If you do a Google search for "card catalog" it will likely return Pinterest-worthy images of antique furniture for sale — boxy, wooden cabinets with tiny drawers, great for storing knick-knacks, jewelry or art supplies.
But before these cabinets held household objects, they held countless index cards — which, at the time, were the pathways to knowledge and information. A new book from the Library of Congress celebrates these catalogs as the analog ancestor of the search engine.
Preparing a special meal is a fortifying experience, requiring strategic planning and long-term thinking. In this particular case, I not only have to give up time, but find certain ingredients that don’t have English names. The radishes that make radish soup aren’t sold in many of the usual grocery chains, so I head for the Q train to Canal Street, the one place I can trust to have every type of produce.
I begin to see Chinatown’s thumbprints around the subway station, its signature in those vibrant, red plastic grocery bags. Sanguine has two meanings. One is a shade of red like that of blood, and the other is comparable to being hopeful in times of strife. Both sentiments chronicle the shared bloodshed and poverty of our ancestors, through generations of conquest and resistance. Thanks to Confucian ideologies the dynasties shared, there was little resistance when the Hans invaded Korea in the 12th century. Aside from the way it’s remained largely homogenous, when I arrive to today’s bustling markets between Canal and Pell, there seems to be no room or time for resistance.
As long as I can remember, I’ve thought that this image perfectly captured how even at an early age I was always plotting an exit strategy. So much so that it’s the cover of my book about my family and the families I’ve joined by accident or on purpose. Now, I’m questioning that premise.
There is someone in the shot who wasn’t there when the picture was taken — my cousin Monique. Monique isn’t the name of any of my cousins. Monique isn’t a person at all. She’s the name my two real cousins and I have christened the woman pictured with us, their sister who is not their sister but a simulacrum, standing in for her. Monique, name withheld by request, did not want her image to appear on my book cover.
One fantasy of modernism is telling all there is to tell about the most ordinary of lives. On a train journey from Richmond to Waterloo Station, Virginia Woolf watched “an old lady in the corner opposite” in her carriage. She was “one of those clean, threadbare old ladies,” whom Woolf imagined might well be called “Mrs. Brown.” By the time her train pulled into Waterloo, Woolf had created an entire possible life for “Mrs. Brown.” She put her at home “in a seaside house … perching on the edges of chairs,” and imagined her making a “heroic decision” at a moment of crisis. Then she watched her fellow passenger “disappear, carrying her bag, into the vast blazing station.”
But when an ordinary person writes exhaustively about her own life, it can be something of a nightmare. Alexander Masters also wants to know what the women he passes in the street or sits beside on the train are thinking. Where Woolf imagined her way into the lives of others whom she names, Masters immerses himself in 148 diaries rescued from a literal trash heap, written by one person between 1952 and 2001, but offering no clue to their author’s identity. Masters’s account of what it was like to read these diaries, and to attempt to piece together the diarist’s life, becomes one writer’s way to respond to Woolf’s 1924 injunction, in which she urged modernist writers to “come down off their plinths and pedestals, and describe beautifully if possible, truthfully at any rate, our Mrs. Brown.”
In a patch of east London, somewhere between the urban and the wild, a love triangle emerges—between a woman, her ex-boyfriend and a fox. This is the premise of “How to be Human”, a debut novel by Paula Cocozza, a British journalist. It is a thrilling psychodrama that twists and turns with the residents of a few houses and their adjacent woods.
Mary, the story’s protagonist, has broken up with Mark, her domineering fiancé, but their destructive relationship has sucked her life dry. Then a fox arrives in her unkempt garden; at first he is a pest and then a friend. He brings her “gifts”, which she finds increasingly full of meaning: a pair of boxer shorts, a gardening glove, an egg. Everything normal in her life starts to slip, but she has something far more valuable, “her fox”.
Sunshine State doesn't confine itself to its titular locale. It also ventures into other places, both real and virtual, from Cleveland to Reddit. But all those roads lead back to Florida, which Gerard imbues with the eerie gravitational pull of both hometowns and black holes. In an age where the crazy-from-the-heat, ripped-from-the-headlines "Florida Man" has become a popular meme, and where the state as a whole has become in increasingly contentious political hotbed, Gerard crafts a nuanced and subtly intimate mosaic.
Exes, among other things, is an amazing feat of plotting and engineering, an elaborate puzzle of a book that brings to mind Alan Ayckbourn's Norman Conquests for the intricacy of its carefully calibrated interlocking connections.