Our favorite stories of the week, featuring the London Review of Books, New York magazine, Medium, Texas Monthly, and the Morning News.
Andrew O’Hagan, in the London Review of Books, recounts the disastrous experience of trying to ghostwrite the autobiography of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. (The publisher later released an unauthorized early draft of the book):
I wrote through the night to assemble what we had. The thinness could become a kind of statement, I asserted; it could become a modernist autobiography. But the jokes wouldn’t hold and Julian, despite promising his publishers and me that he’d produce pages, paragraphs, even notes towards his book, produced nothing in all the months I was there. Not a single written sentence came from him in all that time. But at the end, from all those exhausting late night interviews, we assembled a rough draft of 70,000 words. It wasn’t by any means great, but it had a voice, a reasonable, even-tempered, slightly amused but moral voice, which was as invented as anything I’d ever produced in fiction. Yet it hadn’t felt like creating a character in a novel, so much as writing a voiceover for a real person who isn’t quite real. His vanity and the organisation’s need for money couldn’t resist the project, but he never really considered the outcome, that I’d be there, making marks on a page that would in some way represent this process. The issue of control never became real to Julian. He should have felt worried about what he was supplying, but he never did – he had in this, as in everything, a broad illusion of control. Only once did he turn to me and show a glint of understanding. ‘People think you’re helping me write my book,’ he said, ‘but actually I’m helping you write your novel.’
PUBLISHED: Feb. 23, 2014
LENGTH: 105 minutes (26390 words)
Our story picks of the week, featuring London Review of Books, Billboard, Texas Observer, Narratively and Slate.
The writer visits a Zen temple in Japan, where he meets with a priest who has been exorcising the spirits of people who had drowned in the 2011 tsunami and taken possession of the living. A story about loss and Japan's cult of ancestors:
Over the course of last summer, Reverend Kaneda exorcised 25 spirits from Rumiko Takahashi. They came and went at the rate of several a week. All of them, after the wartime sailor, were ghosts of the tsunami. For Kaneda, the days followed a relentless routine. The telephone call from Rumiko would come in the early evening; at nine o’clock her fiancé would pull up in front of the temple and carry her out of the car. As many as three spirits would appear in a single session. Kaneda talked to each personality in turn, sometimes over several hours: he established their circumstances, calmed their fears and politely but firmly enjoined them to follow him towards the light. Kaneda’s wife would sit with Rumiko; sometimes other priests were present to join in with the prayers. In the early hours of the morning, Rumiko would be driven home. ‘Each time she would feel better, and go back to Sendai, and go to work,’ Kaneda told me. ‘But then after a few days, she’d be overwhelmed again.’ Out among the living, surrounded by the city, she would become conscious of the dead, a thousand importunate spirits pressing in on her and trying to get inside.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 6, 2014
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7185 words)
The story of Charles Manson, from Jeff Guinn’s new book Manson:
Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson is a cradle-to-grave treatment, though the graves belong to other people. The subject remains in California, an inmate at Corcoran State Prison, where he issues statements his followers disseminate via the website of his Air Trees Water Animals organisation. A recent example: ‘We have two worlds that have been conquested by the military of the revolution. The revolution belongs to George Washington, the Russians, the Chinese. But before that, there is Manson. I have 17 years before China. I can’t explain that to where you can understand it.’ Neither can I. Guinn explains a lot in his usefully linear book. The standard Manson text, Helter Skelter, the 1974 bestseller by his prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, and true-crime writer Curt Gentry, is a police and courtroom procedural, with no shortage of first-person heroics (‘During my cross-examination of these witnesses, I scored a number of significant points’); the first corpse is discovered on page six. No one is murdered in Guinn’s book until page 232. He brings a logic of cause and effect to the madness.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 8, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4620 words)
"In reality, war isn’t much foggier than peace." Why "war reporting" often fails to shed proper light on what's really happening:
"It wasn’t that reporters were factually incorrect in their descriptions of what they had seen. But the very term ‘war reporter’, though not often used by journalists themselves, helps explain what went wrong. Leaving aside its macho overtones, it gives the misleading impression that war can be adequately described by focusing on military combat. But irregular or guerrilla wars are always intensely political, and none more so than the strange stop-go conflicts that followed from 9/11. This doesn’t mean that what happened on the battlefield was insignificant, but that it requires interpretation."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 2, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3658 words)
Our story picks this week include The London Review of Books, Business Insider, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and Oregon Humanities with a guest pick by Jane R. LeBlanc.
"I feel dizzy, exalted: recognized
." Terry Castle
begins to make peace with her mother and finds joy in the experience of being married in a country where it is finally legal:
"But I’m nearly sixty and there’s something to be said for advancing senescence. Maybe things don’t hurt quite as much? (Blakey just came in the room and asked: How’s your piece going about being married to your mother? You know: gay marriage.
One musters a feeble and aggrieved look.)
"Still, the fact remains – the US Supreme Court ruling has simply underscored it for me – that many things once burning-pincer-like in their effects seem of late to have lost their capacity to wound. They only sting for a second or two – if that."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4517 words)
On the origins of The Great Gatsby and F. Scott Fitzgerald's desire to "be one of the greatest writers who have ever lived":
"In October 1922, Fitzgerald moved his family (Zelda plus their two-year-old daughter, Scottie) to Great Neck, Long Island and over the next 18 months ‘my novel’ acquired a Midwestern background, a poor boy-rich girl theme, a narrative structure and a title which was definite one day and discarded the next. Most of what he got down on paper was tossed out until things began to come together as winter ended in early 1924. Fitzgerald’s faith in his novel grew as he laboured to make it ‘the very best I’m capable of … or even as I feel sometimes, something better than I’m capable of’. Perkins received and considered many title variants as the book made its way towards publication but Fitzgerald’s first was the one that stuck, the one he liked, the one he thought had a certain bigness to it. Perkins never exactly pushed for The Great Gatsby; he just said he thought it ‘suggestive and effective’."
PUBLISHED: July 3, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5066 words)