We owe architect Louis Sullivan for one of the catchiest modern dicta on making things: that form should follow function. A pioneer of the steel-frame skyscraper—responsible for the Prudential (later Guaranty) Building in Buffalo, New York, and St. Louis’ Wainwright Building, both prototypes of the modern office building—and a forefather of American modernist architecture, he saw patterns in nature and felt that urban design ought to follow suit. Acorns are made to grow into oaks. Rivers are made to run. A department store should be made to welcome city dwellers and entice them to buy something. “Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight or the open apple blossom,” he wrote, “form ever follows function, and this is the law.”
Being a parent means discovering how little one knows about things that once seemed obvious, and for me one of these is: Is reading important? I hadn’t thought of it in those terms before, but once it occurred to me, I realized I’d been asking this question for a long time.
When we think of buffets, we tend to think of their 1980s and early ’90s heyday, when commercial jingles for Sizzler might have been confused with our national anthem. We think of Homer Simpson getting dragged out of the Frying Dutchman, “a beast more stomach than man.” I think of my parents going on buffet benders resembling something out of Hunter S. Thompson’s life, determined to get their money’s worth with two picky kids.
What we don’t typically think about, however, is the fast-food buffet, a blip so small on America’s food radar that it’s hard to prove it even existed. But it did. People swear that all-you-can-eat buffets could be found at Taco Bell, KFC, and even under the golden arches of McDonald’s.
Rumaan Alam's Leave the World Behind is a slippery and duplicitous marvel of a novel. When, deep into the night, a vacationing couple hears a knock at the door of their remote Airbnb rental in the Hamptons, as a reader you think, "Oh, this is a suspense story." Then, when that couple, who are white, opens the door to a couple outside who are Black and conversational awkwardness ensues, you think, "Oh, this is a comedy of manners about race, a kind of edgy riff on Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
Both impressions are correct: Leave the World Behind simultaneously continues to be a thriller and a deft comedy of manners; but, very slowly a different kind of story creeps in and takes over.
After a while, I realized that I was reading “Just Us” as a kind of grail quest. The book seeks the impossible thing, the healing thing, which is at once so impossible and so healing that it surpasses language. Like Rankine’s previous work, “Just Us” collages poetry, criticism, and first-person prose; it remixes historical documents, social-media posts, and academic studies. There’s the sense of a subject overflowing every genre summoned to contain it. There’s also a contemporary feeling, of going about one’s day—switching on the news, talking to a friend, reading an essay—at a time when all discourse seems drawn back to the magnet of race.
But where Lolita has tricked many into believing that it’s a love story, Emily Temple’s debut novel, The Lightness, creates no such illusions. Instead, Temple cleaves open the darker underbelly of girlhood, from the allure of all-absorbing female friendships to the misinterpretation of adult intentions, examining the way storytelling and memory can collide to disastrous effect. In doing so, she unspools the canonical narrative that manufactures “demoniac” girls.
Of the 16,000 books produced about Abraham Lincoln since his death 155 years ago, not one, in the view of the historian and biographer David S. Reynolds, fits the definition of a “full-scale cultural biography.” Reynolds, the author or editor of 16 books on 19th-century America, has set out to fill that void with “Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times,” a prodigious and lucidly rendered exposition of the character and thought of the 16th president as gleaned through the prism of the cultural and social forces swirling through America during his lifetime.
In the popular imagination, Mariah Carey is a caricature: the embodiment of the demanding diva stereotype (a persona she has often played up to with relish). Her first memoir reveals her to be not just in on the joke, but peeling back the layers to deconstruct it. Because, for all the dry humour that flashes through The Meaning of Mariah Carey, it is not the glitzy, gossipy celebrity reminiscence some might expect, but instead a largely sombre dive into her past that, at times, feels like therapy. Indeed, Carey says as much: “Singing was a form of escapism for me, and writing was a form of processing.”
The letters that remain are not especially “Austenian,” and they can be a little hard-hearted and judgy, which does not match very well the image of Austen in the pious biographical sketch written by her brother Henry, shortly after her death, or in the memoir by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh, published more than fifty years later, which is mainly family oral remembrance, and in which she is “dear Aunt Jane.”
The novels are not much help, either. Besides the usual difficulties involved in trying to extract a moral from works of literature, there is the problem of Austen’s irony. She is not just representing characters in her novels; she is representing the discursive bubble those characters inhabit, and she almost never steps outside that bubble. She is always ventriloquizing. Virginia Woolf compared her to Shakespeare: “She flatters and cajoles you with the promise of intimacy and then, at the last moment, there is the same blankness. Are those Jane Austen’s eyes or is it a glass, a mirror, a silver spoon held up in the sun?”
Most paperbacks were like that: cheaply made and intended for mass consumption, with no thought to their lasting longer than it took to read them. With one exception. Dover Publications, founded during the paperback boom of World War II, when light, easily portable books were popular with soldiers, was different. Predominantly a reprint company, Dover focused on titles in the public domain and used the money saved to create a genuine anomaly: a paperback built to last.
The last shelters on the Marangu route to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro are little structures known as Kibo huts, the first built in 1932. When Robert Hune-Kalter, a Colorado-based bank employee, reached the huts, in July 2019, he might have been thinking of nothing but scrambling to the top of Africa’s highest peak. But he found himself admiring their triangular shapes with their steep, green-painted gables and vertical black siding.
“I liked how symmetrical it was,” he said, “and even mentioned to my friend that it reminded me of the symmetry of a Wes Anderson scene.”
Marilynne Robinson’s books are open questions to the reader, each thoughtful, considered moment in the lives of her characters quietly inviting you to consider your own present moment in the world; not to compare circumstances, but to acknowledge that circumstances are always more than they seem. That your life, at this very moment, has meaning. It’s not always easy to appreciate that fact, and it’s not always an inviting task.
But it’s certainly rewarding. Jack, the latest novel from Robinson, has ample pleasures, rarely separable from the potent spiritual and existential concepts and stirring emotions conjured by her narrative.
The poet K-Ming Chang’s debut novel, “Bestiary,” offers up a different kind of narrative, full of magic realism that reaches down your throat, grabs hold of your guts and forces a slow reckoning with what it means to be a foreigner, a native, a mother, a daughter — and all the things in between.
People who are expecting something along the lines of the flamboyancy found in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell will be surprised at the simplicity and austerity of the writing displayed by Clarke in Piranesi. However, the book is far better for it. It is a beautiful and haunting tale that is wonderful exploration of what the mind will do when isolated.
The invention of the library as the machinery through which different lives can be accessed is sure to please readers and has the advantage of being both magical and factual. Every library is a liminal space; the Midnight Library is different in scale, but not kind. And a vision of limitless possibility, of new roads taken, of new lives lived, of a whole different world available to us somehow, somewhere, might be exactly what’s wanted in these troubled and troubling times.
Just Like You maintains that constricting societal borders, political and otherwise, can be knocked down by honest, human connection—maybe an idealized notion, but one that makes for a hopeful, compassionate read.
We’ve seen all of them appear in many stories in one form or another—misogyny and the vulnerability of women, racism and the exploitation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color, the ravaging of land, fraught or broken father-son relationships. But when put together in a setting explicitly made of occupation, appropriation, and disenfranchisement, the connecting lines become clear.
Recorded history is five thousand years old. Modern science, which has been with us for just four centuries, has remade its trajectory. We are no smarter individually than our medieval ancestors, but we benefit, as a civilization, from antibiotics and electronics, vitamins and vaccines, synthetic materials and weather forecasts; we comprehend our place in the universe with an exactness that was once unimaginable. I’d found that science was two-faced: simultaneously thrilling and tedious, all-encompassing and narrow. And yet this was clearly an asset, not a flaw. Something about that combination had changed the world completely.
In “The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science” (Liveright), Michael Strevens, a philosopher at New York University, aims to identify that special something. Strevens is a philosopher of science—a scholar charged with analyzing how scientific knowledge is generated. Philosophers of science tend to irritate practicing scientists, to whom science already makes complete sense. It doesn’t make sense to Strevens. “Science is an alien thought form,” he writes; that’s why so many civilizations rose and fell before it was invented. In his view, we downplay its weirdness, perhaps because its success is so fundamental to our continued existence. He promises to serve as “the P. T. Barnum of the laboratory, unveiling the monstrosity that lies at the heart of modern science.”
“The Secret Life of Groceries” is part investigative journalism, part history and part philosophical meditation on how humans transfer meaning to their food choices. “The entire Michael Pollan ethos is, after all, a way of making food a bridge to the past when the world was simple and purer,” Lorr writes. Food is “the perfect stage to resolve all our tensions around consumption.” Lorr explores how the food we buy (never mind whether we actually eat it) is a proxy for our values. And as those values turn into personal choices — as well-meaning as they might be — we are complicit in the cruelties of the broader food system.
It’s happy hour at the tiki bar, and even the moon has lost
its luster—the drinks, the strippers, the lunar gravity.
In the casino at the Sea of Tranquility
my sleepless nights seem labyrinthine;
I was the first of birds to sing
I sang to signal rain
Ha Jin evokes the China of Li Bai as a refraction of our own moment; Li Bai’s country before the An Lushan Rebellion was “much more open than the China of our time,” but its economic inequities will be brutally familiar to anyone in today’s Shanghai, Delhi, London, or New York. Li Bai was an egalitarian, which made him beloved in the local taverns but anathema at court.
When Fariha Róisín was 12, the idea for what would eventually become her first novel came to her in a dream. She didn’t have all the words for all that she wanted to say, but she started anyway.
Now, at 30, and with a body of poetry, personal essays and other writing that has delved deep into her own experiences with abuse, violence and shame, her book, “Like a Bird,” was published by Unnamed Press this month.
We know that dying stars can make black holes. But perhaps black holes were also born during the Big Bang itself. A hidden population of such “primordial” black holes could conceivably constitute dark matter, a hidden thumb on the cosmic scale. After all, no dark matter particle has shown itself, despite decades of searching. What if the ingredients we really needed — black holes — were under our noses the whole time?
“Yes, it was a crazy idea,” said Marc Kamionkowski, a cosmologist at Johns Hopkins University whose group came out with one of the many eye-catching papers that explored the possibility in 2016. “But it wasn’t necessarily crazier than anything else.”
Indelicacy, though, is a thing of real delicacy, with a fine, distilled quality to the writing, every word precisely chosen, precisely placed.
All About the Story has obvious value for anyone looking to understand the ways news has changed in the past five decades. Some of those lessons are not intentional. Downie ultimately illiustrates, through both his difficult ethical and editorial decisions and his occasional blind spots, that however much we want it to be "all about the story," it is also, inevitably, about the people who tell the story.
When crocheting a poem
be sure to be awake
Do not use Siri
She is forever asleep
Twenty thousand bees pursue
their queen trapped inside.
My children say I’m a person who needs a project. Unable to see friends and staying socially distant from my kids and grandkids, I made my home my project. I became a dedicated house cleaner. In May, after two months of mopping, wiping, washing, disinfecting and endlessly buying new cleaning tools on Amazon, I knew I couldn’t go on like this. I needed an escape. I needed to go back to work.
I recognized how lucky I was to be able to stay home while others couldn’t. On the news, there were families waiting in line for food in 2020 America. It was heartbreaking. What could I do? What can I do? I wondered. That’s when I emailed Steve Martin and asked him if he had time to chat. He wrote back, “I have nothing but time.”
In the meantime, I haven’t lowered my standards. My life may have changed, but I remain the same person, with the same limits. Heel or no heel, I will never, ever wear Crocs.
Three decades on, when Tara develops dementia, the adult Antara takes her into her home. It’s Antara’s internal conflict that forms the novel’s central theme: how do you take care of a mother who once failed to take care of you? Antara examines the question with a self-inspection so unflinching that it makes you catch your breath.
When it debuted in 1917, the novella won praise for its understated, finely-wrought reveal of humanity. In Goossen’s translation, it stands the test of time, simultaneously proving its enduring relevance to the themes of relationships, grief and aging, and as a perfect example of what the I-novel aims to achieve.
I used to know some stars,
now I wake from sleep, I stare
My understanding of what a poem is has been formed over a lifetime by the memory of the poems I love; the poems, or fragments of poems, that got into my head seemingly of their own volition, despite all the contriving powers of my natural idleness to keep them out. I discovered early on that a scrap of language can be like a tune in that respect: it gets into your head no matter what. In fact, I believe, that is the true mark of poetry: you remember it despite yourself.
“He sometimes says, ‘I’m not a writer, I’m a thief,’” said Kate McGrath, his friend and longtime producer. “I think that curiosity and openheartedness, and interest in listening to and absorbing other people and other cultures is probably what he describes as being a thief. But I would describe it as being an artist.”
Chief among these misconceptions is the view that feelings are innate and universal, and can be consistently measured. So, anger, for example, is thought of as a fundamental building block of human nature with a tell-tale physiological “fingerprint”; all we’ve done is gone and named it. But that idea is categorically untrue, Barrett says, and reams of scientific data now back her up.
The central voices of Sarah M. Sala’s debut collection Devil’s Lake are looking for something eternal within a catastrophic and violent world. They are looking for a time before the concreteness of the human body and its prescribed ills. They are looking for the body’s after.
It is one way of defining the adjective; but Robert McCrum helps us see just how many other dimensions there are to a “Shakespearean” sensibility. For one thing, there is the intoxicating, addictive spiral of self exploration in words, words and more words.
A professor of history at Harvard who won the Pulitzer Prize for a book on the United States’ early engagement in Vietnam, Logevall has a gifted historian’s grasp of the times as well as the life of JFK. At more than 600 pages of text, his book is long and ends four years before Kennedy is elected president. But this reader had trouble putting it down.
neither death nor life, nor angels with or without needling
pins, nor the devils we fear, nor the evils we do, nor rulers
Perhaps, as he turns 100, what ultimately explains his staying power is that despite all the evil he sees and vanquishes, Poirot remains at heart an optimist. As he discovered all those years ago at Styles, friendship, loyalty and order are the keys to a happy life. With the odd murder thrown in to keep those little grey cells busy.
“I have visited New York a couple of times, and every time I return I end up dearly missing the bagels there,” the message said. “The taste is extraordinary. I would really like to open a shop in the Netherlands.”
There was just one problem, the writer continued: “I really don’t know where to start. I am not a professional cook.” In fact, he said, “I work in the I.T. business.”
It was Ms. George’s second such email that day, and the fifth she would receive in August. There were queries from two men hoping to open a bagel shop in Pittsburgh, a five-person team outside Dallas, a woman in Sweden and another in India.
But it is the case that, once accustomed to something, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. By which I mean those depleting bars when accidentally moving out of range, or the password protected spots one can only lust after, like peering through prison bars. Speaking of which, I will never not laugh at wifi puns. My favourite ever? I Believe Wi Can Fi. You’re welcome.
Doctorow has recreated our world in all its scary detail. A brilliant book with a great main character, a riveting plot, and an incredibly topical story combine to make this an essential read.
We’re called to engage in that signal human activity: interpretation. What intuition the book requires, what detective work — and what magic tricks it performs. Stones speak, lost time leaves a literal record and, strangest of all, the consolation the writer seeks in the permanence of rocks, in their vast history, he finds instead in their vulnerability, caprice and still-unfolding story. In Svalbard, he regards the jagged coastline — one wreck companionably observing another. He quotes the painter Anslem Kiefer: “A ruin is not a catastrophe, it is a beginning, the moment when things can start again.”
The rhinestone lights blink off and on.
It all started with an innocuous TikTok video posted by a high school student named Gracie Cunningham. Applying make-up while speaking into the camera, the teenager questioned whether math is “real.” She added: “I know it’s real, because we all learn it in school... but who came up with this concept?” Pythagoras, she muses, “didn’t even have plumbing—and he was like, ‘Let me worry about y = mx + b’”—referring to the equation describing a straight line on a two-dimensional plane. She wondered where it all came from. “I get addition,” she said, “but how would you come up with the concept of algebra? What would you need it for?”
Fast forward 20 years and this land is no longer my playground: it’s my home. I have Australian children and a blue passport emblazoned with a kangaroo and an emu, animals chosen to symbolise a nation on the move because neither can move backwards easily. I too have moved forward with my life; my cross-country adventures are over.
But they say you always want what you can’t have.
There is great power, Sophie Mackintosh has discovered, in taking a familiar thing –so familiar that we no longer see it clearly – moving it to a place slightly adjacent to our world, then bringing it into closer and closer focus until we can see nothing else.
Drugs began in Aix. Those left who knew him
still talk about his hands. The size of them. His stoop
Meaning there are spiders
in the soft slinkies
runnelling our bodies.
That winter evening I was a year into my separation — poised at the cusp of divorce, at the cusp of pandemic, at the cusp of my city’s shuttering — but that night my body was close to the bodies of these strangers, whose stories I would never know. We didn’t need to speak; we were sharing the heat and the darkness, tucked away from the chill. We were sharing our very bodies, sweating and exhaling into the same thick air we were all breathing. A few weeks later — once the virus filled our hospital wards and the city plunged into quarantine — everything about that night would come to seem not only impossible but unthinkable: that closeness and casual touch, all that mingled breath and sweat. That night would eventually seem like the distillation of what we lost. But back then, it still belonged to us, our bodies shrugging and sighing, our toes curled and our foreheads beaded, our bodies leaking tears of ache and release. We were part of something together, something big and silent and many-headed. It held us all.
Mark Strand was my first. It was ten years ago on a cold but sunny March morning that I stood in the parking lot of my gynecologist’s office, waiting for a minivan to pull away and a pregnant women to enter the building. The coast clear, I taped “The Coming of Light” to a yellow post. Sunlight warmed the paper as if the words in Strand’s poem were coming to life—
Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
I took a picture, hopped in the car and sped off, my heart racing. Taping a luminous little poem to a parking lot post hardly rose to the level of guerrilla art, but still, it felt subversive. A voice in my head said, This is not what a grown woman should be doing. Another voice said, Fuck off!
Representation is having someone from your culture, your race, your community, your tribe, your hood, who you can bounce your stories off of. Who you can riff off of, who you can be inspired by. It is being able to read their story and borrow their vision of your shared home, so you can know your story is real too—so you can dream of better futures when the distance and nightmares of our past have made it too difficult to do so on our own. And so that you can do the same for your peoples, and those to come.
Sometimes, saving the world just feels so difficult. It is easy to put the idea into the too hard basket as we struggle through daily life, trying desperately to ignore that niggling guilt that says we should be doing more to save our planet.
Luckily for us, Carolyn Managh's book Penguinkind gives us a highly readable guide to saving the planet, one small step at a time.
Once she longed for a drawer filled with every color.
Once she stole a toy ring and chewed its plastic nub.
Once her dreams were motionless as summer heat.
At 2:44 A.M., the Space Control Squadron notified Jim Cooney, the I.S.S.’s trajectory-operations officer. Cooney, a NASA veteran, was asleep at home, but an app on his phone triggers a high-volume alarm for such alerts. “Your brain gets engaged really fast,” he told me. He had become accustomed to late-night calls. Only a month earlier, NASA had adjusted the spacecraft’s trajectory to dodge a fragment of a Minotaur rocket: a former intercontinental ballistic missile repurposed to ferry cargo into space.
These maneuvers have been performed more than two dozen times, and can be executed without much trouble if Houston has five and a half hours’ notice. But, when Cooney called the Air Force, he learned that Object No. 36912 would make its closest approach in about four hours. “I had them repeat the information to make sure I was doing the math right,” he recalled. Never before had the I.S.S. faced such a high probability of collision on such short notice. Moving the station was out of the question.
My editor blinked at me. She was barely into her twenties and thoughts of her own mortality were decades ahead. I, on the other hand, had just turned 40, and it was turning into something of a preoccupation for me.
“Death,” she whispered, as if the mere mention might invite it into the room.
When I was a teenager I was, like most teenagers, preoccupied with the idea that somewhere on the horizon there was a Now. The present moment came to a peak out there; it achieved a continuous apotheosis of nowness, a wave endlessly breaking on an invisible shore. I wasn’t quite sure what specific form this climax took, but it had to involve some concatenation of records, poems, pictures, parties, and behavior. Out there all of those items would be somehow made manifest: the pictures walking along in the middle of the street, the right song broadcast in the air every minute, the parties behaving like the poems and vice versa. Since it was 1967 when I became a teenager, I suspected that the Now would stir together rock ’n’ roll bands and mod girls and cigarettes and bearded poets and sunglasses and Italian movie stars and pointy shoes and spies. But there had to be much more than that, things I could barely guess. The present would be occurring in New York and Paris and London and California while I lay in my narrow bed in New Jersey, which was a swamplike clot of the dead recent past.
Piranesi is a mystery, a mystery of the mind, a way for Clarke to communicate the incommunicable. What is this place? Why is Piranesi, so wonderstruck and innocent, stuck there? Reading it, one can’t help but imagine its origins in Clarke’s own life, the years she spent sick, dissociating, wandering the rooms and hallways, Strange-like, inside her head.
In her portrayal of the ways in which individual longing and frustration unfold against the constraints of forces beyond our control, Tremain has long been one of our most accomplished novelists, and here is further confirmation.
Who We’re Reading When We’re Reading Murakami brings to light the forces that made Murakami the powerhouse of Japanese literature that he is today, but it also showcases the influence that translators, editors, and publishers have on the final product, thereby breaking apart the myth of access to the “real” voice of the author.
A decade later, “More Than a Woman” celebrates the hard-won wisdom of middle age. The humor is still there, and the anger, but also humility and joy. In her prologue, Moran acknowledges that her observations are those of a “straight, white, working-class woman,” hardly speaking for everyone but instead seeking points of connection.
My friend lives on this road
the same as me, two hollows down,
two gladed mountainsides,
It will be different –
nobody will cry,
The translator is a writer. The writer is a translator. How many times have I run up against these assertions?—in a chat between translators protesting because they are not listed in a publisher’s index of authors; or in the work of literary theorists, even poets (“Each text is unique, yet at the same time it is the translation of another text,” observed Octavio Paz). Others claim that because language is referential, any written text is a translation of the world referred to.
In recent months, I have been dividing my working day between writing in the morning and translating in the afternoon. Maybe comparing the two activities would be a good way to test this writer–translator equation.
There is a chapter in Bill Buford’s book Dirt – his hugely entertaining account of a five-year journey into the earthy, primal food culture of Lyon – in which he persuades local farmers that he should help in the killing of a pig. The blood from the animal will be used to make the pungent Lyonnaise speciality, boudin noir.
As with much of his book, Buford might have been careful what he wished for. The slaughter is a secretive and deeply traditional ritual. It becomes Buford’s job to stir the blood as it flows from the cut throat of the animal into a bucket, to prevent it from coagulating. Then, by mouth, he is required to blow up the casually sluiced intestines of the pig, ready to be filled by the blood and a mix of herbs and onions for the sausage. The chapter, which is not for the faint-hearted, gives an idea of the lengths to which the author went to get fully under the skin of his adoptive French city.
In the decades that followed, the tone of Lincoln biographies became remarkably more benign. There were hymnals in praise of Lincoln’s wisdom in assembling a Cabinet of political opponents (though all Presidents in the era assembled Cabinets of their rivals) and others on the beauty of his language (though Disraeli, in London, was as good a writer in his own way, and no one was deifying him). Spielberg’s Lincoln gave us the beatified, not the Bismarckian, President, even if Daniel Day-Lewis brilliantly caught the high-pitched, less than honeyed tones that Lincoln’s contemporaries heard. In more recent years, however, Lincoln has been under assault—not for being a militarist but for not being militant enough, for not being as thorough an egalitarian as some of the radical Republicans in Congress. Newer Lincoln biographies have been needed, and the need has been met.
Crappiness is not just a material condition but a cultural one as well: an often exuberant and wholly unapologetic expression of American excess and waste. Crap’s creep into daily life might seem like a new thing, but it began centuries ago. Over time, Americans have decided—as individuals, as members of groups, and as a society—to embrace not just materialism itself but materialism with a certain shoddy complexion.
What is it about Lucille Clifton? Not enough people know who she is, the importance of her writing. She writes about you, it feels that personal.
This collection of essays reminds us that Camus offered a more difficult kind of inspiration — the sort that does not put us at ease but makes us uneasy; the sort that does not gloss life but gazes at it with open eyes. As he writes, “I want to keep my lucidity to the last, and gaze upon my death with all the fullness of my jealousy and horror” — a line that, when all is said and done, has said and done it all.
Don’t bother Googling for a coffee mug embellished with this vow. I tried and came up empty.
Let’s open this story with my bike, because this is a cycling magazine and because it might be helpful to begin with something tactile. To call it a bike seems so informal. It’s like calling a ’67 Pontiac GTO a car, or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers a band. This is a bike, yes, in that it has two wheels and can get you from here to there. But it’s more than that. And I can’t tell you why just yet, but I promise I’ll get there. Meanwhile, take a look at the bike. It is finished in metallic black so subdued you have to lean in to see the sparkle; and if you do, you’ll notice a few scratches and dings on the tubing. It’s 44 years old, after all, older than me by two years. The frame is held together by Prugnat long-point lugs. Run your fingers over the hand-brazed butted tubing, the sloping fork crown, the 16.5-inch chainstay. Caress the Avocet Touring I saddle, the Satri-Gallet seatpost, the Cinelli handlebar, and the Campagnolo Record calipers
By rights, it should simply not be there. “All the geological and photochemical routes we can think of are far too underproductive to make the phosphine we have seen,” said Cardiff University astronomer Professor Jane Greaves, leader of the team who made the discovery. And that conclusion leaves scientists with the bizarre prospect that microbial activity – the key source of phosphine on Earth – may be occurring in the searing, acidic clouds that swathe Venus.
Not surprisingly, the news that there may be bugs on Venus made front-page headlines. It also adds a bizarre new planetary focus for scientists hunting alien life on nearby planets – a search that is now leading them to increasingly strange and unexpected parts of the solar system, from the frozen moons of Jupiter to the methane-filled lakes of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.
In the 1940s, trailblazing physicists stumbled upon the next layer of reality. Particles were out, and fields — expansive, undulating entities that fill space like an ocean — were in. One ripple in a field would be an electron, another a photon, and interactions between them seemed to explain all electromagnetic events.
There was just one problem: The theory was glued together with hopes and prayers. Only by using a technique dubbed “renormalization,” which involved carefully concealing infinite quantities, could researchers sidestep bogus predictions. The process worked, but even those developing the theory suspected it might be a house of cards resting on a tortured mathematical trick.
Instead, his intention is far more courageous. His memoir is ultimately not about judging or morality or illness or survival. It is not about Western versus alternative medicine. Greenland’s insight is akin to Warren Zevon’s famous dictum to “enjoy every sandwich.” It is about an active state of being. It is about being an active participant in one’s own life, and in one’s own health. It is about putting your ego aside, and it is about the friends and family that are actually one’s life. It is not about religion, or dogma. Yes, take the chemo. But feel free to do more if that’s the discipline you require.
Without visitors to bring them to life, all those stuffed corpses and suits of armour are utterly inert. That shard of grey stone becomes a Neolithic arrowhead only when someone imagines the hands that sculpted it or the hunter who held it aloft.
It also requires someone to tell its story and Rachel Morris’s new book is about the people who operate behind the scenes of our museums: the collectors and curators who gather artefacts and interpret their histories, labelling and arranging them to show what they were and how they were used – in the process, offering annotated glimpses of vanished worlds.
Sometimes, when I take a bath and recline
in the cool water on a hot day, I just want
to be human, undefined by profiles or history:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg used to instruct her clerks to get it right and keep it tight, so I’ll try to do the same. Only someone so stubborn and single-minded, someone so in love with the work, could have accomplished what she did — as a woman, survived discrimination and loss; as a lawyer, compelled the constitution to recognize that women were people; as a justice, inspired millions of people in dissent. (I asked her once in an interview what she had changed her mind about and she refused to answer. “I don’t dwell on that kind of question,” she said. “I really concentrate on what’s on my plate at the moment and do the very best I can.”) What made her RBG would also enact the most tragic and sickening ironies of today.
Electronic music existed in the United States before the majority of Americans had access to electricity. The lineage can be disorienting that way. It is older than hip-hop or rock, certainly, but then it is also older than doo-wop, older than bluegrass or big-band jazz. It’s old enough to have predated futurism, which, with its call for a new music that could “conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds,” might otherwise seem to have conjured it into existence. It’s old enough, for that matter, to have made Mark Twain fear death.
Hornby pulls off that surprisingly difficult feat: creating genuinely likable protagonists. We are rooting for them throughout, longing for their age-gap, class-gap, interracial relationship to work despite obstacles, while their various attempts to date more ostensibly suitable partners fail to catch fire: “there would be someone, a cheese-shop owner or a human-rights lawyer, for her somewhere”. Long discussions about Brexit, episodes of casual and overt racism, and constant ruminations about race and background fail to obscure the fact that this is, at heart, a light and enjoyable relationship novel that is thin on plot but entertaining in classic Hornby fashion.
Where Wild Thing succeeds, sometimes spectacularly, is in its retelling of the Hendrix fairy tale: the story of little motherless “Buster” Hendrix, pigeon-toed from years of too-small shoes, rising out of deprivation and the blue-cold Seattle winter to storm the spires of rock and roll. The details have a strange glimmer—neglectful Al Hendrix, as if anticipating his son’s otherworldly dexterity, is born with an extra finger on each hand.
My family asks me to try to deepen my voice,
sitting at the dinner table, my sexuality a tapestry
Back in 2019, when a person didn’t have to quarantine for two weeks each time he crossed a state border, the author and bar owner Brian Bartels cashed in all his vacation time and spent a few months visiting 44 of the 50 states. On some long weekends, he’d hit three or four. His goal? To find out where people drank, what they drank and why.
The result is “The United States of Cocktails,” a new book that enumerates, explores and celebrates hundreds of regional bars, drinking traditions, spirits, quaffs and quirks.
What do Woody Allen, Roger Stone, thimerosal, and adult coloring books have in common? It sounds like the kind of dystopian crack that should only have a punch line. And yet, there is an answer, and the answer is Skyhorse Publishing.
As a fellow resident of Stratford-upon-Avon, I have long known Shakespeare’s writings to be full of gardening wisdom, and while watching a film of Romeo and Juliet recently, I found yet another example. What words of horticultural truth the old Franciscan, Friar Laurence, utters: “For naught so vile that on the earth doth live/But to the earth some special good doth give.” I thought immediately of my compost bins, simmering in the corner of the garden.
“Of all the works I have to confront, this is probably one of the simplest,” Ms. Stringari said. “It’s duct tape and a banana,” she added.
The conservation of conceptual art is not always so straightforward for museums increasingly asked to preserve works made from of all kinds of ephemeral substances, like food.
In her new book, “You Talkin’ to Me?”, E.J. White of Stony Brook University celebrates the disputatious, never-let-them-call-you-a-sucker language that is New York English. Ms White reckons a conversational manner that might be called “assertive” by, say, polite Britons, is, for New Yorkers, not rude but the opposite: a sign of engagement, and therefore of warmth. Patient, slow-paced styles can, to the New Yorker, seem aloof.
rattled in airshaft windows fifty years ago
when you put Doc and Merle on the RCA
There is nothing better for a child than to grow up at the ends of the earth. There’s not much traffic there, so the asphalt is free for roller-skating, and parents don’t have to worry about any bad guys roaming around. What business would a bad guy have on a dead-end street?
But Nunez’s project has grander designs than mere literary satire or clever portraiture (though streaks of these spice the prose). It will meditate — at length, in earnest, often graphically — upon whatever life, death and love can presently mean.
“I wanted to write about paintings, but I wasn’t seen as someone who could say something interesting about art” – thus we are introduced to the ambitions of Vitória, a poor cleaning woman at an art museum. Indelicacy is the story of her desire for subjectivity in a world that has only offered her subjection.
What is refreshing is the absence of the usual adulation of an exceptional mind and celebration of triumph over adversity. In their place is a tender account, full of genuine affection, which doesn’t shy away from Hawking’s intense focus, self-centredness, unpredictability and the difficulties faced by his wives and carers.
Late is never.
This is why we can’t.
Half in, half out of my dream:
deer wander in a bright auditorium.
But even as the Rubik’s Cube conquered the world, the publicity-averse man behind it has remained a mystery. “Cubed,” which comes out this week, is partly his memoir, partly an intellectual treatise and in large part a love story about his evolving relationship with the invention that bears his name and the global community of cubers fixated on it.
“I don’t want to write an autobiography, because I am not interested in my life or sharing my life,” Rubik said during a Skype interview from his home in Budapest. “The key reason I did it is to try to understand what’s happened and why it has happened. What is the real nature of the cube?”
Before I was a translator, I was a musician, and I have always been attracted to texts in which sound is important—a certain rhythm, a certain feel for how language can sing more than say: the understanding of language on which poetry rests.
I hold my father’s copy of Mein Kampf in my hand and wonder if it should be saved, donated, or burned in the backyard. Will the day arrive when I attempt to hack my way through Hitler’s turgid opus? Or do I want to observe the look on the face of the clerk at the local donation center when she sees that noxious title? And what was Leo Greenland, husband, father, grandfather, successful advertising executive and generous supporter of multiple charities—some of them Jewish—doing with a paperback edition of Mein Kampf anyway? Bequeath, retain or incinerate: Our choices.
Any opportunity to contemplate Lorde would be a cause for celebration. “The Selected Works of Audre Lorde,” edited and introduced by Roxane Gay, arrives at an especially interesting moment, however. Lorde’s writing has rarely been more influential — or more misunderstood.
When the strange girl skips rope her hair flies
like a porpoise. She collects things that melt
When a fish is in crisis, the public wants to blame the fishermen. It is preferable to blaming ourselves. But a fish whose only problem was overfishing, a fish stock that could be saved simply by a ban on all commercial fishing, would be very rare. It would be an enviably easy problem to fix.
The salmon is as magnificent an animal as anything on the Serengeti – beautiful in its many phases; thrilling in its athleticism; moving in its strength, determination and courage – and it would be a tragedy if it were to disappear. All that is true, but a more important point is that if the salmon does not survive, there is little hope for the survival of the planet.
In many ways, Covid changed the stakes. It reminded me that life is short and the best thing I can do is live it – not endure it, but really live it. Even though days in isolation often feel very long, this life is a one-off. It’s not ideal, but it’s all we have.
Clarke has explained that chronic fatigue syndrome kept her from embarking on another 800-plus page enterprise. But “Piranesi,” out this week after 16 years between novels, is a little imp of a book that packs a punch several times its (relatively) meager page count. I’d worried that, all these years later, Clarke might have grown timid, seeking a breather from all the grand historical world-building. Instead, she creates a dazzling world of infinite fascination inside the musings of one very simple man.
From its opening page until its final lines, Graham’s 15th collection of poetry has the heightened urgency of a young writer’s debut. True to its title, it hurtles forward. Poems pour forth, frothing and pooling and threatening, at times, to overflow their banks.
all those girls
their paper knees
folding under them
Literature departments should be about literature. There. I’ve said it. My radical response to the current crisis is out and on the table. It won’t solve the problem tomorrow or even the day after. But in time, making English departments about literature—about novels, poems, plays, and the rest—could begin to deliver them from their impending dissolution.
So while online platforms cannot replicate physical intimacy, they must serve – for this duration – as champions of our methodologies. I realise that visiting people of a certain generation is not possible or safe at the moment, despite how time-bound the collection of their stories remains. It has taken me a while to understand this and reconfigure my own research to fit the parameters of the pandemic. My hope is that during this time, the quality we inherit is that of conversation and empathy within our families – something quintessential to Oral History and something that often gets lost in the busyness of everyday life.
Patience is required in number theory, where the questions are often easy to state but difficult to solve. “You have to think about the problem, maybe for a long while, and care about it,” Nielsen said. “We are making progress. We’re chipping away at the mountain. And the hope is that if you keep chipping away, you might eventually find a diamond.”
It’s hard to convey the breadth and brilliance of this work. Exploiting his skills as playwright and essayist as well as novelist, Akhtar depicts an immigrant family’s experience of the American dream through a son’s relationship with his father, and dissects the erosion of truth, decency and hope in a nation shaped by debt and money.
And yet, in the final analysis, Schalansky’s core message remains true: in looking for lost things, we necessarily reorient ourselves. Remembering isn’t inherently heroic, but forgetting our own responsibility to the present is tragic. Indeed, our task is to engage in politically motivated, thoughtful memory projects.
From youth I was taught that fresh meant alive
until the moment you buy it My mother
The real issue emerges here: The words “license ebooks” are the most important ones in the whole lawsuit.
Publishers approve of libraries paying for e-book licenses because they’re temporary, just like your right to watch a movie on Netflix is temporary and can evaporate at any moment. In the same way, publishers would like to see libraries obliged to license, not to own, books—that is, continue to pay for the same book again and again. That’s what this lawsuit is really about. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that publishers took advantage of the pandemic to achieve what they had not been able to achieve previously: to turn the library system into a “reading as a service” operation from which they can squeeze profits forever.
At the start of lockdown in March, with months of home-time stretching ahead of us, I decided to try to interest my son in Spider-Man. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if we liked and admired the same superhero? Wouldn’t it make me a more useful and three-dimensional dad? Like many parents, grandparents, godparents, carers, aunts, uncles, older cousins and other interested parties before me, I was about to embark on the desperately sensitive work of passing on an allegiance to a child. If you’re a family of football devotees, the indoctrination has to begin young, against the terrible possibility of a child from (say) a Sheffield Wednesday or a Charlton Athletic household coming home one day with admiring words for Liverpool or Chelsea. This is how lifelong family schisms begin.
The pandemic has a way of constantly reminding us that our lives are deeply intertwined. But it also shrinks our daily existences into small, isolating little worlds. Every day presents a new way to feel helpless, a new wrinkle of loneliness. We can’t counter the current risks of the outside world on our own. But we can find agency, even comfort, in their smallness. We can mow our backyards, or even just tend the flowers in our windowsill, and ready them for a time when we can share them — and ourselves — again.
Spending time with her, I’m reminded that so much of what we consider a happy, successful life is largely made up in our own minds, and often the product of ego and lack of fulfillment in other ways. She wants an array of simple things, but they are joyful: walks in nature, naps in the afternoon, a delicious treat. It reminds me that humans need all those things, too, now more than ever.
This funny and plangent book is shot through with an aching awareness that though our individual existence is a “litany of small tragedies”, these tragedies are life-sized to us. It’s difficult to think of any other novelist working now who writes about both youth and middle age with such sympathy, and without condescending to either.
Both a borrower and a lender be--
Books are a product unlike most others. Novelists are not iPhones. The new doesn’t render the old obsolete. No matter how much you loved Sally Rooney, you would not suggest that because of her, Oscar Wilde is history. An adoration of Emma Cline would not lead you to say that she eclipses Joan Didion. One does not replace the other. Yet this is how Haruki Murakami was introduced to the world stage.
Books like these are intensely personal by nature, packed with the recipes that everyday people believe are good enough to share with the world. These recipes aren’t tested by a chef in a professional kitchen over the course of a couple of months; they’re honed over decades of Thanksgiving dinners and Thursday-night suppers with family crowded around the table. A lot of times, somebody’s “secret family recipe” for pumpkin pie is just the recipe off the back of the can of Libby’s pumpkin puree. But that often doesn’t matter, once recipes have been passed down, and when someone forever immortalizes their family’s most beloved recipe in their church’s cookbook, everyone who reads that book is better for it.
What is an astrophysicist to do during a pandemic, except maybe daydream about having a private black hole?
Although it is probably wishful thinking, some astronomers contend that a black hole may be lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. All summer, they have been arguing over how to find it, if indeed it is there, and what to do about it, proposing plans that are only halfway out of this world.
You Can Go Home Now can serve as a primer for plausible plotting, including clever, offbeat asides and subplots scrupulously woven through the narrative to keep the story compelling. “That’s the thing about murder. You just don’t kill one person; you spread death in little ripples like a pebble tossed in a pond.”
Elias proves himself equally at ease in the inner workings of a big-city police department and a 31-year-old woman’s introspective mind.
This book is like the moment when you go to a familiar outside place and suddenly you see some amazing thing you had never expected, like the time recently in one of our fields I saw a peregrine falcon take down a pigeon with a bulletlike thud out of the gray sky, and then, earthed, mantle it beneath its wings, then rip it to bloody red shreds, surrounded by wisps of fluffy down. Suddenly the sky and the field felt different and every one of my senses was in hyperdrive.
Because the law, I hear, is a technology
of power, I frenzy on a Sunday night
in search of wooden pencils
needed for the LSAT.
As we try to manage our dispositions, we need two things. First, we need perspective; second, we need tranquility. And it’s voices from the past that can give us both—even when they say things we don’t want to hear, and when those voices belong to people who have done bad things.
He was known, within a wide circle of family and friends, for this dish, and for making it on request. He emailed me the recipe when I was in my early 20s — that was when we emailed each other a lot. I followed the directions as closely I could, but the dish wasn’t as good as his. Not because of the veneer of nostalgia. Not because he was the kind of cook guided by instinct, or the kind who withheld his technique — he did, in fact, measure things, and when he was asked for a recipe, he gladly shared those measurements. I think his kofta was better because he was really good, better than most other people, and definitely better than me, at every step of the dish. He paid attention. He cared. And that’s that.
Howard argues that decluttering is not just a personally liberating ritual, but a moral imperative, a duty we owe both to our children and to the planet. “As Boomers age, move into smaller places, or die, their Gen X and Millennial relatives are called on to step up and clean up after them,” Howard writes. To leave behind a mountain of belongings for others to dismantle, Howard writes, “replicates, on a personal level, the shortsightedness and abnegation of responsibility that have handed us climate change. It’s too much trouble to sort out all this stuff; dealing with it just reminds us that we’re going to die anyway and that none of it matters. Let the kids deal with it.”
If you weren’t here, I’d fear the surge
of surf. I’d watch the moon wax and wane,
The wisdom in all this is that ghosts—and the hauntings they offer—can’t exist without opportunity. And by opportunity, I mean space. Ghosts need sizable real estate if we’re expecting them to haunt us effectively. A ghost town, for example, is far more powerful in its capacity for eerie wonder than a ghost gazebo. The abandoned town’s scale sets the imagination alight, while the abandoned gazebo inspires an HOA complaint—unless, of course, the gazebo in question stands in the middle of a vast, uninhabited desert. But in this instance we still need space.
In 2017, AlphaZero showed it could teach itself to roundly beat the best computer players at either chess, Go, or the Japanese game Shogi. Kramnik says its latest results reveal beguiling new vistas of chess to be explored, if people are willing to adopt some small changes to the established rules.
The project also showcased a more collaborative mode for the relationship between chess players and machines. “Chess engines were initially built to play against humans with the goal of defeating them,” says Nenad Tomašev, a DeepMind researcher who worked on the project. “Now we see a system like AlphaZero used for creative exploration in tandem with humans rather than opposed to them.”
The square nail he took from a fence in Colonial Williamsburg became a story he could tell. His P-38, a small metal multitool that used to be part of U.S. Army rations kits, became a tactile vestige of his youth. Stones he plucked from lands he’d never see again became references to who or where he’d like to be. He even gave me a charm of my own: my first year at Beloit College in Wisconsin, he picked a metal nameplate off a paper machine with BELOIT pressed into the design and sent it in the mail. They make our paper machines in Beloit, he wrote, to remind me of the small Maine paper-mill town where I was from. I wish I knew what happened to that nameplate and its emotional residue once held close by my father’s hand.
Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger is about the multiple hungers that Donovan has been driven to satisfy in her life — for wonderful food, certainly, but also for love and community and for gratifying work that can support a family. It's not too much to hope for, is it? But as, Donovan chronicles, it can take women a while to muster up the sense of self to know they can do more than just hope.
Books of popular science usually celebrate the wondrous achievements that applied mathematics has wrought in the realms of physics, chemistry and cosmology. Labatut, born in Holland and resident in Chile, will have none of it.
It is the sink of the afternoon
the children asleep or weary.
Drawing together first- and third-person perspectives, critique provides languages to dissect, persuade, dispute, enlist, encourage, propose, invent, and imagine, so that others may do so as well. Through second-person address—such as that employed by the prisoner—critique may summon forth new solidarities and emergent communities. Working at its own pace, critique can reveal the ethical wellsprings of people’s political commitments, so they know better why they act and what they can hope for.
Writing in 1961, at the founding of the Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) movement, Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, two of France’s most significant postwar literary experimentalists, wondered to one another “how few words can make a poem?”
How did life originate? Scientists have been studying the question for decades, and they’ve developed ingenious methods to try to find out. They’ve even enlisted biology’s most powerful theory, Darwinian evolution, in the search. But they still don’t have a complete answer. What they have hit is the world’s most theoretically fertile dead end.
No, I don’t think readers weren’t interested. It’s that they were told not to be interested. The algorithms had already decided my subjects were not breaking news. Those algorithms then ensured that they would never be. When I took my final bow, the room was already empty.
Despite their differences, these essays come together to assert the value of the writer’s vocation. Whatever her subject or tone, Erpenbeck keeps coming back to how her work enables us to know the unknowable, especially in our ever-changing heads and hearts. “It takes an entire lifetime,” she contends, “to unravel the mysteries of our own lives,” and in that task we have no better tool than fiction, poetry, drama — or even memoir.
However strong your readerly constitution, it might feel like a peculiar time to pick up a book so mournful and gory. And yet, I went to it every day without dread, with, in fact, a gratitude that surprised me. It was the gratitude of not being condescended to.
In this age of anxiety about cultural appropriation and suchlike, kudos to Nick Hornby’s bold move in Just Like You. He narrates one half of it from the point of view of a working-class black man in his early 20s and the other half from the point of view of a 42-year-old middle-class white mother. And, what’s more, he makes a social comedy of the two of them falling in love, one that gently dramatises their differences of class, race and generation.
Through her celebration of nature—and herself—Nezhukumatathil explores how it connects her to family and has played a role in building her own; in particular, nature becomes a lens through which to view motherhood. Nezhukumatathil reflects on the generosity and resilience of her own mother, a doctor who worked at a hospital for the criminally insane and faced racism from inmates and their families. “How did she manage to leave it all behind in that office, switching gears to listen to the ramblings of her fifth and sixth-grade girls and their playground dramas, slights, and victories?” Nezhukumatathil wonders.
Before walking to work, and in still-falling snow,
my father in hat, suit, topcoat, and galoshes
For the past few months, most of my adult exchanges have begun with the question: “How are you doing?” and the answer: “Holding it together.” This is an exchange I am used to. When my wife died, two years earlier, I heard many times that I should “hold it together for the children.” Grievers are often expected to hold it together, even if only for the sake of those around them.
Holding it together (as apt a phrase as any for this moment of self-isolation, anxiety, and political failure) implies that there is something coming apart. But what? Commonly, people use the phrase without any specific object, to emphasize not whatever is being held together, but their own efforts to cope. In other words, one’s life is not the it coming apart. The it is one’s sense of reality—touching one’s face, standing closer than six feet apart, shaking hands, face-to-face learning—which is directly related to a sense of what is unreal, what is not normal. In other words, unlike actual reality (if such a thing exists), one’s sense of reality consists of what makes one real to oneself. When your sense of reality comes apart, so does your sense of self.
This year, there was no Bayreuth Festival, no Mostly Mozart, Tanglewood, or Aix. But one concert, in a dilapidated medieval church in eastern Germany, could not be canceled, because it had already started — more than 18 years before the coronavirus pandemic struck. And it’s not scheduled to end until the year 2640.
On Saturday, a small crowd of mask-wearing music enthusiasts gathered in the church, St. Burchardi, in the town of Halberstadt, about 120 miles southwest of Berlin. The occasion was the first sound change in almost seven years in the slowest concert in the world: an organ recital of a piece by the American composer John Cage. It was the 14th chord change since the concert began on Sept. 5, 2001, on what would have been Cage’s 89th birthday.
I don’t know how Ruth Ware manages to keep up her pace of writing such fine and distinctive suspense novels every year (even Christie needed to take a break every so often); but, on behalf of suspense lovers everywhere, may I say that I’m grateful she has turned out to be a marathoner, rather than a sprinter.
Reading Sigrid Nunez’s absorbing new novel is somewhat akin to having a long conversation with someone who is telling you something very important, but is telling it in a very quiet voice. You have to really pay attention. Be assured, however, that the experience will be worth it. You will emerge calmer, meditative, more thoughtful, as if you have benefited from an excellent literary massage of sorts.
Down in the basement, jacked on Kimbo,
I’m screwdriving chunks of OxiClean
into the washer.
In America, the New Deal’s mobilization of artists helped enshrine creative expression as a public good. The institutionalization of art resulted in new standards and types of credentials (M.F.A. programs began only in the late thirties), as well as more nuanced distinctions between professionals and amateurs, high culture and low. The twentieth-century proliferation of American music, writing, film, and visual art was nurtured both by the state—American culture became a key export during the Cold War—and by new industries that had arisen to manufacture, distribute, and sell such wares. The sheer size of these industries up until the two-thousands guaranteed the livelihoods of a range of people—executives and managers, but also those engaged on the technical side of things, to say nothing of the mid-level hopefuls and critics’ darlings whose careers were essentially bankrolled by a company’s superstars.
The Internet was supposed to free the artist, and to democratize and de-professionalize the practice of art. In some measure, it did—while also demonetizing art itself.
You might assume that this curious story of how the Church narrowed the criteria for marriageability would be relegated to a footnote—a very interesting footnote, to be sure—but Joseph Henrich puts the tale at the center of his ambitious theory-of-everything book, The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. Consider this the latest addition to the Big History category, popularized by best sellers such as Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. The outstanding feature of the genre is that it wrangles all of human existence into a volume or two, starting with the first hominids to rise up on their hind legs and concluding with us, cyborg-ish occupants of a networked globe. Big History asks Big Questions and offers quasi-monocausal answers. Why and how did humans conquer the world? Harari asks. Cooperation. What explains differences and inequalities among civilizations? Diamond asks. Environment, which is to say, geography, climate, flora and fauna. Henrich also wants to explain variation among societies, in particular to account for the Western, prosperous kind.
The sky was lowering slowly, the great blue weight of it, and we could feel the air being squeezed out of the world. The height of the sky was unpredictable—it appeared a little lower one day, the shadows longer, and the next day the sky had been cranked back up. Some people looked around those days and said, see? It will go back to normal, just wait, and others said, but look.
Each day I hope for the familiar aromas and flavors to come back. I wait like the rest of us, for the things I love to return.
Moran proves herself, once more, a sage guide in the joys, as well as the difficult bits, of being a woman – of being a partner, mother, friend and feminist.
With its intimate tone, honesty and humour, The Shift sits comfortably within the “menopause memoir” genre. Baker divulges her midlife biological embarrassments and steadily softballs the book’s ultimate journey, away from shock and self-pity towards focus, harnessed anger and recalibration.
Acccording to Diana Darke, the thing called “gothic”, versions of which (Notre-Dame, Houses of Parliament) have been claimed as the national style of several northern European countries, which theorists such as John Ruskin and Augustus Pugin saw as quintessentially Christian, is deeply indebted to Arab and Muslim builders in the centuries following the life of Muhammad.
You say them as your undertongue declares,
Then let them knock about your upper mind
Until the shape of what they mean appears.
At half past two in the afternoon
You can find me in twenty-eight room,
About three or four covers deep;
Looking back to 2003, everyone involved in the publishing of Eats, Shoots & Leaves has reason to be proud, but at the time we were as surprised as anyone. Who knew there were millions waiting for a funny book on punctuation? Certainly I didn’t. My last novel had sold poorly (and I’d received a large advance), which made me poison as far as another publishing contract was concerned. So I decided that the next book must have intrinsically modest aims. The punctuation idea seemed ideal. Surely no sane publisher could ever say to me: “Lynne, I have to tell you that your book on punctuation has failed.”
When Jo Gwi-bun married Yi Don in the 1980s, he handed her a book of his family’s recipes and insisted she use them. “Of course, I had never heard of the book before, and I had no idea how to read the text. It wasn’t even written in modern Korean!” the 71-year-old woman, now known as Lady Jo, exclaims.
Lady Jo soon discovered the book was no ordinary compilation of family recipes. Instead, it was a centuries-old artifact credited as the first-ever cookbook in hangul, the Korean alphabet. Written by Lady Jang Gye-hyang around the year 1670, the manuscript is titled Eumsik-dimibang, or “Understanding the Taste of Food.” Some historians even believe it could be the first cookbook written by a woman in all of East Asia.
“I like the food here,” my dad would unfailingly say to me as he pulled open the aluminum-framed, oil-smudged glass door at Sun Lok Kee, a Mott Street stalwart that served beef chow fun and other Cantonese classics at any hour of the day until it burned down in 2002. “It has that nice smoky flavor.” My family moved to New York in the early ’80s, when I was 4-years-old, and those stir-fries from Sun Lok Kee, with their savory char and smoky aroma, are among my first and fondest taste memories.
Wok hei is the Cantonese name for that aroma (literally “wok energy” or “wok breath”). My dad has always been a wok hei fiend, first scouring the streets of Chinatown and later the suburbs of Boston for smoky clams in black bean sauce, fire-kissed stir-fried greens, beef chow fun that almost tastes grilled, or noodles that are singed just right.
They sent out a dove: it wobbled home,
wings slicked in a rainbow of oil,
a sprig of tinsel snagged in its beak,
a yard of fishing-line binding its feet.
If it was a clear day, you saw the suggestion of a city
far to the east. Every summer, I imagined that it was
several centuries ago: this was a safe hiding place
This is important to keep in mind, because for the past year, I had been living in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in China’s South West. It is a city of 16 million people, known for its pandas. It is also one of the most famous culinary cities in China, a place synonymous with spicy food and bubbling hot pot. It is a city enthralled with the nostalgic flavours of the past. It was a city where I was constantly challenged to think about the flavours of my childhood. It wasn’t just that strawberries grew in winter; it was that everyone seemed to be able to draw to mind the flavours of their childhood so readily. My childhood’s flavour happened to be a Norman strawberry. It was a marker of my foreignness, a more subtle reminder than the obvious linguistic, cultural and physical differences that set me apart from my friends in the city.
Wherever I would go in Chengdu people would always talk about the flavour of their childhood – in mandarin wo xiaoshihou de weidao. I’d go out to eat with friends and, disappointed, they’d say that the twice-cooked pork was good, but no, it was not their childhood flavour bu shi wo xiaoshihou de weidao. We’d go to a restaurant because someone had said it was definitely still making food that was their xiaoshihou de weidao, only to go and find out that something had changed, and it was no longer quite that. The famous clear jelly dessert that people eat in Chengdu, well, it was now made with a manufactured power and so of course, it had lost the flavour of people’s childhoods. There were countless examples. Once I became attuned to this phrase, I heard it everywhere.
When everything is named for its discoverer, it can be impossible even to track the outline of a debate without months of rote memorization. The discoverer’s name doesn’t tell you anything about what the landscape is like, any more than the “Ackerman” in Ackerman’s Island helps to convey a sandbar in downtown Wichita. Except in a few one-hit-wonder situations where a famous mathematician had extremely narrow tastes (like an Ackerman who, as everyone knew, could only live on sandy substrates, and never left the state of Kansas), their name gives no mnemonic boost whatsoever. Whatever faint associations it might once have held fade away, especially when the discover was neither famous nor narrow, and the reader is several generations removed.
In a Thursday phone interview with The Washington Post, Christensen said he’s “100 percent serious” about his petition to eliminate the term “boneless chicken wings” from menus, not just in Lincoln but across the country. I asked if there were perhaps a few tongue-in-cheek percentage points in there somewhere.
No, he said. The country is dealing with so many complex and important issues right now, he added, “that we might not ever accomplish them in this generation. It is imperative, especially right now with how everybody is feeling in the global climate, that we have a win. We need to have an issue that we can accomplish. We can accomplish it quickly. This is it.”
It’s commonly held that buildings are inhabited by ghosts, less common, however, is the idea that buildings, and the contaminated ideas contained within their construction and political contexts, can also haunt us. As the title of the collection suggests, the haunter and the haunted is given an atmospheric exploration through a variety of well known Brutalist buildings, with their currently maligned positions juxtaposed against the optimism at the time of their construction.
I said before that “Why I Don’t Write” is a quiet collection, but it is not a halting or timid one. Minot still has a poet’s instinct for the surprising volta, the striking image, the bracing final line. After 30 years away from the short story, it is good to have her back, cleareyed and fearless as ever, whispering difficult truths and ambiguities that a less assured writer would feel compelled to shout.
Wittgenstein’s intent is to show what can be meaningfully expressed, but also, more important, to gesture at what lies beyond our ability to express. And a great deal lies beyond. One is left, in Wittgenstein’s words, to “wonder at the existence of the world,” which is precisely the opposite of explaining it fully. Philosophy is the activity of climbing a ladder, and once you reach the top, the ladder disappears.
In the beginning was the word. In schools
the welfare state built, we in the Bogside,
Some days stretch on forever, losing all meaning of conventional time.
One hour spills into the next, and it is as if even the Earth is relearning how to function, too.
Is this my second or third cup of tea?
The Nights, therefore, is a prime exemplar of a literary tradition that gives us a blueprint for surviving, even flourishing, in lockdown: the loiterly narrative. The texts in that tradition show us how to travel without moving, how to thrive in stasis. At a time when destinations are health hazards, this type of story teaches us to indulge in a different kind of journey, to avoid straight lines, to wander in place.
I like flowers all right, I suppose. I like having them around, I like how they smell. I like their delicate skins, their manner of shedding yellow everywhere in a fine powder. I try to stop on the street, when I can, to bend down and look directly into their faces. I have mild flower preferences, in a bodega-selection way: ranunculus over chrysanthemums, peonies over roses, lilies over hydrangeas. Having lived in New York City my entire adult life, bodega-flower choice has been more or less the extent of the relationship.
Shruti Swamy’s debut story collection, A House Is a Body, vibrates with life on every page. Her characters are often grieving a loss or working through a major transition. They suffer through the depths of depression or anxiety and either feel abandoned or struggle to be present for those around them. Though these scenarios can sound dark, the book is full of moments of levity and light. Swamy so vividly depicts her characters, that in reading, one melts into their lives.
This is in part due to Swamy’s keen awareness of the pleasures of the body.
In her book, learn a strange country within this larger, stranger country. Trace the etched scars of dams and the taking of water. Sit with the incompatibility of loving one’s home as it is now, while also wishing to have it back the way it looked before, before the water was taken, before your mother died, before you were even born to her, or she to her mother. Atleework asks and tries to answer these questions of her family, herself, her land. Her Pop makes and sells maps of the region; in a way, now, so does she.
Mr Wilson has built a distinguished career by deploying insights from the biology and behaviour of ants to present larger lessons about evolution, ecology and the extent to which human psychology can be explained by natural selection. As its title suggests, “Tales from the Ant World” is a short, loose-jointed and conversational book. It lacks the ambition of works such as Mr Wilson’s “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” (published in 1975) or the panoramic sweep of “The Diversity of Life” (1992), but it is filled with delightful accounts of a naturalist in action and enough hard science to keep readers on their toes.
as Erving went higher
and now began
to extend his right hand in a precise arc
beginning precisely above his head,
I’ve come to realize I’m very much a writer of the sentence. Since my phrasing is plain and spare, I didn’t always think I was. Long, rich, complicated sentences in which a surprise is hidden – I thought the ones who wrote them were the real sentence writers. And they are; I love to read them. But I see now that I hide things in my sentences too. I thought because I write slim books, I was already working within the smallest unit possible, which is a unit I like, where I write best. Now I see that sometimes my focus gets even smaller, and that I am not always writing a sentence to tell a story, exactly, but simply to be in the space of a sentence, to make things appear in it, to see what is possible.
This might not sound like the secret to interstellar travel, but if that small lurch can be sustained, a spacecraft could theoretically produce thrust for as long as it had electric power. It wouldn’t accelerate quickly, but it could accelerate for a long time, gradually gaining in velocity until it was whipping its way across the galaxy. An onboard nuclear reactor could supply it with electric power for decades, long enough for an array of MEGA drives to reach velocities approaching the speed of light. If Woodward’s device works, it’d be the first propulsion system that could conceivably reach another solar system within the lifespan of an astronaut. How does it work? Ask Woodward and he’ll tell you his gizmo has merely tapped into the fabric of the universe and hitched a ride on gravity itself.
Sound impossible? A lot of theoretical physicists think so too. In fact, Woodward is certain most theoretical physicists think his propellantless thruster is nonsense. But in June, after two decades of halting progress, Woodward and Fearn made a minor change to the configuration of the thruster. Suddenly, the MEGA drive leapt to life. For the first time, Woodward seemed to have undeniable evidence that his impossible engine really worked. Then the pandemic hit.
I saw my 8-year-old son go over a waterfall.
At this point, before I tell you more, I need to tell you that he’s fine. Because when I tell this story, I can see people’s faces contort as they conjure up horrible outcomes. After all, falling off a waterfall seems like a thing you wouldn’t walk away from unscathed—like a thing you might not even survive. But it wasn’t a huge fall.
In “The Deepest South of All,” Grant, a veteran travel writer whose books have ranged from East Africa to the Sierra Madre, plunges headfirst into this unique city of 15,000. “Natchez is as deeply Southern as it can possibly be,” says Grant, 56, over the phone, “but the more I got to know it, the more it seemed like a distillation of America, especially around the issues of slavery and race.”
Still, he covers just about every other theorist of time with grace and wit, explains why time speeds up when you’ve got a fever and slows down when you think you’re in danger, and he even finds the time to talk to everyone from city traders to truck-drivers about their very different experiences of clock-watching.
As a text about good design, “What Can a Body Do” models its subject. It has well-made sentences and an elegant structure. (The book radiates out thematically, from “the limbs of the body . . . to furniture, to rooms and buildings, to the public realm of streets, and finally to the clock.”) But Hendren’s project also has a kind of deep beauty that is neither separable from design nor fully accountable to it. Some molecular-level harmony obtains when writing seems so committed to being both interesting and humane. Chapters splurge on context and thrum with anecdote, especially as Hendren, the mother of a child with Down syndrome, threads her own experience with disability into her reporting.
The airplane inside us was running out of pretzels
We took the drugs in the morning so we could see at night
All day clinging to ghastly seaweed on the naked internet ocean
We thought, okay, neglect equals geography
As the pandemic settled in and stretched, I set my alarms to wake early, and on mornings after nights where I actually slept, I woke and worked on my novel in progress. The novel is about a woman who is even more intimately acquainted with grief than I am, an enslaved woman whose mother is stolen from her and sold south to New Orleans, whose lover is stolen from her and sold south, who herself is sold south and descends into the hell of chattel slavery in the mid-1800s. My loss was a tender second skin. I shrugged against it as I wrote, haltingly, about this woman who speaks to spirits and fights her way across rivers.
My commitment surprised me. Even in a pandemic, even in grief, I found myself commanded to amplify the voices of the dead that sing to me, from their boat to my boat, on the sea of time. On most days, I wrote one sentence. On some days, I wrote 1,000 words. Many days, it and I seemed useless. All of it, misguided endeavor. My grief bloomed as depression, just as it had after my brother died at 19, and I saw little sense, little purpose in this work, this solitary vocation. Me, sightless, wandering the wild, head thrown back, mouth wide open, singing to a star-drenched sky. Like all the speaking, singing women of old, a maligned figure in the wilderness. Few listened in the night.
To an outsider, someone from, say, Toronto or Seattle or London, a conversation among New Yorkers may resemble a verbal wrestling match. Everyone seems to talk at once, butting in with questions and comments, being loud, rude and aggressive. Actually, according to the American linguist E J White, they’re just being nice.
Since COVID-19 spread through the United States, millions of food service workers have been laid off or furloughed, and those who are still employed are risking their health each day by returning to work. And despite all the pivoting — to delivery and takeout, to corner stores or bottle shops, to outdoor dining — between a third and half of all independent restaurants will shutter as a result of the pandemic. This economic reckoning comes commensurately with a social one, as calls amplify to address systemic racism and anti-Black violence following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody, and, more recently, the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Depending on who you ask, these crises make right now either the worst time to talk about tipping, or render it a conversation that has never been more urgent.
My struggles were small compared to those of my grandfather and my father. While I couldn’t pull myself out of the clogged sink trap of minimum wages until I married the right man, they had no choice but to accept the bargain of being steadily poisoned by the industry that sustained them. If it wasn’t for my father’s hard work, I may also have faced an untimely death myself. He gave me more than I could ever earn. Yet the arc of my employment history mirrors theirs. We saw the landscape shift beneath our feet while we could only stand still.
The first and only time I bought dry ice, the grocery store clerk asked if I was going camping. “No,” I muttered, then managed to stop myself from saying it was for a body. The ice really was to lay my father’s corpse on.
An air force colonel who was skeptical of organized religion, my father, who we call Pa, wasn’t sure the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of leaving the dead undisturbed for three days was necessary. But, as he said after being diagnosed with late stage lung cancer, “I’ve gotten so much from Buddhism for good living, I’m not going to pass up their tips for good dying.”
The adjectives that readers often attach to Bynum’s work — “enchanting,” “charming,” “precise” — are accurate, but can give the impression that she specializes in dollhouse miniatures, masterfully crafted but bloodless. Her skills and her sensibility are deeper and darker than that. The sentences are indeed meticulous, but never for their own sake; they bring to life characters who possess rich inner lives even when navigating moments that feel dreamily sinister or otherworldly.
An immense humility encompasses the novel. In a world that shouts, this book is a song played softly, and slowly. “The quieter you play, the better they can hear you.” It is a novel about music, moods and memory. Like the engine noise of the Rolls-Royce belonging to a local cellist, Wondratschek’s novel is of “high musical quality.” Its humor emerges naturally from the closely observed absurdities of our lives and behavior (“I don’t want to sleep anymore,” a not-so-young woman says, “because I don’t want to have the face I wake up with”).
When she was about twelve years old, however, Ferrante says, “I decided not to lie any more. Perhaps I simply wanted to become adult, and telling lies seemed childish.” At the same age, Giovanna Trada, the narrator of Ferrante’s latest novel, The Lying Life of Adults, begins to discover the opposite—that the adults in her life are all liars. And though she “had been brought up never to tell lies” and initially has neither experience nor skill at deceiving, Giovanna, too, begins to lie, mainly to protect herself as she strives to satisfy her curiosity about the world and people beyond her home in Rione Alto, Naples. As she listens to the stories the adults around her tell to explain their lives, Giovanna navigates the crisis of her adolescence, arriving at her own understanding of how to become an adult—and how beauty and truth figure into that journey.
had a weather—summer, season of skin
Frank Fisher’s butcher’s shop had been in business, he liked to tell people, for more than 300 years. A while back, a signpainter was commissioned to advertise this fact on an outside wall, in case any strangers should pass through the market town of Dronfield in Derbyshire and feel compelled to stop and inspect a time capsule. When I first visited, in January 2018, I found a low, square-windowed room tiled in faded beige and blue. Most of the interior was taken up by a walk-in meat larder, with just enough room left over for a counter, a crimson-stained cutting block and Frank himself. Saws and cleavers dangled, ominously, at throat height; you had to be careful not to impale yourself on the hooks that curled down from a black-lacquered carcass beam. Frank, who was 88 that year, moved with grace around the cramped space, having first come to work here as a teenager. When I asked how much had changed over the past 75 years, he took a good long look around and said: “The weighing scale used to be over there, love.”
The result is a deeply moving picaresque in which Veselka examines conditionality as a state of being. Placing her characters at the mercy of events, she evokes the feeling of a floating world, pushing back against the forward movement of the novel in favor of something more circular.
Through the lies and truths of this compelling novel, Ferrante threads one of her talismanic objects, not a doll this time, but a mysterious glittering bracelet that, as in a fairytale, passes from hand to desirable hand. Who is the fairest of us all may not be the right question for women to ask, or anyone to judge.
Thick orchards, all in white,
Stand ‘neath blue voids of light,
And birds among the branches blithely sing,
I am older now but I am green
Backyard climbing ivy green
Fern leaf outstretched green