- Jonathan Franzen investigates the necessary and sufficient features of that classic, oft-maligned form, The New Yorker story: “What made a story New Yorker was its carefully wrought, many-comma’d prose; its long passages of physical description, the precision and the sobriety of which created a kind of negative emotional space, a suggestion of feeling without the naming of it; its well-educated white characters, who could be found experiencing the melancholies of affluence, the doldrums of suburban marriage, or the thrill or the desolation of adultery; and, above all, its signature style of ending, which was either elegantly oblique or frustratingly coy, depending on your taste.” In Cheever’s well-wrought “The Country Husband,” we see “a reminder of why ‘the New Yorker story’ became so dominant. In a country recovering from one war and entering others, living under a nuclear shadow, awaiting large-scale social upheavals, no scream could do justice to the American middle-class predicament. Only understatement could.”
- For ammunition in your war against writer’s block, look to the past—Wycliff Aber Hill’s Ten Million Photoplay Plots, from 1919, offers a superabundance of narrative solutions for whatever ails you. (Okay, it only lists thirty-seven “basic dramatic situations,” which is a far cry from ten million, but use your imagination.) Among such mainstays as “fatal indiscretion” and “adultry [sic] with murder”—those are apparently different—you’ll find deep cuts like “struggle against God” and “involuntary criminal love,” which contains fecund sub-possibilities: “discovery that one has married his own mother … having through the villainous instigation of a third person taken a sister for wife … discovery that one is about to violate, unknowingly, a daughter.” On second thought, just give up—writing is silly, anyway.
- Today in spooky media: Long-Delayed Echoes (LDEs) have plagued radio since their discovery in 1927, and scientists can’t really explain them. They could be signals reflected from outer space; signals reflected terrestrially; or, most plausibly, signs of alien life. “In 1960 Ronald Bracewell proposed in Ronald Bracewell proposed in Nature that if we were to be contacted by an autonomous artificially intelligent alien probe, the messages we received would most likely sound like the echoes … the reflection of our own radio signals back to us being a highly energy efficient mode of establishing contact.”
- For years, American writers have toiled in obscurity, with precious few monuments, commemorative plaques, or wax likenesses devoted to their memory. Well, friend, no more: Chicago is soon to open the first-ever American Writers Museum, where, god willing, the fraught history of our art-form, like so many before it, will be boiled down into propaganda and shoveled merrily down the throats of our youth. And if you’re worried that a museum about words will look too much like a library—perish the thought—allow me to allay your fears: “The museum will focus on using new media and technology in exhibitions, not only to differentiate it from a library, but also to engage in contemporary forms of writing from social media to digital journalism.” That is, not much writing will be featured at the American Writers Museum.
- Fact: “an unprecedented six cooking-related books by black women will have been published by the end of this month.” If six doesn’t sound like many to you, remember that the tradition is rooted in memorization, not record: “Plenty of my African American friends marvel over their family elders’ ability to cook from memory, processes so rote that mistakes are rare. But history is never so simple. Memorizing recipes or cooking without them has its roots in slavery: The need for cooking aptitude predated the existence of legal literacy for enslaved kitchen workers—let alone the existence of cookbooks by free black authors … cookbooks by black authors have steadily trickled to market in far fewer numbers than titles by white authors.”
The vanity of the zombie apocalypse.
There are few things as narcissistic as an apocalypse fantasy. The apocalypse doesn’t mean the end of the world, just the end of humankind, and considering such a fate can lead us into a sentimental peace with the present day. Suddenly, in spite of all its flaws—flaws that might be harder to accept in less dire circumstances—the world seems worth keeping intact. In recent years, zombies have been a catalyst of fictional doom in every conceivable manner, from popular horror and comedy to moral parable and literary send-up. They offer us freedom from death in exchange for our subjective consciousness and social identity. But we’d sooner have death, if it means our egos can be spared for a bit.
The Last of Us, a PlayStation game whose latest version was released last month, is a story about a zombie apocalypse, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Its creative director, Neil Druckmann, said in a 2011 interview that he wanted the game to be more of a love story, one between a middle-aged man and a fourteen-year-old girl. So maybe it’s more accurate to describe The Last of Us as a story about a kind of taboo love that requires a zombie apocalypse to normalize—and, by extension, a story that, through love, gives the fungal zombification of humanity a silver lining. Our species may be on the verge of extinction, but if we’re able to fall in love and learn a little about ourselves along the way, it can’t be all bad. Love is where all educated people go to bury their narcissism. Read More