Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire

Men and women suffer from grandiosity in different ways. Men tend toward fantasies of omnipotence, women of uniqueness, Judith Thurman posited in a 2002 essay on Catherine Millet. This latter claim -- that womanhood is somehow allied with the pursuit of singularity -- lies at the center of Thurman's new essay collection, Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire, an insightful composite of two decades worth of her writings for the New Yorker. Impressive in their range yet grounded in a common sensibility, the essays of Cleopatra's Nose, taken together, represent a cultural history of extravagance at the turn of the millennium, from its fashion icons (Balenciaga, Armani) to its fads (artisanal tofu, exercise bulimia). The collection occasionally loses sight of its overarching conceit, proving stronger when it remains in the world of couture than when it ventures into literary criticism, but these conceptual detours rarely detract from Thurman's authority as an arbiter of culture. She has a knack for describing textures -- those of both fabrics and lives --in a way that captures the longing, and indeed the variousness, of our collective desires.-

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.