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5 books, reviewed real quick

25 Oct

Summer 2016 went by far too fast, distracted as we were by Donald Trump and the return of the bare midriff. But even though my ST updates this year have been lackluster at best—it’s my 2017 resolution, I swear—I did actually manage to finish some books this summer. So before the frost fully sets in, here are a few things I done read recently. Continue reading

Timehopping with Homegoing

14 Oct

img_2430As cars and RVs line up to pay the $25 entry fee to Arches National Park, I find myself tempted to assume that what’s ahead will be overwrought. Commercialized. Banal. The minimum-effort visitor to Arches (i.e. any rando with a car) can take an 18-mile drive around the park, at the entrance of which sits a quintessential visitor center—part education, part kitsch. I haven’t seen Delicate Arch yet (Arches’ most iconic landmark) and yet I have: on keychains, t-shirts, laminated posters, and lighters—and painted in great detail on a canvas in my Moab, Utah hotel room.

Once inside, a winding road takes me up a rock cliff, which I notice absently, and then with something bordering on panic. All the relevant alarms start to sound in my brain: YOU ARE DRIVING ON A CLIFF! THE SIDE OF THE CLIFF IS RIGHT THERE! And while I know I’m supposed to be feeling some sort of How Stella Got Her Groove Back exhilaration—I’m here! On my road trip! Seeing natural beauty!—mostly I am terrified. I’ve had a driver’s license for 17 years, but I’ve also seen Final Destination a bunch of times.  Continue reading

The Mandibles is Titanic for the economy, and there isn’t enough room on the door

27 Jul

y450-293For as long as there have been disasters, there have been disaster stories. Sometimes they’re natural, sometimes extraterrestrial, sometimes militaristic. Sometimes a disaster story is only personally devastating—a sudden death, a fatal illness. And sometimes it’s national, or global, or even inter-planetary.

Catastrophes have long since been molded into narrative archetypes, such that any new movie or book or television show centered on the unraveling of human society after [fill in life-changing event here] can be easily folded into a pre-existing canon of work ruminating on those same hypotheticals. There is clearly something in us that experiences a perverse glee imagining the upending of everything, perhaps because such thought experiments cast in blissful relief the advantages and conveniences of a charmed life in the modern, real world.

But even in our imaginations, economic collapse ranks low on the list of fictional conjectures, somewhere between friendly aliens and symbolic single-symptom afflictions (see: mass blindness). The world’s somewhat recent flirtation with financial crisis has produced some emergent economic fiction, but it tends to focus on financial firms—who runs them, how, and whether they should be held accountable (see: Margin Call, ArbitrageMoney Monster.) Rarely is there a story centered on the machinations of an economic undoing as experienced by normal people; usually that kind of homey cast is reserved for plagues or earthquakes or the zombie apocalypse.  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

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

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

5 old favorites to kick off 2016

20 Jan

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 12.43.11 AMMore than once in the past five years of writing this blog (sidebar: five years!) have I searched my own archives for a review of a book I later realize I read pre-2010, in those lackadaisical years before I decided to commit my amateur opining to the Internet. After all, I didn’t have ST in fifth grade, when I read Dean Koontz’s Watchers for the first time and truly fell in love with fiction. Or in ninth grade, when I read 1984 for the first time, thereby cementing a lifelong love affair with dystopian novels. I didn’t have ST the first time I read David Foster Wallace, or David Sedaris, or Chuck Klosterman. I didn’t have it when I read Middlesex, or White Teeth, or Running with Scissors, or when I went on that weird Ray Bradbury bender in late 2009. For five years and roughly 250 books (sidebar: !!!) I’ve had the pleasure of cyberspace ranting in such a way that I can parachute back into a novel I read last year almost as well as one I read last month. Before that though, it’s all just a literary stew: half-memories of plots from one novel cut with the characters from another, vague recollections of life lessons learned or at least considered in the wake of angsty Greater Messages. I know I read things—I must have—and yet all but a chosen few titles have been relegated to the dustbin of reading recollection.

So like Professor Snape (RIP) bequeathing his memories to Harry Potter, I give to you here my own old favorites, to slip into your Pensieve for lazy Sundays or late nights, long bus rides or beach-side binges—or wherever else you remember reading books about which you forget everything except that you loved them.  Continue reading