Hear Leo Tolstoy Read From His Last Major Work in Four Languages, 1909

In years past, we’ve brought you rare record­ings of Sig­mund Freud and Jorge Luis Borges speak­ing in Eng­lish. Today we present a remark­able series of record­ings of the great Russ­ian nov­el­ist Leo Tol­stoy read­ing a pas­sage from his book, Wise Thoughts for Every Day, in four lan­guages: Eng­lish, Ger­man, French and Russ­ian.

Wise Thoughts For Every Day was Tol­stoy’s last major work. It first appeared in 1903 as The Thoughts of Wise Men, and was revised and renamed sev­er­al times before the author’s death in 1910. Even­tu­al­ly banned by the Sovi­et regime, the book reap­peared in 1995 as a best­seller in Rus­sia. Then, in 1997, the text was trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish by Peter Sekirin and pub­lished as A Cal­en­dar of Wis­dom. The book is a col­lec­tion of pas­sages from a diverse group of thinkers, rang­ing from Laozi to Ralph Wal­do Emer­son. “I felt that I have been ele­vat­ed to great spir­i­tu­al and moral heights by com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the best and wis­est peo­ple whose books I read and whose thoughts I select­ed for my Cir­cle of Read­ing,” wrote Tol­stoy in his diary.

As an old man (watch video of him short­ly before he died) Tol­stoy reject­ed his great works of fic­tion, believ­ing that it was more impor­tant to give moral and spir­i­tu­al guid­ance to the com­mon peo­ple. “To cre­ate a book for the mass­es, for mil­lions of peo­ple,” wrote Tol­stoy, “is incom­pa­ra­bly more impor­tant and fruit­ful than to com­pose a nov­el of the kind which diverts some mem­bers of the wealthy class­es for a short time, and then is for­ev­er for­got­ten.”

Tol­stoy arranged his book for the mass­es as a cal­en­dar, with a series of read­ings for each day of the year. For exam­ple under the date, May 9, Tol­stoy selects brief pas­sages from Immanuel Kant, Solon, and the Koran. Under­neath he writes, “We can­not stop on the way to self-per­fec­tion. As soon as you notice that you have a big­ger inter­est in the out­er world than in your­self, then you should know that the world moves behind you.”

The audio record­ings above were made at the writer’s home in Yas­naya Polyana on Octo­ber 31, 1909, when he was 81 years old. He died just over a year lat­er. Tol­stoy appar­ent­ly trans­lat­ed the pas­sage him­self. The Eng­lish ver­sion sounds a bit like the King James Bible. The words are hard to make out in the record­ing, but he says:

That the object of life is self-per­fec­tion, the per­fec­tion of all immor­tal souls, that this is the only object of my life, is seen to be cor­rect by the fact alone that every oth­er object is essen­tial­ly a new object. There­fore, the ques­tion whether thou hast done what thou shoudst have done is of immense impor­tance, for the only mean­ing of thy life is in doing in this short term allowed thee, that which is desired of thee by He or That which has sent thee into life. Art thou doing the right thing?

Tol­stoy is known to have made sev­er­al voice record­ings in his life, dat­ing back to 1895 when he made two wax cylin­der record­ings for Julius Block. Russ­ian lit­er­ary schol­ar Andrew D. Kauf­man has col­lect­ed three more vin­tage record­ings (all in Russ­ian) includ­ing Tol­stoy’s les­son to peas­ant chil­dren on his estate, a read­ing of his fairy tale “The Wolf,” and an excerpt from his essay “I Can­not be Silent.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Last Days of Leo Tol­stoy Cap­tured on Video

Leo Tol­stoy Cre­ates a List of the 50+ Books That Influ­enced Him Most (1891)

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Leo Tol­stoy, and How His Great Nov­els Can Increase Your Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence

Leo Tolstoy’s 17 “Rules of Life:” Wake at 5am, Help the Poor, & Only Two Broth­el Vis­its Per Month

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“The Virtues of Coffee” Explained in 1690 Ad: The Cure for Lethargy, Scurvy, Dropsy, Gout & More

Accord­ing to many his­to­ri­ans, the Eng­lish Enlight­en­ment may nev­er have hap­pened were it not for cof­fee­hous­es, the pub­lic sphere where poets, crit­ics, philoso­phers, legal minds, and oth­er intel­lec­tu­al gad­flies reg­u­lar­ly met to chat­ter about the press­ing con­cerns of the day. And yet, writes schol­ar Bon­nie Cal­houn, “it was not for the taste of cof­fee that peo­ple flocked to these estab­lish­ments.”

Indeed, one irate pam­phle­teer defined cof­fee, which was at this time with­out cream or sug­ar and usu­al­ly watered down, as “pud­dle-water, and so ugly in colour and taste [sic].”

No syrupy, high-dol­lar Mac­chi­atos or smooth, creamy lattes kept them com­ing back. Rather than the bev­er­age, “it was the nature of the insti­tu­tion that caused its pop­u­lar­i­ty to sky­rock­et dur­ing the sev­en­teenth and eigh­teenth cen­turies.”

How, then, were pro­pri­etors to achieve eco­nom­ic growth? Like the own­er of the first Eng­lish cof­fee-shop did in 1652, Lon­don mer­chant Samuel Price deployed the time-hon­ored tac­tics of the moun­te­bank, using adver­tis­ing to make all sorts of claims for coffee’s many “virtues” in order to con­vince con­sumers to drink the stuff at home. In the 1690 broad­side above, writes Rebec­ca Onion at Slate, Price made a “litany of claims for coffee’s health ben­e­fits,” some of which “we’d rec­og­nize today and oth­ers that seem far-fetched.” In the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry are asser­tions that “cof­fee-drink­ing pop­u­la­tions didn’t get com­mon dis­eases” like kid­ney stones or “Scur­vey, Gout, Drop­sie.” Cof­fee could also, Price claimed, improve hear­ing and “swoon­ing” and was “exper­i­men­tal­ly good to pre­vent Mis­car­riage.”

Among these spu­ri­ous med­ical ben­e­fits is list­ed a gen­uine effect of coffee—its relief of “lethar­gy.” Price’s oth­er beverages—“Chocolette, and Thee or Tea”—receive much less empha­sis since they didn’t require a hard sell. No one needs to be con­vinced of the ben­e­fits of cof­fee these days—indeed many of us can’t func­tion with­out it. But as we sit in cor­po­rate chain cafes, glued to smart­phones and lap­top screens and most­ly ignor­ing each oth­er, our cof­fee­hous­es have become some­what pale imi­ta­tions of those vibrant Enlight­en­ment-era estab­lish­ments where, writes Cal­houn, “men [though rarely women] were encour­aged to engage in both ver­bal and writ­ten dis­course with regard for wit over rank.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink”: An Ad for London’s First Cafe Print­ed Cir­ca 1652

How Caf­feine Fueled the Enlight­en­ment, Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion & the Mod­ern World: An Intro­duc­tion by Michael Pol­lan

Philoso­phers Drink­ing Cof­fee: The Exces­sive Habits of Kant, Voltaire & Kierkegaard

How Human­i­ty Got Hooked on Cof­fee: An Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry

The Birth of Espres­so: The Sto­ry Behind the Cof­fee Shots That Fuel Mod­ern Life

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.“The Virtues of Cof­fee” Explained in 1690 Ad: The Cure for Lethar­gy, Scurvy, Drop­sy, Gout & More

RIP David Sanborn: See Him Play Alongside Miles Davis, Randy Newman, Sun Ra, Leonard Cohen and Others on His TV Show Night Music

It’s late in the evening of Sat­ur­day, Octo­ber 28th, 1989. You flip on the tele­vi­sion and the sax­o­phon­ist David San­born appears onscreen, instru­ment in hand, intro­duc­ing the eclec­tic blues icon Taj Mahal, who in turn declares his intent to play a num­ber with “rur­al humor” and “world pro­por­tions.” And so he does, which leads into per­for­mances by Todd Rund­gren, Nan­ci Grif­fith, the Pat Methe­ny Group, and pro­to-turntab­list Chris­t­ian Mar­clay (best known today for his 24-hour mon­tage The Clock). At the end of the show — after a vin­tage clip of Count Basie from 1956 — every­one gets back onstage for an all-togeth­er-now ren­di­tion of “Nev­er Mind the Why and Where­fore” from H.M.S. Pinafore.

This was a more or less typ­i­cal episode of Night Music, which aired on NBC from 1988 to 1990, and in that time offered “some of the strangest musi­cal line-ups ever broad­cast on net­work tele­vi­sion.” So writes E. Lit­tle at In Sheep­’s Cloth­ing Hi-Fi, who names just a few of its per­form­ers: “Son­ic Youth, Miles Davis, the Res­i­dents, Char­lie Haden and His Lib­er­a­tion Orches­tra, Kro­nos Quar­tet, Pharoah Sanders, Karen Mantler, Dia­man­da Galas, John Lurie, and Nana Vas­con­ce­los.”

One espe­cial­ly mem­o­rable broad­cast fea­tured “a 15-minute inter­view-per­for­mance by Sun Ra’s Arkestra that finds the com­pos­er-pianist-Afro­fu­tur­ist at the peak of his exper­i­men­tal pow­ers, mov­ing from piano to Yama­ha DX‑7 and back again while the Arkestra flex­es its cos­mic mus­cles.”

“San­born host­ed the emi­nent­ly hip TV show,” writes jazz jour­nal­ist Bill Milkows­ki in his remem­brance of the late sax­man, who died last week­end, “not only pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tive intro­duc­tions but also sit­ting in with the bands.” One night might see him play­ing with Al Jar­reau, Paul Simon, Mar­i­anne Faith­full, Boot­sy Collins, the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, Dizzy Gille­spie, — or indeed, some unlike­ly com­bi­na­tion of such artists. “The idea of that show was that gen­res are sec­ondary, an arti­fi­cial divi­sion of music that real­ly isn’t nec­es­sary; that musi­cians have more in com­mon than peo­ple expect,” San­born told Down­Beat in 2018. “We want­ed to rep­re­sent that by hav­ing a show where Leonard Cohen could sing a song, Son­ny Rollins could play a song, and then they could do some­thing togeth­er.”

Hav­ing want­ed to pur­sue that idea fur­ther since the show’s can­cel­la­tion — not the eas­i­est task, giv­en his ever-busy sched­ule of live per­for­mances and record­ing ses­sions across the musi­cal spec­trum — he cre­at­ed the YouTube chan­nel San­born Ses­sions a few years ago, some of whose videos have been re-uploaded in recent weeks. But much also remains to be dis­cov­ered in the archives of the orig­i­nal Night Music for broad-mind­ed music lovers under the age of about 60 — or indeed, for those over that age who nev­er tuned in back in the late eight­ies, a time peri­od that’s late­ly come in for a cul­tur­al re-eval­u­a­tion. Thanks to this YouTube playlist, you can watch more than 40 broad­casts of Night Music (which was at first titled Sun­day Night) and lis­ten like it’s 1989.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch David Bowie Per­form “Star­man” on Top of the Pops: Vot­ed the Great­est Music Per­for­mance Ever on the BBC (1972)

Chuck Berry & the Bee Gees Per­form Togeth­er in 1973: An Unex­pect­ed Video from The Mid­night Spe­cial Archive

How Amer­i­can Band­stand Changed Amer­i­can Cul­ture: Revis­it Scenes from the Icon­ic Music Show

All the Music Played on MTV’s 120 Min­utes: A 2,500-Video Youtube Playlist

When Glenn O’Brien’s TV Par­ty Brought Klaus Nomi, Blondie & Basquiat to Pub­lic Access TV (1978–82)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Playlist of the 3,300 Best Films & Documentaries on Youtube, Including Works by Hitchcock, Kubrick, Errol Morris & Other Auteurs


Once upon a time, the most con­ve­nient means of dis­cov­er­ing movies was cable tele­vi­sion. This held espe­cial­ly true for those of us who hap­pened to be ado­les­cents on a break from school, ready and will­ing morn­ing, mid­day, or night to sit through the com­mer­cial-laden likes of Corvette Sum­mer, Tran­syl­va­nia 6–5000, BMX Ban­dits, or Free­jack. Click on any of those links, and you can watch the rel­e­vant pic­ture free on Youtube; click on the link to this playlist, and you’ll find 3,000 of the best films now avail­able on that plat­form (the exact num­ber may vary depend­ing on your region of the world), as curat­ed by Learnoutloud.com.


Not all these movies belong in the cheap-thrills bin. You’ll also find the work of cel­e­brat­ed auteurs like Alfred Hitch­cock (The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps), Stan­ley Kubrick (Fear and DesireBar­ry Lyn­don), Aki­ra Kuro­sawa (Der­su Uza­laDreams), and Woody Allen (Mighty Aphrodite, Cas­san­dra’s Dream).

Then here are the doc­u­men­taries, gath­ered here on their own playlist, includ­ing Errol Mor­ris’ Gates of Heav­en and The Thin Blue Line and Wern­er Her­zog’s The Great Ecsta­sy of Wood­carv­er Stein­er and Lessons of Dark­ness. You can even find relat­ed pic­tures across gen­res: con­sid­er fol­low­ing Lost in La Man­cha, which doc­u­ments Ter­ry Gilliam’s thwart­ed efforts to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.


“Almost all of these movies are free with ads,” writes Learnoutloud.com’s David Bis­chke, though YouTube Pre­mi­um sub­scribers will be able to watch ad-free. “Like any stream­ing ser­vice, the rights to these movies change fre­quent­ly, espe­cial­ly on YouTube’s offi­cial Movies and TV chan­nel. So if you see a movie you real­ly want to watch, then check it out soon!” If you’ve been mean­ing to get into Raise the Red Lantern and To Live by direc­tor Zhang Yimou, to learn about artists and musi­cians like Jack­son Pol­lock and Glenn Gould, or to behold a young Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger’s ear­ly appear­ances in Pump­ing Iron and Her­cules in New York, now’s the time. And with Vice Ver­sa and Dream a Lit­tle Dream cur­rent­ly avail­able, why not revis­it the sub­genre of the eight­ies body-switch com­e­dy while you’re at it?

P.S. In case you’re won­der­ing about the legal­i­ty of the films, the Learnout­loud site notes:  To make the playlist, “the movies had to be legal­ly free on YouTube either from YouTube’s offi­cial Movies and TV chan­nel, from a YouTube chan­nel legal­ly dis­trib­ut­ing the movie, or from a movie on YouTube that is in the pub­lic domain.” Just thought you might want to know…

Relat­ed con­tent:

4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

Kino Lor­ber Lets You Stream 146 Films on YouTube: Til­da Swin­ton, Samuel L. Jack­son, Steve Busce­mi, Buster Keaton & More

Watch Free Cult Films by Stan­ley Kubrick, Fritz Lang, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi & More on the New Kino Cult Stream­ing Ser­vice

Watch More Than 400 Clas­sic Kore­an Films Free Online Thanks to the Kore­an Film Archive

Down­load 6600 Free Films from The Prelinger Archives and Use Them How­ev­er You Like

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Meet Fanny, the First Female Rock Band to Top the Charts: “They Were Just Colossal and Wonderful, and Nobody’s Ever Mentioned Them”

When the Bea­t­les upend­ed pop­u­lar music, thou­sands of wannabe beat groups were born all over the world, and many of them–for the first time ever, really–were all-female groups. This Amoe­ba Records arti­cle has a fair­ly exhaus­tive list of these girl bands, with names like The Daugh­ters of Eve, The Freudi­an Slips, The Mop­pets, The Bomb­shells, and The What Four. Very few got past a few sin­gles.

Instead, it would take until the 1970s for an all-female rock band to crack the charts. And no, it wasn’t the Run­aways.

Formed in Sacra­men­to by two Fil­ip­ina sis­ters, Jean and June Milling­ton, the group known as Fan­ny would be the first all-female band to release an album on a major label (their self-titled debut, on Reprise, 1970) and land four sin­gles in the Bill­board Hot 100–the title track from their 1971 album Char­i­ty Ball, a cov­er of Mar­vin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Pecu­liar” (as seen above), “I’ve Had It,” and final­ly “But­ter Boy,” their high­est chart suc­cess, at #29 in 1975. That last track was Jean Millington’s song about David Bowie, with whom she’d had a brief fling while tour­ing the UK.

Born to a Fil­ip­ina moth­er and a white Amer­i­can ser­vice­man father, the two sis­ters found refuge in music when life at their Sacra­men­to mid­dle school was intim­i­dat­ing and racist. Rock music, how­ev­er, was a way to make friends and find a sup­port sys­tem. In their teens, they start­ed a band called The Svelts, and watched as var­i­ous oth­er band mem­bers came and went due to mar­riage, or boyfriends who insist­ed they stop mak­ing music. The Milling­tons didn’t stop, and hav­ing gained reli­able band mem­bers in Addie Lee on gui­tar and Brie Brandt on drums, they fol­lowed their rhythm sec­tion to Los Ange­les, changed the band name to Wild Hon­ey, and wound up get­ting signed to Reprise after chang­ing the name one more time to Fan­ny.

Though the man who signed them, Mo Ostin, con­sid­ered them a nov­el­ty act, they were soon sent out on tour to open for groups like The Kinks and Hum­ble Pie. They also backed Bar­bra Streisand on her Bar­bra Joan Streisand album, when the singer want­ed a rock­i­er sound.

In a 1999 Rolling Stone inter­view, David Bowie still sang their prais­es: “They were one of the finest fuck­ing rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extra­or­di­nary: they wrote every­thing, they played like moth­er­fuck­ers, they were just colos­sal and won­der­ful, and nobody’s ever men­tioned them. They’re as impor­tant as any­body else who’s ever been, ever; it just was­n’t their time.”

After five albums and some per­son­nel changes (includ­ing bring­ing in Pat­ti Qua­tro, Suzi Quatro’s sis­ter), the band called it quits. Jean would go on to mar­ry Bowie’s gui­tarist Earl Slick; June came out as gay and lat­er estab­lished the Insti­tute for Musi­cal Arts, which sup­port­ed the women’s music move­ment.

Fan­ny dropped from rock con­scious­ness, more or less, and are rarely brought up when pio­neer­ing women in rock are men­tioned. June Milling­ton still bris­tles about it, telling the Guardian, “All these women carved out their careers and I nev­er once heard them men­tion Fanny…I looked. I wait­ed. I read inter­views. And I nev­er saw it.”

They reunit­ed in 2018 for an album, Fan­ny Walked the Earth, bring­ing back June, Jean, and Brie for a batch of polit­i­cal­ly charged songs and celebri­ty appear­ances by Run­aways singer Cherie Cur­rie, Kathy Valen­tine of the Go-Go’s and Susan­na Hoffs and Vic­ki Peter­son of the Ban­gles.

Rhi­no Records also rere­leased their first four albums in a box set in 2002, for those who would like to inves­ti­gate fur­ther.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Web Project Immor­tal­izes the Over­looked Women Who Helped Cre­ate Rock and Roll in the 1950s

Four Female Punk Bands That Changed Women’s Role in Rock

How Joan Jett Start­ed the Run­aways at 15 and Faced Down Every Bar­ri­er for Women in Rock and Roll
Chrissie Hynde’s 10 Pieces of Advice for “Chick Rock­ers” (1994)

Chrissie Hynde’s 10 Pieces of Advice for “Chick Rock­ers” (1994)

33 Songs That Doc­u­ment the His­to­ry of Fem­i­nist Punk (1975–2015): A Playlist Curat­ed by Pitch­fork

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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Read 20 Short Stories From Nobel Prize-Winning Writer Alice Munro (RIP) Free Online

Note: Back in 2013, when Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture, we pub­lished a post fea­tur­ing 20 short sto­ries writ­ten by Munro. Today, with the sad news that Alice Munro has passed away, at the age of 92, we’re bring­ing the orig­i­nal post (from Octo­ber 10, 2013) back to the surface–in part because you can still read the 20 sto­ries free online. Please find the sto­ries at the bot­tom of this post.

Call­ing her a “mas­ter of the con­tem­po­rary short sto­ry,” the Swedish Acad­e­my award­ed 82-year-old Alice Munro the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture today. It is well-deserved, and hard-earned (and comes not long after she announced her retire­ment from fic­tion). After 14 sto­ry col­lec­tions, Munro has reached at least a cou­ple gen­er­a­tions of writ­ers with her psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly sub­tle sto­ries about ordi­nary men and women in Huron Coun­ty, Ontario, her birth­place and home. Only the 13th woman writer to win the Nobel, Munro has pre­vi­ous­ly won the Man Book­er Prize in 2009, the Gov­er­nor General’s Lit­er­ary Award for Fic­tion in Cana­da three times (1968, 1978, and 1986), and two O. Hen­ry Awards (2006 and 2008). Her region­al fic­tion draws as much from her Ontario sur­round­ings as does the work of the very best so-called “region­al” writ­ers, and cap­ti­vat­ing inter­ac­tions of char­ac­ter and land­scape tend to dri­ve her work more so than intri­cate plot­ting.

Of that region she loves, Munro has said: “It means some­thing to me that no oth­er coun­try can—no mat­ter how impor­tant his­tor­i­cal­ly that oth­er coun­try may be, how ‘beau­ti­ful,’ how live­ly and inter­est­ing. I am intox­i­cat­ed by this par­tic­u­lar land­scape… I speak the lan­guage.” The lan­guage she may have learned from the “brick hous­es, the falling-down barns, the trail­er parks, bur­den­some old church­es, Wal-Mart and Cana­di­an Tire.” But the short sto­ry form she learned from writ­ers like Car­son McCullers, Flan­nery O’Connor, and Eudo­ra Wel­ty. She names all three in a 2001 inter­view with The Atlantic, and also men­tions Chekhov and “a lot of writ­ers that I found in The New York­er in the fifties who wrote about the same type of mate­r­i­al I did—about emo­tions and places.”

Munro was no young lit­er­ary phenom—she did not achieve fame in her twen­ties with sto­ries in The New York­er. A moth­er of three chil­dren, she “learned to write in the sliv­ers of time she had.” She pub­lished her first col­lec­tion, Dance of the Hap­py Shades in 1968 at 37, an advanced age for writ­ers today, so many of whom have sev­er­al nov­els under their belts by their ear­ly thir­ties. Munro always meant to write a nov­el, many in fact, but “there was no way I could get that kind of time,” she said:

Why do I like to write short sto­ries? Well, I cer­tain­ly did­n’t intend to. I was going to write a nov­el. And still! I still come up with ideas for nov­els. And I even start nov­els. But some­thing hap­pens to them. They break up. I look at what I real­ly want to do with the mate­r­i­al, and it nev­er turns out to be a nov­el. But when I was younger, it was sim­ply a mat­ter of expe­di­en­cy. I had small chil­dren, I did­n’t have any help. Some of this was before the days of auto­mat­ic wash­ing machines, if you can actu­al­ly believe it. There was no way I could get that kind of time. I could­n’t look ahead and say, this is going to take me a year, because I thought every moment some­thing might hap­pen that would take all time away from me. So I wrote in bits and pieces with a lim­it­ed time expec­ta­tion. Per­haps I got used to think­ing of my mate­r­i­al in terms of things that worked that way. And then when I got a lit­tle more time, I start­ed writ­ing these odd­er sto­ries, which branch out a lot.

Whether Munro’s adher­ence to the short form has always been a mat­ter of expe­di­en­cy, or whether it’s just what her sto­ries need to be, hard­ly mat­ters to read­ers who love her work. She dis­cuss­es her “stum­bling” on short fic­tion in the inter­view above from 1990 with Rex Mur­phy. For a detailed sketch of Munro’s ear­ly life, see her won­der­ful 2011 bio­graph­i­cal essay “Dear Life” in The New York­er. And for those less famil­iar with Munro’s exquis­ite­ly craft­ed nar­ra­tives, we offer you below sev­er­al selec­tions of her work free online. Get to know this author who, The New York Times writes, “rev­o­lu­tion­ized the archi­tec­ture of short sto­ries.”

“Voic­es” - (2013, Tele­graph)

A Red Dress—1946” (2012–13, Nar­ra­tive—requires free sign-up)

Amund­sen” (2012, The New York­er)

Train” (2012, Harper’s)

To Reach Japan” (2012, Nar­ra­tive—requires free sign-up)

“Axis” (2001, The New York­er — in audio)

Grav­el” (2011, The New York­er)

“Fic­tion” (2009, Dai­ly Lit)

Deep Holes” (2008, The New York­er)

Free Rad­i­cals” (2008, The New York­er)

Face” (2008, The New York­er)

Dimen­sion” (2006, The New York­er)

“Wen­lock Edge” (2005, The New York­er)

“The View from Cas­tle Rock” (2005, The New York­er)

Pas­sion” (2004, The New York­er)

Run­away” (2003, The New York­er)

“Some Women” (2008, New York­er)

The Bear Came Over the Moun­tain” (1999, The New York­er)

“Quee­nie” (1998, Lon­don Review of Books

Boys and Girls” (1968)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

29 Free Short Sto­ries from Some of Today’s Most Acclaimed Writ­ers: Mar­garet Atwood, David Mitchell & More

Kurt Von­negut Offers 8 Tips on How to Write Good Short Sto­ries (and Amus­ing­ly Graphs the Shapes Those Sto­ries Can Take)

Hear Neil Gaiman Read Aloud 15 of His Own Works, and Works by 6 Oth­er Great Writ­ers: From The Grave­yard Book & Cora­line, to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven & Dick­ens’ A Christ­mas Car­ol


Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Wes Anderson Directs & Stars in an Ad Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Montblanc’s Signature Pen

One hard­ly has to be an expert on the films of Wes Ander­son to imag­ine that the man writes with a foun­tain pen. Maybe back in the ear­ly nine­teen-nineties, when he was shoot­ing the black-and-white short that would become Bot­tle Rock­et on the streets of Austin, he had to set­tle for ordi­nary ball­points. But now that he’s long since claimed his place in the top ranks of major Amer­i­can auteurs, he can indulge his taste for painstak­ing crafts­man­ship and recent-past anti­quar­i­an­ism both onscreen and off. For a brand like Mont­blanc, this sure­ly made him the ide­al choice to direct a com­mer­cial cel­e­brat­ing the hun­dredth anniver­sary of their flag­ship writ­ing tool, the Meis­ter­stück.

Shot at Stu­dio Babels­berg in Ger­many, where Ander­son is at work on his next fea­ture The Phoeni­cian Scheme, the result­ing short “fea­tures Ander­son him­self, sport­ing a wispy wal­rus mus­tache, as well as fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tors Jason Schwartz­man and Rupert Friend, all pos­ing as a group of moun­tain-climbers with a par­tic­u­lar affec­tion for the free­dom and inspi­ra­tion offered by Montblanc’s prod­ucts,” writes Indiewire’s Har­ri­son Rich­lin.

With­in its first minute, “the ad takes us from the cold, snowy caps of Mont Blanc to a cozy chalet Ander­son announces as The Mont Blanc Obser­va­to­ry and Writer’s Room.” Vogue Busi­ness’ Christi­na Bink­ley reports that this indoor-to-out­door tran­si­tion alone required 50 takes, which was only one of the sur­pris­es in store for Mont­blanc’s mar­ket­ing offi­cer.

Ander­son also turned up with an unex­pect­ed pro­pos­al of his own. “The film­mak­er pre­sent­ed a pro­to­type pen of his own design that he asked the Ger­man com­pa­ny to man­u­fac­ture,” Bink­ley writes. “He’d even named it: the Schreiber­ling, which means ‘the scrib­bler’ in Ger­man. That had not been part of the pitch.” Per­haps con­vinced by the built pro­to­type assem­bled by Ander­son­’s set-design team, Mont­blanc “agreed to pro­duce 1,969 copies of this small, green foun­tain pen to com­mem­o­rate Ander­son­’s birth year, 1969.” At 55 years of age, Ander­son may no longer be the preter­nat­u­ral­ly con­fi­dent young film­mak­er we remem­ber from the days of Rush­more or The Roy­al Tenen­baums, but since then, he’s only grown more adept at get­ting exact­ly what he wants from a com­pa­ny, whether it be a movie stu­dio or a Euro­pean lux­u­ry-goods man­u­fac­tur­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wes Anderson’s Shorts Films & Com­mer­cials: A Playlist of 8 Short Ander­son­ian Works

Mont­blanc Unveils a New Line of Miles Davis Pens … and (Kind of) Blue Ink

Why Do Wes Ander­son Movies Look Like That?

Neil Gaiman Talks Dream­i­ly About Foun­tain Pens, Note­books & His Writ­ing Process in His Long Inter­view with Tim Fer­riss

Has Wes Ander­son Sold Out? Can He Sell Out? Crit­ics Take Up the Debate

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Hannah Arendt Explains How Totalitarian Regimes Arise–and How We Can Prevent Them

“Adolf Eich­mann went to the gal­lows with great dig­ni­ty,” wrote the polit­i­cal philoso­pher Han­nah Arendt, describ­ing the scene lead­ing up to the promi­nent Holo­caust-orga­niz­er’s exe­cu­tion. After drink­ing half a bot­tle of wine, turn­ing down the offer of reli­gious assis­tance, and even refus­ing the black hood offered him at the gal­lows, he gave a brief, strange­ly high-spir­it­ed speech before the hang­ing. “It was as though in those last min­utes he was sum­ming up the les­son that this long course in human wicked­ness had taught us — the les­son of the fear­some word-and-thought-defy­ing banal­i­ty of evil.”

These lines come from Eich­mann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banal­i­ty of Evil, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1963 as a five-part series in the New York­er. Eich­mann “was pop­u­lar­ly described as an evil mas­ter­mind who orches­trat­ed atroc­i­ties from a cushy Ger­man office, and many were eager to see the so-called ‘desk mur­der­er’ tried for his crimes,” explains the nar­ra­tor of the ani­mat­ed TED-Ed les­son above, writ­ten by Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Dublin polit­i­cal the­o­ry pro­fes­sor Joseph Lacey. “But the squea­mish man who took the stand seemed more like a dull bureau­crat than a sadis­tic killer,” and this “dis­par­i­ty between Eich­man­n’s nature and his actions” inspired Arendt’s famous sum­ma­tion.

A Ger­man Jew who fled her home­land in 1933, as Hitler rose to pow­er, Arendt “ded­i­cat­ed her­self to under­stand­ing how the Nazi regime came to pow­er.” Against the com­mon notion that “the Third Reich was a his­tor­i­cal odd­i­ty, a per­fect storm of unique­ly evil lead­ers, sup­port­ed by Ger­man cit­i­zens, look­ing for revenge after their defeat in World War I,” she argued that “the true con­di­tions behind this unprece­dent­ed rise of total­i­tar­i­an­ism weren’t spe­cif­ic to Ger­many.” Rather, in moder­ni­ty, “indi­vid­u­als main­ly appear in the social world to pro­duce and con­sume goods and ser­vices,” which fos­ters ide­olo­gies “in which indi­vid­u­als were seen only for their eco­nom­ic val­ue, rather than their moral and polit­i­cal capac­i­ties.”

In such iso­lat­ing con­di­tions, she thought, “par­tic­i­pat­ing in the regime becomes the only way to recov­er a sense of iden­ti­ty and com­mu­ni­ty. While con­demn­ing Eich­man­n’s “mon­strous actions, Arendt saw no evi­dence that Eich­mann him­self was unique­ly evil. She saw him as a dis­tinct­ly ordi­nary man who con­sid­ered obe­di­ence the high­est form of civic duty — and for Arendt, it was exact­ly this ordi­nar­i­ness that was most ter­ri­fy­ing.” Accord­ing to her the­o­ry, there was noth­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly Ger­man about all of this: any suf­fi­cient­ly mod­ern­ized cul­ture could pro­duce an Eich­mann, a cit­i­zen who defines him­self by par­tic­i­pa­tion in his soci­ety regard­less of that soci­ety’s larg­er aims. This led her to the con­clu­sion that  “think­ing is our great­est weapon against the threats of moder­ni­ty,” some of which have become only more threat­en­ing over the past six decades.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to the Life & Thought of Han­nah Arendt: Pre­sent­ed by the BBC Radio’s In Our Time

Han­nah Arendt Explains How Pro­pa­gan­da Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Moral­i­ty: Insights from The Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism

Large Archive of Han­nah Arendt’s Papers Dig­i­tized by the Library of Con­gress: Read Her Lec­tures, Drafts of Arti­cles, Notes & Cor­re­spon­dence

Han­nah Arendt on “Per­son­al Respon­si­bil­i­ty Under Dic­ta­tor­ship:” Bet­ter to Suf­fer Than Col­lab­o­rate

Take Han­nah Arendt’s Final Exam for Her 1961 Course “On Rev­o­lu­tion”

Watch Han­nah Arendt’s Final Inter­view (1973)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

George Orwell’s Political Views, Explained in His Own Words

Among mod­ern-day lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives alike, George Orwell enjoys prac­ti­cal­ly saint­ed sta­tus. And indeed, through­out his body of work, includ­ing but cer­tain­ly not lim­it­ed to his oft-assigned nov­els Ani­mal Farm and Nine­teen Eighty-Four, one can find numer­ous implic­it­ly or explic­it­ly expressed polit­i­cal views that please either side of that divide — or, by def­i­n­i­tion, views that anger each side. The read­ers who approve of Orwell’s open advo­ca­cy for social­ism, for exam­ple, are prob­a­bly not the same ones who approve of his indict­ment of lan­guage polic­ing. To under­stand what he actu­al­ly believed, we can’t trust cur­rent inter­preters who employ his words for their own ends; we must return to the words them­selves.

Hence the struc­ture of the video above from Youtu­ber Ryan Chap­man, which offers “an overview of George Orwell’s polit­i­cal views, guid­ed by his reflec­tions on his own career.” Chap­man begins with Orwell’s essay “Why I Write,” in which the lat­ter declares that “in a peace­ful age I might have writ­ten ornate or mere­ly descrip­tive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my polit­i­cal loy­al­ties. As it is I have been forced into becom­ing a sort of pam­phle­teer.”

His awak­en­ing occurred in 1936, when he went to cov­er the Span­ish Civ­il War as a jour­nal­ist but end­ed up join­ing the fight against Fran­co, a cause that aligned neat­ly with his exist­ing pro-work­ing class and anti-author­i­tar­i­an emo­tion­al ten­den­cies.

After a bul­let in the throat took Orwell out of the war, his atten­tion shift­ed to the grand-scale hypocrisies he’d detect­ed in the Sovi­et Union. It became “of the utmost impor­tance to me that peo­ple in west­ern Europe should see the Sovi­et regime for what it real­ly was,” he writes in the pref­ace to the Ukrain­ian edi­tion of the alle­gor­i­cal satire Ani­mal Farm. “His con­cerns with the Sovi­et Union were part of a broad­er con­cern on the nature of truth and the way truth is manip­u­lat­ed in pol­i­tics,” Chap­man explains. An impor­tant part of his larg­er project as a writer was to shed light on the wide­spread “ten­den­cy to dis­tort real­i­ty accord­ing to their polit­i­cal con­vic­tions,” espe­cial­ly among the intel­lec­tu­al class­es.

“This kind of thing is fright­en­ing to me,” Orwell writes in “Look­ing Back on the Span­ish War,” “because it often gives me the feel­ing that the very con­cept of objec­tive truth is fad­ing out of the world”: a con­di­tion for the rise of ide­ol­o­gy “not only for­bids you to express — even to think — cer­tain thoughts, but it dic­tates what you shall think, it cre­ates an ide­ol­o­gy for you, it tries to gov­ern your emo­tion­al life as well as set­ting up a code of con­duct.” Such is the real­i­ty he envi­sions in Nine­teen Eighty-Four, a reac­tion to the total­i­tar­i­an­ism he saw man­i­fest­ing in the USSR, Ger­many, and Italy. “But he also thought it was spread­ing in more sub­tle forms back home, in Eng­land, through social­ly enforced, unof­fi­cial polit­i­cal ortho­doxy.” No mat­ter how sup­pos­ed­ly enlight­ened the soci­ety we live in, there are things we’re for­mal­ly or infor­mal­ly not allowed to acknowl­edge; Orwell reminds us to think about why.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to George Orwell

George Orwell’s Life & Lit­er­a­ture Pre­sent­ed in a 3‑Hour Radio Doc­u­men­tary: Fea­tures Inter­views with Those Who Knew Orwell Best

George Orwell Iden­ti­fies the Main Ene­my of the Free Press: It’s the “Intel­lec­tu­al Cow­ardice” of the Press Itself

George Orwell Explains How “Newspeak” Works, the Offi­cial Lan­guage of His Total­i­tar­i­an Dystopia in 1984

George Orwell Reveals the Role & Respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Writer “In an Age of State Con­trol”

George Orwell Explains in a Reveal­ing 1944 Let­ter Why He’d Write 1984

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A New Analysis of Beethoven’s DNA Reveals That Lead Poisoning Could Have Caused His Deafness

Despite the intense scruti­ny paid to the life and work of Lud­wig van Beethoven for a cou­ple of cen­turies now, the revered com­pos­er still has cer­tain mys­ter­ies about him. Some of them he sure­ly nev­er intend­ed to clar­i­fy, like the iden­ti­ty of “Immor­tal Beloved”; oth­ers he explic­it­ly request­ed be made pub­lic, like the cause of his death. The trou­ble is that, for gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion, nobody could quite fig­ure out what that cause was. But recent genet­ic analy­sis of his hair, which we first fea­tured last year here on Open Cul­ture, has shed new light on the mat­ter of what killed Beethoven — or rather, what increas­ing­ly ailed him up until he died at the age of 56.

This effort “began a few years ago, when researchers real­ized that DNA analy­sis had advanced enough to jus­ti­fy an exam­i­na­tion of hair said to have been clipped from Beethoven’s head by anguished fans as he lay dying,” writes the New York Times’ Gina Kola­ta.

With the gen­uine sam­ples sep­a­rat­ed from the frauds, a test for heavy met­als revealed that “one of Beethoven’s locks had 258 micro­grams of lead per gram of hair and the oth­er had 380 micro­grams”: 64 times and 95 times the nor­mal amount, respec­tive­ly. Chron­ic lead poi­son­ing, pos­si­bly caused by Beethoven’s habit of drink­ing cheap wine sweet­ened with “lead sug­ar,” could have caused the “unre­lent­ing abdom­i­nal cramps, flat­u­lence and diar­rhea” that plagued him in his life­time.

It could also have has­tened the deaf­ness that had become near­ly com­plete by age thir­ty. “Over the years, Beethoven con­sult­ed many doc­tors, try­ing treat­ment after treat­ment for his ail­ments and his deaf­ness, but found no relief,” Kola­ta writes. “At one point, he was using oint­ments and tak­ing 75 med­i­cines, many of which most like­ly con­tained lead.” Alas, the true dan­ger of lead poi­son­ing, a con­di­tion that had been acknowl­edged since antiq­ui­ty, would­n’t be tak­en seri­ous­ly until the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. Accord­ing to the research so far, even this degree of lead expo­sure would­n’t have been fatal by itself. But with a bit less of it, would Beethoven have com­plet­ed his tenth sym­pho­ny, or even con­tin­ued on to an eleventh? Add that to the still-grow­ing list of unan­swer­able ques­tions about him.

via NYTimes

Relat­ed con­tent:

Beethoven’s Genome Has Been Sequenced for the First Time, Reveal­ing Clues About the Great Composer’s Health & Fam­i­ly His­to­ry

The Secrets of Beethoven’s Fifth, the World’s Most Famous Sym­pho­ny

Did Beethoven Use a Bro­ken Metronome When Com­pos­ing His String Quar­tets? Sci­en­tists & Musi­cians Try to Solve the Cen­turies-Old Mys­tery

Beethoven’s Unfin­ished Tenth Sym­pho­ny Gets Com­plet­ed by Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: Hear How It Sounds

The Math Behind Beethoven’s Music

Read Beethoven’s Lengthy Love Let­ter to His Mys­te­ri­ous “Immor­tal Beloved” (1812)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Jerry Seinfeld Delivers Commencement Address at Duke University: You Will Need Humor to Get Through the Human Experience

This week­end, Jer­ry Sein­feld gave the com­mence­ment speech at Duke Uni­ver­si­ty and offered the grad­u­ates his three keys to life: 1. bust your ass, 2. pay atten­tion, and 3. fall in love. Then, 10 min­utes lat­er, he added essen­tial­ly a fourth key to life: “Do not lose your sense of humor. You can have no idea at this point in your life how much you’re going to need it to get through. Not enough of life makes sense for you to be able to sur­vive it with­out humor.” “It is worth the sac­ri­fice of an occa­sion­al dis­com­fort to have some laughs. Don’t lose that.” “Humor is the most pow­er­ful, most sur­vival-essen­tial qual­i­ty you will ever have or need to nav­i­gate through the human expe­ri­ence.” Amen.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

John Waters’ RISD Grad­u­a­tion Speech: Real Wealth Is Life With­out A*Holes

David Fos­ter Wallace’s Famous Com­mence­ment Speech, “This is Water,” Gets Ani­mat­ed on a White­board

Conan O’Brien Kills It at Dart­mouth Grad­u­a­tion

Jon Stewart’s William & Mary Com­mence­ment Address: The Entire World is an Elec­tive

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