Saturday, January 31, 2015

the last book I ever read (Roz Chast's Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, excerpt five)

from 2014 National Book Award Finalist Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast:

On April 3, 2009, my mother had a little 97th birthday celebration in her room. Goodie got her out of bed and dressed her and brushed her hair. My cousin and her husband came. My daughter came, and a friend of mine came. Plus me, plus Goodie.

She asked me, “Am I 100?” I told her no, she was 97. She wanted a Reuben sandwich. I got her one. She ate it.



Friday, January 30, 2015

the last book I ever read (Roz Chast's Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, excerpt four)

from 2014 National Book Award Finalist Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast:

I asked my mother what she wanted for dinner. She wanted pizza. I ordered pizza. Bill, my high-school-age daughter, my mother, and I sat around the kitchen counter and quietly ate some pizza. It felt surreal: I’m eating pizza. My father just died. Do you want another slice?



Thursday, January 29, 2015

the last book I ever read (Roz Chast's Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, excerpt three)

from 2014 National Book Award Finalist Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast:

Less than a week later, I found a place about ten minutes from my house in Connecticut. It was important to take action. I had to move fast before they could change their minds. It was nice and clean and sickeningly expensive. But convenient. For me. And nice. And clean. They had an opening, too.

My parents agreed to come up for a “trial stay." They packed overnight bags, put on their coats and hats, and locked the door behind them.

It was February 23, 2007, and it was the last time they ever saw their apartment.



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snowmageddon 2015, Day Two, Astoria/Long Island City, New York (There's Got To Be A Morning After)

9:20 a.m.

10:30 a.m.





the last book I ever read (Roz Chast's Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, excerpt one)

from 2014 National Book Award Finalist Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast:

But they weren’t asking for help, and I wasn’t volunteering. In 1990, my husband, our three-year-old son, and I (pregnant with our soon-to-be-born daughter) moved out of the city to the suburbs of Connecticut where there was more space, and greenery, and good public school. If doing right by our kids meant abandoning my then-78-year-old parents, so be it. The longer we were there, the more impossible schlepping into Brooklyn seemed. If they wanted to see us so damn much, let THEM make the trip!!!



Snowmageddon 2015, Day One, Astoria/Long Island City, New York

3:30 p.m.

4:40 p.m.

5:30 p.m.

6:40 p.m.

8:00 p.m.

9:15 p.m.

10:00 p.m.

11:15 p.m.





Monday, January 26, 2015

the last book I ever read (Phil Klay's Redeployment, excerpt nine)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Fiction Redeployment by Phil Klay:

On the screen, a line curled around a school building—Fairhope High School, I guess. It looked like the images of Iraqis queuing to vote during those first elections, everyone was patient and serious. This was Vockler’s wake. The whole community had come out to mourn. I thought I caught a glimpse of Boylan in his Alphas, but the video quality was too poor to tell. I closed the computer.

There was no alcohol in the apartment, and I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t know any vets in the city. I didn’t want to talk to any civilians. As I lay on my mattress, struggling with a violence you might as well call grief, I realized why no one had thought to inform me of Vockler’s death. I was in New York. I was out of the Corps. I wasn’t a Marine anymore.



Sunday, January 25, 2015

the last book I ever read (Phil Klay's Redeployment, excerpt eight)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Fiction Redeployment by Phil Klay:

I want to smoke a cigarette. I’ve got a pack in my pocket, my last from a carton I picked up visiting friends in the Carolinas. In this city, smoking’ll kill your bank account way before it kills your lungs.



Saturday, January 24, 2015

the Bob Dylan in New York anniversary



On January 24, 1961, Bob Dylan performed at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. It was Dylan's very first performance in New York City.

Four years ago, for the 50th anniversary, videographer Jeremy Krinsley and I put together a four-part series of Dylan landmarks for the Village Voice. The above video contains all four of those shoots "fused together."

Feel free to leave the name of your favorite Bob Dylan album in the comments (mine's Blood on the Tracks).

Happy Dylan Day.



the last book I ever read (Phil Klay's Redeployment, excerpt seven)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Fiction Redeployment by Phil Klay:

Aiden Russo was the first of the suicides. He did it on leave, with his personal handgun. After Russo’s death, the incoming chaplain, Reverend Brooks, gave a suicide prevention speech to the battalion. In his speech, he claimed America’s suicide rates were a result of Roe v. Wade. Apparently, abortion was degrading our society’s respect for the sanctity of life. Brooks was one of the hordes of born-again chaplains coming not from established churches, but from the loosely organized Independent Baptist Churches. My RP told me that after his talk, the Marines joked about how they thought I was going to punch him out mid-speech.

Five months later, Albert Beilin killed himself with pills. Both Beilin and Russo were from Charlie Company.

A year later, José Ray, back in Iraq for the third time, shot himself in the head.



Friday, January 23, 2015

the last book I ever read (Phil Klay's Redeployment, excerpt six)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Fiction Redeployment by Phil Klay:

“I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to keep Marines alive,” the sergeant major said, haranguing the men only a few days afterward, “and the fact of the matter is, when a Marine comes in and he wasn’t wearing his PPE when he was hit, because it’s hot, and he doesn’t want to wear it while he’s at the OP, I’m the one who’s got to say the thing nobody wants to say.”

Levin had been hit in the neck. PPE wouldn’t have helped. But I guess the sergeant major, like most people, needed death to be sensible. A reason for each casualty. I’d seen the same feeble theodicy at funerals in the civilian world. If lung disease, the deceased should be a smoker. If heart disease, a lover of red meat. Some sort of causality, no matter how tenuous, to sanitize it. As if mortality is a game with rules where the universe is rational and the God watching over maneuvers us like chess pieces, His fingers deep into the sides of the world.



Thursday, January 22, 2015

the last book I ever read (Phil Klay's Redeployment, excerpt five)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Fiction Redeployment by Phil Klay:

When I asked him why he felt the way he did, I got a long list. Since the deaths of two of his friends six weeks before, he’d been having mood swings, angry outbursts. He’d been punching walls, finding it impossible to sleep unless he quadrupled the maximum recommended dosage of sleeping pills, and when he did sleep he had nightmares about the deaths of his friends, about his own death, about violence. It was a pretty complete PTSD checklist—intense anxiety, sadness, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and, most powerfully, an overwhelming feeling of utter helplessness.

“I know I won’t make it out of combat alive,” he said. “Every day, I have no choice. They send me to get myself killed. It’s f*cking pointless.”



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

the last book I ever read (Phil Klay's Redeployment, excerpt four)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Fiction Redeployment by Phil Klay:

Not long after Sepion’s death, one of the Divine Office’s morning prayers was Psalm 144: “Blessed by the Lord, my help, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.” Kneeling against my rack in my spare little trailer, I faltered. I turned back to the previous prayer, from Daniel: “Today there is no prince, no prophet, no leader, no holocaust, no sacrifice. No offering, no incense, no first-fruits offered to you--no way to obtain your mercy.”

I stopped reading and tried to pray with my own words. I asked God to protect the battalion from further harm. I knew He would not. I asked Him to bring abuses to light. I knew He would not. I asked Him, finally, for grace.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

the last book I ever read (Phil Klay's Redeployment, excerpt three)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Fiction Redeployment by Phil Klay:

And Rachel was gone. I’d seen it coming. She was a pacifist in high school, so once I signed my enlistment papers the thing we had going went on life support.

She would have been perfect. She was melancholy. She was thin. She always thought about death, but she didn’t get off on it like the goth kids. And I loved her because she was thoughtful and kind. Even now, I won’t pretend she was especially good-looking, but she listened, and there’s a beauty in that you don’t often find.



Monday, January 19, 2015

the last book I ever read (Phil Klay's Redeployment, excerpt two)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Fiction Redeployment by Phil Klay:

One convoy we stopped for two hours for an IED that turned out to just be random junk, wires not going anywhere but looking suspicious as hell. I was chugging Rip Its, jacked up so much on caffeine that my hands were shaking, but my eyelids kept sliding down like they were hung with weights. It’s a crazy feeling when your heart rate is 150 miles per hour and your brain is sliding into sleep and you know when the convoy gets going that if you miss something, it will kill you. And your friends.

When I got back I smashed my PSP with a rock.



Sunday, January 18, 2015

the last book I ever read (Phil Klay's Redeployment, excerpt one)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Fiction Redeployment by Phil Klay:

I wanted Vicar around, but I couldn’t bear to look at him. I guess that’s why I let Cheryl drag me out of the house that weekend. We took my combat pay and did a lot of shopping. Which is how America fights back against the terrorists.



Saturday, January 17, 2015

the last book I ever read (Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, excerpt ten)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos:

In the years of the boom, people had picked up more reasons to fear the law than to trust it. Growing up at a time when law enforcement jobs were sometimes sold to the highest bidder, and judges were regularly available to be bribed, people were bound to be wary. When the China scholar Wang Zhengxu surveyed people in 2008, he found “significantly lower trust in the government and the Party among the post-reform citizens.” Police were single-minded in achieving convictions, and a series of cases was coming to light that suggested the consequences of haste. A man named She Xianglin served eleven years for the murder of his estranged wife—until she returned one day to visit her family. It turned out that she had moved to another province and remarried; the defendant, who had been tortured for ten days and ten nights into a false confession, was released in 2005. A study of Chinese attitudes published in the journal Science in 2013 found that young Chinese men and women were, in the researchers’ words, “less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, and less conscientious individuals.”



Friday, January 16, 2015

the last book I ever read (Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, excerpt nine)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos:

For all Mao’s efforts, folk religion still thrived in every corner of life. The first autumn after we moved in, I heard the sound of scratching and digging in the ceiling above my desk. I didn’t mind, but after a few weeks my office began to smell a bit like a zoo. Through the window one night, I saw a furry blond creature dart up the tree and disappear into a hole in the roof. I mentioned it to my neighbor Huang Wenyi, and he smiled.

“That’s a weasel,” he said. “You should be happy!” A weasel, he said, was a sign of imminent wealth, as were hedgehogs, snakes, foxes, and rats. Since those species hung around tombs, they were believed to bear the souls of ancestors. “Don’t mess with it,” Huang said. I mentioned the animal to our housekeeper, Auntie Ma, and she said sternly, “Don’t hit it. Never hit a weasel.”



Thursday, January 15, 2015

the last book I ever read (Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, excerpt eight)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos:

Mao’s touch acquired otherworldly significance: when a Pakistani delegation gave Mao a basket of mangoes in 1968, he regifted them to workers, who wept and placed them on altars; crowds lined up and bowed before the fruit. A mango was flown to Shanghai on a chartered plane, so that workers such as Wang Xiaoping could see it. “What is a ‘mango’? Nobody knew,” she recalled in an essay. “Knowledgeable people said it was a fruit of extreme rarity, like Mushrooms of Immortality.” When the mangoes spoiled, they were preserved in formaldehyde, and plastic replicas were created. A village dentist who observed that one of the mangoes resembled a sweet potato was tried for malicious slander and executed.



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

the last book I ever read (Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, excerpt seven)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos:

Beyond the obvious pressures from the security forces, becoming a dissident could torpedo your relationships with friends and patrons. In China, intellectuals were often suspicious of dissidents among them who had too many foreign admirers or who appeared less interested in achieving practical gains than in fueling the kind of overt political conflict shunned by classical Chinese thought. Ai Weiwei reveled in confrontation. Now that he was being followed by plainclothes state security agents, he started calling the cops on them, setting off a Marx Brothers muddle of overlapping police agencies: “an absurdist novel gone bad,” as he put it. He inverted the usual logic of art and politics: instead of enlisting art in the service of his protest, he enlisted the apparatus of authoritarianism into his art.

At times, he seemed congenitally incapable of cooperation. At one point, he was asked to create a piece that could fill a prominent site in Copenhagen usually occupied by Edvard Eriksen’s statue of the Little Mermaid, which was being loaned to Shanghai. Instead of replacing it with a statue, Ai decided to install a live closed-circuit video of the mermaid in her temporary home in China. The Danes thought the oversize surveillance camera that he designed was unattractive. “That’s our real life,” he said. “Everybody is under some kind of surveillance camera. It’s not beautiful.”



Tuesday, January 13, 2015

the last book I ever read (Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, excerpt six)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos:

For all the energy that the Web gave to intellectuals such as Liu Xiaobo, and the nationalist fever it stirred among Tang Jie and his friends, most of China’s online life, as in any country, concerned matters less grave. When researchers noticed a spike, in April 2010, in the number of Chinese users taking steps to get around censors, the cause might have been a surge in political awareness; actually it was a Japanese porn star, Sola Aoi, who had opened a Twitter account, and young Chinese men were sparing no effort to reach it. But there were many ways to get attention on the Chinese Web. Bloggers started identifying photos that had been doctored by Party propagandists to make the crowds look larger or the officials more important. Techniques that had served the Department well for decades were now open to ridicule: a blogger noticed that a state news report on China’s newest fighter jet included footage from Top Gun. Look closely, and there was Tom Cruise destroying a Soviet MiG.



Monday, January 12, 2015

the last book I ever read (Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, excerpt five)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos:

When I joined Hu Shuli one afternoon, she was running late for an unusual appointment: she had decided that her top editors needed new clothes, and she had summoned a tailor. As Hu and her reporters grew in prominence, they were spending more and more time in front of crowds or overseas. She was sick of seeing her staff in sack suits and stained short-sleeve button-downs. She offered her editors a deal: buy one new suit and the magazine would pay for another. A pudgy, heavy-lidded tailor carried an armful of suits into a conference room, and the staff filed in for a fitting.

“Doesn’t it look baggy here?” Hu said, tugging at the underarm of an elegant gray pin-striped jacket being fitted to Wang Shuo, her thirty-seven-year-old managing editor. With his boss prodding at his midsection, he wore an expression of bemused tolerance that I had seen several times on a dog in a bathtub.

“It is rather tight already,” Wang protested.

“He feels tight already,” the tailor said.

“Hold on!” Hu said. “Think about the James Bond suit in the movies. Make it like that!”



Sunday, January 11, 2015

the last book I ever read (Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, excerpt four)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos:

A generation ago, families buried their jewels in the backyard to avoid political persecution. By 2012, China had surpassed the United States as the world’s largest consumer of luxury goods. Though the Chinese had no nostalgia for the days of deprivation, they wondered how single-minded acquisitiveness might be changing them. A joke making the rounds described a man on a Beijing street corner who is sideswiped by a sports car, which tears his arm off. He gazes in horror at the wound and cries, “My watch!”



Saturday, January 10, 2015

the last book I ever read (Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, excerpt three)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos:

Some of the choices that Chinese consumers made did not translate easily to outsiders. A brand of stylish eyeglass frames appeared on the market, named “Helen Keller.” Reporters asked the company why it had chosen to advertise its eyeglasses with the world’s most famous blind person. The company replied that Chinese schools teach the story of Helen Keller primarily as an icon of fortitude, and sure enough, sales of the frames were brisk. Helen Keller glasses were selling under the slogan “You see the world, and the world sees you.”



Friday, January 9, 2015

the last book I ever read (Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, excerpt two)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos:

Beijing was a clanging, unglamorous place. One of the nicest buildings in town was the Jianguo Hotel, which the architect proudly described as a perfect replica of a Holiday Inn in Palo Alto, California. China’s national economy was smaller than that of Italy. The countryside felt near: most nights, I ate in a Muslim neighborhood known as Xinjiang Village, which belonged to the Uighurs, an ethnic group from far western China. Their tiny gray-brick restaurants had jittery sheep tied out front, and the animals vanished in the kitchens, one by one, at dinnertime. After the crowds thinned out each day, the waiters and cooks climbed on the tables and went to sleep.



Thursday, January 8, 2015

the last book I ever read (Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, excerpt one)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos:

China today is riven by contradictions. It is the world’s largest buyer of Louis Vuitton, second only to the United States in its purchases of Rolls-Royces and Lamborghinis, yet ruled by a Marxist-Leninist party that seeks to ban the word luxury from billboards. The difference in life expectancy and income between China’s wealthiest cities and its poorest provinces is the difference between New York and Ghana. China has two of the world’s most valuable Internet companies, and more people online than the United States, even as it redoubles its investment in history’s largest effort to censor human expression. China has never been more pluralistic, urban, and prosperous, yet it is the only country in the world with a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in prison.



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

the last book I ever read (All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, excerpt ten)

from All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews:

What books did she want? Will asked. He’d come out of the bathroom now. Nic said books from her past, the ones she remembered had changed her life in some way or had given her… that made her feel alive, I don’t know… His voice trailed off. Will said like which ones? Nic said like D.H. Lawrence, Shelley, Wordsworth… I don’t know. They’re over there.

He waved at a sloping tower of books beside the computer table. We all eyed them, briefly, then looked away. They had failed. We couldn’t look at them. We sat in the silent, yellow living room, my son and daughter on either side of their grandma, close, like sentries. They had their arms hooked through hers as if to keep her from floating upward and disappearing like a helium balloon.



Tuesday, January 6, 2015

the last book I ever read (All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, excerpt nine)

from All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews:

I told her I had to track down my one-time philosophy professor, Benito Zetina Morelos.

That sounds like a Bolaño novel, she said. Do you have his e-mail or his phone number? She took my hand and held it. I shook my head and told her I had to go to Kelvin High School and find him at the track, maybe. Tonight, she said, you should stay at my place and let me make a steak for you. I have wine. I think you really need protein. I can’t, I said, I have to get my mom and my cousin and my uncle to the hospital for six a.m., that’s when my aunt is having her surgery. And they’re all staying at my mom’s. Okay then tomorrow night, she said. I don’t think you should do the Switzerland thing. I don’t know, I said. Just because something’s legal doesn’t make it right, she said. Yeah, yeah, I said, but the core of the argument for it is maximizing individual autonomy and minimizing human suffering. Doesn’t that sound right? Are you hot? she said. She held a frozen steak to my forehead.

We drove to the airport and Julie stayed in the car right out front and snoozed with her arms full of meat while I went in to get my cousin and my uncle.



Monday, January 5, 2015

the last book I ever read (All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, excerpt eight)

from All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews:

He took a book out of his bag and wrote something on one of the pages.

What are you reading?

Thomas Bernhard, he said. The Loser.

Nic, I said, that’s not even funny.

I know, but I am, you asked. Oh, can you give her these? He opened his backpack and gave me a sheaf of papers. They’re e-mails from people. For Elf. Fans. Friends. Claudio sent them. Nic turned away to look out the window. We were close to the airport, following the little airplane signs, through industrial zones and windowless gentlemen’s clubs and massive potholes.

Does anybody ever fix this city? I said. Nic said nothing. We got to the airport and again thanked each other for the efforts being made to help Elf. We hugged and said goodbye, au revoir and adios. All he had was a backpack and it looked half empty. I wondered if he’d bothered to pack anything at all besides his Bernhard and his favorite Chinese authors. How many days again? I called after him. He was walking through revolving doors, trying to negotiate his way through with his pack. He held up both hands like he was under arrest. Ten.



Sunday, January 4, 2015

the last book I ever read (All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, excerpt seven)

from All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews:

I picked up the book lying next to me on the bed and flipped through it. Hey, listen to this, I said. Have you heard of this Portuguese guy called Fernando Pessoa?

Is he with the Jays?

No, he’s a poet, this is his book, but he’s dead now. He killed himself.

Oh brother, she said. Who hasn’t.

But listen to this: “In the plausible intimacy of approaching evening, as I stand waiting for the stars to begin at the window of this fourth floor room that looks out on the infinite, my dreams move to the rhythm required by long journeys to countries as yet unknown, or to countries that are simply hypothetical or impossible.”

My mother said yup, that’s about the long and short of it, isn’t it?



Saturday, January 3, 2015

the last book I ever read (All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, excerpt six)

from All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews:

I think the main thing, he said, is that it should really rock.

What should rock? I asked him.

The story, he said, it should just move really fast, like pedal to the metal, so it doesn’t get boring. Plus, it’s hard to write, right? You want to go in, get the job done, and get out. Like when I worked for Renee’s septic tank cleaning.

I considered this and realized that it was the best writing advice I’d received in years. In all my life. When he dropped me off and asked if maybe we could see each other again while I was in the city, grab a coffee or something, a movie, I told him I wasn’t sure how long I’d be there. I hadn’t told him about Elf. Cool, he said, let’s keep in touch. We kissed. I went into the lobby and waved goodbye to him through the tinted window, smiling and letting out a barely whispered monosyllabic admonishment to myself. Stop.