Sunday 05.24.2015 New York Times Digest

1. Our Pampered Wilderness

“‘Glamping,’ shorthand for ‘glamorous camping,’ is having a moment. There’s a long tradition of renting old cabins in parks. Moderately priced yurts are popular now, too. But glamping takes this to another level. Imagine sleeping in a spacious, walled canvas tent on a raised platform. Between high-thread-count sheets. With vanity tables.”

2. Young Saudis, Bound by Conservative Strictures, Find Freedom on Their Phones

“Young Saudis are increasingly relying on social media to express and entertain themselves, earn money and meet friends and potential mates.”

3. The Bookstore Built by Jeff Kinney, the ‘Wimpy Kid’

“Many small bookstores nationwide, surprisingly, are holding steady and even thriving. After years of decline, booksellers have rebounded lately as print sales have stabilized, and their ranks are swelling. Last year, the American Booksellers Association counted nearly 2,100 member stores, compared with about 1,650 in 2009.”

4. What to Learn in College to Stay One Step Ahead of Computers

“Computers and robots are already replacing many workers. What can young people learn now that won’t be superseded within their lifetimes by these devices and that will secure them good jobs and solid income over the next 20, 30 or 50 years? In the universities, we are struggling to answer that question.”

5. Infidelity Lurks in Your Genes

“It turns out that genes, gene expression and hormones matter a lot.”

6. Download: Hannes Wingate

“It’s a fairly regular occurrence that people in survival school have tantrums and get upset. We take them into the red zone where they feel like their life is on the line. They faint, cry, vomit. Almost everyone goes through it. But they come out on the other side recalibrated; realizing that when their plane is late and their burger is cold, none of that matters. It’s a liberating experience. You ask a native person, ‘Show me your survival skills,’ and they will have no idea what you are talking about. ‘What do you mean? We are just living.’ I don’t look at what we do at survival school as teaching a bag of tricks. I more see it as bringing people into contact with the environment in which we evolved as a species.”

7. Shoes That Put Women in Their Place

“Pseudoscientific ideas promoted Darwinian concepts of survival of the fittest and linked male height directly to sexual attractiveness. Heels could have been pressed back into service in men’s fashion, yet they were rejected. Heels on men detracted from their masculinity by highlighting a natural lack of height, rather than conferring any advantage gained from artificially increased stature.”

8. How to Lock Up Fewer People

“If we are going to end mass incarceration, we need to recognize that the excessively long sentences we impose for most violent crimes are not necessary, cost-effective or just.”

9. Why Do We Experience Awe?

“We believe that awe deprivation has had a hand in a broad societal shift that has been widely observed over the past 50 years: People have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others. To reverse this trend, we suggest that people insist on experiencing more everyday awe, to actively seek out what gives them goose bumps.”

10. Dwayne Johnson, Star of San Andreas, Is Solid. Solid as a …

“He may be the oddest superstar we have.”

11. Italy’s Treasured Olive Oil, at the Source

“Olive oil is as old as time. Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans all cultivated it. And here, in this sacred conclave of olive oil producers in a small farmhouse on a hillside — and throughout Tuscany and more rugged regions to the south — it was almost a religion.”

12. The Daemon Knows, by Harold Bloom

“His teacherly aim is to pose the question in close readings of 12 daemon-possessed writers whom he interrogates in pairs: Whitman with Melville, Emerson with Dickinson, Hawthorne with Henry James, Mark Twain with Frost, Stevens with T. S. Eliot, Faulkner with Hart Crane. He might well have chosen 12 others, he tells us, reciting still another blizzard of American luminaries, but dismisses the possibility ‘because these [chosen] writers represent our incessant effort to transcend the human without forsaking humanism.’”

13. Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker, by Thomas Kunkel

“He covered the Lindbergh kidnapping trial (‘a mess’), witnessed the electrocution of six men, and watched a woman who had been stabbed in the neck bleed to death while he tried to make her lie still. He might have gone on like that and had a productive if ultimately forgettable career, were it not for a newspaper series he wrote on the anthropologist Franz Boas that became, for Mitchell, ‘a kind of graduate-level seminar’: ‘Don’t take anything for granted,’ Boas told him, among other things. The advice helped transform Mitchell from a competent beat reporter with a graceful prose style into, arguably, our greatest literary journalist — a man who wrote about freaks, barkeeps, street preachers, grandiose hobos and other singular specimens of humanity with compassion and deep, hard-earned understanding, and above all with a novelist’s eyes and ears.”

14. Should There Be a Minimum Age for Writing a Memoir?

“We really do not need yet another memoir by a person too young to have undergone any genuinely interesting and instructive experiences — or, having had such experiences, too young to know what to make of them — and too self­involved to have any genuine empathy for those whose paths he crosses.”

15. Death in the Browser Tab

“This was at a time when death still happened in the home. The bereaved propped up their beloved dead, dressed them in good clothes and had them photographed as though they were still alive. But postmortem pictures, with their melancholy grandeur and intimate setting, are different from images that capture the rude shock of sudden death.”

16. Letter of Recommendation: Uni-ball Signo UM-151

“The cost is such that I do not mind if I lose it (almost inevitably, I will). Aesthetically, there is the sleek silhouette, the smooth barrel, the graceful link of the arcing clip to the gentle curving cap; viewed on its side, the pen perfectly evokes a Shinkansen bullet train. I love the way the silver conical tip sits visible through its clear plastic housing, like a rocket waiting to be deployed. I love the small black rubber grip, with its pairs of dimples, arranged in a pattern whose logic evades but intrigues me. The pen slides discreetly into a pocket, and like a sinuous dagger it just feels meant to be held.”

17. Proving My Blackness

“Some people wondered why, in a society that represses black people, I would even want to be black. But I never wanted to be black. I was black. What I wanted was to retain my connection to my heritage, my community, my family. To my mom. And I wanted proof. So last summer, after exhausting my attempt at amateur genealogy, I spit into a test tube for a DNA test. Only then did I realize, in a panic, that my life of racial ambiguity would soon be over.”

18. Judy Blume Knows All Your Secrets

“For those of us who were teenagers in the early ’80s and in the decade before — Are You There God? was published in 1970 — there was no Sassy magazine, there was no Internet; there was just Judy Blume, planting the radical idea, for generations of women, that their bodies would be, should be, a source of pleasure and not of shame. Her credibility was total, a young person’s raw perspective, filtered — subtly — through the common sense of a frank, funny woman.”

19. Can China Take a Joke?

“Comedy in the People’s Republic isn’t so much an attitude or philosophical viewpoint as it is a set of forms. The most widespread is xiangsheng — typically (if imperfectly) translated as ‘cross-talk’ — a traditional two-person comedic performance that often features wordplay and references to Chinese literary classics, as well as singing and dancing. Cross-talk originated with street performers during the late Qing dynasty. In 1861, the Xianfeng Emperor died and the government declared a 100-day period of mourning, which meant all stage shows were canceled. Many artists resorted to illegal busking, and a Peking-opera performer named Zhu Shaowen hung up a sign in a public square: ‘I’m poor, and I’m not afraid to stand on the street corner and shoot the breeze,’ goes one loose translation.”


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