Carrying a hand-held barometer and mapping elevation shifts in the terrain with his smartphone, he had arrived on a scouting mission for a quixotic project. He wanted to redefine the limits of human endurance by training a man to run a marathon in less than two hours without the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The Sub2 Project, as it is called, is an attempt at the extraordinary — to reduce by nearly three minutes the world record of 2 hours 2 minutes 57 seconds, set at the 2014 Berlin Marathon by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya. A marathoner breaking the two-hour barrier would finish more than six-tenths of a mile ahead of Kimetto, a veritable eternity in distance running.
It wasn’t long before it struck me that chess seemed to be a game for the young. When my daughter began doing scholastic tournaments, I would chat up other parents and ask whether they played—usually the reply was an apologetic shrug and a smile. I would explain that I too was learning to play, and the resulting tone was cheerily patronizing: Good luck with that! Reading about an international tournament, I was struck by a suggestion that a grandmaster had passed his peak. He was in his 30s. We are used to athletes being talked about in this way. But a mind game like chess?
But what to do when work ended? He loved Jane Jacobs’s evocations of Greenwich Village, with its friendly shop owners and its “ballet” of the city streets. But, he said, “I’d end up going to a bar and just sitting there, talking to a bartender and staring at Twitter.” A thought surfaced: I’m surrounded by people and things to do, and yet I’m so fucking bored and lonely.
All of this seemed very far away on a Sunday night this winter, in the basement of a renovated four-story brownstone in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. The building, Kennedy’s new home, is run by the co-living startup Common, which offers what it calls “flexible, community-driven housing.” Co-living has also been billed as “dorms for grown-ups,” a description that Common resists. But the company has set out to restore a certain subset of young, urban professionals to the paradise they lost when they left college campuses—a furnished place to live, unlimited coffee and toilet paper, a sense of belonging.
In “Little Labors,” a highly original book of essays and observations, Rivka Galchen writes, “The world seemed ludicrously, suspiciously, adverbially sodden with meaning.” The birth of her daughter, she observes, “made me again more like a writer . . . precisely as she was making me into someone who was, enduringly, not writing.”
This brilliantly described state is familiar to me, as is her experience of maternal sleeplessness and dim memory of Russian formalism. Galchen writes, “Another problem with being the mother of a baby is loneliness.” What friends we might have been, she and I, pushing our strollers around together. I fantasized that we might have breast-fed while watching the sexy antihero Louis C.K., recited the poetry of Sei Shonagun, talked about the new Jenny Offill novel that we couldn’t put down, sharing our well-worn copies of Jane Bowles. But probably we are both too guarded with our time; we would have seen each other at the park, and looked away.
I suspect that in the UK Baudelaire is more nodded to respectfully than actually read. This is a pity, because he could be said to have been the first modern poet: TS Eliot thought so, saying he was “the greatest exemplar in modern poetry in any language”.
Andrew Michael Hurley likes to know which part of The Loney unsettles you the most. It’s different for everyone: is it the setting – a decrepit house on a “wild and useless length of English coastline”? Or the occasional touch of gothic – a girl’s face glimpsed in a window, an effigy of Jesus found hanging in a wet wood, a crown of thorns topping a sheep skull? Or simply the relentless tension – who will go the furthest to cure a mute boy: his fanatical mother or the presence she believes is God, but the reader knows, deep down, is something else entirely?
When did individual writers begin to use word processors? As I began work on a literary history of word processing, I found it difficult to establish a time line. Sometimes writers kept a sales record—a word processor or computer would have represented a significant investment, especially back in the day. Other times, as with Stanley Elkin or Isaac Asimov, the arrival of the computer was of such seismic importance as to justify its own literary retellings. But most of the time there were no real records documenting exactly when a writer had gotten his or her first computer, and so I had to rely on anecdote, detective work, and circumstantial evidence.
Last year, after nearly a decade of long sojourns in Berlin, I signed the lease on an apartment in a pre-World War I, or altbau, building on a tree-shaded block just off Güntzelstrasse, a quiet neighborhood southwest of the city center.
Although I was vaguely aware that the city’s Jewish community had once been centered here, I found it unsettling to discover that Nazi terror had unfolded just outside my front door. Beginning in 1942, the Gestapo arrested dozens of Jews on my street, Jenaer Strasse, and shipped them to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, where almost all were killed.