I was sentenced on Good Friday. My mom was there in the courtroom. She and I both knew I was going to jail, but we didn’t know when or for how long. We thought we’d get to spend Easter together, but, to our surprise, the officers led me to a holding cell directly after sentencing. Mom was so distraught she stood up as they were leading me away and shouted, “Who’s going to make the lemon meringue pie?”
That person was supposed to be me.
I get it: language is a substitute for the infinitely deep and inexpressibly rich vibrations of our experiences. Words are translation and in translation something is always lost. “Nowhere do they touch upon absolute truth,” Nietzsche insists.
But most of us don’t live in silence or solitude; civilization happened and we think, speak, converse, and write in words. Language isn’t fixed—we’re constantly honing and adjusting it to our changing needs. And while actual linguistic or language diversity has been in steep decline for decades—within a language, new relationships, new experiences, and new technologies compel or necessitate new words.
Scott is an impressive ventriloquist, adopting a number of disparate narrative voices over the course of the book. He offers many brilliant lines (“I’ve never been one to watch weather reports. It’s more honorable to take the weather as it comes”), and writes about race, fatherhood, lust, and envy with estimable candor. Perhaps he is stuck, like nearly every artist, between what he knows how to do and what he hasn’t yet mastered. He knows how to write a small, realistic, domestic story. Neither chess nor the sacrament of confirmation are terribly fresh metaphors in 2016, but he can work them into narratives that satisfy. And yet his prose feels most alive when he’s pursuing those images and plot twists tied to the minutia of his created world, even if their thematic importance to the story at hand remains cloudy. What does it mean to rewrite the Bible in slang? And how does that redress the sting of police profiling? An answer is there, perhaps, though it has yet to find its fullest articulation.
In her debut book, Science and the City: The Mechanics Behind the Metropolis, Laurie Winkless explores the best scientific ideas and minds preparing our cities for this world of tomorrow. Winkless acts as an endlessly curious guide on an entertaining journey that zooms along as fast as a maglev train (the fastest train in the world, using magnetic levitation, as you’ll read about in the book). Thankfully, her scientific training shines through her accurate descriptions of widely ranging technologies, and her fun, free-flowing writing style will be accessible to most readers. Although the sheer number of topics covered sometimes detracts from the depth of explanations, it is easy to recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the technology that has carried cities into the present and the bold ideas that will push them into the future.
To The Wedding is a short book but a long read. Like poetry, Berger’s paragraphs ask to be read slowly and reflected upon. The chorus of voices in the book come to the story’s blind narrator unbidden. A seller of tamata – trinkets purported to bring good luck to those who wear them – he is a elliptical, laconic presence. There are no flourishes of wordsmithery here, no elaborate plot structures, no intricate character psychologies. Berger simply allows each person to speak, drawing them in words the same way a good artist would, in spare, true lines.
During my summer break from the M.F.A. program at Columbia University in New York, I found myself amid my first adult crisis. I had been teaching writing at a summer camp for high schoolers, but when it was over, I was unemployed for the first time since I was 16. My husband had gone to an extended business training session in Texas, and while away had discovered a penchant for sleeping with men. I moved out — first to a shared room in Washington Heights with two mattresses on the floor, where I slept opposite a Russian woman who stayed up staring at me through the dark, then to a sweltering fifth-floor walk-up in East Harlem, an improvement by all accounts, but still dark, moldy and depressing. Broke, heartbroken and profoundly sweaty, I had taken to pacing the apartment sans pants in a diagonal across the sloping faux-parquet floor. When that didn’t work I returned, as I always had, to books.