• Vincent van Gogh's Corridor of Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy, 1889
    May 05, 2010

    Hypochondria

    In classic Greek medicine, hypochondria was known first as a disease of the digestive tract, and only secondarily as one of the mind. The psychological aspects gradually came to dominate definitions of the condition, so that nowadays, we don’t really distinguish hypochondria from an overactive imagination. The books below were all written by or about inventive malingerers, providing firsthand testimony from the world of the worried well.

    Brian Dillon is the author of The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives, published this year by Faber & Faber.

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  • Eunoia by Christian Bök
    April 21, 2010

    Conceptual Poetry

    The rubric “conceptual poetry” encompasses works written using a variety of techniques: sampling, appropriation, documentation, and constraint, among others. By far the most prominent—and controversial—is appropriation: A work such as Kenneth Goldsmith’s Day (2003), a word-for-word transcription of one day’s New York Times, extends Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made practice into the literary realm. In the 2004 essay “Being Boring,” Goldsmith writes, “You really don’t need to read my books to get the idea of what they’re like; you just need to know the general concept.” This coy sentiment, delivered

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  • Galatoire's Restaurant in New Orleans. Photo by Infrogmation
    April 07, 2010

    New Orleans Cuisine

    Brett Anderson has been the restaurant critic at New Orleans’s Times-Picayune for a decade. In addition, he writes about food for a number of other magazines and newspapers. Here are his top five favorite books about the region’s cuisine.

    This list first appeared in the April/May issue of Bookforum, accompanying Melanie Rehak's column on New Orleans food and Tom Fitzmorris.

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  • Kazimir Malevich. Suprematism (Supremus #58. Yellow and Black), 1916.
    March 31, 2010

    Sound and Vision

    Visual art and music are often studied separately, even though seeing and hearing are inexorably linked. What if we could hear the silence in a Vermeer painting? Is it possible to simulate the experience of a certain city by playing its soundscape through loudspeakers in a city on the other side of the world? What would a Brian Eno song look like as a painting? The books listed here examine the myriad connections and convergences between sound and painting, architecture, and film.

    Geeta Dayal is the author of Another Green World, a book about Brian Eno, published in Continuum’s 33 1/3 series

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  • March 16, 2010

    Briefcase Blues

    In the United States, the span of years following World War II was a period of prosperity, growing national influence in the world, and mass access to higher education through the GI Bill. It was a time of optimism and newfound self-regard, and the ordinary life of Americans suddenly seemed a subject of surpassing interest. The books here articulated a new vocabulary with which to reflect America back to itself, but the image they presented was not always pleasing. The country as seen by these writers was materially abundant but spiritually arid, a place of conformity and pervasive underlying

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  • February 03, 2010

    Secret Self-Help

    When we talk about books, we hardly every talk about how they help. It is unfashionable: Browsing the self-help section of a bookstore seems as shameful as picking up a porn magazine at 7-Eleven. Interviewers seldom ask authors, “How is your book meant to help people?” (Instead, they ask the impossible, “What does it mean?”) Yet authors write with the hope of helping readers and themselves—by untangling emotional, intellectual, and existential problems. Perhaps contemporary literary culture doesn’t talk about books’ utility as a way to justify their lofty status as precious, impractical objects.

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  • January 28, 2010

    Pugilist Pages

    Literary authors have always been drawn to boxing, and many have written beautifully about the sport. Despite dire prediction of its demise, boxing persists and, cyclically, thrives; fortunately, over the past half century and more, talented writers have chronicled its appeal while dissecting its ugliness. The nature of the sport—two human beings in competition, distilled to its barest essence—lends itself to contemplation of bigger ideas and deeper meanings.

    Tim Starks writes about boxing for his blog, The Queensberry Rules. He has penned freelance articles for The Ring and other boxing

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  • Los Angeles at Night, photograph by Leslie Kalohi
    January 21, 2010

    The Cartography of Crime

    In a noir novel, the cityscape is as crucial as the crime spree, and investigators like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade are our sleep-deprived, chain-smoking, gin-soaked tour guides. The following books render their city’s cartography through the cadences of detective fiction, sketching blood-spattered maps of the world’s mean streets. As Philip Marlowe described Los Angeles in The Long Goodbye, “A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness. It all depends on where you sit . . .”

    Margaret

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  • January 14, 2010

    On Islands

    Stories of survival and cruelty are often set on an island, in books such as Robinson Crusoe and Lord of the Flies and on television shows like Lost. The titles below take the island as a narrative constraint: a limited setting that unleashes the authors’—and characters’—imaginations. The islands’ inhabitants perform multiple roles (as ghosts, metaphors, and figments of their isolated protagonists’ minds); the ambiguous element of fantasy is what makes these four books compelling reads.

    Lisa Darms is senior archivist at the Fales Library and Special Collections at New York University.

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  • January 06, 2010

    Graphic Lives

    By marrying the intimacy of autobiography with the aesthetic eclecticism of the graphic novel, graphic memoirs occupy the fertile realm between fiction and nonfiction, as well as between literature and art. I first encountered this narrative chimera in the 1990s, when I read Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World, and the feminist zines I found along the windowsills of Boston’s indie bookstores. This underground aesthetic seemed to depict my own disaffected experience and burgeoning politics; since then, I’ve been glad to see long-form graphic storytelling find a larger audience. The following volumes

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  • December 30, 2009

    Chorus Girls

    From the cabaret to the nightclub, from the theater to the ballet, women who perform in public have attracted writers and artists for as long as women have performed in public. Unlike the prostitute, who, as Walter Benjamin once said, is “saleswoman and wares in one,” the chorus girl is not exactly selling herself—she’s selling a dream of who she might be. The gaze that falls on her is sometimes male, sometimes female, sometimes singular, sometimes multiple. Onstage or off, the chorus girl is defined by her relationship to a necessary other—her audience—who, after all, may just be the reader.

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  • December 09, 2009

    California Haze

    California is usually portrayed as a palm-treed Eden, wholesome and easeful, but as the Roman Polanski scandal has reminded us, this sunny vision has a lurid underside. Noir is one form this shadow world takes, but the books I’ve selected below aren’t noirish and share none of that genre’s sense of mystery. Rather, transgression here is casual, explainable, and inextricably linked to the everyday world.

    Naomi Fry is an editor of Paper Monument.

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