The idea of reading different kinds of literature at different times of year dates back centuries — for an early example, see William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” — but summer reading as we now know it emerged in the United States in the mid-1800s, buoyed by an emerging middle class, innovations in book publishing and a growing population of avid readers, many of them women. And this rise of summer reading coincided with the birth of another cultural tradition: the summer vacation.
A number of local food industry professionals are looking inward to start conversations around the rise of anti-Asian American hate. As more news stories documented both local and national incidents of hate crimes in the spring, the food community quickly rallied to raise money through bake sales, dinners and more to fund initiatives such as placing security cameras on the streets of Chinatown, safety kits for the elderly, and supporting local nonprofits.
Now, some industry folks are wondering how to keep the momentum (and conversation) going. Hanson Li is a founder of Salt Partners Group, a development and investment company that works with some of the biggest restaurants in San Francisco, including Atelier Crenn, Humphry Slocombe and Last Rites. Beyond his restaurant work, Li has been involved with Asian-American professional groups, including Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). He has watched the acceleration of hate crimes toward the Asian American community, culminating in the tragedy of the Atlanta spa shootings in February, and Li was wondering how he can help.
The idea that Black people just don’t do the outdoors developed over time and centuries of dispossession, said Justin Robinson. An ethnobotanist, farmer and cultural historian in Durham, N.C., he rejects the term “foraging” and its practice as anything new to Black Americans and humans in general. He believes the word separates the world into a disturbing cultivated-versus-wild binary that doesn’t reflect reality.
“It’s just what we do,” he said. “It’s life!”
But the design is also apt on a deeper level. While Tange’s design was representative of a 1960s Japan experiencing revolutionary economic growth, the new National Stadium is built for a different era. “The new era isn’t about expansion,” Kuma said. “Intimacy and human experience should be the theme of the new era. My proposal is very intimate and very human.”
About a year later, a woman stopped to say hello, and she said something that changed his perspective on his daily ritual.
“She said, ‘You know, every morning when I see you sitting here, I know that everything is going to be okay,’” Nixon recalled.
Awad has taken Shakespeare’s premise of illness and spiritual rebirth and turned it into an inventive horror-comedy full of altered realities and uncanny weirdness. The book mashes up “All’s Well That Ends Well” with “Macbeth” and “The Tempest” and there are echoes from other plays as well. The result is an omnibus Shakespeare adaptation, simpler than the originals, but resonant with Awad’s own voice. The Bard will probably not turn in his grave. His own mode of operation was to conflate sources.
The pack: that’s what they called it. A secret guide, discreetly passed to literary authors in need of money to sustain their ‘real’ art. Compiled by such an author, happy to share their experience of publishing erotica on Amazon, it offered advice to avant-garde writers keen to turn their hand to this lucrative genre.
And that’s what I like about you, non–morning person: your fastidiousness. Your great delicacy of being. You don’t bounce giddily from oblivion to wakefulness, taking it all for granted, confident of finding things more or less as you left them at bedtime. No, no, it’s a change; it’s arduous; it’s real.
Swan’s poetry in A Kinship with Ash gives voice to the desperate edge on which our fellow travelers and we reside, whether animal, plant, or human. The poet focuses on the earth’s ecology and the changing elements in nature. She does not concern herself with rhyme or meter, but chiefly with the content of her message. But this thematic concentration does not detract from the lyrical levels she attains.
What’s more, when Billy saves the life of a rape victim, he finds himself with a surprising confidante and helpmate in his plans for bloody retribution against his ex-employers.
All of this is handled with King’s customary skill at orchestrating suspense, but he also has other fish to fry.
It might come as a surprise to readers of Jackson’s crepuscular fiction (she’s most famous for her 1948 shocker “The Lottery”) that the letters here are mostly breezy and bright, full of droll anecdotes about her four children, driving lessons, many cats, merry overindulgence in cocktails, and endless attempts to lose weight (“i have the whole kitchen wall covered with calorie listings,” she wrote to her hypercritical mother in 1956.) But tucked among these letters are a tiny handful that are so jarringly sad that they detonate on the page, hinting at the source of Jackson’s dark vision. They belie the jaunty persona she presented to most of her correspondents and illuminate the lengths she went to conceal her unhappiness. That many other American women of the Jackson’s generation felt compelled to do the same, gives “The Letters of Shirley Jackson” deeper resonance.
Al Hirschfeld fairly Forrest Gump-ed his way through the celebrated entertainers of the 20th century, whether he was meeting Harry Houdini backstage during a vaudeville-loving boyhood, or welcoming Charlie Chaplin to his Bali abode, or witnessing a young Orson Welles stage an upstart opening that birthed the Mercury Theatre. The man — as artist — seemed drawn like a moth to the fame.
But the remarkable story of Hirschfeld — including the stage and screen history he bequeathed to us — centers on just how many of these stars he drew, and just how many of their live performances are frozen in time through his balletic line.
Eric Garcia’s outstanding book, “We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation,” highlights how a lack of input from autistic people “can perpetuate stigmatizing ideas about autism,” which leads to his call to include autistic people in the conversations that concern them. As an autistic mother of autistic children, I couldn’t agree more with the main argument of Garcia’s book: “Society should stop trying to cure autistic people and instead help autistic people live fulfilling lives.”
In O’Leary’s recent photography book, “Record,” she depicts not the high-saturation drama of the political arena, but the “muted purpose” of federal buildings and the unnamed and unnoticed workers who fill them. Her photos are subdued not just in color, but also in mood, showing fragments of government structures up close — an anonymous window, a column’s base, a bucolic vent, a fossil-like handrail — with an enchanting, surprising quietude. In a capital city built to be iconic and singular, her images capture the poetry in the replaceable.
If I shut my eyes to the new dark
I find that I start to experience time
in its purest state: a series of durations
rising and dilating beneath my inwards gaze:
On an afternoon in mid-July, the heat index in Forest Park here was hovering in the upper 90s. Members of American Ballet Theater, in town on tour, had just sweated through a company class that the dancer Tyler Maloney likened to “Bikram ballet.” He and his colleagues were on an outdoor stage, and its floor was warming like a griddle.
How to cool the stage before the matinee? How about scattering ice cubes across the surface?
In his latest release, MPH and Other Road Poems, Ed Roberson recounts a motorcycle trip across the United States with two friends in 1970. This journey is taken through the poet’s return to a recovered manuscript previously written in that time, analogous to his own life’s ongoing journey through the Americas’ extended geographies. In these poems, the American West works both as territory and resistant silence.
Marching through the centuries from the croesid to today’s cryptocurrencies, Holt takes us from the thirty-three thousand coins found in the ashy ruins at Pompeii to the thirteen tons of gold and more than thirty million ounces of silver that were recovered from the remains of vaults beneath the World Trade Center after 9/11, along the way looking at a variety of global economic systems and delighting in all the routes a coin can take from mine to mint to market to museum.
more than the men, even. The ones who looked
like I looked. Who called my name in a voice
I could not identify from my own on recordings.
There was one week to go before Telluride ski mountain opened for the season. In town, the instructors were trying out new uniforms, ticket takers were learning how to operate the scanner guns, food workers were memorizing the new menus, and lifties were filling out their first W-4s. None of it would matter, however, if there wasn’t enough snow on the slopes. The small crew making all that snow, working mostly at night, was the red-hot center of everything going on at Telluride that week. “Right now,” Scott Pittenger, the director of mountain operations, told me, “snowmaking owns the mountain.”
Are we uncomfortable yet?
Natsuko Imamura’s 2019 novel, The Woman in the Purple Skirt (out in English translation by Lucy North last month), reads at first glance as a fairly straightforward psychological thriller. The narrator obsessively watches the titular woman, taking close stock of her movements and placing herself in situations where she might possibly interact with the Woman in the Purple Skirt. The unsettling meticulousness of the attention the narrator pays to the other woman is contrasted, however, with the seemingly innocent desire she has for human connection. After introducing readers to the woman’s habits, the narrator says, “I think what I’m trying to say is that I’ve been wanting to become friends with the Woman in the Purple Skirt for a very long time.” The narrator’s actions are definitely depicted as creepy, and there is no question that she is behaving as a stalker. But though voyeurism is at the center of the narrator’s fixation on the woman, Imamura also explores a deeper psychological entanglement stemming from a desire to connect when social interaction feels like an insurmountable barrier.
Anthony Veasna So’s witty and sharply expressed short stories are set in the Central Valley — the “valley of dust and pollen and California smog,” where the options for Cambodian American immigrant fathers, ejected from the stories of their lives, boil down this way: “They fixed cars, sold donuts or got on welfare.”
“Believers” is a young woman’s book of wandering at a time when our human footprint on earth matters more than ever. Lisa Wells follows a cast of unruly and colorful characters who believe their work on the land and with one another is a healing force. Sometimes it is, sometimes it misses the mark. Eccentrics, New Agers, old radicals, they struggle to go beyond what the essayist Adam Phillips calls the “nostalgia” of “apocalyptic thinking.” And this is the pull of Wells’s wanderings, both her false starts and satisfying journeys: She never loses sight of her inspired objective, to restore and revive what she refers to as “the promised land.”
Nonetheless, within its limitations, and from its many specialist angles, On Essays brings breadth of context and patience of research to bear on a genre that’s hard to see clearly. Writing about the essay is like trying to photograph a hummingbird. The articles in this anthology bring to this task the equivalent of a high-powered camera with a fast shutter speed, capturing what essays meant and what ends they served in various crucial places and times.
It might seem perverse to have escaped into murder mysteries at a time when people were suddenly dying all around me, but Christie offered deaths that were orderly and manageable. Her murders are committed in midcentury vicarages and hamlets with names like Chipping Cleghorn and Nether Mickford. On the whole, the closest people come to dying of illness is strychnine poisoning, and the only communicable disease that matters is a lust for dispatching one’s neighbors with their own scarves. Her books are basically fairy tales that happen to have a lot of dead people in them.
Critics have been pondering how to move forward at a time when artists and artistic institutions have been struggling to survive and audiences have fallen out of the habit of leaving the house. Equally daunting is the loss of shared values and traditions. Conflict has fractured our ideal of the collective. Even those classics representing the apogee of aesthetic and moral imagination are considered suspect.
In the midst of the chaos that I was pretty sure might result in our tragic deaths, I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote a guest list for my funeral. Who would come? Who would cry? What would they say? Would anyone confess to secretly always loving me? At the very least, it was a distracting activity.
With its endorsement of a magical text as more cathartic than any mommy memoir, “Nightbitch” makes the case for itself, and for fiction that expands motherhood into new, surreal dimensions. I’ve seen myself in all the clever, recondite novels of beleaguered mothers. The moaning and groaning, the searching and yearning are real. Yoder sees a new way into the baser kinks of our animal selves, the ineffable bodily transformation of a woman into a mother. What is fiction for, if not blowing life up into the freakish myth it appears to be?
With this new novel, El Akkad implicitly acknowledges that it’s not necessary to look so far into the future to see conflicts that destroy whole societies and send helpless refugees swarming in desperation. Nothing I’ve read before has given me such a visceral sense of the grisly predicament confronted by millions of people expelled from their homes by conflict and climate change.
Martha Lloyd’s Household Book is one of the few items we have from Jane Austen’s closest friend. As Martha was an integral part of Jane’s life, her recipe book is a highlight of the collection at Jane Austen’s House in Hampshire. It is fitting that the book resides at Chawton Cottage, a place both women called home. Much of what we know about Martha is through Jane’s letters and a few family reminiscences. But if we reread what has been written about Jane Austen we can catch glimpses of Martha Lloyd, who was often a figure in the background or just nearby. Included as a natural preface to Martha’s household book is an extensive biography of Martha Lloyd. Knowing more of Martha’s life leads us to a greater understanding of the deep friendship between Martha and Jane, a friendship that also included Jane’s sister Cassandra.
Part of the problem is that English spelling looks deceptively similar to other languages that use the same alphabet but in a much more consistent way. You can spend an afternoon familiarising yourself with the pronunciation rules of Italian, Spanish, German, Swedish, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish and many others, and credibly read out a text in that language, even if you don’t understand it. Your pronunciation might be terrible, and the pace, stress and rhythm would be completely off, and no one would mistake you for a native speaker – but you could do it. Even French, notorious for the spelling challenges it presents learners, is consistent enough to meet the bar. There are lots of silent letters, but they’re in predictable places. French has plenty of rules, and exceptions to those rules, but they can all be listed on a reasonable number of pages.
English is in a different league of complexity. The most comprehensive description of its spelling – the Dictionary of the British English Spelling System by Greg Brooks (2015) – runs to more than 450 pages as it enumerates all the ways particular sounds can be represented by letters or combinations of letters, and all the ways particular letters or letter combinations can be read out as sounds.
In TV’s ambitious comedies, as well as dramas, the arc of the last 20 years is not from bold risk-taking to spineless inoffensiveness. But it is, in broad terms, a shift from irony to sincerity.
By “irony” here, I don’t mean the popular equation of the term with cynicism or snark. I mean an ironic mode of narrative, in which what a show “thinks” is different from what its protagonist does. Two decades ago, TV’s most distinctive stories were defined by a tone of dark or acerbic detachment. Today, they’re more likely to be earnest and direct.
As I read, I realized that this book had something much deeper to offer than its premise: the zombie-like resurrected are frightening, the violent deaths and rebirths are startling, and the spirits that dwell at the burial ground are haunting. But beneath all that, at its core, the book is about something much simpler than waking nightmares, reanimated children, or the mythological Wendigo. Pet Sematary is about a much more fundamental and universal experience—grief and the fear of death.
In “Until Proven Safe,” a new book about quarantine’s past and future, Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley do an impressively judicious job of explaining exactly why fears of quarantine are understandable and historically justified, while also showing how in coming years “we will almost certainly find ourselves more dependent on quarantine, not less.” Quarantine has to do with risk and uncertainty, and its logic is simple: “There might be something dangerous inside you — something contagious — on the verge of breaking free.”
I’ve been looking at a letter from Eric Carle, written in a frail script in 2019, in which he told me that his health was failing. It was the last of many letters, some typed, others handwritten, he had sent me through the years.
Carle, who died in May, often sent me pictures, too, sometimes a collage that he was working on. One was of a yellow duck — it looked more like a chicken — that was wearing pinstripe trousers and had big light-pink feet. Another was of a man and his wife sitting in their kitchen eating cake with chocolate frosting. But the image of the man was upside down. (“It’s not a mistake,” he wrote. “It’s just how they eat cake.”) He said it was part of a “nonsense book” that he hadn’t finished yet.
“The only thing a uterus is good for after a certain point is causing pain and killing you. Why are we even talking about this?” Nora jams a fork into her chopped chicken salad, the one she insisted I order as well. “If your doctor says it needs to come out, yank it out.” Nora speaks her mind the way others breathe: an involuntary reflex, not a choice. (Obviously, all dialogue here, including my own, is recorded from the distortion field of memory.)
“But the uterus …” I say, spearing a slice of egg. “It’s so …”
Matthew Specktor, author of the novels “That Summertime Sound” and “American Dream Machine,” was working on a TV pilot when he realized he just wasn’t enjoying the process.
But he knew what did sound appealing: Writing about other creative people, like the artist and writer Eve Babitz and a list that eventually included director Hal Ashby, singer-songwriter Warren Zevon and actress Tuesday Weld among them.
Omar El Akkad's knows about the cultural, historical, and political forces that drive countless people to migrate illegally, but in What Strange Paradise, he leaves those things aside and focuses instead on telling the stories of the people at the core of the migrant crisis. This book is hard to read because it brings to the page the fear, suffering, language barriers, injustices, and risk of death that come with leaving home for some other hostile place, but it's also a pleasure to read, because hope and kindness light the story in unexpected ways.
As a historical novel, and one that should resonate with Charleston readers given our shared turn-of-the-century earthquake history, “Vera” shines. Edgarian brings to life various movers and shakers of San Francisco’s political and cultural echelons, in all their splendidly corpulent corruptness. She hinges much of the story around opera superstar Enrico Caruso’s performance the night of the earthquake, an excellent foil for adding delightful costume descriptions and other tidbits of period class detail.
In the summer of 1933, Fannie Holt, the co-founder of North Carolina’s Keystone Camp, invented an American tradition. Her invention may not have been wholly original — Yellowstone National Park, of all places, might lay a similar claim to this particular idea — but it stuck, becoming a summer tradition at Keystone and soon spreading throughout the country.
Holt’s brainchild was one of the first known celebrations of Christmas in July, a concept that has taken on a special meaning for some families in summer 2021. After a year in which many people didn’t attend in-person holiday festivities with their families, celebrating Christmas in the balmy summer is just one way to let old family traditions live on.
The disappearances on Ogawa’s fictional island may have started as a natural phenomenon, but at some point, it seems that the crystallization joined with human acceptance, gaining momentum as more and more people came to accept it. Ogawa pulls no punches with how the novel pans out; while there is some hope, the consequences of generations of forgetting are entirely, painfully realized.
There is something decidedly unintimate about calling a novel “Intimacies.” The refusal to specify (what, whose) feels like a hedge. And yet “Intimacies,” by the author Katie Kitamura, achieves a kind of truth in advertising. Kitamura pursues various definitions of the word: knowledge of, closeness with, closeness to. At times, intimacy suggests friendship—a nearness of hearts—and other times merely precision, a nearness in sense, or proximity, a nearness in space. These forms of closeness want to bleed together, and characters sweat to keep them straight, to be close to one another in the “right” ways. The result is a rich, novelistic portrait of an abstraction.
The narrative tradition of talking animals is as old as storytelling itself, of course, and he turns that archetype on its head. In a contemporary literary landscape overcrowded with stories about the power of storytelling, McDonell pulls off something better: a story that celebrates storytelling while jabbing the hubris at its core.
In the world of arts and letters, there isn’t anyone quite like Lauren Redniss. Since her poignant pen-and-ink microhistories in the New York Times’ Op-Art section, Redniss has plowed a furrow between word and text, facts and fantasy, that, for lack of a better term, might be called visual nonfiction.
The subjects in Katie Engelhart’s essential, vulnerable book, The Inevitable: Dispatches on the Right to Die, question these barriers. Since the mid-20th century, conversations on assisted suicide have grown, as laws allowing it have passed around the world. In popular conversation, Engelhart writes, people who use assisted death usually fit an archetype: elderly, secular, white people, with terminal diseases and supportive families, take advantage of rare right-to-die laws soon before their likely natural death. They throw back a lethal cocktail of liquid drugs under the watch of a doctor and their loved ones. They fall asleep, and, within a few hours, their heart stops. “While most reporting about the so-called right to die ends at the margins of the law, there are other stories playing out beyond them,” Engelhart writes. “Didn’t I know that whenever the law falls short, people find a way?”
The thing is, though: survivalist prep is uniquely challenging in a New York City apartment. There are only so many gallons of Poland Spring I can cram into that cabinet above the fridge. When those run out, what do we do for drinking water? Once we finish the pasta, rice, and beans, how will we feed ourselves if the local stores quit stocking their shelves? Whatever food and water we can get our hands on will presumably be astronomically priced—but how will we pay for it once we run through all of our cash? Most of our assets are just numbers on a screen. If the screens go black, we’re effectively bankrupt until the power comes back on.
Some words seem to only have a grumpy, negative version. A person can be uncouth, unkempt and ruthless, but why can’t they be the opposite?
Several years ago, when I found myself writing a book for the first time, I made a routine out of constantly reading and re-reading Janet Malcolm’s work. A friend had suggested to me that in order to sustain myself through the production of some hundred and twenty thousand words, it would be helpful to find a lodestar or kindred spirit to accompany me through the project. This lodestar would be another writer, and it wouldn’t matter whether they were dead or alive. The goal would not be imitation but simply to choose someone whose rhythms, vocabulary, and intellectual preoccupations could make a place for themselves in the middle background of my own mind as I wrote—five hundred words each weekday (no excuses), one chapter a month.
A teaspoon is the precise size of childhood. An egg cup,
almost. Lid lifted off an egg. The happy inevitability of an egg
yolk. Breakfast happens before the body. Light full of small
The final months would be a lot easier if I could be assured that, after death, we’d get a chance to see people who have died already. I’d like to shake hands with my best friend, my father, who died in 1972 and whom I’ve missed every day since. I owe him an apology. When I was 12, I stole 50 cents from his trousers, two quarters. The guilt was suffocating, though, and 10 days later I replaced his 50 cents, and I added an extra 25 for interest and atonement.
The only thing we argued about was politics. He was an ardent Republican. I am a boring liberal. When my son was born in 1994, the doctor held him by his ankles, upside down, as they do in movies, and announced that it was a boy. “I know that,” I said, nervously. “Is he a Democrat?”
It was only after watching this video repeatedly that it occurred to me: What I was tired of was not art but the predictability of how we encounter it. It is always at a distance, frequently behind glass, often in sterile galleries that resemble airports. Much of the world’s art is not encountered at all; the financial value of artworks has led more and more collectors to purchase them as investments and store them, unseen, in climate-controlled vaults.
There are some novels that are more like conceptual art works than standard narratives. This is no bad thing, and I would certainly not want us to be stuck with three-volume Victorian works, much though I love three-volume Victorian works. The clue’s in the name: the novel ought to be novel. If it doesn’t stretch what being a novel means, then it is merely a form of unknowing plagiarism. So it was rather a delight to read Blue Postcards. It is an ingenious book, and I think it will linger with me for quite some time.
and stirs them in sea salt and vinegar
She takes a drag from her Silk Cut
In recent years, many environmental groups have also quietly walked back their opposition as evidence has mounted that existing G.M.O.s are both safe to eat and not inherently bad for the environment. The introduction of Bt corn, which contains a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally insect-resistant bacterium that organic farmers routinely spray on crops, dropped the crop’s insecticide use by 35 percent. A pest-resistant Bt eggplant has become similarly popular in Bangladesh, where farmers have also embraced flood-tolerant “scuba rice,” a variety engineered to survive being submerged for up to 14 days rather than just three. Each year, Bangladesh and India lose roughly four million tons of rice to flooding — enough to feed 30 million people — and waste a corresponding volume of pesticides and herbicides, which then enter the groundwater.
But for those inflicted with intensive wanderlust, these trips provide a powerful sense of momentum. Visit Thailand and you’ll meet travelers who swear that Laos is more authentic. Go to Laos and others will insist that you haven’t seen a thing until you’ve been to Cambodia. The next thing you know, you’ve quit your job and are living out of a suitcase.
Once you’re hooked on travel, you can never really feel sated because it’s not really a small world after all. It’s immense, and pursuing the bits you haven’t seen can evolve into an obsession.
Kitamura’s prose is assertive and straightforward, an interesting contrast with the complexity of her characters. She has a knack for bringing us into these intimate spaces while still keeping us far enough away to see things as an outsider looking in — “intimate information in the details visible through the drapes.” Language is a strong tool in this book, referring both to the author’s writing and to the communication between characters. It is used not only to communicate thoughts and feelings between lovers and friends, but also to break the barrier between foreign countries as well as different morals and intentions. What is said in any language can be powerful, but silence also holds its own. What goes unsaid between these characters is a language of its own, providing a stronger sense of suspense that is as realistic as it is disturbing.
The resulting narrative is uniquely, obliquely suspenseful, with the subtle but distinctive imprint of crime fiction. Kitamura’s narrator is passive, confined in roles that allow for a limited range of motion. Yet the book vibrates with tension, much of it emanating from her very passivity, her willingness to stand still while the earth shakes beneath her feet.
Who doesn't want to abandon a nightmare? But Notes is compelling because it is beautiful. Because it is a mess, skillfully rendered, with a recognizable past (our own) and a believable present witnessed primarily by three characters who aren't just living through it, but actively shaping it.
The author’s knowledge of psychology is evident throughout this book, particularly in the characterisation of Sara’s patients and the issues discussed during their appointments. Flood introduces the reader to the complexities of therapy and those who seek it, and these characters fit well into the thriller trope as the plot progresses.
I am puzzled by the mournfulness of cities. I suppose I mean American cities mostly—dense and vertical and relatively sudden. All piled up in fullest possible distinction from surroundings, from our flat and grassy origins, the migratory blur from which the self, itself, would seem to have emerged into the emptiness, the kindergarten-landscape gap between the earth and sky. I’m puzzled, especially, by what seems to me the ease of it, the automatic, fundamental, even corny quality of mournfulness in cities, so built into us, so preadapted for somehow, that even camped out there on the savannah, long before we dreamed of cities, I imagine we should probably have had a premonition, dreamed the sound of lonely saxophones on fire escapes.
I have not seen my family since before the pandemic; a year and a half will have passed by the time I’m wandering my childhood apartment again. But my family is waiting on the other side of that chasm, and when I get there, it will be as if I never left.
On first read this scene demonstrates the narrator’s quiet, observational mood, as she’s just left New York after her father’s death and “had begun looking for something, although I didn’t know exactly what,” but on reflection it pierces several thematic layers, and sets expectations. In this interpersonal thriller, Dutch methods of urban trash removal are rendered in greater detail than our heroine’s nearly absent back story. Character motivation and development are less important here than the systems within which those characters live.
There is a moment in the middle of John Brandon’s fetching new novel, “Ivory Shoals,” that might be the best depiction of a grand theft horse gone wrong in all of literature. The earnest and plucky 12-year-old Gussie has survived deadly swamps and bounty hunters on his way to find his father, when he happens upon a wounded and wary Morgan. Gussie is a good kid. He intends to just borrow the horse until the next hamlet in this post-Civil War Florida landscape of insane heat and sundry dangers. But in four pages of gorgeous prose, Brandon delves into Gussie’s tactics, slowly building tension as the boy walks the animal down a trail and works up the courage to mount. For anyone who has attempted to climb onto a moving horse, the result will be disastrously familiar.
The narrator of Antonio Muñoz Molina’s To Walk Alone in the Crowd is a man with a 20th-century sensibility exiled in the excesses of the 21st. He’s recovering from a terrifying depressive episode, in a state alternating between “the twin poles” of nostalgia and anxiety. And because he is, above all, a passionate reader, the project that keeps him grounded is gathering the words thrown up by the cities he wanders – mostly Madrid and New York, with brief interludes in Paris and Lisbon – and archiving, collaging, and repurposing them. His quest is to understand what the words in all the restaurant menus, billboards, erotic massage flyers, subway signs add up to. What do they say underneath, and who, exactly, are they saying it to?
While many books have sprung up over the past year attempting to make sense of the pandemic, “Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine” is uncanny in its prescience. It also serves as a good reminder for all of us to refrain from feelings of complacency because as this fascinating book shows again and again, it’s foolish to think this will be our last pandemic.
Now Susan Sontag was famous
among certain people—you know
who I mean—urban informed culturally
Depending on the era and the location, we occasionally bathed our bodies before scenting them. But humans have consistently lobbed on perfume to overwhelm our body’s odors. Wearing perfume wasn’t just about fooling others about our own stink. Humans have also worn perfume as protection, as a scented distraction from the malodor of others and also as a prophylactic barrier from disease, which was long thought to be spread by bad air. Perfume kept in jeweled rings and pendants could be brought to the nose when accosted by unpleasant smells; it formed an aromatic wall.
Philosophers of science are fascinated by such situations, and it is easy to see why. The traditional way of assessing the truth or falsity of a theory is by testing its predictions. If a prediction is confirmed, we tend to believe the theory; if it is refuted, we tend not to believe it. And so, if two theories are equally capable of explaining the observations, there would seem to be no way to decide between them.
What is a poor scientist to do? How is she to decide? It turns out that the philosophers have some suggestions.
Oh, Venus. What’s going on with you?
I am referring, of course, to Venus the planet, second from the sun, right next door to Earth. The planet with a furnace-like surface and clouds made of sulfuric acid, the one that shows up in our night sky as a golden jewel, and that helped prove the theory that the sun, not Earth, was at the center of the solar system. Although Venus has captivated observers for centuries, the planet remains a bit of a mystery, its particularities hidden. There’s still so much scientists want to know about our planetary neighbor. Especially now. Talk to us, Venus!
Many readers OF poetry will have come to Muriel Rukeyser (1913–1980) first through her extraordinary sequence The Book of the Dead. These poems, published in 1938 as part of the larger collection U.S. 1, are Rukeyser’s response to the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel tragedy in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, in which approximately 800 men — most of them Black migrant workers — lost their lives to silicosis. This horrific industrial disaster, born entirely of corporate greed and corruption, remains one of the worst in American history; Rukeyser’s poetic response is one of the most affecting and important works of modern poetry written in English, and what Philip Metres has called the “touchstone” of documentary poetics.
Perhaps it is no great surprise, then, that extracts from The Book of the Dead make up over a quarter of this new book of Rukeyser’s poems, selected by former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey. In her introduction, Trethewey recalls her earliest encounter with Rukeyser’s work: reading The Book of the Dead aloud in a graduate school seminar, Trethewey “felt the resonant power of her living voice,” jolting the class with the force of a thunderclap. What Rukeyser exposed and explored in the ’30s was still painfully pertinent in Trethewey’s 1990 classroom, and remains a reality in America today, thrown into even starker relief during the COVID-19 pandemic: Black Americans are more likely to be provided unsafe working and living conditions than white Americans, and are more likely to die prematurely as a result.
It is not much: these are small pieces from the easy parts of the book, in one case from its very beginning. But they do reveal something about the way the Elements was spreading. It did not just stay in Alexandria: already, by the first few centuries after its composition, it—or parts of it—was being copied out by people hundreds of miles away around the Greek-speaking world.
Utopia and dystopia are twins, born at the same moment from the shared ancestry of social critique. Although remembered as the first modern attempt to systematically imagine an ideal society, Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) began with a stark portrait of a Europe torn apart by war and crushing poverty, with the shocking prediction that if the enclosure of farmland continued, soon sheep would be eating people. This horrifying prospect made it urgent to look for an alternative, which More sketches out as an egalitarian, communal society of shared property.
The practice doesn’t merely infuse the Croisette, the scenic boulevard where Cannes takes place, with extra pomp and glamour. Audiences might genuinely share appreciation for a film. For the industry, the length of applause serves as a proxy for how potentially buzzy a title might be. And every year—but particularly this one—the cheers are a reminder of the pleasures of slowing down and appreciating art. Yet, as in the world of theater, the standing ovation can come to feel like an obligation. When such effusive displays greet every film, what is the audience truly expressing? Kellie Lail, a critic and Cannes attendee who caught the five-minute ovation for Stillwater, voiced a common criticism: “The fact that it is not such a given at other festivals makes me wonder if the standing ovations received in other places are more honest audience reactions.”
For negative lessons, the “don’ts” when it comes to writing reviews, there’s always the internet. But for direction and inspiration, cold water on a face flushed from a looming deadline, it’s better to have hard copies of whatever you think defines greatness: you can open one to a random page, like shaking a Magic 8 Ball, and ask it what to do. Jenny Diski’s new, posthumous collection, Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?, might give an answer—ultimately, obliquely—to its own title’s question. Of course it can’t answer mine. But I’m sure I’ll periodically give it a try anyway, because, while devoid of encouragement or advice or a style that anyone could imitate, its thirty-three pieces—essays, book reviews, and “book reviews,” written for the London Review of Books between 1992 and 2014 (selected from the roughly two hundred that the magazine published)—still impart a strange sense of possibility.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built begins a series that looks optimistic and hopeful, pursuing stories that arise from abundance instead of scarcity, kindness instead of cruelty, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.
Cultural historian Robert Darnton famously argued that “world views cannot be chronicled in the manner of political events, but they are no less ‘real.’ Politics could not take place without the preliminary mental ordering that goes into the common-sense notion of the real world.” To discover the “preliminary mental ordering” of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France, Darnton turned to an unusual source: the French fairy tale, as told by French peasants to ethnographers and folklorists of the nineteenth century. These stories of repulsive ogres, fearsome fairies, talking animals, and enchanted objects communicated, in Darnton’s eyes, important truths as the French peasantry understood them—truths about “how the world is made and how one can cope with it.” As unconscious illustrations of common beliefs about authority, fate, and morality, these stories offered a rare window into the ancien regime as the common man experienced it. The fairy realm of the French peasant mirrored his lived reality. His was a vicious and empty moral order, where personal destiny depended on the arbitrary whims of the powerful, and survival meant internalizing as fact that “the world is made of fools and knaves: better to be a knave than a fool.”
Imagine a small city, built from scratch, overflowing with parks and green space, dense enough to be walkable but not so much to feel crowded. A place where the land is collectively owned, houses are quirkily individualized rather than cookie-cutter, and rents from the land support the creation of luxurious public spaces—like a farmers market housed in a crystal palace, with waterfalls throughout. Rent is low, jobs pay well, there is little inequality, and there are good public transit networks. This is the sort of place envisaged by the Garden City movement, an ambitious and eccentric school of thought about urban planning that popped up in early 20th century Britain and actually produced several complete cities as well as inspired planners across the world for decades.
The Latin prefix psyche (breath) adds a zest of soul to the mix, linking earth, mind and foot. Psychogeographic writing can be thought of as an alternative way of reading the city. Wilfried Hou Je Bek calls it “the city-space cut-up.” Just as William Burroughs and Brion Gysin cut and reorganized newspaper texts to reveal their implicit content, so too psychogeographers decode urban space by moving through it in unexpected ways.
In honor of the 70th publication anniversary of The Catcher in the Rye, I was planning to write the definitive essay on the novel’s place in the canon, but then I remembered that no discourse in the world bores me as much as Books You Read in High School Discourse and I decided to write about clothes instead. Because while you won’t trick me into a discussion of the literary merits of The Catcher in the Rye, I will absolutely die on the hill of its sartorial merits.
Across Africa, literary journals managed by young writers and artists are emerging with the aim of publishing both new and established voices, collaborating across geographies and using the internet and social media to reach their audiences. They are building on predecessors such as Transition, which shaped post-independence Africa, as well as Chimurenga, Kwani, Jalada, Brittle Paper and The Johannesburg Review of Books, which introduced powerful African storytellers to the global stage in the past two decades.
“The 22 Murders of Madison May” begins with the intimate perspective of Madison “Maddie” May, a junior real estate agent about to show a dump of a house to a lone male client. Her somewhat sad and depressive life is rendered with fine touches, the decrepitude of the home standing in for her current condition. We get the sense that her life has gone down a wrong track.
With the arrival of the client — the creepily open and earnest young Clayton Hors — the tone and mood shifts dramatically into one of pure menace. By the end of the chapter, we have entered what appears to be standard serial killer territory — albeit with some puzzling talk about alternate lives.
Have you seen “F9”? How about “A Quiet Place Part II”? “Black Widow”? “Zola”?
What I’m asking is whether you’ve gone back to a movie theater yet. In the past month or so, as pandemic restrictions have eased and multiplexes and art houses have edged toward full capacity, a handful of releases have done well enough at the box office to feed hopes of a return to pre-Covid normalcy. Vin Diesel, the “Fast and Furious” patriarch, declared that “cinema is back!” and who wants beef with Vin Diesel?
Henri Desgrange watched the celebrations pass by on rue du Faubourg Montmartre. Crowds renewed themselves along the blister of a road through Paris’s ninth arrondissement, on the Seine’s right bank. The editor stood, stiff. His soldier’s posture had not yet left him. When he’d held his unit’s colors, his face set for the army photographer, it had taken effort to stay as rigid as his soldiers, three decades younger than Desgrange. Anyone who knew him would say he thought nothing of the gap in their ages.
Every day thousands of people vie to outsmart one man: Will Shortz, the New York Times’s crossword editor of almost three decades.
Crossword fanatics – or “cruciverbalists”, in the parlance – must get their fix, and they prefer to get it from a man whose puzzle is considered the gold standard. Depending on a puzzler’s skill and temperament, and on the day of the week (Monday puzzles are easiest, Saturdays hardest), that puzzler may race to the finish, surging with triumphant dopamine, or shatter a coffee mug against a wall.
“You Can’t Say That,” a collection of interviews conducted by the children’s literature expert Leonard S. Marcus, offers an antidote to the censors, elevating the voices of 13 authors whose books for kids have been challenged. Marcus probes not just what made these works controversial, but also the life paths that led the writers to pursue their subjects, and how they reacted to campaigns to muzzle their work — all of which are sure to interest their young fans, as well as students of free speech.
Paging through Radtke’s book, I was again pulled in by the deserted streets and darkened rooms, and by the anonymous, sifting crowds. Ambience can go where words cannot. One can sink deep into the images of “Seek You” without realizing that one is looking at anything at all.
I was scrutinizing the statistics,
on my iPad, tracking trends,
It arrived at the height of the pandemic, in a brown envelope with no return address and too many stamps, none of which had been marked by the post office. It was addressed to me at my parents’ New York City apartment, where I haven’t lived in more than a decade. My mother used the envelope as a notepad for a few weeks, then handed it off to me in July; it was the first time I’d seen her after months of quarantine. Inside the envelope was a small, stapled book—a pamphlet, really—titled “Foodie or The Capitalist Monsoon that is Mississippi,” by a writer named Stokes Prickett. On the cover, there was a photograph of a burrito truck and a notice that read “Advance Promotional Copy: Do Not Read.” The book began with a Cide Hamete Benengeli-style introduction attributed to a Professor Sherbert Taylor. Then a fifty-five-page bildungsroman written in short sections with boldface titles. The prose reminded me a bit of Richard Brautigan.
“This is a nice little slice of what Minnesota should look like,” Sean Sherman says over his shoulder. We are passing through a fenced-in wetland—the wildest land left in Minneapolis—in its full midsummer languor. “This is all wild ginger,” he says, gesturing toward a colony of green, heart-shaped leaves covering the ground just off the well-manicured path. “It’s really strong,” he says, “so you don’t need to use a lot of it.”
I’m already starting to sweat in the humidity of what will become a scorching mid-July day, but I can still feel the cool damp clinging to the ferns unfurling beneath the oaks and tamaracks. It’s great to be back in the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. The spring wave of Covid-19 delayed the garden’s opening by almost two months, and there are reminders that things are still extremely weird outside its gate: the path is newly marked as a one-way, and all the park benches are taped off like miniature crime scenes. Yet the vegetation is teeming more or less exactly the way it teemed a century ago, before many of the native plants in this area were tilled over into the undulating fairways of the big golf course next door—not too long after the state violently exiled the Native Dakota inhabitants to reservations out on the plains. The Wildflower Garden is named for the white schoolteacher and amateur botanist who preserved this refuge back in 1907, ensuring that a pocket of aboriginal plants remained to welcome back the occasional surviving Native—like the guy a couple steps ahead of me.
But what makes “Nightbitch” stand apart from the usual early motherhood stories, teeth and all, is that Yoder doesn’t focus on how hard being a new mom is, nor does she romanticize the experience. Instead, by blending the real and the surreal, Yoder shows a woman following her primal instincts and becoming her own person — or dog, I should say — outside of cultural norms. And in doing so, she finds freedom.
Lead in the belly, copper
& nickel skin in abundance
each year. Ten billion bullets
But Sudeikis tries to listen to the universe, even in unlikely circumstances, and for whatever reason the character stuck around in his head. So, in time, Sudeikis developed and pitched a series with the same setup—Ted, in England, far from his family, a stranger in a strange land learning a strange game—that Apple eventually bought. But when we next saw Ted Lasso, he had changed. He wasn't loud or obnoxious anymore; he was simply…human. He was a man in the midst of a divorce who missed his son in America. The new version of Ted Lasso was still funny, but now in an earned kind of way, where the jokes he told and the jokes made at his expense spoke to the quality of the man. He had become an encourager, someone who thrills to the talents and dreams of others. He was still ignorant at times, but now he was curious too.
With a lot of overlap, it’s hard to say what’s comical and what’s in earnest — but there’s enough of both to keep a reader happily engaged, and, because the author has lived in Namibia, there are plenty of probably true facts to savor about the landscape and quirks of language and expat behavior. That is to say, here’s the disclaimer the novel should have come with: Don’t take this book too seriously, and it will entertain you, seriously.
On the surface, it’s a tight and terse mystery with a decisive protagonist. But it’s also a piercing commentary on mother-daughter relationships, the indignity of bureaucracy, the burdens of caregiving and the impositions of religious dogma on women. A woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy in a conservative and deeply Catholic society ends up being a key component of this story.
All novels are, in a sense, about language, but “Intimacies” presses down on how meaning is made, and how it is compromised. Kitamura takes note of what she calls the “great chasms beneath words,” chasms that “could open up without warning.”
At once a memoir, a personal essay about loneliness, an exploration of the science of solitude and its effects, and an invitation to come together in a world built to separate us, Seek You looks at isolation as a problem and investigates where it comes from, how it shapes us, and why we should battle against it.
Let me refer to myself in glorious ways:
Colors seem brighter, the sky is a shocking blue.
The histories of difference and oppression are contained in the body as contours of joy, suffering, and ultimately liberation. By life, or by death, liberation comes. The body that’s defined is defined because of what it’s not. Separate. Surprising. Abnormal. By not corresponding with the assigned expectations, the body is assigned another meaning, a meaning according to whom it belongs. Odd. Queer. Freakish. The body of the non-conformist is the body of an aberration, an elephant in the room, a monster. But the monster is not another, the monster, to somebody, is I. The monster speaks. Then that I is a monster who speaks to you.
Monks once hoped to turn lead into gold through alchemy. But consider the cauliflower instead. It takes just two genes to transform the ordinary stems, stalks and flowers of the weedy, tasteless species Brassica oleracea into a formation as marvelous as this fractal, cloudlike vegetable.
This is the true alchemy, says Christophe Godin, a senior researcher at the National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology in Lyon, France.
I put down my bags in front of Room 903 and froze as I looked at the single-use key in my hand. Fourteen days. Locked in this room. I clutched the key and started walking briskly away. Up and down and round the long silent corridors of the 9th floor. My last chance to take a walk, I told myself. But it was really to process the feeling of incarceration. I didn’t realize what a gift freedom was. Until now when I was about to lose it.
I finally mustered enough courage to open the door, pulled the bags into the room while using my foot as a door stopper, then slipped the key card into its slot on the wall. The lights came on, I shut the door, and turned around. I was in a short, narrow corridor. Bold avant-garde designs on the carpet and on the walls met my eyes. Stunned momentarily by the illogical metamorphosis from the corridor’s functional décor and my perception of severe incarceration, I quickly embraced the lusciousness of the accommodations as I pulled my suitcase behind me and turned right towards the bedroom. Atingle with anticipation.
When Alfred Hitchcock talked about creating suspense, he often used the analogy of “the bomb under the table”. He was referring to a scenario where the threat is seen by the audience and unknown to or ignored by the characters. Climate change is a bomb waiting to go off. Many people believe we are sleepwalking into tragedy, and that our response is too little, too late. In her latest book, Dreamland, Rosa Rankin-Gee explores a nightmarish scenario of rising sea levels in the UK to great effect.
Once upon a time, I decided to start answering the question “Where are you from?” with “The middle of the Pacific Ocean.” I never followed through, though I still think it’s a good answer. I have spent so much of my life bouncing back and forth between the United States and India that, for me, the concept of home is more like a stationary probability distribution — a phrase that I filched from a statistics paper once, and which is likely to make less sense to most people than “the middle of the Pacific Ocean.” After all, the latter at least counts as a place.
All of which is to say that the central themes of Kazim Ali’s Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water resonated so strongly with me that I cannot pretend to be objective about how much I loved the book. I was captured by its compelling themes of global desi homelessness and what it means to love places that are not our own — what it means when none of the places we love are our own, but we belong to them anyway.
In 12 probing essays, Savala Nolan explores her intersectionality of race, gender and body awareness with an unflinching honesty that is both revelatory and unsettling. The essays are personal and confessional but informed by an awareness of larger historical narratives rooted in American culture.
“The great poem of this century can only be written with refuse,” the narrator overhears a man say in a cafe, echoing T. S. Eliot 100 years ago. It is an increasingly pressing project, as the refuse keeps piling up, but also increasing is the need for imagination in transforming the refuse into something that will move us.
Almanacs are an anomaly in the 2021 literary landscape, a choose-your-own adventure of print culture. So much of reading, especially online, is about seeking: looking for a fact, an image, a bit of information. With almanacs, the information finds us, drawing our attention to whatever it has deemed attention-worthy that year, whether worm moons or split pea soup recipes.
Sometimes I feel like the only one of my kind, by which I’m not trying to imply that my love of the French language is unique or special. (For one thing, French isn’t exactly a little-known language.) But there are times when I can’t help wondering if this is what the last speaker of a language must feel, the loneliness that comes from knowing that there is no one to answer you in your language—or, in my case, the language I chose for myself.
Socially conscious (the #MeToo movement makes a decisive entrance into the plot) and packed with humor, ghosts and narrative turns of the screw, Lippman’s “Dream Girl” is indeed a dream of a novel for suspense lovers and fans of literary satire alike.
Gleichman and Blackett are trying to make a lot of points: about gender disparities in the workplace; about corporate responsibility; about gentrification. About insidious male toxicity and queer representation. That’s enough for several books, and some plotlines feel rushed, or like too much of a stretch.
But the novel’s witticisms and smart takes help it shine, and its empathetic commentary on grief humanizes it.
Taddeo’s prose glitters with all the dark wit and flashes of insight that readers and critics admired in Three Women, and she is especially sharp on the ways in which women perform for one another. Like Coel’s I May Destroy You, Animal is unafraid to wrestle with big questions about sexual empowerment and consent, and doesn’t pretend to have found neat answers.
At a glance, “This Is Your Mind on Plants” is a book focused on three substances with psychoactive properties: caffeine, opium and mescaline. But far beyond providing a detailed, living history for each of these three compounds, Pollan takes things a bold step further by placing himself into a narrative that often demands he consume some himself.
Ken Bernstein’S new book, Preserving Los Angeles: How Historic Places Can Transform America’s Cities, contends that protecting Los Angeles’s architectural and cultural history is vital, and he details with pride the city’s determined efforts at preservation. The city, however, was built imperfectly, in imperfect times, and thus continually stumbles as it tries to reinvent itself in fits and starts. So observes Josh Stephens in his new book, The Urban Mystique: Notes on California, Los Angeles, and Beyond, a collection of his insightful planning and development essays. History as rendered in landmarks interests him less than the human experience, which he feels defines a city.
But while we can now begin to glimpse an end to the drug war, it is much harder to envision what the drug peace will look like. How will we fold these powerful substances into our society and our lives so as to minimize their risks and use them most constructively? The blunt binaries of “Just say no” that have held sway for so long have kept us from having this conversation and from appreciating how different one illicit drug is from another.
Large, healthy salmon leaping out of crystal-clear water is the kind of imagery the major fish farming companies in Tasmania, an island state of Australia, have worked hard to convey. But the glossy business brochures claiming the highest standards of quality, safety and sustainability do not hold up to scrutiny, according to renowned Australian author Richard Flanagan, whose latest book catalogs a trail of environmental destruction and problematic practices in the industry.
The two most revealing documents in this hefty collection of unpublished letters written by the novelist Shirley Jackson were never sent. One was addressed to her mother, and the other to her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman. Both were written not long before Jackson died in her sleep in 1965, at the age of 48. A third important but technically unsent letter included in this volume wouldn’t have even required postage: Jackson wrote it to herself, possibly sometime in 1963. “One world is writing and one is not,” she observed, “and from the one which is not, it is not possible to understand the one which is.”
Dr. Montague joined the many scientists who have long studied the remarkable abilities of cuttlefish, from their camouflage to their speed when hunting. In recent years, a string of high-profile papers has reported that they are capable of surprising cognitive feats, including rejecting easy meals while holding out for better food in the future, a version of the famous marshmallow test.
Given the vast evolutionary gulf between cuttlefish and creatures like apes and crows that perform similar calculations, some scientists believe the shimmering little decapods may help us understand why these mental abilities evolve.
I add scallions that I’m growing on the sill in the kitchen. I poach a chicken thigh skin on, then fry the skin in butter. I add the crisp skin and a half sheet of seaweed at the very last minute. I put my nose to the bowl and let the steam soothe my face. I suck up a noodle. I sputter and cough. Sometimes I take a sip of salty broth, but mostly I sit with my hands cradling the bowl, feeling warm, holding hope that next time will be the time I’ll be able to ask for more.
To mimic the flavor of the more-expensive arabica, they cooked the beans with butter or margarine, as well as sugar. Robusta beans have around twice the amount of caffeine as arabica, more bitterness, and less acidity. As a result, kopi, which means “coffee” in Malay, became the regional favorite for its caffeine content, sweetness, and cheapness.
Clearly, the anthology of speeches, as an institution, is ripe for a reboot. If it is to remain — in that cruelest of adjectives — relevant, it has to make room for new voices and for “talk” that reads, in many cases, like a transcript. And it must do these things while establishing, for readers who might assume otherwise, that we still have something to draw from the traditional wellsprings of rhetoric: the Greeks, British prime ministers, American presidents. The late Brian MacArthur, a British journalist, worked assiduously for years to update Penguin’s volumes of speeches; now we also have “Voices of History,” a compelling collection by the historian Simon Sebag Montefiore.
“It is possible to long for a place you’ve never visited — to spend a lifetime nostalgic for a life you’ve never lived,” Catherine Chung writes. For Chung, that place was the famed Wudang Mountains in central China, a place that filled her childhood fantasies. To apply the first part of Chung’s idea — “a place you’ve never visited” — to how I feel about Beijing seems inaccurate. I have been to Beijing; in fact, I moved there for a year after I graduated from college and I loved saying that I lived there. But the nostalgia that Chung describes is still relevant to my relationship with Beijing — “nostalgic for a life you’ve never lived” — because I left the city.
America has a food waste problem. But I’ve rarely been clear on how that translates to how I actually treat the food in my refrigerator. Because what can you do, right? When the date says it’s done, it’s done, right?
Apparently, very wrong. Researchers have found that “expiration” dates — which rarely correspond to food actually expiring or spoiling — are mostly well-intentioned, but haphazard and confusing. Put another way, they’re not expiration dates at all. And the broader public’s misunderstanding about them is a major contributor in every single one of the factors I named above: wasted food, wasted revenue, wasted household income, and food insecurity.
While Garibaldi's military victories immortalized him, his reputation was largely built on how he handled defeat in 1849. Following the loss of Rome to the French fighting on behalf of Pope Pius IX (remember, complicated), Garibaldi refused to surrender and instead led a monthlong, 400-mile retreat to Ravenna.
In 2019, exactly "a hundred and seventy years and twenty-three days" after Garibaldi fled Rome with his pregnant wife, Anita, and 4,000 volunteer troops, English writer Tim Parks and his partner Eleonora walked the same route, yielding "The Hero's Way," part history, part travelogue.
My mother is calling at midnight again.
I’ve lost her house. I wore it under a dress. I wore it
On the subjects of climate change and extinction we don’t have the luxury of genrefication, with its thrilling rejections of social reality and its reliance on satisfyingly happy endings. All that’s written about these matters of survival, all that’s imagined and supposed — inside our dreams, outside them or in the gray areas between — demands our collective attention.
But the story you want to tell will choose its own form, in a way; it has to be the guide. You just have to listen and, hopefully, be ready.
The American anthropologist Laura Bohannan once tried to paraphrase “Hamlet” for a tribe of West African bush people. Convinced that “human nature is pretty much the same the whole world over,” Bohannan chose “Hamlet” as a reliable universal archetype. It sounds good on paper, but at practically every sentence, she found her listeners raising objections and interpolations wholly outside her frame of reference.
It’s impossible, unless you’re blind or a LeRoy Neiman collector, to confront a work by Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) without sneaking one more furtive squint at the perfection of line that flowed so fluidly from his crow quill pen. Looping, swooping arabesques, bodies sinuously elongated and twisted, never a graceless line — virtually every Broadway star from Sacha Guitry, his first, to Tommy Tune, his last, is rendered in heart-stabbingly valid likenesses halfway between design and portraiture.
In an isolated mountain valley in Montana, Catherine Raven and a wild red fox meet, take each other's measure, and gradually become friends.
This summary of Raven's nature memoir may seem to hint at a simple story. On the contrary, Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship is a multi-layered exploration of a world in which humans honor rather than dominate nature.
The bridesmaids in yellow silk harvesting pears
is when. Love set you going is why.
Few subjects spark as much book-world gossip as the blurb. Merriam Webster defines the term as “a short publicity notice (as on a book jacket),” attributing it to Gelett Burgess (1866-1951), a San Francisco poet, author, and critic. (Burgess himself described it as “a flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial.”) Sometimes banal, sometimes clever, frequently overblown, it is used by publishers to entice readers to pick up and purchase a book. Who blurbed who, and why, is of perennial interest to industry types, not to mention those books that enter the world naked and blurbless. One publicist recently expressed bewilderment on Twitter at a book that had 23 blurbs. But who’s counting?
When I first queried agents about my story collection, I heard this a lot: “These stories are good, but can you link them through a character or a town so I’ll have half a chance at selling this as a book?” Each time, I replied, “Well, the town I’m writing about is America. The character is Black folks. Isn’t that enough?” It wasn’t. One agent who replied within five minutes of me sending a query, clearly without reading my sample, said, “Editors won’t even consider story collections without an obvious link and a novel to go along with it. Let me know when you have both.”
The five-headed monster called The Publishing Industry doesn’t really want our “unlinked” story collections, people. I’m ridiculously lucky Amistad/HarperCollins is publishing mine. I’ll even go a step further: it is the industry that has made people think our beloved “unlinked” story collections are ugly and unsellable. There, I said it. Nowadays, you have to give your fiction a familiar sheen, an obvious link, so the agent, editor, and future reader will want to pick up the book, so it will sell, sell, sell. Unfortunately, no one told me this until it was too late. I was already in love . . . with a zombie, evidently—the traditional “unlinked” story collection.
The notion of seeking out high-quality fathers to sire high-quality kids isn’t new, of course. But the study from Arnqvist’s team adds a layer of complexity to our understanding of the evolutionary carrots and sticks faced by female beetles, who must juggle the immediate cost of genital wounding with the eventual benefit of producing an excellent brood.
Depending on the light, it’s either a very funny serious story or a very serious funny story. But no matter how you turn it, “The Vixen” offers an illuminating reflection on the slippery nature of truth in America, then and now.
The memoir refuses genre. Instead, it invents its own radical, striking, fragmented form, which reflects Mohabir’s efforts to mend himself. “I wanted to sit in the negative capability of my Aji’s songs; to learn them to piece my own broken self together.” His stunning original poetry flies abreast of translated Bhojpuri songs. Anti-colonial polemic enlivens prose about his quest for a place his fluid self might move within rigid lines of identity.
From a widow who’s stalked by “the feeling of loneliness, worthlessness,” to a woman living a “misdirected” life, to another who tries to hide the emptiness of her existence behind elaborate lies, to men indulging in casual, drug-fueled hookups behind closed doors, Ridgway writes about people living on various margins, their lives interlocking in the craftiest of ways. What initially looks like a collection of loosely linked short stories reveals itself to be an expertly constructed house of mirrors.
The imposition of a single time for Bombay was, from the outset, a thorny, charged issue that rankled the city’s pride and resurfaced repeatedly over a century. Bombay University was one of the arenas in which this battle unfolded. In April 1883, at a meeting of the University senate, the 40 or so attendees, including city officials, judges, and professors, debated: What time should the newly minted clock tower keep?
Forster didn’t dare usher readers further into his lovers’ future other than letting us know that they end up together. Dreaming up their material lives through the fateful years that followed would have sullied the idyllic “ever and ever” he’d suggested at the close of his book.
Enter: “Alec,” by William di Canzio, a novel that aims to both complete and complement “Maurice” by picking up Forster’s characters and thrusting them into the muck-riddled trenches of the Great War.
When I first heard about Woebot, the digital psychotherapy service, I scoffed. To me, a geriatric Gen Xer, phone therapy with Alexa sounded as impersonal and unsatisfying as phone sex with a stranger. I was similarly skeptical opening “The Very Nice Box,” a workplace satire that hinges, in part, on a millennial seeking e-counseling by app. But it turns out that the novel’s authors, Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman, are linguistic magicians, and their sparkling debut manages to expose the hollowness of well-being jargon while exploring, with tender care and precision, how we dare to move on after unspeakable loss.
While events in the past year have left some hoping for a “return to normal” in the coming months, others must continue to cope with a very different day-to-day life, including those affected by the consequential uptick of mental health crises. So how do we collectively and individually begin to confront the reality of our situation and move forward? This is perhaps the overwhelming question weighing on the protagonist of Emily Austin’s debut novel, Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead.
The true horror of “The Other Black Girl” is that there is an undeniable truth in it. Black people must choose between tolerating an office culture that wants us to change, or working to change that office culture at the expense of job security and social rejection. And Black people must reckon with the fact that while there are many Nellas in the world, there are also many Hazels: those who are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that there is no “other Black person” in the office. While many people dread being tokenized, there is a quiet horror to the idea that some people actually enjoy it. By the end of Harris’ novel, Black readers will be forced to ask this hard and singular question: Which one are you?
Spy thrillers have always had a complex relationship to history. Even the most escapist fantasies rely on familiar backgrounds like World War II or the Cold War to supply context and credibility, raise the stakes and, most important, provide the villains. Yet, being popular fictions — at least that’s the hope — spy stories naturally push against fact as well, rewriting history, whether as wish fulfillment or what-if, worst-case scenario. In “The Cover Wife,” Dan Fesperman charts a different, braver course, working his fiction seamlessly into the facts, writing his characters into the past and weaving his story into the warp of history’s nightmares. The result is a sharp, smart novel that hits fast and hard, its reverberations echoing after the last page is turned.
show me how to make fun things
or happy accidents How to open up sis
‘s dolls, see how she blinks without a life
Biologically speaking, the sperm whale belongs to the genus Physeter, to the family Physeteridae, and to that magnificent group of aquatic mammals properly called Cetacea. As a literary matter, however, it belongs, indisputably, to Herman Melville. Certain other authors of both fiction and nonfiction have achieved a feat like his, forging an alternative taxonomy whereby they become permanently associated with a particular creature. Thus it could be said that the mongoose belongs to Rudyard Kipling, the mockingbird to Harper Lee, the lobster to David Foster Wallace, the cockroach to Kafka, the spider to E. B. White, and the snake to whoever wrote Genesis.
In this sense, the snow leopard, which clearly belongs to no one, belongs to Peter Matthiessen. Matthiessen, who died in 2014, was a man of many other associations as well: novelist, travel writer, environmentalist, co-founder of The Paris Review, Zen Buddhist, undercover agent for the C.I.A. But he sealed his connection to one of nature’s most elusive animals in 1978, with the publication of “The Snow Leopard,” which first appeared in part in this magazine and went on to win two National Book Awards, one for the now defunct category of contemporary thought, one for general nonfiction. Despite the book’s title, the snow leopard is almost entirely absent from its pages, faint and fleeting as a pawprint in the snow. Matthiessen dedicates roughly as many paragraphs to it as to the yeti, and of those two mysterious alpine animals he thinks he catches a glimpse of only the imaginary one.
For all its brevity, “Second Place” deals in big ideas — the costs and rewards of dreaming, the comfort of gentle moments and the unrest of others. As in her recent trilogy, Rachel invents a cast of interpreters, each of them invested in a vision of the truth. Out of the coalition of voices, she wrests a story as messy as life, or art.
Books about an idealized American character often make for a body of elusive, exasperating speculations, delivered either on the fly or from a special-pleading pulpit of one sort or another. So there’s something appealing about reversing the polarity of such inquiries, and pursuing the fugitive American character through a series of allegedly representative books. That’s the task literary journalist Jess McHugh has set herself in Americanon, gathering a baker’s dozen of influential and top-selling books that have helped shepherd our republic through the successive trials of mass democracy, industrialism, and modernity, along with various upheavals in private and domestic life.
on a bench
Doctors do not want to deprive our patients of the chance to surprise us. But we must also ask ourselves how many deaths we are willing to prolong for the possibility of one great save.
Elmore Leonard, wherever you are, you’ve got competition. With his third novel — after “My Darkest Prayer” and last year’s “Blacktop Wasteland” — S.A. Cosby has reappeared as one of the most muscular, distinctive, grab-you-by-both-ears voices in American crime fiction. Leonard seemed to believe that revenge is a dish best served red hot, and with Cosby it’s practically molten. The body count in “Razorblade Tears” is higher than anything in Leonard I can remember and only a little less than Gettysburg’s. (If you prefer novels in which the violence occurs offstage and household pets help solve cases, this book may not be for you.)
“In the metaphysical streets, the profoundest forms / Go with the walker subtly walking there.” This is Stevens in canto XI of “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven.” Walking in this long poem is a vehicle for meditation and a trope for the writing of poetry. The figure works the other way around too: writing poetry is like walking in a city. In the case of New Haven, as Stevens said in a letter, a walk brings you into contact not with “grim reality but plain reality,” “plain” meaning daily and ordinary, physical and visible, apparent. The world as it is.
Belle Da Costa Greene is not front and center of the Morgan Library's story now. But she will be much more visible when The Morgan celebrates its centennial as a public institution in 2024. Which is fitting, as it was she who persuaded Jack Morgan to donate his father's astonishing library to the city. It's a gift that honors J.P. Morgan, his descendants — and the personal librarian who was critical to the Morgan's success.
For much of the 20th century The Man with the Golden Helmet was esteemed one of Rembrandt’s greatest paintings. The brilliant play of light on the gilded helmet, the subject’s shadowed face and pensive, down-turned eyes, and the secondary glint off the metal of the gorget seemed to most viewers a bravura display of the master’s technique. But by the 1960s some scholars had begun to question whether Rembrandt had in fact painted it; and two decades later, after extensive analysis, a scholarly consensus arose that it had probably been done by one of Rembrandt’s students.
What are we to make of this? Is the painting still a masterpiece? Did we set too high a value on it when we mistakenly thought it a Rembrandt? It is still the same picture: do we get less pleasure from it now that we strongly suspect it to be by a lesser hand? Why did we love it in the first place: because it was a brilliant artistic achievement, or because (as we thought at the time) it was by Rembrandt? These questions have no simple answers. They are all related to the intractable problem of taste.
In Ohio, on a clear Saturday morning in May, I load the getaway car and drive east toward a writing workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. Car Talk and Brené Brown fill my head as the miles accumulate between my home and body.
Since having a child, my husband and I have each stolen solo writing time. Reprieve from the dance marathon of parenthood helps us survive. This is normal, this is important, this is okay. Still, as I leave for a whole week, the word abandon skulks in. Other words too, phrases and protests like: unfair gender pressure! and self-care is acceptable! Driving east toward the serene and blessed woods feels like getting away with a crime.
Most adults, happy even to be permitted their hash browns, tend to acknowledge such peculiarities with a bemused smile or a shrug of the shoulders. But for Arika Okrent, genial perplexity isn’t a good enough response. Although we may not discern linguistic oddities until they’re baked into everyday usage, it is still possible to understand how they came into being. “All languages have their infelicities and awkward bits,” she declares, “but English has its own special kind of weirdness.” In “Highly Irregular,” her mission is to explain some of its more conspicuous kinks.
But even before then I was deeply familiar with the genre; its many conventions have become baked into the everyday language of the Hong Kong I grew up in. My relatives all played Mahjong and much like with sports, discussions around these games borrowed heavily from the language of sparring martial artists. I’d ask at the end of every Sunday, what are the results of the battles. When asking for a family recipe, someone would joke that they’d have to become the apprentice of this or that auntie. Later, there was the world of study guides and crib sheets, all calling themselves secret martial arts manuals. The conventions around martial artists going into seclusion to perfect their craft and going mad in the pursuit of it take on new meaning as slang around cramming for exams.
Which is all to say, I really love wuxia.
The first time I felt God, I was squashed into a Pacific University dorm room. It was a party thrown by a few upperclassmen, thick with the cool kids who weren’t concerned about feeling fresh for the next day’s 9 a.m. craft talk and the faculty advisors who weren’t concerned about being caught cozying up to student poets. The counter was a potluck of liquor, almost-empty bottles of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and Kraken Rum. I found myself on a couch throwing elaborate hand gestures at a guy from my workshop, trying to impart how a-may-zing his essay was, as he shouted the same compliments right back in a terse debate of adoration. I was a week into my first residency as an MFA student, and I felt as if I’d lived more in this calendar blip than I had in the better part of a decade.
First, we need to distinguish between what makes for a fine essay and what makes for a good model. The status of “Politics and the English Language” as one of the most frequently assigned essays in beginning composition classes has generated an unfortunate halo effect, whereby we teachers fail to admit how poorly it serves the needs of our beginning and remedial writing students. This is not Orwell’s fault: he did not write his essay for first-year college students. Rather, he published it in Horizon, the leading intellectual journal in London during the 1940s. He originally intended the essay to serve as a guide for fellow journalists and readers of literary magazines devoted to serious political matters. As editor of the London Observer, his friend David Astor made the essay required reading for the paper’s staff writers.
Perhaps that explains why so many journalists, professional writers, and lovers of the English language (including many English professors!) cherish this essay. Perhaps it also explains why my own teaching experience with it has been disappointing. I have found that Orwell’s advice in this essay can actually undermine, rather than nurture, the developing literary skills of beginners.
It’s torture to me—no, really: torture, and I’d sooner undergo considerable physical pain rather than having to endure this psychic one. To what do I refer? Why, reading contemporary fiction, of course. For this, the last of my essays on reading for Lit Hub I’d like to discuss reading as a writer. I am a writer—and I do read; but whether or not you know my work, or feel it lends any weight to my opinions is probably less important than those opinions themselves.
Many years and one experimental fiction class at a liberal arts college later, and I have the language to explain why Lemony Snicket’s stories held such power over me. The series was, when you really think about it, a child’s introduction to metafiction, a word which here means a story in which the author intentionally shows their hand, tips their hat, and alludes to the artificiality of a work by parodying or diverging from traditional narrative conventions.
Rose has never practiced as a psychoanalyst, but her way of drawing the reader along, of thinking aloud and in many directions, feels like something out of a clinical session. Her real power, what makes her necessary as well as unique, may be how she teaches readers to ask probing questions on their own. The question “What do we not want to know about the past?” has no single or definitive answer, and no book can resolve it. But we must keep asking the question.
Schwarzlose, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis, writes with the zeal of an enthusiastic teacher yearning to share her passion with her students. For the most part she succeeds. Her prose is lively. She jettisons scientific jargon.
In public, I often feel as if I’m performing my disability: People see the cane, the ultimate signifier of blindness, and expect me to be blind — which I am, only not in the way they expect. The cane and the word “blind” each suggest a total absence of sight, but then people see me make eye contact with them or read a street sign, and I can feel them (sometimes, in the most painful cases, even hear them) wonder why I’m faking it. I’m actually relieved when I inadvertently do something “authentically” blind, like touching my cane to an obstacle I had no idea was there. Having a disability in public can make you feel like a celebrity: People look, and look away, then look again. I feel like a method actor, immersively training for the role of a lifetime: a blind star. But how should a blind person act? What does real blindness look like?
As I watched the show, I became fascinated by what made Mattfeld look blind, even when she was standing perfectly still. I’d spent plenty of time around actual blind people — many of whom were in fact professional blind people, workers in the blindness industry, whose jobs it was to help the newly blind figure out how to do things like find the bus stop and cook dinner without sight. But now I wanted to understand what someone who acts blind professionally looks like — to observe up close how a convincing performance of blindness is constructed. So I flew to Toronto, to visit the set of “In the Dark” during its second season, to see for myself how it is done.
“I’ll be frank—there were times working on this book when I definitely felt like I was just diving into the water in the dark,” admits novelist Carolina De Robertis. She’s seated in front of a wall of books—“just a fraction, of course, of the books in the house”—in the home she shares with her wife and their two school-age children in Oakland, Calif., for a Zoom call. “At times, the only way I could continue to work on the book and really give it my best as a writer was to secretly call it the Weird Book…. Yes, just put a neon sign over the metaphorical door, it’s weird.”
There’s something to be said for the Blockbuster video store of my youth. It was what we had in the suburbs, and it suited the way my mind worked. I liked encountering movies as physical objects dispersed throughout a large room, arranged down walls (where the new releases went) and along shelves (where the older stuff tarried). I suspect the image of walking through such a room will one day amuse my children, four and two.
Still, I miss browsing those chunky, foxed VHS cases and, I suppose, their leaner DVD heirs. You could wander and let your eyes fall where they fell. The supply of any given video was finite, which meant you sometimes had to figure out a Plan B. You had to swivel, double back, hunker down, tilt your head. You could be aimless in a Wordsworthian way. You could meander. This aisle, maybe, or that one. Couples paralyzed by indecision stood around like Vladimirs and Estragons.
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?