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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).

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.

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.

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.

Swashbuckling Poet

Lord Byron, Interventionist

Getty

What Lord Byron learned when he waded into the fight for Greece’s independence—and why it still matters.

The West has never been shy of producing public figures, or even celebrities, who seek out their own foreign entanglements and occasionally do a bit of good in the process. George Orwell was shot in the throat by Francoists in Spain but, fortunately for us, lived to write the definitive history of a complex and quietly betrayed civil war. Susan Sontag risked carpet bombs in Sarajevo to insert a bit of culture into carnage by directing (if perhaps too tyrannically) an all-Bosnian production of Waiting for Godot.

Longreads

The Week’s Best Longreads

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From Chris Christie’s corrupt career to the rise and fall of Flappy Bird, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

It’s Not Just the Bridge Alec McGillis, The New Republic Chris Christie’s entire career reeks.36 Hours on the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump McKay Coppins, BuzzFeed With all but his closest apostles finally tired of the charade, even the Donald himself has to ask, what’s the point? On the plane and by the pool with the man who will not be king.The Decline of the Revival Jim Hinch, Los Angeles Review of Books Conservative Christian writers face the sunset of their influence in America.

Block by Block

The JFK Assassination in LEGO

Brendan Powell Smith

Brendan Powell Smith brings to life the shocking episodes that forever altered U.S. history—in intricately detailed LEGO brick form. A look at his new book, ‘Assassination!’

Masterpiece

The Great Book of Picasso

Michel Sima/RDA/Getty

On February 15th the definitive, massive, comprehensive catalogue of Picasso’s works will be published—again—thanks to Cahiers d’Art and its new owner. Sarah Moroz on the rebirth of a famous publishing house, gallery, and art journal.

Christian Zervos was a Greek-born critic and collector who became a staple of the Parisian art scene in the first half of the 20th century. In 1926, he launched Cahiers d’Art, a publishing house, gallery, and seminal art journal characterized by its tastemaker contributors, meticulous layout, and incredible art (both classic and modern). The likes of Paul Éluard, Ernest Hemingway, and Samuel Beckett appeared alongside visuals by Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, and Marcel Duchamp.

Frisson

Books Inspired by Love Lives

The Daily Beast

Passionate pairings, dysfunctional marriages, and jealous love triangles stoked many writers’ creative fires, producing the nine memorable works below. Joni Rendon and Shannon McKenna Schmidt are the authors of ‘Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads’.

Could T.S. Eliot have imagined the bleak world of The Waste Land if he hadn’t been driven to the brink of madness by his manic depressive wife? Would we have Tender is the Night if the Fitzgeralds’ own marriage hadn’t come undone in the south of France? Some scribes used writing as a way to work through conflicted feelings, while for others a romantic partner was the secret weapon that cemented their fame. Then there were the opportunists who exploited real-life scenarios for the sake of a good story.

Beard

Lincoln in Love

Library of Congress

Biographers and historians always miss the sensual Lincoln, the man who might have visited prostitutes and passionately wooed Mary Todd. Jerome Charyn, the author of ‘I Am Abraham’ finds the romance in an icon.

So much has been written about Lincoln, yet he remains a deeply mysterious man. We know he loved to tell scatological tales; his worn jokes probably kept him sane as he battled to preserve a nation that was splitting apart. We can feel his sad cadences and the rapture of language in the Gettysburg Address. But we aren’t willing to allow him any rapture in his own life. No historian, biographer, or myth-maker such as Carl Sandberg has ever written about his sensuality.

Fiction Problems

What Should Be Your Favorite Book?

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What do we talk about when we talk about the books that mean something to us? Benjamin Lytal sees where his nose leads him while reading two new books (from Rebecca Mead and W. G. Sebald) about books.

In a recent review, Joyce Carol Oates classified Rebecca Mead’s new My Life in Middlemarch as “bibliomemoir”: that is, as criticism done with the intimate flair of confessional. It’s a big confession, after all, to name your favorite book. Even that term, “favorite,” can be embarrassing. Mead prefers to say that, “Most serious readers can point to one book that has a place in their life like the one that Middlemarch has in mine.” Mead cites her husband’s devotion to Proust, one friend’s relationship with David Copperfield, another’s with The Portrait of a Lady.

Extremes

Extreme Weather, Extreme Cost

Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Politicians and businesses have long complained about the price of fighting climate change. Now they're getting a taste of just how expensive inaction will be.

The weather has become the go-to excuse for economists and businessmen who want to explain poor performance. “Unusually, disruptive weather across large stretches of the country kept people indoors,” explained Lawrence Yun, the chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, in accounting for a slowdown in home sales in December. Speaking on CNBC, Diane Swonk, the chief economist of Mesirow Financial, used the January chill that gripped much of the nation to explain disappointing numbers on U.

Dangerous Liaisons

Famous Writers’ Seduction Tips

Courtesy Everett Collection

Forget champagne and candlelight dinners, writers—from Colette to Casanova to Raymond Chandler—and their significant others haven’t played by the book when it comes to seduction. Joni Rendon and Shannon McKenna Schmidt are the authors of ‘Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads’.

Successful wordsmiths seduce readers with unique storylines and scintillating prose. These creative writers mastered seduction off the page, too. For them, novelty and naughtiness were the ultimate aphrodisiacs.Colette and Bertrand de JouvenelE.L. James wasn’t the first writer to recognize the erotic power of words. Colette used her novel Cheri, the tale of a young man’s carnal awakening at the hands of a retired courtesan, to seduce her teenage stepson.

Hysterics

The Book India Hates

Landov

When a blustering Indian demagogue attacked Professor Wendy Doniger’s scholarly book on Hinduism, her publisher caved and pulped her book. Shame on them, writes Tunku Varadarajan—and shame on India.

“YOU NOTICEE.” In strident, upper-case pidgin-legalese, the man—a belligerent Indian enemy of “westernization,” a strutting Hindu fundamentalist with a record of suppressive activism against books that “hurt the sentiments” of Hindus—addressed a legal notice to Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School (and a woman who knows more about Hinduism than the man in question could ever hope to learn in this benighted lifetime or the next).

Olympic Fail

The Stench of Sochi

Robert Cianflone/Getty

Let’s just admit that this Winter Olympics in Sochi just stinks. It fails as a spectator sport—curling?—and is just a giant show for one of the world’s most sinister tyrants.

The world is filled with great sporting events.The 2014 Olympic Games is not one of them.Sochi started with the same problem as every Winter Olympics. Forget the crass commercialism, the fake amateurism, NBC’s refusal to televise important events live to all its viewers. As an event, the Winter Games fail on the most basic level. They’re lousy to watch.Good spectator sports share certain fundamentals. Their competitors battle head-to-head. Their winners are determined objectively: fastest runner, most points.

How I Write