Tag Archives: Leann Davis Alspaugh

The Hedgehog Recommends: Summer Reading

A member of the editorial staff on vacation. Calle Eklund via Wikimedia Commons.

A member of the editorial staff on vacation. Calle Eklund via Wikimedia Commons.

Hedgehogs have scattered far and wide for the summer—but we’re determined to get through that stack of books. Here are some of the things we’re reading. What about you?

Jay Tolson (Editor)

russo coverIf you want a good a take on the inner lives of the people who are said to be the core supporters of Donald J. Trump—that is, the underemployed and deeply discouraged members of America’s white working class—then you could do no better than pick up a copy of Richard Russo’s Everybody’s Fool. Take this not on my own authority but the author’s. He recently said so, with a touch of ruefulness, in an interview on NPR. Russo has been exploring this social terrain long before Trump became a serious (did I just say serious?) contender for the presidency, in eight previous works of well-wrought fiction and a memoir.

This, Russo’s most recent novel, revisits the same fictional territory (the upstate New York town of North Bath) and takes up many of the same characters he explored so compellingly in Nobody’s Fool. Donald “Sully” Sullivan (played by Paul Newman in the 1994 film adaptation of the earlier novel) is back, the stoic anti-hero who retains his quiet philosophical calm as things human and physical (including one of the town’s major buildings) fall apart. The novel opens fittingly with a description of the town’s cemetery, the only thing that seems to be growing in North Bath: “The plot of land set aside on the outskirts of town became crowded, then overcrowded, then chock-full, until finally the dead broke containment, spilling across the now-paved road onto the barren flats and reaching as far as the new highway spur that led to the interstate. Where they’d head next was anybody’s guess.” That, we soon learn, is not the only way the dead affect the lives of North Bath’s struggling survivors. If the novel is elegiac, it is also deeply funny, a comedy for our times.


Leann Davis Alspaugh (Managing Editor)

barkskins-9780743288781_hrThe great book upheaval after moving house continues and I’m rediscovering several old favorites that I want to re-read. A friend mentioned that he’s re-reading Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree for the fifth time and while that is one of my favorites, too, I read it (for the third time) about a year ago. This summer, I plan on heading into the sunset with another McCarthy novel, Blood Meridian, a happy tale about marauding scalp-hunters led by the quasi-mythical and brutally violent Judge.

New reading will include one (or all) of the three Barbara Pym novels that I recently found at the Decatur Bookstore in New Orleans: The Sweet Dove Died, Quartet in Autumn, and A Glass of Blessings. I also have Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Arthur Lewis, World War I flying ace and BBC co-founder. I just finished Y.T. by Alexei Nikitin, a short novel about surveillance, conspiracy, and nostalgia for the past. Nikitin’s book has hilarious elements of surrealism blunted by the banality of Soviet bureaucracy still lingering in 1980s Ukraine. Ultimately, the book was a little 9781612195124disappointing, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that that was the part of the author’s intended effect. (Extra credit to Melville House for a fine new English translation by Anne Marie Jackson)

At present, I’m working my way through Annie Proulx’s latest, Barkskins. This generational saga of early settlers and native people in New France (Canada) progresses—gallops, really—from the seventeenth century to modern times, traveling between the New World, Europe, and Asia. At times, one senses that Proulx is trying to keep the horse from bolting, but, she still has a knack for detecting human absurdity and I’m grateful that she keeps what is surely a novel disguised as an environment admonition from becoming a tiresome screed. (Thanks, William T. Vollmann, for the spoiler in your New York Times review.)


Continue reading

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The Hedgehog’s Array: June 3, 2016

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“In Between Daze,” Michelle Dean
“I thought writing for a living would be a racket, and I’d be paid to pick out good art and go to parties, but since then I’ve learned it’s the art people who have the real scam going.”

“Gawker Smeared Me, and Yet I Stand With It,” Stephen Marche
“Such childish hostility notwithstanding, I believe that Gawker serves an essential function in a celebrity-obsessed culture, and if it were to disappear the world would be poorer and the cause of journalistic truth would be damaged.”

“Comfort and Joy,” Rohan Maitzen
“It’s hard to know how (or even whether) to try to tackle the larger problem. But one thing we can do—those of us who want a better conversation about romance—is, bit by bit, to correct the ‘error’ Regis identifies: to meet sweeping generalizations with specifics, looking not at “the romance novel,” but at particular romance novels.”

“Love on the Run,” Terry Castle
“The Highsmithian lover becomes that crazy-making contradiction: both the criminal genius and the doomed malefactor—ecstatic rebel and cast-off, terrified child.”

“Antiheroic Feminism: An Interview with ‘UnREAL’ Co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro,” Karen Tongson
“And that’s the thing I was trying to say about reality TV and its effect on the world. Sure, shows like that feel like a guilty pleasure. They even feel like fun. But when you start ripping people apart that way, you’re eventually going to turn that lens on yourself.”

“The Sun Is Always Shining In Modern Christian Pop,” Leah Libresco
“I took a look at the last five years of Billboard’s year-end top 50 Christian songs to see whether Christian pop is unrelentingly cheerful. I looked at pairs of concepts across the entire collection of lyrics (life and death, grace and sin, etc.) and calculated the ratio of positive to negative words. For every pair I checked, positive words were far more common than negative ones.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Nadar’s highs and lows,” Leann Davis Alspaugh
“Although Eduardo Cadava’s introduction to this first-ever complete English translation of Quand j’étais photographe positions Nadar’s photography as a form of mourning, the subject himself refuses to take this line.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: August 21, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Selling Out the Newspaper Comic Strip,” Luke Epplin
Calvin and Hobbes, which centered on a headstrong child and a stuffed tiger that comes to life under his gaze, shared many similarities with Peanuts: articulate children, fantasy sequences, episodic storylines, philosophical undercurrents, and an aversion to facile punch lines. But Schulz and Watterson harbored fundamental disagreements about the nature and direction of their medium, and their entrenched beliefs shaped their divergent approaches to comics as both an art and a business.”

“Melancholy,” Carina del Valle Schorske
“Melancholy is a word that has fallen out of favor for describing the condition we now call depression. The fact that our language has changed, without the earlier word disappearing completely, indicates that we are still able to make use of both.”

“The Ashley Madison Hack Should Scare You, Too,” Heather Havrilesky
“At the exact moment when citizens worldwide should be noticing that we’re all living in glass houses, many of us are picking up stones instead.”

“Why Can’t People Just Be Sensible?,” Jenny Diski
“Oh, Doris would say to anyone in any kind of emotional trouble, why can’t people just be sensible? Once or twice I shouted back: because we’re people. The answer carried no weight at all.”

“The Riders of the Waves,” Alice Gregory
“Reputations are made and maintained in the ocean, but they’re premised on more than just talent. Seniority, humility, pain tolerance, and a hundred other factors contribute to a surfer’s local eminence.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Gallery Chronicle,” Leann Davis Alspaugh
“El Greco (1541–1614) knew the value of his work and was not afraid to go to court to prove his point.”

“The Genealogy of Orals,” Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
“When someone from abroad wants to learn about our university system, his first pressing question is: How do your students participate in university life? We answer: By means of the ear — they take part as listeners. The foreigner is amazed and asks: Purely by listening? Purely by listening, we repeat.”
(excerpted from Anti-Education, a volume of Nietzsche’s lectures edited by Chad Wellmon)

“Digital Star Chamber,” Frank Pasquale
“For wines or films, the stakes are not terribly high. But when algorithms start affecting critical opportunities for employment, career advancement, health, credit and education, they deserve more scrutiny.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: April 10, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“The Assistant Economy,” Francesca Mari
“Nothing becomes an assistant so much as leaving his or her job. ‘The worst thing to be called,’ Aronofsky’s assistant told me, long after he’d moved on, ‘is a really good assistant.’”

“What Part of ‘No, Totally’ Don’t You Understand?,” Kathryn Schulz
“For the most part, this enthusiastic ‘no’ has very little negative meaning, or really much semantic content at all. It is more like verbal punctuation—like the initial, upside-down exclamation mark in Spanish that alerts you to impending excitement: ¡Totally!”

“Il n’y a pas d’Israël pour moi,” Jerry White
“That is, basically, the limits of François’s moral imagination; he can find nothing between the dead culture of fascism and the undead culture of consumerism. It doesn’t take long for the reader of Soumission to conclude that this is also more or less the limit of Houellebecq’s ability to imagine the complexity of modern life.”

“The Nearest Thing To Life,” James Wood
“I find that my memory is always yeasting up, turning one-minute moments into loafing, ten-minute reveries. Displacement also adds its own difficulties. I sometimes feel, for instance, that I grew up not in the 1970s and 80s but in the 1870s and 80s.”

“Having Fun,” Ben Jackson
“Does anyone remember ‘dog shit girl’? In 2005, her dog defecated on the subway in South Korea and she refused to pick it up. Her fellow passengers offered her tissues but she got aggressive and used the tissues to wipe the dog. Outraged people took photos; within hours they were all over the web. Soon her name, age, university and other personal information were posted online.”

“Can Matthew Crawford Deliver Us From Distraction?,” Michael S. Roth
“Matthew B. Crawford burst upon the scene in 2009 with a compact, powerful book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work (Penguin), a macho denunciation of the contemporary world of cubicle life and an ode to the joys of mechanical dexterity and productivity.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Pluralism Doesn’t Mean Relativism,” John Inazu
“The pointed commentary surrounding the Indiana law is a recent reminder that we lack agreement about the purpose of our country, the nature of the common good, the meaning of human flourishing.”

“Six Centuries of Prints,” Leann Davis Alspaugh
“Since Renaissance humanism first made it acceptable—even imperative—for artists to draw attention to themselves, creative types have complied and produced many forms of what curator James Clifton calls ‘ego-documents.’”

“In Defense of Specialization,” Chad Wellmon (paywalled)
“To judge from the jeremiads of some of academe’s elite scolds, the specialized scholar is an anachronism. Disciplinarity is dead. Or it should be.”

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Information and Its Discontents: The Spring Issue of The Hedgehog Review Appears

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Empty boat afloat on a binary ocean, illustration by Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock, Inc.

In 1814, the scientist Pierre-Simon Laplace came up with a thought experiment: Could “an intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion,” be able to know all things, past, present, and future? He concluded in the affirmative, and what became known as Laplace’s “demon” served as a popular illustration of scientific determinism: Given Newton’s laws of motion, knowledge of the future was limited only by a lack of information.

To anyone paying attention to the news these days, Laplace’s “demon” might sound like an early intimation of the modern-day surveillance state. Today, the Target chain can determine with near-precision whether a customer is pregnant by how much unscented lotion she purchases; Facebook has a good idea of not only when you’re about to date someone but also when you’re about to break up—and even how likely the breakup is in the first place. The digital demon may not know all things, but it probably knows too much for your comfort.

Focusing on the theme of  “Too Much Information,”  the spring issue of The Hedgehog Review devotes five essays to a close examination of the unprecedented and ever-increasing availability, use, and abuse of information relating to our public and private lives. Some of this information we disclose intentionally, some we do not, but all of it can be used, in the words of THR editor Jay Tolson, to  “shape ourselves and our culture in ways that are less than benign.”

As always, we release online and in full selected content from various parts of the issue:

Wonder what else you’ll find if you subscribe? Among other things: Ned O’Gorman on the rise of a politics without politics in modern public life, Adam Adatto Sandel on the prejudice against prejudice, Siva Vaidhyanathan on the rise of the Cryptopticon, and Eugene McCarraher on an “impressive if not entirely convincing” case for narcissism.

Subscribe today and let the online content tide you over until your copy arrives in the mail.

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The Hedgehog’s Array: February 13, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“AA Envy,” Helen Andrews
“Why this special treatment for twelve-step programs? Because all the other moral languages in which modern Americans are fluent, the languages that sound so inspiring and correct when talking about politics, turn useless in the face of addiction.”

“One Wine, Two Wine, Red Wine, Blue Wine,” Damion Searls
“The most well-known color-translation problem is Homer’s ‘wine-dark sea’—the sea rarely being, of course, what we would call the color of wine of any color.”

“A Place of Pasts,” Joseph Mitchell
“In the fall of 1968, without at first realizing what was happening to me, I began living in the past. These days, when I reflect on this and add up the years that have gone by, I can hardly believe it: I have been living in the past for over twenty years—living mostly in the past, I should say, or living in the past as much as possible.”

“Iammmmyookkraaanian,” Peter Pomerantsev
“After decades in Moscow with its aestheticised cynicism and London with its apolitical resignation, Kiev’s uprush of utopias was refreshing, and occasionally disturbing. Soon I found myself sitting in cafés scribbling my own pet utopia: Ukraine as a Russia 2.0.”

“A Clever Collection,” Matthew Walther
“We hit astonished, indeed open-mouthed, upon the truth, namely that the teenaged Austen was already a prudent, wise, humble person trying to make sense of a world full of boorishness and stupidity.”

“Your Snitching Gadgets,” Jacob Silverman
“Always-on data collection, combined with porous privacy policies and insecure devices, are changing our expectations for security and privacy. What matters now is not just what our devices and apps collect but also why, for whom, when, and how.”

“Why Max Weber Matters,” Duncan Kelly
“For those who hold fixed ideas about Weber the political animal, Ghosh’s claims will be hard reading. But part of the problem with seeing him as a straightforward nationalist was that even incandescent rage about national shame was allied to a profound understanding of geopolitics and political responsibility.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Cézanne and the Modern,” Leann Davis Alspaugh
“Henry Pearlman liked to say that every time he saw his art collection, it gave him a lift. We should all be so lucky.”

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