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They’re Alive

My Imaginary Literary Friends

Ever find yourself reading a novel and one of the characters becomes like a friend, a real friend? For Malcolm Jones many of his best friends are pure fiction.

When I was 13 years old, I fell in love with an imaginary girl. If you suppose this was the low point of my love life, you would be wrong. The low point—points really—involved real people and there was plenty of pain and unhappiness to go around. In the case of that first crush, though, the pain was all mine. She didn’t feel a thing.The girl’s name was Estella, and she lived with Miss Havisham inside a novel called Great Expectations. Why I fell for someone designed, as she was, to break men’s hearts is a mystery to me still, but she was cold and aloof, and that was something that totally resonated with me so far as girls were concerned in those dark adolescent years.

Confused

Allende Hate-Writes a Mystery

Getty

Bestseller author Isabel Allende caused a furor when she dismissed mysteries while she herself was promoting her new novel, a mystery itself. She talks to Jane Ciabattari about the controversy and why she tried her hand at the genre.

Isabel Allende has stirred up a hornet’s nest. In a January 25 NPR interview, she said of her new novel Ripper, “The book is tongue-in-cheek. It’s very ironic…and I’m not a fan of mysteries…So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what readers expect, but it is a joke.”Some mystery authors and fans took offense at her remarks, accusing her of being scornful of the mystery genre. She apologized in a letter to Houston bookseller McKenna Jordan, who had returned signed copies of Ripper after hearing the NPR interview.

F is for Chemo Fashion

Madhulika Sikka/Facebook

In her new book “The Breast Cancer Alphabet,” Madhulika Sikka dissects the pros and cons of post-chemotherapy headscarves, turbans and big shiny earrings.

You have been diagnosed with a terrible disease that for previous generations was almost always a death sentence, so it may seem a little frivolous to devote a whole section to fashion, most especially fashion accessories. But frankly, not enough attention is paid to fashion accessories at the best of times, and this is a moment when they come in useful (see “L Is for Looks”).If you undergo chemotherapy, you will soon come to terms with the fact that you are bald (see “H Is for Hair”).

Longreads

The Week’s Best Reads

From sexual assault at a fundamentalist evangelical college to Wall Streeters in drag, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

Sexual Assault at God’s Harvard Kiera Feldman, The New Republic Patrick Henry College, a small evangelical school in northern Virginia, was supposed to be a safe place for its predominantly homeschooled students. For these young women, it wasn’t.Scientology’s Vanished Queen Ned Zeman, Vanity Fair After the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige disappeared from public view, in 2007, those who asked questions were stonewalled, or worse.

Action

WWII Lies of Hollywood's Greats

Ralph Crane/Time & Life Pictures, via Getty

Five famous American directors did their patriotic duty during WWII by filming staged propaganda films but they presented to the public as authentic documentaries. Caryn James on their deceptions.

In John Huston’s classic 1943 documentary, The Battle of San Pietro, American soldiers run into battle, gunfire all around. They fall backwards into trenches, the camera jolting with the concussive force of the explosions. Eventually we see corpses placed into body bags. That harrowing immediacy is one reason James Agee called it “as good a war film as any that has been made,”—but it was entirely fake, staged with the help of the U.S. military to create better propaganda.

Chit Chat

The Laboratory of Real Life

Joan Marcus

What do we talk about when we talk about love? A breathtaking new play from Caryl Churchill explores love through 57 different short scenes with 100 characters.

Recently, my young nephew got in trouble for peeling all the stickers off his scrambled Rubik’s Cube. Yearning to appear clever, but incapable of making the color-blocks line up in the right configuration, he tried to fake mastery by resticking the colored tabs in the correct spots. But they wouldn’t stay in place; all he did was spoil the game. This is the paradox that the British playwright Caryl Churchill tackles in her intricate, moving (in both senses) puzzle of a play, “Love and Information,” which opened Wednesday at the Minetta Lane (a production of New York Theatre Workshop)—its Playbill illustrated by a defective Rubik’s Cube whose images don’t align.

Breeched

Sex Lives of our Founding Fathers

Everett Collection

Did Hamilton have gay sex? Was Jefferson in love with his slave? Each generation’s examination of the sex lives of the Founding Fathers is a reflection of its own sexual mores and identities, argues a new book.

Long before the modern sex columnist, there was Benjamin Franklin. In a column from 1745 titled “Advice on the Choice of a Mistress,” Franklin advised bachelors to seek out older women: They “hazard no children,” he wrote, and “are so grateful” for a young man’s attention. “Regarding only what is below the girdle,” he added, “it is impossible…to know an old from a young one.”Franklin wasn’t the only Founding Father whose libido was a frequent topic of conversation.

Breaking

What is the News?

Justin Sullivan/Getty

How do you define what appears on your TV screen and in your newspaper? Pop philosopher Alain de Botton tells us what he thinks the news should be—and what it should do.

What do you expect from the news? Asking this is a bit like asking someone to describe his or her ideal mate: You’re bound to learn more about the fixations and attitudes of that individual than about anything real or even possible. Conventional wisdom has it that good front-of-the-book news coverage should be objective. Problem is, what counts as objective is often a matter of opinion.When we complain about news coverage being biased, slanted, or flawed in some way, what we’re usually saying is that it fails to do justice to our own preferred view of the world; it’s unspoken assumptions are different from our own.

Field of Study

Truth About Florida’s Civil War

AP

150 years ago a brutal battle in the Civil War was fought in Florida but what happened that day has been obscured by political games and historical revisionism—as so often happens in the Sunshine State.

Olustee, Florida—Lugging their private artillery pieces behind their pick-up trucks, heavy-weapons hobbyists drive days to get to the annual celebration of the Civil War Battle of Olustee, fought 150 years ago, on February 20, 1864. Fire fills the night sky as celebrants shoot off their mini-howitzers, and the next day rebel yells fill the air as reenactors whup the Yankees. Other events include a crafts fair and the annual Tiny Miss Tots Battle of Olustee contest.

HOT READS

Scott Stossel’s High Anxiety

The Daily Beast

A new book on anxiety from The Atlantic editor Scott Stossel is wonderful. So, naturally, we had a few questions.

Americans are an anxious people.About one in five of us suffers from an anxiety disorder, and in their most serious manifestations they can be devastating, leading to everything from severe agoraphobia to dangerous substance abuse. There is, as always, controversy over how to best treat anxiety; depending on which expert you ask, you could be pointed toward medication, talk therapy, meditation, or some combination of all the above.For those of us who suffer from anxiety (and I would certainly put myself in that category, although at the milder end—I don’t have any official diagnosis and am medication-free), it can be hard to explain the symptoms to our non-anxious friends and family.

Read This

The Story Behind ‘True Detective’

An 1895 book of horror stories that’s the key to understanding the riveting HBO series ‘True Detective’ has become a bestseller on Amazon. Read the first four stories here.

The key to understanding HBO’s enthralling series True Detective might be the references to the Yellow King and Carcosa, which the killer Reggie Ledoux talks about and the show hints at to be figures and symbols of a satanic cult of some sort. But the Yellow King is an allusion to The King in Yellow, an 1895 book of horror and supernatural short stories by the writer Robert W. Chambers. There are a total of 10 stories, the first four (“The Repairer of Reputations,” “The Mask,” “In the Court of the Dragon,” and “The Yellow Sign”) of which feature a fictional lost play called “The King in Yellow,” which Chambers mentions and includes lines from throughout the tales.

Snap

America’s Cultural Arbiter

Mark Lutz/Carl Van Vechten Collection/Library of Congress

As a photographer, a tastemaker, and a friend to African-American artists, Carl Van Vechten defined American modernism and helped create the multicultural world of today as a new biography shows.

Carl Van Vechten is the most important figure in American culture you’ve never heard of. Edward White’s superb biography, The Tastemaker completes the work of reclamation begun in Emily Bernard’s thoughtful but partial 2012 portrait, Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance. Yes, Van Vechten was a pioneering advocate of African-American artists who fostered the careers of Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, and James Weldon Johnson, among many others.

NEW YORK CITY BOY

How to Live Your New York Dream

Kenneth M. Walsh

Kenneth Walsh grew up with one aim: to live in New York. Not only did he “make it” there, he did so with a dash of scandal along the way. Now he shares a shoe cobbler with Debbie Harry.

When Kenneth Walsh called his mother Molly in 2003 to tell her he had gotten a job at The New York Times, he was hoping for a proud, maternal “Congratulations.” Instead, his mother bellowed to Walsh’s stepfather: “Gary! Don’t eat that cheese!”Walsh, 46, smiles as he recalls this story in Manhattan’s Malibu Diner in Chelsea, where he spent much time editing Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?, his new memoir about growing up as a suburban boy who only ever wanted to make it in New York City.

Conversation

How I Write: Manuel Gonzales

Jessica Gonzales

The debut short-story writer, whose book ‘The Miniature Wife’ is now out in paperback, talks about his Tumblr project, vampires and werewolves, and a dessert that’s named after him.

Describe your morning routine.So when I’m writing, and it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to do this, because it’s just been really busy…I try to get up around 5:30 in the morning. I have two kids, and my wife and I trade off getting everybody ready, but if I’m going to get any work done, I need to get it done before my day takes over, which it usually does around 7:30. So I’ll get up at 5:30, get dressed in the dark, quietly grab my bag and computer and drive out to one of a couple of 24-hour coffee shops I know of.

Bondage

How Blacks Freed Themselves

Anthony Barboza/Getty

Who should get the most credit for ending slavery in America and Great Britain? A landmark new book argues that blacks did far more for their own emancipation than previously appreciated.

For more than two millennia, slavery was accepted as a natural part of life. Then, around the time of the American Revolution, it became a burning moral issue.  Within a century, chattel slavery ceased to exist in virtually every modern nation.  Explaining how that happened has been the life’s work of David Brion Davis, an emeritus professor at Yale who, perhaps more than anyone, has forced American historians to think seriously about how slavery became a problem.

Histories

This Week’s Hot Reads

This week, from a preacher-turned-novelist’s meditations on death to the power struggles and engineering breakthroughs that lead to America’s first subway.

Praying Drunkby Kyle MinorRepetition—of words, phrases, and entire thoughts—is what gives prayer its force, so it’s only fitting that in Praying Drunk, preacher-turned-novelist Kyle Minor uses repetition to deepen the power of his sad, soulful stories. “The Sweet Life” focuses on one specific scene, a funeral with a tone-deaf sermon; “There is Nothing But Sadness in Nashville” identifies the boy, his mother, and his father. They’re variations on the fractured family of “The Truth and All Its Ugly” (only that story is set in 2024, a time when technology gives a grieving father new ways to try to mask his pain by re-living his son’s childhood through a bot).

Charmed

Bible Passages to Die For?

Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Landov

A pastor died trying to charm a snake because it says so in the Bible. Professor Candida Moss look at other Biblical directives that could get you killed.

Pastor Jamie Coots, a snake-handling minister from Middlesboro, Kentucky and former star of the National Geographic reality show Snake Salvation, died after being bitten by a snake in church.History has no shortage of vocation-induced tragi-ironic deaths. Jimi Heselden, manufacturer of the Segway, was pronounced dead on the scene after driving his “vehicle” off a cliff and into a river. Alexander Bogdanov, Lenin’s right hand man and pioneer in the field of eternal-life blood transfusions, died after – you guessed it – an elective blood transfusion.

Married and Terrified

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A new wave of bestselling novels depict the dark side of marriage with secretive husbands and betrayed couples. Lucy Scholes on what they reveal about matrimony today—and their literary ancestors.

You’d have to have been hiding under a rock to have not heard that the “marriage thriller” is the latest publishing phenomena—psychological page-turners that subvert the “happily ever after” formula of classic chic lit—hence their other moniker, “chic noir”—turning the mundanity of the domestic sphere into a hotbed of betrayal, secrets, and lies. Gillian Flynn’s runaway success Gone Girl—it had huge sales in both the US and the UK last year, and is currently being adapted into a film starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike—is often cited as the novel that kicked off the trend, with the likes of word-of-mouth bestsellers A.

Bibliophile

The Best Books on Lincoln

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Which of the approximately 15,000 books written on President Lincoln should you read? In honor of our greatest leader Allen Barra picks the best reads.

Two years ago, Paul Tetreault, director of Ford’s Theater in Washington, declared that there are more books written about Abraham Lincoln than any other person than Jesus Christ. The estimate then was over 15,000, nearly half of which were included in a tower of books to honor Abe. This makes the life and legacy of our 16th president intimidating to the newcomer, but here’s ten nonfiction works and one novel that will guide the novice through the halls of Lincoln lit.

Mad as Hell

Paddy Chayefsky: ‘Network’ Prophet

via YouTube

The 1976 movie darkly foretold the future of television news. Dave Itzkoff’s new book describes the drama behind the scenes, and the making of its screenwriter’s mordant vision.

You know the phrase even if you don’t know, or have never seen, the film. You may have have seen it on a best-film-clips-ever TV show. You may have heard it bellowed parodically by a comic, bug-eyed and sweating: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” It was originally spoken by Peter Finch in his most famous scene as Howard Beale, the distressed, exploited newsreader of the 1976 movie Network, who is murdered live on-screen by his bosses for ratings.

How I Write