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October 1st, 2014

Staying Out of the Hospital — Dennis Rosen



Vital Conversations, Dennis Rosen The following post is by Dennis Rosen, author of Vital Conversations: Improving Communication Between Doctors and Patients

Hopefully, all of you will live long and healthy lives that will end peacefully in your sleep sometime after seeing your youngest great-grandchild head off to college. Unfortunately, it will be a lot less rosy for most of us. Disease and illness are natural parts of our lives, and as science and technology advance people now live longer—and with more coexisting medical conditions—than ever before. As we get older we tend to consume more medications, and the likelihood of being hospitalized because of an acute health crises increases.

Unfortunately, the high cost of health care has resulted in growing pressure to shorten the length of stays in hospital as much as possible. And while there are many good reasons for doing this—reduced expense, lower likelihood of picking up a secondary infection or experiencing a medical error)—there can be significant downsides as well. Among these are the risks patients face when sent home from the hospital before they are well enough to care for themselves or before they understand how it is, exactly, that they are supposed to do so.

Almost one in five Medicare patients discharged from the hospital will be readmitted within the next thirty days. Interestingly, this also corresponds to the percentage of patients who experience an adverse medical event or complication, two thirds of which involve the medications they are taking. This suggests that better pre-discharge patient education needs to take place. And yet, one study of adult patients being discharged from a large academic hospital in New York found that only 28 percent could name all their discharge meds (on average, fewer than four), and that almost two thirds did not understand why they had been prescribed the medications in the first place.

Although this information is supposed to be included in a printed discharge summary, it is often not as clear as it should be, or even that easy to find among the many pages of small-font verbiage. Let’s not forget as well, that many patients are too anxious, in pain, or simply hazy from the meds they’re on to make sense of the discharge summary as carefully as they should. When you add in the fact that more than one third of Medicare patients possess marginal or insufficient health literacy skills, it’s surprising that the rate of adverse medical events following discharge is as low as it is.

Read the rest of this entry »

October 1st, 2014

October Author Events: Joseph Stiglitz, Herve This, and More!



Joseph Stiglitz, Creating a Learning SocietyFrom global inequality and global warming to the elements of cooking and male sex work, we’ve got a great lineup of author events in October.

It all begins tonight when Bruce Greenwald and Joseph Stiglitz discuss Creating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress at Columbia University’s Heyman Center for the Humanities.

Other highlights include the return of Hervé This to talk about his new book Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food; Robert Sitton visits the Museum of Modern Art and other locales to talk about Iris Barry and his new book Lady in the Dark: Iris Barry and the Art of Film; Blood author Gil Anidjar visits Bookculture; Mary Helen Washington discusses the intersection of leftist politics and culture in African American history and her new book The Other Blacklist; and much more.

September 30th, 2014

To the Point: A New E-book Series from Columbia University Press



To the Point

To the Point, Bruce HoffmanTo the Point, Julia KristevaTo the Point, Peter Piot                 To the Point, Joel SimonTo the Point, Evan Thompson

Columbia University Press is proud to announce the launch of To the Point an exciting new e-book series that extends the scholarship of our authors for a growing global and digital audience. We present standalone chapters from the press’s forthcoming fall season books, with original short-format works to come to the series in the future.

These works serve to introduce our authors’ provocative ideas to new readers in accessible, affordable formats. Featuring works by Bruce Hoffman, Julia Kristeva, Evan Thompson, and others in disciplines ranging from politics and philosophy to food science and social work.

To the Point titles are available for only $1.99 from your favorite e-book vendor.

The first five e-book shorts to be released for sale in the To the Point series are:

* The 7/7 London Underground Bombing: Not So Homegrown, by Bruce Hoffman
A selection from The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden’s Death

* Understanding Through Fiction, by Julia Kristeva
A selection from Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila

* AIDS as an International Political Issue, by Peter Piot
A selection from AIDS Between Science and Politics

* Informing the Global Citizen, by Joel Simon
A Selection from The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom

* Dying: What Happens When We Die?, by Evan Thompson
A Selection from Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy

September 30th, 2014

Interview with Dennis Rosen, author of “Vital Conversations”



Vital Conversations, Dennis RosenThe following is an interview with Dennis Rosen, author of Vital Conversations: Improving Communication Between Doctors and Patients:

Question: So what is Vital Conversations about?

Dennis Rosen: Vital Conversations is about why good communication between doctors and patients is so important to achieving better—and less expensive—health outcomes. It explores many of the reasons that this communication becomes compromised, such as cultural and socioeconomic differences; stigma and bias; and external meddling in the actual content of the medical visit that takes away from the direct face time between doctors and patients. Vital Conversations concludes with clear suggestions—for both patients and doctors—about ways each can improve the quality of their interactions in order to get more out of them. It also provides suggestions for how the health-care system can prioritize this issue in ways that will serve us all.

Q: I notice you spend a lot of time in Vital Conversations discussing how cultural differences between patient and physician influence the quality of their communication. What made you decide to focus on this?

DR: I’ve spent most of my own life moving among different cultures. I was born in the US, lived in Canada until I was 15, then in Israel for the next 19 years, and have been living in Boston since 2001. I completed my medical education and pediatric residency in Israel, and did additional training as a resident and fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital before becoming an attending physician eight years ago. I have also worked in Haiti and Guatemala several times over the last five years. All of these experiences have given me deep insight into how the ways we perceive and understand what happens to and around us influence our ability to explain it to others, and to understand their explanations in turn. When the underlying concepts are different, this can become very difficult.

Although magnified when working with people from different cultures—and let’s not forget that one quarter of American physicians were trained abroad—it is also true even when both doctor and patient are of the same culture. One issue that I explore in Vital Conversations is the differences between the objective disease, subjective illness as experienced by the patient, and sickness as defined by society. A person with a broken finger has obvious disease, and the illness process she is suffering as a result is likely to be straightforward to the physician. By virtue of this shared understanding, the doctor’s treatment recommendations are likely to be easily understood and carried out by the patient. However, a person who comes to the doctor’s office and is found to have high blood pressure may feel absolutely fine, i.e. have disease without illness. Unless the doctor is able to convince him of the need to take medications to keep the hypertension from leading to heart disease or stroke, he may be inclined to stop taking the medicine at the first sign of side effects, leading to progression of disease.

All throughout the book I’ve included numerous personal stories and vignettes from my career as a physician that illustrate these and other points I make. Even though I wish I could claim otherwise I still don’t always get it right, despite my best attempts to, as the stories make clear. As fascinating and entertaining as the stories themselves are, I think that they really drive home the central message of the book, which is that good communication between doctors and patients is vital for medical care to be effective.

Read the rest of this entry »

September 30th, 2014

New Book Tuesday: Buffett, Best European Fiction, and More New Books!



Beyond Berkshire, Lawrence CunninghamOur weekly listing of new titles:

Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values
Lawrence A. Cunningham

Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan
Dana Burde

After the Silents: Hollywood Film Music in the Early Sound Era, 1926-1934
Michael Slowik

The Columbia Anthology of Japanese Essays: Zuihitsu from the Tenth to the Twenty-First Century
Edited and translated by Steven D. Carter

The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets (Now available in paper)
Kara Newman

Best European Fiction 2015
Edited by West Camel

Learning Cyrillic: Stories
David Albahari

Dialogue and Translation: Grafton Architects
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara

September 29th, 2014

Flying Dinosaurs Challenge



Flying Dinosaurs, John Pickrell

How much do YOU know about flying dinosaurs? John Pickrell, author of Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds, has created a challenge which will help you gauge your current knowledge and will teach you some fascinating facts about the deep connections between dinosaurs and modern birds. Take the challenge below, and let us know how you did in the comment section!


September 29th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Vital Conversations by Dennis Rosen



Vital Conversations, Dennis RosenThis week our featured book is Vital Conversations: Improving Communication Between Doctors and Patients by Dennis Rosen, MD.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Vital Conversations to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, October 3 at 1:00 pm.

The health-care system in the United States is by far the most expensive in the world, yet its outcomes are decidedly mediocre in comparison with those of other countries. Poor communication between doctors and patients, Dennis Rosen argues, is at the heart of this disparity, a pervasive problem that damages the well-being of the patient and the integrity of the health-care system and society.

Drawing upon research in biomedicine, sociology, and anthropology and integrating personal stories from his medical practice in three different countries (and as a patient), Rosen shows how important good communication between physicians and patients is to high-quality—and less-expensive—care.

Read an excerpt from the first chapter “Better Outcomes, Lower Costs”:

September 26th, 2014

From Radio to Film … And Beyond — Rey Chow



“Long before I came to study film academically, these visits [to my mother's film studios] had opened my eyes to the utterly fragmentary making of the artwork in the age of technical reproducibility.”—Rey Chow

Rey Chow, Not Like a Native SpeakerWe conclude our week-long feature on Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience with another excerpt from the book’s final chapter “The Sounds and Scripts of a Hong Kong Childhood”. In the following passage she explores the influence of her mother’s film career on her own writing and intellectual development:

Because of my mother’s involvement with film, I had opportunities to visit film studios during the time when some of her scripts were being shot. Long before I came to study film academically, these visits had opened my eyes to the utterly fragmentary making of the artwork in the age of technical reproducibility. If, say, a particular corner of a living room was the focus, the rest of the room could be left in chaos, filled with makeshift equipment, un­used props, and other messes as long as they did not intrude into the frame to be captured on camera. In a face-to-face dialogue between a female char­acter and a male character that was shot from the waist up, an actress who was somewhat short could be made to stand on a phonebook so that her height in relation to the actor would appear aesthetically proportionate on screen. On yet another occasion, I was captivated by the skilled martial arts movements performed by a well-known actress (Chan Bo-jue/Chen Baozhu) playing an assassin. Those movements were shot while a whole group of us bystanders were in the movie studio, but when the scene was shown in the movie theater, the cinematographic illusionism had been ren­dered so complete by the editing process that the actress’s stunts appeared as though they had happened all by themselves in another world, miraculously devoid of us, the witnesses.

Inspired by these films, I wrote, at the age of about ten, the synopsis of a film featuring a modern-day female knight errant called White Rose. My mother showed my penciled draft to one of her director friends, Mok Hong-see/Mo Kangshi, who reportedly said it was an interesting story. Needless to say, I was very disappointed that he did not proceed directly to filming my script!

Read the rest of this entry »

September 25th, 2014

Rey Chow — The Sounds and Scripts of a Hong Kong Childhood



Rey Chow, Not Like a Native SpeakerIn “The Sounds and Scripts of a Hong Kong Childhood,” the final chapter of Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience, Rey Chow explores elements of her own upbringing in colonial Hong Kong. In the following passage, she discusses her mother’s career as a popular radio broadcaster and performer:

So, how does the story end? What happens to that woman character? And her frail cousin, the one who is secretly in love with her husband? “Please tell us!” According to my mother, such were the questions with which she was besieged in the maternity ward when she was about to give birth to her first child, me. As the labor pains became advanced and she was rolled into the hospital’s delivery room, the nurses on duty were still far more pre­occupied with the plot developments of the dramas they had heard her nar­rate on the radio. This family legend of fandom gone amok at the scene of my birth offers a unique glimpse into the way people could be mesmerized by stories in the form of sound broadcast in the days before television be­came the predominant mass medium. What was it like then, when it was an ordinary matter to be hooked into a fictional world purely through sound?

A few years later, when I reached the age of five or six, I experienced firsthand something of my mother’s aura as a popular broadcaster. I was sit­ting in a movie theater with some older friends, who had taken me to see a film adapted from one of her radio plays, Yun hoi sheung chor/ Renhai shuang chu (Two young children in the human world). That much was what I consciously knew. To my great surprise—and in a luminous im­age that has remained vivid in my mind to this day—my mother appeared on the screen as the film began. As though I had been transported to an unfamiliar locale in a dream, everyone around me started clapping. “This is Mama,” I remember thinking matter-of-factly, sitting in the dark, mysti­fied. “Why are people applauding her?” But the crowd’s enthusiasm quickly took me over. Without understanding what was happening, I joined in and started clapping as well.

My mother had been filmed as the narrator, offering an introduction (jui sut/xu shu) to the story that was to unfold within the next couple of hours. She was, if my memory is correct, seated at a desk, addressing the audience directly. In the broadcasting world of Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s, she was a widely recognized name, known for her many successful radio plays, some of which were adapted for film. Her personal appearance in Yun hoi sheung chor was, I suppose, part of the film company’s strategy of promotion.

I was of course unaware that epochal changes had been taking place in the mass media even as I gleefully participated in the audience’s celebration of my mother’s image on the screen. The happenings of a middle-class up­bringing, the little wonders, mysteries, expectations, and sorrows that con­stituted my daily life as a precocious schoolchild in a British Crown colony in the Far East were, in retrospect, happenings of historical import—but only in retrospect, when I have acquired a certain perspective and vocabu­lary in which to talk about them in a more impersonal manner.

Read the rest of this entry »

September 25th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: Interview with Hadrien Laroche, author of “Orphans”



“My books are humorous. You can hear the laughter that accompanies every tragic moment!” — Hadrien Laroche

Orphans

Earlier this year, we published an interview with Hadrien Laroche, author of Orphans. Now that the book is available for sale, we are reposting the interview and for more on the book and Laroche, read a recent article from The Irish Times:

Q: Henry né Berg, one of the characters in Orphans, seems to be inspired by a distant relative of yours, the banker Edouard Stern. Can we as­sume that Hannah née Bloch and Hélianthe née Bouttetruie are also real people?

Hadrien Laroche: That’s true. The day they announced Edouard Stern’s death, I called my editor, thunderstruck, and told him “Henry né Berg has been killed!” He was equally stunned. But one needs to be careful: in spite of what I myself thought at the time, in shock, Edouard Stern really was killed, not Henry né Berg. Orphans is a work of fiction, a fabrication. Henry né Berg incarnates the willing, philo­sophical orphan. He is one element of my portrait of Man orphaned of his humanity. The concept and experience of the orphan is the subject of all my work. My orphans belong to no one: to no name, no country, not even a language. And obviously, to no family. Milan Kundera said, “what an author creates [. . .] belongs to no one but himself.” I’m going further than that. To be the descendant of one’s work means something else: the work doesn’t belong to the author in the least, no more than a child belongs to its father, or a mother belongs to her child. So it’s not a roman à clef, nor is it autofiction. It’s rather an aesthetic project that starts from life experience. Read the rest of this entry »

September 24th, 2014

Rey Chow on Derrida and the French Language



Rey Chow, Not Like a Native SpeakerIn her new book Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience, Rey Chow examines misgivings about the inequality of the encounters between European and non-European languages in the postcolonial world.

In the following passage, Chow considers Jacques Derrida’s complicated with the French language as a result of his upbringing in colonial Algeria:

Among the details Derrida narrates, those about his intimate relations to things French—French history, French literature, the French language, and other French speakers’ accents—are the most captivating, in large part be­cause of his mildly exhibitionistic and often self-flagellating sense of candor. The study of French literature, for instance, is an injunction of segregation as much as it is an experience of cultural assimilation. Not only does such study reinforce the haughtiness of the literary mode of reference and mean­ing making from nonliterary culture, but it also effectuates, he writes, “a brutal severance . . . fostering a more acute partition: the one that separates French literature—its history, its works, its models, its cult of the dead, its modes of transmission and celebration, its ‘posh districts,’ its names of au­thors and editors—from the culture ‘proper’ to ‘French Algerians’ ” Derrida’s description here is resolutely unsentimental, conveying a fi rm sense of the traumatizing cuts and cut-offs that constitute colonialism’s gov­erning routines.

To the important analyses of literature as an ideological form—such as those advanced in the 1970s by Renée Balibar, Étienne Balibar, Pierre Ma­cherey, and others in their studies of language practices within the French national education system—Derrida has articulated the crucial dimension of colonialist racialization. His account, it may be said, supplements the so­cialist logic pursued by these other thinkers by illuminating how the “reality effects,” so to speak, of the elite forms of the French language (français lit­téraire or français fictif ) are outcomes of carefully implemented racial as well as class segregation. Indeed, from the perspective of the colonized, as Der­rida suggests, it is impossible to experience the one without experiencing the other.

Read the rest of this entry »

September 24th, 2014

Wine Fraud: Buyer Beware — A Post by Natalie Berkowitz



Natalie Berkowitz, The Winemaker's HandThe following is a post by Natalie Berkowitz, author of The Winemaker’s Hand: Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir

Obsessed individuals with deep pockets bitten by the collecting bug willingly spend a fortune on rare treasures to display their affluence. Insatiable acquisitiveness and eagerness to flaunt their trophies are a subtle form of “look at me.” Stratospheric prices confer immense cachet on the object and to its owner, but it takes an unfortunate negative turn. Con artists can smell a mark and will engage in their tricks of the trade: fraud, forgery, misrepresentation, and counterfeiting.

Even though wine fraud plays second fiddle to more sensational examples of art fraud, scams involving wine have been known to run into the millions of dollars. Beginning in the early 2000s, demand and prices for the rarest wines shot up rapidly, as did the potential payoff from selling fakes. The idea of owning a prestigious historical bottle created a frenzy among potential collectors. Covetous wine lovers, some who are connoisseurs and others who collect rare bottles for prestige, compete to buy cult wines, rare vintages, and famous labels. Wine collectors who covet particular vintages and notable producers suspend credulity, seduced into believing they achieved their heart’s delight when in many cases they paid outrageous sums for fraudulent wine.

Wine deception abounds. It can start on the most basic level at a winery when a harvest goes awry and fails to produce high quality grapes. Some less-than-honest vintners adulterate a poor vintage, adding wine from a previous crop or from different wine regions. Coloring agents or wines with stronger color are used to deepen pallid wines. Some wines are adjusted for the tastes of certain markets.

Read the rest of this entry »

September 23rd, 2014

Interview with Rey Chow, author of “Not Like a Native Speaker”



“My book asks: can there be other ways of coming to terms with loss? Can loss be perceived, however painfully, as an alternative beginning to something different?”—Rey Chow

Rey Chow, Not Like a Native SpeakerThe following is an interview with Rey Chow, author of Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience:

Q: How does the issue of language or “languaging” provide new ways of thinking about the colonial and postcolonial experience?

Rey Chow: The issue of language is, of course, a longstanding one in colonial and postcolonial experience, and anyone working in the field of postcolonial studies of the past several hundred years needs to come to terms with it in one way of another. The confrontation between languages and cultures in the classic colonial situation, in which some languages and cultures are considered superior while others, typically the native ones, are deemed inferior, has created psychic, cross-cultural, institutional, and geopolitical effects that are still very much with us today. These effects inform not only worldwide communications in public settings but also some of our most intimate contacts on a daily basis (e.g. How to talk to friends or loved ones who have no awareness of such effects?) Paying attention to language—in the larger sense of cumulated habits, conventions, gestures, and tendencies that I designate by the term “languaging”—is thus a logical, perhaps indispensable, way of understanding the colonial and postcolonial experience. Indeed, as my subtitle indicates, to languaging itself is a form of postcolonial experience.

In French and Francophone postcolonial studies, extensive philosophical reflections on language as experience are quite common, but it is not the case in Anglophone postcolonial studies. One of the aims of this book is to address this disparity by highlighting questions of languaging in Anglophone postcolonial debates. In addition, the book introduces a third language and cultural area—Chinese, as used in Hong Kong under the fraught conditions of British colonialism and Chinese nationalism—whose contributions to postcolonial studies can be uniquely fascinating.

Q: You suggest that the colonized’s encounter with the colonizer’s language is usually depicted in negative terms. How does your book challenge this characterization?

RC: The negative terms I am referring to have to do with the predominant feeling of loss that pervades many postcolonial scholarly undertakings. This overpowering sense of loss is a logical outcome of what I call the confrontation between languages and cultures on unequal terms, which is registered by the colonized and their descendants as violation and injury, followed by profound melancholy. My book asks: can there be other ways of coming to terms with loss? Can loss be perceived, however painfully, as an alternative beginning to something different? Thus, in the various chapters, I read a number of authors—e.g. Chinua Achebe, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Paul Ricoeur, Derek Walcott, Leung Ping-kwan, Ma Kwok-ming, among many others—as striving for an alternative kind of response to loss as inscribed in various types of encounters with language, tradition, community, and creativity. It’s a collective undertaking, clearly unfinished, but I think it is important to engage with it because of its dissonance from the more pervasive trends of melancholic longing often found in postcolonial studies.

Read the rest of this entry »

September 23rd, 2014

New Book Tuesday! Herve This Returns with “Note-by-Note Cooking” and More New Books



Herve This, Note-by-NoteOur weekly list of new books now available:

Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food
Hervé This

Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro
Sarah H. Jacoby

Melancholy II: A Novel
Jon Fosse

Free Trade’s First Missionary: Sir John Bowring in Europe and Asia
Philip Bowring

Eastern Fortress: A Military History of Hong Kong, 1840-1970
Kwong Chi Man and Tsoi Yiu Lun

Academic English: Skills for Success
Miranda Legg, Kevin Pat, Steve Roberts, Rebecca Welland, Letty Chan, Louisa Chan, and Wai Lan Tsang

September 22nd, 2014

Book Giveaway! “Not Like a Native Speaker,” by Rey Chow



“[A] unique map for the postcolonial criticism of the future, one informed by rigor and unafraid of judgment.” — Simon Gikandi, Princeton University

This week our featured book is Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience by Rey Chow.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, September 26 at 1:00 pm.

Read the introduction, “Skin Tones—About Language, Postcoloniality, and Racialization”:

September 22nd, 2014

“Interracial Couples, Intimacy, and Therapy” Wins a “50 Books | 50 Covers”



Congratulations to Jordan Wannemacher and the amazing Columbia University Press design department for their design of Interracial Couples, Intimacy, and Therapy: Crossing Racial Borders, by Kyle D. Killian, which was recently selected as one of the 50 Books | 50 Covers by The Design Observer Group.

And, here’s the cover:

Kyle Killian, Interracial Couples

September 19th, 2014

Test Your Flying Dinosaur Knowledge!



We’ve spent the past week featuring Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds by John Pickrell and now’s your chance to see much your really know about dinosaurs, flying and otherwise.

CredSpark recently created a quiz specifically about the book with 10 questions ranging from why dinosaurs grew feathers to what scientists have recently discovered in the fossil record.

And, for more on the book, you can also read “A Whole New World,” the introduction to Flying Dinosaurs:

September 19th, 2014

University Press Roundup: Zombies, Domestic Violence, Blimps, Big Pharma, David Lynch, and More from UP Blogs!



University Press Roundup

Behind the Book with Ummni Khan: The author of Vicarious Kinks: S/M in the Socio-Legal Imaginary discusses the book and its challenge to the myth of law as an objective adjudicator of sexual truth. (University of Toronto Press)

Your Rugged Preamble: The nation’s founding document, as imagined by the midcentury American imagination. (Stanford University Press)

Under the knife with a zombie: Tim Verstynen and Bradley Voytek authors of Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep: A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain explain the nature of the relationship between the brain and emotions in the following video (Princeton University Press):

Read the rest of this entry »

September 18th, 2014

An Interview with John Pickrell, author of “Flying Dinosaurs”



Flying Dinosaurs, John Pickrell

“Dinosaurs are very much still alive, and are more successful and numerous in terms of species numbers now than they have been at any other point in their roughly-230-million-year history.”—John Pickrell

The following is our interview with John Pickrell, author of Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds:

Question: Are dinosaurs still among us?

John Pickrell: Dinosaurs are very much still alive, and are more successful and numerous in terms of species numbers now than they have been at any other point in their roughly-230-million-year history. This is because birds are dinosaurs; they evolved from within the speedy, bipedal group of predators called theropods, which includes such creatures as Velociraptor and T. rex. Birds are not only the descendants of the dinosaurs—they actually are living dinosaurs. They are simply a small, specialized flying form of theropod. Right now there are nearly ten thousand known living species, and perhaps as many as four hundred billion individuals flitting about on the planet.

Q: What did dinosaurs use feathers for?

JP: Since the first dinosaur fossil with feathers was discovered in China in 1996, around 40 species have been found with feather impressions or direct evidence of feathers of some kind. This has shown us that feathers existed in dinosaurs long before they had any purpose in flight. Feathers are so entwined in our minds with flight, this seems counter-intuitive, but flight feathers are highly specialized structures and can’t have appeared fully formed. We now know feathers had an entirely different purpose initially. The earliest feathers we see on dinosaur fossils are simple, fluffy filaments, like the down of a chick, and they were used for insulation. Only later were feathers co-opted for display purposes and eventually for flight.

Read the rest of this entry »

September 18th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: Translating a Novel of Sadism — On Alain Robbe-Grillet’s “A Sentimental Novel”



A Sentimental Novel, Alain Robbe-Grillet

“I am unconvinced that the only man on the planet with horrifying fantasies was Alain Robbe-Grillet.”—D. E. Brooke

Recently The New Yorker interviewed D. E. Brooke, the translator of A Sentimental Novel, just published by Dalkey Archive. The interviewer Elisabeth Zerofsky admired Brooke’s controlled translation of Robbe-Grillet’s disturbing novel and wanted learn more about the translator. Turns out D. E. Brooke is a pseudonym and the translator’s identity remains hidden but “Brooke” was willing to answers some questions about the novel and the translation, here are some excerpts:

Q: Why did you feel that it was important that this book be translated and published in the English-speaking world

D. E. Brooke: I remember sitting in a coffee shop with a writer friend who mentioned that Robbe-Grillet’s last novel remained untranslated in English, and that this was due to the disturbing nature of the material it contained. I said immediately that I would translate it. The reasons had less to do with the book’s contents than with my own history as a reader and my encounter with “La Jalousie” at age fifteen. It was a portal that introduced notions of narrative voice, authorial choice, and the reader’s relationship to text in ways that I had not considered, as I devoured my way through more conventional fiction that served a different purpose: allowing me to escape my reality at the time. Any number of other works by twentieth-century authors might have triggered similar reflections and explorations. Only, in my case, Alain Robbe-Grillet was the instigator and, as an adolescent, I remember the excitement produced by the book’s propositions: that it purportedly granted greater agency to the reader, supposedly bared the scaffolding of writing. These claims intrigued me and gave me a first taste of something. So my reasons for translating “Un Roman Sentimental” were, you could say, purely sentimental.

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