The Mystery of Garfield’s Gender, and Other News


On the Shelf

The ungendered, unreal feline. Photo: Antomoro


  • In the third century B.C., Alexandria had one hell of a library—the finest center of learning in the ancient world, an iconic metaphor for humanity’s quest for knowledge, et cetera. Then it was burned. After that, the city lacked a decent library for, oh, several centuries … then several more … then a few more after that … until, in 2002, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina opened, restoring the promise of antiquity. That library sprung from the efforts of Mostafa A. H. el-Abbadi, an Egyptian historian who died last month at eighty-eight. Jonathan Guyer writes, “Professor Abbadi’s dream of a new library—a modern version of the magnificent center of learning of ancient times—could be traced to 1972 … ‘If we want to justify our claim to be connected spiritually with the ancient tradition, we must follow the ancient example by starting a great universal library’ … When Nixon visited Egypt in 1974, he and President Anwar el-Sadat rode by train to Alexandria’s ancient ruins to observe their faded grandeur. When Nixon asked about the ancient library’s location and history, no one in the Egyptian entourage had an answer. [Professor Abbadi realized] how deeply the ancient library resonated, not only with Egyptians but also with many around the world who shared his scholarly thirst.”

  • Forget your readerly anxieties; read any book you want, whenever you want, for however long you want. Dan Dixon argues against literary evangelism: “The silent reader is an enigma … This is why social media fetishizes books as objects. It is easier to express (and inhabit) a reading aesthetic than it is to describe reading … Reading is multifarious—if we were to develop a list of features common to every literary experience it would be very short—yet people want to make rules about books. We are driven to evaluate them, and through them ourselves … I have seen and experienced the discomfort associated with failing to understand or finish a text, and the impulse to measure and rank and explain. Teaching literature often means diagnosing and circumnavigating these insecurities … That we turn to books in times of great emotional need, during political crises, and to find a way through mourning speaks to their power. But, as with friendships, they do not need to be life changing to be valuable.”
  • Kate Moore’s book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women tells of the teenage girls who worked in radium-dial factories during World War I, painting glow-in-the-dark numbers onto watches and airplane instruments. The paint made them literally glow as they went home in the evening—and, not long after, caused an abundance of health problems, leading them to die of radiation poisoning. Moore says, “[The radium] was luminous. It was emitting radioactivity. They thought of it as magical. In the book, I quote the husband of one of the girls who was a dial painter. He writes about seeing her smock from work hanging up in the bedroom and it gives him the feeling of ‘a ghost bouncing around on the wall’ …  I think they did think the girls were expendable and disposable. The thing that got me was when Arthur Roeder, the president of the United States Radium Corporation, was on the stand, he was asked, ‘What was the first case that you knew of?’ He says, ‘I don’t remember the name.’ Essentially, you’ve killed these people and you can’t remember their name. That for me was stunning.”
  • The romantic comedy, for so long the vessel holding our dreams of lifelong love, is turning its back on the concept of soul mates. Danielle Friedman writes, “After decades of rom-coms pushing the idea that our love lives are controlled by destiny, that a singular person completes us, it seems we’re in the throes of a soul mate backlashThe Good Place’s creator, Michael Schur (who also created Parks and Rec), suggests this is so ripe for parody because it’s something we want so badly. It’s ‘sort of the central dream of our human existence, that there is a person floating around somewhere who will fulfill you in every magical way and make you feel whole,’ Schur told me in an e-mail. ‘I get it, though. Existence can be alienating and lonely, being (as we are) trapped inside our own brains, so it’s only natural we would both individually and collectively believe in the idea that there is a kind of missing puzzle piece out there somewhere.’ ”