In an excerpt from her review in Book Post, Sarah Chayes follows Wade Davis as he meanders down the history of Colombia’s Magdalena River.

When Pope Francis elevated the celebration of St. Mary Magdalene to one of only about twenty feast days in the Catholic calendar, the Vatican recalled that it was Magdalene who “so loved Christ” that she stood watch as he was nailed to the Cross, remained by his tomb that first awful night — alone among all his followers — and was first witness to the Resurrection. …

In an excerpt from her review for Book Post, Sarah Chayes shares what troubled her about Amaryllis Fox’s new memoir.

Enthralled though I was, Life Undercover left me ill at ease.

The first problem is truth. As other former operatives have noted, the climactic scene, featuring Fox alone with al-Qaeda intermediaries, persuading them not to detonate a dirty bomb, is not even plausible. In Pakistan at the time, the CIA worked in concert with the effective and devious Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). About the only operation conducted without ISI knowledge was the one that led to the killing of Usama…

During the late fall of 1987, in the years in which the new Argentine democracy was being reshaped after a decade of brutal right-wing dictatorships, the tomb of ex-President Juan Domingo Perón — the husband of Evita — was desecrated. His hands, which had modeled the country’s postwar political architecture — half of Argentines think he was a hero, the other half a disgrace — were cut off and taken away by a radical group of unknown political affiliation. In order to understand why Argentinian novelist Roque Larraquy wrote his recent novel Comemadre, a mutilated novel about the art of…

Argentine writer and translator César Aira

I used to write with the sole aim of producing work of high quality: good novels, better than others, etc. The reasons for wanting to do this are psychological; in other words, they can be found somewhere in a vast and ill-defined jumble that offers something to satisfy every taste: ambition, adaptation, inferiority complex, megalomania, compensation … Good arguments could be found for each of these hypotheses, and I find them myself, in my meditations. But the only thing I know for sure is that my aim in writing was to do it well and become a good writer, which…

On April 24, 2019, at 9 AM, the owner of the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge powered up the above Rube Goldberg device, and kept it running all day and all night to deliver into readers’ waiting hands a single book: the final report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Said Harvard Book Store owner Linda Seamonson, holding a copy out for a reporter, “it’s still warm.” The report had been made available for free that morning on the Justice Department web site: you could read it easily on a laptop or, a bit more uncomfortably, a mobile device; you could…

I know how impossibly brave it is to run a bookstore in this rudderless, readerless age. I applaud people for persisting with it. Booksellers are a conscience-poking rebuke of philistinism. And yet, and yet … to my shame, I hardly ever enter a bookstore unless somebody else drags me in.

Bookstore stress triggers:

☙ Self-hatred, about my own ignorance of writer’s names and whole divisions of human thought: theosophy, astronomy, archery, accounting, Antarctica, animal husbandry, systems analysis, sequins, Manga, orchids, forensics, and party-planning.

☙ Embarrassment, about how slowly I read and therefore how curtailed my reading has been over my…

Listen to that. That’s Juárez you hear. That is where we are once a month on Saturdays. Riding along la Avenida de las Américas with that crazed accordion erupting from the radios all around. Paleteros taking their smoke break on the curb. There’s the old cop who watches over our parked station wagon for a modest ten-dollar mordida from my dad. He’s got a gold tooth in his smile and duct tape around the handle of his gun. His armpits wet and ripe with his morning smell but it’s all a morning smell here. There’s the Centro Pronaf where we…

Aspens, which can regenerate from root sprouts, replacing a forest of mixed conifers after a 2003 fire. Photo by Charlie McDonald for the USDA Forest Service

The novel concerns itself with our human drama — it always has. The intrigues, the misunderstandings, the passions and illusions. The novel busies itself with the horrors and duplicities of family life, relationships (surely one of the greatest of soul-sucking words …), war (usually its ghastly aftermath), babies (the novel depends rather over-much on babies and their impending arrival), and crime, the more gruesome and diabolical the better. The immigrant tale is a staple of the novel, as is the generational saga. …

The essayist Meghan O’Gieblyn grew up outside of Detroit. She reflects on how the Midwest became her subject even as she tried to leave it behind.

One criticism of the personal essay — an old one, though it’s been revived with special fervor in recent years — is its tendency toward confession. To some extent, this is simply a matter of lineage. The origins of what we today call “personal writing” can be traced back to Augustine, so it’s not coincidental that the genre so frequently reverts to the tenor of the Christian ritual: the divulging of transgressions, the preening…

Florida is having a moment: the twenty-first century. Entering the last century as the least populated southern state, Florida’s debutante ball was not until Bush v. Gore. Now, the behemoth state is the swirling id of climate change and the Rorschach blot of consumer capitalism. A bellwether. A tragedy and farce. A multilingual alternative universe. Trump’s Paradiso. The catchment for all the cultural detritus, and drugs, meant for the drain. Floridians are not just beguiling, or bemusing, the nation, but also finally shoehorning the alligator into our national literature, dramatizing what Florida is for the US and the world. For…

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