I wrote about my great grandfather, John Farrar, and the counter history of the publishing house he co-founded, Farrar, Straus and Grioux, for The Awl.
What began as an interest in the man who realized how rad the tesseract was morphed as I grew older and developed as a reader. The more I read, the more I learned of the league of famous writers that were published by the house that John Farrar and Roger Straus co-founded in 1946. But the stories I collected from family members over the years did less to give shape to the man who died a decade before I was born than form a string of moments—some contradictory, some telling—that never seemed to form a cohesive narrative.
There was the shy bookworm my mother described, and the charismatic young literary star who drank with F. Scott Fitzgerald my uncle remembered being told stories about. The Skull and Bones member. The World War II spy. The man who took Carl Jung’s hand at an open window in his study and astral projected over the skies of Manhattan. The short-tempered redhead. The gay, closeted alcoholic. The failed poet. The fading not-quite retiree who read manuscripts at his apartment on 96th Street until he died.
12:15 pm • 11 April 2014
“And then something deeply strange happens, because Morris has read the reports, including former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger’s investigation of Abu Ghraib. A report Rumsfeld himself commissioned. A document Rumsfeld cites in dismissing the notion that anything migrated from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib. When Morris reads it back, the document mirrors his own language: “The augmented techniques for Guantánamo migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq, where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.”
“I find that moment very, very peculiar,” Morris told me. “You can expand that moment into a whole film.” Rumsfeld says there was no migration; Morris quotes Schlesinger saying there was a migration. Rumsfeld’s response to the quote, just seconds after saying that the idea of any migration is unfounded: “Yeah, I think that’s a fair assessment.” The men fall silent, and the shot lingers for an uncomfortably long time, Rumsfeld looking squarely at the camera, at Morris.”
— I interviewed Errol Morris about The Unknown Known recently. You can read my story about the documentary, Rumsfeld, and Colonel Kurtz (yes, that’s right), over at TakePart.
6:01 pm • 2 April 2014 • 1 note
Barry Estabrook’s 2011 book about the Florida tomato industry,Tomatoland, helped raise awareness of the horrid working conditions, in some instances amounting to modern-day slavery, behind the off-season tomatoes grown in Florida. Yesterday’s announcement, he said, “is the happiest news to come down since I started following this story in 2006 and 2007. I don’t think you can understate how important this is going to be.”
It’s important not only because the grocer represent a huge percentage of the retail market, but because of the domino-effect approach CIW has successfully brought to bear in other sectors of the food industry. In the fast food and food service fields, CIW has fought the longest and hardest to get its first Fair Food Program agreement signed—then the second is easier, the third even more so, etc., etc.
“Until Walmart came aboard, about half of the tomatoes that were picked [in Florida] weren’t covered by the full force of the agreement—that’s what the supermarkets represent,” Estabrook says. Now that the first domino has rather effortlessly fallen, history suggests the rest of the industry will likely follow.
Walmart is down with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and that’s a big fucking deal.
4:08 pm • 17 January 2014
I’m on page 250-something of Goldfinch, which puts me just shy of halfway through, and I keep thinking about the long section toward the beginning describing the museum bombing. The writing was kind of breathless and weird, confusing in a way that may very well have been intentionally, but the drama of the scene was really affecting—and reminded me of the speed-test / crash chapter in Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers. James Woods wrote about that novel’s realism, celebrating Kushner for essentially being so damn good at making stuff up. And there is something about the richness of the racing scene she depicts—as with the detailed, albeit very real, floor plan Donna Tartt sticks to in Met scenes—that’s so detailed and engrossing that, while I could give a shit about land-speed records, had me totally hooked on the chapters about Reno’s bike lust and accident. The drama of the Met bombing feels, and is, more key to the plot of Goldfinch, responsible for kicking the story off, whereas what happens at the speed trials in The Flamethrowers is more about propelling the narrative. But the writing in both segments—careful, stylish prose used to narrate intense, violent drama—shares a kinship that I find really compelling. I’m reserving judgement on Goldfinch until I know where the hell things are going in that book, and I loved The Flamethrowers (I have a thing for the Futurists), but together I think these two passages represent some of the best narrative writing that I read this year.
1:28 pm • 16 December 2013 • 6 notes
Bartolomé Perez has been one of those employees for 21 years. He earned $4.25 an hour when he first started working at a McDonald’s in South Los Angeles, and his wages have risen to $10.75 over the years. Three years ago, he was cut from full-time to 30 hours per week. When I asked if he received benefits before his hours were dropped, he smiled. “For fast-food workers, [they] do not exist, benefits,” he answered in heavily accented English.
I spent the afternoon talking to striking fast food workers in Los Angeles.
5:28 pm • 5 December 2013 • 7 notes
I studied printmaking in college, at the University of Iowa, and took a lot of book arts classes too—binding, letterpress, etc. We spent a lot of time looking at books in special collections in those classes, flipping through everything from the Nuremberg Chronicle to sifting through reproductions of Marcel Duchamp’s notes and scraps that are housed in his Green Box. There’s a page of the Gutenberg Bible in the collection, and I’ve run my greasy hands all over it. The ability to touch, to interact with items in a special collection make them, in some ways, a far better experience than seeing art and historical objects in a museum.
This morning I saw, via The Paris Review, that a number of detailed, miniature landscapes were discovered “hiding” on the fore-edge of a number of 19th century titles in UI’s special collections. I can’t help but imagine the joy experience by the librarian who found them. And now that they’ve been unearthed, there are gifs.
During one of those book arts classes, I became interested in a sort of benign library vandalism—like the book equivalent of Banksy hanging up his own work in a museum. For an assignment that asked us to remake a book in a way that created a form that matched the content, a printed the entirety of Alice in Wonderland in 1-point font, cut it into strips and stuffed the mini-scrolls into pill capsules. The whole seven-pill novel was housed in a day-of-the-week pill box.
Just before I graduated, I stole a copy of Alice in Wonderland from the library and replaced it with my own repackaged version. Not that my work is anywhere as artful and lovely as the fore-edge paintings, but I hope that someone had or will have a moment of joy in the stacks when they pull it off of the shelf.
9:31 am • 5 September 2013 • 2 notes
LA might still be an agricultural empire. A new interactive map shows the urban gardens (and farms) near you!
Makes me want chickens and goats!
12:39 pm • 27 August 2013 • 134 notes
Pushing through the clear vinyl flaps that hang over the entrance to “Perishable: An Exploration of the Refrigerated Landscape of America,” like stepping into a walk-in refrigerator, you come face-to-face with what could be called Big Refrigeration. The facilities depicted in the show, the photos taken by Twilley and CLUI staff and volunteers, are responsible for chilling a full 70% of what we eat. From the unripe bananas shipped in from the tropics and ripened with ethylene gas in special pressurized rooms to storage facilities for apples, fish, ice cream and even peanuts—it’s all there, chilling in the countless buildings that make up what Twilley’s calls the coldscape.
The Big Chill: A Look at America’s Coldscape
10:47 am • 22 July 2013