Natasha Vargas-Cooper

  • Crimes of Omission

    They say there are two kinds of writers. First, the A-line writers: the sort with magnificent prose, literary and rich, whose style is more engaging than their ideas. These people are a pleasure to read just for the sake of reading. Then, the B-line writers: Their ideas outweigh their sturdy but unremarkable writing. They are not stylists but thinkers, polemicists, detail hounds. People read their work for the thoroughness of thought. There is, of course, the minuscule array of writers who encompass both groups, but they are rare and very wealthy.

    Johnny Dwyer is a B-minus-line writer. Dwyer’s

  • The Talking Curse

    Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me is a slim, well-intentioned, and gratingly naive collection of essays on Women’s Issues. It could serve as a sort of primer for freshman-year dorm-room discussions of why rape is bad, why all people deserve the right to marry, how they can maintain a baseline measure of equality while they’re married, and why feminism is still a noble movement. But that’s only if you like your agitprop soft-boiled and sexless.

    The 2008 title essay did offer a provocative little theory about an insidious way men try to jockey and dominate over women in public settings;

  • The Patriot Game

    Anand Giridharadas’s The True American operates on the seemingly provocative question of who is more American: the Bangladeshi air-force officer who immigrates to Dallas, hires on as a gas-station cashier, and dreams of working with computers; or the Bud-swilling, tatted, truck-driving, meth-blasted Texas peckerwood who shot him as “revenge” for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Which man more encapsulates the true core of American ideals? And, really, what are America’s post-9/11 ideals? Is our place in the pecking order of social status in this country somehow mystically predetermined, or do we

  • politics February 27, 2014

    How I'd Cast Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch"

    I don’t like it when books I love are turned into movies. I'm a teenager at heart, which means I’m ferociously protective of the images and moods I conjure up while reading a book. I don’t like that imaged sullied by some development executive at Dreamworks trying to revive Katherine Heigel’s career. But for reasons I haven’t quite figured out, my affection for Donna Tartt’s work demands a cinematic treatment. It could simply be that Tarrt writes boys and men so well. And I like watching mischievous boys and craggy men acting on screen.

    Or it could be for the very reason a friend of mine

  • politics February 06, 2014

    "True Detective": A Pure Visual Novel

    I spent the last ten days devouring everything by novelist and screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto, the sole author behind HBO’s magnificent True Detective. I got hooked on Pizzolatto’s writing within moments of finishing the first episode of this bleak, philosophical, and wry new mystery series about two cops investigating a serial killer in rural Louisiana.

    Full disclosure: I’m terribly biased towards writers like Pizzolatto, who dwell in the psyches of lowlifes, fallen cops, hustlers, hookers, and never-weres. When done right, these characters are far more compelling than the ones you find in most

  • syllabi January 24, 2014

    Great Works About Raising Kids with Mental Illness

    The greatest fear I harbor about having kids is that I will, as Philip Larkin puts it in “This Be the Verse,” fuck them up. I will fuck them up in some imperceptible way at first and there will be big consequences for it later. I fear that something will be “off” with my Hypothetical Child and I will be unaware or incapable of understanding it immediately, and that when I do finally become aware, I will somehow make matters worse by choosing the wrong treatment or not recognizing the gravity of whatever my child is going through. Perhaps, I fear, I will do too much and employ some intervention

  • culture October 17, 2013

    Boardwalk Empire, NSA Spying, David Simon, and Regrettable Threesomes

    To assume government officials would not recklessly, illegally, and thuggishly spy on a "suspect’s" personal life is naive. What can they do with the information they collect by snuffling through our Facebook accounts and e-mail? I think we’d all like to imagine that even when put up against the wall, we’d never betray our political ideas, loyalties, or causes. But I cannot imagine the psychic horror of having the things I’ve done in my private realm used against me. I worry that I would fail that test.

    My favorite character on Boardwalk Empire, Eddie, Nucky Thompson's obsequious Prussian bagman, killed himself because FBI agents used personal information to coerce him into collaborating against his beloved Nucky. After a Pilsner-fueled night of fraternizing with other German ex-pats (and Al Capone’s brother), sweet old Eddie was picked up by US agents. They held Eddie at an offsite location for 12 hours, offered no lawyer, and harshly interrogated (tortured) him, but still—Eddie did not crack!

    But after the G-Men make some calls back to the Fatherland, they threaten to send Eddie back to

  • The Jong and the Restless

    Since the age of thirteen or so, my female cohorts and I have defined womanhood through a handy set of quantifiable—or tangible, at least—measures: bra size, dark eyeliner, use of tampons, relative intactness of one’s hymen, smoking, being “eaten out.” From there, the relevant metrics have only accumulated: a double-digit number of sexual partners, being able to fuck like a man, a long-term boyfriend, securing a respectable profession, refusing to go dutch on dates, being able to fuck like a lady, paying rent, and so on. But now, at the precipice of thirty, I’ve found that the single experience

  • culture November 06, 2012

    Doth Protest Too Much

    The Occupy protests of 2011 successfully transformed the issue of income inequality from an under-acknowledged condition into a national problem. This is a victory that has eluded labor unions, progressive activists, and liberal Democrats for over forty years. It is an admirable and, in some ways, very inspiring achievement, given the slapdash, decentralized, and rambling nature of the Occupy encampments.

    Despite these accomplishments, I think you can be committed to the cause of economic justice without being enraptured with the Occupy protests. In fact, in some cases, analysis of the protests

  • Organ Solo

    In 2007, Naomi Wolf warned us that the specter of fascism was haunting America. The radical Right was set to become a homegrown American version of the brownshirts. The free press was withering under a steady stream of disinformation and newspeak. A craven cabal of political elites was bullying the voting public into submission with cries for endless war. There were only a handful of patriots, in Wolf’s estimation, actively stemming the authoritarian tide. To increase their numbers and bolster the democratic cause, she published Give Me Liberty in 2008. The subtitle was A Handbook for American

  • Goldfinger

    First, just let the product specifications sink in: Marilyn Monroe (Taschen), by Norman Mailer and Bert Stern, costs a thousand dollars. It pairs ninety-three thousand words Mailer wrote about Monroe in 1973 with more than a hundred shots from Stern’s 1962 four-day photo session with the doomed actress, snapped six weeks before her death.

    Who would pay this kind of money for a glorified photo book? A person who wants to own a weighty, flashy object made specifically to call attention to itself (and to the tastes of the person who purchased it). And I must confess at the outset that I am not