I’ve been keeping a short stack of magazines that I thought I might write about, which led to a juxtaposition between two 80s rock icons that has been haunting me.
The backstory: The first album I remember my parents buying was Michael Jackson’s Thriller, followed not long after by Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. The variety of the music and how relevant it was made them different from all the other vinyl in the record cabinet. I remember being entranced by the politics of “Born in the USA” — he was allowed to say stuff like that in a song?? Continue reading
Last November, “In the picture” profiled the political and collaborative street art of JR. I found his work in disenfranchised communities in Brazil particularly striking. (My original comments.)
JR just completed his first installation in DC: A paste-up mural called “I am a man.” It uses imagery from the civil-rights movement, and is by an intersection that was one of the flash points of the movement here in DC. The Washington Post has an interview and photo gallery.
If you’re in town, check it out at 14th and T streets NW.
This summer’s fiction issue is the first I can recall dedicated to one genre of fiction. Exciting for me – I grew up on science fiction, but I’ve lost touch with the genre. I was eager to see how it had developed. But I finished the issue still wondering. Continue reading
In Jake Halpern’s “Secret of the Temple,” we learn right away that in Kerala, India, things don’t work the way we’re used to:
Deities can actually own property in India, though the law treats them as minors and they must be represented by an official guardian.
The differences don’t stop there. The center of this piece is the story of a temple that could hold treasure almost beyond imagining — and the general resistance to unlocking the doors that might conceal it.
In spite of the area’s poverty and the immense riches already found in the temple, local sentiment seems to be to leave well enough alone. Halpern also introduces a smaller, parallel story, common in India: A historian shows him a box he inherited. His grandfather had kept his most valuable possessions in it. The historian had not opened the box.
I’ve always considered the urge to open things to be a general human trait. Any five-year-old knows, two minutes into the story, that Pandora will open that box, or that Bluebeard’s wife will unlock the forbidden door.
But maybe the inability to keep things shut isn’t a general trait. After all, the Westerners who created these stories were immigrants and settlers, people who, for one reason or another, couldn’t leave an acre unexplored (or unexploited). Maybe we are culturally – and, possibly, genetically — predisposed to open boxes.
Just like the tales of Chinese people meeting the challenges of modern life, I love the possibilities this idea opens for a world that’s different from the one we have today.
I feel like a paternalistic culture voyeur saying this, but it’s true — I love reading The New Yorker‘s stories about life in China. (Can I legitimize my interest by mentioning a paper I wrote in grad school, on managing pollution from millions more Chinese driving cars?)
Evan Osnos’s piece “The Love Business,” from this spring, is a perfect example why I love these stories. Continue reading
If you don’t usually read the letters to the editor, you missed a couple of important (and fun!) ones early this summer — I can’t remember seeing a writer get clobbered quite so thoroughly before.
In the original piece, “The English Wars,” Joan Acocella wrote about a recent entry in the class-laden war between the prescriptivists (“One must use this word this way!!”) and descriptivists (“But here’s how people actually use this word!”). She closes by telling us that both sides are moving toward the center. But she apparently based her conclusion on a pair of misreadings. Continue reading
Do you follow “Spots”? They are the little illustrations that appear scattered through the magazine. (If they are new to you, more about them here.) Here are a few that caught my eye since spring:
For the April 9 issue, R. Kikuo Johnson drew a series of people wearing hoodies.
Whatever we end up thinking about the Trayvon Martin case, I’ll remain impressed with the quick and creative response through illustration.
Don’t worry, I won’t post about every issue since early April, when I started a break from this blog. (That would be a great way to get 6 more months behind…!) So, just highlights.
Let’s start with covers that caught my attention: Continue reading
Some of you have noticed my long blogging silence. This spring and summer, my life was taken over by several big projects that all hit at once. I’m almost recovered! And to mark my re-entry into New Yorker-land, I wanted to share a bit about one of the projects.
I’ve written about the installation as a whole elsewhere. In short, the installation explored the interface between the digital and physical worlds. As part of it, I incorporated my favorite New Yorker articles about digital communications.
The selections were meant to represent the whole range of formats in the magazine: Continue reading
“The Transition,” which traces the events of the day that Lyndon B. Johnson became president, is a riveting excerpt from a book by Robert Caro that comes out today.
Caro has written extensively about LBJ, and all of it is in what I think of as my historical blind spot — that awkward period that was too recent to covered in high school history, but still before I was born. I learned more about Renaissance Italy than about the presidential assassination that shaped the political scene of my childhood.
But I gather that even for those who lived that day, this is fresh perspective. The Week has a nice summary of five revelations from the excerpt, including that LBJ thought his career was over. I guess so much attention goes to the charismatic, martyred president that not much thought gets spared for the guy who took his place.
Caro’s real-time recounting of events is realistically disorienting. Of that day in 1963 in Dallas, a Secret Service agent said, “We didn’t really know what was happening.” The governor had been shot, as well as the president, and the Secret Service didn’t know if other officials were targets, too. It brought back my own memories of Sept. 11, 2001. We know so well now that four planes were taken, it’s easy to forget that for a while, we thought it could be a lot more.
And the way Caro brought together different narrative threads really worked for me. I had to feel bad for the guy who used to be “Master of the Senate” and thought he had ruined his career with bad decisions. But even though I felt for him, I was taken aback by some of his actions and words that morning.
I was left with a vivid picture of a real person, and I’m still not quite sure what to think of him.