The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


George Saunders Lives Up To The Hype

Jan 15, 2013

I was baffled by the cover of The New York Times Magazine two Sundays ago. You may remember that the headline of the cover story was: "George Saunders Has Written The Best Book You'll Read This Year." I was baffled because the only George Saunders I could think of was that old movie star who was always playing cads in films like Rebecca and All About Eve. (Actually, that actor's name was George Sanders.) Adding to my anxieties was the fact that, according to the article, everybody else in the literary world had already anointed Saunders "the writer for our time." So, I asked a few serious reader friends — the kind of people with subscriptions to n+1 — if they'd read George Saunders. One friend said she thought she'd read a story by him in The New Yorker. The others came up blank, except for the one who suggested Saunders might be that debonair actor who always played cads in old movies.

Which is all to say that it's tough to make a mainstream name for yourself as a writer — even when you're a writer who's won a MacArthur "genius" award. Hence, that deliberately provocative headline of The Times Magazine article, which succeeded in its goal of making me want to read Saunders' new collection of short stories, Tenth of December. It would be so satisfying to topple that Olympian Times pronouncement, but, in good conscience, I can't do it. Tenth of December probably will turn out to be one of the best new books I read in 2013 because Saunders is, indeed, something special.

The 10 stories in this collection are mostly told in the first person: Thoughts and conversations ramble, and they always seem to have begun an hour or so before the reader shows up. Saunders' style is postmodernism with a friendly face: His technical scaffolding insulates heart and humor — stories that are actually about something beyond their own gleaming nuts and bolts. Even my least favorite pieces here — ones like "Escape from Spiderhead" that fall into the futuristic sci-fi genre — carry an emotional charge.

That's especially true of the longest tale, "The Semplica Girl Diaries," which is a dystopian domestic comedy. Our diarist is a hapless suburban dad of three. He keeps alluding to a status symbol yard decoration called "Semplica Girls." When the dad splurges on a "Semplica Girl" arrangement to surprise his surly teenage daughter, we find out that Semplica Girls (or SGs) are poor young women from places like Moldova and Laos, who've sold themselves as tableau vivant garden ornaments. At "installation," a wire is threaded through their brains and they're "hoisted up" as on a clothesline.

As the dad excitedly jots in his diary: "SGs up now ... three feet off ground, smiling, swaying in slight breeze. ... Effect amazing. Having so often seen similar configuration in yards of others more affluent, makes own yard seem suddenly affluent, you feel different about self, as if at last you are in step with peers and time in which living." That entry reads as though goofy Phil Dunphy from Modern Family were exulting because he finally could afford slaves for Claire and the kids. "What barbarities are normalized in a culture?" that story asks, but with a light touch, no preaching.

Other tales start out as comedy or satire and mutate into near-tragedy. In "Puppy," a mother who's furiously trying to construct a happy childhood for her kids arranges to buy a puppy from another woman, also a loving, if misguided, mother. When the two moms meet, their worldviews chemically collide to blow up each other's cherished illusions. In the opening story, "Victory Lap," we hear about a sad teenager named Kyle who's down to one friend, a guy, we're told: "who was always retrieving things from between his teeth, announcing the name of the retrieved thing in Greek, then re-eating it." Just as you're wincing at the exuberance of Saunders' description, events swerve into violence. By the end of "Victory Lap," nerdy Kyle has faced down evil, while his parents who sought to cosset him are the ones who need to be told reassuring fictions.

Saunders' short stories have it all — the flexibility of language, the social criticism, the moral ambition, the entertaining dark humor. Check back with me at the end of 2013; if his collection isn't in this year's top 10, it will really have been an extraordinary year for books.

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