That Time Andy Cohen Asked Anderson Cooper Out (and About His Mom)

ANDY COHEN I remember being home when I made the call, on Horatio Street. I was excited.

COOPER Within 45 seconds, he said, “Your mom is Gloria Vanderbilt.”

COHEN So bad. I wanted to date the Vanderbilt boy.

COOPER I imagined him on a Bluetooth headset, walking around, gesticulating a lot.

COHEN By the way, you weren’t exactly Mr. Personality on that call, either.

COOPER No, I wasn’t. I was very depressed. It was a bleak time. I was trying to figure out my way at ABC. I started as a one-man band; a guy I worked with when I was a fact-checker made a fake press pass for me, and I borrowed a camera and started going to wars. I’d been working at Channel One for three years. I’d never worked at a network. I didn’t know what I was doing. We never had the date.

COHEN We started running into each other at the Roxy. He would be dancing around.

COOPER I wouldn’t be dancing around. I was like, that’s the guy who said, “your mom is Gloria Vanderbilt.”

COHEN We both knew Barry Diller, and we wound up in this group that would travel together, him and his friends.

COOPER DVF — Diane [von Furstenberg]. Billie Lourd, she was very young. Sandy Gallin.

COHEN We went to Turkey.

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Mr. Cooper and his former New Year’s Eve co-host, Kathy Griffin, in 2015.

Credit
Carlo Allegri/Reuters

COOPER I remember going up some waterway in a slow-moving boat, talking to you, sort of entranced. Andy, even before he was on TV, was the life of the party.

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COHEN I thought he was a little standoffish. But I liked making him laugh. That was my goal: Maybe I can crack this guy up, and that’s where we can come together.

COOPER He did this whole “Maniac” dance.

Flashdance – She’s a Maniac [HD] Video by Vientaneva

COHEN Oh, yes, from “Flashdance.” We were on the boat, it’s a very fast dance, and I was barefoot. Didn’t I cut my foot?

COOPER It made me giggle uncontrollably. That’s the first time I remember being like, “You’re funny.”

COHEN Then we would have dinner occasionally, or be at the same party. We went to Croatia in 2005. I was at Bravo then.

COOPER I started working later at night, so our chances for hanging out were limited.

COHEN Our shows are so different, but we have commonalities because we’re both on every night. I worked in news —— why are you laughing? Excuse me, I worked at CBS News for 10 years.

COOPER You absolutely did, but the advice you would give me was not —— I was in Croatia with him when I got the call about Hurricane Katrina. I turned to Andy and said, “I gotta go,” and, Andy, as a newsman, what was it you said?

COHEN I said: “This is ridiculous. They just want you outside at some rainstorm so they can get ratings.”

COOPER Needless to say, I was on the next flight out. But one of the things I don’t think Andy has gotten enough credit for is he’s been an openly gay man in this industry from the very beginning. I was out at work ——

COHEN He was out to everybody. Everyone at CNN knew your partner.

COOPER And I was out at the Roxy.

COHEN Yeah, with your flaming-white hair, like Katniss Everdeen.

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COOPER It was more about not discussing it publicly. But I told you I was going to be making a statement.

COHEN He never asked me for advice, but we did talk about it.

COOPER I don’t think there’s anything I’ve not discussed with him. It’s nice to have someone who pokes fun at you. If I’m in a dangerous place, he’ll text me something funny.

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Mr. Cohen last year on his Bravo show, “Watch What Happens Live,” with Bethenny Frankel, a guest from “The Real Housewives of New York City.”

Credit
Michael Nagle for The New York Times

COHEN I do get worried when he’s like, “I’m on my way to Egypt.” I’m like: “Are you kidding me? When are you coming home?” You’re not eating your eggs. Do you not like them?

COOPER No, I like them.

COHEN Are you going to eat your toast?

COOPER I’m going to nibble.

COHEN Do you want some jelly?

COOPER No.

COHEN He is a very fussy eater. We were in the Dallas airport two weeks ago. Tell what you were eating for breakfast.

COOPER Panda Express.

COHEN He was eating orange chicken at 9 a.m. It was so gross.

COOPER We took a trip to Brazil five years ago. It was me; my partner, Benjamin [Maisani]; a friend of ours; and Andy. I brought them to Trancoso, this town I’d always heard about. I booked the hotels, I booked the flights — the one thing I asked Andy to do was check the bags in.

COHEN I lost Anderson’s luggage. It was terrible.

COOPER That was the first time I’ve ever gotten angry at Andy. And when I get angry, I get silent.

COHEN Prickly ice-cold monster. You have to navigate his moods. I know exactly when to stop talking to him.

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COOPER We’re both sensitive in reading other people’s emotions. I know instantly when he’s lost interest in a conversation on the phone. We work all the —— see, he’s checking ——

COHEN I’m rolling my sleeve up.

COOPER I think he was secretly about to check his watch.

COHEN No, I wasn’t. Look, you know people when you travel with them. It’s intimate.

COOPER When his second book came out, he asked me to do an interview with him at the 92nd Street Y. My agent was in the crowd, and she was like, “You guys should take this on the road.”

COHEN We looked at each other, and, immediately, were like, “Oh, my God, we can travel the country together.”

COOPER We’ve done 30-something shows.

COHEN New Year’s will be a good continuation. It’s going to be really fun. Amy Sedaris is coming by. We’re going to play games.

COOPER We want people to feel like they’re hanging out with us for a night.

COHEN I’m going to bring alcohol.

COOPER I would expect nothing less.

COHEN Just so you know.

COOPER I’d rather not know the details.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/27/arts/television/anderson-cooper-andy-cohen.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Who Wants to Buy the Most Expensive House in America?

“Let’s say you’re a super-wealthy single dude who just sold your company,” said Nile Niami. “You’ve just moved to L.A. and you don’t know anybody, so you hire someone to fill your house with partyers. You want everyone to know who you are, but you don’t want to talk to anybody. So you go sit in your V.I.P. room.”

Mr. Niami was giving a tour, and, unlike most home tours, this one started in the nightclub. It will have multiple bars, its own coat room and LED ceilings playing images of moving clouds. Beyond the floor-to-ceiling glass walls there is a swimming pool, along with panoramic views stretching to downtown Los Angeles and Century City.

The home is entering its fifth year of development. When finished this spring, it will be one of the largest private homes in America — 100,000 square feet — and, at an asking price of $500 million, will bill itself as the most expensive as well.

The property has 20 bedrooms. Seven of them are in a separate building for staff. The largest bedroom is a 5,500-square-foot master suite. It will have its own office, pool and kitchen; like the nightclub’s V.I.P. room, it is meant to be a private retreat from the rest of the house.

A scale model of the One.CreditJake Michaels for The New York TimesNile Niami by the nightclub hot tub area at the One.CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

The house has a commercial-size beauty salon and a lounge where the walls and ceilings are made of jellyfish aquariums. Asked why, Mr. Niami shrugged, looking slightly baffled by the line of questioning. “Because it’s cool,” he said.

At a minimum, he said, there are four swimming pools, including the ones in the nightclub and master suite. But by another count, he said, there are seven, including an infinity-edge moat that surrounds the property, as well as indoor spa pools. He also lost track of the number of elevators. “I need to count,” he said, holding up his hand and closing his eyes. A few seconds later, he arrived at the tally: five.

The list price is nearly five times the price of the most expensive home ever to sell in Los Angeles — that’s a tie between the Playboy Mansion, which sold in 2016, and a speculatively built home in Holmby Hills that sold for $100 million last year. The most expensive home sale to date in America is a $137 million spread in New York, in the Hamptons, and $300 million is believed to be the price of the most expensive home ever sold in the world.

In the 19th century, families like the Astors and the Vanderbilts spent years or even decades designing estates to impress European aristocrats. Now it’s developers like Mr. Niami, a former B-movie producer, who are building the homes, designed to impress international billionaire would-be buyers.

The house’s architect, Paul McClean, who also designed the home that Jay-Z and Beyoncé paid $88 million for earlier this year, said it would be as much an entertainment showpiece as a house. That’s very much how Gilded Age mansions functioned. “The pattern repeats itself,” Mr. McClean said.

But while Gilded Age mansions were built as family legacies to be passed down to future generations or endowed to universities, these tech-centric, ultramodern glass-and-marble behemoths are designed for living in the moment. They come furnished, often with artwork, wine and cars. Each represents a developer’s bet that an instant-gratification billionaire is willing to pay more for it than almost anyone else has ever paid for a personal residence before.

This New Gilded Age has found an epicenter in Los Angeles, particularly where Bel-Air, Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills converge. Real estate agents call it the Platinum Triangle. A spec home is on the market in Bel-Air for $250 million; it comes with two years of prepaid household staff. Nearby, a London-based developer is marketing a gated community where homes start at $115 million.

In 2012, Mr. Niami paid $28 million for the hilltop lot, which included a vacant 10,000-square-foot house that he said was in ramshackle condition. He declined to say what he was spending on construction.

The One, as he has branded it, will officially hit the market when it is completed in mid-2018. Local real estate agents seem to agree that Mr. Niami is building a one-of-a-kind mansion on a one-of-a-kind lot, with a 360-degree view you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else other than the Getty Museum.

Many also agree it’s unlikely that he will get his price. Stephen Shapiro, the president of Westside Estate Agency in Beverly Hills, says sales have been very strong for houses over $20 million in Los Angeles over the past several years. But he cited only three or four sales over $100 million in all of California — what he described as “a nonexistent market.” Fewer than three dozen homes worldwide have sold for more than $100 million in the last decade, according to a report by Christie’s International Real Estate.

Jonathan Miller, an appraiser in New York who has been tracking United States home sales over $50 million, said a $250 million four-floor condominium in Manhattan has been in contract for two years and is scheduled to close escrow soon. The 2015 record was an estate in France that sold for $300 million, whose buyer was recently revealed as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Mr. Miller said he doesn’t think any of these sales necessarily indicate the market is strong. “I call this aspirational pricing,” he said. “There’s been nothing close to $500 million.”

A gold Lamborghini in the garage of the Opus, a house developed by Mr. Niami in Beverly Hills, on the market for $100 million.CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times The pool in the middle of the Opus house. CreditJake Michaels for The New York TimesThe Cristal Champagne room at Opus.CreditJake Michaels for The New York TimesA custom built-in coffee machine that can make almost every type of coffee drink at Opus.CreditJake Michaels for The New York TimesCreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

There is also a growing belief that there are more houses being built in the $100 million-plus price range than there are buyers who can afford them. (Mr. Niami counters that his house isn’t comparable to any others being built because of its size, its unusually large hillside lot, and its views.) Mr. Niami’s real estate sales partner, Drew Fenton, declined to be interviewed but said in an email that the One is in a category of its own and that the top end of the luxury market in Los Angeles is booming, with low inventory and “many qualified buyers.”

Mr. Niami could still make a hefty profit if the property sells for well under $500 million, which seems like the plan. Most homes with record-breaking asking prices have sold for significant discounts. The Playboy Mansion, for example, was listed for $200 million and sold for $100 million in 2016.

But this may be the pinnacle of the huge-house arms race in Los Angeles. One upside, for Mr. Niami anyway, is that it’s likely no one could ever again build a home of this size. It took almost two years to excavate the hilltop lot, with construction vehicles clogging the narrow, hilly streets. In reaction to mega-size homes and construction that strains lot sizes and squeezes neighbors, Los Angeles has since passed an anti-mansionization ordinance, capping home sizes in many neighborhoods.

So the scale helps justify the asking price. “That’s one of the things we’ll be selling,” said Jeff Hyland, the president of Hilton & Hyland, the real estate firm that has the listing. “You couldn’t build this again.”

Mr. Niami said he thinks the buyer will likely purchase the property as a fifth or sixth home. The estate would basically serve as a private hotel to visit a couple of times a year. “They would have a full staff with uniforms,” he said. Meals would be prepared off-site or come from the large catering kitchen, which is downstairs. (The main kitchen also has four ovens, if needed.)

Mr. Niami was raised by a single mother in a 1,100-square-foot home in Los Angeles. Doug Witkins, who was Mr. Niami’s Big Brother mentor in the early 1980s, said, “He struck me as the best salesman I’d ever met in my life, at age 11.”

While still in high school, Mr. Niami took night classes to get his cosmetology license, then learned how to do special-effects prosthetics for horror films. At 19, he went to work with Mr. Witkins, selling international movie rights at his film distribution company.

A custom gold giraffe sculpture that Mr. Niami commissioned for his house.CreditJake Michaels for The New York TimesMr. Niami, a yoga enthusiast, in the hot yoga room he had made for his house.CreditJake Michaels for The New York TimesA sauna in Mr. Niami’s house.CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

Later, he started his own production company, spending $300,000 on a trailer to hype a movie he described as “‘The Terminator’ with a woman.” Mr. Niami and a partner went on to produce 14 more films, many of them straight-to-video B movies. One starred Keanu Reeves at his post-“Matrix” peak and earned $29 million in the United States, but cost over $30 million to make. Mr. Niami said he realized that if he couldn’t make a big profit off that movie, he probably never would.

So he started building small condominiums and renovating homes to sell. Building luxury spec homes from scratch in affluent areas, he broke a few neighborhood price records. In 2014, Sean Combs paid $39 million for one of his spec houses. (It had an underwater tunnel connected to a grotto.)

Mr. Niami has built more than 30 houses in Los Angeles, with half a dozen more under construction now. He plans to start looking for investment partners and penthouses in New York City to develop next year.

Mr. Witkins went to work with Mr. Niami after his own business fell off during the last recession. He said his onetime mentee took what he learned producing films and applied it to building and selling homes. “Each house is like a set and an ongoing production,” Mr. Witkins said.

Just above the Sunset Strip, construction workers in white bootees were putting the final touches on another home — a 14,000-square-foot house that Mr. Niami is building for himself. It has a custom-made 24-foot gold giraffe skeleton sculpture in a glass box and a $400,000 Lucite-bottom swimming pool.

“This entire house is about excess,” Mr. Niami said, after showing off a giant sensory deprivation chamber, a cryogenic spa treatment chamber and a hot yoga room with living walls. “Who needs two pools? Two Jacuzzis? Nobody! But it’s cool.”

Later, we went to Opus, a 21,000-square-foot home in Beverly Hills, hidden behind a shiny gold wall, that Mr. Niami started marketing six months ago for $100 million. To help sell it, he produced a three-minute trailer featuring largely nude women painted in gold gyrating suggestively and swimming in the pools. It was meant to be “very sexy, on the edge,” he said, citing Beyoncé’s “Partition” as inspiration.

In September, he cut the asking price to $85 million. Buyers, he said, weren’t actually interested in purchasing the home with the roughly $12 million worth of Lamborghinis, Rolls-Royces and Damien Hirst paintings he was going to include at the higher asking price. (The house next door, built speculatively by the QVC handbag mogul Bruce Makowsky, sold in 2014 for a record $70 million to the Minecraft founder Markus Persson; it was listed for $85 million.)

Mr. Niami at the One property. CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

It was a balmy late-November afternoon and the glass walls of Opus’s living room were open to the 85-foot-long infinity pool, where a bird landed to bathe itself. Mr. Niami took a chamois left behind by a maid and dusted an already spotless-looking shelf inside the champagne room, filled with $300,000 worth of Cristal. Then he picked up a gold champagne holster in the shape of a machine gun and struck a quick pose.

Later, Mr. Niami made cappuccinos from a wet bar’s iPad-activated coffee maker and took in the panoramic view beyond the pool. It was a slightly hazy day, but there was still good visibility.

“It’s funny,” he said. “A lot of the houses I do look into other houses I’ve done.” Across the way, for example, was another modern glass mansion he built a few years ago. It looked vacant, with overgrown landscaping.

Mr. Niami said that the buyer, from Malaysia, paid him $40 million for the home and then promptly gutted it. “That house looked like this,” he said, stretching his arms out wide for emphasis. “Furniture! Beautiful! Everything!” Eventually, he said, the Department of Justice took possession of the home after the owner ran into legal trouble. It’s been empty ever since. “It’s so sad,” he said.

The next day, he was still thinking about that house. In the chauffeured Mercedes van that is also his office, he scrolled through original photos of the house on a large screen mounted to the back of the driver’s seat. The house had sleek white marble floors and was resplendent in black, white and gold. “I want to buy it back,” he said.

Candace Jackson is a reporter in California.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/23/style/the-most-expensive-house-in-america.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Debunking Myths About Estrangement – The New York Times

“To the extent you are actively trying to distance yourself and maintain that distance, that makes you estranged,” said Kristina Scharp, an assistant professor of communication studies at Utah State University in Logan.

Last month, Lucy Blake, a lecturer at Edge Hill University in England, published a systematic review of 51 articles about estrangement in the Journal of Family Theory & Review. This body of literature, Dr. Blake wrote, gives family scholars an opportunity to “understand family relationships as they are, rather than how they could or should be.”

Estrangement is widely misunderstood, but as more and more people share their experiences publicly, some misconceptions are being overturned. Assuming that every relationship between a parent and child will last a lifetime is as simplistic as assuming every couple will never split up.

Myth: Estrangement Happens Suddenly

It’s usually a long, drawn-out process rather than a single blowout. A parent and child’s relationship erodes over time, not overnight.

Kylie Agllias, a social worker in Australia who wrote a 2016 book called “Family Estrangement,” has found that estrangement “occurs across years and decades. All the hurt and betrayals, all the things that accumulate, undermine a person’s sense of trust.”

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For a study published in June, Dr. Scharp spoke to 52 adult children and found they distanced themselves from their parents in various ways over time.

Some adult children, for example, moved away. Others no longer made an effort to fulfill expectations of the daughter-son role, such as a 48-year-old woman who, after 33 years with no contact with her father, declined to visit him in the hospital or to attend his funeral.

Still others chose to limit conversations with a family member to superficial small talk or reduce the amount of contact. One 21-year-old man described how he called and texted his mother, but not his father, after leaving for college. “They still live together so obviously he noticed and that bothered him,” he said.

Estrangement is a “continual process,” Dr. Scharp said. “In our culture, there’s a ton of guilt around not forgiving your family,” she explained. So “achieving distance is hard, but maintaining distance is harder.”

A complete rupture can be years in the making. It’s been three years since Nikolaus Maack, 47, has had contact with most of his family. But he started distancing himself from his parents and siblings a decade before. “I was staying away,” said Mr. Maack, a civil servant in Ottawa. His father’s temper had always kept him on edge, he said, and he felt that holiday meals were particularly uncomfortable and demeaning. Eventually, Mr. Maack stopped attending Christmas festivities altogether.

Reached by email, Mr. Maack’s father declined to be interviewed but insulted Mr. Maack and said he no longer considered him a son.

Myth: Estrangement Is Rare

In 2014, 8 percent of roughly 2,000 British adults said that they had cut off a family member, which translates to more than five million people, according to a nationally representative survey commissioned by Stand Alone, a charity that supports estranged people.

And 19 percent of respondents reported that another relative or they themselves were no longer in contact with family.

Myth: There’s a Clear Reason People Become Estranged

Multiple factors appear to come into play. In a 2015 study, Dr. Agllias interviewed 25 Australian parents, each of whom had been cut off by at least one child. The reasons for the rupture fell into three main categories. In some cases, the son or daughter chose between the parent and someone or something else, such as a partner. In others, the adult child was punishing the parent for “perceived wrongdoing” or a difference in values. Most parents also flagged additional ongoing stressors like domestic violence, divorce and failing health.

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A woman once insisted to Dr. Agllias that she had not spoken to her son and his wife in seven years because she asked her daughter-in-law to bring a specific dessert to a family gathering, and the daughter-in-law had deliberately brought the same one she had baked. The mother-in-law saw it as “a symbol of total disrespect,” Dr. Agllias said, yet she revealed other factors that had undermined their relationship, including that she felt her son’s wife sometimes kept the grandchildren from her and didn’t properly take care of her son. The dessert, Dr. Agllias said, became a symbol of the “cumulative disrespect” she felt.

Myth: Estrangement Happens on a Whim

In a study published in the journal Australian Social Work, 26 adults reported being estranged from parents for three main reasons: abuse (everything from belittling to physical or sexual abuse), betrayal (keeping secrets or sabotaging them) and poor parenting (being overly critical, shaming children or making them scapegoats). The three were not mutually exclusive, and often overlapped, said Dr. Agllias, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

Most of the participants said that their estrangements followed childhoods in which they had already had poor connections with parents who were physically or emotionally unavailable.

For instance, Mr. Maack resented that he was routinely left in charge of his two younger siblings, so much so that he decided never to have children of his own.

After years of growing apart, the final straw was his wedding day.

In 2014, he and his longtime girlfriend decided to marry at City Hall for practical reasons: They realized she wouldn’t be able to inherit his pension, otherwise. He didn’t invite his family, in part because it was an informal gathering. But also because a brother had recently married in a traditional ceremony, during which his father had backed out of giving his speech. He worried that his father might do something similarly disruptive. He did not want to invite him and said he didn’t think anyone else would come without him.

“I agonized over inviting them or not, for a long time,” he said, “but in the end, decided, ‘I can’t have them there.’”

His family found out he was married through Facebook. One brother told him he was hurt he wasn’t even told. And his sister and father made it clear they would no longer talk to him, according to Mr. Maack and his wife. Two other relatives confirmed their account.

These days, one brother still talks to Mr. Maack, mostly through Facebook messenger, but they don’t talk about the others.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/20/well/family/debunking-myths-about-estrangement.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Is It Better to Cook With Coconut Oil or Olive Oil?

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Credit
Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Q. Is it better to cook with coconut oil or olive oil?

A. In terms of health impacts, it is better to cook with olive oil.

Compared to a tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of coconut oil contains about six times the amount of saturated fat, nearly meeting the daily limit of about 13 grams that the American Heart Association recommends. High saturated fat intake has been tied to increased levels of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, which raises the risk of heart disease.

Furthermore, olive oil, a main component of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, contains beneficial polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

“Between the two, olive oil is a better choice, since monounsaturated fats can have a beneficial effect on your heart when eaten in moderation and when used to replace saturated and trans fats in your diet,” said Annessa Chumbley, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the A.H.A., in an email. Earlier this year, the organization issued an advisory that firmly reiterated its guidance to consumers to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats to help prevent heart disease. Consumers were also urged to keep in mind the bigger picture of an overall healthy eating pattern.

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While some research has linked the main type of saturated fatty acid in coconut oil, lauric acid, to increased levels of HDL, or “good,” cholesterol, it still appears to raise LDL cholesterol. Yet, coconut oil may be a better choice than some other sources of saturated fat. A large, recent study found that lauric acid didn’t appear to raise heart disease risk quite as much as other types of saturated fatty acids, such as palmitic acid, which is substantial in butter.

Proponents of coconut oil point out that it is rich in phytochemicals that have healthful antioxidant properties. While it’s true that extra-virgin coconut oil, like extra-virgin olive oil, contains phytochemicals, most of the coconut oil on the market is refined and provides few of those antioxidants, said Dr. Qi Sun, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. But even if the coconut oil you are using is extra-virgin, “the saturated fat effects outweigh any beneficial effects of the antioxidants,” he said.

But of course, we don’t eat fats or cholesterol or antioxidants — we eat food. So while coconut oil certainly isn’t the magic bullet some claim, there’s no need to avoid it completely, especially if it is used instead of butter or shortening in baked goods or to impart flavor in something like a curry dish. As a general rule, though, cooking with olive oil is the better choice for overall health.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/22/well/eat/is-it-better-to-cook-with-coconut-oil-or-olive-oil.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Immortality at Midnight – The New York Times

Toward the end of another unexpected year of existence, outliving a poor prognosis of late-stage cancer rouses me in the dark. Such an awakening is quite different from the fretful insomnia that accompanied the dire diagnosis. Especially in this season of celebrated miracles, it somehow thrills me to be stirring at 2 or 3 a.m. Trepidation and grief dissolve in the weird awareness (can it possibly be true?) of still being alive.

Back in 2008, I was informed by a brilliant and dismayed oncologist that I would probably die before 2013. Do those of us in extended treatment become revenants? Although like many patients I continue to curse the disease, there may be one transient byproduct of even a brief reprieve for some lucky few: Cognizance of limited time can paradoxically expand time.

In my case, this oddly gratifying wakefulness seems to have little to do with meditation, handbooks, support groups, yoga classes, breathing exercises, massage, acupuncture, flax seeds, carrot juice, green tea or vitamin C. Has hardly anything to do with being responsible, not complaining, making a nutritious supper, washing the dishes, swabbing the surfaces, taking out the garbage. Or with phoning the relatives, telling stories, not complaining, listening to their fears and wishes.

Has little to do with belief in any god or gods, with redemption or resurrection, with going to heaven or, for that matter, elsewhere. Even less to do with researchers, physicians, radiologists, surgeons, nurses or technicians — the noble professionals who must be thanked — or with scans, blood tests, with living longer or better, procedures or trials or drugs, no, not at all.

The eerie quickening might have something to do with a storm passing, tossing the trees and lighting up the night sky, and then booming farther off in the distance. But, I concede as I get up out of the bed, it might not. It could be related to a partner snoring rhythmically in the abandoned bedroom or a tune in my head, bringing back memories of twirling around on a rug when I was young, spinning so rapidly that the pattern began to whirl round and round.

In other words, it may have to do with William Carlos Williams’s poem “Danse Russe.” But not exactly because I don’t take off my clothes to dance in front of a mirror, waving my shirt above my head, though I am reveling at being vertical, wide-awake, and the spirit of the household while everyone else, here and in the neighborhood, is fast asleep. At this point, I’m not much drawn to mirrors or nakedness.

It probably is connected to the prospect of beaded bubbles winking at the brim of a glass of wine, but not necessarily. Because it can descend so oddly, with simply donning slippers as the moon silvers a shade or a tremulous tree limb shivers on a window — and I am roaming in the shadowy house, savoring the bliss, the animation and vibrancy of life, how inexplicable it is, how thoroughly meaningless and incommunicable and incommensurate.

There I am, then, my body seeded with cancer that has recurred and may return, whereas now the air is sweet and quiet, with only me conscious, and I can inch forward into futures I weave for the ones I must leave behind. May they prosper and thrive through a series of tomorrows I will not experience but cherish envisioning. For they need to find — oh, please let them find! — love elsewhere and abundantly.

Yes, here I am, not the object of concern or pity that I will become later again, as before. But at this hour — because of a shivering or a silvering — alight with the frisson of being unknown in the night’s oasis, hugging my captivated self so as to capture a sliver of exhilaration and bring back a swatch for those circumstances when I will need to remember what it was all for.

Alone but not lonely, I creep down the dim hall to study photos on a shelf: friends, children, cousins, grandchildren. All of them at various stages of evolution with their unique expressions of expectation or anxiety, curiosity or self-consciousness — standing still for the intrusive camera. Each requires a long stare. Where are they going? Will they be happy? Each elicits a smile; tears flow, but tears of joy.

There are throngs of hard to visualize faces as well, strangers who have testified. Men and women whom I have read or who have read me and found the strength to comment with wisdom, irony, grit, caveats, quibbles, disputes, rants, confessions, jokes: lusciously swirling words. Editors and copy editors, too: the scrupulous sensibilities behind the outpouring. And countless storytellers, memoirists, filmmakers, poets, photographers, singers, scholars, activists setting the record straight, working for a cure, churning up insights.

What is this inebriated euphoria? Immortality at midnight! An intuition of the rightness and beauty and uniqueness of those I know and those I do not know but reverence from afar in my singular ecstasy of simply feeling fine, feeling good, staying in that sense that here is the genius of truth and the truth of genius because pleasure and exultation pulse now in this contingent place, inside just this illumined moment of being.

Susan Gubar writes about life with ovarian cancer.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/21/well/live/immortality-at-midnight.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Can a Fitness Tracker Help You Run a Better Race?

Data can be helpful, said Dr. Simon Marshall, a coach, performance psychologist and co-author of “The Brave Athlete.”

“One of the cornerstones of improving is self-monitoring,” he said. Wearables provide that information — and it’s also objective. You may feel one way, while the data your body spits out may say another. Wearables “reduce our tendency to rely on anecdotes, feelings and impressions and all the other reasons human brains interpret information in a biased way,” he said.

All that data, however, can exacerbate issues athletes already have with conditions like anxiety. “Sometimes gadgets or the ability to quantify what you’re doing — they can be enablers of those traits,” Dr. Marshall said. “They can bring out the worst in some people’s personalities and can lead to less happiness, not more.” An intense focus on data can “disconnect you from the experience of running,” he said.

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Andrew Begley, coach at the Atlanta Track Club who oversees its Olympic Development program, said that sometimes runners can be hurt by the numbers that wearables produce if they focus on just one aspect of their training and forget the other factors that make for a strong runner.

“They get it in their head the way to be a better runner is to work harder, to run faster. It’s not really about that. It’s about recovery. It’s about making sure you’re getting enough sleep. It’s eating well,” he said. “As a coach, you have to remind them not to focus so much on that one aspect of their training, and help them focus on the whole picture.”

And some studies show that tracking devices can hamper goals. A recent study published in The Journal of American Education found that many teenagers who wore activity trackers got frustrated with them, feeling discouraged if they didn’t fit in 10,000 steps a day and became less motivated to be active than before they had the device. A 2016 JAMA study also found that activity trackers can undermine weight loss goals.

And of course if we don’t use them, which many people don’t, the only purpose they’ll serve is as a dust catcher. Dr. Louis Manza, professor and chair of psychology at Lebanon Valley College and an ultrarunner, got a Fitbit as a gift last year but never really got past the initial setup phase. “I was playing around with it for an hour trying to set the thing up,” he said, before deciding, “I don’t need this.”

While he says that experienced runners can benefit from getting objective data on their progress via an activity tracker, he doubts their value for new runners. “Someone who’s just starting, they’ve got to get into the rhythm of just moving,” he said. “I don’t know how much it’s really going to help them if their primary goal is putting one foot in front of the other and getting in the habit of getting out the door and exercising.”

In addition, for many people, the data can be overwhelming and distract you from reading your body’s own natural feedback.

“When you’re listening to your body, you’re getting more out of the workout, whatever that experience is. If you’re relying on your technology for everything, you’re not listening to what your body is trying to do and not getting the best benefit from the workout,” Dr. Manza said.

So did the Performance Metrics tracker offer any insights about my running? Despite stopping four times to retape the puck to my body and reboot the device, it still didn’t record a heartbeat. That resulted in a very frustrated runner and Performance Metrics team, and two large chafing spots on my chest that still hadn’t quite healed a month later.

The device did, however, stay put on Tiki Barber, the former New York Giants running back, who had tested it out twice before running the marathon. He found that if he wore a strap around his body and shoulder it would stay in place during his run.

He has run seven marathons and said he hoped that the data would help him figure out why he has always bonked around mile 18. “Does my heart rate pick up? Does my sweat rate increase at some point? What about my body temperature? Does my posture change and I’m putting more stress on different parts of my body? That’s what I wanted to find out,” he said.

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Mr. Barber has yet to analyze the data but says he hopes to wear the tracker again in his next marathon. I, however, will probably pass.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/21/well/move/can-a-fitness-tracker-help-you-run-a-better-race.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Shopping List for Champagne – The New York Times

CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

The bigger producers of Champagne are producing excellent, distinctive celebratory wines, even at the entry level. Here are 10 big brands well worth seeking out, and a glossary to help you navigate the selections.

Billecart-Salmon

Refined Champagnes, particularly the Brut Réserve ($45), Brut Sous Bois, fermented and aged in barrels ($80), and the rosé ($65). (T. Edward, New York)

Bruno Paillard

Graceful Champagnes of great minerality and finesse, including the nonvintage Brut Première Cuvée ($45) and the vintage blanc de blancs ($75). (Verity Wine Partners, New York)

Charles Heidsieck

Nonvintage Brut Réserve ($55) is extraordinarily deep and complex; the other cuvées are just as good. (Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Calif.)

Delamotte

Nonvintage blanc de blancs ($60) is pure, chalky and elegant; the vintage ($100) is even better. (Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.)

Duval-Leroy

From the nonvintage brut ($40) to the high-end Femme de Champagne ($180), a fine range of understated beauties. (Duval-Leroy Imports, Manhasset, N.Y.)

Jacquesson

Idiosyncratic yet gorgeous Champagnes, from the savory, numbered, extra brut nonvintages (currently No. 739, $50), to the higher end, site-specific cuvées. (Vintage ’59 Imports, Washington)

Louis Roederer

Across-the-board top quality, from energetic, harmonious nonvintage Brut Premier ($45) to the vintage blanc de blancs ($75) to the high-end Cristal ($250). (Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, Oakland, Calif.)

Philipponnat

Ripe, rich nonvintage Royale Réserve Brut ($60) is fine, but the higher-end blends are superb, especially the single-vineyard Clos des Goisses ($200). (Banville Wine Merchants, New York)

Ruinart

Nonvintage blanc de blancs ($70) is unusually full-bodied though elegant and fresh; vintage Dom Ruinart blanc de blancs ($140) is superb. (Moët Hennessy USA, New York)

Taittinger

Understated wines, from the lacy, toasty, nonvintage La Française ($40) to the complex Comtes de Champagne blanc de blancs ($150). (Kobrand, New York)

Champagne Cheat Sheet

Blanc de Blancs Champagne is ordinarily a blend of some combination of three grapes. Two, pinot noir and pinot meunier, are black grapes, ordinarily used to make red wines. One, chardonnay, is a white grape for white wine. A blanc de blancs, literally white from whites, is made solely from chardonnay and tends to have great elegance and finesse.

Blanc de Noirs “White from blacks” is a Champagne made only of black grapes, often but not always just pinot noir. It’s more robust than blanc de blancs and much rarer.

Disgorgement After the wine is fermented and bottled, a little sweetness and yeast are added to the bottle before it is sealed. This starts a second fermentation in the bottle, which produces the carbonation. Before the Champagne is finished, the sediment left by the dead yeast is expelled, or disgorged, from the bottle.

Dosage After disgorgement, the Champagne is generally sweetened a bit before it’s corked to balance the often searing acidity of the wine.

Brut The amount of the dosage determines how dry the Champagne will be. Brut is the most common designation, indicating a wine that can range from 0 to 12 grams of residual sugar per liter, though nowadays most bruts are 6 to 10 grams.

Extra Brut indicates a very dry Champagne, 0 to 6 grams of residual sugar per liter.

Brut Nature Indicates no dosage, though technically it can have a small dosage of up to 3 grams of residual sugar per liter. Synonyms include brut zéro.

Extra Dry Paradoxically, this indicates a much sweeter Champagne than brut, up to 17 grams residual sugar per liter. Demi-sec is even sweeter.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/dining/best-champagne-shopping-list-definitions.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

What We Mean When We Say Evidence-Based Medicine

In medicine, the term “evidence-based” causes more arguments than you might expect.

And that’s quite apart from the recent political controversy over why certain words were avoided in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget documents.

The arguments don’t divide along predictable partisan lines, either.

The mission of “evidence-based medicine” is surprisingly recent. Before its arrival, much of medicine was based on clinical experience. Doctors tried to figure out what worked by trial and error, and they passed their knowledge along to those who trained under them.

The benefits of evidence-based medicine, when properly applied, are obvious. We can use evidence from treatments to help people make better choices.CreditJean-Christophe Bott/European Pressphoto Agency

Many were first introduced to evidence-based medicine through David Sackett’s handbook, first published in 1997. The book taught me how to use test characteristics, like sensitivity and specificity, to interpret medical tests. It taught me how to understand absolute risk versus relative risk. It taught me the proper ways to use statistics in diagnosis and treatment, and in weighing benefits and harms.

It also firmly established in my mind the importance of randomized controlled trials, and the great potential for meta-analyses, which group individual trials for greater impact. This influence is apparent in what I write for The Upshot.

But evidence-based medicine is often described quite differently.

Many of its supporters say that using evidence-based medicine can address the problems of cost, quality and access that bedevil the health care system. If we all agree upon best practices — based on data and research — we can reduce unnecessary care, save money and push people into pathways to yield better results.

Critics of evidence-based medicine, many of them from within the practice of medicine, point to weak evidence behind many guidelines. Some believe that medicine is more of an “art” than a “science” and that limiting the practice to a cookbook approach removes focus from the individual patient.

Some of these critics (as well as many readers who comment on my articles) worry that guidelines line the pockets of pharmaceutical companies and radiologists by demanding more drugs and more scans. Others worry that evidence-based medicine makes it harder to get insurance companies to pay for needed care. Insurance companies worry that evidence-based recommendations put them on the hook for treatment with minimal proven value.

Everyone is a bit right here, and everyone is a bit wrong. This battle isn’t new; it has been going on for some time. It’s the old guard versus the new. It’s the patient versus the system. It’s freedom versus rationing. It’s even the individual physician versus the proclamations of a specialized elite.

Because of the tensions in that last conflict, this debate has become somewhat political.

The benefits of evidence-based medicine, when properly applied, are obvious. We can use test characteristics and results to make better diagnoses. We can use evidence from treatments to help people make better choices once diagnoses are made. We can devise research to give us the information we are lacking to improve lives. And, when we have enough studies available, we can look at them together to make widespread recommendations with more confidence than we’d otherwise be able.

When evidence-based medicine is not properly applied, though, it not only undermines its reasons for existence, but it also can lead to harm. Guidelines — and there are many — are often promoted as “evidence-based” even though they rely on “evidence” unsuited to its application. Sometimes, these guidelines are used by vested interests to advance an agenda or control providers.

Further, too often we treat all evidence as equivalent. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told that “research” proves I’m wrong. All research is not the same. A hierarchy of quality exists, and we have to be sure not to overreach.

There is a difference between statistical significance and clinical significance. Get a large enough cohort together, and you will achieve the former. That by itself does not ensure that the result achieves clinical significance and should alter clinical practice.

Finally, we have to recognize that even when good studies are done, with clinically significant results, we shouldn’t over-extrapolate the findings. Just because something worked in a particular population doesn’t mean we should do the same things to another group and say that we have evidence for it.

Years ago, Trisha Greenhalgh and colleagues wrote an article in the BMJ citing evidence-based medicine as “a movement in crisis.” It argued that we’ve moved too much from focusing on disease to risk. This point, more than any other, highlights the problem evidence-based medicine seems to have in the public sphere.

Too many articles, studies and announcements are quick to point out that something or other has been proved to be dangerous to our health, without a good explanation of the magnitude of that risk, or what we might reasonably do about it.

Big data, gene sequencing, artificial intelligence — all of these may provide us with lots of information on how we might be at risk for various diseases. What we lack is knowledge about what to do with what we might learn.

If evidenced-based medicine is to live up to its potential, it seems the focus should be on that side of the equation as well, instead of taking best guesses and calling them evidence-based. This, probably more than anything else, has made the term so widely mistrusted.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/27/upshot/what-we-mean-when-we-say-evidence-based-medicine.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Pop Charts Were Crazy This Year. Here’s Why.

Making the Streams Count
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Post Malone’s “Rockstar” got a boost from a version posted on YouTube by his record label that looped part of the song over and over.

Credit
Arthur Mola/Invision, via Associated Press

Sometimes a grass-roots push, such as the loosely organized social media campaign to vault Cardi B over Ms. Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do,” wasn’t quite enough. In the case of “Rockstar,” which was a smash on Spotify and Apple Music immediately upon release, Post Malone also got a wily assist from his label, Republic Records, which found a loophole on YouTube. While the video service has long been a target of the music industry for its low royalty payouts and pesky copyright infringers, free streams on YouTube do count toward Hot 100 placement. But instead of posting the entire song free, Republic uploaded a version of “Rockstar” that was exactly the same length as the actual track, but featured only its chorus, looped again and again. (It also closed comments on the video, preventing users from explaining to others what was going on.)

In its first few weeks, the video earned more than 40 million plays, contributing to the song’s reign on Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart, which preceded its peak on the Hot 100. The successful tactic even had copycats — Big Sean’s “Pull Up N Wreck,” for one — though YouTube has since had the videos removed and changed its rules, telling Pitchfork in a statement: “any upload of a song intended to mislead a user (preview, truncated, looped) posted on YouTube to look like the original song will not contribute to any charts.”

SoundCloud and YouTube: Early Warning Systems
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Lil Pump was one of a handful of SoundCloud rappers whose music crossed over and became a streaming smash.

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Rick Kern/WireImage, via Getty Images

Some of the most ubiquitous rap hits of the year weren’t supposed to be hits at all. While streaming success stories are typically dominated by Spotify, which counts more than 60 million paid subscribers, and Apple, which has some 30 million, the digital underground can be just as influential.

“XO Tour Llif3,” a Top 10 hit by Lil Uzi Vert, began as a freebie on SoundCloud, only to gain so much steam that it left his label, Atlantic Records, no choice but to monetize it. The song eventually made its way to Spotify’s prominent Rap Caviar playlist and reached No. 7 on the Hot 100 in June. Similarly, Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” dominated the SoundCloud charts long before it got a proper commercial push, hitting No. 3 in December. YouTube worked in much the same way, elevating to the mainstream harsh and sometimes troubling viral songs like “The Race” by Tay-K, a teenage fugitive; “Gummo” by the controversial Brooklyn rapper 6ix9ine; and “Rubbin Off the Paint” by YBN Nahmir.

Lil Uzi Vert – “XO Tour Llif3” Video by LIL UZI VERT

This trend may not hold: Billboard has announced that beginning in 2018, streams on unpaid or ad-supported services — like YouTube, most of SoundCloud and Spotify’s unpaid tier — would be weighted less than streams on paid services like Apple Music and Google Play. One potential consequence? Fewer niche rappers rubbing shoulders with Bruno Mars and Sam Smith on the pop charts.

In a Year of Streaming, How About Not?

Warning: It may not work for everyone. But for Taylor Swift, like Adele before her, this year was not yet time to follow the flock. By keeping her new album, “Reputation,” off streaming services for its first three weeks, Ms. Swift guaranteed herself an old-fashioned blockbuster, selling 1.2 million copies in her debut week. In the album’s first three days alone, it moved 925,000 units, some 600,000 as downloads and the rest as physical copies, both of which pay out higher royalty rates than streaming. Nice work if you can get it.

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Albums as Add-Ons
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Shania Twain and other artists who rely less on streaming numbers for their success took an alternate route to No. 1: bundling their albums with ticket sales for upcoming tours.

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Justin Tang/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

For other acts whose strengths may not necessarily lie in streaming — in other words, nonrappers — there was the ticket bundle. Though it has been around for a decade, the strategy gained prominence this year as Pink, Katy Perry, LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Kenny Chesney, Shania Twain and U2 topped the album chart in part by including copies of their new releases with the purchase of concert tickets.

Though the sale counts only if the buyer actually redeems the album, the cost is factored into the ticket price and proved a pretty surefire way to gain a first-week sales boost for these reliable live acts. “About 20 percent to 30 percent of fans tend to redeem their album offers, with most favoring CDs or vinyl over downloads, though nudges on email and social media can drive better results,” Billboard reported.

The Remix Comes Through

The big-name remix, another tried-and-true maneuver that found new relevance this year, breathed extra life into a few big hits. “Despacito,” the pop-reggaeton gamechanger, was already huge, especially on YouTube and the Spotify global chart, before Mr. Bieber’s verse was added. But the remix made it a supernova that led the Hot 100 for a record-tying 16 straight weeks and earned Grammy nominations for record and song of the year. Beyoncé provided a similar bit of magic to J Balvin’s “Mi Gente,” lifting it up to No. 3 from No. 21; she later jumped on Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect,” taking it all the way to No. 1. More quietly, Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” got a crunchtime bump from a Spanish-language remix and one featuring Kodak Black, both of which counted toward the main version’s chart position as it reached its apex.

J Balvin, Willy William – “Mi Gente” ft. Beyoncé Video by jbalvinVEVO

Endless Albums

From vinyl through the peak CD era, album length was often dictated by how much music could fit on the disc. The internet has done away with that constraint, too, leading some artists to pile on the tracks in hopes of racking up the streams. For a juggernaut like Drake, more did indeed mean more: “More Life,” his so-called playlist, was 22 songs long and broke digital records. Chris Brown upped the ante in October with “Heartbreak on a Full Moon,” which came in at 45 tracks, and he even instructed his fans on how to send it up the charts (“leave the album on repeat”), though he failed to reach Drake heights. And a new compilation by the stream-heavy label Quality Control, featuring Migos and Lil Yachty, has 30 songs, indicating that the idea has not yet reached saturation.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/27/arts/music/pop-charts-trends-streaming-taylor-swift.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Best Poetry of 2017

August Kleinzahler, “Before Dawn on Bluff Road: Selected New Jersey Poems / Hollyhocks in the Fog: Selected San Francisco Poems.” A double book that offers a two-state tour from one of America’s most agile and musical writers. The complexities of the concept — or feeling? — of home have rarely been given such subtly tender treatment.

Alessandra Lynch, “Daylily Called It a Dangerous Moment.” You can read 20 pages into Lynch’s book before you fully realize it’s about a sexual assault — and this is to her credit. She wants to show an act of violence in all its terrible particularity and also in the way it becomes a background against which identity trembles and sometimes fractures. It’s difficult to read this collection without thinking about how timely it is, but its force is in no sense dependent on that congruity.

Meghan O’Rourke, “Sun in Days.” O’Rourke’s third book, “Sun in Days” takes up illness, motherhood and death in lyrics with an essayistic sense of exploration and self-adjustment (“The surface more slippery, slick / and white the ice. I stand at the pond’s edge / gather the information darkening there / hello algae hello fish pond / my mind in the depths going…”).

Kiki Petrosino, “Witch Wife.” Petrosino is a canny, wide-ranging and formally nimble writer with a magician’s command of atmosphere. Consider the beginning of her unsettling villanelle “Nursery”: “We opened the door to the fairy house / & took our tea on matching pebble seats. / Somehow we got out of there alive / though something crystalline of us / remains in that dark, growing its facets…” Stranger things indeed. (A bonus is this collection’s fantastic cover, which is a reminder of how potently poems and art can reinforce each other.)

Tom Pickard, “Fiends Fell.” The chronicle of a year on a wind-blasted ridge on the Scottish-English border called Fiends Fell (or less poetically, Cross Fell), this collection is a mix of poetry and plainspoken prose that meditates on loneliness, sex, geography, art and occasionally pies. The closing poem, “Lark & Merlin,” is a showcase for Pickard’s extraordinary acoustical precision.

Craig Morgan Teicher, “The Trembling Answers.” Teicher’s gentle, technically adroit poems are openly autobiographical, often to good effect. The best poems here move quietly into strange places, as in the deliberately banally titled “The Hairdryer Cord Is All Tangled,” in which the cord is … more than a hairdryer cord.

Wendy Xu, “Phrasis.” Xu’s warmly intelligent collection is phrase-based, as you might expect given the title, and thus does its work through juxtaposition, quick shifts and odd, dreamlike combinations (“The cactus blooms itself / in air, is going places, is not / and never has been a vision / of anyone’s hand / laboring nightly…”).

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/22/books/review/best-poetry.html?partner=rss&emc=rss