Two New (Fiction) Books

On Sunday the New York Times published reviews of the two best new fiction books I've read in 2011: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar. (Although the translation of Murakami's 1Q84 is still to be published.)

The Art of Fielding is a good but not great novel (a lot of the buzz has to do with the fact that Harbach got a $650,000 advance for his first novel).  A hefty, sprawling book of 512 pages, the book somehow retains an intimate, compact feel, centering around a literal handful of characters.

If you have a free weekend - it took me most of two days to read it - and a soft spot for college novels this is a book for you.

Less than half the size of Harbach's The Art of Fielding, the Anatomy of a Disappearance is an amazing book.  Beautifully written, in many ways it is a shame that the US publication of the book took place as Ghaddafi's regime was crumbling instead of keeping pace with the European and international release dates.  (I read a copy months ago in Cairo, and have been begging people to read it since then.)  This, of course, would have made this possibly unfair line in Robert Worth's review unnecessary: "In a sense, “Anatomy of a Disappearance” suffers the disadvantage of being upstaged by reality"

The Anatomy of a Disappearance isn't a guide to the horrors of Qaddafi's Libya, although they are certainly part of the novel.  But if that is the only you reason you pick it up, you will likely be disappointed.  The book is much more than that.  And thankfully that means that when Qaddafi's regime is finally finished people will still be able to read Matar's second, and so far greatest novel.

I played hookey from class back in 2006 to read Matar's first book, In the Country of Men, and while that book was decent, this one is in a different class.  Elegant and subtle and a wonderful story.  Read it.   

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less