Ffortsa reads 2007

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Ffortsa reads 2007

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lokakuu 28, 2011, 9:22 am

Having finished 2006 at last, I thought I'd set up separate threads for each year I read. I started immediately with January 2007 last night, but was too sleepy to remember much! Comments to come.

And my first observation is that I am, for the first time in many years, less than 5 full years behind in my collection.

lokakuu 31, 2011, 9:20 am

Although I am officially only a month and a half behind now, this is because I've moved twice in recent years and scrapped the backlog. You are a brave and noble person to be taking on 250 issues.

lokakuu 31, 2011, 9:53 am

Or else an idiot. Maybe something horrible will happen to my storage locker and all the stuff I'm saving will be lost. Except for my mother's china, I hope.

marraskuu 1, 2011, 8:23 pm

Or you can just misplace them one at a time the way I do...... I will be interested to follow this adventure. What amazes me is how much I remember when reminded!

marraskuu 3, 2011, 10:34 pm

January 8, 2007

- An interesting piece by Milan Kundera, on the idea of a national style. Kundera is from Czechoslovakia originally, and he argues that what we normally think of as a Czech writer is not - Kafka wrote in German, for instance. He also writes of many other things, including how a work of art fits into the history of its country or language group, vs. how it fits into the history of art overall. And lots of other stuff.

Much of this essay is rather difficult for me - I might hold onto it and explore it again.

- A very interesting piece of what was available in public documents from Enron while everyone was thinking it was a great company. Malcolm Gladwell makes a persuasive case that all the dirty secrets were there in the open, if people had only asked the right questions.

- David Denby writes of the incredibly shrinking movie, considering the in-home options, portable devices, etc. pretty common to think of now.

- Hilton Als reviews 'The Coast of Utopia', bu Tom Stoppard. This review really brought back memories of the trilogy of plays, which were quite marvelous and introduced me to areas of Russian and European history that were, at best, very vague in my mind.

January 15, 2007

- A personal memoir by Shalom Auslander on struggles with his religious upbringing and what he did to both observe it and break with it.

- An essay by Katherine Boo on efforts to reform, inspire and otherwise save students in a failing school in Denver. Alas, not very optimistic, although filled with people trying their best.

- A review by Adam Kirsch of Claire Tomalin's biography of Thomas Hardy, quite fascinating.

The rest i browsed and mostly skipped.

January 22, 2007

The main feature in this issue is a profile of Amory Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which pursues low cost, effective and logical ways to reduce energy consumption. Some of the institute's solutions are so easy they can make you cry, and so blocked by alternative incentives that many of them don't get implemented. But some do: heat recovery, efficient design of new factories and other buildings. Then there are the problems created by low-bid contracting, where the eventual cost of something is not factored into the immediate cost.

I especially liked what he said at the end of the essay: "Markets are meant to be greedy, not fair. Efficient, not sufficient. They're very good at short-term allocation of scarce resources, but that's all they're good at. They were never meant to tellyou how much is enough or how to fulfill the higher purpose of a human being."

I may read this one again too.

Also in this issue, a terrific (that is, accurate as well as laudatory) review of a production of "Toys in the Attic" at the Pearl Theater Co., a repertory that Jim and I are supporting members of. The rep usually does more overtly classical plays - i.e. Shakespeare, Ibsen, Moliere, Restoration comedy, etc. Hellman is a little late for them, but it was a great production, allowing some of the players to abandon their corsets and depict an era closer to our own. Some great work, especially by a college friend of Jim's who is a founding member of the company, Robin Leslie Brown. It was a pleasure to remember it.

marraskuu 27, 2011, 3:13 pm

January 29th - an excellent article by Jerome Groupman on the perils of diagnosis. While doctors are trained to think of 'horses, not zebras', not everyone presenting at the same time has the same problem, and ignoring the alternatives because of recent experience does happen. In addition, doctors use heuristics, as we all do, to identify the most likely, the expected, based on our first impressions. Usually, this is helpful, and fast. But those problems that present in an incomplete way, or unusually, are often missed.

An example from my own family. My uncle had abdominal pain typical of gall bladder problems, which were rampant in his family. But the various tests, sonograms, etc. didn't show any blockage in the bile duct, so the doctors began thinking of more grave possibilities. He went into surgery when everyone had settled on pancreatic cancer as the most likely, but when they opened him up, they found a gall bladder, bile duct and nearby pancreatic duct filled with gall stones. How they missed it in x-ray, sonogram, etc. was and is a mystery. In this case, incomplete symptoms and evidence derailed a likely diagnosis.

Of course, the opposite is also true. A cousin had terrible pain in his leg, typical of sciatica. Doctors can't do much for sciatica, so he suffered for some years. Finally it got too horrible, and he went to another doctor, who did some tests and discovered a benign tumor in his spine that was compressing the nerves. They operated, removed the tumor (which it seems just slipped out under its own pressure when the laminectomy was done), and patched him up. So here a diagnosis was missed because everyone was content with one that was common and not especially treatable.

Groupman talks about doing an incomplete exam because of not wanting to cause a patient the additional pain of rolling over, and thus missing an abscessed bedsore. He talks about confirmation bias, common in all decision making and in politics, when you hear what confirms your thesis and somehow ignore the rest. And he talks about affective error, the tendency to make decisions on what we wish were true.

Groupman cites Tversky and Kahneman, whose work in cognitive psychology has shown how our unconscious emotions and biases kick in when we are rushed, uncertain, or otherwise pressured to make decisions. Basically, we don't know how we think, in medicine and elsewhere. And it sets us up for mistakes.

I've heard of the cognitive work before, and it has affected me at least a little. When I hear of something at work that would lead me out of my technical comfort zone, I try to put the brakes on my reactions, to consider the possibilities, to be my own devil's advocate. This has come after lots and lots of mistakes, many instances of saying no to change that was at least fit to be considered, if not inevitable. Reading that this is a general problem, not just my own defensiveness, has made me less averse to making my own corrections. At least I hope so.

marraskuu 27, 2011, 3:51 pm

Whew - that was more than I meant to say about Groupman's article. Ok. On to February 12th.

Two profiles stand out for me, one on Patricia and Paul Churchland, philosophers whose concentration on the mind/body problem have come down firmly on the side of neuroscientific explanations. They seem to have intimate access to each other's minds, whatever they may call the functions, and such a tightly knit couple is interesting to see.

The second is on Howard Rubenstein, a legendary PR specialist in NYC, whose most stellar results seem to involve damage control and advice to everyone you've ever heard of in in NY life on how to communicate what will help them, and how to deal with both friends and enemies. He has an amazing ability to be friend and advisor to both sides on almost all issues I can think of that have to do with the city. I'm not sure if that makes him neutral or just clever. But the profile discusses both the man and the history of the city, which makes it doubly captivating. I hadn't intended to read it, but before I put in this recap, I couldn't help myself.

marraskuu 27, 2011, 4:11 pm

These early 2007 articles are familiar!

I remember the one about diagnosis, which I probably read because of my own frustrating stint of non- and misdiagnosis a dozen or so years ago. Can't say I had much sympathy at the time for the doctors, who seemed mostly dismissive ("I'm the doctor. You're the patient." said one), so this was a useful perspective.

I am _horrible_ at making quick decisions under pressure. What I've learned to do, with effort, is to make decisions anyway, then set them aside for review later. Of course this can't always be done.

marraskuu 27, 2011, 4:13 pm

February 19/26 - the anniversary issue

This is a fat one, which is nice to see on the anniversary, with Eustace prominently and classically portrayed. Lots of articles, but not all of them interested me. Among those that did:

- Peter J. Boyer on Tom Monaghan, of Domino's Pizza fame, on his crusade for Catholic orthodoxy and in particular, the founding of a Catholic law school more directly adhering to the tenets of the Church than say, Notre Dame. Curiously, while the article reports that Monaghan was powerfully struck by the idea that pride is the first and greatest sin, he wants his school to have not a church but a cathedral, with a crucifix that is the tallest in the world. Hm.

- Susan Orlean on Robert J. Lang, originally a physicist, who has become a master of origami. His fascination with the mathematics of folded paper has let the art to become much more practical than might be expected, with such questions as how to fold a mesh that can be opened in the human body to protect the heart, for instance. Challenges range from solar sails, containers, and air bags to medical implants of various kinds. Amazing what can be done when someone follows a personal passion.

- Dana Goodyear on the aftermath of a $200 million grant to Poetry Magazine, and how it has created disturbances in the field of poetry.

- Mark Singer on three men who started out fishing for shark and ended up on a 9 month odyssey of drift in the Pacific.

- James B. Stewart on the problems Hewlett Packard's board created for itself when trying to shut down leaks to the media (didn't really read this one - too close to work!)

- Finally, a review by Louis Menand on "The Quote Verifier", a book that sets out to correct (often to the detriment of rhythm and satisfaction) many of the quotes that we think we are sure of. For instance, Leo Durocher didn't say 'Nice guys finish last' - he said 'The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.' Not quite as punchy, is it? Many more examples abound.

That's it for February 2007. On to March!

marraskuu 27, 2011, 4:16 pm

9: Oh, Robert Lang! There's a TED talk, I'm pretty sure, also a web site...

joulukuu 24, 2011, 10:51 pm

Oh I remember that Groupman one too. Clearly that was a standout piece.

joulukuu 25, 2011, 12:15 pm

I've let this challenge down as I was sucked in to trying to reach 75 books this year - almost, but not quite. I think I might make it by the 31st. Then back to 2007!

joulukuu 25, 2011, 8:49 pm

Completely understandable and a worthy enterprise!

tammikuu 15, 2012, 11:40 pm

I was reading 2007, but a wayward 2006 issue magically appeared.
July 31 of that year: An excellent (and by now out of date) article on Wikipedia and how it grew (and grew and grew). An article I didn't have to reread because I remembered it, on analyzing lobster population along the coast of Maine (excellent), ditto an article on Jackson Pollack, and a light review of "Little Miss Sunshine", a movie I really enjoyed.

The recent issues from 2007 haven't thrilled me much. There was an article by John McPhee on something or other, but I've already discarded the magazine and don't recall. March was pretty meh that year, or my mood is meh this one.

My sister called to point out to me the grocery store article in the January 16th, 2012 issue, and I read it a little while ago. Funny, a little snarky, and no mention at all of the store where I buy most of my food, Garden of Eden, which is right downstairs and has terrific veggies and a half-price hot table starting at 8PM which has become my and Jim's regular kitchen. Well, let that be our secret, then. One of these days I might remember how to cook.

tammikuu 17, 2012, 8:01 am

I'd think it best not to have your favorite food store mentioned in the New Yorker.

tammikuu 17, 2012, 11:18 am

I should say so!!! Kiss of death. I plan to read the Jan 9 issue tomorrow on my way home (I've been working in Florida, didn't mention it, because the combo concepts of work & Florida sounds so entirely bogus.......). I expect that Jan 16 issue is lying in wait for me at home. It does, however, feel very good not to have that NYer guilt pressing down on me! The last two days I have remembered to take a little time out to sit in the sun...... just fifteen or twenty min...... at a time. It'll be below Fahrenheit zero when I get home tomorrow night..... jeez. Luckily my car is parked deep inside the big covered garage so I won't have to deal with snow. I think there is nothing worse than getting home from a southern trip and having to shovel yr. car out of drifts.

tammikuu 17, 2012, 11:20 am

Oh, that is the worst. I park my car (extravagant though it is to have one in NYC) on the top floor of a parking garage, and once in a while I get snowed in. The garage does plow, but that just means I have a mountain to climb behind me to get to the cleared pavement. Usually, the car stays put until a thaw!

helmikuu 20, 2012, 1:22 pm

I'm about to tuck 2011 into the storage locker for aging and unearth the rest of 2007 inreturn. So far, 2007 has not been so compelling.

April 2nd had an article on Jamestown, which was fairly interesting, the thesis being that the settlers were not as clueless and dilettantish as has been generally reported. There was also an article by Jane Kramer on Pope Benedicts XVI's idea of interfaith dialogue with Islam, which dovetails nicely with my group read of The Genesis of Science, as it discusses the opinion that Benedict thinks Catholicism is rational, and Islam is not. I may read that article again, now that I've finished the Hamman book.

April 23rd contained an interesting review of Zachary Leader's the Life of Kingley Amis, a biography that is reported to show the writer, warts and all. And there are some pretty ugly warts. The review has provided all I need to know about Amis at present, and maybe forever. The issue also contains a review of "Moon for the Misbegotten", the production with Kevin Spacey and Eve Best, which was not very successful, although this reviewer (Adam Gopnick) feels the role is an excellent fit for Spacey. The problem always is that you need what Jim calls 'a moose' to play Josey, and most actresses these days are more like gazelles. Colleen Dewhurst was a magical presence long ago, a woman of weight and bone and connection to the earth. Casting this is on my mind because one of our subscription theaters is doing the play next month, and we can't imagine who they have cast as Josey. Report to come.

There must have been more to April 2007 than this, but it didn't strike me enough to report it. Onward.

helmikuu 20, 2012, 1:25 pm

I remember the Amis article -- Lucky Jim is a comic masterpiece - and some of his other early novels are also good, but they slowly decline. I'm a great fan of Martin Amis, his son.

helmikuu 28, 2012, 5:47 pm

Ah, how wrong could I have been. There was a lot more to report for April 2007 - I'd just misplaced the issues. So here goes:

April 16: Journeys

Some good, some bad essays on travel. Orhan Pamuk's short essay on his first trip to Europe (as a child) was only meh. An article on commuting by Nick Paumgarten hits the tradeoffs between length and difficulty of commuting, on the one hand, and lving in the kind of place you want, on the other. I rarely understand how people can commute 5 days a week and exhaust themselves for a bare two days of weekend, but then I'm a city girl for a long time now. I can't even get my head sufficiently around the thought of a country house without thinking of all the traveling involved.

Panaj Mishra wrote an essay about the train that was finally completed from China to Tibet, and how it is increasing the cultural and ethnic takeover of Tibet itself. Very interesting.

There's a wonderful and puzzling article by John Colapinto on the language spoken by an Amazon tribe; both the language and the tribe itself have been completely resistant to modern influence, and the language has both additions and lacks that are almost impossible for non-natives to grasp. Understanding the people who speak this language is commensurately difficult.

A long revew by Claudia Roth Pierpont of Martin Duberman's "The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein" has let me to see how essential he was to American ballet and high culture in general, and how odd a man he was.

And a review by Rebecca Mead of Leslie Bennett's "The Feminine Mistake" rehashes the arguments about the decision women make to have a career outside the home or choose to be their children's main caretaker. And here I thought it was no one else's business anymore. Hm. I do recall a cover article in the New York Times Magazine section on the same topic a few years ago. So it continues to haunt us.

April 30:

Atul Gawande's essay on geriatric medicine as a discipline is fascinating, especially as I'm only getting older myself. Geriatric care is much more holistic (in the sense of being about all of a person's life, health and environment) and much less disease-specific than the medicine we usually think of, and we as a population are getting older, of course, but the economic pressures within the medical establishment, especially the economics of Medicare reimbursement, mean that fewer and fewer practitioners are going into the specialty. Talk about cutting of our own noses!

helmikuu 28, 2012, 9:55 pm

I actually tore the article about the Yamamoto (probably spelled wrong....). Incredible isn't it? I admire their stubborness.

huhtikuu 8, 2012, 6:47 pm

Hm. May seems to have gotten away from me. I only have the May 7th issue lingering. Well, maybe the others will turn up again.

May 7: As usual, I didn't read the whole issue. I was most interested in an article by Jeffrey Toobin on 'The CSI Effect', focusing on the reality of the crime lab in New York City.

Then there was a devastating article by Dana Goodyear on Paulo Coelho, the darling of a large number of readers who read his work in translation, but not so much in his native Brazil. Goodyear is not so enamored of Coelho's 'platitudes' and self-help books. To quote one Brazilian professor and critic, "The Chelhist reader explores the familiar, breaks down doors already open, and gets mired in sentimental, tranquilizing, self-centered, conformist, and spellbinding visions of the world that imprisons him. When he finishes a book, he wants another one that will be different but absolutely the same." Brr. Goodyear's depiction of time spent with Coelho do nothing to dispute this opinion.

Hilton Als reviews Arnold Rampersad's biography of Ralph Ellison, and as usual I learned a lot about Ellison just from reading the review. And, I love the biographer's name.

On to June.

June 4: I did not reread this issue much, remembering the Gunter Grass personal essay on being a teenager in the Waffen S.s. that set off such a storm that year. The story by Jeffrey
Goldberg subtitled "The Republicans in Disarray" sounded too much like today's news.

June 11/18:

To my surprise, I read most of this issue. I was fascinated by the 'Letter from Austin' by D. T. Max on the immense and immensely rich archive of writers' papers that the University of Texas at Austin has amassed, and the man who has, for the most part, done the amassing.

A story by Junot Diaz was very Junot Diaz.

Edwidge Danticat added a personal history from her time in Haiti.

And there were a bunch of reviews of summer movies that were more like memoirs by Dave Eggers, Marisa Silver, Gary Shteyngart, Roger Angell, Jeffrey Eugenides, Charles D'Ambrosio and Miranda July.

Still ahead of my own peculiar calendar rule. I hope to be finished with 2007 before the end of the summer, while keeping one eye on the new issues.

huhtikuu 21, 2012, 1:48 pm

I've been reading slightly out of order, it seems.

May 28: An article by Adam Gopnik on Lincoln and language, specifically disagreements on where he came up with 'better angels of our nature' and whether Stanton said 'now he belongs to the angels' or 'now he belongs to the ages'. More interesting than I made it sound just now.

A profile by Alec Wilkinson about Gordon Bell, who is keeping an electronic record of his life. I have enough trouble with my current physical stuff - no way I'm going to log my every breath.

June 25: An article by Calvin Trillin about an island community in Canada and what happened when drugs and people from 'away' moved in. The target of community wrath was not a nice guy, but their response was a bit chilling.

Seymour M. Hersh wrote an essay on Antonio Taguba, who wrote on Abu Ghraib while in the army, and what happenend to him next. I haven't read the article. Just was not in the mood to revisit that episode of rotten behavior, and didn't want to add to it, I guess. But it's worth an mention here. And I may go back to it this weekend.

David Owen wrote a profile of a specialty engineering company, Arup, and the company it keeps with big name architects. A fascinating look at truly collaborative work and the wonders of out-of-the-box thinking.

July 2: John Cassidy wrote an intriguing (for those of us who have tangential relationships to the world of finance, I guess) story on hedge funds, how much they make, how much they cost, and why hedge fund managers get so rich. Eye-opening.

Margaret Talbot wrote on attempts to detect lying using fMRI imaging. Interesting, and a bit annoying, to find out that we're still chasing this certainty, the scientific answer to doubt. The show Lie to Me (not mentioned in the text) attempted to codify signals of lying, and this scientific effort attempts to find out what brain activity might reveal that would prove conclusively that a person is lying. Sigh.

Half-way through the year. It's feeling a little quixotic these days, or maybe because I set it up as a goal, I resent it more than when it was just a secret habit. But I'm interested in seeing what the rest of the year, and then 2008, sounded like as the recession and the bad behavior of the investment world hit home. It's coming.

huhtikuu 21, 2012, 6:39 pm

Found them. The two missing May editions, I mean.

May 14: The Innovators Issue
Although science articles generally interest me, I skipped the one on the particle accelerator, and I skipped the graffiti artist and the guitar builder. What I did read makes me remember why I have a hard time letting go of New Yorkers.

John Seabrook, under 'Department of Archeology' writes of the Antikythera Mechanism, an artifact from ancient Greece, found in a shipwreck, which, after many years and scholarly fighting, has been shown to be a model of the movements of the stars, moon and sun, all done with handcut gears. Fascinating for both its immediate topic and the long fight over what it might actually be.

Ken Auletta wrote a profile of Walter Mossberg, who seems to be a designer's designer, critiquing the artifacts of modern culture before they catch fire.

Steven Shapin reviewed David Edgerton's "The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900", which is not about what we call technology today, but rather about the technology all around us that we take for granted, and the uses that propelled the various technologies forward - or sometimes the technologies that followed that were not as effective. It sounds like a really interesting read.

And Hilton Als reviewed 'Lovemusik', a stage musical Jim and I saw on the lives and marriage of Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weill. It was nice to revisit the event.

AND, this issue has a three-part cover by Bruce McCall called 'The Ascent of Man', which follows the climb from ape to man to modern man - to a fall from the top of the escalator. Clever, and they sold some prime ad space on the reverse.

May 21: An article by Jeffrey Goldberg on Woodward and Tenet, under Letter From Washington. an article by Jill Lepore on the origins and history of The Game of Life.

Connie Bruck wrote a rather absorbing and not very admiring profile of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, someone I didn't know much about, and who, according to the piece, is a cut-throat politician who leaves his friends in the dust.

Peter Hessler wrote of The Great Wall of China and one if its most passionate scholars, David Spindler, who hikes the wall compulsively. A fascinating history and corrective to legend.

And Peter Schjeldahl reviewed an Edward Hopper exhibit and Hopper's work itself, calling him a 'visual bard of ordinary life' for whom composition was everything. I'm sorry to have missed the show, which was in Boston.

And that finishes May.

toukokuu 12, 2012, 7:39 am

I just read a recent story by Diaz about which I could have said the same exact thing...... I think I just said ho hum.

kesäkuu 10, 2012, 8:14 pm

Oh, I've gotten way behind on my thread here. The New Yorkers tend to be the last things I read at night, and I have been reading diligently, but not mentioning any of it, maybe because the summer didn't feel very interesting. So here is a summary:

July 9 & 16: Alex Ross wrote a beautiful essay on Sibelius, whose music I love. I had no idea how much he struggled with creating music as he got more famous and older – and who knows which was the greater influence? Quite sad, really.

Ian Frazier wrote about the oddity of a meteorite that hit in New Jersey, which was later proven not to be a meteorite, but perhaps some space junk – our own detritus hitting home.

Louis Menand reviewed Brian Caplan’s “The Myth of the Rational Voter” but I don’t recall reading it, so I just mention it here for the interesting title that it might be.

July 23: Oliver Sacks wrote in his ‘Neurologist’s Notebook’ about musicophilia, which he later expanded and published as a book. I think the article was enough for me.

There’s also a review of “Mad Men”, which I’m sorry to say I never got into. The first episode made me want to throw things at the TV – after all, I caught the end of that particular treatment of women in the office, and I don’t need to relive it. But Jim loves the show, and I’m sorry not to keep pace with him. If you’re a “Mad Men” lover, you might be interested in a spot on Studio 360 this weekend on the sly symbolism of the costume director’s choices through the episodes.

July 30: Two very provocative articles in this issue.

Ian Parker writes about bonobos, and how our make-love-not-war mythology about them might not quite be true.

Tad Friend writes of Vernell Crittendon, for 16 years the spokeman for San Quentin State Prison and especially his role during the 13 executions through which he has represented the Prison to the public. It shows him as a man of great integrity and essential calm in a difficult and sad world.

August 6:

Michael Specter wrote about spam, which was theoretically interesting (first time I heard of Bayes, for instance) but ultimately discouraging. As is my inbox.

Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about the honeybee decline, an article I read in honor of my cousin who keeps bees. No conclusion to the problem.

I don’t know what happened to the August 13th issue. That might have been the one I missed because I inexplicably let my subscription lapse. Ye gods.

I've read most of August 20th but not all I wanted to read. So more for next time.

kesäkuu 10, 2012, 9:33 pm

Re space junk. I came across a rendering of all the junk we have floating around the planet now, and it's enough to make a kind of hazy shadow of stuff. We really are the end!

kesäkuu 11, 2012, 9:35 pm

Maybe it will cast enough shadow to reverse global warming!

kesäkuu 18, 2012, 10:36 pm

August 13:
This was an intense issue!

Richard Preston wrote, in ‘Annals of Medicine’, an essay titled ‘An Error In the Code’ about a syndrome called ‘Lesch-Nyhan’, in which otherwise bright, seemingly normal children repeatedly do themselves physical damage, uncontrollably and in great terror of doing it. They beg to be restrained so that they cannot bite off their fingers, for instance, and it does seem as though they are not in control of it at all, but rather terrible victims of an error of wiring somewhere in the brain. It brought to mind that Greek legend (I think it is Greek) of a man who is cursed to eat his own living flesh. The article is wonderful – there are adults who have lived their whole lives with the syndrome, swaddled against their own impulse to hurt themselves. Awful.

Tom Mueller wrote an expose of the adulteration of Italian olive oil, scandalous at best and quite frightening to me, since some of what they adulterate it with is hazelnut oil, and since I’m allergic to nuts, I assume hazelnut oil is particularly not a good idea for me. But how would I know? Italian olive oil is supposed to come only from Italian olives, but the corruption is deep and full of effrontery. Yikes.

Jane Mayer wrote an expose of ‘The Black Sites’, the C.I.A.’s locations and techniques, which we have heard so much about in the intervening years. Another frightening subject, especially as it is our own who are doing this, to Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others, breaking them in such horrible ways, mentally and physically, for questionable gains and irredeemable ‘reputational’ damage. How good we can be at making our enemies even more our enemies.

And Burkhard Bilger wrote an article on Michel Fournier, whose dream is to fall from a greater height than any other man alive, from 25 miles above the plains of Saskatchewan. Fournier couldn’t be an astronaut, so he has spent his life, his savings, everything, to parachute from the highest possible point and survive. After two articles on pain and terror, self-inflicted and inflicted by others, here is a man whose greatest delight is jumping in a pressure suit with a parachute or three, falling to earth.

August 20:

David Owen wrote a wonderful piece on the night sky, which few of us ever see in its natural state anymore because we brighten it so much ourselves. I live in one of the capitals of light pollution, and have a vivid memory of the first great east coast blackout, when the moon was full and looked enormous, and the stars, when not obliterated by that moon, were shocking. Think of our ancestors, before lights one every street corner, how amazing, how consuming these patterns must have been.

Tim Page wrote a memoir of sorts, of growing up and living a life with Asperger’s syndrome. It’s both touching and wonderfully explanatory – the awkwardness, the misunderstandings, of normal life magnified many times over and without easy remedy of natural learning. What caught my attention most was the revelation he describes when , after reading Emily Post’s {Ettiquette, he realized that the rules of polite society and behavior, the little devices of conversation, were there to make people feel comfortable. He says they were rules and explanations he could act on, that he couldn’t absorb from natural social interactions. I think I need to read that book a bit myself.

I skipped the articles on mushroom hunters and Rudy Giuliani, but did read the review of the Library of America’s publication of work by Philip K. Dick. Dick is someone Jim talks about a lot, but I’ve not read his work. I have seen several movies made from his writing, such as ‘Minority Report’ and ‘Bladerunner’. A true paranoid thinker who conjured quite believable worlds only slightly tilted from our own. The article acts as biography as well as criticism – it filled a big hole in my knowledge.

I've read up through September, but the rest will have to wait until later in the week.

kesäkuu 18, 2012, 10:47 pm

Oh, I remember the mushroom article, there were associated photos and I sent the link to a mushroom foraging friend.

kesäkuu 19, 2012, 8:41 am

I remember that Preston article - does change one's perspective one's own problems.

I think Emily's grand-daughter has written an updated book of Etiquette that, if I remember rightly, got quite good reviews and is a lively read.

kesäkuu 19, 2012, 10:00 am

oh dear. Kath, if you remember the mushroom article, I'd better read it before I toss the issue.

kesäkuu 19, 2012, 9:09 pm

August 27:
Whew. A less intense issue, for sure.

I read Alex Ross on Aaron Copland and cold war politics, but I’m not familiar enough with his music to get her references. Some other time, perhaps.

John Lahr wrote a pleasant profile on Ian McKellen, an actor I very much like to watch. Not much revelatory there.

John Seabrook wrote the article that interested me most, on the creation of a global seed bank to protect us from our own folly. If we lose the original seed stock from which hybrids were created, we might not have the basic mixtures to make newer hybrids, or find older stock that will survive whatever happens with our climate in the next twenty years. I was most interested in the idea that some seeds cannot be stored; they must be cultivated and renewed fairly regularly, a more labor-intensive and in some ways risky process. I was entranced by the idea of an icy seed vault in Svalbard, Norway, and a bit despairing of the inevitable nationalism that is preventing, at least at the time of the article, more seeds from more countries and climates to be safeguarded in international facilities. For some reason, seed banks strike a romantic chord in me.

September 3 and 10: This was the food issue, and I realize I’ve read none of it. Later.

September 17:

Medicine and fraud – two great topics.

Jerome Groupman writes about colic, that mysterious misery that some babies experience, and how little doctors know about it. It reminds me that today in the Science section of the Times I read a long cover story on medical ecology, the dawning recognition that not only are we in symbiotic relationship with millions of bacteria, viruses and fungi, but that a better understanding of what they do for us may lead to better medical management and even cure of illnesses. I find it very pertinent, as I age and things begin to go wrong in minor but annoying ways. Anyway, I like when doctors admit what they don’t know.

Mark Singer wrote the fascinating story of Joyce Hatto, a minor piano talent whose husband managed to pass off as a reclusive piano virtuouso by pirating and in some cases altering other people’s recordings. She (or he) inspired a frenzy of collecting until someone noticed how closely some of the recordings matched those of far more successful, prominent pianists and orchestras. How did they fool so many people for so long? And what is it about taste and aesthetic appreciation that allowed such flagrant fraud for so long? Quite fascinating.

David Owen’s review of a history of the card game bridge reminded me of how long it’s been since I played. The usual famous names (Buffet, Gates) are mentioned, as is the growing number of people who play on the internet – that saves a lot of marriages and friendships, I’m sure.

September 24: The Style issue

Usually an issue I almost entirely skip, but Oliver Sacks has a scary article on extreme amnesia, whereby whatever happened all of two minutes ago has already vanished from one’s mind. What impressed me most about the patient he discusses is that he doesn’t remember when last he saw his wife, but he remembers how much he loves her, and rejoices when she returns, even after 5 mintues. Painful to imagine that someone lives in that sort of eternal ‘right now’, without continuity, but wonderful that love hangs on.

heinäkuu 14, 2012, 3:50 pm

September 3 and 10 - the Food Issue. And I still haven't read much of it, but out it goes.

elokuu 2, 2012, 10:05 pm

October 1: A interview with Philip Roth was just about the only article I found to my taste in this issue. But I haven't read much Roth, so it was mainly wasted on me. Oh well.

October 8: There's a lovely article here about Elizabeth LeCompte, the director of the Wooster Group, which I am ashamed to say I've never seen. I keep hearing about their extraordinarily creative and sometimes baffling productions, but in all the years they and I have been in the city, we were never in the same theater at the same time. LeCompte sounds like a very complicated, very compelling artist. I must see her work soon.

The official 'profile' of the issue is of Kara Walker, an artist who concentrates on a sort of post-modern reframing of the black experience in the U.S. I've never seen her work, so can't speak to its power to move me. And not being black, I don't know if my reaction is valid or not, but she seems to be mesmerized by that historic experience. This elicits a wide variety of responses from the Afro-American artistic community, which is not a reason to think the work is art, but is a reason to think it's powerful, since it's not ignored.

October 15 will have to wait - I don't think I've read it, at least not as I scan the table of contents.

October 22: Two lovely articles for readers.

Adam Gopnik writes of abridgements of the classics with a deadpan that makes me shudder. After all, who really reads all thoat discursive stuff in Moby Dick? Let's get on with the story! According the Gopnik, when you see what is cut out, the missing bits make you remember why

"the book isn't just a thrilling adventure with unforgettable characters but a great book. the subtraction does not turn good work into hackwork; it turns a nysterical, half-mad masterpiece into a sound, sane book. It still has its phallic reach and point, but lacks its flaccid, anxious self-consciousness: it is all Dick and no Moby."

And as for Vanity Fair, will the author please stop offering his commentary on the action and let the reader make up his or her own mind! Please! Never mind that it's a great commentary on society and war. All we're interested in is what happens to Becky. But Gopnik says

"Meaning resides in the margins. Thackery wants to insinuate, not force, his way into the reader's confidence. Becky Sharp lives for us not just because her creator made her but because her creator couldn't leave her alone; he is always THERE, fusisng over her shoulder, commenting on her behavior, the way we do with real people who obsess us."

As he says, the real lesson of the abridgements is that real masterpieces are 'inherently a little loony...What makes writing matter is not a story, cleanly told, but a voice, however odd or ordinary, and a point of view, however strange or sentimental." To Gobnik, abridging these masterpieces is like creating castrati.

He then goes on to talk about commentary, the expansion of art, and for that he turns to the movies, and what can happen when a director's cut is compared with the commercial release, sometimes to one advantage, sometimes to the other.

Overall, Gopnik states, the abridgements and expansions remind us that "art is a business not of clear narratives but of troubled narrators."

Oh dear, if I don't stop I'll just copy the whole piece in.

And, as if that's not enough to render this issue in bronze, there's a profile by Arthur Krystal of Jacques Barzun at 100. I once copied an essay of Barzun's out by hand, because as advice to would-be writers it made so much sense to me I was afraid of losing it. Not that I because a writer. Quite the opposite, it convinced me that, at least at the time, I was more interested in being someone who 'had written', and less interested in the way words fit together. Maybe later.

October 29 still to come. It actually contains a lead article on Mitt Romney's 'inner consultant'. What timing.

syyskuu 4, 2012, 9:03 pm

October 15: Only two articles really caught my eye in this issue.

Jerome Groopman wrote about 'Silent Minds', people who were originally deemed to have no brain function, but whose residual mental activity was significant when new kinds of brain scans were used. It was both encouraging and disturbing. Imagine being one of those patients, with partial brain function, unable to communicate.

James Wood reviewed Philip Roth's "Exit Ghost", the last of the Zuckerman books, and made me want to read the series from the beginning. Some time or other.

Hm, still haven't read October 29. Sigh.

syyskuu 24, 2012, 11:15 am

FINALLY, October 29. And it was a very interesting issue.

Lyan LIzza wrote a (now) timely piece on Mitt Romney! The impression I had is that the whole management consulting thing has magnified the salesman aspect of him. After working with management consultants off and on for years, all I can say is many of them are another example of all hat and no cattle, and I feel the same way about Mitt.

Bill Buford wrote a fascinating article on chocolate - where it comes from, how it's grown, what it's like in its natural state. Did you know the pod is incredibly sweet and creamy, and all the animals love it, but the pit, the seed we value, is so bitter they spit it out - and so the plant is planted? Very interesting article on one of my favorite food groups.

Jill Lepore wrote a review of the book "What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of Americal, 1815-1848" by Daniel Walker Howe. What makes this piece very interesting is that it outlines the argument between Howe and one of his professors, Charles Sellers, whose own book "The Market Revolution" was supposed to be the next book in the series Oxford History of the United States. Sellers' book was rejected and Howe's book took its place. The main difference, as I gather from the review, is that Sellers is committed to the idea that a market economy where people sell goods at farther and farther distances is the main engine of change that he sees as tragic, a fall from Eden, whereas Howe sees the era as booming because of a revolution in communication and transportation that allowed, among other things, the market economy, which he sees as positive. The review is so interesting, I might look at the books!

Steve Martin wrote a short memoir of his start in comedy, which I found undistinguished.

Two movies were reviewed: "Gone Baby Gone" and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead". Now I want to see both of them too. Hope Nexflix has them.

On to November! I'll finish 2007 by Thanksgiving or die trying.

marraskuu 14, 2012, 10:49 pm

I've been saving up issues until I had a chance to list them here. Almost done with 2007. Whew.

Nov. 5: Two fairly interesting articles that have probably been superseded by lots of news since.

Anthony Grafton wrote of "Dreams of a universal library", surveying the attempt by Google, as well as others, to digitize books and make them available, at varying costs, on the internet. His conclusion, that physical books themselves will always be important, is not a surprise to us.

Raffi Khatchadourian wrote of Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a vigilante group that attempts to foil whalers and long-line fishermen. The episodes described are quite exciting, like piracy in reverse.

Elizabeth Kolbert reviewed "Zoom: the Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future" by Carson and Vaitheeswaran, and "Auto Mania" by McCarthy, each a history of the mis-steps, detours and downright denial in the search for a cheap and environmentally friendly energy source for the automobile. Most of us have lived through the hype of diesel, ethanol, electric cars, hydrogen cells - but we haven't yet lived through the rising middle class car lust of China, India and Brazil. Even if the U.S. succeeds in dramatically improving fuel efficiency, the millions upon millions of people who do not yet have cars, but will in the near future, will choke our air and darken our skies. Lighter, cheaper, more fuel-efficient cars are certainly possible, but we don't seem to have the will to invest in them, buy them and - most important - use them less. A rather depressing vision.

November 12:

Malcolm Gladwell, in "Dangerous Minds", poked holes in the popular theory of criminal profiling, revealing what a young science it is, if it is science at all. In Gladwell's recounting of profiling efforts, it seems to have more to do with fake psychics, horoscopes and carnival mindreaders - which is to say that many of the predictions could fit almost anyone.

I skipped the tar-sand boom article, the profile of Sam Zell, and a Calvin Tomkins essay on the art market, but did read Jeffrey Toobin's review of Clarence Thomas's memoir, " My Grandfather's Son", in which he analyzes Thomas's conservative origins and a portrait he terms 'seething, aggrieved, wounded'. The memoir seems to leave out much of Thomas's experience on the Supreme Court itself, but not the confirmation hearings. Thomas, in the citations, comes across as incredibly touchy, self-centered and lacking in empathy, which squares well with his hard-line 'originalism'. What was that quote about consistency, again?

November 19:

Claudia Roth Pierpont wrote comparing Welles' and Olivier's approaches to Shakespeare, interesting to actors and directors, certainly.

November 26 was the Cartoon issue, and really, I didn't find it particularly funny. Alas.

The next issue I have is December 10, and this was quite rich.

Alexandra Styron wrote "Reading My Father", about her father the author William Styron, his battle with depression and her reluctance to read his most famous work.

Richard Preston wrote "A Death in the Forest", about the threat to our forests by an imported pest named the hemlock woolly adelgid. It's quite scary, and I'd love an update on the attempts to fight this scourge of American hemlock in the Great Smoky Mountains and beyond.

I skipped the first-year evaluation of Eliot Spitzer as governor of New York, as we all know what happened next.

Atul Gawande wrote in this issue of what has become the watchword in many hospitals, the checklist, a way to make sure that intensive care is safe, based on commonly known but many times omitted best practices.

And Anthony Lane reviewed "Atonement", as beautiful but soulless. I have seen the movie, and it is very beautiful, but the book on my shelf remains unopened and I'll probably get rid of it soon.

Two more issues and 2007 is over even for me. This weekend should do the trick.

marraskuu 25, 2012, 7:00 pm

with only days to spare, I can now declare myself finished with 2007. I took the last two issues with me to a short vacation at Mohonk Mountain House, and in that setting was able to polish them off in record time. That was last week and I haven't had the time to annotate them until now.

Dec. 17:

In an essay entitled 'Treasure Hunt', Hugh Eakin relates the troubles of Marion True of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles got into about antiquities from Europe that had found their way to the Getty. She was a known promoter of ethical standards for the dissemination and repatriation of antiquities, but ended up indicted by both Italian and Greek authorities for her participation in a scheme to smuggle looted antiquities out of their countries and into the Getty. Quite apart from the legality of her alleged involvement is the question of how people will be able to see great works of ancient art if the originals are all kept in their original locales.

In a sort of true crime article by D.T. Max, Malcolm Lowry's life and especialy his death are outlined and it is suggested that Lowry's wife may have helped him out of this world. Not that it seems he needed that much help, as a deeply compromised and depressed alcoholic. I haven't read any of Lowry's work - but I may get to some of it this coming year.

In the critics' section, Malcolm Gladwell reviewed James Flynn's book "What is Intelligence", in which the social scientist takes issue with the relevance of the standard IQ test. I learned a lot from this review - for instance, IQ tests have been 'upgraded' periodically to keep the average result close to 100, because people seem to be getting smarter. At least, they are as it is measured by the IQ test. He argues that the test really shows how 'modern' the test taker is, how stimulated the test taker's brain has been and in what ways.

What was most fascinating to me were the results of anthropological experiments that showed that more agrarian people, living a subsistence life style, tend to group things by function (knives and potatoes, for instance, since you use one to peel the other) rather than symbol or taxonomy. In one quite lovely moment of desperation, a researcher was told that this was the way any wise man would group thinks. The researcher then thought, and asked the tribal people to show how a fool would group things. Et voila - the vegetables were together, and the tools were together, etc. The answer was cultural, and not a measure of some abstract intelligence.

So maybe the IQ test measures culture, and also cognitive exercise as provided by that culture.

A really fascinating exporation.

Also in the critics' section, John Lahr, who has just resigned as reviewer for the New Yorker, reviewed favorably two plays I hadn't seen when they were here in New York. Jim says I declined when he asked me if I wanted to go. Must stop doing that!

marraskuu 25, 2012, 7:12 pm

39: I can now declare myself finished with 2007

asked the tribal people to show how a fool would group things
Huh. And it makes sense. If all the vegetables are here, and all the tools are there, what can be accomplished?

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 25, 2012, 7:42 pm

Oops - lost the review of the last edition due to sloppy fingers. Here's my attempt at it again, saving as I go:

December 24/31:

This was the winter fiction issue, and since I rarely read New Yorker fiction, the review will be of the non-fiction that comes in between.

John Lahr once again held my attention, in an essay/interview with Harold Pinter about his play "The Homecoming". It was at the time in revival on Broadway, with Eve Best as the lone and controlling woman, and I did see the production. I was not as thrilled with it as the reviewers at the time, but now I would like to read it.

Paul Rudnick retold the funny and painful tale of the attempt to produce his play "I Hate Hamlet", about the great actor John Barrymore, and the ultimately lamentable decision to cast Nicol Williamson in the Barrymore role. The production was the scandal of its season as Williamson wrecked and then walked out on the production. I may never watch his work with quite the same acceptance again!

It may also be Rudnick who wrote the essay 'Rough Crossing' (no formal attribution in the TOC, but it comes right after the Hamlet piece). The essay recounts and reveals the relationship between Raymond Carver, so well known for his mininalist stories, and his editor Gordon Lish, who evidentally was responsible for cutting to the bone the original stories that Carver wrote. Neither man comes off looking wonderful. It would be instructive, I think, to read the original and the published versions of some of the stories side by side, although it might be difficult to know which cuts were sanctioned and which were imposed.

And then there is Caleb Crain's essay on reading. Evidently we read less for pleasure than we used to (well, not us, of course). It shows up not only in sales of books but in the ability of both children and adults to read prose and compare viewpoints, summarize content, etc. He is reviewing neuro-biologist Maryanne Wolf, who explains(in "Proust and the Squid") that reading is not a 'natural' activity, but one that is learned and that allows us to process information efficiently, more efficiently than hearing (oral storytelling) or watching (our friend the TV) permit. Researchers among illiterate cultures came up with many of the same results mentioned in the essay on IQ - illiterates did not think in categories, but in functional terms. In addition, when pressed to exclude something or someone from a picture, the research subject would resist, explaining in a sort of story why the group must stay as is. And that seems to be a major distinction in all such research. Literate people can think in abstract concepts, whereas illiterate people imbed their knowledge in stories.

Crain (and Wolf) go on to elaborate on how children learn to read, moving from struggling with individual words to a fluidity that lets more of the mind think independently of the reading activity. (Think of how busy Suzanne's mind must be!). And, inevitably, the discussion turns to video, how the mind is more distracted when watching TV or video and is not free to have that running critical dialogue with the material.

Crain makes the claim that readers are more likely to exercise play games,go to art museums, volunteer, interact socially (who knew!), and vote. He suggests that reading alone, and often out of our comfort zone, gives us courage. What a nice thought.

And that's 2007, folks.