The Sunday Post for December 17, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

The Case Against Reading Everything

It’s easy to win an argument if you’re the only one in it — a privilege I’m claiming, I guess, just as much as Jason Guriel does in this essay urging that we read with passion, and only what we’re passionate about.

I’m all in favor of diving for the bottom with a favorite author. But for god’s sake yes read widely too. Read with intention, and then with abandon. Read what delights you, then read what unsettles, what angers. Read what bores you — what the hell, for the discipline if nothing else. Don’t leave it to someone else to map the vast and beautiful wilderness of ideas on your behalf. That way lies, if not madness, at the very least Brietbart News.

The call to “read widely” is a failure to make judgments. It disperses our attention across an ever-increasing black hole of mostly undeserving books. Whatever else you do, you should not be reading the many, many new releases of middling poetry and fiction that will be vying for your attention over the next year or so out of some obligation to submit your ear to a variety of voices. Leave that to the editors of Canada’s few newspaper book sections, which often resemble arm’s-length marketing departments for publishers. Leave that to the dubious figure of the “arts journalist.”
On Not Going Home

This is the time of year when many of us do, or try to. For fellow wanderers who will soon walk off of a plane and into a once-familiar landscape, an uncanny valley of memory and emotion, here’s a gorgeous piece by James Wood about exile, homesickness, and the lasting contrail of early choices.

When I left this country 18 years ago, I didn’t know how strangely departure would obliterate return: how could I have done? It’s one of time’s lessons, and can only be learned temporally. What is peculiar, even a little bitter, about living for so many years away from the country of my birth, is the slow revelation that I made a large choice a long time ago that did not resemble a large choice at the time; that it has taken years for me to see this; and that this process of retrospective comprehension in fact constitutes a life — is indeed how life is lived. Freud has a wonderful word, ‘afterwardness’, which I need to borrow, even at the cost of kidnapping it from its very different context. To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: it is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right.
What I Learned While Staring at Neil Young’s Flannel Shirts

Amanda Petrusich writes briefly and charmingly about exploring a collection of Neil Young’s possessions intended for auction.

The narratives offered by objects are usually faulty — no one has ever said that used microphone preamplifiers are a window to the soul — but these pieces can nonetheless feel intimate and revelatory as we behold them, as if there were ghosts to be coaxed from these machines. Besides, actually knowing (and being known to) another consciousness can be exhausting. Who among us has not wanted to give up and say, “Christ, just look at my paperbacks”? Neil Young never unwrapped his VHS copy of “Mastering the Theremin.” Sometimes, we all bite off more than we can chew.
Spies, Dossiers, and the Insane Lengths Restaurants Go to Track and Influence Food Critics

This is so awful and yet so delightful. Jessica Sidman gives us an inside look at how top-flight restaurants engineer a perfect dining experience for restaurant reviewers, gaming the system to achieve the highest possible grade. While the press at large struggles to maintain any sort of influence in this insane political environment, some of its members have matters well in hand when it comes to a good night out.

At one point, Sietsema noticed a table to his right filled by a smartly dressed couple having the best time of their lives. Hundreds of meals later, Sietsema still remembers how the blond woman kept looking over and smiling. Le Diplomate had purposely seated regulars who it knew would be having a good time within the critic’s vicinity.

Managers were equally intentional about who took Sietsema’s order, ran his food to the table, and bussed the dishes. The best server — a charming Moroccan guy who trained other staff and was known for being extremely knowledgeable and polished — saw to Sietsema’s group and maybe one other table. Actual servers with food-running experience took over for the regular runners and bussers. Sietsema noted a lot of suits stopping by.

The bar staff was also sweating the details. When the group started with a round of cocktails, the bar manager made duplicates of each and sent out the prettier versions. The wine director personally poured a bottle of Domaine Cros Minervois Vieilles Vignes 2000.

Back in the kitchen, chefs prepared two foie gras parfaits, two steak frites — two of everything Sietsema’s table ordered. The nicer-looking plate was sent out, while at least four senior staff sampled the duplicate to reassure themselves that nothing tasted amiss.

To Unlock the Brain’s Mysteries, Purée It

Ferris Jabr’s profile of neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel is packed end to end with surprise and delight, reflecting what seem to be the hallmarks of Herculano-Houzel’s career: curiosity, irreverence for conventional wisdom, and a willingness to explore deeply messy ideas en route to knowledge.

She began experimenting with rat brains, freezing them in liquid nitrogen, then puréeing them with an immersion blender; her initial attempts sent chunks of crystallized neural tissue flying all around the lab. Next she tried pickling rodent brains in formaldehyde, which forms chemical bridges between proteins, strengthening the membranes of the nuclei. After cutting the toughened brains into little pieces, she mashed them up with an industrial-strength soap in a glass mortar and pestle. The process dissolved all biological matter except the nuclei, reducing a brain to several vials of free-floating nuclei suspended in liquid the color of unfiltered apple juice.