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1. Folio Magazine - September 2015
2. The New York Review of Books - October 8, 2015; Volume LXII, Number 15
"Lo. Lee. Ta" by Michael Dirda - (don't read this if you had not read Lolita yet) - written in the style of those annoying introductions that tell you what is happening in the book before you read the book, at least this is not an introduction. And there is no way to write it in a different way - Dirda goes down to the way the novel is written, the ideas and the language, the way Nabokov had been thinking about the world and the readers. And mainly about the main story. It's almost a love letter to a book that Dirda calls Nabokov's love letter to the United States.
"An Artist in Provence" by Gerald Scarfe - the artist in question is Ronald Searle and Scarfe relays a memory of Searle - or I should say memories - the artist became Scarfe's hero when he was a boy and one day they met. The piece is heartfelt and honest and one of those small stories that you would have heard from your grandmother if it was about your family - the kind of memories that we all are too busy to listen to anymore
"Richard Feynman - A Very Curious Character" by Marcus Chown - and another memory piece. Chown had been one of Feyman's students but he does not talk only about his history with him - he writes a short biography of the man and scientist (a very short one) which makes you wish you had met Feyman.
"Darkness Made Visible: The Art of Annotation" by John Mullan - Alastair Fowler is one of the best known specialists on Paradise Lost and Folio had just published a Limited edition of his work - both the edited work and his commentary. Mullan's essay discusses that work - not the book as craftsmanship or an object but the scholarship and the love of Fowler for the work.
"The English Rubens with Jokes" by Jess Wilder - I've never heard the name of Beryl Cook before I read that essay. And after reading it, I find her an interesting artist that I want to know more about. I guess this shows that Jess Wilder had done the work they were asked to.
"On Abe Lincoln" by Jan Morris - everyone knows who Lincoln is. And everyone has an opinion on it. Jan Morris starts by admitting that he thought that the constant worshiping was too much. Time and experience intervene and the things change. So when the new collections need to be edited, Morris finds the way to do it. It is a personal story of his understanding of the American president and a story of Lincoln, all wrapped into one. And she somehow manages to involve grape jelly as well - and it fits the story.
"Madeleine and Meg" by Leonard S. Marcus - Marcus recalls an interview with Madeleine L'Engle - an interview that went from a disaster to a very enjoyable one. And in that memory, the author comes alive as a human being. Add some more notes about her and about her most popular heroine (Meg in the title is A Wrinkle in Time's Meg Murry of course) and it is yet another love story to a book and an author.
I really wish Folio commissioned longer essays. On the other hand, part of the charm is that they are not the usual long-winded stories that never finish. So maybe the length is for the best.
"Ukraine & Europe: What Should be Done?" by George Soros - of course Soros has an idea how all the problems of Europe can be solved - the fact that his previous one is now not workable is used to strengthen this new one. I suspect that he will have another one if that one also proves not to be viable. I remember Soros from the years of the collapsing economy of Bulgaria - he always had plans and always was ready to share... and none of them ever worked our. Not surprising that I cannot take him too serious now.
"'Satanic Seduction' - Online" by Francine Prose discusses Joshua Cohen's "Book of Numbers" and has a lot to say about that story of a software company and its strange owner - and the success of the company - and the society that lives under a microscope. The parallel to the real world are obvious from the review, Prose does point out some of them, leaves the reader to see some. I am not sure if I will like the book and I am not planning to find out for now but the essay was pretty readable and enjoyable.
"Sargent & His People" by Jean Strouse - the biographical essay about John Singer Sargent was triggered by the exhibition of his portraits and its catalog. But Strouse almost does not mention either - they are used as anchors for telling the story of the artist. I don't think that I had seen any of his work before now and his life is fascinating - as are most of the lives of the artists of his generation. I don't think that I would ever read a book about him but that essay was informative and well-thought out and made me learn something new.
"TV vs. the Internet: Who Will Win" by Jacob Weisberg - reviewing two books (one claiming that TV will win; one claiming the opposite), Weisberg writes an essay about the future of TV, the way the landscape of TV had changed, the way the digital world had changed everything and so on. Nothing new, nothing that is not visible and clear for anyone that can think. The fact that books are published on the topic had always made me scratch my head; them being reviewed is not less of a head scratcher.
"The Amazing Inner Lives of Animals" by Tim Flannery is one of my favorite stories in this issue of NYRB. Reviewing two books: "Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel" by Carl Safina and "The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins" by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell, Flannery talks about the members of the animal kingdom that seem to be closest to us in term of intelligence. Both books complement each other, the review and the additional details connect them even more. Even if you never read the books, the essay is entertaining and interesting and explains a lot about dolphins and elephants and wolves.
"Joan Didion: Risk & Triumph" by Joyce Carol Oates - the new biography of Didion gives Oates an excuse to write this essay. Maybe if I had heard of Didion before, I would have been more interested. Although I am not sure even in that case. It's a nice essay, very well written and researched but it did not really move me or make me want to learn more.
"The Pope & the Market" by William Nordhaus takes on the Pope's Laudato Si' - mainly to explain why the pope is wrong about the market and to show how important the market is for the global warming policies. I would have preferred for him to have just written a straight essay on the topic than using the Pope's work as a crutch - in places it almost sounds like looking for a reason to disagree with him. But the reasoning is good and interesting.
"Video Games: The Secret Life" by Gabriel Winslow-Yost is a review of 2 different books - half memoirs, half stories of the video games of the years that the authors are talking about. At the same time it is also a meditation on what games are and how games influence here. I don't like video games, I almost never play any (but I used to develop them once upon a time) and the story does not even say anything I had not heard before.
"The Return of Foxy Grandpa by T.S. Eliot is a first printing of an essay that was written in 1927 - a review of the works of Alfred North Whitehead. As short as it is, that is also the essay I almost did not finish in this issue of the magazine.
"The Myth of Cesar Chavez" by Timothy Noah discusses a movie and a book about the titular character - and as always in such cases ends up writing a short biography of the man. It is very readable and engaging - the same as the essay about Sargent, it is highly informative about a man I knew nothing about.
Guillaume Apollinaire's "Shadow" is really not my type of poetry.
"The Wonder-Wounded Harold Bloom" by Christopher Benfey is technically about the last book by Bloom but spends more time discussing Bloom than the book. When it talks about the book, it is somewhat interesting but outside of it it has the same problem as Oates' portrait of Didion - it is well written and I really don't care about it.
"The Unique Qualities of Joe Alsop" by Isaiah Berlin reprints a letter from Berlin to Robert Kaiser concerning Joe Alsop. Despite the copious number of footnotes, it is almost indecipherable for me. It was a nice look at the world of 1989 but it contained too many references that meant nothing to me.
"A New Vision of the Holocaust" by Christopher R. Browning is about the new book by Timothy Snyder "Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning". Browning mostly disagrees with Snyder's arguments of a new reading of why Hitler initiated the Holocaust the way he did and I cannot say who is right. He acknowledges that the book has a lot of positive characteristics but he also spends a lot of time disagreeing on a point that was probably unimportant and at this point not provable - did the Holocaust happen as a consolation price for Hitler or as a result of the initial success of his war.
"Who Can Find the True West?" by Ian Frazier reviews Rinker Buck's "The Oregon Trail" - his story of traveling the historic route with his brother a few years ago. Comparisons with Parkman's book with the same book are inevitable and it sounds like the two books are two sides of the same story - differently done, written and lived in different centuries but companion volumes nevertheless. It is a wonderful essay and even if I will probably never read the book, I liked reading about it.
"What Philosophers Really Know" by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein takes a look at "Philosophy of Language: The Classics Explained" by Colin McGinn. Philosophy is hard to understand without knowing the background and history and McGinn builds his book around some of the classic texts of his field. The works themselves are not in the book, it is a companion volume and it sounds a lot like my philosophy textbook from high school - and it sounds fascinating. Goldstein writes a wonderful essay about it and between what she says about the book and about the field, she convinced me that I want to read the book (and the books it is explaining). That will be a long project.
"The First Great Arabic Novel" by Robyn Creswell talks about the just published "Leg Over Leg" - a book I had never heard of and which seems like a fascinating old book - the first Arabic novel. Creswell does a wonderful job in putting the novel in context - both historically and linguistically and tells a fascinating story of a novel that noone in the West had ever read - and which probably should be read together with the Chinese classic novels.
"In the Depths of the Net" by Sue Halpern talks about the Dark Net - mixing a book review, news coverage from the last few years and some old style musing on the topic. Its similar to what had been in the press in the last few years so not really my favorite article of the issue.
Nothing really interesting in the Letters. Some of the books in the ads did catch my eye though - I may update this with a list at some point.