In August 2004, my friend Joseph and I organized a trip to Dubrovnik before chartering a boat on the Adriatic Sea. A Croatian friend advised me of a tiny nearby island called Lokrum. It was popular with nudists, he said, and had perfect swimming coves.
I told Joseph about the island when we met up in the Dubrovnik airport, and the next morning, anxious for the sea and sun, our skin the color of too much office work, we rode the ferry toward Lokrum. Only then did I mention that it was a nudist beach. “I don’t mind,” Joseph assured me. “Me neither,” I replied. “I just hope some of them are attractive.” Joseph turned to me with a smirk. “No,” he said. “I mean, I don’t mind being naked.” I hadn’t seen much of Joseph in the past year. Now I was going to see too much of him—every inner-thigh freckle, scrotal wrinkle, and circumcision mark.
Watching The Motel, a 2005 indie film about a Chinese-American family who own a motel in the middle of nowhere, was a revelation to me. I’ll always come back to the scene in which the mom, as a special dinnertime treat, buys McDonald’s for her family. She carefully unwraps the burgers and cuts them in half, placing each half on top of a bowl of white rice. I have never felt so understood by a movie.
Matthew Engel is a journalist at the end of four decades of deadline-driven, high-quality writing. He is now at that stage of life when one thinks about it all – in his case, the millions of words he has tapped out. What historical meaning was ingrained in those words? It is, he concludes, not the European Union but America that we should be fearful of.
You could argue that “The Lottery” has only one hero: the reader. The story’s ultimate goal is perhaps to “shock us awake,” so that we might be moved to act differently the next time we’re confronted with stale ideas that perpetuate senseless cruelty, bigotry or injustice. If anything positive should come from the harrowing spectacle of watching our political discourse degenerate into reality TV, perhaps the current election cycle—like the reading of my grandmother’s dystopic tale of horror—might just shock us awake as a nation, encouraging us to move together beyond this dark and ugly place we seem to be in.
I read them because these writers have mastered the ancient magic of storytelling, and because they remind me of what it’s like to be young, living in a world that seems both simple and incomprehensible. Childhood taught us that wonder is our only true defense against the ordinary. We forget that at our peril.