My wife and I moved to a new house a few years back. The street address is 666. I warned her that Halloween might be lively at our house and suggested that we get the number changed. I think she was a little embarrassed for me, suspecting that I was superstitious. So far—knock wood—the tricksters have stayed away. But an attempt to remove the diabolical digits from the garage door, where they had been nailed in place by a previous owner, has gone awry. The outlines of the ghostly numbers now shine forth from the stained wood, more visible than ever.
I stayed in quaint hotels and some that were appalling, also in some that were grand. I was an intent, anxious, too-serious boy bent over a heavy novel in the slop-strewn eating hall of a travelers’ block in Shanxi province; at an obscure mountain inn where the rain wouldn’t stop; in Bangkok, at yet another Indian cafe in a murky cul-de-sac. The view changed constantly, but what hardly varied was the sequence of long walks each day.
Even as Ebola hysteria rages in the US, the epidemic here in Liberia, which is supposed to be its epicenter, seems to be subsiding. According to official counts, this impoverished country of 4 million people is currently home to fewer than four hundred Ebola patients and the number of new cases is declining. The paranoid US response could make the disease far more dangerous than it currently is.
In their extraordinary revelations about what the NSA and its secret programs have been doing, Edward Snowden’s leaks have shown the precariousness of privacy in the digital age. But Laura Poitras’s documentary Citizenfour also demonstrates, unwittingly, that we are part of the problem. We have chosen to broadcast our lives.
What do males expect of themselves, and what do women want from them? In Ruben Östlund’s engrossing and perceptive film Force Majeure, as in life, questions of masculinity collect around blunt manifestations of bravery and fear, and confrontations with nature.
Would the Japanese have surrendered without Hiroshima? For decades the question has lingered, as historians have challenged one of the most important American rationales for dropping the bomb. It comes freshly into view in Descent into Hell: Civilian Memories of the Battle of Okinawa, a remarkable new book based on Japanese eyewitness testimony from one of the bloodiest land battles of the war.
Sci-fi spectacle was integral to P-Funk, the postmodern and psychedelic brand of funk that George Clinton helped innovate. Yet one of the most intriguing points to emerge in Clinton’s new memoir, Brothas Be, is just how consciously he shaped his music, weird and warped as it is, as a kind of smaller, counter-culture Motown.
When I work in Word, for all its dazzling prowess, I can’t escape a faint sense of having entered a closed, rule-bound society. When I write in WordPerfect, with all its scruffy, low-tech simplicity, the world seems more open, a place where endings can’t be predicted, where freedom might be real.
It has long been a commonplace that fiction provides a way to talk about potentially embarrassing or even criminal personal experiences without bringing society’s censure on oneself. Put the other way round you could say that taboos and censorship encourage creativity, of a kind. But Taboo after taboo has fallen away. Homosexuality is no longer something to be hidden. Love relationships and marriages are no longer conceived of as fortresses of propriety. And everybody’s leaving traces of what they do or say on email and Twitter. What does all this mean for writers?