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Archive for December 2020

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Nearly A Century Later, We’re Still Reading — And Changing Our Minds About — Gatsby, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

Take Owl Eyes (or so he’s called, for his large spectacles), one of the many partygoers at Gatsby’s mansion. When we first meet him, he has wandered into the library and doesn’t seem able to escape — he stands paralyzed, staring at the books in inebriated admiration.

I wonder if we’re all Owl Eyes now. In the century or so since “The Great Gatsby” was published, we have been lost in Gatsby’s house, immured in a never-ending revival.

Texts, Tweets And Posts Have Replaced Letters. Is Our History Becoming Transitory?, by Shelley Hepworth, The Guardian

I imagined Nana sitting down at her desk in the nursing home and thinking of us. Writing to say that my cousin got engaged, what she heard on the news that day or how big the season’s wheat crop was. It didn’t matter that it was indecipherable. The letter was as much about the form as the content – the care taken, the time spent. So different to the messages and tweets we shoot off with little more than a moment’s thought. It brought to mind that old adage by media theorist Marshall McLuhan: “The medium is the message.”

Tana French’s ‘The Searcher’ Is An Ambiguous Morality Tale, by Grace Byron, Observer

This is a frothy and exciting book with a beautifully constructed world full of Emmylou Harris, femme fatales, bar fights, jarring investigations, incompetent cops, nosy neighbors, and twisty revelations. But for the reader who wants a little ambiguity and mess in their crime novel, a little terror that hits a little too close to home, this book may appeal as well.

Review: A Navel-gazing Norwegian Gets Over Himself, A Little, In A New Essay Collection, by Jessica Ferri, Los Angeles Times

His ability to see so clearly is made possible by the fact that it is his father who is dead. Neither the artist nor the observer can ever truly remove themselves from the experience of art. “In the Land of the Cyclops” proves that Knausgaard’s struggle is still ongoing, the search for truth as a balance between reality and our experience of it: “This, which we perhaps could call inexhaustible precision, is the goal of all art, and its essential legitimacy.”

Beginners By Tom Vanderbilt Review – It's Never Too Late To Learn, by Joe Moran, The Guardian

This is Vanderbilt’s great revelation – that in a world where apps constantly rate us and measure our performance, so that learning anything becomes another form of work, we should enjoy the process more and worry less about the product. All he achieves in the end is a modest competency in various unrelated activities. But it has brought him “an immense and almost forgotten kind of pleasure”. This book conveys that pleasure and is itself a pleasure to read.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

How Poets Use Punctuation As A Superpower And A Secret Weapon, by Elisa Gabbert, New York Times

Maybe poetry only requires typography — but doesn’t it also require sound, the sense that at least in theory you could hear the poem? I do feel I can “read” that long m — it has a sonic quality — and the Saroyan poem “lighght.” An ampersand alone on a page would represent a pronounceable word. But what about a parenthesis, or a semicolon?

Writing Toward The Inescapable: On Scholastique Mukasonga’s “Igifu”, by Martha Cooley, Los Angeles Review of Books

How does a writer of fiction approach a national horror that is also profoundly — one is tempted to say unspeakably — personal? How and why tell stories about it? What sort of stories?

Memorial By Bryan Washington Review – A Masterclass In Empathy, by Ian Williams, The Guardian

The achievement of Memorial is not in its mainstreaming of gay sexuality but its accomplishment of something far simpler and foundational to the novel: what is it like to see the world from Benson’s perspective? What is it like to see the world from Mike’s? Only in shifting perspectives, in temporarily relinquishing our own, can we inhabit a relationship from two sides.

Review: A Striking Debut Novel Imagines Two Enslaved Men In Love, by Rigoberto González, Los Angeles Times

Robert Jones Jr.’s striking debut novel “The Prophets” imagines how Isaiah and Samuel, two enslaved young men, create a space for mutual affection in an American era that suppressed not only their freedom of sexual expression but their right to be human altogether.

In ‘Beginners,’ A Writer Takes Up Chess And Surfing And Singing And Juggling And …, by Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

Not far into “Beginners,” Tom Vanderbilt’s tribute to the life-changing magic of learning new skills, he describes taking his young daughter snowboarding. At the time, Vanderbilt was nearing 50; he decided to approach the activity with an open mind, freed from all expectation, even if he was old enough to know what the risks were. “I had no goals other than avoiding the hospital,” he writes, after referring to the novelist Norman Rush’s comparison of being in love to going into an undiscovered room. “I just wanted to enter a new ‘room.’”

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A Famous Novel Disintegrates On A Final Read. It's A Fitting End, by Eduardo Halfon, Los Angeles Times

I asked myself what remains, then, once a book and its writer have ceased to exist — once both have inevitably become dust and soil and loose scraps of paper. I asked myself this: What should we do, in the end, with beautiful words penned by a hideous hand?

The Very Real, Totally Bizarre Bucatini Shortage Of 2020, by Rachel Handler, New York

Things first began to feel off in March. While this sentiment applies to everything in the known and unknown universe, I mean it specifically in regard to America’s supply of dry, store-bought bucatini. At first, the evidence was purely anecdotal. My boyfriend and I would bravely venture to both our local Italian grocer and our local chain groceries, masked beyond recognition, searching in vain for the bucatini that, in my opinion, not to be dramatic, is the only noodle worth eating; all other dry pastas might as well be firewood. But where there had once been abundance, there was now only lack. Being educated noodle consumers, we knew that there was, more generally, a pasta shortage due to the pandemic, but we were still able to find spaghetti and penne and orecchiette — shapes which, again, insult me even in concept. The missing bucatini felt different. It was specific. Frightening. Why bucatini? Why now? Why us?

A Caveman Would Never Do CrossFit. Why There’s Nothing Natural About Exercise, by Ellen Gamerman, Wall Street Journal

Everyone knows exercise is good for them, yet studies show most people don’t get enough of it. Mr. Lieberman set out to find out why, and the answers, he hopes, will help remove some of the shame people feel about their own inactivity that makes it even harder to get moving.

Review: ‘A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself’ Is An Honest Take On Parenthood (And Abortion) From Dad’s Perspective, by Alexis Burling, San Francisco Chronicle

“A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself” is a deftly written, bittersweet and thought-provoking book about the joys and sorrows of having kids (or not), staying married (and sometimes fantasizing about not) and ushering your own parents through old age.

Yes, it has its flaws. But as we all know, so does parenting.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Kiley Reid: 'The Premise That Literary Fiction Has To Be A Drag Is So Silly', by Claire Armitstead, The Guardian

This time last year, Kiley Reid was a tantalising rumour, the truth of which was known only to her publishers and to the film company that had optioned her debut novel two years before it was ready to see the light of day. When Such a Fun Age was published – on New Year’s Eve in the US and a week later in the UK – the rumour checked out: here was a smart comedy of manners, which treated interracial relationships of the early 21st century with the sort of needling wit that Jane Austen had applied to class 200 years earlier.

I Think Beethoven Encoded His Deafness In His Music, by Gabriela Lena Frank, New York Times

Yet more from my own experience: When I’m really under a deadline, and need to get new ideas quickly, I don’t usually listen to music, as some composers do. In fact, I do the opposite: I take off my hearing aids and stay in silence for a few days. In the absence of sound, my imagination goes to different places. It’s a bit like being in a dream when unusual and often impossible events come together, the perfect place from which to compose. And when I put in my hearing aids again, I can feel all these wonderful ideas and connections fly away, just as a dream disappears when awakening.

After Centuries, A Simple Math Problem Gets An Exact Solution, by Steve Nadis, Quanta Magazine

Here’s a simple-sounding problem: Imagine a circular fence that encloses one acre of grass. If you tie a goat to the inside of the fence, how long a rope do you need to allow the animal access to exactly half an acre?

It sounds like high school geometry, but mathematicians and math enthusiasts have been pondering this problem in various forms for more than 270 years. And while they’ve successfully solved some versions, the goat-in-a-circle puzzle has refused to yield anything but fuzzy, incomplete answers.

Words, Words, Words, by Alex Diggins, 3:AM Magazine

“If you can’t trust in words, what can you trust in?”—this question, asked but never answered, echoes through Thomas McMullan’s debut novel, The Last Good Man. In it, language carries a price; it exacts heavy cost. Words are spent freely—and parsimoniously weighed and measured. They punish, reward and disguise. They reveal truths and spin falsehoods. They are judge and jury. They break bones.

‘The Irish Buddhist’ Review: Monk On A Mission, by Tunku Varadarajan, Wall Street Journal

The endearingly earnest authors of “The Irish Buddhist” describe their book as “a detective story across two centuries.” Although their sleuthing is mostly archival, the tale they assemble is captivating—a jigsaw-biography that pieces together the life of Dhammaloka, a “forgotten monk” who, we’re told, “faced down the British Empire.”

This last assertion may seem overstated—the British Empire was, after all, a vast and impregnable place in the first decade of the 20th century, when Dhammaloka was at his militant peak. Yet the monk, born in the Dublin area in the 1850s, did succeed in making an almighty nuisance of himself in Burma, a Buddhist colonial backwater that was then a province of British India. So much so that he was charged with sedition, the cardinal colonial sin.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

We The North: On Finding A Home In Canada, by Nathan Englander, The Globe And Mail

Riding that wave of relief, I let go of a bunch of other move-related concerns. When I look at the overloaded bookshelves in our apartment, and picture the boxes we have in storage, and flash back through all the apartments I’ve lived in over the years, all the dishes I’ve wrapped and unwrapped, the idea of moving again after getting settled, well, I even ditch my initial stipulation. I really am good with dying in Toronto. I tell Rach she can sprinkle my ashes in Lake Ontario and let the currents decide in which country I end up.

I’ve Enjoyed Talking To Celebrities From My Bed. Will I Want To Do It In Person Again?, by Hadley Freeman, The Guardian

I always thought of myself as a sociable person, the one who didn’t consider it a party unless there were 150 people invited. But perhaps lockdown has revealed my true hermitty self? I’ve certainly taken to staying in on the sofa every night like one who was born to it. This raises a potentially bigger problem than Covid: if I am permanently, if only psychologically, locked down, how the hell am I going to do my job in the future?

Facebook Is A Doomsday Machine, by Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic

No one, not even Mark Zuckerberg, can control the product he made. I’ve come to realize that Facebook is not a media company. It’s a Doomsday Machine.

Never Very Far From What Is Happening Right Now, by Steven Shaviro, Los Angeles Review of Books

The future is never predetermined; if we can imagine things being different, then we can make them so. But this openness, this potentiality, is not unlimited. It is ahead of us, but “never very far.” We do not imagine in a vacuum, but only in the form of an extrapolation beyond whatever is “happening right now.” In this way, Andrea Hairston encodes, within her own work of speculative fiction, a vision of what speculative fiction can and cannot do.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

‘Box’ Or Gem? A Scramble To Save Asia’s Modernist Buildings, by Mike Ives, New York Times

In cities across Asia, residents and design buffs are rallying to save or document postwar buildings that officials consider too new, too ugly or too unimportant to protect from demolition. Many of the structures were municipal buildings that served as downtown hubs of civic life. The campaigns, in a sense, are an attempt to preserve the collective memories stored inside.

The Complicated Reality Of Travel In Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by Franny Zhang, Ploughshares

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like everyone loved to travel. Photos of smiling people in exotic locales had become an internet staple, their popularity indicating just how high the cultural premium on getting out and getting away was—and is. Travel lust may be rampant, these days more than ever, and travel itself may broaden the mind, but there’s more to a journey than good cheer. In ZZ Packer’s 2003 short story collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, being somewhere else is built directly into the title, and the stories often feature characters in new environments, struggling to navigate their changed surroundings; travel pervades this collection, but the stories refute fantasies in favor of more complex realities of what can happen on a journey.

Luster By Raven Leilani Review – A Debut Of Exceptional Power, by Diana Evans, The Guardian

The visual descriptions are a notable feature of the beauty of this particular cathedral, with its sharp, crystallised prose segments. It enfolds you, is even a little claustrophobic in its darkness, but you could stay in there all day, swathed in the magnificence of its language, the surprises of the sentences and their psychedelic, uncharted destinations. Each one travels somewhere worthwhile and earnestly considered, carrying the story on its back, leading the way. This is a book of pure fineness, exceptional.

The Shadowy Spirits That Helped Advance Science, by Jess Keiser, Washington Post

“Bedeviled” admirably insists on recording the plain history of science. It just so happens that the history of that most rational of human endeavors reads at times like a Gothic tale, one replete with evil geniuses, time travelers and uncanny intelligences lurking in reality’s obscure corners.

Friday, December 25, 2020

This Christmas, Read A Story Aloud - You'll Be Surprised By The Joy It Brings, by Sarah Hall, The Guardian

Short stories can deal so effectively in dark matter. The best are like suitcase nuclear devices – small, disproportionately powerful, capable of demolishing normality and morality. But in addition to dosage and cultural diet, short stories provide us with something else that’s a tonic in these times: they glory in being read aloud.

We Live In A Wake-centric World, Losing Touch With Our Dreams, by Rubin Naiman, Aeon

From a hard-nosed neuroscientific perspective, the subjective dream is merely an incidental, meaningless side-effect of REM sleep. It’s just a dream. The phenomenological study of dreams, however, which dates back millennia, has yielded a vast and intriguing literature of psychological, cultural and mythological observations. What might an integration of the science and subjectivity of REM sleep and dreaming reveal?

The Year In Time, by Rebecca Pierce, HazLitt

I contemplated packing up my life once more and going to stay with my parents until this was all over, but an urgent inner voice told me I had things to do right where I was. After an entire young adult life marked by travel, I had to learn to stay still, and do so entirely alone. The hardest part was finding new ways to keep time. I no longer had big plans to set the rhythms of my life to, and had to rely on the kind of rote daily routine I had always avoided to keep myself sane. I not only embraced routine, I became it: reading and writing in the morning, working out and editing video in the afternoon, Zoom calls with friends and sleeplessly waiting for the next day each evening.

Distance And Home, by Christopher Louis Romaguera, Ploughshares

Early on, I knew I had to write every day. Not solely as a career or passion, but as self-preservation. Writing, to me, was home. I grew up in a family of Cuban exiles, mis abuelos on both sides, Pops too. Every Sunday, they told stories about Cuba, a place I couldn’t touch or hear or smell, but that I could, at least in my mind, see. At that time, there was a physical distance I could do nothing about. I remade my family’s home in my mind off their stories.

The Shadowy Spirits That Helped Advance Science, by Jess Keiser, Washington Post

“Bedeviled” admirably insists on recording the plain history of science. It just so happens that the history of that most rational of human endeavors reads at times like a Gothic tale, one replete with evil geniuses, time travelers and uncanny intelligences lurking in reality’s obscure corners.

The Imperial Gardener, by Jenny Uglow, New York Review of Books

In 1772, aged twenty-nine, the English naturalist Joseph Banks gave up traveling abroad. He had sailed around the world with Captain James Cook on the Endeavour and had just returned from Iceland. That was enough. Apart from a short trip to the Netherlands in 1773, he stayed firmly on British soil for the rest of his life. It was not, however, the end of his involvement with global expeditions. In Planting the World, Jordan Goodman demonstrates Banks’s determination to send botanists across the seas whenever an opportunity offered—to Africa and China, South America and Australia. His aim was to increase knowledge and to build up an unrivaled private collection of plants, but also to promote British mercantile and imperial ambitions, and—a more personal goal—to make the royal garden at Kew the outstanding botanical garden in the world.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Charles Dickens, The Writer Who Saw Lockdown Everywhere, by Laurence Scott, New Yorker

In February of 1824, Charles Dickens watched in anguish as his father was arrested for debt and sent to the Marshalsea prison, just south of the Thames, in London. “I really believed at the time,” Dickens told his friend and biographer, John Forster, “that they had broken my heart.” Soon, Dickens’s mother and his younger siblings joined the father at Marshalsea, while a resentful Dickens earned money at a blacking factory, labelling pots of polish for shoes and boots. Although his father would be released within months, Dickens would never fully outrun the memory of his family’s incarceration.

We Need To Change How We Search For Alien Life, by Sara Imari Walker, Slate

Researchers announced the discovery of phosphine on Venus as possible evidence of alien life, with the caveat that phosphine might be made in the Venusian environment in the absence of life, though the researchers had endeavored to eliminate the possibility. However, critics quickly pointed out that the evidence for phosphine detection was itself weak, and the consensus by now is that the detection was likely a false alarm. But even if a positive detection of phosphine could be confirmed, the deeper debate of whether or not life produced it will ensue. This debate—or the one in the next iteration of the hype cycle—is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, because the way we currently search for life is insufficient.

The Lonely Legacy Of Spam, by Eric Kim, Food52

“Spam is the ultimate loner food,” said the chef Esther Choi, who lives in a one-bedroom by herself in New York City. Working late hours to keep the lights on at all of her restaurants, Ms. Yoo and two Mŏkbar locations (with one more on the way), Choi doesn’t get to cook meals at home for herself very often. But when she does, she turns to the simple things: fried Spam, eggs, and Hetbahn, a single serving of Korean microwavable rice. “Even though I’m a chef and I can make anything in the world,” she said, “when I’m by myself, those are the things I want to eat.”

This is a common fugue for many Asian Americans: Spam, eggs, and rice. The nostalgic valances that stem from that salty, pink block of luncheon meat go way back for some of us, not least because it represents a very specific experience: what it was like growing up in America with immigrant parents.

Reclaiming The Tiki Bar, by Sammi Katz and Olivia McGiff, New York Times

A Maori word for the carved image of a god or ancestor, tiki became synonymous in the United States and elsewhere for gimmicky souvenirs and décor. Now a new generation of beverage-industry professionals are shining a light on the genre’s history of racial inequity and cultural appropriation, which has long been ignored because it clashes with the carefree aesthetic. Let’s peel back the pineapple leaves to examine the choices that created a marketing mainstay.

The Satisfaction Of Mathematically Efficient Christmas Cookies, by Isaac Schultz, Atlas Obscura

For the last few years, Lersch has attempted to solve a problem that often bedevils cookie bakers. “You want to make best possible use of the dough without having to collect all the in-betweens and knead it together and roll out again,” says Lersch. “It’s really about saving time.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

2020 Is The Year Of The Kind Movie — And It Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time, by Caroline Siede, Polygon

Kindness is a separate paradigm from genre, tone, or even basic ideas of good and evil. For instance, Superman and Captain America are Kind Heroes (at least, outside of Zack Snyder movies), while Batman and Iron Man aren’t, even though they’re all good guys. And Kind Movies are also distinct from comfort food, escapism, or guilty pleasures. Romantic comedies are my go-to feel-good viewing, but they aren’t always Kind Movies. (The Wedding Singer is, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days isn’t.) Kind Movies can feature moments of violence or tragedy, and they don’t necessarily have happy endings. The most important thing is that they view the world through a gentle, empathetic lens and largely center on gentle, well-meaning characters.

What Do We Want From Poetry In Times Of Crisis?, by Clare Bucknell, New Yorker

People aren’t always practical or philosophical in a crisis; sometimes they can be trivial. Anthologies allow them to be all three. “There’s a pandemic and I think my arms are fat,” Catherine Cohen writes. Truth-telling comes in many forms.

The Sound Mirror By Heidi James Review – An Exceptional, Intimate Voice, by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, The Guardian

This might be called a hauntological novel, in the way James points powerfully to the spectres, ranging from childbirth to sexual violence, that have long haunted women and continue to echo through our experiences. This profoundly moving work with the propulsion of a thriller merits a wide readership.

Book Review: Tracing A Terminated Relationship’s Lingering, Intimate Moments, by Michelle Cyca, Vancouver Sun

Through his precise prose, he conjures the inarticulable emotions of longing and heartbreak. If you have ever been young and in love, this book will transport you there again.

Uncovering Lost Black History, Stone By Stone, by Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times

History can seem thick on the ground in this quaint, prosperous town of 2,000 in semirural central New Jersey, not far from where Washington crossed the Delaware. A cemetery on the main street holds a grand obelisk honoring John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Next to it stands a monument topped by a stone on which another patriot stood to give a fiery speech supporting the cause of liberty.

But one afternoon in late summer, a group from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia drove right past those landmarks, and followed a winding road up to a burial ground with a different story to tell.

Want The Good Life? This Philosopher Suggests Learning From Cats., by Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

An uncertain fate awaits the most bracing and contrarian writers: Will the insights they offer still come across as stingingly original if the disillusion they so often recommend becomes commonplace?

I was thinking about this while reading John Gray’s peculiar new book, “Feline Philosophy,” the latest in a provocative oeuvre that has spanned four decades and covered subjects including Al Qaeda, global capitalism and John Stuart Mill.

The Ten Categories Of Being Believed By Aristotle, by Ursula Whitcher, Liminality

1. You are complimenting Aristotle’s brilliance.
2. You are Alexander, and you are complimenting Aristotle’s brilliance.

Utopian, by Alicia Suskin Ostriker. Literary Hub

My neighbor’s daughter has created a city
you cannot see

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

How Leonora Carrington Feminized Surrealism, by Merve Emre, New Yorker

Surrealist art, with its convulsive, outlandish juxtapositions, showed Carrington how to discern the folly of the humans she knew. It also invited her to cavort with nonhuman creatures, drawing on their beauty and suffering to make tame ideas about character and plot more porous, elastic, and gloriously unhinged. The distinctions between human and animal, animal and machine, flicker in and out of focus in her early stories, but the fiction she wrote in the nineteen-fifties and sixties dissolves them lavishly.

How We’re Cooking To Feel Close To Home From Far Away, by Alex Zaragoza, Vice

My mom let me know the tamales are on their way, along with some chile relleno and instructions on how to make the sauce. It won't be the same; I know that. But it will be the closest I've felt to opening a gift at midnight on Noche Buena as a kid in a long time. It will be a small slice of home to hold me over until I can be back in her kitchen again being yelled at for not stirring something properly, and it will mean the world to me.

How Do I Want To Remember My Brother During The Holidays? It Starts With A Grilled Cheese, by Gabriela Fernandez, Los Angeles Times

This holiday season might look and feel a little different without the dinner parties and potlucks we never dreamed of going without, but eating food that reminds me of people I love helps me feel less alone.

‘Wintering’ Offers Hopeful Perspective On Embracing Difficult Times, by Sarah Lyall, New York Times

“Wintering” does us the great service of reminding us that we are not alone in feeling undone. And although May’s book doesn’t offer a neat, easy ending in which she miraculously feels better, she does offer hope, an antidote to her tendency to “feel like a negative presence in the world.” She finds that hope in the ebb and flow of the seasons.

Dinner Party, by Jessica Abughattas, Literary Hub

At the Chicago home of two of the film’s well-to-do backers, Irish Catholics.
There was talk of the baby their daughter had adopted from Uzbekistan.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Journalist And The Pharma Bro, by Stephanie Clifford, Elle

Over the course of nine months, beginning in July 2018, Smythe quit her job, moved out of the apartment, and divorced her husband. What could cause the sensible Smythe to turn her life upside down? She fell in love with a defendant whose case she not only covered, but broke the news of his arrest. It was a scoop that ignited the Internet, because her love interest, now life partner, is not just any defendant, but Martin Shkreli: the so-called “Pharma Bro” and online provocateur, who increased the price of a lifesaving drug by 5,000 percent overnight and made headlines for buying a one-off Wu-Tang Clan album for a reported $2 million. Shkreli, convicted of fraud in 2017, is now serving seven years in prison.

“I fell down the rabbit hole,” Smythe tells me, sitting in her bright basement apartment in Harlem, speaking publicly about her romance with Shkreli for the first time. The relationship has made her completely rethink her earlier work covering the courts, and as she looks back on all of the little decisions she made that caused this giant break in her life, she says she has no regrets: “I’m happy here. I feel like I have purpose.”

‘The Pandemic Is A Prisoner’s Dilemma Game’, by Siobhan Roberts, New York Times

“The pandemic is a prisoner’s dilemma game played out repeatedly,” Dr. Bauch said. In lectures, he invokes a comparison between Ayn Rand, who made a virtue of selfishness, and the “Star Trek” character Spock, who said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Now the vaccine adds one more protective layer. The perceived benefits and costs of vaccination are often expressed as concerns about safety and side effects. If you are on the fence about vaccination, you might decide — noticing lower infection rates as vaccination campaigns gain speed — that it no longer seems so critical to get the jab.

The Mixed-Up Masters Of Early Animation, by Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

Anyone who came of age in the latter part of the twentieth century will recall the constant flow of animated cartoons that made up most of children’s programming on TV. In a culture of supposedly short memories, they were an art form that reached right back across time. On the radio, “oldies” were a separate genre within pop music, but on the kids’ shows there was a steady stream of cartoons from half a century’s creation, reality intruding mostly with commercials for pre-sweetened breakfast cereals. Everything ran together: bending, bug-eyed dogs and cats playing bad swing jazz on living clarinets from the thirties, spinach cans popping open and tattooed muscles popping up from the nineteen-forties, and Japanese animation of the sixties so limited that it hardly moved.

Life On Earth, by Dorianne Laux, The Atlantic

The odds are we never should have been born.
Not one of us. Not one in 400 trillion to be
exact. Only one among the 250 million

Towards The End Of The Feast, by Andrew Greig, The Guardian

The best way to bear
that flaming pud
signalling the latter stages of our feast

Vikings: A Poem, by Carl Phillips, Los Angeles Review of Books

The Vikings thought the wind was a god, that the eyes
were holes. A window meant a wind-eye, for the god to see with,

Sunday, December 20, 2020

I Got High And Made Croissants Like Meryl Streep, by Rachel Handler, Vulture

In the best possible sense, watching this scene feels like putting my own brain in a pastry oven, setting it to high, and letting it crisp. I especially enjoy it as someone who is deeply incompetent at cooking and baking and, for that matter, doing anything whatsoever while stoned, save for watching Nancy Meyers movies. Which is why when I was offered (read: begged for) the opportunity to do a Nancy Meyers Week here at Vulture dot com, one of the first ideas I presented was re-creating this scene as a self-punishing stunt. I wanted to know: Could a layperson make croissants high? Could an actual pastry chef even make croissants high? Or was this a skill bestowed exclusively upon Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated, inadvertently perpetuating a dangerous myth?

After My Mom Died, Her Friends Baked Christmas Cookies With Me. I’ve Never Forgotten It., by Caitlin McGurk, Slate

My mom was born on Christmas Eve, so her parents named her Carol. While I was growing up, she was, appropriately, synonymous with Christmas. I always loved baking Christmas cookies with her—especially the cut-out cookies, shaped like Santas, reindeer, and candy canes. I remember the way the dough felt pressed against the grain of our old wooden pastry board. How many cinnamon imperials were appropriate to put on one snowman cookie? My brother and I may have pushed the limits. Christmas music floated through the house from the kitchen radio. I would stand on a chair next to her to carefully observe what was happening on the stovetop, or clamor to pitch in stirring a bowl of dough, only to complain when my arm started to get tired a minute later. Licking the batter from the wire beaters was a highly anticipated peak of the baking day, and soon after, covered in flour, I’d be lost to whatever holiday specials were on TV in the living room. We’d enjoy a bounty of these homemade cookies well into the New Year, while just as many were delivered, along with her walnut fudge, in festive tins, to neighbors, colleagues, relatives, and friends.

Kindred By Rebecca Wragg Sykes Review – A New Understanding Of Humanity, by Katy Guest, The Guardian

Understanding Neanderthals’ place in history is important to show “how evolution didn’t follow an arrow-straight Hominin Highway leading to ourselves”, and to skewer white supremacist notions that sprang up around our early (mis)understanding of who different types of humans were.

Men On Horseback By David A Bell Review – The Power Of Charisma In The Age Of Revolution, by Padraic Scanlan, The Guardian

We are in a crisis that seems capable of dissolving the bonds that hold global and national politics together. That might augur for a better, fairer world, with a new political settlement. But that is also what idealists thought at the turn of the 19th century. And yet, Bell warns, the Enlightenment appeared to many a “vision of war as potentially regenerative and sublime”. In that crisis, Men on Horseback shows, the contradictions and tensions of a fast-changing world emboldened autocrats, and moved the public not only to obey them, but to love them.

Dreaming With Major Tom, by Judith Grey, The RavensPerch

As useless as a sterile seed inside
a pod, the astronaut looks into space
while the dark side of the blue world passes.

Blue Willow, by Armen Davoudian, Los Angeles Review of Books

My mother sliced the cucumbers on a plate
and sprinkled them with salt and lemon juice.
A dragon inked in blue, fat as a goose,
shone through their pale translucent flesh. We ate

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Network Theory Reveals The Storytelling Secrets Behind 'Game Of Thrones', by The Physics arXiv Blog

The work is often praised as a fine example of the art of storytelling. It has an epic scale, a complex narrative and a broad range of characters that interact with each other. Important characters are killed off, often at surprising and unpredictable moments. But while the story is complex, it is still possible for ordinary readers to follow.

And that raises an interesting puzzle. Given the sheer number of characters — over 2,000 of them — how do readers keep track of them all? And how does the author of this sprawling tale stop it becoming hopelessly complex and confusing?

A Journey To The Bottom Of The Oceans — All Five Of Them, by Lucinda Robb, Washington Post

Fundamentally, “Expedition Deep Ocean” is a book about tackling — and solving — really difficult problems. You need talented people with different skills, a level-headed leader and patience for initial failures. It will take a lot of money, and you may never get much credit for your accomplishment. More than just a fun read, these are lessons that we all could use right now.

A Tomb With A View By Peter Ross Review – The Glory Of Graveyards, by PD Smith, The Guardian

Take a walk through a burial ground, read the weathered names on the lichen-covered stones, and your “mind snags on stories”.

A Call To Revolutionize The Workplace — By Working Less, by Sheila McClear, Washington Post

Today, work time is scrambled for many. Employees, especially in the retail and service industries, may not get to work eight hours every day, even if they want to. Having shifts cut or extended in the middle of the workday is the norm. Schedules in the traditional sense are increasingly a thing of the past and are instead often dictated by algorithms, which can result in wonky hours, with employees sometimes given two hours of work one day and eight the next. All of this makes it challenging to plan a life — or receive a reasonably balanced paycheck that can reliably pay the bills. The loss of agency over work time is a large part of what’s addressed in a new book by Jamie K. McCallum, “Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work Is Killing the American Dream.”

Friday, December 18, 2020

Will A Famous Critic’s Desk Cure My Writer’s Block?, by Julie Besonen, New York Times

Because of the pandemic, I have Vincent Canby’s desk. Millions of witty words must have drummed from his fingertips where I now slouch, stalled and mostly unproductive, without deadlines to drive me.

What’s It Like To Cruise In The Covid Era? To Find Out, I Went Aboard, by Sui-Lee Wee, New York Times

I had spoken to passengers who were about to board the first Genting cruise in November. It was the first time in 10 months I had looked into an interviewee’s eyes, and I had almost forgotten how powerful eye contact is as a means of connection. I was — and am still — doing all of my reporting through the telephone and a mix of scouring the news and social media from China. Those interviews were another reminder that all of the things I used to rely on to report — the sights, sounds and smells — are all lost by my not being on the ground.

The First Christmas Meal, by Edward White, The Paris Review

The prohibitions on Christmas dining would have particularly aggrieved Robert May. One of the most skilled chefs in the land, the English-born, French-trained chef cooked Christmas dinners fit for a king—a doubly unwelcome skill in a time of republicanism and puritanism. May connected the medieval traditions of English country cooking with the early innovations of urban French gastronomy, and was at the height of his powers when the Puritan Revolution took effect. During those years, he compiled The Accomplisht Cook, an English cookbook of distinction and importance that was eventually published in 1660. In more than a thousand recipes, May recorded not only the tastes and textures of a culinary tradition, but a cultural world that he feared was being obliterated—including the Christmas dinner, an evocative sensory experience that links the holiday of four centuries ago with that of today.

My Weird Year Of Eating Out, And In, by Grance Dent, The Guardian

All the second lockdown did was reinforce my love of being cooked for. In fact, a plate of food made by a chef and placed in front of me with a smile is certainly one of the great joys of being human.

Collected Stories By Shirley Hazzard Review – Trials Of Love And War, by Helen Sullivan, The Guardian

There is, Shirley Hazzard fans will know, something sublime in hearing the perfect truth, no matter how bad it is. As a child during the second world war, Hazzard learned from listening to Winston Churchill that simple words, arranged in just the right rhythm, could be devastating. In 1940, when Churchill announced Germany’s invasion of France, he said: “The news from France is very bad.” It was, she declared later, “an immortal sentence”.

Farewell, Ghosts By Nadia Terranova Review – Legacies Of Trauma, by Hannah Williams, The Guardian

Within the first few pages of Farewell, Ghosts, our narrator dreams that she is drowning. There’s no struggle in the act, only a wordless glide between living and dying: “A moment before, I was walking; a moment after, I was drowning.” The sequence serves less as a portent than as a credo; everybody in the novel is suspended in this change of state, neither living nor dead, unable to move on.

Virginia Slim, by Taylor Johnson, Literary Hub

Young buck tapping
its velvet against the
bathroom window in

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Hand In Glove, by David Farrier, Orion Magazine

But plastic’s promise to put a barrier between us and the world conceals a more fundamental truth: that we confirm the world, and ourselves in it, by touch. Working in concert, the senses of touch and proprioception (the body’s awareness of its own position and movement) define us in space; by touch, we know ourselves to be embodied. Texture, friction, and grain speak the world back to us. “Everything we love or lose,” wrote Fernando Pessoa, “brushes our skin and thus reaches our soul.” Touch composes us: we metabolize it, drawing it into ourselves.

My Plan For Fending Off The Holiday Blues? Escaping Into Light Fiction From Another Era., by Michael Dirda, Washington Post

Say what you will about Britain just before and after the Great War, it was a golden age for “light” fiction. Think of Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat (“To Say Nothing of the Dog”), Saki’s languidly witty short stories, P.G. Wodehouse’s musical comedies without the music, or E.F. Benson’s delicious Mapp and Lucia novels. These are merely the most celebrated among the period’s numerous works of comic refreshment.

Death To The Negative Restaurant Review, by Theodore Gioia, New Republic

The British critic’s vow to accentuate the positive is not a sign of taking responsibility but of shirking it, a refusal to address the real problems in the restaurant industry. Restaurant critics are the appointed arbiters of eating culture, leading public opinion on the key dining questions of the day, and pledging to “sheath” their pens until the “good times return” is akin to a general who will only step onto the battlefield during peacetime. Finding clever ways to insult soggy vegetables has never been a full realization of a critic’s talent and intelligence—and right now, the food world needs that intelligence and experience more than ever.

Tokyo Ueno Station’s Anti-Stereotypical Portrayal Of Homelessness, by Julia Shiota, Ploughshares

By making Kazu’s memories the emotional motor of the story, however, Yu guides readers away from the spectacle of homelessness in order to more meaningfully consider the human beings behind the stereotypes we so easily fall back on.

Review: Salt, Fat, Acid, Humans: A Tangy New Entry In The Cannibal Lit Canon, by Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times

Any carnivore will tell you: Sometimes you enjoy a cut of meat more for its flavor than its tenderness. A rich bavette steak, a crisply fried pig’s ear, a long-simmered mutton roast.

“A Certain Hunger,” Chelsea G. Summers’ debut novel, requires some chewing, and that is mostly — as Martha Stewart would put it — a good thing.

Alive In The Age Of Worry, by Ayokunle Falomo, New England Review

Every poem an elegy,
Each moment of breath is a debt owed the dead.

American Income, by Afaa Michael Weaver, New York Times

The survey says all groups can make more money
if they lose weight except black men . . . men of other colors
and women of all colors have more gold, but black men

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Joy Of Reliving My Childhood Bookshelf, by Kathryn Elliott, Verily

When my portion of the library loot arrived, it was also a chance for me to peek into those pages past. I started cracking open books like a certain titian-haired sleuth cracked codes and solving mysteries. I hoped to rediscover the lessons and the lives that gave me my first window into so many of life’s joys, mysteries, and heartaches.

“Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave,” wrote American novelist Anne Lamott twenty-five years ago. Resting on this assumption, I cross-examined the forgotten yet familiar pages from my youth with an eye toward what must have been new, revealing, and formative to my ten-year-old self.

Violent Tragedy Upends A Bible Belt Town In This Brisk Novel, by Hamilton Cain, New York Times

At just over 100 pages, “The Ancient Hours” may seem a slender meditation on a life that jumps the guardrails of right-and-wrong, but it packs a wallop: The actual culprits may be the folks in the pulpit and pews, fanning away the poor in spirit with their “thoughts and prayers and thoughts and prayers and thoughts and prayers.”

When Publishing Women Was A Radical Act: A British Editor Looks Back, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

Ego belongs to the writer, she declares in her pensive and surprisingly poignant memoir of her years at Virago, “A Bite of the Apple.” Editing is “a backroom job” — and has anyone ever seemed giddier at that prospect? This book glows with the gratitude of doing this work, and in doing so, finding oneself occupying a front seat to feminist history.

‘Fantasia,’ ‘Snow White,’ Betty Boop, Popeye And The First Golden Age Of Animation, by Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

In his prologue, Mitenbuler suggests the story he’s about to tell will go from rude to rarefied, but one of the most fascinating things about the history he recounts is that animation, like so much of American culture, continually scrambled all sorts of categories and expectations.

Hot Comb, by Jubi Arriola-Headley, Literary Hub

So much of who we are is birthed of ritual,
& this, the holiest, a mystery to you, how
calloused hands can minister such tenderness.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

What If The Great American Novelist Doesn’t Write Novels?, by Mark Binelli, New York Times

When Wiseman’s face came onto my laptop screen for the first time, he appeared to be in a garret. In the background, I could make out rough-hewed ceiling beams, a window, a messy bookshelf. His friend and longtime Cambridge neighbor Christopher Ricks, the English literary scholar and critic, told me he’d once heard Wiseman described as a Jewish leprechaun. I could see it. The sly expression, the slightness of stature, the ears befitting a fable. We spoke for nearly two hours that day, and as the Parisian afternoon advanced, light began to pour through the window directly behind him, casting his face into ever-deepening shadow. Occasionally he would lean forward, silhouetting himself entirely but for some unruly wisps of gray hair, which glowed like a nimbus. I wondered if he’d framed the shot this way on purpose, the better to mask his expression whenever it suited him.

Reading In Slow Motion, by Katie da Cunha Lewin, Los Angeles Review of Books

Dillon does not tout these as perfect examples of what sentences should do or be, but includes them because of his own affinity and admiration: “I knew at once that I had no general theory of the sentence, no prescriptive attitude towards the sentence, nor aspired to write its history. If I must (and I felt I must) write about my relationship with sentences, I would have to follow my instinct for the particular.” The book is a representative collection of sentences that have stuck with him, moved him, and in assembling it in this way, Dillon has eschewed what is sometimes called critical distance but which in reality is often a rejection of the ickiness of personal feeling or appreciation.

The Dream Of The Swimming Pool, by James Delbourgo, Los Angeles Review of Books

The latest entry in this increasingly crowded field is Lou Stoppard’s Pools from the house of lavish itself, Rizzoli. Like the editor of most such books, Stoppard is light of touch and low of word count, including just a few choice paragraphs to accompany photographs that are intended to speak for themselves. But what are they saying?

Confessions Of A Kindle Convert, by Susan Orlean, Medium

I read a lot of books, and I take chances on a lot of them: I’ll come across a promising review and take a plunge. The Kindle has made me more daring that way. The books are slightly less expensive, but more importantly, if I don’t like a book, I don’t have to deal with it physically — I simply move on to the next one I’ve downloaded.

No One Loves Arby’s Like I Do, by Nathan Smith, New York Times

In all this time, I’ve yet to encounter a single person who loves Arby’s like I do. I’ve celebrated birthdays at Arby’s — sincerely as a kid, and half-jokingly as an adult. I get the same thing just about every time: plain roast beef with curly fries on the side. When I worked as a cog in the machine of a Midtown office building, I would reward myself with a weekly pilgrimage to the Arby’s near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. It’s the kind of nonplace that gets left out of reminiscences for a pre-quarantine world, but Arby’s is a blank space I find myself missing in these times: somewhere to just exist anonymously for a little bit, certain you’ll never run into anyone you know.

The Year The Restaurant World Put Its Dreams On Hold, by Monica Burton, Eater

But of course, like so many other businesses, the La Cocina Municipal Market never did open this year. For the culinary industry, this wash of a year has meant massive financial losses and closings, but also the pause of long-in-the-works projects that, due to the pandemic, are now deferred indefinitely.

Spirit Of Place By Susan Owens Review – Idylls And Nightmares, by Oliver Soden, The Guardian

We used to look at the landscape through rose-tinted glasses. Quite literally – as Susan Owens makes clear in this evocative and crowded chronicle of the ways in which artists and writers have responded to the topography of the British Isles.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Books Are Really Easy To Wrap, by Margaret Renkl, New York Times

A book does not beep at you, spy on you, sell you out to marketers, interrupt with breaking news, suck you into a doomscrolling vortex, cease to function in a nor’easter, flood your eyes with melatonin-suppressing blue light or otherwise interrupt your already troubled sleep. That’s why my best beloveds are all getting books for Christmas. Who wouldn’t want such benefits for the people they love best in all the world?

How Civilization Broke Our Brains, by Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

This bizarre need to feel busy, or to feel that time is structured, even when one is sprawled on the couch on a weekend afternoon—where does it come from? Is it inscribed in our DNA, or is it as much an invention of industrialized culture as paper clips and microchips?

Endless Creation Out Of Nothing, by Avi Loeb, Scientific American

A universe is the greatest gift that an experimentalist could hope to get out of the vacuum. Inside, the gift might contain early atomists who consider the vacuum as empty, followed by scientists who end up creating a new universe out of it. What a spectacular interpretation that would be of Rilke’s phrase: “inexhaustible creation, enduring beyond the fate of earth.”

Falling Bodies, by Deborah Paredez, Los Angeles Review of Books

I am not
alone in watching
my body giving up
its truths, the dark

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Interior Chinatown: The Novel Taking On Hollywood’s Asian Tropes, by Yvette Tan, BBC

Yu explains: "This book is really about people not seeing other people as having their own subjectivity. When you make someone the background, whether that's an Asian character, a female love interest, an older person... you take away some of their humanity."

David Attenborough: ‘The Earth And Its Oceans Are Finite. We Need To Show Mutual Restraint’, by Tom Lamont, The Guardian

“Actually, I couldn’t really hear the swifts,” the 94-year-old admits. Something to do with their pitch, and his failing ears. “My hearing,” Attenborough growls, using the breathy, mournful voice that often accompanies footage of an ageing alpha getting supplanted by a younger fitter animal, “is not what it was.”

The Olive Garden Is Open, But Marilyn Hagerty Isn’t Eating There, by Pete Wells, New York Times

North Dakota’s most famous restaurant critic has been eating at home lately. It’s not that there’s nowhere to go in and around Grand Forks, where she lives and writes. Her governor, Doug Burgum, has allowed restaurants and bars to stay open even though the state has had the third-highest death rate from Covid-19 over the past week.

It is not that Marilyn Hagerty is running out of steam at 94, either. She files three columns for the Grand Forks Herald each week, even though she has officially retired from the paper “two or three times,” as she puts it. She had already been retired for at least two decades when, in 2012, she wrote a column that chronicled the arrival of her town’s first Olive Garden.

My Father Couldn't Give Me A Stable Home, But He Built Me An Exquisite Dolls' House, by Kate Mascarenhas, The Guardian

When the house was complete I papered the walls with gift wrap and used table mats as rugs. I made my own dolls from clay and wire. As I strung their limbs together, a babysitting neighbour commented on my handiwork: who was going to live in my dolls’ house?

Leonard And Hungry Paul: An Antidote For 2020, by James Holohan, HeadStuff

This is the story of those who are often underrepresented and understated in literature, the uncomplicated who simply don’t make for engaging subjects. And yet, it cannot be emphasised enough how vibrant, charming, adoring and witty this book is.

Candy Apple Gloss, by Dick Altman, The RavensPerch

Your figure looks younger than it is.
A story I’ll dissect in days and weeks to come,
until I know by heart every syllable.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

"The World’s Problems Overwhelmed Me. This Book Empowered Me.", by Kelsey Piper, Vox

In many ways, the worst thing about 2020 has been the helplessness. And The Life You Can Save is a book that persistently, repeatedly, point by point refutes all our justifications for helplessness. There are problems that seem so vast and confusing that we may want to believe they couldn’t possibly be our problems. But the challenges that the world’s poorest face — infectious disease, malnutrition, extreme poverty — are easy to beat if the organizations fighting them have the resources they need. And we have the power to help in that fight.

They’re Among The World’s Oldest Living Things. The Climate Crisis Is Killing Them., by John Branch, New York Times

The giant sequoia. The Joshua tree. The coast redwood.

They are the three plant species in California with national parks set aside in their name, for their honor and protection.

Scientists already feared for their future. Then came 2020.

The Insidious Classism Of Classical Music, by Robert Jackson Wood, New Republic

Today, the more vibrant strands of the genre have done a bit to distance themselves from this historical baggage. The “new music” scene, in particular, has thrived beyond the hallowed halls of Gilded Age propriety, gleefully juxtaposing Steve Reich with Radiohead and claiming, at least, to care little about ill-timed sneezes and people showing up to concerts in shorts.

Yet for the most part, classical music’s elite history and rituals are still very much with us.

Why My Mother's Cassava Pie Is More Than A Comfort Food, by Stephanie Wong Ken, The Walrus

It took me a moment to process this history of a food so familiar to me. In my half­-Jamaican family, cassava—a white­ fleshed fibrous tuber with thick brown skin—is not a poison. It’s the main in­gredient in a fluffy dessert pie. It’s the fried slices we eat with a garlic ­and­ vinegar sauce. It’s essential family food to celebrate a milestone or mourn a death or acknowledge gathering at the same table. It’s also the texture I crave when I’m feeling stressed or anxious, which right now is all the time.

The Year In Photographing Flowers, by Jonathan Kauffman, HazLitt

Every day makes me aware of how it is a luxury to have time to take a stroll, to have a house, to share that house 24 hours a day with a husband I love and a one-year-old cat who arrived at just the right time.

I have no idea what history will make of 2020, but the only record I have kept of this cursed year are blurry photos of shrubs.

The Last Good Man By Thomas McMullan Review – A Viciously Captivating Debut, by Sarah Ditum, The Guardian

This is a dark, compelling novel about the only two things humans really have to fear: each other, and being alone. We are apex predators: if another creature kills you, it will usually be one of your own kind. But your own kind can hardly be avoided. A life outside society – no aid, no warmth, no walls, no one to share the labours of survival with – will be a short and unpleasant one. This irreconcilable need and repulsion explains how we come to find Duncan Peck at the start of this novel, an outsider in the mists of Dartmoor, running from people who terrify him, and towards people who might not be much better.

Harvard Students Told A Lurid Tale Of Murder. Was It True?, by Marin Cogan, Washington Post

The most noteworthy element of Cooper’s book might be its reportorial ambition. Over 400 pages, she doggedly tracks down primary sources and digs for decades-old documents. It is a testament to her skills as a writer that she is able to connect the threads of the cold case to larger cultural issues, including the perceptual biases of archaeology, sexism in premier academic institutions and the narratives we project onto murdered women. Cooper has made a welcome entry into the annals of true crime — a genre glutted with amateur investigators, most of them not very good, inserting themselves into unsolved mysteries.

Book Review: The Power Of Chance In Shaping Life And Evolution, by Dan Falk, Undark

Why are we here? Or to give the question a slightly more modern spin, what sequence of events brought us here, and can we imagine a world in which we didn’t arrive on the scene at all?

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Lore And Legend Of Durian, by Charukesi Ramadurai, Whetstone Magazine

“Some people even swear that they have seen tigers eat durian in the jungles,” Ariffin jokes. “I don’t believe it, but to me, that shows how special they think the fruit is.”

In some parts of Malaysia, there is also the belief that the Orang Mawas, or Malaysian Bigfoot, love to feast on durians, and therefore the fruit grows thorns as a defense mechanism.

Beauty In The Ordinary, by Carla Baricz, Ploughshares

Light Years, however, is worth reading not for any of these reasons, narratively interesting though they may be, but because of the infinite tenderness Salter lavishes on the unremarkable and unredeemable moments to which he refuses the possibility of meaning anything.

Folk Tales Within Folk Tales In “When The Tiger Came Down The Mountain”, by Jake Casella Brookins, Chicago Review of Books

Nghi Vo’s When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is masterful in its ability to step back, to allow the fairytale stay in its frame, at a bit of a distance from the immediate action. That refusal to humanize more than warranted works hand in hand with the space that Vo gives for the non-human—even when it walks and talks a bit like a person.

The Last Libertines By Benedetta Craveri Review – Dangerous Liaisons, by Caroline Moorehead, The Guardian

When the terrors of the French Revolution had passed, many of those aristocrats who had survived sat down to write their memoirs about the last years of the ancien régime, and the turmoil that followed. Seldom has there been an age, or a group of people, so committed to remembering and recording, whose existence was predicated on subtlety of thought and eloquence of expression. Often they wrote at great length: the memoirs of the Duchesse d’Abrantès run to 18 volumes; those of the Comtesse de Genlis to 10. This need to write was born both of nostalgia for a time when they had been rich and powerful, and a desire to fix for ever, as one courtier put it, “the forms, the spirit and the manners that belonged to the world of high society”.

The Living Dead, by Salgado Maranhão, Guernica Magazine

The dead are alive—
waxen scarecrows
of rotten joy.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

What Does It Mean To Consider Yourself A Disabled Person?, by Joanne Limburg, Aeon

I’m thinking about one of those default images now: the painted wheelchair symbol that marks out a disabled parking space at a supermarket car park, and the figure on that wheelchair. The stick person appears fused to the wheelchair, suggesting not just that a disabled person can be only a person who uses a wheelchair, but is someone who cannot be separated from it.

I Was Starting To Resent Cooking. Then I Discovered The Golden Girls Cookbook., by Rachel Sugar, Grub Street

All cookbooks are to some degree aspirational, filled with recipes you won’t make. But you could, and that’s the allure: the instructions are printed right there. In general, though, a cookbook’s promise is at least ostensibly culinary, and your guide is the author, and the author is someone who knows about cooking, which is why they have written it.

Cookbooks tied to sitcoms that no longer exist are also aspirational, only the aspiration is to get as close as possible to fictional characters who never really existed in the first place.

André Gregory’s ‘This Is Not My Memoir’ Is A Free-form Monologue About His Quest For Meaning In Life And Art, by Wendy Smith, Washington Post

At 86, Gregory remains a seeker. He took up painting in his 70s and started rehearsing “Hedda Gabler” at 82 — given his working pace, he remarks, it “could be ready for an audience in time for my 100th birthday.” The zest for living and working he displays throughout this vibrant memoir is a good indication that he’ll be around to give the opening night speech.

The Past Is Now: On Amin Samman’s “History In Financial Times”, by John Macintosh, Los Angeles Review of Books

In other words, the questions posed by chastened regulators provoked political and historical questions that move us beyond a strictly economic imagination: Which histories bear on the present and why? What now is produced through crisis? What futures can be imagined and forged in its wake? Amin Samman’s History in Financial Times takes as its task “to elaborate and enact a philosophy of history fit for the world of contemporary global finance.” In doing so, it questions two mainstream economic assumptions.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Obama, The Best-Selling Author, On Reading, Writing And Radical Empathy, by Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Whether he’s talking about literature, recent political events or policies implemented by his administration, his observations, like his prose, are animated by an ability to connect social, cultural and historical dots, and a gift — honed during his years as a community organizer and professor of constitutional law — for lending complex ideas immediacy and context.

Even In A Good Marriage, Being First Lady Is The Worst, by Lisa Bonos, Washington Post

This back-and-forth and those that came before it — Michelle saying she wouldn’t spend time in Springfield if he won an Illinois Senate seat, that she wouldn’t campaign for him as he sought to become a U.S. senator, her moving from no to yes on the presidency — fit the definition of an egalitarian marriage, in which both partners get a say in big decisions.

The Want, by Carmen Maria Machado, Granta

It’s often in the morning that the want is biggest. The want is to wake up, lazy and horizontal, and have it. Currently I sleep in a big bed, next to a square window above a fig free, which looks out at the local high school, the 110 freeway, and the undeveloped hills in the park beyond. I used to wake up early, but lately – with the want – I sleep until the light is already bright. It doesn’t feel good waking up when the sun is already at work. I feel I’ve wasted something. I feel everybody has gotten going but me, that they are all up and living their lives.

The want that makes me sleep all the time is connected to a video I watch pretty often, of a young white man on his knees, in a nondescript hotel room with silver wallpaper and silver throw pillows.

A Literary Catalog Of Things Lost To History, by Kate Zambreno, New York Times

Judith Schalansky’s collection “An Inventory of Losses” is classified as “Fiction/Essay,” a blurry and enviable label rare in American letters but championed by the book’s publisher, New Directions — texts that cross the boundary from nonfiction into the defamiliarized and ghostly. It situates Schalansky alongside other German writers such as Alexander Kluge and W. G. Sebald, as well as the Latin American authors Jorge Luis Borges, Valeria Luiselli and César Aira. The “inventory” of the title invokes the archives that the author is writing from, as well as the literary form of the list (like Sebald’s cabinets of curiosities and lists of various natural phenomena in his novels).

‘Memories Of Korea, Sharp Like Splinters’ Flesh Out Sumi Hahn’s Debut Novel, ‘The Mermaid From Jeju’, by Emma Levy, Seattle Times

In the Jeju of Hahn’s imagination, everything on the island is imbued with ancient magic. The ocean is the domain of the sea king. The rocks are “teardrops of Grandma Seolmundae’s five hundred sons.” And the haenyeo, the women freedivers who harvest mollusks, octopus and kelp, resemble mermaids to those outside their exclusive clan.

Love In The Blitz By Eileen Alexander Review – Romance And Bombs, by William Boyd, The Guardian

As we endure the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic – with its attendant “Groundhog Day” ennui, its frustrations and intermittent panics – performing a particular thought-experiment can be both enlightening and consoling. Imagine yourself transported back in time to September 1939; almost six years of the second world war is coming down the historical pike towards you. That would be so much worse than this crisis, surely? The displacement and upheaval in our ordinary lives that we’re experiencing today can’t be remotely similar to the massive, unforeseen turbulence that the world went through then – surely?

What Made Leonardo Such A Great Artist? Science, Says A New Book, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

“The Shadow Drawing” doesn’t offer the conventional satisfactions of biography: the evocation of Leonardo’s world, his paradoxes and idiosyncrasies, that famous fondness for solitude and rose-pink tunics. The book trains its gaze on his technical and philosophical obsessions. Its focus may feel narrow at times, and yet its pleasures often prove surprisingly wide. The book reorients our perspective, distills a life and brings it into focus — the very work of revision and refining that its subject loved best.

The Grid Of Intimacy, by Callie Garnett, Chicago Review of Books

Behold: A vegetarian with his hand up a
Heavy equipment, which is The Count
His deathless numbers! How I loved them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Library Books: A Small Antidote To A Life Of Perpetual Dissatisfaction, by Ben Dolnick, New York Times

And in dispelling my fantasies of permanence, the library does more than save me the cost of a paperback — it provides me with a template for navigating the great sea of longing and disappointment that is life.

The Year In Learning French, by Zito Madu, HazLitt

This year has been filled with so much violence and death, so much evil and grief as a consequence of it. Some days it was damn near unbearable. But I have changed—I’ve grown stronger in my convictions about the sanctity of life and the need to protect the most vulnerable, and I’ve seen my friend and teacher change in the same direction. I’ve been grateful for the possibility of learning French, for the little spaces of time each week where I can get on camera and fail at basic sentences and rant about the ridiculousness of so many words sounding the same. Because within all of that failure, in a year unlike any other, is the chance of becoming something new.

The Ghosts Of Cambridge, by Alex Langstaff, Los Angeles Review of Books

If Then reads as a kind of prehistory to Cambridge Analytica, the private consultancy that imploded in 2018 after revelations of its dubious use of Facebook data to elect Trump and win Brexit. Exhuming Simulmatics from the dustbin of history also recasts our own strange moment as a mystery story: Why did the company that “invented the future” fail? And why did we forget it ever existed?

Closer, Now, Closer, by Nicholas Rombes, 3:AM Magazine

Like the guilty son returning to the scene
Of the crime I came home, following my own
True north. The one-lane bridge.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Lauren Martin On Realizing Writing Advice Applies To Life, Too, by Lauren Martin, Literary Hub

It was so simple yet so profound. So obvious yet so overlooked. One word at a time. One sentence. One book. It mimicked the structure of life. One moment. One day. One life. As books were written in words, life was lived in moments. The word I was paying attention to would lead to the next. The moment I was living in now would roll into my future.

Fishing By Lantern On An Island In Kenya, by Jeffrey Walcott, New York Times

As the sun sets over the waters of Kenya’s Lake Victoria, the soft sound of the lapping waves is drowned out by the hum of motors. Squinting, I can see them on the horizon, the tiny boats splitting the oranges and blues of the twilight sky.

What's The Point Of Lab-grown Meat When We Can Simply Eat More Vegetables?, by Jenny Kleeman, The Guardian

Cultured meat is eye-catching technology. But it is also an over-engineered solution to a problem that we can solve by changing our diets. If we simply stopped eating meat, or ate it far less often, then there would be no need for either harmful intensive animal agriculture or meat grown in a lab. The cultured meat industry rests on a view of human beings as greedy and incapable of change. But the coronavirus pandemic has shown that, globally, we are able to make enormous changes to our behaviour when faced with existential crisis.

'The Blade Between' Walks The Boundary Of Horror And Noir, by Gabino Iglesias, NPR

This is a complex novel that never allows one storyline to overpower the others. The fight against gentrification lies at its core like a rotten chunk of whale flesh buried under a crumbling building, but there's enough going on to build a whole town on top of that.

Book Review: Julia Child's Very Quotable Wit And Wisdom, by Mims Cushing, Florida Times-Union

Who didn’t love Julia Child? Who didn’t embrace her antics on TV as she became more and more well-known? Knopf has just published a selection of her witty sayings, gathered by The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts that should make the cooking aficionados on your list gleeful. A great stocking stuffer, it will make a delightful treasure trove of all things culinary for cooking buffs of any age.

The Milestones Of Milestone, by Gary D. Rhodes, Los Angeles Review of Books

To speak of cinematic milestones is common. To speak of the director named Milestone, much less so. But what a name it was, Lewis Milestone, as monumental as director King Vidor’s name was regal. Lewis Milestone: Life and Films, Harlow Robinson’s new book from the University Press of Kentucky, is a welcome biography of a man whose films remain better known than his name.

My Stranger, by Maria Taylor, The Guardian

hangs where the plaster cracked
and the ribs of the house show.
He’s the only stranger I can afford,
a middle-aged man in a plaid shirt

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Secret History Of T. S. Eliot’s Muse, by Michelle Taylor, New Yorker

In 1949, eight years after James Joyce died, his letters began to travel the world. Thanks to microfilm technology, popularized a few years earlier, the contents of his archive at the University of Buffalo became more accessible to curious readers and meddlesome critics than ever before. T. S. Eliot encountered them thousands of miles away, at the British Museum, in London, where he came face to face with a past self: his own letters to the Irish writer, lit up on a projection screen before him. Such exposure made Eliot uneasy. Later, in a letter sent across the ocean to Emily Hale, a teacher at a boarding school in Massachusetts, Eliot recalled the anxiety he’d experienced that day in the museum: “I thought, how fortunate that I did not know Joyce intimately enough to have made personal revelations or to have expressed adverse opinions, or repeated gossip or scandal, about living people!”

Eliot’s letters to Hale, who for nearly seventeen years was his confidante, his beloved, and his muse, were another matter. They don’t just repeat “gossip and scandal,” they produce it. Scholars have known about this correspondence since Hale donated Eliot’s letters to Princeton, in 1956, but for decades, the trove of documents remained a tantalizing secret—kept sealed, at Eliot’s insistence, until fifty years after both he and Hale had died.

Airports Are Portals To Escape, But In New Zealand There Is No Way Out, by Steve Braunias, The Guardian

Passengers are led on a kind of maze that goes through the ruins of the shut-down international airport. It’s poignant to walk past the abandoned emporiums of duty-free whiskey, chocolates, and perfume. The lights are on, but the party’s over. Covid, always Covid, doing its best to remind you of its awesome gloom.

Life Without Air By Daisy Lafarge Review – Ecological Poetry, by Rebecca Tamás, The Guardian

Life Without Air makes a multitude of connections between human beings and the world of the non-human. However, unlike with some more traditional nature poetry, Lafarge does not use the environment as just a backdrop, or fodder for metaphor. Rather, this is a work of true interrelation, albeit one that never falls into easy or holistic union.

'Ordesa' Is A Difficult Read — But Stick With It, by Michael Schaub, NPR

But if you stick with the narrator's intellectual peregrinations, it pays off, as he lets his despairing facade fall, and opens up more about the origins of his malaise.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Rise (And Fall) Of Citizen Kane As The Greatest Movie Ever Made, by Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

Maybe it’s hard to imagine now, but for many years, Kane’s dominance wasn’t a matter of personal preference. It was practically a piece of data — like the name of the president, or the location of Florida. Miles and miles of words have been written about why Orson Welles’s masterpiece was so widely acclaimed — why it was (and is) such a monumental film. And miles and miles of words have been written, of course, about whether it deserves that acclaim — not to mention who, exactly, is responsible for its greatness. But how did Citizen Kane become so firmly established at the top of the canon in the first place? Who put it there?

I Didn’t Think I Understood Modern Poetry. The Less I Tried To Get It, The More I Came To Love It., by Ron Charles, Washington Post

In the early years, I can’t claim to have attained a great deal of insight, but a funny thing happened in the crucible of my quarterly terror: I stopped reading poetry like a panicked codebreaker. That is, I stopped demanding that every poem yield its concealed meaning, which I suppose is the legacy of outmoded high school English classes. Instead I just read — often aloud — letting the words flow over me and affect me however they could.

That Old Country Music By Kevin Barry – Beautifully Pitched Short Stories, by Justine Jordan, The Guardian

In the interests of literature, Roethke embraces the drink, the drama, the fierce emotional weather: “Because brokenheartedness is the note that sustains always and this he can play at will.” However brokenhearted, Barry’s stories always sing.

Friday, December 4, 2020

The Social Life Of Forests, by Ferris Jabr, New York Times

Before Simard and other ecologists revealed the extent and significance of mycorrhizal networks, foresters typically regarded trees as solitary individuals that competed for space and resources and were otherwise indifferent to one another. Simard and her peers have demonstrated that this framework is far too simplistic. An old-growth forest is neither an assemblage of stoic organisms tolerating one another’s presence nor a merciless battle royale: It’s a vast, ancient and intricate society. There is conflict in a forest, but there is also negotiation, reciprocity and perhaps even selflessness. The trees, understory plants, fungi and microbes in a forest are so thoroughly connected, communicative and codependent that some scientists have described them as superorganisms. Recent research suggests that mycorrhizal networks also perfuse prairies, grasslands, chaparral and Arctic tundra — essentially everywhere there is life on land. Together, these symbiotic partners knit Earth’s soils into nearly contiguous living networks of unfathomable scale and complexity. “I was taught that you have a tree, and it’s out there to find its own way,” Simard told me. “It’s not how a forest works, though.”

Why We Forget How Early It Gets Dark Every Year, by Shayla Love, Vice

Why is it that such a regular occurrence feels so horrific and surprising? Why don’t we better remember that when it seems like it’s approaching time for dinner or a cocktail, it’s barely 4 p.m.?

There is a memory-based explanation, said Signy Sheldon, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at McGill University: It's because the way we interpret and encode our current experiences is all based on expectations. Memory is, after all, a tool to help us survive in the world, and so it, in part, operates to make predictions.

Review: Heartbreak Is All In A Day's Work In A Timely Novel About A Nurse On Edge, by Nathan Deuel, Los Angeles Times

In a poetic but disjointed second novel, at times as harshly illuminating as a fluorescent-lighted operating room and at others as confusing as an overwhelmed ER, British writer Emma Glass — herself a working nurse — depicts a London hospital nursery ward where tiny humans struggle to survive. Her focus isn’t the suffering children but a few agonizing days in the life of one particular nurse, Laura, who is nearing complete systemic collapse. Is a faulty and unjust system to blame?

An Inventory Of Losses By Judith Schalansky Review – It Can't Last, by John Self, The Guardian

An Inventory of Losses seems at first no more optimistic than the earlier books: our desire for human creations to endure, as evidenced by the etched copper discs of cultural markers attached to the Voyager space probes, is “a kind of magical thinking … a means of self-reassurance for a species unable to accept its own utter meaninglessness”. But for Schalansky it’s the failure to last that gives our efforts not just pathos but also power, and her book is a philosophical embrace of loss.

Fiona Apple, 41, by Jessica Piazza, The Cincinnati Review

Getting older, you never got old.
A gold mine of girl: doe-eyed, sold.

We Speak Of A Person As A Body—, by Emma Aylor, The Cincinnati Review

in the South, a body might do that, or
it makes a body feel some type of way.
Here rounding at the knees to support

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Meaning Of Food In Eat Joy, by Sarah Appleton Pine, Ploughshares

In Eat Joy, Natalie Eve Garrett collects short essays by 31 different writers, each with a recipe linked to it. The writers capture similar relationships to food that Cisneros and I have, where food goes deeper than simple nourishment. “When I embarked on this collection,” Garrett writes, “I hoped to create a feast of stories about making mistakes, summoning strength, getting lost and trying to find a way back. I hungered for compassionate stories that reveled in taste, whether savory, bitter, or sweet—stories that used food as a conduit for unearthing memories.” The essays reveal how foods hold the shape of memories and people and places, nourishment intertwined with the forces that shaped it.

What Is The Sound Of Thought?, by Andrea Moro, MIT Press Reader

Why do we include the sounds of words in our thoughts when we think without speaking? Are they just an illusion induced by our memory of overt speech?

These questions have long pointed to a mystery, one relevant to our endeavor to identify impossible languages — that is, languages that cannot take root in the human brain.

This Japanese Shop Is 1,020 Years Old. It Knows A Bit About Surviving Crises., by Hisako Ueno, New York Times

Like many businesses in Japan, her family’s shop, Ichiwa, takes the long view — albeit longer than most. By putting tradition and stability over profit and growth, Ichiwa has weathered wars, plagues, natural disasters, and the rise and fall of empires. Through it all, its rice flour cakes have remained the same.

The Pandemic Gives Us A Chance To Change How We Get Around, by Tom Vanderbilt, Wired

Why hasn’t there been more innovation in transportation? Why is the 21st century street still being trod by 19th century vehicles? The pandemic gave the world a pause, the sort capable of disrupting entrenched habits—Zoom changed our notions of social connectivity almost overnight. Had a similar glitch in the matrix allowed us the temporary means to envision better—safer, cleaner, quieter, more efficient—ways to move around?

Words In A Mirror: On Don Mee Choi’s “DMZ Colony”, by Jae Kim, Los Angeles Review of Books

A 1.5-generation Korean American living in St. Louis, such as myself, will most likely never realize the fact that they’re living near the 38th parallel north until they come across DMZ Colony, the latest collection of poems by the poet-translator Don Mee Choi, whose opening section takes place in St. Louis. Snow geese say to Choi, “SEE YOU AT DMZ,” flying over Forest Park in formation for three pages, figures in the distant canvas of the sky. Choi has replaced the geese with letters, as though the letters were stick figures representing the geese: Ds on the first page, Ms on the second page, Zs on the third page.

Make Room For ‘Big Girl, Small Town’, by

Ron Charles, Washington Post

Again and again, with the raw elements of this cramped life, Gallen manages to evoke in us a wave of complex feelings. It’s the kind of magic you’ll feel lucky to find.

The Body Electric, by James Crews, New York Times

Every cell in our bodies contains a pore
like a door, which says when to let in

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

How Francis Ford Coppola Got Pulled Back In To Make ‘The Godfather, Coda’, by Dave Itzkoff, New York Times

Francis Ford Coppola, the director and co-screenwriter of the “Godfather” series, has never approached his work in quite the same way. These three movies have won a combined nine Academy Awards, grossed more than $1.1 billion when adjusted for inflation and gained an exalted status in the popular consciousness. But rather than regard them as immutable monuments, Coppola has treated them like an unfinished painting he is free to update.

Castles In The Sky, by Christina Lalanne, The Atavist Magazine

The first week we owned the house, Mat and I learned the true identity of its builder. Such are the wonders of the internet. A quick newspaper-archive search and there he was: Hans Jorgen Hansen, a young Danish immigrant alternately described as a carpenter and a contractor. He built many houses. This one, finished when he was 30 years old, was his home.

He had created something beautiful, but the world it seemed didn’t value his vision of beauty anymore. I was determined to restore the house and to hear what it had to say, to find the story I was sure it held. What I didn’t expect was that the story would come to me in written form, after being secreted away for more than a century.

A New Biography Explores The Life Of The Author Of Harriet The Spy, by Gwen Ihnat, AV Club

The 1964 children’s novel Harriet The Spy inspired an entire generation of future writers and diarists. The protagonist—an Upper East Side 11-year-old who spies on her neighbors when she’s not spending time with her stern, knowledgeable nanny, Ole Golly—stood out from the idyllic young heroes and heroines of children’s literature of the era. Harriet was opinionated, sneaky, and stubborn, and rebelled against her parents’ demands. “I’ll be damned if I go!” she says of attending dance school.

It turns out many of the roots of Harriet’s privileged existence can be found in the life of her creator, Louise Fitzhugh. Leslie Brody’s new biography, Sometimes You Have To Lie (a piece of Ole Golly dialogue), delves deep into the writer’s fascinating past.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

How To Let Go Of A Book You’ve Been Writing For Twenty Years, by Aaron Gilbreath, Literary Hub

When a publisher finally picked up my third book, The Heart of California: Exploring the San Joaquin Valley, my friend Anne congratulated me on completing it. She knew the book had taken me over 20 years to write. Then she asked a keen question: along with the sense of accomplishment, did I feel a little sad?

I Read Court Documents For Fun. Hear Me Out., by Tarpley Hitt, New York Times

The justice system can seem like a faceless monolith. But beneath the veneer of legal solemnity, the paper trail left by trucking disputes or chicken-fat injuries amounts to a kind of living library, an archive of corporate overreach and personal foibles, transcribed in every register imaginable by people — biased people, with weird hangups and charming habits — telling the stories of their lives through their most tragic, selfish or trivial problems.

The Arrest By Jonathan Lethem Review – A Retrofuturistic Ride, by Alex Preston, The Guardian

This is a dystopian novel in thrall to its own genre, full of knockabout comic book bravado, with regular knowing nods to literary and cinematic history. It is, in short, a blast.

It’s The End Of Humanity. Maybe It’s For The Best., by Dustin Illingworth, New York Times

In Guido Morselli’s eerie and fantastical 1973 novel, “Dissipatio H.G.,” a man discovers he has inexplicably survived the sudden disappearance of the human race. It’s tough luck, given that he’d planned to drown himself in a cave the very night it happened. Instead, the unnamed narrator emerges to find himself alive and alone in the world, after an apocalyptic ambiguity he refers to as “the Event.” Descending from his remote village, he searches for survivors in Chrysopolis, a fictional mercantile city. There he finds not people, but rather “a taste of eternity”: memories, emboldened animals, flickering apparitions and lush, unfamiliar silences.

Book Review: Money By Jacob Goldstein, by Andrew Jack, Financial Times

The author might have done more, for instance, to explore the risks ahead posed by cyberterrorism, computer crime and the growing reliance on electronic transactions. But as an introduction to how money morphed into the varied forms it has today, Goldstein’s book is a readable place to start.