But it is in the broad world outside museum culture where the phenomenon we might call curatolatry (as in the worship of curation and curators) is really booming. Everyone wants to curate things these days—to choose what to welcome and what to exclude—whether they work for an art gallery or not. “Curator,” for example, is the name of a PR agency in Seattle. “Curate” is the name of at least four different software applications. “Curate” is a data-gathering firm based in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a kind of flavored water available at a grocery store near you. It’s also a brand of snack bars, whose maker explains the name as follows: “Curate means to bring things together to share them as a collection.”
It was an early May evening at the Rock Gardens, a popular climbing crag in Whitehorse, the small capital city of the Yukon Territory, where I live. By attempting to climb a steep stone wall, I was deliberately terrorizing myself, creating a situation I knew would induce something similar to a panic attack. But if I could learn to be less afraid while harnessed up and clinging to a rock face, I had decided, I might learn to control my debilitating fear of heights more generally.
2016 was a bad year for most people, but it was especially so for Gay Talese. Now 85, he is at an age when most of his time should be spent collecting the thin portfolio of lifetime-achievement awards available to journalists. Instead, Talese continues to work, which has gotten him into some trouble. Last April, a long reported piece of his appeared in The New Yorker called “The Voyeur’s Motel.” It was clearly intended as a jewel in his already bejeweled crown. It turned out to be something of cubic zirconia.
Today we are less troubled by the homogenizing effects of entertainment than by our deep partisan divisions in both politics and art. And the cultural shift that today’s literary writers struggle to parse is not the impact of TV sitcoms, but of social media and the internet. Even the notion of escape means something very different in the age of Trump than it meant during the Clinton years. In response, some of these writers have shifted their narratives into a safer, more myth-friendly past; others continue to deliver the hopeful feelings of a simpler time. You might call them the last escapists: If their books still resonate, it is not because they reflect the zeitgeist, but because they run so profoundly against it. And as long as their brand of exuberant nostalgia holds appeal, there’s a danger of being left with a literature that tells us only what we already know, however enchantingly.
Early in Patty Yumi Cottrell's Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, a co-worker tells our narrator, Helen, that she developed post-traumatic stress disorder after she saw a person get hit by a truck in Tribeca. She says the person exploded: pieces of the body flew everywhere, and some of it sprayed her in the face. She asks: “How am I supposed to live with that?”
The question hangs over the entire novel. Sorry to Disrupt the Peace is a stylized contemporary noir. It’s detached, lush, pulpy with contemporary references, and led by an outsider who feels alienated even from her own reality. 32 years old and partially employed, she ekes out an almost-homeless existence in New York City. One day while waiting for a delivery for her roommate, she gets a call telling her that her adoptive brother has killed himself.
In 2012, Lucky Peach published a story, purportedly based on a series of emails from a writer named Sydney Finch, who claimed to have found evidence that the Chinese invented spaghetti with tomato sauce. It was an amusing, irreverent spoof on the transcontinental noodle rivalry between China and Italy, as well as a loving paean to China’s remarkable culinary contributions to the world. Nerdy and weird in all the best ways, it was also the kind of story Lucky Peach published in each of its quarterly issues. But this week, Eater reported that the critically acclaimed magazine will lay off all its staff and probably fold in May. (Today, editorial director Peter Meehan confirmed the news on Lucky Peach’s website.) When that happens, it will be a loss not just for food lovers, but for people everywhere who appreciate deep, idiosyncratic storytelling.
I knew something was amiss when I began to see men and women on the street as trees. Their arms were branches and their fingers twigs. Some were sprouting little green buds that looked like lima bean fingernails. Every shoestring was a rat snake. Every breast an eggplant, every swinging dick a banana.
Yes, to me, in those times, everyone was nude except for their footwear.