When I was writing Blue Ticket, at various points I thought about the works that had shown me what speculative fiction was really capable of, beyond idea and into language, into feeling and beyond.
I thought too about all the alternate possible novels I could have written with its idea; some more important, some better, some worse. They are not the book I ended up writing. They are not the book I wanted to write. In the end the hypothesis of the central premise (a lottery that decides whether you will have children or not) was a tool that allowed me to get where I wanted—a woman reckoning with her body and with her mind—and distanced it from me, so that I could see it more clearly.
Since its formation around the 1870s, Chinatown has managed to preserve its working-class immigrant character, even as wealth transformed nearly every neighborhood around it.
But some of the very traditions that kept Chinatown rooted to its history have made it one of the neighborhoods most heavily scarred by the pandemic. Now, the economic suffering has intensified a long-simmering generational divide, between younger people who believe Chinatown must get with the times to survive, and older ones who worry about it becoming a theme park of Instagrammable desserts and $18 Asian-fusion cocktails.
“Blue Ticket” concerns itself more with its small cast of characters than with the world they occupy, but the novel is no less relevant or incisive for its intimacy. It is as much about the tension between independence and obligation, between desire and capability, as it is about contemporary womanhood: under constant threat just for having a body, and longing to decide your own fate.
Massini’s original text, a novel in verse, has now been issued in English for the first time, in a translation by Richard Dixon. It’s a monster, a 700-page landslide of language with no obvious speaking parts. But it’s apparent right from the start that Massini is the real thing. His writing is smart, electric, light on its feet.
At the same time, his book ominously circles the big questions: Were the original three Lehman brothers and their descendants heroes or villains? Did they inject spirit and muscle into the American experiment, or were they simply cowbirds, laying eggs in other bird’s nests? The answers are complicated.
Before “Philosophy,” I primarily thought of Warhol in terms of his productivity — the wildly prolific artist once told an interviewer that “everybody should be a machine.” Finding out that it was the truly mundane details of life that he savored the most — tending to his zits, vacuuming while watching daytime television — set me straight. Warhol didn’t appear to think time could be wasted. Instead, he argues, it’s “the little times you don’t think are anything while they’re happening,” and not the parties or adventures or art projects, that are the most significant.
Yesterday we hung the wind chime
we got as a wedding present–
Pachelbel’s Cannon in D trapped
inside a cardboard box
For decades it stared at me
from the top shelf of my garage,
This, what God feels like: laughing
alone in an empty room of tiny doors,
behind every door a metal box, inside each
a man’s red heart, lying. I don’t write
As i write these words, a significant part of humanity finds itself in the curious state of “social isolation.” The term carries the paradoxical inanity of a college advertising tagline and is as close to the truth. We are not truly isolated. Many of us now spend most of our waking hours in the presence of people we used to see for only a fraction of each day. Others live alone but tune into the pounding static of social media, news websites, television, and podcasts for a sense of connection to the world outside their windows. Silence feels as distant as it ever was. Nor are we social, exactly, though we do try. Zoom and Skype and Instagram live beam faces and voices into our rooms, but we miss touch and scent of skin, the warmth of another’s body, the easy energy of a conversation in place. We are neither with one another nor alone with ourselves, neither imprisoned nor truly free.
As new as this situation feels, the frustrations it provokes are ancient. The question is how to be alone, and the answer, as Stephen Batchelor suggests in his new book, The Art of Solitude, ultimately has little to do with the place one inhabits or the other people in it. Batchelor considers solitude not as a state of mind, but “as a practice, a way of life — as understood by the Buddha and Montaigne alike.” It is not isolation or alienation, though these are its shadow side. Rather, it is a way of caring for one’s soul, of sheltering it from noise and agitation, of directing it toward its authentic purpose. Batchelor is less interested in defining an ideal form of solitude than in meditating on the ways it can be practiced and exercised, lost and regained.
It starts with a closed loop — any kind of curvy path that ends where it starts. The problem Greene and Lobb worked on predicts, basically, that every such path contains sets of four points that form the vertices of rectangles of any desired proportion.
While this “rectangular peg problem” seems like the kind of question a high school geometry student might settle with a ruler and compass, it has resisted mathematicians’ best efforts for decades. And when Greene and Lobb set out to tackle it, they didn’t have any particular reason to expect they’d fare better.
Horror isn't many readers' first choice during times like these. And while the prospect of wallowing in the murkier end of the emotional spectrum isn't exactly high on the list of anyone's self-care regimen right now, there's a lot to be said for confronting our demons on the printed page as well as in real life. Emma J. Gibbon gets it. The Maine-by-way-of-England author's debut collection of short stories, Dark Blood Comes from the Feet, is an assortment of seventeen scalding, acidic tales that eat away at society's thin veneer of normalcy, convention, and even reality. At the same time, these horrific confections leave a sweet aftertaste of humanity.
Some books elucidate their subject, mapping and sharpening its boundaries. The Clock Mirage, by the mathematician Joseph Mazur, is not one of them. Mazur is out to muddy time’s waters, dismantling the easy opposition between clock time and mental time, between physics and philosophy, between science and feeling.
He was ridiculously good-looking. He was even Nigerian
− though Mum flits between this being a good thing in people
and the worst. I pulled his photo up on the internet, showed her.
She decided, on the spot, his Nigerianness was a good thing.
Mark but the little Ant, how she doth run,
In what a busy motion she goeth on:
As if she ordered all the World’s Affairs;
When ’tis but only one small Straw she bears.
Although the play ends with the birth of Elizabeth I, the hope for the future that she might provide rings hollow in light of the fact that those celebrating her birth are also doomed. Thomas Cranmer, whose encomium to the infant closes the play, will be executed before he sees her reign, as will her mother, Anne Boleyn. The play concludes less with the promise of a better future than by underscoring the fact that the one thing that is sure about the future is that none of us will get to see most of it.
During the last few weeks of online teaching under quarantine, I have felt some of the strongest moments of solidarity with students that I have experienced as a teacher — a feeling arising from the fact that we have all had to recalibrate how we understand the narrative arc of our lives. We had been operating under the assumption (even if we knew better, in theory) that we moved through a predictable and coherent trajectory, and now we have been forced to confront the fact that meaningful, human-centered plot structures do not govern our lives.
I had only been living in New York for a few months in 2014 when I came across Roya Marsh’s work for the first time. A friend of mine dragged me to a poetry slam on the Lower East Side and as poet after poet took to the stage, my attention was stuck on a small chalkboard wall in the corner. On it was a small portion of Marsh’s poem, Admissions of Guilt: “I am guilty of not fixing the things I have broken starting with myself.” I was immediately hooked.
I spent the next several months working to track down the obscure poet and, hopefully, get a copy of the poem in its entirety. Finally, Marsh and I connected in 2016, and I’ve been following her work ever since. Little did I know that this pursuit of a single poem would launch me into the city’s vibrant queer poetry scene — a cultural melting pot in which queer poets indict white supremacy and promote a wider understanding of the full spectrum of sexuality and gender.
The remote Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, three thousand miles east of Moscow and six miles north of the Arctic Circle, has long held the record, with another Siberian town, for the coldest inhabited place in the world. The record was set in 1892, when the temperature dropped to ninety below zero Fahrenheit, although these days winter temperatures are noticeably milder, hovering around fifty below. Last Saturday, Verkhoyansk claimed a new record: the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, with an observation of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit—the same temperature was recorded that day in Las Vegas. Miami has only hit a hundred degrees once since 1896. “This has been an unusually hot spring in Siberia,” Randy Cerveny, the World Meteorological Organization’s rapporteur of weather and climate extremes, said. “The coinciding lack of underlying snow in the region, combined with over-all global temperature increases, undoubtedly helped play a critical role in causing this extreme.” Siberia, in other words, is in the midst of an astonishing and historic heat wave.
Although there is pleasure in the comic’s depiction of the predictable cycle of Wendy’s highs and lows, this is not all that Scott’s work offers. In “Wendy,” as well as in its sequel “Wendy’s Revenge,” from 2016, and, now, in “Wendy, Master of Art,” the third installment of his protagonist’s misadventures, which came out this month, Scott goes beyond caricature, allowing Wendy and the characters surrounding her to become fully formed. Scott manages a rare thing: the sharpness of his satire doesn’t preclude a realistic rendering of personhood, and the seeming flatness opens up, at every turn, to a depth of feeling.
My mother’s mother, toughened by the farm,
hardened by infants’ burials, used a knife
and swung an axe as if her woman’s arm
The story of being a reader is often a story of being surprised in a bookstore. It’s where Zeno first heard of Socrates, and where Nietzsche learned of Schopenhauer. In 1916, the critic Carl Van Doren was in a used bookstore when he spotted Herman Melville’s forgotten 1851 novel, “Moby-Dick,” a happy accident that resurrected what’s now recognized as one of America’s greatest novels. Many of the books I love most and recommend most fervently were books I stumbled upon. I didn’t realize I needed a smirking handbook to the American class system until I spotted Paul Fussell’s “Class,” didn’t know how satisfying the Western could be till I spied “Lonesome Dove,” didn’t know James Baldwin till I found a cheap paperback of “Giovanni’s Room.” We find our favorite books in the same way we often find our closest friends, brought together by circumstances that are unexpected but somehow true to our personalities.
The thing is, now that restaurants are opening back up, I think we better understand our true relationship with them. We connect more to their original purpose. The word “restaurant” has its roots in the French word “restaurer,” which means to “restore or refresh.” As I’ve sat in dining rooms again, I’ve remembered just that: Restaurants restore our bodies with food, but they also provide a space for us to gain perspective on our day. They allow us to separate from the usual spaces and see things from a different point of view. They give us license to eat too much, drink too much and, somewhere along the way, reconnect with the better angels of our nature.
We just need to make sure our better angels wear a mask, keep their distance and tip our servers well.
The email arrived on my second day as the theater reporter here at The New York Times. It was March 10, 2015, and a publicist from the Public Theater, an Off Broadway nonprofit, was welcoming me to the beat. “I think one of the best ways to get to know the Public right now is to come see HAMILTON,” she wrote. (For reasons I have yet to understand, theater publicists generally put show titles in all caps.)
I went to a matinee five days later, and in the five years since, I’ve written more than 100 articles that prominently mention the show. It goes without saying that “Hamilton,” which explores America’s revolutionary origins through the life of Alexander Hamilton, has dominated my tenure — I’ve never known the theater beat without it, and until the coronavirus pandemic prompted an unimaginably long shutdown of Broadway, I thought it would be the biggest theater story I’d ever cover.
I’ve never cared for multiperspective books (well, “As I Lay Dying,” but Faulkner set the bar high): Just as you’re getting comfortable with one persona, in comes the next. But though Katherine Hill works one character at a time — portrait by portrait, psyche by psyche, time frame by time frame — in her novel “A Short Move,” she crafts a deftly detached third person to speak with one voice.
each tree sticks itself upward dark into light or light’s the medium
for each to define itself aslant against air saturated with water
pixelated molecules diffusing the already diffused source of light
so few here, so few houses, few on the street, the homeless cyclist
four times in one day
just because that
ending was fucking
sublime and i cried
But despite those advances, over the past half century, no one has ever directly detected a single particle of dark matter. Over and over again, dark matter has resisted being pinned down, like a fleeting shadow in the woods. Every time physicists have searched for dark matter particles with powerful and sensitive experiments in abandoned mines and in Antarctica, and whenever they’ve tried to produce them in particle accelerators, they’ve come back empty-handed. For a while, physicists hoped to find a theoretical type of matter called weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), but searches for them have repeatedly turned up nothing.
With the WIMP candidacy all but dead, dark matter is apparently the most ubiquitous thing physicists have never found. And as long as it’s not found, it’s still possible that there is no dark matter at all. An alternative remains: instead of huge amounts of hidden matter, some mysterious aspect of gravity could be warping the cosmos instead.
I have always been drawn to breasts, the beauty of their curves. In fourth grade, I dressed for picture day with a bathing suit top under my shiny marbled blue shirt, so I could appear to be wearing a bra. My chest was as smooth as a winter pond, and my belly puffed out the way children’s do before they grow into their frame. When I was in sixth grade and my breasts were just mosquito bites, I tried to convince my mother to let me get a bra. My mom called them buds and would comment on my friends’ new growth: Liz has buds now. Though I cringed at the word, all I wanted was for them to blossom on my own body. Finally, my mother deemed it appropriate (or got sick of my nagging) and bought me a training bra at Old Navy—a simple white cotton thing with two triangles and elastic straps, in a size S. I was pleased. Mostly I wanted kids at school to see the outline of the straps under my shirt.
As a young girl, I always had a hunch that I would get cancer. One night at my dad’s house, a year or so after I got my first bra, I touched my new breast tissue and thought for sure I felt a lump. My father was more composed than most in his role as single father to a daughter; he did not make a fuss or bring undue attention when he asked teenage me if I needed to get tampons at the grocery store. When I got my period, he bought me a poster of Orlando Bloom as Legolas, my first big celebrity crush, as a gift to mark the occasion. Still, that didn’t make it easy to ask my father to check the lump in front of the his-and-hers sinks of our upstairs bathroom. I have effaced the specifics of that moment. I don’t remember what season it was, or which direction I looked, or if his hands were hot or cold, if he wore his glasses or took them off. Of the moment we stood in front of that bathroom mirror and cinnamon-red countertop, all that remains is his assurance that I needn’t worry.
“Friends and Strangers” is a big novel with big ideas. Sullivan sets out to cover a lot of terrain, from systemic inequality and the true definition of privilege to the bizarre social doctrine of dorm life and the politics of suburban book clubs. But where this novel shines brightest is in her patchwork of spot on minutiae, her honest rendering of what happens behind closed doors.
In 1947 the nation was shocked to hear that British troops in Egypt were wearing pants made out of old flour bags. The war was over, we had won, and yet here were our boys wearing scratchy, dusty undercrackers. Five years earlier this might have seemed like a gesture of patriotic making-do, but now it just seemed shoddy. The war services secretary assured the House of Commons that he would be looking into the soldiers’ pants immediately.
In this brilliantly original and deeply researched book, Emily Cockayne sets out to show how the meanings of material reuse zigzag wildly according to context. There is something honourable about aristocrats handing down the family silver; something worthy about a green-minded family rummaging through a car boot sale; something pitiable about a rough sleeper investigating the contents of a public rubbish bin.
Tokyo Ueno Station, written by Yu Miri and translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles, lays bare the depth of sorrow for those society deems too pitiable to even see. While the poignancy of the novel is palpable, its refusal to look away actually softens the blow, as there is little joy to weigh it against. Still, Tokyo Ueno Station is a beautiful look at life too often unobserved, and one whose resonance only seems to grow by the day.
a woman precedes me up the long rope,
her dangling braids the color of rain.
I was ten years old when I fell in love with flying. I remember the day, the hour, the very airplane—an AV-8A Harrier. Stuck in a fifth-grade science classroom, perpetually bored and staring out windows, I was not expecting a jet to zoom low and fast over the autumnal tree line. The year was 1979, and the first-ever Worcester air show had begun. For the next four days, this extravaganza of flight would transform the skies above my hometown. The heavens filled with more aircraft than a boy could imagine: vintage biplanes, World War II bombers, massive gray cargo jets, tankers, helicopters, and fighter planes with mythical names like Skyhawk and Corsair, Phantom and Super Saber.
Hour after hour, I’d whiplash my neck staring into the clouds, listening for the bassy whir of turbo props at breakfast, the thunder of afterburners at dinner. The sun scorched my face; my eyes ached from strain. With the roar of each engine, I’d burst from my house as if it were on fire to gaze at the next airplane. How did people continue with their routines? There were no pilots in my life. The neighbors were teachers and nurses, shop foremen and letter carriers. My father, an avowed white-knuckler, occasionally traveled for business but hated flying; I’d never seen my mother board an airplane. Until that air show, the world of aviation was as foreign to me as a Moroccan bazaar. And yet, for one glorious fall weekend, the skies above me became dramatically alive. My soul was utterly hijacked—a conversion every bit as profound as a prophet’s, an annunciation so fundamental that my life changed forever. I devoted the next ten years to becoming a pilot.
Mr. Swiss, an organic farmer, walks out into his garlic field in the Okanogan Valley of north-central Washington, looking for guidance: Is the garlic ready?
Harvest has already begun in the South, the Gulf States and lower-elevation areas of the Southwest. “But pretty much coast to coast in the North, it’s usually mid-July,” Mr. Swiss said, with some varieties requiring even more patience.
But he doesn’t simply look at the calendar and start digging. He watches, and he waits. If you know how to look, he said, the garlic will tell you when it is time.
“To be homeless is to be ignored when people walk past while still being in full view of everyone,” Yu Miri writes in “Tokyo Ueno Station,” a slender novel which has just appeared in English, in a translation by Morgan Giles. It’s an obvious point; why is it so powerful?
Poetry as life and death—may I term this struggle as survival? Seán Ó Ríordáin, the Irish poet whose oeuvre elucidates this limbo, looks no further than to the interaction of light with dark to explain this compulsion for the letter as both cure and curse.
What I admire most about this collection is that McHugh demonstrates her genius with language in a non-elitist way. She is relatable, never writing from the lofty heights of the mountain, but walking alongside us, inviting us to play, to puzzle out the strangeness of language with her. “Marriages of words,” McHugh says, consist of “Remarking something measureless.” Words both comment on (remark) and revise (re-mark) our understanding of the world. In creating a kind of word turbulence, trembles in the fabric of language, she shakes us into a new zone of attention. Unwilling to offer up clichéd ideas about anything (“my calling’s / doubt; my idea of a curse / is certainty”), McHugh invites us to question what we think we know; her poems teach us to look again and beckon us to find the enigmatic wisdom in the messy highs and lows of living. “Seeing isn’t believing,” she said in a 2005 interview with Matthea Harvey, “seeing is registering the unbelievable — which is everywhere. And so words fail us; just exactly how and when and where they do is dazzling evidence.”
Now, when we are more atomized than ever — by partisanship and political lies, by contagion and its economic fallout — reading Mary’s autobiography reminds us that life is important, but that living is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end is, as she tells us from the start, meaning.
We already know we’re watched.
When we water the tomato plant,
spread ourselves along the couch with one leg up.
I clearly remember the vivid colors of the two books—one red, the other green—that a high school classmate of mine was reading between periods. It was 1987 or 1988, and my new school was in a provincial city in Oita, Japan. This quiet, introspective classmate was one of the first handful of students from the city to be kind enough to talk to me. I was from a small fishing village that didn’t even have a bookstore, and having come from a junior high school with fewer than forty students, I was intimidated by how he already had clear taste in music and literature. I can’t remember if he mentioned—in his always nearly inaudible voice—the title of the two-volume novel or the author’s name. What I do remember is that he seemed engrossed in the book, and that less than a year later, his life was taken: his mother’s partner killed her before turning to the boy.
The next time I encountered those books was after I moved to Tokyo for university. I came across a large stack of them right by the entrance of one of the city’s largest bookstores. They were the two parts of Haruki Murakami’s novel Noruwei no mori (Norwegian Wood). I was already familiar with him as a master of short essays. My landlady had the bad (or good?) habit of reading books in the bathroom, and Murakami’s essays were among her favorites. One day, she handed me a collection she had finished. In these essays, he writes about literature and music and even cooking in such a natural way that it feels as though he’s addressing the reader personally. Something delightful and friendly in his style fascinated me (it’s a shame that those early essays of his haven’t been published in English). I couldn’t say how exactly, but I immediately felt that his style was different from other contemporary Japanese writers I had read. Probably because one of my professors (who was from Belgium) had translated it into French, A Wild Sheep Chase was the first of Murakami’s novels I read. And I soon found myself reading through them all.
Dodie Bellamy is the kind of writer one knows all or nothing about. When friends asked what I was working on and I said, “Reviewing a collection of essays about Dodie Bellamy’s work,” they responded with either a blank stare or sudden, excited recognition. Tempestuous conversations about Chris Kraus and Kathy Acker arose, along with nostalgic memories of the poet Kevin Killian, Bellamy’s late husband, and the archive-like San Francisco apartment they shared. We discussed the beginnings of New Narrative, a literary movement started in San Francisco in the late 1970s in which Bellamy, Killian, and Acker were key figures. Pornography was a common topic, as was queer identity, transgression, cults, gentrification, and New Age. If someone didn’t know Bellamy, then it was up to me to explain how she strings such topics together and to impress upon them why her writing is still so influential.
By now you’ve noticed that plant-based burgers are a thing. We’re not talking an upgrade to the veggie burger, which has been around since 1982. Today’s plant-based burgers are designed to cook, taste, and “bleed” like real beef. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are just the largest and most visible brands of this emergent food phenomenon.
After having first tackled perhaps the most iconic, quintessentially American food, Impossible Foods—and others—have vowed to take on other varieties of meat, including seafood. This is an even bigger challenge on two fronts: price and replicating the nutritional profile and subtle flavor of fish. Should they succeed, could alt (alternative) fish help make the world more food secure and save marine environments?
“Death in Her Hands” is the work of writer who is, like Henry James or Vladimir Nabokov, touched by both genius and cruelty. Cruelty, so deplorable in life, is for novelists a seriously underrated virtue. Like a surgeon, or a serial killer, Moshfegh flenses her characters, and her readers, until all that’s left is a void. It’s the amused contemplation of that void that gives rise to the dark exhilaration of her work—its wayward beauty, its comedy, and its horror.
As we face another economic downturn likely to eclipse the severity of the Great Recession, I wonder how literature will reflect the lived reality, the daily horror of contemplating infinity. What new language will writers have to invent so that tedium can come alive on the page, so that the insanity of performing the same task again and again finds its own story shape? We all write to communicate the deepest parts of ourselves to another person. How will we rise to the task of communicating what comes next to the people who need to hear it? I hope Temporary is only the first in a new decade of novels reflecting the true formlessness and weightlessness of modern life. It may be grim, but it will also be true, and no monster may be confronted but that we see it first.
I feel for any author who has a work of literary fiction or non-fiction coming out these days. The world's focus is, naturally, on the pandemic and the protests against racism and police violence. The news seems to change hour-by-hour; no wonder that imaginative literature, a product of silence and slow time, can seem a bit out of step.
Which is all to say that Mary Morris' new memoir, All the Way to the Tigers may not be just what you need to read right now, but it may well be something you'll reach for eventually. Rich and unsparing, Morris' slim memoir is a keeper.
The defensive beauty of the desert
At dawn hadn’t unnerved us, but
It was all a bit much
By midday. Barrel cacti shadowless
With their honeybee buds. Torches
About a week before we all started working from home, I developed a mysterious back pain. I was in the middle of reading The Anatomy Lesson, by Philip Roth, and it felt all too perfect. I won’t bore you with a long recap — a joy for the writer to write but for no one to read — but it’s about a writer with chronic, unexplained pain who cannot write. Is the pain psychological? Is it guilt for his parents’ deaths turned inward to attack his own body? Possibly. On March 4, I even tweeted about it: “I’m reading a book about mysterious back pain (The Anatomy Lesson) and now I have acquired mysterious back pain. Better finish the book quick.” Little did I know that Nathan Zuckerman, Roth’s protagonist, would have to get a whole lot worse before he got better. Three weeks later, I’d be flat on my back, running a fever of 103.3.
On March 11, I began my quarantine like most people, stuffed to the gills with news and scrambling for insight from writers. It was hard to slow myself down. I was working a lot more than usual (I work in journalism) and, in my spare time, desperately trying to adjust my state of mind to the new conditions. I felt like one of those shrimp injected with goo to augment its size, but instead of goo I was injecting myself with words: notes from a pandemic, blogs from a pandemic, dispatches from a pandemic, and pandemic journals.
Of course, there is longing. The sight of famous destinations, absent crowds and traffic, evoke a Sartre-like ideal — travel, without the hell of other people — that only accentuates their enticement. But alongside this desire, for me at least, there is also melancholy, for it is impossible to witness the serenity of the paused planet without feeling a tinge of regret for what travel has become. In the same way that some of us have found a misanthropic thrill in apocryphal tales of dolphins swimming up a Venice canal, or satellite images of pollution dissipating over China, the coronavirus shutdowns have reinforced an uncomfortable truth: The way we engage with the wider world has needed to change for a long time.
What then to do with Susan Burton’s “Empty”? Burton’s memoir tells the story of her early struggles with anorexia and binge eating. The book, from beginning to end, is a document of anger. There’s quiet fury at its center — a nuclear sun that radiates not out at the world, but back at the author herself. This is decidedly not the work of someone who’s worked through all her issues, as the jargon goes.
And yet: The author’s anger gives the book its considerable power, its substantial grace and even, in the end, its meaning — which goes against every received idea of what good memoir is, and how it ought it to function.
Lisa Woollett grew up on the Isle of Sheppey, at the mouth of the Thames. As a child she became fascinated by what the estuary had swallowed and what it coughed up; she searched the shingle below her parents’ house for fossils and shark’s teeth. In her 40 or more years of beachcombing and mudlarking since, she has been more likely to retrieve and hoard manmade flotsam, clay pipes and bits of pots; cereal-box toys and toothbrushes. She sifts and sorts them, and sometimes fashions them into starbursts of colour, or boxes them in old typesetters’ cases, like exhibits in a museum of curiosities.
In some ways, as this absorbing memoir of shoreline collecting reveals, Woollett was born to this obsession. Her grandfather was a dustman, and back beyond that there were, among the Tolladays on her mother’s side, generations of scavengers, the lowest of the low of London’s raucous street life, scrounging for everything that was not chucked into the Thames, and selling it on.
The day of his visit came
slowly and hot-foot.
I went to buy plums in the market,
all I could see ahead of me,
the night, dressed in music,
and the feast.
The miles-deep Greenland glacier’s lost its grip,
sliding nine miles a year towards the sea
wood veins on ivory sky,
back-lit by moon,
up-lit by snow.
“Your writing has punch, David. Punch is power!”
After all these years, this simple message, my first words of true validation as a fledgling writer, has never left me. It echoes in my mind like a long canyon scream each time I sit down to a blank page, and inspires me to fill it with my true voice. After a childhood of failed classes and dismal report cards (most of which ended with comments such as, “David has potential, but his hyperactivity and attention-seeking behavior are a constant distraction to the class!”), it was if I had pulled the proverbial red pen from the stone. No small victory for the delinquent son of a public-school teacher, but let’s be honest, I was never destined to become the next Bill Shakespeare (ask any of my traumatized English teachers). It only makes sense that this particular validation wasn’t given by any of the poor, frustrated educators I left in my wake. No, it came from a truly brilliant writer who shaped my love (and fear) of the written word. The man, the myth, the legend … my father, James Harper Grohl.
The idea came the day after Britain shut its pubs down. Flynn had left his pub behind three weeks earlier, but still wanted to provide something for the dedicated teams who turned up every Thursday night to The Crown. He created an event on Facebook for a digital pub quiz he planned to hold on a Saturday, and went about his weekend. Little did he know he had configured the event incorrectly, meaning that it wasn’t just Flynn’s friends who could see and join the event, but the entire world.
He was sat in his work at a car dealership on the following Monday when his phone pinged with a Facebook Messenger notification. The face of someone he didn’t know appeared in a circle on his screen; when he tapped it to open the conversation, they were asking for more details about the quiz he was hosting that Thursday. Flynn went on Facebook and looked at the event. There were 800 people interested. He showed the screen to his boss, who bet him he’d have a thousand people interested by the end of the day. When he left the dealership at 7pm, told by his employer that they’d be closed for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus, it was 10,000. His boss then said it’d be 20,000 by the following morning. When Flynn pulled up outside his home – a 20-minute drive from work – it had reached that number. By Tuesday morning, it was 100,000. Later that day it was 250,000.
When I tell you that Roddy Doyle’s new novel, “Love,” is about two 50-ish men talking well-oiled talk in a pub, you’ll say you’ve heard that one before. You haven’t. When I tell you that the novel isn’t so much about what happens, or happened once upon a time, as it is about the mystically inaccurate nature of language, you’ll say you learned that lesson long ago. You didn’t, at least not the way Doyle spins it. When I tell you that in spite of these familiarities, you’ll wind up caring about a bond that seems to rely mainly on words, you’ll say you won’t. You will.
It takes a certain insouciance to write a novel about a group of Oxford graduates reminiscing about their Pimm’s-drinking student days in the current climate. Who really wants to peer into the hearts of privileged white women called things like Priss and Helena who employ Bulgarian cleaners and insist on calling themselves “middle class” when they surely mean upper middle class? It’s not as if this substrata of society has been under-represented in literary fiction.
However, Lara Feigel is quite aware of what she is doing – a homemade elderflower muffin, which appears on the first page, is carefully chosen. She is prepared to court dislike in her pursuit of the emotional truth of these women’s lives. As her omniscient narrator, Stella, reflects: “Perhaps that’s the biggest problem of being middle class and white and English and a woman, finding it embarrassing to take ourselves seriously. I’d have done so much more with my life if I hadn’t felt embarrassed.”
In an interview with LitHub, Shibli suggests that “maybe the realization of the repeated injustice that one cannot escape in the context of Palestine was the first force to push me early on into literature.” In this novel, this injustice is about only one event, recognized by one person many years after it occurred. But this does not lessen the horror of it, and by writing the horrifying event in the present, Shibli renders the viciousness in stark simplicity. Though a spare novel, Shibli’s work is powerful and this translation by Elisabeth Jaquette is rendered with exquisite clarity and quiet control.
we say, when someone’s
sensitive. So touchy. So
dangerous and delicate and
ready to tip. Touching,
North Dakota is the land of honeybees, the white tongues of their homes sticking up from green fields everywhere you look. Legend has it that the state has so many hives you could walk the width of North Dakota without your feet touching the ground.
It is right that honeybees should thrive in the Peace Garden State. With more than 90 percent of its land devoted to farming and ranching, North Dakota is wide open, rich with uncultivated grasslands where bees buzz and fly, marshals of the land below them. And though honeybees don’t spend all year in North Dakota, they always return. Innately, they know how to navigate to their center.
That there is big sky country, my father once said of North Dakota, where my great-great grandparents arrived from Norway in the late 1800s, drawn, too, by the promise of something fertile. I was born in North Dakota, like my father, and his parents. And though my family left North Dakota for Germany when I was three, like bees returning, back to the big sky we go. The geographical center of North America awaits. One of them, anyway.
There has been much recent discussion about how the pandemic might fuel political and social changes, about whether or not reduced travel and clearer skies will have increased our desire to protect the environment, or if new government welfare schemes will have popularised universal basic income and a world with less work. But we are also asking questions about the way we live individually. For all the mental suffering and loss this pandemic has brought, there’s a chance that we could emerge from it with a clearer sense of how we want to spend our days, how we might live happier and more meaningful lives. For many, the question now is: will we be able to make enduring behaviour changes when it ends?
It was 3:37 a.m. on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn when Lewis Miller let out a sigh of relief.
“Right here is my happy place,” the 46-year-old florist and guerrilla artist said. After zhushing a coral peony and throwing in a few gerbera daisies, he stood back to consider the framing of his six-by-four-foot orange-hued flower heart: black pavement, white crosswalk lines, a “No Turns” sign, the marquee of Barclays Center casting a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — “The time is always right to do what is right” — into the early-morning dark.
“We’re good,” he said. “Let’s go.”
On its simplest level, “Death in Her Hands” is a murder mystery. The recently widowed Vesta Gul, 72, is walking her dog in the woods when she finds a crisp note pinned under rocks. It reads: “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It’s wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.”
Yet there’s no body. Who was this Magda? Who killed her? Where’s her corpse? Vesta, who reads Agatha Christie novels and lives in a secluded cabin on a lake, has lived a sheltered life. Here’s her chance to enter a whodunit, to plunge into brewing drama and into the sticky marrow of life.
The novel begins to explore what the poet Kay Ryan, in her new book of essays, calls “the small plop ordinary lives make,” and the rage against that smallness.
The Starless Sea, Erin Morgenstern’s sophomore fantasy novel, takes effort to read, but there are countless narratively complex works of science fiction and fantasy that amply reward such effort: N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season comes to mind as one recent, prominent example of the type. The effort of reading The Starless Sea is worthwhile (for the most part) if, like me, you enjoy deciphering narrative clues, weaving together story threads, and nodding at metatextual nuggets.
Her watch is posted from the south.
Its black box ticks the whole way.
The accident happens, the funeral.
“I had bought all these outfits, and I was so looking forward to wearing them,” he said, mentioning with particular wistfulness a lavishly ruffled black Comme de Garçons jacket — “a cross between when Mammy was in mourning after the baby died in ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and something that P.T. Barnum would wear” — now hanging in his closet, an artifact from an alternative reality.
But Sedaris’s realization that it’s no fun dressing up in semi-satirical garments when there is no one to see you is of course not the only thing he has had to contend with. The author of 10 books of autobiographical essays and short fictional pieces, Sedaris, 63, is a keen anatomist of the skewed intricacies of human behavior, and there has been a lot of behavior to sort through at the moment.
Baldwin was hardly naïve about the human capacity for evil, especially in white folk. “If you’re a Negro, you’re in the center of that peculiar affliction,” he said, “because anybody can touch you—when the sun goes down. You know, you’re the target of everybody’s fantasies.” But what shocked him was that white America had killed someone who espoused love, an apostle of nonviolence. King’s death revealed the depths of white America’s debasement and the scope of black America’s peril. “Perhaps even more than the death itself, the manner of his death has forced me into a judgment concerning human life and human beings which I have always been reluctant to make,” he wrote. “Incontestably, alas, most people are not, in action, worth very much; and yet, every human being is an unprecedented miracle. One tries to treat them as the miracles they are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become.”
If King was the preacher, Baldwin was the poet, and he sought to account for his confusion by gathering up the pieces—of himself, of black folk—buried beneath the disaster that was the country. That work kept his despair at arm’s length. To be sure, King’s death, just like those of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and all the others, did not stop time. White people did not stop being white people. Two days after King’s murder, the Black Panther Bobby Hutton was killed by Oakland police officers. Later, police rioted in Chicago, during the Democratic National Convention. The nastiness of the white world kept coming, and it gave black politics—and Baldwin’s voice—an edge. King’s death had revealed the bitterness at the bottom of the cup. What Baldwin saw on that dangerous road that led to King’s death, in Memphis, was the difficult question of whether or not the country had the courage to confront its demons. Could America tell itself the truth about how it had arrived at this moment? And did it have the moral stamina to surrender the comfort of its lies?
Yet Venetians believe that they can still save Venice, and many are fighting for it and demanding that politicians do more. They want them to manage tourist numbers and pass new laws to govern property sales and rentals and put an end to the Airbnb-led free-for-all that is pushing residents out. They call for a focus on long-term accommodation at sustainable costs and more jobs through economic diversification. They want more environmental measures, especially a ban on outsized cruise ships, and improved treatment of the lagoon that is vital to Venice’s life.
This has come into sharp focus in the months-long Covid-19 breathing space, when the sudden emptying of the city restored a lost tranquility, along with fish, swans and cormorants to canals no longer churned by excessive traffic. Most of all, it ignited the hope that this difficult moment for the world could eventually offer a turning point.
And yet survival depends on the one resource that artists have in abundance: invention and creativity. “There’s no knowing when this crisis is going to be over, but it will be over. We’re being given a forced reset. Do we do a drive-in concert? Do we go sing in the middle of a field? Do we use smaller venues?”
That last suggestion seems like an odd one for a soprano whose voice lifts easily over a 100-piece orchestra to fill every nook of the Met’s 4,000-seat house, but Goerke can accept new limitations. “I don’t always have to dial it up to 11,” she says. “I do have a setting at five.”
Of course we could begin
with the moon, so famous
When i landed in the US as a child of nine, I felt I had not only traveled in space but also in time. Though it was 1962, behind me lay a 19th-century world of oil lamps, muddy rutted roads, and horse-drawn carts, while before me flickered a vision so sleek and modern there were no shadows and bright-green lawns sprouted cones of mist.
Time traveler became my invisible identity. Secretly, I searched for mentors in movies like The Time Machine (1960), envying Rod Taylor his ability to go back and forth, to witness and control the passage of time. Propelled and buoyed by a utopian vision of the future, he set off, watching the rising hemline on a mannequin in a shop window, then the shop itself disintegrating to dust in an instant, the surrounding buildings crumbling and disappearing, replaced by insect-like cranes scampering on skyscrapers. His present had succumbed to shattered shards. But by moving a crystal-topped lever sharpened to a point like a pen, he could also reverse direction and return to his intact and cloistered world of waistcoats.
I wasn’t quite 10 years old when I fell in love for the first time. She was a married woman with long chestnut hair and magnificent teeth.
Her name was Rachel and she was a character on “Another World,” a soap opera I watched after school, often while eating potato chips dipped in Russian dressing. Rachel was unscrupulous — she married for money, not love — but she meant well. And even if she didn’t, I was infatuated.
Daytime TV is a relic now — just four soap operas are still on the air — but its influence is lasting. Serialized storytelling, a hallmark of so much of today’s “prestige TV” — shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” and “Breaking Bad” — was the essence of soaps. Millions tuned in each weekday to see what scandalous turn their “stories” would take.
“Stand clear of the closing doors!” was all I remember hearing as I woke up on a Monday morning in a cold sweat, dream tears still wet on my face. Even my dreams are nostalgic of crowded places, worst of all the D.C. metro, where Anne Taylor pit stains let out triumphant sighs and 24-year-old dreams go unblinkingly to die. Yet, I couldn’t remember a single trip from the depths of the railway system from the last two years I had used it. I had I once overheard a woman say loudly to her friend on one of the busiest metro routes in Washington, D.C., “Oh, everyone blacks out their trip on the metro.”
Something strange happens when we enter and exit the underground labyrinths of our respective metropolitan subway systems. Emerging in a single file line, within pressed blazers and clasped watches, we glide diagonally out of our subway tunnels like the steady hike of a roller coaster about to nosedive into the day. At some point during that dreaded ascension out of the depths of Hades, we forget the unfiltered encounters we left underground.
It is an accepted norm of competitive Scrabble that for the duration of a game, from the first tile played to the last, the meanings of words are meaningless. Whatever combination of letters offers the best strategic outcome is the right one. A little old lady once played CUNT against me. My teenage daughter laid down FUCKERS. A frequently played word is JEW, defined in some dictionaries as an offensive term for “bargain.” It gets rid of the tricky J and W.
But the nationwide protests over racism and police violence have prompted a rethinking of the conventional wisdom about the role of words in Scrabble. What started with a call last week for the Scrabble community to support Black Lives Matter led to a proposal by leadership of the North American Scrabble Players Association to eliminate slurs—about 80 in all, plus alternate spellings and inflections, for a total of 238 words—from the master list of words that are permissible in club and tournament play.
Sit under the tree long enough
And you will be covered in blossoms
We will all bury our loves
In the cold earth of springtime
For even as I was straining my back by carrying boxes up the stairs to donate or sell to the noble used book dealers of Washington, come bedtime I would go online to take a quick peek at the current offerings from L.W. Currey, John W. Knott, Richard Dalby’s Library, Type Punch Matrix, Wonder Book and Video or Capitol Hill Books. It didn’t matter that I ached like a stevedore at the end of a double shift. During daylight hours, the world applauded a crusading Dr. Jekyll energetically focused on discarding and recycling printed matter, but once night fell Mr. Hyde would emerge and, while fiendishly cackling, type arcane titles into the search engines of viaLibri, eBay and Addall.
The virus has given us a picture, at once frightening and beautiful, of a world without tourism. We see now what happens to our public goods when tourists aren’t clustering to exploit them. Shorelines enjoy a respite from the erosion caused by cruise ships the size of canyons. Walkers stuck at home cannot litter mountainsides. Intricate culinary cultures are no longer menaced by triangles of defrosted pizza. It is hard to imagine a better illustration of tourism’s effects than our current holiday away from it.
Coronavirus has also revealed the danger of overreliance on tourism, demonstrating in brutal fashion what happens when the industry supporting an entire community, at the expense of any other more sustainable activity, collapses. On 7 May, the UN World Tourism Organisation estimated that earnings from international tourism might be down 80% this year against last year’s figure of $1.7tn, and that 120m jobs could be lost. Since tourism relies on the same human mobility that spreads disease, and will be subject to the most stringent and lasting restrictions, it is likely to suffer more than almost any other economic activity.
As tourism’s impact on the world has deepened, so the global economy has come to depend on it. Now, after the freeze forced upon foreign travel – unimaginable even six months ago – we have a rare opportunity to extract ourselves from this destructive cycle, and do things differently.
My obsession with webcams took off during the third week of March. As a travel writer stuck at home, in self-isolation, with no possibility of an actual trip on the horizon, I found myself tuning in to live streams from public spaces around the world. First it was Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing, that massive traffic intersection where people move in patterns under cute Japanese bubble umbrellas. I was surprised to discover the crowds only slightly sparser than they’d been on my recent visit. A few clicks later, I was off to rural Czech train stations, platforms bathed in strange yellow light, destination signs wobbling in the wind. I checked out the Castro in San Francisco, hoping to catch a glimpse of friends who live nearby, followed by a random stretch of New Zealand road, near Wellington Airport, so boring that my eleven-year-old son and I actually gasped when a truck drove by. But it’s to the webcams of Rome, specifically the feed from the Spanish Steps, that I return almost daily. A ticker at the bottom of my screen indicates that other armchair voyeurs are online here—between 200 and 2,000 of us at any given hour during quarantine. In this moment, when people can no longer just pick up and go, I’m not alone in finding other tickets to travel, discovering other ways of seeing.
Long-suffering as one of the thinnest-margined businesses in existence and one of the least-looked-forward-to places to visit, the supermarket has, for more than a decade, been under assault from e‑commerce giants, blamed for making Americans fat, accused of contributing to climate change, abandoned in favor of restaurants, and, in parts of the country, disappearing at a concerning pace. Esteem for the supermarket runs so low that, although Fairway technically is one, Howie bristled when I called it that. “I never liked us to be considered a supermarket,” he told me. “We used to be, you know, a food store.”
Yet in recent months, the supermarket has assumed a new centrality in Americans’ lives. Cashiers, stockers, distributors, wholesalers, packers, pickers, and truck drivers have, even in the absence of adequate health safeguards, continued working to ensure that shelves stay stocked. Foodtowns, Nugget Markets, and Piggly Wigglys have emerged as crucial lifelines, spawning a broad reappreciation for one of the most distinctly American institutions. Grocery shopping is no longer one in a long list of mundane errands. For many people, it’s the errand—the only one—and it now seems not inevitable, but somewhat amazing to be able to do at all.
In a cave in Wadi Sura, in the southwest corner of Egypt, there is evidence that one of the driest corners of the Earth used to be flowing with water. The Cave of Swimmers (famous from The English Patient) is covered in paintings of little human figures that appear to be doing doggy paddle. They suggest not only that the Sahara desert was once crossed by rivers and lakes but that, about 8,000 years ago, people were swimming in them. And apparently loving it.
So begins this fascinating history of how, where and why humans swim. It is perfect reading for those missing a splash-about during the lockdown. Howard Means, a lifelong swimmer and coach, explains that swimming “remains deeply encoded in our biology”, and sees it not only as a panacea but also a leveller for humans. Water “forgives our infirmities, physical and otherwise,” he writes. “It frees us to dream. Swimming is an equal playing field.” Or, at least, it should be.
the first time I ask Tana why she left El Salvador, me dice: porque allá llueve mucho. its waters too vast and devious, too quick to wash away everything she’s worked for.
From my mother’s funeral
I brought back Illinois
Sunday morning on the parquet
Sunday morning on horseback
Sunday morning picking lice from her hair
. . . with a rosary and prie-dieu
Before the telephone wounded them and email administered the death blow, handwritten letters were useful: They let you know who the crazies were. A lunatic’s barbed wire script would lurch in circles across the page, like a fly with a missing wing. No longer. On Twitter and Gmail and Facebook and elsewhere, the justified left- and right-hand margins can temper a lot of brewing delirium.
That’s one reason I miss correspondence. A more essential reason is that, perhaps like you during these months under quarantine, I’ve rarely felt so isolated. I speak with my family and friends on the phone, but my heart is only two-thirds in it; I’m not a telephone person. I dislike Zoom even more. Is that really my walleyed gaze in the “Hollywood Squares” box on my laptop?
Physicists think that in this truer theory, gravity must have a quantum form, like the other forces of nature. Researchers have sought the quantum theory of gravity since the 1930s. They’ve found candidate ideas — notably string theory, which says gravity and all other phenomena arise from minuscule vibrating strings — but so far these possibilities remain conjectural and incompletely understood. A working quantum theory of gravity is perhaps the loftiest goal in physics today.
What is it that makes gravity unique? What’s different about the fourth force that prevents researchers from finding its underlying quantum description? We asked four different quantum gravity researchers. We got four different answers.
Like in Whitman’s poem, the night is when the day’s distractions cease and the soul is revealed. For each McClaren, the night, the old house, and the soul grow into something different. Sleep is closely associated with night, but after trauma, sleep becomes a barometer for the waking hours. How the McClarens sleep or don’t sleep, dream, or sleepwalk becomes a part of their struggle to move on from a shattered life. In the end, they must all decide what the stars mean to them.
Jennifer Ackerman’s The Genius of Birds was a surprise bestseller – a peppy survey of the science of bird intelligence rivalled only by Tim Birkhead’s masterful Bird Sense in its ability to overthrow our misconceptions about the complexity and ingenuity of bird brains. Now Ackerman, one of the most acclaimed science writers in the US, is back with another book about birds, one that delves deeper into the wonders and peculiarities of the avian world, seeking to explode the conventional idea that, as the opening of the book puts it, “there is the bird way, and there is the mammal way”. This book is a celebration of the dizzying variety of bird life and behaviour, one that will enthral birders and non-birders alike.
What is meat? You might say it's simple: water, fat, muscle, connective tissue — you know, all that tasty-sounding stuff.
But those at the forefront of developing cell-cultured meat have a different idea. Maybe meat is the product not of killing animals but of cultural consensus.
Iridescent rainbow in the gutter
red orange yellow holographic shine
closer, blue green indigo bedazzles
courtesy of Benson Hedges
Still astoundingly productive at the age of 91, the Japanese artist Kusama Yayoi has in recent years designed a giant balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, collaborated with Louis Vuitton on a line of clothing, and built an eponymous museum in Tokyo dedicated to her own artistic legacy. At this stage, her relationship to her fans can look more like that of a pop singer than a painter: visitors to her 2019 show at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York waited for hours to get thirty seconds inside her latest Infinity Room, one of a series of mirrored installations, dating to 1965, that has proven to be Instagram catnip. The vibe was zany, celebratory; as homage, some wore Kusama’s signature outfit of a glossy red wig and matching polka dot dress. A mentally ill outsider artist was now the consummate insider.
With the proliferation of communication technology and apps, it’s all too easy to never log off. At The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino writes frequently about capitalism’s darker influence on our lives, and a new form of self-help book urges us to reorient our attention spans: How to Do Nothing; How to Not Always Be Working; and How to Sit.
Two recent books join this investigation: Lurking, Joanne McNeil’s comprehensive history of the social internet, and Anna Wiener’s memoir, Uncanny Valley, which traces the boom of tech-industry optimism. Reading about these problems, we don’t necessarily learn anything new. We already know that the line between work and life is eroding. What is new—and worrying—is the growing understanding of how thoroughly we have adapted. The conflation of work and leisure is the new millennial reality, and it’s time to start imagining ways we might get out of it.
“Pleasure disappoints, possibility never.” It is with this quote from philosopher Søren Kierkegaard that Zaina Arafat opens her debut novel, You Exist Too Much, setting the stage for a story that explores the implications of, and reasons behind, the infinite pursuit of possibility. An unpretentious read, what the novel lacks in richness and layers, it makes up for in accessibility and honesty, steering clear of the stereotypes that so often plague characters from a Middle Eastern background.
Even more than usual during these past few months of confinement, I have been on the lookout for books that will transport readers to another time and place. Icelandic novelist and playwright Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir's atmospheric sixth novel, Miss Iceland, is just the ticket. But be forewarned that another time and place doesn't necessarily mean a rosier time and place. Set mostly in 1963 in the author's native Reykjavík — where the weather is cold, windy, and overcast most of the year — this is a subdued but powerful portrait of rampant sexism and homophobia in a society that had yet to open up to women and gays.
It is in its exploration of Stoker’s shadowland that “Shadowplay” becomes most imaginative. Irving was linked by his role as a Freemason to a secret London-based gang that, according to one popular myth, carried out the hideous murders for which history blames the never-identified Jack the Ripper. In “Shadowplay,” it is Stoker himself who risks arrest as he revisits haunts in which no innocent man would be caught dead or alive. “God knows I should like to stop frequenting such places,” he laments. “But then night falls and I go out, as though looking for someone. Or myself.”
Is O’Connor suggesting that Dracula’s creator himself played a part in the Ripper’s crimes? Throughout this vivid re-creation of one of the most fascinating and neglected episodes in the enticingly murky history of the Gothic novel, the storyteller keeps his reader deliciously in the dark.
On a scrap of paper in the archive is written
I have forgotten my umbrella. Turns out
in a pandemic everyone, not just the philosopher,
is without. We scramble in the drought of information
HBO Max’s move came a day after The Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece by John Ridley, the screenwriter of “Twelve Years a Slave,” criticizing “Gone With the Wind” for its racist stereotypes and whitewashing of the horrors of slavery, and calling for it to be presented only with added historical context.
But it also represents a belated reckoning with African-American criticism that started immediately after the 1936 publication of Margaret Mitchell’s novel — even if it was barely noted in the mainstream white press.
In the morning, the cafe — which Hudson and Pride rechristened Dante — serves good coffee, croissants and fresh banana bread, and for lunch, there are prosciutto and provolone or vegetable panini (all currently available for takeout). But it is most glamorous at cocktail time. Dante made its name with its drinks, which include martinis, Manhattans, Pimms, margaritas and spiffy variations on these classics. But the heart of the cocktail menu remains Italian: There are Negronis — some laced with strange but delicious flavors such as lavender or chocolate — Aperol spritzes, Americanos and Garibaldis. (I favor the Bicicletta — Campari, dry sparkling wine, Pellegrino — which resembles a gaudy sunset with its deep pink color and orange slice.) Dante’s opening, in 2015, coincided with a newly acute longing for la dolce vita among New Yorkers. “Around that time, it became especially trendy to go to Rome,” says Melissa Middleburg, a young painter who lives near the cafe. “Everybody was crazy about the aperitivo hour.” That enthusiasm resonated with Hudson and Pride, who were raised in Sydney, where many Italians settled after World War II. “Caffé Dante reminded us of the old coffeehouses we grew up with,” says Pride. “It was the connection to community, the daily rituals that were so important.”
The end credit sequence is an unsexy but still important part of the film-going experience. It can be a key moment of contemplation, to assess, absorb and reflect on everything you have just experienced. It can be a moment of musical resolve. It can be a place to see the countless hundreds of people who worked to create something from nothing (not just the famous ones). Or it can just be an excuse to look for crew members with funny names. But the current trend with virtually all the streaming services is to treat end credits as having the same artistic merit as a DFS Summer Sofa Sale ad. Our entertainment goes from being a work of art that could resonate for years afterwards to “content” that is to be guzzled as fast as possible from an endless bargain bucket.
You have to get up.
That’s the first thing. Don’t just lie there and let it have its way with you. The sea of anxiety loves a horizontal human; it pours over your toes and surges up you like a tide. Is your partner lying next to you, dense with sleep, offensively unconscious? That’s not helping either. So verticalize yourself. Leave the bed. Leave its maddening mammal warmth. Out you go, clammy-footed, into the midnight spaces. The couch. The kitchen.
Deftly weaving literature, science, journalism, philosophy, the history of out-the-way locales, arcane skills like canoe building, and no small number of family secrets, Donovan Hohn offers with The Inner Coast a humane view of a world that, as Ernest Hemingway said, is a fine place worth fighting for. And well worth reading about, too, allowing for a few very unfortunate gastropods along the way.
Barbie Chang’s tears are the lights of
the city that go off on
off on the men walking around the city
move but Barbie Chang
One day in May, chess grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura was watching the last two moves of Felix “xQc” Lengyel’s online chess game. Ever-patient, Nakamura had been mentoring Lengyel, a top Twitch streamer and former Overwatch pro, on his chess journey since April. Despite fan and viewer criticism that Lengyel wasn’t very good, Nakamura believed that his pupil had talent. Streaming himself watching Lengyel’s match, Nakamura analyzed the board for his viewers. “The guy has one move here.” Then, more doubtful: “He’s not gonna take with the rook and make a stalemate...?”
After a millisecond more mental math, Lengyel did just that. He hadn’t seen the winning move. Lengyel’s viewers completely lost it in his Twitch chat: “STALEMATE,” “SO BAD,” “you had checkmate,” and a barrage of Pepe the Frog and Omegalul emotes. Not yet realizing his mistake, Lengyel said, “GG?,” or “good game?”. His eyes shift back and forth, still unsure. Nakamura, silent, stared at the ceiling. The viral clip viewers created of that moment is titled “Talent.”
It is hard to imagine anyone less suited to living with any kind of restraint than Charles Dickens. Especially, I think, the hyperactive Dickens of 1857, the year he turned 45. By the last days of the summer, he had already written, staged and starred in his own play in London and Manchester; bought, renovated and moved into the house of his childhood dreams in Gad’s Hill, in the village of Higham, Kent; and taken trips to Brighton and Southampton, where he waved his 16-year-old son on to a troopship bound for India.
Until very recently, the idea of going for a walk for fun never crossed my mind. I preferred more heart-rate-boosting, woo<!-inducing forms of exercise; my idea of a good time included sailing off lippy kickers on my mountain bike or floating through fresh powder on skis. I just didn’t have much use for walking when I didn’t have to. Walking wasn’t going to get me ripped. Walking wasn’t shredding. Walking was good for digestion and something nice I did with my aging parents. Walking too far made my feet swell and my lower back ache. Walking was boring.
But like many of us this spring, I started doing a lot of things that were out of character. I stopped drinking. I started baking bread. I planted flowers and succulents and somehow kept them alive. I played board games. And I started going on long walks.
Writers & Lovers is a puzzling and beautiful novel about writing and love. Its beauty lies in its precise observations. King notices the “sea” of crusted glasses and lipstick-smeared napkins that clutter a restaurant at the end of service, and the jostling community forged by its jaded staff as “blue daylight” cedes to dusk on a long shift. What’s puzzling about the novel is how swiftly and intensely its quiet heroine captures your attention. Casey is a slight and elusive figure, getting soaked by rain as she cycles through lonely streets or shrinking from a bully at work. There’s a stomach-churning pathos to the paucity of her resources and a dogged naivety in her commitment to writing in such meagre circumstances. King makes her struggles feel monumental, grindingly bleak. Yet somehow, Casey takes hold with a vice-like grip on your heart. Reading the book feels like waiting for clouds to break – a kind of gorgeous agony.
What if we lived in a world in which Glyn Morgan and C. Palmer-Patel had not put together Sideways in Time, a new collection of essays on Alternate History? Would a new sun have gleamed in the horizon? Would the globe have slowed its warming? Would election results have differed? Most likely, the answer to all of these is negative, and yet, how lucky are we that in our timeline this indispensable volume has been published?
Made up of 10 chapters from contributors across a spectrum of professional expertise and experience, Sideways in Time makes a rich, valuable, and timely intervention in the nascent field studying alternate history. The opening meditation by fiction writer Stephen Baxter sets the tone for the volume, mapping out two key questions that define the entire genre: What is the nature of history? What role does the individual have, therein? Indeed, all the chapters in part one, “Points of Divergence,” tend to reflect on texts that can either be considered alternate histories themselves or act as “commentary on the genre of alternate history itself,” offering close readings of primary texts while presenting illuminating insights into the political stakes each text negotiates.
Clemena Antonova’s monograph on the maverick Russian thinker and polymath Pavel A. Florensky (1882–1937) introduces the reader to the little-known, but fascinating and often enigmatic world of Russian religious philosophy. Yet the book is of interest not only to the small circle of specialists. Rather, Antonova’s aim is to explore “the value of Florensky’s theory of the icon to our contemporary modernity.” She raises the question whether his thought can “contribute to the analysis of some of the most urgent questions in aesthetics and philosophy that we face now.” This is not to say that she neglects the historical and cultural context within which Florensky lived and worked. Quite the reverse: one of the book’s strengths is the profound background knowledge it provides, which helps the reader to understand Florensky’s key ideas about the icon and visual art. This is important because his intellectual horizon is unusually broad, and the bold cross-fertilization among different disciplines characteristic of his writings can easily confuse a lay audience. While visual art is the main topic discussed in the book, Antonova competently comments on most major influences on Florensky’s work, such as the Russian tradition of “full unity” (vseedinstvo), Byzantine mysticism, mathematics, and Cubism, among other things.
There’s a city in my body
and its been barricaded, its walls
spray-painted, mural-full; less
a collection of neighborhoods
Libraries around the country are tiptoeing toward reopening, but they’re not just trying to figure out how to safely lend out books. These are community hubs where parents bring their toddlers for story time, where people come to use the computer, where book groups meet. Now all of that has to be rethought.
“It’s awful because it’s the opposite of what we normally try to do,” said Karen Kleckner Keefe, the executive director of the Hinsdale Public Library just outside of Chicago. “We want to be the community living room, we want everyone to stay and get comfortable. And to design service to prevent lingering and talking is so different from everything we’ve been working toward.”
There’s a grim familiarity to stories about young girls falling prey to men in positions of power. As readers, we recognize the girl’s first heady thrill at being called special by someone who seems to have the authority above all others to declare it, and then we follow that plotline to its heart-rending conclusion. The best-selling authors Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno explore this territory in Rules For Being a Girl, a book so engaging and lively it might take you a moment to pinpoint the disquiet you feel upon reaching its end.
In the 75 years since President Harry Truman ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on two Japanese cities, American attitudes toward that decision have gradually shifted. Immediately after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, polls showed that 85 percent of people in the United States approved of Truman’s action. However, by 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the bombings, support for the decision had fallen to 57 percent, while 38 percent of Americans believed it either wrong or unnecessary.
Approaching the commemoration of the bombings this summer, two veteran journalists have tried to put that decision in context. The book by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, written with the Associated Press’s Mitch Weiss, focuses on the 116 days between Truman’s sudden ascent to the presidency, after Franklin Roosevelt’s death in mid-April 1945, and the use of the first bomb, on Hiroshima, in early August. “Countdown 1945” contains no surprises and will quell no controversies. But it is a compelling and highly readable account of one of the most fateful decisions in American history.
In his book, Rebello chronicles how Susann’s salacious bestseller went from page to screen. If that sounds like a dull procedural, think again. Rebello delivers a surfeit of detail — some chapters are so top-heavy with names and facts one fears they may topple over like one of the stupendous hairpieces featured in the film. Though the book is gossipy, it is full of surprises and even suspense — revealing how cutthroat and puerile Hollywood can be.
Each day at 8am, my mother the lunch lady works
the assembly line of newly made meals Each a
stamp of mass, scratched from the unlimited land of
heather and sunflower risings
What happened? Why do we live in the Anthropocene and not a world resembling Planet of the Apes? We share around 99 percent of our DNA with our great ape cousins, chimpanzees and bonobos. So, what makes us different from our closest relatives that gives us our staggering capacity for reproducing and surviving?
As an evolutionary anthropologist, these questions have led me to live and study among the Yucatec Maya of Mexico, the Pumé hunter-gatherers of Venezuela, and the Tanala agriculturalists of Madagascar. My research, combined with genetic data and other studies, offers clues to what developed in the deep past that has made humans so successful—for better or for worse.
In the sixth story in The Cat and the City, “Chinese Characters”, a teacher of Japanese tells her American student: “Characters shift meaning when placed alongside others, so it’s important we focus on the relationships between them. No character truly exists in isolation, and there’s always a story for even the most complicated or simple of characters.” She is talking about kanji, the characters used in written Japanese, but what she says is equally true of the cast of this unusual novel, who skim across each other’s lives having the narrowest of misses and the most profound impacts as they follow their own trajectories across Tokyo.
Books that are likely to endure can often feel strikingly timely on arrival. Set in the Ukrainian town of Kirovka in the 1980s and starring a set of characters who live in the same block of flats, Maria Reva’s enthralling debut of interlinked short stories achieves the double effect of timelessness and timeliness. The emotional impact of this book is cumulative. This is partly down to her mastery of the form: the stories are connected by a unity of place, time and relationship. More importantly, they are brought to life by Reva’s handling of darkness and light.
Messrs Sandbu and Sperling both combine a basic support for free markets with a fear of their power. It is precisely because incentives are so potent that competitive forces must not be allowed to go haywire, as when firms gain an edge by reclassifying their workers as contractors, or by moving to tax havens. Such races-to-the-bottom define many of the policy failures of recent history.
And both books highlight the moral blind spots that many liberals and economists think have been exposed by the era of globalisation (and perhaps by the pandemic, too). Clarifying those problems, and finding solutions that avoid compromising too much on freedom and free markets, is crucial work.
They’d try to find the hem first,
the beginning of that lace-fine calyx that
sometimes ran deliciously
from shoulder to waist in a continuum
When I started writing my first novel, More Miracle Than Bird—the story of the brilliant woman, Georgie Hyde-Lees, who is best known as the wife of the poet W.B. Yeats—I was terrified that someone else would be writing the same story. Some other novelist, a great deal more experienced than me, must also know how damned good this story was. I felt a cool dread as I opened the book review pages, waiting for the inevitable moment when I’d discover that someone else had already told this strange yarn about a clever, determined woman in a wartime London crawling with ghosts. Someone else would have been drawn in by the eccentric, famous artists that play key supporting roles in this drama. Who wouldn’t want to tackle such a story?
But then, after a year or so, I accepted that no one else was actually thinking about this story. My anxiety promptly shifted focus. Perhaps it was a terrible idea for a book! Perhaps to take on this very real person and write her story was too audacious, even for an established novelist! It was true that Georgie herself, my protagonist, would not have approved of my project. In the 1940s, in a letter to an academic who had just given a lecture about her husband, she wrote: “Thank you for leaving me out.”
Arab. Bisexual. Migrant. Anorexic. The list goes on and on. The main character in Zaina Arafat's You Exist Too Much is a nesting doll of otherness, and her journey from 12-year-old Palestinian American girl walking around Bethlehem to young woman traveling the world and looking for love in the arms of strangers is a perfect example of how culture and family can affect those whose lives span different realities.
In 1960, the Radcliffe Institute hoped to bring women hindered by domestic labor back into professional life. To women with a PhD “or equivalent” in artistic achievement, it offered paid fellowships, office space, access to Harvard and Radcliffe libraries (except the male-only Lamont Library) and, of course, precious time to work. Maggie Doherty’s brilliant new book, “The Equivalents,” tells the story of the institute by focusing on the five fellows who called themselves “The Equivalents”: Poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, writer Tillie Olsen, painter Barbara Swan and sculptor Marianna Pineda.
I saw the truck’s headlights getting closer from
the southern end of the bridge I calculated
that there was time to make it to the bottom
When the lion came through the camp,
one woman sat up in her tent, breathing
the terrible smell.
As a twentysomething, I’ve learned that growing out of things is natural. For so long I resisted that part of growth, because I thought it meant that in order to become an adult I had to let go of everything that I loved as a child. But that’s not true: the things we love as children—books, movies, characters, even stuffed animals—tend to shape us as people in pivotal ways, so there’s definitely no need to discard them because someone told you that’s what growing up is. However, sometimes we can’t always avoid the fact that we’ve grown out of something: people, places, mindsets or, most depressingly, books.
The only way to avoid rot is to be proactive: check every apple, every tree. At the first sight of something amiss—a bruise or broken skin, a sunken place—toss that apple out, but don’t stop there. Scrub all the others and monitor them closely, but know that it’s likely already too late. Better to trim and burn the infected branch, or even the whole tree.
For dancers, as for most people, it’s been a rough couple of months. But how do you wrap your head around the end of your dancing career when there is no last dance?
After months of lockdown, political unrest and the inescapable threat of environmental collapse, some of us long for a glimpse of a world other than our own. Readers can find one in John Garth’s “The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien,” a fascinating, gorgeously illustrated and thought-provoking examination of the landscapes, cities and architecture that inspired Tolkien during his lifelong creation of Middle-earth.
A prolific writer, Neuman – born in Argentina, now based in Granada – delights in language and linguistic ambiguity. In Fracture, he explores the fragmented nature of memory, emotional scars, a city’s wounds after a disaster and the cracks in a relationship caused by cultural difference. He draws profound parallels between collective traumas – Japan’s bombing, Vietnam in 1968, Argentina’s “disappeared”, Chernobyl and the 2004 Madrid train attacks. Recalling Japan’s enforced silence in the war’s aftermath, Yoshie’s Argentinian girlfriend, Mariela, ponders: “Maybe the most brutal thing is not that you were bombed. Most brutal of all is that they don’t even allow you to tell people that you’ve been bombed. During the dictatorship here they would kill one of your children and you couldn’t tell anyone.”
One of the worst things about being 17 is the gulf between how much you feel and how little you know. You mistake your nascent power — sexual power, disruptive power — for real power. You are angry, passionate, misunderstood, restless for some amorphous thing you cannot define.
The adults in your life either ignore you or, in the case of Margot Louve, the narrator of Sanaë Lemoine’s gorgeous debut novel, “The Margot Affair,” make grand diagnostic pronouncements that amount to misdirection.
“Spirit Run” is a narrative deeply rooted in the body, both as a singular organism and a part of humanity’s whole. It ambitiously conveys how complex the relationship between body, land, spirit and groups of people can be.
Amazing to feed misery like this, and so
Selfish: sitting there, in a crowded park,
A book on his lap the ghost of the book
It is likely no surprise to readers who love the novels of Charles Portis that everything delightful about his books was delightful about him as a person. The surprise, if anything, was how closely his personality tallied with his work. He was blunt and unpretentious, wholly without conceit. He was polite. He was kind. His puzzlement at the 21st-century world in which he found himself was deep and unfeigned. And yet almost everything out of his mouth was dry, new and pungently funny.
Portis died in February. I’ve loved his work all my life — “The Dog of the South” is a family favorite, as is “Masters of Atlantis” — though the work closest to me is “True Grit,” which I recorded as an audiobook a number of years ago. I’m often asked how I came to record another author’s book; most simply, the answer is voice. I grew up hearing “True Grit” read aloud to me by my mother and my grandmother and even my great-grandmother. This was a tremendous gift, as Portis caught better than any writer then alive the complex and highly inflected regional vernacular I heard spoken as a child — mannered and quaint, old-fashioned and highly constructed but also blunt, roughshod, lawless, inflected by Shakespeare and Tennyson and King James but also by agricultural gazetteers and frilly old Christian pamphlets, by archaic dictionaries of phrase and fable, by the voices of mule drivers and lady newspaper poets and hanging judges and hellfire preachers.
Why does a story, a memory, stay with us? A few remembered scenes and images stay close to the surface, accessible and natural to write about, but some things slide deeper and only later work gradually to the surface, like an old sliver working its way out of skin.
It was that way with a story my childhood piano teacher told. Stories leaked out of her about her own childhood, sailing the world aboard her father’s clipper ship, as a reward for playing well or a sop if she’d lost her temper, as she often did with me. If I hadn’t practiced (and I never had), asking about the narwhal’s tusk above the grand piano or the famous Hundred Faces fan given to her father and mother on their honeymoon voyage to China was a useful way to use up the lesson hour.
Through decades of coups, invasions and endless war, Afghans tuned their radios to Radio Afghanistan every morning at 7 and every afternoon at 4:05 to hear the names of the newly dead.
“Ads today?” Mr. Zaki, half asleep, asked on a recent dawn after opening the door to Mr. Aziz’s knock. Outside, birds chirped and the new day’s soft light covered the peaks of the tall pine trees in the station’s compound in Kabul, the capital.
No, said Mr. Aziz, who had waited behind the door in the kind of deference saved for masters of a different era. They had gone weeks without anyone arriving at the little window — just four ads in 40 days, though certainly many more had died.
What does it say about me if a funny thought pops into my mind while reading a drug addiction memoir? Sam Lansky’s 2016 debut, “The Gilded Razor,” was almost Augustinian in its searing frankness. I felt relief, of course, at the end, when its author, utterly worn out by his addiction at just 19, had enough energy to finally hop back on the wagon. But I couldn’t help it: Lansky’s account of having consumed, as a New York City prep-schooler, such a prodigious heap of illicit substances also provoked the mental image of a midlevel cartel accountant eyeing his balance sheets, alighting upon Lansky’s name on his roster of customers, twiddling his fingers and murmuring, “Excellent,” like Mr. Burns on “The Simpsons.”
With his debut novel, “Broken People,” Lansky — the West Coast editor of Time magazine — proves himself a talented writer of fiction too: unsparingly honest, but also funny and mordant, willing to use his life and what he does to his body to comment on issues larger than himself.
“One must cross the threshold heart of words,” Susan Howe writes early in her new book, “Concordance,” an appealingly jagged sequence of collage poems. The “threshold heart,” for Howe, is a kind of echo chamber where sound dazzles the inner ear and resonance dances with meaning. To invite us into this complex space, Howe populates the pages of her new book with sliced texts and textures, pasting down items as varied as draft letters, the preface to Oliver Wendell Holmes’s “Common Law” and (yes) concordances. These collages invite readers into protracted encounters with scraps. Some of the book’s pages are just glued together slivers of dislodged indexes. This is not to say they are not also delightful.
Both Speedboat and Sleepless Nights mine their author’s experience in order to present a kind of fictional truth that is separate from the mere external facts of their lives, even as they borrow and reincorporate some of those facts. The tricky thing about autofiction is that even as it dispenses with the contrived machinery of plot and made-up characters, it usually does so only to build another kind of artifice in its place—in this case, the illusion that these carefully curated fragments are somehow more “real” or life-like than a made-up plot. In the end, even in their formal experimentalism, Speedboat and Sleepless Nights are both carefully crafted works of fiction whose art is inextricably linked to their artifice.
On guard my mother studied her
ankles & hands all the time. Any swelling
set off alarms. Everything in our home
bolted to wet silence. Our family
One grief, all evening—: I’ve stumbled
upon another animal merely being
itself and still cuffing me to grace.
I will, I will skip without your rope
Since you say I should not, I cannot
Borrow your son’s skipping rope to
Exercise my limbs; I will skip without
Twice in the Fifties, the doctor was arrested for performing abortions (in one case, a woman with a heart condition had died as a result of the anesthetic); but each time, he was acquitted. Sometimes, he closed his clinic on Centre Street for a while and no one knew where he went. But he always came back. His waiting room and office became more and more crowded with the souvenirs of his travels.
As the word about him spread from one woman to another, Dr. Spencer became known up and down the Eastern seaboard as “The Saint” and “the college girl’s friend.” Women from as far away as Hollywood turned up at his clinic, even a few with foreign accents. But in order to find Dr. Spencer, since there was no way to look him up, you had to be lucky enough to be on the right grapevine.
I wasn’t. In the summer of 1956, when I was twenty, I needed Dr. Spencer urgently. But I didn’t have his name, or anyone else’s.
Like a lot of people these days, Coralie Adam has been working from home. On an April morning in the Chicago suburbs where she was quarantining with her in-laws, Adam climbed out of bed, carried her laptop into a small home office, streamed a barre class, then sat down to watch her spacecraft approach a rocky asteroid 140 million miles from Earth.
Adam is the lead optical navigation engineer on NASA’s first asteroid-sampling spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx. In 2016, it blasted off to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, scheduled to return in 2023 laden with asteroid pebbles and dust. Scientists want to study the material to understand how, when, and why the solar system formed. A first “touch-and-go” (TAG) rehearsal of the ship’s asteroid-sampling procedure (approach the asteroid, get within 65 meters, back away to safety) would normally warrant a gathering of its team at Lockheed Martin mission support in Littleton, Colorado. Given the Covid-19 pandemic, NASA, like a lot of scientific groups, had to try a new experiment: mission control from home.
Three miles off the coast of Maine, in a remote area northeast of Acadia National Park, lies a cluster of islands — including Little Nash Island, Big Nash Island and Flat Island — populated only by sheep.
The Wakeman family, who live on the nearby mainland, are the year-round caretakers. Alfie Wakeman works full-time as a pediatric provider in the local clinic. His wife, Eleni, works full-time as a speech-language pathologist and the assistant fire chief for the local volunteer fire department. Their three daughters — Wren, Lilly and Evie — are all college-age or newly graduated.
Each spring, Alfie leaves his medical practice for three weeks to live on Big Nash Island for the lambing season. (In his text messages, Alfie includes smiley faces when he talks about going to the island, or about new lambs; sad faces punctuate his texts when he discusses leaving the island.) The sheep, wild and self-sufficient, are able to thrive off the providence of the island. But every so often a sick lamb needs special care.
Across the world, teams and leagues are exploring ways to make games held in cavernous, empty stadiums easier on the eye, hoping to retain some semblance of the spectacle on which their industries have been built.
Early attempts have included Zoom conferences in Denmark, montages in Germany, robot drummers in Taiwan and unfortunately sourced dolls in South Korea. The Premier League — scheduled to return to action on June 17 — has broached displaying “live reaction” from fans on big screens and cloaking empty seats with giant banners.
But while all of this feels like the first, tentative steps into a new and unwelcome world, it is not new, not exactly. Twenty-eight years ago, Arsenal approached exactly the same problem, albeit from a substantially different angle. The answer the club found might provide some inspiration, nearly three decades on, but it also offers something of a warning.
My clutter, animated by the catastrophe for which it had been waiting, is no longer a moral failing or character deficit. It is, in a thousand unexpected ways, a savior, and it feels bizarre that in the recent past, I regarded my extra jars of on-sale spaghetti sauce and the T-shirts I never parted with as slightly disgraceful. The whole world now lives in the future my family always planned for, where an abundance of spaghetti sauce and cozy old shirts is among the best-case scenarios available to people living regular lives. I fought it for some 30 years, but now I’m willing to admit it: My mom was right, and the slopdinis have a point.
Sonia Shah’s last two books Pandemic, published in 2016, and The Fever, published in 2010, introduced her as a storyteller in a novel genre: travel books that went in search of the spread of disease - cholera in the former, malaria in the latter. That literature of track and trace, part detective story, part reportage, took Shah to remote corners of the world and to distant grid references of history. Her books were also prescient case studies of the way that human progress has been shaped by its love-hate relationship with microbes – how disease has caused empires to rise and fall and economies to stutter and implode.
This book – a wandering narrative about why people wander – is likely to prove equally prophetic in the coming months and years, since it asks two questions that are already shaping our geopolitics: what causes human beings to migrate? And is such mass movement beneficial to more settled communities and nations?
Perhaps it is best that we go away now
bundle up our tyrants, lies and balloons, our screams,
... say we live on, say we’ll forget the masks
that kept us from dying from the invisible,
but say we won’t ever forget the invisible
masks we realized we had been wearing
most our lives, disguising ourselves from
each other. Say we won’t veil ourselves again,
In my experience, the starting points of novels lie years, often decades, before the moment when they start to coagulate into words on a page. For The Northern Clemency it was the memory, both exact and tantalisingly too complex for reconstruction, of a playground game.
On this Tuesday morning, in the intensive care unit at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, west of the city, all that Father Connors knew about the patient was his name, and that his family had called for a priest.
He had a clear plastic bag with a cotton ball containing a few drops of holy oil. He carried a photocopy of pages from a liturgical book.
At 10:18 a.m., he slid open the door. He walked over to the bed, careful to avoid the tubes on the ground.
He stretched out his hand, and began to pray.
These 40 very short stories by the American author Kathryn Scanlan inhabit a world of human failure. Families dissolve through vagrant desire and inner disconnection. Lives are shaped by ordinary neglect: of spouses, of children and of selves. Relations between people and other animals are contingent, chancy and cruel; bodies and selves fail to cohere, and pleasure cannot sustain either itself or any meaning. Deaths are mere passings, with little weight or consequence. And yet The Dominant Animal is a deeply enjoyable book.
Last night, I went to a gay bar
with a man I love a little.
After dinner, we had a drink.
We sat in the far-back of the big backyard
and he asked, What will we do when this place closes?
I don’t mean to pick on this single paper. It’s simply a timely illustration of a far deeper trend, a tendency that is strong in almost all humanities and social sciences, from literature to psychology, history to political science. Every softer discipline these days seems to feel inadequate unless it becomes harder, more quantifiable, more scientific, more precise. That, it seems, would confer some sort of missing legitimacy in our computerized, digitized, number-happy world. But does it really? Or is it actually undermining the very heart of each discipline that falls into the trap of data, numbers, statistics, and charts? Because here’s the truth: most of these disciplines aren’t quantifiable, scientific, or precise. They are messy and complicated. And when you try to straighten out the tangle, you may find that you lose far more than you gain.
We know, from history, theology, philosophy, and anthropology, that there are other possibilities. The temporal orientation need not be toward an open, this-worldly future, but toward wisdom, narrative, memory, and, for people of faith, a future that is eternity. The social orientation of the evening of life need not be individualistic, but toward family and the localization and strengthening of social relations. Similarly, the view of the life cycle need not take its bearings from youth and middle age but from roles and identities appropriate to old age, with their own norms and rewards. These norms and rewards need not be defined in terms of active striving and productivity, but in terms of release, such as from social climbing, and a more contemplative attitude toward the world. Surely, in the last stage of life, health and longevity need not continue to be treated as ends in themselves. Rather, they might be set within a larger framework of limits, a recognition of our vulnerability and dependence, and the ethic of a well-lived life. There are other possibilities, and if we are to free ourselves from the iron cage to which our cultural logic consigns us, we must look to them for direction.
‘Well, let me see it then,” says my mother from the screen, her iPhone camera set to the trademark lockdown angle that means I’ve never been better acquainted with a specific patch of her living room ceiling. A little fearfully, reaching over a saucepan of bubbling oil, I do as I’m told: stick a spoon in the dense batter I’ve mixed to make my first ever West African “puff-puff” doughnuts, and hoick some up for inspection. “Hmm,” she says, squinting. “It looks a little heavy, son.”
“Do you think?” I say, doubtfully, picking up one of the misshapen dark brown blobs I’ve already fried and pulling it apart. A rope of wet, uncooked batter spills out over my fingers and it feels, for a moment, like the ghosts of my Nigerian ancestors have gathered at my shoulder to shake their heads sadly.
It’s the last Friday in May when I attend the grand reopening of the drive-in after the pandemic forced its closure in March. But it feels like I’m about to take a standardized test, not catch a movie with an audience for the first time in three months. No banners are commemorating the event, no fanfare is celebrating the business’s return; instead, signs have been posted by the box-office booths warning guests to park nine feet apart, walk six feet apart, and stay inside their vehicles during the screening. These instructions have also been printed on flyers; an attendant hands me one to keep in my car as a reminder.
By the time I purchase my ticket, I’m on high alert. I hesitate when an employee offers me a pen to sign the receipt. “Don’t worry,” she says. “I sanitized it.” Then she smiles—or, rather, her eyes crinkle above her mask. I crinkle back.
Daniel Mason’s novels come slowly – his latest, The Winter Soldier, took 14 years to complete. This is his first collection of short fiction, and it is full of stories that provide the nutrition of a novel at a tenth of the length. In all the tales the setting is historical, so the perils have safely passed. Which is not to say that it is a relaxing read: Mason, a psychiatrist, is particularly strong at depicting the state of mind a character works himself into when struggling with fear, uncertainty or even impostor syndrome.
Rosenblatt describes his career as “in the news business — or on the soft edges of it.” His knack, as I recall from my days at Time, was to see what everyone else saw, only, somehow, more clearly and more movingly. “As a young writer, I was the dandiest, cleverest wit and wise guy — a cinch if one possesses the meager gifts,” he writes. “And then after witnessing enough pain and plain courage in the world, I simply reversed course and started writing about the life before my eyes.” In “The Story I Am,” that life is on vivid display.
James Wood is perhaps one of the most intelligent and passionate literary critics working today. He is known for his brutally direct reviews (the Boston Globe once called him the “Elegant Assassin”) that were a trademark of his early career, as was his insistence that fiction hold itself to a standard that is not dependent on cultural temperament or weighed down by cliché. He takes the obligation of the critic seriously, and is the professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard. Whether reviled or revered, he is always treated with regard, and after he takes you through a critique of a subject with deft enthusiastic and near surgical precision, it is difficult not to feel that, even if you disagree with his argument, you are that much smarter for just having taken the time to read the piece in the first place. He has elevated the critical essay into a work of art and some have said that to read Wood on literature is in fact to read literature. And read it carefully and well in an age when our attention span seems to diminish with each new app.
Even with the status Wood enjoys in the literary community, the recent publication of Serious Noticing: Selected Essays 1997–2019 occurred without much fanfare, yet for Wood enthusiasts it feels a long time in coming. The collection contains 28 essays selected by the author and his British publisher. Each one appeared previously in either The New Republic, The New Yorker, or The London Review of Books, and all but six essays have been included in previous collections. The title of the book comes from the third essay. After all, serious noticing is the business of the writer and it would have been a shame had the collection not repurposed that gorgeous title.
The “Galileo affair” continues to fascinate and provoke after 400 years. It was, in a way, both simple and very complicated. What was simple was its upshot: The great founder of modern science was tried, convicted and sentenced in 1633 to perpetual house arrest by the Catholic Church for defending the idea that the Earth goes around the sun, and was forced to recant under oath. This offense against freedom of thought, research and conscience can never cease to shock.
The complicated question is how and why it happened. It was not inevitable. Saint Augustine had warned eloquently in the 4th century against interpreting scripture contrary to what is known with certainty by reason and experience. This was a well-established principle, accepted by Cardinal Bellarmine, the church’s top theologian, who admitted in a famous letter to one of Galileo’s friends that “if there were a true demonstration that . . . the earth circles the sun, then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them, than that what is demonstrated is false.”
There is no cure for insomnia. Like rain, or luck, or mercy, it comes and goes at will. There is “sleep hygiene,” the very wording of which seems to chide the insomniac for dirty habits, and which, more insultingly still, doesn’t help. Watching Samantha Harvey obliterate the advice that’s so often and so smugly offered to the exhausted—“Have you thought about a blackout blind?” “Why don’t you spray some lavender on your pillow?”—is one of the grim pleasures of “The Shapeless Unease,” Harvey’s new memoir about a year spent chasing a basic human need. “Have I thought about earplugs?” Harvey says at one point, echoing a friend. “Maybe that’s my problem, that I don’t think enough about earplugs.”
But, when night falls, Harvey grows desperate; she’ll try anything once, twice, a hundred times. She brews tea. She works on jigsaw puzzles. She smiles, to signal to her brain that she is content, and she attempts to practice “nocturnal forgiveness,” the temporary “letting go of all wrongs and all guilt or blame.” Insomnia turns Harvey into a haggler, she writes, and then into a beggar. “Maybe I can smuggle sleep in,” she fantasizes, flipping onto her stomach. “Maybe the night won’t notice me.” The book is a harrowing portrait of an intolerable problem—although there’s solace, too, in reading about somebody else’s abject 3 a.m.s. (Not that Harvey ever looks at the clock. “I usually know the time,” she writes, horrifyingly, by “the texture of my thoughts as the night abrades them.”)
What happens to the out-of-style clothing we dump in the charity bin? Or the decades of furnishings downsizing empty-nesters donate to the local thrift shop? What follows the surge of self-satisfaction we feel as responsible recyclers, along with the hope that someone else will get a little pleasure from our discarded things? In Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, the intrepid Adam Minter sets off to find some answers, traveling from his home in Malaysia to interview cleaners, sellers, sorters, exporters, and importers in Japan, India, West Africa, and North America.
As with his first book, Junkyard Planet (2013), which focused on the far-flung fates of discarded scrap metals, Minter, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, does his best to sift sense from dodgy data. But it’s his vibrant sketches of entrepreneurial characters and his dives into obscure industrial histories that make a persuasive case: discarded goods are becoming a big environmental problem.
Richard “Rum” Atkinson was an 18th-century adventurer of the kind you might find in a picaresque novel. The youngest son in a line of Westmorland tanners, he became a merchant and profiteer, a director of the East India Company, an MP, an Alderman of the City of London, a disappointed lover, a slave owner, and the posthumous initiator of the most almighty family feud. He is also the five-times great-uncle of the Richard Atkinson who produced this fascinating, exhaustive work of family history. Mr Atkinson’s Rum Contract is the story of a morally tangled inheritance, but it is also the story of Richard Atkinson the younger’s obsessive pursuit of Richard Atkinson the elder.
Better takeout was thriving in DeKalb County,
but the school system hadn’t caught up,
its languages unable to support the Greek bakery,
dim-sum parlors, or lox-and-bagel shops.
A decade later I write this essay in South Korea, the decidedly non-English-speaking country where I’ve lived for years, motivated in no small part by an interest in its language (its abundance of coffee and coffee shops, so essential to the working process of the essayist, also plays a part). Not long ago I returned from a trip to Taiwan, a destination also chosen out of interest in its language, or rather in its lingua franca, Mandarin Chinese (I did consider learning Taiwanese Hokkien, its most widely spoken local language, but couldn’t find much in the way of study materials). Now and again, my Mandarin-learning project has brought to mind a local news segment I saw back in New Zealand. It told of the introduction of immersion Mandarin classes into certain primary schools. Interviewing a teacher, the reporter closed with a question asked out of seemingly genuine concern for the students: “But aren’t you afraid their little brains will explode?”
It seems New Zealanders share with Americans and other Anglophones not only the English language, but also the perception of bilingualism as an impressive, potentially life-threatening achievement. Eddie Izzard expressed this attitude best: “Two languages in one head? No one can live at that speed.” That quote appears more than once in the work of Gaston Dorren, a Dutchman who’s made his name over the past 20 years writing books about languages.
Against such a background, it is not surprising to learn that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were in demand for their services as military engineers no less than as artists. Both were involved in large-scale projects, and da Vinci famously left designs for assorted weaponry, including what is often described as a machine gun. It was certainly the case that artists were expected to have a good basic grasp of engineering, and that the boundaries between art, architecture and engineering were very fluid.
The stereotype of the “renaissance man” is accurate to the extent that the culture of the age characteristically did not favour specialisation, but the record of actual achievement is patchy. Some of da Vinci’s military designs were more or less feasible, others were not; the elegance and flair of his sketches should not mislead us into thinking that all these projects represented some visionary anticipation of modern machinery, and it is better to see them as brilliant thought experiments in solving engineering problems rather than exact designs.
It is a sad paradox, but perhaps not surprising, that some of humanity’s greatest writing has been born in times of turmoil. In an effort to make sense of painful encounters with death and loss, authors have always tried to turn their sorrow and confusion into enduring monuments of beauty among the ruins, masterpieces that stubbornly surface in the wake of natural and man-made catastrophes, wars, civil strife, revolutions and political and economic upheaval.
Depending on who you ask, for example, present-day mathematicians have nearly as much chance of solving the Riemann hypothesis — the most famous unsolved problem in math — as da Vinci had of building a machine that could actually fly.
“As of yet there’s not been a proposed strategy for handling the Riemann hypothesis that’s even semi-plausible,” said Jacob Tsimerman of the University of Toronto.
But while it may have been obvious in da Vinci’s time that a functional version of the aerial screw would have to wait, often in math it’s not clear what’s possible and what’s not.
Will it be so in our own times of pandemic, suffering and grief?
Brit Bennett's first novel, The Mothers, was the sort of smashingly successful debut that can make but also possibly break a young writer by raising expectations and pressure. Four years later, her second, The Vanishing Half, more than lives up to her early promise. It's an even better book, more expansive yet also deeper, a multi-generational family saga that tackles prickly issues of racial identity and bigotry and conveys the corrosive effects of secrets and dissembling. It's also a great read that will transport you out of your current circumstances, whatever they are.
Those with high literary standards have often enjoyed Dickens against their better judgment. In The Mystery of Charles Dickens, Wilson sides with the gaping yokels.
One day, you will awake from your covering
and that heart of yours will be totally mended,
and there will be no more burning within.
What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
When Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” was first published in the 1988 collection Women of Vision: Essays by Women Writing Science Fiction, edited by Denise Dupont, nobody knew how conflicts brewing at the time were going to turn out. It was unthinkable that the Berlin Wall would soon fall, that the Cold War would effectively end without widespread nuclear annihilation, or that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison after twenty seven years and go on to become the President of South Africa. The increasingly extreme scale of the world’s simultaneous interconnectedness and fragility was just beginning to show. We never know what the world will look like the next time it swings around its elliptical path. In this sense, then, all times are “uncertain times,” but the phrase has, of course, acquired extra weight this year.
Maybe the only certainty is revolution: the Earth continues to follow its path around the Sun. That perpetual state of revolving is not what most people first imagine when they hear the words “revolution” or “movement.” But come what may, our home planet—a container for so many brief and precarious lives, so many antique and seemingly unyielding structures of power—continues to revolve. About two months ago, Arundhati Roy published the essay “The Pandemic is a Portal,” exploring the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the ongoing economic crisis and conflicts in India. Roy reminds readers that, while all lives are precarious, some are more precarious than others.
In 1979, the Army Corps of Engineers predicted that by 2014, Optima Lake, in the panhandle of Oklahoma, would have 600,000 visitors a year camping, fishing, boating, and swimming. Instead, the lake sat empty, a dry expanse of land about three miles long. Today, it is still abandoned.
The Optima Lake and Dam was originally intended to control flooding from Beaver Creek and the North Canadian River. After $45 million was spent on its construction, though, the lake never filled up, and it has never reached more than 5 percent of its capacity.
In this fine collection, Goolsby seems to be saying that we must look into a world that alternates between demanding speech and speech that calls itself into question, and one where neither option allows for the kind of human connection we need. Goolsby’s drama plays out in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains, at the military bases at the edge of cities in the American West, while driving past the ADX Florence, in the suburban homes of returning soldiers, in the fact that we have been at war for the majority of my life. As much as Acceleration Hours is an artistic investigation into the ways in which we communicate and fail to communicate, it is also a call to action for all of us to explore the depths of communication ourselves and, at least, make an attempt, like Marie in “Waist Deep at Hapua,” to recover.
Rebello makes no excuses for the tawdriness of either the book or the film, but revels in it. Through detailed behind-the-scenes interviews and research, he brings the property to life in a book that is as compulsively readable as the original dishy source material.
Tenderly he lowers the dead man
By the time they went to Lāna’i, Maxine and Earll were looking to overcome the sense of drift that had lingered after the sixties. Earll studied acting at the University of Hawai’i, and Maxine taught high school, writing in her spare time. There was only one other guest at the hotel: Frederick Exley, whose début novel, “A Fan’s Notes,” had been a finalist for the National Book Awards in 1969. Maxine would see him at the bar each morning, though they never spoke. This is a place where writers come, she thought. This is where people find inspiration. She went back to her room and continued writing down stories and memories.
“The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts,” the resulting book, was published three years later, when Kingston was thirty-five. In the seventies, publishers had begun responding to America’s social realities by offering challenging, textured depictions of what it meant to be part of a minority. “The Woman Warrior,” which was marketed as a memoir based on Kingston’s upbringing, seemed to adhere to typical preconceptions—the cascading effects of patriarchal traditions, the stern and unaffectionate immigrant parents, the children caught between duty and dreaming. But, unlike most ethnic coming-of-age tales of the time, it seeded doubt about its own authenticity. The characters tell one another stories drawn from Chinese lore and Chinatown gossip, imagining alternative time lines. The book is complex and captivating, a constant toggling between the mundane grit of the family’s laundry business and epic, surreal dreamscapes. By the end, you don’t know which, if any, of these stories are true, or whether they constitute a reliable depiction of Chinese-American life.
Shanghai was opened to the world as a commercial port after the end of the First Opium War in 1843. As a result of the war, British, American and French “concessions” (or enclaves) were set up successively in 1845-46. Despite the shadow cast by the humiliating surrender of China’s sovereignty over these districts, the colonists residing in them introduced many opportunities for the rest of the city, opportunities that saw Shanghai grow from a small town at the mouth of the Yangtze River to the largest metropolis in the so-called “Far East.” The influences of a recently industrialised West mingled, interacted and cross-pollinated with the traditions of a culture that had developed over many centuries. As a contact point between East and West, with its unique location, Shanghai paved the way, acting as a testing site where various ideological and cultural ideas were welcomed, accommodated and re-imagined. Among these ingredients was a complex and diverse literary tradition that established Shanghai as, arguably, the literary capital of China.
Love has not destroyed me, but it has helped to create me. It has made me a better lover and creator. In return, I make my memories of love into objects—not archives of experience, but relics of vision. The story of some way that I saw, before I changed and had to look away. If I’m lucky, they will be mirrors for those I’ll never meet.
You might think that being the wife of René Redzepi, chef and owner of the world-renowned Noma, might be challenging if you also love to cook. But you’d be wrong—Nadine Levy Redzepi may well be the best chef in the Redzepi household. “René is not demanding at all. I just think he is appreciative of someone cooking for him, since he spends so much time cooking for others,” she says.
Not only does she help run the Noma franchise, she also runs the household, does all the shopping and cooking for six people, throws together last-minute dinners for guests with aplomb. She even managed to write a best-selling cookbook in her spare time.
Again and again, throughout this entertaining and brazenly improbable novel, Bennett stops readers — or at least stopped this white reader — in their tracks with such pointed observations about privilege and racism. As another melodramatic novelist, Charles Dickens, recognized: If you tell people a wild and compelling enough story, they may just listen to things they'd rather not hear.
My last of days was there to contemplate
when words absconded from me
as long ago as Nineteen-forty-one.
I must have heard the nurses talk of death.
Andy Warhol’s life may be better documented than that of any other artist in the history of the world. That is because, every few days or so, he would sweep all the stuff on his desk into a storage box, date it, label it “TC”—short for “time capsule”—and then store it, with all the preceding TCs, in a special place in his studio. As a result, we have his movie-ticket stubs, his newspaper clippings, his cowboy boots, his wigs, his collection of dental molds, his collection of pornography, the countless Polaroids he took of the people at the countless parties he went to—you name it. We have copies of bills he sent and also of bills he received from increasingly exasperated creditors, including one (“PAY UP YOU BLOWHARD”) from Giuseppe Rossi, the doctor who, in 1968, saved his life after a woman who felt she had been insufficiently featured in his movies came to his studio one day and shot him. In one box, I’ve heard, there is also a slice of cake, on a plate. It wasn’t just material objects he kept. When possible, he taped his phone conversations, and sometimes had an assistant type them up. He believed in the power of the banal. This faith was the wellspring of the Pop-art paintings—the Campbell’s soup cans, the Brillo cartons—that made him famous in the nineteen-sixties and changed America’s taste in art.
Delaying a book’s publication is a calculation that authors and publishers throughout the industry have made and wrestled with in recent months, as the pandemic has devastated the retail landscape and led to canceled tours, book fairs, literary festivals and media appearances. As publishers scramble to limit the economic fallout and sales declines driven by the epidemic, hundreds of books that were scheduled to come out this spring and early summer have been postponed, in some cases until next year.
In Germany, your brown bottles must be recycled separately from your clear ones. You must be quiet after 22:00. You must always obey the red man at a crossing, even if no cars are coming. And if you want to get anything done in this country, you need to print and fill out the proper forms, make an appointment, take your number and wait to be called to find out if you followed the rules or missed something in the fine print – which you probably did.
On the surface, “Ordnung muss sein” seems to be the foundation of German personal and social conduct. But, stereotypes aside, is Germany really “orderly”?
My husband and I have a shorthand we use for something we miss even if we never had a chance to enjoy it when it was available. “Blue martini,” we say, a reference to Adam Gopnick’s essay about the particular sadness he felt when a bar in New York City, famous for its blue martinis, closed. As I recall, Gopnick had never been to the bar; he’d never had one of their famous blue drinks. The essay was about the power of knowing he could. As long as the possibility existed, that was enough.
I suspect this is what a lot of us are feeling right now about visiting our friends, especially the far-flung ones. The tools of social media were fine for staying in touch as long as the possibility of a visit was always there. When the pandemic made that possibility disappear, the need for personal connection suddenly felt urgent. In the early weeks of the quarantine, people quickly found ways to gather online, to chat, drink, dance, make music, and more. I, an introvert, have two standing drinks nights and a morning coffee each week with friends. My family, who rarely managed a weekly phone call pre-pandemic, is Zooming every couple of days. All the fear and uncertainty seems to be compelling everyone to connect.
Something to Talk About takes place over months and months. The result is a slow-burn of a romance that eventually reaches a fiery simmer. Jo and Emma don't rush into love. They take one step at a time with careful, delightful, and frequently angsty precision. It may take a while, but in the end, Meryl Wilsner's novel delivers a showstopping, sexy romance in true Hollywood style.
When the forsaken city starts to burn,
after the men and children have fled,
stand still, silent as prey, and slowly turn