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    You’re wrong about reading in bars.

    James Folta

    April 12, 2024, 1:55pm

    I like to think of online discourse as a neverending bar crawl. A roving and insatiable crowd plods around, periodically busting in on the unsuspecting to cheer, boo, and brawl to exhaustion, and then parade off to the next destination. It’s fun, it’s raucous, it’s insufferable.

    Every so often, the crowd bursts in on “reading in bars.” Most recently, someone was accused of being a “pick me” for having a book open while drinking. Often these posts feel like some extremely vintage sexism—a woman holding a book is an obvious and immediately diagnosable symptom of hysteria—but they also make me wonder if we’ve taken our assumptions about what reading is in a weird direction.

    These posts revolve around the premise that someone has a book out not because they’re reading, but because they’re knowingly performing something else. The viral “pick me pick me!” post has a caption in quotation marks, imagining dialogue and a motivation for a behavior that wasn’t taken at face value. To be charitable, maybe the judgment is coming from a place of assuming that people are using bars incorrectly: bars are for drinking and meeting people, not reading.

    Or maybe it’s the location, and people assume that everything you do in a bar is performed. Searching for “reading in bars” immediately turned up a lot of Reddit threads explaining how reading at a bar is a dating hack, even getting so granular as to recommend varying genres to attract different people—apparently “driven” people will approach you if you have a marketing book.

    What I don’t like about this is that it invites a contagious self-consciousness. When I lived in San Francisco, I heard a lot about the “Singles Safeway,” a grocery store with a reputation as a spot to find dates. There’s nothing wrong with picking someone up in the produce aisle, but the knowledge of the horny grocery store became a little too self-fulfilling. Should I avoid the Singles Safeway because I just started seeing someone? Am I presentable enough to pop in? Is that person checking me out or am I standing in the way of the good mustards?

    What happens when you feel like everyone else is talking about reading at bars? It’s hard to avoid seeing yourself through the Eye of the Discourse, and play into the assumption the reading is inherently performative.

    Personally, I think reading at bars rocks, because I like books and I like having a drink. And there aren’t a lot of options for places to go out, especially at night, and especially if you don’t want to spend a bunch of money. Maybe other countries have figured this out, but if I want a solitary night with a book, a bar is often the best bet.

    The mindset that slots reading solely as a public act of brand maintenance or a coded invitation to some other interaction is too limiting. And look, if you meet someone over a book, great! If you’re killing time while waiting for someone, great! If you’re trying to be mysterious, that’s great too. But people in public aren’t riddles for you to solve, and not everyone reading at a bar is trying to tell you something.

    A syllabus for fans of You Must Remember This.

    Brittany Allen

    April 12, 2024, 1:32pm

    There’s just something about the Golden Age of Hollywood. Though I know all that glitters covers doom and profound exploitation, my personal heart beats a little faster when confronted with a Busby Berkeley kick line or a painted backdrop. Give me Gene Kelly’s empty-headed grin in a downpour, or Dorothy Dandridge’s little shimmy at the cantina, and all turns technicolor. For an hour or two, anyway.

    The podcaster and author Karina Longworth is one of our best scholars of this much-romanticized history. Over more than a dozen seasons of her sensational show, You Must Remember This, Longworth has examined a century’s worth of Hollywood’s greatest scandals and unsolved mysteries. She has a unique gift for packaging exhaustive research as compelling docudrama. YMRT‘s coverage of the Hollywood Ten, the ultra-racist origins of Disney, and the original gossip girls (just to name a few) is truly *chef’s kiss* for anyone who’s ever thrown a theme party inspired by this mood board.

    Last week, Longworth teased a new season of YMRT by re-releasing the series’ first episode, on the miseducation of Kim Novak. Fansor fine, this fangot excited. Yet we remain on tenterhooks. To quell suspense in the meantime, I’ve assembled a starter’s syllabus for fellow fans of the pod/Silver-Screen-in-general. Here’s a few titles to get you started.

    Donald Bogle, Hollywood Black: The Stars, The Films, The Filmmakers

    An excellent introduction to the para-studio system sparked by auteur director, Oscar Micheaux, this readable textbook from film historian Donald Bogle covers a hundred years of Black Hollywood. We start in the silent years, detour into blaxploitation-era flicks of the 70s, and find ourselves (finally, gloriously) on Wakanda. Bogle lauds and lends context to the many stars who were compromised by a racist industry, while also praising independent Black cinema. Come for the scope, stay for the amazing photographs.

    Gavin Lambert, The Goodby People

    First published in 1971 but recently reissued under a chic new banner care of McNally Editions, Gavin Lambert’s The Goodby People is a swansong to old Hollywood, spinning around a mysterious narrator who works on “the very outskirts of the industry.” Over three dense chapters, the novel’s slippery hero encounters a runaway, a draft dodger, and a wealthy widow—though each point of contact seems to increase his loneliness. Melancholy and contemplative but perhaps not as pearl-clutching as the other novel on this list, this one’s a real diamond in the rough.

    Kenneth Anger, Hollywood Babylon

    This muckraker’s goldmine, dubbed “the urtext of salacious movieland gossip,” is somewhat ethically fraught. (Longworth dedicated an entire season of You Must Remember This to fact-checking  its many libelous claims.) But I regret to report (for my soul’s sake) that compunction doesn’t diminish its horribly juicy entertainment value. Featuring coverage of  cover-ups, blackmail campaigns, and the secret sex lives of troubled starlets, Hollywood Babylon will leave you itchy but endlessly intrigued. Did William Randolph Hearst really shove a nemesis off his yacht? Was Valentino murdered, was Charlie Chaplin framed? The late spitfire Kenneth Anger tellsand perhaps spinsall.

    Eve Babitz, Eve’s Hollywood 

    Almost everything Eve Babitz put her pen to would fit nicely in a “hopped off the plane at LAX” welcome packet. But this memoir, with its poolside scenes of debauchery at the legendary Chateau Marmont, is perhaps the best for scratching that romantic itch. Featuring glittery prose anchored in a nepo-baby’s self-confidence, these missives from a 60s It Girl are a fine counterpoint to a whole spate of properties condemning the spiritual hollowness of mid-century California. Babitz isn’t turned off by the “emptiness.” She’s along for the ride.

    You Know Who, Play It As It Lays

    …and here be that counterpoint! Joan Didion’s cool second novel explores aimlessness and solitude, but delivers a scraped sensation. Over 200ish apple-crisp pages, we follow the actor Maria Wyeth through a kind of spiritual crisis. In a recent piece for The Los Angeles Times, David Ulin praised this novel’s fragmentation, and its negotiation of atomization via “narrative breakdown.” I’m rereading this classic today with an eye on Didion’s novel sensibility. Is there, perhaps, a little less glitter covering the doom in her fiction?

    You tell me, Silver Screen sirens. I’ll leave you with a Fun Fact from Literati-wood: Didion and Babitz had a wild relationship.

    Shop with solidarity at these unionized (and unionizing) stores and publishers.

    James Folta

    April 11, 2024, 2:21pm

    Looking to spend your book budget more wisely? We’ve compiled a list of publishers and bookstores that are unionized or in the process of unionizing that deserve your business. Some of these bookstores are still in the process of unionizing, and beyond giving them your business, keep an eye out for ways you can support them. For a more general overview of book unions, I recommend these pieces by Kim Kelly in Teen Vogue and Hamilton Nolan in Jacobin on the spread of booksellers’ unions, the issues at play, and what a unionized future for books might look like.

    And a big shout-out to ILWU Local 5, representing Portland area workers including booksellers at Powells, who have compiled an amazing map of unionized and unionizing bookstores in the US, Canada, and Australia!

    Did we miss any bookstores or publishers? We want to keep this list current and updated!  Please email us with any corrections or additions!


    Verso Books
    X @VersoBooksGuild

    X @hcpunion

    Duke University Press

    The New Press
    X @tnpunion

    Oxford University Press


    Barnes & Noble
    7 Locations
    Instagram @barnesandnobleunion
    X @BNWorkers

    Book People
    Austin, TX
    Instagram @bookpeopleunited
    X @BkPeople_United

    Bookshop Santa Cruz
    Santa Cruz, CA
    Instagram @bscworkers
    X @BSCWorkers

    Book Soup
    Los Angeles, CA
    Instagram @booksoupunion

    Bull Moose
    Maine, New Hampshire

    Center For Book Arts
    New York, NY
    Instagram @unionizecba
    X @unionizecba

    City Lights
    San Francisco, CA
    ​X @CityLightsUnion

    Copperfield’s Books
    Petaluma CA
    Insta @copperfieldsbooksunion
    X @copperbookunion

    Elliott Bay Book Company
    Seattle, WA
    Instagram @book_workers
    X @book_workers

    Green Apple Books
    San Francisco, CA

    Greenlight Bookstore
    Brooklyn, NY

    Half-Price Books
    13 Locations
    X @HPBWorkersUnite

    Harvard Bookstore
    Boston, MA
    Instagram @hbsunion

    Housing Works
    New York, NY
    Instagram @housingworksunion
    X @hworksunion

    Labyrinth Books
    Princeton, NJ
    Instagram @labyrinthbooksunion

    McKays Books
    Knoxville TN
    Instagram @mckays_knox_workers
    X @McKaysKnoxUnion

    McNally Jackson / Goods for the Study
    New York, NY

    Moe’s Books
    Berkeley, CA
    X @moesbooksunion

    Page 1 Books
    Albuquerque, NM
    Instagram @page1workers
    X @page1workers

    Politics & Prose
    Washington DC
    X @PolProseUnion

    Powell’s Books
    Portland, OR

    Printed Matter
    New York, NY
    Instagram @printedmatterunion

    Skylight Books
    Los Angeles, CA
    X @skylight_union
    Instagram @skylightbooksellersunion

    Shelf Life Books
    Richmond VA

    Solid State Books
    Washington, DC

    The Strand
    New York, NY
    X @strandbooksell1

    Office hours with a hunger striker.

    Nirvana Tanoukhi

    April 11, 2024, 1:19pm

    Last semester at Dartmouth, I taught a course on literature and philosophy called “Introduction to Aesthetics.” We spent two full weeks discussing Immanuel Kant’s aesthetic theory, in particular his idea that when we say something is beautiful, we are doing something different than when we say something is true or right. While we expect others to agree with us, we are aware that not everyone will. For example, when someone doesn’t share our appreciation for a songwriter’s sound, we cannot bring them to our opinion by presenting proofs, and we know this—yet we feel compelled and justified to insist that they reconsider, listen again.

    A few weeks into the term, in March, one of my students, Paul Yang, wrote to request a meeting in office hours. In class, we had discussed the valences of different aesthetic categories, like cute, ugly, relatable, and cringe. Paul wanted to know if it would be permissible to write a midterm essay that treats “cruelty” as an aesthetic category. In office hours, it became clear that his interest in “the cruel” was occasioned by an urgent sense of political responsibility spurred by the growing loss of life in Gaza. He told me that he was about to begin a hunger strike to protest the arrest of two Dartmouth students facing misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges. They had been arrested in the fall at the behest of the Dartmouth administration while engaging in a peaceful protest on campus.

    “Although the term is mostly used in political and ethical contexts,” he reasoned, “it seems to be relying on a strongly aesthetic conception of human life or human dignity.” Essentially, Paul wanted to argue that judgments of cruelty qualify as aesthetic judgments by Kant’s standards. Just like Jewish German philosopher Hannah Arendt, who turned to Kant’s aesthetics after the Holocaust, Paul saw aesthetic judgments, which for him included opinions about cruelty, as belonging in the public sphere.

    A week later, I thought back to my conversation with Paul as I sat in a general meeting of the Dartmouth faculty. Before turning to items on the meeting agenda, the floor was briefly opened to faculty who had something to say about recent events. Someone stood up and said that he had talked to the student protesters and found it offensive “as a Jew” that they wouldn’t care about the death of over 1000 Jews. I felt a twinge. Does this person really believe that only “as a Jew” would one feel offended by collective disregard for the loss of 1000 lives? How many of us, like this man, believe it to be so? If one believes this, that only by being Jewish or Muslim or Israeli or Arab could one recognize the cruelty in senseless deaths, then you cannot be disappointed in others for not seeing or not feeling. At that moment, I realized that I had made the same mistake. I remembered asking Paul why he, as a Korean man, came to protest the death of Palestinians.

    How easy it has become, even for someone like me who has been thinking and writing about this very question, to forget what Paul wanted to say in his paper. That when we disagree with others about whether something is cruel, we are not counting on their shared sense of history. We are not appealing to internationally recognized legal standards. Nor are we insisting on our turn to speak, just so our view may be acknowledged. We are appealing to others on the basis of a presupposed sense of human community.

    Without that presupposition, people with different views would have no reason to turn to each other instead of retreating into an echo chamber. Only by presupposing in others a basic sense of human community do the most poignant scenes of dialogue move us instead of seeming pointless: Shylock’s monologue in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Frederick Douglass’s Independence Day Speech (1852), or the cries of those who turned to fellow-citizens unbothered by pictures of immigrant children in cages at the U.S. border and said, “How can you not see how appalling this is?” For Paul, the question was, and remains: How can anyone not see the senseless death in Gaza as cruel?

    On the eleventh day of Paul’s fast, the college administration sent out an email announcing the end of the hunger strike following “discussions with the remaining students involved.” “We now understand,” said the message about the two students who were arrested, “that they are consistently nonviolent activists.” But the college’s case against those students remains undropped.

    Here are the winners of the 2024 Whiting Awards.

    Emily Temple

    April 11, 2024, 6:03am

    In a ceremony on Wednesday night, the Whiting Foundation announced the ten new recipients of the Whiting Award, an award “designed to recognize excellence and promise in a spectrum of emerging talent.” The award comes with a monetary prize of $50,000 which aims to give winners “the chance to devote themselves full time to their own writing, or to take bold new risks in their work.”

    Past winners include Colson Whitehead, Anne Boyer, Jericho Brown, Mitchell S. Jackson, Yiyun Li, Ocean Vuong and Daniel Alarcón.

    The 2024 Whiting Award winners are:

    Aaliyah Bilal (Fiction)
    Yoon Choi (Fiction)
    Shayok Misha Chowdhury (Drama)
    Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig (Drama)
    Elisa Gonzalez (Poetry)
    Taylor Johnson (Poetry)
    Gothataone Moeng (Fiction)
    Charif Shanahan (Poetry)
    Javier Zamora (Nonfiction and Poetry)
    Ada Zhang (Fiction)

    “This year’s winners have made liminal space their own—that place of potential that exists between states, whether those are genres, languages, countries, or definitions of self,” said Courtney Hodell, Whiting’s Director of Literary Programs, in a statement. “The rigor and fluid beauty of their writing make us excited for the work to come.”

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