The Read

Hawk Cam: What Are We Looking for When We Watch Birds?
June 15, 2011

For the better part of this spring, as I write or look at websites or putter around at home, I’ve kept open in a corner of my screen the Hawk Cam run by the City Desk at The New York Times. The red-tailed hawks, christened Violet and Bobby—like all reality TV stars, they have both a Facebook page and a Twitter feed—built their nest over the winter on a ledge outside the office of NYU’s president; in March, Violet laid three eggs. I started watching in late April, when the City Room blog announced that the eggs were about to hatch.

Can (This) Marriage Be Saved?
June 01, 2011

There was something hollow about the hubbub last month over the revelation of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s split. As one of the weirder new clichés lately to invade the language puts it, we were shocked but not surprised. Nothing is less earthshaking these days than infidelity: According to current statistics, up to 50 percent of men and 40 percent to 45 percent of women cheat. No, the real scandal was not that Schwarzenegger had been unfaithful; his misbehavior had long been public knowledge.

You’ll Laugh, You’ll Cry, You’ll Hurl
May 18, 2011

“You know her,” Debbie Harry croons in the song that plays over the opening credits to Bridesmaids. “Her,” in this case, is Annie (Kristen Wiig), whom we’ve just seen, in the movie’s first scene, having bad sex with a pretty-boy cad (Jon Hamm) and then sneaking into the bathroom at the crack of dawn to reapply her makeup so that he’ll still find her attractive when he wakes up.

Writing Osama bin Laden
May 04, 2011

Why have American novelists failed to tell convincing stories about terrorists?

Not Always Bingo
April 06, 2011

Even if the crime rate in New York City had not dropped over the last few decades to a level that makes Broadway feel more like Main Street, the murder of Daniel Malakov, an orthodontist shot at a Queens playground in 2007, would have been notable. Malakov and his estranged wife, both doctors, were immigrants from Uzbekistan who lived among a tightly knit community of Bukharan Jews, a group known for their secrecy and impenetrability to outsiders. The couple were embroiled in a tense divorce and custody battle over their four-year-old daughter.

Into the Wilde
March 23, 2011

Imagine the portrait that is the subject of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, the famous story of a beautiful youth whose portrait alters to reflect the depravity of his life, while his face remains forever unchanged. Wilde describes it as a picture of a “young Adonis, who looks as if he was made of ivory and rose-leaves.” In one artist’s vision, Dorian’s long black coat is tight-fitting, with a white flower in the lapel, and his white shirt is crisply starched.

Did Anne Frank Really Have An ‘Infinite Human Spirit’?
March 09, 2011

“The concentration camps are a dangerous topic to handle,” the British critic A. Alvarez once wrote. “They stir mud from the bottom, clouding the mind, rousing dormant self-destructiveness.” This has perhaps never been more true for anyone than for Meyer Levin, the author of middlebrow Jewish-American novels such as The Settlers who is now better known, alas, for an obsession with the diary of Anne Frank that seems to have sent him over the edge of sanity.

In the Margins
February 23, 2011

In the latest installment of its occasional series on how technology is ruining our lives, The New York Times reports on a conference about to be held by the Caxton Club, a group of Chicago bibliophiles, on how annotating books “enhance[s] the reading experience.” Alongside some entertaining literary tidbits (Nelson Mandela wrote his own name in the margin of Julius Caesar next to the line “Cowards die many times before their deaths”), we find in the article the usual doomsday musings on the fate of marginalia in the digital age. The Caxtonites, needless to say, are not into the Kindle.

A Literary Glass Ceiling?
February 07, 2011

The first shots were fired last summer, when Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult called the New York Times Book Review a boys’ club. (I weighed in then, too, calling on the Times to respond to statistics posted by Double X regarding the disparity between books by male authors and female authors reviewed in their pages.) Now, the war is on. A few days ago, VIDA, a women’s literary organization, posted on its website a stark illustration of what appears to be gender bias in the book review sections of magazines and literary journals.

Connectivity Conundrum
January 26, 2011

The night I lost my digital virginity, I was sixteen, visiting family in Paris. One evening, my cousin and I decided to go to a movie. Before I could reach for the newspaper listings, he switched on a box the size of a small television that sat on a living room shelf, unnoticed by me until that moment. The screen glowed blue as he typed in a sequence of numbers. Voilà! The desired information appeared in a flash of light that seemed nothing less than magical.