Only one longstanding Philadelphia print publication has experienced a largely upward trajectory in recent years. Over the past three years, Philadelphia, a glossy magazine aimed at an affluent and overwhelmingly white audience in a city that is forty-four percent black and has a poverty rate of more than twenty-five percent, has more than tripled its web traffic from six hundred thousand visitors per month to nearly two-and-a-half million, and increased its digital revenue by fifty percent. Tim Haas, the magazine’s director of digital operations, showed me a graph of Facebook engagements-per-week with Philly media: Philly.com received about twenty-six thousand, with phillymag.com close behind, at twenty-one thousand. (The next highest site received about five thousand.) In other words, the print media market, occupied by multiple dailies and weeklies, has been supplanted online by a duopoly played out between the assets of a non-profit and a glossy magazine.
In the late winter or early spring of 1989, I got a phone call from Lex Kaplen, who had been a fact checker at The New Yorker. I was on the copydesk, and had been there for seven years, a Biblical amount of time. Lex was eating as we talked—I pictured a jelly doughnut. He asked if I was interested in joining him and others who had been colleagues at The New Yorker on the startup of a new magazine called Wigwag.
The life of the professional novelist is an agreeable one: you make your own hours, you do your best work in your pyjamas and Ugg boots, and no boss glares at you when you have crisps and Guinness for lunch. The only occasion when things can get a little tricky is when the dreaded writer’s block comes a-calling. I’ve always liked the Charles Bukowski solution: “Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t really work when you’re a mystery novelist. Last August I had a deadline looming and the solution to the ending of my book was nowhere in sight. I decided that I wasn’t the problem: the problem was my family, with their annoying requests for daddy time, food and so on.
In the middle of taking the bar exam at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, in New York City, along with thousands of aspiring lawyers, I had to go to the bathroom. The enormous line for the women’s restroom looked like it would take at least a half hour. There was no line for the men’s restroom. I walked in, passed my male counterparts at a row of urinals, used one of several empty stalls, then returned to my desk. I felt that my decision to forgo the women’s bathroom made a difference to my passing the exam, and that the much longer wait for women than men during an all-important test for entry to the legal profession was obviously unfair.
There is now, however, an active debate around what bathrooms we should be able to use. A recently proposed Indiana law would make it a crime for a person to enter a single-sex public restroom that does not match the person’s “biological gender,” defined in terms of chromosomes and sex at birth. The punishment could be up to a year in jail and a five-thousand-dollar fine. Similar laws proposed in several other states have not passed. These proposals attempt to counter recent moves in many states to allow transgender people to access bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s same-sex-marriage decision, last summer, these skirmishes may give the sense of moving the L.G.B.T.-equality debate from the sublime to the ridiculous. But the implications of the controversy go far beyond bathrooms.
I’m not their mother. And I’m not their girlfriend either.
I’m their university professor. At times I encounter students, both male and female, who don’t quite grasp this, and I consequently find myself in a whole host of awkward situations, trying to subtly remind them that I’m neither going to make their bed nor go to bed with them.
Max Porter’s compact and splendid book, a polyphonic narrative with elements of the prose poem, cracks open a set of emotions that has become spuriously coherent and tractable. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, in which a being that resembles Ted Hughes’s Crow appears to a bereaved husband and his sons (the father happens to be writing a critical book about Hughes), qualifies as a novel by the familiar logic of its not fitting any other category.
You may not have noticed while you were scarfing your avocado toast, but 2015 was the year of the egg, at least as far as the food industry was concerned. An Avian flu outbreak briefly sent egg prices soaring. Meanwhile, McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food chain and one of the biggest egg buyers anywhere, announced it would ditch its conventionally farmed eggs and sell nothing but cage-free eggs in all of its US and Canadian restaurants. By the end of the year, just about every major fast food chain and a handful of multinational food companies had followed suit, including Subway, Starbucks, Nestle and most recently Wendy’s, which joined in just this month.
But these announcements had a catch. The companies said the switch to cage-free would take anywhere from five years to a decade to complete. How could it possibly take ten years to let a bunch of chickens out of their cages?