Tag Archives: The Atlantic

Boredom

I’ve elaborated on the joys of Instapaper before, but the reality is that I rarely use it. Most of my reading on the subway, and elsewhere, is still done with hard copies of a handful of magazines (The New Yorker, Atlantic, Wired, Esquire, New York), or whatever book is on the top of my pile (currently, The Corrections). But where Instapaper earns its keep is in those moments when I finish the magazine and have nothing else to read. Or am stuck in a subway station on a Friday night, when carrying a book to a bar seems frowned upon.

Basically, Instapaper has eliminated any possibility of boredom in my life. In The Atlantic’s latest issue, all about “Ideas,” Walter Kirn writes about the extinction of boredom:

Thanks to Twitter, iPads, BlackBerrys, voice-activated in-dash navigation systems, and a hundred other technologies that offer distraction anywhere, anytime, boredom has loosened its grip on us at last—that once-crushing “weight” has become, for the most part, a memory. Even the worst blind dates don’t bore us now; we’re never more than a click away from freedom, from an instantaneous change of conversation partners.

He goes on to lament a potential loss in creativity, owing to a lack of daydreaming, or something. And it might be true. But this is one crutch I’m quite happy to have.

Grading The Atlantic Fiction Supplement

What an exciting headline! Below you will find just what the headline states, and knowing my biases (I prefer the factual stuff), you can judge whether you’d like to buy it, and what you’d like to read. We’ll grade from one to ten:

Lorelai, by Jerome Charyn – Mysterious, surprising, disappointing. 6

A Simple Case, by E.C. Osondu – Nigerian brothels and prisons. Exciting, but not as exciting as it sounds. 7

Hopefulness, by Ryan Mecklenburg – Devastating, considering it centers on a man’s devotion to his Neighborhood Watch. That compliment was too back-handed. This is good! Bonus points for pinewood derby scene. 9

Bone Hinge, by Katie Williams – Creative premise, wonderfully executed. Haunting. 10

The Silence, by T.C. Boyle – Has a subhead called “flypaper.” Is about a silent retreat. 3

Visiting, by Stuart Nadler -Builds great tension, then cops out. 5

The Landscape of Pleasure, by Amanda Briggs – I feel asleep. N/A

Enjoy! Also, there is an interview with Paul Theroux on “Fiction in the Age of E-Books” which would earn a grade of “P” for “Pointless,” because when has anybody – no offense to Mr. Theroux – said anything remotely insightful about the future of writing. I did rather like this exchange:

The Atlantic: How do you reconcile your misanthropy with your politeness?

Theroux: I am probably a crank, as most writers are. But far from being a misanthrope, I hold the view that you get through life best by understanding that most people have it much worse than you do – really difficult lives, almost unimaginable hardship. So I grin like a dog and wander aimlessly and am grateful for my life.

This Week’s Best Profile

The latest issue of the Atlantic offers an appropriately complex portrait of the man leading the “suicide tourism” industry in Switzerland:

A few hours later, with the party under way, Minelli led a tour of the Blue Oasis for his employees—five men and nine women, a mix of college students, professionals, and retirees, all of whom work for Dignitas part-time. Minelli himself is 77 and has thinning white hair, thick glasses, and a hearing aid in his right ear, but he displayed a youthful enthusiasm as he walked us through the house. It was clean and new, with hardwood floors and white walls decorated with watercolors of rural Swiss landscapes. In the front hallway hung a framed cartoon of a man concealing a vial of poison behind his back and waving off people approaching him with a wheelchair and a box of diapers. A cooler full of chilled champagne sat beside a hospital bed in one of two rooms specially outfitted for people who want to kill themselves.

The whole thing is well worth your time, whatever your politics.

This Week’s Best Profile

I haven’t quite finished this piece on late-night radio host George Noory, but I’m enjoying it enough to point you to it, here:

very night, when most of the world has drifted into unconsciousness, some 30 percent of the American population stays awake. They’re truckers, insomniacs, night-shift workers, or just people who like to stay up late. They tend to adhere to a different set of norms. For one thing, in an age of digital distraction, they connect with enthusiasm to a decidedly analog device: they listen to the radio for longer periods, with greater attention, and with greater loyalty than do audiences at any other time of the day. They tend to listen alone—alone in bed, alone on a highway, alone in the world—and find that a voice in the darkness offers a bond with a wider community. Perhaps you’re one of them. Or perhaps, if you’ve ever driven across country in the dark, or flipped on the radio because you couldn’t sleep, you know the feeling.You might also have caught a glimpse into one of the odder realms of modern media. Lately, night people listen, in huge numbers, to a syndicated program called Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. It’s by far the most popular overnight show in the country. And it’s probably the most successful program of its kind ever aired. But just what kind of program it is, no one can quite say. Its topical breadth alone defies categorization: aliens, time travel, 9/11 conspiracies, suspicious murders, vampires, mediated telepathy, birds of unusual size. Shadow People seem to show up a lot. Every evening, Coast to Coast offers a running commentary on what keeps people awake, in fear or fascination, through what Keats called the “unslumbrous night.”

Read the rest of the article, and if your mind wasn’t already turned to it, here’s David Foster Wallace in the same magazine five years ago.

Inconsistency and The Atlantic

Is there a more inconsistent magazine than The Atlantic?

Take the latest issue, December 2009. There’s a fascinating feature with the overly-hyperbolic title “Did Christianity Cause the Crisis?”:

It can be hard to get used to how much Garay talks about money in church, one loyal parishioner, Billy Gonzales, told me one recent Sunday on the steps out front. Back in Mexico, Gonzales’s pastor talked only about “Jesus and heaven and being good.” But Garay talks about jobs and houses and making good money, which eventually came to make sense to Gonzales: money is “really important,” and besides, “we love the money in Jesus Christ’s name! Jesus loved money too!” That Sunday, Garay was preaching a variation on his usual theme, about how prosperity and abundance unerringly find true believers. “It doesn’t matter what country you’re from, what degree you have, or what money you have in the bank,” Garay said. “You don’t have to say, ‘God, bless my business. Bless my bank account.’ The blessings will come! The blessings are looking for you! God will take care of you. God will not let you be without a house!”

A brief report on the Tijuana of the Caspian:

“The border is closed until morning,” he said. Then he nodded at the motel. “You want a room? It’s very nice, with a television and a girl.”

I said I was staying near the square and just taking a stroll.

“Only 10 manats,” he persisted. “I can get you this. Anything you want.” I laughed, and he lit a cigarette. “Come on,” he said, “don’t be a Muslim.”

An entertaining essay on love and marriage and parenting – which seems to be the magazine’s true strength (I say that with admiration):

The very success of the modern American family—where kids get punctually to SAT-tutoring classes, the mortgage gets paid, the second-story remodel stays on budget—surely depends on spouses’ not being in love. In Against Love, Laura Kipnis makes the memorable argument that erotic bliss subverts production: lovers hungry for their next “fix” work less; they steal their temps perdu moments with each other from their bosses’ punch clocks. But never mind work—what time clock requires more constant smacking than the one in the middle-class-children-making factory known as the modern family? Surely no child in such a family has ever flatly declared: “Why did we miss soccer practice Saturday morning? Mom and Dad weren’t able to roll out of bed before noon—they literally can’t keep their hands off each other.” When is there time to compare tan lines on the Appalachian Trail?

Not to mention a deceptively interesting (and previously mentioned) analysis of Nora Ephron’s movies.

And then, there’s a boring article on the Army-Navy football game, a really boring article on the genetics of success, and an article with a level of boredom-inducement that is almost unfathomable (it’s on Squaw Valley. The ski resort). And Christopher Hitchens was even kind of boring. Kind of.

What’s the deal?

In the Director’s Chair

This line, in an Atlantic article about directors Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers, struck me. I’ll tell you why after you read it:

Ephron is famouser—a brand, almost—but Meyers has had the bigger hits; 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give (Diane Keaton, disappointed in love, blowing out the scented candles with age-scored lips) was a very healthy earner, and What Women Want was an absolute juggernaut, with a worldwide gross of $374 million: one of the most successful movies ever directed by a woman.

“One of the most successful movies ever directed by a women.” I wasn’t particularly surprised that What Women Want took such an honor, but I was surprised as I sat in an airplane window seat and thought about all the other big name female Hollywood directors out there and…realized…I couldn’t…name…any. Not one. Further inspiration brought Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow to mind, but neither arrives immediately like a Spielberg, Scorsese, Eastwood, Allen, or (Francis Ford) Coppola – not to mention Soderberg, the Coens, PTA, Almodovar, and so on. There is no shortage of “elite” professions that are highly gender-stratified, but my unscientific analysis suggests to me that none might be moreso than the Hollywood director’s chair.

Read the whole article here.

This Week’s Best Profile

This is the first line of Nadya Labi’s piece in the latest Atlantic:

On a humid Thursday afternoon in February, I am riding in a rented van in Central America with a man who abducts children for a living.

Hooked? Here’s more from her profile of a Gus Zamora, professional kidnapper:

From the porch of the yellow house, Helen texts that the grandfather hasn’t gone to karate. As it becomes clear that, once again, Helen is being too closely observed to initiate the snatchback, Todd grows visibly frustrated and wonders aloud whether one solution might be to slow down “the old man” long enough to keep him from impeding the snatchback. “What if you hire a couple of lowlifes…?”

“It would take me time to fucking do that,” Gus says. For all his tough talk, he doesn’t seem eager to break down doors.

“Okay, okay,” Todd says. “I was just thinking. I don’t mean hurt him, but just to, to delay him, to stall him.”

Gus doesn’t respond. He later tells me that he hasn’t been paid enough for that kind of job.

As you might imagine, there are some hefty moral questions at play here. The piece does a great job of letting you decide for yourself. Read it.