Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: The First Two Chapters

Last week, Jonathan Franzen appeared on the cov­er of TIME mag­a­zine – the first time in a decade that a liv­ing nov­el­ist has graced the cov­er page. Authors only get there if they’re flirt­ing with great­ness (TIME’s piece is called “Jonathan Franzen: Great Amer­i­can Nov­el­ist”) and if they have a new nov­el com­ing out. Free­dom hits the book­stores next Tues­day, but you can get start­ed with the first two chap­ters right now. Good Neigh­bors and Agree­able both appear on The New York­er mag­a­zine web site.

All the Great Operas in 10 Minutes

You’ve per­haps seen the “Nine Minute Sopra­nos” (all 6 sea­sons summed up in 9 min­utes) or “The Wire Wrap Up” (5 sea­sons of The Wire recapped in five short min­utes). Now you get 11 Great Operas in 10 Min­utes along with their plot lines that rival the dark twists and turns of any HBO series. (Or maybe it’s the oth­er way around.) La travi­a­ta, Car­men, Don Gio­van­ni, Aida – they’re all cov­ered here.

Karen Armstrong Weighs In on the Ground Zero Mosque Debate

Amer­i­ca, as a nation, has some big fish to fry these days. But the ener­gy is being focused right now on a sym­bol­ic ques­tion. Can the nation tol­er­ate the build­ing of an Islam­ic cul­tur­al cen­ter and mosque near Ground Zero almost a decade after the 9/11 attacks? Or, more to the point, can Amer­i­ca uphold one of its core val­ues – reli­gious tol­er­ance? The debate has smol­dered on through­out the sum­mer, and we’ve seen the hard right and left con­demn the Cor­do­ba Ini­tia­tive and Islam more gen­er­al­ly. On the right, Newt Gin­grich has talked about  how we’re fac­ing an “Islamist cul­tur­al-polit­i­cal offen­sive designed to under­mine and destroy our civ­i­liza­tion.” And built into his think­ing is the assump­tion that when Chris­tians com­mit abhor­rent crimes, it’s a per­ver­sion of the reli­gion, not an indict­ment of its essence. But the same char­i­ty  does­n’t get extend­ed to the Islam­ic minor­i­ty faith in the coun­try. Mean­while, Sam Har­ris on the secular/atheist left gets in bed with Gin­grich when he says “there is much that is objectionable—and, frankly, terrifying—about the reli­gion of Islam and about the state of dis­course among Mus­lims liv­ing in the West.” If it mat­ters, the main dif­fer­ence between Har­ris and Gin­grich is Har­ris’ con­sis­ten­cy, which boils down to a con­sis­tent con­tempt for reli­gion. (Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life takes a much clos­er look at Har­ris’ argu­ments here).

All of this makes me won­der: What would some­one who actu­al­ly knows some­thing about Islam say about the whole affair? So here you have it. Karen Arm­strong, one of the most well known thinkers in the field of com­par­a­tive reli­gion, a for­mer Catholic nun, and the author most recent­ly of The Case for God, offer­ing her thoughts on the mat­ter above.

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Jane Austen’s Fight Club

Com­ing to a the­atre near you. If only …

P.S. You can down­load Jane Austen’s nov­els for free. Find them in our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books, which Makeuseof.com was kind enough to fea­ture ear­li­er today.

via Zadi Diaz

Still Life: A Short Film about Tony Judt


Tony Judt, one of our lead­ing pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als, died ear­li­er this month of ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s Dis­ease. Judt was no stranger to con­tro­ver­sy, and he had his crit­ics. But he lived out his final years in a way that few could feel divid­ed about. He kept writ­ing and pub­lish­ing. The pace picked up instead of slow­ing down. And he stayed in the pub­lic light, when most would have backed away from it. The video above – a short trib­ute to his life – isn’t entire­ly fun to watch. I’ll admit that. But it says some­thing impor­tant about how we live, endure ill­ness, and die with our human­i­ty intact. Need­less to say, this makes the video even­tu­al­ly 100% rel­e­vant to you. Hence why we’re post­ing. Thanks Mike for anoth­er great clip.

PS You can find Tony Judt’s recent writ­ings in The New York Review of Books here. I would also encour­age you to read Tim­o­thy Gar­ton Ash’s intel­lec­tu­al obit of Judt here.

Christopher Walken Reads Lady Gaga

Last week, we caught Christo­pher Walken, the Oscar win­ning actor, host­ing an NYC talk radio show for a day. This week, we have him “cov­er­ing” Lady Gaga’s “Pok­er Face” in a fun­ny short minute. The Walken read­ing orig­i­nal­ly aired last year on the BBC’s Fri­day Night with Jonathan Ross. The clip comes to us via Jason Kot­tke.

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Where to Find Free Textbooks

Life­hack­er just ran a new fea­ture today “Five Best Places to Buy Cheap Text­books.” Cheap is good, no doubt. But free is even bet­ter. So we fig­ured why not take the wraps off of a new Open Cul­ture col­lec­tion: 100+ Free Text­books: A Meta Col­lec­tion.

This new and grow­ing col­lec­tion pulls togeth­er an assort­ment of free text­books avail­able online. The list is most­ly slant­ed toward sci­ence and math (that’s what is out there), and the texts are almost entire­ly writ­ten by col­lege pro­fes­sors or qual­i­fied high school teach­ers. In some instances, these texts were orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in book for­mat, and now the authors have decid­ed to pub­lish them online. In oth­er cas­es, authors join­ing the “open text­book” move­ment (see Flat World Knowl­edge, CK-12Cur­ri­ki, etc.) have pub­lished their works for the first time in elec­tron­ic for­mat, often under a Cre­ative Com­mons license. We will update the list con­tin­u­al­ly. But if you see good texts miss­ing, please feel free to ping us. You can access 100+ Free Text­books: A Meta Col­lec­tion here, and please for­ward the link to any young stu­dents or life­long learn­ers who might ben­e­fit…

P.S. This col­lec­tion will always appear in the top nav­i­ga­tion of the web site. Just look for “Text­books” in the top nav bar.

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3 Year Old Recites Poem, “Litany,” by Billy Collins

Three year olds can wreak hav­oc on a home, and the pre­co­cious ones can recite poet­ry too. Here we have a tod­dler recit­ing Bil­ly Collins’ poem “Litany” (find text here) and also some lines from Lord Alfred Ten­nyson (while dressed as Super­man, of course). It’s good fun, right up there with actor Bill Mur­ray read­ing Collins poet­ry at a con­struc­tion site in New York City…

via Neatora­ma

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.