Firefighters began to inflate the enormous yellow air mattress they carry to break the fall of jumpers. But there was a tree in the way.
So they were preparing instead for a rooftop rescue. That’s when, suddenly, the woman scooted forward and, without a word, launched herself into the air.
At 7:46 a.m., a police officer radioed in: “She jumped!”
“Oh, God!” the dispatcher said. “Was that pillow already inflated?”
“That’s negative,” the officer said.
Today Esperanto is as much a movable feast as a movement, a cheerful diaspora that lives on at characterful classes and congresses where diehards for the interna ideo mingle with fearsome polyglots and hardcore language nerds. A language spoken by a mobile subculture of (mostly) middle-class Westerners may have a better chance at survival than most of the world’s natural languages, half of which are endangered and have fewer than 10,000 speakers. The greatest danger Esperanto faces is that a language born out of a hope for universal understanding could end up as just another hobby, cultivated in convention halls that next week will be filled with memory junkies, chess fanatics, or Trekkies.
For a would-be international language, the paradoxical strength of Esperanto lies in its particular identity and idealism. Born in an age of nationalisms, it sometimes seems like a language in search of a country. There’s no army, but Esperanto has many of the other trappings of a nation-state: a flag, an anthem, a literature with its own rigorous poetics, and even places of pilgrimage like Zamenhof’s Bialystok and an Esperanto-speaking farm-school in the Brazilian Amazon. In 1996, the UEA pledged itself to support seven core objectives: democracy, global education, effective education, multilingualism, language rights, language diversity, and human emancipation. Its grammar may have a geeky appeal, but plainly humanism, internationalism, and love of language are Esperanto’s bedrock.
Modern prestige comedies, thanks to fracturing audiences and changing tastes, often don’t feel the need to focus on joke-making at all. There are long stretches of any of the shows I named above with no real jokes in them, instead developing characters and telling stories in the same way as any drama. Is Baskets really even a comedy? Is Orange Is The New Black? Do we have to assemble some kind of metric of jokes-per-minute to be able to figure out where to slot these shows into Emmy nominations?
The broad shift of prestige comedies from sitcoms to something that maybe used to be referred to as a “dramedy” is neither bad nor good. The quality of a show doesn’t rely on whether it slots nicely into decades-old categories for awards shows. But the rise in prestige comedies has a secondary effect that I’d argue is unwanted, at least for me: the decline of joke-focused comedies.
The strange thing is that you’re never tempted to put Ms. Zink’s novels aside. They contain so much backspin and topspin that you’re kept alert by the leaping motion. “If you can make the reader laugh,” the novelist Henry Green said, “he is apt to get careless and go on reading.” When I am reading Ms. Zink, my carelessness gets the better of me.