The pessimistic view, then, is that, because we occupy such a small and brief place in the cosmos, we and the things we do are insignificant and inconsequential. But is that right? Are we insignificant and inconsequential? And if we are, should we respond with despair and nihilism? These questions are paradigmatically philosophical, but they have received little attention from contemporary philosophers. To the extent that they address the question of whether we are cosmically insignificant at all, they have typically dismissed it as confused.
Joe Jr.’s closed in the summer of 2009, with a farewell note hastily tacked up in the window explaining that the restaurant had lost its lease and, after more than 30 years in business, they were saying good-bye. Like Henri Soulé’s famous French restaurant, it was replaced, in time, by a more fashionable version of itself: a café serving Brazilian coffee, where a new generation of headphone-wearing habitués crowd the uncomfortable wood chairs, peering silently into their laptops, sipping four-dollar coffee from biodegradable paper cups. For a while, the Platts tried to find another place in our little neighborhood to go for our family breakfasts, but the dwindling number of old-time diners and coffee shops were too crowded or too anonymous or too far away. When my daughters want a bowl of chicken soup, these days, they get it at the Pret a Manger down the street, and although I pass the now-svelte Mizrahi on the street sometimes, I’ve never seen John Waters or the Tattoo Lady again.
An airplane is the perfect, and perhaps the only, place to actually read the globe-trotting lifestyle magazine founded in 2007 by Tyler Brûlé, a Canadian editor and erstwhile war correspondent. Its logo, an “M” with a twisted loop inscribed in a circle, lurks at airport terminal bookstores all over the world, the magazine’s glossy black cover—which the late David Carr likened to “a slab of printed dark Belgian chocolate”—conveying a placeless, easily translated sort of luxury. Inside, one encounters articles on Canadian soft power, Latin American soap operas, and Finnish domestic architecture: the casual reading of an armchair diplomat.
Given the sultry temperatures that envelop Singapore pretty much all year round you might not expect the city’s crime fiction to be dissimilar to other Southeast Asian noir, the strength-sapping humidity leaving everyone wrung out and tense. While that is mostly what you get in crime writing from Bangkok and Phnom Penh, for example, Singapore, the city state William Gibson famously dubbed “Disneyland with the Death Penalty,” also, perhaps surprisingly, specializes in quirky, mildly amusing, sometimes bizarre cozies—masses of sunshine, food, friendly fat aunts and crimes that make a Miss Marple story look like an episode of The Wire. So here’s a spoiler—if you like your crime fiction hardboiled and noir-ish read the next two paragraphs and then skip to another article.
As soon as I got home from school, a daily humiliation, I read my parents’ cookbooks. These were the only English books in the house I hadn’t already read, a random assortment of gifts and last-minute purchases made at airports. It didn’t bother me too much that it wasn’t Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. I was a reader, happy to be reading. Every page was new to me, equally precious, and I hung on to the microstories tucked into the recipe introductions, any turns of phrase or quotations I could memorize.
No one in my family had been to Australia, but we had a paperback of The Australian Women’s Weekly “Children’s Birthday Cake Book.” I studied its pages before going to sleep, lingering over the steps for a vanilla cake lined with chocolate biscuits, topped with finely chopped green jelly and white plastic figurines, which was meant to look like an aboveground swimming pool. It was a book about aesthetics more so than cooking, and whether the recipe was for a typewriter with candy keys or a rubber duck with potato chip lips, it began, like a prayer, in the exact same way: “Make cake according to directions on packet.”
By nature an impatient person, I have found that the two states I’ve always wanted most for my life—writerhood and motherhood—can demand more than I comfortably have in reserve. My children take my patience small handful by small handful. Writing takes it too: the waiting for the writing to make its way in the world, of course, but also the act itself. It has never seemed like a coincidence to me that right around the time I accepted that my writing career was not going to unfold according to any kind of pace I could plan for ahead of time, I got better at the actual writing. The patience I was learning was helping my fiction, because fiction has to exercise patience in order to work its effects on the reader. A kind of focused attending, a burrowing-in.
But if you read the first page of To Kill A Mockingbird with close attention to the way Scout switches verb tenses, Jem’s death comes as no surprise at all. To the contrary, Jem is already dead by the time the novel begins. In the first paragraph of Mockingbird, Scout uses the past tense to recall that Jem broke his arm when he was thirteen and his body never truly recovered. She explains, “His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh.” Here, Scout explains how Jem’s accident permanently affected his body. In the next paragraph, she switches to the present tense and then back again when she says, “I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that.” Scout is alive to tell the tale — she “maintains” in the present tense. Meanwhile, Jem exists only in the past tense — by the time Scout tells the story, he is no longer four years Scout’s senior, and his left arm is no longer shorter than his right. Jem has been dead for as long as Scout has been telling the story of his broken arm.
What to do with this information?
In fact, the opposite is true: “cie” words outnumber “cei” ones by about three to one. The ratio of “ie” to “ei” is exactly the same for the after-c words as it is for all words in general.
"This addendum to the rule completely useless,” Cunningham writes. “You still have roughly three to one odds that the ‘i’ goes first.”