Pawnee, Indiana was a place of hope and absurd dreams. It was a place where meager, government officials with outsized personalities could stimulate change—no matter how small. With Leslie Knope and her eccentric band of misfits on the case (yes, even Jerry), everything seemed just a little more possible. So as we bid farewell to Pawnee—"First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity"—may we never forget the most important lesson of all: to always "treat yo self."
A few weeks ago I spent a morning at the Norman Mailer archives at the University of Texas looking through the research materials for The Executioner's Song, Mailer's 1979 account of the life and death of Utah murderer Gary Gilmore. Around me, students in white gloves turned the pages of leather-bound books so fragile they must have been ancient or holy, perhaps even both.
The Academy Awards air Sunday night, which means a lot of moderately talented (white) people will win awards for, basically, reciting a handful of lines that were only somewhat convincing because of special effects and a months-long editing process. Did you really think American Sniper was that good? (It was not.) Even more disheartening, but not totally surprising: the winners are selected by a group of crazy and racist Academy voters. Isn't showbiz great?
Back in January, surrealist Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami announced his intention to start an advice column on his website that would allow him to correspond directly with readers, and possibly help them solve their life's problems. Since then, your quirky uncle Haruki has done just that, answering more than 5,000 questions about everything from love to food to pop culture.
Zadie Smith, writer of famous words, still uses her Yahoo email account from 1996. "In there is probably the closest thing to an honest account of my life, at least in writing. That's me, for good and bad, with all the kind deeds and dirty lies and domestic squabbles [and] online fashion purchases."
More than one person has told me that they've become physically affected while reading a Roberto Bolano novel. The symptoms are always the same: agitation, irritability, a sense of dread or impending doom, and, finally, exhilaration. His prose has a haunting magic—even in the mundane—leaving the reader unmoored and set adrift.
There are few good journalists left. David Carr—the New York Times media columnist, veteran reporter, and author—was one of the last good journalists. I didn’t know him personally (we met twice on different occasions last year; he was kind and attentive, gracious with his time) but as a writer I have followed his reporting and criticism through the years. Writing should be work; it should inform and challenge readers, but also push the writer to voice uneasy truths and confront his or her own limitations. I think Carr understood that better than most writers. He wrestled with his demons, sometimes publicly and on the page, but never lost sight of what we journalists and editors hold dear above all else: truth. Thursday night, as news spread of his passing, Gawker CEO Nick Denton captured Carr’s magnitude in all its grandeur. “A light went out,” he tweeted.
If it feels like forever ago that Real Man of Genius Jonathan Franzen was extolling the virtues of obscure German pessimists, bitching about Teutonic women who wouldn't sleep with him, and picking lit fights with happy-endings cognoscente Jennifer Weiner, there is good news: Franzen has more thoughts on Weiner.
As a young aspiring science-fiction writer, I've always considered Octavia Butler my spirit guide. I went to sleep and woke up with Kindred, the Parables, and Wild Seed and tried to recruit everyone in all of my English classes to her following. Turns out my teachers weren't all so interested in the rich tapestries of history that she wove and their hard reckonings with the sins of racism and misogyny. My fanhood remained underground: a collection of dog-eared books, a failed book signing, and a series of unpolished blog posts wondering why science-fiction's reading lists and movie scripts never seemed to remember her.
Soda is bad for you. Sugary soft drinks like Coca-Cola, for example, have been linked to depression, diabetes, osteoporosis, and are known to accelerate aging. Last year, along with the American Beverage Association and Alliance for a Healthier Generation, several major beverage corporations decided to "promote smaller portions as well as zero and low calorie offerings, and provide calorie counts on vending machines, soda fountains, and retail coolers." Why? Because we're a nation of voracious consumers—clothes, TV, food, among other cravings—and, over time, soft drinks like Coke had become a leading contributor to America's obesity epidemic. What, then, should the purpose of a mega-corporation like Coca-Cola be? To sell a product and create a "lifestyle" for consumers? To profit at all costs? To make sure its customers don't die from heart disease? Or, perhaps, to make the internet a "more positive place" via an ASCII art Twitter bot? Whatever it is, it's certainly not the latter.
“What people don’t understand about our lives,” begins author and poet Jason Reynolds, “is that the normalcy of the black person in this country is magic.” Last year, Reynolds released his debut novel, When I Was the Greatest—it follows the life of a young black male growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn—and its publication caused tremors in libraries and classrooms across the country. His recently released sophomore work, The Boy in the Black Suit, returns its gaze to Bed-Stuy and follows 17-year-old Matt, who is grappling with the loss of his mother as navigates his final year of high school.
To summarize: Brooklyn continued its transformation into a refuge for the one percent. Rafael Nadal was upset and Novak Djokovic advanced to the Australian Open final. Marshawn Lynch Marshawn Lynched. A Detroit rapper partnered with a Toronto rapper and released a powerhouse of a song. Jared Leto FLAME CAAAAARR became a thing. Official Government Person John Kerry broke the neighborhood social contract and now owes the fair city of Boston $50. Longtime Illuminati chairwoman Oprah turned 61 (she's still got it!). Soon-to-be Attorney General Loretta Lynch put on a masterclass at the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings. Taylor Swift and Nick Jonas shared some DMs. Babies bugged out. Oh, and crazy Uncle Johnny started drinking again. What a week.
When Robert Repino pitched Mort(e) to agents he was told, "This book can't make up its mind about what it is," but it turns out they were wrong because Repino's debut is weirdly fantastic. "I like to think that maybe it's time for some science fiction books that aren't just, you know, a white guy on a quest." Agreed.
In a 2013 interview with Joe Fassler, horror fiction maestro Stephen King reflected on the magnitude of a novel’s introductory sentence. “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story,” he said. “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” The first sentence sets the stage—however long or short the text—and hints at the “narrative vehicle” by which the writer will propel the book forward. King continued: