Displaying articles for: June 2010

A General Resigns

L’affaire McChrystal speaks to us in many ringing registers. On the political frequency, it was a career-ending move because it challenged our inviolate national conviction that the military must always be under civilian control. On the level of discourse, it’s part of a long and ironic tradition of private griping about one’s superiors. Both of those narratives are persistent themes in literature and cinema, and here at Reading the Headlines we’d like to direct your attention to this small militia of summer-reading relevancy.

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Riding the Waves

Reflecting upon the thousands who "came to shake hands & let me know that they were on deck & all was well," Mark Twain figured that the American leg of his 1895-96 international lecture tour paid "a compliment worth being in debt for." But the whistle-stop month had left him with the recurring dream of standing before a packed audience in his shirttail, and the weeks aboard a mail steamer to Australia brought welcome relief. Read more...

Eddie Signwriter

Adam Schwartzman's travels from South Africa to Turkey, by way of England make the perfect springboard for his debut novel, Eddie Signwriter.

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"Mark Twain Tonight!"

In 1895, faced with the "imperious moral necessity" of repaying his debts, Mark Twain used the same habit of over-enthusiasm which got him into financial trouble to get him out. When the impresario James Pond suggested a North American lecture series, Twain added the idea of a year-long world tour, with a book to follow. Read more...

Al & Tipper Split

In the ooze and tangle of grand news like gushing oil and the precarious state of the European piggy bank, the story of Al and Tipper Gore’s separation has captured us with a surprising grip. What appears to be the end of a four-decade marriage, which to all public inspection appeared healthy—refusing to be rendered inert by depression or defeat—has elicited an extraordinary amount of attention and analysis.

But most of the commentary strikes me as merely amplified politics, speculative psychology, or shallow public reflection on private woes. Here at Reading The Headlines, we believe that cultural moments like this are a chance to crack the surface a bit, and discover (or re-discover) some terrific books that deal with the subject at hand from a variety of vantages.

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Believing in Miracles

Mark Twain had a streak of riverboat gambler, a belief that he could find, spot, or invent a winner. This was often harmless. But Twain lost his shirt on the Paige Compositor, a "mechanical miracle" which seldom worked. The only surviving model of the typesetting machine now sits in the basement of Hartford's Mark Twain House & Museum, the assembly of its 18,000 moving parts so complicated that it can't be moved. Read more...

Hack the Planet

Brian Aldiss's recipe for a good science fiction tale—"Hubris clobbered by Nemesis"—has found its ultimate expression in this riveting non-fiction saga.

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1890-1894: Trying to Stay Afloat

Beset by troubles, Mark Twain left for Europe in the summer of 1891, taking with him his two surest literary assets -- Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Read more...

Sensory Overload

"Your sensitivity to ethyl mercaptan is so extreme that you could smell it if three drops of the compound were placed into the water of an Olympic-sized swimming pool."

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April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.