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What Will Come

The Novel of the Year

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Ken Kalfus’s unjustly overlooked Equilateral speaks to the delusions of our time in its depiction of a man bent on communicating with Mars.

The novel published this year that speaks most eloquently about America in 2013 takes place in Egypt’s Great Sand Sea, in 1894. In the middle of the vast desert Professor Sanford Thayer, one of the world’s leading astronomers, is presiding over “the greatest international peacetime undertaking in the history of man.” But even that’s an understatement. At twice the expense of the Suez Canal, 900,000 men have been employed to carve into the white sand an enormous equilateral triangle.

Moon Landings

The Year in Sci-Fi, Chinese Style

Reuters, via Landov

In 2013 China joined the short list of countries who have landed on the moon, but Chinese science fiction had been dreaming of just that for decades. Jeffrey Wasserstrom on the People’s Republic’s new wave of speculative fiction.

Thanks to China joining the elite club of countries that have carried out successful moon landings, 2013 will definitely be remembered as a special year in the annals of Chinese science. What’s likely less widely appreciated in some quarters is that it’s also been a banner year for Chinese science fiction.This genre has had its share of dramatic ups and downs in the past, with the Communist Party literary establishment treating it as a suspect form for much of the last half-century.


While the World Watched


A masterful new history tells the story of the doomed 1944 Warsaw uprising as no other book yet has writes Ilana Bet-El—and the contemporary parallels are haunting.

Poland and Syria do not immediately appear to have much in common, but the people in both have been abandoned to untold violence with the full knowledge of the world. And while Poland and Ukraine do not share a common history, they have undoubtedly suffered the common problem of being considered a Russian possession: in 1939 Poland was partitioned between Germany and the USSR, then taken by the Soviets at the end of the war as if no more than a Russian province.


The Best Longreads of 2013

From Deadspin’s unmasking of the Manti Teo hoax to Ariel Levy’s harrowing account of losing her baby in Mongolia to Stephen Rodrick’s poignant portrait of Lindsay Lohan on set, The Daily Beast picks the best long-form journalism of the year.

The Lonely Quiet After Newtown Eli Saslow, The Washington Post, June 8 Six months later, the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, fades into the past, and the parents left behind try to make the country remember.Thanksgiving in Mongolia Ariel Levy, The New Yorker, November 18 A journalist’s harrowing, heartbreaking story of her miscarriage while on assignment in a remote corner of Asia.On Smarm Tom Scocca, Gawker, December 5 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.

Bottoms Up!

Best Books on Booze

Tore Johnson/Time Life Pictures, via Getty

From John Cheever’s haunting story ‘The Swimmer’ to the eloquent hangovers of Kingsley Amis, here are the 10 best books and stories on drinking and booze. Sip carefully.

Over the past few years, I’ve become a connoisseur of literary drunkenness. Once you start looking, alcohol is everywhere in literature, streaming dangerously through the books of sots and teetotallers alike. Here are ten of the greatest fictional takes on drinking, catching both the pleasures of a good night’s boozing and the troubles it can bring crashing down upon a life. Be warned, though: some of these might put you off the sauce for good.

This Way and That

To Dream a Dream

Louis Monier/Gamma

Everyone else’s dreams are boring, but for a writer like Georges Perec his dreams can be a way to understand his other writing. Lauren Elkin journeys into Neverland with the Oulipian writer.

2013 really has been Georges Perec's year. With the first English translation of his dream journal, La Boutique Obscure, out earlier this year from Melville House, and a new collection of Oulipian responses to his story A Winter Journey published last month by Atlas Press, Perec, who died much too young in 1982 of lung cancer, is finally becoming a major cultural reference point in the English-speaking world.  Last month, City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco hosted an Oulipo festival (or "laboratory"), partly organized by Daniel Levin Becker, translator of the dream journal and contributor to the Atlas Press volume.

Dates and Places

How to Write About History

The Daily Beast

When we pick up history books today what exactly do we expect from them? Historian Lincoln Paine considers what should be in our history.

The term globalization entered the popular lexicon in the 1980s, but the phenomenon of globalization, which has effects not only across space but also through time, is not a spontaneous novelty. Despite what many partisans of the present day would have us believe, most spheres of human activity—trade, culture, migration, foodways, environmental crises, disease, language, and religion, to say nothing of diplomacy and war—have been globalized for centuries.

Must See

What You Shouldn’t Have Missed

Atsushi Nishijima/Focus Features, via AP

This year was one of the best in recent memory for movies, TV, music, and everything else in culture. Here’s what you probably overlooked but shouldn’t have.

MOVIE: The Place Beyond the Pines by Derek CianfranceAn ambitious, three-part, multi-generational look at the rivalries of a stunt motorcyclist-turned-bank robber (Ryan Gosling) and a cop (Bradley Cooper). The film is a bit unruly in its overly dramatic twists and turns, but savor Gosling’s performance—among his last, with Only God Forgives, before his self-imposed sabbatical from acting.MOVIE: A Touch of Sin by Jia ZhangkeLeave it to Jia, perhaps the best director on the planet today, to find a new way to critique China as it becomes like the Wild West, a corrupt land full of outlaws and people pushed to the brink.


This Week’s Hot Reads

From a biography of Beethoven focusing on his relationships, to the best of McSweeney’s.

Beethoven: The Man Revealed By John Suchet Scholar John Suchet has written six books about the classical music’s most revered composer, Ludwig van Beethoven; his latest, out now, is Beethoven: The Man Revealed. Suchet himself admits that he has not uncovered any new information about the oft-written about composer; however, his focus on Beethoveen the man is departure enough to justify his book’s existence. The most interesting facet of The Man Revealed is Suchet’s investigation into the interlay between Beethoveen’s life and his art, the relationships that were so strained by his volatile genius inspired some of his greatest work.

Global Views

Around the World in 10 Books

The Daily Beast

From the catastrophe unfolding in Pakistan to a great novel about Yugoslavia, here are 10 books about the rest of the world that deserve your attention writes Kapil Komireddi.

Would Gandhi tweet? Is there any hope for the US-Pakistan relationship? Why did the Syrian revolution fail? When is imperialism imperialism? These are some of the questions answered by this idiosyncratic round up of books concerned with the world beyond America. Many of them were published this year. Some were published years ago. All of them deserve a wide readership.1. Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding, by Husain HaqqaniHusain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington between 2008 and 2011, has written the most clear-eyed history of the U.

Worst of Times

Charles Dickens’ Tragic Love

David Appleby

It was the secret affair that threatened the image of Britain’s famous family man. Ralph Fiennes talks about the unearthed cruelty at the heart of his new film, ‘The Invisible Woman.’

“There was a sort of frustrated sexual energy in Dickens,” Ralph Fiennes says—frustrated at least until the years covered in The Invisible Woman.Fiennes directed and stars in the film, which explores Charles Dickens’  intense-but-secret love affair with a young actress, Ellen Ternan, known as Nelly, a liaison that endured for the last 13 years of his life. This is no stilted period piece, though. Based on Claire Tomalin’s scrupulous, enthralling 1990 book, also called The Invisible Woman, the film captures Dickens’ yearning passion, Nelly’s ambivalence, the fraught ups-and-downs of any genuine long-term love.

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

2013 Surprises & Disappointments

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Remember when you were actually looking forward to ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’? Or when you thought ‘Bangerz’ would be a disaster? A look back at the biggest pop culture surprises and disappointments of 2013.

For every Gravity in 2013, there was a Grown Ups 2; for every Breaking Bad, there was a Dads. It was a year of highs and lows, but it was also a year of happy surprises (Bowie! Beyonce!) and crushing disappointments (an Oz movie so bad it would make Dorothy blush, and an abysmal adaptation of a beloved book). These are the pop culture happenings we expected more from—and the ones we thought we’d hate but ended up loving. Disappointment: Super Fun Night It should have been comedy gold.

Viva Hate

Viva Hate

Richard Perry/The New York Times, via Redux

The former Smiths frontman’s autobiography is brilliant, funny, occasionally cruel, frequently tedious, and often maddening.

When Morrissey’s Autobiography was published in the U.K. in October, the British press — being the British press — seized instantly upon the revelation (or confirmation) that one of the most sexually ambiguous performers of the last thirty years had a two-year relationship with another man. Photographer Jake Owen Walters makes two first impressions on our author, first by ordering meat at a restaurant, thereby disgusting Morrissey into fleeing the premises; then by displaying the word “Battersea” tattooed on his (Walters’) inner-lip and inquiring as to why sthis South London district is mentioned in one of the singer-songwriter’s most frivolous solo tracks.

Naughty or Nice

How Santa Hurts Christmas


Yes, it’s true, but Mr. Claus is just about the worst thing to happen to Christianity. We make kids believe in a fat man who hands out gifts unfairly and makes out with mom, and then ask them to believe in Jesus. Right.

Santa is a fixture in a fixture in holiday calendars, at malls, and on lawns across suburbia. But who is Santa really, and does he embody “the spirit of the Holiday” of consumer Christmas?Most modern American beliefs about Santa come from Dutch settlers in New York and reach us by way of department store marketing and Thomas Nast cartoons. But, as many people know, the modern Santa Claus evolved out of St. Nicholas. In much the same way homo sapiens evolved out of sea sludge.

Yippee Ki Yi Yay

‘Die Hard’ Was a Novel? Seriously


Stump your friends. Win bets in bars. Yes, ‘Die Hard’ is based on a novel that’s been unjustly obscured by the film.

“The novel on the cutting room floor”They are literature’s cold cases, the Missing and Presumed Dead. They are the unlucky novels and stories that inspired movies so successful that they eclipsed the originals almost completely.  Some books weather a subsequent movie’s success. Gone With the Wind survives as a classic film and a classic novel. But how many people know that before it was a movie, The Birds was a very good novella by Daphne Du Maurier, or that Forrest Gump is based on the novel Forrest Gump?Good fiction deserves a better fate.


The Week’s Best Reads

The Daily Beast

From Orange County’s empty evangelical cathedral to the even darker side of Reagan’s “welfare queen,” The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

Where Are the People? Jim Hinch, American Scholar Evangelical Christianity in America is losing its power. What happened to Orange County’s Crystal Cathedral shows why.The Welfare Queen Josh Levin, Slate In the 1970s, Ronald Reagan villainized a Chicago woman for bilking the government. Her other sins—including possible kidnappings and murders—were far worse.How John McCain Turned His Clichés Into Meaning Mark Leibovich, The New York Times Magazine The “brave maverick” who became the “bitter old man” is now “learning to let go.

Old-Fashioned Hero

The Eternal Lure of T.E. Lawrence

Hulton Archive

T.E. Lawrence led the Arab Revolt Against the Turks and Found Fame as the Antithesis of the faceless World War I combatants dying by the thousands in Europes’s trenches.

The passing of Peter O’Toole this week has brought an abundance of Laurentian iconography to TV screens, web pages and YouTube. For millions, O’Toole was Lawrence of Arabia. Over time, the incarnations of actor, character, and historical figure have coalesced into a single essence.In what seems to be a strange convergence, Lawrence’s legend has been further enhanced by Scott Anderson’s recent history, Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East.

Lost Treasure

Hitler’s Holy Grail Plot

Cesar Rangel/AFP via Getty

Why did Hitler crave the missing panel in the famous Ghent Altarpiece? Maybe because the Nazi’s paranormal research group thought the masterpiece contained a map to the Holy Grail.

On the night of 10 April 1934, one of the twelve oak panels that comprise Jan van Eyck’s famous painting, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, was stolen from Saint Bavo Cathedral, in Ghent, Belgium. Often referred to as “The Ghent Altarpiece,” this monumental oil painting is arguably the single most influential painting ever made. It is also the most-frequently stolen, having been burgled, in its entirety or in parts, at least six times—quite a feat, considering that it is the size of a barn door (14 x 11.

The Color of Money

The Real Wolf of Wall Street


The Wolf of Wall Street wasn’t actually on Wall Street—he worked on Long Island. How much of Scorsese’s new film comes from the infamous memoirs of Jordan Belfort?

The new Martin Scorsese film Wolf of Wall Street is particularly handy if you need to figure out how to open the door to your Lamborghini after you’ve been severely impaired by vintage Quaaludes. Wall Street crook Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, has just taken three very strong, very expired sedatives. He was only a few hundred yards from his mansion, but why wait it out if you’ve got a fast car? The trick is to get a Lamborghini with jack-knife doors and low clearance, so that when you writhe and roll on the ground you can still kick the door upwards and crawl in.


Best Books for Men


From the men who lunch to the Boomer news junkie, Liesl Schillinger picks the year’s best books for the masculine element.

What can you give the fathers, brothers, grandfathers and uncles in your life at the holidays, if they do not golf, do not wear ties, and like to say they “just don’t read fiction?” The question has rarely been more easily resolvable than it is this year, in which a plethora of new non-fiction titles (and, OK, one novel) make it easy to shop for the affable men on your list who unhelpfully protest that they don’t need anything. Match the following books to the male relative who fits them.

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