Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power

 Tramp. Cad. Lily-livered. Townie. Every generation has their put-downs, but for a certain subset of the population today, the best way to insult someone is by calling her “privileged.” In a hyper self-conscious culture, many millennials are wracked with guilt over their white middle-class upbringing, $30k-a-year education, and relative economic security. This is, no doubt, from where the sudden popularity of social justice causes and philanthropic NGOs springs: we’re eager to assuage ou … [Read more...]

Paddle Your Own Canoe

In his 2011 essay, “The Problem With Memoirs,” New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger called for a moment of silence for “the lost art of shutting up.” “There was a time when you had to earn the right to draft a memoir,” he argued, “by accomplishing something noteworthy or having an extremely unusual experience,” and “anyone who didn’t fit one of those categories was obliged to keep quiet.” “Unremarkable lives went unremarked upon,” Genzlinger said, “the way God intended.” Well, he’s right—mostly. … [Read more...]

Bleeding Edge

 Is it better to seek the truth, or to accept the comfort of illusion? That is one of the central questions posed by Bleeding Edge, the latest novel from Thomas Pynchon that paints a picture of greed, ambition, and paranoia in wake of the rise and fall of the dot-com era and 9/11.Steeped in pop-culture references to Beanie Babies, Friends, and Britney Spears, the book captures the enthusiasm and recklessness of the dot-com bubble as well as the panic, uncertainty, and despair of … [Read more...]

The Empathy Exams

 Leslie Jamison’s essays in The Empathy Exams ask – and begin to answer – an array of important questions about pain, healing, and empathy. To list just a few: When does empathy actually reinforce the pain it wants to console? Can pain be actual and constructed at the same time? And how do we represent female pain without producing a culture in which this pain has been fetishized to the point of fantasy or imperative?Jamison frames her writing as “a search for possibility,” which cou … [Read more...]

When My Brother Was an Aztec

 The title poem of Natalie Diaz’s first collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, introduces the book’s biggest subject: her eldest brother’s meth addiction and its impact on the family. “He lived in our basement and sacrificed my parents/every morning,” writes Diaz. “Neighbors were amazed my parents’ hearts kept/growing back – It said a lot about my parents, or parents’ hearts.”While some of Diaz’s poems confront their subjects straightforwardly, it’s her extended metaphors – which … [Read more...]

The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light

 Paul Bogard’s The End of Night has as much to say about the night sky as it does about the people who live under it. In his search for the last of our nation’s natural darkness, Bogard makes room for everyone from the president of the unlikely Las Vegas Astronomical Society to a woman who, visiting a dark rural area for the first time, exclaimed, “What are all those white dots in the sky?”The sorry truth is that most of us are scarcely more aware of the night. Light pollution, the p … [Read more...]

Five Books to Read in College

This is a list of five amazing books. They come representing five noble genres: the novel, the memoir, poetry, the short story, and the essay. How good are they? This good: as I read, I often had to pause, put the book down, breathe or sigh or shake, and look around to see if the world was still there. It was – but each time, the way I viewed it had changed.This list is particular, not comprehensive. I did not assemble it from other people’s recommendations, I did not poll anybody; between th … [Read more...]