Material Us, Living in a Digital World

    When my future husband and I had just started dating, we stumbled upon a treasure: three big boxes of vinyl, mainly classical LPs, collected by somebody with a deep knowledge of music and then abandoned next to my apartment complex’s Dumpster. It should have broken my heart, but we were too busy schlepping […]

Sweat Without Tears

      “Why don’t we delight in our ability to produce perspiration,” asks Sarah Everts, “the way we revel in the ability of a spider to produce silk?” It is a measure of my neurosis that the verb “delight” strikes me as ludicrous. I take no joy in the fact that I sweat like […]

Dave Chappelle and the Slaying of American Taboos

    James Baldwin once described American society as “much given to smashing taboos without thereby managing to be liberated from them,”¹ or more precisely, liberated from the need for them. It might be said about America today that we gleefully smash taboos while energetically creating new ones which, one supposes, are improvements over the […]

The Aggression of Technologies

    Some technologies seem to be more aggressive than others in changing their times. Automatic transmissions, for instance, are ubiquitous but fairly inconsequential; they did not significantly change the experience of driving, and I can still choose to drive a stick if I really want. The rise of synthetic fabrics meant little to me […]


      A blank page has a terrible glow, its unearthly grayish white pulsing at you, waiting. I used to sit there staring back, mesmerized, paralyzed. One day a coworker shoved me aside—we were collaborating on a newsletter—and just. started. typing. Words clattered from his fingers, made whole sentences, then paragraphs, and he moved […]

A Bookstore Like Going Home

    Yesterday was national Independent Bookstore Day, which the Boston Globe says was first “put on by the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association” in 2014. I did not know there was such a promotional event until it was over, but anything that helps preserve our national reserve of independent bookstores and saves us from […]

The End of Elegance

      A few weeks ago, I watched Nicole Kidman in Grace of Monaco. At the outset, Grace Kelly, so cool on screen, was hot with misery and insecure in her new role. The audience has the fun of watching her transformation, as she summons the sort of elegance one expects from a princess. […]

People Who Eat People

      Back in the eighties, I read Peter Singer and vowed to stop eating animals. The artist Rick Gibson read Peter Singer and decided it was okay to start eating humans. The hosts of the Hi-Phi Nation podcast interviewed him just recently, because news like this does not get old. He explained that […]

Hunting for the Right Perfume

    I was young, out of town at my first work conference, feeling shy and unschooled in what were clearly rituals of the occasion—the swag room where people tried to sell you their stuff, the schmoozy continental breakfast, the politics, the hookups…. On the first long break, I nipped into a nearby store and […]