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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Sounds Of Silence, by Matthew Duffus, The Smart Set

It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t wake up one morning to find myself unable to write creatively. For months, I could eke out a story or group of poems, but all attempts at another novel arrived stillborn, exhausting themselves after a few thousand words. My father suggested I had a form of postpartum depression, that seeing my first novel in print, and therefore out of my hands, was too much of a shock, temporarily. I didn’t have the heart to tell him this had been going on for years.

I finished a decent draft of my novel in 2015, made revisions based on a publisher’s interest in 2017, and sold it to him later that year. The editorial process spanned 18 months, but I had plenty of downtime between rounds of edits to work on something new. A colleague inquired about just this at one point, mentioning, “I hear you’re supposed to have a draft of the next thing by the time the previous book comes out.” I smiled, nodded, and assured him I was on my way.

The Hidden Bigotry Of Crosswords, by Natan Last, The Atlantic

Crossword editors are strange arbiters of cultural relevance. Read tweets by Awkwafina or Olivia Wilde on learning that they’ve been immortalized in the black-and-white grid—it’s the bookish version of handprints on a slab outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. But any pub-trivia attendee—exposed to categories on craft beer or things that smell like sourdough or whatever the emcee is into—will tell you that personnel is policy. That crossword mainstays such as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal are largely written, edited, fact-checked, and test-solved by older white men dictates what makes it into the 15x15 grid and what’s kept out.

‘Rainbows’ Are A Mathematician’s Best Friend, by Kevin Hartnett, Quanta Magazine

As with your kitchen floor, finding the right placement for the first tile is essential to making the overall tiling effort work. The three mathematicians behind the proof color-coded the edges of the complete graph, based on the distance between vertices, in order to find that placement.

Then they tried to place the tree inside the complete graph so that it covered one edge of each color. By showing that this “rainbow” placement is always possible, they proved that the perfect tiling that Ringel predicted always works out.

This was not the first time that this rainbow technique has come in handy.

Searching For Family History In My Grandmother’s Embroidery, by Lauren Alwan, Catapult

Two years ago, my sister and I were in Los Angeles to help our cousin sort through her father’s things. Uncle Ameen was a keeper of objects, and when his own parents’ house had to be cleared out for sale, he saw that everything of significance was kept. In the attic of his Pasadena bungalow, we opened a box and found two pieces of embroidery done by our grandmother, unlike any others of hers we’d seen.

One was especially striking: the size of a table runner, embroidered on cream-colored silk, it depicted a garden, set off by a wide floral border of vines, leaves, and elegant lilies with pale violet petals. Most distinctive was the small figure seated at the center, a girl in a pink dress with a basket on her lap, surrounded by a flurry of birds. Her gown was done in running-stitches that gave off an elegant sheen, but the embroidery-work ended at the collar, and appeared to have been purposefully left undone so that a face from a photograph could be affixed there—an image of our grandmother, snipped from a hand-colored sepia photograph.

The effect was odd in the best sense, a kind of self-portrait in mixed media. Had that been the intent? We had no way of knowing, but it seemed certain that our grandmother had been the one to choose the photograph and place it there. Together, the photograph and the needlework clearly told a story, one beyond any details we knew.

Review: N.K. Jemisin Makes Cities (Literally) Live And Breathe, by Zan Romanoff, Los Angeles Times

N.K. Jemisin’s “The City We Became” is a novel concerned with the pleasures and violences of urban life, so it makes sense that reading it feels a little like riding the subway for the first time. You barely have a moment to steady yourself — grab a seat, or at least a pole — before the world is lurching forward, dragging you into inky darkness, pulling you around corners at breathless speed.

Humor Is The Dominant Note: On James McBride’s “Deacon King Kong”, by Clifford Thompson, Los Angeles Review of Books

In some ways, Deacon King Kong brings to mind the crime novels of Chester Himes, the slim, Harlem-based works featuring the detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, with their absurd, biting humor and their sympathetic portraits of ordinary folks on both sides of the law. But McBride brings his own voice to the proceedings, one of the most distinctive and welcome in contemporary literature.

A Bleak, Humorous Look Into Futurity, by Ian MacAllen, Chicago Review of Books

In her debut story collection You Will Never Be Forgotten, Mary South skillfully crafts narratives of emotional isolation. Both ominously bleak and shrewdly humorous, South constructs near-future worlds filled with sad and lonely characters. The ten stories in the collection wade ankle deep into science fiction. They introduce us to worlds of a near future close enough to our present that we can easily see ourselves reflected in them. There are dead-child resurrections and Ishiguro-like organ farms. But throughout the collection, technological elements remain less of a threatening force and more of a vehicle for the exploration of human solitude.

Mountainal, by Jane Hirshfield, New York Times

This first-light mountain, its east peak and west peak.