The line between fiction and fact began to blur for Shapter in 2009, at a Smithville bed-and-breakfast. Shapter was scouting locations for his first feature film, which he hoped would be the fictional story of a woman from a small town who had helped rob the bank where she worked and then disappeared.
Funnily enough, he says his hosts told him, something a lot like that had happened there many years ago. A woman who’d been working as a bank teller allegedly got her boyfriend to rob her employer. She was interrogated but skipped town before charges were filed and was never seen again.
Later, Shapter says, David Herrington, a local historian who is interviewed in The Teller and the Truth, showed him a picture of the woman—posing, memorably, with her midriff bared—in an old Smithville newspaper. But her tale dead-ended after that. “There’s no more to that story other than she was brought in for questioning,” Shapter tells me. So Shapter filled in the details. He decided to give the woman his late grandmother’s name because he thought that attributing fictional incidents to a real person would invite a lawsuit. And that 1974 photo that he posted to Flickr? It was actually a photo he took in 2010 of Leilani Galvan, an employee at an Austin juice bar he frequents. (Shapter does not have a photographer uncle named Paul Amos McQueen.) He calls his creation of the Wetherbee myth a “social experiment.” He certainly didn’t expect it to blow up like it did.
Richard Susskind has been discussing “the end of lawyers” for years. He’s at it again, but this time with even more sweeping claims. In a recent book entitled The Future of the Professions, co-authored with his son, Daniel, he argues that nearly all professions are on a path to near-complete automation. Lawyers may be relieved by this new iteration of his argument — if everyone’s profession is doomed to redundancy, then law can’t be a particularly bad career choice after all. To paraphrase Monty Python: few expect the singularity.
Yet for all its ubiquity, the magazine retains a central air of mystery. Even regular readers are often unaware of its origins, and its editor-in-chief is all but publicly invisible. Which is why I went on a pilgrimage to Kinfolk's offices in Copenhagen to find Nathan Williams and figure out how an almost painfully reserved 29-year-old ex-Mormon from rural Canada bucked the slow death of print to create the lifestyle magazine of the decade, not just for Brooklyn or the United States, but the entire world.
For anyone familiar with Greene’s prolific output, it’s hard to believe that he could ever suffer from writer’s block. But, in his fifties, that’s precisely what happened—he faced a creative “blockage,” as he called it, that prevented him from seeing the development of a story or even, at times, its start. The dream journal proved to be his savior. Dream journaling was a very special type of writing, Greene believed. No one but you sees your dreams. No one can sue you for libel for writing them down. No one can fact-check you or object to a fanciful turn of events. In the foreword to “A World of My Own,” a selection of dream-journal entries that Greene selected, Yvonne Cloetta, Greene’s mistress of many years, quotes Greene telling a friend, “If one can remember an entire dream, the result is a sense of entertainment sufficiently marked to give one the illusion of being catapulted into a different world . . . . One finds oneself remote from one’s conscious preoccupations.” In that freedom from conscious anxiety, Greene found the freedom to do what he otherwise couldn’t: write.
Tim Whitmarsh’s brilliant new book about ancient atheism makes a compelling case that various forms of religious disbelief have been with us for the past two and a half millennia, with greater and lesser degrees of cultural prominence. Atheism has had a distinguished and varied lineage. It seems likely that doubt about religion is just as old as religion itself, although there is no way to prove what people believed or did not believe in cultures that have left us no literary evidence.