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The Way

My Literary Rome

The Daily Beast

One of the world’s best beautiful and charming cities is also the new home of novelist Taiye Selasi. She talks to Henry C. Krempels about her favourite haunts, why the city insipires her, and new writers not to be missed.

One hundred pages into her career as a novelist, Taiye Sleasi had signed a two-book contract and could count Nobel winner Toni Morrison as a fan. Perhaps it’s understandable then, that the next hundred or so pages that completed her debut took much longer to write, with an agonizing six-month block and two different emigrations in between. Now living in Rome (via Paris) the part Ghanaian, part Nigerian, British-born, American-educated author of the widely admired Ghana Must Go, is writing the second book set in the city she now lives.

Euro Visions

Greg Baxter's 'The Apartment'

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When he first started reading The Apartment Elliot Ackerman anticipated any number of clichés might hijack the story, but he was pleasantly surprised by this quietly powerful novel of a veteran roaming through a European city.

On the first page of Greg Baxter’s debut novel, The Apartment, an unnamed narrator tells us, “I wanted to live in a cold city. I couldn’t say precisely why I picked this one.” I smiled reading those two sentences. I felt the same way when I began this book. I wasn’t sure why I’d picked it up, having done so before I was asked to write this review. Its concept was alarmingly simple: a man comes to a cold and unnamed European city. He’s there for reasons that aren’t clear, even to him, and he’s looking for an apartment.

Filial Dues

On the Road, Old Bean

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Nigel Nicolson—publisher, son of Vita Sackville-West—and his son Adam set out to cross the United States by car and meet in the middle in Kansas. Jessica Ferri on discovering their out-of-print road trip—and its refreshingly honest account of their relationship.

A few weeks ago I found myself in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia with a week to kill in between weddings. I had long heard tell of Asheville, North Carolina's legendary used bookstores, so I drove up for two nights. One shop in particular, The Battery Park Book Exchange, surpassed my expectations - not only is it one of the largest used bookstores I've ever visited, it's also a champagne bar. As I managed an armful of books and a champagne flute, a spine tucked away in the travel section caught my eye: "Nigel and Adam Nicolson.

Blink

Face, Mirror of Mind

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A new book marshals a collection of studies to argue that the mind is a much more accurate predictor than we might have thought, and we need look no further than our own face.

In 1831, Charles Darwin made his historic five-week tour of the Galapagos Islands aboard the HMS Beagle, changing the course of scientific history and laying the foundation for modern ideas about the history of life. But he almost didn’t make it on to the ship’s register. The captain of the Beagle was fond of the works of a Swiss poet named Johann Lavater, who adduced that, “An exact relationship exists between the soul and the body, between the internal and the external of man.

Snapped

A Picture Says It All

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For authors and publishers one of the most fraught parts of publicizing book is what photo to put on the jacket. Novelist Jennifer Miller on what a photo says about the author.

In 1645, when the London publisher Humphrey Moseley agreed to print the “Poems of Mr. John Milton,” he requested that Milton have his portrait engraved for the frontispiece. Until this point, author images were generally reserved for religious pamphlets and posthumous poetry collections. But Moseley believed that showing off his living authors in classical poses—often wearing Laurel wreaths—would elevate their work, their personas (and, probably, Moseley) to the high status as England’s dead literati.

Bread Free

Why Wheat Is Killing Us

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Bread lovers beware! Gluten-free diets may not just be a trendy choice but something everyone should follow. New research reveals that proteins in wheat may be detrimental to all humans.

“Gluten-free” seems to be appearing just about everywhere these days, from restaurant menus to grocery store shelves and even on cosmetics labels. And with good reason. The gluten-free market is exploding. Packaged Facts, a market research company estimated that the gluten-free market in the United States was $4.2 billion last year and predicts an expansion to $6.6 billion by 2017.In a recent Time Magazine article entitled: “Why We’re Wasting Billions on Gluten-Free Foods,” business writer Martha C.

The Unknown

This Week’s Hot Reads

From the mystery of neutrinos to the tragedy of Newtown.

Neutrino Hunters, The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe By Ray JayawardhanaIn an age of Google and NSA scandals, there seems to be no limits to our intelligence. The pleasure of Neutrino Hunters, by the astronomer Ray Jayawardhana, is that it reminds us how little we actually know, especially on the subatomic level. Since their discovery in the 1930s, neutrinos—elementary particles that carry a neutral charge—have generated increasing interest within the scientific community.

Taking a Stand

When Salinger Spoke Out

Lost in all the controversy around J.D. Salinger this year was the few times he chose to take a public stance as in this 1959 letter against life imprisonment without parole.

2013 has been a year that the late J. D. Salinger would have hated. With the highly publicized release of Shane Salerno’s documentary film, Salinger, a companion book by Salerno and David Shields, and three unpublished stories leaking, Salinger’s life has been subjected to the kind of scrutiny he did his best to avoid once he became a well-known author.But overlooked in the rush to get the inside scoop on Salinger has been a side of him that is important to acknowledge—the public side.

Masters

The Man With Stories To Tell

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The perfect gift for any crime and mystery lover this season is a new omnibus edition of Dashiell Hammett’s work. Allen Barra on the enduring greatness of his work, even when there are no crimes.

In his famous essay on the American detective story, “The Simple Art of Murder,” Raymond Chandler, the man who walked through the door Dashiell Hammett kicked in, paid him homage. The creator of Philip Marlowe wrote of the creator of Sam Spade: “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare and tropical fish.” If that seems a tad obscure to today’s readers, it’s because mystery fans no longer read early twentieth century British mystery writers such as Edgar Wallace and Dorothy Sayers or their later American imitators.

Classics

The Legend of Brown Dog

Jeff Topping /The New York Times via Reduz

One of America’s greatest writers, Jim Harrison, has created an indelible character in the trickster Brown Dog. Now collected for the first time in a new book readers can fully experience this energetic, lustful, quiet hero.

The prevailing notion of heroism is one for melodramatics and epic poets. There are comic book crime fighters who can fly with the birds, smash through walls of concrete, or transform the weather from sunny to stormy. There are the triumphant champions of professional sports, who with their superior physicality, dazzle audiences with seemingly superhuman feats of strength, speed, and agility. Then, there are the real life legends of justice, like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, who risk life and limb to further the fight for human freedom.

Longreads

The Week’s Best Reads

From the death of Nelson Mandela to the exploding Christian entertainment industry in Dallas, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

The Miracle Maker Sam Seibert, The Daily Beast The extraordinary life of the man who liberated South Africa—and then kept the country from falling apart.On Smarm Tom Scocca, Gawker From literature to politics, smarm—an insistence on civility, a finger-wagging disapproval of negativity—is doing its best to keep the cultural elite insulated from criticism.The Homeschool Apostates Kathryn Joyce, The American Prospect They were raised to carry the fundamentalist banner forward and redeem America.

Positively 4th Street

How Greenwich Village Vanished

Mark Peterson/Redux

A Greenwich Village historian tells us how the bohemian paradise dramatized in the Coen Brothers’ new film ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ became what it is today—one of the squarest, priciest neighborhoods in New York.

The Coen Brothers’ new movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, is hardly a sunny, soft-focus nostalgia-fest. It depicts a hardscrabble week in the life of the titular folksinger—a period, sometime in the winter of 1961, during which Davis gets punched in the face by a stranger, nearly freezes, coatless, in the bitter New York cold, and has to beg everyone he knows for a sofa to sleep on. The low winter light captured by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel is lovely, but it’s also as bleak and grey as Davis’s prospects for musical stardom.

Rendezvous

Mandela, My Source

Mary Benson/Corbis

For a young journalist in South Africa Nelson Mandela as a young ANC leader was a major source on the anti-apartheid struggle. He recalls there late night clandestine meetings and the moment when Mandiba turned to violence.

Amid the worldwide mourning and praise for Nelson Mandela, memories flood in of past desperate times in South Africa when the entire police force was hunting him. Mandela was in hiding, running a campaign to end apartheid. I was a young reporter on the Rand Daily Mail newspaper in Johannesburg and my beat was black politics.   Mandela and I met regularly, secretly at night, on a dark street in Johannesburg, so that he could brief me about his plans.

Shudder

The Original Criminal Mind

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To truly understand the criminal mind turn to a forgotten novel that has inspired writers such as Stephen King and Thomas Harris: John Fowles’ The Collector. Casey N. Cep on a tale of depravity and horror.

When Ariel Castro took his own life in September, many felt the closure offered by the criminal justice system had been thwarted. However impossible Castro’s thousand-year sentence, that he served so little was shocking, partly because it leaves us with so many questions about why he kidnapped three women, raped them repeatedly, and tortured them for more than a decade.There is no slaking our need for answers when it comes to criminality, and when we cannot find them in life, we seek them in fiction.

Decisions

Kill the Fat Man?

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It’s one of philosophy’s thorniest questions—the trolley problem—and a new book explores its interesting history, the many answers to it, and what it reveals about our failure to talk about moral questions in public today.

When forced to comment on an especially touchy issue—NSA surveillance, say—President Obama’s go-to rhetorical gambit has been to call for a “debate,” sometimes a “conversation,” often in service of “striking a balance” between two obviously important things. It’s good tack, particularly when Obama is playing defense. He’s actually found a way to deliver the no-content statements of a politician while portraying himself as a contemplative law professor.

Up and Down

All that Glitters

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The latest wild commodity is none other than one of the oldest: gold. A new book by journalist Matthew Hart takes readers on a while ride from South African gold mines to the trading desks where gold fortunes area made and broken.

“We are on the biggest gold binge ever,” writes Matthew Hart. “Never has there been so much to buy and such a frenzied trade.” The economic meltdown certainly played a part in this binge; gold prices doubled between 2008 and 2011 as investors sought refuge from the rocky financial markets. But as Hart whisks us around the globe and across the centuries with the breezy panache of a seasoned journalist, we see that the origins of the current gold boom lie in policies and practices implemented well before 2008—and that anyone who thinks gold is a “safe haven” should think again.

To the Barricades!

Americans Are Radicals at Heart

Newscom

A new book by Yuval Levin says America should discover its Burkean roots, but it’s Paine and his radical vision that are truly in the spirit of this country.

Reading The Great Debate, reminded me of the night I spoke at the Yale Political Union (YPU) in February 2009. I was invited to New Haven to advance the argument that “Americans Should Embrace Their Radical History”—that is, the history of our many popular struggles to enhance American democratic life and our exceptional achievements in the 1770s, 1860s, and 1930s and 40s in confronting and overcoming threats to the survival of the nation by actually doing so.

Freewheelin’

Fact Vs. Fiction in ‘Llewyn Davis’

Kai Shuman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty; Long Strange Trip

If the new Coen Brothers movie is meant to be a portrait of the pre-Bob Dylan Greenwich Village folk scene, how well did it do? Warning: spoilers abound.

Llewyn Davis seems all but lost at sea. He’s a merchant marine who’s misplaced his seaman’s papers. Come nightfall he’s a New York folk singer who is more likely to receive a beating after a gig than get royalties for his obscure recordings. At the end of the day he bounces from one benefactor’s couch to another’s, but instead of repaying them with a nice bottle of wine he loses the first one’s cat and gets the other friend pregnant. Considering Joel and Ethan Coen’s fondness for sad sacks, it’s no surprise Llewyn is their creation, the cosmic tragic schlemiel at the center of their new movie Inside Llewyn Davis.

Good Lord

How I Write: James McBride

Victoria Will/AP

The newly crowned National Book Award winner for fiction tells us about his pad in New York City, being able to write anywhere, and rewriting everything—even his emails.

I understand that I’ve caught you in the midst of a visit to the National Stamp Museum in DC?I’m doing an appearance here in DC. I had an hour and a half to blow, so I decided to pop into the museum, take a look around. You’re always hunting for ideas, you know?Congratulations on winning the National Book Award.I was eating an apple tart. Then they announced my book. I was stunned. Pretty surprised. I went to accept the award, and I was still holding my dinner napkin in my hand.

Sad Eyed Lady

Dylan at the Chelsea

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In the fall of 1965, all Bob Dylan wanted to do was check into the Chelsea Hotel with his girlfriend Sara Lownds and write his album, but he ended up trysting with Andy Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick—and then making the biggest decision of his life. An excerpt from ‘Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel.’

Bob Neuwirth, Bob Dylan’s closest friend and “supreme hip courtier” during this period, later recalled that it was on a snowy night sometime in the late fall of 1965 when he and Dylan first crossed paths with Edie Sedgwick. Dylan had finally returned east after a harrowing tour with his new band, the Hawks, and had more or less abandoned the house he had bought in Woodstock, not believing he could write something new in a place where he’d written before.

How I Write