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This Week’s Hot Reads

A new novel from one of America’s best young writers, a history of the hunt for a cure for AIDS, and the story of a sensational murder trial in turn-of-the-century Paris.

All Our Names: A Novel By Dinaw MengestuTowards the beginning of All Our Names, by MacArthur fellow and New Yorker 20 Under 40 Award winner Dinaw Mengestu, one character, a student in an unnamed African university, asks a fellow student named Isaac what he is studying. “This is Africa. There’s only one thing to study,” he replies. “Politics. That’s all we have here.” In his third novel, Mengestu displays his talent for the distinctly political fiction of post-colonialism, but also the deftly tragic touch of a dramatist.

Whiz! Bam!

Your Mind’s Future

Andrew Rich/Getty

Mind-reading machines! Telekinesis! In Michio Kaku’s new book our minds will be doing all kinds of cool things with gadgets very, very soon, but somehow this scientist misses the big questions about what we really know about consciousness and the mind.

One of the great pleasures of diving into a new obsession—whether music, photography, carpentry, or any pursuit requiring skill and practice—is getting to play with the specialized toys. For many enthusiasts, in fact, the tools can become more of a turn-on than the trade. We all know this person: the collector of vintage guitars who rarely plays, the home cook with more pots than recipes. It’s an unhealthy impulse, most would admit. And amateurs aren’t the only ones who succumb to it.

Aim True

The Profanity of War

Ashley Gilbertson/VII

With his new collection of short stories Redeployment, Marine Corps veteran Phil Klay has written brilliant, true, and winning fiction on the Iraq War, writes Brian Castner. Read it now.

This book is profane, and in just about every possible way.The following words appear on nearly every one of the first fifty pages: blood, fuck, hajji, dead, love, scream, rifle, kill, balls. In those first pages, I feared I was going to run out of synonyms for “visceral” while trying to write this review.But language (while important and powerful) is still all superficial, so when the stories then shift, drill through the violence of the body to the spirit underneath, they became profane in new and deeper and lasting ways.

The Week's Best Longreads

From a ghostwriter’s wild effort to finish Julian Assange’s autobiography to the return of extinct animals, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

Ghosting Andrew O’Hagan, The London Review of Books 
An epic account of a writer’s disastrous attempt to ghostwrite the autobiography of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. How Much My Novel Cost Me Emily Gould, Medium Writing her first book got her into debt. To finish the next one, she had to become solvent. The Mammoth Cometh Nathaniel Rich, The New York Times Magazine Bringing extinct animals back to life is really happening — and it’s going to be very, very cool.

Quelle Horreur

More Kids Books France Hates

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Recent Gallic gall over young-adult literature proves that even Paris can get pissy over progressive pulp fiction.

France’s main center-right party, the UMP, has recently waged a cultural war over several picture books suggested on a government website as a way for teachers to counter gender stereotypes among their students. Offending titles include, but aren’t limited to, Daddy Wears a Dress, Jean Has Two Mummies, and Everybody Naked!—the last of which expresses both disdain for clothing AND the word “is.” While it’s great to see that Kermit isn’t the only frog concerned about family values, The Daily Beast has uncovered several other questionable tomes that have escaped the eyes of our croissant consuming allies.

Santiago Central

Image is Everything

Ulf Andersen/Getty

You should be reading Alejandro Zambra, one of Latin America’s hottest young writers. He talks to Juan Vidal about how he writes, why his books are short, and adapting his work for film.

“Dear Juan”, writes Alejandro Zambra. "Everything sounds ok. I can answer in my poor English. I certainly prefer to write, to express myself, in Spanish, but I promise I will make my best effort. Maybe you can translate the rest? I am leaving now for Chile and we can talk in five days.”For the last several decades, Chile has yielded some of the finest and most bizarre literature in the world. From the harrowing stories of Isabel Allende and Roberto Bolaño, to the authoritative poetry of Pablo Neruda, the nation has made its indelible mark.

Luck

Tiger, Tiger: The Hunt for the Great Irish Novel

Donar/Getty

After years of boom and a painful economic bust, where is the great Irish fiction to render into art the country’s travails? Two novels now contend for the title.

In early 2010, Irish writer Julian Gough was asked by Dalkey Archive Press to take the literary temperature of his country. Never one to pull his punches, Gough asserted that, “If there is a movement in Ireland, it is backwards. Novel after novel set in the nineteen seventies, sixties, fifties … Just when we need a furious army of novelists, we are getting fairly polite stuff … that fits into the grand tradition.” Gough posted his remarks to his blog, from where they were picked up and published by the Guardian, sparking a minor but intense local controversy and touching upon a dissatisfaction that many observers had been feeling for quite some time: the Celtic Tiger, which had roared its last a little over a year before—and which had been documented to a degree in a host of crime and “chick-lit” titles—still remained curiously underrepresented in Irish literary fiction.

Twist of fate

Kids' Author on Trial in Egypt

Peter Greste, photographer of the children's classic "Owen and Mzee," is being held in solitary confinement as he and other Al-Jazeera journalists await trial in Cairo.

Right now, journalist Peter Greste is being held in solitary confinement in Cairo’s high-security Tora Prison, and could face another seven years behind bars. But ten years ago, he was documenting the unexpected love between a hippo named Owen and a tortoise named Mzee that would become a worldwide sensation. And for decades before that, he was taking in strays from the street and providing them with a good home—despite his parents' protestations.

Yiyun Li Takes on Evil

Christian Science Monitor/Getty

Though born in Beijing Yiyun Li writes English better than most native writers. She talks about her new book, her childhood, and the darkness of humanity.

Beijing-born writer Yiyun Li has had a celebrated career as a novelist and short story writer. Her honors include the 2005 PEN/Hemingway award for her first story collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, published not long after she graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, The Guardian first book award, and a MacArthur “genius” grant. All while writing in a language she learned as an adult.

Digits

Don’t Trust the Numbers

Bloomberg/Getty

Every week we’re bombarded by numbers about GDP or consumer confidence or some other leading indicator about our economic health and prosperity. Don’t trust them says Zachary Karabell.

A week does not pass without another set of economic numbers blasting through the ether. Many of these receive instant coverage in the media and become fodder for financial market gyrations. This week alone we’ve had a home price index, consumer confidence number, a series of regional manufacturing surveys, and then on Friday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will release its latest estimate of the mother of all indicators, GDP.But for all the noise that these numbers generate, what do they actually tell us? What if I told you that many of the assumptions we make about our economic life are wrong, and that these assumptions based entirely of what these statistics, our “leading indicators” say.

Little Gentleman

Child’s Play

Paul Thompson/Topical Press Agency/Getty

As America stood on the brink of World War I, novelist Booth Tarkington published 'Penrod,' a book suffused in nostalgia for a time that never existed. Nathaniel Rich on how the Great War saved American fiction from such trifles.

Nothing is more fatal to literature than prosperity. It was Henry de Montherlant who said that happiness writes white. It leaves no trace. This is why the headlines always bring bad news, the world explodes a dozen different ways at the cineplex each summer, and comedies end as soon as there’s a wedding. It is a fact generally acknowledged that excessive happiness can kill a story. But can a joyful era—a golden age of peace and prosperity—sabotage its novelists? The answer can be found by scanning the list of novels published in the period immediately preceding World War I, the last time that the United States was, in the words of the historian Mark Sullivan, “a peaceful country in a particularly peaceful time.

Trayvon’s Only Non-White Juror

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The only non-white jury member in George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin speaks to Lisa Bloom about the experience. An excerpt from Bloom’s just published “Suspicion Nation.”

The Sixth Juror Maddy had had it. The trial wasn’t over, but she was out of there. Rules or no rules, she was leaving. “If they had to put me in jail for going home, then put me in jail.” Three weeks of sequestration with five white women who didn’t understand the first thing about her, who demeaned and mocked and trivialized her, was more than enough. As the only minority juror in the nation’s most watched and most racially charged case in decades, she was done.

Haunted

Wes Anderson’s Austrian Muse

Martin Scali/AP

Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel was inspired by one of the bestselling authors in the world in the 1920s and 30s: Stefan Zweig. Lucy Scholes on how his melancholy fiction about Europe before WWII inspired Anderson—and the nostalgia of hotel rooms.

For all their comedic momentum, a strand of sweet, melancholic nostalgia runs through Wes Anderson’s films; they’re all, in some way or other, about a loss of innocence. The stultified former child prodigies of The Royal Tenenbaums (2001); the now washed-up but once great eponymous explorer in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004); the three brothers attempting to re-forge their fraternal bonds in The Darjeeling Limited (2007); even George Clooney’s glib Mr.

Puzzle

How I Write: Doug Dorst

Emily Berl/The New York Times, via Redux

The writer talks about working with filmmaker J.J. Abrams on their beautifully illustrated and executed meta-novel ‘S.’

Where did you grow up?Chappaqua, New York.Where and what did you study?As an undergrad at Stanford, I was an English and Political Science double-major. I got a law degree at UC-Berkeley, then fled to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for an MFA in fiction. A few years later, I went back to Stanford as a Stegner Fellow in fiction.Where do you live and why?I live in Austin. My wife and I moved here from San Francisco for her Ph.D. program at UT, and we’ve put down roots.

Out of the Trenches

How the War Ended

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With the anniversary of the First World War’s contentious start approaching, dozens of books have already come out, but one new history bucks the trend to focus on the final days of the War. And it’s a brilliantly enlightening approach to war and men’s lives writes Ian Klaus.

If you add Nick Lloyd’s Hundred Days: The Campaign that Ended World War I  to the six Great War-related books recently reviewed by R.J.W. Evans in The New York Review of Books, you end up with a page count of just slightly under four thousand. Six months before the centenary of the war’s beginning in August 1914, we are already in the midst of an extended World War I book season with substantial works by Christopher Clark, Margaret Macmillan, and Max Hastings, among others.

One Planet. 22,416 Google Images

Search for any word in the dictionary and what is the first Google Image that comes up? Two designers have done just that and put the results in a new art book. They speak to Sarah Moroz about the images that define us.

What if the pandemonium of the internet was turned into something more indexical and even tangible?Two 23-year-old designers, Felix Heyes and Ben West, conceived of and executed just that premise with Google, Volume 1. Repurposing the Oxford English Pocket Dictionary and its 21,110 entries, their directory provides a visual equivalence by way of subbing in the first outcome for each word from what they pulled from Google Images. Behind the sleek marbled cover by Jemma Lewis lay 22,416 Google findings: each page consists of three clean columns of uncaptioned images.

Hold the Bacon

How DC Will Make You Fat and Dead

Bloomberg

Lost in the vitriolic debate over Obama’s health reforms is the simple fact that tobacco, alcohol, and bad food are the leading killers in America. Professor Nicholas Freudenberg on why we need to change our consumption if we’re going to get healthier.

While it’s unrealistic to expect that recent successes in enrolling more people into health insurance will diminish the health care debates in Congress any time before November’s elections, Washington’s obsession with ObamaCare has made the nation lose sight of other strategies for improving health and reducing health care costs.Advances in public health require not only getting more people insured, but also finding ways to turn off the faucets that are sending floods of Americans with chronic diseases into our emergency rooms, hospitals—and morgues.

Mission Impossible

This Week’s Hot Reads

Three nonfiction books: a look at missionary work in the Caribbean and Holland, an account of being a stringer in the Congo, and German espionage in the U.S. during World War I.

More Than Conquerors: A Memoir of Lost Arguments By Megan HustadIn 1978, Megan Hustad’s father quit his job to become a missionary. On assignment with Trans World Radio—an evangelical broadcasting company with the motto “Speaking Hope to the World”—StanHustad decamped, his family in tow, from Minnesota to a small island in the Netherland Antilles called Bonaire. Missionary work would send the Hustad’s from Bonaire to Holland; after nine years abroad, they would return to the United States.

Hunted

Where Our Secrets Hide

Alex Wong/Getty

A gripping new thriller by Scott O’Connor brings us inside the world of the Cold War CIA as they test the limits of human consciousness. It's the perfect book for our present moment, writes Stefan Beck.

There is a scene in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2012) in which the CIA’s Pakistan chief, played by Mark Strong, is giving his underlings the third degree. “I want to make something absolutely clear,” he says. “If you thought there was some secret cell somewhere working Al Qaeda, well, I want you to know that you’re wrong. This is it. There’s no working group coming to the rescue. There’s nobody else hidden away on some other floor.” This bit of monologue, which on first viewing wouldn’t rate among the film’s fifty most unnerving moments, is spooky nevertheless.

Intimacies

Perils of Hemingway’s Wives

Getty, Wikimedia Commons

To understand the great novelist we should look to the complicated relationships he had with his four wives argues a new book. Nico Hines on fresh revelations about the bad behavior, gushing love notes, and high drama of America’s literary king.

Across three divorces, several continents, and countless martinis, Ernest Hemingway was never without a woman during his 40-year writing career. For a man whose violent tempers and big game hunting built a towering cult of masculinity, Hemingway was never far from the comfort of a wife, or a mistress, or both.After more than half a century in the shadow of a literary titan, his four wives have been propelled into the foreground by a new book that examines the Mrs.

How I Write