I’m already mentally casting Emma Cline’s The Girls

19 Jul

the-girls-cline-9780812998603On paper, Emma Cline is the kind of girl I want to punch. A stylish waif with a successful middle-part and piercing blue eyes. The owner of a near-monochromatic wardrobe that’s both simple and defiant in its simplicity. The recipient of a $2 million advance, at the age of 25, for her first book (and two to come), the end result of a bidding war between 12 major publishers. The author of a debut novel whose film rights were snapped up by Scott Rudin before the manuscript even sold. Cline is living a charmed life, a romantic-comedy-set-in-Manhattan kind of life, an I-live-in-a-shed-for-the-novelty-of-it kind of life. I want to find her wherever she’s tapping away on her laptop at twee essays for vaunted literary magazines and punch her right below that middle-part.

There’s only one problem with this plan—several, if you count the unlikelihood of my finding her shed or her even still living in the shed, or my managing to punch anyone in the face, arguably unprovoked, without consequence. The problem is that The Girls, the novel loosely based on the Charles Manson murders, for which Cline received said $2 million advance, is actually quite good. Seamlessly, thoughtfully, annoyingly good. So good I want to punch her in the face anyway for it being so good.  Continue reading

Barbarian Days is an actual surfin’ safari

30 Jun

51+9Q4THKRL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_For a sport so culturally linked to stoners and burnouts, surfing requires a surprising amount of energy. Physical, to be sure—all that paddling and balancing and trying not to drown—but also intellectual, and perhaps emotional too. There are seemingly infinite permutations of reefs, winds, cloud-covers and currents to assess, and a truly passionate surfer’s life is inextricably linked to these permutations, to whether their combination on any given day means everything must be dropped, every obligation sidelined, in the interest of catching a few good waves.

For reasons that have to do mostly with my own lack of prowess at anything requiring corporeal exertion, sporting memoirs aren’t usually my jam. The intricacies of a physical activity (save, I guess, one) feel duly rendered to me as text, even though I know there are hundreds of books that arguably disprove this opinion. But as athletic-endeavor memoirs go, William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days made a pretty strong case for itself—it was on a bunch of “Best of 2015” lists last year, aaaannnd it won a Pulitzer.  Continue reading

H Is for Hawk, U is for ugly cry

14 Jun

18803640By all logical measures, we should not be fucking with hawks. Some of the most intelligent birds on the planet, hawks are strong and curious and fast as all hell. They have talons and beaks and the evolutionary advantage of being able to claw your face off and fly away before you even realize you’re bleeding.

And yet, against all odds, hawks also have a long and storied history of being tight with humans. Falconry is a profession (hobby? calling?) dating back to 700 BC, and there is to this day a uniquely talented community of people who raise and train hawks, people whose fists feel empty without the weight of an avian predator, people who live in a world where tucking a dead rabbit into the back pocket of your jeans is just a regular Saturday.  Continue reading

Everyone in Private Citizens is the freaking worst

26 May

617BpkFW0aL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_If populating your novel with unlikable main characters can be considered a bold move, then Tony Tulathimutte is a downright badass. Cory, Linda, Will and Henrik—the four pseudo-friends at the center of Tulathimutte’s Private Citizens—are some of the least likable contributions to fiction that I’ve ever come across.

Tulathimutte’s first novel, PC is a quarter-life crisis saga blended with a send-up of Silicon Valley, specifically 2007 Silicon Valley, when the influx of tech capital was just starting to turn insidious. Cory is a disaffected nonprofit worker, on the front lines of the chasm between heady liberalism and tangible altruism, who can’t help but preach about the perils of [insert cause here] to her uninterested friends. Linda is a party girl turned addict, hamstrung in her life goals by an aggravating combination of pride and inertia. Will is a successful Asian computer programmer with a complex about being Asian and a computer programmer. And Henrik is a bumbling bipolar mess, vaguely tolerable only by virtue of how awful everyone else is. Continue reading

If Harry Potter drank, had sex and was a bit of an asshole

13 May

magicians_lev_grossmanConsidering how many “schooling” options there are IRL—you can get a certificate in everything from beer judgment to survivalism—it’s surprising there isn’t more magical education in fiction. Hogwarts, of course, and “Magic School” on Charmed (really, Charmed? we couldn’t have stretched on the naming a bit?) There’s apparently a magic school in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and I would argue that enough shit went down at that high school in The Craft that it should qualify.

But by and large, the world of magical schooling was conquered, nay, slayed, by J.K. Rowling. Her blockbuster Harry Potter series—estimated book sales: 7 jillion to date—has made the entire genre feel prematurely old hat. (Old…Sorting Hat, if you will.) For Lev Grossman, journalist and author of otherwise innocuously plotted literary fiction, to conjure up Brakebills, the magical school slash origin story of Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, was a bold stare into the eyes of potential obscurity.  Continue reading

Disrupted is a Silicon Valley spinoff waiting to happen

21 Apr

51oGIHrA43L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_The orange penises are a bad omen.

It is April 15, 2013, Dan Lyons’s first day at HubSpot, a digital marketing company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a lot of hype and a decent chance of going public. A journalist by trade, Lyons has recently been laid off by Newsweek and, after a blog-editing stint, is joining HubSpot in hopes of cashing in on the startup gold rush he has spent so much time writing about. His job title, “marketing fellow,” is not impressive, but at least it’s academic-sounding, and Lyons was pleasantly surprised by his interviews with HubSpot’s chief marketing officer, pseudonym Cranium, and its founders, MIT graduates Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah.

But now it’s the big day, and Lyons finds himself waiting at HubSpot’s front desk while a baby-faced receptionist makes call after call in search of someone, anyone, to come retrieve this middle-aged man claiming to be a new employee. Lyons, 52, looks around, at the orange walls and orange desks, at the uniformly 20-something HubSpotters with their orange T-shirts and orange laptop stickers, at the ubiquitous HubSpot logo, a circle with three knobbed arms meant to resemble an orange sprocket. “I have no idea what the sprocket is meant to convey, nor do I know if anyone realizes that the three arms with bulbous tips look like three little orange dicks,” Lyons writes in Disrupted: My Misadventure in The Start-Up Bubble. “These orange cocks are all over the place.” Continue reading

This is what xenophobia looks like

5 Apr

9780374277895Americans are enamored of assimilation. After all, if our country is the best, the greatest, the most spectacular in the world, then why wouldn’t its newest residents want to be a part of that? Who doesn’t want to fit in with the best?

But when we demand that immigrants assimilate, what are we really asking them to get on board with? Chain stores and fast-food restaurants? Income-inequality and underhanded racism? We want immigrants to learn our culture, but only a fraction of American culture isn’t appropriated from somewhere else. We want them to learn English, to ensure that their kids fit in with our kids, but it’s our kids, American kids, who are bombing in test scores against students in other countries. We act like the path to assimilation is laid out in lights, warm friendly lights—but in practice it’s a difficult road with plentiful setbacks. And at the end of it? Well then you’re an American. Gone are the head scarves and exotic foods of your past life, swapped out for fanny packs and frozen chicken nuggets. Assimilation to many Americans means not mutual respect for myriad cultures, but sameness. For a country so embroiled in its own partisanship, in its own divisions and drawing of battle lines, methinks we spend far too much time expounding self-righteously on the importance of cohesion.

There are a few endgames to this kind of aggressive insistence on cultural (or religious or national) unity, none of them pretty. Assimilation can be forced, at a government level, through bans and regulations that chip away at the traditions of a particular culture. Or assimilation can be won (or lost) through fear, through a zeitgeist of intolerance that suggests otherness is to be avoided, otherness is potentially dangerous, otherness should be shamed. In this worldview, allowing otherness means diluting us. Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 23,396 other followers