- Every April for years, intrepid editors have searched in vain for a way to fuse National Poetry Month to Mathematics Awareness Month, killing two birds with one stone. It turns out a pair of Italian mathematicians solved the problem centuries ago: “Niccolò Tartaglia (ca. 1500–1557) had discovered a way to solve certain kinds of cubic equations. Another mathematician, Girolamo Cardano (1501–1576), wanted to learn the formula and promised not to publish it. Tartaglia shared the formula with Cardano as a poem, and Cardano ended up publishing it.” Even with its terza-rima rhyme scheme, though, the poem is pretty bad, I’m sorry to report. It begins: “When the cube with the cose beside it / Equates itself to some other whole number, / Find two others, of which it is the difference. // Hereafter you will consider this customarily / That their product always will be equal / To the third of the cube of the cose net.”
- Legend tells of a radical library in Lawrence, Kansas—a library teeming with zines, a countercultural cornucopia, its shelves overflowing with DIY ephemera. And this library … is totally out of business. But the University of Kansas has acquired its holdings and plans to digitize all of them. “You can already explore over 830 digitized examples from the Solidarity archives in the Internet Archive … There are hand-illustrated guides to fertility awareness, freedom for Palestine publications, essays against prisons, Firefly fanzines, and more curious titles like ‘Don’t Leave Me: How to Make Better Coffee at Home and Spend More Time With Your Cat(s).’ ”
- Today in butterfly genitalia and literary luminaries: a new book examines Nabokov’s work as a lepidopterist, especially his “intensely magnified” drawings of butterflies’ reproductive organs. The book argues that Nabokov’s drawings provide a new lens through which to view his fiction—but maybe they’re just butterfly drawings. Laura Marsh writes, “The more we find out about Nabokov’s work as a lepidopterist, the more difficult it is to grasp what he saw in butterflies, and how much his study really found its way into the worlds of his books … As a lepidopterist, he was interested in stories that spanned vast, geological time periods, informed by fine-grained empirical observations. But in his novels and stories, butterflies flit in and out of the narrative, either to adorn a moment of impossible desire or as flickering omens of doom—as in the case of the red admiral that lands on John Shade’s arm before he is assassinated in Pale Fire. They are creatures of the ever-disappearing present, hardly existing for any concrete purpose at all; their wings bear the heavy load of subjectivity.”
- Writers, screenwriters, narrative artists of all stripes: if you’re still laying the foundation for your next project, I suggest throwing a kidnapping into the mix. People love kidnappings, especially when they involve young women. Add a seamy, irrepressibly erotic abduction to your plot and success will be yours for the taking. As Anna Leszkiewicz notes, “British and American pop culture has been gripped by the kidnap narrative. Young women stare desperately out of skylights or at heavy metal doors, before wrenching themselves through. Their kidnapper has methodically planned their captivity for years, making escape particularly difficult. They often exploit the mental weaknesses in their abusers in order to do so. They struggle to find a psychological liberty that matches their newfound physical freedom, and to detach themselves from the events of their captivity … The victim is always a young woman, usually adolescent either at the time of her capture, or during her captivity. She looks a specific way, too: a pretty brunette with big, round eyes; skinny when first captured, gaunt as her captivity develops; and despite the huge number of missing black girls and women, she’s white. She has all the physical attributes Hollywood and our wider society problematically conflate with innocence, purity and victimhood—and enthusiastically sexualize.”
- Jonathan Shaw owns the largest collection of vintage tattoo flashes in the world. Lucky for us, he’s put them in a book called, yes, Vintage Tattoo Flash. Behold the mess of cowboys, sailors, smoking skulls, neon dice, good-luck charms, babes, and babies that have made their way onto American bodies from Long Beach to the Bowery.
- Philosophers are always telling us what to do and why to do it—telling us, in essence, how to rescue ourselves from childhood, how to grow up. For Vivian Gornick, their advice is lacking in what a college counselor might call real-world experience: “The Hebrew philosopher Hillel urged that we do unto others as we would have others do unto us. Kant urged, similarly, that we not make instrumental use of one another. With all the good will in the world—and remarkable numbers of people have it—we have not been able to make these noble recommendations carry the day. Not because we are lazy or venal or incompetent but because most of us live in a state of inner conflict that makes purity of behavior an impossibility. Every day of our lives we transgress against our own longing to act well: our tempers are ungovernable, our humiliations unforgettable, our fantasies ever present … ”
- Today in ill-advised marketing campaigns: the Australian publisher of the new Lisbeth Salander novel has taken branding to a disturbingly literal level in its quest to find “a female fan prepared to ‘donate’ her back for three months. This would have involved being adorned with her very own Dragon Tattoo for advertising purposes.” The so-called tatvertising campaign sought to find someone who could “handle the pain, just like Lisbeth Salander.” The publisher has since canceled the promotion, but there’s nothing stopping true fans from pursuing masochism to please their corporate masters.
- Does the art market depress you? The answer should be a resounding yes—no one likes plundering plutocrats. But here’s a thought: you can probably just ignore the whole sordid commercial aspect of the thing. “Sensing that people will one day look back on this era as a freakish episode in cultural history, why not get a head start on viewing it that way? Detach and marvel. Meanwhile, art goes on making meaning for those who are rich only in the desire and leisure to engage with it … To expect the running-scared super-rich to behave benevolently, in regards to art, is plainly foolish.”
- So you’re conceiving a building in which the sexes are segregated—congratulations! The Shakers have just the kind of architectural design you need. The key is extreme symmetry, “in which one side meticulously mirrors the other, door for door, stair for stair, each fitting answering another … The control implicit in the design goes further. Men and women worked in different trades, so rarely encountered one another in the workplace … The Shakers perfected what they called a ‘living building’: a settlement that served their purposes while also reinforcing their separation from non-believing outsiders.”
- Critical thinking remains an integral part of an education in the liberal arts—and a vague, endlessly broad term, with no real applicability. What is it? How do we use it? For the answers to these and other unanswerable questions, all you have to do is go to college. But even there the term is on watch now. “One of my colleagues adamantly rejected the inclusion of an allegedly trendy catchphrase (‘experiential learning’) as part of our mission statement, and insisted that we use ‘critical thinking’ instead. My colleague was ostensibly rejecting the professionalization of college education, in favor of the more properly academic priority of intellect. This preference, however, struck me as curious, as it revealed that ‘critical thinking’—whatever cluster of ideas or intellectual ideals hide behind the phrase—had become something for which we felt nostalgia.”
- Chinua Achebe has died at eighty-two.
- The Guardian rereleases a stirring interview with the Nigerian literary giant.
- (Yes, the words “things have fallen apart” have been, appropriately, invoked.)
- An Oxford University librarian has been fired after students staged a textbook Harlem shake on her unwitting watch.
- It’s been a while since we gawked at literary tattoos. If you feel this lack keenly, this one’s for you.
One morning my first summer in Berlin, I woke up alone in a park with a piece of sweaty plastic wrap around my forearm. I still had the tattoo. I still didn’t have my keys.
Fabian had given me the tattoo lying in his bed the night before. We met in a club thirty-six hours earlier, on Sunday afternoon, after I tried to pick up his roommate, a brooding Austrian boy with shoulder-length blond hair who was sitting alone away from the dance floor. He had a homemade tattoo of a sword on his wrist. His roommate had made it, he said, and did I want to meet him? They both turned out to be straight, and we spent the rest of the day dancing together and sharing our drinks and our cigarettes and whatever else we had.
Another Sunday afternoon dancing at the same club, a Portuguese friend stopped me and asked, “Americans come here for the freedom, right?” Another Sunday there, a Scottish boy asked me if I moved to Berlin “just to have fun.” Usually in these situations I say, “I guess so.” Nobody with pupils that size could have patience for a real answer. Read More
- The bestseller lists from two beloved bookstores show what San Franciscans and New Yorkers, respectively, are reading. (Spoiler: everyone loves Junot Díaz.)
- But which book about Lincoln? Experts help you narrow it down.
- Print is dead, and nine other conversations the folks at Book Riot would just as soon, in a perfect world, never have again.
- Tats inspired by children’s books. Yes, The Giving Tree and Le Petit Prince are represented, but so are Ramona and Harriet Welsh! And you have to love the simplicity of this Narnia ink.
- The New York Public Library donated the food that would have been served at their annual fundraising gala to people affected by Hurricane Sandy.
- The Mime Alphabet Book and other odd titles.
- Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies: Man Booker Prize winners and now BBC miniseries and stage plays, too.
- This children’s librarian has perhaps the ultimate children’s librarian tattoo.
- A slide show of Robert Frost’s Vermont home.
- Moby-Dick gets the Google treatment.