Here are the best things I've been reading and thinking about in the last few months:
Janet Malcom's 2010 anatomy of a murder trial in the New Yorker, titled Iphigenia in Forest Hills. Malcolm takes a murder trial — a relatively routine one, despite the presence of some bizarre characters — and makes it read like a novel (not least because it weighs in at 26,000+ words). She touches on every player in the trial, from amateur lawyers to journalists to the enigmatic woman accused of hiring a hitman to take down her ex-husband. "She couldn't have done it and she must have done it." Immersive and addicting.
Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West write amazing love letters.
Ariel Levy profiles Edie Windsor, the fiery, charming 84-year-old woman behind the landmark DOMA win, in the New Yorker.
"The question is, who are they? The answer is, we’re going to find out. We’re going to give them back their identity.” Maria Sacchetti at the Boston Globe writes about the effort to identify 'the unforgotten': those who die crossing the border, their bones unidentified and graves unmarked.
How the Newtown Bee covered the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, by Rachel Aviv. Amazing characters in this piece. “You don’t have to worry—you’re going to write this story and leave,” he told me. “We’re going to be covering this story forever.”
A poem. And another poem.
Leslie Jamison on her tattoo: “'I am human; nothing human is alien to me' — my tattoo wasn’t true for me, not yet. But it was what I most needed to hear, an asymptote, a horizon."
A man is photographing every American Apparel billboard in LA.
Maybe the most devastating piece of journalism I've ever read: David Abel follows the Richards family, whose son Martin was killed in the Boston Marathon bombings, and for whom nothing will ever really return to normal.
"In 1980 you couldn't get a pizza delivered here, but you could see all the stars at night, and everyone agreed that was better. Instead of gated communities and golf courses, there were orange groves and cow pastures for miles, and so Palm Harbor, in many ways, was the perfect place to be a kid. You could tear off on your bicycle and throw chinaberries at each other in the groves. Everybody knew everybody else, and nothing bad ever happened; you just made it home by supper." Decades later, a slain Palm Harbor girl gets a memorial, by Lisa Gartner.
“I consistently felt myself to be not male or female, but the 11-year-old gender: protagonist." Tricia Lockwood!
Keith Gessen's fascinating first-person piece in Vanity Fair about his friend Chad Harbach's 10-year quest to finish writing The Art of Fielding, and the subsequent quest of publication. Great look inside the industry, well-told.
"What Peggy Olson has taught me about doing it my way." Anne Helen Petersen in Buzzfeed.
"One had to peel one's mind from its run of preoccupations: coffee to buy, am I in love, the yellow dress needs cleaning, Tim is unhappy, what is wrong with Marcus, how shall I live my life?"
Great summer music with smart, rambling lyrics: Courtney Barnett. "Avant Gardener" and "Don't Apply Compression Gently."
The Paris Review interview with Matthew Weiner. Of all of them, Peggy is my favorite. I identify with her struggle. She is so earnest and self-righteous and talented and smart, but dumb about personal things. She thinks she’s living the life of “we.” But she’s not. And every time she turns a corner, someone says, “You’re not part of ‘we.’ ” “But you all said ‘we’ the other day.” “Yes, we meant, ‘we white men.’ ”
Roxane Gay is my one of my very favorite people right now, from her live tweets of Barefoot Contessa to her thoughtful interviews to her amazing, amazing Tumblr essays that blend recipes and confessions and catharsis. Here are some I've liked lately: "We lie the most to ourselves." "Truth is not something you want to hear."
"There were many nights when I would worry myself out of a dead sleep and think Christ, I’m not doing it yet, and I’d think, doing what, and I’d think back, the thing I’m supposed to be doing, the special thing, I’m not special yet, and I’m going to die if I don’t do it, and I’d think well what is it but I refused to elaborate." Mallory Ortberg.
Boyhood was really good. Short Term 12 was really really really good.
Other bits: You're using the wrong dictionary! Caity Weaver's 14-hour quest for endless mozz sticks made me cry laughing. Joshua Tree in black and white film. Airports seen from above. This is a PSA: "The Fourth State of Matter" by Jo Ann Beard is out from behind the paywall. Sharon Van Etten's new album is so good. Ojai at dusk.
And, of course, books. The best ones I've read in the last 5 months:
- Last Night: Short Stories by James Salter, my favorite author of the moment.
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Sharp, sensual, defiant, warm... a totally immersive take on race, class and gender. Pair with Adichie's TED talk: "The Danger of a Single Story."
- Just Kids by Patti Smith. Pure poetry. About art, about an era, about a friendship.
- An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. Brutal, amazing, exhausting, fierce in spirit.
- Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith, feat. one of my favorite protagonists in a while.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which was compelling and graceful in its unraveling of race, class, and the ethics of cell culture.
- Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison.
- A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore, master of the individual sentence.
- The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth: just another reason why YA is not something to be dismissed outright.
- Mary Oliver's poetry collection A Thousand Mornings. Like a deep breath.
- Interpreter of Maladies: short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri.
You’ll notice that I haven’t talked about love. Or about happiness. I’ve talked about becoming — or remaining — the person who can be happy, a lot of the time, without thinking that being happy is what it’s all about. It’s not. It’s about becoming the largest, most inclusive, most responsive person you can be. — Susan Sontag, Commencement speech at Vassar, 2003