Category Archives: Essays

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.

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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

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

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

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.

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

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. Continue reading

The Odysseys of Homer

Photo: Monica Neuwens

This essay was commissioned for The L.A. Odyssey Project, a month-long, city-wide exploration of Homer’s epic poem presented by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library. For more information, visit http://lfla.org/odyssey/.

By James Porter

The two poems attributed to Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are among the finest treasures in the world. They are also among the most puzzling and mysterious. Sprung full-grown like Athena in full armor from the head of Zeus, the poems miraculously appear sometime around 750-650 BCE, each the size of a hefty novel (nearly 16,000 verses for the Iliad and 12,000 for the Odyssey), each perfectly self-contained and of the greatest narrative sophistication, and neither one overlapping with the other, as if obeying some silent convention or territorial prerogative. Continue reading

Right to Raft

Photo: Nadine Cordial

By Elizabeth Lauren Winkler

There’s a quality to youthful American summers that sets those childhoods apart. I’ve sped far enough forward now from that time that my memories have condensed into a series of vivid, if fractured, images: my parents parked on their canvas beach chairs (Dad slack-jawed in a heat-induced nap); crabs strewn like the bodies of a defeated army across a long brown-papered table; the sea of Fourth of July patchwork quilts; fireworks, post-explosion, dripping color through the night; heat throbbing on the courts at tennis camp; melting popsicles; tangled, sunburned limbs; and the cool, chemical blue waters of the country club pool. Continue reading

Literary Santa Barbara: A Travel Piece

By Jerry Griswold

While the movie “Sideways” presented Santa Barbara as the regional capitol of mid-life wine tasting, it has also been a place where writers have come and set up shop for over 150 years. These have included Ross MacDonald, Sue Grafton, Wallace Stegner, Kenneth Rexroth, Randall Jarrell, T.C. Boyle, John Sayles, Gretel Erlich, and many others.

Writers have also written about the place. One of the first was Kate Douglas Wiggin (best known for Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) who found Santa Barbara a “tropical revelation” after moving from snowy Maine. Among the more recent is Pico Iyer, travel writer and sometime resident of the city, who described Santa Barbara as “softer than L.A. but harder than Santa Cruz.” Continue reading