Imagining that reality—in which everybody (except me) becomes a corpse—presents no difficulties whatsoever. Like most people in New York City, I daily expect to find myself walking the West Side Highway with nothing but a shopping cart stacked with bottled water, a flashlight, and a dead loved one on my back, seeking a suitable site for burial. The postapocalyptic scenario—the future in which everyone’s a corpse (except you)—must be, at this point, one of the most thoroughly imagined fictions of the age.
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.
Not for the first time the boy was struck by the great human mysteries of this world. He was almost fifteen, almost a man, and the great human mysteries of this world were striking him with satisfying regularity, as was correct for his stage of development.
I write against things, I suppose, and the thing that doesn’t interest me is gathering a cabal of people exactly like yourself to read what you write. The thing which I like about my writing—I don’t know if it’s a symptom of its generalness or whatever—but I have old ladies e-mail me, or write to me, more likely, who are age eighty-five and then I have very young people: sixteen, seventeen. I like the idea that the writing has no precise identity. It doesn’t block people, it doesn’t force them to think, ‘Oh, this is me in a very precise way.’
Still doing your holiday shopping? Well we here at The Millions suggest that this year (and every year), you give the gift of great literature. And where better to find some book recommendations than straight from the authors you most admire? Zadie Smith, for example, says you should read Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams. Alexander Chee says you should read Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai. Our staff writer, Edan Lepucki, wants everyone to just bite the bullet and read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl if they haven’t yet.
In celebration of this Tuesday’s event with Chris Ware and Zadie Smith, we’ll be posting great comics throughout the day. Here is an excerpt from Ware’s latest, Building Stories. A few tickets for Tuesday evening are still available here…