What do Donald Trump and Chairman Mao have in common? The belief that “IF YOU DON’T HAVE STEEL YOU DON’T HAVE A COUNTRY.” Frank Zappa thought you also need a beer—but that’s neither here nor there. Conway’s 2023 narrative science doorstopper is here to deliver a slightly different, less zingy but more important, message: no country has nearly enough sand, salt, iron, copper, oil, and lithium to operate as an autarky. As the natural endowments of these substances vary across countries the economic, social, and political fates of all nations are intertwined.
"Focusing on iconic dishes from Paris, Naples, Tokyo, Seville, Oaxaca, and Istanbul von Bremzen attempts to bring light rather than the usual heat to the concept of a national dish in a globalized world where surprisingly nationalism is resurgent. She doesn’t to her credit pretend that stories about a few dishes from six countries provide a comprehensive account of the productive tension between national and world cuisine, although a sequel covering other national cuisines is acknowledged as a live possibility. A first principles approach to the question of theorising the national dish shows even a book covering every existing national cuisine is not up to the task. This is because—as von Bremzen acknowledges—the constitutive concepts of nation and national culinary identity are themselves of recent vintage and subject to ongoing negotiation; they are open to influence from actors at home and abroad."
In the final section Pampa Kampana, coming to terms with the decline of the Vijayanagar empire, reflects that “words are the only victors.” Rushdie is alive to that scruple and will not let the moralising impulse detract from the power of words. Let those who want to learn something from fiction be content to be entertained and edified. Those who, like humourless ayatollahs, can’t manage this are ineducable.
Prince Harry’s subversion of the usually triumphalist genre has paradoxically accomplished the feat of making him come across as a loser who is disingenuous due to and not just despite his performative authenticity. One thing’s for certain: the royal family he’s estranged from would’ve spared him from this disgraceful public tantrum by preventing its publication for free.
Sarah Thankam Mathew’s All This Could be Different has been marketed, and widely reviewed, as a novel in which electric prose serves a calling higher than the merely aesthetic. The prose here is au courant, fluent in the meme-inflected argot of the relatively young extremely online reader, and exemplary of the transparent, personality-effacing style of writers coming out of MFA programs.
The titular protagonist of Meiselman: The Lean Years has at the age of thirty-six had an epiphany: he’s been a pushover ever since he can remember, and he doesn’t want to be the good guy who finishes last. He is neither a hero nor a celebrity, neither likeable nor engaging though he tries valiantly to rise to each description. Alas, yeast is wanting.
Blake Bailey's Philip Roth biography has something for everyone: it satisfies the reader who wants to relive the rapture of reading Roth at his best, the literary dilettante who wants to bone up on dinner table banter about notable priapic penpushers, and aspiring heirs to Roth’s ballpoint sceptre.
Anybody can be a storyteller and a humourist because interesting things happen to everyone, and there is humour to be found in almost every indignity. “Everything’s funny eventually” says Sedaris, and he must know as he’s able to laugh about having a flexible metal tube inserted into his urethral meatus as part of a medical screening for cancer.
Novices and accomplished writers alike seem to agree that writing is hard. One would be a fool, then, to pass up on hard won insights from an author of twenty…