Posted by Christel Manning,
November 23, 2015 9:17 AM
Americans, especially young people, are leaving religion in record numbers. There are now more Nones
than there are Catholics in the U.S. population, and one third of those under 30 say they have no religion. Unlike the baby boomers who dropped out of church in their youth but returned to raise their families, millennials seem comfortable remaining uncommitted. Why are so many people leaving their religion? What do they believe instead? And what are they passing on to their children? I spent the last decade trying to find out.
I'm a sociologist of religion, but what really started this project was my own experience as a parent who had to come to terms with her non-religiosity. When my daughter Sheila was three years old — that age when kids will ask why, why, why about everything — she started asking questions about religion... Why does Santa come? To make people happy. Why does he want to make people happy? Because it's Christmas. But why does he want to make people happy on Christmas? — I had to stop and think: If I say that's the day when Jesus was born, then the next question will be, who is Jesus? And how do I answer that one? I'd left Christianity years ago, so it felt hypocritical to tell her something I didn't believe. But then again, Christianity had been such a rich and wonderful part of my own childhood, and part of me felt guilty to not provide what my mother had given to me. So I started talking to other non-religious parents — and eventually parents all over the country — and realized I was not alone in my predicament. Here is some of what I learned...
Posted by Tracey T.,
November 20, 2015 3:26 PM
On the Table.
What's one of the best things about the holidays? The feasting! And what's best about the feasting? The sugary goodness that we get to overindulge in, with nary a lick of shame. This season is extra-filled with some amazing dessert-oriented cookbooks. Not all of the cookbooks listed here focus exclusively on sweets, but they all include tasty dessert recipes. The cookbooks we chose for our potluck have the three linchpins upon which a good cookbook relies: pleasing illustrations, interesting recipes, and a representation of the author's personality. I heartily recommend every one of these cookbooks.
Violet Bakery Cookbook
by Claire Ptak
Violet Bakery is California meets London. Author Claire Ptak, former Chez Panisse baker, puts her Californian fresh and modern twists on traditional British baking, and from this combo, charming recipes are born. Her recipes combine sweet, salty, bitter, and sour into well-balanced baked goods. This balance is best exemplified in the Olive Oil Sweet Wine Cake, and in the Chocolate Prune and Whisky Cake, both of which I'm dying to eat. (This is a blatant hint to my friends and coworkers who might want to feed me something.)
Britt made: Kamut, Vanilla and Chocolate Chip Cookies
"I was drawn to the Violet Bakery Cookbook
for the heartiness of its baked goods. I like using a variety of flours, Kamut, buckwheat, millet, and spelt, and I especially like using them when baking. So I had to try this recipe. I love the sophistication of these cookies. The recipe calls for coconut sugar instead of traditional sugar, so it has a more delicate sweetness. And instead of using chocolate chips, it advises you to buy milk and dark chocolate bars and chop them yourself. I think this recipe is a great upgrade to the traditional chocolate chip cookie." – Britt
Posted by Jill Owens,
November 19, 2015 1:51 PM
You know that Mary-Louise Parker can act. Even if you never saw her in her very dark, very funny Showtime series Weeds
, for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress, you probably caught her in Bullets over Broadway
, The Portrait of a Lady
, Fried Green Tomatoes
, or HBO's Angels in America
, to name a few of the many projects she's worked on. But you probably didn't know that Parker is also a writer. Dear Mr. You
, her first book, is a memoir in the form of letters to various men in Parker's life (real and imagined). It is playful, poetic, inventive, page-turning, and downright gorgeously written.
Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams
, raves, "Dear Mr. You
is straight-up fantastic; a gripping and deeply humane and often hilarious book. It catches glimpses of life at all sorts of unexpected moments, electrifying them with its sharp-eyed astonishment at how absurd and joyous things can get. There’s nothing cheaply earned about its wonder; nothing sugarcoated in its gratitude. It's all grit, all messy particulars — full of surprise and full-throated in its song." And Mary Karr
writes, "Dear Mr. You
is a pants-pissingly funny, gut-wrenching meditation on her loving and tormented encounters with the masculine….I drank it down in one gulp, then started back at page one again. A magnificent, necessary surprise."
÷ ÷ ÷
How did Dear Mr. You
come to be? It's such a good idea that it almost seems crazy that nobody has done it before, structuring a book as letters to people.
The very first one I wrote was the invocation; it was something I'd written for Esquire
when they asked me to write about men in general. That was quite a few years ago, but I remembered I loved writing it and being able to mix the mundane with the romantic and the poetic. It felt more like a little prose poem.
I wanted to keep writing it, but of course, I had a word count. It was just a little piece in the magazine. A couple of people mentioned it to me, but I was posing right next to it in my underwear making a pie, or something like that, and it completely upstaged the whole piece. [Laughter
] But I loved writing it, and so later I experimented with writing others. It really grew out of the first one that I wrote for my dad.
There's the first letter to your dad and then the last one as well, which is beautiful and emphasizes his role in inspiring your writing in general. What do you associate with him about yourself? What do you see of him in you?
Everything. It's pretty striking when your kids get older and you see not only yourself but your own parents in your children. I certainly see my father in my son, and oddly, my daughter has so many traits of my mother's. She's adopted but she's so like my mother, it's almost freakish...
Posted by Tracey T.,
November 17, 2015 3:57 PM
On the Table.
We look forward to early November all year long, when we have our Holiday Potluck! There is such a wealth of cookbooks that come out in the fall, and we run rampant through the pages looking for the best recipes to share at work. This year our potluck was so bountiful that I've had to cut the On the Table post into two parts: savory and sweet. We'll begin with the savory...
Made in India
by Meera Sodha
Nigella Lawson's blurb on the back cover of Made in India says it best: "I want to cook everything in the book." Many of these are family recipes, which is a tried-and-true cooking art that I appreciate. This is one of those cookbooks where you can open the book at random and find a good recipe every time. I was sorry I didn't notice the "100 Garlic Clove Curry" entry before our potluck. I could have made our entire warehouse smell delicious! Made in India
is a worthwhile addition to your cookbook library, even if you already have a half dozen Indian cookbooks...
Posted by Jill Owens,
November 12, 2015 1:23 PM
Kristin Hersh is that rare breed of musician who is also a fantastic writer. Though most people would know her from her solo career or her bands Throwing Muses or 50 Foot Wave, her first memoir, Rat Girl
, described her life as an 18-year-old songwriter, newly diagnosed with mental illness and pregnant. Mary Gaitskill called it "awestruck — by music, feeling, perception, wild animals, mystery, dreams….It is an original beauty." Her most recent book, Don't Suck, Don't Die
, is about her deep and long-lasting friendship with Vic Chesnutt, another extraordinarily gifted musician who committed suicide in 2009. Hersh seems to write and live where magic does — her combination of unsettling honesty, intuition, and eerily poetic language creates an impressionistic portrait of a loving, conflicted friendship between two unusual people, their relationship to art, and their marriages. Michael Schaub of NPR raves, "Don't Suck, Don't Die
is not only one of the best books of the year, it's one of the most beautiful rock memoirs ever written," and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. writes, "A stunning, difficult, and beautiful chronicle. The true Vic comes alive." Funny, heartbreaking, gorgeous, and raw, Don't Suck, Don't Die
is a powerful work and a fitting tribute that will stay with you for a long, long time.
÷ ÷ ÷
Jill Owens: When I talked to you about Rat Girl
, it sounded like you were reluctant to write that book at first — and I heard you were reluctant to write this one, too. How is it that people keep talking you into writing books?
] I don't know! I wish they'd stop, because obviously I'm a reluctant individual.
I was honored to be asked to write an article about Vic because it seemed like, well, better me than someone else. But when I said, "sure," what I meant was "probably not." [Laughter
] I'm a musician, and I figured people think I'm a fuck-up, and I'm always gone, and so it's not gonna happen.
But then six months later, the University of Texas Press called asking how it was going. I said, "Oh. Well… How many words did you want again?" And when they told me, I said, "That's a really
long article!" [Laughter
] They said, "Yeah, we're a publishing company. You told us you'd write a book, so you'd better get on that."
I realized I was going to have to warn them that there would be nothing definitive or biographical or even typical about what I was going to deliver. It'd be more like dreams and memories combined. All true — this is nonfiction — but sense perceptions, perceptions like sense memories, are fuzzy and dreamlike. And so is a storyline when you're talking about a human being who is somewhat shocking every time you see them, unpredictable, like Vic.
Every time I told them this, every time I gave them an excuse, they would say, "That's what we're looking for." So I couldn't get out of it.
Posted by Mary Gaitskill,
November 9, 2015 9:10 AM
All of these songs inspired me in different ways while writing The Mare
. Some of them I listened to a lot, some just a couple of times. Some of them had a very simple relationship to the book; they are love songs, especially for teenagers, especially love that is more about longing than anything else. The last one is about the feeling of horses, in a dream-world way; horses bursting into locker-room hell to save somebody named Johnny who is a boy in the song, but when I listened he could be anybody, male or female. Others of them are about being not young anymore, and feeling lost, like it's over for you, but trying to find a way to give something. Some of them aren't my kind of music usually, but somehow they connected me to the story, even if just briefly. Most of them, though, I really love.
1. "Gracias a la Vida"
by Mercedes Sosa
Because to me this is Silvia's voice. Even if she never uses it, and even if the singer is Chilean, not Dominican. Also, it's the underlying voice of the book. I don't know how to explain that.
2. "Spain" by Kristen Hersh
This is Ginger — her younger, scrappier side. Which is still there.
3. "Can't Find My Way Home" by Blind Faith
This is Ginger too — older, but still trying and believing in something good for her.
4. "13" by Big Star
This song is somehow about both Ginger and Velvet; the feeling of love being very tender and new. Velvet is just feeling it; Ginger is remembering it.
5. "So Sick" by Ne-Yo
This is the same thing, but more in Velvet's consciousness. And it's more about loss, but still flavored with sweetness. I pictured Velvet listening to this song on her Princess radio.
6. "Obesesion" by Frankie J. ...
Posted by Thomas Levenson,
November 6, 2015 12:17 PM
In the middle of November 1915, Albert Einstein was hard at work. He would later say he never labored more intensely than he did that autumn. Since the beginning of October, he'd been wrestling with what would become his greatest discovery, what we now call the General Theory of Relativity, a theory of gravity that said our universe is one in which space and time bend, warped by all the matter and energy it contains. It was a genuinely revolutionary conception, and it would, on its public confirmation four years later, transform Einstein into the first true celebrity of science.
But in the week between November 11 and 18, the problem that occupied him in that second year of what was already being called "the Great War" seemed simple, even trivial: retracing the orbit of the planet nearest our sun, fleet-footed Mercury. More precisely, could his brand-new mathematical approach account for a wobble in that orbit that had been noticed and unexplained for half a century?
The effect was tiny — on the order of one part in 10,000. But it was — and is — really there. The anomaly had lingered for decades, an embarrassment to astronomers. That ended the moment Einstein worked through the last line of his calculation. There, as he put it in the formal language required of proper scientific communication, "The calculation for the planet Mercury yields a perihelion advance of 43 arc minutes per century, while the astronomers assign 45" +/- 5" per century as the unexplained difference between observations and the Newtonian theory." Belaboring the obvious, he added, "This theory therefore agrees completely with the observations."
In private, he let himself go. As the correct answer appeared, he told a friend, his heart actually shuddered in his chest — genuine palpitations. He wrote ...
Posted by Litizens United,
November 5, 2015 1:26 PM
÷ ÷ ÷
Have you invented a Readerly Term of your own? Email us at email@example.com with the word and definition, and we'll consider including it in our Compendium. Browse all the terms here
Posted by Lori Hijuelos,
November 3, 2015 10:03 AM
Tell us about Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise.
Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise
is a tour de force by my late husband, Oscar Hijuelos
. The novel, at its core, is about the vanity of fame and the mystery of time. It showcases the transformative power of love by telling a story about the historically true friendship between Mark Twain
and Henry Morton Stanley
. Stanley's wife, Dorothy Tennant, acts as a pendulum between these two Victorian giants. She amplifies their personae and their passions.
As for future projects of my own, I am writing a memoir of my life with Oscar.
What scares you the most as a writer?
That I will end up caring about the critics' reviews — good or bad — when I know I should not. Reviews are just opinions, not the gospel.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"In this world you must be a bit too kind in order to be kind enough."
Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
My sister's two French bulldogs, Gabs and Pips, have stolen my heart. I adore them.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
Years ago, after I published the poetry collection Cool Salsa
, I received a letter from an ex-gang member. He told me that my book had such a powerful influence on him that it helped him to leave his gang in New Mexico and start a whole new, healthy life. Inside the letter was a poem that he had written in response to one of the poems I included in the anthology. He shared it with me as a token of his appreciation.
What is your idea of absolute happiness?
I experienced absolute happiness with my husband whenever we were "visiting writers" at the American Academy in Rome....
Posted by Litizens United,
October 30, 2015 3:13 PM
÷ ÷ ÷
Have you invented a Readerly Term of your own? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the word and definition, and we'll consider including it in our Compendium. Browse all the terms here.