Reviews

Recalculating (“Poetry is beautiful and important”)

May 10, 2013
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Recalculating (“Poetry is beautiful and important”)

From Josh Cook’s review of Recalculating by Charles Bernstein, in the May issue of Bookslut: With translations, imitations, and homages, and with poems of poetry’s motion, and manifestos of politics and poetics, Bernstein has gone beyond a personal anthology of poetics to write a book I struggle to categorize. If you could remove all the term’s negative connotations, all the personal and cultural associations with boredom and restriction, if you could extract the term from the worst of academics and education, you could call Recalculating a textbook. It is the syllabus, the required reading, the example, the supplemental critical exploration, and the challenge. It is a shiv tearing at the fabric of poetry for a glimpse of the poetic future. It is the wall, the empty cans of spray paint, and the graffiti. It is the schematics for every part of the bomb but the fuse; the reader is the fuse. But as explosive as Recalculating is, the image of a bomb isn’t right, for, ultimately Bernstein is not a destroyer but a motivator. At the end of Recalculating, Bernstein wants you to believe poetry has not met its potential. The “recalculating” moment happens when we go off course, miss . . .

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In praise of Dangerous Work

November 30, 2012
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In praise of Dangerous Work

From the New York Times Book Review: A riddle: What does Captain Ahab have in common with Sherlock Holmes? Answer: Both characters were created by writers who sailed on whaling vessels, who knew firsthand the heft of a harpoon, the bite of raging gales and the blisters raised by oars. . . . A second riddle: What does Dangerous Work have in common with Moby-Dick? A few of a hundred possible answers: Both books disguise great depth beneath the cloak of an adventure story. Both offer accounts of what was once a major industry, comparable in relative terms to today’s oil industry. Both should be read from cover to cover, shared with friends and revisited in front of a warm fire. And both, for different reasons, are books to treasure, the kind that kindle and rekindle a love of words and a feeling of irredeemable debt to the men behind them. Read more from Bill Streever’s review here. . . .

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The Weekly Reader

January 27, 2011
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The Weekly Reader

It’s that time again: we accidentally left a printout near the copier on the 3rd of May 2010 (Goya reference not lost upon us!), only to find it still there this afternoon. With that melding of the Born-Oppenheimer Approximation in mind (“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday born I was/Thursday’s child”), let’s again revisit the week that was: ** The Times Higher Ed profiled Kenneth J. McNamara’s The Star-Crossed Stone: The Secret Life, Myths, and History of a Fascinating Fossil. Their verdict? “A scholarly but highly accessible book, peppered with stories of the archaeologists responsible for excavating sites containing fossils” which “skillfully mingles anecdote with hard evidence.” ** Just days before the book was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, Susie Linfield’s The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence was the subject of Jed Perl’s thoughtful and challenging piece in the New Republic, where Perl commended Linfield’s “natural appetite for photographic images” and her refusal “to be boxed in by any particular discipline or literary genre.” What’s all the fuss about? Excerpt here. ** In the Guardian, Ann Fabian’s The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead was featured in the Birdbooker Report as “an interesting story” that . . .

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(Academically) Adrift on the Web

January 18, 2011
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(Academically) Adrift on the Web

Sometimes information clicks. Like the success of pink dresses on the red carpet outside of the Golden Globes (allow us—chagrin, we know—that cultural comparison), you can’t anticipate how new scholarship, when produced, might take off and traffic through the usual spheres of commerce and the circuitry of Web 3.0. With that in mind, we couldn’t be more fascinated by the explosive debut today (surprising findings in tow) of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. The Chronicle of Higher Education places the book in profile in a four-part (I II III IV) series ranging from commentary and news analysis to a more targeted study, including an excerpt from the book itself. As the Chronicle summarizes: In the new book, Mr. Arum and his coauthor—Josipa Roksa, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia—report on a study that has tracked a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 students who entered 24 four-year colleges in the fall of 2005. Three times in their college careers—in the fall of 2005, the spring of 2007, and the spring of 2009—the students were asked to take the Collegiate Learning Assessment, or CLA, a widely-used essay test that . . .

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The week that wasn’t quite

January 6, 2011
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The week that wasn’t quite

Oh, Thursday. It’s ungodly early and we’re transcribing mid-flight en route to the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting. We already can’t shake the strange combination of Brian Eno’s “Thursday Afternoon” and a haunting recollection of the theme songs from late 1980s television programming—it must be the promise of Los Angeles. What does a Cat Paint photograph of the Rockies look like, you might wonder? We’re a little less pithy with the fog of latte brain, but there’s a lot to report from late-arriving 2010 wrap-ups and more recent reviews, so with the usual nod to almost the end-of-the-week ennui, on we go: Stephen Greenblatt’s new collection of essays Shakespeare’s Freedom saw its fair share of attention as we ushered in the new year. The Times Literary Supplement gets us started: In Shakespeare’s Freedom, however, Greenblatt engages in a more challenging and potentially rewarding exercise: to seek in Shakespeare’s writings for reflections of the evolving thought processes of the dramatist’s “formidable intelligence” in relation especially to the concept of freedom. It is good, at a time when there is a danger of seeing Shakespeare too exclusively as an entertainer, to find an acknowledgment of the intellectual powers that pervade his work, . . .

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Our Gal Thursday: We’re wrapping her up

December 2, 2010
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Our Gal Thursday: We’re wrapping her up

“And if I loved you Wednesday, Well, what is that to you? I do not love you Thursday— So much is true.” We’re back from our Thanksgiving sojourns and ready to set the cornucopias ablaze; first, though, we’re busy using our Turing machine and Twitter algorithms to raise Anthony Powell from the dead. Have you downloaded your free copy of A Question of Upbringing yet? Susie Linfield’s The Cruel Radiance was equally on fire this week, with a review appearing in the Washington Post, a Holiday Reading shoutout at Design Observer, an exchange between Linfield and Ian Crouch at the New Yorker, and a sweeping and thought-provoking profile of the book by Frances Richard at the Nation. ** Andrew Piper, author of Dreaming in Books: The Making of Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age, appeared as part of a roundtable on the future of—yes, you’re good—the book on the CBC. Listen to the podcast here. And don’t forget to check out the book’s amazing Appendix of not-quite-ready-for-primetime materials, Dreaming in Books: A Booklog. ** John H. Evans’s Contested Reproduction: Genetic Technologies, Religion, and Public Debate, which charts the claims made about reproductive genetic technologies (RGTs) . . .

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Top Five or Ten: Nuns Behaving (Badly)

November 19, 2010
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Top Five or Ten: Nuns Behaving (Badly)

We often find ourselves comparing the nunneries of late sixteen- and early seventeenth-century Italy to a fairly volatile combination of The Craft and Moulin Rouge—just not publicly. So when the Economist took note of Craig Monson’s Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art, and Arson in the Convents of Italy, we immediately put on our thinking habit and got to work. In the book, Monson resurrects forgotten tales and restores to life the long-silent voices of cloistered heroines, drawing attention to the predicament of modern religious women, whose “misbehavior”—seeking ordination as priests or refusing to give up their endowments to pay for others’ wrongdoing in their own archdioceses—continues even today. The Economist delights in the “too modest” Monson’s tome, which “wears its learning with a smile” despite its serious milieu: Convents in 16th- and 17th-century Italy were largely dumping-grounds for spare women: widows, discarded mistresses, converted prostitutes and, above all, the unmarried daughters of the nobility. Aristocratic families were loath to stump up dowries for more than one daughter. The rest were walled away. In Milan in the 1600s, three-quarters of the female nobility were cloistered. At the same time the church was cracking down on lax discipline, in . . .

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Into the future with the Chicago Manual of Style

October 6, 2010
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Into the future with the Chicago Manual of Style

The new 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style has once again assured that Chicago is at the forefront of the publishing world, our advice and instructions fully up to date with the latest publishing practices—and sometimes even beyond, as this question posed to the the all-seeing, all-knowing CMOS Q&A demonstrates: Q. Dear Chicago Manual of Style, If, by using a time machine to go back in time, I’ve inadvertently changed the future, is there a way to make that clear with my verb tenses when I write my note of apology to the universe? For example, how do I refer to an event that happened in the recent past (Mars mission, Cubs’ world championship), but, because I messed up the time stream in the more distant past, now didn’t happen and won’t ever happen? (This is purely hypothetical: I would never jeopardize all of history merely to save myself from a particularly unfortunate high school haircut.) A. As it happens, because this question is so frequently asked, CMOS is currently developing the “temporal transitive” for the 17th edition of the Manual. In consultation with the linguists and physicists of the Chicago Hyper Tense Committee, led by Bryan Garner, . . .

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Royko was a softie

September 24, 2010
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Royko was a softie

For those that know Mike Royko’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columns, it might be difficult to guess that one of Chicago’s “toughest-talking, hardest-working and hardest-drinking” newspapermen had a soft side, but as several recent reviews of Royko in Love: Mike’s Letters to Carol note, his new book not only proves he did, but that it also provided the inspiration for some of his best writing. As Jane Christmas writes for the Canadian weekly Maclean’s: Mike Royko never shared his private life with his legion of newspaper readers, but they came to know him as a perceptive, chain-smoking, funny-but-fearless champion of the underclass, and a thorn in the side of the Chicago politicians he took delight in spearing. He became a celebrated syndicated columnist and a Pulitzer Prize winner, but the love letters written in 1954 to woo Carol, his childhood sweetheart, were likely the most important assignment of his life. He sure wrote like it was. Crushed to learn of her engagement while Royko prepared for military service in Korea, Royko had thought his opportunity to woo Carol lost. But after returning stateside to serve at Blaine Air Force Base in Washington, he learned of her impending divorce. Mick soon began to . . .

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A window into the architectural process

August 27, 2010
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A window into the architectural process

Contemporary architecture has undergone some radical transformations alongside advancements in technology that allow architects and engineers to design and construct buildings that were impossible just a few years ago. Viewing the finished works—works like Daniel Liebeskind’s Fredrick C. Hamilton building, or Frank Gehry’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts—inevitably evokes questions about their construction. How were they built, and how do some of these precariously tilted structures remain standing? In his recent book Architecture Under Construction—a collection of eighty black and white images of some of our most unusual new buildings in the process of their construction—Guggenheim Award-winning photographer Stanley Greenberg explores the complex mystery and beauty of buildings before they receive their obscuring skin. Stephen Longmire writes for a recent article in the Chicago Reader: By arriving before anyone else—except the builders, who are nowhere to be seen—Greenberg is able to study the guts of these iconic constructions. It’s a matter of political principle for the New York-based photographer, whose two previous books, Invisible New York (1998) and Waterworks (2003), explore the seldom-seen infrastructure of his home town. “During the Bush years, everything was hidden,” he told me in a recent interview. “I wanted to look beneath . . .

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