• December 01, 2009

    Please Read Me

    The Beatles called it quits forty years ago, but books about them are still released at a pace as steady as Ringo’s drumming. No rock band, and few pop icons, have received so much literary attention. The Fab Four continue to inspire new memoirs, revised histories, and critical reassessments. Here are some titles to consider when you feel like getting back to where you once belonged.

    Greg Milner's new book Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music (Faber and Faber) was published in June.

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  • November 18, 2009

    On Color

    “To attend to colour,” writes David Batchelor, “is, in part, to attend to the limits of language.” Perhaps this is why so much writing on color is sadly unsatisfying: The temptation to make wistful, even lugubrious pronouncements on color’s ineffability proves great; barring that, many writers, from William Gass (On Being Blue) to Alexander Theroux (The Primary Colors, The Secondary Colors), revert to exalted forms of cataloging. What is there to say in the face of color, a visual phenomenon that so often seems to elude linguistic expression? A lot, it turns out, in the right hands—especially

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  • November 06, 2009

    Claude Lévi-Strauss

    When French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss passed away October 30, a few weeks shy of his 101st birthday, he left behind a towering body of work that dramatically impacted his field and influenced the wave of French thought that hit American universities in the 1970s, from Michel Foucault to Jacques Lacan. Lévi-Strauss, though, originally studied philosophy, and it wasn't until traveling and living in Brazil in the late 1930s that he began to focus on ethnographic and ethnological research.

    Bret McCabe is arts editor of the Baltimore City Paper.

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  • "Shoeless" Joe Jackson
    October 27, 2009

    The World Series

    I don't read football books on Super Bowl Sunday or basketball books during March Madness. But the World Series invokes one hundred years of tradition, so I always watch it with the sound off and with something to read pregame, postgame, and during rain delays. Here are seven World Series books I’ve read, reread, and will read again.

    Allen Barra is a sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the Village Voice. His latest book, Yogi Berra, Eternal Yankee, was recently published by Norton.

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  • Cover of Life: A User's Manual.
    October 02, 2009

    The Oulipo

    Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, both writers and math enthusiasts, began collaborating in Paris in 1960. The duo quickly attracted a following, which became the Workshop of Potential Literature (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or Oulipo). Inspired by their love for mathematics, the group devised rigid constraints for literary production, including such puzzles as bilingual palindromes, isopangrams (twenty-six-letter-long statements containing all the letters of the alphabet), and N+7 (replacing every noun in a text with the seventh noun down in a dictionary). Queneau once quipped

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  • Devils Tower, Wyoming.
    September 23, 2009

    Writing the West

    The sparsely populated mile-high plains, bowl-shaped valleys, and jagged mountain ranges of Wyoming, Montana, and other western states inspire a particular literary shape and substance. A robust and increasingly influential literature of the West, with its own set of icons—Bret Harte, Walter van Tilburg Clark, Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner—has evolved over the past century and a half.

    Owen Wister’s The Virginian set the mold for the western cowboy hero (although Wister called his book a “colonial romance,” noting that “Wyoming between 1874 and 1890 was a colony as wild as was Virginia one

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  • White nights in Saint Petersburg
    September 15, 2009


    The Zen master D. T. Suzuki defines satori as “the acquiring of a new point of view in our dealings with life and the world.” With satori, he writes, “our entire surroundings are viewed from quite an unexpected angle of perception.” Jack Kerouac opens his 1966 book Satori in Paris with a description of his own revelatory experience: “Somewhere during my ten days in Paris . . . I received an illumination of some kind that seems to’ve changed me again, towards what I suppose’ll be my pattern for another seven years or more: in effect, a satori: the Japanese word for ‘sudden illumination,’ ‘sudden

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  • September 08, 2009

    Writing About Not Writing

    There are books about things, and then there are books about writing about things. Much self-reflexive writing tends to turn into self-panegyric about discovering—against all odds—the “freedom” to “create,” the discovery of one’s “voice.” The books below dwell on honest failure, shame, and the sharp self-awareness that comes after failing to write about anything other than failing to write. Each of these five authors shows us that writing through failure can produce great and necessary work.

    Sarah Manguso is the author of four books, most recently the memoir The Two Kinds of Decay (Farrar,

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  • Cover of Travel
    August 31, 2009

    Odd Manga

    Manga inevitably seems a bit strange to American readers, even if they’ve read a lot of comics. Those hundreds of small colorful paperbacks stacked at your favorite big-box bookstore are the beneficiaries of more than half a century of evolution in Japan, where comics flourish as a popular medium. As such, manga reflects not only the mores and attitudes of a culture very different from ours but also a manner of publication unfamiliar in English-speaking environs. Some manga highlights these differences better than others; below are seven points of departure.

    Joe McCulloch blogs on comics at

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  • Cover of  Undercurrents: The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music
    August 20, 2009

    Future-Shock Music

    Serious music fans fetishize moments of future-shock rupture—those moments of fruitful confusion and ecstatic release that attend the arrival of new movements and new sounds. Whether charting the erratic patterns of pop novelty or the ideological progress of the art-music impulse, a significant body of music literature works to survey the conditions and consequences of future shock. These books organize histories forever in flux and push music in new directions. The best among them teach us how to listen—and think—anew. The following books are essential reading from future-shock music literature,

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  • Joseph Highmore, Pamela Fainting, 1743, oil on canvas.
    August 18, 2009

    Becoming Jane Austen

    The success of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the latest sign of a fascination for all things Austen. Today’s Janeites devour everything from novels to blogs to cultural histories based on her work. But what did Austen herself read? Below are some of the best sellers that had the greatest influence on Austen’s early novels.

    Laura Brodie is the author of the novel The Widow’s Season (Berkley Books, 2009) and the nonfiction book Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women (Pantheon, 2000). Her memoir, Love in a Time of Homeschooling, is forthcoming next year from HarperCollins.

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  • Paul Salvator Goldengruen, The Painter Prince, 2007, acrylic on canvas.
    July 28, 2009

    Contemporary Experimental Poets

    Much contemporary poetry gets written off as too “experimental”—perhaps because of how crazy the poems look on the page, because they’re full of fragmentary images and half-finished thoughts, because they’re slathered in irony, or because they take poetry itself as their subject. Yet many of the most off-the-wall poets are actually writing about the same things—parenthood, love, sex, the environment, and the joys of literature—as their more straightforward contemporaries but have chosen to describe experience using untraditional means. Here are a few great books that embrace the experimental

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