Category Archives: Reviews

A Middle Class Childhood in the Middle East: Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim’s Poppies of Iraq

By Nathan Scott McNamara

Illustrations of old radios fill one sequence of Brigitte Findakly’s graphic memoir Poppies of Iraq. Findakly writes that after the fall of the monarchy, when Iraq was declared a republic, the people of her country often tuned into an Arabic radio show broadcast from Israel, the only source of uncensored news about the Iraqi government. The program ran for over 20 years and was strictly banned: “Those who listened to it ran the risk of stiff prison sentence,” Findakly writes. “The show was a favorite and everybody tuned in.” But Findakly, at 11 years old in 1970, wasn’t everybody; an illustration depicts her sweetly smiling in bed with a radio on the pillow beside her, listening to Voice of America for English pop songs. Continue reading

The Dharma of “The Princess Bride”: What the Coolest Fairy Tale of our Time Can Teach Us About Buddhism and Relationships

By Randy Rosenthal

In 2015, the statistical website FiveThirtyEight conducted a survey of the 25 most rewatchable movies of all time. The Princess Bride was number six — tied with The Godfather. It’s one of my very favorite films, and since it came out in 1987 I’ve watched it many, many times. But perhaps not as many as Ethan Nichtern.  A teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, Nichtern loves the movie so much he not only regularly quotes it in his Dharma talks, he wrote a book about the connections between the film and Buddhism, aptly titled The Dharma of “The Princess Bride.” Continue reading

An Offering to Mind and Body: A Review of Lois P. Jones’s Night Ladder

By Kate Kingston

Federico García Lorca may be standing over her shoulder, but he is not the only creative force on which Lois P. Jones draws in her new prize-winning collection, Night Ladder. Other influences include Picasso, Borges, Rumi, Sappho, Rilke, and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as other historical figures from Moses to Anne Frank. These figures contribute epigraphs to the poems, or appear through ekphrasis, making up the ladder of the book’s title. But Jones’s voice is singular, engaging both the intellect and passion while appealing strongly to the ear, to the sense of music related to duende, which Lorca defines in part as “a momentary burst of inspiration, the blush of all that is truly alive […]. It manifests itself among musicians and poets of the spoken word […] for it needs the trembling of the moment and then a long silence.” Continue reading

You Can Relax Into Chiara Barzini’s Things that Happened Before the Earthquake

By Art Edwards

In Things that Happened Before the Earthquake, you won’t find pages-long excursions about the texture of the carpet under the main character Eugenia’s feet, or details on the exact grain of the wood paneling in a Topanga Canyon cabin, or whatever thread a lesser writer might get stuck on her tongue and drag the reader along in her attempts to spit it out. Chiara Barzini’s prose feels like conversation. You also shouldn’t assume from this that the author is one of those social networking denizens who managed to turn her penchant for frank online talk into a book-length manuscript, because that’s even further from the truth. The effect of Barzini’s prose hearkens back to a more open era — maybe the 1990s, the novel’s setting — when books felt more like long exchanges between friends (magically, since the exchange was one-sided), and the reader’s only job was to sit back and empathize. I won’t bludgeon you with my approach or waste your time, the prose implies. You can relax. Continue reading

Rebuilding the Ark: Alex Epstein and The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

By Eric Gade

In the 17th century, new facts about the world presented a problem for natural philosophers. They had learned of droves of new animals from the New World, previously unknown in Europe, that must have survived the Great Flood. This begged the question: how did Noah’s Ark fit all of them? Several thinkers made honest attempts to resolve the issue, including sketching increasingly preposterous schematics of the ship itself, in addition to devising clever, logic-twisting tricks of taxonomy — based on no evidence whatsoever — that “explained” the ability of the Ark to do as was written. Even in their own time, it was easy to see the cracks forming in the story. But it should not be at all surprising that learned men clung so desperately to their frame of knowledge and history, wanting everything they knew as true to remain so. Continue reading

Witnessing Miracles in Teju Cole’s Blind Spot

By Austin Adams

“There is more in the world,” Teju Cole writes in his latest book Blind Spot, gesturing to Hamlet’s famous lament. The heaven and earth of Cole’s philosophy is local and seasonal. Structured as a book-length series of pairings of photographs coupled with text, we are given to consider several hundred images of day-to-day life from across the globe — happenstance corners, detritus and, occasionally, people and things that inhabit the world without spectacle or choreographed meaning. At this moment, in the first text-image pairing, we are with Cole in Tivoli, where spring has doubled the earth: “Everything grows, both what receives the light, and what is cast by it. There is more in the world, all of it proliferating like neural patterns.” Continue reading