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Archive for the 'Book Excerpt' Category

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Old Numbers, New Data

Crude Volatility

“I decided to write this book to explore more deeply how oil’s history can clarify recent trends and shed light on tomorrow’s path, and to present my findings to the general reader as well as the energy expert.” — Robert McNally

This week, our featured book is Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, by Robert McNally. In today’s post, we feature an excerpt from the preface to Crude Volatility, with some illuminating graphs. (Click on the images to see them full-size!)

Tackling this topic presented formidable challenges, not the least of which was getting good historical data and information. For “barrel counters,” the search for better data is a never-ending and arduous quest. Historical data on prices and spare production capacity—central to this book—are especially scarce and patchy. I am therefore delighted and proud that my able research assistant Fernando Ferreira and I were able to unearth historical data and present two novel data sets, neither of which (to my knowledge) existed until now.

The first data set is a continuous, market-based price series for U.S. crude prices extending back to 1859 and continuing to the present on a monthly basis. Constructing this series entailed digging up prices based on field quotations, exchange-traded pipeline certificates (a proxy for crude oil prices), prices paid by Standard Oil’s purchasing agency, and data from the American Petroleum Institute and the Energy Information Administration.

The key issue here is frequency of the data. BP helpfully publishes historical crude oil prices back to 1859 on an annual basis. But annual averages fall short of illustrating boom-bust price trends as more frequent and dramatic price swings—daily, weekly, monthly—get lost in the annual average. Unless otherwise noted, all prices cited in this book, including this new monthly historical price series, are in nominal instead of real or inflation-adjusted terms. Using real prices would not change the story from a volatility perspective, but I decided to use nominal prices to better connect the prevailing historical narrative with price changes…

The second unique data set developed for this book is for U.S. spare production capacity extending back to 1940 and continuous data on U.S. and global spare capacity since 1955 (that is, including the Seven Sisters until the early 1970s and OPEC afterward). This entailed exhuming information from various government and industry reports and publications. Currently, EIA’s published OPEC spare production capacity extends back to 2003.

My goal is to contribute to our understanding of the economic and political forces that shaped oil prices in history so as to better understand them today and tomorrow. Whether I have succeeded I leave to you, dear reader, to judge…

(Click on the images to see them full-size!)

Oil Disruptions, Spare Capacity, and Crude Prices

Nominal Crude Oil Prices

Monthly Crude Oil Price Ranges

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

The Texas Paradox

Crude Volatility

“By beginning the story of oil prices with the birth of the industry, we can better appreciate why oil prices are naturally volatile and why that volatility has posed an enormous problem not only for the oil industry but broader economy, causing oilmen and officials to go to great lengths to stabilize oil prices.” — Robert McNally

This week, our featured book is Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, by Robert McNally. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s introduction, in which McNally examines the uncomfortable relationship tension between our desire to avoid a situation where monopolies dictate oil prices and a situation where oil prices fluctuate wildly.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Bernie Sanders on creating an economy that works for all

Building the New American Economy

“What I heard and what I continue to hear is that Americans have had enough of establishment politicians and establishment economists who have claimed for far too long that we must choose between economic growth, economic fairness, and environmental sustainability. They have sold us a bill of goods that says we can’t have all three. Well, they are wrong. To my mind, widely shared prosperity, economic fairness, and environmental sustainability must go hand in hand.” — Bernie Sanders

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. Today, we are thrilled to present an excerpt from Bernie Sanders’s foreword.

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Why We Need to Build a New American Economy

Building the New American Economy

“My core contention is that with the right choices, America’s economic future is bright. Indeed, we are the lucky beneficiaries of a revolution in technologies that can raise prosperity, slash poverty, increase leisure time, extend healthy lives, and protect the environment.” — Jeffrey Sachs

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. To start the week’s feature off, we are happy to present an excerpt from the first chapter, in which Sachs explains his purpose in writing the book, and starts to delve into what it would take to build a new American economy for all.

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

A Tale of Two Tribes

Narrative and Numbers

“So let’s see where we stand. We relate to and remember stories better than we do numbers, but storytelling can lead us into fantasyland quickly, a problem when investing. Numbers allow us to be disciplined in our assessments, but without stories behind them, they become weapons of intimidation and bias rather than discipline.” — Aswath Damodaran

This week, our featured book is Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business, by Aswath Damodaran. For the first post of the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s first chapter, “A Tale of Two Tribes.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Narrative and Numbers!

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Introducing “If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!”

If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!

“Cats are a different breed of animal—clever, solitary hunters who are more inclined to explore new territory and to redefine the game on their own terms than to engage with the pack in a no-win dogfight. Cats are agile and innovative, and seek their prey (customers) with tactics that dogs cannot easily replicate.” — Leonard Sherman

This week, our featured book is If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term Growth, by Leonard Sherman. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the preface to If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!.

Friday, January 20th, 2017

On Childhood and Love

Marriage as a Fine Art

Philippe Sollers: The love encounter between two people is the rapport between their childhoods. Without that, it doesn’t amount to much.

Julia Kristeva: You’re right to begin with childhood, because ours were so different, and yet we’ve brought them into tune.

This week, our featured book is Marriage as a Fine Art, by Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers. For the week’s final post, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s second chapter, in which Kristeva and Sollers discuss the importance of childhood to shaping how one lives and loves.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Marriage as a Fine Art!

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Love and Experience

Marriage as a Fine Art

“The pages that follow resonate with current anxieties around the topic of marriage, while not falling for the unlikely merger of two into one or hinting at a happy solution to the idyllic, and failed, ‘togetherness’ of ‘diversity.’ They invite you, simply but ambitiously, to ponder the experience of marriage as one of the fine arts.” — Julia Kristeva

This week, our featured book is Marriage as a Fine Art, by Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt in which Kristeva and Sollers discuss the nature of experience.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Marriage as a Fine Art!

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Love of the Other

Marriage as a Fine Art

“Together we fell into a dialogue that never stopped, we are still deep into a conversation with no end in sight, because it’s full of arguments; though we don’t always see eye to eye, the intensity of the conversation never flags.” — Philippe Sollers

This week, our featured book is Marriage as a Fine Art, by Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers. To kick off the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s fourth chapter, in which Kristeva and Sollers discuss the idea of “love” and how it impacts a relationship and a marriage.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Marriage as a Fine Art!

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Environment and Economy—No Conflict

Endangered Economies

“External costs pose the biggest threat to the environment by preventing nature and the economy from working together. External costs occur when a third party must pick up the tab for the negative consequences of a transaction. A transaction that occurs every day is a good example: let’s say I buy gasoline, burn it in my car, and harm people who inhale the exhaust fumes or whose climate is altered by greenhouse gases generated. The people who are injured did not purchase and burn the gas—I did. Yet I do not pay for the harm done.” — Geoffrey Heal

This week, our featured book is Endangered Economies: How the Neglect of Nature Threatens Our Prosperity, by Geoffrey Heal. To start off the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s first chapter, in which Heal explains why there’s no real conflict in trying to save the environment and improve the economy.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Endangered Economies!

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Introducing Class Clowns

Class Clowns

“At the end of the day, the underlying motivations of the various actors matter less than knowing how to avoid the mistakes detailed here. The trick is to retain the passion for education but lose the emotional or ideological commitments to particular solutions.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, for the final day of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Knee’s introduction.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Class Clowns!

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

The Road to Disastrous Educational Businesses Is Paved With Good Intentions

Class Clowns

“Scaling back ambitions and moving from high-minded rhetoric to the gritty operational challenges can have the feel of selling out. When the principles involved are viewed as fundamental, compromise—whether to a business model or to a policy platform—can be anathema. Yet the failure to do so in both instances not only makes the perfect the enemy of the good, but it also threatens to more permanently undermine the potential long-term benefits to both shareholders and the public.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, we are happy to share a piece of an excerpt posted in full by EdSurge.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Class Clowns!

Adherents of particular educational business models and advocates of particular educational public policy approaches have a tendency to use very similar language in promoting their views. Their favored instrumentality of change is typically described alternatively as “transformational” or “revolutionary.” In both cases, the evidence suggests that a narrowing of focus, a nuanced appreciation of the particular market structure and context, and an emphasis on the importance of effective execution would go a long way toward improving the probability of successful outcomes.

But this is easier said than done. In general, revolutionaries are not known for their humility. Scaling back ambitions and moving from high-minded rhetoric to the gritty operational challenges can have the feel of selling out. When the principles involved are viewed as fundamental, compromise—whether to a business model or to a policy platform—can be anathema. Yet the failure to do so in both instances not only makes the perfect the enemy of the good, but it also threatens to more permanently undermine the potential long-term benefits to both shareholders and the public.

In the public policy arena, there is no better example of this phenomenon than the failed efforts of well-meaning reform advocates to use Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s public schools to revolutionize urban public education more broadly. As documented by Dale Russakoff in her compelling 2015 book “The Prize,” the Newark initiative was disastrous, leaving little to show for the massive investment. In seeking transformational results that could be used as a template elsewhere, leaders misjudged the political environment, ignored the specific needs of the traumatized local population, and entrusted execution to true believers who did not have the required skills.

It would be hard to argue that the magnitude of this failure has not set back even better-conceived reform efforts. Those most responsible for the Newark debacle frequently invoked jargon plucked from business best sellers to justify their misguided efforts. Given the embarrassing results of many of the “transformative” educational business initiatives—including a number with which the same executives involved in Newark were associated—it is unclear how compelling these references were. More broadly, the failure of these business ventures has given credible fodder to those who resist the active participation of for-profit enterprises in the educational sphere.

Read the excerpt in its entirety at EdSurge.

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Shirley Hazzard’s 2003 National Book Award Acceptance Speech

We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think

We were terribly saddened to hear the news that Shirley Hazzard passed away Monday. We were fortunate to have the chance to publish a collection of her writing, We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays. In memory of her wonderful life and career, we have excerpted her National Book Award Acceptance speech from 2003 in which she concisely explains the power of the written (and read) word.

There’s a moment to say I am delighted, and I am delighted. I’m delighted to have been in the company of the other nominees tonight who of recent days I’ve heard read from their works and been so impressed by the variety of our feelings and our approaches. There was no uniformity at all in what we brought except the wish to do well by the English language, to find the word that mattered. I honor the people who were with me because I enjoyed so much hearing them read and hearing this large diversity.

I want to say in response to Stephen King that I do not—as I think he a little bit seems to do—regard literature (which he spoke of perhaps in a slightly pejorative way), that is, the novel, poetry, language as written, I don’t regard it as a competition. It is so vast. We have this marvelous language. We are so lucky that we have a huge audience for that language. If we were writing in high Norwegian, we would be writing in a great ancient language, but we would have mostly reindeer for our readers. I’m not sure that that is the ideal outcome. We have this huge language so diverse around the earth that I don’t think giving us a reading list of those who are most read at this moment is much of a satisfaction because we are reading in all the ages, which have been an immense inspiration and love to me and are such an excitement. (more…)

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

A New Approach to Wine Tasting

Neuroenology

“This book builds on [other] authoritative accounts by focusing on a new approach to wine tasting that can be summed up in the phrase: the taste is not in the wine; the taste is created by the brain of the wine taster.” — Gordon M. Shepherd

This week, our featured book is Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Gordon M. Shepherd. To get the feature started, we are happy to present Shepherd’s introduction to Neuroenology.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Friday, December 9th, 2016

Thoughts on and an Excerpt from Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays

Today Adham Azab-Xu, Ph.D. candidate in French and Romance Philology at Columbia University and current Fellow in Academic Administration here at Columbia University Press, responds to Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler and translated by Chandler, Jesse Irwin, and Susan Larsen.

When Christine Dunbar, the editor of the Russian Library Series, asked me to read Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it—I certainly don’t have a background in Russian literature, and have never been an enthusiastic reader of plays. But once I began reading, I was quickly engrossed in the stories these plays have to tell, which is why I am writing this post and urging you, our readers, to give Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays a chance.

In his excellent introduction to this book, Chandler writes that “like all great art, [Platonov’s] stories and plays can speak to a reader who knows little or nothing about the author and his times. Platonov’s deepest concerns were, in fact, always universal—philosophical and psychological more than political” (xxvii). We often perceive great art as great particularly because it continues to appeal to us in changing times, or because changes in our own perspective fill it with new life. In a way, then, great art is both timeless and ephemeral—it endures, but it variously reflects differing perspectives across physical and temporal boundaries.

Wanting to disconnect from the world for a bit, I began reading Fourteen Little Red Huts on November 8th—the day Donald Trump won the presidential election—and Chandler’s observation resonated deeply with me. Like many people I know, I was up in arms for the whole presidential campaign about the unmitigated triumph of disinformation. Even now, fake news sites spread it relentlessly and virulently, and large groups of people (some of whom I know intimately) only double down on their beliefs when presented with information that contradicts the most damaging and outlandish conspiracies. On November 8th, I saw that ours is not unlike the world to which Platonov bears witness in Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays—his characters, in spite of their suffering, and in spite of the obvious signs of falsehood that surround them, cleave ever more closely to their beliefs, or to what they are told to believe, and it certainly doesn’t do them any good.

Granted, to put things in historical context, Platonov’s characters, living—or, more accurately, starving to death—on collective farms (or kolkhozy) in Soviet Russia, are faced with a choice between what they’re told to believe, on the one hand, and the Gulag* on the other. While it is reassuring that relatively few people in the world today have to make such a choice, it is important not to forget that these plays’ most dystopic scenes represent Platonov’s real-life experience as a land reclamation expert in the 1920s, and as a writer sent to report on events in the Soviet countryside between 1929 and 1932. Between 1932 and 1933 alone, the Encyclopedia Britannica estimates that six to nine million people died of hunger in the fields, but even as Platonov’s characters wither away and die, many of them refuse to acknowledge the direness of their reality. They continue to toe the party line.

The plays’ jarringly unnatural, morbidly jocular language, especially in The Hurdy Gurdy and in Fourteen Little Red Huts, testifies to the unbelievability of the situation their characters find themselves in, and I sense that in using this kind of language in these two plays, Platonov was walking a fine line—struggling to find a truthful way to express the dystopic suffering he witnessed without getting himself sent to the Gulag. On several occasions, though, it seems a wonder that Platonov got away with writing so openly about the famine, since the Soviet government denied its existence and criminalized all discourse about it. To this effect, the cries of starving children in Fourteen Little Red Huts are both poignant and remarkable—a true act of literary bravery, even if none of these plays, and only one of the works Platonov wrote about the collectivization or about the famine, were published during Platonov’s lifetime.

In light of this fact, it is perhaps not surprising that Platonov expresses a distinct ambivalence about the value of writing in his plays. Reading Fourteen Little Red Huts in particular, it seems fair to say that he would reject the notion of literary bravery altogether; the three writers in Fourteen Little Red Huts certainly do not come across in a positive light, and, in the same play, reading appears to be little more than a diversion for those who are both starving and bored to death on the kolkhoz. And yet, Platonov still wrote these plays—plays that have often been deemed unperformable on account of their unusual stage directions, which seem more aimed at readers than at potential viewers. Why write plays that aren’t really plays? And why write at all, when it won’t get you anywhere?

If there is any value at all in writing, I would argue that, as far as these plays are concerned, it has more to do with revealing the suffering of the voiceless than with trying to assuage that suffering, which would be an exercise in futility. Platonov offers these voices up to us, and, eighty-five years later, they still speak to us, reminding us in so many ways that we “shall languish without motion amid the historical current, […] the same piffle as everything living or dead” (159).

At any rate, I hope all of you will read Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays! Especially now, it will give you a lot to think about.

*Editor’s note: Not yet called the Gulag, but the point still stands…

See below for an excerpt from Fourteen Little Red Huts:

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

An Excerpt from the main text of Strolls with Pushkin

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Strolls with Pushkin

Eugene Onegin, Pushkin’s novel in verse, is one of the most influential works of Russian literature. In the below excerpt, the narrator “strolls” through Eugene Onegin, explaining why it’s a good thing that Pushkin was superficial, full of nonsense, and unconcerned with consequences.

Intrigued? For more context on Strolls with Pushkin, see the excerpt from Catharine Theimer Nepomnyaschy’s introduction: http://www.cupblog.org/?p=20320

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Excerpt from Catharine Theimer Nepomnyaschy’s introduction to Andrei Sinyavsky’s Strolls with Pushkin

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Strolls with Pushkin

Anglophone readers, and perhaps Americans in particular, have a hard time understanding the centrality of Pushkin to Russian culture. The most tempting comparison is to Shakespeare: after all, Pushkin and Shakespeare are the generally acknowledged “great writers” of their respective languages; both wrote not only lyric poetry but also longer, more complex works; both popularized plots that continue to energize the writing of others; both are taught in schoolrooms and authored phrases that have entered everyday speech. And, Pushkin really liked Shakespeare, a fact that seems to give an added imprimatur to the comparison. But to me, at least, Shakespeare has never felt as immediate as Pushkin. He’s much further removed temporally, of course, having been born in 1564 to Pushkin’s 1799, and that makes his language more removed from the modern idiom as well. And I suspect that Shakespeare’s Englishness contributes to this sense of distance for me as an American. But more than anything, it’s Pushkin’s ubiquity in Russian life that lacks an appropriate analog in the Anglophone world.

This ubiquity both motivates and makes possible Andrei Sinyavsky’s book Strolls with Pushkin. Sinyavsky wrote the book while in Dubrovlag, part of the Soviet gulag system (the “lag” in both words in short for “lager’” or “camp”). He explains that while politics and camp conditions were proscribed topics, it was entirely permissible to fill his bimonthly letters to his wife with musings on Pushkin. After all, what could be more innocent? Nevertheless, the resulting book would prove to be Sinyavsky’s most controversial, as Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy explains in her masterful introduction. Following a biography of Pushkin that begins with his birth and continues, in the form of an overview of the cult of Pushkin, past his death and up to the time when Sinyavsky was writing, Nepomnyashchy offers the following invitation to the text:

It is precisely the boundary between the revered and the irreverent Pushkins that Sinyavsky transgresses from the very beginning of his Strolls with Pushkin. He sets off on his meanderings through the “sacred verses” of the poet with the Pushkin of pushkinskie anekdoty as his companion in hopes of circumventing the “wreaths and busts” that enshrine the canonic Pushkin and finding the “beautiful original.” This initial border violation defines the course of Sinyavsky’s strolls throughout. At every step he challenges accepted dividing lines—between writer and critic, author and character, sacred and profane, art and life—in order to undermine the commonplaces of the Pushkin myth as well as the understanding of literature as a reflection of reality that the myth entails. His project, moreover, rests on an internal contradiction. If strolling is by definition aimless motion, how can one stroll in search of something? This paradox is ultimately resolved when Sinyavsky reaches his goal only to discover that it is “zero,” that it lies in the very imposture embodied in the anecdotal Pushkin with whom he began. His strolls have both attained their object and gone nowhere and thus become a paradigm for “pure art”—art that transcends purposes external to it and becomes an end in itself. As Sinyavsky observes, “Art strolls.”

To read more:

Check back later this week now for an excerpt from the main text of Strolls with Pushkin.

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Excerpt from Sasha Sokolov’s Between Dog and Wolf

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.
Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Between Dog and Wolf

This excerpt from Chapter 5 finds one of the principal characters, the erudite poet-philosopher Yakov Ilyich Palamakhterov, reveling in scholarly company at a publishing meeting-turned-party. Uncomfortable in his own skin, his social blunders launch the narration into recollection of awkward episodes past. This passage is the reader’s first formal introduction to Yakov and his interiority.

“And God only knows how long their confusion would have lasted if the porter Avdey, a sleepy peasant with a pitch-black beard reaching up to his dull and birdlike tiny eyes and with a similarly dull metal badge, did not come to say to the master that they should not be angry—the samovar completely broke and that is why there will be no tea, but, say, if needed, there is plenty of fresh beer, brought on a pledge from the cabbie, one should only procure a deed of purchase, and if in addition to beer they had wished to have some singing girls, they should send a courier to the Yar right away. Eh, brother, You are, methinks, not a total oaf, the policeman addresses the sentinel—and soon the table cannot be recognized. The prints and typesets are gone. In their place stand three mugs with beer, being filled, in keeping with their depletion, from a medium-size barrel that, with obvious importance, towers above the modest, but not lacking in refinement, selection of dishes: oysters; some anchovies; about a pound and a half of unpressed caviar; sturgeon’s spine—not tzimmes but also not to be called bad; and about three dozen lobsters. The Gypsies are late. Waiting for them, the companions arranged a game of lotto, and none else but Ksenofont Ardalyonych shouts out the numbers. Seventy-seven, he shouts out. A match made in heaven, rhymes Palamakhterov, even though he has no match. Forty-two! We have that too, the man from Petersburg assures, although again his numbers do not correspond. Deception of Nikodim Yermolaich is as petty as it is obvious, and as outsiders we are quite embarrassed for him; but the pretending of Yakov Ilyich stands out black on white. Possessing from his birth the enchanting gift of artistic contemplation, but being both shy and frail, now and then he tried not to attract attention to the fact that he was the one whom he, naturally, simply was not able not to be, since he possessed what he possessed. For that reason, probably, Yakov Ilyich’s attempts turned into complete blunders and consequently led not to the desirable but to undesirable results, again and again drawing to the gifted youngster uninterrupted, although not always favorable attention of the crowd. Do you remember how once, long ago, he let his mind wander, and a gust of the April chiller did not wait with ripping off the skullcap from his proudly carried head? It’s really not important that the street, as ill luck would have it, teeming with concerned well-wishers, kept admonishing the hero, warning: Pick it up, you will catch a cold! Ostentatiously ignoring the shouts, taking care not to look back, and arrogantly not stopping but turning the pedals forward and—cynically and flippantly chirring with the spokes, the chain, and the cog of free wheel—backward, attempting to present everything as if he had nothing to do with it, he continued riding, the way he definitely wanted it to be seen through the eyes of the side spectator, with melancholic detachment. But, you know, a certain superfluous stooping that unexpectedly for an instant appeared in the entire subtle look of the courier (exactly like his great-grandfather, his grandfather used to say), diminished, even nullified his efforts to make his bodily movements carefree, froze them, made them childishly angular and exposed the daydreaming errand boy, with his feeble straight-haired head, to the curses of the mob: Scatterbrain, dimwit—the street carped and hooted. And if it were, let us suppose, not simply a slouching chirring courier but a real humpbacked cricket from Patagonia, then, with such a mediocre ability not to attract attention, it would have been immediately pecked apart. But, fortunately, it was precisely a courier—a messenger-thinker, a painter-runner, an artist-carrier, and the nagging feeling that everything in our inexplicable here takes place and exists only supposedly did not leave him that evening even for a moment. That is how, either absentmindedly looking through the window or paging in the diffused light of a smoldering lamp through Carus Sterne—once respectable and solid, but now thinned, reduced by smoking and bodily urges, and yet, even now adequately representing the sole volume of this modest home library—Yakov Ilyich Palamakhterov, the incorruptible witness and whipper-in of his practical and unforgiving time, philosophized and speculated.”

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Why Do We Overeat at Thanksgiving?

Neurogastronomy

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we are examining one of the darker traditions of the holiday: overeating. Sure, the food is delicious and plentiful, but we should know better. Are there scientific factors that can explain why we stuff ourselves every Thanksgiving?

The following is an excerpt from Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters, by Gordon Shepherd. In this excerpt, Shepherd begins by taking a close look at fast food and then moves on to some of the neurological reasons for why we overeat at Thanksgiving and other times of the year.

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

The Prehistory of Brooklyn Bridge Park

A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park

We are continuing our focus on New York City books with A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park: How a Community Reclaimed and Transformed New York City’s Waterfront, Nancy Webster and David Shirley.

In the introduction, Webster and Shirley examine the prehistory to the park and how the area, which was once a bustling pier fell into disuse. By the 1970s, the piers had become abandoned and it was at this point that the Brooklyn community stepped in to imagine the space as a possible park on the water.

At the end of the introduction, we’ve included some images from how the park looks today.