The judge looked over Her Cocky Doctors. “Two male figures. One seems to be wearing a stethoscope, indicating he is a doctor, but he is stripped to the waist.”
“Doesn’t look like my doctor, your Honor,” said the lawyer drily.
They were gathered there that day because one self-published romance author was suing another for using the word “cocky” in her titles. And as absurd as this courtroom scene was — with a federal judge soberly examining the shirtless doctors on the cover of an “MFM Menage Romance” — it didn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
What are you doing? I don’t mean what are you doing with your life, or in general, but what are you doing right now? The answer, in one respect, is simple enough: you’re reading this magazine. Obviously. From a certain economic perspective, however, you’re doing something else, something you don’t realize, something with a sneaky motive that you aren’t admitting to yourself: you are signalling. You are sending signals about the kind of person you are, or want to be. What’s that you say—you’re reading this in the bath, or on your phone in bed, or otherwise in private? Well, the same argument applies. You are acquiring the tools for a “fitness display.” This, the economist Robin Hanson and the writer-programmer Kevin Simler argue in their new book, “The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life” (Oxford), is an advertisement of “health, energy, vigor, coordination, and overall fitness.” Fitness displays “can be used to woo mates, of course, but they also serve other purposes like attracting allies or intimidating rivals.” So there you go: that’s what you’re doing, there in the bath with the magazine. Your rivals are right to feel intimidated.
Wait, though—surely signalling doesn’t account for everything? Hanson, in a recent podcast interview with Tyler Cowen, a colleague at George Mason University, was asked to give a “short, quick and dirty” answer to the question of how much human behavior “ultimately can be traced back to some kind of signalling.” His answer: “In a rich society like ours, well over ninety per cent.” He was then asked to cite a few voluntary human activities that “have the least amount to do with signalling.” The example Hanson came up with was “scratching your butt.”
“I want a life with people that is almost explosive in its excitement,” she wrote,“fierce and hard and laughing and loud and gay as all hell let loose.” It seems to me she had that life—and that it’s one worth looking at. Even searching for.
“Why should I be a footnote to someone else’s life?” she once asked. Perhaps it’s up to us now to make sure that can’t—won’t—happen.
I have always felt that I owe it to books (my longest and greatest love) to hear them out, especially when it’s one recommended by someone whose opinion I value. I also feel that if I don’t finish a book, I will somehow get in trouble (?) with someone (??). I’m competitive with myself, and if I read 62 books last year, I want to read at least 63 this year.
Forget about the correspondence, diaries, and scribbled cabinet agendas through which he trawls. Post-millennials barely recognize each other’s signatures—they certainly don’t know how to compose a handwritten letter. Emails are deleted or die on obsolete hard drives; few people admit to writing diaries; political leaders communicate via tweets; film, music, and literary celebrities curate their own narratives on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.
Ultimately, though, the reason to read this compelling and hypnotic novel is not the execution of the plot or the sleight-of-hand final revelation. What makes it stand out is Abbott’s expert dissection of women’s friendships and rivalries. She is an investigator of the human heart and mind, and “Give Me Your Hand” is a fine addition to her body of work — one that should cement her position as one of the most intelligent and daring novelists working in the crime genre today.
Principal dancers Marianela Nuñez and Alexander Campbell glide past. More arrive in white tutus, fresh from rehearsals for Swan Lake; a graceful, giggling wave of youthful energy, chatting about barbecues and Instagram. Some complete bespoke cardio drills, calibrated using oxygen-uptake tests, to get fit for quick-tempo allegro routines. Others strengthen their soleus calf muscles, which on-site electromyography (EMG) analysis suggests can help stabilise their ankles. Every workout is uploaded to Smartabase, a data-analysis platform also used by the US military. Meanwhile, fatigued dancers apply Game Ready leg wraps, which harness Nasa space-suit technology to deliver tissue-repairing cold therapy, and learn how adding omega-3-rich anchovies to their salads can reduce muscle inflammation.
The Royal Ballet is rich in tradition, but the company’s 97 dancers are now supported by a 17-strong team of sports science and healthcare experts. “Our facilities are now similar to those of a Premier League football club,” explains Gregory Retter, clinical director of ballet healthcare. “Strength, jumping, force attenuation, cardiovascular fitness, psychological wellbeing and nutrition; all support the dancer to be free to create artistic excellence. This is a completely new concept in dance.”
Gus, a polar bear at the Central Park Zoo, swam ceaselessly. He’d dive into his pool, slither across the bottom, surge to the surface, and backstroke to the other side. Then, he’d tuck his head into the water and do it again. And again. And again. Twelve hours a day. Every day. Gus was New York’s woolliest neurotic. And when the tabloids got hold of his story in the mid-1990s, it took off. David Letterman cracked wise. The rock band The Tragically Hip asked, “What’s Troubling Gus?” And the $25,000 the zoo spent on an animal behaviorist became a national punchline.
But a couple of decades later, the joke has lost a bit of its zing. Gus’s compulsive behavior, a growing pile of research suggests, is distressingly common among captive animals. The gorillas behind the glass are plucking their hair, and the orangutans are incessantly masturbating. Dolphins ram their heads into the sides of pools, and sea lion pups try to nurse from each other instead of adult females.
At the turn of the 21st century, New York literati would often shut down attempts to discuss the latest television shows with the sniffy refrain “I don’t even own a TV.” I remember one particular book party at which a cluster of hot young novelists collectively agreed that they wouldn’t mind having their books optioned for the small screen—as long as no one ever got around to making them. TV in those days was still scorned as a distraction factory churning out bland entertainment in standardized 30- or 60-minute chunks punctuated by Pavlovian laugh lines and pre-commercial-break cliff-hangers.
That snobbery gradually turned inside out as the medium evolved from delivering conventional network fare aimed at the broadest possible audience into a vehicle for the much-hyped new golden age. Prestige dramas and idiosyncratic comedies put a premium on nuance and experimentation, on complex characterization and scintillating dialogue. In other words, all the things for which literary fiction is known. So utterly has the literati’s disdain for the small screen dissolved that nowadays novelists are lining up to have their books adapted. If you eavesdrop on any gathering of serious writers, they’re as likely to be discussing Killing Eve or Better Call Saul as they are the latest book by Zadie Smith or Rachel Kushner. Even the University of Iowa is launching TV-writing programs this fall.
No Way But This is an unusual biography; it is written with deep admiration for its subject and with perhaps a little too much indulgence. But then, Robeson was the kind of urbane, politically engaged celebrity that we rarely find in our age of millionaire poseurs such as Kanye West and Jay-Z; that he died in relative obscurity and in deep depression is a tragedy. He will always be a reminder of what authentic, soulful art can achieve and the responsibility we all carry to speak truth to power.
She’s still “far from wise,” she cautions, “but being slightly less clueless is an improvement, and I’ll take it. My index cards have made me happier. They’re the start, at least, of what I craved while growing up: to have more knowledge, less regret and a better grasp of what’s happening.”
That definition of being a grown-up isn’t catchy enough for a 40th birthday card, but it sure is a lot more useful.
While I hope Guiraudie’s novel will draw interest from jaded literati and disgruntled laymen alike (plus everyone in between), I’d like to think that it will also give the lie to their moral outrage, perhaps even proffer nourishment for their empathy. We listen to a narrator like Gilles because we want to know what makes him tick, and because we want to understand why someone we find unreliable and immoral can still remind us so much of ourselves. Few readers, I think, will be able to overlook in the lineaments of the narrator’s monologue the reflection of their own bad faith. In this sense, Alain Guiraudie’s Now the Night Begins is just the sort of queer decadence that the Trump era had coming. May it prove appealing, then, to those who deserve to be disturbed by it.
The Cost of Living is filled with the feeling of travel, and yet one of its main preoccupations is home. Levy is clearly not sorry to have sold the house where she lived with her husband. "To strip the wallpaper off the fairy tale of The Family House in which the comfort and happiness of men and children have been the priority," she writes, "is to find behind it an unthanked, unloved, neglected, exhausted woman." Levy has been that woman for years, trying to "please everyone all the time in a bid for approval, home, children, and love." No wonder that now she wants motion.
“The Secret Habit of Sorrow” is a deeply somber book, but that just serves to make the few moments of triumph all the more affecting — for some of her characters, surviving at all is a kind of victory. There’s not a story in the book that’s less than great; it’s a stunningly beautiful collection by a writer working at the top of her game.
For the last 25 years, in novel after novel, Houellebecq has advanced a similar critique of contemporary sexual mores. And while Houellebecq has always been a polarizing figure — admired for his provocations, disdained for his crudeness — he has turned out to be a writer of unusual prescience. At a time when literature is increasingly marginalized in public life, he offers a striking reminder that novelists can provide insights about society that pundits and experts miss. Houellebecq, whose work is saturated with brutality, resentment and sentimentality, understood what it meant to be an incel long before the term became common.
A rising wall of snow-cloud and Canada geese flee the coming squall. From the sunroom at the back of my house I can track storms rolling in over the harbor. This winter, the impulse to step through that pane of glass hit me hard. There’s a magnetic force to Collingwood’s glinting harbor when it’s under ice. I figured that must be the appeal of ice fishing . . . why anglers are notorious for safeguarding their favorite spots. There was nothing for it but to trudge down to the Spit and enter that secret world.
The last few El Niño-warm Decembers, Nottawasaga Bay remained a stretch of midnight blue open water. This year, there’s a freeze-up. The wind off the bay has ground the pack ice, rounding off its edges to form giant lily-pads. Hank Barris, all-season fisherman from the age of ten, is jabbing at the ice with a four-foot chisel.
The first shot of John McClane in Die Hard is his left hand digging into the armrest as his plane lands at LAX. We can see he’s wearing a wedding band on his ring finger. His seatmate then gives him an unusual piece of advice about surviving air travel: once he settles in, he should take off his socks and shoes and make fists with his toes on the rug. Then he reaches up to the overhead bin, revealing a holstered gun dangling from his midsection.
All of this is mundane stuff. It’s also a prime example of why Die Hard remains the greatest American action movie since it was released 30 years ago this week.
What could have been simply a cutting satire — or thought experiment — about our tech dependence and craving for quick-fix pop psychology becomes something far warmer and funnier.
You’d figure that an area with so many Mexicans, from third-generation dining dynasties to families fresh across the border, would get some love from food critics. Nada. They instead obsess about the Mexican food in Los Angeles or San Antonio, which makes sense. Even New York’s Mexican food gets more foodie love. So does the American South. Austin. Portland.
Even I’ve ignored the Central Valley throughout my career — and I literally wrote the book about Mexican food in the United States. But after spending three days on Highway 99, eating from Bakersfield to Sacramento and back — from taco trucks to high-end restaurants, in rest stops and swap meets, from big cities to towns with barely 3,000 people — I am now a convert. And I’ll say it: Only Los Angeles and Houston — maybe — have better Mexican food scenes than the Central Valley.
In the early morning of Sept. 24, 2015, my friend Nick Louvel was driving north on Route 114 between East Hampton and Wainscott, New York, when deer appeared in the road, causing him to swerve and crash into a tree. This accident was witnessed by a taxi driver, stopped on the other side of the deer, who called 911, and a medical helicopter was dispatched and took Nick, who had suffered blunt-force trauma to his head, neck, and torso, to Stony Brook University Hospital, where doctors attempted to revive him. They were unable to, however, and he died, though I wouldn’t know until about eight hours later, when I received a succession of calls, the last of which was from Nick’s sister Diane.
In the months that followed fiction stopped working for me. I don’t mean to say I expected a novel to be a Xanax or my salvation. But I did of course, and I suspect anyone who has spent a good deal of their life reading and writing does. E.M. Cioran said he quit philosophy when it couldn’t cure his insomnia. I always took this to be a put-on, but here I was in my own version of that circumstance. I don’t just mean that fiction couldn’t take my mind off things. It was more total than that. Nearly every work of literature I picked up then struck me as misbegotten, a waste of human energy.
How do we tell our stories? What form best fits the autobiographical? Poetry and nonfictional prose each offer unique angles and approaches to addressing a past event or personal experience. But for many writers, working in one genre is not sufficient, or else a single genre does not exhaust a writer’s obsession with their subject matter.
“On a day somewhat early in September, the year of the first March on the Pentagon, 1967, the phone rang one morning and Norman Mailer, operating on his own principle of war games and random play, picked it up.” So begins Norman Mailer’s “The Armies of the Night,” and, as I read it almost fifty years after its first appearance, two things seem true and surprising about that sentence and the epoch-marking book it superintends. First, how funny it is, and then how self-aware—not self-aware only in the sense that made the book notorious on its first publication, with Mailer having cast himself in the third person as the protagonist of his own story, but self-aware in a more mischievous sense, with the author well aware of the notoriety that the “egocentric” choice will induce and delighted to risk the consequences. The promotion of author to picaresque hero here is more high-hearted than hubristic. Indeed, the humor and the self-awareness are two sides of the same effect, and central to what is, a half century later, the book’s enduring charm. “The Armies of the Night” is not a journalistic account of a protest so much as a satiric poem of fathers and sons. It tells of how one generation of American radicals confronted and comically misunderstood the next.
Hodgson’s book is a demonstration of how swimming pools are genetically photogenic. Perhaps it’s that a pool somewhat resembles a photograph: a field of glittering action, bordered by white. Or that before digital cameras, to develop a photograph meant to submerge it in a series of three pools—developer, stop bath, fixer. Or that both center around the joys of seeing—light dancing on water, bodies glowing in the sun. Photography might as well have been invented for swimming pools.
While another writer might give us a lengthy tour of this turbulent water, Levy doesn’t slow down. There’s joy in her maneuvering through the rapids, difficult though they may be. And there’s joy for us in watching her.
The EU could be seen not the way Poirier sees it, as Paris-created bulwark, but as sociologist Wolfgang Streeck envisioned it – a deregulation machine exposing its citizens to capitalism gone wild. I would argue that, were Sartre and De Beauvoir alive, they would share Streeck’s view. But let’s not leave Paris without yielding, just a little, to Poirier’s rose-tinted image of its charms. Interviewed for the book, Juliette Greco recalled evenings 60-odd years earlier, strolling with Miles Davis from jazz club to bistro, as their love blossomed. She was white, he black, she had no English, he no French. “I have no idea how we managed,” she laughed. “The miracle of love.” Or the miracle of Paris, which is much the same thing.
Who doesn’t like a pretty idea? Physicists certainly do. In the foundations of physics, it has become accepted practice to prefer hypotheses that are aesthetically pleasing. Physicists believe that their motivations don’t matter because hypotheses, after all, must be tested. But most of their beautiful ideas are hard or impossible to test. And whenever an experiment comes back empty-handed, physicists can amend their theories to accommodate the null results.
This has been going on for about 40 years. In these 40 years, aesthetic arguments have flourished into research programmes – such as supersymmetry, the multiverse and grand unification – that now occupy thousands of scientists. In these 40 years, society spent billions of dollars on experiments that found no evidence to support the beautiful ideas. And in these 40 years, there has not been a major breakthrough in the foundations of physics.
Today, nearly all scientists say that coincidences are just that: coincidences – void of greater meaning. Yet, they’re something we all experience, and with a frequency that is uniform across age, sex, country, job, even education level. Those who believe that they’ve had a ‘meaningful coincidence’ in their lives experience a collision of events so remarkable and unlikely that they chose to ascribe a form of grander meaning to the occurrence, via fate or divinity or existential importance. One of the most commonly experienced ‘meaningful coincidences’ is to think of your friend for the first time in a long while only to have her telephone you that instant. Any self-respecting statistician would say that if you tracked the number of times you thought of any friend, and the number of times you had that friend immediately ring you, you’d find the link to be statistically insignificant. But it is not necessarily irrational to attribute grander significance to this occurrence. To those who believe in meaningful coincidences, statistical insignificance does not undermine an event’s causality or importance. To them, just because something could happen doesn’t mean it wasn’t also fated to happen.
But however serious Vonnegut was being, the idea that semicolons should be avoided has been fully absorbed into popular writing culture. It is an idea pervasive enough that I have had students in my writing classes ask about it: How do I feel about semicolons? They’d heard somewhere (as an aside, the paradoxical mark of any maxim’s influence and reach is anonymity, the loss of the original source) that they shouldn’t use them. To paraphrase the band War, semicolons—and rules about semicolons—what are they good for?
“The Boatbuilder” offers a decidedly gentle, sometimes quietly rewarding window onto the attempted recovery of an American opioid addict. It’s a fictional companion piece of sorts to nonfiction books about self-reliance like Matthew Crawford’s “Shop Class as Soulcraft” or Alexander Langlands’s “Craeft,” which argue for the emotional benefits of unplugging and working with your hands. Capturing those interior benefits in fiction is a delicate act, and Gumbiner, the managing editor of The Believer magazine, pins a sense of well-being to the page while other times approaching his themes too explicitly.
It seems clear that the separation of what C. P. Snow in 1959 called “the two cultures” is no longer tenable if our species (and the planet) is to prosper, let alone survive. Humanists have long said that science needs the humanities. Now scientists themselves and the scientific establishment seem to be on board, acknowledging that we need to read and creatively imagine “what if” scenarios lest we wear blinders. A significant indicator of this new mood: the second issue this year of the internationally influential research journal Science featured a cover image, an editorial and a long article devoted to “the lasting legacy of Frankenstein.” An 18-year-old girl’s literary creation is now required reading, as it were, for scientists.
These early food pages weren’t perfect — there was more than a little man-pleasing advice and a distinct lack of cultural and economic diversity, both in the newsrooms and on the pages. Yet the food pages were among the first public, published places women could begin to reframe their role in society, find agency in political conversations, and highlight issues they found important. Those who do remember these early decades of food writing often dismiss it as a forum where housewives shared recipes or shopping tips, but this ignores the major cultural shifts the coverage pushed.
The achievement of this new book is that it never disparages Zeke, who in other hands might come across simply as a mansplainer. His vision is hindered by a blind spot, but in this, Tillman seems to say, he is like us all.
You might have seen the cartoon: two cavemen sitting outside their cave knapping stone tools. One says to the other: ‘Something’s just not right – our air is clean, our water is pure, we all get plenty of exercise, everything we eat is organic and free-range, and yet nobody lives past 30.’
This cartoon reflects a very common view of ancient lifespans, but it is based on a myth. People in the past were not all dead by 30. Ancient documents confirm this. In the 24th century BCE, the Egyptian Vizier Ptahhotep wrote verses about the disintegrations of old age. The ancient Greeks classed old age among the divine curses, and their tombstones attest to survival well past 80 years. Ancient artworks and figurines also depict elderly people: stooped, flabby, wrinkled.
All of this is to say the Tour de France is everyone’s golden ticket. Its automatic invitation is the main reason 18 teams vie for World Tour status. And for the four wild card teams that cross over from Pro Continental events to the big time, it’s a chance to pay all their bills and remain competitive in their smaller arena. The fact that it happens in July means the Tour is where business for the next year is conducted. It’s where all the cycling brands — bicycles, components, clothing, accessories — go to show off their wares and start talking about sponsorship for the next season. It’s where riders and their agents whose contracts are expiring secure their next deal.
Everyone is at the Tour de France — sponsors, potential sponsors, riders, managers, agents, fans, journalists, and more. No other race can say this.
My parents did not like emotional conversations. They did not say I love you. On parents’ visiting day at school, other kids’ parents left them notes that said “We’re proud of you!” My note said, “We hope you will continue to improve this year. Please read books other than the series, The Baby-Sitters Club.” The closest they had come to addressing the issue of emotion were the times they asked me, “Why are you crying?” By which they meant, Stop crying. And so I tried never to cry in front of them. I held my tears through dinner. I cried only alone, in my room, or on the phone with friends. It seemed to me that the heart was a dangerous territory for Chinese and so I kept the two apart. It was in English that said I love you to a boy for the first time, English in which I cursed aloud. In books written in English, the intricacies of feeling and mysteries of human existence were explored. It was in the love of this language that, early on, I found the determination to become a writer.
But sitting there in the classroom as a college freshman, staring at those three-hundred-some words that made up the Eileen Chang short story, everything I knew was torn apart. No story written in English had ever made me feel what this story made me felt. It was the most profound reading experience I’d had with short fiction, and the story had been written in Chinese. It was as though the two worlds I was used to traveling between had suddenly collided.
For those committed to the written word, there is a temptation to see innovation as a threat, to worry that the book will not withstand the bells and whistles of new and augmented texts. Will a burst of music or a celebrity narrator prove the fatal flourish that distracts us forever from the page in front of us?
Better to focus on what we might gain. As someone who frequently interviews authors on stage, I’m aware of the unique insight to a text produced by hearing someone read their own work; I’ve frequently re-interpreted a passage after such an experience. But that has had no impact on whether or not I’ll read a book by a writer I will never hear reading.
A world inhabited only by robots, their billionaire owners and a large and increasingly restive population is the plotline for countless dystopian fantasies, but it’s a reality that appears to be drawing closer. If we continue on the path we’re on, we will need to make fundamental choices about how to support human livelihoods and ensure equal participation in our economy and society. Most basically, we will have to confront the realities of vastly unequal economic and political power. Even if we manage to enact a U.B.I., it will not be nearly enough.
Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize–winning presidential historian who, through his sporadic television appearances, has taken on the role of the sober optimist. He is a man who has studied history in depth and who is able to recognize its echoes in the present day. Whenever a television host tries to make a claim about the “unprecedented” nature of our current politics, Meacham is quick to point out a similar occasion in American history.
Because of this reminding tendency, it should come as no surprise that, for his seventh book, he has attempted to offer a message of hope for the future of the United States. He does this not by presenting an idealistic vision for what that future will look like, but by examining the trends of the past and outlining his idea of a national soul, pulling from a variety of thinkers ranging from Socrates to Thomas Jefferson. Ultimately, the national soul can be understood as the national essence: whatever it is that makes America American. This incorporates positive aspects of the national creed such as equality of opportunity and fair play, but it also includes the dark chapters of our history, such as slavery and the internment of Japanese Americans.
But for the vast majority of our history, humans didn’t understand the number zero. It’s not innate in us. We had to invent it. And we have to keep teaching it to the next generation.
Other animals, like monkeys, have evolved to understand the rudimentary concept of nothing. And scientists just reported that even tiny bee brains can compute zero. But it’s only humans that have seized zero and forged it into a tool.
There are hundreds more, lost in the bush, never missed; drowned, washed into one of our three great oceans; murdered, buried in shallow graves thousands of kilometres from anywhere. Time settles over this brittle, brilliant continent, reclaiming us. Floodwaters drop and dust storms disperse; cotton farms are reclaimed by scrub, and Herefords left to wander beside the rabbits, foxes and other mistakes.
Perhaps the single greatest leap forward for women in the last 50 years has been the way legislation and medical advances have meant – for those of us living in more enlightened parts of the affluent west, at least – that motherhood is no longer almost inevitable but one of many possible courses for a life. This freedom has come with a cost, as the conservative press likes to remind us daily: while women are putting off childbirth in favour of professional success, finding the right partner or merely scrabbling together enough resources to make sure parenthood is not punitive, we will eventually slam up against the immovable deadline of our biology, with all the agony, regret and soul-searching that entails, if we dare to “leave it too late”.
Guardian journalist Emma Brockes and Canadian novelist Sheila Heti both found themselves in their late 30s weighing up the pros and cons of motherhood. Both, it must be noted, approach the issue from a position of considerable privilege, which they recognise: both white, middle-class professionals with no serious fertility problems, they have the luxury of considering the more abstract ethical questions around whether or not to have a child, and the potential ramifications for their own lives and the people who love them. It’s also important to note that these are not books about parenthood. They are specifically about the question of becoming a mother; it is impossible to imagine a man writing the equivalent of either book, not simply because the biological imperative against a ticking clock is less stark, but because fatherhood is not seen – culturally, psychologically, emotionally – to consume and usurp a man’s identity in the same way.
The earliest recipe book devoted entirely to making ice cream was “L’Art de bien faire les glaces d’office,” published in 1768 by a mysterious Monsieur Emy. The illustration on the frontispiece depicts roughly how ice cream was made at the time: By industrious flocks of chubby, naked cherubs with tiny wings, while the Holy Trinity — God and Jesus, languidly reposing in the clouds and flanking a rather startled dove — look down from the heavens.
That wasn’t exactly how it really went, but ice cream in 1768 might as well have been made by angels, so exciting and novel was the experience of eating it and so closely-guarded the process of making it.
“If you knew how to make ices, you had a meal ticket for life, and you would lock the door of your confectionery so nobody knew how you did it,” explained Robin Weir, co-author of “Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definitive Guide.” “If you knew how to make ice cream, you were absolutely laughing — you were set up for life.” Emy’s book underscored just how rarefied the dessert was in his day. Ice cream was something that only the very wealthiest people could afford. It required specialized knowledge and equipment, ice and sugar. Unsurprisingly, a pint of ice cream in the 1760s easily cost about as much as the average worker made in a week, if not more. But within the space of 100 years, that all changed.
One first weird thing in a very long list of weird things about palms is that they are not really trees. The word “tree” is not a horticultural term—it’s sort of like “vegetable,” in that you can kind of call anything a vegetable—but palms are not at all like the other plants commonly referred to as trees. They don’t have wood, for one thing; the interior of a palm is made up of basically thousands of fibrous straws, which gives them the tensile strength to bend with hard tropical windstorms without snapping. They are monocots, which is a category of plant in which the seed contains only one embryonic leaf; as monocots, they have more in common with grasses like corn and bamboo than they do with an oak or pine tree.
Southern California might not have been rich with trees, but it was rich with money and rich with sunshine. Once the railroads came to Los Angeles, in the 1880s, speculators realized this huge empty sunny place would be a great opportunity to sell land. But how to get people to move way out to the desert? One way was incredibly cheap train tickets; the railroads sold tickets from the Midwest for as little as one dollar. But, as with California ever since, the place had to be marketed.
Romance publishers say that they want to publish books with more diverse characters and settings, but argue that it’s a challenge in part because the majority of submissions still come from white authors. The genre’s largest organization, the Romance Writers of America, which has around 10,000 members, recently conducted a survey and found that nearly 86 percent of its members are white. The group has also faced growing scrutiny over its Rita Award, which has never gone to an African-American writer in the 36-year history of the prize. Black authors have accounted for less than 1 percent of finalists.
“It was eye-opening,” Dee Davis, R.W.A.’s president, said of the survey results. “We have a lot of work to do.”
You remember them if you grew up in the '80s or '90s, leering at you from drugstore racks: A morbid parade of covers featuring skeletons graduating from college, or playing piano, or dressed as surgeons and cradling babies; covers of teenagers brooding in attics and creepy kids, all with peek-a-boo die-cut covers opening up to reveal gorgeous art of menacing grandmothers and chortling, flame-shrouded demons, their titles embossed in gold foil: The Seeing, The Searing, The Sharing, The Spawning, The Suiting.
Welcome to the lost world of paperback horror.
What Diaz pulls off here is that rare feat of drawing on literary and filmic traditions, only to conjure something completely fresh and strange. In the Distance is a brutal, sad, tender coming-of-age story, set in a historical past that feels both familiar and at the same time like nothing we’ve ever encountered before.
I come to this defence of writing as an unabashed partisan of text, a diehard literate in an age pivoting to video – I barely watch television, which marks me as a philistine these days. Every week seems to bring fresh news of a dimmer future for writing, whether it’s thanks to AI-curated, voice-operated information interfaces or in the hopes pinned on emojis as a universal writing system. So after reading Scott’s book I was moved to throw some gravel at the thinking that rolls along this track: if writing is the offspring of accounting and keeps the powerful in power, then let’s unshackle ourselves and return to purity.
Who needs writing, anyway? Seen through the filter of a military analogy, writing might be like nuclear weapons (which were developed specifically by the military), or it might be like gunpowder, which was discovered by alchemists searching for life-prolonging substances hundreds of years before its use in weapons. The question is this: is writing the product of the state in every single stage of its evolution, invented de novo by administrative elites? Or is it composed of pre-existing representational practices that expanded to fill the needs of the state and complex society?
Humans love to read meaning into the unexpected and the improbable, even where there is none. As the title of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s best seller has it, we’re fooled by randomness. When Germany fails to make it out of the group stage of the World Cup, the pundits say it turned out to be a weaker team than anybody thought; when Ocasio-Cortez beats Crowley, we say that’s because she ran a powerful grassroots campaign that was largely invisible to the media elite; when Trump is elected president or when Britain votes to leave the EU, that’s because of ... [insert any one of a thousand explanations here].
None of these narratives is wrong, exactly; they just tend to overlook the simple fact that improbable events happen on a regular basis, and that for every improbable event that happens, there are dozens which don’t. In certain artificial contexts, the frequency of improbable events can even be quantified: If you’re playing backgammon or craps, for instance, you know that you’ll get double ones one time in every 36 rolls, on average. If you roll a pair of dice a hundred times and never get double ones, you might not be surprised, but at the same time something fishy is going on.
Leave it to a sneaker historian to note that when Tommie Smith and John Carlos made their famous Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, they stepped up to the podium shoeless, each sprinter carrying a single Puma Suede. (The gesture was meant to symbolize black poverty.) In “Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers,” Nicholas Smith is continually freezing such iconic moments and zooming in on the overlooked footwear.
While Plato and Aristotle were concerned with character-centred virtue ethics, the Aztec approach is perhaps better described as socially-centred virtue ethics. If the Aztecs were right, then ‘Western’ philosophers have been too focused on individuals, too reliant on assessments of character, and too optimistic about the individual’s ability to correct her own vices. Instead, according to the Aztecs, we should look around to our family and friends, as well as our ordinary rituals or routines, if we hope to lead a better, more worthwhile existence.
This distinction bears on an important question: just how bad are good people allowed to be? Must good people be moral saints, or can ordinary folk be good if we have the right kind of support? This matters for fallible creatures, like me, who try to be good but often run into problems. Yet it also matters for questions of inclusivity. If being good requires exceptional traits, such as practical intelligence, then many people would be excluded – such as those with cognitive disabilities. That does not seem right. One of the advantages of the Aztec view, then, is that it avoids this outcome by casting virtue as a cooperative, rather than an individual, endeavour.
In her book Animal Land, about the animals of children's literature, Margaret Blount points out that mice appeal to kids because they are small, furry, and secretive. Kids know what it's like to be small and helpless in a big, big world. Plus, it's fun to imagine that mice must have a whole mirror universe of tiny things in their secret mouse-houses: tiny clothes and tiny walnut beds and, in certain cases, tiny swords and/or motorcycles. And we can assume that mice are brave, because they live so awfully close to big people.
Thought makes swallowing nearly impossible. Once anxiety enters in, the pill becomes the enemy of your body. You can drink glass after glass of water, hoping to conceal the pill in a tidal wash, to no avail. Your tongue becomes a goalkeeper—agile, muscular, vigilant. Whenever the pill is swept toward the goal of the open throat, no matter what your brain urges, your mutinous tongue sweeps it to one side.
That morning, I decided to avoid the struggle altogether. I took the pill in two fingers and thrust it neatly down my throat, beyond the swallowing place. It was in.
At once, I knew how bad it was.
The book is also then—in the way that all great art contains its opposite—a testimony on the importance of human community and ritual. Simone Weil, in a famous essay titled “The Iliad or the Poem of Force,” wrote that violence is the poem’s central character, but that “Justice and love … bathe the work in their light without ever becoming noticeable themselves, except as a kind of accent.” The destruction, in other words, only underlines the importance of what is being lost. And those slow parts where Homer enumerates the Greeks’ ships, what they cost and who sent them, or names the dead and how they died, become not so slow when you realize that in the book’s logic it matters—every death, every person. A central lesson of the Iliad is the terrifying fragility of the things that bring us together, and the importance of safeguarding them.
Imagine you're at a busy airport, somewhere in Europe or the US. You're meeting your wife (let's call her Layla) after work and flying off for a mini-break. She's running late, so you sit down in a coffee shop to wait. Soon you're lost in thought, so you don't see your beloved waving from across the terminal. How can she get your attention? Shouting your name would work. But if she does that, bystanders will panic. Security will circle. Your law-abiding missus could be taken to a stark side-room and interrogated for hours.
What's the problem?
Your wife is a practising Muslim, and your name is Jihad.
The book is also a sad and tender survey of silences within a marriage, as well as within a friendship. Silences within analysis, meanwhile, are more comically handled: Thompson is very funny on the self-deceptions and revelations of a discipline that, Arthur fears, “was only pretending to exist”. Silence was one of Beckett’s great subjects, of course; yet again Thompson connects with his grandfather’s difficult friend in a way that is fertile and endlessly thought-provoking.
The philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum wants Americans to get in touch with their feelings; not in a fit of self-indulgence but as a righteous act of civic duty. In “The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis,” she writes against a (mostly male) tradition of philosophical and political thinking that minimizes emotions as merely a source of irrationality and embarrassment.
People tend to use the word “washed” as a pejorative, or as a mild, self-deprecating admission of defeat. But I'm not so sure. In fact, I'm beginning to suspect the word describes something far more ecstatic. Recently I turned 36, but I'd say I've been washed for some time now. Two years ago, I got married—itself a pretty washed thing to do—and my wife and I moved from New York City to Los Angeles. It's been a blur of home cooking and “getting into red wine,” crossword puzzles and daily exercise, Tom Petty and the Beatles on the Sirius XM satellite radio ever since. Going to bed at 10 P.M. I've even started to play golf.
There's no defending this last activity (or maybe any of these activities) from an aesthetic standpoint. No one looks cool doing it or sounds cool talking about it; it represents a half-dozen things I was raised to despise. But it has quieted my demons in some real and undeniable way. I go to sleep thinking about golf shots instead of my failures as a man and a husband and a writer.
He was looking for a chemical mixture—a potion or tonic perhaps—that would give him eternal youth. Instead, when it caught fire, the ninth-century Chinese alchemist discovered gunpowder. From there, our global obsession with fireworks was sparked. From then on, fireworks were used in celebrations to bring happiness and luck, and also to ward off evil spirits.
Almost a thousand years later, upon signing the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote to his wife that the day “ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” The first anniversary of Independence Day, in 1777, was indeed full of pomp and parade and illuminations. The fireworks were slightly more subdued than the ones that are used today, since colored fireworks, mixed with strontium or barium, would only be discovered in Italy fifty years later. For the first American Independence Day, orange would have to do.
It turns out that a means to linguistically unite the Indonesian nation has instead, due to the language’s simplicity and rigidity, created a new barrier that prevents communication on a deeper level – one that Indonesians circumvent by employing their own particularised speech, tailored to their specific regions, generations or social classes.
"The best thing I ever did, was not swim back to the boat," Levy writes. "But where was I to go?" She doesn't have any clearer answer to that question by the end of this memoir than she did at the beginning. Oddly, Levy's stubborn uncertainty should reassure her readers that they're not alone in their own confusions; that there are, in fact, a lot of other bemused swimmers out there, not drowning but waving.
What a fine ear Markovits has for the way people talk. His dialogue put me in mind of David Mamet’s remark that modern US drama is mainly about people not talking to each other. One by one, the Essingers come under fire, but they counter with deft defensive tactics. They change the subject, alter the pace and send the conversation spinning off at awkward angles. Each exchange is a prolonged, expert rally, with the book as the ball, bearing the imprint of each family member in turn.
There was an unearthly quality to the atmosphere inside the Frieze New York art fair, like the air in a plane—still but pressurized, with an unsettling hum—when the fiction writer Ottessa Moshfegh visited to speak about her work one afternoon in May. “I hate this fair already,” she said when she walked in, handing her ticket to a very tall, very pale man dressed entirely in black lace. Almost immediately, she was lost in the labyrinth of works for sale: Takashi Murakami’s lurid blond plastic milkmaids with long legs and erect nipples; the words “any messages?” spelled out in neon tubing. It was like an enactment of the world inhabited by the protagonist of Moshfegh’s forthcoming novel, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” who works at a gallery in Chelsea, amid objects like a quarter-million-dollar “pair of toy monkeys made using human pubic hair,” with camera penises poking out from their fur. “Did I do this?” Moshfegh said, only half kidding. She sometimes gets the sense that she has the power to conjure reality through her writing.
Though the details of Moshfegh’s books vary wildly, her work always seems to originate from a place that is not quite earth, where people breathe some other kind of air. Her novella “McGlue” is narrated by a drunken nineteenth-century sailor, with a cracked head, who isn’t sure if he has murdered a man he loves. “Eileen” is the story of a glum prison secretary, in the mid-nineteen-sixties, who is disgusted by her gin-sodden father and by her own sexuality (the “small, hard mounds” of her breasts, the “complex and nonsensical folds” of her genitals). Moshfegh’s characters tend to be amoral, frank, bleakly funny, very smart, and perverse in their motivations, in ways that destabilize the reader’s assumptions about what is ugly, what is desirable, what is permissible, and what is real. In her collection of short stories, “Homesick for Another World,” a little girl is convinced that a hole will open up in the earth and take her straight to paradise, if only she murders the right person. These characters share with their creator an intense sense of alienation, which she wrote about in a faux letter to Donald Trump: “Since age five, all of life has been like a farce, an absurd performance of a reality based on meaningless drivel, or a devastating experience of trauma and fatigue, deep with meaning, which has led me into such self-seriousness that I often wonder if I am completely insane. Can you relate at all?”
It’s the final day of this seven-night cruise and I am sitting in my moderately messy balcony stateroom aboard the Celebrity Summit finishing the last bites of a room service cheeseburger, bags as yet unpacked for tomorrow morning’s disembarkation, the vast undulating North Atlantic just over my starboard shoulder.
I am trying to summon up my arguments in support of the mass-market luxury cruise, and against the snarky subgenre of travel writing about mass-market luxury cruises, a snarkiness best exemplified by David Foster Wallace’s classic 1997 essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” piece that is hilarious and insightful and brilliant. And also wrong.
It’s wrong because he tills every square inch of the surreal journalistic soil available to him during his own seven-day Caribbean cruise aboard the now decommissioned Celebrity Zenith (which he redubs the Nadir), but after 98 exhaustive pages of skeet shooting, conga dancing, fruit eating and existential despair falling, he fails to unearth what I believe is the flowering root of the widespread appeal of cruises: their unapologetic, gleaming banality.
Perhaps nowhere else in America did businesses work harder—or show more creativity—in enticing motorists to pull over than along the famous Route 66, stretching from Chicago to the West Coast. Traffic along the highway was often seasonal and sporadic. To survive, businesses that lined the route had to try every means possible to get motorists to stop and spend their money. The most obvious of these tactics were the colossal fiberglass “people attractors”: giant hotdogs, guns, pies, cow heads, ice cream cones, and other items associated with the goods each proprietor was hawking.
Before long, the buildings themselves took on attention-getting shapes. Restaurants morphed into gigantic shoes, sombreros, and UFOs. Diners were served in retired trolley cars, cabooses, and airplanes. Motels assumed the appearance of log cabins, alpine cottages, and, of course, Indian-style teepees. At the Wigwam Village chain’s peak, seven of Frank Redford’s unique roadside inns lined Route 66.
Because the truth is, an apology is rarely a private exchange between two people: When you harm one person, you harm many. When I abandoned my wife, I also abandoned my community of friends, who were furious with me. I hurt others, who heard her story and were scared that their lovers could also leave them in a time of need.
Could this ripple effect work the other direction, too? An intimate relationship can scatter scars. I hope that an intimate apology, made public, can heal them.
Track practice. An hour and a half. A metal picnic table. Cold enough for hats and gloves, hot enough for shorts and flip-flops. Other parents talking about football and summer camps and the new high school.
Tennis practice. Second-story bleachers. Other parents scattered around, looking at phones or their children, who are learning to serve, to rush the net, to move their feet. Every now and then an intake of breath and a ball bounces into this upper deck. I save my document often.
Lunch break. The cafeteria-style section of Wegman’s grocery store, the overpriced pub in the hotel down the street from my office, the burrito place, the burger place, the salad place, the pho place. Me and my laptop and an hour to eat and write, 40 minutes if you count the drive, a chance to move this story along, just get words down, word count, produce content that may eventually be improved enough to be part of a novel. Maybe.
There is a children's book celebrated among literary types that stands quite apart from anything else. I first heard about Duck, Death, And The Tulip at a book event where author Mac Barnett called it out as the pinnacle of what a children's book can be. Unlike other kids' books, it has an endorsement from Meg Rosoff on the cover. There is a certain weight to its heavy stock pages. Written by German author Wolf Elbruch, the story begins the day Duck notices Death is following her. At first she is scared, but Death — who, by the way, is a skeleton in a dress — explains that he has always been there. They play. Death begrudgingly swims in the pond Duck loves, painted a brilliant, opaque turquoise that swallows their bodies, and Duck comes to feel a kind of comfort in Death's company. When he is chilly, she offers to warm him.
Cancer. A scary word, right? One you never imagine might be applied to your life. I knew even before the results came back from the biopsy, that the lump that had mysteriously developed was cancer. But for my doctor to say the words out in the open was a shock. Like stepping from my everyday world that I took for granted into an unknown world, one I would never have chosen to visit.
It's an unusual novel, is what I'm saying. Disconcerting in the strangest of ways. As a spy story, it is right in the sweet spot—moles and traitors, double-agents, lots of acronyms, trenchcoats and a war that needs settling. You can feel the London chill, almost hear the paper peeling off the walls of abandoned safehouses deep in enemy territory. But the addition of the supernatural vaults it into a whole different universe of odd, laying the spy stuff on a narrative armature that almost can't support it. Because when death is no longer the end, where do your stakes come from? And how do you know who wins and who loses?
Each year, about 23,000 inmates like Camper leave prisons in Ohio, and 640,000 are released from prisons across the country. Nearly two-thirds of them can’t find a job within the first year and a majority of them are arrested again within three years. Not getting a job doesn’t hurt just the former inmate, it hits the whole economy. One think tank estimated that the cost of not hiring felons is $87 billion in gross domestic product every year. Governments have tried to address the issue. In 2016, the Obama administration invited corporations to sign a “fair chance” business pledge to help reintegrate felons into civilian life. Major companies such as Total Wine & More promised to hire people with criminal records. Koch Industries and Walmart no longer perform a background check until after an applicant has been offered a job.
Joe DeLoss, a serial entrepreneur in Columbus, viewed former prisoners as business assets, not charity cases. He knew they were potentially loyal employees who would not take an entry-level job for granted. DeLoss aspired to build a company with a double mission: make money using a workforce the rest of the private sector had largely ignored. And he wanted to accomplish this goal using a somewhat unusual product: spicy fried chicken.
Are great chefs also great artists? They could be—if being “great” is taken as read. Food has appeared in art since time immemorial. In 1932, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published The Futurist Cookbook, in which the processes of cooking and eating are connected to avant-garde performance. Judy Chicago’s 1974 installation The Dinner Party set an iconographic table for women’s growing ownership of self in culture. Bronx collective Ghetto Gastro highlights New York’s racial inequalities with dinner installations. Grant Achatz paints dessert on a tablecloth at Alinea. Food intersects with art. But what makes either “great”?
The “great” that Noah Charney describes in his recent TASTE article fits a set of parameters: traits and qualities that chefs and artists can fulfill. His reference points—Aristotle, Giorgio Vasari, Eric Ripert, Ferran Adrià, Thomas Keller, David Gelb—all believe that food can be produced and appraised as an aesthetic object. They are all white. They are all male. They are all part of a Eurocentric tradition. Of the three women quoted—also all white—two, editor Bettina Jacomini and chef Ana Roš, are of the same opinion. The third, chef-owner Cindy Pawlcyn, says, “Food is nourishment to me, not art.”
In these high-stakes times, some may resist a book that delineates a narrow strip of male literary life in pre-Trump America. But the current president’s rise channelled anger at the cash and land grabs of the superrich that Klam brutally skewers, and the novel also deals seriously with the decline of traditional media and the ethics of memoir. Regardless of British qualms about the American takeover of the Man Booker prize, Who Is Rich? feels like another strong transatlantic candidate for 2018.