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Archive for March 2021

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Walking Liberia With Graham Greene, by Lucy Scholes, The Paris Review

Even if you’ve read Journey without Maps, you might struggle to remember Graham’s co-traveler. Understandably so, since she’s mentioned only a handful of times, and always only in passing. It’s easy to forget she’s there at all. But she was: his cousin, twenty-three-year-old Barbara Greene, who’d gamely agreed to accompany him after one too many glasses of champagne at a family wedding. “Liberia, wherever it was, had a jaunty sound about it,” she endearingly recalls. “Liberia! The more I said it to myself the more I liked it. Life was good and very cheerful. Yes, of course I would go to Liberia.” Such innocent, rose-tinted enthusiasm obviously doesn’t last, but as she goes on to explain, “By the time I had found out what I had let myself in for it was too late to turn back.”

The Return Of The Bonkbuster: How Horny Heroines Are Starting A New Sexual Revolution, by Daisy Buchanan, The Guardian

But I was starting to understand why horny women were hiding. What chance did we have? When sex is weaponised and stories of sex are so often accompanied by stories of violence, it felt as if there was nowhere for us to express desire freely or safely.

Beaked Whales Are The Animals We Need Right Now, by J. B. MacKinnon, The Atlantic

The marine biologist Jay Barlow likes to say that he went looking for the last of the Ice Age mastodons and instead bumped into a unicorn. It’s a land-based metaphor to help us, a landlubbing species, make sense of what he witnessed late last year, though in fact the mystery unfolded entirely out of sight of land.

The Mysterious Case Of The F*cking Good Pizza, by Noah Kulwin, Vice

Suddenly, I was seized by a need to get to the bottom of a matter that felt like a glitch in the fabric of my humdrum pandemic existence: Where did these clickbait restaurant brands come from, even if they didn’t seem to technically exist? And why did delivery marketplaces across the U.S., and countries around the world, suddenly seem to be flooded with them?

Kaitlyn Greenidge’s Historical Fiction Unites The African Diaspora, by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, New York Times

Kaitlyn Greenidge’s second novel, “Libertie,” is a feat of monumental thematic imagination. Her 2016 debut, “We Love You, Charlie Freeman,” paralleled two stories of racial degradation that occurred at a New England research institute six decades apart. Here as well Greenidge both mines history and transcends time, centering her post-Civil-War New York story around an enduring quest for freedom.

Book Review: ‘Who Is Maud Dixon?’ A Clever Debut Novel About A Debut Novel, by Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel

The title of this smart, slyly clever debut from journalist Alexandra Andrews says it all. Just who is this Maud Dixon whose first novel is the most talked about book in the history of publishing?

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

On “Getting” Poetry, by Adam Kirsch, New Criterion

A subscriber to this magazine writes with a problem: “Although I have advanced university degrees, I have never ‘gotten’ poetry.” He’s not alone; I hear the same thing regularly from people who love to read novels and biographies, who are undaunted by string quartets and abstract paintings, but find poetry a closed door. No one is more aware of this disconnect between poetry and the reading public than poets themselves. The debate over why poetry moved from the center of literary culture to the outskirts of the academy, and how it can regain its place in the sun, has been going on at least since Dana Gioia’s landmark essay “Can Poetry Matter?” appeared in The Atlantic in 1991. More recently, the poet and novelist Ben Lerner devoted a short book to explaining The Hatred of Poetry. The poet-critic Stephanie Burt, perhaps taking that hatred for granted, titled a book about how to read poems Don’t Read Poetry.

Literary Translations And Crossword Puzzles Are More Similar Than You Think, by May Huang, Electric Literature

Both are puzzles with particular rules and constraints: translators move the meaning and culture of a text from one language into another, and cruciverbalists populate grids with words that translate into a set of clues. When I translate poems and construct crosswords, I often find myself asking the same questions: What does this word mean? Will others understand? And, of course, how can I have fun with this?

How Elizabeth Loftus Changed The Meaning Of Memory, by Rachel Aviv, New Yorker

Loftus, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, is the most influential female psychologist of the twentieth century, according to a list ­compiled by the Review of General Psychology. Her work helped usher in a paradigm shift, rendering obsolete the archival model of memory—the idea, dominant for much of the twentieth century, that our memories exist in some sort of mental library, as literal representations of past events. According to Loftus, who has published twenty-four books and more than six hundred papers, memories are reconstructed, not replayed. “Our representation of the past takes on a living, shifting reality,” she has written. “It is not fixed and immutable, not a place way back there that is preserved in stone, but a living thing that changes shape, expands, shrinks, and expands again, an amoeba-­like creature.”

A Musician’s Daughter Faces His Music — And His Choices, by Alexandra Jacobs, New York Times

Writing about music is tremendously hard. Writing about fictional music is surely even harder — but with artful juxtaposition and Zelig-like placement of made-up characters with real ones (Dick Cavett!), the author has conjured an entire oeuvre of lyrics, licks and liner notes that is backdrop for some of the most pressing political issues of our era, or any era. The story Sunny “tells” using the tools of journalism is propulsive, often funny and thought-provoking. Like the best fiction, it feels truer and more mesmerizing than some true stories. It’s a packed time capsule that doubles as a stick of dynamite.

Book Review: Born Into This By Adam Thompson, by Arjun Rajkhowa, ArtsHub

Thompson approaches identity in a nuanced and complex manner, and the inner turmoil of his very contemporary characters can’t be reduced to simplistic polarities. Thompson explores tensions underlying everyday conversations between colleagues, extraordinary disputes between school children and teachers, and unexceptional fights between estranged brothers with insight and acuity, revealing the hidden strains that imbue these interactions.

Why Are Migratory Birds Vanishing Out Of The Sky?, by Christian Cooper, New York Times

The passion Weidensaul brings to these scenes is personal. “A World on the Wing” finds some of its most moving moments early on, when he charts the development of his own interest in birds. As he describes watching the great movements of raptors over Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, “fly-fishing in the air” to lure a golden eagle into his bander’s mist net, or the simple pleasure of celebrating the raucous arrival of Canada geese every spring over his childhood home (“Big Goose Day” his family called it; “but it’s not like we baked a cake or anything,” his sister adds), a birder can be forgiven for nodding in recognition. And non-birders can feel enough of the joy that they too might be inspired to partake of the wild.

A World On The Wing By Scott Weidensaul Review – Incredible Journeys Taken By Migratory Species, by Ashish Ghadiali, The Guardian

I’m not a birder, but Weidensaul persuades me that I could be, and that a greater appreciation of the movement and behaviour of migratory birds might bring me into closer contact with what it means to be a living thing on Earth. How is it that these animals, even at a first attempt, can navigate a hemisphere with such unreal precision? The answer, as Weidensaul relates, might lie in the phenomenon of quantum entanglement with the planet, as wavelengths of blue light excite and split electrons between the eye of the bird and the air they cut through – electron pairs that remain connected, in spite of distance, creating a map of the world in the eye of the bird.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Feelings Forward: On Reading Books And Ourselves, by Stephanie Malak, Los Angeles Review of Books

At this point feelings are the unsung hero of the pandemic’s resolution — they may be marauding, suppressive, and wholly refractory, but they also offer a singular means of coping. Among support networks of family, friends, and pets, feelings are what keep me going and what keep me connected.

Bridged: How The Art Of Writing Can Close The Divide Between Worlds, by Jennifer De Leon, Literary Hub

I didn’t grow up in a literary family. We delivered newspapers; we didn’t read them. We told stories constantly, but we never wrote them down. My parents held blue-collar jobs. They worked double, sometimes triple shifts to pay for a house in a peaceful neighborhood with no speed bumps, where my sisters and I rode pink Huffy bikes around the sunny cul-de-sac during the summer.

Even at this young age, I knew my mother was different from other mothers. She did not volunteer to make heart-shaped valentines out of construction paper in my classroom or cut oranges into quarters and distribute them at soccer games. She was always at work. I knew my mother never had the chance to go to high school in her country, never mind college, but I also knew that she made her daughters excited to return to school each September.

The Manningtree Witches By AK Blakemore Review – Menacing And Thrilling Debut, by Stephanie Merritt, The Guardian

It’s hard to think of any recent time when a historical novel about the persecution of women wouldn’t resonate painfully with current headlines, but AK Blakemore’s exceptionally accomplished debut feels especially pertinent now, as women’s protests against their treatment by men are met with further aggression or accusations of hysteria. The Manningtree Witches is a fictionalised account of the Essex witch trials of 1645, and includes excerpts from the trial records, fleshed out in the imagined narrative of one of the accused women, 19-year-old Rebecca West.

A Museum Director And Poet Bears Witness To A ‘Long History Of Struggle’, by Emily Bobrow, Wall Street Journal

“A poem is the most efficient form of time travel,” observes Mr. Young, 50, who is also poetry editor of the New Yorker. His writing, he says, is often guided by an impulse to preserve the past by recording it, archiving the stories and feelings that might otherwise be lost to time. In this way, he says, “the power of poetry is much like the power of a museum”: Both can evoke a time and place by bearing witness to history.

Hymn To Aphrodite, by Frederick Seidel, The Guardian

I gather you were in the lobby
Minutes before.
Terrifying to almost see you again.
I smelled the shockwave, the burning air.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

From James Baldwin To V. S. Naipaul, The Greatest Travel Writers Have Always Brought Multiple Perspectives, by Aatish Taseer, Travel + Leisure

But then, mid-indignation, Huxley stopped himself. His tone changed from strident to reflective. It seems to have dawned on him that this business of seeing and being seen, of contesting narratives describing the same place, like a Venn diagram at war with itself, is not extraneous to the idea of travel, but in fact strikes at its very essence. "In the traveler's life," Huxley wrote, "these little lessons in the theory of relativity are daily events."

The sense of affront Huxley felt that day in Mumbai, as travel forced another idea of history upon him, is particularly relevant to the moment of reckoning we find ourselves in today. From Seattle to Brussels, from Cape Town to Bristol, England, statues are being torn down and major institutions renamed, some representing racists and slavers (King Leopold II, Woodrow Wilson, Edward Colston), others depicting figures more typically thought of as heroes (Gandhi, Winston Churchill, George Washington). History, with a capital H, is alive as never before.

Would The Pandemic Stop Paul Theroux From Traveling?, by Gal Beckerman, New York Times

Theroux turns 80 in April. For a generation of backpackers now gone gray, the tattered paperback accounts of his treks through China, Africa and South America were a prod to adventure, bibles of inspiration under many a mosquito net. He has a new novel out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April, “Under the Wave at Waimea,” and his best-known book (and his own favorite among them), “The Mosquito Coast,” has been adapted into a television series starring his nephew, Justin Theroux, also set to premiere next month.

If this seems like a moment to take stock of an intrepid life and an almost extreme output of writing, Theroux does not see himself as anywhere near done. Before Covid-19 struck, he had plans to go to central Africa. He is deep into another novel and finishing up a new story collection. He himself can’t seem to keep track of the number of books he has written: “Fifty-something maybe?” (It’s actually 56.)

How Will Machines Choose To Tell Stories?, by Elvia Wilk, The Atlantic

Ishiguro’s book is fiction, but his suggestion that a new type of literature may be on the horizon is not. In May 2020, the San Francisco–based start-up OpenAI first publicly described its new language-processing software, which writes remarkably well. Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, or GPT-3, is one of many recent advances in AI demonstrating that machines can do many basic and not-so-basic forms of digital labor. In turn, AI’s capacity for creativity—one of those supposedly sacrosanct human attributes—is becoming more and more of an existential sticking point as humans learn to live alongside intelligent machines.

The Ancient Method That Keeps Afghanistan's Grapes Fresh All Winter, by Stefanie Glinski, Atlas Obscura

Ziaulhaq Ahmadi sits on the floor of his small, one-story house, a brown, mud-walled compound at the end of a dusty alley in Aqa Saray. Surrounded by vineyards, fruit trees, and snow-capped mountains, the village is a half hour’s drive north of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. With great gentleness, he taps on what looks like a sealed mud bowl until it cracks open.

My Rock'n'Roll Friend By Tracey Thorn Review – A Philosophical And Furious Memoir, by Kitty Empire, The Guardian

At 243 pages, in a relatively easygoing font size, Tracey Thorn’s latest book doesn’t look like a particularly subversive tome. Inside, though, is quiet fury, with ramifications well beyond what is, at a glance, a narrow milieu.

Thorn found fame as half of Everything But the Girl in the 80s and has since published a celebrated series of memoirs and nonfiction books. Here, she turns her clear-eyed candour to dissecting her long friendship with Lindy Morrison, an Australian musician, now 69, who played drums in a band called the Go-Betweens.

Book Review: 'Fabric Of Civilization' Weaves A Complex History Of Textiles, by Michael L. Ramsey, Roanoke Times

We all wear clothes. Until recent decades, some American communities had economies based on the manufacture of cloth and clothing. We wear or make clothing without an understanding of its history or its economic impact on our society.

Virginia Postrel is an award-winning writer whose works include “The Substance of Style” and “The Power of Glamour.” Now she has produced a fascinating history of the textiles with which we express our style and glamour.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Humans Accidentally Created A Death Trap For Bald Eagles, by Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic

No wonder the mystery took 25 years to solve: The birds died because of a specific algae that lives on a specific invasive water plant and makes a novel toxin, but only in the presence of specific pollutants. Everything had to go right—or wrong, really—for the mass deaths to happen. This complex chain of events reflects just how much humans have altered the natural landscape and in how many ways; unraveling it took one scientist the better part of her career.

What Happened To The Dining Room Table?, by Melinda Fakuade, Vox

Dinner happens everywhere now: on the couch while streaming a television show, hunched over a kitchen countertop, on a commute home. The shift happened right under our noses — in a 2019 survey about cooking at home, while 72 percent of respondents grew up eating at a dining room table, only 48 percent of them still do so now. The American dining room is dying a slow death, and we’ve barely batted an eye. For the sake of convenience, we don’t sit down for capital-D dinner anymore.

What has this fade into obsolescence done to the dining table, and to the people who once gathered around it to share a meal? The dining table hasn’t disappeared — there are plenty next to my family’s on Facebook Marketplace — but its meaning seems to have been altered forever.

John Edgar Wideman’s Stories Vividly Evoke Life In Pittsburgh And Many Other Places, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

Wideman’s stories have a wary, brooding spirit, a lonely intelligence. They carry a real but atrophied affection for America. He airs the problems of consciousness, including the fragile contingency of our existence.

The Surprisingly Elusive Definition Of ‘Life’, by Jacob Brogan, Washington Post

Ultimately, the pleasures of “Life’s Edge” derive from its willingness to sit with the ambiguities it introduces, instead of pretending to conclusively transform the senseless into the sensible. To read this book is to realize that life’s insistence on fluttering out of our grasp is a consequence of our desire to pin it down like a butterfly on a board. Life itself may be nothing other than the thrilling uncertainty that comes of recognizing its as-yet unknowns. Perhaps that is definition enough.

Revolutions By Hannah Ross Review – The Story Of Women On Two Wheels, by Eliane Glaser, The Guardian

Cycling for me has never been boring or neutral. A male cyclist is just a bloke on a bike, but a woman appears political, independent, a bluestocking, egregiously sporty, or suspiciously saucy. In this likable, informative and barnstorming book, Hannah Ross tells the story of how such meanings – sometimes eagerly adopted, sometimes patriarchally imposed – have become attached to what is often just the most efficient way of getting from A to B.

Friday, March 26, 2021

A Boy, His Brain, And A Decades-Long Medical Controversy, by Seema Yasmin, Wired

Two days later, the boy was starting to become himself again. The bad men had disappeared. He wanted to go out for pizza and read his favorite sci-fi books. For the first time in almost five months, Rita and John recognized their son. The relief was immense, but it was tinged with uncertainty: If this disease was “made-up,” why was Timothy getting better? Would the improvement in his condition last? And the biggest question, the one that would dog the family well into Timothy’s adolescence: When doctors disagree on the cause of an illness, where does that leave the patient?

We Are At A Crossroads In The Search For A New Physics, by Pedro G Ferreira, Aeon

I’ve spent most of my adult life staring at the cosmic chasm – the abyss between what we know and what we don’t. And while our knowledge of the Universe has improved dramatically in that time, our ignorance has become only more focused. We’re no closer to answering the big questions about dark matter, dark energy and the origins of the Universe than when I started out. This isn’t for lack of trying, and a titanic effort is now underway to try and figure out all these mysterious aspects of the Universe. But there’s no guarantee we’ll succeed, and we might end up never really grasping how the Universe works. That’s why we need to be creative and to explore. As Einstein once said: ‘Let the people know that a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.’ While bridging the cosmic chasm might not be a matter of survival, undoubtedly it’s one of the most pressing challenges of modern science.

Fast Food Is Going Retro In A Ploy To Court Younger Customers, by Jaya Saxena, Eater

By reverting to logos that existed when Gen Xers and millennials were kids, brands are attempting to convey multiple meanings: comfort, quality, handmade-ness, and quite possibly an elision of all the things millennials grew up to distrust about fast food.

Silicon Valley’s Hidden Voices, by Mary Beth Meehan, Los Angeles Review of Books

Two new books — Seeing Silicon Valley and Voices from the Valley — reveal, if not the future I thought I would find, a critical part of Silicon Valley that most people never look for or think about, let alone see. These two books’ goal is the same: to reveal the Valley’s forgotten but essential communities — obscured more often than not by hyperbolic press releases, lawyers waving non-disclosure agreements, and journalists’ myopic view of what “working in tech” means. In some cases, these are the “people behind the platforms” — the unheralded engineers and programmers who, despite being paid far above the median salary still find themselves living precariously in houses they can’t afford to furnish. In other cases, they are the nannies, cooks, and gardeners whose hidden labor keeps the Valley’s financial, familial, and social circuits humming. That newly minted billionaire you read about might drive a McLaren but someone has to wash and wax it.

Helgoland By Carlo Rovelli Review – A Meditation On Quantum Theory, by Manjit Kumar, The Guardian

There are two kinds of geniuses, argued the celebrated mathematician Mark Kac. There is the “ordinary” kind, whom we could emulate if only we were a lot smarter than we actually are because there is no mystery as to how their minds work. After we have understood what they have done, we believe (perhaps foolishly) that we could have done it too. When it comes to the second kind of genius, the “magician”, even after we have understood what has been done, the process by which it was done remains forever a mystery.

Werner Heisenberg was definitely a magician, who conjured up some of the most remarkable insights into the nature of reality. Carlo Rovelli recounts the first act of magic performed by Heisenberg in the opening of Helgoland, his remarkably wide-ranging new meditation on quantum theory.

To This Essayist And Cultural Critic, The Black Tradition Is Resistance, by Jerald Walker, New York Times

Jesse McCarthy welcomes everyone to read “Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul?,” but he’s expressly keen to reach “the younger generations struggling right now to find their footing in a deeply troubled world.” Some of that potential readership came of age in the period bookended by the police killings of Michael Brown, in 2014, and both Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, in 2020 — the same period during which McCarthy wrote the essays in this stunning debut collection. For African-Americans in particular, these were years that yielded much about which to despair, and no doubt much despairing occurred, and does still. The risk of succumbing to that despair is real; but doing so would be at odds with the Black tradition. The Black tradition, McCarthy understands, is resistance.

The Blades, by Threa Almontaser, Los Angeles Review of Books

You cut down on the gopher in a single, crisp stroke
in the garden. In it also, your mother’s prized orange tree.
A blue jay your family feeds and has trained.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

How Do Plague Stories End?, by Jill Lepore, New Yorker

Every plague leaves its mark on the world: crosses in our graveyards, blots of ink on our imaginations. Edgar Allan Poe had witnessed the ravages of cholera in Philadelphia, and he likely knew the story of how, in Paris, in 1832, the disease had struck at a ball, where guests turned violet blue beneath their masks. In Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death,” from 1842, Prince Prospero (“happy and dauntless and sagacious”) has fled a pestilence—a plague that stains its victims’ faces crimson—to live in grotesque luxury with a thousand of his noblemen and women in a secluded abbey, behind walls gated with iron. At a lavish masquerade ball, a tall, gaunt guest arrives to ruin their careless fun. He is dressed as a dead man: “The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have difficulty in detecting the cheat.” He is dressed as the Red Death itself: “His vesture was dabbled in blood—and his broad brow, with all the features of his face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.” Everyone dies, and because this is Poe, they die as an ebony clock tolls midnight (after which, even the clock dies): “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

Everyday Horrors: Life At The Intersection Of Art And Death, by Gina Nutt, Literary Hub

I used to imagine wanting someone alive would revive them, if caught right after dying. If I went after them, buoyed by reflexive hope, I might bring them back. Like losing something—a bracelet, a pair of sunglasses, a plastic sandal—over the side of a boat, seeing the outline dim as it sinks. I’d flood with instinct. Dive into the water right away, head first, to retrieve what was lost.

'Perseverance' And Poetry Help A Writer Bridge Multiple Worlds, by Jeevika Verma, NPR

For people who are deaf the world is often split in two: A world where sound is taken for granted, and another with its own rich culture of deaf history and sign language.

Poet Raymond Antrobus has always had to navigate between these two worlds, something he examines in his debut collection The Perseverance, out in the United States just in time for National Poetry Month.

The Absolute Book By Elizabeth Knox Review – An Instant Classic, by Nina Allan, The Gaurdian

The Absolute Book is a tongue-in-cheek homage to these overblown literary detective stories as well as a triumph of literary fantasy, and this knowing, feisty, humorous contribution to the genre is a hefty piece of work. There is a lot to keep track of here, not only in terms of characters but in terms of worlds. As Taryn, Shift and Berger duck and dive between realities they encounter demons, fairy folk, the semi-immortal hybrids known as the Taken, human souls in Purgatory and godly entities in avian form. The strands of real-world myth, folklore and fairytale from which Knox weaves the philosophical rationale behind what is in its appearance and mechanics a classic portal fantasy are as richly diverse as her characters, revealing a fluent knowledge of her predecessors as well as a solidly practical grasp of magical storytelling.

Book Review: Marks On The Map, By Brian Johnstone, by Susan Mansfield, The Scotsman

The Marks on the Map leaves a lingering melancholy, a sense that the marks we want to leave on the world are fragile, more permeable than we thought.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Naming New York City, by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, New York Review of Books

The story of what transformed this once-white enclave into a world-historical Babel of people and languages, and a marvelous microcosm of polyglot New York now, is a story in part about two key pieces of legislation from the era of Civil Rights that transformed the United States. One is the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended old limits on immigration from the world’s “darker nations,” and the other is the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which made discrimination in housing against minorities, including those new arrivals, illegal. The combined result was a tide of new people from a number of world regions entering the housing market—South Asia, the Caribbean, West Africa, South America, and the Middle East—who were previously underrepresented in New York’s ethnic mix. With them came new patterns of residence that transformed the names that fill its neighborhoods.

Which One Is Correct: O.K., OK, Ok, Or Okay?, by Jonny Diamond, Literary Hub

In honor of the 182nd anniversary of the first-ever appearance in print of O.K. (in The Boston Morning Post) I am here to start an internet copyediting war.

What Does It Mean To Be A Living Thing?, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, New York Times

This book is not just about life, but about discovery itself. It is about error and hubris, but also about wonder and the reach of science. And it is bookended with the ultimate question: How do we define the thing that defines us?

Philip Roth By Blake Bailey Review – How A Literary Giant Treated Women, by Blake Morrison, The Guardian

But Roth wanted nuances not headlines, suggesting that Bailey call his biography “The Terrible Ambiguity of the ‘I’”. Luckily, that isn’t the title. But ambiguity is central to the story, particularly in relation to Roth’s treatment of women, in life and in fiction, which is where the issue of rehabilitation arises and, as with his peers (Saul Bellow, John Updike and Norman Mailer), can’t really be avoided, least of all now.

New ‘Revelations’ In The Life Of Francis Bacon, A Master Of Darkness And Distortion, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

In their new book, “Francis Bacon: Revelations,” Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for their 2004 biography of Willem de Kooning, argue that Bacon discouraged investigations into his life because he still harbored “one big secret.”

I sat up in my chair, too. What remains to be known?

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

In Praise Of Boring Books, by Alice Jolly, 3:AM Magazine

Such is the writer’s fear of being described as boring, that we rarely ask what exactly such criticism might mean. Does it mean that the book doesn’t move forward quickly enough? Or that it is full of minor details which do not seem to be relevant to the story? Or possibly that the characters don’t interest us or that they lack ‘agency.’

Recently, I have started to ask whether the meaning of ‘boring’ has changed over time? I suspect that it has. In fact, it seems to me that the very concept of a boring book might be relatively modern. In my teenage years I accepted that some books — or sections of books — were boring.

Learning To Go With The Flow, In Rafting And In Writing, by Andrew J. Graff, Literary Hub

“You just have to stay loose,” he said. “Go with the boat, the flow, loosey goosey.” It was my first day on the job as a raft guide in training on Wisconsin’s northern border, and Jack was offering me last minute advice. I think he sensed my rigidity during the morning’s run down this same stretch when I wedged both feet up to my ankles between the raft’s inflated thwart and floor, let go of my paddle, and clung to the gear bag. This afternoon I was determined to do better. Find the flow. I nodded and took a deep breath of the cedar trees and river rocks, looked ahead at the horizon of the waterfall where the river disappeared except for a spray of sunlit mist rising from “the tongue”—a river-wide V, our point of aim, three thousand cubic feet of water per second folding itself into a ten-foot drop before erupting over boulders and ledges for an eighth of a mile.

“Go with boat,” I reminded myself. “Loosey goosey.”

The Debt Never Promised, by Benjamin Thorp, The Rumpus

I owe $17,345 on my student loans. When I graduated from Michigan State University in 2014, my debt was $26,456. I have all my payments set to autopay so I don’t have to look at the money being funneled out of my bank account. I am making progress, but progress is slow. When I began working for a public radio station in Michigan, the starting salary was $30,000, which felt great. The year before, I worked as a member of Americorps VISTA, a national volunteer organization which pays its workers at the poverty level of wherever you’re placed enabling “you to live very frugally, like the community you are serving” according to their website. I’d skirted by during the program because I’d put my loans into forbearance and was housed in the dorms of the community college I’d been working for. But, as I began juggling a car payment, car insurance, student loans, and rent, $30,000 started disappearing at an alarming rate.

A Baltimore Restaurant Owner Drove 6 Hours To Cook A Favorite Meal For A Terminally Ill Customer, by Cathy Free, Washington Post

The request came in late on a Thursday afternoon to restaurant owner Steve Chu. One of his customers had terminal cancer, and her son-in-law wondered if it would be possible to get the recipe of her favorite broccoli tempura entree so he could make it for her at her home in Vermont.

Chu, 30, specializes in Asian fusion cuisine and is the co-owner of two Ekiben locations in Baltimore. He read the email on March 11 and instantly knew that he could do better, he said.

In 'Night Rooms,' A Life Is Reviewed Through Memories And Movies, by Gabino Iglesias, NPR

Gina Nutt's Night Rooms is a collection of biographical essays in which memories and movies — mostly horror ones — merge to create a narrative that explores identity, body image, fear, revenge, and angst.

Jumping between past and present with ease, Nutt slashes to the center of issues like motherhood and depression and ultimately emerges as the quintessential final girl of her own film.

New Book ‘Unapologetic Eating’ Examines The Urge To Apologize For Food Choices, by Carrie Dennett, Seattle Times

The fact is that a lot of people do a lot of apologizing for the seemingly simple acts of eating enough food or for eating food they like — basically apologizing for their very human needs and desires. As registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey, explains in her new book, “Unapologetic Eating: Make Peace with Food and Transform Your Life,” dieting and food restriction is also restricting our lives.

A Life Spent Focused On What Computers Are Doing To Us, by Vivian Gornick, New York Times

Sherry Turkle is a professor of science and technology at M.I.T. who has written many books arguing that our obsessive devotion to devices is destroying the empathy upon which all civilized behavior depends. We are, she fears, in danger of producing an emotionally sterile society more akin to that of the robots coming down the road. Now Turkle has written a memoir, forthrightly called “The Empathy Diaries,” in which she seeks to tell the story of her own formative years and how she became the distinguished social theorist that she is today.

Why Did Los Angeles Become A Cultural Mecca In The Early 1970s?, by Madeleine Brand, New York Times

What was it about Los Angeles in the early 1970s that attracted so many creative people? It had always been a mecca for film. But now it drew young musicians, who felt free to experiment. Some wanted to escape the dirty decay of New York, which was on the brink of bankruptcy. Los Angeles offered not just sunshine and cheap housing, but something more elusive, and more explosive: hope that the social and political activism of the previous decade was yielding fruit.

When Women Invented Television Recalls Four Forgotten Trailblazers, by Gwen Ihnat, AV Club

In her new volume, When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story Of The Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered The Way We Watch Today, Armstrong uses her impressive analytic and research skills to unearth some much less-explored ground. Women Invented Television focuses on four women in particular—Gertrude Berg, Irna Phillips, Hazel Scott, and Betty White—who all, in individual ways, helped create the TV landscape still expanding today.

Book Review: 'My Penguin Year' By Lindsay McCrae, by Mickey Friedman, The Berkshire Edge

“My Penguin Year” is more than one book: it’s both the story of how remarkably difficult it is for emperor penguins to survive, and the story of how remarkably difficult it was to film their struggle. Made more complicated by the fact that, to fulfill his penguin dream, for 11 months Lindsay McCrae would have to turn his personal life upside down.

Helgoland By Carlo Rovelli Review – The Mysteries Of Quantum Mechanics, by Ian Thomson, The Guardian

Science, in Rovelli’s estimation, is not about certainty; it is informed by a radical distrust of certainty. What is real? What exists? Helgoland, beautifully translated by Erica Segre and Simon Carnell, is the beginning of wisdom in these things.

The Two Freedoms, by Tyler Stovall, The Nation

In her ambitious and impressive new book, Freedom: An Unruly History, the political historian Annelien de Dijn approaches this massive subject from the standpoint of two conflicting interpretations of freedom and their interactions over 2,500 years of Western history. She starts her study by noting that most people think of freedom as a matter of individual liberties and, in particular, of protection from the intrusions of big government and the state. This is the vision of liberty outlined in the opening paragraph of this essay, one that drives conservative ideologues throughout the West. De Dijn argues, however, that this is not the only conception of freedom and that it is a relatively recent one. For much of human history, people thought of freedom not as protecting individual rights but as ensuring self-rule and the just treatment of all. In short, they equated freedom with democracy.

Love In Panic Time, by Nicholas Rombes, 3:AM Magazine

I burned everything, even
The art, so called. Don’t panic.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Bottled Authors, by Matthew Rubery, Cabinet

That success would have come as no surprise to the audiobook’s pioneers, who had always imagined a future in which audiences would read books with their ears instead of their eyes. Fans have been predicting the audiobook’s ascendance ever since it became possible to record books. But when exactly was that? The audiobook’s origins can be traced back further than most people realize. Some historians credit Books on Tape, Recorded Books, and other mail-order libraries that arose in the 1970s to entertain commuters stuck in traffic. Others point toward the 1950s, when Caedmon Records released an album featuring the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas reading his beloved tale “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Still others link the audiobook’s origins to discs made by the Library of Congress in 1934 for people who were blind and partially sighted. But the audiobook’s origins predate the twentieth century. In fact, the audiobook turns out to be as old as sound-recording technology itself.

The Secrets Philip Roth Didn’t Keep, by David Remnick, New Yorker

The predatory dimension of one person telling the story of another: Roth wrangled with the theme throughout his career. And until he died, in 2018, he spent a great deal of energy courting biographers, hoping that they would tell his story in a way that wouldn’t undermine his art or his legacy.

A Year Without Powwows: An Indigenous Community Loses Its Heartbeat Amid The Pandemic, by Lauren J. Mapp, Los Angeles Times

The powwow is a celebration of life and renewal so it’s fitting that Annalisa Berrios embraces the “fancy shawl” dance, also known as the butterfly dance because its movements re-create the moment the winged insect emerges from its cocoon.

Berrios, 33, recently felt like she, too, was emerging from a long hibernation.

Meditation On Sale, by Emily Temple, The Italian Review

Ultimately, there’s probably no reversing the capitalist drive. Part of the problem is that it’s not just about those who want to sell us pre-packaged, watered down ancient practices. We want to buy them. We want them made easy for us. If we could buy them in a pill and take them with our coffee, we would. I only hope that some people will decide to go a little further, to discover what’s beneath the shiny surface.

Invisible Walls By Hella Pick Review – Vital Lessons From A Titan Of Journalism, by Fergal Keane, The Guardian

At a time when precious few women were allowed into senior ranks of foreign reporting, she was a trailblazer for a generation. I commend her book to the widest audience possible but particularly those setting out in journalism. Pick is testament to the necessity of having a broad intellectual hinterland and an open mind, the value of cultivating sources and finding things out. There is no better manifesto against the current clickbait culture and narcissistic social media obsession. This voice from before the age of Facebook and Twitter is profound and urgent.

Winged Creatures, by Mary Claire Shingleton, The RavensPerch

My death thoughts travel on feathers,
gliding by so quickly that I must race

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Excellence Runs In The Family. Her Novel’s Heroine Wants Something Else., by Alexandra Alter, New York Times

Greenidge based her book partly on Susan Smith McKinney Steward, who in the 1870s was the first Black woman to become a doctor in New York State. As she researched the family, she found herself drawn to the doctor’s wayward daughter, Anna. She became the model for Libertie, the kind of historical figure who is rarely celebrated: someone who simply wants to survive and thrive, not to be the first or the only one of anything.

“So much of Black history is focused on exceptional people,” Greenidge said in a video interview earlier this month. “Part of what I wanted to explore is, what’s the emotional and psychological toll of being an exception, of being exceptional, and also, what about the people who just want to have a regular life and find freedom and achievement in being able to live in peace with their family — which is what Libertie wants?”

The Perseverance Of New York City’s Wildflowers, by Sabrina Imbler, New York Times

In Williamsburg, on a seven-acre park by the East River, spring will soon unfurl in blue blossoms. Cornflowers are always the first to bloom in the pollinator meadow of Marsha P. Johnson State Park, a welcome sign to bees and people that things are beginning to thaw.

On Monday, the meadow got its annual mow-down, its grasses trimmed to six inches to make way for springtime blooms. “The mow-down encourages this rebirth and regrowth,” said Leslie Wright, the city’s regional director of the state park system. If New York City has a warm spring, the cornflowers may open up by late April, eventually followed by orange frills of butterfly milkweed, purple spindly bee balm and yolk-yellow, black-eyed Susans that also inhabit the meadow — hardy species that can weather the salty spray that confronts life on the waterfront.

In 'Better Luck Next Time,' Desperate Women Seeking Divorces Find Friendship And Love, by Sean Kinch, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Midway through Julia Claiborne Johnson's second novel, "Better Luck Next Time," two women show up at a masquerade dance wearing costumes they have stolen from a local college production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." One is dressed as a fairy, "a gossamer costume" with "glittery wings"; the other wears Bottom's papier-mâché donkey's head, "a string of pearls, and nothing else." Both, it hardly bears mentioning, are intoxicated.

This tableau, naughtily comic and psychologically unsettling, offers an accurate snapshot of the novel, a work that invites comparisons to Shakespeare's madcap comedies. Characters meet in exotic settings where they fall in love, undergo transformations and endure sudden reversals before returning to the real world. The key difference is that, whereas Shakespearean comedies end in weddings, Johnson's characters are trying to get divorced.

There’s Something Magic In Nova Scotia Writer Christy Ann Conlin Powerful New Novel “The Speed Of Mercy”, by Robert J. Wiersema, Toronto Star

“The Speed of Mercy” is a slow-burn, content to gradually insinuate itself into the reader’s consciousness, with the cool, building intensity of a shared dream. It’s a singularly powerful piece of work.

Shooting Midnight Cowboy Review: The Decade's First Essential Cultural History, by Charles Kaiser, The Guardian

This tremendous volume offers the most detailed explication of how a movie is made that I have ever read. But Glenn Frankel’s book is much more than the story of a landmark film from 1969. Its many pleasures include a splendid cultural history of mid-20th-century Britain and New York, a concise account of the Hollywood blacklist and a brilliant double biography of the two closeted gay men most responsible for the creative energy of the movie, which is not just Frankel’s subject, but his inspiration.

Colapinto Shows In 'This Is The Voice' All Human Sound And Fury Signifies Everything, by Jeff Schulze, The Free Lance-Star

Be forewarned John Colapinto’s “This is the Voice” may result in spontaneous episodes of the reader’s jaws dropping, lips pursing, tongue flicking and lungs expelling quick pulses of air.

That’s because this wonderfully detailed examination of the human voice implicitly encourages the reader to actively experience what the author learned.

Gay Bar By Jeremy Atherton Lin Review – A Lurid, Literary Night Out, by Peter Conrad, The Guardian

Gay Bar exemplifies the multidimensionality Lin admires: it’s at once erotically gamey and intellectually playful, combining soft porn with social theory, semen with semiotics. “Being homo,” as Lin smartly puts it, “did not amount to being the same.” No, it also licenses you to be different or, in Lin’s case, to be utterly unique.

Ode To Tortillas, by José Olivarez, The Atlantic

there’s two ways to be a Mexican writer
that we’ve discovered so far.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Historians Still Haven't Solved The Mystery Of 'Harriet Cole', by Jessica Leigh Hester, Atlas Obscura

“Harriet” is a network of fibers fastened to a black board in a case pushed up against a wall. At the top, there appears to be a brain, plump and brown, and a pair of eyes. Scan your own eyes down and you’ll encounter an intricate system of skinny, brittle cords, pulled taut and painted startlingly, artificially white. The outline is recognizably human—there’s the impression of hands and feet, the hint of a pelvis, the suggestion of a rib cage—but it is slightly fantastical, too. The way the cords loop at the hands and feet, it almost appears as if the figure has fins. Elsewhere, the fibers look shaggy, like chewed wire, as if electricity is shooting from the margins of the body.

This is a human medical specimen, in the spirit of an articulated skeleton. But unlike that familiar sight, it represents the nervous system, a part of the body’s machinery that most people have trouble even imagining. Some who stand before “Harriet” wiggle their fingers and toes, as if trying to map the fibers onto their own bodies and make the sight somehow less abstract.

Why Your ‘True Self’ Is An Illusion, by Shayla Love, Vice

What parts of yourself do you consider to be your “true self”? When you act in certain ways, which actions are in alignment with your true self, and which contradict your true self? Remarkably, not only do most people believe in a true self, they answer these questions in the same way. They consistently say that their true self is the parts of them that are fundamentally morally good.

But though this finding has been repeated many times, the true self is an example of a “folk intuition." It almost certainly doesn't exist. What we know from neuroscience and psychology doesn't provide evidence for a separate and persisting morally good true self buried deep within. Yet that makes the true self, and the fact that so many of us have this belief or bias, all the more intriguing, Strohminger said.

Eating In Restaurants Should Be More Expensive, by Lucas Kwan Peterson, Los Angeles Times

I’m not criticizing people’s enjoyment of fast food or a cheap snack — I’ve written plenty about that and even hosted a web series dedicated to it. But as we shake off a year of pandemic brain fog and barrel toward a return to indoor dining, independent restaurants continue to face challenges. Rising food and labor costs, pandemic-related expenses (additional training, PPE, outdoor dining tents and propane heaters), high delivery-app fees, and new competition from ghost kitchens and low-overhead pop-ups make climbing out of the COVID hole that much more difficult.

Eating in restaurants should be more expensive. It’s worth it.

‘Fierce Poise’ Review: A Splash Of Helen Frankenthaler, by Jed Perl, Wall Street Journal

The art historian Alexander Nemerov is a seductive writer. While his colleagues labor over bulky manuscripts weighed down with extensive footnotes, Mr. Nemerov, who teaches at Stanford, approaches his chosen subject, American art and culture from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, with an essayist’s craft (and maybe craftiness). He’s a great believer in the curated fragment, the revelatory glimpse. He likes to look closely at a few select objects (often photographs) and reveal their panoramic implications. Some of the books that he’s written over the past 15 or so years (“Wartime Kiss,” “Summoning Pearl Harbor,” “Icons of Grief”) amount to compact zeitgeist readings: “Wartime Kiss” is subtitled “Visions of the Moment in the 1940s.” Now, in a book about the painter Helen Frankenthaler, he’s at it again, zeroing in on what he describes as critical moments in her life and career during the 1950s, when she established herself as an artist. I’m sympathetic to what Mr. Nemerov is doing. Why can’t the part stand in for the whole? The danger is that we make too much of too little. The details may become portentous.

Plain Bad Heroines By Emily M Danforth Review – An American Horror Story, by Sarah Ditum, The Guardian

Death and misery were once the only imaginable outcomes for a lesbian or bi woman in fiction, but that isn’t so today. What if she could create her own world? Plain Bad Heroines is that creation: in this novel, everything that happens, happens between women. I’m not even sure there’s one conversation between two male characters – whatever the reverse of the Bechdel test is, Danforth defiantly flunks it. Her novel is beguilingly clever, very sexy and seriously frightening.

Friday, March 19, 2021

We Feel ‘Alonely’ When We Don’t Get Enough Time By Ourselves, by Rachel Miller, Vice

Aloneliness is the mirror image of loneliness, and it's the feeling that my partner and I are trying to stave off when we pretend the other doesn't exist for a few hours a day. If loneliness comes about when there's a discrepancy between the amount of quality time you want to spend with other people and how much you actually get, being aloney is a mismatch between the amount of quality time you would like to spend all by yourself, and how much you’re actually able to do so.

Dinner In Bed, Heaps Of Pillows, A Rooftop Pool? Oh, For One Night In A Hotel, by Hannah Jane Parkinson, The Guardian

I discovered one of my favourite delights as a result of an exciting love affair, which for complicated reasons (and I am aware of how dodgy this sounds) included a lot of one-night hotel stays.

My affection for the soul-resetting balm of a single-night hotel stay has long outlasted that relationship. To be clear, I am talking about expensive hotels – ones that would be unaffordable for more than a night. I have stayed in most of London’s ultra-luxurious hotels this way; sampling them as if I’m at a wine tasting.

Grave Realities In “Festival Days”, by Elliot Frank, Chicago Review of Books

In other collections, I often find that in bringing different forms together, an author sacrifices the cohesion of their book. In Festival Days on the other hand, the disparateness of the pieces highlights the consistency of Beard’s style. Beard renders the boring and the everyday in the same vivid language as the violent and the truly awful. In the end, Beard’s writing bounds over literary questions of fiction versus nonfiction. Her essays instead resemble forms plucked from life itself: eulogies, stories told around a fire, narratives of our own lives that echo in our heads.

Morowa Yejidé’s Capacious Imagination Is On Full Display In ‘Creatures Of Passage’, by Martha Anne Toll, Washington Post

Yejidé’s characters are so finely drawn, her language so lush, the city’s landmarks so cleverly repurposed within this magical setting, that the fictional place feels as real as the place itself.

Yejidé is a D.C. native who won critical acclaim for her first novel, “Time of the Locust.” “Creatures,” her second, more than fulfills the promise of her first.

Bright Burning Things By Lisa Harding Review – Gripping Quest For Self-knowledge, by Jude Cook, The Guardian

Written with great energy and generosity, Bright Burning Things is the raw and emotional story of a woman’s search for self-knowledge; one that grips from the beginning.

Review: Mexico City Through The Eyes Of Its Leading Novelist Flaneur, by Rigoberto González, Los Angeles Times

The joy of “Horizontal Vertigo” is that it offers a unique entry into Mexico City’s “inexhaustible encyclopedia” of people, places and old traditions, complementing the history books and outperforming the tour guides. Those expecting more personal stories about Villoro himself will have to find them wandering among the patriotic landmarks and the pirated music for sale on the busy sidewalks: Villoro is so closely identified with Mexico City that it’s impossible to imagine how one can be known without the other, which is why his writings consistently employ the communal “we,” as in this telling statement about the unbreakable bond between Chilangopolis and chilangos: “What was once a cityscape is now our autobiography.”

Los ÁNgeles, by Cintia Santana, Guernica Magazine

We’re going to see the angels
my father says but in Spanish

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Behind The Scenes At A Five-Star Hotel, by Jennifer Gonnerman, New Yorker

The Pierre had shut down its hotel operations on March 22nd and laid off eighty per cent of the staff, some three hundred and fifty people. Luiggi recalled thinking, “We’re pausing for a few weeks—but we’ll reopen by Easter.” A year later, the Pierre and other New York City hotels remain nearly empty, and the majority of their staff out of work. With mass vaccinations under way, Americans could return to many aspects of their pre-pandemic lives by the end of this year. But the city’s hotel industry is haunted by questions: When will travellers return? And when will New Yorkers and others feel comfortable crowding into a hotel ballroom again?

A Cabdriver Who Also Ferries Souls And Ghosts? Just Another Day On The Job., by Tochi Onyebuchi, New York Times

Mythic language will forever find a home in the Black American experience. Jail is the shadowed and forgotten realm to which mere chance can consign you. Jazz is Prometheus bringing fire to humans. The Great Migrations are Old Testament journeys, a rights-affirming Supreme Court case a New Testament parable. So myth is the tone of Morowa Yejidé’s second novel, “Creatures of Passage,” a modern-day fable about the fight for the soul of a boy who witnesses, and struggles to make sense of, an act of molestation at school.

Road Trip: On Jessie Van Eerden’s “Call It Horses”, by Jessie van Eerden, Los Angeles Review of Books

The voice of a bright, stunted, 35-year-old orphan named Frankie pulls me smack into Jessie van Eerden’s Call It Horses and does not release me until well after the book’s last word. That voice sounds rasped, imperfect, and running the full register. When such a voice speaks, whispers, and sings a story about love, life, brokenness, pain, and the merging and tearing of relationships; about death; about becoming — well, I’m hooked.

Fiction Or Not, Everything Is True In Jo Ann Beard's Shape-shifting Writing, by Michele Filgate, Los Angeles Times

For all its looseness, the story is signature Jo Ann Beard. It takes you to places you don’t necessarily expect, one association leading to another, jumping around in time and place with confident fluidity. “Every moment of your life brings you to the moment you’re experiencing now. And now. And now,” she writes at the end of the book. Some of these moments are real and some imagined; all of them are true.

Who Owns The Space Behind Your Airplane Seat?, by David McCraw, New York Times

“Mine!” sets out to change the way we think about what we own, which is often decidedly at odds with reality. The authors cast the idea of ownership broadly, taking in not just land, cash and cars but also the confounding array of things we claim as our own, or try to, in our lives. Who is entitled to those few precious inches of space between our knees and the inevitably reclining seat in front of us on airplanes? Can someone force me to lop off the tops of my trees just because my neighbors have decided to install solar panels on their roof? Do I really need to tell my doctor not to steal my cells while I undergo surgery? And what exactly does Amazon mean when it says that the e-book I just purchased — or thought I did — “may become unavailable” to me?

'Shooting Midnight Cowboy' Turns An Eye To A Dark, Problematic Masterpiece, by Michael Schaub, NPR

That Frankel is willing to point out that the movie is flawed is part of what makes the book so essential — Shooting Midnight Cowboy is a history, not a paean, and he asks viewers to reconsider what the movie meant, not just to American culture, but to the cast and crew who made it. Frankel's book is a must-read for anyone interested in cinematic history, and an enthralling look at Schlesinger's "dark, difficult masterpiece and the deeply gifted and flawed men and women who made it."

What’s A Novel Good For?, by Dorothy J. Hale, Los Angeles Review of Books

The novel of the “new ethics” is not all novels, however. It’s not even most. But insofar as The Novel and the New Ethics describes a subset of highbrow literary fiction — a small but significant corner of the literary marketplace — it is an astute, oftentimes convincing study. You might choose to see this study as the history of a certain kind of novel, and, equally, an endorsement of a certain kind of reading.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Why So Many Novelists Write About Writers, by David Laskin, Literary Hub

Write what you know, workshop teachers and mentors are forever imploring us—but did they really mean we should write about writers? Spy, bullfighter, healer, saint, rebel, doomed heiress, gold-digger, disgraced demagogue: These are characters readers can sink their teeth into. But is there anything remotely engaging about a hero who earns (hah) a living (hah hah) by tapping at a keyboard and doom-scrolling for reviews?

Apparently, there is.

Heartbreak And Existential Hope In “Sarahland”, by Ian MacAllen, Chicago Review of Books

Sarahland, the debut story collection from Sam Cohen, links disparate stories through a unique framework: each story features a character named Sarah. This architecture allows Cohen to explore a variety of topics from heartbreak to youthful self-discovery. The stories stand alone, but by linking them with Sarahs, the collection manifests something more complex.

New Yorkers By Craig Taylor Review – Extraordinary City Stories, by Hari Kunzru, The Guardian

Craig Taylor, a Canadian who lived for many years in Britain, arrived in 2014 to write New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time, an ambitious and entertaining attempt to channel the city’s collective voice. It’s a collection of interviews, oral histories somewhat in the mode of Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian Nobel prize laureate and practitioner of what she calls “documentary literature”. Alexievich has collected testimonies from people who experienced the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Afghan war and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When The Aliens Arrive, What Will They Look Like? A Zoologist Has Answers, by Kermit Pattison, New York Times

The book avoids the fantasy game of proposing any specific vision of what aliens might look like — thus no Wookiees, E.T.s or little green Martians — and focuses on how they might behave. Kershenbaum predicts that some aliens will exhibit social cooperation, technology and language (“Teatime with our alien neighbors may be possible after all,” he writes). He even posits that aliens will share the quality we hold most dear: intelligence. “We all want to believe in intelligent aliens,” he writes. “It seems inevitable that they will, in fact, exist.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

A Weary Traveler In A Familiar Land, by Psyche Williams-Forson, Oxford Amerian

It was one of many trips that we planned for our first-year undergraduate students during fall semester. This one would take us to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. And because the return trip would bring me closer to home than to campus, I did not ride the bus with the students and other faculty but decided instead to drive. Shortly after we started out, however, I somehow got separated from the tour bus. This being prior to GPS apps like Maps and Waze, I phoned back to my campus for someone to provide directions taken from the website of the college we were visiting. As chance would have it, the young white woman who answered my call had recently graduated from that college. After giving me directions, she lapsed into a soliloquy about how I would “love the ride” through the countryside and how the wonderful little town to which I was headed was so “quaint” and “nostalgic.” As she waxed on and on, my stomach got tighter and tighter. She most likely did not know that words like “quaint” and “nostalgic” to describe a rural town could prompt discomfort for a Black woman traveling alone. Instead of matching her feelings of elation, my race and gender consciousness awakened in me the realization that I would feel most safe if I arrived in town before nightfall. For ten minutes, she described what a lovely trip I would have. My impromptu travel guide was excited! As she concluded, I calculated how and where it would be best for me to get food and gas. The last thing I wanted was to be caught unaware under the cover of night in a strange, yet familiar land.

A Debut Novel With Prose As Lively As Its Heroine’s Mind, by John Williams, New York Times

But Smallwood, on the evidence of this one book — and one can only eagerly await more — is a delightfully stylish rambler; a conjurer of a heightened, carefully choreographed version of consciousness. Reading her is like watching an accomplished figure skater doing a freestyle routine. You’re never less than confident in the performance, and often dazzled.

'The Jigsaw Man' Presents A Compelling Puzzle, by Swapna Krishna, NPR

This novel certainly has a gritty feel, but it never exploits darkness or despair for thrills. Instead, even in its most gruesome moments, it has a very real quality to it. Matheson has a fresh voice and perspective, and I'm incredibly excited to see where she takes these characters in future novels — you can bet I'll be reading every book she writes for the foreseeable future.

Mingling Fact And Fiction, Jo Ann Beard Bares Her Subjects’ Souls, by Leah Hager Cohen, New York Times

Perhaps instead of an essayist we should think of her as a poet-naturalist, wedding intuition and observation, and forming from this union something unaccountably yet undeniably real.

My View From My Window, by Bruce Taylor, The RavensPerch

It stirs and rises
climbs the stairs
pours the coffee
lights the smoke.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Graham Greene’s Dark Heart, by Joan Acocella, New Yorker

“The first thing I remember is sitting in a pram at the top of a hill with a dead dog lying at my feet.” So opens an early chapter of a memoir by Graham Greene, who is viewed by some—including Richard Greene (no relation), the author of a new biography of Graham, “The Unquiet Englishman” (Norton)—as one of the most important British novelists of his already extraordinary generation. (It included George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, Elizabeth Bowen.) The dog, Graham’s sister’s pug, had just been run over, and the nanny couldn’t think of how to get the carcass home other than to stow it in the carriage with the baby. If that doesn’t suffice to set the tone for the rather lurid events of Greene’s life, one need only turn the page, to find him, at five or so, watching a man run into a local almshouse to slit his own throat. Around that time, Greene taught himself to read, and he always remembered the cover illustration of the first book to which he gained admission. It showed, he said, “a boy, bound and gagged, dangling at the end of a rope inside a well with water rising above his waist.”

Inside The Summit-Obsessed World Of Ham Radio, by Chase Brush, Outside Magazine

Amateur-radio enthusiasts are used to being maligned as defenders of some anachronistic pastime, a retro social network for retired vets and lo-fi tech buffs. The ridicule goes back to the very origins of the word ham, a pejorative that professional radio operators at the beginning of the 20th century used to single out amateurs with “ham-fisted” Morse-code skills.

But the reality is that amateur radio, full of cutting-edge technology and involving a high level of expertise, has always been ahead of its time. “There is a tendency to think that it’s one of these quaint, old-fashioned hobbies, like people who still make buggy whips,” said Paula Uscian (K9IR), a retired lawyer and ham based in Illinois. “But I can’t think of many old-fashioned hobbies that allow you to talk with a space station or bounce signals off the moon.”

When It Comes To Email, Corporate America Should Emulate Academia, by Cal Newport, Literary Hub

“But what if you have a question on Monday and someone’s office hours aren’t until Thursday?” Fried and Hansson ask. They provide a blunt answer: “You wait, that’s what you do.” They note that these constraints might seem overly bureaucratic at first, but that they’ve ended up a “big hit” at their company. “It turns out that waiting is no big deal most of the time,” they elaborate. “But the time and control regained by our experts is a huge deal.”

Only Your Boss Can Cure Your Burnout, by Olga Khazan, The Atlantic

People refer to various forms of malaise as “burnout,” but it’s technically a work problem. And only your employer can solve it.

In Sarah Moss’s Fiction, There’s No Holiday From History, by Leo Robson, New Yorker

“Summerwater,” though smaller in scale than most of her previous works, exhibits many of her strengths and preoccupations. In tracing her characters’ finicky, circular, weather-obsessed thoughts (“Ostentatious rain. Pissing it down”), Moss touches on—or, more accurately, brushes past—the Brexit vote, Anglo-Scottish relations, climate change, the concept of rape culture, overpopulation, adolescent depression, and, if not exactly warfare between the generations and the sexes, then at least mutual incomprehension and froideur. The cast of characters proves usefully broad; of the book’s dozen perspectives, each rendered in a colloquial free-indirect style, seven are female and five male, with a span of ages from small child to pensioner.

The Layered Interpretations Of “Brood”, by Phoebe Mogharei, Chicago Review of Books

Polzin carefully avoids the pitfalls of cliché, elucidating the terror and surprise of raising chickens while leaving the emotions of miscarriage and infertility veritably untouched. In this way, the entire novel is as layered as its title. In fact, there isn’t much brooding (in the sense of dark contemplation) that occurs, overtly at least. Yet each nugget of insight gleaned about the chickens has other meanings, to the point that the chickens become living, squawking Rorschach tests.

An Improver, by Lesbia Harford, The Guardian

Maisie’s been holding down her head all day,
Her little red head. And her pointed chin
Rests on her neck that slips so softly in
The square-cut low-necked darling dress she made

Cowbell, by Robert Morgan, The Atlantic

We come across a ridge and hear
a cowbell in the cove beyond,

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Our Autofiction Fixation, by Jessica Winter, New York Times

In February 2020, at a book party in a Brooklyn brownstone, a smiling stranger walked up to me. “We have something in common, you know,” she said. “We conceived our children without having sex.” My memory of the exchange then goes blank for a moment — I must have spluttered some confused pleasantry in response — but it quickly emerged that she had read my first novel, which explores its protagonist’s struggles with infertility, and drawn the conclusion that I myself had undergone I.V.F., as she had.

It was an audacious introduction. But I could not begrudge the assumption she had made, even if I was disoriented by the way she had expressed it. I, too, assume that much of the contemporary fiction I read is autobiographical.

'Every Monster Has A Story': Catriona Ward On Her Chilling Gothic Novel That Everyone Is Talking About, by Justine Jordan, The Guardian

“The first ghost story I ever read was ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ – I remember thinking ‘Ah!’ I got the same thrill from The Haunting of Hill House. I thought: this is where you put that. This is how you rationalise and contain that feeling. By sharing it, by opening it to the light you kind of disempower it.”

Honing My Knife Skills, by Sharon Lin, New York Review of Books

The restaurant reeked of vegetable oil and frying garlic, and the grease settled on the plastic surface of every table and chair in the space. In the back corner, my mother, age twelve, barely tall enough to reach the top of the counter even with a step stool, tapped away at a faded yellow cash register. Her eyes, filling with tears, darted from the faint green numbers on the display to the hostile face of the customer in front of her, as she struggled to hold the orders in her head. The man hovered, knuckles rapping the counter.

“Where’s my change?” They were always like this, her father had warned her. Calculating and cold, waiting for the first chance of a slipup to scam the family business. She trembled as she quickly handed over the bills, certain she’d made a mistake with her calculations.

Hot Stew By Fiona Mozley Review – A Rich, Ribald Tale Of Old Soho Under Siege, by Alex Preston, The Guardian

If Elmet announced the arrival of a bright new voice in British literature, Hot Stew confirms Mozley as a writer of extraordinary empathic gifts.

In ‘Shaking The Gates Of Hell,’ A Preacher’s Son Examines His Church’s Culture Of Silence On Civil Rights, by Wendy Smith, Washington Post

When John Archibald won the Pulitzer Prize for his Birmingham News columns in 2018, the citation read, “For lyrical and courageous commentary that is rooted in Alabama but has a national resonance in scrutinizing corrupt politicians, championing the rights of women and calling out hypocrisy.” Archibald dismisses this assessment in his questioning and questing book “Shaking the Gates of Hell,” a fascinating blend of family memoir and moral reckoning. “I’m a coward,” Archibald writes. “My pulpit is a pen. It is meant to provoke and to question, but it does not depend on tithes and diplomacy and butts in pews.”

The Rag And Bone Shop By Veronica O'Keane Review – The Nature Of Memory, by John Banville, The Guardian

To put it simply – perhaps too simply – the question Chalmers posed is, how can consciousness arise out of non-sentient matter, such as neurons and dendrites? In other words, how can a lump of squidgy grey matter think? Or to approach more closely to O’Keane’s central subject, how do our physical brains store phenomena as shimmering and evanescent as memories? Numerous solutions have been advanced, but the hard problem is as hard as ever. How would it not be? In other formulations it was already old when the pre-Socratics tackled it.

A Ghost Comes Before Raven, by Eleanor Swanson, The RavensPerch

A ghost comes before Raven, as Raven
considers the moist green grass flowing
like a gentle sea from grave to grave.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

A Kansas Bookshop’s Fight With Amazon Is About More Than The Price Of Books, by Casey Cep, New Yorker

If you know anything about the Raven bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas, then you know that it charges more for books than Amazon. Advertising higher prices is an unlikely strategy for any business, but Danny Caine, the Raven’s owner, has an M.F.A., not an M.B.A., and he talks openly with customers about why his books cost as much as they do. Two years ago, he took that conversation to social media, using the store’s Twitter account to explain why the Raven was charging twenty-six ninety-nine for a hardcover book that a customer had seen online for fifteen dollars. “When we order direct from publishers, we get a wholesale discount of 46% off the cover price,” Caine wrote. “Our cost for that book from the publishers would be $14.57. If we sold it for $15, we’d make . . . 43 cents.” Caine estimated that, with an inventory of some ten thousand books in the store, on a profit of less than fifty cents a book, the Raven could afford to stay open for about six days.

Kate Baer Is Speaking Truth. From Her Minivan., by Jessica Bennett, New York Times

Since the pandemic, the 35-year-old mother of four has been working from the Panera parking lot, sitting in her Honda minivan with her laptop propped against the steering wheel, attempting to catch a Wi-Fi signal. Baer wore triple layers, parked in the sun and occasionally blasted the heat to keep her fingers from getting numb.

It was there that she wrote “What Kind of Woman,” a poetry collection that topped the New York Times best-seller list for paperback trade fiction when Harper Perennial released it late last year. It was her first piece of paid writing.

The Untold Truth Of Calvin And Hobbes, by Sarah Chandler, Looper

Fans might long for more adventures starring the indefatigable duo, but when Bill Watterson was finished, he was truly finished. He took a lot of secrets with him, as he's never been one to reveal more than he wants to. The legendary cartoonist constantly (but respectfully) turns down interviews and declines merchandising opportunities: He is quite frank in telling the public that he "enjoys the isolation" of his life. Watterson's fiercely private attitude has given his iconic strip no small amount of mystique — there are a lot of things about Calvin and Hobbes that aren't necessarily common knowledge, even among diehard fans. We're here to uncover those secrets, one monstrous snowman at a time.

How Naomi Alderman’s Novel The Power Deconstructs The Patriarchy, by Constance Grady, Vox

With The Power, Alderman flips our current power dynamics. She allows women the physical dominance that men enjoy. She imagines a world where a woman can walk down the street at night and not have to be aware of the shadows around her — and where a man does.

But this world is not a utopia. And that’s where the second story that The Power tells comes in.

The Fierce Scientific Rivalry Over A Powerful Gene-editing Technology, by Sam Kean, Washington Post

Whether it’s arcane biochemistry or the ins and outs of patents, Isaacson lays everything out with his usual lucid prose; it’s brisk and compelling and even funny throughout. You’ll walk away with a deeper understanding of both the science itself and how science gets done — including plenty of mischief.

In The Vicinity Of Genius, by Jeet Heer, The Nation

What began decades ago as arguments with a high school friend who happened to be a genius now flourishes in essays where Fulford argues with himself.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Teen Writers Deserve Better Than The Teen Writing Scene, by Amanda Silberling, Electric Literature

Last summer, I had the opportunity to teach at a 10-day program for high school writers at the University of Pennsylvania. I read their applications, and I knew that some of the students were just as preoccupied with awards and publications as I had been when I was their age. Others were just teens who wanted to tell stories and had a knack for it. I feel fiercely protective of these students, all of whom I have only met via Zoom.

I hope that they know that their writing matters, regardless of how many Scholastic medals they earn or whether YoungArts takes notice. I hope they know that there is a more joyful relationship with our writing ahead of us, if only we choose it.

Ruins Of The Dodecanese: My Life On Greece's Wild Islands, by Jennifer Barclay, The Guardian

The trail winds downhill following an oleander-filled valley towards sapphire sea. If I stop walking, the only sounds are bees and birds. I spot a cormorant on a rock, craning its neck. Crystalline water glints invitingly and I swim with a mask to watch the fish. Drying off on the pink sand, I wander up to the crumbling old stone sea wall, out of which are tumbling shards of broken pottery in varying patterns from who knows when.

Ballet Is Hard Enough. What Happens When You Lose A Year?, by Gia Kourlas, New York Times

In ballet when you lose a year, you lose a lot. It takes years of sacrifice and training to become a professional, and the performing life of a dancer is short.

For elite ballet dancers, a solid career lasts around 15 years — and that comes after roughly a decade of schooling. Could this pause alter the evolution of dance generations?

Graham Greene Against The World, by Scott Bradfield, New Republic

The last novelist who acted like he might save the world may have been Graham Greene. He belonged to a generation of writers who might not always share the same political opinions but who supported many of the same causes: defending jailed dissidents, protesting illegal wars, and challenging the unfairness (or even stupidity) of censoring great books. He wrote a novel, and developed its film adaptation with the intention of helping to “isolate” Haiti’s Papa Doc Duvalier, who contemplated having Greene assassinated in retaliation. At one point, Greene was so celebrated that the South African State Department asked him to negotiate the release of a kidnapped ambassador in El Salvador. (Greene eventually came to an agreement with the rebels, but the ambassador was killed anyway—for reasons that were never fully understood.) By the end of his life, he was known as an international public figure who partied with Capote, Yoko Ono, and Kissinger, as much as a writer of entertaining, always absorbing novels, short stories, screenplays, and essays.

Amazon Is Everywhere — And In ‘Fullfillment’ Alec McGillis Looks At How Much It Has Cost Us, by Amy Pedulla, Boston Globe

I’m sitting at a red light near my house in the car. The light turns green, but I and the others behind me at the intersection cannot proceed because an Amazon Prime truck is double-parked on the other side of the street, blocking the driving lane. I bring this up not because it’s notable; it isn’t.

Alec McGillis takes the ubiquity of that scene and blows it up into something on the scale of Homer’s Odyssey in his new book, “Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America.” Throughout the work, McGillis’s thesis is that Amazon, aptly named after a mighty river, drowns everything in its path. But his focus isn’t on Amazon solely as a company or its history of growth, but rather “to take a closer look at the America that fell in the company’s lengthening shadow.”

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Finding Creativity In The Wintertime Rhythms Of A Bordeaux Vineyard, by Mari Andrew, Literary Hub

Creativity was like a flaky friend who never remembers to RSVP but then appears at the party in a Gatsby-level gown and with a gift of expensive champagne. She didn’t seem to have a favorite day of the week or type of weather she thrived in. I imagined her swirling a dry martini and laughing at my naive hubris when I thought I could control her.

My work now depended on this invisible force who kept strange hours and threw tantrums without warning. I’d endure weeks at a time where she’d fail to visit me and I’d start doubting my judgment, and then she’d throw open the doors and come through with a dramatic “Miss me?”

Tasmanian Tigers Are Extinct. Why Do People Keep Seeing Them?, by Asher Elbein, New York Times

But, analysis by thylacine specialists rapidly debunked the photos as a case of mistaken identity. The event is the latest in a tradition of extravagant claims about photographic or video evidence of lost or unknown species that don’t pan out. Why do these cycles occur so regularly, at times even convincing experts? The answer, psychologists say, may lie in quirks of the human mind and how we process information that is at once familiar and difficult to perceive.

Why We Travel: On American’s Wide-Eyed Tourist Gaze, by Andru Okun, Literary Hub

As a sociocultural and material force, tourism is so large as to be incomprehensible. The difficulty of understanding it in full requires us to break it down into parts, an exercise not unlike the act of travel itself: We can’t fully take in the places we visit, so we instead form impressions from bits and pieces.

The Code Breaker By Walter Isaacson Review – A Science Page-turner, by Laura Spinney, The Guardian

Genetic destiny is a central theme of The Code Breaker, Isaacson’s portrait of the gene-editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna, who, with a small army of other scientists, handed humanity the first really effective tools to shape it. Rufus Watson’s reflections encapsulate the ambivalence that many people feel about this. If we had the power to rid future generations of diseases such as schizophrenia, would we? The immoral choice would be not to, surely? What if we could enhance healthy human beings, by editing out imperfections? The nagging worry – which might one day seem laughably luddite, even cruel – is that we would lose something along with those diseases and imperfections, in terms of wisdom, compassion and, in some way that is harder to define, humanity.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Spark Bird, by Susan M Gaines, Orion Magazine

Among people who watch birds, it’s often the case that a first bird love, the so-called “spark bird,” draws them forever down the bright and rambling path of birding. For Aimee, it was the peacocks in her grandmother’s backyard in southern India. For Kerri, it was a whooper swan above Inch Island, Donegal, the year the peace process began. For Windhorse, it was the Baltimore orioles flitting about in the high branches of poplars at his grandfather’s house up north on the lake. For Meera, it was the red-winged blackbird, there at the feeder, when she was small. Her mom told her the name and it all clicked into place—black bird, red wings—as she learned the game of language and how we match it to the world around us.

I Learned A Lot About Myself Living Alone During The Pandemic—by Tracking Every Single Thing I Did, by L.V. Anderson, Slate

But even as it became extremely boring, tracking took on an indispensable role in my life, because with no one around to witness my existence and tell me I was doing OK, I had to persuade myself that the ways I filled my days mattered. Obviously, TRAVEL, THEATER, and DATING took a big hit. So I added new categories to my annual activity Google Doc, like ONLINE EXERCISE CLASSES and VIRTUAL SOCIALIZING AND COMMUNITY—every Zoom trivia night, virtual gathering with my meditation group, and phone call with a friend got typed in. After the science made it clear that the virus was unlikely to spread outdoors, I added WALKS AND BIKE RIDES WITH FRIENDS, activities that wouldn’t have felt important enough to even write down a few months earlier, before the world closed.

“Destroyed And Remade”: Adventures In Sam Cohen’s “Sarahland”, by Rebecca Schultz, Los Angeles Review of Books

Like the best fiction, it both articulated and deepened what were for me previously unspeakable, but urgent mysteries, including why feminine and/or feminist utopias are always half-beautiful, half-grotesque; how the world ends; and where American class aspiration and the quest for freedom meet, which is to say, what a Jewish girl from the suburbs who wants out is chasing, what she’s fleeing, and how far she can really get.

The Book Collectors Of Daraya By Delphine Minoui Review – A Secret Wartime Library, by Mythili Rao, The Guardian

It begins with a photograph posted to the “Humans of Syria” Facebook account in 2015 – an image of two young men (one in a hoodie, one in a baseball cap) standing in a windowless room, surrounded by stacks of books. The caption reads: “The secret library of Daraya”. When she encounters it, Istanbul-based journalist Delphine Minoui is transfixed by the sight of this “fragile parenthesis in the midst of war”. Who were these young men? What is it that they were seeking?

Hot Stew By Fiona Mozley Review – A Dazzling Dickensian Tale, by Lara Feigel, The Guardian

The Booker-shortlisted Elmet established her as a writer of wildness, at home in the most remote of rural settings, whose characters lived off the land. The switch to an urban location is decisive, but she’s brought her dispossessed cast along with her.

‘The Scapegoat’ Is A Bizarre, Arresting Mystery You Won’t Be Able To Put Down, by Joan Frank, Washington Post

Is “The Scapegoat,” Sara Davis’s debut novel, in fact a “propulsive and destabilizing literary mystery,” per its back-cover blurb? It is — and then some. Reading this bizarre, arresting tale, you may not always feel clear about what you are tracking — but you’ll absolutely want to track it.

One Novel. Three Generations. All Of Life’s Challenges And Joys., by Patrick Nathan, New York Times

It’s a unique, if common, cruelty to transplant a child who is just putting down roots. For those pulled and relocated, there’s a thirstiness — and a little guarded ring of bark — that those with stable childhoods lack. In “The Recent East,” a wonderful, immersive debut novel from the writer and teacher Thomas Grattan, we’re given an intimate look at these wood cuttings, as seen through three generations of one family, each moved across an ocean just before blooming.

Book Review: Emma Young's The Last Bookshop Is A Love Song To Bookshops And Small Businesses To Warm Your Heart, by Emily Paull, The AU Review

But, The Last Bookshop also captures the wonderful moments between bookseller and reader, reminding those spending time among its pages of why we love bookshops – personalised recommendations, special orders and researching hard to find items, remembering details about your life and asking after your health.

Book Review: ‘This Is Happiness’ Offers Breath Of Life In Ordinary Irish Town, by Kathleen Fogarty, The Virginian-Pilot

Sometimes entering another time and place in a book is the best way to clear your mind, or in this case, to fill it with delight.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

'My Body Is Unserviceable And Well Past Its Sell-by Date': The Last Days Of Avril Henry, by Katie Engelhart, The Guardian

In the late morning, on the day she planned to die, in April 2016, Avril Henry went to get the poison from the downstairs bathroom. She walked past the padded rocking chair where she sometimes sat for hours with her feet tilted above her head to ease the swelling in her ankles. She steadied herself against the countertop before reaching up to the top shelf and feeling around for the glass bottles that she had hidden there, behind the toilet cleaner and the baby powder.

“I got it imported illegally,” Avril had said of the drug supply. “It’s quite easy to do, but very risky.” She was at her home in Brampford Speke, a small village in south-west England with 300 residents, a pub called the Lazy Toad, a church, St Peter’s, and a parish council on which Avril had served several terms, earning a reputation as brilliant and steadfast, if sometimes needlessly adversarial.

Luvvie Ajayi Jones Wrote The Book On Fighting Fears, But She Still Has Some Of Her Own, by Nneka McGuire, Washington Post

But make no mistake, Ajayi Jones isn’t outlining steps to conquer or vanquish fear. That’s impossible, she says, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably lying to your face.

“You can’t tell me you’re walking through this world afraid of nothing,” she says. We’ll never stop being frightened, “because life doesn’t stop throwing us curveballs. Life doesn’t stop popping up things that are scary, even if they’re small.”

Songs And Struggles, by Vittoria Benzine, The Smart Set

Lilly Hiatt’s music first found me by way of WXPN’s airwaves. In August 2017, I fled NYC for my hometown in Central PA, nursing spiritual and physical wounds from my latest emotional monsoon. A recent week-long bender had concluded with me quitting therapy and taking up self-harm instead. Scabbed remnants of the injuries on my arms and legs turned to scar tissue while my 2001 Saturn with manual locks and windows crawled towards the end of Cameron Street. There, an ad for Hiatt’s Trinity Lane proclaimed itself over my speakers, bits of the album’s title track sprinkled throughout the sonic copy stating its connection to her sobriety. “I get bored so I wanna get drunk,” Hiatt famously opens on the banger.

I didn’t know artists could be sober. That knowledge found its home amongst some latent crevice in my mind, where it laid in wait.

How The Pandemic Changed The American Meal, by Amanda Mull, The Atlantic

Big Meal is exactly what it sounds like: a meal that is large. It’s also untethered from linear time. Big Meal is not breakfast, lunch, or dinner—social constructs that no longer exist as such in my home—although it could theoretically occur at the traditional time for any of them. Big Meal comes when you’re ready to have it, which is a moment that only you can identify. For me, this is typically in the late afternoon, but sometimes it’s at breakfast. Generally, Big Meal happens once a day.

Can Walking On Eggshells Have A Healing Effect? Maybe, by Elizabeth McCracken, New York Times

“Brood” is the sort of book that is inevitably called quiet. For me the book feels accurate. There are anecdotes here that illustrate life but have no effect on events. We live in a golden age of accurate fiction. Not realism — this could happen — but accuracy — it probably did happen. I don’t mean to suggest anything at all about the author and the inspiration for the book, only that the focus on the quotidian feels exceptionally lifelike to me. I don’t dismiss accuracy in fiction. Many people love it.

Acts Of Desperation By Megan Nolan Review – Fierce Novel Of Obsessive Love, by Hephzibah Anderson, The Guardian

There are toxic relationships, and then there’s the relationship at the centre of Megan Nolan’s fearless debut. From compulsive beginning to violent end, the love affair between the novel’s narrator, a young university dropout in Dublin about whom we learn everything – everything – but her name, and the older Ciaran, a half-Danish poet, is supremely messed up.

Forgetting Doesn’t Kill You, But It Sure Feels The Same, by Francine Prose, New York Times

Though it deals with tragedy, “My Heart” is never depressing, partly because of the beauty of the language — expertly translated from the Bosnian by Celia Hawkesworth — and partly because of its depth and honesty of emotion, its intelligence and generosity of spirit, and the precision and originality of Mehmedinovic’s observations.

Book Review: 'A Most Interesting Problem', by Tibi Puiu, ZME Science

Ultimately, A Most Interesting Problem is a fantastic run-down of today’s understanding of human evolution and a great showcase of the scientific process. Science isn’t meant to be perfect, but its self-correcting nature makes it the best tool at our disposal for approximating reality.

Monday, March 8, 2021

How A Year Without My Library Has Changed Me, by Lauren Du Graf, Literary Hub

A library exists apart from the tempo of commerce. It is a place where, through quiet encounters with otherness, we are able to peaceably locate the edges of our finitude.

Why Is The Deathbed Perspective Considered So Valuable?, by Neil Levy, Aeon

I’m sceptical, first, of the reports themselves. There are various cultural pressures that might lead people to report such regrets, whether they feel them or not, and might lead us to attribute them to the dying, whether they report them or not. Second and more importantly, I doubt that the perspective of the dying gives them a clearer view on what really matters. There are reasons to think that the view from the deathbed is worse, not better, than the view from the midst of life. Their lack of engagement in ongoing projects might leave them with an impoverished sense of their value.

Imbolo Mbue’s ‘How Beautiful We Were’ Exposes The Human Cost Of Capital, by Omar El-Akkad, New York Times

What carries Mbue’s decades-spanning fable of power and corruption is something much less clear-cut, and what starts as a David-and-Goliath story slowly transforms into a nuanced exploration of self-interest, of what it means to want in the age of capitalism and colonialism — these machines of malicious, insatiable wanting.

A Biography Of The Woman Who Will Re-Engineer Humans, by Dava Sobel, New York Times

The CRISPR history holds obvious appeal for Walter Isaacson, a biographer of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci. In “The Code Breaker” he reprises several of his previous themes — science, genius, experiment, code, thinking different — and devotes a full length book to a female subject for the first time. Jennifer Doudna, a genuine heroine for our time, may be the code breaker of the book’s title, but she is only part of Isaacson’s story. The subtitle promises a wider reach: “Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race.” This may sound like publisher’s hyperbole, but Isaacson devotes much anguished discussion to the ethics of gene editing, especially when it comes to “germline” changes that can be passed on through generations and “enhancements” such as green eyes or high I.Q. that prospective parents could insert into their offspring’s genomes.

The Rain In The Night, by Heidi Williamson, The Guardian

The past is falling on the house
lightly, insistently
with its own unnameable scent.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

For Planet Earth, No Tourism Is A Curse And A Blessing, by Lisa W. Foderaro, New York Times

With flights canceled, cruise ships mothballed and vacations largely scrapped, carbon emissions plummeted. Wildlife that usually kept a low profile amid a crush of tourists in vacation hot spots suddenly emerged. And a lack of cruise ships in places like Alaska meant that humpback whales could hear each other’s calls without the din of engines.

That’s the good news. On the flip side, the disappearance of travelers wreaked its own strange havoc, not only on those who make their living in the tourism industry, but on wildlife itself, especially in developing countries. Many governments pay for conservation and enforcement through fees associated with tourism. As that revenue dried up, budgets were cut, resulting in increased poaching and illegal fishing in some areas. Illicit logging rose too, presenting a double-whammy for the environment. Because trees absorb and store carbon, cutting them down not only hurt wildlife habitats, but contributed to climate change.

Beef Is Past Its Prime, by Frank Bruni, New York Times

I liked my patties thin and then I liked them thick. There was the Cheddar period, followed by the Roquefort interregnum. Sesame-seed buns gave way to English muffins as ketchup traded places with special sauce or even, God help me, guacamole, which really was overkill.

But no matter its cradle or condiment, the hamburger was with me for the long haul — I was sure of that.

Until now.

Ethan Hawke Takes Us On A Wild Ride, by v, Irish Examiner

Ethan Hawke doesn’t pussyfoot around with the subject matter of his third novel. Rather than running from his gilded Hollywood life and looking to get dirt under his nails writing grittily about some notional real life, he embraces what he knows. And the novel is all the better for it.

Book Review: The Sunken Road By Ciarán McMenamin, by Damien O'Meara, RTÉ.ie

Childhood friendships strained by enforced absence and a broken promise, the limits of personal loyalty, a cat and mouse chase with a bitter nemesis and the impact of war are the key elements in Ciarán McMenamin's latest novel.

Imani, by Burnside Soleil, Kenyon Review

You would tell me about Ulmus alata and the moths
notched on its twigs. You liked the particular.
I would tell you about the bark cracking the sidewalk,

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Triangulating Math, Mozart And ‘Moby-Dick’, by Siobhan Roberts, New York Times

For the mathematician Sarah Hart, a close reading of “Moby-Dick” reveals not merely (per D.H. Lawrence) “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written,” but also a work awash in mathematical metaphors.


“When he’s reaching for an allusion or a metaphor, he’ll often pick a mathematical one,” she said. “‘Moby-Dick’ has loads of lovely juicy mathematics in it.”

Bomb Under The Table: On Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Klara And The Sun”, by Anita Felicelli, Los Angeles Review of Books

The bomb is always ticking, and then when its specific presence is revealed, it continues to provide tension up to the last page. There can be a looseness to Ishiguro’s novels, whether structurally or in terms of long dialogue that too closely mirrors actual speech. Klara and the Sun, however, is elegant and haunting and taut. It is best read as a keen, suspenseful inquiry into the uniqueness of the human heart. Is there a soul, something, anything that’s beyond the reach of technology as it marches toward a destruction of everything we know? Through the novel’s drama, Ishiguro offers us an answer. It’s a profound one.

The Lamplighters By Emma Stonex Review – A Superb Debut, by Christobel Kent, The Guardian

As with Shirley Jackson’s work or Sarah Waters’s masterpiece Affinity, in Stonex’s hands the unspoken, unexamined, unseen world we can call the supernatural, a world fed by repression and lies, becomes terrifyingly tangible. It brushes against us as we sleep, more real than home, more dangerous than the gun in the drawer.

Birdsong In A Time Of Silence By Steven Lovatt Review – Lockdown's High Notes, by PD Smith, The Guardian

This is a joyous and profound meditation on birdsong and what it means to us, a book that brings to life an essential part of the natural world that most of us take so much for granted that we scarcely notice it.

Black Prism, by Emma Wells, The RavensPerch

Duplicitous surfaces
glint with spreading purposes
malevolent grins
course, wind and bite at shins.

Friday, March 5, 2021

The Artists Dismantling The Barriers Between Rap And Poetry, by Adam Bradley, New York Times

Yet today, a new generation of artists, both rappers and poets, are consciously forging closer kinship between the genres. They draw from a common toolbox of language, use the same social media platforms to reach their audiences and respond to the same economic and political provocations to create public art. In doing so, rappers and the poets who claim affinity with them are resuscitating a body of literary practices mostly neglected in poetry during the 20th century. These ghost appendages of form — repetition, patterned rhythm and, above all, rhyme — thrive in song, especially in rap.

But the story of rap and poetry’s reunion is as much about people as it is about language.

How To Arrange A Poetry Collection Using Mix Tape Rules, by Rachelle Toarmino, Electric Literature

Nearly a hundred pages arranged in 22 stacks of varying thickness reached from one wall of my apartment to the other. Lorde’s “Hard Feelings / Loveless” played from the bluetooth speaker on my bookshelf. I tried to pinch back tears—mostly of frustration and doubt—and failed.

How Do You Keep A Novel Alive When It Keeps Trying To Die?, by Kate Hope Day, Literary Hub

Novels (or any other longform project) ask that writers hold multiple, disparate things in our minds at once, not only over days but over weeks, months, and years. Every time we step away from our book there’s the danger we’re going to lose track of one or more of these threads and the project will lose its energy, its will to exist. So when my writer friends and I quiz each other about time, what we’re really trying to get at is a question that’s always been fundamental to writing a novel, but that feels like an absolute imperative to writing one right now: How do you keep a novel alive when it keeps trying to die?

Where Are The Iconic COVID-19 Images?, by Helen Lewis, The Atlantic

News organizations have long argued that “bearing witness” to conflicts, famines, and natural disasters is an ethical imperative, even when it means placing reporters and photographers in dangerous situations. (The cynical add that we are perfectly capable of looking at other people’s tragedies without feeling obliged to ameliorate them.) “News photography is what brings a story to the world, and news photography is all about access,” Rickey Rogers, the global head of pictures at the Reuters news agency, told me. “When everyone is running away from a war or an explosion, journalists are running towards it.”

But covering an infectious disease has changed the risk calculus. “One of the biggest changes to photographers is that instead of going out to cover something that involves risk and coming home to a safe place, they’re bringing that danger home with them,” Rogers said. “We have photographers that have access to ICUs, but we don’t want them to have hours in there. Every minute is a greater risk.”

Chinatown’s Long Covid, by Michelle Chen, New York Review of Books

Restaurant workers and owners, along with foodies and community activists, are wondering what will survive of the Chinatown dining experience: the grease-blotted lazy Susans, the pungent smells, the Chinese-only menu for insiders, the orange slices and fortune cookies. When the pandemic finally subsides, how many of the restaurants that embodied Chinatown’s plebeian cuisine will be left standing?

How The Muppet Show Turned Kermit, Piggy & Co. Into Style Icons, by Shannon Carlin, Vulture

In the beginning, “there was a temptation to be like, ‘Oh, it’s a puppet,’” Smith says. “But that was just really dissatisfying for me.” She worried about the effect an unfinished hem could have on a young fan. “In their mind, especially kids, the minute they look in the Muppets’ eyes they think they’re talking to a real thing,” she says. “I didn’t want it to be on my watch that they become distracted and realize that isn’t the case.”

'The Committed' Remains Uncommitted — And That's Its Strength, by Thúy Đinh, NPR

More intimate in setting than The Sympathizer's transcontinental scope, The Committed employs the motif of organized crime as linkage between the various demimondes populated by disaffected Algerian immigrants, maternal Cambodian prostitutes, and nostalgic Vietnamese thugs all living in France. From a satirical James Bond-esque spy story in The Sympathizer, the author shifts to James Baldwin's intersectional politics in The Committed to address greed, prejudice, and violence.

Friends & Dark Shapes By Kavita Bedford Review – An Intimate, Epiphanic Portrait Of Millennial City Life, by Declan Fry, The Guardian

Like Helen Garner and Christos Tsiolkas’ own debuts, Bedford’s is more concerned with taking the pulse of young, artistically-minded people alive and struggling through the city’s struggle, slipping and sinking through the every-nothing days of urban anomie and insecure work and relationships. In this, her echelon is us – the young, the hopeful, the precarious. The ever-present “I”.

‘Brood,’ A Quiet Meditation On The Small Stuff, Makes For A Perfect Pandemic Read, by Jennifer Reese, Washington Post

Through one subzero Minnesota winter and the spring and sweltering summer that follow, the unnamed narrator of Jackie Polzin’s wondrous first novel, “Brood,” does nothing you’d expect would make for an exciting read: She thinks about baking brownies (but doesn’t), thinks about bickering with her husband (but doesn’t), thinks about cleaning the bathroom (and does), visits her mother, mourns a miscarriage, babysits a friend’s child and lies in bed in the morning “listening to the sharp pops of the house as it shifted.”

Winter, by Maureen N. McLane, New York Review of Books

Don’t think
you have to speak
of the snow, branches
bent, weak

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Publisher Who Transformed The Careers Of Wallace Stevens And William Carlos Williams, by Alan M. Klein, Literary Hub

Late in 1942 a Buddhist monk living in Los Angeles carefully inscribed his name in a recently published book by the poet Wallace Stevens. The Buddhist monk had moved to Los Angeles from Japan a year earlier. The book was Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction, published by the Cummington Press, a small press in Massachusetts and was one of 80 numbered copies signed by Stevens. The full inscription reads, “from the Alcestis Library of Bhikshu Padmasambhava (Ronald Lane Latimer) 1942.” Three years later, the same man—now a former Buddhist monk calling himself Ronald Lane Latimer and studying at a seminary in Berkeley to become an Episcopal minister—ornately inscribed “from the Alcestis Library of Ronald Lane Latimer” in Esthetique du Mal, another book of Stevens’ published in a limited edition by the Cummington Press.

These inscriptions, unknown to scholars for 75 years after they were written, are fascinating because the shape-shifting Latimer was, years earlier in the mid-1930s, one of the most important young publishers of contemporary poetry in the United States. His brief career was as remarkable for its impact and influence as for its brevity, before he vanished. He, almost single-handedly, reinvigorated the poetic careers of both Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams in the 1930s, publishing two books by each of them through his Alcestis Press, restarting their publishing of new books of poetry after an interregnum of a dozen years.

How Pandora Won Its Royalty Battle But Lost The War To Spotify, by Tyler Hayes, Motherboard

It's not that Pandora was oblivious to its competition, or complacent about its place in the industry. It was, however, an innovator in digital music at a time when the major labels were hostile to the entire concept and would fight on every front to preserve the lucrative of the compact disc era. To take on this legal and lobbying juggernaut, Pandora needed a clever strategy to avoid the kind of head-on fights that had sunk Napster. The solution was the radio model of music licensing, a brilliant strategy at the time, but one which would be the subject of a long fight between Pandora and the recording industry. Pandora would win that battle, but in doing so, it also found itself stuck with a business model that could not evolve alongside the streaming space.

Being A Writer When You Literally Cannot Visualize Scenes, by Alexandra Oliva, Literary Hub

Apparently most people can close their eyes and see—with varying degrees of clarity—whatever it is they want to see: a beach, an apple, their husband’s face. But for the first thirty-four years of my life, whenever someone talked about “seeing” something in their mind or instructed me to visualize something—whether it was a ball of light moving between chakras or a goal I wanted to achieve—I assumed it was just a turn of phrase.

And then I read an article by poet Katie Prince, and I felt a wave of awed recognition roll through me.

'Klara And The Sun' Is A Masterpiece About Life, Love And Mortality, by Maureen Corrigan, NPR

I wrote that one-sentence review to myself about half-way through reading Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro's just published eighth novel.

Lest you think that doesn't sound like much of an enticement, know that I've probably written something like that sentence about every Ishiguro novel I've read. He is the master of slowly deepening our awareness of human failing, fragility and the inevitability of death — all that, even as he deepens our awareness of what temporary magic it is to be alive in the first place.

The Committed By Viet Thanh Nguyen Review – Challenging Colonialism, by Aminatta Forna, The Guardian

On its own The Committed is a rich and valuable read, but together with The Sympathizer, it amounts to much more than the sum of its parts. These two novels constitute a powerful challenge to an enduring narrative of colonialism and neo-colonialism. One waits to see what Nguyen, and the man of two faces, will do next.

Something We Have In Common By Jonathan Bracker, by Jonathan Bracker, The RavensPerch

You and I maybe have never met. You
May be a friend of a friend of mine
Reading these words on my Facebook,
Or – if they get published in a book –

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Why It Took Sister Souljah 22 Years To Write A Followup To Her Groundbreaking Novel, by Sonaiya Kelley, Los Angeles Times

“Quite naturally, the book company and everyone [else] expected me to write the sequel,” said Souljah by phone from the United Arab Emirates, where she had gone to find “peace of mind” and to finish a draft of the book’s long-awaited screen adaptation.

But because Winter Santiaga‘s story had ended with a mandatory 15-year prison sentence, Souljah felt she had to wait until Winter’s time was served. “I didn’t want to feed the hood a fantasy that going to prison is a joke or a cakewalk,” she said. “Like ‘Ta-da! Here she is,’ and it’s all good. There are real consequences to the things that happen in real life.”

The Incredible Boxes Of Hock Wah Yeo, by Phil Salvador, The Obscuritory

When Hock Wah Yeo was hired by the game publisher Velocity, the head of the company gave him an unusual order: “Scare me.”1

Yeo wasn’t a game designer or a writer. He was designing their packaging.

In Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Klara And The Sun,’ A Robot Tries To Make Sense Of Humanity, by Ron Charles, Washington Post

Leave it to Kazuo Ishiguro to articulate our inchoate anxieties about the future we’re building. “Klara and the Sun,” his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in 2017, is a delicate, haunting story, steeped in sorrow and hope. Readers still reeling from his 2005 novel “Never Let Me Go” will find here a gentler exploration of the price children pay for modern advancements. But if the weird complications of technology frame the plot, the real subject, as always in Ishiguro’s dusk-lit fiction, is the moral quandary of the human heart.

'Machinehood' Upgrades Asimov's 3 Laws Of Robotics, by Fran Wilde, NPR

For anyone who has purchased a pair of shoes online, only to be immediately pursued across the Internet by enthusiastic algorithms exclaiming that we will love exactly the same pair of shoes (which is, technically speaking, true), the globe-spanning future of 2095 that Machinehood presents through the eyes of two women caught in its web feels disconcertingly logical.

There Are So Many Flavors Of Potato Chips; 'Hooked' Looks At Why, by Barbara J. King, NPR

In Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions, investigative reporter Michael Moss explains why a major food corporation — Lay's is owned by PepsiCo — would produce such an over-the-top number of versions of potato chips. We are prone to what food scientists called sensory-specific satiety, feeling full when we take in a lot of the same taste, smell, or flavor. Changing a food item even just a little, from barbecue to honey barbecue, let's say, makes for novelty that lights up our brain.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

What To Expect In Viet Thanh Nguyen's Sequel To His Pulitzer-Prize Winning 'The Sympathizer', by Agatha French, Los Angeles Times

Like “The Sympathizer,” “The Committed” strides genres. Nguyen delivers a literary thriller that’s part political novel, part historical novel and part comic novel. He trades the conventions of the spy novel of the first book for crime. Gangsters, drug dealing, turf wars and shootouts propel hairpin plot-twists and belie an ambitious book of ideas.

“I thought that there would be a sweet spot for readers who would be willing to grapple with serious ideas and be entertained at the same time,” Nguyen says.

‘Our Fates Are Going To Be The Same.’, by Lauren Harris, Columbia Journalism Review

In 2019, Larry Persily, owner of the Skagway News, announced that he would give away his local Alaskan publication to a person or a pair demonstrating journalistic skill, self-motivation, grit, and—above all—affectionate dedication to the quirks and quiddities of rural small-town reporting. National news outlets picked up the story as a sort of lark, emphasizing the remote and small-town nature of Skagway, the rarity of the giveaway, and then, in a few short lines, the challenges of sustaining critical local news coverage. In such stories, Persily was a Willy Wonka figure, courting a successor.

Among the applicants were Melinda Munson and Gretchen Wehmhoff, teachers in the Anchorage area who cowrote a blog for Alaskan families. Munson and Wehmhoff envisioned a dream job not unlike that conjured in headlines: the freedom to write and the promise of a place in a tight-knit community. Over the course of months, Munson and Wehmhoff had several intense phone interviews with Persily; for some, they met in a room in the school building with the lights off, to avoid drawing the attention of their principal.

How Statistics Can Validate Our Beliefs… Or Trick Us, by Tim Harford, Literary Hub

You know the old story about storks delivering babies? It’s true. I can prove it with statistics. Take a look at the estimated population of storks in each country, and then at the number of babies born each year. Across Europe, there’s a remarkably strong relationship. More storks, more babies; fewer storks, fewer babies.

The pattern is easily strong enough to pass a traditional hurdle for publication in an academic journal. In fact, a scientific paper has been published with the title “Storks Deliver Babies (p = 0.008).” Without getting too technical, all those zeros tell us that this is not a coincidence.

Who Put Pantone In Charge Of Color?, by Seth Stevenson, Slate

Pantone’s founder once said, “God created the world in seven days. And on the eighth day, he called Pantone to put color into it.” That seems a little presumptuous. Who put Pantone in charge of color? And why should Pantone decide the Color (or Colors) of the Year? What is Pantone anyway?

He Can See Dead People But ‘Not Like In That Movie.’ (OK, Sort Of.), by Charles Yu, New York Times

“Later” is yet another example of King’s talent in building stories out of the materials of his choosing, and like so many of his creations, it’s remarkable how well the thing holds together. The pace and ease of reading, the ratio of familiar to new. A roller coaster made of Legos is still a roller coaster, and even if I’ve been on this ride before it doesn’t make it any less fun.

How The Cookbooks Of 2020 Tell The Stories Of Our Pandemic Kitchens, by Kim Severson, New York Times

The books America cooked from during 2020 will stand as cultural artifacts of the year when a virus forced an entire nation into the kitchen.

‘The Empathy Diaries’ Is A Beautiful Memoir About The Life Of The Mind And The Life Of The Senses, by Dwight Garner, New York Times

Why bury the lede? Sherry Turkle’s memoir, “The Empathy Diaries,” is a beautiful book. It has gravity and grace; it’s as inexorable as a fable; it drills down into the things that make a life; it works to make sense of existence on both its coded and transparent levels; it feels like an instant classic of the genre.

Now You See It: A Magician’s Memoir Promises Truth And Other Lies, by Errol Morris, New York Times

Lying is ubiquitous. Why should it be otherwise? There are far more reasons to lie than to tell the truth. Isn’t lying beneficial? Often, it is. And the importance of truth-telling — is it a fiction we tell ourselves? A fairy tale? A form of self-deception? Our original lie?

And yet we have this absurd belief that we are truth-tellers, or at least that we’re capable of occasionally telling the truth.

Can We Patch Up The Natural World We’ve Hurt?, by Helen Macdonald, New York Times

Beautifully and insistently, Kolbert shows us that it is time to think radically about the ways we manage the environment; time to work with what we have, using the knowledge we have, with our eyes fully open to the realities of where we are. Rigorous analysis and science journalism, the form in which Kolbert truly excels, is needed now more than ever. But alongside it, to enrich it, there should be other stories too: tender, careful investigations into the feelings that drive and shape our efforts to save the world.

Review: From William Styron To 'American Dirt': When Is It Appropriate To Culturally Appropriate?, by Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

In her new book, “Appropriate,” Redkal addresses the conundrum of cultural appropriation with patience and care. She is deliberate as she picks her way through questions, focusing on literature, with close readings of poetry and prose that give heft to her case. The book’s power comes from its slow progress and occasional reversals, so a summary feels unfair, but her basic thesis is that culture is situated in its moment; careful consideration of where each of us is in that moment informs what we create, how we read, what literature is lifted up and what is left out.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Pronominal Strife, by Bryan A. Garner, Los Angeles Review of Books

For now, pronoun declarations are both novel and blatant — which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether you’re socially progressive or socially conservative. As in almost every other segment of American life, society is fractured. What does Baron say? In answer to the query in his title (What’s Your Pronoun?), Baron concludes: “[N]obody answers, ‘My pronoun is actually a phrase, he or she.’ The answer will be, ‘My pronoun is she,’ or they, or he, or zie, or one of the many other invented pronouns.”

What’s heartening in all this, for a grammarian, is that people are talking once again about parts of speech. Or at least about one part of speech, the pronoun. But can they remember the others? For example, what’s your interjection?

The Care And Feeding Of Poetry, by Margarita Engle, Poetry Foundation

Nurturing poetry is like bringing a wild creature indoors. We need to learn which leaves, fruits, and flowers it can eat, and which will make it sick, or destroy its free spirit. In other words, poetry is an experience, not a genre. Poetry is a form of exploration, with intuitive and natural aspects that are often neglected while poets—or teachers—focus on specific skills. Poetry, like peace, is personal.

'The Earth Could Hear Itself Think': How Birdsong Became The Sound Of Lockdown, by Steven Lovatt, The Guardian

But most of all, we began to notice the birdsong. A little tentative and sputtering at first, by the end of March it filled the air. Broadcast from aerials and hedge tops, a rising choir of chirps, trills and warbles brought life to gardens and echoed off housefronts and shuttered shops with no traffic noise to smother it.

A Brief History Of Women Street Photographers, by Melissa Breyer, Literary Hub

On November 7, 1800, a decree was issued in Paris requiring women to obtain a permit in order to wear pants in public. The French writer George Sand (the penname of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin) defied the order by donning men’s attire and freely roaming the streets, sans permit. Once outfitted in her grey wool garb and boots, Sand felt “secure on the sidewalks,” she wrote in her autobiography. “I flew from one end of Paris to the other. It seemed to me that I could have made a trip around the world… No one knew me, no one looked at me, no one found fault with me; I was an atom lost in that immense crowd.”

At a time when “proper” women would have risked disgrace by being out alone—their place was in the home, after all—Sand was reveling unescorted in the streets. She was a secret female counterpart to the male flâneur, the man of leisure who strolled the boulevards to cultivate what Honoré de Balzac called “the gastronomy of the eye.” Although Sand’s medium was the pen, her peripatetic explorations of 1830s Paris helped pave the way for those who would eventually take their cameras and roam the streets to capture the goings-on of public life: women street photographers.

Klara And The Sun By Kazuo Ishiguro Review – Another Masterpiece, by Alex Preston, The Guardian

In a 2015 interview with the Guardian, Kazuo Ishiguro revealed what he claimed was his “dirty secret”: that his novels are more alike than they might initially seem. “I tend to write the same book over and over,” he said. It seemed a particularly ludicrous statement from a writer who had just followed a clone romance (Never Let Me Go) with an Arthurian epic (The Buried Giant). With Klara and the Sun, his eighth novel, though, it feels like Ishiguro is bringing that dirty secret slightly more into the light. This is a book – a brilliant one, by the way – that feels very much of a piece with Never Let Me Go, again exploring what it means to be not-quite-human, drawing its power from the darkest shadows of the uncanny valley.

In ‘Later,’ Stephen King Reminds Us That He’s The Master Of The Kids-with-strange-powers Genre, by Stephen Graham Jones, Washington Post

Does anybody write kids-with-strange-powers better than Stephen King? And, is there anyone on the scene who has more insider knowledge of the publishing industry? “Later,” King’s third Hard Case Crime installment, threads both of these into a single short novel that packs a punch.

The Lamplighters By Emma Stonex Review – Haunting Folk Tale Rebooted, by Sarah Hughes, The Guardian

Hatred, distrust, lies and an unexpected sort of love binds these women in an elegant novel that is as interested in the notion of hope and acceptance as it is in murder and revenge.

Book Review: “Send For Me” Tells A Story Of Family, Obligation And Self, by Steven Whitton, The Anniston Star

It is about family – especially mothers and daughters. It is also about obligation and self. Its beautifully rendered vignettes are, in essence, about “the fraying wire” that connects us to the past.

The Human Voice From A Distance, by Judith Willson, The Guardian

The oldest recording of a human voice:
a machine invented by a typographer.