11.30.2008 New York Times Digest

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1. “How to Publish Without Perishing”

“There’s reading and then there’s reading. There is the gleaning or browsing or cherry-picking of information, and then there is the deep immersion in constructed textual worlds: novels and biographies and the various forms of narrative nonfiction — genres that could not be born until someone invented the codex, the book as we know it, pages inscribed on both sides and bound together. These are the books that possess one and the books one wants to possess.”

2. “Never Let Them See You Sweat”

“How much neuroticism anyone gets is determined largely by genetics. But it is also within our control. Psychiatrists and psychologists talk about emotional regulation — the ability to manage neuroticism so that even the most nervous of people can go through life appearing and feeling more in control than those genetically predisposed to calmness.”

3. “You’re Leaving a Digital Trail. Should You Care?”

“For the last 50 years, Americans have worried about the privacy of the individual in the computer age. But new technologies have become so powerful that protecting individual privacy may no longer be the only issue. Now, with the Internet, wireless sensors, and the capability to analyze an avalanche of data, a person’s profile can be drawn without monitoring him or her directly.”

4. “From Fake Newspaper to Real Serious”

“Behind the newspaper’s blatantly absurdist stories (‘Kitten Thinks of Nothing but Murder All Day’) lie closely observed examinations of frustrated, quotidian lives (‘Area Wife Not to Mess With the Stereo Settings’).”

5. “Chance and Circumstance”

“These two stories about Gladwell are both true, and yet they are also very different. The first personalizes his success. It is the classically American version of his career, in that it gives individual characteristics — talent, hard work, Horatio Alger-like pluck — the starring role. The second version doesn’t necessarily deny these characteristics, but it does sublimate them. The protagonist is not a singularly talented person who took advantage of opportunities. He is instead a talented person who took advantage of singular opportunities.”

6. “Mayflower Power”

“These days, we have sterling academic American historians (who can hardly be said to have overlooked the Puritans, in whose intellectual tradition the study of American history — at Harvard, notably — was originally conceived). But we are also in a golden age of popular narrative history, produced not only by David McCullough and Ron Chernow and Doris Kearns Goodwin, but by PBS and the History Channel. With all these middlebrow historians making scholarly work perfectly accessible, do we really need still more accessibility — pierced-brow history, maybe, with TV and pop-music references?”

7. “The Well-Tended Bookshelf”

“There are two general schools of thought on which books to keep, as I learned once I began swapping stories with friends and acquaintances. The first views the bookshelf as a self-portrait, a reflection of the owner’s intellect, imagination, taste and accomplishments … The other approach views a book collection less as a testimony to the past than as a repository for the future; it’s where you put the books you intend to read.”

8. “His Fists Are Up and His Guard Is Down”

“Rourke was sitting on a sofa in the parlor of the Greenwich Village town house he rents, with his beloved 16-year-old miniature chihuahua, Loki, asleep on a pillow beside him. Another chihuahua slept on a pillow on the floor. The room was a shrine to the many chihuahuas Rourke has owned and buried. A huge photograph of Loki’s father, Beau Jack, named after a prizefighter, hung in a gilt frame over the fireplace. There were photographs of dogs everywhere, along with urns and lighted votive candles before a statue of the Virgin Mary draped with rosary beads. When Beau Jack collapsed of a heart attack, Rourke gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until he knew Beau Jack was gone, then he took the body to a church to be blessed. Rourke likes little dogs, he told me, because they live longer than big dogs and because you can pick them up, hold them close, smell their fur and feel their hearts beating.”

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