Category Archives: Books

In 1971, the People Didn’t Just March on Washington — They Shut It Down

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L. A. Kauffman | Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism | Verso Books | February 2017 | 33 minutes (8,883 words)

 

Below is an excerpt from Direct Action, by L. A. Kauffman. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

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If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government.

The largest and most audacious direct action in US history is also among the least remembered, a protest that has slipped into deep historical obscurity. It was a protest against the Vietnam War, but it wasn’t part of the storied sixties, having taken place in 1971, a year of nationwide but largely unchronicled ferment. To many, infighting, violence, and police repression had effectively destroyed “the movement” two years earlier in 1969.

That year, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the totemic organization of the white New Left, had disintegrated into dogmatic and squabbling factions; the Black Panther Party, meanwhile, had been so thoroughly infiltrated and targeted by law enforcement that factionalism and paranoia had come to eclipse its expansive program of revolutionary nationalism. But the war had certainly not ended, and neither had the underlying economic and racial injustices that organizers had sought to address across a long decade of protest politics. If anything, the recent flourishing of heterodox new radicalisms—from the women’s and gay liberation movements to radical ecology to militant Native American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Asian-American movements—had given those who dreamed of a world free of war and oppression a sobering new awareness of the range and scale of the challenges they faced.

On May 3, 1971, after nearly two weeks of intense antiwar protest in Washington, DC, ranging from a half-million-person march to large-scale sit-ins outside the Selective Service, Justice Department, and other government agencies, some 25,000 young people set out to do something brash and extraordinary: disrupt the basic functioning of the federal government through nonviolent action. They called themselves the Mayday Tribe, and their slogan was as succinct as it was ambitious: “If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government.” The slogan was of course hyperbolic— even if Washington, DC were completely paralyzed by protest for a day or week or a month, that would not halt the collection of taxes, the delivery of mail, the dropping of bombs, or countless other government functions—but that made it no less electrifying as a rallying cry, and no less alarming to the Nixon administration (Nixon’s White House chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, called it “potentially a real threat”). An elaborate tactical manual distributed in advance detailed twenty-one key bridges and traffic circles for protesters to block nonviolently, with stalled vehicles, improvised barricades, or their bodies. The immediate goal was to snarl traffic so completely that government employees could not get to their jobs. The larger objective was “to create the spectre of social chaos while maintaining the support or at least toleration of the broad masses of American people.”

The protest certainly interfered with business as usual in Washington: traffic was snarled, and many government employees stayed home. Others commuted to their offices before dawn, and three members of Congress even resorted to canoeing across the Potomac to get themselves to Capitol Hill. But most of the planned blockades held only briefly, if at all, because most of the protesters were arrested before they even got into position. Thanks to the detailed tactical manual, the authorities knew exactly where protesters would be deployed. To stop them from paralyzing the city, the Nixon Administration had made the unprecedented decision to sweep them all up, using not just police but actual military forces.

Under direct presidential orders, Attorney General John Mitchell mobilized the National Guard and thousands of troops from the Army and the Marines to join the Washington, DC police in rounding up everyone suspected of participating in the protest. As one protester noted, “Anyone and everyone who looked at all freaky was scooped up off the street.” A staggering number of people— more than 7,000—were locked up before the day was over, in what remain the largest mass arrests in US history. Read more…

The Great American Housewife Writer: A Shirley Jackson Primer

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Shirley Jackson celebrated her 100th birthday this month. We are publishing this post from A.N. Devers in her honor.

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Like so many readers, I loved and was gutted by Shirley Jackson’s famous New Yorker short story “The Lottery” from the first time I read it, and I have read it so many times since then that I don’t remember when I was first introduced to it. I was young. I have a couple of prime suspect English teachers who might have been the gift-givers. But until about nine years ago, I hadn’t read any of Shirley Jackson’s novels. I was only vaguely aware of one of them, her famous ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House.

Then I wrote a short story my MFA professor was enthusiastic about; it was full of domestic disturbance and the strange, and he assigned me to read all the Shirley Jackson I could get my hands on, which was difficult at the time, since not much was in print. So I read her collected stories, and two novels We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Hill House. I inhaled them and their contents, the cobwebs and fairy tales, the ghosts and talismans, the anxieties and fears. They are books written by a self-described witch who was also a tremendously gifted writer, and that makes them laced with a kind of special magic. I still can’t believe they aren’t better known or accepted as great American novels.

Since then, I’ve read nearly the lot of it, and done everything possible to get to know Shirley Jackson and her work, including staring up at her white columned house that was illustrated on the cover of Life Among the Savages, her bestselling memoir about raising four children. I wandered the backroads of Bennington, Vermont in my car looking for the inspiration of her haunted Hill House, before I learned it was inspired by a home far away from Vermont’s hills in California.

I’ve also been Jackson’s book pusher. Not too long ago, I dined with a table of smart, friendly, and incredibly well-read British book dealers and explained to them who Shirley Jackson was. They hadn’t read “The Lottery,” but it rung a faint bell. It’s worrisome, but I’m happy to report that they furiously wrote her name down. I once gave my copy of Castle to a stranger at a bar. And as a cherry on top, last year, I proposed and lead the first Shirley Jackson reading group at The Center for Fiction. We pored over her work, and read some of it out loud, and that is when I realized her fiction hasn’t aged. Her storytelling is incredibly modern. She is a writer to read right now. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2016: Under-Recognized Books

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We asked our contributors to tell us about a few books they felt deserved more recognition in 2016. Here they are.

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Christine Hyung-Oak Lee
A writer whose memoir, Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember, is due from Ecco/Harper Collins in February.

Him, Me, Muhammad Ali (Randa Jarrar, Sarabande Books)

These are stories that don’t compromise—that stand their ground and say come here, because I won’t come to you. And that’s the most valuable thing to read—to go somewhere other than where you are. The characters are dark and twisty; she’s an Arab American Roald Dahl—the world they inhabit likewise whimsical yet treacherous. Her lively staccato use of language is the perfect foil to this darkness, keeping the reader suspended and engaged throughout. It never plods. Never holds your hand to the fire for longer than a few seconds at a time. The title story, “Him, Me, Muhammad Ali,” is one of the strongest in the collection, interweaving ancestry and tradition with contemporary conflict. There’s not a minaret in sight. Not even on the cover.

The story, “A Sailor,” dissects a marriage. A husband refuses to become angry with his wife for having had an affair. The following excerpt shows you what Jarrar’s writing is like. If you don’t like curse words, this isn’t for you. I like curse words done well. Jarrar does them well:

“She fucks a Sailor, a Turkish sailor, the summer she spends in Istanbul. When she comes home to Wisconsin, it takes her three days to come clean about it to her husband.

“He says this doesn’t bother him, and she tells him that it bothers her that it doesn’t bother him. He asks if she prefers him to be the kind of man who is bothered by fleeting moments, and she tells him that yes, she prefers that he be that kind of man. He tells her he thinks she married him because he is precisely the kind of man who doesn’t dwell on fleeting moments, because he is the kind of man who does not hold a grudge. She tells him that holding a grudge and working up some anger about one’s wife fucking a sailor is not the same thing. He agrees that holding a grudge isn’t the same as working up some anger about one’s wife fucking a sailor, but he adds, one’s wife, specifically his own, would never leave him for a sailor, and not a Turkish sailor. In fact, he says, she did not leave him for the Turkish sailor. She is here. So why should he be angry?”

Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Ocean Vuong, Copper Canyon Press)

Poetry is often under-recognized—and while Ocean Vuong’s has been recognized by Whiting, poetry needs every opportunity to be read. So I’m laying it down here. This is the one to read. Every poem beats with exigency and passion, and his work is complicated—spanning history and time and blood and heartbreak and hope. And yet there is meaningful silence in the words, too—gaps and pauses in the line breaks and spaces filled with guesses and anticipation and questioning. Vuong is a fan of Li-Young Lee and like Lee, Vuong investigates fathers, mothers, country, and historical pain. But it very well could be that he will make a mark bigger than Lee’s.

From Daily Bread:

“He’ll imagine the softness of bread
as he peels back the wool blanket, raises
her phantom limb to his lips as each kiss
dissolves down her air-light ankles.

& he will never see the pleasure

this brings to her face. Never

her face. Because in my hurry

to make her real, make her

here, I will forget to write

a bit of light into the room.

Because my hands were always brief

& dim as my father’s.

& it will start to rain. I won’t

even think to put a roof over the house—

her prosthetic leg on the nightstand,

the clack clack as it fills to the brim. Listen,

the year is gone. I know

nothing of my country. I write things

down. I build a life & tear it apart

& the sun keeps shining. Crescent

wave. Salt-spray. Tsunami. I have

enough ink to give you the sea

but not the ships, but it’s my book

& I’ll say anything just to stay inside

this skin. Sassafras. Douglas fir.

Sextant & compass…”


Ruth Curry
Co-publisher of Emily Books; writer, whose work has appeared in Buzzfeed, the Paris Review Daily, Nylon, Bookforum, and n+1; and author of the newsletter Coffee & TV.

Surveys (Natasha Stagg, Semiotexte)

If Marshall McLuhan rewrote “Cinderella,” the result might come out looking something like this novel, Stagg’s first. Colleen, an aimless 23 year old who works administering marketing surveys in an anodyne Arizona mall, lives a bleak and listless life, online when she’s not drinking or avoiding the advances of the peeping Tom in her shabby apartment complex. Then she meets Jim, a minor celebrity, “online, it doesn’t matter how…Describing it would be pointless and anyway, you can look it up.” Colleen and Jim fall in love and quickly, as a unit, become rich and very famous. The specifics aren’t clear, and they never need to be: Stagg lays out the truths and the falsehoods of the attention economy brilliantly without them. At the height of her fame, Colleen becomes obsessed with Lucinda, Jim’s ex, her obsession growing more desperate as Colleen’s notoriety inevitably wanes. “I curled around my computer, searching for all the things I’d seen a million times. The views were not growing as steadily, but they were growing, and would always grow, never diminish… I grabbed my phone and muscle memory led me to look up Lucinda’s Twitter. It looked as if all of it had been deleted. How stupid is she? I thought. You can’t really delete any of it.” Stagg’s dark wit, her accurate-to-the-millimeter rendering of the physical and psychological experience of consuming and being consumed by social media, and the emergence of Lucinda as someone whose power comes from her ability to be completely sustained by her own inner life — or at least, appear that way — makes Surveys really special.

The Black Wave (Michelle Tea, Feminist Press)

The DMV is no longer issuing driver’s licenses and the names of the fish that have gone extinct are crossed out on the walls of sushi restaurants: this is how we know the apocalypse is coming to San Francisco in 1999. There’s the thick perma-smog and a vegetable shortage too, but it is the driver’s license issue that grabs our narrator Michelle’s attention in Black Wave, the latest book from Michelle Tea. She needs a driver’s license to drive her getaway van to Los Angeles and escape the codependent relationships, drugs, and squalor (captured in all their pre-gentrified post-nostalgized charm) of the Mission in the late 90s. When Michelle gets to Los Angeles Black Wave bifurcates: LA Michelle, now sober, is attempting to adapt her unruly, unpublished 500-pg memoir called Black Wave into a screenplay. She is struggling, with sobriety, with the ethics of writing about her life and her loved ones, haunted by her past and by people she has yet to meet (in memoir-land, at the computer where she works every day — yes, there’s an element of metafiction at work). But then the apocalypse comes to contemporary Los Angeles too, the actual irreversible accelerationist climate one we’ve all been in denial about since 1999, in a series of tsunamis that will take out the entire West Coast. The mass suicides begin in New York. Michelle’s brother calls in a panic, begging an incredulous Michelle to turn on the TV and see for herself: “Michelle knew once she turned on her television it would remain on for a very long time.”

While telling a literal apocalypse story, Tea also interrogates other life-ending moments with the warmth and humor she’s known for: sobriety, the loss of a love, the practice (metaphorical suicide, if not real relationship-cide) of narrating one’s life for an audience. But it is the ‘real’ apocalypse that allows ‘real’ Michelle to finally finish her memoir, on the last day of the world: “She could, after all, write only the stories she was meant to write. She could write nothing more than that, nothing more or less perfect. As it turned out, time could not be wasted.” Perhaps it’s too on-the-nose to recommend an apocalypse story right now, but not this one. Read more…

Hidebound: The Grisly Invention of Parchment

Fresco of the Last Judgment, with animal skin. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Keith Houston | The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time | W. W. Norton & Company | August 2016 | 18 minutes (4,720 words)

 

Below is an excerpt from The Book, by Keith Houston. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

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Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

To an ancient Egyptian of the third century BCE, the rolls of papyrus on which the country recorded its history, art, and daily business would have been of all-consuming importance. Scrolls made from papyrus were the medium for hundreds of thousands of books lodged at Alexandria’s wondrous library, and blank papyrus sheets were one of the chief exports to Egypt’s friends, allies, and trading partners across the Mediterranean. But papyrus’s 3,000-year monopoly was about to come under threat. Invented by Egypt’s upstart Hellenic neighbors and made from animal hides at great cost in sweat and blood, parchment was smooth, springy, and resilient where papyrus was rough, brittle, and prone to fraying. Its rise at papyrus’s expense, however, had little to do with the ergonomics of its use or the economics of its manufacture and everything to do with ambitious pharaohs who ignored the cardinal rule of military leadership: never get involved in a land war in Asia. Read more…

A Story of Racial Cleansing in America

Detail from a map of Cherokee territory over time. The green line designates their territory at the point of their forced removal. Red towns were Cherokee towns. Via University of Texas Libraries.

Patrick Phillips | Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America| W. W. Norton & Company | September 2016 | 17 minutes (4,588 words)

 

Below is an excerpt from Blood at the Root, by the poet Patrick Phillips.  The story begins in September of 1912, in the days after two assaults on white women. Ellen Grice claimed she was attacked by two black men who left before she was hurt. The next day Mae Crow, a 19-year-old white woman, was discovered  injured and unconscious in the woods. She allegedly regained consciousness for long enough to accuse a 16-year-old black youth, Ernest Knox. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

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Journalists only started writing about the expulsions once the wagon trains of refugees grew too large and too numerous to ignore.

Though it would take weeks before reports reached Atlanta, in the days after the attack on Crow a nighttime ritual began to unfold, as each evening at dusk groups of white men gathered at the crossroads of the county. They came with satchels of brass bullets, shotgun shells, and stoppered glass bottles of kerosene, and sticks of “Red Cross” dynamite poked out through the tops of their saddlebags. When darkness fell, the night riders set out with one goal: to stoke the terror created by the lynching of Edwards and use it to drive black people out of Forsyth County for good.

In 1907, W. E. B. Du Bois had put into words what every “colored” person in Georgia knew from experience, which was that “the police system of the South was primarily designed to control slaves. . . . And tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police.” In the first decade of the twentieth century, the days when all white men had been legally empowered to pursue and arrest fugitive slaves were only fifty years in the past, and the fathers and grandfathers of many locals would have been part of such posses in the days of slavery.

So it must have seemed natural to many whites when, each night around sundown, a knock came at the door and the adult men of the family were summoned to join a group heading out toward the clusters of black cabins scattered around Forsyth—along the Chattahoochee out in Oscarville, in the shadow of Sawnee Mountain north of Cumming, and south, toward Shakerag and Big Creek. It would take months—and, in a handful of cases, years—before the in-town blacks of Cumming were finally forced out, since many lived under the protection of rich white men, in whose kitchens and dining rooms they served. Instead, it was to the homes of cotton pickers, sharecroppers, and small landowners that the night riders went first, and it was these most vulnerable families who fled in the first waves of the exodus. Read more…

Excerpt: ‘The Red Car’ by Marcy Dermansky

Red Car Watercolor by Marcy Dermansky

Marcy Dermansky | Excerpt | October 2016 | 12 minutes (2,933 words)

 

In The Red Car, Marcy Dermansky’s newly released third novel, 33-year-old Leah Kaplan is lured away from an ill-considered marriage and taken on a surprise hero’s journey.

With deadpan humor, in dreamlike, Murakami-inspired unvarnished prose, Dermansky tells the story of Leah’s adventures after a former boss dies and bequeaths to her the red sports car Leah never liked in the first place.

This curious inheritance, and her boss’s funeral, leads the Queens-dweller back to San Francisco, where she’d worked and lived just after college. There, Leah gets to back up in reverse to relive a bit of her youth, and to reconsider her life choices from a better informed perspective before moving forward into a more intentionally designed adulthood.

Can a novel about a 33-year-old woman qualify as a coming-of-age story? When she was interviewed by Steph Opitz at Kirkus Reviews, Dermansky argued in favor of that possibility.

“Maybe coming of age is happening a bit later,” she said. “Maybe people find themselves a bit later. It’s funny because you’re not supposed to come of age in your 30s, but maybe people are allowed to keep reinventing themselves. Maybe it doesn’t stop.”

As a 51-year-old late bloomer I’m encouraged by that idea. And it supports a hunch of mine: that the older women are—the more entrenched patriarchy was when they were growing up—the longer they might need to be allowed to arrive at true self-actualization. Here is Dermansky’s excerpt. Read more…

King-Killers in America (and the American Who Avenged the King)

Cromwell before the Coffin of Charles I, Paul Delaroche, 1849. Via 
Wikiart.

Michael Walsh & Don Jordan | The King’s Revenge: Charles II and the Greatest Manhunt in British History | Pegasus Books | August 2016 | 26 minutes (6,559 words)

 

The excerpt below is adapted from The King’s Revenge, by Michael Walsh and Don Jordan. The story takes place in the wake of the English Civil War, fought between the Parliamentarians (“Roundheads”), who favored limitations on the king’s power and had the support of radical Protestant religious minorities (such as Puritans), and the Royalists (“Cavaliers”), who were loyal to the throne and were mostly members of the Church of England.  In 1649, the victorious Roundheads tried and executed the king, Charles I. After the coronation of his son Charles II in 1661, known as the Great Restoration, Charles launched a global manhunt for the 59 judges who signed his father’s death warrant, as well as the court officials who tried the case, collectively known as the “regicides.”

Many of the regicides fled to other countries, and below we found out what happened to those who fled to America, as well as to those were pursued by an American in Europe. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

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If what he had done against the King were to be done again, he would do it again.

The spring of 1661 was significant not only for the crowning of the king. Hitherto Charles had paid little attention to the capture of regicides abroad, but that was about to change. As carpenters sweated over the erection of those magnificent coronation arches with their dual themes of royal triumph and revenge, Charles unleashed his bloodhounds in America and Europe. Two royalists set out from Boston to lead a hunt across New England for Whalley and Goffe, and the most ruthless operator in the king’s service was drafted in to spearhead a search across Europe for Ludlow and the other nineteen regicides who had escaped in 1660.

The American manhunt was launched on May 6 by John Endecott, governor of Massachusetts. Endecott had received an arrest order from the king which, dispensing with flowery courtesies, had been brutally curt:

Trusty and well-beloved,

We greet you well. We being given to understand that Colonel Whalley and Colonel Goffe, who stand here convicted for the execrable murder of our Royal Father, of glorious memory, are lately arrived at New England, where they hope to shroud themselves securely from the justice of our laws; our will and pleasure is, and we do hereby expressly require and command you forthwith upon the receipt of these our letters, to cause both the said persons to be apprehended, and with the first opportunity sent over hither under a strict care, to receive according to their demerits. We are confident of your readiness and diligence to perform your duty; and so bid you farewell.

Read more…

Becoming One of the World’s 65 Million Refugees

Refugees at Budapest Keleti railway station, September 2015. Via 
Wikimedia Commons.

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson | Cast Away: True Stories of Survival from Europe’s Refugee Crisis | The New Press | September 2016 | 20 minutes (5,452 words)

 

Below is an excerpt from Cast Away, by Charlotte McDonald-Gibson. This story comes recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

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This war is none of my business.

Majid Hussain didn’t know who would turn up on his doorstep first: Colonel Gaddafi’s foot soldiers following orders to purge Libya of its migrant workforce, or vengeful rebels wielding Kalashnikovs and the conviction that everyone with black skin deserved to be lynched.

For months the Nigerian teenager had watched on television in Tripoli as rebels not much older than himself stormed through the desert in their cheap sunglasses and mismatching camouflage, and it had seemed inconceivable that this shabby army of the disaffected could pose a threat to Muammar Gaddafi’s calm and ordered capital. He had heard rumours that all Africans from south of the Sahara were at risk of attack from rebels seeking mass punishment for the few who had colluded with the regime – but surely these were just rumours? Every day Majid still went to work and returned home every evening to his reliable air-conditioning and his satellite TV. The rebellion had remained remote from his life, and he wanted it to stay that way.

This war is none of my business, he thought. I have already seen my own country torn apart by old hatreds – I don’t need to see that again.

Majid and his housemate Ali had laughed off reports on CNN and the BBC about fighting on the outskirts of Tripoli, and they didn’t want to believe the news that Gaddafi was bombing civilians in Benghazi. It was all Western propaganda, the two Nigerians convinced each other. Even when a spokesman for Gaddafi warned on public radio that they would flood Europe with migrants if there was any Western military action, the young men remained unconcerned. Read more…

A Stranger in the World: The Memoir of a Musician on Tour

Vladimir Lenin and Lev Tolstoy on graffiti. Kharkov, Ukraine, 2008. Via
Wikimedia Commons.

Franz Nicolay | The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar | July 2016 | 25 minutes (6,916 words)

 

Below is an excerpt from The Humorless Ladies of Border Control, by Franz Nicolay, the keyboardist in The Hold Steady. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky

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You don’t travel for comfort; you travel to justify the daily discomfort, … the nagging doubt, sadness, weariness, the sense of being a stranger in a world.

Our roommate on the sleeper train from L’viv to Kyiv was a stocky, ham-fisted forty-five-year-old veterinarian. A friend of his, he told us, had a visa to America in the 1980s, but he got caught stealing from the grain quota and now can’t go to America ever. He had conspiracy theories and opinions he was eager to share: they didn’t kill bin Laden, it could have been “any tall guy with a beard”—for that matter, I, Franz, look a little like bin Laden, don’t I? And we haven’t seen that much of Michelle Obama recently, have we? If there’s not a trumpet, it’s not jazz. Vitamin C doesn’t work, all you need is raspberry tea with lemon and the love of a good woman. Everyone’s been there— first beer, first guitar, first girl.

He stripped down to what would once have been called his BVDs, nearly obscured by his hairless belly, and snored all night. When we awoke, he was gone, replaced by an older man with a lined face and Clint Eastwood stolidity. “He has the saddest face I’ve ever seen,” Maria said. He slept first, facedown and fully clothed; then, when I returned from the bathroom, he was sitting upright, bag beside him, staring out the window. He never said a word.

I was a musician then, often traveling alone, sometimes with my new wife, Maria. I hadn’t always traveled alone: for years I had been a member of the kind of bands who traveled in marauding, roving packs, like “Kerouac and Genghis Khan,” as the songwriter Loudon Wainwright once put it. First there was the nine-piece circus-punk orchestra World / Inferno Friendship Society, a monument to pyrrhic, self-defeating romanticism and preemptive nostalgia that still haunts me like a family lost in a war. But I had ambitions, and World / Inferno had “underground phenomenon” baked into the concept. So I jumped to a rising neo–classic rock band called the Hold Steady, which became, for a few years, one of the biggest bands in what is, for lack of a term of representation rather than marketing, called “indie rock.” We opened for the Rolling Stones and played the big festivals and bigger television shows. Our victory-lap touring constituted an almost audible sigh of relief that we’d finally arrived— we’d never have to work a day job again. Read more…

On Female Friendship and the Sisters We Choose for Ourselves

(Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Archives)

Chloe Caldwell | I’ll Tell You In PersonCoffee House Press | October 2016 | 19 minutes (4,768 words)

“Do you get in bed and cuddle with Chloe in the mornings?” It was an early evening in spring, and Bobbi and I were in the kitchen, standing across from each other at the counter. We’d just finished eating pizza and salad with ranch on the back porch. Bobbi’s mom, Cheryl, was on speakerphone, calling from her hotel to check in on us.

“She doesn’t!” I said, making eye contact with Bobbi, who looked at me skeptically in a way only an eight-year-old can.

“Yeah but that’s ’cause . . . well, do you sleep naked?” Bobbi asked, lowering her deafening voice for once like she was asking me in total confidence.

I burst out laughing.

“No!” I said.

I’ve had countless sleepovers with Bobbi in the past three years, and I never don’t pretend she’s my little sister, even though, at twenty-eight, I’m too old to be her sister. I feel too young and immature to be her mother. At twenty-eight, I’m more like an aunt or a cousin. I could easily be engaged or pregnant or have children of my own. But that is not my life. Instead, I babysit, still waiting for my real life to begin. In limbo. A friend sent me a birthday card that read, Happy Saturn Return, good luck with that, seriously.

“You could be in India having sex next year,” Cheryl told me once when I was down on myself about being such a loose end in the domestic department.

“Whereas I probably won’t!” she said.

When Cheryl called that night, Bobbi and I had been in the middle of an improvised séance, though I was unsure what dead person we were trying to contact. We held hands around an orange candle and chanted gibberish. It reminded me of the opening scene in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

In a mock new-age voice, Bobbi said, “o.k. now breeeeeeeaaathe in the baaaaaad energyyyyyy.”

“No way! Not doing that,” I said.

“Yeah but then you breathe it out.”

“Yeah but why do I have to breathe it in at all?”

“Just trust me and do it.”

“K.”

“Now look up at the sky and repeat after me: Iloveyoumommy-Iloveyoumommy.”

“IloveyoumommyIloveyoumommy.”

The phone rang. We screamed.  Read more…