From The National Geographic:
A still image from a 3-D animation shows how nicotine stimulates nerve impulses to the pleasure center of the brain.
Jason Wilson in The Smart Set:
I’d been sent into the wild interior of Sardinia on assignment by AARP Magazine. Researchers had recently documented an abnormal cluster of modern-day Methuselahs residing here. At least one man in this region lived to 112 and, until his death, was the oldest man in the world. And there were many other centenarians living in isolated Ogliastra villages.
Basically, my AARP assignment called for me to barge in on very old Sardinians and ask: How can our readers, too, live such a long life? The editors wanted tips, nuts and bolts, practical “how to” nuggets. Of course, I wanted to know these things, too. Like most other human beings, my desire to live forever — or at least as long as I possibly can —knows no bounds. And I, like many, have been fooled before in this quest for longevity. I remember, for instance, a widely reported tale of men in the Caucasus Mountains who lived to the ripe of old age of 120 by subsisting solely on a diet of yogurt. After gorging myself on yogurt, it was soon reported that whole story was a hoax. The men’s birth records were wrong. Faulty data. Sorry.
But in Sardinia, the story is different. This time, after rigorous study, all the Sardinian centenarians’ birth records checked out. The demographers on the case confirm that the age data are perfect. No hoaxes, no inaccuracies.
Bethany Keeley on the FAQ page at her blog:
This is your pet peeve. You should also blog about mine, which is _____.
Answer: Actually, I don’t consider quotation marks a peeve. I just think it’s funny to misinterpret them, almost always. This is not the case with most other grammatical errors, although the occasional dangling modifier is pretty amusing. Somebody else can blog about your thing if they want; I really think the genius here is the specificity. Check out my sidebar though; some of those people might already blog about your thing. Especially you legion of apostrophe pedants.
Why are quotation marks such a big deal to you anyway?
Answer: They really aren’t. I’m actually not a grammar fanatic at all, although clear writing is important to me. I have an actual job and PhD education which are higher priorities for me than anything quotation-mark related. I started this blog for fun never expecting anybody to notice it except my family and friends.
Carol Rumens in The Guardian:
This question was posed last weekend in the Guardian Review by James Buchan, reviewing a new Paul Celan selection, Snowpart/Schneepart, with English translations by Ian Fairley. He adds that, after all, “a poem does not contain information of importance, like a signpost or a warning notice”.
That’s true enough. Modern lyric poetry, with its symbols and metaphors, its arcane allusions and teasing line breaks, is fairly bad at giving us the facts. We no longer live in an age in which the skills of beekeeping, say, are explained by the greatest verse-maker in the language, as Virgil does in The Georgics. Even those jolly mnemonics about the weather or the Greek alphabet are fading from consciousness. It’s a pity, as I often think I might get the gist of assembling a new piece of flatpack furniture quicker if the instructions were wittily rhymed.
So why translate? My first answer is that poetry in translation simply adds to the sum total of human pleasure obtainable through a single language. It opens up new language worlds within our own tongues, as every good poem does. It revitalises our daily, cliche-haunted vocabulary. It disturbs our assumptions, jolts us with rhythms flatter or stronger than we’re used to. It extends us in the way real travelling does, giving us new sounds, sights and smells. Every unique poetry village sharpens us to life.
To call “The Darjeeling Limited” precious is less a critical judgment than a simple statement of fact, equivalent to saying that the movie is in color, that it’s set in India or that it’s 91 minutes long. It’s synonymous with saying the movie was directed by Wes Anderson. By now — “The Darjeeling Limited” is his fifth feature film — Mr. Anderson’s methods and preoccupations are as familiar as the arguments for and against them. (See an essay in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly for the prosecution and a profile in this week’s New York magazine for the defense.) His frames are, once again, stuffed with carefully placed curiosities, both human and inanimate; his story wanders from whimsy to melancholy; his taste in music, clothes, cars and accessories remains eccentric and impeccable.
And like his other recent films, “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” this new one celebrates a sensibility at once cliquish and inclusive. It reflects the aesthetic obsessions of a tiny coterie that anyone with the price of a ticket is free to join. (Charter members include Owen Wilson, one of the film’s three leading men, and his co-star Jason Schwartzman, who wrote the script with Mr. Anderson and Roman Coppola.)
more from the NY Times here.
Ah, longevity. Without it, we would have to think differently about Philip Roth. Despite the success and notoriety (and, yes, outright brilliance) of “Goodbye, Columbus” and “Portnoy’s Complaint,” his early career is, frankly, spotty, marked by minor efforts (“Our Gang,” “The Breast”) and books such as “When She Was Good” and “My Life as a Man” that never seem to find their way. Indeed, it was only with the 1979 publication of “The Ghost Writer,” the first of his novels to feature Nathan Zuckerman, that Roth uncovered what has become the center of his work.
It’s not that he wasn’t ambitious; he didn’t call his 1973 baseball fantasia “The Great American Novel” for nothing, after all. Yet to look back at Roth’s writing of the 1960s and 1970s is to see a writer in chrysalis, testing out themes and ideas — the relationship of Jewishness and Americanness, the interplay between art and identity, the ongoing struggle of the self to define itself — that he would get at with far greater acuity in his later work.
more from the LA Times here.
Poor Africa, the happy hunting ground of the mythomaniac, the rock star buffing up his or her image, the missionary with a faith to sell, the child buyer, the retailer of dirty drugs or toxic cigarettes, the editor in search of a scoop, the empire builder, the aid worker, the tycoon wishing to rid himself of his millions, the school builder with a bucket of patronage, the experimenting economist, the diamond merchant, the oil executive, the explorer, the slave trader, the eco-tourist, the adventure traveler, the bird watcher, the travel writer, the escapee, the colonial and his crapulosities, the banker, the busybody, the Mandela-sniffer, the political fantasist, the buccaneer and your cousin the Peace Corps Volunteer. Oh, and the atoner, of whom Thoreau observed in a skeptical essay: “Now, if anything ail a man so that he does not perform his functions … if he has committed some heinous sin and partially repents, what does he do? He sets about reforming the world.” Thoreau, who had Africa specifically in mind, added, “Do you hear it, ye Wolofs?”
more from the NY Times Book Review here.
Something nice this way comes. It begins with the awful — whether it’s as enormous as the Holocaust or the World Trade Center or as intimate as family dysfunction or the death of a loved one — and then finds comfort. None of this Anna on the tracks, Emma in the dumps, or depressing Father Zosima’s corpse smells stuff; that’s sooo 19th century. As for Molly Bloom’s devil may care so let’s screw our brains out attitude, or Humbert Humbert’s twisted sexuality, or Dr. Spielvogel’s “Now vee may perhaps to begin” ironies, they’re clearly the product of 20th-century neuroses. Instead, let’s just book passage on a gentle, healing voyage. Sound trite? It is, but it’s apparently the literature of our time as exemplified by Jonathan Safran Foer, Myla Goldberg, Nicole Krauss, and Dave Eggers, along with everything McSweeney’s, the magazine founded by Eggers. What this otherwise disparate group of fiction and nonfiction writers share are a special calming effect on the souls of their many readers and, most significantly, a locus in which their work has come to fruition: Brooklyn.
more from The American Scholar here.
When New Statesman readers voted Aung San Suu Kyi the greatest hero of our time in May last year, there was no doubting the strength of feeling over the plight of the Burmese people. The pro-democracy leader, who has spent much of the past 17 years under house arrest, received three times as many nominations as Nelson Mandela.
In August 2006, we devoted a special issue to Burma. “Is there hope in the land of the generals?” we asked, as we focused on the tragedy of a country that has suffered under the rule of a military dictatorship since 1962, when General Ne Win seized the power he held on to until 1988.
That year is significant, for it was the time of the last major challenge to the ruling junta. Ne Win did step down, and in 1990 elections were held. But the generals did not relax their control of the country; Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won 82 per cent of the vote but was never allowed to form a government. And the protests that had led to a shifting of power within the regime had been put down with a barbarism and cruelty for which Burma’s leaders are too well-known. Troops fired on peaceful demonstrators in Rangoon and other cities, killing several thousand and arresting many who have never been seen again.
more from The New Statesman here.
Seth Mnookin in Vanity Fair:
Like Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, Stephen Colbert so completely inhabits his creation—the arch-conservative blowhard host of The Colbert Report, his Daily Show spin-off hit—that he rarely breaks character. As Colbert’s new book, I Am America (And So Can You!), is published, Vanity Fair gets a revealing interview with the real thing: a master comedian, forever altered by family tragedy.
I used to make up stuff in my bio all the time, that I used to be a professional ice-skater and stuff like that. I found it so inspirational. Why not make myself cooler than I am? I [told an interviewer that] I’d been arrested for assaulting someone with a flashlight. And I said that I drove a Shelby Cobra, like the Road Warrior, like Mel Gibson. I said, “I’d like you to know I drive a Shelby Cobra.” They totally swallowed it, and I felt bad. Then I thought, It doesn’t matter. It’ll make a better story. —Stephen Colbert in an interview in his office, June 19, 2007.
Stephen King in the New York Times:
The American short story is alive and well.
Do you like the sound of that? Me too. I only wish it were actually true. The art form is still alive — that I can testify to. As editor of “The Best American Short Stories 2007,” I read hundreds of them, and a great many were good stories. Some were very good. And some seemed to touch greatness. But “well”? That’s a different story.
I came by my hundreds — which now overflow several cardboard boxes known collectively as The Stash — in a number of different ways. A few were recommended by writers and personal friends. A few more I downloaded from the Internet. Large batches were sent to me on a regular basis by Heidi Pitlor, the series editor. But I’ve never been content to stay on the reservation, and so I also read a great many stories in magazines I bought myself, at bookstores and newsstands in Florida and Maine, the two places where I spend most of the year. I want to begin by telling you about a typical short-story-hunting expedition at my favorite Sarasota mega-bookstore. Bear with me; there’s a point to this.