Friday, January 23, 2009

Suggested reading

"Suggested reading" will be an occasional series where I offer links to some of my favorite recent articles, blog posts, reviews, and the like:

1. Hester Santlow was one of the most famous dancers and actresses in Handel's London. She was painted in costume as Harlequin by John Ellys, had affairs with members of the aristocracy, had a duel fought for her honor in Hyde Park, and her descendants include Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson. Amazingly, some of her dances were notated at the time and are now being recreated. In a review of Moira Goff's The Incomparable Hester Santlow: A Dancer-Actress on the Georgian Stage (Ashgate, 2007), New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay writes about her amazing life both onstage and off:

"Her enduring appeal comes across in a 1725 letter by James Thomson, whose response to her is distinctly erotic: 'Mrs. Booth acts some things very well and particularly Ophelia’s madness in "Hamlet" inimitably, but then she dances so deliciously, has such melting lascivious motions, airs and postures as indeed according to what you suspect almost throw the material part of me into action too.'"

2. Zadie Smith in the New Yorker on comedy and mourning her father's death, "Dead Man Laughing":

"Maybe it was the fortuitous meeting of my mournful mood and his morbid material, but I thought [Edward Aczel's] show, 'Do I Really Have to Communicate with You?,' was one of the strangest, and finest, hours of live comedy I’d ever seen....'I think you’ll all recall,' he muttered, barely audible, 'the words of Wittgenstein, the great twentieth-century philosopher, who said, "If indeed mankind came to earth for a specific reason, it certainly wasn’t to enjoy ourselves."' A long, almost unbearable pause. 'If you could bear that in mind while I’m on, I'd certainly appreciate it.'"

3. John Lanchester in the London Review of Books on the multibillion-dollar video game industry (game and console sales in 2007 were greater than those for movies, video, or books), "Is it art?":

"A common criticism of video games made by non-gamers is that they are pointless and escapist, but a more valid observation might be that the bulk of games are nowhere near escapist enough. A persuasive recent essay by the games theorist Steven Poole made the strong argument that the majority of games offer a model of play which is oppressively close to work."

Poole's essay
, a critical examination of the standard video game paradigm, smartly invokes historian Johann Huizinga (author of Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture) and the Frankfurt School philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Poole writes, "What would videogaming look like if it rejected the machine as a model for play, if more games incorporated gratuitous moments of relaxation from their constant, accelerated striving? Or if more games did not treat us as employees but as autonomous co-creators?" Such games might appeal to those of us ignored by most current game designs, which seem to focus on violence and/or accumulation.

4. Marcia Angell, former Editor in Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, writes in the New York Review of Books on the financial ties between drug companies and the doctors who are testing and prescribing their drugs, "Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption":

"No one knows the total amount provided by drug companies to physicians, but I estimate from the annual reports of the top nine US drug companies that it comes to tens of billions of dollars a year. By such means, the pharmaceutical industry has gained enormous control over how doctors evaluate and use its own products. Its extensive ties to physicians, particularly senior faculty at prestigious medical schools, affect the results of research, the way medicine is practiced, and even the definition of what constitutes a disease."

Update 20 June 2016: A new study by UCSF shows what it takes for pharmaceutical companies to influence physicians to prescribe more expensive brand-name drugs instead of an equally effective and far less expensive generic versions: a free lunch costing between $12 and $18. See "Drug Company Lunches Have Big Payoffs," New York Times, 20 June 2016.


  1. thanks for the Zadie Smith rec. I will read it!

  2. Bookish, her article is both extremely funny and moving--I think you'll enjoy it.