Alan Bennett, Pakistan, Witchfinders, Birds, Patricide, Cooking


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2017 Diary

Alan Bennett | LRB | 28th December 2017

An English writer’s year. Main events include deaths and obituaries of various contemporaries including Lord Snowdon and David Storey; a Caravaggio exhibition at the National Gallery; moving house from London to Yorkshire; a visit to Paris; a difficult train ride; and an embarrassing moment at the chemist’s. “There were often half a dozen people waiting, as I was one afternoon when the (slightly deaf) Mr Alderson emerged with my prescription, inquiring in ringing tones, ‘Whose is the scrotal itch?’” (6,400 words)

Who Killed Benazir Bhutto?

Ziad Zafar | Dawn | 24th December 2017

Gripping, if speculative, read. In brief: Al Qaeda did it. The account here relies largely on a confession by a Pakistani special forces veteran called Major Haroon Ashiq, described as “one of the most influential Al Qaeda strategists and ideologues in the organisation’s history”. Bin Laden was at first reluctant to attack in Pakistan, preferring to keep it as a safe haven. But he became persuaded that political turmoil would make Pakistan even safer, for Al Qaeda at least (4,600 words)

The Invention Of Witches

Kathryn Nuernberger | Paris Review | 30th October 2017

“Though it may seem strange to us now, that the devil came as an apparition of a butterfly was very old news in 1664. Only the bloodsucking was new. Even the great botanist and first ecologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who discovered and documented insect metamorphosis in the same century, had to keep her room of silkworms and caterpillars secret, because there were many who still believed in witches and their power to take the form of butterflies and spoil the milk” (1,980 words)

Why Birds Are Worth Protecting

Jonathan Franzen | National Geographic | 28th December 2017

“What bird populations indicate is the health of our ethical values. Wild birds are our last, best connection to a natural world that is otherwise receding. They’re the most vivid and widespread representatives of the Earth as it was before people arrived on it. The house finch outside your window is a tiny and beautifully adapted living dinosaur. A duck on your local pond looks and sounds very much like a duck 20 million years ago, when birds ruled the planet” (3,500 words)

Then He Simply Vanished

William Cordes | Omaha World-Herald | 5th September 2017

In which the writer unravels a 1958 murder case that has haunted him for decades — the fate of an Omaha boy called Leslie Arnold who at the age of 16 shot dead both his parents; buried them the next day; spent ten years in jail as a model prisoner; then scaled a 12-foot fence, escaped, and vanished. “A half century later, Arnold officially remains at large. And he holds another distinction: He’s the last man to successfully escape from the Nebraska State Penitentiary” (4,500 words)

Kenji Dreams Of Sausage

Jonah Weiner | Grub Street | 26th December 2017

A triumph or a tragedy waiting to happen. The omens are mixed. Beloved egghead food-writer and MIT-trained molecular gastronomist J. Kenzi Lopez-Alt tries his hand at running a restaurant — an “enormous” sausage-and-beer hall in Silicon Valley. “What fascinates López-Alt about starting a restaurant is the technical challenge: designing a menu and breaking it down into a sequence of moves that hired cooks can execute, to the letter, on his behalf. What he doesn’t care about, really, is restaurants” (4,027 words)

Video of the day Florence

What to expect:

If you can’t get to Florence right now, this timelapse by Kirill Neiezhmakov is the next best thing (2’56”)

Thought for the day

You can be ardently neutral, and fiercely indifferent
Terry Eagleton

Podcast of the day The Defectors | LRB

Richard Lloyd Parry talks to Krys Lee about cultural and social relations between North and South Korea
(1'08")

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