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Danielewski’s ‘The Familiar, Vol. 1’ Is Too Much, All at Once

As a compendium of inventive thought and prose, The Familiar, Vol. 1 succeeds. As a coherent novel, it's impenetrable.

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30 Jun 2015 // 2:30 AM

Is Gender Out of Fashion?

Sex and Unisex, a history of fashion trends offers insight into changing notions of gender – and raises the possibility that the concept has outlived its usefulness.

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Neoliberalism Is Changing Our World Without Our Even Noticing

Wendy Brown charts the ‘stealth revolution’ that’s transforming every aspect of society -- and now has democracy in its sights.

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19 May 2015 // 3:30 AM

Is Online Trolling a Reflection of Our Social Values?

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things confronts the interrelation between subversive trolls and mainstream ideas, and opens up conversations about post-internet politics, activism, and human relationships.

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15 Apr 2015 // 2:30 AM

On Epigraphs and Other Incestuous Things

Like a cover letter, the epigraph must take me to the textual meat without giving me reason to discard the sandwich altogether.

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Robert Christgau Falls From Grace in ‘Going into the City’

We have here the post-apocalyptic wanderer, able to go anywhere because there’s nowhere he belongs.

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What Would Don Draper Do? Reading Dante in a Secular Age

Many readers of our generation emulate Don Draper, having lost Dante's connections to Christianity or perhaps to any such deity.

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Guy Kawasaki on the Art of Social Media

Guy Kawasaki defines “good stuff” to post online, and how to really get more followers. (Hint: don’t pay for them!)

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Uncovering Queer History in ‘Gay Berlin’

Gay Berlin reveals a vibrant gay rights movement that flourished in Germany a hundred years before Stonewall.

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From Tehran to Tel Aviv: Of Crime and the Cities

Akashic Noir series continues to serve up delightful and disturbing gems that offer remarkable insights into the world’s great (and not-so-great) cities.

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Let’s Make Childhood Savage, Again

A growing movement says we ought to help our kids lead riskier lives with the intent of improving society.

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Will the Bubble Burst on Our Right to Privacy?

A legal scholar and former journalist warns that if modern media pushes the envelope too far, we could all wind up losing.

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Tracing a Literary Lineage in Jonathan Franzen’s ‘The Kraus Project’

This unlikely combination of a translation and memoir offers as many telling insights into the preoccupations of Jonathan Franzen as it does into Karl Kraus' life and work.

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11 Feb 2015 // 3:30 AM

In Defense of Brunch

A provocative and insightful new book challenges us to rethink our obsession with brunch, and to critically consider what this overpriced, messy meal really says about shifting class identities in today’s world.

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America Went to War on Terror and Terror Won

Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn provides exceptional analysis of the Islamic State and the broader conflict in Syria and Iraq.

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In Conversational Orbit of ‘God’s Planet’ With Owen Gingerich

Religion and science, two of the great cathedrals of knowledge, are often perceived as being in a state of conflict with one another. Gingerich is of the mind that the two cannot be separated.

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‘The Secret History of Wonder Woman’ Also Reveals a Great Deal About Our Own Social History

Jill Lepore's hit new book on Wonder Woman sheds light not only on the astonishing origins of this iconic character, but also on the fascinating social and political strands of history which gave rise to her.

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Perilous Discoveries: The Feminist Murder-Mysteries of Charlotte Armstrong

Armstrong's women opened the same forbidden doors as Agatha Christie and Patricia Wentworth's, but her characters also opened those doors for other, more pressing, reasons.

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‘Philosophy Bites Again’ Is a True Philosophical Gourmet

This is a dinner party in book form, although with topics such as torture, group agency, hate speech, and the afterlife, it's not for the absent-minded.

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‘Collected Poems’ Captures the Vibrant Life of a Great Poet

Mark Strand's death in December 2014 casts a different light on his newest poetry volume, as it now carries the weight of summarizing a life in writing.

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A Blockbuster Turns 30: Alan Light Talks About Prince and ‘Purple Rain’

Music journalist and author of Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain Alan Light talks with PopMatters about Prince's one-of-a-kind perfect album.

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‘American Interior’: A Multimedia Tale of a Welsh Vision Quest

Gruff Rhys' innovative, multi-platform narrative unfolds the beguiling and intriguing narrative of an enigmatic Welshman seeking out his kind... in America.

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‘The Copyright Wars’ Rage on After 300 Years

In a historical sweep of trans-Atlantic arguments over copyright law, some surprising shifts and patterns emerge, but the key, centuries-long battles remain.

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‘Yes Please’ Is White Liberal Feminism in Full Force

Yes Please is an honest but dull book that embraces the politics, and thereby the problems, of white liberal feminism.

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‘The Red Tent’ Has Regaled Readers for 17 Years, and It Remains as Powerful as Ever

Anita Diamant’s storytelling is exceptional. There’s something here for everyone in a work which is an unquestioned masterpiece of historical fiction.

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“Pussy Riot Is a Mask”: The Prison Letters of Nadya Tolokonnikova and Slavoj Zizek

The prison correspondence of Tolokonnikova and Zizek might not change the world, but it ought to be required reading for those with such aspirations.

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Caitlin Moran: Lady Sex Pirate and Working Class Hero

The remarkable author of How to Build a Girl wasn’t seeking controversy; she just wanted to change the world.

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M. R. James’ Horror and the Tricky Business of the Imagination

M. R. James preferred to internalize horror so that the victim had the grotesqueries playing out in his heart and head, rather than in the cemetery across the way.

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3 Nov 2014 // 3:30 AM

What Would Jessica Fletcher Tweet?

The preternaturally smart heroine of Angela Lansbury's Murder, She Wrote sets a positive example for how writers have to promote themselves in our Twitter-centric world.

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Katha Pollitt on Reclaiming Abortion Rights, Rejecting Shame and Renewing America’s Potential

Pollitt’s new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights is both a call to arms and a call for honest reflection.

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Playing With Consistency Inconsistency: Jeff VanderMeer Takes Us into Area X

The adventurous Annihilation + the Raymond Chandler-like Authority + the existentialist Acceptance = the engaging Southern Reach Trilogy.

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The Other Side of the Looking Glass: An Interview with Kelli Deeth

Kelli Deeth’s characters, at the end of their wits and their youth, take the long, last painful look into their abating past, only to see themselves staring back at a fated future.

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Ferguson, Missouri: Real and Imagined

As art imitates life, there are parallels between the violence in Laura McBride's We Are Called to Rise and the most recent headlines of violence in America.

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Everything You Think You Know About Human Rights Is Wrong

Human rights movements, says Samuel Moyn, have done a poor job protecting and fighting for social and economic rights.

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On Those Who Must Work as Whores, and Those Who Can Afford to Just Play at It

The debate about sex work is usually about the spectacle that accompanies “sex”, rather than about the sex workers and the work of sex. That needs to change.

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11 Jun 2014 // 2:30 AM

Eve Babitz, with Los Angeles at Her Feet

As the cynosure of the counterculture, Eve Babitz knew everybody worth knowing; slept with everybody worth sleeping with and better still, made herself felt in every encounter.

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Of Art and Magic: An Interview with Novelist Porochista Khakpour

What happens when magical thinking really consumes a person or even a society?

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Civilized Murders: An Interview with Hugh Fleetwood

Hugh Fleetwood’s chilling and dark mysteries deal with psychologically-damaged characters, ones whose actions are usually the result of some personality disorder often undisclosed to everyone but the reader.

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‘The Age of Atheists’ Considers That Beyond Reason or Religion, Our Quest for Meaning Endures

Who will choose this enriching and rewarding removal from reality TV and manufactured distraction? Who will walk the course mapped in these heady pages, along a sobering path of self-awareness of our fragile presence surrounded by darkness and mystery?

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The Drowning Pool: When Great Writers Are Drunks

Berryman, Carver, Cheever, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Williams; none could tend the flame of their talent with anything but liquor and devastation.

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Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Uncharted puts the "big data" of Google Books through the lens of a tool called Ngram, but the meaning of the results, and even their validity, turn a great read into a cautionary tale.

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What Would Thomas Pynchon Do?

Like his protagonists, Thomas Pynchon appears to remind us, in his absence from advising us, that we must rely on our own smarts, arrayed against mystery and cynicism and corruption.

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“The Goodness of Privacy in a Warm Room with Books”

We all search for escape, and while music, drugs, radicalism, or fame may ease the monotony, the protagonists of so many of these tales find themselves at the end of their narratives still constrained.

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A Lot of Good Books Published in 2013 Kept Me Awake at Night

The year 2013 saw a rash of big new books published, from the likes of Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell, and David Sedaris; none of whom made this list.

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Fiction Had Appeal and Poetry Captured Me, but Non-Fiction Proved Irresistible in 2013

Art, politics, poetry, food, and global fiction: 2013 year brought in a variety of engaging titles from many genres. Still, non-fiction tops my 2013 favorites.

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2013 Was a Fine Year to Have Your Head In a Book

Five books published in 2013 that stayed with me, that I found myself urging on others, that I now say to you, Hey! Read this!

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In ‘Imperial’ Vollmann Struggles to Understand the Salton Sea as He Would a Mark Rothko Painting

Here as in all his works, William T. Vollman sides with the poor and the marginalized, but he tries to remain fair to all he meets, even as he confesses his prejudice, or tolerance.

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Albert Camus and the Universal Quality of Human Dignity

Both Elements of a Life and A Life Worth Living offer concise, eloquent, and learned treatments of the life and work of Albert Camus.

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John Updike Gives the Mundane Its Beautiful Due

Depending on whom you listen to, God, or the devil, is in the details, and that's exactly where John Updike's talent lies, too.

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Guston’s Ghosts: ‘Out of Time: Philip Guston and the Refiguration of American Postwar Art’

Robert Slifkin's book on Philip Guston is an incantatory debut work that shows us a compelling new side of the artist's famous Marlborough paintings.

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The Connoisseur of Crime, John D. MacDonald, Is Shadowing the E-Book World

Available again in ebook form, the crime classic Stephen King called "one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century", The End of Night, is ready for rediscovery by a new generation of readers.

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Thrift, Schemes & Restlessness Characterize Both Katherine & J.F. Powers’ Writing

"I am not by nature cut out for this life, as it's defined in these parts by the chamber of commerce and our bishop, who is devoted to Christian family living, as everyone knows." This deadpan tone suits J.F. Powers and his conflicted, capitalist, Midwestern, mid-century priests well.

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Marty Beckerman Talks About Love in the Time of JNCO Pants

Marty Beckerman talks about his hilarious new novella, '90s Island, the "infantilizing" nature of nostalgia, and why the truly cool people never got frosted tips.

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Caroline Leavitt at a Crossroads: ‘Is This Tomorrow’

New York Times best-selling author Caroline Leavitt discusses her new novel about a family who must brave the hostile status quo of '50s American suburban life while being as different from their neighbors as possible.

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‘It Begins and Ends With Love’: A Conversation with Trans Activist Jennifer Finney Boylan

Best-selling author and transgender activist Jennifer Finney Boylan discusses her new memoir in a conversation that explores the transformative power of storytelling, the redefinition of family values, and the radical potential of love.

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The Shock of the Old:  Art Historian Alexander Nagel on His New Book, ‘Medieval Modern’

New York University art historian Alexander Nagel talks with PopMatters about how art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is tied to modern and contemporary art in more ways than we might think.

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The Civil War’s ‘Young Napoleon’: An Interview with Richard Slotkin

Renowned cultural critic and historian Richard Slotkin discusses his new book, The Long Road to Antietam, and shares his thoughts on the future of American Studies. He indulges us with his favorite movies, too.

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Join the Underground: Loren Glass’ History of the Famous / Infamous Grove Press

Grove was the hippest and most important publisher of books that broke sexual taboos, plotted revolution, and kept millions of young intellectuals across the US in touch with the avant-garde and revolutionary politics throughout the world.

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22 Apr 2013 // 11:15 PM

On Killing Two Crucial Birds With One Pen

Norman Ball’s How Can We Make Your Power More Comfortable? and The Frantic Force are stalked, ever so subtly, by the fraught subtext of a father and daughter’s haltingly convergent kinship. Surely this is a writer Dad and I could break conciliatory bread over.

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Author Hugh Howey on What’s Good About E-Books, Open Source Movements, and Fan Fiction

The success of Hugh Howey’s self-published Wool series points to a complete upending of publishing paradigms. Much like Amanda Palmer in music, Howey has created a whole new model of how authors relate to readers.

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‘Black Against Empire’ Assumes a Central and Critical Spot Within the Black Panther Canon

This meticulous work of research and analysis attempts something beyond the scope of power-to-the-people flashbacks of Afros, dashikis and raised fists: it takes the Black Panther Party seriously as a political entity taking dead aim on American laws and values.

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On Ladies Men and the Ladies Who Love Them: An Interview with Betsy Prioleau

Betsy Prioleau's Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them provides an enjoyable and eminently readable portrait of consistent and effective themes in seduction throughout human history.

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What Happens When ‘Downton’s Head Valet, John Bates, Loosens His Vest?

Forget Bates the valet and his perfect Windsor knots. Agent Gates wields a gun, kicks ass, and otherwise protects Devonton Abbey from unsavory spies.

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‘Going Clear’: Lawyers, Guns, Money & Scientology

Lawrence Wright’s devastating, impeccably researched history of Scientology’s “Prison of Belief” vividly illustrates the ability of this “Church” to successfully prey upon nearly every dark strain in the modern American psyche, from celebrity-worship to ego-mania and the lust for power and money.

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After Mary Wells Dared to Leave Motown, Did She Fall Off the Face of the Earth?

Back when Martha (Reeves) and the Vandellas and the Marvelettes would have one big hit and then nothing much for months, and the Supremes didn’t have a hit among their first nine releases, Mary Wells was Motown’s reigning pop star, queen and cash cow.

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James Wood’s Criticism Is Like Tectonic Plates Under Pressure, Forming Mountain Ridges

James Wood's new collection of essays and reviews, The Fun Stuff, at once subverts the critic's elitist persona and fortifies it.

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History as Fiction / Fiction as History: The Allure of the Historical Novel

Because history can be seen to be a malleable artifact, it’s a useful tool to employ when writing fiction. Because history is often chaotic, fiction can be the best way to approach it.

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Vanessa Veselka on Giving a Voice, at Least a Little Bit, to a World that Has No Voice

The world around us is the world of the book, says Vanessa Veselka. In Zazen, there's a highly fetishized identity politics world that someone is getting lost in.

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Claire Vaye Watkins Walks the Tightrope Between Chaos and Control

Claire Vaye Watkins' first short story collection, Battleborn is winning well-deserved rave reviews. Here, she discusses monkeys in chinaberry trees, Yo La Tengo, and what it's like to be a putter-inner.

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Michael Chabon Grows Up with ‘Telegraph Avenue’

Michael Chabon writes with empathy, with earnest reflection and self-consciousness, pervaded by sepia-daubed nostalgia.

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Woe is Us: ‘What’s the Matter with White People?’

Salon editor Joan Walsh’s half-brilliant and half-confused memoir / manifesto posits that many white Americans have historically taken out their frustration over declining opportunities on minorities … and Democrats.

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An Early Moan from the Great Moaner: Jack Kerouac’s ‘The Sea Is My Brother’

Jack Kerouac’s greatest achievement is the creation of the most compassionate of 20th century literatures; not just the adolescent fraternalisms or calls for equality, but the glee of rushing down the mountain with the good news, or as the good news, curious about humanity, forgiving, ready to report well and true.

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Sergio Leone: Something to Do with Death

Britain’s pop culture knight, Christopher Frayling, offers the definitive biography and interpretation of the Spaghetti Western maestro, Sergio Leone.

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Enjoy Orientalism-Lite with ‘Stranger Magic’

Stranger Magic is an exhaustive compendium of the various tales in the Arabian Nights collection, as well as a robust and energetic investigation into how these stories of “Oriental” myth and folklore have seeped into the European imagination from the 18th century onward.

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That Thing That Makes Funk Funky: ‘The One: The Life and Music of James Brown’

James Brown – an untrained musician, mind you, operating on not much more than feel, instinct and desire – revolutionized black pop music, setting off depth charges that would still be exploding a decade hence.

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A Third Spain, Neither Left Nor Right, United by Sex?

"Spanish majas wearing traditional peinetas made-in-Spain enhance their legs with imported French stockings; dark Spanish beauties leave Andalusia to sit in front of American typewriters in an office in Barcelona or Madrid; sexy middle-class señoritas speed away on German bicycles."

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Grunge: Straining to Challenge the Status Quo

Grunge: Music and Memory casts grunge as the unsure middle weight stepping into the ring against one pop music brawler after another. Down goes Michael Jackson, down goes Guns 'n' Roses, and while Springsteen is putting the finishing touches onHuman Touch/Lucky Town, Nirvana and Pearl Jam release the most influential albums of the decade.

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We Need This Map: Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder’s ‘Thinking the Twentieth Century’

This is a three-dimensional map of intellectual terrain, marked hastily but with enormous detail and vividness in the course of a conversation between two well-regarded historians. They have spread the map out on the hood of your car—or perhaps, in honor of Tony Judt, the map has been handed to you in a train station.

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Dead Stars Tell No Tales: Whitney Houston’s Death Casts New Light Onto Memoirs by Two ‘70s Pop Stars

Just as the winners of the war tend to write the history books, only survivors write memoirs. Nile Rodgers' Le Freak and Gil Scott-Heron's The Last Holiday.

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Celebrating the Possibilities of Fiction: A Conversation with Jennifer Egan

Pulitzer Prize winning author Jennifer Egan discusses her unique combination of influences, the role of genre and satire in her work, and the importance of distance in her creative process.

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‘Library After Air Raid’: On the Survival of Culture Amid the Barbarity of War

War is a science, science is an art and art, as Library After Air Raid attests, is everything.

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Riding Into a Nightmare: ‘A Train in Winter’

Caroline Moorehead's A Train In Winter, like Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost, leaves nothing to the imagination, a decision that makes reading it simultaneously engrossing and deeply disturbing.

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If at First You Don’t Succeed, Failure May Be Your Style: ‘The Queer Art of Failure’

Rather than searching for ways around death and disappointment, the queer art of failure involves the acceptance of the finite, the embrace of the absurd, the silly, and the hopelessly goofy.

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O Captain! My Captain! Going Where No Octogenarian Has Gone Before

As "Bill" explores the meaninglessness of celebrity, "Shatner" embraces the shallow and the superficial like an Andy Warhol soup can come to life.

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When the Music’s Over: Greil Marcus on the Doors

Apparently seeking to account for every important rock act of the '60s, Greil Marcus turns his critical attention to the Doors.

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Cold Wars End, Betrayal is Forever: ‘Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy’

What is espionage if not getting into bed with people -- physically or ideologically -- for purposes of betrayal?

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Chuck Eddy Will Piss You Off with ‘Rock and Roll Always Forgets’

Buy this infuriating and brilliant book. But get it in softcover. You'll be throwing it against your wall.

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‘Red Shambhala’: Telepathy, Mental Powers, Electronic Surveillance & Mysticism in the U.S.S.R.

While the practical experiments of laboratories bent on superhuman creations failed as surely as did the subversive aims to spark revolt on the Mongol plains or in the Tibetan monasteries, the lesson of this unbelievable plot lingers in this thoughtful, instructive, and sad testament of grand hopes and puny fates.

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Steve Earle’s ‘I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive’

A been-there-lived-it-attitude and street-level redemption, all propelled by a songwriter's/storyteller's lyrical and narrative knack.

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‘Shock Value’: What Men (and Boys) Really Fear

Jason Zinoman argues that the fantastic, Gothic monsters of the first half of the 20th century were replaced by a New Horror -- the monster right in front of your face.

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Enmeshed In Modernity: Malcolm Turvey’s ‘The Filming of Modern Life’

Most of these films have been studied to death, then autopsied, buried, exhumed, and autopsied again, but Malcolm Turvey unearths some fresh perspectives and in the process, provides a nice corrective to long-misguided notions.

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Tommy McKearney’s ‘The Provisional IRA Is an Insider’s Analysis of the Dream and the Reality

A contemporary analysis of the main IRA force in its 40 years "from insurrection to parliament", from a participant not in a seminar but a cell, as an operative and not as a professor, a volunteer and a leader of the IRA -- not a reporter.

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Dylan As Text, Sub-Text, Ur-Text in ‘Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown’

This is Bob Dylan as shifting text, not just layered like pages, back or front, or over-laid like a palimpsest, but cross-wise and motile as a termite.

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David Foster Wallace’s Posthumous ‘The Pale King’ Explores Self-Consciousness As a Disease

The problem with The Pale King is not that it killed a great writer, but that a great writer’s own problems became the narrowing factor for what might have been his greatest work.

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Cinderella May Have Eaten Peggy Orenstein’s Daughter, But Who Ate Cinderella?

All the expertise in the world doesn’t prepare a parent to face the vagaries of American culture that lays itself pink, shiny, and bejewelled at the feet of a young girl.

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Christopher Newfield’s ‘Unmaking the Public University’

What happens to America's higher education system when humanists meet industrial (and now post-industrial) knowledge managers and technocrats?

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‘Atheist Manifesto’ Combines Density with Levity

This brisk study encompasses vast learning, marshaled with much wit, considerable venom and steady argument, all doled out in differing amounts.

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‘Electric Eden’: A Musical Retelling of the Elusive Past

Rob Young, editor at The Wire music magazine, conjures up the contradictions of sound technology harnessed to rural moods, and an urban audience longing for antiquarian lore.

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‘The Brothers’ Lot’ Reaches Monty Python’s Heights of Nomenclature

Upon this ethical foundation for an entertaining tale, Kevin Holohan follows a satirical tradition which questions authority, undermines cliché, and upends the social order.

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Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways

When halal turkeys sell for Thanksgiving, "Happy Holidays" drowns out "Merry Christmas", Easter egg hunts replace Mass celebrating the Resurrection, and sacred Catholic terms in Quebec serve only as swear words, culture has parted ways with religion.

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Smashing Pumpkins Rock for Revolution at Irvine Meadows

// Notes from the Road

"You know Corgan isn’t just going to play a greatest hits set and that’s to his credit, for a formidable catalog of deep cuts the Smashing Pumpkins have.

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