Search Results for: New York Review of Books

Robert B. Silvers, Editor of The New York Review of Books: 1929-2017

Robert Silvers
Robert Silvers in 2012. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I believe in the writer—the writer, above all. That’s how we started off: admiring the writer. We organized the New York Review according to the writers we admired most: Edmund Wilson, Wystan Auden, Fred Dupee, Norman, Bill, Lizzie, Mary among them. Each of them had a confident sense of their own prose, and it meant a great deal to them—the matter of a comma, a semicolon, a word—and it does to our writers today. And so, when it comes to making a change, we should not do it without their permission. If a moment comes at some point where we see something should be improved, we don’t just scribble it in but call them up wherever they are. And that is, I think, crucial.

—Robert Silvers, co-founding editor of The New York Review of Books with Barbara Epstein, speaking with New York magazine’s Mark Danner in 2013, on the publication’s 50th anniversary. Silvers died March 20 after an illness. He was 87 years old.

NYRB announced the news on their Twitter feed today:

Shortly after I started Longreads, I was invited to visit the offices of the NYRB to meet their digital editor Matthew Howard. A man was walking toward the front of the office so I stopped him and asked if he knew where Matthew might be. He politely responded that he did know, then turned and walked back through the office to track him down. Matthew met me with a handshake, laughed, and then asked me, “You realize you just sent Robert Silvers to fetch me, right?”

From a grateful reader, thank you, Robert.

See more stories from The New York Review of Books in the Longreads archive.

Our first Longreads Member perk: A digital subscription to the New York Review of Books (Updated)

UPDATE: This offer is now closed (as of 7/19/2011). Thanks to NYRB and all the Longreads Members who signed up!

Last month we introduced the (completely optional) Longreads Membership, and we’ve been thrilled with the response so far. I wanted to personally thank everyone for their support and encouragement.

We’re also excited to announce the first official perk for our Longreads Members: a free, three-month digital subscription to the New York Review of Books.

The NYRB team—who have supported us from the beginning—are offering this perk to all current Longreads Members, as well as the next 100 people who purchase a one-year Longreads Membership.

We hope to continue offering occasional free perks to Longreads Members as a thank-you for your support of our service. It might be a digital subscription, like today’s perk, or it might just be something we think you’ll like because you have really great taste. 

Thanks again.

This Month In Books: Botanize Your Past To Save the Future

Jaredd Craig / Unsplash

Dear Reader,

This month’s books newsletter is overflowing with regional fiction and travel writing. Kali Fajardo-Anstine and Bryan Washington have both written short story collections set in the cities they are from (in Washington’s Lot, each story is even named after a different street in Houston) and featuring characters that are representative of the communities the authors grew up in. Speaking about her collection Sabrina & Corina Fajardo-Anstine describes her struggle to stake out physical space in literature for herself and for the Chicano and Indigenous community she is a part of:

I’m always writing against this idea that Denver’s a white space … How does my community loom so large in my consciousness and in all the choices I make, but when I talk to people on the street they’re like, “What do you mean you’re from Colorado? What do you mean there are brown people here?”

In an essay from his new collection This One Will Hurt You, Paul Crenshaw also writes about his childhood home: in the hills of Arkansas, in a rented house on the grounds of an asylum where his mother was an employee. Crenshaw revisits his old home in search of ghosts, both figurative and literal.

Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift and Nathan Englander’s are novels set respectively in Zambia (the book takes its title from a region near Victoria Falls) and in the transitional space along the “commute from Jerusalem to Manhattan” that is commonly made by Orthodox Jewish New Yorkers (“for the people who are financially able to travel that way, Orthodox New York and Jerusalem almost touch,” says Englander).

Some other books in the newsletter this month that feel particularly grounded in space and place are Alex Kotlowitz’s An American Summer (Chicago); Delphine Minoui’s I’m Writing You From Tehran (Tehran, of course); Yuval Taylor’s Zora and Langston (the American South, on the road between Mobile and Tuskegee); and Will Hunt’s Underground, in which Hunt recounts an astonishing adventure: his three-day expedition to walk across Paris entirely underground. “Paris’s relationship to its subterranean landscape [is] a connection … more obsessive, and more intimate than that of perhaps any city in the world,” writes Hunt, interlacing the narrative of his expedition with a history of Paris’s subterranean side.

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Of course, all of these books, not just Hunt’s, use history to some extent — to situate a story in time, to play with the implications of the past on the present and the present on the future. Most books in general, you could say, do something to that effect. But somehow, in the newsletter this month, the overall implication of so many books located so precisely in space, at such fixed points in time, has, for me, a disconcerting — or dislocating? — effect.

The books themselves, as books are wont to do, deal with the dislocation just as much as the location created by their narratives; they address time’s messiness as much as its tidiness. Fajardo-Anstine, speaking about gentrification in Denver, says,

When I drive by one of the old houses that used to belong to my family, I’m triggered. It’s a deep, deep grief. I think there are a lot of people walking around mourning. You don’t recognize your space anymore. You don’t have access to your space.

Speaking about gun violence in Chicago, Alex Kotlowitz grapples with the unboundedness of the disaster — the lack of temporal markers, either beginnings or ends, for the victims and survivors:

On one level or another, [the survivors] were all suffering from post-traumatic stress. Though, ‘post’ may not be quite right. Because again, they’re still in the midst of it … In a war, there’s a sense that some day there might be resolution to the conflict. Somebody’s going to win or lose. And that’s not the case here. Nobody sees a way out.

Bryan Washington’s elegant short story “Navigation” touches on, I think, a similar notion, in the context of a conversation between two lovers, one of whom is teaching the other Spanish:

He wanted to know why every morning had to be bueno.

Some days are just bad, he said. Some people live their whole lives and not a single good thing happens to them.

I told him those were just the rules. He should follow them unless he had something new to say.

Speaking about his latest Trainspotting sequel, Dead Men’s Trousers, Irvine Welsh says that he, and his Trainspotting characters, have become more dislocated with time:

It’s not just me, it’s also a lot of people’s experience now. To kind of have any success at all, you have to chase money, you have to chase different markets, you have to chase different cultural experiences, you have to go into different territories and operate, and that takes a lot of time. It places a burden on your life as well … And that’s one of the costs of the modern era, so many people just don’t have enough work, and they can’t make enough money. And other people who can make enough money, they’re just working all the time, they don’t have a chance to enjoy it. Both the massive inequity of wealth is also a massive inequity of work, in the way it’s kind of shared around.

I know people now who are just on and off planes all the time. They’re people who are not on huge money and huge salaries, they’re just jumping on and off planes and doing things all over the place and living in Holiday Inns and all that and trying to eke out a living, basically. And so that’s really the kind of riddle of all of this, now, eh?

Welsh also says:

I think that so much of what we’re doing now, so much of the politics, the way people react and everything, is very much based on emotion, and it’s based on a fear that there is this existential threat to us, but we don’t quite know what it is.

But, of course, as we all know — as we almost all sort of know — and as Welsh goes on to say — the unknowable, unspeakable threat is global warming.

More accurately, though, as I think Jenny Odell, artist and author of How To Do Nothing, would explain it: the threat is our inability to deal with global warming. In Rebecca McCarthy’s profile of Odell for Longreads, Odell talks about her new interest in bioregionalism and ‘retro-botany’:

“I’ve been using this term ‘retro botany,’” Odell tells me, “like botanizing your past?” She only recently learned what kind of tree was in front of the house she grew up in (Modesto Ash) and why they don’t plant them anymore (they attract aphids). “People talk a lot about how climate change is not … well, now it’s very palpable, but something that people were saying is that it’s so gradual you can’t perceive it. But there are populations of birds that, within a year, can disappear. And if you care about them and you like seeing them, you care about that in a really different way — it feels like a personal loss to you, it’s not a statistic.”

Paying attention to where we live — attention to where we really very specifically are, in space and in time — might give us the empathetic capacity to save the planet, is basically the idea. I hope it’s true. I’d like to try. McCarthy also writes something that I think gets at what I’ve been trying to say about location and time, about the feeling you get when you drive by a house you’ve been priced out of, or when you realize that every morning will not good:

I went … in search of a word that would help me explain what Odell’s work communicates and initially settled on shadowtime: “a feeling of living in two distinctly different temporal scales simultaneously, or acute consciousness of the possibility that the near future will be drastically different than the present.”

Dana Snitzky
Books Editor

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The Day New York Rose Up Against the Nazis On the Hudson

A demonstration near the German ocean liner SS Bremen in New York, after Hugh Wilson, the American ambassador to Germany was recalled in the wake of Kristallnacht, 1938. (FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Peter Duffy | An excerpt adapted from The Agitator: William Bailey and the First American Uprising Against Nazism | PublicAffairs | March 2019 | 20 minutes (5,458 words)

Hear it, boys, hear it? Hell, listen to me! Coast to coast! HELLO AMERICA!
—Clifford Odets, Waiting For Lefty

Seven million New Yorkers, few of them in possession of the luxury item known as an electric fan, woke up to the best news in three weeks on Friday, July 26, 1935. During the overnight hours, the humidity plunged by 33 points. By sunrise, the temperate air from Canada had completed its work. The heat wave was over.

“Humidity Goes Into Tailspin,” the New York Post exulted. “Rain Ushers in Cool Spell,” declared the Brooklyn Eagle.

The New York Times and Herald Tribune didn’t make much of a fuss that morning over Varian Fry’s revelations about his conversation with Ernst Hanfstaengl. “Reich Divided on Way to Treat Jews, Says Fry,” was the cautious headline on page eleven of the Tribune. One faction of the Nazi Party, the paper went on in summary of Hanfstaengl’s comments to Fry, “were the radicals, who wanted to settle the matter by blood.” The other, “the self-styled moderate group,” wanted to “segregate the Jews and settle the question by legal methods.” The Times ran its version on page eight and devoted most of the article to Fry’s retelling of the Berlin Riots. “There were literally hundreds of policemen standing around but I did not see them do anything but protect certain cafés which I was told were owned by Nazis,” Fry was quoted as saying. The paper saved its preview of the Holocaust for the ninth of eleven paragraphs. The nation’s newspaper of record didn’t see the value in highlighting the disclosure that “the radical section” of Hitler’s regime “desired to solve the Jewish question with bloodshed.”

Reached for comment in Berlin, Hanfstaengl called Fry’s account “fictions and lies from start to finish.” Read more…

This Month In Books: ‘How Thick Was the Cane?’ and Other Questions About Things

Photo by Lysander Yuen on Unsplash

Dear Reader,

“The Senate committee asked as many questions about the cane as they did about Brooks,” Jason Phillips writes regarding the aftermath of the famous incident in which Congressman Brooks caned Senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor in 1856. Questions such as,

“‘Do you know anything of the relative specific gravity of a gutta percha cane or of a hickory cane?’ ‘How thick was the cane used by Mr. Brooks?’ Witnesses who owned pieces of the cane brought them to the Senate investigation in their pockets. They asked the doctor who attended to Sumner if repeated blows to the head with a stick ‘from one half to five-eights of an inch in diameter’ could kill a man. ‘It would depend upon the character of the stick’ the doctor replied.”

This fixation on the character of the stick, on the parameters of what is possible with the stick, becomes a cipher for Phillips’ entire project in The Looming Civil War, which is to understand how people thought about the Civil War before it happened — as it turns out, their thoughts are often most legible through how they regarded material things.

In a review of Heike Geissler’s Seasonal Associate, an autobiographical novel of Geissler’s time spent working at an Amazon warehouse, Rebecca McCarthy asks her own set of questions about things: “Who is buying these mugs, stamped with George Clooney’s face? Who needs these pre-distressed Iron Maiden hats, already rags at point of purchase?” The answer, of course, is “Amazon customers, which is to say, all of us.” Or, as Geissler puts it, “It’s because of all the things that are here, which someone or another wants to buy, that you’re here in the first place.” Stare long into the shopping cart, and the shopping cart stares back into thee.

It bears remembering that Amazon started as a way to sell a lot of, and undercut the market for, books. “Everything exists, in case you were going to ask. Absolutely everything exists, and people can buy it all,” Geissler writes. But the ‘everything store’ started as a bookstore, and ‘everything exists’ sounds like something people would used to say about the limitless realities open to us when we read books, rather than about a bunch of actual stuff. It’s as though Amazon is the Borgesian library run amuck. Somehow, on his way to amassing an infinite collection of books in which everything possible is written — ultimately making it all unreadable and useless — Bezos ended up with an an infinite collection of junk in which every possible desire is rendered pathetically visible, making it all… well, I don’t know. Is a George Clooney mug useful? Can that desire ever be usefully satisfied? This, regrettably, seems to be the defining question of our time.

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The weight of the meaning of the things around us, of our material environment, becomes disturbingly apparent when reading Dorothy Butler’s Gilliam’s memoir Trailblazer. Butler Gilliam was hired as the first black woman journalist at The Washington Post, at a time when the city was inherently segregated; so racism manifested itself most obviously as the denial of access to things. Each deprivation would magnify the one that came before it, transforming everyday assignments into uncertain quests:

“My editors would assign me a story for the next day’s edition, and, like other reporters, I had only a few hours to get the story, return, and write it before deadline…. I would wave frantically for a taxicab, mostly driven by white men, but all would whiz past me…. When I eventually got to my assignment, I did my reporting, and I would again try to flag a cab to get back to the paper to type my story. As time passed, deadlines neared and no taxi stopped, I would start writing my stories out in my reporter’s notebook….”

And that was just the taxis! Many of the lunch places, the coworkers, and the subjects of her stories were racist, too. What a hellish job. “Many years later,” Butler Gilliam writes, “I discovered I had turned a lot of my anger inward in what became depression, and someone close to me at that time later told me, ‘you didn’t know how much bondage you were in at The Washington Post.’”

The ramifications of another type of material segregation are apparent in Rafia Zakaria’s review of The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch, Sanam Maher’s biography of the slain Pakistani YouTube star. “Qandeel was not my daughter but she was my son. She provided us financial and emotional support,” her father lamented after her death. He accused her brothers of killing her for her money, or perhaps more accurately over the money, which it was unusual and unseemly for a woman to have so much of — especially so much of it that she was the child supporting her parents. One of the brothers confessed to killing her for ‘honor,’ blaming, among other things, some sexy selfies she took with a cleric. But Zakaria knows the score: “A woman’s economic empowerment can be anything from an existential threat to an inconvenience, but in any case, men believe they are entitled to stop it by stopping her life.” What’s lost in the telling of the story of Qandeel Baloch, Zakaria is saying, is that she was killed for doing her job.

Overall, it’s obviously the bigots who are the problem, but there’s something about the jobs, too, that stinks: “You’ll soon know something about life that you didn’t know before, and it won’t just have to do with work,” Geissler writes. “But also with the fact that you’re getting older, that two children cry after you every morning, that you don’t want to go to work, and that something about this job and many other kinds of jobs is essentially rotten.”

So this month, I offer you a blessing that is only a blessing until it actually happens, like for the furloughed federal workers, in which case it becomes curse: as Geissler puts in, “May every day be a day when shifts are terminated, ideally right after they begin.”

Dana Snitzky
Books Editor

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The First Time I Moved to New York

Alexander Chee in Polaroid, taken by Michael James O’Brien at the Lure in New York for XXX Fruit’s launch party.

Alexander Chee | Longreads | October 2018 | 10 minutes (2,448 words)


My first move to New York begins at the back of a Queer Nation meeting in San Francisco in 1991, with a man visiting from New York with his boyfriend who tried to pick me up. I turned him down as a way of flirting only with him. He seemed at a loss as to what to say next, and so I said, When can I get you alone?

We stood at the back of that meeting for some time, not quite willing to walk away. We hadn’t known each other long but the attraction we felt that would end up tearing up our lives and remaking them was already in charge. We exchanged addresses, deciding to be pen pals, then wrote each other letters for months. We met up again at a writers conference, then wrote more letters. He broke up with his boyfriend and got an apartment by himself. The answer to my original question then seemed to be, Seven months from now, in New York. And so I put my things in San Francisco up for sale and boarded a bus for New York that summer, with a copy of Robert Graves’s The White Goddess as reading material, and my best friend, who we’ll call S.

S and I dressed more or less alike for the trip, as we had for much of our friendship. If memory serves, we were both reading the same book. We made White Goddess jokes the whole way. We wore jean cutoffs, combat boots, and sleeveless hoodies, and sat in seats next to each other, emerging from the bus for smoke breaks. Our aesthetic then was modeled mostly on the comic Tank Girl and what we could remember of issues of The Face, and I had recently shaved my own head after a long night in Oakland that served as something of a private goodbye to San Francisco. S was coming with me a little in the way of a best man or a bridesmaid, as if I were getting married. I wasn’t used to getting what I wanted from love, and survived through intense friendships instead. We had been inseparable best friends since meeting, writing in coffee shops and stalking used bookstores for books by Joy Williams, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Adrienne Rich, Andrea Dworkin, Marilyn Hacker, and, yes, Joan Didion, and so while he joked he wanted to make sure of me, and I wanted him to — I didn’t trust myself — we were also, I think, preparing for being without each other on a daily basis.

Read more…

The State of the Bookstore Union

Illustration by Vinnie Neuberg

Rebecca McCarthy | Longreads | October 2018 | 13 minutes (3,497 words)

The Strand is the largest and most divisive of New York City’s independent bookstores. For its customers, it’s a literary landmark, a convenient public bathroom in Union Square, and one of the last places in Manhattan where tourists can see real New York Bohemia up close — like Colonial Williamsburg, but with poor people (booksellers) instead of settlers. For its employees, the store has more often been an object of resentment. Patti Smith worked there briefly in the early 1970s, but told New York magazine she quit because it “wasn’t very friendly.” Mary Gaitskill worked there for a year and a half and described it, in a thinly veiled story from Bad Behavior, as, “a filthy, broken-down store” staffed by “unhappy homosexuals.” In 2005, an anonymous employee ran a (pretty dumb) blog called “I Hate the Strand” and the reviews on the store’s Glassdoor page are still largely negative. “Employees who were so miserable they joked about torching the building,” wrote one former employee. “Honestly, shut up with the tote bags,” wrote another. (About twenty percent of the Strand’s revenue comes from merch. They sell a lot of tote bags.)

I worked at the Strand for a little over two years and honestly I liked it! I’d worked as a bartender previously, but by the time I was hired as a bookseller five of the seven bars at which I’d been employed had shuttered, either because of rising rents, the death of the owner, or, in one case, because too many of the regulars died or moved away. The Strand offered stability and a less traumatic day-to-day experience. I liked my co-workers, I attended fewer funerals, and I didn’t have to stay up until 4 a.m. every night when I had class in the morning; although because I was hired at $10 an hour, I still had to bartend on my days off to make ends meet. The store unionized in 1976 with the UAW, and it’s one of the only places in New York where bookselling — a notoriously ill-compensated industry; the drunken, wistful uncle of Publishing — can be a sustainable, long-term career for people who are not independently wealthy. The unionization has also given the store a measure of leftist cred that management has been quick to monetize: #Resistance merchandise lines the walls — ”Nevertheless She Persisted” tote bags, Ruth Bader Ginsburg magnets, and a t-shirt that reads “I Love Naps But I Stay Woke.” Read more…

This Month In Books: “Once You Can See the Pattern”

Photo by Paul Schafer on Unsplash

Dear Reader,

A lot of what you’ll read in this month’s books newsletter is about things not seeming to be what they really are.

In an interview with Hope Reese, Rebecca Traister talks about how women’s anger is not recognized as a politically valid form of expression, even though history tells a different story — that women’s anger has the power to start revolutions! Moreover:

“Women are punished for expressing their anger… their anger is discouraged, and part of this punishment is that your having expressed anger can be turned against you to discredit you.”

The power women feel is not recognized for what it is. And not just the power — also the pain. In an interview with Wei Tchou, Tanya Marquardt discusses the process of interrogating her memories of sexual assault, and explains how writing her memoir forced her to finally describe events as they really happened:

“I found myself struggling with the language around consent and really asking myself, ‘What was happening in that scene?’… I had to come to terms with the fact that I hadn’t consented, and more than that, I thought it was my job to endure whatever he was going to do to me.”

In an interview with Victoria Namkung, Nicole Chung talks about how difficult it was, as a grown-up adoptee, to let go of her “origin story,” which, although it had always felt safe, was not real:

“Even though it wasn’t the whole truth, I was so comforted and so attached to this origin story I was given. I remember how difficult it was to start challenging that.”

Mr. Rogers was deeply concerned about children who believe in stories that are comforting but not real. He thought it could be downright dangerous for them. According to his biographer Maxwell King,

“When Fred Rogers and David Newell learned about the child who hurt himself trying to be a superhero, they came up with an idea: a special program to help kids grasp just what a fictional superhero is.”

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On the other hand, in her book Travelers in the Third Reich, Julia Boyd describes how, in the 1930s, the British establishment had a striking lack of concern when it came to exposing children to false ideas. The well-off continued to send their young-adult children to be educated in Germany once the Nazi regime was in power:

“That the British establishment should have seen fit to prepare its offspring for adult life by sending them to such a vile totalitarian regime is puzzling, to say the least…. despite the Great War and growing awareness of Nazi iconoclasm, Germany’s traditional grip on British intellectual imagination remained as strong as ever. Here, in the midst of Nazi barbarity and boorishness, these gilded youths were expected to deepen their education and broaden their outlook.”

(From Maxwell King’s biography of Mr. Rogers: “One of the few things that could raise anger — real, intense anger — in Mister Rogers was willfully misleading innocent, impressionable children. To him, it was immoral and completely unacceptable.”)

Boyd goes on to say: “Ariel Tennant, another teenager in Munich at the time, studying art, was struck by how many people in England refused to believe her accounts of Nazi aggression.”

(This past weekend, I saw a video online of a proto-fascist gang beating some people in New York. The police did not arrest them. After the beating, the gang members posed for a photograph, all of them making similar hand signs for the camera.)

(In her novel Eleanor, or, The Rejection of the Progress of Love, Anna Moschovakis writes: “The feeling of closeness to a time before — the familiar melancholy that came from surfing the internet in the ways she used to — had receded and been replaced by the new feeling, the one she struggled to describe.”)

In her review of two recent books about immigrant families applying for asylum, Martha Pskowski writes about how, in her work with migrants, she would find that, the longer they talked to her, the more likely their stories were to change — because telling a story can be dangerous, and they were trying to keep people safe:

“Sometimes, migrants would tell me one story, and then as we talked over time, another story emerged. ….In Southern Mexico where I carry out interviews, coyotes and gang members often seek information about men and women on the migrant trail, to then threaten their family members. This doesn’t mean immigrants are unreliable sources, this means that as journalists we must work harder to earn their trust and prevent negative consequences of our work.”

Pskowski goes on to say: “Increasingly, and controversially, journalists are acknowledging and even embracing the concept that true ‘objectivity’ is both unachievable and undesirable.”

(This month a journalist named Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The story of how it happened has been revised many times. Changing stories are often a sign of danger — the journalist’s job is, sometimes, just to ask who is in danger for telling the story. Sometimes the answer is: the journalist.)

(Anna Moschovakis: “The new feeling: a flesh-eating virus expanding its appetite beneath the skin.”)

In her book How Does It Feel To Be Unwanted?, Eileen Truax writes about the re-categorization of asylum-seekers as threats to national security:

“Since the beginning of the Trump administration, policy changes in how immigration laws are applied indicate that authorities may use their discretion to qualify any violation of the law as a ‘crime,’ widely and arbitrarily broadening the spectrum of people who could be considered a ‘danger’ to the country. People like Yamil, who was charged with using false documents and has a previous deportation on his record, could be deemed a threat to national security.”

(Nicole Chung: “I’d been led to believe racism was something in the past. Even teachers at school presented racism as a thing we had conquered. It was very well-intentioned and wrong.”)

In his review of several new books about the opioid crisis, Zachary Siegel writes that the danger isn’t always where you think it is:

“A recent study out of Stanford that modeled public health policy shows that aggressively controlling the supply of prescriptions, in the short-term, is actually increasing overdose deaths by the thousands…. The fact is, injecting a regulated pharmaceutical of known dose and purity is less risky than injecting a bag of white powder purchased on the street. Bags of dope come with no proof of ingredients…. At the end of the day, an 80 milligram OxyContin is always 80 milligrams. It may not be pretty… but at least there was a measure of safety.”

And neither the heroes nor the villains are who you think they should be:

“A simplistic narrative yields cheap, simplistic solutions. America’s opioid reporting has the tendency to chronicle lengthy police investigations that feature cops, federal agents, and prosecutors high on the delusion that shutting down the right pill mill or locking up the right dealer will put addiction and overdoses to a grinding halt. They think they’re in an episode of The Wire.”

There are dire consequence for misunderstanding what the story is really about:

“Choking off the supply of prescription painkillers early on in the crisis, without first installing a safety net to catch the fallout, was a major policy failure that worsened America’s opioid problem by orders of magnitude.”

(Anna Moschovakis: “Or, the new feeling: a helixed grating, eternal return.”)

(Tanya Marquardt: “Once you can see the pattern and what you are repeating, you can see how it is abusive to you, and then you can change.”)

Dana Snitzky
Books Editor

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The Last of the Live Reviewers: An Interview with Nate Chinen

Fabrice Coffrini / Keystone / AP, Pantheon Books

Matthew Kassel | Longreads | August 2018 | 14 minutes (3,488 words)

Jazz has changed a lot over the past 100 years or so of its existence, but it has never been as stylistically varied — or more packed with practitioners — as it is at the present moment. That’s a good thing for listeners, who now have many points of entry if they are new to the music and don’t necessarily want to start with a record that was cut 50 years ago. Mary Halvorson’s slashing guitar, for example, may appeal to more punk-minded listeners. The pianist Robert Glasper’s Dilla-esque grooves are a good gateway for hip-hop fans. And the tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s sweeping, spiritual-minded albums are a potential attraction for jam band aficionados. There’s a lot going on.

And yet, at the same time, there are probably fewer people writing about modern developments in jazz than ever. While niche magazines like JazzTimes and DownBeat are still going strong, there is scant jazz coverage in mainstream music publications (which tend to treat jazz like a novelty item), and the New York Times no longer runs weekly live jazz reviews (a recent development). Nate Chinen was, in fact, the last person to review jazz shows on a regular basis there, a position he left in 2017 after a dozen years contributing to the paper. He is now the director of editorial content at WBGO, the Newark public radio station.

In his new book, Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century, Chinen draws on his experiences as a former newspaper critic, attempting to make sense of what’s been going on in jazz over the past few decades. It isn’t an easy task, and he does a good job collating a whole lot of material, pulling on interesting threads and adding context for readers who may not be all that familiar with the reasons why Wynton Marsalis wasand still is, to an extent — a polarizing figure. Mostly, Chinen approaches jazz on its own terms. He describes what the music sounds like now and conveys to readers where modern jazz artists are coming from. In doing so he’s created a book that is truly of its time. Read more…