I’m not proud of this. I’d prefer to be a guy who can refer to a version or edition or plain old instance of something, and who doesn’t go around saying iteration over and over again. Alas, that is not me. And I found out about my iteration malady in the most jarring way possible. I had just started a new job. One day, a few weeks in, I heard three different colleagues with whom I interact often use the word iteration independent of one another. When the third of these, a woman I knew prior to taking the job, said it, I stopped her mid-sentence. ‘Wait, did you just say iteration? Why is everyone saying that word here?’ Her response hit me like an unabridged thesaurus to the dome. ‘You should be psyched,’ she shot back. ‘That’s one of your words.’
Why do we spend so much time with stories whose endings we already know?
A meditation on what it means to be alone and how we seek meaning from the natural world by Leslie Jamison, bestselling author of The Empathy Exams.
Recommended reading: Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams (which The Millions covered here and here), writes again, this time about 52 Blue, “the loneliest whale in the world.” The full work is available at Atavist for $3.99, but an excerpt is available at Slate.
After five years, Lev Grossman has released the final book in his Magicians trilogy, aptly reviewed in the Sunday Timesby our own Edan Lepucki. At Slate, the Awl cofounder, Year in Reading alum and novelist Choire Sicha looks back on the series as a whole. After reading through all three entries, Choire poses a simple but hard-to-answer question: is main character Quentin truly the central figure of the books? It might also be a good time to read our interview with Grossman.
Edith Wharton a wonderful hostess, whose guests (including Henry James) remember her as “kindness and hospitality incarnate.” Now you too can be the perfect literary host - just follow Kate Bolick’s guide, “The Guesthouse of Mirth.”
The easiest way to appear to be well-read is to socialize exclusively with uncultured cretins, which simply won’t do, so instead you should subscribe to the New York Review of Books and read it religiously, committing to memory one idea from each piece and praying to achieve a casual air when, at a dinner party, fobbing off this insight as your own.
Can’t wait for Haruki Murakami’s new novel? You’re in luck: Slate just published an exclusive excerpt from the book. Sample quote: “No matter how quiet and conformist a person’s life seems, there’s always a time in the past when they reached an impasse. A time when they went a little crazy. I guess people need that sort of stage in their lives.” (You could also read Ben Dooley’s review of 1Q84.)
"What’s the kindest thing you almost did?" You’ll find this sentence by Jonathan Safran Foer on a Chipotle cup next time you eat a burrito there. The fast food restaurant will feature the short stories five authors, including Foer, Malcolm Gladwell, Toni Morrison, George Saunders, and Michael Lewis, on its cups, and unlike guacamole, they won’t cost extra. Unsurprisingly, Cormac McCarthy didn’t make a cup.
I wonder now if it needed to take that long. Because I have cared in the past as much about how something is said as what’s being said, I have made it a point to hone lines and perfect scenes before I know if a character or a plotline will ultimately work. That means I can take forever getting something right, only to have someone like yourself point out that it might be entirely wrong. There’s a bit of a battle/war problem here. By the time I perfect something, the war be damned—look at all the battles I’ve made pretty! It’s an inefficient and self-destructive and often heartbreaking way to work, with the only comfort that of knowing you’ve been faithful even to the scraps.
I’ve since read it a few times for no particular reason, because the thing about Dubliners is that it never loses its capacity to draw me into its confined narrative spaces, with all their cruel precision and humane comedy, all their beauty and their bleakness, their terrible evocations of boredom and desperation and yearning and entrapment. And if you live in Dublin, if you are yourself a Dubliner, no matter how many times you read the book, it will always reveal something profound and essential and unrealized about the city and its people. Somehow or another, it will always hit you where you live.