It was ironic that Suzanne Lenglen, a woman, should have become the first international tennis celebrity, given the controversy surrounding women’s very presence on the court. Suzanne was the daughter and only child of Charles Lenglen, a well off rentier. He noted her exceptional athletic ability from an early age and, aware of the social prestige of tennis on the French Riviera, joined the fashionable Nice Tennis Club. Children were not normally allowed to become members, but so unusual was Suzanne’s potential that she became a junior member, playing with adults. Charles trained Suzanne himself and dominated their close relationship—an early example of the tendency for women tennis stars to be coached by their fathers (in today’s game the more famous examples being Venus and Serena Williams). It brought immense success. Suzanne Lenglen’s fame soon spread beyond the Riviera and from 1919 to 1926 she reigned as supreme international tennis star and indeed supreme female athlete.
But perhaps there is room for more definition creep. More than a few highly regarded things have been called beach reads over the years, with authors such as Thomas Pynchon and Donna Tartt coming under the beach umbrella. Literary novelists who have a strong handle on plot are often characterized as good vacation reads, because they manage to transport you elsewhere, away from the petty facts of ordinary life.
I felt pretty sure something was wrong when the deer began running toward me. I knew something was wrong when a pine branch flew by my head. The air went dark and a noise like a train barreled through the forest, the actual wind coming after the sound of itself. The trees all swayed in the same direction, and then came the slap of thunder.
I felt more than saw the huge shelf cloud, a wall of black striped with electricity, surge forward over the ridge of the Allegheny Mountains overlooking Green Bank, West Virginia. A sharp line against the blue sky, it looked less like weather and more like a Rothko. I lived in this remote town, and I was on my usual afternoon run, picking my way across the trails that led from my house to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, where I worked. Adrenaline told me I needed to fly, faster.
By his own account, one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s most “horrifying and paralyzing” ideas involved a time machine. In the thought experiment known as the “eternal recurrence,” Nietzsche asked readers to consider how they would react if a demon were to tell them that “this life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more, and innumerable times more.” Would they curse the demon? Or had they experienced a moment so sublime that if consigned to repeat it, they would thank the demon for the opportunity? What interested Nietzsche was less the practical mechanics of his hypothetical than its existential implications. What paralyzed him was the possibility of not wanting to affirm one’s life through eternal repetition.