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.


Second-Person Narrator Tells Readers 'How To' Live, Love — And Get Filthy Rich

Mar 6, 2013
Originally published on March 6, 2013 10:08 am

This is not the first time Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid has taken a risky approach to a novel. His The Reluctant Fundamentalist was written entirely in the second person. The bearded narrator of that book sits at a tea stall in Lahore, talking about his drift toward extremism while directly addressing "you," the reader, who is taken to be an increasingly jumpy and terrified American across the table.

Hamid returns to the second person in How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, but this time it's in the form of a self-help book — a particularly sly one. He begins with a disclaimer: "A self-help book is an oxymoron. You read a self-help book so someone who isn't yourself can help you." It is only the author who is helping himself.

The author of this particular self-help book is in his early 40s, a Pakistani with an American education and a past as a business consultant in both countries. His crisp voice could have suited an old-style newsreel narrator, and when you read the sentences of his slender novels, it is easy to hear that voice speaking them. That voice tells "you" how to get filthy rich in rising Asia, and in doing so, Hamid tells the story of a rural youth who moves to the city and begins making the brutal compromises that a poor boy must make to get ahead. The chapters have titles such as "Move to the City," "Avoid Idealists" and "Be Prepared to Use Violence."

When I began reading How to Get Filthy Rich, I wondered if the author would really be able to sustain this device for the entire book. He proves that he can (our reviewer Alan Cheuse compared it to The Great Gatsby, while The New York Times called Hamid "one of his generation's most inventive and gifted writers") but he does not try to maintain the illusion for too long. The novel is 228 pages of well-spaced type.

"I take six or seven years to write really small books," he said when we talked. "There is a kind of aesthetic of leanness, of brevity. In Pakistan recently we had these two big literary festivals, one in Lahore, one in Karachi, and I met literally thousands of college students that are first-generation English speakers reading novels ... in English." Thinking of such audiences prompts Hamid to aspire to write novels he calls "complicated, uncompromising, hopefully sophisticated," but also short and "easy to read."

As he spoke, I imagined that perhaps the book started out at a thousand pages and then he hacked it down like a statue from stone. No, he said: he carves several statues. "I don't necessarily throw away lots of pages, but I stumble around, you know, for years trying to figure out how to do it. ... The first couple of drafts of this thing weren't a self-help book at all."

One of these alternative versions of the novel featured Pakistani boys who were from the mountains near Afghanistan, but who, in the novel, would not be represented speaking in the accents of those hills. Hamid proposed instead to use the twangy English of a different mountain range, the Appalachians in the United States.

It's a delightful notion. I was reminded of a Washington production of Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona that set the play in Verona, New Jersey, with all the accents that would imply. "When we hear people speak," Hamid said, "so much of what we get is the way they speak, and so, you know, finding the right form for a story, the right voice for a story, is at the heart of it for me."

This makes the final form in How to Get Filthy Rich all the more striking. The main character rarely speaks in the course of the narrative. He can't. The main character is "you." Hamid is telling "you" how your life will unfold. On the occasions when "you" are described speaking — correcting a teacher in school, for example — you suffer for it. By and large you do not seem like a man who can articulate his feelings. Yet the main character speaks powerfully through his ambition and his longing. He does move to the city. He does avoid idealists. He does get rich, for a time anyway, even if he must grow accustomed to violence.

His thoughts dwell less on success than on a woman he has known since childhood, in contact but elusive throughout his life. This aspect of the story gradually makes it apparent that Hamid has invested the lowly form of the self-help book with considerable ambition.

"There's a form of poetry, Sufi poetry, which is Islamic mystic poetry," he explains, saying he would like to think of the book as "a secular Sufi poem. ... Contrary to what you often hear about [other brands of] Islam and its representations in America, this is a form that really says the way to relate to the universe — to God, to the divine, to mortality, to life — is through creating a sense of love."

The main character's encounters with the "pretty girl" are among the novel's most memorable. Maybe this is the "help" that the author of the self-help book is offering "you": a reminder of the importance, as Hamid says, of "having a love for something other than yourself."

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