New this week: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf; Loving Day by Mat Johnson; The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi; The Rocks by Peter Nichols; and The Shore by Sara Taylor. For more on these and other new titles, check out our Great 2015 Book Preview.
"In the 1970s it circulated among Left Bank intellectuals, including Sartre and Bernard-Henri Lévy, as an aid to productive writing. In 1981 it was listed as a controlled substance in the US and in 1986, after it was scheduled under the WHO Convention on Psychotropic Substances, it was removed from prescription sale." The London Review of Books reviews two histories about the role of drugs in the fighting of wars, Blitzed: Drugs In the Third Reich by Norman Ohler and Shooting Up: A History of Drugs in Warfare by Łukasz Kamieński Hurst. Both pay particular attention to Captagon (the name a portmanteau of "captain" and "pentagon"), a pharmaceutical that has become common throughout Eastern Europe, the Gulf States, India, and China, and by 2014 "had become a significant source of funding for all sides in Syria’s civil war."
“My daughter spent some of this summer performing a dance, which she learned at summer camp, to a certain song by Shakira, called “Waka Waka.” It was earnest, funny, beautiful dance; however, I am, it seems, unable to watch my daughter perform her Shakira dance, to a song I don’t very much care for, without sobbing. There is no explanation for this excessive reaction—the dance is homely and human and not at all out of this world—but that the reaction is about beauty, and joy, and potential, and not sorrow. And this, it seems, is one aspect of what crying celebrates: the sublime.” Here is Rick Moody, life coach, from The Literary Hub. Here’s a recent Millions interview with Moody.
Three weeks ago, Vishwas Gaitonde wrote a piece for us about a house in India once owned by the family of George Orwell. Now, in the Times, Jane Perlez pays a visit to Burma, where Orwell served in the Imperial Police Force and gathered impressions for his first novel, Burmese Days.
The mystery of the skull that might once have sat between the shoulders of one William Shakespeare will remain unresolved for now. A senior church lawyer for St. Leonard’s Church in Beoley, Redditch, has barred the group of curious clergymen from removing the skull for DNA testing. Alas, poor William.
The work of Elvio Gandolfo, whose novel Cada vez más cerca ("Each Time Closer") won Argentina's equivalent of the Pulitzer in 2013, is rarely published in English. So it's a special treat to find his magical story about a whale falling out of the sky, newly translated for the anthology A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, available free at Ninth Letter.