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.

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 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.

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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