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Alex Rose is a co-founder and editor of Hotel St. George Press. He is the author of the The Musical Illusionist and Other Tales, praised by Library Journal as “a potential cult classic” and the Village Voice as “uncanny.” His stories and essays have appeared in the Reading Room, McSweeney’s, the North American Review, the Forward and the Providence Journal, among others. As a filmmaker, Rose’s short films and videos have screened in over two dozen festivals worldwide, as well as on many television networks, including HBO, ShowTime, Comedy Central, the BBC and MTV.Of the many atheist manifestos to hit the shelves within the past few years – among them, The End of Faith, Breaking the Spell, and God is Not Great – none have been so deliciously rewarding as The God Delusion, by the world-renowned evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins.It’s to his credit that Dawkins has never been concerned with the tactics of the science vs. faith debate, with strategic savvy and political niceties, but simply with determining what is true. He believes that the “God hypothesis” falls in the realm of science in much the same way that other matters, such as the chemical composition of stars, or the mechanics of visual perception were once considered unanswerable until clear-headed investigation proved otherwise. Similarly, he claims, if we are genuinely concerned with the universe, with what exists and what does not, we should want to use modern methods and reasoning to reach a conclusion, as we do with nearly every other practical endeavor, rather than resort to myths, atavisms and soothsayings.Because he is smart, Dawkins is careful not to state unequivocally that no omniscient deity could exist, only that the likelihood is so low that one may just as reasonably presume the existence of Zeus, Thor, or the “flying spaghetti monster.” The case he makes for this position is exhaustive, factoring in countless examples from biology, philosophy, history, politics and human rights.As punishing as he can be, however, Dawkins is no provocateur. Indeed, his approach is neither superior and exasperated (like Hitchens and Harris), nor apologetic and kiddy-gloved (like Dennet). Not since Bertrand Russell has the balance between criticism and tolerance, between intellectual rigor and deeply felt compassion, been so masterfully struck.More from A Year in Reading 2007
Edan Lepucki is extremely well-read, but she also has a not-so-secret passion for cookbooks. Thankfully she has decided to share the wealth with this guide to the year’s best.Over the past two years, my hobby for cooking food, (and then, eating it), has become a somewhat overwhelming passion. Now that I’m knee-deep in a MFA program, I often find myself fantasizing about quitting the life of a writer (so difficult! so lonely!) to become a chef. I dream about jetting off to some famed culinary institute, where I learn the right way to chop and braise and whisk in a room with a 5:1 male-to-female ratio. In the meantime, I’ve discovered some fantastic cookbooks to fuel the fire. I’ve voted these 3 the best of 2004.Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers – The London River Cafe is where Jamie Oliver, the famed Naked Chef, got his start. I’m not normally a fan of Italian food–all those pastas and creamy sauces–but this book’s fare is light and surprisingly diverse. Try the porkchops in lemon, or the mozarella salad with roasted bell peppers, or the sausages in wine, or the chicken in nutmeg–you won’t be disappointed. All of the recipes are lo-fi and easy to follow, and the pictures will have you drooling.A Beautiful Bowl of Soup: The Best Vegetarian Recipes by Paulette Mitchell – Who knew that soup was easy to make? This is a little paperback cookbook that still manages to include a ton of recipes and beautiful, full-color photographs. I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ve nevertheless been impressed by what Mitchell has to offer: curried carrot with apple; Mediterranean stew; roasted butternut squash. This week I’m going to try to make sweet potato ancho bisque!Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten – I’ve attempted to convert every cook I know into a follower of Ina Garten, who’s funneled her success from her specialty food store, Barefoot Contessa, into the cookbook writing business. Garten’s recipes almost always call for kosher salt and olive oil, but somehow, with just a few more ingredients, each dish has its own unique, mouth-watering flavor. This time, we go with Ina to Paris, where we learn how to make string beans the French way; how to prepare a goat cheese tart; and how, sweet lord, to cook mussels in a white wine sauce. I only got this book a week or so ago, and already I’ve ripped through more than a handful of recipes. Barefoot in Paris also tops the 2004 list in terms of visual prowess. Photographer Quentin Bacon deserves a medal for his picture of Herb-Baked Eggs.
Auther Charles D’Ambrosio has written two collections of short stories, The Point and, this year, The Dead Fish Museum. He also has a collection of essays, Orphans. D’Ambrosio’s stories regularly appear in the New Yorker and other notable magazines. The best book D’Ambrosio read this year was the autobiography of a jazz musician. “Maybe this copping out,” D’Ambrosio says,but the book I’ve loved the most this year is Art Pepper’s autobiography, Straight Life, which was revised and reissued by Da Capo Press in 1994. I know next to nothing about jazz, haven’t listened to a lick of Art Pepper, but a smart guy in a bar in Portland told me I had to pick up the book – we were drinking – and it is, as drunkenly promised, really good. It makes me wish I were an aficionado. Art Pepper lived through all kinds of hell, which may be standard stuff for jazz greats, I don’t know, but what makes Straight Life an excellent read isn’t the sexual compulsion, the heroin, the crime, the brutal life in San Quentin – all juicy reading, for sure – but the intimacy, the way you get inside the dreamy logic of being Art Pepper. With a reality like that, who needs dreams, I guess, but Pepper’s story is, from beginning to end, so sad and soulful it’s like he never happened on our frequency – and this book (along with the music, which I plan to hunt down) is the vibrant record of the peculiar sound he existed in.Thanks Charles!