Why do we laugh at jokes we don’t understand? The Ploughshares Blog has a surprisingly wonderful essay up right now, about Mad Magazine and the development of a refined literary sensibility. Parsing jokes we don’t immediately understand makes us better, quicker thinkers. You’re also more likely to put in the work of analytical reading as a kid if there’s a punchline waiting at the end—or a hilarious fold-out pun.
I wasn’t planning on reading The Luminaries right away, despite the book’s spot on the Man Booker Prize shortlist, but this interview with author Eleanor Catton has me thinking I might need to move it to the top of my reading pile.
Did you already read Choire Sicha on New York City nostalgia after the Bloomberg years? It’s great, if you like your cities broke, dark, and stinky. I guess that beats some of the big box alternatives. On the topic of The Big Apple, yesterday was the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. While the event is not an occasion for celebration, I was happy to see some of the stilling, beautiful work it’s occasioned. Tom Junod’s “Falling Man” has lost none of its power over the decade since it first ran, and Colson Whitehead’s elegant evocation of New York as a place that depends on lamenting that what used to be has since gone still puts a catch in my throat. He writes, “You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now.” Then there’s the story of black on black, the New Yorker cover that captured the darkness of the moment. The Atlantic ran an excerpt from Hazlitt contributor Jeet Heer’s new book on François Mouly, where she describes her life on that day and how the now-iconic cover came into being.
On a much lighter-but-still-very-New-York note, the editors of The Paris Review did an AMA on Reddit. Apparently, they have an elaborate reading system for their slush pile that involves interns and readers, even though most of the work published comes to their attention through literary agents.
And at The Nation, critic, author, and editor Roxane Gay is embarking on a project that devotes critical attention to writers of colour. In her first post, she performed a CWILA-style count of a few select publications, tracking how many reviews appeared of books written by authors who aren’t white. Gay’s second post in the series looks at diversity in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. (I interviewed her about her goals for the project over at the Los Angeles Times books blog.)
Would changing the grammatical rules of our language change our lives? I mean, yes, but more specifically, would it make us better at planning for the future? Apparently, yes. Science!