Alien Intelligence

How smart could an octopus really be? I mean, sure, all those suction cups would be handy. But otherwise, they just hang out by themselves waving all those arms around … It was the pranks that changed my mind. More than one octopus has learned to turn off the aquarium lights by squirting jets of […]

The Grisly Habits of Beatrix Potter

“You like Beatrix Potter?” my friend Jodi, a retired English teacher, asks casually. “Love her. Flopsy, Mopsy—and Squirrel Nutkin was my favorite. Those gentle little books are so great for kids. So peaceful. Did you know they named an asteroid after Bea—” “She boiled bunnies,” Jodi cuts in. “Read Scary Stories for Young Foxes.” And […]

Cooked: Survival by Zip Code

A new documentary, Cooked: Survival by Zip Code, is now streaming on PBS. Directed and produced by Judith Helfand, the film is an adaption of Eric Klinenberg’s first book, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. Cooked “tells the story of the tragic 1995 Chicago heatwave, the most traumatic in U.S. history, in […]

The Semi-Permeable Membrane to the World

Pity the poor writer, still in jammies, fourth cup growing cold, reclined on the couch as people head off to honest jobs. (An argument the night before with his teen son, who said Bill Gates’ talent and his having to code in a garage justify the billions the unwashed do not earn.) A story is coming […]

What Trends in Crime Fiction Tell Us About Ourselves

A few years ago, a literary agent told me I needed to make my murder mystery’s detective suffer more, struggle more, face more problems and threats and terrors. She had no idea she was talking to a woman who recovered from surgery by watching reruns of The Thin Man, Nick and Nora dressed to the […]

Red Meat Yes! Red Meat No! Red Wine Yes! Red Wine No!

The alarm shrills at seven o’clock. That means I had seven hours of sleep—was that right, or was it supposed to be eight? Eight glasses of water is no longer a magic number, I read; for some, it might even be too much. Shrugging off the question, I head for breakfast, the most important meal […]

Some Like It Hot

Years ago, I went on a date with a short, dark, and handsome architect who had the colossal arrogance of anyone who thinks he can decide what sort of giant building the rest of us have to look at for the next five decades. He wanted to introduce me to sushi (this was a long […]

Beware the Binary

After years of doggedly alternating “he” and “she” or choosing mischievously contrarian pronouns (“If a welder joins the union, she can expect …”), the struggle is over. Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year and the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Decade are one and the same: the gender-neutral “they.” No longer must we presume that […]

The Death of George Steiner, “Remembrancer”

George Steiner, critic, essayist, and fiction writer, died this week at the age of 90. He published more than 40 books, including The Death of Tragedy; Language and Silence: Essays 1958-1966; In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture; and After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation. He wrote regularly for the TLS, […]

The Beatles and the Great Divide

Peter Jackson, who made the restoration “documentary” They Shall Not Grow Old, has announced he will release a new, happier, edit of the documentary film Let It Be this year. The film Let It Be was made by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg from the Beatles’ January 1969 “Get Back sessions,” which became their album Let It […]