The week’s best arts and culture reads – including JD Salinger, the problems of modern painting and why Italian food is so nourishing for writers and thinkers.

Spaghetti lessons
Charles Simic | New York Review of Books | 9 September 2013
On Italian food, and the culture that comes with it — one particularly nourishing for writers and thinkers. “This may be a tautology, but a meal that does not cause an outpouring of memories is not a memorable meal. I don’t know how other poets imagine their muses, but mine is an Italian cookbook.”

The rectangular canvas is dead
Jed Perl | The New Republic | 7 September 2013
“Painting, which for centuries reigned supreme among the visual arts, has fallen from grace. Which is not to say that painting is dead, or dying. But the painter’s basic challenge, the manipulation of colours and forms and metaphors on the flat plane with its almost inevitably rectangular shape, is no longer generally seen as the primary place in the visual arts where meaning and mystery are believed to come together.”

The ancient roots of punctuation
Keith Houston | New Yorker | 6 September 2013
Brief lives of the octothorpe, pilcrow, ampersand, manicule and diple. If you know Houston’s Shady Characters blog, you will know what to expect: an affectionate blend of history, scholarship and pedantry. The ampersand is a ligature of ‘e’ and ‘t’, the Latin et. The octothorpe (#) derives from the abbreviation ’lb’, for libra pondo, or pound weight. The diple (>) was the precursor of quotation marks.

Cutting and pasting JD Salinger
Adam Gopnik | New Yorker | 5 September 2013
A dismissive review of David Shields and Shane Salerno’s “heavily hyped” biography, Salinger. Negative takes don’t usually make rewarding reading but this one does, a measure of how well Gopnik writes. “The method the book employs is what was once quaintly called a clip-job — the kind of celebrity bio where, in the guise of research, previously published work is passed off, with varying degrees of honesty, as original discovery.”

Crimes against humanities
Leon Wieseltier | New Republic | 3 September 2013
In defence of the liberal arts against the claims of some scientists that science is the only source of truth. The scientific method has immense value, but within its limits. “The imagination has rigours of its own. What the imagination imparts in the way of understanding the world should also be called knowledge. Scientists and scientizers are not the only ones working toward truths and trying to get things right.”

In praise of Malcolm Gladwell
Ian Leslie | Medium | 3 September 2013
“His finest pieces are put together like a Bach cantata: the themes are introduced, then played in counterpoint, building to a polyphonic climax. They are full of feints, false leads and playful misdirects that make the insights, when they arrive, all the more thrilling. Have you ever read a Malcolm Gladwell piece and failed to experience the almost sensual pleasure that comes from being told a good story while having your intellect tickled?”

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