Every week, the Seattle Review of Books backs a Kickstarter, and writes up why we picked that particular project. Read more about the project here. Suggest a project by writing to kickstarter at this domain, or by using our contact form.
What's the project this week?
Milkweed Books: Because Bookshelves Should Never Be Boring. We've put $20 in as a non-reward backer
Who is the Creator?
What do they have to say about the project?
Join us in opening a new nonprofit, independent bookstore where readers will discover the best independent literature.
What caught your eye?
You know we have a soft spot for indie presses and small bookstores. Milkweed Editions, an indie publisher out of Minneapolis, wants to open a bookstore to feature their own books, as well as books from other presses. It will be a boutique store, filled with great books from great publishers, and friendly people to help you find them. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal.
As a non-profit press, Milkweed says its status "mandates that it operates to fulfill a mission rather than seek a profit," so they want the store to be a center of culture. Since it's in the Open Books building (not, of course, our own local poetry only bookstore, but the literary arts center in Minneapolis), with access to a theater, amenities, and the traffic this resource draws, it's a smart place to have a smart store. Seems like the right place to build support for a resource like this.
Why should I back it?
If you're not already sold, there are some good prizes. Bread, for example (yes, homemade, by an author of cookbooks), or a collection of all the 2016 poetry releases from Milkweed. Every bit you give helps, so find the prize that speaks to you and reach out for it. With your wallet. But, not really your wallet since you're on the computer. Maybe a digital version of your wallet? I dunno, maybe we need some new metaphors. Reach out with your digit-strings numbers of credit transference, and help them open the store.
And remember, it's a neighborly thing: the books community is small, and Minneapolis and Seattle have always had a close cultural connection. Let's show 'em it still exists.
How's the project doing?
at 54%, with 27 days left, they're off to a solid start, and on a good trajectory. No doubt they could use the help, though.
Do they have a video?
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My son wants to be a writer. He's not very good. And, he's old enough that maybe his efforts towards it are starting to look foolish. By which I mean that he is fifty and he's been trying to write since his twenties. He's dedicated most of his life to this goal, and although he does write and attempt to publish, his writing doesn't seem to improve.
I've paid for retreats, critique sessions, helped him find writing groups, and even introduced him to professional writer friends, but apparently he is very bullheaded and assured his way is the right way, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
I'd probably continue to ignore it, but I think it's costing him his marriage, and losing my daughter-in-law is just an insult too far for my tastes. Do you have any ideas of how to talk sense into a person who is belligerent and refuses to listen to even the most measured, well-offered, highly needed advice?
With thanks, Bummer Daddy in Madison Valley
Dear Bummer Daddy,
My grandmother used to tell strangers I was born with a cleft palate so severe that my mother was forced to soak a rag in milk and squeeze it into my mangled mouth in lieu of nursing. She told this story with pride, as an example of a mother’s abiding love and determination to keep a deformed freak of nature alive when most decent folks privately agreed I should’ve been dumped off somewhere with sweeping views, like a mountainside or broom closet.
None of it was true. There was no cleft palate, no rag. In reality, I was just another homely kid with buck teeth who needed braces. But even though it horrified my mother with each retelling, my grandmother was batshit and sentimental, and she liked what the story illustrated about parenthood: “Good” parents will go to silly lengths to nourish the freaks they spawn.
What I’m saying is, it’s sweet of you to support your son’s dreams but at a certain point, you have to put that baby in a closet and shut the door. It is not your job to help a 50-year-old man become a successful writer. It is not your job to buy him classes or network for him. It is not your job to talk sense into him or save his marriage. At most, your job is to listen when complains that no one “gets” his writing, gently direct him to the Seattle Public Library’s self-publishing website, and otherwise make cooing sounds similar to the ones I make when eating a burrito.
If you’re worried about your daughter-in-law – and it sounds like you should be, poor woman – pay attention to your daughter-in-law. Invite her to dinner, buy her many gallons of wine, and ask if she’s read any good books lately, aside from your son’s. Give yourselves both the freedom to share a laugh at his expense. It sounds like you’ve earned it.
We're featuring Sarah Galvin's portrait again in honor of her reading this Saturday! Stop by to enjoy her appearance and the other talented writers on the event's lineup.
If you're looking for some way to help those affected by flooding in Louisiana, the Louisiana Library Association has started to take donations for its disaster relief fund.
The Louisiana Library Association is a non-profit organization recognized under Code Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service Code. Donations to the Disaster Relief Fund are deductible as charitable contributions. If you would like to make a donation by check, please mail to the LLA Office at 8550 United Plaza Blvd., Suite 1001, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, and include Disaster Relief Fund on the memo line.
You can also donate through their website.
I first heard of Vice magazine while working at Borders. An achingly hip young man came into the store — it was the late nineties and my memory is foggy, but he was probably dressed like a rave had collided with a grunge music festival — and asked me if we carried Vice. I said I didn't know what Vice was. He explained that it was a cool free magazine distributed around major American cities, and that new issues disappeared as quickly as they arrived. Without really thinking, I asked why, if it was such a cool magazine, he went looking for it in a corporate chain bookstore. The bluntness of the question didn't really strike me until it had already left my mouth, and we stared at each other awkwardly for a second before he left the store.
For the last decade, Vice has been trying to become an international media brand, to varying levels of success. Their website certainly gets a lot of clicks — though, honestly, all sorts of garbage news sites get a lot of clicks simply because they're on good terms with Facebook. But we're now seeing that Vice's new TV channel, which was supposed to bring "millennials back to TV," is failing miserably.
...Viceland is only drawing an average primetime audience of 45,000 in the 18-49 demographic, according to Nielsen data obtained by the Wall Street Journal. Worse, the median viewer age is 40, meaning that fully half of its total audience is far outside the “millennial” audience, widely considered to be 18-34.
Vice's quest for mass-media success confuses the hell out of me. The whole point of Vice has always been exclusivity: from the beginning, it's been targeted to a mostly male, mostly white audience of terrible people who live in cool neighborhoods. (Please note that Vice has often published the work of very good writers and very good cartoonists; I'm not saying everything in Vice has always been awful and I'm not saying that everyone who's read Vice is a terrible person. I'm referring, here, to the institutional strategy behind Vice.)
It is not a publication that has ever been intended for everyone. It's a publication for people — again, mostly white, mostly male, mostly affluent — who desperately care about how cool they are. Thankfully, that's always going to be a slender slice of the population. For Vice to gain traction with a wider slice of the market, a Disney-sized portion of the market, say, it's going to have to radically change its model, and once it changes its model, it won't be Vice anymore. It'll be CNN for Assholes.
And frankly, there's already a CNN for Assholes and one of Vice's founding members already works there. Does the world really need a Fox News: Coachella Edition? The fact is, Vice's brand of "edgy" hipster racism and "just-playing" sexism is outdated, and its anti-mass-market edge is a corporate pose. It's aging. It's not millennial, it belongs to those asshole white dudes who were in their twenties when Vice was ascendent. It's middle-aged now, and the company is flexing its sagging muscles just as hard as a 50-year-old middle manager who buys a shiny new sports car.
Finally, it's biologically impossible for me to write about Vice without posting this video of sainted New York Times reporter David Carr tearing Vice's current CEO, Shane Smith, to shreds in the middle of an interview:
You guys, I kind of hate myself for even writing this, but the new Flintstones comic book?
It's pretty good.
I know, I know. I've complained at length about the way publishers have dredged up licensed properties for children and turned them into grim fantasias for psychically injured man-babies. But this is not that. This is something else again.
Let's be clear up front that The Flintstones, as a premise, has always been completely nut-bustingly insane. They're a modern sitcom family dropped against a bizarre stone-age pastiche featuring animals who are tortured in order to emulate modern-day technology. It's a one-punchline joke that the wizards at Hanna Barbera somehow stretched out into six seasons of popular TV.
All the new Flintstones comic does, is it takes the premise seriously. Within reason, mind you: author Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh understand that the idea of a couch made out of a giant prehistoric otter is impossible to take seriously. But they're trying to build a coinvincing mythology around the city of Bedrock: Fred and Barney are veterans of a war to create civilization (they attend a veterans' group where everyone shares stories of atrocities they committed) and everyone worships a god called Morp.
And yes, the book is full of caveman puns (a bar called Homo Erectus, a restaurant called Wammoth Bammoth, Thank You Mammoth) and bad caveman technology jokes (a turtle waiter is a terrible idea.) But there's some sharp comedy, too: Fred's boss is trying to exploit cheap Neanderthal labor, and there's a suggestion of a larger story about the military-industrial complex and the way it keeps the masses in line.
The Flintstones comic is remarkable in the way it ties familiar sitcom tropes together with modern social issues. It's more sharply satirical than the Simpsons has been in decades, and it feels like a premise that could continue for a good long while, though I have no idea who the intended audience for this thing is. (But as an aside, I love artist Steve Pugh — his facial expressions and eye for detail are a large part of why the book is such a treasure — but I have no idea why he's chosen to give all the characters hyper-muscular superhero bodies. Everyone, even Fred's boss, the doughy corporate jackass known as Mr. Slate, is built like an Adonis or a Venus, and it's kind of distracting.)
Part of the Flintstones allure is that it's a comic aimed at an adult sensibility that doesn't ignore important parts of everyday life like family, or love, or friendship. It respects its characters and aims its comedy at targets that feel broad enough to be recognizeable, but specific enough to feel important. It's incredibly weird that this comic book works as well as it does, but we live in an incredibly weird world.
I would just like to second Kelly Conaboy's post on the Hairpin titled "Blog, You Idiots." Not so long ago, blogging felt like a new and exciting form of communication: there was aggregation, yes, but there was also fresh short writing on a regular basis. And now blogging seems to be disappearing, and that's very sad because it seems as though we've only just started to figure out the capabilities of blogging as an art form.
We don't need more bloated longreads or television episode recaps. We do need people with interesting opinions to react to the world and to lead discussions and to experiment with the art of writing a lot, and quickly. If you think that's you, please give it a try. This Gawker style guide contains all sorts of useful information for blogging and internet writing; it's really kind of a starter kit for bloggers.
Go get started. Send me your blog so I can follow along.
If you've ever wanted to own the remains of a famous writer's body, this is your best shot.
The famed author's cremains — which are stored in a Japanese wooden box and dated from August 28, 1984 — have been put on sale at the Los Angeles–based auction house Julien's Auctions. "I am sure people are going to think this is disrespectful," Julien's Auctions chief executive Darren Julien told Vanity Fair. "But this is a fact: Truman Capote loved the element of shock. He loved publicity. And I’m sure he’s looking down laughing, and saying, 'That’s something I would have done.'"
Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.
The Nevertold Casket Co. looks kind of like the cursed junk shop from Gremlins—a store that proudly carries “haunted” merchandise which could add a conversation piece to your living room or rain down eternal torment on your household in the form of a vicious spirit of vengeance from feudal Japan. It is a shop, in other words, that is full of stories. The wax dummy of a baby covered in syphilis sores has to have an explanation behind it, right? And why the hell would someone mummify a baboon? Well, thereby hangs a tale, and that tale is part of what you’re buying at Nevertold.
Founded by casket-maker Jackson Andrew Bennett, Nevertold is the sort of shop you run into once while wandering around the twistiest cobblestone streets in Boston, or the most ancient-looking neighborhoods in Manhattan, and then can never find again. The fact that it exists on Capitol Hill’s relatively mundane 13th Avenue is in itself some kind of a modern Seattle miracle. With its artful jewelry and antique taxidermy, it’s a store full of appreciation for aesthetics long since past, stuck in the middle of a part of town that is currently suffering from aesthetic amnesia.
And now Bennett, himself an author working on a book about grave-robbing, is launching what looks to be the first in a series of readings based out of the Nevertold Casket Co. It’s a pairing that makes sense — what’s an ancient curse, after all, without a few books and incantations around to add an eldritch air?
For a store that wraps itself so thoroughly in the past, the first Nevertold reading is a surprisingly current affair. Readers include Jenny Zhang, the Brooklyn-based poet and short story author who headlined the most recent APRIL Festival; local poetry dynamo Sarah Galvin; monologist and weed culture expert David Schmader; Sonya Vatomsky, whose debut poetry collection is titled Salt Is For Curing; and James Gendron, whose book title Sexual Boat (Sex Boats) tells you just about everything you need to know.
This is a strong lineup of local and local-friendly writing talent — seriously, if Zhang reads here one more time this year, we’re going to get to claim her as a part-time Seattle author — that should suitably christen a new reading venue in the Seattle firmament. With all due respect to the many bookstores and libraries that host readings all the time, occasionally pulling events into a nontraditional reading venue keeps the readings format fresh and surprising. If all that isn’t enough to attract your attention, event organizers also promise a cask of “haunted beer” from Outlander Brewery to keep things nice and spiritual.
Halloween, by any calendar’s reckoning, is two page-turns away. And it’s highly unlikely that all the readers at this event are going to thematically obsess on the macabre. But the unhinged hilarity of a Galvin reading can’t help but take on a new meaning when contextualized by sterling silver crow’s feet charms and funeral chairs from the 1900s. What’s a celebration of life without a little death mixed in at the fringes to keep things interesting?
Nevertold Casket Company, 509 13th Ave., http://nevertoldcasket.com. Free. 21+. 8 p.m.
Electric Literature cites a new study which "found that readers of literary fiction — but not commercial fiction — have a better understanding of other people’s emotions."
Yeah, unless there's a scientific method to determine the difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction, this sounds like bunk to me — the kind of easy study which enforces preconceived notions about art and commerce. But if there's one damn thing the internet loves, it's using scientific studies to enforce their own preconceived notions.
So if you see someone on Facebook trying to spread this study around, please ask some questions: what's the difference between literary and commercial fiction? If you read a work that is 75% commercial and 25% literary, are you then 25% more empathetic? Is Kurt Vonnegut commercial fiction or literary fiction? What about comics? What the hell are you supposed to do with the conclusions of this study, except feel smug if you happen to prefer literary fiction to commercial fiction?
My diaphragm left behind
A mind works funny when it comes to sex
important things crash
A fire wound takes everything away
Random acts of nature relentless
Internalized violence a fog
I killed the frog for science
What we love we destroy
Yesterday I was a sex machine
My warrior searching a way to spark
Internet recessions scare me
I wanted to sleep with him
but my diaphragm was lost
His talking politics turned me off
What fool runs a train so fast?
Dying we land in the book of the dead
Damage occurs when you play the target
If only sex solved problems
We are soon to topple
Did I mention violation?
Law of the strong versus the weak
Mandatory sex is one way to subjugate
Someone was fucking in the warehouse
tools got slimmed, a rack fell over
solid groundwork was laid
A multitude of actions equals no progress
My ass plays tricks on your brain
There is no time for sex unless forced
Did you call the powers into a meeting?
The landlord too busy to attend
The accountant buried in his books
The secretary took notes even though no one showed
The notes were scant
People who don’t vote are like pigeons
dead on the side of the road
Evil an often-traveled trail
Anger stores up in cellular tissue
No heart can stand a broken back
We must learn to ignore much of everything
Survival, a game we lose
No jackpot named freedom
When did Clockwork Orange become fun?
A thrill a minute means alive
An exchange of body secretions
Sponsor Hugo House is here to let you know about two upcoming event series, both of which are tremendously awesome. First: Word Works: writers on writing. Six writers talkinga bout their process and skills, each focused on a particular part of writing. Second: Hugo Literary Series, where writers and musicians are given a theme or prompt, and debut original work based around that prompt live in front of an audience.
You should be in that audience — event tickets are remarkably cheap, and fun will be had by all. In fact, we recommend you pick up the series passes — it's less than dinner at some midrange Seattle restaurants, and what you save in money you'll make up in pleasure and inspiration. Find out more on our sponsor's page.
It's thanks to sponsors like Hugo House, and readers like you, that we're able to keep the pixels lit up here at the Seattle Review of Books. We've just released our next block of sponsorship opportunities. Check them out on the sponsorship page, and grab your date before they're gone.
(Once in a while, we take a new book out to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab our attention. Lunch Date is our judgment on that speed-dating experience.)
Who’s your date today? The Wonder Trail: True Stores from Los Angeles to the End of the World, by Steve Hely.
Where’d you go? Il Corvo, the ridiculously popular lunch-only pasta spot, right around the corner from Smith Tower. Show up at 11am, or be prepared to wait a long time (maybe waiting is part of the experience for you — it certainly can be fun to chat in line with friends, and strangers).
What’d you eat? Il Corvo only offers three pasta choices each day. This day, the tagliarini, with sweet corn and marjoram, was calling my name.
How was the food? I have an Italian friend who is a pasta expert. I asked her once what she thought of Il Corvo's pasta. "Well," she said, "they use the right semolina, and they cook it right so the tooth is right. But, they use too much sauce." It was a grudging approval, because she added "They have to, for the American palate."
I don't know if she'd think today's pasta was over-sauced, but I thought the tagliarini was amazing — a beautiful heap (check out their picture) of tasty tang, with beautiful round pasta, a bit of cheese, and the unmistakable sweet bite of fresh corn. It was lively and light, for pasta, a perfect summer dish, perfectly portioned. I loved every bite of it.
What does your date say about itself? From the publisher’s promotional copy:
The Wonder Trail is the story of a trip from Los Angeles to the bottom of South America, presented in 102 short chapters. From Mexico City to Oaxaca; into ancient Mayan ruins; the jungles, coffee plantations, and remote beaches of Central America; across the Panama Canal; by sea to Colombia; to the wild Easter celebration of Popayán; to the Amazon rainforest; the Inca sites of Cuzco and Machu Picchu; to the Galápagos Islands; the Atacama Desert of Chile; and down to wind-worn Patagonia at the bottom of the Western Hemisphere; Steve traveled collecting stories, adventures, oddities, marvels, bits of history and biography, tales of weirdos, fun facts, and anything else interesting or illuminating.
Steve's plan was to discover the unusual, wonderful, and absurd in Central and South America, to seek and find the incredible, delightful people and experiences that came his way. And the book that resulted is just as fun. A blend of travel writing, history, and comic memoir, The Wonder Trail will inspire, inform, and delight.
Is there a representative quote? "Everywhere, there are tacos and delicious cheeseburgers and cold-pressed juices and Salvadoran pupusas and Korean barbecues, and every week somebody tells you drive out to some mysterious suburb like San Gabriel or Alhambra to get a soup just like they make it in the souther beach villages of Thailand, or a special tea dumpling you can only get in Sichuan. And the fruits and vegetables! In Los Angeles, it's legal to pick any fruit that hangs over the sidewalk. No one minds because there's so much of it! I used to walk up the street from my house and pluck grapefruits. There are palm trees and cactuses, and in the hills there are deer and coyotes.
For some people this dream is too much, too intense. Scary, even. They try to warn everyone that dreams sometime turn into nightmares. There are police helicopters overhead and there's not enough water, the hills could slide into the ocean at any minute, and who knows what's coming from south over the border?
To these doom prophets most people shrug and say "Maybe!" Sure, maybe in your twenties you read about pessimistic LA urbanist Mike Davis or talk to people at parties about the Manson Family and Blade Runner, but you can't take it too seriously. Keep some of it on your shelf as a souvenier and then move on to Reyner Banhnam, who drove around in the 1970s filming himself marvelling to his English countrymen at how fantastic everything was. Or pick up Joan Didion, who stared hard into the face at everything terrible about Los Angeles but then went off to vacation in Hawaii with the shitloads of money she made writing movies that never happened"
Will you two end up in bed together? I think so, yes. I liked Hely's satire How I Became a Famous Novelist, and there's plenty of his smart, wry, and self-deprecating voice here. He's one of those writers who is hyper-aware of himself and his place in the world, which you kind of have to be if you're a white dude writing about travel these days. You can't just write a great big game hunting memoir anymore, can you? Not unless you're a son of Trump. And who says, even then, you should be able to? Maybe it's political correctness, but then again, maybe it's just having good taste, and from what I've read, Hely seems to have it.
So, instead, travel along with the modern aware man as he gets into trouble, and finds his way out, and notes what he finds along the way, all held in comparison to the history of travel writing. Seems like a fun time to me. Although, to be fair, maybe next time I should read this over pupusas.
Christy McDanold had shopped at Greenlake’s Secret Garden Bookshop, although she wouldn’t call herself a regular. But when in January of 1995 she got a notice from the store announcing a going-out-of-business sale, she decided to get into the bookstore business. She’d never owned, worked at, or even considered the economics of running a bookstore before, but throughout the winter and into the spring she kept “talking and thinking about it.” She didn’t have any real credentials for bookstore ownership. “I went to 29,000 banks,” she says, adding, “I’m only exaggerating a little bit.” They all rejected her. Finally, one woman named Sean at Seafirst Bank was willing to take a chance on McDanold, and she successfully bought Secret Garden.
The physical store had already closed, but McDanold was convinced that the Secret Garden name and reputation was worth the effort of basically rebuilding it from the ground up. Most of the calls she fielded between the store’s closure and resurrection “were about the doggone bricks.” Everybody wanted to buy Secret Garden’s iconic bricks if they weren’t going to be used, but McDanold assured the inquirers that the bricks would remain an integral part of the reopened bookstore.
As spring gave way to summer, McDanold found herself in a race against time. After many weeks of searching, she found a space in Ballard, but the store had to open by June 12th, when Secret Garden’s previous owner had arranged to bring A Wrinkle in Time author Madeleine L'Engle to town. “I met with [publisher] reps at our kitchen table while my husband built the space out” over the course of a few weeks.
They made it, just barely. Secret Garden’s grand reopening in Ballard was headlined by L’Engle. “That was a lovely day,” McDanold says. “Madeleine was wonderful and gracious. At that point she was in her 80s and we put her in a rocking chair and people kind of knelt in front of her,” which McDanold said gave the appearance of L’Engle’s readers “worshipping at her feet. She was delightful.”
There have been a lot of good days since then. In 2000, the shop moved to the former Crown Books space on Market Street — where it still stands today — and it started carrying grown-up books along with kids’ titles. Ask McDanold to name some of her favorite moments, and it’s basically a highlights reel of children’s literature from the last two decades. For instance, when the store brought Redwall author Brian Jacques to town “we had a line around the block,” she says.
All of the Harry Potter release nights “were so much fun.” McDanold remembers the first time Scott Simon raved about the Potter books on NPR, “we could almost hear the metaphorical tires screeching” as cars pulled to the side of the road and owners called the store to reserve copies. J.K. Rowling came to town before the second Potter book was published in the United States, and McDanold recalls her promising to never license out Harry Potter toys or movies. “I can’t imagine how hard it was for her” to shoulder the demands of that kind of Beatles-like global popularity, McDanold says, “so I’m not cross with her” for going back on her word.
But most of all, the relationships she’s built at Secret Garden have made the whole endeavor worthwhile. McDanold is especially proud of all “the young people that have come through as booksellers who have gone on to be fabulous grown-ups. “ She says “we’ve had Secret Garden babies and weddings.” When McDanold talks to strangers about being a bookseller, “they say, ‘oh, you must really love books.’ But people who just love books and who can’t throw their arms around people don’t make it in this business.” Between the booksellers, the readers, the kids, the publishers, and the authors, she says, she’s spent time with “the swellest people ever.”
Thinking back to those early days in 1995, McDanold seems almost surprised by her own tenacity. “I don’t think I’ve ever been as single-minded” as she was about buying Secret Garden, she says. “I just knew I wanted to do this. It was kind of nutso.” Her husband Scot had always dreamed about putting the whole family on a sailboat and living at sea, and in her obsessive ambition to purchase the bookstore, McDanold hadn’t realized that she was changing her family’s ambitions forever.
“One evening I was like, ‘oh, honey what have I done?’ And he said, ‘don’t worry about it. I’ve never been prouder of you.” McDanold never doubted that for a second. “He was a good husband. He never turned back, he never regretted it. Ultimately he came to work in the store and we had a couple of great years,” she says. The shop that he helped build continues in that spirit today, and will continue for years to come.
Salvaged from a weathered and awful piece of marble, Michelangelo’s David seemed like a miracle wrapped in layers of impossible perfection. But Sam Anderson reveals its cracks, scars, and blemishes, all overlooked in hopes that it will simply and luckily survive an impending Florentine disaster.
The trouble is the David’s ankles. They are cracked. Italians first discovered this weakness back in the 19th century, and modern scientists have mapped the cracks extensively, but until recently no one claimed to know just how enfeebled the ankles might be. This changed in 2014, when a team of Italian geoscientists published a paper called “Modeling the Failure Mechanisms of Michelangelo’s David Through Small-Scale Centrifuge Experiments.” That dry title concealed a terrifying story. The paper describes an experiment designed to measure, in a novel way, the weakness in the David’s ankles: by creating a small army of tiny David replicas and spinning them in a centrifuge, at various angles, to simulate different levels of real-world stress. What the researchers found was grim. If the David were to be tilted 15 degrees, his ankles would fail.
Does Alex Honnold have an amygdala, the brain’s fear center? If so, does it work? Even if it does, why does he seek out the experience of standing on a ledge 2,000 feet above ground with no safety gear? J. B. Mackinnon writes about the neuroscience behind the world’s greatest free-soloist climber.
Honnold is history’s greatest ever climber in the free solo style, meaning he ascends without a rope or protective equipment of any kind. Above about 50 feet, any fall would likely be lethal, which means that, on epic days of soloing, he might spend 12 or more hours in the Death Zone. On the hardest parts of some climbing routes, his fingers will have no more contact with the rock than most people have with the touchscreens of their phones, while his toes press down on edges as thin as sticks of gum. Just watching a video of Honnold climbing will trigger some degree of vertigo, heart palpitations, or nausea in most people, and that’s if they can watch them at all. Even Honnold has said that his palms sweat when he watches himself on film.
Nothing reflects the entire nation’s visceral fear of terrorism and shootings more than this sudden manifestation of mass hysteria at JFK airport a few days ago. If there’s anything more terrifying than being a victim of a violent attack, it’s the mere possibility that it could happen — a suffocating truth lingering around us every day. David Wallace-Wells perfectly captures this widespread mindset in a detailing of his own experience of the false alarm.
There was no “they.” There was not even a “he,” no armed person turning on a crowd. But what happened at JFK last night was, in every respect but the violence, a mass shooting. The fact that there was no attack at the center of it was both the weirdest and the scariest part — that an institution whose size and location and budget should make it a fortress, in a country that has spent 15 years focused compulsively on securing its airports, in a city with a terrifyingly competent anti-terror police unit, could be transformed into a scene of utter bedlam, stretching out from all eight terminals across the tarmac and onto the adjacent highways, by the whisper of a threat. Within minutes, the whole apparatus of the airport and its crowd-control mechanisms had collapsed into total disarray.
Caster Semenya, a South African runner, has received heaps of criticism from the media for her androgyny and testosterone levels that are three times higher than the average woman’s. As Melissa Block points out, how do you navigate so many topics in the search for fairness in sports?
"It's the most complicated issue in sport," says Tucker, "because it's so layered. Some of those layers are unpleasant, like the racism and sexism issue. Some of those layers are really fascinating, like the biology. It's just so loaded. It's like every single topic here is a land mine."