As Stephen Van Dyck was coming of age, the internet came of age around him.
For a gay teen in a small town, the internet meant the freedom to find other gay boys and men for dating, casual hookups, and friendship. In his new book, People I’ve Met from the Internet, Van Dyck has published a meticulously kept list of these encounters annotated with stories.
The list itself, published in non-annotated form at the start of the book, is entertaining to read, with snippets like “cuddled, asked me to call him Dad” that hint at a larger story. Van Dyck began maintaining a list of people he met on the internet over ten years ago as an art project. Though some encounters on the list are innocent (a few female friends, and some purchases of furniture through Craigslist) the meetings are overwhelmingly hookups.
The list grows more self-referential as we move through time to the point where Dyck began maintaining the list (at some points, he notes that people may be acting differently around him, either being more guarded or acting strangely on purpose, because they’re aware that he might write about them). This tracks on Dyck’s own evolution from the young teen he was at the start of the book to the performance artist he’s grown into by the end. Continue reading
Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
Men are bad at expressing emotion.
Most women are bad at math.
In her new book, Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds, Dr. Gina Rippon tears down everything you think you know about the differences between the way men and women think. She does not argue that there are no structural differences between men and women’s brains, but rather that most research showing sex differences in how we think is inherently flawed, or that the differences they find are actually minimal on average. In other words, if there is a fundamental difference that has a real effect on the way men and women think, we have yet to find it.
Rippon breaks down gendered thought myths quite thoroughly, beginning with the earliest searches for proof of women’s inferior brains (dating back to the 1600s) all the way through modern science’s rationalizations. She includes the study of brain structure, the role of hormones on the brain, and searches for answers in psychology.
Review by Tess Tabak
Brett is a hopeless romantic who finds herself middle-aged, washed out with fading looks and her fiery independence dulled by brain damage. Enter Cash, a former drug addict turned born-again Christian. When the two enter into an unlikely, impulsive marriage, the meat of Jennifer Spiegel’s novel, And So We Die, Having First Slept, begins.
You don’t necessarily think of an abusive marriage as grounds for a great romance novel, but Spiegel has such a remarkable talent for capturing characters that it never feels forced. Cash and Brett feel like real people trapped in a dark place, working through their demons together. Where Cash is addictive, sulky and at times violent, Brett has a fierce need to be loved by someone, and a belief both that her value as a woman is fading and that it’s her wifely duty to stand by her man. Though religion is a big part of the narrative, Spiegel doesn’t portray them as Christian monoliths. She explains both characters’ complicated and ever-changing relationship to their faith. Continue reading
When you live in a repressive regime, how do you live with yourself?
Directors Cheryl Fararone and Richard Romagnoli explore this question through two thematically mirrored plays in PTP/NYC’s season this year. Billed as a season of “works that resonate with our cultural and political moment,” Havel: The Passion of Thought and Dogg’s Hamlet/Cahoot’s Macbeth are both comedies that pack a punch. They each have a dark undertone to their otherwise comic plots. (Or vice-versa; the production and text meld mirth and sadness so seamlessly that it seems reductive to choose.) Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
I try to write very thoughtful reviews about very thoughtful books, and I will, but I’ll let you know right away that Catherine Chung’s The Tenth Muse was excellent. Don’t waste time here, go read it.
Filled with lovely prose, The Tenth Muse manages to remain an intimate story while going through a sweeping history- we encounter many of the major events of the twentieth century through our protagonist Katherine.
The book follows Katherine, a mathematician, from her 1950s childhood through her years of school and work as one of the only women in her field. Her quest to solve the Riemann hypothesis takes us through to the end of her career.
As with most stories relating to women fighting for their piece of the world I was often inspired and then angry. Much like the real-world women of math and science who appear throughout the book (some anecdotally, some make a cameo appearance in the story) Katherine is often punished for being both clever and ambitious. Continue reading
Bill Posley’s new one-man play, The Day I Became Black, deals with racial identity and racism in America. However, the heart of his message lies in radical empathy. Posley wants us to be able to look at each other with understanding-sometimes literally as he asks the audience to find someone who doesn’t look like themselves and stare at that person. The central premise of the show is the day Posley realized the world saw him as black. What he wants everyone to know is that he isn’t a special case- the world decides who you are for you.
Review by Tess Tabak
Josh Denslow’s debut short story collection delves into the lives of young misfits. The stories are mostly narrated by young men who feel like outcasts for one reason or another. The stories are a bit uneven, but each is memorably odd. In one story, for example, a short man working as a Santa’s elf struggles with whether to do the right thing when he has a chance to mow down Santa.
In one of my favorite stories, “Mousetrap,” a man who cleans up grisly deaths for a living struggles with his own mortality. “I want to find a not scary way to tell my sister that I’m contemplating killing myself, but I don’t want her to think that it has to do with the fact that she asked me to start paying rent,” the narrator writes, quipping about his own depression. The story is a little rough around the edges but the narrator’s matter-of-factness about his depression feels real.
Some of the stories come off as a little gimmicky. In one, Denslow imagines a future society where all violence is limited to a set number of Punch Vouchers a year. It’s ostensibly a story about how inheriting a number of these vouchers from a deceased friend turns the narrator into a Cool Guy, but the story felt a bit more like a funny concept the author thought of and reverse-engineered into a narrative. In another, a boy can teleport, but only to a limited degree – it really knocks the wind out of him. He uses this limited power to spy on and harass his mother’s new boyfriend. It’s hard to put my finger on what I felt dissatisfied about with this story – Denslow’s writing is fine, and the story is reasonably engaging, but it doesn’t invoke much emotion, and it isn’t quite funny enough to work as a humor piece. It’s lightly amusing, but not exactly groundbreaking. Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
“A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are a necessity,” writes Toni Morrison in the prologue of her latest book, The Source of Self-Regard. This collection of work, spanning four decades, goes on to show just how necessary Morrison is to our literary canon and how illuminating to our society.
At 88 years old Morrison has a rich life’s worth of insightful nuance, analysis, and empathy to offer on topics that range from feminism, colonialism, money, human rights, and immigration, to meditations on culture and art. Though a lot of ground is covered (and how could it not be? Morrison has been a literary beast since the 70s) this collection of previously published essays is cohesive in that it’s hers. It is divided into three parts: the first begins with a prayer for the dead of 9/11; the second with a meditation on Martin Luther King Jr.; and the last with a beautiful and personal eulogy for James Baldwin.
Considering the sheer volume of work here it is impossible to cover the whole without writing a novel-length review. I will say that some of the work here really stood out to me often because no matter when a piece is from, Morrison’s work is unquestionably relatable to our present. This is large because she observes and perfectly captures society- she has the ability to cut right to the heart of a matter. Morrison refers to how the media operated during the OJ trial as an “age of spectacle,” taking down their penchant for turning what should be straight news into entertainment, and we know those patterns haven’t changed at all in today’s media landscape.
Not only do many of Morrison’s pieces ring out truth in much the same way it’s obvious that they do because she’s doing her job as a writer. Every piece answers what the role of what the artist in society should be because she uses her work to analyze, critique, and offer answers for our world- “constructing meaning in the face of chaos,” as she writes in Peril.
Reading this collection is to spend time in the mind of someone brilliant. As Morrison said in her eulogy for Baldwin “You gave us ourselves to think about, to cherish.” After reading through everything Morrison has to offer in The Source of Self-Regard you’ll be reminded that she may as well have been talking about herself.
The Source of Self-Regard is now available from Knopf.