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Archive for May 2021

Monday, May 31, 2021

The Startup Wife By Tahmima Anam Review – Trouble In Utopia, by Hephzibah Anderson, The Guardian

Look beyond the bleeding-edge technology and apocalyptic anxieties, however, and you’ll find a cautionary tale as old as time: a woman invents something, a guy takes the credit. In keeping with the credo of its backdrop (“Change is everything”), Anam is out to disrupt this narrative, embedding her efforts in a quest for love and self-determination, and swiping as she goes at an industry in which innovation has far outpaced regulation, leaving ethics in the dust. The end result may not be entirely persuasive philosophically, but as high-octane entertainment that hits notes poignant as well as savagely witty, it soars.

Assembly By Natasha Brown Review – The Grind Of Everyday Prejudice, by Holly Williams, The Guardian

Within a neat 100 pages, Natasha Brown’s precise, powerful debut novel says more about Britain’s colonial legacy and what it’s like trying to exist within that as a black British woman than most could achieve with three times the space.

Sorrow And Bliss By Meg Mason Review – Inspired Storytelling, by Julie Myerson, The Guardian

Most of all, perhaps, this is a novel about the effect we all have on each other, unstable or not, diagnosed or not, especially where love is concerned.

Book Review: For Such A Small Place, Iceland Has A Big Influence, by Jeff Rowe, Associated Press

Author Egill Bjarnason in "How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island" views his home island with the combination of the wry humor of Bill Bryson, the pointed observations of Anthony Bourdain and the meanderings of a mildly befuddled history professor.

Homage To The Square, by Tishani Doshi, The Guardian

You loved the squareness of square,
the hardness of it, its resistance
to symbolism.

The First Winter In A New Place, by Caroline N. Simpson, The RavensPerch

Its emptiness lies
in the forest.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Grief And Joy Intermixed: On Michelle Zauner’s “Crying In H Mart”, by Shannon Daniels, Los Angeles Review of Books

This past year, I moved cross-country from the small tenement apartment where I grew up, in the process moving away from my mother. Predictably, I waited until the last few days before packing my things. My mother stayed up for hours with me to help nestle bubble-wrapped jars of dried red dates, goji berries, and preserved black beans into cardboard boxes. We went to the store together to pick out my first wok, and she remembered all the herbs and Lee Kum Kee sauces I would need that I would surely have forgotten. After we had loaded the moving truck, we hugged each other close to say goodbye, our dog nervously jumping and pawing us, not understanding. We didn’t know how long it would be until it was safe to see each other again, but she wanted me to leave with the tastes and smells of home. When reading Michelle Zauner’s new memoir, Crying in H Mart, I saw so much of my own mother in hers — the meticulous attention she paid to the people she loved, caring for you by remembering the “preferences that made you, you.”

Yes Yes More More, by Alex Diggins, 3:AM Magazine

“Fiction has a new star in its firmament” gushes Carol Ann Duffy on the cover of Yes Yes More More. And for once, such praise is substantial — and deserved. There is indeed something glistering, hard-edged and remote about these stories; but they hold, too, a woozy wonder, a sense of dream-like possibility. After all, we prod the night sky with telescopes and satellites. But our first response is perhaps the most honest: to lie back, to stare.

The Great Mistake By Jonathan Lee Review – The Best American Novel Of The Year Is By A Brit, by Alex Preston, The Guardian

Jonathan Lee’s The Great Mistake is a novel so comprehensively steeped in American literary history that it comes as something of a surprise to find that its author is a fortysomething from Surrey. It’s as if Lee, whose three superb earlier novels include a reimagining of the IRA bombing of the Grand hotel in Brighton, has distilled more than a century of American letters into a single book.

Tokyo Redux By David Peace Review – The Final Instalment Of A Blistering Trilogy, by Anthony Cummins, The Guardian

Peace can be an uneven writer, but he’s somewhere near his best in this powerful, overwhelming novel, in which genre excitement steadily gives way to the uncannier frisson of being plugged into a current of secret knowledge.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

A Happy Meal And A Billion Stans: My 24-hour Dive Into BTS Fandom, by Dianne de Guzman, SFGATE

When I first started my look into BTS as a geriatric millennial (ahem), I thought I knew what to expect. My own dabble with boy band fandom was a mix of silliness and fun, perfect for my teenaged years and friend group, but nothing that would last beyond that. And maybe I expected more of the same from this group of fans going into this story — silliness, but no depth, a shortsightedness in projecting my own experiences onto them. (I mean, NSYNC fans in the year 2000 organizing themselves enough to raise money for charity, totaling past a million? We could NEVER.)

Instead, I found much more than I expected: a thriving and robust community, with more depth, heart and supportiveness than I would have ever guessed. It took a failed fast food promotion day for me to discover this. ARMY somehow is a place where a band has brought together different generations, ethnicities and more in a nice (mostly), cooperative space. And while I wouldn’t quite call myself part of ARMY, I have to say I respect the hell out of what they’re doing and achieving.

Katherine Johnson Of ‘Hidden Figures’ Tells Her Story In Her Own Words, by Lisa Page, Washington Post

I’m not good at math. As a kid, algebra destroyed me; geometry put the nails in the coffin. I graduated from high school, grateful that my teachers passed me, for effort, not achievement. So it was with awe that I read “My Remarkable Journey,” Katherine Johnson’s posthumous memoir about her life as a Black female mathematician.

Languages Of Truth By Salman Rushdie Review – Profound Insights And Platitudes, by Abhrajyoti Chakraborty, The Guardian

You sense that he has arrived somewhere new after a long impasse and hope that it is a sign of good things to come.

Friday, May 28, 2021

'Three Women' Author Lisa Taddeo's Debut Novel Is Fearless. So What Is She Afraid Of?, by Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

“Everything I do,” Taddeo says, “is so that if I leave my daughter too early — the way my parents did — I’ll leave her with enough. ... In a sense, every book is what I’ve learned — like, here’s what you should know about life that I won’t have been able to teach you.”

What she has to teach is not reassuring, but it is true, even when it’s fiction. In her new book, “Animal” — her first published novel — the narrator is also telling her daughter a story. Joan has uprooted her life in New York City after witnessing the brutal suicide of her married lover. Desperate for a new beginning, she drives across the country and settles in a sort-of commune in the hills of Topanga, where she and a few other lost souls rent shacks and yurts alongside the coyotes.

New York’s Hyphenated History, by Pardis Mahdavi, The Paris Review

In the midst of an unusually hot New York City spring in 1945, Chief Magistrate Henry H. Curran was riding the metro downtown to a meeting at City Hall. Curran, the former commissioner of immigration at the Port of New York, and former president of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, had forgotten to bring his copy of the paper that morning. As a result, he found himself reading the various ads surrounding him on the colorful New York City subway.

Curran tried to focus on different advertisements to distract himself from the heat, and from his growing restlessness. Until, that is, one particular ad seized his attention. It was an ad for the “New-York Historical Society.” Innocuous enough at first, it was the tiny piece of orthography that caught Curran’s eye and sent a wave of heat through his body. Was that—could that be a hyphen? Sitting unabashedly between the words New and York? The anti-hyphenate politician was furious.

The Case For Swimming In The Wild, by Anelise Chen, The Atlantic

I asked him why he had decided to swim there. Given that a year ago, a sewage spill had dumped more than 2 million tons of waste into the river and the Long Island Sound, and signs had been posted telling people not to get close, I imagined he would address my surprise head-on. But his response was remarkably unneurotic. “This was here, and I felt like swimming,” he said dreamily. I wanted to ask him whether he was worried about getting a rash, or cholera, but didn’t. After he left, I put my hand in the water and considered the river anew. Could I imagine myself going for a swim in this spot?

Careless By Kirsty Capes Review – A Rare New Talent, by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, The Guardian

I’m unashamed to say that this novel made me weep and, despite not containing an ounce of didacticism, it offers profound insight into the impact of conditional love on a “looked-after” child. “There’s something wrong with being in care, the care system, and it’s to do with making us into a transaction,” Bess says. Capes is a rare new talent, and she has written something very special here: a novel that transforms, with the lightest of touches.

Secondhand Desire: On Sanjena Sathian’s “Gold Diggers”Secondhand Desire: On Sanjena Sathian’s “Gold Diggers”, by Anita Felicelli, Los Angeles Review of Books

While the novel implicitly critiques the myth of the model Asian American minority, it’s not interested in how this myth is used to harm other communities in the United States. Rather, it focuses on how nonsensically this myth is deployed when society speaks of youthful Indian American achievement. This achievement is not anything inherent, the novel suggests, but rather the result of an immigrant inheritance, the gossipy stew of others’ ambitions and punishing expectations. As a whole, the novel is a disturbingly accurate look at the social foibles of a particular subset of upper-middle-class Indian American — principally Hindu American — strivers.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

America’s Forgotten Filling Stations, by Nick Mancall-Bitel, Eater

If you happened to be traveling from Washington, D.C. to Richmond, Virginia in 1935, you’d likely find yourself cruising down Route 1, the forebear of Interstate 95. With the Great Depression receding in your rearview mirror, the trip is really an excuse to put some miles on your new Plymouth PE Deluxe, just like the one Chrysler showed off at Chicago’s Century of Progress exposition. Cars of the era average about 14 mpg, but 20 miles out, you notice you’re running low on gas, around Ashland, a 19th-century resort town that’s home to Randolph-Macon College. The car isn’t the only one on empty; your driving party is famished too. Just past Route 54, you spot an Esso gas station sign and pull into Ella Cinders Tea Room, likely named for the newspaper comic strip launched 10 years earlier. Lucky for you, it’s Sunday, when the restaurant offers 75-cent dinners of fried chicken or Smithfield ham.

Beyond 20 Drafts, by Yang Huang, The Millions

And then, two weeks into our hospital stay, the Boston Globe feature story I’d been interviewed for several weeks earlier — the day after Clio’s first visit to her pediatrician, in fact — was published. There I was with the girls on the cover of the Lifestyle pullout section in full color. In the photo, taken on our back porch, my nose is to my daughter Elsa’s cheek, my teeth bared in a silly grimace, while Clio sits at my feet.

She had cancer in that picture. It just hadn’t “broken out” yet.

To Witness The End Of Time, by Namwali Serpell, The Paris Review

Terry Pratchett’s 1988 summary of The House on the Border­land begins: “Man buys House. House attacked Nightly by Horrible Swine Things from Hole in Garden. Man Fights Back with Determination and Lack of Imagination of Political Proportions.” It ends: “The journey to the Central Suns sold me infinity.” Infinity is a rather lofty reward for persevering through a battle with pig-men. But Pratchett was right. Wil­liam Hope Hodgson’s novel, published in 1908 (but likely writ­ten in 1904) is one of the most startling accounts of infinity that I’ve ever read.

‘The Other Black Girl’ Is An Immersive, Genre-Bending Debut< by Oyinkan Braithwaite, New York Times

The seriousness of the topic being handled in “The Other Black Girl,” and the fact that it shared some minor similarities with the horror genre, did not stand in the way of it also being bright and funny. You may not agree with every opinion or every statement laid out in this work, but you will turn page after page after page in your eagerness to unravel this unique tale. If you are open to it, this novel will have you reviewing what your own biases may be, whether your skin is Black, white or orange.

Jennifer Weiner Understands Women. Her New Novel, ‘That Summer,’ Shows Us Why., by Maureen Corrigan, Washington Post

Weiner has made a major literary career out of writing engrossing popular novels that take women seriously. At their most basic, all of her stories are about women trying to hold on to themselves in a world intent on diminishing them. “That Summer” is more explicitly a political novel than most in that its plot is informed by the rise of the #MeToo movement and the seismic shift in attitudes toward men who claim their actions should be excused because of their youth or because their victims were drunk or dressed provocatively or . . . just because. The intertwined story lines of “That Summer” concern two women, both named Diana, who have been harmed in different ways by a man. And that’s only the beginning of what these “two Dianas” have in common.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Flower Moon, by Nina MacLaughlin, The Paris Review

They saw night where there was none, and made what meaning they could from it. We heard words where there were none, the same way we make a face on the full moon’s surface: a perceptual inclination called pareidolia, in which our minds impose patterns or meaning where they might not exist.

Review: What A Queer Taiwanese 1995 Sci-fi Novel Got Right About The Future, by Noah Berlatsky, Los Angeles Times

Taiwanese author Chi Ta-wei’s newly translated novel, “The Membranes,” was originally published in 1995 — and you can tell. This is a future extrapolated from the ‘90s, with books-on-disc and depleted ozone rather than the internet and climate change. And yet, though the book’s hereafter looks backward to us today, there’s something very timely about its play with gender fluidity and the social construction of identity. There’s also something timeless about Chi’s future, because of how it bends and defies time itself. The novel is about how identity is a story we tell ourselves through time — or back through time. And that story, for Chi, is queer.

One Irish Poet Looks Back Three Centuries To Find Obsession And Inspiration In Another, by Parul Sehgal, New York Times

A woman once fell in love with a poem — a keening, a roaring — for a slain beloved. The 18th-century Irish noblewoman Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill composed “Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire” after her husband was murdered by a powerful British official. Arriving at the scene, Ni Chonaill, pregnant with their third child, drank handfuls of her husband’s blood. “My bright dove,” “my pleasure,” she called him in the poem, “my thousand bewilderments” — why hadn’t she been with him? She imagined her blouse catching the bullet in its pleats.

For decades, “Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire” survived in the oral tradition. It is now recognized as one of the great poems of its age. The poet Doireann Ni Ghriofa was also pregnant with her third child when she fell under its thrall, keeping a “scruffy photocopy” under her pillow. Where are Ni Chonaill’s finger bones buried? she wondered; where can one leave flowers? The grave lies unmarked. Ni Chonaill’s letters and diaries have all vanished. Her own son omitted her name from family records.

Great Circle By Maggie Shipstead Review – Parallel Lives Take Flight, by Erica Wagner, The Guardian

Great Circle is peopled by vivid, memorable characters whose fates intersect in ways both inevitable and shocking; whose deaths, when they come, have the blunt, heartbreaking force of truth. The book takes its epigraph from Rilke: “I live my life in widening circles / that reach out across the world.” This is a novel that expands the reader’s horizons, and is moving and surprising at every turn.

Mieko Kawakami’s ‘Heaven’ Follows A Bullied Boy Searching For Meaning, by Thu-Huong Ha, Washington Post

Mieko Kawakami’s new novel delivers a familiar moment: that scene in the film where the police are just about to rescue the innocents from the villains. “Hang on, help is on the way,” you plead to the screen. Maybe the cops get all the way to the front door, but then they’re led astray. Your heart sinks; deliverance may never come. To read “Heaven,” by the author of “Breasts and Eggs,” and newly translated into English from Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd, is to bear witness to an unrelenting horror film of one boy’s youth.

Chaos, Possibility, And Mangareme Fluffies In “The Unraveling”, by Jake Casella Brookins, Chicago Review of Books

A wildly inventive, funny, and ultimately quite heartfelt novel, The Unraveling is a chaotic romp of gender deconstruction packaged up in a groovy science-fictional coming-of-age tale.

The Taxidermist In The Revered Museum, by Marianne Boruch, Cincinnati Review

stares down head and claw on the table
to make something whole again.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Group Think: Why Art Loves A Crowd, by Olivia Laing, The Guardian

When I was very lonely in New York, one of the things that most comforted me was to wander up Broadway or along the East River, alone but in the company of thousands of strangers. Anonymised by the multitude, I felt the burden of my sorrow slide off me. It was a relief to be part of a whole, no longer agonisingly singular but a drop in what Walt Whitman once called “the rolling ocean the crowd”.

Until last year, the crowd was the trademark of the city. All through the day and night, people shoaled together, hurrying through streets, dawdling in parks, jostling at protests, concerts and football matches, like so many bees in a hive. Pre-pandemic, any film that wanted to kindle an atmosphere of eeriness needed only to show one of the world’s great cities empty of people to instantly convey disaster. From I Am Legend to 28 Days Later, the depopulated city is axiomatic of catastrophe.

A Novel Imagines A Victorian England Ruled By France, by Dexter Palmer, New York Times

Speculative fiction and historical fiction are closer cousins than one might think, and alternate-history novels (such as Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” or William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s “The Difference Engine”) can give enterprising writers the chance to work in both genres at once. Fans of such stories will be richly entertained by the lavish world-building and breakneck plotting of Natasha Pulley’s “The Kingdoms,” and it’s best to approach the book knowing as little as possible, in order to experience the reveal of its setting along with its amnesiac protagonist.

The Fortune Men By Nadifa Mohamed Review – A Miscarriage Of Justice Revisited, by Ashish Ghadiali, The Guardian

Nadifa Mohamed’s third book, The Fortune Men, a fictionalised retelling of the story of Mahmood Mattan, one of the last men to be executed in Wales and for a crime he didn’t commit, confirms her as a literary star of her generation.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Stories We Love Make Us Who We Are, by Salman Rushdie, New York Times

Before there were books, there were stories. At first the stories weren’t written down. Sometimes they were even sung. Children were born, and before they could speak, their parents sang them songs, a song about an egg that fell off a wall, perhaps, or about a boy and a girl who went up a hill and fell down it. As the children grew older, they asked for stories almost as often as they asked for food.

The children fell in love with these stories and wanted to hear them over and over again. Then they grew older and found those stories in books. And other stories that they had never heard before, about a girl who fell down a rabbit hole, or a silly old bear and an easily scared piglet and a gloomy donkey, or a phantom tollbooth, or a place where wild things were. The act of falling in love with stories awakened something in the children that would nourish them all their lives: their imagination.

Why Did So Many Victorians Try To Speak With The Dead?, by Casey Cep, New Yorker

It’s a good time to be dead—at least, if you want to keep in touch with the living. Almost a third of Americans say they have communicated with someone who has died, and they collectively spend more than two billion dollars a year for psychic services on platforms old and new. Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, television: whatever the medium, there’s a medium. Like clairvoyants in centuries past, those of today also fill auditoriums, lecture halls, and retreats. Historic camps such as Lily Dale, in New York, and Cassadaga, in Florida, are booming, with tens of thousands of people visiting every year to attend séances, worship, healing services, and readings. And many people turn up not every year but every week: there are more than a hundred Spiritualist churches in the United States, more than three hundred in the United Kingdom, and hundreds of others in more than thirty countries around the world. Such institutions hardly represent the full extent of Spiritualism’s popularity, since the movement does not emphasize doctrines, dogmas, or creeds, and plenty of people hold spiritualist beliefs within other faith traditions or stand entirely outside organized religion.

The surging numbers are reminiscent of the late nineteenth century, when somewhere between four million and eleven million people identified as Spiritualists in the United States alone. Some of the leaders back then were hucksters, and some of the believers were easy marks, but the movement cannot be dismissed merely as a collision of the cunning and the credulous. Early Spiritualism attracted some of the great scientists of the day, including the physicists Marie and Pierre Curie, the evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, and the psychologist William James, all of whom believed that modern scientific methods, far from standing in opposition to the spiritual realm, could finally prove its existence.

Watching “A Life On Our Planet,” Or How I Ruined David Attenborough For Myself, by Jerrine Tan, Los Angeles Review of Books

It is hardly naïve, but rather willfully obfuscating to skirt politics in all of these discussions. Glaringly, nowhere in the film, which reflects on the life of a white British man, from the interwar period to the present, does Attenborough mention colonialism and its devastating and enduring effects on global communities and on the environment, nor does he — despite remarking on Indigenous ways of life — address the ecological effects of settler colonialism, the many wars waged by imperial powers, the use of napalm and Agent Orange in wars that destroyed vegetation and took countless lives.

How Food Trucks Endured And Succeeded During The Pandemic, by Kerry Hannon, New York Times

Food trucks — kitchens on wheels, essentially — are flexible by design and quickly became a substitute during the pandemic for customers who couldn’t dine indoors and coveted something different than their mainstream carryout options. That, in turn, has delivered a new client base to add on to an existing cadre of loyal followers. In a very real sense, food trucks are vehicles for equality in the post-pandemic world.

On Borders And Belonging: Gabriela Garcia’s “Of Women And Salt”, by Freya Marshall Payne, Los Angeles Review of Books

In her wrenching debut novel-in-stories, Of Women and Salt, Gabriela Garcia meticulously weaves a mesh of parallels between Latinx mothers and daughters.

Toddler Hunting And Other Stories By Taeko Kono Review – Sex Lives Of The Quietly Kinky, by John Self, The Guardian

This unignorably strange collection of stories evokes warring responses of admiration and disgust in the reader: Taeko Kono is a writer who puts the toxic into intoxicating. The selection, written between 1961 and 1971, is a brave choice for one of the launch titles in W&N’s new list of modern classics.

What It Feels Like For A Girl By Paris Lees Review – Ketamine-laced Coming-of-age Memoir, by Kadish Morris, The Guardian

Are the early 00s distant enough to be considered a bygone era? If so, journalist Paris Lees’s What It Feels Like for a Girl is a work of archaeology. She drags up the bones of cheesy garage tracks, green backlit Nokia phones, Bacardi Breezers, Gap jeans, retired slang, Nike Air Max trainers and Walkmans, pulling you into a world of pre-internet nostalgia. This ketamine-laced coming-of-age memoir, rife with nicked wigs and puppy love, fluctuates between the debauched and the humdrum; from gay bars to call centres, Debenhams to crown court, sex in toilet cubicles with “dirty old men” for a tenner to warming up treacle pudding and custard. The details of Lees’s formative years, when she lived life uncomfortably as a boy called Byron, is a rare portal into the British trans experience.

Lucifer Takes A Break, by Barbara Smith, The Guardian

He stirs sugar into black, watching white crystals
transluce. He rolls a cigarette, crimping a white tip

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Her Book Doesn’t Go Easy On Publishing. Publishers Ate It Up., by Elizabeth A. Harris, New York Times

As Harris walked back to her desk, she thought about why she had been so eager to connect with this stranger. She had been the only Black woman in her department for so long, as she had often been the only Black girl in her classes growing up in Hamden, Conn. She found her first group of Black female friends in college and has often felt anxious with other Black people about “just not feeling Black enough.”

The beginnings of a story started to form in her mind.

Shark Attacks In Maine Were Unthinkable. Until Last Summer., by Kathryn Miles, Down East

Violent interactions between sharks and humans are exceedingly rare. In 2020, the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File recorded 96 reports of people bitten by sharks worldwide. Of those, 57 were classified as “unprovoked,” which is to say that the people involved were not actively hunting or fishing for the sharks, nor were they attempting to feed or otherwise harass the animals. Ten of last year’s unprovoked attacks proved fatal. Just three of those deaths occurred in the U.S.: one involved a shortboarder off the coast of Maui, while another surfer was killed about 100 yards offshore near Santa Cruz, California. Julie Holowach’s death was the third of these fatal attacks and the first confirmed shark-related death in Maine’s history.

As news of the attack began to spread, both Maine residents and regional scientists were dumbfounded — “blindsided” is how one researcher put it. The day after the attack, Maine Department of Marine Resources commissioner Patrick Keliher told a press conference, “It’s not something we ever would have considered in Maine waters.”

The Texture Of Awareness: On Pete Duval’s “The Deposition”, by W. Scott Olsen, Los Angeles Review of Books

Imagine a sentence as a trampoline. You step onto it, gingerly at first, testing its strength and your own sense of balance. It accommodates your weight, stretching a bit but, with luck, not ripping apart and sending you flailing. You walk, shuffle, slip to the middle, pause, and then flex your knees and push. The trampoline sends you up into the air, but only so far as to match the invitation and risk offered by your knees. You come down and survive. The trampoline offers another launch, and you bend your knees again. Higher, this time. Soon you are happily, gleefully soaring through the air.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

What My Korean Father Taught Me About Defending Myself In America, by Alexander Chee, GQ

Born in 1939 during what would be the last years of the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea, my father, Choung Tai Chee, also called Charles or Chuck or Charlie, came to the United States in 1960. He was flashy, cocky, unafraid, it seemed, of anything. Wherever we were in the world, he seemed at home, right up until near the end of his life, when he was hospitalized after a car accident that left him in a coma. Only in that hospital bed, his head shaved for surgery, did he look out of place to me.

I Look For Aliens For A Living, And No, I Don’t Study UFOs, by Jason Wright, Slate

I once discovered aliens! I was really excited for about two days.

Turned out my “aliens” were actually a subtle glitch in the camera and telescope we were using that took a while to hunt down. I was privately embarrassed, but fortunately I hadn’t told anyone outside my team about it until we had figured it all out. That caution came about because as a SETI (or search for extraterrestrial intelligence) scientist, I’m a professional skeptic. I always treat my results—especially my “huge if true” results—with the most skepticism I can muster.

From Brian Wilson To Nancy Sinatra: The L.A. Music Scene In The ’60s, by James Gavin, New York Times

“Let’s go surfin’ now, everybody’s learnin’ how,” sang the Beach Boys on their breakthrough hit, “Surfin’ Safari,” in 1962, and countless youths began dreaming of the Southern California good life — a Shangri-La of mile-high waves and tanned surfer dudes lugging their boards across the sand. The Beach Boys and their inspiration, the duo Jan and Dean, had inaugurated a school of rock ’n’ roll that had little to do with greaser rebellion. Their music had a breeze blowing through it; it swung with an easy gait.

Joel Selvin, the former pop music critic of The San Francisco Chronicle, has explored rock’s history in a string of fun books, including “Monterey Pop” (written with Jim Marshall) and “Summer of Love.” In his new one, “Hollywood Eden: Electric Guitars, Fast Cars, and the Myth of the California Paradise,” he tells the story, set between 1957 and 1967, of a network of young Angelenos who “captured a California of the mind” — one of “cars, sun, sex and surf; ‘Gidget’ set to a rock ’n’ roll beat.”

We've Been Evolving For Millions Of Years, So Why Are Our Bodies So Flawed?, by Barbara J. King, NPR

We humans have been evolving for millions of years and — as any good biologist will tell you — in response to pressures in our environment, we are evolving still.

So how come our bodies are so flawed? Why does sharp vision so often elude us, for instance? Why do our backs hurt so frequently?

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Case For Deleting Everything, by Shannon Keating, BuzzFeed News

But being so dependent on our devices also comes at a cost. Having to socialize almost entirely online has meant most of us now know far more than we’d like to about our neighbors’ and old classmates’ bad political opinions — not to mention their clandestine indoor parties and questionable pandemic vacations. And, to the detriment of our mental health, it has also meant an increase in doomscrolling. Perhaps you’ve used social media to shame others for their careless pandemic behavior; perhaps you’ve been shamed yourself. Meanwhile, throwback features remind us of parts of our past that might be embarrassing or painful: Facebook surfaces a photo of you with your friends in a bar last year, maskless and carefree, and you feel a stab of sadness for how things once were; your iPhone reminds you that you were once married to someone with whom you no longer speak, or that you previously held opinions you’re now ashamed of.

It makes complete sense, then, that some people have decided they’ve had enough.

The Perforation Of Language In The Perforated Map, by Freesia McKee, Ploughshares

Because language is a collection of symbols and representations of our journey through the world, much of it is spatial. The term “plot,” for example, contains an implied cartography, and indeed, all maps tell stories, and story-writing is a kind of mapping. These ways of rendering meaning, however, are also tremendously subjective. Eléna Rivera’s The Perforated Map, a collection of experimental poetry published in 2011, fuses the relationship between maps and language, considering a paper map as a metaphor for language itself, one which can be pierced and punctured. To puncture a sentence or an entire poem means reaching through language’s strictures and expectations into what’s on the other side, and accessing language’s limits. Rivera considers the syntactical and metaphorical act of perforation as a way of liberating language from both the writer’s and the reader’s reifying expectations.

A Scientist’s Career In Communion With Trees, by Kate Brown, Washington Post

Simard’s memoir, “Finding the Mother Tree,” describes the intersecting webs of her career and private life that brought her to rewrite not only the forestry canon but our understanding of nature itself.

Why The Tailored Suit — Not Ruffles And Lace — Became Synonymous With Power, by Robin Givhan, Washington Post

Fashion, though, is malleable. And Ford makes an elegant argument that because fashion is a living language, it has the capacity to evolve. Those who are willing to transgress against the established codes force the rules to change. They force power to change hands — or at least, over time, to be shared.

After Life, by Jenny Boychuk, The Walrus

I had no choice but to embody the lake.
My nail beds anchored beneath stones, weeds.
To float or drown is the same ache.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

How Charles Yu Fights anti-Asian Hate And Hollywood Stereotypes In His Award-winning Novel, by Patrick J. Kiger, Los Angeles Times

Five years into the project, in 2017, Yu had an epiphany. He was walking his dog near his family’s Irvine home when he suddenly heard the novel’s opening lines in his head: “Ever since you were a boy, you’ve dreamt of being Kung Fu Guy. You are not Kung Fu Guy.”

He recalls thinking, “Now I can hear the voice of the character.”

In Praise Of Congee, by Zoë Hu, New York Times

One of the few meals I can make with confidence is congee, a kind of porridge commonly eaten as a breakfast food in many Asian countries. Congee is made of just rice and water and by itself is formidably bland. Bowls can act like sinkholes of flavor into which sauces and seasonings are absorbed and vanish. I have a childhood memory of myself, age 8, using up half a bottle of soy sauce to flavor a stubborn congee; I woke up the next morning, throat throbbing from the sodium. I now top my congee with side dishes. More traditional eaters usually reach for pickled vegetables and preserved eggs. My accessories are less orthodox, because I often buy them pre-prepared: I like kimchi, puffed tofu sopped in sesame oil and salty dashes of dried anchovies.

'Unsettled Ground' Lets Its Oddballs Stay Defiantly Odd, by Ilana Masad, NPR

But how often, in our stories, are oddballs allowed to remain exactly who they are? How often do they take center stage as main characters and reorient our view of what is "normal"? How often are such characters given rich, complex, and interior lives, complete with sorrows, talents, opinions, and flaws? Claire Fuller's new novel, Unsettled Ground, does just that.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Pleasures Of LearnedLeague And The Spirit Of Trivia, by Eliza Brooke, New Yorker

What makes for a good trivia question? There are some common-sense requirements. It should be clearly written, accurate, and gettable for at least some people. (Acceptable degrees of difficulty vary.) It must be properly “pinned” to its answer, meaning that there are no correct responses other than those the questioner is seeking. (This can be trickier than you might think.) In the opinion of Shayne Bushfield, the creator and sole full-time employee of LearnedLeague, an online trivia community that he has run since 1997, people should recognize the answer to the question as something worth knowing, as having a degree of importance. “Trivia is not the right word for it,” he told me recently. “Because trivia technically means trivial, or not worth knowing, and it’s the opposite.”

From Its Myriad Tips, by Francis Gooding, London Review of Books

Try​ to imagine what it is like to be a fungus. Not a mushroom, pushing up through damp soil overnight or delicately forcing itself out through the bark of a rotting log: that would be like imagining the grape rather than the vine. Instead try to think your way into the main part of a fungus, the mycelium, a proliferating network of tiny white threads known as hyphae. Decentralised, inquisitive, exploratory and voracious, a mycelial network ranges through soil in search of food. It tangles itself in an intimate scrawl with the roots of plants, exchanging nutrients and sugars with them; it meets with the hyphae of other networks and has mycelial sex; messages from its myriad tips are reported rapidly across the whole network by mysterious means, perhaps chemical, perhaps electrical. For food, it prefers wood, but with practice it can learn to eat novel substances, including toxic chemicals, plastics and oil. Is it somehow sentient? As its thousands of hyphae simultaneously but independently rove through the soil, is the mycelium behaving as an individual or a swarm? What is it like to be this way?

Your Butt Is Getting In The Way Of Science, by Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic

“The moment you say ‘anus,’ you can hear a pin drop in the room,” Helm said. Bodily taboos have turned anuses across the tree of life into cultural underdogs, and scientific ones too: Not many researchers vocally count themselves among the world’s anus enthusiasts, which, according to the proud few, creates a bit of a blind spot—one that keeps us from understanding a fundamental aspect of our own biology.

What We Missed Most About Going To Restaurants. (It Wasn’t The Food.), by Pete Wells, New York Times

But to meet people from the other groups, especially people who are interested in subjects you haven’t really thought about yet, we have coffee shops, bars and restaurants. They’re what we’ve got until somebody invents a better, more enjoyable way of eating and drinking while maintaining the social connections that keep cities moving forward.

Dead Souls By Sam Riviere Review – A Brilliantly Entertaining Debut, by Toby Litt, The Guardian

Within a couple of pages this subject matter became clear and I thought, “Oh God, why bother?” But a hundred pages later, I was thinking, “Why bother with anything else? Why bother with lunch?” This is a brilliant and brilliantly entertaining novel. The writing is merciless; the rage is genuine. I’d say it was satire, and it is that, but it’s also a meticulous analysis coming from a place of despairing intimacy.

Why Do We Eat Bad Food?, by Bill McKibben, The Nation

From his magnum opus, How to Cook Everything, and its many cookbook companions, to his recipes for The New York Times, to his essays on food policy, Bittman has developed a breeziness that masks the weight of the politics and economics that surround the making and consuming of food. In Animal, Vegetable, Junk, his latest book, he offers us his most thoroughgoing attack on the corporate forces that govern our food, tracking the evolution of cultivation and consumption from primordial to modern times and developing what is arguably his most radical and forthright argument yet about how to address our contemporary food cultures’ many ills. But it still goes down easy; the broccoli tastes good enough that you’ll happily go for seconds.

Sinead O’Connor Remembers Things Differently, by Amanda Hess, New York Times

If you remember two things about her, it’s that she vaulted to fame with that enduring close-up in the video for her version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” — and then, that she stared down a “Saturday Night Live” camera, tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II and killed her career.

But O’Connor doesn’t see it that way. In fact, the opposite feels true. Now she has written a memoir, “Rememberings,” that recasts the story from her perspective. “I feel that having a No. 1 record derailed my career,” she writes, “and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track.”

Author John Green Explores How To Live In Uncertainty In 'The Anthropocene Reviewed', by Adam Frank, NPR

What Green is really telling us with these unexpected stories about Sycamore Trees, Canada Geese and Dr. Pepper is how much there is to love in the world and why that love is worth the effort. As he writes, "To fall in love with the world isn't to ignore or overlook suffering both human and otherwise .... We all know how loving ends. But I want to fall in love anyway, to let it crack me open." The point, says Green — giving us Maurice Sendak's final words — is simple even in, and perhaps especially because of, these challenging times: "Live your life, live your life, live your life."

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

‘Dead Souls’ Is A Witty, Sharp, Cruel Critique Of Literary Culture. But It’s Not For Everyone., by Ron Charles, Washington Post

“Dead Souls,” by the English writer Sam Riviere, is hard to stop reading because it’s written as a single paragraph almost 300 pages long. Never in my life have I so missed the little periodic indentations of ordinary prose. It felt like wandering around the mall for six days looking for a place to sit down.

But the structure is not the most daunting aspect of Riviere’s novel. There’s also the matter of its subject: “Dead Souls” is an exceedingly cerebral comedy about the viability of contemporary poetry. One of the book’s blurbs claims it’s “gut-wrenchingly funny,” which may be true for a certain subset of lute-playing spoken-word baristas in Brooklyn, but others should temper their expectations.

This is not a negative review.

You Say Plagiarism. I Say Provocation., by Dustin Illingworth, New York Times

Sam Riviere’s debut novel, “Dead Souls,” depicts a fantastical, alternate-world version of London in which poetry has become the city’s major cultural product. (“There were rich poets,” we read incredulously.) But the capital’s ascendant literary scene is embroiled in scandal. Sophisticated detection software created at the behest of publishers — the quantitative analysis and comparative system, or QACS — has confirmed that the poet Solomon Wiese, a rising star, is a plagiarist. Paranoia engulfs the commentariat. Who else might be bound for the so-called gray list?

‘Lost In Summerland’ Wants To Walk You Through The Confusion Of Life In America, by Albert Samaha, New York Times

Swanson, a contributing editor at Harper’s and a winner of a 2015 Pushcart Prize for his short fiction, serves as a candid and empathetic narrator, guiding us with restrained cynicism and enticing prose as he interrogates the stories we tell ourselves to paper over truths we’d rather not face.

Sorrowland By Rivers Solomon Review – An Electrifying Gothic Techno-thriller, by Hephzibah Anderson, The Guardian

In US author Rivers Solomon’s previous two novels, themes of memory and repression shaped stirring sci-fi narratives. Now comes Sorrowland, a gothic techno-thriller in which the trauma of the past is parried with defiance and a thirst for understanding, as embodied by an electrifying young hero.

Monday, May 17, 2021

On Packing Up My Library, by Ilan Stavans, Los Angeles Review of Books

The Hebrew word “Genizah” — meaning “to hide or put away” — refers to a storage place in a synagogue or a cemetery where old Jewish books go to die. They might contain the name of God in any of its variations. In Judaism, names play a crucial role: they hold the secret to their owner’s identity. There is no higher secret than the divine name. Placing sacred books in the Genizah is a way to protect them from falling into the wrong hands. You could say that the Genizah is both a holy place and a dustbin. Whenever these storage places become full, someone in the community takes out the content and buries it. That way sacred books are safe forever.

What Stoic Philosophers Can Teach Us About Grief, by Nancy Sherman, Literary Hub

But just how radical are Stoic consolations on loss? If grief is to be outlawed, then indifferents do seem, after all, really matters of indifference. Preference is denuded of positive feeling, whether love of your family or joy and pride in your work. Conversely, dispreference is robbed of the pain that comes with loss. We go toward or avoid with detached selections. We select wisely, but at the cost of our humanity.

Appuccino, Please: How TikTok Is Permanently Changing Starbucks, by Katie Notopoulos, BuzzFeed

There was a time when the idea of a mere soy latte or mocha Frappuccino was the punchline of dad jokes, an eyeroll about people not drinking “real” coffee. That time is long past, and a set of factors all coming together at once has made incredibly complex orders at Starbucks the norm rather than the exception — sometimes to the chagrin of the workers.

Welcome to the age of the Appuccino.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Drain-spotting: The People Who Keep Their Minds In The Gutter, by Bethan Bell, BBC

Tour guides usually urge people to "look up!" when exploring a city, but a downwards glance can also offer portals into the unknown. Like bellybutton piercings of the streets, the gleam of these cast-iron discs are little glimpses of jewellery not usually seen.

Book Review: 'Narrowboat Summer' Explores Life's Chances And Changes, by Jay Strafford, The Free Lance-Star

Occasionally troubling, often humorous, always affecting, this episodic, character-driven novel shimmers with perception and humanity. At once entertaining and thought-provoking, it offers an impressive and important look at possibilities—and the friendships from which they spring.

The Plot Of ‘The Plot’ — The Best Thriller Of The Year — Is Too Good To Give Away, by Maureen Corrigan, Washington Post

The plot of “The Plot” is so ingenious that it should be assigned as required reading in the very MFA programs it pinions, both as a model of superior narrative construction and as a warning of the grim realities of the literary life to naive wannabe writers.

That Most Enchanting Bird In The World, by Sy Montgomery, New York Times

Like their beauty, peacocks — or any animal, for that matter — don’t exist for us; they exist for the same reason we do. They love their lives as we love ours. In living with peacocks, Flynn discovers that his “birds have personalities and intelligence and foibles and charms and souls,” he writes, “and it all sounds ridiculous but it’s true.”

No, it doesn’t sound ridiculous. It sounds to me like a fine starting point to finding meaning in a world both cruel and beautiful.

Burning Man: The Ascent Of DH Lawrence Review – Purgatory And Paradise With A Wild Prophet, by Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

If you believe, as I do, that to live life well is to fail in ways that may be unimaginably huge, this strange and confounding book is for you.

The Nightingale By Sam Lee Review – A Love Letter To The Songbird, by Alex Preston, The Guardian

Part nature writing, part memoir, part miscellany, every page of this book benefits from the incredible intimacy that Lee has built up with the bird over the years of his “undoubtedly romantic and whimsical” pilgrimages to listen to, and sing back to, nightingales.

The Coal Cellar, by Nikki Giovanni, The Atlantic

Electricity was late and expensive
Coming to Appalachia
Knoxville especially so
Twice a month the coal

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Salman Rushdie: ‘I Am Stupidly Optimistic – It Got Me Through Those Bad Years’, by Hadley Freeman, The Guardian

Poor Salman Rushdie. The one thing I am most keen to talk to him about is the one thing he absolutely, definitely does not want to discuss. “I really resist the idea of being dragged back to that period of time that you insist on bringing up,” he grumbles when I make the mistake of mentioning it twice in the first 15 minutes of our conversation. He is in his elegant, book-lined apartment, a cosy armchair just behind him, the corridor to the kitchen over his shoulder. He’s in New York, which has been his home for the past 20 years, and we are talking – as is the way these days – on video. But even through the screen his frustration is palpable, and I don’t blame him. He’s one of the most famous literary authors alive, having won pretty much every book prize on the planet, including the best of the Booker for Midnight’s Children. We’re meeting to talk about his latest book, Languages Of Truth, which is a collection of nonfiction from the last two decades, covering everything from Osama bin Laden to Linda Evangelista; from Cervantes to Covid. So why do I keep bringing up the fatwa?

Inside The Nasty Battle Between Tech And Journalism, by Benjamin Wallace, New York Magazine

And so a war is on between the tech titans and a relentless generation of largely digital-native reporters looking to speak truth to power while racking up Twitter followers in the process. Depending on whom you ask, the great Tech vs. Media Standoff of 2020–21 is either a “fake fight” between “20 people and 500 other people,” all quick to take offense and thirsty for clout, or it’s a cataclysmic rift that threatens democracy or, at least, the accurate portrayal of the most important industry in the world.

When MTV Debuted 40 Years Ago, Everyone Thought It Would Fail. Here’s Why It Didn’t, by Rob Tannenbaum, Vanity Fair

Nothing can be “the new MTV,” because 2021 is as different from 1981 as 1981 was from 1901. If there is a new singularity, it’s the Internet itself, a rabbit hole big enough for all mankind. Mass media has been replaced by niche media, and music platforms, like most of pop culture, are stratified. Only technology unites us, much as it did in a 10-year period beginning in 1981.

Last Days In Cleaver Square By Patrick McGrath Review – Memory, Ageing And Guilt, by Nicholas Wroe, The Guardian

By its conclusion Last Days in Cleaver Square manages to pull off the impressive trick of being narratively coherent and satisfying, yet still true to the messy businesses of memory, ageing, guilt and how to tell the story of a life.

Our Vanishing, by Joyce Peseroff, Poetry Foundation

Thanks, no thanks, to eternal life. What pleasure
watching my old house broken-beamed, grey

Friday, May 14, 2021

Know Thyself, by Meghan O’Gieblyn, Paris Review

When I was first beginning to teach, in graduate school, a friend of mine with more experience in the classroom told me about a study she’d come across. I can’t say whether this study actually exists. I’ve never looked for it, and it strikes me now as one of those well-traveled anecdotes that’s been passed from hand to hand, accumulating more baggage along the way, like blockchain. The study, she told me, found that students who were asked to evaluate their instructor five seconds into the first class of the semester gave more or less the same rating as they did at the end of the term. The instructor who was liked upon entering the room was still liked three months later. The instructor who appeared severe had not managed to change any minds.

Welcome To Bite Club, Where Shark-Attack Survivors Find Solace, by Haley Cohen Gilliland, Outside

Upon returning to San Francisco, Wilton’s physical recovery was surprisingly rapid. He set aside his crutches after a week and soon returned to walking, riding a stationary bike, and using an elliptical machine.

But psychologically, he didn’t feel right. Sometimes while driving home from work or showering, his mind would flood with images and sensations from his attack: the stunning impact, the shark’s body close enough to touch, an undulating tail fading into the blue-green, the fear constricting his throat as he scanned the water for the shark’s return. He hadn’t seen the animal as it approached, but sometimes he imagined what that might have looked like—an open maw careening toward him, teeth like daggers.

‘A Lonely Man’ Is An Elegant Suspense Novel In The Tradition Of The ‘The Third Man’, by Maureen Corrigan, Washington Post

If you’ve seen “The Third Man,” the classic 1949 Orson Welles-Joseph Cotten film, you’ll remember its iconic theme song. And, if you’ve heard that weird zither music, there’s no way you’re going to avoid hearing again — this time, playing in your head — as you read “A Lonely Man,” a brooding literary thriller by Chris Power about human betrayal in all its infinite variety.

Everybody By Olivia Laing Review – A Book About Freedom, by Josh Cohen, The Guardian

Right at the end of this exhilarating journey through a century’s struggles over the human body, Olivia Laing invites her reader to “imagine, for a minute, what it would be like to inhabit a body without fear”. This simple hope comes to sound like a radical demand for the impossible; after such a vivid catalogue of the many humiliations and cruelties a body can be made to bear, it isn’t easy to imagine.

Laing’s impassioned commitment to the promise of bodily freedom, of every body’s right to move and feel and love without harming or being harmed, shines through every sentence of the book. But she is too canny a writer to miss the rich and bitter irony in which efforts to realise this promise so often get caught: every movement to liberate the body comes to be marked in some way by the constrictive regime it’s trying to escape.

Man At Desk, by Rigoberto González, Guernica

There’s a man who sits at his desk this evening,
bearing witness to the end of days. The more ink
he uses, the less breath left in the world. He writes

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Why Did I Wait So Long To Read Jane Austen?, by Joshua Raff, Literary Hub

Austen’s language is often biting, but it is also a relief from the loud vulgarity that passes for some commentary today. Perhaps that sounds old-fashioned, but there is peace to be found there, in the pacing, the restraint, the poetry and elegance that is a product of another time entirely. And of course, of Austen’s genius.

Snap Judgment, Kim Beil, Laphams Quarterly

In the nineteenth century as well as today, photographic trickery trains viewers to be more careful consumers of visual media by teaching them how to break the rules themselves.

We Should All Be More Afraid Of Driving, by Joshua Sharpe, The Atlantic

Nearly every time I drove, I thought I saw the woman I’d hit. She’d flash ahead of me, a face in the headlights. Or, if I didn’t see her, I’d imagine her suddenly stepping onto the road. On the dashboard, I noticed cuts in the vinyl from when her back had burst through my windshield. I avoided driving on the highway to work. I took Clairmont Road instead, the slower and, I hoped, safer route. Its four lanes run through leafy neighborhoods, winding past schools, grocery stores, drab strip malls. Still, driving left me feeling under siege, half-crazy about the dangers of this thing I did every day.

Reality TV Inspired This Poetic Look At People And The Things They Hoard, by Jeevika Verma, NPR

In the show Hoarders, it can feel like the goal is to fix everyone really quickly, by the end of each episode. But with her poems, Durbin doesn't want to resolve anything for the reader. She simply wants to stop and listen to whatever the people and their objects have to say.

The Price Of History, by Jeffrey McDaniel, New York Times

You’re at a bus stop, wool hat
tugged down. Slush sprays

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Could Humans Have Contaminated Mars With Life?, by Christopher Mason, BBC

Although Nasa and its engineers in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have precise and thorough protocols to ensure their spacecraft are free from any organisms that might inadvertently hitchhike on a space mission, two recent studies highlight how some organisms might have survived the cleaning process and also the trip to Mars, and also how fast microbial species can evolve while in space.

Emily Henry’s ‘People We Meet On Vacation’ Is A Pitch-perfect Beach Read, by Angela Haupt, Washington Post

The first time Poppy meets Alex, she hopes she never sees him again.

Any rom-com fan can tell you what that means: The protagonists of Emily Henry’s “People We Meet on Vacation” will end up together. It’s written in the stars, or at least in the DNA of this type of romance novel.

But “People” is an excellent reminder that a familiar trajectory doesn’t erase the fun of the journey.

Searching For An American Epistemology In Lost In Summerland, by Brady Brickner-Wood, Ploughshares

Merely identifying the bullshit seems like a civic duty. Swanson, though, cautions against this nihilistic complacency. By transcending “the myopia of I” in exchange for the “panorama of us,” we may start to see glimmers of light in the abyss. In a direct homage to Wallace, Lost in Summerland argues that our empathetic endurance may be one of the few ways we can “construct a church not made with hands.”

Clocks That Strike Only At Sunset, by Geoffrey Nutter, Literary Hub

And if we go down into the cool
spaces under the cliffs where the sea
fills the tide pools at sunset, the grotto
like a great door that opens out onto a garden

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

We’ve Had Great Success Extending Life. What About Ending It?, by Brooke Jarvis, New Yorker

But that equality of loss would soon change. Deaton showed that the great escape was accompanied by another trend, which is now known as “the great divide.” In the past couple of centuries, as changing conditions increased life expectancies within wealthy nations, average life expectancies in poorer ones—the ones bearing the brunt of imperialism, resource extraction, and disease imposed by the wealthy—got shorter. Eventually, average lives lengthened around the world, narrowing the gap, but they still lengthened substantially more for some people, in some places, than for others. “Of all the forms of inequality,” Martin Luther King, Jr., said in 1966, by which time the divide was entrenched, “injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman.” Even in modern American cities, people born into poor neighborhoods can expect to live as many as thirty years fewer than people who are born in affluent ones across town. And that was before the covid-19 pandemic further widened our existing gaps.

When Is The Revolution In Architecture Coming?, by Nathan J. Robinson, Current Affairs

Beauty. What is beauty? Beauty is that which gives aesthetic pleasure. Beauty is both subjective and objective—subjective because it is “in the eye of the beholder” but objective in that “pleasure” is something you either experience or you do not. If a building isn’t giving people pleasure to look at, then it is not beautiful, because beautiful things are things that you want to keep looking at because seeing them brings joy.

Excuse Me While I Steal Your Book Idea And Get Famous, by Elisabeth Egan, New York Times

“The Plot” has a tantalizing quandary at its core: Who owns a story? Should one man’s life unravel if he helped himself to a yarn that belonged to someone else? Especially if that person never spun it into anything and is now dead?

When We No Longer Believe: On Rachel Cusk’s “Second Place”, by Andrew Schenker, Los Angeles Review of Books

Rachel Cusk is one of the last great novelists of contemporary life for whom the internet seems to barely exist. An occasional glimpse at Facebook or use of a smartphone aside, Cusk’s characters hardly seem to inhabit anything like the modern world, technologically speaking. (In her latest novel, Second Place, characters communicate by handwritten letter.) While these figures walk around what is in many ways a recognizably contemporary London or continental Europe, their lack of recourse to the internet and their uncolonized-by-technology headspaces mark them out as creatures living in a different century.

'Notes On Grief' Makes Visceral The Experience Of Death And Grieving, by Hope Wabuke, NPR

In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Notes on Grief, the lament composed to honor and process the death of her father during the early days of the global COVID-19 pandemic, one of our century's most gifted artists of language makes visceral the experience of death and grieving. In poetic bursts of imagistic prose that mirror the fracturing of self after the death of a beloved parent, Adichie constructs a narrative of mourning — of haunting and of love.

The Life Of Music Review – Pushing At The Boundaries Of The Classical Canon, by Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian

The Life of Music is at its lively best when Kenyon’s own passions are laid bare: his affinity with early choral music, his love of Purcell, his irritation at the conservative aesthetics of the philosopher Roger Scruton, his belief, above all, in the power of music to unite individual and community. With its myriad threads of history and argument, the book is an open dialogue between past and present, composer, performer and performance.

Monday, May 10, 2021

A Metropolis Arose In Medieval Cambodia – New Research Shows How Many People Lived In The Angkor Empire Over Time, by Sarah Klassen, Alison Kyra Carter, The Conversation

One of the world’s largest ancient cities lay in the jungles of Southeast Asia in the greater Angkor region located in contemporary Cambodia. This medieval site was home to the Angkor or Khmer Empire from the ninth to 15th centuries. You might be familiar with the famous Angkorian temple, Angkor Wat, one of the largest religious monuments in the world.

But most people don’t realize that Angkor Wat is just one of more than a thousand temples in the greater Angkor region. Our research suggests that this settlement may have been home to between 700,000 and 900,000 people at its height in the 13th century. This means that the population of Angkor was roughly comparable to the almost 1 million people who lived in ancient Rome at its height.

See You In The Next Life In “Love Like Water, Love Like Fire”, by Ross Collin, Chicago Review of Books

“Two deaths you cannot have and one you cannot avoid.” So goes a Russian saying Mikhail Iossel remembers in his excellent new collection Love Like Water, Love Like Fire. Funny thing about Iossel’s stories of Soviet life, though: they are filled with men and women living second lives, drunks who avoided death (to their distress), and whole families of Soviet citizens who are not killed, not officially, but “disappeared.” Death, in these stories, punctuates life like a question mark.

Am I In The Right Place? By Ben Pester Review – Weird… And Wonderful, by Anthony Cummins, The Guardian

There’s a melancholy seam of emotion about family life here, as well as a keen eye for the absurdities of workplace culture. Pester’s frame of reference only heightens the surreality.

Book Review: An Unforgettable Ode To The Natural World Ruined By Our Destructive Humanity, by Tina Neylon, Irish Examiner

The Last Migration is original, tragic and haunting. It paints a picture of a future world ruined by self-destructive humanity, unless we urgently act to save our planet. However, while the novel is about loss, it is also about love and hope.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Michael Lewis: ‘We Were Incentivised To Have A Bad Pandemic Response’, by Andrew Anthony, The Guardian

An event as large and devastating as the Covid pandemic was always going to attract a rush of authors seeking to uncover the story behind the decade’s biggest story. Leading the pack – not for the first time – is Michael Lewis, the man with an unerring knack for finding narrative gold in the most well-mined territories.

How Gravity Is A Double Copy Of Other Forces, by Charlie Wood, Quanta Magazine

Albert Einstein first spoke of gravity in terms of bends in space-time in his general theory of relativity. Most theorists assume that gravity actually pushes us around through particles, called gravitons, but attempts to rewrite Einstein’s theory using quantum rules have generally produced nonsense. The rift between the forces runs deep, and a full unification of the two grammars seems remote.

In recent years, however, a baffling translation tool known as the “double copy” has proved surprisingly adept at turning certain gravitational entities, such as gravitons and black holes, into dramatically simpler quantum equivalents.

If We Want To Save The Planet, The Future Of Food Is Insects, by Richard Godwin, The Guardian

My first attempts at feeding insects to friends and family did not go down well. “What the hell is wrong with you?” asked my wife when I revealed that the tomato and oregano-flavoured cracker bites we had been munching with our G&Ts were made from crickets. “Hang on, I’m vegetarian!” cried our friend – which prompted a slightly testy discussion on whether insects count as meat, how many thousand arthropods equate to one mammal and considering almost all industrial agriculture involves the mass slaughter of insects, what’s the difference?

Notes On Grief By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Review – A Moving Account Of A Daughter’s Sorrow, by Nicci Gerrard, The Guardian

Notes on Grief is a moving account of a daughter’s sorrow and it is also a love letter to the one who has gone. Adichie wants him back; she wants to rescue him from death and to tell him once again how much she adored him. She is saying don’t go and she is saying goodbye and she is also saying sorry – for the writing of grief is to acknowledge an ending and, thus, as Jacques Derrida had it, as soon as you write, you are asking for forgiveness.

Speak, Okinawa Review – A Struggle To Unearth A Denied Self, by Viv Groskop, The Guardian

Most memoirs are about resolving an identity crisis of some kind. And this is an extreme one. Born to a mother from Okinawa and a father who was a US soldier, Elizabeth Miki Brina grows up in New Jersey and Fairport, New York, faintly aware of her history but unable to really assimilate it for years. As a child, she clings to her father, to Beverly Hills 90210, to Chuck E Cheese dinners, to Aerosmith cassette tapes; she cuts up her mother’s kimonos and, as soon as she is old enough, dyes her hair blond. She wants blue contact lenses but her parents draw the line at that. Even at the age of 18, when she starts to say the words “half-Japanese” out loud, she is not able to explain “what Okinawa is”, the place where her mother was born and raised.

The Arrow Paradox, by Mark Jarman, The Atlantic

Zeno sent
his arrow flying
endlessly from point
to point along its arc

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Not Even This By Jack Underwood Review – An Immensely Likable Voice, by Houman Barekat, The Guardian

About three years ago, the poet Jack Underwood became a father for the first time. The responsibility weighed heavily: he recalls “feeling that there should have been more paperwork. We signed a form or two and then they just sort of let us take you away. A human child.” A few months later, he started having panic attacks – his love for his daughter had rendered him “utterly fucked with worry”. He decided to write about it, which helped: “my breathing regulated, my thoughts took shape, giving direction to my feelings; finding my thinking voice was like opening an enormous valve.” The resulting book is a thoughtful essay-memoir on parenthood, in which Underwood recounts how he learned to manage his angst – “to live within the fear” – by embracing uncertainty.

Olivia Laing’s ‘Everybody’ Explores The Power And Vulnerabilities Of The Human Body, by Michele Filgate, Washington Post

Perhaps the most important lesson we’ve learned over the past year is that our bodies are vulnerable, some more so than others. More than 56 percent of adults in the United States have received at least the first dose of coronavirus vaccines, but in India, a catastrophic second wave of the pandemic has led to a record number of cases. As covid-19 deaths have disproportionately ravaged communities of color, inequality has been underscored by the murder of George Floyd and the mass shooting in Atlanta. It’s for all these reasons that Olivia Laing’s “Everybody: A Book About Freedom” is a quintessential book for the precarious moment we’ve found ourselves in.

Finding The Mother Tree By Suzanne Simard Review – A Journey Of Passion And Introspection, by Tiffany Francis-Baker, The Guardian

Our relationship with the natural world is balanced on a knife-edge, which means our own lives, too, are facing an uncertain future. For the first time in history, we can draw from a compendium of scientific research that not only warns us to take better care of the Earth, but shows us how to do so. Yet still we place obstacles in our path, and the eco-apocalyptic countdown continues. What is it that stops us from taking action? Einstein once suggested that imagination is more important than knowledge, claiming that knowledge is limited while “imagination encircles the world”, and perhaps this is where the answer lies. In order to bridge the emotional chasm between the science and our ability to act, we must take what we know and reshape it into something more palatable. We must tell ourselves a story.

Friday, May 7, 2021

What A Crossword AI Reveals About Humans' Way With Words, by Ben Zimmer, Wired

At last week’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held as a virtual event with more than 1,000 participants, one impressive competitor made news. (And, despite my 143rd-place finish, it unfortunately wasn’t me.) For the first time, artificial intelligence managed to outscore the human solvers in the race to fill the grids with speed and accuracy. It was a triumph for Dr. Fill, a crossword-solving automaton that has been vying against carbon-based cruciverbalists for nearly a decade.

You Don’t Need To Leave Home To Build A Life, by Rainesford Stauffer, The Atlantic

We don’t have to keep transitioning. It can be equally transformative to stay put for a bit, giving us the chance to know ourselves in the context of stability, rather than just the context of pursuing something. When we’re home, we can take inventory of who we are. It’s not quitting the adventure early to just want to settle in and stay for a while—nor is it dismissing the ideal of exploring to remember we can explore in all kinds of ways, in our communities, in how we build our homes, in how we feel about ourselves in different contexts. It can feel like coming home to ourselves.

Fury By Kathryn Heyman Review – A Memoir Of Righteous Anger And Poetic Transformation, by Thuy On, The Guardian

In some ways, the book follows the classic trajectory of pain and redemption; it is, yes, a “misery memoir” insofar as Heyman is elevated to a level of grace and transformation after enduring a litany of hardship, but though the concept of being saved by the “wild unknown” may seem hackneyed, what distinguishes Fury is the quality of the writing.

Painting Time By Maylis De Kerangal Review – A Bravura Achievement, by Beejay Silcox, The Guardian

Painting Time is a celebration of mastery, which is nothing more, she writes, “than an aptitude for failure, a consent to the fall, and a desire to start over”. But how exhilarating that fall can be, how heady that desire.

Poem From A Previous Page, by Deborah H. Doolittle, The RavensPerch

has wobbled onto this page,
the ink staining the spine,

Thursday, May 6, 2021

My Mother’s Novel Was Never Published, But It Taught Me The Most Important Thing, by Anna Nordberg, Slate

Did she consider that year she spent writing a failure? I don’t know. I still remember the night at dinner when she told me she wasn’t going to pursue any more publishers for her book. “The first three times I read it, I cried,” she said. “And then the fourth time, I thought it was sort of boring.”

But it was not a failure to me. For a year, while she typed away on an old IBM in her tiny office off the kitchen, her story inching out from a printer my older brother was constantly being called upon to fix, I had a mother who was writing a book. In a moment of rare and glorious impulsiveness, she’d quit her job after her first cancer surgery and decided, “Screw it, I’m going to follow my dream.” And in doing so, she made her dream my dream as well. I was 8 years old, and someday, I told myself, I would write a book too.

Bluest Year, by David Aloi, Chicago Review

The first time I forgot to breathe. Trader Joe’s. Hyperion Ave. Silver Lake. And I didn’t even notice. Coconut milk, coconut milk, coconut milk. That’s what I kept saying to myself. I scanned the shelves, refrigerators, those end-of-the-aisle holiday displays. Two cans needed for Thai yellow curry and I couldn’t find one. I wanted to Control+F the store. You should be able to Control+F, I mean, we’ve been to the moon. But I was too proud to ask anyone who worked there. I was thirty-six, an adult man. You can find a can.

Have Delivery Apps Changed What A Restaurant Is?, by Sara Deseran, Eater

When is a restaurant no longer a restaurant?

At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, I’d say it’s when the dining room is no longer a priority. Because that’s where the joy happens, where a restaurant’s spirit lives. Without it, you cannot possibly practice hospitality, an act of giving that requires warm bodies and lots of tequila.

'Things We Lost To The Water' Is A Literal And Allegorical Look At Dislocation, by Thúy Đinh, NPR

Ben's observation sums up the hopeful coda, "[I]t would take a lifetime to make a place lived." This idea implies that his family's resettlement history, despite spanning over a quarter century, is still not settled. Similarly, New Orleans — devastated by Hurricane Katrina at the end of Things We Lost to the Water — would be rebuilt over time. Dislocation is therefore a temporal state, like the proverb Thương hải biến vi tang điền, phonetized from the Chinese 蒼海桑田, which has now become an integral part of Vietnamese literary tradition — everything will turn in time, as the blue seas will turn into mulberry fields.

What Can ‘The Age Of Decadence’ Teach Us About Today? A Great Deal., by Michael Dirda, Washington Post

Uh, you say, why exactly would anyone care to read almost 900 pages about politics, art, music, fashion, journalism, architecture, education, drama, censorship, war, sex, scandal, social unrest, insider trading, rioting and much else in late Victorian and Edwardian England? Simple: What Heffer recounts is fascinating in itself, but also eerily familiar, almost contemporary. History, after all, provides perspective on the present.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Two Centuries Of ‘The Guardian’, by Alan Rusbridger, New York Review of Books

The Guardian has never been much of a business. Its owners never got rich; in fact, they gave the newspaper away. Its history is peppered with financial crises and near-death experiences. Perhaps it was placed on earth to make “righteousness readable” (in the centenary words of Lord Robert Cecil), but the paper has nearly always struggled to make it remunerative.

And yet this year it is celebrating its two hundredth anniversary. Born on the day Napoleon Bonaparte died—May 5, 1821—The Guardian now has around $1.4 billion in the bank, more than a million paying supporters or subscribers, and profitable operations in the US and Australia, which enable it to report around the clock and to reach well over 1.5 billion online readers around the world every year. Not bad for a paper that began life being cranked out on a primitive handpress at 125 copies an hour.

All In The Timing: On Publishing A Novel Nine Years After Giving Up On It, by Joy Lanzendorfer, Literary Hub

Since I couldn’t control the publishing industry, I decided to concentrate on what I could, which was writing itself. This meant focusing on the quality of my work and how often I submitted it. Soon, my sense of accomplishment shifted toward goals I could actually complete (editing a draft, pitching a magazine) instead of ones I couldn’t (publishing a book to great acclaim before age 30).

Alison Bechdel Tried To Write A Light Book. Fortunately, She Failed, by Tracy Brown, Los Angeles Times

After writing two family memoirs that involved a lot of grueling soul-searching, Alison Bechdel thought she would focus on something more lighthearted for her next book — exercise.

But for the creator of such rich, introspective works as “Fun Home,” the heartbreaking story of her coming out and her father’s death, staying on the surface was no easy task.

Obscura No More, by Andy Grundberg, The American Scholar

From the medium’s beginnings, starting in 1839, photographers sought to have their work recognized as art. Indeed, the modern history of photography has been written as a kind of pilgrim’s tale, a major plotline of which is a progressive discovery of the medium’s unique artistic nature following a series of unsatisfying imitative encounters with the arts of painting and drawing.

Life And Death On The Lighthouse Of The Mediterranean, by Gaia Squarci, New York Times

Rising a mere 3,000 feet above the waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the seemingly diminutive volcanic isle is famed for its near-continuous summit explosions. Most volcanoes spend much of their lifetime in a state of quiescence, but Stromboli bucks that trend. “It’s always active,” said Maurizio Ripepe, a geophysicist at the University of Florence in Italy. “I always say it’s the most reliable thing in Italy. It’s not like the trains.”

The Premonition By Michael Lewis Review – A Pandemic Story, by Mark O’Connell, The Guardian

Lewis’s approach here is to find a small number of unheralded individuals working within vast systems, and use them to portray the workings (or, in this case, not-workings) of those systems. The malevolent force in The Premonition is institutional malaise. Lewis’s underlying argument here, though, is hardly compatible with the conservative “big government doesn’t work” boilerplate, which posits centralisation as the root of all societal evil. Rather, he portrays a system that is both incredibly vast and insufficiently centralised. “There’s no one driving the bus,” as Joe DeRisi, one of Lewis’s main subjects, puts it. DeRisi, a biochemist who developed an extremely useful technology for rapid viral testing, spends much of the book banging his head against institutional brick walls in an attempt to get his innovation adopted as part of a wider campaign against Covid.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

‘Jaws At 35,000 Feet’: The Flight Attendant Whose Thriller Debut Sold For Seven Figures, by Alison Flood, The Guardian

Flight attendant Torri Newman was working on the red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York when the idea for her debut novel came to her. To be precise, she was blocking access to the cockpit, a security procedure required when pilots take a toilet break. “I was standing at the front of the airplane,” she says, “looking out at the passengers. It was dark and they were all asleep. And I had this thought, ‘All of their lives, our lives, are in the hands of the pilots.’ That’s not exactly new – but the flipside of that also came to mind. With that much power and responsibility, how vulnerable does that make a commercial pilot?”

Before He Wrote A Thesaurus, Roget Had To Escape Napoleon's Dragnet, by Claudia Kalb, Smithsonian

Roget had spent the previous four years since his graduation taking additional courses and working odd jobs, even volunteering in the spring of 1799 as a test subject at the Pneumatic Institution in Clifton, England, for a trial of the sedative nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. With no immediate professional path, he felt unsettled and despondent. Romilly suggested a change of scenery. Accordingly, he introduced his nephew to John Philips, a wealthy cotton mill owner in Manchester, with the plan that Roget would chaperone Philips’ teenage sons, Burton and Nathaniel, who were about to embark on a year-long trip to the continent to study French and prepare for a career in business. Roget had caught a big break—or so he thought. The timing, it turns out, could not have been worse, and so began a telling adventure in the early life of a man now known worldwide for his lexicography in his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, one of the most influential reference books in the English language.

‘Popisho’ Imagines A Magical Realm Teeming With Memorable Characters, by Wendy Smith, Washington Post

Leone Ross’s third novel is so overstuffed with characters and plot that readers will either close it in frustration or embrace it for the author’s verbal gusto and brilliant, kaleidoscopic scene-setting. While “All the Blood Is Red” and “Orange Laughter” were by no means straightforwardly realistic fiction, Ross grounded them in specific real-world landscapes. But in “Popisho,” about a fictional archipelago with echoes to the Caribbean, she emulates the work of Gabriel García Márquez and his Latin American peers by delineating a world in which magic is a matter-of-fact presence in people’s lives.

In A New Story Collection, An Insider’s View Of The Soviet Union, by Ilya Kaminsky, New York Times

By the end of the collection, Iossel succeeds in giving an insider’s view of the Soviet Union, but shared through the outsider perspective of a slightly bemused man now living far away. What distinguishes Iossel as a writer, aside from his obvious talent for atmospheric dramedy, is his lucid, musical prose style. Despite his dark humor, metaphysical asides and absurdist turns — or maybe because of them — his stories are delightfully easy to read; Iossel’s marvelous sense of rhythm dazzles the reader. We can’t stop turning the pages of this book, no matter what kind of tunnel might await us at the end of the light.

The Woman Who Looked At A Forest And Saw A Community, by Jonathan C. Slaght, New York Times

This book is a testament to Simard’s skill as a science communicator. Her research is clearly defined, the steps of her experiments articulated, her astonishing results explained and the implications laid bare: We ignore the complexity of forests at our peril.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Why I’m Exploring Glasgow With A 1930s Guidebook, by Peter Ross, The Guardian

I love using old books like this one to deepen the pleasure of travelling, so that I am not just visiting a place but a time. I picked up my copy for £3 in a charity shop in Glastonbury, and wondered about who had used it all those decades ago. What drew them north? What sights did they enjoy? I want to see Glasgow as that traveller from Somerset might have seen it, and to see what has changed.

“We Must Write Well”: On Cecilia Pavón’s “Little Joy”, by Kate Wolf, Los Angeles Review of Books

Beyond their future imaginings, Pavón’s stories seem to offer some sense of how we might live now, with all the terror and wreckage currently in front of us. Indeed, seizing some beauty or happiness even in ugly things may be one of the few viable strategies still available to us. “Initially we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” a narrator says in a story early in the book, upon seeing a menacing cloud on the horizon.

While neither of us said it, we both thought it was probably something toxic: a war, an attack, an explosion at some run-down factory. But at the same time, there was something fascinating about the way the mass cleared a path, painting absurd shapes in the sky in just fractions of a second. It was exciting, because it was strange … and big. And it was in the sky.

Real Estate By Deborah Levy Review – A Dialogue Between Art And Life, by Stephanie Merritt, The Guardian

This is the heart of the trilogy: this constant nod to past iterations of self that is necessary to the formation of a writer. Levy is preoccupied not just with how to write new, freer versions of female characters, but how to become one.

We Run The Tides By Vendela Vida Review – An Enigmatic Coming-of-age Mystery, by Hephzibah Anderson, The Guardian

What We Run the Tides probes so poignantly is the volatility of female adolescence, its on-the-cusp caprices and confusions, as well as the more timeless riddles of independence and identity, seduction and storytelling.

Grey Natural Light, by Katherine Horrex, The Guardian

It breaks through voile and stains
like tannin leaching into a cup;

Sunday, May 2, 2021

How The Pentagon Started Taking U.F.O.s Seriously, by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, New Yorker

On May 9, 2001, Steven M. Greer took the lectern at the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C., in pursuit of the truth about unidentified flying objects. Greer, an emergency-room physician in Virginia and an outspoken ufologist, believed that the government had long withheld from the American people its familiarity with alien visitations. He had founded the Disclosure Project in 1993 in an attempt to penetrate the sanctums of conspiracy. Greer’s reckoning that day featured some twenty speakers. He provided, in support of his claims, a four-hundred-and-ninety-two-page dossier called the “Disclosure Project Briefing Document.” For public officials too busy to absorb such a vast tract of suppressed knowledge, Greer had prepared a ninety-five-page “Executive Summary of the Disclosure Project Briefing Document.” After some throat-clearing, the “Executive Summary” began with “A Brief Summary,” which included a series of bullet points outlining what amounted to the greatest secret in human history.

Over several decades, according to Greer, untold numbers of alien craft had been observed in our planet’s airspace; they were able to reach extreme velocities with no visible means of lift or propulsion, and to perform stunning maneuvers at g-forces that would turn a human pilot to soup. Some of these extraterrestrial spaceships had been “downed, retrieved and studied since at least the 1940s and possibly as early as the 1930s.” Efforts to reverse engineer such extraordinary machines had led to “significant technological breakthroughs in energy generation.” These operations had mostly been classified as “cosmic top secret,” a tier of clearance “thirty-eight levels” above that typically granted to the Commander-in-Chief. Why, Greer asked, had such transformative technologies been hidden for so long? This was obvious. The “social, economic and geo-political order of the world” was at stake.

Living The Tension, by Matthew Clemente, Los Angeles Review of Books

Plato understood that laws are necessary to curtail certain human actions. The discovery of the destructive impulse was not, as Freud would have us believe, the result of the psychoanalytic method. We have always been aware that our fate lies in our hands, even when we have been too troubled to say so out loud. Why else would Plato find it necessary to introduce one of the earliest and longest-standing arguments against self-slaughter? We are, his Socrates tells us, the possessions of the gods and to die by suicide is to exercise a power over one’s life reserved only for the divine. And yet that is not Socrates’s final word on the subject. In the next breath, he dies laughing; having willingly drunk from the poisoned cup, he asks his friend Crito to offer sacrifice to Asclepius, god of good health. Suicide, the master of irony suggests, is double faced: both an offense to the gods and a blessing bestowed by the gods on those who pray for a cure to life.

An Ambitious Novel Takes Flight, by Lynn Steger Strong, New York Times

“The Great Circle” grasps for and ultimately reaches something extraordinary. It pulls off this feat through individual sentences and sensations — by getting each secondary and tertiary character right. In thinking about flight (and ambition and art), there is a suggestion that the larger the reach, the more necessary a stable foundation. Here we have an action-packed book rich with character, but it’s at the level of the sentence and the scene, the small but unforgettable salient detail, that books finally succeed or fail. In that, “The Great Circle” is consistently, often breathtakingly, sound.

Book Review: 'Everything Is Fine' Is A Groundbreaking Memoir, by Ashley Riggleson, The Free Lance-Star

Representation of schizophrenia in the media is often quite poor, but début memoirist Vince Granata aims to change that in his memoir “Everything is Fine.”

Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Computers Are Getting Better At Writing, Stephen Marche, New Yorker

GPT-3 hints at a world in which machines can generate language. The consequences are vertiginous. To spend ten minutes with Sudowrite is to recognize that the undergraduate essay, the basic pedagogical mode of all humanities, will soon be under severe pressure. Take an A paper, change a few words in the first paragraph, push buttons three times, and you have an essay that fits the assignment. Whatever field you are in, if it uses language, it is about to be transformed. The changes that are coming are fundamental to every method of speaking and writing that presently exists.

Novels And Novellas And Tomes, Oh My!, by Lincoln Michel, Counter Craft

I find the always fluctuating history of these forms fascinating, and the economic pressures worth talking about. But of course, art does have its own power. Books do tend to end up the length they want to be. As writers, we can choose to devote times to projects that seem more likely to be published or bring in income. We can work on that novel draft instead of short stories, or that book we think is an award contender rather than the one that’s too experimental to get published. But an individual work of fiction has its own desires and demands.

When The Cellos Play, The Cows Come Home, by Lisa Abend, New York Times

During a recent performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Pezzo Capriccioso,” a handful of audience members leaned forward attentively, their eyes bright, a few encouraging snuffles escaping from the otherwise hushed parterre. Though relative newcomers to classical music, they seemed closely attuned to the eight cellists onstage, raising their heads abruptly as the piece’s languid strains gave way to rapid-fire bow strokes.

When it was over, amid the fervent applause and cries of “bravo,” there could be heard a single, appreciative moo.

Book Review: Delightful Vancouver Stories Told Within A Story, by Tom Sandborn, Vancouver Sun

Like Chaucer and Boccaccio, Jordan begins with a group thrown together by circumstance and then tells stories associated with members of the group.

Although this approach also shapes many soap operas and Netflix series, no one should mistake this book for a mindless, merely entertaining beach read. While the author draws on models from both high and low culture, she has serious literary ambitions that she successfully achieves in this eloquent, tender and luminous book.

The Purpose Of Art In Rachel Cusk’s Second Place, by Ceillie Clark-Keane, Ploughshares

Second Place is worth reading for its sharp descriptions and powerful story alone, but it’s the in-depth exploration of the purpose of art that makes the story meaningful.

Philip Hoare’s Examination Of Albrecht Dürer Takes Readers On An Entertaining, Digressive Ride, by Charles Arrowsmith, Washimgton Post

While some readers may struggle to stay afloat in this sea of glinting references and wandering currents, others will be happy to join Hoare in his diving bell to revelation. “In Dürer’s divine harmony,” he writes, “animals took on an emblematical role. He saw them the way a monk read the scriptures, or an astronomer peered into the sky.” The same might be said of Hoare’s subjects, animal and human alike. From their lives and works, he extrapolates an entire cosmology, a way of seeing the world every bit as rich and penetrating as Dürer’s.