11/28/2007 9:38:02 AM
Same-sex marriage is a controversial political topic, sparking countless, seemingly endless debates with all sides fervently fighting for what they think a family should be. All too often, this argument carries on without facing the people it effects, making one of the most intimate issues that challenges the United States into a nameless, impersonal discussion. In the current issue of Front Porch Journal, Carol Guess offers an insightful first-hand look at how a lesbian couple might come to terms with living in a country that doesn’t acknowledge their love.
Guess is not overtly angry about her situation and instead chooses to live in love. Her creative nonfiction essay is at once heartbreaking and optimistic, following Guess and her partner, Elizabeth, on their journey from Washington to British Columbia for their wedding.
They cry at their vows, eat thick chocolate cake served on china, and honeymoon in a high-rise hotel. Guess writes, “We go to sleep married and we wake from dreams married and we drink coffee married and then we drive home.”
And with that quick drive back across the U.S. border, their marriage is shattered. Guess recalls:
Just before we cross into the U.S., Elizabeth takes a photograph of the two of us, our faces touching. Then, as the wheels roll over and the U.S. reclaims us, annulling our marriage, she takes another photo of the two of us together. Later we won’t be able to tell the difference between the two shots.
11/27/2007 2:50:53 PM
Once upon a time there was a website that randomly generated fairy tales. It was called the Proppian Fairy Tale Generator, and it was based on the theories of Russian structuralist Vladimir Propp, a literary thinker who believed that the narrative structure of every fairy tale on earth could be broken down into basic elements arranged in uniform sequence. Website users select fairy-tale elements off a predetermined list and the website, created by students at Brown University, spits out weird, post-modern yarns that boggle the mind and amuse the imagination.
Reading the stories is disconcerting. Since they’re arranged by computer, the narratives don’t make much sense: Characters appear and disappear without reason, and the plot is often impossible to follow. One moment the protagonist is standing over his father’s corpse in the woods, the next moment he is speaking with his mother, and four paragraphs later, the father returns, amazingly. But despite their insensibility, the stories are mystifyingly compelling.
That’s the secret: The fairy tales only have form and no content, but they’re still engaging, suggesting just how important structure is to good storytelling. When you watch an action movie—a tight narrative form ornamented with explosions and violence—the familiar pattern is satisfying. These stories show that form can be captivating, even if the story itself doesn’t make sense. Which is the entire premise behind the Mission Impossible series, I think.
11/21/2007 3:40:48 PM
Next time you read a newly-released, good contemporary novel, buy two. Or three. Then, years later, when the book becomes a modern classic, beloved by generations of literati, you can sell your precious mint-condition first editions and buy yourself nice things. That’s the plan of hypermodern book collectors anyway. Think of it as investing, but for people who know more about William Vollmann than bonds and dividends. (Me, I prefer my stable of hyper-volatile penny stocks. Hello, bankruptcy!) Read more about collecting hypermodern literature in Anne Trubek’s article in Good Magazine.
11/19/2007 12:04:53 PM
Hip parenting is all the rage these days. Books, magazines, and zines on being a cool mom or dad and raising great kids flood bookstores and libraries. Sometimes, though, they seem to mask what’s at the heart of parenthood—which is why picking up Miranda: Motherhood and Other Adventures is such a joy. Yep, Kate Haas is a hip mom, but she doesn’t bask in the glory of feeding her kids homemade baby food and using organic cotton diapers. She simply raises her children naturally in a warm home and updates her readers about twice a year in her delightful zine.
The newest issue, #17, is full of quick stories highlighting her own childhood as a Waldorf kid, her love of freezing berries in the wintertime, and the ethics of using her young son’s library card to reserve Edith Wharton’s biography.
My favorite piece in the issue is “Love Object,” where Haas admits to having a crush on her child’s curly blond locks. She writes, “I should be modest, downplay compliments to the object of my affection. But I can’t drag my eyes away. The fact is, I’m crazy about my four-year-old’s hair.”
11/16/2007 4:48:15 PM
One of the worst schools in Great Britain has transformed itself into one of the best using a Harry Potter-based curriculum. Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery began using “theme” classes, including Harry Potter, Princes and Princesses, and Titanic, and has “jumped from the bottom 25 per cent of schools nationally to just outside the top 5 per cent over the last three years,” the British newspaper Daily Mail reports.
The children wave wands while doing subtraction problems, repeating the phrase “numerus subtracticus” before answering. Some of the school’s staff have even begun wearing costumes. “Historically the school had a really bad reputation, which is why I applied for the job here," said headteacher Donna Chambers. “But that has now all changed.”
No word yet on whether American Gangster-themed classes are under consideration.
11/15/2007 2:40:04 PM
Most Americans know Anton Chekhov for his plays—produced in frequency only behind Shakespeare’s—and yet, his greatest legacy to the literary world might be his short stories.
Chekhov never left a reader settled, breaking the comfy rules of Victorian fiction and paving the way for future iconoclasts like Virginia Woolf. Although Chekhov died at 44, he left behind hundreds of stories, 201 of which are collected online under public domain at ibiblio, a collaborative project between the Schools of Information and Library Science, and Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
A word of warning: All the translations are the work of Constance Garnett, who both introduced the English speakers to 19th-century Russian literature and sullied some of its richness with Victorian quaintness. Luckily, the stories are annotated by site complier James Rusk for cultural clarity, and he points out where Garnett took liberties. Rusk also provides an introductory reading list.
(Thanks, Open Culture and MetaFilter)
11/8/2007 4:36:47 PM
A “talk” between two lovers is a private affair—a nearly universal euphemism for an argument. The sort of talk that occurs in the confines of one’s home, over a telephone, or in an uncomfortable car ride. Such talks are rarely seen or heard by people outside of the tenuous relationship, but most everyone can remembering having one. Even more personal than the conversation you're having with your significant other, however, is the conversation you have with yourself during the dispute.
Paul Edmond Robichaud welcomes readers into that private mess of thoughts in "Staying In," which won third place in the 2006 Quebec Writing Competition and recently was posted on the Maisonneuve website. The short story opens as the narrator listens to his wife issue bullet points of redress in the relationship: "You're outlining the ways we're broken," he writes, but his attention isn't long. "After number two, I aim my eyes over your shoulder, out the living room window. The rounded treetops behind our building are full of golden light, dusty with snow that's blowing around."
Although the reader never finds out what the bullet points are, one quickly feels a heightened awareness of these characters because of the intimate details of an argument that almost always remain unspoken.
11/7/2007 4:49:44 PM
People who have succeeded in one way or another are oftentimes just itching to give advice. This has led to countless books of lists on how to improve your personal finances, meet your soul mate, become a CEO, or raise perfect children. So when I saw that Elmore Leonard had published his 10 Rules of Writing (HarperCollins), I wasn't particularly surprised. I did, however, pick it right up and see what I could learn from this popular U.S. writer, best known for Westerns and crime novels.
It took only 10 minutes to read the entire book, but I learned an awful lot. Some of the rules were simple, many were charming, and he backed all of them up with relatable examples from other authors' work. The most helpful to me were "never open a book with weather," "never use the words 'suddenly' or 'all hell broke loose,'" and "avoid detailed descriptions of characters."
After listing the 10 rules, Leonard writes, "My most important rule is one that sums up the ten. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
11/7/2007 4:34:35 PM
It's easy to romanticize the life of a hitchhiker. I quickly conjure up visions of Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Ken Kesey hitching rides, listening to jazz, meeting charming people, and exploring the American landscape. I remember my dad's stories of hitching his way from Michigan to Florida in his 20s, imagining him as an oh-so-cool hippie before the days of parent-teacher conferences and two cars in the driveway. Part of me has always wanted to follow his footsteps: pack a small bag, head out to a freeway ramp, and stick out my thumb.
But the other (bigger) part of me knows I'm not of the Beat generation, and the horror stories of hitchhiking-gone-bad cloud my dreams of running around the country with strangers. Dev Carey, on the other hand, estimates he has received 400, maybe 500 rides from strangers, and his hitchhiking history is chronicled in the latest issue of High Country News, as told to contributing editor Michelle Nijhuis.
Carey has used his thumb to navigate the U.S. West, France, Holland, Germany, and Luxembourg—and has only felt as though he was in danger once. He says he simply enjoys the human connections that emerge from sharing the road with someone. He feels good that he was saving gas and money, and although he has options for travel beyond hitchhiking, he says he is advocating for those who don't.
After 20 years of hitchhiking, however, Carey finally had a breakdown after being passed by cars for hours on end. He writes, "They looked like they were in a rush, they looked guilty, they looked angry, they flipped me off. I’d been watching that for a long time, and I finally let myself really feel it… I was suddenly very aware that all of us were going around so scared, so isolated, that we wouldn’t even look at each other."
11/5/2007 4:56:18 PM
In a recent post on Commentary magazine’s arts blog, the Horizon, Benjamin Ivry reports that a scholar at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel, has uncovered a new text by the Italian writer Primo Levi.
Levi, a holocaust survivor and chemist who died in 1987, is best known for his memoir, Survival in Auschwitz. Ivry reports that this new essay, which was discovered in the archives at Yad Vashem and first reported on by the Israeli daily Haaretz, is a deposition solicited in 1960 for the prosecution of the German SS officer Adolf Eichmann.
The text, however, was never brought forth during the trial and had since gone unnoticed. The 850-word statement has yet to be translated, but the Italian magazine, L'Espresso has published it in the original.
11/2/2007 5:11:38 PM
Riverbend, an Iraqi woman who has been blogging about her life in Baghdad since 2003, recently fled with her family to Syria. Here’s Riverbend writing about leaving her home in Iraq:
It was a tearful farewell as we left the house. One of my other aunts and an uncle came to say goodbye the morning of the trip. It was a solemn morning and I’d been preparing myself for the last two days not to cry. You won’t cry, I kept saying, because you’re coming back. You won’t cry because it’s just a little trip like the ones you used to take to Mosul or Basrah before the war. In spite of my assurances to myself of a safe and happy return, I spent several hours before leaving with a huge lump lodged firmly in my throat. My eyes burned and my nose ran in spite of me. I told myself it was an allergy.
Here, Riverbend writes about her adjustment to life in Syria:
It has taken me these last three months to work away certain habits I’d acquired in Iraq after the war. It’s funny how you learn to act a certain way and don’t even know you’re doing strange things- like avoiding people’s eyes in the street or crazily murmuring prayers to yourself when stuck in traffic. It took me at least three weeks to teach myself to walk properly again- with head lifted, not constantly looking behind me.
The suffering of war can feel distant when seen through the dim mirror of the media. Peering through these posts, like an archeologist sifting through dirt, there are signs of a beautiful and delicate life. They make the Iraq War seem less and less a political issue, and more a moral crisis, something that dooms and cleaves real people’s lives. Riverbend’s posts are blogging at its best, demonstrating that form can do more than just report news—it can collapse boundaries, and make the horror of war come alive.
Found via Crooks And Liars.
11/1/2007 4:06:39 PM
Davy Rothbart, the man behind the Found Magazine, books, and blog, has a disturbingly endearing story in the latest issue of Guilt and Pleasure. The piece is about all of the cruel and funny tricks Rothbart would play on his deaf mother, taking advantage of her lack of hearing as any creative child would.
Funniest to me was any time we pulled up alongside a cop. For precisely these moments I kept my NWA tape in the glove box, cued to the song “Fuck tha Police.”
The ending is a bit… precious, but I got a big kick out of it. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but I’d love to hear: What kinds of pranks did you play on your parents as a kid?
– Bennett Gordon
To read the Guilt and Pleasure piece: Click Here.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!