The Intellectual Situation
Smorgasbords Don’t Have Bottoms by The Editors
No one wakes up in the morning hoping to be as vapid as possible. But eventually you internalize the squeeze. Everyone down the chain adjusts their individual decisions to the whim of the retailer, or to their best guess at the whim of the retailer. If it’s Barnes & Noble, you may hear that a cover doesn’t work, that the store won’t carry the title unless you change it. If it’s Amazon, you may not hear anything at all. You go back and adjust your list of wildly optimistic comparative titles — it’s The Big Short, but . . . for meteorology! But is anyone still talking about The Big Short? Maybe it’s Hillbilly Elegy, but for meteorology. You change the cover, of course. Every cover has handwriting on it, so yours should, too. Prior success is book publishing’s best asset. If it worked well once, why not try it again, and again?
The Custom of the Capital by Nausicaa Renner
The self-guided tour was so banal, a museum with no information: you’re just supposed to appreciate the quality of the place, the opulence—but it’s not that opulent. I thought about my boyfriend. The atmosphere was not heavy, like he’d expected. The tourists glowed with happiness and interest. They didn’t care to learn anything, they just wanted the experience of being there. I observed nothing weird, no one acting in any way out of the ordinary. I realized that many of the people who visited probably felt comfortable here, probably more comfortable than on the streets of Washington, wearing Trump shirts.
Parenting in the Climate Change Era by Jill Kubit, Katy Lederer, Kate Marvel, Jedediah Purdy, Christine Smallwood, and Mari Tan
Climate denial used to only be about denying the facts; now it’s also about denying that people who are carrying the burdens of it are your problem. That denial is very powerful and is connected, I think, with the new or resurgent nationalism. And it’s somewhat like that in a household. I care about the future, I care about my child’s future, and when I look at his future I know he’s going to enter the economy afraid and encouraged to see other people as his competitors and his problem, and that the world he’s entering isn’t organized as if it cares whether it goes on. I want to protect him from that, and I want to protect everyone from that. But protecting his interests and the interests of people all over the world are not always the same project.
Fiction and Drama
Life is the New Hard by Annette Weisser
Eight months earlier she had broken up with Michael, her boyfriend of ten years. They had met in art school. The breakup felt urgent and necessary then, but now she can’t remember why exactly she had to leave. Michael is a good guy, all things considered. The fact that he, under the premise of helping her move into her new studio, had stealthily transformed it into a shed for his impressive collection of tools seems a fairly ridiculous reason now, at this very moment, in the waiting area on the fifth floor of the hospital Charité in Berlin Mitte. But the first few weeks were incredible. She was on a constant high, intoxicated by her own crazy courage to trade a comfortable relationship for a room of her own, and the whiff of freedom and possibility that came with it.
White Square by Vladimir Sorokin, translated from the Russian by Max Lawton
What was stopping him from selling his honey in Ukhtoma? What, with a car, he could go anywhere he wanted. Even to Yaroslavl. Even to Moscow. Sasha turned green with envy when he saw someone buy anything from the old man. He clenched his jaw with rage. If Vovka weren’t in prison, he would give him a thousand to pop the old man’s tires. Or just to scare him a little. Doing it himself would be too much. The police were nearby, too. Sasha weighed in at a hundred kilos and could smash the fidgety old man like a fly, but unfortunately it just wasn’t possible.
My Instagram by Dayna Tortorici
What would I see? A fitness personality lunging across the sand. An adopted cat squirming in a paper bag. A Frank Lloyd Wright building. A sourdough loaf. A friend coming out as nonbinary. A mirror selfie. Handstand tutorial. Gallery opening. Nightclub candid. Outfit of the day. Medal from the Brooklyn half. New floating shelves. Screenshot of an article titled, “A 140-year-old tortoise wearing her 5-day-old son as a hat.” Protest. Crashing waves. Gabrielle Union’s baby. Wedding kiss. Friend’s young mom at the peak of her beauty for Mother’s Day. Ina Garten in a witch’s hat. Detail of a Bruegel painting. Brown egg in a white void, posted to @world_record_egg [verified blue checkmark], with the caption, “Let’s set a world record together and get the most liked post on Instagram, beating the current world record held by Kylie Jenner (18 million)! We got this [hands up emoji].” By the time I saw it, the egg had 53,764,664 likes. The comments read: “What does the egg mean?” “That’s a trick question.” “The egg doesn’t mean anything.” World records are meaningless in a culture defined by historical amnesia and the relentless invention of categories, I thought, and double tapped to like the egg.
Open House by Jeremiah Moss
When I worked in offices, before I became a psychoanalyst, I was a petty thief. In my twenties, underpaid and unappreciated by my corporate bosses, I seized scraps of power by stealing pens and pencils, yellow bricks of Post-its, spiral notebooks, and, once, a good Swingline stapler. I did it because I felt angry and oppressed. Now I’m a middle-class, middle-aged, self-employed professional feeling angry and oppressed by the corporate system that has transformed my neighborhood and my building, but there is nothing to take. So I steal into the lives of my new neighbors, the ones invited and nurtured by this system. I look through the peephole and gaze into Instagram. I feel invaded by them, so I invade back the only way I can.
An American Education by Nicolás Medina Mora
What I should have said was that I intended to repackage the boy’s trauma into a digestible narrative I hoped would capture the attention of some hundred thousand internet users, who would then surrender valuable information about themselves to one or another technology baron, who would then reward the website for which I worked with a better starting position in the algorithmic rat race, which would allow the website’s owners to convince a handful of investors to keep funding the company, which in turn would allow my editors to pay me a salary, earn me accolades, and, eventually, if all went well, convince the US government that I deserved to live and work in this country.
We Had a Shakespeare by Elias Rodriques and Omari Weekes
People do such horrifying things in the name of love and in such violent contexts in her novels. The Bluest Eye is the source of the quote that’s been circulating since she passed: “Love is never any better than the lover.” In a novel in which intimate partner violence and child abuse take center stage, it’s hard not to read this sentence as a claim about love’s uselessness. Because of her dedication to chronicling the fallibilities of lovers under assault by the state and by their communities, her work seems quite ambivalent about love.
Regarding Bloom by Marco Roth
What Bloom would call a “knowing,” Marxist-historicist reading of his criticism would locate it within and as part of a high point of mid-American individualism, less of the rugged than the spiritual kind. He belonged to the cultural moment that gave us Clement Greenberg, abstract expressionism in both art and poetry, American Buddhism and the New Age movement. His Falstaff was a cold-war figure and one of the few times that he conceded the word to a contemporary comes when he quotes Anthony Burgess: “The Falstaffian spirit is a great sustainer of civilization. It disappears when the state is too powerful and when people worry too much about their souls.” That this individualism was never unitary or solipsistic is one of the ironies that Bloom haters and also his very few remaining conservative cultural cheerleaders love to miss
Spanish for Vietnam by Mark Engler
In the United States, seeking out a poet to document a simmering political crisis might elicit smirking dismissal. But Forché reports that those she met in El Salvador accepted her role as a natural and important one, not requiring further justification. (“Poetry, like bread, is for everyone,” the Salvadoran poet and revolutionary Roque Dalton once wrote.) Indeed, many of those she met, including some of the military officers, were practicing or aspiring poets themselves — although the quality of their output, notably in the case of a colonel who composed overheated patriotic odes, was sometimes questionable. As a memoirist, Forché follows in the tradition of the Nicaraguan poet Gioconda Belli, whose 2001 remembrance, The Country Under My Skin, stands as one of the most evocative and insightful accounts of the Sandinista revolution available in English.
Adrift by William Harris
For what became apparent to Chaudhuri as he looked back on an expanded field of literary engagements with modernity wasn’t the canonical hand-me-downs of Beckettian bleakness or Kafkaesque nightmare. It was instead an opposing, decidedly sunnier set of themes: a secular, at once spiritual and material physicality; estrangement rooted in a kind of realism; comedy; the transient; the unfinished; joy; affirmation. These counter-themes were what Chaudhuri’s novels had been up to all along: now they had historical company, and a fresh vantage with which, in however minor and oppositional a fashion, to continue speaking to the present.