“In the beginning, there was a plane; and then there was an airport. And then there was a language. And then there was a city that taught me to live. This queer city, this brown city — this queer brown city. Finally, finally, I am home.”
Literary feuds often feel sad and empty, but intelligent, measured critiques advance human knowledge and get people thinking. Although not a response to the recent Atlantic piece about writer John D’Agata’s take/mistake on the essay form, this piece by another essayist adds many welcome dimensions to this ongoing debate around the definition and nature of the essay, and the role of facts and art in storytelling.
Aaron Bady on Stranger Things and its ’80s influences.
Maria Bustillos reviews Chipotle’s new literary series, curated by Jonathan Safran Foer:
Jonathan Safran Foer’s new Cultivating Thought: Author Series at Chipotle has a slightly uncomfortable name. It suggests that we Chipotle patrons had just kind of been sitting here, mowing down our lunches, blankly existing, uncultivated, thought-less, until Foer came along with his “brainchild”: to provide us all with short works from famous writers printed right on our soda cups and burrito bags. But so many literary lions participated that I was instantly wild to read Chipotle’s whole catalog. I have now done so, and will review each publication below.
Greenfield and Clark make the case for changing tax incentives around construction and real estate, in order to finally solve the problems that led to the housing bubble and encourage sustainability:
The problem today is that neither individual homebuyers nor even larger commercial builders drive “market forces.” Instead, the market for real estate construction comprises managers of hedge funds and speculators who buy buildings and homes as rental properties. They are waiting for the value of the buildings to rise, as they had before the 2008 collapse. By early 2014, these high-volume buyers will most likely be near their short-term return on investment (ROI) with their investors and therefore looking to sell.
By many definitions, solitary confinement is torture—despite being widely embraced in America’s prisons:
“Take Gabriel Reyes, one of the class action plaintiffs, who was originally convicted of housebreaking and sentenced under California’s draconian three strikes law. He was thrown into solitary 17 years ago, based on the mere fact that he was seen exercising with known gang members. Since then, everything from his tattoos to his Mexican-themed artwork has been held against him as evidence of gang association. He has not hugged his daughters in two decades, since they were in preschool, a startling deprivation for a man without a violent record. Some time ago, Reyes described to his lawyers how he and his fellow inmates were ready to ‘explode.'”
Our world is increasingly automated, so what exactly will drive our economy, our jobs, and consumer demand into the next century?
“We live like gods, and we don’t even know it.
“We fly across oceans in airplanes, we eat tropical fruit in December, we have machines that sing us songs, clean our house, take pictures of Mars. Much the total accumulated knowledge of our species can fit on a hard drive that fits in our pocket. Even the poorest among us own electronic toys that millionaires and kings would have lusted for a decade ago. Our ancestors would be amazed. For most of our time on the planet, humans lived on the knife-edge of survival. A crop failure could mean starvation and even in good times, we worked from sun up to sundown to earn our daily bread. In 1600, a typical workman spent almost half his income on nourishment, and that food wasn’t crème brûlée with passion fruit or organically raised filet mignon, it was gruel and the occasional turnip. Send us back to ancient Greece with an AK-47, a home brewing kit, or a battery-powered vibrator, and startled peasants would worship at our feet.
“And yet we are not happy, we expected more, we were promised better. Our economy is a shambles, millions are out of work, and few of us think things are going to get better soon.”
A review of Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men:
“Equality is the pole star of my own politics, and that made it really tough going for me to read The End of Men objectively, or maybe even fairly, because it’s evident that Rosin believes women to be literally — and inherently — superior to men. This view is not only one I don’t share, it is anathema to me. It is the exact reason why I have never been able to call myself a feminist; it transgresses against my deepest conviction, namely, a belief in universal human equality. I believe that each of us — all human beings who share the same seemingly limitless abilities, and the same unfathomable doom — should be able to develop his or her potential and live freely and on equal terms in a condition of mutual respect and support. That is not quite the Rosin view. ‘It’s possible that girls have always had the raw material to make better students,’ she writes, ‘that they’ve always been more studious, organized, self-disciplined, and eager to please, but, because of limited opportunities, what did it matter?’ Or: ‘Many of us hold out the hope that there is a utopia in our future run by women, that power does not in fact corrupt equally.’ (Really, ‘many’ of us hold out this hope? I for one would be too scared it would turn out like that old Star Trek: TNG episode, ‘Angel One.’)”
The evolution of Charlie Chaplin’s most famous character—and the woman who helped shape it. On actress-director Mabel Normand and her effect on Chaplin’s work:
“When Chaplin became the Tramp on Normand’s watch, he also learned to be a movie actor. As Sennett put it, Normand, ‘the greatest motion-picture comedienne of any day, was as deft in pantomime as Chaplin was… She worked in slapstick, but her stage business and her gestures were subtle, not broad.’ Normand, the first movie star actress who wasn’t stage trained, hadn’t been taught the comic conventions of the theater, or to project to the back of the house. She had a movie-bred patience for living in the moment. She was a movie star because while she was beautiful, she let you see inside, and people liked what they saw. Movies are supremely intimate, and Normand was consummate at drawing people in, and holding them. We can watch Chaplin learning Normand’s delicate skills.”
A review of Bissell’s new book of essays—and how the writer both entertains and frustrates:
“The best thing about Tom Bissell: He is fun. I think of him as ‘a wild and crazy guy.’ I’m by turns entertained and completely aghast at his antics. He is totally obsessive. He’s watched that appalling movie The Room a bajillion times. I loved the idea of him and David Foster Wallace negotiating gravely about whether or not they ought to dip tobacco together (they did). Bissell, apparently, travels all over the place with a hardcover copy of Infinite Jest, which is surely the most inconvenient thing outside of, like, a chihuahua, to have to pack in a suitcase. And I don’t know if he’s given it up by now (I hope so) but he used to drink 10 Diet Cokes every day. Ten! That is terrible, Tom Bissell! I worry about him.”