There are numbers all around us. They are in every word we speak or write, and in the passage of time. Everything in our world has a numeric foundation, but most of us don't see those numbers. It's different for Daniel Tammet. He's a savant with synesthesia, a condition that allows him to see beyond simple numerals — he experiences them.

Tammet drew attention around the world about a decade ago when he recited, from memory, the number pi. It took him five hours to call out 22,514 digits with no mistakes.

Magic And Politics Beyond The Portal In 'Guide'

Aug 8, 2013

It's one of the most familiar stories in fantasy: someone from our world stumbles on a gateway to a world entirely other — usually magical, sometimes dangerous, and always ripe for a great adventure. But despite the iconic image of a paradise just beyond the doorway, the portal fantasy is often, at heart, a cynical work. After all, some of folkore's most notable archetypes were supernatural threats who crossed from their world to ours to beleaguer us.

When I was 9, I spent a lot of time at a public library just down the street; I was already a theater nerd, and it had a well-stocked theater section. Not just books, but original cast albums for Broadway shows old and new. One day, an addition: The Music Man, about a salesman who was crazy about a girl named, as one song put it, "Marrrrrrrion, madam librarian."

Don't Like Hamlet? Now's Your Chance To Rewrite It

Aug 7, 2013

To be or not to be? You decide.

Shakespeare's most famous question appears in Hamlet, but now readers will get to answer it themselves with Ryan North's To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure, a "Choose Your Own Adventure"-style rewrite of Shakespeare's classic play.

At its best, Natsuo Kirino's The Goddess Chronicle is a dark and lovely feminist retelling of the Japanese creation myth. At worst, it's a stiff, repetitive exercise in telling, not showing.

In Choire Sicha's Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City, a voice from our future looks back at events taking place in a "massive" East Coast metropolis, its citizens perpetually gripped with "a quiet panic" while living in a gritty landscape of iron and excess. Throw in a mysterious virus, a rich, blind governor, a sketchy mayor campaigning for a third term, and this novel gets even more curious.

Before I read Adelle Waldman's brilliant debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., I had about as much interest in reading about the hip, young literary types who've colonized Brooklyn as I do in watching Duck Dynasty, that reality show about a family of bearded Luddites who live in the Louisiana swamps. Both clans are ingrown and smug, each, in their own way, disdainful of the American mainstream.

Marisha Pessl's dark, cinematic and wildly over-the-top new novel, Night Film, starts with a mysterious death: Ashley Cordova, troubled former child prodigy and daughter of mysterious filmmaker Stanislas Cordova, is found dead at the bottom of a disused elevator shaft, an apparent suicide. Disgraced investigative journalist Scott McGrath thinks there's more to the case.

Dan Balz, one of the nation's most respected political reporters, has written his review of the last presidential election — what happened and why.

It's called Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America.

The chief correspondent for The Washington Post, Balz is the author of several books, including one on President Obama's first election — The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election — written with Haynes Johnson.

On the Noodle Road is one attempt to answer an old chestnut: Did Marco Polo really bring noodles from China to Italy? If not, where did they really come from? Or — to put it another way — from what point along the storied byways of the Silk Road did that humble paste of flour and water first spring into its multifarious existence?