We assume that the internet can only make it easier and cheaper to access information, but what the internet really does, when it’s commercialized, is commodify information. In the future, publishers will be able to determine exactly how often a specific book or article is accessed, try a few different prices, and charge whatever turns out to be most profitable. If that profit can be generated by selling advertising, then the book will be made available “for free”; if not, users will be forced to pay. In the case of romance novels, this means “ad-supported books”; in the case of scholarly journals, if you don’t have an institution to support you, it means paying $5.99 to “rent” a single article for one day, the price currently being charged by Cambridge University Press.
In the last fifteen years, the Precocious Child has become one of the American novel’s favorite protagonists. Whimsical, ingenious, and verbose, the Precocious Child knows simultaneously more and less than his adult readers. He may be a tennis prodigy (Infinite Jest) or a twelve-year old farm boy who wins science prizes from the Smithsonian Institute (The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet). But he’s impeded by his youth and something else, too: autism (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime) or amusingly bad English (Everything Is Illuminated) make it difficult for him to understand or articulate adult feelings. This tension between extraordinary competence in some areas and lovable haplessness in others is what gives the Precocious Child novel its appeal.
The Last Samurai belongs to this genre—in fact, it is one of the very first Precocious Child novels—but it also obviates it. It seems to have been written, point by point, to reject everything the Precocious Child novel would come to stand for.
Rich has been working on this for a long time and I encourage you to stick it on your phone for your commute home today. The Last Samurai, though not yet an Emily Book, is one of my favorite books in the world, and Rich has honed in on one of the sources of its power: a refreshing and unapologetic cruelty, which reveals truths that warmer-hearted books can’t touch.
Her name is Rachel, and she’s Jewish, which means she’s the first date in years who would meet my family’s requirements.
She takes me back to her apartment and shows me personal, meaningful things. I try to be interested and compassionate, but I don’t want her to think this is long-term. She says she hasn’t thrown up for two years. I tell her I don’t throw up anymore, either. While she talks to me, I size her up—not gorgeous, but an incredible voice. She’s got a flat stomach but flat breasts. I hope for really big nipples.
On an early Sunday morning a reporter called to ask me questions about women with AIDS. Don’t waste your time with me, I told her, I’m nothing more in the scheme of things than a rather charming statistical anomaly.
Meaning I come from a wealthy family, supportive, who provided me with a safety net, its resemblance to a spiderweb notwithstanding. I don’t have children, I don’t have problems getting access to medical care, I don’t have to buy the groceries for the family when I’m too exhausted to stand up for more than ten minutes straight, and I don’t have a husband who will feel betrayed enough to resort to physical expression if the house is still cluttered and dusty at the end of the day. I don’t have your usual problems, in other words, either girl- or boystyle. Go talk to somebody else.
For instance, I suggested, you could talk to Amelio. He repaired broken air conditioners and refrigerators, a trade he picked up upstate—upstate being how a certain East Coast demographic refers to prison, the prisons being mostly upstate.
We posted one of the stories from Glory Goes and Gets Some, probably you should read the whole thing on your screen right away. Then buy the book.
The New Yorker’s “Letter From” essays, though they’re always entertaining and executed with finesse, can leave the reader with an impression that’s basically: “Kazakhstan (or wherever), how wacky.” Keith showed exactly how and why Kazakhstan’s history and political situation have created a unique way of life, and also those crazy skyscrapers in the middle of the steppe that make Williamsburg’s waterfront look tasteful. And he ate horse ham.
Feminist critic and longtime New School professor Ann Snitow “leapt to join” a program that brings New School teachers to a correctional facility upstate out of “boredom”—she craved a challenge less played-out than trying to get college students to care about feminism, which she says is “everywhere and nowhere” in their lives. The result is one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever read. Snitow confronts her own preconceived notions and white liberal guilt head-on, but also gives herself credit for being a good teacher. She evokes her students’ complexity by describing their surprising, varied responses to the movies she assigns. At one point she gives them a speech: “I know in all your classes and workshops you’re being taught to take responsibility for what you’ve done, and I’m not saying no to that. But responsibility is different from shame. Best to see the endless tale of one’s badness as an inadequate story, meant to make you feel like a worm. OK, take responsibility, but also move on. Everyone is dependent; total independence is a myth. Inside or out, dependency is the human condition.” “This hectoring lecture hasn’t convinced anyone,” she writes, but I think she underestimates herself.
I’m obsessed with smells and with New York, which contains maybe the world’s best and worst smells, often in the same two-block radius. Molly Young’s descriptions of smells are a joy. Her descriptions in general are a joy. She’s just getting better and better and I can’t wait to see what she does next. (My fantasy would be a regular column about smells, but that’s probably unrealistic.)
Here, Rich Beck breaks down and rearticulates one of groundbreaking radical feminist and pop culture critic Ellen Willis’s most powerful—and most confusing—arguments. This is a must, must, must, must read for anyone interested in the past, present and future of the fight for equality.
This and #2, I would recommend if it’s been a while since you last wept uncontrollably. There’s really not a lot else to say about this. It’s an unsentimental examination of a cosmically unfair event, the the kind of thing no one wants to acknowledge is possible, but which happens regularly. I have no idea how the author could stand to write it, unless he also couldn’t stand not to write it. The parts about his daughter’s imaginary friend are also very funny, incredibly.
Bonus! (Kindle Single edition)
• “How A Book Is Born,” by Keith Gessen ($1.99)
I didn’t want to be disgusting and pick 5 things by my boyfriend but I wish I could assign anyone who thinks he or she might someday publish a book to read this long examination of how publishing works. The combination of virtue and talent coinciding with luck—the endless variables that combine to make a “literary” bestseller—just boggles the mind. This is stuff that many people who work in publishing or who work in novel-writing either don’t know or don’t allow themselves to consciously know. Buy this as a gift for your friend the corporate lawyer who keeps saying he’s going to take a sabbatical year to “write his novel.”
• “American Juggalo,” by Kent Russell ($1.99)
Psychic forecast: the year-end Longreads best-of list next year will be everything people are saying right now about John Jeremiah Sullivan, but for the words “John Jeremiah Sullivan” substitute “Kent Russell.”
(photo credit: Stephen Deshler)
After I turned this in I of course thought of several essential additions to this list:
Wrapping up first draft of a book/your youth
Hard to describe anything Chee-related without sounding like the world’s biggest hippie but the man and his work are just, like, the locus of really powerful energy. This essay is about fortune-telling, storytelling, and being so focused on the future you can’t see the present.
Ayahuasca tripping in NYC is expensive spiritual experience that requires a BYO barf bucket.
"As with any fallow time, when I think about this period of my life I just wind up romanticizing it."
in defense (sort of) of Gchat
The best Freedom/Jonathan Franzen-related thing
on The Book of Mormon and musicals vs. megachurches
you have to download the whole Occupy! Gazette (a pdf) (and you should)
to read Keith’s thing about the Zucotti occupation’s laundry.
is also about the Zucotti occupation and Ray Kachel — read both
“The cheap pseudo-redemption of catharsis” is an occupational hazard for anyone with an Internet connection and the inclination to prove themselves to strangers. When you spend a lot of time online, it can begin to feel like everything you consume is produced by someone almost just like you, and in turn, that everything you produce is consumed by people who might as well be your friends. And when this is the case—or even if when just feels that way—there’s little incentive to explain yourself. It’s all too easy to work under the assumption that we all already “get” each other—all too tempting to expect outsized empathy from others. They know I don’t really mean that. They know that I know I should be ashamed, so it’s fine. But there’s merit in presuming that maybe, just maybe, your opinions don’t speak for themselves—that maybe, just maybe, you should work a little bit at defending them.