The week’s best arts and culture reads – including a report from inside James Joyce’s birthday party and a look inside the mind of Auschwitz’s overseers.

Strange findings underneath Stonehenge
Ed Caesar | Smithsonian | 21 August 2014
Survey of the landscape around Stonehenge produces “astonishing” results. The stone circle is surrounded by at least 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. These findings “suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected”. They reinforce the hypothesis that the site was constructed for rites associated with the sun.     

How sci-fi can foil China’s censors
Alec Ash | London Review of Books | 20 August 2014
Science fiction gives young Chinese writers a means to make veiled critiques of the government, much as analogies drawn from history were used by older generations of writers. Environmental crises and social engineering are popular themes. Much of this new work is not published officially within China, especially when censors recognise the allusions, but persistent readers can find it freely online.

Inside the minds of Auschwitz’ overseers?
Bryan Appleyard | 17 August 2014
Conversation with Martin Amis about his disenchantment with living in America – “It’s the penal system, the guns, the capital punishment” – and his new novel, The Zone Of Interest, which Appleyard calls “a technical and aesthetic tour de force that takes us inside the minds of the Germans who managed Auschwitz”. Next up for Amis, “an explicitly autobiographical novel”; and then, perhaps, “his big American novel”.

After Rowling, the wealthiest novelist
Ellen Gamerman | Wall Street Journal | 14 August 2014
Coelho’s 27th novel, Adultery, will hashtag well – an important consideration for a writer who does his own promotion on Facebook and Twitter, where he has 25.6 million fans and 9 million followers respectively. And it seems to work: he has sold 165 million books in some 80 languages, accumulating a fortune, by his own reckoning, of $535m, which probably makes him the second-richest living novelist.

The language of menus
Jen Doll | Atlantic | 14 August 2014
Entertaining short review of The Language of Food, in which Dan Jurafsky, a Stanford linguistics professor, dissects the language of restaurant menus. “Every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 69 cents in the price of that dish.” Expensive restaurants “mention the origins of the food more than 15 times as often as inexpensive restaurants.”

On the scene at James Joyce’s Birthday Party
Padraic Colum | New Republic | 13 May 1931
Another gem from the archives of the New Republic. “It is tea time at the Joyces’. Mrs. Joyce gives us the best tea and the nicest cakes that are to be had in any house in Paris”. James Joyce is re-reading Madame Bovary, and going often to the opera. He considers modern Irish writing over-rated: “If we lift up the back-skirts of English literature we will find there everything we have been trying to do.”

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