The sidewalk line is a beast of its own kind, native to the space outside whatever latest bakeshop or store selling limited-edition streetwear. Within the broader genus of lines, it differs from those inside the post office or Starbucks. (I’ll call those normal lines “normal lines.”) All types of lines are a product of math that expresses the rate at which people arrive and how fast a cashier can distribute some stuff. Normal lines are borne from a solvable fluke: too many people, too few cashiers. Sidewalk lines do not want to be solved. They are intentional — cultivated, managed, bred like show dogs. In certain types of luxury transactions, we’ve come to accept them as a predestined fact.
I used to believe that standing in line was a natural arrangement of human bodies, much like geese flying south in a “V.” But queuing is a recent and man-made invention. The first historical description of the line only appeared in 1837, in Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution. Describing a postwar scarcity of bread, he wrote: “If we look now at Paris, one thing is too evident: that the Bakers’ shops have got their Queues, or Tails; their long strings of purchasers, arranged in tail, so that the first come be the first served.” According to Carlyle, lining up was a uniquely French eccentricity. How earlier peoples distributed their bread is a fact that I’ve not yet been able to suss out. Before self-serve supermarkets, most stores relied on a deli-counter model. I can only assume that shoppers massed around a vendor, who granted his attention to the squeakiest wheel.
I am grateful that we are increasingly careful about how we talk about and report on suicide, and I respect the intention behind the ban on “commit suicide.” But I can’t support it. I don’t begrudge those who are more comfortable with “died by suicide” or “killed themselves,” but I bristle at the prescriptive nature of their objections, as though the rest of us who prefer “committed suicide” are wrong and need to catch up.
“Why Liberalism Failed” is a book that reads like an attempt to enunciate a primal scream, a deeply exasperating volume that nevertheless articulates something important in this age of disillusionment.
Sourdough is a soup of skilfully balanced ingredients: there’s satire, a touch of fantasy, a pinch of SF, all bound up with a likeable narrator whose zest for life is infectious. The novel opens a door on a world that’s both comforting and thrillingly odd.