nypl.digitalcollections.510d47de-8174-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.wHappy Oscar weekend, dear readers! Before you immerse yourself in the world of red carpets and awkward jokes, grab some popcorn, curl up on the couch and have a gander at this week’s picks for thought-provoking reads. You can click on the photos next to each selection to be whisked away to food for your brain. What a fascinating modern age we live in.


WendellPierceJan07The #OscarsSoWhite movement isn’t so much about specific Academy Award nominations, but about the fact that there’s such a paucity of opportunities for women and people of color in Hollywood. The vast majority of gatekeepers–studio executives, agents, marketing staff, and movie critics–are white and male. About 28 percent of roles are played by people of color (a rate 10 percent less than the general US population) and consider that of the 400 major movies produced in 2014 and 2015 a mere four percent were directed by women.

In a great interactive feature, the New York Times interviewed women and people of color working in Hollywood–from Jimmy Smits to Queen Latifah–and documented their experiences of discrimination, frustrating slights, and successes. Definitely worth your time.


In a brilliant movie review/essay for the the New York Review of Books, novelist Zadie Smith muses on Charlie Kaufman’s new animated film Anomalisa, connecting it to Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy, The Polar Express, and the willies we get in the uncanny valley. Her thoughts on the theology  of The Polar Express are priceless:

It has no denomination, this belief of the boy’s: it belongs to a generalized American faith that long ago detached itself from any particular monotheism, achieving autonomy in and of itself. Believing in belief is what makes Luke a Jedi and Cinderella a princess and Pinocchio a real boy, and my children have been believers of this kind from the earliest age—ever since they could say “Netflix.” This is the lesson: If you believe—it will be real! The movie ended, more snow came down. I wiped the foam from my delighted children and we went back out into the light.


Franz-Kafka,-etching(author-Jan-Hladík-1978)It came out several years ago, but I only recently discovered Will Self’s interactive digital essay for The London Review of Book called Kafka’s Wound. You’ll want to set aside an hour or two to explore this beautifully layered investigation into Kafka’s mysterious 1916 story “A Country Doctor.” In addition to Self’s meandering essay on Kafka’s relationship with European history, you’ll find experimental puppet animation, photo essays on wounds suffered in the Great War, musical compositions inspired by klezmer, a video essay on a visit to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, modern dance inspired by Kafka’s story, an audio reading of the original German text, and much more. A brilliant use of technology to deepen our understanding of a literary work.


dogheadNo topic about contemporary Vietnam agitates Western observers more than dog meat restaurants. Not for the faint of heart, Calvin Godfrey’s visceral and empathetic report The Dog Thief Killings investigates a series of vigilante murders of dog thieves in central Vietnam. The piece explores the mystery of why dog thieves are so loathed, and yet provide the vast majority of meat served in these popular establishments:

One worldly café owner told me he gave up dog meat because it made him feel bad. “I mean, you’re asking yourself, is this someone’s pet?” he said while we jogged down a major thoroughfare. Dog’s status as a guilty pleasure, he said, renders it a delicacy without a single fancy restaurant. Yeah, I shot back, dog restaurants did all seem sort of seedy and furtive—like adult bookstores or something.
“Right,” he said. “Dog is like porn.”


Screen-Shot-2016-01-25-at-5.39.43-PMIn a photo+word essay in Blunderbuss, Sara Nović wanders the abandoned urban landscapes of central Ohio and in her search for the elusive Midwest Nice, finds it the most foreign place she’s ever visited:

No one here recycles. It’s not even an option. And everything is styrofoam—plates, cups, containers of all kinds—I’ve seen more styrofoam here in a week than I have possibly in my entire life elsewhere. Or at least in the last decade.


220px-Ramon_Gomez_de_la_Serna_1931Over at Electric Lit, artist and writer Richard Kostelantz serves up “Clouds Rush By on Silent Bikes,” a story told in aphorisms. Inspired by the work of Spanish surrealist Ramon Gomez de la Serna, it’s collage of pithy sayings that are simultaneously wise and absurd:

The caterpillar is the smallest railway in the world.

Insolvency is a profession especially enjoyed by Spaniards.

By buttoning is an accordion played, a lover by unbuttoning.

Buried in a piano is a harp lying asleep.

Pajamas buried too deeply under a pillow cannot be found.

A gong is a widowed saucer hung out to mourn.

The letter T is the alphabet’s hammer.


7063877D-4AF4-4A0F-AA69DBEB73A187A6Archeologists’ discovery of a 10,000-year-old massacre site in West Turkana, Kenya has re-kindled the debate over whether humanity’s propensity for war and violence are innate. Though plenty of mainstream press articles have jumped to the conclusion that war is in our genes, John Horgan at Scientific American reminds us that evidence of war in our evolutionary history is quite thin:

…anthropologists Jonathan Haas and Matthew Piscitelli have carried out an exhaustive review of hominid remains over 10,000 years old, including more than 2,900 skeletons from over 400 different sites. Excluding the Jebel Sahaba skeletons, Haas and Piscitelli found only four skeletons bearing signs of violence.


trumpyAnd speaking of evolution (or lack of it) if you want to know why Donald Trump’s campaign is catching fire, you need to read Matt Taibibi’s smart and terrifying piece in Rolling Stone:

President Donald Trump.
A thousand ridiculous accidents needed to happen in the unlikeliest of sequences for it to be possible, but absent a dramatic turn of events – an early primary catastrophe, Mike Bloomberg ego-crashing the race, etc. – this boorish, monosyllabic TV tyrant with the attention span of an Xbox-playing 11-year-old really is set to lay waste to the most impenetrable oligarchy the Western world ever devised.


Top photo of a line outside a movie theater in Chicago, 1941 courtesy New York Public Library.

Etching of Franz Kafka by Jan Hladík, 1978, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.