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Evergreen

Bellow’s ‘Herzog’ Turns 50

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The Nobel prize-winning novelist’s masterpiece has lost none of its charm or its relevance as it hits the mid-century mark.

For Saul Bellow, 1964 was a breakthrough year. With the publication of his sixth book, Herzog, Bellow went from being a favorite of the critics and a select circle of readers to the ranks of novelists whom the public knows and likes. Herzog earned Bellow his second National Book Award to go along with the one he had received a decade earlier for The Adventures of Augie March. But it was a commercial success as well, staying on the New York Times bestseller list for 42 weeks and reaching number one soon after its 1964 publication.

Sacked

I Was Australia’s Anna Wintour

Melbourne University Publishing

In May 2012, Kirstie Clements was unceremoniously fired after serving as editor of 'Vogue Australia' for 13 years. In an excerpt from her new book, she remembers the day it all changed.

It was 10 a.m. on a Wednesday. I had a scheduled meeting with Nicole Sheffield, the newly appointed CEO of NewsLifeMedia, the company owned by Rupert Murdoch that had held the license for Vogue in Australia since 2007. We had met only once before, a quick and pleasant chat in her office in March a few weeks after she had started.I had been working at Vogue Australia for twenty-five years and in the editor’s chair for thirteen. She was my eighth CEO.

BODY PARTS

Murder & Morgues in WWII London

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Bodies in mortuaries, bodies in ponds, bodies under houses, and in dank boarding houses. As the bombs fell on London in World War II, Molly Lefebure saw death up close and very personally, as her stunning memoir reveals.

If there is something very English about Murder On The Home Front, it is not just the setting—the topsy-turvy, dank, chaotic London-in-flux of World War II—but also the phlegmatic voice of the author, Molly Lefebure. In the war years, Lefebure was secretary to forensic pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson, and wrote of her experiences of the deaths they investigated—suicides, murders, accidents—in her 1955 book, Evidence For The Crown.The catchier title it is presented with in 2014 is down to the name of the TV drama adapted from it last year.

The Believer

The Most Unreliable Narrators

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Sophie Hannah, the author of the new novel ‘The Orphan Choir’, has always preferred the sketchy storyteller. Why should a narrator openly tell us everything when we haven’t earned that privilege?

What is an unreliable narrator? Asking that question, or hearing someone else ask it, always activates my contrary streak (which is sizeable enough that some might say it constitutes almost my whole personality!) In many of the best novels I’ve read that feature unreliable narrators, their unreliability—for which some readers condemn them—is a much-needed defense against the other characters in the book, who are often reliably repellent.I generally like, and side with, unreliable narrators.

Book Smart

There's No Such Thing as Dyslexia

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“Dyslexia” has become a catch-all term for everything from poor reading skills to complex speech disorders. It’s poorly understood and largely over-diagnosed. Is it time to retire the word “dyslexic”?

In many countries across the world there is a common script in cases where children are encountering difficulties with reading.It runs something like this:Concerned Parent (CP): I am really worried about Tommy’s lack of progress at school. He seems to be making no progress in his reading and is now losing interest. Helpful Bystander (HB): Have you ever thought that maybe he has dyslexia? CP: This had crossed my mind but I wasn’t sure about it.

Rights Warrior

Jimmy Carter’s Campaign for Women

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In or out of the White House, Carter has been a man of principle unafraid of hard truth. In his 22nd book, he documents the plight of women around the world.

The mindless and childish hatred for President Jimmy Carter, across the right and among a surprising number of liberals, exposes the obscenity and flaccidity of American political culture, where cliché overwhelms insight and bromide mutes the truth of history.At the CPAC circus and over the airwaves of talk radio, the mere mention of Carter’s name is sufficient to provoke self-satisfied cackles and chortles from the audience, while liberals relegate Carter to the dubious distinction of “best ex-president”—a backhanded compliment equivalent to calling someone the best “non-medalist Olympian.

Masters of the Universe

The Dirt on Wall St.’s Flash Boys

The man behind ‘Moneyball’ goes inside the crazy world of high frequency trading to find billions being made by the nanosecond.

Michael Lewis is out with his newest book on the whited sepulcher that is Wall Street. Titled Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, this time Lewis trains his pen on the highly lucrative and ethically dubious business of high frequency trading.High frequency trading which involves the use of advanced computers with complex algorithms, allows companies to use information that comes microseconds before others get it, and make trades that end up costing investors tens of billions of dollars, according to Lewis.

Memory and Loss

This Week’s Hot Reads

A form-defying poetic novel from one of Israel’s best writers, a history of the Ten Commandments, and the translated account of a French soldier’s four miserable years in the trenches of WWI.

The Ten Commandments By Michael Coogan Quick, a challenge: name the Ten Commandments. For something so frequently referenced in the public discourse, it’s surprising how the words themselves can be taken for granted, or forgotten altogether. (Stephen Colbert once issued the same challenge to a congressman who sponsored a bill requiring the display of the commandments in courthouses. He could only come up with three.) But perhaps, if you’re particularly savvy, you’d reverse the game on me: am I referring to the commandments as they appear in Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5, or Exodus 34? Michael Coogan, director of publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum, opens The Ten Commandments: A short history of an Ancient Text, by listing the three different Decalogues in full, to demonstrate their differences; the third list includes such entries as “You should not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

An Ancient King

The Homecoming of Willie Mays

Louis Requena/MLB

At the end of his career, Willie Mays had nothing left to prove to anyone. But every time he took the field, he played like a man with everything on the line.

Everybody knows hope isn’t the thing with feathers, hope is Opening Day. Okay, not really, but the illusion of hope is vibrant today and tomorrow as the baseball season begins. It’s also the beginning of the end for one Derek Jeter, future Hall of Famer and the greatest Yankee icon since Mickey Mantle. There is something unseemly about the kind of farewell tour he’ll enjoy this year—it’s canned and cynical. But if you don’t let the manufactured ceremony spoil this long goodbye, it’s a good time to appreciate Jeter one more time.

Watershed

How a Dream Became a Law

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Enacting the landmark Civil Rights Act took a lot more than arm-twisting by Lyndon Johnson. Civility and canny bipartisanship in Congress were the key factors.

In the 50th anniversary year of the Civil Rights Act, An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Todd S. Purdum’s brisk nuts-and-bolts chronicle of its turbulent birth offers a salutary reminder that historic legislation is not easily achieved. It took years of militant direct action by civil rights activists, and violent reaction by diehard segregationists, to pressure an initially hesitant President Kennedy to commit his administration to a civil rights bill in June 1963, and it would be another year before his successor, Lyndon Johnson, signed it into law.

Weasel Words

Will Jargon Kill English?

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Jargon wherever it appears is the death of good prose and common sense.

By John PrestonA few years ago, I was standing in a queue behind two men and eavesdropping on their conversation. One man was saying that he had a shed in his garden and was worried about burglars breaking into it.“Oh,” said the other man, “Is it insecure?”“Yes,” the first man agreed solemnly, “It’s a very insecure shed.”Since then, whenever I come across a terrible linguistic pile-up, I see the specter of this insecure shed, hovering in mid-air and feeling sorry for itself.

Ancient and Modern

How to Write Historical Fiction

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Novelists Bruce Holsinger and Nancy Bilyeau discuss the joys and pitfalls of scrupulously researching the past and then turning it into fiction.

Who writes historical thrillers, those thick suspense stories filled with atmosphere and detail? The answer is, people like Bruce Holsinger and Nancy Bilyeau, who each have novels out now. Holsinger, a medievalist who teaches in the Department of English at the University of Virginia, wrote A Burnable Book, a thriller set in 1385 London. Nancy Bilyeau, a journalist and the executive editor of DuJour magazine, is writing a series of mysteries whose main character is a Dominican novice in the reign of Henry VIII.

Baseball's Barons

The Heroes of My Youth

Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, via Getty

Paul Hemphill was one of the great unsung writers of the American South. Here he celebrates the heyday of Birmingham's minor league team, the Barons.

Just in time for Opening Day, here’s a gem about minor league ball in the South. It was written by the late Paul Hemphill, who was often called the Jimmy Breslin of the South. But that doesn’t do him justice. He was more than a brilliant columnist. His first book, The Nashville Sound, remains one of the great books ever written about country music, and his baseball novel, Long Gone, later made into a fun and now overlooked movie (it was shown on HBO the year before Bull Durham came out), is a treat.

Small Is Beautiful

The History of Small-Batch Bourbon

Amin Akhtar/laif/Redux

Bourbon always had an off-the-rack reputation, but its distillers knew better: A chapter on small-batch bourbons from ‘Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit.’

Hedonism, decadence, profligacy, debauchery—such words may have made infrequent cameos in the Sunset Strip vernacular of the glam metal band Mötley Crüe, but as axiomatic principles, they were embraced as unquestionably and wholeheartedly as the ever-winking umlaut. Because to be a rock star was to push the boundaries of excess ever further, toward that self-fulfilling longitude—invisible, but mortally real—where glitter and doom became twinned on the horizon.

How to Write Sam Phillips’ Life

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Peter Guralnick has written biographies of Elvis and Sam Cooke. He could kick back and write fiction or teach. But forget that. He’d still rather sit around waiting for a Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland horn rehearsal in the middle of the night—even if it never happened.

“Long before the existence of Crawdaddy! or Fusion or Rolling Stone,” Peter Guralnick wrote in his first book, Feel Like Going Home, “I wanted to do a history of Sun Records.” That was 1971. Now, more than four decades later, Guralnick’s wrapping up a biography of Sun’s founder, Sam Phillips. “I think I’m something like 27 pages from the end right now,” he said during a recent phone. There’s no firm publication date set, so he’s got time to revise the manuscript—which he describes as “about as long as [Dream Boogie],” his 2005 biography of Sam Cooke, so call it roughly 800 pages—before turning it in to Little, Brown.

Longreads

The Week’s Best Longreads

The Daily Beast

From the interpreters we left behind to fend for their lives in Iraq to a creepy unsolved murder in Waco, the Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

The Interpreters We Left Behind Paul Solotaroff, Men’s Journal As our troops pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re abandoning fixers and translators to the dangerous countrymen who view them as traitors. Asylum in the U.S. could be their last hope. If only we’d let them in.Renewables Aren’t Enough. Clean Coal is the Future. Charles C. Mann, Wired It will be at least a hundred years until we can entirely covert to renewable energy. We have to clean up coal—fast.

Early Feminism

A Novel That Got Bigger Over Time

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Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer-winning ‘So Big’ was the bestselling novel of 1924. This class-conscious novel with a feminist heroine looks better the older it gets.

Four years after the publication of So Big, the bestselling novel of 1924 and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Edna Ferber found herself in a scene that might have been lifted from that novel. E.B. White wrote an item about it in the New Yorker:Miss Edna Ferber, the novelist, who lives in Central Park West, may not vote this year, because of something that happened when she registered prior to the last election. The clerk was taking down the facts about her: name, address, age, and so on.

Cursed

100 Years of Wrigley Field

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Happy birthday Wrigley Field, but are you too beautiful of a ballpark? After all, attendance at games is more sensitive to beer prices—much more—than it is to the Cubs’ record.

Wrigley Field, the dead-ball-era ballpark wedged into perhaps Chicago’s hippest north-side neighborhood, turns 100 this April. With its ivy-shrouded walls, manually operated scoreboard, and concrete-and-steel edifice, it survives as a monument to architectural beauty and athletic ineptitude. The Chicago Cubs, those loveable losers of the National League, have called the friendly confines of Wrigley home for the past 98 years, and not once in that time have they won the World Series.

Flood Warning

The Historical ‘Noah’

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The first few chapters of Genesis contain some of the strangest prose in the Bible, but the big reveal is a God making peace with man’s sinful nature.

In the beginning, the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, according to Genesis. Out of chaos, God created the universe and brought order. But fairly soon things started going very, very badly.The first chapters of Genesis, what scholars call the Bible’s “primeval history,” depict a gradual distancing between God and his creation, a tour of man’s growing alienation. The Fall is followed by violence—the murder of Abel.

Pedestrians

Who Got to America First

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At last, archeologists have resolved the debate over the first Americans (hint: they walked). Then they screwed up a perfectly good answer to an ancient puzzle.

We finally have a definitive answer to the timeless mystery of where the First Americans came from: They walked across the Bering Straits from Asia (and not from southwest Europe paddling kayaks across the frigid Atlantic sea).The first people to successfully colonize North America are called “Clovis,” and they made their appearance in the lower United States just prior to 13,000 years ago.The only known Clovis burial is in Montana, about 40 miles north of my house on the Yellowstone River (also known as the Anzick site).

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