Choire Sicha

  • A Hero for Our Time

    There used to be a belief—or maybe it’s just a symptom of being young—that if you yelled and expressed great dismay at something or someone, it or he could thereby be stopped. This had to happen, didn’t it, once everyone had risen up and turned against this bad thing or person? Then, just maybe, we would be free of at least one torture. We could feel good!

    To be fair, this may actually be a thing that still happens from time to time. Attend carefully to the career of hipster porn star James Deen. Will fans, over time, express solidarity with his former lover and other women who’ve publicized

  • Private Sins

    Sometimes you find books that are sharply reported, incisive, edifying—and that you wish you could just file away in a hermetically sealed memory hole. That’s the dilemma posed by Amos Kamil and Sean Elder’s Great Is the Truth: Secrecy, Scandal, and the Quest for Justice at the Horace Mann School (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26). I am not a particularly soft person—in fact, I am rather callous—but this chronicle of an awful, decades-long conspiracy to cover up massive trauma being inflicted on defenseless kids is all but begging me to tune it out. It’s like Andrea Dworkin doing a dramatic

  • Village People

    St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street (Norton, $28) has a title you might gloss over, or perhaps dismiss as an ironic aside or forgotten punk-rock lyric. Oh, but no. If we may hazard a spoiler, the upshot of this zippy history by Ada Calhoun is that whatever era of cool you’re looking for, whether hippie, gang, punk, gay poet, Victorian, German immigrant, Warholian, drag queen, or Puerto Rican New Wave, it is absolutely extinct. What’s more, it’s been replaced by something much more static and deadening than the “nothing good” that prior hipster pioneers will reliably

  • Trial by Tinsel

    Basically, whenever a Hemingway has a baby, child services should swoop in and snatch that chisel-cheeked moppet away. It’s not that the Hemingway tribe is all that hideously abusive or monstrous, but some combination of dark genetics and family assholicness just makes for emaciated, nervous children who can be suicide prone and occasionally delusional. Of course, a lot of families are like that. With every celebrity-family memoir, one has to stop and ask: How much worse is this family than mine? Eh, not much—and we didn’t even have a share of the royalties to fight over.

    Hypervigilant Mariel

  • Forest Fires

    I always tell people that my favorite book is Reckless Disregard. That is Renata Adler’s account, published in 1986, of two high-profile libel trials that took place in New York City in the early ’80s. Those are Westmoreland v. CBS et al. and Sharon v. Time.

    The Sharon was Ariel Sharon; Westmoreland was the US Army chief of staff; and that et al. included Mike Wallace. Superstar lawyers Floyd Abrams and David Boies swan through Adler’s chronicle. Reckless Disregard originally appeared as two pieces in the New Yorker, if you can imagine such a thing, and so the book gets to end with Cravath,

  • Anti-Publica

    In December, Franklin Foer was deposed from atop the New Republic. Facebook-millionaire owner Chris Hughes and his content-flacking flunky Guy Vidra clumsily installed onetime Gawker editor Gabriel Snyder as Foer’s successor. TNR, it was announced, must become a competitor in the Internet’s content-mining industry. Then almost everyone quit!

    The staff and stakeholders were rightly furious, if a bit grandiose and dramatic: The mess really was a mess; Vidra truly is an idiot. Unlike almost any other publication, TNR lived for the past century in a bubble largely uncorrupted by commerce. And so

  • Star Traps

    Until recently, Hollywood was the most famous American place in the world. Over the past decade or so, it’s been dethroned by Brooklyn (“Are you from Brooklyn? Do you like Interpol?” is what you are likely to be asked on Air France) and, of course, the World Trade Center. Still, third place is nice. Hollywood is a terrific and justifiably iconic American thing. It’s served ever since its founding as a cultural capital of sin as well as a focal point of American anti-Semitism.

    Two new books examine the great gossipy early days of Los Angeles as industry town: William J. Mann’s Tinseltown:

  • Youth Is Wasted on the Wasted

    Rich Kids of Instagram is a series of products of somewhat unclear ownership and membership. It is, or began as, a Tumblr. That website collects Instagram pictures of depravity and wastefulness: yachts, bikini bodies, alcohol, cars, watches (so many boring expensive watches!), nightclubs. They are often funny. It’s usually unclear whether the taker of the photograph was the one who caused it to be published on the Tumblr or whether it was swept in by mockers—or admirers?

    The site has a huge moneyed sea of characters. For me, the most typical is a humorless and paste-colored cheese called Jack

  • Thumbing Things Up

    The stunt book is a great American genre. For reasons of capitalism and lack of imagination, however, the stunt-writing industry took a sad tumble a while back, just about 118 years after Nellie Bly set out to travel around the world in under eighty days. Picture it: The year was 2007, and A. J. Jacobs published The Year of Living Biblically, while Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man, began living eco-consciously (though his book wasn’t published until 2009, by which time the planet had already failed to be saved). “The whole ‘Set Time Period During Which I Tried To Make Myself A More Interesting

  • Huff and Puff

    Arianna Huffington is a person with quite a few moments. She relays one at the beginning of her fourteenth book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder (Harmony, $26).

    But wait, did you miss the other thirteen? In 1994’s The Fourth Instinct, she had a moment: In a hotel room in Europe, with champagne chilling, she realized that survival, sex, and power were not enough. A fourth instinct must be tended, and it was “spiritual fulfillment.”

    Twenty years later, she not only recounts that incident nearly verbatim but also gives us

  • Off Color

    Carl Van Vechten was, by the late 1920s, “the nation’s unrivaled expert on the Negro, the man who had unveiled to the world the remarkable truth about the United States’ hidden artistic genius.” He was also one of New York City’s great narcissists. And he managed to distinguish himself even within this self-enamored group by carefully crafting his image for posterity—hoarding great stockpiles of material related to himself and feeding them to Yale and to the New York Public Library. So he is recognized as the connective tissue between Lincoln Kirstein and Gertrude Stein and Langston Hughes and

  • Frenzies of Renown

    James Franco, America’s most no-no-notorious grad student, now delivers what they say is a novel. It’s called Actors Anonymous (Little A/New Harvest, $26), and it comes to us from New Harvest, an imprint of Amazon, so don’t look for it at Barnes & Noble. (New Harvest sounds like an autumn-themed feminine-hygiene product. So refreshing, yet so . . . leafy?)

    Actors Anonymous is what people used to call a “provocation.” What’s true among these linked stories about actors and acting and sex? What’s not? Who’s the “James Franco” here? Why on earth are the stories all linked by a twelve-step structure?

  • The Unsightly Truth

    Ugliness was fun for a while, but then it got too real. After kitsch—which bottomed, or perhaps topped, out in the middle of the last century—came a dark commercial anti-kitsch, an ugly so enveloping and horrid that it couldn’t be celebrated. Mass culture and aspirational brand culture drove right into each other, merging into a hideous beast that vomits Target “designer” lines and QVC frocks and polyester “fleece” blankets in sunny colors. There’s nothing charming about the ugliness that governs how we buy what we live with now. All that’s worse is the production regime under which it’s all

  • Data Mined

    Flattr is a three-year-old Swedish company. Its goal is to enable people to pay for things that they might not ordinarily pay for: YouTube videos, Flickr photos, GitHubs, Instagrams. The idea is for you to fund a monthly balance for your Flattr account and use it to monetize your own patterns of Web-based approval. At the end of every month, your Flattr balance gets distributed among the things that you had “favorited.”

    A number of us took this experiment to Twitter. Flattr had been baked into the Twitter platform, so that the very act of “favoriting” a tweet was later accompanied by some

  • Drunk and Disorderly

    Charles Jackson barely ever wrote a piece of fiction. The vast majority of his output—five novels or collections in the decade beginning 1944, and one final novel fourteen years later (“99 percent of this novel is lubricious trash,” read the Kirkus review)—was thinly disguised fact. His first, and by far his best-known, work was The Lost Weekend; it was essentially his homosexual alcoholic’s diary artfully made fiction. It made headlines for its depiction of alcoholism; the homosexual component got far less attention, likely because of the distorted Freudian fever gripping the nation, in which

  • Blissed Out

    Los Angeles is traditionally where factoids become fables and get passed off as philosophy. The true mystical secret of Zen ideas in particular is that they’re stupid. California is pretty stupid, too—which means that warmed-over takeout Zen has done a good business there. Consider, just for instance, the success of the Nichiren Shōshū sect: Its promoters have melded simplistic Zen ideas with materialism, and throughout the ’80s, suburban Angelenos gathered in living rooms, all chanting for happiness and/or a new car. It worked, too: Lots of them did eventually get new cars.

    There is no LA

  • Happiness Envy

    Writers and most other people without real jobs spend most of their work time not actually creating things but either “making bad work for hire” or “burning with envy.” Our tabloid culture encourages this. Lena Dunham and Tina Fey and Hoda Kotb and whichever German teen or war-on-terror combatant was most recently held captive in a basement have all received bazillion-dollar book advances, and that is so unfair! How could capitalism work that way, that some product that is worth a lot of money would then be purchased for a lot of money to make a corporation a lot more money?

    Something writers

  • Forty-Four Candles

    “How did you manage to get hotter with age?” asked a member of Reddit of Molly Ringwald earlier this year. “I drink the blood of Kristen Stewart,” Ringwald typed in reply. You could practically hear the applause.

    Ringwald was doing an AMA on Reddit, the most voguish current way to promote an enterprise or identity. For the uninitiated, it stands for “Ask Me Anything,” and is usually preceded by “I Am X,” as in, “IAmA employee for the most contaminated nuclear site in the US AMA” and “I’m Woody Harrelson, AMA,” which was the most awful interaction of baffled film star and enraged audience, a

  • Watch What Happens

    A mutual friend once told me that the most important thing to know about Andy Cohen—the Bravo exec, on-air late-night host, and Real Housewife wrangler—is that his parents loved him very much. He grew up kind, and expecting good things from the world.

    Now he’s published—and it actually does sound like him, unlike most ghosted popcult memoirs!—a gushy, messy memoir-to-date, Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture (Henry Holt, $25). (He is forty-four.) Topics include his growing up in St. Louis, his extreme gayness, his loud mother, his struggles to acknowledge his extreme

  • Klaus Werk

    Celebrity is a particularly thorny proposition in the worlds of literature and art. It’s useful: It inflates painting prices, and moves books. It’s also filthy to The Serious Crowd. But there are quality celebrities—people who both have recognition and are considered artists, a minority among the greater fame world. James Franco is probably the most popular version of the quality celebrity, as troublesome as he can be; other such high-end stars include semiformer East Village scenesters such as Jake Shears and Antony Hegarty.

    And as a sort of corollary to the boomlet in cultural celebrity,