“Many scientists don’t like to talk about shark sex”

The following two paragraphs are my two favorite from Theo Tait’s review of Demon Fish by Juliet Eilperin. I bought the book and I will hate read the hell out of it.

‘Many scientists don’t like to talk about shark sex,’ Juliet Eilperin writes in her entertaining study of sharks and their world. ‘They worry it will only reinforce the popular perception that these creatures are brutish and unrelenting.’ In as far as we understand the subject – only a few species have been observed mating – the business is ‘very rough’. Larger male sharks have to bite or trap the females to keep them around during courtship; marine biologists can tell when a female has been mating because her skin will be raw or bleeding. The process is so violent that, come the mating season, female nurse sharks will stay in shallow water with their reproductive openings pressed firmly to the sea floor. Otherwise they risk falling prey to roaming bands of males who ‘will take turns inserting their claspers in her’ (the clasper is the shark version of a penis, found in a pair behind the pelvic fins). A litter of fifty pups will have anything from two to seven fathers. But the reproductive story gets rougher still. A number of shark species go in for oophagy, or uterine cannibalism. Sand tiger foetuses ‘eat each other in utero, acting out the harshest form of sibling rivalry imaginable’. Only two babies emerge, one from each of the mother shark’s uteruses: the survivors have eaten everything else. ‘A female sand tiger gives birth to a baby that’s already a metre long and an experienced killer,’ explains Demian Chapman, an expert on the subject.

There are three defining events in modern American shark mythology. First, the attacks of 1916, when four people were killed in one week in five separate attacks off New Jersey, two at beach resorts and two in Matawan Creek, more than a dozen miles inland. It created mass hysteria, launched a wave of shark-hunts and gave rise to the myth of the serial man-eater – something that all the evidence tells us is wrong. The second was the sinking of the USS Indianapolis on 30 July 1945, in the final weeks of the Pacific War. The cruiser, which had delivered the uranium for the Hiroshima bomb, was sunk by a Japanese submarine between Guam and the Philippines. Of the 1200-strong crew, 300 were killed during the sinking; the survivors spent four days in the water, during which all but 317 were killed by exposure, dehydration and sharks. The third event was Jaws, which bundled up the earlier two into a slick package that spread rampant shark-phobia across the world: Peter Benchley’s novel was based on the Jersey attacks, and Quint, the Ahab-style shark hunter played with scenery-chewing vigour by Robert Shaw in the film, is a veteran of the Indianapolis disaster. Benchley, Eilperin says, did more to instil ‘intense fear and hatred of sharks than anyone else in the 20th century’. By bringing an age-old nightmare to life, he ‘gave it a credibility, a sense of concreteness, it had never had before’.

“Many scientists don’t like to talk about shark sex”

The Art of The Wire at Boston Book Fair

The Boston Book Festival kicks off tomorrow with a discussion on The Art of The Wire. I’ve never been to one of these, but I’m always curious… Did The Wire just get lucky with amazingly insightful actors able to discuss race, class, institutional failure and the visual novel? These are heady topics, I wouldn’t have thought actors would generally be the best to discuss them. I don’t know who would be MORE qualified, though.

Kick off the Boston Book Festival with a thoughtful and timely exploration of The Wire with its cast and creators. Its creator, David Simon, referred to this powerful, gritty, and all-too-realistic exploration of urban poverty as a "visual novel." The Wire, perhaps the most critically-acclaimed series in television history, has been compared to Dickens, to Greek tragedy, even to Shakespearean drama. It is both high art and social commentary. Join several cast members and writer/producer George Pelecanos in a conversation about The Wire and issues of race, class, institutional failure, and the visual novel. The discussion will feature Donnie Andrews (the real "Omar"), Fran Boyd (the inspiration for David Simon’s The Corner), Tray Chaney ("Poot"), Robert Chew ("Prop Joe"), and Jamie Hector ("Marlo Stanfield") and will be moderated by Reverend Eugene Rivers, co-founder of the Ten Point Coalition.

The Art of The Wire at Boston Book Fair

Michael Lewis reviews the Twain autobiography

And it’s not pretty.

It is impossible to imagine anyone who isn’t being paid to do it reading the thing from start to finish. Even I, who still hope to be paid, hauled the book around for six months on business trips and vacations, and spent vast amounts of time staring at Twain’s random ramblings in minuscule type feeling resentful and vaguely duped—roughly the way I felt a dozen pages into the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc-before I could summon the energy to wade deeply into it.

Michael Lewis reviews the Twain autobiography

The Extra 2%

Internet good guy and friend, Jonah Keri, is out with his first book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First:

In The Extra 2%, financial journalist and sportswriter Jonah Keri chronicles the remarkable story of one team’s Cinderella journey from divisional doormat to World Series contender. When former Goldman Sachs colleagues Stuart Sternberg and Matthew Silverman assumed control of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2005, it looked as if they were buying the baseball equivalent of a penny stock. But the incoming regime came armed with a master plan: to leverage their skill at trading, valuation, and management to build a model twenty-first-century franchise that could compete with their bigger, stronger, richer rivals—and prevail.

Check out an excerpt in GQ, and one on ESPN. Here’s a bit about how the Rays missed on Albert Pujols even though one of their scouts loved him and they could have gotten him for a flyer.

They still worried about the player’s build, as Jennings had earlier, and wondered what position he would play. This was especially odd, since the player didn’t get much chance to try out at third base, his natural position, or first, where Arango thought he could also fare well. Many skeptics also wondered about his age: he was born in the Dominican Republic, didn’t move to the United States until high school, and always looked old for the age he was supposed to be. Meanwhile, the player’s agent was new to the gig, and that uncertainty raised fears that just signing the guy could become dicey, even in the later rounds. Besides, the Devil Rays had their targeted names up on the draft board, and the draft was flying by. Jennings wasn’t ignoring Arango’s projection per se. There was just so much other stuff going on that they didn’t give it much thought. By the time you get past the tenth round, most players have no shot of ever sniffing the big leagues, let alone becoming productive regulars, let alone becoming the kind of superstar Arango envisioned. No big deal.

Congrats, Jonah!

The Extra 2%

Don’t contemporary book characters have iPhones?

In my best Andy Rooney voice, did you ever notice how characters in books and movies don’t use smartphones/computers/theinternets the way that people (we) normally do? This goes beyond the idea of sitcom killing cell phones, though. Think about the last contemporary book you read. Do smartphones exist in that book? Are they used in any meaningful way by the main characters?

From Where Are the iPhone Addicts and Facebook ‘Stalkers’ in Contemporary Fiction? by Joanne McNeil.

The average fictional character is either so thoroughly disinterested in email, social media, and text messages he never thinks of it, or else hastily mentions electronic communications in the past tense. Sure, characters in fiction may own smart phones, but few have the urge to compulsively play with the device while waiting to meet a friend or catch a flight. This ever-present anachronism has made it so that almost all literary fiction is science fiction, a thought experiment as to what life might be like if we weren’t so absorbed in our iPhones but instead watched and listened to the world around us at a moment’s rest.

Via The Daily Dish

Don’t contemporary book characters have iPhones?