There’s something about Star Wars: The Force Awakens that feels both delightful and urgent, as if it were both a joy to create and a story that must be told at this particular moment in history. People who lined up to see the film when it released last December—and then immediately bought tickets to see it again—are now buying the DVD or Blu-Ray or streaming version so they can watch The Force Awakens for the fifth (or tenth) time at home. They’re also creating fanart, writing their own narratives, and celebrating the idea that the Hero’s Journey has been opened up to a new group of heroes. Read more…
An interview with graphic novelist Daniel Clowes about his new book, Patience, and several decades of comics craft.
Jessica Gross | Longreads | March 2016 | 20 minutes (5,074 words)
In 1989, Daniel Clowes started a comic-book series called Eightball. Instead of lauded superheroes following traditional plotlines, his comics often featured oddballs, meandering or dreamlike sequences, and an acerbic wit. At the time, it felt like he was writing into the abyss.
Since then, Clowes has become one of the most famous cartoonists in the world. Eightball was the original home to what became the standalone graphic novels The Death-Ray, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, and Ghost World, among others. Ghost World was adapted into a feature film in 2001 (Clowes collaborated on the screenplay); his graphic novel Wilson will have the same fate. Eightball itself was republished in a slipcase edition last year. This is a wildly abridged history, and I haven’t even mentioned the awards.
Clowes’s new work is his most ambitious to date: the graphic novel Patience, a huge gorgeous slab of a book with drawings so sumptuous and vibrant I wanted to plaster them all over my walls. The book opens on Jack and his wife Patience learning they’re going to have a kid, shortly after which a wrenching turn sends Jack on a tumultuous trip back and forth in time. We spoke by phone about Patience, dreams, teen-speak, and when Clowes gets his best ideas: when he’s really bored. Read more…
On the place of pop culture references in literature.
Several of this year’s nominees have been featured on Longreads before (see: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Adam Johnson, Noelle Stevenson), and this reading list features the five nonfiction nominees. The winner will be announced on November 18, 2015.
The National Book Awards, presented by the National Book Foundation, “celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.” There are four categories: fiction, nonfiction, “young people’s literature,” and poetry. Several of this year’s nominees have been featured on Longreads before (see: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Adam Johnson, Noelle Stevenson), and this reading list features the five nonfiction nominees. The winner will be announced on November 18, 2015.
1. The Radical: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
“The Hard Truths of Ta-Nehisi Coates.” (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine, July 2015)
“Letter to My Son,” in The Atlantic, adapted from Between the World and Me
You must struggle to truly remember this past. You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance—no matter how improved—as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children.
The Harper’s digital archive is a small and unsung national treasure, at least as far as I’m concerned; I’ve spent countless hours sifting through old issues, scanning for early work from familiar names and tracking down forgotten gems from authors whose bylines have largely faded. One such writer is Margot Hentoff, whose short story “Where Do the Detectives Eat?” (paywalled PDF, February, 1968) caught me completely off-guard when I downloaded it on a whim. The writing is strikingly contemporary: its cynical humor, thematic threads, and first-person, present-tense prose style all feel fresh.
“Where Do the Detectives Eat?” is deceptive in its brevity; in only three pages, it contains sharp observations about the pains and rejections of motherhood, the disappointments of friendship and marriage, and aging’s small shocks. (“This morning, Sally, my friend of longest standing, called to tell me she had taken a lover. Twenty years old, she said… But I can see Sally at twenty, and tonight I am appalled that we age in our own skins.”)
The story opens with a gesture toward Hollywood glamour and romance, then swiftly delivers a jab to the chest:
A long time ago, when I was very young, Elizabeth Taylor and I got married – each for the first time and in the same summer. We traveled in Europe that July; she with Nicky Hilton, I with my then husband, both of us visiting essentially the same places, she usually leaving an area some days before I arrived. I knew where she was because the European press kept following her, and I read the stories with an interest born of identification. What the papers didn’t tell me was how she felt about being married, so I never knew what Elizabeth Taylor did; but all that summer, I cried and cried and cried.
I wept in Paris cafés, in English bookshops, and in Swiss trains going over the mountaintops. But most of all, I wept on my twentieth birthday in a room in the Golf Hotel in St. Jean-de-Luz. I sat, that day, at a window overlooking the Bay of Biscay and beyond that, the Pyrenees. The sky was blue, the trees green. There were flowering bushes in the gardens, and striped tents on the beach below. The more I looked, the lovelier it became, and the lovelier it was, the more I cried, knowing that not only was all Europe my jail, but that New York, where we lived, was not going to be any better because I was married now, and I was twenty years old, and everything had passed me by.
At Wired, Amy Wallace reports on the controversy at the Hugo Awards, which has been plagued by accusations by a faction of mostly white male authors who call themselves “Puppies” and argue that storytelling has taken a backseat to identity politics:
Though voted upon by fans, this year’s Hugo Awards were no mere popularity contest. After the Puppies released their slates in February, recommending finalists in 15 of the Hugos’ 16 categories (plus the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer), the balloting had become a referendum on the future of the genre. Would sci-fi focus, as it has for much of its history, largely on brave white male engineers with ray guns fighting either a) hideous aliens or b) hideous governments who don’t want them to mine asteroids in space? Or would it continue its embrace of a broader sci-fi: stories about non-traditionally gendered explorers and post-singularity, post-ethnic characters who are sometimes not men and often even have feelings?
With so much at stake, more people than ever forked over membership dues (at least $40) in time to be allowed to vote for the 2015 Hugos. Before voting closed on June 31, 5,950 people cast ballots (a whopping 65 percent more than had ever voted before).
But were the new voters Puppies? Or were they, in the words of George RR Martin—the author of the bestselling epic fantasy novels that HBO adapted into Game of Thrones—“gathering to defend the integrity of the Hugos”? On his blog, Martin predicted: “This will be the most dramatic Hugo night in Worldcon history.” He wasn’t wrong.
Controversy at the Hugo Awards, which has been plagued by accusations by a faction of mostly white male authors who argue that storytelling has taken a backseat to identity politics.
Former Wall Street Journal reporter Barry Newman reflects on 43 years of feature stories that explore the eccentric humanity of our world.