It was especially impressive considering, thanks to the more prosaic magic of Zoom, Mr. Scott was in Atlanta and his audience was miles away from each other. The show was filmed in his basement studio and streamed in real time. Whether the 54 people tuning in were seeking a sense of normalcy in isolated and disconnected times, or just couldn’t figure out that last trick, they were applauding from living rooms and kitchen tables in North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, California and Georgia.
As the coronavirus snuffed out live entertainment, magicians, like so many others, have been forced to adapt, trading traditional in-person performances for virtual shows. The shift has been particularly jarring for people of this specialty, who’ve long argued that magic is best experienced in person.
In 2017, an internet friend sent me a message: "Would you be interested in a PDF copy of Tikim?" She was referring to Filipino food scholar Doreen Gamboa Fernandez's 1994 book: over 200 pages of essays exploring the culinary culture of the Philippines, from home cooking to street food to restaurants. "I have access to it and I'm going to scan it, then put it on those book sharing sites […] because it's not fair people can't have access to it unless they wanna pay $500. I got mine from the library."
I'd read Tikim, which means "taste" in Tagalog, in college a few years earlier during an independent study on Asian food. My professor, a Filipino food historian, put the book on our syllabus, and we talked about the ways Fernandez's writing helped the country—and the world—take Filipino cuisine seriously. With academic libraries at my disposal, I skimmed the book not realizing that I wouldn't read it again for years.
“Serpentine” is a trifle, but it brings with it all the familiar delights of Pullman’s work: its effortless clarity, its intelligence, its ineffable mix of coziness and darkness, innocence and experience. By the end one feels dark shadows gathering around Lyra, not because of anything that has happened to her, because hardly anything has, but because of what she has learned, which belongs to that particular satanic kind of knowledge that leaves one less innocent, and that once known can never be unknown.
But it’s so much more, too. It folds and unfolds its stories, rearranges the alliances and alignment of its sixteen main characters, rather like a Rubik’s Cube. Containing multitudes, it can become an entirely new thing, when looked at from a new angle. It is a murder mystery, a tribute to American labor history, a farcical indictment of capitalism, a book of riddles, a large-scale family drama, a bildungsroman, etc. And it is also, in its way, a ghost story. But not a kind of ghost story you’ve ever read before.
These little structures symbolized something to them: shucking debt, unloading a home mortgage or the overbearing accumulation of stuff, all forms of modern bondage. Having lived in a van, I appreciate the appeal of downsizing. Whether you’re dreaming, hoping or planning, “Off Grid Life” is a good place to spark — or park — your dreams.
I only wish to be obedient to this thread of sight, this line of thought, this longing. I worry that my interests are like Faust’s: I want to know the secrets of hell. Or they are like Fox Mulder’s: I want to believe.
I think it’s far more frightening to hesitate than know. The uncertainty of a ghost’s existence is why the ghost story scares us. In the presence of spirits, we are called to doubt our minds and senses, and a horror of interpretation lingers after images and text. This makes the ghost story the paradigmatic horror narrative rather than a misfit of the genre.
Your first instinct will be to immediately sprint out of your bunk. Don’t.
Instead, change into your finest clothing. Put on a tux, a dress, or at the very least brush your hair.
The lifeboats are on the first-class deck. They are an invitation-only party that you need to crash. It will help if you look the part.
Like the best of Crichton or Benchley, it is a great beach read, but it is infused with the neon blood of a brave new writer with his finger on the racing pulse of our society and everything wrong with it. To me, it is some of Johnson’s best work, and a revelation that I think will catapult his immense talent into the public eye. Things are difficult for everyone right now, which goes without saying. But I challenge you to look at The Loop as a kind of literary roller coaster. It will take you to thrilling highs and terrifying lows, and when it’s over, the only thing on your mind will be the adrenaline high and the overwhelming desire to ride again.
“Actors are like cattle,” Alfred Hitchcock famously declared. He later claimed it was merely one of his “Machiavellian quips” and not to be taken seriously. “Let us say, rather, that actors are a necessary evil.” Revising his statement further, he said, “Actors should be treated like cattle.” Dan Callahan’s new book, The Camera Lies: Acting for Hitchcock, is filled with anecdotes that detail the director’s fraught relationship with his performers.
When I first moved to this city to take a job,
and the snows began to fall, a slow sadness took hold of me.
Are you seeing cats where there are no cats?
Bats where there are no bats? Fighting the urge
to put your trash in a public mailbox, to write
Among the many layers of Calle’s work is the act of deciding what is a secret and which of those secrets deserves to be placed in the vessel she made. Death connects inherently to secrets—things we never tell people, thoughts and actions taken to the grave, the different ways to die that blur a spectrum from accident to murder, illness to neglect—but a death itself is not clandestine. Calle’s obelisk serves a different purpose from a gravestone’s memorial, and death is the most private public act I can imagine.
The miraculous, exhilarating truth is that Breece D’J Pancake fought his way out of any dream, no matter how pervasive or foretold, with the sheer power of his dedication and intent, his genius and his passion, in language that is his alone. Truly great work delivers worlds that are known rather than merely understood or apprehended. His stories will be read as long as American stories survive, passed on, head to heart.
In her ghost stories, Spark invites us to spend time on that horizon. She lures us momentarily from our world of color and people, before releasing us back to normal life. She knows, however, that even one crossing will change us. Comfortably back in the foreground, our gaze will nevertheless drift back to that distant speck.
Just like Lot, Memorial is a quietly stunning book, a masterpiece that asks us to reflect on what we owe to the people who enter our lives. There's no easy answer, of course, but Mike, at one point, comes close: "You just have to stick around. That's enough. It has to be."
At the turn of the 20th century, Eugène Atget wandered Paris photographing the medieval structures soon to be subsumed by the city’s rapid modernization. The facades, passageways, and storefronts that Atget photographed are, perhaps unintentionally, tinted with nostalgia — even as the photographer captured the images, he knew that his subjects were already relics.
Now, into the breach, comes Heather Clark’s “Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath,” an exhaustively researched, frequently brilliant masterwork that stretches to 1,072 pages (including notes). It is an impressive achievement representing a prizeworthy contribution to literary scholarship and biographical journalism.
After yoga, I took my car to the shop. Coils, spark plugs, computer chips, and a two-mile walk
Artistic movements are important because they offer artists who have new and startling ideas the space to migrate beyond the borders of the familiar. New movements generally happen away from the mainstream—oftentimes because they are challenging the mainstream—and the artists in these movements generally languish in obscurity before their contributions are recognized. In the case of autofiction, this pattern has been upended, and critics, even as they quibble with certain aspects of autofiction—its solipsism, its reflexivity traps—provide air support for a group of artists who already enjoy a fair bit of power relative to their Black, brown, and yellow peers.
It’s no coincidence that I’ve been reading Elizabeth Robins Pennell’s The Diary of a Greedy Woman. Generations before MFK Fisher or Julia Child, Pennell wrote essays enthusing the virtues of food for the London newspaper The Pall Mall Gazette. She ignored recipes in favor of first-person accounts of “the Beauty, the Poetry, that exists in the perfect dish.”
We are living in what might be called a truly hauntological moment, a period of disjunction, of melancholy and precariousness, in which the recent past seems suddenly distant and we are obsessed with the idea of our lost future. The Apparition Phase – an ever-so-slightly silly but also very successfully scary book about twins and chaos and loss – may be the perfect novel for our phantom present.
In Hysteria, Bryant uses her voice to both challenge the stigma associated with mental illness and expand our collective understanding of it.
As Clark, a professor at the University of Huddersfield, in England, and the author of a book about Plath’s and Hughes’s poetry, explains in her poignant and closely argued prologue, she believes that Plath’s “life has been subsumed by her afterlife” and that depictions of her as “a crazed, poetic priestess are still with us.” Drawing upon unpublished material, including Plath’s diaries and calendars, extensive archival holdings, and “previously unexamined police, court and hospital records,” Clark is at pains to see Plath clearly, to rescue her from the reductive clichés and distorted readings of her work largely because of the tragedy of her ending. “I hope to free Plath,” she writes, “from the cultural baggage of the past 50 years and reposition her as one of the most important American writers of the 20th century.”
The center of news in the nineteenth century lined the streets around City Hall Park, only a short sprint to Wall Street, close to the harbor. News sailed in on the wind. Newspaper schooners cut through the waves and fog to land their men onboard the arriving European steamers before the less affluent New York newspapers could get out there with their rowboats.
Amid recent renovations on Park Row, construction workers discovered artifacts of news reporters inside the walls—papers and typewriters. Who knows what ghosts might lurk there still?
Autumn’s blaze of glory, all flame-red leaves and burnt-gold foliage, offers an opportunity to marvel at the brilliance of the natural world before hunkering down for winter. Though, as nature goes into hibernation, forests, woods, parks and arboretums can often feel alive with walkers, joggers and families exploring them.
Where What Are You Going Through differs, though, is in how it situates intimate tales of individual lives in a simmering atmosphere of collective doom. The novel contains as clear-eyed an account of humanity’s grim prospects as you’re likely to find in fiction, but it is grounded in a series of stories about people — mostly women — facing the defeats and indignities of aging and dying.
Good journalism is easier to read than to write, especially the kind that has to do with (ugh) so-called lifestyle. It’s all about tone, and more hacks than you might imagine, not to mention their editors, have a tin ear in this regard. This kind of journalism tends, moreover, to go off faster than fresh fish.
All of which makes Between the Covers, a new collection of Jilly Cooper’s journalism, the more remarkable.
In China these days,
they recognize a face
with a single hair.
The city streets lined
with one camera
for every ten heads.
On the outside, his Mustang looked pretty much like any other car on the road. Inside was another story. Splayed across Ashmore's dashboard was an array of devices, including a CB radio, a mounted tablet operating Waze and Google Maps, and an iPhone running a timer. Stuck to the inside of the windshield was a radar detector; on the front grille and back bumper were the sensors for a laser jammer. Even more conspicuously, strapped beside and behind Ashmore, where the front and rear passenger seats should have been, huge fuel tanks sloshed with gasoline. A series of hoses connected them—along with another enormous tank, this one in the trunk—to the car's main fuel tank. An officer inspecting Ashmore's rig could have been forgiven for concluding that he was driving a giant gasoline bomb.
In fact, it was a vehicle customized for a single purpose: to complete the “Cannonball Run,” one of the great underground feats in American car culture—and to do it faster than anyone in history. Unofficial, unsanctioned, and spectacularly illegal, the Cannonball had been a staple of automotive lore for almost a half century before Ashmore's attempt late last spring. The rules are simple: Drivers start in Manhattan, at the Red Ball Garage on East 31st Street, and finish at the Portofino, a hotel in Redondo Beach, California. What happens in between is up to them. Not surprisingly, the race requires an almost astonishing—and endlessly creative—disregard for traffic laws.
Lately, though, touch has been going through a ‘prohibition era’: it’s been a rough time for this most important of the senses. The 2020 pandemic served to make touch the ultimate taboo, next to coughing and sneezing in public. While people suffering from COVID-19 can lose the sense of smell and taste, touch is the sense that has been diminished for almost all of us, test-positive or not, symptomatic or not, hospitalised or not. Touch is the sense that has paid the highest price.
Time’s Monster is a book about history and empire. Not a straightforward history, but an account of how the discipline of history has itself enabled the process of colonisation, “making it ethically thinkable”.
Let’s claim the abandoned factory, the one where gutted pigs
hung on hooks, cars emerged from metal casings or, yes, textiles
spun from clattering looms, 24 hours a day, filling the air with cotton.
What’s it like to be a cat? John Gray has spent a lifetime half-wondering. The philosopher – to his many fans the intellectual cat’s pyjamas, to his critics the least palatable of furballs – has had feline companions at home since he was a boy in South Shields. In adult life – he now lives in Bath with his wife Mieko, a dealer in Japanese antiquities – this has principally been two pairs of cats: “Two Burmese sisters, Sophie and Sarah, and two Birman brothers, Jamie and Julian.” The last of them, Julian, died earlier this year, aged 23. Gray, currently catless, is by no means a sentimental writer, but his new book, Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life, is written in memory of their shared wisdom.
Claire Wilcox thinks she makes for a highly unlikely fashion curator. “It’s a bit embarrassing, really,” she says. “I’m always complaining to friends that I haven’t got a thing to wear.” Ask what piece of clothing she most aches to own – you can have anything, I say, irrespective of cost or rarity – and she will talk not of Balenciaga or Schiaparelli, but of “Dorelia John-style peasant blouses.” (Dorelia McNeill, a painter and artist’s model, lived with Augustus John and his wife, Ida, in a menage a trois that sometimes took up residence in a Gypsy caravan). For the record, today she looks a touch Cossack in black lace-up boots whose provenance she cannot quite recall, matching trousers from Cos and – oh dear – a hand-printed shirt that she bought from the shop in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which also happens to be the institution where she has worked for the last 20 years.
Darkness is a thing we have come to fear and shy away from. It has become a metaphor for evil and depression, a place held at bay by our electric-lit world. But in the parts where darkness holds sway for much of the winter, inhabitants embrace it rather than yearning for longer days.
As I rolled small balls of labneh, a thick strained yogurt, I remembered my mother sitting in her kitchen, a bowl of labneh on her lap, a cup of cold water and a tray placed on the table in front of her. She would lightly dip her right fingers in the water, massage her left palm in a circular motion, then take out a little bit of labneh and roll it. When done, she would cover the tray with a cloth and let it sit out until it hardened enough to be preserved in olive oil.
Krauss’ latest book is a collection of wonders, though how those wonders resonate for each reader will be different depending on their relationship to her work. But for fans and newcomers alike, “To Be a Man” offers the pleasure of being in the company of Krauss’s surprising, challenging mind, tugged along by an imagination that’s ever curious about the limits and possibilities of fiction, of time, and of love.
A complicated but passionate love story with a plot ripped from the headlines, Snapped is the latest book in Alexa Martin's highly-regarded Playbook series. And once again, Martin delivers another heart-warming romance with loads of laughter and sensuality — but she also doesn't fumble the ball when it comes to providing a hard-hitting plot.
I plan tomorrow’s move,
journey to my next future.
Boxes climb the walls like tendrils
Around midnight, as Deb backed Madsen and the Row of Life into the velvety harbor water, three of their friends gathered in the distance, careful not to get too close. Madsen floated for a long moment, rolling her palms around the oar handles, feeling their familiar grip. The first stroke came unconsciously. “See you on the other side of the pond!” one of the friends shouted. The white of the Row of Life’s navigation light bled a fragmented trail across the water until it disintegrated in the new-moon darkness.
Then there was no sound. The world behind her, Madsen was now in the place that had made her whole. “Whatever my purpose is in this life, my differently-abled, physically-challenged, broken-down, beaten-up body seems to be the vehicle required for me to achieve it,” Madsen once wrote. “If I could go back and change things, I would not.”
Why do poets write about the worst things that have happened to them? What do we mean when we refer to our identity? Does our identity consist of the totality of what we do and say? What we know and make? What others have done to us? What portion of our identity do we inherit from our family and ancestors? Which parts of our inheritance can we choose, and which can we reject? What does it mean to be a victim, and is victimhood a part of an identity?
One of my earliest memories is not a memory at all but a sensation, perhaps a kind of hunger: it is the taste of the wooden pew in the small church in which I spent every Sunday morning of my life from birth until high school. The ledge of the pew, where prayer books and hymnals and rosary beads rested, was just about shoulder height for a toddler wobbling to stand – so it was only natural to reach out and grasp hold of the ledge, put my mouth to its sweet, vinegary, golden wood, and suck.
Chinese superstition tells me it’s bad luck
to get a haircut when I’m sick, and my hair
gets cut twice a year, because I let it grow,
tying it into a ponytail, exposing my forehead,
In the 1990s I was a lonely, nerdy girl writer. Nobody else I knew was simultaneously obsessed with learning HTML and parsing the sentences of F. Scott Fitzgerald. This meant I spent a lot of time alone, curled in my chair reading—but I spent nearly as many hours clicking and tapping on my mother’s beige, boxy computer, playing computer games. I liked puzzle games, and the bigger the world to explore, the better. In particular, I was a fan of Cyan’s original island-linking puzzler, Myst. For those growing up in the ‘90s, just discovering the engrossing world of first-person computer games, Myst and its sequel, Riven, are a touchstone. The pop culture we absorb and obsess over has a funny way of shaping us when we’re not noticing. I can only see a couple of decades out how Myst and Riven drove my own fixation on negative space in narrative, and showed me how it’s possible to tell a story in an empty room.
And “Memorial” goes beyond the beautiful and painfully melancholy love between Mike and Benson. It is a love story about parents and children, colleagues and friends; it is one of circumstance, grief and forgiveness.
For decades DeLillo has given voice to America's deepest fears about the future, articulating nightmare scenarios of terrorism, financial armageddon and biochemical attack through a series of novels, some remarkable, that both intuit and reflect the fracturing of America's sense of itself. In The Silence he imagines the aftermath: the tumbleweed of civilisation that must surely follow in the wake of the mass communications system collapse that, he argues, we are essentially sleepwalking straight towards.
One might expect a person to feel contented after such triumphs. Not so for Berryman. “You were right abt the Pulitzer, and I was wrong,” he wrote publisher Robert Giroux in June 1965. “It doesn’t matter a straw.” In fact, the award changed the way the literary world regarded Berryman, and brought him heaps of attention. But it did not, and could not, change the man himself. Perhaps some part of him had hoped the acclaim would release him from the cycle of addiction, despair, hospitalization, recovery and subsequent collapse he had fallen into. Berryman expected a great deal of himself, of fame and awards, and of life. Inevitably, he was frequently disappointed.
Students and teachers often regard the syllabus as a dull formality. At the most basic level, it’s like an itinerary, offering a sense of where a class might go from week to week. It’s a checklist, stating what you’ll need, when you’ll need it, and how you’ll be demonstrating that you’ve done the work. Increasingly, syllabi have a contractual feel, with language carefully vetted by a school’s lawyers insuring that classrooms are accessible and free of discrimination. But, as William Germano, a professor of English at Cooper Union, and Kit Nicholls, the director of the Center for Writing at the same institution, argue in “Syllabus: The Remarkable, Unremarkable Document That Changes Everything,” serving all these purposes means that few people take the syllabus seriously for what it can be: a story.
Mullan begins with a startling question: “What is so good about Dickens’s novels?” It is worth asking, he continues, because critics tend to discuss Dickens as an entertainer rather than a writer, as though by examining his sentences the magic might wear off. But the closer we look, the better the novels get. The Artful Dickens is both an exposure of the trickster’s methods and a celebration of close reading.
Before I was anything
I was an abstraction, sound waves
moving through glycerin.
“The appeal of the conventional crime novel,” the Irish writer John Banville once suggested, “is the sense of completion it offers.” Unlike life, bounded by the unremembered and—strictly speaking—unlived experiences of birth and death, “in an Agatha Christie whodunit or a Robert Ludlum thriller, we know with a certainty … that when the murderer is unmasked or the conspiracy foiled, everything will click into place, like a jigsaw puzzle assembling itself before our eyes.” Against this satisfaction, Banville proposed an alternative form of crime novel, one in which “if something can go wrong, it will”; for such stories, “it is the sense of awful and immediate reality that makes them so startling, so unsettling, and so convincing.”
My fellow interns were testing archaeology as a career path. My aims were less practical: I wanted to immerse myself in the people and places that I had been reading about all spring in my Southwestern Archaeology class. When our bosses explained that the Falls Creek Rock Shelter site had been excavated in the 1930s by Earl Morris, I gasped in delight: I recognized the name from my textbook. Real archaeologists had walked this ground, and here was I, following in their footsteps. I bent to pick up a bit of odd rock. “Is this a piece of pottery?” I asked my boss, an archaeological technician for the Forest Service.
As we drift into the season of mists, many of us may cosy up with a ghost story or two. But who are the best known authors behind the classics, who plied their chilling trade in the Victorian and Edwardian eras? There are the usual suspects: MR James, Charles Dickens, William Hope Hodgson, Sheridan Le Fanu, Algernon Blackwood, Wilkie Collins. But what of Mary E Wilkins Freeman? Evelyn Henty? Olive Harper? Elinor Mordaunt? Lettice Galbraith? BM Croker?
That most of us won’t recognise these names is no accident: these women ghost-story writers were effectively erased from history over the last century. But thanks to the often painstaking detective work of a handful of dedicated anthologists, the balance is being restored in spooky tales.
Reality, and Other Stories is a collection of eight contemporary ghost stories, with the horror stemming from the irresistible power that technology has over us. In real life we are obsessed, distracted, impolite, floating through a world of unravelling human bonds and never-ending notifications. Could fiction be worse?
Then think of every song of love hurled at you & yours.
Recall how battered you were by sheer understanding
so that you might surrender. Not her being gone
Before glimpsing outlines of whorled branches,
you smell spruce needles, know gophers lie
Where do reading lists come from, anyway? Wouldn’t we love to know exactly what Plato’s students were required to read? In Aristotle and other ancient writers we have tantalizing glimpses of works and writers now lost. But even if we had them, those works would be subject to two millennia of thinking about the world, including the world of these ancient texts. Medieval pedagogues, for whom the university was a new invention, operated within a restricted universe of texts and an even more restricted universe of materials and approaches with which to teach them.
The chewing is a physical release for my anxiety. It feels a little wrong that before I’ve even had my first cup of coffee or made a bowl of yogurt, I’m smacking loudly on a cube of watermelon bubble gum, blowing huge, loud bubbles in my empty kitchen as I open the shades. I’m chewing a bright-pink square of gum! At 8 a.m.! The artificially sweet thrill fades right around when I check the news, but those few moments of happiness give me the energy to wash my face and put on real-ish clothes, and when the gum has lost all integrity, there’s always another piece ready to be unwrapped. That’s because I’ve taken to buying bubble gum by the boatload.
There is something quixotic about what DeLillo has done: writing about contemporary culture even as it collapses into subcultures, and even as the democratic dream of a collective center is derided as suspicious in identitarian terms. He has succeeded, by my estimation, chiefly by treating the topical not as a bid for relevance but as a yearning for commonality, mutuality, something to share. The news, for DeLillo, is the last culture that all of us share, and not the news as a set of agreed-upon facts, but as a disaggregated and constantly refreshable cache of sensation to be interrogated, debated and then forgotten.
Wallace’s strong grasp of the mythos of this universe will satisfy the die-hard Star Wars fan and serve as a fine introduction to those taking a first-time dive into one of pop culture’s most important creations.
Yes, this is a very silly book — in the best of ways — and West, the Seattle-based author of the bestselling nonfiction books “Shrill” and “The Witches Are Coming,” knows it. In the introduction, she describes the book as “this silly, inconsequential, ornery, joyful, obsessive, rude, and extremely stupid book.” But silliness is exactly what we need these days, particularly when we can’t gather our friends to giggle and throw popcorn at a TV screen.
Speak the body’s thrift, the blood
and breath sustained by a candle
Sisters With Books formed in 1992 (four years prior to Oprah’s influential one), by a half-dozen book-loving African American teachers from the Los Angeles Unified School District. The founders wanted an adult activity that didn’t involve their children. They formed the club and books from Terry McMillan, Pearl Cleage, and Octavia Butler were voraciously welcomed by an underserved Black female audience. At the same time, an interest in books by the likes of Harlem Renaissance writers Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy West, and Nella Larsen were being rediscovered.
Twenty-eight years later with a current roster of 31 Black women, SWB is still going strong after hundreds of meetings and 300 books. The books we read, many with themes rooted in the past of our descendants, often remind us that as African American women, we are forever bound by the unique legacy of our ancestors’ enslavement.
Here is a custom that exists, today as it did four centuries ago, that anyone who wishes to enter the Bodleian Library in Oxford as a reader is obliged to make a formal declaration of how they will and will not behave. In addition to promising that they will not remove any book, or “mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody”, it is expressly forbidden to “bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame”. The original impetus behind this was to prevent cold scholars (and dons) from creating makeshift pockets of warmth in the library’s draughty corridors, but the guiding principle has always been the preservation of its books.
In Nick Hornby’s novel “High Fidelity,” a record-store owner named Rob Fleming commemorates a bad breakup by reorganizing his vinyl collection. He decides to order his records not alphabetically, but personally — by when each of the hundreds in his collection entered his life. After he’s finished, he’s “flushed with a sense of self, because this, after all, is who I am.” That only he can discern the order is the point of the exercise. “If I want to play, say, ‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell, I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the autumn of 1983, and thought better of giving it to her, for reasons I don’t really want to go into.”
In a way, Judith Flanders’s fascinating new book, “A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order,” is a meditation on Rob’s task: What does the way we order knowledge reveal about how we see knowledge itself? Inventions vital to the information age, like the printing press and the transistor, didn’t create knowledge, but, rather, new ways to access it. “Without sorting,” Flanders, a social historian and research fellow at the University of Buckingham, in England, writes, “all the knowledge in the world would lie in great unsifted stacks of books, themselves unfindable, unread and unknown.”
Where the Wild Ladies Are would make for great Halloween reading, although these aren't the same old horror stories you've encountered before — they're novel, shimmering masterworks from a writer who seems incapable of being anything less than original.
But the man who made a meme out of Nietzsche’s notion that “time is a flat circle” isn’t going to tell a simple story about hard work and steady forward progress. By his reckoning, his fame wasn’t so much about raw ambition as much as it was with being preternaturally all right, all right, all right with everything, every step of the way.
I first learned about the Voynich Manuscript in the spring of 2014. I was listening to a podcast, while nursing my youngest child. That time of life feels like a vivid dream in so many ways; absorbing the mysterious, almost alien, story about the Voynich Manuscript while my baby absorbed my milk now seems symmetrically surreal.
The segment was short but intriguing, detailing the limited facts about a mysterious document that no one had been able to understand despite centuries of study. The Voynich Manuscript is a centuries-old, illuminated, 240-page book featuring illustrations of plants that don’t exist on earth. There are some wild celestial drawings in there, as well as depictions of possibly pregnant women conducting strange rituals in pools of green liquid. There’s even a recipe section. Most mysterious of all, however, is the language in which the book was written. No one can agree whether it is some kind of encrypted work, an elaborate prank, a vanished language, or something more.
What happens when we try to walk at night through museums we can no longer visit? A range of online virtual tours provides the possibility, but apart from physical problems of reproduction—the pixel resolution is inadequate, the movement glitchy and twitchy—the real difference is the loss of tactile and optical tension, the missing dialogue of aching feet and happy eyes. Online, we float, ghostlike, down corridors, making giddy hundred-and-eighty-degree spins, with no querulous photographer from Toledo with a selfie stick to bump into. Sit and know you’re sitting is the meditation master’s insistence, and Walk and look while knowing you’re walking and looking is the more complicated Zen of the museum experience: the physical and the painterly, the squinting to see and the moments of transporting vision, have to go in tandem. The work is there, actually there as a physical fact, which you could touch, if you were allowed to. A book may be an object, but the Kindle edition of “Hamlet” is as much Hamlet as the (no longer extant) manuscript. Raphael’s portrait of Baldassare Castiglione exists at one specific point on the planet, and nowhere else, having begun in one nameable place and followed a track through time, owner by owner and wall to wall. Reproductions reproduce, and they often do it well, but they can’t reproduce the sex appeal of museumgoing, the carnal intersection of one physical object with another, you and it. It’s a thing, there; you, a thing, here.
There is a perfectly well-constructed plot here, but it almost feels beneath a book of this charm, energy, and syncopation to dwell too ploddingly on it. For all its brilliant set pieces and neat engineering, it is the means rather than the source of the joy to be found. One comes to Williams for sentences that ricochet and dazzle: “A bookish bullring with the acoustics of a basilica.” The novel could be twice as long again, operating as it does as an exercise in voice; it isn’t damning, I hope, nor faint praise to say this is a book that is more or less all aside, and all the better for it.
Piranesi is a work of intellectual intensity wrapped in a mystery plot, culminating with a cinematic denouement that includes — as it must — a loaded gun. Like a kaleidoscope, Piranesi rewards the reader when turned over in the mind, but also rewards the reader who simply wants to know who Piranesi is, where he came from, and how he came to be a prisoner in that magnificent labyrinth, populated with mythic statues, periodically flooded with tides from nowhere.
Kazim Ali's latest book of poems is born out of our collective existential crisis. How do we continue to survive "in a world governed by storm and noise"? Creating an ingenious form on the page, Ali uses sound to give us a sort of research project that grapples with this crisis of survival over time. But the project's beauty manifests from the impossibility of its findings. After all, how is one supposed to answer the colossal question of existence?
It was as if
and each rung,
real to itself,
But to be an immigrant is to know that, at any moment, we can be uprooted by forces larger than ourselves. In California, where my family and I live now, wildfires have become larger, faster and deadlier in the last 10 years. When the hills blaze up, we know we have to be ready to evacuate, leaving all we have behind.
For a brief moment, back in the spring, we stopped walking in the state of distraction to which, because of our relentless reliance on smartphones, we’ve become habituated. When we went for a walk, we actually looked at the city, processing its fascinating kaleidoscopic forms. And we actually looked at one another, too. It was frightening at times, because other people, like life itself, seemed so unpredictable. And because we’d almost lost the ability to read people’s faces. But it was exciting.
The 10pm curfew has been a terrible thing for the restaurant business. The shortfall in income that comes from not being able to turn a table towards the end of the evening is tricky, if not impossible, to make up, and it’s a miserable, slightly stressful business, having to urge customers to hurry and clear their plates once the clock strikes 9.30pm. But for me, at least, there’s something weirdly freeing about it. Basically, the early bird special has at last been socially sanctioned, and as a result I have reverted to type. Last week, I twice ate out at 6.30pm, and with two of my chicest girlfriends – at whose suggestion, quite brilliantly, this unfeasibly early hour was in the first place.
Once upon a time, Alix Harrow wrote about three sisters. Also, suffragists, witching, folklore, flawed alliances, an alternate America, and women's work. She gave this second novel many gifts: charm, grace, and gorgeousness; feral wonder, clear vision, an ardent heart. She gave it history, awareness of injustice and will to survive it. And so it went into the world to seek its fortune, inviting readers to settle in; to sigh with the pleasure of finding a not too this, not too that, just right story.
What sets Mantel’s novels apart is also what sets her critical writing apart: an unerring eye for the telling detail, the clue that will unlock what she calls “the puzzle of personal identity”.
The scientific approach to wisdom has started to gain momentum only in the past few decades, around the time the world started to face rising social and climatic instabilities. Some worried that this momentum was leading to an abyss. Picking and choosing different philosophical traditions and developing theories without serious debate between them placed wisdom scientists at the beginning of the 21st century at loggerheads: a field full of words didn’t yet share the same language. A recent handbook of wisdom included as many definitions of the concept as there were chapters. Like in a tower of Babylon, scholars were risking a collapse of a slowly emerging scientific field.
I was one of the many scientists on the trail of wisdom and its meaning, and I was worried about these trends. But, like most scholars, I first kept quiet. Then, a deadly series of events woke me up from my academic slumber. On Easter Sunday 2019, suicide bombers across Sri Lanka orchestrated one of the world’s most fatal coordinated terrorist attacks in a decade, killing more than 250 people in several cities. What is the value of wisdom in a polarised world full of violence and hate? How can we use wisdom to combat these trends? Like so many people in the tragic aftermath of those bombings in Sri Lanka, I wondered about these questions. The attacks affected me personally, too. The first Pan-Asian summit on wisdom, which I had helped to organise, was supposed to take place in Sri Lanka just a month later.
Khaled Mattawa’s latest poetry collection Fugitive Atlas is a powerful reminder that the migrant crisis is an ongoing reality with profound effects on those who suffer directly from displacement and on humanity at large.
In spite of its short length, the novel gets at something deeper and, in its emphasis on where individuals choose to direct their attention, something more quintessentially American. If you were magically freed from all your digital obligations, how would you occupy yourself? If you had the option, would you choose it?
The first thing to know about Judith Flanders’s “A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order” is that its subtitle is misplaced. The true subject of this fascinating though relentlessly detailed book is the history of information retrieval, chiefly in Europe and America, up to the age of the computer. To this end, Ms. Flanders has collected enough material on her subject to fill all the ingenious cabinets and filing devices found in the book’s illustrations. The plethora of detail often overwhelms the truly revelatory dimension of the work: the way the alphabet reflected and facilitated the change from a worldview that saw reality as having intrinsic meaning, with hierarchy as its underlying organizing principle, to one that was essentially nominalist, with the human mind inventing tools for organizing it usefully.
Like many of us, Mendelsund seems to have stumbled into each chapter of his diverse, sprawling career more or less accidentally, by some combination of luck and circumstance. Unlike many of us, however, he has a tendency to find extraordinary, sometimes unprecedented levels of success in each subsequent stumble.
A musician turned designer turned novelist turned painter, this is a man with a Midas touch for the arts, a man for whom publishing a book — or several, in Mendelsund’s case — is simply “one of life’s weird inevitabilities.”
The idea of having one last lunch, be it with a cherished hero or a beloved friend or family member brought back from the dead, is certainly an intriguing one. The proposition is both daunting and alluring, especially as one grows older and address books become filled with more and more ghosts. And there is all of history to choose from if you wish to pick a hero instead of a friend or family member. Who is the lucky dinner date? What would you say to your chosen one? It’s a tough call.
This is precisely the scenario that Erica Heller has constructed in her new book, One Last Lunch: A Final Meal with the Ones Who Meant So Much to Us. She posed the question to a number of writers and artists: if you could, who would you bring back from the beyond to have a final meal with? The responses ranged from heartfelt longing to whimsical humor, with several seeking an elusive closure by having the last word.
For anyone who needs it, then, there exists within Glück’s work a glossary of today’s moods: rage, vulnerability, despair, gallows humor, irritation, loneliness, an aura of intensity around the mundane. For Glück, these circuits of sensing and thinking—the inner seasons—enact a theory of life: we feel before we understand, and we understand very little.
Writers the world over are grappling with a version of this question: in the face of so much devastation, so much terror, what can fiction possibly achieve? The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is his emphatic, wrenching answer.
On the streets of Hawthorne I sat down and wept.
Yes, wept as I remembered it.
It arrived with the rest of the mail
in our box by the road, came
bearing a standard Forever stamp,
Ah, fall! That beautiful time of year when leaves take on the orange glow of the setting sun, acorns crunch under booted feet, crisp air cools hot cider from the local market, and—oh, it’s over, there it goes, it’s winter now.
The back cover copy from the publisher describes the book as “genre-defying,” but what is there to defy? This book doesn’t blend genres, or even transcend genre. Schwab simply renders the idea of genre irrelevant—because, in the end, it is. What The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue does—what any truly great book does—is transport and transform us. And in the end, that’s the only thing that’s important to remember.
The title of “Counting” contains some revealing wordplay: To count is to tally things up but, also, to count is to matter. In this book, the political scientist Deborah Stone explores the ways in which these two meanings of “count” are intertwined in society. She argues that our judgments are embedded in the way we count because of the decisions we make about what matters, and that we then use this to make concrete judgments that we claim are based on math when really they’re a result of our preconceived notions.
Zoellner teaches at Chapman and Dartmouth Colleges, serves as politics editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books, and is the author and coauthor of seven previous books. To say he is well-traveled is to say cheetahs run fast. Zoellner has logged tens of thousands of miles zigzagging the continent with a small tent, backpack, and hiking boots. His book is a fascinating investigation into American places and themes; metaphors for our country.
Who says there’s no use anymore for woolfell,
the skin of a sheep still attached to the fleece?
When I moved to California from Toronto (by way of London), I was shocked by the prevalence of gun stores and, by their implication, that so many of my reasonable-seeming neighbors were doubtless in possession of lethal weapons. Gradually the shock wore off—until the plague struck. When the lockdown went into effect, the mysterious gun stores on the main street near my house sprouted around-the-block lines of poorly distanced people lining up to buy handguns. I used to joke that they were planning to shoot the virus and that their marksmanship was not likely to be up to the task, but I knew what it was all about. They were buying guns because they’d told themselves a story: As soon as things went wrong, order would collapse, and their neighbors would turn on them.
Somehow, I couldn’t help but feel responsible. I’m a science-fiction writer, and I write a lot of disaster stories. Made-up stories, even stories of impossible things, are ways for us to mentally rehearse our responses to different social outcomes. Philosopher Daniel Denning’s conception of an intuition pump—“a thought experiment structured to allow the thinker to use their intuition to develop an answer to a problem”—suggests that fiction (which is, after all, an elaborate thought experiment) isn’t merely entertainment.
But McConaughey wants readers to look beyond the boldface name on its cover and focus on its fundamental message. No one can escape hardship, he said, but he can share the lessons “that helped me navigate the hard stuff — like I say, ‘get relative with the inevitable’ — sooner and in the best way possible for myself.”
Codifying his beliefs and putting them down on paper was one test. The next challenge comes as McConaughey releases “Greenlights” into a world that feels increasingly unsettled and dismissive of values systems — one where, like millions of Americans, he and his family have spent the past several months spent “trying to outrun the ol’ Covid,” as he put it.
To Cappello, in fact, distraction is the heart of the form. She argues that lectures are a tool for sparking thought, not for imparting information. (Presumably, she excludes certain highly concrete fields: I doubt that Lecture applies, say, to medical-school professors.) She believes that the lecturer’s role is to activate listeners’ minds—and if that sucks some into daydreams or rumination, that means the lecture is a success.
When PBS arrived a half century ago, television was essentially a three-network game, and PBS thrived by championing programming and audiences ignored by NBC, CBS and ABC. But that distinctiveness has faded in today’s world of hundreds of cable channels and seemingly unlimited streaming services, many built after rivals saw the commercial value in PBS’s embrace of food lovers, costume drama obsessives, home improvement tinkerers and other niches. PBS may still execute many of its programs better than its rivals, and its content remains free and over-the-air, crucial for reaching those with lesser means and those without broadband. But in a country where the vast majority gets their TV through a paid service, that distinction rarely registers.
This cornucopia of programming viewers can enjoy across the television landscape only intensifies the political pressures facing PBS. Why should the federal government subsidize public broadcasting, conservative politicians and others ask, when the commercial marketplace appears to be doing just fine delivering those types of programs?
Karaage sat comfortably because I perceived in it a refinement I overlooked in its deep south counterpart. It contained ingredients I could source only in specialist shops. And, ultimately, it was Japanese, from the same nation of sushi and sashimi, of culinary refinement and gastronomic precision.
Back then, I was not even conscious of the racist baggage fried chicken came with in the US. But it was seeping into my subconscious, and I felt it.
Doctorow’s world might no longer map our current events, but it still charts the universal currents of the human heart and soul with precision.
Messud isn’t a writer who grabs her subject matter by the throat or pumps her prose full of kinetic energy. She moseys, she circles, she lies in wait. She sighs where others might scream, mists up where others might sob, ponders “holistic foulness” where others might just run for the cleaner-smelling hills.
But more often than not, it works.
Bit by bit, we chart his growth as a master joke craftsman. Decade by decade, we follow his life journey, viewing the world through his perspective of what he found to be funny.
Singapore is the third most densely populated country in the world, known for its tightly packed high-rises. But to cram all those gleaming towers and nearly 6 million people into a land mass half the size of Los Angeles, it has sacrificed many things, including food production. Farms make up no more than 1% of its total land (in the United States it’s 40%), forcing the small city-state to shell out around $10 billion each year importing 90% of its food.
Here was an example of technology that could change all that.
The specter of mental decline among the nation’s judges has been a real and thorny issue for decades. Federal judges are appointed for life, and they often serve well past 70. Some states have sought to address the threat by instituting mandatory retirement ages, though such measures don’t typically contemplate that a younger judge could be stricken with dementia. To date, there are few if any formal mechanisms for evaluating the health of judges or for reporting health-related concerns about them or their decisions.
That unusual day in Simpson’s court in 2019, Cruz guessed something was wrong, and he wrote to prosecutors from prison, asking them to recognize the obvious and intervene somehow.
At 82, Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o — a towering figure of contemporary African literature and theory — is as fiercely prolific as ever. For nearly six decades, he has been building a mountain of work that ranges from novels, plays and memoirs to groundbreaking essays on language and literary decolonization.
Kreskol, the setting for Max Gross’ witty and sagacious debut novel, “The Lost Shtetl”, has been forgotten by history. That’s mostly a blessing: The Jewish hamlet, tucked in a Polish forest, was neglected by the Nazis during World War II, sparing its residents the “infinite death” of the Holocaust.
But as the novel opens, the present has come crashing in on Kreskol, noisy and terrifying — and bearing some of the anti-Semitism it was spared generations before.
Set the first and last books in Cory Doctorow’s epic, three-book Little Brother cypherpunk saga side-by-side, and they read a bit like a creative writing master class on telling two starkly opposite stories from the same prompt. The common premise: Islamist terrorists bomb the Bay Bridge. Thousands die. The Department of Homeland responds by turning San Francisco into a fascist, total-surveillance police state. The protagonist, a digitally gifted, troublemaking teen, must decide how to respond.
Normally when the beloved children’s author puts pen to paper, the result is something surreal or fantastical. This is the creator of Round the Twist, the author of Unreal, known for writing about things like remote controls that can fast forward or rewind time; bugs that can turn your skin transparent; a long-dead fox that comes slowly back to life after being fed lemons.
For his latest work, however, he has made the move from fiction to reality, with a bittersweet memoir that offers an unexpected new context to his stories, navigated with both humour and sadness.
As we learned when researching “Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-Up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World,” one of the few places “Hiroshima” did not appear in the year after its initial publication was Russia. That changed this past August, when the independent Moscow publisher Individuum and the online publishing house Bookmate Originals released the first complete Russian translation of the book to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombing.
Dolly Parton is loved for many reasons—the songwriting, the singing, the industry smarts, the cheeky cracks, the homey manner, the beauty, the verve, the hits. She is also loved for being loved, and loved transcendentally. During a red-hot summer marked in part by toppled monuments to slavery and genocide, a petition arose, directed at Tennessee lawmakers, calling for Parton to be pedestalled instead. “Let’s replace the statues of men who sought to tear this country apart with a monument to the woman who has worked her entire life to bring us closer together,” the petition proposed, soon gaining some twenty-three thousand signatories.
The country-music establishment can be about as partisan as they come, a rope line of old-school apple-pie values and unquestioning patriotism. But Parton is a true diplomat. A word like “crossover” scarcely encompasses a singer admired by Vanna White (who says Parton is her role model because she “hasn’t been affected by show business”), Björk (who has called Parton’s twanged crystal timbre “immaculate”), and Nicki Minaj (who nods Parton’s way in a guest verse on Drake’s “Make Me Proud”). A Dolly Parton concert is like a local census, bringing together peoples across lines of race, gender, sexuality, and, miraculously, political affiliation.
Everett’s new memoir, his third, is the story of his enduring obsession with Wilde and how it compelled him to make a film about the doomed writer, a decade-long quest that, though ultimately successful, brought him, at points, to the edge of reason.
In the West, the dominant image of North Korea normally rests on three main stereotypes: absurdity, poverty, and danger to itself as well as the world at large. An example of the first is the North Koreans’ fervent devotion to the ruling Kim dynasty; of the second, malnutrition and stunting; of the third, home-made nukes. These stereotypes are at the core of North Korean reality, and the new book by Andray Abrahamian does not seek to subvert them. However, as the author of a doctorate on North Korea, a sometime co-runner of a small, privately funded, North Korea-focused NGO called Choson Exchange, and a fluent speaker of Korean who has been to North Korea over 30 times since 2010, he does not stick to stereotypes alone.
Grandmother’s pyrohy oozing cherries, the soil
Fragrant with spring,
It was 1993 when I thought of Lyra and began writing His Dark Materials. John Major was prime minister, the UK was still in the EU, there was no Facebook or Twitter or Google, and although I had a computer and could word-process on it, I didn’t have email. No one I knew had email, so I wouldn’t have been able to use it anyway. If I wanted to look something up I went to the library; if I wanted to buy a book I went to a bookshop. There were only four terrestrial TV channels, and if you forgot to record a programme you’d wanted to watch, tough luck. Smart phones and iPads and text messaging had never been heard of. The announcers on Radio 3 had not yet started trying to be our warm and chatty friends. The BBC and the National Health Service were as much part of our identity, of our idea of ourselves as a nation, as Stonehenge.
Twenty-seven years later I’m still writing about Lyra, and meanwhile the world has been utterly transformed.
In telling those stories, I’ve gained a sense of what works for my daughter (princesses, witches, magic) and what doesn’t (stories with an obvious moral). I’m by no means a master — more than once, I’ve dozed off mid-sentence. And yet, I’ve learned some useful lessons along the way.
Among certain culturally influential citizens, esteem for the mainstream press has risen to the point where they consider publications and reporters part of the #Resistance — which they are not, and which risks obscuring the values that might secure their sustainable future.
Two new books are likely to help mitigate these threats and inspire budding journalists to join their school newspapers, as did the movies “All the President’s Men” and “The Paper.” More valuably, though, both are designed to train future non-journalists to consume the news avidly, responsibly and without fear or favor.
Jay, Jay, plant me an acorn.
I will plant you a thousand acorns.
Since COVID-19 hit the hotel industry, the comfort and privacy of room service are even more attractive to anyone still traveling, and the club remains a constant you can depend on in most corners of the globe, no matter how battered by the pandemic. But for those who can’t travel now, the sandwich also represents a carefree, pre-pandemic way of life. The coronavirus has put the no-nonsense meal out of reach, and the inaccessibility of something previously so, well, accessible is yet another stark contrast in the pantheon of weird. Today, the image of a hotel guest diving into a club sandwich isn’t just cliche; it’s nostalgia for a time that is now gone.
It is an incredibly funny novel, and one that’s enlivened, often, by a madcap energy. Yet it still manages to be sensitive and heartfelt, and to offer a nuanced portrayal of what it means to try to make amends and change, even when that involves “start[ing] again from nothing.”
A 45-minute evocation of oceanic tumult and calm, “Become Ocean” combines minimalist musical content with maximalist orchestration ingenuity. And it had crossover appeal: Pop star Taylor Swift liked it so much that she donated $50,000 to the Seattle Symphony.
In his new memoir, “Silences So Deep: Music, Solitude, Alaska,” Adams draws a vivid picture of just how unusual his route to this success was.
In “Tales From the Ant World,” the latest of his more than 30 books, Wilson writes, “I have not until this book told the amazing stories of myrmecology as a physical and intellectual adventure — if you will, an adventure story.” With its modest and sometimes amusing tone, the book is a delight — and may coax readers to take up ant-watching themselves.
Amid the aisles of fideo
de huevo, de arroz,
But what does being a Japanese writer really mean in a globalizing world? Mizumura’s career has been focused on exploring that question in formally inventive ways that often incorporate her own cross-cultural autobiography. In the process, she has managed to transcend the specifics of her own personal story, creating a body of work with incisive things to say to readers everywhere about the individual’s relationship to language, culture, and history.
Ecologists have long known that predators play a key role in ecosystems, shaping whole communities with the knock-on effects of who eats whom. But a new approach is revealing that it’s not just getting eaten, but also the fear of getting eaten, that shapes everything from individual brains and behaviour to whole ecosystems. This new field, exploring the non-consumptive effects of predators, is known as fear ecology.
The giant stone heads of Easter Island were to me, as a child in Australia, less a puzzle than a fable. This was a Brother’s Grimm island of eco-cannibals—they devoured their trees, then each other—a tale almost too absurd to be cautionary. How could real people not notice their surroundings becoming uninhabitable to all but statues? The cartoon version would end with an impassive head turning and winking a great obsidian eye.
Contemporary archaeologists dispute this popular version of Easter Island’s catastrophe, but these days the fable feels eerily plausible. After all, the basic plot of natural disaster and human myopia keeps repeating. It was a tale heard earlier this year, over what we’ve named Australia’s Black Summer. A tale being retold right now in California.
The Beguiling challenges perceptive readers to read between the lines, to let go of conventional ideas of a story with its beginning, middle, and end. Gartner’s writing, frenetic and unyielding, simply dazzles in this novel, as do her efforts to portray the tragic struggle of a fraught figure—the mother who can’t or won’t love—with frankness and humanity.
A deeply rooted intellectual prejudice holds that nothing much happened in the 1,000-odd years between the fall of the western Roman Empire and the rediscovery, in the 15th century, of the texts of the ancient world. Mr Falk sets out to discredit it.
The cat found us in our sleeping bags.
Little girl beside me sucking her thumb.
St. Matthew Island is said to be the most remote place in Alaska. Marooned in the Bering Sea halfway to Siberia, it is well over 300 kilometers and a 24-hour ship ride from the nearest human settlements. It looks fittingly forbidding, the way it emerges from its drape of fog like the dark spread of a wing. Curved, treeless mountains crowd its sliver of land, plunging in sudden cliffs where they meet the surf. To St. Matthew’s north lies the smaller, more precipitous island of Hall. A castle of stone called Pinnacle stands guard off St. Matthew’s southern flank. To set foot on this scatter of land surrounded by endless ocean is to feel yourself swallowed by the nowhere at the center of a drowned compass rose.
My head swims a little as I peer into a shallow pit on St. Matthew’s northwestern tip. It’s late July in 2019, and the air buzzes with the chitters of the island’s endemic singing voles. Wildflowers and cotton grass constellate the tundra that has grown over the depression at my feet, but around 400 years ago, it was a house, dug partway into the earth to keep out the elements. It’s the oldest human sign on the island, the only prehistoric house ever found here. A lichen-crusted whale jawbone points downhill toward the sea, the rose’s due-north needle.
Since black holes first captivated the public imagination decades ago, they have garnered a certain reputation. They are labeled monstrous, destructive, bent on devouring anything that dares approach their cosmic maw. But without them, the cosmos, and our own planet, would be less dense with wonder.
Wittgenstein wrote that “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” In her fierce debut novel, Australian Laura Jean McKay sets herself an extraordinary challenge: to represent animal communication in words. The book succeeds by walking a difficult and delicate line between understanding and incomprehension, creating something like dirty realism out of its fantastical premise.
Time is both taken from me, no longer my own, and yet abundant. Readers, writers, scholars, do we slow down our intellectual work to engage immediate, daily, practical, or political concerns — protesting racial violence, calling representative leaders? Do we dig more deeply into long-term endeavors — doing academic research and teaching about systemic racism and injustice as forms of resistance? This book raises such fruitful concerns, bringing multiple new perspectives to a rich field and reminding us how there have always been many questions of time.
Then again, “The Knowledge Machine” is ultimately a work of philosophy, and should be considered an ambitious thought experiment. Strevens builds on the work of philosophers like Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn to come up with his own original hypothesis about the advent of modern science and its formidable consequences. The machine in Strevens’s title has scientists pursuing their work relentlessly while also abiding by certain rules of the game, allowing even the most vehement partisans to talk with one another.
A creeping association might doldrum
your bullet points and action items
Shortly after this flurry of attention, Smith’s marriage fell apart. Near the end of 2018, that bad year, she started posting daily encouragements and affirmations on Twitter. “Today’s goal: Stop rewinding and replaying the past,” she wrote in one representative tweet. “Live here, now. Give the present the gift of your full attention.” She ended that tweet with the same two words that ended all the tweets, clearly a message for herself as well as for her then-16,000 followers: “Keep moving.” Now, in 2020, the worst year yet, comes Smith’s commercial debut: not a collection of poems but a quirky quasi-memoir called Keep Moving, which intersperses those affirming tweets with personal reflections on the hardest days of Smith’s life and features blurbs from the inspirational blogger Glennon Doyle and the singer Amanda Palmer. Four years after “Good Bones” went viral, in the midst of an even grimmer moment in American history, this new book feels like a clear bid to transform Maggie Smith from a famous (for a poet) poet into a guru of literary self-help.
And I imagine myself many years from now, standing in my great grandchildren’s kitchen, nodding my head as they work, whispering in their ears, “That’s right. Keep it up. We will always have plenty.”
In the midst of one lunatic news cycle after another, with more than 200,000 people in the United States having died of COVID-19, it may seem trivial to pay attention to the quietly ongoing loss of neighborhood haunts. But it’s happening everywhere—not just New York City, of course—and it’s happening every day. It represents a cratering of jobs, and it signifies an erasure of local history and character. “We’ll never be the same after this,” people like to mutter these days. The places where we live will never be the same, either.
McCall Smith’s own eye is a feeling one too, and I suppose most of these poems have their origin in passing encounters, in things noticed and then brooded on. He never beats the big drum or shouts his wares in the marketplace. His poetic voice is conversational, companionable, friendly.
While the notion of going for a run or meeting up with friends in the park when it’s 30F out can be mentally intimidating, it might be as simple as making sure you’re dressed right. As the Swedes say: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”
Where does “The Searcher” stand in the lineup of French’s books? It’s an outlier: not her most accessible but not to be missed. It’s unusually contemplative and visual, as if she literally needed this breath of fresh air. It steps back to examine the policing powers she has traditionally taken for granted. And it’s her foray into the natural world, which is so welcome right now.
“Leave the World Behind” is the perfect title for a book that opens with the promise of utopia and travels as far from that dream as our worst fears might take us. It is the rarest of books: a genuine thriller, a brilliant distillation of our anxious age, and a work of high literary merit that deserves a place among the classics of dystopian literature.
Alam paints a compelling picture of a world where all the old ways of being seem to be coming undone, and asks us to watch six people try to come to terms with it. While not quite apocalyptic in its subject matter, it is a book about upheaval on a personal and grand scale.
Oyamada mines the horror in the predictability of metamorphosis — the inevitability of who we are, and who we are bound to become.
It is indeed high time to move beyond the malevolent-overlord thesis of some recent tech critique. This book is refreshing and necessary in this regard. But we need to change our institutions as well as our thinking. As Ball’s evidence makes clear, a sharp power imbalance between public and private sectors is at the root of our problems. We are overdue for a systemic correction.
The Human Skin is made up
of three layers: Epidermis, Dermis,
Hypodermis, and here, at the base,
legitimacy already comes into play.
But for neurodiverse individuals, thinking “outside the box” means something else entirely. My protagonist taught me that we are all-encompassing and wild, genuinely wild. We represent the wildness in everyone. We embody what cannot be contained, readily defined, or predicted. We are the non-linear, confronting, polarizing, and eternally one-of-a-kind parts of you. And we have the power to bring everyone together in a way that leaves no one chasing. Rather, we can all run together.
I am always falling in love in kitchens.
Or rather, I suppose it’s not so much that I’m falling in love in kitchens but that I’m always realising I’m in love in kitchens; that the kind of love I love to fall into is the kind of love that’s most at home in the kitchen; a domestic kind of love; an intimate, easy, buttery kind of love.
I expected, after all of this, the natural tick-tock of a disaster novel. The invasion or superstorm or missiles would arrive; the characters would run for it; inevitably, some innocent would be sacrificed to the gods who demand such things from novelists. But, although the tension heightens, no such moments arrive. Where other practitioners of the genre revel in chaos—the coarse spectacle of society unravelling—Alam keeps close to his characters, who, like insects in acrylic, remain trapped in a state of suspended unease. This, he suggests, is the modern disaster—the precarity of American life, which leaves us unsure, always, if things can get worse.
These swerves in the narrative remind us that we’re reading a novel by John Banville, not an Ed McBain procedural or a Dorothy L. Sayers whodunit. In “Snow,” Banville’s engagement with the genre of crime or detective novels is partial. His ambitions for his novel are more complex.
It has the same vast imaginative reach, the same gothic intricacy, and it does the same thing of creating a world that feels none the less real for all its fantastical strangeness. Piranesi was worth waiting for: the most gloriously peculiar book I’ve read in years.
A perfectly-engineered thrill ride that is also a novel of ideas, "Leave the World Behind" combines deft prose, a pitiless view of consumer culture and a few truly shocking moments.
For Carey, all of these vectors — professional, personal, romantic, creative, racial, familial — intersected and often overlapped, and had since her childhood. “The Meaning of Mariah Carey” tells that story vividly and emotionally and, for long stretches, unblinkingly. It is a memoir about a determined and preternaturally talented artist focused on her craft long before she’d captured the world’s eyes and ears, and also about a young woman foiled at almost every turn when trying to feel secure in her identity.
Knowing the human matrix out of which the work arose, turns out, is a lot like shining a lamp on a relief carving — it makes the image more dimensional, deepening its shadows and raising the highlights.
I begin to dread the surf and turf. I cross
then double cross another friend off of the list. Now this,
Even C.P. Cavafy–
unknown in his day–
With “The Searcher,” her eighth book, French is also venturing into a new genre. Though there’s a mystery at its core, “The Searcher” feels almost as much like a Western as a suspense novel. French never picked up a Western until recently, when she read Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” on the recommendation of the journalist and novelist Patrick Anderson. French devoured it and moved on to other dark Westerns, including Charles Portis’s “True Grit” and Patrick deWitt’s “The Sisters Brothers.”
She was fascinated by how morally ambiguous the characters and their actions were. “I love that about Westerns so much, that they don’t try to pretend it can ever be clear,” she said.
If there was one mitigating circumstance about the coronavirus pandemic that first hit Britain in January 2020 it was that the virus struck in the early part of the year, when the northern hemisphere was entering into springtime. The coronavirus spring that followed turned out, in fact, to be a remarkable event, not only because it unfolded against the background of the calamitous disease, but also because it was in Britain the loveliest spring in living memory. It had more hours of sunshine, by a very substantial margin, than any previous recorded spring; indeed, it was sunnier than any previously recorded British summer, except for three. It meant that life in the natural world flourished as never before, just as life in the human world was hitting the buffers.
Now, as we head into the pandemic’s autumn, and with it a second wave of infection and fresh curbs on our lives, there are lessons to be learned from looking back at our initial confinement in March, April and May, and in particular, at the springtime in which it occurred.
My bicycle — a decent gravel bike, which can handle both city streets and country paths — became not only an antidote to claustrophobia, but a way to tap into what I missed emotionally. What I didn’t know, as I took my first rides and felt unused muscles creak back into gear, was how it would make me fall in love with New York, in a way that had eluded me for half a decade.
Most readers are likely to find familiar-sounding advice as they work through the 53 lessons. Epictetus and Saul of Tarsus (Paul, the author of the Epistles that comprise a large part of the Christian New Testament) were contemporaries, and Paul’s travels took him into areas where Stoicism was an active philosophy.
Shut up. Shut up. There’s nobody here.
If you think you hear somebody knocking
On the other side of the words, pay
No attention. It will be only
“Nice one … but where is the magical realism?” commented a friend, after reading one of my stories. A joke, yes, but there was also an element of blunt sincerity to his words — it isn’t rare for me to bump face-first into the expectation that I deploy the magical realist algorithm in my writing. Why should I do that, you may ask. Well, because I am Latin American and that’s what we do, concoct magical realist things. Look around: It is everywhere, the de facto association between the region’s literary production and these two vague words. If the Holy Bible had been penned in my neck of the woods the whole of Christianity would have been condemned to the status of yet another writerly cult, like the Church of Tolkien, or the Brethren of Literary Fiction.
For in the past decade, another front has opened up in the fight: restaurants and home kitchens, where we are slowly learning to defeat the enemy bite by bite. In Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in partnership with REEF has enlisted chefs to make a case for lionfish as a delicacy: pan-seared, skewered on its own spines (provided that the spines have been baked first, to denature the venom) or diced into ceviche. To the south, in Colombia, where the government has declared the lionfish a “national security threat,” an ad agency persuaded local priests to exhort their congregations to eat lionfish during Lent, as a good deed, to help restore equilibrium to the sea.
Sometimes I forget my own age too. When people ask the ages of my boys, I round up to give myself time to get used to where they are going. But although my father doesn’t have very much time left, and I have some, my boys still have all the time in the world. The younger one does a little dance on the edge of the jetty. The older one tilts back his head, spreads his arms, and shouts something toward the sky.
I watch my boys and talk, and my father listens. Life, I say, or am trying to say, which is always happening on so many levels, all at the same time.
With wit and warmth, Hornby reflects on what makes a person belong to a country, a generation, a social group; and above all, what makes a person belong to another person. When difference carries more weight than similarity, when, as Joseph thinks, "There isn't a single way in which we're 'us'", Just Like You asks softly, hopefully: "Could you only love someone who thought the same way as you, or were there other bridges to be built further up the river?"
While calamitous, the storms are, sadly, routine. “Hurricanes have been churning up ocean waters and slamming into land for all of recorded history,” historian Eric Jay Dolin writes in “A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America’s Hurricanes.”
In the citizenry of the dead
the soul still holds the shape of the body
Edward Brooke-Hitching grew up in a rare book shop, with a rare book dealer for a father. As the author of histories of maps The Phantom Atlas, The Golden Atlas and The Sky Atlas, he has always been “really fascinated by books that are down the back alleys of history”. Ten years ago, he embarked on a project to come up with the “ultimate library”. No first editions of Jane Austen here, though: Brooke-Hitching’s The Madman’s Library collects the most eccentric and extraordinary books from around the world.
“I was asking, if you could put together the ultimate library, ignoring the value or the academic significance of the books, what would be on that shelf if you had a time machine and unlimited budget?” he says.
When I think of books or works I love that reference the “note” in their titles, I begin to realize that it’s not the note as such that is the defining feature of these books, but the preposition that accompanies the word: Notes OF a Native Son; Notes ON Camp; Notes FROM Underground.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – a curiously invigorating mix of genres described by its publishers as “Gosford Park meets Inception, by way of Agatha Christie” – won the 2018 Costa award for best first novel. Stuart Turton’s second novel is a further pick’n’mix affair involving a demon, an impossible murder and a celebrated “alchemical detective” called Samuel Pipps.
Above all, Mr Francis notes, islands summon visions of separation and stillness, evoking “a sense of reverence, and an absence of distraction”. They offer a chance to breathe, and to think.
Happiness, a Mystery is optimistic – the belief that happiness is within reach forms a key part of its conclusion. This news is delivered gleefully via the twist, which shouldn’t be revealed here, but emphasises process, the journey rather than the destination.
I think my shadow falls
where it won’t be lonely. Dead beside me.
The story of Susanna and the Elders, related in the Book of Daniel, was a popular subject for artists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and no wonder. Susanna, a virtuous, beautiful young woman, is bathing in her garden while two older men spy on her. The men suddenly accost her and demand that she submit to rape; if she resists, they warn, they will ruin her reputation by claiming that they caught her with a lover. The tale offered painters an irresistible opportunity to replicate a similar kind of voyeurism. Tintoretto depicted the scene several times; in a version painted in the fifteen-fifties, which hangs in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, he portrayed Susanna as serene and abstracted, towelling a raised foot and regarding herself in a mirror, unaware of a bald man who is concealed behind a rose trellis and peering between her parted thighs. In a treatment by Rubens from half a century later, on display at the Borghese Gallery, in Rome, Susanna is shown reaching for a shawl, realizing with horror that she has been exposed to two leering men. Sometimes the violence threatened against Susanna is indicated in the tableau: in a version by Ludovico Carracci that hangs in the National Gallery in London, one of the elders is tugging at Susanna’s robe, pulling it off her body. Giuseppe Cesari (known as Cavaliere d’Arpino) made a painting that enlists the viewer’s participation in the lasciviousness it represents: its naked subject looks almost seductively out from the canvas, coolly brushing her golden hair.
A very different Susanna is offered by Artemisia Gentileschi, who was born in Rome in 1593, and who painted the scene in 1610, when she was seventeen. In her version, two men emerge from behind a marble balustrade, violently interrupting Susanna’s ablutions. Her head and her body torque away from the onlookers as she raises a hand toward them, in what looks like ineffectual self-defense. Strikingly, her other hand shields her face. Perhaps this Susanna does not want the men to identify her or see her anguish; it’s equally likely that she does not want to lay eyes on her persecutors. In its composition, execution, and psychological insight, the painting is remarkably sophisticated for a girl in her teens. As the scholar Mary Garrard noted, in a 1989 appraisal titled “Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art,” the painting represents an art-historical innovation: it is the first time in which sexual predation is depicted from the point of view of the predated. With this painting, and with many other works that followed, Artemisia claimed women’s resistance of sexual oppression as a legitimate subject of art.
What we did take with us was a box that contained the last of the cookbook’s print run. It was shelved in the attic of our new house, along with the barbies I was too old to play with, but hadn’t been able to throw away. When I left for college a few years later, I took a copy with me, proof that the place where I was from existed in some material way beyond my memory. In my writing workshops, I wrote thinly veiled fiction about our family’s old life in Maine. The feedback I received was consistent: it all sounds very bucolic, but what does the character want? To me it was obvious: I wanted to go home, but no route could take me there.
In the late 1930s something strange was happening in the semis and terraces of suburban Britain. Tables bucked and strange stigmata appeared on the bodies of quiet people living dull lives in Putney and Bexley. Wardrobes were particularly vicious, apt to slam their doors whenever they felt threatened. These poltergeists (from the German “noisy spirits”) were very different from the genteel rectory ghosts of earlier times. Rowdy, rebellious and frankly a bit common, they were deeply engaged with the new world of mass consumption, happy to turn up and make mischief at Woolworths, or the giant new cinema opposite the bus station.
“Here is what happens when a man is chainsawed in half in the public square of a village,” reads a sentence in “Missionaries,” the beautiful, violent and almost perfect new novel by Phil Klay. It’s not the first sentence in this long, winding journey across the killing fields sowed by the American empire. But it gives a flavor of its brutality and raw power.
there must be a way
to enter your poetry