Off the eastern coast of Bermuda in Castle Harbour sits a jagged, lush island by the name of Nonsuch. Spanning just over 16 acres, Nonsuch is one of Bermuda’s most isolated islands, and it houses several endangered and Lazarus species (those that were once thought to be extinct). Among the dense forests filled with lizards, insects, and birds, ornithologist Jeremy Madeiros spends most of his days living in a repurposed quarantine hospital, making him the island’s sole human inhabitant.
Yet, it was a record of a journey, with endless possibilities of discovery within an ephemeral line. Pinning this photo to the wall, I began to plan a journey of my own that would trail a path through Britain’s landscapes. Many long-distance routes traverse the land, running from coast to coast and ending at the sea. Digging an old map of Britain out of the attic, I drew a different line, one without a destination, linking different footpaths until they formed a loop of almost 5,000 miles around the edges of the island.
Six weeks later I rounded a corner and collapsed on to a muddy verge. It was a frosty October afternoon: day one. Months lay ahead of me.
As always, Lahiri writes with subtlety and delicacy. There is movement in her prose that reflects the subtle movement in her narrator's life. Whereabouts is the literary equivalent of slow cooking; it demands patience. Shifts between shadow and light, emptiness and fulfillment, irritation and enjoyment, and stasis and change carry us along as this hampered woman gradually resolves to "push past the barrier" that has long impeded her way in the world. As for Lahiri, she is a writer who obviously relishes pushing past barriers, including those she herself erects.
But rather than feeling confined by whatever real-life elements informed its creation, it exists in a far more indeterminate, diffuse dimension, at times taking on an almost fairytale quality. In his three novels, Sahota has demonstrated an ambitious need to adapt the specific and concrete to something less easy to pin down, complete with all the gaps and ruptures that life provides and art makes, even for a moment, tangible.
Mol offers whataboutism at its finest, most feminist potency, asking “What if we were to stop celebrating ‘the human’s’ cognitive reflections about the world, and take our cues instead from human metabolic engagements with the world? Or, to put it differently: What if our theoretical repertoires were to take inspiration not from thinking but from eating?”
In her 1987 story, the narrator’s crush — a white minister’s son — comes over for Christmas dinner with his family. She’s mortified when her parents reach across the table to dip into platters, instead of passing them. Then her father burps to signify his approval of the meal. Only later does she realize that her parents served all her favorites, squid with the look of bicycle tires and a whole rock cod whose head disgusts the squeamish guests.
It was the first time I’d read a short story about a Chinese American teenager. Later, I would learn that Tan is roughly a generation older than me. Her parents were adults during World War II, while mine were very young. Even though the details of our lives differed in significant ways, certain contours were familiar, those of shame and pride and love.
In the social-media era, though, “vibe” has come to mean something more like a moment of audiovisual eloquence, a “sympathetic resonance” between a person and her environment, as Robin James, a professor of philosophy at U.N.C. Charlotte wrote in a recent newsletter. What a haiku is to language, a vibe is to sensory perception: a concise assemblage of image, sound, and movement. (#Aesthetic is sometimes used to mark vibes, but that term is predominantly visual.) A vibe can be positive, negative, beautiful, ugly, or just unique. It can even become a quality in itself: if something is vibey, it gives off an intense vibe or is particularly amenable to vibes. Vibes are a medium for feeling, the kind of abstract understanding that comes before words put a name to experience. That pre-linguistic quality makes them well suited to a social-media landscape that is increasingly prioritizing audio, video, and images over text. Through our screens, vibes are being constantly emitted and received.
Finally the letter came, the important letter, and we had to be out by September 16th. We held a yard sale and haggled over our furniture. I left for college across the country; my mom moved boxes into storage. A week later, a town near ours burned down in a wildfire, and much of the county had to evacuate, but she was already gone by then.
She did what made sense at the time. She moved into an RV, and hit the road.
We’ve all wondered how the other half lives, but how many of us have fabricated an identity to find out? That’s what Hungarian artist Andi Schmied did: As “Gabriella,” an ultrawealthy European socialite searching for a New York apartment, Schmied was granted access to more than two dozen of New York’s most luxurious properties, many on the southern end of Central Park along what’s affectionately called Billionaires’ Row.
On the surface, then, this is a novel of glaring privilege, steeped in a mode of middle-class existence so rarified that the “lower things” must never be allowed to intrude. This is, however, a Cusk novel, and in Cusk novels the surface, as experienced by reader and characters alike, invariably proves too fragile to be trusted. Second Place, it turns out, is a novel less about property, and more about the boundaries and misplaced emotional investment for which property is a proxy.
Now, still not content just to make up some imaginary characters and have them interact, he presents something that reads more like a collection of primary sources than a conventional novel. What to call it? A historical systems novel, preoccupied with the roots of great power conflict, and the historical forces that underpin it? Or just a jeu d’esprit? It’s a bit of both, and it’s tremendous fun.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? As the authors of Reimagining Time make clear, one of the most important conceptual advances of the 20th century was to note that we cannot lose sleep over philosophical questions like this until we have nailed down what it means for two things to occur simultaneously, never mind for one thing to occur before the other. And it was the crucial insight of a Swiss patent clerk named Albert Einstein that the simultaneity of two events — not to mention the passage of time, and even the physical dimensions of objects — was actually relative to the frame of reference of the observer. This overthrew a good 250-odd years of scientific consensus regarding the Newtonian structure of the space and time and still remains something of an intellectual challenge for the uninitiated. It is the purpose of this book, an imaginative collaboration between a graphic artist and a professional physicist, to help us get the underlying principles straight.
As the title suggests, Kaku’s latest concern is with what he calls the “holy grail” of all science, the metaphorical “umbilical cord” of our infant universe, whenever it was (or wasn’t) born out of the alleged multiverse. He wanted to write a balanced account of the physics community’s quest to prove string theory — and thus to resolve the messy, imperfect Standard Model of subatomic particles into one elegant theory of everything. This book is like a State of the Union where the union is all of existence.
The appeal of these stories may seem counterintuitive: shouldn’t repetition, by its nature, be boring? Why do we seek out narratives that not only repeat themselves, but feature repetition as an anchoring principle of their structure? As a linguist and novelist, I believe that the answer lies in the process by which readers construct meaning from texts. Time loops, it turns out, are perfect for hacking this process to deliver a hefty intellectual and emotional impact within a tight narrative framework.
The period from 1916 to 1920 marked the last point in which a major reversal in global life expectancy would be recorded. (During World War II, life expectancy did briefly decline, but with nowhere near the severity of the collapse during the Great Influenza.) The descendants of English and Welsh babies born in 1918, who on average lived just 41 years, today enjoy life expectancies in the 80s. And while Western nations surged far ahead in average life span during the first half of the last century, other nations have caught up in recent decades, with China and India having recorded what almost certainly rank as the fastest gains of any society in history. A hundred years ago, an impoverished resident of Bombay or Delhi would beat the odds simply by surviving into his or her late 20s. Today average life expectancy in India is roughly 70 years.
In effect, during the century since the end of the Great Influenza outbreak, the average human life span has doubled. There are few measures of human progress more astonishing than this. If you were to publish a newspaper that came out just once a century, the banner headline surely would — or should — be the declaration of this incredible feat. But of course, the story of our extra life span almost never appears on the front page of our actual daily newspapers, because the drama and heroism that have given us those additional years are far more evident in hindsight than they are in the moment. That is, the story of our extra life is a story of progress in its usual form: brilliant ideas and collaborations unfolding far from the spotlight of public attention, setting in motion incremental improvements that take decades to display their true magnitude.
Beal buried the bottles in the ground, keeping the location private so it wouldn't get disturbed. Every five years, he dug up one bottle and checked to see if the seeds inside would germinate. In 1910, when Beal retired, he passed on the experiment to a colleague, who later passed it on to a colleague, and so on.
The study has lasted far longer than Beal intended, because its caretakers decided to stretch it out. Instead of every five years, they switched to digging up a bottle every ten years. Then, every 20 years. Telewski helped unearth a bottle in 2000, when he took over the experiment from a colleague. That year, only a couple of different weeds were still able to sprout from seed.
In the twists and turns of the narrative, Macneal explores what it means to exert power over another individual.
Nothing is comfortable in these essays, which labor through the muddy waters of intergenerational trauma, imperialism, capitalism and misogyny, using popular culture (“Twin Peaks,” Tarot cards, the video game “Red Dead Redemption 2”) as navigational tools. Even magic has been colonized by settlers, in the form of Twitter horoscopes, Instagram witches and the wellness industry. “I just want a version of the occult that isn’t built on plunder, but I suspect that if we could excise the stolen pieces, there would be nothing left,” she reflects. But this book is not about despair; it’s about sifting through the broken shards of culture, looking for messages to restore one’s spirit.
The word obsession is overused. People say they are obsessed with something when what they mean is they have a passing interest. But Jennifer Lucy Allan is truly obsessed with foghorns, those obsolete warning honks around our coasts – not to be confused with ships’ horns. This esoteric obsession has taken her from Shetland to San Francisco, to a PhD on foghorns, a radio programme and now this original and absorbing book, which is much more interesting than a study of foghorns has any right to be.
Arguments against free will go back millennia, but the latest resurgence of scepticism has been driven by advances in neuroscience during the past few decades. Now that it’s possible to observe – thanks to neuroimaging – the physical brain activity associated with our decisions, it’s easier to think of those decisions as just another part of the mechanics of the material universe, in which “free will” plays no role. And from the 1980s onwards, various specific neuroscientific findings have offered troubling clues that our so-called free choices might actually originate in our brains several milliseconds, or even much longer, before we’re first aware of even thinking of them.
The narrator is familiar: a sharply observant writer in middle age. The themes are similar, too: art, literature, travel, fate, houses, physical beauty and its perceived fading, and parenthood, described here as “the closest most people get to an opportunity for tyranny.”
But much is different. Unlike the Outline novels, “Second Place” tells a single story and takes place in one household; it’s about a limited set of characters. More notably, this book has a swirling hothouse quality that’s new.
“Whereabouts” is like a photographer’s contact sheet. As our eyes move across the images, sensitive to each reframing, a loose narrative emerges of an Italian woman at a crossroads in her life. But narrative is not what this book is after. Each entry, most only a few pages long, stands on its own; any could be removed without leaving an absence. Or, as the writer puts it when discussing her therapist: “As if each session were the first and only time we met. Every session was like the start of a novel abandoned after the first chapter.”
The joy of a Grisham novel is turning the pages as the plot propels you forward, so I’ll avoid revealing too much. Suffice it to say “Sooley” follows the familiar Grisham playbook — short chapters, plenty of foreshadowing, and a rapid-fire prose that’s easy to read and hard to put down.
The science is unsettled. Which is pretty much the point of Silber’s novel.
It’s in this way that Lebo carves out a thrillingly new, melancholy kind of food writing, which is alert to the postures of the food writer and less certain about the characteristic “knowing voice” and “imperative mood”. Her book is lyrical, wise, and crammed with knowledge, but it is also unafraid to stray into the spaces of hesitant reflection; the logic is associative, even as the traditional hallmarks of good food writing – the precise rendering of smell, taste and texture – also prevail.
I like the other kind. The empty ones. The craters. A volcano open as a throat.
That’s why I traveled 100 miles from where I live to hike into an extinct volcano. I needed to go somewhere, and I chose a place that felt both resilient and vulnerable. I needed to go somewhere, and nowhere was the loneliest place I could find.
Part of the book’s peculiar magnetism lies in its clash of candour and coyness. When the narrator mentions “one of my lovers” or accepts a friend’s invitation to house-sit in the country “given that I’m going through a hard patch right now”, the remarks land like plot twists.
In this biography, Soyica Diggs Colbert, a scholar at Georgetown University and author of The African American Theatrical Body and Black Movements: Performance and Cultural Politics, focuses on the intellectual influences that shaped the political and literary consciousness of African American playwright Lorraine Hansberry. She argues that the celebrated writer, who died of cancer at age 35, grappled with two seemingly contradictory energies: a passionate commitment to both activism and to expressing herself as an artist. In the process of exploring the ideas that shaped Hansberry’s understanding of her art and the world, Colbert confirms the relevance of this conflict today.
I’m rather addicted
(the Klondike variety)
never on a PC or Mac
Sometimes her mother, Eileen, claimed noble Welsh ancestry. An accomplished painter and pianist who said she had studied at London's Royal Academy of Music, she decorated the family's San Francisco-area home with Old World furnishings. Ambitious for her daughter, she pressed Cowan into crack-of-dawn violin lessons, hired a private handwriting tutor and insisted she learn to spell in the Queen's English ("theatre" not "theater"). Publicly charming, she flew into rages at home, once throwing Cowan's dollhouse against a wall. Cowan rebelled, never sure what was wrong.
One day, though, Cowan found her mother writing a name on a notepad: Dorothy Soames, Dorothy Soames, Dorothy Soames. It was her first clue.
This is a big book, 425 pages before the notes, about the big changes that transformed New York over the last five decades: spiritually, by making it “more like America and less like what it had always been”, and physically amid “the most dramatic peacetime transformation” of any city “since Haussmann rebuilt Paris”.
“I dictate the picture,” Hitchcock once said. To consolidate his power, he created a personal myth that became a lucrative commercial brand. When asked for an autograph, he often scribbled a silhouette: a blobby head with wispy hair, its plump curves interrupted by a concave nose and two puckered lips. Hitchcock made an icon of himself using nine economical pencil strokes; Edward White’s study of his “variegated legacies” disassembles him into 12 separate facets, each exposing an aspect of “the public entity he crafted”.
Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War” is a kind of love song to the United States Air Force, which is surprising, because it is the least romantic of our armed services, with leaders who focus on technology, not tradition. Also, the air arm tends to be regarded by the other services as suspiciously civilian-ish — as in the soldiers’ one-liner, “I have a lot of respect for the U.S. military, and also for the Air Force.” But in Gladwell’s deft hands, the Air Force generals of World War II come back to life as the stirring 20th-century equivalent of Adm. Horatio Nelson and his band of audacious captains from the age of fighting sail.
Not so bad, I thought for a while—
these quiet hours, newly found.
The day after hardcover printing was halted for “Philip Roth: a Biography” — which is to say, the day after news broke that the biography’s author, Blake Bailey, was accused of rape; accusations that Bailey denies — I did precisely the morally questionable thing and spent $19.24 to download the book onto my Kindle.
It’s hard to explain the rationale behind this purchase, except that when an alleged rapist writes a book about a brilliant but problematic novelist, and when that book is lauded and celebrated up until the moment two women say the author assaulted them — when all that happens, you wonder how the 900-page tome reads in hindsight.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel Whereabouts follows an unnamed narrator in an unnamed Italian city, grappling with loneliness. The book is spare, meditative, and episodic. The narrative follows not a defined plot but a series of moments, beautifully showcasing the way we experience life: the moments that are most important—the turning points—are often only realized in retrospect.
Few documents are venerated as much as the American constitution. Until recently, one million people a year filed past the original copy on display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in Washington DC. Yet, as Linda Colley’s brilliant new book shows, viewing constitutions as national tablets of stone tells us more about their contemporary charisma than the complex histories from which they were wrought. In this compelling study of constitutions produced around the world between the mid-18th century and the outbreak of the first world war, she upends the familiar version of history at every turn.
There are several impressive, full-dress biographies of Hitchcock, but Edward White’s thoughtful and nuanced book takes a different approach. “The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock” explores the master’s life and work through a dozen different prisms that expose and illuminate his various personas. Some are obvious to any Hitchcock fan: the Murderer, the Womanizer, the Auteur, the Voyeur, the Entertainer. Others are more original: The Dandy, for example, explores Hitchcock’s fascination with fashion design for both men and women.
Left elbow broken at the age of three
and never quite corrected, bending rogue,
One day earlier this spring, botanist Nick Jensen visited one of the few “super blooms'' in California following a bone dry winter across the state. Under a bluebird sky, he hiked among displays of wildflowers that popped like confetti in sweeping hues of orange, purple, pink, and yellow. Native species like California poppy, lupine, and purple owl’s clover overtook the volcanic landscape known as North Table Mountain and spritzed their sweet perfume across the cool afternoon.
Jensen wasn’t alone—the rare spectacle had drawn thousands of people to the ecological reserve only an hour outside of Sacramento. In true super bloom fashion, visitors brought selfie sticks, sundresses, and wide brimmed hats, posing among the vast fields of color. Some crushed the very flowers they came to see.
But if novelists’ experiences help define their work, then their ubiquity of certain experiences threatens to homogenize novels. This is a common criticism when leveled at “the canon” of Western literature, written almost exclusively by white men, but it remains true beyond the critical lenses of race and gender, through the perspective of labor. If what we do for work helps define the stories we tell, then the novelist’s economic reliance on teaching is flattening the novel.
In our pandemic world, casual conversation has been all but eliminated. The closest thing I get these days is saying “thank you” to a delivery person or greeting a grocery store clerk. Even then, I’m hesitant to linger—every unnecessary moment with a stranger feels taboo, every breath a hazard. And, now, in the absence of chit-chat, I feel isolated and unenergized. This has led to a potentially controversial revelation: small talk gets an unfairly bad rap.
In his latest book, Sun speaks directly to people, like me, whose lives are composed of constant transitions. Aware of and experienced in goodbyes, the writer course-corrects his energy to the present, to reorient himself in the communities around him. He strives to "fill the blankness" of weekends in the city; but "instead of turning to people, or to hobbies, or to Going Places or Seeing Things, I find it easiest to turn to doing more work to try to fill, or perhaps keep at bay, that emptiness and that feeling I can't ever fill that emptiness enough," he writes. In an unserious tone, he confronts this learned response of coping with loneliness through productivity. It's a conversation Sun had initiated through his alien character Jomny in his 2017 graphic novel, Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too — except this time around, he deals with burnout in his own, more personal, voice.
Nives, the novella, is ingeniously constructed around the dialogue these characters have with one another that reads like an extended two-character play. Emotions whiplash and the most unexpected of secrets and epiphanies emerge. And, it's all thanks to the plucky presence of Giacomina, the chicken. This delightful and affecting novella affirms the truth of Emily Dickinson's famous line: "Hope is the thing with feathers."
Menon’s skill with the short story is evident in Fragile Monsters, whose several plotlines running between 1922 and 1985 are braided together in a bravura construction. Intricately connected narrative digressions act as tributaries to the family story, giving flesh to minor characters or riffing on political events. It’s clever, satisfying, and often playful. It’s also an especially well-tailored form for a story set in Pahang over the course of the 20th century, where wars, migrations and occupations succeed, and converge on, one another: the novel’s multiple strands accommodate different histories, voices and perspectives.
In 1988, no one in France took the hip-hop movement seriously. It was the rec-room era. JoeyStarr and Kool Shen were just two kids from Seine-Saint-Denis, the 93rd ward, a neglected tract of housing projects on the northern outskirts of Paris. One black, the other white, they shared a love and a talent for breakdancing and got together practising moves in bleak lots and house parties. They started crews and listened to Doug E Fresh, Masta Ace, Grandmaster Flash, and Marley Marl. DJs played the breakbeats looped over jazzy horn riffs, cats sported Kangol hats and Cosby sweaters, and they tagged the walls of the city with their calling card: NTM, an acronym for “Nique Ta Mère” (Fuck Your Mother). There were no labels, no official concerts or shows, and the only airplay was after midnight on Radio Nova, a station dedicated to underground and avant garde music, created and directed by French countercultural hero Jean-François Bizot.
For me, as a psychologist with a special interest and expertise in the arts, our fascination with art raises two long-standing and fundamental questions, ones that have engaged philosophers, psychologists and art lovers. First, why are we so drawn to works of art? For their beauty, of course, but that can’t be all, as the thought-experiments above show us. Second, what kinds of demonstrable beneficial effects, if any, can engagement in the arts have on us?
I walk round the cul-de-sac until I’ve done my steps.
All the houses look the same around here: sixties bungalows, two bay windows, a front door slap-bang in the middle and roofs that go up forever, like a face with a huge forehead looming over a frown or a sneer. Jude calls it the Suburban Psychotic style.
The growl of blocked air from his mouth
inches away, slack in sleep and opened
So two years ago, after their own strange and painful travails with Taylor’s devices, 34-year-old O’Sullivan and his partner, 33-year-old Melissa Nelson, began selling a gadget about the size of a small paperback book, which they call Kytch. Install it inside your Taylor ice cream machine and connect it to your Wi-Fi, and it essentially hacks your hostile dairy extrusion appliance and offers access to its forbidden secrets. Kytch acts as a surveillance bug inside the machine, intercepting and eavesdropping on communications between its components and sending them to a far friendlier user interface than the one Taylor intended. The device not only displays all of the machine’s hidden internal data but logs it over time and even suggests troubleshooting solutions, all via the web or an app.
The result, once McDonald’s and Taylor became aware of Kytch’s early success, has been a two-year-long cold war—one that is only now turning hot.
I’m walking along a sandy path through a forest high above the flashing kingfisher-coloured coast. It smells of hot pine and wild rosemary. The sound of bells deep in the wood stops me in my tracks. Have I finally lost my mind, after months of piloting solo through the pandemic on this small island far from home?
Although the fictional archipelago of Popisho in Leone Ross’s third novel is imbued with a Caribbean sensibility, it is an entirely original place. Here, clouds rain down torrents of physalises. Houses morph, stretch, bend over backwards to accommodate their inhabitants’ whims. The citizens of Popisho are just as remarkable: each possesses a special power, or “cors”. Some islanders can converse with cats. Others walk through walls. Some have prehensile tails that fluff up in response to injustice. While the despotic Governor Intiasar ostensibly presides over the state, it is the Fatidique, an esoteric council of female visionaries, who really hold the reins of power.
DeSilva is a genial companion on this stroll through the deep origins of walking. Sometimes we amble along listening to fieldwork yarns, other times the way is steeper, requiring more concentration to absorb complex ideas. But always the view from the top is illuminating. Next time you crest a rise, take a moment to look down at your legs and ponder what it really took to get you there.
The brainchild of a pair of editorial refugees from glossy-land and a Rolling Stone photographer, Rags was the first publication to identify street style as a discrete fashion sector and call out the establishment for trying to manufacture trends. You can draw a direct line from its birth to the work of Bill Cunningham (Rags had an “On the Street” photo section eight years before “On the Street” appeared in The New York Times) and such Instagram sensations as The Sartorialist and Tommy Ton.
A writer can be obsessed by the question of where to write. On the one hand, she needs an intimate understanding of a place in order to make it real on the page. But she also needs to dissociate from her actual surroundings so that a story’s setting can appear in her mind in full detail. Joyce wrote his Dublin in Zurich, Trieste, and Paris. Proust wrote his Paris in Paris, albeit in a cork-lined room. It is often recommended to maintain a boring garden shed, or to put your desk against a wall.
Mathematics has its own terminology, and the truths of applied mathematics are sensitive to the way we understand and express them. The cognitive distortions associated with gambling are a relevant example of such ‘sensitive’ truths. What’s remarkable is that fighting them reveals something about both the nature of mathematics and the nature of human understanding – and that knowing when not to trust mathematics is as crucial as knowing when to trust it.
The generic quality of pollock’s fishiness — common enough for various cuisines to lay claim to it — is part of its allure. So maybe what makes the sandwich beloved isn’t its taste at all, but the juxtaposition of its elements: A single fillet of fried fish, topped with a thin slice of American cheese and tartar sauce, all of it cradled in a bun whose impossible roundness suggests the triumph of industrial food production.
But the novel is so precise and granular in its evocation of London that it made me thoroughly homesick while reading it. And Mozley is very good on the degree to which circumstance shapes interior life.
Ozick’s novella is not so unearthly, so giddily strange. But she introduces a second implausibility to the group’s living situation. The trustees have assigned themselves a literary task. Each is to compose a short memoir, fewer than 10 pages, about their time as students at the academy.
"Crying in H Mart," stood out to me as a representation of grief that I could relate to — one that doesn't reach for silver linings, but illuminates the unending nature of loss: "Every time I remember that my mother is dead, it feels like I'm colliding into a wall that won't give...a reminder of the immutable reality that I will never see her again."
Zauner’s storytelling—and recall of her past—is impeccable. Memories are rendered with a rich immediacy, as if bathed in a golden light.
Prose often focuses on whatever it might take to emerge from bereavement, however long endured. In Gregory Curtis’s memoir “Paris Without Her,” inspired by the death of his wife of many years, Tracy, he describes “drowning in waves of grief.” But on the same page he declares, “I wanted to use memories of all our good times to try to reconcile our past together with my future alone.” Memoirs of grief typically narrate a struggle to recover a sense of life’s meaning, through understanding, or will, or memory, especially of love.
Like his shows, the book is something you can return to for a dose of brief escapism. Flip from a tour of New Jersey to a guide to Sri Lanka. We’ve all been fantasizing about different scenarios and far-flung places over the course of the past year. Through World Travel, our wanderlust can continue—now, guided by Bourdain’s voice.
In February 2019, I had the meta-experience of walking Darwin’s thinking path to think about how walking helps you think. It was school vacation in London, and I had to compete with families arriving in droves to see where Darwin had lived and worked. The desk in his study is still cluttered with books, letters, and small specimen boxes containing pinned insects. Hanging from a nearby chair is his black jacket, black bowler hat, and a wooden walking stick. The stick has a helical design like a crawling tendril and looks freshly polished. The bottom of the walking stick, however, is well worn—evidence of miles on the Sandwalk.
Yet the experiments were collectivist projects, nothing like the domestic lot of most American women, or the idealized futures that home ec touted. The students shared and traded off their infant-care duties equally, relieved by immersion in demanding science courses that fed their intellects. There were no men living in the homes to play the role of husband. As Danielle Dreilinger writes in her deeply researched and crisply written new book, “The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live” (Norton), “practice homes looked less like the married, heterosexual, nuclear household for which they ostensibly prepared students than the feminist communes of a later era.”
Geoff Dyer first became interested in photography not by looking at photographs but by reading about other people looking at them. That meant the holy trinity of seers: Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes and John Berger.
The first thing you need is a voice.
One someone can fall asleep to.
Can sleep through. Words
“So you can make a painting of a soup can — that’s not such a big deal,” Menand said, characterizing his students’ response. Sixties culture, he recognized, was a close ancestor of the culture of the day. “I realized,” he added, “that what they were really interested in was the ’50s, which they didn’t understand as well.”
Menand took his students’ note. The result, “The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War,” will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux on Tuesday. The book seeks to explain not the ’60s scene (though Andy Warhol, soup cans and all, does appear), but how the ground was prepared for it by the West’s most influential thinkers, authors and artists between 1945 and 1965.
If you’re ever heading south down the Interstate 5 in high summer, when the temperature is over 100 and the Southern California hillsides look and smell like tinder, consider turning off the freeway at some point and winding your way through the canyons to the sea. Somewhere past Laguna Niguel, the road turns into the Pacific Coast Highway, and then a little to the left of that is the town of Dana Point. It’s a beautiful place, with a downtown full of colored lanterns, a charming little yacht harbor, and a statue of its namesake, the writer Richard Henry Dana Jr., overlooking a spectacular golden beach. But as romantic as it was there when I visited last summer, all I could think about was murder.
This is because I was under the sway of Raymond Chandler. His prose had been coloring my world for some time, thanks to a list I’d seen online of titles for short stories that Chandler had thought of, but never used. They were clever and evocative — “Law Is Where You Buy It,” “Twenty Minutes’ Sleep,” “Fiction Is for Fools” — and I soon started a blog for my friends to create and contribute stories and songs using Chandler’s unused titles. I called it the Raymond Chandler Project. I was excited to receive original works from noted writers and songwriters like Greil Marcus, Robyn Hitchcock, Peter Holsapple, and Amy Rigby, but I also had some unexpected contributors: a software engineer, a business analyst, a kindergarten teacher, a stay-at-home dad, a chemist, two children who were car camping in France, my (ex-)mother-in-law.
With trips to bookshops a rarity over the past year, keen readers have been forced to do what they’re told not to: judge books by their covers. “The lockdowns have really shone a light on book cover design, perhaps more than ever,” says Holly Ovenden, who is responsible for the cover of the forthcoming novel Holding Her Breath by Eimear Ryan.
And so I decide I need to embark on a journey to fix the sins of seventh grade. I will teach myself to type. I will learn at the feet of the masters, champions of speed and accuracy. I will figure out why I made so many typos in the first place. Is it my fingers or my brain? My long nails? Am I just a big dummy? Genetically bad at typing? Is it my computer’s fault or my keyboard’s?
In order to catch a typo, I had to go undercover. I had to become…a typo.
If the desolate story it tells – about two people, not one – is extreme, it’s also universal. How little we understand our desires. How we struggle to make ourselves happy. How easily we get stuck. Here is a warning, if only people would take it, that sententiousness, in matters of the heart, is always a mistake. What will survive of us isn’t love, but the struggle for survival itself.
After an hour of discussing her mother, the afterlife and the shamelessness sometimes required in producing art, Michelle Zauner adjusted her video camera to show her Bushwick apartment. Her coffee table, suddenly in view, was covered with Jolly Pong Cereal Snack, NongShim Shrimp Crackers, Lotte Malang Cow Milk Candies and other Asian junk food.
“This whole time we’ve been talking,” she said, “you’ve been in front of these snacks.”
It’s true that Rome’s collapse reverberated widely, at least in the western – mostly European – half of its empire. (A shrinking portion of the eastern half, later known as Byzantium, survived for another millennium.) Although some regions were harder hit than others, none escaped unscathed. Monumental structures fell into disrepair; previously thriving cities emptied out; Rome itself turned into a shadow of its former grand self, with shepherds tending their flocks among the ruins. Trade and coin use thinned out, and the art of writing retreated. Population numbers plummeted.
But a few benefits were already being felt at the time. Roman power had fostered immense inequality: its collapse brought down the plutocratic ruling class, releasing the labouring masses from oppressive exploitation. The new Germanic rulers operated with lower overheads and proved less adept at collecting rents and taxes. Forensic archaeology reveals that people grew to be taller, likely thanks to reduced inequality, a better diet and lower disease loads. Yet these changes didn’t last.
In 1520 Albrecht Dürer travelled to Zeeland to see a whale stranded on the sands. A storm drove back his boat and by the following morning it had also blown the fabulous creature back out to sea. The artist never saw his whale, so instead he drew sea monsters, putting them together like Frankenstein out of bits of this and that: eel, unicorn, dolphin, crocodile, mermaid. The year before, Pope Leo X had received a Rosmer – a walrus – from a Norwegian bishop; not the entire creature, just its head, salted in a barrel like a dead naval hero. Dürer imagined the entire walrus and made a picture of it. The disconnect between the pickled head and imagined body parts lends Dürer’s creation the tragic pathos of Hans Christian Andersen’s little mermaid, who sells her soul to swap her tail for legs – the price of human love.
What does it mean to heal as a Native American? Brandon Hobson’s new novel, The Removed, asks this question as it follows a Native family, the Echotas, 15 years after the loss of their son Ray-Ray to police violence. Shot at a Tulsa, Oklahoma, mall on the same day as the Cherokee National Holiday, Ray-Ray’s death coincides with the commemoration of the end of the Trail of Tears. These coinciding dates highlight the long, ongoing history of betrayal of Native peoples in American life.
In his three-decade career as a police officer, Graves had worked on stabbings, shootings, kidnappings and attempted murders. These were exacting cases, and he was well used to media scrutiny, family and friends demanding answers, and witnesses who were reluctant to cooperate. As an experienced senior detective, Graves hoped to identify the fallen man and repatriate his body, but he wasn’t exactly optimistic. “You’d struggle to find anyone who’s optimistic in the police,” he chuckled.
When the call came in at 3.39pm, officers sped to Offerton Road, where they spoke to Wil, John and the neighbours. Police contacted Heathrow, which dispatched staff to examine the Kenya Airways plane’s wheel wells, the unpressurised area into which the plane’s landing gear retracts after takeoff. In the wheel wells, there is just about enough space for a person to crouch and evade detection. Inside, staff found a grubby khaki rucksack with the initials MCA written on it.
Fruit flies, octopuses, birds, and humans don’t seem to have much in common. Some live on land, others are aquatic. Some fly, while others are earthbound. Some are vertebrates, others lack backbones. These creatures evolved separately and their common ancestors are far, far back in the evolutionary chain. But they may share one fundamental feature: They dream.
In 1901, a concerned member of the public wrote to the men compiling the first Oxford English Dictionary to let them know that there was a word missing. In 1857 the Unregistered Words Committee of the Philological Society of London had decided that Britain needed a successor to Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary. It had taken 40 years for the first volume – the letters A and B – to be published, and now they had only gone and left out a word.
The word was “bondmaid”, and when Australian author Pip Williams learned of its exclusion, she knew she had the makings of a novel. The Dictionary of Lost Words tells the story of the OED’s compilation through the fictional Esme, daughter of one of the men working on it, and her interactions with characters based on the real men and women behind the book.
Jones provides a brilliant look into the cracks of a family, channeling the folktales and sayings from her ancestors, and bringing them to the page. She says it beautifully here: “Every generation gets a little better, leaves a stitch or two behind to close the open family wounds a little at a time.” The trauma passed down through Jones’ line is fraught, but her storytelling conveys compassion to the characters that helped shape her life.
in the landlocked town of Norilsk, trucks
are taking loads of nickel from the mine
to the refinery on unthawed roads at dawn –
For example, with someone who no longer is,
who exists only in yellowed letters.
Allowing a woman to have a byline in print was one sort of progress. Permitting her to deliver the news over the airwaves was downright revolutionary. Yet over at one of the nation’s newest programs, the prevailing concern wasn’t the status of women. For the small staff churning out 90 minutes of All Things Considered, navigating the free-for-all chaos of the daily program was enough of a challenge.
It didn’t help—in fact, it hurt quite a lot—that since the show’s debut, no structure had been put in place. It wasn’t always even clear who’d show up for work each day. Whoever arrived at the office first in the morning found themselves that day’s producer—vetting breaking news, wrangling the reports gathered in the field, making sure they’d been spliced down and mixed and prepared for air, booking telephone interviews with guests (an inexpensive way to pad out the time), writing copy, sifting through the poorly catalogued pile of taped story submissions from affiliates in search of stories they might use, and assembling all the pieces into a loose-fitting “road map” so as to fill the promised 90 minutes. With so few staff reporters, everyone pitched in, assigning themselves whatever stories sounded interesting, with little direction or oversight and even less—make that no—editing.
At the height of Hitchcock’s fame, in the fifties and sixties, Reville combined the culinary traditions of France, Britain, and the United States in her kitchen, an embodiment of the kind of sophisticated American domestic cook that Julia Child communicated through her books and TV shows. Yet in an ironic subtext worthy of a Hitchcock classic, Reville’s cooking also represented something of the emotional complexity that attended being married to the Master of Suspense. Though Reville gave Hitchcock his Proustian flashes of home with Yorkshire puddings and Sunday roasts, and bolstered his idea of himself as a man of taste and discernment with classic French dishes, she was also the one who filled the Hitchcock home with the food that Alfred found so hard to resist.
For Alma, however, food never had a dark side. To the woman who was known by many as “Mrs. Hitchcock,” cooking became a means of creative expression separate from that of the Hitchcock juggernaut, a project to which she contributed so much for so long, but which also underscored the lost potential of her own adventures in film.
The pandemic has worsened my longing, making it impossible for me to engage in one of my favorite homesick-for-New-York stopgaps: traveling there for work, something that allows me to feel like a professional in a way that working from home upstate never has, while also letting me spend time recreating in the place I adore most in all the world.
Although Rankin-Gee’s nuanced, astute world building deserves applause, it’s this relationship that holds the novel together, in large part because it feels so real.
But Hough's book isn't really a cult memoir — it's about so much more than that (and it's also quite funny, although you'll have to take my word on that because most of the funny bits include expletives I can't quote here). Slowly, essay after essay, it becomes clear that she's drawing parallels between the Family and good ol' fashioned American Exceptionalism in all its various facets, from rah-rah-'Merica attitudes surrounding freedom to the worship of individualism to the demands of capitalism.
Jo van Gogh-Bonger was previously known to have played a role in building the painter’s reputation, but that role was thought to have been modest — a presumption seemingly based on a combination of sexism and common sense, since she had no background in the art business. There were intriguing indications for those interested enough to look. In 2003, the Dutch writer Bas Heijne found himself in the Van Gogh Museum’s library and stumbled across some letters, which prompted him to write a play about Jo. “I just thought, This woman’s life is a great story,” he says. Luijten likewise told me that the letters between the brothers, and those exchanged with other artists and dealers, were littered with clues. He searched the museum’s library and archives and found photographs and account books that contained more hints. He corresponded with archives in France, Denmark and the United States. He began to formulate a thesis: “I started to see that she was the spider in the web. She had a strategy.”
When I first met Carol Dana, in the spring of 2018, she told me that she was thinking of getting a parrot. Dana, a member of the Penobscot Nation, one of five hundred and seventy-four Native American tribes recognized by the United States federal government, was attending a small ceremony at the University of Maine’s anthropology museum. She wore her silver hair pulled back from her face, and introduced herself to me as the tribe’s language master, a title, she added, that she wasn’t fully comfortable with. The idea of mastery seemed an imprecise way to describe the fraught relationship she had with the Penobscot words inside her head. Though not fluent, Dana has a better grasp of the language than anyone else on Indian Island, where six hundred of the world’s estimated twenty-four hundred members of the Penobscot tribe live. She admitted to being linguistically lonely. “I’ve been talking to myself in Penobscot for years,” she said. “You need to say it out loud, so your own ears can hear it.” Though she knew that a bird wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation, she thought that simply hearing Penobscot words spoken at home by another living creature would be better than nothing.
The project of Gold Diggers is to deconstruct that dream. But what makes the novel so compelling is the playfulness with which Sathian deconstructs it. You feel for the characters and the ways they have been warped by their pursuit of greatness and the ways they are haunted by their sins — but also, there are heists and alchemy. It’s a blast.
A sharp sense of purpose sheathed in humor glints through every story, which are delightfully varied in subgenre, voice and time period.
What was once known as “mass hysteria” (a term that has echoes of misbehaving nuns, dancing Canadians or the 1962 laughing epidemic of Tanganyika) is now more carefully described as “mass psychogenic illness” (MPI). O’Sullivan refers at different times to “functional neurological disorders” (FND) and “biopsychosocial” disorders, which seems a sensible label for symptoms that exist in the body as a result of activity in the brain and the influence of culture and environment. Whatever we call them, there are many reasons why these disorders are difficult to identify and treat – not least that many patients would rather be diagnosed with almost anything else. Fortunately, O’Sullivan is convinced that they can be helped.
The cultural historian and Paris Review contributor Edward White brings home to us the film titan’s enduring presence in “The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense.” While not essential to casual filmgoers, the study helpfully dissects, for Hitchcock obsessives, this most calculatingly self-conscious director’s methods and compulsions.
In his new book, “The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession, and Death on Mount Everest,” the author and adventurer Mark Synnott skillfully describes early-20th-century exploration, then dives into a story about Everest that merges mystery, adventure and history into a single tragic bundle.
“World Travel” is built out of a somewhat amorphous vision, an “atlas of the world as seen through his eyes,” as Ms. Woolever writes in the book’s introduction. It is the second book, after 2016’s “Appetites,” that includes Ms. Woolever’s name on the cover just under Mr. Bourdain’s, albeit smaller. It speaks to the power of Mr. Bourdain’s legacy and the singularity of his point of view that his name still sits so boldly on the book’s cover despite the fact that he contributed not a single new written word to its 469 pages.
So why the resurgence now? Is it simply that it was time for the ubiquitous fungi to get their moment in the sun, after the wellness-industrial complex had exhausted so many other lesser-known ingredients? Not quite: While the shroom boom is a multifaceted and hard-to-trace phenomenon, a number of factors have made this the ideal time for its ascension. Mushrooms’ extreme versatility; the pandemic driving people outdoors, resulting in a more back-to-nature interest in foraging; the passage of laws decriminalizing psychedelics in states like Oregon; and the pleasing, organic aesthetic of the fungi itself have all resulted in a moment where it’s hard to ignore the humble shroom.
What I find most remarkable about Taylor’s endeavor to re-record her old music is not the financial risk, nor the sheer amount of work involved, but the bravery of confronting something she wrote as a teenager. I have entire journals from my teenage years in a dusty box under my bed that I can neither throw away nor make myself read. At the beginning of the pandemic, I tried to read them but had to stop after just a few pages. I don’t want to be reminded of the naïve, sweet, and self-loathing girl I used to be.
The beautifully crafted poems can feel like mini-histories, intricate narratives spanning only a few pages. They overflow with richness and opportunities for interpretation, shifting between Arabic and English; yet they are self-contained and pointed as a missile.
NPR, unlike its well-resourced competitors, was eager to hire sharp, inventive, low-wage workers who couldn’t find jobs anywhere else — in other words, women. That decision launched the star-bright careers of Napoli’s subjects: Susan Stamberg, Linda Wertheimer, Totenberg and Cokie Roberts, and they in turn helped transform NPR from “the nation’s largest unlicensed Montessori school,” as an early study described it, to the vaunted institution it is today.
If you are not already familiar with the writings of film critic David Thomson, the subtitle of his new book might mislead you. Calling it “a history” makes the book sound like an academic treatise: systematic, comprehensive, responsible, dry. If, on the other hand, you know Thomson’s books about movies — he has published more than 25, including multiple editions of his “Biographical Dictionary of Film” — you will predict, correctly, that “A Light in the Dark” is none of these things. It is highly personal, unapologetically opinionated, intermittently whimsical, charmingly idiosyncratic and above all deeply impassioned. It reads, at times, like a love letter to the art that has moved Thomson most. Or a eulogy dedicated to a tradition, and indeed a world, he fears may be on the verge of disappearing.
Best known for the shoegaze indie pop she makes as Japanese Breakfast, “Crying at H Mart” finds Zauner trading in her synths and reverb to deliver a refreshingly candid memoir about the trauma of loss, the limits of language and the meals made along the way. Though aspects of her music career are lightly covered, Zauner’s book is set primarily in hospital rooms and family kitchens, eschewing the popular musicians’ crutch of writing solely about life on the road and in the studio.
Folded on the striped sofa,
a flower at dusk.
Dizzied. Drowsing. Dreaming.
I cannot resist a news headline that refers to a mystery illness and there is no shortage to keep me interested. “Mystery of 18 twitching teenagers in New York”; “Mysterious sleeping sickness spreads in Kazakhstani village”; “200 Colombian girls fall ill with a mysterious illness”; “The Mystery of the Havana Syndrome”. One medical disorder seems to attract this description more than any other: psychosomatic illness. That the body is the mouthpiece of the mind is evident in our posture, in the smiles on our faces, in the tremor of our nervous hands. But, still, when the body speaks too explicitly, when the power of the mind leads to physical disability, it can be hard to understand why. This perplexity is most apparent when psychosomatic disorders affect groups, spreading from person to person like a social virus, in a phenomenon often referred to as mass hysteria.
For all his eminence, grise or otherwise, Fuller’s poetry has maintained an ordered gleefulness, with his storytelling, voice-throwing urge sharing something with Browning. This narrative, characterful element is just as important to his work as its often more eye-catching formality, Auden being another of his pole stars as well as a particular focus in his critical prose. When reading Fuller, one is never far from a sense of poetry as intelligent play as well as music, of the poem as argument, love song, and lullaby.
Amid the book reviews in the LRB by critics determined to sound sober and certain, as if they were museum docents, her reviews and essays admitted doubt. They were marvelously shrewd but approachable and witty. Diski’s articles made the sound of someone chewing her fingernails very intelligently. She made stuffy waiting rooms a little brighter.
Diski (1947-2016) contributed more than 200 pieces to the LRB over 25 years, beginning in 1992. A new book, “Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?” — it’s the kind of title you can’t remember even while you are typing it — collects a few dozen of the best.
Because, in a wounded universe, the tufts
of grass still glisten, the first daffodil
shoots up through ice-melt, and a red-tailed hawk
As I walked home from the train station, it occurred to me that I had to write about the disgraced, the poor and the earnest strivers of Queens, and I would be able to tell their stories not because I was a writer but because I was a reader.
All those shelves of books had built my mind, teaching me how to shape a narrative about my people, from what they had lost and found. In life, even in my life, there was a coming-of-age, tragedy and meaning.
Each year, an estimated 365 million to one billion birds die by smacking into reflective or transparent windows in deadly cases of mistaken identity, believing the glass to be unimpeded sky.
“These birds are dying right in front of their eyes,” said Connie Sanchez, the bird-friendly buildings program manager for the National Audubon Society, which for two decades has asked cities to dim their lights from about mid-March through May, and again in the fall, under its Lights Out initiative.
If you leave the airport expecting the rest of the city to be this orderly and clean, you won't be disappointed. Once described by the New York Times as a place "so clean that bubble gum is a controlled substance", Singapore is universally known for its perfectly paved roads, manicured public parks, and spotless, litter-free streets.
But cleanliness is more than a merely aesthetic ideal here. In this small city-state with just under 56 years of national independence under its belt, cleanliness has been synonymous with major social progress, unprecedented economic growth and, most recently, a coordinated containment of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘I am still finding it difficult to explain just what sort of book it is,” wrote Alan Alexander Milne in the introduction to the 1922 edition of Once on a Time. “Perhaps no explanation is necessary. Read in it what you like; read it to whomever you like; be of what age you like; it can only fall into one of two classes. Either you will enjoy it, or you won’t.”
If his words aren’t hint enough about the character of the tale, that conspicuously missing “Upon” from the title will supply another.
In the museum, I looked at
the beautiful things, one after another,
I love my office for the windows
because just outside them
lives a community of birds
and I enjoy the show.
So when I was 18 and came out to my family, I began in Finnish and ended in English: “Mä oon gay” — “I’m gay,” I said, instead of using the loaded and clinical Finnish homo, a derivative of the Finnish medical term “homoseksuaali,” meaning “homosexual.”
After I came out, I moved to London and then New York and lived in English. I discovered that “gay” also means “happy”; that “queerness” denotes so much more than just sexual orientation. The vagueness is there by design: These words encompass all forms of queer life and recast them in a more positive light. In English, I found more room to breathe, to evolve.
The prolific author of multiple popular science books, Mr. Kaku is a futurist, broadcaster and professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York. He is also the host of the wildly successful and popular weekly radio program Science Fantastic. If there is anyone who can demystify the esoteric mathematics and physics of string theory, it is he. And in this wonderful little book, that is precisely what he does—explain in clear and simple terms the conceptual breakthroughs, the blind alleys and the unanswered questions—in the search for a grand unified theory of everything. Most of all, what I like best is that he remains open to the possibility that there may ultimately not be a single unifying theory after all, encoded into a single tidy equation.
Even as we produce more and more images every day—and our methods of communication increasingly rely on them—Strauss’s book, like all good criticism, attempts to carve out space for freedom. His method allows us to look carefully and consider the impact of the status changes on society—an ever more important task given the breakneck pace of today’s media. “Belief in images has become the test case for the social,” he writes. “If we are to believe in the world, we must have images of it.” That includes images of the world as it truly is, but also images of the world as we would like it to be. Or else, if there’s nothing to see here, there’s nothing to believe.
Focusing largely on the mid-1960s, “Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am” remembers a time when air travel was synonymous with luxury and glamour — not just for passengers but also for the women hired to wait on them.
Julia Cooke, the daughter of a Pan Am executive, builds “Come Fly the World” around interviews with five women: Clare, Karen, Lynne, Hazel and Tori; four White, one Black; four American, one Norwegian. For some, working as a Pan Am stewardess was always the dream; for others, it was the backup plan that kicked in when their visions of a career in biology or the Foreign Service faded. For all of them, working for Pan Am was transformative.
We thought it would be over soon enough.
He’d listen to the facts and move along,
find a job, a house, someone to love,
but we were wrong.
The feedback Hallmark staff solicited from customers and retailers proved that Life Mosaic was more meaningful than commercialized cliches. Buyers’ comments testified to joblessness, divorce, sexual assault, and suicidal thoughts in an effort to make evident to Hallmark, who reported to Angelou, the positive impact of her products. Their wording helped card senders express themselves while empowering recipients to deal with their emotions. A daughter relayed that her mother, who had cancer, felt Angelou “knew her and exactly what she was feeling,” reminding her that she “gets her strength from within.” Angelou’s Life Mosaic lifted people up and assisted them in the difficult art of living.
Here, it seems, is where utopia will begin: in a dusty, oversized garage. The place has a distinct chemical odor, unmistakably synthetic. It holds a few scattered shelves and tables, and, laid on its side, one barrel of resin—the source of the stink. Otherwise, this room in northern Panama, separated from the sea by a dirt parking lot and thin band of jungle, is empty, awaiting Chad Elwartowski’s dreams.
Elwartowski is dressed, per his trademark style, in a Hawaiian shirt, a look that seems to convert his every setting into cheerful paradise. Affable, clean-shaven, and still boyish at 47, he is one of the most devoted members of a strange global tribe: seasteaders, as they call themselves, believe the answer to some of life’s most pressing problems is to build new cities on the ocean. Global poverty, health crises, environmental challenges: these issues might all be fixed out there, along Earth’s last (mostly) unclaimed frontier. According to seasteading logic, the current crop of land-based governments is not serving the world—and by breaking away and starting afresh, we might build a better society.
In the last few months, I’ve found an unexpected solution: reading first thing in the morning. I set my alarm for 7:30 a.m. and allow myself an extra hour to read. Before I brush my teeth, before I can turn to Twitter or panic about the state of my inbox, even before coffee, I grab whatever book tops the stack on my bedside table and sink into it. In this disgusting state in which all I can taste is the inside of my own mouth and I can often smell my own sleep-sweat armpits (cute!), I read hungrily.
Remember the Rolodex? That pre-cell-phone directory that looked like a duck with earmuffs: a circular card index file for contact names, numbers, and addresses. How about the encyclopedia, that pre-Google multivolume storage system for information from A to Z. Ronald Brownstein, the senior political analyst for CNN and a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, has both of them beat. In his brilliant cultural history, Rock Me on the Water: 1974 — The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television and Politics, Brownstein drops enough names to fill the once-massive Los Angeles phone book (remember those?), elicits memorable moments from several entertainment industries, and recalls political machinations across decades.
“What do you want?” is a painful question. To answer it honestly forces you to bring your own desire into confrontation with the flinching fear of its denial. Reading Mieko Kawakami’s novel Breasts and Eggs, one experiences the pain of women coming to terms with what they do and don’t want, almost too acutely. The book’s narrator rejects the conventional desires a woman is supposed to have, yet she cannot or will not say what she might want in their stead—a refusal that suggests not just ennui but something more provocative. This protagonist, Natsuko Natsume, belongs to a new cohort of ambivalent heroines, or perhaps antiheroines, that has emerged in recent novels, including Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Olivia Laing’s Crudo, and Ling Ma’s Severance (all from 2018). These novels are narrated by women who are, to put it simply, over desire. They are finished both with trying to be desired and with the struggle of articulating their own desires in a society that will never fully acknowledge or fulfill them.
JRR Tolkien disliked novels that tended toward autobiography, though he did not dispute the fact that an author has no choice but to use his or her own experiences in writing fiction. The Lord of the Rings is most assuredly not an allegory for the 20th century, nor are any of his protagonists a reflection of Tolkien himself. Yet, if there is a domain inextricably intertwined with the life of our author, it is linguistics: comparative philology, to be precise.
These end-of-life stages prick our imaginations. They confront us with some unsettling ideas. We don’t like to face the possibility that irreversible biological processes in our bodies can snuff out the stunning light of our individual experience. We prefer to deny our bodies altogether, and push away the dark tendrils of a living world we fear. The trouble for us is that this story – that we aren’t really our bodies but some special, separate ‘thing’ – has made a muddle of reality. Problems flow from the notion that we’re split between a superior human half and the inferior, mortal body of an animal. In short, we’ve come to believe that our bodies and their feelings are a lesser kind of existence. But what if we’re wrong? What if all parts of us, including our minds, are deeply biological, and our physical experiences are far more meaningful and richer than we’ve been willing to accept?
“Under the Wave” goes deeper, however. Its immersion in the physical essence and social divides of Hawaii feels profoundly experienced rather than merely observed.
These crafted stories, told by one family member to another, provide a link from one generation to the next, allowing us to connect with the past as we move into the future.
How will I write Sapphic poetry
for though I am a woman, loving women
my love is a man’s!
In 1993, Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import.” In her Nobel Lecture, she noted how language, whether spoken or written, can limn, or describe and detail, life. Derived from the Latin illuminare, meaning to “make light” or “illuminate,” limn has been used throughout literary history to generally describe—and convey the literal illustration of—a manuscript. One affordance of annotation is that it enables readers and writers to limn, or describe, their texts. In doing so, how does such annotation provide information?
I wonder what will remain of this time, which will, inevitably, become past time (though when, I don’t know). What will my own daughter conjure “in that dark-backward and abysm of time,” and will remembering cause her pain? Teach her compassion? Will the memory of it influence—perhaps without her even knowing—how she learns, how she interacts with others?
Jane Nickerson made Craig Claiborne possible and put the cheeseburger on the map. Her recipe for lime pie is a taste of Florida sunshine.
In 1927 MR James, author of some of the most indelible ghost stories ever written, gave a lesson in how to do it: “Let us, then, be introduced to the players in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings, and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage.”
Mariana Enríquez has written various stories that fit just this pattern, but five pages in to the International Booker prize-longlisted The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, as a woman attempts to strangle the undead corpse of a three-month-old baby – her great aunt, as it happens – it struck me that when you’re writing fiction that wants to disturb and unsettle its readers, breaking the rules can be just as productive as following them.
Many writers attempt, either through emotional impulse or intellectual exercise, to capture the soul of a place in their work. Ben Lerner returns again and again to Topeka, Kansas; Joshua Mohr’s characters primarily haunt the underbelly dives of San Francisco; and in Lauren Francis-Sharma’s novels, she leads readers through the island heat of Trinidad both past and present. But what if a place is known popularly for having no soul? How then to capture its true essence?
As readers, we can expect to see the life neatly documented and the work analyzed, but the connection, the filament between the two? White never forces an explanation or coherence. The radial structure vibrates, like Hitchcock’s best films, with intuition and mystery.
Scotland Yard’s Ward was stunned. He couldn’t recall a burglary like this anywhere. The thieves, as if undertaking a special-ops raid, had climbed up the sheer face of the building. From there, they scaled its pitched metal roof on a cold, wet night, cut open a fiberglass skylight, and descended inside—without tripping alarms or getting picked up by cameras. “Dangerous work,” he says. “This is not something ordinary burglars try to accomplish.”
Then there was the loot. In a warehouse laden with valuables coming in and out of Heathrow for customs clearance, the thieves had taken their time in the darkness, more than five hours, to select from among hundreds of books—choosing the most precious ones. They made off with nothing else from the vast freight building except for some nearby tote bags—heavy satchels that they snatched from another shipping container. Ward tells me on a call from London, “You must have a lot of patience, strength, and ingenuity not to trigger the sensors and to get the books back through that hole in the roof.”
These tidbits of personal medical history — the odd diet and the maternal anxiety — “made their way into the story,” said the 39-year-old author, journalist and artist. That story is “Eat the Mouth That Feeds You,” about a young daughter who bites chunks of her own mother’s flesh. “It is her right,” says the mother in the short story. “She must take those things. She must take from me what she needs.”
It’s a fitting title piece for Fragoza’s debut collection, released in late March but already widely acclaimed. “Eat the Mouth That Feeds You” includes fantastical, intimate, strange and often supernatural stories set on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border about Latinas navigating a male-dominated world — and leaning on one another for support.
She knew nothing about owning a business, or selling books, and she didn’t have any credit. She saved $2,000 from bartending and a local bank loaned her another $2,000. It was utter nonsense for a 23-year-old woman in 1972 to open her own store, so she called it “The Nonsense”—The Jabberwocky was born. When in 1974, after meeting all her payments to the bank, she asked to borrow another $4,000 to move The Jabberwocky to a larger space, she was told that as a young woman in the 70s she’d be “doing other things soon” and was declined.
Undeterred, she eventually moved the store to an old tannery in 1986, expanding from 650 square feet to over 7,000. The fact that it’s a bookstore not situated anywhere near a university, or in a major city, but in a town with a population of less than 20,000, makes this especially impressive for anyone who knows this industry well.
“I hurt my teeth biting into it, and it was so sour, so astringent. I was shocked,” Lebo said recently. “I’d had these expectations of what a fruit was supposed to be, and this fruit tricked me into consuming it. Then I came to realize some scholars think the quince is the (Biblical) fruit of knowledge, not the apple.” It became a perfect metaphor — that sweet, beckoning lure hiding painful truths and betrayal.
The encounter helped catalyze “The Book of Difficult Fruit,” a new book of essays from the Spokane author, poet and pie maker and an abecedarian account of “the tart, tender and unruly (with recipes).” Dining from “a” (aronia berries) to “z” (zucchini) meant unlocking stubborn family mysteries, unsnarling adult relationships and childhood dreams, addressing everything from an abortion that “is none of my business and not my story, except I was there” to the thorny reasons why the wild huckleberry should never be domesticated.
All fiction is magic. That’s the thought that occurred to me often as I read “First Person Singular,” the brilliant new book of stories by Haruki Murakami, author of international best sellers.
Here, secrets are revealed, skirmishes ensue, and at the book’s end the story lands more Patricia Highsmith than Agatha Christie: a maze of identity and desire that has an ending, but not a solution. Every piece of the puzzle falls into place, but the picture is never made whole. Perhaps this is Oyeyemi’s point: To be at peace with the vagaries of human connection, you have to learn to find the wholeness in every part.
Today’s pace of extinction is hundreds if not thousands of times greater than the natural extinction rate. Humans are, of course, profoundly implicated in this loss of life and biodiversity. Jeff VanderMeer’s 20th book, the ambitious ecological thriller “Hummingbird Salamander,” asks us to engage with this reality, and with the possibility that Homo sapiens too could be on the path to extinction, thanks to the species’ “destroying its own habitat.”
The result is a novel of Indian magic and modern technology, a parody of New World ambition and an elegy of assimilation. Looking up from the pages of this sparkling debut, I experienced something like the thrill the luckiest 49ers must have felt: Gold! Gold! Gold!
Some fine writers, granted the luck of long lives and clear minds, go on publishing after it would have been kind for someone to tell them to stop, but a precious few report with wisdom, kindness and intelligence from the end to which we shall all come — travel of a different kind. This is such a book.
Longevity is the real prize for which writers strive, and it isn’t awarded by any jury. For a book to stand the test of time, to pass successfully down the generations, is uncommon enough to be worth a small celebration. For a writer in his mid-70s, the continued health of a book published in his mid-30s is, quite simply, a delight. This is why we do what we do: to make works of art that, if we are very lucky, will endure.
We’ve cancelled six Dr. Seuss titles. Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird appear to be on the block. But, if we’re on a bend to reform our approach to teaching the English language, there are bigger fish to fry. Shakespeare is the curriculum’s Moby Dick. We need a harpoon. More than any other experience, the yearly dissection of Shakespeare turns kids off literature.
My wife, no stranger to photography workshops when young, is fond of recounting a tried-and-true bit of photo advice she heard at the Museum School in Boston, when she was an undergraduate. It goes like this: “Q: How do you take a good photograph? A: You take a photograph of some people and you put it in a drawer for thirty years. When you take it out of the drawer, you’ll have a good picture.”
Neurobiologists have known about the brain’s EM field for more than a century but have nearly always dismissed it as having no more relevance to its workings than the exhaust of a car has to its steering. Yet, since information is just correlation, I knew that the underlying brain EM field tremors that generated the spikes on the EEG screen knew the slamming of the hospital room door, just as much as the neurons whose firing generated those tremors. However, I also had enough physics to know that there was a crucial difference between a million scattered neurons firing and the EM field generated by their firing. The information encoded by the million discrete bits of information in a million scattered neurons is physically unified within a single brain EM field.
It is a scientific dualism based on the difference between matter and energy, rather than matter and spirit.
It’s hard to write about Rosa Rankin-Gee’s apocalyptic Dreamland without channelling aquatic metaphors. Water courses through its pages, as rising sea levels heighten inequalities, buoy populist politicians and wash away every certainty of civilisation. But there’s also the novel’s prose – its liquid grace and glinting sparkle – and the sheer irresistibility of a narrative that sweeps along with a force that feels tidal in its pull.
Think, now, whose hand you would like to hold
for the last time: that of a secret or lost lover,
From the Bowen-House letters, Julia Parry has managed to carve an absorbing concoction of curiosity, melancholy and ultimate contentment; “a feeling of gratitude” for the stories and talents she has inherited from her family. Acquiring the letters was itself a lesson in both “the power of objects to choose their human hosts” and ““the power of letters to let loose their spirits, enabling them to seep into the present”.
Genealogical charts are indispensable for at least two sets of people: those intrigued by the British Royal Family, and those trying to decipher the kinship pretzels in small communities where families have intermarried and interacted for decades.
W.S. Winslow’s début novel, “The Northern Reach,” supplies lineage diagrams for the latter category as it tells an episodic and generational tale about several families in a coastal area of Maine.
As a media form, video games are situated at the interface between the subjective/personal and the social/communal; they are the product of a certain historical and political moment, and they embody its logic. But they also have the potential to lay bare the contradictions and distortions of neoliberal subjectivity. The great hope of game designers/players/lovers is that this potential is realized. My great hope is that they do so with and through this exceptional book.
The great diarists get away with it. No matter how foolish or spiteful or pompous they appear in print, they transcend faults of character by the simple virtue of brilliant writing. Only it’s not that simple – if it were, everyone would do it. In the first half of the 20th century, no diarist in English would achieve greater notoriety than Henry Channon, AKA “Chips”, his name practically a byword for gossipy flamboyance and indiscretion. When first published in 1967, nine years after his death, the diaries were an instant sensation, a stunning fresco of the British social-political haut monde by an American interloper whose eye never seemed to sleep.
At each new school she attended, McLain brought her lunch to the one place where she knew she would find a kindred spirit: the library. “We moved so much, I didn’t feel it was safe to make friends with actual kids,” she said, “so I always made friends with librarians. And then I made friends with books.”
People have always told me not to change my name. Some insisted that they liked it: Bich, a Vietnamese name, given to me in Saigon, where I was born and where the name is quite ordinary. When my family named me, they didn’t know that we would become refugees eight months later and that I would grow up in Michigan in the nineteen-eighties, in the conservative, mostly white, west side of the state, where girls had names like Jennifer, Amy, and Stacy. A name like Bich (pronounced “Bic”) didn’t just make me stand out—it made me miserably visible. “Your name is what?” people would ask. “How do you spell that?” Sometimes they would laugh in my face. “You know what your name looks like, right? Did your parents really name you that?”
For amid the lurid colour and the grand theoretical gestures is a poignant story of friendship and isolation, of human connections made and lost. There’s something interesting growing in all that filth.
Open arms gathering all so wide to hold everyone horizontally growing, this way, flat in this way capturing each
Although vegan cheese hasn’t enjoyed the same explosive growth as plant-based burgers or nondairy milk, it has still managed to gain respectable ground: According to a recent market research report, the global vegan cheese market was valued at just over $1 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow almost 13 percent in the next seven years. Major food companies like General Mills have gotten in on the act, launching nondairy versions of Yoplait’s “Oui” French-style line and cow milk-free Häagen-Dazs, even as they continue to make traditional products. Today, the nondairy dairy market has expanded enough to entice almost anyone, vegan or not, who is taking a break from dairy. In the process, vegan cheese has undergone an unlikely evolution from punchline to something that sits comfortably, even unremarkably, on mainstream supermarket shelves.
Best known for her female-centric legal thrillers, Lisa Scottoline has, over more than 30 novels, dealt with issues of family, justice and honor. Her new book, “Eternal,” tackles many of those same subjects, through a different lens. Set in Italy before and during World War II, the book is an accomplished historical novel that is both seeped in period detail and full of relatable characters — a welcome addition to the growing list of history-based novels about everyday people, especially women, who did what they could to defeat the Third Reich.
The title of Alexandra Andrews’s debut suspense novel poses the question that bedevils many of its characters: “Who is Maud Dixon?” But the question that will vex the novel’s readers is a different one: “Who do you root for?”
Andrew Steele wants to make birthdays fun again. He knows that once we reach a certain age, most of us greet the turn of another year with at least a little dread. That’s because we assume that “getting older” inevitably means “getting old,” with all the increased frailty and diminished vitality we associate with advancing age. But getting on in years doesn’t have to mean becoming elderly, Steele argues — and in his new book, “Ageless,” he does a surprisingly effective job of decoupling the two.
I’m not sure what to do about that scorpion twitching on the wall
Maybe I should slam it with this book of terrible poetry
I admit that it had been a long time since I’d tried to commune this deeply with van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat,” from 1887, one of the Met’s treasures. For years, every time I’d gone to pay it — him — my respects, the crowd of admirers made it impossible to get near enough, for long enough, for us to achieve any real understanding. But over the last few months, with Covid restrictions severely limiting attendance, the world’s most famous museums have given their art a new opportunity to speak to us.
A handful of animals are so woven into the fabric of human existence that they are part of how we think about ourselves.
With these dogs, chickens and giant pandas, we are caretakers, companions, trainers, consumers, oppressors and rescuers.
Rarely, though, do we admit that with some animals, we are students.
For Nadia Owusu, the question “where are you from” does not have a straightforward answer. Rather it prompts an eight-paragraph rundown of numerous cities and countries; lists of family members spread out around the world, and half-sisters and half-brothers with multihyphenated identities – “Armenian-Somali-American”. “Confused?” she writes in the opening of this memoir. “Me too.” The sudden displacements in her life – from Tanzania to England, then to Italy, Ethiopia and Uganda – can feel like earthquakes that shake the ground beneath her feet, threatening to unleash chaos. Meanwhile, Owusu’s mind has developed a seismometer of its own, always on the lookout for threats, guarding against her persistent fear of plunging into an “all-consuming abyss”.
I will swing my lasso of headlights
across your front porch,