Dan P. Lee on the director and Oscar contender:
I’d seen 12 Years the night before, at the huge cineplex in downtown L.A. My friend sobbed quietly through a good portion of it. At least one black couple left midway. As we walked out of the theater, no one seemed to be speaking; breaking the ice, one stranger next to me said, “Well, that was intense,” which made us all laugh anxiously. As we stared at the Figueroa clips, I told McQueen how much I admired the film, and how it made me think about nihilism. He was having none of this. We made our way quickly to the courtyard outside the museum, where a lively conversation ensued.
He stammered and stuttered, organizing his thoughts. “The world is perverse,” he conceded; it is “chaotic.” Still: “Within that, one is always trying to find that calm, that focus. That’s why we have societies. It drives some sort of structure within that sort of environment.” Slavery was not proof of senselessness. It was about “money and power obviously, and within that you get human suffering.” But goodness overwhelms. “The only reason I’m here talking to you,” he said, “is because my family held on to that love, even if it sounds corny.”
PUBLISHED: Dec. 10, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5274 words)
What it’s like to grow up in the Disney machine, according to Joe Jonas:
Disney made us more famous than we ever knew we could be. During concerts, when we’d want to play a new song or have an intimate moment, the screaming could be so overwhelming that we’d have to tell the crowd to calm down and enjoy the moment. It could get scary, too: We did a meet-and-greet in Spain, and like 100,000 people showed up and we ended up being chased through a shopping mall. It felt like a zombie apocalypse.
There were the moments when I’d walk into my hotel room only to find a girl I didn’t know standing there. For the record, we didn’t have the traditional rock-and-roll experience. We were kids working with Disney, so finding a girl in our hotel room didn’t feel like an open invitation. This isn’t 1986, and I’m not in a hair-metal band. It felt like a problem we had to solve without it getting us into trouble. There was this time in South America where a hotel staff member snuck his kid into my room. I don’t know what they were hoping would happen, but security showed her out.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 1, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4492 words)
Our story picks of the week, featuring the Hollywood Reporter, New York magazine, Wired, Oxford American and the New York Review of Books, with a guest pick by Teddy Worcester.
Parents in New York are joining a growing movement to opt out of high-stakes testing for their children:
In response to the growing criticism, Arne Duncan, the White House’s Education secretary, this month said it was “fascinating” that some of the Common Core’s detractors are “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” There was an uproar among parents and administrators. “Did he really say that?” wrote Long Island superintendent Joseph Rella in an open letter. Duncan later “regretted” his phrasing, but what was most telling about his comment was that it seemed to acknowledge that support for the Common Core is being derailed in part by how it plays into the culture of anxiety often associated with high-stakes testing.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 25, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4377 words)
A literary mystery: Soon after Vladimir Nabokov began shopping his novel Lolita, Dorothy Parker published “Lolita,” a short story in The New Yorker with a very similar story and characters:
Edmund Wilson was a friend Nabokov shared with many people in American literary circles—including Dorothy Parker. Wilson had first learned about Nabokov’s Lolita in the summer of 1953, when he was contemplating an article about Nabokov and asked the novelist whether he had a new project in the works. “Yes,” Nabokov responded, “I will have … кое что [“something”] published by the fall 1954. I am writing nicely. In an atmosphere of great secrecy, I shall show you—when I return east—an amazing book that will be quite ready by then.” A year later, Nabokov offered to let Wilson read his new novel, which he said he considered “to be my best thing in English.”
PUBLISHED: Nov. 24, 2013
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2475 words)
Memories and bad math from Menaker’s life in the publishing business, excerpted from his memoir My Mistake:
“We make about $3 for each hardcover sale, $1 for each paperback.”
“So if we sell 10,000 hardcovers, that’s $30,000.”
“And say 10,000 paperbacks. That’s $40,000.”
“Right—so the P-and-L probably won’t work. So we have to adjust the figures. But remember, you can’t change the returns percentage.”
“Increase the first printing to 15,000 and the second printing to 7,500?”
“That ought to do it. Isn’t this scientific?”
PUBLISHED: Nov. 16, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2535 words)
Simone Levitt was once married to one of the richest men in America: real estate tycoon Bill Levitt, who is widely credited as being the father of American suburbia. Simone now lives in a rented one-bedroom on New York City's Upper East Side, where she told a reporter about her husband's rise and fall:
"In the morning, I’m in the bathroom brushing my teeth and I say, ‘Honey, don’t forget the jewelry.’ And he said, ‘What jewelry?’ He told me not to put it in the safe! I said I took it off and put it right there. There was no jewelry."
At the time, Simone believed the diamonds and rubies that had disappeared from her bedside had been stolen by a hotel employee or other intruder as they slept. But suddenly, as she spoke to me, a doubt appeared, a further mystery. "Something was put in my drink," she said. "Whether something was put in Bill’s … until this second, I assumed he had it too! Because the minute I hit the pillow … but in the morning, come to think of it, he said ‘your jewelry’ as if he wasn’t surprised. All of a sudden, this is hitting me. Why wasn’t he surprised? Why wasn’t he upset for me?" She’ll never know.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 10, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5153 words)
Our story picks of the week, featuring Rolling Stone, Alex Buono, the Washington Post, New York magazine and Orion, with a guest pick by E.A. Mann.
The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary brought an outpouring of sympathy and money from around the world—and along with it, a new set of complications for the grieving families:
The biggest fund by far was the one set up by 9 p.m. the day of the attack, under the auspices of the United Way of Western Connecticut. By April, it held $11 million, and local psychiatrist Chuck Herrick was named president of the board of the fund, a position that has made him one of the most unpopular men in town. It was Herrick, along with a handful of others, who had to help calculate the disbursements to the parents of murdered children, and who had to defend those calculations when the bereaved accused the United Way of being unfair, insensitive, condescending, elitist, paternalistic and, in a mantra recited by the grieving, of “raising money on the backs of our dead.”
PUBLISHED: Nov. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6599 words)