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Writing Worth Reading

How To Write John Updike’s Deathbed

Interview with Adam Begley, who talks about what he learned from researching and writing his biography of John Updike. “Ron Chernow gave me a little avuncular advice. He said: There are three kinds of biographies. There are two-year biographies, five-year biographies and ten-year biographies. He and I agreed that I should be writing a two-year biography. OK, it took me five years to write a two-year biography” (2,540 words)

It’s Adventure Time

In praise of Adventure Time, a “smash hit cartoon” for children aged six to eleven, and also “a serious work of moral philosophy, a rip-roaring comic masterpiece, and a meditation on gender politics and love in the modern world.” The heroes, a boy called Finn and a dog called Jake, “possess a blind optimism that is as clueless as it is comforting”. This is not merely great television, it is great art, and not only for kids (11,340 words)

The Letter

Elegant and always interesting account of Robert Gottlieb’s underrated six-year editorship of the New Yorker. When Si Newhouse appointed him to succeed William Shawn in 1987, the editorial staff wrote Gottlieb a letter asking him not come. He came anyhow, but the letter cast a long shadow. Gottlieb never quite felt at home. His “interim government”, wise but hesitant, ended when Newhouse brought in Tina Brown (4,300 words)

Solving The Broken Crossword Puzzle Economy

Crosswords are a big reason people still buy newspapers. But crossword constructors get a miserable deal. Typical rate: $100 per daily puzzle, $200 if it’s the NYT. And no bylines, so no personal fame. How can they do better?

What Paper Means In Prison

“Things we take for granted become vital when we’re deprived of them. Prisoners have fought for their right to paper. The paper object is socially crucial not only for what it is, but what it can become” (h/t Roberto De Vito)

The Riddle Of Mark Twain’s Passion For Joan Of Arc

Why was Mark Twain so fascinated by Joan of Arc? He was an anti-Catholic unbeliever, so ostensibly it doesn’t make much sense. And, remember, this was long before she’d been beatified and become so famous. Crown attempts an answer

Q&A With A ‘Daily News’ Crime Reporter

“I deal in other people’s agony. I do. You can’t candy coat that. But if you can’t live with that, you shouldn’t be in this game. I’m not some nice person from a nice place. I’m not. I do my damndest to be a decent man”

What Remains

Writer visits National Funeral Directors Conference. Finds industry in turmoil. Cremation numbers up, burials down, demand for religious ceremonies falling. What value-added services do people really want? Can Disney provide clues?

A Conspiracy Of Hogs: The McRib As Arbitrage

The McRib is finally back. But why did it ever go? Might not have existed without “McDonald’s stunning efficiency at turning animals into products you want to buy”. Makes me think twice about indulging in my favourite childhood food

A Conspiracy Of Hogs: The McRib As Arbitrage

Why is the revolting McDonald’s McRib periodically reintroduced, withdrawn and reintroduced again? Does it have anything to do with fluctuating pork prices? Are they playing a marketing trick on us? And what’s it made of, anyway?

How To Write A Love Poem

“Poetry occupies a cultural space in Contemporary American Society somewhere between Tap Dancing and Ventriloquism.” So begins a charming, lighthearted set of instructions on how to write the perfect poem to woo your lover

End Of The Rodeo For The World’s Greatest Cowboy

Extraordinary story of Charlie Driver – ageing rodeo star, alcoholic, murderer, loving husband. Prefers cremation to burial: “They put you in a box, and you can’t go nowhere. I’ve been locked up before, and it ain’t worth a shit”

A Little History Of Red Shoes

From Louis XVI to Carrie Bradshaw, red shoes have been fashionable and influential. “Louboutin’s red soles have become a sort of visual shorthand that signals a woman’s high economic status and power”

Some Advice For Young Grads

“You are now an adult, which means it’s OK to be naughty! Get drunk! Go nuts!” Humorous remarks for recent graduates. Actually, there’s some good advice lurking in here too. Just don’t take everything he says seriously

Sex And The Single Israeli Lady Spy

Humorous take on a serious subject. Story of Mossad honey trap laid for Mordechai Vanunu, who leaked secrets of Israel’s nuclear programme. “For Mossad lady spies who do sex for the cause, it’s fun, games and rabbinical blessings”

Two Horses, Two Races

Remembering 1967, the year the civil rights movement came to the Kentucky Derby. Louisville was on the brink of unrest as protesters prepared to disrupt the race. As they did so, Klansmen headed for the track in full regalia

The Last Two Veterans Of WWI

About 65 million participated; nearly 10 million were killed. From that most desperate of conflicts the last two veterans of any nation to remain were Claude Choules (d 5/5/2011) and Florence Green. A touching, discursive tribute

When Your Shrink Dies: Emma Forrest’s Therapy Memoir

Emma Forrest’s psychiatrist dies of lung cancer and she struggles to stay sane. She writes a mental health memoir: ‘Your Voice In My Head’. Insightful review of what makes a psychological narrative interesting rather than dull

Athenian Mercury: The Non-Reproductive Sex Issue

Entertaining translation of a seventeenth century sex guide. The Athenian Mercury, dished out advice on hot topics such as lesbianism and masturbation. Couched in discreet language that wasn’t too filthy to be printed

I Can Awkward

“Awkwardness lives outside your mind. Instead, it makes itself known somewhere between your cheeks and your heart and your stomach. It breathes out of every uncomfortable pore of the body”. Lovely read on uncomfortableness

Humanity’s Endless Quest To Invent A Death Ray

Wonderful investigation into history and future of the death ray. Includes Archimedes planning a solar ray to destroy ships’ hulls as well as Albert Burns’ in 1934 claiming he could vaporise “pigeons in midair up to six blocks away”

Seven Years As A Freelance Writer

New York writer turns 31, takes stock. If you are, or have ever been, a freelancer, you will probably find this short essay enthralling. If not, then maybe pass it by

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