A Début Novel’s Immersive Urgency


Seems like a great debut novel.

Majumdar marshals a much smaller cast of speakers than Faulkner did, and her spare plot moves with arrowlike determination. It begins with a crime, continues with a false charge and imprisonment, and ends with a trial. The book has some of the elements of a thriller or a police procedural, but one shouldn’t mistake its extraordinary directness and openness to life with the formulaic accelerations of genre: Majumdar’s novel is compelling, yet its compulsions have to do with an immersive present rather than with a skidding sequence. Her characters start telling us about their lives, and those lives are suddenly palpable, vital, voiced. I can’t remember when I last read a novel that so quickly dismantled the ordinary skepticism that attends the reading of made-up stories. Early Naipaul comes to mind as a precursor, and perhaps Akhil Sharma’s stupendously vivid novel “Family Life.” Sharma has spoken of how he avoided using “sticky” words—words involving touch and taste and smell—so as to enable a natural velocity; Majumdar finds her own way of achieving the effect.

The complete review

James Wood — The New Yorker

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Finding Moments of Calm During a Pandemic


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As the wise wisely instruct us to count our blessings—which I do—I also can’t help but wonder how to sustain this sense of gratitude through the undulations of daily domestic life when so many of our homes balloon not only with love and recognition but also with stress, turbulence, even violence, from forces within and without. If this question is rhetorical, it’s because I don’t want anyone—including myself—to feel that they’re doing kinship wrong if and when it hurts. Today, for me, it hurts. It is sweet, and it hurts. I think it hurt sometimes for Ginzburg, too, and it’s not clear to me that it could have been different, even if she knew all that was to come.

The complete article

Maggie Nelson — The New Yorker

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THE NORWEGIAN NOVEL THAT DIVIDED A FAMILY AND CAPTIVATED A COUNTRY


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Reality literature.

Remember how divisive reality television was, before it became just television? In Norway, an intense debate is taking place about virkelighetslitteratur, or “reality literature,” a putatively fictional strain of writing that draws on identifiable characters and events. Critics of reality television complained that it was overproduced; the argument against reality literature is that it is insufficiently artificial, exposing and misrepresenting people who never consented to be a part of it. The country’s most flagrant transgressor of the code of plausible disclaimability is Vigdis Hjorth, whose prickly, persuasive novel “Will and Testament” came out in Norway in 2016, and has just been published in English, by Verso. Earlier this month, the translation, by Charlotte Barslund, was long-listed for the National Book Award for Translated Literature.

The complete article

Lauren Collins — The New Yorker

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Silicon Valley’s Crisis of Conscience


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Esalen is the place.

Esalen is one such place. Another is 1440 Multiversity, a sleek campus in Santa Cruz County—the boutique hotel to Esalen’s summer camp. Spirit Rock, a meditation center in Marin County, recently held a gathering to discuss “technology as an existential threat to mindfulness.” There are invitation-only dinners, private cuddle parties, conferences called Responsible Tech and Wisdom 2.0. “There’s a lot of debate about what to call it,” Paula Goldman, who runs a new department at the software company Salesforce called the Office of Ethical and Humane Use, said. “Ethical tech? Responsible tech?” If the name is one source of confusion, the substance is another. Is it a movement, or the stirrings of what might become a movement? Is it evidence of canny P.R., or of deep introspection?

The complete article

Andrew Marantz — The New Yorker

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Reddit and the Struggle to Detoxify the Internet


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Free speech and Reddit.

Which Web sites get the most traffic? According to the ranking service Alexa, the top three sites in the United States, as of this writing, are Google, YouTube, and Facebook. (Porn, somewhat hearteningly, doesn’t crack the top ten.) The rankings don’t reflect everything—the dark Web, the nouveau-riche recluses harvesting bitcoin—but, for the most part, people online go where you’d expect them to go. The only truly surprising entry, in fourth place, is Reddit, whose astronomical popularity seems at odds with the fact that many Americans have only vaguely heard of the site and have no real understanding of what it is. A link aggregator? A microblogging platform? A social network?

The complete article

Andrew Marantz — The New Yorker

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The Shattering Double Vision of V. S. Naipaul


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One of the great writers I truly admired. R.I.P.

Nominally, Naipaul is writing about Anand Biswas. Actually, he is writing about himself—Vidia in Oxford (“in a library grown suddenly dark”), and then in London (“in securer times of different stresses”). He is writing about the young man in South London, for whom memories of Trinidad are both painful and joyful, and about how the writing of his epic is at once the baring and the healing of a wound (“when the memories had lost the power to hurt”). How coolly and classically Naipaul refers to his own great achievement: “they would fall into place and give back the rest.” Now he is gone, but his book continues to give back the rest to us, again and again.

The complete article

James Wood – The New Yorker

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The Afterlife of Pablo Escobar


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Pablo Escobar’s legend keeps growing. A lot of people are minting money on Escobar’s posthumous celebrity status.

These days, Roberto Escobar, having served fourteen years in prison, earns money by leading tourists around one of his family’s former safe houses. The house, a bungalow of white painted brick, can be reached by a gated driveway off a steep mountain road, roughly halfway between the Envigado plateau, where Pablo Escobar grew up, and the middle-class neighborhood in Medellín where he was gunned down by Colombian police, in 1993. One recent morning, a group of visitors from the United States and Europe arrived in a chauffeured van—part of a growing influx of narcoturistas, who come to see the places where Pablo Escobar lived and worked. Roberto, seventy-one, still looked like an accountant; he wore khakis, a blue short-sleeved shirt, and thick-rimmed spectacles. While he was in prison, a letter bomb delivered to his cell exploded, leaving him blind in his right eye and deaf in his right ear. His damaged eye was a milky blue, and he periodically squirted drops of medicine into it.

The complete article

Jon Lee Anderson — The New Yorker

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Hillary Clinton Looks Back in Anger


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How do you deal with the fact that you get “more votes for President than any white man” in American history and still loose?

It’s true that, throughout the campaign, Clinton was described—by Trump, by his surrogates, and by countless people on social media—in the ugliest terms: weak, sickly, a criminal, physically repellent. Clinton, in her book, tells of how, during the second debate, just two days after the “grab ’em by the pussy” tape, she wanted to wheel around at Trump, who was “breathing down my neck,” and say, “Back up, you creep, get away from me, I know you love to intimidate women but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.” Instead, she bit her tongue and kept going.

The complete article

David Remnick — The New Yorker

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Calibri’s Scandalous History


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Somehow Calibri font seems to be there in recent scandalous events.

Since 2007, Calibri has figured in several other forgery allegations. In 2012, the Turkish government accused approximately three hundred people of plotting a coup, on the basis of documents that had been printed in Calibri but were purported to date from as early as 2003. De Groot sent a form letter in response to the many inquiries he received from Pakistan. “In my opinion, the document in question was produced much later” than 2006, he wrote. While Microsoft had by then released a beta version of its Office suite that included Calibri, de Groot pointed out that only “computer nerds” and “font lovers” were using it. “Why would anyone use a completely unknown font for an official document?”

The complete article

Ross Arbes — The New Yorker

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KONG: SKULL ISLAND


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Movie review of Kong from The New Yorker.

As Packard’s helicopters near their target, punch through a “perpetual storm system” that girdles the island, and discover a paradise of unravished greenery, the movie lays out its credentials. There’s a tracker named Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) on board, who possesses “unique expertise in uncharted jungle terrain,” and, soon enough, we even encounter a Marlow (John C. Reilly). Plus, for good measure, a blaze of burning napalm. Got it? I’m frankly amazed that nobody brings along a bulldog named Kurtz. In short, what this movie yearns to be is a pop-culture “Apocalypse Now,” with the human foe removed, the political parable toned down, and the gonzo elements jacked up.

The complete article

Anthony Lane — The New Yorker

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