The end of the rock star era.
A narrator's philosophical observations on travel.
"How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures—even the elevator buttons!—are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths. They must have to write things down in special codes. Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them—they are accessible to everyone and everything! I heard there are plans in the works to get them some little language of their own, one of those dead ones no one else is using anyway, just so that for once they can have something just for themselves."
An old crush is remembered via childhood memories and an unusual anecdote.
"Then he began wearing pastel skateboarding-themed shirts. SKATEBOARDING IS NOT A CRIME, one said. Wallace Marguerite is not committing a crime, Stella thought. It was novel and thrilling, true whether or not he was a skateboarder. She never saw a skateboard."
New York’s Pastor Parker and his growing string of Liberty Churches, each of which will “adopt the culture of its neighborhood.”
The rise and fall of a friendship between three Indian women.
"We were goddesses. Meena, Annie, and Nayantara. Even our names were like heroines. Meena and Annie had known each other since they were 5. I met them in seventh standard. Though we never said it aloud, we knew that three beauties had more power than two or one. Like the Hindu gods. Or all those pop groups. Like the Wilson Phillips. We liked the Wilson Phillips. We pretended to like the fat one but heart of hearts we didn’t."
“It is overwhelmingly young people of color, and those who work in their schools, who will bear the brunt of these closings and witness the worst effects of the budget cuts. Over the last six months, the SDP and the state of Pennsylvania have decided, again and again, that this is acceptable.”
On literary manifestos, long-distance reading, and the egg of death.
On Ephemerisle, a “floating festival of radical self-reliance,” and other attempts at creating an island utopia.
The writer, entering her thirties single and adrift, heads to San Francisco to spend time with Kink.com’s Princess Donna Dolore and attend a gangbang “where all the men were dressed as panda bears.”
On Julian Jaynes, a Princeton psychologist who told the story of how humans learned to think.
A woman engages in fantastical, extreme forms of temporary employment.
"The longhaired man is named Carl, and he is something of an entrepreneur. His small murder business sits in a tidy shack not far from the water, which is convenient for dumping the bodies. Location, location, location, he says. He sounds like my real estate boyfriend. I laugh and wash his weapons every morning, adhering to the cleaning manual he developed. I am filling in for his buddy who is currently serving some time. Carl does not always pay in money, but he feeds me and gives me a place to sleep, a small cot next to his desk in the shack."
Steven Cohen, troubled founder a $14 billion hedge fund, has an eye for modern art.
A history of the divide between computing and language, and why we “define and regiment our lives, including our social lives and our perceptions of our selves, in ways that are conducive to what a computer can ‘understand.’”
Drunken students discuss politics and philosophy.
"Longhaired Empty in his furlined cape gazes down disdainfully on Harry, ogling Annie Axe’s butt as she wags it johnward. 'Alas, wretched mortal!' he says. Empty, alias Empedocles, flamboyant charlatan, lofty romantic, gay vegetarian, is the brightest and the maddest of us all. For Empty, ardent but gloomy democrat, the Red Scare is real, the Bomb is. 'It’s a time of increasing Strife,' he oft laments."
An essay on working at Sotheby’s.
Art pricing is not absolute magic; there are certain rules, which to an outsider can sound parodic. Paintings with red in them usually sell for more than paintings without red in them. Warhol’s women are worth more, on average, than Warhol’s men. The reason for this is a rhetorical question, asked in a smooth continental accent: “Who would want the face of some man on their wall?”
A fifteen year history of the music site Pitchfork detailing its prescient take on the relationship between culture and consumption.
Walter Isaacson’s book is long, dull, often flat-footed, and humorless. It hammers on one nail, incessantly: that Steve Jobs was an awful man, but awful in the service of products people really liked (and eventually bought lots of) and so in the end his awfulness was probably OK.
A discussion of the “limited but important” power of Occupy Wall Street’s open blog, “We Are the 99%.”
A Mexican man reluctantly provides cultural insights to a pandering white American journalist.
"Two years before, Samuel Kramer had arrived to write the nteenth feature on Frida Kahlo. Someone told him I wrote screenplays for tough documentaries, and he paid me to accompany him through a city he considered savage and explain things he called mythical."
John Ross, rebel reporter, became the sort of devoted gringo scribe who would give up drugs and drinking in order to better write about the native revolutionaries; the sort of man who used dolls to preach armed revolution to high schoolers in the weeks after September 11th.
On Forever 21 and the rise of “fast fashion”:
They have changed fashion from a garment making to an information business, optimizing their supply chains to implement design tweaks on the fly.
The author gets a security guard job at this aging textile factory. Part of the City by City project.
The first entry in the City by City project, on a Baltimore funeral:
My homeboy is interred at a cemetery with a swan lake where we used to take our girls at night because it was a park with a lake and it was just over the line and in the county.
With fewer and fewer students having the income necessary to pay back loans (except through the use of more consumer debt), a massive default looks closer to inevitable.
On the emerging student loan bubble.
"I have the sensation, as do my friends, that to function as a proficient human, you must both 'keep up' with the internet and pursue more serious, analog interests."
An essay on technology’s reach into daily life.
Notes on a summer spent aboard an industrial fishing boat off the Alaskan coast.
A Pynchon conference in Lublin, Poland may say more about the men (yes, only men) who attend Thomas Pynchon conferences than the works of the reclusive author.