A scene in the “new hit series” The Killing seemed déjà-vu familiar, until I realized it’s a standard moment in crime dramas. The victim’s parents are in the police station to answer some questions, and they accidentally come across the crime scene photos. The warm body of the daughter they knew and loved has become the cold corpse the police treat casually. Maybe they overhear a callous gallows-humor joke made by a detective. Their daughter’s dismembered body is cut into even smaller pieces by the police camera as it zooms in on her bound wrists, her broken nails left bloody stumps from trying to claw her way out of captivity, the petechial hemorrhage pinking the white of her eyes. The viewer is not allowed the same reaction as the parents. What they see as defilement, we see as aesthetics. When the body of the young girl is discovered, her body… More…

In the week it takes me to read five different books on how to be a writer, approximately 30 books are delivered to my Berlin apartment. This is a decline from the 15 to 30 that used to be delivered every day, and I’m grateful for the barrier of costly international postage that keeps these numbers down. I will immediately discard about three-quarters of the books. Some of these, I would say maybe eight percent of the books I receive, are self-published. Under their bios the writers dutifully list the writing programs they attended. Now they have landed here, with a clip-art book cover, a cheap binding, and a $12 stamp to send it to a book critic who doesn’t even really review fiction anymore. I feel bad for these writers, and the years of effort and money they spent on a writing education, and all of that boundless optimism… More…

Saint Teresa of Avila is best known in her ecstatic state, as captured in marble by the sculptor Gian Bernini — her arched back, her body caught in an orgasmic wave, the moan from her parted lips almost audible. She felt the presence of God as an erotic power, the connection between the divine and the mortal as an energy unlike any other. This chaste 16th-century nun wrote about her soul being penetrated by the arrow of the angel, “so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish it to cease, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God.”

Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity by Rebecca Goldstein. 304 pages. Schocken. $22. Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche by James Miller. 432 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $28. How… More…

It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen this woman before. Anyone with the slightest introduction to Renaissance art knows Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Venus. With her spiraled hair, her sly look, her curved belly and hips, she is, in many ways, an iconic representation of the goddess of love and beauty.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. 240 pages. Plume. $15. Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-Wives of Cezanne, Money, and Rodin by Ruth Butler. 376 pages. Yale University Press. $35. Lucas Cranach the Elder: Painting Materials, Techniques and Workshop Practice by Gunnar Heydenreich. 462 pages. Amsterdam University Press. $69.50. The Real Real Thing: The Model in the Mirror of Art by Wendy Steiner. 232 pages. University of Chicago Press. $32.50.

 

But there was something about this visit to see the Cranach paintings, when… More…

What makes up the history of a city? Is it the linear timeline — the who invaded when; the who led which group into victory or destruction; the list of intellectuals, emperors, madmen, musicians, scientists, orators who came through and left their mark? Maybe it’s the physical landscape, the rivers that create trade and wealth, the mountains that provide security and shelter. And what does that history add up to — if you learn enough about a city’s history, will you finally understand what makes the city what it is, will you capture its essence on the page?

Mumbai Fables by Gyan Prakash. 424 pages. Princeton University Press. $29.95. Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin by Alexandra Richie. 1,168 pages. Basic Books. George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter. 528 pages. Knopf…. More…

Back in June, when the sun was rising at 4:30 a.m. and setting after I went to sleep, I was having a little solstice dinner. It didn’t really feel like the summer solstice, even with the sun trying to rile you from bed at ungodly hours. Summer in Berlin is temperate and wet. There’s only one week or so that blazes through and leaves you gasping on your kitchen tile floor, or — like one pregnant woman in Germany — losing your shit on the un-air conditioned public train, taking off your shoe, and using it to pound through the window. But that never happens until mid-July. In June, you’re still wearing your leather jacket and you are able to do things like make a roast for the solstice and drink a Spanish red. And because there the sun feels vague rather than relentlessly mutating your skin cells into pre-cancerous… More…

So 271 “new” Picassos have been discovered. They were living with a former electrician of Picasso’s, who claimed that, near the end of his life, the artist gave the works to him as gifts and as payment. Picasso’s heirs, of course, are suing and charging the man with theft.

Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow. 256 pages. Vendome Press. $40. The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal. 368 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $26.

Two hundred seventy-one new works by Pablo Picasso, ranging from 1900 to 1932. New works from his blue period, a new portrait of his first wife, Olga. You can hear the auction houses warming up their gavels, can’t you? Scholars lining up… More…

Something horrible happened. Horrible things happen all the time to everyone, but it’s still a shock how one phone call can obliterate your future and slam you into a dreadful present tense. I was taken in, I was cared for, and somehow I lost time — days. Vaguely I can recall moments where I wandered into my friend’s kitchen to make a cup of tea, only to find myself 20 minutes later in a puddle on her floor. Or I would wake up mid-panic attack, not quite sure where or when I was.

Life Is Meals by James and Kay Salter. 464 pages. Knopf. $22.50.

In those first few days, the only times I was grounded and sure of my surroundings were those moments when I had food as an anchor. Without it, I flew around… More…

These are things I know about people I have never met:

Islands of Privacy by Christena Nippert-Eng. 360 pages. University of Chicago Press. $22.50.

I know a former writer for Jezebel accidentally left a tampon in for several days, and I know what the discharge looked like when she finally got it out.

I know what a memoirist and blogger ate today, and also what her cat looks like sitting up, lying down, chasing a bug, and hiding under the bed.

I know the sexual proclivities and preferences of a work colleague’s wife, because her husband announced them at a cocktail party. I was not at the party, but a friend called me mid-way through to relay the information.

I know about random people’s drug habits, eating disorders, cutting, menstrual cycles, and fetishes, because they wrote… More…

A friend was relaying his fears for his niece, a 16-year-old trapped in the Slough of Despond. He wasn’t sure how to reassure her. I don’t really remember the problem or situation — with 16-year-old girls, it could be just about anything. When I asked what he eventually ended up telling her, he shrugged and told me, “I just said it gets better.”

On Balance by Adam Phillips. 336 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $26.

This was months before the web campaign of the same name. Started by Dan Savage after a string of news reports about teen suicides, gay men and women posted personal videos on YouTube; its goal is to reassure terrified teens with stories of how survival ultimately transforms into a flourishing life. Celebrities and non-celebrities discussed their own despair and isolation, and… More…