A few months ago, Robin Woods drove seven hours from his home, in Maryland, to visit a man named Mark Stevens, in Amherst, Massachusetts. The two had corresponded for years, and they’d spoken on the phone dozens of times. But they had never met in person. Woods, who is bald and broad-shouldered, parked his car and walked along a tree-lined street to Stevens’s house. He seemed nervous and excited as he knocked on the door. A wiry man with white hair and glasses opened it.
Within a few minutes, Woods, who is fifty-four, and Stevens, who is sixty-six, were sitting in the living room, talking about books. The conversation seemed both apt and improbable: when Woods first wrote to Stevens, in 2004, he was serving a sixteen-year prison sentence, in Jessup, Maryland, for breaking and entering. It was a book that had brought them together. “I never met you until today, but I love you very much,” Woods told Stevens. “You’re a good man.”
I am Spoonhead. I come from village Bear. I wear face paint, men cry when I sing, and my haircut is so inspiring it makes women lift me off the ground. I haven’t drowned in a cuddle puddle yet, but I’m still awesome, even if it took me a couple days to get there.
My wife found it first: Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults. She knew I’d hate it, maybe love it. Probably hate it. Based on the brochure, it looked like a graduate school for twentysomethings from the Bay Area: four days in the redwoods, at a camp established in the 1930s, where people gathered for pickling seminars, stilt-walking workshops, and creative-writing lessons with manual typewriters.
However. In case you’re gagging as much as I was, consider that as of this moment, for the first time since 1880, more young adults live with their parents than with a partner or spouse. Chance the Rapper’s latest album is called Coloring Book, at a time when coloring books for adults are best-sellers.
What accounts for print’s superiority? Print—particularly the newspaper—is an amazingly sophisticated technology for showing you what’s important, and showing you a lot of it. The newspaper has refined its user interface for more than two centuries. Incorporated into your daily newspaper's architecture are the findings from field research conducted in thousands of newspapers over hundreds of millions of editions. Newspaper designers have created a universal grammar of headline size, typeface, place, letter spacing, white space, sections, photography, and illustration that gives readers subtle clues on what and how to read to satisfy their news needs.
Web pages can't convey this metadata because there's not enough room on the screen to display it all. Even if you have two monitors on your desk, you still don't have as much reading real estate that an openbroadsheet newspaper offers. Computer fonts still lag behind their high-resolution newsprint cousins, and reading them drains mental energy. I’d argue that even the serendipity of reading in newsprint surpasses the serendipity of reading online, which was supposed to be one of the virtues of the digital world. Veteran tech journalist Ed Bott talks about newsprint's ability to routinely surprise you with a gem of a story buried in the back pages, placed there not because it's big news but because it's interesting. "The print edition consistently leads me to unexpected stories I might have otherwise missed," agrees Inc. Executive Editor Jon Fine. "I find digital editions and websites don’t have the same kind of serendipity—they’re set up to point you to more of the same thing." Reading a newspaper, you explore for the news like a hunter in a forest, making discoveries all the way. The Web offers news treasures, too, but they often feel unconnected to one another, failing to form a daily news gestalt.
Robert Gottlieb, the celebrated editor at Simon & Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf and The New Yorker, was a pale, bookish, sensitive, rumpled and vaguely mousy young man. His first father-in-law, a roofing contractor, took a look at him and said, “If I had a son like that, I’d take him out and drown him like a sick kitten.”
How bookish was Mr. Gottlieb? At summer camp, as a child, he arranged to have The New York Times delivered to him daily. His family — they lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan — read books rather than converse at the dinner table. “Only later did it occur to me that this was not normal,” he writes in “Avid Reader,” his new memoir, “but a symptom of our particular brand of dysfunction.”
The most fascinating essay from this collection, “Wolf Show, Truman, Ersatz Moon,” uses nature to introduce us to what Dittmar’s thinking, but she swirls in a sort of existential take on a movie to discuss a large, far-reaching issue of today’s society: the uncanny valley. She’s not talking about artificial intelligence or robots or the stuff of sci-fi. She’s talking about how we can hardly tell the difference between reality and what’s on the screens before our zombified faces. The essay weaves two stories about a public event of watching wolves in their “natural” habitat and The Truman Show, a ‘90s movie starring Jim Carey.
The second question is (to me) more fascinating, even though it seems far simpler: “How long did it take you to write this?” It’s a query that raises a lot of ancillary questions about the entire process. Am I writing if I’m just thinking about writing, or is writing only the mechanical typing? Does stoically staring at a blank computer screen for two hours while drinking Mountain Dew count as creativity? If I come up with the vague idea for a novel in 1996 but don’t write a word until autumn 2016, did the novel take 20 years or six months?
I never know when the writing starts.
But the meal’s loudest detractors—or those given the loudest microphones, anyway—seem peeved not because it’s necessarily the province of those with both disposable time and disposable money, but precisely because it used to be reserved for those who had much more of both. The problem, they hint, is not that brunch is too elitist, it’s that it’s not elitist enough; it’s become popular, nonexclusive—in a word: basic.