On the Shelf
April 8, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- If you’re having trouble getting serious reading done, you can go ahead and blame the Internet, which fosters deleterious skimming habits. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”
- Yesterday was Don B.’s birthday, making today the perfect occasion to reread his 1987 essay, “Not-Knowing.” “Let us discuss the condition of my desk. It is messy, mildly messy. The messiness is both physical (coffee cups, cigarette ash) and spiritual (unpaid bills, unwritten novels). The emotional life of the man who sits at the desk is also messy—I am in love with a set of twins, Hilda and Heidi, and in a fit of enthusiasm I have joined the Bolivian army.”
- “Every April, ‘O, Miami’ attempts to deliver a poem to every single person in Miami-Dade County.” (There are at least 2.591 million of them—I just checked.)
- Crime and Punishment and Batman: all in one scintillating, thrill-packed issue of Dostoyevsky Comics. One wonders which superhero moonlighted in the Brothers Karamazov issue.
- From the annals of game-show history comes Bumper Stumpers, a late-eighties Canadian television curio in which contestants parsed the wordplay in vanity license plates. (E.g., VTHKOLM, which means “fifth column,” obviously.)
- Meet Todd Manly-Krauss, the “writer” with the world’s most irritating Facebook presence.
April 7, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- As obituaries and touching remembrances of Peter Matthiessen poured in this weekend, The New Yorker made some of his travel writing available to nonsubscribers—specifically “Matthiessen’s mesmerizing account of his journey, by ship, to the Amazon and throughout the wildernesses of South America.”
- Tales of Faulkner in Hollywood: “‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.’ The quotation from Dante is what Faulkner considered a fitting road sign for drivers to see as they crossed the border into California.”
- Before Americans loved baseball, we gathered to take in another grand national pastime: competitive walking. It was, if you can believe it, even stranger and blander than it sounds.
- The irredeemably cheery mascots on cereal boxes are staring directly into your child’s soul, experts say. “Researchers found that children’s cereals are typically placed on the bottom two shelves and the mascots deploy ‘a downward gaze at an angle of 9.67 degrees.’”
- For the origins of the e-book, look to the floppy disk. Specifically, look to Peter James’s Host, a novel published on two disks in 1993. It “has now become a historical artifact, accepted into the Science Museum's collection as a very early electronic novel.”
- Archipelago Books turns ten.
April 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Yesterday was Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wedding anniversary. Here’s a passionate, discursive letter she wrote him in the summer of 1930, after her breakdown. “The sheets were always damp. There was Christmas in the echoes, and eternal walks. We cried when we saw the Pope. There were the luminous shadows of the Pinco and the officer’s shining boots.”
- A photographer’s thoughts on capturing the essence of Jane Goodall.
- Today in philosophers on video: “A Shirtless Slavoj Žižek Explains the Purpose of Philosophy from the Comfort of His Bed.” “It just asks, when we use certain notions, when we do certain acts, and so on, what is the implicit horizon of understanding? It doesn’t ask these stupid ideal questions: ‘Is there truth?’”
- And today in ruin porn: America’s abandoned malls.
- Nowhere has launched a travel-writing contest—they’re looking for “old, novice, and veteran voices with a powerful sense of place in their writing.” The prize is a cool grand.
April 3, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Spotted in the Times: our very own Sadie Stein (and her apartment) paying tribute to Laurie Colwin.
- A German publisher wants to print Wikipedia—all 4,484,862 articles of it. The omnibus “would fill a bookcase that’s 32 feet long and 8 feet high. But not everyone thinks it’s a good idea.” I can’t imagine why.
- Have we failed to utilize effective incentivizing techniques to promote greater linguistic clarity? In other words, are we losing the war against jargon?
- The photographer Nancy Warner takes wistful pictures of abandoned farmhouses on the Great Plains.
- In 1937, Richard Nixon applied to be a special agent in the FBI. He was not accepted. In a letter of recommendation, the dean of Duke Law School wrote that Nixon was “one of the finest young men, both in character and ability, that I have ever had the opportunity of having in classes.”
- Want fast Internet? Go to the darkest depths of Norway, where there are more polar bears than people.
April 2, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “Delicious, unkosher, dark, vague, the Cloud / Of Mexico Pork threatens our borders.” In a new forum, John Ashbery, Cathy Park Hong, Charles Bernstein, Robert Pinsky, Rae Armantrout, and others contribute poems about the surveillance state in the twenty-first century. (Those lines are Pinsky’s.)
- Good news for grad students reluctant to enter academia: “Humanities Ph.D.s are all around us—and they are not serving coffee.”
- The Mets blew what now? An unfortunate headline teaches us the everlasting value of commas.
- Anyone who worships at the altar of user experience will wince at these designs by Katerina Kamprani, who has made it her task to suck the utility out of everyday objects.
- One man’s strangely inspiring search for a vocation: “He started the Restroom Association of Singapore to clean up the public toilets. People loved it. He then realized there were fifteen toilet associations around the world, in cities in Britain and Germany and Japan and some other places, too, but no world headquarters. So he started the World Toilet Organization … and that is how Jack Sim became the Toilet Man.”
- A brief history of naked babies in fashion magazines.
April 1, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- D. H. Lawrence’s hometown has opened a new pub called the Lady Chatterley.
- An enterprising fourteen-year-old has an urgent message for the government: change your official typeface to Garamond and you’ll save millions.
- Shakespeare plays illustrated in three easy panels. (“Three witches tell Macbeth he will be king. Macbeth kills lots of people in order to be king. Macbeth is killed.”)
- Taking stock of Monocle, which is now seven years old: “a magazine that is in general focused on a particular brand of well-heeled global urbanism … Monocle doesn’t have bureaus, it has bureaux … what Monocle and its advertisers clearly understand, even if the point is seldom made explicit, is that living in a first-tier city is a luxury good, like a Prada bag or a pair of Hermès boots.”
- Don’t merely go to the circus. Go to the circus in Communist-era Poland. “The visual style of the Polish School of Posters, funded and sponsored by state commissions, was characterized by vibrant colors, playful humor, hand-lettering, and a bold surrealism that rivaled anything similar artists in the West were doing at the time.”