Some readers have pointed out that Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire could have been more tightly edited. Maybe so. I didn't have the sense, while reading it, that whole sections were crying out to be lopped off, but it's entirely possible that a tougher editor than me could find more fat to trim. The thing is, this book wants to be a sprawling, kaleidoscopic rollercoaster ride through a vanished cultural landscape — that of dirty, old 1970s New York City from before Rudy Giuliani shipped all the homeless people off somewhere and replaced the Times Square porn shops with a 50-foot-high painting of Cat in the Hat. It wants to be grand, unwieldy, immersive. It wants to sweep you up and shake you around for a while before letting you go.Read More
In striking contrast to the sentimental survival narratives that drive pop culture these days, stories in which people overcome all obstacles in order to become their true, amazing selves, A Little Life presents survival as a raw biological imperative that's almost impossible to escape. Life won't let you go; not because brighter days are right around the corner, but because it just won't.Read More
Irritation is a powerful force. It has the whiff of righteousness. It inspires dread in the meek. If you read old accounts of any society that eventually erupted in some form of ethnic cleansing or witch-hunting, you’ll hear people gossiping and commiserating about the annoying habits of the marginalized group, nodding their heads in agreement about the ways in which these people obviously don’t “get” the rules of society that are perfectly obvious to anyone with common sense.Read More
This idea launches and permeates Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty Eight Nights (that’s 1,001 nights for the mathematically disinclined), Rushdie’s dizzying, delightful new novel in which a rift opens between Peristan (the fairy world) and our own. On another level, it’s about the interplay of fiction and reality, or the ways that stories (true, made-up, and somewhere in-between) rule our lives.Read More
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book is written as a letter to his 15-year-old son. It’s available for the rest of us to read wherever books are sold, but this epistolary trope makes reading it an act of voyeurism. I believe Coates is fully aware of this. The white faces peering over the picket fences are a constant presence at the book’s margins. I believe Coates wants “white” America to see and at the same time to know its distance from the realities he describes.
Words like “comforting” and “reassuring” don’t seem sufficiently “sexy” praise for a literary work on this scale, but these are the only words to describe its effect (on this reader, at least). For all of its 624 pages, I felt enveloped in a sense of deep calm, anchored by Mevlut, a street vendor and the main character, who for four decades, through political convulsions, economic upheavals, and family dramas finds his sense of belonging in wandering the city streets at night selling boza, a thick, spiced, wheat-based, semi-alcoholic winter drink from Ottoman times, and a symbol of all that is sad and beautiful about civilization.Read More
The way we talk about war on Facebook and elsewhere is a bit like the way white people in the suburbs talk about gang violence in the inner cities. Slow, steady shaking of the head from side to side. So sad. Oh, the humanity. Even 9/11 quickly de-rezzed into clichés. If you have to say "never forget," you've probably already forgotten.
What's bugging me, old buddy, is that your political world seems to consist of heroes and villains. Evil companies. Evil governments. Good, hardworking people just trying to feed their families. Things look a lot more complicated than that to me.Read More
Optimism, like imagination, is childish in the best sense of the word. Maybe this is where we get confused, and those of dour or at least more sober temperament conflate optimism with stupidity.Read More
Taking work home isn’t necessarily a problem. Neither is working hard. It’s the performance of work at the expense of real productivity that is foolish, and harmful. Real productivity doesn’t always look anything like "first to work, last to leave."Read More
White or brown, male or female, Western or Eastern, we need to talk openly about the world we live in because evil thrives on silence and secrecy. I’d go so far as to say that it can’t exist without them. The moment you drag evil out into the public square and demand that it have a normal, rational conversation, it starts to look very small and silly indeed.Read More
Culturally and economically, Turkey is at a crossroads, and “Innovation Week 2016” distilled some of its strongest potential for a future as a global leader, as opposed to an embattled, isolated nation whose best minds will seek refuge elsewhere.Read More
Blame the media. Blame Congress. Blame whoever or whatever you like, but we seem to be shouting our opinions into hermetically sealed bubbles filled with people who think exactly like we do. To our “tribe,” as I once heard Glenn Beck nauseatingly call his fan base. There is no sense whatsoever that we are on the same page here, working toward some roughly agreed upon vision of a better future.Read More
Your heroes don't ever fully vanish. You hack them into pieces and absorb their better qualities (along with some of the bad ones, maybe — thanks a lot for the Bushmills, Tom). You're Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, shuffling down the yellow brick road wearing Michael's one glove, Robert's art-fro, and Tom's steampunk goggles. Talismans of power turned dusty old knick-knacks that you can't quite bear to throw away.Read More
It's subtle and pernicious as hell how this happens. How we transform something that's supposed to make us more open and balanced into a shiny new prison of things, jargon, and obligations. How a friend calling you up in a moment of desperate need becomes a barbarian at the gates of your scheduled meditation hour.Read More
Happiness isn’t about feeling ecstatic all the time or floating, untroubled, on a calm, open sea. It’s not about finally reaching some point beyond disappointment and pain. However imperfect you still are, it’s about knowing you’ve got the power to make things better, putting that power to use, and being able to enjoy the results.Read More
Like so many others before me, I realized in college that nobody in the real world (nobody worth knowing, anyway) gave a damn who I was, or wasn’t. And like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I realized that the thing I was seeking had been right there with me, all the time.
So how come twenty years later I'm fretting about why my "follower count" isn't growing fast enough and why ?uestlove hasn't responded to something I tweeted at him three weeks ago?Read More
I don't advise that you go around attacking famous artists you've never met. And I don't mean to suggest that being a drunken ass is somehow romantic. Ask Shane MacGowan or Gary Oldman: It gets real shabby, real fast. But that roller coaster I was on at the time was an extraordinary thing, unlike anything before or since, and this ridiculous incident is bound up with and inseparable from it.Read More
The trouble with productivity as a value is that it treats a morally ambiguous act as a moral good. What, specifically, do we want to be producing more of? From the perspective of the owners of and investors in commercial enterprises, so long as business is going well, more productivity is always better.
I suspect a slave mentality at work here, the transformation of the wage slavery most of us live under into a matter of principle. After all, if we choose to work like dogs and treat it as a form of self-improvement, isn't that a sort of freedom?
Expert advice is compelling. It promises a shortcut to the 10K requisite hours of practice that “mastery” of anything is supposed to require. Everyone of my generation, when stuck at a crossroads, wants Obi Wan in their head going: “Trust your feelings, Luke.”
But it’s a double-edged lightsaber, isn’t it?Read More