Articles in Arts & Life
“We can pour anything into it – any fear or catastrophe or yearning, any warning” – music both fills our lives and helps to shape them. But what happens if music starts, slowly, haltingly, to go away? A harrowing personal essay.
Over time, the books of our youth make way for titles better suited to the grown-up readers we have become. But not all of them: YA or not, some books — such as K. M. Peyton’s Pennington trilogy — deserve a lasting place on our shelves.
It’s summer at last, and you won’t find any relief from the heat in our editors’ round-up of the hottest books they know.
The collectors of rare 78 rpm records are nearly as singular and remarkable as the vinyl they seek out. A new book travels to flea markets and music fairs to discover the secrets of these American obsessives.
In the discipline of philosophy, “Aristotelian” evokes not just a school of thought but an entire world. “Ethics After Aristotle” traces the history and impact of the most influential thought-tradition of them all.
With suicides on the rise throughout the Western world, a recent study by Jennifer Hecht attempts to both diagnose the frightening trend and evangelize against it. Ivan Kenneally discusses how effective her arguments are likely to be.
Legendary Indian author Saadat Hasan Manto’s choicest short stories – depicting a teeming Bombay that’s both long-vanished and eternal – receive an attractive new paperback edition from Vintage International
A fascinating new book tells the remarkable stories of five ‘improbable’ women who defied convention to explore the much mythologised landscape of the Middle East.
Elia Kazan’s unwavering confidence in his own brilliance was the spur to his successes as a director and the source of his infamy as a Cold War canary. A new collection of his letters makes his outsized personality seem even larger.
Rock music is all about inflaming the senses. Rock biographies, on the other hand, are built from facts and reasoned explanations. Matthew Stevens looks at a study of the life of Big Star frontman Alex Chilton, and wonders what fans can get out of it.
Joseph Roth spent his life fighting the kind of lazy dangers that arise from the rot of empire, even as his life and his letters embodied so many of them.
Marvel Comics is mopping up at the box office, but what of its rival DC? Our resident expert fisks the also-rans and reminds us about an epic story still waiting to be adapted.
Like so many before him, the celebrated Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley had a tangled and complicated history with Italy, equal parts inspiration and frustration. Luciano Mangiafico tells the story
William S. Burroughs’s notorious Cut-up Trilogy was his fiercest broadside against what he felt was the tyranny of linear thought. Steve Danziger delves into their Word Hoard.
Isabel Greenberg’s graphic novel is set in the frozen land of Nord, but its lush storytelling influences come from such legendary places as Mount Olympus and Mount Sinai
Years ago, while on the hunt for writing material, Walter Kirn befriended an eccentric, dog-loving raconteur named Clark Rockefeller. Then Rockefeller was charged with murder, kidnapping and identity fraud, and Kirn had his book. G. Robert Ogilvy reviews Blood Will Out.
Raintree County may be the greatest American novel nobody has ever read. When Michael Johnson pulled it off his shelf, he was instantly hooked: maybe it’s time for a revival.
It’s Melbourne in the late 1920s and violence keeps intruding into the elegant world of jazz clubs, cocktails, and fabulous fashion. No matter: Phryne Fisher is on the case.
Art crimes aren’t really sexy: they are an offense against humanity. Leah Triplett offers up a catalog of recent studies that explain the criminal attraction to art.
The great and problematic poet Robert Browning drew some of his most powerful poetic inspirations from the lore and lure of Italy; Luciano Mangiafico traces the complicated relationship of the man to his “adopted homeland.”
The books we reread say a lot about who we are or who we hope to be. They also shape us, as Rebecca Mead discovers in exploring her own long relationship with George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
How could they do it, those young men who, with every reason to live, walked deliberately into machine-gun fire? Joe Sacco gives us a panoramic view of the horror, the labor, and the losses of WWI.
When in her twenties, Flannery O’Connor recorded her prayers in a private journal. Newly published, they shed light on her youthful theology, her literary ambitions, and the role of faith in the fiction she was soon to write.
For years, pioneering blogger Andrew Sullivan was one of the most vocal supporters of the war in Iraq. Time and the war’s wretched progress gradually forced him to change his thinking, however, and a new collection of his writings on the subject charts the disillusioning step-by-step.
Spike Jonze is the most mainstream of indie directors — or the most indie of mainstream directors — and his newest film Her is a triumph of quirky charm and visionary depth. Matt Sadler reviews.
The player is alone in the game, both sole survivor and unquestioned sovereign, but what’s at the heart of such games? Phillip Lobo examines the loneliness of the long-distance gamer
In self-imposed exile from England, Lord Byron entered a tempestuous love affair with Italy, renting palaces, swimming the canals of Venice, treating his loved ones abominably, and writing great poetry the whole time. The two-part “Byron in Italy” concludes the epic tale.
Having tried therapy and medication to treat his anxiety disorder, Scott Stossel turned to writing. His new book, part memoir, part cultural history, may be an essential document of our agitated age.
What — and who — is required to maintain a public persona of the magnitude of Margaret Atwood’s? A new book explores the phenomenon and implications of literary celebrity.
She was the daughter, the sister, and the wife of kings in one of England’s most turbulent periods, but Alison Weir’s new biography is the first to make us feel we really know Elizabeth of York.
Byron was mad, bad, and dangerous to know — and eventually his amorous, adventurous spirit led him to Italy.
Perhaps the strangest things about the paintings of Marc Chagall is how frequently they feature Christian iconography. But the habit speaks less to a tension in Chagall’s Judaism, Ivan Kenneally suggests, than his attempt to universalize his people’s suffering.
John Ford’s story of star-crossed lovers is bloodier than Shakespeare’s and more heart-wrenching, too, for it’s a tragedy of childhood, of innocence lost.
“Do you see?” the Narrator says. “Don’t you know you were dead the minute you hit Start?” Phillip Lobo deciphers The Stanley Parable
Led on by a “shared obsession,” a philosopher and a psycyhoanalyst have teamed up to offer their interpretation of Hamlet. With the ghosts of countless critics looming before them, how has this pair fared?
John Singer Sargent is often simplistically dismissed as a picture-postcard portraitist. A new exhibition of his watercolors is a reminder of how strange and subversive–not to say beautiful–his work could be.
From the agora 2,400 years ago to the present day, the schools of Plato and Aristotle have been locked in combat; a new book sees the struggle in disarmingly simple terms.
Before he became one of America’s most famous presidents, John Kennedy was a hot-shot senator and a photogenic winner of the Pulitzer Prize. But did the Senate years help to form the Oval Office years?
Jonathan Franzen has translated and annotated a collection of essays by Karl Kraus, the Austrian polemicist known as the Great Hater and one of the signal curmudgeonly influences behind Franzen’s fiction.
How do you follow up on creating Tarzan of the Apes? You give the Ape-Man a son, stranding him in the jungle, and sending him out on hair-raising adventures of his own. And if you’re lucky, a legendary comic book artist will come along and draw it all.
Throughout its history, humankind has been both terrified by and obsessed with monsters – hence the booming ‘cryptid’ industry, traversing the globe in search of legendary beasts like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. A new book looks at the science and psychology behind our modern bogeymen.
The style of Clarice Lispector’s unconventional and uneasy fiction was driven by both social anxiety and physical pain. How did this transubstantiation take place?
Thick with atmosphere, lush with visual design, and sporting more than a few influences of steampunk, “Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs” is a video game Karl Marx might have played – and even enjoyed.
The Modernist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker was Immortalized (and insulted) in Rilke’s “Requiem for a Friend,” yet who today knows her art? A new monograph returns it to the public eye.
The USSR’s Book of Tasty and Healthy Food created an impression of bounty and gourmet splendor; Anya von Bremzen’s memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking reveals the Soviet kitchen’s homelier truths
An aspiring young writer encounters the journals of legendary Canadian novelist Elizabeth Smart, whose virtuoso novella By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept gives no hint of her struggles with her own writing
Henry Darger, icon of Outsider Art, created unnerving scenes of naked, tortured children. A new biography sets out to clear his name from would-be charges of pedophilia–but is it a reputation that really needs saving?
Today George Orwell is a buzzword; what can his collected letters tell us about the man himself? G. Robert Ogilvy looks for the human being beneath the persona.
Many composers and musicians believe we are in a golden age of experimental creativity in composition. So why does the general concert-going public hate the results?
All of European history – and beyond – plays out in new and fascinating variations of guns, germs, and steel in Paradox Interactive’s new version of its popular video game Europa Universalis
What you don’t know about bacteria can hurt you, and a new addition to the Oxford Very Short Introduction series aims to set that straight.
President, prime minister, or unnamed Tsar, Vladimir Putin is at once ubiquitous and unknowable; a new book examines the many facets of a new species of autocrat.
The meek and peaceful Jesus has become the standard Christian image of the Messiah. Religious scholar Reza Aslan’s controversial new book shatters that image and replaces it with something very different: a violent revolutionary who came not to bring peace but a sword.
Alan Moore’s Watchmen is widely regarded as the best graphic novel of them all, and Moore has been outspoken in his condemnation of sequels and spin-offs, refusing to sanction DC Comics’ recent “Before Watchmen” string of mini-series. Was Moore right? Or is there creative life after his masterpiece? Justin Hickey explores.
It became entangled with the imperial hopes of a nation and inspired the design of one of the most significant buildings of the 19th century, the Crystal Palace: a new book explores the remarkable story of the Amazonian water lily.
A young man on a tentative law school track encounters the fiction of Philip Roth, and suddenly, his lostness acquires a commanding sense of purpose. An essay by Barrett Hathcock.
The Knight of the Burning Pestle began its theatrical run in1607—and concluded it almost immediately. But why? Colleen Shea explores the mysterious failure of this hilarious, satirical, meta-theatrical romp.
‘Everyone knows who won the war,’ runs the refrain of Muriel Rukeyser’s Savage Coast; her newly published 1930 novel about the Spanish Civil War shows what it meant to be a witness to it.
In the latest video game iteration of the current media zombie craze, a history teacher from Georgia confronts the undead hordes – and what those hordes may say about contemporary America
The stories of British writer H.H. Munro, known by his pen-name Saki, are devastating studies in torment and cruelty; they’re also exceptionally funny. A new collection offers a bracing reminder of that duality.
The man behind the trillion-dollar “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise (and, more recently, the high-profile “Lone Ranger” flop) has been characterized as a hack, a purveyor of standard-issue Hollywood dreck. But, asks Tucker Johnson, is there art buried in the films of Gore Verbinski?
Shirley Jackson is best known – infamous, even – for her chilling story “The Lottery.” But it’s her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, where battle rages between evil within and without, that’s her masterpiece.
Near the end of his life, Orson Welles tape-recorded his lunches with a faithful industry friend. By turns hilarious and self-pitying, they give a brilliant glimpse of the aging titan. As Steve Danziger discovers, it’s almost a shame Welles didn’t make his living as a conversationalist.
When Hannah Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1964, her moral authority was called into question. Now Margarethe von Trotta’s new film Hannah Arendt explores both who has the right and who has the responsibility to speak about the Holocaust.
They breathe poison gas and eat old bones and stones; they are sightless, deaf, and ageless; they flourish in temperatures that would melt iron or freeze concrete; and they live on the strangest planet in the known universe: Earth
In the famous jingle ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,’ Katherine Parr comes last – the sixth wife of King Henry VIII. But she was far more than that – scholar, regent, and passionate young woman – as a new Tudor historical novel attempts to portray
As the haze and heat of summer kick into full swing, the folk of Open Letters break out their annual Summer Reading recommendations!
Our feature continues, as more Open Letters folk share their annual Summer Reading recommendations!
Olivia Manning: A Woman at War
By Deirdre David
Oxford University Press, 2013
When is a woman writer not a “woman writer”? What does it mean to claim or resist that identity — for a woman who writes, …
A debut novel of alternate history spins out one of the most tantalizing hypotheticals of the past: what if Anne Boleyn had managed to give King Henry VIII a healthy male heir? Some of the answers – and some of the resulting mysteries – may surprise you.
Modernist poet P. K. Page may be the most important Canadian author you’ve never heard of. An impressive new biography, replete with examples of Page’s poetry and prose, seeks to remedy that.
Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster is merely the newest Great Gatsby for film or television–four adaptations before it attempted to capture the dazzle and pathos of the classic. Matt Sadler us on a tour of West Egg across the decades.
“I hope they pay you well for your obedience, dog” – two new video games explore the parameters of authority and the constraints of law. Doesn’t sound like a fun afternoon, but as Phillip Lobo discovers, there are darker pleasures lurking in the fine print of the social contract.
Bohemian Back Bay was as key to Copley Square as aristocratic Back Bay and black artist models figured not only in Sargent’s work, but in Fred Holland Day’s too.
He travelled the fledgling United States shooting birds, wiring them into poses, and then painting them for eternity – he was John James Audubon, and his epic “The Birds of America” has a beautiful, gargantuan new edition from Abbeville Press
In a new memoir packed with garbled madness, we get a funhouse-mirror autobiography of the legendary Richard Hell, who did more than anybody to invent punk rock and only haphazardly survived to tell the tale
Does love create an unbridgeable distance between two souls? Marco Roth’s searching memoir of his microbiologist father alternates between longing and numbness in its search for what, if anything, binds fathers and sons
Artist Laura Carton does not surf pornography for the usual reasons, By digitally removing the ‘actors’ from their backgrounds, she creates strangely suggestive landscapes. In this interview she addresses both her process and her plan.
In this latest installment of his Mix Tape series, our writer discovers a new world of digital lore for young music fans and contrasts it with his analogue lessons of yore
A startling triptych illuminates the crossroads of social, racial, and sexual identity in the Copley Square of a century ago, as “The Gods of Copley Square” continues
A radio voice crackles “Hallelujah,” and Booker DeWitt’s violent, surreal steampunk adventures in Columbia begin again in the latest BioShock chapter, BioShock Infinite
An ordinary boy in our real world has a funny name – Clark Kent. Funny, that is, until he starts to develop the exact same superpowers as you-know-who
If comic book artist P. Craig Russell didn’t exist, we’d have to dream him up. Under the covers with a flashlight, Justin Hickey illuminates a pair of his sublime literature adaptations
Traumatized by her baby’s kidnapping and murder, disappointed in her marriage to a fallen hero, Anne Morrow Lindbergh found hope in the beautiful, fragile shells she found on the beach. The result was her gentle masterpiece Gifts from the Sea.
An incurious and indifferent Jew journeys to Auschwitz to confront the kitsch and the manicured ruins, looking for a sense of connection – and finding it in the most unlikely places
The ideal player for Capcom’s new version of “Devil May Cry” must be a ballerina of death-dealing, striking down an endless array of foes with an endless array of weapons. But how will all of this strike the other-than-ideal player?
The typical image of Winston Churchill comes from the dark days of World War II: a fat, old, bald Prime Minister eloquently defying Hitler’s Germany. But before there was a monument there was a man, as an engaging new biography brings to light.
The great Russian writer Maxim Gorky’s heart may always have been in Russia, but for years his intermittent stays in Italy stirred his creativity and fired his passion. “In love you discover everything right away,” he wrote – and he loved Italy.
The media just won’t leave old man Voltaire alone! We run a transcript of the latest interview.
He may not have anything new to tell us today, but as Spencer Lenfield demonstrates, Gilbert Highet’s friendly, engaging pedagogy is still rare enough to keep him relevant.
Venice has traded flinty commercial acumen and world-weary merchant princes for an ennui worthy of M. John Harrison’s science fiction; her profession has now become the art of insubstantiality. For centuries authors have tried and failed to capture her. Steve Donoghue surveys the glorious wreckage.
After fictionalizing his experiences in his previous four books, Aleksandar Hemon revisits his memories in a new collection of essays.
Sviatoslav Richter called Pictures at an Exhibition the “best Russian work for piano, amen”; many know it best through Ravel’s lush orchestration, which Richter considered “an abomination.” This beloved piece becomes even more resonant when you know its genesis in Mussorgsky’s friendship with the architect-artist Viktor Hartmann.
After his first visit to Italy, Mark Twain pronounced her “one vast museum of magnificence and misery,” and yet he returned again and again. Luciano Magniafaco chronicles his journeys.
New York artist Christo wants to drape 5.9 miles of silvery fabric over a 42 mile stretch of the Arkansas River. The sketches are lovely, but locals and environmentalists are horrified. Who’s in the right?
His repertoire was small, he was no barnstormer, and he gave up full-time concertizing in 1978. But Van Cliburn, who died yesterday at age 78, is to this day the most famous pianist America has …
The belief that Jews are the enemy of civilization is one of the West’s most tenacious and systemic ideas. Professor David Nirenberg’s new history offers a vast, seemingly inexhaustible record of a very old, very useful hatred.
When the Paris Review, long regarded as a literary standard-bearer, publishes a volume on the art of the short story, it flushes a flurry of conversations into the open: what is a short story? What constitutes an anthology-worthy example? What’s the audience for this kind of thing? And: can these stories answer such questions?
“The eye says ‘Here is Anna Karenina,’” wrote Virginia Woolf; “A voluptuous lady in black velvet wearing pearls comes before us. But the brain says ‘that is no more Anna Karenina than it is Queen Victoria.’” Joe Wright’s cinematic adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic avoids the pitfalls of such literalism.
Has there ever been a time in American history when the gun-and-violence-obsessed subtext of video games was more problematic? Special Ops: The Line puts you in the place of a grizzled, gun-wielding expert – but it doesn’t necessarily want you to feel good about that.
Joseph Epstein has a cult following as a sharp-tongued critic and essayist. His latest collection showcases his love of words and ideas as well as his caustic wit.
Year after year, D. H.Lawrence found love, lust, and gainful employment in Italy – and through the strange alchemy of the place, he also found the inspirations for some of his most enduring works of art.
A conversation about the enduring appeal of Pride & Prejudice.
Say “Evgeny Onegin” to any educated Russian and you will trigger the first stanza or two of Pushkin’s great novel in verse. Now Russia’s national poet is finally coming into his own in the West as well.
Unsettled and penniless, James Joyce’s exile was initially more imrpovised than cunning. Luciano Mangiafico tells the story of his early years on the continent.
Ben Jonson said that the once wealthy and acclaimed Edmund Spenser died “for want of bread”; a new biography tries to disentangle myth from fact, and to make the case for the great poet’s relevance today
A conversation with cover artist Aaron Angello
Not every actor gets the plum role of vampire hunter and romantic lead Jonathan Harker. Steve Brachmann reflects on his part in the Dracula-inspired rock musical The Dead English
Long before Hairpin and Jezebel, Jane Collier, under the influence of Jonathan Swift, was savagely satirizing women’s ettiquette guides in her work An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting. Chris R. Morgan revisits the caustic classic.
What do Christopher Marlowe and the newly discovered Higgs boson particle have in common? Anthony Lock explores the connection, by way of unified fields.
Open Letters mourns the loss of Charles Rosen, pianist, scholar, teacher and critic.
Anthony Burgess the novelist had dreams of being a composer. He had little success, but along the way he delved deep into the nature and meaning of music.
A Clockwork Orange turned 50 this year and received the gift of an anniversary edition. Justin Hickey looks anew at the novel Anthony Burgess claimed to have knocked off in three weeks, and which made him famous.
Some of Anthony Burgess’ most accomplished inventions roam into the past, to Shakespeare and Marlowe’s England and Jesus’ Judea. How well has his historical fiction stood up across the years?
Burgess gave himself room to stretch his arms (and facts) in the two volumes of his Confessions. That space to digress, opine, sing songs, is what makes both books so memorable — even indispensable.
Give Anthony Burgess a check and he’d write anything, even a Time-Life picture book. Which doesn’t mean that his 1976 guide to New York is anything less than fascinating.
Commissioned to translate Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Anthony Burgess decided on a few changes to the text. What were they, and what do they teach us about fate?
Nate Silver is currently enjoying his status as that unlikeliest of people, the celebrity statistician. Does his bestseller The Signal and the Noise live up to its carefully calculated expectations?
“I knew my trip would mean an encounter with Adela Quested”: Victoria Olsen reflects on what she found, and what was lost in translation, when she travelled to India with E. M. Forster on her mind.
Bossophilia: The idolization of Bruce Springsteen that comes from midlife nostalgia and a fear of dying. Steve Danziger confronts the phenomenon, and a new biography.
As Americans go to the polls this month to elect a president, some recent biographies examine the lives of five very different men who once held the office.
The fairy tale has been through several metamorphoses; the next might result in its extinction. Max Ross reviews Jack Zipes’s cultural history of the genre.
“Although virtually all subjects were still religious, their humanity was brought to the fore, emphasizing that God, in the form of Jesus Christ, was made man and that He, and the Virgin Mary, and saints, like us, had human features”
Once upon a time, the hive-mind of the Internet set to work creating a modern-day bogey man who lurks in plain sight – and so “Slender Man,” the dark mirror image of “Where’s Waldo,” was born
“Perhaps a little drunk might answer” was Phillips Brooks’s idea of how to view Pre-Raphaelite art, several masterpieces of which he commissioned for Trinity Church. “Centerpiece” continues.
You may wonder if Vivaldi’s overexposed Four Seasons needs a new recording, but Max Richter’s inspired recomposition gives the hoary old favorite a shot in the arm
Can a famously cold and impersonal writer like Paul Auster make a memoir of aging that works against his strengths? And are they strengths after all?
ESP-Disk’, the cult record label from Bernard Stollman, was known for two things: extraordinary, eclectic recordings and horrendous business practices. A new oral history sheds light on the glorious mess.
The Walking Dead, the hit TV series adapted from the zombie-apocalypse comics, offers fans a gripping and subversive take on the accidents of survival.
CBC’s landmark scare series is available online at last. Where did such a strange series come from and where has it been all this time?
Their brains – their digits – their eyes – their locomotion – their families – their staggeringly long reign over the planet Earth: it’s all here, and much, much more. The greatest dinosaur reference work just got even better.
Election-weary Americans might wonder why anybody in their right minds would elect to play a video-game presidential contest – but the process can be oddly enlightening.
The first biography of David Foster Wallace is out and it’s hardly the sort of book he himself would have written — or read. Might this be for the best?
Lord Castlereagh lives in infamy as the target of the Romantic Poets’ most vicious insults, but a new biography tries to salvage his reputation. Was the statesman a scourge of liberalism or pragmatist of Enlightenment ideals?
How is Hollywood like a clever boy who never tries? In every way imaginable. The story of two Total Recalls is a sad one indeed.
Was General Zhukov the greatest general to order mass executions of his own soldiers? Was he the single most decisive factor in beating Hitler? A new biography opens more questions than it answers.
He started an artist on the path to glory, sold a million toys, and inspired a cult classic movie: He’s Flash Gordon, and his earliest Sunday adventures are getting a deluxe reprint series.
Can plants see and smell and hear? Can they think? Daniel Chamovitz’s “field guide” to the botanical senses poses those provocative questions, but how well does it answer them?
This summer’s London Olympics take us back to 1981′s Chariots of Fire, the 1924 Olympics, and the poetry of William Blake. The connection? All remind us of the fragility of glory and our endless wish to make the past present.
Lyndon Johnson rained destruction on Vietnam and championed civil rights, amassed a secret fortune and fought for the needy. His paradoxical life continues in the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s epic biography.
“I was seething with unchanneled anger, frustration, and a maddening inability to express myself. In other words, I was perfect for hardcore.” Steve Danziger on a misspent youth at CBGB.
Expensive new Batman movies have become a Hollywood ritual, but the character has been thrilling readers – and reflecting a constantly-shifting culture – for seventy years
A contentious Supreme Court in the headlines is hardly a new thing – nor is the Court being used for partisan politics and the brinksmanship of history, as Noah Feldman’s Scorpions makes clear
“A few years ago I started sleepwalking, and (while inconvenient) this is kind of exciting to me, because it’s pretty much exactly the mood I’m going for in anything I create.” — a chat with cover artist Adrianne Mathiowetz
In Soviet Russia, Joseph Brodsky was persecuted by the authorities, but memorized by ordinary people. In the capitalist West, he was feted by the authorities, but ignored by ordinary people. Perhaps it’s just as well he thought reality “nonsense or a nuisance.”
Bostonians take pride in the fact that Edgar Allen Poe was born in their city, but there’s a good deal more to the story of that birth than literary tourists ever learn – indeed, there may be more to it than anybody’s ever known.
Computers – search engines, interactive databases, digital archives – have the potential to change academic research in ways the previous twenty centuries couldn’t have imagined. But are those changes improvements – or the end of expertise as we know it? Or both?
Nerdy teenager Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider – and a super-franchise was born! As a new blockbuster Spider-Man movie hits the summer theaters, Justin Hickey takes us on a tour of the character’s colorful – and often tortured – past!
Why do we play video games? And why do we RE-play them? And what the heck has Sigmund Freud got to do with any of it? Gaming guru Phillip Lobo looks at some new iterations of familiar old games and attempts to connect the dots.
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was a cherished and beloved fixture of the British royal family for almost a century (and would certainly have stolen the show at her daughter’s Diamond Jubilee, had she lived to see it) – but a new book claims the Queen Mum was just an ordinary human being – and not always a very nice one
She oversaw an shepherded the House of Windsor for a century and did more to shape its present character than anyone. Three years ago William Shawcross wrote an official and none-too-gossipy biography.
As Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” takes movie-goers back to the world of his “Alien” classics, we take a look at the long and lively history of modern cinema’s most famous monsters.
His teenage years were blissfully misspent playing Diablo II from Blizzard, and now the company has come out with Diablo III – but can the relationship be saved?
Intertwining through Boston history: the rich, implacable music of Beethoven and the flinty austerity of the Boston Granite style of architecture – trace the connections, as American Aristocracy continues.
In the latest version of the hugely popular video game – as in real life – you are the living culmination of all your past decisions, good and bad.
This month sees the arrival of the long-awaited $250 million dollar Hollywood movie adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Avengers. Lost in all the hype is the rich history of the comic itself; Justin Hickey explores the convergence of pulp and pixels.
An interview with The Baffler‘s new Editor-in-Chief, John Summers.
The Baffler, an unapologetically radical journal that always punched above its weight, has had a troubled history. But a long-term publishing contract has rejuvenated it, and shown that an old formula is as relevant as ever.
The box office record-setting movie adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games is the latest incarnation of an unsettling children-as-prey plot that’s been with us in one form or another for a long time – and never more vividly than in Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale
When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 2010, it was given to an empty chair. Its recipient, Liu Xiaobo, was in prison for advocating human rights in China. Though he is still incarcerated, a collection of essays sheds light on his thought and struggle.
To the quintessential virtues the Puritans lent to a fledgling republic – globality, philantropy, and autonomy – the ‘speaking aristocracy’ of the Boston Brahmins added one more: the love of learning
Long-time critic John Sutherland’s latest book The Lives of the Novelists takes readers on a biographical tour of 294 creators’ lives. But does it work? Long-time critic Steve Donoghue and novelist John Cotter try to figure that out.
Steve Jobs, the visionary predator who founded Apple and forged a new way of thinking about technology, wasn’t a particularly nice man (as even his dutiful biographer must occasionally concede) – but was he a genius?
Unlike the soap operas with which it is often dismissively aligned, Downton Abbey is defined by change rather than stasis – by its beautifully produced attention to social evolution.
“Spending a summer night alone in Hannibal, watching the Mississippi River, staying in a rundown motel, and getting drunk by yourself … that’s a solid way to spend a day.” — A conversation with poet and cover artist Joshua Ware
A simpler, sleeker update of the dystopian 90′s classic Syndicate raises some uncomfortable questions about the here and now.
We live in an age of outrage, yet one of our most egregious ‘blood sports’ escapes censure from the press. Since long before Hemingway, writers have been calling bullfighting exotic instead of barbaric — what are they thinking?
He fought a world war with France, survived the Black Death, and gave England a real Parliament. Froissart and Chaucer loved him, Shakespeare (almost) wrote about him, and the Victorians disparaged him. He was Edward III, and he has a king-sized new biography from Yale University Press.
She’s a shadow, an absence, that haunts the letters, diaries, and novels of her famous half-sister Virginia Woolf. What can we really know about Laura Stephen?
” Paper is a ubiquitous material but it also can be alarmingly elegant. It has religious (holy books, Joss paper) and socio-political (money, contracts), and quotidienne (butcher paper, toilet paper) connotations.” — a conversation with cover artist Megan Heeres
Maligned as nothing but handsome breeding stock, this German import did more to redefine the role of the monarchy than any subsequent royal, consort or king.
Though most people don’t understand musical notation or the theory underlying it, nearly all classical music writing relies on it. Today, the initiate has a better option: YouTube.
“I’ve never been terribly attracted to pretty things in general. Pretty and bland seem synonymous to me, and there’s certainly a lot of that in the art world already.” — a conversation with Bill Amundson
James Madison was more cautious and purposeful than the temperamental Hamilton or the effusive Jefferson. Indeed, to paraphrase Brookhiser, Hamilton was a rocket, Jefferson was a kite, Madison was a ballast.
His own life was the great tragedy he was never quite able to write. Michael Adams assesses the career of playwright Terence Rattigan.
As a young man, the Roman poet Horace ran from battle; when he was older, he turned down a job offer from Augustus Caesar. He refused to write epics, but he gave readers something even better, and it insured his immortality.
“I made no particular effort to keep the portrait of Byron consistent from one novel to another. I wanted to show him in different lights, from different angles.” Joshua Lustig interviews the author of the esteemed Byron Trilogy.
A Conversation with Cover Artist Pattie Lee Becker
Mel Gibson has made far more headlines for boorish public behavior than for the movies he’s directed, and yet one of those movies — the ambitious, problematic “Apocalypto,” seeks to transcend easy classification.
Lee Miller, known for a hundred years as Man Ray’s muse, comes into her own in a new book and exhibit. What’s she like?
Vivian Gornick’s new biography of Emma Goldman focuses more on the famous anarchist’s love life than her political ideologies–but might those tumultuous relationships offer new insights into her beliefs?
John Nance Garner famously referred to the vice presidency as being not worth a bucket of warm, er, spit – and yet, during the two terms of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney used that office to wield unprecedented power. The former vice president writes an unapologetic memoir.
Robert Musil’s magnum opus The Man Without Qualities was groundbreaking not because it’s unfinished but because it’s unfinishable. A new study attempts to take scope of its deep and mesmerizing pointlessness.
The 12th-century Sufi poet Rumi is said to have re-created himself as an avatar of love. Chase Nordengren explores the stations on the life cycle that lead to such a radical rebirth.
“You’ve got to learn the language of art to be able to appreciate it. And then, where you go with it, what you see with it, is only limited to your own imagination.”– A conversation with cover artist John Bonath
It’s easy to love the Dickens we think we know–the man whose warm compassion and boundless imagination gave us Scrooge and Tiny Tim, Pip and Magwitch, Oliver Twist and Nancy. But what about the man behind the novels? Claire Tomalin’s magisterial new biography brings us up close and personal.
On the surface, the new RPG Bastion is a fairly straightforward hack-and-slash video game—but a complex narrative back-story reveals some hidden depths.
Alan Hollinghurst’s latest; an essay from Douglass Shand-Tucci; Sargent’s El Jaleo reconsidered; António Lobo Antunes’ thrillers; Ben Lerner’s latest; vintage scents; Akilah Oliver’s final volume and far more….
This month’s quiz has scoured the archives for November-based literary trivia. Do your worst!
Boston, so often reproved for living in its memories, may well be poised to lead the future, not in spite of its history but because of it.
Our resident nose racks up facts on the tinctures of yesteryear, many of which still prove possible to capture and some of which are well worth sniffing out
What good are reproductions and what do we lose in keeping them? Our writer returns to a famous painting after a dozen years and finds more than he’d imagined
A new graphic novel reworks Coleridge’s classic confrontation between man and nature for our times, taking us on a grand tour of environmental degradation.
The key to storytelling is world-building, and a new book wonders if our new and all-encompassing Digital Era has given mankind world-building tools like it’s never had before. Is it the death of the imagination – or Story 2.0?
A stunning – and miraculously hopeful – update to DK’s legendary guide to animals
Could you actually be hurting the environment by going green and moving to the suburbs? A new book champions that oft-maligned human invention: the big city.
Olivia Laing’s digressive natural history of the 42-mile-long River Ouse is filled with philosophical meditations, childhood memories, and of course the ghost of Virginia Woolf. Anne Fernald traces Laing’s meandering footsteps.
A talk about touching light with cover artist Charles Matson Lume
Courtier and cleric, adventurer and ascetic, man of faith and man of the world — John Donne was many things in his life, and a sprawling new Companion does its best to assess them all.
Nicholson Baker’s provocative new book is an attempt at mainstream literary pornography, but does it suffer from the same performance anxiety as other novelistic efforts to depict sex?
Critics were often baffled by Ray Bradbury in his heyday, and biographers have been equally baffled ever since, but the quest goes on to understand the man who did as much as anybody to give science fiction the shape it has today.
Brothers take opposing sides in World War One, in a gripping biography that reveals the history and politics of America’s role in the conflict.
A new biography explores the life of the erratic and headstrong ‘forgotten’ Founding Father who bankrolled a revolution and guided a new republic.
a talk on architecture and art with cover artist Quynh Vantu
A conversation with cover artist Elizabeth Alexander
Religion is one of those subjects that are too important to be polite about. But can we at least agree to disagree respectfully about the meaning of life?
Former political radical Susan Rosenberg received the longest sentence ever given for the charge of possessing explosives. Her new memoir revisits her prison experience.
Food writing today requires guts – often quite literally. Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir transcends gross-out theatrics to portray a life in food, from abandonment to something like fulfillment.
Cinema lore has it that Jean-Luc Godard read only the first and last three pages of King Lear before making his film adaptation. Lianne Habinek suggests this may have helped him get at the play’s essence.
“In fact, many religions use the mandala type form to represent “Controlled Chaos.” Stained glass windows are an example I have a closer relationship to … they intrigued me for hours.”
Semiotext(e) is famous for theory and provocation. So what happens when its co-founder takes on the art world in the latest installment of their manifesto series? To begin with, she doesn’t write a manifesto…
Anne Roiphe was raised in privilege, educated at Smith, and joined in marriage to a successful playwright; her new memoir reveals how painfully constricting that life came to be.
A con man, an ambitious office boy, and two Mormons–it sounds like the set-up to a punch line. But is the joke on Broadway? Our theater critic examines the “why” of musicals, the limits of Harry Potter, and the perfidy of Canada.
Pauline Kael is out of print today and perhaps known best for the enemies she made. But any immersion into her passionate, intelligent writing shows her to have been one of the best movie critics–or critic of any kind–of the past century.
Frame narratives, rags-to-riches angles, gender-swapping, the wages of grief, and …. love. Yes, we’re talking about a video game, specifically Dragon Age 2.
A conversation with cover artist Julie Schustack about LA, worlds under glass, Frankenstein devices, and building a house just to take it apart.
Theodore Roosevelt left office younger than any American president before him, and renowned biographer Edmund Morris concludes his TR trilogy with a look at the Colonel’s post-power days.
Stanley Elkin’s fiction is marked by verbal wizardry and a searing comic vision; does a new biography do justice to his underappreciated artistry?
“I learned about ‘letting go’, painting over areas in a piece that I might have loved at first (which often happens in my process, some of my first marks are my most adored), but which no longer worked.” A conversation with Carol Browning and Karen Roehl
Books have been with us for thousands of years, and books about books for very nearly that long. The world of books teems with themes, and in the latest massive Oxford Companion, that world receives a bestiary with hopes of being definitive.
The myth of idyllic rural America dies hard, but the scourges of modern society have long since struck the heartland, including the scourge of drug addiction and drug trafficking. A recent book explores the darkness at the edge of town.
“I find that you can get someone to do something outlandish that they would never normally do if you ask them in public as if it’s the most normal request ever.” — a talk with cover artist Rebecca Vaughan
Isaac Newton wrote about bodies at rest and bodies in motion – but he never got around to bodies that want to rip you apart with their tentacles and feast on your steaming entrails! A classic video game gets a macabre and highly detailed sequel.
For millions of years, polar bears have ruled the North, inspiring fear and reverence in all the human cultures ringing the Arctic. A new work of natural history studies the great white bear – and wonders if we’re watching the final act.
Julian Fellowes’ “Downton Abbey” was shot in a castle, but it may have a nearer relationship to “Mad Men” than “Brideshead Revisited.” Joanna Scutts tracks the evolution of the British costume drama.
A conversation with Open Letters’ new curator, Katie Caron, and an exploration of her upcoming show, “Displaced”
Thomas Lawrence was the rising young star painter of the politicians, soldiers, rakes, and mistresses of Regency London, but his work had a life and intelligence that transcended the trendy. A new book looks at a forgotten master.
The tyranny of “supersized” sculpture is dealt a blow by Charles LeDray’s hand-crafted miniatures, on display now at the Whitney Museum
“I think about how the self might be simply a series of curatorial choices, that it’s fluid, that the poetic ‘voice’ is something to play with rather than solidify.” — a conversation with cover artist Anne Gorrick
Is the death of literature finally dead? If not, it’s been dealt a healthy blow by Gregory Jusdanis’ Fiction Agonistes, even it art does have to “justify itself in a way not necessary before.”
For most of the 20th century, the vivacious, controversial Mitford sisters captivated the imagination of the Western world. In a long-awaited memoir, Deborah Mitford, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last living Mitford sister, tells her story at last.
Ever since Cain and Abel, literature has reserved a prominent place for sterling heroes — and the flawed, grasping, and entirely more interesting brothers who live in their shadow.
Once they had established a repertoire and following, jazz pianists could tour as single artists, adding bassists and drummers from venue to venue. Brad Jones explores the styles of two of the greatest.
No American president in a generation has so polarized the country as George W. Bush, and his new book will almost certainly polarize its readers. Is it defiant agitprop or heartfelt memoir?
For two centuries, he’s been the founding myth of his nation: first in war, first in peace, Washington the paragon. Ron Chernow’s new biography does nothing to tarnish that image — but should it?
For their wit and challenge, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics have virtually come to symbolize our modern musical theater. A new collection gathers the lyrics to all those maddening, memorable songs, and adds to them with Sondheim’s own comments.
A gutted world, a shattered helmet, a battle lost before you ever joined it … in “Halo: Reach,” the franchise delves into the mythology underpinning all heroic narrative, and still manages to deliver some fun.
“Ultimately I’m not trying to say much with most of my photography, or my writing either. I am just trying to capture things that interest me, often for very obscure reasons.”
For more than fifty years and more than fifty novels, Louis Auchincloss chronicled the lives of New York’s upper class. His last book is a memoir of his life among that upper class — but is truth stranger than fiction?
“I want to escape within the work. Or maybe it’s just that that’s the world of the childhood fairy tales, carrying over into my adult creations?”
Free thinker, strong-minded woman, scholar, lover, novelist: George Eliot lived a courageous life that should be known and celebrated. But does Brenda Maddox’s new biography do it justice?
David Hirson’s ‘La Bête’ is a sophisticated comedy set in 17th century France and composed entirely of rhyming couplets – not exactly standard Broadway stuff when it premiered twenty years ago. Does the new Matthew Warchus/Mark Rylance revival fare any better today?
Dostoevsky’s moody, brilliant “Notes from the Underground” was recently given an edgy, provocative theater treatment. Can Russia’s most unfilmable writer be acted on the stage?
A bandleader must be a tireless multitasker who can unite a large group of musicians while satisfying the egos of soloists; two of the greatest are featured here
Winston Churchill has become such an icon of wartime tenacity that many people tend to forget he had a postwar political career. Barbara Leaming’s 2010 biography examines the last act of a famous man’s career.
Some of the greatest works of English literature grapple with the dark, knotted roots of anti-Semitism, and the audience is always complicit. A new book studies the tangle of art and atrocity in writers Chaucer to Marlowe to Shakespeare
Adam Nicolson chronicles his work bringing Sissinghurst castle and its grounds up to date–the delusions of a “hippie-squire” or the worthy restoration of a storied estate?
“I wanted to emphasize the creation of new space as something, rather than just an absence.” — a conversation with our cover artist Skye Gilkerson
Black cars, night escapes, spinning vinyl, “Why should I care / Driving’s a gas / it ain’t gonna last…”
Our regular scentstress extols the difficult: sharp notes, throwbacks, and sweaty musks over easy patchoulis and fruity bores.
Saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s performances – improvisational, pointed, unpredictably brilliant – were the stuff of legend, and some pivotal examples were caught on film.
Like paintings or fine wine, video games have a lifespan – a messy birth, a heyday of renown, and a decline. Retrace the epic life, death – and afterlife? – of Tales from Monkey Island.
In the gaming memoir “Unplugged,” one man grapples with the story of his own addiction to video games.
Amardeep Singh rebuts the oldest of film-goer complaints with a defense of adaptations of classic literature, the more inventive the better
When Peter Stein adapted Dostoevsky’s The Demons for the stage, he found himself unable to cut a single scene of its 800 pages. The result: a marathon 12-hour production.
Movies notoriously fail when they try to depict interiority. So why not just restrict ourselves to books? For a million reasons and more.
Vegetarians choose to be vegetarians and meat-eaters choose to be “normal.” Melanie Joy cuts into the language we use to describe our food and the mindset behind it.
The sunlit aesthetics of the Edwardian era have been given a new look in this essay collection, and the consensus leans decidedly toward the darker meanings belying those lovely surfaces
As Mark Twain pointed out a century ago, there’s no evidence the man from Stratford ever read a book, much less owned one, and so the number of books alleging and ‘proving’ evidence of his grand fraud grows and grows …
In his regular column, Brad Jones offers a warm tribute to a Jazz legend who has delighted audiences for over sixty years, from Duke Ellington’s band to the Tonight Show
Mad Men’s Betty Draper is spoiled and uppity, but also tragically thwarted by the chauvinism of the era. As Season Four begins, her fate on the show is coming to a head.
A Conversation with Carissa Halston and Randolph Pfaff about his images for their short play “Patsy”
In Absence of Mind, Marilynne Robinson explores both the dynamics of faith and the complacency of recent anti-faith screeds. But is her own book something of a fall from grace?
The new Hollywood extravaganza “Prince of Persia” is based on a video game with long history. Fitting, then, that our gamer-expert Phillip A. Lobo should review them both.
In his 94 years, Artie Shaw had eight wives and eight Gold Records–the man and his conquests are on display again in Tom Nolan’s new biography
George Romero, master of the zombie movie, returns to theaters with Survival of the Dead, and our resident zombie expert Deirdre Crimmins has a front row seat.
America’s ever-expanding suburbs have brought us right to the doorstep of the wild – and brought the wild to our doorstep – redefining both worlds in the process.
“Owls are majestic creatures. Their stolid quality is exactly what attracts me to them. I purposefully chose those images based on the ability that this animal has to move with such grace and poise, as if always in perfect control.”
Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, it’s off to game we go as Phillip Lobo delves into the subterranean pleasures of Dwarfortress
“Images are entryways. Into memories, into someone’s world, into someone’s story.” And Diamond keeps every one of those images.
“Sisters are doin’ it for themselves” … but the Spice Girls? Marisa Meltzer’s “Girl Power” picks some strange hall-of-famers, and gets Megan Kearns shaking her head, “with friends like these …”
Over the last weekend in Boston, thousands of video gamers gathered for PAX East, one of the largest East Coast gatherings of, er, their kind. Intrepid Phillip Lobo was on the scene.
They have been with us for fourteen thousand years, and they’re sleeping on the couch right now; a new book takes a comprehensive yet personal look at dogs.
The most famous fictional creation this side of Tarzan has undergone innumerable changes over the years, and author Tom DeHaven tries to chart them all in his new book on the Man of Steel.
In mythology, Alcestis is the model wife, willing to give up her own life for her husband’s. In Katharine Beutner’s lyrical retelling, the truth is more complex.
Unlike its predecessor, Mass Effect 2 makes being a jerk a rewarding experience–Phillip A. Lobo explores the paradoxes of the Enlightenment, and the complicated morality of being bad.
The elephants of South Africa and the right whales of the North Atlantic are enormous, complex – and confronted with a growing human population. Two books estimate their chances.
Giambattista Tiepolo spent a lifetime fulfilling contracts and covering walls with glowing celebrations of light and life. In Tiepolo Pink, Roberto Calasso delves into those bright works.
“It is so easy to create illusions with film, but how can you create an engrossing visual experience with an object? I am obsessed with human nature’s interest in being fooled.”
If names like “Number Muncher,” “The Oregon Trail,” and of course “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” prompt nostalgic smiles for you, you’ll love this affectionate look at educational video games
In the first half of the 20th century, Louis Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson both rose to greatness that reached across racial divides. Two new books look at the prices they had to pay.
Can Fantagraphics’ Spectrum series of contemporary fantasy art yield the same sort of enjoyment as a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Steve Donoghue looks into the newest collection.
Phillip A. Lobo leaps from the classic 1970s game Zork to Andrew Hussie’s webcomic MS Paint Adventures in his nostalgia-inducing discussion of the allures of interactive fiction computer games
Jonathan Safran Foer is not the first, but is certainly the most famous, to investigate the ethics of eating animals. Megan Kearns studies both the style and the substance of his argument, with an eye to his less acknowledged allies in vegetarianism
Two books by Jeff Mynott and Colin Tudge explore why it is that birds have such a hold on our hearts. Honoria St. Cyr adds her observations – on the books and on those little marvels around the feeder.
In the 1970s, two giants of the Spider-Man comic book, writer Stan Lee and artist John Romita, reunited for a daily newspaper comic strip. Paradise? Ask Khalid Ponte.
In Assassin’s Creed II, the player plays a player playing a player, all hunting for buried memories and hidden clues to the nature of identity. Philip A. Lobo explains.
The smell of sawdust, misplaced props, shouts about lights: Steve Brachmann reports on a play going up and the ways in which several real people play their parts.
For a season, Maurice Sendak’s iconic Wild Things have become specifically what Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze want them to be … but what is that? Janet Potter goes out to meet them.
Midwest Rock icon Bob Seger’s former tour manager gives us a behind the scenes look at old time rock & roll; John G. Rodwan, Jr. turns the page.
Counter-culture icon R. Crumb has produced an illustrated version of the Book of Genesis—sincere tribute, or sacrilege? Brad Jones adjudicates.
Tropico 3 tempts its players to become petty, manipulative tyrants; Phillip A. Lobo will permit you (unworthy though you are) of reading his musings on the game.
Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland straddles the divide between light family fare and flesh-eating mayhem; Deirdre Crimmins is naturally intrigued.
Speaking In Code
a film by Amy Grill
sQuare Productions, 2009
What drives, obsesses, and eventually breaks impresario David Day in the new documentary Speaking In Code is that most elusive of quarries: getting something started in Boston.
The something …
In A Vindication of Love, Christina Nehring has set herself the task of reclaiming romantic love for the Twitter Age. Ingrid Norton rates the results.
Norman Mailer fought about writers and wrote about fighters, and even after his death, the brawling continues. John G. Rodwan, Jr. enters the ring.
Two new books, Life Ascending and Why Evolution Is True, explore the details of Darwin’s great theory, and Ben and Terry Soderquist wonder if the election’s been called before all the votes are in.
Does the latest Halo game portend the fracturing of history and the death of narrative, or is it just a really cool game? Phillip A. Lobo explains, naturally.
He ruled the world of Sunday comics with a singing sword and a grin. He was Prince Valiant, and Fantagraphics lets him fight again. Steve Donoghue goes blow-by-blow.