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In Conversation

A MODEST IMPERIALIST: William T. Vollmann

I became an ardent fan of William T. Vollmann’s work after reading Europe Central (2005). It is an extraordinary accomplishment, a remarkable feat of re-imagining one of the most complex, and harrowing, events of the 20th century, the conflict between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.

OUTPERFORMING CAPITALISM

Andy Warhol predicted that in the future, museums will become shopping malls and shopping malls museums. The future has happened. The museum has been a place where one moves seamlessly between buying and viewing for long enough that the gift shop has come to define the experience.

The Cost of Capitalism

Two books have recently been published addressing issues of fairness and economics. One, Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It), is from the economists’ point of view. The other, I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay was written by a novelist who only began researching global finance in 2008, just before the meltdown.

Reading to Live

Elif Batuman’s first book, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, is nominally a collection of essays but reads like the fragmentary record of a quest. Batuman, like Roberto Bolaño’s detectives, is in search of a literary puzzle in the convergence zone between literature and life.

Calling Poker’s Bluff

In the spring of 2000, still three years shy of Chris Moneymaker’s World Series win and the subsequent commencement of the poker boom, Harper’s assigned novelist James McManus to Las Vegas to report on the increasing presence of women in that traditionally macho competition.

Turn That Frown Upside Down

In her most recent book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion Of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, Barbara Ehrenreich wipes away America’s sheen of unfounded, delusional optimism.

Quiet Riot

Late in the evening of August 29, 1952, a young pianist took the stage of the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, New York. The night’s program, composed by a locally-beloved, eccentric California percussionist, was a benefit for the Artists Welfare Fund, and the audience members included a handful of vacationing members of the New York Philharmonic as well as a group of area music lovers.

The Olympics Parade of Nation-y Peoples

The father of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the young Georgian luger who died the day before the start of the Olympics, was himself a Soviet Union luger. His father was likely, during those broadcasts, called “Russian.”

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MAR 2010

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