On the Smugglers’ Radar

Jul. 22nd, 2017 04:01 am
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Posted by Ana

On The Smugglers’ Radar” is a feature for books that have caught our eye: books we have heard of via other bloggers, directly from publishers, and/or from our regular incursions into the Amazon jungle. Thus, the Smugglers’ Radar was born. Because we want far more books than we can possibly buy or review (what else is new?), we thought we would make the Smugglers’ Radar into a weekly feature – so YOU can tell us which books you have on your radar as well!

On Ana’s Radar:

Cassandra Khaw’s sequel to Hammers on Bone interests me greatly:


Deacon James is a rambling bluesman straight from Georgia, a black man with troubles that he can’t escape, and music that won’t let him go. On a train to Arkham, he meets trouble – visions of nightmares, gaping mouths and grasping tendrils, and a madman who calls himself John Persons. According to the stranger, Deacon is carrying a seed in his head, a thing that will destroy the world if he lets it hatch.

The mad ravings chase Deacon to his next gig. His saxophone doesn’t call up his audience from their seats, it calls up monstrosities from across dimensions. As Deacon flees, chased by horrors and cultists, he stumbles on a runaway girl, who is trying to escape her father, and the destiny he has waiting for her. Like Deacon, she carries something deep inside her, something twisted and dangerous. Together, they seek to leave Arkham, only to find the Thousand Young lurking in the woods.

The song in Deacon’s head is growing stronger, and soon he won’t be able to ignore it any more.


I’ve heard about Barbary Station this week and I REALLY want to read it:


Adda and Iridian are newly-minted engineers, but in a solar system wracked by economic collapse after an interplanetary war, an engineering degree isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Desperate for gainful employment, they hijack a colony ship, planning to join a pirate crew at Barbary Station, an abandoned shipbreaking station in deep space.

But when they arrive at Barbary Station, nothing is as they expected. The pirates aren’t living in luxury — they’re hiding in a makeshift base welded onto the station’s exterior hull. The artificial intelligence controlling the station’s security system has gone mad, trying to kill all station residents. And it shoots down any ship that tries to leave, so there’s no way out.

Adda and Iridian have one chance to earn a place on the pirate crew: destroy the artificial intelligence. The last engineer who went up against the security system suffered explosive decapitation, and the pirates are taking bets on how the newcomers will die. But Adda and Iridian plan to beat the odds.

There’s a glorious future in piracy…if they can survive long enough.


I’ve also heard really great things about Little and Lion:


A stunning novel on love, loss, identity, and redemption, from Publishers Weekly Flying Start author Brandy Colbert

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.


Perhaps it is finally time for me to read a Kristin Cashore book:


Jane has lived an ordinary life, raised by her aunt Magnolia—an adjunct professor and deep sea photographer. Jane counted on Magnolia to make the world feel expansive and to turn life into an adventure. But Aunt Magnolia was lost a few months ago in Antarctica on one of her expeditions.

Now, with no direction, a year out of high school, and obsessed with making umbrellas that look like her own dreams (but mostly just mourning her aunt), she is easily swept away by Kiran Thrash—a glamorous, capricious acquaintance who shows up and asks Jane to accompany her to a gala at her family’s island mansion called Tu Reviens.

Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites to you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.” With nothing but a trunkful of umbrella parts to her name, Jane ventures out to the Thrash estate. Then her story takes a turn, or rather, five turns. What Jane doesn’t know is that Tu Reviens will offer her choices that can ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But at Tu Reviens, every choice comes with a reward, or a price.


On Thea’s Radar:

First up on my radar, this forthcoming book from Flatiron that sounds fabulous (comparison to The Magicians aside):

The Hazel Wood

Welcome to the Hazel Wood, a fierce and indelible contemporary fantasy perfect for fans of The Magicians

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away—by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began—and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong . . .


I LOVE the art for this early 20th century set graphic novel from First Second:

City on the Other Side

In The City on the Other Side, a young girl stumbles into a pitched war between two fairy kingdoms, and the fate of San Francisco itself hangs in the balance!

Sheltered within her high-society world, Isabel plays the part of a perfectly proper little girl—she’s quiet, well-behaved, and she keeps her dresses spotlessly clean. She’s certainly not the kind of girl who goes on adventures.

But that all changes when Isabel breaches an invisible barrier and steps into another world. She discovers a city not unlike her own, but magical and dangerous. Here, war rages between the fairies of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Only Isabel, with the help of a magical necklace and a few new friends, stands a chance of ending the war before it destroys the fairy world, and her own.

From Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson comes a colorful fantasy graphic novel set in early twentieth century San Francisco.


This next book also sounds promising, with its Sword Art Online type of vibe…


An act of sabotage leaves Edward Founder’s brother and father trapped inside a virtual reality game, Extropia. Edward goes after them and discovers that the game is overrun by the artificially intelligent tyrant, D?ofol.

D?ofol is holding Edward’s brother captive, but little does Edward realise that D?ofol has learnt of the real world, and the closer he draws to rescuing his brother, the closer he comes to the trap that will enable D?ofol’s code-based mind to escape the confines of Extropia and enter the real world.

As Edward races to save his family from being trapped inside Extropia forever, he must not only beat the game and a host of despicable characters, but also come face to face with his own inner demons.

Inspired by computer games such as Skyrim and The Witcher 3, Extropia: Mind Game explores the worlds of artifical intelligence and virtual reality. Accompanying the increased presence of virtual reality in the consumer landscape, Robin’s debut science-fiction novel creates a dystopian world in which computer game characters become self-aware and intelligent. The book will appeal to readers of science fiction, but also to players of fantasy role-playing computer games to whom the landscape of Extropia will seem very familiar. Extropia: Mind Game will also appeal to readers of adventure stories, and fans of dystopian books such as The Hunger Games series.


I don’t know if I can take this next book seriously, but I feel like I have to give it a shoutout for the second sentence that cites Post-Tinder romance, nihilistic terrorism, artificial consciousness, AND synthetic biology. IN ONE SENTENCE.

After On

The definitive novel of today’s Silicon Valley, After On flash-captures our cultural and technological moment with up-to-the-instant savvy. Matters of privacy and government intrusion, post-Tinder romance, nihilistic terrorism, artificial consciousness, synthetic biology, and much more are tackled with authority and brash playfulness by New York Times bestselling author Rob Reid.

Meet Phluttr—a diabolically addictive new social network and a villainess, heroine, enemy, and/or bestie to millions. Phluttr has ingested every fact and message ever sent to, from, and about her innumerable users. Her capabilities astound her makers—and they don’t even know the tenth of it.

But what’s the purpose of this stunning creation? Is it a front for something even darker and more powerful than the NSA? A bid to create a trillion-dollar market by becoming “The UberX of Sex”? Or a reckless experiment that could spawn the digital equivalent of a middle-school mean girl with enough charisma, dirt, and cunning to bend the entire planet to her will?

Phluttr has it in her to become the greatest gossip, flirt, or matchmaker in history. Or she could cure cancer, bring back Seinfeld, then start a nuclear war. Whatever she does, it’s not up to us. But a motley band of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and engineers might be able to influence her.

After On achieves the literary singularity—fusing speculative satire and astonishing reality into a sharp-witted, ferociously believable, IMAX-wide view of our digital age.


And last but not least, I haven’t read any of the books in the White Trash Zombie series… but good god I love these covers so much and keep thinking I really should give it a try based on the art alone.

White Trash Zombie Unchained


That’s it from us! What books do you have on YOUR radar?

The post On the Smugglers’ Radar appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

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Posted by Brad Dowdy

Image via Wired

Image via Wired

I’m not sure what was in the water this week but I laughed my tail off in this episode. Maybe it was the talk of the Paper Mate Ballpoint that got me going, or maybe it was just us being anxious about our Field Notes trip in the fall. Whatever it was, it was a good time.

Show Notes & Download Links

This episode of The Pen Addict is sponsored by:

Pen Chalet: Click the ‘podcast’ link at the top of the website and enter the password ‘penaddict’ for this week’s special offer, and to get your code for 10% off.

Blue Apron: A better way to cook. Get three meals free with your first purchase, and free shipping.

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Posted by Mark Armstrong

Anthony Scaramucci is the new White House Communications Director, and like many Trump hires before him, he arrives with a televised history of trashing his new boss. From ThinkProgress:

“I don’t like the way he talks about women, I don’t like the way he talks about our friend Megyn Kelly, and you know what, the politicians don’t want to go at Trump because he’s got a big mouth and because [they’re] afraid he’s going to light them up on Fox News and all these other places,” he said. “But I’m not a politician. Bring it. You’re an inherited money dude from Queens County. Bring it, Donald.”

This was in 2015, a year before the money manager began supporting Trump’s bid for president. But like all Trump hires, there’s almost nothing Scaramucci has said in the past his new boss will hold against him. As White House Communications Director, this is a helpful indicator of how reliable their future statements will be, too.

Sean Spicer is apparently not a fan. He has now resigned because of Scaramucci’s hiring, and Vanity Fair reports that Scaramucci also had a strained relationship with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault. As Jessica Pressler wrote in a New York magazine profile in January, Scaramucci (nickname “The Mooch”) “is well liked,” but “the Mooch, like the Fonz, has never been taken particularly seriously.”

When, to everyone’s disbelief, Donald Trump actually won the presidency and became someone to take seriously, so did Scaramucci. Since the election, Mooch’s stock has been way up: Yahoo Finance named him its “Wall Streeter of the Year,” despite the fact that his flagship fund had been performing poorly over the past two years. He has been a constant presence at Trump Tower, squiring bigwigs to meetings with the president-in-waiting. When I found him mixing a margarita for himself in an empty bar downstairs at the Hunt and Fish Club, his face still waxen with makeup after a day on TV, he told me it’s about to go even higher.

Pressler’s profile quotes an acquaintance calling Scaramucci “a momentum guy,” who “saw it was working and he hopped on.” He made a brief appearance a few weeks ago in Mark Leibovich’s New York Times Magazine feature “This Town Melts Down,” when Scaramucci was still in search of a job. In the five minutes he spends with Leibovich, who is interviewing Corey Lewandowski, the Mooch thanks Lewandowski for “that thing at the White House today,” writes Leibovitch. It was “the first of four times he would thank [Lewandowski] in the five minutes that we were together.”

Now, it appears, it will be others who are thanking Scaramucci. What does the Mooch do when momentum swings the other way? As he said in his first press briefing this afternoon, “If you want to eat an elephant, you have to eat it one bite at a time.”

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Jul. 21st, 2017 04:40 pm
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Posted by Longreads

This week, we’re sharing stories from Abrahm Lustgarten, Lois Beckett, Julia O’Malley, Alice Driver, and Sarah Jeong.

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1. Open Burns, Ill Winds

Abrahm Lustgarten | ProPublica | July 20, 2017 | 38 minutes (9,692 words)

An in-depth report on how munitions plants across America continue to irresponsibly dispose of bomb and bullet waste by “open burning.” The practice, banned 30 years ago, still takes place nearly every day under a permit loophole, putting millions of pounds of toxic chemicals and pollutants into the air, essentially poisoning residents and the environment.

2. The Town Where Everyone Owns a Gun

Lois Beckett | The Guardian & Topic | July 14, 2017 | 20 minutes (5,000 words)

After the mine closed nearby, and the residents started to move out of Nucla, Colorado, the town passed an ordinance that every household in the municipality was required to own a gun. But as the residents see it, their main enemy is Telluride, the liberal city next door.

3. The Teenage Whaler’s Tale

Julia O’Malley | High Country News | July 17, 2017 | 12 minutes (3,000 words)

For a teenager in the Siberian Yupik village of Gambell, killing a whale would be a rite of passage, and entry into manhood. But then, Chris Apassingok, age 16, was targeted with online harassment for his kill, and the town of 700 felt the weight of an internet pile-on tear through the community.

4. Brick By Brick

Alice Driver | Arkansas Life | July 1, 2017 | 9 minutes (2,417 words)

In telling stories of the wood-fired kilns her father made by hand over the years, Alice Driver reminds us of the risks and rewards inherent in creative pursuits and the deep personal satisfaction that comes from the effort and sweat you put into your craft.

5. The Selfie Monkey Goes to the Ninth Circuit

Sarah Jeong | Motherboard | July 13, 2017 | 7 minutes (1,804 words)

Can a monkey be an “author” under U.S. copyright law? PETA forges ahead with a claim on behalf of Naruto the macaque, and Sarah Jeong walks us through the details.

Scarred by a Rubber Doll

Jul. 21st, 2017 04:00 pm
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Posted by Pam Mandel

The original piece is a lot to digest. It’s a delicate look at Japanese men who claim they’ve found true love with life-like dolls. But there’s a back story, too. On CorrespondentAlastair Himmer and Tokyo photo chief Behrouz Mehri talk about how they were affected by their work on this story.

You don’t expect to be emotionally scarred by a lifestyle story — and certainly not by a rubber doll. It seemed like such a good idea at the time: write a story that takes a look at the lives of Japanese men and their silicone lovers. I’m AFP’s lifestyle and sports correspondent in Japan and if this wasn’t a lifestyle story, I don’t know what was. I admit that I have previously had odd experiences doing my job. I once ran off the set of a porn shoot. But that was child’s play compared to sex dolls.

But poor Behrouz. He hadn’t been exposed to something like that before. I feel awful about what I did to the Tokyo photo chief. But you have to understand my perspective. It took me nine months to set up this story. You don’t just approach someone on the street and ask them “Can we photograph you and your sex doll.” You make contacts, you get to know the people, you develop trust. I didn’t want to blow all those efforts with some hackneyed, tabloid-style guffaw at Japanese men who go on dates with lifesize dummies. So when Behrouz asked me to ask one of the men, Senji Nakajima, if he could spend the night at his place for the story, I spat coffee all over my shirt. But I asked and Senji agreed and Behrouz went.

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Posted by Aaron Gilbreath

Even if you were more partial to the taste of purple Dimetapp cough syrup or the fake banana flavor of some prescription whose name I can no longer remember, you know the flavor of pediatric amoxicillin. Everyone loved that pink medicine. Its chalky, anonymous fruit flavor has generated loving blog posts and subreddits of impressive lengths. One writer loved it so much as a kid she went on a quest to taste it one more time. At The Atlantic, Julie Beck searches for that peculiar pink flavor of childhood to learn where it came from and how taste shapes a child’s experience of illness.

Taste is a factor in children’s medicine in a way that it’s just not for adults, who are prescribed pills for most things. And children often need the extra enticement of a familiar flavor to be coaxed into taking their medicine. But flavor used to be considered a more integral part of medicine for all ages—more than just something added to make it palatable.

Under the humoral theory of medicine, Berenstein says, “tastes themselves were correlated with the body’s humors.” So if someone’s four humors—black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm—were seen to be out of balance, they’d likely be advised to avoid certain tastes, and eat more of others. A melancholic person, for example, might want to avoid vinegar (sour—just like them), and eat more sugar to balance themselves out. “It wasn’t about a spoonful of sugar making the medicine go down,” Berenstein says. “A spoonful of sugar was the medicine.”

And for bitter herbal preparations that served as medicine, Greene adds, the bitter taste was “proof of efficacy”: If it tastes gross, it must be working. But in the 20th and 21st centuries, the Western understanding of medicine came to focus on active ingredients. What Greene calls “the sensuous dimensions of medicine” got “systematically written out of the stories we tell ourselves about pharmaceuticals and the way they work.” But medicines “nonetheless have physical properties,” he says, “and those physical properties certainly influence our experience of them.”

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Posted by Susan Pigott

(Susan M. Pigott is a fountain pen collector, pen and paperholic, photographer, and professor. You can find more from Susan on her blog Scribalishess.)

I’ve often said that my favorite color of ink is blue—any shade of blue. But Robert Oster is making a green-ink lover out of me. I reviewed Verde de Rio here, and I’m still planning on getting a bottle of Jade. When I first saw Peppermint on Robert’s Instagram feed, I knew I had to have it. For those folks who like to do the Christmas in July thing, Peppermint is the perfect ink. It makes you feel all cool and pepperminty inside as you write with it.

Chromatography shows how nicely complex this ink is, with pink, some turquoise, and lots of deep blue and green shades.

The ink looks sort of flat on my ink testing sheet, but I think that’s because I used a fine nib, and the Maruman paper doesn’t show off the ink’s sheen (more on that below). This is a really nice blue/green ink. It has no odor. The dry times are faster than some of the other Robert Oster inks I’ve tested, but it’s definitely not a dry ink. It is not waterproof.

But boy, oh boy, is this some sheeny ink. When you use a wide nib or do ink splats and expose it to some sunshine, you get a bright pink sheen that shouts “Peppermint!” And then you start craving candy canes.

Written with the Handwritmic Pen

Written with the Handwritmic Pen

Peppermint is a terrific green for any occasion, but just wait until it’s time to write those Christmas cards. I might just get started now! (Ha, ha, yeah right). You can get a 50ml bottle of Robert Oster Peppermint from JetPens for $17.00.

(JetPens provided this product at no charge to The Pen Addict for review purposes.)

Enjoy reading The Pen Addict? Then consider becoming a member to receive additional weekly content, giveaways, and discounts in The Pen Addict shop. Plus, you support me and the site directly, which I am very grateful for.

Membership starts at just $5/month, with a discounted annual option available. To find out more about membership click here and join us!

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Posted by Michelle Weber

Law professor and critical race theorist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, writing in The Baffler, considers the elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and the way that  declarations of America as “post-racial” or “colorblind” serve to diminish our history of racial violence. To those who understand Obama’s success as owing to his race-neutrality, she offers a sharp rebuke.

In the same way that elite institutions have congratulated themselves as sites where merit flourished, American society held up Barack Obama as conclusive evidence that power is indeed colorblind. Yet Obama’s election proves very little about the triumph of colorblindness either as a tactic for gaining power or as a frame for how it is exercised. In fact, upon closer inspection, the election of Obama supports the opposite inference. Despite the common refrain that Obama made history as the nation’s first post-racial Black candidate, the Obama campaign reflected the ongoing salience of race-consciousness among the electorate, the pundits, and the candidates. Obama’s steadied posture of racial avoidance was actually one of highly selective racial engagement, showcasing the candidate’s talent for deftly navigating the complex terrain of race and emerging with a reassuring tale of individual uplift—a moral, as it happens, best illustrated by the candidate’s own life story. The public image of Obama’s so-called race neutrality masked an intensely race-conscious campaign to counter Obama’s racial deficit on the electoral map. In key swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, whites were mobilized to talk about race with other whites to neutralize Obama’s racial disadvantage. Even the celebration of Obama as “race-neutral” was obviously not colorblind, but rather a reflection of the opposite impulse. Voters and pundits of all races engaged in a complex assessment of Obama’s racial performance to determine what kind of Black Obama was going to be.

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Flying Solo

Jul. 21st, 2017 12:00 pm
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Posted by Jen Doll

Jen Doll | Longreads | July 2017 | 24 minutes (6,048 words)


The day after my boyfriend of nearly a year broke up with me because I wasn’t an evangelical Christian also happened to be the day before a trip we’d planned together: five days and four nights in beautiful, sunny, USA-tropical Miami. It was supposed to be a romantic escape from January New York, gray in the best of instances but ever drearier on account of the swirling political anxiety and despair that followed Donald Trump’s election and inauguration. It was like the weather was in on everything that had turned us all upside down, too; it rained like the skies were weeping. (They had good reason, what with climate change.) Since November, politics was all anyone was talking about, all anyone could talk about. We’d been looking at each other with dazed, pained expressions while attempting to gird ourselves for what was next, and the nexts kept coming, faster and more furious. Talking about politics was increasingly exhausting, even when you did it with people you agreed with. But with my boyfriend, talking about politics had become something else.

It turned out that he had been living something of a double life, unknown to me upon perusal of his Tinder profile and most of the numerous dates we’d been on since. From May to fall he appeared as your typical liberal “coastal elite,” or at least my conception of one, which is to say, he wore plaid shirts and hipster sneakers, he enjoyed drinking and good food and Brooklyn bars and indie bands; he was sophisticated and smart and funny and sweet and quirky. He worked in the arts. He was, like me, writing a book. I never once saw him read a Bible.

Except. As we grew closer, this valuable information began to flow out, in fits and starts. He’d grown up evangelical, and even though I believed he’d moved on from what I considered a repressive childhood — after all, he was dating me, a person whose secularity very nearly dripped from her Twitter page; he was enough of a progressive to wrestle with the views of his Trump-voting parents and even criticize them (though not to their faces) — what appeared to be vestiges of those beliefs would pop up now and again in our conversations, emotional bombs that led to explosions.

After I participated in the Women’s March in New York City, he confessed he’d once been in a march, too. But, um, a pro-life one. “Ages ago, though, and it was pretty lame,” he said.

“Wait,” I said, “You’re not pro-life, are you?”

And he said “Kinda.”

“Kinda!?” I responded in horror, and a talk followed over the next hour and even the next day about what pro-life is and what pro-choice is and how I needed to know that he respected a woman’s right to choose if I was to date him.

There was a conclusion, a seeing of eye to eye, or at least I thought there was. I breathed another sigh of relief: we could respect each other’s views, and, anyway, I had this inkling that the jarringly conservative things he was saying weren’t really what he meant, they were just what he thought he had to say because of those early views that had been instilled in him. Like religion bubbles down deep only now coming to the surface, like a flat soda releasing the last of its gas. (I did not consider that it might be a bad sign that I was comparing my boyfriend to a flat soda.) In the air, in the world, was where I could help him combat these remnants of his youth, to be the true him. And we seemed to be stronger for it, even though every time something came up it never failed to shock me yet again that the man I loved was harboring these sorts of thoughts.

With my boyfriend, talking about politics had become something else. It turned out that he had been living something of a double life.

Him: “The Hamilton cast was disrespectful to Mike Pence!”

Me: “What!?

Him: “There is an argument to not believing in climate change!”

Me: “What!?”

Him: “I don’t see how I can vote for Hillary, I’ll just not vote at all!”

Me: “What!? Also, that is unacceptable.”

Somewhere along the way in our relationship he came out with it. He called himself a “crazy Jesus guy.” Sure, okay, that was more than a clue. But because religion wasn’t a factor to me, I didn’t see this distinction as particularly important, or at least, I was willing to ignore it. He could do his church thing and I would do my yoga thing — couples don’t have to share everything! It was nice we had different interests! — and what we did have together was more than enough to make up for not being the same in every single way. His willingness to talk to me about these issues for hours at a time (once they finally emerged) proved we could share anything. When I said, “I love you,” he said, “I love you too — at least, I love you the way you love me.” I didn’t parse that too much further, perhaps because underneath it all I suspected that what it was wasn’t exactly great. I was hanging on to the good stuff, the forward momentum, the possibility. On New Year’s Eve, he’d told me I’d been the best part of his 2016. And there had been so many times throughout our relationship that he’d mentioned how he got along so much better with me than he ever had with his ex. She was Christian, which gave me even more faith in our pairing working out. Religion hadn’t saved them; why did it have to divide us?

What he never said was that my not sharing his faith was a deal-breaker, so even though he hinted vaguely in hundreds of ways (it’s always so much clearer in retrospect), I really just didn’t know. I didn’t know to expect it.

Plus: who dumps someone right before a trip? Plus: he’d booked the hotel!

But then everything had gone wrong, and all at once, so fast it was incomprehensible. As our nation’s political situation disintegrated, so did our relationship. On the phone the day before our flight was to leave, I listened as he told me how even though he should have said this before — and he was very sorry he hadn’t, that was his fault, his issue — he had to say it now. From personal to public, it was all coming out, and oh, what a mess: “Have you heard of the Gestalt Question?” he asked. I hadn’t. He embarked on an explanation of the Gestalt Question, which, I have to say, is not a great way to break up with anyone.

“Well, it’s like, there’s a picture of a duck that’s also a picture of a rabbit, and you either see the rabbit or the duck, but once you see the rabbit you can’t unsee the rabbit,” he said.

“Weren’t we going to have this talk in person?” I asked. “I really wanted to meet in person to talk, I told you that.” He continued to discuss ducks and rabbits as I wondered how long it had taken him to come up with this analogy. (For the record, I see both the duck and the rabbit. I checked.)

“See, I’m a rabbit person and even though I hang out with and like ducks it’s just, I need to be with a rabbit,” he explained. As a rabbit, he couldn’t unsee what he saw, which was that if he was with someone who didn’t share his faith, it would always be settling. For me to be who he wanted, I would have to be someone different.

Somewhere along the way in our relationship he came out with it. He called himself a ‘crazy Jesus guy.’

“I’m already ahead of you,” I said. “Now that you’ve finally been honest with me about what religion means to you, this is a good thing!” We could see if it could come to mean the same to me, I figured. What would be the harm in learning a little bit more about church? Who knew, maybe I would be seduced by the magic of religion, the comfort in knowing I’d go to heaven because I had finally, after 40 years of pretty secular life, been woken by the spirit. It wasn’t even that I was so un-Christian, really. I mean, my upbringing had included church, though it was mostly for social reasons and because the church my dad picked had good Danishes.

In truth, I had grave doubts about the churchification of Jen Doll. The Christian, and particularly evangelical, concepts that I’d begun to understand, well, they didn’t only feel strange to me, many of them horrified me. The Bible was a literal text? You went to heaven not through being a good person but simply because you said you’d accepted Jesus as your savior, even if it was on your deathbed after a really shitty and mean and possibly murderous life? All the chanting, all the standing in pews? I wasn’t the sort of person who wanted to have saviors, certainly not those whom I believed a patriarchal institution had foisted upon the poor and women in order to control them. The real Jesus seemed a decent guy, I liked his social justice warrior style, I liked that he fought for good. We needed more people like him! But the idea that the church passed down a dogma that you had to believe or go to hell, well, that rankled me. How did this one group of people think they knew so much; how were they the only ones lucky enough to figure it out (and why were they mostly white and and of Western European heritage? Why did they insist on making others feel the way they did too? Why all the superiority?) There were so many hypocrisies!

But I wasn’t ready to let my boyfriend go yet, and I knew I couldn’t entirely discount what he cared about if I did love him, even if his telling me that the greatest intimacy was praying for forgiveness together — “even more than sex,” he proclaimed — made me feel queasy. (I imagined us kneeling together bedside, me in some dowdy nightgown, and briefly wished he was still keeping these thoughts to himself.) No matter! I’d compromise, I’d try, even if that meant we only lasted a little longer, long enough at least for our trip to Miami. There was still a chance —
and when you meet someone you really like after dating in New York City for 20 years, you hang on to that kind of chance, even in the face of facts you can’t truly accept because while they may be true to him, they’re not true to you.

“But also, I really wanted to have this conversation in person,” I said again.

“Well,” he said, and he was talking and I was talking and we weren’t talking in person at all, and it was too late. His response to my asking him to take me to his church so I could learn more hit me in the face. “If we’re still in a romantic relationship as you learn about Christianity, it would be manipulative. Either way we’d have to break up. I could be your friend. I would have infinite conversations with you about God.”

INFINITE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT GOD!? That’s when I lost it. I behaved in a not very Christian manner and called him an asshole for any number of things including the sad truth that he hadn’t even respected me enough to meet me in person to discuss matters, especially after I’d requested it. I yelled because he’d lied. I believed he’d known this all along but kept it hidden from me. But primarily I yelled at him because he was rejecting me in the most personal of ways. And without even a chance of redemption, a chance to prove I might be the person he was looking for after all! “You’re a small-minded dogmatic hypocrite and asshole, bye,” I said, and hung up the phone, ever so slightly proud I hadn’t stumbled over “dogmatic” or “hypocrite.”

There was still a chance — and when you meet someone you really like after dating in New York City for 20 years, you hang on to that kind of chance.

I’d hoped to take a higher road, but then I’d also hoped he’d loved me more than he loved going to church.

I could cancel the Miami ticket, but I’d end up eating most of the cost. None of my friends were able to go with me, and being in a hotel room by myself that I was supposed to have shared with a boyfriend felt too damn sad. But my parents lived a few hours away, near West Palm Beach; I could fly in and take a train to them from Miami. Escaping one’s current life and returning to the fold — the prodigal daughter, I thought (I knew things too) — is always perspective-giving, even more so when one of the seeming foundations of your life has crumbled and told you it can’t date non-Christians.

I decided to go. It was the baller thing to do, I said to a friend to whom I announced, “I’ve been dumped for Jesus!” Given the world, why would I choose to be anything but baller? But, ugh, what about his ticket? Would I weep as I hurtled through the skies, his empty “companion seat” next to mine on the plane, an Amex Delta Skymiles Card holder perk that would have expired if I hadn’t used it, a reminder of the person I’d put so much stock in just hours earlier, a reminder of the person who had never been who I thought he was? There were no companion seat transfers, even if you called Delta and told them you’d been dumped (I’d tried), but I also tried to look on the bright side: I’d have an empty seat next to me. I fantasized about taking a picture of it, posting it on Instagram, and announcing “My boyfriend just broke up with me before our trip to Miami because I’m not an evangelical Christian! Flyin’ solo! :P”

I mean, God, I would never do that, but it was fun to consider. I would get so many comments, I thought; everyone would be on my side! Publicly shaming someone for a private act feels so good, or at least the idea of it does. But revenge fantasies are best kept personal, or, at least, confined to friends.


I should have known. That’s something we all say, after, and it’s funny because we should have known, but actually we never could have, because we didn’t. The should-have-known only comes through hindsight. We have only the facts we have, until we have more. And in any case, it doesn’t matter. We didn’t know, or we ignored what we saw, so many red flags lined up like angry sirens blaring — I can’t vote for Hillary, I am angry with you for challenging my views on abortion, I have only ever dated Christians before, something about you entices but also threatens me to my core — because we felt that something else was more important at the time. Whatever we really believed in, or wanted to believe in, took precedence: you never know; there are exceptions; people can change; if it’s meant to be it will work out. These are all things we tell ourselves in hope, but not necessarily in any basis of reality. If it’s an aphorism passed down for generations about love, it must be true. If it’s a story about Jesus told for thousands of years, it must be true. If it’s in the Bible, it must be true. If I feel it, it must be true. We twist ourselves into ever more mind-boggling positions to believe, even if that belief goes against ourselves, our true nature, what is most personal and most legitimate to us as humans.

Sometimes our failing is that we never come out and say what we really think, or acknowledge how we truly feel or that we have doubts. Sometimes we say it and people don’t care. We heard it again and again after the election: we didn’t listen, those of us in blue states didn’t understand those of us in red states, we were speaking different languages, we needed more empathy. Maybe we simply hadn’t been able to understand because to us it wasn’t the truth, it wasn’t reasonable, it wasn’t real, it never would be. The question is not only how you convey the personal, it’s how you make it matter to someone for whom it simply doesn’t feel the same way that it feels to you.

Because the truth is personal. The truth is in the eye of the beholder. There are real truths, hard truths, truths we can’t deny, and there are truths that are evolving and swift and changeable. There are truths that aren’t even truths at all, but someone says they are and we are supposed to believe it, and if we do believe it, is it then true?

My boyfriend said that how he felt wasn’t rational, but all the same, it was his truth — his personal belief, admittedly based in nothing other than belief. And in politics, too, people believed what they did very personally, and often couldn’t express it to others in any convincing fashion because it was so glaringly obvious to them, how could the other side not see? We created silos for ourselves, our personal beliefs distributed in public and personal manners to those who felt the same way. Crossing silos was way harder. But choosing humans over money, being kind, treating the weaker and the poorer and the disenfranchised in a way that helped rather than hurt them, that had to be true, the only choice. How could the other side be right, too? They weren’t.

On election night my boyfriend was in San Francisco working at a conference while I watched the polls come in with a group of friends in New York City. The mood in the bar where we watched fell from jubilant to despondent in the hours between 7:00 and 10:00. We changed venues and went to my house, where it felt safer to huddle. But the devastation continued; how could what we were seeing in front of our eyes be true? We drank for comfort, we hugged each other, we tried to stay calm, and at one point, I called him, trying to express how horrible everything was. Across the country from his vantage point he couldn’t get it. He hadn’t even seen the news. He was with a bunch of consulting bigwigs. They’d been at a dinner.

“You don’t care!” I yelled, horrified that we could be so misaligned. And he hadn’t voted at all. This was his fault! “You’re Donald Trump!” I shouted, and hung up on him.

Not my best work, though I would think back to that after our breakup. His inflexible decision to end things lacked compassion and took away my dignity. It was his choice, there was no negotiation. He was, in that way, just a teeny-tiny bit like Donald Trump.

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At the airport I’m thinking of all this, trying to understand how I’d missed so much and what I’d done wrong and how we’d gotten here, dragging behind me my red wheelie bag which I’d stuffed with an assortment of random clothing the night before. A friend had given me advice: “Tell the people at the airport you got broken up with the day before your flight and they might take mercy on you,” she’d suggested. (Mercy felt like a dirty word after my boyfriend had told me it was more “merciful” not to break up with me in person.) I’m standing there, clearly with a lost expression on my face, because a youngish guy who looks like he works at the airport asks if I need help.

“Um,” I say. I haven’t practiced this, and it feels like there’s a lot to explain. “I had a companion ticket…”

“Companion ticket?” His eyebrows raise. He has no idea what I’m talking about.

“Do you work for Delta?”

“Yeah,” he says, pointing to his badge.

“I guess that’s why you’re standing in the Delta terminal asking people if they need help,” I reason. Then I launch into a garbled explanation: I bought a ticket with the companion ticket attached to it but my companion wasn’t here so I needed to separate the ticket and free the seat. I’d realized that I didn’t want an empty seat next to me, a ghost of boyfriends past, and I was pretty sure that wasn’t how the airlines filled flights anyway. “Do I need to get in line to do that?” I ask him, pointing to the hordes waiting to talk to a Delta rep.

“Well, yeah,” he says. This guy is cute, with black-framed glasses, and an olive complexion. My face drops, and — merciful heavens! — he changes his mind. “Actually, come with me,” he says, and leads me to a counter in the corner of the terminal where a woman is typing briskly on her computer and an older man with a weathered Steve Buscemi vibe (slow smile set deep in wrinkles, long-limbed, something of a sparkle in his eye) leans over the counter, chatting with her. They both look at me as I continue to talk to glasses guy, who I’m thinking would be played by Riz Ahmed in the inevitable movie, which I start writing in my head.

A woman walks into the airport. She’s got a small red bag rolling behind her, a checked coat, her hair up in a bun. There’s an expression in her eyes — sadness? Something different. Confusion. She is stunningly beautiful despite her consternation. She has experienced pain.

“Can I help you?” A guy in a dapper suit, an airport employee, addresses her. She looks at him, glances at her phone hoping for a last-minute text from her boyfriend explaining she’d been punked and he was waiting for her at the gate, glances at the self-service check-in kiosks nearby. He has kindness in his eyes, and she melts into them. “You are stunningly beautiful,” he says…

Every relationship death is a kind of freedom, an awakening to possibility and what happens next.

“Hey, Angela, do you know how to separate a companion ticket?” Riz asks the woman at the computer; I cast Octavia Spencer to play her. “You don’t want to use the companion ticket?” she says. “My companion can’t come,” I say, and pause. Then, the performance of a lifetime, my beat perfect: “Actually, my companion dumped me yesterday.” I let it all out, just like that, and they pause to look at me for a second, really seeing me this time.

“You seem to be doing pretty well,” offers Steve Buscemi. “Hey, you know, that happened to me, except it was my wife of 36 years and she ended up with the guy I’d hired to paint the house.”

“That happened to me,” says Riz. “My girlfriend of eight months, she dumped me and then started dating my best friend. What the hell!”

Octavia gazes at me kindly. “You’ll meet someone great in Miami.” She types on the computer some more. “Ugh, this program does NOT want to separate you two! You’re bonded in here for life!”

I kind of laugh because it’s better than crying, and Steve asks me what I do.

“I’m a writer,” I say.

“I always wanted to be a writer! I had kind of a crazy hippie childhood and you know, I was going to be a journalist but then I met my wife and I was happy, and when I was happy I found out I didn’t have anything good to write about anymore.”

“Some people write better when they’re sad, or angry. I think I might be one of those people,” I say. I imagine this breakup fueling me to great new heights of creative genius. That wouldn’t be so bad.

“You have a beautiful name,” muses Steve. “I named my daughter Jennifer. Jennifer Anne.”

“You’re still stuck together in the system!” announces Octavia. “Together forever, like glue!” She looks at me, realizing that this isn’t exactly the right thing to say. “Um, you know what they say, if you let someone go and they don’t come back, it was never meant to be.”

I keep to myself the reason that he decided to let me go, no need to malign an entire religion just because it’s been used as a dumping excuse by my ex. “I don’t think he’s coming back,” I say.

A new woman appears — Taraji P. Henson plays her — and she gets the job done. My companion ticket is dissolving from my flight record, dissolving from history, and I’m on my own again. I thank everybody profusely and they tell me to check in at the gate if I want a voucher for a free flight, they’re asking for volunteers. And since I no longer have a romantic vacation in Miami to rush off to, I do, and I tell that woman, too, that I’ve been dumped, and she also offers kind words and her apologies. Sharing means you let people in, you let them help you, and maybe you help them too. Though she doesn’t tell me her story, I am sure she has one, and I bet she’s thinking about it as she explains that if my seat is needed she’ll call me to the front after boarding has begun.

When you fall apart but put yourself back together again, there is truth to be gained, and in the truth there is power.


Often I’m afraid while flying. But there’s a kind of fearlessness that comes from loss. This time, as the plane rose into the sky and hovered and I could feel the engine throb, I thought about molecules. How the idea of molecules could be construed to feel like the tiny bits and pieces of me, what makes me human and myself, and the only version of exactly me there is. And how it felt like those molecules, my essence, my core, had taken a hit, scattering in the aftermath. This is what a breakup is, an action that knocks your coupling apart and you into pieces, a blow from which you have to collect yourself and — I imagined — force those molecules to rejoin and return to their rightful places, at least emotionally, though sometimes it feels physical too. You had to make sense of yourself again, you without that other person, and part of knowing it was saying it, out loud and in public.

But the pieces were ahead of me, they’d started to do it themselves already, because in whatever way it is that you know yourself, those pieces also know exactly where they belong; they bounce back. There had been a pause, a moment for consideration — could they be this other thing? Do they belong somewhere else? Could I be, as my boyfriend described himself, a “crazy Jesus person” too? — and then a no, of course it has always been a no, this is what we are, this is who you are, as they began to reassemble themselves in slow motion, that part going there and this back to that, each returning to their proper places, stunned and perplexed and still reeling, still processing, but also there and stronger for the test and the acknowledgement.

When you fall apart but put yourself back together again, there is truth to be gained, and in the truth there is power. My boyfriend has his truth, I had my own. But he hadn’t told me his truth; he’d kept it buried for many months. Or possibly sadder, he hadn’t known it himself.

“You don’t know until you know” is something I’d told him when we were beginning what would be the breakup conversation, meaning, you have to reveal your true self in order to make things right; this could be a start instead of an end. But just as he saw politics and religion differently than I did, so too he saw beginnings and conclusions as entirely different propositions. I couldn’t get the feeling out of my head that I hadn’t really known him at all: what if he wasn’t my boyfriend, but just the person I’d called my boyfriend? Why had I wanted to believe in our relationship so much that I had ignored what now seemed such pertinent clues? But I couldn’t judge myself too much. This breakup could be a simple righting of the molecules, molecules that out of a tendency to compromise and bend and go with the flow, had bent too far. I was okay. I’d only cried a little.

Every relationship death is a kind of freedom, an awakening to possibility and what happens next. The worst has happened, but it wasn’t the worst at all, or if it was, you still got through it. Bringing all this out into the open wasn’t a curse but a boon: my molecules still knew what they were and where they had to be, and this gave me a kind of confidence. It wasn’t so much that we didn’t know until we knew. It was that so often we were suppressing truths in favor of what we really, really wished could be. “We made so much sense on paper,” people would say, hoping that the paper narrative would come to life, but paper isn’t life, and he was right — that pained me to say, because I really didn’t want the person dumping me to be right — but he was right. It never would have worked.

So, my molecules were okay. But in the world at large and America specifically, the molecules were ping-ponging everywhere as the new president had his way with them, bang, bing, bong, playing what he seemed to think of as an arcade game and the rest of us considered government. In the midst of my breakup, I’d bargained with the cosmos, promising whoever or whatever it was that controlled such things that I would happily give my relationship up if it meant that Donald Trump was no longer president, that none of this had ever happened at all. Now, it felt like I’d lost both my boyfriend and my country. I noted to a friend that the latter felt far worse, and yet there was a sameness to the rifts, the stalemates, the impossibility of it all.

But with the country, there was no time to reassemble properly because hits were coming from all sides, over and over, causing the molecules of democracy and truth and freedom and the essence of what we thought of as America to spread further apart and, in the dizziness of the attack, lose the connection to what they were that had so firmly grounded them otherwise. Of course, the molecules contained within America were always less cohesive, more complex than anything in one individual or even a couple; that was becoming clearer and clearer. What I’d considered common truths — goals like protecting reproductive rights and refugees and gains in equality (that were already hardly enough and seemed in great peril) for people of all colors and creeds — weren’t so common at all. It seemed there was a chance we could lose what was holding us together entirely. This was a sustained attack from which we were severely wounded, with no time to heal before the next blow, and the greatest fear was that with the molecules so dissipated we could never get back to the truth we knew, America as we knew it — or fervently hoped it to someday really be.

That the truth could be confused and obliterated by all these shimmying, dizzying molecules was a real worry. It seemed clear that there were already many in America who had forgotten where the molecules went, or who espoused a different belief system that they, like my boyfriend, had not seen fit to share until now. Groups of people separated and divided into our so-called bubbles or simply our communities and support systems and tried to find ground to stand on but it, too, felt ever shifting. And though we organized and talked and reminded ourselves of what we stood for, there was no clear reassembly, only pain and confusion, and anger tied to a will to survive, to fix it — even in the knowledge that we didn’t know what to do. It appeared all our leaders were failing. Who would step up? Who would right the molecules again? Had the molecules ever been right at all? How did we fix this? Was this the ultimate breakup? Could we survive as a nation at all? In the absence of answers we talked, we tweeted, we expressed our fear and displeasure. At the airport, I’d overheard conversations. “My driver wouldn’t stop talking about Trump,” said the woman behind me in the TSA Precheck line, because I am exactly that sort of sucker. “But he was laughing like it was funny. He was stupid. But I didn’t want to have to get out of the car before I got here. What could I do?”

My driver had also been talking about the 45th president. Luckily, he had a quiet, soothing voice and thought Donald Trump was an asshole. On the other hand, he pontificated lengthily about the state of illegal immigration in America, and when I voiced my own opinion he’d correct me. I thrummed with annoyance, thinking about how men are constantly telling women how to be, and women are expected to go along with it,

Oh, thank you for your input. Why are women always the ones who have to compromise? No thank you, my molecules know where they go. I don’t need your opinions, I felt like saying, but I stayed quiet. “Mmm, yes,” I agreed, because I didn’t want to have to get out of the car before I got there either, and when he missed my terminal and had to double back I told him that was ok, I was early and would surely make my flight anyway. In that, too, I was correct.

It was the day before Trump’s first attempt at a travel ban, two days before the airports would be thronged with people protesting religious discrimination and increasingly legitimized hatred in our country.


At the airport, as my flight was boarding, the Delta representative called me to the front of the line. “We won’t need your seat after all, Ms. Doll,” she said. “But I’ve upgraded you to an exit row, where you’ll have more room.”

I thought about how the most personal things can become public simply by being said, and how saying them is one way in which we make human connections. It’s so hard and so easy; you say it, it is, and others respond. Because we all have a breakup story. “I hope you have a good time with your parents,” the representative said, and I thanked her.

A few minutes later, I saw Steve Buscemi working the crowd, speaking in Russian to a couple of blonde women. I still wasn’t sure what his job was at the airport; it seemed to be whatever he wanted it to be. “Ms. Doll!” he said. “I heard you’re leaving me already! Have a good flight.” He touched my hand and gave it two strong, swift pulses, passing along what he knew that I knew too, a private communication that said, We have gotten through this before. We will get through this again. Those of us who’ve had our hearts broken, we have each other’s backs.

In this transaction he’d also handed me a couple of what seemed to be business cards, but I waited to sit down before looking at them. I found my seat next to two people who were not my companions, or at least, not the companion I thought I would have, but perfectly decent anyway. (I looked at everyone on the plane suspiciously, wondering if they too held secret religious beliefs, but this couple spoke only of psoriasis remedies, and for that I was glad.) Alone in the community of the plane, I took a quick picture of what turned out to be free drink vouchers and texted the shot to a friend.

“Tell the people at the airport you’ve just been dumped, and everyone loves you!” I said.

“You’re really having the full airport experience!” she responded. I wouldn’t be putting any of that on Instagram, but some things are too good not to share with someone else.

* * *

Jen Doll is author of the memoir Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest as well as the upcoming young adult novel Unclaimed Baggage. She’s written for The Atlantic, Elle, Esquire, Glamour, GQ, New York Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Vice, The Village Voice, The Week, and other publications.

Editor: Sari Botton

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Posted by Thea

Title: The Boy on the Bridge

Author: M.R. Carey

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction

Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: May 2017
Hardcover: 392 pages

The Boy on the Bridge

Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

Stand alone or series: Companion novel to The Girl With All the Gifts

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher

Format (e- or p-): Print


It’s the end of the world as we know it.

The dead have risen: hungry, fast, impossibly attuned to any life form that might offer them sustenance. Humanity faces its fastest and greatest extinction event–already, the majority of the world’s population has been decimated by a mysterious fungal plague. In the midst of this death and chaos, however, there is still hope. A small band of soldiers and scientists have braved the apocalyptic landscape, driving from Beacon up towards the Scottish Highlands to gather more information about the deadly Cordyceps fungus in the hopes of finding a cure. At the heart of the mission are two very important people: a scientist named Samrina Khan, and a brilliant fifteen-year-old boy named Stephen Graves. Rina is vital to the mission for her research and for her closeness to Stephen, but is disguising a second trimester pregnancy. And Stephen–brilliant, complicated Stephen–is on his own very special mission of observation and research.

As the crew of the Rosalind Franklin makes its perilous journey northward, gathering samples and collecting data, Stephen watches the “hungries”–and makes a discovery that could change everything.

Set ten years before The Girl With All the Gifts, The Boy on the Bridge is both a prequel and a companion novel. I loved the first book (so much so, it made my top 10 titles of 2014) so when I learned M.R. Carey not only had a new book available this year but an honest-to-goodness companion novel set in the same zombie-ridden post-apocalyptic wasteland, I was delighted. Of course, when any sequel, prequel, or other companion novel is released to follow-up a beloved book, there is always a healthy dose of trepidation. Will this book live up to its predecessor? How could it, given the awesomeness of [xxx insert beloved first book here]? Especially in the case of The Boy on the Bridge, my trepidation focused on the fact that Carey had already told his story of political/military corruption, the end of the world, and the next generation of hungries who shall inherit the Earth. How could a sequel hope to hold up to this kind of weight of expectation? Luckily, dear readers, we are in good hands with M.R. Carey–instead of moving forward, he chooses to look backwards, ten years before the events of Melanie, Miss Justineau, and the ultimate destruction of the human race. In The Boy on the Bridge, we see the same sort of armored vehicle travel the same sort of desolate landscape, but to very different ends. In this second book, there are tensions bubbling beneath the surface of the group (naturally) that culminate in a tempestuous pot of mistrust, rage, and fear as their journey presses deeper into infected territory–not to mention the killer plot twist along the way that ties both The Boy on the Bridge and The Girl With All the Gifts together. From a pure plotting and worldbuilding perspective, The Boy on the Bridge does an impressive job, particularly in its expansion of the world from the prior book (even though this book is set earlier): there are second-gen hungries (who are little monsters), the shambling remains of society, and horror aplenty along this trip.

The other area where M.R. Carey shines is with his characterization–particularly of Rina and of Stephen. As he did in The Girl with All the Gifts, Carey focuses on the love that exists between a younger character and a parental (maternal) figure. Instead of the bond between Melanie and Miss Justineau, this time it exists between Dr. Khan and the boy she singularly believes holds the key to humanity’s survival, Stephen Greaves. The narrative throughout the book shifts between several characters, but the time spent with these two in particular is the emotional core of the story–the bond between maternal teacher and precocious student is a beacon of hope at the core of The Boy on the Bridge that makes all of the sacrifices and betrayals and everything else that happens so memorable.

Hope, strong characterization, and compelling plotting aside, there is no sugar-coating the fact that The Boy on the Bridge is a tragedy. From the outset, you know that the Rosalind Franklin and her crew will bear no fruitful cure, and that everything will eventually burn. But the trick is that M.R. Carey makes you care about the slide into the long, cold darkness. If you liked The Girl With All the Gifts, if you’re a zombie enthusiast, if you like solid characterization at the end of the world and don’t mind nihilistic bleakness, what are you waiting for? The Boy on the Bridge awaits.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

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“Down a Dark Road” is the ninth book in Linda Castillo’s series. “I love the juxtaposition of such a bucolic setting and the introduction of evil,” she says.

Response to Pullum on slurs

Jul. 20th, 2017 10:45 pm
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Posted by Barbara Partee

This is a guest post by Robert Henderson, Peter Klecha, and Eric McCready in response to Geoff Pullum's post of July 10. My only role was offering in advance to post a reply if the authors would like me to. I'm a good friend of Geoff Pullum and a friend of the authors. What follows is theirs.

We were quite surprised to read the LL post by Geoff Pullum of July 10. In this post, GP discussed the suspension of Tory MP Anne Marie Morris for using the phrase “n****r in the woodpile” at an event held at the East India Club. After her use of this phrase was recorded and publicized, she was suspended by the Tories for what the Financial Times described as a racist remark. According to GP, this punishment was excessive, as the remark in question was not racist; he proceeds “reluctantly” to defend Ms. Morris, as the idiom in question was merely “silly.” While we offer no comment on the appropriateness of the specific punishment Ms. Morris received, we do find this characterization problematic on both moral and empirical grounds, together with many other commentators on social media, and we want to suggest that the author should have been (much) more careful when dealing with such an important topic.

What counts as a racist remark? The range of possibilities is broad, from direct attributions of racial slurs to covert dog-whistles, and it’s ultimately not for us as white individuals, or for anybody outside of the oppressed group in question, to declare exactly what is or is not a racist act. However, it does seem clear to us that the category of racist statements isn’t limited to saying things like “X is a [slur].” Thus GP’s claim that the MP’s statement doesn’t count as a racist remark because she didn't call anyone by the slur is off the mark. Utterances which are judged to be racist remarks even include saying positive things about non-people, e.g., "I love [slur] food!" This fact shows that GP’s definition of racist remarks is far too narrow.

Once we allow racist remarks to include more than predicating a slur of an individual, the ground for defending Morris's remark shrinks substantially. The only such defense is to argue that the appearance of the n-word in an idiom is enough to neutralize its racist meaning component. GP tries this route, but here the post runs into empirical problems given well-known facts about slurs. There is a consensus in the semantic/pragmatic and philosophical literature on the topic that slurs aggressively attach to the speaker, committing them to a racist attitude even in embedded contexts. Consider embedded slurs; imagine Ron Weasley says “Draco thought that Harry was a mudblood”, where attributing the thought to Draco isn’t enough to absolve Ron of expressing the attitudes associated with the slur. Indeed, even mentioning slurs is fraught territory, which is why the authors of most papers on these issues are careful to distance themselves from the content expressed. While we aren’t aware of work on slurs in noncompositional idioms in particular, a moment’s thought is enough to show that just putting a potentially offensive word into an idiom doesn’t defuse it; we would feel uncomfortable saying “the shit hit the fan” in formal situations, for example, although here “shit” lacks its literal meaning. Thus we should expect that the slurring meaning of the n-word survives in the idiom.

Slurs are generally words which have a history of being used to inflict serious emotional distress. Setting aside how it is that they come to do that in first place (which surely must have something to do with both their literal meaning and with their issuers’ hateful intent), they come to have a perverse second effect, as we understand it: they viscerally remind their victims of the hurt they have experienced due to prior use of the word, as summed up by the Langston Hughes quotation excerpted by Geoffrey Nunberg’s post, or by Ice Cube in his recent discussion with Bill Maher: “When I hear a white person say it, it feel like that knife stabbing you, even if they don’t mean to.” And importantly, what we have read and heard from people who have been victimized by these words suggests that any depiction can be such a reminder, whether it is use, mention, quotation, or even just phonetic overlap, as in the very obvious case of an idiom containing a slur, or less obvious cases like similar-sounding but historically unrelated words.

As an analogy, consider someone who has been the victim of repeated axe-violence — someone who has been attacked with axes over and over again over the course of their life, and has been threatened with such attacks even more often. If such a person were to come into contact with even just a depiction of an axe or axe-violence, it would be responsible to assume that the person may well become upset, and maybe even re-traumatized. And importantly, this is independent of anyone’s intent — it wouldn’t matter if I showed such a depiction to such a person with the virtuous intent of wanting to rob these depictions of their power to hurt the victim, for example — it would still very likely cause pain. There would be no reason to expect that that pain would be in any way a function of the depicter’s intent.

Likewise, any depiction of a slur creates the risk of causing hurt to those people who have been historically victimized by the slur, regardless of speaker intent. In this way, the slurring effect of a slur is more like Grice’s (1957) natural meaning than his non-natural (communicative) meaning; it is something the hearer derives from the utterance independent of grammatical convention or of their recognition of the speaker’s intent. See also this discussion of research on the physiological effects “mere words” can have.

These considerations defuse the central claim of GP's linguistic defense of Morris's remark, namely that the meaning of the idiom is "a hitherto concealed unpleasant surprise". Instead, racial slurs are terms that both predicate racial categories of people, and also denigrate those categories (technically, they are “mixed content bearers”). The idiom thus means "a hitherto concealed unpleasant surprise" while at the same time committing the speaker to a racist attitude. It is this second component that we expect to attach to the speaker, even in idiom. That this is the case is also shown by the fact that people have to keep apologizing for using the phrase. In fact, the fact that the MP was suspended and the reporting of the suspension makes use of the term “racist remark” is itself evidence that people naturally get the racist interpretation.

We think that GP's defense of Morris is not tenable on linguistic grounds, but there is a second aspect of the post in question that we find disturbing and important to address. Throughout the post, GP repeatedly mentions the n-word in its uncensored form. In a follow-up to the original post, he says that his refusal to censor is a strategy to avoid giving that word its power. If you take the standard linguistic analysis of slurs, though, the word’s power does not come from mere taboo (i.e., a social prohibition on using or mentioning the word as we see with expletives like "shit"). The word literally has as part of its semantic content an expression of racial hate, and its history has made that content unavoidably salient. It is that content, and that history, that gives this word (and other slurs) its power over and above other taboo expressions. It is for this reason that the word is literally unutterable for many people, and why we (who are white, not a part of the group that is victimized by the word in question) avoid it here.

Yes, even here on Language Log. There seems to be an unfortunate attitude — even among those whose views on slurs are otherwise similar to our own — that we as linguists are somehow exceptions to the facts surrounding slurs discussed in this post. In Geoffrey Nunberg’s otherwise commendable post on July 13, for example, he continues to mention the slur (quite abundantly), despite acknowledging the hurt it can cause. We think this is a mistake. We are not special; our community includes members of oppressed groups (though not nearly enough of them), and the rest of us ought to respect and show courtesy to them.

The sad fact is that linguistics as an academic field has severe diversity issues. These problems are not helped by the strategy above, which, while in the abstract might have its merits, in practice is only hurtful, and only serves as a barrier to those who might find its use painful or insensitive. Certainly, the taboo-ignoring strategy exemplified by GP’s original post is not going to be helpful in solving the problems our field has with lack of diversity. These problems are further evidenced by the fact, mentioned above, that we, the authors, are white, so we cannot directly understand what it feels like to be affected by the slur under discussion. Writing this post discomforts us in light of this fact, but we feel that we have a responsibility to try to further this discussion, and acknowledge that our understanding of the actual harm that comes from the n-word is indirect. For all of us who are not targeted by particular slurs, understanding can only really come from listening to those who have been harmed by them. We strongly encourage everyone to do so.

We want finally to emphasize that it’s not our intention to hang GP from the nearest flagpole, or to implicate in any way that he is himself a racist. We mention this only because some people we have talked about this issue with felt the need to defend him on this count. It hadn’t even entered our minds; we know that language behaviors are deeply ingrained and don’t always reflect our values. Indeed, one of the main points of this note is that speaker intention is not always relevant to these matters. (What’s more, we don’t even believe that debating which individual people may or may not be “racists in their heart of hearts” is a productive way to take on racism.) We are, in fact, fans of GP’s; but we are not fans of this post, for the reasons above.

We are grateful for helpful comments on this note by Carissa Ábrego-collier, Chris Davis, Mitcho Erlewine, Julia Goldsmith-Pinkham, Prerna Nadathur, and Betsy Pillion.

February 2016

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