A note in Barbara Pym's diary instructs: "Read some of Jane Austen's last chapters and find out how she manages all the loose ends." Next entry, a fairly typical one: "The Riviera Cafe, St. Austell is decorated in shades of chocolate brown. Very tasteless, as are the cakes." This was written in 1952. She was 38, had published two novels, Some Tame Gazelle and the resplendent Excellent Women, and was at work on the next. It had taken 15 years of dutiful revising and circulating it around for Some Tame Gazelle to find a publisher. During the rewrites she had tried to heed her agent's advice to "be more wicked, [...]
Recently I went to Carnegie Hall for, I believe, the second time in my life, to see Gabriel Kahane and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra perform Gabriel's "Guide to the 48 States." I went to college with Gabriel, where our closest contact was probably when I was an assistant stage manager on a musical he co-wrote. Since then he's established himself as a songwriter, singer and composer, one of the polymath hopes of classical music. The New York Times Magazine called him “a one-man cultural Cuisinart.” He's composed concert music for himself, string quartets, and orchestras; he wrote the music and lyrics for a musical at the Public Theater; he first attracted [...]
"Beauty is a responsibility like anything else, beautiful women have special lives like prime ministers but I don't want that."
The writer and painter Leonora Carrington was 33 and a very beautiful woman when she wrote that line in The Hearing Trumpet, a book that is, among many other topics—alchemy, the Holy Grail, the perversities of nuns, the difficulties of getting goats and wolves to live together—also about being very, very old. This was in 1950; her best friend was a Spanish painter named Remedios Varo.
In the book, Carrington appears under the alias Marian Leatherby, who is 92 and has a beard. She has no [...]
The British documentary 56 Up, the latest installment of the renowned 50-year-long Up Series, had its stateside theatrical premiere earlier this year. The Up Series has followed the lives of the same 14 Britons since 1964, revisiting them every seven years. This "remarkable" and "ever-evolving masterpiece" has a fervid and growing international following, and the past several installments that PBS aired after U.S. theatrical runs garnered viewerships in the millions. Every new Up installment is not just a window into the subjects' worlds, but a powerful, ruminative event, forcing us to reflect on the passage of time in our own lives in a way that no single film [...]
In the 1950s, a DJ named Jean Shepherd hosted a late-night radio show on New York's WOR that was unlike any before or since. On these broadcasts, he delivered dense, cerebral monologues, sprinkled with pop-culture tidbits and vivid stretches of expert storytelling. "There is no question that we are a tiny, tiny, tiny embattled minority here," he assured his audience in a typical diatribe. "Hardly anyone is listening to mankind in all of its silliness, all of its idiocy, all of its trivia, all of its wonder, all of its glory, all of its poor, sad, pitching us into the dark sea of oblivion." Shepherd's approach was summed up by [...]
We Must Build An Enormous McWorld In Times Square, A Xanadu Representing A McDonald's From Every Nation
The first time I wrote a letter to the president of McDonald's it was about breakfast. I'm not a huge fan of most of the lunch and dinner options at McDonald's but I love Sausage Egg & Cheese McMuffins and I love hash browns. I have gone into that McDonald's in Union Square right around when they close down breakfast and put in low-ball bids on the whole remaining hash brown rack. "What do you got left hash browns-wise? Ten? Twelve? I'll give you five bucks for the lot." It's a great hangover remedy. Giant Coke, tons of ice, bag of hash browns. Why can't they [...]
The best time to get involved in a conspiracy theory is in media res. A really good conspiracy needs years to pile up the evil plans and secret knowledge into a baroque edifice worth caring about. At its beginning, it's just a bunch of people with some sinister ideas, and where's the fun in that?
So I think I got really enthusiastic about "The X-Files" and its ongoing storyline of a human-alien conspiracy precisely because I came into it in the middle. I had seen an episode or two of the first few seasons, enough to get the general gist of the show; but it was only after I moved [...]
Stephen Rodrick, a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, of late best known for the single best story on Lindsay Lohan ever, has a new book out today called The Magical Stranger: A Son’s Journey Into His Father’s Life. His father, Commander Peter Rodrick, died in 1979 when his Prowler crashed into the ocean. The book traces the aftermath of his father’s death for his young family, and its ripple effects in Rodrick’s adult life—but is also a book documenting military life today. It's also really good, particularly in the way it calibrates the telling of such an openly emotional story. It’s not easy [...]
Canudos, the holy city. From the hills it had looked like a mirage. Fifty-two hundred mud huts and a handful of white-washed churches spread along a bend in the Vasa-Barris, where a few years before there had been only a ruined farmhouse and an old well. The walls of the houses were the same shade as the parched earth on which they stood, so you could barely see the town until you were already in it. For the last ten months of the city's life, it been bombarded by a full division of the Brazilian Army. Thousands of its defenders—the half-cowboy, half-bandit jagunços—were dead. They had been shelled by artillery [...]
As you may have heard, sex doesn't burn nearly as many calories as you might have been led to believe. But this is far from the only finding in obesity research that wilts under intense scrutiny, as the rest of this paper in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed. Each piece of received wisdom about weight-loss and dieting the study took on (eat fruits and vegetables! eat breakfast! etc.)—was found wanting. Conclusions: "False and scientifically unsupported beliefs about obesity are pervasive in both scientific literature and the popular press." What we think of as hard science can, it turns out, be pretty soft.
One example as [...]
If you haven't heard of Sigurður Hjartarson by name, you've probably heard of his penis… museum. Hjartarson and his son Hjörtur Sigurðsson own and manage The Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik, which has the world's largest collection of penises and related artifacts (283 and counting!). This winter I finally got the chance to visit, along with my good friend Mara. My first surprise was how sleek and modern it looked from the outside: large frosted windows with "The Icelandic Phallological Museum" printed in neat type in various languages, almost in the style of commemorative glass plaques. From a distance, one might mistake the building for an art gallery or office [...]
Mary Toft was 23 when she gave birth to her first rabbit. Other rabbits—six, seven, eight of them—followed. It was 1726. Toft lived in Godalming, a small rural town in Surrey; news of the births skipped its way to London, and the king's anatomist was dispatched to investigate. He was unimpressed with Mary, describing her as "of a very stupid and sullen Temper." Nevertheless, after witnessing a rabbit birth himself—the 15th!—he returned to London convinced of the extraordinary, preternatural nature of the births. (And why not, amazing things happen to stupid country people all the time: they're sold magic beans, they haul talking fish out of the water, they give [...]
On the TV in the corner of the Village Café, a roadside bar here, President Obama was in the midst of his second inaugural address, but Trish wanted to show off her penis cup. The cup is really a mug with a plastic penis standing erect on the inside. It was a gift to Trish, the daytime bartender, from a patron.
"When I drink from it, my nose touches the tip," Trish said. "And it's great."
I had arrived at the Village Café at the end of a reporting trip. Hungry for a place to watch the inauguration—an event I take seriously and look forward to—with other people, I [...]
The dystopian author Mike Davis once wrote that San Diego—the city where I live, 100 condo-packed miles south of Los Angeles—is "arguably the nation's capital of white collar crime." In fact, Davis devoted a book to the claim, Under the Perfect Sun, whose thesis underscores the old adage that "San Diego is a sunny place where lots of shady people go." Davis describes a history of graft and deception in which the city's business monopolists mingled with landowners and indentured politicians to create a Petri dish for "dynamic, even visionary, self-interest." Though such revelations have been reported on for decades, this view of the city's seedy past is a narrative [...]
I congratulate you, my dear Cornelia, on having acquired the valuable art of writing. How delightful to be enabled by it to converse with an absent friend, as if present! —Thomas Jefferson
She hesitated, and then, impulsively, "I wonder if it would be too much to ask you for your autograph?"
Ralph then attached the Telautograph to his Telephot while the girl did the same. When both instruments were connected he signed his name and he saw his signature appear simultaneously on the machine in Switzerland. —Hugo Gernsback, Ralph 124C 41+ (1911)
On February 27th, Toni Morrison took part in an [...]
Not long ago, MTV made an unusual appeal: It asked for help finding information about one of its own shows. The show was "Buzzkill," a hidden-camera program that ran in 1996. The plea came from MTV's Guy Code blog:If you try to find old clips online, they're nonexistent. Seems impossible, right? The web is where you can find the most obscure remnants of every era, the most disturbing videos the human mind can conjure. And yet it has seemingly been scrubbed clean of all "Buzzkill" details…. Internet, we need your help. We must uncover the truth of "Buzzkill." Send us your tips and clues. Better yet, if you [...]
In 1816, a young doctor named John Polidori was offered the position as traveling physician to George Gordon, Lord Byron. Polidori was saturnine, caustic, ambitious, well-educated and handsome. He had graduated from medical school at 19 (as unusual then as now) and this offer came not a year later. Over the objections of his family, he accepted. Polidori had literary ambitions; here was an amazingly famous poet asking him to join him on a tour of the Continent. It must have felt like fate was tugging him along. In confirmation of how well things were going, a publisher offered him 500 pounds to keep a diary of his travels with [...]
While interviewing author George Saunders last week on the release of the audiobook of his new story collection, Tenth of December, my Skype connection cut out maybe four times. Such a miserable and embarrassing development on so many levels—maybe the worst being that Saunders is one of the best talkers I've ever met, and in the middle of this incredible riff his voice would just float and burble off, culminating in that awful, plopping Skype disconnection sound. Indescribable, like getting a long letter from Oscar Wilde and someone sets fire to it as you're reading, or you've just been poured a delectable glass of Château d'Yquem and suddenly there [...]
Can you go to college on your computer? Some say yes, and others respond with a resounding no. But one thing is for sure: there is a boatload of public money to be vacuumed off an overcrowded, underfunded educational establishment desperate for at least the appearance of a quick fix.
Enter Udacity, the foremost provider of Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. Does what's above look like college to you? Or rather, is this how college should look now?
They've been described as "a relentless force that will not be denied," revolutionary, "the single most important experiment in higher education." Also MOOCs are getting a drubbing from [...]
My leftist friends are mainly baffled by how much I like Andrew Sullivan. His blog, the Daily Dish, presents a libertarian-inflected center-right political stance. He supported the Iraq War; he is gay and a practicing Catholic. As Ken Layne recently remarked here, Andrew is "by any rational assessment, a demographic of one—a conservative liberal gay Republican Obama loyalist and Irish-English Oxford man who sought and secured permanent U.S. residency."
But the Dish is intelligent, rational, mannerly, and welcoming, in stark contrast to the common run of right-wing blogs. Here is a conservative who accepts me and my views freely, however much they may diverge from his. It was [...]