LARB Channels Ice Bucket Challenge

On the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and Ferguson

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Today’s post was originally published last week by LARB Channel Avidly. 

By M.J. Dinius

Last night on Facebook, my friend explicitly linked the two stories dominating my social media feed: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the events in Ferguson, Missouri.  My friend asked,  “How many buckets of ice would I have to pour over my head to get people to care about black lives?”  Likely meant to be more provocative than substantive—especially when compared to the real and deep connections confirmed between Ferguson and the Middle East — the question might be seen as an opportunistic, if well-meant, politicization of a charity fundraiser.  Or more confrontationally, it might be challenged for implicitly setting up a false choice between caring about African Americans and people suffering from a terminal, incurable disease.

For me, the post struck a still-quick nerve, compelling me to take seriously the question of what moves people to care about others these days, to question what it means to “care.” And it made me think again about the relationship of two concepts that are strange traveling partners: care, and cure. Continue reading


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Editing William T. Vollmann

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Photo: William T. Vollmann

By LARB AV

Author Tom Bissell is a longtime admirer and friend to William T. Vollmann. On the eve of Vollmann’s reading at Skylight Books earlier this month, Bissell, who’d just published a profile of Vollmann in The New Republic, dropped by and gave us a quick anecdote about the connection between the two authors.

Bissell, an insanely talented and prolific writer himself, was once working as an editor at Henry Holt when he was tasked with publishing Vollmann’s now-infamous treatise on violence, Rising Up and Rising Down. He tried to convince Vollmann to cut 1,000 pages, he failed, and of course then McSweeney’s took over and published a 7-volume, 3,300-page version. Watch the video to hear the rest of the story, which offers a rare glimpse into how the publishing world copes with Vollmann’s gargantuan output.


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Finding One’s Own Way Through the Woods: A Q & A with Short Story Writer Jack Livings

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By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

One of the best works of fiction I’ve read in recent months is The Dog: Stories by Jack Livings, who taught English in China in the 1990s and sets all of the short stories in his collection in that country. The book’s longest story, “Crystal Sarcophagus,” is set in the immediate wake of Mao’s death and follows the lives of people set the seemingly impossible task of producing, in record time, a glass coffin for the Chairman’s corpse that would be superior to those already occupied by deceased Communist leaders in Moscow and Hanoi.  Several other stories deal with politically charged issues as well, such as tensions between Han and Uighur residents of Beijing, but some focus on totally different things, such as a day and a night in the life of a friendless and not especially likable American exchange student. The Dog has been been getting enviable reviews, such as one by Michiko Kakutani that begins by calling it a “stunning debut” collection and later praises Livings for his ability to evoke the “predicaments” of varied kinds of individuals “with an emotional precision that is both unsparing and oddly forgiving.”  In interviewing Livings, I steered clear of “why set these stories in China when you’re an American who lives in the U.S.” sorts of questions, in part because he’d answered these well in earlier interviews for the China Real Time blog, for which Brittany Hite asked the questions, and for The Nervous Breakdown blog, where the person quizzing him was, well, Jack Livings. Continue reading


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All You Need is Love: Paulo Coelho’s New Novel, Adultery

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By Joseph Peschel

Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho is one of the most popular writers in the world. His
best known novel is The Alchemist published in 1988. Since then, Coelho seems to
have churned out a book every year or so. His books have been translated into 80
languages and have sold more than 165 million copies in more than 170 countries,
according to his publisher. He’s venerated by his fans and reviled by his critics, one of whom called Coelho’s previous novel Manuscript Found in Accra a “volume of ponderous clichés.” Continue reading


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How to Be a Male God: Beijing’s Pick Up Artist Scene

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By Alec Ash

Xia’er, a 22-year-old music graduate from Hunan Province, is short, with a boyish complexion and no steady job. He is an average catch.

Cirl, professional Pick Up Artist, has a ripped body, the confidence of a god, wears sparkling jewelry, and does magic. He is a ladykiller.

Cirl exists in Xia’er’s mind, also known as Studtown. If you let Xia’er keep talking, you might make the same mistake of thinking he is Cirl. If you let him do his magic tricks on you, and have two X chromosomes, watch out, you’ll be another notch on his wall the next morning. If you’re a guy, it’s OK. He will teach you. Continue reading


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California and The Invisible Bridge

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Today’s post, a review of Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge, was originally published by LARB Channel Boom.

By Thad Kousser

When the immigrant refugees were first transported, in huddled mass after huddled mass, into federal facilities spread across the country, local reactions were visceral and virulent. Residents signed petitions to let them know they weren’t welcome, talk radio fanned the flames, and a San Diego congressman reported that his constituents saw the ostensible refugees as nothing but “diseased job seekers.” While the president preached that “we can afford to be generous to refugees” as “a matter of principle,” Governor Jerry Brown urged that any bill passed by Congress to aid the immigrants should be amended with a “jobs for America first” pledge. Continue reading


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Love, or Nearest Offer: A Vignette From Beijing’s Marriage Market

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Photo: Mr. Sun browsing the marriage market.

By Alec Ash

Mr. Sun is 67, with a helmet-shaped mop of silver hair, half his teeth missing, and a generally ragged look to him. He’s an old Beijinger, and lives near the east gate of Tiantan Park, not far from the Forbidden City. Every Sunday, he goes into the park — but not for a stroll. He’s there to browse in the marriage market, looking for a match for his daughter. Continue reading


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Syria: Then and Now, Threatened Architecture

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Today’s post concerns the current triptych image on our main site, by photographer Peter Aaron. The photo is part of a series, described below. 

In 2009, internationally acclaimed architectural photographer Peter Aaron visited Syria and during the course of several weeks recorded much of the country’s incomparable architectural and archaeological heritage. From Hellenistic and Roman ruins to Ottoman caravansarais, from medieval souks to Crusader castles, from early Christian pilgrimage sites to great Abbasid and Ummayad mosques, Aaron photographed a rich and remarkable array of sites, all still in use by local populations. Just months after his return to the U.S., the Syrian Civil War broke out. Since then, many of these magnificent structures, hundreds and even thousands of years old, have been severely damaged or destroyed.
 
From August 16 to September 7, fifty of Aaron’s most unforgettable Syrian images will be displayed at Art Space, 71 Palatine Road, Germantown New York. (Germantown is between Hudson and Rhinebeck.) Opening hours are Saturdays 11-5, Sundays 11-3. Opening reception Saturday, August 16 from 5-7.


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The Silence Within Silence

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Photo: Terri Weifenbach

By Joanna Chen

Yesterday there was a ceasefire. The night before, the booms did not stop. At 3 AM the house shuddered and the walls shook. At 8 AM, as the ceasefire began, silence fell upon the house. I stood at my front door with a second cup of coffee. The cat kept close, curling herself around my bare feet. At 8:05 there was a final crescendo, a deafening boom from the direction of Gaza. A bird lifted into the air, and before I saw the bird I heard its wings beating: one, two, three. I listened to the silence that followed as if I were listening to it for the first time. There are nuances to silence, there are degrees and shades to silence. This was a heavy, ominous one and it lay upon the air the whole day and did not move. Continue reading


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Tricks of Two Trades: A Q&A on Writing News Reports and Spy Novels with Night Heron Author Adam Brookes

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By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

I’ve known Adam Brookes since 1999, when we met in Beijing where he was covering China for the BBC, and I’ve followed his career with interest ever since.  When I learned that Adam, whose latest reporting assignment has been the Pentagon, was trying his hand at a spy novel, I was intrigued. Then, after reading an advance copy of Night Heron, I was impressed. I found it a gripping read, well deserving of the strong reviews its been getting in varied periodicals.  (In his review of the book for this publication, Paul French aptly described the book  as a “genuine page turner” by an author who is “excellent at describing contemporary Beijing” and knows how to “grab us from the start” with clever plotting.) I recently caught up with Adam and asked him a series of questions about his shift from working in journalism to writing fiction, which he was good enough to answer via email in a thoughtful and detailed way: Continue reading