We’re All Molded by the Pizza Gods, and Other News


On the Shelf

From a seventies-era ad for Straw Hat Pizza.


  • You may want pizza. I grant you that. But it may be that pizza wants you. It may be that the pizza gods have shaped the very essence of your desire, pulling you aside at every possible moment to whisper pizza, pizza, pizza. You want pizza because you can order pizza from a pull-down menu full of fun customizable pizza options. David Rudin argues that our computers and phones, with their machine logic, are an ideal vehicle for pizza, which is widely understood and easy to assemble. After all, he explains, Domino’s “now offers a series of apps, chatbots, and even the option of tweeting an order using the pizza emoji. Some of these ordering options may exist primarily as marketing gimmicks, but their aggregate effect remains notable: any interface to which you have access can likely be used to order pizza. This in part stems from pizza’s popularity, but taste is only a small part of the story: the delivery pizza is highly adaptable to the logic and formatted language of communication interfaces. The typical consumer’s mental model of a pizza—dough with sauce, cheese, and toppings baked in an oven—is quite similar to a machine’s conception of pizza, which is quite similar to how a pizza is actually made. The algorithm for pizza is not complex … All parties in the transaction are imagining the same simple process and speaking from the same restricted phrase book.”

  • Christian Lorentzen embarks on a whistle-stop tour of sex in American literature, which is, today, as fraught an enterprise as ever: “Sex is always with us. But in our literature it is subject to cycles of repression and liberation, ecstasy and shame, arousal and quieting. The history of the American novel is a history of sex, as Leslie Fiedler showed in Love and Death in the American Novel. It may be subtext—Huck and Jim on the raft; Ishmael and Queequeg in bed aboard the Pequod—or it may be an all-too-obvious source of shame, as in The Scarlet Letter. (You could always count on the Puritans to have sex on the brain.) Sex is the impossibility that makes The Sun Also Rises possible: if his equipment worked, Jake Barnes would have settled down with Lady Brett Ashley and soberly made babies. Where’s the fun in that? As Thomas Powers recently pointed out in The New York Review of Books, the big thing on William Faulkner’s mind was ‘the great submerged obsessive guilty burden of slave times, when all whites knew but few said that slaves were not only unpaid laborers but unpaid sexual servants.’ ”
  • Ursula Lindsey celebrates the work of the Egyptian writer Waguih Ghali, who died in 1969, and whose diaries are soon to be published. His editor once described him as “ ‘a libertine, a hanger-on, a sponger, a political dissenter, a depressive, an alcoholic, a gambler, and probably a menace to everyone who let him into their lives,’ ” Lindsey explains: “Ghali’s wonderful (and only) novel, Beer in the Snooker Club, was published by André Deutsch in 1964 … Beer in the Snooker Hall was eventually translated into Arabic, but never became part of the Egyptian canon. Like its hero, the novel is a misfit. Ram is a Coptic Christian in love with an idealistic Jewish heiress; a penniless would-be Communist who enjoys luxury and is surrounded by wealthy relatives and school friends; an English-educated Egyptian alienated from his homeland but also ill at ease in London. He views the hypocrisy of his wealthy relatives with disgust and Nasser’s revolution with cynicism, but most important he refuses to take either of them seriously. ‘I hate tragedy,’ he says.”
  • Inspiration comes from unlikely places. The next time the deck is stacked against you, when it seems that nothing will ever go your way and that failure is your due, think of Baywatch. Chris Lee spoke to Douglas Schwartz and Michael Berk, the show’s cocreators, and learned that it took years of perseverance to turn the series into a global phenomenon: “ ‘The odds were against us … Network executives didn’t think there was a series there. “How many times can lifeguards run out and do CPR?” We got canceled. You don’t come back from cancellation! So we created first-run syndication just to survive’ … Berk and Mr. Schwartz are first cousins who had worked together on TV projects as far back as 1958 (they shot their first as kids). Although they had regrouped after the failure of Baywatch, setting up new pilots at different networks, their uncle Sherwood Schwartz—the syndication savant behind sitcoms like The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island—gave them crucial advice. ‘Uncle Sherwood said, This is your Gilligan’s Island,’ Mr. Schwartz recalled. ‘Don’t blow it! Go and buy back your rights’ … As Baywatch began to take off, the show became singularly identified with its frothy visuals: surf spray licking against lifeguards’ tanned and toned physiques. In another of the show’s defining ironies, partial credit for that motif goes to Mr. Schwartz, who directed more than forty episodes despite a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa that means he is legally blind.”