I am not interested in writing about the deafening kind of noise that causes irreversible damage to the human ear. Nor in the wide range of sounds that you can hear outdoors, like the roar of surf, birdsong, or wind. What interests me far more is that elusive category in-between. Ranked highest among the sounds I find most unpleasant are: compulsive and demonstrative finger-cracking in libraries, and the high-pitched squeal of feedback from PA systems. Others can be driven insane by a dripping faucet, or even a ticking alarm clock, elevator music or in-store Muzak — noise that we have to hear whether we want to or not. My neighbor owns an admittedly quite attractive hunting dog that is genetically hard-wired to bark incessantly, or so she tells me. Why she has to keep this dog in the middle of a city is beyond me, but that’s beside the point here.

If you think you fall into the category of noise-sensitive people, you are in good company. It is known, for example, that Proust’s smoke-filled study, which doubled up as a bedroom, was completely soundproofed with cork. Hypersensitivity to noise doesn’t automatically qualify you to write masterpieces. But the renowned Frenchman knew how to tap his remarkably acute perception to be extraordinarily, even enviably prolific. Noise, in his opinion, was a kind of assassination of the senses. However, his labored breathing was beyond his control. Luckily, it was so loud that it not only drowned out the sound of his quill, but also the construction work being carried out on a bathroom a story above him.
More… “The Art of Noises”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

In April, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni sat down with Paula Marantz Cohen, dean of the Pennoni Honors College, to discuss, among other things, higher education and his most recent book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.

P: I’d like to discuss your life and career a bit before discussing your latest book. You went to journalism school at Columbia, then you worked at the New York Post, then at the Detroit Free Press before coming to the NYT, and that was in 1995. Now what I think is interesting is that seems to me sort of the traditional trajectory for getting into journalism at the highest level at the time.

B: Yes and no. The idea of trading up newspapers or trading up venues is traditional. I don’t think starting out at a tabloid and ending at the NYT, that’s not exactly traditional.

P: Do you think that trading up (the tabloid aside) is totally gone now? What does one do, in your opinion, now to get a career in journalism?
More… ““There is No One Path””

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

When Günter Grass died earlier this year, it brought back memories of 1991, my first year in New York City. I sometimes think of this period in New York as its last dangerous days, when the city still had that anxious, patched-together sensibility, which is just another way of saying that once I lived in a New York City different than the New York City of today, a New York City that was romantic because I was young then. I lived that first year alone, in a single room on the upper floors of the 92nd Street Y. The 92nd Street Y was better known as a point of call for Manhattan sophisticates, who likely had little idea that, as they listened to the wisdom of celebrities in the great lecture hall, dozens of men and women were residing, like me, in tiny rented rooms on the floors above them.
More… “Being Oskar Matzerath”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at

A few years ago, the journalist Janet Malcolm interviewed the German artist Thomas Struth in Dusseldorf. She accompanied him to a nearby factory where he photographed industrial machines. Malcolm watched from a distance as Struth worked at his meticulous and time-consuming process. At one point in this visit, Struth discussed the work and influence of Bernd and Hilla Bechers, his photography instructors at the Dusseldorf Academy where he studied art in the 1970s. The Bechers produced a huge collection of now iconic black and white photographs of water towers, coal burners, blast furnaces and factory facades gathered from the industrial landscapes of the Rurh valley near Bernd’s childhood home. The work spans nearly three decades beginning in the late 1950s. What they produced were cool and crisp images, repetitive in composition, and nearly hypnotic when viewed together. The lighting is always overcast to avoid shadows. The distance between camera and… More…

Laura Silver is a woman on a mission. When her favorite knish bakery, Mrs. Stahl’s, closed, she embarked on a round-the-world quest for the origins and modern-day manifestations of the knish that would take her from Brighton Beach to Jersey and across three continents. Her forthcoming book about her journey, Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food, will be available from Brandeis University Press on May 6, 2014. In this excerpt, we meet, and lose, Mrs. Stahl’s and Fritzie Silver, the author’s grandmother.

The knish situation in Brooklyn is not what it once was. I can say that because I’m third-generation Brooklyn, once removed. Queens, where I was born, had knishes, too, tons of them. I took them for granted, then they were gone.

More than latkes, matzoh, or the apple-and-walnut charoset that crowned the seder plate, knishes were my family’s religion. For knishes, we went on… More…

One of the first photographs you encounter in this show is Berenice Abbott’s “Zito’s Bakery, 259 Bleecker Street” (1937). Abbott was working on a large project entitled “Changing New York” for the Federal Arts Project; it would ultimately produce more than 300 photographs of building and streetscapes, captured at a moment when the city was imagining its future more than preserving its past. Abbott was also becoming increasingly involved in the small but dedicated group of socially and political active photographers known as the Photo League, which had just formed a year earlier.

“Zito’s Bakery, 259 Bleecker Street” presents more than a simple visual record of the bakery; its sideway perspective offers an encounter with the storefront. The window is heaped with loaves of bread, arranged and layered with a certain precision. On the sidewalk just below the window, wicker baskets sit stacked with a casual concern, spreading beyond the… More…

Post offices must die. Nothing says world of yesteryear like a post office. Post offices remind us of the heavy and stupid material world that the 21st century is trying so earnestly to shed. Luckily, the post office will soon be dead. Last summer the United States Postal Service announced it would close more than 3,300 post offices. That’s almost 10 percent of the entire postal network. Unfortunately, the Service recently backtracked in a report, stating that this number had shrunk to a mere 162 post offices. They say the number may go back up again, they’ll have to see. I say this shilly-shallying is not a serious commitment to killing our post offices.

As they wheeze and linger, post offices are only deteriorating. Take my own local post office in Brooklyn, which is the worst post office in America. On an online review page, one commenter wished he could… More…


Philip the Second is an afterthought. That’s what a college professor once said. We were reading Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. The professor was pointing out the significance of the book’s title. Philip II comes at the end, and he’s really just the name for an Age, an Age defined by The Mediterranean and The Mediterranean World. The beginning of the book is mostly about geography, weather, seasonal migrations of various kinds of animals. Braudel was of the Annales School, a group of historians for whom history ought to be told in the little stories, the ground level (literally), the details of life as it is experienced by the mostly unnamed creatures who toil for their time and then pass away.

Wandering through the New York State… More…

The populists are up in arms today about Wall Street moguls awarding themselves huge bonuses, but a little international economic collapse has never really stopped America’s super-rich from living it up. Take the Great Depression. Things were getting pretty rough for the masses: New York’s Central Park had become a shantytown known as “forgotten man’s gulch” — a haunted place to be, especially in the depths of winter. But the city’s super-rich, their wealth largely insulated from the crisis, valiantly rose above the tide of misery to celebrate ever-more incandescent and insensitive parties.

The keynote Manhattan event was the so-called “Fête Moderne,” a fancy dress ball hosted by the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects on January 26, 1931. As America’s unemployed froze on late-night food… More…

Elegant parties were a dime a dozen in Gilded Age New York. If you were in the right social set, you could attend an Europhile black-tie event on Fifth Avenue any day of the week, drowning yourself in French wine and beluga caviar. But not just anyone could get an invitation to a quintessentially American experience — a luxury dinner while buffalo hunting on the Western frontier. After the Civil War, a customized journey to the Great Plains was an envied excursion for the fashionable man-about-town. Lacking the seamless organization of a modern Abercrombie & Kent safari, this sort of high-end wilderness party was not for the faint of heart or the poor of pocket: You had to combine a long journey on the new Pacific railway line with an extended horseback ride into the prairies led by experienced Western guides, taking your chances with horseback accidents and… More…