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The Sunday Post for March 20, 2016

Using Nature as Inspiration, Architects and Designers Are Building Seattle's Biofuture

Kelton Sears on those giant Amazon balls downtown, and why they're both cooler than you probably think, and part of a new architectural movement that is not just about crazy architecture for its own sake.

Plenty of eye-catching dome-shaped conservatories exist in the world. But if you’ve ever been inside a conservatory, as pleasant as they are, you wouldn’t want to work in one. As ball-shaped structures go, conservatories are among the hot and sweaty variety. If you spent a couple hours on your laptop in one, the salty puddle dripping out of you would likely fry your computer. So, while Amazon presented NBBJ with an unprecedented opportunity, they also presented the firm with a heretofore unsolved problem.

For the answer, NBBJ again turned to nature.

“The solution was really pretty simple,” Alberda says, “It’s called the diurnal cycle.”

The diurnal cycle is a fancy name for a climate pattern that occurs during one full rotation of the Earth. For 12 hours a day the temperature inside the spheres will be kept at 68 to 72 degrees and the humidity just slightly higher than the Seattle average of 62. At night the temperature goes down to 55, and the humidity can go up 85 to 90 percent to be “a truly plant environment.”

The Journalist and the Troll: This Man Spent Two Years Trying to Destroy Me Online

Dune Lawrence on being harrassed by a very aggressive, and ethically promblematic, businessman, and the absolute nothing she can do about it.

I saw the photo first, me in a bloody wash of red with “RACIST” pulsing over my face. A couple of clicks brought me to this:

“In the darkest shadow of Bloomberg’s glossy office building in Manhattan, you may find a woman by the name of Dune Lawrence—a ‘journalist’ who has built a career on writing salacious articles about China.”

That was my introduction to TheBlot, a website I hope you’ve never heard of. The article went on and on: I’d been kicked out of China for poor job performance and eked out a living on minimum wage. My appearance was ravaged by “years of consuming hormone-packed fried chicken and stressing over money.” Now, I’d found a way to save my sinking career by writing negative articles about China and taking kickbacks from short sellers. In a cinematic scene set at Kentucky Fried Chicken, this Internet version of me laid out a strategy: “ ‘Bashing the Chinese could be a profitable niche for me,’ Lawrence said to a source while biting off a juicy chicken leg quarter at KFC. ‘The Chinese don’t vote, the Chinese don’t sue people, they just sit there taking the s---. How much better can it get? I am making a living out of it!’ ”

The Violin Thief

This is a crazy story by Geoff Edgers, about a stolen violin, and one suspect, who played the instrument in public, and got away with it.

He is dying, Q-tip elbows poking through a baggy shirt. Friends visit, spooning him ice cream and playing music. His daughters are around as well, stopping in after school, too young to process the grim scene. And there, carefully placed in the closet, out of view in the room his ex-wife has set up, is the Stradivarius.

Philip Johnson’s fingers are no longer strong enough to play any violin, never mind one so unforgiving. So he keeps the Strad in a plastic crate. The instrument is the only thing he has of value. It is also his biggest secret.

The Case Of The Missing Perpetrator

The one-and-only Rebecca Solnit on gender, passivity, and lack-of-clarity in language, where it counts the most.

In a detective novel, you begin in a state of ignorance and advance toward knowledge, clue by clue. The little indicators add up at last to a revelation that sets the world to right and sees that justice is done, or at least provides the satisfaction of a world made clear in the end. If detective fiction is the literature of disillusion, then there’s a much more common literature of illusion that aspires to deceive and distract rather than clarify.

A perfect recent example is the Center for Disease Control’s new and widely mocked guidelines to drinking. They are like a detective novel run backward—if you read them with conviction, you’d become muddled about what a woman is and how violence and pregnancy happen and who is involved in those things. On the other hand, if you read more carefully, you might know why the passive tense is so often a cover-up and that the missing subject in a circumlocutionary sentence is often the guilty party.

The Sunday Post for March 13, 2016

My Year in San Francisco’s $2 Million Secret Society Startup

Lydia Laurenson explores a trip into staged wonder. What's it like, in this modern age, to join a secret society made primarily, so it seems, to evoke the wonder that one might have joining a secret society?

“Can you keep a secret?” I blinked. I didn’t know Justin very well. I did know that he was a very affable bearded man, and we both lived in the Bay Area. At the time, he ran a small creative agency, while I worked as a writer and digital media consultant. “I think so,” I said cautiously. “I think I can keep a secret.” Justin raised his eyebrows. “Of course I can,” I said. “I’ve been thinking about giving you something,” he said. Justin told me he'd been considering giving me a gift for weeks, and finally decided to go through with it after reading an article I’d written about how people use pseudonyms to explore their identities. “But you have to promise me that you won’t tell anyone about it. No one.” I nodded, and he handed me a plastic card—much like a credit card, but pure white with a line of black zeroes. It came in a black slipcase embossed with the words “ABSOLUTE DISCRETION” and a distinctive golden hexagonal symbol.
What Are Trump Fans Really ‘Afraid’ to Say?

The remarkable Lindy West penned a remarkable op-ed for the New York Times. What others make muddled, West presents with such bright-eyed clarity of voice and position that it's hard to imagine how callous one would have to be to disagree with her.

Once you say, “He says what I’m afraid to say,” and point to a man who is essentially a 24/7 fire hose of unequivocal bigotry, you’ve said what you’re afraid to say, so how afraid could you have been in the first place? The phrase is a dodge, a way to acknowledge that you’re aware it’s a little naughty to be a misogynist xenophobe in 2016, while letting like-minded people know, with a conspiratorial wink, that you’re only pretending to care. It’s a wild grab for plausible deniability — how can I be a white supremacist when I’m just your nice grandpa? — an artifact of a culture in which some people believe that it’s worse to be called racist than to be racist.
Will the Los Angeles River Become a Playground for the Rich?

Richard Kreitner looks at the plans to recover the Los Angeles river from the brutulist wasteland it is today, and the political forces that the plans are calling forth.

The Los Angeles River is about to be 
reborn. Winding 51 miles from the San Fernando Valley past downtown and through South-Central cities like Vernon and Compton, the long-ignored watercourse has become the focus of an explosion of civic imagineering. In 2007, after years of lobbying by a diverse coalition of artists, planners, environmentalists, and social-justice activists, the city approved a master plan that reconceived the abandoned channel as “an urban treasure.” Covering only the 32 miles that pass through the city, the plan envisioned a river that at once provides “flood protection and opportunities for recreational and environmental enhancement, improves the aesthetics of the region, enriches the quality of life for residents, and helps sustain the economy of the region.” Bike lanes and terraced banks were to replace the post-apocalyptic hellscape featured in films like Repo Man and Terminator 2.

The Sunday Post for March 6, 2016

Born a slave, Emma Ray was the saint of Seattle’s slums

A great history, by Lorraine McConaghy, of an early Seattle activist, who used her faith as a driver to help people.

Emma was very pretty, describing herself as somewhat vain; she wore false hair to frame her face, loved fancy clothes, played cards, went to dances, and wrote of sharing a “bucket of beer” with a friend in Seattle, as the two women commiserated about their errant husbands. But she was deeply dissatisfied with her life, her marriage and herself. She began to attend the African Methodist Episcopal Church and found friendship there, though she didn’t dare attend evening services because she “was afraid to leave Mr. Ray for fear he would go off to the saloon.”
Watching And Reading About White People Having Sex Is My Escape

Earlier this week, Paul looked at Romance Novel: the Movie. For a different look on the genre, Esther Wang, takes a clear-eyed, and very personal, look at why romance and porn can offer a break from the racial politics and aggressions, micro and macro, that an Asian-American woman sees ever day.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that A Knight in Shining Armor was like a drug to me. Other books gave me a contact high, but this cheesy, over-the-top romance about time travel and a hunky British medieval earl and the hapless American woman who loves him and solves the mystery of who is trying to kill him and ends up not only saving his life but rescuing his reputation for posterity (I know, I know) shot through my young veins and straight to the pleasure center of my brain. I swear my body must have hummed through the entire book.
The writer who made me love comics taught me to hate them

Susana Polo looks at her relationship with Batman, and Frank Miller. What's it like for a girl to read those comics?

I realize that I have never read a Frank Miller book with an original female character who didn't fall into two categories: sex worker — or victim of a brutal beating or murder. Even the first female Robin gets sliced up by a bad guy in the climax of The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Come to think of it, Miller also seems to enjoy characterizing his extra-creepy male villains as having ambiguous sexuality or gender. You're not threatening, it seems, until you're sexually threatening to a straight guy.
She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk ‘Feelings.’

A. Hope Jahren illustrates an email she received from a former student with the sad reality that women in the sciences, especially graduate studies, have to put up with innapropriate abusers again and again.

Brilliant men make for good copy, even when they fail at their jobs. Recently, reports of sexual harassment and assault within science departments at the University of California, Berkeley, Caltech and the University of Chicago have been in the news. Academia will have to respond. A great chorus of formal condemnation shall be lifted up, and my male colleagues will sputter with gall, appalled by the actions of bad apples so rare they have been encountered by every single woman I know.

The Sunday Post for February 28, 2016

The New Web Typography

Surely, you can picture them: the Penguin books with the colored covers, the little medalian at the bottom with the line-drawing of the bird logo? That design and layout are the work of the great typographer and designer Jan Tschichold. His most famous book, The New Typography, was a firebrand call from a young designer — one who later came to disown some of the more radical ideas he earlier held (I wrote about Tschichold, and how he got in trouble with the Nazis, and his relationship with Penguin in this essay).

This essay by Robin Rendle — intended for web designers, but which only gets into nitty towards the end — is a call for typography to be of its moment. Its moment, right now, is the web.

What’s wrong with a book made in the time of the early 19th century author and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, you might ask? Personally, I wouldn’t argue with all that much since these books were often quite the spectacle. According to Tschichold, however, books designed in the 19th century were for the people and the technology of the time; they solved problems that were entirely inapplicable to the needs of his own century a hundred years later.

What a choice: join the CIA, or attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop? Jennifer duBois recounts her choice.

When I was twenty-three, I was hired by the CIA. I was working at a Catholic school at the time, coaching squash and teaching seventh-grade social studies—which was funny, since I had never before seen a squash game before and was not even so much as a lapsed Catholic. I lived behind the school in a former convent where the only consistently functioning lights were a pair of glowing red exit signs. My prevailing feeling that year was one of intense personal absurdity, and it was in this spirit that I applied to the CIA (I liked international relations, and who knew they had an online application?) and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (I liked writing stories, and what the hell?). These things certainly didn’t make any less sense than coaching squash and living in a convent—though they weren’t really ambitions as much as gestures: reflections of my general hope that I would, someday, do something else. Each was something in between a dice roll and a delusion, a promissory note and a private joke to no one but myself.
What Should We Say About David Bowie and Lori Maddox?

Lori Maddox wrote about having sex with David Bowie when she was 15, but has wrote glowingly about the experience. Jia Tolentino looks at how we should treat our icons in the light of the modern day, given the light of the murky water they swam in, then.

There are no precise enough words or satisfying enough conclusions to fully account for her story, or any like it. It’s easy to see what Bowie represents here: a sexual norm that has always appallingly favored men, and the abuse that stems from and surpasses even that. It is easy to denounce the part Bowie played in this, even with any number of purportedly mitigating factors: the political context, Maddox’s story, the fact that he lived with generosity and openness, the less generous fact that his synapses were perpetually blitzed with cocaine. It is less easy to turn over what Maddox evinces in this narrative, from the late 1970s to her account of it now—which is that women have developed the vastly unfair, nonetheless remarkable, and still essential ability to find pleasure and freedom in a system that oppresses them.

The Sunday Post for February 21, 2016

The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens

The extraordinarily nutso piece by Elspeth Reeve that everybody was talking about this week.

Each social media network creates a particular kind of teenage star: Those blessed with early-onset hotness are drawn to YouTube, the fashionable and seemingly wealthy post to Instagram, the most charismatic actors, dancers, and comedians thrive on Vine. On Facebook, every link you share and photo you post is a statement of your identity. Tumblr is the social network that, based on my reporting, is seen by teens as the most uncool. A telling post from 2014: “I picked joining Tumblr and staying active on here because: 1. I’m not attractive enough to be a Youtuber 2. Not popular enough for twitter 3. Facebook is dumb.” You don’t tell people your Tumblr URL, you aren’t logging the banalities of your day—you aren’t even you. On Tumblr, you can revel in anonymity, say whatever you want without fear of it going on your permanent record. You can start as many Tumblrs as you like, one for each slice of your personality, whether that’s gymnastics fandom (how I got into Tumblr) or Barack Obama-Harry Styles slashfic (it exists) or akoisexual identity (when your feelings of sexual attraction fade once they’re reciprocated). A Tumblr staffer pointed me to a blog called Dolph Lundgren & His Action Nips, which is just shirtless photos of the actor with his nipples turned into blinking GIFs.

Does Amazon's Data Speak for Itself

I try not to link to the same source twice in one weekend, but when one of my favorite writers (Paul Ford — you read his "What is Code" from last year, right?) takes on one of our favorite topics, Amazon, I can't just ignore it, can I?

I don’t have a good mental model for thinking across nine million objects, nor for exploring 80 million opinions. This is what people are talking about when they say “big data,” of course: No one knows what’s actually inside there, no one can make sense of all that stuff. No single human being could possibly read all of the reviews on Amazon in a single lifetime, and even reading the names of all the products would take six or seven months. Big data, for the most part, is made by humans—it is the record of what we clicked on, the banner ads we viewed, our paths through a site, multiplied by humanity. Sometimes it is seismic data or star charts too, but mostly what people are talking about with big data is data about human behavior that can be mined to create better predictive models for future human behavior.
One Man's Quest to Read — and Review — the World.

After just finishing our class teaching book reviewing at Hugo House, I've been thinking a lot about not only the nature and history of reviews, but what compells us to write them. Karan Mahajan's look at Michael A. Orthofer, and his the Complete Review, tease out some of the themes we love to linger on.

The Complete Review, “a selectively comprehensive, objectively opinionated survey of books old and new,” sits on the margins of the literary world, where it has flourished for sixteen years. As of last Friday, according to an analog counter on the site’s decidedly unglamorous homepage, it had reviewed three thousand six hundred and eighty-seven books, from a hundred different countries, originally published in sixty-eight different languages—an average of two hundred and thirty books a year. Virtually all of this criticism, and everything else on the Complete Review, is the work of Michael A. Orthofer, a fifty-one-year-old lawyer who was born in Graz, Austria, and brought up in New York City. Orthofer built the site—it took about five months; he coded it with basic HTML—on a P.C. at his home, in Manhattan, in 1999. For years, his name did not appear on the site, which claimed to be run by an “Editorial Board.” In 2009, on the site’s tenth anniversary, he began signing some reviews; the next year, he unmasked himself, discreetly, on the “About” page. In April, the retiring Orthofer will make his first serious bid for mainstream respectability, by publishing a book with the Columbia University Press. “The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction” is the culmination of his work so far, as well as a continuation and a promise.
German Forest Ranger Finds That Trees Have Social Networks, Too

Sally McGrane brings you one of those rare moments where you have to reconsider everything you thought you knew about a topic, to have your brain cracked clean open. Also… looks around, whispers at you you know, Ents—.

PRESENTING scientific research and his own observations in highly anthropomorphic terms, the matter-of-fact Mr. Wohlleben has delighted readers and talk-show audiences alike with the news — long known to biologists — that trees in the forest are social beings. They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web”; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.
Understanding Seattle's high-rise boom

For an tall-building and architecture nerd like me, Paul Roberts great Crosscut article is a delightful read. Curious about the future of the Seattle skyline? Wondering why we don't have 110 story towers coming soon to downtown (hint: it has to do with one of our city's nicknames, Jet City)? Wondering what the heck is going to happen on that corner that just got the hurricane fencing put up? Then, friends, this is a must read:

Consider: there are currently 13 high-rise apartment or condo buildings of at least 24 stories in development or planning in the downtown area. The average is 39 stories. Another 24 high-rises are in the proposal pipeline, according to city and industry reports.

Not all the proposed towers will be built, of course, but those that are “launched” will represent a shift in downtown housing that is unprecedented not only in size but also in socioeconomics. Like 4/C, many are being “amenitized” for an upscale market. To be profitable, they will need rents of around fifty percent above the city average, according to several industry estimates. What’s more, to judge by the heavy emphasis on studios and one-bedroom units, developers are anticipating a downtown population that is childless and even single.

Sunday Post for February 14, 2016

Samuel R. Delany Speaks

Wonderful interview with the one and only Samuel R. Delany, by Cecilia D'Anastasio.

When he was 11, Samuel R. Delany stayed overnight at a Harlem hospital for observation. It was 1953, and nearly a decade before Delany would publish his first science-fiction novel. He had already realized he was gay. With trepidation, he asked the doctor, a white man, how many gays existed in America. The doctor laughed. “[He] told me it was an extremely rare disease,” Delany says. “No more than one out of 5,000 men carried it.” Rest assured, the doctor added, no medical records existed confirming the existence of black homosexuals. “Simply because I was black,” Delany says, “I didn’t need to worry!”
How Valley of the Dolls went from a reject to a 30-million best-seller

Self promotion was Jacqui Susann's game, and she was so good at it, that she started a viral movement without that crutch, the internet, that we all rely on now. Martin Chilton writes it for the Telegraph.

Her novel Valley of the Dolls was dismissed as "painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish". So how did such a poor book go on to be registered in The Guinness Book of World Records in the late Sixties as the world's most popular novel? The success of Valley of the Dolls – to date more than 30 million copies have been sold worldwide – is a tale of one of the most tenacious and sharp-eyed publishing campaigns of all time.
Liquid Assets

In drought, with water as a diminishing resource, controlling a very limited resource becomes a playground for people who like to make a lot of money. Abraham Lustgarten, in a very long and detailed piece for ProPublica, looks at Wall Street's interest in Western water rights.

Deane is not a rancher or a farmer; he’s a hedge-fund manager who had flown in from New York City the previous night. And as he appraised the property, he was less interested in its crop or cattle potential than in a different source of wealth: the water running through its streams and coursing beneath its surface. This tract would come with the rights to large amounts of water from the region’s only major river, the Humboldt. Some of those rights were issued more than 150 years ago, which means they outrank almost all others in the state. Even if drought continues to force ranches and farms elsewhere in Nevada to cut back, the Diamond S will almost certainly get its fill.

The Sunday Post for February 6, 2016

How Chris Jackson Is Building a Black Literary Movement

Vinson Cunningham profiles Chris Jackson, editor to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jay-Z, and others, and looks into why it's important for black writers to have a black editor.

"The great tradition of black art, generally," he started again, "is the ability — unlike American art in general — to tell the truth. Because it was formed around the great American poison, the thing that poisoned American consciousness and behavior: racism. And black culture, such as it is, was formed around a necessary resistance to this fundamental lie. That’s the obligation. And this is the power that black art has."

This power — the power of the unvarnished truth — is what is at stake when we talk about the problem of exclusion in the world of books. What believable version of American reality can be the product of an industry that, according to a recent survey, counts black people as just 4 percent of its employees? We can admit that race is not our only national reality without denying that it clarifies the workings of — and relations among — the others. A kind of American Rosetta Stone.

This is the unique claim on the truth that black art can make: It draws its energy from its embrace of hybridity, from a rejection of the illusion of American purity. The joy of expression and the sorrow of experience, properly commingled, might result in something new — and true.

What It Means To Be a Science Fiction Writer in the Early 21st Century

Charlie Jane Anders, with an optimistic look that the greatest years of science fiction lay ahead of us.

I believe that science fiction’s best days are ahead of it, because I have read a lot of science fiction. And if this genre has taught me anything, it’s optimism about human ingenuity—along with a belief that the unexpected is just around the corner. I’m not alone: Many people seem to feel like science fiction is healthier than ever.

Which is funny, when you consider that science fiction died in 2003, or maybe 2004.

The Problem with Female Superheroes

Don't let the headline fool you, this is no brottack on women and minorities ruining the great white superhero. Instead, this piece looks at how, although it's great to see so many superheroines getting the spotlight lately, not all is perfect between the panels. What does social research show about the influence of superheroines on girls?

But new research by Hillary Pennell and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz at the University of Missouri suggests that, at least for women, the influence of superheroes is not always positive. Although women play a variety of roles in the superhero genre, including helpless maiden and powerful heroine, the female characters all tend to be hypersexualized, from their perfect, voluptuous figures to their sexy, revealing attire. Exposure to this, they show, can impact beliefs about gender roles, body esteem, and self-objectification.

The Sunday Post for January 31, 2016

Maximum Wage: Is technological progress dependent on extreme inequality?

I've read many responses to Paul Graham's overly simple Economic Inequality essay. The best, I think, is this by Steven Johnson. Not only is he of tech culture, but he's willing to call out the things that are bad, as well as good. And he has an eye on a great truth of SF culture: it's not all money-grubbing venture capital bros. A lot of hard working, progressive people, willing to experiment with the foundations of their lives, are what makes the place tick.

When I first read “On Inequality” a few weeks ago, I found myself irritated by the hint of extortion in the way Graham phrased his argument: That’s a nice 50,000-year-curve of technological progress you got there; would be a shame if something happened to it. But the more I thought about it, the more I found myself considering all the forces that Graham left out of his startup-centric account of technological progress. Yes, hailing an Uber with your smartphone relies on innovations that made a small group of startup founders extremely wealthy. But think of all the other innovations that also make that experience possible, and the different economic models behind them. The Android operating system is a fork of the open-source operating system Linux, which was collectively authored by thousands of people all over the world, with no traditional ownership model for their creation. An iPhone contains many lines of code taken from open source platforms maintained by nonprofit working groups. The Web and TCP/IP protocols that allow the device to communicate with servers at Uber were developed by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN and by a handful of computer scientists around the world, many of them partially funded by the United States government. The network of GPS satellites that allow you to pinpoint your location on a map were initially created by the U.S. military. The atomic clocks that make GPS work were first built by national laboratories in the United States and the United Kingdom. Cellular networks were originally invented at Bell Labs, a research lab inside a giant corporation, whose innovations were effectively socialized thanks to the anti-trust agreement Bell, and then AT&T, struck to preserve its monopoly.
Molly for President, 2048

Look at this great, long piece about a neat local teenager with great ambition. Go Molly — You have the support of the Seattle Review of Books.

She became more drawn to the people doing the doing. The concept of “making change” stuck with her like leftover glue between her fingers, until it became clearer to the fourth-grader: politics.

“If I like politics so much, and if I just want to talk about politics all the time, why don’t I just be a politician? And so then of course my mind went straight to, Oh, I’ll just be the president.

Molly’s held on to the idea ever since — except for a brief moment in middle school when she thought she should have a more realistic goal and decided she wanted to be a lawyer. “But now I’m kind of like, I’m just gonna shoot for the stars.” Her election year will “most likely be in 2048,” she says, when she’s “old enough to have experience but young enough to seem fresh.”

Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories

Are you really going to let this assertion stand, American writers? Vollying creative work back and forth between the states and the UK is an old tradition. It's time for us to have an American invasion of great children's work.

That said, this is a good point….

American fantasies differ in another way: They usually end with a moral lesson learned—such as, surprisingly, in the zany works by Dr. Seuss who has Horton the elephant intoning: “A person’s a person no matter how small,” and, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.” Even The Cat in the Hat restores order from chaos just before mother gets home. In Oz, Dorothy’s Technicolor quest ends with the realization: “There’s no place like home.” And Max in Where the Wild Things Are atones for the “wild rumpus” of his temper tantrum by calming down and sailing home.
Nerdsmith: Adriana Lopez interviews Junot Diaz

Wide ranging inteview with the always interesting Junot Diaz:

I was living in Mexico City, I had a group of dudes and young sisters who liked to get together—we liked to go dancing, we liked to go drinking. One night I was out very late, this was like five months, no, maybe like four months into my trip. It was very late, and we were over at a friend’s house; the guy’s house who I was at turned out to—in the future—turned out to be a very famous Mexican actor. But that night we were just all hanging out and it was a bunch of Mexican bohemians and me and my Guatemalan buddy. And one of these Mexican cats just pulled a book off a shelf and just cornered me and was like, “My favorite writer in the world.” He was telling me, “My favorite writer in the world is Oscar Wao, I love Oscar Wao, Oscar Wao is brilliant.” And I was dying because I knew he meant Oscar Wilde. That’s where the book began. After that party I went home and I laid in bed, and I suddenly had this idea of this fore-cursed family. This idea of this awkward fat boy and this idea that this family would be cursed in love, that they would have great trouble finding love. You know it just felt like a real good kind of novella, telenovela type plot. I just thought, “Hey, I can work with this, you know, I can really change this into something else.”

The Sunday Post for January 24, 2016

‘I was terribly wrong’ - writers look back at the Arab spring five years on

Eleven writers (including Laila Lalami) revisit their views of five years ago on the Arab Spring uprising.

In January 2011, days after the first uprising in Tunisia and the protests in Tahrir Square, the Guardian invited leading writers from across the Arab world to reflect on the revolutionary fervour sweeping the region. Then, they expressed great optimism for the future. Here, they revisit their responses and ask, is there still room for hope?
Erik Spiekermann

An interview, conducted by technolgy writer Om Malik, with Erik Spiekermann, a typographer and type designer whose work you, even though you don't know it, have seen many times over your life. If you saw the movie about the typeface Helvetica, called Helvetica, Spiekermann was the one telling you how much he dislikes the titular typeface. This is a great interview with a challenging and creative force of a man.

In 1985 I had the job to design a new typeface for the German post office. I went to Linotype to talk to them about digitizing my sketches, and they had a Macintosh. I had seen photographs but not held one. So I lifted it up and put the little floppy in, and then I borrowed this thing and went over from Frankfurt to Bonn, to the ministry.

I went in and told these guys, “This is typesetting & is the future. And this floppy, which I have in my shirt pocket, has the typeface on there.”

They looked at each other and went, “This guy’s gone mad.” But I knew intuitively, just like with the first smell of printed paper, that this was the future of my business.

From Pickup Artist to Pariah

For anybody fascinated by — or perhaps disgusted, freaked out, and fed up with — men publically struggling with the idea of masculinity while internetting, this is a nuanced and layered story of being caught, having regret, and maybe not really knowing what it was you got in trouble for in the first place. Will anything save us from the logical men of the internet?

Jared Rutledge has been called a sociopath. Strangers have picketed outside his coffee shop, calling for his castration. People he thought were his friends won’t return his texts. There are a few places he still feels safe: weekly lunches with his grandma, his therapist’s office, the meetings of his peer-facilitated men’s support circle. At night, he reads fantasy books and loses himself in a universe with societal rules unlike the ones he broke here in Asheville, North Carolina.
How Stories Deceive

Well, perhaps stories can save us from the logical men. Let's hope so.

In his book “Actual Minds, Possible Worlds,” Jerome Bruner, a central figure in the cognitive revolution in psychology, proposes that we can frame experience in two ways: propositional and narrative. Propositional thought hinges on logic and formality. Narrative thought is the reverse. It’s concrete, imagistic, personally convincing, and emotional. And it’s strong.

In fact, Bruner argues, narrative thinking is responsible for far more than its logical, systematic counterpart. It’s the basis of myth and history, ritual and social relations. The philosopher Karl Popper “proposed that falsifiability is the cornerstone of the scientific method,” Bruner told the American Psychological Association at their annual meeting, in Toronto, in the summer of 1984. “But believability is the hallmark of the well-formed narrative.” Even scientists construct narratives. There is no scientific method without the narrative thread that holds the whole enterprise together. Stories make things more plausible, more convincing, and more fundable. Rightly or wrongly, a research proposal with a compelling narrative arc stands out. As the economist Robert Heilbroner once confided to Bruner, “When an economic theory fails to work easily, we begin telling stories about the Japanese imports.” When a fact is plausible, we still need to test it. When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.

The Sunday Post for January 17, 2016

How Could The Winds of Winter Be Published In Only Three Months?

If you're curious about how a book is made in our modern world, Tor took a detailed look. They were inspired by George R.R. Martin's letter to fans explaining why his manuscript for the next chapter in his Westeros saga wasn't going to be ready by deadline. He made the startling claim that if he had the manuscript done by the end of the year, the publishers were going to have the book ready by the end of March.

Book production, from the delivery of the manuscript to the book arriving on shelves, typically takes nine months to one year, so how is it that Bantam and Martin’s non-U.S. publishers could turn around an undoubtedly massive work like The Winds of Winter in less than three months? Learn about the typical book production process below, along with how unique marquee titles like The Winds of Winter can circumvent, compress, and alter that process.
The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems

Why is it that young Americans seek to solve problems overseas instead of at home?

It’s intimidating to throw yourself into solving problems that you’ve grown up with and around. Most American kids, unless they’ve been raised in a highly sheltered environment, have some sense of how multi-faceted problems like mass incarceration really are. Choosing to work on that issue (one that many countries in the Global South handle far better than we do, by the way) means choosing to nurture a deep, motivating horror at what this country is doing via a long and humble journey of learning. It means studying sentencing reform. The privatization of prisons. Cutting-edge approaches already underway, like restorative justice and rehabilitation. And then synthesizing, from all that studying, a sense of what direction a solution lies in and steadfastly moving toward it.
Lifting the Veil on the New York Public Library’s Erotica Collection

Elaine Sciolino looks at the *** (triple-star) collection of the New York Public Library:

More recently, hundreds of works that make up the triple-star collection have been liberated from the restricted controls. An adult with a library card can simply fill out a request and peruse the material on the premises. (The library maintains a filter system to restrict access to erotic materials on the Internet.)

The Sunday Post for January 10, 2016

Bonfire of the Inanities

Where goes the style section, goes us all. Jacqui Shine examines the history of the "lighter" side of the news.

Women’s news was the opposite of important, with close ties to so-called yellow journalism. Joseph Pulitzer is credited with developing women’s news largely as a means of attracting new readers and, in turn, new advertisers. When Pulitzer bought the New York World in 1883, the paper had already had a “woman’s news” (as they called it) department for over twenty years. Women’s news, such as it was, included articles devoted to beauty, fashion, and domestic life. When Oscar Wilde was appointed the new editor of The Lady’s World in 1887, he noted that women’s periodicals took as their subject “merely what women wear,” not, as he hoped his magazine would, “what they think, and what they feel.” (He promptly changed the magazine’s name to The Woman’s World.)
Should Art Grants Be Awarded to Artists Who Don't Need the Money? (Worm Can Opened.)

The wonderful Jen Graves goes deep, and gets people on the phone, to talk about whether it matters that artists who don't need the money get grants intended to help support artists who need help. Yes, this is about David Shields, as Paul covered earlier. But it's also about this deceptively tricky question: should income be considered as a factor when deciding whether to award cash grants to artists?

The Blunt Instrument: What Is Fiction For?

Shhhh. There is no other literary advice column in the world but ours. This is something different. A fine, good something different.

Teju Cole once said, “A good novel shouldn’t have a point.” His own novel Open City illustrates this beautifully—I can’t boil it down to one or two abstractions; it’s about too many things. In the past couple of years I’ve read a few novels (or started and abandoned, as the case may be) that felt very top-down in their construction, as though the author decided what the point of the book was first, and then wrote it. I don’t care if authors do this, but as a reader, I want to feel like I’m discovering what the book is about as I read it; I don’t want to know from page one (or worse, sooner—sometimes all the blurbs and epigraphs make it clear what a book is about before you even start it).
Young Iris

John Updike writes about a biography of Iris Murdoch (an aside: I know I live in the moment because my mind keeps renaming him John Updog). Updike writes about writing about Murduch, and we must catalog all writing about Murdoch here. It's in our mandate.

Her published novels began sharp, terse, angular, and blithely enigmatic, on the French model of Queneau, and she ended as one of the most expansive and leisurely expositors since the Victorians. Her early mode achieved its masterpiece in “A Severed Head,” which I remember being passed around among young suburban couples in the early sixties as a species of news. This news—that we tend to love, that love is ambient and uncontrollable and comically, cruelly protean—never grew stale for her, though for the reader the filaments she spun from this centrifuge could feel, even in the best of her late books, like “The Sea, the Sea” and “The Philosopher's Pupil,” like cotton candy. Her characters make an exclusive diet of one another; she once defined happiness as “to be utterly absorbed in at least six other human beings.”

The Sunday Post for January 3, 2016

The A.I. Anxiety

Impressive in both presentation, and reporting, this Washington Post piece about the future of AI, and the people who worry over it, is endlessly fascinating.

But the discussion reflects a broader truth: We live in an age in which machine intelligence has become a part of daily life. Computers fly planes and soon will drive cars. Computer algorithms anticipate our needs and decide which advertisements to show us. Machines create news stories without human intervention. Machines can recognize your face in a crowd.

New technologies — including genetic engineering and nanotechnology — are cascading upon one another and converging. We don’t know how this will play out. But some of the most serious thinkers on Earth worry about potential hazards — and wonder whether we remain fully in control of our inventions.

The Ghosts of Christmas: Was Scrooge the First Psychotherapy Patient?

Okay, I know, we're into the new year and any tree left standing is one we should sneer at, but I loved this one last thought about A Christmas Carol — Elif Batuman looked at the psychology of Scrooge, and found something familiar.

That night, I decided to read the full text. Thanks to my robust personal experience with depression of both the normal and the holiday variety, I immediately recognized Scrooge’s condition, in a way that I had been unable to as a child. (Dickens himself was depressive, and probably bipolar.) I realized that I had misremembered Scrooge as gleeful in his miserliness, a human version of Scrooge McDuck, whose exuberance is eternally preserved in the cultural imagination by the image of the “money dive.” In fact, Scrooge takes no joy in anything. His London is a dystopian hellscape riddled by sickness, injustice, cold, and want. Money is the only protection—frail and inadequate—against these horrors, and Scrooge’s only thought is to work as hard as he can, every day, to store up as much money as possible.

When Fascism Was American

Joe Allen recalls our American tradition of fascism, looking at Father Charles Coughlin, and his taking on of the airwaves.

Coughlin began broadcasting from his Michigan church, “The Shrine of the Little Flower,” in 1926, when radio represented a novel, thrilling experience for millions of people. With his rich baritone voice, and slight Irish brogue which he employed for great theatrical effect, Coughlin was made for the new medium.

The Radical History of 1960s Adult Coloring Books

Everybody you know got them for the holidays, but when they first appeared in the 60s, they were quite a bit more subversive.

The first adult coloring book, published in late 1961, mocked the conformism that dominated the post-war corporate workplace. Created by three admen in Chicago, the Executive Coloring Book show pictures of a businessman going through each stage in his day, as though teaching a child what daddy does at work. But the captions, which give instructions on how to color the image, are uniformly desolate. “This is my suit. Color it gray or I will lose my job,” reads a caption next to a picture of a man getting dressed for work. Another page shows men in bowler hats boarding their commuter train. “This is my train,” it reads. “It takes me to my office every day. You meet lots of interesting people on the train. Color them all gray.” The rare appearance of a non-gray color is even more disturbing: “This is my pill. It is round. It is pink. It makes me not care.”

The Sunday Post for December 27, 2015

The Darkness Before the Right

Park MacDougald in a long piece examining a particualrly American conservatism that's he's coined, neoreactionism:

As the twenty-first century gets darker, politics are likely to follow suit, and for all its apparent weirdness, neoreaction may be an early warning system for what a future anti-democratic right looks like. So what is neoreaction, then, exactly? For all the talk of neo-feudalism and geeks for monarchy, it’s less a single ideology than a loose constellation of far-right thought, clustered around three pillars: religious traditionalism, white nationalism, and techno-commercialism (the names are self-explanatory). This means heavy spoonfuls of “race realism,” misogyny, and nostalgia for past hierarchies, leavened with transhumanism and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Unsurprisingly, they don’t always get along; if you want to preserve white racial purity, futurists trying to biohack us into a separate species are not your long-term allies. Still, similarities abound. All neoreactionaries reject “progressivism,” by which they mean democracy, egalitarianism, and a belief in more or less linear historical progress—and even the non-white-supremacists tend towards a hereditarian determinism that bleeds easily into outright racism.
I'm having a friendship affair

A Kim Brooks piece where the sub-head says it all: "A look at the intensely obsessive, deeply meaningful, occasionally undermining, marriage-threatening, slightly pathological platonic intimacy that can happen between women."

I’ve done it all my life. Call it oversharing. Call it lack of boundaries. Call it projection or a profound impatience for the normal social mores that make deep-friendship formation so excruciatingly arduous. It doesn’t matter what you call it; the trait remains — the tendency to find one person in a group, one person at work, at a party, on a trip, at a wedding, or anywhere at all. I find one person, and that is my person. We are on the same wavelength, I decide, and then I give up giving a shit about everyone else.
Our Star Wars Holiday Special

There is no escape. You are involved in the cultural conversation of the moment, and it's about a space opera. Here's Aaron Bady on the franchise:

For starters, it’s hard to think of a movie franchise that so revels in its own tautological premises. After all, what is “the force” except a means of embedding narrative convenience directly into the story itself? The force of heroic protagonism is strong with this one, declares Obi-Wan; may the camera be with you. Because if the camera is with you, you can defy odds, physics, and logic, in an even more blatant way than on-screen heroes usually can. But the force is not interested in people that we haven’t seen in close-up; if you don’t have a John Williams-composed theme to mark the fact that you matter, you can and will live or die unnoticed. The “force” is just the diagetic trace of an extradiegetic will, an expression of the screenwriter’s desire as it gets projected onto the blank screen of the audience’s appetite. The force is strong with Luke because he is a stand-in for Lucas’s own wish-fulfilments, and so, the universe obeys his commands. It’s not subtle, and like Luke for Lucas or Darth Vader for Dark Father, it’s not clever. But it is compelling.
Some thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey

If you're looking for something more specific and less about the culture of the thing, screenwriter Todd Alcott, who does detailed breakdowns of movies on his blog, looks at the characters of the new Star Wars movie, starting with Rey (but check his blog for his take on the other characters too).

The Force Awakens presents us with two major protagonists, an antagonist and an anti-hero. Although it re-states numerous plot points from A New Hope, it always takes care to present them in different contexts. The point of the recycling is not to remind us of a movie we like, but to reveal how everything changes no matter how much everything stays the same.

The Sunday Post for December 20, 2015

Men Explain Lolita To Me

Rebecca Solnit, after writing a piece mocking Esquire's infamous "80 Books Every Man Should Read", got things explained to her by white men. Thankfully, she's wonderful at explaining things back. It was hard to find a quote from this essay to pull here, since there were many paragraphs I wanted to quote, but this one in particular I found very affecting:

There is a common attack on art that thinks it is a defense. It is the argument that art has no impact on our lives, that art is not dangerous, and therefore all art is beyond reproach, and we have no grounds to object to any of it, and any objection is censorship. No one has ever argued against this view more elegantly than the great, now-gone critic Arthur C. Danto, whose 1988 essay on the subject was formative for my own thinking. That was in the era when right-wing senators wanted to censor art or cancel the National Endowment for the Arts altogether. The argument against this art, which included Robert Mapplethorpe’s elegantly formalist pictures of men engaged in sadomasochistic play, was that it was dangerous, that it might change individual minds and lives and then our culture. Some of the defenders took the unfortunate position that art is not dangerous because, ultimately, it has no impact.

Photographs and essays and novels and the rest can change your life; they are dangerous. Art shapes the world. I know many people who found a book that determined what they would do with their life or saved their life. Books aren’t life preservers; there are more complex, less urgent reasons to read them, including pleasure, and pleasure matters. Danto describes the worldview of those who assert there is an apartheid system between art and life: “But the concept of art interposes between life and literature a very tough membrane, which insures the incapacity of the artist to inflict moral harm so long as it is recognized that what he is doing is art.” His point is that art can inflict moral harm and often does, just as other books do good. Danto references the totalitarian regimes whose officials recognized very clearly that art can change the world and repressed the stuff that might.

An unbelievable story of rape

ProPublica and The Marshall Project bring this long, detailed, important story about the success, and failures, of policing in rape cases.

The fear of false rape accusations has a long history in the legal system. In the 1600s, England’s chief justice, Matthew Hale, warned that rape “is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused.” Judges in the U.S. read the so-called Hale warning to juries until the 1980s. But most recent research suggests that false reporting is relatively rare. FBI figures show that police annually declare around 5 percent of rape cases unfounded, or baseless. Social scientists examining police records in detail and using methodologically rigorous standards cite similar, single-digit rates.

The Sunday Post for December 13, 2015

Janet Wolfe, Gothamite on a First-Name Basis With Her Era, Dies at 101

This is the finest obituary I have ever read. Janet Wolfe was quite obviously a brilliant force of nature. But more than this, Margalit Fox practically re-animates her with luxuriant and vivid prose. What a joy to read. And you have my respect, Ms. Fox, since you can talk a copy-desk editor into letting you launch your piece with this graf:

So. About Janet.
The Washington Post Style Guide Now Accepts Singular ‘They’

Especially in light of modern gender awareness, those opposing the singular they seem antiquated. Why, even the Washington Post has switched over.

In everyday speech, singular they, the use of they/them to refer to one person, feels completely natural. But in more formal contexts, and in writing, that usage has long been frowned upon. And not just frowned upon, but banned as ungrammatical. However, it is not ungrammatical in the same way as “I didn’t knowed that” or “what are you cook for dinner tonight?” Those sentences don’t sound natural in any context.

Proponents of singular they have long argued that the prohibition makes no sense. Not only is it natural, it has been used in English for centuries. It’s in the King James Bible. Authors like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Swift, Austen, Thackeray, and Shaw used it. Before the production of school textbooks for grammar in the 19th century, no one complained about it or even noticed it. Avoiding it is awkward or necessitates sexist language.

Poker, Wikipedia, and the Singular They

Speaking of the singular they, Andy Baio went looking for information on poker champion Annie Duke, and found a Wikipedia page on Texas Hold 'Em rife with gendered language.

Because it was Wikipedia, I felt like I could do something about it. So I spent some time making the biggest edit I've ever made on Wikipedia: changing every male pronoun to gender-neutral language, sometimes rephrasing as "the player," but often using the singular they. I tried to be careful about readability, making sure to only use it in cases where it couldn't be confused with a plural group.
Hacking the City

When Marcus Westbury moved back to Newcastle, Australia to open a bar, he was amazed that none of the downtown properties that were sitting vacant would rent to him. Instead, he came up with an ingenious plan that renovated the area.

He began contacting landlords and leasing agents, expecting to be overwhelmed with offers, but no one returned his calls. Some buildings had been purchased on the cheap by speculators, who expected to cash in when government redevelopment funds finally arrived and who were happy to leave them vacant while they waited. Others were owned by family trusts that couldn’t agree on anything except doing nothing. More than one landlord demanded rents the market couldn’t possibly bear. Westbury learned that lowering the asking price often meant writing down the value of the building, which risked triggering foreclosure. Landlords were incentivized to stand pat, while downtown fell into ruin. “No one was even trying,” Westbury said.

The Sunday Post for December 6, 2015

Jury Duty

A remarkable story of jury duty, told by a black man. Very honest, very raw. Very anonymous, for obvious reasons.

There are twelve of us left. The first thing the prosecutor did during voir dire was ask all the men of color whether we trusted cops. Every black man had a story: police harassment, spurious arrests, intimidation. They were all eliminated. I was asked if I had any experiences of this kind, and I said no. It was the truth. Perhaps this was the time to mention that having witnessed the murders of Eric Garner and Walter Scott on video made personal experience unnecessary. I didn’t mention it.

In the end, only two men of color make it to the jury, and I am one of them. The other is Latino. There are two Latina women, one African-American woman, and one Asian woman. The remaining six jurors are white.

Brophy’s Behaivor in the Spotlight

What's that you say? I haven't mentioned Iris Murdoch in a few weeks? Time to remedy that! Brigid Brophy was a British novelist who had a very close relationship with Iris Murdoch. Her daughter, Kate Levey, has been exploring this:

In her private notebook, and dated 1961, my mother, Brigid Brophy, wrote

A person whom I adore
Is a novelist whom I abhor
Was ever a woman of literary integrity
In such a fix before?

The subject of Brigid’s ditty was Iris Murdoch. Brigid and Iris loved each other passionately, sexually, seriously, but also fatally. They could not reconcile their different attitudes to the nature of their love; on that topic there were deep rifts in expectation and in ambition. The resultant emotional tumults damaged the pair profoundly. Theirs seemed to Brigid insuperable problems; such they proved to be, thus eventually when Brigid found no remedy, she broke away from Iris.

The Sunday Post for November 29, 2015

The Most Misread Poem in America

David Orr, in an excerpt from his book The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong, on Robert Frost's best known poem.

Frost’s poem turns this expectation on its head. Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.
This Is How You Become an Editor

Mensah Demary on the kind of work writers do, so that they can do the sort of work that writers do.

I was gifted, or cursed, with a brain somewhat wired for business. My father knew as much about me; when, in 2007, I said to him, “Maybe I should finish undergrad, then get an MFA,” he retorted, “You should probably get an MBA instead.” I took this advice as an insult, or a devaluing of my creative desires, but I couldn’t ignore it. I was raised by this man, directed through life as child with the goal of growing into a self-sustaining adult.

The Sunday Post for November 22, 2015

SELFIE: The revolutionary potential of your own face, in seven chapters

I've seen many defenses of the selfie, but never such an indepth exploration of what it means, and why it is important. Rachel Syme covers it all, in seven parts.

Shot One: Open on a woman snapping a picture of herself, by herself. Maybe she is sitting at an outdoor cafe, her phone held out in front of her like a gilded hand mirror, a looking glass linked to an Instagram account. Maybe she tilts her head one way and then another, smiling and smirking, pushing her hair around, defiantly staring into the lens, then coyly looking away. She takes one shot, then five, then 25. She flips through these images, appraising them, an editrix putting together the September issue of her face; she weighs each against the others, plays around with filters and lighting, and makes a final choice. She pushes send and it’s done. Her selfie is off to have adventures without her, to meet the gazes of strangers she will never know. She feels excited, maybe a little nervous. She has declared, in just a few clicks, that she deserves, in that moment, to be seen. The whole process takes less than five minutes.

Shot Two: Zoom in on a group of people watching this woman, one table over. They are snickering, rolling their eyes, whispering among themselves. Maybe they are older than she is, making jokes about Narcissus and the end of civilization as we know it. Maybe they are all men, deeply affronted by a woman looking at herself with longing, a woman who is both the see-er and the seen, the courier of her own message. Maybe they are a group of chattering women, who have internalized a societal shame about taking pleasure in one’s face in public, who have learned to be good girls, to never let their self-regard come off as a threat. Maybe they are lonesome and hungry for connection, projecting their own lack of community onto this woman’s solo show, believing her to be isolated rather than expansive. They don’t see where her image is headed, where it will take up space in the infinite. This is scary for them, this lack of control, this sense that her face could go anywhere, pop up anywhere. This is why they sneer at her like she is masturbating. This is why they believe that no selfie could ever mean anything other than vanity. This is why they think selfies are a phase, something they can wish away. Whoever they are, and for whatever reason they hate selfies, they are wrong.

Space Oddity

Bee Lavender, on returning home to Seattle to visit her Aunt Mary.

Mary’s son Charlie was born later that year and I held him within hours of his arrival home from the hospital. I remember the shabby apartment they lived in, and the VW van my new uncle drove, and the fact that he was a gentle and sweet man. I also remember the fights between him and my aunt, which looked like any schoolyard scuffle, and that they carried their drugs around in the diaper bag. I was sad to lose that uncle when the marriage broke up; he was the nicest one I’d ever had.

Sunday Post for November 15, 2015

Terror Strikes in Paris

Only one story today about Paris, because that is about all I can bear. But reactions that are neither hot nor takes, but explorations of deeply felt frustrations, help me to process the horror of Friday evening. I've come to rely on Adam Gopnik's measured approach to tragedy, and his ever-apparent frustration with the violence he writes about for the New Yorker.

Terrorism of this nihilistic order is hardly unknown in Paris. But the terrorists of the seventies—like the Palestinians who, in 1982, committed a very similar horror, bombing and machine-gunning helpless diners in the Jewish restaurant Chez Jo Goldenberg, in the Marais—at least had some horrible logic of publicity appear to govern their acts. The new hunger for mass casualties, far beyond the needs even of diabolic publicity, is tied to a larger apocalyptic vision, a renewal of the twelfth-century religious warfare that the ISIS message underlined with such glee. The communiqué warned that this was only “the first of the storm.” This view, which was Glucksmann’s view, of an unappeasable war between modernity and a neo-medieval appetite for authority and absolute religious warfare, today must be more persuasive to more Parisians than it ever has been before.
Don DeLillo, The Art of Fiction No. 135

A 1993 interview from the Paris Review with Don DeLillo that was making the rounds this week. Interviewer Adam Begley asked if it made a difference in his career that he started writing novels when he was nearly thirty.

Well, I wish I had started earlier, but evidently I wasn’t ready. First, I lacked ambition. I may have had novels in my head but very little on paper and no personal goals, no burning desire to achieve some end. Second, I didn’t have a sense of what it takes to be a serious writer. It took me a long time to develop this. Even when I was well into my first novel I didn’t have a system for working, a dependable routine. I worked haphazardly, sometimes late at night, sometimes in the afternoon. I spent too much time doing other things or nothing at all. On humid summer nights I tracked horseflies through the apartment and killed them—not for the meat but because they were driving me crazy with their buzzing. I hadn’t developed a sense of the level of dedication that’s necessary to do this kind of work.
How Could You Like That Book?

Tim Parks, in the New York Review of Books, explores that all too common feeling when we come across somebody who likes a book we just can't understand them liking.

Perhaps it’s easy for me to understand why so many are not on board with these writers because I occasionally feel the same way myself. In fact it may be that the most seductive novelists are also the ones most willing to risk irritating you. Faulkner comes to mind, so often on the edge between brilliant and garrulous. Italy’s Carlo Emilio Gadda was another. Muriel Spark. Sometimes even Kafka. Resistance to these writers is never a surprise to me.

On the other hand, I do spend endless hours mulling over the mystery of what others like. Again and again the question arises: How can they?

When People—and Characters—Surprise You

Mary Gaitskill talks about Anna Karenina and breaks down why a particular passage was so meaningful to her.

I read Anna Karenina for the first time about two years ago. It’s something I’d always meant to read, but for some reason I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. When I finally settled down to read it, I loved it. What strikes me about the book is how precisely rendered the characters are, how recognizable they are as people. It was written so many years ago, and yet the characters are descriptions of people I know and see.

The Sunday Post for November 8, 2015

The Fort of Young Saplings

Settle in, folks. This one will take a bit of your time, but I promise you won't regret it. Oregon (and ex-Seattle) writer Vanessa Veselka goes deep on her personal connection to a clan of Tlingit people in Alaska, and using that connection explores the history, legends, and relationships with Russians, of this Alaskan indigenous people. A stunning piece of writing.

The Tlingit don’t fit stereotypes of Native Americans. They’re more like Vikings. Or maybe they’re more like Maori. A fiercely martial people, terrifying in their samurai-like slat armor, their bird-beak helmets, and their raven masks, they never surrendered to a colonial power, never ceded territory. When Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867, the Tlingit argued that the Russians held only trading posts and that the rest was not theirs to sell. The protest was unsuccessful, but it was the beginning of a narrative: The Tlingit had never signed away their land, had never sold it, had never moved.
The Decay of Twitter

I hate pontificating about Twitter as much as the next person (Twitter is the ultimate expression of the parable about the blind men and the elephant, except the blind men are 320 million men and women, and the elephant is just an idea), but this piece is pretty good, and has some good points about Twitter the network that people have feelings about, and Twitter the company that is trying to make a go out of it.

Since it went public two years ago, investors have rarely considered Twitter’s prospects rosy. The sliver of Twitter’s users who are interested in how it fares as a corporation have gotten used to this, I think: There’s an idea you see floating around that, beyond avoiding bankruptcy, Twitter’s financial success has little bearing on its social utility. Maybe there are only 320 million humans interested in seeing 140-character updates from their friends every day after all. If you make a website that 4 percent of the world’s population finds interesting enough to peek at every month, you shouldn’t exactly feel embarrassed.
Long Line at the Library? It’s Story Time Again

All about story time at the New York Public Libraries:

Among parents of the under-5 set, spots for story time have become as coveted as seats for a hot Broadway show like “Hamilton.” Lines stretch down the block at some branches, with tickets given out on a first-come-first-served basis because there is not enough room to accommodate all of the children who show up.
'The Good is Elusive and Transitory in This World'

Jessica Gross spends some time with the impossibly wonderful Maira Kalman (and even sat in her Eames Le Chaise chair)

I always told my kids, don’t have serious conversations with your mates at night, because everything looks so dark you’re going to have a fight in two seconds. Just don’t do it. I always say, “If you’re hungry you should eat something, and if you’re thirsty you should drink something, and if you’re tired, you should sleep.” They’re always making fun of me for saying that, but I think there are some truisms that are very, very basic. And if you just listen to what you need, sometimes it will take you out of troubling spots.
Does Fiction Based on Fact Have a Responsibility to the Truth?

Thomas Mallon and Ayana Mathis tackle this question in the Times. This from Mathis' piece:

At the risk of stating the obvious, truth and fact are not the same things. Our belief in the truthfulness of facts is mutable. I recently saw Joshua Oppenheimer’s superb documentary, “The Act of Killing,” which takes as its subject the murders of, by some estimates, as many as a million people in Indonesia in the 1960s. The killers were never punished. In many cases, they became powerful people who proudly and publicly refer to their days of heroic government service as the exterminators of Indonesia’s “Communists.” The murder of all those souls was, until very recently, simply part of the national lore. There is another reality of course — the terror of the survivors and resultant silence of the families of the victims. Both are examples of constructed narratives, though only one is a grotesque manipulation of what transpired, a ghastly example of the way facts may be ignored to create a narrative as far from truth as can be.