Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for 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.
This is a two-cup essay, and make sure you brew the coffee strong. Drew Austin takes an extremely close look at the shift from physical to digital to platform media and how it transforms choice from something we have to something we receive. This isn’t another scare piece about the evils of Netflix, Kindle, and Spotify — or their larger and more terrifying siblings, Google and Facebook — it’s a thoughtful piece of cultural criticism about different types of environments and how we might begin learning to navigate, cultivate, and protect them.
When we step into these universal content libraries, we rely less upon crude clues like covers for navigation and give ourselves over to an environment that offers to do almost everything for us, if we’ll just let it. With nearly any imaginable book, movie, or song close at hand and fewer of the traditional forces that push us to choose one over another, the context provided by those limitations fades and the environment itself gains corresponding prominence — at the expense of any specific thing within it.
Here’s some good news: Gay City’s Michael C. Weidemann LGBT Library on Capitol Hill has expanded, and they have a new roommate, Three Dollar Bill Cinema. Three Dollar Bill lost its executive director this year, and it’s a chance for them to find solid footing. It’s also a chance for the two organizations to benefit from closer connection with each other.
Seattle has an immense richness of accessible, bookish resources beyond its photogenic Central Library. This is a cheering reminder that books thrive everywhere — and especially in people’s hands.
“It’s exciting to be able to expand, and to create more opportunities for LGBTQ folks to connect,” [Executive Director Fred] Swanson said. “We’re excited about all of the things that bring community into Gay City — testing services, community meetings, arts programing — and are eager to fill out the library calendar in the new year.”
Laurie Penny, you are irresistible. This narrative of Penny’s time doing, well, what the title says, reads like Hunter S. Thompson would have if Thompson had been (as he should have been) a crazy-smart British feminist with an understanding of power dynamics so hard and sharp you could use it to cut glass. If this is techno-utopia — a ship full of men who prefer women paid to be there — you can keep it.
I am not 10 feet tall and 22, but I am a tiny hyperactive white woman with weird hair and poor boundaries, so I revert to an old standby and start serving full manic pixie dream girl. It’s not exactly an act. I’m a terrible actor. It’s just about dialing up the parts of my personality that men tend to find most delightful, giggling a bit more, scratching my arse a bit less, and hoping nobody Googles me. It helps that I don’t have to fake ignorance of the crypto-scene drama. I only have to pretend to care.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for 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.
I’ve searched this piece by Jessica Mooney over and over, trying to choose a single quote that captures it. It’s impossible. Mooney’s writing mimics the way the mind dances around something too difficult to look at, repeatedly approaching and retreating. Wry, sad, reflective, angry, she shifts from the history of insomnia to her mother’s history of sexual assault, from cartography to her own ceaseless motion … Oh, just read it. It’s very, very good.
My mom, the Sudafed socialite of Chicago, called me in Seattle, fresh from an Aisle 4 gossip session. She could barely catch her breath. She couldn’t remember what she took or how many.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she said, pushing blooms of static through the phone. “What if … ” she gasped, “What if I’m a shadow who’s lost her person?”
Overall, good news here: some of the losses to book coverage that came with the decline in print journalism are being recovered online. I still believe that “shareable” is not the final word (or even the first word) on what deserves focused attention; “yes” to writing about books vibrantly, imaginatively, passionately — “no” to dressing books in clickbait’s hand-me-downs. But I’m not going to quibble: more writing about books makes room for more writing about books, and that’s good for readers and authors alike.
Given the deluge of movies, TV, and tweetstorms, it may be more important than ever for publications to help books accomplish these goals. But the best format for them to do so is likely no longer the traditional, single-book, literary review. To break through the noise, editors must translate old-fashioned book coverage to the lingua francas of today’s impossibly paced media climate: shareable lists, essays, digestible Q&As, podcasts, scannable email newsletters, hashtags, Instagrams, even book trailers.
No, I am going to quibble, just a bit. Or let Tavi Gevinson, the editor-in-chief of Rookie, quibble for me. Her farewell letter as she closes out the seven-year publication is an incredible reflection on compromise, on becoming an entrepreneur, on growing up and knowing what you want (or don’t). And it’s a reminder that professionalizing creativity comes with a cost, especially online.
This organicness of Rookie was in part a testament to the way people rallied around it: the contributors and readers who were willing to share pieces of themselves and support each other. This is still happening, thanks to you, reading this, but organicness on the internet is not as easy now as it was back then. Rookie started in 2011, and to remind you where technology was then, I had a slide phone and no Instagram account. When I got home from school every day, I looked at websites on a desktop computer. To get to school in the mornings, I had to walk ten miles in the snow, and actually never even made it because I would trip and fall on my back and have to wait for hours for someone to stand me up because my coat was so puffy that I could not move. Nowadays, social media gets more of people’s eyeballs than publications do.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for 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.
For Kristen Millares Young, the examination of anger is an art. Her essays are relentless teachers, building arguments through experience and image; consent to the first, and you’ve already, unwittingly, agreed to the last. Here she unpacks the commodity of womanhood: who defines it, who owns it, and what it means to be defiant.
What I value has long made me vulnerable, in ways I did not foresee. I spent much of my life accrediting my brain so that I would be allowed to rise from this body and be seen for my mind. And yet, as a writer, I’ve learned there is no greater wisdom than that of my womanhood. To think I almost turned my back on my own lived experience in favor of a third person I’ve never met, an omniscience I don’t believe in. Our brushes with annihilation are constant and varied and mostly unsung.
Helen DeWitt is brilliant, and delightfully odd. And what’s especially delightful is that she’s so rationally odd that when you read her, you realize it’s the rest of us who are off-kilter. Unfortunately Helen DeWitt is also vastly underfunded to do the work she needs to. Here’s Kris Bartkus on the blinding originality of DeWitt’s work and the cost of not attending to it.
One can simply imagine a world such that when one of our best writers says she has projects that will change literature immured in her hard drive, we do better than plugging our ears, waiting until she’s dead, and giving our descendants the joy of opening her laptop and asking how we let this happen. If DeWitt wants to give our descendants a hint, she can set her login password to a line of Proust: “So it is that a well-read man will at once begin to yawn with boredom when anyone speaks to him of a new ‘good book,’ because he imagines a sort of composite of all the good books that he has read and knows already …”
Ashleigh Synnott dissects the ethics of writing fiction about the devastation of other lives — how to tell stories that should be told, without appropriating or exploiting their violence. Perhaps, she suggests, the way out of the labyrinth is to find a common thread.
At this point, I came across the concept of precarity, a concept that seemed to offer a way not out of my ethical anxieties, but through them. By exploring how this term could be applied to questions of ethics and literature, I began to shift the lens through which I was viewing the problem, as opposed to trying to solve the problem itself. Perhaps, I wondered, the concept of precarity could hold within its scope the disparate ideas, concerns and interests with which I was thinking about. Rather than seeing my writing as being about an issue, such as asylum seekers or the experience of exile, I wondered if I could explore the imaginative and structural possibilities of writing about this increasingly shared condition.
One of the New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2018” is Shane Bauer’s exposé of the prison industry, American Prison, based on his experience as a guard at a private prison in Louisiana. The world he describes in this five-part Mother Jones series, where financial incentives underscore the power politics of incarceration, is relentlessly vicious and corrupt.
Bacle says he wishes an investigative reporter would come and look into this place. He complains about how, in other prisons, inmates get new charges for stabbing someone. Here, they are put in seg, but they rarely get shipped to another prison with tighter security. “CCA wants that fucking dollar!” Bacle says through clenched teeth. “That’s the reason why we play hell on getting a damn raise, because all they want is that dollar in their pocket.”
Librarian Erinn Salge responds to Joe Pinsker’s Atlantic essay about diversity in children’s and young adult books thoughtfully and decisively. Pinsker conflates the introduction of missing narratives with political propagandizing; Salge expertly deflates him.
For decades, many of these stories have been relegated to the “special interest” shelf, signaling to children that these narratives only need to be read by certain people — that they are not required reading, not worthy of the canon, too narrow to be universal. But if scholars and booksellers yield to the idea that representing all people makes books more leftist, or inherently political, they close the doors on these narratives and their importance. Proclaiming them to be of little use to “plenty” of families tells the children who see themselves represented that they, too, are of little use to most people.
Annie Lowry with a Thanksgiving story about one town’s very unpleasant holiday tradition. Fair warning: this isn’t a puff piece about small town America; it’s a consideration of how and when humans offer empathy to animals, with direct though not lurid descriptions of animal suffering. Of several kinds.
That George had recovered from the turkey drop but not from the death of his friend. That he had physically recovered, but was emotionally devastated. That was the only thing I encountered while reporting this story that made me cry. I got in the car after meeting him and sobbed while cleaning muck off of my boots. Couldn’t that one bird just feel some peace?
I am all for due process in a legal setting, and I am all for the equivalent of due process in a civil setting. I can’t help but reflect, though, on how many spurious reasons there are for keeping women out of positions of power — too aggressive, too meek, wrong clothes, wrong age, has children, doesn’t have children, too ambitious, not ambitious enough, etc., etc., are you screaming yet? — and yet how very difficult it can be to unseat a man once he’s settled himself onto a professional throne. Carrie Mullins writes here on Junot Díaz’s return to the Pulitzer Board, what it signals for the post-#metoo moment, and what it means for the women whose work he’ll judge.
It comes down to a simple question that’s been hounding me ever since the news was announced: is it so much to ask that a public face and influential member of the Pulitzer Prize Board not be one who is unfriendly to women? American literature is exploding with great work; we’re not suffering from a lack of talent. Why not make the Chairman of the Board of one of our greatest literary honors a writer who hasn’t yelled “rape!” repeatedly in the face of their female dinner companion?
Fascinating and creepy reporting by Reeves Wiedeman about the Broaddus family, who bought the home of their dreams — 657 Boulevard, in Westfield, New Jersey — only to be ruthlessly terrorized by scare notes from someone calling themselves “The Watcher.” The family struggles to identify the stalker, their investment drains away, and eventually their neighbors turn on them, which is the most normal and believable thing that happens in this crazy story.
657 Boulevard is anxious for you to move in. It has been years and years since the young blood ruled the hallways of the house. Have you found all of the secrets it holds yet? Will the young blood play in the basement? Or are they too afraid to go down there alone. I would [be] very afraid if I were them. It is far away from the rest of the house. If you were upstairs you would never hear them scream.
Well, here’s a head-scratcher. While some dedicate November to drafting a novel, epigraph to epilogue, and others grow mustaches to promote better health (odd, but well-intentioned), the isolated young men of the internet are … giving up masturbation? To punish women? Oh, for a world where this would be simply ridiculous, instead of the tip of an iceberg of misogyny and viciousness.
The NoFap sub-Reddit began in 2011, when one Redditor discovered a study that argued men who abstained from masturbating saw huge spikes in their testosterone levels after a week. While initially built merely on this foundation, the NoFap community has become linked to wider sexism and misogyny, reducing women to sexual objects to be attained or abstained from and shaming sexually active women. And this is no niche philosophy. The NoFap sub-Reddit, at the time of writing, has 377,000 subscribers.
Kevin Alexander visited more than 30 cities to find the best burger in America. At the top of the list: Stanich’s, in Portland, Oregon. It looked like a huge win for the family-owned business, until a flood of food tourists crashed against the doors, overwhelming the staff and driving out regulars. Today, Stanich’s is closed, its future uncertain.
This isn’t the first time a small business has been overwhelmed by internet fame. Who’s the villain here? Stanich’s owner made good decisions about his business as he knew it; Alexander had the best intentions about drawing attention to an awesome little restaurant. Even the foodies who mobbed the place were just hoping to discover something great. Still, these feel like cautionary tales, not just bad luck. Don’t they?
If there was one main negative takeaway from the raging fires of food tourist culture and the lists fanning the flames, it was that the people crowding the restaurant were one time customers. They were there to check off a thing on a list, and put it on Instagram. They weren’t invested in the restaurant’s success, but instead in having a public facing opinion of a well known place. In other words, they had nothing to lose except money and the restaurant had nothing to gain except money, and that made the entire situation feel both precarious and a little gross.
Speaking of cautionary tales— I don’t usually promote internally, but I loved this essay by co-founder Paul Constant. There’s something Trumpian about how quickly we seem to forget the bad deeds of Seattle’s favorite big employer, distracted by the next shiny object Jeff Bezos puts in front of us. Paul has a long memory, though, and, of course, a sharp, sharp wit.
The truth is, Amazon has always been a bad neighbor. The Seattle Times in 2012 called Amazon “a virtual no-show in the civic life of Seattle,” and that still sounds about right today. Unless it’s looking for publicity for a new Echo gadget, the self-described “bashful company” is notoriously silent. In my 10 years of reporting on Amazon in Seattle, its PR department has never once returned one of my dozens of requests for comment on its business practices. It’s not just the media that’s being stonewalled — Amazon’s management also failed to establish any meaningful relationship with local elected officials. As New York saw with the HQ2 beauty pageant, Amazon prefers to keep everyone guessing what its next move will be.
You guys. Spoiler. We lost.
On November 9th, at the 6th Annual Book Sorting Contest against Seattle, New York City’s book sorting team gathered together to take back the title of champion sorters in the United States. The race took place on both coasts, beginning with New York’s course at the Library Service Center in Long Island City and then the King County Library System’s course, several hours later, outside Seattle. Each machine would run for exactly one hour, zealously sorting books, getting them out to the numerous libraries in the area and ultimately into the hands of the patrons.
Seattle Review of Books co-founder Martin McClellan heard Jennie Shortridge read “Hammerhead” at Lit Crawl in October — yet more evidence of how necessary the event is for getting ears and eyes on incredible new work. Shortridge writes the story of multiple assaults her mother endured, at a time when women had little if any hope of help if they told what had happened. Like Martin, I fell in love with this essay — with its anger, with its honesty, with how it’s a daughter’s chance to speak up for a mother who couldn’t.
When we were kids, our mother spoke of him with reverence, and treasured that horse and bowl until her early death in 1990 at the age of 57. The horse lives on in my sister's house, the bowl in mine. Why, I wonder now, imagining throwing it in a dumpster, maybe giving it a few good hard bangs first. But she loved these things. She made us love them, too, these pinpoints of light from her girlhood. Do we honor her or him by keeping them? If we throw them away, what do we trash, and whom?
If you’ve ever found a strip of someone else’s photobooth snapshots, you know how uncannily intimate they can be. There’s no background, no context, just a stranger’s face and what it tells you, intentionally or not. The message isn’t for you — but it’s so very, very close.
Every month for a year, H. Nicole Martin made a pilgrimage to Seattle’s photobooths so they could look back at their face and see what it said. Over the same year, Martin came out publicly as nonbinary and queer, fell apart, fell in love. This piece captures that experience, mixing images and precise, personal prose to ask what’s revealed, what’s betrayed, and what we learn about ourselves by telling our own stories.
I don't know any of this that first day in December, as I buy a pastry stuffed with taro and walk around the market slick with gray sky. I only know the three seconds between each click of the camera, the faces I make, the ways I hope the image communicates my identity to the world: beautiful, enticing, what I believe to be a woman, the woman I have believed to be myself. In the third frame, I am smirking and think of it as a tiny omen; what for, I am not sure. I begin the project because I have a sense it will be important, though I cannot fathom why.
Is nothing sacred? Can we not hug trees, at least, without tripping over Richard Spencer? Apparently not. For some people, “make America great again” is starting to map to an environmental nationalism that protects public lands for the enjoyment and exploitation of a privileged few (yeah, it’s the same few, and the same privilege). Matthew Phelan has the story, with a lot less snark and many more facts.
(Seriously, though, this is good to know about and understand — some coalitions aren’t worth building. Cuddle up to trees, but not to Nazis, please.)
This romantic-reactionary tendency in environmentalism has fertile ground in US Green Party coalitions, if only because many pragmatic environmentalists have self-selected out of these marginalized third-party engagements. Concerted efforts by anti-Semitic authors David Pidcock, Michele Renouf, and Matthias Chang to insinuate their ideas into the Green Party's defense of Palestinians, and its critique of international finance, plagued the campaign of Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney in 2008, and this example is not unique. In general, what has been left is an activist community that, while far from being a full-fledged "green–brown" alliance, is dangerously susceptible to eco-nationalist positions and premeditated infiltration by like-minds from the far right.
Aleksandar Hemon explains why refusing to provide fascism with a public platform is not an issue of free speech, but of survival.
. . . only those safe from fascism and its practices are likely to think that there might be a benefit in exchanging ideas with fascists. What for such a privileged group is a matter of a potentially productive difference in opinion is, for many of us, a matter of basic survival. The essential quality of fascism (and its attendant racism) is that it kills people and destroys their lives — and it does so because it openly aims so.
This is a great investigative piece by Debbie Weingarten on systemic, systematic, and devastating discrimination against black sugarcane farmers in the United States. It’s the sort of claim that people who benefit from the entrenched system find easy to dismiss — so careful, fact-based reporting is needed. Weingarten’s piece is compelling, and enraging.
US census of agriculture statistics show a 44.7% decrease in black farm operators in Iberia parish — where the Provosts live — between 2007 and 2012, compared with a 12.3% decrease in white farm operators. In neighboring Vermillion parish, where June farmed the majority of his sugarcane, black farm operators decreased by 17% between 2002 and 2012, while white farmers increased by 6%. Nationally, less than 2% of farmers are black.
June says there were approximately 60 black sugarcane farmers in the area in 1983. He keeps their names neatly printed, line after line, in a notebook.
By 2000, that number had dwindled to 17. Today, June and Angie count only four.
If you haven’t voted yet, isn’t Sunday morning the perfect time to do it? Settle in with an election guide or three, a heavy marking pen, and your ballot, and make yourself heard. Your vote counts, and your voting counts. It’s a signal that you give a damn, and that other people should too.
Gabrielle Bellot, a transgender woman, writes about what it’s like to have your government try to define you out of existence. Vote with Gabrielle Bellot!
As a black American, as a gay man. I understand this betrayal of a flag, too, this way that you can live in a country and have the profoundest sense that it wishes you did not live there, that it even wishes, perhaps, you lived in the “undiscovered country,” where no one lives at all. I know it as a person of color, as a woman, as someone who grew up in another country, and, above all, as a transgender person in a moment when I am told — casually, by a leaked memo, which says that the Trump administration wants to create a legal definition of sex as, according to The New York Times, “a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth” — that our government believes people like me should not exist.
Justine van der Leun pursues the story of Wassim Isaac, a Syrian refugee who had the bad luck to ask for asylum at the border in El Paso, where only 3 percent of such requests are granted by judges with more or less absolute power. Vote on behalf of Wassim Isaac!
Under the Trump administration, the concept of due process has been further subjugated by a nativist ideology at odds with the American ideal of an open, egalitarian, multicultural society. (In February, the federal agency that issues green cards and grants citizenship changed its mission statement from a pledge to fulfill “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants” to a vow to adjudicate immigration requests while “securing the homeland”.) In June, following an uproar related to the administration’s separation of families at the border, Trump tweeted his thoughts: “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.”
Jelani Cobb sees voter suppression as a long game — with short-term benefits for a privileged few and lasting consequences for the nation. Vote, and preserve the right for everyone to do so!
The xenophobia and the resentment that Donald Trump stirred up during the 2016 election are fundamentally concerns about the future of the American electorate. (His reported comment that too many people are immigrating from “shithole countries” in Africa and the Caribbean was paired with a lament that not enough are coming from Europe.) He has repeatedly stated that he lost the popular vote because non-citizens voted for Hillary Clinton. Last Thursday, at a rally in Montana, he suggested that Democrats were responsible for a caravan of migrants now heading north from Honduras, because they “figure everybody coming in is going to vote Democrat.” Kemp, likewise, claimed that Abrams wants to let undocumented people vote in Georgia. The suppression of minority votes is the homegrown corollary of this strategy — an attempt to place a white thumb on the demographic scale.
White supremacists vote! Vote against them! I’m pretty sure Janet Reitman will.
While I happened to be sitting across the table from an admitted fascist who admires Adolf Hitler and has advocated (he says trollishly) “white Shariah,” I didn’t feel threatened by Will Fears. Like so many of the movement’s vague anymen, he presented himself as polite, articulate and interested in cultural politics, and though his views are abhorrent, he stated them all so laconically you might forget that he actually believes in the concept of a white ethnostate. And that’s the point: The genius of the new far right, if we could call it “genius,” has been their steadfast determination to blend into the larger fabric of society to such an extent that perhaps the only way you might see them as a problem is if you actually want to see them at all.
I so wish I could vote for this amazing, badass, fearless woman, who is overturning politics in Georgia and assumptions about her chosen genre. Since I can’t, I’ll vote where I can. You should too.
If she wins her election, Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, will become the nation’s first black female governor. She’d also be the first governor who writes romantic suspense novels — eight of them, in fact, published under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery.
Susan Orlean sets Fahrenheit 451 ablaze.
I struck the first match and it broke, so I struck a second, which spat out a little tongue of flame. I touched the burning match to the cover of the book, which was decorated with a picture of a matchbook. The flame moved like a bead of water from the tip of the match to the corner of the cover. Then it oozed. It traveled up the cover almost as if it were rolling it up, like a carpet, but as it rolled, the cover disappeared. Then each page inside the book caught fire. The fire first appeared on a page as a decorative orange edge with black fringe. Then, in an instant, the orange edge and the black fringe spread across the whole page, and then the page was gone—a nearly instantaneous combustion—and the entire book was eaten up in a few seconds. It happened so fast that it was as if the book had exploded; the book was there and then in a blink it was gone and meanwhile the day was still warm, the sky still blue.
Michael Hobbes sets “corporate social responsibility” ablaze. This is very good — unraveling an ideology that has been carefully built up by for-profits and nonprofits both, in a shell game of respectability and money.
Samantha asks if you offer certification, a stamp her company can put on its website declaring that it complies with human rights.
"We prefer to work behind the scenes," you say, kicking off a spiel that has started to sound less natural lately as you have delivered it more. "Complying with human rights is complicated. It's relevant to all your operations, all your suppliers, all your relationships with governments. We recommend that companies do this privately, and focus on delivering real improvements to their employees and their customers, before they communicate it publicly."
"Right," she says. "But we can still put your name on our website, right?""Well of course," you say
My grandfather was an adventurer trapped in very suburban home in Jackson, Mississippi. He dreamed of planting saplings until a vast forest overgrew the land he owned, of free-diving for pearls in the Indian Ocean, of being lost in the desert of the American West. When macular degeneration blotched his vision and dementia blurred his reality, he talked with wonder and longing about the strange maps that floated between his eyes and the world.
Here’s Lev Grossman on the allure of maps of imaginary places, especially for those who long for more wonder than daily life readily yields.
One's eyes quickly learned to hungrily parse a newly acquired map: the long spindly corridors, the secret doors, the treacherous mazes, the crooked borders of unworked stone, the grand hall where the massive showdown melee would happen, the over-elaborate legend listing symbols for urns, statues, pillars, traps, treasure chests and altars to nameless gods. These maps promised extremes of excitement and pleasure, though players weren't actually supposed to see the maps, strictly speaking. D&D wasn't a board game: the map was a holy mystery, concealed during gameplay behind a makeshift cardboard screen. The Dungeonmaster would instead painstakingly describe a player's slow, bloody progress across it. Denied the aerial omniscience of a map, one was in the position, increasingly inconceivable in the age of Google Maps, of being lost on a darkling plain, stumbling towards an unseen goal, with only words to steer by.
Why do we want so, so badly to be liked? Human nature, sure, but human nurture, too. And who defines what’s likeable and what’s not? And who benefits? Hmm. Maybe Lacy M. Johnson knows.
As a woman, I have been raised to be nurturing, to care for others feelings’ and wellbeing often at the expense of my own. I have been taught that to be liked is to be good. But I have noticed that certain men are allowed to be any way they want. They get to be nuanced and complex. Adventurous and reclusive. They can say anything, do anything, disregard rules and social norms, break laws, commit treason, rob us blind, and nothing is held against them. A white man, in particular, can be an abuser, a rapist, a pedophile, a kidnapper of children, can commit genocide or do nothing notable or interesting at all and we are expected to hang on his every word as if it is a gift to the world. Likability doesn’t even enter the conversation.
Heather Havrilesky, in unintentional counterpoint to the Johnson essay linked above, brilliantly riffs on a 15-minute Yes video to provide a master course in being human.
Sure, you’ll become a joke to someone somewhere, eventually, just for doing what you love. Someone will say, “Holy shit, why don’t they stop touring?” And someone else will say, “And they’re still recording live albums, too!” How many live albums by Yes does any one human need?
But that’s not the takeaway here. The takeaway is PUT ON YOUR SATIN MCCALL’S PATTERN BLOUSE AND ROCK IT OUT.
Jamal Khashoggi's last column.
Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate.
Brendan O’Connor ties together threads after an appearance by Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes turned violent last week. If you've been thinking of the vicious proto-fascist group as a fringe element, this article is an education.
Bound together by violent misogyny and ultranationalism, these groups stand for nothing resembling a conventional political program or platform — but that does not mean they are apolitical. Pragmatically sidestepping the question of race, they now make their proto-fascist appeal in the language of patriotic individualism: pro-America, pro-capitalism, and pro-Trump. (Its effectiveness should not be understated: for years, antifascists in New York City’s soccer supporter scene have been working to alienate Antillon, a frequent attendee of New York City Football Club matches at Yankee Stadium, from friends and fellow fans who don’t have Nazi tattoos—with little success.) Around the country, the Proud Boys have replicated this strategy, appealing primarily to people’s class interests—as small business owners, for example, or as the children of families who fled socialist revolutions—as well as traditionalist gender politics, temporarily deferring the white nationalist project in the interest of swelling their ranks. As it happens, this is the strategy that has also allowed them entry into the Republican mainstream.
Composer Nico Muhly on the process of creating music, which involves much more file structure than you might imagine. His description of the primary task of composition — "to create a piece of art that is better than the same amount of silence" — is delightfully straightforward, and the essay is delightfully full of the details of his craft.
In general, the next step — before involving notes and rhythms — is a period of improvisational research. I begin with a simple idea, such as ‘old broken Gibbons piece reveals itself’, and then start exploring. Soon I find myself engaged in research about the power of relics in Buddhism, which leads to the Lacanian notion of the objet petit a, soon displaced by my delight in Obelix’s dog Dogmatix being called Idéfix in the original French, which leads to the way a single obsessive idea can dominate every aspect of a text, which leads to Gollum, which leads to Tolkien’s use of dead languages to create a set of fictional languages, which leads to old words taking on new meaning, which leads to Wendy Carlos’s interpretation of Bach, and so on. All these articles, pictures and fragments get printed out and digitally saved and put in folders, and the result — for me — is a magical vessel full of information and possibility.
From this, the notes come quickly.
Steven Kurutz profiles Kathy Hourigan, Knopf Doubleday's vice president, managing editor, and longest-tenured employee at 55 years and counting. Look at that office! A book-lover's lair.
Her career has spanned the discreet era when authors mailed a single typed manuscript along with a carbon copy to be passed around, to today’s convenient but somewhat alarming electronic system where with one keystroke, a book can be widely distributed. She is reminiscent of long-forgotten characters like Harry Ford, a poetry editor with “an unerring ear,” according to his obituary in The New York Times, and Mr. Koshland.
Indeed, Ms. Hourigan would rather talk about them than herself. She gave up her writing ambitions, she said, when “I realized that all the manuscripts coming through the slush pile were written better than I could write.”
Celeste Ng has a nuanced and thoughtful response to harassment of Asian-American women who choose a non-Asian partner or have multiracial children. The contrast between her response and the trolls' attacks is ... striking.
There’s a range of behavior from men who engage in this harassment on Reddit, Twitter, and other channels. The problem is that even legitimate concerns end up entwined with these more extreme views. Some of the men on these forums argue that they are overlooked culturally and that Asian women’s activism sidelines them — a point that the Asian community can and should civilly discuss further. However, most speak not about cultural representation and activism, but about what they perceive as a dearth of dating opportunities for Asian men. The most toxic posts come from men who argue for racial purity and refer to Asian women as if they are commodities rather than people. Yet men all along this spectrum of opinions engage in similar harassing behavior, using similar misogynistic language and similar bullying tactics — and placing the blame for the entire array of complaints squarely on Asian women.
Katie Prout neatly takes the romance out of “starving writer” with this account of her experience at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop — and Iowa’s food banks. This isn’t a story about sacrificing for your art; it’s a story about the social construct of “the real writer,” and how one university leverages it to its own advantage.
I wondered if I shouldn’t go to the food bank tonight. I thought about all the hours, the days, of not writing, and the shame of it built, but I need to eat, I don’t have a Hadley, which was the name of Hemingway’s second wife, and I don’t have her fortune either, which is how Hemingway was supported during his young years in Paris. In addition to my work with Brian, I’m an instructor at the university where I attend the best nonfiction writing program in the country, and I make approximately $18,000 a year before taxes. When I was denied a second teaching assistantship at the university this summer for the upcoming school year even though I already had signed a contract with the offering department, my director explained that it was in the school’s best interests to look after my best interests, and my best interest was to make sure that I had time write my thesis. Most graduate students are lucky if they get one, it was explained. After, a program-wide email was sent out explaining why the university generally doesn’t allow us to get other university jobs, and encouraging us not to look for any jobs outside of our instructing ones at all.
Terese Marie Mailhot writes eloquently (of course) about the complexities of ceremony, assimilation, and appropriation. “The rhetoric of lost culture is a white imposition” is an incredibly important idea: appropriation isn’t just about naming (ahem) a city’s hockey team “the Totems” — it is as subtle and malignant as declaring, from a position of power, what has been lost, what should be mourned, and even what culture is.
And now, at 35, I am unceremoniously here on staff at Purdue University, an Indian in Indiana without my people. I teach and travel, migrating with semesters. I link myself with other Indigenous communities and speak to people about intergenerational trauma. I explain that what’s been lost is hard to communicate without damaging our psyches or being exploited. It’s hard to not engage in performative measures for white people who might want to grieve us or tour genocide — or save us, or liberate us by bearing witness. I am not a relic, I say over and over at every event as if it were a conjuring, and it is an affirmation.
This has been everywhere but is still irresistible fun: Daniel Radcliffe spent a day working in The New Yorker’s fact-checking department to prepare for an upcoming role in The Lifespan of a Fact, a play based on the real-life story of an epic seven-year battle between fact-checker Jim Fingal and author John D’Agata.) Radcliffe takes the job with charming seriousness and a very appropriate humility.
"Hi, Justin. I’m Dan, at The New Yorker," Radcliffe began, twiddling a red pencil. "Some of these questions are going to feel very boring and prosaic to you," he warned. "So bear with me. First off, your surname: is that spelled B-A-Z-D-A-R-I-C-H?" (It is.) "Does the restaurant serve guacamole?" (Yes.) "In the dip itself, would it be right to say there are chilies in adobo and cilantro?" (No adobo, but yes to the cilantro.) "Is there a drink you serve there, a Paloma?" (Yes.) "And that’s pale, pink, and frothy, I believe?" (Correct.) "Is brunch at your place—which, by the way, sounds fantastic—served seven days a week?" (Yes.) "That’s great news," Radcliffe said, "for the accuracy of this, and for me."
I’d completely forgotten about that crazy-awful scene from It, the one where “An 11-year-old girl has sex with six boys, one after another!”, which is the point of this essay by Anastasia Basil: when everything is water, you don’t notice that you’re drowning. A revealing tour of the cultural and historic touchpoints in the 80s and 90s that shaped today’s voters, and a critical reminder to keep swimming hard for the surface, even when the waves get big.
Look, I get it. I was 20 years old in 1990. After my boyfriend punched me in the eye, he cried too. I held him until he felt better. I told friends I’d stupidly walked into the corner of an open cabinet. Because, like the Washington Post in 1990, I understood it was my job to help men feel better about themselves. It was my job to understand that their gross, abusive language was just locker room talk. Most men don’t mean to hit us or rape us or verbally abuse us. They don’t really want gay people strung up and hung. It’s just a macho act, you know? Like the Diceman. Besides, if women don’t like that sort of thing, why do they go for guys like that? Or vote them into office? Or make them Supreme Court justices?
You’ll remember most of the events covered by Molly McKew in this piece — Gamergate, Pizzagate, QAnon — but here’s a chance to see them outside the punch of outrage and understand the social movement that ties them together, a movement that elected Donald Trump and confirmed Brett Kavanaugh. Actually “social movement” is the wrong term: McKew’s point is that the enabler here is a kind of information system that’s entirely new, and which the old systems are entirely unprepared to fight.
This has all taken on a new heady energy as pushback to #MeToo — and riding the coattails of the conspiracy bandwagon. But the intent is the same: to demonize the opponent, define identity, activate the base around emotional rather than rational concepts, and build a narrative that can be used to normalize marginal and radical political views. It is, after all, very convenient to have a narrative positing that all your political opponents are part of a secret cabal of sexual predators, which thus exonerates your side by default.
This is the ideological landscape that has been so swiftly leveraged in the defense of Brett Kavanaugh.
Now move into Greg Afinogenov’s analysis of the scholarly hoax revealed by its perpetrators last week and aimed at undercutting what the hoaxers call “grievance studies,” which is to say academic studies related to sexism, racism, and other kinds of marginalization. We’ve lost track of the difference between punching up and punching down. A convenient confusion for people terrified of fighting on a level playing field.
The orthodoxy these men represent is not an orthodoxy of scientific legitimacy but rather the emerging consensus of tech bros, Davos billionaires, and alt-right misogynists. Each of these groups has its own reasons to hate feminist and other critical scholarship—whether for ideological reasons, positivist data fetishism, or the perception that they are uncommodifiable and hence worthless. It has thus been easy for them to find common cause in fighting the old Sokal specter of academic postmodernism that supposedly still dominates academia. At stake in the hoax, then, is precisely the question of whether it is “grievance studies” that is Goliath and methodological “common sense” that is David, or vice-versa.
Laurie Patton, college president and poet, debunks the idea that it’s more courageous, or proper, to be solely one or the other. A gentle essay, but resolute against the idea that there’s anything a “real” writer does or doesn’t do.
The Tanpura Principle in writing is the idea that much of writing occurs while doing something else, because the base of poetic inspiration, the supporting drone, is always there. It's what my friend meant when she quipped that even a budget could be a poem. She did not mean that one had to ruthlessly integrate identities in order to make oneself intelligible to the outside world, but that in poetry there was a kind of harmonic listening that could occur anywhere, and in any way.
Gwynne Watkins interviews comics legend Ramona Fradon, the artist who created one of Aquaman’s most iconic looks. Fradon worked in the 1950s and 1970s, and you get the feeling the tidbits she drops about observing the male-dominated profession are just the tip of an iceberg of tasty gossip.
Fradon has talent and guts and cuttingly quick wit — and a healthy skepticism of certain segments of her audience.
Fradon couldn't be nicer, but she has the canniness of a woman who survived the some of the nation's hardest decades — and the pressures of an all-male industry — by her own wits. I confess to her that I'm only a casual comics reader; my husband is the one with a passion for superhero stories. "Could you explain that to me?" she asks with a smile. "I just do not understand the grown men who are so into comics."
An absolutely engrossing excerpt from Brian Phillips’ Impossible Owls about searching for tigers in India. As Phillips re-traces the route of a famous hunter’s most famous kill, the great cats emerge from the negative space, an absence forced into bloody presence by the encroachment of human habitat (and human poaching). What is natural and what is not? Does “conservation” apply to an animal that hunts us?
One day I had been shown a newly built wall. It separated, I was told, the reserve from one of the villages. If a tiger killed a cow or an ox outside the reserve, the villagers were entitled to compensation from the government. If it killed one inside the reserve, they were not. Villagers whose cattle were killed in the reserve had been caught dragging the carcass into their own yards in order to claim the payment, and so the government had built the wall, not to stop tigers from attacking the villagers or their cattle, but to stop the villagers from claiming payments they were not owed. Until 2006, it had been illegal for forest dwellers even to own the land they lived on; the law had been changed over furious objections from conservationists. I was beginning to perceive that not everyone living in this scenario might feel a strong passion for wildlife conservation. I was beginning to think that preserving nature for the next generation might seem a less academic notion in New York than on the threshold of the actual jungle — how under certain circumstances it might sound like a mystifying collection of words, and how it might in fact sound more mystifying the closer to "nature" one came.
Murmuration: The sound of many voices speaking, quietly alone but deafeningly together. The sight of multitudes in flight coming abruptly into sync. An emergence into visibility; a rising up. An uprising.
Lacy M. Johnson on speaking out about sexual assault. In addition to her own story — of finding her tongue, and the hostile backlash from male peers, the discomfort of other women — she reminds us of what boys-will-be-boys looks like to women who are violated privately, then publicly, by their assaulters.
All across the country this situation is replicated with slight variations: a woman reports rape, is told that boys will be boys; a woman reports rape, is not believed. She is shamed. She is ostracized, traumatized, and retraumatized. At best, the woman’s life is forever and irrevocably changed. At worst, she self-destructs. Men, however, seem to thrive in a culture in which they can rape women with near impunity.
I know, I know. Not all men.
Jessica Shortall remembers the men in her life.
This week, a man sent me a private message on twitter. I told him I did not want to talk to him. He persisted. I told him to fuck off. He replied that he would “teach” me “what sexual assault means.”
Rebecca Solnit on having the power to choose not to know.
What has in the past been subtle is now obvious: this is a battle over whether this will be a country for all of us, a democracy in which everyone matters and all are equal, or a citadel of white male privilege. They are a minority — including babies and boys, white males make up a third of this country — but have majority party and are in a rageful panic about its ebb. This nomination is a power grab for the party committed to representing them at everyone else’s expense. That’s out in the open now; that clarity may mean that even if they win this battle, they’ve committed themselves to losing the war.
Rebecca Traister with more on power and how it's preserved, through fear and subjugation.
The lesson of the United States in this moment is that misogyny and racism aren’t disqualifiers. They are the qualities the right wing considers key to their larger project — perhaps, in fact, main selling points. (Especially for their president, who today was reported to have loved Kavanaugh’s blustering, aggressive attitude toward his questioners).
After all, the reason that Republicans want to jam through Kavanaugh’s nomination is that as a member of the Supreme Court he’ll be able to help create the mechanisms that determine which kinds of Americans have rights, protections, autonomy, and power.
Emily Jane Fox talks to Holton-Arms alums, women who attended the same private school as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, women whose experiences have an eerie familiarity. A blunt article, whose force grows directly from its straightforward, unemotional reporting.
Many witnessed moments like the one Ford described, or heard about them, or experienced them firsthand. “When I first read the story on Sunday, I said, ‘Of course this happened,’” a woman who graduated from Holton in the early 2000s told me. “This happened so much that there was nothing difficult to believe about what she’s saying. How could anyone doubt this? It felt personal to a lot of us, because her story is so similar to a lot of ours, and so the attacks on her felt personal.”
Finally, a flashback to 1993, to Joan Didion, to Lakewood, California, to the tactics so readily used by certain men to discredit and disarm women who have been brutally harmed.
One of the ugliest and most revelatory of the many ugly and revelatory moments that characterized the television appearances of Spur Posse members this spring occurred on “Jane Whitney,” when a nineteen-year-old Lakewood High graduate named Chris Albert (“Boasts He Has 44 ‘Points’ for Having Sex with Girls”) turned mean with a member of the audience, a young black woman who had tried to suggest that the Spurs on view were not exhibiting what she considered native intelligence.
“I don’t get—I don’t understand what she’s saying,” Chris Albert at first said, letting his jaw go slack, as these boys tended to do when confronted with an unwelcome, or in fact any, idea.
Another Spur interpreted: “We’re dumb. She’s saying we’re dumb.”
"What education does she have?" Chris Albert then snarled, and tensed against his chair, as if trying to shake himself alert. "Where do you work at? McDonald's? Burger King?" A third Spur tried to interrupt, but Chris Albert, once roused, could not be deflected: "$5.25? $5.50?" And then there it was, the piton, driven in this case into not granite but shale: "I go to college."
Murmuration. A rising up of many voices. An emergence into visibility.
Biographies of Elizabeth Bishop have always been both necessary reading and an unwanted intrusion for me. I believe this is true for many who connect with the deeply private poet’s work — our affection drives competing desires to know her better, to protect her from being known, and to know her only as we know her, without the necessary intrusion of the biographer’s voice.
So I love and respect Gabrielle Bellot’s ability to reclaim a personal relationship with Bishop in this essay, which draws on Megan Marshall’s revelatory recent biography without being overwhelmed by the biographer’s narrative. A beautiful short piece about how being good at being alone can be a survival skill, especially for those whose selves are unacceptable to the mores of their time.
In the worlds I imagined, I was a girl with another girl — or, once in a while, a boy — at my side. In my time alone, I learned to sail away, as Bishop did, to an elsewhere-place — and sometimes I think I would not have survived if I had not had the outlet of my alone time, my imagination. My solitude nourished my writing, and writing often helped me cope, but it couldn’t take away my depression from feeling that I was living an ugly lie. At my lowest point before coming out as trans, I was about to end my life by drinking poison — and then, unlike Bishop, I decided I had to take the risk of openly living my truth. I came out in my mid-twenties, having chosen to stay in America rather than return home, since America, at least, seemed to offer me a chance to live as that woman-loving woman of my constant dreams. But without what Bishop identified, the deep saving grace of quietude, I doubt I would have lived long enough to come out at all.
After The New Yorker banned Steve Bannon from its festival, The Economist faced public pushback when they invited Bannon to their Open Future Festival. In the end, they stood by their man, and lost several woman panelists, including Laurie Penny, because of it.
Characteristically, the internet indulged in endless hand-wringing about both invitations and both decisions. Characteristically, Penny cuts right through the noise.
Steve Bannon, like the howling monster from the id he ushered into the White House, exploits the values of the liberal establishment by offering an impossible choice: betray their stated principles (free, open debate) or dignify fascism and white supremacy. This weaponizes tolerance to legitimize intolerance. If we deny racists a platform, they feed off the appearance of censorship, but if we give them a platform, they’ve also won by being respectfully invited into the penumbra of mainstream legitimacy. Either way, what matters to them is not debate, but airtime and attention. They have no interest in winning on the issues. Their image of a better world is one with their face on every television screen.
This, by Alexandra Petri, is a furious and brilliantly mimetic examination of assault, privilege, and weaponized grammar.
It happens. It happened. It was a long time ago.
She waits. She says nothing.
She should not have waited. She should not have said nothing.
She remembers it happened. She remembers it happened to her. She remembers he did something.
She says something.
Helen MacDonald, author of H Is for Hawk, reviews Christopher Skaife’s account of his work as ravenmaster of the Tower of London. Full of tasty corvid gossip and playful bloodlust, with a bit of history and politics to hold it all together.
Skaife calls attention to the birds’ beautiful contradictions. In sunlight their dark feathers shine with the iridescence of oil on water. They can be friendly, curious, even loving. In the wild they’ll take turns sliding down snowbanks and make toys out of sticks. At the Tower they play games of KerPlunk, pulling the straws free from the tube to retrieve a dead mouse as their prize. Yet, as that special raven edition of KerPlunk suggests, they’re also birds of gothic darkness and gore, the birds that followed Viking raiders in quest of fresh corpses and that feasted on executed bodies hung from roadside gibbets. You might visit Skaife’s charges in the Tower and watch, entranced, as they gently preen each other’s nape feathers, murmuring in their soft raven idiolect — but you might also see them gang up to ambush a pigeon and eat it alive.
On a very different note, Hannah Dreier reports this week on the serial gang murders of teenagers in Long Island’s immigrant community — largely without interference by the police, who called the crimes “misdemeanor murder.” Carlota Moran is the mother of one of the dead children, her son Miguel tricked into the woods and then slaughtered with a blow to the head and a machete. For months she looked for Miguel, and for help from any public agency, facing if anything active resistance from the local police. Then the gangs killed two girls from the rich side of town.
The murders made national news. Trump hailed the girls’ parents and invited them to his State of the Union speech. The Suffolk County Police Department came under intense pressure to solve the case. It posted signs offering a $15,000 reward for help catching the killers. Officers went door-to-door asking for tips. Over the summer, Suffolk officials had rejected an offer to start an anti-gang program for immigrant teenagers in Brentwood, according to two people familiar with the episode. Now, they called the organizer back and asked how soon she could get it running. Police arrested dozens of suspected MS-13 members and mapped out the local cliques. Within days, they were searching the woods with German Shepherds and shovels.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for 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.
Call Me American, Abdi Nor Iftin’s just-published memoir about his experiences as a child during the civil war in Somalia and his long journey to the United States, should have been a feel-good story. As Rich Smith reports, the book’s own journey has been one of conflict rather than celebration, with events cancelled first in Portland, Maine (where Iftin lives) and now at Seattle’s Town Hall. A surprisingly complicated story about representation, community pride, and the very different sensitivities of the literary and development sectors.
In an e-mail, a spokesperson for Town Hall says they canceled because the organizations they'd partnered with for the event pulled out, including "a notable Somali organization" that didn't want to participate "in something they see as dividing their community."
Town Hall had hoped to "facilitate a conversation in partnership with Forterra [a conservation organization] and representatives of the local Somali community," according to their spokesperson. But Forterra, who had served as the liaison between local Somali communities, pulled out after receiving complaints about Nor Iftin.
Meanwhile, in the same week that Harper's published a self-serving account of social and professional ostracization by John Hockenberry, the New York Review of Books has an issue about #MeToo devoted entirely to men, including a defense of Jian Ghomeshi by ... Jian Ghomeshi. Slate's Isaac Chotioner asked editor Ian Buruma why.
Was there a gender breakdown during the discussion?
I would say not necessarily just in this particular case. I would say that on issues to do with #MeToo and relations between men and women and so on, there isn’t so much a gender breakdown as there is a generational one. I think that is generally true. I don’t think our office is in any way unusual. I think people over 40 and under 40 often have disagreements about this.
How old are you?
Recently the Ballard branch of the Seattle Public Library installed bars across the concrete blocks outside its doors that are meant to deter homeless people from sitting, sleeping, or otherwise taking refuge near the building. As Seattle’s homeless population grows, the city’s library system has struggled to define how service to this and other marginalized groups fits into its mission — especially how to balance it against service to other stakeholders.
Finding that balance, though hard, could be critical to the survival of libraries as an institution. As sociologist Eric Klinenberg tracks in this essay, the value libraries provide as a civic commons is much harder to duplicate than their most familiar service (access to books and other media). A library that protects its most privileged patrons at the cost of others is less valuable — and more at risk.
As recipients of public funding, Seattle’s libraries are vulnerable to public opinion. Given a choice between supporting our libraries’ ability to serve the broadest possible range of citizens — or putting them in the crossfire of one of our most virulent debates about public policy — what will we choose?
The openness and diversity that flourish in neighborhood libraries were once a hallmark of urban culture. But that has changed. Though American cities are growing more ethnically, racially and culturally diverse, they too often remain divided and unequal, with some neighborhoods cutting themselves off from difference — sometimes intentionally, sometimes just by dint of rising costs — particularly when it comes to race and social class.
Libraries are the kinds of places where people with different backgrounds, passions and interests can take part in a living democratic culture. They are the kinds of places where the public, private and philanthropic sectors can work together to reach for something higher than the bottom line.
Here’s another from the “yes, this is really hard, but seriously” pool: in Philadelphia, people have been smuggling drugs and other contraband into prisons inside of books, so the prisons are barring book donations to prisoners.
The Department of Corrections isn’t trying to ban books. They’re just trying to limit how prisoners lay hands on them — through channels that the prison controls. As a byproduct, prisoners may no longer have access to free books, instead paying for them from wages of less than a dollar per hour.
Critics see the DOC rules as part of the same "war on books" — and they are hoping to achieve the same reversal here. To that end, they’ve already set up online petitions and planned a day of action for Friday to flood state officials and lawmakers with phone calls. Organizations including the Pennsylvania ACLU and the Pittsburgh-based Abolitionist Law Center that have sued the DOC successfully in the past said they are evaluating the situation.
"We’re already starting to get a lot of complaints," said the Abolitionist Law Center’s Bret Grote. "It was only a few days into this in which it became clear to me that this is almost certainly going to result in years of protracted litigation, and it’s going to become a defining moment in the future of prisons in this state."
Aaron Timm’s essay on New York’s “supertalls” — skyscrapers that crest 1,000, even 1,500 feet, intended primarily for residential use — made me wonder about Seattle’s own trajectory. The Columbia Center is still our tallest, at just under 1,000, and nothing in the works will compete for the title. The proposed 4/C project would have taken us over the 1,000-foot mark, but the FAA relentlessly cut it down to size. Little has been heard from disheartened developer Crescent Heights since 2016.
But pure height isn’t the story. Residential height is, and the possibility that supertalls will host the superrich, an earthly Elysium. It’s an eerie JG Ballard-ish idea — that the tech elite might simply, literally, rise above the rest of us. We shape our spaces, and they shape us in return, for better and sometimes for worse.
Cities change, of course they do; but what matters is for whom they change, and at what cost. Demolition, displacement, accommodation, and compromise are the conditions of urban life. But the city of the supertalls is engineered to take its denizens beyond these conditions, to deliver them into frictionlessness. It’s a place of moonshot wealth, skinny buildings, no resistance, and no surprises; a city that’s not really a city at all, but its own comfortable superstate.
When we think about how we read these days, it’s mostly to despair over our deteriorating attention spans and hurl curses at our internet overlords (no irony here for the Sunday Post). But maybe our reading brains are more resilient than we think, more tied to who we are and what we value, not so ready to release us.
Law school tried to teach Tajja Isen another way to read, but her reading brain fought back, and eventually led her away from the law. It’s a lovely idea, rendered without sentiment here, that the way we read (not just what we read) can be part of our resistance — to wrong choices, to wrong ideas, to ways of being that are inimicable to who we are.
A few nights a week, I’d make a feeble attempt at proving the world wrong, swimming up through my exhaustion to pick up a novel and push through its pages. Sentences were newly terrifying; tiny minefields of meaning where I might miss a principle I’d later be called upon to produce, freshly plucked. I labored for months over what had once taken me days. I told myself that this was pleasure; that these motions were sufficient proof that I hadn’t allowed myself to be drained of joy and filled with something else.
If I ever have to walk through a swamp at night, stepping uncertainly for solid ground and listening for the quiet splash of a reptile in the water nearby (does anyone else find Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise infinitely more terrifying than the jovial Haunted Mansion?), may Rebecca Solnit be my guide. Here she oulines in crisp, certain paragraphs the case for impeaching Donald Trump, taking us step by step through the murk of corruption and distraction of the past few months. It’s hard to think of anyone other than Solnit who could use these giddy, run-on sentences to both recreate the desperate feel of the chaotic news cycle and map our way through it.
It was hard to remember, with the over-the-top corruption of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort frothing up like a badly poured beer, to keep track of the conspiratorial roles of Roger Stone and George Papadopoulos, long after everyone had forgotten all about Carter Page, who’d been reported as a foreign agent by US intelligence while he was toddling about Russia and maybe making some secret deals with the oil company Rosneft, or Michael Flynn, who’d been the first to be fired for corruption, and who’d been convicted for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia, but whose sentence was being held up because he might have further use for the Special Counsel investigation.
Writer, editor, reader. On the internet, the small sins of each add up until real communication is impossible. The editors of n+1 have a thoughtful piece that looks at how a new way of reading — in which we’ve all become like that annoying boor at a party who listens only with an ear to what he’ll say next — shapes what gets published and how.
This is such a good call to action to all of us: to remain alert, to remain thoughtful, not to let “outrage is a sign of consequence” be the register in which we read.
To be a reader is to suffer. The endless call-and-response that leaves writers forever relitigating their work . . . all this is for our sake? In the not so distant past, we could sit with an article and decide for ourselves, in something resembling isolation, whether it made any sense or not. Now the frantic give-and-take leaves us with little sovereignty over our own opinions. We load up Twitter to discover some inscrutable debate (“Why is everyone fighting about the Enlightenment?”), usually over a series of misinterpretations, which in the space of an hour or two has ended friendships and caused major figures to leave the platform.
Hat tip to Jason Kottke for linking to this utterly charming short video of Stephen Colbert drawing a throughline, with immense passion and slight sheepishness, from the prosody of Childish Gambino through Gilbert and Sullivan all the way back to Tolkien. Don’t think you want to watch video this morning? Can I change your mind by pointing out that Colbert recites lines from all three?
Kottke is a bit hard on Colbert’s use of the word “rare” to describe the particular pattern his ear picked out. I’d gently submit that there’s a lot more to rhythm and rhyme than, well, rhythm and rhyme — the unique earprint of a line of verse or song is made up of the interaction of so many sound patterns and its emotional tenor and the experience and trained or untrained ear of the listener. In other words, Stephen Colbert is clearly right, and Jason Kottke is clearly, and I never thought I’d say this, wrong. (But “superbly nerdy” — yes indeed.)
I wonder about the “rare” bit though . . . rappers packing songs with internal rhymes is not a new thing nor is referencing Gilbert & Sullivan in hip-hop. Still, this is superbly nerdy.
In a very few words, Emily Schulten perfect captures the waking-in-Eden devastation that happens when a child learns her body is shameful, and even more poignant, that she isn’t the one who defines whether it is or isn’t.
When I leave the bedroom, I stay close to the hallway’s stone wall. Back upstairs, I take my time. I look at the tangled elastic and stitching of the bra, the X-patterned front of it. I pick it up, feel its weight between my fingertips. I hate it. I unbutton my uniform, pull a binding across one shoulder, then the next, contort one shoulder toward my ear and around to my back to make the tight straps reach. I fold both arms behind my back so they will meet to fasten the eye-hooks. I can feel the weight of the thing. It’s heavier now.
Michelle Zauner’s essay about H Mart has been everywhere this week. Zauner transforms a chain supermarket with a food court into something rich and compelling, a touchstone for remembrance and her Korean heritage. It’s a lovely piece about loss, loneliness, and home — but what makes it extraordinary is how she weights it with empathy, extending her imagination into other lives while on her weekly pilgrimage to the place that reminds her most of her mother.
It’s a beautiful, holy place. A cafeteria full of people from all over the world who have been displaced in a foreign country, each with a different history. Where did they come from and how far did they travel? Why are they all here? To find the galangal no American supermarket stocks to make the Indonesian curry that their father loves? To buy the rice cakes to celebrate Jesa and honor the anniversary of their loved one’s passing? To satisfy a craving for tteokbokki on a rainy day? Were they moved by a memory of some drunken, late-night snack under a pojangmacha tent in Incheon?
Seattle’s not a grey city or a melancholy one, but we host our share of the color — its absence in July just as defining as its presence in December. It’s a constant thread through the urban psyche, a backdrop to all sorts of brightness. Meghan Flaherty defends grey, and those who love it, making stops along the way to explore the history of the color wheel, photography, and the tyranny of sunny weather.
Ask any schoolkid to list the colors of the rainbow, and she’ll singsong you through your ROYGBIV. Seven colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Newton started out with five, then added orange and indigo to sync with music — one for every step between one tonic and the next along a major scale. (Aristotle had seven colors also, but his scale stretched from white to black, not red to violet, and included yellow, crimson, violet, leek green, and deep blue.) Then there are the eleven standard colors taught in schools, which add black, white, brown, pink, and (my beloved) gray. It feels like an addendum, consolation for a color overlooked and undersung.
I’ve never before posted a piece simply because I found it unlikeable — so blame, perhaps, a too-bitter cup of coffee this morning, or the mass of laundry waiting to be done? Whatever the cause, this immense objectionable run-on by Karl Ove Knausgaard is almost self-parody, should be self-parody, maybe is self-parody. Maybe that’s the point, or maybe Knausgaard fans would claim that to be the point that I’m missing.
Or maybe it’s just that I rather like dogs.
It didn’t help that, as a human being, I was intellectually and, presumably, also emotionally superior to the dog — that I knew how to read and write, draw and paint, tie my shoelaces, butter my bread, buy sweets at the shop, and take the bus on my own — for the loud, aggressively monotonous sounds it made trumped all that; when I stood there facing it only those sounds mattered. The dog’s barks were like a kind of law, they marked a boundary I couldn’t cross, and it was the dog that enforced it. The kinship with my father’s law was obvious, since the feelings his loud voice awakened in me, all of them connected with an inability to act, that paralysis of fear, were the same as those produced by the dog’s barking. Defying the law wasn’t just unthinkable, it was impossible. That this was so made me a subordinate, which was something I knew even then, that I had the character traits of a subordinate, and more than anything else this has marked the forty years I have lived since then.
Did you think this was a serious, high-minded weekly list of links? Wrong. If we can’t all laugh at Kelly Conaboy’s straight-faced investigation into a deeply silly question, Donald Trump truly has destroyed America. Conaboy skewers us all in this piece, including the anxious mother whose post to a baby board spawned her inquiry, but so gently and with such good humor that you’ll barely feel it.
Slightly NSFW — especially if your workplace is offended by audible snorts of laughter.
Perhaps it is not a question for doctors or children, however, and instead a question for bathtub manufacturers. Has bathtub design taken into account the fragility of a man’s balls, and if so, how? Do bathtub manufacturers have a suggested way of entering the bath, for men? Had they done research into how men enter bathtubs before designing their bathtubs and, if so, could they share any of that research with me? I reached out to several and, again, surprisingly to me, I did not hear back from most.
There’s been plenty of great writing about Aretha Franklin published in the last few days, but my pick this week is John Richards and DJ Riz’s tribute to the Queen of Soul. When I turned on KEXP on Thursday morning, I knew immediately what the top headline was — and it felt right to hear it from them first. They created an essay from her songs, telling you what they thought and loved about her work, teaching you things you didn't know about her. You can stream it right here, if you aren't already (why aren't you?).
This short piece by Anders Nilsen is punctuated by gorgeous illustrations — not by him, though; by his friend, the artist Geneviève Castrée. After Castrée‘s death, Nilsen took on the project of completing the book she’d been making while she was ill. Most of the work was small; a line here, a patch of color there. But Castrée had left one of the book’s most significant elements undone, and Nilsen had to negotiate a truce between their styles to finish it. His writing about the process is filled with humility, grief, and admiration.
I started working, intending to simply mimic her style as closely as I possibly could.
I couldn't. I tried painting them in gouache, I tried colored pencil, I tried drawing digitally in photoshop. It felt as though I was drifting further from the goal with every attempt. They at once failed to blend in with her own line and color, and also seemed to loom clumsily over it like a drunk uncle.
I draw things badly in my own comics all the time, and it feels extremely uncomfortable. Getting Geneviève's bubbles wrong in this particular book felt worse than criminal.
Poet Billy-Ray Bellcourt on how not to write about Indigenous writing, a tutorial on and a warning against description. The language of this is completely immersive, entangling, as aural as it is visual. Give it your time.
Say forgiveness. With a maw full of smoke, say the aftermath of history. Hold our books in your slippery hands with the ever-loudening fact of their eschewal of the violence of a reading practice that makes a feast out of "a choreography of mangled bodies." Mouth the word "enemy," but do not enunciate it, for it is not a subject position worth keeping in the world. Living as we do in the charred remnants of a time during which the voices of Indigenous peoples were siphoned out of the theatres of culture and into the wastelands of law and order, you, a white and settler you, are beholden to a project of lessening the trauma of description.
Facebook! So multitalented. While the massive social media company was quietly helping Donald Trump into power, they were also providing a platform for hate speech to incite violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. A new report by Reuters explores the mechanisms by which Facebook failed to uphold its own standards for allowable “content,” despite full awareness of the extent and impact of the problem. Here, “impact” is a stand-in for “genocide,” and “mechanisms” is a stand-in for “unwilling to invest despite having every ability to do so.”
Keep in mind, we’re not talking about Facebook as we know it in America. We’re talking about a Facebook that has a specific goal of bringing the Internet to developing countries, not as a social good, but because doing so offers them a unique kind of dominance. As the report says, in Myanmar, Facebook “is the Internet.”
I know the Internet is really outrage-y right now, and I’m not encouraging you to feel outrage over this. I am encouraging you to feel deep anger, to ask what might be unforgiveable, and then to keep making decisions about the platforms you use that reflect the world you want to live in.
Many of the millions of items flagged globally each week – including violent diatribes and lurid sexual imagery – are detected by automated systems, Facebook says. But a company official acknowledged to Reuters that its systems have difficulty interpreting Burmese script because of the way the fonts are often rendered on computer screens, making it difficult to identify racial slurs and other hate speech.
Facebook's troubles are evident in a new feature that allows users to translate Burmese content into English. Consider a post Reuters found from August of last year.
In Burmese, the post says: "Kill all the kalars that you see in Myanmar; none of them should be left alive."
Facebook's translation into English: "I shouldn't have a rainbow in Myanmar."
(By the way — while “honey badger” might seem like a great name for a secretive operation to mop up hate speech — referencing an animal that relentlessly hunts down out prey living invisibly underground — does anyone believe staff at Facebook didn’t think of the old meme and chuckle to themselves? They truly don’t give a shit.)
Past Seattle Review of Books contributor Tessa Hulls’s essay on biking to weddings — I mean, biking hundreds of miles to weddings, not biking-downtown-from-Ballard — is an eloquent exploration of independence. Hulls built her own machine to leave an engagement that was overcast with anger. Then she used it to establish a relationship with the world in which the boundaries are entirely hers, as much as they ever can be.
Ever since I made that first escape, my body has felt too small to contain its sense of wonder for the world and for how much of it I have been able to see. In all the places I’ve been and the moments I’ve witnessed, I’ve almost always been alone. I relish solitude, but I have often longed for a partner to help shoulder some of the beauty and the weight. There have been men over the years — men I shared sleeping bags with, men with whom I watched the Northern Lights, men who brewed coffee as I broke down the tent. But none of them ever made me feel free.
The internet took poets seriously last week, to the surprise and dismay of the poets involved. Also, a baby whale died. Charles Mudede gently deflates our collective mourning for the whale and its mom, and the poetry they inspired, with the driest kind of wit, the kind that comes from a too-painfully-perfect understanding.
The poem is by Paul E. Nelson. It's not bad at all (though I'm no expert in such matters). It contains one or two respectable lines. It has some restraint, though the bit about the princess whale is almost a bit much. It does its best not to speak for the grieving sea mother, whose name is Tahlequah (or J35). Nevertheless the poem itself is a sure sign that things have really gone too far. The whales' over-grieving has become over-reading and over-writing for the language ape.
Mudede takes some of the air out of Seattle sentimentality, including our desire to carry the Showbox and other beloved businesses on our rostrums as we swim through the Sound … Shannon Mattern’s essay about Crest True Value Hardware, an independent hardware store in Brooklyn, puts the air back (a bit) — reminding us that our regret isn’t just about sentiment.
Building a small business is a craft, itself: choosing products that both sell and offer real value to the customer; designing the layout and making sure it evolves over time as the business does; engaging with the community. Independent businesses bring something to a sale beyond the exchange of cash for commodity. And that’s not just romance or mawkishness — Mattern isn’t a hipster elegist; she has hardware heritage, and a killer knowledge of general-store history to share. A long read but an excellent counterbalance.
(Hat tip to Tim Carmody at Kottke.org for this one.)
In Joe’s telling, there is a reciprocal relation between the hardware store and the neighborhood it supplies. Those plank floors might seem as if they were buried beneath the old tile, just waiting to be exposed, but actually the wood was reclaimed from nearby buildings damaged by Hurricane Sandy. “We wear those floors almost like a badge of honor,” he told me. Similarly, the counters were sourced from a former employee (now a local firefighter) who was renovating his home. “That live edge: you can tell they’ve been somewhere,” Joe said. “And for the last hundred years they’ve lived less than a quarter-mile away, holding up somebody’s building.”
This is a vision of the hardware store as episteme. It holds (and organizes) the tools, values, and knowledges that bind a community and define a worldview. There’s a material and social sensibility embodied in the store, its stuff, and its service, and reflected in the diverse clientele. That might sound a bit lofty for a commercial establishment that sells sharp objects and toxic chemicals. But the ethos is palpable. (And profitable, too.)
This week’s Sunday Post is a recorded message. The Sunday Post is sitting by a river; in fact the Sunday Post has her feet in the river and a book in her hand. But she doesn’t have a cell connection or wifi.
So although this column is supposed to be the best of the past week’s internet reading, that’s not going to work. I’m in a spot where major events include “wow, I really thought that bee was dead!” and “did you see the weird shape of that rock?” — not “HOLY CATS IT’S THE END OF THE FREE WORLD … AGAIN.”
When I took on the Sunday Post, I didn’t read much that wasn’t printed on a page. I didn’t follow Twitter (now I have multiple lists); I didn’t have a newsreader (now it's Feedly, and it works okay, not great). Donald Trump had only just been elected, and the news cycle was only just feeling the first hit of that drug — starting to hear its heart pound in its ears. (Oh, news cycle, we are so, so sorry.) I did not at all understand the river I was putting my feet into.
There’s a lot of great writing on the Internet, and I let a lot of it flow through me every week to try to find a few things other people might want to read too. Sometimes it’s a delight, and then suddenly sometimes it’s not.
It's similar to staying in Elliott Bay or Powell’s for too long — that tipping point between “oh my god, all the words!” and “oh my god. all the words.” Words that investigate politics, the heart, the author’s childhood. Words that profile people and places and animals. Words that are angry — a lot of angry words, these past eighteen months, some restrained and analytic, some furious, some in mourning.
They’re all worthwhile but they’re all coming at us so fast, it could knock you off your feet. I don’t know about you, but I can’t put the internet down. I’m mainlining that son of a bitch.
This week’s articles have all appeared in the Sunday Post before, or should have. They’re the essays that I remember, without looking back at the archives, because reading them was an event, a thing that happened, like the sun startling a bee awake and into flight.
And the words in these essays make everything stop. They’re absorptive in the way that reading on the page is — they aren’t necessarily quiet, but they pull you into that quiet place. These are some of the hardest pieces to feature each week, because all I really have to say about them is: read this.
This week’s Sunday Post says, even more than usual, read this.
In the meantime, where I am today, all the words are back on the page, and their speed is set to the pace of slow, cold water. Hey — did you see the weird shape of that rock? Cool.
Kate Lebo on Kerouac and book tours and fear and freedom.
I want sympathy. I want to feel safe. I want to explain why I’m not home in my little Seattle fishing village, which isn’t little anymore, which my friends and I helped make not-little before a new cycle of wealth kicked us out and welcomed people who could afford the new cute neighborhood. What am I trying to say when I explain how, while living in that old Boeing cottage, I couldn’t walk into a grocery store without clucking over a baby plant? That I bought peat pots of lemon verbena instead of clothing or art or shaving cream because growing things made me feel good about living alone? That I loved living alone? That I was miserable. I want to explain how strange it is to walk through a garden without mothering. My home is my body, some poem probably goes. No shit. To feel that way makes the road possible.
Paisley Rekdal on poetry and violation and beauty.
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.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on Seattle and San Francisco and — and — and I still hesitate to try to capture this one with anything but metaphors.
The second time I did porn it was with Zee, when we were boyfriends, and I’d just remembered I was sexually abused, so I was taking a break from sex, but then Zee called me to do the video because his costar showed up too tweaked out — I did it because I needed the money, but then Zee got upset when I couldn’t come, and I felt like a broken toy. Which is how I’d felt with my father. When I walked out into the sun after that first video shoot I just felt totally lost, like I didn’t even know where I was and why was it so hot out, maybe that’s why I felt so dazed.
Jessica Mooney on saying goodbye.
I don’t know how to say what I mean. As a kid, I mixed up the words for things. Cat, I’d say, pointing at an alarm clock. Taxonomy remains mysterious. Walking around my neighborhood, I don’t know the names of things. Sinister witch-fingered bramble. Orange thing I want to call persimmon. The part of the foot that keeps me upright. The sinewy blue veins under the tongue. How do I not know the basic recipe for standing and speaking?
I love you. I wonder if I hear the words in the same place I hold my missing father. My brain’s translation: goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
Rebecca Solnit on the story Donald Trump is living inside.
He was supposed to be a great maker of things, but he was mostly a breaker. He acquired buildings and women and enterprises and treated them all alike, promoting and deserting them, running into bankruptcies and divorces, treading on lawsuits the way a lumberjack of old walked across the logs floating on their way to the mill, but as long as he moved in his underworld of dealmakers the rules were wobbly and the enforcement was wobblier and he could stay afloat. But his appetite was endless, and he wanted more, and he gambled to become the most powerful man in the world, and won, careless of what he wished for.
Anca Szilágyi on Goya and cruelty and art.
That giant, lit by the moon, looks over his shoulder somewhat upward, lonesome.
Hugo House's newest prose writer in residence, Kristen Millares Young, on the weapon of history.
I worried about going to jail on this island, where he would know everyone watching over me inside. Worried even about stepping into the building to make a report. And what would I have said? That we had a dangerous conversation. That he left bruises on my mind.
That I cursed him. That I cursed him, and he believed it. That I cursed his family, threatened to rain down destruction on their black bodies, invoked centuries of white oppression, and he believed me because he lived that truth.
That I would do it again, and again, and again, just as he hoped to do me.
Amy Liptrot on what survival requires for birds, and people.
I keep stopping at places where I heard a male calling last year but I hear nothing. In recent years, there has been a slow and steady upwards trend in numbers, and the RSPB’s Corncrake Initiative was a success story. But this year has been very disappointing: the number of verified male corncrakes calling in Orkney dropped from 32 to just 14. Back in the office, sleep-deprived, I fill in zeroes in my spreadsheets. I am depressed about corncrakes. Somehow it is as if my fate becomes intertwined with that of the bird. I’m trying to cling onto a normal life and stay sober. They are clinging on to existence.
Bryan Washington on finding yourself in the stories on screen.
The audacity required to ask if we need another gay movie, if we need any more gay movies, transcends thinking altogether. It is a thoughtless question. You only ask it if you’ve seen yourself so ingrained into the culture, into the fabric of the world, that your absence from those seams is unthinkable. You only ask that question if you’ve never been repulsed by yourself, or the idea that anyone like you, anywhere, could be happy. You only ask that question if you don’t know what it means to feel like the only person on the planet.