Sixteen New York Times journalists recount their work on the Cuban revolutionary’s obituary, first drafted in 1959.
Though very different in spirit and style, The Argonauts and A Little Life might be seen as two sides of the same coin. In juxtaposition, their experiments unravel the dialectic of the novel by testing the limits of its ability to make form and life commensurate: the little life of Jude with its preponderance of ghastly details and the epic journey of The Argonauts; fixed form and fragmentary form; gathering darkness and open-ended journey. Operating at opposite ends of the spectrum of life-writing, these texts, taken together, are responses not only to Lukács’s world abandoned by God, but also the prospect of no world at all.
"I told myself that getting into his life and putting something into the world, that was what I needed to make all of my problems disappear," Diamond admits. He does, and he does, but not in the way he expects. And while Searching for John Hughes isn't exactly the book he originally set out to write, it's clearly the book he was meant to write. Diamond helps us — with an assist from that wise bartender — understand that our love for these flawed, wonderful movies were never really about John Hughes at all. It was about us the whole time.
I’m surely not the only bookworm who has fantasized about working in a bookstore: The quiet, convivial atmosphere; the rows of spines with titles you’ve always meant to read; the enthusiastic conversations about books.
But as I learned, it’s not quite as relaxing as it looks.
In interviews, the Greenlight owners and other bookstore entrepreneurs in New York walked me through some of the decisions that need to be taken into account in such a venture.
It's hardly the first time that infrastructure or construction projects have brushed up against the resting places for the dead: They can sometimes be found in car parks of malls, and the careful excavation of mass burial sites has caused delays to rail-line construction in the UK.
A less common spot, however? In the shadows of a stadium belonging to a team that's part of the most profitable, popular sporting league in the United States.
That’s when the idea came to me: open a food cart in downtown Kyoto that sells authentic Mexican food. Why just visit Japan, I figured, when I could live there? It was brash, impractical and never going to happen. But the seed was planted: There was an enormous, untapped economic and cultural opportunity to serve authentic, delicious Mexican food in an enchanting place that had little of it. There were crazier ideas — not that I was pursuing those either, but it felt good knowing I wasn’t the craziest of the crazy. There was some logic to it. In the midst of handmade onigiri vendors, donburi chains, and unagi restaurants, why not sell street tacos? [...] The problem was, I’d never open that restaurant. I couldn’t manage a business, and my life was firmly established in Oregon.
In lieu of a restaurant, I dreamed up something equally impractical: a magazine for Japanese people who dig Mexican food and have limited access to it. Named Taco Wagon after the iconic lonchero lunch truck and Dick Dale’s 1964 instrumental surf song, the magazine would combine elements of a cookbook, guide book, art book, and zine to celebrate food from northern Mexico, southern California and the American Southwest, what people call Sonora- and California-style Mexican food. This I could create from home.
But Dickinson’s genius always kept a fixed address. She was a scholar of passing time, and the big house on Main Street was the best place to study it. Because her subject was longitudinal change across the span of hours, days, and years, she needed to set her spatial position in order to see time move across the proscenium of her subjective imagination. In the 1850 national census, Dickinson listed her occupation as “keeping house”; the scraps might have kept her as she did so. Her own transformative power, often frightful even for her to contemplate, is their presiding subject: the “still—Volcano—Life” she describes as ever churning under her daily rounds.
But is that really so bad? Writing is hard, and a whirl of positivity can be the updraft an aspiring fiction writer needs to reach new heights. A good-but-not-groundbreaking craft book is a cheerleader, an encouraging letter from a friend. It doesn’t have to flip your understanding of writing on its head in order for it be successful; it just has to reassure you that you’re not the first person to face these particular problems. If it’s not new—well, few craft questions in prose-writing are.
Slang is probably as old as human language, though the first slang dictionaries only started popping up in the 16th century. But nothing has been a boon for slang lexicography like the digital age, as the searchability of newspaper databases has allowed the past to be explored like never before.
For fans of English at its rawest, the recent arrival of the online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang is a major event. It’s also a reminder that slang — for all its sleaze and attitude — is just as susceptible to careful research as anything else.
Sometimes, in anger or rebellion, I had felt that it was at best a frustration and at worst a misfortune to be the son of such a possessive and sharply gifted teacher. But my father knew better. To my surprise, he had these words put on her gravestone: “A devoted mother and grandmother and dear friend of many, including her former pupils.” He had properly assessed the components of her identity, the parts of her great labor, the variety of her lifework. What was necessary had been accomplished, and accomplished rightly. Her work was done.
David Grossman makes an unlikely standup comedian. Aged 62, he is slim and slight, fair-skinned and ginger-haired. Gentle, compassionate curiosity radiates out from behind his spectacles. You fear he would be eaten alive at an open-mic night. His trade is deep empathy and the closeup observation of frailty. He is a writer so sensitive, picking up every wave of heartache or joy, that the broad, robust demands of a spotlit stage at a comedy club would, you suspect, be hard to endure.
And yet in Grossman’s newest novel, he brilliantly channels the voice of a battered, bruised, half-crazed veteran comic as he performs a set in a nothing venue in a second-tier Israeli city. We get the entire two hour show, the voice of Dovaleh G commanding the novel, save for the observations of the narrator, a childhood friend, whom the comedian has begged to see this performance – which, it seems, might be his last.
What led this great American artist to make a story of missionaries in Japan his ultimate passion project? He is known for his gangster pictures; he is a grandmaster of the profane. From the beginning, he has revealed himself to be an artist of intensely Catholic preoccupations, and the poisoned arrow of religious conflict runs straight through his career. “Taxi Driver”: a Vietnam vet as a spiritual avenger, bent on cleansing the city of filth through violence. “Cape Fear”: a tattooed fundamentalist determined to exact God’s justice. “Kundun”: a young man raised to be a spiritual master, thrust up against spirit-killing communism. Even “Living in the Material World,” Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison, takes as its theme the conflict between flesh and spirit, between Beatle and seeker.
“Silence” is a novel for our time: It locates, in the missionary past, so many of the religious matters that vex us in the postsecular present — the claims to universal truths in diverse societies, the conflict between a profession of faith and the expression of it, and the seeming silence of God while believers are drawn into violence on his behalf. As material for Scorsese, then, “Silence” is apt, and yet Scorsese’s commitment to it has been extraordinary, even by his exacting standards. To understand that commitment, I spoke with the filmmaker, with members of the cast and the production team and with others who know the novel well — trying to grasp just what kind of an act of faith this film is.
Home meals have their significant pleasures; your mom’s lopsided birthday cupcakes nestled in wax paper in a shoe box have immeasurable charm. But sometimes there is just nothing like patisserie, like a restaurant on a Saturday night at 8 o’clock.
I couldn’t agree more, but the glitch is that I work in a restaurant. That Saturday-night festivity at 8 o’clock in a good restaurant is a view chefs will only ever glimpse from the kitchen. Your evenings, your weekends, your birthdays, your holidays — we are working.
But a cook’s treats are plenty, and we are hardly to be pitied. My children have never sat down to a proper Thanksgiving dinner in my household, but we have an annual tradition of restaurant leftovers — capon, mash, gravy and pie — at the kitchen counter, with real silverware and long tapered candles, the day after. I find nothing dearer.
Losing New York diner culture would probably be a watershed in the city’s history. How will New Yorkers get along without these antidotes to urban loneliness?
“The coffee shop orients us here, in this city and not another,” Jeremiah Moss, of the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, said. “If we are regulars, we become known, connected, to a network of people who remain over the span of years, even decades. In the anonymous city, these ties can be lifesavers, especially for the elderly, the poor, the marginal, but also for all of us. Without them, the city becomes evermore fragmented, disorienting and unrecognizable.”
I don’t often watch late night television, which may be why I was caught unawares. Jimmy Fallon’s opening monologue began hilariously enough, when abruptly he pivoted to a series of inexplicably weak jokes centered on a forthcoming football game. It slowly dawned on me that I was watching a commercial for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” albeit one baked right into the opening monologue and delivered by Fallon himself.
The realization that something you thought to be “real” is actually an advertisement is an increasingly common, if unsettling, sensation. Mara Einstein calls it “content confusion,” and if her book, “Black Ops Advertising,” is right, we’re in for even more such trickery, indeed a possible future where nearly everything becomes hidden commercial propaganda of one form or another. She forecasts the potential of a “world where there is no real content: Everything we experience is some form of sales pitch.”
We keep score so that we can play; we don’t play in order to have scores to keep. What should you be doing with as much of your time as you can manage? Hack the funhouse. Play in the gardens, hide in the hedgerows, climb onto the roof. Think for yourself. Take play seriously. Don’t confuse someone else’s game, however good, for the world.
When a friend quizzes Egan on how she spends her days as a counselor to the dying and their families, Egan explains that she sits at bedsides, tries to be a peaceful presence, listens, sometimes speaks, or sings, or holds a hand, all with as much courage and kindness as she can muster. “I imagine a giant bubble of love encompassing the patient and me,” Egan says. [...]
“On Living” is part memoir, part spiritual reflection and part narration of tales told to Egan by her patients. Her transitions between other people’s stories and her own personal and professional observations can be disconcerting, but she is such good company that you will forgive her.
Around 1900, a century before Tesla’s Model S, there were more than 30,000 electric cars registered in the United States. In London, passengers were being ferried around by a small fleet of electric taxis, nicknamed Hummingbirds for the distinctive whir of their engines. So begins “Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas,” the British journalist Steven Poole’s attack on what he calls a “Silicon Valley ideology”: the notion that every great innovation of today is a “flash of inspiration,” an invention of “something from nothing.” In an anecdote-rich tour through the centuries, Poole traces “new” ideas in mental health back to the Stoics; dates the invention of the e-cigarette to 1965; and tells us that the leech is now an F.D.A.-approved “medical device,” used for, among other things, preventing blood from pooling after reconstructive plastic surgery. We live in “an age of rediscovery,” Poole writes. “Old is the new new.”
So this Great Recession of ours – don’t kid yourself, it ain’t over – is a moral crisis as well as an economic catastrophe. You might even say it’s a spiritual impasse, because it makes us ask what social scaffolding other than work will permit the construction of character – or whether character itself is something we must aspire to. But that is why it’s also an intellectual opportunity: it forces us to imagine a world in which the job no longer builds our character, determines our incomes or dominates our daily lives.
What would you do if you didn’t have to work to receive an income?
In short, it lets us say: enough already. Fuck work.
Reading “A History of Pictures” is like touring a great museum with an artist and critic chatting over your shoulder. The conversation sometimes drones on, especially when Hockney rehashes his “optical theory” that artists from Jan van Eyck onward used lenses to project images onto canvas. But most of the dialogue, abundantly illustrated with full-page glossies, is original and surprising.
That both black and white musicians have a place in the history of rock and roll is a truism. But, as the cultural historian Jack Hamilton shows in his new book Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination, almost nothing else about the music’s racial makeup is simple or settled. From Little Richard and Chuck Berry to the Dominoes, Ike Turner, and Howlin’ Wolf, rock and roll’s founding figures were African American, yet “rock” as we know and hear it now is coded white. In Hamilton’s telling, rock’s long evolution from a raucous offshoot of black party music to a lavishly produced, aesthetically ambitious, and securely white art form “is a story of the forced marriage of musical and racial ideology.”
“To try to see the whole of a person can be such a difficult thing to do,” Chabon said, “and to see the whole of a time is even harder, but those are the things that were unconsciously driving me as the scope of the book increased.”
Later, he thrived in the hotbox of kitchens run on screaming. Like many young chefs, when he took over his own kitchen, he assumed it was the only way: "I was just yelling and screaming all day. I was the most miserable, angry person you can imagine." After one early bad review at the Hermitage, he pledged to his staff that he wouldn't take a day off until they were reviewed again. It took ten months, during which Brock slept at the restaurant most nights.
"We're insane. We shouldn't be doing this to our bodies and to our brains. That's sick. That's an illness," he says, though not without a touch of pride. "But, look,somebody's gotta feed everybody."
So is there another way?
Reading Jacobs’s essays, it’s clear she arrived at the idea that small businesses and individual choices are best for everyone everywhere through her own, local experiences, particularly of postwar New York. One of the virtues of reading a wider range of her writings is that she turns her ever-observant eye on Toronto, Philadelphia, and other places that are perhaps more representative of North American cities. While her thinking has sometimes served as fodder for a hands-off approach to city planning and the privatization of public resources, she approached these issues as a free-market realist, not a laissez-faire fundamentalist.
Most people are aware that the way that we own and consume music has undergone a series of shifts – from vinyl and tape to CDs, from CDs to digital files on iPods and then smartphones, and most recently from digital files to streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music. Fewer people may be aware that this is just one aspect of a much bigger set of shifts – and even fewer of the deeper impact of these shifts. In The End of Ownership, Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz chart these changes, explore quite how widely they are spread – from the music and films we listen to and watch to the computer systems that run our cars, fridges and coffee makers – and describe in an often disturbing way how this threatens our autonomy, privacy and whole understanding of our place in the world. It is a book that is deep, unsettling and at the same time humorous and entertaining – and well worth reading.
Earlier this spring, I got into a ferocious argument when a joke about “personal brands” turned into a two-hour debate about whether we are all Kardashians now. The obsession with public identity performance in the digital sphere has supposedly made for a generation of solipsists and inauthentic re-enactors, each with a pithy 140-character Twitter bio.
It’s an argument I’ve encountered frequently, particularly among those nostalgic for an imagined golden age of authentic identity divorced from the need fromperformance. In “Creating the Self in the Digital Age: Young People and Mobile Social Media,” Toshie Takahashi of Waseda University seems to support that premise. She cites Japanese teenagers who use Facebook to project an image ofreajuu, or living life to the fullest, mainly by uploading photos and tagging each other, suggesting that Facebook is, if not responsible for the phenomenon, nonetheless a prime avenue for its intensification.
The great circadian disruption through which we have lived since the invention of the electric light is bad for our physical and mental health. The 24-hour society will present further risks. Exactly what, though, should be the subject of public debate – preferably after a good night’s sleep.
In this panoramic, at times jaw-dropping book, Stephen Graham describes how in recent years the built environment around the world, both above and below ground, has become dramatically more vertical – and more unequal. From miles-deep gold mines in South Africa to oligarchs’ basements in Belgravia, from American schemes for lethal military satellites to Bangkok’s elevated railway for the wealthy, the Skytrain, Graham lays out a landscape where architecture reflects and reinforces divisions with ever greater brazenness.
Many of his examples are as dystopian as anything in the bleak prophecies of JG Ballard. A resident of a “luxury fortified apartment complex” in Rio de Janeiro watches tracer bullets, fired by feuding drug dealers in a favela far below. “They are beautiful!” she says. “We have a free firework display almost every day!”
We live in an age of extraordinary surveillance and documentation. The government’s capacity to keep tabs on us—and our capacity to keep tabs on each other—is unmatched in human history. Big Data, NSA wiretapping, social media, camera phones, credit scores, criminal records, drones—we watch and watch, and record our every move. And yet here was a man who appeared to exist outside all that, someone who had escaped the modern age’s matrix of observation. His condition—blind, nameless, amnesiac—seemed fictitious, the kind of allegorical affliction that might befall a character in Saramago or Borges. Even if he was lying about his memory loss, there was no official record of his existence. He lived on the margins, beyond the boundaries mapped by the surveillance state. And because we choose not to look at individuals on the margins, it is still possible for them to disappear.
But the most important piece of furniture in Soviet times was always the bookshelf. “We grew up in a country where money essentially did not exist,” one man recalls. Literature was the only real currency. “If someone got their hands on a new book, they could show up at your door at any hour—even two or three in the morning—and still be a welcome guest,” says another. As Alexievich writes in her prologue about the Soviet person (in whose ranks she includes herself), “‘reader’ is our primary occupation.” A girl talks about her Soviet parents: “They got by with one set of linens, one pillow, and one pair of slippers” because all they cared to do was “spend their nights reading each other Pasternak.”
Steven Johnson’s “Wonderland” makes a swashbuckling argument for the centrality of recreation to all of human history. The book is a house of wonders itself. Marvelous circuits of prose inductors, resistors and switches simulate ordinary history so nearly as to make readers forget the real thing. Red wires connect haphazardly to blue, and sparks fly. Who needs a footnoted analysis of “the ludic,” as play is known to the terminally unplayful? Barnumism of the Johnson kind is much, much more fun.
"How long can I live?" my six-year-old daughter asked me when I returned home from my father's funeral in India. My father had lived until eighty-five—a vigorous, preternaturally healthy octogenarian at eighty-two—until he had spiraled inexplicably into a ferocious form of dementia that took his life in three years. [...]
But that, of course, was not her question. "How long can I live?" is a more capricious puzzle; it asks us to solve a very different sort of conundrum—not the average human life expectancy, but its outer limits. Is there a limit to human longevity? When Jeanne Louis Calment, a woman living in Arles, France, died on 4th August 1997 at 122 years, she achieved the longest human lifespan documented on record (reassuringly, she claimed that she was not particularly athletic, and ate nearly a kilogram of chocolate every week). Will someone from my daughter's cohort live longer than Calment?
No one had any idea what would emerge two and a half years later, and that their idea would become The Adventures of Fat Rice, one of 2016’s biggest cookbook releases, featuring an unfamiliar cuisine from a place hardly anyone could find on a map, via a neighborhood restaurant in Chicago that doesn’t even have a sign. So how did they go from asking those questions to getting an enviable book deal with one of the most prestigious cookbook publishers in the country, traveling internationally to research and photograph their book and, finally, the book's launch and success?
Let’s just say it was a long, complicated process.
Chabon said that if he approached the story as memoir, he never could have given that life the necessary narrative cohesion. “Besides, a memoir would’ve been so boring; there’s nothing to write,” he said. “That’s the problem with life.” So he wrapped what was true in a “a pack of lies.”
While Bair spends much time — too much of it — trying to clear the clutter of Capone myth, she is at her strongest when she gets out of the biographical weeds and gives us a feel of the era. Her most articulate associations of Capone and his times come in the final chapter, and one wishes they’d come earlier, to give better definition to the culture that Capone and the Outfit dominated for a time.
“Normalize” is a word of the moment. But it, along with the idea of normalization, goes back to the 1800s. The earliest uses documented in the Oxford English Dictionary are related to biological processes, but one is a clear predecessor to today’s uses. A New York Times article from 1864 discusses how “. . . attempts to normalize despotism display the impotency as well as the malignity of the Executive.” The normalization of despotism is exactly what so many fear today.
Biological functions, despotism, you name it: Just about anything can be normalized. You can normalize orthography by making it more uniform or normalize your breathing after heavy exercise. There are types of normalization specific to math, metallurgy, and computing. Data normalization reduces redundancies, creating data that are more uniform and therefore easy to analyze. One meaning from psychology seems particularly relevant to recent events. According to the OED, normalization can mean “The subconscious process whereby the mental image of a shape, pattern, etc., is changed to resemble something more familiar.” In political terms, that can mean a nonpolitician elected to the presidency becomes just another guy in the White House.
How do you make a better world? And what will it cost?
Nisi Shawl’s historical fantasy Everfair (2016) starts with a simple but bold image: that of a Frenchwoman passionately in love with her bicycle. Lisette Toutournier spins through the Gallic countryside atop the vehicle, facing her future, enchanted by the freeing and somewhat illicit possibilities of this technology. Her life will be fueled by a perpetual curiosity to know how machines work — by a fierce wonder at science’s stimulating gifts — and this curiosity will rocket her across the globe to Africa, Europe, and the United States as one the founders of a new Central African nation called Everfair at the turn of the 20th century. Together, her colleagues plan a nation where such things as slavery, class exploitation, gender oppression, and colonialism will vanish.
None of the co-founders of Everfair, however, are quite prepared for the way collaboration and the challenges of building and sustaining a community will alter the trajectories of their dreams. The members of this eager coalition, the ruling Grand Mote of the new country, purchase land from the so-called Congo Free State, determined to make a better world. However, they carry with them their own prejudices and passions, and they frequently stumble over their own limitations and wrestle with the eccentricities of their fellows. They all struggle to learn what it takes for an ideal to survive politics, illness, compromise, and war. In this portrayal, Shawl invites readers to explore the challenges of world-building, both in the speculative sense of creating an alternate history and in the political sense of organizing a diverse and functioning society.
How strange to return to Kafka. It takes just a few pages for all our preconceptions about literature to become unmoored. The old tools — character, plot, style — are useless to us; those solemn tomes of theory might as well be returned to their exile on the lower shelves; the recourse to undergraduate Freudianism had better be checked. None of it will guide us here. Erich Heller once wrote of the “pathetic plight of critics in the face of Kafka’s novels.” How one sympathizes! Kafka’s entire oeuvre is an assault on interpretation, on meaning; it is the most formidable rebuttal in the history of literature to the undying but misguided question: “What does this text mean?”
And yet, ironically, few authors are so burdened with the cargo of meaning as Kafka. In the century or so since his work was first introduced to a reading public, he has been hustled in under a plethora of interpretive awnings: Judaism, Christianity, Psychoanalysis, the Holocaust, Communism, Symbolism, Existentialism — you name it. He is the prophet of 20th-century atrocity; a slapstick vaudevillian in the Buster Keaton mold; the grim reaper of post-religious modernity. He either founded a new genre or dissolved all of them. Kafka himself seemed to intuit this: “I am the end or the beginning,” he wrote.
he omens were there if you looked. A month before the election, I’d driven from Pittsburgh to the Philadelphia suburbs and saw nothing but Trump/Pence signs. In three days I covered about 1,200 miles of back roads and highway – some of the prettiest country you can find on this continent – and saw not one sign, large or small, in support of Clinton. The only time any mention of her was made at all was on an enormous billboard bearing her face with a Pinocchio nose.
I did see Confederate flags. James Carville, the political strategist, recently quipped that Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between, and there is some truth to that. There are a lot of men in camouflage jackets. There are a lot of men out of work. When you stop at gas stations, the magazine sections are overwhelmed by periodicals devoted to guns, hunting and survival. Then there are the tidy farms and rolling hills, the equestrian centres with their white fences, the wide swaths of Amish and Mennonites and Quakers.
“Faithful” is most successful when describing the everyday details and habits of Manhattan: the supervisor who runs the pet store “as if it’s a small, corrupt country,” the takeout deliveryman “who always seems in the grip of some great and quiet sorrow.” If you can hang up your disbelief and surrender to the soft-focus glow, the book becomes enjoyable, satisfying even, as the mystery of the postcards is solved and the catharses arrive right on schedule.
It is the unfortunate burden of African writers that their work is often reduced to representation: as though they existed to describe and diagnose the state of their home countries, or worse, the entire continent. Yet this burden, in the hands of a brilliant writer, can be an opportunity
In recent years, literature has been getting attention from an unusual quarter: mathematics. Alongside statistical physicists analysing the connections between characters in the Icelandic sagas, and computer scientists exploring the life and death of words in English fiction, a team of mathematicians at the University of Vermont have now looked at more than 1,000 texts to see if they could automatically extract their emotional arcs. And their results show something interesting, not just about narratives, but also about using this approach to study literature.
For the past fifteen years, the nation’s public schools have been a prime target for privatization. Unbeknownst to the public, those who would privatize the public schools call themselves “reformers” to disguise their goal. Who could be opposed to “reform”? These days, those who call themselves “education reformers” are likely to be hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs, and billionaires, not educators. The “reform” movement loudly proclaims the failure of American public education and seeks to turn public dollars over to entrepreneurs, corporate chains, mom-and-pop operations, religious organizations, and almost anyone else who wants to open a school.
In early September, Donald Trump declared his commitment to privatization of the nation’s public schools. He held a press conference at a low-performing charter school in Cleveland run by a for-profit entrepreneur. He announced that if elected president, he would turn $20 billion in existing federal education expenditures into a block grant to states, which they could use for vouchers for religious schools, charter schools, private schools, or public schools. These are funds that currently subsidize public schools that enroll large numbers of poor students. Like most Republicans, Trump believes that “school choice” and competition produce better education, even though there is no evidence for this belief. As president, Trump will encourage competition among public and private providers of education, which will reduce funding for public schools. No high-performing nation in the world has privatized its schools.
Now Alexandra Zapruder, granddaughter of the videographer and a founder of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, has written a moving and enlightening account of the famous film that is part personal memoir; part detailed history of the film and its (inestimable) role in the nation’s understanding of the assassination; and part overview of the film as an inspiration for countless, often bizarre conspiracy theories as well as for works of art as disparate as Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up,” Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” Don DeLillo’s “Libra” and “Underworld,” and a particularly inventive episode of “Seinfeld.” So much history, embodied in a mere 26 seconds of home-movie film! Not least, this film would one day be sold by the Zapruder heirs to the U.S. government for $16 million, the highest price ever paid for “an American historical artifact,” to be stored in the National Film Registry for scholars and historians to study.
Chris Smith’s new book about “The Daily Show” in the Jon Stewart years has a theory about the events that let the show find its voice. After Bush vs. Gore in 2000 and just after the 9/11 attacks, real news became so surreal and television news so lathered that a fake news show could find its footing just by playing things relatively straight.
China has constructed an elaborate public/private infrastructure that blocks, filters, and directs all internet traffic through “a vast, multi-agency bureaucracy of censorship and propaganda,” which a major Harvard University study called “unprecedented in recorded world history.” In 2011, an extraordinary 13 percent of social media was censored. Estimates of the number of employees in the various agencies of internet control range from 20,000 to 50,000. A 2013 internal Party document contemptuously exhorted party members to beware of seven dangerous concepts, including “promoting the West’s idea of journalism, challenging China’s principle that the media and publishing system should be subject to Party discipline” and “promoting ‘universal values’ in an attempt to weaken the theoretical foundations of the Party’s leadership.”
But, before the rest of us get too smug, much of Garton Ash’s book also raises serious questions over how free speech is treated — mistreated — in Western democracies. Every society — including every democratic society — engages in censorship. For example, justified by “national security,” the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistle-blowers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all former US presidents combined, and is threatening to add NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden to that ignominious roster.
“Why do Fulani people not have their own writing system?” Abdoulaye Barry remembers asking his father one day in elementary school. The variety of writing styles made it difficult for families and friends who lived in different countries to communicate easily. Abdoulaye’s father, who learned Arabic in Koranic schools, often helped friends and family in Nzérékoré—Guinea’s second-largest city—decipher letters they received, reading aloud the idiosyncratically modified Arabic scripts. As they grew older, Abdoulaye and his brother Ibrahima began to translate letters, too.
“Those letters were very difficult to read even if you were educated in Arabic,” Abdoulaye said. “You could hardly make out what was written.”
So, in 1990, the brothers started coming up with an alternative. Abdoulaye was 10 years old; Ibrahima was 14.
The poem’s lines stretch past the limit of the page, unbounded, like Whitman’s optimism for the unbounded nature of his young country. A “kelson” is the spine of a ship. It holds things together, like the love Whitman sees uniting all of creation, from the lowliest brown ant to the President, the black ploughman, the “clean-hair’d Yankee girl,” the prostitute, and the poet himself.
Five minutes before I stepped to the lectern to read those lines, my computer chimed with an email notification from the office of the university president, warning that one of the dorms had been vandalized with racist “hate speech.” The same message vibrated across the phones of all 150 students gathered in the lecture hall. It did not feel like we were living in Whitman’s America, and as I started reading his lines, the word “love” caught in my throat.
Born in the decade from 1965 to 1975, Wood, Scott, and Greif all began to write and think about culture in a period when the ideological conflicts of the Cold War no longer gave criticism its sense of urgency. While earlier generations of critics could speak with some confidence about their historical moments, all three spent much of their early years worrying about whether there was a clear public to address or a recognized authority that could license their right to speak. From this equivocal situation, it has been their fate to look back fondly at earlier critical models while taking up the tools of what they feared was a debased trade.
Bianculli’s new study explains how the “cool medium” morphed from a piece of hearthside furniture into a ubiquitous handheld device. The decisive DNA in this evolution is programming, and Bianculli’s main thrust is to map television’s rise from fixed network scheduling to on-demand selection — a survival of the fittest that, with today’s gazillion channels, offers something for everyone.
There’s something inherently wrong with the way publishers and readers alike commodify literature. It goes without saying that commercial appeal is no measure of the success of a piece of literary art. Poets strike me as more comfortable with that assessment, perhaps because they’ve long accepted that their books might not sell well, and that this wasn’t the point in the first place.
It needs to be said over and over again: the short story is not a warm-up for a novel. It’s the real thing.
So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
One reason I’m so fascinated by people’s aversion is my own devotion to the stuff. I eat canned fish almost weekly. For breakfast, I’ll heat Japanese glazed saury in a skillet to serve over warm white rice. For lunch, I’ll lay oil-cured Spanish anchovies on toasted white bread. On a solo trip to Tokyo, I ate a one-Yen can of sardines for breakfast outside my hotel window and sent a photo of the precarious set up to my other half Rebekah back in Oregon. Pretty much every white person I know thinks I’m disgusting. I think they’re missing out.
The extended franchise worlds of Marvel and DC Comics are a ruthlessly commodified way of experiencing the same pleasure. A keen consumer of contemporary mass culture has many opportunities to indulge in this feeling of marinating in an imaginative canon. (My fourteen-year-old son and his friends use the word “canon” more often than literature Ph.D.s.) What we don’t have enough of, however, is the genuinely new. More new stories! Give us more things that are as sexy and unpredictable and new as the first vampire, the first werewolf! Is that too much to ask?
James Gleick’s illuminating and entertaining Time Travel is about one of these once-new stories. We have grown very used to the idea of time travel, as explored and exploited in so many movies and TV series and so much fiction. Although it feels like it’s been around forever, it isn’t an ancient archetypal story but a newborn myth, created by H.G. Wells in his 1895 novel The Time Machine. To put it another way, time travel is two years older than Dracula, and eight years younger than Sherlock Holmes. The very term “time travel” is a back-formation from the unnamed principal character of the story, whom Wells calls “the Time Traveller.” The new idea caught on so quickly that it was appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary by 1914.
In Jasper Fforde’s lighthearted “Thursday Next” series of books, people can use a “prose portal” to enter the world of a book, to change the plot or kidnap a character. The prose portal is an imaginative metaphor for a familiar experience: feeling taken away by a narrative, sucked into a good book so that we forget about our actual surroundings. This phenomenon is called “transportation,” and it’s common and revealing enough that scientists have done a lot of research on it.
Getting lost in a good book is a bit like getting lost in your own daydream—it is an act of imagination, in which we mentally simulate events and experience them as a kind of organic virtual reality. With literary transportation, though, it is a guided imagination, where the simulation is led and constrained by the text. Readers become absorbed in a world created by the author of the text and fleshed out by the reader’s own powers of imagination.
One of my first memories of the publishing industry is the story of a friend who was asked to provide an author photo to help sell the international rights to her debut novel. My friend is not a person who thinks particularly of her looks—she has always focused on her writing. She submitted a photo of herself standing in a doorway wearing a winter coat. The Italian rights sold, the French did not. Her agent, also a woman and a veteran of the industry, joked that perhaps the French would have gone for the rights if the photo had been more revealing. “The lesson I took,” my friend told me, “was that I was being vetted for physical attractiveness”—not the value of her novel.
The author photo is something writers agonize about. Should you smile? Should you seem remote or accessible? Should you lose weight? It is the prelude to the public life of a book: the tours, readings, interviews, and media appearances a writer hopes to undertake on her publishing journey. A writer spends so much of her time subordinating her personal life to write fiction, and then suddenly, on publication, the personal life is all that matters. I recently listened to an interviewer ask a very famous author about a scene in her new novel, how it surely resembled the recent death of her father. As the author began to answer in earnest, I turned the radio off. I couldn’t bear to hear it.
What should we do? The answer seems clear. We should wake up. Let this election of Donald Trump call forth a great awakening. Specifically, I call on people like me—soft white liberal upper-middle-class college types—to get off their asses, our asses, and fight. That’s what this is, a fight. If you doubt it, if you’re telling yourself (perhaps for reasons of emotional survival that are forgivable) that this is just another election, that the Republicans and the Democrats pass power back and forth in a kind of game and that only fools get over-excited, you are telling yourself a story. I will mention a single issue and let it stand for a dozen others. Climate change. We have just elected a man who professes not to believe in the existence of it. Yet it is real. Why even write this? Isn’t it virtually guaranteed that anyone who has read to this point in the piece already knows as much or more than I do about the climate?
At some point between the day the first cowboy rode out west and when Bruce Springsteen’s ass appeared on the cover of Born in the U.S.A., jeans became both the quintessential and the default American pants. They’re an article for labor and leisure, everyday wear for the everyman. In reality, they’re pitiful for both. Jeans are not comfortable, not flattering, and not carefree. The American public has been duped. We've been sold an image of freedom and rebellion, conned into expecting effortless style and casual Fridays. It was all a lie. Jeans are bad.
(Here I should say that when I say “jeans,” what I mean are blue jeans. [The word “jeans” is always plural.] Denim trousers come in every color, but when you hear “jeans” you first think blue. They’re far and away the most ubiquitous and the most iconic. Beyond this, the indigo used to dye denim blue fades with age in a way that poses problems other dyes do not.)
“Moonglow” takes the form of a faux memoir by the narrator, Mike, a writer who bears more than a passing resemblance to the author himself. The story centers on tales told by his maternal grandfather as he lies dying of cancer, high on painkillers that have cracked his habit of silence and made him eager to spill “a record of his misadventures, his ambiguous luck, his feats and failures of timing and nerve.”
Twenty years ago, I published a novel called English Settlement. It attracted what is known in the trade as “mixed reviews”, which is to say that a handful of people remarked that clearly a new star had risen in the cultural firmament, while a rather larger number declared themselves surprised that a fine old firm like Chatto & Windus should waste its money on such talentless dreck. Absolute nadir among the detractors was plumbed by the gallant ornament of the Sunday Times’s books section – a chap named Stephen Amidon who concluded, after much incidental savagery, that the book was “about as much use as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking competition”.
If this sounds bad – and it was no fun at all to sit at the kitchen table reading the review while one’s three-year-old romped around wondering why Daddy was looking so glum – then I should point out that this was an era in which wounding disparagement was, if not absolutely routine, then a frequent feature of newspaper books pages. Comparable highlights from the period include Philip Hensher’s dismissal of James Thackara’s The Book of Kings in the Observer (“could not write ‘Bum’ on a wall”) and, a little later, Tibor Fischer noting of a below-par Martin Amis that being seen reading it would be like your uncle getting caught masturbating in the school playground. Even I once submitted, to this very magazine, a review of a collection of journalism by Jon Savage called Time Travel, which the then literary editor ran under the headline “All the young pseuds”.
All this gave Leonard’s laughter an uncommon credibility. He put punch lines into some of his most lugubrious songs. He delighted in expressing serious notions in comically homely ways. (On ephemerality, from an unreleased early version of a song: “They oughta hand the night a ticket/ for speeding. It’s a crime.”) We laughed all the time. At the small wooden table in his kitchen the jokes flew, usually as he prepared a meal. While he was genuinely in earnest about the pursuit of truth, Leonard had a supremely unsanctimonious temperament. Whether or not darkness was to be relieved by light, it was to be relieved by lightness. Before Passover, which commemorates the biblical exodus, he sent this: “Dear bro, happy Pesach. I miss Egypt! Love and blessings, Eliezer.” Before Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah in the desert, he sent this: “Dear bro, See you at Sinai. I’ll be wearing headphones! Love and blessings, Eliezer.” The laughter of the disabused was yet another of his gifts.
One man is trying to create a utopia on what he says is unclaimed land between Serbia and Croatia. He's banned from setting foot in his would-be territory, but he has not given up.
The book relies not on plot or character development but on a series of skillfully rendered passages to propel the story as it swings back and forth through time, though not necessarily with perfect rhythm.
Few artists can strike the kind of sparks that electrify these pages, and yet Wimberly's powerful draftsmanship is only one aspect of a head-to-toe remarkable book.
MyAppleMenu Reader is dark this week. Regular updates will resume on Monday, November 14, 2016.
The premiere of “Rogue One,” the first stand-alone “Star Wars” film, is six weeks away, and fans have gathered online to speculate about what treasures the film will hold. What’s the deal with the set photo of a shaggy alien that looks a little like a robo-sasquatch? What are the chances that all the rebel heroes will survive to the end? Is Darth Vader going to murder any of them personally? Oh, and how is this movie going to treat women?
“Rogue One” stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the newest bold “Star Wars” brunette, and the conventional wisdom is that her very existence confirms the franchise’s recently enlightened embrace of strong female characters. But a vocal group of die-hard female “Star Wars” fans is asking for more. Online, they form a rich community of women who come together to bond over their “Star Wars” obsession, cast a critical eye on the role of women in the films and embrace minor characters overlooked by the fandom at large. In doing so, they’ve created for themselves what the films still don’t quite deliver — a “Star Wars” universe that revolves around women.
The neighborhood grocery store — with its dim and narrow aisles full of provisions precariously stacked from floor to ceiling and the cashier who greets you and your dog by name — is a critical piece of a New York life. Supermarkets of suburban proportions, like Whole Foods, are making their mark on the city; Wegmans will open its first city store, in Brooklyn, in 2018.
But while these stores have distinctive — and sometimes pricier — offerings like artisanal cheese and artichoke ravioli, they cannot replace the labyrinthine corner market, a linchpin for any neighborhood. It can keep a neighborhood manageable for new parents who need diapers now or seniors who cannot carry their groceries a long way.
In its celebration of romantic love (in an egalitarian, improved family) as the apex of American philosophical commitments, Kaag’s book is extremely contemporary. It does somewhat evade how the key philosophers it addresses — Emerson, James, Royce, Hocking — sought their solitude or love in further relations to the supernatural, God or some godhead, and moved from immanence to transcendence, not the other way around.
She sat on the bed, the gun in her lap. Everything seemed hopeless. “What’s the point?” she thought.
Only a few months earlier, Joan Rivers had everything she ever wanted: fame and fortune, the job of her dreams, a loyal husband, a loving child, a lavish estate—and a future that beckoned with enticing possibilities. After years of struggle, she had not only succeeded as a comedian, but made history on the newly launched FOX Network as television’s first and only female late-night talk show host.
And now she’d lost it all. In May 1987 the First Lady of Comedy was fired from her job, and publicly humiliated. Her husband, Edgar — unable to bear his own failure as her manager and producer—killed himself. Their daughter, Melissa, blamed her mother for his death.
Phil Collins rode a similar pendulum. He spent the ’70s in relative obscurity, the man behind the kit in what was then a progressive rock band and something of a niche act. In 1981, he launched his solo career with the still-iconic “In the Air Tonight” and hit after hit followed, thirteen in the top ten by decade’s end. Collins was everywhere—guest-starring on Miami Vice, flying from London to Philadelphia to perform at both Live Aid concerts in a single day, producing the albums of Eric Clapton, and Howard Jones and Adam Ant. It’s been said that in the ’80s, he was second only to Michael Jackson in popularity. And then the ’90s dawned, and in much the same way that it did for the singer in “Duchess,” everything came crashing down.
It’s hard to catch hold of just why people came to hate Phil Collins so passionately and so particularly. It wasn’t only because his music was inescapable on the radio. Nor was it just because the songs themselves were so sappy. It was also him. He was a sore loser, frequently calling reviewers personally when they criticized his work. He was obnoxious, once remarking that he would leave England if a Labour government was elected so as not to pay taxes. And, despite his romantic songwriting, he was a heel, as per the expletive-laden facsimile he sent his second wife, Jill, in 1994, a missive which has gone down in Phil Collins–lore as “the divorce FAX.” (Collins has always denied ending his marriage by FAX.)
I didn’t want you to know,
but I took pictures of your room before I left
traced my jagged fingertips across the soft spots
the places where we touched
before there was a ghost in the bed
The conceit is that the author, Therese Oneill, has had it up to here with the kind of dreamy-eyed young woman who’s always got her nose stuck in a Jane Austen novel and who wishes she could live her life not in the feminist here and now, but in that bygone era of “chivalry and honor, gilded beauty and jolly servants.” Oneill decides she will take one of these girls in hand and tell her some home truths. “Most of the things you love about the 19th century aren’t real, child,” she tells her. “They’re the creations of gracious hosts who tidy up the era whenever you visit through art, books, or film.”
She proposes an extended field trip to the era — which she expands to include everything from Austen through the Victorians — so she can reveal to her besotted pal the down and dirty truth about matters from menstruation to childbirth, clothing to cooking, social life to sex, and thus cure her from binge-watching the latest iteration of “Pride and Prejudice.” What a nasty world she shows her charge, illustrating it with advertisements, photographs and artwork of the period.
The novel’s far-flung peregrinations give it a certain shapelessness, but its power lies in its vibrant and arresting imagery, resonant themes and sense of intellectual ferment. In his extraordinary ability to convey his characters’ emotions as they take in the universe’s immensity, Pipkin captures our own awe and sense of puniness as we look at the skies and the “implacable cartwheeling of worlds slow and indifferent.”
We might be tempted to think of the “world” in “world literature” as a spatial category. This “world” would designate the vast space beyond national borders, beyond the fiction of “Western civilization,” and even beyond empires that have reshaped power, labor, and language across the planet. “World literature” would be all the written and spoken stories, plays, and poems generated within that huge geographical expanse.
World literature’s most outspoken critics, such as Gayatri Spivak, Emily Apter, and Aamir Mufti, have warned that any attempt to take on such an immense array of cultures and texts will always flatten and homogenize them, smoothing a rich array of particularities into a Eurocentric monoculture. This is a fair concern. But lately the strongest work in the field of world literature has done the opposite. Scholars have been deliberately interrupting familiar models of lineage and tradition, especially those that treat Europe as a powerful center of influence.
The media industry has struggled to classify Ferro in the taxonomy of rich guys who buy newspapers: He’s not as despised as Sam Zell, the real estate magnate and ex-owner of Tribune, and certainly not as respected as Jeff Bezos, the Amazon.com founder and Washington Post owner. The consensus seems to be that Ferro is ridiculous—a model-train-loving, celebrity-obsessed, self-described technologist who’s semi-fluent in Silicon Valley disrupter-speak. On HBO, John Oliver skewered him. On CNBC, Jim Cramer placed him on his Wall of Shame. His corporate renaming ignited extended spasms of #tronc mockery on social media. Sample tweet: “WHAT YOU GONNA DO WITH ALL THAT JONC ALL THAT JONC INSIDE YOUR TRONC.”
And yet, until recently, Ferro was on the verge of laughing all the way to the bonc, as it were. In October, Ferro reached a handshake agreement to sell tronc to Gannett for about $18.75 a share. Ferro and his investors were about to make more than $50 million in profit. But the deal fell apart, a source told Bloomberg News, when the banks financing the takeover backed out over concerns that the price was too high. On Nov. 1, after weeks of delay, Gannett announced it was officially ending its pursuit, sending tronc’s and Gannett’s shares tumbling.
So now the spotlight is back on Ferro and his vision for saving journalism. His supporters think he’s up to it. Fiasco points out that distressed companies often require radical thinking. “When he’s bringing companies back from the brink, Michael does some things, like, holy shit,” Fiasco says. “But there’s a method to his madness.”
It is my brother's and my shared belief that a single fast food meal eaten on or about June 6, 1982, ruined the relationship between us in a way that we still don't understand, and from which we have yet to recover. Please bear with me as I set the stage for this incident—an incident which I believe, in its sum, to be as tidy an aperçus as can exist for the essence of siblinghood.
The year was 1974 and things in New York, in a word, sucked. The city was in financial meltdown. Bankruptcy and the famous Daily News headline "Ford to City: Drop Dead" were only a year away. Maybe the meltdown was part of the reason Bob Dylan was back in his townhouse on MacDougal Street, just north of Houston. He and his wife Sara were on the rocks after almost a decade together. A melting-down city and a melting-down marriage.
At the time, I lived in a $200-a-month loft on the fourth floor of 124 West Houston, on the edge of Soho, then still an industrial wasteland. Dylan had a practice space on the first floor, right around the corner from his MacDougal Street residence. When I'd rented my loft three years before and the landlord informed me that Dylan was on the first floor, I found it completely unremarkable. You read about how Dylan had decamped from New York in those years — first for Woodstock, then Santa Fe, then Malibu — but he was so much a part of the fabric of the city that there was never a sense he'd left. Of course when I rented a loft on Houston Street, Dylan would be in the building.
Call a book “The Mothers” and you’ve burdened it from the jump. You’ve gotten every back in the room up, tapped into lizard-brain levels of vulnerability and need, and added a generous dose of comfort or contempt to whatever comes next. Whom do we feel more conflicted about than mothers? To Brit Bennett’s credit, her ferociously moving debut lives up to its title, never once allowing readers a simplistic view of the maternal pain at its center.
Sterling Correctional Facility is not the kind of place where people are known to play nice. A maximum security prison 130 miles northeast of Denver, it houses some of Colorado's most egregious offenders: murderers, bank robbers, even a few serial killers—rule-breakers of all kinds. Yet, every afternoon, half a dozen inmates gather around a table in the common room to join forces against imaginary foes in a cooperative game of Dungeons and Dragons (1974).
A few years ago, I sat down to begin work on a new novel. I was captivated by an obituary I had recently read about one of the last remaining munchkins from The Wizard of Oz. One detail stood out from among the others for me: when the man was born a dwarf in what was then Bohemia, his parents had tried, unsuccessfully, to have him stretched. I set about writing a novel, a fable-like telling, not about that man but about an invented character I called Pavla. She is born a dwarf and her parents try to have her stretched, only in my version, the treatment works. However, it puts into play a series of transformations in which Pavla, as her identity is stripped away, is hunted, humiliated, and silenced.
Why do we write the books we do? As I was working on this one, I didn’t know why the story compelled me, or why, whatever form Pavla took, she continued to be threatening, an object of fear, and therefore subject to harm at the hands of men. It seemed there was nowhere for her to go, no transformation I could invent — whether she became momentarily beautiful, or tall, or powerfully animal, or helplessly incarcerated — that did not put her in danger. Was this story relevant, I wondered? Was I writing something that would feel politically and socially quaint?
Big Bad Breakfast is a hybrid, a restaurant cookbook with a built-in angle. Big Bad Breakfast is the name of John Currence’s breakfast restaurants; the first opened in Oxford, Mississippi, in 2008, and a second, in Birmingham, Alabama, followed. And as the restaurants’ menus and about 130 cookbook recipes can attest, there is a lot that can be covered under the breakfast umbrella. This book covers everything from Southern specialties (shrimp and grits, biscuits) to diner classics (hulking American-style omelets, egg sandwiches of all stripes) to mutant breakfast dishes of Currence’s own creation (something called the Pylon: a waffle topped with hot dogs, chili, coleslaw, pickles, cheddar cheese, oyster crackers, pickled jalapeños, mustard, and mayonnaise).
Late one summer night in 1949, the British archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes went out into her small back garden in north London, and lay down. She sensed the bedrock covered by its thin layer of soil, and felt the hard ground pressing her flesh against her bones. Shimmering through the leaves and out beyond the black lines of her neighbours’ chimney pots were the stars, beacons ‘whose light left them long before there were eyes on this planet to receive it’, as she put it in A Land (1951), her classic book of imaginative nature writing.
We are accustomed to the idea of geology and astronomy speaking the secrets of ‘deep time’, the immense arc of non-human history that shaped the world as we perceive it. Hawkes’s lyrical meditation mingles the intimate and the eternal, the biological and the inanimate, the domestic with a sense of deep time that is very much of its time. The state of the topsoil was a matter of genuine concern in a country wearied by wartime rationing, while land itself rises into focus just as Britain is rethinking its place in the world. But in lying down in her garden, Hawkes also lies on the far side of a fundamental boundary. A Land was written at the cusp of the Holocene; we, on the other hand, read it in the Anthropocene.
In 1980, health and safety laws weren’t as stringent as they are now, and neither was the law protecting employees from sexual harassment. The first time I heard of a customer having an allergy was in the mid-’80s (the staff started laughing), and food poisoning became a restaurant issue for me only in the ’90s. (Of course, it was an issue before then, but the complaints never reached me — possibly because those poisoned by eating at my restaurants died before they were able to reach the health department.)
Sex among the staff has also gone out the window. Well, not entirely. But as an owner, I’m legally bound to pour cold water on the idea the day someone new is hired. Seeing as I met my two wives in restaurants (not simultaneously), I often wonder if I’d met them in today’s climate, would I have been forced to steer clear of them? Had that been the case, they probably would have been far happier women today.
Sex is a fraught subject in April Ayers Lawson's impressively polished debut collection of stories. The audacious but vulnerable young Southerners who populate these five tales live in a world where the ordinary uncertainties of relationships and physical intimacy are amplified and distorted by their devout, fundamentalist Christian upbringing, and in several cases, a history of childhood sexual abuse. Despite her limpid, supple prose, there's a creepy cast to Lawson's vision, with shades of Flannery O'Connor's dark humor and Southern Gothic sensibility.
How timely, then, to read this strange, intense novel from Ha Jin about the glories and limits of the freedom of the press. A former Chinese army soldier who chose to stay in the United States after the Tiananmen Square massacre, Ha Jin has lived and worked under two very different sets of rules. He knows the Communist Party’s elaborate control of mass media just as well as he understands the free market’s complicated influence on what we read and watch. That bifocal vision brings uncanny depth to his eighth novel, “The Boat Rocker,” which should find its place alongside Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer ” as one of the most unsettling books about the moral dimensions of modern journalism.