What We Are Reading Today: ‘Browsings’

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Updated 17 June 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Browsings’

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Author: Michael Dirda

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Dirda compiled a year’s worth of literary essays in his 2015 book about books, aptly titled, “Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting and Living with Books.”

Written on Fridays between February 2012 and February 2013, the essays started out as 600-word columns in The American Scholar that combined the literary and personal. Soon, Dirda found that the word counts naturally ballooned, sometimes doubling and even tripling due to what he referred to as his “natural garrulousness.”

In the intro, he writes: “These are … very much personal pieces, the meandering reflections of a literary sybarite. The essays themselves vary widely in subject matter, and rarely stick closely to their stated titles.”

A longtime book columnist for The Washington Post, Dirda also writes regularly for many literary sections in publications such as the New York Review of Books. The Washingtonian Magazine once listed him as one of the 25 smartest people in the nation’s capital.

This collection of essays serves as a true celebration of American literature. Dirda explores his serendipitous discoveries and the joy of reading for its own sake. His passion goes beyond bibliophilism; the compilation is his love letter to all the books he has encountered along his journey.

The writer’s quick wit is demonstrated clearly on the page, and he comes across as that bookworm friend who can talk endlessly about books with enough passion to make you fall in love with reading again.

“I hope ‘Browsings’ as a whole will communicate some sense of a year in the life of an especially bookish literary journalist. I also hope that it will encourage readers to seek out some of the many titles I mention or discuss,” Dirda writes.

The books he examines are diverse, and he provides readers with insights that jump off the page. The essays are short enough, but he requests that one read only a few at a time.

“Allow me to make two small recommendations: First, don’t read more than two or three of the pieces at one sitting. Space them out. That way ‘Browsings’ will take longer to get through and you’ll enjoy each essay more. Trust me on this.

“Second, consider reading the columns in the order they appear. Each is meant to stand on its own, but I did aim for a pleasing variety in my choice of topics, as well as a seasonal arc to the series as a whole.”

 


Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 

Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 
Updated 24 July 2024
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Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 

Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 

LONDON: “Shadow of Erdtree” is the highly anticipated expansion for the critically acclaimed game, “Elden Ring.” The original game, released in 2022, swept numerous awards upon release and captivated players with its intricate world, challenging gameplay, and immersive lore. Within a week of its release, the expansion has seen over 5 million players dive into its dark world, a testament to the game’s allure and the reputation of its creator, Hidetaka Miyazaki. Miyazaki, also the president of FromSoftware since 2014, cemented his and the developer’s legacy with the release of “Dark Souls” in 2011, a game that defined a genre and set a new standard for difficulty and storytelling. 

Jumping into “Shadow of Erdtree” is no small feat. Even for seasoned players with over 130 hours invested, accessing the new content requires overcoming significant challenges, including defeating an optional boss to unlock the entrance to the “Land of Shadow.” This expansion continues the trend of demanding gameplay, rewarding perseverance with new content that expands the lore and challenges of “Elden Ring.”

The plot of “Shadow of Erdtree” continues the enigmatic and complex narrative established in the base game. Players find themselves amid the turmoil of demi-gods battling for fragments of the once all-powerful Elden Ring. Into this chaos steps a “tarnished,” an outcast whose journey is intertwined with the mysterious figure of Miquella the Kind. The story remains cryptic and layered, inviting players to piece together its many facets through exploration and discovery.

Fundamentally, “Shadow of Erdtree” offers more of the same elements that made “Elden Ring” a success. The expansion preserves the dark, epic, and dangerous atmosphere of The Lands Between. New areas and the addition of Scadutree fragments provide fresh content while maintaining the game’s signature aesthetic. Enemies are as unforgiving as ever, ensuring that players will face numerous deaths as they navigate the perilous landscape.

The sense of reward in “Shadow of Erdtree” is immense. The expansion enriches the game with a plethora of new items, crafting options, flasks, clothes, weapons, magic, key items, and Ashes of War. These additions enhance the depth of gameplay, offering new strategies and customization options for players to explore.

For those who love delving into the intricate lore and challenging gameplay of “Elden Ring,” “Shadow of Erdtree” is a must-play. It expands on the original game’s strengths, delivering a compelling and demanding experience that will test even the most seasoned players. Supporting wikis and community resources will undoubtedly be invaluable as players navigate the expansion’s new content and uncover its many secrets.


What We Are Reading Today: Divergent Democracy

What We Are Reading Today: Divergent Democracy
Updated 23 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: Divergent Democracy

What We Are Reading Today: Divergent Democracy

Author: Katherine Krimmel

Democratic and Republican party platforms display clear differences on important issues. They reflect a programmatic party system in which policy positions serve as a key basis of electoral competition.

In “Divergent Democracy,” Katherine Krimmel examines this transformation of the American party system, using innovative machine learning techniques to develop and present the first measure of party differentiation on issues since Democrats and Republicans began competing with each other in 1856.


REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel

REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel
Updated 24 July 2024
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REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel

REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel

JEDDAH: Getting lost in a good story is an occupational hazard and a crime in “The Book Censor’s Library,” a dystopian political satire with elements of magic realism. The story follows an unnamed narrator whose life unravels after he reluctantly begins working for an all-powerful government.

With a spellbinding and smooth translation from Arabic by Ranya Abdelrahman and Sawad Hussain, Kuwaiti literary icon Bouthayna Al-Essa’s novel warns against the loss of originality and personal freedoms in its depiction of the transformation of a man into a reader and his inevitable fall down the rabbit hole of books and imagination.

Set in the near future “in a place that would be pointless to name, since it resembles every other place,” the novel follows the book censor in the New World as he combs through manuscripts, looking for any offending word or idea that would render a book unfit to publish.He is a “guardian of surfaces,” and his task is to ensure that books that carry depth and ideas should be identified and removed from the shelves because “one curious person who picked up a volume and read a few lines could poison the entire society.”

In a swift turn of events, the protagonist himself is swept away by classics like “Zorba the Greek,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “1984,” his dreams and waking hours engulfed in the siren song of good storytelling.

As the world around him slowly regains color, he falls into the throes of an existential crisis, torn between doing his duty as a simple cog in the machine and the secret society of “Cancers” attempting to restore books to their former glory and preserve the collective memory of humanity.

Drawing from the power of timeless stories, El-Essa’s Orwellian tale delves into the terrifying heart of darkness to remind us that “cancer cells are the only ones that thrive in a dying body.”


What We Are Reading Today: Europe’s Sea Mammals

What We Are Reading Today: Europe’s Sea Mammals
Updated 22 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: Europe’s Sea Mammals

What We Are Reading Today: Europe’s Sea Mammals

Authors: Robert Still, Hugh Harrop, Luis Dias, & Tim Stenton

This cutting-edge photographic identification guide to Europe’s sea mammals—the only such guide of its kind—covers the 39 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises and 9 species of seals found in the region, which spans the eastern Atlantic from Iceland to Macaronesia, and the Mediterranean, Caspian and Baltic seas.

Written and illustrated by a team of professional tour guides with extensive experience presenting the region’s sea mammals, the guide features more than 180 color photographs, maps and graphics.


What We Are Reading Today: Virtual You

What We Are Reading Today: Virtual You
Updated 21 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: Virtual You

What We Are Reading Today: Virtual You

Authors: Peter Coveney & Roger Highfield

In this deeply illuminating book, Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield reveal what it will take to build a virtual, functional copy of a person in five steps. 

Along the way, they take you on a fantastic voyage through the complexity of the human body, describing the latest scientific and technological advances—from multiscale modelingto extraordinary new forms of computing—that will make “virtual you” a reality, while also considering the ethical questions inherent to realizing truly predictive medicine.