Marianne Moore: All In The Family

“The story of Marianne Moore’s psychological entrapment by her mother is the stuff of a monumental novel or play or opera.” A new biography tells how the poet and her brother Warner “were the victims of severe psychological abuse at the hands of a terribly sick and suffocatingly possessive mother”. When a neighbour gave the family a cat that Marianne came to love, her mother had it killed (4,977 words)

Looking For Tom Lehrer

He was a maths prodigy; entered Harvard at 15 in 1943; “stood out for his wit and brilliance”; kept a stand-up piano in his room; joined the National Security Agency; invented vodka Jell-O shots; and sold 370,000 LPs of his privately-recorded songs by mail-order in the 1950s. But stardom bored him. In the 1960s he stopped performing. Went to teach at UC Santa Cruz. “His entire body of work topped out at 37 songs” (5,500 words)

Pimco’s Bill Gross Picks Up The Pieces

Vivid snapshot of the eccentric, embattled head of the world’s biggest bond fund: Difficult boss, great trader, driven man. He gets up each morning at 4.30, kisses his still-sleeping wife goodbye, “and prepares a to-go box of Special K with blueberries, which he consumes as he drives himself to work along the Pacific Coast Highway in a black Mercedes, controlling the steering wheel with his knees” (3,950 words)

Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing

Portrait of the writer at 86, ailing but at ease. His family, descended from Friesian whalers, “is name-checked in Moby-Dick“. His CV in brief: CIA agent, co-founder of the Paris Review, author of more than 30 books, naturalist, Zen master, and, uniquely, winner of National Book Awards for fiction and non-fiction. “You would be hard-pressed to find a greater life in American letters over the last half-century” (Metered) (4,964 words)

John Updike Turned Everything To His Advantage

Excerpt from forthcoming biography. Updike used everything in his life as source material for his fiction — places, friends, family. Anything of note that happened to him was liable to reappear six weeks later as a short story for the New Yorker. His mother encouraged him “to write exactly what he pleased, no matter how painful to his family”. He duly caused her great pain by depicting her as “a large, coarse woman” (2,500 words)

Her Again: The Unstoppable Scarlett Johansson

Portrait of the actress, approaching 30, pregnant, and starring in her “best movie to date”, Under The Skin. She plays “a form of alien, landed or stranded among us, and acquiring human males not for sex or friendship but for the serial harvesting of their meat … No one will ever quite unravel what Johansson is, or does, in Under the Skin, but no one, equally, could improve on her own distillation of the outsider’s time on Earth” (5,430 words)

Bill Gates: The Rolling Stone Interview

He may well be “the most optimistic” man alive, as well as the richest. He sees the world as a “giant operating system” that “just needs to be debugged”, and his charitable foundation is on the case. Topics include surveillance, public health, inequality, Microsoft, Apple, America. “Say you’re gay in America, would you go back 50 years? Say you’re sick in America, do you want to go back 50 years? I mean, who are we kidding?” (6,400 words)

Obituary: Madeline Gins

Believing that comfort killed people, she “set out to achieve everlasting life through architecture”, designing buildings that made people “disoriented, dizzy, and slightly bilious”. Some of them even got built — with floors that “undulated like sand dunes”; kitchens “positioned at the bottom of steep slopes”; no doors; windows too high or too low; and everything painted in “dozens of clashing colours” (Metered paywall) (1,013 words)

Shane MacGowan: God’s Lucky Man Pick of the day

Famed for his songwriting and debauchery, the Pogues leader is a Christian “squarely within the rich and sensual faith tradition practiced by his Irish ancestors”. His “tribal Catholicism” is “at home with the sacred and the profane”. God must be taking care of him, because he has “not been doing the job himself”. His rheumy eyes, throat-clearing cackle and toothless grin suggest “not genius, but late-stage dipsomania” (2,370 words)

Lunch With Prince Turki al-Faisal

Conversation with Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, ex-ambassador to UK and US, youngest son of King Faisal. His take on spying prowess: “In terms of raw data the Americans have it over everybody … The British have the most expert human capabilities on specific subjects … In terms of operational capability the Israelis are the most professional, although they’ve committed lots of mistakes” (2,370 words)

The Stuntman

Review of Tom Bower’s biography, Branson: Behind the Mask. Richard Branson “pretends to be much richer than he really is”. His business strategy is “to get as close as possible to the people with power and then exploit the connection for all it’s worth”. His Virgin empire is “a brilliant smoke-and-mirrors operation, driven by the undeniable charm of the man himself, along with his occasionally breathtaking shamelessness” (4,500 words)

Obituary: Walter George Bruhl Jr. Pick of the day

It begins: “Walter George Bruhl Jr. of Newark and Dewey Beach is a dead person; he is no more; he is bereft of life; he is deceased; he has rung down the curtain and gone to join the choir invisible; he has expired and gone to meet his maker. He drifted off this mortal coil Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Punta Gorda, Fla. His spirit was released from his worn-out shell of a body and is now exploring the universe” (640 words)

Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman

From the archives of Rolling Stone: David Bowie in conversation with William S. Burroughs. You may have to be of a certain age to enjoy this fully. In which Bowie explains the plot of Ziggy Stardust; declares Lou Reed to be the greatest musician on the planet; and reveals himself as unexpectedly class conscious, in the English way. His lyrics, he says are “a bit middle class, but that’s all right, ’cause I’m middle class” (5,780 words)

The Secret Auden

On the “secret life” of W.H. Auden. In public he portrayed himself as “rigid or uncaring”, but in private he was “generous and honorable”. He gave freely to needy friends and charities. He helped young and struggling poets. He was “disgusted by his early fame”, and preferred to be seen as “less than he was”. He was not a Christian, but he felt “an absolute obligation” to love his neighbour as himself (3,740 words)

Ghosting For Julian Assange

Epic profile, by the ghost-writer of Assange’s abortive autobiography. “He had a strange, on-the-spectrum inability to see when he was becoming boring … I’d never been with a person who had such a good cause and such a poor ear, nor such a capacity to yawn in one’s face … He appeared to like the notion that he was being pursued, the tendency was only complicated by the fact that there were real pursuers” (26,390 words)

Obituary: Mavis Gallant

Her style was “meditative and allusive, dry yet lyrical”. Starting in 1951 the New Yorker published more than 100 of her short stories. “While in Europe, she did not realise that the work she had left with her agent at home had continued to appear in the New Yorker; the agent had pocketed the cash while informing the magazine that she was a recluse and telling her she had been rejected” (990 words)

Joe Gould’s Other Secret

Joseph Mitchell’s portrait of a 1940s Greenwich Village panhandler and fantasist called Joe Gould is still considered one of the finest pieces ever published by the New Yorker. It evolved into a classic short book, Joe Gould’s Secret. But it was a richer and stranger story than even Mitchell let on. Gould had a benefactor as colourful as himself, a Mid-Western heiress who probably inspired Lillian Hellman’s Julia (4,350 words)

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Final Secret

“His metier was human loneliness, and the necessary curse of human self-knowledge. He played frauds who knew they were frauds, schemers who knew they were schemers, closeted men who could only groan with frustrated love. What united his roles was the calm he brought to them, the stately concentration that assured us that no matter whom Philip Seymour Hoffman played, Philip Seymour Hoffman himself was protected” (840 words)

In The Shadow Of Sharon

Notes on the character of Ariel Sharon. “He was either untrained for, or simply distrusted, any form of abstract thinking. Sharon’s abhorrence of abstract thinking included distaste for law and morality, and ended in a total mistrust of ideology. He was a pre-ideological general who fought in ideological wars. Part of Sharon’s dark charm, of which he had plenty, was the feeling that in him you could encounter primordial elements” (1,700 words)

In The Sontag Archives

Susan Sontag’s biographer, on the intimacy of email. “Reading papers and manuscripts is one thing. Looking through someone’s e-mail is quite another. The feeling of creepiness and voyeurism that overcame me struggled with the unstoppable curiosity that I feel about Sontag’s life. To read someone’s e-mail is to see her thinking and talking in real time. One sees the insatiably lonely writer reaching out to people she hardly knew” (1,740 words)

Seven Questions About Bob Dylan

How does Bob Dylan manage to remain the world’s most private public figure — or, perhaps, the world’s most public private figure? Jeff Tweedy explains: “We played with McCartney at Bonnaroo, and the thing about McCartney is that he wants to be loved so much, he has so much energy, he gives and gives and gives, he plays every song you want to hear. Dylan has zero fucks to give about that. And it’s truly inspiring” (4,477 words)

Swartz At Sundance

Review of The Internet’s Own Boy, a film about Aaron Swartz, who was driven to suicide by prosecutors after hacking JSTOR. “He was difficult, foolish, and self-important, one of those people who question everything, and notice how many of the answers are absurd. That instinct took him to the edge of society, like so many brilliant misfits, a disproportionate number of whom have created the American tech industry” (1,100 words)

Call Me Burroughs

William S. Burroughs was “a queer and a junkie before being either was hip; a deadbeat father and an absent son; a misogynist, a gun lover, and a drunk”. A new biography by Barry Miles, Call Me Burroughs, marks the centenary of his birth. Miles has written “definitive” biographies of Ginsberg and Kerouac, but this “eclipses everything else he’s done in terms of breadth, erudition, and sheer narrative combustion” (1,690 words)

That’s Material: An Interview With Daniel Menaker

Former fiction editor of The New Yorker discusses his memoir, My Mistake, which includes an account of his struggle with lung cancer. “A lot of writers fail to understand that feeling automatically infuses description, narration, and dialogue. They make the mistake of explicitly indicating — almost instructing — what the reader should feel. Of course, doing so lessens the chance that the reader will indeed feel it” (1,915 words)

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