We Recommend: Fear by Gabriel Chevallier (ebook available)
"Join Dartemont in the trenches in this classic of WWI literature. Heroism is quiet, far more nuanced, and grittier than the talking heads would have you think — this book shows all that. It’s also one of the most clear-sighted condemnations of war I’ve read."

We Recommend: Fear by Gabriel Chevallier (ebook available)
"Join Dartemont in the trenches in this classic of WWI literature. Heroism is quiet, far more nuanced, and grittier than the talking heads would have you think — this book shows all that. It’s also one of the most clear-sighted condemnations of war I’ve read."


We Recommend: Fear by Gabriel Chevallier (ebook available)

"Join Dartemont in the trenches in this classic of WWI literature. Heroism is quiet, far more nuanced, and grittier than the talking heads would have you think — this book shows all that. It’s also one of the most clear-sighted condemnations of war I’ve read."


Holy moly that is one fat stack of melancholy. 525 pp of close fine type. #books #depression @NYRBclassics #DarkClassics


“Perhaps you can write better if you leave the mistakes.” —Jorge Luis Borges, born on this day in 1899.


Denis Johnson, Train Dreams: A Novella

Novellas hit a wonderful sweet spot, I think, and are perfect for Kindle/Kindle-on-iPhone reading. Anthony Doerr (my wife, I just realized, has his new novel on her nightstand) wrote this appreciation in the NYTimes:

The novella runs 116 pages, and you can turn all of those pages in 90 minutes. In that hour and a half the whole crimped, swirling, haunted life of Robert Grainier rattles through the forests of your mind like the whistle of the Spokane International he hears so often in his dreams.

In an 1842 review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Twice Told Tales,” Edgar Allan Poe said that apart from poetry, the form most advantageous for the exertion of “highest genius” was the “short prose narrative,” whose length he defined as taking “from a half-hour to one or two hours in its perusal.” Novels, Poe argued, were objectionable because they required a reader to take breaks.

“Worldly interests intervening during the pauses of perusal,” he wrote, “modify, annul or counteract, in a greater or less degree, the impressions of the book.” Because you have to stop reading novels every now and then — to shower, to eat, to check your Twitter feed — their power weakens.

Short stories and novellas on the other hand offer writers a chance to affect readers more deeply because a reader can be held in thrall for the entirety of the experience. They offer writers, in Poe’s phrasing, “the immense force derivable from totality.”

This was the first Denis Johnson book I’ve read (I know, I know), and it’s the 3rd good novella I’ve read this year (added to Sleep Donation and The Sense Of An Ending).

Thanks to @robinsloan for the recommendation!

Filed under: my reading year 2014


Stephon Alexander: Physics Dreams

I loved a lot of things about last week’s Story Collider podcast, on the feeling of not fitting in a new job (as a theoretical physicist) but one detail stood out. Apparently Wolfgang Pauli, one of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, and Carl Jung, a pivotal figure in the development of psychoanalysis, were good friends and exchanged letters over years. Those are published in Atom and Archetype. Both quantum mechanics and psychoanalysis were pivotal ideas in their fields, and I love that the titanic figures on both sides were talking to each other — and in this case were literally talking to each other about their dreams.

Read Two: Ferguson in arms, in photos, and at a diner. Plus TSA and ISIS.

It’s ridiculously easy to get weapons past TSA’s x-ray body scanners.  By Andy Greenberg at Wired.

“These machines were [originally] tested in secret, presumably without this kind of adversarial mindset, thinking about how an attacker would adapt to the techniques being used,” says Halderman, who along with the other researchers will present the research at the Usenix Security Conference Thursday. “They might stop a naive attacker. But someone who applied just a bit of cleverness to the problem would be able to bypass them. And if they had access to a machine to test their attacks, they could render their ability to detect contraband virtually useless.”

A Former Marine Explains All the Weapons of War Being Used by Police in Ferguson. By Lyle Jeremy Rubin atThe Nation.

What we’re seeing here is a gaggle of cops wearing more elite killing gear than your average squad leader leading a foot patrol through the most hostile sands or hills of Afghanistan. They are equipped with Kevlar helmets, assault-friendly gas masks, combat gloves and knee pads (all four of them), woodland Marine Pattern utility trousers, tactical body armor vests, about 120 to 180 rounds for each shooter, semiautomatic pistols attached to their thighs, disposable handcuff restraints hanging from their vests, close-quarter-battle receivers for their M4 carbine rifles and Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights. In other words, they’re itching for a fight. A big one.

Ferguson visits a diner. By Matt Zoller Seitz. h/t Digg

The boy asked his mother, “So I should just put my hands in the air?”

“Yes,” his mother said. “Just put your hands in the air.”

“If I put my hands in the air, will the police not shoot?” he asked.

“Probably not, but you can’t be sure. Some people say you should just kneel or lie down, don’t ask questions, just get down on the ground.”

“If I lie down on the ground, they won’t shoot?”

“Probably,” she said. 

Some of the best photos from the best photographer at Ferguson are hereJoe Coscarelli interviews Scott Olson, at New York Magazine.

“When I took that picture, I didn’t realize how heavily armed those police were. You don’t look at the details of it; you just shoot and move. When I was editing I said to myself, ‘Holy shit.’”

ISIS is so big and so nasty it’s making allies out of enemies. By George Packer at The New Yorker.

The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham controls … an area the size of Jordan. The self-proclaimed caliphate stretches from the newly conquered towns along the Syrian-Turkish border, through its de-facto capital of Raqqa, in northern Syria, across the obliterated Iraqi border into Mosul, Tikrit, and Falluja, down to the farming towns south of Baghdad—roughly a third of the territory of both countries. It is exploiting almost every oil and gas field in Syria; it has seized Iraq’s largest refinery, in Baiji, and its biggest dam, north of Mosul, which provides water and electricity for much of the country and could, if destroyed, submerge Baghdad. ISIS funds its operations by selling oil and electricity, emptying captured banks, and extorting money through kidnappings and “taxation.” Its highly skilled army fights with billions of dollars’ worth of stolen American- and Russian-made armored vehicles and heavy weapons. According to Janine Davidson, a former Pentagon official, “ISIS now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations.”


This is from my daily “Read Two” Tinyletter. If you’d like to get these by email, you can  sign up here.

“Product Alert: This book does not contain a misprint on page 39. We have received complaints from customers that they have received misprinted editions because of the way the story changes direction in the middle of a word on page 39 (for Kindle readers, the end of the first section). This is not a misprint or error. It is the way the author has written the book. He returns to the seemingly abandoned storyline later in the book.”
“Your brain is trolling you.”
— My therapist (via amywhipple)

(via maudnewton)

Beautiful day for soaring in the #Vermont Republic.


William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

Last night @craigmod tweeted:

If you cannot begin to empathize with someone taking their own life, I suggest reading Darkness Visible… Styron’s book is only 80 pages. Truly an important read

I picked it up last night and finished it today. Some bits, below.

On the inadequacy of the word “depression”:

When I was first aware that I had been laid low by the disease, I felt a need, among other things, to register a strong protest against the word “depression.” Depression, most people know, used to be termed “melancholia,” a word which appears in English as the year 1303 and crops up more than once in Chaucer, who in his usade seemed to be aware of its pathological nuances. “Melancholia” would still appear to be a far more apt and evocative word for the blacker forms of the disorder, but it was usurped by a noun with a blank tonality and lacking any magisterial presence, used indifferently to describe an economic decline or a rut in the ground, a true wimp of a word for such a major illness.

How part of the problem with depression is that it’s somewhat beyond description, and almost impossible to fathom for those of us who haven’t experienced it:

Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self—to the mediating intellect—as to verge close to being beyond description… it has to be emphasized that if the pain were readily describable most of the countless sufferers from this ancient affliction would have been able to confidently depict for their friends and loved ones (even their physicians) some of the actual dimensions of their torment, and perhaps elicit a comprehension that has been generally lacking; such incomprehension has usually been due not to a failure of sympathy but to the basic inability of healthy people to imagine a form of torment so alien to everyday experience.

Styron, however, does what he can to describe it to us:

The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come — not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying- or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity- but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.


Salk. I miss the place.

Salk. I miss the place.

“After dark on Monday, police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. The ironies of race and policing were readily apparent: law enforcement using force to suppress outrage at law enforcement’s indiscriminate use of force.”
Jelani Cobb reflects on the violence in Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown’s death. (via newyorker)

(via newyorker)




I survived in New York City working full-time at an independent…

Holy shit.

“When you are at a party and are thrust into conversation with someone, see how long you can hold off before talking about what they do for a living. And when that painful lull arrives, be the master of it. I have come to revel in that agonizing first pause, because I know that I can push a conversation through. Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.” Because nearly everyone in the world believes their job to be difficult. I once went to a party and met a very beautiful woman whose job was to help celebrities wear Harry Winston jewelry. I could tell that she was disappointed to be introduced to this rumpled giant in an off-brand shirt, but when I told her that her job sounded difficult to me she brightened and spoke for 30 straight minutes about sapphires and Jessica Simpson. She kept touching me as she talked. I forgave her for that. I didn’t reveal a single detail about myself, including my name. Eventually someone pulled me back into the party. The celebrity jewelry coordinator smiled and grabbed my hand and said, “I like you!” She seemed so relieved to have unburdened herself. I counted it as a great accomplishment. Maybe a hundred times since I’ve said, “wow, that sounds hard” to a stranger, always to great effect. I stay home with my kids and have no life left to me, so take this party trick, my gift to you.”
— Paul Ford, “How to Be Polite” (via austinkleon)

(via austinkleon)