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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Cocktails, Borges, Color

August 17, 2012 | by

As though a blog written by a Merriam-Webster lexicographer weren’t exciting enough, Kory Stamper at harm·less drudg·ery recently posted on the thrilling discovery of color definitions. To whit: “begonia n … 3 : a deep pink that is bluer, lighter, and stronger than average coral (sense 3b), bluer than fiesta, and bluer and stronger than sweet william — called also gaiety.” In a kind of synesthetic treasure hunt, she races through the dictionary to follow the trail of colors. “I eventually ended up at ‘coral,’ where sense 3c yielded up the fresh wonder, ‘a strong pink that is yellower and stronger than carnation rose, bluer, stronger, and slightly lighter than rose d’Althaea, and lighter, stronger, and slightly yellower than sea pink.’ Carnation rose was clearly the color of the pinkish flower on the tin of Carnation Evaporated Milk, and Rose d’Althaea was clearly Scarlett O’Hara’s flouncy cousin, but it was the last color that captivated me. ‘Sea pink,’ I murmured.” —Nicole Rudick

“You probably wear lipstick, powder base and a little eye makeup every day. But have you ever considered drawing in completely new eyebrows, wearing false eyelashes, putting hollows in your cheeks with darker foundation, a cleft in your chin with brown eyebrow pencil or enlarging your mouth by a third? These are just a few sorcerer’s tricks available.” Among the most amusing tributes to the original fun, fearless female is Bonnie Downing’s affectionate Outdated Beauty Advice from Helen Gurley Brown over at the Hairpin. —Sadie O. Stein

“In the end, we are not interested in Angelina Jolie; we are interested in fame: its pure, bright, disembodied effervescence ... True mystery doesn’t interest us; the statement ‘she had an aura of mystery’ does.” That’s Katie Roiphe at her most Barthesian, explaining why people read celebrity profiles (a question that’s nagged at me for a while). Other topics covered in her new book, In Praise of Messy Lives: single mothering, incest scenes in fiction, and the messy early days and nights of The Paris Review. —Lorin Stein

Short of an encounter with the ghost of Dickens, leafing through a rare old book is as close as one can get to a religious experience in the world of literature. That’s why when I pray to the book gods, I do so facing Harvard Square, home of Lame Duck Books. Their remarkable collection includes first-edition copies of Cevdet Bey ve ogullari and Cien años de soledad, this nifty inscribed portrait of Dostoevsky, and a jaw-dropping set of Borges’s manuscripts and volumes from his personal library. If you aren’t independently wealthy enough to spend seventy-five thousand dollars on a photograph or piece of parchment, there’s no shame in just reading their catalogue; in fact, it is itself a very fine piece of literary scripture. Each item is accompanied by a rich little essay combining history, anecdote, and measured criticism. —Arthur Holland Michel

Bargemusic’s Saturday-night concert cost only fifteen dollars for students. So, nearing the end of my student discounts, I went for Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 played by the Avalon Quartet. Inevitably the barge rocks as the musicians play; people in the audience, mostly gray haired and married, look around worriedly whenever a speedboat thumps by. Yet somehow the music still radiates as everyone battles seasickness. Special credit goes to the performers, whose charm and personality transcend all the (literal) ebbs and flows. This alone is worth seeing, and is perhaps why few departed after the intermission. —Tyler Bourgoise

I have been reading Borges’s Evaristo Carriego: A Book About Old-time Buenos Aires, a short biography of a popular poet from Palermo, the neighborhood where Borges grew up and which he memorialized in many of his early poems. As biography it’s pretty outré—“I believe that a chronological account is inappropriate to Carriego,” Borges announces early in the book—but as a portrait of Palermo and an introduction to Borges’s obsession with knife fighters and the underworld of Buenos Aires, it’s pretty unbeatable. It also includes a short chapter, “A History of the Tango,” which is one of the best pieces of music criticism I know. —Robyn Creswell

I am a devoted fan of Lesley M. M. Blume’s “Let’s Bring Back” series, in which the author pays tribute to various vintage phenomena due for an encore. I am not a gifted home mixologist, but Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition is such good reading—it’s a mix of cocktail lore, recipes, anecdotes, and quotations—that I think even a teetotaler would enjoy it. That said, I’m looking forward to ordering a Runt’s Ambition (rum, gin, whiskey, and port wine) or a Du Barry (gin, vermouth, Pernod, bitters) from some more-skilled bartender—if only to get a taste of the past. —S.O.S.

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2 COMMENTS

2 Comments

  1. Joe Carlson | August 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I don’t wish to get personal, and if I am trash this comment, but what is the difference between the “Sadie Stein” who more or less runs the show around here and the “Sadie O. Stein” who has been popping up in This Week’s Reading – or for that matter the even more disconcerting “S.O.S.” ?

  2. Sadie Stein | August 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Fair question! All three aliases are attached to the same woman! I use the O. only in those staff picks situations where I have more than one entry; the site convention is to identify repeat authors by their initials, and S.S. is simply too macabre!

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