Displaying articles for: November 2009

As Opposed to the Mall

One of the pleasures of a four-day weekend is the prospect of digging into the sort of reading that can't be sandwiched into the end of a working day. Thanksgiving itself, for many people, is given over to the communal pleasures of cooking and eating a monumental meal, but there's Friday and Saturday, and not everyone is going shopping. Somewhere in there, some of us are thinking about settling down with those long books one wants to just sink into. Read more...

Common Reading, Pt. II: Grin and Bear It

What children's book character do Noam Chomsky, Newt Gingrich, and Hugh Hefner share an affection for? Readers of this blog will remember our asking that question a couple of weeks ago, when we learned that the philosopher, the politician, and the playboy had exhibited an unexpected consensus on their favorite childhood reading. Read more...

Ask the Expert

Expertise has its own special allure. Years ago, a good friend bestowed on me the gift of The French Laundry Cookbook. Now, I will probably never undertake most of its involved, precise and fascinating recipes -- the time to do so just isn't there -- but I'm mesmerized by the insight into how Thomas Keller's genius turns ingredients into high art (Adam Gopnik's recent demurrals about cookbooks aside). I could say the same thing about the fascinating detail a writer like William Langesweiche gives into the work of keeping a plane aloft: I'd never try to reproduce it, but the sliver of illumination into the pilot's work is one of the most delightful reading experiences.

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A Good Book Wasn't Hard to Find

Last night, at the 60th National Book Awards Ceremony and Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City, the winner of the Best of the National Book Awards Fiction -- chosen by the more than 10,000 readers who voted on the National Book Foundation's website -- was announced: The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor. Read more...

News that Stays News

This has been a terrific year for collections of short fiction, as one of our contributors reminded me last evening: The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis; Wells Towers's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned; James Lasdun's It's Beginning to Hurt; Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness; Kazuo Ishiguro's Nocturnes; Ha Jin's forthcoming A Good Fall; John Updike's valedictory My Father's Tears (and the first complete issue of my own favorite sequence in that author's work, The Maples Stories). But the most notable volume of recently published short fiction on my shelf at the moment collects works more than a century old. Read more...

Patrimony

A copy of Ben Yagoda's fascinating Memoir: A History -- no, it's not the story of author's life, but a rich and thought-provoking study of the history of that curious genre -- landed on the desk today. I haven't had time to fully take in its many pleasures, but leafing through I was very happy to see the attention the author gives to one of my personal favorites -- Edmund Gosse's melancholy masterpiece Father and Son.

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The Wall Came Tumbling Down

To commemorate the take-down of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, 1000 symbolic dominoes were toppled along the Wall’s route on Monday. It’s an appropriate metaphor. The staccato tumble recognizes the complex interplay of influences that tipped one-upon-another to create the final flattening. Here are five books and one movie that shed some retrospective light, through two decades, on a cleaved city and the Wall itself. All of them reach beyond its brute symbolism to chronicle -- imaginatively, memoiristically, and historically -- deeper truths.

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Common Reading

It sounds like a bad joke, except the punchline is really funny. A politician, a playboy, and a philosopher walk into a bookstore, and are asked to pick the book they remember most warmly from their childhoods. If you ask me, there is no better evidence of the shared culture of books than the fact that when Newt Gingrich, Hugh Hefner, and Noam Chomsky were asked the question by the Little Auction That Could (more on that below), they expressed a fondness for the same characters and the same imaginative world. Read more...

The Manly Art of List-Making

They probably saw it coming: Publishers Weekly is catching some flak for its list of the 10 best books of 2009, all of which were written by men. "We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration," explains the magazine's reviews director, Louisa Ermelino, introducing the list, which includes Blake Bailey's Cheever: A Life, Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply and Neil Sheehan's A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, among other man-made works. The magazine deliberately ignored gender, she writes, but allows, "It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male."

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Hell Mouth at Earbox

The composer John Adams, who proved himself a deft writer in his autobiography, Hallelujah Junction, published last year and out in paperback in a couple of weeks, has found a new home for his prose in the Hellmouth blog at his site, earbox.com. Read more...

Cortext-ual Contention

Fascinating post last week on Jonah Lehrer's blog, The Frontal Cortex, inspired by Marco Roth's n+1 essay, "The Rise of the Neuronovel." Lehrer takes issue with Roth's thesis that "neurological" novelists -- e. g., the Ian McEwan of Saturday and the Richard Powers of The Echo Maker -- have ceded their ground (and their idea of character) to science. Read more...

Children of the Gods

The Internet once again solves a problem you didn't know you had -- tracing the tangled family relationships among the gods and goddesses of Greek myth. With this handy chart from ludios.org one can not only retrace the lines of parentage among those very busy deities, demigods, monsters and heroes, but connect back to the Wikipedia page for the mythical personage in question (which in turn leads to more delightful connections: If you've ever wondered where the three-headed hell-hound Cerebrus came from, click on the link for Typhon.) Read more...

July 22: On this day in 1941, on his twelfth wedding anniversary, Eugene O'Neill presented the just-finished manuscript of Long Day's Journey into Night to his wife, Carlotta.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.

Landline

What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.