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

Your Co-Op Board Has Nothing on J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise

31 Mar

ballard_high_rise_coverIt’s been almost a decade since I hauled all of my worldly possessions from a dorm room in the Bronx to my first apartment in Brooklyn, and yet my lengthening tenure as a New Yorker is still missing so many iconic experiences. I’ve never been mugged (knocks on all of the wood). I’ve never taken a carriage ride through Central Park (and won’t, ever. I promise, mom.) And I’ve never lived in a building with more than three floors, let alone in the kind of skyscraper that romantic comedies would have me believe all ambitious and potentially woo-able 30-somethings call home.

While a part of me—the part that filters StreetEasy results by view—looks longingly at the city’s many residential towers, I also find the idea of large buildings claustrophobic, like living on a sold-out flight or in a subway car at rush hour. Even though NYC itself is a perpetually thrumming hive of human activity, there’s still something intimate about returning home to a building of fewer than 20 people, regardless of whether you watch each other’s children or (in my case) nod hello once every four months. After all, to each structurally bound clan their own. Continue reading

Delicious Foods, Subpar Parental Leave

24 Mar

41SkNiXyOvL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_In several major ways, James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods sets itself up for failure. After all, the book’s main character, Eddie, is discovered in its first sentence spearheading his own vehicular escape from a farm—but has no hands. No matter how the rest of Hannaham’s second novel plays out, it is from the inaugural page a story catching up to a conclusion, a narrative climax in pursuit of rising action.

On top of starting at the end, Hannaham also employs a narrator I wouldn’t normally indulge: Scotty, also known as crack-cocaine, who relays the story of Eddie and his mother, the Scotty-addicted Darlene, as though opining on the circumstances of old friends—which, in some respects, Darlene kind of is. Wry and observant, Scotty is the anchor of this ambitious book, the slice of novelty that cuts through even its most tedious moments. Continue reading

I Would Not Have Survived the ’70s and Other Lessons From Please Kill Me

17 Mar

51G3XZDQ5ALEarlier this week, Joseph Corré—son of designer Vivienne Westwood and late Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren—announced festive Thanksgiving plans. On November 26, Corré says he’s going to burn his entire collection of punk memorabilia, worth an estimated $7 million.

The bonfire coincides with the 40th anniversary of the release of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” and is meant to be a protest of more official 40th Anniversary of Punk celebrations in London. “The Queen giving 2016, the Year of Punk, her official blessing is the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard,” Corré said this week. “Rather than a movement for change, punk has become like a fucking museum piece or a tribute act.” He’s urging others to burn their punk memorabilia as well. All in all, a pretty punk move.

The birth of punk music may go back 40 years, but one of the genre’s most definitive histories was published a bit more recently: Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Continue reading

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