"That they should be sitting across from each other in the same way they had sat for so many years and that the habitual intimacy between them could have suffered so wrenching a violation without there being evidence of it, was harrowing to Sophie. If, all these months, she had so ardently lived a life apart from Otto without his sensing something, it meant that their marriage had run down long before she had met Francis; either that, or worse—once she had stepped outside the rules, definitions, there were none. Constructions had no true life. Ticking away inside the carapace of ordinary life and its sketchy agreements was anarchy."

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters

"In the middle of our conversation, my friend received a phone call from a Mexican woman now living in Paris. They were having an affectionate, friendly conversation. Then I heard my friend saying enthusiastically, ‘This city has a volcanic energy… . Yes, next time we’ll trade stories about the city… . It’s really beautiful here. Here, it’s poca madre, really fucking cool.’ Even someone working in a bar menaced by a drug gang, who’d just shared horrifying stories about his own experiences, hadn’t lost sight of the greater city. Like so many others, and like me, he is in thrall to the DF."

Francisco Goldman, The Interior Circuit

"I did not feel crippled by this knowledge; in fact, I was liberated by it: being an artist meant you were connected to other people—ghosts—who had been as moved by the enterprise of creating as you are now; evidence of their love was all the movies and performances and books and dances and music that informed your present so deeply and indelibly, acts of creation that stirred your imaginings to the point of making you wonder: How do I make the kind of film I want to see, write the kind of story or poem I want to read, perform the music, play, or dance that is expressive of the artist I’m meant to be?"

Hilton Als, "Ghosts in Sunlight," NYRB

"She was bloated; it must have been the beer. Her body was not her own any more, but had taken off in some direction of its own. In this last year she had discovered that its discomforts, once interpreted, always meant the curtailment, or end, of some pleasure. She could not eat and drink the way she once had. Inexorably, she was being invaded by elements that were both gross and risible. She had only recently realized that one was old for a long time."

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters

"'Data' and 'accountability' had become almost magic words: if administrators repeated them enough, it seemed they believed that scores should rise, even if there hadn’t been significant enhancements in instruction."

Rachel Aviv, "Wrong Answer," NYer

"the conservative literary wing"

This is so strange, I don’t know where to begin.

"Lonnie appears to reconsider. But he is really enjoying the talk. A smile plays at the corner of his mouth. Lonnie’s monotonous speech gives him an advantage, the same advantage foreigners have: his words are not worn out. It is like a code tapped through a wall. Sometimes he asks me straight out: do you love me? and it is possible to tap back: yes, I love you."

Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

"For children, the Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary runs a program called Coal in the Classroom, and produced a workbook entitled ‘Let’s Learn About Coal.’ For a lesson on economics, the book featured a cartoon character of a smiling lump of coal with arms and legs, holding open the door to a bank."

Evan Osnos, "Chemical Valley," NYer

"I have a young daughter of my own now, and the experience is oddly reminiscent of living in Detroit—it’s so rich and bracing, in part precisely because of the fragility and craziness of the whole thing. The very real chance that a moment’s lapse or bad luck could lead to awful tragedy is a large share of what makes the love so vivid. Virtually no one who has a child wishes they hadn’t. Detroit was like that, too."

Rollo Romig, "When You’ve Had Detroit," NYer website


One day soon after her death, I entered her empty room, into which the good evening sun was shining, gladdening it with rose-bright, gay and soft colors. There I saw on the bed the things which the poor lady had till recently worn, her dress, her hat, her sunshade, and her umbrella, and, on the floor, her small delicate boots. The strange sight of them made me unspeakably sad, and my peculiar state of mind made it seem to me almost that I had died myself, and life in all its fullness, which had often appeared so huge and beautiful, was thin and poor to the point of breaking. All things past, all things vanishing away, were more close to me than ever. For a long time I looked at Frau Wilke’s possessions, which now had lost their mistress and lost all purpose, and at the golden room, glorified by the smile of the evening sun, while I stood there motionless, not understanding anything anymore.

Yet, after standing there dumbly for a time, I was gratified and grew calm. Life took me by the shoulder and its wonderful gaze rested on mine. The world was living as ever and beautiful as at the most beautiful times. I quietly left the room and went out into the street.


Robert Walser, “Frau Wilke,” Berlin Stories