Discourse is a battleground, and we have to perceive it as such. It’s not simply a representation of what is happening; it’s a battleground. This is why it’s important to push for the revolutionary grassroots narrative that has been completely isolated, silenced, marginalized, and, for many, unthinkable. This is why, I think, we should highlight that struggle and make sure that people hear about it.
– In an in-depth interview in Jacobin, Yusaf Khalil talks with Syrian scholar Yasser Munif about the roots of the Syrian civil war, the role of on-the-ground activists, and the narrative disconnect between Syria and the West.
I’m entranced by the moment our secrets become our confessions. Over the past three years, I’ve confessed my fair share: Coming out as queer. Coming out as non-binary. Sharing crushes, deep-seated fears and ridiculous hopes with my friends, my partner and my boss. In these six stories, a drunk driver confesses via viral video; an ex-Catholic returns to confession; and a high-school cheater reveals her indiscretions. Elisa Albert writes about her training as a doula, and I respond with my own doubts. Finally, acclaimed essayist Leslie Jamison reviews two collections of deeply personal writing from Sarah Manguso, David Shields and Caleb Powell.
After a night of heavy drinking, Matthew Cordle killed Vincent Canzoni in a drunk-driving accident. Overcome with guilt and on the brink of suicide, Cordle made an earnest video through the organization because I said I would, confessing what he’d done. Alex Sheen, the creator of because I said I would, thought Cordle’s confession might get 100,000 views and provide some solace for Cordle. He underestimated a bit—2.6 million people watched Cordle’s video. His viral confession impacted the victim’s family, Cordle’s family and Cordle’s trial. Read more…
Springsteen may today be a man who splits his time between a horse farm in his native Monmouth County, a second home in New Jersey, and luxury properties in Florida and L.A., but Born to Run is an emphatic refutation of the notion that, as a songwriter, he can no longer connect to the troubled and downtrodden. Especially in its early chapters, the book demonstrates how honestly Springsteen has come by his material. Cars, girls, the Shore, the workingman’s struggles, broken dreams, disillusioned vets—it’s all right there in his upbringing.
“One of the points I’m making in the book is that, whoever you’ve been and wherever you’ve been, it never leaves you,” he said, expanding upon this thought with the most Springsteen-esque metaphor possible: “I always picture it as a car. All your selves are in it. And a new self can get in, but the old selves can’t ever get out. The important thing is, who’s got their hands on the wheel at any given moment?”
There must be few journalistic feats more difficult than getting inside the head of a teenager. But with “13, Right Now,” Washington Post staff writer Jessica Contrera joins the ranks of reporters who have skillfully chronicled the lives of children and teens, including Susan Orlean (read her classic Esquire piece, “The American Man, Age 10”) and more recently, Andrea Elliott, whose “Invisible Child” for the New York Times in 2013 documented the life of an 11-year-old homeless girl named Dasani.
Contrera’s story focuses on Katherine, 13, whose life has been upended by the death of her mother, and whose world seems to increasingly exist inside her phone—through apps like Instagram and Snapchat. (As an #old myself, seeing Katherine’s life revolve around her social networks is shocking only in the way it mirrors the screen addiction of the American grown-up. It practically begs for the return of the “I learned it by watching you” meme.)
I spoke to Contrera about her story, which is one in an ongoing series (“The Screen Age”) that the Post will publish throughout the summer. Read more…
In her new memoir, Sex With Shakespeare, Keenan examines her own relationships with both spanking and love through the lens of her longstanding obsession with Shakespeare. His characters, who appear in dialogue with Keenan, have as forceful a presence as the people in her life. I visited Keenan at her home in New York City, where we spoke about the difference between fetish and kink, her view of her fetish as innate, and her firm belief that spanking children is an act of sexual abuse.
This book struck me as such an empathetic text. I feel like sometimes, in our current cultural climate, there’s a lot of anger at and dismissal of anyone who’s ignorant about a topic, and I really appreciated that you treated the reader who didn’t know anything about fetishes with a lot of respect. Was that something you thought about as you were writing it? Or is that just how you feel, and it came out naturally as you were writing?
It’s not something I thought of consciously, but I’m thrilled to hear that’s what came across. I was conscious of the fact that, in my opinion, there’s nothing unique about the experience of feeling isolated. Whereas maybe most people don’t feel ashamed or isolated because they think about spanking all the time, I think that probably everyone has something in their lives—whether in their sex lives or in another part of their lives—that they feel insecure about or ashamed of or fearful about.
I didn’t want to act as if the experience of feeling lonely and ashamed is something that I needed to explain to people. I think that everyone already knows what that feels like. I was just trying to tell a story about the specifics of why I felt that way, and how I worked through it to the extent that I did. Read more…
President Obama called her novel Fates and Furies his favorite of the year. The New York Times named it a bestseller. Amazon.com bestowed its top annual pick upon it. Seth Meyers and Charlie Rose even sat down for interviews with her.
But before all that, Lauren Groff wrote in the shadows.
After graduating from Amherst, when she thought she wanted to be a poet, Lauren worked at a bar in Philadelphia. Mixing cocktails at night and writing fiction during the day struck her as romantic. But on her first day of work, there was a double homicide at the bar. Her second day was September 11th, 2001. (“Seriously?” I say. “Seriously,” she says.)
At Amherst, Lauren was a rower. “There was this beautiful backlit fog rising off the river, and the banks were just pearly and beautiful, and it felt almost impossible to get our bodies moving in the cold,” she told The Amherst Student three years ago. “And Bill (Stekl, her coach) from his boat into his microphone shouts, ‘You can do anything — just do it slowly enough!’ And it’s almost been my motto in life. You can do anything. You just do it slowly enough.”
In 2008, after getting married, earning an MFA, turning thirty, and writing three unpublished novels, she saw her first glimmer of success: her debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton. In the years following she worked slowly. She wrote short stories and published another novel, Arcadia.
But it’s her latest novel, Fates and Furies, that brought fame.
A meditation on marriage and the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone, Fates and Furies struck a cultural nerve. Robin Black in The New York Times Sunday Book Reviewcalled it “a novel of extraordinary and genuine complexity,” and its strikingly inventive plot and evocative prose put it in rarefied company for contemporary fiction.
Yet Lauren won’t revel in her success. She has three new projects she’s working on, not to mention the two sons she’s raising with her husband, Clay, in Gainesville, Florida, where she lives. Fates and Furies has turned her into a modern literary icon, but she maintains the slow and steady pace that brought her success in the first place.
I spoke with Lauren about everything from artistic narcissism to Véra Nabokov to critic James Wood, as well as her winding road to success, the pressures of newfound literary fame, and what it feels like to have the President of the United States love your book.
What makes a secret society? Is it the codes and the handshakes, the physical language? Perhaps it’s accessibility—you might know an organization exists, but you’ll never be a member. Take this: I rushed a sorority—the same sorority!—three times, because I wanted to be able to walk into any room on my small college campus and see a welcoming face. I wanted the anonymity, the lettered sweatshirt, the history. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, something a little mysterious. Sure, I could study the colors and crest and memorize the majors and extracurriculars of every glossy-haired member, but that wasn’t the same as being in. I didn’t get in, obviously.
This urge to rush a sorority over and over (insanity, by Albert Einstein’s definition, I know) has manifested itself before. Middle-school me devoured books about the rich and privileged—Gossip Girl, The Clique, Private–because I knew there was a secret and I had to find out what it was. I had to, or I would be stuck reading the “How to Be Popular” WikiHow guide for the rest of my life. Kindergarten me yearned to sit next to the most popular girl in class during circle time, only to be snubbed by her henchmen. See a pattern? My identity crises have perfectly styled hair and would never wear last season’s Tory Burch flats. I continue to be fascinated—less pathetically, hopefully—by these exclusive subcultures. Luckily for you, I didn’t include any essays about the angst of privileged boarding school students. Instead, I’ve packed this list full of success stories, start-ups, witchcraft and comedy. Read more…
“The most stylish chef in the industry,” according toVogueParis. “A fairy tale child,” according to fashion editor André Leon Talley, “straight out of a gothic novel.” The grandson of Maxime de La Falaise, a 1950s beauty who wrote for American Vogue and played muse to Andy Warhol. The nephew of Loulou de La Falaise, the afflatus of Yves Saint Laurent. The great-nephew of Mark Birley, who ruled London nightlife with Annabel’s and Harry’s Bar. And on and on.
Daniel Le Bailly de La Falaise has always had much to live up to.
Yet even from his younger years, Daniel parried the pressure with aplomb. He modeled for Vogue Paris as a wispy seventeen year-old. He acted in plays on the West End alongside Michael Gambon. It was the same path of aristocratic, creative urbanity that his forebears lived so well.
But one day, he realized it wasn’t quite the life for him.
“I asked myself the question of whose career I coveted and I couldn’t really come up with the answer,” Daniel told me over the phone from Bolinas, California. “I wanted control over what my life would be and cooking was something that I had always done.”
So cook he did.
He was slated to start work at the River Café, a respected Italian eatery on the banks of the Thames, but his great-uncle Mark Birley challenged him. “If you’ve got the balls, if you’ve got balls, Danny, you’ll start at Harry’s Bar,” Daniel recounted him saying in reference to the members-only Mayfair restaurant founded by his great uncle. “He thought I’d make a week and in the end I did years there.”
Today, Daniel lives mostly on an estate near Toulouse, France, with his wife, Molly, and infant son, Louis. He manages Le Garde-Manger de La Falaise, an exclusive line of oils and vinegars sold at Selfridges in London and at Claus in Paris, and he is the author of a recent book from Rizzoli called Nature’s Larder.
But his central work remains cooking. He cooks for himself, his family, and his friends, but he also caters celebrity and fashion events, which take place mostly in Paris, London, and Milan. He catered Kate Moss’ wedding and, most recently, he was in charge of a 125-person dinner at the Château de Courances in northern France for the Olsen twins’ fashion brand, The Row.
Although Daniel’s provenance is one of sophistication and blue blood, he eschews pretension. His favorite food is spaghetti alle vongole and, as he puts it, “there is no better luxury than really distilled simplicity.”
Daniel spoke to me about the pressures of aristocracy, the sexuality of food, and what cooking for the rich and famous really takes. Read more…
If you don’t take Swift seriously, you don’t take contemporary music seriously. With the (arguable) exceptions of Kanye West and Beyoncé Knowles, she is the most significant pop artist of the modern age. The scale of her commercial supremacy defies parallel—she’s sold 1 million albums in a week three times, during an era when most major artists are thrilled to move 500,000 albums in a year. If a record as comparatively dominant as 1989 had actually existed in the year 1989, it would have surpassed the sales of Thriller. There is no demographic she does not tap into, which is obviously rare. But what’s even more atypical is how that ubiquity is critically received. Swift gets excellent reviews, particularly from the most significant arbiters of taste. (A 2011 New Yorker piece conceded that Swift’s reviews are “almost uniformly positive.”) She has never gratuitously sexualized her image and seems pathologically averse to controversy. There’s simply no antecedent for this kind of career: a cross-genre, youth-oriented, critically acclaimed colossus based entirely on the intuitive songwriting merits of a single female artist. It’s as if mid-period Garth Brooks was also early Liz Phair, minus the hat and the swearing. As a phenomenon, it’s absolutely new.
During the 1960s and 70s, legendary jazz drummer Art Taylor interviewed his fellow musicians. The interviews are collected in the 1993 book Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews, and it’s one of jazz’s greatest. The familial, casual conversations are also serious and insightful, full of history, portraiture, and revelations about race relations in America, and the lives of black musicians in a music industry run by white people. From Philly Joe Jones to Kenny Clark, Taylor knew his subjects because he played with them, so he asked probing questions. Here’s an excerpt of his 1969 talk with pianist-composer Thelonious Monk:
Monk: I don’t know. I was aware of all this when I was a little baby, five, six or seven years old; I was aware of how the cops used to act. It looked like the order of the day was for the cops to go out and call the kids black bastards. Anything you did, if you ran or something, he called you black bastards.
Taylor: That was their favorite lick.
Monk: Yeah, I remember that; it was the first thing that came out of the mouth.
Taylor: I consider myself lucky to have survived.
Monk: Sure you’re lucky to have survived, you’re lucky to survive every second. You’re facing death at all times. You don’t know where it’s going to come from.