• review • September 25, 2019

    Shark Week

    If the most basic aspect of modern human life is species supremacy, to be eaten is perhaps the true inverse of being alive. In the words of Valerie Taylor, one half of the couple who pioneered the underwater filming of sharks, becoming the first to film great white sharks outside of a cage: “We all realize that the chances of being taken by a shark are exceedingly remote, but it is the horror of having chunks bitten from one’s body while still alive which evokes fear out of all proportion to the actual danger.”

    I’d never heard of the Taylors until reading Sharks, Death, Surfers: An Illustrated

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  • review • September 18, 2019

    Pleasures of the Text

    In 2015, French Tunisian calligraffiti artist eL Seed travelled to Manshiyat Nasr, a ward of Cairo, and created Perception, a large-scale mural and a book project. He was especially inspired by the Zabbaleen, an informal group of workers who have collected the garbage in the city since the 1940s. The Zabbaleen take nine thousand tons of waste daily from Egypt’s capital to settlements like the one in Manshiyat Nasr, where they sort and sell the trash to factories and recycling companies.

    This limited-edition book documents the mural project with numerous photographs of the artwork, along with

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  • review • September 17, 2019

    Moving On

    The problem has to do, as it always does, with language. In When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back, Naja Marie Aidt’s reckoning with the untimely death of her son, Carl, she acknowledges this fact early and often. “My language is all dried up,” she writes in the book’s opening pages. “I vomit over art.” This weariness with written expression is born from the age-old struggle to put words to the most important and mysterious aspects of humanity: our feelings on love, our search for higher meaning, our final demise. It is, she admits, a complaint as old as writing itself.

    What makes

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    For Interpretation

    What was Susan Sontag’s preferred pronoun: “I” or “one”? First- or third-person singular? Which of those substitute-words revealed—or concealed—more about the woman who reigned as the leading cultural authority during the second half of the twentieth century but who refused to explicitly acknowledge her same-sex relationships? From the second paragraph of “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964): “I am strongly drawn to Camp, and almost as strongly offended by it. That is why I want to talk about it, and why I can.” (The declaration all but trumpets her membership in the lavender mafia.) Toward the end of that

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    Look Who’s Here!

    In the summer of 2006, at the peak of an unbearable heat wave stifling most of the Northeast, my parents filed into an unair-conditioned black-box theater in the Catskills to see a summer camp production of the musical Company. A cast of fourteen sweaty adolescent monsters (myself included) stood frozen onstage in khaki trench coats for fifteen minutes before the show began. This was an avant-garde choice we ruminated on heavily in rehearsals: How cutting-edge, we thought, to not even allow the theatergoers (parents) to settle into their seats before letting them know we were about to utterly

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    He Found It at the Movies

    “IF IT WAS A FRIDAY NIGHT, the president’s hair would look much softer and shinier than usual, because he had washed it that afternoon,” Mark Weinberg remembers in Movie Nights with the Reagans, his 2018 memoir detailing the many evenings he spent at Camp David seeing films with President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy. Throughout Reagan’s two terms in the 1980s, Weinberg, then an assistant White House press officer, accompanied the Reagans on their weekend trips to Camp David, the compound located in the hills of Maryland that has been the official retreat of US presidents since 1942.

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    Blinded by the White

    Novelist and teacher Jess Row has been thinking about racial identity for a while. That idea winds through his two story collections—The Train to Lo Wu and Nobody Ever Gets Lost—and is central to Your Face in Mine, “a novel in which a young white man undergoes ‘racial reassignment surgery’ to become black,” to use Row’s description. In his new collection of essays, White Flights, Row tries to determine how whiteness can be found in language (music and writing both qualify). White Flights is a frantic loop, though, full of strong analyses that are suddenly abandoned while Row takes off into a

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    I’m Ill Here

    “I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, at the age of forty-one,” the poet Anne Boyer writes early in her panoramic, book-length essay The Undying. Elemental and unadorned, the sentence does not leap out for quotation, and in the context of a review of some other essay, some other book, summary would be adequate (“At the age of forty-one, the poet Anne Boyer . . .”). But in a story about breast cancer, the voice of the speaker is consequential and Boyer makes this plain when, in consulting other women writers who suffered from the disease, she observes whether or not they have used the

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    The Laconic Verses

    It is probably unfashionable to begin a review with a reference to Sex and the City, but Natasha Stagg has given me tacit permission to do so—she cites the show in the first sentence of her new book, Sleeveless: Fashion, Image, Media, New York 2011–2019. In a short essay titled “Cafeteria,” which was originally published in Spike Art Quarterly in 2016, Stagg writes about observing a cadre of diners meeting for brunch in Chelsea:

    They meet at Cafeteria because the characters in Sex and the City did that. The New York of that era is not the same as the New York of today, but even while

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    Replaceable You

    A writer can be said to have reached the stratosphere of literary stardom when her tattoo is almost as well known as her creative output. The phrase Leslie Jamison has printed across her arm—Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto, or I am human: nothing human is alien to me—was the epigraph of her first essay collection, The Empathy Exams, a national best seller that was lauded for single-handedly reviving the market for personal essays, and the tattoo has been invoked in countless interviews and profiles as a kind of précis of her work. In a 2014 New York Times op-ed, Jamison wrote that when

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    Men Out of Time

    Peter McGough met David McDermott in a Manhattan theater at the end of the 1970s and the rest is history.

    McDermott was famous downtown for having odd manners and donning outdated formalwear, including detachable collars, cummerbunds, top hats, and tails. A Fashion Institute of Technology dropout, McGough wasn’t famous yet; he was employed selling drink tickets at Danceteria, wearing less memorable getups. A courtship developed as David kept Peter company during early-morning club hours just before sunrise.

    They eventually joined artistic forces, forming the alliance still known today as

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    Peel Slowly and See

    This is a great book by a great person, so let’s get logistics out of the way: Lou Sullivan was America’s first “officially” gay trans man; he started keeping a journal at age eleven, with the hope that eventually these diaries would be published. This didn’t happen while he was alive. Lou died of AIDS in 1991 at thirty-nine years old. You don’t need me to tell you that, for many transes, this was and is a tragedy, whatever that word can mean for us now. Lou’s diaries are available, finally, for public intellectualizing and interpersonal adoration. Edited by Ellis Martin and Zach Ozma with an

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