On the man known as 'H.M.', whose brain was caught in "permanent present tense" and whose story is documented in a new book by neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin:
"Memory creates our identity, but it also exposes the illusion of a coherent self: a memory is not a thing but an act that alters and rearranges even as it retrieves. Although some of its operations can be trained to an astonishing pitch, most take place autonomously, beyond the reach of the conscious mind. As we age, it distorts and foreshortens: present experience becomes harder to impress on the mind, and the long-forgotten past seems to draw closer; University Challenge gets easier, remembering what you came downstairs for gets harder. Yet if we were somehow to freeze our memory at the youthful peak of its powers, around our late twenties, we would not create a polished version of ourselves analogous to a youthful body, but an early, scrappy draft composed of childhood memories and school-learning, barely recognisable to our older selves."
PUBLISHED: May 20, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2577 words)
The short life of Jessica Lum, a terminally ill 25-year-old who chose to spend her last days practicing journalism:
"Jessica hadn’t expected to win. The other finalists were teams of students, and she worked solo on her 'Slab City Stories' project—a multimedia report on the inhabitants of a former Marine base-turned-squatter-RV-park in the California desert (though not, she made sure to point out, without the support of her professors, classmates, and Kickstarter backers). Jessica didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight, either; she was more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. It took her only a few seconds longer to accept the award than it did to get to the stage. After a rush of thank-yous and a celebratory double fist-pump, Jessica returned to her seat—and to what appeared to be a bright future, one in which she’d tell many more stories and win many more awards.
"Less than four months later, on January 13, 2013, Jessica died. She was 25."
PUBLISHED: May 13, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3370 words)
A brief history of the rock legend's style and fashions:
"Bowie’s image was as carefully contrived for album covers as for the actual musical performances: Sukita Masayoshi’s black-and-white photograph of Bowie posing like a mannequin doll on the cover of 'Heroes' (1977), or Bowie stretched out on a blue velvet sofa like a Pre-Raphaelite pinup in a long satin dress designed by Mr. Fish for The Man Who Sold the World (1971), or Guy Peellaert’s lurid drawing of Bowie as a 1920s carnival freak for Diamond Dogs (1974).
"All these images were created by Bowie himself, in collaboration with other artists. He drew his inspiration from anything that happened to catch his fancy: Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin of the 1930s, Hollywood divas of the 1940s, Kabuki theater, William Burroughs, English mummers, Jean Cocteau, Andy Warhol, French chansons, Buñuel’s surrealism, and Stanley Kubrick’s movies, especially A Clockwork Orange, whose mixture of high culture, science fiction, and lurking menace suited Bowie to the ground. Artists and filmmakers have often created interesting results by refining popular culture into high art. Bowie did the opposite: he would, as he once explained in an interview, plunder high art and take it down to the street; that was his brand of rock-and-roll theater."
PUBLISHED: May 7, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3932 words)
[Fiction, National Magazine Awards finalist] A lapsed Christian Scientist meets a woman escaping her past:
"Seamus lived in Wheaton, Maryland, in the last house on a quiet street that dead-ended at a county park. He’d bought the entire property, including a rental unit out back, at a decent price. This was after the housing market crashed but before people knew how bad it would get—back when he was still a practicing Christian Scientist, still had a job and a girlfriend he’d assumed he would marry. Now, two years later, he was single, faithless, and unemployed. The money his mother had loaned him for a down payment was starting to look more like a gift, as were the checks she’d been sending for the last year to help him cover the mortgage. His life was in disrepair, but for the first time in months he wasn’t thinking about any of that: he was sitting out back on a warm spring day with a woman. Her name was Charity, and she was a stranger."
PUBLISHED: May 6, 2013
LENGTH: 48 minutes (12042 words)
Picks this week from Mother Jones, Slate, Grantland, The Washington Post, Film Comment, The Paris Review, and a guest pick by The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes.
PUBLISHED: April 22, 2013
Our favorite stories of the past week, from The New Republic, NPR, Washington Post, New England Review, Modern Farmer, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and a guest pick by Jon Tayler
PUBLISHED: April 20, 2013
Why do some people react so negatively to the idea of "extreme morality"? An interview with The New Yorker's Larissa MacFarquhar, whose latest book project examines the selfless acts of others:
"If the suspicion is hypocrisy, I think we underestimate the sort of people I’m writing about—it’s entirely possible to live an extremely ethical life without being hypocritical. But besides that, I think people overvalue certain kinds of sins. For instance, many people have said to me, when they hear who I’m writing about, ‘Well, don’t they just act morally to make themselves feel better? Don’t they get all self-righteous and overly proud of themselves?’ I think that pride and self-righteousness are far less important than most people seem to think they are. I think that if you’re doing something that’s hard to do and good to do, and that makes you feel proud, I just don’t see why that’s so terrible. One kidney donor told me that his donation made him feel better about himself—that it was one really good thing he’d done in his life, which he had otherwise made a pretty complete mess of. Some psychologists think you shouldn't donate in order to feel better about yourself, but it strikes me as an excellent reason!"
PUBLISHED: April 18, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3357 words)
Today’s guest pick comes from Christian Lorentzen, editor for the London Review of Books.
PUBLISHED: April 17, 2013