Category Archives: Essays

IAmTheMessengerbyMarkusZusak

Rereading I Am the Messenger

By Angela Yuen

I Am the Messenger, by Marcus Zusak, is an old book for me because I have held it and absorbed it so many times. Readers can always memorize the feelings of certain books in their hands, I think. Our favorite books, the ones that we keep and reread, have a sort of battered heft to them. Some books have older souls, I tell my friends, and they agree. The souls of books are always a joint effort; one part author, one part reader, and the old ones are the books we keep giving part of ourselves to.

I tend to reread books around the Winter and New Year season, I’ve noticed. It’s a combination of the weather and the people, old relatives and warm houses. I like the comforting repetitiveness of rereading books, though many people tell me it retracts from the experience because everything in the story is already known. Then again, the story of Ed Kennedy, the underage cabdriver in Messenger, is the sort of story that leaves you wondering how much you really know.  Continue reading

Yale_Law_School_Class_of_1883

Regrets, I’ve Had a Few (But Not Becoming a Lawyer Isn’t One)

By Seth Greenland

My father was the biggest Yankee fan I knew but he never wanted me to be Mickey Mantle. He wanted me to be Mickey Mantle’s lawyer. He grew up poor in the Bronx and always viewed the Law from the perspective of an urchin in a Dickens novel. The Law was grand, exalted, and highly remunerative. Saying one’s son was a lawyer not only sounded both refined and prosperous, to a Depression era kid it represented the Platonic ideal of order in a chaotic world. And I bought it. Of my high school and college friends, six became lawyers. My friend of longest standing — we met in first grade — was an outlier. Desperate to be Ernest Hemingway, he went to Europe, he drank wine, he wrote a novel (currently in a drawer). And then he went to law school. Today, he’s a trusts and estates lawyer. For the first twenty-one years of my life that was the future: suit, tie, oxford cloth shirt, polished hard-soled shoes, court appearances, filing of briefs, whispered conferences in judges’ chambers, and, oh, that reliable paycheck. Continue reading

antoinebruy01

An Unclean Break

Image: Antoine Bruy, from “Scrublands”

By Joanna Chen

A parachute appears, floating in a cloudless sky. It lands with a bump in the sand. A small figure unhitches herself, climbs to her feet. She pauses, brushes sand off her blue jeans. That girl is me and I have come back to the same spot where I landed in the Negev desert as a teenager, to remember.

I have been putting off coming here for a long time. I book a room at the Field School, then cancel, then rebook. The man answers me tiredly the third time I call, reeling off what the room has to offer: bunk beds for six, sheets and towels, an air-conditioner I later discover does not work. That’s it. Do I want it or not. When I lived there as a student in high school, it was a small room littered with clothes, cigarette stubs, a faded curtain blown by the hot desert wind in an open window. The view is the same. I used to lie on my bed and look through the window at the white of the wadi overlooking my room. Now my son is here, in another building, probably still asleep, perhaps shifting slightly in the bed as he sleeps. It soothes me to think he is there; when I think of being here without him I’m filled with the old fears of being engulfed by a desert landscape that became a metaphor for despair. Continue reading

Khorsandi_Facade

NEWS FROM THE OTHER COAST: LESS AMERICA SOON

By Joseph Giovannini

To see cultural terrorism at work, you don’t have to trek to Afghanistan, where in 2001 the Taliban dynamited a magnificent and monumental Buddha carved in live rock. Within our own country, the legislators and chief executive in Orange County, New York, a bucolic county a couple of hours west of New York City, seem keen on rivaling the Taliban for barbarism by irreversibly damaging the comparably magnificent and monumental Orange County Government Center, by the American architectural master Paul Rudolph. On February 5, unless a majority of the legislators at a meeting override a veto by the county executive, Steven Neuhaus, the bulldozers will be out by spring to demolish a large section of the building to make room for a soulless replacement. Our collective cultural patrimony will be diminished. Neuhaus claims he is accommodating pressure from the courts to reopen courtrooms in the currently shuttered building. He is also ignoring history and the national interest.

Continue reading

larb blog architecture

The Arrogance of Criticism

By Joseph Giovannini

In October 2014, our architecture critic, Joseph Giovannini, wrote about what he called La Comédie Architecturale. He now sends this update. 

LAST JUNE, in his New York Review of Books article “The Insolence of Architecture,” the New York architecture critic Martin Filler wrote a scathing appraisal of the London architect Zaha Hadid — more about her character, really, than her work — making a serious factual error when he accused her of indifference to the deaths of nearly 1,000 workers on the construction site of her Al-Wakrah soccer stadium in Qatar. The accusation and consequent controversy went viral.

In fact, not one person had died on the site; construction hadn’t even started. She sued Filler and NYRB for defamation, even as sages of the profession opined the suit was a strategic error on her part, bringing more attention to the issue. Was she a petulant diva? Continue reading

larb blog reading security

Reading Security

Image: Julianna Brion

By Randon Billings Noble

I’ve been reading a lot these days – novels, essays, and online articles about reading novels, essays and online articles. My own reading has been voracious and omnivorous – largely because the rest of my life is limited to being home with three-year-old twins and reading The Magic School Bus, Frog and Toad are Friends and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.

So I do not have “reading insecurity,” as defined by Katy Waldman in a recent Slate article of the same name. Instead of “the subjective experience of thinking that you’re not getting as much from reading as you used to,” I fear I am in danger of taking too much from it. As soon as the twins’ door closes on their naptime or my husband comes home from work I am counting the minutes until I can fix a cup of tea and curl up with a book. Then, at last, I can rejoin Eula Biss as she explores vaccination in On Immunity, or Cheryl Strayed as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, or Lucy Knisely as she travels across Europe and into The Age of License. Through these journeys I can leave struggles with socks and broccoli and tantrums behind. Continue reading

amy li

The Interrogation Room

Image © Amy Li — 2015 

By Jessica Gross

A week after the journalist and critic Deborah Solomon visited the Museum of Communism in Prague, she spoke about it in a workshop on how to conduct interviews. “They have something there called an interrogation room,” she told the couple dozen of us, mostly women and mostly journalists, clustered around the table. The interrogation room was a Soviet-era recreation, and Solomon was curious what she’d find. “I looked, and it was just a desk and a chair,” she said. “No water boarding instruments or weapons. And I thought, well, whoever was sitting behind that desk must have known how to ask great questions.” Continue reading

blog je suis charlie

Je Suis Charlie

The following piece is a reaction to the events on January 7, 2015 in France by Martina Sternfeld. Martina can be reached at martina.sternfeld@gmail.com. 

last night we had search and rescue missions running over the English channel and most especially right at the beach outside our door.  the helicopters were at my window level blowing the tree tops in my buildings garden.  the coast guard was on the water with lights strong enough to make it feel like we were in the middle of the afternoon.  it made me incredibly sad because I thought back to when the children would wake me up in the night and I would sit with them through a feverish period or a bad dream and I reflected that here I am and always have been a liberal minded woman.  I don’t believe in God or religion.  I don’t believe in luck or dreams coming true.  I don’t believe in the death penalty.  I am the daughter of a soldier who died in his prime as a direct result of his service to our country where he fought so that we could be free.  all of us.  to practice whatever human ritual we wanted to.  I lived in that world for my whole life.  every mother wakes up to the fevered scream of their child in the same exact way that I did and yet now, today, I can feel it when I walk past my head shrouded sisters on the streets that a stake has been driven into the ground between us.  the people who did this have become virtual movie stars, their faces on the front pages of all our papers and each and every one of our many means of communication.  they are nothing more than publicity hounds who make the suffering of ‘everyman’ so much more profound on the planet.  the horrible conditions that our fellow human beings live in all over the world, which should be the true subject of our attention pales in comparison to the car chase and shoot ‘em up action these egotistic savages perform on the worlds stage.  they add nothing.  they help no one.  no matter where we are in the world, our children will all wake in the wee hours with the same feverish cry.  that is the one we should answer.  we need to listen to the light in our hearts.  it is still there, burning brightly in our children.  we must stand together and fight for them to have the world they deserve and which we are capable of giving them.  ‘hands across the world’. today I will try harder to wish my neighbour well.

image

ON WAITING AND SUGAR

Photo: Awaiting Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” (June 2014) 

By Magdalena Edwards

“Waiting too long poisons desire, but waiting too little pre-empts it: the imagining is in the waiting.”

Adam Phillips, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life (FSG 2012)

I.

Lately I have been thinking about waiting, specifically the act of choosing to join a long, slow line of people to do or get something that is not a necessity. Continue reading

Larb blog giving blood

Going to Give the Blood

Photo credit Alex Crétey Systermans.

By Joanna Chen

“Can I give blood too?” my son asks as I stand in the doorway, car keys in one hand, my bag and a bottle of water in the other. “No,” I say. “You can’t. You’re too young.” He is fifteen years old and has a genetic disease. He will probably never be able to donate blood.

My partner, Raz, and I drive to East Jerusalem and up to the Mount of Olives. It’s a beautiful journey, beginning with the biblical landscape of David and Goliath. The Ella Valley, where we live, has barely changed for years, a gentle range of hills dotted with olive and almond trees that blossom wildly in season. The area also carries a delicate historical subtext: it was the site of a number of Arab villages that existed before the 1948 war. One of the villages we pass still contains a mosque, peeking out above the red roofed houses of Kurdish Jews who fled Northern Iraq in the early 1950s. Continue reading