What We’re Reading – October 2016

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Future Sex by Emily Witt: “In Future Sex, Witt explores internet dating, internet pornography, polyamory, and other avant-garde sexual subcultures as sites of possibility. She observes her encounters with these scenes with a wry sense of humor, capturing them in all their strangeness, ridiculousness, and beauty. The result is an open-minded, honest account of the contemporary pursuit of connection and pleasure, and an inspiring new model of female sexuality–open, forgiving, and unafraid.”

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33 Revolutions by Canek Sánchez Guevara: “The hero of this mordant portrayal of life in contemporary Cuba is a black Cuban whose parents were enthusiastic supporters of the Castro Revolution. Every night he suffers from Kafkaesque nightmares in which he is arrested and tried for unknown crimes. His disappointment and delusion grow until a day comes when he declares his unwillingness to become an informer, and his real troubles begin.”

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Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar: “Award-winning novelist Randa Jarrar’s new story collection moves seamlessly between realism and fable, history and the present, capturing the lives of Muslim women and men across myriad geographies and circumstances. With acerbic wit, deep tenderness, and boundless imagination, Jarrar brings to life a memorable cast of characters, many of them “accidental transients”—a term for migratory birds who have gone astray—seeking their circuitous routes back home.”

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PIECE BY PIECE: Clothed, Female Figure by Kirstin Allio

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We asked Kirstin Allio to introduce us to her short story collection–one piece at a time.

Millennium

The windows of the apartment were waxy, and had been painted shut in another era. If you pressed yourself against the interior-facing glass you could see, as if at the bottom of a secret well, a murky courtyard where a few scorched houseplants had been left for the wife of the doorman… I theorized that the millennium was like the Wizard of Oz—the moment before he reveals himself from behind the curtain.

Clothed, Female Figure

I came to New York at twenty-six and married the first man I met, literally and proverbially. He stuck his head around the fire escape. “Hey,” he said. “Neighbor.”

He had a loopy, charming grin and hard eyes the color of lapis. I had just brought home a pot of daisies (margaritka, in Russian), and I was setting them out on the little balcony. I wouldn’t have called it a fire escape. My English was good but not specific. He climbed over, still grinning, as if he were shy of my beauty but like a dog couldn’t help himself. He had long legs in tight jeans and white socks with holes in them. So already we were intimate. We had one son, Arturo, named after my husband’s father, the patriarch. The family business was Italian tiles. We were a mismatch from the beginning, although there were never any lighthearted fairies making fun of us.

Continue reading

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America This is Quite Serious: Get Thee Behind Me, White Christian Voters

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“What makes white people tick?” It’s a hell of a question. And one that FiveThirtyEight tackled this week, in its FiveThirtyEight way, with a statistical analysis of census data and voting preferences. The full breakdown is worth a read, but the main points are these: Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is no clear evidence that economic anxiety points to voter preferences: “Despite the myth that Trump’s base is poor whites, income is the least predictive of white voter support among the seven demographic variables tracked by the poll.”

The most predictive variable, it turns out, was whether a white voter had a high rate of “Religious attendance.” Those who said they never went to church were 71 percent for Clinton, while only 31 percent of people who went weekly supported her. These results are not surprising. But shouldn’t they be?

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“…politics can distort and invert Christianity, turning a faith that at its core is about grace, reconciliation and redemption into one that is characterized by bitterness, recriminations and lack of charity.”

The nexus of faith and politics is a God damned mess. Probably literally. Continue reading

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Did You Hear? Seinwave

Throwbacks and re-purposing are so common in our media culture that I find it increasingly useless to pin anything to a particular decade anymore. But this chillwave re-hash of the Seinfeld theme is about as ’90s as it gets, so tell your mom to get off the phone, start the dial-up modem, click this link and in 15 minutes you might be able to hear something!

Brook Reeder

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MFAs and What You’re Missing

mfas and what you're missing

An Interview with Fortunato Salazar and William VanDenBerg

William VanDenBerg: I’ve been thinking (perhaps because of watching a ridiculous amount of Olympics coverage) of the concept of training as a writer. How we get better? How we develop? How we improve? So—and this might be a ridiculously broad question—how do you feel you’ve developed as a writer? What sort of things have pushed you forward?

Fortunato Salazar: Because I’ve gone without formal training as a writer, I wouldn’t want to press too hard any skepticism I might have about the value of training. I’ll just say that in my own experience, I don’t see much evidence for a belief in control over how or whether I improve. I just assume that if I put in the time, make the effort, stay out of trouble, watch my back, either I’ll improve or I won’t; basically all I can do is hold up my end of the bargain.

You on the other hand are receiving formal training as a writer—you’ve just finished your first year in the MFA program at Brown. What’s the biggest surprise you’ve encountered in the MFA universe? Continue reading

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America This is Quite Serious: Do Jobs Work?

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In this week’s Sunday Times, economic historian Michael Lind — author of the excellent Land of Promise — posed an important question about a fundamental tenets of our politics. His question is raised in response to the near constant refrain of every politician, that their ideas and influence will create good jobs for the American people, and that creating those jobs are the surest way to solve problems like too much welfare spending and too little health care coverage. This is a notion so pervasive, and persuasive, that even ideas that are good on the merits — clean energy, a humane immigration system, access to affordable health care — are typically reframed in terms of economic impact.

So, Lind asks: “Should the goal of public policy be to ensure that all Americans can have good jobs — or good lives?”

Lind is narrow in his focus. He defines good jobs as “jobs with solid wages, regular hours and, perhaps, generous employer-provided benefits.” By good lives, he doesn’t mean contentment and well-balanced kids and a trim waistline, but merely the “basic goods and services that define a decent life in a modern society.” In rough terms, a safety net that keeps people out of abject poverty for the span of their lifetimes.

The easy answer is: Continue reading

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