Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
The best thing about this piece by the Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood is not his apt and lyrical assessment of Tom Petty’s achievements as a musician, or the wry anecdotes (Petty and the Replacements trading barbs on stage, Hood napping through a one-time chance to meet his hero). It’s how he articulates the different kinds of grief he felt last Monday: the devastating grief we all shared over the grotesque fucked-up-ed-ness of the shooting in Las Vegas — and our government’s continuing permission of such events — and the lesser but still painful loss of a much-loved musician. Many encomiums to Petty have ignored Las Vegas entirely, as if nothing else happened that day.
Thanks for not doing that, Patterson. Play on.
My pain and anger at all of this are so out of control and unfathomable that I don’t even know how to begin to process them. I don’t know how to address it. I sure as hell ain’t going downtown to raise a glass about it. I’m hoping that in time, maybe someone will wake the hell up before it’s too late (if it’s not already) and bring about some kind of real change in our bloodthirsty gun culture. I hope it happens before a massacre occurs in front of me or to one of my loved ones. When members of our government say that they are praying for the victims, I say, Save your prayers for yourself and the hell that I’m certain awaits you. Thoughts such as this are not constructive or helpful, but it’s all I have right now.
And Tom Petty has passed away. I can’t really fathom living in a world without him, but I know for a fact that I’ll never really have to. He lived a full life, not long enough, but fuller than most ever dream. He was loved by millions and left us a legacy of music that will live on for decades, perhaps centuries. He touched our lives and made each day, even the darkest ones, a little brighter and better.
To that, I can raise a glass and toast.
Newsvine, the Seattle-based news site that helped pioneer citizen journalism as a credible alternative to professional reporting (the latter should probably have quotes, air or literal, at this point), closed its doors on October 2. The decade-plus in which Newsvine operated saw seismic changes for the industry, mostly driven by the vast shift in media consumption via social media. Co-founder Mike Davidson’s brief comment on the site’s origins and evolution during this time is both interesting and insightful.
When we look at how the average person’s news and media diet has changed over the last decade or so, we can trace it directly back to the way these and other modern organizations have begun feeding us our news. Up until 10 or 15 years ago, we essentially drank a protein shake full of news. A good amount of fruits and vegetables, some grains, some dairy, some tofu, and then a little bit of sugar, all blended together. Maybe it wasn’t the tastiest thing in the world but it kept us healthy and reasonably informed. Then, with cable news we created a fruit-only shake for half the population and a vegetable-only shake for the other half. Then with internet news, we deconstructed the shake entirely and let you pick your ingredients, often to your own detriment. And finally, with peer-reinforced, social news networks, we’ve given you the illusion of a balanced diet, but it’s often packed with sugar, carcinogens, and other harmful substances without you ever knowing. And it all tastes great!
If you're looking for more on the media, and you've somehow avoided an outraged adrenaline spike this Sunday morning, try this: Buzzfeed's Joseph Bernstein on how Breitbart and Milo Yiannopoulos made it okay to be a Nazi.
All of Eaters’ essays on the decline of the great American chain restaurant are excellent; the series is a delight to explore. But it’s Helen Rosner’s piece on the Olive Garden that won the Internet’s heart this week.
At first I thought that was just the web’s ongoing fascination with the OG. As an Applebee’s girl from childhood, I find this inexplicable (contrariwise, Chip Zdarsky’s gentle, loving mockery of his local Applebee’s has long been my favorite bit of restaurant irony).
But man, now I get it. Rosner’s essay is so good. It’s got art, metaphysics, memoir. It’s funny, contemplative, and knowledgeable. And it holds the menu hack to unlock a magical plate of toasted ravioli.
In the infinity of Olive Garden meals that make up my life, one stands out from the great glutinous mass of memory. It took place outside of Madison, Wisconsin, off a commercial strip that I vaguely remember abutting a retaining pond that was home to an extremely aggressive paddling of ducks. At this meal, two great things happened.
The first is that my boyfriend introduced me to toasted ravioli. This was — and remains — the single greatest thing Olive Garden has ever sold. “Toasted” is a euphemism for fried: The breadcrumb-coated squares of pasta are simultaneously crispy and chewy, filled with a savory meat paste that’s not dissimilar to the inside of a mild Jamaican beef patty. You dip them in warm marinara sauce, which comes in a ramekin on the side.
My boyfriend and I broke up a few weeks after we shared that meal, and when I next entered one of the many doors of the infinite and singular Olive Garden, I wanted the toasted ravioli appetizer, but I couldn’t find it on the menu. The toasted ravioli turned out to be a parable: I scanned the name of every dish on the menu, hoping the next and the next and the next would turn out to be the one I was looking for, and came up with nothing. Here’s the secret: They were right at the beginning all along. Tell your server you want to Create A Sampler Italiano, the very first thing listed on the menu, which involves selecting two or three items from a set of options, toasted ravioli among them, listed in the description in quotidian roman type. Then make every single choice the toasted ravioli.
Nev Jones, a brilliant young philosophy student, noticed one day that a nearby stone wall was both solid and infinitely porous — so much space between its molecules that you could almost blow it away with a puff of breath. It sounds like typical college-kid pretension, but for Jones, it was the first note in a symphony of mental disorder. Writer David Dobbs paired up with Jones (now a successful psychologist) to document America’s self-defeating, isolating response to madness and how it leads us right to the outcomes we’re most afraid of.
Monday, April 21st, 2008, was a particularly fine spring morning in Chicago, with a warming sun and magnolia blossoms scenting the air. The kind of day that, after a tough winter, can seem a miracle, lifting one's spirits and hopes. Jones, ready to start the week's classes and only a few weeks away from summer, was enjoying the walk to campus when she noticed she had a voicemail from Dr. Holland.
Holland seldom had reason to call. Jones became anxious as soon as she saw the message. She would later see the call, and the news it relayed, as the moment in which she went from clinging to a safe place within a small subculture to being flung away from it. The effect would prove catastrophic and lasting.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
Michael Harriot has a brutal takedown of the response to the #takeaknee protests that just builds and builds relentlessly. An effective call for awareness (and call to arms) even for white people who supported the protests wholeheartedly.
Any mention of race is divisive because it overlooks the fact that every color and creed has problems. Some people have to worry about the leader of the free world trying to deport their children, vilifying their religion or referring to their mothers as bitches, while others have to live with the terrible burden of people constantly belittling their chicken seasoning and potato-salad-making.
We all have a struggle.
Recruited by Jarle Andhoy, a madman and self-proclaimed modern-day Viking, 18-year-old Samuel Massie miraculously survived an Antarctic expedition that cost three men their lives. Blair Braverman — who tells their story — drove sled dogs in Norway, led tours of the Alaskan glaciers, and has “adventurer” in her bio. You can feel her passion for the Earth’s most dangerous wild places, and her compassion for those who enter them, in this piece about an otherwise completely insane attempt at the South Pole.
When they left their final port in New Zealand, the Berserk carried five men and ten tons of equipment, including the ATVs, two kayaks, a dinghy, tents, metal ladders for bridging crevasses, food to last them six months, and matching wool socks and skull-and-crossbones hats knit by Robert’s grandmother. They were heading toward the most dangerous waters in the world, where waves could rise 80 feet, three times the length of the 27-foot boat. With the extra gear, the Berserk was top-heavy — but not, they hoped, enough to tip over and drown them. To this day, nobody knows if they were right.
Book archeology! In his profile of Thomas Lannon, archivist at the New York Public Library, James Somers investigates “BookOps” and the meticulous and brilliant people who transform the crumpled, the stuck-together, and the barely readable into the story of a city: the man whose existence was recorded only through a passing mention in a young socialite’s diary; the source material for the best-selling Killers of the Flower Moon.
This essay is a celebration of patience, a lesson in the ethics of information, and a reminder that the Internet, while vast, is not yet the sum total of what we can know.
That is the paradox of being an archivist. The reason an archivist should know something, Lannon said, is to help others to know it. But it’s not really the archivist’s place to impose his knowledge on anyone else. Indeed, if the field could be said to have a creed, it’s that archivists aren’t there to tell you what’s important. Historically momentous documents are to be left in folders next to the trivial and the mundane — because who’s to say what’s actually mundane or not?
I know it’s wrong to enjoy it when other people tank, hard — but hey, we’re only human. Kate Aurthur traces the not-so-gentle failure of Megyn Kelly’s new show, Megyn Kelly Today. If any of the criticisms in this piece — which include a suggestion that stars might be tricked into guesting, and an anecdote in which Jane Fonda cuts Kelly right off at the knees — seem harsh, remember that Kelly is reaping what she’s sown.
Does some of the disdain for Kelly come from her Fox News past haunting her? Are any of these people thinking of when she said, "For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white"; or her "racist demagoguery," in Jamelle Bouie's words; or, in the case of Fonda, resuscitating the image of "Hanoi Jane," just to stoke the Fox News base? I do wonder. Because even if the left projected feminist hero status on Kelly after she was the object of Trump's ire and for arguably being the final nail in Roger Ailes' coffin, she is still largely a cypher.
If you’re a better person than I am, instead read this piece about how stupid-smart our televison-addict president is. Despite that description, it is less a takedown than a considered argument about post-literacy and the difference between deliberative and performative culture.
Jason Kottke rips our hearts out in a handful of words, eulogizing a beautiful tree with a silly name. Patrik Svedberg has been photographing the Broccoli Tree for several years, in a series of images that show the tree in all its glory and humanity in all of ours. Until a recent act of vandalism, that is. RIP, Broccoli Tree.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
Ashley Powers follows two young women attending Cal State Long Beach and gives us a new perspective on “working your way through college,” one that’s a bit less rosy than the classic American trope. Liz Waite carries a full course load while bouncing from couch to couch and navigating a labyrithine system of social aid; Kersheral Jessup makes it to graduation, but it’s not enough to get her out from behind the cash register at Home Depot. An effective and sobering debunking of the bootstrap myth.
No type of school has been more successful at lifting the poor up to the middle class and beyond than midtier public universities like the Cal States. In a ranking published this year of colleges that helped the highest percentage of students claw their way out of poverty, four Cal State campuses made the top 10. Cal State Long Beach clinched the last spot, vaulting 78 percent of its students from the bottom of the economic ladder, where household incomes top out around $25,000 a year. But for all the good Cal State does for its alumni, most students there struggle to get their degrees. Only one in five finishes in four years, and a little more than half graduate in six, their progress slowed, in part, by soaring living costs in one of the nation’s most expensive states.
Speaking of debunking: Snopes.com is famous as the go-to for fending off panicked emails from overly trusting relatives and winning arguments over a second beer. Michelle Dean introduces us to the site’s founders, a scrappy couple who love to get fussy about details, and looks at how Snopes is changing in a country led by the most terrifying urban myth of all.
Since about 2010, this house has passed for a headquarters, as Snopes has no formal offices, just 16 people sitting at their laptops in different rooms across the country, trying to swim against the tide of spin, memes, and outright lies in the American public sphere. Just that morning Mikkelson and his staff had been digging into a new presidential tweet of dubious facticity: “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” Trump had the correct total, but the overwhelming number of those detainees had been released during the George W. Bush administration. “There’s a whole lot of missing context to just that 122 number,” Mikkelson said.
Hazlitt has two very good recent pieces about living in your head, both love stories of a kind. I can’t choose between them, so you get both: Soraya Palmer on her decades-long affair with an imaginary boyfriend, who will never love her the way she wants to be loved, and Patty Yumi Cottrell on her obsession with Fiona Apple, which is actually a devastating story about her brother.
Among my collection of photos, there’s one of Fiona Apple from 1998 that I purchased at a CD Warehouse in a Milwaukee plaza. I’ve kept this photo of Fiona Apple with me all these years, moving from Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Milwaukee to Chicago to New York City to Los Angeles. Every time I pack up my things, I consider throwing it away. It makes me think of abject despair and isolation and my teenage bedroom. It makes me think of my life with my brother, watching NBA games in his dark cocoon of a room, avoiding the rest of our family. He preferred Tori Amos to Fiona Apple. We would argue about who was better at Christmas. He loved Tori Amos, which I thought was weird for a man. He was sensitive. No. I will never throw away my Fiona Apple photo.
Under John Knight’s care, a beehive survives a near-Shakespearean drama, a tragic battle for rule and survival of the hive, complete with love, loss, and self-destruction. (Or is it Game of Thrones?) From a bee’s perspective, the beekeeper is the ultimate deus ex machina. But even the god in the machine has to play by genre rules.
My unraveling colony made clear to me the complex, fraught relationship between honeybee and beekeeper. Bees are tremendously self-sufficient, and follow a set of old and finely tuned instincts. The beekeeper, ideally, needs only to nudge them in the right direction to make them do what he wants: pollinate an almond orchard, or survive on a Brooklyn rooftop. But to do this correctly, the beekeeper needs to understand what it is the hive wants. In my case, Todd was telling me, it wanted to die.
Leland Melvin, former NASA astronaut and NFL player, famous dog-lover, suggests we send Donald Trump to space. Is that an option?
Looking back at our planet from space really helps one get a bigger perspective on how petty and divisive we can be. Donald Trump, maybe you should ask your good friend Mr. Putin to give you a ride on a Soyuz rocket to our International Space Station and see what it’s like to work together with people we used to fight against, where your life depends on it. See the world and get a greater sense of what it means to be part of the human race, we call it the Orbital Perspective.
A broken glass; a stumble on the sidewalk; a misplaced word that leads to hurt feelings. Most of us screw up on a daily basis, and for the most part we can fix it with a little glue and an earnest apology. What happens when you hit the top of the screw-up food chain, though, and someone dies? Alice Gregory explores the aftermath of accidental death and why we have so little to offer the survivors.
There are self-help books written for seemingly every aberration of human experience: for alcoholics and opiate abusers; for widows, rape victims, gambling addicts, and anorexics; for the parents of children with disabilities; for sufferers of acne and shopping compulsions; for cancer survivors, asexuals, and people who just aren’t that happy and don’t know why. But there are no self-help books for anyone who has accidentally killed another person.
In the wake of Amazon’s announcement that they’re planning to grace another city with HQ2 — an announcement met with either consternation or celebration by Seattleites, depending on inclination — read this reflection by Google staffer Min Li Chan about the tech giant’s impact on San Francisco. Chan has been moving toward Google since she was nine; she’s living her childhood dream. But she’s also watching the job she loves steal the city she loves and lives in.
When the first bus protests erupted in late 2013, my peers and I reacted with bewilderment, certain that we had been unjustly cast as scapegoats for the city’s problems. “Why are they angry at us?” a friend remarked one night over dinner. “We haven’t done anything wrong, we’re just trying to get to work!” That morning, a man had driven by our tech shuttle stop in his beat-up Honda Accord and given all of us the middle finger while leaning on his horn. As my friend and I recounted other instances of aggression we had witnessed or heard about, other guests — close friends who didn’t work in the industry — listened. “But you guys get why this is happening, right?” asked one after we had finished our meal. After everyone had gone home, I turned her question over in my mind. In the calculus of culpability, I had believed that as well-meaning technologists and productive members of society, we were irreproachable. How could we be wrong?
Lisa Marie Basile jumps into the Instagram poetry fray after Electric Literature’s recent evisceration of practitioner Collin Yost. This gets stickier the deeper you go; the Twitter exchange (between Portland writer/artist Izze Leslie and Yost) that sparked this particular flamewar went ad hominem quickly and across multiple social media platforms. Basile steers us onto higher ground with some good (oft-trod, but never too oft) questions about the value of verse.
On one hand, I personally don’t think it’s excusable to pump that sort of drivel onto the Internet — especially because of the fact that those Instagram poets, whose work is heavily tied to the Internet, likely have access to other poets’ work on that same Internet. By reading anything published in a literary journal or a release from a small press (which I think is partly a duty of being a poet) or even work by another poet that isn't published, they must have some semblance of knowledge around what constitutes original writing that doesn’t rely on gimmick or cliché.
But if these poets want to write what they write — and if their readers are getting some sort of emotional response out of it — is that not what matters?
With a Blade Runner sequel coming soon, Michael Schulman has a short history of the making of the original. It’s just as chaotic and fraught as you might imagine: Scripts are written on the sly, there’s a near-mutiny on the set, and Philip K. Dick goes creepily head over heels for Sean Young. Here’s just one anecdote, in which Ridley Scott delivers an unwelcome surprise to writer Hampton Fancher:
Then, around Christmas 1980, Scott’s aide Ivor Powell invited Fancher for dinner and handed him a script. Fancher figured it was a different movie entirely, until he flipped the page and realized it was a re-written Blade Runner. “I stood up and started crying, tears coming down my face,” Fancher recalls. “Ivor put his arm around me. He told me this was going to happen before — he said, ‘I know my man. If you don’t do what he wants, he’ll get someone who will.’”
Days later, Fancher stormed into the production office and screamed, “Why?!”
“Elegance is one thing, Hampton,” Deeley told him. “Making a film is another.”
“Fuck you guys,” Fancher said, and returned home to Carmel.
We don't ususally count our dead in the Sunday Post, even on a week of notable losses. Many are mourning Harry Dean Stanton this weekend, rightly; on the non-human side, we obsessively and collectively tracked Cassini's final flight in our imaginations, through the lens of history, and through images.
But if you grew up in a certain midwestern city, there was one death this week that stung even more sharply: Grant Hart, the better half of Minneapolis punk band Hüsker Dü. Many will take issue with "better half," but Grant would love it. And it's sweet, smartass Grant Hart who always belonged to his hometown — no matter how far he traveled.
I first laid eyes on Grant in December of 1983. Hüsker Dü were sharing a bill with SST Records labelmates the Minutemen at Love Hall, a rundown punk dive on South Broad Street in Philadelphia. Grant was being shown around the freezing venue by the promoter before the show and I remember thinking how "un-punk" he looked in his trench coat, paisley shirt and long hair. He looked like a hippie who was on his way to see Hot Tuna but walked into the wrong club.
Any doubts I harbored were obliterated when Hüsker Dü launched into "Something I Learned Today," the lead-off track from their upcoming double album Zen Arcade. I can only liken seeing Hüsker Dü that night to the daze of disorientation you feel after accidentally banging your head on something very hard. It was punk, it was pop, it was jazz, it was psychedelic; it was an ear-splitting swirl of sound. And at the center of the sonic hurricane was Grant Hart, arms flailing, feet flying, laying waste to every drum and cymbal in his path.
This week, a credible solution to the most mysterious manuscript of all has been put forth. Is the Voynich manuscript a private home-remedies manual for a well-to-do woman? Nicholas Gibbs certainly thinks so. I think Maria Dahvana Headley said it best:
I'm going to be cackling & bouncing around the room if indeed the Voynich is a 15th century Our Bodies, Ourselves. https://t.co/eXM3uCSGc4— Maria DahvanaHeadley (@MARIADAHVANA) September 8, 2017
For medievalists or anyone with more than a passing interest, the most unusual element of the Voynich manuscript – Beinecke Ms. 408, known to many as “the most mysterious manuscript in the world” – is its handwritten text. Although several of its symbols (especially the ligatures) are recognizable, adopted for the sake of economy by the medieval scribes, the words formed by its neatly grouped characters do not appear to correspond to any known language. It was long believed that the text was a form of code – one which repeated attempts by cryptographers and linguists failed to penetrate. As someone with long experience of interpreting the Latin inscriptions on classical monuments and the tombs and brasses in English parish churches, I recognized in the Voynich script tell-tale signs of an abbreviated Latin format. But interpretation of such abbreviations depends largely on the context in which they are used. I needed to understand the copious illustrations that accompany the text.
Seattle writer, and Seattle Review of Books contributor, Anca Szilágyi walks a numbered path for the Los Angeles Review of Books, detailing her observations of Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son, and in doing so recalls Sontag, Berger, and others. She explores how a painting evokes both a method to the artist, and an evocation of historical moments foretold.
4. Saturno devorando a su hijo is different from Francisco Goya’s other works, such as early portraits of royalty or even later etchings sharply critical of the atrocities of war. It is one of the Black Paintings affixed to the walls of his home, Quinta del Sordo (House of the Deaf Man), which he bought in 1819 at age 72. These paintings were not commissioned. They were not for sale. No one saw them until after his death. The artist’s fear is in Saturn’s eyes.
Thought it was gonna be all medieval ciphers today and explorations of dark paintings today? Sorry, and welcome to the nightmare of our modern backslide into mid-century unexceptionalism, racism, and horribleness. Turns out, white parents will segragate their schools again. Because reasons. Emmanuel Felton reports on this very thing for the Nation.
See, also, the New York Times Magazine take on the same issue.
Speaker after speaker complained about how the city had been portrayed. This wasn’t about race, they insisted, but about doing what was best for “our” children. But Williams knew that her children weren’t included in that “our.” Just the night before, at a meeting in her own neighborhood, Jefferson County’s superintendent presented Williams and the other parents with a list of schools their kids could choose if Gardendale left the district. All of the schools served more black and poor students than Gardendale’s, and all had far worse test scores. At the Gardendale meeting, Williams stood by quietly until she couldn’t take it anymore.
As she headed to the front of the packed hearing room, Williams felt glad that she had dressed up. “I’m a product of the schools they don’t want my children to be at,” she said later. “I wanted to be a perfect example of why they should include them.”
John Lanchester writes about Facebook for the London Review of Books. He is decidedly not a Millennial digital native, but as Facebook switches from being a successful startup to a world-dominating force, holding them to a high standard becomes absolutely critical.
Zuckerberg’s news about Facebook’s size came with an announcement which may or may not prove to be significant. He said that the company was changing its ‘mission statement’, its version of the canting pieties beloved of corporate America. Facebook’s mission used to be ‘making the world more open and connected’. A non-Facebooker reading that is likely to ask: why? Connection is presented as an end in itself, an inherently and automatically good thing. Is it, though? Flaubert was sceptical about trains because he thought (in Julian Barnes’s paraphrase) that ‘the railway would merely permit more people to move about, meet and be stupid.’ You don’t have to be as misanthropic as Flaubert to wonder if something similar isn’t true about connecting people on Facebook. For instance, Facebook is generally agreed to have played a big, perhaps even a crucial, role in the election of Donald Trump. The benefit to humanity is not clear. This thought, or something like it, seems to have occurred to Zuckerberg, because the new mission statement spells out a reason for all this connectedness. It says that the new mission is to ‘give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together’.
Paisley Rekdal's beautiful, devastating comment on her poem "Philomela" deserves a willing commitment of time and attention. Fair warning: it's anchored by an open recounting of sexual assault, so read at your own emotional risk. Rekdal draws on centuries of poetry — Shakespeare, Ovid, Chaucer are just a start — to gloss her experience and her own lines, spiraling away from and back to the narrative. This is literature at the top of its game.
Perhaps the greatest desire a victim of violence has is to look, in memory, at that violence dispassionately. But remembering, the heart pounds, the body floods with adrenaline, ready to tear off into flight. For some, there is no smoothing chaos back into memory. Poetry, with its suggestion that time can be ordered through language, strains to constrain suffering. It suggests, but rarely achieves, the redress we desire. Language does not heal terror, and if it brings us closer to imagining the sufferer’s experience, this too does not necessarily make us feel greater compassion, but a desire for further sensation. If we cannot articulate pain beyond inspiring in the listener a need for revenge, we only speak of and to the body.
An impassioned piece by Scott Esposito, author of The Surrender, on why books matter — with a visceral example from his own life. As Esposito says, it’s easy for even the most dedicated readers, writers, and booksellers to feel overwhelmed by the daily grind and the “mind-numbing cascade of new books, book reviews, author interviews, profiles, lists, gossip, feuds, and so on.” His essay is a welcome antidote.
I know that against the awesome power of the President of the United States a single book doesn’t seem like much, against a hateful Klan rally a mere LGBTQ bookstore display seems puny. But I’m here to tell you that these things do make a difference for a lot of people. We must not doubt the importance of books. When we publish, or handsell, or review, or simply recommend to a friend, we must think very deeply about the kinds of messages we are putting into the world, as well as the sort of country we want our literary culture to represent. They are heard and seen by people all around us, and they are affecting lives.
Lana Lokteff runs a media company that’s the digital hub for the alt-right, and advocates for using the fear of rape as a conversion tactic to bring other women into the fold. Ayla Stewart is a successful YouTube personality who dresses her children (her “BASKET FULL OF ADORABLES”) as Pepe the Frog. Mary Grey is a podcaster and the author of the children’s book Walls and Fences (“Why do we build walls? We have walls for protection.”).
These are women walking a very thin line, stepping into positions of power within our nation’s ugliest political splinter group while advocating for their own subordination. Seyward Darby’s investigation of how the alt-right’s perhaps most dangerous members operate, and what they hope for, is a long, slow punch in the stomach.
For months, America has tried to understand what the movement wants. Perhaps the better question is, who gets to decide? In grappling with how to set priorities, the alt-right is bumping up against ideological contradictions, divergent opinions, and other schisms in its ardent, loosely formed ranks. Assertive women are exposing some of these fissures, which seem likely to grow as the movement vies for a modicum of political acceptance.
Lokteff, though, is sanguine. “Ten years from now, a lot of these alt-right concepts are going to be very mainstream in white people’s minds,” she told me. Then, as though a light bulb had clicked on in her brain, she continued: “Look at feminism. It started as a fringe movement. Now it’s mainstream, left and right.”
Benjamin Haas spent a week in Hong Kong’s ironically named Lucky House, where “the poorest people in the most expensive city in the world” find shelter in tiny plywood enclosures, so small they’re openly referred to as “coffin homes.” Haas got just a taste of life in twelve feet of personal space; as you read his essay, imagine the experience without an exit date. This photoessay on the same subject from June has blunter impact; the two pair well.
The plight of Hong Kong’s coffin dwellers is well known throughout the city. The tight living conditions have become so infamous, one hostel styled its dormitory as a sort of hip hybrid of coffin homes with modern details.
The hostel bills itself as “authentically HK”, which strikes me as insensitive, as no one who has spent a night in a coffin home would ever think there is anything trendy about how the poorest live.
But the hostel’s existence speaks to the complacency that has developed, with many Hong Kong residents convinced the city’s problems are unsolvable.
David Roth won the internet’s heart this week by boiling our nightmare national politics down a simple and compelling assertion: Donald Trump is an asshole. We’ve let the Confounder in Chief tie us in knots, and we’ve knotted ourselves up just as much, trying to make sense of it all. Roth’s Gordian solution — “stop trying” — is a bit of a relief all around.
There is no room for other people in the world that Trump has made for himself, and this is fundamental to the anxiety of watching him impose his claustrophobic and airless interior world on our own. Is Trump a racist? Yes, because that’s a default setting for stupid people; also, he transparently has no regard for other people at all. Does Trump care about the cheap-looking statue of Stonewall Jackson that some forgotten Dixiecrat placed in a shithole park somewhere he will never visit? Not really, but he so resents the fact that other people expect him to care that he develops a passionate contrary opinion out of spite. Does he even know about . . . Let me stop you there. The answer is no.
In an essay that's pretty much the antithesis of asshole (see above), Danielle Tcholakian talks about becoming a journalist in the era of fake news, and what it takes to keep an open heart — and an open ear — with people who have fundamentally different beliefs. May we all maintain the same equanimity in the face of conflict, and the same willingness to take a punch if it means a handshake at the end of the round.
Maybe it will be exhausting and frustrating. But I want to try, both in-person and online, with people who have thousands of followers and people who have a handful. Because it’s my job and I love my job, because they are colleagues and neighbors and voters, and because we all have to live here on this Earth together, and if we’re not communicating, what the hell are we doing?
Maybe you’re refusing to read any of the buzz around the anniversary of Princess Diana’s death; it’s an entirely defensible position, and I was like you until The Guardian pushed this piece by Hilary Mantel. Gretel, princess bride, Joan of Arc, White Goddess — Mantel applies her signature talent for pulling story out of history to the question of why we can’t stop talking about Diana Spencer.
Myth does not reject any material. It only asks for a heart of wax. Then it works subtly to shape its subject, mould her to be fit for fate. When people described Diana as a “fairytale princess”, were they thinking of the cleaned-up versions? Fairytales are not about gauzy frocks and ego gratification. They are about child murder, cannibalism, starvation, deformity, desperate human creatures cast into the form of beasts, or chained by spells, or immured alive in thorns. The caged child is milk-fed, finger felt for plumpness by the witch, and if there is a happy-ever-after, it is usually written on someone’s skin.
But in case you just can’t stomach or just don’t care (still very defensible), here’s another excellent long read from The Guardian: a look back at the tsunami that followed the monstrous 2011 earthquake in Japan, and how hard it is to make the right decision when the water comes over the wall.
“What do you like to read” is a very personal question; Amy Reading breaks down why. A little romantic — or, less generously, pretentious — this essay works best as a personal reflection and less well as an anatomy. Most readers will recognize themselves at least once or twice, then enjoy arguing when they don’t.
Part of the problem is in the word “like,” that little heart we tap ten thousand times a day. I like lots of things, so many things, but I am not guided by what I like. I regularly read books that I know I’ll dislike, not to hate-read, but because I’m just plain curious — because there is something in there I need that is not pleasure.
On a recent visit to the US Post Office, a postal employee offered some practical advice: need packing material? Grab a few copies of the The Stranger from the box at the door. Leaves you wondering: with the Village Voice gone digital, what the heck are New Yorkers using to wrap fish?
David Dudley’s mostly unsentimental comment on the shuttering of the Village Voice’s print edition does a good job on why alt-weeklies matter, and why print matters in particular for the free weekly newspaper. It’s not just the writing — though alt-weeklies can offer a specific and unique way of experiencing a city — it’s how print gets in your space, welcome or not, and stays there.
The thing the Voice and its descendants gave readers was something more important than the occasional scoop: They served as critical conveyors of regional lore and scuttlebutt and intel. Dailies may have told you what was going on; alt-weeklies helped make people locals, a cranky cohort united by common enthusiasms and grievances. The alternative media was the informal archive of the city’s id, a catalog of fandom and contempt that limned the contours of the populace. And this part of their role, as it turns out, is a lot harder to replace in the digital era.
Instead of starting this week's picks looking backward at the barfing horror show of a week that proceeded it, let us turn our attention to the heavens, to the cleaving of our nation by a shadow stripe which will wend its way from west to east, a direction opposite the sun's travel (therefore significant, symbolically), and in that unearthly darkness (the shadow of which, for a minute or three, reminds us of one necessary constant in our lives that we barely pay enough heed to, the mostly unhidden sun) may the sins of our forbearers be purified in the birth of a new sun, a post eclipse sun, a sun whose rays pierce madness and bring succor to pain and horror and fear. Let this moment our country is experiencing be but a symptom of misunderstood celestial psychology; for ask any emergency room worker and they will tell you that things are worse at a full moon. Surely, then, there is a possibility that the madness we are amidst, this unhinged and unbalanced carnage of irrationality could be tied to the heavens and the gravitational bodies swinging against each other, drawn by the magnetism of our dense inflamed nuclear center. Let it be so. Let us be free of this terror.
Apparently, eclipses inspire great awe. Don't take my word for it, listen to Annie Dillard:
I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970. A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane. Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it. During a partial eclipse the sky does not darken—not even when 94 percent of the sun is hidden. Nor does the sun, seen colorless through protective devices, seem terribly strange. We have all seen a sliver of light in the sky; we have all seen the crescent moon by day. However, during a partial eclipse the air does indeed get cold, precisely as if someone were standing between you and the fire. And blackbirds do fly back to their roosts. I had seen a partial eclipse before, and here was another.
Lauren Michele Jackson argues that the explosion of white-owned "craft" businesses are built on privilege and appropriation. You will not be surprised to learn this is not a new phenomenon. As Jackson points out, Jack Daniels himself learned how to distill from an enslaved black man named Nathan "Nearest" Green. Jackson visits barbecue and coffee as well, bringing forth the black history so readily ignored.
Craft culture looks like white people. The founders, so many former lawyers or bankers or advertising execs, tend to be white, the front-facing staff in their custom denim aprons tend to be white, the clientele sipping $10 beers tends to be white. Craft culture tells mostly white stories for mostly white consumers, and they nearly always sound the same: It begins somewhere remote-sounding like the mountains of Cottonwood, Idaho, or someplace quirky like a basement in Fort Collins, Colorado, or a loft in Brooklyn, where a (white) artisan, who has a vision of back in the day, when the food was real and the labor that produced it neither alienated nor obscured — and discovers a long-forgotten technique, plucked from an ur-knowledge as old as thought and a truth as pure as the soul.
Can you believe it hasn't even been a fucking week since that shitshow? A moment so present and intense in cultural life, that it will be the point they talk about in history books. You could feel how palpable it was, the needless and horrible deaths, the nazi inciting to violence, the militias armed to the teeth and ready to defend...something.
But of all the reports I've read from the ground, Blake Montgomery's coverage for BuzzFeed News is the clearest and most well laid-out. It's a nice companion piece to the Vice Media video that has been so widely shared.
Yes, you can blame the Nazis.
The race-fueled chaos that wracked Charlottesville, Virginia, finally came to rest on Sunday night. And the hundreds of people who spent the weekend fighting in streets — and the millions who watched them — began what has become a new American ritual: arguing about what really happened, and what a spasm of localized political violence means.
Was this an assault by racist extremists on innocent, rightly outraged Americans? Was it a clash between “many sides,” as President Trump notoriously said? Was the scale of the white supremacist threat blown out of proportion? Was the violence of the black-hooded “antifa” understated?
The answers are clearer on the ground than they are in the filter bubbles driven by fierce partisan argument on social media and cable news. They are complicated but not ambiguous. Here are a few:
Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman draw the stark line in the sand for Jews who either support, or think they have found common cause with our president. There is no middle ground here, now that he has unequivocally showed his truth. The time to oppose him is now.
So, now you know. First he went after immigrants, the poor, Muslims, trans people and people of color, and you did nothing. You contributed to his campaign, you voted for him. You accepted positions on his staff and his councils. You entered into negotiations, cut deals, made contracts with him and his government.
Now he’s coming after you. The question is: what are you going to do about it? If you don’t feel, or can’t show, any concern, pain or understanding for the persecution and demonization of others, at least show a little self-interest. At least show a little sechel. At the very least, show a little self-respect.
There’s nothing like a solid takedown, especially of a book that, apparently, many people disliked but were afraid to confess to disliking until the movie trailer came out. We could go deep here on how nerd culture became cool, and whether we’ve hit peak nerd and are ready for a nerd backlash, but maybe let’s just take this at face value: Ready Player One had the references, but not the heart, of Among Others. One round was enough.
Nearly every one of Ready Player One’s faults is a direct result of Cline’s authorial narcissism. The writing process appears to have begun with the question: What if the entire world revolved around me, and the specific video games and movies I like? The rest was assembled around that essential core. Cline is far from the first author to write a self-insert wish fulfillment narrative, but he may be the first to write one this lazy and self-indulgent.
It’s a narrow line: spend a day in one of the lowest-paid and least-respected jobs in the food industry; write a shiny, self-deprecating-but-not-really, slice-of-life story; but don’t condescend or overwrite the reality of working your ass off for very little money in an environment where your colleagues may not even speak your language.
Food critic Tom Sietsema does a reasonable job with his recounting of a day as a dishwasher in a high-pressure restaurant kitchen, and there’s lot of interesting stuff about the job itself — and how the job is changing, thanks in part to successful chefs who got their start with their arms buried in suds. Here’s hoping equal salary goes along with the new titles and upgraded uniforms.
The median annual wage for the 500,000 or so dishwashers in the United States is about $20,000, up only $4,000 or so from just over a decade ago. But a few restaurants, including the French Laundry, give cleaners the stature of sous chefs and extend titles that capture the broad range of responsibilities.
“We don’t call them dishwashers, but porters,” says Keller, who got his start washing dishes in his mother’s restaurant, the late Bay & Surf in Laurel, Md. “We give them the same respect we give anyone else in the restaurant.” Indeed, the only difference between the embroidered uniforms worn by his chefs and his porters are the latter’s short sleeves.
This series of photographs of front-row fans, taken by documentary photographer Jessica Lehrman from the concert stage, are stellar: the human face (and body) burning with adrenaline, jubilation, awe, and fury. Look especially for the outliers in each image — the stone-faced security guard, the blue-lit skeptic, the man whose eyes drift from the star and meet the camera dead-on.
The front-row fans are willing to be crushed against a metal barricade, hundreds, maybe thousands of people swaying and pulsing behind them, all connected to the same rhythm.
There are weepers, Instagrammers, those who need to live-stream all their experiences.
The fanatics know every single word.
There’s a surprising amount of romance in Bloomberg Businessweek’s soul — witness this piece by Greg Milner on NYC’s subterranean mirror. We’ve mapped the surface of the planet down to the last ripple and bump; maybe the final frontier is under our feet.
New York City’s daunting infrastructural labyrinth is like the “Here be dragons” decorating ancient maps. Underneath the 6,000 miles of asphalt and concrete road lie thousands of miles of water, sewer, gas, telecommunications, and electrical infrastructure. And let’s not forget the 500 miles of underground subway tracks or Con Edison’s 100-mile steam delivery system. In its entirety, it’s known to no one.
An ode to the numero by type designer Jonathan Hoefler, a geeky piece that philosophizes about punctuation, reminisces over a few lost forms (the asterism!), and winds its way to a detailed exploration of the main character (pun intended). The internet is swarming with this kind of “inside look” from industry experts; here’s an enjoyable example based on real knowledge and obvious love for the subject.
At its leading edge, punctuation is volcanically active, giving shape to concepts that move far faster than words. Anyone communicating today has seen #topics and #themes and #categories identified this way, using a symbol that was intuitively understood and replicated even before it was first called a hashtag in 2007. The symbol and its meaning are now universally recognized, transcending even the locality of language, but their use is scarcely a decade old — an astounding accomplishment for a bit of lexical fluff, when you consider that the newfangled OMG was first recorded in 1917 (and in a letter to Winston Churchill, no less.)
This essay by soccer player Georgia Cloepfill starts with what I believe is called a “devastating indictment” of the discrepancy in how male and female athletes are treated, financially and otherwise; that section alone is worth your time. And then she offers more, handfuls of short, lyrical-in-a-good-way vignettes about the nature of work, sacrifice, and achievement, through the lens of a woman who’s dedicated a great deal of heart to her sport.
I ask the clock how much time is left. It answers in monotonous pulses: there is still time, there is still time; or: it is nearly over. The amount of time that passes is inseparable from the immensity of my panic — they are one and the same.
With a comfortable lead, ninety minutes have the texture of a single day. Things happen with a calm inevitability. Events are as stable as a sunset, and consequences are modest. There is still time to erase, if necessary; to repeat, if you’ve already done the right thing; to find glory, if glory has thus far proved elusive.
At its worst obscure, self-righteous, and exclusionary, academic language is such an easy target! And yet I can’t help cheering Nathan J. Robinson on as he takes aim and fires at it again. In fairness (to the language), his point is that academic writing isn’t inherently bad, it’s just used that way.
if people are actually trying to communicate with one another their words need to have meaning, and we need to have relatively fixed and identifiable definitions for concepts and actions. That’s always going to be elusive, because the usages of words will change over time and vary among users, so it will be impossible for any definition to stay truly stable and universally agreed. Yet while their boundaries can be fuzzy and contested, words ultimately need to be something more than meaningless mouth-noises.
If we’re going to face off against inflated language (see above), why not go head-to-head with inflated pocketbooks as well? If Spidey has to check his virtue, even more so Batman.
According to many philosophies and faiths, wealth should serve only as a steppingstone to some further good and is always fraught with moral danger. We all used to recognize this; it was a commonplace. And this intuition, shared by various cultures across history, stands on firm empirical ground.
Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.”
Bonus for book nerds! Adrian Tahourdin reports out of London on how to decode the ISBN, and on the sea change its adoption signaled in what we know about the books we read. The article is a bit of an amuse-bouche, so here are a couple of trails to follow, based on Tahourin’s references: Philip Bradley on the ISBN’s history and use, and David Whitaker (“the father of the ISBN”) on the classification system’s birth.
One senior editor at the time would spend half his working hours proof-reading the item; I think he quite enjoyed it. He must have known many of the ISBN prefixes by heart: 0 19 for Oxford, 0 521 for Cambridge, the somehow pleasing 0 224 for Jonathan Cape, and the equally pleasing 0 393 for Norton and 0 674 for Harvard. Another editor at the TLS used to like being tested on ISBN prefixes, but she recalls that particular challenge now with some (understandable) embarrassment. She’s probably not even aware that Cambridge University Press a few years ago changed their prefix from 521 to 107.
A microinteraction with a stranger waiting to ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad sparks a wide-ranging essay by Tabitha Blankenbiller on women’s clothing, choice, and self-respect. And nope, it wasn’t a man who shamed her for wearing a dress to the Happiest Place on Earth.
A day at Disneyland is a rare day of freedom. If you have a ticket, you have the world. You can stay as late as your feet will carry you, ride as many Mountains and Mansions and Cruises and Carousels as you wish. You can have Dole Whips for lunch and Matterhorn Macaroons for dinner. You can let yourself believe that the college student in a wig you’ve waited forty minutes in line to be photographed with is actually Cinderella because she is Meryl Streep-level committed to the role. A hundred fireworks end the day not because it’s special, but because it exists.
On top of that, you can wear whatever you want.
You’ll begin this piece by Martha Baille knowing what it’s about; very shortly in, you’ll realize you have no idea at all. But you’ll keep reading — lyrical in substance, blunt in language, and personal without a hint of gossip, it’s addictive. Yes, this is slightly mysterious; now is a moment for trust. Read on!
My future self, month in month out, has perched on the tall filing cabinet in the corner of my study these past eleven years. Every so often I’ve cast a glance her way, applauded V for his fine sense of humour, and wondered about the life and identity of the woman captured in the likeness offered to me as a teasing foretelling of who I may one day become. Most days I’ve given her no thought, yet she has hovered. Then H’s recent shot of her arrived.
Graphic novelist Jess Ruliffson has spent the past five years interviewing veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars for an upcoming book about their experiences. This well-timed excerpt is a reminder, for those who need it, of what’s at stake when our crazy president salves his political humiliations by reverting to Bully in Chief.
Nate Silver wins this week’s sci-fi smartass award for playing tour guide through an alternate universe in which we were all right about Election Day 2016.
Things are really different on Earth 2! Merrick Garland is on the Supreme Court instead of Neil Gorsuch. Clinton didn’t enact a “travel ban.” The United States didn’t withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Kellyanne Conway has a CNN show.
OK, maybe things aren’t that different. This is Earth 2, not Earth 5, where Clinton won in a landslide, or Earth 4044, where Jim Gilmore is president (it’s a cold and dark place, and I wouldn’t advise visiting). Earth 2 preserves about as many of Earth 1’s features as possible, other than the things that just can’t be the same because you have Trump as your president and we have Clinton as ours.
Would you rather live and work in a Twinkie, or in your grandmother’s fruitcake? (Perhaps neither.) David Galbraith proposes a new concept, “recipe-based” city design, that could change how architecture and city planning interact with human experience. A fabulous set of images and examples, from David Cronenberg to Mies van der Rohe, brings this somewhat wonky piece to life.
This functional need for highly ordered city plans is changing, however, as information technology allows communication that is independent of the physical environment, and intelligent automation allows point to point physical movement in self directed pods rather than mass transit on fixed arteries. Specifically, ubiquitous, GPS enabled smartphones remove entirely the concept of "getting lost," and route programmed self driving cars and mesh network power grids enable organic city layouts to replace grids. Cities of the industrial age looked mechanical, cities of the information age can look like fractal networks — like nature.
Not to beat you with a dead horse, as my high school chemistry teacher used to say (verbatim) — the issues novelist Matthew Galloway raises in this piece are frequently discussed on the Seattle Review of Books — but: Publishing is going through the kind of cataclysmic shift that certain industries refer to as “disruptive,” and no reader or writer can afford to play innocent bystander.
Galloway published his first book in the “Green Zone” enclave of Big Publishing, his second with “the resistance” (independent publishers and sellers). The metaphor is dramatic, and he’s quick to dismiss the financial issues faced by those for whom writing is a vocation, rather than an avocation. But he has a solid insider’s view of how Amazon is shaping the book market, and how that translates into costs and benefits for authors, publishers, and readers.
Here’s some good news: As soon as an industry player is declared disruptive, it’s a sure thing that they’re vulnerable to disruption by the next new thing. It’ll take more than a drone army to keep Amazon fresh, as long as those committed to the written word make pragmatic decisions — decisions that drive the right action from publishing, and not Amazon’s bottom line.
Then there’s Amazon. If you talk to your overworked/underpaid friends who work in the trenches of Big Publishing, you’ll be keenly aware that no decision — from “content” to book covers to publication schedules to sales/marketing strategies — gets made without considering the actual or looming impact of the alien overlord/distributor. If Amazon is “unhappy” about anything, or if the perception of unhappiness is wielded like a dictatorial cudgel, the publisher will scurry to find a solution. The message — and the reality — from Amazon is: Make Us Happy or Die Trying.
The story of artificial intelligence is, at least for now, a story about human intelligence. Alexis Madrigal profiles Marion Tinsley and Jonathan Schaeffer — the world’s greatest checkers player and the world’s greatest checkers programmer. Chinook, the program that came between them, is a quiet third wheel as the two men race to the death (literally) for mastery of the board.
Schaeffer and Tinsley sat across from each other, and a large screen rendered the movement of the pieces. Tinsley drew first blood, besting Chinook in game five. But then in game eight, Chinook delivered a stunning win; it was Tinsley’s sixth loss in 40 years.
Despite the years of toil and dreams of success, Schaeffer felt sadness in that moment. “We’re still members of the human race,” he wrote in his book, “and Chinook defeating Tinsley in a single game means that it will only be a matter of time before computers will be supreme in checkers, and eventually in other games like chess.” Schaeffer might have won, but the humans have lost.
To celebrate his fiftieth birthday, Mike Montiero wrote a letter that’s somehow both typically irascible and terrifically poignant — about landing on the moon, landing in America, and choosing your own “we.” If you can get through this without watching the Dead Milkmen video twice, and/or crying a little, you’re a better man than I am.
As I looked down at my new son, I realized that for the first time in my life I was in a relationship I could not run away from, could not put on someone else, could not half-ass, could not pretend to do right. Even if I managed to to get all those things right, what genetic malfeasance had I saddled this kid with? I looked at this little bundle of pink flesh and spit and poop and realized that inside him there was the genetic code for depression, Alzheimer’s, cancer, anxiety, and all sorts of other shit. I looked at that little kid and thought, little one you are fucked.
Conversations about race and class and economic disparity are loud and angry in post-Trump (or, sadly, mid-Trump) America. David Joy strikes the tough balance between apology and defense in this honest essay about what “trash” really means.
Maybe that’s why what I read in a trade review recently struck me so hard. The reviewer didn’t like my book, and that’s all right. A whole lot of people don’t like my books, and that’s perfectly OK. My books aren’t for everyone. This reviewer didn’t like what he called my “Southern Poverty Law Center photorealism.” This is what got me, though. He wrote that I should “leave the peeling trailers, come down out of the hollers, and try writing about people for a change.” He actually italicized that word, people, to be sure and say that what lives in those trailers, what finds itself in a world consumed by hopelessness, addiction, and violence, those aren’t people at all. I’m not sure what he thinks men like my grandfather, boys like Darrell, Smokey, Bubba and Lyndon, men like Donny, like Paco are, other than to use his own words, “trailer trash.”
Yes! Housework is “a nerve-twangling bore”! Let’s celebrate the life of the woman who recognized that ugly truth and did something about it: designed and built a house — her own — to end the tyranny of daily cleaning chores.
In each room, Ms. Gabe, tucked safely under an umbrella, could press a button that activated a sprinkler in the ceiling. The first spray sent a mist of sudsy water over walls and floor. A second spray rinsed everything. Jets of warm air blew it all dry. The full cycle took less than an hour.
Runoff escaped through drains in Ms. Gabe’s almost imperceptibly sloping floors. It was channeled outside and straight through her doghouse, where the dog was washed in the bargain.
Lindy West isn’t a social justice warrior, she’s a social justice apocalypse. Unsurprisingly, she’s already taking heat for her new weekly column in the New York Times — the Internet’s creepiest denizens have very little sense of irony. Keep publishing petty insults in Reddit forums with unprintable names, trolls; Lindy’s in the NYT.
What we could really use, my guys, is some loud, unequivocal backup. And not just in public, when the tide of opinion has already turned and a little “woke”-ness might benefit you — but in private, when it can hurt.
One of my podcasting friends told me that he does stick up for women in challenging situations, like testosterone-soaked comedy green rooms, for instance, but complained, “I get mocked for it!”
Yes, I know you do. Welcome.
In the wake of the debate over David Wallace-Wells’ New York magazine piece, which describes a catastrophically uninhabitable planet within a matter of decades, revisit this quiet, lyrical essay from last month’s Oxford American. It’s a telescope-to-microscope shift: Wallace-Wells imagines a worst-case outcome on a global scale; Molly McArdle brings it back to the coast of North Carolina and a family with generations of investment in, almost literally, a castle built on sand.
These days — as the weather everywhere grows steadily stranger, storms stronger, seas higher — I worry about the Outer Banks, surrounded by water and just barely above the waves. What does it mean to be from, and of, one of the most vulnerable places on Earth? The Midgetts felt like a key. Six years after I first took note of them, I started the nine-hour drive down the coast to find what I could unlock with it.
Is it utopian or dystopian to posit a world in which humanity’s unique value proposition — against a growing force of AI workers — is providing a compassionate interface while machines do the real thinking? AI researcher Kai-Fu Lee’s experience with lymphoma gave him a new perspective on his life’s work.
The answer I propose would never have come to me when I was myself somewhat of an automaton, living to work rather than the other way around. It was only my cancer diagnosis, and the sudden realization of what my own stupidity had made me miss, that led me to my suggestion. Our coexistence with artificial intelligence hinges on combining what is humanly unattainable—the hugely scaled narrow AI intelligence that will only get better at any given domain—with what we humans can uniquely offer to one another. And that is love. What makes us human is that we can love.
Dawson, MN, welcomed Dr. Ayaz Virji — its first Muslim resident — with open arms when he and his family arrived three years ago. Then his town joined the majority in Minnesota that voted to put Donald Trump into office. Ayaz became a reluctant spokesperson for his religion, and an increasingly reluctant resident of the community that used to feel like home.
“Hey there,” Ayaz said, snapping out of his thoughts to greet his neighbor.
“Hiya,” said the neighbor, who worked in security.
He had heard from his wife about the talk in Granite Falls and, wanting to be helpful, had offered to lend Ayaz his bulletproof vest for the evening, and here it was, in the duffle bag he was slinging through the ornate front door. He set it down on a chair in the doctor’s study and pulled out the vest. Ayaz looked at it. He began taking off his suit jacket and tie to try it on.
What’s it like to be on the other side of the airport security experience, especially right now? To work in job where ideological decisions come down to eye contact between a tired traveler and the agent calling you over for a pat-down? Edward Schwarzschild, for reasons barely known even to himself, took a break from his university job and career as a writer to find out.
The lines around me at divestiture were backing up; suddenly there were two passengers in wheelchairs, another two passengers requesting pat-downs to avoid the scanner, and a young woman with a Siamese cat in a small carry-on. I struggled to recall the SOP for pets. I had to keep the lines moving. I needed to continue repeating my script about liquids, gels, aerosols, jackets, and laptops. As TSOs, we were supposed to Create Calm and demonstrate Command Presence, but I was starting to sweat and my voice didn’t sound confident to me and I wasn’t sure exactly what I should be saying into my walkie-talkie.
In a highly amusing essay (hopefully not only to this fellow worrier), Irish novelist Donal Ryan traces the bloodlines of worry in his family and finds a quantum solution, only to be defeated by a faulty sensor on a plane from New York to Shannon.
A brilliant idea occurred to me, a way of allowing me to worry in an infinitely efficient manner. Instead of worrying in a haphazard and time-eating way about whatever happened to present itself to my consciousness at any given moment, and unless I had a specific and urgent worry to contend with, I’d restrict myself to worrying about gluons, the tiniest of the known particles of matter.
We are turning the stories of our lives over to our devices, and especially to the social media channels — Facebook, Instagram — where our memories are preserved, ostensibly for the consumption of others, but ultimately for our own. Molly Sauter asks about the consequences of moving our memories into crisp digital vaults where they remain ageless while we wither.
[P]hysical evocations age, and their value and veracity as objects of testimony ages with them and us. They date, they fade, they display their distance from the events they are connected to and their distance from us. Digital memory objects, on the other hand, although they might abruptly obsolesce, do not age in the same way. They remain flatly, shinily omni-accessible, represented to us cleanly both in the everlasting ret-conned context of their creation and consumption. The user interface of Facebook doesn’t time-machine itself to the design it had when you composed whatever memory it is showing you from 10 years ago.
In a love letter to the German language, John Le Carre suggests how clarity and simplicity can help lead us through the treacherous linguistic waters of international (and our own national) politics in 2017.
Clear language — lucid, rational language — to a man at war with both truth and reason, is an existential threat. Clear language to such a man is a direct assault on his obfuscations, contradictions and lies. To him, it is the voice of the enemy. To him, it is fake news. Because he knows, if only intuitively, what we know to our cost: that without clear language, there is no standard of truth.
And that’s what language means to a linguist. Those who teach language, those who cherish its accuracy and meaning and beauty, are the custodians of truth in a dangerous age.
Pilot Mark Vanhoenacker’s description of the invisible landmarks used to map the sky is two years old, but we plead special dispensation — this is the time of year when Seattle’s skies are gloriously clear and bright, and the entire city’s in a dream of summer. How can we resist an article by and about the lucky few who spend their days navigating those (almost) cloudless fields of blue?
Word lovers will particularly enjoy the conventions that name Sonoma’s waypoint SNUPY, honoring Charles M. Schulz and his pilot pup, and Hannibal’s TWAIN, among many other suprisingly quirky choices.
From a plane, even a wide modern road can look as slow and old-fashioned as an ancient bridleway. The plane slides like an eye over the page, like a finger across a map, over everything the road and the drivers on it must turn to avoid — towns, mountains, lakes — features so low they appear nearly smooth from above. Waypoints, though invisible, remind us that while pilots are not nearly as constrained by the sky as drivers are by roads, neither is our path always as free as it appears.
What if everything in the world were captured on camera, all the time, and one photographer pored through endless reels of film and pulled out the most evocative shots to share with the rest of us?
Jacqui Kenny more or less fits that description, and Andrea DenHoed’s profile includes a gorgeous selection of images from Kenny’s Instagram portfolio. Shaped by Kenny’s agoraphobia, the images are spare, and somehow at once wide open and controlled. A short read but one worth a long look.
Sometimes, she has difficulty going to aisles of the grocery store that are too far from the exit, and getting on a plane is a huge ordeal. To go to her sister’s wedding, in New Zealand, she told me, required months of therapy beforehand. The Street View project has become a way for Kenny to visit places that she could never go to herself—the more remote, the better, she said. It’s also a practice that involves a tension between control and surrender: she has the ability to parachute into anywhere in the world, but her views and angles and lighting are in Google’s hands.
#amediting is a-Twitter this week over the New York Times’ decision to eliminate its copydesk and adjust the balance between people-who-write-copy and people-who-edit-it. The letters by the copydesk editors and the Times’ executive and managing editors, published by Poynter.org, are excruciating to read.
The Times is a stronghold for those who believe passionately in editorial standards, and this is another crack in the foundation — making similar shifts more likely across the industry and threatening the livelihoods of an entire class of professionals. It may not be wrong (may not), but it hurts, badly.
We are living in a strange time when routine copy-editing duties such as fact checking, reviewing sources, correcting misleading or inaccurate information, clarifying language and, yes, fixing spelling and grammar mistakes in news covfefe are suddenly matters of public discourse. As those in power declare war against the news media, as deliberately false or lackadaisical reportage finds its way into social media feeds, readers are flocking to our defense. They are sending us pizza. And they are signing up for Times subscriptions in record numbers because they understand that we go to great lengths to ensure quality and, most important, truth.
As SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) becomes METI (messaging extraterrestrial intelligence), the twenty-first century is making its first serious addition to a long line of attempts to talk with aliens. Steven Johnson’s examination of the challenges and ethics associated with contacting other life is characteristically precise. But it’s hard to think your way around the romance and terror associated with the subject, as displayed in this stellar quote from the first attempt — 1974’s Arecibo message.
Not just “malevolent,” note, but “malevolent or hungry.” Yikes.
Within days, the Royal Astronomer of England, Martin Ryle, released a thunderous condemnation of Drake’s stunt. By alerting the cosmos of our existence, Ryle wrote, we were risking catastrophe. Arguing that ‘‘any creatures out there [might be] malevolent or hungry,’’ Ryle demanded that the International Astronomical Union denounce Drake’s message and explicitly forbid any further communications. It was irresponsible, Ryle fumed, to tinker with interstellar outreach when such gestures, however noble their intentions, might lead to the destruction of all life on earth.
Just a boy, his guitar, and 30+ years of rock history. A “making of” story by arts critic Geoff Edgers that captures the nostalgia and geeky glory of a high school kid’s fascination with the guitars of the greats.
You can do a lot with an abandoned Supro, especially if you’re a chubby 14-year-old with a gap between your front teeth and a very questionable collection of Jams. Buy a cheap amplifier and go to Pete Woodward’s. He’s got the drum set in the basement. Learn three chords — G, C and D — and bash out a simple version of “Wild Thing.” Then record it on a Maxell tape, slap it into your Walkman and listen to all 43 minutes of instrumental glop over and over again. Suddenly, you’re a band.
This one’s already causing a little online consternation (what doesn’t, these days?): Jon Ronson investigates whether a rash of fires in San Francisco’s Mission District could be arson, intended to drive out lower-income residents and make way for SF’s version of the epically sky-blocking tech towers that are springing up all over Seattle. Regardless of whether the fires are intentional or just ancient wiring and insulation, it’s a sign of the times that we’re ready to think this might be true. Average joe vs. rich developer is a longstanding David-and-Goliath trope — but has it ever been as widespread and divisive as it is right now?
For five days, Gideon was going to be an arsonist: “Five days between me meeting the guy and, bam, the cops knocking on my door.”
To his credit, The Mountain View was supposed to be empty on the day of the planned fire. His insurance company had been paying his tenants “to get the fuck out of the building.” And they were relocating. “They were taking off like roaches,” he says.
Half an hour ago, Gideon referred to his residents as pigeons. Now they’re roaches.
Periodically the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moves the hands of the Doomsday Clock, reflecting a shift in world currents that brings us closer to (or farther from — wouldn’t that be nice?) “destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making.” It’s a powerful visual metaphor to express that we’re nearer now to self-destruction than at almost any point in past 70 years. Oliver Pickup tracks the clock’s history and the reasons behind the recent 30-second jump toward midnight.
At this precise moment we are the closest to the apocalypse since the 1950s, a twitchy period when Cold War combatants, the United States of America and the Soviet Union, were doggedly pursuing the hydrogen bomb. At least that’s according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ symbolic Doomsday Clock, which sparked global alarm when it ticked forward to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight in January.
More worrying still, the 2017 time setting was determined before North Korea’s recent spate of nuclear missile tests, and climate-change denier Donald Trump’s erratic presidency, which has re-chilled Russian-American relations, had begun in earnest.
The original design of the clock, featured on the cover of the Bulletin in 1947, was revised a few years ago by Michael Beirut, who also designed the iconic logo for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run. That story in more detail here.
It’s a little sad to see the renascence of letterpress printing credited to Martha Stewart — at least, for those who love not just the output, but the messy, painstaking process, the geekery of platen vs. cylinder, the mind-bending complexity of thinking about language through a mirror and in three dimensions. If you can forgive Glenn Fleishman the sin of attribution, here’s a good piece on Seattle’s still-growing letterpress scene and how digital technologies are changing the throwback industry.
Though letterpress might seem like yet another expression of a society hankering for artisanal, one-of-a-kind goods in an era of endless, identical reproduction, this return to the past is different. Beneath the old-timey patina of letterpress goods is a full-scale digital reinvention that drags Gutenberg’s great creation into the full embrace of modern technology.
Doomsday, arson, gentrification, and the tech industry in everything … In case this week’s post is too much like your Twitter feed, here’s something thoughtful, solitary, and just a little bit quixotic: Amy Liptrot spent a summer on Orkney Island, trying to heal her life and counting a rare, endangered bird she never saw. After dark, the world transforms itself, and she has just the right voice to help us hear it.
I am the night listener. My woolly hat pushes my ears forward. I chew no gum, wear no rustling clothes. The work is repetitive — driving to the next stop, pulling in if possible, turning off the ignition, winding down the windows, consulting the map and noting down the grid reference. Then I wait for the noise of the car engine and my head to subside, and the sounds of the night to reveal themselves.
Most of the writers interviewed for Danny Funt’s article on the necessity of serious reading to good journalism have appeared in the Sunday Post at one point or another. The perfect mashup for Seattle Review of Books readers, as well as a strong argument in favor of reading as as a practical way to interact with the world. Probably not a discussion we need to keep having, but this is an interesting version of it.
I spoke with a dozen accomplished journalists of various specialties who manage to do their work while reading a phenomenal number of books, about and beyond their latest project. With journalists so fiercely resented after last year’s election for their perceived elitist detachment, it might seem like a bizarre response to double down on something as hermetic as reading — unless you see books as the only way to fully see the world.
Friend of SRoB Rahawa Haile returns to the Appalachian Trail, this time on a road trip with her father. Speeding from BBQ to buffet, they take the first small steps toward knowing each other after a ten-year hiatus and map the distance that remains between.
Now, driving instead of hiking down these mountains, I learn that my father loves taking sharp turns too fast, something I never noticed growing up in the road-dull broadsheet that is Florida. I do not share his enthusiasm. I’ll take sore knees from 4,000-foot descents over feeling my inertia any day. I recognize for the first time just how much of him comes from the highlands of Eritrea. He's been courting death in this way since before I was born.
Also fascinating: the backstory of how the original article came to be, via an interview with Haile in the Columbia Journalism Review.
People think it’s a rather gloomy job, but it’s very seldom a sad job. Usually, the people you’re dealing with have lived for ages and have done really interesting things. It’s only when people die young that I think it becomes sad. I think of death as going into another place where you are as alive there as you are here. It doesn’t bother me at all.
If you were born at a certain point in history, your childhood shelves included odd books about stunt-flying seagulls, sky-climbing caterpillars, and this gem: Shel Silverstein’s Uncle Shelby’s ABZ. I was lucky enough to read it (likely while sitting in the middle of the street with a handful of firecrackers) before the “adult only” flag was added to the cover. Kevin Litman-Navarro celebrates Uncle Shelby and the consternation of several generations of unsuspecting parents.
Given all of the thinly veiled adult humor throughout the book, it seems quite clear that Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book is not intended for children. But some distracted adults, it seems, neglected to actually read it before passing it to their sweet, impressionable young ones — today’s parental equivalent of giving a child unprotected internet access. One scandalized reader on the book review site Goodreads didn’t realize her mistake until she had already begun a family reading. “The truly shocking page,” she wrote, “was where he was joking about going with kidnappers and eating the lollipops they offer.”
In its exclusive on Alex Honnold’s free-solo climb (no ropes, no company) of the massive El Capitan, National Geographic says Honnold’s “tolerance for scary situations is so remarkable” that he’s been a lab subject for neuroscientists fascinated by his ability to chill. Honnold’s take? “I just set [fear] aside and leave it be.” Philippe Petit, the man on the wire, has a somewhat more detailed and poetic anatomy of the deadly emotion.
A clever tool in the arsenal to destroy fear: if a nightmare taps you on the shoulder, do not turn around immediately expecting to be scared. Pause and expect more, exaggerate. Be ready to be very afraid, to scream in terror. The more delirious your expectation, the safer you will be when you see that reality is much less horrifying than what you had envisioned. Now turn around. See? It was not that bad.
Meehan Crist was skating in the wrong direction and missed the moment her mother fell, slamming her head against the ice and sending shockwaves through her brain. Crist’s essay about the slow discovery of the depth of the injury — and the gradual disintegration of her mother’s personality — travels loss, neuroscience, and the history of our understanding of the mind, the heart, and the self. (H/t Ed Yong for this one; see also jumping spiders, below.)
I have been wondering when the silence began. Maybe it started when I was trying so hard to stay quiet so she could get better.
Or maybe it came later, when I had tired of getting “I don’t know” as an answer and stopped asking questions.
Then again, maybe I didn’t ask much in the first place. Perhaps I was too shy to intrude on the adult world of illness and recovery, or too wrapped up in my own world to notice the silence stealing around me and settling into place.
The inimitable David Sedaris on the ten stages of grieving Trump’s election. Spoiler: none of them are “acceptance.”
Back in the room, I turn on the radio and look at the electoral map online. I go to bed, reach for my iPad. Shut my eyes, reach for my iPad. When the election is called for Trump, I lie there, unable to sleep. In the middle of the night, I go to the fitness center and watch the little TV embedded in my elliptical machine. The news had been telling me for months that Clinton was a shoo-in. Now they want me to listen as they soul search and determine how they got it so wrong. “Fuck you,” I say to the little screen.
If you describe your job as “a day job” (instead of just “my job”), you’ve probably spent at least one long dark night trying to figure out how to connect it with the real person you really are. Then, of course, you got up the next day, regained your sense of irony, and went to work. Here’s Rumaan Alam making sense of his day job in advertising and the virtue of bad ideas.
When I worked in advertising, one of my clients, one of this country’s largest retailers, used the language of storytelling, which further helped me take solace in my work (the money was quite good, too). They told stories and then sold things, and the story changed every so often, so that the months of the year were like the installments in a collection of short stories. You can guess how some of those stories went: the story was Christmas or the story was Summer or the story was cleaning and organizing or the story was Father’s Day or the story was Mother’s Day and the moral of the story was buy stuff.
It would be very responsible of you to read The Atlantic’s fascinating, in-depth profile of white supremacist Richard Spencer, written by his eighth-grade lab partner. (Is there any fate worse than to be famous enough to be profiled by someone who knew you in high school? Especially if that someone is Graeme Wood?)
Meanwhile, fellow astronomer Alex Parker had read Lomax’s tweets. “Have you tried lasers?” he replied. “Seriously though, some jumping spiders will chase laser pointers like cats do.”
There are, indeed, many Youtube videos of them doing exactly that. But Emily Levesque — Lomax’s colleague, with an office two doors down — wanted to see it for herself.
Speaking of antiheroes (someone must be, somewhere): Jesse Barron follows the story of Andrew Left, a short-seller who makes a ton of cash by exposing corporate fraud to manipulate stock prices. Left helped bring down Valeant Pharmaceutials, a company that made its own money by buying drug patents and yanking up the prices to impossible heights. You’d hire this guy to protect your town against the corrupt sheriff — then be glad to see him ride away again.
I met Left for the first time last May. After leaving my job as a fact-checker at a magazine — the pay was terrible, but the business cards said “Assistant Editor” — I was padding out my freelance income with some part-time work for finance types, editing letters and writing reports. The door creaked ajar into a totally different world. I started reading short-seller blogs at night, obsessed with the feeling that invisible forces controlling my life were flashing into visibility. That’s why my wife’s prescription cost $300 a month. That’s why the world was how it was. I wrote Left in April and asked if we could meet. In May, he sent a text: He had dirt on an online postage seller. Did I want to come to Los Angeles?
E. B. White said despots should fear drunken poets more than eloquent writers preaching freedom, but I don’t know; I’d be scared of the eloquent Rebecca Solnit if I were Donald Trump. And who knows: maybe she was drunk when she wrote this piercing essay — brilliantly, dazzlingly lit with the power of words to deflate our hot air balloon of a president.
A man who wished to become the most powerful man in the world, and by happenstance and intervention and a series of disasters was granted his wish. Surely he must have imagined that more power meant more flattery, a grander image, a greater hall of mirrors reflecting back his magnificence. But he misunderstood power and prominence. This man had bullied friends and acquaintances, wives and servants, and he bullied facts and truths, insistent that he was more than they were, than it is, that it too must yield to his will. It did not.
The US discussion of health insurance gets heated over the ACA vs. the AHCA and hopes for/dread of a single-payer system (cf. California, June 2017). Laura Turner takes a look at an alternate system: faith-based sharing ministries, in many ways similar to standard insurance but with less family planning, more uncertainty, and the potential to destabilize health care for all of us.
Luckily, Zain was healthy. But Bet and Erik took him to the doctor for a general checkup when they arrived home, and as a precaution the pediatrician ordered a panel of blood tests recommended for international adoptees by the University of Minnesota. The tests cost around $6,000, a sizeable portion of their annual income, and Erik and Bet set about submitting their need to Samaritan. “God blessed our family by giving us a beautiful boy from Ethiopia!” they wrote on their need processing form to Samaritan. “We had to have some medical testing done. All recommended international adoption medical testing came back normal and healthy. Praise God!”
Samaritan declined to share their need.
Did Stephen Booth (swoon) invent modern cognitive science as a byway of close Shakespearean study? We tend to think we’re in the driver’s seat when we read, but maybe, Jillian Hinchliffe and and Seth Frey say, it’s language that’s behind the wheel. This one’s for people care a lot about literary style or care a lot how the brain works — or both, of course. (Also enjoy, or not, the classically academic trolling in the comments.)
A cognitive scientist looking at Booth’s explanation of Shakespearean effects would spot many concepts from her own discipline. Those include priming—when, after hearing a word, we tend more readily to recognize words that are related to it; expectation—the influence of higher-level reasoning on word recognition; and depth of processing—how varying levels of attention affect the extent of our engagement with a statement. (Shallow processing explains our predisposition to miss the problem of whether a man should be allowed to marry his widow’s sister.)
The consonances are surprising, considering that when Booth established his method of criticism, the prevailing school of linguistics had no room for such ideas.
Why not. But good cognac is key.
One topic they do take (somewhat) seriously is the artistic nature of their book burnings. At their sole incineration outside Iceland — in Basel, Switzerland — they had a difficult time persuading the locals that this was “a poetic act, not a political one”.
They assure me that they burn books “with a lot of care and respect, using only first-grade French cognac to help to fuel the flames”.
Withholding maintenance as a power play, hardcore debt collection, and public shaming for late rent — sounds like a classic slumlord. Or, maybe, Jared Kushner. Here’s Alex MacGillis on what it’s like to live in a property owned by the president’s son-in-law.
The worst troubles may have been those described in a 2013 court case involving Jasmine Cox’s unit at Cove Village. They began with the bedroom ceiling, which started leaking one day. Then maggots started coming out of the living room carpet. Then raw sewage started flowing out of the kitchen sink. “It sounded like someone turned a pool upside down,” Cox told me. “I heard the water hitting the floor and I panicked. I got out of bed and the sink is black and gray, it’s pooling out of the sink and the house smells terrible.”
Cox stopped cooking for herself and her son, not wanting food near the sink. A judge allowed her reduced rent for one month. When she moved out soon afterward, Westminster Management sent her a $600 invoice for a new carpet and other repairs. Cox, who is now working as a battery-test engineer and about to buy her first home, was unaware who was behind the company that had put her through such an ordeal. When I told her of Kushner’s involvement, there was a silence as she took it in.
“Get that [expletive] out of here,” she said.
On the same day that The Washington Post praised Melanie and Ivanka Trump for being pretty, stylish, and silent, Jess Zimmerman posted a call for women to embrace ugliness. It’s hard to pull off without sounding like sour grapes, but she threads the needle brilliantly — not anti-beauty, just pointing out that there’s more than one game in town. Naming Medusa the patron saint of not-lovely women doesn’t hurt.
There is no male-controlled culture that by default sees women, that allows women to be seen. In my country the government doesn’t (yet) require us to cover our faces, but don’t confuse that for visibility: We’re obscured not by cloth but by disregard, by the way men are taught to devalue us and we are taught to devalue ourselves. It’s beauty — and specifically femininity, and even more specifically, sexual attractiveness to men — that burns through the veil.
People look through your face, or past it, when beauty doesn’t focus them, when there’s nothing there they want. They’re not afraid to meet your eyes—they just don’t see the point.
Better for them to be afraid. Better for them to think they’ll turn to stone.
See also Mary Beard, more scholarly but no less righteously pissed off, on monsters, myths, and women in power.
If you missed the reading by Seattle’s Nicole Dieker last Tuesday (or even if you didn’t), you can catch up with her at The Awl, where she’s chronicled the journey toward self-publishing her first novel with great wit and self-effacing charm.
Whether your novel will be a success is still to be determined — though you can guess already that it might not, five-star reviews and Ferrante comparisons aside. It is successful because you did it. It is financially successful because you have not yet spent more, to publish and promote the novel, than you earned from the Patreon project. You can say all of these things but you know there is another marker of success out there — well, multiple markers, because you know that the trad publishing world counts a “successful” literary fiction novel as one that sells 3,000–5,000 copies, and you also know that there’s the type of success that derives from momentum; from being good and having everyone talk about you at the same time.
You do not think you will have that kind of momentum, for the same reasons you weren’t ever popular in high school.
There’s a numbing volume of subculture reportage on the internet, rapidly catching up with the ubiquitous personal essay. Simon Akam’s piece on the British legal system — specifically, the political, financial, and class-haunted relationship between the barrister and the clerk — stands out. Informative, bemusing, and vital background reading for fans of Sarah Caudwell and many others.
At a chambers that had expanded and was bringing in more money, three silks decided their chief clerk’s compensation, at 10 percent, had gotten out of hand. They summoned him for a meeting and told him so. In a tactical response that highlights all the class baggage of the clerk-barrister relationship, as well as the acute British phobia of discussing money, the clerk surprised the barristers by agreeing with them. “I’m not going to take a penny more from you,” he concluded. The barristers, gobsmacked and paralyzed by manners, never raised the pay issue again, and the clerk remained on at 10 percent until retirement.