But I’m not going to complain about Britain’s “lack of a service culture”—it’s one of the things I cherish about the place. I don’t think any nation should elevate service to the status of culture. At best, it’s a practicality, to be enacted politely and decently by both parties, but no one should be asked to pretend that the intimate satisfaction of her existence is servicing you, the “guest,” with a shrimp sandwich wrapped in plastic. If the choice is between the antic all-singing, all-dancing employees in New York’s Astor Place Pret-A-Manger and the stony-faced contempt of just about everybody behind a food counter in London (including all the Prets), I wholeheartedly opt for the latter. We are subject to enough delusions in this life without adding to them the belief that the girl with the name tag is secretly in love with us.
Zadie Smith could write herself out of a Chinese takeout box, and that’s exactly what she does in her essay on the differences between British and American takeout culture, “Take It Or Leave It," for The New Yorker.
For all the tired clichés about singing in the shower, I have to admit that I’m never more inspired or humbled than when I stand in that solitary space. It’s not the being naked. It’s the fact of enjoying the hot, clean water for an unprescribed amount of time, or until the water heater is emptied. It’s the fact that I am allowed this hot shower once a day — more if I want — and that the vast majority of the people in the world — in fact, the vast majority of all who have ever lived — do not enjoy this seemingly banal event
Because isn’t storytelling as fundamental as walking? One day when I’m clearing yet another thorny mess out of my path, I’ll see something attractive in the distance and I’ll walk right over to it without even realizing that there was an opening in the underbrush, allowing me to see it. Until that moment, I’ll be writing my sentences, one by one, hoping that they add up to something as graceful as a body in movement.
Hannah Gersen, “Playing Survivor on Novel Island”
I sat down in the shrine grounds under the early-summer sun, and gazed around again at the surroundings, trying to get used to what I was seeing. Absorbing and accepting this scenery as naturally as I could, mentally and viscerally. Trying to remember how I was back then. But this was all going to take a long time, as you might imagine.
Haruki Murakami retired his running shoes to walk to Kobe and rediscover his hometown.
While speech that marks you as a stranger can be a curse, it can also be a blessing. Though I’m focusing here on the moments of embarrassment that reveal my outsider status, the truth is that those two languages jostling in my head have made my writing richer. When I’m writing and I’m stuck for a word in English, I think of what I want to say in Greek. Then I translate, sometimes going to my Greek dictionary and sometimes to the Greek-English dictionary that’s left over from a friend’s classes. Either way, I feel I end up linguistically where I want to be, forming a sentence through a detour away from English and back again.
Henriette Lazaridis Power,”The Homeland of Stories: On Lingual and Cultural Identity”
Each participant found at the entrance a neon green envelope, including a library card in manila sleeve for taking notes on each “date,” and a name tag featuring the handle of a character from a favorite book (favorites requested earlier by e-mail). These would be our pseudonyms for the night. Each date would last an almost militantly enforced four minutes. A single case of lingering — whether affectionate, desirous, or uncertain — could cause the entire caterpillar crawl to go legs up. There was to be no lingering. Lingering is for books.
When Dara Horn was 14, she won a trip to Poland and Israel by acing a buzzer-beating College Bowl-type competition about Israeli history. When she returned, she wrote an essay for Hadassah magazine about visiting the sites of Nazi concentration camps. Her story was nominated for a prestigious National Magazine Award.
At the prize luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria in 1993, she recalls, ‘I was the only one there with braces.’ She didn’t win, but two judges took her aside and confided, ‘You know, you beat Norman Mailer,’ whose essay apparently did not make the finals.
I always wondered why pregnant women counted their time in weeks instead of months, but it makes sense to me now. My husband and I are both counting the days, treating my body like it is made of a substance rarer than gold and more fragile than glass. Life changes both quickly and slowly, sometimes simultaneously, and one needs to keep track as precisely as possible. Maybe that should be the lesson to me — that keeping track requires a chronicling of the bad as well as the good, whether or not that information is shared. It’s always good to know that you’re not alone. When our companion of the last nine months finally makes his way into the world, we’ll be sure to tell him that.
My Happy, Hopeful News by Emma Straub
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