What mathematicians do have in common, what is in a way our foundational habit, is the tiny move Urschel executes between the first thing he says and the second.
We say things, or write them down, in order to see if they feel true. We say it and then we think about it. And whatever’s slightly not right, we circle back and revise, making more precise, shaving off the parts that don’t pass inspection. It’s our process in math and it leaks out into the way we talk about our desks and our lives.
Urschel is a Ph.D. student at MIT, working on applied math, a field for which “purposeful messiness” is actually not too bad a description. Urschel doesn’t spend his time in the purely abstract reaches of abstract number systems or exotic geometries that could never exist in the physical world. In applied math, the structured rigidity of theory is always just barely containing the messiness of the world we live in. For Urschel, a big part of that world is computation. A pure mathematician like me might ask, in an airy way, which problems have answers. Urschel is more likely to ask which problems have answers that an actual computer can figure out without using all the planet’s electricity or running until the galaxies crap out. Among his specialties is optimization, which, in non-technical terms, means “the mathematics of doing things better and cheaper with machines.” As you might imagine, it’s hot right now.
What I really wanted, though, was Fuji. In Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji, the mountain is sometimes central, but more often incidental, a jagged inverted V in the background as men and women go about their business, rowing boats, flying kites, carrying heavy loads. Hokusai was a painter of the ukiyo-e genre – this roughly translates as “images of the floating world” – and Hokusai’s was a world alive and incessantly in motion.
My first view of the mountain came from the window of the shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. The trains are an adventure in themselves; painted white and blue, they have the long noses of purposeful anteaters, and travel at 200mph, with an annual average delay of only 54 seconds per train. We passed rice fields brushing up against bungalows and rickety hotels; and suddenly, emerging from the clouds like an idea being born, Mount Fuji – grey-white shading to white-blue at the top. It was Hokusai’s Fuji; a mountain watching in stillness over a buoyant, moving world.
Yet here, nothing seems born in vain. Much is made out of tender and artful salvage. In the dining room, a painting on a copper plate echoes copper moldings. The kitchen has padded leather doors reclaimed from a movie theater. A French door is installed sideways above the cabinets, making the ceiling seem surprisingly airy. In some mystery, this vibrant cacophony is also sublimely still.
In coming to Spencer’s house I was entering the domestic space of a brilliant black middle-class woman, who, in addition to being a poet, was a literary writer, hostess, and activist. From this home and garden, Spencer wrote nationally celebrated poetry. She also worked to build the town’s first black library; helped found its NAACP chapter; and crafted a much-needed way station and salon for black intellectuals traveling in the dangerous and segregated South. The guest bedrooms upstairs were graced by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and Du Bois and Paul Robeson as they made journeys to read and talk and gather new material. From the bright red bedroom overlooking Pierce Street, James Weldon Johnson wrote and sent off pieces of God’s Trombones. The house and gardens are full of the ghosts of black artists, thinking. Standing there, I was inside the Harlem Renaissance, except not: I was also hundreds of miles south of Harlem, in Southern Virginia, in a town whose history is (to say the least) not known for racial tolerance. This house’s story, like Anne Spencer’s, is rich.
While it’s impossible not to think of Johann Sebastian Bach as you walk through this city, where he spent the final decades of his life, what little remains of his world here has been altered almost beyond recognition.
The house where he and his family lived was demolished a century ago. Next door, St. Thomas Church, where Bach was a cantor from 1723 to 1750, was overhauled in Gothic Revival style in the 1880s. St. Nicholas Church, where the “St. John Passion” was first performed in 1724, got its current cupcake-pastel interior decades after Bach died.
And Bach certainly would never have heard Arabic being widely spoken, as it is now, in the bustling, largely immigrant neighborhood of Neustadt. It was here, on a mild weekend afternoon recently, that Yo-Yo Ma bounded into a room in a community center, Stradivarius cello in hand, and moved swiftly around a seated circle of adults and children, grinning and giving one long high five.
Fry makes a convincing case for “the urgent need for algorithmic regulation”, and wants the public to understand the compromises we are making. And, in the case of Facebook and users’ data, “how cheaply we were bought”. This book illustrates why good science writers are essential.
It's a mistake to think Anne Tyler's novels are sweet or gentle. Her heroines often think of themselves as gentle, or daffy perhaps, just as her heroes' self-image is often one of essential decency wrapped in bluff social awkwardness.But such is her skill at erasing the traces of herself in her inhabiting of whichever fictional personality is steering a story, and such is the frequency with which her lead characters' often misguided self-image stifles other viewpoints, that it's easy for the casual reader to become confused between the qualities of the novel and the personality at its narrative centre.
Take a step back to look at her plots in cool summary, however, and one notices how, time and again, quite brutally, they strike at the heart of domestic stability or conventional happiness. Women walk away from their children, like Delia Grinstead in Ladder of Years - or, like Rebecca Davitch in Back When We Were Grown-Ups, wake up two decades too late to realise they married the wrong man. Children accuse their mothers of abuse (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant) or simply treat them like children (A Spool of Blue Thread). Her greatest strength is her understanding of weakness.
Allen comes across as smart and tenacious. I’d read a book by her on the music industry and modern pop production. I’d read an essay by her on the Leveson inquiry too. She’s taken quite a battering. And she’s alright, still. More than all right.
The liberal arts, until relatively recently, were regarded as “liberal” to the degree that they taught students that some things in life, being good in themselves, were not done because they were useful or necessary but entirely for their own sake. The liberal arts took as its purpose that of introducing students to a space of freedom beyond expediency, practicality, and utility. Work, therefore, had nothing to do with it.
Sadly, pretty much all that was liberal (or “free”) about the liberal arts has since withered away, and now they live on mostly in name only, and only so long as they’re deemed useful.
How did the liberal arts meet their death?
Back when work at the steel mill was plentiful and newcomers flooded into town, Union Station was Gary’s front porch. A jobseeker could step off the train and set off down the brick driveway toward the booming U.S. Steel plant a block away.
These days, Union Station is empty, rotting in plain view alongside a highway exit ramp. No train has unloaded here in decades. Trees grow wild in the baggage area. Rubble covers the waiting room floor. The sun glints through a partly collapsed roof.
Still, there are dreams to revive this train station.
The original ramen was eaten by Japanese labourers by the bowlful. World War Two changed everything. Large tracts of Japan were decimated by bombing. When the war came to a close in 1945, the surviving population was starving.
Enter our unlikely hero - a failed businessman named Momofuku Ando. Ando, as he’s affectionately known, had earned and lost fortunes, first in his native Taiwan and then in Japan. He made millions in industrial parts during the war, then lost it. At one point, he went to prison for fraud. He then headed a bank, which collapsed. But Ando was persistent. He wanted to rebuild his reputation and his fortune. A decade after the war had ended, contacts in Japan’s ministry of agriculture told him they were eager to figure out how to push Japanese people to eat more American wheat flour - the key component of US aid at the time.
That’s when, so the story goes, Ando remembered something he’d seen at the end of the war - queues of exhausted people waiting patiently in long lines for bowls of steaming ramen noodle soup. What was needed, Ando thought, was a modern, speedy version of that working-class comfort food. A food that, conveniently, used lots of American wheat flour.
Nostalgia is only heightened when you’re homesick, which might explain my preoccupation with the minutia of Australian life of the 1970s and ’80s. I left the country in the early ’90s, and spent the last two decades in a state of constant yearning. I was surprised, upon my return, to find many of the staples of my childhood gone, and was shocked that some have slipped away or languished without mention. America’s taste for Froot Loops has diminished significantly, but their waning popularity and influence and import has not gone undocumented.
Imagine then, a symbol of American childhood as common as a PB & J — and as revealing of the economic and moral climate of its creation — that few food scholars have considered, and is virtually absent from books about the national diet.
The Australian salad sandwich is just such an item. A stalwart of school lunches and milk bars and sandwich shops and cafes, the salad sandwich was unavoidable for decades. Its basic components: sliced bread, butter or margarine and layers of shredded lettuce or alfalfa sprouts, shredded carrots, sliced or shredded cucumbers, and — the key ingredient — canned red beetroot. Magenta beetroot juice seeping through white bread is instantly recognizable as a portrait of Australian lunch.
Like a seasoned tour guide, Tinniswood keeps us moving through chambers of wonders, from the Elizabethan to the modern era, on a journey into dullness. “Little or nothing to be done till dinner,” one equerry writes of Victoria’s household, “when we all dressed up in knee-breeches and stockings.” While the queen, alarmed by overspending, decrees “that toilet paper should give way to newspaper squares in the castle lavatories at Windsor.”
Crudo's lone political truth is borrowed from the painter Philip Guston, who wrote that "the only reason to be an artist [is] to escape, to bear witness to all this." The statement informs the whole book. No artist can know how big a contribution she's making, but she can know what role to play. The witness, the record-keeper. That line gives Crudo the strength to soldier on.
The Tanpura Principle in writing is the idea that much of writing occurs while doing something else, because the base of poetic inspiration, the supporting drone, is always there. It’s what my friend meant when she quipped that even a budget could be a poem. She did not mean that one had to ruthlessly integrate identities in order to make oneself intelligible to the outside world, but that in poetry there was a kind of harmonic listening that could occur anywhere, and in any way.
There are times when we don’t hear the drone, because we are too tired or too overwhelmed with other emotional, spiritual or even logistical challenges to know it. But the point is not then to “cultivate inspiration,” rather, it is to remember that the drone is always there, perhaps even especially there, in the fatigue and frustration of our “other” work.
The fun in writing novels, for me, has often come from the tension between traditional forms, which for the most part I love, and the ideas I tend to get, which never really fit into the forms. As a reader, I’m always delighted when a clever writer takes a familiar kind of story and finds a way to break it and reassemble it; for this reason I’m drawn, in my reading, to the margins of genres, where people who clearly love the rules lovingly disobey them.
There are pitfalls to this approach, of course. How many times have you seen the description “literary thriller” and gritted your teeth in anticipation of it not quite working? Often, the elements of fiction, especially familiar genres of fiction, that most whet the appetite of readers are the same ones that writers wish to subvert or eliminate. And the readers who aren’t interested in the genre that the writer is cannibalizing might find the transplanted elements distasteful or dull. The danger, of course, is that the writer ends up satisfying no one, even herself.
To a degree, the failure to report aggressively on these institutions reflects the need of reporters to maintain access to their sources and to the daily drip of information and occasional scooplets that are the bread and butter of business reporting. But the problem extends far beyond that. America’s moneyed class is extremely powerful, and reporters who take it on run into many of the same roadblocks that Hersh did when investigating Sidney Korshak and Gulf and Western—including discomfort from their own editors. What else to call this but self-censorship?
Given enough space and time, all conceivable chains of events could be played out somewhere, though almost all of these would occur far out of range of any observations we could conceivably make. The combinatorial options could encompass replicas of ourselves, taking all possible choices. Whenever a choice has to be made, one of the replicas will take each option. You may feel that a choice you make is “determined.” But it may be a consolation that, somewhere far away (far beyond the horizon of our observations) you have an avatar who has made the opposite choice.
All this could be encompassed within the aftermath of “our” big bang, which could extend over a stupendous volume. But that’s not all. What we’ve traditionally called “the universe”—the aftermath of “our” big bang—may be just one island, just one patch of space and time, in a perhaps infinite archipelago. There may have been many big bangs, not just one. Each constituent of this “multiverse” could have cooled down differently, maybe ending up governed by different laws. Just as Earth is a very special planet among zillions of others, so—on a far grander scale—our big bang could have been a rather special one. In this hugely expanded cosmic perspective, the laws of Einstein and the quantum could be mere parochial bylaws governing our cosmic patch. So, not only could space and time be intricately “grainy” on a submicroscopic scale, but also, at the other extreme—on scales far larger than astronomers can probe—it may have a structure as intricate as the fauna of a rich ecosystem. Our current concept of physical reality could be as constricted, in relation to the whole, as the perspective of the Earth available to a plankton whose “universe” is a spoonful of water.
Sara Scherr made the first move. Both she and Alan Dappen, the man who would become her husband, remember that part vividly.
The year was 1972, and the two were college students working as counselors at her father’s summer camp for kids with asthma in the fresh air of West Virginia’s rolling mountains. They’d known each other for a little while. Alan actually had flown into camp early the year before to take Sara to her senior prom — but only as a favor to a buddy who had a thing for Sara’s older sister, blissfully unaware of his date’s burgeoning feelings for him.
“He was very slow,” Sara jokes now, but in other areas, she liked the level head of the boy only a year and a half her senior but already an old soul, and his meticulousness. She was also drawn to his sense of adventure. And so at the end of the summer of ’72, their second spent together at camp, she kissed him, “and the switch flipped,” says Alan. “That was the beginning of the end for me.”
To most Dunkin’ customers, the change will hardly register—no one has used the full name in years. Depending on where you’re from or the circles you run in, it’s always been Dunkin’, or Dunkies, or Dunks. But, by officially dropping the “Donuts,” the company has put an end to a long-running mystery: despite living nearly my entire life in the Northeast, I have never seen a person dunk a doughnut into a cup of coffee, nor heard tell of anyone actually doing it.
Plug remains wonderfully eccentric and occasionally surreal. Still looking for guidance on “the writer’s life”, and particularly preoccupied with literary prizes he might one day win, he continues to seek out acclaimed authors. These literary encounters, real and imagined, are possibly the funniest parts of the book.
While imbued with Moss’s characteristic elegance, insight and deep sense of place, it packs a bigger punch than her other novels: at just 149 pages, it’s a short, sharp shock of a book that closes around you like a vice as you read it. Her earlier work considered the small dramas of daily lives in expansive, almost languorous detail. This story is tauter and tenser: plot driven, time limited and entirely out of the ordinary. From the terse, dismaying little prologue, in which an iron age girl is marched out and murdered before an audience of neighbours and family, to the hair-raising, heart-stopping denouement, it hurtles along and carries you with it, before dumping you, breathless, at the end.
There’s a disclaimer at the beginning of Nell Stevens’s latest book, confessing to having “changed names, scenes, details, motivations and personalities” in both the personal and the historical sources for this partly autobiographical romance, which is also a love letter to Elizabeth Gaskell. The Victorian novelist and her contemporaries are “not always faithfully quoted”, Stevens warns, but neither is the author (or, rather, her avatar, Nell), who is in the famously difficult position of telling a story. Truth is slippery, biography sort of pointless, and autobiography the worst of all. Let’s just call the whole lot fiction right from the start.
These somewhat old-fashioned narrative skills tend to appeal more to readers than to novelty-seeking prize juries. But, as with Moncur’s piano-tuning, practising a craft to this degree of refinement is an impressive feat. This sweeping tale of love and revenge, fate and free will, surrender and control will delight its author’s many fans.
A largely forgotten footnote in Amazon’s history is the time that the online retail giant sat down with the owners of a feminist bookstore and asked them: “Are you gay?” and “Have you had any interest in promoting lesbian ideals in the community?” These bizarre questions were part of a strange and awkward legal battle between Amazon.com and the tiny Amazon Bookstore Cooperative in Minneapolis, which sued the larger company for trademark infringement in 1999.
The feminists, who had been in business for decades, were sick of dealing with calls from confused customers and initiated a legal suit after attempts to resolve the issue informally went ignored. During the deposition, lawyers for Amazon.com repeatedly asked the owners about their sexualities, arguing that Amazon Bookstore Cooperative was a lesbian business catering to a lesbian audience and in a fundamentally different market to Amazon. Eventually they settled out of court, with the bookstore retaining use of the name but assigning its common-law rights to use the name to Amazon.
When Nicole Chung was very young, she wrote a story about being a Korean-American child in a white family. “I was one of those kids who liked to staple construction paper together and write stories,” Chung told me in a recent telephone interview. “I wrote one about my adoption.”
Now, with her debut memoir “All You Can Ever Know,” she’s written another story — for the child she once was. Growing up in a small Oregon town, Chung said she rarely saw Asian faces in the world, or in literature. “In large part when I was writing this,” she said, “I was thinking a lot about fellow adoptees, and specifically the kid that I was growing up, and the stories I wanted to see in the world.”
In a book that might have named Japan or larger society as the failure, Lee chooses history. She invites us to consider that while history may have failed the Baek family, we readers must decide if we will fail as well—if the lessons of Koreans in Japan and the deaths of Noa and the nameless Korean child will continue to exist past the page or not. Instead of questioning the toughness of certain individuals, or scrutinizing the solitary action of a person living under the weight of an unjust structure, we are asked to consider resilience, and to think about how we ourselves might unravel the foundations that necessitates such strength.
As an aspirational ideal, “creativity” has a uniquely insidious siren song: It promises escape from the system that defines it. To be creative is to transcend or recombine the established order, but there’s always the danger of cooptation and appropriation. As Dr. Malcolm, Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park puts it to the park’s CEO, “You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunch box and you’re selling it, and you’re selling it!” But of course they are — why bother with scientific breakthroughs if you are not going to commodify them? Figuring out how to sequence DNA is one thing, but turning that idea into a theme park? That is true creativity.
In Against Creativity, Oli Mould, a lecturer in Human Geography at the University of London, explores this phenomenon of how radical and revolutionary ideas become mere fodder for lunch boxes. Creativity, Mould claims, is often invoked to describe not how ideas break free of capitalism but are made compatible with it. It recasts kinds of labor that may have seemed outside capitalist exploitation — care, emotion, art, design — as the most exploitable form of production. The way creativity is used today, Mould writes, “feeds the notion that the world and everything in it can be monetized.” Accordingly, creativity has become a means to rent, sell, or offer subscriptions to something that was once free or otherwise disconnected from the profit motive. Graffiti artists are hired by real estate firms to bring a safe level of grittiness to a neighborhood. Ebay asks us to choose between passing on a valuable collectable to a relative or finding the highest bidder.
The first thing I did after my father’s funeral was get sick. Nothing dramatic, just a garden-variety cold passed to me by my mother. The second thing I did was go to Disney World.
As I watched my husband pack our things after the mercy meal—placing our somber, dark-hued, long-sleeved funeral outfits at the bottom, layering jeans and T-shirts and our 7-year-old’s Belle costume on top, attaching the Disney tags to our luggage so it would be retrieved from the Orlando airport by Disney cast members and taken directly to our Disney resort—I wondered if I was a terrible daughter. Was I being callous? Abandoning my mother? Once again prioritizing my husband’s family over mine? My husband’s parents have always lived much closer to us than my parents; over the last 15 years, I’ve spent far more time with them than I have at home. I’ve always felt sad about the ratio, but have never known what to do about it.
Because Edward’s front yard on the Folly River was a sandy coastal mess of prickly crabgrass and Spartina, he positioned 50-gallon industrial drums, sawed in half, outside the kitchen door. He basically grew tomatoes in tin cans but was a member of the Agricultural Society of South Carolina. His seedlings raced up poles in a mysterious soil mix about which he was tight-lipped. As the sun burned off dew and the hour for lunch approached, Edward lumbered down the rows checking ripeness until he found a few about to crack with juice, and twisted the warm fruit from its vine. The smell of tomato leaves fell somewhere on the spectrum between scorched tobacco and a mechanic's grease rag. The flavor of the tomatoes themselves, an excruciating alchemy of acidity and sugar, only he knew how to achieve. In the kitchen, one of my great-aunts or Edward's wife, Lucy, made sandwiches. I can’t recall if the mayonnaise was Duke’s, but the bread was squishy and white. I ate mine, bare feet dangling at the end of the dock, or in a rope hammock on the porch, with one of Edward’s fantasies about mutant aliens inches from my nose.
Where would Southern culture be without the tomato?
There’s so much material roiling in “Ninth Street Women,” from exalted art criticism to the seamiest, most delicious gossip, that it’s hard to convey even a sliver of its surprises. “The stories told in this book might be a reminder that where there is art there is hope,” Gabriel writes in her introduction, but that wan, anodyne sentiment doesn’t do justice to the gorgeous and unsettling narrative that follows; it’s as if once Gabriel got started, the canvas before her opened up new vistas. We should be grateful she yielded to its possibilities. As Helen Frankenthaler once said, “Let the picture lead you where it must go.”
Dad jokes are simultaneously beloved and maligned, deeply ingrained in the intimacies of family life and yet universal and public enough to have a hashtag. There’s a specific tone and interpersonal dynamic that converge to make a joke a dad joke—and the recent ubiquity of dad jokes might even reveal something about the states of modern fatherhood and humor.
These sorts of daily calculations, each shaded with the possibility of a frightening outcome — a hospital visit, or even death — are the norm for Trece and the estimated 15 million Americans stricken with severe food allergies. Just as normal is the need to convince others that soy or milk or oysters, harmless to most, could have lethal consequences for them. Because even as the rate of such allergies is rising, prompting sweeping changes in the way Americans eat, tell someone that you have a food allergy, and there’s a good chance they’ll roll their eyes in disbelief.
That’s why Trece wears an epinephrine pen in a holster strapped to her ankle. It feels like armor, protection against all the possible outcomes — and also against the skeptics.
On the face of it, “Your Duck Is My Duck” could be regarded as a politically mild book for Eisenberg. The world intrudes only at the margins — tumult is hinted at in unnamed countries, glimpses of unspecified migrants. But these are stories of painful awakenings and refusals of innocence. This book offers no palliatives to its characters or to its readers — no plan of action. But it is a compass.
In its portrayal of a young man whose inability to overcome his emotional memories forces him to live in a coarsely compromised present, the novel queries our impulse to neutralize trauma, and explores the processes the brain carries out of its own accord: rewriting and obscuring certain memories, while zealously defending others from reinterpretation.
Once you understand this, how can you not ask yourself if it makes any sense to sacrifice individuals in order to protect the sanctity of the rights of the individual from an enemy who holds them in contempt? Is it possible to get through any war, any job, any life, no matter how small, with a clean conscience? Transcription suggests not. Even the simple act of writing down someone else’s words has consequences, and leaves traces whose influence no one can foretell.
All novels are spy novels, Ian McEwan once observed, and it’s a reasonable claim: Fiction nearly always relies on a clever observer to pry inside the minds and lives of its characters, to lay bare for the reader their deep motivations and intimate secrets. No wonder spies, like detectives, seem inherently literary figures, whether they’re real, invented or — as with the spies in Kate Atkinson’s intriguing new novel — a bit of both.
The publication of Williams’s book is timely. Since reports surfaced of Russian interference in the 2016 election, a flurry of academic work has emerged flagging the potential for the advertising machines of Big Tech to be “misused” or “abused” to harm the democratic process. Their tools of persuasion, these reports warned, could be hijacked for political influence.
But our fear that the advertising machines of Big Tech might be “hijacked” by bad political actors distracts us from the fact that these tools are already dangerous when used exactly as intended: to shape our inner life at the whim of advertisers and corporations.
For the sick person, communicating—with the doctor or with friends and family desperate to help —becomes its own comfort. So, perhaps, does writing down some document of the body’s illnesses, a kind of permanence of experience when so much else seems to be resistant to meaning or treatment. Acceptance, a way of living with unending suffering, resists narrative closure and medical diagnosis. Reading accounts of chronic illness allows us to embrace the ambiguity of the body and our experiences within it. Writing a book about being sick allows authors to leave their isolation, and allows readers to take a common human condition seriously, accepting it as one of literature’s great themes.
When I look at my mother, I see her age, her strain, and her worry written in the lines on her face. My mother does not go to the doctor for illness or prevention. Like many working-class families, we’ve never had much for health insurance. The only prescription I’ve known her to take is Celexa, which she has taken in secret each day for years. Silence, like madness, runs rampant in our family.
This is the legacy of women I come from—a legacy tied to gender, to class, to male violence and the threat thereof, poor women with too many children and not enough food and too much hurting and hating, women too afraid to say anything of their pain or their terror. Women so worried, so afraid, their bodies and minds react. Women bound by silence not to speak of the things that dart around their brains late at night, instead letting them settle in dark corners, where they lurk for a lifetime.
In the world’s most famous thought experiment, physicist Erwin Schrödinger described how a cat in a box could be in an uncertain predicament. The peculiar rules of quantum theory meant that it could be both dead and alive, until the box was opened and the cat’s state measured. Now, two physicists have devised a modern version of the paradox by replacing the cat with a physicist doing experiments — with shocking implications.
Quantum theory has a long history of thought experiments, and in most cases these are used to point to weaknesses in various interpretations of quantum mechanics. But the latest version, which involves multiple players, is unusual: it shows that if the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, then different experimenters can reach opposite conclusions about what the physicist in the box has measured. This means that quantum theory contradicts itself.
The Quinault, together with federal agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, are restoring the river—and the Quinault's long-term ecological knowledge of river patterns is providing vital data to the recovery project.
This sort of data has become increasingly valuable to scientific research. For example, when scientists discovered the Quinault and other tribes in western Washington return salmon bones to the rivers from which they're fished, they found that fish carcasses release nitrogen into the water, according to Quinault tribal biologist Joe Schumacher, which aids in the stream's health. Now, biologists plant salmon bones in streams that are being prepared for the reintroduction of the fish.
But Native Americans are also wary of disclosing traditional knowledge, because doing so risks opening a door to exploitation that can undermine tribal values, harm their resources, or fail to provide benefits in return, says Preston Hardison, a policy analyst in the Tulalip Tribes Department of Natural Resources, which oversees traditional knowledge guidelines in western Washington.
Lepore is at her best when she illuminates these conflicts in both thought and action. “A nation born in revolution will forever struggle against chaos,” she concludes. “A nation born in contradiction, liberty in a land of slavery, sovereignty in a land of conquest, will fight, forever, over the meaning of its history.” The writers who have understood the country’s history best have always sought to capture how Americans have wrestled with these inescapable, opposing forces. Or, as Zadie Smith wrote in her obituary of Philip Roth, whose sensibility about the past matches Lepore’s, “He always wanted to know America, in its beauty and its utter brutality, and to see it in the round: the noble ideals, the bloody reality.”
Despite its apparent traditionalism, the book itself resists the conventions of steadily rising action or dénouement. Its story, held between the arbitrary-seeming brackets of electoral victory and pop-star overdose, is inchoate, and beguilingly so: a series of meetings and partings, a fluctuation of perceptions, emotions, and desires. Characters attempt to transcend their slumps in various ways: Damian wills himself into an infatuation with Melissa; Michael pursues an affair with his secretary. These choices create mini-ruptures, but they don’t produce the novel’s most heightened moments, which are to be found, instead, in passages of exceptionally sensitive writing.
In January of 2014, I rode a train from New York to Chicago, then back again. My little cabin had been provided by Amtrak: a “test run” of what later became the Amtrak Residency. In an essay for The Paris Review Daily, I tried to explain — that is, explain to myself — what trains offer writers, and, particularly, me. I arrived at the sense of containment I felt, bound by the train car and, even more so, by the little private bedroom that ensconced and held me.
What I didn’t say in that essay is that, when I began the journey, I was very, very lonely. On the overnight train trip to Chicago, I rotated between crying, reading Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (which, by absorbing and distracting me, would make me abruptly stop crying), talking on the telephone, taking notes for my essay, and frantically researching a last-minute freelance assignment. When I got to the hotel in Chicago — my plan was to stay over that Saturday night, then take another overnight train back the following day, to arrive back in New York on Monday — I called my mother, forlorn. She suggested I go home early. Instead, I took myself to dinner and people-watched. But it wasn’t until the next day that I was lifted out of my loneliness and into delight, or maybe peace.
“Flights,” by the Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk (Riverhead), is exciting in the way that unclassifiable things are exciting—that is to say, at times confoundingly so. It is intermittently a work of fiction, but it is also an exercise in theory, cultural anthropology, and memoir. The narrator, an unnamed Polish writer with a hungry eye and an unappeasable need to travel, presents an omnium-gatherum, a big book full of many peculiar parts: there are mini-essays on airports, hotel lobbies, the psychology of travel, guidebooks, the atavistic pleasures of a single Polish word, the aphorisms of E. M. Cioran. Some of these riffs, which themselves tend toward the aphoristic, are as short as a couple of sentences. They are interspersed with longer fictional tales, set all over the world and in different epochs, as if they were found objects and Tokarczuk merely an itinerant gatherer: a Polish man, on a Croatian island for a holiday, searches for his wife and child, who have gone missing; a classics professor, hired as a star lecturer for a Greek cruise, falls on board the boat, and dies in Athens; a Russian mother, long tethered to the care of her severely sick son, walks out of her home and her life, and experiments with a new, perilous existence, riding the Moscow metro and spending time with the homeless; a German doctor, obsessed with body parts (he keeps photographs of vulvae in cardboard boxes), travels to a conference to speak on his paper “The Preservation of Pathology Specimens Through Silicone Plastication.”
At its heart, The Third Hotel is a novel about precarity — the fragile nature of memory, sanity, and how the reality we perceive constantly changes. Clare’s unease in Havana bears striking resemblance to the political state of our world now, where reality changes almost daily, twisting to fit new logic, new thought, new flesh. Financially, politically, socially, environmentally — we live in precarious times, walking along the edge of a knife. Like Clare, we must try to reaffirm the realities we can, lest we fall prey to the uncertainty that waits patiently for doubt to weaken us. Is it only a matter of time before we become like her — chasing her husband down unfamiliar streets, her thoughts aflame with the certainty of the thought: “You are dead. How could you have forgotten?”
The heavy coverage of North Korea’s missile program has managed to gloss over a crucial aspect of the story — the awful reality of nuclear war. It remains in the abstract, perhaps because any magnitude of the deaths of millions is too much a statistic to truly comprehend.
Jeffrey Lewis’s new novel, The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States, is the gut punch everyone needs. The author is one of the world’s foremost nuclear arms control experts, but instead of the usual wonk’s work, he has chosen to write what he dubs “a speculative novel,” an imagined report investigating how nuclear war happened, along the lines of the task of the real 9/11 Commission.
Ovitz is in his 70s, and claims that he’s trying to make peace with his rivals and amends for his terrible reputation. He’s written this book hoping to accomplish that, but the memoir defines him better than he might like. Who is Michael Ovitz? A killer turned would-be sage. A visionary who won’t look inward. A guy who can’t get over who he used to be.
With Norton’s wry sense of humour throughout, A Keeper is a gripping, thoughtful tale about the search for identity, belonging and self-possession.
In the fall of 1969, Vivian Gornick walked into the offices of The Village Voice looking for work, and met with two of the paper’s founders, Edwin Fancher and Dan Wolf.
“They said, there are all these women who call themselves liberationist chicks gathering out there on Bleecker Street — go out and write a story about them,” Ms. Gornick, now 83, recalled. The pay was lousy.
That was The Voice. She didn’t know what they were talking about, and neither did they, but by the end of the week she had not just a story but a life’s calling.
“They’re like moths,” said Mr. Frühauf, genially, of his customers. “As soon as the lights go on, they come.”
With that, he got back to work, stacking not books, but rows of freshly baked bread rolls sprinkled with poppy, pumpkin, flax, sesame or sunflower seeds that have brought townspeople flocking. Next to him stood a small refrigerator hung with “ahle wurst” — a delicious air-dried, salami-like pork sausage that is one of the region’s culinary specialties — while in the center aisle, organic tomatoes and cucumbers vied with crime novels for table space.
As opera-lovers know, the machine is the mammoth and ambitious — but also notoriously noisy and glitch-prone — centerpiece of Robert Lepage’s high-tech production of Wagner’s epic “Ring” cycle. When it worked, it could be mind-blowing: The 45-ton set of narrow planks rotated into sculptural sets bathed in vivid video imagery, taking operagoers from the depths of the Rhine to the downfall of the gods over the course of four operas.
But it could also be exasperating. Over the years, the machine produced clicks, clunks, groans and some Wagnerian-scale mishaps. Projections of Brünnhilde’s mountain were briefly replaced at one point with an all-too-recognizable Microsoft Windows logo. A mechanical glitch delayed the start of a performance of “Die Walküre” for 45 minutes — as 175,000 impatient Wagnerites waited in cinemas around the world for a live simulcast to begin.
When you have a tour guide as engaging as Eric Idle, you’ll gladly go wherever he takes you. The writer and comedian best known as a member of the British sketch troupe Monty Python has curated an intimate journey of what it was like to be a writer who suddenly found himself a massively famous actor.
And ultimately, it's a portrait of being a young woman trying to make a living from something creative, feeling hopeful and infinite about the possibilities that surround her. It's a balm, for anyone like herself. After all, it's what Hopper says to herself after reading Julie Doucet: "It's reassuring and inspiring that you don't have to be Mark Rothko — pacing and cursing and suicidal — in order to be an artist.
If a writer’s sentences have enough life and interest in them – with “every step an arrival”, as Rainer Maria Rilke put it – they will hold the reader and move the writing along. The writing finds a hidden unity that has no need of the mucilage of linking phrases. Each sentence is like a tidal island that looks cut off until, at low tide, a causeway to the mainland appears. A good lesson for any writer: make each sentence worth reading, and something in it will lead the reader into the next one. Good writers write not just in sentences but with sentences. Get them right and everything else solves itself or ceases to matter.
Robert Venturi did not like Boston City Hall. “It’s all a big symbol, though it won’t admit it,” the architect told writer Paul Goldberger in 1971 of the hated Brutalist landmark that opened in 1968. “How ridiculous —trying to make a piazza publico, like an Italian city‐state! If they really wanted to make it so monumental, they should have built a plain loft building and put a sign up top saying, ‘I Am a Monument.’ That would have been appropriate to today’s American city.”
It was not an idle proposal. Previously, perhaps joking a little, he had written that the very concept of the plaza was un-American. “Americans feel uncomfortable sitting in a square,” he wrote. “They should be working at the office or home with the family looking at television.” The next year Learning From Las Vegas, the book that made him as famous as an architecture theorist could be, included just such a sketch of a building and its sign, labeled “recommendation for a monument.”
In Suzhou, China, hundreds of ancient canals run parallel to the city’s streets, intersecting them beneath arched stone bridges. It’s what’s earned the city the nickname “Venice of the East.” But Suzhou is also part of a larger area south of the Yangtze River, and is known by another moniker: “The Land of Fish and Rice.” “Neither fish nor rice can live without water,” says “Cathy” Chen, a Suzhou tour guide who was born and raised in the Yangtze River Region. “So Suzhou is a water city.”
Suzhou owes its existence to these waterways, and particularly to the availability of fish. While fish gave life to Suzhou’s cuisine, it was also responsible for the death of the former king more than 2,500 years ago.
Mention it to anyone who’s hearing about it for the first time and you’ll likely get a scrunched-up nose and a look of confusion. Perhaps even a shake of the head. To many Americans, the combination of tea and cheese sounds downright unappetizing. But, as any cheese tea purveyor will tell you, cheese tea tastes better than it sounds. In fact, the drink isn’t that different from bubble tea, which is now firmly entrenched in the mainstream. And given cheese tea’s popularity in Asia, as well as the successful migration of other Asian desserts (like matcha-flavored sweets and shave ice) to major U.S. markets, cheese tea should be on its way to making it big in America. So what’s taking so long?
Cheese tea is the name for cold tea (usually green or black tea, with or without milk) topped with a foamy layer of milk and cream cheese and sprinkled with salt. The drink is sweet, like boba, but has a savory finish. Using a straw is prohibitive to getting enough of that tangy cream overlay, so the method of sipping it from the top of the cup at a 40- to 45-degree angle is integral to enjoying cheese tea. Shops that specialize in cheese tea, like international franchises Happy Lemon and Gong Cha as well as independent shops like Steap in San Francisco, Little Fluffy Head in Los Angeles, and Motto in Pasadena, supply a lid, not unlike a coffee lid, that circulates just the right amount of air for sipping and shields the drinker from a foam mustache.
If Lange’s heroine, with her “constant, addicted gaze”, has any analogue in contemporary British literature, it is the protagonist of Tom McCarthy’s 2005 novel Remainder, another compiler of minute details for the sake of art alone. Like him, this narrator is happiest when being a voyeur – escaping her fear of growing up, of dying, of failing to find the right words, to utter them in an authentic voice. “As long as they’re here, nothing will happen,” she keeps reassuring herself, until finally admitting that “the only thing to have happened was my fear”. If she is to overcome this fear, she must find her own way of bringing it to the page.
In 2016 the great London agent Ed Victor, and the equally formidable Graham C. Greene, a nephew of the novelist, asked me if I would consider writing a sequel to the Philip Marlowe novels that have periodically appeared since Raymond Chandler’s death in 1959. The offer, as you might expect, was gentlemanly. Robert B. Parker and the novelist John Banville would be my only predecessors, having between them published three Marlowe novels between 1988 and the present. The sequels began with Parker’s “Poodle Springs,” a completion of Chandler’s last novel, then continued with the same author’s “Perchance to Dream,” in 1991, and culminated with Banville’s “The Black Eyed Blonde,” published under his pen name Benjamin Black in 2014. I was told that I could do more or less whatever I wanted — within reason. But what was within reason?
My new novel, The Biggerers, is a dystopian tale about big people who keep little people as pets. This was always the one-line pitch but it’s only now, whilst going back through my narrative choices when writing The Biggerers, that I realize how I reached this idea. I was trying to create a pet-human dynamic that would either impose human qualities, such as speech, onto a pet or somehow demote a human to the status of pet.
There is great benefit, these days, in having a name unlike any other: you float to the top of Google searches. Bolerium Books, in San Francisco, knows this well, although it wasn’t a consideration when it first opened, in 1981. Bolerium’s co-owner, John Durham, runs through any number of explanations for the name, depending on whose leg he wants to pull and how hard. “It was an ancient road in Roman times,” he intoned recently, “large, funny, and sluggish,” while another co-owner, Alexander Akin, roundly mouthed, “Not true.” (The word is a Roman one for Land’s End, in Cornwall, England. The bookstore was once a bit closer to the ocean.) Fittingly, there is no other place like Bolerium, not on the Internet nor in the province of the real. Similes come steadily, none of which really seem to fit. Perhaps Durham’s is best. “We’re like a platypus,” he told me recently, “ugly as fuck and all sorts of parts.”
To cater to these less-than-wondrous requirements, the parks are, in reality, self-contained marvels of metropolis-building. Disneyland Park in California has a reliable transit system—the first monorail in the Western Hemisphere, which debuted just as many cities were expressing their love of cars and traffic by laying down ribbons of highway. Walt Disney World Resort, in Florida, innovated with trash: Cans are spaced precisely 30 feet apart, and all of them empty via underground tubes so that family vacations aren’t interrupted by vehicles hauling sun-baked garbage juice.
None of this happened by accident. Long before the parks were magic, they were conceived as two-dimensional representations, or as miniatures. Like many city planners, Disney’s chief urban brainstormers and engineers first imagined the parks’ shapes, structures, and logistics, on a small scale.
I wiped my tears and scanned my imagination. Exploding galaxies to explore, strange dimensions, star clusters, sunbursts, Earthrise over our moon, star-forming nebula, cosmic microwave background left over from the Big Bang. What does a black hole feel like when you’re disembodied and inside of it? My mind was clear. A cool mist like summer rain while scuba diving underwater but without equipment. She continued to encourage me to throw things away. “It gets easier. Throw it away. Nothing matters. Whoosh.” I winced, then felt relieved, then felt horrible and finally caved and decided to be dead, dead, dead. As shock left me, I imagined looking around at my new home out in space: stars blinked on and off like fireflies, nearby yet distant, planets with inconceivable colors of lilac-brown and red-rust that hadn’t been refracted through an atmosphere and the curve of the turning Earth.
Everything gets easier according to everyone who believes that life is a positive cult. This guide said she used to have an argument with the world. She was angry at all corners of her soul. “I’m happier,” she said calmly. “You have a very open mind. You’ll do well here.” I panicked and came back to Earth. My feet reappeared, and my hands, which I’d watched burn away, per her instructions, grew back like a starfish regenerating its limbs. Whole again. Beanbag chair and teenager and dog and boyfriend, jobs and writing to do and the whole shebang of worries. I forced a breath out. She was wrong about me.
In the poetry world, a current trend is poetry centered upon place. Jason Freure’s debut collection of poetry, Everyone Rides the Bus in a City of Losers, explodes this mode of writing in its intimate look at the city of Montréal, Québec. Readers see the city through the eyes of a speaker who has become an insider—in the sense that he lives in and is intimately familiar with the metro lines and neighborhoods of Montréal—but is also still very much an outsider, who has long ago shed the romanticized lens of the tourist (if he did indeed ever see the city in this way). With a voice reminiscent of Ezra Pound’s “In the Station of the Metro” and T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, the speaker invites readers to “see” his city in all its dirt and grime. His tone is sometimes disillusioned, sometimes sardonic; at other times it is droll and playful.
What happens when the life of the person you spend your days studying starts to leak into your own? In “The Victorian and the Romantic,” her whip-sharp memoir, the British author Nell Stevens describes how she found herself increasingly haunted by the Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, the author of “Mary Barton” and “North and South,” whom she had recently chosen as the subject of her Ph.D.
Still, she knits satire and philosophy with a deliciously droll touch. Much like Blake, Janina imagines the world as “a great big net”. This “complex Cosmos of correspondences” meshes together “like a Japanese car”. Human or animal, the humbler links in the engine of life will enjoy their bittersweet revenge.
A new book looks back on two decades of the artist’s installations, which use man-made materials to explore the natural world.
Data is not the material from which the average work of fiction or memoir is crafted. These arise from ectoplasmic, plastic substances—experience, fancy, themata, language itself. Nor, it seems, is data, related to “truth,” a basis for pitching a news story. It is tough to sell a news story based on statistical frequency of a given phenomenon, say, the number of children born drug-addicted in a given low-income housing complex in the South Bronx. Instead you could sell a true story about one child, the rise and fall of how that child fails to thrive, thrives, fails finally or thrives finally.
Most everyone speeds on the road that runs alongside Cisco, Utah. It can be hard not to, once you work your way into that feeling of empty space and no one to hold you accountable. The town, after all, doesn’t look like much — a desolate mess of ruined buildings on the scenic route from I-70 to the recreation mecca of Moab, Utah, just a few miles from the boat ramp on the Colorado River where rafters load up after running Westwater Canyon. A cursory internet search will tell you that Cisco has cameoed in car chases in the movies Thelma and Louise and Vanishing Point, and may have inspired the Johnny Cash song “Cisco Clifton’s Fillin’ Station.” Without fail, articles about Cisco will also tell you that it’s a ghost town. This irritates Eileen Muza. Cisco is not abandoned, she often points out: “I live here.”
The La Sal Mountains rise up south of Eileen’s home, and Cisco stands in the Cisco Desert, in an exposed, waterless low spot that one book describes without irony as “a hole.” But Eileen has her own names for things, her own landmarks. “My Mountains.” “The One Tire Valley.” “The Green Valley.” And the Cisco Desert itself — a scrubby barren plumbed with pump jacks and shimmering with broken glass? Eileen calls that “The Unknown.”
The Unknown was not why Eileen moved to Cisco. It might be a reason that she stays, though, if she stays. It is also the reason it is so hard to stay. The desert here is not nice the way it is in Moab, with its shapely red-rock expanses and verdant cottonwood bottoms. In Cisco, even the light has blades. One time, a lake of oil leaked from a pump jack inside town limits. Another, Eileen looked up to discover two men shooting in her direction from the window of a white pickup.
As a young republic, our nation embraced the dressings of many lands: Italian, French, Russian and the magical Thousand Islands. But with the creation — and inexorable rise — of ranch, we have forged the one true American dressing.
Invented in the 1950s, ranch is now far and away the most popular salad dressing in the country, according to a 2017 study by the Association for Dressings and Sauces, an industry group. (Forty percent of Americans named ranch as their favorite dressing; its nearest competitor, Italian, came in at 10 percent.) And it has spread far beyond salad.
At its base, writing is an act of drawing, of applying short, black intersecting lines to a white page. When illegible to a reader, the graphic page fails to represent a world through words and remains an abstract patterning of black on white. This disconnect, between the way a page looks and the way a page means, is, perhaps, one reason why so many writers have taken up the topic of color — how color works, what color is, what color signifies, how one might write color. According to Goethe, for example, the color of the shadow cast by a pencil placed between a short candle and a white sheet of paper at sunset is blue. Colette wrote on blue paper. William Gass saw language itself as blue. And writing is colored in other ways too — purple prose, yellow journalism, lavender linguistics. Gilbert Sorrentino was interested in “orange” — a color named for the fruit, not vice versa — as the word with which nothing rhymes. He composed an entire book of poems (The Orangery) around the color. A dear college friend of mine used “orange sense of smell” to write a certain kind of depression — that experience of feeling outside of things, out of sync, out of rhyme. Orange was how some of us later came to understand his eventual suicide.
“Dear America” is a potent rejoinder to those who tell Vargas he’s supposed to “get in line” for citizenship, as if there were a line instead of a confounding jumble of vague statutes and executive orders — not to mention the life-upending prospect of getting deported to a country he barely remembers. “I was in a toxic, abusive, codependent relationship with America, and there was no getting out,” he writes. “Who am I without America? What would I be without America?” The terrible irony isn’t lost on him; decades after arriving to these shores, he has yet to breathe free.
I was sitting in a busy cafe at lunchtime, waiting for my croque monsieur to arrive. It’s just a ham-and-cheese sandwich, but the dish has always held a mystique for me in the way that only French food can, even when it’s nothing more than French comfort food. I see croque monsieurs on menus from time to time in the US, but I never let myself order them in my home country, holding out for when I’m in Europe. And since I was now sitting in a cafe in what technically was Europe, I let myself indulge. My sandwich arrived, I bit into it, and it tasted absolutely delicious. And then after I’d devoured it, the bill came: $25.
Welcome to Iceland.
This thought kept blinking through my mind, like a neon sign on a dark street, as I read These Truths, the newest book by Harvard professor and The New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore. A 900-plus page tome, it is a full history of the United States, a country I was born in and soon after left. I was raised in a much younger country, Israel, which was handed over by a colonizing force to a people desperate for a home, back in the days—not so long ago, really—when colonizers could simply gift the land they’d taken as if it were theirs to give. The history I was taught from the ages of six to eighteen was both condensed and elongated, the history of a fledgling country full of war but also of an ancient people once enslaved and long persecuted.
But I was born in the U.S., which makes me a citizen. I didn’t have to pass a test, or learn about this country, or understand any more of it than any non-American understands about the place that gave us McDonalds, the internet, the iPhone. I moved back here easily, when I was 19 years old. My birth certificate sufficed, my ignorance was never questioned or corrected.
What are the myths the United States has it built itself on? Lepore’s question—the one the book explores—is more honed, adopted from statements by Alexander Hamilton: “Can a political society really be governed by reflection and election, by reason and truth, rather than by accident and violence, by prejudice and deceit?” Lepore’s answer is something like: Well, sometimes yes, and sometimes no, and, in the past few decades, it kind of depends on who’s being asked.
George Nagel was a loner. Although he was unfailingly polite in his interactions, interactions were limited to mealtimes, and he clearly had no interest in socializing. He was unobtrusive and studious, a phantom who had been living under the name George T. Nagel for over 40 years. His real name was Yechezkel Taub, and he was the scion of one of Poland’s most illustrious Hasidic dynasties, having inherited his father’s title at the age of 24, along with a thriving Hasidic “court” and a sect numbering thousands of loyal followers.
In fact, although no one at CSUN on that hot day in 1975 knew it, George T. Nagel was none other than the once-acclaimed “Yabloner Rebbe,” the founder of a unique village called Kfar Hasidim near Haifa in what is now the State of Israel, to which he led hundreds of his loyal followers from Poland before the Holocaust. What not even Taub realized on the day of his anonymous graduation was that a process had started that would see the Yabloner Rebbe reunited with his past and reconnected with the unique project from which he had desperately tried to escape, but with which he would forever and unavoidably be identified.
It began quietly enough. I could have sworn I heard muttering among the boxes I’d never unpacked — the ones in the house I’d fled to on the way to ending a marriage. The grown children let me know they no longer needed designated bedrooms or their old yearbooks. Then my BFF since college, who manages senior care in Florida and has therefore seen the future, told me right out loud: You need to move before you need to move.
Got it. That meant downsizing.
Every year, 30,000 tons of cosmic material passes through the atmosphere and drizzles down to earth. Only in the Arctic, or at the bottom of the deepest seas, can it be found unadulterated: a powder of asteroid and comet particles. Everywhere else this stardust mingles with the earth, with us. We wear it in our hair, carry it in our pockets.
“Shall we take dust as the founding metaphor by which to broach the unruly topic of the essay?” the British writer and critic Brian Dillon asks in his new book, “Essayism: On Form, Feeling, and Nonfiction.” Like these extraterrestrial particles, he says, essays drift and disperse. They are an ever-changing form, ancient and otherworldly. “Touch them however and they are likely to come alive with the sedimented evidence of years; a constellation of glittering motes surrounds the supposedly solid thing.”
Ben Macintyre’s wonderful The Spy and the Traitor complements and enhances Gordievsky’s first-person account. It reveals the dramatic role played by MI6 in recruiting and cultivating a serving KGB insider – and keeping him alive against the odds. Gordievsky’s British contacts were a colourful bunch. Some were upper-class cold war adventurers. Others were gifted working-class linguists recruited from Oxbridge. Women played a crucial part. All realised Gordievsky was unique.
There is a resonant truth at the heart of this book, and it soars above everything else, however distracting; it has to do with life, and all the loneliness it involves.
Bergmann, a field botanist for the Montgomery County Parks Department, extricates herself from the thicket and in the meadow shows me that what I take to be blades of grass are actually shoots of trees, mowed to a few inches high. There are countless thousands, hiding in plain sight in Great Seneca Stream Valley Park. If it were not cut back once a year, the meadow would become like the adjacent screen, wall upon wall, acre upon acre of black-limbed, armored trees worthy of Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
“You can’t mow this once and walk away,” said Bergmann, who began her 25-year career in the department as a forest ecologist but has been consumed by an ever-pressing need to address the escape of the Bradford pear and other variants of callery pear, a species that originated in China, along with other invasive exotics.
The U.S. Agriculture Department scientists who gave us the Bradford pear thought they were improving our world. Instead, they left an environmental time bomb that has now exploded.
My last memory of Philadelphia: four months on testosterone. 91 degrees and counting. I leave the gym covered in a wet shirt. I take it off, walk down crowded Frankford Ave in my sports bra, drinking iced coffee from a sweating cup. Every day my shoulders are bigger, the hair on my legs a touch thicker. But I am the least of the strange things one can see here on a Saturday morning in Fishtown. It is gender euphoria.
In the summer of 2017, when I was 41 years old, I temporarily lost my parents. This is both less and more dramatic than it sounds. On August 1st, the start of the Long Island beach house rental I’d arranged for the month, I got into a car with my mom and dad, who’d helpfully flown up from Florida to join me for the initial stage of this retreat after I realized I hadn’t driven since I was a teenager, and I wasn’t going to start trying again on the Long Island Expressway.
After we loaded the rental car and I dutifully fastened my seatbelt in the backseat, assuming the position of so many family road trips past, I realized I hadn’t mailed my maintenance for my Brooklyn apartment. “Hang on — I’ll be right back!” I yelled, grabbing the envelope with the check in it and dashing across the street toward a mailbox. My dad waited at the side of the road, but then came a surge of traffic, and then a cop, and he had to drive on. “Noooooooo!” I yelled, chasing after the rental car (what kind was it anyway? I had no idea!) in the heat, knowing even as I did my perfunctory sad jog that there was no way I’d catch up.
I had no phone, no purse, no keys, no way to communicate with them other than to send mental signals: I will be right here waiting for you, a Richard Marx song on repeat. When you lose someone, stay put!, I remembered, a lesson imparted at various times during my childhood. So I waited. And waited. Finally, I saw the rental car heading back in my direction. No need to know the make or model when Mom was leaning out of the passenger side window, waving in the wind, shouting my name at the top of her lungs. They’d found me.
It was not the most auspicious beginning to our trip, and I felt relief and embarrassment in equal measures. I was, by all accounts, an adult. Yet I was never really a grown-up, particularly not when my parents were around.
Written by the actor over seven years, without the aid of a ghostwriter (a crutch often used by celebrity authors), this somber, intimate and at times wrenching self-portrait feels like an act of personal investigation — the private act of a woman, now 71, seeking to understand how she became herself, and striving to cement together the shards of her psyche that have been chipped and shattered over the course of her life.
Jill Lepore is an extraordinarily gifted writer, and These Truths is nothing short of a masterpiece of American history. By engaging with our country's painful past (and present) in an intellectually honest way, she has created a book that truly does encapsulate the American story in all its pain and all its triumph. And with this country once again struggling to define itself, Lepore's timing couldn't be better. "To study the past is to unlock the prison of the present," she writes. "The past is an inheritance, a gift and a burden. It can't be shirked. You carry it everywhere. There is nothing for it but to get to know it."
A year later, he tried another experimental procedure — an artificial heart developed and some would say stolen from his rival at Baylor University in Houston. He never asked the university’s permission because, well, that would have required going through a committee run by said rival. “We administered to Baylor University the biggest enema,” Cooley reportedly told a colleague after the surgery. “It will be remembered in years to come.”
And this, readers, is how the first artificial heart came to be implanted in a patient. (The man survived three days with the device, before receiving a transplant from a donor and dying the following day.) Such are the brazen feats that Mimi Swartz chronicles in her book “Ticker,” a brief history of the artificial heart. Swartz is an executive editor of Texas Monthly, and she is based in Houston, home to four medical schools and much of the last century’s pioneering heart research. These are physicians who have a lot more in common, she writes, “with the people who crossed Everest’s Khumbu Icefall or took the first steps on the moon.”
I am alone as I write this. It’s June 12, 2011, the time is 6:17 a.m., in the room above me the children are asleep, at the other end of the house Linda is asleep; outside the window, a dozen feet into the garden, the early sun of dawn is slanting down on an apple tree. The leaves are mottled with light and shade. A short while ago a small bird sat in the fork of the tree, in its beak was something that looked like a worm or a grub, it paused there for a moment, throwing its head back as it tried to swallow. It’s gone now. Behind that same fork in the tree, the girls’ swimsuits have been hung out to dry; all day yesterday they were in the wading pool further down in the garden, behind a willow. The grass outside, mostly in shade, is still wet with dew. The air is filled with the twitter and song of birds. Six months ago I sat in exactly the same place, in the early mornings, the children sleeping above me, Linda at the other end of the house. There was a fire in the stove then, and outside it was pitch dark, the air filled with whirling snow. For more than three years I have spent my mornings in the same way, sitting here or at home in the apartment in Malmo, bent over the keyboard, writing this novel, which is now drawing to a close. I have done so alone, in empty rooms, and as I have worked, my publishers have published what I have written, five volumes so far, about which I know there has been a lot of talk, much written and said in newspapers and blogs, on the radio, in journals and magazines. I’ve had no interest in that discourse and have kept out of it as much as possible, there’s nothing there for me. Everything is here, in what I am doing now. But what is that, exactly?
What does it mean to write?
(Excerpt from My Struggle, translated by Don Bartlett and Martin Aitken)
In the bleak, almost pristine land at the edge of the world, there are the frozen remains of human bodies – and each one tells a story of humanity’s relationship with this inhospitable continent.
Even with all our technology and knowledge of the dangers of Antarctica, it can remain deadly for anyone who goes there. Inland, temperatures can plummet to nearly -90C (-130F). In some places, winds can reach 200mph (322km/h). And the weather is not the only risk.
Many bodies of scientists and explorers who perished in this harsh place are beyond reach of retrieval. Some are discovered decades or more than a century later. But many that were lost will never be found, buried so deep in ice sheets or crevasses that they will never emerge – or they are headed out towards the sea within creeping glaciers and calving ice.
A platform with basically no regulation that allows people to shout at each other about anything—this could just as easily describe much of social media. But when I made this comparison to Khoo, he dismissed it. “Speakers’ Corner is a living entity of human beings meeting in real life,” he told me, saying that while the internet offers users an equal and often anonymous playing field, Speakers’ Corner guarantees neither. “You have what the orator is capable of holding, and what the audience is capable of undermining. On the internet, you can just publish. You might get trolled or shouted at, but you still publish. At Speakers’ Corner, if the audience is against you, you won’t finish your speech—not unless you are really competent in holding the art of oratory in a random crowd.”
If it’s the act of making the art that’s useful and good for children, then let this part of the art live, and then let its results die. Like its aesthetic quality, the output of children’s artistic efforts is incomplete. Throwing it away actually does everyone a favor. It completes the artistic life-cycle, allowing ephemera to be just that: actually ephemeral. Childhood is like that too—or that’s how parents ought to think about it. Kids thrash about until a more recognizable self takes hold. Then they turn their attention toward preserving that developing self. The paperwork they produce along the way is mostly a means to that end.
There’s a point, perhaps around the age of seven, where memory takes over and a self-history starts, where the child themselves decides what’s important to them and what isn’t. Of course, you shouldn’t throw something away that your kids say they want to keep. But absent that urge, and particularly in the early years before it develops, most children’s art exists to be destroyed. The point of life isn’t to prolong youth, but to have grown up. That requires discarding things along the way, and enjoying the appropriate relief. That’s the kind of activity a parent ought to put their moral and aesthetic weight behind.
Like most people, I’ve been walking since I was a year old. I started doing it seriously when I was 13 or so, and as a result my calf muscles are massive, like hams. My family’s house was at the furthest edge of Raleigh, North Carolina – in the last suburb there was – so in the beginning, I’d walk in the country. Then, like an overturned bucket of molasses, the town grew. One development followed another, and I found myself wandering through neighborhoods so new they smelled of plywood, which actually smells of formaldehyde. Driving didn’t appeal to me for some reason. Working didn’t either, but my parents forced me to earn my own money when I turned 16. I found a job in a cafeteria – washing dishes – and would most often walk there and back. “That far!” my friends would say. It surprised me to learn that none of them would think of covering that distance on foot.
I’ve always had an active fantasy life, so that’s what I devoted my walking hours to: daydreaming. The life I imagined for myself trudging through Raleigh, soaked through with filthy dishwater, was exactly the life I wound up with. “I’m going to write books and live overseas with a ridiculously good-looking, artistic boyfriend. Then I’ll buy a beach house everyone can use and …”
Any new British novel at this particular moment must emerge, it seems, in the shadow of Rachel Cusk, whose just completed trilogy of austerely philosophical autofiction reflects her repudiation of the novel’s traditional building blocks—character, plot, description, etc.—as “fake and embarrassing,” as she told an interviewer. “Once you have suffered sufficiently, the idea of making up John and Jane and having them do things together seems utterly ridiculous. . . . I’m certain autobiography is increasingly the only form in all the arts.”
One could do worse, then, than to think of Kate Atkinson as a sort of anti-Cusk. In the twenty-odd years since her prize-winning début, “Behind the Scenes at the Museum,” Atkinson has predicated her enormously successful career upon giving readers intelligent and artful iterations of what they already know they like: made-up Johns and Janes, in realistically described settings, enacting a plot that’s not only ingeniously constructed but, in the end, fully resolved. The very form of her work, while consistently inventive within its traditional frame, trades on a kind of nostalgia, and that nostalgia often correlates with the novels’ content; it seems no coincidence that Cusk’s recent “Kudos” is set explicitly in the Europe of the Brexit era—fearful, ugly, divided—while Atkinson’s books often hark back to the days of the Second World War and the Blitz, when plucky England came together as one, and triumphed in a European conflict that ended six years before Atkinson was born.
Atkinson loves her research, but she doesn’t need much help concocting original stories that resemble no one else’s and take the breath away. Even her literary allusions sparkle. Thinking back to Juliet’s toughest romance years later, she tweaks a classic aside: “Reader, I didn’t marry him.”
That striving—the delicate, indomitable, and often doomed power of human love—haunts “Washington Black.” It burns in the black sea of history like the jellyfish in the Nova Scotia bay, no more than a collection of wisps in the darkness, but a glory all the same, however much it stings.
What Edugyan has done in “Washington Black” is to complicate the historical narrative by focusing on one unique and self-led figure. Washington Black’s presence in these pages is fierce and unsettling. His urge to live all he can is matched by his eloquence, his restless mind striving beyond its own confines in tones that are sometimes overstretched, if brilliant, and then filled with calm subtlety and nuance.
In fact, by far the most impressive thing about this deeply disturbing fable is the vast and deadening landscape of language that seems to spring up around it. Jones has forged a piece of poetry of the most uncanny and macabre kind – a timely reminder to us all that humanity cannot ever be taken for granted, that it hangs, always, and all too terrifyingly, by the very skin of its teeth.
Kraepelin’s ideas permeate “The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves,” Eric Kandel’s engaging new overview of contemporary thinking about the intersection of mental health and neuroscience. Kandel’s chief aim is to explore “how the processes of the brain that give rise to our mind can become disordered, resulting in devastating diseases that haunt humankind,” and he declares at the outset his intention to weave Kraepelin’s story throughout. The book’s very structure emulates the organization of a neo-Kraepelinian diagnostic manual, with a succession of chapters devoted to conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism . Kraepelin’s lasting influence can be felt in the way Kandel reduces these mental conditions chiefly to microscopic causative factors in the nervous system. According to Kandel, mental illnesses are simply brain disorders, and all variations in behavior “arise from individual variations in our brains.”
It is notthe fashion in literary assessment to admit that we might have thought differently about a book if we’d read it at another time — older or younger, maybe next week instead of last week. Even without buying any fallacy about the objectivity of taste, it is hard to shake the deep intuition that at least our own, personal tastes, like our personalities, are fixed or have more than nominal continuity. To love Mrs. Dalloway is to always love Mrs. Dalloway, et cetera. Everyone knows this postulate is false, of course. But as far as I know, James Wood has never done a drive-by on some new novel while offering the caveat that he was fighting with his spouse the week he read it, so maybe he’ll circle back in a few years and a more charitable mood.
Anyway, David Foster Wallace died about 10 years ago, and — has anyone else had this experience? — his work reads differently to me now than it did then. I’m a little ashamed of how much I once loved it. It is still funny, still terrifyingly smart, precise, moving, still has astonishing range, but it also seems sort of juvenile and aggressive in a way I didn’t sense before. It feels infected by postmortem evidence of his real-life moral failings, including his pretty shameful treatment of women. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve changed, and my tastes have too. I would not have forecast any of that back in 2008. But I suppose no one who’s in love expects to fall out of it, at least not at age 19.
One of the excuses educators have long offered to explain America's poor reading performance is poverty. There is plenty of poverty in Bethlehem, a small city in eastern Pennsylvania that was once a booming steel town. But there are fancy homes here, too, and when Silva examined the reading scores he saw that many kids at the wealthier schools weren't reading very well either. This was not just poverty. In fact, by some estimates, one-third of America's struggling readers are from college-educated families.
Silva didn't know anything about how children learn to read or how they should be taught, so he started searching online. As he soon discovered, virtually all kids can learn to read — if they are taught the right way. The problem is that many American elementary schools aren't doing that.
If “These Truths” ends on a note of “Gibbonesque foreboding,” as she put it, she hopes it will take us out of the frenzy of the present and provide perspective, if not necessarily comfort.
“Yes, the internet is disruptive of democracy, but this has happened before,” she said. “You shouldn’t stop worrying. But here’s a way to be a more informed worrier.”
“Starting a new lifestyle blog called Diet Coke and Klonopin where I will share secrets on how to minimize your time spent out of bed,” the 26-year-old Brooklyn-based marketing professional tweeted in August.
Some tips she shared in advance of the proposed blog launch included stowing all morning and evening skin care products in a nightstand basket, setting up a coffee-making station within reach, and avoiding the shower. “Showering requires being upright, as well as being SPRAYED with WATER!” she points out. “You can lay down in the bath, throw some bubbles in, almost as good as bed.”
Later, over the phone, Benton says she was joking about starting the blog but serious about everything else. “Staying in bed is something I feel very strongly about,” she says.
This bold irregularity is, in fact, a historical quirk first introduced in 1902 when the Edwardian-era building opened as the North British Station Hotel. Then, as now, it overlooked the platforms and signal boxes of Waverley Train Station, and just as porters in red jackets met guests off the train, whisking them from the station booking hall to the interconnected reception desk in the hotel’s basement, the North British Railway Company owners wanted to make sure their passengers – and Edinburgh’s hurrying public – wouldn’t miss their trains.
Given an extra three minutes, they reasoned, these travellers would have more time on the clock to collect their tickets, to reach their corridor carriages and to unload their luggage before the stationmaster’s whistle blew. Still today, it is a calculated miscalculation that helps keep the city on time.
The technological aspects of our encounter suddenly seemed irrelevant. Inspiration and imitation were the true teachers, as they’d always been.
Dhaliwal takes the occasional direct jab at our male-dominated world (she ridicules high heels and envisions positive approaches to menstrual cramps), but is content, mostly, to let her characters' gentle, comfortable lives speak for themselves.
And yet the internet has certainly changed the way we read. For a start, it means that there is more to read, because more people than ever are writing. If you time travelled just a few decades into the past, you would wonder at how little writing was happening, outside a classroom. There would be no people sitting in coffee shops urgently stabbing their laptops with two fingers, or updating the social network with the headline news of their lives. You might see the odd person signing a cheque or pencilling in an appointment in their Filofax. But mostly writing would be farmed out to professionals, and appear only in print.
In the analogue era, writing was read much later than it was written. Digital writing is meant for rapid release and response. A text or tweet is a slightly interrupted, virtual way of having a conversation. An online article starts forming a comment thread underneath as soon as it is published. This mode of writing and reading can be democratic, interactive and fun. But often it treats other people’s words as something to be quickly harvested as fodder to say something else. Everyone talks over the top of everyone else, straining to be heard.
Wasn’t it time, after all, to ditch that hoary, male-perpetuated chestnut about women deriving sexual pleasure from gazing moistly into their partners’ eyes? Is not the female libido equal to, if not more robust, than the male’s?
This is the case she seeks to make in “Untrue,” her new book about the nature of women’s sexuality, the title a simultaneous reference to an archaic word for faithless and the much-debated doctrine that women by nature are inclined to be “true.”
To speak in such sweeping terms of any artwork would be to edge perilously close to fawning over-appreciation, yet the scale of “The Clock” is one that warrants it’s almost cult-like following across the art world. Consisting of movie clips spliced together, all featuring a clock or referencing time, viewers are able to watch in real time as 24 hours (and crucially, 1440 minutes) are depicted on screen and in sequence. In a darkened room at 9:24 am, those that sit and watch “The Clock” will find a film scene that depicts the exact moment when the camera panned away to reveal a clock face reading the time, 9:24 am. It’s a dangerously brilliant concept and by-and-large seemingly impossible to make.
In 1893, Boston was bustling, especially after the sun went down. “Night owls of all classes” roamed the streets, wrote the Boston Daily Globe, including “workers, idlers, pleasure seekers, spendthrifts, tramps and bums.” At some point, all of these people would want something to eat. The wealthy could get their quail on toast at any hour, observed the writer. For everyone else, there were the night lunch wagons. While they served inexpensive eats, the wagons themselves could be as fancifully decorated as music boxes on wheels.
At some point my wheelchair will resemble a spacecraft, with rods and pads and dials and bleeps. I will tell my story to my youngest son – of baby Jimmy, the astronaut in nappies, and journeys to the Milky Way. Life will change again. I used to think the presence of children elevated my condition to tragedy. I no longer think that; I think the opposite. I think we’ll tell new stories. And those who love us will tell these stories, too. We’ll find new ways. Because we have to.
As a writer, I have been stuck for years. But I think a terminal diagnosis is the very finest tool a writer can have; it’s the view from an escarpment of both the beginning and the end. It has enabled me to write with a lightness about my life and this time. The book I’m writing is for my two children, no one else, so that when they are in their 20s or 30s or 40s and want to know who their dad really was, they can find out. I want them to know how remarkable this time was.
On a good day, all of humanity’s accomplishments feel personal: the soaring violins of the second allegretto movement of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7, the intractable painted stare of Frida Kahlo, the enormous curving spans of the Golden Gate Bridge, the high wail of PJ Harvey’s voice on “Victory,” the last melancholy pages of Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. These works remind us that we’re connected to the past and our lives have limitless potential. We were built to touch the divine.
On a bad day, all of humanity’s failures feel unbearably personal: coyotes wandering city streets due to encroaching wildfires, American citizens in Puerto Rico enduring another day without electricity or potable water in the wake of Hurricane Maria, neo-Nazis spouting hatred in American towns, world leaders testing missiles that would bring the deaths of millions of innocent people. We encounter bad news in the intimate glow of our cell phone screens, and then project our worries onto the flawed artifacts of our broken world: the for lease sign on the upper level of the strip mall, the crow picking at a hamburger wrapper in the gutter, the pink stucco walls of the McMansion flanked by enormous square hedges, the blaring TVs on the walls of the local restaurant. On bad days, each moment is haunted by a palpable but private sense of dread. We feel irrelevant at best, damned at worst. Our only hope is to numb and distract ourselves as well as we can on our long, slow march to the grave.
Dark Water is historical fiction with high literary ambitions, employing a variety of narrative techniques – letters, court records, the confession of a man accidentally mesmerised by light on the sea. It asks big questions – who can claim with certainty to be sane? – and it is lent satisfying substance by Lowry’s conjuration of a past society, complete with its prejudices and its cooking, its sturdily handsome domestic architecture, its chilly domestic relationships and, above all, its particular forms of madness.
Nevertheless, Boyd’s drama builds powerfully towards its ending, when at last Brodie arrives in the Bay of Bengal, and where he unwittingly mouths (in German) some of Chekhov’s own words. In its poignant closing scenes, the book balances the sad and ordinary randomness of life – its bathos even – with a kind of transcendence born out of Brodie’s longing. It’s a finely judged performance: a deft and resonant alchemy of fact and fiction, of literary myth and imagination.
The question of sea-level rise in Tangier's waters has captured much of America's attention in the last few years. Back in 2015, the science journal Nature ran a study warning of Tangier's demise at the hands of sea-level rise due to climate change. The dire findings caught the attention of climate scientists and, of course, the island's residents themselves, most of whom were skeptical. But it wasn't until last June, when Donald Trump came calling, that Tangier's plight crept into popular consciousness. After his advisers showed him a CNN report about the disappearing island and its pro-Trump inhabitants, the president phoned Eskridge and personally urged him to drop any concerns about sea-level rise. And suddenly everyone, it seemed, had an opinion on what was happening on this previously obscure island, rendering Tangier a poster child for both sides in the national conversation on climate change.
The story of Tangier has largely been limited to the inevitability of an island going down—the science behind it, the politics around it. And without new infrastructure, fast, Tangier is indeed going down. What's been left out, however, is why its people are willing to go down with it—and why they've risked it all on Trump to keep them afloat.
There was widespread reaction when the Philosopher’s Stone in the title of the first Harry Potter book became the Sorcerer’s Stone after its US publisher, Scholastic, decided that children might confuse wizards for Plato.
But hordes of books have had their titles changed in America. Disproportionately, they are mysteries. Twenty-five Agatha Christie titles have been “localised” but unfortunately, their new names do not add to their allure. Instead, they merely baffle Brits who, when buying Murder in Three Acts or Poirot Loses a Client on vacation, discover they are Three Act Tragedy or Dumb Witness in disguise.
Naturally, book titles change from country to country. Altering the first Potter adventure to Harry Potter a l’Ecole des Sorciers in French is far less baffling than what was done to its American counterpart. Some localisation is to be expected: if you’re translating the text, why not change the title to match? But, with the UK and US sharing a language, why change titles?
“Palaces for the People” reads more like a succession of case studies than a comprehensive account of what social infrastructure is, so those looking for a theoretical framework may be disappointed. But anyone interested in cities will find this book an engaging survey that trains you to view any shared physical system as, among other things, a kind of social network. After finishing it, I started asking how ordinary features of my city, from streetlights to flowerpots, might affect the greater well-being of residents. Physically robust infrastructure is not enough if it fails to foster a healthy community; ultimately, all infrastructure is social.
With his sharp humour and gift for character, Mr Shteyngart makes the implausible seem credible. He migh even make you want to take a Greyhound.
Huw Williams is not a hermit. Not exactly. For one thing, he answers a telephone while I’m visiting him. The phone connects to a jack somewhere, although I don’t understand how it can function properly; it seems impossible that a cabin so rudimentary and run-down could support something as technologically advanced as a telephone.
The floors are covered with broken power tools, a machete, unmarked VHS tapes, decades-old newspapers and knocked-over litter boxes once filled by the three cats prowling around. Stenches of urine and filth are masked only by the rot on the stove, where the remains of long-ago meals are eating through the pans they were prepared in. And the cabin is so cold that when anyone speaks, breath becomes vapor.
Dried-out orange peels hang from the ceiling. “It’s a way of breaking up the straight lines,” the 76-year-old Williams tells me cryptically. “I’m averse to being inside a box, with all straight lines.” A radio plays environmental talk radio here in Edwall, a tiny community about 35 miles by car from Spokane, Washington. The radio is part of an ’80s-style dual cassette player, but the trays where the cassettes should go are broken off.
The best view of London is to be had from the north. Tourists and natives, elderly dog walkers, young kite-flyers, plump uncles anxious to walk off the effects of roast beef lunches: the people who make their way across Hampstead Heath to the top of Parliament Hill have been much the same mixture for as long as I remember, but the city they have come to look at has been dramatically transformed. Fifty years ago, the London skyline had very few verticals. As you looked south from Parliament Hill you saw the Post Office Tower to the west, Centre Point, a newly completed office block, to the east of it, and then, further east again, the familiar seventeenth-century dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Other than those protuberances and a few power station chimneys and new housing blocks, the great city stretched flat and indistinct all the way from the western suburbs to the Essex marshes.
Today, towers have sprung up everywhere, many of them oddly shaped and attention-seeking. (“Target architecture. Structures made to be blown apart” is how Iain Sinclair ominously describes the style.) Clumps of towers mark London’s two financial districts—the City and Canary Wharf—while others march up the Thames in single file, their river views designed to attract the footloose cash of Asian investors.
I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s, and my mother was a working woman who didn’t like to cook. Although she dutifully made dinner for us every night, these were perfunctory and repetitive meals: meatloaf made with Catalina salad dressing, spaghetti with tomato sauce and occasional meatballs (also made with Catalina salad dressing), roast chicken (overcooked), and instant chocolate pudding or Jello for dessert. I looked with envy at my friends whose stay-at-home moms prepared things like veal parmigiana and shrimp scampi, baked alaska and pineapple upside-down cake.
At the time, convenience foods were sparse, limited mostly to canned foods. For many years, my idea of vegetables were greenish things floating in yellowish liquid that were dumped in a saucepan for 30 minutes so whatever taste and nutrition they contained had been boiled away. Another familiar adjunct to our meals was cream of mushroom soup — flavored lard to be added to casseroles, dips, or anything that needed a fat and sodium boost. Also, pork and beans: snippets of fat drowning in a salty mush and introduced alongside the occasional boiled hot dog (my mother saw hot dogs as low class but made an exception by serving them under the name of frankfurters). Finally, there was the much-loved macaroni and cheese — elbow macaroni and Velveeta — served to us when our parents went out for dinner.
The author is a historian by profession and her account is richly sourced and careful in its judgments: censoriousness is not her game, and Margaret Thatcher’s postwar behaviour (for example) is illuminated rather than condemned. Parr is also a gifted writer, who for the most part writes tenderly. Many passages are profoundly moving. There can be few better books about fighting men in all their bravery, terror and shame.
The difficulty with resolving this disagreement about the kinds of pleasure is not that we struggle to agree on the right answer. It’s that we’re asking the wrong question. The entire debate assumes a clear divide between the intellectual and bodily, the human and the animal, which is no longer tenable. These days, few of us are card-carrying dualists who believe that we are made of immaterial minds and material bodies. We have plenty of scientific evidence for the importance of biochemistry and hormones in all that we do and think. Nonetheless, dualistic assumptions still inform our thinking. So, what happens if we take seriously the idea that the physical and the mental are inseparable, that we are fully embodied beings? What would it mean for our ideas about pleasure?
The dining table is a good place to start. Along with sex, food is usually considered to be the quintessential lower pleasure. All animals eat, using the senses of smell and taste. It doesn’t require any complex cognition to conclude that something is delicious. Philosophers have generally assumed that to take pleasure in eating is simply to sate a primitive desire. So, for instance, Plato believed that cookery could never be a form of art, because it ‘never regards either the nature or reason of that pleasure to which she devotes herself, but goes straight to her end’.
Two years before Roman’s untimely death, Eugenia had co-founded Luka, a startup that used artificial intelligence to build chatbots. Its first product was a Yelp competitor that users could text for restaurant recommendations. After Roman passed, Eugenia realized her company’s tech could be put toward another purpose.
From the digital history of texts she’d exchanged with Roman, Eugenia created Romanbot, a chatbot that allows anyone to “communicate” with a digital re-creation of her lost friend. Not only has Romanbot inherited aspects of Roman’s personality and patterns of speech, but thanks to machine learning, which enables the bot to dynamically improve through interaction, Romanbot will grow. Over time, Romanbot has and will continue to develop an understanding of current events, form new opinions, and evolve beyond the Roman his friends once knew—just as a living human would continue to mature.
My dad grew up in El Dorado. The youngest of four and the son of a vending-machine salesman, he was the last of his siblings to leave town for college. In May, I returned there for the first time since before my grandfather’s death in 2014 to attend the newly minted Southern Food & Wine Festival, a weekend featuring world-renowned chefs and sommeliers visiting from Michelin-starred restaurants, and found a town battling that cliched storyline: a one-industry place damned for being stubborn and static. In the middle of the south Arkansas oil fields, El Dorado is hoping to remake itself as a cosmopolitan capital.
It’s kind of a nutso idea, as its orchestrators will proudly concede, but the town has staked its future in the faith that it can work. When I asked Austin Barrow, an El Dorado expat who left his position as the drama department chair at a Georgia college to return home and spearhead the revival, whether he thinks the revamped downtown can become a destination, he said, simply, “It has to.”
To those who believe movies should reflect the way they want the world to be and not the world as it is, it is easy enough to rate romantic comedies as being too full of bad politics and bad faith to take seriously. I am more of the mind-set that we already live inside waves hand in general direction of entire planet this whole mess, and I like to see stories that exist in the same dimension that I do. A romantic comedy doesn’t succeed when it is too virtuous and fail when it is too cynical (though both of those qualities do qualify for a wet, wasted afternoon). A romantic comedy fails when it refuses to be read as a story about anything other than love: We need families and friends, really good kitchens and absurdly organized closets, and some unexamined and troubling assumptions about class, race, gender, and sexuality. This summer of the romantic comedy, with its return to familiar and relatable plots and themes, has been a relief—we’re grateful to be reminded of what we like about love, even when we hate it. Workaholics make time for love, the guarded learn to let intimacy in, everything wraps up exactly as we wanted it to—fairy tales come true. We still want the recognition of ourselves in better lighting—the shared language of our concerns, our questions, our heartbreaks and our loves but with snappier dialogue and better haircuts. Really we want nothing less than the feeling of seeing how the universe exists between two people who are almost definitely going to bang.
Like most successful trends, these emotions were deeply felt, and linked to bigger forces in our culture. At a time when few of us dare to go anywhere without a smartphone, books tapped into a growing desire among many consumers for a sense of physicality and the measured pace it commands.
Like the other analog goods that have seen a resurgence in recent years, including vinyl records, board games, and even film cameras, books promised a slower, isolated experience, free from distractions, pop-up ads, dead batteries, Russians (unless you’re reading about them), and the other byproducts of digital innovation. In an age of noise, they offer the quiet many of us desperately desire. They also offered certain incalculable tangible pleasures for our senses: the oft-cited smell, feel, and sound of books, which book lovers relish with romance.
“The theory behind the ring,” Mason said, his own wedding band visible on the hand resting on his knee, “is if a psychiatrist goes into a room without it, that’s going to change what the patient’s going to share. Much more information is going to come when a patient meets a doctor who’s not wearing a ring and, according to people who believe this very strongly, the patient asks: ‘Are you married?’ That’s a moment when a psychiatrist responds: ‘We could talk about that. But maybe more important right now is what you were feeling when you asked that.’ And then, this door opens — hopefully: We’re always looking for a door that might open — and a patient might say, ‘Well, I imagine that you are married because I imagine that everybody is happily married except for me.’ That’s Answer A. Answer B is: ‘I don’t think you’re married because you’re attracted to me.’ Answer C is: ‘I have no idea. I don’t feel like I can read anybody now. I don’t understand anybody. I didn’t understand my wife, apparently. I don’t understand you.’ Each one of those leads the psychiatrist down these totally different paths. That’s really helpful information.”
Mason wears his ring while seeing patients, as do many of his colleagues. But despite that measure of clinical transparency, he was clear during our conversations that it was essential to his ability to practice medicine that certain details of his personal life beyond the most basic published facts — he is married to the novelist Sara Houghteling — remain unavailable to his patients. He acknowledged the awkwardness of this preference — I was there, wasn’t I, to profile him? — but it couldn’t be helped, given that he has been, as he says, “negotiating two worlds” throughout his professional life. In one, he serves on a team of clinicians that includes psychologists, social workers, nurses, occupational and physical therapists, residents and medical students, treating people admitted for acute mental illnesses or crises. And in another, he is a fiction writer who, nearly two decades ago, published, at 26, while still in medical school, his first novel, “The Piano Tuner,” which describes the journey of a man sent by the British War Office to the Burmese interior in 1886 to repair a piano. It became an international best seller, was translated into 28 languages and adapted as an opera. His third novel, “The Winter Soldier,” which took 14 years to complete — his first about a doctor and, in part, a coming-of-age story about what that profession can demand and return — arrives this month and with it, for Mason, no little inner negotiation: It will be his first book to appear since he began practicing psychiatry, a vocation which maintains that the practitioner’s face is best kept blank.
At its core, Odette’s story is about how trauma is a kind of time travel, compelling the sufferer to return again and again to the scene of their shock. It’s witty, inventive and unflashily wise about human hearts; Mascarenhas’s future promises to be an exciting one.
It’s perhaps an indication of the severity of our current predicament that Lepore, for all her deep understanding of the American experience, feels it necessary to end “These Truths” with a wistful, heartening epilogue that pictures the republic as a beleaguered ship. “It would fall to a new generation of Americans, reckoning what their forebears had wrought, to fathom the depths of the doom-black sea,” she writes. “They would need to drive home nails with the untiring swing of mighty arms and, with needles held tenderly in nimble fingers, stitch new sails out of the rugged canvas of their goodwill.”
This is too pretty by half. After so many pages of cold, hard truths, the last thing I wanted was to have them warmed over. To feel cheated by such platitudes is a testament to how good the rest of the book is. This cleareyed history had done its civic duty: It primed me to miss the Lepore who tells it like it is.
These days, we’re told that the American economy is strong. Unemployment is down, the Dow Jones industrial average is north of 25,000 and millions of jobs are going unfilled. But for people like Vanessa, the question is not, Can I land a job? (The answer is almost certainly, Yes, you can.) Instead the question is, What kinds of jobs are available to people without much education? By and large, the answer is: jobs that do not pay enough to live on.
In recent decades, the nation’s tremendous economic growth has not led to broad social uplift. Economists call it the “productivity-pay gap” — the fact that over the last 40 years, the economy has expanded and corporate profits have risen, but real wages have remained flat for workers without a college education. Since 1973, American productivity has increased by 77 percent, while hourly pay has grown by only 12 percent. If the federal minimum wage tracked productivity, it would be more than $20 an hour, not today’s poverty wage of $7.25.
But it was her cooking that threw my preconceived notions for a loop. Having moved to Paris after living in Philadelphia and New York, I arrived with a reverence for French cuisine that bordered on the religious. Restaurants and shops, magazines and cookbooks taught me that French food was the height of sophistication. It was delicate yet elaborate, refined and expensive — a performance art of finely julienned vegetables, sublime sauces, towering souffles. When I moved to Paris in 1986, I found work as an interpreter in a professional cooking school, where I witnessed the rigid training, technical know-how, and precision that went into each dish and pastry, from preparation to plating, confirming my opinion that French cuisine was complex and meticulous, impressive and intimidating.
But Madeleine’s cooking was far from all that. Her food was hearty and unadorned, and yet so flavorful. No trendy or costly ingredients went into her one-pot dishes, no spices beyond salt and pepper, no sauces other than homemade bechamel, mayonnaise or vinaigrette whisked up quickly with a fork. There was little precision or delicacy: She would roughly chop leeks, potatoes, beets, shallots and carrots, staples of her cooking, with a wobbly, chipped paring knife, the bits of peel flicking all over the cheap vinyl tablecloth. Her recipes were estimates of classic dishes that were assembled and seasoned “au pif,” by taste and intuition.
There’s a grand tradition of crying in public, especially in New York City, where it’s difficult to ever be truly alone. Guides have been written with best practices; maps have been marked with the best spots. And I’m certainly not the first to point out that Starbucks provides one of the more accessible tear-friendly spaces around (searching Twitter for the phrase “crying in Starbucks” yields fun results). All this literature on the subject would have you thinking there’s an art to it, but no: You just do it when you need to and hope no one interferes. There are only a few public spaces where criers can count on that kind of blithe indifference, and Starbucks happens to be the most ubiquitous.
If you ask me, there were quite a few cringe-worthy moments in the movie La La Land but one moment especially hit home. Early in the story, Emma Stone’s character, Mia, apprehensively confesses to Ryan Gosling’s idealistic jazz pianist that she “hates” jazz. It’s probably intended to show Mia’s relatability for the audience, but this viewer at least winced with recognition. The fact that Mia eventually discovers that she likes jazz after all is less about digging the music than about giving the viewer the Hollywood ending they want. She’s not alone in her defensiveness when it comes to America’s music — believe me, plenty of people tend to give us jazz fans the side-eye whenever the topic comes up.
The sad truth is that all too often jazz suffers the same kind of casual dismissal that hip-hop, country, and EDM used to get before they took over the mainstream. Granted, this might be something only a jazz lover would notice but since at least the ’70s, jazz has become something of a niche market, to put it mildly. In terms of yearly record sales, jazz usually sells as much as classical music does, one of the many things the two genres have in common. Far too often jazz comes off as dated or quaint; it’s your granddad’s make out music. Worse, there’s an implied snobbishness often projected onto loving jazz — it’s a little like explaining that you prefer to spend your Saturday nights translating Hegel or making artisanal cheese.
In 1999, when Scott McNealy, the founder and CEO of Sun Microsystems, declared, “You have zero privacy…get over it,” most of us, still new to the World Wide Web, had no idea what he meant. Eleven years later, when Mark Zuckerberg said that “the social norms” of privacy had “evolved” because “people [had] really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people,” his words expressed what was becoming a common Silicon Valley trope: privacy was obsolete.
By then, Zuckerberg’s invention, Facebook, had 500 million users, was growing 4.5 percent a month, and had recently surpassed its rival, MySpace. Twitter had overcome skepticism that people would be interested in a zippy parade of 140-character posts; at the end of 2010 it had 54 million active users. (It now has 336 million.) YouTube was in its fifth year, the micro-blogging platform Tumblr was into its third, and Instagram had just been created. Social media, which encouraged and relied on people to share their thoughts, passions, interests, and images, making them the Web’s content providers, were ascendant.
It’s not intimacy that these pieces afford; as much as Rich tells us, there is more that she conceals, especially about her private life — the apparent suicide of her husband, the years with Cliff. But it is a peerless pleasure to join her in the “long turbulence,” to think alongside her. I once read that a blue whale’s arteries are so large that an adult human could swim through them. That’s what entering these essays feels like — to flow along with the pulses of Rich’s intelligence, to be enveloped by her capacious heart and mind.
Naturally, we alumni spent the next few days conducting a social-media wake. The more I thought about it, though, the more convinced I grew that the paper’s demise was only fitting. One reason is that everything the concept of “the Village” meant to several generations of Voice readers—bohemia, nonconformity, one thriving avant-garde arts scene replacing another thanks to a talent pool regularly refreshed by new arrivals with more ambition than rent money, even a belief in New York itself as the nation’s cultural capital—hasn’t corresponded to New York’s reality in something like a quarter of a century.
But another reason, as an ex-colleague suggested to me, is that “we won.” The cultural and political assumptions and insights once confined to the Voice-defined margins have long since been absorbed into the mainstream, rendering the original source redundant. In many ways, The Village Voice folded simply because its work here was done.
A stubby, single-block dead end on the supposed wrong side of town, Henrietta Street is enormously wide, and the 18th-century brick houses that flank it are flat-fronted and vast: four stories high, with as many as five windows across each. The earliest Georgian street in Dublin — and the most intact collection of early-to-mid-Georgian houses in Ireland — it was built beginning in the 1720s for the Irish aristocracy. After the Acts of Union were passed in 1800, uniting the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, the country lost its own parliament, and the great and the good, who now spent most of their time in London, no longer had a need for Dublin grandeur. Over time, Henrietta Street became more deprived and more inhabited: In the tenement era, which began in the late 19th century and lasted until the 1970s, up to 19 families lived in each house.
Why does love got to be so sad? The question is from a song famously performed and co-written by Eric Clapton, the guitar maestro, for whom love could, apparently, be a sad affair in life as well as in art. “Layla,” the song he’s best known for, has him down on his knees, begging for love from a woman who, the story goes, happened to be George Harrison’s wife. Even rock stars get the blues. Even rock stars suffer in love. It’s a universal condition, erotic suffering. It afflicts us all. “Ay me,” says Shakespeare’s Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “for aught that I could ever read, / Could ever hear by tale or history / The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Why is this so — assuming that it is? Why is the erotic life so often full of grief, sorrow, or at least radical disappointment when it is supposed to be — and of course on occasion actually is — a world of joy? Is it in our stars? Is it in ourselves? Is it a societal flaw? Might we, by creating a better culture, make erotic life a sphere of enduring joy? We know, or think we know, that love promises ongoing bliss, yet it so often ends in sorrow. (“As high as we have mounted in delight,” the poet says, “in our dejection do we sink as low.”) Perhaps we should simply reduce our expectations, anticipate disappointment and dissatisfaction. But many people are erotic idealists — they seek joy in love. They are people — dare one say — whose erotic lives have become their spiritual lives. They are Romantics, and Romance is their highest good. Why does love fail them so often?
My debut novel Ponti came out this year. Alongside the excitement of publication, I didn’t expect that the feelings of vulnerability and panic that had been an integral part of my writing life would intensify. Somehow I’d hoped they would lessen, or vanish altogether. Instead I feel perishable and exposed, like a hard-boiled egg that has been shelled and left out on a counter. There is no magical, automatic end date for anxiety if you’re a fundamentally anxious and insecure person. My imposter syndrome flares up, this old fluky cluster of neuroses and inadequacies. It is bully and spoilt child, wolf and sheep, constantly trying to both push me and pull me away from the cusp of failure. My imposter syndrome is fickle, indecisive and therefore antithetical to the writing process, in which every word choice is a decision.
Some might contend that imposter syndrome and the inner critic are one and the same, but I beg to differ. A critic implies a degree of detachment, a position of removal from which one can judge and assess a particular piece of work. My imposter syndrome is murky, generalized yet far too personal. It is shame and doubt cleaved to the breastbone. The imposter does not trust her own subjectivity and finds it hard to untangle creativity and a sense of playfulness and flow from the thickening skein of her flaws. The imposter believes nothing she thinks or feels is valid or even worth saying. To a writer, such feelings of worthlessness are silencing. If I let it get the better of me, my imposter syndrome paralyses my creativity entirely, keeping me locked in a mirthless limbo between the guilt of fear-based procrastination and the feeling of being left behind.
It took four years for a glioblastoma, a brain cancer that has a median survival rate of fourteen months, to take my mom’s life. It took me those same four years to read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. My now-husband Matt gifted me the book during our first weekend together, turning it over and over in his hands, pointing out the design details that mimicked those from the first edition. He’d read it in college, when he started writing, and it propelled his move from Denver to the Bay Area. Since then, he had frequented the Beats’ Northern California haunts: North Beach, Vesuvius Café, Specs’, City Lights, Big Sur. The book had also helped him during the experience I was now facing: his father had died two years earlier from the same brain cancer my mother had just been diagnosed with. In the last months that his dad was alive, Matt, who wrote on the side while working in finance, temporarily relocated from the Bay Area to Missouri to live with his parents. The days were dedicated to his dad while the nights were spent trying to preserve the experience, writing about the beauty he found within the grief. As he wrote, he found kinship with Kerouac, a man who felt transformed by the loss of his own father.
Although Matt and I were strangers, introduced by mutual friends a few weeks after my mother’s diagnosis, our shared experience provided us an immediate intimacy. We talked on the phone for hours, he in Silicon Valley and me in Portland, about books, writing and what it was to sit vigil with the dying. We quickly fell in love, in part because we were both hungry for someone who might understand the depths of our pain. Matt was the only person I could talk to about what it would be like when my mom died. He assured me that along with her suffering, there would be grace.
The authors are right to push back hard against the cultivation of fragility and victimhood, and to defend free speech as essential to the mission of higher education. Professors and students shouldn’t be afraid to express themselves, make mistakes, find better ways of thinking and living through passionate disputation. Lukianoff and Haidt’s insights on the dangers of creating habits of “moral dependency” are timely and important, and the concluding self-help section of the book is reasonable: Keep ’em safe, but not too safe. Things may not be what they used to be, but that common-sense advice still rings true enough.
The earliest fear I can recall — that of nuclear war — was based on the fact that no one seemed in control. The Doomsday Machine in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove brilliantly captured this state of affairs. When President Muffley asks Dr. Strangelove — both roles played, of course, by Peter Sellers — if it is possible for the machine to be triggered automatically, never to be “untriggered,” Strangelove replies it is both possible and essential. Deterrence, he explains, is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack. And so, because of the automated and irrevocable decision-making process which rules out human meddling, the Doomsday machine is terrifying. It’s simple to understand … and completely credible and convincing. Our nation’s current wave of fear seems just as simple to understand. But it is also profoundly different. My 13-year-old daughter Louisa does not fear that no one is in control. Instead, she fears a particular someone in our country who, for all intents and purposes, is now in control. Not surprisingly, this same someone is the source of Martha C. Nussbaum’s reflections on our nation’s current reign of terror.
Authors like to flatter themselves by imagining for their work an “ideal reader,” a cherubic presence endowed with bottomless generosity, the sympathy of a parent, and the wisdom of, well, the authors themselves. In Carbon Ideologies, William T. Vollmann imagines for himself the opposite: a murderously hostile reader who sneers at his arguments, ridicules his feeblemindedness, scorns his pathetic attempts at ingratiation. Vollmann can’t blame this reader, whom he addresses regularly throughout Carbon Ideologies, because she lives in the future, under radically different circumstances—inhabiting a “hotter, more dangerous and biologically diminished planet.” He envisions her turning the pages of his climate-change opus within the darkened recesses of an underground cave in which she has sought shelter from the unendurable heat; the plagues, droughts, and floods; the methane fireballs racing across boiling oceans. Because the soil is radioactive, she subsists on insects and recycled urine, and regards with implacable contempt her ancestors, who, as Vollmann tells her, “enjoyed the world we possessed, and deserved the world we left you.”
This book is a writer’s constitutional. For 188 days, Jan Morris, now 91, has written a page or more of whatever comes into her head. These are short outings, limberings up; she does not overdo it. They are mentally equivalent to the walk she takes daily: 1,000 paces up and down the lane, singing different songs as she marches – she learned to march at Sandhurst. For this is a woman who started life as a man, who made her name as a journalist, James Morris, reporting for the Times on the first ascent of Everest in 1953. She admits now with chagrin (taking herself to task for unthinking presumption) that she had hoped she might be invited as a reporter to accompany astronauts on the first trip to the moon.
The truth is, of course, that it’s incredibly tricky, and not something you can just foist on someone if they’re not keen. As Wilby points out, though: “Having the conversation, instead of just tacitly accepting monogamy as the only option, is really half the battle.” And we have had the conversation, over and over with each other, but also with others – incredulous friends who can’t quite believe that it’s “a thing”. We field the questions in turn: no, it’s not perfect; yes, we do row sometimes; yes, there are rules; no, we don’t know how long it’ll last. But it is “a thing” – although, after almost a year together, not in the way that I thought it would be. Sam has slept with more people than I have. Despite pushing for it, when the opportunities have arisen I’ve found it oddly difficult to switch into the necessary head space. There’s still a faint feeling of betrayal; and I wonder whether the deed will be worth the emotional cost. More often than not, I realise it won’t be. I’m not sure he feels it in quite the same way. And, yes, sometimes I get tense and irritable when we sit down to eat and he’s too tired to talk because he spent half the night with someone else.
Still, I prefer it this way. We can be really, brutally honest with one another without the fear of damaging our relationship. As far as I’m concerned, hardline monogamy is a recipe for disappointment, because even if you manage it (according to a poll by YouGov about one in five of us has had an affair, and a third of us consider it), there will always be a part of you – that bit that has crushes on colleagues, and fantasises about handsome strangers – that your partner cannot share. There will always be secrets.
In defining what the BLT is, it is important to also stipulate what it is not. It is not a potential party canape. There is no need to reinterpret it as a taco. Every time someone writes a recipe for a bread-free BLT salad, a 200-year-old starter culture dies.
If you want to experiment by adding new flavours to a BLT, a vehicle for that already exists. It is called the club sandwich, which, in its cavalier, anything-goes, let-it-all-hang-out second layer, allows you to add chicken, avocado, cheese, pesto, a fried egg or any of the other numerous unsuitable extra ingredients that, through sheer boredom, people suggest adding to this already perfect sandwich. If you need hot sauce on a BLT then, quite simply, you need to stop smoking.
The everywoman’s guide to exercising in just a sports bra. (You’re going to need some high-waisted leggings.)
When Leah Dieterich accidentally stumbles upon the phenomenon of vanishing twin syndrome, she believes she might have hit on an explanation she's been looking for her entire life.
"I've always preferred being in the company of one other person to being in a group," she writes in her memoir, Vanishing Twins. "I'd thought this meant I was antisocial, but maybe it's a desire to return to the relationship I had with another person in the womb."
As Elborough writes in his brief introduction, these pieces of correspondence are a reminder that “if we want to change the world, standing up for and voicing our personal and political beliefs is both a right and duty”. At a time of great political uncertainty and indeed when letter writing is almost a forgotten art, the collection demonstrates the vital and enduring importance of speaking truth to power.
What makes this book so appealing, besides the people you’ll meet, is that it’s not just for tourists. “The Manhattan Nobody Knows” is written for inquisitive New Yorkers, too. Professor Helmreich says his goal is “to reveal Manhattan in all its beauty, complexity, and mystery.”
As the city soon discovered and the country learned only belatedly, however, the belief that simply setting ambitious targets would catapult 100 percent of American students to rigorous, grade-level proficiency by 2014 — the original goal of No Child Left Behind — was always unfounded. Starting in 2008, the city’s schools came under scrutiny from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, followed by a state probe assisted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The inquiries determined that some teachers and administrators in the school system, their livelihoods on the line, coached students during the 2009 test or tampered with students’ answers in response to a toxic “culture of fear” and retaliation in the district. More than 150 people who worked in or oversaw Atlanta’s schools, including Peyton Forest, were eventually implicated in the cheating and lost their jobs or voluntarily left.
“It was ugly and horrible for everyone whether you were accused of cheating or not,” says Gayle Burnett, who worked in the district’s central office at the time and is now executive director of the district’s office of innovation. “You were hearing horror stories about people being intimidated. You were crushed by what people were admitting they had done.”
Yet many teachers had also been put in a terrible bind. While teacher effectiveness may be the most salient in-school factor contributing to student academic outcomes, it contributes a relatively small slice — no more than 14 percent, according to a recent RAND Corporation analysis of teacher effectiveness — to the overall picture. A far bigger wedge is influenced by out-of-school variables over which teachers have little control: family educational background, the effects of poverty or segregation on children, exposure to stress from gun violence or abuse and how often students change schools, owing to homelessness or other upheavals.
In the eighties, there were no official video stores in Iran. Very few foreign films were shown on state TV, and even those were censored. My parents, along with everyone else who wished to see movies from around the world, relied on merchants who specialized in distributing illegal films. These dealers, or, as we called them, filmees, travelled across Tehran carrying poor-quality vhs and Betamax tapes in conspicuous rectangular bags. For the price of a sandwich, “subscribers” could choose a few cassettes from the dozen or so on offer. If my mom wanted something specific, like Gone with the Wind, all she could do was ask nicely and hope for the next week. If the movie actually arrived—a rare event—she’d invite her friends over and make a feast of it.
When I was a child, these often-glitchy tapes offered me a window into the outside world. I was able to see beautiful actors sing, kiss, and, in the case of the Indiana Jones series, crack whips. By the time I was in high school, in the late 1990s, the black market had grown thanks to dvds, which were easier to copy and distribute. If you enjoyed the work of Michael Haneke or were fixated on Juliette Binoche, there was now a good chance you could find their films, though it might take months of searching.
I look back sometimes and wonder how things could have been different if my manager had really talked to me, if he had leaned across his desk and said, “Wendy, you have always been an asset to my department; now it’s my turn to help you.” How much longer might I have been able to keep working? What else might I have gone on to achieve?
Had I been given a chance, my response to “How much time have you got?” would have been, “I’ve got as much time as you will give me.”
“The Silence of the Girls” is a novel that allows those who were dismissed as girls — the women trapped in a celebrated historical war — to speak, to be heard, to bear witness. In doing so, Barker has once again written something surprising and eloquent that speaks to our times while describing those long gone.
That knowledge takes time to accrue, which the team showed by studying both the bighorns and five groups of translocated moose. The more time these animals spent in a new place, the better their surfing ability was, and the more likely they were to migrate. Jesmer thinks this process likely occurs over generations: Individuals learn to move through the world by following their mothers, and then augment that inherited know-how with their own experiences. “Each generation, you get this incremental increase in knowledge,” Jesmer says. For sheep, he says, learning how to effectively exploit their environment takes around 50 to 60 years. Moose need closer to a century.
That knowledge allows the animals to find plants early, when they’re young, tender, and more easily digested. And by eating high-quality plants, they can more easily pack on the fat and protein that gets them through harsh winters. “When they lose that knowledge, their populations will suffer,” Jesmer says.
It’s an intoxicating insight, implying that vibrators succeeded not because they advanced female pleasure, but because they saved labor for male physicians. And in the last few years, it has careened around popular culture. It’s given rise to a Tony-nominated play, a rom-com starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, and even a line of branded vibrators. Samantha Bee did a skit about it in March. A seemingly endless march of quirky news stories have instructed readers in its surprising-but-true quality, including in Vice, Mother Jones, and Psychology Today.
In short, the tale has become a commonplace one in how people think about Victorian sex. And according to a contentious new paper, it may also be almost totally false.
There is something disturbing about a blank movie marquee. It’s like a face without a mouth. I don’t mean the brief transitory blankness when the lettering for one movie is taken down at the end of its run to be replaced with lettering for the next movie but, rather, a marquee that remains blank, day after day, week after week. This has been the condition of the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas marquee, on Sixty-third Street and Broadway, for the past six months. The theatre closed at the end of January, the lease not renewed. Every time I pass it by, the blankness provokes a feeling that some crime has been committed here. For a while, as though to make the metaphor explicit, some construction equipment beneath the marquee was surrounded by yellow tape. The theatre had been at that location for thirty years, but its legacy dates much further back, to a pair of cinema visionaries and entrepreneurs named Dan and Toby Talbot.
English has dipped into the Latin well so often that it has frequently concocted words that would be confusing even if you speak Latin as well as Augustus. English has pairs like alternate/alternative, fortunate/fortuitous, discrete/discreet, economic/economical, historic/historical, incredible/incredulous and many others. These use the same Latin roots twice, to make two different words with rather different shades of meaning. You are not necessarily ingenuous, or even a dolt in classics, if you confuse that word with ingenious. They both use the root gignere, to be born. (“Ingenious” means born with ability. The meaning of “ingenuous” went from free-born, to honest, to candid, to naive.)
At the fag end of this at once elegiac and emetic memoir, Christopher Howse observes: “Obviously a painter like Francis Bacon would not have painted as he did if he had not fallen into Soho.” But I wonder if this is really obvious at all? Bacon was the standout celebrity of London’s little Bohemia, not only in the 80s, but the 50s, 60s and 70s as well – his was also a burgeoning international celebrity, such that in the years since his death he’s come to be recognised as the pre-eminent figurative painter of the second half of the 20th century. That it should have been this tight grid of streets – the area pretty much contained by Wardour Street to the west, Charing Cross Road to the east, Oxford Street to the north and Shaftesbury Avenue to the south – that engendered such genius would seem as preposterous as the assertion that it was the Bateau-Lavoir alone that inspired Picasso’s cubism.
But then all bohemian milieus are really the creation of their minor not their major figures – the big beasts cruise through, ships in the night, en route for more exalted destinations, leaving bobbing in their wake parasitic poetasters, ready to cash in. It would be unfair, perhaps, to class Howse as one such: his sensitive, well-drawn book does a good job of conveying a particular place at a particular time, without either undue reverence or the anachronisms that dog hindsight. In particular, Howse is flinty-eyed about what principally animated Soho’s high spirits during the 80s (and the previous three decades for that matter): alcohol.
Sally Rooney's first novel, “Conversations with Friends”—the story of the fluctuating friendship of two Dublin college students and their involvement with an older married couple—was a deserved success. Her follow-up, “Normal People”, which has been longlisted for the Man Booker prize, is a lovely, mostly painful examination of the agonising, will-they-won’t-they relationship between two characters, Connell and Marianne.
Imagine my surprise. More than half a century ago, I was taught geology at Oxford by a diminutive, pugnacious and leather-skinned Yorkshireman named Lawrence Rickard Wager, known to most (though perhaps not to us respectful undergraduates) as Bill. I knew that, famously for scientists, he had discovered a remarkable body of igneous rock in East Greenland (of which more later) and that, much more famously for the postwar climbing fraternity, he very nearly succeeded in reaching the summit of Mount Everest in 1933. (On the way down, he and his climbing partner found an abandoned ice ax from the ill-starred Mallory-and-Irvine expedition of a decade earlier, thereby adding a further measure of intrigue to that greatest of recent Himalayan mountaineering legends.)
All this I knew. What surprised me was that my teacher turns out to have been one of the select cadre who populate pre-independence India in Deborah Baker’s sprawling, difficult book, “The Last Englishmen,” and that he was, apparently, a bit of a cad. He was a fine climber, a courageous, no-nonsense man. But tellingly, in a grumbling letter about the failure of his 1933 expedition, Wager told his friend and fellow geologist John Auden that Auden had some kind of nervous tic but declined to say what it was, leaving Auden “beside himself with worry” as he fretted about it. “That,” Baker observes, “was Wager’s idea of fun.”
Johnson’s big-print fable captured the imagination of a whole generation of managers, but the question of what moved “Who Moved My Cheese?” remains something of a mystery. Its phenomenal success exceeded the expectations of almost everyone involved at the beginning. After all, the title sounded silly, and years had passed since Johnson had co-written “The One Minute Manager” with Kenneth Blanchard. So when early sales of “Who Moved My Cheese?” languished, no one was particularly shocked. One former publishing executive recalls that the book looked all-but-dead.
But then, several months later, orders started pouring in — not just from bookstores but from businesses, too. Johnson was on the road, delivering motivational and management talks; word of mouth began to spread. Fortune magazine reported that executives at Procter & Gamble, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard were recommending the book. Southwest Airlines ordered copies for all its 27,000 employees.
“I have been working in the area for 30 years and been doing North Pole voyages for 24 years, and I’ve seen many changes in the ice conditions,” Captain Lobusov said during the voyage north. “As we approach the North Pole, you can see we have many stretches of open water.”
To travel to the North Pole is to be acutely aware of not only the isolation of the present, but also the weight of the past, of those who sought to be where we now stood, to meet, in the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the “challenge of human daring.” It is also, increasingly, to consider the future — to wonder whether, just as the window of accessibility is cracking open, the opportunity to see the North Pole as we know and imagine it is already starting to close.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are known for many things; being fashion plates isn’t one of them. When the Apollo 11 astronauts made their giant leap for mankind in 1969, however, they were wearing a type of “space couture” that shared a history — and, indeed, many of the same seamstresses — with what was essentially the Spanx of the time.
He was 72 now. He had never left, never graduated to serving tables, never became a manager or a chef — he says he never asked to do anything else. So, he had stayed a busboy, for 54 years. The title had evolved since 1964; he was now a “busser.” But he still wore the kind of throwback paper hat that a busser wore in 1964. He made whipped butter, and squeezed the oranges for OJ, but mostly, he still bussed plates and glasses, tidied up the same dark wooden booths, passed the same windows inlaid with the same stained-glass foliage, noted the same line of customers snaking out of the front doors, received waves and hugs (and sometimes Bulls tickets) from the same regulars. He had seen generations of customers and co-workers pass through; he’d been there so long he watched Bill Murray go from neighborhood kid to superstar to venerated elder. When he squinted, the same teenagers were still curled into the same booths, the same infants tossed crayons under the same tables, the same captains of industry put away the same post-workout pancake stacks.
His 2018 commute wasn’t even that different than his 1964 commute. He lives in West Gresham, not far from 89th Street. He takes two trains and a bus in the morning, then back in the afternoon, four days a week. He rides the Red Line almost perfectly from one end to the other. Door to door, that means a roughly two-hour commute, each way.
Yet her journey of self-discovery is not, in the end, the beating heart of this book. Neither is the love story of Denison and Chomé, or even Deasey’s blossoming relationship with her deceased father. The most affecting story here is that of the story itself: the tensions between what is written and what is spoken, and who controls the narrative. “Verba volant / Scripta manent” runs the Latin proverb chosen for the epigraph: “Spoken words fly away / Only what is written remains.” A Letter from Paris is a sobering reminder of the ease with which our stories can be warped by the prevailing attitudes of the time – and the crucial importance of archives in the preservation of lives and literature.
In the novel’s closely observed daily round of ranch work — fixing fences, feeding cows, inoculating and branding the new calf crop — the lives and concerns of these rural folks and their ties to the land are slowly, inevitably revealed to us. The landscape of their world is both harsh and beautiful. “Brown melt-water flows fast through the irrigation ditch, coming down off Mount Baldy. The level might hold off a drought if there is one this summer. From this vantage, the fields are lush with the leavings of winter. The alfalfa is coming in green. A new calf runs and bucks; in just days on earth, its balance is already perfect.” “Kickdown,” in its moving evocation of a place and a people and a way of life at a pivotal point in our history, finds that same nearly perfect balance.
I always thought my brain’s resistance to concentration was a character flaw I needed to learn to work around. “Hyperfocus” helped me recognize the limits of my attentional space and make my environment more conducive to focus.
Mr. Bailey splits his book into two sections: one on hyperfocus, which is the state of devoting all your attention to one complex task, and the other on scatterfocus, intentionally allowing your mind to wander in order to connect ideas, plan for the future and recharge. While hyperfocus is key to productivity, scatterfocus supports creativity.
Historians sometimes speak of “the long 19th century”—a continuation of the superficial stability seen in the late 1800s, which in 1914 was finally shattered by World War I. Almost two decades into the 21st century, we are now experiencing a comparable breakdown of the apparent verities with which many of us grew up. The so-called postwar consensus that led to the formation of the European Union and its attendant international alliances is starting to unravel. Nativist anti-immigrant movements have gained traction in countries (including the United States) formerly considered bastions of human rights. Income inequality has risen to extremes not witnessed since the 1920s. Far from being immune to these external stressors, the art world is very much a product of larger socio-economic forces that determine what gets seen, sold and valued, aesthetically as well as monetarily. In art, the long 20th century, associated with modernism and its postmodern dénouement, has ended. The future of art will be shaped by a very different set of circumstances.
Why so serious? to quote a famous clown, is a question being asked about comedy more and more frequently by its consumers and by comedians themselves. To the point where some are questioning if it can even be called “comedy.” “Nanette is more a TED Talk than a stand-up special” was a common refrain this summer. “Is Drew Michael even a stand-up special?” was a question I was asked about the audience-free HBO hour. To take it to scripted TV, I’m frequently reminded of a joke from Difficult People: “When did comedies become 30-minute dramas?” Comedians and comedy writers are increasingly pushing the bounds of what it means for something to be a comedy in the most basic sense, rewiring the relationship between comedies and jokes. So what is comedy without jokes? It’s Post-Comedy.
Sure, it sounds pretentious; it’s a pretentious shift, especially for a form that has always seemed allergic to pretension. But it seems the best way to describe comedy is that it’s looking more like the frowning mask than the smiling one. I was confused to see some writers refer to Nanette, Hannah Gadsby’s much discussed stand-up special that deconstructed how stand-up works and passionately made a case for the shortcomings of comedy as a medium for expressing pain, as “anti-comedy.” Though it takes an antagonistic view of comedy, anti-comedy is already a thing (simply: it’s a joke that’s funny because it’s not unfunny), and it is not what Hannah Gadsby did. My colleagues Matt Zoller Seitz’s term for serious comedies — the “comedy in theory” — is closer, but it’s become increasingly clear that they are comedies in practice, formally redefining what comedy is itself.
Losers are a fixture of my workday as a sportswriter.
Talking to a person coming off court who was just dealt a crushing defeat, and offering some vague, platitudinous comfort to assuage their raw battle wound, is a necessary task in the job. On rarer occasions, I’ve talked to those who have just suffered a defeat so harrowing and derailing that it has them visibly doubting the viability of their career. But for most losers, even in down moments, there’s the credibility and dignity of having just performed for an appreciative crowd of some size in a respected, aspirational pursuit like professional sports.
There’s nothing remotely aspirational, though, about the Applebee’s restaurant I found myself in during day 6 of the 2017 US Open. And sitting across a table bearing mozzarella sticks and glasses of tap water, these were not my normal losers.
These approaches have brought a certain creative rejuvenation to the industry: Not only did the Beyoncé cover shoot make history, it was a refreshing, visually compelling take on a craft long dominated by the likes of Mario Testino and Annie Leibovitz. In the same way it feels genuinely novel to see an all-Asian cast in a Western blockbuster such as Crazy Rich Asians, it’s just as thrilling to see those new faces splashed across the cover of The Hollywood Reporter. And even science-centric magazines like National Geographic have begun to engage with hot-button issues like gender and race with provocative (if sometimes clumsy) cover subjects.
But this enlightened era has also created a fractured audience: younger, less committed readers who exist in the digital sphere, and older, loyal subscribers who feel alienated by change. In a fight for survival, the average mainstream magazine is undergoing an identity crisis. Stop and look, and you’ll see it playing out in the most public place possible: the cover.
I couldn’t polish off more than a third of the thing. Lee slid the calzone into a massive to-go box, and I carried it back to my summer sublet across the Brooklyn museum and shared the rest with friends, reheated, for dinner at their apartment that night.
That afternoon is the mental postcard moment I’ll carry with me from this summer. Di Fara had long been on the list of essential Brooklyn restaurants I’d hoped to visit. It felt even better, though, to have savored a little triumph in an impractical, sporadic, just-for-fun calzone quest I’d chased through July and August. In practice, I was just channeling my job of endlessly researching restaurants into a pet project. But actually this journey into Brooklyn’s calzone culture was an exercise to ground myself in a place.
Pick up a magazine or fall down Instagram’s rabbit hole and you’re likely to come across at least one photograph lit up by an unnaturally bright flash — a flash that floods the space, evenly illuminating every detail in vivid color. When it catches someone unaware, laughing or cheering or yelling, you can see clear into their mouth, all the way to the pink inside of their cheek.
Under this light, which is ruthless but not unflattering, you can count the grains of quinoa in a Sweetgreen Chicken Pesto Parm bowl. You appreciate every buttery gradient on the toasted exterior of a Waffle House sandwich. The subjects of the photograph may be young Fortnite players, royal wedding superfans, or political protesters; no matter who they are, their teeth look whiter, and their skin glows as though post-facial, even more so when amplified by the luminosity of a computer or phone screen.
“CoDex 1962” is the newly translated triptych by the Icelandic fabulist Sjon, heralded as an heir to Kafka and Borges. It contains every fictional element and effect I’m leery of — unicorns, for example. Elaborate framing devices. Moist ruminations on mythopoeia. Angels.
Everything I can scarcely bear in novels, I found in this book. And I was spirited away — for a time.
Shteyngart’s fourth and latest novel, “Lake Success,” veers from its forebears by placing a Long Island-born financier at its center, rather than Russian émigrés or their children, and for the most part shuns themes of transnational displacement and the hyphenated existence. Yet the fuel and oxygen of immigrant literature — movement, exile, nostalgia, cultural disorientation — are nevertheless what fire the pistons of this trenchant and panoramic novel. Shteyngart’s subject may be America, but it’s Trump’s America: seething, atomizing, foreign and hostile even to itself. “Can it be that we’re all exiles?” Roberto Bolaño once asked, a question that goes echoing through this novel. “Is it possible that all of us are wandering strange lands?”
The Hebrew University/Mount Sinai paper was a meta-analysis by a team of epidemiologists, clinicians, and researchers that culled data from 185 studies, which examined semen from almost 43,000 men. It showed that the human race is apparently on a trend line toward becoming unable to reproduce itself. Sperm counts went from 99 million sperm per milliliter of semen in 1973 to 47 million per milliliter in 2011, and the decline has been accelerating. Would 40 more years—or fewer—bring us all the way to zero? I called Shanna H. Swan, a reproductive epidemiologist at Mount Sinai and one of the lead authors of the study, to ask if there was any good news hiding behind those brutal numbers. Were we really at risk of extinction? She failed to comfort me. “The What Does It Mean question means extrapolating beyond your data,” Swan said, “which is always a tricky thing. But you can ask, ‘What does it take? When is a species in danger? When is a species threatened?’ And we are definitely on that path.” That path, in its darkest reaches, leads to no more naturally conceived babies and potentially to no babies at all—and the final generation of Homo sapiens will roam the earth knowing they will be the last of their kind.
A very strange thing about national flags is how similar they are. More than 75 percent of all national flags include the color red, and more than 72 percent include the color white. A whopping 30 national flags have the red, white, and blue color combination. Stripes, stars, and crosses are exceedingly common. There are no rules, no international governing bodies, that tell a country what a flag can and cannot be, and yet all but three flags are rectangles. Two—Switzerland and Vatican City—are squares. And then there’s Nepal.
The Nepali flag consists of two overlapping triangles, of different sizes defined with mathematical precision. It is the world’s only five-sided national flag, and the only flag that does not have two parallel sides. Other countries could do this and do not, and probably never will. So how did this happen?
I am seven years old, and it is the better part of a year we spend in the Carson Valley, my mother taking a break from the constant reminder of her divorce, from the South, from the women in grocery stores who stare down her nurse shoes, the pale white sneakers always glowing in spite of everything they touch. My older sister, a half-sister though she feels whole, is a teenager delighting in her upcoming adulthood, who walks me with pride from our ugly brown apartment to my school. My breath in the cold before me, my tiny legs aching to catch up. It’s always cold in Nevada, a to-the-bone cold I’ve never known before having grown up in fetid winters that brought tornadoes and hardly any snow. We stop at a halfway point, and she pays for my powdered donut, which spills across the paper plate, white against white. She is explaining to me how we could always do this, how it could always be this way. Just two sisters, mending their way through the small town, as if two sisters in a village in France, on their way always to the patisserie. Merci et adieu.
Transcription stands alongside its immediate predecessors as a fine example of Atkinson’s mature work; an unapologetic novel of ideas, which is also wise, funny and paced like a spy thriller.
“There’s no war on race, there’s a war on poverty!” yelled a drunken man as he violently clanked his silverware inside Top of the Notch restaurant, nestled near the summit of Mount Baldy in the San Gabriel Mountains. Though his rhetoric pulsated unnervingly through the mountains, I didn’t say anything back; I didn’t want my mini-vacation ruined by a pointless fight. But the new anthology Violence: Humans in Dark Times reminds readers the power of confronting political disparities, and the necessity of speaking out — it reads like a poignant, if imperfect, reply to this man’s belief.
Immortality: a prize so great that some would die in attempting to secure it. But are they wise to do so? The Last Crusade suggests not. After all, not only are the two people who throw their lives away villains, but the knight who guards the Grail explicitly warns that the cost of living forever is having to stay in that very same temple, forever. And what sort of life would that be? Immortality – the film is suggesting – might be a curse, rather than a blessing.
Such a conclusion will not come as a surprise to philosophers who have considered the issue. In his essay ‘The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality’ (1973), the English moral philosopher Bernard Williams suggested that living forever would be awful, akin to being trapped in a never-ending cocktail party. This was because after a certain amount of living, human life would become unspeakably boring. We need new experiences in order to have reasons to keep on going. But after enough time has passed, we will have experienced everything that we, as individuals, find stimulating. We would lack what Williams called ‘categorical’ desires: ie, desires that give us reasons to keep on living, and instead possess only ‘contingent’ desires: ie, things that we might as well want to do if we’re alive, but aren’t enough on their own to motivate us to stay alive. For example, if I’m going to carry on living, then I desire to have my tooth cavity filled – but I don’t want to go on living simply in order to have my cavity filled. By contrast, I might well want to carry on living so as to finish the grand novel that I’ve been composing for the past 25 years. The former is a contingent, the latter a categorical, desire.
One morning in 2010, while filming the movie “Bridesmaids,” I went into my trailer and saw that our wardrobe department had laid out my dress, my earrings, my headband, my shoes, and—last but not least—my underpants. On top of the underpants was a pretty pink card that read “Ellie Undergarment.” It had come to this. I was a thirty-year-old woman, having her underpants laid out for her as part of her job. One of my former classmates was writing speeches for Obama; one of his former classmates needed help dressing herself.
I like to think that I am tough and resourceful. So, when I stopped to contemplate the fact that the most challenging part of my workday might be to pretend that I had bumped my knee on a coffee table, I had to ask myself, “Am I not as brave and self-sufficient as my mother says I am?” The glance between my hairdresser and my pedicurist confirmed my suspicion. O.K., yes, as an actor, I could be sensitive. But did my co-workers think I was a full-on wuss?
The community was all for it, and the line stretched around the block. “We are here,” announced a mural on the side of the squat black building, “changing lives, building communities”.
Only it hasn’t turned out that way.
Age is inconsequential to the enjoyment of many of life’s finer offerings, but amusement park rides that are not bolted firmly to the ground are a nightmare when you’re over the age of 30. Rides are no longer fun; they are hell; they are 90 seconds of terror and incipient sciatica. I’m too old to go on anything that lifts my body and jostles it around like a salt shaker.
A full century later, Mencken’s review still holds true. In almost every way, Cather writes at a level beyond every other American author. One could not be blamed, if giving any of Cather’s novels only a cursory read, in believing her writing style somewhat juvenile and superficial. Such a reading, though, would be dead wrong.
The ugly history of the Children of God broke into wide public view in 2005, when Ricky Rodriguez — groomed from infancy to lead the cult known for sexual sharing in their communal homes — murdered his former nanny before committing suicide. Apocalypse Child, an enlightening but narrowly focused memoir by Flor Edwards, paints a more complicated picture of the group than do the lurid headlines.
The new Glenstone will open its doors a bit wider than the old one, allowing more people to visit through its online reservation system. And those who do will see, finally, the full realization of the Raleses’ ambition to create one of the largest, richest and most ambitious new cultural organizations in the world. But the 230-acre Glenstone compound, with a cafe, an entry pavilion, rotating exhibits, and access to outdoor art installations and trails throughout the site, has been designed around visitor experience rather than maximizing the number of visitors who cross its threshold.
It is self-consciously a museum built in the spirit of the nascent “slow art” movement, which is a reaction to larger forces afoot in the art market, democratic culture and the age of Instagrammable art. Emily Rales anticipates that Glenstone will accommodate about 400 people a day without compromising the contemplative sense of escape from the world that is fundamental to the founders’ vision. By contrast, the Phillips Collection, which operates on a small, landlocked site in the center of Washington, sees a bit more than 500 visitors a day, on average, while the Hirshhorn, which is centrally located, receives about 2,500 visitors a day.
Beginning in the late 19th century, ideas about freedom, equality, health, sexuality and public space came together to create a distinctly European enthusiasm for going unclothed. In Scandinavia the focus was the sauna. In Mediterranean countries it was the beach. In Germany it was everywhere: the country’s Freikörperkultur (“free body culture”, or FKK) encourages stripping off while gardening, playing sports or taking lunch breaks in the park.
Yet Europe’s taste for bare skin is in retreat. Nudist beaches and resorts, topless sunbathing and nude unisex saunas are declining. Football teams report that players are unwilling to remove their underwear to shower after matches. In recent years, commentators across the continent have remarked on a new prudishness.
A pattern was starting. Christopher’s announcements seemed to be a way of building a case for what he wanted to do — organizing the barn or launching the boat — rather than what had to be done, such as scheduling dentist appointments and ordering heating oil.
His messages were strategic and part of a larger campaign. Christopher had spent his career developing identity management strategies for corporations, and he was now applying these skills to our relationship to build a more successful brand for himself.
In early Spring of 2011, Kim Brooks intentionally left her 4-year-old son, Felix, in a car alone while she ran into a neighborhood Target — in the same neighborhood she'd grown up in — to buy a pair of padded headphones.
The decision was made in the split of a second, a quick moment that had long-lasting consequences for Brooks, who realized only hours later that a stranger had videotaped her son, then reported her to the police.
In Small Animals, Brooks attempts to reckon with the consequences of her decision. "It wasn't as though he were asking to smoke a joint or to rollerblade in traffic," she writes. "He just wanted to sit in the car and play his little game for a few minutes. Why did I have to drag him inside?"
Her novels are a gift, for children and adults. She harnessed her wild imagination to her marvelously pragmatic intelligence. The result was books that revel in both the fundamental insanity of fiction and the mysterious sanity that sometimes results from reading it.
At no point during the first two acts of “The Naked Gun” is there any hint that viewers will spend the final minutes of the film caught up in the minutiae of a baseball game. But the entire plot of this classic film hangs on hardball.
Every joke, every sight gag, every frame of celluloid in the first 59 minutes 45 seconds is just a brick on the path that leads to one of the most inspired finales, combining sport and comedy, ever put on screen.
I’m on my first-ever cruise because I wanted to see how the entertainment world’s 99 percent, as Bernie Sanders might say, work for a living. The comedians who don’t film HBO specials; the magicians who aren’t David Blaine; the variety acts who don’t just disappear after their fifteen seconds on America’s Got Talent. These entertainers are struggling to compete with everything from YouTube phenoms to Netflix and Spotify. In Vegas and Times Square, small clubs and homegrown acts are getting squeezed out by arenas, superstars, and global brands, like mom-and-pop shops bulldozed by Walmarts.
But maybe smaller acts aren’t dying. Maybe they’ve just gone on vacation, since cruises need entertainers now more than ever. The $38 billion cruise industry has boomed with Boomers, growing from 17.8 million passengers in 2010 to 25.8 million passengers in 2017. The Regal Princess is one of more than four hundred fifty active cruise ships, and each is a floating entertainment district. It typically employs a six-piece party band; a seven-piece house band; a jazz quintet; a DJ; a piano-bar lounge singer; and seventeen singer-dancers who rotate through stage shows, including two created exclusively for Princess by Wicked’s Stephen Schwartz. (Other lines feature partnerships with outfits like Cirque du Soleil, Second City, and Blue Note Records.) Last year, Kaler and his team booked four hundred sixty-eight different headliners, from “a cappella” to “xylophonist.”
Over the past hundred years the clearest cause is this: Transit providers in the U.S. have continually cut basic local service in a vain effort to improve their finances. But they only succeeded in driving riders and revenue away. When the transit service that cities provide is not attractive, the demand from passengers that might “justify” its improvement will never materialize.
Think for a second about an atom. You’re probably picturing a nucleus of a couple protons and neutrons, two-three electrons orbiting around. The more physics-minded may be envisioning a model where the electrons are really a probability cloud stippled around the nucleus. Either one’s fine. The number of electrons bouncing around varies, as does the size of the nucleus, but the structure remains the same.
Just as the essential structure of the atom is prescribed by nature, so, too, are there only so many ways to lay out a city, it seems, and most of them, weirdly, feel like atoms. Even in cities that sprawl, like Indianapolis or Oklahoma City or Little Rock, you’ve got your downtown nucleus, your gentrifying neighborhoods orbiting close to the center — artist and queer quarters — fading into outer circles of chains and strip malls and body shops constricted by the interstates.
A hundred steps away from the cave, I’d just taken off my respirator and glasses when I heard a tremendous mechanical clamor above my head, the sound of a thousand windup toys all going off at once. Then came an ammonia-laced gust of wind as the bats in the cave poured up and out into the gloaming to begin their nightly foraging. I looked up, just for a second, and caught a juicy dollop of fresh guano directly in my left eye. It was hot, and it burned. I knew right away this was a “wet contact,” potentially as dangerous as a bite.
Futzing around on social media, as one does, I recently stumbled upon a meme that hit close to home. Over a picture-patterned sofa in an autumnal-colored velour with scrolling dark wood trim, it declared, “Everyone’s grandparents had this couch. Everyone’s.” I paused, because my grandmother did, in fact, have this exact type of couch. The site TipHero took the meme further in a list associating this couch style with an “ancient” television very similar to my grandma’s large floor model with turned wood in the frame. The list nailed Grandma’s house in other ways: “Bonzana” on the old TV, lace doilies, tomato pin cushions, hard candies, crossword puzzles, transferware, shag-rug toilet covers, and leftovers in Country Crock tubs.
A film can never fully submerge its viewers in a single character’s subjectivity in the same way a novel can. What we see on screen is what we see, and one of the things we see is the main character. In the film of The Little Stranger, Faraday is played by Domhnall Gleeson, who brings a pinched, gingery dourness to an atmosphere already saturated in gloom. We can only surmise what he thinks of himself, but we’re shown how he appears to other people; the evidence is right before our eyes. In the novel, the opposite is the case, because the doctor’s insecurities prevent him from realizing how he comes across.
"I set out to write a traditional British style comedy of manners," he said. "It's just a very chatty, bubbly, idiotic, or ridiculous conversation which is sort of my stock in trade and I love to work in that mode. Like Evelyn Waugh and Ivy Compton-Burnett, et cetera. But when I was looking away, the book became more serious for me and the tone shifted. Not to spoil it for anybody but by the end of the book we're delving into deeper, heavier territory. So I sat around and thought what kind of a book is this? It's not really a comedy."
And yet the novel is laugh-out-loud funny; a story where high jinks actually ensue. Did he intend to be so entertaining?
"I really do actually and it's something I think maybe I hadn't reconciled myself to. When I was coming up as a reader and then starting to write I had the sense that the idea of amusing people or just simply entertaining them is a frivolity. I'm not really sure where I picked this idea up but it took a period of years for me to get over. And I got over it mostly through reading and just recognizing that my favorite books of fiction are in fact funny. I'm definitely conscious of wanting to entertain my readers but I'm also hoping that they'll have something of a weightier experience, something with a little bit more bite to it."