped much of the world in the wake of World War II. Of the 54,000 concrete slabs that once made up the western side of Berlin Wall, hundreds of these segments, often in pairs or groups, have made their way to far-flung locales. Separated into its constituent pieces, divided into fragments, the wall ceases to be an impediment and instead serves as a reminder of division and reunification, of conflict and resolution, of constraint and liberty. In each case, this potent symbol when removed to a different context absorbs new meaning from its adopted surroundings.

Our Experience Of Grief Is Unique As A Fingerprint, by David Kessler, Literary Hub

Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.

This need is hardwired in us, since our emotions bind us to one another, and in those bonds is the key to our survival. From the moment we’re born, we realize we’re not alone. Our brains are equipped with mirroring neurons, which is why when the mother smiles, the baby smiles back. This continues into adulthood. I remember walking down the street one day and a man said to me, “Howdy.” I’m not usually someone who says “Howdy.” But I instinctively said back to him, “Howdy!” This is more than copying each other’s expressions. It’s also about the emotions underlying the expressions. The mirroring neurons enable mother and child to pick up on each other’s emotions.

The Language Of A Moment, by Jordan Foti Gulino, Chicago Review of Books

“The world’s an untranslatable language.” So poet Charles Wright states in the first line of “The Ghost of Walter Benjamin Walks at Midnight.” The poem appears in Oblivion Banjo: The Poetry of Charles Wright, a new collection from Farrar, Straus and Giroux comprised of Wright’s previously published works from some twenty books, written over the course of forty years. In the collection, the former Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner invokes many ghosts: of people, places missed, memories and ephemera. As a result, Oblivion Banjo is a complex theater of images where the world — “chalk hills” and “A length of chain, a white hand” — appears strange yet cherished in Wright’s verse.

Home For The Holidays, For Better Or Worse, by Rand Richards Cooper, New York Times

Right down to its random-seeming ending, “Christmas in Austin” is aggressively inconclusive. “A Weekend in New York” closed in the middle of a tennis rally, and one novel later, a reader senses that the Essinger family contest is still very much in play. For what is family, after all, but a conversation that never ends?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

A Mother Journeys Through Grief Across Finland’s Many Islands, by Yiyun Li, New York Times

The archipelago is far geographically from my home in Princeton, N.J., though I was also searching for a different kind of distance. Two summers ago, I lost a teenage son to suicide. Two seasons ago, I was next to my father when the doctors took him off life support. “The only thing grief has taught me,” Emerson wrote in 1844, in “Experience,” after the death of his young son, “is to know how shallow it is. That, like all the rest, plays about the surface, and never introduces me into the reality. ... An innavigable sea washes with silent waves between us and the things we aim at and converse with. Grief too will make us idealists.”

In the past 18 months, I have reread “Hamlet” many times, written in the years after the death of Shakespeare’s son. I have listened to the compositions of Smetana and Dvorak, in which they mourned the deaths of their children. But Emerson’s words, which are less accessible, made me wonder if his mind had traveled further. I was not unrealistic enough to expect grief to vanish on a trip, but I wanted to see if it could shed some light on Emerson’s thinking.

The Two Versions Of Tender Is The Night, by Amelia Brown, Ploughshares

The most meta duality of Tender Is the Night lies in the fact that there are two versions of the novel. The original version, released in 1934 in a serial format, features a fractured structure and chronology with a prolonged flashback midway through (and a very strange fast-forward back to the present). A second version, published posthumously in 1951, puts all events in the order that they occurred. It tells the story of the Divers chronologically, from their first meeting as beautiful teenage psychiatric patient and bright young doctor to their final separation and Dick’s decline. There’s no flashback, and Rosemary isn’t introduced until midway through, once we already know the Divers and their complex relationship.

An Overlooked Novel From 1935 By The Godmother Of Feminist Detective Fiction, by Nora Caplan-Bricker, New Yorker

In “Gaudy Night,” a classic of the golden age of detective fiction by Dorothy L. Sayers, the heroine, Harriet Vane, wonders whether mystery novels can ever rise to the level of literature. Harriet is a successful author, like her creator, but suffers from writer’s block. The relationships between her characters “were beginning to take on an unnatural, an incredible symmetry. Human beings were not like that.” Harriet wonders what might happen if she were to “abandon the jig-saw kind of story and write a book about human beings for a change.”

More than eighty years after “Gaudy Night” was published, in 1935, we’re enjoying another golden age of detective stories. Mysteries and true-crime narratives seem to satisfy a need for women in particular, as the journalist Rachel Monroe writes in her new book, “Savage Appetites.” Stories about the worst things that can happen to a person serve to excavate a “subterranean knowledge,” Monroe notes, opening up “conversations about subjects that might otherwise be taboo: fear, abuse, exploitation, injustice, rage.” In 2012, the novel “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn, introduced Amy Elliott Dunne, a character whose fury at the false promises of life and marriage prefigured the mass unleashing of women’s anger a few years later. Writers like Tana French, Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, and Celeste Ng have won both popular and critical praise with stories about the damage that the world inflicts on women, and, sometimes, about the damage that damaged women do. The mystery genre, with its plots that patrol the outer borders of believable human behavior, has proved uniquely suited to illuminate a generalized hostility toward women, one so normal and pervasive that it’s often almost impossible to see.

Cheeseburgers, Oil And Minimum Wage: Building A Museum Of Capitalism, by Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times

There were “edible artifacts” of capitalism like cheeseburgers and energy bars, passed on trays bearing museum-like labels. Lines formed around the more interactive pieces, including a hand-cranked “minimum-wage machine” and a disassembly line where visitors, armed with hammers and pliers, were subjecting discarded shoes and cellphone chargers to enthusiastic creative destruction.

“We want to encourage people to talk about it, to figure out what this thing is that is too close for us to see,” Timothy Furstnau, who, with Andrea Steves, works as the curatorial collective Fictilis, said, elaborating on the project’s goal of “making capitalism strange.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Food-writing Pioneer Explores African American Cuisine, In All Its Splendor, In New Cookbook, by Adrian Miller, Los Angeles Times

“Where are the black food writers?” asks Toni Tipton-Martin.

A native Angeleno, author and community activist, Tipton-Martin has frequently wrestled with that question during her 31-year food-writing career. In the 1980s, the Los Angeles Times hired her as a food reporter. A few years later, she made history with the Cleveland Plain Dealer when she became the first African American woman to edit the food section of a major newspaper.

Being a food journalist of color was a lonely existence then, and is only marginally less so now, but Tipton-Martin, through her writing and advocacy, has been a leading voice in trying to change that.

Why Libraries Have A Public Spirit That Most Museums Lack, by Laura Raicovich, Hyperallergic

At a time when museums are being held accountable by a variety of publics for every aspect of their operations — from programming and exhibition-making to financial support and governance structures — perhaps it is useful to look at parallel institutions that are doing similar work for guidance on alternative ways of working.

I’ll Have What She’s Having, by Priya Krishna, New York Times

While some of these elements — group seating, shared entrees, preset menus — seem familiar, what’s novel is these restaurants’ underlying ethos: The goal is to bring people of all backgrounds together in this splintered time, to make eating out a collective enterprise. Communal dining, of course, isn’t new. But these restaurants are both more urbane and more ambitious than their forebears — places where the food, wine and design are considered so carefully that the casual, family-style service and ambience feel, at first, like paradoxes. The format seems theatrical, or at least experiential: In these establishments, customers aren’t only paying for the food but for the upending of dining-out conventions. Restaurants are, to some extent, valued for their predictability and consistency — in this new model, the element of surprise is part of the attraction.

What Happens To Your Used Stuff? 'Secondhand' Tells Of A Billion-Dollar Industry, by Gabino Iglesias, NPR

In Secondhand, Minter starts with a strange question: What happens to peoples' stuff when they die? He answers the question in the first chapter — but this only opens a door into the hidden, multibillion-dollar industry of reuse. With grace, a keen eye for detail, an interesting cast of character that spend their life reselling used things, and the perennially curious mind of a great journalist, Minter takes readers from the backs of thrift stores all across the United States to small apartments and vintage shops in Tokyo, and from a truck in Mexico to an office in Mumbai, to show the inner workings of one of the world's largest markets. Along the way, he interviews many fascinating people who make a living buying, selling, and throwing away what others discard — or leave behind after their deaths — all while wondering what the future holds for this business in an era where consumers crave new things.

In 'Some Of Us Are Very Hungry Now,' Revelations Morph Into Mirrors, by Gabino Iglesias, NPR

These essays shine with broken humanity and announce the arrival of a new voice in contemporary nonfiction, but they do so with heaps of melancholia and frustration instead of answers. That Perry can hurt us and keep us asking for more is a testament to his talent as a storyteller.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Unmistakable Black Roots Of 'Sesame Street', by Bryan Greene, Smithsonian

Forty years ago, upon the tenth anniversary of the debut of “Sesame Street,” the New York Times offered an appraisal of the revolutionary children’s television program, reminding readers that the show with universal appeal initially declared its target audience, “the four-year old inner-city black youngster.” This year, as the show commemorates its 50th anniversary and is broadcast in more than 150 countries, it’s worthwhile to take a look back at how since its inception, “Sesame Street” has been rooted in African-American culture, more specifically the historically black community of Harlem. The New York City neighborhood played such an outsized role in the development of the program—from set design to casting and marketing—the answer to the question from the “Sesame Street” opening song, “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street,” ought to be Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train.”

Once Upon A Tarantino, by Matt Hanson, The Smart Set

Given the discouraging fact that movies aren’t nearly as culturally important as they used to be, Quentin Tarantino is probably on the shortlist of auteurs who can still put asses in theater seats. Maybe Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen brothers are among the very small number of contemporary filmmakers whose films everybody has to go see even if they’re not movie people. Susan Sontag used to say that being a cinephile in the ’60s meant that there was “a new masterpiece every two weeks.” Given how many movie theaters are closing and how almost all access to films comes from streaming platforms, with the built-in preference for TV shows and the joys of binging, going to a proudly cinematic Tarantino flick is almost like taking part in that long-passed era.

Amos Oz And The Politics Of The Hebrew Language, by Gal Koplewitz, New Yorker

For Oz, stories were an attempt to impose order on a world that has none—not so different, he thought, from Paleolithic cave paintings, in which prehistoric artists stilled wild beasts, giving themselves an illusion of control over nature. Still, Oz argued, the most primal human experiences transcend words: “Humans come into the world crying, make love moaning, die sighing,” he said in the 1978 interview. “When you need to communicate these things with words, it’s hard. . . . Some things get lost. You need to trust the reader, to some extent, to produce from the words that which is beyond words.” In her essay collection “Upstream,” the poet Mary Oliver observed that “Writing is neither vibrant life nor docile artifact but a text that would put all its money on the hope of suggestion.” A bet, as Oz put it, that different people will find beauty in the same contours.

Philip Glass Is Too Busy To Care About Legacy, by Zachary Woolfe, New York Times

But surely a composer must care, or at least wonder, about the fate of his works? Even just a little?

Mr. Glass smiled.

“I’m not going to be here,” he said.

If I Touched The Moon, What Would It Feel Like?, by Randall Munroe, New York Times

If you like handling tiny glass shards, sure, go ahead and touch the lunar surface. But avoid the rocks.

Everyone Needs To Stop Building Giant Glass Skyscrapers Right Now, by Sophia Epstein, Wired

Any building playing host to hundreds of people is going to have a huge climate footprint, but the glass is particularly problematic. The sunlight has unlimited access into the building, but no way to get out. “With an all glass building, you’re fighting the environment rather than working with it,” says Simon Sturgis, who is an adviser to the government as well as chairman of the Royal Institute of British Architects sustainability group. Conventional glass skyscrapers are just tall green houses. The heat inside can’t escape because the whole structure is wrapped in a glass skin. That’s great for tomatoes, but for people it just means more air conditioning.

'Badass': The One Word That Has Become A Lightning Rod For Many Female Chefs, by Nina Martyris, NPR

Are there any words or phrases you really wish people would stop using to describe women chefs (or really, women, period)?

Charlotte Druckman put this question to over 100 female chefs and food writers for her book, Women on Food, a compendium that corrals a range of voices from marquee names like Nigella Lawson and Rachael Ray to the pioneering 92-year-old writer Betty Fussell, who still gets into the van at her retirement home in Santa Barbara, Calif., to buy raw cream and nectarines at the farmers market.

For Lydia Davis, Language Is Character, by Brian Dillon, New York Times

In the preface to this ample assembly of her essays, Lydia Davis offers a modest account of the book’s origin. “I thought it was time to collect the pieces of nonfiction I had had occasion to write over the decades and bring them together in one place.” “Occasion” is a freighted word here, for almost everything in “Essays One” is “occasional” in an old-fashioned sense: derived from an opportunity, pretext or invitation. There are tributes and introductions to some of the writers Davis has translated — Gustave Flaubert, Maurice Blanchot, Michel Butor. There are sage and agile talks delivered to writing students at N.Y.U., crisp essays for magazines and even a lovely thesaurus entry. At their best, Davis’s essays resemble her celebrated short stories — her most recent collection is “Can’t and Won’t” (2014) — which are wryly occasional too: worked up from dreams, diaries, notebooks, letters of complaint and stray phrases from emails.

Garry Shandling’s Riotous Scrapbook, by Peter Keepnews, New York Times

A little too scattershot and light on details to qualify as either biography or oral history, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Book” is best characterized as a scrapbook. But what a scrapbook!

Hard-core fans of Garry Shandling — whose wry, dry style influenced a generation of stand-up comedians, and who helped redefine television comedy twice, by shattering the fourth wall on “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and eviscerating the talk-show business from the inside on “The Larry Sanders Show” — will not need to be told that this cornucopia of Shandlingiana is worth their time. More casual fans, while they may be intimidated by the flood of minutiae, will find it worth the plunge.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Hunter S. Thompson’s Letters To His Enemies, by James Parker, The Atlantic

If letters made sounds when we opened them, sounds expressive of their contents—if, from the freshly unsealed envelope, there rose a lover’s sigh, or an alcoholic belch, or a rasping cough of officialdom—the letters of Hunter S. Thompson would have released, I think, a noise like nearby gunfire. Like the crackle of some endless small-arms engagement. Pop, pop, pop, deep into the night.

A Nile Journey Into The Past, by Michelle Green, New York Times

Huddled on a chaise on the upper deck of the Orient, the dahabiya that I had chosen for a cruise down the Nile, I sipped hibiscus tea to ward off the chill. Late in February, it was just 52 degrees in Aswan, where I had boarded the sailboat, but the scenery slipping past was everything the guidebooks had promised: tall sandbanks, curved palms and the mutable, gray-green river, the spine of Egypt and the throughline in its history.

I’d been obsessed with Egypt since childhood, but it took a cadre of female adventurers to get me there. Reading “Women Travelers on the Nile,” a 2016 anthology edited by Deborah Manley, I’d found kindred spirits in the women who chronicled their expeditions to Egypt in the 19th century, and spurred on by them, I’d planned my trip.

Beside my chair were collections of letters and memoirs written by intrepid female journalists, intellectuals and novelists, all British or European. Relentlessly entertaining, the women’s stories reflected the Egyptomania that flourished after Napoleon invaded North Africa in 1798. The country had become a focal point for artists, architects and newly minted photographers — and a fresh challenge for affluent adventurers.

“Taste The Journey”: On Caroline Eden’s “Black Sea: Dispatches And Recipes, Through Darkness And Light”, by Lauren Goldenberg, Los Angeles Review of Books

I have never been to the Black Sea, but for years I have felt it in the distance, waiting. Of the four countries that Caroline Eden visits in Black Sea, her second book of culinary culturology, I have only been to one: Romania. It is also the only country of the four whose cuisine I am personally connected to — I grew up on the Romanian cooking of my grandmothers. When asked what Romanian food is like, I’ve usually described it as somewhat akin to Turkish food, and I felt justified in this vague answer as I read this book.

In Black Sea, Eden has successfully created, in her own words, “a way to ‘eat the culture’ and taste the journey.” She makes her way west and south along the coast of the Black Sea, starting with Odessa, Ukraine, then traveling through the port cities of Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, where she spends the bulk of her trip (and the book) between Istanbul and Trabzon. Even though I have never been to any of the cities and towns she visits and I have not eaten many of the foods whose recipes she includes, the flavors of the dishes, the rhythms of her interactions with the people she encounters, and the faces in the photos all felt familiar.

Bruce Gilden’s Gritty Vision Of A Lost New York, by Chris Wiley, New Yorker

The street, it would seem, no longer calls to photographers as it once did. But why? After all, as anyone who lives here knows, New York has no shortage of drama on its sidewalks and in its subways. With the right eye, surely someone could again make the kinds of pictures that Gilden unearthed from his archives, and give the genre his or her own idiosyncratic spin. It seems, though, that the motivation has been lost. Perhaps the explanation is simple: while the streets might still be a circus, we no longer think of them as the biggest stage upon which we strut and fret our hours. Instead, we have vanished into our virtual worlds, halls of mirrors from which it is becoming ever more difficult to escape.

'The Movie Musical!' Is A Symphony In Praise Of The 'Razzmatazz' Of The Genre, by Jason Heller, NPR

Every page is infused not only with Basinger's knowledge, but her overwhelming adoration for the tuneful, silver-screen tales that changed her own life. The book is a passion project, organically rendered, and shot through with longing for an age where sophistication was as subtle as it was scintillating. The Movie Musical! is more than a love letter to a great American artform; it's a symphony.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The D.C. Region Doesn’t Have Full-Time Food Critics Of Color. Why That Matters., by Laura Hayes, Washington City Paper

The District is not an anomaly. Restaurant critics of color are scarce across the country. When newspapers and magazines extend a job offer to a food critic, they anoint them with an unofficial title—arbiter of taste. They’re endorsing a person’s ability to dictate what’s valuable and what’s acceptable, and today’s critics are being asked to review far more than what’s on the plate. No longer can they tip-toe around vital historical context or a chef’s character flaws.

“Restaurant criticism is fundamentally cultural criticism and just as our society isn’t a monoculture, our restaurant critics shouldn’t reflect one,” Korsha Wilson wrote in a February think piece for Eater that addresses the potential blindspots of white critics.

Wilson is one of several writers, including Nikita Richardson, Ernest Owens, and Stephen Satterfield, who have deftly covered the subject. After studying their work, I set out to report with curiosity rather than authority about what D.C. would stand to gain from having critics of color at the table: Greater empathy, more even exposure, and further context.

Zadie Smith Serves Up A Provocative, Deeply Humanistic Collection, by David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times

What then do we make of the 19 stories gathered in “Grand Union,” Smith’s first collection of short fiction? There’s no mistaking the voice, with its mix of assurance and conditionality, her declaration that “ALL THE WORLD IS TEXT.”

That’s hardly a new idea for Smith, who in her 2012 novel “NW” insisted, “People were not people but merely an effect of language. You could conjure them up and kill them in a sentence.” At the same time, there’s something looser about her stories, more offhand.

“To Say Two Things At Once”: On Kathleen Graber’s “The River Twice”, by Will Brewbaker, Los Angeles Review of Books

Though the epigraph is somewhat ubiquitous in contemporary poetry — it can be difficult to find a collection that doesn’t nod to its influences in the opening pages — its very ubiquity seems to have blunted its aesthetic utility. In many books, one feels that the opening epigraph simply says what the poet will, a few pages later, attempt to say for themselves.

However, as with every straw man generalization, exceptions abound: as in Kathleen Graber’s most recent collection, The River Twice, which takes both its title and opening epigraphs from the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. Any admirer of Graber’s previous work will be familiar already with her penchant for using the words of others to throw doubt and tension into her own poems. With The River Twice, Graber introduces Heraclitus to a list of thinkers she’s wrestled with before: St. Augustine, Walter Benjamin, Marcus Aurelius, the list goes on.

'The Guinevere Deception' Casts A Surprising Spell, by Caitlyn Paxson, Caityln Paxson, NPR

A girl in disguise, a king in need of protection, and a conspiracy so deep that even those at its heart don't know the whole truth: The Guinevere Deception takes the familiar trappings of Arthurian legend and spins them into an earthy fantasy.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Jennifer Aniston Is Angry Now And It’s Thrilling To Watch, by Anne Helen Petersen, BuzzFeed News

The Morning Show, costarring the equally fed-up Reese Witherspoon, is at once a manifestation of and reckoning with women’s middle-aged rage. As showrunner Kerry Ehrin put it, “It’s almost like this orchestral finale — this huge noise and sound all these emotions that have just been stuffed down in these women for all these years, you know?”

It’s not that this rage is new. It’s always been there, in various, and variously sublimated, forms. There have just been so few opportunities for it to be listened to — at least within the mainstream — because there have been so few mainstream productions that even take older women, let alone their anger, seriously. But The Morning Show, for all of its unevenness, also serves as a meta-textual commentary on the fatigue of decades of being a woman in the public eye. This is a fine show about morning television, and a not-always-successful show about #MeToo. But it’s also a very interesting show about Jennifer Aniston.

Japan’s Secret Udon Mecca, by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, BBC

I took the 05:27 train from Okayama one cool morning, though by the time I got off at Kaminocho Station just 25 minutes later, the air was already thick and sultry, foretelling another typically sweltering August day in Japan. A short walk down the street led me to a small, industrial-looking building, where a family of four and a handful of other customers were already slurping bowls of wheat udon noodles at tables outside. I parted the curtain hanging across the entry and stepped into the udon factory.

Matsuka Seimen is not a restaurant. It is a third-generation noodle-making factory run by the Matsuka family. Over the past 15 years, the Matsukas have built a reputation for preparing and supplying local grocers with fresh udon. But because the thick noodles’ taste and texture is especially flavourful when it’s boiled immediately after it’s been rolled and cut, people soon began to ask the Matsukas if they’d be willing to set aside a few round, chewy strands to serve on the spot. Thirteen years ago, the family yielded to customer demand and ever since, the factory has sold freshly prepared udon directly to the public – but only from 06:00 to 07:00.

Daughter And Dad, Chasing Salmon In Upstate New York, by Ali Watkins, New York Times

Every fisherman or woman has a catch they dream of landing. King salmon, with its signature pink streak and hooked jaw, is almost certainly on any angler’s list. Its very mention brings fantasies of deep woods and roaring streams, dammed by hordes of slick green backs begging to be hooked.

That fishermen wish for salmon is no surprise. The twist in that fantasy is that such visions are not pipe dreams restricted to the West. Thousands of coho and king salmon swim inland every autumn just five hours northwest of New York City, pouring out of Lake Ontario and into dozens of tributaries across Oswego County to spawn and die upstream.

It’s Always A Good Time To Revisit The Brilliance Of Elizabeth Bishop, by Scott Bradfield , Washington Post

It is hard to think of a major American poet who revealed so little about herself while revealing so much about the human world we inhabit. Through about 100 poems published during her lifetime, Elizabeth Bishop — in her compact, reticent, nearly invisible way — contained multitudes.

Learning Languages In Early Modern England By John Gallagher Review – An Englishman Abroad, by Fara Dabhoiwala, The Guardian

There has never been a language as globally dominant as English is today. Yet 400 years ago, it was the lowly tongue of an insignificant backwater on the edge of Europe. Unlike French, Italian, Spanish or even Dutch, it had no cultural prestige, and was useless overseas. Anyone who aspired to real civility, or to travel or trade with mainland Europe, had no option but to learn its languages. How English men and women of the late 15th to the early 18th century went about doing so is the subject of John Gallagher’s fascinating new book, a welcome attempt to show that the history of language encompasses much more than just the history of words.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Can A Woman Who Is An Artist Ever Just Be An Artist?, by Rachel Cusk, New York Times

The cultural image of the male artist has perhaps evaded a proper examination: Who would conduct one? For this caricature is so intertwined with the public understanding and consumption of art that the two can perhaps never be separated. The male artist, in our image of him, does everything we are told not to do: He is violent and selfish. He neglects or betrays his friends and family. He smokes, drinks, scandalizes, indulges his lusts and in every way bites the hand that feeds him, all to be unmasked at the end as a peerless genius. Equally, he does the things we are least able or least willing to do: to work without expectation of a reward, to dispense with material comfort and to maintain an absolute indifference to what other people think of him. For he is the intimate associate of beauty and the world’s truth, dispenser of that rare substance — art — by which we are capable of feeling our lives to be elevated.

Is there a female equivalent to this image? Does the woman artist feel herself to be interchangeable with the film character, with his lusts and his genius and his rage? For it seems to me, watching such a film, that the age-old question of what it is to be her goes unasked once more. It may even be that each time the synthesizing of art with masculine behaviors is casually reinforced, we know less about the woman artist than we did before. Her existence entails a far more stringent set of justifications. In the history of visual art, her appearance is the rarest of exceptions to the male rule. But of any woman creator an explanation is required of whether, or how, she dispensed with her femininity and its limitations, with her female biological destiny; of where — so to speak — she buried the body. That same body, in Western art, is contested: It has been condensed into the propulsive eroticism of the artistic impulse; it has fueled and fed the search for beauty and its domination by artistic form. In the story of art, woman attains the status of pure object. What does her subjectivity even look like? Did the female artists who emerged in the modern era — Joan Mitchell, Paula Rego, Louise Bourgeois, Agnes Martin — navigate the styles of male cultural power by imitating them or by living at their margins? Today, when a woman artist sets out to create, who is she?

The Case For Spoilers, by Alissa Wilkinson, Vox

But about the time that the internet started to become a force in our lives, “spoiler alerts” became common, fueled by people seeking entertainment coverage online, as a way for writers and fans to warn away people who wanted to experience a movie or TV show without knowing what would happen. As readers and watchers, we want to be able to control our experience of our entertainment. And so spoilerphobia has grown. Now, the threat of spoilers is used as de facto opening weekend box-office boosters: Recently, the Russo brothers somewhat arbitrarily declared a “spoiler ban” on Avengers: Endgame until the Monday after release — a surefire way to ensure people who don’t want the movie spoiled will make an effort to see it before then.

And yet while I warn readers when I’m going to “spoil” the movie, usually in order to be able to analyze it or make a good argument, I prefer just the opposite. I love spoilers. I seek them out.

The Death Of The Rude Press, by Alex Pareene, New Republic

This is not a story about the private equity vampires ruining this specific company. It is about the implications of the fact that Splinter was not allowed to live, and Deadspin is not allowed to be political. Rude media, for lack of a better term, is dying.

What Makes Science Trustworthy, by Philip Kitcher, Boston Review

In the end, then, we should trust science when it is pursued as a collective enterprise, subject to standards recognized by the practitioners, and when the standards are derived from reliable results. Properly conducted research conscientiously uses techniques of observation and experimentation that have generated recognizably stable successes, and analyzes the results using methods that have been shown to work. Since the seventeenth century, to different extents in different fields, domains of research have acquired a rich corpus of such methods and techniques. That corpus is transmitted to young investigators in their training. It guides their subsequent research, and it supplies the standards against which their activities should be measured. As they pursue their particular projects, their mentors, colleagues, and rivals hold them to those standards.

And so the collection of solved problems grows. Physicists become able to make extraordinarily precise predictions about the behavior of elusive particles, chemists develop new techniques for reliably synthesizing compounds, biologists read and even modify the genomes of organisms, and atmospheric scientists predict with considerable accuracy how increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases will affect the frequency and intensity of various types of extreme events. Successes of these kinds are sometimes translated into products that affect our daily lives: computers and lasers and new drugs and robots—and frozen peas. When the reliability of those results is readily apparent—as in the examples with which I began: the safety of some GMOs, the importance of vaccination, the great age of the earth, and the reality of climate change, caused by human activities—withholding trust is out of place.

How To Stop Crying, by Heather Christle, The Paris Review

A kitchen is the best—I mean the saddest—room for tears. A bedroom is too easy, a bathroom too private, a living room too formal. If someone falls to pieces in the kitchen, in the space of work and nourishment, they must be truly coming undone. The bright lights offer no comfort, only illuminate. The floor should be vinyl and cold.

'The Deep' Sings With Many Voices, by Jason Heller, NPR

For all its complexity in origin and concept, The Deep is an elegantly concise and simple novel. Yetu's plight is an essential, emotionally fraught conflict between duty and sacrifice, between tradition and progress, between the individual and the common good, and between vengeance and forgiveness.

Fences, by Linda Hogan, World Literature Today

I will never think of this in the same way,
watching the woman in her daily brown skirt
throw her own body against the fence
and try to climb.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Big Data Vs. Big Dada: Writing Poetry On Demand At A New Orleans Tech Convention, by Benjamin Aleshire, Literary Hub

Making a living as a poet-for-hire with a typewriter has been a tradition in New Orleans for decades, though usually I ply my trade plein-air—setting up a folding table on Royal Street in the French Quarter. My street-office coexists alongside painters hanging their canvases on the St. Louis Cathedral gates, brass bands wailing “St. James Infirmary,” children tap-dancing with bottlecaps on the soles of their shoes, human statues and sex workers and fortune tellers. I’m part of the surreal ecosystem of artists and hustlers who populate the Vieux Carré, a neighborhood brimming with wealthy tourists, and almost entirely devoid of residents. In the past year, typewriter-poets have proliferated exponentially. Today, you might find 15 poets of widely varying quality, sobriety, and intention working simultaneously, on Royal Street in the daytime, and Frenchmen Street after nightfall.

I’ve made my living this way for eight years—here in New Orleans, and on tour in Paris, Havana, New York, London, San Francisco, Madrid. I use a quasi-Marxist system: strangers give me a topic, and ten minutes later they come back and pay what they feel the poem is worth (a wealthy banker of a sensitive persuasion, startled by a love poem composed for their spouse, might hand me a hundred-dollar bill, and I happily write poems for barefoot customers reeking of malt liquor, for free).

The Instant Pot Understands The History Of Women's Labor In The Kitchen, by Bee Wilson, Bustle

Cooking, it is sometimes said, is one of the highest forms of human self-expression. But tell that to the person who is trying to get dinner ready, children in tow, after work and before bedtime, with an imperfectly stocked pantry and nagging pings from unanswered emails.

The first time I used my Instant Pot, to make a vegetable biryani on a timer delay setting, it made me cry. This probably says as much about me as it does about this multifunctional electric pressure cooker. But still. "When we get home, there will be a piping hot dinner waiting for us," I said to my youngest son, as if announcing to a Victorian orphan that I had managed to buy him a goose for Christmas. He raised his eyebrows quizzically at the phrase "piping hot." As usual, he and I were at his after-school sports training, which annoyingly falls most days of the week during just those hours when — if only I were Michael Pollan — I would be at home, chopping an onion in a contemplative fashion. Often as not, our weeknight dinner will be food from the weekend, reheated, or a speedy omelet, or a random stir-fry foraged from the fridge. There is nothing so terrible in any of this (especially when the reheated leftovers are one of those spicy sticky stews that improve over time), but it’s the sense of time-panic and compromise that I don’t like. The first night with the Instant Pot was different. We walked in the house and smelled cloves and bay leaf and the warm scent of basmati, aromas that became still more intense when I flicked the steam valve, opened the lid and heard that happy little jingle that the machine makes when it opens or closes. Some thoughtful person had been cooking, and so many hours had elapsed since I sautéed the onion and spices and put the rice and vegetables in the pot that it did not feel as if that someone had been me.

It’s Time To Take Down The Mona Lisa, by Jason Farago, New York Times

Yet the Louvre is being held hostage by the Kim Kardashian of 16th-century Italian portraiture: the handsome but only moderately interesting Lisa Gherardini, better known (after her husband) as La Gioconda, whose renown so eclipses her importance that no one can even remember how she got famous in the first place.

Some 80 percent of visitors, according to the Louvre’s research, are here for the Mona Lisa — and most of them leave unhappy. Content in the 20th century to be merely famous, she has become, in this age of mass tourism and digital narcissism, a black hole of anti-art who has turned the museum inside out.


Stammer Time, by Barry Yeoman, The Baffler

Like virtually all disabilities, stuttering has long been viewed through a medical lens—as a pathology in search of neutralization, an obstacle to a successful life. That lens is embedded in the language of speech impediments and speech pathologists. At best, stuttering has been framed as a “despite” condition: we can be happy and productive despite how we talk.

Some of us, though, have been trying to flip the paradigm, to reframe stuttering as a trait that confers transformative powers. We wear our vulnerability on the outside, and that invites emotional intimacy with others. We slow down conversations, fostering patience. We give texture to language. We gauge character by our listeners’ reactions. We are good listeners ourselves.

The Same, But Different, by Alan Hollinghurst, New York Review of Books

Schine is an instinctively funny writer—not one of those who populate “Humor” sections in bookstores, with their demented determination to make you laugh, but a novelist of sustained light wit and great formal economy. Her scenes in this new novel are especially lean and staccato, everything counting, the dialogue concise and convincingly absurd. She knows the importance, for any good comedy, of characters who are consciously funny as well as those who are unknowingly so. To the twins’ father, Arthur, it is incomprehensible that someone as humorless as his psychiatrist brother Don “could claim to uncover the secrets of another person’s soul”; humor, Schine makes clear, is an essential means of understanding.

To some American critics, her work has seemed British in flavor, and Austen and Barbara Pym are evidently part of her lineage; from a British point of view she seems nonetheless distinctively American—the predominant subject matter of middle-class New York Jewish family life giving her novels their atmosphere, and the drily observant wit of Dorothy Parker or Dawn Powell informing their tone. In manner as well as subject, a hint of old-fashioned New York glamour from the parents’ generation persists into a world shaped by new technologies and new moralities. At its snappiest, the talk in her novels is like a very well written sitcom, shaped in short scenes, with little narrative padding. The risk entailed in so brisk and hilarious a performance is that the characters may seem more the properties of an enormous predetermined joke than plausible human beings.

'Sound Of Music' Isn't (Just) What Makes Julie Andrews Great, by Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

I do not mean to fall into the usual trap of reducing Andrews’ career to her two best-loved roles, even if it is a mistake to which she herself must be more than accustomed by now. In her charming new memoir, “Home Work” — the book that prompted the offending tweet — she briefly mentions her own initial apprehension at following “Mary Poppins” so quickly with “The Sound of Music,” of playing two genially mischief-making, musically gifted nannies in a row. And that was before she had won her Oscar for “Mary Poppins,” or had any inkling of just how successful and enduring both pictures would become.

But if Andrews experienced any later resentment at not being able to escape the shadow of her first two major movie triumphs, she doesn’t let on here. Her focus, as the title of the book emphasizes, is on the work, and particularly on the difficulties of the work. Her tone throughout is brisk, matter-of-fact and endlessly self-deprecating (“I kept feeling that I hadn’t done it justice,” “I saw places where my lack of experience showed through,” etc.), punctuated by the occasional flight into effusive gratitude.

'A Marvelous Life' Holds Stan Lee High As The Man Who Made Superheroes Matter, by Adam Frank, NPR

So how did we get here? How did superhero comics, the supposed realm of nerdy teenagers, end up conquering the world?

The answer, in many ways, comes down to a single name — Stan Lee. Across a lifetime of creativity, collaboration and endless hustle, Stan Lee saw possibilities no else could imagine and made them real. And if you want to understand how Lee and Marvel did it, Danny Fingeroth's new book A Marvelous Life is the place to start. As a lifelong fan of Spider-Man, The X-Men, Star-Lord and the rest, it was delightful introduction to a guy I'd never met but felt I'd known my whole life.

The Man In The Red Coat By Julian Barnes Review - A Belle Epoque Womaniser, by Tessa Hadley, The Guardian

Barnes tells us that he immersed himself in these past French lives partly as a respite from “Britain’s deluded, masochistic departure from the European Union”, and as a gesture against insularity. And indeed it is salutary to be so thoroughly submerged – even sometimes to the point of drowning – in abundant detail from the “distant, decadent, hectic, violent, narcissistic and neurotic Belle Epoque”, with all its fascination and its difference from us. The past liberates us from the shallowness of our absorption in the present, and reminds us that we always know less than we think about what we’re doing.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

How The Man Behind ‘The Crown’ Made The Monarchy Relevant Again, by Giles Harvey, New York Times

Morgan had never visited Buckingham Palace, though he had set many scenes within its walls. As a storyteller, he likes to seize on epochal moments from the recent past and subject them to a kind of imaginative fission, working backward from sound bites and headlines to the raw contingencies that shape history. In “The Queen,” the 2006 movie based on Morgan’s script, it was the death of Princess Diana and the royal family’s ham-fisted efforts to manage the public’s hysterical outpouring of grief. Britain has a long and honorable tradition of treating its rulers with satirical contempt; it also has a less honorable tradition, especially where the monarchy is concerned, of fawning deference. Morgan’s audacity lay in his restraint: He wanted to see the Windsors steadily and to see them whole, as neither pampered half-wits nor infallible deities. “I live with bread like you,” says Shakespeare’s Richard II, disavowing his monarchic singularity. In “The Queen,” we see the sovereign and head of state (Helen Mirren, who won the Oscar for best actress) sitting in her curlers, watching television and preparing a dismal picnic in the Scottish highlands.

When he was invited to Buckingham Palace, Morgan was finishing Season 1 of “The Crown,” a hugely ambitious piece of durational television that seeks to tell the story of Elizabeth’s reign, in all its drudgery and dailiness, from the years before her coronation, in 1953, up to the turn of the third millennium. To date, the show is estimated to have cost Netflix upward of $150 million — about twice as much as the royal family costs British tax payers each year. It is nice to look at (much nicer, certainly, than the real Britain), but what puts Morgan’s saga in a class of its own is not the luster of its surfaces but the daring with which it lifts the curtain on the whole royal enterprise. “The Crown” doesn’t feed public fantasy — it pours cold water on it.

How “The Memory Police” Makes You See, by Jia Tolentino, New Yorker

About a decade ago, Seo-Young J. Chu, an English professor at Queens College, published a fascinating and omnivorous book called “Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep? A Science-Fictional Theory of Representation.” In it, she argues that, contrary to appearances, science fiction is a mimetic discourse—that the “objects of science-fictional representation, while impossible to represent in a straightforward manner, are absolutely real.” Works of science fiction depict objects and phenomena from our world that are “nonimaginary yet cognitively estranging,” she writes, such as the sublime, or “phenomena whose historical contexts have not yet been fully realized,” or events, such as trauma, that are “so overwhelming that they escape immediate experience.”

Chu notes that the world is becoming more cognitively estranging. “The case could be made that everyday reality for people all over the world has grown less and less concretely accessible over the past several centuries and will continue to evolve in that direction,” she writes. “Financial derivatives are more cognitively estranging than pennies. Global climate change is more cognitively estranging than yesterday’s local weather.” If you’re on board an eighteen-hour flight from Singapore to New York, you have multiple plausible answers for simple questions—where you are, what time it is. Science fiction offers a way for these confounding systems and experiences to “acquire proportions that the muscles, nerves, and sinews of our bodies can recognize kinesthetically.” Chu compares the bloodless term “global village” to Isaac Asimov’s planetary city of Trantor, where forty-five billion people live under a single human-made structure. Science fiction, she writes, can “de-cliché” a figure of speech.

America's First Banned Book Really Ticked Off The Plymouth Puritans, by Matthew Taub, Atlas Obscura

Apparently, Thomas Morton didn’t get the memo. The English businessman arrived in Massachusetts in 1624 with the Puritans, but he wasn’t exactly on board with the strict, insular, and pious society they had hoped to build for themselves. “He was very much a dandy and a playboy,” says William Heath, a retired professor from Mount Saint Mary’s University who has published extensively on the Puritans. Looking back, Morton and his neighbors were bound to butt heads sooner or later.

Within just a few short years, Morton established his own unrecognized offshoot of the Plymouth Colony, in what is now the town of Quincy, Massachusetts (the birthplace of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams). He revived forbidden old-world customs, faced off with a Puritian militia determined to quash his pagan festivals, and wound up in exile. He eventually sued and, like any savvy rabble-rouser should, got a book deal out of the whole affair. Published in 1637, his New English Canaan mounted a harsh and heretical critique of Puritan customs and power structures that went far beyond what most New English settlers could accept. So they banned it—making it likely the first book explicitly banned in what is now the United States. A first edition of Morton’s tell-all—which, among other things, compares the Puritan leadership to crustaceans—recently sold at auction at Christie’s for $60,000.

Why We Wish For Wilderness, by Alex Hutchinson, New York Review of Books

For a brief instant before his canoe was sucked over the edge of a hitherto unknown twenty-five-foot waterfall in 2012, Adam Shoalts tasted triumph. For four years, he had been obsessed with the goal of paddling the entire length of the Again River, an obscure and almost unreachable waterway in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of northern Canada that, according to the annals of both historical and modern exploration, had never been navigated before. Now, as he and his battered boat plunged toward the frothing water and rocks below, he could finally confirm that existing maps of the area, derived from aerial and satellite imagery, definitely omitted some significant geographical features. Once he’d dragged himself and his battered canoe from the water, it was a moment to savor.

Shoalts grew up in southeastern Ontario as a would-be explorer who was told repeatedly he’d been born in the wrong century: there was nothing left to explore, no terra incognita in need of mapping. But he eventually spotted a loophole. Yes, the whole world had been mapped—but how well? As late as 1916, the Geological Survey of Canada calculated that the cumulative area of true blank spots on the country’s maps was 900,000 square miles, an area more than three times the size of Texas. The rise of aerial surveying soon filled in those gaps, but at the cost of accuracy on the ground. Mapping landscapes from the air, Shoalts wrote in Alone Against the North, his 2015 account of the Again River expedition, “is no more like exploration than staring at the moon through a telescope in your backyard is akin to the Apollo moon landings.”

The Fisherman’s Secret: A Modern-day Treasure Hunt, by Tara Duggan, San Francisco Chronicle

It was September 2014, and Pennisi, who goes by Joe, was 50 years old, with four decades of fishing behind him. He had sailed on commercial boats since he was 7; his father and grandfather had towed their nets in the same waters for more than a century. He had never seen anything like the object in the video. Still, Joe sensed immediately what it might be. His net often got caught on the rotting underwater husks of old ships wrecked just beyond the Golden Gate, and he knew that some of those ships — Spanish galleons, Gold Rush-era steamers — had carried treasure.

He rewound the video, peered forward and froze the frame with the yellow rectangular object. It looked for all the world like a gold bar, an ingot. For a few minutes, he stared at it while his wife, Grazia, slept beside him.

Then he started to scream.

How Bubble Tea Became A Complicated Symbol Of Asian-American Identity, by Jenny G. Zhang, Eater

Here, bubble tea, as in the material world of boba shops, is more than just a drink. Like other alimentary items that have become tokens of Asian-American popular culture — rice, dumplings, pho, soy sauce, Korean barbecue — it’s an identity. And that, of course, comes with its own complications.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Liberalism According To The Economist, by Pankaj Mishra, New Yorker

Yet the sheer variety of criticisms of liberalism makes it hard to know right away what precisely is being criticized. Liberalism’s ancestry has been traced back to John Locke’s writings on individual reason, Adam Smith’s economic theory, and the empiricism of David Hume, but today the doctrine seems to contain potentially contradictory elements. The philosophy of individual liberty connotes both a desire for freedom from state regulation in economic matters (a stance close to libertarianism) and a demand for the state to insure a minimal degree of social and economic justice—the liberalism of the New Deal and of European welfare states. The iconic figures of liberalism themselves moved between these commitments. Mill, even while supporting British imperialism in India and Ireland, called himself a socialist and outlined the aim of achieving “common ownership in the raw materials of the globe.” The Great Depression forced John Dewey to conclude that “the socialized economy is the means of free individual development.” Isaiah Berlin championed the noninterference of the state in 1958, in his celebrated lecture “Two Concepts of Liberty”; but eleven years later he had come to believe that such “negative liberty” armed “the able and ruthless against the less gifted and less fortunate.”

We All Know That We Will Die, So Why Do We Struggle To Believe It?, by James Baillie, Aeon

While you need to have undergone existential shock to really know what it is like, the experience need not yield any understanding of what you have gone through, either at the time or later. The acute anxiety induced by the state renders you incapable of thinking clearly. And once the state has passed, it is almost impossible to remember in any detail. Getting back in touch with existential shock is like trying to reconstruct a barely remembered dream, except that the struggle is to recall a time when one was unusually awake.

While granting the strangeness of existential shock, the revealed content itself is not peculiar. Indeed, it is undeniable. That’s what makes the phenomenon so puzzling. I learned that I would die? Obviously, I already knew that, so how could it come as a revelation? It is too simple to merely say that I had long known that I would die, because there is also a sense in which I didn’t – and still don’t – really believe it. These conflicting attitudes emerge from the two most basic ways of thinking about oneself, that I will call the outside and inside views.

‘From Hell To Breakfast’ Takes Readers On A Sometimes Confounding Journey. It’s Worth The Ride., by Ilana Masad, Washington Post

Sometimes a work of art invites us to abandon ourselves to bewilderment, to nonlinear narrative, and trust that our emotional responses are all part of the ride. Think of “Waiting for Godot”; for everything that play lacks – a logical narrative, any sense of closure – it remains endlessly compelling, moving, even distressing. Meghan Tifft’s new novel “From Hell to Breakfast” works in the same vein, providing a deeply satisfying and mysteriously tear-inducing story to those willing to follow this sometimes confounding journey.

Children Burst Into Flames In Kevin Wilson’s ‘Nothing To See Here’, by Ron Charles, Washington Post

Kevin Wilson scrapes away all the cloying sentimentality that so often sticks to young characters. The 10-year-old twins at the center of his new novel, “Nothing to See Here,” burst into actual flames whenever they get angry or agitated. Such pyrotechnics sound like something from the macabre world of Stephen King — another author who knows children — but that’s the most wonderful aspect of Wilson’s story: It’s entirely true to life . . . except that now and then, the kids spontaneously combust.

A Book Full Of Reasons To Love Paris, by Edmund White, New York Times

I learned so much from this book. Elaine Sciolino is a graceful, companionable writer, someone who speaks about France in the most enjoyably American way. The French pride themselves on conversing on a lofty plane; when Americans start exchanging anecdotes or matching experiences, many French people raise an eyebrow and ask, “Eh, alors?” (What’s your point?) They want to know the principle that can be drawn from all this real-life trivia. Typically, the French (for whom philosophy is a high school requirement) can brachiate from abstraction to abstraction and might become disgruntled when we Americans say, “Give me an example.” Sciolino, on the contrary, proceeds from colorful detail to revealing detail, gently informing even as she entertains.

A Poet Maps The Landscapes Of Memory, by Troy Jollimore, New York Times

And if it turns out, when one gets to road’s end, that things have no “real names,” that when no one is listening things are simply silent? One suspects that Wright would find a way of affirming that as well. “We are all going into a world of dark,” he writes in a late poem. He adds: “And that’s okay.”

'The Great Pretender' Seeks The Truth About 'On Being Sane In Insane Places', by Michael Schaub, NPR

"On Being Sane in Insane Places" was the result of a study in which eight people without mental illness got themselves admitted to psychiatric institutions — Rosenhan wanted to see whether mental health professionals could actually distinguish between psychologically well people and those with mental illnesses.

They could not, Rosenhan claimed. All of the "pseudopatients" were diagnosed with illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and remained in the hospitals for several days. As journalist Susannah Cahalan writes in her fascinating new book, The Great Pretender, Rosenhan's study had an outsized effect on psychiatry; it was "cited to further movements as disparate as the biocentric model of mental illness, deinstitutionalization, anti-psychiatry, and the push for mental health patient rights." The study was undoubtedly influential. Unfortunately, Cahalan claims, it was also likely fatally flawed.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Man’s Biggest Friend, by Tim Flannery, New York Review of Books

In January 1962, on my sixth birthday, I was taken to Melbourne Zoo, where I rode an elephant. We children climbed a scaffold and perched on rough wooden benches atop the elephant’s back, where my fingers furtively reached for a feel of its wrinkled skin. A few months later, elephant rides were discontinued, for safety reasons, at most zoos in Australia, Europe, and the US. I was dimly aware of the danger involved in mounting such an enormous beast, and the hooked ankus, or elephant goad, held by the mahout alerted me to the possibility that the creature led a miserable life. Yet I am grateful for the experience, since it sparked a respect for and love of elephants that has persisted all my life.

The Asian elephant is the second-largest land mammal on earth. Highly intelligent, immensely powerful, and with life spans as long as humans’, they have forged a unique relationship with us. Jacob Shell is a geographer whose new book, Giants of the Monsoon Forest, posits a novel and challenging view of this association. While acknowledging that elephants can suffer at human hands, Shell believes that the relationship has helped both Asian elephants and the humans who work with them to survive in the modern world.

How Aristocrats Ate Prestige TV, by Aaron Bady, The Week

In retrospect, what these shows most decisively had in common was their old-white-man obsession with American History, an insistence on an essentially Gibbon-shaped trajectory for what happened after the end of the cold war, the luxury, corruption, and decline that followed victory. Put differently, capitalized American History haunted them with the conviction that they were living at the end of American men, at the point at which it was no longer possible to be and live the way you had always thought it was your birthright to be and live, and that winning, inexplicably, had turned out to be losing. But the capitalized problem in all of these shows was successful capitalism, whether that be The Wire's Greek Tragic sense of its omnipotence, Deadwood's portrayal of how civilization brought empire-building corporate politicians and closed the frontier, Tony Soprano's half-articulated moment of revelation that he "came in at the end," or Mad Men's proleptically foregrounding the obsolescence of everything you saw on the screen. Capitalism eats it all up, especially for the men who win the game.

Knowing Paris By Its Bridges, by Elaine Sciolino, New York Times

The Seine begins to awaken at dawn. The first barges of the morning move downstream. The river police begin their patrols in fast-moving inflatable boats. The garbage trucks rumble along the quays picking up the refuse from the revelry the night before. Dogs bark. Crows caw.

I have found on the Pont de la Tournelle a special place and time in which to make Paris my own.

All that contemplation whets my appetite, and from here, I walk along the quay on the Left Bank until I reach Le Depart Saint-Michel, a 24-hour café-brasserie. A touristy place to avoid at lunch and dinner, it is a great place for people-watching over an omelet and an espresso at early rush hour and a fitting way to savor the magic of a Seine River bridge at dawn.

The Name Change Dilemma, by Hannah Howard, Longreads

A few weeks before the wedding, changing my name came up. We had talked about it before then, but it had seemed theoretical. Maybe I could just be Hannah Howard professionally. After all, names are important to writers who have been publishing for a while. They go right there next to the title, announcing the source of our work. My name is on the front cover of my book, which was published last year. But personally, I would go by Hannah Mulira. That’s Tony’s last name. It’s a nice name. In fact, it’s a royal name — did I mention that Tony is a Ugandan prince? If people wanted to invite us to a fancy party, I could envision it calligraphed in script on thick stock paper: “Dear Mrs. and Mr. Mulira, we request the honor of your presence…”

But I had no intention of changing my passport or even my Facebook page. And Tony and I are so very often, almost strangely often, in agreement.

Olive, Again By Elizabeth Strout Review – A Moving Tour De Force, by Hannah Beckerman, The Guardian

Like its predecessor, Olive, Again is made up of interconnected stories all set in a small town in Maine. It is two years since Olive’s husband, Henry, died, and grief has not mellowed her: she is still brusque, unforgiving, formidable. But beneath the hard carapace – and this is where part of Strout’s genius lies – is compassion, empathy and vulnerability, as Olive starts to feel aware of her own mortality.

Will By Will Self Review – Portrait Of The Author’s Younger Self, by Alex Preston, The Guardian

Here we have five varnished moments in time, each pulled out for inspection, each decorated with italicised flourishes (which readers will recognise from the recent trilogy) that serve to represent decoupage imports from other writers (particularly “Brother Bill” – William Burroughs), or the increasingly confident imposition of Self’s own writerly voice. If, as he says early on in the book, “there’s nothing remotely exciting about heroin addiction”, there’s more than mere nostalgic pleasure in this gleefully self-lacerating memoir of drug abuse and rehab.

The Last Of Her, by Amy Gerstler, Literary Hub

Not knowing which end of the walker to use.

Not being sure how to turn off a water faucet once it was on.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Wild Ones, by Melissa L. Sevigny, Atavist Magazine

Unnamed sources told reporters that the two women in the crew were “one of the hazards, as they are ‘so much baggage’ and would probably need help in an emergency.” They were scientists—botanists, to be precise. “So they’re looking for flowers and Indian caves,” a river runner said. “Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know they’ll find a peck of trouble before they get through.”

In fact, Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter had come from Michigan with much hardier plants in mind. Tucked into side canyons, braving what Jotter called “barren and hellish” conditions, were tough, spiny things: species of cactus that no one had ever catalogued before. Clover and Jotter would become the first people to do so—if they survived.

But the newspapers didn’t much care about that. Journalists crowed that the women had come to “conquer” the Colorado, and they fixated on the likelihood of failure. In the privacy of her journal, 24-year-old Jotter had a one-word reply: “Hooey.”

I Love Housework. Let Me Explain., by Juan Vidal, New York Times

I don’t know when my passion for certain household chores began. I think mainly of the small things, the quiet and seemingly mundane duties that bring me pleasure; sweeping, folding laundry, washing dishes. Then there’s the act of ironing. The satisfaction of seeing cotton, silk, linen and even denim smooth out and straighten gives me a kind of strange, existential high. I approach these chores like a spiritual discipline, on par with fasting and prayer. There’s something about the careful consideration required to do them well that puts me at ease.

You'll Float Away On The Warm Waters Of 'The Starless Sea', by Amal El-Mohtar, NPR

What did work for me, deeply and wholesomely and movingly, was the whole affect of the book, its warmth, its helpless love of storytelling and beautiful, polished fables. It's a book that's a pleasure to dwell in, a delicious experience to dip in and out of; I took to only reading it before bed, because it felt built of pre-dream sweetness, of that familiar, childhood longing for adventures that feel like home. When I finished it, I was uncertain of my thoughts about the whole; the next night, when I realized there was nothing left of it to read, I felt lost and sad. Take your time with it, as you would an expensive cocktail or a warm, honeyed bread. It's a lot bigger from the inside.

Kevin Wilson Is On Fire In 'Nothing To See Here', by Heller McAlpin, NPR

Temper tantrums and meltdowns. They're a bane of parenting. Often at the most inconvenient moment possible, your kid — tired, hungry, beyond reason — just loses it. And it's your job to keep your cool and calm them down. After all, you're the grownup.

Well, here's cold comfort: It could be worse. In Kevin Wilson's third novel, Nothing to See Here, kids spontaneously combust — literally — when angered or upset. Their flareups don't cause injury to themselves, but they can be seriously damaging to people and property in their vicinity. Not to mention alarming. (Sometimes, five alarm.) But also, the way Wilson plays it, a form of self-defense that's funny and even eerily beautiful.

The Summer Isles By Philip Marsden Review – A Voyage Of The Imagination, by PD Smith, The Guardian

Travel writer Philip Marsden had never skippered a boat anywhere he couldn’t reach by lunchtime. Yet he decided to sail single-handed up the west coast of Ireland and the Inner Hebrides to the Summer Isles in northern Scotland. As Marsden set out in early spring, he asked himself: “What, in God’s name, have I taken on?”

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Before Food Took Over Reality TV, There Was NBC’s ‘The Restaurant’, by Samuel Ashworth, Eater

And then, in late 2018, the Standard Hotel in New York’s Meatpacking District announced that it had hired DiSpirito to run the kitchen at its revamped Grill — not as a consulting chef who conceives a menu and leaves his crew to work out the details, but as a fully vested-and-toqued executive chef. Reviews ranged from lukewarm to spirited: “Rocco’s latest gig turns out, somewhat astonishingly,” New York’s Adam Platt wrote, “to be the opposite of a train wreck.”

But just two weeks ago, the Standard Grill announced that the chef was out after less than a year on the job, with a representative telling Page Six that DiSpirito and the Standard were “parting ways mutually and amicably.” A story published in Food & Wine days after that did not shed light on the split, but its final graf teased that it’s not the end of the comeback: “DiSpirito isn’t walking away from the industry,” Kat Kinsman wrote. “Not this time.”

Silverman puts it succinctly, “The myth of Icarus is very central to Rocco’s journey.” So as the restaurant industry, ever-hungry for gossip, chews over DiSpirito’s latest story of nearing the sun and plummeting to earth, the question seems more relevant than ever: Just what did The Restaurant do to Rocco DiSpirito?

The Strange, Sad Story Of The Ken Doll's Crotch, by Rich Juzwiak, Jezebel

As a kid, I didn’t think Ken’s crotch was funny; I found it frustrating. Every ostensibly male doll I came across, and growing up with four younger sisters, there were a lot, I pantsed in the hope of an eyeful of plastic dick. As a kid growing up in the ’80s who very much wanted to look at penises—any penis, even a fake plastic penis would do—it was a rough time. Dicks were even rarer commodities in movies and especially on TV than they are today. It was especially maddening because there were no shortage of boobs to ogle, if only I had wanted to.

Lust For Science, by Cassie Donish, Guernica

A researcher walks into a lab—and no, this isn’t the beginning of a joke in which you realize by the end that the researcher is not a man, but a woman. Remember the one about the father and son who get in a car accident? The one where the father is killed? When the boy is rushed to the hospital for surgery, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate; this is my son.” This stumps people simply because they can’t imagine a female surgeon. I guess this isn’t a joke exactly, but a riddle that gets at our cultural stereotypes about gender.

Another answer to the riddle: people don’t think about the possibility of, say, two dads.

‘Closing Time’: My Lost Literary World, by Daphne Merkin, New York Review of Books

As one grows older and reaches one’s sixties and seventies, the world grows smaller and the air seems to thin, reminding one that mortality hovers. Although all of us sustain losses—of loved ones, friends and acquaintances—at some point in our lives, it is around this time that they begin to accrete, and at an accelerating rate. To be sure, all losses leave holes in the fabric of life, but there are some that suggest, more than others, the passing of an entire realm of discourse, a frame of reference that no longer holds. The one uppermost in my mind today is the end of a distinct period in American letters, when literary culture held sway in the surrounding society, commanding respect and bestowing prestige. It was a world peopled by impressive and varied figures such as Lionel Trilling and Mary McCarthy, and, in its impassioned involvement with the life of the mind, made my contemporaries dream of gaining admission to it. That sense of an ending comes with a melancholic recognition that everything, including what once seemed to be a vibrant and entrenched style of intellectual engagement, is fleeting.

'On The Backs Of Tortoises' Challenges Us To Consider How Much Of Life Is Intertwined, by Genevieve Valentine, NPR

Nominally an environmental and social history of the Galápagos Islands, Prof. Elizabeth Hennessy lays bare the many intertwined issues that confront us as we attempt conservation efforts in complex situations, while faced with a sweeping ecological crisis.

The tortoises of the Galápagos are "keystone species and ecosystem engineers," and since sailors first began using the islands in 1535, they have been the most obvious barometer of the effect of people on an ecosystem. (Hennessy notes grimly that "three of the fifteen species" that originally populated the islands "exist only as historical records.")

After Her Illness Was Misdiagnosed As Madness, Susannah Cahalan Tackles Madness In Medicine, by Emily Eakin, New York Times

Cahalan’s condition is what in medicine is called a “great pretender”: a disorder that mimics the symptoms of various disorders, confounding doctors and leading them astray. “The Great Pretender” also happens to be the title of Cahalan’s new book, which comes out on Tuesday.

It, too, is a medical detective story, only this time at the heart of the mystery is not a patient or a disease but a member of the profession: David Rosenhan, a Stanford psychologist and the author of “On Being Sane in Insane Places,” a landmark 1973 study that, by questioning psychiatrists’ ability to diagnose mental illness, plunged the field into a crisis from which it has still not fully recovered.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Don’t Fear The Writernator, by The Economist

But to truly write, you must first have something to say. Computers do not.

How Did Being Happy Become A Matter Of Relentless Competitive Work?, by Cody Delistraty, Aeon

This imperative to avoid being – even appearing – unhappy has led to a culture that rewards a performative happiness, in which people curate public-facing lives, via Instagram and its kin, composed of a string of ‘peak experiences’ – and nothing else. Sadness and disappointment are rejected, even neutral or mundane life experiences get airbrushed out of the frame. It’s as though appearing unhappy implies some kind of Protestant moral fault: as if you didn’t work hard enough or believe sufficiently in yourself.

Why Don’t We Eat Swans?, by Joe MarczynskiJoe Marczynski, The Outline

If the reaction of my friends when I mentioned I was writing this article is anything to go by, there is an overwhelming resistance to the idea of eating swan. The idea is so universally repugnant that accusations of swan theft and consumption have been used as slurs against Eastern European immigrants in the U.K. by right wing newspapers, even if the reports were complete nonsense.

According to food historian Ivan Day, it has not always been frowned upon to eat our long-necked feathered friends.

The Starless Sea By Erin Morgenstern Review – A Myth From And For The US, by Natasha Pulley, The Guardian

The Starless Sea rejects older stories: it makes its own. Its magic is based in the New York Public Library, in glittering hotels, and the beautiful blatant kitsch of a professional fortune teller’s house. Rather than a traditional fantasy novel, this is an artificial myth in its own right, soldered together from the girders of skyscrapers – a myth from and for the US, rather than inherited from older nations. Like any myth, it refuses to decode its own symbols. A reader might find this deliberate vagueness either uplifting or maddening, but the novel’s scope and ambition are undeniable.

The Dressing-Up Box And Other Stories By David Constantine, by Ian Sansom, The Guardian

Every artistic medium – and indeed every genre within a medium, every form – has its own particular and peculiar nature that allows it to express some things better than others. We don’t expect a poem to be able to represent the nature of conflict between characters with the same range and scope as a work of drama, say, any more than we expect a novel to provide us with the same satisfactions as a sonnet. David Constantine is one of very few contemporary writers to have been able to take all sorts of routes and paths and detours and to have produced a coherent body of work over many years in a number of genres and forms.

A Strong-willed Wife, Her Devoted Husband And A Losing Battle With Cancer, by Connie Schultz, Washington Post

“Passing: A Memoir of Love and Death” is marketed by the publisher as Michael Korda’s “unflinching love song” about his wife of 40 years “and her battle with cancer.” In this instance, “battle” is more than a cancer cliche. We quickly understand Margaret to be a strong and willful woman, accustomed to being in control of her life and having her way. As her illness progressed, however, these traits that her husband had so admired in her — each of them had left marriages to be together — exacerbated his pain and complicated his ability as her caregiver. In unsparing prose, Korda, a successful author and former editor in chief of Simon and Schuster, does not excuse this about her, nor does he condemn her for it. He wanted to do for her all that he could for as long as he could, until he no longer had it in him. He never casts himself as a hero, but in his devotion, he was herculean.