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History Repeats

A History of Surveillance

Harvey Georges/AP

In the ’70s Americans learned the hard way that intelligence agencies hate to tell the public what they’re doing. Recent revelations about the NSA prove that oversight and accountability are as necessary now as they were four decades ago.

Twice in their history Americans have been forced to confront a challenging question: Is excessive government surveillance a necessity in a threatening world or a crime against democracy? In both instances, the evidence of such operations was gathered and publicized by citizens whose consciences compelled them to risk many years prison in order to inform the public about illicit government actions.We are currently living through one of those times, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the massive surveillance of the National Security Agency.

Dyke Power

All Hail the Lesbian Avengers

Design by Carrie Moyer

In the early 1990s, the Lesbian Avengers took gay politics into the sound and fury of street activism. In a new book, former member Kelly Cogswell remembers the good times and bad.

The death of arch-homophobe and foamer-at-the-mouth Fred Phelps has led to polarized feelings: do you dance on his grave, simply say “good riddance to bad rubbish,” or just think of him with pity? His Westboro Baptist Church picketed funerals with his ridiculous and vile “God Hates Fags” signs: how can we outdo that for his own? Or do we just turn away from his end-of-life spectacle, and in so doing repudiate the extreme homophobia and prejudice he represented?These thoughts occur while reading Kelly Cogswell’s Eating Fire: My Life As a Lesbian Avenger because when the direct action group of the book’s title was hot in the early to mid 1990s, that kind of explicit, vicious homophobia was the norm.


The Week’s Best Reads

The Daily Beast

From the search for bisexuality to how helicopter parents are hurting their kids, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists Benoît Denizet-Lewis, The New York Times Magazine How a new breed of activists is using science to show—once and for all—that someone can be truly attracted to both a man and a woman.The Overprotected Kid Hanna Rosin, The Atlantic A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution.

Splitting the Difference

My Post-Ultra-Orthodox Wedding

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

A couple, raised as ultra-Orthodox Jews, searches for the right wedding celebration to satisfy family and themselves.

I met my husband at a support group for former ultra-Orthodox Jews. There were a dozen of us there, sitting in a circle of chairs, talking about our challenging journeys out of our cloistered communities, but this young blonde man across from me kept on staring at me. It seemed as if he was searching for something in my face, trying to catch something with his eyes.His name was Zeke. At the end of the evening, he asked me what train I was taking home.

Founding Father

The Making of Mark Twain

Culture Club/Getty

In California, young newspaperman Sam Clemens fell in with Bret Harte and other self-styled Bohemians, and together they discovered the American voice.

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in 1935, and that book’s continuing ability to discomfit and enrage testifies to the power of Twain’s prose. He captured in print the blunt rhythms and salty wit of American colloquial speech, creating a distinctive national literary language that shaped the work of every writer who followed him. But he wasn’t alone in his quest to liberate American culture from sanctimony and sentimentality—a vibrant San Francisco publishing community played an instrumental role in helping Twain find his voice during a few seminal years in the 1860s, decades before Huckleberry Finn was published.


How I Write: David Baldacci

Andersen Ulf/Getty

The bestselling thriller author, whose new novel, 'The Target,' is available for preview this week, talks about writing since he was a kid.

Where do you live and why?I live in Virginia, right outside of Washington, DC. I was born in Virginia, I’m a life-long Virginian. I came up here to practice law in DC over twenty years ago, just loved the area. It’s a great place to be a writer, because I can kind of look out the window and ideas come to me.Okay, where’s the best barbecue in Virginia?Ha! Growing up in Richmond there was a place my family would go every Saturday. Bill’s Barbecue.

Literary Estates

Five Great Literary Homes

John Greim/Getty

The debut novelist Stuart Nadler, whose book ‘Wise Men’ is out in paperback, picks his favorite literary descriptions of domesticity.

Our culture is packed full at the moment with aspirational domesticity––home improvement television shows, inside peeks at celebrity houses, a general collective madness for expensive mid-century sofas and artisanal hand-woven rugs and organic wallpaper. All of this reminds me of Lorrie Moore’s terrific story You’re Ugly, Too. When Zoë Hendricks finally buys her first home near the liberal arts college in Illinois where she teaches, her mother sends her a box of old decorating magazines in the mail.


Music Criticism Has Gone to Hell

©DreamWorks/Courtesy Everett Collection

In the new paradigm, artists generate coverage by their clothes, hook-ups, and run-ins with the law. What happened to the music?

Imagine, for a moment, football commentators who refuse to explain formations and plays. Or a TV cooking show that never mentions the ingredients. Or an expert on cars who refuses to look under the hood of an automobile.These examples may sound implausible, perhaps ridiculous. But something comparable is happening in the field of music journalism. One can read through a stack of music magazines and never find any in-depth discussion of music.

Roddy Doyle, Ever Green

David Levenson

One of Ireland’s best writers—certainly its best known—talks about James Joyce, John Ford, ‘Father Ted,’ and bringing Jimmy Rabbitte of ‘The Commitments’ back in a new novel.

Roddy Doyle, the most popular Irish writer of his generation, was born in 1958 in Dublin. He is the author of 11 novels (the latest of which is The Guts) seven children’s books (including the well known Rover Adventures series), three novellas, several plays and screenplays, and a swarm of short stories (one of which, “New Boy,” was a 2008 Academy Award-nominated short film). A stage version of his first novel, The Commitments, is currently having a successful run on London’s West End.


This Week’s Hot Reads

The Daily Beast

From a portrait of an upscale New York City kitchen and its motley crew to a spy thriller set during the Chinese Communist Revolution.

Sous Chef by Michael GibneyA graduate of the Culinary Institute of America once told me that Gordon Ramsay is the only chef on television who acts like someone she’d find in an actual restaurant kitchen. Food Network and other channels have made the cooking industry seem family-friendly and, in doing so, are apparently committing a gross disservice to reality. It seems Ramsay’s coarse demeanor and fiery personality, complete with cursing and bawdy humor, reveal more about the field than can any bubbly acronym with which Rachel Ray abuses us.

DEATH IN THE Heartland

Nebraska Murder Mystery

Macduff Everton/Corbis

The mysterious death of a quiet, unassuming math professor, and a personal memoir about his own turbulent marriage, makes Poe Ballantine's latest book a gripping read.

The police reports that Poe Ballantine quotes at the beginning of the chapters of Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere are meant to show how hokey life in the small northwestern Nebraskan town of Chadron might be: "7.14pm Caller from Regency Trailer Court advised of a dead bird that caller stated died for no apparent reason."But the reports have a secondary subversive impact, for this book is part-memoir and also a mystery, involving a possible murder.


Chimamanda Adichie: Literary Lagos


The new winner of the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction on her literary city and how it inspires her writing.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been a cornerstone of both Nigerian and American literature in recent years. Her debut novel, Half of a Yellow Sun was followed by a MacArthur Fellowship in 2008 and her latest, Americanah, which describes a young couple reintegrating back into Nigerian life after an American education has just won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.Growing up in a quiet area of Enugu with her Igbo family—an ethnicity and language that many of her characters share—Adichie left Nigeria to study in the U.

Face Fail

The Unpersuadables

Intelligent creationists, scientifically-minded climate-change doubters, and Holocaust deniers—why don’t all smart people believe in facts?

As he was researching his new book, Will Storr met a creationist who said there were dragons on Noah’s Ark, a climate-change denier who maintained that DDT is harmless and can be eaten “by the tablespoon,” and a past-life regression therapist who told him that in previous lives, one of her clients was a tree branch and two others were John Lennon.Occasionally, Storr found himself frustrated. But the industrious British journalist kept his exasperation in check, deciding that he was less interested in combatting obviously flawed reasoning than in exploring how contentious notions take root in the first place.


The Art of the Sneaker

Rizzoli New York

The basketball sneaker has a long and lucrative history, especially for the sportsmen who become the brands' ambassadors.

They wait in long lines in the bitter cold. They squeal with delight over the stitch on the shoes or the faux snakeskin upper. Colors more likely to be seen during Carnival in Rio than on any self-conscious American are hits. Catty quips about style choices are met with irrational exuberance over over-hyped new designs.No, these aren’t the insufferable Carrie wannabes taking up New York’s sidewalks—they are teenage boys and grown men all over the world going on about basketball sneakers.

Future Tense

Relax, Robots Won’t Take Every Job

CSA Images/Getty

The co-author of ‘The Second Machine Age’ talks about the possibility that machines will put us all of work and why that is just one of several scenarios of the future.

What is technology doing to us? Between the digital skeptics and the wide-eyed utopians sit the authors of The Second Machine Age, two MIT scholars with an interest in consensus and moderation. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both at the university’s Center for Digital Business, realized that things were moving way faster than even they would have predicted. Just as the Industrial Revolution saw machines replacing human brawn, the second machine age sees them replacing our cognitive faculties.

Soros: Ukraine Could Wreck Europe

Gleb Garanich/Reuters

The billionaire financier says in its tepid response to Russia’s Crimea land grab, the EU flubbed a key chance to breathe new life into the stale union.

George Soros, one of the world’s leading investors, has warned that the European Union is in danger of falling apart if it fails to confront Vladimir Putin’s naked aggression in Ukraine.The billionaire financier told The Daily Beast that European governments should have seized on Russia’s land grab in Crimea to breathe new life into a union that is disintegrating and stumbling towards oblivion. Instead, he argued, squabbling European nations have failed to meet the challenge and continued to act in their own narrow self-interest.


World According to Wes Anderson

Mike Pont/FilmMagic

Wes Anderson opened the spring season of ‘LIVE From the NYPL’ by talking about his new film, Stefan Zweig, Francois Truffaut, and Marcel Proust.

Filmmaker Wes Anderson opened the LIVE From the New York Public Library’s Spring season on Feb. 27, chatting with the library’s Paul Holdengraber about his new movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was deeply influenced by the work of Austrian author Stefan Zweig. “I stole from Zweig,” Anderson said, and the result is an extraordinary tapestry of an imaginary Austro-Hungarian Empire from grandeur to decay. Though The Grand Budapest Hotel is a comedy, it is a dark comedy that foreshadows the sinister history of the two world wars and their aftermath.


National Book Critics Announce Awards


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won for fiction and Sheri Fink for nonfiction.

On March 13, The National Book Critics Circle announced the winners of its book awards for books published in 2013. Winners included Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for her novel Americanah, and Sheri Fink for Five Days at Memorial, her nonfiction account of a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina. Frank Bidart won for his volume of poetry, Metaphysical Dog. Amy Wilentz won in autobiography for Farewell, Fred Voodoo. Leo Damrosch’s Jonathan Swift took the prize for biography. And Franco Moretti won the criticism award for Distant Reading.

Read it at Publisher’s Weekly


Study: Americans Love Libraries

Justin Sullivan

Roughly a third of Americans say they are ‘highly engaged’ with their local libraries.

How much do Americans love libraries? So much that even people who don’t use them say they cherish them. That’s one of several surprising findings in a new Pew Research Center report. Most intriguing: people who identify themselves as techies and people with high incomes are often among the biggest users and fans of public libraries. Another counter-intuitive finding: the people who said they feel overwhelmed by “information overload” were often those who rarely visited a library and engaged the least with new technology.According to the report, 30 percent of Americans are “highly engaged” with their local libraries, but most people’s use of libraries depends on what’s going on in their lives: students, job seekers, and new parents patronize libraries because their lives are changing and they need information. People who engage the least with their libraries, according to the study, tend to have “lower levels of technology use, fewer ties to their neighbors, lower feelings of personal efficacy, and less engagement with other cultural activities.”

Read it at Pew Internet Research Project

Endless Work

How I Write: Scott Spencer

Everett Collection

‘Endless Love,’ adapted for the big screen in 1981 and 2014, made Scott Spencer’s novel a household name. But the National Book Award-nominated author was already regarded as a modern master.

Where did you grow up?I was raised in a house on the far South Side of Chicago, in a development erected on landfill made from slag and other industrial by-products a few years after World War II. My father worked in a nearby steel mill—I learned later in life that he was a manual worker as a matter of conscience—and my mother worked for an opinion research company, going to people’s homes and interviewing them about their reactions to products and advertising.

How I Write